Monday, December 26, 2016

Your Child Is Fine!

One of the biggest concerns for young parents is the health of their little ones. Just as the pleasure of seeing a child grow has few equals, watching them suffer during their illness has few equals in pain. The problem is somewhat muted when there is elderly support at home. The experience of the earlier generation in seeing through such difficult times acts as a balm to the young couple. If such comfort is not available to young parents, they are left to fend for themselves and see the child recover to normal health. It need not be any serious illness that requires long hospitalization; even a bout of severe cold or fever makes young parents very uncomfortable. The problem is even more acute for parents who are both working, with similar working hours. 

Forty years ago, health care was not this advanced. Working women with no elderly support at home had to take the help of creche or daycare facilities to tend to babies and toddlers when they were to be away at offices. These centers neither had adequate facilities for tending to sick children nor was any element of professionalism in running them. These were run by either people who desired to supplement their incomes or those with service mind to some extent, save for rare exceptions. Income levels of working mothers was also not sufficient to afford good daycare facilities. A sudden telephone call from the creche (mobiles were not heard of then) would make the mother (or father in some cases) drop all the work at the office and run to the creche to take the child home. Caretakers were naturally not willing to risk the health of other kids by holding back a sick child. 

With the sick child at home now, the parents had to wait for the doctor's shop to open for medical help. They had to wait in the normal line with other patients. Each moment of wait at the clinic was a torture for them. The medicines prescribed by the doctor were sometimes not available at the Medical Shop. There were instances when the parent had to search the entire area by going from shop to shop to get the prescribed medicine. The medicines had some side effects as well. When the problem became acute in the middle of the night, waiting till the morning for the doctor's shop to open was indeed an endless wait for the anxious parents.

Parents were much better prepared for dealing with sickness of the second child. The invaluable experience in dealing with the troubles of the first child would have given them both strength and patience to manage the situations. Suffering was no less now, but the ability to withstand the suffering would have increased. We all old timers went through these anxious days at one time or the other.

Observing developed childcare facilities today is indeed an experience. Cost of treatment has no doubt increased manifold, but income levels have also gone up at least for some sections of the society. Medical insurance has become an important part of our lives and provides some relief to sick patients and young parents. The type of facilities provided and support extended by hospitals in advanced countries is indeed an indicator of the quality of life there. Some visits to the childcare hospitals accompanying young mothers and their kids recently was a very educative and heartening experiences. Some of the highlights are as under:
  • Records of the child's birth and all subsequent visits are maintained by the children hospitals on their computers. The information can be viewed by the parents as well. There is no need for searching volumes of paper records when you take a sick child to the hospital in an emergency.
  • All details of immunization requirements are mapped in advance and available for scheduling appointments at the appropriate time. In case of difficulties, appointments can be changed over phone.
  • Medication is generally discouraged and the emphasis is on developing natural immunity. Taking the child immediately to the hospital is also somewhat discouraged. Anxious parents can speak to the nurse or hospital for guidance. For normal cold or fever, no medication is recommended. A child is to be taken only if the temperature crosses 105* F. 
  • Parents can call the helpline and summon ambulance with paramedics at all times of day and night. 
  • Emergency facilities are open 24 hours and sick child is attended immediately.
  • There are separate waiting rooms for children with regular appointments and those who arrive on sickness emergencies. Mixing of sick kids with other children is totally avoided.
  • There are a series of examination rooms at the centre. A trained nurse receives the child in one of these rooms and checks temperature, weight and other desired parameters. The details are fed to the computers in the room and the nurse proceeds to the other room to see the next child.
  • The Pediatrician arrives thereafter and verifies the data in the computer before examining the child. The examination is courteous and smooth. 
  • There is no dispensing of medicine through paper prescriptions. The doctor enters the details of the medicines, method of administration and time intervals in the computer. Details of the items are mailed to a pharmacy of the parent's choice immediately.
  • Sick child and the parent do not come into contact with other children and parents at the centre in examination rooms as well.
  • By the time the parent drives the child to the Pharmacy on the way home, pharmacy keeps the items ready for delivery. The parent can pick up the prescribed medicine from the Pharmacy on the way home.
  • In case of any problem of dispensing the prescribed item by the pharmacy, the issue is sorted out by the pharmacy with the doctor directly.
  • There is no requirement for payment at the pharmacy if the amount payable is within the insurance coverage available for the child. Only the difference amount is to be paid in case of necessity.
  • Pharmacies have drive-in facilities for picking up medicine. This prevents the parent from taking out the child from the car seat and take it inside the pharmacy. There is least inconvenience to the child and this also helps in avoiding contact with others at the Pharmacy.
  • Follow-up medical care can be had through telephone contact with the centre.


Some of these facilities may be available at major cities in our country. But smaller centers are still a long way to go. Availability of such facility in all places would enhance quality of life for all citizens. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Author, Writer and Editor

The words "Author", "Writer" and "Editor" are frequently used in the context of Literature and allied discussions. What is the connection and relation between these words? Do they mean the same thing or do they have different connotations? Are they interchangeable or is there a clear distinction between them? What is the right meaning of these words and when and how they should be used? What are the responsibilities of an author, a writer and an editor? Is there someone who can be considered and quoted as an author, a writer as well as an editor having done all the three different types of work at different times? It is indeed worthwhile to spend a few minutes and ponder over these issues to have a proper understanding of them.

In general parlance, the words writer and author are understood with the same meaning. A writer is one who writes something that can be read by himself and others. "Scribe" is the actual word to be used for such persons. A person who takes down what is dictated to him in the form of words is a writer. A stenographer is thus a writer when he reproduces the dictated part in words. A writer may also create a copy of an existing work or document by making a duplicate of it. There is a subtle difference between a writer and an author. Anyone who has a published independent work to his credit, may be in the form of a book (or e-book nowadays), is considered as an author. Thus there is a clear and major difference between a writer and an author. The writer generally has no responsibility of the contents of the document or piece except for a faithful reproduction of what is dictated to him or available in the original document. He is usually an employee and not an independent person. The term "clerical error" can be attributed to him but not to an author. On the other hand, an author has a legal responsibility and also enjoys the associated rights with the creation of the work. What he creates should be a original work. Authoring a work involves a lot of skills and talent and is usually a product of inspiration. Though the word 'Writer" is often used to mean an author, we have to keep this difference in mind while understanding usage of these two words.

An Editor is one who selects and revises available material for publication or wider reading. Editing is the process of selecting and preparing written material for conveying to others. Nowadays, it can also be extended to visual, audio and film medium where the word "editing" is extensively used to indicate bringing out an acceptable form of communication from out of a large volume of material that may be unintelligible in its original form. Editing involves creative skills and precise set of methods. It is not a mechanical work and requires special traits. An editor ought to be studious, have command over the material or contents of the work and subject he is editing. Editing includes collection, correction, condensation, organization and modifications of the contents. All this is to be done without distorting the intentions of the original author or authors. The basic idea of editing is to bring out a correct, consistent, accurate and complete work. Correction includes rectification of errors that may have crept in the work over a period of time and in spelling and grammar as well. 

What are the duties and responsibilities of an 'Editor" and what are the defects that may crepe in while editing literary works? Saint-philosopher Ananda Tirtha Bhagavatpada of 13th Century, well-known as Shri Madhwacharya for his "Dwaita" philosophy, traveled the length and breadth of the country for collecting the various versions of Mahabharata available at that time. After scrutinizing them he authored his celebrated work "Mahabharata Tatparya Niryana", meaning the proper interpretation of Mahabharata. It is interesting to note that he has made a very pertinent observation about "Editing" in this work. He has enumerated the four different types of errors that crepe in while editing a work and summarized them as under:
क्वचित् ग्रन्थान् प्रक्षिपन्ति क्वचित् अन्तरितानापि |
कुर्यः क्वचिच्चव्यत्यासम् प्रमादात् क्वचिदन्यथा ||

Kwachit granthaan prakshipanti kwachit antaritaanapi
Kuryahkwachiccha vyatyaasam pramadaat kwachidanyathaa

Which are the four errors that come up while editing and an editor should beware? They are:
  1. Interpolation: Addition of what the editor desires - these contents are not there in the original work, but added by the editor since he likes it and wants that to find a place in what the reader ultimately gets to read.
  2. Deletion: Removing portions not liked by him while editing. Editor uses his logic and discretion for removal of part of the contents.
  3. Disorder: Rearranging the contents the way he wants and thus violating the intention of the original author or authors.
  4. Ignorance: Errors that crepe in due to the limited or insufficient knowledge of the editor, resulting in wrong content.
An editor would do well to be aware of these four pitfalls to ensure proper and faithful editing of literary and other works, especially of earlier periods. What is the remedy for an editor if he genuinely feels that he does not concur with the original author and has justifiable reasons for such differences? He has the option of giving his views as a suitable footnote. But he ought not interfere with the contents of the original texts.

That brings us to the important issue of whether there is any person who is an author, a writer as well as an editor? Well, there are many scholars who have enriched literature and other fields in many languages all over the world, by their invaluable contributions as authors, writers and editors. But the foremost and the earliest among them is well known to us. Sage Vyasa, popularly known as Veda Vyasa, is an author, writer as well as editor. He is regarded as the person who classified and edited the Vedas and brought them into present readable form from a maze of large volume of complex works. He wrote many of his other works himself and hence is a writer as well. That he requested and got the assistance of Lord Ganesha as a writer (scribe) and became the author of the epic Mahabharata is indeed a very well-known story!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

52 Steps to River Ganga

Effective communication is an art. Writing and speaking is also an art as they are integral to effective communication. Not everyone is endowed with the skills of speaking and writing effortlessly. When some people talk, it is difficult to understand what they actually wish to convey. It is indeed tough to understand what many people write. The many components of communication such as intent to communicate, composing the message for either writing or speaking out, choosing the right word for the occasion, finding the appropriate medium etc. call for considerable skills to make the art of communication effective. Some people are endowed with these qualities to an exceptional degree. It is a pleasure to read or listen to such talented people. Human brain is capable of doing all these actions at once. But all human brains do not work with the same efficiency. Some are extremely talented. They can give instant reply with wit or sarcasm to any subject hurled at them. They can play with words and thoughts effortlessly. What is talent? It is defined in many ways. Bhatta Touta has given a very wonderful meaning to this word "Talent". It is the urge to create something new continuously and spontaneously, and often without any apparent effort. Please Click Here to read a post on "Talent" as defined by Bhatta Touta.

Vengimandala, the region between Krishna and Godavari rivers in Andhra, has produced many brilliant and learned scholars and poets who displayed this type of tremendous talent of quick wit, wisdom and ability to play with words. Among these many scholars and poets, Jagannatha Panditaraja stands tall and holds his own place even after over three hundred years. Jagannatha was born in Manikhanda Agraharam (present Munganda in Amalapuram sub-division of East Godavari district) and lived in the early part of 17th century AD. He came from a family of scholars and was known for his immense capacity to construct poems on any subject instantaneously. He tried for support from contemporary Kings. Vijayanagara empire was on the decline and hence he moved up north and ended in the court of Jaipur Kings. There was a Kazi there, a Persian scholar who had learnt Sanskrit and was challenging the scholars in the King's court to debate with him in Sanskrit and Persian. He had defeated all the scholars present there. The Jaipur King wanted Jagannatha to try his turn. Jagannatha took six months time, learnt Persian and Koran and defeated the Kazi in debate. 

Jagannatha's fame reached the Mughal Kings in Agra. Emperor Shah Jahan advised the Jaipur King who was his subordinate to send Jagannatha to his royal court. Shah Jahan's eldest son Dara Shikoh had learnt Sanskrit and was instrumental in translating many Sanskrit epics to Persian. (Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi, who produced and acted in the lead role as "Chanakya" is on record to state that Dara Shikoh was responsible for translating 22 Upanishads to Persian and through Persian they reached Europe.) Dara Shikoh became a good friend of Jagannatha. Shah Jahan made Jagannatha as a court poet and conferred the title "Panditaraja" (King among scholars) on him.

Jagannatha has many literary works to his credit. His Rasa Gangadhara is a much acclaimed work in Alankara Shastra (Poetics). His other works are of high quality and his brilliance radiate form them. He was ruthless and arrogant in dealing with other poets and their works. He was a junior contemporary of the famous Advaita scholar Appaiah Deekshita and criticized his works with personal vengeance.  

There is a very interesting story about the life of Jagannatha Panditaraja. Once Emperor Shah Jahan and Jagannatha were playing chess. Shah Jahan became thirsty and wanted water. He rang the bell for water. A girl came from behind the curtain carrying a jug and served him water. Jagannatha looked at her and was captivated by her beauty. Even after she left and Shah Jahan made the next move on chess board, Jagannatha was still looking at the girl who was now standing behind the curtain. Shah Jahan asked Jagannatha whether he could make a poem to describe the girl's beauty. Jagannatha recited the following as if he was waiting for the call:
 इयं सुस्तनी मस्तकन्यस्तकुम्भा 
कुसुम्भारुणं चारुचेलं वसाना |
समस्तस्य लोकस्य चेतः प्रवृत्तिं 
जीत्वा घटे विन्यस्ययातीवधाती ||

Iyam sustani mastakanyastakumbhaa
Kusumbhaarunam charuchelam vasaana
samastasya lokasya chetah pravruttim
Jeetva ghate vinyasyayateevadhaatee

While appreciating her beauty, Jagannatha recited that while going away after serving water, she had arrested the life of those present there, filled the jug with it and taken away. The jug was heavier when she left despite pouring away the water in it!

Shah Jahan was much impressed and wanted to give a present to Jagannatha. Jagannatha asked the emperor for her hand in marriage. Shah Jahan told him that she was his foster daughter Lavangi and a Muslim girl and Jagannatha may not marry her being from a religious family. Jagannatha insisted on marrying her and the emperor agreed. Thus Jagannatha became the emperor's foster son-in-law. For the next twenty years Jagannatha Pandita had all the wealth and pleasures of life as the emperor's foster son-in-law. When Shah Jahan got a monument constructed for his wife Mumtaz, it is said that Jagannatha suggested to name the monument as "Mumtaz Mahal". Present name of Taj Mahal is derived from that.

In today's world Jagannatha's marriage to Lavangi may not matter at all, but in those days it was not received well by his contemporary scholars and poets. When emperor Shah Jahan fell ill later in his life and Aurangzeb took his place, Jagannatha had to move away from Agra and started to live in Varanasi. Jagannatha had bad days in Varanasi. Appaiah Deekshita was on his way to River Ganga with his disciples in the Panchaganga Ghat in Varanasi. He found someone lying on the steps of the Ghat and woke him up. He was startled to see that it was Jagannatha Pandita. What a fall for someone who had ruled the literary world as Panditaraja, he said. Moved by his comments, Jagannatha composed poems in praise of River Ganga instantaneously. As he recited the slokas of what is now known as "Gangalahari", the river waters rose a step level for each sloka. As he completed his 52nd sloka, the river waters reached him and took him away. How much truth is there in this story is not known, but he probably had a dip in the sacred river to atone for his sins of being arrogant with his contemporaries. The 52 steps of Panchagnaga Ghat and the 52 slokas of Gangalahari are a witness to this episode. 
A Tamil film titled "Lavangi" was produced based on the life of Jagannatha Pandita and Lavangi, in 1946. Yaragudipati Varada Rao, better known as Y V Rao, directed the movie and played the role of Jagannatha Pandita. Rao made some changes in the story to suit cinematic interests. The film showed that the young wife of Jagannatha who was left behind in his native place moved to Agra and changed herself as Lavangi to find her husband. B R Panthulu played the role of emperor Shah Jahan. Kumari Rukmini acted as Lavangi. It was considered as a trendsetter. The film was later dubbed in Hindi as well, but was not a success at box office. But it made another contribution to Indian cinema. Y V Rao and Kumari Rukmini fell in love and got married when the movie was being made. Yesteryears heroine Lakshmi (known as Julie Lakshmi) is the daughter of Y V Rao and Kumari Rukmini. As is well known, Lakshmi has acted and is acting in movies of all South Indian languages as well as Hindi and earned name and fame. She is a worthy successor to her father Y V Rao, who has the distinction of directing the first Kannada Talkie movie "Sati Sulochana" and many other contributions to the film world.

The legend of Jagannatha Pandita and his brilliant works continue to shine in literary circles. His name is taken with utmost respect whenever literary criticism and poetics are discussed.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Don't Touch to Please Touch

A command is an order given by a person in authority, generally, to his subordinates or juniors to follow. A set of such commands becomes a code or manual that is to be followed by those at whom it is directed. Ancient Indian scholar Jaimini who lived 2400 years ago (4th Century BC), is famous for his treatise Purva Mimansa Sutras that classified Vedic commands based on their binding nature. One of the classifications is Vidhi and Nisheda. Vidhi is a positive command that directs to do a particular act. "Tell the Truth" is a positive command and hence a Vidhi. A command that directs not to do a particular act is a negative direction and is known as Nisheda. "Do not covet the property of others" is a Nisheda command. 

We were a generation brought up with such Vidhi and Nisheda commands. Whatever we did was mostly in the form of obeying a Vidhi order. Whatever we desisted from doing was also obeying a Nisheda directive. Children who followed these rules were considered to have good behavior. Kids violating such rules were frowned upon. Frequent violation of the rules would result in some punishment. Any child not respecting the commands was considered as a bad child. Among the many such rules were the ones of keeping children from touching many things at home and outside. "Don't Touch" was a standard order given to children. Natural curiosity of children was curbed and they were barred from handling valuable and fragile items. Did this promote better discipline among them? It is indeed a debatable matter. Today's children do not appear to have as much Nisheda commands as we had. Or even if there are, they do not care. Excessive controls kill the enterprise in the children. They need freedom to flower and grow. How much of freedom is good is now a matter of opinion. This is an endless debate for generations.

A "Museum" is defined as a place or a building where works of art, scientific specimens, or other objects of permanent value are kept and displayed. There are several museums allover the world and a tourist's itinerary usually has visits to one or the other museum in a big city. Some of these museums need a full day or more to have a meaningful view of them. Some museums also provide a brochure giving details of highlights in the place to see depending on the time at the disposal of the tourists. The most common sign boards that can be seen in such places is the "Do Not Touch" sign. Important artifacts are kept behind barricades and can be viewed only from a distance. Some museums also provide benches a few feet away from the items or paintings to enable the viewer to sit, view and appreciate the beauty of the displayed item. Touching some very valuable items may even trigger an alarm and alert the security personnel. 

Don't Touch is the rule in such museums. It is indeed difficult to manage children in such places. They have not reached the age to appreciate the beauty of the displayed items. The items that appear beautiful to them are not displayed there. Fortunately there are some museums dedicated exclusively to meet the interests of children. But they are far and few. "Museum of childhood" in Edinburgh, Scotland is a museum that attracts children and adults alike. During our visit to this museum some years ago, we were surprised to find the items used by the children to play from all parts of the world, including what we consider as exclusive to our local areas. The thousands of dolls and other items displayed are indeed a thrill to watch. Of course, we are not allowed to touch them, as in any other museum.
There are a few museums that allow children to touch and feel the objects displayed in them. Scientific museums provide levers or switches that can be handled by them to understand the scientific principles and their application in daily life. Please Touch Museum in the Fairmount Park of Philadelphia is a museum exclusively for children of up to seven years of age. As the name itself suggests, children are welcome to touch and feel each and every item in the museum. The museum gives ten reasons as to why children should visit the museum and why parents are to take them there. The displays in the museum aim to answer the endless questions of children like How? and Why? It is a place where adults learn too along with children. More than 25,000 toys are at the disposal of children. They can experience many real life things they see each day but are forbidden from touching and feeling. They can sit in the driver's seat of a SEPTA bus or a car, fill gas into a car on their own and act as a toll collector. The river pond provides opportunity to play freely in flowing water with plastic ducks and other such animals. There is a "Wonderland" to develop literary skills and they can sing along their favorite rhymes with recording systems.

Children have an exclusive railway station and train to act as a driver of the engine, ticket collector or passengers. They have supermarket to shop for groceries and a kitchen where they can store the purchased items in refrigerator and containers. The real experience of cooking and serving a meal to their parents is available without fire. Safety of children and accompanying adults has been given primary importance. There is a "Please Touch" Garden as well as a Space Station. An Imagination Playground provides soft plastic moulds that can be used to build anything as per their imagination. There are bookstores, shoe store and library and a hospital unit as well to learn basics of their working. Several Toddler Zones provide safe playing zones to kids under three years of age. There are many other attractions that help children play as well as learn. The joy on the face of the children matches their abundant energy levels. The Cafeteria takes care of the eating requirements of the children and parents during the day. A very well maintained 110 year old Carousal with 52 hand carved animals is a big draw with the children. Usually parents are charged for a ride and children ride free in many places. But here, children have to buy a one dollar ticket per ride but parents and adults ride free! Birthday parties can be scheduled here. Other events like weddings and social functions with gatherings up to 3,000 people can be held on prior arrangement with the museum authorities.

The only problem parents face when they take children to this museum is that they do not want to come out of it. Even a promise of bringing them back next week does not satisfy them. They keep running from one attraction to another and keeping track of them indeed required quite an effort.

From the times of Nisheda of "Do not Touch" to the mild Vidhi of "Please Touch", we have come a long way! Let the children enjoy the freedom as we enjoy watching their enjoyment.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Do you have change, Please?

The line leading to the toll booth gate was growing by the minute. The wait appeared to be endless for the occupants of the waiting vehicles. Government had just demonitized high value currency notes as a tool to fight black money menace. Everyone was rushing to his or her destination. The government had waived toll charges on all National Highways for a short period, but this was a private toll road and such waiver was not recognized here. As a part of demonitization process, 500 and 1000 Rupee notes were not legal tender anymore and were required to be surrendered to the banks. 2000 rupee notes were said to have been released but not much in circulation as they were still on their way to the banks. Small denomination notes were not in adequate supply and people did not care much for them as their purchasing power was also too small for any meaningful use. Even beggars would not accept small denomination notes now. Government felt that use of electronic money would alleviate all cash shortage problems. But electronic money receiving gadgets were not in use in this toll booth. Beggars, small merchants and such toll booths were not yet caught in the electronic money tsunami. For all of them, Cash was still the King.

At last the vehicle reached the toll booth. The driver tried to hand over a 500 rupee note to the booth operator. Booth operator looked at it but did not touch it. "Do you have change, please?" he asked. The driver said he did not and added that nobody had change these days. "Go on and pay the toll at the exit point", said the booth operator looking at the long line of vehicles. The driver nodded and pressed the accelerator pedal. One hurdle was cleared.

As he approached the booth at the other end, the driver again showed the 500 rupee note to the booth operator. The booth operator asked the same question about change and the driver repeated his answer. Booth operator sighed, swung his hand and by that gesture asked the driver to be on his way. The driver smiled, pressed the accelerator pedal and put back the 500 rupee note in his pocket.

As per last available information, the driver had waved the same 500 rupee note at the booth operators for five days, ten trips in all, and moved to and fro without paying toll. He wants to pay, but cannot pay. He has not paid toll even once and the 500 rupee note is still with him. 

Henry Adams was a 27 year-old young man and worked as a clerk in a San Francisco mining-broker's office. He was free on Saturdays and had the habit of venturing into the sea in a small boat. On one such saturday he ventured too far and the currents swept him deep into the sea. He was rescued by a ship bound for London. He was made to work on the ship during the voyage without wages and dropped off at London harbor. When he stepped on London harbor, he had only one dollar in his pocket and his clothes were ragged and shabby. The dollar sustained him for one day, but he was hungry and without a place to stay on the next day. He was moving along the city's Portland Place and was looking at a peach thrown away by a small child and was thinking of picking it, clean it and eat it. He was that much starved now.

Bank of England had issued two notes of one-million pound each, to be used for a special purpose in connection with some public transaction with a foreign country. One note was used, cancelled and returned to the Bank. The second was still lying in the vaults of the bank. Two wealthy old brothers had a chat over breakfast about this note. The issue that came up for discussion was what might be the fate of a perfectly honest and intelligent stranger who came adrift to London and came in possession of such a note. Brother A said he would starve to death and be ruined. Brother B said he wouldn't. The argument went on till brother B bet 20,000 Pounds to put this to test. Brother B went to the bank and bought the note. They dictated a letter to a clerk who wrote it down in beautiful handwriting. The letter was put in an envelope with the note. Now they waited near the window watching for the right man to give the envelope and put their wager to a test. The faces they saw on the street were not of strangers. Those who were strangers either did not appear honest or intelligent. Now, here was Henry Adams who was a stranger and looked intelligent as well as perfectly honest.

Henry Adams was called in to the house and was handed over the envelope after a brief discussion. He was asked not open it until he reached his lodging and sent away. After coming out of the house Henry Adams opened the envelope and found the letter and money in it. He went to the nearest cheap eating house and ate well enough. When he was full, he took out the note and could not believe his eyes. It was five million Dollars! (One pound was equal to five dollars as per exchange rate in those days.) The owner of the food house fainted when he saw the note. He apologized profusely and told Adams not to worry and let the bill go unpaid. But honest as Adams was, he insisted on getting the change. The owner respectfully told Adams that he can have an account at the place and come and eat whenever he desired. But there was no possibility for him to break the note and get the change.

Adams rushed back to the house to return the money and the envelope to its owners. But the brothers were gone to either Egypt or India. The servant reported that the brothers had indeed told him that Adams would be back within half an hour. The servant was to assure him that there was no mistake and it was real. Adams was to report back after 30 days at the same place and tell the brothers about the happenings in his life. 

Adams went to a cloth shop and asked for a misfit cheap suit. He was given one and he produced the note and asked for the change. The note went from the salesman to the owner and the owner was now apologetic. He scolded the salesman and gave the dresses made for His Serene Highness the Hospodar of Halifax. (Hospodar is a title given to a Governor or a Prince.) The dresses were handed over but the note was duly returned without change! Within a few days Adams was on the pages of every newspaper. He was described as the "Vest-pocket Million-Pounder". Punch carried a caricature of him. He was the talk of the high society in London and elsewhere. He got whatever he wanted to buy, but the note was always returned to him. Everybody was willing to lend money to him to now.

Adams went to meet the American Ambassador who later said he was a boyhood friend of Adam's father! Adams was invited to a dinner of fourteen with the rich and mighty twelve, besides the minister and himself. There Adams met the 22-year old English girl Portia Langham and the two fell in love with each other in two minutes. Adams was honest with her and told her that he had nothing with him except the million pound note and she did not care. They had great time together thereafter.

Adams met a friend from San Francisco who wanted a million dollars on a business deal. Adams agreed but not to give money but his reference. His word was now as good as money. They became partners in the business deal. The deal clicked and he had a million US Dollars (200,000 Pounds) in his account with a London bank by the end of the month. He requested Portia to go with him to the brothers at the end of the month to make his report. She agreed and he presented himself with her to make the report to the two brothers.

Adams produced the million dollars note and along with it a Certificate of Deposit for 200,000 Pounds in the London bank. The brother who won the bet offered a gift but Adams said he did not need it. Then the biggest surprise came. The man was none other than Portia's father! The two brothers had a hearty laugh. Now Adams said he would apply for the job of son-in-law. He added that he can be tested for 30 years as a son-in-law and can be confirmed later. 

The brothers took the check to Bank of England and it was en-cashed. The bank cancelled the check and returned it to the two brothers as a souvenir. The brothers happily celebrated the wedding of Portia and Adams. The cancelled check was given to Adams and Portia as a wedding gift. The cancelled check was duly framed and hung on the wall of their house to tell this story to all those who saw it.

The above is the summary of a delightful story titled "The Million Pound Bank Note" by Mark Twain, which I read some fifty two years ago. It is a story with lot of Twain's trademark humor and twists. The story was made into a movie in 1954, with some modifications to suit screen presentation, with the handsome Gregory Peck playing the role of Adams. The film is available on Youtube.

The 500 rupee note our Driver has may not be able to get a Certificate of Deposit of 200,000 rupees or get a Portia Langham. It was just like the million pound note; never got broken and yet gave dividends. But it was adequate to remind of the wonderful story weaving and telling capacity of Mark Twain!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Learning methods suggested in Charaka Samhita

Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita are considered as the foremost among the many well-known works that form the foundations of practicing Ayurveda. It is our good fortune that many Ayurveda treatises are available despite ravages of time and upheavals in history. These valuable works have stood the test of times for several centuries, revered and studied even today. Practicing Ayurveda Doctors use these books as reference and source material for treatment of patients. These books contain exhaustive discussions on various aspects of life, apart from treatment of diseases and keeping the human body fit and strong. In fact, there are many chapters that give excellent insight into maintaining the human body to prevent diseases and requirement of their treatment. Some of the areas mentioned in the books are applicable to other walks of life as well.

Charaka Samhita available in present form is believed to be at least two thousand years old. It was originally taught by sage Atreya, later codified by sage Agnivesha, further edited and popularized by sage Charaka. Sage Dridhabala is credited with revising it and made available in the present form. It is a voluminous treatise and requires months of dedicated study to understand its contents and appreciate its intrinsic value.

Modern thinkers also agree that learning and teaching revolves around these four important factors: student, teacher, learning tools and methods of learning.  Chapter VIII of Vimana Sthana (Sthana is a major division of the book, similar to Acts in a drama) in Charaka Samhita discusses, among others, the qualities required in an earnest student and competent teacher. It also deals with the tests to be applied for selecting text books and learning methods. These discussions are basically for learning and practicing Ayurveda, but equally applicable for any other branch of learning. Some key ingredients to make the process of learning and teaching to become successful and achieve the expected goals are summarized below:

Qualities of a student:
  • A student should be peaceful and noble in disposition, not given to mean acts.
  • He should have powers of reasoning and memory, liberal minded and devoted to truth.
  • He must be modest, gentle, capable of understanding nature of things, not irritable and free from addiction of any kind.
  • He should have single-minded devotion to knowledge, both of theory and practical work.
  • He should be obedient to all instructions of the teacher and desirous of welfare of all creatures. 

Qualities of a teacher:
  • The teacher chosen should be one who is thoroughly versed both in theory and practice.
  • The teacher should be skillful, upright, pure, who is conversant with human nature.
  • He should have special insight into the subject he teaches and free from envy, endowed with fortitude, affectionate towards his pupils, proficient in reading and skillful in exposition.
  • Such a teacher can equip the good disciples with all the required qualities just as the rain clouds at the proper season endow the fertile field with best of crops.

Student-teacher relationship:
  • A student approaching such a teacher, with a view to winning his favor should wait on him vigilantly as on the sacrificial fire, as on a god, king or one’s father and one’s patron.
  • The student having learnt the subject from the teacher thus should, for the sake of strengthening his understanding, strive constantly and well to perfect the knowledge so gained.

Selection of books:
  • An intelligent man will appraise the task before him and should first of all select a treatise (a detailed account of the subject – a text book) of the subject.
  • From among the many available treatises, he should choose the one that has obtained great popularity and is approved by wise men, which is comprehensive in scope, held in esteem by those who are worthy of credence.
  • The treatise should be suitable for the understanding of the three grades of students (highly intelligent, moderate and others).
  • The book should be free from the fault of repetition, well arranged with commentary and summary.
  • Words used should be in traditionally accepted sense, concerned mainly with determining the true nature of things relevant to the theme.
  • Topics must be arranged in an orderly manner, rapidly elucidating and enriched with definitions and illustrations.
  • Such treatise illuminates everything like the unclouded sun dispels darkness.

Method of study:
  • The student who has consecrated all his time for study should rise at the dawn or while yet a portion of the night is still left.
  • After his routine, he should sit at ease on clean and even ground and should study with concentration.
  • He should go over the contents again and again, all the while understand their import fully, in order to correct his own faults of reading and also to recognize the measure of faults in others.
  • The vigilant student should apply himself to study in the afternoon and night as well.

Discussion as a learning tool:
  • Discussion with a person learning the same subject is indeed what makes for an increase of knowledge and happiness.
  • It contributes towards clarity of understanding, increases dialectical skill, dispels doubts and enables learning new things in the course of discussion.
  • Discussion brings out the hidden meanings learnt from the teacher in general class session.
  • Discussion is of two types; friendly discussion and hostile method of discussion.
  • Friendly discussion is enjoined with a person that does not get angered, that can be persuaded and persuades, and is endowed with tolerance and pleasantness of speech.
  • In friendly discussions, one should not be afraid of discomfiture, not rejoice at the discomfort of other students and not boast before others.
  • In hostile discussion, a student must investigate beforehand, the points of merits and demerits of the opponent and the difference in excellence between himself and the opponent. 

Here are some definitions on learning issues, given in the book:
  • Doubt is uncertainty of the mind regarding things. 
  • Purpose is that for attainment of which efforts are made. 
  • Imperfect statement is that which is beset with defects of speech.
  • Analogy is that which shows the similarity of one thing to another
  • Question (in a debate) is that which an opponent puts when two persons discuss the subject, in order to test the knowledge, experience and dialectical skill of the other.
  • Further Question is a question about a question for seeking clarity. 
  • Insufficient statement is a statement wherein the proposition, cause, example, application, or deduction are found wanting.

There are many other definitions and advantages of a hostile debate which are explained extensively in Charaka Samhita. There is a need to study all these valuable works of yesteryears and bring out the hidden treasures of knowledge for use by the present  and future generations.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Full Moon Hayrides

Farming is a strenuous and continuous activity. Village folk in rural Karnataka (South India) had a beautiful word for it, though it not used that frequently now. In Kannada language, the occupation was called Aarambha (ಆರಂಭ) which literally means "The Beginning". Sanskrit, Hindi and many other Indian languages also use this word in different contexts, with the same meaning. As children we often heard use age of this word to describe the occupation of farmers. It is always "Beginning" as there is no end to it! The activity is like a circle that has no starting point. It is all round the year and starts with picking and packing the seeds at harvest time for the next crop. A farmer is always busy and does not enjoy the luxury of holidays and weekends. 

Farming work depends on the season and linked to weather and time of the year. It may be preparing the land for sowing by tilling and mixing fertilizers before the seeds or saplings are planted. It may be watering or removing of the weeds sometime later. It may be protecting the crops from birds and rodents a little later. Then it is harvesting and thrashing for separating the grains from the chaff, followed by transporting and storage. Moving the surplus produce to the market and selling it follows thereafter. Those who grow seasonal vegetables have these activities in "Fast forward" mode. This cycle repeats several times a year for them. While they are harvesting the fruits and vegetables in one part of their land, another piece of land is ready for sowing while a third piece is being taken care of with crops grown midway that can be harvested a little later. Weather often dictates a farmer's timetable and he has to respond quickly to changes in the surroundings.   

Does all this mean that there is no leisure and recreation for the rural folk and farmer families? Man always finds methods to find interesting ways and means to overcome monotony in the routine, whatever the nature of the job or occupation is. Farmers are no different and have many innovative methods for recreation. Harvest time is one such period when the families of agriculturists can relax and enjoy their time a bit. The pleasure of watching the fruits of their hard work indeed doubles the joy and merry making festivities. During our childhood, we looked forward to harvest season and many festivals associated with it. We had the pleasure of being taken on a ride in bullock carts with Paddy or Ragi hay spread for seating us in the cart. We had rides to the lands where the harvested crops were heaped. There were festivities, contests and village games played around the harvested crop heaps. At the end of the day, the crops were filled in the bags and moved to houses on the same carts. These were the hayrides we had over five decades ago.

The little girl was excited about the "Hayride" she was being taken on, three days ago. I was also wondering as to what is this "Hayride" was. She was going on this hayride for this first time just as I too was. We were driven to a rural Pennsylvania farm and on our arrival there it was the same harvest festival atmosphere. It was a large farm extending to several hundred acres with various crops. The land was in a valley with several crops grown in the vast area. The central place in the farm adjacent to the parking lot had big permanent structures housing a farmers market, a decorated pumpkin yard, a shop place for selling various processed farm items like juices, pies and pastries. The farm had many different activities for the visitors, each having its own excitement quotient for the children and adults alike. There are many such farms in nearby areas that provide hayrides to children and adults for a small fare during these months.

The farms have their own "Pick Your Own" system. The visitors are given a basket on arrival at the base point and they can proceed to the orchards that have vegetable and fruit crops. There are also Apple and Strawberry special tours for this activity. Seeing bunches of fruits and vegetables is indeed thrilling. They can choose and pick the fruits and vegetables they like and return to the base. The items in the basket are weighed, valued and visitors can take them home on payment of the amount. The pleasure children and adults alike get when plucking ripe apples, strawberries, blackberries, pears and vegetables is invaluable. Children also understand how these items come to the market and the efforts made to grow them. The farm saves the efforts in harvesting and transporting the items whereas the visitors get fresh fruits and vegetables of their choice.

The farms also provide various "Hayrides" in the evening hours. They have Full Moon Hayrides, Witch House Hayrides, Blossoms Hayrides, Daytime Hayrides etc. Visitors are taken in big tractor trailers with hay spread in them as seating arrangement. The tractors ride through the various parts of the farm showing the fruit gardens, vegetable growing areas, crops like maize or wheat, areas for keeping various farming equipments and machinery, yards for keeping animals and livestock etc. These Hayrides are a big hit with children and adults alike. The rides have their own charm during daytime as one can see the various plants and fruit laden trees. The night rides have winding roads with lighted displays of ghosts and witches. 

At the end of the rides visitors are taken to an area for relaxation. Apple pie, pumpkin pie and fruit juices are on sale here. Fireplaces lit for baking marshmallows at the end of a long stick are very popular with children. They have the freedom to bake the marshmallows in the flames under adult supervisions. The visitors then visit the Farm Market for buying the freshly plucked fruits and vegetables and other farm produce. Apple pie, Pumpkin pie and bakery items are liked by children. With the "Halloween Festival" round the corner, there would be a huge demand for Pumpkins. The big Pumpkin yard provides an opportunity to buy pumpkins of any size depending on the buyer's desire and size of the car boot. One can also buy different plant saplings in the Garden Centers maintained in the farms. A Hayride visit to a nearby farm is a time well spent for the entire family. It is entertainment as well as education. 

For details about Halloween Festival and its similarities with Indian celebrations, Click here.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Jaajali, Tulaadhara and Business Ethics

Jaajali wanted to be recognized as the one Rishi with the most revered record of penance, devotion to the Lord and achievement in spiritual advancement. His many years of spiritual practice under most difficult circumstances had earned him a lot of respect in the comity of fellow Rishis. But he wanted to achieve even more. Being not satisfied with the progress made in the normal course of penances, he increased the rigor followed in his rituals. In his quest for spiritual advancement, he went to the ocean and stood in the middle of the sea waters for a considerable time and continued his penance. Not satisfied with this success, he went to a forest and stood still among the trees like another tree and continued his tapas. He controlled his hunger, thirst and resisted even his body's nature calls. He pursued the penance with a singleminded objective of achieving an unprecedented record in penance and tapas. 

His standing still among the many trees like yet another tree was so successful that the birds in the forest took him for a real tree. A pair of little birds started living in the multiple braids of hair on his head. They made a nest on his head and eggs were laid in the nest. Jaajali continued to stand still fearing that his movement would disturb their living.  In course of time, the eggs hatched and the little ones were nursed by the parents. The little ones gained strength and flew away from the nest. Jaajali continued to stay still and waited for several months looking for their return. He did not want to disappoint them when they came back in search of their nest. 

The Law of Supply and Demand explains the relation between the supply, demand and the price of a item or commodity in the market. As the demand for an item increases, its price increases if the supply is constant or comes down. If the item is in high supply and the demand is low, prices come down. Ultimately an equilibrium will be reached and the market finds a price for the item. This is fine as long as all factors of supply and demand are on natural lines in the market. If intermediaries are able to influence flow on either supply side or demand side, prices fluctuate accordingly. There are even violent fluctuations in prices. Essential commodities are more susceptible to increase in prices when confronted with scarcity. 

Today's market players are able to stock up the items and reduce supply side to make prices rise. Their financial strength enables them to hold on to the items till the prices reach the levels desired by them. By continuing to regulate the releases of items for sale in the market, these agencies or forces make huge profits to the detriment of the hapless consumers. Modren markets have introduced the concept of trading in derivatives. The price of pulses has now reached very high levels and trades hoarding these items are making a killing in the market.

Ethics in business is much talked about, but in reality it is the profits that really matter. Traders use all methods and resources at their command to make profits in the various markets they trade in. Definition of ethics also changes depending on who is talking about ethics! Efforts made by regulatory authorities is not yielding desired results. Prices continue to rise though inflation is said to be coming down. Economists confuse us by saying that prices are rising, but rate of rising of prices is indeed coming down. Little consolation indeed.

Rishi Jaajali stood still like a tree and waited for the little birds to return to their nest. The birds did not return even after several months. Jaajali then felt that his duty was over. He was now a satisfied man. He could stand like a tree for such a long time! That he was standing like a tree was confirmed by the birds nesting on the braids on his head and even giving life to their next generation. A sense of fulfillment overtook him. He felt that he had accomplished what he had aimed for. In that moment of ecstasy he loudly exclaimed about his achievement.

Birds flying above him in the forest heard his words. They came near him and laughingly told him, "Rishi Jaajali, do not feel arrogant about your achievement. Your achievement is insignificant in comparison to many others. If you are indeed interested in meeting a true achiever, go to the city of Kashi and meet Tulaadhara there. Then you will really know how people achieve greatness in different ways!"

Rishi Jaajali was so surprised by the utterance of the birds. Who is this Tulaadhara? What has he done to achieve greatness? What is the type of penance he has made? Has he done something more than me? What is the extent of his knowledge? How is it that even the birds know about it? Who can tell me all these details? These were the many questions in his mind. He decided to go to Kashi and learn the secrets directly from Tulaadhara himself. He was on his way to Kashi without any loss of time.

How much profit should a trader make? We often hear about farmers committing suicide due to failure of crops or not getting a decent price when there is a good crop.  When the yield is low, farmer suffers due to lower income. When the yield is high, he suffers since the prices fall. Either way farmer suffers. But middlemen and agents make profit. Trader's selling price is fixed depending on his purchase price. Does he keep the same profit margin always? Or does he increase his margin when the item is in short supply?  The pace of price rise is not the same as the pace of its coming down. In many cases, prices never come down to original levels even when the next bumper crop arrives. Traders thrive when there is short supply and they have already stocked the items. It is at such times that they can increase their profit margins. Profit margins are directly proportional to the jacked up demand and helplessness of the consumer.

There are also issues of adulteration and cheating in weight and measurements. Cheaper items or similar looking items, often harmful to the users, are mixed before selling the items with a view to make higher profits. Buyers regularly find that the quantity they receive is much less than what they should have actually got. Profits made from adulteration and cheating in weights and measures is undoubtedly unethical. Despite efforts by the administration to control these evils, they are still thriving. Often enforcing authorities are themselves hand in glove with the traders. 

Rishi Jaajali reached Kashi and went to Tulaadhara's place after making enquiries. Tulaadhara was sitting in his shop, busy attending to his customers. Contrary to Jaajali's thoughts, he did not find any special features in Tulaadhara's appearance. He was not a scholar or Guru surrounded by seekers and learners. Tulaadhara saw Jaajali, smiled and welcomed him. "Please come Rishi Jaajali. I am blessed by your arrival at may shop. The birds in the forest must have sent you here. Please be seated for a few minutes. This is my business time. I have to attend to my customers now. I will talk to you as soon as I am done with my work", he said and returned to his work. Jaajali was flabbergast. How did he identify me? How did he know that the birds sent me here? Is not a Rishi and guest like me more important to him than his small customers? With many questions in his mind, he patiently waited for Tulaadhara to finish his business.

Tulaadhara turned to the Rishi after his work was done. He told Rishi Jaajali: "I know the questions in your mind. I am not a learned man and scholar like you. I am a simple man like all the traders and others here. I am carrying on the family business as a trader. Tula (The weighing scale) is the foundation of my business and my life. That is why I have been given the name "Tulaadhara" which means one who is living with its support. The weighing scale (Tula) looks after everyone equally. It does not differentiate between a learned man or a child. Whoever comes to my shop will get a fair treatment. I do not cheat in weight or measurement. I have to keep a profit margin on the items I trade in since I have to make a living. I take only such justified fixed margin on the items irrespective of what others do. There is no adulteration in the items I sell. Even if the item is scarce, I do not charge more to earn higher profits. I sell it at the same rate as long as the item is available in my shop. I am happy with this level of earning. During business hours I do not do anything else but attend to my customers. This is all I know. This is what I have followed all my life. I believe that carrying on my business honestly and ethically is the best penance in the world for me".

"What was wrong with my penance standing as a tree? Did I not help the birds? Does  it not have any value?", asked Jaajali. Tulaadhara smiled. "Were there no other trees in the forest? Did the birds have no other place to nest? What was your goal? To do penance or nest the birds? In your eagerness to help the birds, you wandered away from your goal. How much did you think of the Lord in all those months? You were only thinking of the birds and forgot the Lord. You gave up the basic purpose of your penance. That answers all your questions. Do your duties honestly and diligently. That is what the Lord expects of all his subjects", Tulaadhara concluded. 

There are many dimensions to "Business Ethics" in the modren world. It is much more complicated than what it was several centuries ago. Even then, this Jaajali-Tulaadhara episode detailed in Mahabharata answers many questions on business ethics issues confronting us today. Business ethics are not achieved by discussing them. They are achieved by diligently practicing them by all concerned.