Showing posts from 2018

Timely Meditations: Comrade Corbyn's Brexit

There are times in politics when being in opposition isn't a bad thing. With Brexit tearing the Tory Party, and with it, politics as usual, apart, Jeremy Corbyn feels lucky to be sitting on the opposite side, watching the hapless Prime Minister trying to achieve the unachievable. So far, he has played the usual political game of obfuscation, never really taking a stance, letting the Tory Brexit fall apart on its own. Self-consciously, he stood up every day at the PMQs and got through it never really challenging the Prime Minister on the subject, almost making the point that her incompetence is self-evident.  It was a clever stance. It is hard to do what-ifs, but one can possibly argue that Corbyn's lack of stance unleashed the Tory civil war in full view. The political calculation of the Labour front bench was perhaps to enjoy a period of calm, after all the Blairite sniping of the past couple of years, and keep everyone guessing. Without this, Jacob Rees Mogg'

Timely meditations: The revolt of the elite

It is always poor people's fault. The world seems precarious at this moment. The neo-liberal activism since the 80s have destroyed the foundations of the Liberal system, its system of nations sustained by the welfare state: The neat structures of the world order seem to be withering away.  A Russian president openly talks about the possibilities of nuclear war; the leaders of Britain and Germany precariously hang on to power in the face of right-wing revolutions while the prospect of a left revolution looks real in France; in the United States, private interests of the President trump his public duties. At the turn of 2018, chaos reigns. If the newspapers have to be believed, it is all due to immigrants or poor people. In fact, it is immigrants AND poor people: Globalization unleashed people movements - from South and Central America to North America, from North Africa and the Middle East to Europe and from East to West Europe - and this has made the poor people i

Coming of the Non-MOOC

With EdX's announcement that they have finally decided to search for sustainability by limiting the access to their online courses, the much awaited moment of normalisation of MOOCs has arrived. The euphoria that accompanied the launch of Coursera and EdX - that these 'free' lectures from professors of world's best institutions would completely transform learning in mediocre institutions and particularly in developing countries - is finally and truly over.  Its contemporaries have long abandoned the road: Udacity turned itself into a paid platform of profitable ambition long time ago, and Coursera, the most popular, have limited graded assessment to paying students (along with verified certificates) almost three years ago. Futurelearn, the late-coming British counterpart, in keeping with 'shop-keeping' culture of British universities, never indulged much in world-changing rhetoric, but rather kept itself to the promotion of 'brand Britain' with

Timely meditations: Indians and their cows

The cow cartoons explaining politics has now been greatly expanded (see the impressive range here ) and an Indian version has become available. The joke, however, is timely, though slightly misdirected: The title should have been Indian ideology, rather than Indian corporation. [Indian corporation version, if one must try, would be - you have two cows. You outsource them. You buy back their half-diluted milk 25% cheaper. But then you build a dozen flats where the barn used to be.] A lot of people ask me whether Indians really worship the cows. While the fact that Hindus don't eat beef was well-known, the recent news about cow vigilantism and cow-urine retail packs have brought the question to the fore. And, also, the other aspect of this debate is Hindu/ Indian distinction. Some parents in a local primary school petitioned 'Indians don't eat beef' and almost convinced everyone, until more enthusiastic ones tried to take this one step further - Indians don't

Timely meditations: India at the time of great change

India is among the most conservative countries in the world. Its republican constitution and democratic politics are misleading, as are its shiny IT service metropolises. The day to day life in India, and of Indians all over the world, remains tradition-bound. In a curious way, Indians reconcile science and superstition, and technology and theology in a curious way that would leave most observers baffled. India may shine and emerge, but to the Indian mind, it is just a turn in the cycle of time and it is only gaining its rightful historical place rather than being renewed. But, then, India is a desperately poor country. Its poverty, which the opulent Bollywood movie sets and slick corporate districts look to underplay, is a stark, persistent reality. Regardless of the brilliance of Indian CEOs of various global corporations, Indian companies are badly governed as fiefdoms. The resilience of the Indian domestic economy somewhat diverts attention from the country's lack of glob

2018: A somewhat final note

I am psychologically there already, to the end. Or, rather at the beginning of the next.  But, it is different this year. Since I migrated, I always measured my progress asking a question to myself - have I done better than the previous year? In most years, the answer was yes. Except in 2017, which started badly and ended indifferently for me, and I had this distinct sense of going backwards rather than forward. Remarkably for a single year, not one but two projects that I spent time on failed to take off; I lingered on unnecessarily in a job even when my wages were in arrears; I still had my dreams intact but it seemed I was chasing shadows interminably. So, at the end of 2017, I was not sure - I was drifting and dabbling, not paying attention, not making progress - and I wanted the year to end, quickly. In that sense, this was a completely different sensation. 2018 has been a good year for me, not just in terms of recovering from my mini mid-life crisis, but also to regain

Timely Meditations: Are India and China destined for war?

[This blog, a labour of love, gives meaning to me more ways than I realised. Unlike the blogs I am 'required' to write - to promote products or to project expertise - these unplanned, momentary, messy posts are really conversations with myself. They are also more, pages of a scrapbook of ideas, digital footprints of a search for meaning, chronicles of loneliness and journals of being intellectually exiled. Timely meditations are my latest - there were others before - effort to write about contemporary issues and subjects, imposing some order on chaos and giving me a focus to write about.] I have been following the Sri Lankan politics with some concern over several weeks. Democratic institutions have had some bad time lately. It does indeed seem, after Franklin, that when you wish to give up a little liberty for the sake of a little security, you get neither liberty nor security. Sri Lankans have endured long years of Civil War, which was eventually ended, rather brut

India & Global Higher Ed: The time is NOW!

Higher Education in India is one of the world's most exciting opportunity, and one of the most frustrating problems. The maths are obvious. India has hit upon a massive demographic opportunity, with more than 2 million people on average reaching college-going age every month. Its young population is expected to form a quarter of worlds working age people in a decades time, and its economy, driven by the power of domestic consumption, is expected to become the world's third largest. Despite the recent poor showing of India's rupee and near-death experience of some of its banks, India's economy is also one of the most resilient, given its relatively low exposure to external debt, frugal habits of its people and the strong internal markets. It is expected to wither any global economic storms better than any of its peers.   Yet, despite the massive expansion of the Higher Education sector - 10 colleges opened a day on average between 2006 and 2014 - the Gross

India and its Diaspora

Every year, governments of various Indian states roll out the red carpet for its diaspora. The shining, the leading, the welcoming and the emerging compete to attract the attention of prodigal sons (and some daughters), putting up ever better shows and ever sweeter promises. Hundreds of MoUs get signed and Ministers get their headlines for bringing jobs and prosperity. And, then, carpets are rolled up, everyone goes home and mostly nothing happens. It is tempting to think that this is typical of government jamborees, but this also reflects how India treats its diaspora. Despite all the new-found love, India never had a Deng Xiao Ping moment of wanting to learn from the diaspora. While it is country with a large English-educated young population, which is expected to be footloose, it has treated its diaspora with a mix of indifference - these are the people who left - and greed - whose remittances home kept the exchange rate in check. But while it wanted its money, its opinions

Comment: What's a university for?

Perhaps this is a distinctly unfashionable question, particularly when so many new universities are being built all over the world and more people than ever before are going to the university. However, unless one belongs to that rare group of people who think that the government - governments, in this case - knows better, this is a question worth asking, as public money is being poured in, either to build greenfield universities or to pay for students attending private, profit-making, ones.  The university leaders usually treat the purpose of universities as self-evident truth and exempt, conveniently, their own institutions from the critical examination they claim every aspect of life should be subject to. However, given the importance of universities in the contemporary cultural life - they are deemed to be the creators of individual worth as well as its judge - some questions are worth asking. To do so, it's important to start at the very beginning, and ask - what are thes

Getting back to Gandhi

Gandhi is this incredible historical figure who is inspiring and absurd at the same time. He is a towering Jesus-like figure, who lives on in the street names and statues in his native India and memes on the Internet, exhorting us to be the change we want to see in the world. But he is also this absurd, saintly and irrelevant figure, distant from everyday realities and offering no concrete possibilities of confronting our disappointments. We have learnt to live with Gandhi the saint, who has an alluring other-worldly appeal and absolutely nothing to do with modern political life.  This is perhaps what it ought to be. Though Gandhi was very much a practical political man leading a mass movement, the nation he helped to create deified him. His legacy was cast aside as spiritual and moral rather than practical and political;  he was celebrated as the Father of the nation, one who exited conveniently early in the life of the Republic. He was designated to be treated, more like

Strategy and Culture

Culture eats strategy for breakfast, Peter Drucker observed. And indeed so: Strategy's rational aims and goals are all too often frustrated by ways of seeing and doing things in an organisation. Yet strategy gets so much attention and effort - and, indeed, one hires those fancy strategy consultants - while culture is seen as that soft thing that one can't really define, one can't really measure and ultimately, one can't do anything about. But culture comes from somewhere. It is not a given, an environmental factor that one has to live within. This is possibly the second misconception about culture, that it is an extension of the host society. Indeed, there is that influence of the host society, but an organisation's culture is just that and no more. While the host society supplies some of the precepts, an organisation's culture is a man-made thing, driven by the Founder or Senior Managers and shaped by the 'strategy' of the subordinates to live wit

On the pursuit of happiness

Many of Jefferson's ideas have a lasting legacy, but perhaps none more so than the pursuit of happiness. That has become the essence of the American dream and the point of middle-class existence worldwide. This, rather than all the men are born equal, have become self-evident.  However, the celebration of the pursuit of happiness obscured complicated questions on how to be happy. We may assume that the answer is straightforward, that happiness comes from the acquisition of more: Bigger houses, cars, clothes, jewellery and the like, along with more and more power over others. But both scientific explanations and our everyday experience point to the opposite. Happiness, we know, comes not from Dopamine, a hormone that gets released when we 'achieve' something, but from Serotonin and Oxytocin, those which get released from making others happy and bonding with them. The kick from buying something bigger only lasts until someone with even bigger something turns up, which

A University for Subject People: The story of the foundation of Calcutta University

I have traced the development of Indian Higher Education under a series of posts under two sections - The Road to Macaulay and Since Macaulay. This final post is about the formation of the Calcutta University, which is a unique university as it was formed solely with the purpose of granting degrees which would qualify the recipients for government jobs. It followed the University of London model, but in the limitations of its purpose, it was rather unique. However, it was not inconsequential or a temporary affair, but, I think, the first consumer university in the world. Here is the story of its foundation.  -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Lord Hardinge’s administration enhanced the bureaucratic-educational connections further  by making English education as a qualification for government employment in 1844 .. it is highly desirable to afford it every reasonable encouragement by holding out to those who have tak

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