Sunday, April 8, 2018

Your Name Is On The Tree


The village school teacher had come to the bank to withdraw some money from his personal account. I had recently taken charge of that branch. After his work was done, he came to the Manager's room (a room was made into a manager's cabin in the village building housing the bank branch) to discuss about a "Gramsabha" (village meeting) to be held for identifying some beneficiaries for the loan schemes sponsored by the government. Among the few educated people in the nearby villages (this was some thirty years ago), he was respected by the villagers and helpful in conducting such meetings in an orderly manner. Gramsabha can be a tricky affair due to various political affiliations and local politics. Persons commanding the respect of all villagers can be very handy in managing such meetings. This teacher was one of such personalities.

A farmer was waiting outside the room to meet me. He had apparently walked some distance in the hot sun in the summer month. As the talk with the teacher would take sometime, I called him to the room to attend to him. He reluctantly came in as the teacher was sitting in front of me. He was carrying four tender coconuts in his hands and placed them near the door. He stood before us and did not sit on the chair despite being asked to do so. I told him that I would not talk to him unless he was seated. He sat on the chair only after the teacher also urged him to sit. He wanted to grow some Tomato in his land and wanted a crop loan. I told him that I would visit his village the next morning and see his land and attend to his request. He thanked me and the teacher and left the room. As he was leaving, I reminded him to take the tender coconuts he had kept near the door which he had forgotten while going out.

The teacher started laughing and told me that I was punishing the poor fellow. i did not understand what was the import of his statement. "He has carried the tender coconuts in the hot son this far to give it to you. You are asking him to take it back all the way in the hot sun again. Do not trouble him by asking him to take them back. Please accept them. This is the way villagers show respect to people like you", he said. I took out a ten rupee note from my purse, handed it to him and asked him to have tea in the roadside tea shop. He looked at the teacher and after he nodded his head, took the note hesitantly and went away, leaving the coconuts at the door.
*****

There are regular visits of many officials to villages for various reasons. Villagers who grow fruits and vegetables in their lands believe in sharing some of it with visiting officials. Seasonality decides the availability of such fruits and vegetables. As the officials attend to their work, someone in the village takes the lead and collects such items. The bag is kept in the visitor's vehicle by the time the work is done and the visitor is ready to leave the village. This is a courtesy extended by the villagers and is accepted as well. It is neither demanded nor refused when offered. That is the way life goes on in the villages. At least, that was how it was in those days. 
*****

The bus was overcrowded when it pulled to a stop at the roadside shelter of the village, on the hot Saturday afternoon. I somehow got inside the bus and was wondering how the journey would be for the next hundred kilo meters. The bus conductor always has a seat near the back entrance of the bus. Conductors are unable to sit there when the bus is full and they keep moving inside the bus selling tickets and collecting money. But he always has the right of sitting there and can ask anyone sitting there to get up and vacate the seat. The conductor had got down at the stop and he asked the person sitting in his seat to vacate the same and asked me to sit there. This was a big relief and I accepted it without a question. 

A villager entered the bus behind me carrying a big bag and asked me to make place below the seat to keep the bag. I told him to keep it elsewhere as sitting on the seat with the bag below the seat was inconvenient on the long journey. The conductor intervened politely and told me to make way for the bag. As the seat itself was given to me by his courtesy, I complied without murmur now. The journey continued on the hot day, but sitting near the window reduced the discomfort to some extent. But the bag below the seat had left very little space for the feet to move. The bus finally reached the city bus stand. I was the last to get down. As I got down from from the bus, the conductor asked me to wait and said he would get an autorikshaw for me. I told him not to worry. He insisted on hailing an auto, got one and asked a villager to put the bag that was kept below my feet in the bus in my auto. I looked at him in surprise.

"Sir, this bag is given by Manjunath to be sent with you. He has kept some fruits for you in the bag. I have been told to handle this. Please take this as otherwise Manjunath will scold me", he said. I thanked him and proceeded home with the bag in the auto.

The bag contained an assorted variety of mango fruits. They were indeed very tasty. Manjunath had probably chosen the best of fruits available in his garden. The "Malgova" variety fruits were especially tasty and the best we ever had.

*****

Manjunath was a young progressive farmer who also worked as a Lecturer in the nearby town college. He came to the bank in the next few days for some work. "What did you do Manjunath?", I asked. "Sir, I had to arrange with the bus conductor this way or else you would have refused to take the bag", he said. I thanked him for the sweet fruits. "I will be in this village at the most for one more year. But your Malgova mangos have captivated my taste buds. Please give me some fruits from your garden every year, wherever I am. I will pay for it for sure", I said.

"Sir, this is a special tree in my grove. I do not sell the fruits of this tree. It is reserved for my family and friends like you. From now on, Your name is on the tree. The fruits belong to you. They will always be yours. That will be my pleasure", he said.

*****

I have never been able to go that village again and see that tree. But sweeter than the mangos were the words of that farmer. Those words bring sweetness whenever they are remembered. There is no seasonality for that. It was one of the pleasures derived while serving in rural areas.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

You Are Always Late


Friction at cash counters is not an uncommon sight in bank branches. Modren technology has rendered counting of cash and detection of fake notes much simpler than what it used to be some forty years ago. When cash counting machines had not yet made their debut, and digital banking and Alternate Delivery Channels (ADCs) like ATMs, internet and mobile banking were not heard of, large volume of cash had to be examined and counted by cashiers each day. Cash was to be first counted and received, then sorted into issuable and soiled notes, stitched into packets of 100 notes each and bundled at 10 packets per bundle. All this took the required amount of time and could not be dispensed with. Handling cash is different from other banking chores and a cashier is accountable for every single piece of currency note he handles. Any shortage is to be made good by the handling cashier immediately. Small denomination notes and cut and mutilated notes add to the problem. "Clean Note Policy" has brought some semblance of discipline in handling currency notes by the general public nowadays. The most important development is routing of large number and volume of transactions through paper-based and electronic payment systems. Despite all this cash handling is still a sensitive issue at bank branches.

Many branches in those days (around 1980) were working in two shifts, for the convenience of customers mostly in residential areas. Branches in market and industrial areas were working between 10 AM to 5 PM with business hours up to 2 PM. Residential area branches were working in two shifts; say 8.30 AM to 12 Noon and again from 4.30 PM to 7.30 PM. Business hours in such branches was restricted to first two hours in each session, say 8.30 AM to 10.30 AM and again from 4.30 PM to 6.30 PM. These branches worked for half a day (morning session) on Sundays and had holidays on Mondays. This was the general pattern of working hours with margins of half an hour on either side. These timings were convenient to working people and housewives as they could finish their banking transactions before going to office or in the evening free time. It also suited many staff members for various reasons. Bank managements were also considerate in posting staff in these branches. A small allowance titled "Split Duty Allowance" was also paid to the staff members to compensate travel to the branch one more time each day. 

Customer inflow (Footfall is the word used used for this nowadays) used to be high in such branches in the first hour in the morning and last hour in the evening. Staff were keen to finish the work and go home as early as possible in the evening. Transport facilities were not this advanced then. Of course, there were not such traffic jams as well. Finishing work was relatively easy in other sections as some things could be carried over to the next day. But not so in cash department as all the prescribed steps had to be completed before the cash is closed for the day and stored in the strong room. Head Cashier and Cash in-charge were the last people to leave the branch in the evening.

A customer bringing large amount of cash, that too in small denominations, was like a Red Rag before the Cashier Bull. There would be some violent exchanges. The intensity depended on the nature of both the customer and the cashier and the chemistry between them. In one of the branches where I was working as Assistant Manager and Cash-in-charge, there used to be a small exchange between the cashier and some customers almost every day. A mother does not always interfere when her small children have fights at home. She keeps a watch and interferes only when the fight tends to go out of control and one of the kids is likely to be injured. I had followed the same policy. Things were working out fine generally, except a few occasions when some action was required to cool the frayed tempers. Branch Manager usually was away in the evenings on business development calls and not available to handle such situations.

There was one customer who always came in the evening twice a week; on Wednesdays and Saturdays. He would come just before closing time in the evening and remit large amount of cash for purchase of DDs. His appearance at the branch door would immediately create some tension for the cashier and the DD writer. DD writer would manage to find the amount and prepare the DD in advance, place it on my table and go home. But cashier did not have this luxury. He had to receive, count and close the cash systematically. One Saturday evening things went out of control. "You are always late. You bring large amount of cash and always in small denominations. Why can't you come early? Why don't you bring high denomination notes?  You are always making my home going very late", he was telling the customer in a raised voice. The cashier was recently married. Had he been married for several years, he would have probably welcomed the idea of going home late.

There was indeed a need for interfering now. I called the customer and enquired what was the nature of his business. He was the proprietor of a Poultry Farm situate some 20 miles from our branch. He told me that Wednesday and Saturday were his collection days. He would be busy entire mornings in his farm looking after the birds, feeding them, collecting eggs and segregating broiler birds for delivery. After loading the eggs and birds into his delivery van after lunch, he would come into the city for delivering them and collecting payments for supplies made during the previous visits. This work would be over by sunset. With all the cash collections he would come to the branch, tender cash and buy DD for purchase of poultry feed for the next cycle. He had no control over the denomination of notes given by his customers. He politely said that he wants to come early, but his strict schedule does not allow him to come earlier than this.

I had a talk with the Branch Manager on the next day. I suggested that the cashier can be taken to the Poultry Farm during his next visit to enable the cashier to understand the problem of the customer. BM liked the idea and arranged for a visit to the poultry farm for the entire branch staff on a Sunday afternoon. This brought about a big change in the attitude of the cashier and the angry exchanges stopped. The customer and the cashier would greet each other now and carry on with their respective work. There was no early going for the cashier even now, but tension was reduced thereafter.

This episode gave a valuable lesson in people management at the branches. In the later years, during my field visits I took one or two staff members to the units, be they manufacturing units, trading ones or units of any other type. This brought staff at branch nearer to the customers and helped in appreciating the needs and constraints of the customers. 
*****

Empathy develops by seeing and experiencing things, not by mere words. People management skills are not a fixed schedule; they have to be invented and adapted depending on the given situations. Each delicate situation does indeed have some solution. These solutions have to be found by a little effort and imagination.

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.