Wednesday, May 28, 2008

An enthralling evening by Sanjay Subramanian

On 26th May, I attended a charming and captivating concert by Sri Sanjay Subramanian at Ravindra Bharathi which was organized by SICA, Hyderabad as a part of their foundation day celebrations. The carnatic vocal rendered by Sanjay enchanted the audience. It was a rare feat to see the audience glued to their seats for more than three hours till the last item 'mangalam'. The main item of the evening was in Thodi. The violin support was rendered by Sri M.R. Gopinath, Mridangam by Sri Neyveli B. Venkatesh and Ghatam by Sri Trichy Murali. It will be incomplete if I dont mention that the instrumental support elevated the ambiance of the evening.

File Photo. Courtesy: The Hindu

The details of the songs performed are below. I recorded the entire concert and the links to MP3s are also given. You can also download the entire concert in three zip files: file 1, file 2 and file 3.
If there are any copyright issues for putting the MP3s for free download, please let me know. I will remove the access to files in that case. I am hoping that the MP3s downloaded from here are ONLY for personal use and will NOT be used for commercial purposes.
[Update 29th October 2008: All the links work now.]
  1. Nera Nammithi - Varnam (MP3)
    Ragam: Kanada. Talam: Ata. Composer: Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar
  2. Bhavanutha Na Hridayamuna (MP3, Lyrics)
    Ragam: Mohana. Talam: Adi. Composer: Tyagaraja
  3. Nannu Vidachi Kadalakuraa (MP3, Lyrics)
    Ragam: Reeti Gowla. Talam: Mishra Chapu. Composer: Tyagaraja
  4. Shiva Chidambarame (MP3)
    Ragam: Nagaswarali. Talam: Adi. Composer: Muththuthandavar
  5. Santana Gopala Krishnam - (MP3, Lyrics)
    Ragam: Khamas. Talam: Rupaka. Composer: Muthuswamy Dikshithar
  6. Alapana: Todi
    Chesinadella Marachithivo (MP3-1, MP3-2 [Thaniavarthanam], Lyrics)
    Ragam: Thodi. Talam:Adi. Composer: Tyagaraja
    Neravel: 'Rama sree thyagaraja premavatara seeta'
    Swarakalpana: 'Bhama matalu telpu bheemanjaneyu brahma'
  7. RTP in Ragam Bhageswari (MP3)
    "Ka Va Va Vala Va Then Pazhani malai urayu Muruga"*
    Swarakalpana: Valaji and Varali
    Ka va va - Krithi
    Ragam: Varali. Talam: Adi. Composer: Papanasam Shivan
  8. Virutham in Ragam Behag (MP3)
    Sri Madhava Vasudeva - Krithi
    Ragam: Behag. Talam: Adi. Composer: Papanasam Shivan
  9. Haridasulu vedale (MP3)
    Ragam: Yamuna Kalyani. Talam: Adi. Composer: Tyagaraja.
  10. Vetta veli tannai* (MP3, Lyrics**)
    Ragam: Jonpuri, Anandabharavi*. Talam:?. Composer:?.
  11. Virutham in Ragas Surati,Bhimpalas (MP3)
    Maname kanamum (Lyrics)
    Ragam: Bhimpalas. Talam: Adi. Composer: Papanasam Shivan.
  12. Bhavamana - Mangalam
    Ragam: Sourashtra. Talam: Adi. Composer: Tyagaraja.
* Hat Tip 1: Thanks to Revanth. I didn't know the lyrics of the tamil krithis.
** Hat Tip 2: Thanks to Lakshmanan for lyrics.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Conversation with Shriram

(Post from my old blog. Originally posted on October 03, 2006)

I met Shriram on the last weekend at his house. The day was quite cloudy and I reached Shriram's place around 12:30 in the afternoon. As soon as we entered the compound we were welcomed by a small and cute puppy. There was a beautiful front yard which had lot of plants and trees. It was a nice change for me to hear the sounds of chirpings of the birds, the gentle breeze and the swaying trees.

The small little puppy was joined by another one as we reached the front door. It seems Shriram picked both from a dustbin when they were dying of cold and hunger. He also recollected an interesting story that his father hated dogs but the two puppies simply melted his heart!

I had a nice talk with Shriram about various things. I learnt a lot from the conversation. As the days proceed after the Jeevan Vidya shivir, the effect of shivir in terms of analyzing and thinking slowly fades away. And after the conversation I felt rejuvenated about the whole thing as if I have taken a "mini"-shivir. I am very grateful to him for taking his time out on a weekend and telling me so many things inspite of the fact that I spoiled his weekend. I should also thank Shriram for the wonderful lunch!

Below is the summary of the points we discussed. Although I added my comments here and there, most of it is told by Shriram. I really really thank him for painstakingly going through the draft I wrote and adding to, correcting and improvising it.

1. Serving others:
Many a times when we are involved in serving others two things are likely to happen:
  • Superiority Complex: We start with the notion of superiority complex - the other is disadvantaged, he doesn't have/possess something which I have. So we end up becoming dominating, we pose the role of giver while we put the other person at the receiving end. This might be happening consciously or even without realizing that this is happening. This could also lead to blaming others who are not doing the same thing as us.
  • Self-righteous: Whatever we are doing for the "good" of the others, we think that we are doing it right. If we don't think that we are right, we won't be doing it in the first place. And we never question whether it is the right thing to do or give. And when things don't workout, we try to find something else to blame but we never look back and think of the possibility that what we are doing may not be the correct thing to do.
Many a times we think/"decide" that the problem is at a place X. This Is based on the current level of information available to us and our analysis of the same. But in reality the problem could be else where. What Jeevan Vidya proposes is that the problem is not only with the physical facilities. But all these years we have been thinking or told to think that if we solve the problem of physical facilities, all the problems will be solved. But is that the case? For instance, the central Government released crores of rupees to give loans to the farmers where suicides happened in the recent past. And it has been found that the number of suicides did not decline but the sales of hero honda motorcycles in these villages increased. So if people are buying hero hondas and committing suicide, do you think the problem is just absence/lack of physical facilities? The problem of physical facilities/ access to the same does exist but it is more a problem of distribution than one of production. We see today that:
  1. People want to hoard wealth. They want as much as they can.
  2. They are not happy/complete even after they achieve all this.
Human society has not progressed much in terms of happiness, prosperity and well-being of the human species. The more we try to solve problems, new ones seem to crop up ... there is a need to think beyond the current nation, state, politics, economic growth, social work, activism paradigm and study the human being at his root. After all, since we are trying to do all this for human good, should not we first understand the human being and what he wants? We can then compare what we are currently trying to do with this ... otherwise, our current efforts will end up being localized patch work and might not be of any real, lasting use.

But it could take a lot of time for us to really understand that the problem is elsewhere and the solution is something else. Even if we dont realize it now, after putting 15 years of effort in solving what we believe the problems are, when nothing comes up out of that, we will automatically realize that problem is not only with the physical facilities - it is elsewhere too.

Also, ‘serving others’ should be seen as us fulfilling our relationship at various levels, - these relationships exist in reality. It is not a case of sacrificing something to do something else. The notion of selflessness is often steeped in this.

2. Self-introspection:
The process of doing something for others should first start with ourselves. Unless we are content with our life, how can we do something for others and make them content with their life? Unless we are at peace with ourselves, how can we talk about community peace? Are we truly having something to give people?

Shriram recollected a small incident that happened with his friend in Pune. Shortly after he came into contact with Jeevan Vidya, Shriram told his friend that now he wants to focus on his self and understand himself better before he can do something for others. Then he friend retaliated back saying that "Now you want to focus on yourself! Selfish! You dont want to do something for others? How mean!".

We always start with the premise that we are alright and the other is not. So we try to do something so that the other is set right. But we don't realize that we ourselves are not in the right state. When we ourselves don't know what we are, why we are and what we want how can we do something really useful/lasting something for others? in some sense, we start thriving on problems. Our existence becomes based on the fact that there are problems to solve.

3. Spreading Vidya:
This is about how to spread Jeevan Vidya. When we start having the right understanding, the spirit of Jeevan Vidya will get communicated to our immediate contacts by means of our actions and behavior. Although we may not put in any extra effort in telling them about Vidya explicitly, our behavior draws their attention towards it philosophy. What about spreading Vidya to people other than our immediate contacts? Now two questions arise: 1) should we do it? and 2) how to do it?
  1. Should we do it? Yeah, we should spread Vidya to bigger audience definitely. In fact there is a need to share this knowledge of Vidya with others in order to fulfill our relationship with them.
  2. How to do it? I asked Shriram: Should I have the complete understanding and then tell others about Vidya or can I start spreading the message even when I myself am in the process of learning. Shriram suggested the latter. When we understood something, it may not be complete, but if we are convinced that this is something important, we will automatically try to tell it to everyone we encounter. We can tell them that this is what I learnt, it changed my life so far in these ways and this is something important and should be looked at. But we have to remember that we can at most bring that person to our level of understanding, not any further. So when the person gets convinced that Vidya is important, we should direct him/her to the right sources when he/she can continue his/her exploration. In this way, by his/her experiences thereafter you too will benefit and he/she might help you to go a little further. It becomes a process of mutual benefit.

    But all the while, the focus should be on improving our understanding. Unless we reach complete understanding, we will fall short in what we can truly give people. One pitfall to watch out for in this process is that we might end up assuming we have completely understood because we can reason and convince people. The sincere internal check of where we only have the word and where we truly have its meaning, what we are ourselves able to live, should be always present. In any case, within us we know whether we have understood or not. The check is that we are feeling tripth (satisfied), we have answers to all our questions (why and what of everything) and able to live the understanding in human conduct, at all times.
4. Definite human conduct:

Vidya tells us that with the right understanding we can have definite human conduct. So the question is: is this definiteness of human conduct possible when only you have the understanding or should everyone around you should also have the right understanding? The question arises because even if you have the right understanding when something wrong is going on before your eyes, how can you be still happy until you change the other person? The answer is when you have the right understanding, irrespective of other factors, your conduct will be definite. You cannot base your conduct based on the understanding/ignorance of others. You can never be happy if you do so.

And the second question that arises is that many a times we end up being in conflict with ourselves because we are forced to do things due to our circumstances which we know are wrong. For example, giving dowry is wrong and I am completely aware of it. But if I dont give dowry, I cannot get my sister married. What do we do in this case? The answer to this is that if we see that there is a conflict then it means there is lack of understanding on our part somewhere. When we have the right understanding, giving dowry for instance will not cause conflict in you. Just like, if we don't have the right understanding and don't give dowry, it doesn't mean anything as far as the understanding is concerned. Similarly, if we have the right understanding, giving dowry because of other pressures is ok. If we have the right understanding, then as a long term goal in future we will definitely work on this problem. The bottom line is: only the lack of understanding on our part is the cause of all problems we see. Once we have the right understanding, we have a definite programme of action for the problems and go about completing them.

5. Catch-22:

A slightly related topic to the above is the catch-22 situation that arises between you and others. As stated earlier, we always start with the premise that we are ok and we need to set the other person right. And we will not be ok until we set the other person right. But we fail to realize that the other person will be ok only when you are ok. There is a recursive relationship, deadlock. Only when we start the process of self-introspection, we can see this.

6. Levels to operate:

There are 10 levels at which humans operate:

Praman (Expression)Anubhav (Realization)
Sankalp (Will) Bodh (Understanding)
Chitran (Desire/Imaging)Chintan (Imaging)
Visshleshan (Analysis)Tulan (Comparing)- Priy, Hith, Laabh,Nyay, Dharm and Saty
Chayan (Selecting)Asvadan Taste)

Whatever is in state, gets expressed in its action. We interact with the body at the lowest level - chayan.
  • Anubhav is of existence. It is direct experience of units and space.
  • Bodh is understanding of the basic nature of all entities in existence – physical, pranic, animal and human.
  • Chintan - is understanding the meaning of entities in existence.
  • Tulan - is weighing/ or comparing.
  • Asvadan - is taste that is stored in us. We can taste either values (mulya) or ruchi (taste).
There are 10 components to it and the human being wants to operate at all these 10 levels, otherwise he/she feels a void inside him. The exact meaning of the 6 sub-components of Vichar (thought) are:
  • Priy: Related to our senses. Which satisfy our senses.
  • Hith: Related to our health. Which help us in our being healthy.
  • Laabh: Related to things (vasthu)/possessing.
  • Nyay: Relationship between a human I and another human I.
  • Dharm: Relationship between a human I and the rest of the beings (another I, animals and plans).
  • Saty: Relationship between entities in space and the space around them.
Currently, most of us operate at only 4.5 levels (shown by the shaded region). We get some input from the body and based on the 4.5 levels we react to the input received. Our desire, thought and selection is either based on the sensory inputs we receive from the body or based on our pre-conditioning which we have already gathered over time in chitran and other places. In operating at the shaded region, we are primarily trying to satisfy the senses. But our needs are continuous, our activities are continuous and hence we are not satisfied with the discontinuous nature of senses. Materialism means ability to repeat this experience in as much variety as possible! But still, this leaves a void within. And leaves many facets of our lives untouched. Hence, just ensuring physical facilities is not enough. We need to understand what physical facilities can give us, and what they can’t.

We currently have many contradictions within in chitran, visleshan and chayan and hence keep oscillating within which leads to ‘shram’ or ‘effort’/tension. This is because chitran, vishleshan and asvadan are misaligned. They will be correctly aligned (from the top) when the 5.5 levels operate.

We currently ignore 5.5 levels and operate on these just 4.5 levels. In this case, we feel void, which is the constant clawing within. Only when all the 10 levels are operative, it leads to completeness and definiteness of human conduct.

We can now see why people seem to have different preconditioning - manyata. Depending on my input, I have a different assumption in chitran. Which I may believe is right. But it may not be true in existence. I can access the reality in existence only if I operate in all 10 levels.

When human's thought process operates only at the following three levels:
  • Priy (kaam unmaad)
  • Hith (bhog unmaad)
  • Laabh (laabh unmaad)
it is said to be animal level of operating. Unmaad is madness. The animal seems organized (niyantrit) since it does not have needs beyond this. But humans have a need beyond this, which they try to fulfill ONLY through this, which becomes a problem.

When Nyay is also ensured, it leads to Akhand Samaaj. When Dharm is also ensured, it leads to Saarvabhowm vyavastha. And when Saty is also ensured, it leads to Swatantratha. When everything is ensured, then it leads to completeness of Jaagruthi. Right understanding is at all 6 levels:
  1. Within the self: Knowing who I am, what I am, how I am, what my needs are and how to fulfill them.
  2. With the body: My relationship with the body and how to fulfill it. Physical facilities - The purpose of physical facilities is primarily to ensure this.
  3. With family: Understand human relationships and fulfill them. Physical facilities - Few physical facilities might be needed here.
  4. With society: Know what human target is, what role I have to play in it and fulfill the same. Physical facilities - Things like machines, communication, etc are needed here.
  5. , 6. With nature/existence: Understand all other entities I am related to and fulfill my relationship with all of them.
Human understanding thus becomes ALIGNED with the way existence is. And existence itself is in harmony, as co-existence. Thus, the basic thing to work on is right understanding. The rest will automatically fall into place. If point 1 above is incorrect, the rest will go wrong. No matter how much we try to ‘fix’ them. All our current efforts are to try and do this.

Qing Tian - Sunny Day

(Post from my previous blog. Originally posted on October 06, 2006)

Don't ask me how I accidentally stumbled into to a Taiwanese song by Jay Chou whose title was Qing Tian meaning sunny day or cloudless day. There was a website I visited and this song was playing in the background. After some googling, I got hold of the mp3. You can find it here - Qing Tian MP3 [Updated]. What is interesting about this song is that although I don't have a clue about the lyrics, I found the song is very melodious and soothing. It has been playing endlessly in my playlist from the last 3-4 days. Probably it is the music or the way the lyrics are sung. You should listen to the song and try following the lyrics below. Its very interesting.

Gu shi de xiao huang hua
Cong chu sheng na nian jiu piao zhe
Tong nian de dang qiu qian
Sui ji yi yi zhi huang dao xian zai

Ruay sou sou si dou si
La sou la si si si si la si la sou

Chui zhe qian zou wang zhe tian kong wo xiang qi hua ban shi zhe diao luo

* Wei ni qiao ke de na yi tian
Hua luo de na yi tian
Jiao shi de na yi jian
Wo zen me kan bu jian
Xiao shi de xia yu tian
Wo hao xiang zai lin yi bian
Mei xiang dao shi qu de yong qi wo hai liu zhe
Hao xiang zai wen yi bian
Ni hui deng dai hai shi li kai

# Gua feng zhe tian
Wo shi guo wo zhe ni shou
Dan pian pian
Yu jian jian
Da dao wo kan ni bu jian
Hai yao duo jiu
Wo cai neng zai ni shen bian
Deng dai fang qing de na tian
Ye xu wo hui bi jiao hao yi dian

Cong qian cong qian
You ge ren ai ni hen jiu
Dan pian pian
Feng jian jian
Ba ju li chui de hao yuan
Hao bu rong yi
You neng zai duo ai yi tian
Dan gu shi de zui hou ni hao xiang hai shi shuo liao bai bai


I found the translation of the above lyrics here.

The small yellow flower of the story has been flowing since the year I was born
The swings of my childhood is still swinging inside my memory
(Singing along with the melody)
re so so si do si la so la si si si si la si la so
I’m blowing the prelude and watching the sky, I’m thinking of flower petals that try to fall.

* The day I wagged the class for you, the day the flower falls
That classroom of yours; how can I never see it?
The disappeared rainy days, I wish to get wet by the rain again
Every time I thought of the supposed to be lost courage are still there,
I really want to ask you again, will you stay or leave?

# The day the wind started blowing, I tried to hold your hand.
But, the rain gradually, has gotten so heavy that I can no longer see you.
How long will it be until I can be with you?
Waiting to the day the sun shines, maybe I will start to feel better.

Long long ago, there’s a person who have loved you for a long time.
But, however, the wind gradually, blew the distance so far apart
Finally I can love you for one more day
But at the end of the story, you seemed to still said (good bye)#

I found something else also: it seems the word Qian Tian is a popular chinese metaphor to justice. That is because of a very popular ancient judge Bao Qingtian. The wiki page writes:

His name became synonymous with justice, with the clear blue sky (qing tian) became a popular metaphor to justice in the Chinese-speaking world.

If you have managed to read till here, thank you for reading this useless article! :)

I am going slightly mad!

(Post from my previous blog. Originally posted on September 29, 2006)

I was browsing the web and found a link to the video of "I am going slightly mad" by Queen.

The video is quite funny and humorous and is played by Freddie Mercury. But the wikepedia link on the song wrote that:

Although the song appears to be very humorous and light-hearted, many people believe the song has darker undertones and is inspired by AIDS-induced dementia and that it tells how he felt in his fight against the disease.

I found more facts about Freddie which I didn't know before. His parents were Indian Parsis. He attended his schooling in Mumbai. He is the first Indian and Persian rock star. He later moved to England and stayed there for the rest of his life. Guns and Roses singer Axl Rose was a devoted fan of Freddie and Kurt Cobain of Nirvana referred to Freddie in his suicide note.

Freddie died in November 1991 at the age of 45 due to bronchial pneumonia resulting from AIDS. There is a statue of him in Montreux, Switzerland and the British Government a stamp in his honor. Freddie is still popular in Britain it seems and he was ranked at No. 58 in the 2002 list of "100 Greatest Britons", sponsored by the BBC and voted for by the public.

Report on Mid-day Meals Program

(An old post on my previous blog: posted on August 30th, 2006)

(This is a news article published in ‘Eenaadu’, a telugu news paper on 28-6-2006. The article depicts the pathetic situation of the mid-day meals program that is being implemented in the Government schools).

  • Middle-men mismanaging the rice

  • Agencies which did not receive the bills

  • Unclean cooking and serving environment

‘Newstoday’ conducted a survey on mid-day meals scheme in 115 schools in AP. The numbers at glance:

  1. Total number of students: 19,657

    Number of students present: 13,876

    Number of students who ate food in mid-day meals: 9592

    Number of students who didn’t eat food: 4,284

  2. Number of schools with clean cooking and serving environment: 26

    Number of schools with unclean cooking and serving environment: 89

  3. Number of schools in which rice served is good: 19

    Number of schools in which rice served is of poor quality: 96

  4. Number of schools with no kitchen: 94

    Number of schools with kitchens that are unusable: 12

    Number of schools with kitchens that are in ruins: 4

    Number of schools with proper kitchens: 3

    Number of schools with kitchens under constructions: 2

  5. Number of schools giving egg twice a week: 4

    Number of schools giving egg once a week: 95

    Number of schools giving egg once in 15 days: 3

    Number of schools giving egg once a month: 13

  6. Number of schools which did not pay bills to agency from last 4 months: 68

    Number of schools which did not pay bills to agency from last 2 months: 32

    Number of schools which did not pay bills to agency from last 1 month: 15

The mid-day meals program is being implemented very well in the state. The students are receiving nutritious food. Due to this, the students’ attendance also increased. Dwakra and self-help groups are getting their livelihood. There is no shortage of funds for this program.”

- This is the statement of Govt. on mid-day meals

To find out how far this is true, ‘Newstoday’ did this survey. From each of the 23 districts, it selected 5 government schools and on 18th of August it conducted a survey in 115 primary and upper-primary schools state-wide. Of these, in 3 schools on that day the meals were not served, the reason being that rice is not received and the Dwakra and the self-help groups which are running the scheme did not receive the funds from the Government. In almost all the places, the situation is the same. The agencies are taking the raw materials for loan from the shops and cooking the meals for namesake. As a result, the food served is not sufficient and is tasteless

The rice that is given by the central Government for the mid-day meals for free is being mismanaged by the middle-men involved in the process. The 50 kilo rice bag that was supplied to the Hayathnagar Madal Parishath Central Primary school, Rangareddy district weighed only 45 kilos. The situation is the same in Ranganayakula colony, Kotthaguda, Bandaravi Upper Primary school, Batasingaram Central Primary school of the same district. The authorities themselves are agreeing with the fact that similar fraud is taking place state-wide.

And the nutrition aspect of the food is beyond discussion. As such the Government alloted Rs. 1.50 per student (from this month this is being increased to Rs. 2 but the bills are not yet paid) and it is not paying the bills to the agencies. Hence the agencies are executing the scheme according to their whims and fancies. Poor quality rice which is like a paste and watery sambar, this is the grand food served to the kids in the Government schools. On the days when there is no sambar, they serve dal and watery rasam. This the ‘menu’ that is being implemented in all the places state-wide. The vegetables are put in the sambar for namesake. The same is the case with dal and the leafy vegetables that are supposed to be present in dal. Each bag of rice contains at least one kilo of insects, stones etc. For the women groups who prepare the rice, the process of cleaning and washing the rice is of lot of effort. It is a joke to state that this kind of food supplies nutrition values to the kids.

Although the ministers and the Government officials announce now and then that “We issued orders to supply egg twice a week compulsorily to all the kids. And the authorities have told us that they are implementing it”, it is being not followed. And the number of schools which give egg once a week is also less. Only once or twice a month, the students are getting eggs.

Many schools do not have compound walls and as a result pigs are roaming freely in the premises of many schools. There is also the nuisance of dogs near the cooking place. Students have no choice but to eat food with dogs around them. In many schools, the cooking utensils and the surroundings used for cooking are highly unclean and unhygienic. About 20 percent of the kids attending school, go home and have their lunch. About 10 percent of the kids bring food from home. Many students told that they get stomach pain after eating the poor quality rice served at school. Even the parents are warning the kids not to eat lunch served at the school. There are many examples which contradict the statements made by the officials that the mid-days meals program helped in bringing down the number of absentees. The teachers tried to cover up the issue saying that since there were many holidays from 11th of this month, the attendance was poor. But the villagers told ‘Newstoday’ that even in regular days on an average only 30 percent of the kids attend the school. In many places, kids leave the school immediately after the lunch is served. Even the teachers are not making any efforts to stop them from doing so. The main reasons for this being the lack of sufficient number of teachers in the schools and the absence of the teachers from their duties. Although there are many problems with the mid-day meal scheme, still the kids belonging to agricultural and industrial labor families depend on the school completely for their lunch. They eat the food offered irrespective of its quality and cleanliness. Only when the Government and the officials work towards the goal of providing tasty and nutritious food to them, the mid-day meals scheme can be successful.

Other hard facts:

  • The mid-day meal scheme was not implemented in Bollapalli mandal Hanumapuram school, Guntur Dist. because the Government did not pay bills to the self-help groups since last four months. The shopkeeper from whom the agencies were bringing the raw material for loan refused to give anymore. Every month the Government has to give one quintal of rice per month to the school but the officials gave one quintal for three months. Even in the last month, the mid-day lunch was not served due to insufficient rice.

  • The mid-day scheme was not being implemented in the Keshapur primary school, Nizamabad Dist. since last four months. The attendance of the students was low and the Dwakra group here decided not to cook since the margins they make will not be profitable.

  • The officials stopped supplying rice to the school in Baisa mandal Ilegam, Adilabad Dist. since August 3rd and the mid-day scheme came to a halt. Even in the month of July, the scheme was not implemented on four days.

  • There is no water for the students to clean hands, wash the plates after the lunch in the school in Madakasira mandal N.R. Roppam, Ananthapur Dist. The students go home to clean their hands and wash the plates.

  • In the school of Baheerabad mandal Navalga, Rangareddy Dist., with just 1 kilo of the dal, rasam was prepared that was to be served to 78 kids.

Mismanagement of rice by the middle-men:

The value of the rice that is being mismanaged by the middle-men is estimated to be 9 crores per year. The rice bags that will be supplied from the Indian Food Corporation will be stocked up in the Fair price shops (Ration shops). In the inspection of the MROs, the rice bags will be transferred to the schools. Once the rice bags reach the schools, it is found many times that the bag which should weigh 50 Kilos weigh only 45 Kilos. The headmasters and the women groups reported to the authorities this issue of less weighed rice bags being supplied but no action is being taken. There are accusations that there is involvement of people at all levels of administrative hierarchy in this scam. The central Government is supplying about 1.14 lakh tons of rice for the mid-day meal scheme. It is estimated that at least 10 percent of this quantity is going into the hands of these middle-men. The rice is supplied in gunny bags and without opening the bags, by means of the equipment used to check the quality of the rice, these middle-men are robbing the rice very cleverly. The Dwakra and the self-help groups are proposing that if the rice is supplied in plastic bags, these kinds of fraud can be decreased.

The mid-day meal scheme numbers:

Following the order by Supreme court, the mid-day meal program started state-wide on 2nd January 2003. All over the state, the scheme is being implemented in 72,829 schools which caters to about 73 lakh students. In many schools, there are no basic facilities to conduct the mid-day meals. In 58,333 schools, kitchens were not constructed. In 26,354 schools, there is no drinking water facility. For 31,351 schools, there is no gas connection sanctioned. For the year 2006-07, about one thousand kitchens are proposed for construction. Central Government alloted 11.40 lakh quintals of rice for the mid-day meal scheme. The state Government bears Rs. 240 crores while the central Government gives Rs 131 crores towards this rice expense. In cities like Hyderabad, Vishakapatnam and Tirupathi, the implementation of scheme is alloted to social service organizations. Only in these places, the scheme is being implemented properly. In rest of the places, its implementation is totally improper. Except for the namesake checks done, there is no in-depth study of the scheme at the level of higher officials.

The hardships of the Dwakra groups:

  • In just Rs. 1.50, the entire meal needs to be provided.

The Government is boasting proudly that the mid-day meal program is implemented very well. But the reality is far from it. The Government thinks that its job is done once it releases the funds and the rice. The entire work of implementation of scheme came into the hands of Dwakra and the self-help groups. They are bearing with all the hardships and the losses incurred in the scheme. But the officials are not even co-operating with them to pay the bills in time. The funds released from the education department main office reach the DEOs first and then the MROs. But there is a lot of delay in releasing the funds at all levels. About 50 percent of the women groups told us that they need to get money of the bills from last four months. About 25 percent should get money for the last two months.

Do you know what is the salary of the women groups who are running the scheme? ... Whatever they can save on the Rs. 1.50 alloted to each student. This is main reason for the poor quality of the scheme. Another reason being the untimely payment of the bills. If the number of students is less than 50, the Government is paying Rs. 2 per student. If the number is between 51 and 100, it will be Rs. 1.75 and above hundred it will be Rs. 1.50 per student. If the number of students is more than 100, the women groups should prepare the meals with just Rs. 1.50 per student. With the increasing prices of raw materials and the vegetables, it is practically impossible for the women groups to deliver quality food and also save money for their salaries. In many schools, they are using wood for cooking as they cannot afford the cooking gas. Though the Government increased the amount from Rs. 1.50 to Rs. 2 from the month of August, even this is not sufficient compared to the increasing prices. The price of dal which was between Rs. 18 and Rs. 20 per kilo at one time, now increased to Rs. 30 to Rs. 35. The price of tamarind is between Rs. 50 and Rs. 60 per kilo. The price of cooking oil is about Rs. 50 per kilo. They cannot afford to give egg twice a week as their prices increased. And the vegetables are getting expensive day by day. Therefore, the funds released by the Government are utterly insufficient.

The Government hoped that, in addition to providing nutritious food to the students, the mid-day meals program also helps in spreading communal harmony among students as they eat food together. But in the villages where the caste and creed differences are rooted from ages, this scheme is being ridiculed. Even now some of the families belonging to higher classes are not allowing their kids to eat the lunch provided in the scheme. Some of the students are going home for lunch under some pretext or the other and the rest are openly admitting that their parents asked them not to eat there. Some more students are brining the plates and also the water from home.

In Perapalla, Kurmiddha schools, Mahaboobnagar Dist. the students are eating lunch by sitting in different rows according to their caste. If the women cooking the food are from lower class, the students belonging to higher classes are eating lunch at home. In Khamman district, students are going home for eating saying that the agency women are cooking the food. In Sullupet mandal Peddapadava school, Nellore District, the students belonging to some sections of society are staying away from the mid-day meals program.

Encourage craftsmen

(An old post from my previous blog: posted on May 11th, 2006)

I recently visited Shilparamam where there was a crafts mela going on. I was delighted to see various art forms from all over the country. It was not the first time I have seen such artistic things but somehow I was moved by the expertise and workmanship hidden in each item that is kept for sale.

As I was shopping, I spoke to few people in the stalls. There was a man who makes khadi and cotton clothes in U.P. He described the entire process of making a khadi kurtha right from collecting the material to make the cloth to the last phase of stitching the kurtha. I saw Madhubani paintings and found them very expensive. I later learned that it is because of the amount of hardwork involved in extracting the colors. The material on which the painting is made and the colors they use are all natural. The colors are extracted from vegetables and plants. I read here that:

Cotton wrapped around a bamboo stick forms the brush. The colours applied are prepared by the artists. Black colour is obtained by mixing soot with cow dung; yellow from turmeric or pollen or lime and the milk of banyan leaves; blue from indigo; red from the kusam flower juice or red sandalwood; green from the leaves of the wood apple tree; white from rice powder; orange from palasha flowers.

I did some googling and you can find some sample paintings here. It is amazing that they could extract such beautiful colors from nature without any artificial chemicals.

There was stall with beautiful Kondapalli dolls. I saw a Gadwal saree which is done on a hand-driven machine and some extra work is done by sewing on that which takes 2 days for one person.

All these people who are experts in their own art forms earn very meagre amounts of money. I really felt sympathetic towards them. I decided that from now on I will do everything I can to encourage such people and thereby their art. I will speard the word among my friends and create awareness among them about these.

Next time you have to buy a gift, instead of going to shopping malls, try to find avenues to accommodate articles made by these craftsmen. Encourage these craftsmen and save the artforms.

Renjini Says:
May 25th, 2006 at 12:36 pm

Satya, Yes. Excellent idea to encourage our skilled craftsmen. I almost fell in love with the kind of objects they make in Shilparamam (Hyderabad). The very shape and nature of those objects can instill so much of enthusiasm in people who look at it (Indian Feng-Shui ??). I mean, for example, in the Madhubani they make some objects with papier-mache too. Then color it in the Madhubani style. Massive appeal .. I couldnt stop but buy them. Did you by the way see the wooden toys from Channapatnam? The links you have provided on the paintings are cool too. Good thoughts man. Keep it up. — Renjini

Primary school education in India

(An old post from my previous blog: posted on February 16th, 2006)

In this post, I would like to explain what I would like to do in near future based on my experience with Muskaan.

Keeping other things apart, the basic take away from Muskaan is that the basic primary school education is terribly poor. In some schools, there are no teachers for some subjects. In some schools, even if there are teachers, they do not teach at all. Its a government job and there is no one to monitor what the teachers teach. I also feel due to corruption many unqualified and untrained teachers get jobs.
The education standards of the kids in Muskaan is very bad and they all go to government schools. Kids who are in 4th class do not know how to read sentences while their textbooks are fairly complex with essays and poems. Last year we had a 7th standard student and if we give dictation from a 2nd class or 3rd class textbook he cannot write. What I am talking is about telugu which is their medium of teaching. The situation of english is horrible. Some students in 4th standard still dont know how to write small alphabets. These examples depict the plight of government school education.

I am not blaming the Government for the situation. I did some searching about this on the internet and I could collect some facts. The Government successfully increased the number of school and the number of kids attending school.

"From the first plan until the beginning of the sixth (1951-80), the percentage of the primary school-age population attending classes more than doubled. The number of schools and teachers increased dramatically. Middle schools and high schools registered the steepest rates of growth. The number of primary schools increased by more than 230 percent between 1951 and 1980. During the same period, however, the number of middle schools increased about tenfold. The numbers of teachers showed similar rates of increase. The proportion of trained teachers among those working in primary and middle schools, fewer than 60 percent in 1950, was more than 90 percent in 1987" (

The Government is successful in increasing the numbers. But this needs to be taken to the next step to increase the quality of the education in these school.

I have only the question but not the answer. In fact, even if I motivate a group of people say 25 to work on this problem and lets us say we give it a time-line of 25 years, at the end of 25 years we should increase the standard of education in these schools, I still dont know how to approach this problem. Its because the government education system is highly coupled with politics and government policies and changing it would mean a change on all these spheres. Also the number of government schools is huge and the change should be properly propagated. But since the numbers of so huge, any change would mean tremendous impact.

Although I dont have a concrete solution, I have some crazy, impractical ideas about this.

- Pointing fingers: We can report to the government about the plight of the schools in terms of unqualified teachers, insufficient number of teachers and the irresponsibility of teachers. Here comes the crazy part. This can be done in a very dramatic way (taking inspiration from various news channels) with hidden cameras. These teachers should be exposed to public and thrown out of jobs. There are so many qualified unemployed youth who can fill these posts. A survey can be conducted by visiting these schools and taking opinions from the students. I know its crazy!
- Collective Responsibility: Instead of blaming the teachers or the system for the poor condition of the education standard, everyone of us can act on it and contribute our part towards the cause. Take a city like Hyderabad where there are so many software professionals (IT hub) and innumerable students (many engineering colleges and universities). If even 10-20% of these people can be influenced and motivated, each school can be adopted by a group and by taking turns they can teach in these schools. I know this approach is not scalable, but at least we can change the situation in the schools in and around Hyderabad. I know, I know its not practical!!

The problems I explained here are just a tip of the iceberg. I am not a pessimist but still there are many other problems like: lack of facilities in the hostels run by government for students, child labor, lack of sanitation, corruption, lack of monitoring for exams etc.
Bottom line: I am still looking for a proper approach and solution for the questions I raised above. Hopefully in this life, I will be able to provide my contribution of two cents towards this.

saikrishna Says:
February 23rd, 2006 at 12:09 pm

“I will be able to provide my contribution of two cents towards this.”

You are doing a splendid job and the intiative is what that is required for this nation, sooner or later people will join.

I dont have a solution to the problem you have but i would like to add that the conditions are no better in private schools. The serious problem is that teacher which is the most respected job in the ancient indian society is now taken up by people who really don’t understand its significance. I have seen many teachers who hate teaching but still work as teachers. How good is learning if you can’t apply your knowlege?

We should aim at eliminating functional illiteracy and not just illiteracy from the nation for allround development. The main problem from my perspective is in our typical indian minds which are always insecure. When you are willing to work hard no profession is bad and money is not the only measure of success.

Finally, let me finish the comment with “I wish to contribute to the project”. I wish to replicate the same project in my village when i return.

My experiences with Muskaan -- Philosophy and Hardships

(An old post on my previous blog: posted on February 16th, 2006)

In my previous post, I wrote a brief history of Muskaan. In this post I want to discuss more about what are the aim and philosophy of this initiative and the problems we faced (and still facing) in running an activity like Muskaan.

Recently, I was talking to an group of enthusiasts called Bharat Uday Mission and I wanted to share my experiences with them. Then the first question posed to me was "what is the mission and philosophy of Muskaan?". I was taken back by the question for a moment because when we started to work for Muskaan we never sat and thought about these things. We just wanted to help these kids to the best of our abilities and utilizing the resources which are in our reach. Even though we did not sit and frame the goal and philosophy of Muskaan, to me the following can be said as its motto.

The main motivation for Muskaan is that these the kids, who are disadvantaged due to their economic and social background, do not have suitable environment at home and school for their proper development. Most of the parents of these kids are daily laborers and workers who are not educated. These kids go to Government schools which have lot of problems like lack of proper teachers and lack of proper teaching. Through Muskaan we want to create the necessary environment which helps them both educationally and socially. We teach subjects like English, Telugu and Maths. In addition to it, we have G.K. classes, yearly annual day celebrations, competitions etc which add fun part to their studying.

Another goal of Muskaan is to tell kids the importance of going to school and if there are any school drop-outs, making sure that they go back to school. Initially, we used to insist on this and take kids who go to regular school because we strongly believe that Muskaan can never be a substitute for a regular school. However due to various things, we have some kids who are school drop-outs. We tried to convince their parents to put them back to school. But since they are basically migrant, its not possible. Things stopped at this.
As the tag line of Muskaan: "Muskaan in my life" aptly explains whatever I articulated, we just want to fill smiles in their life. Now comes the hard part, the problems we face while running Muskaan.

- Volunteers: Initially the main problem is to get volunteers to support this initiative. Volunteers form the core part of running Muskaan. During the initial days, most of the volunteers were my lab-mates or batch mates or friends on campus. As days went, more and more people got interested and it because a big group. Typically, a volunteers stays with Muskaan for about 6 months to 1 year depending on their workload and in which year of study they are.

The main problem is not get people signed up for Muskaan, but make them work for Muskaan. On paper, there might be 20-30 volunteers registered but of them about 7-8 people will do the whole work. Since its a collective activity by all the volunteers, co-operation and sincerity among the volunteers is very important. Even today, we have about 80 volunteers registered. But over last few weeks there were some days on which Muskaan classed did not happen because all the volunteers who are supposed to go on a particular day, abscond themselves and do not inform about it to others.

The bottom line is that quantity is not important but dedication and motivation of the volunteers is atmost important. Since they work for Muskaan on a volunteer basis, we cannot demand any such qualities from them and they should come from within themselves. I was part of Muskaan when there used to 7-8 volunteers and at that time things went very smoothly because all the volunteers are well-motivated and responsible towards Muskaan. Today although we have 80 volunteers, I should say things are not going as well as they should.

- Kids: Another major problem we face with Muskaan is the set of kids we deal with. Some of the kids' parents are migrant laborers who visit cities like Hyderabad for work when there is no harvest in the village. When harvest season arrives, they go back to their village. Hence its not possible for these kids to join a regular school in their village nor in the city. Therefore, the set of kids we deal with constantly changes. Of course, there are about 5-6 kids who are there with Muskaan right from its beginning but this is an exception.

- Substitute for regular school?: Initially, we used to enroll only those kids who are going to regular school during the day. This is because we strongly believe that Muskaan can never be a substitute for a regular school since the amount of time these kids spend in Muskaan is about 2-3 hours. We only try to help them with their regular school syllabus. This was our mind set when we got started. But to our surprise, the standards of these kids were very poor. A fourth class student who have poems and proses in his english textbook can hardly spell even simple words. So we had start from basics. We had to start teaching alphabets, simple words, basic arithmetic etc. It was not possible to follow any specific syllabus. We decided upon some basic syllabus for each subject and had been following it. One of the problem here is that the kids keep on forgetting what was taught before. Especially if there is a vacation of 1 or 2 weeks, the kids simply forget everything that has been done previously. As a result, most of the kids are still learning what they were learning a year back or so. Most of the time is spent in revising the old syllabus.

This problem is aggravated by the fact that everyday a different person teaches the kids and its not the same person. At least we have seen to that for each subject the volunteers are fixed and hence guaranteeing some continuity. Even then it becomes difficult to communicate to the next slot volunteers what is done in the previous slot. As of today, we dont know how to handle the syllabus and the continuity problems.

- Method and mode of teaching: Since the set of volunteers keeps changing, different volunteers might teach kid in a different way. For instance, if we were to each addition, one volunteer teaches kid to add using fingers. Another volunteers teaches by drawing vertical lines on the book and yet another using small stones. At the end of it, the kid who is learning addition for the first time, get confused. It might be possible for the volunteers to meet and decide upon how to teach a particular aspect. But doing it regularly for each and every topic would hamper the interest of the volunteers in Muskaan. Therefore, we need some guidelines in the form of printed material as to how to teach small kids things like basic maths, sentence structures etc.

Bottom line: I am still learning based on my past experiences and hopefully will be able to come up with a model to solve the above problems.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My experiences with Muskaan -- Intro

(An old post from my previous blog: posted on February 15th, 2006)

I am part of a group called "Muskaan" which teaches kids of slums near IIIT in the evenings. This post gives an introduction and logistics of Muskaan.

About two years I joined a group called "Muskaan" which started just then. One of our professor Dr. Prosenjit Gupta took the initiative of teaching kids of near slums of IIIT in the evening. He called me and asked if any students in IIIT will be interested. I spoke to my fellow Ph.D. and MS students and was able to group about 9 people.

For a long time, I was very much interested in doing something for the poor and economically disadvantaged people. I was very happy to part of Muskaan and serve these kids. In the initial days, we used cow shed of a man who owns cattle. Kids used to reach there by 5:00 PM and we conduct classes till 8:00 PM. Initially, our biggest challenge was to make these kids come to Muskaan regularly. We used to give them intensives like chocolates, books etc and conduct fun classes like story telling etc to evoke interest towards Muskaan.

By the end of 2-3 months, we had about 25-30 kids in Muskaan. Then something went wrong: we were asked to vacate the cow shed we used to use. Then we shifted to another room which was across the street of the old place. Things went fine for about month or two and again due to some problems, we had to vacate even that room. We then approached a school in Indira Nagar to use their classrooms in the after hours of their school. The school people were more than happy to give us the place. This also didn't last for long. We were again thrown out for no reason.

The first set of kids at Muskaan The first set of kids at Muskaan
Muskaan in the initial daysMuskaan's first annual day celebrations

At this, we thought we had to close down Muskaan. We even conducted classes under a tree on the side of the road. Then finally, Muskaan moved to IIIT which is its permanent location. IIIT's old canteen which is located very close the main gate was given by the institute to support this initiative.

Everyday kids collect at two pick-up points. Volunteers collect these kids at 4:45 PM and bring to IIIT for classes and again drop them back at the pick-up points at the end of the day. We have currently about 20 kids. Recently there was an overwhelming response from volunteers and we have about 80 volunteers who signed up for Muskaan. Muskaan is also part of IIIT standard curriculum where in UG students can join Muskaan for a semester and get one credit of extra curricular activities.
The first set of kids at Muskaan
Excited kids during the function Volunteers with kids Volunteers with kids