Sunday, March 25, 2012

Six Degrees of Separation

  1. My first cousin’s husband turned out to be my really good friend’s wife’s cousin.
  2. A lady I met at a friend’s place turned out to be my ex-manager’s wife.
  3. This same ex-manager turned out to be my current colleague’s volleyball team-mate.
  4. A good friend from Junior College turned out to be my Mom’s distant relation’s son.
  5. My roomate’s husband and a friend of both me and my roommate, turned out to be related.
  6. This friend’s wife turned out to be my friend’s relative.
  7. My ex-boss’ wife turned out to be my batchmate from our initial training days at work.
  8. My friend A’s wife turned out to be my friend B’s good friend.
  9. My friend from college and my work acquaintance met later, through an online matrimonial site!
  10. A competing team’s member in my husband’s cricket team turned out to be my old work project’s batchmate.

Don’t such realizations fascinate you? A reality show contestant turns out to be someone from your childhood playgroup? Your friend’s spouse turns out to be your spouse’s friend? Your colleague turns out to be your mother’s cousin’s son? How you run into completely unexpected people, at the most weirdest of times in the weirdest of places! Co-incidences? Think about it, I bet you could come up with 5-6 such “co-incidences” yourself. If you don’t, walk through your Facebook friend list and come tell me if you find more than 10% of them without mutual friends. I’m sure if I try modelling an “acquaintance tree” like a family tree, I’ll come up with many more such inter-relations.

Per Wiki, Six Degrees of Separation refers to the idea that everyone is on average approximately six steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person on Earth, so that a chain of, "a friend of a friend" statements can be made, on average, to connect any two people in six steps or fewer. Recent studies conducted on Twitter and Facebook put this figure at 5 and 4 respectively. When my friend from #5 in the list above told me about this "6 step" concept (and this was a while ago!), it intrigued me enough to read up more about it (better late than never!). Its a rapidly shrinking world with myriad tools like social networking sites, blogger networks, virtual classrooms and online activities bringing people around the world closer to each other than ever before. Facebook even has a app dedicated to this concept called ‘Six Degrees’ which calculates the links of separation between 2 people. One can input any user into the search window, which you can use (after authorizing it to comb through your friend list) to calculate the number of connections between you and any other user on Facebook.

The wiki image of Six Degrees of separation
So be it that famous celebrity singer or the president of the country, it’ll be interesting to determine your connections! And you thought plots like these were limited to reel life! So the next time, there’s a Hindi drama playing on TV and shows you connections like the one below, don’t be surprised! Some of those are hopelessly unreal, but it could be more common than you think!
A visual representation; an example of Six Degrees of Separation

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Harvard of Indian Music: A Vision

Its a fast-paced world we live in today. From cell phones being used to perform multi-functions of a camera, a music player, a wi-fi generator etc with phone calls being the last used function now to tools like Skype or social networking sites like Facebook that bring opposite ends of the world closer, technology has fast gone viral. Gone are the days when images used to be transferred through floppy disks or data written to bulky 500 MB hard drives, though its hard to believe folks now in their 30s saw the entire transition - that’s how rapidly it progressed. With all this in mind, it would be a shame if we could not leverage this for the betterment of education. And one such form of education is the literary arts and crafts, I talk about Indian classical music to be precise.

Times Of India published an article on the Shankar Mahadevan Academy (hereby referred to as the Academy) a year back, Feb 11, 2011 to be precise, when the Academy was established. The original article can be accessed here.

On the first anniversary of the Academy, here’s a student testimonial honoring it and everyone associated with it - straight from the horse’s mouth. I have first-hand experience of the Academy as I am a student of Hindustani 101 and I must say, its a very gratifying experience. I used to learn Carnatic music in India before, from revered music teachers at their homes or in the school.This was much before music was considered as a form of grade-able education and hence I do not have any certificates or honors to support my claim of having learn Carnatic music for 6 years. Of course, its been a while and I have lost touch as well. Hence, after spending 7 years in the USA and innumerable futile attempts to get associated with a well-established India based institute to now learn some basics of Hindustani Sangeet (as compared to some individual housewives who boast of years of teaching experience but do not come with recommendations and charge hefty fees per session!) I stumbled upon the Academy when I received an email from the iGate-Patni administration, the company where I used to work. Our company had tied-up with the Academy to further its cause and have more people take advantage of this opportunity and I jumped at this one chance I got.

10 weeks later and well on my way to completing 101, I must say, I am impressed. Its a well-thought of concept, with a very structured curriculum, a neatly laid out course with the ever-supportive Om-Book (Online Music Book that also has videos, wiki articles embedded as you go). Classes are held weekly over interactive - audio and video - Webex sessions with a maximum of 3 students per class. Assignments are doled out every class and students need to record the songs and upload them to get them graded. The teacher grades the assignment and also provides constructive feedback - sometimes by means of recordings, yet others via typed up notes. There’s also the option of recording non-assignment singing and requesting the teacher for the feedback - so the student does not have to feel restricted to just the assignment. The only meagre requirements that the class asks for are a headset, a laptop/desktop with a camera/webcam, an electronic tanpura (The Om-Book does have an inbuilt Tanpura as well though its recommended that dedicated students have a stand-alone one) coupled with enough dedication and interest.

I talk about class timings with respect to the US timezones. Classes are held mostly in the evenings, once a week, you get an option to pick the time that works best for you. The most surprising thing for me in the recent past was that my time did not change even after the Daylight Savings Change. The teachers in India adjust their times accordingly. It caused them to arrive an hour earlier (5:10 AM IST) in this case, but that’s the policy of the Academy and in business terms, I believe that’s pretty good customer service.

I have also perused through some of the classes for the tiny tots and I marvel at the style of teaching that is employed for the kids. When I was young, I needed to be pushed to attend classes related to Arts, that was not an age where everyone could appreciate the classical base of music. But ask me to hum a Bollywood song and I would do it with ease. This very notion has rightly been captured by the Academy and molded in a way that the kids are automatically interested in learning classical music. The idea that every song, piece, rythm, sound is ultimately made up of 7 swaras - the basic 7 notes of music, and hence, so are Bollywood songs finally appeals to their young impressionable minds. Here’s an example:

In addition to the in-demand Hindustani and Carnatic classes, the Academy also has courses dedicated to Devotional songs and Bollywood as well. Some of these are instructor led, yet others are self-study online. Neatly laid out into different levels Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced - which are further divided into sub-levels of 101, 102, 103, 104 these courses are a beautiful answer to those like me who have been wanting to get in touch with their inner self again. Singing Sa-Pa-Sa (the base of music, that a singer uses to fine-tune his/her pitch and what one sings at the start and end of each class) again after 13 years brought tears to my eyes and I knew I was in the right place. Depending on one’s previous knowledge, the student could also be put into a higher level directly. The Academy has long since established itself in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji in addition to its pioneer setup in India and the US. And for those who dream of singing with the stars, the Academy also has regular road shows with the Guru himself as well as recording contests, auditions etc for the students giving them a chance to meet Shankar Mahadevan in the flesh and record with him! Granted that many would have envisioned this, but kudos to the team for making this real. Mind you, I am not affiliated with the Sales and Marketing group at the Academy, I just think its a beautiful venture and a treat for all Indian music lovers across the world to meet and interact with other such singers, to learn from established teachers associated with a well-known music maestro. An impressive use of the technology advance! So if you want to learn Indian classical music but have been holding off for a while, how about giving it a try? If you’re inclined to music, you’ll not regret it. For more on the Academy, check out or their Facebook page
I would love to hear your views!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Women’s Day? Really?

It’s been a week, since March 8th, 2012. I remember this day more because it’s my friend Sujatha’s Mom’s birthday and less because it’s Women’s day. All day long on March 8th, several friends and colleagues wished the world a Happy Women’s Day on Facebook. Among these messages, were also the one-off “What about Men’s Day” posts, to which some females had responded in jest, saying “Every day is a Man’s day!”. My 2 cents - Not that I don’t appreciate the posts, but do we need a Men’s day or a Women’s day? Yes, we attribute and acknowledge our women on this day, we appreciate women from different ranks and fields - talk high of their achievements, but what happens the remaining 364/5 days of the year? I think the same of other “Days” too like Mother’s Day, Father’s day or even Valentine’s day. 

Today recognition, fame, respect and acknowledgement are all considered sufficient as long as we pay our dues through Facebook. So what if India’s sex ratio in 2011 is only 914/1000? So what if despite considerable progress in education and awareness, the ratio has, in effect declined from 927/1000 from the last census of 2001? So what if a lady is capable of performing shoulder-to-shoulder with a man be it in sports, education, engineering fields, the defense, medicine and yet there are only an average of 15 girls in a class in an engineering college compared to an average of 50 boys? 

India's falling sex ratio over the past century - 20th Century

At one end, women are worshipped as Goddesses. The Goddess of wealth Laxmi is welcomed every Diwali, the Goddess of Education Saraswati worshipped along with books and tools and electronics every year, Kaali Mata, Parvati - the Goddess of Fertility and so many more. Yet, at the other end in their human form, they are humiliated, atrocized, debased every day. I have had a couple of MCP people at work subtly suggest that females should stick to house work, suggest alternate times for us females to go play table-tennis in the common recreation room because the “peak times are for men!”.  This in the city, I shudder thinking about the kind of lives women lead in the villages. Of course, until one has seen or lived the alternative, they would assume life is good. The recent number of rapes that got reported in Delhi (added to the ones that did not) is a clear indication of this double-standard treatment. Oh well, we keep trudging along. Slowly and steadily, step by step. 

Yes, there are situations where women cannot equal men and we would be foolish if we do not accept that. In nuclear plants, women (specifically pregnant women) are not preferred as reactor operators, because the radiation can harm the baby. Yes, Economic Times named Sania Mirza in the list of the 33 women who made India proud. She might be India’s #1 Tennis Player in women but when pitted against the top tennis players of India, she might not make it within the top 5. The physical strength and endurance are not comparable and we are simply wired that way. But the good part is, for every such Sania, Kalpana Chawla, Shreya Ghoshal there are more girl children now being encouraged to participate and move ahead in life.

Yet, I strongly believe that women and the nation can definitely progress being cognizant of the differences. I had read a statement somewhere which went something like “You can judge the progress of the nation looking at the way the nation’s women are treated”. Up until then, I had never looked at it this way. But I sat thinking and it rang true. 

I happened to watch the movie “Matrubhoomi: A Nation without women” today. Recommendation: Do not watch. Its a sadistic depressing movie about the atrocities against women in a village that runs out of the female sex eventually due to infanticide. It is what caused me thinking about the whole situation and hence this post. Do not also ask me why I watched it. The film received widespread critical acclaim, was awarded a couple of awards for raising social awareness. The film shows a rural village in Bihar and was made in both Bhojpuri and Hindi. My take on it - such films are never commercially released, they don’t really reach the intended target audience, specifically the people in the remote villages of India who should ideally be watching it. Most people in the cities also wouldnt go to watch it. But I commend the effort and the thought behind the film. I only hope there had been independant screenings in multiple cities and small towns, villages etc. 

How does the situation change then? Do reservations help? I am personally against reservations. Start with one such idea and you end up opening the gates to every other Tom, Dick and Harry fighting for reservation in the name of caste, religion and whatnot. Recently, the BEST buses of Mumbai increased the “Mahilan Saathi” (Ladies Only) seat capacity from 6 to 12. Result? More frustrated men and more arguments in buses between the genders. One time, I saw all 12 seats taken up by females and a pretty-along pregnant lady standing and switching her weight from foot to foot. Not one man or woman offered to give her a seat. Try to force an idea and it will boomerang. Instead, BEST could have started “Ladies only” buses at peak times to help. 

Yes, in an effort to improve the genetic imbalance, there will need to be some strict measures taken. But take from one to feed the other will only cause more disruptions. If one sibling does not like giving up his/her toys for the other, how do you expect a whole population to react easily with acceptance? That being said, we cannot give up on the goodwill and efforts being put in to innumerous “Rescue efforts”, as I would call them. I salute the folks who put in their time and money into the uplifting of the girl child. Its one more form of development - a way to help the country progress. Why shouldn’t I then? There are n number of NGOs that support and help the girls on the street, girl children rescued from red-light areas, help with their social upbringing, in educating them and so on. Religious and social dogma will continue to take precedence for a while. Social rehabilitation will not happen in a heartbeat. In order for the movement to gather weight, every individual’s mentality will need to change. The day our men start treating females as one of their own, as an equal, as a human instead of an object or a form of sating one’s sexual desires is the day we would truly celebrate Women’s Day. Do you agree?

I would love to hear your views!
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