Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2017 begins

2017 begins! It had to. Because 2016 left. And, we need a time axis to build our towers! The first working day of 2017 was yesterday, a Monday, the 2nd of January. Job card was there at hand. The car needed a wash before daughter gets dropped at school. No excuse is allowed in the beginning of the year. In that case, the wise says that the whole year will ask for excuses.


Next comes the much celebrated morning walk. Tried chasing a loud speaker sound for sometime to identify the source. It is that season of the year when Usha-Kirtans render the air. Found that it was actually an echo and the source lies very far. Got back to the usual track. On the way found that 'Senior Class Gift 2015' is inscribed in newly constructed roadside benches.


Reached the favourite part of the track. This under-repaired part requires little balancing act to walk on. The challenge can be avoided by taking the good road next to it. But that little stretch gives useful feedback. The lack of balance, if any, is indicator of something!


Little bit of free hand exercise and Suryanamaskar. The sun is brighter now. Ready, steady and on my mark for next task in the morning. Visit to market to refill the vegetable basket and checking out the fish market. A quick chat with a colleague. Topic: External discipline promotes internal discipline. Wondered if there can be a group exercise in a big playground together.


Bath is followed by breakfast. Time to rush to office. A fun get-together first to welcome the new year. Exchange of greetings and calorie gain. Now, ready for serious intellectual exercise. Discussion with two senior most research students. For the first, review report for a IEEE Trans. paper has come. Revision needs to be completed within six weeks. Later, a telecon on getting fund available for two project students for some more time. Also, exchange of messages with another funding agency as coordinator of some activities.


In the lunch break, visited a colleague's quarter. The family asked for suggestion on two different lines of treatment. Back to office and start of editing work of a manuscript to be sent to a journal. A short visit to office tea shop. A discussion on admin. matter. And, editing work continues. Wanted to finish it before going home. The clock strikes 9 PM. It was becoming riskier to take things that much granted. Twenty percent of editing work was left for next day. I was correct. Needed sometime to give to daughter on her study. It was 11 PM. My current bedtime favourite is:


Endnote: Exchange of New Year greetings in different forum continued throughout the day. There are students (recent pass out) with such samskars even now to write 'Charan Sparsh' (Touching your feet) in their new year message. Among others there was one who works in IT sector, few years junior to me. He published his first literary work recently which is liked by many. After 'Pranam' part, he wanted to know if I would be free on 7th Jan. Saturday, the day Kharagpur Book Fair starts. He and other authors would be coming down to Kharagpur for a seminar / panel discussion. I said, 'Yes' thinking that I would be listening to experts among whom there would be one who I know for long!!!

Classroom teaching begins on 05-01-2017.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Ropewalk

When one popular online social platform was flooding timelines with year end review in the beginning of this month, someone made a prophetic observation that it was too early! May be the deep or not-so-deep learning there was not given an opportunity to get trained on Sharukh dialogue of Om Shanti Om, "picture abhi baki hai mere dost." May be it was part of its training set but something considered smarter there directed it towards a different pool by spotting certain keyword! Therefore, a picture which is a contender for the 'picture of the year', not for its look but for its significance, gets a miss in that platform.


The picture was with one of my illustrious colleague in an unusual place and in an unusual hour, from our uncanny ability not to miss the fun side even in a trying condition.

Shreya and Preya

Though real life drama can surprise reel life counterpart at times, one needs to watch the end scenes of Kahani 2 to make the meaning of the dialogue, "teri promotion ki ***" in the context it is uttered or that of "umeed mei to jivan hai." From today's show to last week's! That too was a Part 2 sequel. The dialogue was something like this, "hum jo karna pasand karte hain aur jo karte hain, usi ki beech mein hamara kamjori, nehi to hamara shakti chhupa raheti hain."

It is worth taking note of verse 1.2.2 of Kathopnishad in this context.

श्रेयश्च प्रेयश्च मनुष्यमेतस्तौ संपरीत्य विविनक्ति धीरः । 
श्रेयो हि धीरोऽभिप्रेयसो वृणीते प्रेयो मन्दो योगक्शेमाद्वृणीते ॥

Both the good and the pleasant approach the mortal; the intelligent man examines and distinguishes them; for, the intelligent man prefers the good to the pleasant; the ignorant man chooses the pleasant for the sake of his body. Shankar's commentary on this can be found here.

And we were taught, he is the intelligent who can make what is good, likable.

Balancing Equity and Excellence 

But there are other kind of dilemma than shreya and preya. Listened to an interesting speech yesterday. For an administrator, balancing equity and excellence is not easy. While equity asks for equal distribution of resources, excellence requires allocation of more resource for the one who deserves more. In this, equity comes in the form of equal opportunity given to all to reach that deserving spot and those who do reach, get a spring board. But there is a catch here. Equity remains the overarching principle. Investment in excellence does not contradict that principle if the output of the excellence is ploughed back to promote better level of equity and, is not considered a mere entitlement. Thus, who gets the spring board, carry with them a responsibility.

This is more like a village farmer who does not have means to give good education to all four kids puts more effort on the most intelligent one, sends him to a city for higher education that follows a good career. The aim for him is to see that son raising the condition of the other three brothers in the village when established. If the city boy disconnects his cord or shrugs off his responsibility then the farmer should have considered equal spend on education for all four kids, by which other three could have lived incrementally better life. This could have put a high cost to the first one but one might not find that to be unjustified. Because he is not ready do his bit to improve condition of the other three, at least to a level higher than what that incremental better life for equal spend on four would have provided. This quantification can decide the dividend percentage for that equity.

Strength of Character

Coming back to Tum Bin 2 dialogue on the gap between what we think and and what we do, where lies our character strength or weakness, heard something interesting on this count too. What we are or what we are not, is known when a gun is put on our head or when a gun is given in our hand; that Abraham Lincoln said if you want to know a person's character, give him power.

Education plays an important role in the building up of character. Educators and the ambiance created by academic administrators are key to make the process work. Career and character - one prepares the taught to face the external and the other to face the internal upheavals. In Vivekananda's words, "We want that education by which character is built, intellect is developed, strength of mind is increased and one can stand on one's own feet." We are always better off if we do not cease to learn and have the courage to face what comes as an obstacle (both internal and obstacle) to become a better human being.

ABVYM Annual Camp

Attended Annual Camp of Akhil Bharat Vivekananda Yuva Mahamandal earlier this week for few hours. This 50th edition was held in B. Ed training college and Vidyamandir, adjacent to Belur Mutt. There were 2346 campers attending it from all over the country, mostly from different centres of Mahamndal. The 5 and 1/2 day long camp is to inculcate man making and character building idea among youth.


Being Patriot

In the camp, listened to one hour lecture of Swami Nikhilatmanadaji of Beneras Ramakrishna Mission on 'Message of Swami Vivekananda.' Quoting Vivekananda he said, "Feel, therefore, my would-be reformers, my would-be patriots! Do you feel? Do you feel that millions and millions of the descendants of gods and of sages have become next-door neighbours to brutes? Do you feel that millions are starving today, and millions have been starving for ages? Do you feel that ignorance has come over the land as a dark cloud? Does it make you restless? Does it make you sleepless? Has it gone into your blood, coursing through your veins, becoming consonant with your heartbeats? Has it made you almost mad? Are you seized with that one idea of the misery of ruin, and have you forgotten all about your name, your fame, your wives, your children, your property, even your own bodies? Have you done that? That is the first step to become a patriot, the very first step."


This quote was from Vivekanda's lecture, 'My Plan of Campaign", delivered at Madras (full lecture). Maharaj asked all to go ough this and other lectures under the series "Lectures from Colombo to Almora." It was a great experience to be in that camp. (Video playlist)

Endnote

Taking correct decision, timing it right, following the process - all seem to be a kind of burden if seen in isolation. It may appear a tight rope walk to balance competing interests. Strength of character, working in a team who too believe in shreya over preya, adherence to fundamental principles of life and a sense of trusteeship hold key.

Tall trees giving shades, bringing rain and blossoming flowers: Making of an academic campus!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Full Circle

Heard of it on two consecutive Saturdays. The first was a short get-together of old pals last Saturday in Kolkata. I was told that some of my facebook posts are beyond comprehension, go above the head! Move to this Saturday. It is more aptly put for the latest post there, ".. sometimes your thought becomes a bit abstract for mere mortals like us.... but what is a thought from a professor without a bit of abstractness may I say so..."

Highest truths are always simple

That actually is the case. Today morning in the market met a High School friend with whom connection was lost for long. Among other things, he talked about this six month old post which was special for him. May be the 'abstractness', the lack of clarity leave room for many different interpretations. How one interprets or the perspective, becomes more important (centre of focus) than what is interpreted. That might have its own value.

I ___ , therefore I am

What is the right word to complete the above sentence? Met another High School friend today morning while in market. He is now a lead member of the executive committee of Kharagpur Vivekananda Yuva Mahamandal. Assured him of attending tomorrow's Karmi Sammelan if it doesn't rain. The venue is a place 5 KM away where only 2 wheelers can go. The other two short meetings in the market were with two colleagues. In one, apprised a junior colleague of a possible path he can take. In the other, a very senior faculty remembered those days when I worked in his team in my first extra-academic assignment.

More than a meeting place

There were not much scope to converse with shopkeepers on a busy weekend like this. The grocery shop person made aware that a PET jar is given for free if I take 2 liters of mustard oil instead of my usual purchase of 1 liter. The fish-seller told that she was selling fish to me at cost price for being MFC (Most Favoured Customer). The vegetable-seller didn't mind giving change of a Rs. 1000 currency note as SBI ATM didn't leave other option. Only the flower-seller was little complaining that I was not being regular. Was little worried to reach home late from market but luck was in favour.

Shortest route

Took bath quickly. It was 'Bipad-tarini' (one who rescues from trouble, a form of goddess Kali or Chandi) Puja day. Only after Puja there will be the license to eat. Rushed to Shiva-Kali temple at the outskirt of IIT Kharagpur campus. Puja was done nicely. Additionally, tried a new route which appeared to me as a sort of discovery. This appears to be the shortest route from our quarter to Shiva-Kali Mandir, a distance of 1.4 KM. The path found was not to be the widest one and thus, less drive-friendly. And, it remained unexplored till date. Heard the other day that novelty, innovation lie in doing things that are counter-intuitive.

Intuition

By definition, it is the ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning. It is not as random as it sounds. There is a method in everything. There is a process of naturalization by which certain things get assimilated within us. It has more to do with the exposures we do get and what we do with that.

Human excellence

In his lecture on "Swami Vivekananda and Human Excellence" at Harvard University, Swami Ranganathananda presented an interesting observation. Post World War II a UNESCO appointed commission, presided over by then French Education Minister who later became Prime Minister, started investigating the nature of education humanity needs. The commission submitted a report after analyzing the current systems of education and demands of the new human situation in post-war period.

'Learning to be'

Yes, that was the title of the report submitted by the UNESCO appointed commission. Till now education has been essentially learning to do. The commission said that while retaining learning to do, the post war education must add also learning to be. "What are you? is equally, if not more, important than what you do."

Work efficiency

Quoting Chandogya Upanishad (yadeva vidyayā karoti, śraddhaya, upanisadā, tadeva vīryavattaraṃ bhavatīti), it was told that vidya i.e. science or knowledge of doing things, sraddha i.e. faith in oneself or astikyabuddhi - a totality of positive attitude and upanishad i.e. deep / meditative thinking on the subject, bring out vīryavattaraṃ i.e. superior energy. Put together, whatever is done with vidyasraddha and upanishad, that alone becomes supremely efficient.

Dimension of Education

Swami Ranganathanada continues. The educated citizen is the source from which modern democratic society receives nourishment. That education must include not only intellectual knowledge but also these other two values as well (sraddha and upanishad). The more we neglect the to be aspect of education, the more vulnerable this civilization becomes. And our intuition or the lack of it, would help or fail us.

A conversation

-"Sir, you would be surprised.. I got a paper published from my MTech Project."
--"Excellent. PlosOne is a very good journal. Why in Bank then?"
- "I am into healthcare so I get to use my technical knowledge to understand companies and develop business acumen too."
- "We have some fund and I was wondering if we can help any village around KGP. Please advise."
- "Hello Sir, any thoughts?"
--"NSS works in 18 villages. It can conduct a survey in x no. of villages depending on quantum of fund. Possibly one village would be good to start with. The survey will identify  no. of household without toilet."
And the money was transferred recently. More is assured when the sum given is utilized. NSS students of current batch are to work on it in the coming session. To bring a full circle to this, I may say that the conversation was with an alumnus who is one of the name and face of this four year old NSS IIT Kharagpur post.

The story continues

There was a mail few months back in my inbox from an ex-student with whom interaction was for only 2 months in Summer Quarter way back in 2008. The mail with the subject line "I am 'Mon' from your blog" goes like this.

I still remember very clearly my days of summer quarter in KGP when you used to teach us Basic Electronics course in which I had miserable flunked. I believe that SQ was the best thing happened to my academic career in Kgp. Not just Electronics I was able to learn the best lessons of life during this time. 
I am visiting Kgp this Holi, would love to see you in the campus.

And we had a long chat when he visited campus. Now working in a responsible position in an MNC, he maintains his connection with CRY IIT Kharagpur.

New Session

This is that time of the season when we get phone calls seeking various supports as new batch of students enter the campus. They come from various background. Majority perhaps were too busy with academics and had to work extra hard to get into such a coveted institution. They make take it as a prize of their and their parents' effort. And it may not be out of place to think that they have every right to enjoy the fruit of their labour and explore how the IIT degree can work to their advantage.

Responsibility

While one cannot take the credit away from the incumbent and their family, there is something more that assume significance. I recall what I told the son of my IITKGP UG day's batch-mate few years back when he joined here as a fresher. Our country is not rich enough to give IIT like infrastructure / facility to every youth. A student here has an implicit responsibility to put to its best use what is offered to him and, work towards elevating others who do not get the same opportunity, are deprived of in some way or the other. The standard advice on how to do well here can be found in earlier posts like this and this.

Endnote

"Knock! Knock!" And a gentle push opened the door slowly.
"Sorry, Sir! You are there!" The students were fumbling. "We thought that you had gone home but forgot to switch-off the lights and lock the door! We were worried."
It was a 10:30 PM some weeks back. The research students were taking break from their lab. work as per their regular schedule. And they had seen that maximum hour for me to stay in office was 10:00 PM, till that time.

P.S.: While mind makes its own adjustment with the arrow of time, the body goes through an annual check every summer. This year's check shows that of the two parameters in yellow zone (rest in green) one is making a move towards green zone. The step count app of the mobile phone is not that inaccurate. It clocked 7000+ steps today!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

New Year 2016


/* Two consecutive posts in this blog. I must not be holidaying :-)  */

New Member

It was July, 1990. Done with graduation from here, joined my first job at Tata Steel, Jamshedpur. Accommodation was at GT Hostel, Kadma. Nice atmosphere. Soccer at floodlight in the adjacent Tata Football Academy ground. Occasional fight with them over territorial rights. The steel plant was few KM away. Just reached 22 years. It was time to look for options beyond cycling.

The Rajdoot RD 175 bike was part of me for 16 long years and was parted with when repairing became difficult. Had many, many memories of it, with it - in those momentous years of life. At Jamshedpur, Kharagpur, Bandel and then back again at Kharagpur. Last days of father, PhD days, Marriage, taking daughter to nursery school (attached is a March, 2006 picture when the school was over, our current quarter fencing can be seen in the background, same road; at that time we were staying in a quarter near PAN loop).

It was difficult to say bye to that Rajdoot bike. But had to. Came Honda Shine 125. But the feeling of a 38 year old is quite different from that of a 22 years. It was more of a utility vehicle. It served its purpose and absence of self-start, requirement to buy Pep+ for HH and arrival of Maruti 800, made one ask its utility. The Pep+ was to be used so that the battery remains charged and HH can use self-start whenever she decided to venture out, may be twice or thrice a week.

Thus, Honda bike was parted with after seven years and for last 2 years, I was bike-less! Maruti 800, Pep+ and walk were the modes. But off late, started facing some issues. The major one is due to HH becoming more proficient in riding 2-wheeler, wanted it at her disposal for anytime visit to market, friends' places. And, 4-wheeler is not convenient to visit villages / slums. The biggest trouble used to be rushing back home from such a visit at the requirement of HH. Thus, decided to gift myself a new bike in the new year. Also thought, if the first and middle phase of life had one each, why not the last phase too! Thus, a new member joined the family - Hero Achiever 150. The registration no. is yet to be obtained.

Priority

HH and daughter arrived at quarter after 10 day long vacation trip. It was evening time. Daughter rushed to garage to see the new bike. HH got busy checking how the flower-plants were doing in her absence. She was full of joy to see a rose plant doing excellent this time which was not the case in earlier years. And petunias, dahlia, marigold, others clocking healthy growth. It took long 15 minutes to assess the various parts of the garden and then shifting priority to have a look at the new bike.

Meanwhile, myself and daughter developed an excuse to take a small ride in the new bike to visit Tech. Market to buy some thing. It is another matter that the same thing was available in a local shop at walking distance. On return, in spite of all the warnings not to catch cold in a chilly winter evening, the daughter took her time to decorate the Christmas Tree in front of our quarter with bells, herself.

Tomorrow is the first class of the new year, both for school and the institute. I was nearly done with preparation for the first class. One book was required to be brought from Dept. office almirah. And the daughter found that she needs new year cards to be bought to give to friends tomorrow in school. So, were at it again. Another ride from quarter to Tech. Market to Dept. and back.

Inspiration

New year is associated with greetings card, calendar, diary, messages, emails, phone calls. Prepared an e-greeting card for wishing certain audience (Link). It was not that the official greeting card of the institute wouldn't do, but the personal touch often carries the message better when we are working in a team. In the new year celebration of the lab., one recited a poem on calendar itself that was written by him. All shared how was 2015 and what they were looking forward to in 2016.

I drew their attention to being balanced in their approach towards what they think, act; and on importance of concentration - ability to focus and withdraw mind at one's own will. Thus goes the Vivekananda quote that I draw inspiration from, "If I had to do my education over again, and had any voice in the matter, I would not study facts at all. I would develop the power of concentration and detachment, and then with a perfect instrument I could collect facts at will."


One young student came into facebook message box. "Happy New year Sir! Hope you keep inspiring us for years to come!" I would put it the other way. It is the students and people around who keep inspiring me with their good thoughts and good deeds. It is such a joy to to see people striving for a better world/ society through acts that do not allow selfish interests to get better of them. And we heard, "Unselfishness is God." Other way speaking - Show me an unselfish person, I shall show you God.

The other thing that inspires me a lot is the courage, resolve shown to face the life's struggle. One student in the new year meet was in tears to narrate how was 2015. For last eight months she is away from her 1.5 year old daughter who stays with grand mother in ancestral place, 500 KM away. Because of her academic work, a full time PhD which she wants to finish in time, she tried keeping grand-mother here but it did not work. Now every month, for few days  she visits daughter. And we remembered that facebook photo where a mother was carrying bricks in large numbers in a construction site with baby tied to her back.

The first calendar of 2016 was gifted by office-bearers of Satya Sai Seva Trust who visited a week back. They conduct free disaster management training program besides many other service oriented activities (some earlier picture link). I get a Tata Steel diary from Bearings Division of Tata Steel when I visit their place in 3rd / 4th week of Jan. Every year, unfailingly they arrange a program on Vivekananda (one earlier link). They rang and told that this year it would be on 23rd Jan. Few days back, one journalist of a lead English daily rang. His acquaintance who run an NGO, is coming up with a school and there is inauguration. The list continues. And I echo the message received from an unexpected quarter today, from faculty of a reputed non-IIT institute where this new year gave an opportunity to start an interaction, "May this new year bring peace, prosperity and happiness for all of us."

Endnote: I would like to leave it blank this time.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

ABVYM Annual Camp 2015

It was about 9 AM of last Sunday, one of those end-Dec. days when Her Highness visits ancestral place to take care of certain other things there. Checked with Ma, she was feeling much better that day (nothing serious, old age has its ups and downs). I made a quick estimate. Yes, I can finish shopping, cooking etc. and push-off for the 2:25 PM EMU local, for a seven-hour round trip to a place called Panskura. It would be 50 minutes train journey from Kharagpur station towards Howrah.

Ma happily obliged. I was going to Panskura to attend the afternoon / evening session of 5-day long annual camp of Akhil Bharat Vivekananda Yuva Mahamandal (ABVYM). The word 'Mahamandal' itself brings joy, a glow in our family for the contribution it had on us and in our neighbourhood. The other day HH came from local market, excited. Has any Mahamandal member of Kharagpur unit joined a book shop in the market? I answered in negative, at least I was not aware of. Came the reply - but the young boy, could be a college student, had the look, and the way he presented himself!


Went to market. Bumped on Anjan, another Mahamandal product, a self-made man who runs two schools and has tremendous entrepreneurial spirit. He visited camp on 25th Dec. and was to go again on 29th because it would have Swami Balabhadranadaji's lecture in the evening session. But, as soon as he heard that I would be going that day, he thought that there was nothing wrong with 27th either :-).

Shopping, cooking, lunch, medicine to Ma - all done and there was Anjan with his bike at our quarter at 1:30 PM. Together we boarded that 2:25 PM train. When we got down at Panskura station, we found Prabodh-da and another young companion of him, all going to camp. Prabodh-da too is from Kharagpur unit. His son and seven other from Kharagpur, are attending this camp for all five days.

Took vacation leave from office for visiting the camp again on 29th Dec. This time Sujoy, Kanchan, Anuj - a different set of Kharagpur unit oldies accompanied and also eight other young persons. While it was pre-planned that myself and Sujoy would go together, Anuj and Kanchan's decision to join was sudden. Anuj rang in the morning thanking me for my facebook post on 27th Dec. camp visit and when he heard that we would be going that day, he was in. For Kanchan, there was celebration of birth anniversary of their diksha-guru, Swami Swarupananda - Babamoni. He freed himself, had early prasad and joined the team. For youngsters in the team, a proposal was made previous evening and the number swelled to eight. Gifted these young companions a small book on "Leadership: Its Concept and Qualities" written by Sri Nabaniharan Mukhopadhyaya from the camp site book stall. Had an interaction with the author in the camp who has been the main driving force of ABVYM since its inception in 1967.


At the end of the picture series below, there are videos that has two interesting lectures on "Vivekananda and Technical Education" by Swami Vedarupananda, Ramakrishna Mission Shilpamandir, Saradapith (Link) and "Vivekanada's Philosophy of Work" by Swami Balabhadrananda, Assistant Secretary, Belur Math (Link). In the first, among others, the theory of adoption of technological skill brings unemployment, is bunked. In the latter, it was explained how work efficiency improves without creating bondage / backlash through practice of non-attachment.

There are few other short duration videos that shows different aspects of this camp - the flag-down ceremony (1), the physical skill demonstration by children's wing (1), prayer (1), song (1), Q and A session (1, 2), camp kitchen / dining, book stall (1,2 ) and also typical camp announcements (1).

Camp Pictures:





























Camp Videos:












An audio of evening lecture in Day 2 of camp on "Vivekananda and World Peace" in Bengali by Sri Birendra Kumar Chakraborty, Secretary, ABVYM: Link

Endnote: There was email, phone call, SMS. A discussion was to take place on certain official activity where a faculty from another IIT was to come here. It happened yesterday evening. While we could wrap up the official matters in 15 minutes, the next 30 minutes went in sharing ideas and experiences on certain common interests. The young faculty and his wife work for  rescued children through an NGO, teach yoga in juvenile home etc. They have a team of 10 members in that campus and every weekend, 5-6 members of that team engage some of their time for the social cause in rotation. He showed me some of the photographs of the children he worked with. I showed him some of the activities being carried out here and also nararted experience of this ABVYM Annual Camp and NSS, IIT Kharagpur Annual Camp.

And, I had to email the young faculty twice at his request. The first time, I mailed him the weblink of that official activity. The second mail had link of this blog. I had the opportunity of reporting NSS, IIT Kharagpur 7-day long Annual Camp experiences in NSS, IIT Kharagpur blog (8 posts from Nov. 28 to Dec. 05, 2015). While I could attend ABVYM Annual Camp on 2 days, I visited NSS, IIT Kharagpur camp everyday except for one day as I had to be in the national launch of IMPRINT-India by Hon. President in presence of Hon. Prime Minister at Rashtrapati Bhavan.