Monday, August 20, 2012

Of an Inspiring Teacher

मैंने इसे फेसबुक पर अपने स्कूल - जिला स्कूल, गया, बिहार - के ग्रुप के लिए लिखा था। पर मैंने सोचा कि इसे इस ब्लॉग में भी शामिल कर लूं। रवींद्र कुमार - जिन्हें हम सब उस समय रविंदर बाबू कहते थे - मेरे शैक्षिक जीवन की विभूतियों में हैं जिनसे मैंने विज्ञान के पहले सबक सीखे। 

हमारे समय में रविंदर बाबू विज्ञानं के सबसे अच्छे शिक्षक माने जाते थे. उनके व्यक्तित्व में एक गंभीरता और शालीनता थी. वे ज्यादा बोलते नहीं थे. कक्षा में आने पर पहले करीब ५ मिनट वे बोर्ड पर कक्षा से सम्बंधित चित्र बनाते थे. बहुत सधा हुआ हाथ था. फ्लास्क और बीकर बिलकुल सही आकार के होते थे. वे हिंदी के शब्दों के ऊपर लाइन नहीं लगाते थे. थोड़ा अंग्रेजी जैसा लगता था. उनके हस्ताक्षर भी - अगर किसी को अब भी याद हो तो - बिलकुल अलग थे. 

उनका पढ़ाने का तरीका सटीक और सरल होता था. उनसे प्रशंसा पा लेना तो बस नोबेल पुरस्कार ही समझ लीजिये! 

शरारती बच्चों को वे बिलकुल बर्दाश्त नहीं करते थे. और जिन्हें उनके हाथ का चांटा पड़ा हो वे फिर उनके सामने तो गुस्ताखी करने की हिम्मत नहीं करते थे! 

उनके विचार और मूल्य बड़े ऊँचे थे. एक बार फुटबॉल के एक मैच में हमलोग हादी हाशमी स्कूल के खिलाफ खेल रहे थे और रेफरी ने काफी गड़बड़ की थी. हमारे एक गोल को उसने नकार दिया तो गुस्सा हो कर हमारी टीम ने मैच खेलने से मना कर दिया. स्कूल टीम का कप्तान हमारी कक्षा से था - विजय गुहा. अगली बार की क्लास में उन्होंने विजय से पूछा कि उसने क्यों खेल का बहिष्कार किया? विजय के बताने पर उन्होंने कहा कि खेल का मैदान केवल जीतने या हारने के लिए नहीं है. यहाँ सब लोग एक जीवन शैली सीखते हैं. अच्छा बुरा सब सह कर खेल को पूरी क्षमता से, पूरे विश्वास से, और पूरी निष्पक्षता से खेलना उतना ही जरूरी है. खेल मैदान के २२ लोगों की बात नहीं है. पूरे स्कूल और पूरे शहर की बात है. हम सब छोटे थे. उनकी बात तो शायद तब समझ नहीं पाए. पर ये सीख शायद कभी भी भुलाए न भूले. 

कभी कभी वे एक कठिन प्रश्न देते थे और कहते थे - जो भी इसे कर लेगा उसे एक पेंसिल इनाम. उस पेंसिल को पाना नामुमकिन तो नहीं पर मुश्किल जरूर होता था. जिन लोगों को ये पेंसिल कभी मिलती थी तो उनका दर्जा स्कूल में बहुत बढ़ जाता था. एक मेरे हिस्से में भी आई थी. और अब, वहां से निकले हुए ३३ बरस हो गए हैं. पर उस पेन्सिल ने जो आत्मविश्वास दिया उससे जीवन में रास्ते मिलते गए, खुलते गए. 

गुरु का दिया तो कभी चुकाया नहीं जा सकता. एक ही तरीका है कि अपने से आगे वाली पीढ़ियों को कुछ सिखा दें, कुछ मदद कर दें. तो इस परम्परा का निर्वाह हो पाएगा. अपने इस गुरु के लिए पूरी श्रद्धा के साथ शतशः नमन.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Why Not in Parliament?

There have been voices of disapproval, dissent, and even ridicule when Team Anna suggested that they would form a political alternative that is yet to be outlined.
        Respected people like Justice Santosh Hegde and Sri Sri Ravishankar have said that they couldn't align with Team Anna if they seek to form political party. Many supporters of Anna Hazare have protested too. Congress has said that the political ambition of Team Anna is 'exposed'! 

       I am perplexed by their stand. It is self-contradictory.

The key contradictions are:

  1. we treat politics as 'other' people's business (and politicians to be 'others') and then complain that 'they' are ruining 'our' lives and 'our' country
  2. we keep bemoaning the absence of 'good' people in politics. Surely Team Anna has better credentials than many parliamentarians today
  3. if common people seeking to be heard by aspiring to get to the parliament are 'exposed' then how do we describe the ones sitting in the parliament today? Overexposed?
That politics has come to be associated with dirty, greedy, corrupt, criminal, and colluding manipulators is unfortunate. Politics is about serving our own people. The inscription in the Vidhan Soudha building in Bengaluru - The Work of Government is the Work of God - expresses the nature of politics and its noble intent.
       So, if some good people try to come into this we need to applaud, help, and support them and help them serve in the cause of people and God.
       Given the cesspool that the current political dispensation has become we should expect some hiccups but we must all keep reminding ourselves that politics is about us all - not about the criminals and the corrupt - so their actions are not to be taken as the role models.
We need to invent our own politics and we all are stakeholders.
       We must salute the courage of Team Anna and wish them luck and support. And, we must also keep reminding them that they are to take the mantle to serve, not to rule.
       If we disagree with Team Anna's entry into politics then the only honorable alternative is to participate ourselves.

Anna : What Next?

Team Anna was on fast at Jantar Mantar in Delhi and he was comprehensively ignored by the government and was given marginal coverage by the media. The fast was called off and the announcement for a new political alternative was made.

This incident clearly showed that the political set up is not willing to listen to its citizens. It would make platitudes if media is there or else it would ignore all views. Jan Lokpal is not happening in any useful form if it ever sees light of the day at all.

If we believe that corruption is indeed a serious - perhaps the most serious - problem facing India currently then we can't let go of it simply because political classes and media are indifferent to this cause.

Team Anna seem to think that going to parliament is the better option and they propose to create a political party. This is a daunting task as religion, caste, money and muscle continue to play a big part in electoral politics in India today. Arun Bhatia in Pune did not manage much support despite his apparent popularity. Yet this attempt needs to be made not by one but many people. Ideas proposed by Arvind Kejriwal are worth examining.

Then again, issues of governance are too important to be left to governments alone. Politics is not just electoral politics. Politics is primarily about people - their issues and affairs. The need is to mobilize and institutionalize citizens' groups that remain vigilant and enforce due processes where government falters. For instance, police routinely refuses to accept a First Information Report (FIR). An alert group from legal fraternity can accept FIR and ensure that the police accepts it. Such processes can be negotiated with the police/government as a whole. 

If groups like India Against Corruption create networks of such support groups manned by people of suitable professional competence and integrity then many acts of corruption would be addressed in both preventive and curative ways - before and after the incidences.

Citizens' initiatives like these are not at the mercy of legislators and politicians.

So, while legislation is important we need a holistic approach and awaken Indians to stand up for themselves. If they do then politicians wouldn't be able to be so indifferent, condescending, and stubborn. 

Even the parliament would then be on notice to serve and not rule.

For a Few Medals More

Saina Nehwal won her bronze medal in London Olympics today. Earlier Vijay Kumar had a silver and Gagan Narang another bronze. It is heartening  to see not just the exceptional talent and hard work of these sports personalities but that India has started to have a place on the extremely competitive and increasingly sophisticated world of international sports.

Sports personalities are among the best role models. Much of national character in modern India can be traced to how we approach our sports. We can all trace our spirits of teamwork, fair play, sportsmanship, determination, respect for rules, and inspired moments in our travails in the field at whatever level.

Visibility of sports also means that allocation of resources in our families would go a little more towards equipment, diet, coaching, and other assorted needs. Aspirations would tilt more towards sports too. Army training centers have captions 'an alert mind in a healthy body'. These achievements make this a higher national aspiration.

At the national level more facilities for sports would hopefully come up and the economics of sports would open entrepreneurial and career opportunities for sportspersons.

A bigger sports fraternity would help remove the stranglehold of pot-bellied politicians from our sports bodies and make them institutions of integrity, fairness, and efficiency. It is quite important that members of this fraternity are groomed into roles of technical and administrative responsibility as the grow in their careers. Coaching today is a sophisticated profession with diverse specialization. Administration of sports in a country as diverse as India needs solid academic and professional foundations.

Sports personalities as national ambassadors around the world can grow or tar the national image and its brand equity. India is lucky to have many such personalities who are great advertisement for India both in terms of capability and character.

Saina said her bronze would inspire youngsters. In a way it was good that it was bronze so that the youngsters know there is gold to go for!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Corruption in India

I can count some shifts in the Indian polity and social conduct over the last about four decades as I have felt and observed.

India till Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri was India of the old. Somewhat idealistic, enthusiastic, and hopeful. It then changed to India of Indira. With great grit and determination she eased out the old guard, centralized all sources of party money, and created and elaborate structure of 'Yes Men Congress'. Some would remember D K Barua's 'Indira is India, and India is Indira'. There was then JP movement - a quintessential Gandhian movement for Total Revolution - and it faced the might of CRPF and BSF. And, emergency. And, opposition coming to power. It was still a hopeful India. Indira came back with a vengeance in 1980 and the violence in the election of the time was shocking. Miscreants were often better armed than paramilitary forces. Goons came to power and ruled worse than goons would. Innocence and idealism was lost completely. Parliamentary practices were turned into joke and muscle power rubbed shoulders with money power.

As 'we the people' watched in dismay irresponsible, populist, and ever manipulative and colluding political dispensation caused the balance of payment crisis in 1991. The liberalization  then gave the economy some breathing space and India began to grow - in pace, in expertise, in ambitions, in maturity, in scale. Optimism set in and was corrected by scams in stock markets, communal and sectarian riots, terrorism, exhibitionism. Sanity came with electronic voting machines, entrepreneurial energy, global opportunities, periods of low inflation/low interest rates, legislation like Right to Information, Public Interest Litigation etc. India became trillion plus dollar economy looking to be a key player in the 21st century.

In this same period the bounty for politicians, bureaucrats, and businesses expanded dramatically and the dynamics of corruption underwent a sea structural change. Discretionary 'bakhshish' was replaced with obligatory 'percentage', police and investigative machinery became thoroughly politicized and complicit. The scams expanded in size to rival the GDP of the country.

This is no rise in corruption. It is an explosion and deep institutionalization. This has come to the point that the very integrity of state, judiciary, parliament, and executive is in serious question. This is a tectonic shift.

Worse, the press/media are corporate tools and can no longer be trusted. So, when Jairam Ramesh laments about Indian accounting for 60% open defecation in the world the press talks about a controversial statement. Media has become powerful, manipulative, sensationalist,and shallow.

Organs of democracy have stopped listening, remain unaccountable with impunity, and leave no choice for the citizenry to voice it concerns and be heard in civility and on the merit of its views and arguments.

This picture of India is frightening.

Yet, a movement like Anna Hazare shows hope. Sure enough Anna does not have all the answers. Nobody should be expected to have. But it has shaken the conscience of many and many have come forward to reclaim the integrity of India.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is the most academically and professionally accomplished PM of India in history. But he has presided over a culture of mega-corruption and has been silent, elusive, and possibly complicit.

If our generations do not stand up now for the essential integrity and soul of India we would be counted as the dud generation that let the country down with its indifference. And this would be the most catastrophic of all mistakes we have seen in history.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Maruti Unrest

The incident at Manesar plant of Maruti Suzuki has been highly disturbing. I wrote in Times of India's comments the following:

"'This is a litmus test for India. India's response to this would tell the world as well as India's own entrepreneurs and professionals how things will shape up for India in future. This was not an unrest but a systematic, criminal, brutal, and highly damaging attack. Such attacks do not take place without political groups being deeply involved. India has allowed its politicians to operate with massively corrupt and criminal practices that can manipulate state and non-state machinery. Enterprises of all sizes have had to contend with pressures from them. This is one time when India needs to unequivocally respond to the conspirators and perpetrators and show that rule of law stands supreme. Governments should be held directly accountable and a failure on their part to allow this situation should disqualify them from power. Parties with involvement like this should be banned from elections individually and collectively. The deterrence needs to be that strong. This violence is striking at the very root of India. India's future is at stake. And, India needs to be decisive."

And, then I saw another comment of an ex-employee of Maruti who referred to the pent up frustration of the employees who are required to follow a very strict discipline in Maruti. Having lived in Japan for nearly half of my career I am aware how strict that discipline can be. And it can also be rather insensitive, even cruel. However, when that is mixed with Indian style indifference it can become suffocating. This person claimed that the canteen in Maruti is 20 minutes away when the lunch break is 30 min.

The Japanese systems are designed for harmony. Everybody dresses the same, acts the same, differs in the most muted ways. But India is diversity personified in every sense of the word.

So, while I have no sympathy for the conspirators and perpetrators of the violence I think Maruti's challenge is not how to move from Manesar to Gujarat but to find the right balance between the working cultures of India and Japan.

I believe that both cultures stand to gain if an honest fusion is done.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Of the 99.99%

The last couple of months had lot of discussions on IIT admissions. It is an issue that I do feel strongly about and broadly supported the stance taken by IIT Kanpur.

However, my problem with the HRD minister is not so much about what criteria are suitable for admissions to IITs - IITs can take care of them the best and most responsibly - but the real problem of India, i.e. what happens to the ones not in IITs or indeed in any professional college?

That 99.99% is barely affected by whatever decision is taken about admission to IITs. That is the real and really big problem and our ministry is doing little about it.

In fact, India has a real big problem of dealing with the vast population that is either untouched by or drops off from the system in the course of early education. Estimated at about 300 million, this population has hardly any avenue in modern India. They remain unemployed at worst and underemployed at best.

The size of any problem in India is usually so big that one wonders if individual or small scale efforts can make even a dent at all? While this is partly true I do think that most problems in India are amenable to replication and scaling. So, getting to one piece of success in a smaller scale can then be considered for replication and scaling.

I explored the possibility of doing something in my hometown of Gaya. A historic city from the poorest state of India - Bihar. I started exploring my school - Zila School, established in 1845 - and my college - Gaya College, established in 1944. Both these have a modest presence on Facebook and it was possible to interact with a few students and alumni. In my estiamte, both these institutions would have about 100,000 alumni around. Some would be quite successful in their chosen areas.

There was a general sense of frustration and gloom among current students. Their syllabi are outdated, placement records poor, faculty is barely paid, and barely fit for the responsibility. Allegations of nepotism, favoritism abound. Looking for some silver linings I started posting messages to elicit response. Some did respond.

Frustration and helplessness has caused many to be distracted, and some sound rebellious. But there is a population that explores and posts ideas and discoveries on Facebook. Alternative coaching institutes take advantage.

I have been trying to find out what can we do to make these students employable and also develop a sense of entrepreneurship among them.

As this discovery is still on I am trying to crystallize ideas and see how to cultivate the brand value of my city and its educational institutions. Sounds somewhat daunting but I remain an optimist. 

Memoirs of my journey in subsequent posts!