Tuesday, 9 September 2014

A note on a Hindu Custom

Despite being a Hindu by birth, my knowledge of Hinduism is very minimal.  All what I know is from my religious education up to Year 8 – learning stories miracles performed by God or Gods’ men, and memorizing Thevarams in Tamil (poems praising God, and requesting blessings), and then watching what my parents and grandparents did.  Most Hindu rituals are conducted by Priests in Sanskrit, a language I did not learn.  They did traditional rituals, with or without understanding the motives for the rituals.  I am the same, except, last weekend, when we offered ‘thanks’ (Thivasam in Tamil) to my deceased mother on her death anniversary. 

The priest is a young man, an officer at one of the leading banks in Australia.  He noticed my daughters, nephews and nieces, all in their teens, and decided to explain the rituals, as he went through them.  Not only the teens, I too benefited from his prudence.

First, the priest wanted a list of names and Nakshatras (stars at birth) of all family members before the ceremony started.  We are six children to my parents, all married, and from us there are thirteen grand children to my parents.  So, the list had twenty-five names and corresponding Nakshatras.  He also informed that that the ceremony involve six Poojas (steps, rituals, etc.). 

Pooja 1:  The priest read all names with Nakshatras on the list, and invited the souls to be present and accept our offerings.  He said that by reading all names on the list, the Souls will be able to identify us and come to the occasion. 

Pooja 2:  Lord Ganesha, the first child of Shiva and Parvati is said to have strengths of both of His parents.  Lord Ganesha was invited to witness and bless.  This is a standard ritual at all Hindu ceremony.

Pooja 3:  Earth, Fire (energy), Sky, Water, and Wind, the indestructible elements were invited ones to witness and bless.  Interestingly, the Energy goddess (Gowri) is considered as the prime element of all.

Pooja 4:  An offering was made to three generations of deceased.  My parents, paternal grand-parents and paternal great-grand parents.  Each ‘parent’ was symbolized by a ‘ball of dough’ made with rice flour.  Other ingredients were ghee (purified butter), honey, and milk.  In addition, a larger ‘ball of dough’ was made to represent all others deceased.  For each ball, a bread (rotti), a savory (Vadai), and a sweet (Paayasam – Kheer), were offered.  All these offerings are assumed to be accepted by a Bull (Rishabam – Lord Shiva’s mode of transport).  I recall that the offerings are offered to cows or bulls in my home town, Jaffna.  In the absence of a bull or a cow, they are ‘disposed’ in a stream.  In our case, the priest accepted the responsibility to dispose them.

Pooja 5:    Hand-washing – all attended were required to wash hands with sesame seeds and water.  Sesame seed is said to have purifying/cleansing effect.  The priest was conscious that all seeds were washed away.

Pooja 6:  Food is served and the souls were invited consume the ‘flavors’, and bless. 

Then we thanked the priest and gave him some grocery, fruits, vegetables, a sari and some money.  He accepted them on my parents’ behalf and said that he was ‘satisfied’, on behalf of my parents, of course.  The Ceremony took about 90 minutes.  The combination of thoughts of my mother and understanding what was going on, were very refreshing to me.  

Friday, 29 August 2014

If it’s there it is, if not, No!

Often, I take part in debates on the existence of God, Heaven and Hell.  It also extends to spirituality, group-singing (Bhajans), benefits of fasting or meditation etc.  Often these discussions ends up ridiculing one's beliefs, or imposing one's belies on another, I have observed.

Does God exist?  Are there any benefits in discussing my remaining years in spirituality etc.?  And more importantly, should I engage in this debate any more to advance my knowledge, I wonder?

Knowledge seeking is defined as an inquiry into nature of things based on logical reasoning.  A school of thought suggest that it is through falsifying a ‘statement’ or theory, knowledge is derived.  Statements can be classified into (a) untrue and falsifiable, (b) true but falsifiable and (c) not falsifiable.

Examples of ‘untrue and falsifiable’ statements are (1) It never rains on Wednesdays; or (2) All substances expand when heated.  Both these statements are untrue and easily falsifiable.  It has rained on Wednesdays and it will probably rain on Wednesdays in future, and ice, while melting reduces in volume.  A ‘true but falsifiable’ statements is “Heavy objects when released from a height will fall straight downwards”.  This is largely true, except when the object was released in space where gravitational pull does not exist.  A statement that is ‘not falsifiable’ is “It may or may not rain”.  Statements, which are untrue and falsifiable and not falsifiable, do not tell us anything.  Therefore they do not form a part of scientific knowledge.  Only those statements, laws or theories, which are true but falsifiable, can improve our knowledge.

To me, the existence of God is “not falsifiable”, i.e., "'God may or may not exist", and therefore the debate on this topic can hardly advance my knowledge.  So, I will avoid this debate in future.

I will settle for what my parents, grandparents and teachers taught me.  I will also take comfort from a famous Tamil poet, Kannadasan, who said, if it’s there it is, if not, No!

Yes, there’s God, I believe, and I am not getting into this debate hereafter!

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The price of (e)immigration

I recall very well what my English teacher taught.  Emigration - E for exiting, and Immigration, I for incoming.  When I learnt this, I did not have any inkling that I will emigrate and immigrate one day.  What I also did not realize at that time was one has to emigrate to immigrate.  When I did so, again I was not thinking of the real price to pay, and how lingering that could be.

I read very sympathetically, when immigrants take unsafe boats to travel.  What a price they were willing to pay - their lives.  Some are are detained in the middle of the sea leaving their fate in others hand.  Some of them end up in detention centers in various islands, hoping that they will one day reach their intended destination.  Yes, some of them are economic refugees, Yes, they are jumping the queues, and so on.  But their treatment only begs me to compare how the Americans welcomed economic refugees from Europe, and in their honor, the French Government built the Statue of Liberty for them.  It happened only 140 years ago!  And how about the reception for "10 pound POMs", just about 60 years ago at Sydney harbor.  Surely, the times have changed fast.

I often run into immigrant adults trained to something in their country of birth, but do something completely different in the chosen country.  I am aware of a nuclear physicist working as a postal clerk, a veterinary surgeon working as a security guard, and an accountant selling grocery.  The price of immigration here is their academic qualifications earned with hard work during their prime years.  Only a very few pursue their original professional interests, and do so in a competitive manner with natives.  Competition is always stiff, if a local put 100%, then the migrant has to put 120% to be noticed. Those who aren't fluent in the language of their chosen country, end up cleaning houses and washing dishes at restaurants for rest of their lives.

Then the emotional price everyone pays for emigration.  Leaving family and friends behind, except for everlasting memories of childhood.  Occasionally hear from their family or friends when someone gets married, have a baby, or passes away.  With the new born there's hardly any bond, and with the one who passed away, a lump in the throat and misty eyes for a second or two.  Too many things prevent mourning the death longer than that.  Yes, immigrants are always in a fast lane in the chosen country.

I think that the price paid by the children of immigrants is a heavy one.  At home, there's pressure to reflect parents' values and culture, and at school, pressure on them to be the same as their peers.  I feel they belong to a confused generation, and many parents do not make their life easy.  Occasionally, I read about a teenage girl killed by parents for the sake of perceived honor, or one running away from their parents, because of the lure from peers.  Where's the solution, for such confusion I wonder.  Even when the parents managed to establish a compromised culture at home, it's still inadequate to meet the demands of peers.  The only way out for them is to be within groups of  children of migrants from similar cultural backgrounds, and the support they provide to each other.

I see many migrants'  children in their thirties, still finding it difficult to settle in life.  They have good education, good jobs, but not ready to make a commitment to another person and start a married life.  Proposals from family friends are frowned upon, but a cocoon they and their parents have built around them during their teenage years stop them from breaking out.

As I undergo these tribulations, and in the absence of a social net work to provide comfort, only thing that comforts me is the material wealth built by the migrants, and the social security provided by the state in the chosen country.  There's something to fall back on, when the young ones are unemployed, or when the old ones are unhealthy.

So, what's my final take on e/immigration?  After living in foreign countries for most of my adult life, I think its worth the price, despite paying a heavy price on a daily basis.  I can only pray and hope that the price my children pay or will pay for my decision to emigrate is outweighed by the benefits they will experience in my chosen country.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Turning Sixty

The dreaded 60 has come and gone.  Why has this number bothered me all my life?  How do I feel now?

I sense a feeling of relief and increased financial security.  Relief that I need not engage in a rat race called career, trying to convince someone that I have something useful to offer, and therefore they should keep me in my job.  It turned out that I have often exceeded their expectations, and therefore promoted within the organisations I served.  The sense of financial security comes from the fact that I have met most of the expenses without accumulating debts, and I am now entitled to a pension.  I could call on it when I need it.  Furthermore, I do not have a long time to liveJ.

The past sixty years were not necessarily a bed of roses.  I had my ups and down.  Overall, however, I have had good education, good family, good friends and good jobs.  I was able to travel and witness some of the best and worst during my career.  Many had been supportive of me during this journey, but two stand out.  One was my mother who prayed for me ceaselessly, and the second is my wife, who supported me unreservedly.

As a kid, I always thought, sixty is when one gets old.  I have read about Shashtiabdapoorthi, a Hindu tradition of celebrating 60th birthday.  As per the Hindu culture, the age sixty is of great significance because it is considered as a turning point in a man's life.  At this age one has usually fulfilled his commitments to family and home and so he can turn his mind to spirituality.  In my case, my family commitments aren’t fulfilled, so I am not entitled for Shashtiabdapoorthi.

For many years, I wanted to retire at 55, although my grandfather drove his lorry till he turned 65.  I wasn’t planning to idle at home, but thought I should become a writer, write stories for children.  I am not sure how good I would have been as a children story writer, but, I am sure I would not have made enough money for the needs of my family. 

Until very recently, just recent as three years ago, I was mentally prepared for retirement at 60.  But, it changed, and my desire to continuously be employed as long as I could be, is reinforced after my resettlement in Australia a few months ago.  Reading and following the debate about the expenses associated with aged care in Australia, and the propensity for us to live longer, I am now mindful about being healthy, and wanting to be employed longer. 

But, there’s another reason, a stronger one wanting me to be active longer – my daughters.  Both remind me that I am sixty (not sixteen as I claim when they are around).  I hold their hands when they need me, and their successes – small and big, and their mischiefs brighten my life.  These girls are full of joy, thank God.  My kids will be schooling for another ten years, and schooling is expensive everywhere these days! 

Anyone who looked at my palm or my horoscope has said that I will have a long life, but, none said a number higher than 84.  Most stopped at 80, a few also mentioned 82.  I think I will be happy with 80, but I may change my mind and may want to live longer.  This is of course, if I stay healthy till 80. I hope I do, I want to get a few things done, witness a few more, and enjoy everything else this world has to offer.  It’s a wonderful world.

So, the next number I am looking for is 70, to retire, and then will look forward to 80.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Not at the right place and not at the right time

Well, Johnny Manziel didn’t make the top ten. Or even the top twenty. In what was probably the biggest coup for ESPN ’s ratings of the 2014 NFL Draft, the audience waited for the undersized, dynamic Texas A&M quarterback to drop all the way to No. 22.  He completed almost 70% of the passes, and won Heisman Trophy - the only college quarter back to win this.

So, what went wrong?  Despite being the top College Football quarterback from Texas A&M, the first team to draft did not need a quarterback or a back-up quarterback.  The rest of the teams assumed that Johnny will be picked up by the first team, they came with their own draft picks and stuck to their plans.  So, when the first team did not pick him, no one else wanted him, even as a back-up quarterback.  Their needs were different.  Poor Johnny was not.  He lost several millions in signing up fees.

This is life.  You can be the best in what you do, but, if you are not at the right place at the right time, you can't be successful.  I think Gandhi would have been a failure if he is around now in India.  See what's happening to Anna Hazare?

What is this got  to do with me?  First, a farewell speaker compared me to Johnny Football only a month ago.  May be because he played for Texas A&M, where I did my studies in the eighties.  Or, may be I was as good as Johnny in what I was doing - wistful thinking, may be.

Recently I met an Californian, with whom I spent three weeks in early 1990's as a visiting scientist.  We met again after 20 years in Dec 2013, and he complimented that I have had an illustrious career.  My response was, 'I was at the right place at the right time'.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

When a person leaves, he leaves his name behind

Recently, I left the job I loved the most, but, with a lot of satisfaction.  Here's why...

“Over the years, Prathapar has made a tremendous contribution to IWMI not only through his research, but also in guiding our programmatic direction. His departure will be a great loss to IWMI and we will be sad to see him go”. 

“Your enthusiasm and passion in developing this portfolio from virtually nothing to a program of work that has considerable potential to address some of the most intractable challenges in the sector is a credit to your dedication to the task at hand. You should be justly proud of your achievements”.

" As a friend, leader and mentor, you will be dearly missed here."

"Really felt bad when I got this mail. We will miss you at IWMI.  We cherished your company within and outside office with great pride.  As an irrigation engineer, I have always seen you as  my role model."

"With a short stint of working with you and in person meet thrice, I thank god for giving opportunity to meet you in person."

"But not only that, you are so encouraging, and helpful to us young researchers. You are seriously one of the coolest person I know and you  will be dearly missed. I hope I will get many more chances in life to meet you."

"This is a shocker. I feel really sad, and hate to hear that. You had so many good ideas, why leave IWMI this suddenly."

"Great loss as a personal friend and an excellent professional at IWMI".

"It is shocking to me that you will be leaving".

“All the best to a kind hearted Management Team member with your future endeavours”.

“But of course I can understand that you would like to be closer to your family. It will be a loss for IWMI!”

“Even though we haven’t worked before, I have seen you walking by on many occasions since I work next to CP office. I want to wish you best of luck and all the best to your new journey. I hope you will do best and we will hear from you time to time.  Keep smiling always!”

“I am proud to know you as a colleague and consider you as a teacher. Even though we worked in different themes I still appreciate your visionary guidance. Every time you visit Tashkent its inspirational to talk with you. Also, we know that all small/big projects we have now in Tashkent is the result/impact of your initial/foundational work with SDC to set up IWRM-Ferghana Valley project and actually, our office”.

“I have valued your immense practical knowledge”.

I really enjoyed working with you on the AgWater project and in particular preparing the proposal for the work in Nigeria.   I learned a lot by working with you and so much appreciated your calm and thoughtful approach”.

“It has been a pleasure working with you and I really appreciate all the support you have given us in getting the ACIAR project off the ground”. 

“It was a great honour and pleasure to meet with you and have your kind guidance and blessings for the research work.  We also deeply appreciate your kind hospitality and look forward to our interactions in the future”.

“Thank you very much for your kind cooperation and support. I am missing you. You are a very good teacher and role model for me.  I have learned lot from you. I always like your friendly approach”.

“Thanks for all the good times of discussions and interactions together.  We will surely miss you but I am glad you plan to keep in touch. Let’s do that”.

“Thanks for all your support, in your amazing ability to trigger action amidst of such complexities”

“We miss good people.   This is the life.  Wish you all the best”.

“We never really worked together but it was good to know you”.

“You have left an excellent professional history in IWMI”.

“You really helped build up the Nepal office and I really appreciate you for that”

“Your presence was really valuable at IWMI and made a great difference”.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

So, what's new?

One of the challenging questions posed to me as a Research Leader at IWMI was, ’What’s new’? 

This line of query did not mean that everything that was researched was some or other new – we continued research in topics like rainwater harvesting, organic manuring, and development of business plans.  I have studied them and developed business plans for my BS degree in Agriculture, some 40 years ago. 

Being privileged to work in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, soon I learnt that everything is new for sub Saharan Africa, and the donors were happy to put money in, as long as there’s an element of capacity building and women empowerment.  Donors are/were not interested in research, but on development of human capital through which socio-economic development may occur.  I do not have anything against this, it is the right thing to do, and I welcome this.  Asian countries on the other hand have well developed human capital; China, India and South East of Asia do not need external help.  As a matter of fact, they do not even need money for research these days.  So, donors keep away, or being asked to keep away.

The above does not answer the question, ’What’s new?’, and the answer lies in text books for ‘Philosophy of Science’.  In most cases, and most researchers, we do induction/deduction research.  The probabilistic definition of inductive research goes as,’ If a large number of As have been observed under a wide variety of conditions, and if all these observed As without an exception possessed property B, then all As probably possess the property B.  \Greater the number of observations, then greater the probability that resulting generalizations are true. 

So, scientific knowledge arrived through induction and deduction is not true, but probably true.

As inductivists, we repeat what we already know, fine tune them by applying a new methodology or a tool or pose the question differently, and when we have to publish, we often bring supporting testaments from researchers who had reported similar findings.  Through this type of research, we improve pretty much what we know. 

This is a good thing, and why should not we do such things?

A recent example could be smart-mobile phones.  Mobile phone was invented in 1971, the battery weighed 2 kgs and lasted 10 minutes of conversation!  Now mobile phones are smarter and snugly fits in our pockets, battery last for 48 hours, they have a camera, radio, and voice recorder and the works, which all existed before mobile phone was invented.  Can anyone say, that research in mobile phones should stop because there can’t be anything new?

In early days of IIMI, we showed through inductive research, and by gathering large body of data, that there’s inequity in water distribution in canal commands, which influenced many irrigation infrastructure modernization programs.

This does not mean that we should not search for something new.  There was Martin Cooper at Motorola who wanted mobile phones instead of land lines, so, when the phone rang, we did not have to ‘run’ to the phone tethered to a wall.  It is already with us.  This was a ‘paradigm shift’, a phrase loosely used by many of us.  We need such paradigm shifts to make quantum leaps in the way we live.

When I look back, this took place when IWMI, amongst others wanted to manage water as a basin resource.  Yes, we knew the hydrologic cycle, we knew water is recycled again and again, but within the context of water for agriculture, and perceived efficiencies in irrigation applications, there was a paradigm shift.  Investors in irrigation infrastructure maintenance were guided by this new paradigm.  Lining of canals in fresh groundwater areas were discouraged.

I argue, we need these paradigm shifts, and I argue,that we keep encouraging  inductivism as well.