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 http://parivaar.org/ 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.