Saturday, March 17, 2018

Raison d'être

Why does a mango tree exist? Does it exist for the purpose of giving shade? There are thousands of other trees that provide shade. Is it for producing leaves? There are several thousand other trees that can also give leaves. Is it for photosynthesis and releasing oxygen to the air? This is also done by many other trees around us. What distinguishes a mango tree from several other trees around us? It is the sweet mango fruits that this wonderful tree gives us once in a year. Giving shade, producing leaves which may be used for decoration on religious, social and cultural festivities are not the basic purpose of existence of a mango tree. The ultimate fruits it bears and gives to others defines the basic purpose for which the mango tree exists. Without these fruits, its existence is meaningless. A gardener may not even retain a mango tree which has grown fully and giving a lot of leaves and shade, but not fruits. He would rather cut it out and plant another mango tree that may give fruits in due course.

Raison d'etre is the French word that is normally used to define the fundamental purpose of existence of someone or something. (Its Sanskrit equivalent is उद्देश्य, which is so in many Indian languages). It is defined in the dictionary as "the most important reason or purpose for someone or something's existence." Any other use or uses of the person or thing without fulfilling this basic reason or purpose is meaningless. By-product or a secondary or incidental product is something that is often derived as unforeseen or unintended. The action or process of manufacture is not for getting the by-products, but the desire to get what was originally intended to.

While evaluating a person or organisation, this is to be carefully considered. Someone wants to hire a driver. What should be the basic consideration for deciding on hiring? It is naturally the capacity to discharge the duties of a driver. If he is also a good actor, it is fine. But if he is an average driver and a very good actor, does he fit the bill? If the choice is between a very good driver but an average actor and an average driver but very good actor, the former is naturally be selected. But it is often observed that both at individual level as well at levels of many organisations, extraneous considerations are often kept in view while deciding hiring and putting people on various jobs.

Dr Laurence J Peter studied many hierarchies and came out with his famous principle known widely in management circles as "Peter's Principle". Dr Peter not only deals with raison d'etre while hiring but also while reviewing performance periodically. He stipulates that hiring and placing people in organisations should be done by always keeping core competency in focus. If an employee is able to discharge his duties effectively at a given level, he deserves to be promoted because he is competent. If he is not competent at a given level, he is naturally unfit for next promotion. It is the responsibility of the superior (reporting manager in today's language) to decide whether an employee is competent or not, in discharging his duties. No need to emphasise that the competency is to be determined on the basis of core competency. If the employee is competent, he deserves to be promoted. If he is found incompetent, he does not deserve promotion. It is as simple as that.

What happens if the reporting manager is unable to decide whether the subordinate is competent or not? Dr Peter suggests that such a reporting manager has reached his level of incompetence and time has come for his reporting manager to change him!

One of the greatest tragedies of modren management systems is people are promoted as long as they are competent, but promotion stops as soon as they reach their level of incompetency. Thus they continue as employees at their incompetent level since organisations do not send them one level down, the level at which were actually competent. Organisations are thus deprived of their competency but continue to hold them at incompetent levels! Thus incompetency rules.

The recent tremors in the Banking Industry has shaken the managements, employees, depositors, regulators and political masters as well. Knee jerk reactions and decisions have become order of the day. Some of the decisions are absurd to say the least. Cutting off the nose to get rid of cold appears to be the remedy. Many curbs are being placed on lending in various forms. The effect of these decisions will be known a year or two down the line. The basic purpose of existence of banks is to raise resources (deposits) and deploy them, mostly as loans & advances, and part as investments. Wholesale curbs on some forms of lending hits at the raison d'etre of these institutions. There is no doubt that the times are indeed difficult; but that has to be negotiated with calmness and firmness. Seeing a fraud everywhere and creating more panic does not help remedy the situation. The problems of the industry lie elsewhere. They are indeed to be addressed firmly. Running behind non-core areas as a reason for the present mess is suddenly coming to sharp focus. Shade and leaves is fine. What about the fruits which is the basic purpose?

Dr Laurence J Peter was also known for his wit and humour. One of his famous quotes is: "The noblest of all dogs is the hot-dog; it feds the hand that bites it!"

This is incidentally my 300th blog post. I am thankful to all readers and friends who have encouraged me over the last seven years, on roundtheclockstories.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Straighten My Little Finger

The news of unrest among the soldiers of his army had reached the King. It was a long time since King Bharatesha and his army had left the capital city Ayodhya. They were moving from one province to another fighting wars and conquering vast areas. Being away from the capital and their families had brought much pressure on the members of the army and supporting forces. Victory after victory had developed a lot of pride among the soldiers. Initially pride was indeed acting as a catalyst in furthering fighting spirit and encouraged them to fight to their fullest potential. But the effects of war and long stay away from their families and capital was now telling on their morale. In addition to this they developed a sense of arrogance as well. "It is on our strength that the King is able to win all these wars. What can he do without us? It is time we let the King know of our strength and make him realise our feelings", they thought. What started as a mere gossip in the camp had now taken a strong shape and finally reached King's ears. 

Bharatesha was the elder son of Rishabhanatha (also known as Rushabhadeva). Rishabhanatha had two wives; Sumangala and Sunanda. Sumangala had 100 children, 99 boys and a girl. Bharatha was the eldest of the sons. The daughter was named as Brahmi and it is said that the script Brahmi is named after this daughter. Sunanda had a son and a daughter. They were named as Bahubali and Sundari respectively. In due course of time Rishabhanatha decided to renounce the world and become an ascetic. He divided his Kingdom between his sons. Bharata was made King of Ayodhya and Bahubali became King of Poudanapura (Takshashila). The other 98 brothers were also made kings of different areas. The new generation started ruling their respective kingdoms.

Bharata was now know as Bharatesha. He was a strong warrior and a good king. A chakra was born in his weapons depot. Known as Chakraratna, this divine disc gave immense power to Bharatesha. The chakraratna would move in front of the army and now Bharatesha was winning all the areas he raided and conquered them. Now he was thinking of going back to Ayodhya. At this time the unrest among the soldiers came to his notice.

A strange and surprising news spread among the soldiers and other supporting staff in the morning. Something had happened to the King Bharatesha's little finger on the hand. King's little finger had sprained and become bent. All the efforts of the King and his team of doctors could not straighten it. Strange as it appeared, it was indeed true. Everyone was wondering what to do.

The King had called a special session of the royal court. He duly arrived in the court and sat on his throne. When he upheld his hand everybody could see the crooked finger. The King announced a reward to any one who could straighten his little finger. Some came forward and tried to straighten it, but failed. A long chain was brought into the court. One end was tied to the crooked finger. The soldiers were asked to hold the chain and pull to straighten it. Some soldiers tried initially, but failed. More and more soldiers now joined. Finally entire army and all the supporting staff joined and pulled the other end of the chain. And Lo, they could not succeed in their effort.

After they all failed to do it, the king himself straightened the crooked finger. The army now knew the strength of their King and their arrogance fled away making way for awe and admiration about King Bharatesha's strength! The assigning of task of straightening of the crooked finger was his way of showing his strength to his army. 

As the King and his army reached Ayodhya, the disc stopped at the gate of the capital. It would not enter the city. His ministers told Bharatesha that he had not yet become successful in his efforts to become the unquestioned emperor since his brothers were not conquered. As they were still independent kings, Bharatesha's task was not completed. Either he had to win over his brothers in a war or they should accept him as their superior and supreme emperor. Bharatesha invited his 98 brothers to fight him. They chose to renounce the material world, surrendered their areas to Bharatesha and went in penance. Only Bahubali was left now.

Bahubali was not the one to surrender without a fight. Ministers of both sides discussed and told the two brothers to settle their war by restricting it to a duel between them. They advised to have three rounds of war; Drushtiyuddha (looking at each other), Jalayuddha (throwing water at each other) and Mallayuddha (physical fight as wrestlers). Bharatha knew he had no chance to win in a fight against Bahubali. Bharatha was 500 bow-length tall whereas Bahubali was 525 bow-length tall. The physical superiority of Bahubali would ensure his victory. It is easy for a taller one to look down on the shorter one whereas the shorter would have to struggle to look up to the other. The taller one could easily throw more water on the face of the shorter brother. The taller also had advantage in the wrestling round. Bharatesha knew his limitations. Bharatha told his brother Bahubali that he would not fight and surrender all his empire to Bahubali without a fight.

Bahubali was moved by the offer of his brother. He too decided to renounce the world and go for penance like his father and other brothers. He handed over his kingdom as well to Bharatesha and started a long tapas (penance). Even after years of strong penance he could not reach salvation. He had a feeling that he is standing in the land belonging to his brother! Bharatesha came to know of this. He went to Bahubali and told him to come out of such feeling. Many in the past have ruled this land and many more would do so in the future. This land does not belong to any one particular person. Hence it was not proper to think on these lines, he convinced his brother. Once cleared of this confusion, Bahubali attained salvation and became a model of non-violence and piousness. He reached the highest level of spiritual attainment.

Bharatesha continued to rule his kingdom and was a very popular King. Though he had 96,000 wives and many children, he did not have any attachment to the material world. He found a single white hair on his head one day. That was enough for him to change his mind towards spiritual orientation. He renounced the worldly pleasures and wealth and attained salvation thereafter.


As per the popular folklore and other literature available, Bahubali defeated Bharata in the three rounds of war. The fight indeed took place and Bahubali emerged victorious and shattered the pride of Bharatesha. However, despite his victory, Bahubali saw the futility of war and earthly pleasures. This changed his outlook towards life. He renounced the world and became Gomateswara. 

Noted Kannada poet Ratnakaravarni (ರತ್ನಾಕರವರ್ಣಿ - रत्नाकरवर्णि) lived in Karnataka's Moodabidri town, about 35 KM from the city of Mangalore, in the 16th century. He has authored a brilliant literary work titled "Bharatesha Vaibhava" (ಭರತೇಶ ವೈಭವ - भरतेश वैभव). It extends to as many as 80 chapters and 10,000 verses! It is constructed in a meter known as "Saangatya" (ಸಾಂಗತ್ಯ सान्गत्य), which is a popular singing meter of the rural areas. He was a court poet in the period of Immadi Bhairarasa Wodeyar. He was a very proud poet. It is said that he even converted to Shaivism when he was insulted on some occasion, and returned to Jainism later on.

Ratnakaravarni has made subtle changes in the story of the two brothers, Bharata and Bahubali. Bharata appears like a villain in all other literature, but Ratnakaravarni has made him a real hero by making a few changes. The summary given above is as per the version of this great poet Ratnakaravarni. He has added some new incidents and left out some others and woven his epic work. His Bharatesha is a model who serves both worldly pleasures and spiritualism (ಯೋಗ ಮತ್ತು ಭೋಗ - योग - भोग). 15 chapters of the book is devoted exclusively towards depicting the life he led with his 96,000 wives. It is said that the youth from earlier generation used to read these portions secretly, in an era when modren films and television was not available to explain or show pleasures of married life! 

Ratnakaravarni's Bharatesha Vaibhava is translated to Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati and English. Mangalore University has a dedicated chair for research named after poet Ratnakaravarni. A reading of this work and listening to scholars lectures on the same is indeed a literary pleasure. 

Ratnakaravarni's "Bharatesha Vaibhava" has shades of Mahakavi Bhasa's "Pancharatram". Bhasa has made changes in his Pancharatram and there is no Kurukshetra war at all in his work! Duryodhana parts with half his kingdom to Pandavas and all live happily thereafter. Please Click Here to read about Pancharatram.

At the time when Mahamastakaabhisheka is being celebrated for Gomateswara-Bahubali in Shravanabelagola today, remembering Ratnakaravarni and Bharatesha Vaibhava is indeed relevant and proper.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Cumulative Comprehensive Education (CCE)?

A very interesting item of news is buried in the vast volumes of print and net news during the last two days. 66,00,000 (6.6 million) students took the Uttar Pradesh Board Examinations (UP Board) for standard 10 and 12 this year. The examinations started on February 6, 2018. There are some dropouts or absentees in every examination and the number is usually less than one to two percent. By third day of this examination, more than 6,00,000 students had dropped out, making it 10 percent of dropouts. On the fourth day, the number went up to more than 10,00,000 (one million), making it more than 15%. The highest absentee rate recorded in UP itself earlier was 6%. Thus the past records was far exceeded this year.

The numbers themselves may not tell the real tale. The Board introduced many new measures this year to curb unfair practices during conduct of examination. Eduction mafia found that mass copying was tough going indeed, this year. Installation of CCTV cameras, rounds by special squads, and even inspections by the state's Deputy Chief Minister who holds the Education portfolio were among the measures to prevent mass copying and impersonation. These measures made the task of complicity by invigilators impossible. Reports indicate that the absentees were mostly those from other states who would enrol at schools in UP not for study but for having been assured of a pass in the examination! Many of them never attended classes in the school. Impersonation was one of the methods adopted for ensuring a pass in the examination. This became impossible due to installation of CCTV cameras. Sure success was no longer that sure now.

Those in the touch with education field lament about the drop in the level of education over the last several decades. A BA (Honours) degree from Madras University was considered as something special six or seven decades ago. A B.Tech or ME degree was a pride possession three decades ago. Mushrooming of educational institutions, colleges providing assured degrees, drop in invigilation and evaluation standards and introduction of multi-choice questions have all contributed their mite to drag down the standards of education. Questions that have answers in them (MCQs) were a novelty when introduced, but diluted the necessity of hard work for securing marks in the examinations. Their introduction was with the arguments that examinations were memory tests rather than testing knowledge and skills earlier. The joke today is that a student cannot answer a question asking his name unless he is given four options!

Cumulative Comprehensive Education (CCE) or sometimes referred as Continuous Comprehensive Education is now used by organisations like CBSE and State Education Boards all over the country. CCE aims at helping improve a student's performance by identifying his/her learning difficulties at regular intervals of time right from the beginning of the academic period and thereby employ suitable remedial measures for enhancing learning performance. The scheme of CCE has continuous inbuilt flexibility for schools to plans as per guidelines provided in the scheme. Formative and Summative Assessment methods are used for awarding marks and grades to students. Generally two tests before mid-term examination and two tests between mid-term and final examination are held and marks obtained in them with prescribed weightage are added to mid-term and end-term examinations.

At the outset, this method of Formative Assessment (FA) and Summative Assessment (SA) looks a good combination indeed. This method provides for continuous evaluation of a student and does justice to a student who has a bad day on the final examination day. One of the elements of CCE is recognising and encouraging specific abilities of students who do not do well in academics but do well in other co-curricular activities. Thus a student will get marks for attending classes regularly, behaving well with other students and taking part in non-academic activities even though he may lag behind in academic work. Though the objective is laudable, its impact on academic standards cannot be underestimated. A child getting more interested in music and dance than academic work will also get due weightage in the overall education evaluation. This also calls for maintenance of exhaustive records by the teachers, thereby increasing their desk work. This is one of the complaints of teachers in this system.

Cumulative assessment has another interesting feature. The system of formative assessment and weightage given to extra-curricular activities ensures that students accumulate the required marks for passing even before the final examination, thus reducing the final act as a mere formality for many of them. If memory test was the weakling in the earlier system, this methodology is a major deficiency in the cumulative assessment system. Lack of requisite skills in preparation of quality question papers and their regular leakage add to the problem of conducting worthy examinations.  

The effect of such evaluation is now returning to haunt the system in the form of difficulties in selection of teachers for the next generation. Someone who passed out of the system by getting the benefit of such evaluation has now the responsibility of teaching his students in academics while he himself did not excel in academics when he was a student. The teacher training system also suffers from teacher trainers, who are products of such evaluation standards. Persons sitting on interview boards for selection of teachers struggle to select one out of those appearing in the selection process since they are unable to find a candidate meeting the required standards. They are often confronted with candidates who are unable to demonstrate handling of a class suggested by the interviewing committee. The committee has to perforce judge them on the basis of a demonstration suggested by the candidates themselves!  

Educational institutions are also under pressure to show higher result levels to enable them to compete in the market for intake of students in the next academic year. Strict evaluation means lower pass percentages and lower popularity among the community. Easier way out is rehearsing "important questions" repeatedly before examinations. Excessive and unnecessary reliance on "student feedback" on evaluation of teachers tends to further complicate issues. Provision of grace marks lowers the bar and brings down the overall academic standards even more.

The academic standards are fast dipping. It is generally said that each generation blames the next one for lowering standards of life in various disciplines. Even after providing for this criticism, the standards of academics is indeed dipping. We are producing graduates in various disciplines who are falling short of the expected levels. Many of them are unemployable in their respective areas of academic degrees. A lot of effort is put at the top level for opening more educational institutions of excellence. Various shades of politics in academic institutions is gathering more and more strength. Administrators are under severe pressure from various quarters. There are many challenging issues confronting those assigned with the task of strengthening academic standards. The tendency of those in authority not recognising these challenges has confounded the problem.

In this background, it is time now to make a comprehensive review of the CCE, both in its content and implementation.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

He is there, but.....

The jackfruit tree is in one's own backyard. There are many fruits hanging on it. Some of them can be touched even while one is standing on the ground. One of the fruits has become ripe in the tree itself. It is time to cut it from the tree and bring inside the house. Even while cutting it from the tree, one can imagine the sweetness of the edible contents inside it. It is indeed mouth watering!

The fruit has been brought inside the house. It is now lying in front of us. The only thing left now is to eat it and savour its rich sweetness.

Oh, this not a easy fruit like banana. How we wish it was as simple a fruit as banana. Anyone can easily peel off a banana and enjoy its delicious part immediately. But jackfruit is not like it. It is a complicated fruit.

Its exterior is thorny and a little carelessness in handling would scratch our skin. A proper knife is required to cut open the hard exterior of the fruit. The knife should be sharp enough to cut the fruit. It should also be handled carefully as otherwise it will cut our fingers. First a knife has to be found and it is to be used skilfully as well.

While cutting the fruit, a lot of sticky substance comes out and soils our hands. We want the sweet part of the fruit but not the sticky substance. Cleaning the hand is also not easy once it sticks to the hand. How to prevent this mess? Experience has taught us that use of oil can prevent this mess. A layer of oil spread on the hands prevents the substance from sticking to the hands. Patience is another requirement to separate the edible part from other parts of the fruit that are to be discarded. Discarded part is to be disposed expeditiously as otherwise it would result in unbearable stench on the next day. Edible fruit part is to be taken out carefully and preserved properly for consumption after cleaning the mess and the hands. Oil was indeed required for separating the edible part, but not an oily hand while consuming the fruit!

Now we have the delicious fruit ready for consumption. A little honey would enhance the experience of eating the fruit. Of course, getting the honey and bringing it to the present form is also another task, probably even more troublesome than dealing with jackfruit itself. Honey is to be procured when the fruit is with us.

The pot of Curd is before us. It was in the form of milk yesterday. The milk was properly heated and cooled. A little amount of curd was added and mixed well. After carefully preserving it overnight, it has now become curd. We want butter from it. We know from experience that butter is in the curd before us. It is not visible. The pot of curd is to be churned systematically before the required butter emerges from it. Churning stick and rope are to be found and used. Patience is required while churning. There is no shortcut in the process. The butter so obtained is also to be safely stored away. The period for its quality to hold is also limited. If it is to be preserved for long, it is to be heated carefully and converted to Ghee. Ghee can be stored for a longer time and used for many purposes. Both butter and Ghee were indeed present in the curd and in the milk before that. But they were invisible and presented before us only after due process and patiently working for them. Lot of effort, process and patience were the key.

A voluminous literature and belief over generations claim that God is omnipresent. Believers trust the Lord created the universe. Everything around is his creation, they state. How to believe? Why to believe? If the Lord is present everywhere, why is he not visible?

A jackfruit grown in our tree in our backyard requires so much of effort, process and patience to get the taste of it. The butter and ghee available in the milk and curd also required the same effort, process and patience for them to present before us. 

Even if the Lord is omnipresent, should he not demand some effort, process and patience before presenting himself before us? Would we care for him if he was available easily and effortlessly?

What about those who do not believe in the existence of the Lord? They have no problem at all. They can continue their efforts and patience in finding other things in life! There is no escape from efforts, process and patience whether one believes in His existence or not!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

We Are Not Going Anywhere, Mother!

Various rituals were being celebrated in full swing at the wedding function. There was the usual noise of the greetings and acknowledgements among friends and relatives. A long time friend moved in and sat next to me. He lives in a village along the west coast. He had traveled overnight to reach the venue of the function. Usual greetings and enquiries about breakfast were exchanged. 

It was time to find about how farming activities are going on around his village. 

"How are your agricultural lands? What are the crops this year?"
"No crops for the last few years. I am unable to manage the activities."
"Why? What is the problem?"
"Agriculture requires continuous attention during the cropping season. We need labourers for assisting in various farming activities."
"What is the problem in getting agricultural labourers? Were they not available all these days?"
"Now they are not available. All able bodied young people have migrated to towns and cities. There are only old people in villages."

Though this was being heard often, its intensity had not struck me till then. 

"Why such large scale migration?"
"The conveniences and pleasures of city life attracts youngsters."
"What is the reason?"
"Who wants to soil his hands when working as an office boy in a city is more appealing?"
"What about women agricultural labourers?"
"They are taking the lead in urging the menfolk to move to cities."
"Why so?"
"City life appeals more to them. They also get cleaning and maintenance jobs. More and more boys are taking up driver jobs with Ola, Uber and other transport companies."

This is closer to our experiences. 

"What are you doing with the lands now?"
"I have allowed some elderly people in the village to use the lands to grow whatever they want."
"How is the crop shared?"

My question arose from the experience I had some fifty years ago when our lands were given to sharecroppers. They would share one third of Ragi and half of coarse Rice grown in the lands. Expenses were borne by them. They kept more Ragi as it was their main food item. 

"There is no sharing of any crop now. I am happy if they grow something and keep it for themselves. My only condition is to give me fodder for the cattle."
"Oh, you have taken up dairy farming! How many cows do you have?"
"Are you crazy? I have only one local cow and its calf. Milk production is only for our household use. It is difficult to find fodder for that one cow!"

I had no courage to ask further questions.

There was the usual crowd at the evening wedding reception. A relative, elder to me by about ten years, arrived. We greeted each other. I had some knowledge about his achievements as a progressive farmer and how he stuck to his native village when all other close relatives moved away for various employment opportunities. Though he was also employed in the nearby city, he kept his contact with his village and continued to be a farmer. 

"How are your farming activities going on in the village?"
"It is going on quite well. It is tough to manage, but I am carrying on fine."
"I am glad that you stuck to your roots in the village. We still have representation in the village because of you."
"There is a big reason behind my holding on to the village and being tied to farming. It is a part of my life story."

This was indeed an interesting phase. I asked further questions. His answers opened up many issues.

Some hundred years ago, the head of the family moved to that village migrating from another place, looking to start a new life. He started as a farmer and made the village his base. His five sons were also initially involved in farming. Two of them moved away on other employment. Members of the next generation found employment elsewhere. There was only one branch of the family left in the village. Landholdings had become fragmented and income from farming activities was not sufficient to manage a big family.

On one of his visits to the village, the young man observed that his mother was very sad. He desired to find the reason for her being upset. 

"What is the reason Mom, you appear to be very sad."
"Nothing in particular. The usual ups and downs of life"
"What are the usual ups and downs you are referring to?"
"I have lived all my life in this village and in this house."
"I know that. What about it?"
"Everybody in the family has moved away from the village and we are only left here."
"What if so?"
"You have also taken up employment elsewhere. Some villagers are telling me that one day we will sell this house and little lands we have and we too would move away."
"You do not want to move away?"
"No. Given the choice, I would live all my life here. This is where I belong."

The young man reached a sudden decision.

"We are not going anywhere, Mother. We shall stay put here and show others what we can do. This is my promise", he said. 

He devoted more time to the family's affairs in the village. All the brothers worked as a team. Two younger brothers became full time farmers. Others too chipped in with whatever additional resources they could bring in. In course of time, the family bought lands of those who told the mother that one day they would leave the village and go away. 

The family took up modren methods of farming. Irrigation sources were found and bore wells were dug. Now they grow a variety of crops including rice, vegetables and other seasonal crops. An orchard with 100 Amla (Gooseberries) trees has been developed. Dabur come every year and buy the crop at the orchard itself. Some Chyavanprash you bought last week may have those Amla as an ingredient. "Dhatri Havan", a religious-cum-social festival is celebrated every year in September-October as a mark of growing Amla. New varieties of mango are planted and harvested. All manure used is manufactured in-house and organic farming is practiced. It is indeed tough to manage all these activities, but it has also generated employment for many in the nearby villages.

A hallow brick factory has been developed as a local industry. The old family temple has been expanded. Ramotsava is celebrated every year around Lunar New Year's Day (Ugadi and Ramanavami). 

The promise of "We are not going anywhere, Mother" has been fully realised, and is being expanded in the next generation.

More and more agricultural lands are being converted into non-agricultural uses nowadays, especially for housing near and around cities and towns. Vast fertile lands are becoming industrial areas or utilised for other infrastructural requirements like roads and flyovers. Migration of workforce from villages to towns and cities continues unabated. These are disturbing signs indeed.

At the same time, statistics show that food grain production is increasing every year. Organic farming has become the in-thing. People are prepared to pay much more for organic agricultural produce, believing merely the print on the packages sold as organic produce. Health consciousness has brought back "Siridhanya" with vengeance, the grains that were liberally used five or six decades ago but forgotten later. 

The two instances referred above are reflections of the two paradoxes summed up in the above two paragraphs.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Water In The Vessel

We all desire to have comfortable days, day after day. No one likes to have difficult days, one after the other. Not only a bad day one after the other, but not even a bad day amidst many good days. The want is to always have happy days and thereby enjoy life. Comfortable days with good health, lot of money and all other things that we want. We do not want even the streaks of anything that we perceive as bad amidst plentiful good tidings.

Desire is one thing but the reality is something else. If everything turns out to be the way we want, there would be no problems in life. It never happens that way because we are unable to control many things. If we contemplate further, we are unable to control even things that are apparently under our control.

Sufferings may be of different types. Financial sufferings can be one of them. There are times when all the hard work done does not result in financial benefits. There are instances when hard earned money is lost due to unforeseen happenings. Trusted friends and relatives borrow and fail to return when needed by us. Friendship is lost with money lent. Previously made out plans are now upside down. Many times new beginnings have to be made at later stages in life. These turn out to be painful and frustrating times indeed.

Loss of social status can be another cause of suffering. Loss may occur due to one's own failings or due to mechanisation of trusted ones. Many times retrieval of the lost status may not be possible. Some are able to get on with life in changed circumstances; others suffer in the very thought of having lost in the race.

Physical health is another important issue in life. One may ignore financial loss or social status being taken away. But setbacks in health is something which is very difficult to ignore. The problem continues to haunt during days and nights. It comes with us wherever we go. If the loss of health is coupled with pain, then it is even more miserable. Pain killers are temporary relievers of pain; they have their side effects too. Fighting pain and still carrying on daily activities is indeed very testing and demanding.

We see many people around us who suffer setbacks in health. There are some who cannot come out of the setback and succumb to the difficulties. We also see many others who are brave and fight their way out of trouble. These are the people who show remarkable tenacity amidst very adverse conditions. They do not give up even when others around give up hope. They are the examples of exemplary bravery and astonishing resilience. Watching them fight it out and come out successful inspires others.

An young man entered his office in the morning as usual. "Are you not feeling well?", The first colleague he met near the door asked him. "No. I am fine", he said and started his work. Another colleague came and asked him why he did not take the day off as he looked sick. The young man ignored and went on with his work. Another three or four colleagues had the same question and now he started getting doubt about his own health. He went to the rest room and checked his face in the mirror. He felt he looked tired and not normal. By afternoon he developed high temperature and felt very sick. The prank played by his colleagues had indeed taken its toll.

Psychologists say that there is a direct relation between physical health and mental health. State of mind plays an important role during sickness and recovery to good health. Pain and physical suffering have their impact on mental status of a person. Similarly, a disturbed mind acts on physical health.

Though physical health and mental health are inter dependent and affect each other, the effect of mental status on physical wellbeing appears to be even more significant. One important attribute that can be seen in those who fight physical adversity is their healthy mindset. They remain to be cheerful even amidst physical pain and suffering. They do not resign to their fate and believe in combating the troubled days and emerge victorious. This could even be seen the way they interact with those around them. It is this mental strength that sees them through the physical pain and suffering. 

On the contrary, we have many examples of mental weakness amplifying the physical troubles. People attending to the sick know this better than others. Brooding over the difficult things mentally directly impacts physical wellbeing. Mental troubles increase physical pain and suffering. A healthy mind is indeed a strong tool to restore physical health.

All this discussion is well summed up in this verse from Aranya Parva of Mahabharata:

मानसेन हि दुःखेन शरीरमुपतप्यते |
अयःपिण्डेन तप्तेन कुम्भसम्स्थमिवोदकम् ||

Maanasena hi dukhena shareeramupatapyate |
Ayahpindena Taptena Kumbhasamstahamivodakam ||

Physical body suffers due to mental disturbances. Just as the water kept in a vessel gets hot when the vessel is heated. 

The relation between the mind and body is like the vessel and the water in it. Even if the water is not heated directly, the heat of the vessel results in the water becoming hot. Therefore, all efforts should be made to keep the mind cool even in times of adversity. This ensures that the body remains healthy at all times. This is all the more important when the body suffers pain. A calm mind reduces the effects of such pain whereas a disturbed mind would only increase the pain and suffering. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Tools, Preparation and Process

Beans is a popular vegetable in various parts of the world. It has uses in preparation of a variety of dishes. It grows well in areas with average temperatures ranging between 18 to 30 degrees centigrade. Lower temperatures result in night frosting. Higher temperatures make the flowers fall and reduce yields. It is also considered to be a profitable crop for the farmer with yields of 100 to 120 quintals per hectare. The entire crop cycle is a maximum of three months. Peak yield is received in about two months.

When can the farmer expect maximum yield? Quality of seeds is an important element in raising a good crop. Even with good quality seeds, yield is not high when sowed in hard soil. The seeds may not even germinate if the soil is not ready to support germination and growth. Preparation of the soil for growing the crop is very essential. The land is to be tilled and prepared for receiving the seeds and support germination. Addition of good quality manure would support the growth of plants by providing nutrients. Proper watering from time to time either by seasonal rains or irrigational facilities is required. Sunshine further supports proper growth of leaves and enhances yield. Weeds also grow well in these conditions as all the ingredients are supportive of their growth too! De-weeding is another important activity in the growth process. Any laxity in this process will result in good yield of weeds instead of beans.

Beans cultivation is one of the simplest example for raising a crop. There are many other complex crops like long term crops and plantation crops. Even here, the principles are the same. Land is to be prepared well, good quality manure and adequate water is to be provided and healthy environment is to be created for harvesting a bountiful crop. Any compromise in preparation and process would hurt the basic objectives of raising the crops for getting a good yield and making the venture profitable.

Curd Rice is a very popular dish in the Indian subcontinent. It is also prepared and consumed in other parts of the world. Many in South India consider a sumptuous lunch or dinner incomplete without curd rice. On an average day in such a household, cooked rice is consumed with curd or butter milk. But on a festival day or special occasion, a special curd dish is prepared and served at the end of the lunch or dinner. In some hotels, preparation of curd rice is more for giving an outlet to use left over cooked rice. It is made very watery and often its very sight repulses the eater. 

What is the best method to prepare Curd Rice? The following method can be used as it is tried and tested. 

Two parts of thick solid curd is to be mixed with one part of milk in a vessel. Mustard seeds, Bengal gram dal, Urad dal with curry leaves (kari patta) are to be seasoned (oggarane) in ghee and added to this mixture of curd and milk. Cashew nut pieces enhance the taste. Grated coconut is to be added liberally to this liquid and mixed well. This process itself will give out the aroma of curd rice even before rice is added to the mixture. Freshly cooked rice is to be added in small quantities to this liquid mixture till a right consistency is reached. Any dilution should be done only by using curd and milk mixture and not water. Adding curd to rice will never give the real taste of curd rice. Many people add other ingredients like onion pieces, coriander leaves, cucumber, grapes or pomegranate etc. It is a matter of opinion, but the real taste of curd rice is obtained without any of these items. All these items retain their own smell and taste and do not integrate themselves with the mixture.

Curd rice, or any other item for that matter, is at its best when three conditions are satisfied. All the ingredients used are to be of good quality. Even if one of the items is of inferior quality, it drags down the overall quality of the item. The utensils or tools used should also be of the ideal size and shape. Working with odd sized utensils or implements/tools is a big pain and those working in kitchen know this quite well. The process of preparation should also be faithfully followed. Compromising with the process will diminish the quality of the items. A few minutes of less heating results in undercooking. A few minutes of over heating will also spoil the items. Thus the right quality of the items prepared is the culmination of three things: quality of the ingredients, using the right tools and ensuring the diligent following of the proper process.

Principles of growing a beans crop or reparation of curd rice is equally applicable to learning and teaching. The objectives of learning are achieved when the following three conditions are fulfilled:

  • The first requirement is the availability of proper learning tools. The learning content should be ideal for the objectives and prepared to suit the learner's profile. The tools (teaching or training aids) used in the learning process are also to be matched with the objectives and pace of expected learning. 

  • Pre-learning is similar to the preparation made for raising a crop or cooking a dish. Pre-class study or pre-course study provides the proper background for receiving the enhanced learning inputs in face-to-face learning or further learning through other methods.

  • Following the prescribed learning process ensures that the learning takes place on the desired lines and full benefit of the learning aids and preparation made for the course is achieved. Compromise in learning process has the same effect of under cooking or over cooking of a dish. 

Just as a good yield is obtained in raising a crop or proper satisfaction is achieved in consuming a well-prepared dish, desired learning outcomes are achieved by following the above three; Proper learning tools or aids, vigorous preparatory learning and faithfully following the prescribed learning process.