Infinite energy

(The following was written as an entry to a story writing competition. It doesn’t deal with education but is a satirical look at modernity and so is 50% on topic for this blog. I hope that it breaks through the grimness of our virus-related predicament and succeeds in making you smile)

Dr Ramdas Verma, a scientist with a Phd from MIT and 25 patents in high-tech electronics, has solved man’s age-old problem- how to get infinite energy off a finite planet. It is now amply clear, even to Nobel-prize-winning economists from the ‘developed’ nations, that the era of cheap fossil fuels is over. It is in this newly opened space for innovation that Dr Verma had his world-changing epiphany. Before we get to that, a paragraph about what a world famous scientist is doing rotting in Bangalore, when he could have been getting in and out of long black cars with beautiful women on his arm. (For example, Dr Verma is younger, better looking and has more hair than Salman Rushdie)

Alongside his awards-filled modern science education in some of the best schools in India, Dr Verma also found the time to get a classical Vedic education before leaving for America on an MIT scholarship. Over the next thirty years, Dr Verma worked very hard and managed to attract great wealth to himself. At the age of fifty, after many ex-wives and their various children had siphoned off all the money they deserved, Dr Verma found himself rich beyond his wildest imaginings. This was when the Vedic component of his education boomeranged on him and he decided to give all his wealth away, stay in a mud hut, wear a dhoti and live a truly Gandhian life. (This conversation when first initiated in San Fransisco quickly led to Dr Verma’s latest divorce). As a halfway measure, Dr Verma moved into a modest ten room mansion in its own four acre parkland on the outskirts of Bangalore and used only a fuel efficient SUV for driving twenty kilometers into town for buying hand-sanitizer and potatoes and other such necessities.

Back to Dr Verma’s epiphany. Dr Verma all alone in crowded India met a social activist who told him somewhat rudely that:
a. If he wanted to give all his money away, why didn’t he just start (ideally with me said the rude social activist) instead of talking about it.
b. About helping poor Indians- has Dr Verma seen or smelt his target audience and why doesn’t he, for example, travel in a Mumbai local train during peak hour to gain this valuable and unforgettable experience.

After spending three sleepless nights over it, Dr Verma flew down (economy class on a cheap airline) to Mumbai and decided to brave it. At the railway station, automatically pushed into an overcrowded local train by the press of the crowd behind him, Dr Verma stood squashed by his target audience on all sides. A distinctly spiritual experience then slowly overtook him. He saw some flashing bright lights and had an experience of Savikalpa Samadhi (he was able to immediately identify it because of his classical education). In this heightened state of consciousness, Dr Verma noted that a young man, seen through smelly armpits and gaps in dirty beards, was shaking his right leg rhythmically. The young man was sitting opposite another young man who too was involuntarily shaking his leg. And, in his moment of insight Dr Verma saw a cross section of the entire train with thousands of nervously but rhythmically shaking men and women legs. Eureka, Dr Verma shouted and thinking that this was the name of their station many people got off and Dr Verma was un-squashed.

Dr Verma was secretive about the details of his solution. He hinted that there is an international conspiracy to steal his invention. However, he explained that the broad details involve the quantum mechanical piezoelectric effect, pre-stressed mechanical springs, lithium-ion wearable batteries, wireless micro-electric magneto-hydraulic transmissions, prana that fills the known and unknown universes and most importantly, of course, distracted men and women (which Dr Verma, Buddha-like, claims is 100% of all men and women). In other non-technical words, Dr Verma has created a revolutionary new way of harnessing the nervous energy floating free in the universe, and yes, it can be stored and can do many times more work than what our current infrastructure for Industrial Civilization needs. Being fabulously rich, as we mentioned earlier, Dr Verma could have easily funded the research and development and taking-to-market of this revolutionary new technology, but big banks from America are lining up with blank cheques outside his door. Friends, when the world is gratefully flooded with this technology, remember that you heard about it here first. This is the future of energy! The future of technology! Dare we say, the future of mankind itself! And, you know, it may soon be sidling up quietly and nestling itself next to your skin.

Two poems

This week I thought of sharing two poems that I like very much. They have their setting in very different world-views, widely separated in geography and time. One written by a modern English poet and the other from the Tamil Sangam era (>2000 years ago). I think both the poems point to some aspects of education, modernity and tradition that this blog covers. Take a look and see what resonances it sets up in you…

In Broken Images

He is quick, thinking in clear images;
I am slow, thinking in broken images.

He becomes dull, trusting to his clear images;
I become sharp, mistrusting my broken images.

Trusting his images, he assumes their relevance;
Mistrusting my images, I question their relevance.

Assuming their relevance, he assumes the fact;
Questioning their relevance, I question the fact.

When the fact fails him, he questions his senses;
When the fact fails me, I approve my senses.

He continues quick and dull in his clear images;
I continue slow and sharp in my broken images.

He in a new confusion of his understanding;
I in a new understanding of my confusion.

– Robert Graves

Every Town a Home Town

Every town our home town,
Every man a kinsman.

Good and evil do not come
from others.
Pain and relief of pain
come of themselves.
Dying is nothing new.
We do not rejoice
that life is sweet
nor in anger
call it bitter.
Our lives, however dear,
follow their own course,

rafts drifting
in the rapids of a great river
sounding and dashing over the rocks
after a downpour
from skies slashed by lightnings –

we know this
from the vision
of men who see.

So,
we are not amazed by the great,
and we do not scorn the little.

– Kaniyan Punkunran
(Translated by A.K. Ramanujan in ‘Poems of love and war’)

A slightly disturbing idea about education

I have a slightly disturbing idea about education that I want to present to you in a slow, roundabout manner that resonates with the leaves dancing and shining outside my window against the backdrop of a bright blue Bangalore sky…

Two days ago, I was on a call with some close friends and the question came up whether I was against vaccinations and why I had not got my first dose yet. I told them an old story to make my case.

Long ago, I was friendly with a nice couple who had a 3-year-old son. Whenever you asked the boy a yes/no question (for example- Do you want an ice cream?), his instant response would always be a ‘No’. Then he would think about it a little bit and sometimes he would change his mind (As in- Yes, I want an ice cream). The world is always pushing us, telling us that we ought to do something or the other because it is good for us and I remember thinking that the young boy had figured something out that would serve him well as he grew up.

Like the little boy, I find it convenient to say ‘No’ first and take some time to think about whatever is being pushed at me. It has been my experience that when something is being pushed at me, it MAY be good for me but it is DEFINITELY (economically or emotionally or in some other way) good for the person pushing it. I told my friends on the call that I was not against vaccinations but against being pushed. 🙂

Which brings me to the disturbing idea about education that I wanted to present- As parents and teachers, or educators, are we not all the time pushing things at children? Some introspection can reveal to us that teaching and learning are two separate processes and as a teacher we can only have control over one part of the process. It is not only the push of the teacher that makes learning happen inside the learner but the readiness or paatrata of the learner.

Let me extend that and try to express it in another way. You will probably agree that what we are trying in education is the creation of a good human being with some skills useful to society. But, how do we go about creating a ‘good’ human being? Even assuming that we ourselves are good and that we have some robust industrial process for transmitting our goodness, what the previous paragraph is indicating is that there is no guarantee that the learner will become good.

Therefore, does it not mean that as educators we must realize that the project of education we have embarked on is doomed? That, we are only throwing seeds that may or may not sprout? That, the learners who are ready will find their own ways and will anyway learn, with or without our teaching effort? And, should this realization not make us educators take ourselves a little less seriously?

Long ago, I bumped into a hostel-mate at an airport. We were both rushing and in passing I asked him, ‘You look like you have made it big, what are you doing nowadays?’ He responded with a smile, ‘Still doing what I used to do in the hostel – logo ko bewakuf banane waala kaam kar raha hoon.’ I think that when we educators become sahaj enough to say this about our work, we would have moved closer to Asli Shiksha. 🙂

What do you think?

Dharampal: Unpublished writings

Note: The following is an excerpt from unpublished writings of Dharampal available with SIDH. There is a powerful and coherent story that comes out when these unpublished writings are read together. We are looking for funds for collating and publishing this material as a book. Write to pawansidh@gmail.com if you can help us.

India does not begin in AD 1700, neither does it begin with the Islamic domination of parts of India around AD 1200 or from the incursions of Islam into Sindh in the 7th century AD, or the destruction of Somnath by Mohammad Gazni in the 9th century AD. India has had a very long existence and perhaps for most of this existence it had a very prosperous, scholarly, aesthetic society and vibrant polity. As an instance, modern western scholars have recently worked out that till about AD 1750 the China region and the India region together produced some 73% of the manufacturing output of the whole world. Even after the breakdown of the states and societies of these regions, industrial production was still around 60% of the world, till around 1830.

In recent years a few scholarly works have come out regarding the relations between India and China in the early 15th century. There is much information on the visits of the Chinese Admiral Zeng Ho to various countries of Asia and Africa including visits to India, especially several months stay in Calicut in 1405. In 1405 he was in Calicut with 300 ships and some 30,000 soldiers. Around the same time there were several Chinese ambassadors to Bengal and it is also stated that a number of ambassadors from Bengal had gone to China during the 15th century. There were probably similar links between China and other regions of India not only in the 15th century but perhaps from much before the beginning of the Christian era. If there were such links with China, it should imply that political, cultural and commercial links also existed with several other countries in east and Southeast Asia just as they existed with some of the Arab countries. The information which we get from these sources would not only help us re-build our relations with our neighbors but also may be of value in knowing more about our society of those times.

Such exploration and study of whatever is newly found could however lead man in several directions. Much of the research of the West since 1450 has led it to the conquest of the world and its plunder and the destruction of the environment as well as suppression and elimination of other human communities. In a way most of western research has been an accompaniment of despotism and worldwide imperialism.

It is possible that what has happened in the west could happen, in some distant future, in India also. But the greater chance in India, given India’s relative inwardness and pacific and non-violent nature and the slowness with which it moves, if it moves at all, is that such things would not conceivably happen in India. And at any rate, given India’s present absence of self-awareness, India must try to know itself by knowing what happened in its past over the past several thousand years.

हमारा इतिहास बोध

Note: This week’s post was published on Pawan Gupta’s blog dayaron se pare on January 22, 2020. Over the coming weeks some selected articles will be posted here but interested people may find it rewarding to visit ‘dayaron se pare’ and read all the posts there.

हमारा इतिहास बोध लगभग खत्म सा हो गया है। अंग्रेज़ी और अंग्रेज़ियत के चक्कर में। पढ़े लिखे समूह में एक मोटी समझ यह बन गई है कि इतिहास में/से सीखने समझने जैसा कुछ नहीं है। हमारे यहाँ विशेषकर, सिवाय गंध, कूड़े, खराबी, छुआ छूत, गरीबी, भूखमरी, दीनता के अलावा कुछ है नहीं। और संसार के स्तर पर भी यह मान लिया गया है कि हमने तो हर क्षेत्र में पहले के मुकाबले “प्रगति” ही की है, तो विगत को देखने, समझने का कया फायदा? यह मोटी समझ बन गई है।

जब भी मैं अपने यहाँ के किसी उजले पक्ष की कोई बात करता हूँ तो यह तोहमत लगती है कि ठीक है पर सब कुछ अच्छा ही अच्छा था, ऐसा भी नहीं। तो भई, ऐसा कौन कह रहा है? मैं तो मोटे तौर पर बने narrative को चुनौती दे कर कुछ और देखने को प्रेरित करने की कोशिश करता हूँ। बस। मुझे जो narrative प्रचलन में आ गया है, जो सत्य नहीं है, जो आम पढ़े लिखे के दिमाग पर छा सा गया है उसे थोड़ा हिलाना डुलाना है। वह भी हो सके तो। सब कुछ अच्छा तो कभी भी नहीं रहा होगा। न राम के ज़माने में, न कृष्ण के ज़माने में, न बुद्ध और महावीर के ज़माने में और न ही ईसा या मोहम्मद के ज़माने में। सब कुछ अच्छा कुछ होता नही। साधारण ही श्रेष्ठ है और साधारण अपनी कमियाँ और त्रुटियां लिए होती हैं। प्रश्न सिर्फ यह होता है कि कुल मिला कर कैसा हो। सब कुछ अच्छा या सब कुछ बुरा यह either/or वाली आधुनिक सोच है जो सिर्फ असत्य के बीच झूलती रहती है। एक असत्य से दूसरे असत्य की ओर पेंडुलम की तरह। क्योंकि सत्य छोर या extreme पर नहीं होता। उसे कहीं बीच में, दाँये बायें तलाशना पड़ता है। मेहनत करनी होती है।

पर विगत से सम्बंध बनाये बगैर, अपना व्यक्तिगत विगत और सामाजिक विगत, दोनों, आगे का रास्ता खुलता नहीं। यह एक सत्य है। विगत को समझे बिना, उससे सुलह किये बिना, बगैर लाग लपेट के उसे देखे बिना, आगे के रास्ते खुलते नहीं। विगत पर झूठा गर्व जितना खतरनाक है, उतना ही खतरनाक या उससे ज़्यादा है उसे दुत्कारना, उससे नफरत करना।

हमारी आधुनिक शिक्षा ने हमारे विगत से हमारा या तो सम्बन्ध विच्छेद कर दिया है या उससे नफरत करना सीखा दिया है और अब उसकी प्रतिक्रिया में कुछ लोग उसका महिमामंडन करने लगे हैं। कुछ चीज़ें गौरवशाली होते हुए उसके दूसरे पक्षों को भी देखने की ज़रूरत है।