Sunday, August 10, 2014

I see...




Of the many reasons to live,
I live to see what I can see.
I see my new world and ask:
what do I really see ?

I see a blink of her eye;
a wonder of innocence.
I hear a shrilling cry;
life as omnipresence.

I see a mother:
 joyous flowing river.
It evolves to infinity,
defining care forever.

I see a bond,
doubled in connection.
It engulfs the father
with love and affection.




Sunday, February 9, 2014

Scientific quest of the second kind



Science by itself is devoid of emotion, and yet beautiful; however the human endeavor of science is emotional, which adds another layer of beauty. This layered intellectual aesthetics is what makes pursuit of science a worthwhile effort. Scientific quest is also an exhilarating journey into the deepest corners of the mind, which no fiction can take you to.  So, welcome aboard.
   The quest I am writing about is not on a scientific problem, but a sociological one related to India. Science and technology are backbones of any country, and are essential ingredients to drive its economy. Usually a scientifically advanced country is also a well-developed economy.  Apart from being an economic indicator, science and its pursuit also reflects how evolved a society is. To really understand whether our country is “scientific”, two aspects may be interesting for exploration:
Science as a part of our culture
On the priority list of Indian public, science is way at the bottom, if not absent. Here I am not talking about the investment in science. I am more interested in the cultural aspect of science, and how the society values it like arts and sports.  If you talk to any aam admi on the streets of India, they are fairly comfortable in grasping many aspects related to money, whereas you ask them why is the sky blue or how does a mobile phone work? They have never given a thought  on such questions and neither are they interested in such curiosities, as they are caught-up in the daily rumbling of their lives. Only a few have a subdued-curiosity, but they too feel that they cannot afford to think on such aspects as there are more important tasks to achieve. Such attitude may be general human phenomenon, but the disturbing fact is that in India it much more prevalent.  
   The general public, especially in India, confuse gadgetry to science. No doubt that gadget-making does involve quite a bit of science, but the definition of science is much more than 'knowledge of how to make a cool tool'. What is discomforting is that not only the general public, but even the well-educated people who are exposed to internet and other media are neither interested in science nor are they curious to know about it. Economics dominates every walk of their life, and unfortunately the curiosity about nature takes a back-seat. Unless this attitude is drastically altered, we cannot bring any important change in our society. This is because, if we do not value science as a human endeavor, we are also demeaning an important culture of questioning. This scientific culture and the pursuit of curiosity is the main reason behind all the developments.  Be it scientific, economic or social. What starts as a scientific curiosity has many a times evolved into a “life-saving” technology, and has further impacted economic and social spheres of the society. Without this we are not only losing something which can be precious in future, but also we are, in an essence, curbing an important human expression: questioning. There is nothing more powerful than a refined question, and good science evolves through such questioning.  
Value of scientific thought in family and society
A majority of India is still soaked in superstition. You will have to just switch-on any of the regional-television-channels for a proof. Not that many of the English-speaking media is any different, as their content is anything but scientific. Instead of questioning outright non-sense and unscientific practices of society, the media highlights them as cultural practices, as people mistake blind faith to cultural values. Indian culture is too beautiful for such a treatment. Traditionally, the Indian culture has given a large intellectual-space to all philosophies and life styles, and importantly encouraged debates and questioning. Interpreting culture with narrow borders will serve no purpose; and in fact, will decay it further.
   Scientific temper and tolerance can play a vital role in understanding our culture and its connection to other cultures, and a family should be an epi-center of such thoughts. Parents need to seed the scientific way of looking at things into their children. This is very much possible, and an easier task. The more difficult part is to seed scientific thought into the parent’s mind, and that is where the challenge lies. Bending a hard tree is very difficult, you see. The unfortunate part is that people even do not know what is scientific temper, and how critical thinking can be adapted into their everyday life. In the name of conforming towards the elders or authorities, too many questioning minds have been killed, and have been adapted for drudgery. Accepting anything without questioning probably is the biggest disservice we can do to our self and our society. The essence of a human being is that we have an evolved brain, and our society is a byproduct of such evolution. If we do not think, how will the society evolve? Putting critical thinking to use for everyday living is highly rewarding, and questioning everything makes our life more interesting.
As a nation, we are much too occupied only in questioning things which are of monetary and social relevance. I admit that they are very important, but we cannot build an intellectual ecosystem without bringing scientific temper on board. Science brings an excellent admixture of objectivity with human creativity, which is based on “verifiable” knowledge, and furthermore it teaches us the capability to falsify something.

This is the crux of scientific temper which we need to adapt. Are we ready to embrace it? 


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Self and Yourself



    3pm, 15th April 1993, summer holidays, Bangalore: Temperatures may be hovering around 36 degree C. The tarred road is almost boiling. 8 boys are oblivious to all the standard temperature and pressures of an Indian summer because they are engrossed in playing the 6 over-a-side cricket match on the road in front of their homes. Their respective mothers have given up on their sons, as they know that the trick of containing these boys inside their homes with ‘rasna’ and other foodie incentives will not last long.
     What’s making these boys stay all the day in hot sun ? Plain and simple – it’s the craving for the sport. The boys talk and live in it. They have just finished the great-grind of Indian youth of 1990s – the final exams, and now are free birds, at least till June 1st. Sports for them is a form of expression, a purpose for their living, an aim to achieve, and thrill to experience. It is not out of any big ambition of becoming a sport star. Not at all, that is usually never on their minds, but they play it to just enjoy the game and live it as it is happening. A kind of practical nirvana, one may say, without enforcement.
     It is worth introspecting why we, as humans, play and like sports so much. One important reason is the human interaction. You play to bond and compete with others, and this bonding and competition can bring out the best in you. This process of interaction involuntarily helps you to understand one-self.  Playing sport is one of the greatest forms of self-realization. It really brings out the YOU out of you, whether you like it or not. The spectacle of sports too, gives you an external impression, and to a large extent an exposure to the nature of people playing it. You may not know a person, but you can watch her or him play sports for an extended period of time, and construct their image of external behaviour. So sports tell you and others, who you are.
         If someone does love the sports they play, and have been trained to play well since a very early age and extremely passionate about it, then they usually take it up as their career. These people can live their sport and make a living out of the sport. It is a happy thought. So as you may observe there are two components to sports as a career. One is an internal thoughtful realization of the self, and the other is a professional side which puts you at the interface of your ‘self’ and the outside world.
         Alas! Time and again, many sport ‘stars’ have fizzled out of their shine in public, having caught doing wrong things. Why? Why do they do this despite being successful? May be the definitions change in their minds.  If you look up the dictionary for the meaning of the word “game”, you get many definitions such as A contest with rules to determine a winner, and there is another one which defines game as A secret scheme to do something (especially something underhand or illegal). The problem occurs when the definitions are transformed from the former to later; where sporting bravado transforms to out–of-the-line bravery. Only one of them is a positive kind.
      Many of the tainted sport stars are also high-achievers, but somewhere down the line, they lose their ‘self’. Why? May be they have stopped seeing themselves through their own eyes. May be between the ‘self’ and the world they have lost themselves. It is critical to curtail this loss of “one-self”. We know why we need curtail this loss. The important question is how to do it.
May be the answer is also within one-self? 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Cyclic Journey

   
     In the journey called ‘time’, a driver named ‘bureaucrat’ is riding a bus called ‘policy’. This driver is vaguely trained how to ride the bus, and is a close friend of a conductor named ‘politician’. Of course the conductor is in charge of the trip and sells all the tickets to passengers named ‘common man’. People buy the ticket because the conductor promises them to take them around on a fruitful journey in a high quality bus with an experienced driver. Then, after selling the tickets, the conductor leaves the passengers at a bus-stand promising them to come back very soon with a bus from a near-by depot. Meanwhile, the passengers are all excited about the journey they are going to make and are planning to see many places along the journey. After a while, the passengers get restless waiting for the bus to arrive. They know that they will have to take a long journey, but the bus is nowhere in sight. The passengers get agitated. Then, after talking to each other, the passengers realize that each one has been sold a ticket of different price. They are now angry and want to get hold of the conductor, but he is nowhere to be seen near the bus-stop. In the meantime, they see many other people called ‘elite citizens’ travelling by cars passing by the bus-stand, but nobody stops their car to pick-up people in the bus stand. Then, to the same bus-stand where the passengers are waiting for the bus to arrive, a police man named ‘media’ drives in and enquires about the lost passengers. The passengers immediately complain to the police-man about the wait and variable prices they have paid for the journey, and that the conductor is nowhere to be seen. Interestingly, the police man neither knows where the conductor is nor the bus is, but goes around the bus-stop hundred-and-one times and returns to the passengers again to enquire about their wait. Again the passengers tell their sorry story, and now police man promises to go in search of the conductor and the bus, and bring it to them. In the mean time, the waiting passengers start fighting with each other for limited seats in the bus-stand, and there is plenty of chaos all-around.
   Suddenly, an old outdated bus arrives near the bus-stop. Now, to the surprise of the waiting passengers, the bus is completely filled with ‘elite citizens’, ‘police-men’, and guess who? Toward the fag end of the bus, waving his hands towards the waiting passengers is the same old ‘conductor’. The passengers really get agitated and try to get into the bus, but they realize that the bus-doors are locked, and there is no way to enter it. The police man inside the bus takes a picture of all the agitated passengers and shouts “don’t worry; we will fight for your justice inside the bus”. To add insult to the injury, all the people in the bus laugh at the waiting passengers, make mockery of them, and finally wave their hands bidding good-bye. The driver starts the bus gleefully, and leaves the bus-stand right away. The conductor reminds the driver that he has to ride the bus at a faster pace, because there are many more bus-stands to visit on the way.
         After a long wait near the bus stand, the stranded passengers see a new conductor. He seems to be nice guy, and promises that he is going to take them through the journey. People are very skeptic this time, but they want to go on this journey. After a lot of apprehension and debate among themselves, they again buy the ticket and are waiting for the bus to arrive……….

Sunday, October 23, 2011

From Edison’s diary

Thomas Alva Edison was one of the greatest inventors we know about. Sometime ago, I stumbled upon a book titled THE DIARY AND OBSERVATIONS OF THOMAS ALVA EDISON, and was an interesting read. In there we obtain an insight to Edison’s view on many different subjects including education, work, religion etc. Edison was a person with strong views. His working methods were unconventional. Here are a few interesting facts I learnt from this book:

1) Edison had to recruit many executives to his labs; he always emphasized on a memory test and gave them a questionnaire to answer. He insisted that memory is very important for decision making, and he usually employed those people who had very good memory. Edison wrote “…Certainly the brain should have the facts. If a brain possesses an enormous number of facts, those facts, through action of the subconscious mind, will automatically keep themselves available when needed and will automatically keep themselves out of the way, not interfering when not required.”

2) Edison’s view on education was interesting and bold for his times, and he believed that learning through movies would be vital for future education. As early as 1890s, he said that best way to teach geography is either by taking the student on a tour or to show them a movie. Edison wrote “…motion pictures can be applied to a scientific, systematic course of memory training in the schools, taking the children at an early age when the mind is plastic enough to adapt itself most readily to new habit of thought.

Most of our text books fail on two big counts. They are not sufficiently human, and their application is not sufficiently practical”

3) In the following lines Edison gives an insight to how he worked: “When I want to discover something, I begin by reading up everything that has been done along that line in the past-that’s what all these books in the library are for. I see what has been accomplished at great labor and expense in the past. I gather the data of many thousads of experiments as a starting point, and then I make thousads more.”

“ …..The motive that I have for inventing is, I guess, like the motive of the billiard player, who always wants to do a little better-to add to his record. Under present conditions I use the reasonable profit which I derive from one invention to make experiments looking towards another invention…..”

4) Edison rates phonograph as his greatest discovery. He writes “Which do I consider my greatest invention ? Well, my reply to that would be that I like the phonograph best. Doubtless this is because I love music. And then it has brought so much joy into millions of homes all over this country, and , indeed, all over the world.”

5) The following quotation by Joshua Reynolds was hung in every room of Edison’s laboratory “ There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking”

There are many more fascinating thoughts of Edison, many agreeable and a few disagreeable ones, in the above mentioned book, and if you happen to find it, read it through…it’s a classic autobiography.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sailing against the wind

John Petit-Senn told “True courage is like a kite, a contrary wind raises it higher”. To have a firm belief in something and to pursue it courageously till the end is one of the finest human qualities. This quality was exemplified by Daniel Shechtman, who recently won the Nobel prize in chemistry for the discovery of quasicrystals. According to conventional knowledge of crystallography, crystals can exist with certain symmetries only. So the convention was that crystals in nature can have only 1-, 2-, 3-, 4- or 6-fold rotational symmetry, with everything else not allowed. Contrary to this, Daniel discovered that there exist crystals whose rotational symmetry is 10 fold. When he announced this discovery, he was mocked and humiliated, and was asked to leave his sabbatical research group. Great scientists including Linus Pauling made fun of the discovery on quasicrystals saying “There are no quasicrystals, only quasi-scientist”. However, Daniel pursued his research and submitted it to Journal of Applied Physics, but was rejected. Yet he persuaded his colleagues in different countries to verify his discovery and finally his paper was published in Physical Review letters. This speaks of Daniel’s character of persistence and how he believed in his observations and finally triumphed. Nowadays everybody approves of quasicrystal’s existence, and Nobel prize is a fair indicator.

[A word of caution: all great research will not fetch the Nobel prize, and some of the deserving scientist may have been omitted in the past for various reasons. Who gets this prize, they usually deserves it, but the one who misses it should not be forgotten.]

What is related to this matter of persistence is that there have been plenty of scientific discoveries in the past that was initially rejected by the scientific community, but later went on to win the Nobel prize. A search on internet resulted in an interesting paper by a Spanish researcher named JUAN MIGUEL CAMPANARIO who wrote on Rejecting and resisting Nobel class discoveries: accounts by Nobel Laureates, in Scientometrics, Vol. 81, No. 2 (2009) 549–565. There he notes how more than 20 discoveries which were rejected ina journal were later accepted either in a different journal or in the same journal, and further went on to win the Nobel prize.

So the next time when you make a discovery and if somebody rejects it, you know what to do !

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A worthy list

In the past and presence of a country, one always comes across interesting men and women who have shaped the political, economical and social thoughts and contributed new ideas by their leadership and writing. In this blog I identify 10 of them who have vastly influenced our thinking. The list is a personal choice and not an exhaustive one. I name the people and give reasons for their choice.

1

Gopal Krishna Gokhale

Remarkably knowledgeable, great scientific attitude, influential writer and speaker, mentor of many including Gandhi

2

Mohandas K. Gandhi

Mahatma, great attitude towards life, extremely courageous and persistent, also wrote a lot, exemplified simplicity

3

M. Vishweshwaraiah

Doer. Father of Indian Engineering, built remarkable dams, roads, and other things when many Indians did not even know what is a nut or a bolt, was open-minded, highly disciplined life style

4

Rabindranath Tagore

Polymath, a scholar of highest quality, remarkable writer and thinker, his writing has influenced all spheres of Indian life.

5

Sarojini Naidu

Poetess, political activist and a modern Indian woman, was proficient in Urdu, Telugu, English, Bengali, and Persian. She had a superior will and courage, and a modern outlook as she got married to man of different caste, which was a taboo in Indian society then.

6

Satyajit Ray

One of the greatest filmmakers in the world. He was also a writer, publisher, graphic designer and film critic. His movies had stunning effect on human society and inspired many artists.

7

Mother Theresa

One of the purest souls to live, remarkable commitment to mankind. She may have served more dying people than anybody in this world. She is great benchmark for human caring.

8

Periyar E. V. Ramasamy

Bold. A great scholar who vigorously fought against superstitions in India society, his self-respect movement is legendary, some of his thoughts were off the beat, but had great impact on society

9

Kiran Bedi

Former IPS officer who has inspired generations of women and men who want to stand up on their feet. Very upright and courageous, although was recently criticized for her staged act against politicians. A worthwhile TED talk of Bedi is here

10

Ramachandra Guha

One of living intellectual of India, who is acclaimed all over the world as a great historian and writer. His books: India after Gandhi and Makers of Modern India are worth reading.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The problem of excess

Somebody unknown wrote: give a person a fish and you feed them for a day; teach that person to use the Internet and they won't bother you for weeks. In the current age roti, kapada aur makhan has a new companion: information. Information has become integral part of our lives, and we have devised many mechanisms to obtain them. In 90s and early 2000s, we saw revolution is terms of internet and satellite technology, as we amassed various methods to obtain quick information. But now we live in age where there is an overload of information. This overload of information is a problem of excess, and many of us will have to think deeply about its consequences.

Information overload has many outcomes. One of them is multitasking. We tend to tackle many different issues at a given period of time by dividing our attention to various tasks at hand. We will have to introspect about this division of attention. Researchers at Stanford University have looked into the concept of social media multitasking and it consequence on cognitive control (PNAS paper), and their results show that attention-to-detail decreases as multitasking increases. This is obvious because the average time that one spends on each task is reduced, and the continuity of thought is interrupted every time one switches task. This can be easily evidenced when we browse on the internet. Just observe how many tabs are open in your window, this a fair indication of how your attention is divided between tasks. Another assessment you could make is to check how many times you log-in to your e-mail. You will be surprised that one does this more than the required number. Why do we do this? After all, e-mail gives us the freedom of access at our own will, but even then we sometimes over use it.

What is further surprising about the Stanford study is that it shows that heavy-multitaskers tend to be more susceptible to interference from irrelevant information. This is indeed a cause for concern as our decision making can be affected due to multitasking.

Now the important question is how do you overcome the problem of information overload? First thing is to acknowledge that we cannot stop the inflow of information, so the choice at our hand is to filter the incoming information carefully. We will have to somehow set priority on the basis of importance and interest, and stick to one task at a time. In this context let me give 2 examples of great minds:

1) Isaac Newton was asked how he could successfully solve so many scientific problems. His answer was that he paid patient attention to the problem at hand and thought about it for long periods of time. Some of his contemporaries have mentioned that Newton could think about a problem not for hours or days but for months. Such unperturbed attention is indeed hard to achieve, especially in the present context, but it is indeed fascinating to learn that Newton had this remarkable capability.

2) Henry Poincare, who was one of the greatest mathematicians, describes in detail about his mathematical creativity, and in there he mentions that a conscious unsuccessful effort to solve a problem is usually followed by a unconscious effort by his brain, and this unconscious effort further leads to an answer that one was seeking while working consciously. For this unconscious effort to perform well, we need to put-in concentrated effort during the conscious effort, and this can happen only when we perform a single task at a time.

The above two examples give an overview of how deep, unperturbed thinking has interesting consequences, and also indicates that one thing at a time is indeed far more productive than multitasking.

It is an intriguing situation we live in today. Around 20 years ago people were struggling hard to obtain information, and the most powerful people were the ones who had the information. Now we are in a more democratic situation where information is just a matter of a mouse click but we struggle hard to discriminate the intellectual wheat from the chaff. The problem of excess is here to stay, it is up to us make a choice whether we want to multi-task or multiply our effort on each task.

There is a short, funny movie made by XEROX on Information Overload Syndrome: you may want to watch it.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Facts in Fiction

To

My African Friend

Developing country

My Dear Friend,

Greetings from India ! I hope you and your family is doing well. It was heartening to get your letter, and your words conveyed your well-being, and I am glad to learn that. It’s been quite a long time, in fact 5 years, since we have met each other. Our first, and the only meeting was on a train journey from Bangalore to Delhi, but I am happy that our friendship and the intellectual conversations has been active through mails. I understand from your previous letter, that you are writing a book, and you wanted to know some specific things about India. This letter is an attempt to unveil few of my thoughts on 3 issues you had asked for. Please remember that what I write here are my own views, and my words vary from being accurate to inadequate to mere speculation. I leave it to you to make the judgment. So here are some of my thoughts.

India vs China

This comparison has been done all over the world, but I think it is an unfair comparison. Specifically, the rate of technological growth in China is far superior to India. This is partly due to the pace at which we work. Our decision making bodies take quite a looooooooooooooooooooong time to come to conclusions. In fact, it is so long that even to install a security camera in Delhi high court, we took more than 3 years, and I am not sure whether the cameras are working or not. So if you think that we are head and shoulders with China in development, then my friend, you are under a wrong impression. China has its own problem – some are simple and some difficult ones to solve, but atleast they are trying. In India we are fighting our enemies within and it will take a while to wake up. If you look at India and China as an outsider, you will always see that China will be leading for next 20 years, at the least. My prediction is that our development gap will widen in future. In general, an argumentative Indian is a sheer joy to watch, but you ask the same guy to execute what he has argued upon, he will fail miserably. Execution of thought is the burning problem of India. We have great minds and very ordinary hands. After all, empty vessels make more noise, and our political class is a vessel of infinite volume.

Indian media and entertainment

Hey, you liked food with lots of masala, isn’t it? well, this aspect is typical of Indian food. Our media and entertainment has taken this concept too seriously and have adapted this into their working. There is a huge difference between substance and image, and our news and films are mainly run by images but not by substance. This does not mean we lack the right people, but it means that wrong people are on the right camera. You will observe that stupid films made by egomaniac, animal killing, drug-addicted actors will make box office hits, and deep, thought provoking, low-budget movies made by some talented people will hardly make a mark on the media, leave aside the people. I have a strong feeling that most of the movie directors in Indian cinema have miserably failed in their basic science classes in the school. They show many unphysical things in theirs movies, that a pool of fans think that physics is a joke, and Indian movie is a reality. I fear for their mental stability and I seriously wish that our government build more mental hospitals for them. Coming to the advertisements in our media, you must see some of the “Fair and nonsense” brands that go around the circuit. If you think we are not racist after seeing these ads, then you are deceiving yourself. It’s dripping in our society. There are many regional news channels which cover and recover news day and night. They go to every nook and corner of India and report anything which can be detected on the CCD of the camera. If you think India has given great freedom to its news media, then you are right. Right because our news media can covers anything on earth including the fictious news.

Sports

Cricket : 99.999999% :: other sports : ~ 0

We are obsessed with cricket. We like it and sometimes take it very seriously. We have a very famous team of cricketers, who are richer than some of your African kings. Few are great. Many of them are good cricketers in Indian conditions, and not so good when they travel. This team is usually coached by a guy who will not make them work very hard. If the coach tries to do so, our captains and media will annihilate him. Now the recent trend in Indian cricket is to couple itself with our film industry (bollywood), and make a lot of noise in a tournament called Indian Premier League (IPL). It is a league played by the cricketers, run by the jokers, feasted by the pokers and funded by liquors. Other sports hardly fill a part of the final pages of newspapers. Actually field hockey is our national game, but it is so poorly administered that someday the players may use their hockey sticks to play cash rich cricket with bollywood funds. There are many willing sports persons in our country, and some of them have made their mark in international circuit, be it chess, shooting, despite the hardships they face.

All the above are tiny insights to the great Indian tamasha. We are still “work in progress” mode, and I hope to update you in future. Meanwhile, you may explore more on the web, and don’t watch too many bollywood movies in Africa. I know you like it, but you may have to re-learn your physics from scratch. Beware !

This is all I have for this letter, I hope this will help.

cheers,

Pavan

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Wonder called Work

George Bernard Shaw said “When I was young, I observed that nine out of ten things I did were failures. So I did ten times more work.” Yes, it’s plain and simple : MORE WORK. Time and again, we have seen that ordinary people, with the philosophy of doing ‘more work’, flourishing in their deeds. Let me sight some examples. Approximately 10 years ago, I had the privilege to visit ISRO and see the construction of the satellite INSAT 3C from close quarters. I learnt that most of the scientists working on the satellite were from humble background with conventional education from universities of India, not from IITs. What I also learnt is that they worked with a philosophy that systematic thinking and hard work (~12 hrs/day) was more important than sophistication and style. We all owe a lot to them because the communication systems, be it mobile phones, or satellite television or any other hi-fi stuff we use in India is due to these hard working people. Over the years, my research career has given me an opportunity to work with various researchers across the globe. I was impressed to observe a professor who had a limited background and was rated average in a particular research field, but through sheer hard work, he accomplished so much over the years that even the experts in the research field were found wanting in comparison to his work. While I observed all this, I read an interesting book TALENT IS OVERRATED. Written by Geoff Colvin- the editor-in-large of Fortune magazine, this well researched book shows that extra-ordinary effort by ordinary people can accomplish some wonderful things. The author notes that excellence come from deliberate practice, and deliberate practice is not just practice for long hours, but a practice with vision for accomplishment. There are many anecdotes and references in the book which substantiates these claims. It’s worth a read as one can adapt many things into their life by understanding work is more important that talent.

India is undergoing a change. The middle class society, especially the younger lot, is seeking an external change in terms of politics and many other things, which is heartening. But in a youthful world of instant messages and fast-food mentality, hard work and patience is compromised by the majority of the youth in this country. It is high time that we seek not only an external change but also an internal one. Then most accomplishments we intend to achieve are only a matter of time and EFFORT. After all, hard work pays off.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A transition to understand

The altitude one scales in life is propelled by aptitude and sustained by attitude. Aspiration, desire and commitment are easy to say, but difficult to practice, as it requires tremendous amount of self-discipline. I have been observing that children, in general, have this remarkable character of being disciplined, and can learn things at a faster rate than adults. In recent days, two things have caught my attention in the context of the above discussion:

1) The SUPER30 organization in Patna, which hunts for 30 meritorious talents from among the economically backward sections of the society and shapes them for India's most hyped-up examination of IIT-JEE. In the last seven years, it seems it has produced hundreds of IITians from extremely poor background. Hats off to Anand Kumar who is running this organization, and hats off to the students from poor background who are cracking the JEE. Although, I don’t endorse these rat-race examinations, I admire people who take up the challenge to write this examination and get through it successfully. It’s a hard task, I must admit. If you observe many students coming out of this organization, they are extremely hard working with a sustained frame of mind to achieve a goal. Indeed, they inspire me.

2) The other thing in the same context is the reality-shows on television that showcases talent of Indian children. Some children do remarkable things (including dance, singing etc.). Probably, parents' encouragement is vital in this, but children put up a show with an air of enthusiasm, confidence and commitment, which one can hardly see in the grownups.

I have not yet found an answer to the following questions:

Is it difficult to learn something new as you grow older or is it just a matter of attitude?What is really happening to the attitude when there is a transition from adolescence to adulthood?

Just think about a situation when adults start working as well as they would have done during their childhood, that can make a lot of difference. maybe it is time for us to grow our minds younger, perhaps, like the intellectual case of Benjamin Button.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

On the slower lane…

To learn we need information. Our thinking is vastly influenced by what we are informed of, and when we are fed with a large pool of information, gaining accurate knowledge is not trivial. Since last decade or so, communication and information retrieval have been revolutionized by internet. Now we are in situation where there is an excess of information, and the major task is how to find the required knowledge from a large pool of information. There may be more and more accurate search engines which can filter and narrow down your query, but the major question is how does your mind differentiate between accurate information from the inaccurate one?

Perhaps, the answer lies in spending more time on the information we acquire, and here lies the major problem. There is a conflict in our mind, where our thinking has to be adapted to the rate at which the information flows in. As a result of this, we need to think faster, learn faster and decide faster to keep up the pace. This implies that the average time on thinking, learning and decision making is now proportional to the rate of information flow. But from previous experience and history, we very well know that accuracy in thinking, learning and decision making critically depends on the amount of time we spend on it. It is as simple as this: longer the time we spend with data, more information can be retrieved out of it. But now, we are in a situation where we need to hasten the processing time. So, the problem is: how does one acquire accurate knowledge by keeping pace with the rate of input of information?

May be, to improve our ability to judge and prioritize, we need to slow down our lives. Yes, SLOOOOW DOWN…. Rushing through may be a requirement of our environment, but going on a slower lane gives us opportunity to foresee a mistake which we may make by going faster. A deeper and longer thought on this issue is required URGENTLY!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Pavan2.0

It’s been quite a while since I have written a blog. Married life and a new job @ new place are good excuses for that.

Life in Pune has been decent; it’s a new environment for me and we are slowly adapting to it. The city is very hilly, fairly industrialized, flooded with students, and people are friendly. The cost of living is high, but a variety of food is available, and weather is warmer than west Lafayette, Barcelona and Bengaluru, but the nights are very similar to Bengaluru. The local city transport (bus and auto) is bad, which gives you a good reason to buy a vehicle (now I have a cycle but may graduate to a motor!)

Job-wise, the transformation from a post-doc to an assistant prof. has been really exciting. Now that I am in an institute where the emphasis is not only on research, but also on teaching, the prospects for innovation and creativity are high. Come this August, I will be part of biophysics course, which is essentially an interdisciplinary subject (reflecting our institute's agenda). I would also lecture in an advanced laboratory course of physics/physical chemistry. Since the semester has not yet begun, I haven’t interacted much with the students, but whomsoever I have spoken to are excited to be part of science, and this is indeed a pleasant thing. Most of the faculties are young, knowledgeable and dynamic, and all of them believe that they can make a difference by incorporating research with teaching into their work. This is a new experiment in Indian science, and we are really excited to be part of this. More in coming weeks…..

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mahatma and the Valentine


Anger is an enemy within. This is one part of human nature we can happily mutate. In the backdrop of the recent mishap in Pune, I see the relevance of Gandhiji’s principle of peace growing. Most of the people feel that Gandhism is no more relevant in the present day context. I myself have been conflicting with this conception over the years, but now I have no doubt that Gandhiji idea was an eternal thought of superior quality. The reason why Gandhiji’s peace model ‘seems to be’ out-of-date is because of its difficulty to implement. The idea was seen as irrelevant even during Gandhiji’s contemporary days, just because it needed a huge change in the mindset of human thought. And any change to explore the ‘out-of-comfort’ zone is repelled by us. To reach a level of maturity that the Mahatma attained, it needs sheer commitment, patience, intelligence and above all tremendous amount of inner strength, which are uncommon combinations today. The relevance of a peace model should not only be judged on the difficulty of implementation, but also on the fruitful solution it can bring in, over a long period of time. The greatest way to win over the mind of an opponent is not by seeding a thought of conflict, but by enlightening them by the sheer magnitude of resolve to sustain thought of peace, not just outside, but also within. This idea consumes time, but is and always will be the permanent way to reach equilibrium.

As I write this blog, most of the world is celebrating Valentine’s Day. I welcome any thought which binds people together, and the concept of the day has a positive impact, especially on youth. However, there are now extreme schools of thoughts either opposing or supporting this day. At one end, this day has been well utilized by the corporate world to cash-in on human emotions by hyping this day. On the other end, it has been rejected as un-cultured. The reality is somewhere in between. My thought is the following: Yes, by all means celebrate love, not by restoring to the materialistic rewards of pleasantries, but by ensuring that you not only love your loved ones more, but also love those people whom you hate. After all, this is the bottom line of Mahatma’s thought.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sunday, December 27, 2009

15 lessons of research I learnt

1. Honesty is the best policy. Respectful science comes from ethical research.

2. If you like something, you will spend your maximum time on it.

3.Never accept anything without questioning. Asking questions to yourself and others is the
foundation of research. Once you ask a question (trivial or otherwise), knowing the answer
should be your responsibility.

4.Action speaks more than words, and every action begins with a thought. Spending time
on focussed thinking is WORTH EVERY SECOND.

5.Writing : research :: water : earth. Next to IDEAS, COMMUNICATION is the most
important weapon for a scientist. Think clear, talk clear, write clear.

6. Stay organized. I realized that it makes your life easier, and in the long-run will lead to
greater productivity. It is always better to have a to-do list. Do not allow your ideas to
drift away from yourself, make a note of them.

7.Little drops of water make a mighty ocean. To begin with, all scientific projects seems to
be laaaaarge and time consuming. So, take things one at a time, work through it with
great attention and no haste. As Aesop said little by little does the trick.

8. Keep your mind open. This is easier said than done. Read across scientific disciplines.
Discuss with people from other scientific backgrounds. Explain concepts to yourself and
others.

9.Set sensible short term goals which are in phase with your long term goals. Dedicate
greater time for focussed work.

10.Go to the masters. If you need to understand some concept, study the related work from
the person who originally did it. You will get a clear picture.

11. Never stop studying books. Research is not just studying papers.

12. As a part of your research, do some work for your own amusement. Some great discoveries
have happened this way, and many people have made careers this way !

13.If somebody does not agree with your thought, know the logic behind the disagreement. If
it is sensible and scientific, accept and incorporate it. If not, make a note of it, and forget
it.

 14. Relying on intelligence alone to pull things off at the last minute may work for a while,
but, generally speaking, at research level, it does not. Most of the times, hard workers
OUT-THINK intelligent people, by their constant effort.

15. Rehearse, revise, re-think and REJOICE your work. These are building blocks of confidence.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ponder


Every thought is born in a quest,

a delightful pursuit to understand;

every thought is a peaceful conquest,

guided by the reason’s command.


How I ponder day in and day out,

and try to unveil the nature ?

How I fight this elevated bout,

to construct a thoughtful future ?


Every quest is a clouded mist

where mind penetrates to scatter back;

a mighty thought is a Pascal of fist

entering the fight with a subtle attack.


A great sailing thought has its great equal:

and we adore this as the ‘ocean of labour’;

Latter is the process, former its sequel,

meeting each other at an intellectual harbour.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

SKY



Eleven at night,

I look at the heavens;

glitter fills my sight

with angles and demons.


I ask a star,

what’s your kind ?

it twinkles beyond par,

asking me to find.


I sight the Betelgeuse,

the glowing red gaint;

it’s resting at peace

like an elevated saint.


I look out for Sirius,

the queen of white dwarfs;

her looks are mysterious

with electrons as her scarfs.


Now, I search the invisible,

I search the event horizon,

I fail to sight the incredible,

to realize Einstein’s reason.


Should I thank my eye,

for this spectacular show ?

or should I thank the sky

for her ever lasting glow ?