Thursday, December 20, 2012

How to smash creativity in children?

Growing up in Bangalore, India in a middle class  Hindu family in the 70s and 80s, I have had my share of experiences of having my creative spirits smashed out of me. I have also observed the murder of creativity happening to others around me. I hope people reading this and who happen to be those who  smash the creative and exploring spirit of children or anyone ..... change .
I have listed below how creativity and exploring is cut in various ways by  well-meaning people.


  • When a little baby crawls around the house, the person-in-charge, keeps carrying the baby back to it's cradle or bed and tells the baby to stop crawling. Instead of making the room or home child-friendly and child-safe, they prefer to stop the baby from crawling around. This happens so frequently that the child finally stays put in it's cradle.
  • When a child of three, four or five, draws or colours, well meaning relatives correct it constantly by saying, "roses are red. Not blue. Dont use the blue pencil. Use the red" or "A house is not round. It is square. Draw it properly". This sort of comments, criticism prevernts the child from doing what it wants to. The relatives want the following from the child:(1) What it is drawing should "Look" like the object it is drawing;(2) Many relatives are impatient and want the child to get it 'right' the first time or 'pretty soon.(3)Some relatives are so impatient, they dont let teh child find the solution by itself but demonstrate or teach and rob the child of the process of finding the answer on it's own through trial and error, through thinking and by taking time.
  • Most people are extremely narrow and conservative in their thinking and expect the same of their children. What is 'right' in their opinion is usually what is the norm in Indian society. Anything different is 'wrong' and ergo, actively discouraged. A teenager who wants to grow his hair long is critised by his parents and nagged until he cuts it short. If a child refuses to oil her hair, she is scolded and her hair is oiled by force. If a girl wants to cut her hair, she is not allowed and made to grow her hair and plait it. Though parents have become a bit more flexible about giving freedom to theri children about the way they dress, teens and kids still do not have complete freedom to dress how they like.....especially if the way they want to dress is far out.
  • When children create something such as a drawing, painting, story, poem.....unconditional love is not what they get. Comments which are critical or mildly positive(the belief in India is if you praise children, it will "go to their heads' and so it is better to "not praise them too much"), corrections and suggestions to change or do differently are what they get. The kind of comments they get is enough to dampen the spirits of most children or teens.
  • Also the adults , most of them being conservative, praise only if the creation of the child falls in their own narrow criteria of what is good. For example, if the poen rhymes, it is good, if not, it is not. If the drawing looks realistic it is good , if it is abstract, it may not get much praise.
  • Children also have little exposure to creativity. There are no art galleries in most small towns of India. The museums usually have Indian traditional arts and crafts except the museums in big cities. These city museums sometimes host contemporary art work.  If one looks around in public places in India, one can see only the crass movie posters, photoes of politicians, models advertising various products and the Hindu Gods. While in the west, even in public places, one  sees  all types of  beautiful & creative art work such as sculptures, graffitti-art, great sayings; there are beautifully designed gardens, aesthetically appealing sub-way stations, railway stations in the west. The names of the shops too are funny, creative, whimsical in the west and it is a pleasure, simply to read teh names of the shops one passes by. In the west, one sees creativity all around and it inspires one to be creative. I fail to see creativity in Indian public places...not  to the extent one sees in the west.
  • While lack of money can stimulate creativity, in some instances,  it can also cause thought block and cut down creativity. When one has to always work within a budget...not just a money budget but also work within the constraints of limited things, limited time, it simply restricts creativity.
  • Belief in superstitions and the interference of relegious beliefs is another major hinderence to creativity and explorations in India.  If one wants to design a house, you have the house owner, telling you that the door should not face that direction because it will bring bad luck, the toilet should be here and not there or he will have bad luck and loose money..... How the hell is the architect design an house with all htese instructions. The same goes in all areas of life. There are so many meaningless beliefs and superstitions, that when one tries to wrok within the narrow parameters allowed, one's creativity is almost completely stifled. Certain colours are not auspicious; certain times are not auspicious; certain things are unclean and cannot be used; the list goes on.
  • Acceptance of truth is a must for any creative endevour. And most Indians are , sad to say, completely afraid of the truth. Appearences are a lot more important than truth. The hierarchy system in India makes it impossible for anyone lower in teh hierarchy to speak up about an unplesant truth especially to someone higher up than him in the hierarchy. This fear of the truth, prevents any sensible work from getting done....ergo, creativity is suffocated. For example, the current design of the road is causing a lot of accidents...it needs to be redesigned; but as the current design was made by a "chief engineer", no one has the guts to critize it and the road remains and teh accidents continue. Another example is of a mediocore artist getting space to exhibit her art work in a major gallery as she happens tobe the wife of a big-shot police officer; the gallery owner dare not refuse... a better artist does not get the space to exhibit as she has no connections;
  • When a person without any sort of prestige comes up with creative solutions to a problem, it is not accepted....especially if the solution is totally out-of-the-box. It is rejected out-right. I have seen this happen to Ph.D scholars who have conservative guides. However even foolish solutions given by big-shots is accepted. fear of authority and the hierarchy is a major killer of not just creativity but so many other things in India.  I dont know if this is true but the late Sanjay Gandhi, son of Indira Gandhi had apparently suggested that forcing people to undergo vasectomy will help control the population of India and his suggestion was accepted! It lead to a lot of people being forcibly operated upon, even those who had not yet married and never had kids.
  • The absence of language growth is another major and in my opinion  the biggest hinderence for development of creativity in India. Creativity is the expression of new ideas in any form be it an object, a new scientific invention, a poem or a story or an idea.  While some types of creativity do not need language for example the creation of a sculpture does not need language, language is vital to communicate about the creation. So many new ideas, inventions, art works have come into existence today that unless language keeps pace with the new things created, discovered and invented, it would be impossible to communicate about the new ideas and things. English keeps pace with the changes and new things and ideas coming into the world. But I cannot say the same for Indian languages. Indian languages are lagging so far behind, that I think we are now about 100 years behind English. When the computer was invented, English devised the new word computer, which is short, easy to pronounce and spell and a word, which conjures up the picture of the computer in one's mind(at least for those who have already seen or know what a computer is) . However in my language, there is no word for computer, if one were to be created, it would be long and difficult to pronounce, which would stop people from saying that word.  People who speak my language i.e. Kannada, now use English words when speaking as there are no words in Kannada for those objects.  Can you imagine the extent of the increasing dependence on English words when speaking in Kannada today!
People useEnglish words not only for  objects but even to convey ideas and nuances as they are unable to find the words in Kannada for them. Let me give an example. In fact, the absence of words in my language, the poor language ability of adults who do not even use the few words existing in Kannada to communicate in a rich nuanced way, makes the children suffer from an even  greater poverty of thought and ideas.
 If you ask an English speaking child about food it may say, "delicious" or "Yummy" or "tasty" or   "scrumptious" . If you ask a Kannada speaking child it will likely say "ru-chi-ya-gi-de" i.e. tasty or "che-nna-gi-de" which means nice. That's it. No other descriptions for good food in the Kannada language. In English, people use a million different adjectives or expressions to describe  a thousand things. The word, Chenna-gi-de i.e. nice is used as a substitute for a million adjectives and expressions in English each of which convey a million different nuances. See how much poorer the Kannada language is by using one word i.e. Chenna-gi-de for a million different naunces!
The dearth of words to express feelings in my language compared to the variety of words to express nuances of one single emotions is another thing which makes me wince with shame. Here is a list of words in Kannada  commonly used to indicate depression...bejaru, dukha, manassu-sari-illa, sankata. In this list, apart from Dukha, the others are words which are not used only for sadness but for other emotions too. Bejaru can mean bored, sankata may mean both sad and feeling physically ill or feeling queasy.  Now see this humungous  list of words for the varied nuances of sadness & depression in English:   unhappy, down, low, blue, depressed, gloomy, grieved, dismal, melancholy, somber, glum, wistful, mournful, dejected, downcast, grief-stricken, tearful, lugubrious, pensive, disconsolate, doleful, heavy-hearted, heart-broken, down in the dumps, cheerless, lachrymose, woebegone, down in the mouth,low-spirited, triste, sick at heart, moping, inconsolable,feeling bad, sorrowful,poignant,rueful and so on.
Another example of the richness of English language  is the paint section in any Home depot or Lowe's in USA or Canada. There are thousands of shades of colours and a name for each shade! I agree that the names make no sense to me but they do have a name for every single shade! and they have like ten thousad shades!!!
The huge poverty of  ideas, thoughts, expressions is made all the more apparent when I watch shows in English especially those on interior decoration in Canada and USA. I am constantly trying to translate from English to Kannada to convey the meaning of  what the decorater is saying in my language. I simply CANT! The Kannada translation is so absurd sounding, and does not convey the meaning or nuance at all. I am unable to translate and convey the appropriate meaning, of even the most simple phrases.  Let me give an example of what I cannot translate
Now imagine the lack of words, lack or expressions in Kannada language for the words in the branches of  medicine, engineering subjects, philosophy, ethics, sociology,  psychology, any field of the humanities or sciences. Translating a simple article in New York Times into Kannada is an impossible feat for a bilingual person, simply because the words or phrases  do not exist in Kannada. Once Proudly Web Only, Shopping Sites Hang Out Real Shingles is a title of an article I randomly picked from today's New York times.. I am simply unable to translate this title into Kannada in a way whichs conveys the right meaning while remaining crisp and elegant as this title in English.
This lack of  development (in Kannada and all other languages which are not growing like English) of  new words and lack of phrases  to contain and convey all the new ideas developed as we progress,  leads to a lack of ideas and this leads to decline and constriction of the thinking process and creativity.
Now imagine the fate of my village relatives who are not exposed to English, who know only Kannada and study in Kannada medium......imagine their fate in today's increasingly sophisticated world. Each day that passes adds new words and ideas in the English-speaking world and this leaves them farther and farther behind until a day comes when they may feel completely clueless and helpless to live in the modern world! I know English ...yet I feel clueless and helpless when I have to use a new computer or a camera or a cell phone. So imagine,  a major population of India who do not speak English---how they are getting left behind, farther and farther back, simply because they do not speak English. Forget creativity. They cannot even get by due to their lack of English.

The reason for writing this article......I have recently borrowed books from the TPL in the 500 series by Lark publications such as the 500 gemstone jewels, 500 ceramic sculptures, etc. I loved seeing the objects in these books and admired the creativity of the artists. I have not seen such unusual jewels or works of art except   on very few  people and in  museums.
 I was  depressed to realize, how unable I am to think out of the box or be creative. Growing up in India has made me think in such narrow conservative ways...To me, An object has to be functional; it has to be beautiful and my definition of beauty is pretty narrow; it has to be inexpensive; it has to be long-lasting. I simply cannot even think or create outside these parameters! Oh and one more narrow criteria of mine....the object has to be symmetrical. When I try to create something, so many things seem taboo in my mind that I end up doing nothing!

What did I learnt from the Lark series books about myself?  I became aware of  the several  blocks   in my brain, preventing me from being creative. I was thrilled to see jewels and objects which were  asymmetrical, yet attractive; things which were made from unusual materials such as a necklace made of  smooth river stones; a granite finger ring; things which were not functional such as a really pokey necklace or a breakable and delicate object; things which were not beautiful but simply unusual and so on.


 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


When one looks at the thefts in India and Maslow's hierarchy of needs, one realizes how  most Indians are still  struggling   at the bottom rung of this hierarchy. It is unlikely the majority of Indians  will ever have the time, energy to strive towards the stuff at the top rungs of this hierarchy.

 The air in most cities is pretty polluted and falling sick;
there is a shortage of adequate housing and all the socio-psycho-economic-health-moral/ethical problems associated with crowding;
there is a severe shortage of drinking water in several parts of India and this problem is getting worse with the increase in population, failure of monsoons, depletion of ground water & poor storage of rain water;
Food shortage is severe in those sections of society who are economically deprived i.e. about 30-50% of the population.
Sexual crimes against women and children are horrendeously high in India, though most are  unreported due to the stigma and further victimization of the victims by society.

Sleep seems to be the only basic need which is not a major issue in India!








 

Friday, December 14, 2012

My life was screwed even before I was born

" My life was screwed even before I was born" .... The daughter of a police officer told this to him in a   crime fiction book by a  Nordic writer. This sentence simply blew my mind as it is so true for so many people in this world.

There are millions of people who can say this truthfully and without exgageration. These millions would include:

Those born as females in male-dominent societies which repress women, those born into societies which suffer from high crime rates, unchecked sexual abuse of children, corrupt governments, poverty, those born  into religions which have little respect for women such as in  Afganisthan, Pakistan, several Arab countries, Bangaladesh, several African countries.

Those born in India into a lower caste family especially in rural areas and small towns of India, especially those born in places such as UP, Bihar, Haryana, Jharkand,MadhyaPradesh. And imagine the incredible three-fold amount of bad luck  one faces if  born as a (1) low-caste (2) female in these (3)wretched states of India!!

Those born with disabilites in these backward nations and societies especially in societies where disabled people are shunned as bringing bad luck to others.  Being born with disabilities in families or societies not only without resources but without even empathy for the disabled.

Those born to mothers who drink heavily during pregnancy or smoke or in some way   damage the fetus growing inside. I work with adults with FASD and I know how damaged these individuals can be.

All the ordinary citizens,  for whom even hoping for a peaceful, simple life is an impossible dream....that is the citizens of North Korea & Burma........I cannot think of any other country where most of the  citizens are extraordinarily unhappy....I suppose I could list Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia here but I believe that these people are not as miserable as those under North Korean rule.

While critics cite examples of those who overcame odds and did well in life, there are circumstances which are so heavily stacked against some people, that it is impossible for these people to achieve either happiness or other things .  The critics do not realize how disempowering certain situations are and children who grew in such situations cannot feel empowered when they do manage to escape out of those situations. People and children are not like rubber, to spring back easily, once the stress is removed. They can be permanently damaged by the situations they were in, in the past.

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Why am I writing such depressive stuff?

I feel like a person who is watching with horror, a preventable accident happening before my eyes...The accident could be prevented at a hundred different spots by making hundreds of tiny changes but the driver is driving on without realizing the hundred mistakes he's making...the things are building up towards a big crash which I can see but cannot prevent. And then the crash happens and the driver cannot figure out why. I can see the mistakes of the driver but cannot stop him.... and the driver cannot see his mistakes; if he could see  would he perhaps change???

 Screwed before birth is what I feel about the children (whom I know)growing in families in India, where the parents have abysmal skills in bringing up their children......And I am witnessing these parents damaging their kids on a daily basis. Millions of children being damaged by a brutal education system and brutal teachers in India is another tragedy happening everyday. I can see but I cant stop them. I cannot correct them. I cannot change them. It makes me sick to see the children change from spontaneous happy spirited bundles of joy to repressed, silent, uncommunicative, uninteresting teenagers. I feel so helpless and frustrated by the change happening before my eyes and I cant do anything to stop it. I am filled with such an amount of  impotent rage, frustration and grief that I feel I am going ot burst or kill someone or kill myself.

Some painful transitions children face in India include

Transition from home to school. In rural areas it is especially painful as the children are exposed to brutal teacherrs who beat them mercilessly. They cannot complain to the parents as parents feel beating is the only way the child will improve in studies.
Beating has subsided in cities to some extent but not much.

Transition from learning the subjects in an indian language to English at some point in time is another painful transition.

What happened recently in Karnataka is leading to a major transition is the lives of lakhs of hapless school going children





 

Monday, December 10, 2012

How long should a child sleep in it’s parents bed?


How long should a child sleep in it’s parents bed?

This is a question which never bothered me, when I was in India. But I have been thinking about it when a cousin of mine, in USA, told me how bothered his son’s pediatrician was by the fact that his 2 year old son still sleeps with him and his wife. My cousin got fed up about this doctor’s questions and started lying that his son, now sleeps in his own bed in a different room.

The ideal sleeping arrangements in the west seems to be….

·         a bedroom for each adult couple,

·         a bedroom for the boys(or single rooms if they can afford)…

·         and a bed room for the girls or one per room

·         Even tiny tots are expected to sleep alone in their own room, in their cribs, away from their parents.

While, the western people are shocked by Indian practices such as  a 5 year old  sleeping with his parents, Indians are shocked by what they see as ‘cold-hearted parents’, who  put their  baby alone in a separate crib/ room, instead of having him/her in their own bed!

The customs and practices in India especially related to child rearing are varied across religions, regions, socio-economic status, family type (joint or nuclear), rural or urban region; even the geographical location can influence child rearing practices. Factors such as the place one resides in also influences child rearing practices, depending upon the safety levels for children(especially girl children) in a particular area. (the lesser the safety of  the area for  children, greater the over-protectiveness of the parents such as in large cities like Delhi, Lucknow or Patna )

How long a child sleeps with his or her parents is one important aspect of child rearing practices. I am talking only about this issue in this piece of writing.  In India, especially in rural areas and in the less literate families and poorer families, the parents are easy going about the time they let the child sleep separately. The child continues to sleep with the parents for many years for many reasons.

The poorer the family, greater the number of people living under one roof. Ergo, there are joint families where the parents slept with their kids in one room while another sibling and his family slept in another room and so on.  My own husband, who grew up in a lower middleclass family in Bangalore, slept with his three brothers at one end of the bedroom while his parents slept at the other end of the same room . His aunts and grandmother slept in the other rooms.

There are also families where the parents  live apart as they work in different cities. The children, if they are little, sleep with the parent they are living with, usually the mother.  Initially the child sleeps with the parents as he is afraid to sleep alone but this continues as no one bothers to stop this practice. It may be years before the child is made to sleep in a different room than the parents. I myself have a friend whose husband was in a central government job in India and he was away from his wife and children for 10 years! He would visit his wife and kids about three times a year and his children slept in his wife’s bed for the ten years. I have another friend, whose husband works in a Gulf country likes lakhs of other Indian men. She and her son live by themselves and while I do not know about the sleeping arrangements, I do know that she lived in a tiny one bedroom house. This is typical of millions of Indian families.

Another arrangement is when the child sleeps with his or her grandparents either in their bed or their room. Children sharing the bed or the bedroom with the single(i.e. unmarried) aunt or uncle is another arrangement in middle class families with limited space.

There are also several families I know, where the child sleeps alone in his room but casually enters his parents’ bedroom  and snuggles in the bed with the parents at any time of the night. For example  when the child feels cold or feels afraid after having  a nightmare. Many parents in India do not lock the bedroom door. Or, there are no locks/bolts on bedroom doors in several houses in India.

When I visited a village in Gujarat during summer,  I observed that the males of the house all slept on the roof at one side and the females all slept on another part of the roof. I found this sleeping arrangement strange but this was apparently normal. I have seen similar sleeping arrangements at large family gatherings where the men sleep in one large room and the women in another. The same arrangement is sometimes seen in Chennai when one walks on the roads at night. The homeless or the labourers who don’t have homes or those who find the houses too hot to sleep in, sleep on the pavements. The women sleep together in one spot and the men sleep together at another. However, I have also seen husbands and wives sleep together on the pavements of cities.

When I worked in India,  I never spared a thought about  these varied sleeping arrangements for children. It was only when I moved to Canada and  “white” colleagues of mine expressed shock when they came across children sleeping with their parents that I started thinking about this issue. As I work in the mental health field, this issue comes up quite a bit when I am exploring other issues.

Children sleeping with their parents leads to several problems such as the lack of privacy for parents to have intimacy, to talk and so on; children’s premature exposure to sex or the absence of a sexual life for parents forced to live in this crowded way;

The long term effects of the child sleeping with his parents have to be studied but would be difficult to tease out the effects of other factors which influence.

I work with developmentally delayed adults in Toronto. In the course of my work, I come across bizarre cases where adult children with developmental delay are sleeping with a parent, usually the mother. I have come across cases of 18 or 19 year old son or daughter sleeping in the parents’ bed either with the mother or with both parents. I deal with this information by gently exploring and then telling the parent and the adult with developmental delay that they have to sleep in separate rooms. The reasons for the adult son or daughter sleeping with the parent are predictable.  The delayed child was fearful of sleeping alone as a child or needed help in the middle of the night and the habit of sleeping in the same bed was continued and they never realized that the son is now grown up and needs to sleep apart. In some cases, the delayed son or daughter refuses to sleep in his or her own bed and the parents who are tired of arguing, give up and accept the child sleeping in their bed, even as it grows older. There are also a few over-protective or highly anxious parents who are unable to let their child sleep on it’s own in a separate room. The parents think, the only way to ensure that the child is safe is to sleep with them. It may be because the child has seizures at night or has other problems which make the parent worry about the child’s safety.

In short, children sleeping with parents, especially after they turn 6 years old appears strange or even pathological to the Canadians. However, I think that children sleeping with their parents or other adults, is the norm in India and other places where the culture is different and children are allowed to be with their parents until they are much older. Children and adults sharing bedrooms or even beds  is also the norm in overpopulated countries like India with limited space for living for a vast majority of the people.

What strikes me as bizarre are these sleeping arrangements from other cultures which are alien to me….one is of the Muslim men who have more than one wife at a time and in the same household. (Or even Hindu men, who have more than one wife at a time, usually sisters married to one man for some reason) Does the man sleep in one bed with two wives?? Do they fight? Do the wives sleep in separate bedrooms and he sleeps in different rooms on different nights? I ask this as I know of poor Muslim men, with multiple wives but limited bedrooms!

Another bizarre case was of an extremely dominating and controlling mother of a married man who insisted that he sleeps with his bedroom door open….so that he can hear, if she has a heart-attack and could take her to a hospital! I pity his wife but that is the case and this old lady is too difficult for her son to handle!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Snowflakes & White Collar


 My little sister had told me a while ago to watch the TV series ,"White Collar" as she liked it and thought I might too. I had surfed on the net but did not find this series online( I found it but I had to pay almost 2$ to see an episode and I do not want to pay 2bucks per episode for 4 seasons of this show!). Luckily, my husband who seems to be a better net surfer than me found a link for this show online for free!
With the first snowflakes of the season falling outside  and a chilly temperature sending shivers down my spine inside,  I was in no mood to do my weekend chores of cleaning, laundry and cooking.

 So I spent the weekend, watching this show...it was a marathon watching of two seasons, advertisement-free and I had a fantastic time! I still have 2 seasons to watch and I am keeping my fingers crossed, praying that the last two seasons  are available online for free.

White Collar is  a very enjoyable show ! It has all  I want from a show.... crime, humour, likable characters, a fast-pace, good-looking dudes and gals, quick thinking and quick wit, interesting plots and  happy endings. I love the lively and energetic music too...that little bit at the beginning of each episode.

I did feel guilty as I was on  this marathon....but the need to see the next episode, overcame whatever guilt I felt and I postponed the chores. Today, Monday, as I return to work, I am left with a great sense of well-being and content...an after-glow effect of watching  this show......and also a pile of dirty  laundry and dusty floors .  I tell myself...you only live once...so enjoy!
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The first weekend of December too sped by in idle bliss as I continued to watch the third and fourth seasons of White Collar! How I wish there were an infinite number of these serials for me to wathc till this winter ended! I love this feel good show. I love Massi. I love the two main guys and I love Marsha Thomson.
As usual, when I love a show I search for the characters on teh internet to know a bit more about them. And then I wished I had not.... I felt sad to discover that the guy playing the role of  Neal Caffery is gay in his real life! It is such a loss for the probably hundreds of women who fall for him when they see this show.

The downloading of the last episode of the third season was painfully slow...but I put up with it as I wanted to know what happens !

Friday, November 23, 2012

I love Dollarama!

Ever since I discovered Dollaroma in Toronto in 2004, I have loved it!
Until a year ago, everything in this shop was a dollar (+tax... that adds 13 cents tax to one dollar or one product) and the most amazing things werre available here for only a dollar each. Since the last one or two years, the cost of items has gone above a dollar and now they advertise by stating Dollar plus.

The products in this shop covers a wide range of things one uses at home, toys for children, books and craft materials for children, makeup and jewellery, gardening items, kitchen and bathroom items, decorative stuff, greeting cards. Another feature of this shop is that the products change all the time. There are two types of changes. One is the seasonal change. There are items around the Christmas theme in November, items around Halloween theme in October, items around Valentine theme in February, items used in winter such as gloves and woollen hats in winter, gardening items in summer and so on. The other change is that there are items you see one year and then you do not find them again. These are items I am interested in. But one cannot predict, which are the items one will not find again.

People do grumble that the products are sub-standard and cheesy. But I find that if one is really poor, one can cart stuff form this store and have a neatly decorated home without spending a fortune! (Of course, one can also buy stuff from the thrift store) Of the things sold in this store, almost 90% or more  are from China. I like

 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Religion and me...to be contd

As a child, my grandmother told me tales from Hindu Mythology. She believed  them to be true and at that point in time, I did too.

I dont remember at what age I started questioning the stories but I think I must have been pretty old by the time I started questioning them! A part of me, still believes/wishes that the stories are true!

When one  is exposed to seeing the  Ganesha with the elephant head, right from the time one is born, one simply accepts and does not question, "How can a man have an elephant head?" A common feature in Indian households is children growing up, listening to mythological stories from the tender age of three, four or five, when they still believe that these stories are true. These children who see the  photoes and idols of the various Gods, since birth and heard the mythological stories ever since they can comprehend, accept these tales as true  and it takes a really  long while before any of them start questioning these tales.

Today, in India,  majority of the Hindu adults, even those who are educated and are 'scientists'  still hang on to their beliefs about God. They carry their beliefs  about mythlogical   stories, the beliefs in astrology and Pooja and so on  in one part of their brain while simultaneously carrying on their daily work in whatever research or modern scientific work they are doing to earn a living!

What amazes me is the ability that millions or billions of people have developed to have these opposite belief systems in one head and live a life without being overwhelmed by  the cognitive dissonence caused by their dual belief system!

 I myself have this dual sets of beliefs, one rational and the other based on religious faith which I accept without demanding for rational explainations or scientific proof. I am writing this article now,  because of a new dissonence I have been experiencing ever since my husband got this new obesssion
about getting a Saligrama, preferably from the Kali Gandaki river in Nepal.

I have always wanted to own a Saligrama ever since my grandmother told me that the Saligrama is a black stone which  has been carved to look like the Vishnu Chakra  by the diamond teeth of the Vajra keeta (worm which can carve stones with it's teeth). I was facinated by the idea of a mere worm having teeth strong enough to carve through stone!
Two decades ago, I had browsed at the pavement stall of the saffron-clad men who sat outside Mysore Bank at the Kempe Gowda road and Avenue road intersection selling Saligramas. But I had never bought any as I kept wondering if the Saligramas were real or fakes carved out of granite.

And then, decades later, I learnt that these Saligrams are not stones carved by the Vajra keeta worms as I believed; they are simply fossils called Ammonites, which were once  sea creatures, millions of years old, turned to stone over time . Thanks to the shape of the sea creature, it has the  'Vishnu Chakra'  shape. The battle raging in my mind is this: One part of me wants to believe that the Saligrama is indeed the stone carved by the Vajra Keeta and Vishnu lives in it and if you have the Saligrama stone at home, you will have good luck.  On the otehr hand, the rational side of me has accepted that  it is a fossil. The acceptence of the stone being a fossil and not a stone carved by a worm or the acceptence that Lord Vishnu does not live in this stone has  deflated all  feelings of excitement!

Each 'scientific explaination' or 'scientific discovery' has deflated my joy and excitement about the mythological stories I have read or heard. The science simply kills the romance and excitement and it kills  some happiness and ? innocence in me. Each scientific discovery grieves me. Here are a few times when I felt a severe sense of loss...it is like when a child discovers that there is no Santa Claus or the tooth fairy....it is like  when a child loses his sense of wonder when he discovers the science behind the magic trick which he had just enjoyed.

I had believed in the existence of the Naga Ratna,(the precious gem, found on the head of the King Cobra!) thanks to the the stories I read in the Chanda mama, stories in Indian mythology and the other storeis I had heard form my grandmother. Then I realized that there is no gem in any part fo the cobra's body, whether it is a King cobra or ordinary cobra, whether it is a male or female cobra. It was so disappointing to discover that! But it was also very amusing to see Naga ratnas for sale  on the internet!!! I am not the only fool in this world! There are a few gullable ones too who are ready to shell out money to buy the Nagaratna!

At one point in time, I had believed in the stories of Vikramaditya and was facinated by the number of times he cut off his own head and offered to Kali and she brought him back to life! There was also something facinating about the evil people like Rakshasas who hid their hearts in a bird or an  animal and did not die until the particualr  bird or animal which had his heart was killed. This is also from many Vikramaditya stories.
I had believed and (maybe I still do) in astrology and  also believe that wearing certain gems will help avoid bad fortune and attract good fortune! I still strongly believe in Shani gala and keep praying to Lord Shani to stay away from me! Unfortunately, there is no Shanimahatma temple in Toronto to visit and pray to Shani and ask him  to back off from my loved ones!

What else???  I dont remember whether I believed or disbelieved in the stories from Ramayana and Mahabharatha but some stories really moved me and facinated me. I loved the Mahabharatha especially and have the read the one by C.Rajgopalchari many times.
 I did not like Krishna much as I was disgusted by his promiscuous behaviour but liked the stories of Shiva a lot. I think I did believe  that Shiva lives in the Himalayas on Kailas Parvat for a pretty long time(If he does live there, can he please, prevent the Chinese from invading India?)

There are some stories in mythology, for which,(for whatever reason), I willingly suspend rationality and passionately wish the story to be true! I consciously resist any questioning and simply accept the mythology. Maybe, it is because, I want to believe in magic once in a while....maybe, the belief that there is a God who has miraculous powers, gives me hope and faith....or satisfies some need in me..the need to believe that there is some power, superior to men and this power cannot be controlled by men.....maybe there is a side to me which wants magic and rejects logic.....

I reject rational thinking and accept myths, especially when I go to holy places or temples. For that period of time that I am in the temple, I fully believe in the story about the origin of the temple...like when I visit Tirupati. Is this a way to avoid cognitive dissonence? Maybe. But my brain, automatically switches off the rational and questioning side and switches on the God-believing side! I pray with complete faith (my prayers are always "give me that give me this" and nothing else); I believe that I will have good luck if I eat the prasada and drink the teertha;  I have a sense of peace and satisfaction and my anxieties are completely vanquished for a few hours or days after a visit to a temple or a piligrimage. I feel good when I buy the stuff sold outside temples such as photoes or idols of God, etc and keep them at home. Of course, this feeling of well being wears off after some time, but at the time, it feels great! Like a drug to a user maybe!

Some temples in particular, bring on the belief in God and suspension of rationality more strongly than others. The three temples where  I feel really devout are the Basavanagudi temple in Gandhi bazar; the Kaadu Malleshwara temple in Malleshwaram and the temple just outside Lal Bagh. I think the  reasons I feel devout in these particular temples is the simplicity of these temples at least when I last visited them ...by simplicity I mean that  they have not been modernized and had their age-old charm;(I did hear my my relatives that the Basavanagudi temple is undergoing renovations...so it may not longer have it's beauty..In India, when they renovate something old, they do a horrible job)  these three temples are not crowded and are peaceful and one has the space and silence necessary to contemplate; last but not the least, the priests in these three temples appear dignified and do not seem as materialistic  as the priests in other temples. The older the temple, the less modernized and less crowded it is and the less greedy the priests appear, the more attractive teh temple is to me.  I cannot even express, how immensly attractive the abandoned temples are to me! One can never find abandoned temples in India...the population is so much and people are 'so everywhere'. When I say abandoned,  I am referring to temples in remote places, with few visitors and which appear quiet and rundown. Temples which are empty as the priest has gone home and you have the temple, all to yourself, if you go in the afternoon. The two temples in my village are like this....there are no priests, one temple is open at all times(it has no doors), there is nothing inside except a couple of clay oil-lamps and 4 stone pillars representing Narashima(maybe, if they had an idol of Narashima, it would get stolen!). There are peepul & neem  trees outside and a Garuda kamba. The leaves rustle in the breeze and one can hear the koels or crows when one is inside the temple or the distant sound of people talking or cattle mooing. These village temples are quiet and peaceful, empty till the evenings when women come in to light the lamps or men come to gamble in the temple (they should not be gambling in the temple premises but where can they sit in the night? They like to sit in the temple, on the  granite slabs, outside the tiny sanctum-sanctorum. Much to the anger of the women, they take the oil lamps out of the sanctum to their gambling game for visibility; some 'Punytama' put a light bulb a few times in the temple but the bulb  got burnt out by the voltage fluctuations or stolen)

There are lovely abandoned/almost abandoned temples on top of mountains surrounding my village which are quiet and have an old-world beauty and charm...but unfortunatly, these abandoned temples do not have idols (the idols  have been stolen or removed...I do not know) and I dont really feel devout without an idol to focus my prayers on. However, these mountain-top temples are great for ambience...they are made of granite slabs and pillars; there are no people at all except a few young hikers from the city on weekends; the granite have a yellow pateena on them caused by ? mud and ?rainwater...there is silence except for the winds and the distant sounds of buses. One can sit in these temples and meditate for hours in peace. But as I said before, I dont feel 'religious' in these temples..I  feel peaceful, relaxed and enjoy the scene. In these temples, I have to fight the contempt which comes unbidden into my mind ...What kind of a  God is this guy  who could not even prevent his idol from being stolen? How the hell can he protect me?

Often, the economic aspects of temple put me off God and religion completely. I am so disgusted by priests who demand money. I know that they need money to live. But there is some part of me, which irrationally expects all priests to be disinterested in money and focussed on spirituality. I wish, that the economic aspects of temples and religion was streamlined and also made invisible to me...I want either priests who are truly spiritual and not materialistic  or at least an illusion to be created where the priest appears to be focussed on the Pooja and nothing else...

I cannot express how disgusting I find the crude behaviours of priests and how unforgivable I find the news about corruption in temples. It makes me wonder about God and his existence.
Maybe I am a person who has unrealistic expectations from temples and priests...as my friends say, after all,  priests too are human beings like you and prone to err.







 

Ideal way to spend winter weekends in Toronto

Picture of a bed with pillow and quilt

Table with book

beer bottle

balya

cat at foot


recipe for balya

ingredients with photoes: Balya (in cover and outside cover)
lemon juice, carrot, coriander, onion.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Books I read in October 2012

I am repeating myself for the umpteenth time  but once again...thanks TPL! You are awesome.

As the temperatures went down in October & the winds shook (Hurricane Sandy's distant effects on Toronto) the leaves from the trees, I sat  in  bed, under a cosy quilt and  watched the grey clouds above and the rain sprinkle (yes. Sprinkle... wind > rain) over the Don Valley.  Usually the cold and rains and grey clouds puts me into a sort of  dull mood filled with worries and anxieties. But this time, I was armed with the best anti-depressents from TPL. I had a set of wonderful crime and other fiction & non-fiction which helped me pass October and now helping me enjoy November too!

Linwood Barclay's latest Trust your eyes

Alex Dryden's Red to Black

Moscow Sting

The blind spy

Lavanya Sankaran's The red carpet : Bangalore stories

Also enjoyed looking at the wonderful creative modern artworks in gold in this non-fiction coffee table book by Marthe Le Van & Ray Hemachandra i.e. Masters: Gold: Major Works by leading artists.

I did borrow a great many books but these were the ones I really really enjoyed and could not put down till I finished!

I have also put on hold(inactive) a great many crime fiction books which came up when I entered the word Noirs at TPL website. Looking forward to an exciting winter with these treasures from TPL! I know I am going to be depressed if I read too many crime noirs continually but what the hell...I will take a break with books on philosophy for dummies maybe.

There is also the James Bond movie to see this week.






 

Monday, November 5, 2012

What I love photographing in Toronto.

  • The changing look of the trees in the different seasons...at the Don Valley,  High Park and so many other places.
  • The waters in several places where the rivers are flowing....Don river, Humber river and so on
  • The Toronto skyline from the island and also from the city
  • The people of Toronto especially those kids in Goth style on Queen ..i.e. near teh stretch of Queen near Spadina. The stylish looking folks on   on Bloor street near Younge; and the homeless with interesting placards, the sex trade workers on the Younge street which runs south of Bloor .
  • I also like photographing the designer shops decor on Bloor(west of Younge) which changes every season
  • The scores of modern sculptures outside many buildings all over Toronto
  • The interesting Graffiti on the downtown walls and the paintings
  • The ads for plays, music gigs, film feastivals, the posters, the photoes, the witty graffiti lampooning the politicians...they are so creative!
  • The interesting rocks and concrete and bricks smoothened by the Lake Ontario...on the shores
  • the fog in fall when it makes the street lights and trees look eerie
  • the icicles at the edge of roofs
  • the historic buildings of brick and red stone in downtown Toronto
  • the museums and whatever's inside
  • the exhibition, the summer feastivals, the
 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Hanging on in the USA


I asked a young lady living in the US as to why most  Indians  who go to USA to study computer engineering or to work in the field of software and computers are satisfied with their jobs and do not explore entrepreneurship .  She said that they spend all their energy, just trying to hang in there! And that at the end of the day, they are thankful, if they get a greencard/citizenship and have a decent   job.

She told me of the struggles of many of her friends. All of these are youth in their twenties, who have masters degrees in computer sciences, software related subjects, telecommunications  or electronics.

One was lucky enough to get a job and H1 visa in a campus interview even before he finished his masters degree in the US. He was happy and excited  with his H1 visa and job and had a great time working, paying off his student loans, travelling around the US and so on until….. he got turfed out  when his company merged with another and this was  followed by a massive downsizing in his company. He had been in this company for less than two years. He then went through a harrowing time while trying to stay on in the USA legally, searching for jobs  and  taking numerous interviews . He went through his savings before he could find another job! Luckily he did get another job and could renew is H1 visa but went through a pretty rough time before that.

Another was a guy who completed his master’s degree and being a pretty bright kid, he had some research and patents to his credit. Unfortunately, he had his masters in a field where only people with experience would land jobs. He roamed around the US for almost two years, sleeping on friends couches and trying for jobs but did not get any. He left to India and is working there and trying to come back to the USA.

Another is a young lady who intended to do some research before trying for jobs and then changed her mind as she was going nowhere with  her research. She got an internship when she finished her Masters and quit her PhD plans. After a few months, she even got a job offer in the company she was interning at.   Thanks to the HR messing up her application for H1, she missed getting her H1 visa; then her job offer was withdrawn as she did not have H1! Then, she had to leave the company as her internship time had run out and she had to leave the USA too unless she could find some legal way of staying on. She immediately applied and joined a university, though she did not really need the courses they were offering. She did manage to extend her stay as a student and even believed that since enrolling in this university, she could get back her internship and thus earn some money to keep her going. But to her incredible bad luck,within a month after enrolling at this university, the university was  declared illegal and shut down! She now had to get her papers transferred from this university fast and into another university to maintain her student visa status and keep her stay in the US legal. She scrambled around desperately looking for universities and colleges which would take her and also which would also let her to intern. Most universities had started their courses already and it appeared to be too late for her to get in. Staff at the admission departments of the college was rude and nasty to her when she told them she was transferring from this derecognized university! They treated her, a student and a victim of that university like she was a criminal while it was the fraudulent behaviour of the university’s CEO which got the university into trouble. She finally managed to get into a college and her stay in the USA was kept legal but this college did not permit her to work and so she had to use up her meagre savings and take loans to survive until next April when she will hopefully apply and get H1 visa. She is trying to look for H1 visa in the categories where there is no cap but she has not yet had any luck so far.

This young lady’s run of bad luck has been quite tremendous. First the HR  in the organization she was interning messed up by not only delaying putting in her application for H1 but also by not considering other options to hire her which were available. Next the university she enrolls in goes under. Next, she gets into a college which thankfully keeps her in the US legally but without internship which means she will be up to her ears in loans by the time she does get a job.

Last is the case of another young lady who was hired as an intern but was given tasks which did not use her skills but had her working pretty hard and for long hours. It was indirectly intimated to her that she will get a H1 visa and a job more matched to her skills at the end of 3 months and so she stayed on inspite of being dissatisfied. But at the end, the company hired someone else!  It was sheer lying and exploitation by the company. She left this company and did manage to get a job she is happy with.

People reading this may wonder, why are these youth so desperate to stay on in the USA? With their education and skills, they should be able to get good jobs in India where they are from and maybe get a job anywhere in the world. I asked this of the youth and all their responses indicated their dissatisfaction with so much in India. The work culture is terrible. The hierarchy in the organization, lack of respect for those in the lower positions, the lack of respect for women in the work place, the racism manifested at the work place for example, north Indians and south Indians not getting along, the brutal working hours. Outside of the workplace too, the picture is not welcoming: the corruption in the whole of India, the lack of basic amenities even in major cities, the immense competition for limited resources …competition for getting your kid into a good school or college for example, the sheer crowdedness in India, the list goes on.

While youth from well to do families do not mind going back to India after their studies, those from middle class families, at least the ones I know do not want to return to India. Women have a whole lot of additional reasons to not return to India. For example, this young lady I know is single, studying and working and living with complete freedom in the USA.  She does not want to return to India. She is a responsible mature lady who behaves well and will never do anything illegal or immoral. Inspite of her being such a decent person i.e.  being a lady who will not “sin” whether she is being watched or not,  her family will cut off her freedom, if she returns to India! She will be told she cannot wear ‘such’ clothes, that she should be home by 9pm, that she should not ‘talk too much’ to men at work, etc. After tasting freedom in the USA, girls and women simply do not want to go back to the restrictions imposed on them by their families and society in India! This young lady I am talking about has done so many things she would never be allowed to do if she had been in India! She drives at night, long distances(across 10 states of USA at one time); she sits in the library till early morning; she stays over at her friends place, she has gone hiking alone with a  man she works with , she has gone to movies with a  ‘man’ she knows from school, she has shared an apartment with an unknown man and done so many things her parents don’t approve of!

I hope that one day India and all other countries whose citizens flee….will one day improve so much that the citizens don’t feel the need to flee their motherlands. Unless that happens, citizens of all the third world countries will try to seek to better their lives in other places.

The one good thing I am observing about these youth who face these hardships while trying to survive in the US is their wonderful resilience! The struggles  they face is building their character, their ability to face difficulties, their abilities to help each other and stick it together, their ability to learn from mistakes, to get up and continue when they fail,  to not give up. 

Another problem they face which I forgot to mention is about their marriages and relationships. Many these days find their own mates instead of going into arranged marriages like 10-20 years ago. The problems they face seem to be related to distance more than anything else. Many couples in relationships work in different places and unable to get jobs in the same city.  Some try to keep the relationship going inspite of the distance while a few give up.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Algonquin in fall 2012

Visited Algonquin Park yesterday i.e. Saturday September 29th 2012 to view the Fall colours. The fall colours were AMAZING! Had a wonderful time driving around and trekking briefly to spots such as the Whiskey Rapids. I am so proud of my mother ( 66 years old)  who did a great job walking along the uphill-downhill path, full of tree roots which seem to be waiting to trip a careless walker!
The only wild life we saw was a chipmunk and we did hear a few birds.  Thanks to whoever had speared an apple in the forest, we could see the chipmunk...it was eating the apple! This Park has deer, bears, mooses & foxes while the lakes here have  turtles, fish & frogs  though we did not get a glimpse of them.

The tens of thousands of trees in this park were vibrant with  colours! My mother who has never in her life, seen a riot of colours like this commented that this Park is like "Gandharva Loka" and at another time commented that this Park is a piece of  Heaven which has  come down to  Earth. She loved the myriad  colours of the leaves, the several lakes, the cleanliness &  transperency of the waters and the quietness of this vast place.
Of course, we compared it to Bangalore and India and felt regret that this beauty is not in Bangalore too! I explained to my mother that even if these trees were to be planted in Bangalore, India, the leaves would not change colour like this as Bangalore's temperature will never dip low enough to trigger the change in the leaves' hue.

We had packed chitranna and mosaranna for lunch and also fruits, Mysorepak and Halva. We ate our lunch on a picnic bench, amid the colourful trees. In this day and age, can one go on a trip without the ubiquitous camera?  Here are a few photoes of the lovely Algonquin Park. I have visited this wonderland in summer and winter too. The beauty of this park during winter is something else again! It is a white wonderland of snow. I wish I could fly over this park in fall and winter. The view of this park from above would probably be even more amazing...if that were possible!





KUMBALKAI PAYASA RECIPE


KUMBALKAI PAYASA
This is a recipe my mother uses.

I used the orange coloured pumpkins grown in Toronto for this dish.
Ingredients:
Pumpkin(half kg) jaggery (200gm), milk(quarter litre), peanuts(half cup), roasted split channa dal (hurigadale)(quarter cup),cardamom(seeds from 5), ghee or oil(a few spoons…enough to fry about 10 cashewnuts and 25 raisins), raisins and cashewnuts.

a.Remove the skin and seeds of the pumpkin. Cut the pumpkin into large or medium size pieces, place the pieces in a vessel with a little water and cook until soft. Alternately, the pumpkin can be cooked in a microwave oven or in a steam cooker. Mash the pumpkin pieces after cooking.

b. Roast the peanuts and grind it along with the hurigadle and cardamom in a mixer(or mortar and pestle!) and keep aside.

c.  Fry the raisins and cashewnuts in ghee or oil and place aside.

d.   Add milk, jaggery, the roasted and powdered peanuts and hurigadle, the fried raisins and cashewnuts into the vessel with mashed pumpkins and heat over low heat for ten minutes.

e.  The sweet dish is ready and can be eaten hot or cold.
Note: The quantities of the ingredients can be varied....you can

use more of less of any ingredient.
For example, I would not use water at all as the pumpkin is
already rich in moisture. I love to use  a lot more of the  peanuts and hurigadle than mentioned in the recipe as I love that rustic taste!


This dish  can be done in  half hour to forty minutes:
Skinning and dicing the pumpkins may take 10 minutes,
Frying the peanuts may take 10-12 minutes,
Cooking the pumpkin takes 10 minutes and
Putting all of the stuff on the stove while you fry the cashew and raisins on another stove and add it to the vessal can be done in 10 minutes.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Hearing noises

Hearing noises
Since the last several months, I hear various sounds when I am in bed at night. The ones I can remember right now are the sound of water running slowly or dripping.
When I am exposed to a white noise i.e. a continuous  sound made by some machine such as an air-conditioner, my ears seem to hear definite  Carnatic music  especially the  sounds of  certain musical instruments playing tunes such as the Nadaswara  during south Indian weddings! There is no music around me at night in my home or other neighbouring homes especially NOT Karnatic  music but I hear  these sounds and they are driving me crazy!
I simply cannot understand  why  my ears hear these  non-existent sounds at certain times and in certain places!  At nights, when in bed, I  often hear these imaginary sounds and I have  actually gone to the bathroom and kitchen to  investigate. Of course, there is no  dripping  tap .
I wonder  if I have some kind of a damage to my ears or damage to  the hearing  region in  my brain and  auditory nerves. It is only now  that I can really  empathize with the schizophrenics who have auditory hallucinations! They have to deal not just with noise but with voices telling them what to do and not do, voices telling them off or teasing them!
When  I hear the tap dripping at night, I tell myself that there is no  dripping tap but the sound is so damn real that I can peacefully go to sleep  only after  I check and actually SEE for myself that the taps are  not dripping. I try to tell myself that I should not yield to the compulsion to check but the sound troubles me so much that I cant go to sleep until I check the taps.
I am repeating myself here but as I said before,  I can only now fully appreciate the battle faced by those who have these auditory hallucinations!  A close friend of mine had once told me how he tried to deal with schizophrenia without medication. He told that he tried to counsel  himself that the voices he hears are imaginary and not real, that there is no one out to get him…it is only his imagination but he could not get over his paranoid ideas and disregard the voices ….he had to go back to the anti-psychotic medication.
I do hope the damn sounds in my ears , which I hear almost every night stop. I am getting fed up of them and fed up of being laughed  at by my family.  Maybe I should consider listening to music when I am in bed…this may  drown out the dripping taps in my head maybe.  I would probably not be so annoyed if I enjoyed the Nadaswara music but I dislike that instrument! And  people wasting water is another thing which  riles me up….so I cant accept the non-existent dripping taps either!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Who should be the first author?

After studying and working in organizations where research is a primary area of work, I have learnt a lot of sordid aspects of Research. I will not dwell on all of them here ...I will be talking only about one sordid aspect i.e. "Who gets to be the first author of papers published?"

Everyone wants to be the first author! With a few exceptions that is.....the few people who are (1) not at all ambitious about getting authorship and (2) people who have not contributed much to the research and who also  are also ethical enough to state that they do not want authorship as they dont deserve it.

I have observed with such a profound sense of disgust, people in high positions who bully  students, research scholars and research assistents who are below them in the hierarchy, into giving up the first  author positions to them, though they have done practically nothing!

I have seen a much admired psychiatrist who demanded an authorship just because he loaned his computer to a student doing his thesis!(This was in early ninties when few people had computers in India).
 I have seen a research scholar who did  years of  field work, data collection and analysis and  also wrote the papers for publication but had to take a back seat when it came to authorship! The first authorship went to her boss who was clueless about the work done, the second authorship went to her boss's colleagues and the remaining authorship went to the  Director of the Institute. This girl who did all the work was "thankfully acknowledged' at the bottom of the paper!
 This director in this same Indian organization has authorship of tens of thousands of papers...he is not even aware of many of the  papers where he is an author! Every faculty member and some savvy students gave him an authorship to curry favours. Truth be told, my guess is he never asked for authorship but the Indian mentality to kiss his feet was inbuilt in the people who gave him authorship.

I have seen assertive research assistents fight tooth and nail with the faculty with whom they are collaborating for authorships. The scenes are ugly and one gets to see the  so-called educated and respected faculty behaving like dogs fighting in the street for a piece of meat.

What made me write this article is the bitter-sad story a Chinese post-doctoral student in the USA whose data collected over three years was literally hijacked by a new pushy faculty member who like a gutter-born person, published her work with his name as first author! This girl was bitter but could do nothing about it. She quit her post in frustration and joined another university and has started new research from scratch again! Three years of her life has gone for nothing! And the saddest part is that she has put so many aspects of her life on hold for the last several years to achieve a few papers .(Her goal is a faculty position when she returns to China and she will not get it unless she is first author of published papers.....now she has to do new work for another 3-5 years all over again! If her data is hijacked again, I think she will either kill herself or kill the hijacker!)

I was so moved by what happened to her but apart from cursing the faculty who stole her work and cursing his family, I do not know what else to do. I have read articles about this happening but not enough is being done about this appaling, disgusting theft by professors.

My suggestions to rectify this issue would be:

  • All faculty should be taught to practice ethical behaviours in research...not just ethical practices about the subjects of research such as not causing pain to animals when conducting experiments but also about this theft of work of students, research fellows, etc.
  • There should be regular meetings where all people involved discuss and come to an agreement as to who will do what, and who will use what data for their papers and who will get what authorships(first author, second author, principal investigator, etc). The decisions should be put down in writing...no such thing as a 'gentleman's agreement' here! Faculty are definitely NOT gentlemen; they are not to be trusted and they are worse than dacoits!
  • The faculty, students and research-fellows who are not assertive and cannot stand up for themselves should be given some training to improve their assertiveness.
  • The psychopaths amongst the faculty should be identified early and turfed out(I do not see any point in giving them a chance to change...research by psychiatrists has proved that they do not change even with therapy or rehabilitation programs)
  • There should be meetings devoted solely to the issue of  authorship when the research work is done by a multi-discplinary team. God! The fights for authorships are brutal then! All the happy beliefs I had were broken when I saw people from multiple discplines come together! I thought women are sweet and gentle...they are not! They fight more visciously and savegly than men for the authorships...even when they have little or no work. The belief I had that those with PhDs are decent men because of their high level of education was rudely shattered. They may not steal your money but boy! Watch they stealing all your data collected painstakingly over months of gruelling work!
Another belief of mine which was shattered was the belief I had that if one remains polite and decent one will succeed at some time or the other. This is completely untrue! The Chinese girl I was talking to you about had a wonderful boss who was a gentleman, polite and decent and "not-at-all assertive".
He did not stand up for his student when her data was hijacked by the jackass professor from another department! He felt sorry for the girl but feeling  sorry will not get her three years of life back!
Now that science and technology have progressed so much, the fields of science are no longer exclusive but collabarative. For research in MRI for example, the people collaborating includes medical  doctors of various discplines such as neurologists and people from a variety of  discplines such as  physists, engineers, statisticians, mathematicians, etc. So when the question of first authorship rises, all the discplines are fighting for first authorships as each one thinks his/her discpline has contributed the most or has made  the most valuable contribution!
The fights for credit which goes on behind the closed doors of research institutes is incredible!
Of course, most of you have read about the discords between famous scientists in the past...how gender, race, fame or it's absence made or broke people n the field of science. In the past, women's contributions to science went unrecognized; People of coloured races were not recognized inspite of fantastic work; Now, we have the unethical people who are higher up in the hierarchy  stealing the work of their students and researchers.
  • The faculty needs to firstly acknowledge that these unethical practices are happening.
  • Then they should set up a committee  with the will to prevent these injustices from happening.This committee needs to be manned by ethical people, with the power to set right the injustices and prevent them form happening.
  • The students and researchers should be able to protest against injustices without fear of having their grants revoked.... whatever intimidation tactics used by faculty should be recognized and stopped.
  • Which researcher is doing what part of the research, what is that researcher's expectations in terms of credit and authorship should be agreed upon in advance and with clarity and with consensus with all the concerned parties. If there is no agreement, there should be meetings until consensus is reached.

If this is practiced in the tens of thousands of universities and research institutes, there would be less despair among the people way down in the food chain; there would be greater motivation and enthusiasm to do work.  Of course, the fat professors would lose quite a bit but they should remember that they would remain uncursed by their subordinates!