Friday, July 21, 2017

Pappad and Pickles

Pappad or Papadum or Happala is a food item that comes in many shapes and sizes. It is made from several ingredients and is a supplementary dish used with lunch or dinner in many parts of the world, especially in the Indian subcontinent. Just as its variety, it also comes with many spellings. The picture given above may explain the item better than words. Pappad is typically made from gram flour with many ingredients added up depending on the seasonality, availability as well as taste requirements of users or makers. It is prepared, dried in the hot sun or shade, and stored until time of actual use. It is mostly fried in oil or cooking medium before being served hot. Some variants are also spread on burning charcoal. It should be consumed within a few minutes or hours of it being fried or heated. It is used as a side dish and very popular with children and aged alike. In tropical areas, it is prepared in summer for use throughout the year. Pappad making is a home industry in many parts of the world and provides employment as well to many workers in the unorganized sector.

Pickle is another item that is consumed with lunch or dinner. It has many variants like pappad and adds taste to other items. Its preparation and ingredients varies in different parts of the world. Lemon or raw mango pickles is very popular in Indian subcontinent. Cucumber or similar vegetables are used in some parts of the world. Serving pickles is easier than pappad as there is no processing required before serving. The ingredients are mixed with chilli powder and other spice powders and preserved in vinegar or brine (salt water). Properly packed item can be served directly from glass or plastic bottles. It adds variety to other cooked food items. Pickles are also good for spreading on bread of any type and can substitute fruit jams for diabetics. A small ball of butter is always a wonderful combination with pickles. One should not worry about cholesterol on such occasions. Forgetting unwanted issues while consuming these items is indeed a virtue, at least while consuming them.  
A close relative wanted to invest in gold recently. The galloping stock markets did not provide any comfort as a collapse may be round the corner at all times. Investing in gold appeared to be the best bet in present times. Notwithstanding eye catching advertisements by innumerable gold outlets, she preferred to buy gold coins. Making charges and wastage calculations were uncomfortable for her. Any appreciation in gold value was swallowed by these subtle disguises while selling the ornaments. I had tried to sell some gold coins to her while in service in the bank a decade ago. All banks were vying with one another for selling gold coins then. There was a time (some four decades ago) when friends and relatives were running away at the sight of a relative who worked as LIC (insurance) agent. Similarly, my friends and relatives were also trying their best to avoid me when gold coins were being sold by banks.

At the request of this relative I tried to find a bank that sold gold coins. To my utter surprise, none of the banks were having any stock. Some of the contacts confessed that they have stopped selling gold coins long ago. Even the websites of private banks which showed gold coins as a product indicated that they are not available at present.

Banking is known as a business of raising resources (deposits) and deploying them as loans and investment. Traditionally banks were concentrating on deposit mobilization. There was a time when a bank manager's most important work was procuring deposits. Lending was not a big task then as resources were scanty. Loan seekers were chasing bankers then. Credit squeeze and credit restrictions were in force. Banks had to obtain permission from RBI for disbursing their own funds sanctioned as loans to borrowers. This was called Credit Authorization. With the opening of the economy and globalization, movement of funds became easier and markets widened. Presently, deposits are pouring in and banks in India are finding it difficult to deploy their funds. Credit dispensation is not picking up. There is a mad race in retail lending now. Home loan takers never had this scenario before.

Banks made profit by charging more interest on loans than they paid on deposits. Central bank (RBI) prescribed and dictated interest rates for both deposits and advances. Interest rates in all banks was the same. Interest rates are deregulated now. Banks are free to fix their own interest rates for both deposits and advances subject some minimum restrictions. Banks make profits even now through the difference between lending and deposit rates. But there is pressure on margins. As spread (difference between interest rates on loans and deposits) became thinner, banks looked for earning from other services. There are concerted efforts to reduce burden (difference between non-interest expenditure and non-interest income) as the burden appears even more burdensome now. Traditional non-interest income sources like commission on fund transfers and agency functions like collection of bills have dried up like our water reservoirs. These conditions made banks jump into any business that gave additional non-interest income. While some business avenues like sale of gold coins have almost exited, selling third party products has taken center stage. Small Finance Banks, Payment Banks and non-banking players have further heightened the complexity of profit making by banks.

When one talks to young bankers today, there appears a confusion in their minds about real banking. Selling third party products has pushed traditional and core banking activities like deposit mobilization and lending to the background. Deceleration in economic activity and lack of demand for credit (loans) have made life difficult for bankers. 


Rice with Dal (or Sambar or Rasam) is the main food habit in South india. Roti-Subzi is main item for people in North India. Some use a combination of both. Pickles and Pappad are additions to the main food items. One can have a meal with only rice and dal. Similarly, there can be a meal with roti and subzi (vegetables), or dal and roti. They are consumed even without pappad and pickles. Pappad and pickles alone never make a meal. They add variety and taste to the main course served in a meal. They are not a substitute for dal roti or rice-sambar.

Banking is essentially an activity of raising resources and lending the funds to those needing it for their ventures. Selling third party products alone never makes banking. Non-interest income cannot replace interest income. It should always be augmenting interest income. 

This is not to put down the importance of selling third party products. It is only to emphasize the importance of the basic and core banking activities of raising resources, and lending and investment. Sense of proportion should not be lost and the cart should not be put before the horse.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The First Mistake

Little Lakshmi returned home from her school in the afternoon. Her mother was busy inside the kitchen doing some work. It was a hot afternoon as the sun was blazing outside. After the short walk from the school on the burning day, Lakshmi was feeling very thirsty. The first thing she wanted was some water to drink. She saw the bottle of water kept on the table. She took it and drank from it urgently even as her mother came out to receive the daughter who had just arrived from school.

The little girl started screaming. It took a minute for the mother to realize what had happened. The liquid in the bottle kept on the table was not water, but the liquid used for cleaning the house. Mother had just finished cleaning the house but had not yet put the cleaning liquid in its place in the bathroom. The colorless liquid looked like water. The practice of keeping water in used plastic bottles made Lakshmi believe she was indeed drinking water.  The liquid contained dilute acid as an ingredient. However much dilute, acid is acid. Acid did not know that Lakshmi drank it by mistake. It did its job. It was mother's first mistake to keep it on the table. It was Lakshmi's first mistake to drink it. Neither knew that it was indeed a mistake. But the damage was done.

Raju, an electrician, was not available for a few months. When he was seen around later and asked about his absence, he narrated the case of his daughter Lakshmi. The girl was rushed to the hospital and given immediate treatment. Her gullet was burnt badly and had to stay in the hospital for months. Even now she is unable to speak properly due to damage to the throat. She may have to put up with it for the rest of her life. Her first mistake was not condoned by the acid. The financial burden of hospital expenses added to their misery. The first mistake turned out to be very costly for her and her family.

Ramesh was recently promoted as a Branch Manager in the bank. He was full of energy and wanted to prove his worth. As all first time branch managers, he wanted to be ahead of the rest of the pack and move up in the organization. There was a loan account in his branch which was due for annual renewal. The party had requested for enhancement of limits. The account was conducted well and enhancement was indeed justified. On his recommendation the enhanced limits were sanctioned by the higher authorities. The facility was duly released to the party.

There were some sticky loans in the branch. As per usual practice, an inspector came to the branch for investigating the causes for the loans turning sticky. The inspector made a thorough study of the loan accounts. He submitted his report in due course. The report had mentioned that two of these loan accounts were guaranteed by the Managing Partner of the firm for which recent enhancement in limits were given. The report also mentioned that while recommending enhancement, branch manager had not mentioned the fact that two other loan accounts in the branch, guaranteed by the Managing Partner of the firm, had turned bad. In the ensuing enquiry proceedings Ramesh pleaded that this was an oversight and he had no intention of concealing the information. The enquiry held him guilty and he lost two increments. His promotion ambitions were set back by at least four to five years. It was his first mistake and it did not matter.

Ramesh pleaded his case with authorities in person. He was told that the punishment was light because it was his first mistake and apparently there was no intention on his part to conceal the facts. Otherwise the punishment would have been even more severe. Condoning first mistakes would be very costly for the organizations as there would be a spate of first mistakes if all first mistakes were condoned.

There are many definitions of mistake. On-line dictionary defines a mistake as "an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgement caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge etc". We all commit mistakes regularly and almost on a daily basis. Fortunately, most of them are harmless. We get away with those mistakes. But there are some mistakes that prove to be very costly. Some of them are deadly. What was the reason for the mistake does not count when the consequences arrive. Reasons do not alter outcomes.

There are many views on mistakes. People often quote Thomas Edison who said that he did not make mistakes but found 1000 different ways that did not work. Mistakes are stepping stones to learning, some say. Committing mistakes only shows that we are humans, goes another quote. These are all true when seen in proper perspective. In the context of research and invention, what Edison said is acceptable. Mistakes that happen in the course of learning are also acceptable. But mistakes that happen in the area of personal safety, compliance and following laid down rules and guidelines are on a different footing altogether. They extract their due and do not forgive even the first mistake. The price paid is often very heavy.

There is a tendency among some in the younger generation to commit mistakes and then plead that it has happened for the first time. There are also assurances that they will not repeat. Both these repeat with unfailing regularity. 

It is wise to remember that there may not be a second time for many mistakes in life. Respecting rules and regulations, compliance with the required guidelines is always a safer and better option.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Executive Summary

We often hear people say "We have to take a decision" or "We are unable to take a decision". What is a "Decision"? Why decision is to be taken? What are the consequences of not taking a decision in time? How a decision is taken? What are the inputs for taking a decision? These questions do beg for an answer.

The word "Decision" is defined in many ways. One of such definitions is "the act or need for making up of one's mind". It is a mental process leading to some conclusion. This conclusion then leads to action or a set of actions. Decision making is an important requirement in any aspect of life. We are making several decisions everyday in our personal lives. Some are of not much impact on the future happenings. Some others may change the course of lives and communities. It is so even in organizations. There are defined processes in today's institutions and business enterprises for arriving at decisions. It is even said that "Not taking a decision is also a decision"!

Let us examine an example to understand the process of decision making. A loan application is received in a bank branch. This is the first set of papers that starts a file. As the application is processed at different levels in the bank, papers pile on the application. The size of the file grows. There is bio-data or information about the promoters. There can be information about the allied firms or group companies. There can be a bulky DPR (detailed project report) prepared by an expert. There would be an analysis of the DPR by another independent expert. A techno-economic feasibility study report would join these later on. Then there would be financial statements and their analysis reports. The file would arrive at the next level with a full-fledged proposal for sanction of credit facilities with the recommendations of the branch manager. Experienced experts would further add value to the file by adding some more papers. Clarifications may be called for and in reply some more papers would be added to the file. The proposal finally arrives at Head Office. Here we have some more super experts who dissect the entire file and come up with their own report and recommendations. The collective wisdom or foolishness of all these experts, super experts and ultra-experts has produced a big file with voluminous data and multiple analysis. The file is now sitting on the table of the big boss, who is the sanctioning authority. 

In respect of high value proposals, the file has one more hurdle before reaching the big boss. There would be a committee of experts to discuss and deliberate on the proposal. It has names such as "Executive Committee" or "Credit Committee" or "Committee of Experts" or some other similar fancy name. This committee vets the entire file (or it is so believed) and the big boss has one more set of papers for his perusal. Now a decision has to be taken unless the promoters have found someone else who has already sanctioned the loan or have abandoned the project by now. The ultimate result may be a simple two line letter stating that the proposal stands rejected (the second line may have been added as one line alone may appear to be curt or unprofessional) or it may be a sanction followed by a long list of terms and conditions. Of course, there would be another set of experts who analyze these terms and conditions in greater detail and come up with fully acceptable arguments as to why these conditions should not have been there in the first place. That is for another future day.

The bog boss has a tough task on his hands now. He has a voluminous file (or it could be a set of files) before him to take a decision. The issue is not different even in a computerized atmosphere. There are many files in soft form here even though the task itself is indeed hard. There are many similar sets of files before him and they all call for a decision expeditiously. How can he read and understand all this information and decide in a short time? There is no hard rule that a decision is to be taken after understanding the issues. But still the belief is that the issues are read and understood. Therefore there is a need for a tool to place on record that the sanctioning authority has indeed applied his mind on the issues involved. There is great deal of comfort in such understanding for all concerned, except those who are disappointed with the final decision. 

Hierarchies have invented a wonderful tool to answer this challenging issue. It is called an "Executive Summary".  An "Executive Summary" or "Management Summary" is a short document that summarizes a long report or proposal or file or set of files in such a way that the reader can understand the whole issue rapidly and become an expert instantly. This enables the user of the executive summary to grasp the entire gamut of underlying issues and come up with a quick decision. The executive summary has rendered decision making fast, easy and painless process, though preparing an executive summary itself may be a very painful process for those preparing it.

A senior bank executive was fed up with his high voltage banking activities day after day and desired a change from the monotonous routine. He decided to take up study of literature as a diversion measure and recoup his energies before resuming the banking activities once again. He took a month's leave and went to a library to start his literary pursuits. (He was surprised to find that a month long leave was sanctioned to him and wondered how the organization would work without him for that long. But others in the bank knew that his presence or absence did not really matter). He was astounded at the volumes of books everywhere and did not know where to start his mission. It also dawned on him that there was no way he could finish even a small part of his new found hobby in the one month period. He checked on the authors of the books on "GOOGLE" and found that sage "Veda Vyasa" was one of the oldest and biggest authors of all times. He sought an appointment with Veda Vyasa which was duly granted. He met the great sage on the appointed day at the Badarinath abode of the sage in Upper Himalayas. The conversation went on something like this:

"OH mighty sage! Thank you for granting me this appointment and more than that sticking to it without excuses to avoid it. I want to study literature but do not know where to start. As you are considered first among the authors, I thought I should consult you to find a solution to my problem" (The executive should have used the word "see" instead of "Consult". Fortunately, no consultancy charges were levied as the sage did not find any use for money and did not even have a Jan Dhan Zero Balance Account as no banker went to that cold place to open his account. The sage would have found it impossible to produce the required photo identity and address proof. He has no AADHAAR as well).

"Young executive, How can I help you?" (Though the executive was old and on the verge of retirement, he was young for the old sage whose real age is not known to us....)

"I am used to reading "Executive Summary" on files and understand the contents"

"I know that. What can I do for you?"

"Can you prepare and give me an executive summary of all your literary works? That helps me to save time and understand your literary productions"

"Dear young man, you indeed appear to be hard-pressed for time. What should be the size of the summary you desire?"

"Can it be in six or eight pages? If you can make it in four, it is even better"

"Do you want an executive summary only for my works or for the entire literature in the universe produced from eternity till now?"

"That is a perfect solution to my problem, but make it as brief as possible"

Sage Veda Vyasa smiled. "I do not need even four pages and I do not need time to prepare it. I will give you an executive summary of all the literature in this world in half a verse (Half stanza). In fact I have given it long long ago. For your benefit, I will repeat it now. Listen carefully"

श्लोकार्धेन प्रवक्ष्यामि यदुक्तं ग्रन्थ कोटिभिः |
परोपकारं पुण्याय पापाय परपीडनम् ||

Slokardhena pravakshyami yaduktam granthakotibihi
paropakaaram punyaya papaya parapeedanam

I am summarizing all that is said (written) in the millions of books in half a line. Whatever is done for the benefit of others is Punya (Good deed). Whatever done that harms others is Paapa (Sin).


Executive Summary is not a product of modren management schools. We can find its origin as well in Sage Veda Vyasa!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Life's Arithmetic

Many aspects of life can be expressed using formulae to enable easy comprehension. Is it possible to express the essence of life itself using a formula? Can the life span of a human being explained through an equation? Has any attempt been made to explore Life's Arithmetic? Many people may have attempted this before. There may be many methods of explaining life's purpose. Everyone desires to be happy. Whatever may be one's pursuit; whichever may the direction in which the efforts are made, the ultimate aim is to be happy. Thus life's multiple goals ultimately lead to paths to find happiness. Hence the entire life span of a person is spent in chasing happiness. Life span and running behind happiness are two faces of the same coin. Finally there should be sufficient time to enjoy that happiness achieved with lot of efforts. We see many people around us who procure all the tools required for a happy life, after rigorous efforts. But when the time for enjoying the fruits of those efforts arrives, life itself ends.

Poet-Philosopher Bhartruhari has given a wonderful interpretation of Life's arithmetic. In his "Vairagya Shataka" he sums up the the relation between life span and finding happiness through a beautiful arithmetical formula. Bhartruhari takes the span of human life as one hundred years. Why only one hundred years? Human body has its own limitations. Even with best efforts it is difficult to preserve the body in working condition for a hundred years. Better health care facilities are no doubt increasing life span, but still very few live to celebrate their 100th birthday. A study has shown that 50 years ago, one in 67,000 people reached this milestone. One in 6,000 is able to celebrate 100th birthday now. In percentage terms it is less than 0.02%. Even in respect of these centenarians, very few are active and live by themselves at that age. Global life expectancy as per WHO reports is about 72 years. Let us accept Bhartruhari's stipulation of 100 years to start with.

Bhartruhari deducts half of this 100 years spent in night and sleep. It was true in his time, more than two thousand years ago. Activities then started with sunrise and ended with sunset. Not so in these times we live. Electricity has ensured that life goes on 24x7. Even then human beings require sleep for rest and recuperation. 50 years calculated by Bhartruhari as active life span can be accepted even today, considering the average life expectancy of 72 years. 

Human life can be broadly divided into three phases; childhood, adult and old age. Bhartruhari deducts half of this 50 years for childhood and old age. Why is it so and is it right? It stands to reason as he explains. Childhood is a phase when one does not know what to do and old age is a phase when one cannot do what he wants to do! A deduction of 25 years allowed for these two phases is also fair and the real productive life span thus further gets shrunk to 25 years. 

This 25 years is the core life span for being happy. But Bhartruhari says it is not that simple. Further deductions are required from this 25 years for sickness, separation from loved ones, and serving others. You cannot be happy when you are sick. You cannot be happy when you are away from your loved ones. You cannot be happy when you are serving others because you are not living for yourself! Ultimately, there is not much time available for being happy and enjoying fruits of one's hard labor during the productive years. Bhartruhari concludes by saying that there is no time left to be happy in one's life.

Bhartruhari's formula for life is this:  

आयुर्वर्षशतं नृणां परिमितम् रात्रौ तदर्धं गतं |
तस्यार्धस्य परस्य चार्धमपरं बालत्व वृद्धत्वयोः ||
शेषं व्याधि वियोगदुखभरितं सेवादिभिर्नीयते |
जीवे वारितरङ्ग चञ्चलतरे सौख्यं कुतः प्राणिनाम् ||

Ayurvarsha shatam nrunaam parimitam ratrou tatardhamgatam
Tasyardhasya parasya chardhamaparam baalatva vruddhatvayoh
Shesham vyadhi viyogadukhasahitam sevaaadibhirneeyate 
jeeve vaaritaranga chanchalatare sowkhyam kutah praaninam?

Life span is hundred years, half of it is gone in the night
Half of the remainder is lost in childhood and old age
Rest of the period is spent in sickness, separation and service
In life, uncertain like a wave on a water body, where is the time for happiness?


All this leaves us to ponder over a very important issue. Is it never possible to be happy? Then does it mean that Life's arithmetic leads us to conclude that the very purpose of life is futile? It is not so. Real happiness lies in enjoying the process of life. It is not at all separated from other aspects of life. Happiness is to be found in the hard earned rest at the end of a tough day's work. Happiness is to be found in childhood innocence and old age maturity and wisdom. Happiness is to be seen in the service of others one receives when he is sick. Happiness is to be identified when one reunites with the loved ones after long separation. Happiness is to enjoyed while serving others selflessly or even while serving for earning one's livelihood. 

If and when we understand this secret of life, we have solved the problems of Life's Arithmetic. Do we not find happiness everywhere now?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Bots, Drones and Driverless Cars

Creation of jobs is a promise that every political party makes to its voters. This is so all over the world and no political philosophy is an exception to this. Creation of jobs apparently refers to creation of additional jobs and thereby increasing the number of jobs already available. The discussion and focus on jobs has gone beyond this in the last few years. There is a heated discussion on preservation of existing jobs. Communities are happy if the existing jobs are protected and pink slips (an euphemism for job loss) are avoided or at least reduced. There are arm twisting rules and regulations in many countries that force employers to ensure intake of local workforce. There are instances of people working in other parts of the world thinking of and actually doing "homecoming"; getting back to their own countries for good. More capable and talented workers are able to job hop or start their own start-ups. The average level workers are struggling between job searches and job losses. Younger generation is indeed facing a crisis situation. Unemployment was a big problem forty years ago. Growth of service sector ensured that there was some job, even if economists called it underemployment, for anyone who wanted to work. It appears the cycle is complete and unemployment is again taking center stage.

The heading in a newspaper screams that Bots have taken over 12,000 jobs in just one company, WIPRO. A recent report in a newspaper mentioned that work done by Robs is on the increase and more and more categories of work are taken over by them. Robs is the short form for "Robots". They are also called "Bots". Whether Robs or Bots, even half the name is sending shivers down the spine of employees in big companies. It is not known whether SMS language has reduced "Robots" to "Robs" or they are called so due to their robbing of human jobs. Job losses estimates due to deployment of robots instead of humans differ from one source to another. It may probably require a sophisticated robot to come up with the exact number of jobs that will be lost due to deployment of robots. One calculation believes that 50 million jobs will be lost globally due to robot deployment in the next five years. Indian IT industry alone fears loss of several million jobs due to various factors, one of them being use of robots for basic jobs. IT minister denies that there will be loss of jobs. He states that the fears are exaggerated. But doyens of IT industry are clearly lamenting about job losses due to higher level of automation. Growth of IT industry brought in informal culture, calling first names and T-shirts into office atmosphere. It led the dissolution of trade union movement in various industries by making them irrelevant. Today, there is talk of formation of unions in IT industry to protect the jobs and emoluments!

Robots are already doing their jobs in many spheres of life. They are said to be leading in 21 different areas of production and servicing units. Surgical robots have performed over two million procedures so far and the number is increasing day by day. They are able to do their jobs with perfect motions and without emotions. Retail sales, security, journalism, receptionist, telephone sales, construction work, accounting, tour guides, librarians and teachers around us could be robots. Make no mistake, we are not talking about sales people, receptionists and tour guides who behave like robots. We are indeed talking about real robs here. Cow milking robots are deployed in animal farms. The milk we used in the morning could have been milked by a robot, processed by a robot and packed by another robot before being sold by yet another robot. 

A study by McKinsey & Company suggests that robots will eliminate some categories of jobs altogether. But more than that it will affect portions of almost all jobs to some extent. Health care and finance are among the sectors to be affected most. Job content and focus is also changing. A finance director who worked more on arithmetical calculations four decades ago is now working on financial strategy and investment. More than 75% of predictable work and nearly 25% of unpredictable physical work will be taken over by robots during the next ten years. Robots are already working around us without our realizing their presence. Many robots do not move and hence the illusion. Coffee vending machines and self-service kiosks are indeed an extension of robots stealing human jobs. Routine customer problems are also solved by robots. A higher level of intervention is still in human domain. Advancement in robotics may lead to a day when robots themselves create further robots! predicts that in future humans will find themselves working side by side with robots, rather than being completely replaced. Due to growth in robotics in cognitive computing and computer tasks, some jobs will disappear but some other new categories of jobs will be created. Soft-skill professionals are now conducting human relations programs and leadership skills program to build human teams. They may have to now branch out and design programs on human-robotic relationship and building men-robots teams. Laws may have to be amended to bring in dealing with robots at work place and regulating human-robot interactions.

Drones (unmanned moving objects including small airplanes) are becoming more and more common in commercial and defense usage. Amazon mentioned about use of Drones for delivery of items to customer doorsteps within 30 minutes of order, four years ago. China is already using it and its drones are delivering boxes to customers at their doors. You need not be surprised if a drone with a parcel flies on your head when you are walking on the road there. A day may come when an item delivered by a drone may be received at your home by your robot assistant, cooked by another robot to be served by a third robot.

Driverless cars or autonomous cars are the next in-things. They are already around us in test conditions. We are told that driverless cars will be around us shortly. The only impediment is that humans have to develop confidence in such cars. It is indeed a pleasure for many to go to sleep when someone else is driving. A day may come when one can get all the sleep for the day while traveling in a driverless car! Cars with cruise control are already in use for over a decade now. Driverless cars are coming in different levels. After cruise control, next would be hands-on cars which give warnings but do not have control on the cars. Such cars are already in use. They give a warning noise when the car comes close to another moving vehicle. The next generation cars will be hands-off cars, where the driver need not hold the controls, but can take over when the need arises. Next would be Eyes-off cars that would enable the driver to take off his eyes from the road while the car keeps moving as usual. Mind-off cars would be the ultimate ones. A couple who had a fight at home may get into to the car and continue their fight without bothering about traffic rules and on-coming vehicles. It may not end there. Flying cars may come that drive on the road but fly in case of traffic jams. Only they could cost more!

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a famous novel by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson that was published 130 years ago. Dr Jekyll discovers a serum by drinking which he gets converted to a evil character by name Mr Hyde. Initially this transformation is temporary and reversible. But it becomes regular and ultimately irreversible after some time. Dr Jekyll disappears and Mr Hyde's crimes and murders increase. One of the ingredients used for preparing the serum is exhausted. Further purchases of the item used in serum preparation do not work. Finally Dr Jekyll commits suicide to bring an end to Mr Hyde.

Frankenstein is another story written by English author Mary Shelley. She wrote the story when she was only 18 years old. The book was first published exactly 200 years ago. It deals with the story of Victor Frankenstein who creates a monster in an unorthodox scientific experiment. The story deals with the evil acts of the creature, also known as Frankenstein, in the same name as its creator. The evil creature harasses its creator and kills his newly-wed wife. The creator also dies while trying to kill the creature. The end is indeed tragic.  


Creation of these Robots, Drones and Driverless cars may help improve quality of life. They may also bring misery in the form of job losses and sorrow due to their misbehavior in due course. Whether they would be the next generation Mr Hyde or Frankenstein, only future can tell.  Creation of something which the creator cannot control is dealt in many scriptures and literature of different languages. Bhasmasura is a well know character in Indian mythology. He got the boon of burning anything or anybody by merely placing his hand on the head. After getting the boon from Lord Shiva, he wanted to test its effect first on Lord Shiva himself! Mohini had to intervene and prevent the disaster.

The picture given at the top of this post is indeed self-explanatory. Man-created robots may ultimately control its creator. Whether there would be a Mohini to save that day is a secret shrouded in the future.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Tools, Teacher, Process and Practice

As defined by on-line dictionary, a scholar is a learned or erudite person, especially one who has profound knowledge of a particular subject. It also refers to a student or pupil who is still learning and is expected to complete his pursuits. However, the generally accepted meaning of the word scholar refers to someone who has attained a high level of mastery over a particular subject. Of course, there are a few personalities who have mastery over many subjects. They are a class by themselves and deserve highest respect from the communities.

Google translation gives "Pandita" (पण्डित) as the Sanskrit/Hindi equivalent of the english word "Scholar". Who is a Pandita? What are his characteristics? When can a person be called a Pandita? Is there any definition of Pandita in Indian texts? What should be the vital components of learning to make a person a scholar or pandita? What are the important stages of learning? Can we get a clear-cut definition of the word Pandita somewhere? Is there any modren learning method that corresponds to ancient definition of this type? These questions are indeed worth pondering over.

The definition of a Pandita is available in many ancient Indian texts in different places. Saint Jagannatha Dasa (1728-1809) who lived in Maanvi town of Raichur district of Karnataka is an acknowledged scholar in Sanskrit as well as Kannada languages. He is an important member of the "Dasa saahitya" that propagates Vaishnavism. His "Harikathamrutasaara" is a scholarly work that deals with various aspects of life and teachings of the "Dwaita School of Philosophy". It is spread over 32 sandhis (chapters) containing 988 verses in Kannada language. There are many sanskrit works that have commentaries in sanskrit and other languages. This is a rare Kannada work that has many commentaries in Kannada as well as a commentary in Sanskrit. In the sixth verse of the third chapter of this work, titled "Vyaapti Sandhi", he gives a clear definition of "Pandita" (scholar) and the stages that one has to pass to reach that level. He defines four stages that a person has to pass through before becoming eligible to be called a scholar or pandita.

What are these four stages for a person to cross before being called a scholar? They are defined as Vidyaa, Buddhi, Siddhi and Prasiddhi (विद्या, बुद्धि, सिद्धि, प्रसिद्धि). Translated to English, they correspond to Tools, Teacher, Process and Practice. What are their characteristics?

  1. Vidyaa or Tools is the first stage for a scholar that comprise of collecting all the necessary tools to start his pursuit. What are the tools for a scholar? They comprise of necessary books and allied study material. There is no use in collecting all the tools unless the pupil makes some effort to get familiar with the tools so collected. He should necessarily do some amount of work with these tools so that he can use them when required in the next part of the studies. It is not proper to search for the tools when he sits before the teacher to learn. Preliminary work done before attending classes helps the student scholar to quickly pick up the thread when a reference is made by the teacher. This is the same as pre-class study or pre-read practiced in the present system of learning and training.
  2. Buddhi or Teacher is the second component of scholarly pursuits. Mere amassing of learning tools and pre-class study would not be sufficient to open up deeper thoughts and inner meaning of learning. In order to have a clear understanding of the tools and their usage, a proper guide who is well-versed in the subject and its multiple dimensions is required. A teacher or trainer does this job. It may be noted that a teacher is even today referred as "ಬುದ್ದ್ಯೋರು" (Buddhyooru) in rural Karnataka. The combination of Vidyaa and Buddhi can now lead to the next two stages.
  3. Siddhi or Process refers to the completion of learning efforts before the teacher. This involves the joint efforts of the student/trainee and the teacher/trainer. There is an element of face-to-face learning here. The word siddhi is commonly used to denote completion and culmination of something. (Some medicines are called "Siddhoushadas" and another common usage is "Mantra siddhi). This Siddhi or Process is the same as In-class study as practiced in the present day teaching/training.
  4. Prasiddhi or Practice is the fourth and final stage in a student transforming into a scholar or a pandita. The word "Prasiddhi" is commonly used to indicate "Fame". In fact this is actually the second meaning of the word Prasiddhi. The first meaning of this word is "Attainment or Accomplishment". This is the ultimate test of a scholar or pandita. At this stage he will be able to quote, explain, answer, perform, demonstrate and show the real learning or training he has received. This is akin to the post-class activity or repetitive exercises used in modren teaching/training.
We have all experienced ourselves as well as we know from the experiences of our youngsters that many students study very hard when the examinations approach and leave no stone unturned in their preparations. Yet, when answering the question for which they have prepared so hard, in the examination hall, they forget the answer and suffer emotionally. They many times remember the answer as soon as papers are handed over to the invigilator and come out of the examination hall. Why does it happen? At the same time we know many who can quote and bring in the learning precisely when the need arises without even preparing for such situations. The secret for both these situations is in Siddhi and Prasiddhi, meaning the learning process and practice thereafter. This underlines the need for giving due importance to learning process followed by repetitive practice of the application of knowledge and skills. In essence, Siddhi and Prasiddhi explains these quite well. 

There is an interesting background to the verse 6 in chapter 3 of Harikathamrutasaara referred above. As the verse covers the vital stages of learning and transforming a student to a scholar or pandita, there is a practice of starting "Aksharaabhyaasa" (starting learning process of a child) on the first day by reciting this verse before actual starting of learning in some families, especially in North Karnataka. It is further believed that the four forms Lord Mahavishnu presides over the four stages; Aniruddha for Vidyaa, Pradyumna for Buddhi, Sankarshana for Siddhi and Vasudeva for Prasiddhi. These forms are worshipped on the first day of learning with the fond hope that the child would evolve into a scholar or pandita in due course.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

I Suck Your Blood

Some four decades ago, a group of friends decided to go to Mercara (Madakari) for a weekend outing. The days spent in the Westren Ghats of India are indeed memorable. The morning part of the picnic was a wonderful time with visit to Abbey falls and playing in the river waters below the waterfalls. At lunch time one of the group members made a reference to a very old tree standing in the nearby forest. The group suddenly decided to go over there after lunch. Nobody knew the exact location of the tree but youthful enthusiasm does not care about it. We walked around for nearly two hours and finally saw a very big tree in the forest. The tree was standing tall on the banks of a small rivulet. The land around the tree was wet and slippery. Those who had come with sandals were able to remove them and hold in the hands and manage. Those with leather shoe and socks were finding it difficult to maneuver in the slippery surroundings. There was not much to see except the big tree and the other smaller trees around it. It was getting dark and time to get back before we lost our way in the forest. 

One of the group members suddenly observed that there was a black spot on the leg of another in the group. Someone in the group shouted "Jigane". Jigane is the word for "Leech" in local language, Kannada. Naturally others also checked their feet. All those who had removed footwear had leeches clinging to their feet and legs. Those wearing shoe and socks were fortunately spared. We ran from that place to the nearest dry area and helped each other to get rid of the leeches. When we checked later with the guest house manager, he said that there was nothing to worry and leeches are not poisonous. He also said that it is always advisable to go in the forest with the feet covered. 

To be immortal and live forever is probably a dream for all living beings, especially humans. The two cousin groups, Devas and Asuras also wanted this and desired to find a solution. They were advised that by churning of the milky ocean (Ksheerasamudra), they can obtain nectar by drinking which they can become immune to death and live forever. Churning the milky ocean is a long story. Many items and valuables came out of the churning. In the end, Lord Mahavishnu himself took the form of "Dhanwantari" and emerged from the milky ocean with the nectar. Mahavishnu took another form now, one of Mohini, the most beautiful female of all times, mesmerized all and ensured that only Devas got the nectar. 

Lord Dhanwantari did not bring nectar alone with him from the milky ocean. He carried his Shanka (Conch) and Chakra (weapon in the form of a Disc) in two hands. Nectar (Amruta) was held in the third hand. What did he carry in his fourth hand? (Please observe the picture of Lord Dhanwantari given above closely) He carried a Leech in his fourth hand! Leech is called "Jalauka" in Sanskrit, the name coming from the word Jala or water as they live close to watery lowlands. Thus Leech came from the milky ocean along with nectar. Hence Leeches are used in therapy for treatment of certain diseases and bodily ailments. They are used to suck bad blood from the blood vessels and help flow of good blood in affected parts of the body! 

Dhanwantari is credited with beginning the practice of Indian form of medicine, known as Ayurveda. Dhanwantari is worshipped by practitioners of Ayurveda as well as those believing in the Indian form of worship and medicine. There are pictures of Dhanwantari showing him holding books instead of Leech, but the one with Leech in the hand is said to be the original one. "Dhanwantari Jayanti" is celebrated every year on "Dhanteras" day or "Dhana Trayodashi", a before "Naraka Chaturdashi" during Diwali or Deepavali festivities. There are many temples dedicated to Lord Dhanwantari, especially in Kerala and Tamilnadu, where Ayurveda is practiced in large measure. The temple in Thottuva in Ernakulam District (picture given above) is believed to be more than 1000 years old. Fresh unboiled milk and butter are offered to Lord Dhanwantari here. There is a Dhanwantari temple inside the famous Srirangam temple where a herbal decoction is given as prasadam to visitors. Another Dhanwantari temple can be seen inside the Kanchi Varadaraja Perumal temple also.  

Many patients develop accumulation of blood and blood clots in lower limbs. Leeches are used to suck the infected blood from the blood vessels of patients with such disorders. This method provides an excellent way of removing blood clots and improving blood circulations. Ayurveda practitioners say that this is very useful for diabetic patients where surgery may result in complications due to delay in healing of surgical wounds. Leech saliva is also used nowadays in cancer treatment. It is said that it has now found way into beauty treatment as well!  

Leeches can suck blood up to ten times their weight. One full eating for the leeches sustain them for several months. It is also said that they drop off on their own once they had their full meal of blood. The leech bites heal quickly and aid in therapy due to this quality.

Many scriptures and Puranas explain how big and diamond-hard Jalauka (Leeches) suck the blood of sinners in the hell, as punishment to the way in which they harass the poor and weak in this world. There is a more humane way in which the Jalauka also suck blood from humans as a part of treatment and therapy, in this world!