Saturday, December 31, 2011

Gearing for 2012

2012 is almost there...knocking at our doors. We are at the threshold of a brand new year... It’s time for new beginnings, revivals and renewals.

Looking back at 2011, one has to admit that it goes in India’s history as a year that saw us slipping into the stigma of a corrupt nation, for scams galore benumbed us. We also saw the Anna phenomenon unfold! Thanks to social and online networking, we hope the political class will be a lot wearier of us – common people! 

Notwithstanding these turmoils, how can we make the year one with a difference? I am going to tread these nurturing paths so that each day, I become a better individual.

Invest 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes just before going to bed on Meditation. In the first week of December 2011, I got access to a wonderful meditation that has kept me sane and healthy amid the frenetically paced life. I am resolute about continuing this in 2012 as I find myself rooted in peace (amid the chaos around!) and my pre-hypertension reading have stabilized to a healthy 120/70. Meditation has long been considered one of the finest practices to gain peace & clarity of mind along with its other therapeutic benefits. What ancient rishis and seers practiced ages ago has been confirmed by modern science to be a potent tool in quietening the mind and its constant chatter.  To those of you who would like to start the New Year with the remarkable benefits one can offer oneself, please visit The tagline of the free meditation cannot be more apt: Be, Breathe, Blossom!

Keep a Gratitude Journal. It is always easy to find fault with everything around us. Pause and ponder... we are sure to find countless blessings that have come our way. In fact the most difficult people in our lives happen to also be our best teachers, in retrospection. Today’s obstacles will no doubt seem to us as fine opportunities, five years from now. So instead of focussing on the troubles and imaginary fears, let us focus on the bounties we have.   It would be a great idea to write down in a note pad 5 blessings of the day, before we go to sleep. This has manifold effects as the subconscious mind registers the gratefulness. Researchers have found that when we think about someone or something we really appreciate and experience the feeling that goes with the thought, the parasympathetic – calming-branch of the autonomic nervous system – is triggered. This pattern when repeated bestows a protective effect on the heart.

Smile a lot. A smile induces warmth in the beholder’s heart. Frequent smiling is indeed therapeutic in its effect on the body & mind. Besides it is so contagious that it can even uplift the overwhelmed and depressed. It improves appearances and makes people look younger & attractive. It is mood changing and is an instant stress buster. Research has shown that smiling releases endorphins, natural pain killers, and serotonin. Together these three make us feel good and therefore happier. Smiling therefore is a natural drug.

Seize the moment – Carpe diem, they say. Being mindful is focusing on the present moment. Many a time we are engulfed in the ruminations & regrets of the past and worries & anxieties of the future. Hence we are unable to live in the present. When you are mindful, you look at yourself in a non judgemental way. You realize that you are not your thoughts. You become an observer of your thoughts – you neither grasp them nor push them away. Thankfully, the meditation that I do is aiding me superbly in this process. The venerable Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh advocates practicing mindfulness of ourselves and others – mindful acts cultivate understanding, love, compassion, and joy. In our strife ridden world this is a panacea.

Forgive others and more importantly yourself. Many a time we make mistakes. Others make mistakes. Push comes to shove, we are easy on forgiving others but quite harsh on ourselves. We need to let go of our grudges and bitterness, and embrace peace, hope, gratitude & joy. Embracing forgiveness is a clear way forward. If we probe further, it is the perfectionist in us that wants us never to make mistakes. Weed out this disease. It can cause guilt, rigidity, pessimism, low self esteem and obsessive compulsive behaviour in us. To overcome this we need to acknowledge that we are liable to make mistakes. We need to forgive ourselves for our mistakes. Backsliding is just not the end of the world – we can always pick ourselves up and start all over again. In this sense every mistake is a profound learning experience.

Go for walks. Do back stretches to ward off aches & pains. I aim to go for a 30-minute walk everyday plus do the stretches recommended by my orthopaedist. I have the benefit of a huge park nearby where I stay. So there is no reason why I should be lax on these, given the benefits of one of the most inexpensive yet easiest & effective of exercises. Besides making me physically fit, it will also promote better sleep.

Drink lots of water. In fact I start my day by drinking 3-4 glasses of water. The elixir of life is by far the best liquid to intake. Dr. Batmanghelidj who is the author of “Water for Health, for Healing, for Life” is also the founder of the National Association for Honesty in Medicine and author of, “Your Body’s Many Cries for Water”, in his interview with Mike Adams speaks eloquently about the healing power of water. I find drinking 8-10 glasses of water everyday very energising.

These and other good practices that I indulge in like doing Reiki, reading plenty of inspirational literature and regular prayers will also keep me in good stead through 2012.

Do you have any nurturing practice to share??? 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Ridiculous, isn't it???

Dear Mr. Sibal

I am not a lawyer. I am not in politics nor am I in position of power like you. I am not a cyber specialist. I am just a simple citizen, an educator who exhorts my students to think for themselves, have an opinion and make sure that they express it.

My pet peeve over the last few days has been you. First when I read this report in the India blog of New York Times through, you guessed it right, a Facebook link, on the 5th of December 2011, I just couldn't believe what I was reading. (Our Indian media caught up a little late!) I can understand if monarchies & autocracies demand this. But a demand of this nature from a legal luminary-cum-elected-representative (Aside: – the board to which I belong to was under your care – and you made so many radical changes there!) from the world’s largest democracy was far too much to digest. And that too at a time when social media is playing a vital role in engineering change in many countries globally; and when young and old are equally members of such online communities that foster a sense of camaraderie and oneness in them. 

Why do you want Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to screen content? What kind of content are you particularly keen on removing? Anything that is anti-government or anti-congress? With millions of web users logging in and out, posting anything from tweets to status updates, to photographs to videos, writing blogs to discussing in webinars, how on earth are they going to monitor that? Besides, I fiercely value my freedom of speech. As long as I am not using objectionable language and graphics, why should anybody screen the content that I post?

I have three blogs. One question that I had to answer before I started them was whether it has adult content. I could set up one only when I said no to it. I write something disparaging about X / Y / Z, someone can always report me for abuse of the virtual space. Which means that there is a built in mechanism for social media to purge unwanted / abusive material, right? Why, then, did you want to be the super cop, ask for content censorship of kinds & earn the ire of millions of Indians in the cyber world? What is more shameful is that you are using this as a ruse and saying that by indulging in such free exchange of views & ideas, religious sensitivity will be exploited. Come on, Mr. Sibal, the internet is not a new thing now. If such instances gave rise to communal riots, India would have been in shreds by now. In fact, I have heard many a time that it is your tribe who engender communal issues and use it effectively in vote bank politics.

I am aware of the IT act. Section 66A is about punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc which is punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine. Section 66E is for violation against privacy; 66F deals with punishment for indulging in cyber terrorism. Section 67 is about punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material. As a legal expert you know it all too well. And perhaps you know the loopholes too. Is that why you can’t invoke these sections against erring individuals? So how about plugging the loopholes instead of gagging us?

Mr. Sibal, common people like me have tolerated nonsense for very many years. A new found enthusiasm is coursing through our veins, thanks to our communities in the very same social media that you have targeted. India will not go the China way! Do read the writings on the wall!! Or you will not have any wall to write over!!!

An Awakened Citizen 

Friday, December 9, 2011

C for Corruption - a Blot on India!

Corruption is no doubt a global phenomenon. There have been many instances of corruption all over and thanks to the media many were exposed. 

Today, with technological advance and an alert print and visual media, things have become a lot easier for exposes. Whistle blowers too have played a vital role in informing us about corruption. 

The Transparency International, a leading anti-corruption watchdog, published its Corruption Perception Index (CPI) for 2011 on 1st December 2011. In this index they actually name the least corrupt to the most corrupt countries in a scale from 10 to 0. While the top slot with 9.5 rating goes to New Zealand, they are closely followed by the Scandinavian countries of Denmark and Finland with 9.4 as their score. The ignominious last two places go to Somalia & North Korea with the lowest 1.0 scores. Where does India figure in the list? India is 95th (out of 183 countries covered by the index) with a 3.1 score. It is worth pointing out that in 2010 we were at 87 with 3.3 score and have dropped 8 places, thanks to the innumerous corruption scandals involving the ruling governments in both the Centre and the States unearthed. 

On 8th December 2011, Bibek Debroy and Laveesh Bhandari have touched a raw nerve when they calculated the figures that the corrupt earn in India – a mind blowing Rs. 92,122 crore ($18.42 billion) which works out to 1.26% of the GDP! In their book aptly titled, “Corruption in India: The DNA & RNA”, Debroy who is a professor with Delhi's Centre for Policy Research and Bhandari who heads Indicus Analytics, monitoring the performance of the Indian economy, lists out the various public services that are plagued with the mire of corruption. This includes industries of transport, real estate, illegal mining, government procurement, agriculture, forestry and logging, fishing, registered manufacturing, electricity, gas and water supply, construction, trade, hotels and restaurants, railways, storage, communication, and banking and insurance. Well, reading the exhaustive list, it occurred to me that it would be a lot easier to point out where corruption does not happen in this country than the other way around! It is sad that India’s economic growth is undermined by corruption that permeates the entire warp and weft of the nation. 

Today, though there are anti-corruption laws, they are toothless and powers that be can easily circumvent them, break them with impunity, sneak away through loop holes and walk out of prisons & courts with ease. Coming out of prisons, they target whistle blowers (we have had so many – Manjunath Shanmugham, Shehla Masood, Niyamat Ansari – just to mention a few names that cannot be forgotten) and meticulously eliminate them, leaving no traces. RTI activists find themselves at the receiving end. 

Where does all this leave us? Surely the need of the hour is a strong Lokpal Bill which will ensure stringent punishment to those who indulge in corruption of any kind. Let us all support it in every possible way. Let us hope that we are able to chain the monster of corruption and signal the awakening of the giant that India is – thanks to her man power, resources and timeless national values. Let's remove the blot on this land which has "Satyameva Jayate" (meaning Truth alone triumphs, from the ancient scripture - Mundaka Upanishad) as its motto. 

I want to end this post on a very optimistic note borrowing the immortal lines of John Keats in the Ode to the West Wind. 
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Shift and Change

A couple of years ago I embarked on a string of changes at the professional level which then impacted me at a personal level. Though I began with bright flames of enthusiasm, gradually I found it difficult to keep it alive and burning; in fact even the embers were dying. So much so that, I thoroughly felt overwhelmed! Months later, a delectable spread of choicest motivational reading, conscious and deliberate positive affirmations and self talk, a never-say-die attitude, nurturing support from my wonderful family, months of introspection and acceptance of change helped me tide over this difficult phase.

Change is the only constant! It happens all the time. Yet, we stumble. Sadly it is true that no school teaches change management nor is there any crash course to make us seasoned veterans. Why is change so very difficult to manage?

Our belief system plays a vital role in managing change. It is the proverbial question – is the glass half full or half empty? How do we look at issues that call for change - as problems or as challenges? What is our attitude – do we resist change or do we embrace it? Do we see it as a negative thing that is singling us out or as a positive curve that will help us grow into better, holistic persons?

A wine grower named Giorgio called for his two sons Anton and Vitto and told them he would have to test each of them in order to decide who was best qualified to take charge of the property when he retired. The two young men were very different: Anton was daring and mischievous, always smiling and friendly, while his brother was taciturn and hard-working, but entirely devoid of emotion.

The father gave them each a vine seedling and said:"I want you to choose the place that you think has the best conditions for your vine to grow. The one who harvests the best grapes a few years from now will take control of the property."

Anton was in no hurry to get started. "I have a lot of time before I have to start looking around. A vine grows slowly, and only yields grapes after four years anyway."

Vitto knew that too, but he decided to find the best place to plant his vine right away. He planted his seedling on a parcel of land facing south, on top of a rocky hill. Anton made fun of him, saying: "You idiot, you chose the worst possible location! A hilltop facing south make the leaves shrivel and burn and soil full of rocks won't allow the roots to grow. You won't get any grapes from that vine at all!"
Four years later the father once again summoned his two sons so he could taste their fruit.

Anton's basket was filled with beautiful, juicy grapes, while Vitto's basket held only a few small grapes. Giorgio picked two grapes from each basket and tasted them in silence. The ones from Anton's basket were filled with seeds and their size was due to all the water they contained.

"Tasteless," his father said. But when Giorgio tasted Vitto's grapes his face lit up with pleasure. "These grapes are small but they're bursting with flavour," he exclaimed. "Their juice will produce excellent wine. This is very good work. How did you do it, my son?"

"I followed a simple principle," Vitto replied. "Like people, vines only yield good fruit when challenged with adversity."

We may sometimes wonder why we have to put up with so many obstacles in life. Change brings to us things that make us work harder – and they are really great life lessons. As we move along the path of life, we need to learn more lessons and emerge as better, stronger people. These events form our character and make us the persons we are today. 

Wisdom therefore lies in accepting change; so let us be prepared to confront whatever Destiny places on our path, and use it to emerge stronger! Let us bloom where we are planted, for there are more lessons for us to learn! Let us go with the flow and realize ‘this too will pass away’! This can make things easy for us and then are able to lead a life with lot more less stress – a definite plus to us and to our loved ones around.

If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.

Maya Angelou

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bough – Wow! Tree Talk!!

I confess I am a Lord of the Rings fan, however great a fantasy epic it is! Life is but dull and drab without a little or even a lot of fantasizing. I loved watching the Ents of J R Tolkiens’ Middle Earth, particularly Tree Beard, the grand old man of Tolkein’s world. Ents bear close resemblance to trees and are able to talk in the book and the movie.  

I have always wondered – what would trees tell us, if we get to understand their mode of communication? Sure enough they would harp on the mindless destruction of forests, including that of pristine rain forests, the lungs of the world, and carp about man’s inordinately insatiable greed.

Long back in 1990, Jagdish Chandra Bose, the distinguished Indian scientist and a pioneer in Biophysics, announced an astonishing discovery. At an international conference of physicists in Paris, and later in England, Bose proved that plants respond to pain and stress much like humans. To prove his theory, Bose invented an instrument called the Resonate Recorder that was so sensitive it could record the subtlest of changes inside a plant.

"The telltale charts of my crescograph are evidence for the most sceptical that plants have a sensitive nervous system and a varied emotional life. Love, hate, joy, fear, pleasure, pain, excitability, stupor, and countless appropriate responses to stimuli are as universal in plants as in animals", the great man is said to have told Paramahamsa Yogananda (The Autobiography of a Yogi – Chapter 8).

So much about plants and trees responding to stimuli! Tree Talk seems to be an interesting possibility going by an Associated Press dispatch quoted in the Science Frontiers #63, MAY-JUN1989 © 1989-2000 William R. Corliss which says:

"Grants Pass, Ore. (AP) - Physicist Ed Wagner says he has found evidence that trees talk to each other in a language he calls W-waves.
"If you chop into a tree, you can see that adjacent trees put out an electrical pulse," said Wagner. "This indicates that they communicated directly."
"Explaining the phenomenon, Wagner pointed to a blip on a strip chart recording of the electrical pulse.
"It put out a tremendous cry of alarm," he said. "The adjacent trees put out smaller ones."
"People have known there was communication between trees for several years, but they've explained it by the chemicals trees produce," Wagner said.
"But I think the real communication is much quicker and more dramatic than that," he said. "These trees know within a few seconds what is happening. This is an automatic response."
"Wagner has measured the speed of W-waves at about 3 feet per second through the air.
"They travel much too slowly for electrical waves," he said. "They seem to be an altogether different entity. That's what makes them so intriguing. They don't seem to be electromagnetic waves at all."

(Anonymous; "Physicist Says Blip Proves Trees Talk," Seattle Sun Times, February 12, 1989. Cr. R.L. Simmons)

A footnote goes on to say that in addition to the above discovery, Wagner, who holds a PhD in physics from the University of Tennessee, has detected electrical standing waves in trees. The voltage measured by electrodes implanted in trees goes up and down as one goes higher and higher up the trees. Interesting indeed!!

Coming back to what trees would communicate, Ilan Shamir, author & inspirational keynote speaker seems to have captured beautifully. His poem ‘Advice from a Tree’ is full of innate wisdom. These lines can truly teach us simple lessons to last this life time. Probably these would be what trees want to convey to us – Bough-Wow! Talk about Tree Talk!!!

Advice from a Tree 
By Ilan Shamir

Dear Friend,
Stand Tall and Proud
Sink your roots deeply into the Earth
Reflect the light of a greater source
Think long term
Go out on a limb
Remember your place among all living beings
Embrace with joy the changing seasons
For each yields its own abundance
The Energy and Birth of Spring
The Growth and Contentment of Summer
The Wisdom to let go of leaves in the Fall
The Rest and Quiet Renewal of Winter
Feel the wind and the sun
And delight in their presence
Look up at the moon that shines down upon you
And the mystery of the stars at night.
Seek nourishment from the good things in life
Simple pleasures
Earth, fresh air, light
Be content with your natural beauty
Drink plenty of water
Let your limbs sway and dance in the breezes
Be flexible
Remember your roots
Enjoy the view!

[Could not resist posting this beautiful You Tube video on this poem. Am sure you will enjoy it's brilliant visuals and melodious music.]

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Future of Education

While education is fast becoming a business and the profit oriented proposition is gathering momentum the world over, a silent revolution is also taking place elsewhere. A revolution so powerful that it is threatening to shake the very foundations of the former! And the man who has sparked this idea is none other than Salman Khan, a half Bangladeshi half Indian American, and an educator par excellence – for what else do you call someone who has successfully delivered over 85 million lessons?

Check his website, and the teaching fraternity as well as eager beaver students are sure to find remarkable educational videos in its online library ranging from a host of subjects; from Algebra to Arithmetic, Geometry to Trigonometry, Calculus to Finance; Banking to Economics; Art History to Civics; Healthcare, Medicine, Biology, Chemistry and Physics. There are many videos for competitive exam preparation too – SAT, GMAT, IIT-JEE. What is so special about these videos? They are concise and clear. Most of them are for just about 10 minutes, the time frame that we can maintain focus and attention. They can help students to learn by themselves. There are ones meant just for practice. Most importantly, they are available FREE. Teachers can use them online in the classroom or can download them and use it whenever, wherever. It is up to the teacher to use the video creatively either as in the class as class work or make it part of home work.

It goes to the credit of Salman Khan that his videos have been clicked by over 50 million people and now his online library has over 2700 videos. Till recently he has been the sole narrator for his videos and he acknowledges that he runs this mammoth project singularly through donations – the major donors being Google and the Bill Gates Foundation.

How has the free videos affected the education scenario? Many schools in the US have integrated these videos into their classroom teaching and learning. The finest effect however has been the fact that many top colleges, universities and institutes have started offering free online courses. For instance, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) of which Salman Khan used to be a student, has offered over 2000 of its courses freely available on the World Wide Web. Other premier institutes like Carnegie Mellon, Yale, John Hopkins and Stanford have also thrown open their courses online and that too at no cost, so that they won’t be left far behind. And the information thirsty, knowledge hungry learners have lapped it all up, smiling contentedly like Cheshire cats! So much so that three most popular computer science courses – Introduction to Machine Learning, Introduction to Data Bases and Artificial Intelligence were offered by Stanford free this fall completely sea changing and reinventing the way education is delivered.  The last one – on Artificial Intelligence – had such huge demand with over 70,000 people registering for it in the first few days!

Which takes us back to the title – what is the future of education system as a business model? If the free education online revolution catches up, there is a serious threat to this model. This does not mean that online education alone will thrive – it just means that a harmonious and clever blend of good teaching & teachers, web tools and inexpensive courses will thrive. Ample food for thought!


Thursday, November 24, 2011

I give thee Thanks!!!

Today is Thanksgiving Day – a day that falls on the fourth Thursday of every November. After over four centuries, the long weekend celebrations in the US have emerged into a many-million-dollar industry now with its effect cascading as ripples onto the other parts of the globe.

The concise Oxford dictionary of Etymology defines thanks as “a kindly thought, favour, gratitude, expression of gratitude” and has Old English Ă¾ancian origins.  

Happiness research is unprecedented in troubled times like ours and the key word in this research is “gratitude” – thankfulness. The pioneers in this research are Robert Emmons and Mike McCullough. Psychologists working at the University of California and Miami respectively, both have been collaborators at many happiness research projects. According to them the “forgotten factor” in happiness research is gratitude or thankfulness. The Scottish philosopher Thomas Brown had earlier defined gratitude as "the delightful emotion of love to him who has conferred a kindness on us, the very feeling of which is itself no small part of the benefit conferred."

Though contemporary French philosopher AndrĂ© Comte-Sponville (2001) pointed out, gratitude is “the most pleasant of the virtues and the most virtuous of the pleasures” (p. 132), gratitude had never been studied seriously by scientific psychologists. This prompted Emmons to probe into this act of pleasure in receiving and soon discovered that gratitude is a deep complex phenomenon, plays a critical role in one’s sense of happiness and can measurably change people’s lives. In his book Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude can make you Happier, Emmons says how he and McCollough together through their collaborative project discovered scientific proof that if we practice regular and systematic gratitude, it brings about remarkable psychological and physiological benefits.

So what makes us get the benefits of gratitude? Researchers have found that the very thought of thankfulness triggers the parasympathetic i.e. calming branch of the autonomic nervous system. When this trigger keeps repeating, it gifts a protective effect on the heart. This results in the emergence of positive emotions and can even reduce hypertension and heart ailments. The more we pause to appreciate and show caring and compassion, the more order and coherence we experience internally. In A Different Kind of Health: Finding Well-Being despite Illness, Blair Justice says when our hearts are in an "internal coherence state," studies suggest that we enjoy the capacity to be peaceful and calm and at the same time retain the ability to respond appropriately to stressful circumstances.

Gratitude, then, can be a total body experience and beyond - meaning the deepest and widest gratitude comes from the soul and that part of the brain - the amygdala - that registers "soul" experiences. So when we look at snow-capped peaks or golden beaches or the Milky Way at a moonless night, our souls sing and our bodies are suffused with streams of dopamine and serotonin, the gifts of gratitude. In short, feeling gratitude and appreciation on a regular basis helps heal us at every level of our being.

In an experimental comparison by Emmons & McCollough, it was found that those who kept gratitude journals were happier, healthier and felt good about life. So gratitude is really good for you! Moreover, if you are happy and cheerful faced, you are sure to earn better opportunities than your dour faced co-workers. Your interpersonal relationships will also perk up giving you an innate sense of goodwill and accomplishment. Give continuously and gratefully placing yourself in the flow of life. Such a person generates a lot of gratitude which in turn attracts all people around to do the same. Imagine the joy of working amid such a crowd! :)

 How can you practice gratitude? Here are some simple doable tips:

·         Keep a gratitude journal and list on a daily basis everything you are thankful for.

·         Write a thank you note to anyone in your life who deserves a pat on the back.

·         Begin and end each day by thinking of five things you are grateful for.

·         Appreciate family and friends on a regular basis.

·         When things go your way, smile and be thankful for them.

·        Enjoy the beautiful sunrise, the food that you eat, the water that you drink, the air that you breathe, the colours you see, the music you hear ... all those things that you take so much for granted!

So instead of celebrating a long weekend of thanksgiving, let us make every single day of ours one of gratitude & thanksgiving.

I am starting a gratitude journal today. How about you???

T. F. Hoad "thank." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. 1996.  <>
Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude can make you Happier; by Robert A Emmons, Ph.D. 2007
A Different Kind of Health: Finding Well-Being despite Illness, by Blair Justice, pp. 100-101. 1998

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

TICK-TOCK... The Clock is Ticking

Today I watched this award-winning documentary (Click on the play button to watch it) by Mr. Sohan Roy titled “Dams: Lethal Water Bombs”. I confess that many a shiver went down my spine. I am a Keralite; but I am not writing this as one but as a human being who wants peaceful existence possible wherever I live – not only for us, human beings but for all forms of life. 

This post therefore is not about politics.
It is not about one state versus the other.
Neither is it about water sharing.
Nor is it about who is right and who is wrong.

This is just about living beings' right to live.

It is about the stark reality staring at human beings in a land that houses a decrepit dam, one that is in a “rare state of dilapidation”. In Silenced Rivers: The Ecology and Politics of Large Dams, Patrick McCully says, “Once a dam has proved itself well enough built to hold back a reservoir (many dam failures occur either during construction or during or shortly after reservoir filling) its structure and component parts will begin to age. The unique nature of each dam means that every structure will age at a different rate in a different way. Some dams may remain safe for a thousand years, others may start to crack and leak after less than a decade. Around the world, some 5,000 large dams are now more than 50 years old, and the number and size of the dams reaching their half century is rapidly increasing.”

MULLAIPERIYAR ...  if one goes by what McCully says about ageing dams, this one is decrepitly old – to be precise a grand old age of 116 years! The location of the dam further complicates issues. Built at the confluence of rivers Mullai and Periyar, in Idukki district, Mullaiperiyar is situated at an elevation of 850 MSL, in the ecologically fragile landscape of the Western Ghats. Being so, the catchment area alone boasts of over 2000 mm of rainfall annually. To add insult on injury, it is also precariously perched on the seismic fault line and has a fair share of tremors. In 2011 alone as many as 22 mild tremors and after-shocks have occurred in parts of Idukki and adjoining Kottayam and Pathanamthitta districts since January this year, the latest ones being on 18th November, 2011 measuring 2.02 and 3.04 respectively on the Richter scale.

What does all this mean to me as a lay person?

A catastrophe is awaiting millions living downstream Mullaiperiar! And sadly it could be the worst in the annals of human history!!
The force of the rushing waters can bring down all small dams downstream including and even the mighty Idukki dam! That will unleash the latent water power akin to power of nuclear bombs!!
Heavy silting and unstable hill tops will bring more disasters in its wake!
An ecological time bomb awaits the destruction of fragile yet pristine forests and hundreds of species of flora and fauna including the endemic and red listed ones!
A realistic estimate predicts sheets of water about 42 feet in height would gush down – which would reach the Arabian Sea in just over 5 hours!

So people, can we set aside parochialism, differences in perceptions, ideas and political beliefs and look at this from a purely humane angle, in the name of lives of not only people but also flora and fauna housed in a part of one of the world’s hottest biodiversity spots??? 

By sheer coincidence the movie titled DAM 999, an upcoming 3D Hollywood movie, a tribute to the two and a half lakh people who perished in the world's worst man made China’s Banqiao dam disaster of 1975, directed by Sohan Roy is all set for release on 24th November in the Middle East and 25th November in India.  

Let us hope that the mass appeal of the silver screen will be an eye opener to the powers that be and do its best to spread the message of untold misery and suffering a dam catastrophe can bring in its wake.


Silenced Rivers: The Ecology and Politics of Large Dams, by Patrick McCully, Zed Books, London, 1996

Monday, November 21, 2011

Change – The need of the Hour

CHANGE! Everything around us changes. Days end, nights creep in. Seasons change. We change physically with the passing of years. Our thoughts change and we embrace new insights and ideas. Today, to cope with the changing needs of the 21st century learner, the technology tools available, and the info-explosion around, sweeping changes are happening in schools. If not beware – such schools will get extinct and fossilized!
Given that nothing is static, we need to come to terms with change. Yet, CHANGE is a very difficult thing for most people. It impacts people in their personal and professional lives. Why does change affect people so much? More so in schools and this could be because our teacher education is still outdated – at least decades behind. Mark Prensky in his paper “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” says, “Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach.”
We had teacher directed learning in our classrooms. There was no internet, mobile phone, telephone or even TVs. The only technology we grew up with was the good ol’ Radio and a good measure of books – remember, print was technology then!. Therefore, we had to depend on the teacher and look up to her as the repertoire of information. This had a bearing on the assessment system too – it tested knowledge and understanding than application and skill. Each test was a test of how much a student can retain.
Today’s children have enormous information available at the click of the mouse. In fact there is so much that what we need to teach them in schools is how to sift useful information from the overload.  The role of the teacher in today’s Nitendo savvy-Instant Messenger addicted-Digital Kids’ classroom has thus moved away from what it used to be. Look at Thomas Suarez, the amazingly confident twelve year old who loves playing video games and has taught himself how to create them. After developing iPhone apps like “Bustin Jeiber,” a whack-a-mole game, he is now using his skills to help other kids become developers. He says proudly that he has set up an Apps Club at his school and that his teachers and school give him support and encouragement.
Thomas’ Ted Talk on the apps that he has been making has gone viral. In this interesting video Thomas very prudently says, “These days students know … usually know, a little more than teachers with the technology… so…sorry”, (don't miss the mischief in his sheepish grin when he says that!) and that succinctly captures the existing digital divide between the teacher and the taught – and oh boy, did it touch a raw nerve!
According to Andrew Churches, today’s educators need to be all of these in their classrooms.

Hargreaves (2010) wrote, “Twenty-first century skills require 21st century schools” (p. 340). For this teachers must be lifelong learners. They must learn to teach the “wired” and “wireless” generation by using the same technology of their digitally savvy pupils. There is no doubt that the best teachers of the 21st century will be those who have bridged the digital divide and those who make use of high quality instructional methods – those that are interactive, collaborative and learner centred. So teachers, catch up or get extinct or even worse still, literally and figuratively you will be dismissed from the minds of the very same students whom you wanted to impact!

Hargreaves, A. (2010).  Leadership, change, and beyond the 21st century skills agenda.
In Belanca, L., & Brandt, R., (Eds.), 21st century skills: Rethinking how students learn.  Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.