Thursday, November 12, 2015

Thank You, GP Miss

I picked up two wire clips from a box, kept them on the bunch of papers that I wanted to clip, returned the box to its place. When I came back to the papers and the clip, there was only one clip. I shouted at myself theatrically, “You are thoroughly useless! You have not improved since then!”

The “then” was, perhaps, 1966. I was in 6th standard. . It was a dark evening. My classmates and I were rehearsing a play for the annual day. We were in our classroom and there was much noise and excitement. Children from other classes were in their classrooms too rehearsing.

My group needed four pins for something. Our class teacher bade me follow her and I did. We walked across a larger quadrangle with many coconut trees and unclipped grass (no lawn there). The quadrangle was not lit. It was illuminated only by the lights in the classrooms. I followed the white-clad teacher as she walked to the office room. She unlocked the door, turned the light on, went to a steel almirah (called a Godrej whether made by Godrej company or not) and unlocked it. She took out the roll of paper on which the pins were stuck in neat rows. I can still see the blue coloured print on that paper. She took out four pins and handed them to me. She locked the almirah, turned the light off, and we came out. She locked the door and I again followed her white-clad figure across the quadrangle.

When were back in the classroom, she asked me for the pins. I proffered my hand and DISASTER! There were only three pins in my hand. She flew into a rage, berated me no end. I stood there, head hanging in shame as she went on and on.  “You are thoroughly useless! You will never come to any good. If you can’t even carry some pins without losing them, what else can you do? Blah blah..” The barrage of high-pitched insults coming from that towering figure shut my senses out. (She was actually short and frail. But I was shorter and frailer!) My classmates stood in absolute stillness until the harangue was over. Once she was done we repeated the whole process of getting the pins and I held on to that single pin as I had never hung on to anything before or since. We came back and I was relieved to deliver that pin and we could get on with things.

None of my classmates offered me any sympathy. Of course, by the next morning everyone seemed to have forgotten the incident. But, not me.  I was still smarting. Was it such a big mistake? Was it necessary to scold me so long, that too in front of all my classmates? I do not remember how long but it hurt a long time.

The upshot of this was that I am extremely careful about things that I carry and hardly ever lose them. I might still misplace stuff and search for them in a panic. But I hardly ever lose stuff that I carry. Of course, there are exceptions. Soon after, my father bought me a good fountain pen - my first. It was called Doctor. I lost it the very next day! My father, who loves fountain pens (always with blue - black ink, mind you) showed his displeasure on his face but said nothing.

No, I am not scarred for life. Though I resented her for a long time, I do not think it ever changed my behavior towards her. Over time, I have felt a sense of deep gratitude instead. She did change me in some way for the better.  And every time I pick up a pin or a clip or any such small thing.  I remember GP miss.

Yes. That is what we called her. Her name was G Parvati. She initialled our assignments and test sheets with a GP and that is what she was to us. She was diminutive, had short boyish hair (a rarity in those days) and a slight squint. She always wore white that exposed only her face and hands. She was indeed short tempered and severe and austere. Children were scared of her since she used the wooden ruler, often mercilessly, on an offender who made her really angry.

Children can be cruel and said all sorts of things about her. So, in my eyes she was the underdog even though she was in a position of power over us and my sympathies always lie with the underdog. I have always remembered her with some fondness because she was unusual. Regrettably, she died young, I heard much later.

Thank you, GP Miss!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Monkeying with Evolution

"The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose." I was reminded of this line when I read the following part of a newspaper report.

Dhananjay further said that unlike the Constitutions of other countries, the Constitution of India expressly says that its citizens and children should cultivate scientific temper and rational thought. “When school children are repeatedly told that Darwin’s theory is already a scientific fact, their constitutional right to a scientifically acceptable curriculum is violated,” he said.

It cites one of the most progressives lines in our constitution to do exactly the opposite!!

Please read the full report here:

Monkey Trial or the Scopes Trial took place in 1925. More formally known as the “The State of Tennessee v John Thomas Scopes”, the defense lawyer in the case was none other than the inimitable Clarence Darrow. Since then the world, many of us thought, had moved and will move inexorably forward, but damnably, no!

You may also read the brilliant book, Clarence Darrow for the Defense by Irving Stone in which the Monkey trial takes the pride of place.

Many of the so-called fundamentalist Christians hold, or should hold, the pope as their moral and spiritual leader. The present pope has declared as reported here: “The theories of evolution and the Big Bang are real and God is not a magician with a magic wand”. Apparently, these people are holier than the pope!

Still, a large number of Creationists, Intelligent Design advocates, and their ilk believe that god created the world as we know it in six days and rested on the seventh, about 6000 years ago!

But, I digress. What surprises me in this case is the following. ‘Unaided schools’ is a euphemism for private schools. They are commercial establishments. All commercial establishments are characterized by self-interest. That means profit. They bend backwards to make their schools ‘better’, whatever form it may take. Do they really believe that this refusal to teach evolution makes their schools better and more attractive to the parents of their prospective students?

Either they are delusional or they have rightly sensed the mood of the prospective customers. I shudder at the thought that the second is the reality. The future generation of students will be shielded from the most profound scientific thought. If you believe the forwards on WhatsApp and posts on Facebook, many Indians are inordinately proud of the contribution the Indian diaspora makes to the greatness of US. Don’t bother about the contributions they did not make for the greatness of India. If we produce a huge body of students denied the knowledge about the fact of evolution, I wonder if they will be as welcome as hitherto anywhere. If they are not, and remain in India, the future of India, not to mention its science, is bleak indeed!

I hope that whichever honourable court that is burdened with this case, perhaps the Supreme Court, will throw it out as frivolous and inadmissible!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Remembering N Ramani, the Flutist

Vidwan N Ramani, the great flutist of our times, passed away yesterday.

I heard of him for the first time when I came across that delightful 33 1/3 rpm record which was called V Trio. It featured Lalgudi, Ramani and Venkataraman on the Violin, VENu and VeeNa. I am not sure V Trio was coined by the record label or someone else did. This album was parallel to the "Call of the Valley" LP featuring Chaurasia, Shivakumar Sharma and Brajbhushan Khabra - Flute, Santoor and Hawaiian Guitar respectively.

Since hearing of the LP, I have attended many concerts of Ramani over the years and enjoyed them immensely. However, one particular concert remains fresh in my mind albeit for a non-musical reason. But, it says a lot about Ramani the artist and the man.

It was sometime in the seventies. Ramani's concert was in full flow during the Ramanavami concerts at Mysore's unique venue - normally referred to as Bidaram Krishnappanavara Rama Mandira or just Bidaram. Its official name however, is Ayyanar College of Music. Everyone was engrossed in the music  when suddenly there was commotion on the stage. Ramani stood up and shook his dhoti vigorously and the Mridanga and other artists also jumped up in great confusion and concern. What had happened was that a gecko had fallen from the roof. Ramani had got rid of it somehow. No one really knew where it had disappeared.

There was confusion only for a few seconds. Next thing I knew, Ramani had sat down and was getting ready to continue. The accompanying artists were still standing up and joking about the incident and taking their time. Ramani glared at the Mridanga artist and, as if desperately, waved his palm commanding him and other accompanists to sit down and continue. Before they realised what was happening, Ramani started off seemingly where he had left off. The accompanists had to sit down hurriedly and pick their instruments up and join in.

If you had arrived at the concert 30 seconds after the gecko had fallen, you could not have known that there was an interruption, confusion and commotion only a few seconds before. This was much appreciated by the elderly connoisseurs of music who always sat right in front of the dais at Bidaram. I was immensely impressed by his attitude of great respect for the occasion and the audience. There is a term for this in Kannada, and perhaps in many other Indian languages. It is Sabha Maryaade. Ramani exemplified that.

Another aspect of this excellent artist was narrated to me by my Guru, Vidwan V. Desikachar. (He was the brother of the great Veene Maestro, Vidwan V Doreswamy Iyengar. Though he was a flutist by profession, his initial training in music was on the Veene. He played it elegantly. He taught both Veene and Flute though he never gave concerts. I too learned the Veene from him) My respect for him is such that I find it hard to mention him by name. It almost sounds disrespectful to do so. So, you may please imagine my hands joined in a Namaskara when I mention the name or performing the north Indian equivalent of touching ones ear as a mark of respect. Now, I paraphrase what he said, in first person. Alas, I can't convey the childlike honesty and wonder his eyes and body language conveyed while he narrated this incident to me.

"Though I had learned the flute to the best of my abilities I was not satisfied with my music. I had reconciled myself to the idea that this was all I could achieve. This is because I could not play long passages in one breath and convert my musical ideas into passages. I thought that I was not blessed with the lungs of a flutist.

Once I attended Ramani's concert and I was fascinated. He played with such ease. He played long passages in one breath. I also noticed that he was using a larger flute than I did then and the pitch was lower. After the concert, I met Ramani and asked him about his flute.

He was very forthcoming. He showed me his flute and explained that it was indeed larger and of a lower pitch. He explained that with such a flute, you did not have to blow hard, you could conserve your breath, and play longer passages.

In those days, we did not get such flutes in Bangalore and Mysore. Ramani is such a great man that he actually brought me a few on his next visit to Bangalore. I can't thank him enough. Now I could play with much greater ease and could execute my ideas with greater ease."

I am sure this incident says a lot about the two people. My Gurugalu was one of the finest people I have had the good fortune of knowing. I am sure his whole-hearted praise speaks volumes about Ramani.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Best of Both the Worlds

Interventional X-Rays and cycling tracks; Digital Pathology and footpaths; Beehives and MRI; Healthcare Informatics Solutions and Services (HISS) and sheep. These pairs do seem a little odd, don't they? But it all makes sense if you are talking about the Royal Philips facilities at Best in The Netherlands.

Best is a town near Eindhoven - the birthplace, and for a long time the headquarters, of Philips. It is home to the MRI and Interventional X-ray (IXR) systems made by Philips. The facilities are a clutch of buildings in a sprawling area just outside Best.

Some time ago a team in Best took up the job of making the surroundings closer to nature. One of the initiatives was to get a shepherd to bring his flock twice or thrice a week. The sheep eat the grass and weeds keeping them under check. Their droppings provide the manure to enrich the soil. This also brings a touch if the rustic to the Hi-Tech facilities.

I really don't know the exact sequence of events, but soon they had a beekeeper set up a beehive. When it grew large enough they had him set up a second one. These activities have attracted butterflies to the area.

In a related incident, a colleague parked his car and went into the buildings to work. That day, the beekeeper was establishing a new hive - transferring a queen bee to the new hive. The worker bees who wanted to follow that settled on this colleague’s car, perhaps attracted by the shiny spots. He was dropped home by a colleague who also brought him to work the next day. No one wanted to disturb the bees just for the sake of taking one's car home.

They also changed the route taken by the trucks which deliver parts and ship equipment out so that they do not cross the cycling and walking paths and are limited to only one side of the area. Similarly, the cars are limited to a certain area.

What I find extraordinary about this is that this is as it should be, but we find it extraordinary. Nowadays Hi-Tech and nature, 'development' and the environment, are artificially pitted against one another. Trees, forests and water bodies are under threat. If you so much as raise an objection and suggest alternatives you are called anti-progress and worse.
Isn't there something for everyone all over the world to learn from this?

Concerned as I am with the possible fate of Kukkarahalli Kere in Mysore, the story of Best impressed and left me with a longing for a little more care and concern from everyone towards preserving what is precious! 


My colleagues from Best generously provided me with information and photographs and allowed me to use them for my blog. I thank all of them for their generosity. 

Monday, July 06, 2015

Repetitive Ropeway Urge Syndrome

From Now Scientwist:

Researchers in the field of Social Psychology from NAMHANS in India have given a name to a phenomenon that has been observed for quite some time now. This phenomenon has been known in the field Organismic Social Psychology. (Study of communities as if they were living organisms) The new name is Repetitive Ropeway Urge Syndrome (RRUS).


Scientists have long observed that within each Community there is a group of people elected, appointed or selected to lead the Community and take care of the Community's interests. This group is called Authority Group (AG). Every now and then AG loses touch with reality and loses common sense and executes or plans to execute, things that are not in the interests of the community, thereby not fulfilling the very purpose of AG. When the Community wakes up to this, it has to organise itself to stop the plans from being executed or undo or mitigate the effects of the things already excuted. A struggle ensues in which the AG loses touch with the Community and reality more and more. Much money, effort and time are lost in the process.

The name for this phenomenon was prompted by one strange manifestation of it in a city in South India. This city boasts of an extraordinarily beautiful range of hills rising a 1000 feet (locals always use this archaic unit since 1000 (ft) is far more impressive than 330 (m), whatever the units may be) from the plains around it. Atop it is a temple dedicated to the deity of the erstwhile royal family of the kingdom which bore the name of the city itself. The hills are eponymous with the deity. Repeatedly, the AG of this city has been seized by an urge to build a ropeway to the hilltop and has announced its plans. When the Community came to know about the plans, it organised itself, gathered public opinion - strongly against the plan - and thwarted the AG successfully. It has happened at least twice already. The AG of this city is in the throes of the urge once again, at the time of this report. It was during this latest episode that the researchers coined the new name.

Now that the phenomenon has been defined and named, the researchers show how the AG is disconnected from the Community by enumerating the reasons why the Community feels that it does not want the rope way. The reasons are many. Some are listed below.

1. It is unnecessary and hence a waste of public money: If it is impossible or very difficult to build a motorable road to the top of a hill, it may be necessary to have ropeways. The hills in question have very good set of roads, with hardly a hairpin bend. This makes the ropeway unnecessary, the members of the Community feel.

1.1 The AG says that that it will attract tourists. The city itself and the surrounding areas, within a 15 km. radius, have so many tourist attractions that one more is of not much value. As it is, many tourists have to choose from the many worthwhile attractions and are forced to leave out a few. Some tourists may be tempted to devote some of their time and money for a ride on the ropeway and miss the more historically and aesthetically significant ones.

2. The ecological impact: The hills are covered with thick scrub jungle. Installing the ropeway will necessitate clearing parts of it. This and the human activity during the construction will cause irreparable damage to it.

3. Noise and Light pollution and garbage: Some members of the community are concerned that the two ends of the ropeway will attract commercial activity - eateries, curio shops and give rise to noise, lights, garbage and make the hilltop more congested than it already is.

4. Sociological: Some members of the community say that it is meant for the pleasure of the rich and ask why the rest of the Community should bear the ill effects?

5. Suspicion: Finally, one oft-repeated concern expressed by many members of the Community is about the AG making money illegally from the ropeway project. If the project is allowed, the AG "eats" a large portion of the funds allotted and very little of it actually goes into the stated purpose – is how it is expressed. People who express this opinion are called cynics. (One particular dictionary defines a cynic as a realist)

Even though the name of the phenomenon described has the term ‘repetitive’ in it, signifying that the same (stupid, as some call it) idea keeps popping up repeatedly, it is not a necessary condition. Repetitive may refer to different (stupid) ideas occurring to the AG one after the other.

Here are some pictures of the Community that has organised itself to stop the latest Ropeway Urge of the AG of the city that gave rise to the name RRUS.

The first few steps of the thousand or so steps to the top

A poster explaining the reasons for the opposition to the ropeway

A signature collection campaign to oppose the ropeway

Some of the people conducting the campaign

*Photographs Copyright: J L Anil Kumar

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Save This Beauty for Posterity

Look at these pictures below. LIke them? Love the beauty of it?

So do the birds. Bee eaters, Indian Grey Hornbill, Purple Moorhens, Pelicans, Sunbirds, Mynahs, Wren-Warblers, Bulbuls, to name a few. The lake is also home for fishe and also a few crocodiles. All quite in the city limits!

How would you like the idea of building a musical fountain in this area, bringing with it crowds, noise, garbage, lights and ruining the whole thing for man and bird?

This is being contemplated as a part of the centenary celebrations of the University of Mysore. Surely the University can come with better things than ruining a thing of beauty which will be a joy for ever, if preserved?

If you do not like the idea, please support my petition to the authorities by clicking here

You do not have to be from Mysore. You may never visit it. It does not matter. If you agree with the principle of it, please support it!

Disclaimer: NONE of these pictures is shot on expensive high resolution cameras by professional photographers. They are shot by by amateurs who love this place. They have been shot with mobiles.

Please support my petition by clicking here.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Prof. K. Srinivasan aka Srinivasan Maama

HAB Parpia, G T Naryana Rao, J R Lakshmana Rao, T S Satyan, K Srinivasan - activists all, Picture from Star of Mysore.

I had the good fortune of being taught by four of the finest teachers in Mysore, of their respective subjects, during my PUC days. For the uninitiated, PUC is pre university course. It was a one year course between High school and college. Later, it was a two year course. One of those teachers was Prof. K. Srinivasan and he taught me Physics. He was also my father's classmate in Intermediate and B. Sc. classes. He entered active politics and did his M. Sc. years later.

When I sit down to write about him, it feels strange realising that I know him at two completely different planes. One, as I knew him personally and the other, as I heard my father talk about him. Here are my recollections as I saw him and also from what I had heard of him.

His first class addressing the new students in Yuvaraja's college was an experience in itself. There were nearly hundred and twenty students in the main Physics lecture hall which was huge. In comes this thin man in Khadi trousers and white Khadi shirt. When he started talking, a hush descended on the class. His voice was commanding and surprisingly loud and of a timbre that reminded me of a good temple bell. His command over the language, clarity of thought and expression and confidence was nothing less than awe inspiring. He did not teach anything that day but gave the rules of the game governing the lecture classes and the practical classes. Later, when he taught in the theory classes too, the same qualities were evident in ample measure. In the practical classes, his familiarity with the instruments appeared magical to me. The flow of thought and expression were so good that I can't imagine anyone not understanding what he taught.

Maama was politically very active in his student days. He entered active politics with M. N. Roy’s Radical Democratic People's Party. So, you could say that he was a Royist or a radical humanist in those days. He was also influenced by Marxism and in later years turned a Gandhian. I have heard him being referred to as a Gandhian in his later years. I have heard my father talk of him with great admiration - that he had a brilliant mind.

Though he always treated me with great affection, I was in awe of him when I was young and perhaps was very reserved and respectful. Only after I started working did it recede a little and it was always a great pleasure talking to him. He would often talk to me about work and what I did. One thread that was quite common was economics and the management - labour relationship at my place. His insights and comments were always enlightening.

Maama was a connoisseur of Carnatic Classical music. The two families would often go to concerts together and walking back from the concerts was always a pleasure since he would discuss the concerts with my father and they would also talk of other things and what an education that was.!

Maama took a great interest in Philosophy once again and a special interest in the philosophy of science, if I remember right, so much so that he registered for a PhD after he retired from the university and worked on the subject a seriously for years. He never completed it though. Even in his later years he remained a social, political and environmental activist. He helped organise and participated in various movements.

Apart from all this, visiting his house was always a pleasure. Thanks to his wife, whom we referred to as Subbulakshmi atte or Srinivasan maami and addressed her as atte*, the house was always spotless, bright and cheerful. Maama would be ready for a good conversation fueled, at the least, bya strong, aromatic cup of coffee served with great care and affection by atte.

Both maama and atte were excellent hosts - whatever the occasion. My eldest sister's first music concert was organised at their home. This and many other things made his house a second home. I have never learnt to cook. One of the people to be "blamed" for this deficit is maama and atte. When I was alone at home with all the others away from Mysore, it would be treated as a serious and personal affront if it was even suggested that I ate elsewhere or cooked for myself. (The other party to be "blamed" is referred to here) It seems almost churlish to use the term "blame" while talking about this but they would understand. They had such a great sense of humour. It always fascinated me that these people, with such serious interests and deep knowledge had such great sense of humour and never ever took themselves seriously.

I will end this with just a couple of anecdotes about how he allowed us to pull his leg. Maama had a large imperious nose. Especially on such thin, frail looking man it really stood out. Once when he was at our home, he was given a small glass of juice. The glass was shaped like a wine barrel. Maama could not drink since the nose came in the way. He loudly complained that we had chosen such a glass just for his discomfiture. He questioned our hospitality. Whenever my mother offered him a juice or something when he visited us later, he would say, "yes, but not in that glass!" Another time, many of us were atop Chamundi hills on a very windy day. Maama was wearing a Khadi coat. Every one of us was cautioning him to keep the coat buttoned lest the wind would carry him away. We also advised him that whenever he wanted to get home, all he had to do was unbutton the coat and fly!

With those two anecdotes, I have to come to the last and sad part of this piece. Maama passed away a couple of weeks ago. When I attended the last rites, my mind kept on wandering and I recalled my association with him a great sense of loss. I have put some of those thoughts down here, with great affection and admiration, as a tribute to a very special man.