Monday, November 19, 2012

Switching Task

I wished to continue with the fun spirit of earlier post or wait for a sunny day that would have brightened the spirit (switch to last segment to see why I say this). Wished to tell in the same non-serious tone that the worst I feared as outcome of 'Mission Independence' (Link) had happened; after cooking food and eating the same for one week. I gained one kilogram of weight. Yes, there used to be wrong estimate on quantity of rice. But, more important reason had been, couldn't throw away any food even if it was in excess and swallowed the same. Can do that easily when someone else puts her effort in cooking, to set aside excess food-stuff when I am full. Which part of our brain plays the trick, fools us ... develops attachment for own doings even when it is beyond proportion defying all logic?

We three colleagues were on our way to Kolkata. How to handle work pressure, various expectations was one of the topic in our journey. The wonderful teacher-student relationship, the respect IIT teachers command from students are largely due to devotion the students see among teachers, the amount of effort, the hours they put in, the multitudes of responsibilities they handle.

IITs started with an aim of providing right manpower to industries in post-independence era. UG teaching was the focus. The brand it created asks not to disown this family jewel. But the world has moved on. UG engineering teaching is taken care of by many. The focus is getting shifted to PG students (Masters and PhD guidance other than their coursework). But we do not have postdocs in our research lab.s. Thus, the canvas of the role of a teacher is huge (UG to PhD, taking care of academic and psychological needs of students from 18 year old to 30 year old in a walled campus). It encompasses interaction within and outside classroom, assignments, answer-script checking and other evaluations, minor and major projects ...

Getting funded projects and servicing them as per timeline and to the satisfaction of sponsors through project staffs coming from Tier-2 engineering colleges is a challenge. IIT faculty are supposed to serve various national level responsibilities by conducting various training programs for others, setting question papers of various kinds, serving various committees, evaluating and guiding funded projects conducted by others, establishing lab.s, setting curriculum etc.

There are review work for thesis, journal, conference articles, patent documents. There are recommendations to be given to current as well as ex-students applying to various places. There are research collaboration at national and international level and one needs to interact with collaborators, visit their places, host them.  There are large no. of administrative responsibilities at Dept., Institute level and beyond. Some faculty members contribute by writing text/research books for which they have commitment to publishers and need to adhere to publication timeline. For IPs filed, one needs to explore commercialization opportunities.

Besides, in a rapidly changing technology space one needs to study oneself to keep one updated as regard to UG/PG courses being taught, the research work carried out by leading universities / lab.s / industry in his area of interest and the broad area.

Finally, they have a family to take care. They have passion for extra-curricular and society at large. They cannot take their health for granted. And they have 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week like everybody else :-)

How to switch from one task to another? Remember, you are handling youth, the best and brightest of the country, and the nation banks on them. One cannot be casual in one's approach. An insincere job will be hugely costly for the nation. Standing by each other, encouraging / motivating each other, sharing the vision and experience, building team spirit, excellence in work environment and the highly sought after freedom, friendly and supportive atmosphere are behind whatever little that could be done to face these challenges.

Thanks to all. The first and foremost is of course our excellent student community. No amount of praise is enough. If there is any aberration, it has more to do with inability to set a new goal once they enter IIT. Cracking IIT-JEE was dream from childhood. What next? Faculty, Parents, Alumni, Senior students, all need to work together to help the young 18 year old set the next goal, the next dream, and how to achieve it; switching to a new role and task. Next, parents / guardians have great respect for IIT system which helps. But there is more scope for them to engage with faculty advisor and monitor progress from 1st semester itself. Call it parent-teacher meeting akin to schools, call it any other thing - but they are important stake holders and are in a position to influence. We can sow dreams in them too, how much their ward can do and they can inspire / motivate in turn. The faculty and non-faculty colleagues are excellent. If someone does not feel the pressure, it is because of them. There is always a helping hand. People who are part of the support system who are drawn from neighbourhood - shopkeepers, maids, service staffs from electrical maintenance to sanitary have such a pleasing personality; it makes our job easier. No amount of 'Thanks' is sufficient for family members. They understand, appreciate our responsibilities. Rarely you will hear, "You have time to take care of others but your own kid."

On individual plane, I find that the lessons on Pratyhara and Dharana from study circles are helpful. An excellent article of Vivekananda can be found here (Link). The article is useful for everyone who wants mastery over mind and its various tricks.

For quite sometime I wanted to write something on changing social structure, family values ... desire for personal space, better things in life ... losing grip over of patience, tolerance .... the idea of 'self before everything else' ... till sometime back separated parents fought each other over custody of child, the other day the newspaper reported a case where none of the parents wants custody of the child as they separate (Link1, Link2)... it started with nuclear family concept which kept uncles, aunt out; then ageing father / mother were kept out; then husband wife stopped seeing each other, and now off-springs are obstacles to have 'good times' in life  ... it appears that, the younger a person, the more is the ease and pace to disown a relationship and disregard advice / suggestion / feedback, the ego is higher ... it is so sad, it is so painful in the land where 'sacrifice' and 'service' were the twin pillars which held the society together ... need to ask, what we are getting educated at, are we not ignoring those family jewels ... can we call ourselves educated ... Education is not the amount of information that is put into your brain and runs riot there .... The training by which the current and expression of will is brought under control and become fruitful is called education ... says Vivekananda. 

My elder sister says that there were always challenges. But tolerance level was higher to tide over a crisis phase which is cyclic in nature. Now we have become more fragile. The relationships are casualty. We have breadth, but we lack in depth. We have knowledge, we lack wisdom. We are after Preya (pleasure driven) and not Shreya (welfare driven). We look for maximizing today, we do not care for investing in tomorrow. We care for matter, we do not care for spirit.

May we develop the strength of character which stands the trials of life, the test of time. May we all be blessed to overcome challenges being humane in our approach. May we be at peace with ourselves and society around.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mission Independence

/* Nothing official about it. Believe it at your own risk :-) Reader's discretion wanted! */

I was duly warned by one research student. The serious look that went with the cautionary words told it all. I should not take it lightly.

It was well past Durga Puja. Dashami was on WED. And I planned to prepone return to campus on FRI. A truck load of work was pending. For Her Highness, it was mission independence in some sense after four and half months, to visit parents, much in the spirit of Ma Durga on Shashthi day (SAT) when bodhan takes place. There are differences between then and now. Durga returned from parental home on Dashami. Here, it would be one week later as daughter's school will remain closed for one more week. The dependence from our side to have an orderly house, to keep us giving our best in competitive IIT environment, is the other difference. Even if we afford to keep a disorderly house in the absence of Durgas at home who manage everything with ten hands, how will the lunch, dinner be arranged? The answer would be - Can you not manage few days in neighbourhood restaurants, thereby giving Durgas much needed relief?

The voice within said that. And I forgot to pay heed to the unambigous warning of my research student. Landed in KGP on FRI evening. The Durga Puja break was up to SUN. And I found to my horror after a tiring train journey, all the neighbourhood restaurants were shut. The make shift dinner of egg-chowmin from a fast food centre came to rescue the evening. But two more days, SAT-SUN to go! And I told myself, "Enough is enough!" It is time to launch Mission Independence.

Mission Independence! Roti, Kapda aur Makan - only the Roti part is the cause of this ruin. Before this, I cooked food twice. At home, the charge is handed over from Mother to Daughter-in-law in due process. And this makes us spoiled. The first time I cooked was decades back when Ma was in charge.  She was then visiting Mamabari, her paternal place. I was enjoying delicacies in neighbourhood Hari Hotel of Golebazar, Kharagpur. It is still there on station road, much improved. Has to be. One should remember the likes of the persons who stepped in there! I am not talking about me. Some of the one day meet of Vivekananda Yuva Mahamandal had lunch arrangement there. One fine morning, prepared egg-curry and it was so good that I decided not to venture again to do anything below that benchmark! Not only that, took that curry in a tiffin carrier and wasting no time traveled 5 hours (two trains) to Mamabari to show my detractors there how good I was at cooking. Made everybody taste a little of that curry.

The second venture was during Trento and USC days in 2006! You cannot afford 25 US dollars per day for food, more so when you have the habit of converting everything to rupee value in early weeks. And never there after. Conveniently forgot cooking when either Ma or Her Highness was there at charge; restaurants filling up the gaps, if any.

But it was different this time. Expressed my desire to cook food to Her Highness in FRI evening briefing. One should know that twice a day briefing is must to keep up with the updates, specially the gossip part at either end! And she started screaming hearing my Mission Independence and asked me to look for restaurants in a larger radius. She was more worried about the condition of her beloved kitchen, the disorderliness I would unleash there, so on and so forth. But I was determined. Mental preparation for the Mission is done.

Recipe were noted over phone. Correlated them with remnants in memory from USC days. Ran youtube videos for several times. Her Highness was almost in tears to think about what is going to happen in the kitchen. To assure, I said that my lazy self might not allow me finally to go for it and I might look for a restaurant outside campus. Going by my past record in taking responsibility at home. she felt relieved.

And I decided to play aggressive and not just depend on singles. The cauliflower, beans, potato, tomato, dhaniapata curry was followed by no less than chicken curry. Preparation of rice was a cake walk in comparison. And it was not a one day wonder like one film hero. The cabbage preparation of yesterday evening tasted even better. Now, even when the restaurants are open, I am not venturing out for dinner and preparing it at home. Such is the fragrance of independence!

Her Highness told that the sister-in-law would take a test soon on my cooking ability. I have nothing to prove to anybody. Such thought is more than over-confidence. It is arrogance. May be I can conduct a trial before that here, at least with chicken curry, a kind of lab. level test. Don't know who will dare to eat that. But I have great faith in my research students. My colleagues say that I am blessed  to have such a wonderful research team. I overstepped their warning on availability of food during Durga Puja break. The overstepping has gone quite a far. I am sure that they will maintain the tradition of saving me as they always do from nightmares when review team of sponsored projects tells, Enough of fun / it's time to test / what you have done.

Is there anything called independence? Independence from what? If I am dependent on ABC, I am not independent. In turn, if ABC is dependent on me then too, I am not independent. Confused? So am I.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Joy of giving week

We are in the joy of giving week. Bhagabad Gita talks about two types of giving - 'enlightened giving' and 'selfish giving'. What is enlightened giving? "Giving simply because it is right to give, without thought of return, at a proper time, in proper circumstances, and to a worthy person, is enlightened giving." How many of us are having enlightened life - partial, if not fully; at least sympathy, if not empathy? Still we give. We must. There is no escape. "Life is short. The vanities of the world are transient." Most of us try to overlook this axiom of life and live a life of denial, denial of fundamental principles, denial of truth - that death is inevitable, we have to leave behind all that what we considered precious, none will go with me. Not only that. The fool in us believes that we can fool others, even God when we give something, which is not exactly giving. It is Lord Krishna himself who defined selfish-giving long before. "Giving with regrets or in the expectation of receiving some favour or of getting something in return, is selfish giving." And there is no joy in it. Please read the article given in the link, specially the anecdote towards the end of the article (Link).

I am not an economist. I know little about administration. I know that decision making is not easy for an administrator. Those who have to decide are not in an enviable position. There are so many things to balance - inflation, fiscal deficit, growth rate, interest rate, poverty alleviation schemes, aspiration of vocal section of the community, our honest desire or demand, our not-so-honest ones too (why not if I can get it as a bargain, aren't others doing the same? - that goes the logic) and we are not living in isolation, there is a foreign policy of the country and there may be pressure on that count too. The selfish individual in us asks us to take decisions which nourishes my own interest, my constituency (if I am a teacher, I shall look for best deal in pay commission; if I am a businessman, I shall look for more concession for my products and services etc.), at least I should not get less than what I get now in the name of greater good. Are we not ourselves entitled to have good things in life? But we can call ourselves human being if we think that, what is due to us is due to others too. And a person is godly if (s)he thinks of what is due to others and not his/her own.

It is so very important for us to cultivate unselfishness if we are in a decision making role. Even if we take an unpleasant decision for long term good which gives short term pain, our thoughts and words, our body language should reflect that pain. And there is a matching sacrifice on my part too. I also embrace the difficulties shared by others. Joy of giving is not just donating money or clothes. Joy of giving relates to practising unselfishness in my day to day life, in my profession, in the decisions I make that affects the life of people. Joy of giving week (02-08 Oct.) starts with birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. Do we remember what he said? "Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man you have seen, and ask yourself if this step you contemplate is going to be any use to him."

The word Mahatma reminds how Vivekananda categorized 'Mahatma' (great soul) and 'duratma' (wicked soul), two opposite poles. "Him I call a Mahatma whose heart bleeds for the poor, otherwise he is Duratma. So long as millions live in hunger and ignorance I hold every man traitor who while educated at their expense (just not formal education, nourishment of all kinds provided by the society), pays not the least heed to them".

The much talked about 3 'H' - Heart (ability to feel), Head (ability to think, work out a solution), Hand (ability to implement) are not just indices of individual development. Individuals make nation. As a nation, do we have a heart to feel for the poor and underprivileged, do we put our thinking cap on and use our collective wisdom to strategize that take development far and corner, do we care for the gaps, loopholes in the implementation and give our shoulder to the wheel to improve delivery mechanism so that each citizen feels that nation cares, nation loves, nation tries.

The joy of giving week will be more than symbolic if we start a reform process that brings out our unselfish best in the way we think and act.

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The first picture of this post is that of a NSS, IIT Khargpur volunteer. In this week, they arranged a blood donation camp in a village school to spread awareness. There was a sudden power cut and it extended beyond an hour. But the spirit was indomitable. The bed was brought out in the verandha  (corridor) which was more airy. And the activity continued. The student donor tried his best so that his fellow student does not take the trouble of fanning him during this power cut. The second picture shows what is called leading by example by the NSS unit faculty, also an acclaimed young professor of Computer Science and Engineering Dept. of IIT Kharagpur, a winner of prestigious IBM Faculty award this year. There were many other students including students from other NSS unit donating blood there. Our in campus blood donation took place in April, 2012. The third picture demonstrates what service means. Can we be bridge ourselves over which people can cross the river of suffering? Salutation to this spirit of service of our young jawans. Proud of you.

Yesterday there was a scholarship examination conducted at all village schools for PRERANA scholarships donated by senior IIT Khaargpur students. Two students from each of the fourteen primary schools get it. Four - six students from each of the three village high schools too get the same. These are the places where our young students work once a week for 2-4 hours. There was also a small meeting held in a village yesterday where NSS faculty explained the virtues of Kissan Credit Card (KCC). The interest taken for farming by money-lenders in this village is Rs. 100 per Rs. 1000 per month which amounts to 100% compounded monthly. The KCC loan interest is about Rs 3.5 to Rs. 6 per Rs. 1000 per months (4% if paid in time, 7% if delayed) and the farmers were so delighted to learn this. It is interesting to note that a village community leader told the gathering that the bank would take away land if interest is not paid, as if the money lender charging 15-25 times more interest would not mind in similar case!! The crop insurance is other component attached to KCC which can be availed without KCC too.

Bottom line is that a lot can be done even within the present scheme of things if we care for giving - our time, energy, resource; remain engaged and this will make every week of us joyful.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Mid-Sem. Exam. Week

Rest is making a shift to another work. - Swami Swarupananda (Babamoni - Link of pics)

Visiting Pondicherry and not having a glimpse of sea or Auroville or museum! The morning at Chennai, afternoon at Delhi and evening at Kolkata - well, this is when we are enjoying a break :-) when the students are occupied with mid-sem. exam.

Day long meeting, hectic schedule, long hours on travel from one part of the country to the other part, sleep deprivation - all take back seat when you find that your work, the effort you have put behind in the preparation, getting appreciated....and you get opportunities to contribute more.

The Dreamliner flight on AI 430 from Chennai to Delhi was of course a sweet surprise. The look and feel was world class. More surprise was on store to find a four year old wonder at Delhi airport. I knew the father, an ex-student, an IIT-IIM, would be there in spite of my advice not to take trouble during his office hour. He is in-charge of supply-chain management of a big MNC food chain, reminded him of his responsibility and asked him not to get emotional. But I failed! Didn't expect the kid there who looked and talked like the mother. The mother too had been an ex-student, an HR professional now, was at Mumbai during the day for delivering a talk at TISS. Previous evening, it was she who called to thank for the little help I could offer on her preparation of this talk. And they found that I was paying a short visit to Delhi.

Invigilation duty for the exam., discharging administrative responsibilities of various kind, getting feedback from publisher at India as well as USA (looking for simultaneous launch by both US and Indian arm) on sample chapter of the new text book, single authored - both inspiration and perspiration :-), receiving the proofs of all the chapters for newer edition of an earlier title .... eventful week.

Conducted a mid-sem feedback exercise from students for the theory course following standard procedure. A total of 102 students participated. Ninety percent of them were appreciative of the effort. About 10 percent did not find it that useful. At places, the weakness pointed out by this 10 percent was termed as strength by members of the other group!!! Much to the disappointment of those who discourages students from attending classes and enjoy their college life :-) more than ninety percent opined that attending the class was essential. Half of this population (> 45 %) told that it is 'highly essential'.

I end this post with what I wanted to be when I stand between young students and a subject. The following was written by few students in the feedback. The day when I shall be able to present myself as both friendly and strict / serious (strictness for the benefit of the students and the academic environment / ecosystem; being talented is not enough, discipline and purpose are key), to all and not just a few, I can consider myself worthy enough to be called a teacher and not one who is making a career out of academic engagement.

"Highly interactive, .... who is really friendly with students, yet strict when it comes to academics, relevance and good examples to recent technologies. / Strong background in subject, interactive, respects student idea and thoughts / Stimulating, stress on self-thinking, real-life examples / Teacher is highly motivated, his motivation is reflected in the way he teaches. Encourages students, involves. / Competitive environment in class, students are encouraged to ask questions / The teaching method encourages us to think and explore more. / Friendly environment, helpful, forwards academic and non-academic matters, good subject knowledge, excellent teacher."

Three students in the feedback asked for break / rest when there is a double lecture (110 minutes). While discussing this feedback in the class and how I am going to address the suggestions offered by the students, in rest of the semester, I used the quote of Swami Swarupananda given in the beginning of the post. He, a Karmayogi, (check picks here) told in Bengali - Karyantare jaoai Bishram. That our students are up to the task can be seen from mail given below. The work was completely optional at student end, given that it is exam. week. In fact, I told them not to worry about this when exam. for theory subjects are going on.

From: XYZ
Date: Wed, Sep 26, 2012 at 6:47 PM
Subject: [NSS] Monthly Report - September

Dear Sir,

The last of the 4 back-to-back exams I have this week will be tomorrow (i.e. THU). My next and last exam will be on Monday. In the interim would it be possible to collect the material for the monthly report sometime on Thursday or Friday so I may complete it before the weekend, thus ensuring neither a delay nor hampering of my studies? I can bring a pen drive or my laptop any time.

Yours respectfully,

Though I was out of station, thanks to my research students in the lab., the material was handed over. The report was prepared and mailed to ministry officials this morning before the month-end, as desired.

Proud to be a part of this team! Thank you all.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Nine Eleven

In my school days or studentship at IIT Kharagpur, we used to celebrate 11th September as Chicago Day, the day Vivekananda delivered his first address in the Parliament of Religion at Columbus hall, Chicago, America in 1893. The world heard, "we accept all religions as true", the triumph of human quest  and character beyond borders and beliefs. 

We heard or did we? "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 civilization 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 honor 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."

In the concluding session of this Parliament of Religion, we heard, "Much has been said of the common ground of religious unity. I am not going just now to venture my own theory. But if any one here hopes that this unity will come by the triumph of any one of the religions and the destruction of the others, to him I say, "Brother, yours is an impossible hope." Do I wish that the Christian would become Hindu? God forbid. Do I wish that the Hindu or Buddhist would become Christian? God forbid.

The seed is put in the ground, and earth and air and water are placed around it. Does the seed become the earth, or the air, or the water? No. It becomes a plant. It develops after the law of its own growth, assimilates the air, the earth, and the water, converts them into plant substance, and grows into a plant.

Similar is the case with religion. The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth."

And there cannot be greater truth than this. "If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world, it is this: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written in spite of resistance: "Help and not fight," "Assimilation and not Destruction," "Harmony and Peace and not Dissension.""

Reproduced below these two lectures in full.

Sept., 11, 1893

Sisters and Brothers of America, 
It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions, and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.
My thanks, also, to some of the speakers on this platform who, referring to the delegates from the Orient, have told you that these men from far-off nations may well claim the honor of bearing to different lands the idea of toleration. 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: "As the different streams having their sources in 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 civilization 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 honor 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.

Sept. 27, 1893

The World's Parliament of Religions has become an accomplished fact, and the merciful Father has helped those who laboured to bring it into existence, and crowned with success their most unselfish labour.

My thanks to those noble souls whose large hearts and love of truth first dreamed this wonderful dream and then realized it. My thanks to the shower of liberal sentiments that has overflowed this platform. My thanks to this enlightened audience for their uniform kindness to me and for their appreciation of every thought that tends to smooth the friction of religions. A few jarring notes were heard from time to time in this harmony. 

My special thanks to them, for they have, by their striking contrast, made general harmony the sweeter. Much has been said of the common ground of religious unity. I am not going just now to venture my own theory. But if any one here hopes that this unity will come by the triumph of any one of the religions and the destruction of the others, to him I say, "Brother, yours is an impossible hope." Do I wish that the Christian would become Hindu? God forbid. Do I wish that the Hindu or Buddhist would become Christian? God forbid.

The seed is put in the ground, and earth and air and water are placed around it. Does the seed become the earth, or the air, or the water? No. It becomes a plant. It develops after the law of its own growth, assimilates the air, the earth, and the water, converts them into plant substance, and grows into a plant.

Similar is the case with religion. The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth.

If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world, it is this: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written in spite of resistance: "Help and not fight," "Assimilation and not Destruction," "Harmony and Peace and not Dissension."

Sunday, September 9, 2012


Today is the death anniversary of my father. A 2010 post on Baba appears here (Link). Every time I think of him, the responsibility he carried on his shoulder and made his service available to our extended family and beyond family and  even under difficult times, I get to hear that I must do much, much, more to be considered a worthy son. One of my friend from those days, a JNU PhD, now a faculty member in a college under Calcutta University and doing wonderful work there in NSS, was accompanying me today in my car. He saw father's picture in photo stand there. And told that Baba must have felt proud for me as he could see that I had completed IIT education though he missed seeing me an IIT faculty member.
My friend expressed happiness that my mother is around. What my friend did not know that Baba was more concerned with development as a whole and he was among the first few guardian who patronized the start of Kharagpur unit of Akhil Bharat Vivekananda Yuva Mahamandal (Link) in the seventies. I remember him speaking in some of the functions of the Unit in those days. If I behaved wayward anytime, the medicine that always worked :-),  him saying, "This is what you are learning visiting Mahamandal (its children unit)." The child in me used to retreat by saying, "Tell me whatever you want to say. Don't say anything bad about Mahamandal." And he used to smile at that. In academics, he always believed in putting the best effort and never bothered about my ranking, final performance. Not only me, all who came in contact with him, miss this reassuring personality. He had been an inspiration, a source of strength for people of different ages and background. He always had something to encourage people to go forward and do better.

Youth Training Camp

The major part of the day was spent in a training camp of young people on the occasion of 150th birth anniversary of Vivekananda. It was held in Traffic Ramakrishna Vivekananda Society, Kharagpur, organized by Kharagpur unit of Akhil Bharat Vivekananda Yuva Mahamandal. About 170 young people from schools and colleges of Kharagpur as well as neighbourhood places like Jharagram, Khakurda, Lalat etc. participated. Ranjitda took 4:15 AM from Naihati in the morning to reach camp at 9:30 AM. He was the main speaker. I spoke little towards the end in the 3:30 PM question-answer session.

Unselfishness is God

Ranjitda was saying that there is debate on existence of God. But we see God everyday whenever we see an act of unselfishness. Vivekananda said, "Unselfishness is God." And this we see when we see our parents. We just think of the sacrifice they make for our well-being with always prayer for us in lips - if we cannot see them as god, there must be a problem with our vision.

Subhash Chandra Bose of 14 years

Ranjitda talked about 14 year old (Netaji) Subhash Chandra Bose. Subhash was writing letters to his mother. In one he expressed anxiety on academic issues as he was loosing focus due to issues associated with adolescence (In Bengali, "Bayaser dharma peye bosechhe"). And in that letter he is asking mother to give him strength.

Good Student or Good Boy?

The letter of this 14 year lad had something which only can come from someone who the country will call "Netaji" soon. On receiving scholarship after doing well in a competitive exam., he visualizes happy faces of parents, the celebration at home and in the locality. But Subhash writes that he himself is not happy. He says that his life will be successful when the mother will say, "Subhash is just not a good student but a good boy. (In Bengali, Subhash shudhu bhalo chhatro noi, bhalo chhele.)" A 14 year lad making the distinction between 'good student' and 'good boy' after doing well in an competitive exam. A campus that houses thousands of good students may do well to listen to young Subhash, his aspiration, what means success for him, the mother's 'good boy' certificate, the 'good student' certificate is not enough!

Life is a mission, a duty : 
Distinction between happiness and enjoyment

Subhas Chandra asked mother what sort of career for her children would please her most?-whether she would be the happiest if her children in later life became the judges, magistrates, barristers
or high-placed officials and came to be admired for wealth and fortune by the men of the world, or if they could earn the respect of the learned and the virtuous for having grown up to be 'real men' even though they might be poor. At the same age in a letter to one of his classmates, Subhas Chandra wrote: 'My life is not for my own enjoyment. My life is of course not devoid of happiness but is not for enjoyment-my life is a mission-a duty.'

Finding a son at pension office

Ranjitda talked about one Kallol, a dedicated Govt. worker for whom work is truly service. Before joining once Kallol happened to see old people waiting for long hours for disbursal of pension at the beginning of every month. Instead of 10 AM, the counter used to open at 12:30 PM and that too for a short period, with lot of harassment to senior citizens. Interestingly, he got a job in pension office after 5 years and even if it meant working extra hours in the evening, he always completed the job so that the pension can be disbursed in time. The first day when he assumed office and started disbursal, hours before the late 12:30 PM schedule maintained earlier, the elderly people were not believing. And they tried to reach out to Kallol's head with their feeble hand offering blessings, the iron grill of the counter coming in between. Be it a family function like marriage or disease like fever, Kallol was never absent during pension days so that the elderly disabled people get their dues in time.

Mind and its control

Jagadishda who came from Narayangarh beautifully explained "Mind and its control." How difficult is to control mind so that we can put it into something at our will as well as take it off!.  Mind is compared with a monkey who as such is restless, in addition it is intoxicated (by desire, lust), bitten by a scorpion (by envy), on whom a demon sits (which is ego). Arjun, the great warrior too said that the mind is too strong to be controlled, it is easier to hold air in one's fist. However, Krishna acknowledged the same but assured that there is a way. What is it? Abhyas and Bairagya. Abhyas is striving, doing it again and again. Bairagya is disenchantment with whatever is bad. Vyasa says that mind as a river that can flow in both the directions. If one goes by the current of Viveka, the conscience, the flow is in the direction of virtue. Then he talked about Yam, Niyam, Asana, Pratyahar and Dharana (Link) as a proven method of control of mind and making the most of this tool.

100 Days 100 Patents

Left the camp little early to attend patent workshop at S. N. Bose Auditorium which is a part of ambitious "100 Days 100 Patents" drive by the institute (Link). Seeing the enthusiasm, our Director said that he had been skeptic at the beginning but feels confident now. On 7th Sept., there was a curtain raiser in which Dean, Sponsored Research told an anecdote that he heard. The moral had been : We spend 25% our effort in constructive things and 75% of mind remains in some state of agitation for problems within or outside. If we can inverse this ratio, we can do much better, given the capacity we have. Team effort as it has been, even for our small contribution, we had been called on stage to light up the lamp. Feel honoured. The workshop had talk from patent controller, patent attorney, case studies, The Q & A session was very live. About 30 abstracts were submitted today itself. Expect that the momentum will continue. One faculty colleague who is an expert in patent law was crisp in his observation to explain the potential loss for innovations being published in non-patentable documents. He was worried about IP rights not being vested properly to institute, the opportunities missed and came up with, "The previous century said - Publish or perish. The current century says - Publish and perish."

Father of PGM holder

Remembering father reminds me the visit of one father on 5th of Sept., the Teacher's Day. I was in a lab. taking viva. HoD called me on phone. Father of one student wants to meet me! Enters the father, one of the simplest person I have ever seen, with only a polythene carry bag in hand which shows the sign of being used many times before. Beard in his face. And none can miss that smile. He is the father of President Gold Medal (PGM) winner of the institute this year, the topper among dual degree students. The son is the only one to get selected in prestigious MIT (Link) for higher studies in the Electronics discipline. The child who intentionally performed poorly to avoid going to a reputed hostel leaving the loving parents, is now at the other side of the globe. Twice a day video talk closes the distance a lot. We wish like his father that the son comes back to serve the country. Then I introduced the father to all lab. students, about eighty of them and they were in awe to meet the father of PGM holder and gave him a huge ovation. [Photo added on 16.9.2012 where proud father receives award from President of India during convocation on behalf of his son.]

Teacher's Day

The Teacher's Day was a rainy day. The soccer match between the students and the teachers were postponed. However, the inauguration of the "Electronics Hobby Hub" went well. The senior most but evergreen Prof. N. B. Chakraborti, with his insatiable quest for knowledge, not only inaugurated the hub but also made the staff explain different experiments, student project materials. The lab. students beautifully decorated the lab. and organized a beautiful function. I had NSS faculty meeting in the evening. Had a call where after a discussion, I was asked to give consent to a nation wide technology development initiative with deep social implication. The answer was obvious and I hope and pray that I can make those proud who placed / place a lot of faith in me.

A conversation

Student: Respected Sir, First of all wish you a very very Happy Teachers day on this auspicious day. Sir, as I am in teaching profession I always see you as my  ideal teacher. The way you speak to us, the way you behave, everything I like very much and try to reflect these things in my life. I specially enjoy the discussion in the lab. Specially your suggestion in handling a big problem by spliting it into smaller ones, I mean how it behave in smaller data helps me a lot in my research and also in real life. In short you are my true ideal teacher and the year I spent with you will be a memorable year in my life. Sir, I always need your blessing through out my life.  

Teacher: Thanks student. I don't know if I deserve these kind words. We see in others what we have in ourselves. It was all within you. My best wishes.

More Pics

Sunday, September 2, 2012


"I have never in my life learned anything from any man who agreed with me." - D. F. Malone

I borrow this quote from the website of Student Welfare Group, IIT Kharagpur (Link). It is another matter to consider if agreement reinforces learning and clears self-doubt, if any. The message conveyed by the quote cannot be lost in a campus which houses thousands of stimulated-intellect, immensely potent individuals, the would be leaders. Ability to accept opinion of others, feedback obtained from various interactions in a healthy manner and working on them is more than a virtue, a recipe for success.

We can and we do live with some amount of inability in almost every parameter that defines us as human. Imperfections are not uncommon. Some of us work on these deficiencies. Some do not. We are not that sensitive till it crosses the threshold. When it crosses, there can be two extreme scenarios. In one, the person tries to harm himself. In the other, the person tries to harm others. The little I wanted to share on the first count appears in this post (Link). The current post is to share few of my thoughts on the other extreme which starts with building up of anger within, one of the six ripus, the seers say, one must not allow to dominate. My mother often recites a Bengali poem which she studied in her school and remembers even now - "Krodh samo pap ar nahi e bhubane" (Anger is the worst malaise on the earth) and then the poem lists the ill-effects of Krodh, the anger.

XLRI experience

The one month training I had at XLRI, Jamshedpur about twenty years back makes me miss the faculty, the ambiance of that place even today. I remember that there was a photo frame on a wall there on which most important one word sentence, most important two word sentence, .... most important six word sentence were written. What I can gather from memory and search is the following.

Most important one word sentence: Sorry!
Most important two word sentence: Thank you!
Most important three word sentence: May I help?
Most important four word sentence: What is your opinion?
Most important five word sentence: You did a good job.
Most important six word sentence: I admit I made a mistake.

All of us may appreciate the above. But if we try to adopt it in our life the "I" factor comes in between. This in some places has been termed as 'rascal ego' (Link), which is an impediment in our effort to reach our higher self.

A friend indeed

The company we choose has a lot to do in how we grow up, how we respond to situation. The 'ego' may tell that 'I am in control of myself' and thus make me feel secured, insulated. This underestimates the effect of the company I keep. It is true that one has immense power within oneself to overcome whatever be the influence of that company. More often than not, we are not aware of that power and do not exercise that power. We should strive to increase our strength and at the same time be responsible for our act. Till we reach even a moderate level of self-confidence, we should exercise our option and caution to select our friends. We may ask ourselves - Does the company I keep gives me strength and happiness, makes me feel positive and good about life?

We look for a company who is in agreement with my view of life. The more is our association with certain assertion, the more we feel attached to it. A rejection of that assertion or a counter view appears to counter me or reject me. I feel repulsive about the proposer of the counter view. I get angry. I cannot treat him as friend. I forget that I miss an opportunity to learn. I forget that only a friend can take the pain of a potential rejection but can show the courage and strength required to present a counter view. The people who agree to whatever I say, may be my ego booster but not necessarily my friend.

Sympathy vs. Empathy

Even the best of the buddies may feel jealous at times. The '3 Idiots' movie has message for teachers as well as student communities. May be the message for the teaching community was more loud to make it a film for the youth. However one cannot miss quotes like, "Jab dost fail karta hai to dukh hota hai. Jab o top karta hai to bahut dukh hota hai." A weak translation would be, "It hurts if a friend fails. It hurts more if he tops." In a competitive environment, professional jealousy, envy cannot be ruled out. Sportsman spirit, like other character qualities, need cultivation. It is easy to sympathize - treat pain of others as my own. It is not so easy to empathize - treat both pain and joy of others as my own pain and joy.

Facebook anecdote : "Why do we shout in anger?" 

I often am in two minds to accept facebook friend requests. For students sending friend request, the policy I followed is to wait till I am done with my role to apprise them. The small facebook friend circle I have, comprises of my batch mates, relatives, ex-students and people befriended through professional acquaintance. And I must say that this is another very important source for me to get educated and updated. The following anecdote was shared by one friend in facebook with whom I studied together during my BTech days at IIT Kharagpur.  

A saint who was visiting river Ganges to take bath found a group of family members on the banks, shouting in anger at each other. He turned to his disciples smiled 'n asked.

'Why do people shout in anger shout at each other?'

Disciples thought for a while, one of them said, 'Because we lose our calm, we shout.'

'But, why should you shout when the other person is just next to you? You can as well tell him what you have to say in a soft manner.' asked the saint

Disciples gave some other answers but none satisfied the other disciples.
Finally the saint explained, .

'When two people are angry at each other, their hearts distance a lot. To cover that distance they must shout to be able to hear each other. The angrier they are, the stronger they will have to shout to hear each other to cover that great distance.

What happens when two people fall in love? They don't shout at each other but talk softly, Because their hearts are very close. The distance between them is either nonexistent or very small...'

The saint continued, 'When they love each other even more, what happens? They do not speak, only whisper 'n they get even closer to each other in their love. Finally they even need not whisper, they only look at each other 'n that's all. That is how close two people are when they love each other.'

He looked at his disciples and said. 'So when you argue do not let your hearts get distant, Do not say words that distance each other more, Or else there will come a day when the distance is so great that you will not find the path to return.'

The story of three samurai

One of my senior student heard it from his friend of Vivekananda Study Circle (Link). The story is simple but profound.

It is said that Japan prospered under first samurai who believed in, "If a cuckoo does not sing, remove it." It prospered even more under second samurai who believed in, "If a cuckoo does not sing, force it." It prospered the most under third samurai who believed in, "If a cuckoo does not sing, wait. If it is a cuckoo and if there is spring, it will sing".

In my theory class of 120+ students I found that a large no. of students were having 100 percent attendance. There are always some such students. But this semester the proportion was much higher. In IIT, there are so many different societies and activities and there are medical and family issues - it is not easy to find full attendance for a large population. On a lighter thread, I asked this community to start a facebook page and let me be the first to 'like' it. However, there were few who had poor attendance. The threat of 'deregistration' brought them back in the class. Given the time is short, and we ourselves need to work more to motivate students to attend class, and hold them there with inspiring lectures, a combination of three samurai approach may help the student community as a whole. Also we don't know what would have happened if the sequence was different for three Samurais. The first two may have prepared the ground for the third. Also, the tutorial, class test, mid-sem. exam., end-sem exam.  - we just cannot wait for spring to come and cuckoo to sing, more so if it is autumn semester :-)

All the students will perform well if they are serious about themselves; little bit of disciplined life and there is no reason why they cannot reach milestones as per the timelines with ease. There will be no frustration, no jealousy. The problem comes when one tends to relax, feels complacent. My little experience is that this is where IIT system leaves no room, so packed is the program. Two-three fun-filled weeks during the semester, one keeps searching for clues what is happening in the class. There are no holidays before class test, lab-test, mid-sem, end-sem exam.s. Therefore, we try to make students aware all the time through interactions in the class, through emails, thorough posts such as these (Link). The students / parents can say if these are of any help or not.

No injury to others

A question may come in the mind, "Shall I remain quiet if somebody tries to harm me?" It is true that we come across both good and wicked people in our life. Wherever possible we avoid the company of the wicked but there may be situations where we need to confront them. Sri Ramakrishna gives a nice solution of this through one of his parable (Translated in original, suggested  Link1 : abridged :  Link2, All tales and parables : Link3)

There lived a poisonous snake in a thinly populated jungle region.  It was so poisonous and it would attack people at the least provocation resulting in the death of victims.  One day a Brahmachari happened to pass that way and the snake was about to attack the holy man.  He uttered a mantra and immediately the snake was subdued.  Then the Brahmachari told the snake that it should give up its harmful nature.  He initiated the snake with a mantra and asked it to repeat that mantra regularly.  After the initiation, the snake completely changed its way of life and started living only on grass and fruits.  It would not harm anybody.  Once the boys of that area went near the snake and were surprised to find that the snake was not reacting angrily.  They lifted it by the tail, thrashed it on the ground and left it there thinking that it was dead.  The snake was hurt seriously but not dead.  Slowly it went into its hole and would come out only during the night.  After some months, the Brahmachari again came to that area and enquired about that snake.  He started calling aloud for the snake which came out after great difficulty.  Seeing its condition, the Brahmachari asked as to what had really happened.  The snake had become so Sattwik that it was not even able to recollect that the boys had thrashed him.  But, after several promptings by the Brahmachari it was able to recollect and narrated its tale of woe.  Then the Brahmachari admonished the snake saying that, “I told you not to harm people, which means that you should not bite anybody, but I didn’t prevent you from hissing so as to protect yourself.” 

One can protect oneself like this without injuring others. A soldier in army injures enemy as a part of his duty*. The civil society need not consider a fellow being as an enemy. Neither it can be called a duty to harm another person. Any attempt to do that will bring agitation within which will harm me more than anybody else in the long run. Avoiding such a company / situation, hissing as told in the parable (pretending to harm to scare away - since it is pretension and not actual, no harm to others or self) are useful. Also, the power of organization, as told by Vivekananda is helpful. He observed that the secret to have a great future of India lies in organization, accumulation of power, co-ordination of wills. He talked about all the powers of good against all the power of evil. However, we must not forget "Hate the sin, not the sinners." Wicked self of one is an aberration. If one is capable and confident, one can try to make such a person familiar with his nobler self.

[*Told by a research student of another Dept. during recess of an interview. We had some time before the start of the interview and started chit-chatting. The student told that he attended one study circle previous Saturday in his native place called Narayangarh (about 30 KM from campus). The topic of their discussion was : What is duty and how to perform it.]

[Update on 05.9.2012 : Today's Times of India, Kolkata edition reports famous Kolkata premier league footballer Tolgay saying "Everything is forgiven but nothing is forgotten,” on his spat with former club East Bengal as he switches over to their arch rival Mohanbagan this season. Without going into the merit of this particular case, we can ask ourselves in the context of this post, when we say the same - what is not forgotten when we forgive someone. Is it the lesson learnt or something else? The first sentence in wiki (Link) says, "Forgiveness is the renunciation or cessation of resentmentindignation or anger as a result of a perceived offense, disagreement, or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution."]

Anger and family life

Last THU evening got a call from a place about 10 KM from a campus where I stayed during student days. My father was in railway service (Link) there. An appointment was requested from me. The nature of my responsibility here needs interaction of many, many people which are not always predictable. The WED evening went in an impromptu meeting with two students of Robotix society. They were looking for a solution to a drift problem where an accelerometer and a gyro are put together. Also there were visits of NSS program officers. There is a meeting with Technology Transfer Group students on FRI evening for 100 days, 100 patents campaign. The SAT is dedicated to NSS activity (Link). And there are few thesis to complete before convocation. Therefore, decided to set off then and there.

Reached the origin of call at about 6:30 PM. Here is a mother who cannot sleep anytime during day and night, keeps standing at the 1st floor balcony holding iron grills at hand, looking at the entrance of the house, waiting for son to come. She visited CMC hospital, Vellore five times and has many different diseases. Her entire thought process revolves around the only son. The son, highly educated and in a high paying job, has distanced himself since marriage and abuses if any effort is made to contact. Even a phone call at home is not made which is the only thing the mother asks for. However, money is sent regularly. I was not in a position to get into compulsion, if any, the son faces, what enrages him so much and the family issues, what happened in the past etc. The little I could do is to counsel the mother with what people taught me, not sure how well I understood them. The essence had been to draw attention to things that she has with her as support system (and not the ones she is not having), the reality of life as prevalent in modern society on service rendered to ageing parents (more among the educated and elite) and lessons conveyed in parables of various holy books. Spent about 2 hours. The lady who cocooned herself in a room upstairs for long, came downstairs to say bye. Assured to visit again. The other day I was wondering if NSS volunteers (Link) can reach out to this section of the community who served the society when they were able and are now abandoned in some sense (social, emotional need).

[The attached pic is shared by a friend in facebook. The narration says : I clicked this picture at Chennai interstate bus terminal. The weight of this boy is around 90 KG,he is mentally and physically ill. He even can’t walk. You can see how his mother is carrying him…???? Can you believe this!!! ……we salutes all mothers in this world!!!! Mom you are great!!!!!

I remember a play that I witnessed in the stage of Durga Mandir, Golebazar, Kharagpur during my student days, most probably enacted by Shaonli Mitra group. A son, who had lost his good sense, decided to oblige a demand that asks him to give his mother's heart as present to someone. He tip-toes to find mother sleeping, with no fear in her face, lest from her son. The son flashes his knife, takes out the heart, stained in blood. As he hurries to offer his present, different kind of feelings descending on him, he takes a miss-step and falls on the ground. The mother's heart in his hand gets an anxious voice, "My child, hope you are not hurt!" It was in Bengali, "Bachha, la ge ni to!"

There are stories of other extreme where possessiveness manifests in another manner. I shall be exceeding the brief of this post to dwell on this complex issue - how much space an individual requires for oneself. May take up in future. ]

Relocation of friend

Received an SMS two days back. Somebody from Civil Service background, who I came to know in course of my professional responsibility and was delighted to receive a 'friend' request in facebook, is leaving Kharagpur and is relocated in Chief Miniser's Office at Kolkata with a higher responsibility. Shall miss him here very much. Our best wishes for the new assignment.


Distance does not matter. Let our friend circle continue to grow. Let us always find a friend when we need  - true friend, not necessarily someone who agrees with me whatever I say and dumps on me negative thoughts and ideas. Let us never think of extremes of any kind, that can harm me or harm others. Let us help each other and together the society that we all serve.

For professional counselling service which assures confidentiality, one is suggested to take help of institute counselling centre, the details of which can be found here (Link).