Explore this blog by clicking on the labels listed along the right-hand sidebar. There are lots of interesting stuff which you won't find on the home page
Seriously curious about me? Click on ' What sort of person am I?'

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lefties specially gifted?

In the link below, Khushwant Singh has been musing over whether southpaws (left-handed people) are somehow genetically conditioned to be higher achievers than the rest of us, right-handed people, on the average:
(see the sub-title ‘Point to ponder’)

I have no problems with lefties; despite Singh’s reflections, I don’t think there’s sufficient hard evidence that they do have special and big inborn advantages, and at the same time I regret the still common fact that so many parents and schoolteachers (at least among the sort of Indians I know) imagine it’s some sort of defect and force children to master writing with their right hands – I think it’s a silly and quite unnecessary irritation for the children.

Given the way new (or recycled) myths/superstitions tend to catch on in this country (witness vaastu and feng shui and numerology etc etc), I fear that if too many people get to read (or, what is much more likely, to hear from their gossip circles, because Indians are not famed for being readers) stuff like Khushwant-ji’s article, a reverse custom of compelling right-handed children to practise being lefties so that they might improve their chances of becoming tycoons, presidents and other kinds of stars might spread like wildfire!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Good CEOs, bad politicians?

I have got the following message forwarded to me again and again via email, and I thought it’s time I responded to it, once and for all:

Salary & Govt. Concessions for a Member of Parliament (MP)

Monthly Salary : 12,000
Expense for Constituency per month : 10,000
Office expenditure per month : 14,000
Traveling concession (Rs. 8 per km) : 48,000 ( e.g. for a visit from Kerala to Delhi & return: 6000 km)
Daily DA /TA during parliament meets : 500/day
Charge for 1 class (A/C) in train: Free (For any number of times)
(All over India )
Charge for Business Class in flights : Free for 40 trips / year (With wife or P.A.)
Rent for MP hostel at Delhi : Free
Electricity costs at home : Free up to 50,000 units
Local phone call charge : Free up to 1 ,70,000 calls.
TOTAL expense for a MP [having no qualification] per year : 32,00,000 [i.e . 2.66 lakh/month]
TOTAL expense for 5 years : 1,60,00,000
For 534 MPs, the expense for 5 years :
8,54,40,00,000 (nearly Rs. 855 crores)


This is how all our tax money is being swallowed and prices hiked on essential commodities.
And this is the present condition of our country:
855 crores to make their lives liveable !!
Think of the great democracy we have..............

Now I could write a book on this subject, but I hope light will dawn after reading just the following observations:

1. When you call an MP ‘unqualified’, you not only ignore the fact that he has become an MP by fulfilling all the qualifications laid down by Parliament, but that he has been voted for by several lakh, or even million citizens. By insulting him, you insult the judgment of so many of your fellow-citizens! Are you so stupid that that never occurred to you? Or do you consider yourself vastly superior to all your fellow-citizens? If so, why?

2. Besides, who told you that all MPs are unqualified, even academically? How many MPs do you know? Let me name a few – Manmohan Singh, P. Chidamabaram, Pranab Mukherjee, Somnath Chatterjee, Lalu Yadav (IIM Ahmedabad students felt like little ignorant children when he lectured them – don’t you even read the papers?), Arun Jaitley, Subramanyam Swami, AB Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, Ajit Singh, Montek Ahluwahlia,… have you ever bothered to find out about their qualifications? I could name dozens more. (Oh, I forgot to say this: many big-ticket CEOs are MPs too, Anil Ambani and Vijay Mallya for example. Does that automatically make them 'unqualified' and 'corrupt'?)

3. And at the same time, who told you that all CEOs are very hardworking, clever and highly-qualified people? Again, read some papers and magazines. Many CEOs become CEOs simply because they have very well-connected parents (often the founders of their companies: look at the Ambani brothers) – many, after somehow managing to scrape through their school finals, bought an MBA from one of hundreds of (even well-known) B-schools around the world which gladly give such degrees to duds in exchange for a couple of million dollars. Grow up! And when those CEOs sink their companies, they always run to the government for help – look at all the bank CEOs and carmaking CEOs in the USA right now, read about Enron and Arthur Andersen, about Kenneth Lay and Madoff, about Lehman Brothers and Satyam and Raju and PWC! How are their immense ‘qualifications’ serving their companies and their nations now? And don’t you even know how many hotshot ex-CEOs are currently serving jail terms for plain cheating and robbery, or have narrowly avoided prison by spending millions (of stolen money) on lawyers’ fees and bribes?

4. And what exactly do you mean by ‘qualifications’ anyway? How ‘qualified’ were Edison, Bill Gates, Jamshetji Tata, Tagore, Vivekananda, Ramanujan and Satyajit Ray? How qualified was Akbar? How qualified were some of the greatest presidents of the US? Why are you so fond of using words you don’t understand?

5. And now, coming to the issue of pay: a mere bank clerk has a basic salary greater than that of an MP. You sure Rs. 12,000 a month is too much? How much responsibility and risk does a bank clerk or call-centre employee or airhostess or hotel receptionist carry compared to an MP? (are you sure you even have any idea at all about the work that an MP has to do?) What sort of basic salary would you ask for in order to want to become an MP? We both know the answer, right?

6. Even if the total (Rs. 32 lakh) expense on an MP per year looks big, think: much of that goes on phone bills and travel bills and office expenditure. Are you sure it’s not actually too little? Have you any idea how much an MP has to travel and talk just to keep in touch with both parliament and his own constituency? And if you were an MP, would you honestly volunteer to travel second class instead of a/c., or pay for those thousands of phone calls every month from your own pocket? Why are we all so hypocritical, ignorant as well as silly?

7. Finally, if the total expenditure of the country in five years on all MPs taken together (Rs. 855 crores) sounds big, compare that with a few facts: Indians spend more than a thousand crores each year on private tuitions for schoolgoers, smoke and drink several tens of thousand crores every year, a single year’s defence budget is over Rs. one lakh crores, and our 100 biggest companies spend almost that much together on office parties in a year, as any tax-official will tell you. Compared to that, we spend Rs. 855 crores on about 800 people who are literally responsible for the lives and deaths of 1100 million Indians (it’s the same in the US, by the way, check out this link: http://people.howstuffworks.com/midnight-regulation1.htm). You still sure that’s a lot? Managers who oversee the sales of Barbie dolls and cola drinks get paid ten or twenty times that much. Suppose I suggest that before we even dare to call for harder work and greater efficiency and honesty from our MPs, we should first raise that figure at least twenty times?

Of course it is not my case that all our MPs are learned, and wise, and hardworking and dedicated to the progress of the nation. But if a lot of them are worthless and crooked, I insist we think about these things: that a) they reflect us, all of us with nice self-images who think nothing about cheating in examinations and stealing office stationery and spreading nasty gossip and defrauding our own relatives and submitting forged certificates to get jobs and promotions, b) if the political world has gotten filled with incompetents and crooks, it’s because all the ‘good’ people have chosen to play safe and stay away, simply because deep inside they know perfectly well it’s too much risk and trouble and hard work for too little, c) there’s nothing sacred and holy about businessmen/CEOs, for heaven’s sake. They are out to make money out of you, period. If a businessman can make money by selling penicillin, he’ll do that; if he finds he can make more money by selling water in the name of penicillin, he’ll do that instead. It is for politicians and the government to see that he can’t make money by being crooked. The father of the modern free-capitalistic economic ideology, Adam Smith himself, wrote that businessmen never get together, even for relaxation and merriment, but the conversation ends in some contrivance to raise prices or some trick to fool the public! More than 200 years later, the new President of the USA has admitted in his inaugural speech that greed has contributed largely to the current economic mess in that country. Woe betide a nation where so many young ‘educated’ people either don’t understand what government is about, or why it isn’t working well, and don’t care to do a thing to change it for the better, but are so eager to say nasty things about it!

One last thing. The private sector of ‘great’ businessmen is not only full of crooks but loaded with incompetents, as I can vouch from a lifetime of disgusting experience. Lots of back-office boys and girls, armed with MBAs and working for this bank or that mutual fund, can’t copy my name right from a cheque that I have drawn, they get paid 15-30,000 rupees a month for doing precisely that sort of job, and they dare to call themselves educated hardworkers. And I have been cheated by my own ex-student who fobbed off a bad insurance policy on me by counting on my trust, so that the commission may go into the down payment on his new car. I tremble to think of what is going to happen to this country when these duds and frauds become CEOs. Think about it, all.

[P.S., Jan. 24: I couldn't resist adding on this relevant link:


For those who mightn't know, Sunanda K. Datta-Ray is a veteran journalist, one-time editor of The Statesman, and now a respected columnist with wide international experience of business and politics.]

P.P.S., Feb. 01: And it's not just our PM, either. The world's political leaders currently gathered at Davos, Switzerland, to discuss a rescue package for the world economy, have not bothered to invite corporate bigwigs this year - it being now understood once more that such people are only good enough to swindle us out of our money in good times and hide behind government nannies in bad times! - and President Obama has snarled at financial fat-cats in the US, calling it 'shameful' that they extend the begging bowl to government with one hand and reward themselves huge pay packets with the other...

see http://www.telegraphindia.com/1090131/jsp/frontpage/story_10465834.jsp

Update, April 11: In the cartoon on the business page of today's edition of The Telegraph a character says "I'm used to big pay and no work ... I've always been a CEO"!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Moral 'science'

It’s been ten days, more than 500 visits and 20 comments since that last post, so I guess it’s time to move on – though, of course, readers who are late in catching up are welcome to continue to write comments on that post (or any older one for that matter).

I shall urge all visitors not only to read and comment on what I write on my blog, but also to visit those I have provided links to here (scroll down the right sidebar until you reach ‘Blogs I often visit’). Some of these people write well, variously, and often, Tanmoy, Supra and ‘wannabewodehouse’, for instance: they really deserve more commenting upon. You won’t be wasting your time. I shall also be glad if readers directed me to blogs that I might find interesting to read. As I suppose you know by now, my interests are wide.

I was wondering what exactly I should write about this time round. So many subjects swirl around in my mind all the time, not all in coherent and finished form, that I have difficulty in choosing from them. I could write about a biographical collection of the letters and other writing of the great scientist Michael Faraday that I am currently reading, or about the delightful illustrated book about orchids that a pupil’s father has kindly given me to read – such a wonderful world exists there among people who love trees and flowers and can find time to care for them. But let me give you a peep into the kind of thing that goes on in my class.

I encourage the boys and girls to think and write as much as they can, offering them model essays, reading out good ones written by older students, and correcting the things that they write. If you can do nothing more, I tell them, find challenging topics from workbooks and old question papers and bring them up for discussion in class: we can pool ideas to make good essays, and sometimes I can throw in a few of my own. Yesterday someone mentioned a topic they had asked candidates to write on in last year’s ICSE examination – ‘Moral science is the most important subject taught in school: give your views for or against’. Well, I had handled this topic several times before, and so I knew what the reaction of the class would be: predictably enough, some murmured that M.S. was a ‘useless’ subject, some admitted they had no idea what to write. Several in the previous batch had, I remembered, written essays on the same subject earlier, and they were all marked by a singular lack of ideas, an aridity of thought, a sense of total confusion – they had usually tried hard to agree, because, they have been taught, that is the thing to do, but they had done so mechanically, without conviction, without being quite sure what they were doing, and with an almost total lack of examples from the real world to buttress their arguments, such as they were. I don’t blame the poor kids: a lot of their schoolteachers, themselves quite unconvinced, clueless and dull, have made such a hash of the subject that the children have grown up with the unanimous belief that it is both useless and boring. And now a fresh batch of youngsters was asking me what they could possibly write.

I started by telling them that to say something is 'important' is not the same thing as saying it is the most important (one of those obvious things everybody knows but never thinks clearly about until they are pointed out!) Next, an important subject might seem boring because you don’t understand it, or hate to memorise things, or fear the examination, or the teacher has done a bad job: thus lots of students grow up finding math, or history, or environmental studies boring. That does not make the subject unimportant. Third, they have only been told repeatedly that this or that subject is important, but without proof: is physics important because you can score marks easily in it or because your parents are convinced it will make it easy for you to get a job? And is biology important because it is part of ‘compulsory’ science or because you have realised that it helps to reveal lots of mysteries about this wonderful world, and about your own body, and about how to stay healthy? And what is moral science all about really? Is it only about making posters about how model children should behave and singing silly hymns in school to a deity nobody really believes in (except in a superstitious way), or does it offer practical tips and tricks about living well? If you aren’t sure about that, how on earth can you go on to argue whether or not it is important, leave alone most important?... and as I spoke, you could see it clearly in the eyes of the children that they were listening, groping, treading on strange and alien territory. No one had raised such questions before.

So I didn’t dictate an essay for them to cram: I still remember how candidates for the UPSC examination had to cram essays about Gandhi, Nehru and Tagore – mountains of words they neither understood nor cared for – just to get through and occupy bureaucratic chairs, and it sickened me. The least of morals we can teach our young is to avoid unnecessary hypocrisy and empty verbiage. Instead, I told them to think of a few things:

1. When you go under anesthesia on the operating table, do you trust your doctor’s marks and degrees or his honesty that he will do his best to save your life, and not remove one of your vital organs to sell off in the black market?
2. Why is it that weird things happen in board examination results – very good students sometimes fail, and very mediocre ones get superlative scores – is it because our examiners are not educated, or because they don’t do their work sincerely (a moral failure, not a technical/institutional one).
3. We are often told by our elders that money should be the sole yardstick of success. Do those elders ever think what would happen to a country where all policemen and judges took them at their word?
4. Why does a man who has made a fortune out of dealing in narcotics lament if his own son becomes an addict?
5. Unless we are mad and sick, we all expect kindness and consideration and understanding and help from others when we are in trouble, don’t we? So what is wrong with us that we think it is not important to give the same to our friends, relatives, neighbours?
6. When highly educated people get caught for fraudulent dealing, we say we don’t expect such things from educated people. So what is education supposed to give us – information and skills, or something else, something more important?

I let it go at that point. In a two-hour class, I have to attend to many things, not just discuss one essay. But do you think I can look forward to a few good essays now?

P.S.: Faraday and Louis Pasteur and Albert Schweitzer and Norman Bethune, all very eminent men of science, were highly moral, if not also deeply religious men. Science does not necessarily make men stupid and immoral (or uncaring about morals) – we must look elsewhere.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A girl who admired her teacher!

The following is a recent conversation on google chat between a teacher (T) and a female ex-student (X), now in her mid-twenties.

X: Good Afternoon Sir and Happy New Year. I was in office the other day so couldn't talk to you.
T: ... and now?
X: At office again but no meetings as of now so I am happily chatting.
T: So tell me something I can chat about. You people fall so completely out of touch for so long that I don't know what to say when you suddenly pop up to say hi!
X: That is true Sir. I read your travelogue. It shows you love the hills. What about your plans for the trekking? The last time I had a talk you said you were supposed to go out for trekking with your daughter.
T: She's still too young, and by the time she grows up I'll probably not be fit enough any longer!
X: Sir that's not true. I still remember I never could actually pace up with your fast steps before our tuition class.
Have you visited Auli? I would be going for skiing there.
T: It's been many years since then! I still walk faster than most of my old boys, but these days my knees hurt, and things are slowly getting worse.
X: But I remember you were very keen on keeping fit.
T: …and ex-students make me feel older than I am by cutting off all contact after leaving - scores of them, year after year...
I try to keep fit, but fate has ideas of its own, too!
X: Sir you must be deeply hurt with some of your ex-students, each time I talk to you or go through your blogs it clearly shows the anguish.
T: Of course. So many forget instantly after leaving, so many can only think of abusing me, and so many who seemed so loving and impressed seem to decide that I no longer matter!
X: I pity them and so should you.
T: By contrast, a tiny handful continue to warm my heart - as my latest blogpost will tell you. And wait for this: almost all of them are boys!
The girls gush much more, but forget much more completely.
X: I do not mind hearing this because that's true and more heartswelling as girls were equally close to you.
T: I cannot, after teaching 27 years, think of three girls who will be glad to do the sort of thing that Y and Z and W recently did for me (all boys)!
X: and they do disappear!
T: And so these days I have become openly cynical about girls in my classes, and the girls dislike me for it. Bad luck for them!
X: Cynical?
I don't believe Sir.
T: No, really - I frequently say that I expect nothing from girl students except their fees...
All the respect and caring and help will come from the boys.
X: If somebody cannot be like the three it doesn't possibly mean they do not care for you at all.
T: Ah, don't give me that corny line, X: I am sick of hearing about girls who have always cared 'secretly' for me. You cannot imagine how many girls have told me about that. They won't be any use to me in my lifetime!
X: are you saying "use"?
Isn't that corny too?
T: All my life I needed the warmth of loving company, and in my old age I shall need help... that's what I mean by use, and I have almost always got that only from the boys. Whether it be waiting for me at a station or taking me to hospital, I can only think of turning to boys.
That's what I have got after teaching girls for 27 years! That's what I mean by use.
X: I understand, but each time I talk to a girl about you the only view they have is you have deliberately and desperately changed.
T: …and if that meaning of 'use' sounds corny to you, we don't speak the same language, do we?
Yes, I have changed: the girls have taught me a lesson hard enough to make me change. I expected much more than fees from them for years and years: I don't any longer.
X: You have actually formed a shell and true to say I like many do need to break the shell to reach the core inside to reach the loving teacher we so admired.
Language? I didn't understand Sir?
T: 'Admiration' means giving back, X. Somehow boys know that instinctively, and girls refuse to understand.
You employed the word use in a snide sense, and I didn't like the innuendo. So I clarified what I meant by that word, that's all.
X: And what about silent admiration Sir? Isn't that counted in your language?
Should admiration always be very flowery? Should admiration have to be shown? Else it is not there?
T: No. And yes. I have already answered that, and you simply did not bother to read!
Admiration that is not shown is not admiration at all.
X : Giving back?
T: Anyway, no one who doesn't wish to listen will ever hear anything. Bye.
X: I have bothered to read Sir.
But fact is that you never heard the silent admirations. Well, leave it Sir, the "sir" I worshipped would remain somewhere in the mind's altar, your three precious souls can never understand nor you, Sir. Sorry for this. Take care.
(end of conversation)
Any comments?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Two observations, and a question

1. One more time, this: no comments are accepted from anonymous sources (including people with weird pseudonyms such as 'Hobo') and from those who have nothing to say beyond 'Nice post' or 'I've been there too'.

2. It is important that someone who is going to write a comment read up the earlier comments first. Otherwise, I see that many new comments are mere repetitions of what has already been said earlier, or irrelevant, or confused.

3. Over the last couple of months several people have been asking me to write on the causes and likely effects of the ongoing economic 'meltdown' worldwide. I have desisted so far not because I don't know anything or don't have anything to say but because many people are likely to take offence at what I will say. That's because there's no other way of saying it: this disaster has happened essentially because too many people at all levels in society, in the US, India and elsewhere, got too greedy and hoped the party would go on forever. Well, do people want me to write on this? I shall see how many affirmative comments I get here.