Empathy

In our fast driven world, one of the spaces that needs the slow movement and quickly, is the services industry. There is need for fast and efficient service in the services industry but these need to be limited to work that can be done by robots rather than human beings.

Human beings are slow by default. Only a rare few can deliver the quick service that has become an expectation today. This becomes even rarer when there are no support systems in place to provide the speed in service even when the service provider sometimes wants to.

My post today is only to urge you, the customer, to show a little more patience and a little more empathy. The person providing you the service is also a human being and bound to have feelings, have his own issues and also trying to make a living.

If you are not getting a service at the speed that you demand, try to understand why. It will take you only a few more moments of your precious time and will lead to a much better understanding of the service that you sometime take for granted. You only realize the value of the service rendered once it is gone.

Lower your expectations. Show a little more empathy.

Mumbai. January 6, 2016.

Hindu

It was only right before marriage when I sought to write down what my essential beliefs would be. I saw marriage as introducing chaos into my world, one which I embraced and enjoyed. Before the introduction of this chaos, I wanted to reduce my involvement in other things and prioritize them when I could not totally remove them.

One of the things that I had the most difficult time was to select what would be the set of beliefs that I would follow. I am a Hindu by birth but I have the choice of what set of beliefs I would take in and what I would keep out in the multitude of beliefs.

I read through books on Christianity, Judaism, Jainism, Buddhism and Islam and chose Hinduism to be the broad umbrella in which I’d like to continue to stay. Like all teenagers, I’ve been through atheism as well.

After choosing the broadest stream that there is, in religious beliefs, there were still many more options left to choose from. Even within Hinduism there are a range of practices and beliefs. There are organisations and traditions. This too left with me far too much diversity and only increased the chaos.

After a study of the books, I looked at how many of the people I know practiced the religion on a day-to-day basis to help me get a little more handle on things. I noticed how my grandfather practiced Hinduism. He would light the lamp at the small altar in his house and pray. He would visit temples but would stay away from elaborate ritualism but still supported the festival in the temple close to his house. He had an interest in astrology but did not let it guide him. He was content with this and had a remarkably simple practice of the religion with little interest in its theology.

After a lot of thinking, I adopted this practice as well. I would pray every day at the altar at my house and visit the temple one day a week. I’ve had an interest in some philosophy and rather than take in too many differing views have restricted myself to reading stuff mostly  from the Chinmaya Mission and to talks on Buddhism on the Against the Stream podcast to satiate my philosophical appetite.

Mumbai. January 4, 2016.

 

Bidding adieu to Dr A P J Abdul Kalam

There were three things Kalam stood for me. One was his pioneering effort in developing India’s first launch vehicle, presenting the story of the Indian space programme for me. Second was his creation of realistic visions that are achieveable ergo sometimes controversial. Third was his leadership style that presents a challenge in today’s heavily result oriented market.

I was introduced to Dr Kalam’s name in a book on the history of Indian space programme as the director of the SLV-3. He suddenly came into prominence when he was elected as the President of India. It was through his book, Wings of Fire that the Indian space programme became to me something more than an academic study. He introduced characters, events, trials and tribulations which made it more human. Compared to earlier texts which read more like a presentation of facts, figures and milestones, he shared the story in a language that any lay man could understand. The experiment, the calculation and every effort made to measure twice and cut once that was involved in the development of the SLV-3 perhaps presented what it meant to the whole nation to have a capability to become a space faring nation.

As President, he also presented a somewhat rational and more modern version of the vision of India as a developed country by 2020. The economic crisis in 2008 likely dampened the achievement of that vision, but it seems to have been laid by the side by subsequent governments. But, it was not replaced with anything better. No person or government has since sought to present a vision for the country and then work to get a popular consensus to work to achieve it. Since then, the country has had no clear vision on what it means to be a developed country in the 21st century. Our future has since then changed to the whims and fancies of politicians and economists.

Dr Kalam’s leadership style as presented in his books through anecdotes, is also something that inspired me. We don’t see leaders like those any more. He was one of the first who made a usable website understanding the role the web has to play, with inspirational quotes and quotations, opening up Rashtrapati Bhavan to visits for the common man and challenging the governments of the day to undertake ambitious projects that would work to inspire future generations. Leaders see things that others don’t. In his later days, he spoke of human presence on the Moon and Mars. He pushed ISRO to carry an impact probe on Chandrayaan-1 so that India touched the Moon on its maiden mission. These touch a vision that not many can see.

The only thing that I can think of doing is dust my old copy of Wings of Fire and read it again and perhaps gain a glimmer of inspiration that could perhaps push me to do something extraordinary. He may have passed away but his mission of making India and the world a better place to live in lives on.

Global Voices Summit: Insights into citizen media and protest movements

I know of at least two of my friends in the Wikimedia world (@busydot and @psubhashish) who attended this summit. But, I share this post more for some of the keen insights into the recent protest movements and their political transformations (look at the India Against Corruption movement and it’s political avatar, the Aam Aadmi Party) and their use of social media for their narrative.

2014

The year 2014 was a year for review, taking stock and then boldly going where many have gone before. I would never have guessed at the beginning of the year of the scale of changes that swept through my life in this year.

I got married.

I reduced the vast areas of interest to geography, space and digital sciences besides having a professional interest in banking and financial services. I pruned out my various memberships to reflect this change in my professional affiliations and hobbies. I continue that process in 2015.

I went on my first international trip to Malaysia.

M H Chalmers’ Walks

This post originally appeared on http://pradx.posterous.com on December 25, 2011. Found the post using the Wayback Machine.

While exploring the website of the Geographical Society of India – I found these gems in what is written as the history of the Geographical Society. An English gentleman, M H Chalmers, then an employee of the East Indian Railways gave three talks on what he titles as “walks”. I do not know if he means them literally or not, but these were given to the Calcutta Geographical Society back in 1934.

They are:

  • “A Walking Tour from India to England” by M. H. Chalmers on January 13, 1934
  • “A Walking Tour through Kashmir and Middle Tibet” by M. H. Chalmers on April 9, 1934
  • “A March through the Sacred Shrines of the Himalayas” by M. H. Chalmers on 21 April 1934

I would love to read a copy of these talks or see some of illustrated pictures that Chalmers showed off at these talks. Even more, I would love to meet others in the area around Bharuch in Gujarat who love to share such stories. Perhaps you can do something similar in your town too?

Jyotish – Indian Astrology?

This article originally appeared on my blog http://lifeofpradeep.wordpress.com. I recovered the post using Wayback Machine.

I recently went through the talks by Dr. N Gopalakrishnan of the Indian Institute of Scientific Heritage (IISH) on the topic of Jyotish on YouTube in Malayalam. I have been listening to some of the talks he has given on the Bhagwad Gita on Amrita TV and admire him for having an opinion and expressing it clearly. He also has consistently maintained what he’s said over several talks – made some mis-quotes. I wanted to put down some notes before I forget the talk.

Jyotish is not to be compared with astrology as put up in the West. Jyotish is one of the 6 literatures (called Vedangas) presented below the Vedas. Jyotish is the 6th Vedanga. It is composed of three parts – astronomy, mathematics and prediction. Of these, the sections on astronomy and mathematics are pure sciences and is borne out by modern astronomy and mathematics. As an example, the fact that the Earth is spherical, that the Earth rotates around its axis, the fact that the Earth is tilted at 24 degrees (as against the current value of 23 degrees 26 minutes – which he misquotes as 56 minutes – which is still fantastic given that this measurement was made in 700 AD or so), the diameter of the Earth and so on. He further clarifies that the word graha is not to be interpreted as planets – but as “holders”. Given this change in interpretation, he says clarifies many things. He suggests that the word taragraha (that which a star holds, by virtue of gravitation and such) is the correct word for planet.

The part where talks about predictions. He say that this is absolutely not based on Science. The grahas have been given attributes. There does not seem to be any plausible scientific reason for the wide range of attributes given. For Jyotish, he says the question is not whether it is scientific or not. He says that it is not scientific. The question to be asked here is whether it is useful or not. Dr. Gopalakrishna suggests that if we find it useful, we must use it and discard it if we don’t. Do either very freely.

Dr. Gopalakrishna says that a true Jyotisha will take some time to calculate and understand some of the science and mathematical aspects of Jyotish and hence, one must not believe the ones who profess instant calculations. The birth chart prepared in Jyotish is a fairly accurate representation of the position of the Moon at the time of birth and location of the birth and accordingly the placement of the grahas. He suggests comparison with the star charts used by National Physical Laboratory.  These calculations, he claims, take in the region of 10-15 minutes unless done with the help of a computer – which helps determine location and time and generates ephimeris. However, it is after this that the non-scientific prediction part starts.

This non-scientific prediction seems to get better with lots and lots of practise in many people that Dr. Gopalakrishnan has known. In a select few, the practise has become so much that only what they say happens (this section seemed exaggerated to me).

In the question and answer section, various questions were raised off him. The most interesting one was how to select a Jyotisha given the Doctor’s suggestion that many of them were just out there to earn money of falsehood. He suggests people at high ranks with a great educational qualification. He suggests that to get a good Jyotisha one must try as hard as trying to get a good doctor to treat one’s ailment.

I am interested in reading counter-points to some of his arguments. There are a few slips in the facts that he states. But his talk does seem logical, when presented like this.