Monday, September 20, 2010

Surprising KotebetTa

With a blank memory and a sleepy state, I started listening to some melody in the nature. I thought I was in a dream and got carried away with my sleep. But, I heard the calls repeatedly for the next ten minutes and I then realized that it was not a dream. I opened my eyes to a blue morning and as I saw myself sitting on the front seat of the motor that took us from Bangalore to the place I had never been before. I saw many Grey Hornbills, playing early in the morning making its hysterical cackling, laughing and screeching calls waking up strangers like me. I was awestruck with the way they were playing around unnoticing me or the strange vehicle in front of them. I captured them in my sleepy eyes and that gave me a beautiful sight for the day. It was freezing cold and a beautiful blue morning. I saw a bunch of wagtails chirping around and making the morning silence more melodious and romantic to just do nothing but FEEL!

It was just a thought of getting used to my new hiking boots before the bigger camp ahead in the coming days, and ended up chosing a not-known-earlier place called Kotebetta which is 25 km from Madikeri. The fact that the peak is in Coorg and supposed to be the third highest peak (1600m) in Coorg, tempted me more to witness it in person for a day. That was how I showed up at the Hattihole with my two other friends from where the trek begins.

It was an easy walk in the beginning and getting into the green land was so special that the clouds embraced us with beautiful drizzle welcoming us into the dreamland. As I walked more, I noticed a lot of flowers impatiently dancing and waiting for us to see them in full bloom. As I appreciated their dance, a lot of parakeets’ tuned in and made lovely background music. My shooter could not stop capturing those little beauties which were so special to me that day.

 My boots went through some hard terrain, rocks, water streams, and slippery paths and I was all happy about it being treated. At the same time, I never expected any shoe bites but I did expect my friends to bite me as usual. There were only a few of them and smaller in size too. May be leeches in Kotebetta are too friendly to bite.

All along the way, I saw different variety of ferns and I was sure that the habitat is exceptionally beautiful and a good habitat for a lot of flora and fauna. As expected I started spotting beautiful orchids. They were so beautiful that I could not move faster and I could not miss spotting even a tiny flower.

It was quite mysterious to find the peak as we had to cross around 3-4 peaks to see the actual peak. So it was fun filled with wonderful valley views. Cloud play continued all along the peak. Once we reached the higher altitude, I was captivated with what I saw. It was like valley of flowers. The whole place was full of colorful wild flowers.  I was utterly happy and spellbound seeing such a beautiful place.

Because this place is not known much, there were none at the peak. Only three of us struck by the beauty were at the peak. Cloud covered us completely while we rested at the temple at the peak. Temperature in my watch had reached 18 degrees already. Clouds were very playful with us and did not allow us to see the complete valley at once.

Having enjoyed the ascent in the dreamland, decent was a little disappointing that I was supposed to return to Bangalore. But the feel that I got in the peak will remain longer than I can think. While descending we encountered the rain but it was meant to be. What fun will I have without the rain during my last trek in this monsoon?

We got down by the evening and returned to Bangalore. KotebetTa is a place I will go back again. Very soon.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Suz flies by!

hard to believe the time
how it got us closer
of dreams and the likes
not much of past, but
those lively moments
allowed me in synergy
giving me a company
to share adventures
and much laughter!

knowing you was luck
slowly for a uphill walk
to shout out our lives
and capturing frames
for a rewinding time, waiting
for it again, like a leech,
to explore more along
with heartfelt wishes
may you come back soon!

and the time flies by,
Suz... saying by-e by-e! 


Saturday, September 11, 2010


all I wondered was, how?
to make it drift away,
not by coercion, again
to accept what is not me
and my rugged thoughts
of a honest reflection!

it took so long for me
to see it float, slowly
away from the reality
of what I believe and
what I do not think
it as my conviction!

perhaps! I see the shift
at least the glimpse, for now
that it appears to be good
in nature, and science
and hope not in belief
that cat didn’t return home!


Thursday, September 9, 2010

A View

Excerpt from the book - Shop Class as Soulcraft

A view -

"Lack of experience diminishes our power of taking a comprehensive view of the admitted facts. Hence those who dwell in intimate association with nature and its phenomena are more able to lay down principles such as to admit of a wide and coherent development; while those whom devotion to abstract discussions has rendered unobservant of facts are too ready to dogmatize on the basis of a few observations."

~ by Aristotle


So, no doubt the experience matters in understanding/creating a process; but also, the association with the nature is what is more important. Without that intimacy with my own environment while I grow, I will not know what are the facts that forms the basis of my understanding before my actions.  


Book Review: Shop Class as SoulCraft

This is a book authored by Mathew B. Crawford. The tag line says “An enquiry into the value of work”. When I was referred to this book by Narasim, I was not just asked to read; but also Narasim made it very clear that this is the book we need to treat as bible for our vocational training school. Without a second thought I bought it from flipkart. I took a lot of time to read this book; not that Crawford’s writing is complicated, but, Crawford’s philosophy behind his words made me think multiple times on each issue that is being addressed. All I can say is that this book will make a lot of difference.

Mathew B. Crawford is a ‘thinker’, philosopher and a mechanic. He has a Ph.D in political philosophy from the University of Chicago and served as a postdoctoral fellow on its committee on Social Thought. Currently a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, he owns and operates Shockoe Moto, an independent motorcycle repair shop in Richmond, VA.

This book gives us the comprehensive view on how a 'Knowledge' based economy deteriorates itself to a mere ‘Information’ based economy by losing the focus and the foresight; How the education system is taking away the ‘thinking’ from ‘doing’ things; why there is a distinction between working with hands and working with mind (separating manual labor and the clerical jobs); why are people not connected to their own community and think they are lost in their cubicle?; and what are the key aspects of solidarity and self-reliance?

Crawford has also made a lot of references to other philosophers like Marx, Heidegger and Iris Murdoch. While I was reading this book, I also kept posting some bits on those aspects that I really liked. One can read it here. Also, most of his examples are drawn from his own experience of a mechanic, electrician and earlier to that of his cubicle life as a ‘knowledge worker’. His stories will make a delightful read with some good amount of fun if we relate it to our thinking on the related issues.

In the Introduction chapter, Crawford says that since 1990, the shop class has started to become a thing of past, as educators prepared students to become ‘knowledge workers’. I think we can very well relate to this given the jobs we are in and the emphasis that is given to the ‘knowledge worker’ role while hiring. He also says that the disappearance of tools from our common education is the first step toward a wider ignorance of the world of artifacts we inhibit. This book also gives us a clear story behind the distinction of white collared and blue collared jobs through the education system that was introduced. People were trained for theoretical work separately and ended up in clerical and managerial roles; while the others who were doing the manual work were made to follow what is to be done there by creating the distinction. Even though most of the aspects revolve around the American futurism, it is also applicable for all other knowledge economies of the world. It is the vision of the future that leaves the material reality and glide in a pure information economy. Even I feel, like my other friends that what we are imparting is just mere schooling than the education itself.

The next chapter, A Brief Case for the Useful Arts, begins with how shop classes were removed from the schools. The fact that the shop class was expensive and it could be easily replaced to pay for new computers, to promote the computer literacy. He also describes on the psychic satisfactions of manual work by comparing his and many others experiences with the manual work. How both ‘individual agency’ and the ‘competence’ contribute to the productivity. I can think, what would I say if someone asks me how productive are you at work? What would I answer? Or what would you answer? If the answer is nothing more than a few words of ‘I-completed-all-my-work-on-time’. But I can never say, at the end of my work “And! there was light” – like an electrician can or ‘the car now runs’ – like a mechanic answers. Are we connected to our own stuff?

One more important fact is that the manual work cannot be outsourced. So the worrisome of many people on the job being outsourced to other countries making them unemployed, manual labor can be safe and happy with the skill he possess. He says “the craftsman is proud of what he has made, and cherishes it, while the consumer discards things that are perfectly serviceable in his restless pursuit of the new”. He also says that “craftsmanship entails learning to do one thing really well, while the ideal of the new economy is to be able to learn new things, celebrating potential rather than achievement.”

While talking about the cognitive demands of the manual work, he says – given the intrinsic richness of manual work, cognitively, socially, and in its broader psychic appeal – the question becomes why it has suffered such devaluation as a component of education?  I think only culture and the history can help us understand the issue better. The Arts, crafts and the assembly line section of the chapter draws our attention to the origin of the basic issue; that is the Smith-Huges act of 1917. It brought two rationales for the shop class, Vocational education and the General education. The two track educational scheme severed the cognitive aspects of the manual work from its physical education. It was a complete separation of thinking from doing.  Eventually, this entails two big errors in the whole system. First, it assumes that all blue collar work is as mindless as the assembly line work, and second, that white collar work is still recognizably mental in character. This made me understand much on the distinction that got created and what was the process of separation of thinking from doing.

It is as simple as why do we need two separate parts to operate simultaneously? One to operate mind and the other to operate hands. Why can’t there be one single body doing both?

The chapter ends with a strange but a not-so-surprising fact of job security and demands in the market. It is the fact that the highly skilled jobs or white collared jobs are growing more than what the demand in the market is and the employability of these highly skilled workers is becoming difficult than that of the skilled labor or the blue collared workers in the market. Skilled people in the market are safe and always have handful of job given the fact that it cannot be outsourced to anyone else. It is this “you can’t hammer a nail over the internet.”

The next chapter is the details on the most critical aspect (to me and to the author of course) - The separation of thinking and doing. This chapter basically deals with the dichotomy of the mental and the manual. The author says, wherever the separation of thinking from doing has been achieved, it has been responsible for the degradation of the work. This chapter also details on the degradation of both white collared and blue collared works.

With the introduction of the new scientific management and the distinction that was created between the highly skilled workers and the manual laborers, the focus of the education and the training has been completely changed. It is like a manual worker is no longer able to plan his layout on his own. There is a separate department created for doing brain work. A manual worker has to depend on someone else’s brain to do his job.

Degradation of white collared work has also been extensive in terms of the new way of thinking that has taken over the actual methodologies. It is like creating the artificial intelligence on which a person has to depend upon to do his job. And a tag of knowledge worker has been given to a person who just uses mere information from elsewhere to do his job. Expert systems have been created to support the employers to an extent where they need not worry about the individuals decision making processes. Everything is set and the employees have to just follow these systems to arrive at a decision. So the role of such systems is “transfer the knowledge, skill and decision making from employee to employer”.

Finally the chapter details on how the term ‘creative’ has taken its shape with intellectual technology overtaking the system. What are the real achievements of companies that are announcing themselves as ‘creative agents’? What should be the ideal of a tradesman? Should he follow the stoic ideal of “freedom from hope and fear?”

In the chapter – To be master of one’s own stuff, he starts with saying, “spiritedness, is allied with a spirit of inquiry, through the desire to be master of one’s own stuff. It is the only prideful basis of self-reliance.” In this chapter there are a lot of things that he illustrates by taking examples of several trades, his own experience and some other’s philosophical ideas. It is as simple as a true mechanic understanding what the real problem with the bike is? While, there are a lot of people who do not master what they do and end up doing dirty job.  

He also gives the clear understanding of what an Individual agency is and how it needs to function vs. the autonomy. What are the expectations of the people now with respect to the technology changes and how the companies are misleading people with their new techno stuffs added to their products? It is like, for example, having an electric starter for my bike might make it easier and comfortable for me to use it. But when there is a breakdown, there should be some easy way to fix it manually as well. But unfortunately the new technology does not support people who work on them manually, like mechanics.  If the technology does not support the people who play with them, how good a technology is that? Or is it just those companies are playing as per the consumer behavior? Crawford has illustrated these with some of the best examples in this chapter.

The fourth chapter – The education of a Gearhead is an absolute pleasure to read. It details on the ‘diversity’ in the education that we are seeing, the different kinds of work that are existing, the mutual entanglement between the intellectual qualities and the moral qualities.  With a lot about his own experience and his philosophies behind all his decisions, he has tried to reach out to us in this chapter. It majorly highlights on the experience, the learning that we have since our childhood, the mentor factor, the basic fundamental theories that we apply in our daily work, the personal knowledge that comes with the experience which eventually helps us in seeing a problem better and to the perfection, how to see things clearly or unselfishly and many more. To read about his personal examples in this chapter is a lot of learning for us. He makes us think.

The next chapter emphasizes on the fact of being progressed from an amateur to a professional. What exactly happens when we seriously take our amateur experiences forward into our careers? This is the chapter on – The further education of a gearhead. This chapter deals more about the author’s experience on his decisions to set up his mechanic shop, the story behind the same, the initial struggles and how he makes himself better with the problem. More than anything the approach he takes to solve any problem or learn from the same is what impressed me. It is a kind of feeling that gives enough confidence to say or do that is ‘anything is possible’.

The sixth chapter is on – The contradictions of the cubicle. This is one of my favorite chapters in the book. Mainly because, I work all the time sitting in a cubicle and the thoughts that comes to my mind is no different from what the author would have experienced. Basically Crawford, before becoming a bike mechanic, will be a knowledge worker in an Information access company. This chapter basically starts with his experience and draws our attention to what exactly we do sitting in a cubicle and what are the challenges we encounter when we do not like to be sitting in a cubicle. Rather, it is like asking ourselves the question, Am I doing the right thing every day? Or am I being useful to the world?

After talking about his own experience, the author also talks about the ‘learned responsibilities’ of certain roles in the organizations. Basically, after reading this chapter, I have started to think why is the manager role so complicated? What was the basis for this role to exist? What is the productivity that one achieves in managing people if at all we say that ‘I am managing 10 people and those 10 peoples productivity is my productivity?’

This chapter also talks about an important issue on – what college is for? It is a known fact that if we pursue the higher education for the sake of career, it would turn out to be a complete mistake. I keep saying this often, what we study is not related to what we are working now! and that appears to be true at all the places that I have observed. What we get in the higher classes is just an extension to the compulsory schooling. And even though our marks do not matter to most of the companies, the eligibility criteria they set through the institution would read through the marks. It is very simple: if a college has good students with good marks, more campus selections happen. So where did the ‘your scores doesn’t matter’ philosophy go? I feel it is the educational institutions that are doing this to make them look good in the society irrespective of what the skill imparted to a student is. I am now against to the whole concept of campus recruitments. Education institutions should just produce students who are employable and who can survive on their own. They should not help a student getting ‘some’ job. Rather, student should be able to choose the kind of job him /her ‘wants’ that goes with their skill and talent.

One more important issue in this chapter that is addressed very well is the concept of ‘team work’. I feel the whole idea of team work is being implemented in a wrong way in organizations. They are trying to build stronger teams rather than stronger individuals. I think if the individuals are stronger in the team, the team will be much stronger. But seldom have we seen in organizations who emphasize the idea on building a stronger individual rather than a stronger team. It is just that the organizations focus on getting the job done. They are purely job-centric rather than individual-centric or growth-centric. I have noticed in many teams that the individuals do not even care if the work is not getting done. They will just think that it is a team work and it does not matter if one does not contribute to the same. This is the way we are progressing. It is the responsibility of the employers to have such a culture where in they contribute to the organizations by creating stronger individuals and then the team. If not, the one who is contributing individually will lose the spirit of contributing to the team. The chapter ends with a neat interpretation of – The crew versus the team. He says, On a crew, skill becomes the basis for the circle of mutual regard among those who recognize one another as peers, even across disciplines.

The seventh chapter is on the - Thinking as Doing. Here the author talks about the connectivity that we can have with our own mind and our own hand that we work. This way there is a completion in what we do meaningfully.  This chapter explains us in detail with the examples of firefighter, mechanic, technical writers and a chess master, drawing comparisons with what might happen with the ‘intellectual technology’ being implemented to deal with their kind of work. It also gives us a clear understanding on the ‘tacit’ knowledge one has to posses in dealing with the respective jobs.

The eighth chapter is about – Work, leisure and full engagement. After reading this chapter, I just asked myself a question – am I connected to any community at my work? Or rather, is my work being accepted by any community? Is there a community around me? Ok, the reason for me to come up with such questions is that the satisfaction for any work we do is achieved only if there is a community in which we work. A mechanic/electrician is connected to his own community and his work is rewarded with in the same that gives enough satisfaction and recognition. They see their community. Where as a factory worker in China who stitches a dress for an American kid, will never know what his community is and his work will never be rewarded unless the company does so. Likewise there are many more interesting examples in this chapter.

Also, very often, whenever I am free, why do I think of doing my personal activities in priority to get myself satisfied? It is like, ok, this weekend; I will be hiking up a hill that makes me satisfied about the whole week. If there are no such personal activities, we tend to get frustrated. Why? Because, it is the leisure activities that comes first to our mind when we think about intrinsic satisfactions – hobbies that we enjoy. It has become very common to locate one’s ‘true self’ in one’s leisure choices. There is a complete disconnect between the work life and leisure life. When it comes to work life, perhaps, only money that we earn is what gives us a bit of satisfaction (atleast in majority of the cases). This is what happens for all those who work in cubicles. But not for those who think their vocation as their life. Those who depend on vocations like mechanic or electrician, there is nothing like leisure activity. They enjoy doing their work and think that as fun at the same time. They will not get bored of fed up of what they do.

Finally in his concluding remarks, he talks about the solidarity and aristocratic ethos, Importance of failures, and about the stronger individual agencies.  He says, what we really want is free men. Having a few around requires an economy in which the virtue of independence is cultivated, and a diversity of human types can find work to which they are suited.

The result is that opportunities for self-employment and self-reliance are preempted by distant forces. Also a great emphasis being on protecting the space for entrepreneurship.

And to achieve this what needs to be done is that we need to start giving more importance to the vocational education, imparting one skill in a person for self-reliance, connecting the mind and the hand, creating a stronger individual agency rather than the autonomy and connection with the community.

This book surely will be one of the great references to the vocational education system in any country. Hopefully we will be able to follow some of fundamental concepts that are discussed in the book.

PS: Please feel free to post your feedback in the comments section. Thank you.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

being just

thinking of what it is
to know and to make
of all expired times
experienced, ever!
speaking to the wall,
reflecting my mind
on overdue thoughts,
of times I quit, often
to see the world open
forcing to the edge
to complete myself
with my own actions.

questioning my mind
and letting it go beyond
my world and words
to see it like any other
of many such times
face up to realities
of those that matters
and adds to see myself
taking that very step
like everything else
to quit
and to start again!


Friday, September 3, 2010

Practical wisdom

Excerpt from the book - 'Shop Class as Soulcraft'

Practical wisdom entails -

"the full appreciation of the salient moral features of the particular situations we confront. Our awareness of these features enables us to respond properly to them". 

~Amy Gilbert

While I think the practical wisdom gives us enough inner strength and build us independently strong to perform our role as individuals, attaining the same is not a easy process in itself. I guess it evolves with the kind of 'attention to detail' we give when we encounter any situation. And once we reach there, we would've overcome the fact that we were selfish in our acquired knowledge. 


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Good Art

Excerpt from the book 'Shop Class as SoulCraft'

Good art - 

"Often seems to be mysterious because it resists the easy patterns of the fantasy, whereas there is nothing mysterious about the forms of bad art since they are recognizable and familiar rat-runs of selfish day-dream. Good art shows us how difficult it is to be objective by showing us how differently the world looks to an objective vision".

- by Iris Murdoch

So, what it demands is not just mental stamina, but something more fundamental.