Bidding Farewell

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“… How shall I go in peace and without sorrow? Nay, not without a wound in the spirit shall I leave this city.

Long were the days of pain I have spent within its walls, and long were the nights of aloneness; and who can depart from his pain and his aloneness without regret?

Too many fragments of the spirit have I scattered in these streets… and I cannot withdraw from them without a burden and an ache.

It is not a garment I cast off this day, but a skin that I tear with my own hands.

Nor is it a thought I leave behind me, but a heart made sweet with hunger and with thirst.

Yet I cannot tarry longer.

The sea that calls all things unto her calls me, and I must embark.

For to stay, though the hours burn in the night, is to freeze and crystallize and be bound in a mould.

… Ready am I to go, and my eagerness with sails full set awaits the wind.

Only another breath will I breathe in this still air, only another loving look cast backward,
Then I shall stand among you, a seafarer among seafarers.
And you, vast sea, sleepless mother,
Who alone are peace and freedom to the river and the stream,
Only another winding will this stream make, only another murmur in this glade,
And then shall I come to you, a boundless drop to a boundless ocean.”

from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

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Inspirations

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As my college days come to an end, I’ve been frequently flipping through my memories of four unforgettable years spent in this wonderful campus. When I look back, there are some things that stand out, that left profound and lasting impression on me.

One such thing, possibly the one that influenced me the most, was the association with Deepak sir, and hence a group of faculty members(Ramkumar sir- aka Ramuettan, Raghu sir, Murali sir aka MuSa) who are concerned about things beyond academics and think differently. In a way, my association with these incredible people strengthened my thirst for Life and inspired me to look beyond conventional options after BTech.

I first met Deepak sir in the fourth semester, when I went to get his signature for some permission requests for FOSSMeet 2008- he was the faculty-in-charge. He had just joined NITC that semester. But my most vibrant memories are from my third year, when we, a group of students who were Free Software enthusiasts, got together to form a FOSS Cell.

Deepak sir and Murali sir were our mentors and they did an excellent job of inspiring us and maintaining the enthusiasm. But I realize now, that their influence go far beyond free software, and the close association with especially Deepak sir and the conversations we had have really left a lasting impression on my mind.

Ramkumar sir is a 1989 REC batch alumnus. He’s a person who has seen the REC campus in its zenith of intellectual pursuits and social cohesion, and is one who laments all that has been lost since the institute has been converted into an NIT. To be honest, none of us were very impressed with his classes on Microprocessors and Microcontrollers, but outside the classroom he’s a walking legend. From Gabriel Garcia Marquez to the food at Chechi’s to the student life at NITC, you’ll never fail to be captivated by his words.

One of my most unforgettable memories of college are of the drama performed by the faculty members on the Staff Cultural Day (or something like that- don’t remember what it was called. But there has never been anything like that before or since then). The drama was written and directed jointly by Deepak sir and Raghu sir. It’s a wonderful portrayal of the contrasts between life in NITC/REC now and 20 years ago. It also sarcastically highlights some of the atrocities committed by the NIT administration over the last few years. The play was performed by faculty members and every one of them did incredibly well. I’ll never forget it in my life.

Deepak sir and Ramkumar sir left NITC in July 2009, at the beginning of our seventh semester. And our department again quite noticeably returned to its dull, monotonous, conformist ways. Though they were here for just three semesters, they influenced a lot of us students in many ways- we and our immediate juniors are the lucky ones to have known them.

Anyway, I consider myself unbelievably lucky to have known these people and am proud to say that I’ve been influenced a lot by their thoughts and words.

A Gift to Treasure Forever

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ജന്മസാഫല്യമാം തന്‍ മണിക്കുഞ്ഞിനെ തൊട്ടിലാട്ടീടുന്നു അമ്മ.
ആ മുഖത്തപ്പോള്‍ വിളയാടിടും ഭാവം വര്‍ണ്ണിപ്പതിന്നാര്‍ക്കു കഴിയും.

ആശങ്കയില്ലാമുഖത്ത്. എങ്കിലും തന്‍ കുഞ്ഞിനെച്ചൊല്ലിയല്പം ഉത്കണ്ഠയും,
ശോഭനമാം ഭാവി നേര്‍ന്നിടാനായിട്ടീശ്വരനോടല്പം പ്രാര്‍ത്ഥനയും.

കൈ വളരുന്നുവോ കാല്‍ വളരുന്നുവോ ചെറുവിരല്‍ നഖമല്പം നീണ്ടിടുന്നൊ.
അമ്മതന്‍ സൂക്ഷ്മമാം ദൃഷ്ടികള്‍ പരതുന്നു തന്നോമനക്കുഞ്ഞിന്‍ താരുടലില്‍.

തന്റെ മോഹങ്ങളും വര്‍ണ്ണസ്വപ്നങ്ങളും ഒന്നായുറഞ്ഞൊരാ പൈതലേ നീ
വാത്സല്യത്തോടെ തന്‍ കൃഷ്ണമണി പോലെ കാത്തുസൂക്ഷിപ്പാന്‍ കൊതിച്ചിടുന്നു.

അമ്മതന്‍ ജീവിതസാഫല്യമാണു നീ എന്‍ മനത്താരിന്റെ സത്താണ് നീ,
എന്നര്‍ദ്ധനിമീലിതാക്ഷിയായ് ശാന്തയായ് പാടുന്നൊരീരൂപം അമ്മ.

മാതൃഹൃദയം സ്നേഹവാത്സല്യങ്ങളേകീടുവാനായ് തുടിപ്പൂ.
സ്നേഹസ്വരൂപിയായ് ത്യാഗസ്വരൂപിയായ് തന്നോമല്‍ തന്‍ വഴികാട്ടിയുമായ്.

ശ്രേയസ്സുമായുരാരോഗ്യവുമേകി അവനെ അനുഗ്രഹിച്ചീടുമാറാകണം.
വത്സലയാമീ അമ്മതന്‍ പ്രാര്‍ത്ഥന ഈശ്വരാ നീ കേള്‍ക്കുമാറാകണേ.

This beautiful poem was written by my mother when I was a baby. It’s an absolutely priceless treasure that she has left me with. Even now, when I reflect on it and realize that I am the subject in the poem, my heart gets filled with so many emotions that I do not have words for…

She presented it in some programme over the All India Radio back then, and I’m very lucky to have a recording of her reciting the poem. Just thought I’d share it with the world…

NITC Past and Present

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I was going over the area of NITC in Wikimapia, when I suddenly realized that the satellite images of the place were somewhat old. In fact, it shows the campus in its state even before I joined the college, but not much older, since the only difference is the absence of the Central Computer Centre and the new Mini Canteen.

Over the last four years I’ve seen acres of forest give way to concrete structures and I thought I’d just highlight the changes I’ve seen on the map. These estimates are very rough and have been made from my countless walks around the campus. They are very conservative estimates and I suspect a lot more area has been cleared, as I have not even been to each and every corner of the campus.

A Special Day in Wayanad

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I went on an unplanned little trip to Wayanad today. Minivalliamma(mother’s elder sister), and Harimama(mother’s elder brother) and family(Ammuammayi and Devika) were going on a tour to Wayanad and Coorg. Ever since they planned the trip, I’d been bugging them to drop by at NITC on the way, as they wouldn’t get another chance to see my college, at least while I’m here.

They reached here around 9.30 am. I proudly showed them my room(in its pristine natural state!). Valliamma was a bit perplexed by the amount of cobwebs in the room, but when I told her that I had cleaned my room only twice this year- once at the beginning of S7 and again at the beginning of S8- she realized that I was hopeless and didn’t mention it again. Then we went around the campus in their car.

Since tomorrow’s exam was only in the afternoon, and more so since it was Economics, I decided to go with them till Wayanad and then come back, so that I could spend some time with them. We stopped at Pookkote Lake and did some boating. But the main attraction of the day was something very special and rare.

My grandparents used to live near Mananthavady back when Valliamma was a little girl, till she was five years old. She says her earliest memories are of that place. She’d not gone there since. She’d been longing to visit that place for a long time and at last it had come true.

Over the last few days, Valliamma had been very excited about visiting Kelloor (that’s the name of the place). When I went home a couple of weeks back she recounted to me whatever few fragmented memories she had, of the place and the people there. We even spent some time going over Wikimapia trying to locate the place.

The house which my grandparents used to live in was near an LP school, so we used that as a landmark. Of course, the old house itself would have long since given way to other structures. We are talking about more than 50 years ago (Valliamma turns 58 next week). We had some difficulty in finding the school mainly due to some confusion in its name, but we eventually found it (which actually turned out to be 150 years old).

Obviously, Valliamma doesn’t have any clear memories of the place, but she was so happy and thrilled to just be in that place and walk around- to find that the place actually exists outside her memories. I was humbled and felt very lucky to have been able to share this moment with her. I was very glad that I decided to make the trip- these are such rare moments.

We then proceeded to Mananthavady where I bade them farewell and returned to college.

A Few Thoughts on Education – 2

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4. Education and Learning
In the last post I mentioned that education was failing in helping the children acquire different skills. Why does education fail in making children learn? Probably because education is designed without considering at all what we know about how human beings and children generally learn things.

Modern cognitive studies suggest that lectures are the least effective ways of teaching, and that no one actually learns anything unless she’s involved herself in the activity. Further, we know that we learn languages by actually picking up bits and pieces from our environment. Perhaps that’s how all learning takes place, and that’s why a suitable learning environment is important for proper learning to take place.

I’ve been lucky to get to know a person who has worked with tribal artisan communities. He says that there learning takes place naturally and without any coercion. He says that true learning is need based, and in these tribal communities they keep using their creativity all the time to meet the challenges they face. Their learning is fun, because they are not made to sit down and memorize dry facts or figures.

5. Alternatives
How can we overcome the problems of education? It would be unrealistic to expect wholesale changes in the structure of schools and colleges in the next few decades, because people still don’t have half a clue as to what is wrong with it. Can we do something while standing within this framework?

Schools can start by putting fewer children in each class, so that every child would have more space for their individuality to grow into. Also smaller classes mean better interaction with the teacher and could give the teacher more freedom to experiment better methods of teaching/learning.

Colleges are supposed to be places where you enter as a boy and leave as a man. Apart from being centres of excellence, they should provide an atmosphere of freedom which encourage the students to question conventional ideals, ponder the effect of personal choices on the society, reflect on the state of the world etc. Critical thought is something that’s seriously missing in most of us. We’re too worried about grades or whether we’d get a good job. College life should instil in the student the confidence to rely on her skills rather than her degrees to make a living.

Other than this I don’t know what can be done within this framework. I’d like to know what the readers think of this.

6. Knowledge and Wisdom
We are accustomed to thinking of knowledge as good in and of itself. But knowledge without wisdom can be a dangerous thing, as we are finding out today, with our actions proving destructive to the very biosphere that sustains us. As E.F.Schumacher said, “Man is too clever to survive without wisdom.”

What is wisdom? It is a form of knowledge, about what works and what doesn’t regarding our activities, our way of life and the world we live in. It is passed on from generation to generation in the form of culture. And it’s not just humans that do it- many animals do, most of the more “intelligent” mammals do it almost just like us.

But the world has been changing so fast in the last couple of centuries that wisdom of one generation became seemingly irrelevant to the next and we have lost a lot of valuable wisdom in the process. And without wisdom, the pursuit of knowledge is of little use, because we don’t know where a piece of knowledge fits in the scheme of things.

We have lost valuable wisdom, but I think through critical thought and action we can still find out what works for us and create new wisdom. We need a balance between wisdom and knowledge- because wisdom which doesn’t renew itself through knowledge can lead to superstitions. With this wisdom we can find out how we can live without needing to destroy our home, and we can pursue new and relevant knowledge with the beacon that is wisdom.

A Few Thoughts on Education – 1

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Education is something I’ve been thinking about for the last few years. I thought it’d help me a lot to put down my thoughts somewhere in an ordered manner and consolidate them, and that’s why I’m writing this post.

1. What is Education and why is it deemed necessary?
The young ones of any animal species need to learn a lot before they are able to stand on their own feet, and fend for themselves. This is true for every species, more so for mammals and even more so for human beings. Our human world is a complicated place, and there is so much a child needs to learn before she can become independent, that’s why we need a dedicated education system, which divides the world into smaller, simpler pieces and present them in the form of subjects and curricula to the child. The role of education should be to enable the child to stand on her own feet by the time she grows up. I believe most people would agree to this concept of education.

2. Education as a failure
If that is what education should be doing, it is a miserable failure. In fact, most people realize that it is a failure. That classrooms and exams are not doing a good job of teaching children different things. We all know the easily avoidable tension, frustration and fear that academic competition instills in many children, even driving some to commit suicide. Many of us think of education as a necessary evil, because we feel that don’t have any other alternative, and after all, many children do thrive in it, so the ones who don’t are considered to be just not as brilliant.

But as for enabling a child to stand on her own feet, education is a failure. Perhaps it gives her a job because of her qualifications, but it’s not the skills that education gave her that will help her earn a livelihood. If anything it would be skills acquired beyond or even in spite of the education system. So is education necessary at all? Except that it is an excellent way of sorting people? Which brings us to…

3. The Economics of Education
Some time last year I happened to read an eye-opening article by Daniel Quinn- Schooling-The Hidden Agenda. In it he says- “Suppose the schools aren’t failing? Suppose they’re doing exactly what we really want them to do–but don’t wish to examine and acknowledge? Granted that the schools do a poor job of preparing children for a successful and fulfilling life in our civilization, but what things do they do excellently well? Well, to begin with, they do a superb job of keeping young people out of the job market. Instead of becoming wage-earners at age twelve or fourteen, they remain consumers only–and they consume billions of dollars worth of merchandise, using money that their parents earn. Just imagine what would happen to our economy if overnight the high schools closed their doors. Instead of having fifty million active consumers out there, we would suddenly have fifty million unemployed youth. It would be nothing short of an economic catastrophe.”

Of course, this is not to support child labour. But imagine a situation in which children of 12 or 14 were quite equipped with the skills necessary for living and were ready to take on the world (as they are in so called primitive tribal communities), it would be an economic catastrophe.  Also..

“But keeping young people off the job market is only half of what the schools do superbly well. By the age of thirteen or fourteen, children in aboriginal societies–tribal societies–have completed what we, from our point of view, would call their “education.” But the last thing we want our children to be able to do is to live independently of our society. We don’t want our graduates to have a survival value of 100%, because this would make them free to opt out of our carefully constructed economic system and do whatever they please. We don’t want them to do whatever they please, we want them to have exactly two choices (assuming they’re not independently wealthy). Get a job or go to college. Either choice is good for us, because we need a constant supply of entry-level workers and we also need doctors, lawyers, physicists, mathematicians, psychologists, geologists, biologists, school teachers, and so on. The citizen’s education accomplishes this almost without fail. Ninety-nine point nine percent of our high school graduates make one of these two choices.”

I’d like to add one function for education, as I mentioned in the end of the last part- that of a sieve. In our complicated hierarchical society we need people for a vast variety of jobs, with different requirements and benefits and we need some system to segregate people- education does this very well and reasonably fairly. It’s an improved form of the caste system.

(to be continued…)


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