Sunday, June 30, 2013

Poorva Express

I type this sitting in Shatabdi Express. This is a return journey from Bhubaneshwar to Kharagpur. There was an invited talk in a workshop at IIIT yesterday afternoon. The train compartment is one-third full. Shatabdi – Rajdhani trains are special. The travel time is less. Trains run on shared tracks. Other express trains are held up to make way for these. Similarly, express trains make passenger trains wait. However, in suburban sections passenger trains rule. The passengers there are organized force.

June 15, 2013. Poorva Express at New Delhi station. We had reservation in 3 Tier AC Sleeper Coach B2. There were only one unreserved compartment in the front. Train information system of Indian Railways showed that there should have been two unreserved coaches after loco. There were more people in our compartment than the no. of berths, right from the start. The coach attendant were very courteous to these extras. One such person was found to raise currency notes from his book-pocket a little when conductor came. Another extra person slept in the passage between two berths at night in our coup. There was announcement in the Delhi station for Rajdhani Express that there must not be any extra person in the compartments.

One hour after we started from Delhi, our train was taken to siding of a small station. Why this unscheduled stop? The ‘extras’ who were regular laughed at our ignorance. While our train was stranded there for more than one hour, five-six Rajdhani Express to different destinations passed. The station master of that small station asked me not to worry. He said that our train would make-up at night. It did not and the late increased to 2 hours. The train information system says that average delay of Poorva Express is 4 hours. One wonders why cannot Poorva start after all these Rajdhani-s.

June 16, 5 PM, Bardhhaman Station, the same Poorva Express. Last stop Howrah is about 100KM, 90 minute away. Our B2 compartment has become half-empty. I boarded the unreserved compartment in the front of the train for the last part of the journey. It was full to the brim. One of the toilet was seen as place holder of 3-4 people. I just managed to get some space to put my two feet. One inch this side or that side, people were sitting on floor or standing.  In the space marked for 8 people in reserved 3 tier compartment (3+3+2), there were  about three times more, 24 people in the unreserved compartment. Bringing it down to 16 (which is luxury in current standard : 5+5 on either side 1+1 on two single window seats and 2+2 on two bunks) with additional compartments makes railway earn twice as much the seat capacity. Even without the sleeper or reservation charge, the earning from these compartments won’t be less compared to others. One wonders how difficult it is to give little comfort to them who also deserve.

I was standing not far from the door. It was not possible to go further inside the compartment which was full. There were 7-8 young people jostling near the door. They are into labour intensive jobs in and around Delhi. One could listen what they were discussing among themselves. They were discussing what they found enjoyable and the attempts they made so far to enjoy them. Little or no education, tough job condition, insecure future, difficult life condition, add to these, plenty of certain stuffs in newspapers, magazines, movie, mobile / internet downloads, MMS (cheap mobile phone is not all boon). The topline movies, the reality shows (even the ones that includes children) promoting “entertainment, entertainment and entertainment” and defining entertainment in certain way, it is but natural to see what we see occupying the mindspace of youth; that of what turns into addiction, what poisons slowly but surely.

The science of life shows the relationship.
Thought  ---> Action ---> Habit ---> Propensity (Character)

Thought precedes action. Repeated action becomes habit. Habit when deep becomes a propensity. Collection of propensities is character. The formative stage of a character (and also if a change is attempted) depends a lot on what we are fed as a thought. Later the character initiates thought and action through a feedback loop, that reinforces.

We think about what we come across - what we read, what we see, and the kind of persons we come in contact with. If we offer our young generation inputs which are not positive and inspiring, how do we expect the society to get rid of negativity and the inglorious things that we see around us? We cannot get marigold if what we plant is parthanium.
The tighter and tougher law attempts to treat the symptom and not the cause. We are alarmed today by the crimes of most heinous type. If we feed people sex and violence, selfishness and immorality, matter over mind, can we expect that we will be surrounded by people of noble character who do not cheat, who do not abuse? Unless we promote and recognize human values in us, in the society from young age, we are leading ourselves to ‘dog eats dog’ world.

If we treat fellow-being as human, then we can expect human qualities from them. Also, we ourselves are got to learn many human qualities from them. [Video Link] There may be aberrations. Even after being treated as human, some may allow the animal-self to get better of him. Law is there to make such choice costly for them. But we should proactively create and nurture an environment to let the human aspect, the divine aspect of one to blossom in every strata of the society.

Access to education, education of right kind that develops complete personality and not just a leading rank in a competitive exam., is the key. Scoring high percentage in exam. is important, but it is more important to learn what goes into making a good human being who cares, who shares. It is time to focus on who are educating our nation and what are they educating; and what is leading by examples. [Here is a bio of RKMVU teacher: Link :Readers’ comments too are interesting.] Each of us leaves a print in the society. Whether we are conscious about it or not, we like it or not, the society - specially, the young cannot escape having examples like us before them. If they are what we see them as today, we cannot avoid our responsibility on what we presented before them.

If we want to address the issues our nation faces, we need to reach out to every section of the society. And this should be more than symbolism, the genuineness in our approach makes the difference. We are in praise of relief operations carried out by young jawans of army in Uttarakhand. Do we ourselves or young members of our family have ever attempted any relief / social service work in our neighbourhood with same sincerity?
It is not just money or donation made. How we do what we do are more important. What is our attitude? Is it that of service (i.e. kindness put into action) or do we think that the downtrodden are burdens? Giving money to an NGO will never yield what personal involvement, engagement will. Nation-building responsibility of mine cannot be outsourced.

Few days back, a point came in an informal  discussion, here at IIT Kharagpur. Can we have tea in the houses of village, slum that we visit? We may start with the village / slum of our house maid. If one has reservation over hygiene, tea would be fine because the water is boiled. To this, a very, very senior faculty participating in the discussion, remembered a Baltic saying on Three Cups of Tea. "The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family..."

If we do not learn to live together, we shall perish together. We may be boarder of Rajdhani Express, Poorva Express or a passenger train. We may have reservation or we may be travelling in unreserved compartments. Let us start by a simple thing - let us have occasions to have tea together.  We can seek help of IRCTC if we need that.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I am, because you are

The day to say thanks ... and express gratitude to all ... young and old ... who contributed ... and who keep contributing in the making of me ... I am, because you are.

My daughter lost the race to her mother not being able to wish at 00.00 hrs. (went to sleep) ... my mother giving the grand daughter an idea of putting a card below the pillow ... phone, SMS, email, facebook ... favourite dishes at home ... small function by lab. students (where my daughter could not stop herself and went ahead with cake-cutting before me) ... reminiscences of the past, mostly that of my father ... 

... among all these completed 28 of the 30 pages of annual report preparation of National Service Scheme (NSS), IIT Kharagpur ... this started yesterday evening ... one more hour's job is left ... I assured regional head of NSS when he rang yesterday evening that by today it would be emailed to Program Advisor Cell, New Delhi ... and I'll do it before the clock strikes 00.00 hrs again :-)

[P.S. It is done and emailed ... annual report and a success story .... implementation of VIVEKDISHA overcoming all the hurdles that came in the way ... holds lot of promise in education front and beyond that ...]

Few days back I was watching a Tarun Majumdar movie. He is a master in making us see the virtues, the tranquility that lie in the life of a simpleton. In this movie, a city boy gets job in village school and and discovers that he (and for that matter each of us) can live happily with a little if he has loving folks around. This is what the song tells us.

Bengali edition of 'Big Boss' has started. One participant, a relatively known actress, on being nominated in 2nd week itself felt shocked, pained. Once it got absorbed (it's all part of the game), she made an interesting comment. The very thought of eviction where she returns to her lonely house, none to talk to, starts haunting and saddens her. The social space, the share and care that we enjoy from people near and far, is priceless. We shall remain ever indebted to the society that houses us, and gives an opportunity to blossom.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Vivekananda : A Tribute

It was an honour and privilege to participate in many functions to commemorate 150th birth anniversary of Vivekananda. These were functions hosted by local people, the institute and of course, NSS, IIT Kharagpur.  Articles were sought in a few places and I tried to write something. One English article recently came online. This was published earlier in print volume of Vivek-Jivan in its anniversary issue. This monthly is published by Akhil Bharat Vivekananda Yuva Mahamandal (Link) who have taken up the primary task of 'man-making, character-building' that Vivekananda prescribed for all and before any other thing. With this primary education in us, a doctor becomes a better doctor, a teacher becomes a better teacher, a shop-keeper becomes a better shop-keeper, a manager becomes a better manager, a social servant becomes a better social servant etc. and thereby can lead a life of full and take the nation / civilization forward in the right direction. It is a win-win for all but requires no-deficit in attention and engagement.

I grew up (Link) participating in study-circles where one week's discussion used to be an article from this monthly, Vivek-Jivan. The short and simple articles by respected Shri Nabaniharan Mukhopadhyaya, poupular as Nabani-da, in more than one ways cleared many a doubts of our young mind. There are several small booklets written by him on this central theme of Vivekananda. Many of them are available online now (link). Mahamandal works at grassroots in villages, towns, cities among 'ordinary' youth who embrace Vivekananda to garner confidence and build their own life. It apparently works below perceptible level and is thus not noticed by media. Even its annual camps during every Dec. 25-30 which is attended by over 1500 young man from all over the country under extreme hardship are not a news (Link). May be Mahamandal wants it that way, not to make flash-news but do the ground work that involves day to day grinding of building-up oneself and not to brag about it. I could find only two videos Nabanida in youtube which some camper recorded during Bengali Q & A session (Link1, Link2). With younger team taking over, now there is a facebook page (Link). However, since it is mostly rooted in villages and small cities working among struggling youths, the activity in facebook is mostly from city units and is thus less.

When Vivek-Jivan editorial team asked one article from me in the anniversary issue, I tried to avoid as much as possible. I know the quality of the articles published there and the life and toil of the people who write them. I am no match. But soon the wish became a kind of order! And the following is the start of the article that I wrote. To read it in full, please visit this (Link). Thanks to Arunavada for necessary help. There is an error in my affiliation there. I am not 'Vice-President' :-) but a member of Kharagpur unit of Mahamandal.

We associate childhood with innocence and a make-believe world. We cannot but be surprised when a child experiments with what his innocence asks him to believe. Let us begin with what a child showed us. 

One day, his mother arranged a congregation where a priest narrated the story of the mythological god, Hanuman, who was a close confidant of Lord Rama. The child heard that Hanuman conquered death and is also fond of banana. It did not take much time to establish a cause-effect relationship and the child was there in a banana garden and waited hours there to come face-to-face with immortal Hanuman. The elders in the family had a tough time to bring the child home. The argument that worked was – Lord Rama might have sent Hanuman to some other place for some important work. 

There were several hookahs, a kind of Indian smoking pipe, in their house. Each hookah was meant for people of a particular caste. Why so? The child was given the simple explanation that a person’s caste is lost if he smokes from the hookah of another caste. What happened next? The child tried all the hookahs by himself but could not find how his caste got lost. It was not so simple for the father to explain to the child about social stratification. No surprise that any round-about or evasive answer would not satisfy this child, Biley, when he attains youth as Narendra. His approach was straight and direct. ‘Have you seen God? Can you show me God?’ .... (continue)