Tuesday, May 03, 2016

In Memory of Ramesh Mahadevan


I am grateful for this break -- just because it allows me to say a silent "thank you" to my dear friend who is no more. I have lost count of the things he opened my mind to, my eyes to, my ears to. Here's one of them, in a different avatar. He would have enjoyed it too.

"Library of Alexandra"


Sci-Hub has been making waves. Such huge waves that the AAAS flagship, Science has taken note, with not just one, but three pieces devoted to the website, and its founder, Alexandra Elbakyan. This profile of Elbakyan is quite balanced; it might be because a lot of downloads are by researchers in the rich countries. The third article is an editorial by Marcia McNutt: My love-hate of Sci-Hub.

Here's a WaPo summary, triggered by the revelations in Science. Here's a cool analysis of the Sci-Hub data dump [Edit: here's one more.]

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The title is from this comment in the Reddit thread on Sci-Hub from a couple of months ago.

Friday, March 11, 2016

RIP, Ramesh Mahadevan


Ramesh Mahadevan, a close friend from my grad school days, passed away last night. I'm posting a quick note here to alert some of his friends who are also among this blog's readers.

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His hilarious take on the curious subculture of desi grad students in the US in the 1980s (originally posted at the soc.culture.indian group) earned him a huge fan following. Those of us who had the great fortune to interact with him personally also got to experience his sensitive and compassionate side. Personally, he has been a source of strength ever since we met way back in 1985. I'll miss him a lot.

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Ramesh has been mentioned in several posts here. Right at this moment, his website -- mahadevanramesh.net is not working, which is a pity; however, his blog has some of his writing since his return to India.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

An Illustrated History of Free Speech in India


From Gandhi to Arindam Chaudhuri is the title of this illustrated history. Absolutely great stuff from the Free Speech Journal, appearing at Scroll.in.

Monday, February 29, 2016

"... We [the students] ... declare our resistance"


When I wrote the post on #StandWithJNU yesterday, I was not aware of a petition that students in IISc and NCBS (and, probably, several other institutions) have helped in drafting [I thank Vishu Guttal for the pointer]. The petition is admirably clear, direct and forthright in stating, "By stifling their [Rohith's, Kanhaiya's and other such students'] voices, the government crushes not only the voice of students as a community but of marginalised students in particular. Against this we must collectively stand, and declare our resistance."

Also worth noting: the petition is available in many Indian languages.

Read the petition, and sign it if it speaks to you. [I have signed it, and I see several familiar names in the list of signatories.] Also, please do share it with others you know.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

#StandWithJNU


These are depressingly bad times for higher ed institutions in India. If administrators were the victims of authoritarian excess in iconic institutions such as IIT-D and ISI-Kolkata, they also seem to be complicit in dishing it out to students at other iconic institutions such as IIT-M, University of Hyderabad and Jawaharlal Nehru University. Politicians (even "responsible" ones such as central ministers) and news anchors throw the "anti-national" mud indiscriminately at students [sometimes with such epic ineptitude -- which would be funny if only lives and reputations were not at stake]. Kafila and Smoke Signals [Prem Panicker's blog] have been my go-to places for updates on the terrible travesty that has been playing out in Delhi and elsewhere in the country.

These troubled times also offer an opportunity to learn more about nationalism and its discontents (one of whom is a Bharat Ratna!). Also about dissent, free speech, their limits. And about universities, their mission. Here are some links that have educated me on these and related issues.

  1. Siddharth Varadarajan: On Kanhaiya: It is Time to Stand Up and Be Counted.

  2. Sangeeta Dasgupta: Umar Khalid, My Student.

  3. Amitava Kumar: Hounding students is pest control? Big ‘mishtake’.

  4. Christina Daniels' response to a speech by HRD Minister in the Lok Sabha. It includes a punchy quote [“Politicians are not born; they are excreted.”] and an insightful one [“Orators are most vehement when their cause is weak.”] -- both from Cicero!

  5. And a totally doctored video featuring Kanhaiya Kumar.

Some more:

  1. C.P. Surendran: India will pay for Arnab Goswami and Swapan Dasgupta's nationalism.

  2. Gopalkrishna Gandhi: In Defence of Mother India, Students’ Movement Takes Charge.

  3. Tunku Varadarajan: Reverse Swing: The BJP versus the jholawala.

  4. Lawrence Liang: Ultra-nationalists make light of patriotism. Here's an excerpt where he quotes Mahatma Gandhi:

    In contrast to the knee-jerk declaration that any criticism of the government or the state is necessarily seditious speech, let’s not forget that Mahatma Gandhi had been tried under the same provision (Sec. 124-A) in 1921 for an article that he had published in Young India. In his statement on March 18, 1922 before Judge Broomfield, Gandhiji famously asserted: “Section 124-A, under which I am happily charged, is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen. Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law. If one has no affection for a person or system, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote, or incite violence.”

    Gandhi was prescient in his sharp legal understanding of the provision and it is not surprising that his interpretation of the law is what the Supreme Court in the postcolonial context has also reiterated, consistently holding that mere words and criticism do not qualify for sedition and it has to be accompanied by an incitement to imminent violence. [...]

Saturday, January 16, 2016

"How the Left Won JNU"


It's a year late, but the excerpts at Scroll.in from Rakesh Batabyal's book JNU: The Making of a University are interesting. Here's a familiar figure:

SIS had a students’ union that was active with Prakash Karat and a couple of active students leading it. Prakash Karat had returned from the United Kingdom where, during his studies, he had come into contact with Victor Kiernan, a Marxist and a great scholar who had taught in Lahore in the pre-Partition days. With a sharp political eye, Karat got into close contact with CPI(M) leaders like P. Sundarayya and E.M.S. Namboodiripad. This was the time for the CPI(M) to start its students’ wing and Karat was an ideal choice. He was articulate and was someone acquainted with the British Marxists who were held in high esteem by even these anti-colonial communists whose minds were not totally decolonized. His being from God’s own country, Kerala, also helped in befriending many gods in the party.

As soon as the Students Federation of India was set up, north India seemed to be within communist grasp. From the standpoint of CPI(M), JNU was like a clean slate where it did not have to fight it out with the likes of the Chhatra Parishad in Bengal or the National Students Union of India in Kerala or the socialists and the RSS in UP and Rajasthan. Karat’s popularity among the mostly apolitical students of the ISIS was an excellent opportunity to establish the credentials of the fledgling party and its new students’ wing.

With Karat’s initiative, the SIS union was amalgamated with the SFI-led union, which had come into being following much discussion and efforts. ...

Thursday, December 31, 2015

PhD Dissertation Quality: A Workshop at IISc


Some of you may know about the DST Centre for Policy Research (DST-CPR) at IISc, which is a part of a network of five Centres set up with funding from the Department of Science and Technology. The research at these Centres could help inform S&T policies [Disclosure: I am coordinating the activities at the DST-CPR at IISc].

The reason I'm mentioning all this is to alert you about an upcoming one-day Workshop entitled "Dissertation Expectations and Quality Criteria: Is it Enough to have a Good Dissertation?" This Workshop will be conducted by Prof. Maresi Nerad (College of Education, University of Washington, Seattle, USA), a Visiting Professor at our DST-CPR this month; it is meant for "PhD scholars [from Indian universities / institutions] who have completed at least 2 years of doctoral studies, who know what they will do in their dissertation."

Here's my request (bleg? do people still use this term?): If you know 3rd or 4th year PhD students in an Indian university / institution, please encourage them to apply. We are looking for a diversity of students (in terms of backgrounds, fields of study, types of institutions). Do please spread the word; the deadline for filing applications is the 5th of January, and the event itself will be held on the 12th of January (Tuesday).

Thank you for your help!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Prof. Venki Ramakrishnan on Nobels and Nationalism


In The Telegraph today, Prof. Venki Ramakrishnan (who will visit India soon for a vacation and a lecture tour) says a lot of sensible things:

As for India sharing in the glory of his Nobel Prize (and that of Amartya Sen), he wonders why Indians are relatively unexcited about Ashoke Sen, the theoretical physicist known for his work on string theory and who shared in the $22m Breakthrough Prize in fundamental physics set up by the Russian Yuri Milner.

In Indians not giving as much importance to Sen as they do to Nobel Prize winners, "there is something a little wrong," he remarks. [...]

A question not to ask Venki is: "How should India win more Nobel Prizes?"

"That's actually completely the wrong question because there are so many discoveries that never get a Nobel Prize. It's not a good reason to go into anything," he responds.

"First of all countries don't win them, it's people who win them," he points out. "If a person from a country wins a Nobel Prize it doesn't necessarily mean that that county is doing well overall. It could be just a fluke. It is more important for a country to just nurture scientists and provide them good environments, a decent living and help them to lead a productive life."

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

QoTD


The three purposes of the University?--To provide sex for the students, sports for the alumni, and parking for the faculty.
-- Clark Kerr, Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley (1952-57)

Source: Wikipedia, Quote Investigator.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Blackmail of a gay student at IISc


Orinam, an LGBT support and advocacy website, carried a report two days ago -- “To the person who wrote the note”: Bengaluru student responds to a homophobic extortion attempt -- on a shocking case of blackmail of a gay student at IISc. When his extortion attempts failed, the perpetrator carried out his threat by outing the student (Tushar) in a vicious note posted on a public notice board.

Then, this happened:

Thus outed to the entire hostel, Tushar, who had only been out to his closest friends until then, chose to respond with the following note on the same notice board [you should go read it now].

Tushar, who describes himself as ‘shy and a bit introverted’ said he felt relieved upon writing the note. Classmates and fellow-hostelites came up to him to express their support. In the weeks since the incident, he, with the support of friends, lodged a complaint with the university administration. At the time of publishing this note, he is still awaiting formal action in response.

I hope the "formal action" will be firm and stern. For now, I just want to convey my sympathies to Tushar (whom I don't know), and to applaud his extraordinary courage.

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This story has also been picked up by Daily O.

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Here's a 2011 post by a gay student at IIT-B. Here's another from IIT-M.

Kwame Anthony Appiah on Adultery


From the Ethicist feature in NYTimes Magazine: Should I Tell My Friend’s Husband That She’s Having an Affair?:

... [If] your assessment is accurate, you are in a deeply compromised moral situation — one in which the cure is worse than the condition. As is so often the case, there’s no way out from under the net. It’s a distressing bind. Moral narcissism is about being more concerned with the cleanliness of your hands than with how your conduct shapes the lives around you. Your sensitivity to this pitfall is commendable. So is the fact that what you’re doing — though the least bad option — bothers you. Life is messy, and the best outcome often has something deplorable about it. I suppose it’s all in the title of the great Bronzino painting that one of Iris Murdoch’s characters found so captivating: ‘‘Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time.’’ If the day comes when Peter asks you why you helped Jane conceal her betrayal, you can tell him the truth. He won’t forgive. But he just may understand.

When Sir C.V. Raman wanted to learn Russian …


… he turned to Mr. K. Narayan, a graduate from our Department at IISc waiting to join the Bhilai Steel Plant that was being created [the story is from 1958]. Nayantara Narayanan recounts an interesting episode, which plays out over a period of perhaps several months, in which the Nobel Laureate learns Russian to become fluent enough to give his Lenin Peace Prize lecture in that language.

When a 27-year-old metallurgist taught Nobel laureate CV Raman how to speak Russian:

Raman asked Narayan to come to his house every morning before starting work. The house, a bungalow named Panchavati surrounded by a sprawling mango grove in the heart of Malleswaram, was walking distance from where Narayan himself lived. And so the lessons began. Narayan used [the Russian language primer by Nina Potapova] to teach Raman basic Russian.

“He evinced a very keen interest, like a Gurukul student of old. Every day he would do his homework and repeat his lessons back to me,” said Narayan. Even though Raman was 60 years old and Narayan only 27, the older man liked to maintain the teacher-student relationship. As payment for the lessons, Narayan would get to sit down with Raman and his wife for a breakfast of hot coffee and idlis.

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[Cross-posted from our department's website]

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Imprint India


The IMPRINT India initiative website has quite a bit of information about its focus domains each of which is subdivided into several sub-themes [Disclosure: I am a part of the team for the Advanced Materials domain, led by Prof. Monica Katiyar and Prof. A.K. Singh of IIT-K]. See also the this brochure.

The Overview is probably where you want to start. The text box on the image says the objective is accelerated research and innovation. Somewhere in the middle of the page, you will find this one-sentence summary of what (this phase of) the initiative is about:

IMPRINT is a first-of-its-kind Pan-IIT and IISc joint initiative to develop a (a) New Education Policy, and (b) Roadmap for Research to solve major engineering and technology challenges in selected domains needed by the country. [source]

The epilogue at the end of the page summarizes the initiative's current phase:

IMPRINT in its first phase is a policy developing initiative covering pedagogy, teaching, curriculum, technology-benchmarking and infrastructure readiness. IMPRINT is not meant only for IITs and IISc; it is a national movement providing an opportunity for the higher echelon institutes in India to integrate with all grass root level institutes, industry and organizations, mutually complement and deliver what the country demands and aspires. Policy is our immediate mandate; technology (products and processes) development and delivery will eventually follow.

Stuff Our Government Says: Global University Rankings Edition


A lot of hue and cry is raised about our higher education institutes not figuring in global ranking. The reason is not lack of high quality research work but the fact that in India, a large section of research work is done in vernacular languages, whereas global rankings only consider research in English
-- HRD Minister Smriti Irani [Source: The Indian Express]