Monday, November 2, 2009

Away for three months, to restore myself

My dear family, students, friends and colleagues,

You who follow my blog may have noticed that I have not been posting every Sunday, as I promised. For example, my last post was on 4 October, that is, four weeks ago.

A few of you have called or emailed to find out if I have been unwell. Thank you for your concern. I have not been posting regularly, because I have been pre-occupied with a personal assignment that takes a lot of my thinking time and energy.

Writing is strenuous. Moreover, since I expect that my own work be an example of what I preach and teach in class -– writing with nouns and verbs, NOT with adjectives and adverbs –- writing drains me.

But life in the blogosphere is even more tiring. When I started blogging on 2 October 2008, I found the Blogger software convenient. The template was easy to learn and use. And so I enjoyed myself. I still do.

But gradually, I got sucked into mediocre junk, the way children get seduced by fast food.


In his 1959 revision of William Strunk’s Elements of Style, E.B. White added a Chapter V, “An Approach to Style” (with a list of 21 reminders). Reminder 9 says, “Do not affect a breezy manner.” Here, White refers to a poem, “Spontaneous me”, and argues that “in his innocence”, Walt Whitman, “let loose the hordes of uninspired scribblers” with their “uninhibited prose”.

When I read newspapers today, there is so much of breeze, wind and hot air, printed on their pages! No need to comment about the fluff and hype on TV.

For me, writing and reading as well as speaking and listening are two sides of the same coin: thinking. So blogging is not only about writing “Against the Tide”, but also about reading other blogs. And that seems to have taken a severe toll of my senses.

In my early exuberance, I read all the blogs as I strolled along, the way a child grabs at any toy within its ken. But I have realised I was straying into mediocre junk.

Sadder but wiser over the last year, I have decided to halt by the wayside. And slow down for the next three months. While I restore myself – with a personal assignment.

I shall, however, respond to ALL emails and messages on facebook. And like a street rag-picker, I shall scrounge through a few of your careful blogs, searching for …??? And when the urge takes hold of me, I shall post – but rarely.

Keep in touch. Resist the tide. Take care.

Your support is my strength.
- Joe.

Pune, India, Monday, 2 November 2009.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Journey of life: rules of the road – Part 2

My dear family, students, friends and colleagues,

Learning how to edit, while working in great local newspapers like the ‘old’ Maharashtra Herald in Pune and while teaching students of print journalism for 23 years, has been a pleasure. And it is thrilling to discover books about writing and editing and re-writing, written by authors who are your soul-mates.

By now, most of my best students know how I admire and try to practise Strunk & White. The rules of ‘the little book’ have, for me, become the rules of the road on the journey called Life.

William Strunk (1869-1946) was the teacher of the famous writer E.B. White (1899-1985), associated with The New Yorker.

This is how E. B. White describes his encounter with ‘the little book’ ninety years ago: “At the close of the first World War, when I was a student at Cornell, I took a course called English 8. My professor was William Strunk, Jr. A textbook required for the course was a slim volume called The Elements of Style, whose author was the professor himself. The year was 1919. The book was known on the campus in those days as ‘the little book,’ with the stress on the word ‘little.’ It had been privately printed by the author.”

For the last 23 years since I began to teach editing in Pune, ‘the little book’ has been like a lighthouse, its declarative beacon guiding my waif of a ship among the ‘page 3’ wrecks and warning me of the celebrity icebergs, concealed in the treacherous waters of the free market.

Here I propose to take up Rule 17: “Omit needless words!”. These three words constitute my second rules of the road: travel simple on the journey of Life.

In the third edition, revised by E.B. White in 1979, Rule 17 goes across pages 23 to 25 in the section “Elementary Principles of Composition”. Allow me to quote from White again:

“ ‘Omit needless words!’ cries the author on page 23, and into that imperative Will Strunk really put his heart and soul. In the days when I was sitting in his class (1919), he omitted so many needless words, and omitted them so forcibly and with such eagerness and obvious relish, that he often seemed in the position of having short-changed himself – a man left with nothing more to say yet with time to fill, a radio prophet who had out-distanced the clock.

“Will Strunk got out of this predicament by a simple trick: he uttered every sentence three times. When he delivered his oration on brevity to the class, he leaned forward over his desk grasped his coat lapels in his hands, and, in a husky, conspiratorial voice, said, “Rule Seventeen. Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!’

“He was a memorable man, friendly and funny. Under the remembered sting of his kindly lash, I have been trying to omit needless words since 1919, and although there are still many words that cry for omission and the huge task will never be accomplished, it is exciting to me to reread the masterly Strunkian elaboration of this noble theme. It goes:

‘Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subject only in outline, but that every word tell.’

“There you have a short valuable essay on the nature and beauty of brevity – sixty-three words that could change the world …”

I may add, these 63 words on brevity could also slash the number of pages in our Indian newspapers by:
- trimming the number of paragraphs in our stories;
- reducing the number of sentences in the paragraphs;
- pruning the number of words from a sentence
- using words with fewer characters.

“Small is beautiful,” wrote E.F. Schumacher.


I started to take lectures on editing at the Department of Journalism, University of Pune at the request of Kiran Thakur, then Bureau Chief at the United News of India (UNI) wire agency in Pune. Prof. P.N. Paranjpe, then Head of the Department (fondly called ‘Ranade Institute’) invited me teach the batch of 1987.

When the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication (SIJC) was set up in 1990, its Director Dr. Vishwas Mehendale asked me to take the classes in Editing. Anahita Rane, my student from Ranade was the deputy director then.

I had been searching for a suitable book to guide me. That is when I found ‘the little book’. Just as Strunk was White’s guru, ‘the little book’ became one of my gurus. You will find a photocopy of my personal copy of ‘the little book’ on the shelves of what became the Symbiosis Institute of Mass Communication (SIMC) in 1999.

I also came across “Basic Journalism” by Rangaswami Parthasarathy (Macmillan). Later, I added “Editing: a handbook for journalists” by T.J.S. George (Indian Institute of Mass Communication, 1989) to my ‘must’ list of three books for my students.

Hundreds of good teachers all over the world have recommended Strunk & White to their students. But only last week I discovered that another great teacher, William Zinsser, the author of On Writing Well, was in turn an admirer of White.

Looking up Zinsser on the Net, I found an article in the Spring 2009 issue of The American Scholar, entitled, “Visions and Revisions” in which he tells the story of how he updated his book On Writing Well over 35 years.

But it was this small paragraph towards the end that I wish to reproduce for it echoes Strunk and White and my second the rule of the road: travel simple. Zinsser recounts why his readers are grateful for the advice in his book and how it has changed their lives:

“(The hard part of writing isn’t the writing; it’s the thinking.) Now, they tell me, I’m at their side whenever they write, exhorting them to cut every word or phrase or sentence or paragraph that isn’t doing necessary work. That, finally, is the life-changing message of On Writing Well: simplify your language and thereby find your humanity.”

I hope each of you find this rule useful on the journey of life: “simplify your language and thereby find your humanity.” So you can see how Strunk’s Rule 17 (“Omit needless words!”) has been framed in special ways by different people.

Listen to how George Washington Carver (1864-1943) of the Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, USA, the great black scientist put it:

“It is not the style of clothes one wears,
Neither the kind of automobile one drives,
Nor the amount of money one has in the bank,
That counts. These mean nothing.
It is simply service that measures success.”

After "compassion for the poor", which I introduced in “Journey of life: rules of the road - Part 1”, here is my second rule for the road: “Omit needless words!” Keep it safe and take care.

Your support is my strength,
- Joe.

Pune, India, Sunday, 4th October 2009.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lessons ‘the old MH’ learned me – Part 1

My dear family, students, friends and colleagues,

Like the ordinary people whose heroic stories they tell and the peaceful places they belong to, local papers are charming. No big city paper can ever hope to (though it may pretend to) match the intimate way a small local paper grows up and on its readers.

I chose to work for 13 years in one such local paper, Maharashtra Herald (MH) – Pune’s very own local. Tuesday, 22 September marked the birthday of MH, founded by Abel David in 1962 as Poona Herald.

I salute you, my dear MH.

In this personal memoir, I will not try to write a history of ‘the old MH’ – before it was taken over in 2003. Far abler seniors – Harry David, Taher Shaikh and Y.V. Krishnamurthy – deserve to write the first pages. I shall tell a few stories, hoping to catch the feel of ‘the old MH’.

For me, two relics in Pune camp reveal that MH existed, once upon a time: first, the board of the Maharashtra Herald printing press on East Street; second, the location of its last office, above Nehru Memorial Hall and opposite Supriya, before ‘the old MH’ was taken over.

The silver jubilee edition of MH in 1987 includes a memoir by Dileep Padgaonkar called, “Salad days on East Street”, in which he writes of visiting the old MH office on East Street, hoping to bump into some of his old mates, who used to share that tiny space on the wooden floor, where he started his career in Poona Herald.

If I went there today, would I spot ‘the old MH’ office? East Street is become a stinking gutter, clogged with parked cars and choked by multi-storeyed buildings. Nothing on the ground – except the MH board – can evoke those days, which survive only in my mind’s eye.

“We are all in the gutter,” said Oscar Wilde, “But some of us are looking up … at the stars.” This memoir is dedicated to each of my colleagues at 'the old MH' who learned me to keep looking up.

My first full-time job as a journalist

While I was looking for a job, my wife’s friend, Vijay Lele, told me to meet Mr. S.D. Wagh, the editor of MH. Mr Wagh’s secretary, Duru Notani (later Tejwani) was the first person to welcome me to MH, at the top of the narrow staircase, outside the editor’s cabin. In the left-hand corner, a teleprinter rattled away.

After the interview, I asked Mr. Wagh about my working hours. “Twenty-four hours,” he said, trapping in three words the future of us journalists. (The 24x7 farce of ‘breaking news’ had not yet been concocted.) Thus began my first day in the profession of full-time journalism on 2 May 1983, as a sub-editor on a salary of 600 rupees per month.

(During my lecture a few days ago, I told my first-year students of journalism this story, to clearly convey the ‘24 hours’ attitude to work that is expected, if they want to become sincere, hard-working and alert journalists.)

Initiated into the taboos of the tribe of scribes by the silent Mathew Fernandes (one of the many Goan gurus who have learned me the lessons of life), I slowly stumbled across the subtleties of subbing. One by one, I met and grew to know, to love and be loved by, our three seniors – Taher, Murthy and Harry.

Since MH was the only English paper to be delivered at the doorstep and hit the stands, first thing in the morning, it was ‘the local paper’. (The Times of India and Indian Express used to come down to Pune by road from Bombay, late, in the afternoon.)

But the Yinglish snobs turned up their noses and looked down upon the evergreen ‘Cinema Calendar’ in the MH, where the matinees were devoured by college students. But everyone read the obituaries.

I worked ‘24 hours’ in MH from 1983 to 1996, being graciously granted ‘leave without pay’ during 1990-93, while I accompanied my wife, who studied abroad, to take care of our daughter J.K. Pallavi, who was then three years old.

Don’t give an opportunity to those who would wilfully distort your words

In Part 2 of this series, I shall describe who did what; where and when; why and how: the 5 Ws and one H at ‘the old MH’. Here I will take off from a Shashi Tharoor sentence that triggered this post: “I now realise I shouldn’t assume people will appreciate humour. And you shouldn’t give those who would wilfully distort your words an opportunity to do so.”

Tharoor is speaking about how Sonia sycophants like Jayanti Natarajan, disguised as Congress spokespersons, have wilfully distorted his “cattle class” tweet. Tharoor says you should not give humourless sycophants a stick and then not expect them to hit you with it. How I recall literally conjuring a stick out of my mind and giving it to a sycophant in ‘the old MH’ to beat me with it.

Our editor Mr. Wagh, a strict disciplinarian, used to write his editorials, longhand, in his cabin. My wild imagination converted him into a “waghoba” (tiger) in his den. ‘Wagh’ into ‘waghoba’. This nickname fell on the eager ears of a flatterer, who dutifully forwarded it to Mr Wagh.

One day, Mr Wagh called me into his cabin and asked me whether I called him “waghoba”. When I said yes, he smiled and said it was not proper for me to call him so, in front of others who may wilfully distort my words, implying that I thereby intended to disrespect the editor. I said I did not intend to hurt his feelings. And there the matter rested.

Till now … when the Tharoor tweet stirred a secret recess of my brain, while I was thinking out this tribute to ‘the old MH’. And out sprang a … ‘waghoba’.


Any one who has worked in ‘the old MH’ may be asked, “What is the secret of the success of MH”? This is my answer: we borrowed a human recipe used by all parents who bring up their children: loving, caring and sharing; a sense of belonging.

The next post on “Journey of life: rules of the road – Part 2” will appear on or after Sunday, 4 October 2009.

Your support is my strength,
- Joe.

Pune, India, Wednesday, 23 September 2009.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Journey of life: rules of the road

My dear family, students, friends and colleagues,

Describing life as a journey and asserting, “The journey is its own reward” are two common ways of seeing life.

For me these two ways are true, because travelling had been an integral part of my life till the age of 31, when I got married in 1982 and, for the first time, thought of settling down – in Pune. Moving from station to station with our father, a railwayman in the Signals & Telecom Department of the Central Railway, I had become a wanderer, a gypsy.

What are the rules of the road in the journey of life? The first and foremost is: the strong and the mighty shall protect the weak and defenceless.

While at Maharashtra Herald (MH) in Pune, I had the opportunity to interview ordinary as well as extra-ordinary persons, irrespective of their standing. But one extra-ordinary man whom I recall as ordinary and common is “S.M.”. These initials belong to one of Maharashtra’s greatest political leaders of the twentieth century, the late S.M. Joshi and the initials “S.M.” stand for: “Simple Man”.

For an MH photo-feature, with pictures by one of India’s finest photo-journalists D. Sanjay, we had interviewed “S.M.” during an entire day, travelling across the city to the places that were significant in his life.

Towards the end of our interview, I asked him, “Which was the one virtue he felt he lacked in himself but admired most in others?” The simple man replied, “Karuna”, using the Marathi word for “compassion”.

Compassion, above all, is the one human quality that is, for me, at the root of the first rule of the road in the journey of life: “The strong and the mighty shall protect the weak and defenceless”.

Glorifying greed; mocking the poor

Nowadays, this rule of the road must be underlined because the global free-marketeers, like the gamblers and smugglers and thieves of yore, inspired by the politics of Thatcher and Reagan, have glorified greed and mocked the poor, in the name of freedom for the individual and the market.

And though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaks of “inclusive” growth, I believe that is mere lip service to win votes, while his colleague Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, executes the brutal agenda of Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation; what I call LPG, the poisonous gas which will most surely destroy the weak and poor in India.

Some shocking indicators are the unacceptable number of infants who die every year and severe malnourishment among children in India. Among adults, look at the suicides among farmers and starvation deaths in villages, due to agrarian distress. You must find out the horror of the figures for yourselves.

On the road, this rule translates simply: the first priority should be for the pedestrian, the citizen who walks on two feet. But look at our cities. The pavements are being cut and the roads are being taken over by cars and two-wheelers.

In education, this rule means: priority for primary education in the villages. In health: save the girl child, ban female infanticide.

For the environment: embrace trees to the death, like Shahid Amritadevi and 362 other Bishnoi martyrs at Khejarli village, near Jodhpur in 1730.

In journalism, save and cherish the reporter of facts, the most endangered species in journalism, from the rampage of the advertorial-writers, the deception of the PR agencies, the target-mad circulation and marketing departments –- the whole gang of space marketeers, in the pay of corporate profiteering.

Add to this list. In general, resist the bullying and persecution of the minorities by the brute majority in any sphere of Life and Nature.


I have kept this post brief, down to 600 words, because I want my readers to participate – my family, my students, my friends and my colleagues. Do you agree with my first rule of the road on the journey called Life? Do you have some other rule that you would place at No. 1? What are some of the other rules along the road to Life?

I thank all those who sent me their best wishes on completing three years of my second innings. I hope I can live up to your expectations and make our coming years worth our while.

Your support is my strength,
- Joe.

Pune, India, Sunday, 6th September 2009.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Second innings: 3 years of living and loving

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

The second of September 2006 is the first day of my second innings. I am grateful to have got a second chance. So on Wednesday, 2 September this year, I complete Year 3; though on the wall calendar I have crossed 58 years on Mother Earth.

My colleagues at the Bharatiya Jain Sanghatana, Pune, tell me how I showed up at the office near Chaturshringi on Friday, 1 September. But then for the next three months, I missed my three-days-a-week at this NGO, founded by the social reformer, educationist and servant of India, Shantilal Muttha.

My students of the 2007 and 2008 batches still remember how I took lectures during the week ending Saturday, 2 September. But I did not turn up for classes from Monday, 4 September, because I was admitted to the Deenanath Hospital in Pune.

I had suffered a heart attack. Now that I survived and have been living and loving for the last three years, allow me to thank all the people who saw me through those days.

My wife Kalpana and daughter Pallavi were with me at home that evening. My brother-in-law Dr. Rajeev Joshi, was also in Pune and at home. Our neighbours at Swanand, Aapli Society, were also indoors. So when the heart attack came, the cardiac ambulance of the Pune Heart Brigade (phone 1050 from anywhere in Pune) could be summoned and rushed me within "the golden hour" to the hospital. My brother-in-law’s classmate Dr Shireesh Sathe, who operated on me, was also in town that weekend. I am lucky to have had all these people in their places that Saturday.

The Emergency Medical Services (EMS) run by the Pune Heart Brigade had saved 17,500 lives, including mine, till end 2007. Even today, whenever I visit a patient at Deenanath Hospital, I drop into the Casualty ward and thank the staff on ambulance duty, without whose prompt help I could not have been writing these words today.


Flat on my back at home, with the unbearable pain crushing my rib-cage, I can still recall visualising my photo with a black border in the "Obituary" section of the papers next morning. I used to work night shifts at the sub desk and accept the obituary notices for the Maharashtra Herald in Pune, during 1983-90. So I mumbled to myself through the engulfing darkness, "This is it now for you, Joe!" Luckily, that was not to be.

I flatter myself to think that my family, friends, colleagues and students loved me too much to let me go –- so soon. Maybe I have some unfinished work to complete, before my turn comes. So, I got my second chance.

In the first few days of white, I cannot recall who came to visit me. But slowly the faces began to register. I remember each one of them with deep gratitude, for they put me back in touch with the blues and greens of the world outside.

As I left the hospital and was returning home in the ambulance, I could see the clouds breaking through, as the sun set. In the cloud-pictures, I like to think I saw my mother’s smiling face, welcoming me back into our world that she had left so abruptly in 1969.

Since the mid-1970s, I have not been a believer in life after death or supernatural powers. But I like to believe that the mother who gave me birth and, in that sense, lives within me as I breathe, wanted to complete her life cruelly cut short. She could not live it out fully herself.

Now I like to believe she was giving me, her son, a chance to live out his life -- and her life -- again. She lives in my memoir. Click on the links, alongside this post, to read the five parts.


When I came back home, everything about my lifestyle would change completely: food and diet, regular exercise; yoga for stress management.

For opening my eyes to these neglected facts of life, I have to thank Dr. Dean Ornish’s "Program for Reversing Heart Disease: The Only System Scientifically Proven to Reverse Heart Disease Without Drugs or Surgery ". The book explains the kinds of food to eat and what to avoid, as well as the need for regular exercise and stress management through yoga.

Thank you, Ashok Gopal, for giving me the book. And D. for caring.

Dean Ornish, M.D., is the founder and president of the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, USA.

The first edition of Dean Ornish's Reversing Heart Disease, was published by Random House in 1990 and is available as a Ballantine paperback in India for Rs 250-300, depending on the discount. The 640-page book is priced 8 US dollars.


First, food and diet.

When I look back at what I used to eat, especially the fried stuff (samosas, batata-wadas, bhaji, namkeen or farsan) and the bakery products, loaded with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils(butter, cakes, pattice, nankatai biscuits), I know now how I was inviting trouble.

Today, I resist these dangerously tasty items as pictures on menu-cards. I can identify them as the junk that clogs my arteries. And I turn my mouth away -- resolutely towards fruits and green leafy vegetables.

Second, regular exercise.

Having travelled like a gypsy (during my railway childhood and full-timer youth), I had reached the still stage, when I would return home tired and unwilling to travel -- from the living-room, to the bed-room, to the kitchen!!!

You can imagine how this shocking lack of exercise, combined with the “exertion” of lectures and the sedentary office was harming my body.

Third, yoga for stress management.

Dean Ornish opened my eyes to our India viraasat -- yoga and deep breathing, something I knew well, but was not doing. Yoga helps me to manage stress.

Even today, a five-minute stint of pranayam is sufficient to help me withstand the “chhote shaitans” (little devils) on Pune roads, darting about on their two-wheelers.

By February 2007, my weight had dropped from 87 kg to 65 kg. I managed to lose 22 kg during the first six months of my illness. My shirts and trousers hung around me like I was wearing a bedsheet, and I had to stitch new sets of clothes. This was the result of a strict fat-free diet, a regular brisk walk and yoga.


Like all heart patients, I am struggling daily to keep to the strict regimen, suggested by Dean Ornish. Fortunately, I had had built up strong will-power, having given up smoking in 1982, after 11 years of being a chain-smoker.

I can resist the oily fried foods and crisp crunchy bakery products that I used to relish. For this, I have to thank my wife and daughter for supporting me to say, "NO!!!". My father had taught me yoga, which I always enjoyed. But I did not fully appreciate its deep and intimate connection with stress management.

What I find most difficult is to take a brisk 40-minute walk –- six days a week -- the cardiac exercise that my heart needs most.

So, I try to close my eyes and think of the Yeshwantrao Chavan municipal garden that forms one corner of the Shiv Darshan chowk (junction), near our Aapli cooperative housing society.

I first became friends with the mud and stones; trees, plants, dried fallen leaves and blooming flowers; crows and cats, in this small garden when I used to walk in it every day from the first week of December 2006. But I am sorry that I do not meet my natural friends as often as I must and I promise myself that I shall not let my body down.

With a lot of help from my family, friends, colleagues and students, I have humbly resisted the temptations that seduced me in the bad old days and unlearned some of the harmful habits that dragged me down.

Started on 2 October 2008, my blog has also helped me to swim "Against the Tide". As a part of the healing therapy that I have devised for myself, my blog has rebuilt and sustained a lifestyle that is healthy for me.

Thank you all. Your good wishes and messages carry me on. I look forward eagerly to your love and caring, as I enter my Year 4.

Your support is my strength,
- Joe.

Pune, India, Sunday, 30 August 2009.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Fight the H1N1 flu with facts, not fear

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

The title “Fight the flu with facts, not fear” of this post is borrowed from an excellent report entitled, “To fight flu, facts not fear” (30 July 2009, Indian Express, Pune edition), written by Anuradha Mascarenhas, one of Pune’s outstanding journalists.

On Saturday, 8 August, we took our daughter for screening, since she had high fever for two days. I reached the municipal dispensary at 9.30 am. The Dr Dwarkanath Kotnis Memorial Municipal Dispensary, locally called Gadikhana, is located in the heart of old Pune city, near Mandai (the old market area). This was two days after August 6, the 64th anniversary of the dropping of the A-bomb on Hiroshima by the USA.

While waiting, I spoke with some civic employees. One of them was upset that some well-off people seemed to look down upon the civic dispensary. He felt rich folk wanted the government to allow private doctors and hospitals to treat the flu, because they did not want to mix with poor people and get treated in government hospitals. A rickshaw driver also told me that a lot of “shrimant” people, who were his customers, resented that they had to wait in queues at the govt hospitals.

This is a reflection of the sad state of public health in India. The rich have their private hospitals and the poor have to fend for themselves in govt hospitals. I have stayed in Britain and marvel as well as envy the wonderful National Health Service, which even the free-maketeering Thatcherites were unable to dismantle. This is a topic of debate and I want your comments on this point.


When my wife and daughter arrived, we went to the first floor. There were around 50-60 persons waiting in two queues. One queue started near the staircase, at one end of the corridor. Here two clerks were issuing case papers. After you got a case paper, you stood in another queue to meet the doctor.

I did not go in, but my wife said the doctors were deciding, whether to take the throat swab or not and send you to Naidu Hospital for testing, on the basis of whether you had come in contact with a positive patient or you had certain symptoms.

So, on the basis of the screening, our daughter was sent home with some medicine. This “testing protocol” seemed inadequate. The next day, 7 August, I heard the government and doctors felt the H1N1 virus was getting “entrenched in the local community” and, therefore, anyone having the symptoms should be sent to Naidu Hospital for a throat swab and test. This is the proper way, but I do not know whether it is being done.

The other impression one gets is that the municipal doctors may not be sending you for the test because, they say, it is “expensive”. If you insist that a test be done, they tell you that the test costs Rs. 10,000 and not everyone who asks for it will be tested. This naturally makes people anxious. Fortunately, our daughter’s fever lasted for two days and has now subsided.

Deepthy Menon, Mumbai Bureau chief, Times Now, was also down in Pune covering the flu. I could not go to meet her, since I am a heart patient and did not want to risk going into the crowded Naidu or Sassoon Hospital areas.

This makes me wonder: I hope our journalists are taking proper precautions while covering the flu, since they are going into crowded areas where there a large number of patients, some of whom maybe carriers. I wish that my students and colleagues keep their health while covering this difficult assignment. This is part of the job, an occupational hazard.

As I was touching up this post, I spoke to Deepthy (an SIMC alumni) and she told me that she was at home with a cold. She had none of the three key symptoms (a sore throat and cough; a running nose; breathlessness), but since she was covering Naidu and Sassoon Hospitals in Pune, I told her she must point this out to the doctor and ensure she gets tested. I called her again, Wednesday, 19 August. She's at home, tested negative for the flu, recovering.

Journalists like doctors, nurses and other care-givers fall in the high-risk vulnerable groups. Take care.


I think many newspapers in Pune, especially TV channels (my bugbear), more so the Marathi vahini like Star Mazha and IBN Lokmat, are adding to the scare by repeatedly showing photos of people in masks and long queues. This frightens citizens into a panic. Can’t they display comforting visuals? Also the copy and the sound bytes are hyped up and the headlines scream out at you.

On the other hand, a heart-warming story entitled, “Swine flu work in process” (IE, Pune, 9 August 2009) by Anuradha Mascarenhas educates us gently. She has described in detail the hard-working scientists and technicians of the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, doing their job quietly. This is the kind of patient, routine, groundwork that goes on – nameless, faceless and unsung.

(Their work reminded me of my early days in Maharashtra Herald as a sub-editor from 1983 onwards. Subs correct grammar and spellings, touch up the body, iron out the creases and wrinkles, give an eye-grabbing headline and place the story where it will surely be read as soon as the reader picks up the morning paper. But the subs remain – nameless, faceless and unsung.)

By putting human names and warm faces to the “scientific” detectives at NIV tracking down the deadly virus, Anuradha has made accessible and credible what is hidden from the public, behind a veil of needless official secrecy. But nowhere has she glorified the scientific workers and created “celebrities” out of these diligent government servants, whom it has currently become fashionable to malign.

Let us thank Dr. A. C. Mishra, Director, NIV, and Dr. M. S. Chadha, Deputy Director, NIV, with their sincere team as well as the competent government authorities, for permitting Anuradha to write this report. I have covered the NIV beat and I know what it means to have public-minded scientists cooperating and collaborating with journalists in order to educate the public.

I have watched Anuradha blossom into an outstanding journalist, first at Maharashtra Herald and then Indian Express, both in Pune. She is a gold medallist from the Department of Communication and Journalism, University of Pune. I am proud of her as a colleague and wish her all that she deserves. Click here for her stories on the IE website.

Anuradha’s stories serve another public purpose. On behalf of the people of Pune, her stories are an open way of thanking the NIV team for their hard work and sincere efforts – beyond the call of duty and the monthly pay-packet.

Easy it is to criticise government officials. But difficult it is to say a good word when they do a fine job, in adverse circumstances against what Dr Margaret Chan, D-G, WHO, calls a “capricious” virus. By her stories, Anuradha says “Thank you!” to the scientists on our behalf.


Another journalist who is doing excellent work educating the Pune public, rather than driving them into hysteria, is Vinita Deshmukh, editor of the weekly Intelligent Pune (iPune). She was a recipient of the Chameli Devi Jain award for Outstanding Woman Mediaperson for 2008-09.

The iPune has written about the work being done by government hospitals in Pune, "Kudos to Naidu Hospital" by Piyush Kumar Tripathi (31 July - 6 August 2009, iPune). This piece appeared when there were 59 cases (256 cases by 10 August) in Pune and even before the first death due to the H1N1 virus took place in Pune on 3 August.

At a time when most newspapers were criticising the government for its response, the iPune report shows how the Naidu Hospital doctors, nurses and staff are rising to the occasion and boosts their morale.


Here are some links that you may find useful.

First, the swine influenza link on the NIV site, which leads you to other important links and documents. You can also call NIV on two phone numbers during the day. But make sure do not trouble them needlessly. They are busy doing our work day-and-night.

Second, the guidelines on the World Health Organisation (WHO) site. I found the FAQs, especially “What can I do?” most valuable. Navigate this site and unearth treasures here.

Third, the general information section on the H1N1 flu at the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Here I found “What to do if you get flu-like symptoms” factual and hence reassuring. This site also has a wealth of facts and figures.

Four, we have the site of our Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Govt. of India. Please follow the instructions given here. There is also offcial data on this site. If you want to make our elected representatives answerable to the people, this is a site to monitor.

Since a lot of us are probably wearing masks, Rujuta Teredesai sent me this useful WHO advice on wearing masks. Click here.

These are some of the websites and pieces I talked about in the beginning of this post that will help us “Fight the H1N1 flu with facts, not fear”. Let us hope that, with facts and figures getting the upper hand, the man-made panic and the media-fed frenzy subsides.

Drink lots of water and wash your hands - two simple precautions we all must take. Take care.

Your support is my strength.
- Joe.

Pune, India, Monday, 10 August 2009, the day after Nagasaki Day.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sakal ‘incites mischief’ against teachers

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

The test of a working journalist and editor is how you care about what appears in your newspaper at times of conflict and confrontation. For I believe that readers are extra-receptive to what their favourite newspaper says – when the atmosphere is charged, for example, during riots or strikes.

That is why I was outraged by the headline and caption of a photograph that appeared in one of Pune’s most highly respected and honourable Marathi newspapers. Currently, more than 30,000 senior college teachers are on strike in Maharashtra, demanding that the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission should be also applied to them – without discrimination.

For me, the question is: “Should self-respecting senior college teachers be forced to resort to a strike, in order to compel the Maharashtra Government to give them what the Union Government has decreed is their rightful due?” The simple answer is, “No! The teachers must be given what the Government has promised them.” Framed in this way, the demand of the striking college teachers seems fair and just.

But let us look at how Sakal, one of Maharashtra’s most highly respected newspapers presents the case of the striking teachers. I was advised to rely on Sakal for honest and accurate reporting, ever since I joined Maharashtra Herald as a sub-editor in 1983. Some of my journalist colleagues, whom I respect and admire, belong to this paper. The first and foremost of them was the late Varun Bhide, one of the most fearless and honest journalists I have met and known. The list of the others is long and illustrious. So it is not easy for me to criticise it.

Let me describe the photograph, since I have not been able to download it from the electronic edition of this paper, which is more than 75 years old. The colour photo, is placed in a box in the top left-hand corner, extending across columns 1 to 4 in an 8-column grid on page 3 of the main Pune edition, dated Thursday, 30 July 2009.

The photograph is datelined Solapur, a district town, midway on the railroad between Pune and Hyderabad. It portrays in the left foreground a lone woman labourer breaking stones by the roadside. Beyond the pile of stones, a morcha (procession) of teachers is passing by. The morcha shows a group of female teachers followed by male teachers in the winding distance. One of the women teachers is holding a placard, “We demand salary and allowances according to the Sixth Pay Commission”.

But the five-word headline, in single inverted commas, pulled my eye out of its morning socket, ‘Ahe re ani nahin re’ (‘The haves and have-nots’). If it was not for this provocative headline, I would not have read the caption. But the ‘inequality’ caption stirred me. I must confess my socialist, nay communist, leanings at the outset so that a fair disclosure helps the reader to put my outrage into context.

Let me reproduce the caption in Marathi and then translate it into English: “Solapur: Pach aakdi pagar ghenara; pan tohi pota sathi kami padtoy, ase mhanat Sahavya Vetan Aayoga sathi morcha kadhnara pradhyapak varga ani tyach barobar potachi tich-bhar khalgi bharnya sathi khadi phodat sangharsh karnarya kashtakari vargache pratinidhitva karnari mahila ekach chhaya-chitrat disat aheth. Solapur Vidyapeethachya parisarat tiplele chhaya-chitra. (Photographer: Ramdas Katkar)

My translation cannot capture the raw punch of the original in Marathi: “Getting a five-figure salary; but saying that too is not enough for the stomach, the teaching class takes out a morcha, demanding implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission. On the other hand a woman labourer, representing the struggling working class, breaks stones to fill her tiny hollow stomach. Both can be seen in the same photograph near Solapur University.” (Photo: Ramdas Katkar)

When my eye had subsided into its socket and my outrage had calmed, I rang up a senior journalist (also a close friend) from Sakal, whose name I shall not reveal. I told him that the text of the caption horrified me. I told him that Sakal was telling its readers that the striking teachers were not satisfied with their five-figure salaries and were greedily demanding more. By sharp contrast, here was this poor woman, breaking stones to fill the tiny hollow of her stomach.

Sakal was pitting the class of teachers against the working class, using the photograph as an excuse. I accused Sakal of ‘inciting mischief’ against the striking teachers, with the hidden agenda of depriving teachers from getting any sympathy for their just and fair demands.

The senior journalist from Sakal thought differently. He argued that the photograph merely depicted the inequality (vishamta) existing in society and no other meaning should be attributed to the caption and headline. I told him I would write a letter to the editor spelling out my outrage.

Over the last three days, I have been thinking out the contents of the letter I said I would write to the editor of Sakal. Now I have decided NOT to send that letter and instead express my views on my blog.

What is the point of getting a small letter published on the edit page? Enormous damage has already been done. In one stroke, a five-word headline (in inverted commas) and a three-liner 39-word caption have declared that the teaching community in Maharashtra should be satisfied with what they have and not strike for more.

This is an attempt to sway the public and ensure that the striking teachers do not get the sympathy they deserve for their fair and just demands? Is this the power of the higly respected and honourable Sakal: “power without responsibility”?

I would like to have your free, frank, fearless … and fair comments.

Your support is my strength.
- Joe.

Pune, India, Sunday, 2 August 2009.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Dubai seen in the words of a philosopher

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

A philosopher, whose words are among the most derided today, wrote in 1848, “A spectre is haunting Europe.” More than 160 years later, no such spectre may haunt the world. But for me, he made common sense when I visited Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) recently.

The visit was strictly personal. I came back refreshed and replenished. But I cannot conceal that it was also political. I recalled a phrase, hanging from the threads of the flower children from the 1960s and 1970s, resisting the Vietnam War: “the personal is the political”, a slogan that was also central to the feminist movement.

The waiter wiped the table with tissue paper

A close relative took me to a family restaurant for breakfast. Outside, it was Dubai in June: hot and humid; cars and concrete. Inside, it could have been any Indian city, any time of the year: dosas and filter coffee; spicy conversation dripping from Indian tongues.

Except, the waiter wiped the table with tissue paper.

I glanced at him. His face reminded me of the waiters who served us at Raj Mahal, an Udipi hotel in Dhobi Talao, Mumbai, when I was studying at St Xavier’s College. I have not seen this happen, anywhere in India. We had our fill of sheera and dosas with chutneys. But as we left by car, our personal meal became my first political insight.

My feelings grew firmer as I rambled for ten days. During a lunch, a student described how she was afraid that Dubai had exploded from a fishing community for a thousand years (dates, pearls) into one of the most modern cities of the world – since the first shipment of oil in 1969, and, more so, within her own memory of barely two decades!

So when I returned to Pune, I dug out and re-read my famous philosopher. This is how I propose to write this post: a sentence or paragraph (in bold italics) from the little book by the famous philosopher; then my observations and reflections. I will try and see Dubai in the words of the philosopher, who dared to change the world.

“The discovery of America, the rounding of the Cape (of Good Hope), opened up fresh ground … The East-Indian and Chinese markets, the colonisation of America, trade with the colonies … gave to commerce, to navigation, to industry, an impulse never before known, and thereby … a rapid development. … Modern industry has established the world-market …”

Everywhere in Dubai, you can ‘see’ money shining; and ‘feel’ the naked power of finance capital with “C” in capitals of concrete and steel: in the flashy cars, on the smooth roads, in the magic malls, the Jebel Ali Free Trade Zone; and on people (present on the rich, absent on the poor).

And at the seven-star Atlantis The Palm Hotel, during a fashion show, someone mocked with envy, “Can you see the recession anywhere here, eh?” Merely the air-conditioning had already frozen the marrow of my bones into ice.

“The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere. The bourgeoisie … has been the first to show what man’s activity can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals ... ”

Tens of huge cool towers lined up the big, main road like two rows of pillars holding up the hot sky. There is sand where I stand. I pinch myself awe-struck at the lawns in the desert. That Dubai is being erected in the twenty-first century does not detract from it being branded a wonder.

As a young man I had read ‘The City of the Yellow Devil’ by the Soviet writer Maxim Gorky (1868-1936). Moving around Dubai in 2009, I knew how Gorky must have despaired when he visited New York in 1906 and published his essay in Appleton’s Magazine, an American publication in August of that year.

Dubai is an ever-changing tribute to world-class quality. The far-sighted and liberal rulers of Dubai have an unparalleled vision that is transforming the emirate into a niche of excellence. The city is shooting up like an adolescent teenager attached to a jet engine.

Like 24x7 ants, thousands of construction workers, from all corners of the world (from India: Kerala, coastal Karnataka, Goa, Bihar, U.P., A.P., Bangladesh), fabricate entire floors of skyscrapers in days. Just the car parks in the basement are three stories tall.

“The bourgeoisie has put an end to … idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the … ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors’, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment.’

Here I should only update my philosopher with the latest touch-screen ATMs and swiping credit cards.

“(The bourgeosie) has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value. And it has set up that single, un-conscionable freedom -- Free Trade.”

Like Ibn-Batuta, I scoured the ‘free trade’ malls. Like Diogenes of Athens, I walked through the ‘Mall of the Emirates’ window-shopping for the countless things I did NOT need. The two books I bought: for me, The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosentiel (second edition, 2007, Three Rivers Press); for my close relative, Maverick by Ricardo Semler. Leaving, at the airport, I was shaken by the last-moment scramble in duty-free Dubai; the key-words here being “free to buy”.

“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society … Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch … All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

Since our summer vacations with our grand-parents, I had known that generations of my native brothers and sisters had abandoned the comfort of red mud, coconut villages, scattered along the Canara coast, around Mangalore, and migrated to the Gulf in search of the good life.

Serving as an editor in the land of my ancestors, where Konkani is the official language, I had heard of ‘Goan Gulfies’, men who came back with finger-thick gold chains dangling from their necks.

In 1967, when I passed Class 11, a close relative of my father had gifted me a Sovar Prima watch – made in Switzerland, bought in Saudi Arabia, worn in Mumbai. On formal occasions, I still wear it as a precious heirloom.

On our journey back from Dubai, we bought a gift for a baby, newly born into our extended family. The baby dress: made in China, bought in Dubai, was given to the baby’s father in Pune, to be worn by the baby in California, USA.

But a wise NRI shopkeeper in Meena Bazar, Dubai, saved me from the embarrassment of buying an expensive Italian shirt made of Egyptian cotton. He advised me that the finest cotton was Indian, made by Century and Arvind, and available along Pune’s very own Laxmi Road. (“All that is solid (cotton) melts in the (Dubai) air.”)

I have returned from Dubai – humbled and chastened.

Sitting here at my Fujitsu-Siemens laptop (“All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify.”), I dwell in my mind’s eye upon my beautiful, special and different nephew, Adrian Terence D’Souza.

"With sober senses", I visualise the 26 year-old singing Konkani cantara, playing the drums, kicking a football, drawing his blue ‘Time is running out! … Save water!’ picture and laying out the table at the hotel, where he welcomes his honoured guests.

And hot tears roll down my cheek. I hope in international solidarity for my brave brothers and sisters, who toil in Dubai. Peace and love to you, mates.

This then is my Dubai, seen in the words of a philosopher.

Your support is my strength,
- Joe.

Pune, India, Sunday, 19th July 2009.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Our World is Connected. Why isn’t Education? – Part 2

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

“Few colleges today seem to know how learning will happen on campuses,” my dear friend and colleague, Shashidhar Nanjundaiah, had asserted last Sunday in Part 1 of his loud-thinking on the inter-disciplinary approach to education.

Shashi went on to ask, “So how can educational institutions in India change their educational methodology to make our students think independently and constantly ask themselves questions?”

“Simple,” said Shashi, “Teach our students how to ask questions and how to seek out answers. To achieve this aim, independent and proactive learning is imperative. One way is to allow interdisciplinary research projects that will help students apply those linkages.”


Shashi is grateful for the informed response to his piece on my blog, “The comments were so pertinent that I was compelled to respond, each time. The response speaks volumes of the quality of your readers, and their ability to think along with their writers. Clearly, you have been building an important niche here.

“I view the whole corpus of responses to my piece as a sort of a synecdoche for the kind of participative education, I’ve been clamouring for. Participative education involves:

- thinking through the content,
- relating it to the reader’s own life experiences,
- sharing the response based on an amalgamation of those experiences,
- the knowledge earned from the piece and
- critical thinking that we are all endowed with.

This process of participative education invaluably adds to our overall body of knowledge."

To all those who commented on Part 1, thank you so much. To all those who read the piece and had an opinions but did not comment, I urge you to write a few lines, now that you have the entire article in front of you. Part 2 of his piece follows:


Our World is Connected. Why isn’t Education? – Part 2

By Shashidhar Nanjundaiah *

Our world does not have walls.

For a change, let education mime life.

Why were some of us made to take a specific combination of subjects at college – Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics or Biology at pre-university; then Physics, Chemistry or Mathematics at the graduate level?

Why not a mix of Physics, English Literature and Geography? Is it because the makers of education policy wanted to make sure the degrees they were awarding were either a ‘B.Sc.’ or a ‘B.A.’ or a “B.Com”?


The easiest thing for students to understand would be linkages across disciplines in the professional world. “Interdisciplinary” indicates that our learning needs to be across disciplines, not just in one discipline, and linking disciplines along the way.

The Harvard Business School, in its review seminar in November 2008, felt that its MBAs were increasingly becoming irrelevant in a globalizing world. The solution? Their MBA programs will become increasingly interdisciplinary in approach.

If each level of higher education provided the following to our budding managers, communicators and, even, techies, each of us would feel far more educated than we do today:

- Provide input in a variety of general subjects – Geography, History, Statistics, Economics, Psychology, to name a few – but convert that input in an applied way; applied to the student’s major field of study. All it takes is a refresher course of what we already learnt at school. But this time around, the subjects are linked to the profession that we have chosen.

In a survey I conducted in late 2008, senior industry practitioners and hiring managers in India, USA and UK unanimously agreed that this approach would provide a more global world-view and make students more employable.

- Allow students to choose independent research projects. Then allow them to choose which subjects would be most useful to their project. They could then choose which classes to take. The successful completion of an interdisciplinary project is a sure way of making graduates think analytically and to break down academic walls.

- Take the interdisciplinary approach, whereby curriculum experts and teachers collaborate to carefully ‘map’ the content of a subject on to the desired learning outcome.

(For example, in a management institute, that goal could be to produce an effective manager, equipped with a well-rounded world-view and sound judgment. A question we could be asking ourselves in designing such a course is, “Which portions of, say, Psychology, would be most relevant to a manager?”)


Why are we learning what we’re learning? This is the trickiest question, of them all.

Why was I doing all that burette-pipette color-change stuff in the school lab? Why did I need to know the laws of probability? Did I ever question why I needed to know that Akbar died in 1605, while I didn’t know what his contribution was to our modern society?

The answer is: we don’t know. Input (and output) among a majority of our educational institutions has been largely tools-oriented. If you asked professional graduates why they should or ought to know what they know, a large percentage would draw a blank.

The global marketplace is more demanding of broader skill-sets than before. The requirement set is solutions-driven: a combination of technological, professional, business, social and life skills – and much more that is intangible.

No longer is it enough to “super-specialize” – there is more demand for multi-skilled multi-specialists and generalists, who can adapt to specific environments. While some of these skills may evolve over time, many of them need a fundamental change in the way academic institutions think.


Unesco’s four noble principles of learning

UNESCO’s International Commission on Education for the 21st Century states that education must be organized around four types of learning:
– learning to know, that is acquiring the instruments of understanding;
– learning to do, so as to be able to act creatively in one’s environment;
– learning to live together, so as to participate and cooperate with other people in all human activities; and
– learning to be, a progression toward sustainable existence.

The true integration of these four principles can only occur when learning is the acquisition of skills for employment and/or entrepreneurship.


Right now, our system does not allow students to understand and use the interdisciplinary nature of their professional world. Some of us educators have pontificated on the application of subjects to the dreaded ‘real world’.

Some of the more daring ones among us have even attempted to point out what ought to have been the obvious: that the subjects we teach have a bearing on our life’s experiences.

But very few educators have attempted to show how. Further, few, if any, have attempted to draw linkages between subjects, or areas of study.

The integration and interaction of disciplines at once widens the boundaries, but expects an employee to quickly learn to specialize. It is important to recognize that education is only a trigger to learn, and often results in individuals understanding their own capabilities in a better way.


* Shashidhar Nanjundaiah was the Founding Director of the Pune-based Indira School of Communication (ISC) in 2004. For the first time in India, ISC modestly attempted an interdisciplinary approach. He was also the Director of the Symbiosis Institute of Mass Communication, Pune, and the Managing Editor of The Indian Express (North American Editions), New York.

Shashi now consults for educational institutions and is building an international college of interdisciplinary studies in India.

For more insight on the interdisciplinary approach, visit an interview dated 21 October 2008 with the author in “Higher Education Management”, founded by Keith Hampson, PhD. To read the full interview, click here.

You may also write directly to Shashi at: OR

To all my dear readers who took the care and trouble to comment on Part 1: we thank you so much. To all who read the piece and had an opinion, but did not comment: we urge you to write this time, now that you have the entire article in front of you.

Please comment now, before you proceed to read the rest of my blog for this Sunday.

Stand up and be counted ...

A judgement of the Delhi High Court thrilled me -- no end.

I remembered with love and affection my dear friend from the 1970s, Askok Row Kavi of Mumbai, a bold journalist and daring editor for his pioneering magazine, Bombay Dost. I have supported the struggle Bombay Dost put up "against the tide" for all humans with a different sexuality.

In my classes, since 1987 in Pune, my students have learned to respect, promote and support various "minority" issues: the beautiful, special and different peoples and causes of our world. One of the reasons why I gave my blog the title, "Against the Tide" is to highlight "minority" issues and the resistance put up by minority groups and peoples.

For example, I have been asking some of my best students, who care deeply about stray dogs, to write about the persecution these street animals face from otherwise sane and respectable citizens.

Though we had pet dogs at home when we were children in Solapur and Manmad, my mother cared deeply about strays. In a quiet moment she would take me aside and warn me that, if I did not care deeply for and sustain my mother tongue, Konkani, this beautiful and ancient language could be annihilated like the stray dogs of this world.

Other issues are strictly not minority issues, but need to be taken up "as if" they affected a minority. For example in Pune, can you imagine that citizens have to campaign for pavements to walk upon? The rights of pedestrians are being neglected in Pune, while civic authorities are creating a city that is friendly for two-wheelers and cars.

Most citizens have to walk at some time or the other; so apparently pedestrian rights seem to concern the majority. But since the "right to walk safely" is being trampled upon, protecting pedestrian rights becomes a minority issue.

Lovers of trees, open spaces, gardens, the hill slopes, small water bodies, rivers, also have to be constantly vigilant. Trees, gardens and open spaces, that cannot protect themselves, are under threat.

My friend, Vinita Deshmukh, who edits the small but courageous weekly newspaper, Intelligent Pune, would say the Right to Information (RTI) law is also a key minority issue that needs to be stoutly defended, considering how even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wants to scuttle this pro-people legislation by making “notings” by bureaucrats exempt from its purview.

We each can and ought to pick our own minority issue to campaign for. This is what makes us a democratic society, where citizens participate in governance and not merely vote in elections.

Your support is my strength,
- Joe.

Pune, India, Sunday, 12th July 2009.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Our World is Connected. Why isn’t Education? – Part 1

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

Not just film-stars and cricketers, but journalists, editors and directors of educational institutions are greedy to become celebrities. Soon, there are no engrossing movies, no great cricket matches, no facts in our newspapers, no editorials inspiring us to thought and action and no "drawing forth" of young minds.

On the 9th of June, I met again with Shashi Nanjundaiah in Pune. Some of you are his students, when he was a director at SIMC and then a founding director of the Indira School of Communication in 2004 in Pune. Others may have taught at the places he gave direction to.

I admire him. Shashi is different. He is not a celebrity. Shashi is committed to excellence in the quality of education.

Like some of my editor friends who can still write and inspire their readers to action, but unlike some cricketers who spend less time on the field but more seconds on the TV screen endorsing brands, Shashi thinks deeply and acts.

We sat with coffee and idlis at Wadeshwar Restaurant on F.C. Road, catching up with the waters that passed under Lakdi Pul. Soon the minutes passed into hours. What was it that swallowed our time? When we finished our academic conversation, I asked Shashi to write, for my blog, a piece about the inter-disciplinary approach in education, that gripped his mind. Here it is:


Our World is Connected. Why isn’t Education? – Part 1

By Shashidhar Nanjundaiah *

Can you imagine a switch that lights up each time there is mail in your outdoor postal mailbox, and another switch transfers the mail indoors through a pipe? Suitable for the elderly, especially in treacherous weather. Too American? Well, that’s because it is.

Recently, I had an opportunity to attend an "Invention Convention" for school children up to nine years, whose products were chosen from about 10 schools in rural Warren County in New Jersey, USA — certainly not known for scientific geniuses.

The children came up with products that were practical, and provided practical answers to some household and social problems of modern American life. What impressed me even more than the design elements was the preparation of the school children to explain, pitch, market and sell effectively.

The mail-switch product, fully functional, was one such on display there — designed by an 8-year-old, sparkling-eyed, shy young woman of Indian origin. (Would it surprise us, if this young woman went on to do something innovative in her career?) There were 20 such products on display.

The ability of the students to come up with complete solutions, suitable for their local community, reflected their ability to identify a need, engage with their local environment and think seamlessly between physics, the social sciences, economics, design, as well as theory and common sense. They did so, in their own way, independently, and with some simple but effective guidance from their teachers.

Are our professional graduates employable?

Higher education in India typically suffers from "little creation of knowledge". This was a conclusion reached at a 2006 seminar called Washington Symposium NAFSA: Association of International Educators. They probably stopped short of another obvious fact: the lack of knowledge creation in our campuses is a major reason that many of our professional graduates may not be "employable".

Less than 25 percent of our country’s professional graduates are employable, says a Government of India research. As Michael Spence said in the 1970s, and Infosys's Chief Mentor N. R. Narayanamurthy echoed more recently, educational institutes have merely become a captive space, from where employers pick up inherently bright students.


We have heard the rhetoric from management gurus and industry experts about the category of Indian professional graduates, who are largely unemployable:

- Employees who lack the ability to apply classroom education to the professions. In particular, fresh graduates who lack the ability to analyze situations from an all-round or 360-degree approach.

- Students from institutions, typically restricted by lack of quality input and innovative teachers.

- Graduates who do not know the basic facts about their environment and their world and, in general, have neither developed a world-view nor can they independently analyze professional situations.

- Graduates who do not have the ability or attitude to learn — that supreme capability of problem-solving, to constantly ask fundamental (and original) questions and to seek out innovative answers.


Unfortunately, the above list would include a majority of professional graduates and institutions in India. Individual talent will always continue to shine through, despite the system. But systemically, educational training in India does not prepare our graduates to solve problems in a practical world, where they must apply their field of study, as well as put their worldviews and life skills to test.

Surely, the education system in India and we cannot look the other way, while our industries (Infy itself, for example) are starting their own training institutes to transform professional graduates into employable professional graduates?

And it's not content that’s the problem, is it? Information is at our fingertips today — literally. It is the structure of learning, or pedagogy, that's dubious. Few colleges today seem to know how learning will happen on campuses.

So how can educational institutions in India change their educational methodology to make our students think independently and constantly ask themselves questions?

Simple: teach them how to ask questions and how to seek out answers. To achieve this aim, independent and proactive learning is imperative. One way is to allow interdisciplinary research projects that will help students apply those linkages.

(To be continued. Part 2 will appear Sunday, 12 July.)

* Shashidhar Nanjundaiah was the Founding Director of the Pune-based Indira School of Communication (ISC), which modestly attempted an interdisciplinary approach, for the first time in India. He was also the Director of the Symbiosis Institute of Media & Communication (SIMC), Pune, and the Managing Editor of The Indian Express (North American Editions), New York. He now consults for educational institutions and is building an international college of interdisciplinary studies in India.

For more insight on the interdisciplinary approach, visit an interview dated 21 October 2008 with the author in "Higher Education Management" founded by Keith Hampson, PhD. To read the full interview, click here.

Email: He is also on Facebook.

Before you proceed with the rest of my blog below, Shashi and I would be grateful for your comments on his paper.

From Dubai, with my mother's song-book

We returned from Dubai on 29 June. That is one reason I missed my post last Sunday. Along with precious memories of :-

- a great holiday in the home of my only dearest sister Flavia;
- early morning walks and the smoothest of car drives with my brother-in-law Michael (more like a brother, actually);
- heart-to-heart chats with my two sprightly nieces, Rochelle (& Pradeep) and Nisha (& Roshan), and playing with their five wonderful kids;
- getting in touch with our umpteen relatives;
- breakfast with Reuven Proenca and lunch with Mansi Shah and Gunjan Chaurasia, three of my best students;
- and, above all, getting to re-know my beautiful, special and different nephew, Adrian Terence D'Souza, (click here to vote)

I have come home with a photo-copy of -- my mother's songbook!

More about Dubai, culled from this 12-day visit, in a later post. And more, gloriously much more, about my mother's 70-year-old song-book, when I can see again through the tears of the 40 years gone by, without her lovely smile.


Look up the links of the "Blogs I Care About" displayed on the right, alongside this post. Most of the blogs are by my students, friends and colleagues. If you are the proud author of a blog, but it's not here on my list, please let me know in the comments section or email me at: sangatizuzay(at)gmail(dot)com.

Another year of learning beckons -- for you and for me. For some of us, learning will ignite in busy work places; for others learning will crackle within the four quiet walls of our homes. For me, a fresh batch of moist home-sick eyes and clean student ears will be eager to listen at SIMC, Ranade, Garware and the other places in Pune, where I learn. And what of learning for you, my dear students, friends, and colleagues?

At every desk, we weigh our words; walk the slack of balancing editorial policy with our conscience; shun the limelight; hold our heads high; censor the celebrity; protect the poor with compassion; "give peace a chance"; swim against the rich tide; lest we forget the children; leap at the scoop; and sleep the hard peace -- knowing we have done an honest job, fairly.

Your support is my strength,
- Joe.

Pune, India, Sunday, 5th July 2009.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Beautiful, special people enrich my life

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

Most of us ‘normal’ people take our own abilities so much for granted that we keep demanding achievement from ourselves. So people with ‘special’ needs are perceived as ‘beautiful people’ because they put the few abilities they have to such fantastic use that we are astounded by how much they can do – with so little.

Though I will be talking about a sensitive and delicate topic, I reject the ‘politically correct’ (PC) usage that has been devised worldwide during the last few decades. To describe the ‘poor’ as the ‘underclass’ is as much a cover-up as it is a sham when ‘failure’ becomes ‘under-achievement’ or the ‘blind’ are glorified as ‘visually challenged’.

I shall go along with common sense: “Call a spade, a spade”, but avoid any derogatory meaning that lowers the dignity of the human being – disabled or challenged.

Enter: the first and second beautiful persons in my life

When I was doing my B.Sc. in St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, during 1967-71, I used to ‘read’ to a blind student who was doing a brilliant second M.A! Let us call him ‘Dilip’, because I have forgotten his name. We generally recognise people by their names or faces; some of us can distinguish between voices on the telephone. Dilip could identify who was coming up behind him!

Such an unusual ability, I wondered. Till I asked him how he did it. Dilip told me it was hard at first, till he began to listen intently for the small sounds that people made as they walked: from the scraping, stamping, stomping and shuffling of footwear; whether they dragged their feet, hopped lightly, or glided along on their toes.

He described to me his girl-friend who had a slight limp, so she dragged her left foot making a soft, rustling sound, like dried leaves lifted by a breeze, as she brought it up.

Dilip was the first of the beautiful people to enrich my life. The second was ‘Kate’, again a blind girl in Leeds, England, who taught me how to type, when I was 40 years old. She boosted my self-esteem by telling me simply that I could do anything I wanted – only if I desperately wanted to.

And shall I tell you how desperately I wanted to learn how to type? In July 1990, when we went abroad, I worked as a sub-editor in a Pune daily with paper and pen. The local copy was keyed in by our reporters on manual type-writers; the agency copy from UNI or PTI came on the ticker wire.

Then, we subs did the editing by hand and the type-setters re-typed the subbed copy. Even the editorials, I wrote out long-hand or dictated them at one go to our editorial secretary, Duru “ho ja shuru” Tejwani.

That was how I used to work in Maharashtra Herald, Pune, before I noticed in Leeds, England, that in all the Yorkshire newspapers, the subs used computers and knew how to type. I could see no way out but to learn – typing. The dread of what could happen to me, if I did not learn how to type was so strong that one night I had a dream.

In my nightmare, I saw myself standing outside Pune railway station with a begging bowl in hand crying out to passers-by, “De re Allah! De re Ram!” Because I had lost my job as a sub, since I did not know how to type!

That is when Kate came to my rescue. I had learnt simple keyboard skills using a Typing Tutor, due to the kindness of Peter Coltman from Leeds University. But where would I practise my novice skills? Kate used to come daily -- led by her Labrador guide dog -- to manage a Braille centre on the Red Route and she gave me the task of typing out an entire book on South Asian history for the reading pleasure of blind students. And so I learned me how to type diligently.

The art competition for Beautiful People in Dubai

Meanwhile, another ‘beautiful’ person was growing up far away from Pune in my native Mangalore: Adrian Terence D’Souza was born in 1983 to my sister Flavia and brother-in-law Michael. My sister had noticed he was unusually quiet as a baby and the shape of his forehead looked different from the two older sisters he had. Soon he was diagnosed as a child with Down’s Syndrome (DS).

Today Adrian “Manu” D’Souza is 26 years old and I had the wonderful opportunity to be with him during our stay at my sister’s home in Dubai since 17 June. (We will be here till 29 June.) My sister tells me Adrian has taken to painting during the last one year at the JamJar, Dubai, an activity organised by START, one of whose founders is the Al Madad Foundation.

The gorgeous evidence of Adrian’s slow and steady learning is not only scattered around their home but his picture has also been selected as one of 38 artworks as part of a Beautiful People competition. (Hence, the words "beautiful people" in the title of this post). Ms. Wemmy de Maaker introduced Beautiful People to my sister and other parents of children with special needs and is actively involved with the project in Dubai.

But at the outset, I declare a conflict of interest. Since Adrian is my ‘special’ nephew, I cannot be impartial in judging his ability. But I say he's good. Look for yourself and please vote for Adrian.

Adrian Terence D'Souza (26), my beautiful, special, different nephew

But there are 37 other special, beautiful and different people there too -- all of them already winners. So if you like them, you may vote for them. But remember one vote only. A vote will encourage beautiful people like Adrian immensely in the long journey of a crore miles.

Fortunately, his father, Mr. Michael D'Souza, Managing Director of Humaid Al Suwaidi, and a native of Puttur near Mangalore, is one of Dubai’s esteemed businessmen in real estate. So Adrian is well cared for.

Drums and soccer with Adrian & friends

What else am I doing in Dubai with this nephew of mine, Adrian, who is swimming against the tide? On 20 June, we go to see him learning the drums and kick football.

(As I write this, he comes up and tells me that I have not finished drinking the water in my mug. I have told him I am writing about him and he reads his own name “A-D-R-I-A-N” out loud.)

He knows the drums already and has a drum set at home, but practice is constantly required as DS kids (like many of us) can forget skills that they have learned. The teacher is Atsu Dagadu from Ghana, who belongs to Dubai Drums, and the session is free, held at the home of a gracious local Emirati lady, Mrs. Hanne Al Gurg.

The 12 kids along with their parents take active part drumming. What strikes me is how attentive the children are, stopping at exactly the point where the teacher tells them to finish off – every time!!! Since Adrian already knows the drums well, he is happy to play along.

Then we go to play soccer at the Hayya Club Meadows. Again a bunch of 10-15 kids are being taught free. Like the drumming this session too is coordinated by All 4 Down’s Syndrome Dubai, a voluntary support group, and the Soccer Kids Club (James Masterman, Ben McBride and group member Ingeborg Kroese)

In soccer, Adrian does not take part as much as the other kids, since he tends to watch the other kids play with his hands on his hips. Only occasionally does he get excited, when the ball is kept in front of him and he is asked to kick – at the goal. Then he gets really charged up.

But I recall there is this little scrawny girl – all so eager and bubbly – who would shoot a goal at one end and then turn the ball around to shoot a goal at the other end, oblivious of the side she belongs to! How she plays the game and scores goals for both sides, a virtue we have abandoned as normal people.

Activities like the soccer and drumming, which I witnessed, is mainly coordinated by the devoted and ever-energetic Sally Pearson, who strives tirelessly to keep the support going in Dubai. Her son Robin too is part of the group.


Sunday in Dubai is NOT the weekly holiday it is in Pune, India. The weekend here starts on Thursday evening and people are back to work on Sunday morning. So on 21 June, I went along with Adrian and his mother (my sister) to the Oasis Court, a hotel of furnished apartments, which is managed by the D’Souza family, especially Ms. Rochelle Lobo, Adrian’s eldest sister.

Adrian has been meticulously trained by his counsellor Ms. Meenakshi Kumar to perform various functions, one of which is working at Oasis Court as a ‘trainee’ in Guest Relations from 9am to 12 noon, five days a week. In the near future, Adrian will also train at Dunes, another hotel of furnished apartments managed by Ms. Nisha D’Souza, his other sister.

Adrian greets the guests with a shy, “Welcome to Oasis Court!” then hands over the keys, TV remote, and other service cards, which familiarise the guests with the amenities available inside the furnished apartment and the facilities offered by the Oasis Court hotel. Finally, he leaves them with a cheery, “Have a good stay!”

To cast your vote for Adrian, please click here.


Dilip in Mumbai, Kate in Leeds, my nephew Adrian in Dubai – three beautiful, special and different people who have enriched and are enriching my life. What can you do to enrich your lives?

Search out with all the compassion in your heart for the support groups in your local area for any beautiful and different people with special needs. Volunteer your knowledge, skills, time and energy to make things happen for them. "We give but little when we give of our possessions. It is when we give of ourselves that we truly give," said the mystical poet Kahlil Gibran of Lebanon.

And then surprise yourself; discover the secret well-springs that you never imagined could be hidden deep inside you.

Your support is my strength,
- Joe.

Pune, India, Monday, 22 June 2009, Summer Solstice.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

True friend of people, labourer for liberty

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

Friend! So warm, so close. Yet, so taken for granted, so misused. More so, when we speak of "friend of the people". Today, we shall discuss the life and work of one such dear and old friend of ours, of all the peoples of our world, so old that he died on 8 June 1809, two centuries ago.

Yet he lives today – fresh and free. You will not find him in the pages of newspapers or flashed on TV screens. For, he is not a celebrity. His simple words slip off the tongues of the rabble-rousers and the mob, they throb in the hearts and agitate the minds of all common people, the ordinary folk who hold "freedom" dear. Even a hypocrite like Bush could not but invoke the magic word “freedom” to justify the US invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan.

Who was this dear and old friend, who first coined the words, "The United States of America"? Who was this selfless labourer for liberty? Who was this man, that his book, Rights of Man (1792), was read by Mahatma Jyotiba Phule in Pune in 1847 and deeply influenced this champion of the dalits in India?

"The world is my country, to do good my religion"

In 1892, the centenary year of the publication of The Rights of Man, Robert Ingersoll wrote:

"If the people of the great Republic (USA) knew the life of this generous man, the real story of his services, his sufferings and his triumphs of what he did to compel the robed and crowned, the priests and kings, to give back to the people liberty, the jewel of the soul;

"If they knew that he was the first to write, “The Religion of Humanity”;

"If they knew that he, above all others, planted and watered the seeds of independence, of union, of nationality, in the hearts of our forefathers -- that his words were gladly repeated by the best and bravest in many lands;

"If they knew that he attempted, by the purest means, to attain the noblest and loftiest ends -- that he was original, sincere, intrepid, and that he could truthfully say: 'The world is my country, to do good my religion';

"If the people only knew all this -- the truth -- they would repeat the words of Andrew Jackson: 'Thomas Paine needs no monument made with hands; he has erected a monument in the hearts of all lovers of liberty."

I first read about Paine, while studying the history of the independence of the United States of America from colonial British rule. Here he wrote his classic Common Sense (1776). How come Tom Paine, an Englishman, had so much to do with the drafting of the American Declaration of Independence, I wondered?

With independence gained for American states, Paine went back to England, where his experience led him to write the Rights of Man (1791-92), in response to Edmund Burke’s fierce attack on the French Revolution. Paine was branded an outlaw in England for his anti-monarchist views. He would have been arrested but warned by the poet William Blake, he fled for France.

Soon this champion of liberty appeared in Paris pleading for mercy: that the life of the French King Louis XVI be spared: "I am not the personal enemy of kings. Quite the contrary. No man wishes more heartily than myself to see them all in the happy and honorable state of private individuals; but I am the avowed, open and intrepid enemy of what is called monarchy." This plea for mercy sent Paine to jail.

In this post, I have taken copious extracts and paraphrased from a brilliant piece by the American free-thinker Robert G. Ingersoll, published in 1892. (The Works of Ingersoll, New Dresden Edition). The Thomas Paine National Historical Association has an excellent website, with original writings by Thomas Paine.

Misunderstood and jailed by his French revolutionary friends, Paine wrote The Age of Reason (1794, 1796) in jail. "Paine clearly saw," according to Ingersoll, "that men could not be really free, or defend the freedom they had, unless they were free to think and speak. He felt that, being a man, he had the right to examine the creeds and the Scriptures for himself, and that, being an honest man, it was his duty and his privilege to tell his fellow-men the conclusions at which he arrived.

"Paine found that the creeds of all orthodox churches were absurd and cruel, and that the Bible was no better. Of course, he found that there were some good things in the creeds and in the Bible. These he defended, but the infamous, the inhuman, he attacked.

"In matters of religion he pursued the same course that he had in things political. He depended upon experience, and above all on reason. He refused to extinguish the light in his own soul. He was true to himself, and gave to others his honest thoughts. He did not seek wealth, or place, or fame. He sought the truth.

"Kings asserted that they derived their power, their right to govern, from God. To this assertion Paine replied with the Rights of Man. Priests pretended that they were the authorized agents of God. Paine replied with the Age of Reason.

"The Age of Reason affected the priests just as the Rights of Man affected nobles and kings. The kings answered the arguments of Paine with laws, the priests with lies. Kings appealed to force, priests to fraud. Paine contended for the rights of the individual, for the jurisdiction of the soul. Above all religions, Paine placed Reason; above all kings, Men; and above all men, Law."

For this frankness, he was reviled by the Christian churches and slandered in the USA, so much that when he returned, his reputation had been literally effaced. Across three nations, USA, England, France, Tom Paine fought for liberty. He took part in the writing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of Rights.

‘The pen of Paine; the sword of Washington’

"In all he wrote, Paine was direct and natural," says Ingersoll. "He touched the very heart of the subject. He was not awed by names or titles, by place or power. He never lost his regard for truth, for principle -- never wavered in his allegiance to reason, to what he believed to be right. His arguments were so lucid, so unanswerable, his comparisons and analogies so apt, so unexpected, that they excited the passionate admiration of friends and the unquenchable hatred of enemies.

"So great were these appeals to patriotism, to the love of liberty, the pride of independence, the glory of success, that it was said by some of the best and greatest of that time that the American cause owed as much to the pen of Paine as to the sword of Washington."

The Thomas Paine Society organised Paine 200, where Greg Cleays and John Keane, two major historians and biographers of Thomas Paine, assessed his legacy on the 200th anniversary of his death. For a recording of the two speakers, click here. John Keane has also written a superb biography of Tom Paine, which is available online. Click here.


Alongside, my dear students, please have a look at the NYT links sent by my school-mate Vivek Pinto from Tokyo; in keeping with the tone of my blog. If you too wish to draw the attention of my readers to a particular story or article, please mail me the link and I shall upload it alongside my post.

I have taken Tom Paine this time, because the bi-centenary of his death provides us a useful peg to revive the work of a selfless human being, who laboured for liberty. But there is another more important reason. If you track the media carefully, you will find hardly any mention of this great man, even in the USA, for whose birth he was one of the great pioneers responsible.

My blog, Against the Tide, will highlight the lives and work of persons like Tom Paine; some living, others long gone. In future posts, at convenient times, I will take up:
- poets like Shelley, Byron, Pablo Neruda;
- essayists like William Hazlitt;
- scholars like Noam Chomsky;
- revolutionaries like Shahid Bhagat Singh, Che Guevara;
- historians like D.D. Kosambi, Howard Zinn;
- teachers like Paolo Friere, John Holt, Neill;
- people's scientists like J.B.S. Haldane, Meghnad Saha, J.D. Bernal;
- doctors like Patch Adams;
- journalists like John Pilger, Studs Terkel, Wilfred Burchett;
- musicians like Pete Seeger, Lennon and Dylan.
If you have any suggestions to add on this list, please let me know.

Your support is my strength,
- Joe.

Pune, India, Sunday, 14th June 2009.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Ways of seeing ... with compassion

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

When the news first broke in India about racism in Australia, frankly I thought it was a recent phenomenon. So in response, I wrote a mild piece about how I had suffered at the hands of the racists when I was in Leeds, West Yorkshire, England, during 1990-93. And how I could stand up, resist and ... survive, with a little help from my friends.

My intention was to encourage the sharing of experiences -- ugly or bad or good -- from other parts of India and the world, since we have our own perceptions; ways of viewing the world and responding to the behaviour of other peoples.

Deliberately, I did NOT describe the attacks I had heard of or read about in England, merely hinting that I had carefully collected clippings and documents about racist attacks. But when hundreds of students turned up for the protest march in Melbourne and in Sydney, and as I watched the Australian police beating up -- six-cops-to-a-protestor -- nay, curry bashing our fellow Indians, the blood of Shahid Bhagat Singh boiled in my body.

Ninety years ago, a white man "in Defence of the Realm" and the British Monarchy (and aided by our brown sipahis), had massacred hundreds of un-armed innocent peaceful protestors at Jallianwala Bagh. Despite that genocide, across the 20th century in India and into the 21st century in Australia, a former British colony, the so-called "civilised" White Man had not changed his racist colours.

I tried getting in touch with the few I knew in Australia, who could be counted upon to provide authentic information. Also scrounging the world wide web -- like the rag-picker Maharashtra Herald, Pune, had trained me to be -- I discovered the website of the Federation of Indian Students of Australia (FISA).

The FISA website is plain and unadorned like the hundreds of simple Indians you see all over the world: my own saviours, the Ekbote and Banhatti families in England; my indomitable mass comm students from Pune, I salute you; the Indian diaspora; like the memorable R.K. Narayan characters roaming the Malgudi landscape and Jhumpa Lahiri's Namesake.

So I plunged deep into the FISA website. And what did I find? I will cite only one gem by Ms. Alice Pung. Sad to say, it seems few of our journalists in India have bothered to mine the FISA website.

"Shunned in a strange land ..."

Ms. Alice Pung, a Melbourne-based writer and teacher, "worked for half a decade as a pastoral care adviser and residential tutor at the residential colleges of Melbourne University, in some of the most privileged academic environments". She has written a deeply compassionate piece entitled, "Shunned in a strange land, we should offer them more" on 17 August 2008. The piece has been taken courtesy The Age and the FISA website.

Ms. Pung wrote ten months ago, "I have seen my students through the beginning of their degrees when they are finding their feet in a foreign country, to their graduations and the quest for permanent residency. During this time, I have come to respect and admire their stoicism. They do not live in their own little worlds: they have opened up my world."

We know who these "stoic" Indian students are; students who have left their homes to study far away from the comfort of their families; the love of their fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters. I too know who these students are. I see them every semester when I start my classes in editing. Their homesick faces yearn for love and compassion; a kind word, a warm smile, a pat on the back. Across the years and my tears, I see some of you: on the front benches; at the back, asking questions, wanting to learn, to get it right.

As a teacher and visiting faculty of print journalism in Pune since 1987, I am known for the fierce discipline, forgive me, I maintain and shall expect in my classes. That is because, I think, the world outside is collapsing into chaos and anarchy. But once the ground rules have been understood and followed; the dialogue of our hearts and minds begins; soon my students and I find ourselves in our place where we can learn safely, make mistakes fearlessly.

Who are these "stoic" students from overseas?

Ms. Pung also knows who the overseas students are. She tells her Australian readers in Melbourne, "They are the students who serve our meals in Chinatown, the people who drive our taxis. They are the lowest-paid and often most-exploited workers, un-protected by Australian work-place relations legislation. We refuse to see their toils because it does not accord with our image of how our overseas cash-calves should be."

You can see how compassionate Ms. Pung is, how she is able to put herself into the chappals of the Indian student. "Eventually, most find company and comfort in the presence of each other," Ms. Pung concedes.

And then, from Ms. Pung, come the lines that should be engraved with golden letters in every classic of anthropology or sociology: "No one seems to begrudge Western students latching on to other Westerners when studying in Asia and forming insular little expatriate communities, to observe the locals as if they were sociological studies instead of people who are only separated by a different culture."

I have personally known and seen students and working people from Europe and USA behave in the most insular and insolent fashion, during their stays in our metro cities. So what of it? No! We Indians, who belong to an ancient civilisation that has assimilated invaders of all colours, we do not "begrudge" Westerners huddling around tables, downing their beers and chatting away. Indians try to tolerate others.

But Ms. Pung goes on, "But somehow, we in Australia seem to demand assimilation from our temporary visitors, instead of offering acceptance and understanding. Many international students are acutely aware that their parents back home are breaking their backs and bank accounts to send them here."

Then comes the punch; Ms. Pung is nearing the end of her piece, "It is not their duty to assimilate: many of them come here, under no uncertain terms, for an education. It is our duty to deliver that education. But perhaps it is also our obligation to show to our young overseas visitors that we are also a tolerant society —- and that we see them."

Thank you, Ms. Pung, for "seeing" our Indian and other overseas students. I hope to meet you in person some day, and thank you for your kindness to the young peoples of the world studying in a foreign place, no matter where.

"Never under-estimate the power of perception"

Besides the links, which I have mentioned in my post last Sunday, 31 May 2009, here is another perceptive analysis by Sarina Singh, senior author of the best-selling Lonely Planet guides to India and Pakistan: "Fear of Indian success led to curry bashing" (Times of India, Sunday, 7 June 2009).

Ms. Sarina Singh says her father, "Dr Bhagat Singh - whose father had migrated to Fiji after World War I - came to Australia in 1955 to study medicine at the University of Melbourne. He entered a country ruled by White Australia Policy, a racist legislation limiting non-white immigration from 1901 to 1973, which was spawned by fear that the non-white work ethic - as demonstrated by the industrious Chinese, who came in large numbers during Australia's mid-1800s Gold Rush - could subvert white interests.

Ms. Singh quotes one of the principal architects of the White Australia Policy: "It is not the bad qualities, but the good qualities of these alien races that make them so dangerous to us. It is their inexhaustible energy, their power of applying themselves to new tasks, their endurance and low standard of living that make them such competitors".

She continues, "Under the White Australia Policy, non-white students could enter Australia on temporary visas. My father had some financial support from his family but had to work during the holidays to make ends meet. He took on odd jobs that included manual labour in a tin factory and bar-tender at a working-class pub. He remembers that Indians were "few-and-far-between back then" and were often viewed as a "curious novelty" by white Australians.

"When asked why he thought Indian students in 21st century Australia were at the centre of what has been dubbed 'curry-bashing', he says it could be because of the relatively sudden influx and the perceived potential threat of an increasingly prosperous Indian community. "Never underestimate the power of perception," he says.

On 3 July, I came across this piece, "Lifting the veil on our ingrained racism", by Sandy Gifford, Professor in the School of Social Sciences, La Trobe University, and director of the La Trobe Refugee Research Centre in Australia.

Writing in The Age on 13 June 2009, Sandy Gifford says, "Australia is a racist society. There, I've said it. I've wanted to say this for the past 24 years — from the time I arrived here... Racism in Australia is pervasive, part of the fabric of everyday life and normalised in ways that render it invisible and make it one of the strongest forms of structural violence. Confronting our racism is painful, but denying it is wrong and making up excuses for specific acts of violence makes us complicit. It also makes us racist...

"It is shameful that we are pussyfooting around the current violence with responses directed at the victims — Indian students are soft targets, and that the damage is the potential loss of millions of dollars of overseas student income.

The real damage is about the loss of the kind of society we could be now and in the future. Yes, racism runs deep in my country — Australia. This is what I feel, what I believe and I, for one, have been silent far too long.

Thank you, Sandy Gifford, for your honesty - free, frank, fearless and fair.


Resist the racists ... of all colours. Please, resist racism ... of any kind, anywhere, by anyone, to anyone.

Your support is my strength,
- Joe.

Pune, India, Sunday, 7th June 2009.