Saturday, August 11, 2007

One year in South Korea!


Time, is what I respect the most, for, we have no control over it. Memories of my first day in Korea are still fresh in my mind. When I landed at the Incheon International Airport, the immigration officials stamped my passport without a single question. After the formalities were completed, the gentleman at the counter just looked at me, smiled, and wished me a nice stay. I said to myself, aren't these Koreans scared of the brown people like the Americans are? As I walked away from the counter, I remembered the times when the authorities at the American airports used to almost strip us nude in the name of security checks.

The people here are friendly, helpful and have special respect for Indians. Indians are known to Koreans as the people with high IQ levels and extra-ordinary abilities in Mathematics. Mahatma Gandhi and Yoga are as famous here as in any other part of the world. Though the language barrier can at times be a bigger problem than you would expect, the helpful nature of the locals makes up for it. Safety is very high, and most cities get awarded for Zero-Crime rate every year.

Its been a mixure of experiences over the last one year. I had interactions with various kinds of people at work and outside work, firsthand experience of what an Asian country with rich cultural history would become when influenced by the western world. I now have good reasons and evidences to picture major Indian cities becoming similar to the cities in Korea.

Personally, it has been a great year. With food, travel and adventure being my passions, I have enjoyed the natural beauty of the Korean terrain, islands and beaches. I have travelled across the length and breadth of the country, tasted various variety of foods, participated in many festivals and local cultural events, indulged in many adventure sports on land, water and air, climbed up the country's tallest peak, and enjoyed the long drives at speeds exceeding 185kmph without getting a speeding ticket. This would probably go down the memory lane as the best year spent on travel and adventure. But ironically, I will also remember this as the year in which I missed my family the most.

Professionally, its been a mixed bag of experiences. Working for the world's leader and largest company in its respective domain has its own pros and cons. For a professional like me who has been molded for years in a western work environment, this has been a good experience and an eye-opener to the ways of the East-Asians. Though English language is not native to India, we all know that the language of the British comes to us more naturally than our own. Therefore, surviving in a non-English speaking country and work environment is a challenge in itself. More so with all the technical material published in the native language, and all forms of communication and meetings happening in the native language.

This came to me as an opportunity in disguise to learn a new language. Korean language has evolved from Mandarin, and a lot of Hanja words are used even today. The script is relatively new, and has undergone many changes in the recent past too. Arguably, this is said to be the most scientifically designed script, with just fourteen consonents and ten vowels. For the modern and technical english words that have no local representaions, they are used as is and spoken with Korean accent. This is called "Konglish", Korean + English, similar to our "Hinglish". I have spent one year learning the local language, and still continue to. In a few weeks, I will complete my intermediate level certification in Korean language. Knowing the local language has proved to be an advantage and beneficial for my travel and interaction with the locals.

I have thouroughly enjoyed all the vivid seasons and the changes in nature in all the seasons. This difference in seasons is what we miss when we live in cities like Bangalore that have moderate climate throughout the year. The place, the people, the culture. These attributes make a country. If asked to choose between the US, Europe and Korea to make a living outside India, Korea would be my first choice, while the US would not even figure in my list. If you happen to be living in the US, don't ever try to dig deep into that country's past and the present. You will begin to hate that country, and also begin to hate yourself for being there.

All said and done, there is no place like home. I may not get rich financially living in India, as I would if I continued to live in such developed countries. But for me, the riches measured in terms of finances are superficial. What matters the most are the riches measured in terms of relationships, friends, our people, and being a part of the change, growth and development that our great nation is undergoing. I have been a part of this growth until last year, and I feel as though I have already missed out on a lot in the last one year. I am eagerly waiting to complete the last few months of my assignment here and head back to our great nation. A nation that the world will once again bow down to, as it was just a few centuries ago.

The countdown has already began...

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The big questin: What is development?

There I was, seated on a wooden bench on the banks of the Han river, looking at the cute little children cycling and running in the play area on the river bank. I began to think, if this is what life is all about? Is it all about making our world a better place to live in? Is all the development about making the future secure for our future generations?

As I started to ponder for the answers, I began to recollect all the recent learning about the social problems faced by people here. The problems that a great-developed nation is facing. And very recently, during a casual conversation with a Korean colleague about the education system in Korea, he made a statement. A statement that still makes me think if all the development man has achieved is really worth all the effort. And that statement was, "I am really thinking if I should ever have children because the education is so expensive".

I then realized that the situation in India too is heading towards the same direction. A few decades into the future, I do not think the situation in most Indian cities will be any different than what it is here today.

I stood up, took my bicycle, and started cycling along the track. As I began to move away from the crowd, towards a lonelier stretch of the track, the thoughts of my family crossed my mind. It felt as though I was traveling back in time. I began to remember the days when we used to have dinner together every day. The school days when my brother used to pedal and I used to sit behind on the bicycle holding both our bags. Those days when I and my brother used to cycle together to college. Every moment of the past seemed so wonderful. As I pedaled ahead, I wondered if I would ever be able to go cycling along with my brother. That moment, I questioned myself. Is this what development is all about? Is this what education, science, technology, innovations etc., are all about? All these have earned us wealth, technical skills, scientific knowledge, and above all, boosted the confidence to achieve great heights in professional career.

But, the big question remained. When will I be able to go cycling with my brother? Will I ever be able to spend time to teach my nephew how to cycle? It felt like a dream that may never come true. This was the hard reality that I had to digest. Today, even bitter reality is, if I have to meet my brother, both of us have to plan months in advance, cross many seas, and yet may not be able to spend more than a day or two together.

If this is what development is all about, if this is what we are achieving by education, if this is what all the competition at the kindergartens is all about, if this is the kind of future we are creating for our children, then we are being foolish to infinite levels. We are building a world that will be void of any true relationships. We are building a world that is losing the human touch. But then I thought, there is 'hope'. The hope on which mankind is built upon. The hope that things can be changed with effort. The hope that a few decades of modern development cannot overshadow the human relationships built over thousands of years.

That day I decided that I would not let my dreams die. Even if it means sacrificing my career growth partially, the ultimate goal I will work towards, is to spend time with my family, friends, and children, to strengthen the weakening human touch.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Final Night at the office..

My feet were getting numb. My arms were getting tired. But I sat there, looking at the monitor, pretending to work. What if I slept off on the keyboard? What would people around me think? Am I not competitive enough? Would another night at the office hurt. "No it won't." I consoled myself.

"Work a little more." I told myself. Images of links between switches and routers crossed my mind.

"Why?" I asked myself. "Why doesn't my mind wander away to the more beautiful things in life?" "Why does it always have to be WORK!!!?"

That was it. I couldn't take it anymore. I pressed the shutdown button on the PC as if to say, "I hate you". As if in reply, it took me twice to shut it down. I kicked my locker and walked out of my cubicle. The security gaurd at the reception looked into my eyes sympathetically. I pretended like I am solving problems in my head. As if the world depended on my silly program. As if to justify the fact that the gaurd needs to respect me. I hated myself. I walked down the corridor towards the lift. There I was, on the fifth floor. It was 3.30 in the morning. The terrace looked deserted. I loved the feeling. I was all alone. Just me, the clear sky, the stars and the early morning breeze. I looked all around. The world looked much beautiful. Somewhere, far away, I could see lights. I presumed that must have been another workplace where people like me are working away at their PCs. I stood at the edge of the terrace. As I looked at the road that ran in front of our office, I slowly kept my palm on the wall. A chill ran down my spine. Tiny droplets of water had formed on the wall, which I touched. I wanted to feel it again. I touched it again. It was the most wonderful feeling. I wondered why I don't do these things often. I decided to stay there until sunrise. I closed my eyes and waited. Finally, I could see a faint light in the east. Even though we hardly notice, these things do happen. I saw the sun rise slowly as if from a deep slumber.

As he rose, I could see more and more buildings. The breeze had got much stronger. It was like sitting near the window of a bus that was moving through lonely road next to a lush paddy field. I got that taste in the air. I got the feel. It was like heaven meeting the earth. In the cubicle, I congratulate someone when his SELECT statement works. There I was, all alone, on the terrace, when more important things were happening and I had no one to congratulate. I wanted to cry "Thank you God". "Thank you for giving me this beautiful world to live in." But, the words wouldn't come out. I felt guilty. I knew very well that I would go back to the cubicle once my emotions wore off.

"No" I said. "I am NOT going back there again." I ran down the stairs. I wanted the glass that covers our reception to break and let some of that fresh air in. I rushed into my cubicle and packed my backpack. Running out, I did not bother to sign the exit register. Strangely, my bike started at the first kick. I rode my bike quite fast, to feel the early morning breeze on my face. I never knew fresh air ever existed in cities like ours. When I hit the main road, I realized that I was late. Considering the fact that I was in office since yesterday, I was really late. The world had moved on. People had spent another night with their families. Kids had spent another day studying for exams. Old folks had spent another night wondering when to dye their hair. Teenagers had spent another night dreaming about their loved ones.

There I was, like a machine coming out of my office building. I saw people taking their morning walks. Some of them jogging. Some of them standing and talking. Some elderly women jogging, talking along and laughing at the same time. There were newspaper vendors, milk vendors and the streets were buzzing with people I had never seen before. I started feeling out of place. I thought within, "Was I from another planet?". Maybe I was dreaming. Within a split second, a milk vendor on his bicycle nearly hit my bike. "Idiot" I said. Dosen't he know that I am going home after a tough day(night)? Dosen't he know that I am tired, and do not have the energy for such crap? "Wait a minute," I told myself. "Are you doing somebody a favor by staying in the office so long?" "Will this world be a better place if you do that?" "Do you have it in you to buy one meal for that milk vendor's family?"

WE Cannot! And that's the truth. YOU and ME cannot do anything except for writing pieces of code, which we regard as life for reasons known best to us.

I broke into tears thinking about my own plight. I hated the fact that I existed. Why was I going through this entire trauma? What was holding me here? The money?. The passion for technology? The feeling that I would be isolated if I didn't work?. I don't know. I was still searching for the answers.

Then suddenly, out of nowhere, images of my family came into my mind. My dad, who had taken care of the family since I remember him. In fact, since I remember anything at all. My mom, who would not have had peaceful sleep as I had not reached home. And my brother, who doesn't actually show it, but misses me when he doesn't see me around. "I am not alone" I shouted. "I have this beautiful world to live in, with beautiful people in it". And I told myself, that I would not spend another night at the office.

Friends, do go out sometimes. Share your life with the people you love the most. Share your life with the nature. Share it with the wind. Share it with the sun. Share it with the rain. Things much more important than programming are happening out there. But they aint gonna come looking for you, YOU have to go out and find it.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I am the same guy who once scored 4/100 in mathematics...

I was always an average kid in academics, and my interests were always oriented towards technology right from childhood. Electronics was my big time hobby and it all began when I was in primary school. Coming from a remote village in AP, I hardly knew anything other than the huge and heavy vacuum-tube radios, farming tractors and cycle-rickshaws. No TV, no VCR/VCPs, no auto-rickshaws, no fancy cars, no nothing. This big city was whole new world for me. I was surprised to see that almost every house had a TV and a scooter or a car. Back in the village, the only time we see a car was during elections when the local politicians visit our village to buy or beg for votes. So, initially I assumed that everybody in the city were into politics. It took a while for me to realize that they were not politicians but regular people. I was curious to know about everything in the new environment. Everything from a solid state radio to the functioning of an auto-rickshaw; so, while walking to/from the school, I used to stop at every place where something interesting used to happen. Be it the army personnel training in the 515 army base workshop grounds in Halasuru (Ulsoor), or an auto driver repairing his auto in the middle of the road or the slum people extracting copper out of the junk PCBs next to our school on artillery road. Everything seemed to catch my attention other than academics.

This curiosity grew day-by-day and I wanted to try out everything that I used to see. The first such trial of mine was quite adventurous and also disastrous. When I was in my fourth standard, I stole a small bulb from a roadside auto-rickshaw meter and managed to get it glowing using some old pencil cells. For me, a village kid in the big city who knew nothing but the way to school and back home, this was as good as inventing a light bulb. But no matter what I did, the bulb never used to glow bright. I even used to wait till it got dark, switch off all lights and then try. Then a real bright idea hit me. And that was to plug it straight into the electricity socket. So, when dad was out and mom was in the kitchen, I attached two wires to the small bulb and plugged it straight into the home electricity socket, and switched on the power without a second thought. The next thing I knew was that the bulb had busted into pieces and no electric appliance was working then onwards. I thought I blew out the entire electricity grid. I was so scared that I spoke nothing about it to anybody, and behaved as though I knew nothing about it. Mom realized that the electric stove was not working, and asked for help from our neighbor. Then we realized that the MCB had tripped due to short circuit. Oh boy, that was a great relief. I don’t remember when I realized that a 6 volts bulb cannot be plugged into a 220 volts power source.

My learning that had started out of curiosity and execution trough ‘trial and error’ continues even to date, and I must say, its one of the best ways of learning to do things practically. All through my school and college days, I did a lot of things. Electricals, electronics, mechanicals, carpentry, painting (well, not the art but painting walls), plumbing etc., I never used to be scared of trying new things. I used to screw up things many times. I used to rip open many gadgets, electronic toys, almost anything that was at my disposal. I even used to go to the junkyard in Shivaji Nagar and Sunday Bazaar looking for anything that is of interest to me. I learnt many things like assembling audio systems, emergency lamps etc., and it even turned out to be revenue generating. During my PUC days in RBANM’s college, I found a like minded person in class, Sooraj Prasad. We quickly became good activity partners and did almost everything for a simple water level controller to infra-red sensors to intelligent toy cars. I was involved so much into electronics that I hardly concentrated on academics. All the while I used to fare average (between 65-70%) in academics, but during PUC, I was so much involved in advanced electronics that my academic performance went below 60%. There were many instances where my dad was called upon by the principal to complain about my bad performance. The only subjects I used to fare well were Physics and Statistics. Mathematics and Chemistry were something that never got into me, and the only chemical I used to work with was Ferric Chloride, used to make PCBs, that too outside college.

Me and my brother being the first generation in my dad’s family tree to even go to college, he always wanted me to become an engineer, while my brother was already into commerce stream. He used to always compare me with a relative of mine who was studying engineering at that time and always wanted me to be like him. Looking at my bad academic performance, he forced me to attend tuitions taken by an aeronautical engineer working for ADE. I never liked that person at the first instance itself because he used to smoke at least five times in a span of one hour, and when he spoke, the whole place used to stink. Each time he thought us something, I immediately used to shoot back many questions out of curiosity, as I was more of a practical learner than theoretical. So, he complained to my dad that I was asking too many questions and causing delays in his sessions, and that the other students were getting affected. I quit going to him anymore. The other students in the tutions used talk something about CET and IIT. Frankly, I never knew what all that was about until the middle of my second year PUC. With a great deal of effort and many lectures and beltings from my dad, I somehow managed to get 61% in PUC, and I also took up CET after I realized that it was the entrance exam for engineering courses.

My CET rank sucked, and I never got any seat in Bangalore. The only option for me was to opt for a payment seat in Electrical Engineering at Tumkur. We even paid the fees. But when we came back home and started to think of the consequences of our business if I stayed outside, the proposition seemed very risky. Moreover, an educated relative of mine told my dad that electrical engineering was not worth studying when the whole world was into Computer Science. My brother too was undergoing courses in Computers outside the college. So, the next day we decided to that I will not take up electrical engineering. I dedicated that whole year to our business, and I seemed to enjoy making money both from our business and my hobby. But my dad never liked to see me with those electronics stuff as he cited that as the primary reason for my low grades and bad CET rank. And, I agree that it was the reason. It was after a few years that I realized that the amount of practical knowledge I had in electricals and electronics was something that even most fully qualified engineers lacked.

After a year spent at home, I was then looking out for admissions in the regular science streams across many colleges in Bangalore. Then something happened in my life that would change my life forever. Christ College; I got an admission for Bachelor of Science (Computer, Mathematics and Statistics), and I never knew at that point that it would change my life forever. And the reason they gave me an admission for that stream was because I had Statistics in my PUC and had also fared well in that subject.

During my first year at Christ College, I wanted to excel in statistics and make a career in that field. Computer Science was something that I was learning for the first time, and I did not have much interest either. Mathematics was something that I dreaded the most. I would do anything to even score the minimum marks in that subject. But I had maintained a good impression on all the lecturers as being studious and punctual, always seated in the first row for every lecture. I was very quick and intelligent in statistics, and was the only student who boldly said that I was interested in making a career in statistics. My statistics department HOD was very thrilled and happy to find the only student interested in making a career in statistics and not Computer Science, as all the others. I must confess. I had spoken too early. In all the internal exams, I used to fare average in other subjects, while I used to either fail or fare very badly in mathematics.

As days passed, my interest gradually shifted from statistics to Computer Science, with all the logic gates, micro-processors and semiconductor memory. I realized that Computers had a lot to do with my hobby, electronics. While the others in the class found it very difficult to understand all those capacitors and logic gates storing the information in the form of electricity, it seemed to be a cakewalk for me, having worked on the timer ICs and the switching transistors . Immediately, I became one of the favorite students of my CS department HOD, who used to teach Digital Electronics. The same happened with the C language. Many of my classmates used to struggle with C pointers, while I used to learn about them almost effortlessly. Soon, I was considered one of the geeks of the class. I passed my first year with a whopping 78%, my all time high.

In the second year, my dad brought me my first personal computer. The then state-of-the-art Pentium PC with 32 MB RAM, 2 GB Disk and a Samsung color monitor. Clocking at 200 MHz, that was the fastest PC in my entire friends' circle. It used to compile and run C graphics programs in fractions of a second. I was thrilled, and all my friends were envious. I used to have lots of friends coming to my house to see and work on the system. With a PC at my disposal, I dint have to travel to NIIT Computerdrome in Shivaji Nagar to try out my programs. I started spending so much time coding in C that I used to sometimes forget to eat, and I had completely orphaned my electronics hobby. I had all my interest diverted to CS, and hardly concentrated on any other subject.

During this time, we had a new mathematics lecturer who used to think that I was very good at the subject until reality dawned upon her. She was distributing the mid-term exam papers in the class, and announcing the names and marks out loud to the class. My close buddies Janu, Sumitra, Sunil, Sandesh and all others scored high grades as usual. She then announced my name. I stood up, right in the first row. She was shocked to even read out the marks. It was 4. Yes, 4 out of 100; she couldn’t believe herself. She asked me again and again if I was Murali. I said, ma’am, that’s me, and those are definitely my marks. It became a big topic of discussion in the staff rooms. Everybody in the mathematics department used to ask me only one thing. If I would ever clear my final exams in that subject, while the lecturers in other departments where happy that I used to out-perform many of my friends in their subjects. And in computer science practical sessions, I was always the numero uno. And to everybody’s surprise, I cleared my second year with 74%.

Christ College has something good and in a way special that even most of the engineering colleges across the state do not have. Overall development of a student, and an exposure to the industry and healthy competions in curricular and extra-curricular activities; regular inter-collegiate competitions in technical and cultural fields used to give us a lot to learn. I used to proactively involve myself in every activity and every competition. Soon, I was known for winning in every competition involving computers. This was not just in our college, but I won in many such competitions held by many other colleges across the city. Soon, I was known as a geek not only to my class, but to other departments too, including MCA, MBA, BBM and even the Hindi Dept. Everybody used to approach me to get software or websites developed for their respective departments. All this exposure, my knowledge of electronics and the ability to learn things very quickly catalyzed the growth of my skills. Our Hindi lecturer, Senthil Kumar, was an young and enterprising lecturer. I got to meet and interact with many professionals and celebrities from the art and technology fields. I was closely associated with him and we worked towards creating a brand image for the department, which then became a benchmark for other departments to follow, even to this day. In just three years, I had changed from an introvert to an extrovert. I had spent a year at home cursing myself for being such a failure who could not even manage an engineering seat. But towards the completion of my bachelors degree, I was a changed guy. A guy with a never ending positive attitude, high levels of technical and interpersonal skills with the confidence and ability to take on any competition head-on. Taking initiatives for doing new things and activities had got deep into my blood. I was then campus-placed to my first job, as a trainee in a company that developed networking gear and software. So, my involvement with electronics never seemed to end, in one form or the other. And as ever, everything that involved electronics and computers became more of a continuous and easy learning, than something that required me to torture my neurons.

Today, I am here writing this, at the end of my six years of career involved in the design and development of high-end communication gear, transporting terabits of data every second across the globe through copper, optic fiber and satellites. Though not an engineer by academic qualification, I have out performed every engineer I have ever worked with. And, the company that I worked for until now is the one that literally invented all of these, right from the first breakthrough in solid state electronics, the Transistor, to the revolutionary LASER. The world’s most acclaimed and respected research laboratories. I guess I don’t need to mention the name.

I am the same guy, who was refused to be thought in tuitions by a perpetual smoking addict. I am the same guy who scored 4 out of 100, in mathematics.

All that I ever did and still continue to do is to never kill my curiosity to learn about anything that interests me. My only suggestion to anybody reading this is, never kill your curiosity, even if it involves risks. Because, Curiosity breeds Creativity.

Monday, August 07, 2006

I really pity today’s city kids.

I am sure many of you have seen Malgudi Days, and some of you may immediately recollect those golden days of childhood and relate to the simple kid on the show, Swami. Whenever I see that show, I feel as though my life is being screened on the show.

I remember all those days when I used live in our village until my age of seven. I used to run behind my grand father following him to our farm house where we had buffalos and chicken, corn and cotton fields all around the farm house. There was this small stream of fresh water flowing all along the fields and we had to walk on a very narrow stone-slab to cross the stream that was about two feet deep and 6 to 8 feet wide. Everybody now says that I am very fast in everything I do, and still perform accurately and consistently. Well, I guess that trait of mine has developed right from my childhood, and every time I fail, I learn something new that helps me do it better the next time. All this started at that tender age. Every time I used to run behind my grand father, invariably I used to end up falling into the stream while running over the narrow stone slab. At the age of 5, many would have turned hydrophobic. But that’s when I lost fear of water. Initially my grand father used to help me out of the water, but after few times I learnt to get out on my own and continue the run. After a while, I could run on the narrow stone-slab without falling. At that age after all the falls continuous running, I was neither hydrophobic nor tachophobic.

All the kids in the village (including me) would be at one single place studying, playing, fighting, climbing trees, swimming in the lake holding buffalos’ tails, playing hide ‘n’ seek in the fields spread over hundreds of acres, chasing foxes away from the cattle, while our parents were busy working in the fields. Our school was run by the village panchayat and funded by the state government. There was a single room and a single teacher for all students from class one to class five. Students of each standard used to sit in one row each in the room, all on the floor. No footwear, no benches, no lights. English was something alien and unheard off. And what was the motivation for us to go to school while we could have all the fun out in the fields? Mid-day meals. Yes. We would sometimes forget to carry our slates or chalk, but never the plate and glass. We used to get to eat hot rice with either dal or sambar, and curds.

Our parents used to go to the fields as early as 5:00 AM as they had to walk for almost 10 kilometers and had to reach before the first rays of the sun to avoid walking in the scorching heat. So, we used to play till 9:00 AM, pick up the school bags (made of fertilizer/urea bags) and head to school. Each row of students used to get attention for a while, and then we were on our own while the teacher was attending students of the other rows (standard). We used to read, write, talk, get punished and finally the lunch. School used to close by 4:00 PM, and the rest of the day was for us to play, loaf around the entire village until we were hungry. We used to get so much tired by evening that the only thing we did was to have a cold water bath, eat our dinner and sleep before 9:00 PM. No TV, no big homework; perfect life for a child.

Life for me changed a little after coming to Bangalore, but not the fun, sports and all the games we used to play at school and after school. In fact, I used to get to play more variety of games here in Bangalore than my small village. Things have changed a lot now. Back then, when we were playing all games on the streets, what we were doing was not just building ourselves physically, but also building ourselves mentally, psychologically and scientifically, but without our own knowledge and consciousness. Now when I sit down alone and think of my childhood, I realize how much I learnt in all those seemingly simple games and sports. How much it has helped me build myself to what I am today. There are many more like me out there who may or may not have realized it consciously, but are highly successful. If you have seen the behavior of animal babies in the wild, you will realize that their seemingly playful acts and movements are nature’s way of training them for the tough life that lies ahead, be it the hunter or the hunted. Our life is no different, as long as we don’t interfere with the nature’s way.

Let me bring couple of those to the foreground and highlight what the city kids these days lack and how the parents are interfering with the nature’s way of making them fit for the survival. It could be due to the ignorance of the parents or the unrealistic and unhealthy competition that is built into the urban society.

We used to play with marbles on the streets wherever there was little shade from the trees. At that time, what mattered was winning more marbles. A healthy competition was built into our group. We used to win sometimes, lose sometimes, and when lost, we try better the next time. We were ignorant of all the tough life and competition that lay ahead of us in the future. For that moment, filling the pockets with more marbles was all that mattered. In the process, we learnt some skills; concentration, aiming, judgment, decision making and subconscious calculation. If I had to strike a marble few meters away with another marble in my hand, I had to subconsciously calculate the distance, the accurate direction, the speed at which I should strike and when to strike. The same applied when I had to hit one marble with another such that the later goes into a small hole. There was so much skills and talent required to achieve this. And playing it again and again over the years only perfected the skills. Does Tiger Woods do anything different?

These days, I hardly see any kid with marbles in the hands. Instead, they play pool on the computers. They need no special skills to win a game because the computer does all the calculations for them. After a while, the game gets so mechanical that it hardly has anything new to learn. Instead, if he was out there on the streets playing marbles, he has to play differently on different surfaces like mud, cemented roads, dynamically change strategies to win under different circumstances, and above all, he gets to grow normally under the sun, fresh air below the trees and not end-up being a couch-potato.

Flying kites is my all-time favorite sport, and many kids in the block would dread the day when I used to go onto the terrace of my building with my kites and the “manja thread”. “Manja thread”, is a special thread made out of the ordinary cotton or polyester thread with a special process. The process in itself involves a lot of time and skills. The items required to prepare manja may vary a little from region to region, but the basic requirement is the same. We need to stick real tiny and well ground particles of glass onto the cotton or polyester thread. For that, we used to go around the neighborhood looking for old tube-lights, bulbs etc, that was easy to grind. Once we had sufficient quantities of them, we used to use flat granite stones to grind the glasses into fine powder. Once the glass power was ready, we used to boil a substance called “vanjra” (a sticky substance like rubber) in water and add a good color to it. Once this mixture reaches the boiling point, we take it away from the heat source and make sure it’s not diluted too much, else it will not be sticky enough and the glass powder will not stick well to the thread. Once this preparation cools down, we pass the thread into the mixture and as the wet and sticky thread comes out, we lace it with the fine powder of glass. Once it dries, we roll it on to a spindle. With this special thread and sufficiently big enough kite, we were ready for the war in the skies. Believe me; the thread is sharp enough to cut any part of the body, telephone cables across buildings and any soft object that comes in its way. And that’s exactly what it’s meant for. Cut. Cut other’s kites in the sky to prove your supremacy. When kites are flying and you believe that your skills and “manja” is better than others’, then you entangle your kite’s thread with another’s and allow the kite to go ahead pulling more thread from your spindle. This creates a sawing phenomenon and cuts the other’s kite. But, always be ready for that surprise. You me be the hunter, or the hunted. However good your manja is, it will become weak after a few battles, unless you are intelligent enough not to use it more than a few times.

There are many things involved in emerging as a winner. A lot of science is involved and analytical skills are built. Geometrical size and shape of the kite (more surface area on the kite creates more tension on the thread), wind speed and direction, distance of the target kite, the length of the thread you have, the angle at which you kite if flying, and the weight created by the tension and distance of the thread. The distant the target kite, you will need bigger kite to maintain the tension on the thread and supremacy in height. It’s like a cheetah moving slowly close to its prey unseen, and finally sprinting the final distance with a surprise attack. You need to be precise, quick and maneuver the kite with such great skill that your opponent stands no chance of winning.
How many kids these days have ever seen a kite? A little more sunlight and they stay indoors. A little rain and they stay cozy at home munching on junk food. I, along with a few old-timers like me had organized a session in our colony to teach kids to fly kites. I was really shocked to see that many kids dint even know how a kite looks in real and how it even flew. All that they knew was, “K for Kite”.

Such seemingly simple and regular games and sports played and enjoyed by kids in villages and rural areas involve such high-levels of science, skills and talent that they aid in the overall physical and mental development of the children at the right time. The kids in the cities are so much mechanical and lazy that they are seen outside only waiting for their school busses. We used to walk 15 kilometers up and down each day to school. Today, many children don’t even walk that distance in months. They need pick-up and drop door-to-door. Most of them cannot see without lenses, lack the amount of physical fitness and resistance that kids in the villages and rural areas possess. Parents think that energy drinks and calcium pills can substitute natural growth. They think that chavanprash will boost their immune system, while the lab tests by a famous TV channel on few such ayurvedic preparations have proved that all these so called immune system boosters have high levels of Mercury, Lead and Arsenic content that are dangerous for human body. They think that once a year summer-camps can substitute the gradual and constant development over the years. They think that 15 days of cricket camps will make them fit enough for competitions. They think that coaching them in a different sport every summer will make them the masters of their lives. And why do they do all these? Not because the kid is really interested in taekwondo or kung-fu, but because their neighbor’s son or daughter is going for those camps/classes. They want their kids to study in “International Schools”, why? Because their neighbor’s son is going there, and why their son should be any less in the rat race;

So much of peer pressure, so much of an unrealistic competition at a very young age, when they should be out there playing and let nature aid their growth instead on drinks laced with chemicals and artificial nutrients. They have such weak immune systems that the medicine industry selling over-the-counter drugs are making tons of money. I don’t ever remember going to a doctor except when I injure myself seriously during sports or a major fall from my bicycle. Why do the parents want to push the limits? What do they achieve? They just bring up another individual who will only build more such unhealthy competition, raise introverts who lead a mechanical life. These are the people who cannot change the flat tire of their car when they grow up. These are the people who will grow up to be pessimists. They are the ones who dare not question the wrong in the society. They are the ones who prefer to be one among the crowd. If this continues, India as a nation may become rich because they run their brains in a direction that they are told to, but can never dare to do things differently. They never fight for their rights expecting somebody else to do it for them. Why, because they never did anything on their own in their childhood either. Even the cycle they used to ride around the house was transported to their home in a car.

What we need now is not mechanical and evolutionary parenting, but a change. People who revolutionize and get back to the natural ways of parenting; we need parents who can dare to let their children to do the learning naturally and not spoon-feed them. Parents who don’t think letting a child play in the mud will make him sick; parents who think that outdoor sports are better than computer games; parents who realize that only academic percentages don’t make a complete and intelligent man, but the natural survival techniques will. Because, however powerful a computer is, it only does what it is told to. Even the most intelligent computer on the planet is only “Artificially Intelligent”, while the human brain has the power to learn, innovate, redefine the normal and invent. There is no point in training a child to reinvent the wheel. He will end up doing only that all his life which has no real use.