Wednesday, November 30, 2011

High Time to Open Doors of Guruvayur Temple to Dr. K.J. Yesudas

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This blog post is written Dr. (Mrs) Vaidyanatha Iyer Thankamani, Professor and Head, Department of Biotechnology, University of Kerala. Dr Thankamani writes about the persistent denial of entry to Dr K.J. Yesudas into Guruvayur temple, a thought I fully support. 
The Day Is not Far when  Guruvayur Appan Himself  will Throw Open The Portals of  His Sanctum Sanctorum and rein in the Divinity Incarnate  K J Yesudas. .... Like Nandi moved off to clear Nandanar ‘s path to  Visualise Chidamabara Nathan Lord Siva
Hinduism distinguishes itself from other religions by its profound philosophical depth. As one peruses the Bhagavad Gita, he/she realizes that it is more a confabulation between intimate friends (Krishna and Arjuna) rather than the ‘Song of the Lord’. Here Krishna tries to restore Arjuna’s morale, dispel his fears and infuse him with confidence to confront the challenges ahead. Though the backdrop is the imminent outbreak of hostilities with vast armies arrayed against each other, the motif is identical to countless situations played out in our quotidian lives – a person is cowed down by fear, self-doubt, vacillation, and, his friend or near one tries to invigorate him with words borne out of affection and experience and belief in the person’s qualities.

Hinduism empowers a believer to see God as not one confined to the sanctum-sanctorum of a temple but in any life form/source of energy which enriches and provides for, which gives meaning to our earthly existence.

Today we Hindus are increasingly abandoning the philosophical precepts that our religion proffers and embracing symbolism in the form of ‘incorrigible’ rituals and stifling rules. Without caring to know the essence of the Mahabharatha or the Bhagavad Gita, we brandish draconian religious edicts to prevent non-Hindus from entering places of worship.

Dr.K.J Yesudas whose enchanting voice graces all religious functions/temple festivals in our state is still barred from entering the Guruvayoor temple. His ‘Gandharva Naadam’ rendering ‘Thuyilunaru .. Gananaadha’ to invoke Ganesha, ‘Harivaraasanam Viswamoahanam’ to lull Ayyappan to sleep and ‘Thandavam Siva Thandavam’ which elucidates the Dance of the Destroyer help create a divine atmosphere in temples and households. I am sure many ardent devotees will agree to this.

We, as mortals, engage in base acts prodded on by greed, selfishness, anger etc. Yet, we enjoy the rights to enter places of worship solely because we happen to be born into a particular religion. Anyone who leads a life of austerity, and service to other life forms and strives to improve oneself in his field of work through tenacious effort qualifies to be a Hindu.

Dr. K.J Yesudas is more Hindu than many ‘born’ Hindus themselves (including the author). His simple way of life, respect for Hindu beliefs (though he is a Christian) and his immortal songs about the presiding deities of various temples which act as salve for millions are attributes of a true Hindu.

In the Mahabharatha, there is the allegorical story of sage Utanga. The sage, an ardent devotee of Krishna is granted the boon that he would find water whenever he is overcome by thirst. The sage was once crossing a desert and was tormented by thirst. He prayed to Krishna to help him. Soon a Nishada (a hunter-gatherer of low caste) arrived there with his hunting dogs. He offered the sage water from his sheep skin bag. The sage, overcome by disgust at the sight of the Nishada, refused. When the Nishada urged Utanga to accept water from him, the sage was incensed and berated the Nishada. The sage soon realized that the Nishada was none other than Indra offering him ‘amrita’, the elixir of life at the bidding of Krishna. Utanga’s wisdom and knowledge had been clouded by the barriers of caste and untouchability. He was governed by the rigid, fossilised divisions in society and had not attained ‘true jnana’ or enlightenment. We Hindus are imitating Utanga, learned in rules and rituals but failing to transcend the discrimination/divisions that blight our society.

Like the Nishada being shunned by Utanga, Yesudas is being prevented from entering Guruvayoor, though he purveys ‘amrita’ through his songs. Only when the doors of Guruvayoor are laid open to welcome Yesudas will each Hindu have cleansed himself of the inequity that we as a group have been meting out to Yesudas.

Most of the readers of this article would have seen the movie ‘His Highness Abdullah’ at least once (probably several times). I hope many will recollect the dialogue delivered by Nedumudi Venu ‘ Poonul ittathu kondu aayilla. Brahmanan ennu paranjaal brahmajnaanam ullavan , eswarane ariyunnavan ennau artham. Sangeetham eswaranaanu, than sangeetham ariyavunnavan aanu”. Dr. K.J Yesudas, humility incarnate, does not realize that Guruvayoorappan dwells inside him !

(A  Reminiscence ....
The author is privileged to be wedded into the illustrious family of Mahakavi Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer whose home was frequented by great exponents in literature. Once at a family religious ceremony in a fully packed hall at his home Mahakavi Ulloor walked to the gates, held on fondly the hands of his invited special guest and friend Mahakavi Kumaran Aasan and led him to a chair in the very front row. Suddenly there was a shocking silence followed by bickering and moorings in whispers. But no one dared to spell out the WRONG or  voice their resentment simply because the “accused” was not an ordinary mortal but an Intellectual giant powered by knowledge and virtues The next day dawned to find Ulloor  declared an outcast by the Brahmana Samooham. Ulloor in sheer glee replied softly “Till yesterday I was only a Brahmin; today I am elated to be a Human Being”. That is the essence of Hinduism, a code of life and not a mere religion).
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Sunday, November 13, 2011

When Every Tom, Dick and Harry gets an Engineering Admission

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In 1991 there were only eight engineering colleges in Kerala and getting a seat in one of them was really tough. You need to get a rank below 1000 to get a seat in the general quota. Twenty years down the line – there are now 119 engineering colleges in Kerala of which 105 are self financing colleges and for the last few years thousands of engineering seats remain vacant every year. What does that mean? 
Anyone who just passed 12th can now secure a seat in an engineering college. An entrance exam that had high standard a decade ago has been reduced to mockery. So what happens to those students who just cleared the 12th grade with minimum marks join these self financing engineering colleges? 
Kerala State Convener of Save Education Committee (such a committee exists in Kerala!) Mr. M Shajer Khan filed a Right to Information (RTI) to know the pass percentage of students studying under various engineering colleges in Kerala. The numbers speak for themselves about the quality of the students. Here are some of the statistics. 
Self financing engineering colleges affiliated to CUSAT the failure rate varied from 60 to 90 percent while for those self financing colleges affiliated to Kerala University the failure rate varied from 56 to 81 percent. Pass percentage of students from self financing colleges also saw a sharp decline in the last five years clearly indicating the deterioration in the quality. For example in 2004 the overall pass percentage of students affiliated to Kerala University was 54% while it reduced to 28% in 2009 while in MG University it reduced from 89 to 64%. There are self financing colleges where close to 90% of the students have failed (Karunagapally Engineering College – 87% fail; Attingal self financing college – 91% fail).
Am I shocked seeing these numbers? Not at all. I personally have visited few self financing engineering colleges in the last eighteen months. Many of them do not even have basic necessary infrastructure needed for an engineering college and I really feel pity for those students studying there. With those infrastructures available you cannot expect students to perform well. Add to this equation quality of students coming to these colleges and then it is a recipe for disaster and that is what we are seeing here in the form of poor results. 
But if you look at the pass percentage of government engineering colleges that take students on merit based on their rank in the entrance exam the pass percentage is over 80%. At least this statistics above is an eye-opener for the students and parents; My advice to them…. 
Getting an  engineering seat may be very easy now; but you need aptitude for engineering to become one; if you don’t have that don’t waste your time trying even if an engineering seat is available.

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Teaching "Gen Y" Students

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I still remember my college days where the classes start at 8:00 AM and goes on till 4:00 PM with one hour break for lunch. Each hour, a teacher will come; either write some concept on the black board or talk about some concept or dictate some notes and go back. The student will go back home refer to the class notes and prescribed text book, study few days before the exam and write the exam. This was the only kind of teaching available and we had no options. 
Now try to teach the present generation students (Gen Y) the same way and I am sure the students won’t be happy at all. Sitting in the class for an hour listening to lecture is the last thing students want. They will either bunk the class or are present in the class physically rather than listening to the lecture. Now mix it up with some good videos, photos, animation and some well made power point slides, this generation students will love to come to the class, listen and interact. 
For those who studied engineering in India – assignments are there to be copied. One will write and all others will copy, right? This happens even now. I thought I will give some interesting yet simple assignment where they wont be copying and at the same time learn something new. I asked my 130 odd students to find a YouTube video that is relevant to the course I am teaching and write a one page report about the video. Only condition was that no two videos can be same. The students were supposed to upload the link of the videos to a shared document so that the whole class can see which video each student shared. Thus students were not only exposed to one video that they have to write but also the videos submitted by their classmates so as to make sure that it was different from what they submitted. The feedback I got from students were very encouraging – students were exposed only to traditional assignments and when I gave them something different they just loved it. I am sure all of them would have studied something new after watching these videos. 
Now setting the question paper for my undergraduate class that was full of practical application – totally against the existing system where student by-heart what they are taught and just vomit in the exams. I was very much worried before the exam as to how these undergraduate students will write that exam as I was so sure that they may be seeing such a question paper for the first time in their life. To my surprise students did extremely well and majority of the students were so happy that they wanted me to set a question paper like this in the future. This exam made me understand one thing – lot of students are fed up of the system of “by-hearting and vomiting” and wanted it to be replaced by a practical oriented system.  But the truth is that the traditional system is so deep rooted that it is tough to change it. 
During my college days we had to write all assignments in paper and submit it. That was the only option we had. I agree there are some advantages to writing but most of the Gen Y students prefer to do everything online. I experimented that this semester – except the mid-term and final exam; all quizzes, assignments all class communications were done with every student online. It was tough for me as a teacher to track all those assignments and quizzes of 130 odd students but students just loved it. I know this system of online exams and assignment submission is there in every school in US but is in a nascent stage in India. Now with the feedback I got from my students I plan to do it every coming semester. 
My philosophy of teaching has always been to design course work to make teaching/learning process more fun for the students. I try to teach them the way they want so that it makes teaching/learning enjoyable for them. Last three semesters have given me lots of enjoyable moments for me and learned a lot about the likes/dislikes of Gen Y students and this knowledge will surely make me a better teacher in the coming semesters.

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