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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Update, and good wishes

·         An ex-student who has just finished B-Tech from IIT with specialisation in data analysis has been hired on campus by Flipkart. That and other e-commerce companies, as even journalists know, are going great guns right now. Here is a thought-provoking article which I am linking without comment. I shall welcome an informed discussion on the subject. Be warned, however, that I am broadly in agreement with the writer and I am not known to make up my mind hurriedly and superficially.
·         Wonder of wonders, the Pope is now siding with mainstream scientists when it comes to concern for our ecological future, and he is ranged against all kinds neo-liberals and conservatives whose two chief accusations against him are a) he does not understand economics, and b) he does not understand science. I am hoping that sparks will fly when he addresses the UN General Assembly and wondering what the ghosts of Galileo, Cardinal Bellarmine and Adam Smith would have said to one another if they were listening in on the debate.
·         The “best” colleges in India have set 99% aggregate as a cut-off for their most preferred undergraduate courses this year. Everyone, including the head of St. Stephen’s college New Delhi, recognises the utter absurdity of the situation, but pleads helplessness: the aforementioned has publicly remarked that nothing can be done about it until the school boards decide once more to mark exam papers “realistically”. Having been a teacher for most of my life, I know just what he means. At least two horrible things have been happening to our school education over the last two decades (apart from an almost complete extinction of good teachers): syllabi have been continually slashed because ‘our children cannot bear the terrible load’ (heaven knows how we did it, or even our pupils before 1995, and board examination marks have gone through the roof, with literally tens of thousands (including hundreds whom I can personally vouch to be barely literate) routinely scoring over 90% in the aggregate – and countless people scoring more in English and History than in mathematics. I don’t know whether this black comedy will end before the whole system collapses, but I know this much: teachers like me will either become extinct soon, or dollar millionaires.
·         Do look up this article. It is one more contribution to the idea – much scorned and distorted – that ancient Indians knew much more than they are given credit for. We knew they made steel long before Europe found out how to; we learn here that the finest steel for making swords was forged in India too (they used carbon nanotubes! though they might not have been able to use the modern terminology, just as the Egyptians used the right-angled triangle theorem for their buildings long before Pythagoras and others came up with formal proofs). When shall we realize that we need to look back more in order to forge ahead faster – that organizing a worldwide Yoga Day might be something far more than pushing a narrow sectarian agenda?
·         Reading some good new books, such as Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant and The Heat and Dust Project by Devapriya Roy and Saurav Jha. Both make for good reading, and both are about long journeys – quite apposite for someone who can hardly walk, don’t you think?

I was warned that sitting in bed all the time I am not hobbling around painfully, depression was soon going to become my greatest problem, and so it has. The following is in the nature of a status update for those too-numerous people who have asked: the pain is now only a dull occasional ache in the hurt leg, but the walker is seriously damaging the other one from the way it is being grossly overstrained; the staples and bandages were taken out on June 08, and the surface wounds have healed well enough, leaving behind only ugly scars; I can sit with folded legs for only short stretches, and it’s mighty awkward, I can tell you; I have no way of knowing what is happening inside, and it’s only following the X-ray pictures to be taken on July 06 to see how much calcification has taken place that the doc will see if I can start using that leg again soon; my teaching is keeping me going in more senses than one, and my daughter and parents are doing virtually all the housework: though I try all I can to lend a hand, it doesn’t  amount to much. The gloom deepens every time I think that Pupu will be going away to college very soon now, though both she and her mother will keep visiting. I am discovering little things all the time, such as how difficult it is to dress and undress when you can use only one leg, and let go of all support only at your peril! I am fighting depression by doing what I have listed above, besides sleeping more than I ever have before (pills don’t work).

Thank you to all who have sent their good wishes (and when I can feel they mean it), especially those who have suffered from broken bones and assured me I’ll be fine eventually, and to Lavona, who told me she survived surgery of a far more serious kind a few years ago. And my very best wishes to Prerana, whose mother has just had a kidney replaced after years of suffering. I am praying most for the father, having learnt a bit about what he has gone through.


Shilpi said...

Hullo Suvro da, Thank you for your update from last Wednesday and for linking three articles too. I’ll write a bit on the articles first.

I didn’t know that the Indian on-line shopping was being fuelled by foreign investments of the shady sort. I knew a little bit about Amazon India but I’d actually thought the rest of them were simply run by Indians and funded by Indians. I certainly didn’t know that they were being funded by shady foreign investors, running at such exorbitant losses while giving those discounts. How do the Indians intend to make the on-line shopping business profitable at any point for the economy or otherwise? – That’s what I don’t understand (one can argue about whether the prices of regular goods should be as high as they normally are in big stores but that’s another matter). I seem to agree with the whole article more or less. Maybe most thinking people will feel the same way and not think that the on-line shopping deal in India is a great revolution or some mega-transformation for the better. What is disturbing is that the whole scheme might burst soon and where will the money come to cover the losses? The ‘shopping till you drop’ psyche has me disgusted no matter what – whether on-line or otherwise. They have those huge billboard ads for store shopping too, which are hard to miss saying just that ‘shop till you drop’. The journalist does well to caution Indians in comparison to the Americans. I can’t say whether it’s on-line shopping that has promoted binge shopping though. It’s the underlying mentality, I’d think. People who get their kicks and excitement from shopping will shop wherever – in the malls, superstores, on-line and so on and go gaga over the same. I don’t think on-line shopping per se can create shopaholics. The US even before on-line shopping became the ‘new thing in town’ had a system where people could go back to return bought goods from shops for whatever reasons (unopened, unused, opened, used, dissatisfied, and even without reasons actually). On the one hand, there is the convenience of on-line shopping – true, and tracing and buying books (which can’t be found at book-stores); on the other hand there is the matter of wiping out ‘local businesses’ (apart from the shady investment problem). But there one can argue that the departmental chains did the same thing when they started pricing items so low that local traders and businessmen were unable to compete. In this case, it seems to be more of a competition between most of the same products on-line versus actual stores.

The second article made me cheer for The Pope, on these grounds. The Pope decrying consumerism and speaking about the need to protect our environment and empathize with the poor. He’s certainly got his priorities right. I was reminded of the social scientists working on the environment in the late 60s, starting with Lynn White Jr. (as far as I can recall) and the 70s and 80s – the ones who had pointed out (and again) that Christianity was a religion that had promoted the plundering of the environment and with the economists from the other side like your Schumacher who called for a Buddhist ethic towards the environment and that one essay of yours on the Buddha. I was trying to imagine the conversation that you were ‘hearing’ amongst the scientist, economist and cardinal but I didn’t get anywhere with it.

Shilpi said...

The third one was the most interesting, for me. Even while feeling jaded for the most part it was fascinating to think that the Indians were using material to make those swords – the properties of which weren’t identified till the 20th century. Makes me wonder again about some of the ‘imagined stuff’ in The Shiva Trilogy and in stories by writers who’ve written sci-fi. Maybe human beings will find out someday that the ancient Indians put into practice much more, even if they didn’t always know the ‘how’ or called what they used something else. Believe it or not just the week before last I said the same thing about Yoga Day (that it wasn’t some narrow political/ideological business among other things) in the context that human beings needed to think for themselves – especially the so-called educated middle-class – and find out for themselves what was good and worthwhile. I was called an upper-class, upper-caste male for saying the same.

You’d been telling me about the cut-off for St. Stephen’s last year. And you talked about grade inflation in 2002 and what Harvard professors say in private about grade inflation. This is yet another thing we’ve imported lock, stock and barrel from the US, I think (but I might be wrong). Even the GRE verbals I know were made ‘easier’ from 2011 and the quantitative section was made ‘more difficult’. It seems that folks were scoring too low on the Verbals and too high on Maths before 2011! I know that a 740 on the old score meant a 99 percentile in English and a 65 percentile in the quantitative section. But I don’t know how or why the Indian Board examiners decided that students would be scoring 99 in English and History and the social sciences. Maybe this has to do with the quality of the teachers who are grading. I’m reminded of your phrase ‘cumulative consequences of decades’. I have no idea which side to lay the bets on though: of what shall happen to even good and sincere teachers.

It was probably most inappropriate but I couldn’t help but laugh all of a sudden with your bizarre line in regard to the books you’re reading: ‘long journeys’ and you, as of now. Did you mean for your reader to laugh?! I didn’t laugh for long but I did. Maybe I can then send a few books which I managed to get for you? I wasn’t too sure about sending them seeing they were about action and adventure of mixed sorts.

Your reader wouldn’t have known by reading your bulleted points that the black shadow of depression was trying to haunt you. But thank you still for sharing with your readers a bit of what you’re doing and going through. Fighting depression and genuine delusions are like fighting dementors, I’ve felt and I failed to fight them more than a couple of times. I hope the ugly shadow leaves you alone with you fighting it. I was scratching my head wondering how you put up comments on the same day as you had the clamps taken out but I’m mighty glad you did. Dressing and undressing would be difficult but I’d just thought you’d be doing it just once a day for now at least. You can see the scars as being ‘battle’ scars of the post-modern world instead of ‘ugly’ scars though. That’s how I’d see them. Trust you to be praying for others in the middle of all this. I wouldn’t. I’m glad Pupu and your parents are there with you through this crisis and that you see your classes as a blessing. I’ll end this comment on this note with more than best wishes, prayers and a huge thank you again for putting up this post.