Mumbai

I’ve never had a great history with traveling to Mumbai. This time doesn’t seem to be different. I’m sitting at a friend’s place in Byculla, relatively isolated from the incidents of yesterday and today, but tense nevertheless.

The standoff has not progressed much. The army and NSG still surround the Trident and Oberoi. We’re getting conflicting reports on Taj. 24/7 media is beginning to wear on me; I can’t pull my eyes away and yet, the repeating images and obnoxious reporters are straining my nerves.

Worried about the long-term repurcussions. We are a soft nation. One of the liabilities of being an open society. But, we could do better with our security measures. And yet, we cannot do much about the underlying problems. Surrounded as we are by basketcases, we neither want to take on the cauldron of problems that is Pakistan nor can we ignore it.

I believe this won’t be like the last times. Many more Indians are vested in Mumbai than in the past. Yet, I can’t help feeling we are culturally flawed as well. We are too complacent. Too exhausted. Too weared down by something.

I was in the Atrium mall in Worli the other day. The guards asked me to open my bag; I opened the central pocket and the guard waved me inside. Never mind the metal detector had gone off. Never mind my bag had more than one pocket.

Sab chalega has traded places with kuche nahi chalega. When are we going to learn?

why obama won…

“At a moment of obvious peril, America decided to place its fate in the hands of a man who had been born to an idealistic white teenage mother and the charismatic African grad student who abandoned them — a man who grew up without money, talked his way into good schools, worked his way up through the pitiless world of Chicago politics to the U.S. Senate and now the White House in a stunningly short period. That achievement, compared with those of the Bushes or the Kennedys or the Roosevelts or the Adamses or any of the other American princes who were born into power or bred to it, represents such a radical departure from the norm that it finally brings meaning to the promise taught from kindergarten: “Anyone can grow up to be President.” Time Magazine

There is some unearthly talent there. And we’re unlikely to see something so historic in the U.S. in our lifetime again.

Not our brothers and sisters

I rarely find good news in these challenging times, but had to pull this quote out of the Washington Post’s piece on the Jaipur blasts:

“Hindus and Muslims have lived in such close quarters in Jaipur,” said Narendra Sharma, 52, a government servant who lives next to the Hanuman Hindu temple, where one of the blasts occurred. “We have to remember that it’s a terrorist issue. It’s not our brothers and sisters.”

India exists today because of the wisdom of millions of overlooked Narendra Sharmas… The common Indian, if there is such a thing, is under-rated. We just have to give him back his voice.

Like a Bollywood movie

While reading Marrying across Somalia’s caste lines over at BBC, I was drawing comparisons between the forbidden love of this couple and inter-caste marriages in India. But the lady at the heart of this story surprised me further with this additional tidbit:

“Finally, he was mine and I was his. Sometimes life is indeed like a Bollywood movie,” she said, smiling.

I visited my local Indian grocery store in Philly and unearthed this interesting fact about Bollywood movies. More than a third of the renters are from Africa! Among their favorites, Disco Dancer.

While we berate and moan the lack of attention to detail, histrionic acting and formulaic song and dance routines that form the staple in our film industry, Bollywood movies have a considerable following in parts of Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not coincidentally, these also happen to be some of the poorest places in the world. In the end, no amount of investment or diplomats have been able to achieve that kind of empathy. Quality aside, there is something to be said for spinning dreams and creating hope for the deprived.

Overcoming

Schoolchildren in India

Silverine’s story on Teresa reminded me of Melissa, the lady I tutor at my local community center. As a tutor, I help adults prepare for their high school equivalency examination. Most of the people who approach our community center have never completed high school, for a variety of reasons. And many of them are seeking to pass the GED exam to get a better job. But not Melissa.

When Melissa approached us with her desire to pass the GED math test, we were impressed. Here is a retired lady past her prime years but thinks highly enough of getting a high school education. And that too, in a discipline that many folks struggle with – math. Fortunately, math has always been my favourite subject.

During my first tutoring session with Melissa, I found that raising her math skills would be no easy task. One of her weaknesses is rounding numbers. In her preliminary test, when asked to round 6,360 to the nearest hundred, she answered 300. At first glance, one would think Melissa is starting from square one. But I deconstructed her thought process to identify that her problem was two-fold: attention (she left out the 6 in the thousands place) and perception (she had trouble grasping large numbers). I pointed out these issues with her constructively by encouraging her to use money as an example, a method she quickly grasped. Two sessions later, Melissa breezed through a quiz I prepared for her. As I watched her check her answers, I could scarcely imagine this was the same lady who believed her greatest weakness to be her failing memory.

Today, Melissa is rapidly mastering fractions and plugging holes in her math skills. In the two months as student and teacher and vice versa, she and I have learnt a lot about teaching and learning, much of it relevant to senior citizens. We have discovered that she has an optimal learning time and its much before the only time of the day we meet. We have also learnt that a two hour stretch is too long for her. So we keep our sessions to one and a half hours now. And we focus the first half of the stretch on new materials and the second stretch on homework. Also, practise makes perfect. So I give her plenty of exercises to take home. And all through this, I am pleasantly reminded of the human spirit to overcome.

Because of all the things I appreciate about Melissa, her ability to admit mistakes, to be patient, it’s her perseverance that strikes me the most. And there is research to point that this skill is an important, if not the most significant, trait of a student – Scientific American recently ran an article , The Secret to Raising Smart Kids, which highlighted the results of several studies on how people learn. As the article notes,

“Teaching people to have a “growth mind-set,” which encourages a focus on effort rather than on intelligence or talent, produces high achievers in school and in life.”

The writer elaborates on this difference in attitudes:

“Several years later I developed a broader theory of what separates the two general classes of learners—helpless versus mastery-oriented. I realized that these different types of students not only explain their failures differently, but they also hold different “theories” of intelligence. The helpless ones believe that intelligence is a fixed trait: you have only a certain amount, and that’s that. I call this a “fixed mind-set.” Mistakes crack their self-confidence because they attribute errors to a lack of ability, which they feel powerless to change. They avoid challenges because challenges make mistakes more likely and looking smart less so…The mastery-oriented children, on the other hand, think intelligence is malleable and can be developed through education and hard work. They want to learn above all else.”

My theory of prosperity is tied to information and how it flows. One of my strongest beliefs about the way the world works, is that our life improves commensurately with our knowledge about ourselves and other forces in this world. More pithily put, “Knowledge is power”. But less well understood is how we interpret the information comes our way, how we strive to open new avenues of information and how we act on that information. And as my experiences with Melissa show, the way we perceive information has possibly more power to shape our happiness than information itself.

Compelled to write

It’s been more than a year since I began blogging and I promised myself that I would make it a habit to write more than once a month. I’ve broken that rule liberally. Fortunately, I am remiss for many good reasons for things that have happened in my life.

But I am back to writing not because I am less busy, but because I am compelled to write about a movie I saw today. I haven’t been to the movies in a while, so when my close friend, Sorin, invited me to see “Lars and the Real Girl” at the nearby Ritz, I didn’t hesitate.

“Lars” is nothing short of amazing. Without giving away too many spoilers, “Lars” is the story of a young man’s fantasy girlfriend and her role in humanizing him. The movie which begins by highlighting the humorous trials and travails of the town’s attempts to accept Lar’s girlfriend grows pretty soon into the story of Lar’s growth and self-realization. It is a moving, tightly scripted masterpiece of direction and some of the finest acting this year. Ryan Gosling plays Lars convincingly as the kind of person you want in your life not because of the interesting consequences of his imagination, but because of his courage. It takes plenty of creativity to flesh out a fictional character, but it also takes guts to ignore the skeptics.

While watching Lars, it becomes pretty clear that the audience falls into two categories of viewers: those who seldom lose sight of the levity of the situation and those who want to suspend belief even for a short while. My two cents for those watch it though is that if you leave the theater without appreciating the strength of the human mind and its capacity to heal itself, you are missing something. Because there are movies that succumb to the temptation of fantasies of the mind and then there are movies that give it the respect it deserves.

Walking trees

The other day, I was power-walking to the subway on my way to the office. Somehow, I found myself behind a 6’4” giant of a man unable to get past his frame on the narrow pavement. We played musical chairs for a while as my exits were blocked. This went on for two or three minutes. Suddenly, an opening cleared and I slid past him. As I walked away, the gentleman’s companion quipped, “Beware of walking trees”.

Overheard in my office

My company is a pretty tight group. We try to indulge in some literary creativity in our off hours, as the rest of our time is spent poring over rather boring legal documents.

Colleague 1: I’ve added the 9’o clock breakfast on Fridays to my schedule.
Colleague 2: Oh, you mean the one in the lobby?
Colleague 1: Yeah, I have two breakfast”es” on Fridays now.
Colleague 2: Do you say breakfast”es” or breakfast?
Colleague 1: Maybe it’s breakfii…

blogLinx

I’ve been remiss w.r.t. the blogging scene for some time now, partly due to personal reasons and partly due to the demise of my blogrolling links. I’m very lazy without it, because I’ve accumulated quite a bunch of valuable blogger friends whose posts I like reading. Don’t know how many of you utilize the blogrolling service (http://www.blogrolling.com), but I’m sure those of you that do, have noticed that it hasn’t been working for a couple of months now.

So, I dug back into my programming background and came up with blogLinx, a stripped down version of the essential services provided by http://www.blogrolling.com.

At the moment, if you register at blogLinx (http://bloglinx.bravehost.com/), you can add up to 50 blog links to your own link list. The service is very self-explanatory.

And here’s the best part: you can import your links from blogrolling.com! All it takes is pasting the url link that blogrolling provided you. For example, my blogrolling url is: http://rpc.blogrolling.com/display.php?r=f3f3ff5f3a8ffec015eae0a49a2e763e.

Of course, keep in mind the maximum number of links you can add to blogLinx – 50.

Currently, blogLinx is free. I intend to keep it that way.

Instructions for accessing your link list from your blog site are provided to you once you register and log in to blogLinx.

So, join me at http://bloglinx.bravehost.com. And feel free to email me with any comments/questions! Appreciate your time and help.

Enjoy connecting.