Monday, 24 June 2013

Our kids have fewer places to go on field trips - Long live the Post Office

I had mixed feelings when I read the above headline last week. It was a throwback to a different era of communication with the Post Office as the ‘HUB’ of communication definitely in the 70s, 80s and early 90s. The Post Office used to be such an integral part of our family and friendship (who wants to make penfriends when you have Facebook & SMS?). There was a fuzzy logic-based pecking order in which a post card or a postal envelope or a telegram would be chosen as the instrument. A post card packed with lines written in Kannada with a fine handwriting used to be a harbinger of news. In our house we used to have a thick steel wire which was bent in the shape of S on which the letters would be pierced and archived. The telegram which enjoyed the tag of instant communication and hence 'premium pricing'. A telegram invariably would be a source of anxiety or unlimited glee depending on the cryptic message often announcing someone's unscheduled arrival by train or announcement of child-birth. 

Kids exploring the plant nursery
In this era of SMS and Twitter, I was wondering what effect it would have on children of this generation. At The Little Crest, we take our children out on a field trip to expose them to the neighborhood's essential services. The favorite destinations with kids is the bakery, fire station, plant nursery and the police station etc. The visit to the Post Office though not as much of a favorite as the neighborhood bakery or the  Fire Station, does have its unique appeal. The quite efficiency of the postal personnel when it came to sorting and organizing the letters for delivery is a sight to behold  (for the digital savvy the SORT is possibly only an algorithm !!!).

Feeling the texture of a Jack  fruit

The relevance of the Post Office has eroded slowly over the years, significantly in the big cities in India. It is important for the schools and parents to expose kids to the Post Office to familiarize them about this 'relic of the past' just to ensure that they understand how the neighborhood was about 15 years ago!.

The educational value of field trips is immense. Invariably, in the plant nursery, we ensure that all children carry home a plant. Here is a Youtube link to The Little Crest, Bannerghatta Road centre's field trip to a nursery. Children also get to taste a fresh fruit at the nursery. Most importantly, they all have several stories to narrate on their bus ride back!!

Meanwhile, we have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that we have one destination fewer to take our children on the next field trip!!

Fresher’s hiring – Reality Bytes

Last week, TOI stated what was being talked either in anecdotal fashion or in hushed whispers. The fresher hiring in the IT / ITES industry has slowed down considerably and will slow down even more (supply growing by 25% and demand slowing by 12%) putting enormous pressure on young engineering graduates who are expecting to pass out over the next couple of years. 

After having met and interacted with several members of management, key members of faculty/Placement Officers & young engineering students, here are some observations of mine on the three key stakeholders:

  • The state of affairs in engineering colleges is quite disturbing. Most colleges are in a state of  “continual denial” and are hoping for the best. Other than cosmetic “skill up-gradation efforts" and "employability improvement" programs most managements are either clueless or resigned to status quo.
  • The IT / BPO industry, to be fair has done a commendable job in adapting itself to the numerous bottlenecks in the talent landscape. The IT industry has invested extensively either on training and assessment in an academy-type of setting or in on-the-job orientation and mentorship. The entrepreneurship ecosystem also has been quite vibrant in the spectrum of opportunities such as "Upskilling”, “Employability” and “Assessment”. 
  • An average engineering student neither enjoys a supportive and warm academic environment nor does he have the gumption and skills to chart a course for himself. The average engineering graduate is truly caught like a “deer under headlight”.
With challenging times ahead for freshers, the educational management and the institutes need to act to assist engineering students:
  • Engineering colleges should provide improved learning opportunities including internship (Here is an interesting portal for internship opportunities!!). Interestingly AICTE has announced that internship is mandatory for engineering students. The reality on the ground is that lofty policy decisions do not always get translated to effective actions on the ground. A case in point is the 'final year engineering project has led to a thriving market for 'ready to use' projects including synopsis, prototype/code and reports. This is a mockery of the system!!! 
  • Improved career counseling to set expectations of students. Most colleges are reluctant to communicate the realities of the job market to aspiring students. The colleges need to be 'real' about it and stop being 'larger than life' when it comes to placement opportunities. 
  • The IT industry has reached a stage where Indian companies are morphing their proposition to
    'Outcome based pricing', 'non-linear growth models' and 'automation'. Given the supply situation, they would prefer to hire engineering graduates with diverse skills and aptitude. Learning Labs' customers while evaluating our BestFit assessment service, are all planning assess engineering graduates for diverse skill-sets and competencies. The engineering colleges, instead of taking a 'assembly line approach' which is a low-touch approach of churning out large numbers of graduates need to transform their student handling ability to a 'medium touch, small group approach'.
A final word to aspiring engineering students and parents. The era of engineering education being the  passport to a high paying IT industry job is over. I guess we are seeing the days of 'normalcy'. I recommend a 3-point agenda for engineering students to succeed as career engineers:
  • Please stop being extra-dependent on your college to provide you the dream offer. You have a significant role to play and hence take charge of your career!! 
  • Be real while setting your expectations and be a part of the 'solution' rather than the 'problem'
  • Invest your time in getting the best out of your college and through online resources like Coursera.

Friday, 7 June 2013

"Papa don't preach"

I was thinking about the influence that dads bring to bear on their children. We understand the importance of being a role model to our children. We want them to be successful. We want the very best of our children. Amidst all this, do we lose our plot and end up being overbearing and a tad 'preachy'.

One tends to be preachy and believe that one is entitled to providing unsolicited advice. It is particularly true with your daughter(s), possibly out of the mindset that 'girls' need to be protected. However, the question on the table is "Is it in the best interest of your child/daughter?". Though relationship with our children does change (evolve??) over time, do we have a 'central' foundation on which our 'parenting' edifice is built ?

I enjoy engaging in brief discussions with young parents of The Little Crest and understand their concerns and dreams for their child(ren). I am beginning to see some patterns here. Parents tend to be either 'Tiger parents" - extremely control seeking or 'guilt-prone parenting'. One of the things that I am convinced about is that you have to find a balance between control vs. freedom and pampering vs. strictness. 

Gender stereotyping is something that we all need to be cognizant of. This does manifest itself either unknowingly or as conditioned behavior.  Also the feudal upbringing does make us believe that we men earn our respect in the society by being protective towards women. This also makes us believe that we have a natural right to 'preach' rather than being 'role models' who emphasize 'practice' over 'preaching'. Please click here to listen to Madonna's chartbuster of the yesteryear "Papa don't preach"

On the occasion of Father's day, I have a 3 point checklist for dads while dealing with your daughter(s) vis-a-vis your son:
The Little Crest's neck-tie craft work
  • Would you emote the same way with your son? If the answer is NO, you need to introspect on your parenting style.
  • Would you provide the same freedom and support regarding career decisions of your daughter? If the answer is NO, you need to consider having a candid and heart-to-heart chat with your daughter.
  • Would you gift your daughter the choice of choosing her life partner on an unconditional basis ?
Happy Father's Day!!   

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Himalayan Travels - Part II - Why you as a parent should take your child to Himalayas?

Kedarnath - the lord of the summit

17th May (Friday): I woke up to a cold and blustery morning and overheard animated conversation between the priest (pandaji) and the housekeeping staff. It slowly dawned on us that at 12,000 ft above MSL, life is quite different. Water is freezing and is not your best friend. The quality of hot water changes ever so quickly. Most importantly, mind is willing but the body is not. 

We pushed ourselves out of the room and walked over the snow which had fallen in heaps and crusted. I got the first view of the Kedarnath temple and lo behold it was simply majestic!! Imagine the temple with snow peaks at the back and a simply breathtaking landscape overall.  Is this the gateway to heaven or heaven itself ? Is this the dividend for the 'power of faith'?

What is it that a 5th grader can do faster than us grown ups ?
Here is the best kept secret of the trek. A 5th grader was the first to scale the summit ahead of the pack!!. Though I did not get to witness this scene, I was told that he just breezed through. When I chatted with him, his reaction without any hesitation was that he could not have done it if his parents were around since he believed that he would not have enjoyed the unfettered freedom that he did with this group!! Wow that is maturity beyond years. This set me thinking if we parents were 'excessively protective' of our children. I hope and wish many more successful treks to him!!!

Kedarnath – Climbdown
"A Himalayan trek is a metaphor for life itself....." said a famous mountaineer.  The summit is to be reached and you cannot stay there. You have to descend and move on.. 

The climbdown was largely uneventful and listless. The panoramic views are the same. The valleys, the rivulets, grazing sheep are all the same. The body was numb and the mind is occupied with a myriad thoughts. The more I thought about it, the experience began to sink in. 

18th May (Saturday): Rudraprayag Sightseeing.
We drove down to see the Koteshwar Mahadev temple. Before we get there, here is some background to Rudraprayag. The legend about Rudraprayag is that Narada Muni performed penance for many years here. Lord Shiva is supposed to have taught music to Narada. The instrument that is associated with Narada Muni is incorrectly understood as Tamboori. It is actually the Rudra Veena. Please follow this link for a  recital of Ustad Asad Ali Khan playing Raga Asavari on Rudra Veena .  

Koteshwar Mahadev: 
The speciality here are the numerous naturally formed Shivlingas in a cave. Truly the spectacle is the Shivlingas getting a continuous supply of Ganga water. The natural way!!!

Just in case, if you needed reiteration that Man is simply dwarfed by some simple things of nature. Everything in the universe has its exact place and Man with his quest for knowledge, may decipher the laws of nature but can he succeed in his endeavor of conquering nature. The picture on the left triggered a series of questions in my mind. The bridge which is a man-made structure of possibly 30 ft length, how hard was that to build? 

Statue of Swami Haridas Giri
While we were exploring the bathing area at Rudraprayag we ran into a statue. I discovered that it was in front of the ashram being built in memory of Swami Haridas Giri. My father-in-law was a great devotee of Swamiji and used to be one of the committed disciples. In the early 90s my father-in-law would attend the bhajans which would be held as early as 5am in Chennai. This was a unusual and yet emotional serendipity. 

Men of steel
Driving is not for the faint hearted in the Himalayas. We had a hair-raising experience on our drive back to the hotel. Our buses were the centre of attraction for close to 20 minutes. The entire town congregated at this stretch of road while our driver was negotiating the oncoming School Bus on the right and the head-spinning valley to our left.We all survived without a scratch but the bus suffered a few scratches and a deep dent!!!

After touching the lesser known Srinagar (of Garhwal) we meandered into Deoprayag. Our driver chose a vantage point from which we could get a beautiful view of the Sangam (union of Alakananda and Baghirathi rivers). This spot marks the formation of river Ganga.

In addition to being such a big draw for river rafting and camping on the banks of Ganges, Rishikesh is also the Yoga capital of the world. There appears to be a wide variety of choices of ashrams, Yoga gurus and the branch of Yoga that you may like to study. (It reminded me of Namma Bengaluru as the IT capital has posters which scream "Learn Java in 7 days"). There are numerous courses on offer of differing duration.

We were keyed up to watch the Ganga Aarati as the Sun sets. We scrambled our way into Paramarth  ashram and found vantage positions to witness the Aarati. After a elaborate speech we got to watch the Aarati which is quite a lovely and invigorating sight. 

Why should James Bond aficionados instantly recognise the Phat-phati ride? 
The stay in Rishikesh was not only about yoga & meditation. We had our quota of thrills in the phat-phati ride. Here is a video of a god-fearing and dutiful phat-phati driver. It is hard to believe the limits of daredevilry one can indulge in if you driving one of these innocuous looking 3-wheeled automobiles.

We boarded the phat-phati after the Aarati to get to the Swami Rama Sadakgram.  This driver was a pan chewing teenager and my guess is that he was in his early 20s. Me and Srinivas sat next to the driver and were closest to the seat of action. It also lent itself to the best view as the action was to unveil. We had about eight ladies of our group at the back (that included my wife and sister!!). This driver either thought the brakes didnot exist or even if it existed, it wouldnot work!!. He only knew how to accelerate and forgot how to brake. We saw a marriage procession occupying the entire road at a distance of about 0.5 KM. He drove thick and fast into the crowd and after terrorising the entire marriage party with high decibel horn and waded through women and children and emerged victorious. He had all the makings of a Bollywood stuntmaster!!  I repeatedly asked him to drive slow and he was visibly upset which only led to a ugly fight with me. 

I was reminded of  the James Bond movie Octopussy. This has a sequence where Vijay Amritraj (who plays James Bond's friend) in a Phat Phati (Tuk Tuk in the movie) is chased in another Autorickshaw by Kabir Bedi. It has some terrific chase sequences shot in Udaipur.  Here is the link to the Youtube video of the  chase between Phat  Phatis.


Kasper Frausing whom I now consider as Indian or more Indian than most of us here was with us along with his sister, brother-in-law, niece and brother-in-law's brother. Their enthusiasm throught was infectious (pun unintended!!) notwithstanding the minor inconveniences that they endured. Their propensity to fall sick also had a sequential pattern. I guess the stomach virus caught up with Kasper on the way back which he dealt with manfully and with a smile!! 
Way to go my friend Kasper and look forward to seeing you soon.

Himalaya beckons:
I am both delighted and tad disappointed after this trek. Delighted that I discovered a part of India which always existed for others and not ME. Disappointed, yes - because it took me an eternity to discover it. 

Now I crave for more. I am yearning for my next trek in the Himalayas.