Saturday, September 26, 2015

Grandparents Day

I miss you when we're not together
I'm growing up so fast
See how big I've gotten
Since you saw me last?

As I grow, I'll change a lot,
The years will fly right by,
You"ll wonder how I grew so quick
When and where and why?

So look upon this handprint
That's hanging on your wall.
And memories will come back of me,
When I was very small.

Happy Grandparents Day!


You have a day, for almost everything nowadays. Valentine's Day. Mother's day. Father's day. Women's day. Fools day. Kiss day. Hug day. Heritage day. Earth day, Yoga day, ........... and so on. It often becomes a routine marketing and selling tool. Some twenty years ago or earlier, one had to go to a Greeting Card shop, pay for a card and buy it, write or sign on the card, stick stamps on the envelope and post it. There was a thrill when the card arrived by post with someone's handwriting on it.  It did carry some sincere feeling behind it. It would be carefully kept and seen many times later as well.  It was a person-to-person greeting.

Technology has rendered Greeting on a special day a very simple affair. Face Book has made it even simpler.  There is no need to remember a special day. There is also no need to remember the special day to greet someone. One can write on the timeline after being reminded about it by the computer system. It can be pre-recorded and the system will release it automatically on the due date. You can sit for a few minutes and record all greetings for the next one year and be done with it. The sender does his duty and the receiver cannot differentiate between a genuine greeting and a routine greeting. Not just the person greeted, the whole world knows who greeted whom. And who liked who greeting whom.  

Watching the various stages of development of a child is a very interesting aspect of life. Nature has made development of a human child into adult as a long drawn process, among all animals. An elephant calf struggles and stands on its feet within a few minutes after its birth. Thereafter, it runs behind the mother and gets very little assistance and grows into an adult elephant. It is the same with other smaller animals as well. The growth stages are covered in a few days and then the new born is on its own. There is no concept of "Maternity Leave" or "Paternity Leave" for them. A human child takes several years to reach a similar stage. Watching a child grow is as interesting a process as the difficulty of nurturing it during those long years. The process needs the efforts and support of many others in the society and not just the mother as happens in the case of other animals. The capacity to understand and enjoy the many stages of development of the child by the parents and adults around the child, makes it even more interesting and enjoyable.   

Missing the thrill of observing a child grow is a big loss in one's life. Requirements of modren life and the demands of employment and livelihood rob many parents of the opportunity of watching their children grow. There is an even bigger pleasure in watching the grandchild grow up.  As a friend so humorously remarked, man has more interest in the interest (grandchild) than the principal (child). Fortunately, technology is today coming to aid bridging this gap to some extent. Skype or Facetime allows live viewing of the growth stages from a distance. Photographs and video recording can also be used to remedy the situation to some extent. But the pleasure of watching the growth process in person and directly is something else.  

Devaki and Yashoda are the two outstanding examples of persons missing the pleasure of watching the important stages of the life of a child. Krishna was taken away from Devaki even before she had seen the new born child properly. The next she saw him was when he had grown up as a big boy, capable of killing Kamsa and releasing her and his father Vasudeva from the prison.  Yashoda was lucky enough to see all the developmental stages of little Krishna. What was Devaki's loss was Yashoda's gain. It is said that Krishna arranged a meeting of Devaki and Yashoda later on, to enable Devaki to hear about Krishna's growth years from her. 

Yashoda too had her share of complaints. She complained to Krishna that she was deprived of watching Krishna's marriage ceremonies!  In order to compensate for this loss, it is said that Krishna arranged for her being born as Bakulavati, and as a foster mother she was given the opportunity of leading and watching the marriage process of Srinivasa or Lord Balaji with princess Padmavathi.  

We arrived just in time to participate in the "Grandparent's Day" arranged by the "Children's Academy", celeberated last wednesday. It was a touching function with grandparents of nearly 50 children in attendance. A lot of activities were planned by the academy and the outdoor session in bright sunshine was the highlight of the day. There was excellent music and merriment all around. Each grandparent got a special gift, a greeting card from the grandchild, like the one given in the photograph above. It was a day to cherish and remember.  

"Certain things in life are priceless", the advertisement from MasterCard says. "There are some things money can't buy. For everything else, there is MasterCard", it adds.

The child that gave the greeting card did not know what was written there and what it meant. But the print of the little hand on the card did the job. Grandparents who received them understood what they said. The card hanging on the wall will remind this for a long time to come. It indeed is priceless!  

Sunday, September 20, 2015

East meets West

"East meets West" is a popular phrase, used in many contexts. It is used in political conclaves, trade circles, sports, cultural and educational exchanges, and scientific interactions. For the believers, The Lord created one world, but we have succeeded in dividing into many fractions; thereby giving birth to many problems that plague humanity today. East and West are the two bigger fractions among them. Well-known American violinist Yehudi Menuhin and Indian Sitarist Pandit Ravi Shankar gave Violin-Sitar duet recitals fifty years ago in the Bath Music Festival and the event was titled "West meets East". An album was released next year, in 1967, with the same title and the album was hugely popular. Where East actually meets West is purely a matter of opinion and there can be a three-day symposium at the end of which no conclusion would be reached.

With the growth in Aviation Industry and large movement of people between continents, some centers have grown prominently to provide a transit point for the people moving from east to west and west to east. Traditional transit centers like London and Paris have been joined by Frankfurt and recently Dubai in providing popular connections between cities in the east and the west on the trans-Atlantic routes. Hong Kong and Singapore provide similar transit stations on the trans-Pacific routes. Air India and United Airlines offer direct flights from India to USA to avoid transit points during the flights. But the cities served are restricted to Delhi/Mumbai in India and New York/Newark and Chicago in the USA. Passengers traveling from other cities in the two countries have to necessarily take a domestic flight at either end, thus making the journey a two flight affair anyway.  Further, these flights are ultra-long 16 hour flights and many do not prefer such long haul flights. Transit points in London, Paris and Frankfurt offer a near middle point with two almost equal duration flights. Taking a Dubai stopover would still leave an option of a 12 hour long flight.

Frankfurt is the largest financial, educational and cultural center in continental Europe and naturally a popular transit center between East and West aviation routes. Frankfurt claims to have the oldest airport  in aviation history, which was operating from a different location in the city, since 1909. The present airport is a hub of modren efficiency and fascinates a keen observer of airport operations.  Frankfurt Airport is presently 11th busiest airport in the world and handles 60 million passengers a year besides over 2 million metric tons of cargo. The airport spread over 5,000 acres with four runways has a take-off or landing each second and has facility to handle all types of aircrafts including the huge wide-bodied Airbus A-380 and Boeing 747-800. The airport has won the award for "The most enjoyable airport to spend time in, and leader in terms of flights and destinations offered". A careful observation during the  average transit time of 3 to 4 hours brings out the highlights of the clock-work precision with which a huge modern airport is managed. The thoroughness of the security checks impresses a seasoned traveler, though it may be irritating at times. When one understands the necessity of such checks in today's world, there is no bitterness in the outcome of such checks. The systematic arrangement and facilities for movement of people between the big terminals without crowding impresses the tourists.

Our transit halt at Frankfurt this time on 18th September coincided with the 66th IAA Frankfurt Motor Show 2015, held on 17th and 18th September 2015 for trade enquiries followed by public days up to 27th September 2015. The theme of the show was "Digitizing Mobility".  A small car show started in 1897 with only 8 motor vehicles at the Bristol Hotel in Berlin has now grown into a huge biennial show attracting developers, manufacturers, dealers and users from across the globe. Electric cars were the prominent attraction during the current show in Frankfurt. The show resulted in an increased traffic at the airport and all flights were full to capacity.  

It is advisable to keep some Euros when you pass through Frankfurt Airport though, even if you are only a transit passenger. The short flight change time will certainly leave you thirsty and you would like to drink water. A half liter mineral water bottle costs 5 US Dollars in an airport outlet and the change comes in Euros! It is better for beer users since a half liter mug of excellent German beer can be had there for three dollars. A cup of excellent Cappuccino coffee, large enough for being shared by two or even three, can be had for 2 Euros and 90 cents. All other food items are priced comparable to airports elsewhere, but water is an honorable exception. Keep Euros in the pocket or develop a taste for the better and bitter beer! 

A transit stop at Frankfurt airport is indeed a true insight into "East meets West". You can hear more Indian languages in the waiting lounges of the Frankfurt airport than anywhere else. A large number of the passengers are senior Indian citizens, going to either meet their sons and daughters abroad or returning from a similar trip. Half of this group is on an onward journey looking for the excitement of the arrival of a grand child or just finished attending to such an event. You can see anxious elders on their first trip or veterans of several such visits who appear to have an answer to all travel related problems. Each stopover at Frankfurt airport is a unique experience and if the eyes and ears are open, an excellent study for human nature and behavior. 

A stopover at Frankfurt airport is a witness to "East meets West" on daily basis. It is not just that. It is a model of modren scientific achievements and human efficiency. It goes unnoticed as long as things are going as expected.  It gets noticed only when something goes wrong, which fortunately happens very rarely.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Missing the "Heavenly Glory"

"Enter the Dragon" is a delightful English action movie, released in 1973. The movie was directed by Robert Clouse, but it is known more for the action scenes of Bruce Lee, who played the lead role of his own name, Lee. It is said that Bruce Lee had a hand in making of the entire movie that brought wide fame for him.  Lee, the main character in the film, is a member of the Shaolin temple and is approached by a secret intelligence group to infiltrate an island owned and managed by a master criminal Hans. Lee has his own personal and family reasons to take up the assignment. Lee succeeds in destroying the entire island infrastructure that supported the criminal activities. The film was hugely popular and ran to full houses. Produced at a cost of around 9 million US Dollars, it grossed 90 million US Dollars at first release and was considered as a runaway success four decades ago.

There is an interesting introduction to this movie. Just when the representative of the secret intelligence group Braithwaite comes to talk to Lee, a young student of Lee approaches him for his daily lessons in martial arts. Lee excuses himself for a few minutes and attends to the student. Lee asks the student to kick him. Student is confused as he does not understand that it is a part of the lesson. Lee again asks the student to kick him. Students attempts a kick and ends with a feeble attempt. Their talk goes on like this:

Lee: What was that? An exhibition?  We need emotional content. Now try again.

The student tries again, but it does not impress Lee.

Lee: I said "emotional content." Not anger! Now try again!

Student now tries and succeeds.

Lee: That's it! How did it feel?

The student thinks and gets smacked on the head by Lee.

Lee: Don't think. Feeeeel. It is like a finger pointing at the moon.

As Lee points his finger to the moon, the student looks at the finger; not the moon and gets smacked again.
Lee: Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of the heavenly glory!

Student bows and gets hit on the head again.  
Lee: Never take your eyes off your opponent.... even when you are bowing!

Student bows again with his eyes on Lee.  Lee says, "that's better".  Student walks away. Then the credits are shown and the film begins.

The three pictures shown above, taken from the internet, sum up the lesson given by the master to the young disciple.

Last five decades have seen unprecedented developments in inventions and application of technology. There was a time when wrist watches were rare and radio was considered a luxury. Advent of telephone and computers changed the life styles as well as its content itself. Mobile telephone and its various variants have further simplified life on one side as well as complicated on the other. What started as a simple speaking device for communication has now assumed "Vishwaroopa" and has become all pervading. Music playing on the mobiles has robbed all pleasures of a morning walk for a silence lover. Cameras in mobiles has further transformed the surroundings. The pleasure of clicking photos, waiting for them to be developed and printed are no longer necessary. Whenever there is a situation or function, there are no participants now. It is only mobilegraphers everywhere now. Everyone clicks on and on. There is no interest in the activity per se; all interest is in arresting the happenings in the mobile!  Nobody wants to see the proceedings first hand. All pleasure is in viewing it on the mobile, though it is second hand.

Mobile Selfie-stick has been identified as one of the invention of the year and has made mobile photography even more of a pastime. When students are asked to write down their assets and liabilities in an Accountancy class, they forget cash in the wallet but remember the Selfie-stick in the hostel room! All outings and picnics have become selfie shootouts. A young couple on a trip to Kashmir spent their entire week on taking the pictures on mobile selfie stick. The mighty Himalayas or the serene Sindh river were not important; what mattered was the picture of themselves on the mobile.  As you are reading this, you belong to one of the two categories; either you are a selfie fan or you have outlived your utility. 

Recently there was a news item about two friends who wanted to take a selfie with the view of a running train behind them. They ended up below the running train. Today there is a news item of another youth who fell down and died while taking selfie in Alekhan falls near Charmadi Ghats of the westren hills range.  There are many more such incidents that we read regularly in the media.


Lee's lesson to the young student makes eminent sense even more today. Mobile is a tool for us to lead a better life.  But we are more interested in looking at the finger that is pointing to the moon.  Thereby missing all the heavenly glory.

Of course, this could be a minority opinion.  An overwhelming majority is standing on the other side and making fun of us. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

What is Talent?

"Talent" is a word often used to describe performance, be it in performing arts, literature or sports or such other fields. Reality show "India's Got Talent" (IGT) being telecast on the lines of the Global Reality Show "Got Talent" is hugely popular. More and more people are glued to the TV sets and the number of participants is also ever increasing. There are encouraging words about the show and participants. There are also concerns about the pressures that are brought on young minds and bodies to perform in the shows.  IGT is a hot topic of discussions in parties and social circles. 

What is "Talent"?  What are its features and characteristics? When can it be said that someone has a talent in a given field? How is it interpreted and measured? What is the view of western scholars about talent?  Has there been any reference to "Talent" in Indian Literature? These are interesting questions and an effort to answer them makes an interesting study.

Dictionary meaning of talent has two interpretations. Romans and Greeks used the word talent as a unit of weight or money. At one time, one talent of gold was considered equal to two talents of silver. However, the exact measure was varying in different areas. The more appropriate meaning for the word talent in the present context is the second one. It refers to "a special natural ability or aptitude" or "a capacity for achievement of success". It relates to the power of mind or body considered as given to a person for use and improvement. It means the skill someone has for quite naturally to do something that others find hard to emulate. It can be for music, dancing, acting or sports. It is an intellectual giftedness and corresponds to levels significantly higher than the average levels had by others and often extraordinarily  brilliant. Such talents in a child may persist and develop as a trait in adult life. It may disappear in some later on or fail to stand up to higher levels of demand.  Failure of many child artists in adult roles later in life is due to such failures. Some may have strong mathematical talent but not commensurate language skills.  

Westren thoughts on talent studies are said to be not yet settled. In the early part of 20th century, Dr Lewis Terman, an american psychologist and educationalist worked extensively on talent studies and equated giftedness with IQ. While working with Stanford Graduate School of Education, he studied methods of giving educational instructions to gifted children who were considered as genius. Psychometricians and Psychologists are still working on the various dimensions of talent studies. The talent studies reveal that it revolves around motivation, high self concept and creativity.  Whether talent can be developed by hard work and devoting longer hours at a given field is another important issue.  While it is reasonable to assume that hard work and longer hours of training would result in better nurturing of a given talent, there appears to be a point beyond which any further efforts may not yield commensurate rewards.

Is there any reference to "talent" in Indian Literature? It most certainly is and that too as far back as 1000 years! The equivalent word for 'Talent" is "प्रतिभा" (Pratibha).  Bhatta Touta (or Bhatta Taata) has very clearly defined "Pratibha" in his work "Kaavya Koutuka". Acharya Abhinava Gupta has acknowledged Bhatta Touta as one of his Gurus and said to have even written a commentary on Kavya Koutuka, by name "Vivarana".  Unfortunately, both Kavya Koutuka and Vivarana are not available.  Bhatta Touta and Abhinava Gupta lived in Kashmir in the 10th century AD.  Though the original texts are not available, Bhatta Touta's definition of "Pratibha" is quoted in many literary works from 10th century onwards. It reads as under:

प्रज्ञा नवनावोल्लेखशलिनी प्रतिभा मता |  तदनुप्राणनाजीवद् वर्णना निपुणः कविः ||

Pragnaa navanavollekhashalini pratibha mataa,
Tadanupranajeevad varnanaanipunah kavihi.        

Pratibha (Talent) is the ability to bring out some newer things again and again. With Pratibha (Talent) as base, one who can eloquently describe life is considered as a poet. (This is only an approximate English translation and fails to bring the total ethos of the definition). 

To sum up, Pratibha (Talent) can be defined as "The urge to create something new erupting continuously and spontaneously".  What we generally refer to as talent is often a capacity to imitate something which is already done by someone else and not talent in its original and unadulterated meaning!