Archive for October, 2006

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Vindication of Sex-Education

October 17, 2006


(picture from http://www.askmen.com)

This post was prompted by an interesting incident in my 11 year old son’s schoolfriend’s life. Though only in the sixth standard, with lots of girls showing interest in him, his parents were dumbfounded when their son actually received three letters(in addition to earlier emails) at their residential address from some girl. Amusing though it was, they actually didn’t know how to deal with the situation. His mother remarked, “ My daughter is almost double my son’s age but I have never had any problems with her. Since when have girls started chasing boys like this and that too at such a young age”.

Incidentally, my son studies in one of those schools which is very particular about preserving Indian culture. It reminded me of an incident at the parent teacher’s meeting a few months ago when a mother complained that she didn’t know what to say when her daughter told her about a senior boy and girl smooching in class.

The funniest incident occurred with my wife, a nursery school teacher when some tiny tot who was also known to some mutual friends actually said ,”She is sexy” on being asked “How is your teacher?” Height of “catch them young” I would say.

One almost feels like going back to school and reminds of that song “Koi lauta de mere bite hue din”

Just a couple of days ago, in the Sunday Times( 15/10/2006), in an article “Orissa teachers coy about talking birds and bees” , Arabinda Mishra says that Teachers in Orissa are reluctant to impart sex education and the dangers of AIDS to their students because they find words like condom, sex and intercourse too unpleasant to discuss in classrooms. Under pressure from the HRD ministry, a chapter on AIDS was introduced as a part of social studies for students of IX and X but the teachers were so uncomfortable discussing it that it was withdrawn. Since then, it has been a tug of war between the teachers and the bureaucrats of the HRD ministry. The Orissa Aids Cell had prepared the chapter in consultation with experts but could not convince the teachers. Orissa has had a spurt in AIDS cases but the teachers found the topic to embarrassing to handle.

A few months ago, there was a similar article in a magazine advising parents on how to go about imparting sex education. It was also somewhat amusing but the fact remains that before imparting an education of this type, the teachers themselves have to be specially oriented if not trained. The teachers however do not seem to be too inclined it seems.

The gates of this impasse can be penetrated by no less a man than Bill Gates himself. Though he has not mentioned the word “sex” anywhere in his book Business@speed of thought, some of the extracts(relevant to online education from the chapter connected learning communities) seem to be written for the current situation:-

“Most teachers have a great love of learning and they will get excited about anything that will help kids learn. What teachers don’t want is to be thrown into something they have not had the opportunity to learn about and be comfortable with”..

This exactly describes the Orissa situation..

Elsewhere, Mr Gates writes, “ An important reengineering principle is that companies should focus on their core competence and outsource everything else. “. Though this book was written a few years back, these days , it is not uncommon to find reports on homework of American kids being outsourced to India. Why then should teachers or for that matter parents take the onus of sex education when it is not their core competence and requires specialized knowledge imparting skills?. Why can’t it be done by the computer to the extent possible? As it is, on line education is all about the best teachers producing the best content and making it accessible to all, not just their classrooms. This is true for all subjects and the added advantage is that the computer can both innstruct and demonstrate and therefore make it more comprehensible.

One more extract from the Book also fits the bill “ One of the most forward looking ideas is to use the PC to offer a variety of ways to learn. About fifty different major theories identify similar attributes. Some people learn by reading, some by listening, some by watching someone else do a task, some by doing the task. Most of us learn from a combination of all these methods. “Any subject can be personalized according to the learning style of the student. What a unique way to know about sex.

It is also given that “ A highly motivated student can learn from different reading materials, where a poorly motivated student needs accessible materials such as a video to learn”. Well, considering the subject matter, I would not be surprised if a majority of students turn out to be poorly motivated. One should also discuss the motivation of the teacher here. Off and on, one gets to hear things like how teachers have not exactly taken a liking to computers and there is resistance to change. Now, if you give them a Hobson’s choice- either teach sex education directly or through computers, I think you can kill two birds with one stone and do away with the resistance to computers problem forever.

The children can also ask the uncomfortable questions on line and get their answers. With the way broadband services are improving, why a multi-media sex education initiative has not been taken surprises me. Such a move can live up to that saying in Hindi “Saap bhi mar jaaye or laathi bhi na toote” . Why not? Especially for those who find it too difficult to handle. It can also be a combo strategy- the computer can give the basic orientation and certain doubts cleared by parents/teachers.

I had read in a book how a father, on failing repeatedly to get his son to wash his hands before eating finally took him to one of his doctor friends. The doctor briefed the child on what germs were, gave a display under a microscope and topped it up by showing a video film showing explicitly what could happen if he didn’t wash his hands. Thereafter, the child never had to be told to wash hands. Another doctor had told me similarly that to prevent people from smoking, they should be shown video films of lung cancer patients and apprised of other problems they could face with advancing age when health becomes more and more precious. This is the “Without, danger, you cannot go beyond danger” that I have advocated in my earlier posts.One cannot have a wishy-washy,ambiguous, half hearted approach to AIDS(or other adverse effects of pre-marital sex) . It must be significantly scary to create an impact.

There are many who feel that teaching sex education at a young age in school is both awkward and undesirable as it may prove counterproductive. Many others are of the view that such an education is not in accordance with our culture. Such issues are best addressed by an expert.For those inclined to know more,let us have it from the horse’s mouth. These are two best articles by renowned sexologist, Dr Prakash kothari.They address AIDS, awkwardness of parents and teachers, influence of television etc among other things and vindicate the introduction of sex education among students:-

Sex education for adolescents stressed

Birds, Bees and Relatives

Today)17/10/2006), it has come in the papers how children are becoming more violent because of influence of Television. Whether it is sex or violence, one has to follow Osho’s philosophy “ To remove darkness, one has to bring light into the room and not take darkness out of a room”. The right knowledge has simply got to be introduced in the right manner and spread as fast as possible. .

The fact that “Child is the father of man” applies now more to sex than anything else can be proved by this joke:-

The teacher at the beginning of the class says: “OK kids, we are going to talk about sexual education today. First we’ll talk about how the human reproduction goes on…” Immediately, little Johnny raises his hand, and desperately tries to get the teacher’s attention. But the teacher, knowing how little Johnny is about these things, goes on… “… First, a man a woman have to be in love… ” But little Johny keeps his hand up, waving it up and down, and from one side to the other one. The teacher ignores him..”..They have to be very much in love because…” But now little Johnny even starts making noise with his feet, so the teacher decides to acknowledge him: ” OK, little Johnny. What do you want to say.” Little Johnny then stands up, and says: “I just wanted to ask. Those of us who have already f****d, can we leave?

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Lalu denied entry at the India International centre, There and at IIMs, who is really eligible to enter?

October 9, 2006

Yesterday(8/10/2006), the Sunday Times reported that Railway minister Lalu Yadav was refused the much sought after membership of India International Center which is considered a kind of “arrival statement” by Delhi’s Intellectual circuit :-

Elite IIC refuses to take lalu as member

The high esteem membership was refused on the grounds that Lalu was charge sheeted in criminal cases. One is prompted to ask “What’s new?”. If he could lecture impressively at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad on September 18, why such a hue and cry over membership of another elite institute? Five days after this post, on 13/10,2006, former Union minister, Dr Karan singh(son of Hari Singh,erstwhile king of Kashmir) resigned as one of the life trustees of IIC on failing to deliver on his promise of securing a membership for lalu. Now, if people of that kind of stature want lalu as members, one can hardly grudge him that.

In an article,”Are you club class?” in the Sunday Times(15/10/2006), Meenakshi Kumar says that some clubs like Delhi Gymkhana insisit on a certain status and stature( a Janpath shopkeeper being refused membership)and some like Delhi Golf club insist on sporting talent. At the Gymkhana, people may have to wait upto 35 years. IIC on the other hand insists on members who help sustain the international character of the centre. On being told once that the Japensese can turn Bihar into a Japan in a few months, Lalu replied that he could turn Japan into a Bihar in a few days. That’s all the internationalism lalu’s got but jokes apart, he would simply be as much of a misfit in these clubs as a club member would be in his native Bihar.

The Prime Minister, Mr Manmohan Singh has publicly praised Lalu very highly for his turnaround of railways.However, following the news that lalu was going to address the students of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad and after he gave his lecture, a lot of blogs questioned the validity of granting him such an honor stating that the railways turnaround could not be attributed to him directly. Some argued that even if for a moment, it is believed that he had a major role to play in the railways turnaround, considering that he had made a mockery of democracy and governance in Bihar for a decade and a half, his overall record was grossly negative and a person like him had no business lecturing at premiere Management institutes of India.

Laloo interacting with management students at IIM, Ahmedabad.
(from Hindustan times archives)

In the book “The war for Talent”, the authors day” Manegerial talent is at the epicentre for the war for talent. Mangerial talent is a combination of a sharp, strategic mind, leadership ability, emotional maturity, communication skills, the ability to attract and inspire other talented people, entrepreneurial instincts, functional skills and the ability to deliver results”.

Lalu may not be a manager in the true sense of the firm but one wonders how much of this applies to him.When lalu first became CM, he was lauded for his unique administrative style like doing surprise checks at odd hours among other things. Personally speaking, I admired him for his rustic wisdom and supreme artistry at playing to the gallery. However, he flattered to deceive badly and also got embroiled in the fodder scam.

Rather than get into debates on Lalu’s credibility, one should focus on those who really deserve the honor. Where are the Shahrukh khans and Sachin Tendulkars of management? Can the information revolution and mass communication unearth those chupa rustams(hidden talent). Unfortunately, such talent is not as transparent as acting or sports. I had the pleasure of coming across one such prodigy.

Ashish Kundu and I were in the same school and same class for four years between 1977-81. We bumped into each other in the Kedia group(1992-1995) in September ‘1992 when he joined as Assistant Manager(Exports) and I as Assistant Manager(MIS). The kedia group which specialized in liquor had a turnover of about Rs150 Crores at that time. Though he used to come on a motorcycle initially, his prodigious talent soon got him three cars(two from the company) and several promotions within a span of a year and he rose to become CEO. Eminent novelist Agatha Christie had once said that everything could be done creatively and it was my pleasure to see Ashish do something as mundane as administration in a unique style( doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way-it is one thing to read about it and another thing to witness it). He excelled both vertically(each post from assistant manager to CEO) and horizontally( Finance, Marketing, Personnel, operations etc).

He completely outclassed the powers that be in the company in front of the political leadership of a southern state and foreign collaborators with whom they were contemplating various projects. Much later,after leaving his job, he established a big project consultancy business of his own in next to no time.

Poetry being the spontaneous flow of powerful emotions, he inspired this out of me in August’1995 when we parted ways in the corporate world. The quality of poetry is not as important as the fact that his brilliance inspired it. It is more of prose in poetry than real poetry.

I have said in other posts that Greatbong is my favorite writer in the blogoshpere. Here is the other greatbong in my life. As I say this I would like to add that had it been possible ,maybe the people of Bengal would have loved to see his meteoric rise as much as Saurav Ganguly’s. It was like watching a superstar take off. Here then, is a tribute to a wonderful friend and an outstanding business executive:-

Poem- Tribute to an outstanding corporate executive

Within the first month of our bumping into each other in the corporate world, on watching his razor sharp business brains and superb communicating abilities, I predicted that one day he would make it very big in the corporate world. Now, If only I could predict share prices like that, I would have become the Indian Mr Buffet by now. Despite knowing each other since school days and being regularly in touch, I always think of him as boss first, an attitude which is at great variance with some of the other bosses I have come across in my life

Jokes apart, can there be two opinions on whether or not such people should be allowed to address premiere management institutes? IIM ne bulalaya lalu, inko kya main bulalu?

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Are bloggers failed writers and half-wits or for professional journalism, is this the pits?

October 3, 2006

Today(10/3,2006), under the heading “Failed writers and half-wits populate the blogoshpere“, Shobhan Saxena has many disparaging things to write about bloggers in “The Times of India ” :-

Net result:Failed writers and half wits populate the blogosphere

It is surprising that there is not one positive thing mentioned about bloggers or the blogosphere( Extracts from the article in Italics).:-

“Everyone has the right to express an opinion but a lot of people confuse it with meaningless fuming and ranting. Everyone has the right to be stupid but some people abuse the privilege”

I am no professional writer but having written sporadically for The Times of India(seven small write-ups; coincidentally one is under “Mind,body,spirit and you ” today itself)and a couple of reputed magazines(four write-ups), I have to concede that when you work with professionals, it improves your focus tremendously and enables you to separate the wheat from the chaff in content. I am grateful to all my Journalist gurus for that more than anything else. However, to consider focus more important than the ideas is clearly putting the cart before the horse;what are you going to focus if the ideas iself are not there and ideas come from the unconscious mind- nobody has patent rights on them. In this context, being formally qualified can actually be a liability because it builds up the ego which is the biggest impediment to cretative ideas.

What I feel is that a professional should be circumspect in using certain words and adjectives( like “stupid” above) with amateurs in particular. Sometimes I feel that that the article written by Saxena is the kind of article I used to write before I interacted with journalist professionals(my association with all of them has been pleasent) – a one sided diatribe without perspective with expressions beginning with the title itself best avoided .

The whole tenor of the article is such that one wonders at the motives behind using certain expressions and statements such as :-

” A lot of people are sick of being nobody. A lot of people’s lives have been reduced to inconsequential chatter with inconsequential friends. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions and their lives are a second hand mimicry of others’ lives.”

This could be true to a significant extent but “inconsequential friends” is a highly objectionable expression because no human being is inconsequential. Some bloggers may have opinions that are more insightful if not original than that of a journalist and some of them may have genuine first hand experiences to share from their own lives which maybe far more interesting at times than what a journo has to say. There is no point writing about “inconsequential chatter “ but psychiatrists advocate social outlets as a means of overcoming mental and emotional problems and blogging serves as a good one. In fact writing is viewed as a kind of catharsis in that context.

Some months ago, on my other blog, I had spoken about the urge to write as a genuine need for some people- While stating that some famous writers-Horis-karl Huysmans, Henry Miller , Herman Melville, Sir Arthur Conann Doyle, Anthony Trollope ,Anton Chekov , Somerset Maugham all lived dual lives(as writers and their other occupation) , this post gives Indian examples of people from different occupations who were very keen to write. One person explains that “It is not so much about the inner need to be a writer as an inner need to write.” Every journalist may not become a good writer or vice-versa but if people from other occupations can succeed as writers, there is no reason why some can’t succeed as Journalists as well.:-

Schizophrenic existence of budding writers.

That apart there is a saying, “ I write to know what I think”. The so called inconsequential chatter becomes very consequential when one starts writing and exchanges views. Writing is actually a very good way to clarify your thoughts and even be centered..

There is then no justification for making statements in the article like:-

They think they have something to say. They want to be read and heard and seen”.

Some of them may actually have something to say. There is nothing wrong in being wanting to be heard and seen if you have the talent for it. One of India’s foremost filmstars said in an interview ” It takes a show off to be a show on”. I read about one writer who used to sing and dance on the roof to attract attnetion;what could he do? There was no blogging in his time. Isn’t blogging one of the most powerful means of self expression? During my nomadic excursions through the blogosphere, the creativity that I have come across at times is mind boggling. For instance, some of the cooking blogs- the pictures and the content is so good that this seems nothing but a labor of love since they are not being paid for it. They appear like professional cooking websites rather than personal blogs.

What are programs like “Nach Baliye” and “Indian idols” or for that matter “Laughter Challenge” doing? There are several sides to a human being’s personality and the chupa rustams(latent talent) in them comes out only when there is a transparent platform. One of the judges in the musical show “Indian Idols” wrote in an article how much new talent was emerging and how it was giving the established singers a run for their money. Similarly, blogging is a transparent platform for writers and it is only a matter of time before the hidden “Khushwant Singhs and Shobha Des” emerge. Why should they not be seen and heard.?

Digressing a little, I would like to say that excellence in any field does not necessarily have to be a corollary of formal qualifications. Neither Amitabh Bachchan nor Rajnikanth are formally trained actors but have been long enduring superstars. Dhirubhai Ambani was not a naturally trained lateral thinker(to the best of my knowledge) but his out of the box thinking was brilliant. Japan, as a country did not have a formal business school for a long time but during that period, that tiny country gave the Americans a run for their money. In the recent Movie “Krishh”, Naseeruddin Shah while complimenting Hrithik Roshan’s abilities tells him ” Others are trained but you are gifted” Therefore a gifted writer though not formally qualified maybe more than match for a journalist where sheer writing skill is concerned.

Elsewhere, it is written that “it looks like the revenge of the amateur who dreams of becoming a professional. And that’s a cause for concern”. At another place it is given ;” The pace at which the blogoshpere is getting cramped with half wits, religious maniacs, failed writers, sociopaths and cold blooded killers is scary” . I feel that this is a one sided view. One wonders whether the people described above are the rule or the exception. Is that scary or is something else scary?

Why should “dreaming of being a professional” be a cause for concern? It happens in the management world all the time. If a company in the unorganized sector like Nirma can take on a giant like Hindustan lever, what is so sacrosanct about Journalism? Management history is replete with stories of how lean and mean small companies(mouse) gave the established companies(Elephants) a run for their money. It seems more of a nightmare for the professionals – a fear of competition from unknown quarters.

Some formally qualified journalists may have the natural ability to excel in other fields as well and similarly some people in other fields maybe more gifted writers. To throw light exclusively on the negatives in the blogoshpere is an article without perspective in my view.

The expression “failed writers” or “Nobody” can be quite deceptive. The renkowned Hindi writer, Muinshi Premchand and even the great Shakespeare got posthumous recognition years after they died. Were they failed writers or the audience failed to give them their due? Who knows what could have happened had blogging been around to showcase their skills? Why discourage budding Sakespeares and Premchands with such articles ? Talking of commercial success, Govinda maybe far more commercially successful than a Naseerudin Shah but it is the latter who is deemed brilliant. Who decides success or failure and on what criteria?

“Their(bloggers) aspirations are blocked by the obnoxious monster called the editor and their high voltage facts mixed with slam dunk fiction with a lot of typos and commas and semi-colons in the wrong places, go down a drain called the editorial process”.

One cannot deny the importance of the right punctuation but the most important thing in writing is creative ideas and expression and to give undue importance to commas and full stops would be missing the wood for the trees The book literary humor puts things in the right perspective ,”Commas and full stops are a convenience rather than an integral part of the language; its nuts and bolts rather than girders. Some very eminent writers have been careless in this respect- Somerset Maugham could not handle commas, Jane Austen got her quotation marks in a twist; Geroge Orwell hated semicolons so much that he wrote an entire novel without any. Gertrude Stein ignored punctuation. ”

Similarly, the book states that many writers of the most elegant prose have been shoddy spellers- John Cheever, Ezra Pound, Scott Fitzgerald etc. I am not suggesting that this is excusable but more emphasis should be on expressive ability which comes from the depths of the soul:-

“Of all the arts in which the wise excel, Nature’s chief masterpiece is writing well”

In the book “Editors on editing”, eminent editor David Davidar says ” The writer is the artist and editor the craftsman; the editor must never lose sight of this fact.” Elsewhere, it is given that “Editors must reconcile themselves to anonymity, no matter how great their contribution to a text.” This clearly puts the relationship in proper perspective. The blogosphere may have good writers all of whom need not go down the drain. On the other hand, many successful editors may have “gone down the drain” in the writing process or maybe some excelled at both. George Bernard shaw said once “Those who can, do. else they teach.” It was further expounded by Steve Norbdy :-

Those who can do.
Those who can’t teach.
Those who can’t teach train teachers.
Those who can’t train teachers write teacher training textbooks..

Some editors may not be good writers but very good editors. Why give over importance to the editorial process? Sometimes, a free for all write up can be more charming and cute like the raw talent of a natural cricketer like Mahendra singh Dhoni for instance.

“Blogs are an online stream of consciousness written by people who believe that they are under orders form someone to change the world”. Blogging and websites are the only mass communication tools directly in the hands of the individual. Some of the greatest leaders in history like Lenin for instance orchestrated their movements from abroad. Gandhiji in his autobiography expresses surprise at being so popular in India for the work that he did in South Africa. Had blogging been around at that time, it would definitely have facilitated their work. Ghandhiji was a lawyer but has been described as modern India’s greatest writer and editor in “Editors on Editing” and complimented on his mass communication skills by no less a man than Alyque Padamsee, former chairman of Lintas. Who knows what else he could have achieved with a mass media tool like blogging directly under his control?

“Bloggers claim in their hifalutin tones that they want to give a voice to the voiceless and replace the papers with their journalism. It sounds good but look at the way they are doing it. Their vision is apocalyptic and their language is acidic. “ This maybe true in some cases but all bloggers are not like that. Newspapers have been an enduring institution and even satellite television has not been able to replace them. Why be vary of the poor little blogger? Some elements from the media have been criticized for sensationalization but that does not imply that the entire mainstream media is irresponsible.

In my view, bloggers and the mainstream media can share a symbiotic relationship in the spirit of you scratch my back and I scratch yours but not in a derogatory sense. In his book “Differentiate or Die”, the author Jack Trout states how essential it is for every established brand to continue to differentiate itself. National and international issues are well reported and hotly debated and there is not much scope of differentiation there. In a country like India where the judicial system is perceived as “ineffective”, local issues being highlighted can go a long way in helping the affected party( the way it helped Jesicca lall) and also help the mainstream media differentiate itself which is where bloggers come in as the media cannot reach everywhere.

This reminds me of a scene from the famous “Yeh Dosti” song from movie “Sholay” where the side car attached to the motorcycle separates from the main body and then after straying in the wilderness merges with the main body on the main road.There maybe separate actions(bloggers and journalists) on certain issues , go it alone on certain issues and even joint action on certain issues. This may seem far fetched now just as a 24 hour news channel was deemed ridiculous when first introduced Who knows how a medium may evolve in the future? Some professional journalists have spoken in favor of “citizen journalism”. The journalist gives news( at most times), the blogger gives views. Where is the conflict?

Even the song itself is not exactly a misplaced expression of what the relationship between bloggers and Journalists could be:-

The article states correctly that Learning and mastering good journalism is tough. You learn it is libraries, on flooded streets, in front of a rioting mob, in the middle of ceasefire between the milita and the military,in war trenches, in the corridors of power and in the hamlets of deprivation. Sometimes, a reporter walks for miles in an area ravaged by a tsunami to get one quote from the man hanging on to a tree for a week. “ This is wonderfully written and very correct and Journalists and Journalism should be respected for that but then the Journalist should also respect bloggers right to self expression instead of only being highly and blindly critical. It would not be out of place to mention here that Journalism is no rocket science, impregnable to outside perspectives.

The article continues ,”Bloggers don’t worry about such inane things. They can learn history and politics from google. They can get their facts from newspapers and slam them with their half baked opinions”

That is exactly what I am doing at the moment but whether the opinions are half baked or not again is a matter of opinion. Everybody does not have to have hands-on experience. Some people do well as financial investors. Can you tell them ” You must run companies and not merely invest in them”

Rather than use such expressions, Journalists should look at bloggers with a big brotherly attitude. Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar has given a lot of credit for his success to encouragement by his elder brother,Ajit when he started playing cricket. Looking at the results, we hardly have much to complain out. To only see the negative side of a little brother is not correct- Shobhan, yeh aapko shobha nahin deta.

Now a giggly little, sweet little, little baby brother will only use google because he can hardly be expected to face the challanges faced by a formally trained big brother. Just the way the cute antics of an innocent child or the high sounding words of a management trainee(Fresh MBA) amuse , journalists as big brothers could pull the cheeks of us tiny little fellas and say “Kuchi kuchi koo” or “Gili gli gili” instead of some of the condescending, reprimanding and nagging wife kind of expressions used in the article.