Tuesday, 28 September 2010

A few days back I had written about teaching science through entertainment. Here is one more person who feels that way.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Unusual new engineering institutes

I don't know how I have not heard of these institutions before. There are three new institutions that will teach engineering subjects along with sciences, mathematics, social sciences and humanities to rural children who do well in their 10th class examinations. They will study for six years and become engineers. There is no regular lecture process..instruction is through video lectures along with discussions with mentors (and I suppose classmates). It sounds really good.
They were started in 2008 and are subsidised by the government of AP.
Very interesting. Maybe I can visit one of them.
I wish they had better website.

Indian Academy of Sciences Survey "Women in Science"

I had posted earlier about women scientists (might-have-been) I know.
The survey for the "women in science" program has been analysed and the researchers have put it up on the ias website
I see a huge improvement in the childcare facilities offered in campuses. (We had NONE so anything is a huge improvement). More importantly, I see a huge difference in the attitudes of younger women like my daughter. (I just got off the phone after a long one-sided conversation on the relative merits of various grad schools)
and may I say, change in parents too---- I did not lay down any law regarding what she should do or where she should go or that she should get married.

I hope there is also a change in the rigidity at workplaces giving parents more flexibility in their schedules and enabling both parents to participate in chilcare.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

publish or correct?

"Key features of our Journals

Acceptance or rejection of submitted manuscript will be informed within 10 days limit to corresponding author.

No page charges, no an article processing charges, no mandatory subscription to authors and coauthors.

Totally free publication.

Abstracting in reputed abstraction services."

I found this in my inbox. Should I be flattered that someone thinks I have research work to publish or should I be insulted that I am expected to publish in a journal that obviously lacks editorial staff?
I am itching to underline and circle with my red pen.

Friday, 24 September 2010


I watched Ken Robinson on TED. I totally agree that our schools knock curiosity and creativity out of children and have said so elsewhere.
But when it comes to people at large, the standard education is what gets us jobs, that's how we earn our three meals (or at least two). Maybe, we the middle class people can afford to let our child dance if he/she likes to, and give up school, maybe we can find some means of getting a livelihood (though I doubt it), but for the majority, a job means two meals and no job means hunger. Can they afford to learn dancing in the hope that one day, ONE day, they will make it big? They need a job NOW. All of them won't be Gillian Lynne .
So, is really good education a luxury?
Is creativity a luxury?
Will the future have schools that nurture creativity, but which will be catering to some elite people who need not worry about the next meal?
Will we then have a new class system?
What we can hope for is an education system that trains people for livelihood without killing their creativity. But do I have a clue about how that goal is achieved?

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Anyone believe that Kalmadi and co don't get to keep their millions?
Every once in a while one of the many corruption cases come to light, there is a big hooha , people are accused, they are suitably shamed---- but then, they get to keep their stash !
So it is worthwhile to them to face the music, the music being of the soft and gentle kind, cool off in Tihar for a short while, and get back to enjoy the millions in the Cayman islands.
We can only hope the global warming will drown them in their island palaces.

Monday, 20 September 2010


When cable TV first came to India, we were enamoured by it. The great visuals, entertaining content..
Now, I get about a 100 channels, but often I can't find anything I want to watch, so I sometimes turn to Lok Sabha TV and DD. One often gets to hear talks by people who have something to say and more importantly, the DD/LS anchors allow them to say it, unlike Karan Thapar/ Barkha Dutt. This morning, there was an interview with Prof YashPal. He talked about how the satellite program started. They were able to get going without a formal project report and he says that's probably why they were able to do so much.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

organic chem

It is so reassuring to read this post. Meerwin-Pondorf- Verley and Claisen-Schmidt are just nice names to me now. I also like McLafferty of mass spec fame---that's why I have been dodging any proposal to teach Organic Chem.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

DrDog, PhD

A recent blog post reminded me of stray dogs in my college.
We have a lot of trouble getting students to attend classes regularly.
However, a few years back, there was a stray dog that sat through all my lectures for a whole academic year....I year, II year and III year BSc Chemistry lectures... he sat through them all!.
His attendance record was so good, I quoted him as an example to my errant students.
After 1 year, he stopped attending.
A few weeks into the next year, I had to visit the Biochemistry department. And lo behold, he was in the MSc biochem lab!
He has probably finished his PhD by now.... Dr Dog, Biochemist!

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

infinite russian dolls

I lived in Delhi between the ages of 4-8 or so. A neighbour had a tin of coffee--Polson's if I remember right. It had a picture of a woman and a man in evening dress and there was a tin of the same coffee next to them which had the picture of ..... This used to fascinate me..how many times will that tin inside a tin be repeated?---will it go on forever? Even now, after almost half a century, I feel intrigued by that...
I was reminded of my childhood fascination by this article on complexity.

Monday, 6 September 2010


The Turkish government had banned Kurdish language in Turkey. Only due to pressure from EU, they have lifted the ban. So perhaps a generation of Kurds have grown up without knowledge of their language. Gaelic and Welsh seem to be museum pieces. Pali and Prakrit are lost. The language of the Indus valley is lost, thousands of dialects are already lost. Soon a time will come when the whole world speaks one of three or four languages.
The world may have lost more languages in the past millenium than is currently spoken today.

Sunday, 5 September 2010


Many people consider that educating children in a language alien to them culturally, is a form of genocide, or as a serious human rights violation.
If you educate Gond children only in Gondi or Toda children only in Toda language, you are totally closing their options to higher education.
As I have mentioned earlier, one of the girls in the village school I was teaching in, was very good at logical thinking, data correlation, etc-- any problem I gave , she would stare at it for 5 minutes and give the right answer while none of the others could even figure out how to start. This girl is educated in Tamil medium- she wants to study Mathematics. Most good colleges offer BSc Math in English medium. So I advised her to listen to English news on TV and familiarise herself with the language. Tamil is a mainstream language, and has books available for all subjects even for tertiary education. Still, even that puts her at a slight disadvantage. Imagine the fate of a child who may be brilliant, but had been educated in a tribal language. What chance does he or she have in higher education? Where will he/she go for an MA or MSc? or even BA /BSc?

Another aspect is this-- I, for example, have lived mainly in North India, but my mother tongue is Tamil. In a small town in UP, if I insist on my fundamental right to be educated in Tamil medium, is it a reasonable demand? It is feasible in Delhi, but in a small town in UP or Bihar is it possible to have Tamil, Telugu, Assamese, Malayalam , Punjabi ....schools catering to three students each? So if I exercise my fundamental right to live anywhere in India, what about my right to education in my mother tongue?

However, the sad fact is that languages are dying out. When my son was born, I used to speak to him only in Tamil, and he knew only Tamil though we lived in some other state. This was till he started school. Then suddenly, I don't recall when, he started speaking English. Before I realised, he was speaking only English. Now my children are not comfortable speaking in Tamil.
My parents were educated in Tamil, I was educated in English and I speak Tamil as the norm. I do not read or write Tamil very well and I cannot understand classical Tamil. My children do not even speak the language very well. Their children may not even recognise Tamil. Yes languages are dying out.
But isn't that what happens to all cultures throughout time. If it did not, we would still be grunting in cave man language--- the culture of the stone age men died and gave rise to a different culture, which in turn died ... and so on.
The English we speak today is very different from the English of medieval times. The Tamil spoken in the streets of Chennai is different from the Tamil we speak at home, and the younger people speak the street Tamil even in households in Chennai or Tiruchi. The various forms of Hindi like Avadhi and Braj were quite different from the Hindi spoken today in urban areas. Deccani is dying out...I can see that from 20 years ago.... I used to hear a lot of Deccani in the streets of Hyderabad, now I rarely do.
Languages do die.
Should we then educate tribal children only in tribal languages and make it difficult for them to integrate into the more lucrative streams of life? Or should we use them to preserve their culture and language irrespective of the cost to them?
For, let us face it, tribal lifestyle while admirable and sustainable in the larger scheme, is not fetching the tribals a good enough livelihood.

Saturday, 4 September 2010


I was just reading an article about Jenu Kurubas. It has a detailed description of social practices of the tribes.
A few years ago, I attended a wedding. The bride was the daughter of a friend. This friend has a lot of foreign friends...Canadian, American and British who attended the wedding. I knew a couple of these ladies and we all sat together watching the ceremonies. The wedding rituals they chose to have was a mix of Andhra Brahmin, Tamil Iyengar, Sikh and maybe some other rituals since the family had people from all these communities. So I just watched the rituals, not really paying much attention. My neighbours however, were very interested and started asking me what each ritual meant and what came next. I know a bit about wedding rituals of my own community, but this was one hybrid wedding and I had no clue what each ritual meant. I just mumbled some not very enlightening commentary. The ladies finally came to a conclusion... all the rituals were for "Good Karma" I said "yes" with great relief ---- whatever "Good karma" meant to them.
My point of this long narrative is this... perhaps we, who are outsiders to the Jenu Kuruba, also write long descriptions of their social mores without really understanding any of it......maybe what we read as anthropology is not what it actually is.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010


I find Facebook quite difficult to accept. That what you do everyday gets into the public domain is very difficult to handle. The younger people seem fine with it. Either from your friends' comments, or from what you write, your whole life seems to have become public. I have so far been just dipping my toes in the water as far as facebook is concerned-- on the one hand, it is a nice way of keeping in touch, but on the other, it lays bare your life to the public. I really don't know how good it is.
What I envy is the fact that my children are able to keep in touch with friends from way back.....one of my daughter's classmates who left her school when they were 12 years old, got in touch once they all got on to facebook- so much so, they know the minor details of each others lives.
I, on the other hand, have lost touch with old friends, because in our times, one wrote letters-- and that happened once or twice a month, then once a year and finally dwindled down to never. Now, after 3 decades, even if I find my old friends on Linkedin or facebook, there is no commonality.
Facebook has given a new dimension to friendship which is alien to most people of my age group. Even those of my age group who are on facebook, do not use it in the same manner.... they don't inform the world that they strained their muscles trying to jog with grandson or some such information..... we are not used to informing the world about the trivia in our lives-- we feel "who would care to know this ?"
But ........ Does anyone really need to know how I feel about facebook?

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 ...