Why this kolaveri on the Tiger?

Of late, I have come to believe that everyone is entitled to an opinion.  I was not like that before. If the works of Carl Jung are to be believed , I am an INTJ (  a rational, with a heavy tone of judgement ). I was convinced by people around me that it is not okay to pass a judgement without having all the facts in front of you, and  it seemed quite a fair point to make.   The recent death of Balasaheb Thackeray,  led to a variety of reactions and opinions , which statements  ranging from the standard “RIP Balasaheb”  from his followers to “I hate Balasaheb” from his haters. One particular reaction captured my attention and I have been fixated with it for the past 2 hours. Here it goes ( for full post click here):

It is a disgrace that Bombay is shut today. It is a disgrace that Thackeray is being wrapped in the national tricolor. It is a disgrace that he is being given state honors in his death. And it is a disgrace that none of our political leaders, celebrities, or media personalities seem to think any of this is a disgrace. And that if they do they are terrified of saying so

I am not a Marathi manoos. In fact I can hardly  speak Marathi.I probably belong to the group that was number two on Balasaheb’s hitlist. I, in fact do not agree with most of his principles. But the above comment stuns me in particular because of the shades of human hypocrisy that it reveals, and amuses me because of the fallacious reasoning employed by the post.

It is a disgrace that Bombay is shut today: Yeah ,there are lots of interesting things to do on a Sunday. An internet user like you did not have food stocked at home. Or wait, you did , but you are suddenly more concerned about  the livelihood means of the  average Maharashtrian, which has been jeopardized by the bandh . Somehow,  he was  never visible to you before. He was never visible to you when you bought that expensive mobile ( 90 percent of whose applications you do not use) or when you spent 300 odd bucks on an Old Monk.

It is a disgrace that Thackeray is being wrapped in the national tricolor:  If by disgrace, you mean unlawful , let me bring to your kind notice that the Indian Flag code has no set criteria on who deserve state honors. It is the discretion of the government you elected ( The more likely scenario is that you were probably too cool  to vote , rationalizing  that everyone is corrupt).If you mean he has done nothing to deserve this , I recommend reading this post. It provides more than a compelling case about why he fully deserves it.

The above post probably negates the next two sentences as well and makes them irrelevant.

And it is a disgrace that none of our political leaders, celebrities, or media personalities seem to think any of this is a disgrace.And that if they do they are terrified of saying so:   I certainly am terrified,  but you definitely seem very brave and I can see your bravery through a  post from a remote undisclosed location. Kudos!  If he you accuse him of using fear, you are guilty of  succumbing to that fear despite being an educated citizen ( attempting to show off that great education you received through this post) .

Some people still argue about the killings that he incited, the riots that he spread. I do not justify them at all. The man was definitely not a saint.  But neither are you and me.What baffles and irritates me is that we use different value systems to judge similar situations . We follow a capitalist ideology and thrive on a consumerist culture, the root of all economic discontent/disparity and crimes, but we rationalise those personal acts because those acts lead to personal convenience, something we value the most.Those acts seem insignificant because there is no direct causal link and the cause effect relationship traverses several intermediate links. But we leave no stone unturned in criticizing someone else who did a similar thing for the sole reason that it inconvenienced us. We were happy going behind a certain Anna Hazare when he organized a bandh against a  cause which we felt affected us.  Thackeray did the same thing for a cause that affected over 10 million people in Maharashtra . It is sad that you weren’t a part of that populace but if you read the post above, you shall know what he fought for.The man had his vices, he did commit unpardonable offences which should definitely be highlighted. But he does deserve a better evaluation , rather than being projected as a war criminal. After all,  we live in a nation and a culture where even a Kasab gets a shot at a  fair trial.



A genius can come from anywhere

I wanted to write this post a long time back, but I kept on deferring it not because of paucity of time , but because I was never in the mood to give full justice to it. Today happened to be one of those days where I felt like writing, and here I go. This is the first in a series of posts about various students in my class – a Grade 5 classroom in Shivaji Nagar, Govandi, where I teach Math and Science and the limited fundae of life I have to about 50 students.

Amazing Aftab:  When I read his previous teacher’s comments about him , saying he was way above other students in terms of reading levels and grade requisite skills, and that he needed to be in a separate classroom with students of his ‘kind’, I was almost convinced about sending him to another class. But somehow I could relate so much to him that I decided to keep him in my class. He tops class in almost every class  (by a margin that would earn him an AP in IIT ). He scored more than what I did when I was a fourth grader in the State Scholarship Exam. ( I am truly intimidated by this lad)  He never shirks from work, and his handwriting at the top of the answer pile ( He is Roll Number 1, first even in that) , makes the mundane job of checking papers interesting.

My challenge in setting every higher order test is to try to force Aftab make a mistake, especially in Math. But the lad never misses, something that both thrills and annoys me. Just to appeal to his mathematical bent of mind , I taught him factorization once, and now he factorizes cubic polynomials( Grade Level 5). The other day when he  finished work fast, I gave him a combinatorial problem : to find the number of ways to arrange 3 different things. I was pretty confident he would take a lot of time to do this and that I could meanwhile concentrate on teaching to the struggling students in my class . But the boy not only finished for 3 things, he also started hypothesizing how 4 things can be arranged in = 4! ways. Phew!

Finally , I took the easy way.


I handed him  the famous Russian mathematics book : “Mathematical circles” and have asked him to work on it.He waits everyday after school to master the prerequisites , and after finishing his work, takes out this book and gets on task.  The book has managed to relieve me of some of my “problems” with him , but I am pretty sure he will be back asking for more.

Holding him to high expectations has really brought out the best in him .  If not anything , Aftab has shown me one thing :

Not everyone can be a genius , but a genius can come from anywhere.

5 minutes = Transformation

3 simple steps to transform the lives of 50 students from a low income school
1) Goto http://www.giveindia.org/ Create an account using Sign up now on the lest side of the page. ( takes 2 mins)
2) Goto http://www.giveindia.org/iGive-JafariAshwin and click Donate ( 20 seconds)
3) Donate whatever amount you feel appropriate and then hit LIKE AND SHARE on this post. ( 2 minutes)

5 minutes is all it takes to transform the life of a student. Go Ahead. Just Do it.

Banana leaf v/s Buffet

I have been obsessed with attending weddings ever since childhood. I really don’t care about who weds whom. I don’t even bother standing in a long queues just to give an envelop containing Rs. 10 n + 1 ( n belonging to the set of positive integers) . I hate posing for a photograph with two strangers in front of lights whose intensity would put  floodlights of  cricket stadiums to shame.  I simply do the thing that matters to me the most – head straight to the food counter, the moment I enter the  hall – without even a hint of shame . 99 percent of the people present ( i.e everyone except the bride and the groom’s immediate family) at the reception  come to do exactly the same thing, but are ashamed to admit it.In fact, if you ever want to distinguish Indians from others in a crowd, the magic words to be used are ‘free’ or ‘food’. Indians jump at anything that sounds even remotely close to any of these words and if used together , stampede management squads might be required.

Being a country with probably the  highest per-capita marriage expenditure in the world , you can expect to see a lavish dinner even from households who struggle to meet even basic daily needs. Hence, the prospect of such nice delicious food makes us  ever ready to attend weddings , no matter how hectic my schedule for the day is. Growing up in a traditional south Indian house, with daily meals consisting typically of rice, curd, rasam , sambhar , vegetable curry , idli or dosa, I have hence always preferred north Indian wedding dinners, where you have lavish delicious buffet dinners and  a menu so elaborate that you have to plan what you eat, in order not to fill your tummy too early and miss out on a majority of the dishes. I have  never liked the south Indian wedding food menu. The reason is that the south Indian  menu essentially consists of the same things I eat at home, thus offering no scope of a refreshing new flavour or dish to look forward to.

However,  after attending hundreds of North Indian buffets and a few south Indian dinners, I have recently  realized that a south Indian wedding food system is much more elaborately thought out and planned than what it seems . While its north Indian counterpart, invariably offers more choice, variety  and taste, the south Indian variety has these clear advantages , which can never be overlooked :

(1) Health : A typical south Indian wedding dinner has all components of a healthy meal – minimal oil and fats used for cooking , appropriate fiber and nutrients. The food is also hygienically served in a banana leaf, which is known to be a good practice, besides being easy to dispose. Moreover, the menu encompasses all the four basic tastes – bitterness ( Yes, you have karela fries on the menu !!) , sourness , sweetness and saltiness , in perfect balance, thus giving the ultimate exercise to your tongue and other senses. There are even portions of flavoured ginger paste to aid in digestion. Compare this to the tasty, yet heavy and fatty North Indian food, with excessive usage of oil/ghee and spices.  The following day invariably becomes a frustrating day for your bowel system

(2) Personal Attention : Although nowadays almost all Indian wedding dinners have begun to adopt this , the practice of coming to you and asking you whether you want something more, is essentially south Indian. It makes you feel important, it treats you with much more respect. Buffet is more like “‘ we know you only care about food. So go to that corner there, eat and leave. We dont care as well. ” Although true, we don’t like to hear the truth.

(3) Timing : South Indian weddings are typically held early in the morning or just before noon. Thus , food is  served in the afternoon as lunch in comparison to the north Indian counterpart which serve supper/dinner. The lunches are a no-nonsense affair, held in batches according to dinner hall seating capacity, and you are expected to eat quickly without talking and leave, making way for the next batch of people to begin their lunch. The entire exercise is generally over in around an hour. People eat quietly, then leave for work. Contrary to this, north Indian dinners are very disorganized, with people coming in when they wish to, talking more, eating less. And because the dinner is held too late, not only are you tired by the end of the day, it also affects your work next day.

(4) Efficient Supply Chain : I find the system of food being served far more efficient than the self-service method used in North Indian buffets. Although labor intensive, the servers are really efficient and quick in serving food. It is akin to an assembly line for food with minimal bottlenecks. In order to ask for extras, all you need to give is a signal, which is relayed almost instantaneously to the source of your desired food item , who arrives in a jiffy. Buffet on the other hand is very clumsy. Because of unpredictable arrival times of people for dinner, you often have to face situations where you need to stand in queue just to take a single dish. I have seen that even multiple counters of the same food item does little to solve this problem.

(5) Wastage : Last , but not the least, food wastage in south Indian weddings is far lesser that the north Indian ones. South Indian menus don’t try to please everyone through variety, but through quality. Sort of like mother’s food, which has only two choices – take it or leave it. The North Indian menu, in its attempt to please everyone’s taste and liking, results in heavy wastage despite proper estimation and planning. Not to the forget that they are damn expensive as well.

MInimalist, yet efficient

I  still prefer a north Indian dinner over a south Indian any day, because my tongue rules over my brain. But then, I feel it is time the north Indian wedding system learnt from the south and gives me a chance to eat healthy and delicious food in an efficient way.

PS: Use of the words North Indian and South Indian is due to a large number of observations by the author. It refers to families of that origin and not the location of the weddings

The biggest tale of hypocrisy

For the past one month in school, I have become a stricter teacher  than what I ever have been . I repeatedly tell  the children in my class (often to their dislike) the various ways in which ‘good and smart people’ behave. I have given rewards for positive behavior and consequences for negative behavior , in a bid to condition the kids of my class into what is considered as socially accepted behavior. It is a famous adage that to preach, one has to lead by example and I believe that this applies to a teacher more than anyone else . When you are responsible for the development of 40 odd students who look up to you , it becomes inevitable for you  to show them how it is done, be a true leader.

Unfortunately in this exercise , I realized that my ideals ( other people refer to them as idiosyncrasies) are quite opposed to what I expect ( or more of  what I am expected, as a teacher) from my students. For instance, I never believe in having a bath in the morning. A bath should be fine anytime of the day as long as it is taken, but according to some people ( read mother) , this is highly indecent. I also never believe that you need to be dressed immaculately and precisely, because in my random opinion, it makes you a rigid person, not open to ideas. I also do not believe you need to sleep at 10 pm in the night and wake up early and study in the morning. I also do not believe that you need to sit in a place quietly, without moving and study without the occasional chit chat with your friend sitting next to you. I don’t believe in organization , and I actually like things disorganized because I find even in chaos , there is a pattern. Many of you might conclude that I have acquired these ideals due to the time I spent in a spoilt environment( read IIT hostel) and might even label these as  wrong habits. On the subject of what is right and what is wrong, I would strongly urge you to read this rather absurd post of mine and give it a thought.

So what should I do in such moments of conflict? A parent came to me the other day , and complained about her son not having a bath in the morning before coming to school everyday. She asked me to advise him and correct his ‘indecent’ behavior. I literally chuckled when I heard this. ( The parent assumed I was laughing at the child, luckily and could not see the real reason for my chuckle). I put on a straight face , and told the kid , “You know why I am always energetic and never sleepy. That is because I have a bath everyday in the morning.That is what smart people do, if they want to learn more and not be asleep in class. ” I lied through my teeth. Although I am not proud of it , I am not ashamed of my act either . Three days later, the parent comes to me and thanks me for my advice, which had apparently brought a change in the kids habit. I told this to my mother and she wishes I had a teacher like me.  😛

This is the simple strategy I have adopted in my class and it works to a large extent. If I have to make kids do something , which I don’t agree with , but certain stakeholders do, I simply become a hypocrite and a liar. I simply make them believe that I have done the same thing every single day of my life. I tell a tale so convincing and with such conviction that I find it hard to believe it myself that I don’t agree with the very same principles. The words of a famous doctor came to my mind:

Words of wisdom

Let us face it.  Everyone is a hypocrite,  in one way or the other. Why not out it to use to effect what is considered by many positive change in kids , so that they can lead what is considered by many as a better life.  Leading by example is too tough and sometimes in contradiction to the values that I developed , that I cherish, that I do not want to give up. Hypocrisy is the only solution to my problem . All that I need  is to be careful enough to hide my real principles away. Not a difficult job for a hypocrite.

Why IITians love consulting

If you go to any IIT Campus in India (be it Bombay, Madras , Kanpur or Delhi ) and mention the names McKinsey, BCG or Bain ( the Big Three as they are referred to ) , you will certainly see turning heads, lit eyes and attentive ears. These consulting firms are the darlings of the placement season, and people who earn interview shortlists are given demi-god status( you can literally hear the words, “Tu God hai yaar” if you manage to get on the shortlist)  in a campus where almost every one already is treated like a demi-god back home( whether they deserve it is a different question altogether). The Big 3 are known for their rigorous selection procedure, which supposedly , only the best , brightest and the smartest can get through.

If you ask anyone why they would love to work in these firms, you will definitely hear a lot of similar responses. These mainly  include the prospects of 1) An Up-in-the-Air-esque lifestyle 2) Doing an MBA from a top US B-School 3) building a wide network. All of these are definitely true, but what has always baffled me is why they think they are a good fit at these firms. I mean , all the ‘problem solvers’ and ‘analytical mind’ arguments aside, I believe that human interactions and relationships are at the heart of consulting ( you need to meet new , important , and  rigid minded clients everyday )  , and at the risk of stereotyping ,I feel  IITians terribly suck at that. I think even the firms recognize this fact to a great extent , but strangely, they still recruit mainly from the IITs.

I was having a conversation today with my manager today about the Indian education system  and she made a remark , which immediately reminded me of this issue.We were discussing about how as children , we were able to learn  English despite growing up in an environment where the only place you speak English is the school. Strangely enough, the kids we teach struggle to speak in proper English. This is what she said  :

The problem with the Indian education is that it follows an “up or out”policy. People like you have succeeded not because , but rather in spite of  the  terrible education system .

The Indian teaching methodology is extremely uni-dimensional and caters to students with specific learning styles students . Only those students move up the academic ladder and the others are ignored completely  and are left to rot. Other students who do not have these specific learning styles as their natural styles have two options before them : A) Adapt to these styles or B) Be Academically backward throughout life.

If you notice , most IITians have very similar learning styles : Listen to someone speak, write and then learn. This comes naturally to a very few people, but most of them are able to cope up, because their parents wired them into Option A, very often with the warning that you won’t survive if you don’t adapt. Thus, the notion of “Up or Out” is wired into them right from childhood. And this, I hypothesize, is the very reason, why they prefer working in consulting , because they have been equipped with the requisite mindset to work in such environs right from childhood.

The case for Greece

No, I am not talking about the economic crisis looming over Greece. It is clear that no one can save them from that. The one I am referring to is the one that happened at the UEFA Euro Championships 2012. Greece advanced to the quarter-finals after defeating Russia 1-0 in the final match of the league phase. Both Greece and Russia were tied at 4 points apiece , but Greece went through on the basis of a controversial rule that favors head-to-head records of tied teams over the usually used goal difference method.

While critics argue on which rule is better, the inherent mistake everyone is committing here is that everyone  first decides who should be the actual deserving winner and then proceed  to rationalize why one system is better and the other is not. In deciding who should be the winner, people ironically apply no objective criteria ( possession percentage sometimes, but that hardly counts as a criterion in the post-  Mourinho days) ; they just go by what their gut tells them. Useless statements like “Greece should not have won, because they are so shitty”, “Russia deserved to win because they were so good in their first match” are  common to hear. While these are okay as expressions of shock, they definitely cannot form the basis for deciding which system is better. In fact , you cannot and should not even try to decide which system is better

Please give it to Greece. They were able to take  advantage of the given set of rules and constraints.That is what every sport is about   and therefore, Greece deserve to go through.

The Open Mind Conundrum

The phrase  ” have an open mind”  has always intrigued me. Although it means something as simple as being receptive to new ideas,  I am still pretty confused about it. While I always try to be an open-minded person ( or at least project myself as one), of late , I have had a dilemma with being one. Whenever someone advises you to have an open mind towards something which you clearly don’t agree with, I fail to understand why someone brands you as someone with a not-so-open mind. Here is my argument : The person pushing for  the change  is clearly not open to the idea of not having the change. Then , in that case ,  you should not be blamed for being a rigid person.

A classic example would be the situation where you are a teetotaler and you go out with a few of your friends to a bar. The situation would definitely gravitate towards your friends pushing you to not be a wuss and be ‘open’ to the idea of drinking. I have been in this situation many times and I argue that I don’t think I would enjoy it much. The standard reasoning given against you is that a person who has never drunk can never claim that one does not feel better when drunk. Well, you would never understand the fun of not succumbing to this pressure and not drinking ( being in your current state forever).

Summarizing, while doing X is considered being open, not doing X is considered as being not open. But if we let “not X” be Y, doing X is now ” not doing Y ”  and not doing X is ” doing Y “. Clearly, now not doing X seems being as open to me as doing X.

P.S : Just a notion in my head that I tossed out.

My quest for the optimal sleep cycle continues. Let me hope, I finally get some sleep.

Katastrophic Thoughts

I am not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a mystery of conditioning and beliefs, but if I go to bed at 2am and get up at 9am I feel far less tired than if I go to bed at 11pm and got up at 6am–both are 7 hours of sleep but you wouldn’t be able to convince my body of that (on that point you probably wouldn’t be able to convince my body to fall asleep at 11pm without prescription sleep medicine).  My life as it is now allows my natural schedule, I typically go to bed around 12:30-1:30am and get up between 8:30-9:30am on weekdays. I am married to someone with the same sort of schedule, so we typically go to sleep and wake up around the same times.

One of my best friends is in a relationship with a teacher–these folks are notoriously early risers–they get up every morning around…

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Everyone is a hypocrite. And Everybody Lies.

My grey goose quill

It is the task of a lifetime. It used to be called education once upon a time.

The following article is written by Devdas Menon (Prof. at IIT Madras)

This article (which i wrote many years ago) may be of interest to you. I was reminded of it, while responding to many emails from old IITM students concerned about the proposed changes to JEE and the possible loss of a self-image to which many have a strong emotional investment…

We are the hollow men,
We are the stuffed men,
Leaning together,
Headpiece filled with straw.

– T S Eliot

Nobody likes to be called a hypocrite. Yet, nearly everybody is one. No doubt, some are less hypocritical than others. But there is nobody, to the best of my knowledge, who is entirely free from hypocrisy. Perhaps, to be hypocritical is human.

A hypocrite is one who projects a false self-image…

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