The miles to go before I sleep...

  • Start teaching science at school and incorporate demo
  • Research, design, implement comprehensive teaching module on science, civic sense
  • Interview social change agents working @ ground level
  • Pilot peer-to-peer teaching programme

Saturday, September 26, 2009

OverTea - Retired!

It has been over four years since I started blogging and OverTea is the first platform on which I have started expressing my views. Now the time has come for me to let my dear friend go.

Started as a platform for argument, though each post didn't really bring up one, OverTea has had a few posts which most certainly invited view points that starkly differed from its own. Some of my favourites were Mahabharata "controversy", B.E vs BSc, Of conservatism and liberalism, Why should a politician be selfless?, celebrating Gandhi.

Writing OverTea has been a great journey of discovery and education. I owe my association with ThinkChange India, NGOpost, the opinion I formed on many issues of public relevance to OverTea. Now, somewhere down the line I started BlackNike in a whimsical moment and not too long after that I realized that managing two personal blogs is redundant, and OverTea can very well fit into BlackNike. But after prolonged laziness today I integrated both the blogs under BlackNike. So, do visit BlackNike!

Though I have transferred all contents of OverTea into BlackNike and I won't write on this blog anymore, I just couldn't bring myself to delete the blog. After all, it does bring in fond memories.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Obituary: YSR

It has been sometime since I have blogged in this site. But now is a good time to restart the discussion OverTea. After about a day's mystery finally we know that CM of Andhra Pradesh YSR has died in the chopper crash.

After he had taken over from Chandrababu Naidu as CM, a visionary credited to have ushered in an IT revolution in Hyderabad, YSR had done well not to root out the best of reforms the former CM brought in.

For example, the Velugu project to eliminate poverty renamed a Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) in YSR regime did very well to imrprove the rural poor's quality of life. The same example also points that he seems to have learnt from ostensible mistakes of Naidu too. Often Naidu election debacle after 9 years of rule was attributed to his "one-sided focus on the cities" and ignoring the poor. While the claim is arguable, YSR seems to have maintained the urban-rural development balance well. His own initiatives like Arogyashree (health care) and Indiramma housing programme seems to have been received well by the public.

In my own personal experience during my last 5 years of residence in Hyderabad, I find the municipality of Hyderabad as less corrupt and more proactive than any other municipalities I have found. So, all said and done, as a CM YSR did well, and Andhra Pradesh and the country at large is at a minor loss at his untimely death. May his soul rest in peace and hope his replacement is at least as good as he was.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Comment on WSJ's observation on NREGA

From ThinkChange India I read an article on Wall Street Journal about India's poverty and specifically about NREGA. I commented in TC-I about the article which I am reproducing here.

Two things about WSJ's observation on NREGA
1. About moving beyond NREGA in the next 5 years (which helps survive but not escape poverty).

The author is correct about making NREGA less prominent and making training, infrastructure investment, more prominent. But given the imperfections in implementing NREGA (corruption), it would be too soon to expect the transition in the next 5 years. I suspect, it would leave a void that would be occupied by more corruption. "But is the government thinking about skill enhancement?" is the real question to face!

2. Transparency.
Well, there are concrete measures for transparency that are already delivering. For example, the wage payment are increasingly made as bank transfers to the worker rather than cash. Another example is making NREGA, RTI compliant. This empowers independent monitors like RTI activists. The Hindu Publication has followed NREGA very well. Links

The Frontline survey in Jan 2009 edition: Go to "cover story" to the left of the page

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My verdict on the election

Now that the dust around the elections are beginning to settle after a surprise result at virtually every corner of the country, what has really come of it? A UPA government without the "support" of the nagging communist party. So, how is it going to be this time around? Better or worse?

CPI's absence should allow the UPA to be more decisive without getting into a big and often useless argument with an ally. But that may also make a big citizen activism only possible force to stop them from doing something that the society considers detrimental, and I believe the current UPA governemt has as lot of potential for that considering that there are a handful of incompetant and not-so-society-minded individuals and leadership qualities, like Azhagiri and A.Raja looking at cabinet ministries, that too ministries like IT - a sector that is almost unique selling point for India.

While I am glad that the openly non-secular BJP especially led by Advani is decisively routed out, I am simultaneously cautious about over-estimating the competence of current government. As almost in anything that has to do with India. We have to wait know what really is going to happen

Friday, April 24, 2009

Going green should be easier to cause desirable impact!

I have come across enthusiastic appeals to contribute towards saving the environment by modifying the way I go about my everyday life. For example, I am piling up dozens of used batteries simply because I am yet to find an environmentally safe way of disposing them, even after actively searching for a recycling plant or safe-disposal facility close to Hyderabad. The same predicament applies to anything that can be connected to electricity from cellphone chargers to television sets. More importantly,

I find it very difficult to avoid using plastics. I buy juice in a tetrapack as against a plastic bottle, only to find that even they use plastic linings to make it waterproof. After little research I come to understand that there is no environmentally safe, affordable water-proofing alternative to plastics available to common man. If such a solution is not available, how is one going to avoid plastics?

Often those who make the transition to the green lifestyle would be forced to spend more on a regular basis!(either as cash or as time trying to figure out a green work-around). As a result, such a community will always be small. Worse, there will always be someone who says, "You know. Its too tough to be green" and will get back to the bad-old ways! (Consider the poor. They generate a lot of waste, but don't participate in waste management in proportion. But is it their fault?)

On the other hand even when solutions are available for an environmental problem, common man is not effectively sensitized. Consider the case of disposing kitchen wastes. Composting them to manure and using them as manure for plants is a tried and tested solution. However, the process of composting or the fact that such small compost bins are available in the market are known only the to environmentally conscious. Good intentions of appeals to be environmental consciousness not withstanding, a tangible impact can be achieved only if proven green alternatives are available and affordable so that common man doesn't really have to subscribe to the green movement to be green

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Taking the plunge

After taking a stab at various way of social intervention it seems that the way ahead seems to get slowly and clearer.

I have a school near my work that is looking for teachers.
I have my idea of doing the teaching with as much demonstration as possible.
I have the rickety infrastructure that the team at my office prepared once and gathering up dust.
I have a new set of 25 DVDs dedicated to physics demonstrations (thanks to the sincere belief in social and educational change of a few executive level managers of Synopsys!) that I have not yet started watching.

May be it is time to set aside an hour of my mornings to start teaching science. This is in a way going back to where it all started. The first of my thoughts on social change was to teach and teach at schools.

For now though, this thought has to remain as just another thought and the extent to which it fructifies over the next year hinges upon how much hit my conviction can take over the next couple of months! All the best to me!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Is targeting the poor alone always efficacious?

With my on and off involvement with centers close to social development, I find one attitude that may have to be changed for better efficacy of social initiatives. Let me have the first stab at defining the attitude.

"A social initiative will produce a better impact when it is targeted towards the economically poorer sections of the society. The richer the beneficiaries are, the lesser social impact it has.."

While in general this point has a validity, it has to be revisited for every specific case. Here is an example. A team of my friends and I conducted a science demo in a private school nearby. When I talked about this, "Don't you think your initiative would be more useful to students of government schools?" was one question that popped up universally. My answer is "In my case doing it in *this* private school is likely to have a higher social impact" . Why?

1. This private school doesn't have a lab infrastructure in spite of the students paying a nominal school fee (Rs. 200/- per month).

2. The students here do have a capability to read, listen to and understand English, Telugu and Hindi which provides us flexibility in our implementation. So, it gets easier for us to get more students to start "thinking and reasoning science" - a better success rate at our initiative. On the other hand, a government school on which we are working on the ability to grasp English is lesser providing us with challenges (lesser number of teachers from our office)

Much more importantly, access to better education sure is relatively much more difficult for the poor. However, schools that fall in the economic category of the one that we are working on also face problems faced by government schools (non-availability of teachers, labs etc.). In addition to that they also suffer the ignorance of NGOs that rush to help poor quality government schools. It is almost as if these students are paying Rs. 200/- per month to be ignored!

Thankfully, in our case, we need to ignite as many minds to think and reason (in science and others..). In our eyes, whether the students have the ability to pay Rs.200/- or not, if their inclination to reason is lacking, they are equally poor! Only the former is equipped with a skill (English language) that offers flexibility for us to make a better impact.

A society, apart from being categorized into economically richer and poorer, can also be categorized into rich and poor based on other criteria. And the economically richer need not be richer (or have better opportunity) in all the other categories. Social upliftment, one must remember, is not only the upliftment of the economically poorest, but the upliftment of the society as a whole.