Sunday, March 25, 2018

Over a cup of coffee

[Adapted from this FB post. Prelude of it can be found here / here / here. ]

The speaker of this TED talk [Youtube Link] (nearly 0.5M views in 3.5 months since publication), Scott Galloway is a 'Clinical' Professor of Marketing at the New York University Stern School of Business [Linkedin profile]. Yesterday afternoon, had an opportunity of a 90 minute adda at Tikka over a cup of coffee with one of our alumnus who did his MBA in the same business school. Currently, he is working on investment in start-ups and helping M & A with big corporations.
Such interaction is very educative for us who work with students and their aspirations. It was learnt that 10 percent of the start-ups are definitely promising. Many start-ups do oversell, are risk-averse while there are those who are quite confident. And, larger fraction of these start-ups are in Artificial Intelligence (AI) targeting the Digital Marketing space.
This made me reflect upon the recent controversy about Cambridge Analytica's misuse of social media platform in grand scale [The Guardian follow up]. Could it be that tighter rules and regulations are in the offing on data ownership, protection? While it is being believed that the 'data is new oil' of the economy, there is increasing awareness and concern on misuse of data and its unintended exploitation.
Going forward, sharing of data across platforms may not be found as easy. Informed consent may mean much more than clicking "I Agree" button where the person concerned as per his background will actually be able to make out what he gives consent to and what are it's consequences. He can pick and choose and not forced to agree en-block, without the sword of denial of service (the basic service which is essential today and is to be considered undeniable) hanging on his neck. It should be explicit if the person himself (his digital self) is going to end up being a saleable product, if so, how he exercises his right to know who holds his digital persona at a given time and for what purpose (since he is more than a poultry animal, nurtured with what it thinks as free stuffs, to get eventually sold).
The hard hitting TED talk of Prof. Galloway follows a Q & A session where he says, "They (Corporations) are not concerned about conditions of our souls. They are not going to take care of me when I get older. We have set up a society that value shareholder's value over everything and they are doing what they are supposed to be doing."
Zeynep Tufekci's TED talk [Youtube Link] was published just one month before Galloway's, on 11-11-2017. Zeynep, associated with University of North Carolina and Harvard, does research on social implications of emerging technologies in the context of politics and corporate responsibility. Her talk is very incisive on how things work out in digital space and what is its implication for which she gives specific examples.
One of her finding shows that in this AI driven world, a bipolar, manic person may be found the most gullible by the algorithm to buy a ticket to Las Vegas since such people overspend, and then he is pushed such content that makes him go for the purchase. Her own study of a particular rally showed youtube's AI algorithm pushing more of white surpremacist's video in increasing order of extremism through suggestions. She also talked about an experiment where 67 M people were shown two different content through pop-up, the second one was more persuasive than the first to perform a task; and much larger share of the people of the second group did really fell for the task.
She finds that whatever be the intention of the seemingly good people writing these AI algorithms, the persuasive architecture of the algorithm eventually finds out that if it shows something enticing, hardcore, something that can affect emotion and behaviour, then people will give more attention and they can be persuaded to do what the algorithm aims at. Therefore, the associated liability cannot be just transferred to the algorithm, however deep and opaque it might be, where people behind it claim innocence.
The last TED talk of this post [Youtube Link], dated July, 2017, is that of Tristan Harris [Website]. He is said to be the “closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience.” He suggests that we must embrace following three as solution and at the earliest. (i)We need to acknowledge that we can be persuaded (our ego may find it difficult to acknowledge), (ii) We need new model and accountability system (transparency in the flow) and (iii) We need a design renaissance that would aim at (a)protecting us and (b)empowering us.
In our yesterday afternoon's Tikka adda, our human intelligence (whatever is left) told that besides artificial intelligence, issues related to genetic engineering need our immediate attention!!

Note: The above is as understood by me in a finite time and, misunderstandings, if any, cannot be attributed to other persons appearing in this post.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Way back

This day, ten years back, came up with the first post of this blog. Our alumnus, Vinayak who founded was visiting IIT Kharagpur campus on September 05, 2007. Chiranjeev Maharaj was accompanying him. And we had an interesting session with the visiting team. I don't remember today what exactly was the trigger to start the blog and write a short post on that visit.  There was a follow up visit on March 08, 2008 for which there was an elaborate post.

1, 26, 51, 56, 27, 22, 28, 20, 4, 3 are the number of blog posts from 2007 to 2016 in consecutive years. This year, it is 4 so far. If twenties are considered baseline, there were heightened activities in 2009 and 2010 and, major fall since 2015. In 2011, started NSS blog and there were 21 posts. Together, it comes near to 50 mark of earlier 2 years. Started NSO H&F blog in 2013 which had 53 posts that year. There were other purpose driven blogs started after that but with less number of postings. Of course, one opens up differently in different spaces as per what defines that space. All those blogs except few, have been handed over to successors.

The all time maximum page view crown goes to 2013 Teacher's Day post of this blog. It gave a glimpse of the day in words and pictures. The emphasis was on 'Shraddhaban labhate Jnanam' one who respects, learns. A learner finds something to learn from everybody, even non-living things like sky, wind, mountain, ocean ...

I was enrolled into facebook in 2008. However, there was not much activity there. Avoided accepting friend request from people not directly known and also from students. For students, the thought had been, till I was in a position to give grade to a student, it is to be postponed. Then something serious happened and it appeared that there needed a better, direct channel of communication - the designated portfolios failing. Facebook became the preferred mode.

May be some anniversary post in facebook will figure out someday that there is a big fall in facebook posts, too in recent times. By default, the reason may be ascribed to poor SNR (signal to noise ratio) or too-much-ness there which in some sense may be correct!!

This special day had its share of emails, phone calls, SMS, visit to office by students, small function at lab. etc. The TIFAC interns working on 'Legal and Ethical Issues related to Artificial Intelligence' came with a small flower-stand and flowers made by them . They themselves placed it in front of the Vivekananda portrait (drawn by an ex-student) that they noticed in earlier visit to my office. Bow to all teachers and teacher of teachers!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Inner cry

Statutory warning :-)  It is a rather long post with lots of quotations; may not be fit for reading at one go!!

Was in a dilemma for sometime. Didn't take much time to shrug it off. The decision was to attend the workshop on 'After Partition' at the Humanities and Social Science Dept. Seminar Room. It was pre-lunch session of 18th August. Took a short time out though to listen to the Chief Guest of the parallel, IIT Kharagpur 'Foundation Day' program at Netaji Auditorium. On entering the workshop venue, there was the question, gently asked, so much so that one could not miss the empathy-filled undertone - if my family was affected by partition in anyway. That touches a tender nerve somewhere, prompts a time travel through the silhouette of flash backs (partly here).

Prof. Amritjit Singh of Ohio University in his keynote speech told how difficult it is to look back at partition dispassionately, specially for the people to the west and east of India. The decision to divide the nation remains the most painful part of our history. The acceptance of hastily drawn boundaries by Radcliffe took the tragedy, the death, destruction, displacement, to its worst possible level. Radcliffe was kind of parachuted in the partition scene, was supplied with incomplete information and he hardly had any knowledge of ground reality.

If the partition (and the massacre that followed) happened due to religious differences of two communities, religion becomes the easy-pick villain. It is like Sherlock Holmes saying, "Elementary, my dear Watson." One expert in the workshop made a hint to that by quoting often-used Marx remark, "Religion is the opium of the people." The story-telling session of young students however, had an interesting take. In this session, students who interned in the summer, shared their experiences of interviewing people. These people were from both western and eastern part of the country, who were directly affected by partition. It was a mixed bag of experience for them. While all faced difficult times post migration, the common man in general tried their best to protect their neighbours of other community with their small might.

It may make sense to introduce a simple question here. Who is more religious? A common man who feels the pain of his neighbour facing mayhem or the one powerful enough to cause mayhem? In an 1894 letter (Link), Vivekananda explains his brother disciple, "In every country the evils exist not with, but against, religion. Religion therefore is not to blame, but men." Is that so? Let's move to the next segment.


There is a special characteristic in man which is not there in other animals. That is, man can change his characteristic! The man can become a brute. He can become a saint, too. Life, as defined by Vivekananda, is the unfoldment and development of a being under circumstances tending to press it down. In the lecture, "The Necessity of Religion", Vivekananda says, "Man is man so long as he is struggling to rise above nature, and this nature is both internal and external. ... It is grand and good to know the laws that govern the stars and planets; it is infinitely grander and better to know the laws that govern the passions, the feelings, the will, of mankind. (Link)"

This struggle, this striving, come from one's right of attaining a superior self and that is the fun of being human. Else, how are we different from animal? Bhartrihari put it this way in Nitishataka. येषां न विद्या न तपो न दानं ज्ञानं न शीलं न गुणो न धर्मः। /ते मर्त्यलोके भुवि भारभूता मनुष्यरूपेण मृगाश्चरन्ति॥ For lack of striving to reach one's superior self (through education, penance, charity, knowledge, good conduct, noble qualities, dharma) there is मनुष्यरूपेण मृगाश्चरन्ति - animals move around in human form. (Link)

With any special power, comes a great responsibility to use that power properly. That is why we used to hear elderly people blessing us till sometime back, "Be a man." The human form is not enough. A cat or dog need not be told - Be a cat or dog. Browning writes, "Progress, man's distinctive mark alone. / Not God's, and not the beasts: God is, they are; / Man partly is, and wholly hopes to be."(Link) There are challenges on the way. That is why in Swadeshmantra, taken from the article, 'Modern India' (Link), we find Vivekananda praying, "O Thou Mother of Strength, take away my weakness, take away my unmanliness, and make me a Man!"


What is the role of religion here? It is there in the direction an individual takes. Again referring to Vivekananda, "Religion is the manifestation of divinity already in man. It is the idea which is raising the brute unto man, and man unto God. (Link)" In a letter to Dr. Nanjunda Rao, Vivekananda writes, "Throughout the history of the world you find great men make great sacrifices and the mass of mankind enjoy the benefit. If you want to give up everything for your own salvation, it is nothing. Do you want to forgo even your own salvation for the good of the world? (Then) You are God, think of that. ... Purity, patience, and perseverance are the three essentials to success and, above all, love."(Link)

Heard one Ramakrishna order monk coming up with the following classification that defines three different manifestations of man.
Beast: Thinks of his own good only, even at the cost of others.
Man: Thinks of his own good as well as good of others (doesn't want own good at the cost of others).
God: Thinks of good of others only and doesn't bother about his own good.

Every religion has three distinct parts: Philosophy, Mythology and Ritual. Philosophy is the essence. Mythology is appreciation of the philosophy through exalted characters that man can connect to. Rituals are to link our everyday life with the highest philosophy, a routine that does not let us forget our goal, attaining of our superior self. Mythology and rituals are to differ across the religions and within a religion due to difference in the evolutionary process undergone by a community in a specific time and space. Their objectives are to take us closer to the philosophy, the essence - the manifestation of divinity remaining the end goal. If there is no manifestation of divinity, there is no religion. "Religion is being and becoming," simply put by Vivekananda.


Coming back to the issue of 'After Partition' devastation and if religion or lack of it is the cause, let us hear what Vivekananda said exactly fifty years before this partition (1897) in a lecture delivered at Triplicane Society, Madras which was titled, 'The Work before Us'. "You must open your heart. Religion is not going to church, or putting marks on the forehead, or dressing in a peculiar fashion; you may paint yourselves in all the colours of the rainbow, but if the heart has not been opened, if you have not realised God, it is all vain." (Link)

In a letter written in 1895, Vivekananda says, "My master (Shri Ramakrishna) used to say that these names, as Hindu, Christian, etc., stand as great bars to all brotherly feelings between man and man. We must try to break them down first. They have lost all their good powers and now only stand as baneful influences under whose black magic even the best of us behave like demons. ... Those that want to help mankind must take their own pleasure and pain, name and fame, and all sorts of interests, and make a bundle of them and throw them into the sea, and then come to the Lord. This is what all the Masters said and did. (Link)"

In the lecture, 'The Methods and Purpose of Religion', Vivekananda says, "The persons appeal to our emotions; and the principles, to something higher, to our calm judgement. Principles must conquer in the long run, for that is the manhood of man. Emotions many times drag us down to the level of animals. Emotions have more connection with the senses than with the faculty of reason; and, therefore, when principles are entirely lost sight of and emotions prevail, religions degenerate into fanaticism and sectarianism." (Link)


On 11th September, 1893 at the World Parliament of Religions, Chicago, Vivekananda uttered (Link),
I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation. I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: 
रुचीनां वैचित्र्यादृजुकुटिलनानापथजुषाम। नृणामेको गम्यस्त्वमसि पयसामर्णव इव।।
As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.
The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: “Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me.” Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilisation and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.


The far too many references of a 'Patriot-Prophet' in this post is because of the immense clarity ushered in by his speeches and writings,  because his 39 years of life (1863 - 1902) stood for what he said, "My ideal indeed can be put into a few words and that is: to preach unto mankind their divinity, and how to make it manifest in every movement of life."(Link) Or, it could be something more subtle, the sub-conscious playing out from my soccer-playing days, "Be strong, my young friends; that is my advice to you. You will be nearer to Heaven through football than through the study of the Gita. These are bold words; but I have to say them, for I love you. I know where the shoe pinches. I have gained a little experience. You will understand the Gita better with your biceps, your muscles, a little stronger. You will understand the mighty genius and the mighty strength of Krishna better with a little of strong blood in you. You will understand the Upanishads better and the glory of the Atman when your body stands firm upon your feet, and you feel yourselves as men."(Link)

I read little outside Vivekananda literature. But, I read the following. While equating religion with opium, Marx uttered in the same breath, "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people." (Link)

It is our inner cry. We better listen to it and give it the right direction.

Thursday, August 17, 2017


From December-end# ABVYM Annual Camp (playlist, hosted at Vidyamandir, Belur Math), procured few copies of the booklet titled, "Leadership: Its Concepts and Qualities" from the camp book stall. This booklet was part of our recommended reading in our younger days of KVYM. Sri Nabaniharan Mukhopadhyaya writes there,
We find and have to admit that there are some differences in creation, in society, in human beings in respect of understanding, qualities, capabilities etc. We can always make use of such special capacity in some for the benefit of those who are on a little lower level, to bring them up, to push them up, to elevate them to help them to make for progress. That is the fundamental idea of leadership.
Sundar Pichai came to IIT Kharagpur campus in January beginning. There was a long interactive session (full video) at packed Tagore Open Air Theater. On being asked about his secret of leadership, Sundar told the following,
It’s learning to let go and really empowering people at all levels of the organisation, and trusting them to do the right thing. As a leader, a lot of your job is to make those people successful. It’s less about trying to be successful (yourself), and more about making sure you have good people and your work is to remove that barrier, remove roadblocks for them so that they can be successful in what they do. So that’s how I’ve always thought about it. I also value teamwork quite a bit and I think it’s really important to build organisations where people really want to work together. Everything comes out of that. So, setting up collaborative cultures is another big thing I’ve been trying to focus on.
Most of the reporting on this section of his speech though missed the pre-requisite part 'making sure you have good people.' There was an apparently innocuous question to follow but answer to that also showed where not to make an error in judgement, keeping the personal an professional space separate. A young student asked if as the CEO of Google, can he change the Google doodle to the IITKGP building for a day. Sundar replies this way.
I am going to send a message to the team. (takes his phone out of the pocket and pretends to text a message, applause from audience) Before you get too excited, I mean, the good news is Google is set up in a way so that even if I send that email, they would not do it. Here's the reason why: we have built an organization with strong ideals and values on when we show doodles, for what occasions. And it's less about what I want to happen.
It is not easy to bring this sense of trusteeship. One monk of Ramakrishna order was telling that one needs to acquire the spirit of Sanyasins to deliver one's best in this Samsara.

#The draft of this post was prepared in January beginning. Today evening, four senior students came to discuss their social work related initiative. While referring to some earlier posts of this blog during the conversation, realized that the draft needs to be pushed to publication stage!!

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 was there 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


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)


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.


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.


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.


"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!