Monday, 30 August 2010

indus valley

Perhaps this is how the Indus valley civilisation got wiped out. In ancient times, without modern technology, a flood of this kind would have been the end of the world.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

visiting places

I was looking at the pictures posted on a travel blog and was wishing I could go to those places. Having lived in many places , I don't like just visiting places. I wouldn't like to go as a tourist to places, except maybe to see monuments...
What I like is living in different places and becoming a part of life there.... Nilgiris...the 6 o'clock train on winter evenings, going back home after my visit to the beautiful library . Amazing experience that no tourist can have. Being part of the life around you.... talking to neighbours who were vegetable farmers--living in the hills of UP, taking long walks on holidays....... living in the hills of north Bengal, taking my small son for a picnic lunch on the hillock behind my house...amazing how much he used to walk.
The hills of India are beautiful.


I was talking today to my son, about teaching college students in the US . He was told that he should be a little entertaining.
I also saw that Prof Tandon is in the news (ICM)
Some people believe that your lecture (on a scientific subject) must be entertaining --why entertaining?
Some years ago, I used to volunteer for this organisation that has a summer school in science for 9th class kids, and I heard Prof Tandon give a talk to 14 year olds on prime numbers. He was really interesting.. he held the kids (and me) spell-bound.
I think there is a great difference between entertaining and interesting.
If my students want to be entertained, they should switch on their TV, but if they want my lectures to be interesting, that's a reasonable demand. ( though some parts of my syllabus are impossible)
However, for a lecture to be interesting, one has to have some interest to begin with. Given that as a starting point, it is the duty of the teacher to make it interesting. But entertaining? No!

Though Prof Tandon's talk was like a story-telling session, I would not call it entertaining. I would call it interesting, very interesting.

I find these videos where they teach Chemistry with "you be sodium and let Jimmy here be chlorine" very are not three years old when you are taught ionic bond - so why this role play?
I don't believe the children (12 to 14 year olds) learn ionic bond any better by this than by more conventional methods. In fact, there is a serious problem in this particular example.
Once I asked my class " If an ionic bond is formed by giving of electron directly by one atom of sodium to one atom of chlorine thus forming sodium chloride, what about the sodium chloride formed when I neutralise sodium hydroxide with hydrochloric acid and then crystallise the product? is that an ionic bond?"
The students were confused by this---- and they are in college.
I don't blame the students.
You should see the diagram the 9th class AP state school textbook has for a polarised atom...enough to confuse any child.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

"So, do blogs like this give us a more accurate impression of the tenure-track life or do they amplify the negative, leading some people to conclude that pre-tenure suffering is de rigueur?"
This question can be asked about any aspect of life.
Whether it is tenure-track in a US university or teaching in a college or being a student in India, a working mother or a retired person, many people use their blogs to vent their daily disappointments, post their rants and criticisms. Some blogs are downright obnoxious.
Of course there are exceptions --- and ---
How many of us blog about "I am happy today!" ?
"I finished all my corrections and returned all my students' records Yay!"-- (I just did that today)
So blogs are disproportionately pessimistic.
If one were to obtain ones world-view from blogs, one would be depressed totally.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

degrees to foreign nationals.

Do we never award degrees to non-Indians? We have so many foreign students in all our universities. Even NDA and IMA, our defence academies regularly train and award degrees to foreign nationals.
What is the funda about not giving a degree to Viswanathan Anand even if he was a foreigner who forgot the fact and played for India.
The problem with activists who campaign for preserving forests/tigers, for those against dams etc, is they focus on the tiger or the forest. The majority of the electorate is either rural, but non forest-dwelling or urban. In either case, preserving the tiger or the forests is of no interest to anyone.
"Hum to tiger zoo me dekh sakte hain"
What they should concentrate instead is to educate people about water resources being depleted if forests are destroyed, of sure destruction of ecosystems if the tiger is decimated, of floods in their cities and villages, of the influx of "undesirable" squatters into their cities if the tribal lands are destroyed...
THEN, the electorate is interested and the politicians inturn will do something. Until the focus is the forests/tigers per se, nothing will happen.

quote from Bittu Sahgal

"I am in Kolkata driving through wetlands that are being destroyed. No one told administrators about climate change & water stress?" on NDTV website
Yes really, has no one heard of the role of forests in maintaining aquifers either?


A mining company official smugly states on NDTV that they have given compensation of 50,000/- for some and 100,000/- for others displaced due to their mining operations. They are also willing to train and employ the displaced tribals if found suitable.
I am sure all the displaced tribals are now trained and writing software for material management in the company and are paid 3 lakhs per month. Go to the company office and you will see happy Gondis tapping away at their laptops.
Nice! Tomorrow someone may take away my house and say they will settle me in the Dandakaranya forests, employ me as a honey gatherer instead. They will train me to go into the forest and gather honey and if I was proficient in walking for 20 miles a day in the jungle, and braving angry bees and Naxalites, I can be employed in their honey gathering enterprise. If found untrainable, they will give me 50,000/- instead! Good bargain!!

Sunday, 22 August 2010


Can you believe it? There is a THESIS on slangs used in IITM.

5 star hotels

I just read an old blogpost about how the Leela and other 5 star hotels do not have provision for / do not allow patrons to come in on a bicycle.
Actually, coming in a car would perhaps be the least environment-unfriendly part of staying/eating at a 5 star hotel. So why crib about not being allowed to come on a bicycle?
If you are truly environment conscious should you be patronising the energy-water guzzling establishments in the first place?

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Today, we had a freshers welcome show in our college... that means, in my old age, I have to listen to mediocre or even really bad music amplified through high wattage speakers for 4 hours at a stretch. So I am exhausted.
A few years back, my brother was visiting me. I had to go to my college, so had taken him and my little neice(about 5 yrs old ) along with me. This was because we were having a sort of student activities day. I left my neice in front of the stage to watch a play telling her that it was a funny play(it was supposed to be). When I got back, she was watching it seriously and asked me"When will the funny part come?"
A colleague of mine teaching English used to put up plays in the college. With her sergeant-major tactics, she put up some really high class plays with the same kind of students. On their own, the students cannot even think of putting up a good skit, let alone a play -- and they are all around 20 years of age.
There really is something wrong with how we educate them.

Friday, 20 August 2010


During my school days, my English teacher tried to convince me to take up Eng Lit in college instead of Chem as I had planned to. She liked the critical work that I did for our poetry and drama classes.
Recently, I was thinking that since anyway I was not doing any research in Chem as I had hoped to, I might have been better off with a BA & MA in English. People teach soft skills or spoken English and make a good living..... a couple of hours a day, and they are paid some exorbitant amount. We slog 39/40 hours a week and inhale noxious fumes and get paid a sad amount.
But my point is this..... the way we are trained is different from the way a person educated in the liberal arts is trained--- you may say "obviously", but it is not just that I am trained in scientific method and they are not...
There is a totally different way of looking at things that I find I lack. A way of reading between the lines ...
I wish I had been trained in liberal arts too.... I was good at it in school, but have not developed that skill since .
I am glad that the IISc is starting an undergrad course with some social sc and lib arts components. The IITs of course always had this, but it was a mere tokenism for most students.... a course to cram at the last moment and pass... hopefully, it may not be so at the IISc.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

There is a feeling amongst many people that one is casteist if one marries within one's caste.
They ask "will you look for a son-in-law from ---caste?" or"look at the matrimonials" as a clincher in proving you are casteist.
I find that argument spurious. If I were to look for a son-in-law at all, I would definitely look for one in the families and social set up that I am familiar with. That way, I can find some sister-in-law's cousin whose husband is the third cousin of the son-in-law-to-be and then make enquiries about what the said person is like. But if my daughter were to find a person she likes and I, after getting to know him, find that he is a nice person who will make her happy, then I would not even ask about his caste/whatever.
Getting married, or shall I say the post of son-in-law is not an equal opportunity thing. Why will I not look for compatibility in as many ways as I can?

Friday, 13 August 2010

Validation again

To revisit the validation theme, for an administrator, say a prime minister, it is dangerous to listen only to yes men....we all know that. That is a sure way to lose the next election.
However, for ordinary mortals, how dangerous is it?
It is comfortable to stay in your own sphere, and maybe essential too, "because our opinions determine what we aspire for, & how we go about trying to achieve it. So, if one has to concede that what one had aspired for all these years was wrong, then next imminent conclusion would be that there was something wrong with about our life."-- to quote a comment by Ketan on my previous post,
But does being unaware of contra opinions make us lose touch with reality? Maybe it does in some cases..... like people who get brainwashed...religious cults....

Thursday, 12 August 2010

TV and comp

I was visiting my brother who has a small kid. My sister-in-law is happy that their TV is not functioning.
It is a dilemma when children are's all very well to say "OK you can watch one hour of TV per day " in a stern voice. It works for about two days. Then it's back to sitting in front of the box like a zombie. That's what happened when we first got cable TV in my house many years ago. My children promised not to watch more than 1 hour per day. .....well guess what happened!
However, they are doing fine with both kids turning out to be quite well-read, and the more avid TV watching daughter doing rather brilliantly in her academics and the son too doing very well for himself. In case parents of TV addicted kids read this blog, this is one piece of data to tell you "don't worry too much"
The same story when we got an internet connection.
I thought "OK with the internet, the kids can read up for projects" --- etc, but they spent much of their online time playing games.
Now, I don't know what they do, but I suspect most of the time is spent on Facebook/Twitter/gtalk/ whatever. So to keep up with the rather tough acad. schedule, it's nightouts most nights.
Would you believe it--I have researched sleep deprivation and sent research paper links to them to persuade them to sleep at regular hours!
The problem with having a PhD mom is that she doesn't just give advice, she supports it with references!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Nowadays, one keeps reading/hearing about children committing suicide for the most trivial reasons. Parents refuse to give pocket money, or buy a new cell phone, or reprimand them for not studying, they kill themselves.
Another aspect--a young woman does not reciprocate a young man's advances, he throws acid on her or kills her.
Why is there such a sense of entitlement in the minds of young people? Why do they feel that whatever they desire, must be instantaneously provided to them? Why can they not tolerate any setbacks in the fulfillment of their desires? Is there something wrong in the way they are brought up, or is it something to do with the way society functions now?