Sunday, August 28, 2011

Glimpses of reality


While I am comfortably relaxing in my couch penning down this post, my mind has been revolving around a peasant couple somewhere in the corner of rural West Bengal, India. Coming from an urban background, I rarely made visits to my grandparent’s village. My grandparents also moved out to the cities and so our connection with the village was very less although my father had great love towards his ancestor’s place. The only relation with village that exists for me even today is having my paternal aunt who stays in the village. All these years she has been working on the rural development programmes, but she never mentioned in any of her conversations that there were extremely poor villagers who cannot afford very basic needs like food and shelter. Reasons are the villages around my city were quite well farmed and cultivated as most of them fall along the flow routes of two major river basins. And of course two major dam’s irrigation canals flowing in the region are another reason for abundant water supply. So, I never really heard from my aunt or any other extended family member who stayed in villages complaining of major issues in farming or their co-villagers suffering in below poverty line. In fact these villages were quite prosperous and green most of the year.

But this was not at all the case about this peasant couple that I mentioned; they were not being able to afford one meal a day. Isn’t it heartbreaking? If you wonder how did I come across this couple... recently a show was aired on BBC named "India on Four Wheels" which featured two enthusiasts from Britain driving across the urban and rural Indian routes covering all major corners and what they encounter or confront in their road trip was all included in it. The show was certainly one of its kinds. I hardly watched any such show with a purpose and yet interesting in the regional channels recently. Not to deviate but a much needed mention here is about the Doordarshan channel, which used to focus on such real issues but of course mostly in a documentary which is why it didn’t get many eyeballs glued.
Although we Indians being quite familiar with the huge economic disparities in the country, I was so emotionally touched while watching the show. Especially when on north western corner there was this Maharaja of Udaipur flaunting his vintage Rolls Royce collection. And not being able to maintain the huge palace on his own, leased out it as a hotel which seemed as an answer to his biggest problem. And on the north east corner therez this poorest peasant couple starving for days even after working so hard on their farm and on top of this one of the storms had swept away their entire year's toil and the little piece of shelter they owned. This extremity shattered me. I have no complaints against this Maharaja's extravagant living style; I indeed enjoyed watching his huge collection of the royal living and fabulous wheels until I saw the poverty in the other corner.
Poverty itself is such a scary term to many of us. Would we ever imagine us being there???...No, not even in our wildest dreams. Not having a square meal a day is really really worse. The couple I mentioned did not complain of anything but food and that too grown out of their little farm. While the luxurious richness and prosperity of the Maharaja seemed like a fairy tale, the dearth of this peasant family knocked of the fanciness and gave a glimpse of the reality. 
This whole thing actually reminds of a scene from Swades one of my favourite films, where the peasant family reveals the paucity of very basic necessities for their existence. (From 3:00 to the end)

Well, I don’t know if I could stop this emotional outburst here and forget it in a while because it moved me so much so that I would expect this could see some positive repercussions.



Sunday, August 21, 2011

Life after Death


Earlier, I have posted my memoirs with couple of the instructors that I came across during my education. I don’t know if they will be in memory for long time. But the man I am going to write about will live forever in my memories. I wanted to share an experience with my readers about this wonderful Professor who passed away recently.
Many Indian students go toa USA with lot of expectations about the education system there. Even I belong to the same clan. My first encounters with the course professors seemed quite interesting. I was having my share of doubts, but was excited to dive into the system. I was also warned by few senior students that the course work I chose was very tough and lot of students eventually change their stream not being able to gain good scores. As warned, the toughness and tediousness in the courses unfolded slowly.
One course seemed bit simple but the professor who taught had a very different approach to the lectures. All his lectures seemed random and most of the time he picked the market developments from the new papers and handed out to the pupil. The randomness eventually decreased my interest to attend his lectures. So if ever I had to dedicate some extra time at my part time job, I would spare his class time for that. When it came to the assignments and projects, our desi pupil shamelessly plagiarised taking advantage of the loopholes in the course. This was not noticed by him for long time. Initially, I hated that system but eventually got trapped into it in some occasions. This trap reduced the burden, n obviously you take things easy and that’s what I did until I came to know that I scored a bad grade than others in my team who also did the same. As I wasn’t able to digest the fact, I rushed to see the professor to ask for an evaluation. I was so unfortunate because he just then knew about the plagiarism and completely avoided confrontations with any students. I miffed my bad luck and decided not to go for his courses for the next semester.
However, if destiny decided that I should end up with a good relation with this man, I can’t escape. So, I had to opt for his course in a summer semester which actually developed quite positive relation with him. At that point of time, I was literally in a bizarre about my skills and the course I choose. But this professor helped me gain good confidence and encouraged me spotting my best assets. In the following semesters, he encouraged me to present technical papers and gave me a platform to prove my mettle. Had he not done that, I would have ended up graduating with no feathers in my cap or would have changed my stream(with great regret) as many others did. To be honest, I was so adamant from the beginning about changing the stream just because there is pressure be it in my education or work.
Well, getting back...this professor boosted me with positive energy till I graduated. Couple of incidents that I can never forget were when he delivered the lecture having so much pain after a nose injury, literally he stood there with bunch of tissues wiping the blood off and continuing his lecture. This might seem weird but he did not consider that it was any hindrance. The other was when he personally called on my mobile to inform that there were minor errors in my paper which might object him to give a best grade. Given the reputation he had, he can grade it off either with a positive one as nobody comes to him for an explanation or with a next best one showing me the errors as a reason. But he made an effort to grab my number from the admin and called to let me know to correct them so that he can give a best grade. When asked for a reason he said, when you made me proud and reached my expectations as the engineering society conference, I shouldn’t let you down.
I was so honoured to see him at my graduation ceremony and being blessed by him.  It gave me immense happiness when I came to know that no other students from his own department graduated, yet he came to greet me. It didn’t stop there; he extended his support even during my job interviews. Not to forget his random lectures, and the news paper hand outs came to great use during my work. Even today I am the in the same line of work that he often taught in his classes and pupil thought he was obsessed with this topic. He was way ahead of times as now I see a lot of future in that topic “Sustainability”.
He was in constant touch responding to all my emails until recently. I will be always grateful and thankful to him. This is just my experience, and there are many other students especially desis who had similar and better experiences associated with this wonderful man. You will always live through the knowledge that you shared and the path that you have shown us Dr.Koehn.



Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dream or Nightmare

Hello People

I have earlier written that London is a dream destination to me and many others in the world. Today the dream seems a nightmare at the sight of some areas in the city. From the day I moved to London, till recently, I have never seen any criminal activities around the city nor heard of it often. Before I moved here, I have read reports about the crime rate in England, but after moving here most of my friends assured that there were very least no. of incidents that happened as such. The City has always been monitored by CCTVs all around. Every activity on the street is seen and Police used the system very effectively to cease such activities. 

The area of Tottenham was close to my previous stay and it all seemed very messy to me. Reasons could have been poverty or irresponsibility. This area had so many street mongers all the time. I wasn't surprised when the riots began in that area. Generally the very sight of the area will make one understand what you get from it. I wouldn't say all of the residents are so, but definitely the public areas seemed mayhem to a newcomer like me. When police shot a guy suspecting to have a weapon and a life threat, it was understood that the police had shown discrimination against the communities. Peaceful protest began condemning the shooting and as per some sources, the riots began when one of the police mishandled a teen trying to control the outburst. Twitter and Blackberry messenger had enormously helped the rioting mobs to connect and spread the violence in no time to other areas. It was reported that these mobs claimed that police have to learn a lesson and the rich need to suffer the consequences. Also reported that most of these rioters were drug and alcohol addicts and of course most of them in their teens and the bursting anger was due to the earlier police raids and arrests of the people from their community. When riots took place only in the Tottenham area, it was believed that all happened due to the outburst about the shooting. But when it spread like a wildfire to other areas, it seemed crazy chaos. Within in 3 days millions of pounds worth properties were damaged and shops were looted. After 1st day's looting the stolen items were sold for just 20-50 pounds when their original value would be around 1000s of pounds. This violence spread like craze amongst other bonkers who had no motive to carry on the violence except to share some hysteric fun. Some of the videos show these mobs happily looting, and sharing funny comments while the police watched helplessly.
I was actually surprised by the police taking least action against these looters. In some areas, normal citizens complained of police being spectators while the rioters looted away. A woman complained that she witnessed the looting and police who were few in number were literally nervous to face the huge mobs. The reasons of damage can also be redirected to the system failure because as soon the riots started spreading to the other areas, even a common man or a newcomer like me were also able to assess which areas would take over these acts. But police stated that it was unpredictable for 2 days. And when there were huge mobs protesting around, what will the small no.of police do to stop them with no rights to fire a plastic bullet or water cannons at least. The turmoil just increased manifold within hours but the action plans were not improved. Until yesterday, government was not able to put a stop to the riots. Arrest were made after the damage has all been done and several private cars, building were burnt totally. If the insurance doesn’t cover the riot damage, I guess the losses can take ages to be recovered. 
Another missed common sense fact is that, these rioters who set warehouses on fire and looted shops did not understand that they are also cutting down the jobs. One Sony warehouse which was burnt had approximately 700 employees who might lose their livelihood until the warehouse resumes its operations. And what about the parents of these youngsters… what have they been doing while these teens were creating havoc in the city? 
Now it all boils down to a racist slanging match. How pathetic? Regardless of our creed or colour we should be standing together for what is right and wrong. The man who was shot should have been brought to justice for what he had done not shot to death. But the fact he has been shot should not have led to these riots. We cannot bring racism in this battle, but have to understand, despite the race it is the few individuals who chose to be this way that caused the problem. With 2012 Olympics ahead, these riots are certainly a serious threat to the country’s image. Prayers for peace and harmony!!! Let this city be a dream destination as always!!!