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.