Panchayat elections and eligibility criterion to contest

January 5, 2015

Aruna Roy in The Hindu:

The introduction of educational qualifications as eligibility criteria for contesting panchayat elections has shocked and angered rural Rajasthan, including supporters of the ruling BJP.

A must-read article for some of the interesting anecdotes and incidents that Roy describes:

I have been trained for 40 years of my life, particularly in democracy, ethics, and governance, by illiterate but highly educated people in rural India. We have traded skills. Naurti, now Sarpanch of Harmara (Ajmer district), is “illiterate,” but learnt to use the computer at the age of 50 and teaches middle and high school dropouts how to use the computer. She has no class 8 certificate, but uses the website of the Ministry of Rural Development. Who is more skilled between us is debatable. I would not advocate that Naurti head the Ministry of Human Resource Development or that she teach me Shakespeare, but in matters of governance in the panchayat she is heaps better. My informal learning about the invention of scientific thought, of Galileo and Kalidasa, have provided a worldview worth the learning. But I am not equipped like Naurti to understand the nitty-gritty of getting a panchayat quorum to take a difficult and just decision when faced with a contentious issue. I do not know if I could face the ire and possibility of violence for standing against sati, without caste or money on my side, as she did. She will not be trapped into a situation by unethical, unjust people; nor will she be trapped by the writing on a paper that she cannot understand.

I remember Beelan, 65, scoffing at me 35 years ago saying I had nakal (copying by writing) whereas she had akal(mind). I could not remember figures and money spent, but many of my illiterate friends remembered details to the last paisa. A weaver of Ikat in Odisha is a mathematician — not only in simple arithmetic but in the intricate art of dividing numbers to form patterns.

Roy’s conclusion is also worth quoting:

The cherry on the cake is that the State government as well as the Centre proudly tout formal learning as an unnecessary criterion for choosing Ministers. In reality, 90 per cent of their work is through the written word, unlike that of the sarpanch who deals with the human condition.

Competent versus exceptional

January 3, 2015

Here is Paul Graham on the need to allow immigration of programmers into USA:

We have the potential to ensure that the US remains a technology superpower just by letting in a few thousand great programmers a year. What a colossal mistake it would be to let that opportunity slip. It could easily be the defining mistake this generation of American politicians later become famous for. And unlike other potential mistakes on that scale, it costs nothing to fix.

So please, get on with it.

Of course the entire discussion is based on the premise that

… there is a huge variation in ability between competent programmers and exceptional ones, and while you can train people to be competent, you can’t train them to be exceptional. Exceptional programmers have an aptitude for and interest in programming that is not merely the product of training.

I do not know how far it is true and if true, why it is so. Of course, that would be the most interesting question to ask and the answer might be worth the pursuit!

Ram Guha on B G Verghese

January 3, 2015

I was on vacation in the South Canara and Hassan districts for the past one week (and visited Shravanabelegola once more — a place that one can visit every year and feel the awe and peace every single time!). So, missed the news of the passing away of B G Verghese. Here is Ram Guha’s obituary in The Telegraph:

On coming down from Cambridge, Verghese joined the Times of India. He worked in that paper in the first, heady decades of Independence, covering the first elections, the conflicts with Pakistan, and the construction of high prestige projects such as the Bhakra-Nangal dam. This was a time of hope and idealism, when the politicians and bureaucrats were honest and committed to building a new India, a time Verghese describes with empathy and zest in his immensely readable memoir, First Draft.

I am yet to read First Draft but will get to it sometime.

Vanoli Anna: RIP

December 24, 2014

Hindu reports on the passing away of Koothapiran. The Sunday evening programme of Siruvar Solai was much anticipated one at our home. Vanoli Anna with radio where children’s groups can perform for the programme and Azha. Valliappa with Gokulam where children could contribute pieces to be published in the magazine did a lot to promote creativity among school children.

Rudranghsu Mukherjee’s Parallel Lives

December 22, 2014

An excellent book; I am almost half-way through. Strongly recommended. Here is Mukul Kesavan on the book; here is Narasaiah.

The Magician’s Land

December 17, 2014

A good read; I agree with this reviewer — this probably is the best of the three books — even though, I found some of the later chapters a tad too lengthy.

Chembai and the Music Academy

December 12, 2014

Sriram’s article on Chembai and the Music Academy is a must-read.  It is very difficult to argue forcefully or fight with Institutions while maintaining no ill-will. Chembai seems to have managed it. When we are on the topic, let me also strongly recommend Lakshmi Subramanian’s From the Tanjore court to the Madras Music Academy: A social history of music in South India. I am yet to complete the book. But I liked whatever I have read so far.

Biography of Bhagvad Gita

December 11, 2014

I read Richard R Davis’ The Bhagvad Gita: A biography. Doniger’s review of the book is here. A good read.

Vijaya Ramaswamy’s Walking Naked: Women, Society, Spirituality in South India

December 10, 2014

Though this books seems was published in 1997 (and, I have 2007 second revised edition with me), I was unaware of its existence till I saw a reference in one of Ram Guha’s articles. It is a must-read, especially if you are interested in the poetry of Mira, Andal and Akka Mahadevi. I especially liked the sections of the book on Sangam literature, Budhdhist and Jain literature and Veerashaiva movement — obviously because of my own interests. Strongly recommended. If I have any quibble, it is that some of the pieces are a bit dis-jointed and there are a few minor mis-prints and mistakes.

Meanness and success

November 30, 2014

Paul Graham has an essay on how very few of the most successful people he knows are mean:

Part of what’s going on, of course, is selection bias. I only know people who work in certain fields: startup founders, programmers, professors. I’m willing to believe that successful people in other fields are mean. Maybe successful hedge fund managers are mean; I don’t know enough to say. It seems quite likely that most successful drug lords are mean. But there are at least big chunks of the world that mean people don’t rule, and that territory seems to be growing.

A nice one!


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