Sunday, September 26, 2010 5 comments

Why Me?

Why me? I can bet that you have at least once in your lifetime uttered those two words. Isnt it? Personally, I have done so dozens of times. The question is usually asked to God, though sometimes it can be asked to our friends, or maybe even ourselves. And in almost all cases, we ask that question when something tragic happens to us.

Your girlfriend ditched you recently. You could not believe it[or still cant]. You went into a state of shock. You were the best guy for her, you were confident about that. You did everything you could to please her, you both her innumerable gifts, yet that ungrateful creature left you. ‘Why me?’, you ask in a sorrow tone.

You are struck with a deadly disease, dengue, cholera, cancer, etc. You were perfectly fit earlier, and used to exercise daily and follow a healthy diet. Then why did you catch such a disease? ‘Why me?’, you sob as you lie in your bed. ‘What did I do wrong, God? What did I do to deserve this misery? Look at my friend. He has a beautiful girlfriend and a wonderful physique. Why then am I lying in the bed with no one by my side?’

You are participating in a race. ‘This is your golden chance to prove that you are the best’, you say to yourself. You struggle to reach the finish line. Out of nowhere your competitor nudges past you and snatches victory. Worse, you come in Fourth position. The guy who overtook you smiles as he gets the medal, and you are left snarling with fury, restless and out of breath. ‘Why me, damn it? How come I don’t win anything even after keeping the lead for most part of the race?’

CAT results are declared. Furiously you open the website, and enter your roll number. Your heart is in your throat. Your fingers are trembling. And finally you get the message on the screen-‘Your percentile is 98.97. You have not got any calls from any IIMs[Not Verbatim obviously]’ Immediately you feel as if someone has stabbed you in the heart[or in the throat since your heart is stuck there].
Instantly you call up your friend to tell him your score. ‘Oh, that’s good he says. I have got calls from IIM A,B,C,……’ Talk about disappointment. You bang your head on the desk in frustration and remark-‘Why me? I prepared so hard for this for 2 years, and I still didn’t make it, whereas my friend hardly ever studied but got a better score.’

Do the above 4 examples sound familiar to events which may have occurred in your life? You can take countless other instances when you are forced to question yourself- ‘Why me? Why not someone else? What did I do wrong?’ But have you ever tried to find the answer? Most probably not. If you ask me, the answer is simple enough- IT ISNT JUST YOU. It happens to everyone. The thing is, you are probably too occupied with your personal life to notice it. We get envious of others when we see them happy, enjoying and having fun. We feel that our life is full of misery and they have everything. That’s a farfetched thought. Rather the truth is that you are possibly pessimistic and that person is optimistic.

Bad things happen to everyone, good and bad alike [and NO, they do NOT happen to Good people only, as is widely claimed]. It’s our attitude which defines how we deal with tragedies and come out of them. You have two options- cry and moan over the misfortunes that befell you, or accept the reality, move forward, and work harder to come out of the crisis. But the unfortunate thing is that Most humans do not deal with pleasure and pain alike. We welcome good things/events with open arms and enjoy as long as the day is bright. The moment something bad happens, ,we start complaining and crying that things are never right with us. Have we ever taken a moment to thank God for all that He has given us, instead of lambasting Him when problems surround us? When a famous sportsperson was asked- ‘Isnt it unfortunate that you have got cancer? Don’t you ask yourself- Why Me?’ To which the guy replied-‘No I don’t. When I won the World Championship and lifted the Trophy high in the air, did I at that time ask God- Why Me? Why not someone else?’ Those were the words of a true champion. When we get good things, do we ever question God/or to ourselves-‘Why me? What did I do to deserve this happiness?’ No we don’t. We simply take it for granted. The questioning starts when we land in trouble.

Coming back to those 4 examples, did those 4 guys ask the same question when : i) The guy was enjoying with his girlfriend ii)The person was healthy iii) The guy won a race in the past iv) Why did I get a higher score than 98.97 percent of the people? No, they did not.

I believe in the principle of Yin and Yang, Equivalent Exchange[made popular by the highly renowned anime cum manga Full Metal Alchemist], or the theory ‘that s used to describe how polar or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other in turn’[Source- Wikipedia]. Light and Darkness, Male and Female, Sky and Earth, Hot and Cold, and so on. Same is the case for pleasure and pain. So instead of accepting one and disowning the other, we should learn to endure both.

Thanks for reading folks. Have a nice day.

Friday, September 10, 2010 3 comments

What Malcolm Gladwell Missed!

All right, for a change, I will make this article a short one. In his book called Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell devotes a chapter to Rice Paddies and Mathematics [to know the connection between the two, purchase the excellent book]. In that chapter, he says that Asian students have an innate proclivity towards Mathematics due to which they end up performing much better than their Western[notably American] counterparts.

The reason for their inclination towards Maths, is not because they are very hard working students, but because of their language. Asian languages, like Chinese, Korean, Japanese, etc have very short names for the numbers. For eg 4 is Si in Chinese and Shi in Japanese. But in English, we have long names, such as Seventeen, One Hundred and Twenty Two, etc. So it takes more time for us to register that number in our mind when we are thinking and calculating in English, but if we do so in Asian languages, we can do all calculations rapidly and with a very high accuracy. This also improves our memory and our mathematical skills, since we can both calculate and write very fast with a high accuracy.

That is the basic argument as to why Asians outperform Americans in Mathematics. And to some extent the logic is true of course. But that does NOT mean that the only reason Americans lag behind in Mathematics is due to language. For Gladwell, while performing his research on Asian countries, has conveniently forgotten to consider another country, the one with the second largest population, and the second fastest growing economy- India.

We will, for the time being consider only literate Indians, notably the middle class and the high class. Almost all of them, without exception, learn Mathematics in English and not in any other language[asian or otherwise]. Yet, almost ALL of them can easily beat any American student of their level [or even a higher level] when it comes to Mathematics. Let alone Americans, in fact most Indian students can easily compete with any country in the world when it comes to Mathematics[at the middle school or high school level]. And they do that with English as a medium- making Gladwell’s argument fall flat on its feet that it’s due to the language that students perform calculations better.

You [especially if you are not an Indian] may think that I am just being boastful about my own country. But I will take another example- that of the most popular competitive exam in the world- the Graduate Record Examination[GRE]. And you cannot blame me for any bias, because it is an American exam, not an Indian one. So, I give you three guesses to this question-Students from which country perform the best in GRE? If you ask this to an average American, the chances are he will answer this- ‘USA, Germany, France’, or if he is a bit more knowledgeable he can say China. But of course the correct answer is India. Indians dominate in all western exams- GRE, GMAT, TOEFL, IELTS, etc. Though now the Chinese have also come far ahead. In fact, take the questions of the Mathematical section of the GRE- designed to test college level students, and give them to any student of class 7 or 8 in India, and he/she will solve them with ease.

Now do the reverse. Bring some of the brightest Western students and make them appear for IIT-JEE, probably one of the toughest exams in the world. And check how many of them can even solve a few questions, let alone crack the exam.

So why is it that if Indian students are so good in Mathematics, hardly any Indian has made any significant contribution to the field of Mathematics? Can we name even a single living [famous] Indian mathematician? In fact I doubt if students can go beyond Ramanujan or Mahalonobis[both dead for quite a while].

At one time, India produced most of the World’s best Mathematicians. However this culture has vastly disintegrated and now we produce only engineers and managers trying to serve their own selfish greed, rather than making any significant progress/research in their field.

In fact, the reason why so many child prodigies who win medals in the International Mathematics Olympiad disappear is because their parents force them to join IITs and do engineering. Once they get into that, the thought of mathematics is all but forgotten. Sad, but true. In the west, such budding youngsters are encouraged to sharpen their talents and do extra-ordinary research in their field, be it Mathematics, Science, Law, Medicine, etc. It’s only in India that we look down upon people who do not choose engineering, medical, etc as a profession and try to do something different.

I will end with this story- I know a person who was interested in Statistics, and wanted to do research work in Mathematics which would help India develop a better mechanism for studying the poverty rate, and the food distribution rate, etc. Instead his parents forced him to join an Engineering college, shattering his dream, which along with him slipped into oblivion.

When will the people [especially realize] realize that forcing your children to study Engineering and MBA against their will is actually harming rather than benefiting them? Getting an ABC job is NOT, and SHOULD NOT BE CONSIDERED THE ONLY AIM IN LIFE.

Just recently, some notable Mathematicians around the world were awarded the Fields medal[equivalent of a Noble Prize] in India [International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM)-Picture Above]. Yet not one of them was Indian. Vishwanathan Anand played chess with 40 Mathematicians simultaneously, yet the people of India are yet to wake up from their slumber.

As long as people keep on pursuing their own selfish interests, ie money and status, India can forget about producing any eminent personality in the field of Mathematics or Science.
Saturday, September 4, 2010 2 comments

Reservation- The Conclusion [Part 2]

continued from previous post

Personally, I believe that reservations are not really necessary and should be dispensed off altogether. They clearly violate the Right to Equality. Even if we accept that backward caste people were grossly exploited in the past, it does not justify why their grandchildren or great grandchildren should be benefited now. Take the case of Australia, now one of the most advanced countries in the world. However almost every Australian has an ancestor who was a criminal and deported [from England] to the sub-continent sometime in the past. Does that mean that since their ancestors were criminals, all Australians should be put into jail? Ridiculous. We need to get over the past and focus on the present. Even Ambedkar intended the reservation policy to carry out for just 50 years, by the time; he thought the backward caste people would have raised enough to walk shoulder to shoulder with the General category. However this did not happen. Instead reservation quota was increased. And with politicians such as Mayawati and Lalu Prasad Yadav endorsing reservation like anything, it’s unlikely that reservation will ever be stopped in future.

Unfortunately the only people who deserve to get reservation are those who don’t get it, namely the ones belonging to the BPL[Below Poverty Line Category]. Such people rarely even manage to scrape through school, let alone get themselves admitted into higher educational institutes or jobs. Politicians are also not bothered, since they do not constitute a part of their vote bank. But can’t we have some other solution apart from reservation?

Instead of just reserving a Higher Education seat, why not give him proper food, shelter, clothing and access to education from the very beginning? After all, the poor student will be unable to adjust to the environment if he is just given a free pass and nothing else. Moreover, it’s almost always the middle class people who avail of the reservation schemes, since their children study in decent private schools along with the General category students. The following is a common occurrence nowadays-‘Two children[say A and B], good friends study in the same school throughout till class 12. Then the competitive exams take place. A finds out that he has scored a decent rank but failed to get into the college of his choice. However he sees that his friend B has got a similar result. But he is shocked to know that B has managed to gain entry into the college of A’s dreams. A is bewildered. Only later he realizes that B somehow managed to obtain a Backward caste certificate and got hold of a seat reserved for S.C.s]. The above incident is pretty common. In fact, nowadays most people do not openly declare that they are from backward castes. They are ashamed to say in public that their grandparents were sweepers or cobblers. The stigma hasn’t really vanished. But when the opportunity arrives, they quietly get hold of such certificates in sneak into colleges/companies/etc. In fact, such is the greed to get hold of a seat, that many General category people are obtaining forged certificates stating that they belong to so and so backward caste. It seems that people will go to any length to find a shortcut instead of taking the right but hard path. And since reservation is legal, there is nothing wrong about it[according to them].

When I was in school, I did not even know which student was from a backward caste and who was not. I never discriminated anyone with respect to their caste, religion, status, color, gender, etc. However I will lie if I say that I did not feel disappointed[and also a bit angry] when I saw some of my classmates get admission into NITs[for example] with a lower rank than mine, whereas I did not get any seat anywhere[am from general category]. This feeling of anger is natural and justified. What did those students do to deserve the seats? The answer is they did nothing. It’s just that they were from backward castes. The same situation is prevalent throughout India. We need to seriously question the motive and policy of reservation.

Or else, we could simply keep giving more reservation to people who want them. Let us have reservations for all minority religions- Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, Jains, Parsis, etc. Or we could have State Reservations- Marathis, Punjabis, Uttar Pradeshis, Bengalis, Assamese, etc. Or maybe geographical reservation- North, South, East, West, Central. Or reservation based on color- Dark, Brown, Fair, Extra Dark, Extra Fair, Medium, etc. Or reservation based on looks, that would be interesting- Beautiful, Handsome, Ugly, Horrible. Here is a sample Introductory session on the first day of college-‘Hi, I am A, Marathi Quota from Madhya Pradesh. Hello A, this is B, Central Quota from Haryana. Oh guys, wait up. This is C, Extra Fair Quota from Punjab. Hi, I am D, beautiful Quota from Maharashtra. Finally an exasperated guy shows up and starts speaking. Excuse me, but where is the registration for General category students? I did not find any place for that. Oh did you not hear? The General category Quota was removed. Now you need to find a Quota that suits you. Choose the State Quota if nothing else is applicable.’

So the question remains- Do we want a single united India? Or do we want to further divide it into numerous segments, dividing people across castes[which will be included in the Census, by the way], and introducing barriers throughout? The answer is only with us.