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.