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Sunday, October 9, 2016

Two teachers connected by a dotted line.

My mother, Vimal Chavan, loved me very much. That was obvious to everyone around me. But beyond that she believed I could be the best at anything if I tried or was coached.  So, she tried.

She thought I wrote very well and she took me to meet her professor, a very popular and respected author of Maharashtra, Professor N. S. Phadke (ना सी फडके). She wanted him to give me a few tips but the two of them were so excited to see each other after perhaps 30 years that by the time they were through exchanging news it was time to leave. (He even asked her if she had married the "same guy" and I did not know where to look until I heard her say "Yes".) No tips. Relief.  The next time she took me to a public program of the wonderful Pt. Jitendra Abhisheki because one of his Gurus Jagannath Bua Purohit was going to be there. I was assured that Jagannath Bua used to visit my grandfather's home in Kolhapur often whenever he was at the nearby Deval Club  and he would recognize my mother. AND HENCE, my mother was going to request him to ask his disciple - Abhisheki - to train me in singing BECAUSE I was such a good singer. We met and he did recognize my mother and I was introduced to Pt. Abhisheki but that did not go anywhere either.

So, those two potential teachers lost a great disciple and the world lost a novelist and a singer.

My mother was very upset that my math grades were not good in Std 9. One of my cousins who lived in Matunga that NGK's Academy was a good coaching class. NGK's stood for N G Kulkarni's Academy. My cousin, I think, had benefited a lot from the coaching. I was very reluctant for the same reasons that most adolescents would be. But, like the previous occasions with the very famous potential teachers, I went along.  NGK, as he was known, met us. He asked me, "Do you want to learn? Or, do you want to waste your parents' money? If you want to learn, you are welcome. If you do not, do not come. If you do not learn, you will be thrown out. Do we understand each other?".  I thought about it. My grades weren't good but more than that the man had challenged me. So, I joined NGK's academy. Left home at Bombay Central early morning by N2 route bus and reached Hindu Colony, Dadar for the 630 am class. Came home around 8.30 and left by train at 945 to reach my school at Khar before 11. Schooling is hard work!

NGK was a great teacher and communicator. I learned math in no time. More than that I got really interested in math. In fact, I got interested in learning. He did not have to throw me out. I went and met him some twenty five years later and he said. "Wait, I should remember you... Chavan!" I was stunned. I was not an outstanding student but he clearly had a phenomenal memory.

Of late I have been watching a lot of physics lectures by Professor Walter Lewin of MIT on the Net.  I love them. Yes, relearning a bit of physics and learning things that I had never learned is great. But, it also gives me ideas about how we might introduce basic concepts of physics to children who are disinterested. He is a communicator. We need to communicate science better so that kids want to learn more.

So, one is a teacher I met face to face every alternate day for two years in the late sixties and the other I see only on the Net. Admire them both tremendously.

But there is a trivial connection between the two. NGK, when he drew geometry diagrams on the board would draw dotted lines where necessary  without lifting his hand. The chalk wend drrrrrrr and there was neat, straight dotted line. He was particularly proud of his 'art'. He would turn around and wink to make sure we were appreciative.  And, guess what? This is exactly what Walter Lewin does! Also, in one of the lectures I recall him turning around to pat himself on the back for his skill.

Very trivial indeed. But, it says a lot about the teacher. Unless you love what you do, these things never happen. As far as I can tell, NGK just loved teaching. So does Professor Lewin.

No one every recorded NGK's lectures but luckily Walter Lewin's lectures are available. Someone has even compiled various shots of the dotted line on a 1.5 min video and it has got 22.29 million hits!!!

So, the Pinball is amused that this trivia connects two remote points separated by distance and time. I am sure there are thousands who went to NGK's and were amused, even impressed, by his dotted lines. May be they will see this post and raise a toast to a good man and a great teacher, the late N G Kulkarni.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Back from a comma: Sky-view

Cannot believe that my last post was four years ago. I had almost forgotten about this blog until today a young colleague, Ankita, wrote and said I should revive it.

So, here. It was not a full stop, it was a comma and you know that because I am writing this blog to say, I am almost back.

Here is a picture I took on my flight from Pune to Delhi a on Sep 3 at 730 pm. The time and the date is important only if you intend to go on one of those astronomy/ sky watching apps or sites to see what was around the horizon that evening.

I have never been able to take a picture like this from the sky. The reflections in the cabin windows at night make it impossible. This turned out quite well. I clicked because I saw the Moon and a planet (which turned out to be Venus). But, with my eyesight I could not see the faint Jupiter below and to the right of Venus. Once I had the picture amplified on my phone screen it became visible.

Airlines should have a sky-watch program. They may even make money on it.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Never pay up until you are sure you have lost

That is my advice now to Usha. This is because the subsequent data I have received shows a strong correlation in one village between division level children and Std 2 level or higher level readers. In the other two, the proportion of both division-level children and story level children is too low (blame it on backward regions or not a very strong learning camp or very low baseline to start with?) to arrive at a positive conclusion.

A lot of the (few) readers of this blog were excited by the idea that math might be a trigger. This may yet be true of children who are reading at Std 1 level (simple paragraphs) but probably not enough for the others who start with an even lower baseline.

Well, experiments are planned and we will know more in a couple of months. Until then I will not claim Rs. 500 from Usha and will not surrender to her either. Let us see what the experiments throw up.

Friday, August 24, 2012

How I won Rs. 500/- (only).

Betting is not something I do. That is because I don't like to lose bets. But yesterday I saw a certainty. I  bet Rs. 500, and won.

Some members of the Pratham leadership team were discussing the different "learning camp" models they were using in different states. Some conduct camps for 5 days. Others for 10. Yet others experimented with 15 and 30 day models. Some created models of teaching math for a few days followed by reading-writing the next few days or the other way round.  See "Harshad's Learning Camp"

But Renu Seth and her Gujrat team had used a 5 day camp focused on teaching math. Over these 5 days, the camp taught children to master up to 6 digit numbers including place values, and also the four operations with numbers up to 100. Over 50% children learned numbers up to the hundred thousands and also learned all four operations  up to division in that short span. They went back to some camp villages after 15 days and checked if the children had forgotten (most had not). In others they went back after 3 months and still the children had not forgotten what they had learned. In both cases they conducted a 3 day camp again and some more children learned more operations. This time the progress was quicker.

As we discussed these results my colleague, Usha Rane, said to Renu that they should not focus on math alone. They should make sure children can read too. This is because we know that wherever you go in India, half the children in Std 3-5 cannot read even Std 2 level. In Pratham jargon, the children who can read Std 2 level as per the ASER test and higher are called "story" level children.
See Hindi testing tool.  

 I said that Renu should continue to do what she is doing but Usha persisted that teaching the children to read fluently is important. It is common for Usha and me to be on opposite sides of an argument (until she finally gives in and agrees with me!). But I have to use persuasion. In this case, I used a different technique.

So, I said, let us take a bet. Rs. 500. I think, all those children who have now learned to solve division sums have also learned to read at "story" level  although they have not received instruction in reading. Renu was to call her associates in Gujrat and within two days test those same children and see what their reading level was. 

At first, I said this without too much conscious thought. But, once I said it, I started believing in that idea. Then I said it several times and it started to become conviction- without evidence, of course.All those in the room too began to think that this was possible. After all, they too knew that usually children who know how to do division are also good readers. But all those in "story" level are not necessarily able to solve division sums. But, in this case children lagging behind in math and reading were included in the camp and they had received no special instruction in reading.They had only been helped to learn simple arithmetic systematically in a few days. So, would math learning act as a trigger to their learning to read at a higher level on their own? 

What an exciting thought! Math as a trigger for learning to read??? Wow!

We got the first results from one village in just 24 hours. More results will come in another 24 hours. In one village, 26 out of 48 children had learned all operations including division and 26 children were at 'story level'.  Now, we do not yet know if the 26 who are in "story" level are the same 26 in "division" level. We'll know that shortly but at this point those who heard the results are convinced that they will be the same. What were the reading levels of these children before the learning camps. Unfortunately, we do not know that. 

So, we will now conduct a simple experiment  to check the hypothesis:  "when school children in Std 3-5 who are lagging behind in reading and math learn math, they also become "story" readers without any extra instruction in reading". 

If the hypothesis turns out to be largely correct,  it should be cause for a more detailed research. 

But, for now Usha owes me Rs. 500. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Good bye Dara Singh- music in tribute -

Dara Singh and his brother Randhawa were seasonally a topic of conversation among us kids when the free-style wrestling posters appeared on walls near my home and school at Bombay Central. I was not a movie goer in my school days. We knew Dara acted in movies. Mumtaz was his heroine after Nisha. By the time I went to college Mumtaz was heroine to Rajesh Khanna. Dara Singh was considered a "B" film hero. So, I never paid attention to any of his films. 

Today I started surfing the net for his films and any songs from his films. The pinball motion took me to many songs. What I found is written below. I thought I could make a point. May be it is there somewhere but I have not reached it. But, you can enjoy some songs that you might not have heard and may follow my track for pure entertainment, if you wish. Lots of youtube to watch- be prepared.

We remember a song by the singer or the actors or the film and often lyrics. But the rhythm of the song is invariably ignored except by those who "know".

Watch these clips:
Dattaram 1
and then this:

His name is mentioned as Dattaramji... He is Dattaram Wadkar from Goa. He died a few years ago.
He was also a music director. Here are some of his compositions you may have heard. Now that you know his connection with rhythm you will listen to these more carefully. (choon choon karti aai chidiya)
and this one: (masti bhara hai sama)
and (aansu bhari hain yeh jeevan ki rahen)
and (dil dhoondhata hai sahare sahare)
and (meethi meethi batonse bachana jara)
and    (this one you may recognize if you listen- pyar bhari yeh ghataien)
and this   (tere teer ko hum ne pyar se dil mein rakh liya - not much heard these days)

Remember, these were times when Shankar Jaikishen, Naushad, SD Burman and the likes ruled the waves and it would have been tough for Dattaram to get any good films. None of the above films are remembered as hits except for perhaps Parvarish. But these songs were played often on Vividh Bharati and Radio Ceylon in the early sixties when you could even hear the neighbors' transistors.

So, what?
Dattaram was never considered a top notch music director- he was always an assistant to Shankar Jaikishen. So he got B films. What is a B film?

Here another Datta- Datta Naik composes music for "Tarzan comes to Delhi"- Dara- Mumtaz. Supposedly a B film. What sort of music should you expect from a "B" film with this kind of a name??? (husna ikrar kare ishq inkaar kare.. )
I had never heard this song and not sure why not. It never features in common antakshari- that is the measure of popularity. But, it sounds equal to any 'good' song of those days.

Listen to this next one (it is what they call item number these days.. ignore the first half of the video) (chham chham baje payal matwali)
This song and the dance is equal to any good one of the kind in those days. Funnily, I do not recall this at all.

Now that we are on "B" films... see a song composed by another music director GS Kohli for Dara- Mumtaz (yaad tori aayee main to..)

I don't consider this a B song.. even the dance (for those times) is not quite B.

This one too by GS Kohli is for Dara and Mumtaz.  (O mataware saajana ..)
Makes you think it is OP Nayyar- GS Kohli was OP Nayyar's assistant. I recall this song being played on Vividh Bharati and I also recall I used to love the way she extended the "chhalaak" and "sajanaaa".  I had not heard it for perhaps 40 years!!

Dara Singh, Sheikh Mukhtar and Kishor Kumar in a film named "Hum sab ustad hain" must be a B film. Right?
Listen to this song that you definitely know: Does it sound like a B film? (you know this well.. ajanabi tum jaanee pehchane se lagate ho)

The following one is a Dara starrer. Laxmikant Pyarelal music, Helen dancing. Another song I recall but had not heard for decades. (mujhe dekhiye main koi dastaan hoon) and this one from the same film that became quite popular (but never in Antakshari !) (kisi ko pata na chale baat ka)  You will notice that Dara is nowhere on the scene. Good thing too since he could neither dance nor act.

Lutera, the film with the above songs,  seems like a "Parasmani" type film that had many good, even extraordinary songs ( for example: hasta hua noorani cheherra ) , but the rest was what they call "B". Parasmani was probably worse as a film but better "hit" songs. Both films' music by Laxmikant Pyarelal. Parasmani was LP's first.

Looks like B films did good business. Dara Singh said somewhere that producers came to him because they could make wrestling films which the rural folks liked. I am sure his bare-chested muscular appearance had a sex appeal for rural (and urban) women. That made them B films. Coming to think of it, many of today's films would classify as B films. Great songs, dances, bad story although sleek production techniques.

I will leave you with another song I remember very well from Vividh Bharati in my childhood. Never knew it was from Dara- Mumtaz. No way this a a B song.  (paon mein jhanjhar, hathon mein kangana..) 

Here's to Dara, Mumtaz, rhythm and all that is ridiculed as B !!

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Good Friend

I have many good friends. In fact, I have no bad friends. Not sure if I have been a good friend to some of my good friends. Sometimes I think that I could have been a better person with some of my old friends.

Today, I got a call from a friend I made in 1989. As I was nearing home, Mr. Vaidya called. He owns the Jolly Offset Press at Vadala Udyog Bhavan, which his two sons now run. "We have a new machine. Your feet must touch our office- he said in his typical manner in Marathi. I have been trying to call you but your number has changed. Finally, I sent my man to your home and your father gave your number".  It is always embarrassing when Mr. Vaidya says these things. He is at least fifteen years older than I. But more importantly, he was one of the first people to help me when I was barely a few weeks old in the literacy work.

I cannot remember the exact date but it must have been October 1989. Some of my friends and I had set up an organization with a rather long name, which eventually became CORO for Literacy. Our first activity was to be a human chain from Dharavi to BARC in Mumbai. One was the most well-known slum of ASIA and the other represented the scientific and technological progress of India. School children and youth were to form this chain. CORO received the funds for this program in mid-October and the schools were about to close for the Diwali vacation and reopen a week before Nov 14 - the date of the event. We had only a week to print close to 100,000 leaflets (if I recall correctly) and distribute them in schools along the path of the human chain (at that time I did not think that a large number of school children would not be able to read!!). 

Mrs. Kumud Bansal was the Secretary of Education of Maharashtra at the time. I had written up the text of the leaflet but had no clue where to get it composed and printed. She sent me off to meet a gentleman who worked for the Text Book Bureau, whose name I cannot recall. The people in Mrs. Bansal's office said he was a very strict man and it would be impossible to get his help in a hurry. But, he was my only chance. He looked at me sternly. Should a young man of mid-thirties in jeans and sneakers be taken seriously? I suppose he had to take Mrs. Bansal seriously. He read my draft and looked at me. "Well written", is all he said before asking what I wanted. I said I need this printed in four days. He picked up the phone. "Mr. Vaidya will do it for you. He is your only hope in this hurry and his printing is very good". He spoke with Mr. Vaidya seriously and I was packed off to Vadala Udyog Bhavan. 

A balding man with a lot of white hair, chewing paan in a manner that was well imitated by Kishor Kumar in Padosan sat in a small cabin behind a small desk with a glass top. He always had tobacco paan in his mouth. The fan in the cabin was recirculating hot air as Mr. Vaidya had his shirt buttons open to his belly with his wet banyan showing. He took one look at the draft calling for children to help in making their parents and neighbors literate. He had no comment. "If you can get this typeset by tomorrow, I can get it done for you". Where? Mr. Vaidya made a call and off I went to Akshar Typeset (I think). It was late afternoon and they did not complete the work for two days. When I came back to Mr Vaidya he said he could not give the 100,000 copies within two days. He made his calculations. There were other urgent orders. Then positives, printing, cutting, bundling... no, could not be done. This meant our whole campaign was sunk. I just sat there contemplating quietly.  A few seconds went by as his trusted employee Tukaram and his friend Mr. Bali Marathe watched the two of us. Mr. Vaidya broke the silence. "Call me tomorrow evening and I will tell you if I can deliver by the day after evening. That is the best I can do". 

The next afternoon I went back to the press instead of calling. Mr. Vaidya had a smile on his face. "I did not have your phone number. Good you came. Your order will be ready by 6 pm".  I told him I could not pay him for another week. He laughed. "Don't worry. I read what you have written. Then we stopped all the other work and printed your leaflet".  The work done was excellent although it was just a simple black and white leaflet and his main business required much more precision with colors.

The leaflets reached the schools in time. Teachers and CORO volunteers told the children what it was about. They had to take the leaflets home and write the names of illiterate people in their homes or in the neighborhood. When they came back from the vacation, they would participate in the human chain and take a pledge to teach at least one person. 

Mr. Vaidya has remained a trusted friend since then. Some of my colleagues later compared his cost with the cost of other printers. It turned out that Mr. Vaidya's was costlier. I called him. He told me that my colleagues were right but precision and good quality assurance meant little higher cost. My colleagues did not give him the job but Mr. Vaidya was fine. He continued to call me every now and then and we shared a cup of tea in his small cabin. 

Today, I visited him again and he offered me fresh coconut water. We talked about his new machine.

On my way back I was wondering. Mr. Vaidya has lost a lot of hair. And a few front teeth. And there was something else. I called his office again. "Mr. Vaidya, you were not eating paan today!!!". He laughed. "Yes, gave up some years ago. You should stop smoking too. Remember, it cannot be done in stages. Just throw away the packet and do not smoke again.". That was his advice. Hmmm

And, what happened to the human chain that tied Mr. Vaidya and me together??  

Well, it did not happen the way it was planned. 

Loksabha general elections were announced as soon as the schools closed. Elections were to be held in the third-fourth week of November. So, we could not get children to come on the street. Government funds could not be used for something like this. So functions and events were held in each school and we began our work soon after the elections.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Prediction coming true.

My friend Praveen Dhopat reminded me that I have not written a blog for nearly a month. Well, there were many things to write about but I was "distracted" by important work. But it is also true that I did not feel very energetic about what I wanted to write.

I am at Oxford at the Skoll World Forum. This morning, when I opened the Times of India online, the following news hit me. It seems the BRICS summit is discussing setting up a rival Bank to the World Bank and the Asia Development Bank in order to finance development and infrastructure projects.

As many of my friends know, I have a long story - some call it a novel- called "Sambhav" to my credit. It was inspired by the movie "Oh, God!" released in 1977.,_God!

The name Sanbhav is a play on the word which in Marathi means "possible" or in Sanskrut means "birth" or My story, written in the period 1992-94,  was different than the film 'Oh, God" or other works based on the same basic theme of God landing up on the Earth, In my novel a man claiming to be God appears in Mumbai and the characters of the novel, as also the readers,  are all engaged in trying to figure out if 'he' is indeed what he says he is. What is the purpose of his arriving? So, my novel takes the form of a thriller. In the end it turns out that the Prime Minister of India rises in the Parliament to declare setting up a rival International Monetary Fund with South-South collaborations. So, for a story written almost two decades ago, the prediction was not too bad!

As predictions go, not everything in the story fits well. But, I am quite tickled that the broader prediction is unfolding!

(Within 18 hours of the first news on the matter, The Times had the following to say-

Now I predict that the next blog will come soon. Ha, ha!