My Ten Top Moments of 2017

Life is about living. A small part of it is of course work, as we strive to enjoy the rest of it through the rewards it brings.  The sweet balance of life and work is yet to be achieved, but here’s looking back at ten moments which highlighted 2017, cherished with the slow pace that choices and Calcutta has brought.

1) TAUGHT DESIGN

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The work part, “You Can Sketch” is alive and kicking. While there are hiccups brought by after effects of demonetization, GST and other government induced disenablers; some moments were very special. In the beginning of the year itself, I was contacted by a young girl for advise on NIFT preparation. Yes, she did finally get through NIFT. Yes, she finally got subject she wanted.

2) DESIGNED A CREATIVITY TEST

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A biggest issue I face is the selection of students for my workshops. Many people who want to learn drawing for the first time are unsure where to start. To overcome this, I designed a tool to check the level and aptitude of various participants.

3) MENTORED ON COURSERA

It had been a while since I mentored last on Coursera, being one of the earliest teams of community teaching assistants on this very innovative concept. So, when I was invited to mentor on “Planet Earth & You” course offered by University of Illinois, I took the opportunity to participate in the new offering.

4) MANAGED AN EVENT

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If managing a group of 200 odd people is challenging, managing an all women group of 200 is even more so. Everything has to be perfect. While I was merely a treasurer of this all women support group, I soon found myself to be the quiz master, photographer and documenter for this monthly meet group. Poila Boisakh, is the New Year celebrated in Bengal, and was our theme reflecting in the backdrop, quiz questions, décor and also the dress code. I think I learned just enough to write a longish article on it by now!

5) HONED MY WRITING SKILLS

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Jeffry Archer was promoting his new book and T2, the local supplement of the English newspaper, The Telegraph, held a contest. The challenge was to write a story with a beginning, middle & end, in exactly 100 words. Not a word less. Not a word more. Out of 190 entries received, mine was one of the few chosen by their page editor to be featured on their page.

6) APPRECIATED ART

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Art & Calcutta go hand in hand. On one occasion of visiting an art gallery, hoping to pick up some of the famed art, I found myself the subject instead. I found myself observing a painting, on the front page of the daily, instead.

7) RODE A HORSE

How difficult can it be reaching the race course at 5:15 every morning in early spring? Not very. The air is fresh, it’s peaceful and add to that a like minded riding group and you are all set. The breeches were bought, so were the strong leather shoes and a stiff round riding cap. The trotting was not painful and a horse with a very human name, “ Mr Vijay Kumar” was allocated to me. It was a fine majestic horse with a shiny dark brown body and a tall countenance. After a week of getting accustomed to the horse, I decided to call it quits. The reason? The pain. Not to me, but to the horse? Each horse is held with a harness attached on their mouth, all the way to their teeth and to make the horse “obey” you need to pull the muzzle tight or loose as required. I don’t know whether the poor creature felt the pain, but I felt it every time I wanted to make it “obey” me. One day my instructor told me to whip the poor thing. I decided that it was the last day for me.

8) STAR GAZED

The year’s hyped astronomical event was the total solar eclipse seen after a gap of a century in America. In Calcutta we had an episode of a partial lunar eclipse.  I waited till 1 am to see the complete phenomena and tried to record it.

Then another star caught my eye one evening. Dusk had just descended on the quiet hazy evening. It blinked red, then green and appeared to give out flashes of light. Sirius is its name, the brightest star in our constellation. While my hand did shake to capture on manual mode, the colors it gives out are ethereal and almost unreal as if belonging to another dimension.

 9) THE EYE OF A ROYAL BENGAL TIGER

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The Royal Bengal tiger looked directly towards me. He was half hidden behind the leaves camouflaging his stripes. They are known to be man eaters. But I saw him from the safety of a partition wall, in the zoo. Alipore Zoo was built in the late 1800’s. He also shares the zoo with a white tiger. A lion and a leopard are the new occupants. Can sometimes hear them roaring at night. (I stay close to the zoo.)

10) TRIED DIFFERENT CUISINES   

 

Whether it is the bakers, the Mughlai cuisine or the seafood, in abundance you find it all in Calcutta. If I wasn’t online much of the time this year, I was probably eating some Biryani, the Victoria Vada or savouring an English Tea with thin sandwiches.

Looking forward to more feasts on the last year of the Calcutta exploration!

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Five Lessons in Installation Art 101 with Puja Pandal Hopping!

A decade or so back when friends would say: “We are going to Calcutta for the Puja”, the Delhites would wonder what the brouhaha was all about. What was this connection between every Bengali and Durga Puja Pandal?

These temporary Hindu Temples come up for nine days in a year and block many roads all over the city causing traffic snarls and packed streets. One wonders, “What’s the rush about?” avoiding the affected streets. Life comes to a standstill specially in the last 2-3 days and even if you don’t step out, your newspaper stops coming, offices close early and the help turn up late or not at all.

The entire close to a million NRI bangla diaspora, seem to descend on Calcutta at this time, along with surrounding villages, taking the population a few notches more than 15 million at this time.

“You must visit the pandals at least once to see the art of Bengal” urged a young Bengali. I could visualize him pandal hopping on a two wheeler with his friends adding to the traffic and then jostling his way through the crowds in sweaty heat.

Amid the surrounding filth of last night’s disposable plates and soda cups, people waddled through to see a glimpse of the structures. Different thematic installations emerged. Some of the lessons are below from visiting a few:

  1. Recreations: Recreating a building of another city or a temple structure found elsewhere. Calcutta seems to be superb in this. The reverse engineering of temple design.
  2. Recycling: Used tires. Used medicine boxes. The Calcutta dump itself provides raw material for many structures.
  3. Sustainability: Straw, bamboo, & materials resembling straw and bamboo, for an earthen feel.
  4. Sparkle & Shine: Mosaics, Mirrors, Tin, Special effects lighting, colored lights.
  5. Pomp & Hype: World’s Largest… Biggest… Most expensive…. Gold sari of so many Kgs and Gold ornaments.

I recommend visiting these structures as a part of Indian Design education. The variety of themes, elements, material exploration and intricacy in detail is quite inspiring. The hygiene and man management are two issues which if tackled, could make Calcutta Pandal hopping superlative.

 

 

Lady In The Deluge

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LADY IN THE DELUGE. (Mixed Media: Pen & Pastels)

There is something about Calcutta which brings out the need for creative expression. The rain clouds over the sky for over fours months a year. Many times it rains when the sun is shining. Dull, dreary, this perhaps explains the slow pace of everything including traffic. The last week across the globe has been about floods. Everywhere. Typhoon. Tornado. Bursts of rain in Mumbai yet again, and of-course in Calcutta too.

Who is the “Lady In The Deluge”?

She seems to be an urban lady, dressed for a party. Wearing a cold shoulder dress, tattered at one sleeve. Her oversized umbrella doesn’t help in this rain and a stream of water finds its way down her arm. She makes a futile effort to save her smartphone from the rain, bu doubt if it would be of much use. Same with her garments outlining her silhouette. Doesn’t help. The sound of her shoes clicking on the gravel gets muted. She is perhaps trying to find the way to her car.

Is that her car? The one that is submerged? What are those pieces of paper stuck under the wheel?

In the background a couple of friendly colleagues document their adventure.

An empty soda bottle bobs along silently, trying to find its purpose.

END

Letter to Nikola, written a century later.

SEND: through wireless ether, non-time specific

Calcutta, India

19 Aug. 17

Hi Nikola,

It’s been two years less a century between your autobiography first published in 1919 in the Electrical Experimenter and now that I first read it. I happened to find the copy titled “My Inventions” on the net. It’s a couple of decades short a century since your death too!

However, the feeling of connecting with you was so strong, that I thought, “What the hell!”(It’s a current slang phrase), “Let’s get on with it, maybe some vibration, some energy field or some time-wrap could take this message into the past.”

Everything is after all Energy & Frequency.

You said in your book, quote, “I am prompted to this prediction not so much by thoughts of the commercial and industrial revolution which it will surely bring about, but of the humanitarian consequences of the many achievements it makes possible. Consideration of mere utility weigh little in the balance against the higher benefits of civilization.”

By the way, today the United Nations is celebrating “World Humanitarian Day”. (Are you sniggering?)

You also say quote, “The greatest good will come from technical improvements tending to unification and harmony… (You gave example of your wireless transmitter)”.

News! You have been right. We have this thing called the internet, joined by fiber optics across the sea bed. (Like you professed in your book: a wire buried in the ground, insulated from interference). It has been revolutionary. It has connected like-minded people like never before and reduced the distances between countries. We have smartphones to talk, radios, microwaves to cook food and your discovery of alternating current to provide electricity, is still providing energy to most homes in the world, to power our many devices.

But they still haven’t figured how to harness the energy of the sun and direct it to water arid deserts. Or maybe we haven’t heard about it yet. Some countries, though, are working on a large model of the Sun! Interestingly they don’t have large deserts or arid lands.

About the use of electromagnetic frequencies for warfare, there are doubts that this might have already been misused for weather modification and the sorts. You did warn.

Well, they discovered the Van Allen radiation belts swathing around the atmosphere of the earth, in 1958 tells NASA. Maybe the time to build that free floating ring across the equator, enabling fast travel is now, though the supersonic planes have reached over 3000 km/hr by this era, we like experimenting with new ways to be mobile.

Must mention as a passing note that two things are still around, misinformation and your favorite journal, the Scientific American. The latter has a twitter account, which in today’s times means that it is thriving well into this century.

Do you know, they named a car inspired by you? The Tesla? They are however still looking to make such cars cheaper. The fuel used in electric cars is lithium, which is available in China, Australia and Afghanistan. And there is war-like situation on in at least a third of these places. It won’t be long before Electric car technology are competing with the traditional car models, and your Detroit car manufacturer; is threatened by the laws of demand and inventive supply (Twist of destiny, 🙂

There is sudden interest in you again and led me to wonder, why we didn’t ever learn about you in school? Ironically your invention brings the electricity to every working classroom of the world, illuminating the books, where we learn the name of Edison. (He didn’t actually invent the incandescent light bulb, did he?)

You say in your book, “My belief is strong in a law of compensation. The true rewards are ever in proportion to the labor and sacrifices made.”

On the world humanitarian day, here is hoping that with the same spirit/energy with which you tackled science and harnessed it for problem solving for good of the society, may each inventor in this era direct their energy towards higher benefits of the civilization.

END MESSAGE

 

Planet Mirth

In the light of the controversial internal Google memo written by James Damore, here is a story, written strictly for amusement. The concept of gender issues was in my mind for a long time, what if women would behave in the way men do? What if the roles were reversed. Lets take a look at a life of such a man.

Once upon a time in a parallel universe, in galaxy far away, was a planet.

It wasn’t your ordinary planet. It was special. It was special because the dominating race were women.

The name of the planet was Mirth.

Every morning at day break, the men would wake up and make the breakfast and pack tiffin for the family. Then they would dress to leave for work. The kids would be dressed for school by the male member of the family. The patient father would lovingly pack their meals into their bags.

Sometimes their kind wives would leave them to the school & nearest train station in their family owned vehicle. If they got late by any reason, the male member would hire a cab and drop the kids off before reporting himself to his workplace, late.

He dreaded such days. His boss was usually a woman and he had to work in a team of many Alpha women. The last boss had been fired by the company for harassment and striving for a gender diverse workplace, the HR had recommended an Alpha woman to sort the mess created by the very feminine predecessor. His new boss believed in empathy and tolerance, but he knew that his excuse of not reaching to work on time would only be a reflection on his work ethic and perhaps lower his record.

With a sigh of relief to have reached the workplace on time today, he took the first few minutes to re-organise his desk and list out his tasks for the day. Almost covertly, he made a second list in his mind; milk, eggs, fruits…, notebook for daughter…

He glanced into the glass cabin ahead and could view his boss just entered.

He next saw the new receptionist walk into the boss’s room with her coffee and he could see them make a joke.

“Perks of being a woman!” he thought in his mind as he opened his emails for the day, taking his last breath of serene calmness. Left behind were the worries of home, children, fevers and colds; as he engrossed himself in this heavenly environment.

At noon, he spotted some movement in the foyer outside his window. His boss and a couple of sycophantic males from the office had stepped out for a smoke. Between puffs of nicotine, she was shouting at a remote working team member on her phone, hurling the choicest abuses. The phone call ended rather abruptly and the smokers continued their discussion about the cricket game in the evening.

He would have liked to go early and catch up the cricket game too, had it not been for the pending customer response sheets he had to enter into the system.

“Why couldn’t they automate the system?” He thought in his mind, knowing fully well at back of his mind that it would mean his position would be redundant.

His thought process was interrupted by the phone ringing.

“Honey, can you come to my office please?”

It was his boss. That’s strange.

He adjusted his clothes as he got up and proceeded to knock on the glass door.

He entered with a sweet smile into the ceiling-less room. Not even glass.

“We have a new position in the nearby town. We notice that you have been working hard, doing extra hours, even weekend if we need. It’s a management position. A new office that we are opening. Your work will be primarily liaison, a lot of travel.”

She gave a disarming smile as she asked, “Would you like to be recommended?”

He asked what the compensation would be.

“It would be pretty much be the same. Many people are looking at this position from the team itself. Many of them are very aggressive women. How interested would you be?”

“Well, can I think it over? As you know, my wife has a good job in this town and kids are also going to higher grade this year.”

“Okay. Is tomorrow morning enough time? Think about it, it would be good for your resume.”

“Sure. Thanks for considering me.”

As he left her cabin, he could feel the pierce of a nagging migraine about to set.

Hearing the door click back into position, Boss picked up the phone and dialled the HR with her well-manicured nails.

“I told the cute boy who sits outside my office about the position. I don’t think he would be interested. A married man. Can we give him some incentive to join?”

She listened on over the line in silence, her eyebrows moving upwards with every passing second.

“I know! I am trying to promote diversity here as well. If you don’t have enough funds, get some young unmarried man from a third world country. I’m giving him time till the morning to respond. He seemed desperate for a more challenging assignment.”

By five, he could see all the women in the office slowly depart one after another.

“To get ready for the game in the evening!” He thought in his mind.

By six, he was almost done with his entries for the day. He quickly wound up while messaging his wife if she could pick him on the way.

First message. Second message. She didn’t answer. Maybe she was driving already.

He quickly wore his overcoat as he stepped into the street outside. Some fog and dust from the cars. No policewoman was on the street today. Strange.

Remembering his errands, he thought, “Should I take the alley to the train station?”

This part of the town was known for its mugging gangs of women. They would move in groups of 5 to 6 in fast moving vans, snatching jewellery of other women, bags and wallets of unsuspecting men.

He wrapped his coat closer around himself and tiptoed into the dark narrow alley shortcut.

The stench was overpowering. In a corner next to the wall, a homeless women was relieving herself.

Looking straight ahead he walked on, faster and faster.

“I just have to reach that light post ahead”. He prayed to God in his mind as he heard someone whistling behind him.

He almost broke into a run and hit someone as he stepped into the connected street.

“Watch it, man!” said the policewoman.

He sighed a sigh of relief.

“What you doing crossing the alley? It was just a five minute walk around the block. You would be safer that way.”

“Sorry. Next time, I’d take that route.”

He quickly stepped down the subway towards the train station. Milk, Eggs, school homework, cooking, cleaning, dishes, discussion with wife about the job offer…

He felt as if his day had just begun.

END

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Re Skill Trap and the pumping balloon.

Stephen Hawking, recently said;

“We are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality, in which many people can see not just their standard of living, but their ability to earn a living at all, disappearing…”

AI or Artificial Intelligence is said to loom as a threat on human’s race with a million articles on the impact of automation.

Debate over debate seems to rage on which job skills would be redundant.

Recently in the US, McDonalds has replaced some 2500 of its cashiers with automated touch screen kiosks. Elsewhere in India, 43 McDonalds restaurants are closing with estimated job loss of 1700 people.

An interesting tweeter observed that if your job is making and receiving emails and creating ppt/pdf etc, your job will probably be automated.

Elsewhere, the corporate money machines are gamifying the process of entry level jobs, by challenging their candidates to play a brain game to collect as much money as possible by pumping a digital balloon.

Reading a paragraph of the 1940s book ” The Future in Education” by Sir LivingStone, one ascertains that the norm of schooling after 14 yrs of age, was established just last century.

The rationale given that “it is the time when parents are most capable of earning money and children least capable of it.” It is also said to be “the best time for learning new languages, memorizing facts and even enjoying what to an adult is drudgery..”

Adult education on other hand was suggested to be given “to students who desire it, have the mental capacity to receive it and experience of life necessary to value and interpret it”.

Even after 70 yrs of educating and receiving education, most of us realize the rewards not corresponding to the time and effort gone into years of slogging.

He himself noted ” I doubt if any candid person, who has been a teacher or pupil in a secondary school, feels the returns correspond to the labour, time & money spent.”

So what do we do?

We go about to re-skill ourselves. The same employment machinery that requires “credentials” for “qualifying” to certain positions, now realizes that the last 17-18 yrs of the education machinery are mostly a wasted effort. New skills are needed to be “employable”.

We do what now?

We put in those extra hours to learn about something afresh.

And then?

A new technology and we spent the extra hours re-skilling ourselves?

And?

Some one creates a startup and endeavors to become a job creator rather than a seeker.

For the rest, the circle goes on, till their job is eventually automated.

 

 

 

 

The Father of Indian Design Education

” You must visit City Centre in Calcutta” said Prof. Nadkarni.

After a few months he asked if I had visited city center yet.

Not much of a shopper, buying even the vegetables online, traveling 40 minutes away from home to a shopping mall was not enticing for me for the first year of living in Calcutta.

Last week, I received a message from Prof about a book that had been published,

The Design Journey of Prof. Sudhakar Nadkarni“.

One could feel his excitement as a little kid for candy. But, then, he is always like that. His infectious enthusiasm and humorous wit transforms any issue.

The next week, we did indeed visit City Centre at Salt Lake.

Designed by late Architect Charles Correa, and signage designed by Prof Nadkarni, it was everything you expect from a mall, but seldom get. The architecture lines were square and minimal. The entire mall followed an atypical pattern allowing exploration and movement. Even the friday food carnival stalls were designed with the environmental feel. A tram and horse, along with tram lines, added the touch of Calcutta’s history, placed in the “kund”.

You’ll find pictures of City Centre in this link, but below are some memorable pictures with Prof. Nadkarni.