Friday, May 07, 2010

Slumdog Professors

There was this intriguing post in some random blog which talked about a professor outsourcing grading papers over to countries like India where somebody who spends more time in giving feedback can evaluate papers.

The professor, Dr. Chandru Rajam says
“I like to half-jokingly point out that a mother is outsourcing childcare to a daycare provider. If you can entrust the care of your infant to a third person, any form of outsourcing should be fair game.”
Thus far so good - then comes this stupid conclusion from the author.
I am in complete agreement with Dr. Chandru Rajam. I think outsourcing grading papers is a tremendous idea. I also think outsourcing Dr. Chandru Rajam is a tremendous idea.

I am quite sure I can find better teachers at Virtual-TA willing to work for 10-20% of what Dr. Chandru Rajam makes. Heck, even 33% would be a bargain.

I am not sure what the author's understanding is of the teaching-learning in universities. Its either that his understanding is way off the mark or that the author is suffering from a severe 'Slumdog Millionaire' syndrome. This syndrome is perceptible amongst Americans whose opinions of India are based on a painted canvas of poverty, deprivation and the Taj Mahal.

You may be a vendor of a world class product/service based out of India - but its hard to deal with a Western customer for whom that doesn't matter and his entire sales negotiations revolve around his perception of how many "cents" you are paying your employees.

I can put it down as just a few cheap customers bargaining for that additional few dollars - but this trend is not gonna stop until India achieves a level of wealth for its masses and achieves a respected image in the global media (as opposed to say, China) - and our professionals are not viewed as 'cheap' slumdog professionals but as skilled professionals who can command their price in the market. A few more decades and we will show you how its done!

C. K. Prahlad

I have listened to his speech once when he had come to India - and had merely known him as the author of the book about business models in the rural areas. His recent demise made headlines and along with the news, I came to know a lot of things about him - odd tidbits like the 'C' in his initials stood for my hometown Coimbatore (nice surprise) to extensive obituaries penned by the who's who of the business and academic world.

The more I read about him, the more I was impressed. From the description of him as an academic, he definitely was one I would have loved to have as my professor.

There are some professors who teach you something that you barely remember after coming out of college. And there are those whom you are grateful to for their passing on skills that prove valuable to you later on. And then comes the rare breed of those who make people consider academics as a possible career choice. Like RaviC and CK.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Bellweather of the Chennai summer

It is summer in Chennai when traffic-policemen start sporting airy khaki topis instead of their usual blue hats.

Picture - here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

I had bought a CD almost a year ago titled '10 hours with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan'. I had seen the tracks once and never really listened to it - a slight feeling of dismay when several tracks ran well over 20 minutes!

Started listening to some of them last weekend. His voice is mesmerizing. And completely bowled over by the lyrics too - the track Allah hoo lights upon Creation beautifully thus...

ye zamiin jab na thii, ye jahaaN jab na thaa
chaaNd suraj na the, aasmaaN jab na thaa
raaz-e-haq bhii kisii par ayaaN jab na thaa
jab na thaa kuch yahaaN, thaa magar tuu hi tuu

The time when there was neither land nor the world
nor moon, sun or the sky,
[and] when truth was not known to anyone.
At that time there was nothing except you

And another track 'Ali Ali Maula Ali' goes further -

tan par Ali, Ali ho zubaaN par Al Ali
mar jauuN to kafan par bhii likhna Ali Ali

My body chants Ali, so does my tongue
[and] when I die, then write Ali on my shroud.

patthar pe alam deen ka gaaRaa jisne
lalkaar kar Marhab ko pichaaRaa jisne

[One] who implanted the flag of faith on the rocks
[One] who challenged Marhab and defeated him.

Translation from:

I loved the extremism of these singers in declaring their love for their beloved. How beautiful it would be if all the extremism in the world were only extremism of one's emotions towards their beloved and not extremism of harmful action at one another.

Beautiful Qawwals! But without my appreciation of the classical music , I sometimes wait for Nusrat to come over the lyrics part just to listen to the beauty of them. The music and Nusrat's voice are out of this world - in those ages, whatay wonderful platform they developed to pass down their beautiful thoughts. I cannot but say thanks to the lineage of musicians and Sufis who have given this to me.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Watched the movie Avatar twice. Consider it the best piece of post-modernist art I have ever laid my eyes on.

The way the Na'vi people have been portrayed shows extraordinary care. The depth of the Na'vi's understanding of nature, themselves and their deity Eywa is in strong contrast with the juvenility of the humans' approach. For instance, Jake prays a half-doubtful prayer the night before the battle to the wishing tree - at which Neytiri remarks that Eywa doesn't take sides, she just keeps the balance of Life.

Avatar abounds in symbolism - for instance, traditional wisdom is the 'hometree' which is thoughtlessly brought down at the Colonel's command. Not a frame or a line is wasted without showing the contrast between the Na'vi way of life and the human approach. The human manager calls the Na'vis as 'monkey-men' whereas the Na'vi call the humans 'dreamwalkers'.

The American foreign policy seems to have been parodied in more than one instance: the Colonel grimly announces that they are gonna fight 'terror with terror' when all that the Na'vi's have are bows and arrows and only ask to be left alone. The corporate manager complains bitterly that the 'monkey-men' (referring to Na'vis) don't seem to want education, medicine, roads and all that the humans are willing to provide. A plunder of epic proportions is clothed among niceties when it has the simplest of reasons i.e. selfishness - the Colonel says they are gonna be 'humane' in their mission to clear up the space for mining operations.

Loved this movie. Hope James Cameron doesn't take another decade for his next one.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Tamil Writing

Have been reading a few contemporary Tamil writers. I confess I didn't know that the contemporary Tamil writing (prose, poetry, short stories, etc.) was so prolific and that I had a less than favorable opinion of writers & publishers. Visiting the Chennai Book Fair stalls, I had thought of publishers of Tamil books as lacking in skills and taste and the writers as vendors of second-hand ideas. Even a cursory glance at a few writer's books and their blogs proves me wrong.

I made the acquintance of a Tamil poet/writer in one of my recent trips, Ajayan Bala. He writes at I recommend for anyone interested in contemporary Tamil writing. Charu Nivethitha and Ajayan Bala are two other writers whose blogs I read sometimes. I consider Charu's writings as ideally suited for regaling oneself and not worthy of any serious thought.

One aspect of writers that I find distasteful is the extent to which they go to disagree (quarrel?) with their peers. For instance, I chanced upon a post in Charu's blog - it was apparently from a reader of his blog and it spoke of another writer in unprintable language. Charu had posted that on his blog and given that a reply too - and I came to know that he and the other writer din't get along well and such verbal duels on blog posts and in writer's conferences were quite common. This I have observed in other Tamil writers whom I know, they refer to the others disparagingly and in responding to ideological debates, ad hominem attacks are the norm. Their interest in personal quabbles renders their moral authority in presenting opposing viewpoints questionable. Quite sad.

Friday, March 20, 2009

B. Jeyamohan

I recently came to know of a contemporary Tamil writer through his work in a recent Tamil movie - Naan Kadavul.

Then, started reading his blog.

Consequent to my political 'atheism' - after both the Right and Left readily demonstrated their inability to present anything convincing after the economic depression and the ever ongoing drama in Indian politics - I started loving Jeyamohan's unclassifiable views towards politics, religion and art.

May his tribe increase!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

'I have done this before'

The External Affairs Minister, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee was given additional charge of Finance Minister due to the operation on the PM, Dr. Manmohan Singh.

When he said 'I have done this before', one was left wondering whether he meant the heart operation... or the shuffling of ministries?