Thursday, 31 December 2009

During my days as a student, I used to think that teaching is boring, specially in the university colleges. Each year you teach the same syllabus on and on.
But now, I do not think so. Though the content of my lectures are more or less the same, I teach each batch differently since I tend to teach in a reactive manner. Some batches get boring lectures with no questions asked, no extra inputs, no interesting bits of information,no comments or asides, no digression into the importance of being able to express one's thoughts cogently, nothing. Other batches get the full works . I do that if I feel the students can be improved. Some students are not interested in anything ...such students, I leave alone; I just teach the syllabus as concisely as possible and finish the classes.
One ex- student told me that he had advised his juniors never to miss my classes since it was more fun inside the class than outside(btw, this is not as complimentary as it sounds since he clarified that he liked the remarks I make when some student disturbs me by chatting in class)
But the said juniors are a class which I go to with utmost reluctance, give my lecture and scoot. No comments, no digressions, no extra info...strictly syllabus as prescribed by the University. They sit in class as if they were a taxidermist's handwork. No expressions on their faces. If my lecture went
"the oxidation states of I thought it would rain today but forgot to bring my umbrella and the magnetic properties depend upon.... " no one would even blink an eyelid. I am sure.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

nit picking

I had been to a college function in the village that I was living in last year and next to me sat a retired school teacher. The students presented the usual ppts and the first thing I noticed were the spelling and grammatical errors, but kept quiet. Just then the school-teacher next to me commented "It's a professional hazard; all one sees are the corrections" and she pointed out the same spelling errors. True, it's a professional hazard.
But is it? Perhaps those of us who like to do this kind of nit-picking take to teaching as a career. Like the chicken and egg, which way round is it?
I not only post on my blog, but every time I post, I check my previous post and make spelling and grammar corrections that I do not see when I type in a hurry.
I think those who teach do so because they like to nit-pick.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Good schools

The Swedes have made a success of private schools in their country apparently. The history of schools in Sweden, apparently shows that private schools that work for profit work best.
So, the way of avoiding the trap of good schools only becoming the privilege of the few is to allow for‐profit schools to operate.
This is also the theory my brother always puts forth whenever I discuss college education with him. He quotes the universities of the USA like Harvard. The theory is that market forces will ensure he demise of bad schools and only good schools will emerge as winners.
There is evidence that private schools in villages work better than government schools. In the School Choice National Conference 2009 they show some evidence. It has also been the experience of ASER.
I think the flaw in this is that these schools will cater to the needs of parents who pay the fees. Parents for most part do not understand what is good education. Poor uneducated parents will trust the school and not interfere, but middle class parents feel their child must know more and more stuff. If their child can recite pages of stuff they feel he has been educated well. So the school makes children recite pages of stuff.
I too do not really understand how good education is brought about.... I am able to see the current system is bad, but cannot figure out how a good system should work. Different children learn in different manner.
The American schools with a sort of laissez faire type of education may not be the best idea, since I feel the power of diligence is underrated in such systems. Our method which goes to the other extreme is definitely not good. I keep reading a lot of hand-wringing articles on the bad state of school education in the US as well as in the UK. So where is this "good education" being practised?

Friday, 25 December 2009


It's all very well to carve out Telangana, Rayalseema, maybe also a Konaseema out of AP, but the problem is that we will all get our Shibu Sorens.
Another problem will be the free hand that the new regime will give the Maoists.
Just the preliminary stages of this agitation has seen so much destruction of property both private and government, the toll is going to be very high as the mess gets deeper.
Who will pay for all the damage? The people who support such lawlessness are going to rule the state.
There is nothing wrong in having small states -in fact why not make Ranga Reddy, Medak ...etc all into states while we are about it.... but who will get to govern it? That is what worries us all.
The concept that smaller states are governed better, is without much evidence. Goa is not any spectacular example of good governance...and as far as I know, neither is Pondicherry.
It just depends on who governs the state and is he/she willing to do a good job or not-- nothing to do with the size of the state.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

a new rant

Why can I not read online even a 1897 research paper in J.Phys.Chem for free? Copyrights expire, and this is 1897 for God's sake! It is quite annoying.
The logic of such things evade me. Who will pay for this? The particular paper I want to see is Walker's paper on determining the lowering of the vapour pressure of a solution.
This experiment is explained in detail in any book on Physical Chemistry. I just wanted to see it out of curiosity, but have to pay $30 for 48 hr access. Do they get customers for such papers? Ridiculous! who will pay that much for what is common knowledge that even an undergrad knows.
Actually, I thought it would be good to show such papers to my students when I teach that particular topic...sort of make it come alive, also make it more real for them perhaps; but the idea is not worth $30

If you are not in a research institution, getting to read a paper is quite tough even in this age of internet.
Long ago, the top floor of the IISc library was like a treasure chest ....ancient journals (19th century) which no one ever saw...sort of exciting to read 100 year old scientific papers. Stuff that you take for Millikan's oil drop cant believe that it was cutting edge research at that time. It feels like a glimpse into the clothes in the Salar Jung or the neolithic grinding stone in the Birla museum.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

neutrino project ot of Singara

I had posted earlier about the proposed undergound cavern to be built for the neutrino detector, in Singara amidst the reserve forest and right in the elephant corridor.
The lab for the neutrino project has finally been shifted to another location.
It seems Dr Sukumar has stated that the project would not affect the elephants...I wonder what it's all about.

Friday, 11 December 2009

"Motherhood-the elephant in the laboratory"

Motherhood and the lab----again a complex situation.

A comment "we got equality at work, but did not get equality at home"
It is more complex than the "husband does not help at home" reason.

There is also the Larry Summers type comments that we get-- and some stats of course prove the numbers. But what about the cause? That there are fewer women scientists does not mean that women have less scientific ability or aptitude. They have less opportunity or are restrained by other causes.

When I was pregnant for the first time, my nightmares were, "till last month I was sitting in the lab that surely had mercury vapours" or "Till last month, I was inhaling benzene vapours" Indian labs were not -and maybe still are not -the best places for a pregnant woman.
Then when I had the baby(thankfully normal), I was so sure I could just transfer my postdoc to the place I was moving to. But in those days, childcare was a horror right thinking mother would leave her child in those places.
That is why, it is more complex tahn "my husband did not help me raise my child"
One of us had to sit at home and since usually the husband earned much more and had a much better job it was no choice. Our postdocs of Rs800/- could not have bought Farex for 10 days for the kid. This is the story, of many in those days of no childcare.
One friend of mine had a stream of relatives and ayahs coming and going looking after her daughter and managed. She now has a successful of the pioneers in bioinformatics.
Another friend of mine had to care for two kids and as soon as they became old enough to go to school, her mother-in-law became a victim of dementia and needed constant supervision. She would have made a great organic chemist. A physicist friend got married into a very orthodox family who refused to let her work. I don't know what happened after that. One friend got married to her labmate and had a baby during her PhD and now I see both of their names at a research Instt in Europe. She had in-laws who took care of the child.
In short, it is not the system, but INSPITE of the system that some women have managed to have a good scientific career after childbirth.
The country has lost out on a generation of women who would have been good or great scientists.
A quote from another woman scientist

"My only regret was when I realized I couldn’t really continue meaningful laboratory work working alone and part-time. There’s a definite thrill to discovery – analyzing and interpreting data. I think I’ve made my peace with that now – but hopefully the next gen, should they opt to stay home part-time, won’t have to make that king of decision."

Lok sabha television

Nowadays, one of the few good channels on TV is the Lok Sabha TV. I get only a few channels on my cable TV. Today, I am still at home thanks to our politicians and found this talk on Lok Sabha TV.

" I found it really difficult to teach elegant economic theories when people were in such distress" Prof Md Yunus on Lok sabha TV on how he started the Grameen bank. It has 8 million borrowers and 97% are women. The members of the Grameen bank have savings of half a billion US$. 100,000 beggars have taken loans to become door to door salesmen.
They have a Grameen bank in New York!
"Poverty is a creation of institutions we have built."
The belief was that banks could not lend money to poor since it was unsustainable. But Grameen bank has proved it's only micro credit institutions that have thrived in this financial crisis.
"Poor people are bonsai people...nothing wrong with them, only society curbed their growth."
The main flaw in capitalist theory is a distorted view of human beings. Humans are not unidimensional...they have selfish interests and go for profit maximisation; but human beings can also have other needs and sefless acts also fulfil some such needs.
Now that is a lecture worth listening to. Even a telecast of such lectures would be better than our home-grown (college-grown) FDPs

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Faculty development program

We have a faculty development program every year. The college feels we must be improved.
In these programs, we have talks by people, who tell us "you must have positive thinking", "there is nothing you cannot achieve if you put your mind to it" and so on, with cute stories of how someone with determination achieved something great . Then they give us a power point with those chain mail type stuff which have lovely pictures with such uplifting messages.
I am well into my middle age and have lived through the usual joys and sorrows that people go through -- such talks annoy me tremendously.
Any person who talks to adults should have something more than bright messages.
What I would have found useful is some real life experience that the person may have had in handling teaching challenges..not preachy to achieve the two mutually exclusive objectives of getting students to score in exams as well as learn the subject.
If someone could tell me how I can get students to read something, to discuss some chemistry in class, or even discuss a book they have read, I would be truly grateful.
People who do not realise that life is not some programmed sequential affair, who do not realise that our working hard or thinking positively isn't enough for something to happen, who don't understand that life is complex, have no right to talk down to me as if I was 12 years old.

Monday, 7 December 2009


Parenting is such an unscientific activity that I am not surprised I gave up science as soon as I became a parent. It is however, as frustrating and as rewarding as scientific research.
Based on previous observations, you think this action of yours will have this effect , but it does not. Two kids treated in the same manner react exactly the opposite.
Of course it has a logic of its own, and is quite interesting to reflect upon. I have two kids who are exactly the opposite...I don't know how that happened.
Actually, you never know what happened, but ultimately, things work out. During the teen years, you are convinced that you have failed miserably as a parent, but when they grow up, it seems fine.
Ultimately, I am glad I was a parent and not a scientist, since I could not be both.

On the internet at 80

My father is 85 and has made his own webpage on which he posts about Indian philosophy. My mother has a session browsing through You Tube every afternoon ... she is 75. There is this blog I follow by an 84 year old lady who holidays regularly at Florida and enjoys life.
I then have students who do not use the internet and the rest who do, use it only for orkut/facebook (I asked them).
I told my students to make better use of the net and to look for tutorials on any given topic, check that it is from a known university and read it.
However, one boy told me he uses only Google scholar for search. I would have been impressed, but it was so obviously spurious. He is a person who believes that he should do minimum work and get by using his intelligence to impress people who he considers easily manipulated.
This is an example of a debate that has gone on in my life that was also the point of one of the links in Abi's post.
This boy is intelligent, but takes absolutely no interest in regular academic work. Suddenly when he feels like, he attends a class and gives quite intelligent inputs to the class....not a genius, mind you, but really bright.....but what a waste! I have observed taht students like him are not going anywhere unless they drastically change their attitude to work.
A culture of hard work is essential. I learnt it the hard way.
During my college days, I too believed that the truly brilliant people were slog and achieve was uncool.
Of course, I did not do that well in the university exams where plain solid mugging is necessary, but did well enough to hold on to my scholarship. That only served to reinforce my belief (mugging was not for me) .....So did the fact that almost effortlessly, I cleared two prestigious entrance exams. I also met a few brilliant students who had similar beliefs.
Some of them ended up nowhere due this belief.
Recently, one of my students had this horrifying experience of getting into a top research Instt for an integrated PhD after his BSc only to discover he had failed his BSc final year exams-- totally due to lack of hard work... so, now he is working at a call center. It really pained me. He is, temperamentally, a scientist in the child-like sense of being awe-inspired by the workings of nature.
The bulk of science moves inch by inch on the hard, diligent work of the good-but-not-genius scientists. We get a Planck very, very rarely.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Telengana landscape is full of beautiful rock formations.
My sister-in-law used to drive miles around and sketch these rocks.... my son had done a stint photgraphing these rocks for a "rock census".
They are truly wonderful...old, and eroded to amazing shapes.
There are the lakes...they surprise you drive, in the most unexpected place suddenly...A lake!!
Then there are dolmens. A huge ring of dolmens buried with the ASI excavating just one of them.... no money to excavate the others. The city garbage is dumped all around these dolmens...that was 10 years ago...maybe now the real estate people have dug the dolmens and made a block of flats.....I wouldn't be surprised at all. Development you see !!!

They may get a separate Telengana state. The Congress is in fix. KCR is in a fix. ...he started a fast, but didnt have any idea how to get out of it....thought he had got out of it by drinking orange juice ceremoniously and was villified by the students he had managed to rouse. He was forced to resume it. Still has not managed to wriggle out of it. Must be getting desperate.
Another problem for him is the student body he has aroused.
The strength of students is really awesome. They can be roused easily, but cannot be controlled. Student violence takes on a momentum of its own. It is easily started, but cannot be stopped.
In the years 1971-74, Bangalore university had a student strike every September. ..for no particular reason.. we, the students usually did not even know why we were striking.
The Delhi University had major disruptions in the seventies thanks to people like Arun Jaitley.
Osmania University was another...the murder of George Reddy in the seventies....student politics is really awful.
In the small town I went to school in, we had ONE college and it had college union elections, and in those stupid elections, one of the candidates was murdered and thrown into the lake.
Now again KCR has used the students to further his political ambitions.
Meanwhile, there are students who need to pass out and start earning their livelihood. There are those who aspire to get admission into PG courses and may not be able to.
Politicians are good at making others sacrifice for what they want.

PG students

When they first started an MSc in Biochem in our college, they did not have enough staff to teach all the courses. We, in the Chem. dept were roped in to teach some of the courses taht we a course on biomolecules and one on spectroscopic methods. I got roped in for the latter and diligently prepared for hours polishing my long forgotten spectroscopy, looked up new examples in unfamiliar biomolecules and prepared my lectures.
Once in class, what a let down it was. The students who join for an MSc in this university are much, much worse than the students who join our college for a BSc. They truly did not understand anything I taught. Maybe I am bad, but I can make my undergrads understand.
This paradox still puzzles me....(but perhaps it's like MTechs vs BTechs in IITs)
I am told the current batches are better....they couldn't be worse.
Incidentally, I discovered how awesome biochemistry really is once you are not required to mug up structures and pathways for exams.


The hue and cry about the antics at the CSIR has probably died down now.
I came across the other people in the run for the post of DG.
I wonder why Pushpito Ghosh was not made the DG and also what happened to Visweswariah Prakash.
How much politicking must have gone on I can imagine.
The student community of institutions like the IITs or IISc is amongst the most gossip-mongering.
One gets to "know " people even without actually having any conversations with them. It was true in my time (ancient times as my children tell me) and is probably so now; and old habits die hard... Hence the curiosity.

Friday, 4 December 2009

twenty questions

Many of us have some idea about how we and people very close to us think. But this is a skill not all of us have.
When my kids were small, we would go for long drives beyond the suburbs and during these drives, would play twenty questions. We would also play this on summer nights, during power cuts, lying on the terrace.
The game involves one player thinking of a famous person, and the other/others asking him questions which he must answer truthfully with either a yes a no. The maximum number of questions allowed is twenty.
The thing is, I knew exactly who my husband and kids are likely to have chosen and could often guess within five or six questions. But my husband could not do the same. The children were somewhere in-between.
Knowing someone is a skill that has to be built over the years I think. It comes with the day to day tending that mothers do. That's why fathers of the previous generations who believed childcare is the mothers' domain, do not know their children, and in their old age, find their own children are strangers.
The fathers who thought they were smart in outsourcing childcare to their wives, have really missed a huge part of life.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Indian academy of sciences vs UGC

The Indian academy of sciences has started a project called Women in Science about which I have posted long ago.
They are trying to form a database of women who are not in a scientific career after an MSc or PhD.
Being in science is defined as working in a research lab, or teaching post graduate students.
By that definition, those of us who teach undergrads are not in science.
Then why does the UGC want college lecturers to get a PhD in order to get their UGC scale of pay?

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

my soap box

I have yet to figure out why so many parents fail to see the harm that can arise out of putting a 11 year old boy in a school that is housed in a block of flats, has no games, no singing class, no art class, no drama competition, nothing.
Why, they are told by their teachers that languages are a waste of time. Now, if your kids are going to join the holy place IIT, how do they think the children will read all those tech papers w/o a command over a language?
The teachers have never been in an IIT campus. They would be shocked if they did.
One of the coaching gurus here(he is REVERED, not just admired), believes girls must not talk to boys. In fact, since his classes are at 4 am, one of the girls' parents arranged for her to go to the classes with a neighbour's son. What depravity!! how can she travel from home to class with a BOY? Has he ever seen girls and boys in an IIT campus?
The students must not wear sweaters (at 4 am in winter).
They can be slapped if they do not get the problems right.
All this and the total lack of interpersonal skills make these children very vulnerable to failure. They are totally crushed when they do not get into a med college / IIT as the case maybe. They develop such a sense of failure taht many attempt suicide.
I have had one or two such kids every year in my class.
First year a girl hung hersel from the fan
Then a boy who cried to me that he is a failure
then there was the boy who became psychotic, showing me his marks card saying "See I have passed ma'm" when it clearly in capital letters said FAIL. he did this for three years and then I don't know what happened.
A girl who cut her wrists
a boy who sat through class smiling benignly, laughing to himself, till parents realised and took him to a psychiatrist.
A girl who tried to OD on sleeping pills.
The list goes on..there are some whom I don't know about....some suicide attempts too.
Currently I have a boy who cannot remember the instruction...." go and add dilute HCl" long enough for him to walk three steps to his lab bench. He too smiles benignly through my class until once in a way he shouts in anger. He told me he is unable to do salt analysis because his stars are bad currently.
Hence I get very angry at the mention of coaching classes for young children.
A bit of coaching for a 11th and 12th class child who has had a normal life till the 10th class is fine, but to be "coached" for the entire duration of schooling is the sure recipe for failure or worse, mental illness.

Monday, 23 November 2009

organic food

I just read a blog about organic food being a fetish....
Some people do take to organic food as a fetish--all nice and as God made them ---like people who believe that anything natural cannot be bad ---they tell you "but it is herbal so can't have side effects" if you don't approve of some medication. They've probably not seen dhatura growing in vacant plots, or nightshade or why, even potato fruits(I've never seen them, but I believe they are deadly).
The farm fresh idea is not the point. It's the harm the chemical pesticides do (They are ironically organic chemicals usually) . The fertilisers that have been used for decades have made many soils saline. The yields have now started going down. I have talked to farmers who have shifted to organic practices and they claim that shifting to organic farming intially gives lower yield, but after three years, the yields are comparable to what they got before and of course their input costs are much, much lower.
It is also true taht farming itself is not is a process of genetic modification. But that kind of GM is done over a few centuries or thousands of years and the duds or dangerous outcomes get discarded...maybe after a few casualities over the thousand years. What is dangerous is not evaluating risks over at least two generations of humans before certifying it as OK. I can't remember the name of the drug, but some drug was found to be safe for women, but it was later found that if taken during pregnancies, their daughters had some kind of gynaec defects which was naturally discovered only after 20 years. Same has been found about smoking
So evaluation over two years is not good enough.
But we do need GM to enhance food production --only done carefully.

talking to myself

A couple of weeks back, in my family blog, we had been writing about whether any of us talks to himself/herself. I was happy to see most of my cousins do. I frequently do and the only fear I have is taht some passing student may see me muttering to myself...can you imagine the field day the student community will have with that? There would be a skit about me in the next farewell party if these students had been the kind who come up with skits (they are not,thankfully) . which brings me to my favourite soap box.
Students after their spell in these Intermediate college/concentration camps, don't even joke amongst themselves. Many have forgotten how to laugh, I think.
Only normal youngsters are those who went to CBSE/ISC schools without the engg/medical coaching.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The Indian Institute of World Culture

Quite close to Gandhi bazar in Basavangudi Bangalore is this beautiful place called the The Indian Institute of World Culture. I owe a lot to that institution. It faces a park. Often on my way back from college, I would stop there and read in their library. They had a wonderful collection of books. I truly grew up intellectually thanks to this place.

Saturday, 21 November 2009


You have to be a woman of leisure or a procrastinator in order to to read and write blogs. I am the latter.
I read blogs everytime I sit down at my computer, switch on my modem with the firm resolve to look up material on say--- XRD of NaCl or organometallic compounds of cadmium to update my lecture notes. I then end up with no change in my lecture notes......what the heck! if they were good enough for my last batch of students, they are good enough for this batch.....
The thing is, you can voice any opinion howsoever banal or vapid, or profound or controversial on your blog without any one condemning or contradicting you until you have finished what you wish to say.
You would think being a teacher, I get enough opportunities to hear my own voice.
However, I still like to voice my views or write down my thoughts without worrying about whether anyone is listening.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Great minds

What makes me write this, is the realisation that great minds start working at an early age and need to be nurtured, not by others, but by the person himself/herslf.
I have always felt that our schools do not nurture the thinking child. That is true for most part. But a truly great mind, the real genius, does not need nurturing from outside. The person somehow finds ways to whet his own curiosity and ways to improve his skills. I obviously won't know how, but that it happens, I am sure. This is because they go to the same schools, same colleges as others who end up as bank clerks or office managers, but go on to do Nobel work.

A boy gets his path breaking idea in school, sticks to it through college, and ends up working on it for his PhD, and gives teh world a miracle.....light through a pipeline!!
Such minds do not need the school physics teacher, or the incompetent college lecturer!!

Monday, 9 November 2009

When I was a small girl, I used to feel a nameless dread when I looked directly up at the stars at night (those days you could see a lot of stars in the sky even in urban areas). I was not scared if other objects were in my field of vision. It used to make me feel deeply if I lived alone on one of those stellar objects. The feeling passed after a few years. Then quite recently, in my middle age, I felt a similar fear at the thought that time was unidirectional. ...that you can't go back in time, filled me with the same dread....not just because I will die sooner or later, but at some other level. The fact that you cannot go back and forth in time is scary, but at the same time, would I like to be transported back and forth erratically? I dont think so.

There is a novel by Fred Hoyle called "October the first is too late" that I had read in my college days. The book has anidea that is comforting in this situation. I try to convincce myself that it's very likely that time can also be accessed in a nonlinear fashion....why not? It's comforting to think that.

BTW, the novel is no literary masterpiece, but a very interesting idea, from what I remember of it.

Thursday, 29 October 2009


When you get off the train midway in your journey, and much later wish to get back on it, is it possible? Maybe if you put in a herculean effort. I dont know . You will ahve to run much much harder and since you are now much older, even the normal running is quite tough, where will ytou get the capacity for this extraordinary feat? the thing is to find an alternative route. That's the ticket!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

cities within a city

Cities like Hyderabad and Delhi are made up of many cities. Delhi of the government circles, politicians, and socialites of one kind Moti bagh, Jor bagh , and all those roads which had English names(I don't know if they still have) . Then the Delhi of the rich other than the 1st category . Then, the Delhi of INA market, Sarojini nagar --the middle class..the Delhi of Patel nagar and Karol Bagh....children of the Partition...and then the Delhi of the slums. There are the little villages trapped int he midst of large an insect in amber.....Jia Sarai , Munirka, Madangir, and one quaint village opposite NCERT campus whose name I cannot recall. Tehn there is the Delhi around Jama Masjid, the people living in the walls of the Redfort ( I mean literally inside the wide walls that surround the Red Fort)
The old Hyderabad the beautiful, but battered old city .. Charminar but more so the roads to Charminar, the majestic Asmangarh palace, now no longer visible from the road...the numerous deodis most of which have vanished...I dont know if they have been masked by blocks of flats or broken down. The glimpses into the courtyards of some of these minor deodis is fascinating as one walks past.
Teh Hyderabad of Banjara some old families with their beautiful language and some newly rich and obviously so.
The strongly Telugu Hyderabad, the more cosmopoliton Hyderabad. Here too teh old villages have been swallowed by the fields , now a block of flats.
Then the lakes of Hyderabad...suddenly one sees a lake in the least expected place, but now hardly any left..all turned to blocks of Hyderabad is a block of blocks of flats.
Tehre is the army areas...peaceful cantonments(an oxymoron?) at two ends of the city..looking just like cantonments elsewhere inthe country. The old British built bungalows, and the new typical MES houses, the wide areas of scrubland.
As we reach the outskirts, the rocks! Noone can be failed to be impressed by the rocks of this area. Huge monoliths carved into impossible shapes ..the rocks of telengana are the most impressive.
Chennai as I know it is of two kinds......I think Madras and Chennai would probably sum it up. It's still Madras to me. For me, the old Madras was full of fun...walking to Santhome beach, eating masala dosai at India Coffee house. Madras is of coffee and long chats...Nowadays, I often come across multiple Chennai...
Bangalore, again, has this kind of multiple personality . Of course I lived there so many years ago, and I am told it is a different city now. As I remember it, there was the anglo Bangalore, and teh kannada Bangalore. The cantonment as in the Army was one thing. But the cantt, as in the people who live there, were the remanants of the Raj. The houses in Ulsoor had the same appearance as the old English ladies' houses in the Hill stations in the 1960s. Basavangudi was another kind of place....old world Kannadiga, while the "modern " areas (in those days) like Jayanagar were quite cosmopoliton. What was wonderful about Bangalore in the 1970s was the peace and quiet and the unhurried nature of everything ( of course that made it impossible to go anywhere punctually by the BTS buses). The masala dosais at NMH.
The Institute of World culture and the park next to it, so unhurried. The IISc campus was another world. The trees ( creaking scarily at night when you are just under them near the IPC) were (are??) lovely. In fact one Prof's daughter told me that her parents decided to stay on in the IISc just because the beautiful gulmohars were in bloom when they first came to the campus.

Lad bazar

Today I searched the whole of the city for a lamp shade that I had to replace . The two city concept is so obvious when we cross the bridge and go towards the old city. Same in Delhi...Delhi gate and beyond is a different city from South Delhi or west Delhi, but then the secretariat - parliament house-rashtrapathi bhavan area is a third entity. Actually there are (have been) 7 Delhis, and you can see at least 4 even now (meaning the 20th century)
This was one of my very rare visits to the old city of Hyderabad ...Lad Bazar to be precise. The road to the market never fails to amaze me...the buildings are truly beautiful, but have been vandalised mercilessly... Huge carved granite pillars with a billboard advertising Airtel nailed into the granite and fixed with a patch of cement.
In Lad bazar, I was amazed by the amount of clothes on sale....all glittering with chamki. Every shop is full of glitter. Then there are the bangles, the bags all with glittering sequins .
As you move out towards the new city, slowly, the clothes shops have less chamki...the clothes are more modern, more subdued, less vibrant.
Lad Bazar -the best place for window shopping-- I walk through it like a kid in a fun fair.
Lad bazar is where I finally found my lamp shade .

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

In the days that I frequented the library to read Current Contents, I used to spend more time reading Eugene Garfield's editorials than looking up the current contents .

If only the internet was as common 25 years back as it is now, and we had open access publishing, I would have continued in a career in science, and who knows maybe done some path breaking research (no harm in believing that since it can't be disproved ). Well the world has possibly lost one great chemist.

The h-index from what I understand tells you that Dr Soandso has published h papers each of which has been cited at least h times as well as many others cited a bit less. Now what if a Dr Genius has published only one earth shaking paper cited 100 times. Does he get a h-index of 1 ? and a person who has published 10 papers each cited 10 times only has a h-index of 10.

Or have I got it wrong? I wonder.

Friday, 2 October 2009

MS Swaminathan

Now we have MS Swaminathan on Vandana Shiva.
There is something that makes activists sound like rabble rousers even when they have something valid to "activate" about. The tone of MSS article is so much better than that of VS's. Both have valid points, but she is strident; he sounds- oh so- reasonable.
Perhaps that's why many valid concerns with strident proponents get ignored.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Electric Vehicles

I have been without access to the internet .for sometime. Recently, I read a blog on EV also the news about Reva and GM tie up. I was talking to my son about it. Are these really as environment friendly as we make it out to be?
Like my son said, we are exchanging a more efficient fuel(petrol) for a less efficient one(coal in thermal power stations and of course the huge transmission losses of the grid power system).
Then there are the Li much Li are we going to need if most autos convert to this technology? and how are we going to dispose /recycle this after the lifeime of the battery? Compare it with existing car batteries ...has anyone got any numbers to this? or are we just joining the fashion?
Are we seriously trying to make affordable solar cars?
Are these EVs a prelim to the solar cars?
We have seen time and again that new tech carries risks. Yet we never fully and scientifically evaluate the risks and then decide the risk is worth taking. We just embrace new technology without a full analysis. Yes given the present problems, EV with all their risks, may be worthwhile, but has anyone done this analysis? any Audit?
This is like GM food and biotech. Are we honestly evaluating all the risks and then deciding that we are willing to pay the price, or are we just assuming all new tech is good tech?
We cannot go on like spoilt brats...this toy broke, so buy me a new toy. We must learn not to break toys.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva has been at MS Swaminathan in the op-ed yesterday.
The green revolution triggered in part by MSS in India had many drawbacks...but I used to think that in those times,(I am old enough to remeber the days of PL 480), the cost was justified since it made us self sufficient in food. But the same thing is now making us lose our grip on our food-self-sufficiency.
GM has always scared me. we are doing things whose long term consequences we cannot determine.
Any technology that interferes with living systems cannot be totally predictable. Biology is not physics... or even chemistry.
The case of thalidomide made a strong impression upon me (I was a kid) The horrible errors of judgement. (assuming it was not greed)..the side effect was totally unexpected. Similarly, the side effects of the transgenic organisms may not be where we are looking, but at a totally unexpected place...even more unlikely than the cattle that ate bt cotton and died.
It's like the way everyone including scientists assume ET life will have intelligence, need oxygen, need water etc....there maybe life based on S and P or on some other element .

Friday, 4 September 2009

meeting old students

A couple of days back, we had an Alumni meet --got to meet a few of my old students. Really nice to see them.

I also got really nice mails from a few old students. It is good to see that at least some of my old students remember me and my teaching with fondness.

During the course of this academic year, so far, many old students have got in touch with me...just finishing their PhD, or just starting one, or waiting for fellowships, so many of them becoming or hoping to become scientists. I hope they become good ones.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Some's raining. The rains have now moved over to august in the past couple of years. June /July is getting to be dry. I hope the rains keep coming year after year even if they have changed their timetable...we should change ours in response.
Shouldn't agri scientists be giving advice on when to sow now that the rains are following a different timetable?

Monday, 10 August 2009

Amartya Sen on the Bengal famine " I knew of no one in my school or among my friends and relations whose family had experienced the slightest problem during the entire famine; it was not a famine that afflicted even the lower middle classes - only people much further down the economic ladder, such as landless rural labourers."

The decision makers do not suffer the effects of famine and food shortage, so they do not respond adequately. Only now that the spectre of food shortage is looming large, people are talking about using fertile land for SEZs and other such issues.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

I used to talk to myself (not aloud though) if there was anything worrying me. Now I post on this blog but not really about my worries. Now I shall.

My worry is what if it doesnt rain this year would be unlivable ..and if it doesnt rain next year too, I dont think we can water, no electricity, perhaps exorbitant is coming so much sooner than most of us thought possible.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

quite hopeless

The bottle neck in the education system is the teacher. No amount of curriculum modernisation is going to help if finally a fantastic curriculum is being taught by a teacher who does not understand the subject matter.
Many teachers in school are poorly educated themselves, they are not very knowledgable. They do not have the skills required to research for information nor do they have the means to do so. ...though I must say, after my stint in the village, I am impressed by the way BSNL has brought broadband to villages.
The teachers were taught by the existing mug-up-and-write method, so how are they going to teach any different? and how can we expect them to understand the curriculum and teach with some insight into the subject they teach?
I do not see any hope.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Kapil Sibal is definitely an improvement on Arjun Singh....though that's not saying much. I saw a part of the CNN program with the HRD minister. Whatever may be the changes, it is not possible to throw out most of the current VCs and get new faculty VC down to lecturer. Similarly, throw out all the state boards and teachers and get new ones.
Years ago, when my daughter was in class 3, she would learn answers and ask me to hear her repeat them. She would pre-empt me saying "now don't correct the grammar in the answer, I have to write it just like the teacher has given it" sure enough, there would be many grammatical errors in the answers...which a 8 year old could detect. Such is the quality of teachers in "good schools".
One teacher told my son while teaching The Merchant of Venice that "Antonio was a good fencer" meant that antonio could build fences well.
But I came across a couple of good teachers when I went to a government school in a village near Ooty.
It's a lottery...a child may come across a good teacher and then his/her life is made.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

INO again

The interest in neutrinos started with the KGF experiments. I remember reading about them as a student and being terribly impressed that our physicists have succeeded in setting up one of the (then) two such facilities.
The revival of interest is described here-
I looked at this mainly to see why the KGF cannot be used again...perhaps some scientific reason. The report does not mention any...only that the KGF mines were closed due to financial reasons and so they could not use the facility. Why can they not use these crores of rupees to revive the KGF mines lab and upgrade the facilities. Surely it must be cheaper and environmentally better. Perhaps the lure of living in Ooty as opposed to living in KGF ( a dismal town) is one factor.

Saturday, 4 July 2009


There seems to be a major brouhaha brewing in the Nilgiri biosphere. How has the Ministry of Environment cleared this is a mystery. But the greater mystery is how scientists can believe that transporting three 17kton detectors, building material for a large cavern, electrical equipment, air conditioning systems etc, into the site and transporting earth from a huge 3.5 km tunnel out of the site, can be done without disturbing any wildlife?
Surely other sites must be suitable!

Sunday, 28 June 2009

fate of life sciences

I rejoined my college to the dismal news that very few students are interested in taking admission in a BSc life science course. Till two years ago, the Chemistry department that teaches Chemistry to all life science course students had more than 400 students in the three years of BSc now our first year may not have more than 50 students.
Our college is self- student, no money. This dismal state of affairs is due to two factors. One is that in this state, professional degree is the only degree of value..only losers do pure science. Secondly, the state government prefers quantity to quality. They have encouraged a huge number of colleges to start a BPharm course. Everyone will get a BPharm admission if he/she does not get into an MBBS/BDS course.
For most parents, being a dentist is preferable to being a scientist.
I could understand the craze for a BE/Btech since you were getting a good job(fancy salary) after 4 years of study. But this craze for BPharm and BDS, I cannot understand. How many BPharms can the industry employ? And looking at the infrastructure in some of these Pharma colleges, will their alumni be employable?
A (informal) survey shows that nowadays very few students take biology in their Intermediate(XI class equivalent).
Soon this state will not produce any graduate in a life science subject. This state aims to be a biotech hub.... with what?

Monday, 18 May 2009

Waldorf schools

Last evening, one of the new Waldorf schools had a "workshop" to educate parents about the benefits of the Waldorf system. True it is better, but the teacher who spoke made a couple of errors which made me think. The basic idea in these schools is that the teacher introduces concepts of say math or science or history or whatever during the course of a sort of a talk on anything...she in particular said she brings in the Pythogoras theorem when discussing Egypt, and discussed the advent of the Mughals with regard to the building of the great wall of China. All very well, but she also mentioned how she discusses the composition of air...oxygen, nitrogen and why hydrogen? is that just aslip or does she not know that the % of hydrogen is rather small? she also said that the % of oxygen must be maintained (good so far) because excess oxygen makes our skin age faster. Now of course, yes, oxidative processes do age us, but is that relevent? Such things give the children totally wrong would mean the world is designed for our benefit....haven't we done enough damage to the world without inculcating such attitudes in kids?---- and even if you wish to be anthropocentric, excess oxygen would burn everything up....forest fires we have seen so far would be kids' bonfires in comparison--but aging skin??
This makes me wonder if leaving things to teachers is such a good thing...many school teachers are learned, well read, but many are not.
This method puts too much on teachers and many may not be able to rise up to it.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

election results.

Thankfully Narendra Modi did not prevail. If the BJP had won, Modi's form of "good governance" would have been taken up pan-India and we may have had happier industrialists, but also a mini holocaust. It so surprised me that Ratan Tata gave a thumbs up for Modi after the Nano went to Gujarat, but glad the people did not think so.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Back to 44C summer from 24C holidayland.

"In boom years, I've seen some folks succeed a bit too easily, and draw some falsely flattering conclusions about themselves". This I have seen across all kinds of college students. I see it not only in my college, but I also came across such attitudes in the engineering college I visited often during my vacation.

You go to a debate competiton, 19/20 year olds talk utter nonsense in a fake accent and believe they are really good, and what's more, get prizes! They are feted by the faculty and other students, made to feel they are great. They debate with no logic, no coherence , no building up of fact, in my college, once on a debate on whether cable televison is a good thing or not, one of the speakers turned to his friend in the opposite camp and said "As if you dont watch MTV! " He thought that was a clincher!! Applause, applause! That's the quality of debate. Where are the budding intellectuals?

But then, when I watch programs on TV where issues are debated, the bigwigs dont argue all that much better either. (LokSabha TV has some good talks/debates sometimes though. They dont need TRPs I suppose).

Sunday, 3 May 2009

private colleges

Tough I malign the "paan dukaan" colleges, I must admit they cater to a section of students who perhaps need them. These colleges run with minimal infrastructure and are therefore able to charge low fees. They are on main bus routes and are therefore easy to commute to. They are in crowded residential localities and therefore many girls from conventional homes are able to attend.
The teaching staff are pressurised to get good results in the theory exam so they make the students memorise pages of notes. Many of the students are industrious and so they get spectacular marks (90%).
You may ask then what is your problem with these colleges?
There is no education...they only learn the textbooks.... that's the problem.
However, sometimes, I come across really good students in these colleges. I went as an examiner to one of these colleges. In the viva, I asked a girl a few questions, she answered well, so I went on to ask more intricate questions. She could not answer, but I was quite pleased, so told her "good, but go and find out what the answer is". The next year, I again went as an examiner to the same college. I was stunned when the girl came for her viva voce, and reminded me of my question the previous year and she gave me the answer!!! I was so impressed!
Sad part is, she is from an orthodox family, and her teachers told me she was getting married as soon as her exams got over.
Such is life.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

entrance exam.

Just now, there is a program on TV. A gentleman is talking about IAS qualifying exam. He says that the aspirant must practise with old question papers such that when he/she sees an objective type question, the answer automatically comes to him/her...he says, once the aspirant starts thinking, he/she gets confused...the answer just comes to mind because of the amount of practice he/she has put in!!!!

This is what the coaching instt do ....he says it with pride, I say it with horror.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Manipal university has a new course BSc in animation. This is a good one.(but the course fees are not that good news--6lakhs).

They advertise that--

"The curriculum covers all the essential elements of animation training through a unique parallel track advancement programme, which incorporates:
Equal emphasis on traditional arts & digital techniques
Conceptual understanding & technical abilities
Hands-on workshops covering clay modelling & claymation, sculpting, puppetry, sound effects and theatre
Curriculum developed in conjunction with industry experts
Strong industry partnerships for placements "

I had posted before that we should have BSc in such areas and the course should teach skills as well as theory...more sound theory than the ITIs or polytechs do. This caters to those who want to get a BSc degree, but need to be employed well after that. Of course this example may not be the best, since the fees are high, but the idea is what I am talking about. No BSc Physics,Maths,Chemistry after which you dont get a job and you are not interested enough to go further for an MSc.

Monday, 27 April 2009

private universities?

"fund managers are focusing on this untapped segment to maximise returns"

The statement is the essence of private colleges. I dont know about private universities, but definitely, private colleges are viewed as a good source of income like a paan dukaan, or garment export. Some of the people who own colleges are local dadas who want to make a quick buck. The colleges are located in city centres on a main road in an apartment block. A couple of bedrooms are knocked together to make lecture rooms. For about one month in the year, these rooms are transformed into labs. About 25-30 students do their practicals in these 20'x12' rooms at one time that too chemistry practicals. The students don't pay very high fees. This and the fact that they are on bus routes make these colleges are very popular.

The teaching staff just come and teach 6 periods at a stretch and go home. They do not have any say in the college administration. They do not have any other role in the college.They are never made permanent and are always on contract basis for 9 months every year. They are paid a small salary (about 40-60% of the norm). The principal is also a dummy one with not much administrative role except the day-to-day running of the college. The owner holds the reins and his say is the ultimate in every aspect of college administration. Many of these owners are also local politicians (did I not say local dadas?) and some are not educated.

The low fees notwithstanding, these colleges make huge profits because they do not have much of capital expenditure (rented building and no labs) and have low running costs.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

IIT alumni

I was talking this morning to a person who recruits people for his company. They do analytical work and he recruits statisticians, mathematicians and some IITians. He says that nowadays, the IIT grads are not like they were in his days (he is from IITM). They lack inquisitiveness and creativity. He says they work to instructions, but show no creative problem solving skills.
I got on my favourite soap box. It is all because of the coaching classes.
I keep harping on this but I see the fallout regularly... and it has become worse of late...last 5 years or so.
Nowadays, coaching for IIT/Medicine starts in class 7 or 8.
Keeping 12 year olds inside a building for 10 hours a day , not encouraging language skills, arts, sports is not the way to produce creative people.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

thinking skills

Thinking critically is a skill that we need to live our lives. There are some good people working in science education-some NGOs, and the HBCSE. They have developed small interesting books on science. They develop kits to conduct small experiments using inexpensive materials. But often, these experiments are just that...experiments. One example:- blowing into a long narrow plastic bag. If you blow into it from a distance of a few inches, it fills up easily. If you blow with your mouth inside the bg, it takes a lot of effort. The demonstrator explains why. Fine.
But I really don't care why...I have never needed to blow into a huge long plastic bag. The thing is to explain daily-life processes--to teach critical thinking not as if it belongs to science.
In fact in our lives, we need to take decisions that must be done after critical thought...should I take up this job? should I give ORS to my sick child? should I get married? should I plant wheat or sugarcane?
and at a mundane level, should I take the umbrella with me today?
These are my day-to-day dilemmas. I must take proper decisions at each step I must think critically, weighing the pros and cons. I must be able to think out solutions to my daily problems, perhaps a creative solution. Teaching it as if it is the realm of science gives children an impression that only scientists need to think critically.
Thinking skills must be taught and taught using real life examples and activities.

Speaking of thermodynamics, what fascinates me is the thermodynamic miracle of life. Such perfect ordering. One doesn't need to know much to appreciate it. Most of us have all our biochemical reactions working perfectly with just tiny stepwise changes in free energy powering our hearts, muscles etc. And it happens day in and day out without a mistake. How can this happen? Most biochemical mechanisms(the little I know) are beautiful.

This was echoed by one student I mentioned earlier when I had explained the uptake of oxygen by hemoglobin....he stared at the blackboard and said "oh wow!!" I rarely find a student who truly appreciates science in this manner.

Monday, 20 April 2009

end of my holiday

My long vacation is coming to an end and soon it will be time to go back to the heat and the college routine. These six months were amazing....exploring villages in the hills, reading in the most quaint library I've seen, and trying out an experiment in teaching(not successful though).
The thesis was that 10-12 years old can be taught critical thinking.
There are two schools of thought..some believe that critical thinking must be embedded in regular teaching (infusion) ,while others believe it must be taught explicitly
I lean towards the latter.
So I went to this village school and told the principal that without disturbing their routine, I would like to try out an experiment.
My plan was that I would have a pretest, conduct my workshop,and after a few months I would have a post test. Lo behold!! the post test would be a dramatic improvement on the pretset and I would have a scientific basis for my claim that critical thinking can be taught.
Of course, it didn't workout. Some of the kids who came for the pretest attended two sessions and then said their mothers want them to come home early. In subsequent sessions, the demography was fluid...those who came one day, did not come the next, but came back after a few days. Real confusion. After a point I stopped figuring out who came for what and just had a bit of fun with the kids.

Sunday, 19 April 2009


In college, as I have already talked about, the people who taught me believed good teaching was reciting a textbook without looking at anything( note/book/paper). In fact one person never looked at anyone eye contact ever!!! I still cant understand how he could teach like that or why he did.... academia is full of weirdos.
Then I went to an institute. There, of course no one recited textbooks. A few were very good...taught me to like Chemistry again.But there were a few profs who believed teaching ignoramuses like us was beneath them. One particular prof taught (didnt) us thermodynamics. He regularly told us we were dumbos and wouldn't understand anything.... At that time, I accepted this because I (and all my classmates) did not understand much of what he taught. It is thanks to the system of relative grading we passed. Now I see that it was a failure on his part that none of us understood thermodynamics.
Teaching a class is fulfilling because you see faces concentrating on what you are saying, and suddenly many of them clear up..the faces suddenly's a good feeling.
That gentleman missed all the fun.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Occasionally, I get mail from my ex-students. It is heartening to hear that they are doing well. Some of them go on to join good institutions for their PhD. When I was teaching them, I knew they would do so. However, there is always one odd case where I am pleasantly surprised. Sometimes, suddenly, one old student comes to the college and tells me that he/she is doing well....a good business,or maybe an MBA, or even a PhD. That makes me really happy.
These are the moments that make teaching wonderful.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Classroom dynamics.

I am happy to see this link. Now there is good news for mothers -- that is another post
But more important, is the study of the class and how it works.
I don't know about small children (but I expect it is similar), but undergrad classes have an interesting dynamics. In most colleges, a group of students go through college together.
All classes are a mix of maybe 10-15% of students who are really interested in academics, about 40-50% who are there because they must study for some undiscovered reason, and the rest because they were put in college and told to get a degree of which a few are downright rowdies.
I teach these classes Chemistry for three years. (the % figures are just guesses though)
In some classes, the rowdies of the class,though few, make a great mark in it. The whole class slides. The once enthusiastic learners become apathetic and the once apathetic become useless. This trend starts by the middle of their first year and gains momentum throughout their stay in college. I lose the battle by their second year. I stop giving assignments(noone does them), or any extra inputs(noone cares) and just deliver my lecture and go home.
In other classes, the top 10-15% are the ones who dominate. The bright ones shine, lead discussions in class, ask questions. They make my lectures such fun, that I look forward to their class --and I have to read up well before such classes. These students end up in good institutions for their PG, go on to a research career.
The once apathetic ones perk up, do assignments, read what I ask them to read and by the end of three years, become quite good. Even the once rowdy elements, do a fairly good job and pass with decent marks. It is amazing and I never forget that class.
But try as I might, I cannot control the dynamics...I can only observe it.
I am not sure why...perhaps it is the numbers as the article says.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009


Unlearning is what we do in school nowadays.
A toddler is full of curiosity. Life with a 3 year old is full of questions. Why does the insect have a light (that was a glowworm) ? Then there was the question I had to answer everyday at bath time."what happens to this water you poured on me just now? Where does it go?" Then we put them in school.
Life in KG:-You have to stand in a line in kindergarten. You get a smack on the head if you don't. Have you ever seen a queue of adults at the post office or railway station? The line is as crooked as the proverbial drunken sailor's walk. Then why must 4 year olds know when tehy are not in line? How will they? You have to stand outside the line to be able to see that the line is crooked. Then why the smacking?
You must colour inside the lines. You must write between the lines. You must sing along with everyone's endless.
If you ask why, you are the class villain. After a few attempts at asking why, you stop. Even the most tenacious child stops asking questions by class 1.
Did you ask why our science education is not good?


Learning is a really complicated yet simple process. Neurobiologists and cognitive scientists would perhaps tell us how complex it is. But watch a child. How a baby learns to walk- it is truly amazing. It is so simple...all the baby does is try and try again, eventually it just walks as a matter of hype, no medal, it just walks----the learning is its own reward.

Monday, 13 April 2009

School education

I had a lovely time in the school where I studied from class 8 to class 11. Those days, we finished school by class 11.
The Principal of this school was an MA from Oxford. I never learnt what her subject of study was. However, she taught us Shakespeare, geography , and art at different times in my stay in that school. She once told us that she had taught all subjects except, hindi and sanskrit, at one time or the other.
The best of all these were her geography classes. Once a week, we had a geography walk. We would go for a long walk in the hills during which she would point out geographical features and discuss them. We would then sit and draw contour diagrams of some distant hill. On our way back, she would treat us all to a cup of tea at a roadside teastall. It was wonderful.
I loved those geography classes. I really learnt physical geography.
Nobody seems to like learning in schools nowadays.

Sunday, 12 April 2009


Parents of girl children, particularly those with conservative background, have this dichotomy within. They see successful women, wish their daughters similar success and hence educate them.
When a parent looks at a 10 year old daughter, he/she sees a great future for the child. But when the same daughter is 22, the parent feels that she must get married. One wants the best for our children and so feel we must not leave out anything.
Societal changes take a few generations and those in the in between generations, pay the price.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

The reasons for women giving up a good career in science or for that matter in any field, can be many. In the previous generation, it was usually social. Society had still not made up its mind about women taking up careers. On the one hand, daughters were educated to a great degree, on the other hand, these girls must grow up to be good wives and mothers. In many cases, in the tussle between the two roles, the career woman was lost.

The same society did not realise the loss it had incurred. How many scientists, lawyers, even doctors are lost to society because they had to spend most of their productive years in housework and child rearing.

Couple of generations before, litle girls were not educated. They were trained to keep house and rear children. They grew up to keep house and rear children. So there was no problem. The problem comes when girls are trained for a profession, but end up cooking and cleaning. Society loses trained human resource, the women lose out. That is the tragedy many women faced.

Nowadays, I see most girls train for a career, and manage to have a good career. Of course, even now, there are problems, but they are slowly being addressed.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

I have been cited after 25 years !!

After 25 years in the wilderness, some review article (in Coordination Chemistry Reviews) has cited four of my old(ancient) papers. Well, so I did some research...I wasn't imagining it. ---and I didn't "do" research.

Thanks to my son, I got a copy... getting hold of a paper is impossible for a lay person like me.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009


I have been reading some blogposts about how students spam various profs for internship. It must be annoying, but I think the fault does not lie with the students.
If the various professors saw the kind of schools and colleges they go to, they would not be surprised at all.
Science is taught as if it is a collection of facts, equations formulae and diagrams. If you get these right, you are a scientist.
Ever since the NAAC made research one of the criteria for getting a good report, all colleges want their teaching staff to "do research".
With no access to literature, current contents , reviews, many lecturers "do research". Their promotion depends on it. They also "do" PhD in the same fashion. One day they register, then suddenly, they submit and get their degree. They are in the college the whole day, never stay back in the evenings, may be do a couple of weeks of bench work in the vacation, and voila! they get their PhD.
So why are you surprised if students from such colleges want to "do" research for two weeks?

Monday, 6 April 2009

out of context

I was supposed to blog about education, but since I was uploading my photos, I couldn't resist putting a few up on all my blogs.
The WiS people are quite serious about their project. I am glad things are changing for the next generation of women scientists.
Many years ago, I used to watch the UGC programs regularly. One program was about Leelavati, the daughter of the ancient mathematician Bhaskara. He used to make up stories for his young daughter Leelavati. Each story was a mathematical problem and she had to figure it out. Later, when she grew up, she too became a great mathematician. I thought it was a lovely story.
The WiS has published a book 'Lilavati's daughters'

nice place I live in

politics and youth.

Just now, ndtv inerviewed some young people in a mall, about politics. I thought I was ignorant about politics, but one young man takes the cake...I like him, he's good for my ego.

interviewer: who is the candidate for the NDA this election?

young man:P V Narasimha Rao.

He has given a new meaning to the words "turning in his grave"

That's the educated urban youth for you.

Friday, 3 April 2009


They have built a robot that does scientific work!!
That's smarter than my friend who worked for his PhD along with me, in my lab. Most mornings, his guide(research supervisor..I see the terminology has changed since my time) would come up to our lab, hand him some small bottle and say"make a 0.01M solution of this and titrate your sample using XX indicator and then report the titre value to me".
He got his PhD much before I did...probably his guide got tired of his daily trip upstairs to our lab.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

An explanation

A valid comment by Shantanu, so here's a link to a brief description of Bloom's taxonomy.
...there is more on this, called the "new Bloom", where creativity is given more importance than was originally given by Benjamin Bloom. WiS refers to Women in Science , a project taken up by some women scientists and the Indian Academy of sciences(IAS).
The project is trying to establish the causes that led many women to leave a career in scientific research midway. It hopes to address this issue and make it easier for women to pursue a career in scientific research.

Bloom's taxonomy

The teaching in all or most of our colleges, including my classes, never go beyond the first tier in Bloom's pyramid.
I teach Coordination chemistry to BSc students and have to go over Werner's hypothesis. The class goes like this:-
"you know, he put forth this hypothesis before the discovery of the
electron "
I get blank looks
"That's intuitive isnt it? isn't it amazing?"
Then I give least for that year. Again next time I teach, the same script is rerun like an old serial.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

We have a catch 22 situation in our higher education. Yes, we want to change the way testing of learning outcome, but who will correct those test papers? Most of the teaching staff of all our colleges have been taught to recite "In a large tank, the well-powdered ore is taken..." verbatim. Even those of us who deplore this form of teaching have been testing the students with the standard questions expecting the standard answers. We have to, unless we are able to take a 20% or 30% pass results in the university exams. Those of you familiar with our colleges will understand what I mean.

About the quoted words, its something I will never forget.

At school, the day we went for our final ISC exam we were given a chocolate each and told "Keep your wits sbout you" by our Principal . I enjoyed the exams (really). It was the same feeling as I get now when I get the morning paper to do the sudoku... a challenge that I enjoyed meeting and met very well , if I may boast.

Then I went to this college (full of university rankers) . Here, Inorganic Chemistry was taught by this prof who would teach exactly as if he was reciting the textbook, but never brought a single piece of paper to the class. The next day, he would ask us to tell him what was taught in the previous class. I could never remember and would try to pretend I didnt exist.

The froth flotation method was recited by him one day and the next day sure enough, the "class topper" recited it verbatim "In a large tank, the well-powdered ore is taken...." I was thunderstruck. How could she remember it ? I never forgot this sentence's been 37 years!! But I dont remember anything else from what I was taught in college.

At school I was going to be this brilliant chemist, doing some unspecified but earth-shaking research in Chemistry (I loved it). At college, I hated all forms of chemistry with equal fervour. It was soooooo boring.

It took me a while to start liking it again.

That's why, when one student said "Oh wow" when I had explained something in their syllabus, it made me feel really happy.

Saturday, 28 March 2009


The IAS has started an initiative to encourage women to take up science as a career. With the internet, and grants to women who take a career break, it should make life easier. In addition, GOOD daycare for children and maybe even for geriartics would go a long way.
In the previous generation, women did have it tough. After 4 hours of housework, you head to the workplace in a crowded bus. Then worked for 7 hours and commuted back home to do some more housework.
So early on I knew I could not do much dedicated research. I thought I would take a break and then get back to it. But with no good daycare, the break extended to about 10 years ...long enough for the kids to grow up enough to be left alone safely for a couple of hours daily.
Then I looked at a research paper. Yikes!! when did they start writing Chemistry in Greek? Well, so no more research... So I got into teaching. After 10 years, even textbooks looked a bit Greekish, but not too bad. Soon I began to enjoy teaching. Teaching is more rewarding than research except the one odd eureka moment that comes our way during years of research.
Now they popularise the internet!!! Couldn't they have done it 10 years earlier?

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

who goes to college?

When I see some of the boys and girls who go to various colleges, I wonder why they are there. It is obvious that they are not interested. They do not wish to learn whatever is taught to them. They just want the degree. They do not attend classes, give fake medical certificates and just a week before the exams, buy themselves a guide book, memorise a few answers and pass the exams. Why should they waste time and money doing this? I seriously believe a BSc or BA is for those who wish to learn something. But societal compulsions makes it imperative for everyone to get a degree. To enable such students to pass, our exams are also tailored to this mode of "study".
So I suggest, in every subject, there should be two question papers. One catering to the guide book types and another that questions in depth knowledge of the subject. You get your degree by passing anyone, but if you pass the second option, you get an honours degree. The honours degree should have stringent attendance requirements, lab requirements, and the questions should test the analytical abilities, language skill and general awareness of the student.

Another alternative is to bring technical education (like ITI and polytechnics) into the mainstream. You can get a BSc in electrical works or a BA in office management. A BSc in horticulture can set you up as a high end garden landscaping consultant and a BSc in wood technology can setup a carpentery and interior design company. This reduces the pressure on everyone to "do" science. They get a BSc degree anyway. The BSc science programs will then cater to students who want to study Physics/ Chemistry/ Biochemistry etc. Then we can make the science courses truly rigorous.
Until this pressure of everyone needing to get a BSc is reduced, there is no hope for undergraduate science education in India.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

people in this village

I have temporarily taken up residence in a village in the hills. Tamil nadu has good roads to all these hill villages---maybe a few exceptions in the remoter parts of the district. Good roads means really that--- smooth ---no potholes at all!!!
The schools in these villages are much better than the ones in the urban areas. They are all run well, students are inside the class rooms, fairly quiet, and listening to what the teacher has to say. The schools have good buildings, a playground where they play football/hockey after school.The children are all polite... in fact, all the people here are polite...a great contrast to Chennai where autodrivers and bus conducters are abusive as a default option.
The school children here have a better life than their urban counterparts because nowadays, urban schools are not into education....they are now just tution centres for the school final exam or for the entrance exams.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

schools thirty years ago

I have studied in 4 different schools in the 1960's. I enjoyed going to three of these schools and hated going to the fourth one. But even this hated school was far better than some of the schools I see nowadays. We had a recess when we ate lunch with friends, played hopscotch or tag or whatever the popular game of the week was, we quarelled with friends, or just ran around in the huge playground collecting fallen tamarind pods , dodging the cheels (kites) that tried to snatch our lunch. We studied everything with equal fervour....history, geography, maths, science, English, Hindi and even a bit of Sanskrit. we had weekly games period, music period, art period in our timetables.

Friday, 30 January 2009

IIT and school education

Sometimes, I think having educated middleclass parents is a curse. I find children in village schools far better tahn those in the urban schools. These schoools(I speak of Hyderabad since I live there) have names like " XXX concept school", "YYY academy" etc
The schools are located on main roads in commercial localities. They are housed in blocks of apartments with small rooms. Of course there is no play ground!
They do not have any games, no music, no art, no playtime, no books to read... in fact nothing that give an education. Not even chatting or fighting with classmates.
These schools charge exorbitant fees and teach the children to "do maths". The children are kept inside these "chambers" from 8 am to 6 or 7pm. doing nothing but memorise definitions and memorise problems. Of course they score 99% in their 10th board exams.
Parents are mighty pleased. They are coached for that holy exam IIT JEE or for the almost equally holy EAMCET exam from class VIII or even class VII till class X and tehn handed over to a similar institution for their inter I and II years(class XI & XII). They work more tahn 14 hours a day 7 days a week. Parents are impressed and are sure their child will egt in to IIT.
Most do not get into IIT and many not even to any decent state engineering or medical colleges. They are therefore told they are useless fit for nothing .
They come to colleges like mine to study for a BSc and THAT explains my previous post.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

higher education in India

Sometimes, when I see the students taht come to my classes, I wonder whether we were all like that in our college days.
Most of my students have less enthusiasm for learning than a 80 year old person. They all have a dull apathetic attitude to college--- not just my class(may be I am a boring lecturer) but to everything around tehm. Some of them dont even have enthusiasm to go and watch a movie.
It is scary to see 19 year ols like that.
The fault lies with their parents.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Can you believe ...teh US ambassador says India must not make accusations against Pak state without proof!!!!! Can you believe the cheek!!!!!!
Do they think noone in India has heard of Iraq?

I watch this TV show called Blue Bloods. It is about a family of New York Police Department officers. The show is fictional and makes all ...