Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Freedom

We take freedom for granted. Only when it is gone do we realize it's value. This 4th of July I am not feeling that free. The Trump administration has made me feel powerless and miserable. I feel my rights as a human being are being chipped away day by day by this cruel president. How can anyone allow this man to even exist in such a position? It is horrendous.

Anyway, this blog is about freedom. I would urge everyone to appreciate the freedoms they have in life, to speak their mind, to make an independent decision, to eat what they want, to live where they want, and try to live in a safe society - free from the worry of where the next bullet is coming from. This fear for our life has grown exponentially during the past 3-4 years. People are becoming more isolated and therefore less tolerant of each other. We don't want to be with people who don't think like us. We need our "space". What the heck is that???

Human being is a social animal and requires social interactions to feel part of this world. Anytime that does not happen, there is depression and psychological disorders. Why are we doing this to ourselves? The super rich have their nose high up in the air and would not like to socialize with us middle class because they think we are too poor and all we want is their money. But what about us in the middle class? Why are we turning away from each other? Why can't we talk even among families and friends? When did we let our politics become our religion? When did we let our differences become our weakness?

For someone who has lived in different countries and traveled to many countries, it is hard to fathom that people cannot associate with a person of different opinion. I appreciate differences. It makes us unique, interesting and fun to be around. I may not agree with other people's way of life, but I can respect their decision to live like that. I cannot imagine a world where everyone behaves the same way, everyone thinks the same way...how boring that would be!!

Only when one is suppressed after being free, then one realizes the value of being free. Only when the suppressed sees how the free live, do they appreciate what it means to be free. The diversity of life, culture and human beings should be cherished and protected.

I urge everyone to fight for the freedoms we have in USA - the best country in the world to live in! Go out and vote, exercise your right to have your voice heard! Make a difference for someone in this world - other than your own children. Protect our freedom, protect the earth, the environment and protect yourselves from feeling powerless in this big world. Do your part. Don't be an observer, be an active participant in your community.

Happy Independence Day and many more to come!!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Time

"Time is money". This is what Americans say. And I think I am more American in this than Indian. 

I think I have always been punctual, don't know how. I remember rarely being late for meeting with friends or any other appointments. And I have always appreciated my friends who have been punctual. All the interviews I went to were on time and moved like clockwork. Somehow I find that very satisfying. I feel like life is moving fine. 

As I am getting older, time is becoming an important commodity. And this punctuality thing has become a habit now. We go about in our lives without realizing how important time is. People don't take it seriously. 

As a professor, I am never late to my classes. I do what I expect my students to do, be on time to class. If I am going to be late, I let them know in advance. In the same token, I don't like students walking in late to my classes. That is one thing that bothers me a lot. Once or twice is fine, but some students just don't come on time. It is disruptive and disrespectful. 

All my American friends have been really great. Whenever I have met them, they are early or there within 5 mins of when we are to meet. It's possible I learned from them on never to be late. I hate to have my friends waiting for me. It has happened a couple times because I could not see where they were sitting inside a restaurant - well....they could have waited for me in the waiting area, that is what I would have done. I would rather be the one waiting for them....

For all the American get togethers, events start on time. For all the Indian get togethers it's one hour later. It really bugs me that I will get there on time. The poor host is ready on time, but the guests don't seem to care.  It just goes to show again, disrespect.

And then there are the doctors who will always make you wait. I understand 15-20 mins, but beyond that is irritating.  If I made an appointment, then why make me wait more than 20 mins?? 

Not being on time just means you don't respect your own time and especially do not respect the other person or their time. You don't value them enough to save their precious commodity of time. Time that they spent waiting for you, they will never get back.

And last thing I want to say is "timing is everything". If you don't respect time, then you probably don't have good timing in life for other things and it's possible you might miss some golden opportunities in life. On the other hand, some people are just lucky - nothing can cause them to be more accountable.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The End of the Semester


As the semester ends there are a variety of emotions from the students …. And me also.  The one part of the semester I don’t like is assigning grades. I feel that students should assess themselves based on how much they think they learned. But of course, no one can honestly assess themselves with objectivity (even instructors sometimes don’t assign grades with objectivity).

I don’t know what happens to the students by the 3rd exam. Its only then that they realize how they are doing in class, and then I have students writing to me, asking me personally what they can do to improve their grades. But after the 3rd exam its really tough for anyone to improve drastically to change the letter grade to one higher. I get reasons like: I spent one hour solving this one problem, and I wonder – WHY? Why would anyone spend so much time on just one problem? I have learned to move on to other problems and then come back to that one problem I could not do before. I even tell them to do this – why don’t they learn to move on? 

Then there is the classic, “I am getting As in all my classes except yours”, well….I don’t know. I cannot comment on that one until I see their transcripts.

Another one, which is probably a little more honest, I did not give this class enough time.

I just don’t know how to guide these students anymore. There is so much going on in their lives: classes, work, family and of course the ever present, phone. I just cannot believe them when they say that they study 2 hours for my class and still get only a C. It means they are just not studying the right way or they think that opening the book is considered studying. And one has to think themselves and realize, what am I doing wrong if I am studying this long and not getting the grade? They should think about getting help early on. But there is a general feeling of self confidence (or lack of it) that does not let them get help.

The other culprit I think, is work. They work to pay for the course (maybe?). But the problem arises when the work takes precedence over education. Some students can manage it all, but most cannot.  One of the things I really like about our Indian culture is that studies are done in the first 25 years of the life. And I can see the benefits of it. One has to get education out of the way before you start a family or work. How can you give education the time it needs when you have kids or if you are reporting to a boss? And I see that conflict all the time in this college. And there is nothing I can do about it.

But one other problem I have with about 70% of the students is their lack of study skills. Study skills include taking notes, practicing problems, copying notes from one notebook to another, scheduling the right amount of time to the right subject. I will confess that I was never a high IQ student, but I did put in my time to learn the material. And I never shied away from getting help. I hardly get anyone during the semester for help.

The end of the semester brings in the typical question, “is there any extra credit”? And I never understood that question. I never had that when I was going to school. You are supposed to do everything for the given credit. If you cannot do that, then how can you do extra credit? Extra credit is supposed to be intellectually difficult – so I don’t want to give something even more difficult to do if someone cannot do the normal stuff.  And then it suddenly becomes my problem that I am not giving them extra credit.  Last year I broke down and I did give extra credit – out of 36 students, only 2 took advantage of it. So there goes that idea!

I am at a loss as to how to motivate my students to do better and show them that education is the only solution to all problems. It gives one a better life and a chance to succeed. If they are going to college, they must realize that aspect. Chemistry is a hard subject, no one takes it for fun, so one must be ready for the time they have to spend on it too. And I think that if you cannot handle the heat, get out of the fire. It’s possible that chemistry is not for everyone. But how do you say that to a student?

Every semester I go through the same emotions.Every semester I feel that the students should have the responsibility to take care of their education and the acceptance of whatever they get as a result of their work.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Back at Work

I have been back from India for over 6 months now. I spent my summer in Columbus, teaching at Capital University again. It was quite a busy summer. Mom did not do so well, healthwise, so I was doing a lot of up and down to Windsor. I got only 2 or 3 weekends to myself. And then I spent my remaining 3 weeks of the 4 week vacation in Windsor also. So all my summer was gone like that...no big issues, except of course my Mom. She is recovering....slowly.

It was interesting teaching at Capital. It was so nice to be teaching back in USA again. After the 10 weeks of teaching at Subharti, I was happy to be in a place where students attend classes, do the work, are not talking over me and I have technology in the classroom! It felt normal again. Students were really good and I really enjoyed it. Teaching at Capital gives me the relief that I need even from Palm Beach sometimes.

Then of course, I had to come back to Florida. I did not go to my office until the faculty meeting. Why bother? The cluster meeting was utterly useless. I don't talk to anyone, no one bothers to talk to me. It is the most dysfunctional department ever! Even more than Park and Shenandoah. Those departments were too small, but this one is big enough that people can talk to each other, but they don't. 

I had to try out my new teaching idea this semester with all the power point studies I had made for gen chem 1 and organic 1. Ugh!! That was a mess. Two things I did not account for: one - students don't print out stuff on time and two - so much grading for me!! It was too much. After 2-3 weeks of not getting work from them, I started getting copies for them, but then, so many would not come to class, so would not pick up the copy and so would not submit....so some frustration or another. On the other hand there were a high number of students who submitted all the work.

Organic 1 was a major disappointment this semester. Half the class is failing. First of all, not many students take my class because "someone" has told them not to. And the ones who take should know that they would have to work hard. Organic chemistry is not entry level class! I could not inspire them. Half the class will pass with good grades, while the other half will fail. It reflects poorly on me. But what to do? Go to teach at Capital in summer!! :-)

The college work life is the same. Nothing has changed. My colleagues are as sour as they come. We have not spoken for over two years. But who cares? Not the boss....he is equally bad. He has no communication skills and does not promote any kind of collaboration in the department or division. He is afraid to talk to anyone and I don't like talking to him at all. He has appreciated my input when I was the chair, but he still does not respect me or understand the difference between "someone" and me. He thinks we are all the same. Any person who cannot recognize the value of people who work for him, is not worth working for. Sadly, no one - HR, Dean, VPAA or the President - no can do anything about him. He is one of those people who will never get promoted, but he will also not go anywhere. So we are just stuck with a leader with no vision, no people value, no proactiveness or any quality that a leader should have. Maybe that is what the college wants! 

So essentially, I feel like a robot who goes in to teach with hardly any incentive to do anything creative. The students have their own lives and issues that they are not able to give time to college. The faculty have their own families that they don't want to socialize with colleagues. Our leaders are mere pencil pushers. The president is too far removed from faculty to have any influence. The only good thing that happened was that we got a little raise, because the college got "Gold" status. I think we all had a little bit to do with it. Ramos wanted 70% passing rate - he got it. I had to pass students I normally would not. 

So .... life just goes on at work. I have to inspire myself to keep myself motivated.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Movie Review - Silence

Yes...another movie review. Weekend goes by with at least one or two movies. I would normally not watch Silence, it seems a little too serious to me, but I am glad I watched it. It was a slow but engaging movie. With a great actor, Liam Neeson, although in a small but key role, but the major kudos go to Andrew Garfield.

The movie is set in 17th century Japan when Jesuits traveled with trading ships to proselytize the Japanese. The traders were Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish...maybe more. But this story is about the Portuguese Jesuit priests. Liam Neeson (Father Farreira) had gone to Japan and not returned, gone silent. Two young priests, Garfield (Rodriguez) and Driver (Garupe) take it upon themselves to go and look for him. They both land on an island where they luckily run into some converts who hide and protect them. In those times the Japanese Inoue (ruler?) was ruthless in his prevention of these conversions. The Christians practiced their faith, baptism, confessions etc, in hiding.

The locals (farmers/peasants) were very happy to have the two young priests. The first third of the movie is where the young priests are getting used to being hidden and performing their duties. Rodriguez still wants to go and find Farreira, but their circumstances do not allow it. Then the story takes a turn by the arrival a peasant (K) who offers to take them to another island. They go with him. Apparently priests have a bounty on their head! K takes them along with three other devout who offer themselves up so the two priest can escape and hide on the island.

There is an elaborate scene on how these devout are sacrificed. They are asked to step on a carving of Jesus to renounce their faith. They refuse. So they are tied to a cross and left in the ocean to die. It is a powerful scene. And after they die, they are cremated.  Rodriguez and Garupe watch all this in horror. They decide to separate so they are not caught together.

Now the real story starts. Rodriguez meets up with some other devout, but is eventually caught by the Inoue and taken as a prisoner with all the other devout.

I could write the whole story but the takeaway is that Rodriguez's faith is tested over and over again. He sometimes sees himself as Jesus, the saviour of all the peasants. Then sometimes he does not think God is listening to him. He keeps feeling if there is a God he will prevent all these killings that Inoue is doing to wipe out Christians. At one time he is taken to a place and shown Garupe dying while trying to save some of the converts. Something that Rodriguez has not been able to do.  This whole time all that the Inoue is asking him to do is step on a carving of Jesus, that's it. And he will stop killing the Christians. But Rodriguez is unable to do this. The Inoue keeps killing the converts. Rodriguez feels guilty but cannot bring himself to step on Jesus's carving.

And then the final straw comes when he is taken to meet a monk, Father Farreira! By this time Farreira has renounced Christianity and has become a Buddhist monk. He advises Rodriguez to do the same. But Rodriguez is still defiant. But in the end he gives up - how? He sees what caused Father Farreira to change. Five people tied up and hung upside down in a pit. On their neck is a small slit that lets blood drip slowly out of their body. It delays death ... just torturous!!  Farreira explains to Rodriguez that love of God is to love the people and not cause them to die like this. At all times Rodriguez is asking the Inoue to punish him - Rodriguez, but the Inoue instead tortures his converts. A great dialogue is when Inoue says to Rodriguez, "Your glory comes at their sacrifice".

It's really powerful movie. It is based on a book which is based on facts. It really touched me for two reasons: first - I don't believe in conversion. I don't believe any person has the right to convert anyone's religion. It is a personal choice. And second - I believe that love is the answer to all world's problems. The most basic message should be to show love, respect and kindness to everyone. If one can do that then I think one does not need religion in their life.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Movie Review - Aftermath

I am not a big fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger but Aftermath seemed like a different kind of movie. And it was. It started off really well, tragic, but well.  A plane accident kills Arnold's wife and daughter (who was pregnant). The accident was just that - an accident. The cause was a result of communication error in the flight traffic control room. It resulted in more than 270 people dying in the plane crash.

The movie is about Arnold (Roman) and Scoot McNairy (Jake), two men on two different sides of this story but dealing with immense tragedies: Roman dealing with the loss of the only two people he loved and Jake dealing with the guilt of accidentally killing 270 people. Jake is a happily married man with a young son, but everything in his life becomes meaningless after this incident. He goes into depression. Roman starts spending too much time in the cemetery.

The story takes interesting turns on how these two men are trying to cope with their grief. Eventually after one year both are sort of getting settled in new roles. Jake changes his life, his name and gets a new job in a new city. Roman quits his job and does odd jobs. Roman sues the airlines asking them only for an apology, which he never gets from them or anyone.

Their paths never collide until Roman asks a reporter, who had previously contacted Roman for a story, to find out about the identity of the air traffic controller. Until now the story was going fine for me, but after this incident the story took a bad turn.  They could have made the movie in such a different way. If you plan to see the movie, don't read anymore.

The reporter told Roman the identity of Jake and his home address.  Roman goes there to ask Jake for an apology.  At the same time, Jake is rebuilding his life and finally his wife and son come to see him in his new place. And then Roman barges in all this wanting an apology. Jake tells him to go but Roman doesn't and in his distress he kills Jake with a knife. Jake's wife and son are inside and it is just a shocking event. Roman goes to jail, comes out after ten years and goes straight to the cemetery. He is followed by a young man. Yes, you guessed right, Jake's son, now all grown up. Roman says nothing has changed in the cemetery but Jake's son says everything has changed since his father died. Then it clicks in Roman's mind who this young man is. The son has a gun and wants to kill Roman, but his conscious does not allow it. Roman apologizes to him and when the son asks him to go, he goes away.

My problem with the whole movie is how alone everyone is in this movie. Roman is alone in his grief. No one from his work comes to see him. He has no friends. Jake is lucky to have a wife, but she fails to empathize with him and support him. She does not divorce him and in the end is still waiting to be with Jake, but she was not as compassionate or supportive when he needed it most. Towards the end when Roman finds Jake's location and he goes, he is so focused on his own grief that he does not even want to listen to Jake. There was no need to kill Jake. Jake did not deliberately kill anyone or his wife and daughter. But it seems that no one is willing to listen or talk to each other.

Then there is the reporter - why did she give Jake's address to Roman without being present there herself to facilitate the meeting? So unethical. Lastly, the airlines people, who show no sympathy for the family of the passengers. They just offer money as if that compensates for the loss.

All in all, I don't know why the writer, Javier Gullon, wrote this movie which shows the worst of all human behaviour. The movie could have been made into such a positive one with love, sympathy and empathy. Why make such a depressing movie into an even more depressing movie?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Fashion in India….

I never got the memo that girls don’t wear salwar suits anymore. The trend is still kurti and slacks, that started 3 years ago.  And now there is the kurti and planko…oops plazo…what the heck! It’s this really just old fashioned pajamas. The kurtis on it are really really long, and the pajamas are really really wide! One looks like they are wearing a sack. It can be a good look for really tall and thin girls.  I don’t think its for me at all.

And then there is the “lowers” – again pajama! No girl wears a gown anymore. All these “lowers” are not in sync with the “uppers”. So T-shirts are really popular now.  This is the normal nightwear and casual wear.  Girls wear this all the time. 

I think being in Dev Sanskriti Vishv Vidyalay really protected me from all this fashion.  All girls were always wearing suits/uniforms when outside hostel. But in Subharti, everything is allowed. The girls here are quite different – jeans and capris are all worn here. It’s a different atmosphere.  I never got to see all these fashion trends in so much detail before. 

The party wear is wearing kurti and lehnga/skirt – really long kurti. Which looks good only in a party. I see that the long kurtis are quite in fashion. On the other hand, all the uniforms the girls wear have such short kurtis on salwars. Go figure…the old normal is gone. 

The guys are usually the worst dressed. They don’t even look good in uniforms sometimes. The non uniform clothes that men wear are just strange looking pants and shirts. They also have the sweat pants/tracksuit kind of pants, which is good when you are actually on the track. But young men here wear anything. The colors are dull and just not attractive. There are some professors I have seen who wear somewhat smart clothes but otherwise – not really. 

And then there is the beard! What is with this new unshaven look in young men. So uncivilized or so lazy?  

I sometimes feel that I am from some foregone era…there is no place for me in this new India.