Vineet Observes!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Should I pursue, or should I peruse?

The report is due in six weeks ... I know something about the topic ... there is so much more available on the Internet waiting to be googled ... Should I start writing, or should I search? ... Should I pursue, or should I peruse? ...

Three weeks to the due date ... perusing was just so irresistible ... I still have not written a single word ... but that is okay ... I know more about the topic ... should I start pursuing now ... may be just a little more of googling wouldn't hurt ...

One week to the due date ... report is still half-baked ... I am confused ... is word limit strict much do I believe the validity of similar reports google found for me ... and then the writing ... my god, it takes forever ... is this the correct usage ... does this word have a synonym ... may be I should google again.

Six hours to the deadline ... my report is , well, almost complete ... not quite ... did all the Google-acquired knowledge make the report better ... I hope it did ... who knows ... but did the report not ask for a personal perspective ... did I think enough on my own ... is what I am writing really me ... I hope ...

One hour after the deadline ... what a relief ... the report is finally done (just in time) ... what a wild scramble in the end ...

Should I have perused less and pursued more ... can some wise man tell me where was the right boundary ... I hope the answer is not "peruse enough, then just pursue" ... that I knew all the while.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Sure you wanna think "out of the box"?

Poor guy got a zero for the absolutely hilarious yet correct answer! All because he thought "out of the box".

I got this over the email today. I was reminded of an anecdote from many years ago.

A friend of mine, a very smart student, got the following question in an exam: In a classroom, there are 40 rows of students, and each row has 4 students. How many students are there in the class? My friend did 40 X 4 = 160, thought for a while, and changed the answer to 40 + 4 = 44. When asked by the teacher on why he made this mistake (which incidentally cost him a healthy 5 marks), he innocently answered, "How can a classroom accomodate 160 students? Our class has only 45 students, isn't it?".

My friend lost 5 marks because he thought, well, "out of the box".

Are you sure you still want to think "out of the box"? May be you want to keep in mind which side of the question paper are you on, i.e., are you setting the paper, or solving the paper?

Sunday, November 06, 2005

How real is Reality TV?

Reality TV seems to be the in thing on American TV these days. So many TV shows show "real people" (not actors) participating in some games or competitions as they would in real life, and not according to some pre-decided script.

Cynics argue that the shows like The Apprentice, Survivor, The Amazing Race, The Biggest Loser, The Bachelor etc. are all staged. I don't think that is true.

However, what we are shown on TV is, well, thankfully, an edited version of what really happened. And how a video clip is edited can change what appears real about the reality. The editor has a lot of flexibility in changing the sequence of events. The editor can emphasize some portion at the expense of another. Then there is overlay of music and background commentary, captions, punctuations to allow commercial breaks etc.

I realized the power of editing recently when my father and I edited some home-videos that we had captured from our hand-held camcorder. Trimming from a raw video that was about 4 hours in all, we created 3 movies of a combined length of about an hour. In the process, we added special effects, captions and music; we chose clippings that we both felt were important; we re-arranged some of the clippings; we merged shots from different places---all for the sake of maintaining a coherent and crisp video, but distorting reality all the same!

So, next time you tune in to a reality show, remember is it just that: a show. But then, have you ever wondered, what is real anyway?

Monday, October 31, 2005

Indian bats score big runs!

There is a good reason for Indians to cheer every time Andrew Flintoff, Ricky Ponting, Stephen Fleming, Jacques Kallis or Sanath Jayasuriya, like many other famous batsmen, dispatch the ball to the boundary, even if they did so against the Indian team. Do you know why? Because the weapons of mass destruction in their hands have been crafted in India (mostly in Meerut or Jalandhar).

India-made bats and cricket gear accounts for almost 90% of the global market. Just like Taiwan is the hub for computer hardware, India is the hub of choice for cricket gear. And just like the hardware manufacturers of Taiwan, Indian bat makers are likely to stay in the background, leaving global brands like Gray Nicolls, Slazenger, GM, and Kookaburra to capture peoples' minds and imagination.

In what reminds one of the colonial days, albeit in the reverse direction, India imports English willow (the raw material), converts them into top quality bats (finished goods) and exports them to the overseas market, the biggest one being England.

What about the Indian stars? Don't we see only corporate logos like MRF, Britannia and Hero Honda, on their bats. Well, that is all thanks to the corporate deals that the players have with these brands, thanks to which, bat makers have to stay out of limelight. But that also means there is a market for cheap bats with fake stickers which children emulating their stars like to own!

Indian bats rule. Most teams use them. There is one team that is an exception? Any guesses who are they?


Acknowledgement: Inspired from an article in "The Outlook" dated October 24, 2005.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Are you sure about your gender?

We have to fill up so many forms for so many things. Generally, it is a mundane exercise.

Sometimes the forms do somethings to make filling them a bit lively.

I came across a form today, where there was a standard question about Gender. The options were: Male, Female, Unknown. Any takers for unknown??

There was another form a few years back that asked a question ''Father's gender''. Thankfully, there was no option of ''Unknown'' there.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Let us see the Mahatma more objectively

While it is widely acknowledged that Mahatma Gandhi made the Indian freedom struggle a mass movement, how successful he was as a leader of the freedom movement is often hotly debated. He is blamed for having aggravated the communal and caste tensions, for having been stubborn and unrealistic at times, for having applied different yardsticks of morality for the British rulers and the Indian masses, for not having supported other leaders whose ideologies differed from his, for having caused partition etc.. He is also criticized for having promoted outdated and flawed economic ideas (see for example 'India Unbound' by Gurcharan Das). There are also those who just like to tear him apart for all kinds of (mostly unsubstantiated) reasons and ridicule him.

On the other hand, there are those who just like to glorify him, portray him as the one who single-handedly drove the British away, as one who had answers to all the problems and one who was always correct.

Whoever is extremely bent on either side, I think, misses the whole point.

Extreme critics, though often armed with historical data, fail to realize that with the benefit of hindsight, new patterns of thinking emerge and anybody can be criticized. The Indian society is, and has been, an extremely complex one. Had it not been Gandhi, it would have been some other leader with his/her own set of eccentricities and strategic mistakes, or may be a different sequence of events, that could equally be criticized. This is not to look down on the other leaders of the freedom movement, but just the simple fact that nobody is ever free of criticisms.

As far as ridiculing him goes, I think the perpetrators just lack the humility to see that this man was no five-minute shot to fame story; he commanded the love and respect of millions, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, Indians and foreigners, in a time when there was no Internet, no mobile phones, no instant messaging etc..

Those who overly glorify him end up taking the very essense of his being---his intimate connection with the people he led---away. They take him from the realm of human to super-human and make his message look obsolete and irrelevant to the ''real world'' that we live in. They miss the simple point that it was the world that made him Mahatma Gandhi from Mohandas Gandhi; he himself detested the title of Mahatma.

Now that it is already about 60 years since we won independence, I feel it is time we moved on. Let us try to see the essence of his being and see how we can apply his message today. There is a lot that this frail old man said and did which is relevant today and will always stay relevant. Always valuing an individual more than an institution, he said and illustrated so many simple straightforward messages which can help us enhance our personal effectiveness. And when seen in context with the ongoing developments in the world, they can very well form the basis of some social level policies too.

Let us move on by seeing the Mahatma more objectively. And that means, neither outrightly rejecting him, nor blindly following him.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Why Mahatma Gandhi inspires me?

To some, Mahatma Gandhi was a saint. To some, a politician. To me, he is an unsurpassed inspiration. He was a manager who could get things done; he was a leader who led by example and connected to every member of his team. More importantly, he was a sensitive and caring human being.

Nowadays, it is common to debate whether Mahatma Gandhi’s ideology is still relevant. To me, the core message of the Mahatma is that of introspection and self-improvement. No one is born perfect. No society is free of evils. The best one can do is to sincerely try and improve oneself. And in trying to do so lies one's deepest happiness. This message, in my opinion, is timeless.

I am a researcher. In that capacity, Bapu's life and ways hold a special significance to me. He listened to his inner voice and pursued his passion with utmost dedication, without bothering about anybody's approval. He did not shy away from using unconventional methods (like the spinning wheel, textiles, or salt) to drive his point. He addressed problems that were not glamorous, but surely of high importance, for example, the need for proper sanitation in the villages of India. He understood the value of experimentation, and that of verifying theory with practice. He practiced and preached self-censureship. He focussed on depth in content, yet simplicity in presentation.

In fact, throughout his life, Mahatma Gandhi illustrated several downright practical messages which, though arising from a deep spiritual plane, were packaged such that they were simple to understand. I feel his genius lay in conveying the complicated in a simple way. Reduce wastage, make wise and judicious use of time and money, maintain transparent accounts, practice self-control, realize the importance of customer, control anger, fight lust, maintain good physical and mental health, seek and practice truth---these were some of the many practical messages of the Mahatma. And he practiced what he preached. That is what made him so unique.

Dietmar Rothermund, in his book, An Economic History of India, says: "The practical features of Gandhi's life and work are forgotten by those people who only see in him the saintly 'Father of the Nation' whose picture adorns innumerable walls. America one invented the cult of the self-made man, but if there ever was a truly self-made man it was Mahatma Gandhi". This self made man will always continue to inspire me.