When someone speaks broken English

For quite some time now, posters and status updates of this quote are doing rounds on Facebook.

“Never make fun of someone who speaks broken English. It means they know another language.”

english

Most of the people who had shared this, along with the commenters were in agreement with this and cheered the support they had received. Of course, this seemed natural for many to feel so on account of the ridicule they may have faced at some point for their broken English.

When I did think about it, it made me think of my own parents at first. My English grasp is better than theirs. Most of the times when we receive some letter or communication from banks, service providers or such, it is kept aside for me to read. While mum can easily read and understand, she insists that I run through it just in case she may have understood or missed something. I can understand where this comes from because she like many people, had received formal education in Hindi. English classes were either discontinued after primary school, or given very little focus and treated as a second language.

I found it hard to understand why some people would ridicule or make of fun of others in college for their English usage, who had had their education in a regional language. While of our own generation, they were given the same treatment when it came to English, as my mother and most likely their parents did as well. It was a secondary language of which they needed a working understanding because that is what they would end up using for work. It really was/is on the back burner when it comes to being taught.

So when it came to people like them, I understood where their feelings came from. What I still do not understand, and made my eye twitch when I first saw this, was that it was shared by many people who have received a formal education in English! People who studied English in “English medium” schools, where it is the primary language taught. Over the course of growing standards/classes special emphasis is given on aspects like grammar, structure at the same level as prose. People who’ve learnt the language for ten years, out of which at least 5 years have been for correct usage of this language.

I am not saying that we should have perfect usage of the language. Everyone is prone to mistakes at times. Not everyone is expected to have a practical understanding of Calculus, but we’re expected to be able to perform basic math. You can question me for not being able to perform Integration because I studied Calculus till the second year of my college. We don’t expect people to know at which concentrations and thermodynamic conditions stable Iron and Carbon alloys are formed. But we do expect people to know what atoms are, and how elements differ from compounds. All of it is part of the basic schooling we have received.

So people who went to English medium schools are expected to NOT speak broken English, just like everyone is expected to know that it rains on account of evaporation, condensation and precipitation of water, and not because of the tears, or blessing sprouting of some divine being’s hands. So when people speak broken English it just doesn’t mean that they know a second language, but can also mean that they didn’t pay attention to what was taught in school.

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How E-Governance can make a #DigitalIndia, a better India.

Information Technology is a powerful tool. It’s a tool that we continue to use for great advantages in our personal lives, but a tool that is yet to be used extensively in our ‘public’ lives. In spite of its wide reach in our lives, we have not yet fully ingrained its use into our public and government affairs. The opportunity for it, particularly in a country like India is immense. There are many ways in which E-Governance can lead to a better digital India.

E Governance is the application Information Technology in Government Services. The most common form of this application is the linkage between government bodies and citizens, followed by the communications between the different government employees/agencies. Directly, the first form is the one that touches are lives in the most obvious manner. The communication between the government employees and agencies serves as an underlying aspect, the skeleton upon which the body stands.

If you think about it, E-Governance is something that most of us are already familiar with. It is common place to use the internet to file taxes and pay bills. We don’t spend time standing in the queue to pay for our electricity or other utility bills. We can pay it from the comforts of our homes, at any time we want. For those who don’t have access to internet at home (or do not know how to pay online), they utilize the 24 hour bill centers that are scattered throughout the city. I have paid my bill at 11 in the night, because I couldn’t find go and pay it in the office on account of work and some personal commitments at home.

The challenge over here is that much of these facilities and developments can be easily and quickly utilized by the urban citizens. More than half of our country’s population lives in the rural regions. Most of them do not have access to internet at their homes, or lack the knowledge to use it. This however does not mean that we E-governance cannot impact their lives. They too can go digital through something as simple as a cell phone. This doesn’t need to be a smartphone, but just an old fashioned cell phone that can send and receive text messages.

One of the pillars on which our country stands is agriculture. Farmers can now be helped via E-governance. One of the aspects which affects their crops and our lives is the health of the soil. Samples of their soil are taken sent to the government laboratories for soil health checks. Tests can determine which nutrients are needed to improve the soil health, and the same can be quickly communicated to the farmers via sms. Using only their registered number when the soil sample is taken, the information can be quickly sent and acted upon instead of waiting for days for the reports to be sorted and sent.

Not just soil health reports, but aspects like the right fertilizer and its quantity make a significant impact. With timely information, and use of fertilizer, the crop health is improved. In fact, why just limit ourselves to fertilizers? Other details like how much rainfall is expected, what is the day’s selling price of seeds/produce can be shared in relevant season, allowing them to make more educated decisions.
One important manner in which going digital helps us, is healthcare. From time to time, we all need to visit a doctor or hospital on account of some illness or accident. It is imperative that the correct information is available to the medical professionals to treat us properly. However we are not always in the right frame of mind, or awareness to share the same. If our medical information, like what we’re allergic to, the diseases we’ve previously suffered from, and medical background are easily available, then doctors can take more informed decisions. This will only be directly helping to people who have some specific medical history or allergies. However if you look at the large population we have, this can be thousands or millions of people who can be saved with the right information. A central identification details like Aadhar UID, voter ID, or PAN Card can be used to identify us.

This is why I believe that going digital and as a result E-Governance can help us all form a better India. This post was inspired by Intel, and its vision for a Digital India.

Paying back my friends

Living in a hostel taught me quite a few things, and lead to some memorable incidents. It is one thing to have people as friends, but yet another to live with them. When you spend enough time living in the immediate presence of someone else, you get to see different shades of them you normally cannot. In the same manner, when you have some highs or lows in your life, you get to see a different part of people in the manner to which they react to your situation.

Hostel usually involved commuting weekly. We would leave from the college on Friday or Saturday to reach home by dinner time, and spend the rest of the weekend at home. Depending on which schedule our lectures were, we would leave back for hostel on Sunday evening or early Monday morning. This happened on one such Sunday evening when a bunch of us were heading back to the hostel. The evening commute train came in, and instead of patiently waiting for it stop and the passengers to get off, I ran along with the coach. Keeping pace with the door, I threw my bag in and slowed down as people started to get off. Moments later when I got on to the train with a grin, I found that my bag was not there. Someone had taken it with themselves.

After trying to search the train, and running around on the platform, I came to accept that my stuff was stolen. The loss of the bag in itself wasn’t that hurtful as that of its contents. Two of my favorite sets of clothes were in it, along with 700 INR. At that point, 700 INR was a BIG Deal for me. It meant nearly a month’s food. There was no point in waiting at the station, and I left with my friends in the train. I lodged a police complaint at the railway police station after getting down at my station and went to the hostel with my friends. I didn’t do anything that night, at once falling asleep on reaching my room.

700 INR meant a lot of things. First it was nearly the amount I would have spent on eating dinner for an entire month. I used up some of the allowances I had saved up to buy new underwear and socks. I had some of them in the bag as well. I didn’t even feel like asking mom for money (for it was no fault of hers), and planned on how little I would have to spend on eating, or what my new dinner options would be. In hindsight, all of it seems a very stupid thing to do. Nobody gets on a train like that, but that wasn’t something that I could take back.

The next day two of my friends offered me close to 500 INR so that I wouldn’t skimp out on my meals.  I was too proud to ask any one for the money, on account of how I had lost it. They simply told me to give it back to them a month or so later when I would be in a better position to do so. I almost cried when I had dinner that night.

In the same week, we found out that there would be an inter college technical fest and competition at a college in Ahmedabad. Being organized by one of the most reputed colleges of the state, many people wanted to attend it. It had events that I was looking to take part in, but being short on cash (the sign up cost was 500 INR), I just walked back from their kiosk in our college atrium. Another friend asked me about it and I told him about not signing up for it. As if my luck in good friends wasn’t run out, he quietly offered to pay my amount, while he himself wasn’t attending himself.

Later that month, when I did participate in some of the competitions, I managed to get an unexpected 2nd place with a cash prize enough to pay back all of the friends who had helped me out in my time of need.

Inspired by Housing.com about a memorable time my friends gave me the strength to go on with optimism.

Starting a new life after school

There have been some very educational changes in my life. It would be false to say that I had full control over the circumstances that lead to these changes. While the changes that I couldn’t control taught me loads, I will tell you about two changes that I did have control. Changes that I chose and executed, while in themselves seem to be something very normal/common place but hold great value as to how I had to start a new life on their account.

The first change that I want to talk about is college. I had an option between two colleges. One in my hometown where I was pursuing my Bachelor’s in Science, and another in a different city for Engineering. While both the colleges are equally good, I chose to study in a city different from home. After the initial misty eyes when I did leave for hostel, and the first night away from home, things began to feel pretty normal. The routine of the college seemed to help too.

While the routine of everyday was distracting in itself, small changes began to feel big. Back then, Debit Cards were not yet so common. This meant that one had to either control the money spent, or keep extra money as backup. While keeping extra money in itself wasn’t something of note, what made a difference was the temptation to spend it. Temptation showed up in innocent things like wanting to have a slice of the chocolate cake after college, or go catch up on the latest movie with friends (Cola & a tub of popcorn). But this also meant that money was needed for extra stationery, or to buy medicines, it wasn’t there.

Money aside, things we take for granted became more profound. Home food felt dearer compared to what we had in the hostel mess. While it is common to feel so for the taste, but for me it was a different reason. At home, food is made keeping the likes and mood in mind. If I felt a craving for mushrooms, then mushrooms would be made. If I feel like having dinner late in the night, it can always be reheated. Such aspects became a comfort instead of something being taken for granted.

 

The next major change that happened was moving out for a job. In itself, this was a chance to start a new life. AN independent life. Living away from the family wasn’t new, but living by myself was. Now that I was fully responsible for myself, it was up to me to do things as I wanted. Things like rent were not that much of an issue since I was earning, but other aspects of the house were. Since I was the one who would choose where I lived, I began to look at houses with a new insight.

How far would the place be from the bus stop? How much difference would it make in the daily commute? Are there traffic jams nearby during rush hours? Where does the water go when it rains? Is there a vegetable market nearby? If the week was hectic, clothes and undies would pile up. I would need a space to keep a laundry basket, and a larger cupboard to keep my fresh sets of clothes. I generally like to sleep on the floor with just a mattress below me and a bed sheet to cover myself. It became a different situation when I would have friends or family over. Mother would need a cot, and more storage space for extra mattresses for friends to sit on.

The house would need a gallery to hang my clothes out to dry after washing. I had tried doing that inside under the fan with a clothes rack, and the room ended up feeling damp and smelling of soap. While books were initially kept in a simple carton box, I ended up needing a dedicated rack for storing the extra ones. While I had started with a simple platform for cooking, I had to look for a new house with a kitchen that would allow me to store my vessels and vegetables. One cannot live on Maggi forever.

These are two times in my life where I have had to start a new life, a different life.

 

Inspired by this video of housing.com:

Changing my approach towards drawing

I personally believe that one of the most defining times for a person is that spent in school/college. The experiences one has during the same end up giving shape to the outlook they have towards life in general. Apart from the person themselves, two sets of people add (or remove) filters to our views. These are our parents and teachers. What I am about to share with you is how my lecturers in college gave me a more positive approach to learning in general.

I have generally been a good learner. I was able to grasp most aspects of what I had been taught in school/college, struggling only in mathematics. Of course with more time and practice, mathematics would become something I could wrap my head around. One aspect that I would often neglect was drawing. Since I had opted for Science after my Tenth Exams, I had to study Biology which involved generous amounts of drawings. I confess to taking mom’s help in doing most of the tougher drawings, and opting for a different question to answer in the exams.

However when it came to Engineering, I literally had no way out. I managed to scrape through my first year’s drawing exams with average grades, but received a probationary pass grade in the second year. Honestly speaking, that was my lowest point in college. It wasn’t a subject like Mathematics, where I knew that with more practice and better understanding I could cover up. Drawing required a different approach to it, while mine was that of neglect, and in most parts fear.

When my faculty advisor called me for counselling after the grades were out, I was fully expecting to be rebuked. I had spent most of semester not preparing for the subject. During the exams, I had completed my drawing sheet in nearly half an hour, in a three hour exam slot. I had drawn what I could, but that was not enough to get me even passing marks. When I did attempt to finish the remaining of the questions, I ended up using the eraser so much that I had large smudge and small tear on the sheet.

Instead of bemoaning how miserably I had performed, she and another lecturer first asked me as to what I felt the reason was. When I explained that I felt that I didn’t find it useful, and considered a rote activity. After letting me say my side of the problem, they showed how a different approach was required. In a previous counselling session she had appreciated my logical & problem solving skills in programming. I was asked to approach drawing in a similar manner. While I did have to memorize some of the drawings, the larger part of the syllabus didn’t require rote memorization. Instead, if one approached it as a problem as to how the views of an object if viewed from a different angle, then I would have to process those changes. I would have to factor in which surfaces would get hidden, which would now become visible, and how these will interact with the change in viewing plane.

I will not get in to more technicalities of it. What I do appreciate is that instead of asking me to do what every other student does, or just go by rote memorization, they changed my approach towards the subject in a manner that would make it more interesting, and in turn challenging. I retook the subject in the next semester, and was able to get above average scores in the exam. To be honest, more than the exams, I was able to use the drawing skills in my projects in much more useful manner (than just clearing exams). For this, I will remain thankful to these two lecturers who took out time to change how I approached drawing in general.

This post was inspired from Housing.com, for how optimism  & positiviry can be found in any aspect of life.

When strangers came together for a grieving family

Compassion is an important emotion. Compassion for our fellow humans is at times what brings us together. People identify with the pain and sorrow of others and go out of their way to be there for them. While friends and family do these the most, it is the compassion of strangers that touches us the most. These are people who we don’t know, and who could mind their own life, but make a choice to do something for us.

One of my most memorable incidents is something that happened on Reddit last year. Nathan Steffel made a Photoshop Request at the Pics subreddit, regarding his daughter. Nathan’s daughter Sophia had passed away at the age of six weeks, suffering from complications in her liver. Since she had been in the hospital her entire life, the only pictures her family had had of hers were with her medical tubes. Nathan simply requested if someone could give his family a picture of Sophia, by digitally removing (or Photoshopping as it is known) the tubes from the picture.

The picture shared by Nathan Steffel

 

It is one of those rare moments where people felt his pain, and sent him photoshopped pictures and drawings of Sophia without the medical tubes and other equipment. Here are some of them (click on them to take you to the source):

 

by Reddit user /u/funkybrewster

 

by Reddit user /u/ChangingYang

 

by Reddit user /u/jloooong
by Reddit user /u/izzyzzi
by Reddit user /u/Markaes4

It was later revealed on Buzzfeed that he and his wife knew of their daughter’s condition from an ultrasound, but didn’t know the extent of it. Sophia was on the waiting list for a new liver but passed away due to complications. The pictures of Sophia show how many lives she has touched, and how some of these people cared enough for her family. This is why it is one my most memorable acts of compassion, when strangers who haven’t even met this person, or know him, pulled out all stops to give his family some peace.

 

Written for #1000speak, where bloggers all over the world wrote together about compassion and what it means to them.

1000voicesspeak

2014 in review for this blog

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Designing my own planet

Asked to design my own planet, the first thing that came to mind was to design a planet with life that I can control and observe from the outside. It would be something similar to having my own personal aquarium or pet zoo of sorts. As tempting as it were, I thought of designing a planet that I would be able to inhabit with my friends and family when I wanted to. Like a home away from home, a planet away from this planet. This meant that I would have to have a planet that would be able to sustain life in a manner similar to Earth. While it would be fun to have it in a different manner, it wouldn’t be so much more fun to relax entire weekends in a space suit. For this to happen, we would need a planet with a similar atmosphere.

I quickly rubbished the idea that any size of a planet could have an atmosphere. I mean look at the Moon. While not a planet, it is however a body smaller than Earth. It doesn’t have enough gravitational force to hold an atmosphere. A planet can only have an atmosphere if the escape velocity is larger than the atmospheric gasses’ molecules. The escape velocity of Earth is 11.2 km/s, which means that something must be travelling at least that fast to escape the gravitational field.

Now Escape Velocity is calculated by the equation Ve=sqrt (2GM/R)
where G = Gravitational constant, M=Mass, and R=radius of the planet

For a sustainable atmosphere, we would need the Gas Velocity to be less than this Ve.

Gas Velocity Vg=sqrt (3kT/m)
Where k = Boltzmann constant, T is the minimum temperature in Kelvin, and m is the mass of the gas molecule.

Since I want a habitable planet I believe that a difference of ten times would be sufficient.

On comparing 10*Vg=Ve to calculate, we have to unknowns M & R. Since I want to have a planet similar to Earth, I can give a value to M. A quick reminder of high school science: Density = Mass/volume. We know the average density of Earth is 5.52 gm/cm cubed. We also that that the volume of a sphere is (4/3)*Pi*R^3. This gives us a value for M as 23122.12*R^3.

We can now compare Vg and Ve to get an approximate value of 2845 kms. This would mean that my planet would need to be at least of a radius of this size to have a sustainable atmosphere.

Now that I have a lower limit on my planet size, I began to think of a higher limit. If I had a larger radius, I would have more mass. This would mean more gravity. Not only would more gravity make it more difficult to walk and move around, it would affect my future generations should I choose to move to the planet for good. You see, the more gravitational force a planet has, the shorter will be the beings born on it. It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective, as the heart would have to face lesser resistance against the gravity to pump blood to the top most part of the being. It would cause the great grandkids of my great grand kids (I really don’t know how many generations would have to be born for it to make a noticeable change) to be short and stocky.

Now that the planet size has been finalized. I do want my planet to be different from Earth in one particular way. The days and years on Earth are defined based on Earth’s rotation on its own axis, and its revolution around the sun. Instead of having just one sun, I want two. I would have 1 large sun around which a smaller sun revolves, and my planet would revolve around this smaller sun. Quite like how the Moon revolves around the Earth which revolves around the Sun.

Earth is habitable also on account of its magnetosphere. The molten metal core of the Earth generates a magnetic field that protects us from much of the harmful particles of the Solar wind. Since I will have two suns, the planet would need a magnetic core sufficient to create a protective layer against both. Of course this would need to take into account the size of both the suns, the distance of the smaller sun from the larger, the distance of my planet from both, their orbits, and what is the safest habitable zone for my planet from them.

As much as I did read upon it, I couldn’t calculate these aspects and ended up with a headache. Sigh, my planet design will have to be a work in progress for now.

Written for the “Interplanet Janet” Open Prompt at Project 365.

Thanks to Robert Frost’s answer at Quora for solving the equations, without which I would spend a good five more minutes doing the math. 

Of cakes that fall and rise

It is not a secret that I love eating. Cakes are inclusive to this love of mine. In fact not just me, but so many people love cakes that celebrations are not complete without cakes. Birthdays HAVE to have cakes for everyone most (I do remember a friend from school who used to cut pizzas instead of cakes). When I was younger, I would look at mum with my innocent eyes and ask her to bake a cake for me. Nothing fancy, just a simple vanilla sponge cake would do. To this day she makes a point to tell me that her arms and elbows would ache from all the batter mixing (her method involves mixing it all with hands for at least 20 minutes), and that she would never have enough cream left to make ghee. It would all end up in my weekly share of cake.

A dear friend of mine is a voracious reader, and a magic woman when it comes to cooking. I pity her neighbors who have to put up with the delicious aromas wafting out of her kitchen. Pure torture I tell you. As  good great as she is, she cannot exert divine control upon cakes to turn out how she wants them to. Not yet, at least.

One fine day, when she was busy making lemon cakes (for some Sansa Stark fans I hope), one of the cakes decided to be more than that. After all as Petyr Baelish teaches Sansa, “In the game of thrones, even the humblest pieces can have wills of their own. Sometimes they refuse to make the moves you’ve planned for them”. This particular cake came out with a big sunken cavity in the center.

The sunken cake

Not someone who will let food go to waste, she did what another friend suggested to her. Since this was a cake with perfect walls, she emptied out the gooey center and added chocolate to it. Instead of just a lemon cake, it was now a combination cake. Time and again I am reminded how wonders can be made of the accidents that befall us. The cake was soon packed and parceled to yours truly. I am having a bite of the solid lemon walls with a gooey, fudgey chocolate center. Absolute bliss.

Combo taste cake for the win

It is the best cake that I have ever had. I love the fact that it something that happened serendipitously. While it could have been another fallen cake, it rose to one of the first combination cakes to come out of the Weekend Kitchen. So much love for her :D. She is probably going to bonk me on the head for putting in A Song of Ice and Fire reference in this 😛

You can read her post about this cake at her blog here.

Where do you answer Nature’s call?

What do you do when you have to answer Nature’s call? No, you do not wonder how Nature managed to get your number and call you up on the cell. Nature’s call is when you feel the urge go to the toilet. Typically this would mean you going to the toilet to empty yourself, but there are so many people who have no toilet to go to. Which is why they end up urinating and defecating in the open near some roads, fields, or vast open lands.

Based on the joint estimates done by WHO and UNICEF in 2010, 15 percent of the people in the world defecate in the open because they don’t have access to a toilet. Indians make up 60% of these numbers. These are people who are exposed on to unhealthy, and unsanitary conditions on a daily basis. This impacts not just their own health but the health of the babies born in such areas. This impacts the future of our nation.

2.4 million children die under the age of 5 in India every year. 20%-25% of these are on account of diarrhea. The relationship to sanitation however has been made clear. If you look at India’s Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), then Infant Mortality Rate reduced by 4 infants per 1000. This clearly shows that with better sanitation and access to toilets, more children will live to fulfil their lives. Not just that, children who lived the first year of their lives in areas with better sanitation grew taller.

How does poor sanitation and lack of toilets affect health? It is simple. Defecating in the open can cause fecal matter to mix with the river’s water supply. The same water that will be then used in their homes for washing, drinking, and cooking. Not all people go to isolated fields or river banks to defecate. Children in particular are known to defecate near their houses. This causes an influx of flies and other germs in the vicinity of the home. On account on poor sanitation, the same hands that were used to clean or remove fecal matter may not be clean enough to prepare food, or wash clothes, and can lead to transmission of diseases.

This leads to a direct impact on the economy of the nation as well. Due to the lack of proper sanitation India faces a loss of 2.4 trillion INR every year, or a per capita loss of 2180 INR. Out of this, the largest chunk of 1.74 billion INR is spent on health (checkups, treatment, medicines and such). Of this, the poorer families suffer the most. Sometimes they lack the necessary funds to treat the illness of their children, or must suffer wage loss while they do so.

Sanitation and toilets are the basic rights of everyone. It is also something that we take for granted most of the time. Something that is as basic as a toilet or latrine is actually something that is out of reach for a large population of this country. This lack of facilities is not only affecting their daily lives by having them go away from their house to defecate, but also leads to many diseases. The severity is such that many children will not live beyond the age of 5. It cannot be stressed enough that it serves as a fundamental right of all citizens.

For my research on this, I mainly used two papers at the Indian Sanitation Portal and the Water and Sanitation Program.

Domex, HUL’s flagship sanitation brand, currently runs the Domex Toilet Academy (DTA) programme. Domex Toilet Academy was launched on 19th November 2013. It aims to become a sustainable and long-term solution to provide sanitation that benefits the local community and helps stimulate the local economy. The Toilet Academy makes toilets accessible and affordable, while promoting the benefits of clean toilets & good hygiene. Our effort has resulted in bringing the change in the villages of Maharashtra and Orissa and we aim to build 24000 toilets by 2015 in rural areas faced with the problem of open defecation.

You can bring about the change in the lives of millions of kids, thereby showing your support for the Domex Initiative. All you need to do is “click” on the “Contribute Tab” on www.domex.in and Domex will contribute Rs.5 on your behalf to eradicate open defecation, thereby helping kids like Babli live a dignified life.

Written for the ‘Toilet for Babli’ at Indiblogger.