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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Pursuit of Happiness: Learning

Everyone has a certain idea of how they want to achieve what they consider happiness. Mine includes spending a major chunk of my life in a T-shirt and glasses reading, learning and marveling.

When I was in school as a kid, I learned mostly to score the highest, and make my mother happy- who most of the times was very difficult to please. If I scored 98, she would  ask why it wasn’t a 100/100. In my MBA, when there was scope for extra credit I made sure I did that too ; thus, at times, I scored above 100% in certain sections. But the purpose wasn’t just to please my parents anymore. I found joy in learning my subject.

Some people take up Liberal Arts, some people prefer learning machine languages, I majored in Marketing and it fascinated me. It is a good time to be a marketer. It has never been easier to listen and communicate to your customers, innovate and evolve accordingly. Your judgment can be more informed and your brand message more consistent if you are just  willing to pay attention.

When you are not studying just to complete with the next best, scores became exceptionally good as a by-product. Learning for the sake of learning is the greatest reward of all- and it means better retention too.

 The greatest fear when I was leaving Boston (B-school) was that I might not get enough structured learning  until I decided to enroll in a program again. The first thing I did after I moved to West Coast was to get a library card- the cheapest and most convenient way to get access to bigger resources than I can personally afford or maintain.  I feel happy to visit  my library to return a book or movie I have thoroughly enjoyed and browse for more things that might interest me.

Though I have taught myself a couple of things with steep learning curves(or at least long learning curves) in recent years (I'm fairly decent in Photoshop and I mean beyond masking and layering, learning Illustrator now), I found that more structured learning was required. I took up Statistics (for Managers), something I had in my undergrads and hence got waived in my Masters. I religiously followed video lectures on Youtube by an excellent UCB professor, took notes at least 1-2 hours each day. My brother seemed surprised- but I told him that I did it because I enjoyed it, and I had more than enough spare time to learn something I had began to forget. Couple of days later, he asked me about a case of forecasting using Regression model, which I enjoyed discussing with him.

Now, I have signed up for couple of courses in Coursera on Finance,  Innovation, Strategy and Disruptive technologies. I signed up for another class archive because it is over already. My sessions begin on 28th Jan. I must say I am happy, and I hope to learn well again.

I know Udacity, Udemy and Skillshare are similar resources. MIT Open courseware was something I used as a management student to complement my classroom learning. Youtube has some good lecture videos too. Send me a query if you require help to explore these further. Like many, I too believe that education should be free for all. You don't need to be buried in a heavy load of student loan to be able to afford quality education; it is what you do with what you have learned that should matter, not the price you paid for it.

P.S. Recommended for Business majors  hoping to succeed in a technical environment : Advice From A Former Business Student Turned Googler (Aditya Mahesh, TechCrunch)

TEDTalk on the new age of education.

Update: Had fun in this course, and scored 97.7%. Not all courses have provision of distinction and it is getting too stressful now.Not sure if I can keep up.

My statement of merit

Friday, December 28, 2012

A sad day

I was on a very restful holiday in Old Pasadena when I read about the gang rape of a 23-yr old woman in a moving bus that occurred in Delhi. I found myself praying for her recovery and feeling enraged that the report had mentioned, ’..she will never have a normal married life.’ Really? Is that what some people cared about? Of course, there were protests. But police brutality on the protesters(misuse of Section 144 of IPC) and the comment by Congress MP Abhijit Mukherjee outraged the people even more. A police constable died of cardiac arrest post injuries during the protests.

I remembered an incident about 7-8 years ago, when I was 20. I was visiting a senior in Munirka when she walked me out to catch a bus that would take me back to campus. It was evening and I was expecting crowded public transport. An almost empty mini-bus came to halt right in front of us, and the driver asked,’ Madam kaha jana hai?’ (Madam, where do you want to go?)

I mentioned my destination, he said he was heading that way, and then he asked if both of us wanted to go. Before I could say anything, my senior said yes (which was not true- only I had to go back) and mentioned that she didn’t want us to take his bus and firmly shooed him off. I felt angry at her for not letting me go in the empty bus where I could have a seat. Then a crowded bus came around and she helped me climb it somehow. All the way I kept wondering why did she lie.Now I understand, and I thank her for her perspicacity, and though at times I used to get angry at her, now I appreciate her caring for me like a mother in a strange land. (Remember Sam?)

'Thank God it didn't happen to me or someone I know’. If it has happened to someone, it could as well happen to my cousins or a friend. Even as a human being, it should matter. How do the perpetrators go to such length without the fear of the law of the land? I mentioned before, I had a very protective childhood and I always knew my father or at least his reputation would protect me wherever I went. I knew of a friend whose teacher had molested her, a cousin whose neighbor had touched her the wrong way. I am sure my father would break the hands of someone who tried.

But when I left home for my undergrads, and had to live alone for a while during my first job, I kept a very low-profile in NCR. I knew what unwanted attention meant there and how life could be made hell by erotomaniac stalkers and sexual perverts. Every night I went to sleep with the prayer that no one broke into my house and every morning I hoped no one noticed me on my way to office. Someone who loved attention wanted to be completely invisible. It was my only hope to avoid anything untoward.

7 years later,nothing has changed. Delhi, NCR- even the rest of the country. When I saw the Incredible India ad featuring a female foreign tourist, I had a wry smile. Of course, she can experience all that but who can guarantee that something unpleasant won’t happen to her?

It is sad to see India being mentioned for the wrong reasons- scams, bans, and political tomfoolery. And not for what it is- a spiritual journey that can be had at every step of life; where happiness needn't be bought- and people with very limited resources will teach you how to be happy. It shouldn't just be promoted as a country of safe and affordable tourism; it should live up to its claims.

But I also have hope. We are known to revolt, irrespective of our expectations about the end result. And the protests indicate that the youth of today is not going to accept it lying down. My brothers and sisters in India, please do not give up. If the system is inept, callous and weak, fight to make it strong, make it stand up and take notice. Social justice has been meted out owing to the pressure created by media and the common man. If this is what it takes, then this is what it takes. Our greatest advantage is that we are a land of hypocrites. Our political leaders might take a stance just to save their face, if not out of care for the citizens. (I am going out on a limb and hoping our President will admonish his son publicly and apologize for his own poor parenting.)

And no mother should fear for the safety of her child. Rape is a heinous crime, and as long as someone thinks he can get away with it, it will happen. Strike fear in the mind of perverts, not the potential victims.
And for this, we need to create a concrete action plan. Some of my suggestions are:

1. Suspend all politicians/law-makers who have court cases of sexual assault of women against them. (Supreme Court will be hearing a petition soon)
2. 26% conviction rate is a shameful number.  Also, use fast-track courts to ensure faster justice.
3. Educate your family to respect women. Don't treat your womenfolk as second citizens. Begin at home.
4. Don't tolerate eve-teasing. Have a helpline number dedicated to reporting such incidents. (Not like the one Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit inaugurated on Dec 31, the 24 hour Helpline (181) meant for immediate police help for women in distress that has actually proved to be an embarrassment; but real functional ones. Keep it the same nationwide; promote it.)
5. Increase policing. Screen the policemen for their sensitivities towards women. Train them if necessary.
6. Local communities should appoint anonymous volunteers who keep a watch and report perverts and (any) suspicious behavior.
7. New laws should be made with stricter punitive actions for rapists.
8. Basic education provided to children about self-defense.

@The remarks of Asaram Bapu Sorry, my suggested action plan to reduce rapes in India should have included taping the mouths of self-proclaimed god-men who speak BS.No wonder it is unsafe for women when these enlightened gurus spread this kind of valuable gyaan.

Suggested further reading:

Victim dead (BBC)

India mourns (BBC)

Crimes against women including rape cases declared by MPs, MLAs and candidates(ADR)

Lawyers boycott defense of India rape suspects (CNN)

Victim's friend (and witness) speaks(Zee News)

The Victim's Story (WSJ)

Update: New anti-rape laws (3/23/2013)