By Rote to By Right – Simple prescriptions for an ailing Indian Education System

While the biggest impediment plaguing our education system today is the curse of rote learning, the elephant in the room is a rigid and stereotypical curriculum that solely focuses on churning out torch bearers for professions, thereby paying scant or even non-existent regard to vocation. There needs to be a paradigm shift in the mindset of political mavens and administrators alike to tide over this twin ailment and to position Indian education in a league whose underlying philosophy is unlike any that is currently prevalent.

The bane of Indian education lies in a system that provokes comparison, induces complexes of inferiority as well as superiority, inculcates in tender minds an unbelievably strong peer pressure and puts both students as well as parents in a state of perpetual stress! While grades ossify creativity, the doling out of ranks and classes stratify students and compartmentalize them on the sheer basis of academic and rote distinction as against practical, intuitive and unique talents. Students become mere statistical denominations as 99.8 outwits 99.7 who in turn nudges ahead of 99.6! This is one mindless race which makes even rat races seem an exercise in virtuous endeavor! Right from Grade 1 onwards, children are made to lug and haul weighty bags and forced to sit through even more weightier subjects. A child whose real talent lies in strumming a guitar or rappelling cliff faces is enforced to master the Theorems of Pythagoras and the esoterica of Newton’s Thermodynamics. While a fundamental and basic level of the sciences is a must for every student, there ought to be avenues for channeling their real passion or calling. Mainstream education may churn out millions of engineers, doctors, scientists and accountants, but it is only creativity that has the gift of unleashing a Leonardo Da Vinci, or an Anthony Bourdain, or a Jorge Luis Borges or a Sachin Tendulkar. Hence there needs to be a judicious and necessary mix of rigorous mainstream education and an equally exuberant and effervescent opportunity for facilitating and fostering vocational excellence.

India can take a leaf (or two) from the Scandinavian education philosophy in general, and the Finnish method of learning, in particular. There are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, apart from a solitary exam at the end of students’ senior year in high school. There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions. Finland’s schools are publicly funded. The people in the government agencies running them, from national officials to local authorities, are educators, not business people, military leaders or career politicians. Every school has the same national goals and draws from the same pool of university-trained educators. The result is that a Finnish child has a good shot at getting the same quality education no matter whether he or she lives in a rural village or a university town. The differences between weakest and strongest students are the smallest in the world, according to the most recent survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). “Equality is the most important word in Finnish education. All political parties on the right and left agree on this,” said Olli Luukkainen, president of Finland’s powerful teachers’ union.

While each country’s need for devising an education system is unique and India might not be favourably well off in embracing the Swedish Model lock, stock and barrel, there is no doubt that we can derive a good amount of inspiration and lesson from the Finnish Model. It will at least put paid to the heinous practice of treating our unwitting, unsuspecting and hapless children as fierce competitors with a win-at-any-cost or winner-take-all outlook. Another area where Indian education can embellish itself is by focusing more on nation building and societal ethics. For example, every student should be taught that:

  • Streets, roads, walls and any other standing vertical object is not a personal dust bin and hence people ought to refrain from spitting and relieving themselves in the open. Spitting is NOT a national past time!
  • Archaeological monuments and heritage sculptures are not experimental canvasses for expressing feelings of jilted or scorned love and should not be unduly tampered with;
  • Honking without rhyme or reason at traffic intersections and in crowded traffic is neither a novelty nor a necessity;
  • Children with special needs are as invaluable to the progress of a nation as are normal children. Stephen Hawking being an excellent example;
  • Learning about preservation of environment; protection of wildlife and endangered species and preventing the cascading effects of global warming is equal in importance to mastering either the Fermat theory or Bernoulli’s principle;

The word ‘hunger’ when it comes to education should be the singularly reserved preserve of knowledge and not of the anatomy. No child who comes to school for learning should go hungry. A hungry child is a shame not only on the concerned school but on the entire nation. Hence a drastic extension of the existing mid-day meal and an expansion of the nourishing ingredients forming part of such meal becomes a vital and critical imperative in encouraging a child to come to school and inculcate the requisite knowledge.

Parents would also need to undergo a literal transformation in their breadth and depth of thinking about education. Attaining a degree in Scuba Diving is in no way inferior to passing out of medical school as a potentially famous cardiothoracic surgeon; a rock star gains equal (if not more) stature and status in the eyes of his adoring fans as does a nuclear scientist going on to build his country’s space station. The step-motherly attitude hitherto reserved for vocations must be obliterated and vocations should be accorded the same status and recognition as provided to a profession. To facilitate such broad minded thinking, specialized educational institutions focusing on vocations should be established across India. Here again Finland is a stellar example. Teachers in Finland spend lesser hours at school each day & less time in classrooms. This freed up time is used to build curriculums and assess students. Children spend far more time playing outside, even in the depths of winter. Homework is minimal. To quote Kari Louhivuori, a sixth grade teacher at the Kirkkojarvi Comprehensive School in Espoo, a suburb west of Helsinki, “we have no hurry, children learn better when they are ready. Why stress them out?”

We Indians need to pay extreme attention to Louhivuori’s last sentence – “Why stress them out indeed?”

Baptised by Starbucks!

Howard Schultz’s iconic creation is not just famous, (or infamous, whichever way you deem to tune your perspective) for putting in place esoteric corporate structures to avoid paying it’s rightful share of taxes, but also for mutilating the names of it’s avowed brand patrons. Your’s truly is no exception to this latter rule. Since the time I had my first sip of the delectable Caramel Macchiato, I have been addicted to this particular breed of brew. My visits to the nearest Starbucks outlet hence were more of a pilgrimage than a mundane routine. However, in spite of my unceasing loyalty to both the store and their offering, the multi million dollar franchise has failed miserably to get my name correct. While writing “Venkataraman Ganesan” on every cup of Caramel Macchiato demanded by me might both be cumbersome and tedious, (rightfully so), a shortened version of my name that reads just “Venky” is not asking for too much – or is it?

Here are a few examples of the name slaughtering that I have had to endure while waiting for my coffee. The first time I was asked for my name, I nonchalantly said “Venky” and the result as you can see for yourself, was one that made me look as though I was a compulsive sexual predator!


Deciding to give the Barsita the benefit of the doubt the first time, I relentlessly pursued in my vigour to get my name right. Alas, all my efforts turned to total vain as the second time around, Starbucks still failed to recognise me as a law abiding, docile and gentlemanly persona, dutifully abiding the tenets of humanity. With just a few tinkering of the alphabets and a titular respect paradoxically accorded, I was still left to mull over (doubly so) my sexual predilection the second time I ordered my coffee:


Praying that I would be lucky the proverbial third time, I was shaken out of my wits when I received my cups (this time around a trusted friend accompanied me to the outlet). I was metamorphosed from being an Indian born in an Iyer family to an esoteric sounding Eastern European with a sibling whose name was equally if not more innovative and peculiar!


Now definitely reeling from the shock of not knowing whether I was Vincky or Vinky, I decided that from hereon in I would ask the concerned Barista to “just say “V”‘. That way it would save both the giver and the receiver considerable embarrassment. So with a renewed sense of confidence, on a sunny morning, I made my way into Starbucks and with a swagger which even I did not realise I possessed, told the Barista, when asked for my name – “JUST SAY V”. When my steaming hot cup of coffee came to me, I was knackered and the earth almost caved in under me:


 Being an avid fan of King Robert Bruce, and also a firm believer in the Horatio Alger version of the world (having been fed on a healthy diet of rags to riches stories), I was firm in my resolve not to lose hope and gave one last try. Suffice it to say, when it comes to Starbucks, not even King Bruce, but his inspirational spider as well would have given up their collective ghosts and Alger would burn every single manuscript of his!


Finally I am just thankful that I am not a descendant of the Targaryan clan, else I would have had to ask the Baristas at Starbucks to have recorded my name in a manner similar to the following picture that I happened to come across by chance:



For the record these days I have shifted my allegiance from Starbucks to San Francisco Coffee. I sip my Butterscotch Macchiato with serenity and I am safe in my relaisation that the name bestowed upon me by parental accorded continues to remain intact and unmolested!


In a tumultuous world characterized by unimpeded change, sport remains a perennial constant. An equilibrium that (albeit temporarily) effaces the mundane gloom and misery that is the preserve of every human being. One need not even be a beacon of knowledge for appreciating a particular sport. The sheer act of focus arouses an inherent curiosity, which then transforms into a manifest drive to appreciate the logic underlying the method behind the melee. This fact was taught to me in no uncertain terms by a single individual, who as I write this has decided to call time upon his lambent existence on Planet Earth.

The spectacle of thirty grown up, bustling, impatient men with bulging biceps and broad chests, – who are equally divided into two opposing factions and granted a license to maul, mutilate, and mangle one another to claim possession of a spherical ball, with a committed objective of passing it either side-wards or backwards, all the while running full tilt into a teeming mass of humanity, before finally getting themselves along with the ball over a horizontal line marked in white – initially did not enthuse me or lend itself to any sort of appeal whatsoever. I was content being a cricket crazy fan in a cricket obsessed country where the only visible violence (apart from the inevitable ‘blow to the box’) was that caused by a cricket bat to a cricket ball.

One man, however took hold of my perspective by the scruff of its frail neck and gave it such an impactful shake that “scrum” became the synonym for sacred and “try” transcended beyond being a mere attachment signifying man’s various endeavours spanning his existence. It was the 27th of May 1995 and the occasion, the World Rugby Championship. An accidental flipping of channels on the television transported me to Ellis Park in Johannesburg where an excited match commentator exclaimed in great anticipation that the crowd was now ready for the “Haka”. While the ferocious Maori challenge and the eighty minutes that followed this exhilarating display had me reeling with delight, the poor bunch of Irishmen who were at the receiving end of a wallop were left reeling with more serious consequences. While the entire New Zealand team (I was to, after just a couple more games address them only as the All Blacks) put up a stand out performance, a single individual’s rampaging performance caught my eye and attention.

Jonah Tali Lomu would go on to become my all-time favourite Rugby player and The All Blacks a team that would be closest to my heart.

My resolve to grasp the nuances of this brutal game took nascent wings and before Sean Fitzpatrick’s miracle-men hammered a clueless Japan into complete and unopposed submission (145-17) at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein, I was well aware of the fact that it was perfectly acceptable to use the term “hooker”, in the sport, a drop kick by Andy Mehrtens was worth 3 points and most importantly my hero, Jonah Lomu was a “winger!”.

The “Man-Mountain Truck” pulled off one incredible performance after another. With power as a reliable ally, speed as an able assistant, resolve as a steely companion, Jonah Lomu metamorphosed into a wrecking train that brooked no trespassers. Challenges and challengers alike were shrugged away with utter contempt and incredulous disdain. Trying to tackle a marauding Jonah Lomu was akin to hurling oneself in a suicidal fashion against a block of concrete. While his colleagues reveled in his show of might, hapless opponents seem to rebound off him as they vainly tried to initially tug and later hold on to his powerfully sculpted arms and legs. Owning an imposing physique that evoked admiration and apprehension in equal measure, Jonah Lomu was a natural force of destruction. Scotland came and went, and before long All Blacks were in the semi-finals and waiting in the wings for them was, England.

In this remarkable game, Jonah Lomu redefined the physics of rugby. The semi-final, of all things will be best remembered for the phenomenal quartet of tries that Jonah Lomu conjured to kill England off. The unbelievable sight of the English players lying splayed by the feet of Lomu as he ducked, weaved, shrugged and warded off one challenge after another was one that would have succeeded in evoking a collective gasp of admiration from even the phalanx of Gods!

One try in particular where after imperiously shrugging off two English defenders, Lomu charged into, through and over a flummoxed and dumbfounded Mike Catt has now become the staple stuff of legend and folklore. Even after twenty years, the sheer novelty of this bulldozer of a try by a road roller of a man has never ceased to fade. If you do not believe me, just try playing this link on You Tube:

New Zealand were now in the finals of the rugby World Cup and the only thing standing between them and the trophy was 59,870 hollering South Africans in the Ellis Park Stadium and 15 of their admirable counterparts on the pitch. Alas, for once the well-oiled locomotive failed to accelerate and was stopped in its tracks. The force in the form of Jonah Lomu that was unleashed so effectively throughout the tournament came to an unbelievable standstill, courtesy a gritty South African team in general and a class act in the form of a scrum-half bearing the name of Joost Van Der Westhuizen, in particular, the World Cup finals turned into a drop kick affair between South Africa’s Joel Stransky and New Zealand’s Andrew Mehrtens. In extra time, with the scores tied at 12 apiece, Stransky conjured an exquisite drop kick that had an entire nation immersed in a wave of undisguised ecstasy. Jonah Lomu had for once, been denied. For an undying fan of Jonah Lomu, the sight of Nelson Mandela presenting the Webb Ellis Cup to the South African skipper was a gut wrenching moment. It just seemed improbable for someone other than Jonah Lomu and the All Blacks to be the proud owners of the glittering trophy.

Soon after Lomu contracted a very rare and life threatening kidney disorder. But staving off the dangers of the disorder, Lomu made yet another World Cup appearance bagging a total of 8 tries. Reading about his personal life in snatches, I never really made an attempt to know more about the intimate details of the man’s life. Although it may sound strange, I had always envisaged Lomu only as an once-in-a-lifetime winger, sprinting away to glory with the ball held firmly in his grasp. I have not been able to and I will never be able to visualize in my mind’s eye a Lomu other than the one described here. I do not regret this fact one bit.

Since the epochal World Cup of 1995, I have developed a keen sense of interest in tracking the progress of wingers. Every time I see a winger in action, an automatic tendency arises to compare him with Jonah Lomu. Lomu for me is the unchanging yardstick, the sacrosanct threshold and an uncompromising criterion which all wingers have to achieve, clear and satisfy. Two decades after I had the honour of watching the man in full bloom, and excusing my amateurish expertise over the game, I have no hesitation in unequivocally opining that there has been no winger, who could hold a candle to Jonah Lomu let alone surpass him in his remarkable abilities! He was and forever will remain Rugby’s Original Man of Steel.

What a phalanx of adversaries and concerted endavours could not accomplish, the vagaries of life and the machinations of fate have contrived to achieve. 37 tries, 63 Tests and a rare kidney disorder later, the colossus has been brought down. This time as he lays low, Lomu as well as the whole wide world knows that there is no dusting off the grass, shrugging off the pain and bouncing back to have yet another go. Jonah Lomu is lost to us all forever. It is cruel irony that the most poignant and heart wrenching tribute represents the contribution of a man who also has fallen prey to the ravages of a merciless fate. Joost Van Der Westhuizen, Lomu’s much vaunted and respected foe, sent a moving tribute, courtesy an eye tracker, his body being racked by the vigours of a remorseless Motor Neuron Disease. As Westhuizen gamely puts up a fight against the impending advance of pernicious death perched at his doorstep, he might be all too aware of the fact that it is only a matter of time before he follows the indomitable Kiwi. Meanwhile we can only hope that a miraculous cure is contrived to beat the dreaded Motor Neuron Disorder at its own game, which will enable this superstar to point the finger at it, exclaim, “up yours you bastard” and continue leading an enriching and invigorating life.

Athletes like Joost Van Der Westhuizen are rare; superheroes like Jonah Lomu are rarer still. The probability of the world witnessing the likes of a Westhuizen v Lomu encore is much much lower than the probability of the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence meeting with stupendous success!

There can be no better words than those escaping the lips of Mary Lou Retton, which both embellish as well as encapsulate the beauty of sport, “A trophy carries dust. Memories last forever”. Joost won the Webb Ellis Cup; Jonah was never destined to put his arm around it.





India on the 5th of September every year (since 1962) honours one of its most illustrious sons, the former President Dr.Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan by celebrating his birthday, designating the day as Teacher’s Day. Dr.Radhakrishnan was a tireless academic, a renowned philosopher and a selfless teacher. Every one of us who have had the good fortune and privilege of completing a course in professional education will invariably have been influenced by one or more individuals from the precious fraternity of teaching. Although I am no exception to the rule, the most notable and indelible influence in my life has come from within the family, in the form of my father. I consider him to be the greatest teacher that I have had the privilege of accosting (and continuing to do so) thus far in my life. So on the 53rdanniversary of India’s Teacher’s Day, I deem it most appropriate to recollect and remind myself of a few precocious tenets and qualities which my father has constantly endeavoured to instill in me and my younger sibling. While the principles by which he has distinguished himself in his professional and personal life are too very numerous to recount, the following key values act as touchstones for me personally by which to course through life so that the act of mere existence gets transformed into a valuable art of living:

  1. A.      The greatest satisfaction one can get is by GIVING

As far as my earliest and vivid memories go, my father derived his greatest happiness from the act of giving. Neither I nor my brother can ever recall ‘Dad’ living for himself. His avowed objective in life has been to advance and further the cause of people around him. Always there to offer a lending hand or an able shoulder, he never thinks twice before taking the plunge to help others, whether by way of offering monetary help or moral support. While this might not be a singularly unique attribute, what makes this quality worth emulating is that it is done in total disregard of any reciprocal anticipation.


Any act of generosity in general and spontaneous magnanimity in particular is worth doing ONLY when such an act is unconditional, bereft of any ulterior motive and totally devoid of any expected consideration.

  1. B.      Think Before Speaking

This is a lesson which at times I have learnt the hard way, and in hindsight. My father by nature possess a gentle demeanour and is the very anti-thesis of confrontation. His chosen manner of bringing a boiling argument to its logical conclusion is to remain silent and back away, even though his stated position might be the most appropriate and rational one (which invariably is the case). As I have made the turbulent transition from youth to adolescence, the invariable spurt of confidence (over-confidence even), feelings of assertive superiority and more often than not, a bull headed conviction that my views trump that of the world, and with good reason, have combined to create a few situations of aggressive interactions between us both. While always supportive of a healthy debate, whenever I have crossed the invisible line of courtesy, my Dad has been quick to remind me of my transgression, but without resorting to the same tactics as employed by me. Deliberations come to an abrupt end as a sudden and overwhelming silence shrouds over the two us and Dad silently moves away from the scene of tumult. While I continue to rant and rave a bit more, the solitude inevitably gets me thinking. As the cause and consequences of the debate are played over and over in my mind, realization dawns that the person in the wrong is undoubtedly yours truly. Apologies are made, accepted and all is well that ends well when both father and son sit side by side engrossed in a book of each one’s choice.


The simple act of thinking before acting, and gauging the impact of the power of the spoken word before uttering it (in vain) makes a man a much better human being.

  1. C.      Chase Your Dreams; but never lose Focus

Never one to impose his choice upon his offspring, our father gave complete liberty to us brothers to choose a career of our own liking. However, he was unrelenting in exhorting to us the twin values of focus and sacrifice. He always adhered to the principle that a clinical focus and an uncompromising passion constituted the two indispensable elements in furthering any career prospect. This invaluable lesson has aided me immeasurably well and all that I have achieved today is solely because of my willingness to abide by this fundamental principle. My father has never viewed my failures in life as matters of dejection or desperation. His unflinching confidence in and support for me has spurred me on and this act on his part it is a monumental debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.


Always chase your dreams but never ever lose focus and be prepared to make the necessary sacrifices. Hard work today means rich rewards tomorrow.

  1. D.      You are what you read

One of the greatest gifts for which I am eternally grateful to my father, is the gift of reading. A vociferous reader himself, Dad passed on this beautiful habit to me with the result that I am now an inveterate reader. Dad has always been selective in the type of books that he likes to pore over. A man who values substance over entertainment, he encourages a reading habit that has at its core the accumulation of knowledge. Even though not completely abhorring the genre of fiction, the books that he used to gift to me when I was just developing a passion for reading were invariably the genres of biographies, memoirs and history. Always ready for a discussion, Dad always likes to hold forth on a few key and critical aspects forming the core and crux of a book. The fact that he has a prodigious memory bank sure helps!


Inculcate the habit of reading. Books have a beautiful ability to shape and define your character.

  1. E.       Be True to yourself. Deceiving others means deceiving yourself

One of Dad’s pet hates is the vice of lying. A hurtful truth is preferred to a blatant and deceptive white lie. Being a man of principles, Dad’s life has revolved around a set of uncompromising principles. An integral component of such principles has been the facet of truth. Practicing what he preaches, Dad always leads by example in this regard. Ethical to the core, he abstains from the notion of deceit and deception. Forgiveness from his is a given when a confession is made about a transgression. However an act of folly that is attempted to be masked by a convoluted process of lying is viewed with undisguised consternation.


Construct your life upon the attribute of truth and transparency. Being ethical is never a sign of weakness. Never attempt to engage in deliberate deceit for deceiving others only means deceiving oneself.

  1. F.       Be content with what you have

My father has been a man with the most meager of wants. Choosing altruism and utilitarianism over accumulation of fame and fortune, he has been a consummate role model for his sons to emulate. He has succeeded beyond his expectations in making my brother and I understand that frugality does not mean deprivation. We have never seen our father splurge hard earned money on material possessions. But at the same time he has been most meticulous and unsparing in caring for our deserving wants and needs. This has led to me understanding not only the real value and worth of money, but also the noble essence of sharing wealth(howsoever small it may be) with those who are in need of support the most.


Practice selfless service over untrammeled accumulation of wealth. Be content with what you have. Contentment directly translates to happiness.

As I step into my fourth decade of life, my father continues to be a pillar of inspiration and a beacon of hope. There have been innumerable circumstances where I have gotten out of a veritable dilemma by just asking myself “What would my father have done if he was to have been in my position?” Every single time the answer has been the one that has been the most appropriate and one that has never let me down.

So Dad it has been an extraordinary privilege and pleasure being your son and if I can succeed in becoming half of what you have been in life, my own existence would be one of rich fulfillment. In fact it would be a life well lived.

Happy Teacher’s Day Dad! Love You!


It took an operational anomaly in the unseen workings of the Light Railway Transport (“LRT”) system in Malaysia for the full impact of rampant consumerism to sink into me. On a sunny Thursday morning, I wound my way up a crowded escalator onto an even crowded platform for what was supposed to be my routine 30 minute commute to work. To tide over the tedium of standing within the confines of a railway carriage packed with humanity, I had armed myself with Jonathan Franzen’s collection of essays ironically titled “How to Be Alone”. Since I was steeped in deciphering Franzen’s lament on the demise of the novel in America, it took me quite a while to realize that the mounting mass of waiting commuters was inversely proportionate to the dribble of trains arriving at the station. It was then that I paid attention to the constant electronic chatter assailing the aural workings of the assemblage of people. A sheepish voice was repeatedly informing the frustrated passengers that on account of an “operation control deficiency”, trains were delayed and also that they would spend more time than usual in each station and move at a reduced pace. Even in terms of ‘rail speak’ the announcement was at best, ambiguous, and at worst, totally non-assuring. When in a driverless train, powered by some remote mechanism of which the passengers have no clue, there occurs an “operation control deficiency”, there sure must be reason for some alarm bells to be set off!

2 essays, 26 pages and a multitude of repetitious announcements later, a train (already packed to the rafters) slowly trundled into the station. Competing with an impatient and determined horde, I managed to wriggle myself into one of the 4 compartments. After what seemed like an eternity the train finally lumbered onwards. Where the controls failed, consumerism or commercialism took over without missing a beat. The drab and garbled announcements within the train, apologizing for the aberrant technical glitch were seamlessly replaced by a glib and robotic feminine tone soothingly encouraging everyone to “feel calm and feel ‘Glade’”. While it takes some effort to find calm when one is literally struggling to find one’s footing, it piques curiosity to ascertain how one feels “Glade”. A quick glance at the metallic door of the coach revealed the secret. Those same exhortations were imprinted in an inviting shade of lavender on the inside of the door. Along with the words, was helpfully set out a picture of a Talcum Powder container. While it made prudent sense to dab oneself with talcum powder especially when one was sandwiched between strangers and variegated wafting odors of sweat and exasperation, it was incredulous to realize that even man’s frustrations are ‘endorsed’. I stoically tried to balance myself by reaching out to clutch at a suspended plastic hand railing, when my sight landed upon a small rectangular picture that was embossed onto the handrail. There was a picture of a bright red car and a huge pile of what looked like elongated gold biscuits set out beside the left front wheel of the car. While trying to retain my balance and at the same time trying to retain my footing, I lunged at the dangling support. I learnt that both the car and the pile of gold could be mine provided I spent a disproportionate sum of money on a luxury product, of which I was in no need whatsoever! While the product was an irrelevance, my balance wasn’t, and even the balancing act was ‘sponsored!”

However the rampant reach of commercialism was most evident in the disquieting determination depicted by the passengers even in their respective crammed positions of discomfiture. Bent elbows, craned necks, clenched fingers, slanted heads and other anguished contortions were the voluntary outcomes of trying to keep going a two way communication within and without the train. Samsung Notes, iPhones and various other brands held their owners to ransom as they in turn valiantly refused to be separated even for a few idle seconds from their ubiquitous rectangular possession. The most powerful capitalist conglomerates had stamped their proprietary claim even on cramp and confinement! It was indeed a surreal sight to see people lost to the wares of technology oblivious even to their physical constraints. The undisguised rage of a middle aged man when his mobile phone signal was lost for a few seconds encapsulated the mighty tentacles of mercantilism as he first cast a repugnant look at his instrument before letting loose a barrage of muttered expletives. Even the inanimate railway stations were in the firm vice like grip of sponsorship. While the hitherto simplistic sounding Bangsar was now “Bank Rakyat Bangsar”, Universiti (not a misspelt word) was now KL Gateway Universiti, a homage to a sprawling new Mall readying itself for a grand inauguration on the 1st of March, 2017. This is the same consumerism that has resulted in the A1 Ring hosting racing events in Spielberg being renamed the Red Bull Ring and the Oval Cricket Ground in England transforming itself into the KIA Oval. In an ever advancing technological world, we seem to have stumbled at a crucial juncture before losing our way. Identification is now a futile exercise unless packaged into a glamorous exercise of branding. An exercise that takes no prisoners and brooks no interference. Art, aesthetics and Science are all showboating spectacles and handmaidens of advertisement, marketing and promotion. Sporting endeavours are tied to corporate blandishments (every boundary scored by Virat Kohli is a Karbonn ‘Kamaal’ shot while every poetic Federer forehand is a ‘Rolex’ moment), the field of medical R&D is replete with the largesse and associated piggy backing of gigantic pharma companies, and even the day to day necessities consumed by the world population have unique name tags.

The great Greek philosopher, Aristole coined the term “Telos” to describe the study of purposiveness, or the study of objects with a view to their aims, intentions and purposes. The world today seems to have totally embraced a non-teleological purport and philosophy, whereby the underlying purposiveness of an object is completely cast away in a disdainful matter-of-fact manner. While we are in a position to enjoy the best that materialism can offer, we seem to have surrendered ourselves to a Faustian bargain. In exchange for superficial and material possessions, we have willingly consented to have our identities stolen.

As the train finally disgorged me along with a stream of other passengers intently peering at their cell phone screens, the unseen lady continued to spur the remaining passengers in the train to “Be calm and Be Glade”.

Lessons of Life – A valuable experience worth the pain

Today I saw a very interesting question on Quora, the online forum for knowledge and information exchange. It went something like this (approximately), “Have you experienced any hardship in life?”

This is a question that is extremely pertinent to the harrowing time that I am going through at present. On the 7th of June, 2017, courtesy a fanatical, irresponsible and uncaring taxi driver, I was involved in a horrific car accident. This mishap shattered my pelvic bone and socket and I had to undergo an emergency surgery having the exotic nomenclature “Open Reduction Internal Fixation of the Right Acetabelum”. In layman terms I had both dislocated and fractured my hip. Before being transported to the hospital I was lying on the pavement of a bustling intersection in Kuala Lumpur for more than an hour pondering both my pain and future. Paradoxically I was a mere 5 minutes away from my destination, a boisterous place for dining and drinking. A surgery that lasted almost 6 hours, 4 months of painful rehabilitation, 39 books, days and days of mental trauma later, I went for an evaluation with my surgeon. All he had to tell me was that it was only a matter of time before a condition called avascular necrosis would set in that would lead to me having to undergo a total hip replacement surgery! Yes yet another bloody torturous operation!

But the catch here is one that resembles a Greek tragedy or Hobson’s choice. To prolong the possibility of a second surgery I am advised not to engage in any impact inducing activity (with the exception of swimming which alas i am completely inept at), and to perpetually use a cane as a companion. Stairs are to be avoided like the plague and using public transport becomes an exercise in absolute discomfiture. However a total hip replacement surgery would mean that I can rehabilitate quickly and resume my normal activities, but the ceramic ball and the titanium rod that would take the place of my current implant would last all of 10–15 years. So the choice for me is to keep limping with a sole objective of avoiding a scenario that would enable me walk straight and comfortably like a normal homo sapien.

Thus I would need to stoically bide my time taking care that I do not disturb the implant currently holding my battered femoral head in place, at the same time wishing to hell that the bloody thing falls off sooner rather than later so that I can go under the dreaded scalpel yet again but emerge a ‘walking man”! Now how does this change my perception about life? Do I spend my time in a spell of uncontrolled anger ranting and raving at all the Gods that might be in general but reserving my unreserved fury for the maniacal taxi driver? Or do i resign myself to my fate but in a despondent and dejected manner eliciting loads of sympathy from kith, kin and kindred souls and perpetually bemoaning my predicament? Alternatively do I take this opportunity to avail myself of all preferences and advantages that a society bestows upon a less able citizen, such as sailing through to the front of every ticketing counter and procuring privileged appointments in various public offices?

The most rational, albeit difficult thing for me to do would be accept the events that have occurred as an unfortunate although not unavoidable (as I could have demanded the driver to drive with more caution and care) contrivance of circumstance and deliberate action and live with the consequences without brooding over the cause. Live with an enhanced degree of inspired happiness and cheer. Continue meeting friends and spend quality time with family. Live each day as it is supposed to be lived and cross every bridge only when I get to it! In every circumstance of adversity shines a ray of iridescence, whose brightness puts paid to the devious intentions of darkness and gloom. When compared to a million other unfortunate fellow human beings, I am still in a position that can be considered enviable even. I still possess the use of all my limbs and a faculty that enables me to make sense and sentience. With this realisation, its time to make a resolution to remain optimistic and positive.

Right now it’s time to down a beer to welcome yet another beautiful day!


How to read Haruki Murakami – A Primer

One of the most frequently posed questions for me to answer in the capacity of a reader has been “How to read Haruki Murakami?” Mind you this is a question that is neither inane nor innocuous. There seem to be only two categories of readers in this contemporary world, those who abhor Murakami and those who swear by him. His books are like the peculiar fruit “Durian’ that is the preserve of countries in South East Asia such as Malaysia. You either detest the fruit or take delight in devouring it. There is no moderation when it comes to Durian. Similarly you have one section of humanity avowed in their objective of abhorring Murakami while the remaining segment of the populace deify himThis Japanese author who has accumulated a cult of followers as well as an army of vilifying critics never fails to stir powerful feelings every time he announces the release of his book. People queue before bookstores from the wee hours of dawn to acquire their prized copy on the very first date of its release. So what is it that causes this vertical split in the preferences of people towards Haruki Murakami? What is it that cleaves opinion like it never does in the case of any other author? Is there an ‘accepted’ or a ‘methodical’ way to approach the works of Murakami. At least in so far as my limited knowledge of books are concerned, there is no “An Idiot’s Guide to reading Murakami” or “Murakami for Dummies” that adorn bookshelves at present. I myself am fanatical about reading the works of Haruki Murakami. I humbly feel that reading Murakami is akin to cultivating an acquired taste. So with a view to finding a simple and plausible solution to this seemingly existential niggle, I write the following:

Murakami’s writing both inspires as well as exasperates. I honestly feel that the key to appreciating Murakami lies in the selection of his books. Imbibing Murakami is a gradual process. His stories need to slowly drip and seep into the mind, veins and soul of the reader rather than being crash-landed or thrust in one go upon her psyche. Thus woe betide a reader who inadvertently begins her Murakami escapade with say “1Q84” or “Kafka On The Shore”. Even Mother Earth took a mind boggling 14 billion years to evolve! Although not bound by the rigours of the principle of Natural Selection, a Murakami obsession also needs to follow its own course of evolution. Similar to the progression of indispensable tools characterising the evolution of mankind and technology from the fundamental stones and scraps of the Neanderthal Man to the robotic advancements of the Quantum computing man, Murakami’s books also subscribe to an upward attraction and assimilation curve.

The ideal beginning would be to pick up “Norweigian Wood” savour its style and substance before moving on to  “Wind/Pinball”. This will introduce the reader to the cryptic and paradoxical way of writing that is the hallmark of Murakami. The time is now apposite to revert to a collection of his short stories, and for this the brilliant candidate is “The Elephant Vanishes”. Now the reader is ready to explore the unexplored. the time is ripe to bring on the heavy artillery! “The Wind Up Bird Chronicle”; “Kafka On the Shore”; “1Q84″; and the remaining works ending with the most recent “Men Without Women”. It needs to be mentioned that I am only restricting my suggestions to the genre of fiction for Murakami has penned a few books in the non-fiction genre as well.

1Q84 Kafka Men Without Women Norweigian Wood

Finally if one was to have a “Guide to approaching, appreciating and finally ‘adopting’ Murakami, it would be something like this:

  1. Cleanse yourself of all pre-conceived notions and opinions liberally doled out by so the so called “Murakami experts” (including yours truly);
  2. Never read a review of any of his books by any of the publishing houses, newspapers or reputed authors;
  3. If you have an affinity towards Scotch in general and Lagavulin in particular, pour yourself a liberal dose and have a deep swig;
  4. Listen to either “The End” by The Doors or “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin or “Learning To Fly” by Pink Floyd;
  5. Ensure that you remain in an undisturbed state for the next couple of hours (this doesn’t include getting disturbed by Murakami because this is bound to happen, inevitably);
  6. Keep the light settings at a pleasant low and not at some garish level;
  7. Pick up “Norweigian Wood” and wait for your life to undergo a paradigm shift;

And most importantly: