Folk Dances in India

Heres a nice blog about folk dances in India. The point the author is making is that in India, folk music and dance has two purposes. One is the dedication to God and religion, where the dances play out episodes from the epics or from mythology, and the other is to celebrate life, and to mark the passage of seasons, with their importance to the agricultural cycle, especially the harvest season.

Folk Dances in India

And do check the videos. Really nice ones!

Happy viewing, and Happy Dasahra!


IIT

There are quite a few folks, much more knowledgeable than me, who have written about the question of IITs. While adding to the reams of disk space already devoted to the topic, i would like to write a few thoughts about what i feel could be the way forward for IITs, and what are some of the things we need to look for to continue to bring success through the model of education which the IITs are. To be able to do this, the first thing we need to do is to understand some of the factors which have contributed to the success of IITs (and these i write from the perspective of a student, and of someone who looks at young folks graduating from IITs and joining the work-force every year), and the factors which may not actually have so much of an impact.

From what i am able to understand, some of the factors that have contributed to the success of the IITs could be excellent faculty and an entrance exam where even mathematical induction could give you nightmares (couldnt quite come up with an adjective, so just thought would use an example)

Huh? Yes, those are some of the things i see as being the prime factors.

To begin with, the entrance exam, the famed IIT-JEE is one of the most difficult exams in the world. This means that anyone who is scoring good marks in this exams is exceptional, and any college which comprises of these students would find that the quality of output is excellent. Its a simple question of output being a function of input. That said, there is also the process of conversion of input to output, and this is where the faculty play a critical role. Certainly, infrastructure is indispensable, but to my mind, faculty is the most critical aspect.

Coming now to what i feel is the concern that needs to be addressed today. To begin with, from what i understand (please correct me if i am wrong) that the cut-offs arent what they used to be. What this means is that as the number of colleges has increased, somewhere the quality of student intake is dipping. Is that a right assumption? Maybe, maybe not, but would like to stand corrected on this.

The other aspect is the faculty. When we were students, the Professors who taught us were among the creme of their age, who took to research or academics as a profession. In other words, four decades ago, academics was not only fashionable, it was also a desirable career option for the brightest. Two decades ago, though, the brightest did not opt for academics as a career option. And the folks who went into academics two decades ago are the ones who would be the guiding lights of the academic world today, and going forward. This is not to say there are no bright sparks in the academic world. Far be it from me to say that, but what i am saying is that we need many, many more bright sparks if we are to sustain quality on a much larger scale.

So, what are we to do? To my mind, there are a few things which need attention. To begin with, academics needs to be brought up the value chain as far as a career option is concerned. Now, thats easier said than done, and even if it is done, it would take quite a bit of time to achieve this. So what are the options? One, i feel, would be to position academics as a career option for mid-career executives. If management schools can do that, why cant IITs? Mid-career executives may not be the stars of the research domain (thats only an assumption, and i feel it may not actually a correct assumption), but there are quite a few folks i know, who find it a passion to learn, and to teach, who have kept in touch with things happening, and who, given a chance, would like to look at academics as a career switch. While i do agree that this may not be so easy to achieve, its worth a thought, and with the right kind of tools, it may actually be quite easy.

Question … Is it feasible to create a course designed at enabling mid-career executives to make the career switch into academics? Given the passion i see with a lot of people, and given that students could definitely benefit from the knowledge and experience of these executives, and the dearth of faculty, not just at the IITs, but at other engineering colleges (why only engineering colleges, it could also be management colleges, or in science, humanities, or courses as well) also, and the need to enable higher quality education for a much larger proportion of the people of India, this may be something much needed.


India + Pakistan

In today’s scenario of acrimony and mutual distrust that the two countries have for each other, where our choicest emotions and some of the most colourful expletives are reserved for our esteemed neighbour by people in both countries, there are some things which stand out as things which can help build bridges.

There are two things which come to mind. One material, one academic. Not that academic is not material, so please read on and you will get the drift. The other day, I saw a bus which was sponsored by Rotary Club. I would think quite a few would have come across buses sponsored by Rotary Club, but this was a bit different. The difference, or so I think, was painted on the side of the bus. The bus was sponsored by the Rotary Clubs from New Delhi, and … hold your breath … Karachi, apart from Turkey and USA. What I am writing about here is how a bus in Gurgaon or Delhi or any part of India can be sponsored by people from Karachi or any other part of Pakistan. This is interesting … understanding that both sides of the border are inhabited by human beings with more or less same ambitions, similar aspirations. This means that the helping hand, the healing hand, should be able to reach across the border much more effectively than hatred can.

Another thing I am writing about is something I read in the Times of India … an article about how universities in Pakistan are outsourcing evaluation of Ph. D. theses to India. Interesting? I guess you would be able to google it, so please go ahead … What this means is that no matter how much the hawks in Pakistan would claim to inheritance of the Mughal legacy, the Mughal empire ruled with its seat at Dehli. What that means, whether the hawks like it or not, that Dehli is the seat of Urdu. Of course, Urdu is not the only subject which the two nations share. There are subjects of human importance like medicine, engineering, pure and applied sciences, mathematics, the arts, both performing and visual, and of course a shared history, culture, heritage. Can these subjects, whether with the shared prefix or not, form a bridge to bring the hearts and minds of people across the border together? Can we not build bridges from Karachi to Kanpur, from Lahore to Lucknow, from Islamabad to Indore, from Peshawar to Patna? And if these bridges are built connecting the hearts and minds, can these bridges ever be broken? Some may try to break them, but what they can make are scratches at the most, don’t you think.

Recently, Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi reached the semi-finals at a tennis tournament. India-Pakistan tennis anyone?


Sustainability

The last issue of the Scientific American India carries the title story of 12 things which can change the world, but probably may not. Interesting stuff. And they also mention how likely these are to occur. Some are imminent, others not so. Anyway, one of the things which could change the world as we know it is superconductivity at normal temperatures. Now, superconductivity surely reminds of the old Ajit joke (one doesnt really know if this was ever a dialogue in a movie or not, but thats not really the point, is it) … 

Put him in liquid nitrogen … he will become a superconductor, and keep giving out bus tickets all his life.

Anyone who hasn’t heard that one can please ignore it, and just read on. Because what I am writing about is superconductivity, not Ajit jokes, nice as they are. Actually not superconductivity, either (I don’t know much about it, but then that doesn’t stop me writing … hey, if I were to write only about things I knew about, I wouldn’t write about anything). What I am writing about is sustainability. Well, this article talks about how superconductivity can change the world by enabling us to be able to carry large amounts of electricity from areas where it can be easily generated with renewable sources, to areas where it probably cannot be, easily, this being a way we can tackle global warming by using natural, renewable resources wherever they are available, creating power from there, and transporting it to where its deficient.

This is an interesting way to manage the scenario we find ourselves in. I feel the approach we need to take needs to be more local in nature. Now, I am not saying there is anything wrong with them. Far from it, for I am don’t know enough to have an opinion on this. What I am talking about is looking at the option of self-help, local participation utilizing renewable energy. And here I am not just talking about energy from renewable sources, but the whole idea of sustainable growth.

Take India for example. Different parts of the country are suitable positioned to harness renewable energy in different ways. The northern part of the country, for example, could amply look at solar energy, while the hills might do better to generate energy through tapping wind power. The point I am trying to make is simple. We probably need to look at initiatives at the local level, with much more participation from village panchayats in development of alternative means of generating energy, conserving the forest cover, or the water table. After all, there is a wealth of common-sense methods which have been handed down from generation to generation, which I suppose have proven benefits over the centuries. In addition, these methods also have the merit of getting buy-in from the people who are immediately impacted by some of these measures, making them all the easier to implement. And in the process, come up with initiatives which are culturally more acceptable to the people.


Hockey in South Asia?

Yesterday, there were two matches … Pakistan were playing Australia and India were playing South Africa. No, this is not cricket, but the poor cousin (at least as far as South Asia goes), hockey. Pity hockey is only the national sport on India. We have been told that the 7-1 loss to Pakistan at the Asian Games in Delhi was the factor which sealed the fate of Indian hockey. I dont quite agree. If this be the scene, then what sealed the fate of Pakistan hockey? Pakistan doesnt seem to be doing much better than India at hockey in the world cup, at least. On the other hand, they actually lost to India 4-1, two misses from Sohail Abbas notwithstanding.

Be that as it may, thats not really the question i am looking at here. Somehow, hockey in South Asia has not been able to evolve with the changes in the playing conditions. There is astro-turf, but then, thats been around for two decades now, i think, and one would think by now we would be able to adapt to it. After all, with our skill and technique in hockey, we should be able to adapt to conditions. I am talking here about both India and Pakistan. Now i am not an expert on this, but maybe some of the rules are also not conducive to our brand of hockey? Even if they are not, we have to live by them, and adapt our hockey to them. From the way both Indian and Pakistani teams seem to be going in the world cup, seems the problems for both are the same (sometimes i think the only problem India and Pakistan dont share is the performance of the cricket teams, and that too is only a periodic phenomenon).

This is where the idea came to me, would it be helpful if India and Pakistan were to collaborate to develop hockey? Maybe create a place where the hockey talent of both the nations can be nurtured and brought to a level of global excellence? See, as it is, the only thing we do is fight with each other. And while there is a school of thought that cricket could help heal the divide between the two countries, fact is that the fight between India and Pakistan becomes more pronounced when the two teams are playing each other. So probably more than cricket, hockey has a chance? And this is the question i am asking you today. Looking from two perspectives, one of creating excellence in hockey in South Asia (remember the time when Pakistan won the cricket world cup down under and people in India were happy that at least the world cup came to South Asia?), and another for fostering greater sporting ties of a collaborative nature between the two countries? Maybe India-Pakistan hockey league? Or similar ideas? Please do post your opinions on the poll.

Please do post your opinion. Who knows we may make something out of it? Do post your comments too.


Civilization Cycles

A very important question Panditji poses in The Discovery of India why, over a period of time, nations lose their vitalityand cannot seem to come out of a stupor as though unable to move in the direction of change. He says, on page 46, that:

One senses a progressive deterioration over centuries.

He goes on to say that this is not a trend, but rather, is a phase which gets reversed through some period of productive, progressive activity, only to slip back into slumber. How is it that Europe managed to subjugate the till then vastly superior armies of Asia?

This is a question which was probably a difficult thing to answer when Panditji was writing this book, but i think he had an idea. And this is something we can see today.

What i think is that nations go through cycles of prosperity, vitality, and so on. Which is why India, or China, having enjoyed a vigour in their civilizations, as can be seen from the tremendous contributions of these civilizations to sciences, arts, dance, music, literature, even war of a period of centuries. And this is where the interesting part comes. As we can see, after a burst of development in all spheres during the Middle Ages, and reaping the fruits of these developments over the following three centuries or so, Europe somewhat lost that edge, and America and Japan came to the fore in the 20th century, leading innovations, not just scientific but economic, commercial, managerial, and in a number of spheres (including Hollywood, i would say).

And this is where the interesting part comes. Today, as we can see from internaitonal geo-politics, nations such as India, China, Brazil leading the world in areas unheard of, whether it be outsourcing or BPO, technology, or (well, well) emission reductions. In a nutshell, like everyone says this is India’s and China’s millenium. While i wouldnt go so far as to describe the millenium that way, we could say this for the century. And with this, as you can see, is where the wheel comes full circle.

So why does the wheel coe thus? I believe that as a nation is at it zenith of glory, that is when the seeds of decline are sown. Let me explain. If there are certain things which bring a nation to the zenith, they have worked in the past, and so there is no reason to believe that they wont work in the future, and success gives the confidence to assume this. This is where the nation tends to ossify, becoming rigid in its ways, thoughts and more importantly in its intolerance of new ideas because they would challenge the status quo and the status quo is the zenith, so why bother. And this, i believe, gives opportunity for other nations to “build a better mousetrap” because if the current one isnt working too well, then there is reason to change, and this reason to change displays itself in a new suppleness, an openness to new ideas, to a change, the outcoe of which may not be well defined. And the cycle continues …


India Thoughts

This is another one based on some thoughts which came to me as i am reading The Discovery of India. Something Panditji wrote about the people of India:

I felt they had vast stores of suppressed energy and ability, and I wanted to release these and make them feel young and vital again. India, constituted as she is, cannot play a secondary part in the world. She will either count for a great deal, or not count at all.

First of all, its interesting to see Panditji’s foresight. Something we are getting to see today, more than half a century after independence, as India takes centre-stage in matters of the world. Today we are seeing the stores of energy, ambition and vitality which are displaying themselves as a fresh burst of activity in a diverse set of areas across the spectrum of human activity. The last decade or so has shown this.

However, the point to look at here is that it took around half a century to reach there. To what extent was our socialist economic framework responsible for this delay, i wouldnt be able to say (not being an economist, but inviting students of economics, and of India to comment their thoughts), but i do believe that large amount of the infrastructure developed in the early days as an independent nation is playing, and i believe will continue to play a vital role in this resurgence. Whether it be the mega steel plants, shipyards, or the railways or the postal infrastructure, or IITs, i believe this has played an important role in powering us to where we are. Though i do believe we stretched it a bit, and maybe some of the changed brought about by Dr. Manmohan Singh, for example, could have been maybe done a decade earlier. But then, i am speaking with the benefit of hindsight, and hindsight is always 6/6, so dont mind me.


India Questions

As the new year is here, and i am reading, or rather re-reading a book which i find fascinating, some of the questions which i had asked when i first read this book, and have been asking since, without getting complete replies, are coming back. At a time when the nation looks forward to another year of prosperity and growth, these questions are ones which arent even related to these, but rather, are questions which are slightly more basic. I am not the first one to ask these questions, nor would i be the last. But coming back to the book i am reading, this is The Discovery of India. In this book, Panditji has explored the idea of India as a nation, has asked some questions of her, and tried to find answers to some of these questions. I am asking not necessarily the same question, but some of these questions share a context.

India is a large, highly diverse nation. We are a nation poised on the threshold of leading the world into a wonderful future. And yet, there are these questions. As a nation, we are a political and economic entity. We are also a civilization, though, and it is from this aspect that questions are coming. The question is simple … What is it that defines India? India is a land of diversity. The Meitei are very different from the Gujarati, and the Kashmiri are very different from the Malayali. And this dimension of region is only one dimension which defines the variety of India. Then of course there is religion, and there is caste, and a number of socio-economic dimensions which define the great variety of India. And yet, there is something which underlies all of these dimensions, which threads all of this diversity into the garland of India.

What i am asking is simply this … what is this something? Is it a shared culture? Culture is shared to an extent. Is it a shared history? Again, shared to an extent. Is it s shared cause? To an extent. Is it a combination of all of these? What is it that makes each of us stand to attention at the singing of the National Anthem? What is it that makes us watch the Republic Day Parade? What is it that makes us shout, sing, dance, cheer when India is playing and winning at cricket (more so when against Pakistan)? If all of these dimensions were flowers, then what is that thread that brings these flowers together into the garland we love … India?

Expect more such musings as i read this book. These questions havent yet been answered completely.


Vegetables

Sometimes i wonder whether i get to know the news thats impacting me or not? At times its more appropriate to think that we get to see the news that the editors of the news channels or newspapers believe we should be seeing, and this is where the media gets to define the scope and topic of debate in society. But there are aspects which probably get left out in all this because they arent very important, maybe.

Let me explain what i am talking about. Those of us who have followed politics in India for some time now will remember how the rise in prices of onions cast its spell over the elections in four states in India. Those of us will also remember the coverage the rise in prices of onions, an essential to Indian cooking, got in the political debates. For those of us who dont remember, you could read bits about it here or here.

What i am concerned about is how little space is being given to the price rise that we are seeing today. Yes, there is talk about it somewhere in between the columns on the inner pages. One could say that this is because there arent any elections round the corner thats why the price rise isnt as important an issue to be covered as it was a decade ago. But then this would imply that even then the coverage wasnt of price rise for an essential, but was coverage of an election issue, and this would imply that the debate is not about price rise and its impact on people but about elections and the impact of the price rise on elections. Now i am not saying that price rise hasnt got coverage but not the way when elections were round the corner.

Whats interesting about the price rise is who benefits from it. The vegetable walla told wife that if a Cauliflower is bought for Re. 1 from the farmer it is sold for Rs. 25 in the market. This means that the benefit of this price rise doesnt pass to the farmer but to a set of traders, middlemen if you may in the supply chain, and this is an aspect which not many seem to be talking about. Shouldnt this be something which should be the core of the debate and shouldnt this debate be at the core of the discussion in the country? To me, i believe, the two areas which should dominate the debate in the country are the impact of this price rise on common people and of course the ongoing negotiations at Copenhagen, which again are inspiring quite a bit of cynicism, like the one i read somewhere (dont remember where) … If the climate were a bank, it would have been saved.

Are there any areas which you think we need to focus on more as a nation? Please do write your comments, maybe we could start something?


Don’t Go Overboard …

I havent written my opinion about the terror attack on Mumbai. I dont think i could have written anything even remotely erudite compared to what folks far more intelligent and well-informed than me have written. Yes, i have shared the agony of the attacks … yes, i have shared the general mood of anger, yes i have been upset with the media coverage … yes i have blamed the media for going overboard because of its elitist leanings … yes i have blamed the media for giving far more importance to this than to the local train blasts, or the blasts at Sarojini Nagar, because of the profile of the people killed … and a number of other things.

And yet, i would like to say this … dont go overboard. Dont go overboard projecting the romance of The Taj Mahal Hotel, or Cafe Leopold … Dont go overboard, claiming Mumbai is the only international city we have. Dont go overboard trying to brand the recent legislature elections as the semi-finals … after all, state and national elections are contested on different issues, and even if that sounds utopian, nothing can be the semi-final without huge states like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu (see here) having had their say. Dont go overboard …

Of course, the Jamat-ud-Dawa should be banned … we have been able to get the UN to ban it. But please let this lead to something. We all remember the time when the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba was banned. Has that helped? Not really. This actually reminds me of a Tom and Jerry episode … the balloon coming out of one cavity … you try to push it back in, it comes out of another cavity. Also, i believe, lets not blame Pakistan. Lets face it … if someone is coming to hit you, it is your foolishness if you let him, and then blame him. It is up to us to protect ourselves. But, the question is, are we serious?

A lot of us have blamed politicans. A lot of us have said enough is enough. Maybe we should stand in front of the mirror and say that? Let me explain what i mean … how many of us actually think about what the other person may go through when we do something? Lets take an example … you will see on the roads in any city, people who will cut you off, who will drive rash, on the wrong side of the road, etc. etc. … for their own convenience (driving on the wrong side of the road is an awesome way to beat having to drive a longer distance and take a u-turn). By doing this, are we ever thinking of what other drivers on the road may go through?

Now, one could argue that theres no relation between driving and national security. But i am not even talking about that. I am talking about the attitude of people. As individuals, how many of us actually care about others? How many of us actually are concerned whether the other person lives or dies? Yes, there are folks who are, but then … Lets ask a hypothetical question … would we have reacted the same way if, for instance, these attacks were the work of, say, the Irish, or Spanish terrorists? If yes, then we would have evolved as a society, and as a nation. If no, then this outcry is not arising from serious concern.

Coming to the point of Pakistan … lets understand one thing … Pakistan was formed on an anti-India platform. Now, if a nation is formed on such a premise, then wouldnt it be folly to actually expect anything drastically different? Pakistan is in a state of denial, they say … maybe they are a state of denial … starting 1948?

Coming to the whole idea of Muslim bashing … Yasin Merchant wrote a wonderful piece in the TOI yesterday … but i am looking at something more basic … When Pakistan was created, the idea was that of “Islam in danger”. On this platform was mooted the idea of creation of Pakistan, comprising the Muslim-majority areas of the sub-continent. However, there is a fallacy here. In these areas, like in Punjab, or Bengal, the platform of “Islam in danger” didnt cut much ice, because the Muslim population wielded enormous political power within the existing system, while in the areas where the Muslims were in a minority, and the platform could actually have cut some ice, those areas were excluded from Pakistan. So let us understand one thing … this is a political, and only a political issue … this cannot be a religious issue. As Shah Rukh Khan said in an interview … there is the Islam of Allah, and there is the Islam of the Mullahs.

Staying on the topic of Pakistan … while this might sound like toeing the Pakistan line, the fact is, and analysts have been saying this, a weak Pakistan is not in our best interests, whether we like it or not. Pushing the government too far will only give more power to the “fundos” as they are called, and probably bring the Taliban closer to our borders, and i dont think any of us would believe that that would be a nice thing. The idea needs to be to eliminate them, and we must think surgically in that direction.