Rishikesh to Guptkashi

Last night I sat at the banks of river Ganga for about an hour. The ashram closes at 10 pm so I had to get back in time. I just stared into the river waters.. I don’t know if I was silently asking the river to bless our journey which was to start in the morning or was just letting go of any anxiety that I had. I came back very peaceful so I guess She listened.

I finished my packing, washed my clothes and slept around 11.
In the morning, we left the ashram around 6:30. I and Pratyush went to get the computer stuff loaded in the sumo and Archana came in another sumo also loaded with vegetables, blankets and pillows, books and sports equipment for children! Joseph ji got breakfast (Upma) packed from the ashram itself. He told Swami ji that there are 5 people and Swami ji packed so much that it lasted us till lunch!

So all packed, it was around 8 am when we left Rishikesh. Stopped for having breakfast at around 10. We reached Rudraprayag around 1 pm. Till Rudraprayag the road is very good.. its a two lane hill highway and we got no traffic on the way.

After Rudraprayag we could see the destruction. What was till now limited to media pics, became a reality. Roads were washed away… bridges lay half broken with nothing on one end. In the river waters down we could see big big heavy machinery like JCBs lying that had been washed away in the floods… houses that were reduced to rubble or some which had huge cracks all over. The BRO has worked hard to get the road open.. at places you are almost two storey below the level of the actual road.. you come down to the banks and go up. When it happened the first time I almost jumped in my seat.. because I could see the road ahead was broken and our driver going straight towards the broken road with no path ahead in sight 🙂 thereafter it became a regular feature… at many places the dirt road was so small that only one way traffic could go at a time so we had to wait for some time.

Despite all this, we were making good time because there was hardly any traffic. Our driver Surender ji told us normally these roads are full of kedar nath and hemkund sahib pilgrim traffic.
From Rudraprayag, Guptkashi is only 40 kms.. but as the roads are pretty bad it took us almost 3 hours to cover that distance.

We reached Archana’s home at 4pm and were greeted with warm smiles and hot daal chawal! 🙂 and an amazing views of the himalayas.

Later we went down to SNC (space for nurturing creativity) school and the moment we stepped in we were engulfed in the laughter of the children… after a few introductions we all sang songs. Later I helped Archana and other staff in the kitchen while Pratyush was totally engaged in playing with the children. 🙂

Really looking forward to work with Archana and her team and play with the children 🙂

Categories: development, education | Tags: , | 1 Comment

We read in a F or an E?

Reading pattern: F? E? C?

Reading pattern: F? E? C?

I’m sure content managers must be aware of this fact, but for me it was an interesting find! I have recently started working on a blog on volunteering and I was reading a few articles on what and how do people consume content online. I didn’t quite care about SEO for Lime ‘n’ Lemony or even Weekend Kitchen but for Volunteer Weekly I wanted to know at least some basics. Keywords, meta-description, analytics, web master tools etc were all bizarre buzzwords until now! Anyway one of the studies that fascinated me was that we read a website in a F!
It comes from Neilsen Jakob’s eye-tracking study. What it means?F shaped reading pattern
  1. We first read in a horizontal movement, usually across the upper part of the content area – forming the letter F’s top bar
  2. We then move down a bit and read across in a second horizontal movement which is typically shorter than the first one – forming the lower bar of the letter F.
  3. Finally we scan the left side of the content vertically, thus forming F’s stem.

I was relating it to the way I read all the academic papers also. Most often we used to read the introduction and conclusion and would scan through the rest of the article, reading the heading and sub-headings and would read another one or two sections that would have the analysis. I guess that would make it like an E! and if time was really short we would entirely skip the middle.. making it a C pattern! 😀

Anyway however we read, I guess the point is to put important things right in the beginning! 🙂

Another interesting thing which a web-designer friend of mine told me was on the width of a website – he told me that 980px (or 960px) is the ideal width for a webpages, because that is the width the eye can read without moving from left to right. Any bigger than that and you can’t read it in one go.
Isn’t it interesting how different fields bring out human behavior! Do you know of any other such study? would love to read about them 🙂
Categories: Books, digital living, education | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Are we stuck in a Prisoner’s Dilemma?

Prisoner’s Dilemma makes an interesting case study because the equilibrium solution (Nash equilibrium) is where both players are worst off.  While it’s in collective interest to cooperate, it’s in individual interest to defect. Read more on Wikipedia or the cartoon at the end of the post explains in just two lines! 🙂

Prisoner's dilemma - Nash Equilibrium

Are we all stuck at the Nash Equilibrium?

A discussion on the draft drug pricing policy 2011 between A and S led to a dialogue on why our government is in huge deficit. S said something which A directly linked to something she had read a long time ago – Prisoner’s dilemma.

The dialogue and the linking was inspired A to share it here and carry on the discussion.

S: … but where will the government bring money from? Our government is already in a huge deficit.

A: But that’s because there are so many poorly managed subsidies.

S: We have subsidies on things like kerosene, diesel, farm electricity which is again for the same common man for whom you are asking for low-cost medicines. So why should you say that subsidies are not required.

A: Well because they are mismanaged. A rich farmer also gets the same subsidy as a poor farmer so the rich becomes richer. There should be means of ensuring that only the needy get the subsidy.

S: How do you do that? A western country subsidy model will not really work in India.

Take for example, in US, diesel for farm vehicles is subsidized. The subsidized diesel comes with red dye and hence called Red Diesel. People come and fill their own tanks – normal vehicles with the non-subsidized diesel and farm vehicles with red diesel.  The Department of Transportation (a.k.a. our RTO) randomly stops vehicles for checking and if any vehicle other than farm vehicle is found to have the red diesel it is fined hefty.

But efficient monitoring of any such subsidy is difficult if not impossible in India. For starters, the ratio of police force to the population is fairly skewed and on top of that police is paid so little that corruption is easily justifiable.

It is in our collective interest to not misuse subsidies, if we have the means we should not use the subsidy but what happens in India is that people pay to get the BPL cards. People pay to get a caste certificate so that they can also use the reservation system.

The gap between the rich and poor is only increasing, so its every man for himself. The rich are busy getting richer, the poor are still in survival mode and the middle class stands divided. We are all looking out for ourselves. When the rich businessman is doing it, why shouldn’t I? I am anyway not making enough money; I don’t have money to give to the government. However if we all pay taxes, we will have better infrastructure and we will all be able to probably make more money. But, as prisoner’s dilemma shows, individually, paying less tax has a higher payout for me.

For our collective good, we should not defect but we seem to be stuck at the Nash Equilibrium where everyone defects. Do the game theorists have any suggestion of pulling us out of this Prisoner’s Dilemma?

Dilbert on Prisoners Dilemma

Dilbert on Prisoners Dilemm


Disclaimer: The views expressed here are just personal opinions. Neither A nor S are economists or management students. They just happen to be interested in their country’s economy and also just happen to know Prisoner’s Dilemma 🙂

More debates and confusions on my mind:

Development – the debate –No approach in development is a clear right or wrong and so often we see opposite approaches for the same ends.

Storytelling for change – It’s important to tell the happy stories so that we don’t lose faith in each other but one bad incident, one negative story takes away the good done by other 99 positive incidents.

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Letters from a Father to His Daughter – Jawarhar Lal Nehru

And finally it’s vacation time. We’ve been waiting for this vacation since so long… I can almost sing “All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go” :).

I was quite easy with buying gifts for all the younger kids – toys, story books, clothes. But a gift for Faaiz was not easy. He is growing up…. He is 10! And I didn’t want to buy any Noddy or panchtantra for him…. I didn’t want to buy him hungry hippos or similar toys… And he already has most of the games on ‘his iPad’. So what could I gift him?

I was browsing through books in children’s section at Landmark when I saw this one. Maybe it was the cover that made me pick it up but as soon as I read the synopsis I knew I’ve found my gift. It was about the Universe, the Earth, plants, animals, human beings, money, languages and about so many things of the world that we live in. What I liked best in the short 10 minutes reading that I gave to the book before buying were the illustrations; they help you visualize as you read…

I think Faaiz is of the age when he will have questions of how was world formed? Where did we come from? Why do different people speak different languages etc etc… Being a smart kid and living in a digital age; I won’t be surprised if he has already found a website that answers all these questions for kids :). But I still wanted to give this book… This book is a series of letters written by Jawaharlal Nehru to his 10 year old daughter Indira. Apart from fuelling a lot of inquiry, this book presents the lovely notion of letters! An art that has been completely forgotten in the age of emails. It also presents a more personal side of Nehru and Indira Gandhi’s upbringing. I’m not sure whether Faaiz knows who Jawarhal Nehru or Indira Gandhi are; living in the US, I’m not even sure if he will ever read about them in school; but I’m sure, being an Indian, one day he will know who they are or after this book he will want to know who they are.

I read the book before gifting it because I wanted to make sure he will enjoy it. The letters travel from the big bang – the beginning of solar system, to how life slowly developed over millions of years; how man from being the weakest animal became the master of all; the beginning of civilizations, trade, language, currency and politics. To me this book was a refresher of what I’ve studied long ago in history classes and also a revisit to a lot of museums I’ve been to. I could picture the ancient coins I’ve seen in museums, the tools early man used, the Egyptian tombs and mummies… The illustrations will definitely add to a child’s enjoyment of the book. For a 10 year old, this book will open new doors of knowledge. I hope it will lead to questions, inquiry and wonder.

Towards the end the letters might confuse the young mind as things move very quickly. There is suddenly too much information; too quickly, which is bound to happen… as Nehru himself says “when you cover millions of years in a few letters”. The letters should be read as they were originally meant to be read –one at a time.

Categories: Books, digital living, education, Family | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

13,000 teachers put on Census duty – Hindustan Times

13,000 teachers put on Census duty – Hindustan Times.

Different departments of the state need to work in tandem for realistic development. This fact has been again and again emphasised by many working in the field but rarely is it taken into consideration by our state machinery..Here is a perfect example to show that development does not happen in water-tight compartments. Primary school teachers are put on census duty in the months preceding the annual examinations. Teachers to stay out of school for almost a month from Feb 14th to March 5th. Municiple corporation says education does not fall under their department and education department says Census is national duty.. who suffers? the children and their education.

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Education in the 21st century!

Education today we know is very competitive, especially in a country like India where the ratio of good schools to students is very disappointing. One will be shocked just to see the admission process for a child entering into kindergarten. While the government has rules about not questioning a child so young, the process now targets the parent. And children are also not technically left out of the whole process.. They have to come for what many schools call an “interaction day” where the teacher observes the child in a play room or a library in the school and judges his/her .. I don’t know what.. attitude? Aptitude?. For a child as young as 4 years old, what do we mean by attitude or aptitude? Or any other skills for that matter? How do you make sure a 4 year old understands that s/he is being watched over.. s/he may not just be in a mood but schools still insists and the parents comply and the child does his/her own thing.

My sister is currently filling up forms for my niece’s admission and also “preparing” her for the “interaction day”. I’ll just recall some of Nandini’s preparation here:

Mummy: Nandini what is your mother’s name?

Nandini: Mumma Pareek

Mummy: Nandini theek se bolo.. Monica Pareek

Nandini: par mumma aap to mumma ho na (but mummy aren’t you mummy?)

(We all laughed at that but my sister was obviously not amused.. she was too tensed to appreciate the humour or the innocence in that reply!)

The preparation continues…

Mummy: Nandini can you sing me a poem?

Nandini: Which one? Twinkle twinkle?

Mummy: any one.. okay sing twinkle twinkle..

Nandini: Twinkle Twinkle little star, la la la la la..

(she started rhyming the tune of the poem…)

It’s not that she didn’t know the poem, but she was not in a mood and how do you bring a child of 3 years in mood to sing something she doesn’t want to?

Before interaction, comes the parents’ screening.. Their education, profession and their ability to write essays! That would mean if I’m uneducated, I have no chance of getting my child into a good school and why? Because I failed? So my child suffers.. and even if I write that essay and still my child doesn’t go through, it’s my failure again!

So here is a question from the application form for a particular school for my niece’s admission:

Please share with us your thoughts, beliefs & expectations about the relative roles of parents and educators in bringing up children effectively in the 21st century.


And this question carries the maximum points in the whole form! I was reminded of my post-graduate application process time when I heard this one.. I’ve written enough essays for my post-graduate application but to think that a parent has to write similar essays for a child’s admission. God help Indian parents!

But then the schools may also say that faced with so many admission requests, they need to have some sort of criterion for selecting children. But in doing so they are denying a right to good education to many children. In my opinion the problem lies not in the admission process, but in the education process itself. Why can’t all our schools become the ‘good schools’? With education becoming a booming industry; with more and more people entering the so-called ‘upper middle class’; the distinction between schools will continue to exist and so will the pressure on parents and young children first to get admission and then to excel. Ranking in schools is another topic, which can trigger hot debates but I would rather not talk about that now and think about an answer to that question now!

Categories: around us, education, Family | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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