Friday, May 30, 2008

May 31 2008

Nothing interesting to link to today. Only a load of disgust at today's newspaper. Naidunia, a leading Hindi daily of the city has three whole pages full of IIT JEE coaching ads. The JEE result was announced today and these ads have glorified pictures of the so called 'toppers' along with their JEE ranks. Yes, you read it right, THREE bloody pages. And one of these pages is their front page!! A guy who got rank 13 is featured in these ads posing almost like a film star in pictures that are clearly orchestrated.

On my wing community there's a post informing me that a young girl in her final year has committed suicide. It is rumored that the said girl actually had an IIM admission and most definitely a good job in hand. Today she was supposed to receive her degree at the convocation at IITK. Yet she killed herself.

Can you see a connection between the above two paragraphs? I can.

As an aside, imagine the amount of money these coaching classes must have paid to publish full page ads and take over the entire FRONT PAGE of a daily newspaper with substantial circulation.

Another Brick in the Wall

The results for the board examinations for class X and XII have been announced recently. Naidunia, a local Hindi daily carries a special editorial in the wake of these result announcements. The special editorial is printed on the first page, which indicates the amount of importance that the editor ascribes to this editorial.

The Editorial
The editorial is an advisory for people, especially parents. It states that while the efforts of the so called toppers are to be lauded, the kids who could not make it should not be disheartened. It goes on to give the example of Thomas Alva Edison, who despite being not good at studies made great inventions.

It then goes on to lay all the blame on parents. The article states that it is parents who put enormous pressure on children to perform. When the child cannot perform it leads to huge amounts of disappointment. Often this disappointment causes the child to take unfortunate steps. (The article is alluding to suicides, I believe.) The article advises parents to be soft on their kids and motivate them instead of discouraging them.

In closing the article hopes that the kids who could not perform too well will not be disheartened and will take this as an opportunity to learn. It hopes that these people will ‘work harder’ at the next exam and do better than they did this time.

The Contrast
The very same edition of the newspaper has nearly half its pages full of exam results of all kinds. The city supplement for this day is dedicated solely towards edifying the ‘toppers’. It bears ludicrously orchestrated photographs of ‘toppers’ rejoicing after their results. One photograph that really made me laugh was children looking very happy and playing musical instruments in joy. (It made me really wonder how many of these kids really knew how to play music, how many of them really wanted to play music, how many of them considered playing music to be a respectable occupation and how may of their parents would actually allow them to become musicians of any sort.) There are other photographs of children jumping into the air for joy. I was a topper myself in my time. I never played music when the result came out. Nor dance or jump into the air. The celebration at my home barely lasted a couple of hours and after that all of us went about our work like everyday.

What the media is doing with education is similar to what it has done with every other walk of life. Men and women are unhappy with their bodies because they do not conform to the artificial image that media has created of the human body. Now children are unhappy because they do not conform to the artificial image that media is creating of a ‘topper’ – a successful school going kid.
Are Only Parents to Blame?

The editor of the newspaper seems to believe that it is only parents who put pressure on their children to perform. Has he ever opened his newspaper and read the kind of shit that his city supplement publishes everyday? Does he have any idea the kind of pressure it puts on the child to see his peers being glorified in ways that they don’t deserver (yes, they don’t. I don’t think scoring more than 90% in the board exams merits you to have you photograph printed in the newspaper) and to see himself being lost in ignominy?

Refusal to Look Beyond
The editor also seems to buy into the age old ‘work harder next time’ principle. I heard it being said numerous times when I was a kid and at that time it seemed to be a nice thing to say. Of course, there were second chances in life. If not this exam then the next, if not the next then the next one to that. Try, try and you will succeed.

But does anyone stop and consider what success is? Is topping in exams success? Why? Because you eventually get a good job that pays well? Assume for the moment that earning money is the highest goal in life. (A very stupid assumption but lets make it.) Then, is topping exams the only way to make money? If you top exams are you absolutely assured that you will make lots of money? Hardly.

Why then does the editor cajole kids into doing better next time? Why does he not ask them to sing, or paint, or play music? Why does he not ask them to take up a vocational course, prepare to start their own businesses, learn about the share market and become billionaires? Because the editor is refusing to step out of the system. He has accepted this definition of success. Topping exams is success for a kid. Anything else is not.

A Hard Life Ahead
Unless kids learn to recognize that success is of different kinds and that they can very much define what success is for themselves, they are going to have hard lives ahead. They will forever be trying to do better next time, without thinking if they really have the aptitude to do that thing, or if they really want to do that thing at all. The kid who cares least about Newton’s laws and is more interested in the day to day workings of the market is going to end up wasting years and years of his life trying to prepare for JEE because that is what his parents think success is.

I largely find parents to be hopeless. I have more hope for the kids – at least they should realize it, sooner or later.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

May 30 2008

1. A blog which speculates why PINK is feminine. The author writes on marketing and calls his/her blog 'not another marketing blog'. Anyhow, the entry was interesting. Why, really, sould PINK be feminine?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Mahasamar vs Vayam Rakshamah

Narendra Kohli

It is probably unfair to compare Mahasamar with Vayam Rakshamah. Both works are at least half a century apart in time. And this is not just any half century. It is the half century that separates British Occupied India from the Modern Free India. A world of change has occurred, not only around us, but in our minds as well.

Yet, I find Chatursen’s work to be more progressive than Kohli’s work. Kohli’s work is more polished, far more readable. But Chatursen’s work has an innocent flair and charisma that Kohli lacks.

Women Characters
Chatursen’s women characters are strong. While Chatursen also writes in a male-dominate setup, it seems as if he’s almost forced to do so. His female characters are bristling to burst forth from the shackles of male dominion and establish rules for themselves. And whenever they can’t, Chatursen himself, in the form of one of his characters, asks them to do so. Take, for example, the dialog between Mandodari and Ravan in Vayam Rakshamah. Mandodari, very much like a conventional woman has vowed to be wedded to somebody. Like a traditional woman she shows feels a spirit of loyalty for this man. Ravan, her brother advises her against it. He does not want his sister to go in for a man before she has met more men and made her choice. He wants her to run away, consort with other men, learn what the world is like before she makes her decision. She can come back and marry the same man if she wants. But Ravan wants her to experiment first.

This kind of broad mindedness is missing in Kohli’s work. His women characters are weak, and quietly accept the social conventions. They find themselves helpless in front of their male owners. Be it Amba, Ambika and Ambalika, the three princesses that Bhishm kidnapped to be wedded to King Chitrangad. Or be it Kunti and Madri, the helpless wives of infertile Pandu. Conforming to traditional values is good, deviating from them is bad. So when Satyavati and Gandhari begin to think for themselves, they necessarily bring troubles upon the entire family.
Kohli does raise questions. In fact, his entire first part (Bandhan) must have as many question marks as full stops. However, he invariably resolves the questions in favour of traditional Indian values. I had hoped for something better.

The Craft of Writing
If we consider the craft of writing then Kohli is definitely better than Chatursen. Chatursen’s writing is unedited. He clearly did not have access to good copyeditors or any copyeditors at all. There are glaring mistakes of craft all over his novels. Besides, his writing does not follow the traditional pattern of a novel. There is no character development and the plot itself is shabbily patched together. He regresses into long passages on history in between.

Kohli follows the western novel pattern. His writing is pacey and captures the readers’ imagination. Characterization is really good and plotting is gripping and consistent. In between all this, he gives you a lot of food for thought.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

May 26 2008

1. An article about the glaring mistakes in a popular newspaper article on history. Not the first time that newspapers have made a mistake such as this. At least this was history, relatively subjective and mutable. I've seen even stupider mistakes being made on articles on science.

2. An article on the importance of a competitive search market from Techcrunch. These days I almost wish the Yahoo-Microsoft deal would have gone through. Google's monopoly (despite Google maintaining a 'benevolent' image) is beginning to scare me.

Me is making most of my God given holiday these days. Just finished reading Mahasamar 1 Bandhan which I wrote about earlier. The next book is Cryptonomicon, a 1100 page whopper about WWII, cryptography, computers and code breaking. :)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

May 25 2008

Just a couple of articles from the Hindu that I read.

The first one is about medical ethics and how corruption in medical education and consequent professional life is leading to degrading of medical practices in India.

The second one is about the growing IIT mania, coaching culture and its down sides.

What is common about both articles is that the problems are attributed to a mad lust for money. And both authors seem to believe that it is with respect to the corresponding professions that people are money-minded. But isn't running after money, India's new age mantra? We are gradually turning into a capitalist consumerist society. Can everything really be evaluated into the corresponding currency equivalents?

Mahasamar Part 1 Bandhan by Narendra Kohli

I've just started reading Mahasamar by Narendra Kohli which is a seven part rewrite of the Mahabharat. I'm merely 40 pages into the first part but I immediately had things to say so I thought I might say it in a small blog post.

Novelistic Style
Unlike other Hindi literature that I've been reading, Mahasamar follows the pattern of the western novel to the T. This is very different from the works of Acharya Chatursen. Chatursen's mode of writing is 'historical'. He concentrates on who did what, when. Kohli on the other hand, concentrates on character motivation right from the beginning. Specially since it is a retelling that he's doing, he's more concerned about why did a particular character take a particular action than in the details of the action.

Modern Thinking Pattern
One thing that bugs me most about Hindi literature is its right wing leanings. A lot of Hindi literature that I've come across reeks of the RSS brand of thinking. However, in Kohli's novel one immediately begins to see trends of the modern questioning attitude. For example, in the first chapter itself, Kohli is narrating the tale of Shantanu, who made is elder son forgo his right to the throne so that he could marry a girl half his age. Kohli takes up an Indian father-son relationship (the chief characteristic of which is that the son is a 'property' of the father) and dissects is piece by piece. A very interesting read.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Somnath is Acharya Chatursen’s historical novel based on the seventeenth barbaric invasion of Mahmud of Ghazni on the Somnath Temple in Gujarat. The novel itself is largely fictitious with little relation to reality. But then, when one gets to the fifty page afterword one realizes the social and political environment in which the novel got written and hence the ‘message’ and ‘purpose’ of the novel.

The novel was first published in 1954. According to Chatursen, the idea about writing the novel first came to him thirty years before that (sometime in 1920’s) when he first visited Gujarat. At that time he did write the opening paragraphs of the book and these reek of the ‘historical fantasy’ style that Chatursen is a master of. (Historical fantasy is the name I’ve given to the style of writing Chatursen presents in Vayam Rakshamah and Vaishali Ki Nagarvadhu.) However, Chatursen tells us that he was unable to write the novel at that time and took a very long break.

Time progressed and things happened. The Indian people struggled for their freedom and it was granted to them in August 1947. What followed was perhaps the largest immigration in the history of mankind. Two religions which had somehow cohabited side by side suddenly forgot centuries of shared history and became blood enemies. It was in such environment that Chatursen returned to Somnath.

Mahmud Ghazni’s invasion was, to Chatursen, a metaphor for the interaction of Hinduism with Islam in this subcontinent. Somnath, therefore, speaks of Islamic jehad, its barbarism and inhumanity. But it also speaks of the ills of the Hindu society, its barbarism and its inhumanity too. Chatursen’s characters are not Hindu or Muslim but humans – people who are products of their time and place and people who had choices. Some of them made the good ones and others made the bad ones.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

May 19, 2008

Watched the Chronicles of Narnia - Prince Caspian yesterday. Wasn't much impressed. Too many things reeked of the LOTR. The climax scene of Miras's army getting washed off in the ford, for example. I liked his (Miras's) beard though. Very Leonidas-like. :)

The only interesting part was a Mr. Punch book at the magazine store and 'Strand' advertisements at the tube station.

We (Ashish, Aneesh and I) are making a comic book on the menaces of the coaching culture. After a couple of sessions of brainstorming we do think we have a plot. Now if only I could get down to writing it.

Nothing new, really, on the JobHunt front. :(