Friday, July 31, 2009

A Dream....A Journey....A Break

Today, I embark on a journey that I have always dreamt of undertaking. This intention is turning into reality as I pack my bags and join a group of friends on our way to Kailash - Mansarovar.

Yes, friends.... I will be away for the next fifteen days exploring that "mysterious land" of Tibet enroute to Mt Kailash and the Mansarovar lake considered one of the holiest places by Hindus, Jains and Buddhists.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Eternal India - A Woman's Place in our Society

In India, "the female" is supposed to be worshipped as the "other half" necessary to make one complete. The "female element" is worshipped as "Shakti" and as "destroyer of evil".

All this in the realm of history and popular religious ritual. Let us now see the reality as potrayed, as experienced or probably as it exists.

We witness umpteen instances of women being abused in our country. These are events which have been reported. There are, probably, a million more cases which never get reported. Physical and sexual abuse is the most common and wide spread. Gender based discrimination, denial of education and dowry related abuse are also evils that have taken root deeply as part of our contemporary culture. Equally true, though vehemently denied, is the fact that many "educated" (read: westernised) women have strayed so far away from their roots that an alien culture is found more comforting.

We express disgust at such news reports but think nothing when we ourselves stoop to low levels and indulge in abuse on our own women. We profess great respect for "the female element" and worship "Devi Mata" and make countless trips to Vaishno Devi. Back home, no thought is spared before an angry hand whacks "the female element" and establishing an ephemeral male superiority.

I wondered what could cause this steady decline (if you could call that) in our personal standards and the situation that exists today.
  • Is it our education system that makes us ashamed of our own roots?
  • Are we exposed to a culture (movies, literature, arts, movies and others) that glorifies being licentious, at a very young age?
  • Have we been influenced by our elders who probably behaved in an irresponsible fashion?
  • Are we so stressed out that we just cannot behave in a civil manner with women and abuse is the only option?

As I was reading literature on Swami Vivekananda, I was curious to know his views on the state of women in India and how this should evolve...Read on and let us discover what this Divine Being had to say

"If you do not raise the women, who are the living embodiment of the Divine Mother, don't think that you have any other way to rise. That country and that nation which do not respect women have never become great, nor will ever be in the future."

On another occassion HE goes on to say..."Otherwise, how could the country come to such a fallen condition? How can there be any progress of the country without the spread of education, the dawning of knowledge?.......but know for certain that absolutely nothing can be done to improve the state of things, unless there is spread of education first among the women and the masses...."

Read further...."It is only in the homes of educated and pious mothers that great men are born and you have reduced your women to something like manufacturing machines; alas, for heaven's sake, is this the outcome of your education?"

"The uplift of women, the awakening of the masses must come first, and then only can any real good come about for the country, for India"

Amazing words and how true they ring today. We seem to have forgotten all these words of advice and caution. Our show of respect seems, in comparison, almost ritualistic and superficial. Have we lost our innate goodness or it is just covered by some garbage that needs to be removed. Is it possible for our society to move towards a more humane, more just and a balanced one?

I stand to be enlightened by your views.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I am a Voice without a Form said Swami Vivekananda at the begining of his mission.

I want no name - I want to be a voice without form....Through the Lord's will, the desire for name and fame has not yet crept into my heart and I dare say never will. I am an instrument and HE is the operator. A brilliant life that lived to its fullest potential, Swamiji was and (I would say) still is a great inspiration to us Indians.

His was a life conveying complete surrender to the Divine and yet so rooted to the ground realities of India of those days. He represented limitless energy and tireless action with a serene mind devoid of any feverishness or sense of attachment.

His appeal crossed all boundaries but to us Indians he foresaw the rise of this giant more than a hundred and ten years back. He was a live wire and sought to awaken a mass which seemed to be in very deep slumber for over a millenia. He awakened Indian society to the new realities and inspired them to be strong and purposeful.

As I read more about this divine soul, I am awe struck by an amazing clarity of thought and an ability to pinpoint to where we as a society had gone astray. His advice to our society is so apt and relevant (even today).

We seem to have all the wisdom and knowledge within our culture and somewhere it is ingrained in our psyche. The question which keeps repeating in my mind is why inspite of all these treasures we seem to be constantly looking outside for inspiration and direction. Why is it that our society appears so fractured and where have we forgotten this noble way of living?

It is tempting to presume that our society has descended into a black-hole never to recover or are we just being too pessimistic?

I would like to share some examples of this "Eternal Wisdom" in the following posts and hope to reflect on our current state. I have liberally referred to various books and published material and would refer them in quotes with appropriate acknowledgements.

With this, I dedicate my fiftieth post to the blogging world.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Higher Education....A Royal Mess

In the previous two posts I recounted my nephew's experiences in trying to get through various hurdles so that he could pursue higher education in the engineering stream.

I have been interacting with many friends, parents of teens in similar age group, a few teachers and students who have just completed their engineering studies. The emerging picture is very confusing. I was aghast at the state of affairs and it will take more than a Kapil Sibal to even guage the extent of the problem before he can attempt to set it right.

Entire focus of the system is to eliminate and choose just a few with the requisite marks. The argument that is often made is the sheer number of students who aspire to be engineers. It is believed that neither can educational facilities be created to provide engineering education to say a million students nor are there adequate opportunities for so many engineers.

On reflection, many questions keep cropping up in my mind. I have no immediate answers but it is important that we collectively as a nation find the answers.

  1. Expansion of top class education facilities to increase student intake by a multiple,
  2. Facilitating the creation of professional faculty and sustained upgradation of the existing one,
  3. Constantly updating syllabus and teaching methods,
  4. Increasing industry - academia interaction (Probably happening in a few post-graduate streams),
  5. Increasing focus on "frugal engineering" and "relevant low cost technologies"
  6. Facilitate setting up of advanced engineering industries in India such that adequate opportunities are available for these students. A case in point is ISRO is facing an acute manpower crunch and we have not been able to create a steady supply line of engineers for this institution. Further, most IIT students seek opportunities outside India or take up consulting jobs.

It is not difficult to do this but we always seem to offer the same excuse that "resources are scarce. Just as we seem to find money for defence and other important areas, why can we not accord the same priority to education. After all this investment pays off by ensuring all round development in the country.

We have let matters remain unattended till the "dam has burst" and now resort to adhoc knee jerk reactions by setting up new IITs (which was prompted more as an answer to the reservation controversy) all of a sudden or trying to rush through the "Foreign Universities" bill facilitating their entry into India.

I believe this is a subject that needs serious and constant attention and resources. It is important that the chronic problems affecting higher education are identified and a clear roadmap set as to how these will be tackled. Only then will we have a vibrant education sector that will serve the requirements of the country.