Saturday, 13 January 2018

Why this brand name mania (IITs / NITs / IISERs / IIESTs / NISER / IISc) is all wrong.

It's a binary in this country today: Either you make it into one of these institutes (IITs / NITs / IISERs / IIESTs / NISER / IISc) or, barring obtaining admission in very few other institutes such as BITS Pilani, BIT Mesra, etc., you are (incorrectly) condemned as being second rate.

This is stupidity.

And this stupidity has seeped deeper into our psyche than you would imagine. We have entire generations obsessed with somehow getting admission in these institutes and getting their brand names stamped on their foreheads instead of focussing on the real and relevant stuff: What subjects does one enjoy? What profession does one want to take up? How best can one be of service to society? Does one even want to be in the field of science and technology in the first place? And if so, which field motivates and inspires one the most?

Parents are not to be left too far behind. One hears ever so frequently: Hamein apne bacche ko IIT karaana hai. Note: "IIT karaana hai", not "Engineer banana hai". What does "IIT karaana hai" even mean? Aur aap sure hain kya ki aapke bacche ko engineer banna bhi hai?

This "brand name mania" is like a rusted nail that has penetrated the individual and social psyche in this country and is doing immeasurable harm.

The sense of casteism inherent in defining institutes as being "great" by birth and family is of course hard to miss. And it stinks. To understand this point clearly: Think of the new IITs that have opened up recently. Automatically, without even having put in the effort to build themselves up to a certain standard, they have a stronger brand strength than some of the NITs which have been around for a while, have done well, but are "defined" to be "second tier".

But this is not going to be a post with empty rants. I suggest an alternate modality that I believe is healthier and more comprehensive:

An approach that would be better in my opinion is instead of having "chains of institutes" with the same overall brand name (IITs / NITs / IISERs / IIESTs / NISER / IISc), we have individual brand names. For example, say one of the IITs was renamed to "CV Raman Institute of Science and Technology". Then that would be a brand name in itself and it would be the responsibility of the institute to keep its brand name strong. It would not have the luxury to think of itself as being good just because it is called an IIT.

[Note that this can be done without foregoing the safeguards built into the Institutes of Technology Act. By no stretch of imagination am I suggesting a migration to the UGC paradigm - that has hurt academics and education in India beyond measure and probably needs to be just thrown out of the window and replaced with something wiser.]

Such an approach would (a) bring respect and acknowledgment to people who have done well in science and technology from within the country, (b) serve as an inspiration to budding scientists and engineers in our country and (c) break the tendency of any particular set of institutes being considered better than others just because they are named in a certain way.

In fact, we can go one step further: Instead of having institutes focused on science and technology (with a side presence of Humanities and Social Sciences departments), it might be better to transition them to being Universities that are academically richer with a more diverse spectrum of disciplines. An immediate benefit of this would be students having opportunities to explore a more diverse range of subjects, interact with a wider spectrum of academics, and grow in directions in which their interests consolidate.

[Again, note that this can be done without foregoing the safeguards built into the Institutes of Technology Act.]

So consider our IITs / NITs / IISERs / IIESTs / NISER / IISc being renamed to C. V. Raman University, Aryabhatta University, etc. This would not only be a more academic comprehensive approach to educate the next generations of students but also: (a) cast aside this meaningless obsession with brand names in one swift stroke and allow everyone to focus on what's really important once again: Knowledge and (b) end this casteist mindset of defining institutes as being first tier, second tier, etc. by birth and family.

In addition, I think its about time to challenge the "government universities are necessarily better than private universities" mindset. To drive home my point I simply point out that MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Cornell, Caltech, Princeton are all private universities. We need to see a similar emergence of high quality private universities that are committed to academic excellence from India.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Manifesting our divinity

Every soul is potentially divine.

Agreed. But there is a difference between potentiality and actualization of the potential.

So yes, every woman is potentially Durga, Kali, Laxmi, Parvati, Saraswati and all the female aspects of the divine.

Just as every man is potentially Ram, Krishna, Shiva and all the male aspects of the divine.

In the ultimate analysis, one perhaps rises above and encompasses both the male and female aspects.

But this actualization of the potential requires an effort. One has to work at it. No point just assuming oneself to be a divine manifestation when it is but obvious that one us simply fluttering like a leaf in the winds of worldliness with little to no control over one's own mind and a far from ideal expression of divine qualities (human values).

We need to ask ourselves: where in the journey are we specifically?

I suggest an honest answering of the following questions:

1. How much love do we carry within us? And how much of it are we able to express in action? Service is love in action. Do we serve selflessly? How compassionate are we? Are we dedicated to uplifting the suffering and needy even at our own personal cost?

2. How clear is our discrimination between right and wrong, between what is of lasting value and goodness and what brings temporary short term pleasure but is not good in the long run? And how firm is our commitment to do the right thing each step of the way?

3. How deep and clear is our knowledge of ourselves and the creation? Do we know ourselves? How our mind works? Where our thoughts and emotions arise from? Are we enlightened?

4. Are we content? Are we happy and blissful by our own nature or does our happiness keep depending on this and that and we chase desires one after the other?

We need to ask ourselves these questions honestly and be clear about where we are in our journey. And then move towards the goal steadfastly.

Of course we are the divine. I don't doubt it for a moment. Let's actualize your potential. Blossom !

"Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached." --Katha Upanishad


I think a lot of people hesitate to accept that they are essentially divine in nature because they have made mistakes.

This is such a misunderstanding!

Look here, whatever we have or have not done: it's over. The fact that we realize that we've made a mistake itself shows that we are emerging out of the mistake. We need to just accept our mistakes and seek forgiveness. If we receive it, good: we be grateful for it and move forward. If not, then fine, we bear the consequences of our actions and move forward.

Either way, we move forward with a wiser head and a clearer conscience.

Starting this moment, let's resolve to not repeat our mistakes and continuously improve ourselves.

I think that's all there is to it. Period.

As I said above: I don't doubt our divinity for a moment. Let's put in the effort to actualize our potential. Blossom :)!

Understanding the universe : what about "you"?

When you are trying to understand the universe, you are looking outward. Even in understanding how your own body functions, including your brain, *you* are aware of the body and observing and studying it. You can try this: sit still with your eyes closed and become intensely aware of your body. Notice that there is a *you* who is aware of the body. And to the best of my observation and understanding this *I* who is aware of the body isn't even a "physical" entity. At best I a...m able to think of it, i.e. myself, as a presence.

An interest in understanding how the universe functions is well and good. I am scientifically curious myself. But in itself that is an incomplete quest for knowledge. *You* exist too. In fact, since it is *you* who wants to understand the universe you are in, knowing *yourself* is implicitly important.

In fact, an effort to *know yourself* takes a higher priority, doesn't it. It's *your* life you are living. *You* are here.

To understand *yourself*, the direction of inquiry must turn inward. This is but obvious and implicit in what is being said.

Seek self knowledge. Learn how to meditate. Alongside, pursue your interests by all means. Mine primarily lie in science, mathematics and music. Good luck with yours !


Say (hypothetically speaking) all scientific questions are solved one day. Physics completes. Chemistry completes. Biology completes. Math completes. Say this happens today. Then what? Does that bring an end to the quest for knowledge?

No. Each of us still would have to know ourselves. That's an individual journey each one of us has to make independently. We can be guided, yes. But the journey still has to be undertaken personally.

Consider the opposite scenario: Say the chapter of science never closes. What then? Will we postpone the pursuit of self knowledge indefinitely?

Focusing only on the external or waiting till all questions about the external are answered before we turn our attention inward are meaningless propositions.

The pursuit of self knowledge needs to be our first priority. And alongside we pursue other interests. Not the other way around.

Life is short. What is 70-80 years? Nothing. It's not even a blip on the history and future of time. Would your journey of life be complete without you knowing yourself? Do you sense the urgency and importance of what I'm saying?

That's why I say: Seek self knowledge, learn how to meditate. And alongside, pursue other interests.

Entrance for Civil Services (IAS / IRS / IPS)

We have the CAT exam for entry into MBA programs. Why not have a similar entrance mechanism for Civil Services (IAS, IRS, IPS) and follow it up with a two year program to provide the requisite training? Basically check the aptitude and then train. I think that might be better than the present mechanism wherein the preparation required for the Civil Services entrance is so intense that students often go for extended coaching for the same and do not pay complete attention to the academic program they are in.

Contrast: Business Models vs Academics

There's a fundamental difference between business models and academics:

Business: Money In Money Out.
Academics: Money In Knowledge Out.

I think a whole lot of chaos and confusion in academic institutes today is because this clarity has been lost.

Yes there needs to be a balance between the money spent on various social causes and fundamental research. And yes, fundamental research actually has to be about asking fundamental questions and not just anything in the name of research. Proposals as well as progress have to be rigorously evaluated.

But it's really important to realize that knowledge in itself is a pursuit. We aspire "to know". The desire for knowledge is as real and as important as material desires. In fact it is perhaps a more important desire to fulfill. It functions at the intellectual level and if we give it its due importance we'll probably see a reduction in the clamour and chaos that surrounds us today.

I emphasize: The desire to know just for the sake of knowing. Who am I? What is the truth of this universe I find myself in? What is my relationship with it?

When the importance of satiating this curiosity is realized then the pursuit of knowledge also becomes a social cause. And hence the presence of universities and the academic profession.

Love vs Sexuality

It's incredible, the extent to which love and sexuality have been confused !

Look here, that dude or dudette who looks just like you would like your partner to look, and who wears a cologne / perfume and smells just like you would like your partner to smell, and who keeps you "spellbound with enthralling conversation" and "makes you laugh all day long" (some folks also consider "niceness" as a desirable - sensible in my opinion) - you are letting him or her in your life for... YOUR fulfilment.

Which is fine, you certainly have the right to be with whoever you want to be with, but please do realize that they are also letting you into their lives for THEIR fulfilment.

Relationships based on sexuality are based, by their very nature, on attraction between two persons and each seeking his or her own fulfilment first. Then comes (hopefully) caring for each other. These relationships obviously have their place in life but if you are going about looking for "true love" by trying to find the "best sexual partner fit for you" then you're confusing matters.

Love is quite a different matter altogether. That's when your focus is on ensuring you bring joy to another. And it has nothing to do with sex or sexuality at all. You simply love! You love men, you love women, you love children, you love young people, you love old people, you love plants, you love animals (which does not mean you agree to get bitten !). You simply love! And this is the only way you will ever know true love - by invoking it in yourself - period. Love! Look around you, and wherever you feel you can make a difference, you can uplift others, remove sorrow - do it. Express your love in action.

And of course people who know what love is and express it in their lives are likely to do so in their relationships as well. Which in turn adds beauty to relationships and there is a sense of caring for each other.

But the starting point is to realize that love and sexuality are different things.

(If you'll allow me a bit of math: Sexuality and love are like vectors pointing in opposite directions. One goes Me..Me..Me..What about me..What about me.. And the other goes: Ah, Here you are! Come, be a friend. I commit to care.

And what does the latter have to do with sexuality? Nothing.)

Note: The above is not encouragement to be in relationships or marriages with people you are not attracted to and feel happy with. You have all the right to be with whoever you want to be with. Just don't confuse matters !

Possible short term strategy to combat dire poverty

Job creation is a long term challenge. In the short to medium term the following may work:

Give zero interest loans of Rs. 50,000/- per poor family to start a small business (I would start with the homeless who can be seen sleeping on the streets). Alongside, advise them on how to run the business and save money. These loans can be given after a background check and recovered in regular small instalments (of say Rs. 1000/- per month).

It can be insisted that the business be something that adds value to society: fruits & vegetables / juice shops / food / clothes / toys / etc.

The money will be recovered in about four years anyway. Plus many of these businesses may start doing well enough over time to start paying taxes.

I think such a strategy would help in bringing a large number of people out of dire poverty quickly and we need to do that.