Archive for the ‘Aside’ Category

I’m going to be travelling to Boston this evening. I’m going via Amsterdam (where there is a three hour wait) – will arrive in Boston a good 19 hours after I leave India.

Once in Boston, it’s setting up the house that’s going to consume our energy.

I will try and blog regularly; do pardon me for any hiatus though.

Until I write from the other end of the world, Good Day!


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This post will:

1. Briefly take you through the development of my relationship with Institutionalised Prayer

2. Offer a view of a remarkable factory-style temple operation


Since I was a child, I have lived in contradiction as far as my relationship with Religion and Puja (Hindi for Prayer) is concerned. I hated the idea of praying to God everyday- I would, as most kids are wont to, pray to him when I needed to. When I did pray, I would pray imagining myself to be the little cow-herd from the parable who forced the Lord to drink milk by by his earnest praying, crying and even begging.


I found visits to most temples hollow- I took an instant dislike to greedy priests, dirty corridors and the 5-second-blink-and-you-miss-God darshans before you were pushed along by the security-guard. I prayed best when I sat in silence, remembered my forefathers and God.


I was mesmerised by rituals- the sound of a smashing coconut (and the laughter when its watery contents emptied themselves onto my Father), the incantations (I memorised lots of the sanskrit shlokas) , the smell of camphor, the beautiful chunari my mother would wear and of course, the chum-chum or barfi that would come after.


Over the years, Visits to the Madurai Temple, Salasarji outside Jaipur, Tirupathi in the South, Sidhivinayak in Mumbai, Pushkarji (again outside Jaipur) and Dwarkaji near Mithapur in Gujarat confirmed my disenchantment with priests and their money-making ways. God is nobody’s pillion-rider. Prayer is not a covenant but a loving two-way relationship. I disavowed Puja and prayer for the new-fangled spirituality, good old personal prayer in new clothes.


But the contradiction still continues. I am still fond (not mesmerised any more) of rituals. I still like the camphor, flowers and festive atmosphere but have grown to detest the average pandit. What really binds me to rituals are the mantras, sutras and shlokas. I believe that the ancient texts (vedas and the upanishads) and rituals derived from these represent a body of experience and thought of the philosophers and prophets of the past essential for our continued survival. To ignore them would be conceit and to blindly take them on, foolishness. These texts are, even today, expressed in their own contextual syntax which is indecipherable to the average person and an ignorant or worse, a calculating pandit will misinform, misguide and confound him even further.


I like to embrace these texts with intuition, intellect and a good dictionary as guides.


It was with trepidation then that I visited the Trimbukeshwar Temple, fours hours from Mumbai, this morning to perform a 4-hour Puja ceremony. I hoped that it would be devoid of squabbling about money (just eight weeks ago when at Haridwar I had come face-to-face with an ugly display of naked greed by the priest performing Granny’s last rites) and be personal, a little one-on-one with God.



(Above: The main temple at Trimbukeshwar. Image courtesy Dharmesh)

Reaching Trimbukeshwar at 5 a.m. we were accosted by a drunk man en route to the sanctum sanctorium and even at that early hour had but a fleeting glance of the Idol. This was followed by a 2 hour wait for the priest who was to do our Puja, a period that saw the devotees standing in wait swell to the hundreds.


When we actually got to the Puja, I realised that this was going to be a community affair. The devotees were segregated by language ability into different lines and led to one of several large halls where all the ingredients and paraphernalia of the puja had already been placed by the team of coordinating pandits.


A senior Pujari led the proceedings in every hall, taking rows of gathered devotees through a series of synchronised actions and rituals, culminating in the final havan (sacrificial fire) in each devotees’ personal, portable kund (vessel).


At first, this batch processing of the devotees interfered with my conception of what pujas should be like. But as the puja went on, I saw that this factory manner was a very effective and efficient way to run the process.

(Above: Devotees wait before the start of the Puja. This picture represents a fourth of the hall. There are several halls of this size with pujas happening simultaneously)

1. The dakshina or fees for the Puja were spelt upfront- all ingredients for the Puja were included, no extra was asked for and there were no hidden costs.


2. The pandits had organised every conceivable item to be used in the Puja before-hand. All one had to do was sit down and start the puja. This ensured that no time was lost due to the devotees getting different (or incorrect) ingredients and misplacing or mishandling them.

(Above: flowers, milk, curd and various other items to be used in prayer)


(Above: Representations of a selection of the pantheon of Hindu Gods through nuts and wheat)

3. The pandits did their best to explain the rituals – as well as one could expect a hall full of devotees to be talked to anyway. If you wanted to understand the rituals in detail there was a provision to visit the temple the day earlier and speak to a member of the coordinating team in advance. It was perfect- they had discriminated between those who wanted information and those who did not- to the convenience and satisfaction of both.


4. There was no distinction based on class or income, everyone was treated in exactly the same way. This was a welcome change from temples where there are VIP or Express queues for those willing to make a payment for quick access to God.


5. The rather teacher-like Pujaris ensured silence and were quick to admonish any errant behaviour. This ensured that one got time for a little quiet one-to-one with God before, during and after the Puja.


6. From a demand-supply point of view, the small number of designated Pujaris managed to mediate the Puja for several devotees in a small amount of time. If this same Puja were to happen for each devotee individually, it would place an enormous strain on time and resources of the temple management.


(Above: The Puja in Progress at Trimbukeshwar)


7. Throughout you dealt with one main organiser so you didn’t have to take the trouble of finding the right person to answer any questions. As for the rituals- the Pujaris were available after the Puja to answer any questions and queries and to offer advice.


Most devotees gathered there after the Puja left satisfied. They had completed the Puja they had come for, been given all details upfront, avoided greedy pandits and ignorant ones and returned home in quick time.


It was simple. It was standard. It was quick. It got the job done. Ray Kroc would have probably nodded in approval.

As for me, the fascination with rituals continues.


Just before I started this post, I paid my regular visit to Charu’s blog and came across her nice post on rituals, inspired by Krish’s Priestly Matters, his account of his tryst with a Priest and Rituals at his Wedding. You must read both.

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Repairman, the experienced-sage-advice-bestowing Edublogger just tagged me with this. According to the rules (set herewith) I have to:

  1. Post these rules before you give your facts
  2. List 8 random facts about yourself
  3. At the end of your post, choose (tag) 8 people and list their names, linking to them
  4. Leave a comment on their blog, letting them know they’ve been tagged.

Now I’ve got to try very hard to make sure this isn’t the most dull thing you’ll read on the site 🙂 Here goes:


There was a boy of five,

On gimmickery and acting he would thrive,

An actor one day did him see,

Offered him a part in a movie!


I was fond of cartoons and comedy,

But my favourite was car you see,

My family slept in boredom, I laughed in glee,

Over and over I watched Herbie!


(Above: Original poster print from the 1980 movie)

I’ve always wanted to sing in public,

After they’ve passed out the earmuffs!,

Been asked to “keep shut”, my singing called “sick”

You get the drift, it’s been real rough!


I dreamt of writing a book since I was six,

But till that happens, articles have been my fix.

Written for the major dailies,

I’ve scripted for television,

But blogging best meets his passion.


Best thing that happened to me,

Was volunteering after the tsunami,

The pain, the death, the devastation left me bare,

It’s made me a better person, this experience is rare.

woman mourns dead after tsunami

(Above: A woman mourns the dead as she looks out to burning pyres in Nagappattinam District, Tamil Nadu, India where I worked)

Heard on anyone who spent his money,

Not on food and drink, but on a book?

more than a quarter of my earning,

Still dedicated to Kundera, Senge and Browning!


Was invited to talk at a UN meeting last year,

It sounded dull, I wanted to steer clear,

But I did go, turned out to be the best experience of my life,

For at that roundtable, I met my wife!


As I come down to eight,

It’s been fun at any rate;

There’s one left- you should show it,

The author is a published poet!


If you’ve made it so far, commendations on your patience! As for linking to other blogs, I’m going to do a recce on other bloggers and get back.
Thanks for reading!


Image Courtesy:

1. Herbie Love Bug Page at VW Toy

2. Tsunami page at Boston.com

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anil kumble hits maiden test century



Above: Anil Kumble acknowledges the applause after his maiden test hundred at the Oval.


I love Cricket.


A large portion of my readership is from outside the Commonwealth, so if you are amongst those don’t know much about it, read articles here and here that explain. That’s if you can indeed explain the passion, the intensity or the euphoria the game evokes in those of us who love it. (if you really don’t know about Cricket, do bear with me! To my EduReader friends, my apologies!)

India’s old warhorse, Anil Kumble, just scored an unbeaten 110 against England in the 3rd and Final Test at the Oval. A 100 runs. Anil Kumble, who’s been an untiring servant for India. A century for the first time in an 18 year career. Anil Kumble who once took ten wickets in an inning against the old enemy. Anil Kumble whose 550 wickets each stand for the untiring guile with which he’s won countless games for India. Anil Kumble, probably the most ignored champion of Indian sport.

When Kumble edged one past Prior to get a 100, I almost had tears in my eyes. Kumble is a giant-hearted performer, a great sportsman and someone who commands your respect with his sincerity and humility. If there is one cricketer you’d want to model your young wards after, it would be Kumble.

He’s had an ordinary tournament so far and in this, probably his last Test match as an Indian cricketer in England, I wanted him to leave his mark.

Well done, Kumble. May you go from strength to strength. The whole nation applauds You.

Further Reading on Kumble

#1: Anil Kumble, the official site (Kumble is a Computer Engineer himself)

#2: Cricinfo Profile on Anil Kumble

#3: Kumble- the Ignored Champion? Subodh Chitre argues that Kumble has never got his due from the people and the media.

(Image Courtesy: Getty Images, via Cricinfo.com)

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Two months ago I saw An Inconvenient Truth. It has been parodied and pilloried several times in the press, but it left me a message. Global warming is a reality and the ozone depletion is a cause for concern.

Today I finished reading Jeffrey Sachs’The End of Poverty as We Know It.” Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute, ex-Adviser to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is probably best known as the dapper economist who accompanies rocker Bono around the world trying to spread the message of fighting AIDS. His central message if “Extreme poverty can be ended, not in the time of our grandchildren, but our time.” He argues that Poverty can be eradicated in 20 years.

I’m not an economist, but the book left me with many unanswered questions. The book starts of with promise. Sachs’ tells personal stories and weaves narratives about several countries together wonderfully as he explains how Globalisation and Interconnectedness are key and how economies are linked to Topography and Natural Resources. He makes a forceful case for Technology as the killer app for development economics and surprises you with some tidbits (African Governments being no more corrupt than others, the US being amongst the lowers contributors (as % of GDP) to Foreign Aid etc. He fashions a hypothesis that 0.7% of Annual National Incomes of the 22 wealthiest countries would eradicate poverty and tries valiantly but failingly to convince you.

In the end a nice book with a lot of information, some oft-mentioned plans, but no pathbreaking ideas.

But this post is not about Messers Gore and Sachs. When I think back about the ideas presented in these two books and films, I realise it’s not about government, corporations or non-profits. It is about you and me. It is about what we can do to make our world live longer, be happier, brighter and better. It is about making a small difference, one thing at a time, and the results will begin to show.

I sat down to make my list of 10 ways I would try and make a small difference to the world and its inhabitants:

1. I will try and Pay it Forward: You may have seen the movie (Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt). It’s about doing good for someone anonymously and starting a potential series of good deeds as receivers of anonymous good actions Pay it Forward by helping others in turn. I’ll let Trevor, the hero of the book and movie explain:

Trevor, 12-year-old hero, explains his idea to his mother and teacher: “You see, I do something real good for three people. And then when they ask how they can pay it back, I say they have to Pay It Forward. To three more people. Each. So nine people get helped. Then those people have to do twenty-seven.” He turns on the calculator, punches in a few numbers. “Then it sort of spreads out, see. To eighty-one. Then two hundred forty-three. Then seven hundred twenty-nine. Then two thousand, one hundred eighty-seven. See how big it gets?”

On the way back home this evening, I passed a toll plaza. I paid for the next three cars behind me. My first conscious attempt at Paying it Forward.

2. I will volunteer: I plan to devote one month of my time every two years. The last time I volunteered was in 2004 when I worked in Tsunami Affected Areas for 7 weeks- first on relief and then on rehabilitation. It was also the last time when I felt ‘connected to the Earth.’ The last time I saw ‘all of us as one’ for weeks at a stretch. I don’t know if these words will mean much, but anyone who has experienced trauma and calamity from this close will know what I am talking about.

Getting one month off in a block is difficult, so I will try and do this over several days in the 2 years, investing evenings and weekends.

3. I will Give to Soup Kitchens: Next time I am having a get-together at home, good food left over goes to feed the needy. (dial 1098 from a PNT line in India)

4. I will Conserve Electricity: My laptop is almost always on. My Television is always on Standby. I leave the geyser running for hours to have a 5-minute shower. I forget (sometimes) to turn off the lights after I leave a room. My bedroom is wired to put on 3 halogens at a time (no single bulb switches at all). My Air Conditioner consumes energy inefficiently (yes there is a comfortable, yet energy efficient temperature for ACs). All these actions make cost more money and spend more of the limited energy resources that we have. BTW if you were wondering: leaving appliances on standby consume 5% of maximum power.

I don’t know if I am prepared yet to be carbon-neural, but many schools, and all new Government funded schools in the UK are.

5. I will Avoid the Car if I Can Manage it: Good for health and good for the trees too!

6. I will Re-commit to the reason I became an Educator: Education is the way out of global poverty and out of global violence. Everyone from Adam Smith (“An instructed and intelligent people ..are more disposed to examine, and are more capable of seeing through the interested complaints of faction and sedition. The whole society is at risk when any segment of the population is poorly educated” – from his seminal “Wealth of Nations”) and my eight year old student Harleen (I feel happy when I am at school. If everyone went to school, they would be more smiley and a lot happier)

As Teachers we can help shape the world in brighter hues than we find it today. Every day, every class, every moment spent with a child can be used to fill in him a zest of life, a joy for living, a passion for learning.

I have decided to keep a regular journal, think, reflect and recommit every day to this profession.

7. I will Smile a Lot more: I am sure there is some Psychology paper somewhere that mentions a smiling person as being more attractive, happier, more confident and a delight to be around. I know when I see a smiling person on the street, I break into the biggest smile possible. I’d like to be that way most of the day.

8. I will be more Empathetic: I want to – Say Thank you more often. Send more cards (when was the last time you did?). Say Good Morning. Good Night too. Listen with Genuine Interest. Smile at the newsboy every morning. Buy flowers for home. Call an old teacher. Call an old friend. Answer and help anonymous people who make they way to my inbox I have the time. Give more pats on the back. Say well-done more often. Criticise less. Provide more support.

9. I will Vote: I am ashamed to say that I, like more than half of my countrymen in every election, do not vote. I plan to put this right the next time and only then criticise the government for the ills we find ourselves in.

10. I will revisit this list: Ideas that are written and not implemented are soon forgotten. I am going to tack this to my softboard to make sure I see (if even from the corner of my eye), this everyday. I will try and stick to this. Try not promise, for as Amitabh Bachchan, Indian movie superstar says in his film Sharaabi (The Alcoholic): “Vaade toot jaatein hain, Koshishein Kamiyaab ho Jaati hain” (Promises are broken but efforts often become successful).

I hope that by following this (and some other little things I have jotted down) I can make a small but significant change in my immediate environment and in the World (remember the Hummingbird effect?) I believe that “When we Change the World Changes” and that all of us should attempt to make, in our own little and special ways, this world a nicer place to be in. When that happens, transformation will take place.

As Lennon said, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” Robert Kennedy said this in an impassioned speech in Africa (these are also the last lines of Sachs’ book):

“Let no one be discouraged by the belief that there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills — against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence…. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance”

Do you want to help? (click on the numbers to read)

#1. Visit the Earth Institute’s “How you Can Help” page

#2. Read about the UN’s Millennium Development Goals; a report on Universal Primary Education

#3. Tips on Global Warming in the Classroom – educator resources from the Inconvenient Truth website (lesson plans, classroom activities, project ideas et al)

#4. More Educator Resources (including student grants of $500) by the Pay it Forward Foundation

#5. Listen to Imagine, by John Lennon (turn up those speakers!)

#6. How Happy is the World? A map of the world with different shades for countries based on their Happiness Index (UN Data)

#7. Try Blackle.com – It’s the Old Google in New Black Clothes. Apparently booting white pages takes more out of your PC, a black Google page would save the world 750 MW of power. (Thanks Krishnan!)

#8. This one is my favourite: If you haven’t read Desiderata, read it. The best advice on a happier, more fulfilling life I’ve come across.


10 things to do

This image above is from the Inconvenient Truth Website (but you knew that!)

How will you change the world? Let me know! I would love to hear what you think.

Are you an Educator? Maybe you use a similar discussion in your classroom?

Read our latests posts here or leave a comment!

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I just got off an Air Deccan aircraft that brought me from Kochi to Mumbai.


I’ve always liked Air Deccan (and that must put me the minority)- it has earlier made it possible for me to fly back home at a price that was affordable. If not for it, I may not have visited home from work as frequently as I have in the past.



Today however, I was irked. Flying in from Kochi I flew at a fair price (Rs. 2900; 400 more than I paid to GoAir for the trip from Mumbai to Kochi).


Firstly, the flight was 45 minutes late. When the plane did arrive, I waited for the others to board the coach (I am usually the last in queue). My laptop that I was working on, took 20 seconds longer to shut down, holding up the coach for me for about that time. The Airlines officer threw a fit. Strange, considering I was the one who had been inconvenienced by the wait: surely I got have been granted the half-minute? Or was it that delays like the one I made that caused airlines like it to be late?


On board the aircraft I thumbed through the inflight magazine. 99% on-time performance they proudly proclaimed. What period was this data valid for? What did On-time performance mean? I scanned the copy. No mention of the time-interval. On-time performance was defined as “flights leaving within 1 hour of scheduled departure.” I couldn’t even believe they had the cheek to write 99% On Time Performance given these criteria. From an airline that wants 15 minute plane turnarounds? No-way.


The cabin lights went off. I wanted to continue reading but the overhead light didn’t focus on my page. I tried to adjust it, it would rotate in its casing, but the angle of throw of light wouldn’t change (I later noticed this was true of all the overhead reading lights on that aircraft). Then it struck me.I was seated in the row closest to Emergency Exit. We had more legroom. The light was fitted perfectly and would have illuminated my magazine appropriately if there had been no extra space for legroom. But they fitting folks had done their job by the book without noticing the change in legroom and so now I had to hold the book away from me to ensure enough light fell on it.


Several other things of a minor nature bothered me, but since this is turning into a rant, I will stop.


The Silver Lining: Good that I wasn’t travelling GoAir. They were 3 hours late. Like they had been when I travelled to Kochi from Mumbai.

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As you read this I will, in all probability, be somewhere on that beach above! I am in Kerala, God’s Own Country, and if you were here to see the sheer beauty of the place and its people, I am sure you would agree.

As far as Education goes, Kerala has the highest rate of literacy in the country! Unfortunately, as the a government-validated report says- this means that often jobs are not commensurate to educational qualifications attained and the rate of unemployment amongst the educated is the amongst the highest in the country. Thankfully, the unemployed are not the breadearners of the household but unmarried daughters and sons.

That’s all from me for today. As they say here, Nalla Raathri! Good Night!

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