Sunday, 30 June 2013

Revisiting C.I.E. after Nineteen Years

The Main entrance to the main building  has remained the same
Yesterday while I was passing Morris Nagar close to the Delhi University, it was on an impulse that I decided to visit The Central Institute of Education after what could be a gap of more than nineteen years! C.I.E. had been my Alma Mater for two years from nineteen ninety -two till nineteen ninety- four; years when I did my Bachelor or Education followed by my Masters in Education. Those were fantastic years which passed away with a fairy-tale like sense of reality. There were days when we had cultural programs days when we had lecture, and then during B.Ed. we had practice teaching. An important part of the B.Ed. program was the training that we took up as  the SUPW component. I took up wood-work! While doing M.Ed. however we didn’t have practice teaching because one of the focuses in M.Ed. was the research paper which took all our efforts, poring through the books for sources and interesting topics, and pursuing our research guides for valuable insight! The canteen was a spot on the campus where we could sit together, juniors, seniors, research scholars and all! The names of some of my teachers that comes to mind are: Madam Bharti Baveja, Jaimini Ma’am, Saluja Sir, R.P. Sharma Sir, Janardhan Prasad Sir, and so on!
The wing housing the library
When I crossed through the main gate, I noticed the same old sign titled C.I. E. with the legend- Department of Education, Delhi University. Knowing that it was a Saturday and the vacations were still on, I didn’t expect to see any of my teachers! I parked at the exact spot where I used to park all those years ago, below Bawa Sir’s room and glanced up towards the end of the corridor which once housed MACESE where Deepi and Rawat used to work, and I wondered whether they still did. The same old palm trees swayed in the wind only a little taller than they had been all those years ago! When I entered into the lobby, everything appeared to be as it had been all those years ago. It seemed as if time had stopped still for all those years, and I travelled back in time, the same notice boards, the same auditorium, albeit with the logo of the two oil-lamps missing!
The Corridor leading to the library-you can see the newspaper stands!
My B.Ed. classes used to take place in the conference hall in the right hand corner!
Taking a deep breath, I decided to proceed further. I stepped onto the corridor and was assaulted by that all pervasive smell from the toilets! It seemed as if they had not got over this problem. On the left I saw the Library where my research paper on System’s  Analysis might still exist. There was some noise coming from the library, the floor was being ground. And then I moved on exploring the other wings on the ground floor. Everything was the same! Even the newspaper stands seemed not to have aged a bit! I went to the block where I attended classes as a B.Ed. student. I stood outside the conference hall, door locked, and imagined the voices of excited students discussing Pedagogy or Philosophy with R.P.Sharma Sir, and wondered at that moment where all the others were and what they were doing! After having paused for a few moments before this conference hall which had been my class room for a good one year, I proceeded towards the canteen. Every door was locked. On the way I passed the Chemistry Lab where Jaimini Ma’am use to sit. It was locked! And then I moved on to the field where we used to play Paddle Tennis, and looked at the concrete benches where we used to enjoy a good moment in the winter sun munching on those Pakodas and Yadram’s pile of chapattis. The whole area was deserted since it was the day off, but then it was much better that way since there was no one to disturb my thoughts! When I returned to my home in Gurgaon and everyone asked me why it had taken me so long I told them that I had been to C.I.E. and they were all happy for me!
An attempt to decorate the screen with a mural! This was something new!
The seat of all discourses! This is where we munched on snacks and discussed Pedagogy!
The Paddle-tennis court was just in front of the boys’ common room.

The Death of a Telegram

When today I came across a story in the Hindustan Times newspaper on Sunday, the thirtieth, describing how the last telegram would be sent from the city of Delhi on July 14/2013, I was filled with a sense of nostalgia, as many of those born in the nineties would no doubt share! The newspaper goes on to describe how this would bring to an end a 163 years old service run by the BSNL. In times when telephones were scarce, and we lived in inaccessible areas in countries all over the world, the telegram was the only communication that offered an almost instant information about loved ones across the the world, well at least taking into account the time it took the postman to deliver the telegram to your residence.
The very arrival of a telegram was often a source of anxiety and curiosity because telegrams were generally sent when a close relative was very ill or had crossed the river, or some other serious news. The very act of unpacking, or rather deciphering the telegram had to be slow and deliberate! The cryptic language had to be assimilated! Instead of a full stop you wrote stop! There were not more than twelve to fifteen words in a telegram, and each word was written in a box. Perhaps the language of the SMS is closest to the cryptic kind of language that was used in a telegram.
Telegram-writing was a part of the class twelfth syllabus of the C.B.S.E. board for English in  India used  once upon a time! Students were told to convert given information into a telegram along with the correct format: The Receiver’s Name on top followed by the address below the name, then the message itself was put in a separate space which had individual blocks into which each  word had to be written. And mind you, you had to pay dearly for each word in the telegram! After completing the message in the space labelled “message”, you went on the write the name of the sender, “not to be sent”, and the name of the telegraph office and the address from where the telegram was being sent.The greatest challenge for the student was to convey the whole message in just about twelve to fifteen words. A typical message would read: “arriving Monday first July IC 184 stop pick from airport ten morning stop bring car stop”. The marks weightage of the whole exercise was five marks!
But then, it is not just as a teacher who guided students on how to write telegrams that  I feel sentimental,it is also because  there was a time when the telegram was very much part of our lives!  When I lived in Arbaminch in Ethiopia from nineteen seventy to nineteen seventy eight, we were in a sense cut off from the rest of the world in the sense that we had no internet, and no mobile phones. Yes, we had a landline and the number was 99. The only problem was that if you had to make an international call, or a call to any other city, you had to first book a line with the operator, and more often than not it took ages to get across. The telegram was, in such cases faster and trouble free! In times when we had to return to India after each contract, more often than not we were put on waiting list for the flight to Bombay and back to Delhi. Each day the status on the waiting list would change, and then finally one day before the flight we would be given a “Confirmed” status. It was on getting this confirmation that we would then send a telegram to my grandmother and other relatives in Delhi informing them about the date and time of our arrival. One of my Uncles lived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and another lived in Adigrat (also in Ethiopia). We were separated by hundreds of kilometres and often getting across important information was through telegram. This included news such as the birth of a child, or when someone was arriving, or any other information. More often than not the information was mundane and routine if not sensational!
Today as the world progresses in leaps and bounds, and Moore’s law appears to be soon fading away, overtaken by the rate of progress taking place in the number of  transistors can be but on a specific size of a Silicon Chip, it is more a case of the rate at which technology is becoming obsolete! Today the rate at which the quantum of information is doubling every few years is alarming enough! Can we human beings really keep up with the pace of progress in technology and amount of information with which we are being bombarded? The passing away of the telegram into the pages of history is an indication of things to come. Letter writing, which is an important part of the CBSE syllabus for English will soon be replaced by E-Mail writing. The romance of the telegram, and the scented letters will soon pass away and be replaced with other forms of communication. Today hundreds of telegrams are sent and received in the form of SMSs. or what I feel is the closest equivalent of the the telegram. The amount of traffic however has robbed the Short Message Service of the magic that the telegram used to have once upon a time. It was so rarely that you got a telegram in those days that receiving one was a moment recorded in time! I still believe that those who send SMSs. would gain a lot if they could follow some of the steps of message writing employed in writing telegrams! I guess till then we can only agree that the Mobile Phone has forever silenced the Morse Code of the telegraph! It is all the case of better technology replacing older technology, I wonder whether or not we too, as human beings would also become obsolete one day and be replaced with Robots with Artificial Intelligence! But then to wax sentimental would be a sign of weakness, something frowned upon in this world of machines and technology! 
Technorati Tags:

Friday, 28 June 2013

Heritage School S.P. Retreat Naukuchia Tal 2013 - a few Snaps

The Naukuchia Tal in all its splendour photographed early in the morning.
Akshay Sir and Me
Grit in the eyes?
Sliding down the rope, Mr. Bannerjee?
Balwinder Ma’am sliding down the rope bridge!
A safe landing!
“Yes, I did it”, Ishita Ma’am
A Gang of Three?
Like father like daughter? Akshay Sir with his daughter
The View from the floor on with our room was
The Workshop and the Huddle!
And how could I forget the certificate, Ishita Ma’am?
Sorry, Bannerjee Sir, I forgot my alkenes, alkanes, and my organic Chemistry!
But then how could I forget our S.P. L. Vishnu giving a certificate to Preeti Ma’am!

Tribute-A Poem

The mark of the gentleman his humbleness be,
Profound yet, patient his greatness be!
One  I’ve known  a year just past, but the impact
Beyond any reckoning be ! A teacher and a mentor would he be,
My only regret not to have known him more!
A simple smile and a wave of hands marked him so!
Where gestures and words less than a smile  did mean.
Each smile profound, guidance and inspiration granted me.
Low when I was, his words great hope did give!
Were a one so deep, as a well to draw,
Big draughts of knowledge, wisdom and awe!
  Gladly would I float on winds which so me inspire,
Borne aloft on profound, yet twinkling smile;
And looking on, I go a farther mile!
But then has  time come to bid farewell!
For all good things do come to pass one day.
Yet do I wait for  when paths do cross,
To quench a thirst of parched throat.
Gladly would I sip from the fountainhead-
Of knowledge, inspiration and humbleness
Technorati Tags:

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Prisms,Whistle-blowers, and invasion of Privacy in the twenty-first Century

First came Julian Assange and then, Edward Snowden. The whole controversy about the privacy of individuals and Governments all over the Globe in prying into private SMSs., e-mails, and all content posted on the net has come at a time when  the Right to Privacy is being re-examined in the context of the information technology age. This is an age when more and more of us are relying on the internet to communicate, and in many cases, we are eager to divulge even our most intimate and private details on the net. In times when writing letters the old way (sometimes appropriately decorated and scented) are now considered obsolete and passé, we have turned to the electric form out of a sense of convenience and perhaps laziness. Dependence on technology has exposed us to the risk of being monitored by various global agencies. But then, are we as a generation of tech-savvy nerds averse to an invasion of our privacy especially in times when we like to boast about our exploits loudly on social networking sites? The purchase of a new car, a promotion, the  coming of a new member in the family, are all loudly proclaimed on various social networking site. It is as if there is a need to announce to the whole world about our achievements. But then we don’t just like to flaunt our achievements, we often are prone to sharing our disappointments, frustrations, and failures on the net.
Why then are we complaining about an invasion of our privacy when we have readily and intentionally adopted a form of technology which exposes our private lives to the prying eyes of investigative agencies which have all the hacking tools and the leisure to peep into our private lives, often perhaps for possible tit-bits of information which would perhaps help boost a flagging … drive? But then the investigative agencies might also blame us for posting all those juicy details about our real or fictional conquests and one night stands suggesting that we meant them to be read after all! In India, the question of the right to Privacy of Individuals came to the forefront in the Radia Tapes controversy in which it was supposed that the executives conversations were recorded by an investigative agency. Then there was this controversy about the taping of phone calls of an Army head. All these things make one wonder about how Big Brother finds the time to do all this! But then why blame just Government Agencies when we have known of unscrupulous individuals and private organisations that resort to hacking, phishing and what not to exploit vulnerable individuals so that they might take advantage of them and perhaps exploit them mentally physically and relieve them of their bank balance!
It goes without saying that the quantum of data that these investigative agencies would have to sift through would be so prohibitive and daunting that one wonders if it would be possible for such agencies to sift through the personal details of all the people who have access to the internet! So, then, would it be possible to protect one’s privacy by hiding in the midst of huge mounds of information? It is clear the the computing power of super-machines   that would be used to go through all that  information would have to be measured  in teraflops per second and not  any less, and even then the task would take ages to sift through! I guess, therefore that  not everyone’s privacy could possibly at stake and it would only be possible to selectively or randomly access personal accounts of targeted individuals! In this case, well known tax-evaders, paedophiles, and other criminals would be easily exposed to surveillance because of their profiles, and more over because of that software that readily filters out the dangerous from the innocent! Choosing a technology that is open to infiltration by  hackers and phishes, Trojans and worms has meant that we  have deliberately agreed to compromise our privacy in favour of the benefits of technology; we have become too lazy to write a letter the old way and want instant gratification!
The introduction of the Right To Information Act has been a right step for people of India especially since it gave the individual the right to access information which was till now being kept under wraps by Babu’s and Bureaucrats who thought that it would be prudent to withhold information which could then be sold for a higher amount! So now, even Government organisations  have to divulge information when required. What we are talking about here is the change in the environment of the society from a closed information society to that of an open-information society. It goes without saying that information is empowerment, and it empowers you further to know beforehand about the plans and intentions of the person who is sitting in the opposition in the parliament. It goes without saying that being forewarned is equivalent to being empowered, especially when you are pitted against a criminal or a terrorist organisation.
India has its own monitoring agency called as the Central Monitoring System. This is an organisation which can monitor every byte of information of individuals who have come under the scanner of the taxman, or those who present a danger to the society. The organisation is able to access communication data in the form of e-mails, SMS and phone calls. This organisation is not subject to oversight by the courts. The Prism Program is an electronic surveillance program conceived by the U.S. National Security Agency. It has been in operations since 2007 and has the ability to mount a surveillance operation on electronic information from all over the world. Mounting a surveillance and monitoring electronic traffic is very easy for this organisation since most of the servers for e-mail providers, and social-networking sites are located in the United States.
What then is the issue with surveillance? The greatest fear felt by most of people is that private information might be misused and used against the individual! When private information is accessed and then broadcast on a wide scale, it might result in mental trauma, shame, embarrassment, and other such inconveniences. Easy access to personal information on social network sites are known to have resulted in broken marital relationships, and even scandals that have brought down entire Governments! What would happen if we had a Watergate Scandal today? Or if secret e-mails between presidents and their film-star girlfriends were accessed? Such information should it fall into wrong hands would lead to disaster! When nations are at war, it makes good sense to invade the privacy of important people of the other countries in order to learn about their weaknesses. Information that is of an embarrassing nature can then be used against them. In ancient times, Chanakya knew very well about the importance of espionage and surveillance of the, “enemy” and so he evolved such a system with great perfections. One wonders if some wars were fought without any real fighting taking place because someone had access to embarrassing information about opponents! But then one can argue that spying on one’s own people is unethical and a breach of trust and faith that the people might have vested in their popularly elected governments, well, I guess the idea of trust should be both ways. We need to build an atmosphere of mutual trust between the government and the citizens. In times of violence and terrorism, this unfortunately doesn’t seem to be the case. Viewing of people of particular communities with suspicion, extreme prejudice towards people of a particular religion and the increasing levels of the sophistication of attacks by terrorist organisations has resulted in an increasing sense of paranoia in the society and governments all over the world. The 20/11 incident might have been averted if there had been advance information about the perpetrators of that crime!

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Contemplation-A Poem

I sit watching, drinking the rich beauty of  clouds
As they drift, smothering the mountain tops.
Soon the sun peeps in, bathing the world
With a warm and loving glow, turning the
Lake into a perfect mirror  sliced by a family
Of cackling ducks to break my reverie.
Shifting my gaze, I look at yonder hill, trees still
As guards on duty, a host awaiting a moment so grand.
A crash in the branches as something moves! I turn
Towards the path where I came, reluctant steps-back to
My room. But on the way see I a bee lustily sipping at
The nectar from an exotic flower and pause!
Satiated,  turn I back on my path, back home,
Full yet sad about what I am leaving behind! And as I
Sit down to reflect, I am startled by a family of simians
Who look curiously at me, but I wait for them to pass.
Chuckling, I continue on my walk reflecting and ruminating
About the day to start and what it would bring further.
The next morn when I return, its all gone!
There were few birds flitting from the bushes,  the
Sky  overcast with clouds  seemed to brood on matters
Deep!The flowers that smiled the previous day gone,
Seemed to droop. For life seems to bring
Surprises anon, a sunny day followed by an
Overcast, while nature sings of the bright and
Dull, bitter and sweet, ups and downs to be savoured!
Technorati Tags:

Thursday, 20 June 2013

A glimpse of the Alaknanda river and surrounding areas before the deluge

When we visited Jayalgarh a group school students and few teachers in the month of May before the flood, little did we know that this river on which we had some adventure sports activities would become so devastating and violent. We did white water rafting from about seventeen kilometres above in the first phase, and the second phase took place from Jayalgarh to Devprayag, about twetnty-three kilometres down stream. During both the activities, we jumped into the river from the rafts and played the the water which seemed to be treacherous yet amenable to adventure sports.Today, while listening to the news, I feel emotionally touched by the event that are unfolding today. I remember that the second course of out white water rafting took us to Devprayag, at the confluence of the Alaknanda and the Bhagirathi, of which both rivers have been in the new recently because of the destruction they have caused to life and property.I can’t help wondering about the High Five camp in which we stayed during the first and second weeks of May. The camp was barely thirty metres above the flowing waters of the Alaknanda! The tents on on the lower level must surely have been swept away! We swam in the river, rafted on it little knowing that soon it would become a destructive power sweeping aside great structures like houses,  hotels and resorts!
This a a picture of the Ganga just a few kilometres away from Rishikesh on the way to Jayalgarh!
Rafting on the Alaknanda. Some of the tourists might even jump overboard during a rafting expedition!
Of course there was proof of the violent power of the river everywhere like the broken up stumps of massive trees lying around, rocks ground round and sometimes to an even finish. There were layers of white sand that looked like ice –testimony to the destructive power of the river.
This is a picture of the Alaknanda as it flowed past the High Five Camp at Jayalgarh.
The Dining Hall
Perched at a higher point above the river, the dining hall of the High five camp seemed to be secure enough from the river, but then looking at the news on t.v. it one can’t help wonder about its fate.
The river seem tranquil enough as it flows past the High Five Camp at Jayalgarh!
Disturbing evidences of landslides were evident throughout!
Seen from an elevation, the course of the Alaknanda seemed impressive enough!
This is a glimpse of the Alaknanda river before the flood that took place in the month of June because of the cloud burst.
The remains of massive tree trunks on the banks of the Alaknanda river stands testimony of the fury of previous floods!
Even before the flood of June, the flow of the river seemed daunting enough!
Tents at the camp
These tents at a lower level at the camp might have been affected by the flooded river. There were many more camps by the river banks that were too close!
Ultimately it is our responsibility to give nature its due! We enjoy the scenic beauty of mountains and rivers, but then do we give respect to them? Excess development, building of houses, hotels, industries, and the greed for electric power have all had a role in the destructive power of these rivers in the Himalayas. The mountains denuded of green vegetation, trees and shrubs have become vulnerable to landslides. It seems as if nature can no longer take any more punishment, and this is how nature keeps reminding us that we have gone too far! Our hearts go out to all those missing during the cloud burst in Uttarakhand, those who have perished and those who are badly injured! Besides praying for them, we need to also do our level best to ensure that we give more respect to Nature. We as tourists should remember that the beauty of the mountains of the Himalayas and the waters of the great rivers of our country could be lost down the years.The concept of Eco-tourism should be promoted so that all those of us who visit these places of tourist importance do not do anything to affect the delicate balance that exists in Nature. Leave no trace, protect the ecosystem, leave the environment undisturbed when you visit the mountains.
Technorati Tags:

Monday, 17 June 2013

A four day retreat at Naukuchia Tal

The Naukuchia Tal in all its splendour
The four day retreat to Naukuchia Tal was an eagerly awaited event for my colleagues a and me. We boarded the Shatabdi for Kath Godam at 6:30 a.m. from the Anand Vihar railway station in Delhi on the 12th. of June. We reached Kath-Godam at 12:45 p.m. and boarded taxis for Naukuchia taal which we reached at 1:15. When we reached the Lake side  Resort, we were met by our Senior Programme leader Vishnu and Akshay. We were given a briefing by our Senior Programme leader and then proceeded to our assigned rooms. The atmosphere was nice and pleasant with intermittent showers, no wonder we had been told to done raincoats for the day’s activity. After we had lunch, we gathered for the briefing at 3:30 p.m.
A Bee sipping nectar from an exotic flower
Exotic flowers
We were finally told that the activity for the day would be a four kilometre trek. After a strenuous hike for about two and a half kilometres, we  stopped for the next part of the trek. It came as a great as great surprise when some of us were blindfolded and then guided for the next part of the trek by our colleagues. We thought that we would be lead for only for a little distance. I was in the lead of the three blindfolded staff members (Kaye Ma’am, and Ruchika Ma’am who linked hands to shoulders) and we were guided by Alankrita and Frederick. Clear instructions were given to guide us through the torturous route and told about obstructions on the way. It was a difficult and frightening exercise and required a strong faith in those who were leading us. It was really difficult to let go voluntary control to others about where we were going. While leading the others who were blindfolded, we realised that we would have to follow instructions precisely more so because the safety of those following us. It was initially scary, but then gradually the pace was set, and to make the blindfolded trek more interesting, Alankrita kept describing the scene like the mountain, people clapping for us, the appearance of a vehicle and so on. After what seemed some time, our blindfolds were removed and then  we were told that we had covered a distance of 1500 metres and that through a track that at times was narrow and steep. We were flooded with a heady mixture of achievement, elation, and dizziness as the sunlight flooded our senses. Throughout the exercise our sense of hearing, smell, and touch had become so intense.
A moment for introspection
The Team leader
Lighting the lamp by the new inductees
On the second day, I got up early and went to the lake-side. The clouds could be seen smothering the mountains and then clearing up to allow the sun light to bathe the whole scene with a warm glow. The lake which was still and calm as a mirror reflected the mountain side so clearly. It was bisected by a family of ducks making a crossing. One moment it was overcast, the next moment it was clear.
Sliding down the rope bridge
After breakfast, we assembled for silence time and morning prayer and a workshop on team-building and self discovery. The workshop was conducted by Manit Sir, our Manager and Vishnu our SPL. After the workshop we set off for the activity of the day which was based on building a rope bridge across two trees about fifty feet apart with one of them being at an elevated height from the other. The activity included building the rope bridge and the safety line down which we were to slide down, and sliding down the rope to the other tree which was at a lower height. Initially we made a few blunders like starting with tying the rope to the wrong tree. All the instructions were included in three separate instruction sheets. The groups were divided into three, one looked after the equipment, the second looked after the tying of the knots the carabiners and the jumar  and the ropes. The third team, my team supervised the construction of the rope bridge. This was a very interesting activity that promoted team-building and stressed the need to follow instructions carefully.
Manit Sir was part of the activity!
Preparing for the trekking activity
On the third day we had what I believe was the most exciting and frightening activity. It was called Target jumping. Needless to say, it was an amazing activity. We were hauled on to the branch of a tree which was about forty-five feet from the ground suspended from a harness attached to a rope pulled by a group of fifteen staff members. When it was my turn, and I was hauled up, it was as if I was flying in the air. I spread my hands as if I was flying. When I reached the branch of the tree, I was steadied by one of the instructors, Shoaib. And then standing on the branch it was scary. I avoided looking down at my friends. My task as for all the others was to jump from the branch and strike one of the bottles suspended just out of reach. The closest one if touched would earn me five points, the other a little further would earn me ten points, while the farthest would earn me fifteen points. I chose the farthest and made the jump. It resulted in a free fall of about ten feet after which my fall was arrested and then I was then lowered to the ground in a controlled descent. What was most frightening was to take the leap! The thought of plummeting to the ground fifty feet odd feet below was daunting enough for all of us. The drop to the ground seemed to take ages as time seemed to come to a stand still.
Please don’t blame me for the snaps of this monkey! He seemed so interested in posing before me, so I decided to give him his due!
The fourth day was based on a workshop based on the activities we had done. The activity for the day took place at night before dinner. This was an activity in which all of us had to walk on embers of coal. This was in itself another daunting task in which we had to conquer our fears. The day concluded with the Bollywood night in which we guessed the names of bollywood songs based on muted film sequences, antakshari and other guessing games.
But then how could I forget the awards for the Bollywood Night!
Letting your hair fly in the spirit of the moment!
The fifth day was the last day of our retreat and it passed away quite quickly as we had to leave the resort by 1:30 p.m. so that we could catch the Shatabdi train at 3:40 back to Delhi.
That is me, with the beautiful landscape in the background!
The Last day of our retreat
Kaye Ma’am this is a smile that is priceless, thank you for the smile!
Neelima Ma’am how could we forget you for  being the heart and soul of the moment?
Technorati Tags: