Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Spark of Unbearable Compassion - On the life and work of a good friend of mine

"If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain."
-Emily Dickinson-

Well, the title of this post came from a report in "Shambala Sun" on my dear friend Sunitha Krishnan.

Thought i will do something that could further the cause of well-being of many we do not know. When we cannot reach out to many, I feel the best possible way to further that cause is to support the people who do it as their life’s principal mission.

One name came flashing to my mind when I came across this announcement on a sleepless night’s random googling – My dear good friend Dr. Sunitha Krishnan. She perhaps needs no introduction to many, there is so much written about her all over, her recent TED talk turned out to be a pathfinder talk. When thousands of suffering strangers need the help of people like Sunitha, She needs our help to reach out further and do more.

Well, I have been watching her rather closely over the years, as the organization grew, as she became increasingly popular …some times even as our communication became minimal, I really wondered …”did she get carried away “ , a doubt that lingered to my mind for quite some time till the day she was bestowed with the 2008 Real Heros Award by the CNN-IBN award presented by Nita Ambani . I switched on the TV, gathered people around me to show them Sunitha, and to my utter dismay I did not see Sunitha walking up to the dais to receive the award from Ms. Nita Ambani, instead I saw her father receiving the award. Quite startled and curious to know how could she miss out this opportunity to “be there” I called her up and came her reply “ I was in a meeting elsewhere, so could not go !” .

Some time later I came across this 7 page article in October 2008 issue of ‘Reader’s Digest’ that had her attitude further exemplified. She was invited by the South Korean Government to help them improve the shelters for victims of trafficking. Being a government guest, she was offered accommodation at the best place in South Korea….and she shocked the South Korean officials when she insisted that she wants to stay in a local brothel to study the situation closely. Well, here is the full story :

So while that defines her attitude to luxury and honours, I also realize that people like her cannot really shy away from awards and honours, more so when it brings in much needed funds and resources to keep the crusade running. I do realize the import of what Sunitha wrote in here , now I notice that the blog was posted by her at 3.02 AM ( an older one ) !

here is Sunitha's blog

Here is some Information on Sunitha :


Ink Talk Video

Sunitha's TED-India 2009 Talk – Video

Touching, saving 3200 lives and on and on

The Ugly Truth: Has A Disha (Hope)

The Sex Slave Rescuer- An Interview clip – Video

PBS Interview on Sunitha Krishnan-Video

Prajwala - New Rehabilitation Centre, Hyderabad

Print Media Reports:

The Spark of Unbearable Compassion: Sunitha Krishnan speaks at TEDIndia

Dr. Sunitha Krishnan Conferred with CNN IBN 'Real Heroes' Award

Keeping hope alive Real-life hero

Interpid Foe of India’s Sex Industry – 2008 Reader’s Digest Feature

She sets the bonded free

Anti-Trafficking Crusader Sunitha Krishnan Fights To Save Women & Girls In India

Sunitha Krishnan and Prajwala – Fighting for trafficked children

TED gain: $100,000 in 20 minutes, all for a cause

“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.”
- Elie Wiesel -

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Of Miners' rescue and Assembly trust vote ...

Anxious hours for any sentient being on earth as they watch/ think of the Chilean miners being rescued one by one.

… and a bit more anxiety for the politically aware ones in Bangalore because in a few hours another trust vote will decide the political fate of Kar”nataka” state assembly. Watching the latest development in the state’s political scene used to be a daily dose of entertainment after I reach from work . I was constantly tracking the moves and political acrobatics of these jokers until the Chilean heroes caught my attention .

There the Chilean president is right on ground zero where the miners are being rescued on a 30 hours stretch operation. The Bolivian president is flying in to Chile to take home with him the only Bolivian miner among the 33 trapped miners. Their elected leaders are their guardian angels too. Looks like sensible leaders can be chosen only by sensible people.

The Karnataka politicians will spend a sleepless night wondering who will win and who will rule….who will cook, who will serve and who will eat, praying to their deities for boons to gratify their greed . Their counterparts in Chile too will spend a sleepless night praying for the safe rescue of all the miners, cheering up every one getting out of the rescue capsule after 69 days’ ordeal 700 meters below, there they stand as true elected representatives, together with the ones who elected them , in the hour of need.

Why did all our news channels celebrate this ongoing political fiasco in Karnataka with of course hearty interludes of Commonwealth games updates. It appears that the proceedings of Karnataka assembly will be telecast live tomorrow… and we are there to watch the jokers in action again.

On the other hand BBC seemed to have celebrated the entire Chilean operation with a live coverage.

Does this have any pedagogical value dear learned pedagogues ?

Yes there is in abundance…. for , what else could be a better example of true heroism, team spirit, compassion, reverence for life, brotherhood, high precision engineering, brilliant task management.

Are you listening dear pedagogues ?...or are you busy constructing , deconstructing new post-neo-hyper modern theories of learning, knowledge production, distribution ? ( looks like a new supply chain process)

I could not control my tears as I saw the Chilean miners emerged one by one… seeing the whole nation rejoicing … seeing how technology became a path with a heart… seeing the way a rescued miner opened his little bag, just after he got out of the rescue capsule, took out some candies and distributed it to people around. Here is a man , who has not seen sunlight for 69 days, reaching out … seeing clearly through his dark goggles… how true what the little kid said in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince : “ What is essential is invisible to the eyes, it is only with the heart you can truly see “ .

Are we blinded by too much light?

For the trapped miners the first step on earth was freedom …and for us we need wings for flights of freedom out of earth’s bounds.

So, Freedom too is relative ?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Semantic rains ...

A rainy evening, a soulful conversation...then a walk in the rain right on through the memory lane with those scenes from Shaji M Karun's Malayalam movie flashing forth in my mind . I do not know of any other malayalam movie other than "Piravi" that captured the nostalgic bliss of rains in Kerala while depicting the silent plight of a dying father waiting for his long lost son's return.

Came home and got on to the internet to look for Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan's violin composition "Cauvery"...and stumbled upon this magnificent video of Dr.L Subramanyam and his son Ambi Subramanyam playing together.
Like father...Son

... this father waiting for his lost son

Saw 2 fathers and one son in 10 minutes, both on youtube - one in extreme silent agony and the other in eloquent ecstatic symphony.

... and the connecting thread, rains again, weaved a pattern that connects both - the quotes from "Kaushitaki Upanishad" in the beginning of the movie "Piravi" .

Father : My speech in you I would place
Son : Your speech in me I take

Father : My breath in you I would place
Son : Your breath in me I take

Father : My eye in you I would place
Son : Your eye in me I take

Father : My ear in you I would place
Son : Your ear in me I take

Father : My tastes in you I would place
Son : Your tastes in me I take

Father : My deeds in you I would place
Son : Your deeds in me I take

Father : My pleasure and pain in you I would place
Son : Your pleasure and pain in me I take

Father : My bliss, delight and procreation in you I would place
Son : Your bliss, delight and procreation in me I take

Father : My goings in you I would place
Son : Your goings in me I take

Father : My mind in you I would place
Son : Your mind in me I take

Father : My intelligence in you I would place
Son : Your intelligence in me I take

A Dying man's bequest to his son - Kaushitaki Upanishad

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Long live Web 3.0

wow..what more do we need to believe that we are living in the web 3.0 era...

Google ads just proved it incredibly well.

The basic funda of google ads is that it places ads relevant to the content , then a set of complex algorithms decide on the exact nature of the ad placed on the page. Well, this is my understanding of it and I could a bit less informed, but surely not absolutely wrong.

so let us look at Web V1.0, 2.0, 3.0

Web 1.0 – That Geocities & Hotmail era was all about read-only content and static HTML websites. People preferred navigating the web through link directories of Yahoo! and dmoz.

Web 2.0 – This is about user-generated content and the read-write web. People are consuming as well as contributing information through blogs or sites like Flickr, YouTube, Digg, etc. The line dividing a consumer and content publisher is increasingly getting blurred in the Web 2.0 era.

Web 3.0 – This will be about semantic web (or the meaning of data), personalization (e.g. iGoogle), intelligent search and behavioral advertising among other things.

and this is what i came across few minutes back... looking for updates on the newsed up trancey-sexed up Paramahamsa Nithyananda of Nithyananda Dhyanapeetam.

My God, did you see that : "Paramahamsa" - how beautiful it looked as a suffix in "Sri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa" and how out of place it looks as a prefix before the name of the one in context, on news headlines these days.

Web 3.0 seems to have understood it still better.

Check out this

it is quite possible that there is a new ad in place of what i saw few minutes back.

so, this is what i saw ..may be what you can still see:

Please click on the image to enlarge

see the text inside the red outline just below the news headline on the godman and his befitting counterpart. I still cannot figure out how on earth this ad on "sanitary ware" got in place just below the news headline because nothing on the entire web page has any content even remotely connected to the ad, except of course the protagonists in the news headline :-)

Marvin Minsky defines AI thus :
"Artificial Intelligence ( AI) is the science of making machines do things that would require intelligence if done by men"

Well, i am not a strong AI proponent, but this typical advertisement below this specific news headline baffles me outright. But the point is that the web too understands what is the right ad to place along with crap news on crappier people.

This ad with its timely appearance on this specific news page seems to have scaled the metaphorical depths of the news and its readers' psyche.

yes, we need better sanitaryware within us, to flush out the dirt within and to flush these bigots out of our minds!!

..and yes, i remember the first principle I learnt as a novice in the area of computer science : " Garbage in, garbage out".

there could not be any better ad than the sanitary ware ad for this news item...

Long live Web 3.0 ...can't wait for web 4.0


Sunday, January 10, 2010

tiger, tiger burning bright ( on TV) ...

More of fallen Tiger Woods
on TV
than the rising star
he once was!

... we envied him first,
then emulated him and
later worshiped him
as a superhuman.

Now, when he fell from glory
and became just one of us
we scorn him
and denounce him

Quo vadis?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Zorba the Geek aka Ravi Saldanha - Part 1

Few kindred souls – my friends have been repeatedly imploring me to resume my blogging . May be that's why I feel the inclination to write now. I wonder how much of the random thoughts/reflections/memories that ripple across my mind are worth converting into blogs and how many of such blogs are worth being called 'blogs', and how many among them really worth reading. But then this thought too could be one such, So I guess you need not take it seriously and get going :-) – that is to read, reflect and respond.

For long I refrained from blogging because I was obsessively concerned about the quality of what I write ( i felt i have to do a good deal of home work on my writing) – it terms of cadence, style and literary merit and I am sure that in that self imposed exile I have missed out sharing a lot of what nourished, enriched and sustained me. So from now onwards I will just go on recording my impressions – memories , dreams and reflections on this blog page – yet another billboard of a soul on the information highway. Oh...those two words – 'soul' and 'highway' reminds me of those lines from the song “Objects in the rear view mirror “ by MeatLoaf :

“But it was long ago and it was far away, oh God it seems so very far
And if life is just a highway, then the soul is just a car
And objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are“

Click here for the song video>>

I guess I must define the word “CLOSER” as NOT a frightening, ghostly image from the past, instead an endearing, enduring flash or remembrance of the bygone. It cannot be but “closer” to our being right? :-)

Moving out of Amrita campus and setting up a dwelling in Hyderabad gave me what I missed all along over the last 8 years . Eight years in Amrita was sheer delight but I had a price to pay as well , ie. time for myself – time to read , reflect and some times just do nothing. Now I understand how important it is to find time for oneself for, it is only during those moments one can look back in retrospect and reflect. I really do now know how am I going to express my gratitude to my wife Laxmi who took upon herself the responsibility to run our home and let me be with myself. What ever good thing I do will obviously have its deep bearing on the sacrifice she made to bequeath unto me these moments of pilgrimage within. I owe her the same thing... now my dream is to see her having time for herself just the way I revel on. Must get going soon...

Eight years of sheer delight in Amrita – I will remain thankful to the campus and the students who made my inner landscape greener and richer. It has become so internalized that those eight years form an integral part of my mindscape. Now as I reflect in retrospect I realize that many things that happened in my life eventually prepared me for that wonderful phase of my life at Amrita.

Eight years with students from the age group of 16-25 and mind you I was not into teaching. I first walked into the campus, during a terrible phase of my life, as a 28 year old angry young man – confused about career, resentful about relationships and regretful of the mistakes I made...angry with myself and the rest of the world as well I have always wondered how could I get along well with those sweet little frivolous teenagers. There is an old saying that I love “If you are comfortable with yourself, you will be comfortable with others”. Sure, I was so utterly disturbed and perturbed with remorse and retribution swelling up to monstrous levels.

But I did not drown... I was gracefully kept afloat. I have always wondered how and why it happened thus.

Thankfully many things that got infused into my being unawares blossomed forth. Who sowed those seeds that germinated in inner conditions that I deemed hostile all through...or perhaps those seeds were ordained to sprout in such conditions...

As I ponder I am discovering the answers steadily and I realize there are many factors (events and people) I'd love to remain grateful unto my last.

Here is one man who played a decisive role in preparing me thus – my friend Ravi Stephan Saldanha. I write this not just to express my gratitude and reverence for what he was to me then , it is also to redeem the evolving possibilities and primarily to reflect on something that left me awe struck few days back after a brief conversation with him. But before I get at it, one must get a glimpse of passionate-maverick-bubbly fine young man with fire in his belly – and that qualifies him to be called “Zorba the Geek”.

But first one needs to know who Zorba was. Please watch this clipping from the movie “Zorba the Greek”.

This is more of a very personal narrative...but I am sure that it will give enough glimpses ( through Ravi) of what it takes to remain a true friend and above all a gentle human being. Wow..i have been waiting for these stretch back and get lost in remembrance of things past... reliving instances and events that will once again take me to the brink of tears... get soaked in those swirling waters of memories...get basked in the radiance of deeds of kindness and goodness I have been so fortunate enough to be bestowed on. It is going to be nothing less than a pilgrimage for me to walk down the memory lane thus during these days when friendship too revolves around the words “win win-trade off-deals”. Remembering the goodness of others with a deep sense of gratitude and benediction is a deeply moving experience, which often helps us invoke those qualities in us as well. I do not know of a better way of purifying oneself.

What follows will justify it.

After a phase of drifting, when my father found me heading no where and I had no idea of where to go, I joined Hindustan Aviation Academy. Thanks to my father who was kind enough to spend on me again on education at a time when people expected the eldest son to support the family. Thus began the three and a half years of my life as a full time student. Being in a class with fresh +2 graduates, I must have been 24+ I guess then, was initially an experience that made me question my worth even as an individual, leave alone as an aspiring aviation professional. Things became tough when my seniors who came to rag me discovered that I am much elder to them...and sure it must have given them an added pleasure of having a go at me testifying their ragging sophistication. My peers in the class soon gave me an elder-brother-classmate status though my seniors often saw me as a good specimen to fine tune their ragging skills...thus followed the initial few months of anxiety and terrible self doubt.

So there I was in 1995, in a college trying to pursue a highly competitive profession with classmates good number of years younger to me. I was literally on a 'wing and a prayer' in the cloudy sky of self doubt... lot of lonely walks and introspections oscillating between the extremes of new beginnings and points of no return !

That's the time I noticed Ravi first, who apparently got along well with some of the toughest seniors. I initially had a feeling that he is one of those rich spoilt NRI brats and I came to know that he stayed some where deep , alone in a house in the Munnakolala outskirts of Bangalore. Once I walked down to see that place , envying him deep within for having a place all for himself, and once I saw the place my envy became sympathy. I wondered how on earth could this guy born and brought up in Dubai find himself at ease and peace in such a remote place. As I observed him keenly the sympathy I had for him for this terribly lonely predicament of his gradually turned into appreciation for his uncanny ability to get along with people and bubbly sense of humour, some times streaks of sheer brilliance also shone forth when we were in a group discussing something technical. But we were yet to really talk to each other. The first break for that came during the tea break of our college morning sessions.

I was just walking out of the class and he was going out of the campus. He saw me and asked 'coming out?'. As we walked along he asked 'do you smoke?' ...I said 'sometimes' , he had a good laugh at it while he too said 's-o-m-e-t-i-m-e-s'. Initially I think he gave me a good listening and soon I found myself listening when he began to talk. I will never forget that day when he started questioning me outright, challenging my views, presenting alternate views on many things we discussed. It took me quite some time to come in terms with the fact that here is this 18 year old classmate of mine literally flooring me with his incisive reasoning. It was quite a bitter pill to swallow then for, till then I enjoyed immediate acceptance of whatever I spoke to my classmates – I had the taken for granted advantage of being few years elder to them. But then I was feeling out of place all the while because no one really considered me one-among-them and I was pining to feel that togetherness of certain amount of frivolousness and impulsiveness in interactions among peers. Ravi's fierce arguments with me gave me that – I began to feel belonged with no barrier of 'elderliness' in between. Though he took me quite by surprise with his wit, passion with which he did things and deep insights into many things that baffle most of us, he was gentle enough to be explained to when I had a slight upper edge at times ( those occasions were rare though ). He argued and explained with effortless ease, striking originality and most of the time won with abiding grace.

Tea breaks turned fag-sessions soon began to gather more people. Even the ones who did not drink tea of smoked began to join the 10 minute expedition to 'dada's shop' in Marathahalli. They were there to be a part of the stimulating discussions that ranged from movies to metaphysics. It is during one such sessions Ravi displayed his maverick wisdom when some one joined us , we had asked for one tea meant to be divided into two (by 2 or /2 ), and it was just time to rush back. Ravi had no qualms in telling dada to make it /3. That was quite unheard of , dada gazed at him with some sense of consternation! A small glass of tea divided into 2 was till then considered to be the maximum drinkable divisibility. Ravi proved further divisibility and dada from then on had no problem in make /3 tea though it meant less business for him. Well, that was the charm of his expressions which had an inherent persuasiveness that one would happily give into.

Soon those sessions extended to lengthy lunch break. It was quite a scene … people pinching off chappati portions form his plate and when left alone, there was that quintessential Ravi sharing his meal with stray dogs too...some times I have seen him feeding them as well. I had read and heard about the web of life-interconnectedness-compassion to living creatures. But Ravi showed me what it is to feel connected. Though I could never elevate myself to that realm of exemplifying reverence for life , I realized that it is possible for, I could see a living embodiment of it on a day to day basis. So there was this 19 year old guy who by then had become my biggest intellectual challenge and often I looked upon him for guidance as well during those intermittent phases of delusion. It did not take Ravi much to make me realize that age has nothing to do with maturity , an important reckoning that kept me going all through my 8 years at Amrita.

I have always wondered how did Ravi end up doing Avionics engineering in a college that was not quite known then. This guy with his abilities should have been in one of those Ivy-league colleges . I have often felt that Ravi got misguided into this programme. With his inherent curiosity and intelligence he should have been in a place with the finest professors and the best experimental facilities. I got to see Ravi's versatility after the Avionics engineering programme as he went on to become a Geek - a self taught programmer-techie of the maverick kind. We will have a few glimpses of it later.

It was fun watching him ride his bike-he had a Yamaha RX100 (later he bought an Enfield Bullet) that he rode like a Harley Davision. I was in for another shock when some one told that he began riding to the college through Bangalore city traffic with minimum learning practice. No just that, he mostly rode with a pillion rider. I will never forget the fist ride on his bike … it was scary! But then I felt thus only once, after the first ride you feel as if you got enough field experience on Ravi’s bike riding to trust his alertness an instincts for a life time. I got to ride with him many times after that I never got petrified again at his speed or maneuvering. You just feel that this guy is in total control of his bike and the bike responds to him as well like a tamed wild horse. This is my earliest glimpse into man-machine synchronicity – some thing I continue to see in him till this day, be it handling a bike or guitar or any other gadget. Machines responded to him as if they are extensions of his being. That was my first initiation into man-machine synchronicity which I later experienced at Amrita – the only difference was that my interaction was with a couple of web servers. The synchronicity I observed with Ravi and his bike, and later what ever gadgets he handled with ease, is what later opened up pathways for me to work on technologies and platforms I never got formally trained on. The way Ravi stayed in communion with literally every part of his bike and his favourite gadgets made me understand one thing – that apparently inanimate objects can respond and become an extension of your being if you take care of them as an indispensable unit that will facilitate your explorations and expressions.

Music used to be another topic we used to discuss a lot on. I was just a novice in the world of world-music. Though I could not quite listen to much Jazz music , one of his Ravi's intense passions, with him during our college days , later when I got to listen to a bit of Jazz and read about the background of Jazz I got to understand Ravi a bit deeper - his favorite music too defines his inner profile – spontaneity and originality issuing forth with child like glee and abandon. One day I heard him humming a beautiful tune in the captivating even in its humming form itself. When I asked him about it he told it is John Devner's song “Anne's Song”... later he sang it as well in his shack like dwelling in Wilson Garden, he played his guitar too and sang “Anne's song” with such deep self absorption. That was another insight into Ravi.

His shack like dwelling in Wilson Garden...that brings back torrents of memories. Being a typical 'joie de vivre' one , he had little concern for even locking his home. His innate trust-all nature later took a heavy toll on him. But the way he handled his losses makes me call him a indefatigable-magnificent loser as well. I love this beautiful poem One Art by Elizabeth Bishop Ravi I see a living embodiment of that poem.

                                        From that onwards in my next post.

               I must call him now to wish him. Today is his birthday.

                              ...and this is the first birthday gift to him!

... a friend's expressions of reverence, affection and gratitude.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Post VIDYA post ...

This is the longest spell ever of my being away from Amrita University campus , Ettimadai and it has brought in a terrible sense of missing ... the students, working on VIDYA and the noise in the hostel. All those provided the vital escape door from the quagmire of uncertainties and ghosts of the past.

It looks like the escape door too escaped, perhaps to resurface as the entrance door...

The only way to relive my VIDYA days now is to walk down the memory lane ...i have a lot of people to thank and a story to tell as well. Hence this blog on VIDYA