Two novels

November 15, 2014

Read Ian McEwan’s Atonement and Lily King’s Euphoria. Liked Euphoria a lot. Strongly recommended. Atonement is good too. (There is no comparison between the two novels. Just that I happened to read them one after another and liked one better than the other).

Grothendieck: RIP

November 15, 2014

I learnt the news through a mail from one of the colleagues in the mathematics department. Here is the obituary from The Telegraph.

On evaluation systems

October 13, 2014

My view is that an evaluation system need not be perfect – it just needs to be ‘good enough’ to provide a basis for disbursement of funds that can be seen to be both transparent and fair, and which does not lend itself readily to gaming.

From BishopBlog; the piece is on the use of metrics for research assessment at the universities and is a good one! Do read.

On teaching

October 1, 2014

A nice post with some good pointers!

Syeda Saiyidain Hameed’s Maulana Azad, Islam and the Indian National Movement

August 27, 2014

Is a must-read. The book got a very positive review at the Hindu by S Ananthakrishnan:

In this book, Syeda Saiyidin Hameed has brought out the eminence of Maulana Azad with great aplomb. … The book being extremely analytical crisscrosses the life and times of Azad seamlessly adhering to his concepts of Muslim advancements and Hindu-Muslim unity. Indeed a book to be reckoned with in understanding the Muslims, national movement and of course Maulana Azad.

After having gone through only about one fifths of the book, I am already convinced that the book is a must-read for anybody interested in Indian national movement.

There are quite a few surprises (for me, at least) in the book. For example, I did not know that one of the Sufi saints (Mansur Hallaj) declared An-al-Haq ‘I am Truth’. I also did not realise that for people like Maulana, the participation in Indian freedom movement was a religious duty:

He reminded the Muslims that thirteen hundred years ago they had embarked upon bringing freedom to all mankind. They owed it to their belief in Allah and His Prophet that India’s freedom should be achieved and achieved only through their vaseela (intercession).

Till now, I (at least) have never heard of this strand of Indian national movement.

As a matter of fact, I found the views of Maulana on religion to be the most interesting:

There is one type of religion — hereditary; believe what your forefathers believed in. Another type is geographical, which comprises of the well-worn path travelled by many on any given piece of the earth. Then there is religion of the census survey; put down ‘Islam’ in the appropriate box. There is also the conventional religion — the compendium of rituals and ceremonies, do not tamper with it; allow it to run all over you. Apart from all these there is the haqiqi (true) religion and it is the path to this which somehow always gets lost.

From the preface, I understand that Oxford India rejected the manuscript in 1997 while OUP, Pakistan published it. Now, in 2014, OUP, India has published the book. Better late than never, I suppose.

The only thing that I would have liked more is if there were more photographs added to the book — though the two (on the cover) and the one with the author’s family (By the way is it K M Munshi with the Gandhi cap in the photo?) are really nice!

 

To be fully human

August 25, 2014

Mukul Kesavan remembers U R Ananthamurthy and how URA knew how to be human.

A must read for those in academics

August 24, 2014

I bought Bruce Shore’s Graduate Advisor Handbook on the recommendation of Rex at Savage Minds. I enjoyed reading the book. It is a short one — running into some 160 odd pages. It has something for everybody associated with grad school — be it administrators, students, or, of course, advisors. There are six chapters — beginning the supervisory relationship, student centred advising, maintaining boundaries in routine interactions, quagmires and sticky situations, career support and institutionalising a culture of student centered approach. There are also three very interesting appendices. I found the book very interesting and very useful. Strongly recommended; if you are a newbie in academics — joining for your PhD or for your first teaching job — doubly strongly recommended!

U R Ananthamurthy: RIP

August 23, 2014

I have read his Samskara in Tamil translation. It was a nice novel if a bit sad to read. My attempts to read Samsakara in Kannada were not successful. I have heard good things about Bharatipura; I have not read it yet though. Here is Hindu reporting on his passing away.

B K S Iyengar: RIP

August 20, 2014

Hindu reports on the passing away; I have learnt lots about yogasanas from his books!

On four year Bachelor’s programme in Science

August 15, 2014

I have been thinking about the recent discussions about the four year Bachelor’s programme in sciences at the Indian Institute of Science.

According to a news report:

The ministry said that the four-year programme in general streams of arts, science and commerce had violated the National Policy on Education, 1986. The ministry says the NPE provides for 10+2+3 system for students pursuing general stream of education.

I was curious about the National Policy on Education, 1986 — primarily to see what the rationale behind such a prescription is. The document is available here; as far as I can see, this is all it says:

The National System of Education envisages a common educational structure. The 10+2+3 system has now been accepted in all parts of the country. 

So, in the document, there is really no justification except for common structure. The document, also notes that the Policy from 1968 wanted the 10+2+3 system to be made broadly acceptable; and, in 1986, it seems that the introduction of the 10+2+3 system was seen as the most notable development.  So, I can understand how UGC might see the introduction of the 4 year Science undergraduate programme as a retrograde move.

However, there seem to be some strong arguments as to why we should at least experiment with a four year degree programme in science:

A paper prepared jointly by three Indian science academies in 2008 identified various limitations of the present system that focuses on quantity of information rather than the quality of education. The report argued for a four-year program with an emphasis on flexibility in curriculum, choice of subjects and research experience. They also recommended allowing students to switch between science and engineering.

I also agree with the following point from Guttal’s post:

India’s requirement as a large and diverse country cannot and should not rely on a failed mode of higher education uniformly imposed across the entire country. Experiments to improve education must be encouraged, especially if the premier institutes of the country are taking the lead. We can only know what works best if we attempt a variety of approaches.

Hence, I feel UGC should allow the four year programmes on an experimental basis (at least in places like IISc where both the Institution and the stakeholders, namely, faculty, students and parents seem to be in favour of the experiment). 

Finally, personally, even as a matter of policy, I am not in favour of strict uniformity while I am all for broad uniformity; of course, where there are deviations from the uniformity, UGC and MHRD should spend more effort to make sure that the changes are in keeping with the spirit of things. I believe, in the long run, this is the only way to make our academic system more robust, flexible, innovative and modern.


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