How to eradicate poverty from the world?

Nothing is more dreadfully painful than poverty, and gripping poverty robs a man of the lofty nobility of his descent”- Thiruvallur

On July 10th, 2020, a six-year-old girl fell into a stormwater drain in the Marathahalli area while playing with her friends. She is the daughter of Nityananda and Boni Koli. They are migrants from Assam, living in the nearby slum area. Her father works as a security guard and mother as a domestic worker. There has been no update on this incident as of now. Who is responsible for this tragic incident? This incident shows the ‘hazards of being poor’ as also mentioned in the book. The poor people’s lives inextricably linked to huge amounts of risks not only related to income/food but also related to health, political violence, crime, and different kinds of shocks like the recently declared lock down amid the covid-19 pandemic.

This book has always been part of my reading list but when both the authors of this book won the Nobel prize last year, I decided that I have to finish this book soon. The curiosity and the zeal to find solutions how to eradicate poverty and why they do whatever they do in their lives and why policies world over fail to bring about a substantial difference in their lives, has always intrigued me.

“Poverty leads to an intolerable waste of talent. Poverty is not just a lack of money; it is not having the capability to realize one’s full potential as a human being.”

Amartya Sen

I have always been moved by people’s lives. If I see people living in difficult circumstances, I always ask myself why life is so unfair for a few people and a bed of roses for some. And many times I felt like crying inside because I am helpless as if I can’t do anything about it. Why someone has to lose its dignity because of a lack of resources. This is inhuman. Poverty is itself so inhuman. It makes you miserable from inside and you don’t have the strength to face the world.

These are some of the pertinent questions asked by the authors in this book. Why is there still poverty in the world or India? Why well thought out policies of the government of India have been failing to eradicate poverty for a long time? Why does no one ask the poor about their choices, their priorities, and why they are making the choices what are they making? It is absolutely necessary to understand the reasons behind their choices/decisions in life to frame better policies for eradicating poverty?

It’s not that the world has not tried to eradicate poverty. However, there are different ideologies/views present in the world to solve the problem of poverty. Jeffrey Sachs in his book, “The End of Poverty” says that ‘foreign aid’ is the key. Even aid establishment institutions like the United Nations and the World Health Organization believe in spending money on aid. William Easterly, Dambisa Moyo & others are not in favor of providing aid as they both argue that aid does more harm than good. They believe that we should respect people’s freedom if they don’t want anything, there is no point in forcing it upon them. Darren Acemoglu & James A Robinson’s theory of institutions given in his famous book-“Why Nations Fail”, believes in a fundamental change of the institutions to bring about any positive change in the country. However, there is hardly any focus on understanding the choices of the people and why they do what they do.

Mostly we judge poor people about the choices they make in their lives. Why don’t they save enough for them for the difficult period? Why do they produce many kids if they can’t afford a better life for them? Why don’t they take benefits of the government schemes? Why poor people don’t want health insurance? Do the poor really have a choice to control their fertility decisions? Why children of the poor don’t learn anything despite going to schools? Why don’t they get enough nutrients?

The authors had made it clear that there is really no difference between the decision-making of the poor and other people because they are also normal human beings. They also have the same problems of temptations, lack of self-control, weak beliefs, procrastination, and the problem of ‘time inconsistency’. Through various surveys, interviews and other evidence, the authors have shown that somehow the whole system is designed or exists in a way that makes it really impossible for the poor to come out of the vicious circle of poverty. For instance, they don’t have access to formal banking institutions and if they have, they have to pay higher interest rates, they don’t have any fallback option in the condition of shocks like demonetization or the recent lockdown, poor children are not wanted in schools unless they show some exceptional capabilities and also forced to drop out, they don’t have faith in the public health system because of the combination of beliefs as well as psychological sunk cost effect. And because of all these things, the poor may become skeptical about supposed opportunities and the possibility of any radical change in their lives, and also since they suffer from low depression, they lack the capacity to make sound decisions. And the vicious circle continues.

However, it’s not all doomsday scenario as the authors have also provided ways that can be used to bring about substantial change in the lives of the people. The fundamental argument of the authors is that ‘it is not always necessary to fundamentally change the institutions to bring about any positive difference rather change can also happen at the margin.’ According to the authors, though they didn’t find any magic bullet, they certainly found out few ways to improve the lives of the poor:

  1. Poor lack of credible information. So there is a need for innovative, credible, and simple information campaigns to make people aware of various schemes and their benefits and also their rights.
  2. Use the default options and nudges to enforce positive behaviors as they don’t have enough time & resources to think about themselves to make decisions.
  3. There are reasons like moral hazards, adverse selection, and lack of self-control that prevent markets to exist for the poor.
  4. Policies are failed in poor countries because of three Is-Ideology, Inertia and Ignorance and there is a need to realize the fact that change can also happen at the margin.
  5. There is a need to change the expectations of people. There was evidence that when villagers in remote areas of Karnataka got to know that girls can get jobs if they are skilled in computers, they started sending their girls to school.

Not only this, micro-credit, better education for their children, good jobs, insurance against health & weather disasters, social safety-net and minimum income support can help the poor to get out of the trap. And these small initiatives will bring a little bit of hope and comfort in their lives which will give them strength and courage to think about their future. However, as even authors of this book agree that there is a lot more to know and understand regarding the lives of people. The authors talked about all the basic problems that keep the poor in the vicious circle and what can be done and how we should not reduce all the problems to the same set of general principles. The time has come to listen the poor and the understand the logic of their choices.

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Finding Meaning in Life!!

“The salvation of man is through love and in love”

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”- Nietzsche

The human mind is an enigma. It’s nearly impossible to understand the complexity of the human mind. I feel we create assumptions, theories and try to predict the nature of human beings but we can never be one hundred percent certain what’s going on in someone’s mind. I might be wrong. But till now my experiences of extremity in my life, readings of Behavioral sciences/self-help books, and also studying a little bit of psychology make me think like this. One of my aunts who did post-graduation in psychology also narrated various stories to me in my childhood that made me believe mystifying nature of the human mind.

The recent passing away of Sushant Singh Rajput will always be a riddle because no one knows what was going on in his bright mind. Why would he do something like this? When he was like an inspiration to the younger generation and also quite intelligent, driven, hardworking, passionate about his work. Then how he didn’t find one reason to make his life meaningful at that moment when he felt broken from inside. Why did he feel emptiness and meaninglessness in his life? By the way, I am not here to comment on his life. Because even I also used to look up to him as an inspiration. The author of this book and Sushant Singh Rajput had one common thing. They both quoted Nietzsche. The author has used the above-mentioned quote( “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”) many times in the book. The main message of this book is hidden in this quote. If we have found out our ‘why’ to live, we can survive any circumstances in our life.

The author narrates his personal experience living as a prisoner in a concentration camp during the Holocaust period and makes the reader believe that whatever conditions and circumstances you face in your life, it’s up to you how you respond to it. It’s up to you not to give up and have hope. Because “You cannot control what happens to you in life. but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you,says the author. As the author kept himself alive and also kept himself hopeful, thinking about his wife and meeting her again and also dreamt of giving lectures about the psychological sessions to be learned from the Auschwitz experience.

As per the author’s finding, life is a quest for meaning and not a quest for pleasure or power as believed by Freud and Alfred Adler respectively. There are three sources of meaning to life, according to the author:

  • In work-doing something significant
  • In love-care for another person or by experiencing something; love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire for
  • In courage-in difficult time; the attitude we take towards unavoidable suffering

This book has tremendously changed my perspective on life, love, suffering, and courage. Your work/passion can be the reason for your happiness and you don’t have to run for it, you have to dedicate yourself towards it. The author has a unique perspective on love. He was deeply in love with his wife even when he was not aware of her whereabouts or sure about her being alive. Because loving someone can be the reason for your life and you don’t need that person physically present or even alive to love that person, tells the author.

His thoughts about ‘suffering’ take you on a spiritual journey. If life has a meaning, then there must be a meaning in suffering. And if suffering has a meaning or a reason, it will not remain as suffering. I don’t know what best example I can give for this but somehow, when I was preparing for Civil services, It was really tough emotionally and financially both but I still remember those days as one of the best days of my life because I had one reason: I was chasing my dream. And no power on earth can take that ‘experience’ from me even if I didn’t get final selection in that examination even after appearing for interview twice.

“That which does not kill me makes me stronger.”

Nietzsche

And the best thing about suffering as told by the author is that we can never fathom someone else’s suffering because the size of human suffering is absolutely relative. But the most amazing thing is that a tiny thing/incident can give you the greatest joys of your life.

I really can’t compare this current pandemic to the situation of concentration camps but an analogy can definitely be drawn. Even in a terrible situation like living in a concentration camp when you never know when you will be sent to gas chambers, the author kept himself sane. Similarly, surviving during this pandemic is quite hard for everyone because it has turned everyone’s life upside down. However, this is the time we need to have the courage to survive and maybe narrate the ordeals of this pandemic to our future generations or to fulfill our dreams.

So the crux of this seven-decade old book is that “never-give-up” and keep faith in any kind of situation because it’s you who is in charge and it’s you who can control how you respond to that particular situation. Because as the author shows through his experience of dealing with patients, his fellow prisoners, and also with people who had attempted ‘self-harm’ in past that there is a close linkage between loss of hope and the state of immunity of the body and how it can have a lethal effect on your body. In the last few pages of his book, he also talks about his logo-therapy which literally means ‘to find a meaning in one’s life’ and how this therapy re-humanized psychiatry and became the third stream of psychotherapy.

If you have not found ‘meaning’ still in this blog, let me make it more clear to you: It’s us who have to change our ‘attitude’ towards life and it really does not matter what we expect from our life but rather what life expects from us. It’s us who will have to give meaning to our lives by taking the responsibility in finding the right answers to our quest to live.

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What matters in the End?

“Death is inevitable; Each moment is precious; Nothing matters in the End”

Recently, in a light conversation, I said, “We all are going to die” in the context of this dreaded pandemic. I could see the expression of people disliking that comment because no one wants to talk about death in our society. Death is seen as inauspicious. We all want to live in a fantasy and don’t want to think that we all have limited time. This thinking has repercussions not only on our health but also on our future. As the author says, “how we seek to spend our time may depend on how much time we perceive you will live forever.”

This book is actually about the experience of death and how the medical system has failed to understand what it means to deal with a finite life and make final years a joyful experience. Do we forget the inevitability of death and the fleeting nature of life? When we become old, we don’t want to talk about death, we talk about living.

The beauty of this book is that it has been written by a surgeon who is also a professor at Harvard Medical School. This book has his personal accounts of dealing with terminal patients and also the death of his own father. The author has shown how the medical system has failed to educate the medical professionals about aging, frailty, or dying. Gawande speaks about the failure of medical system in informing or educating a patient about his condition? There is need to understand how the whole process unfolds and how does it make an impact on people around them.

I remember even I didn’t understand the meaning of death, and what does death means to me till someone close died in my family. The problem with us as a society is that we teach everyone, not so important things – earn a lot of money, build a big house, clear all damn exams existing in the world by memorizing all formulas, cram an entire dictionary for that GRE examination and also prepare to go abroad and earn a shit loads of money. But no one teaches us how we should live our lives. What is the meaning of death? And especially, when we become old, we don’t know what we are fighting for. What are our priorities? What are the trade-offs we are willing to make? We don’t discuss what are our fears/hope for the future. What are we willing to sacrifice? What are we willing to lose?

How care of the elderly has changed from ‘multi-generational systems support’ provided by the family to institutionalized nursing homes in our times. Modern nursing homes act as prisons. Elderly don’t feel good in these homes. They feel restricted and chained in these nursing homes. Old people living here always felt the longing for being at home where they can have their privacy.

We are so engrossed in living this life that we forget to ask the question what’s the purpose of our lives? Did we ever ask this question to ourselves? What makes life worth living when we will become old and unable to care for ourselves? To answer this question, the author discusses psychologist Abraham Maslow‘s influential paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation” which is depicted in the form of a pyramid and talks about the hierarchy of needs of people. According to Maslow, ‘safety’ and ‘survival’ remain the primary and fundamental goals of our life even in our old age.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

People in old age focus on being rather than doing and they live in ‘the present than the future’. Old age generally functions at the peak of this pyramid and focuses on ‘self-actualization.’ “Living is a kind of skill. The calm and wisdom of old are achieved over time,” says the author. As per various experiments (discussed in this book by the author) conducted during some crises like the 9/11 attacks, the SARS epidemic 2003, etc., old and young both valued the bliss of life and focused on being rather than doing. This might be true for the current pandemic also. People these days from of all generation are slowly realizing the meaning of life.

This book also shows the results of experiments of assisted living done on various old people where they were given small freedoms in terms of taking care of plants, spending time with a cat, a dog or a bird, etc., helped them to live a longer life. The most important finding of the experiment was “having a reason to live” which reduced the death rate. Harvard Philosopher Josiah Royce in his book, “The Philosophy of Loyalty,” inform us that people seek a cause beyond themselves. That cause could be anything: it can be small or very big. ‘We all require devotion to something more than ourselves for our lives to be endurable.’

The only way death is not meaningless is to see yourself as part of something greater: a family, a community, a society. If you don’t, mortality is only a horror. But if you do, it is not.

Josiah Royce(The Philosophy of Loyalty)

The biggest problem in the medical sector is that they never focused on the well-being of the people, rather they focused on physical health. They concentrated on repair of body parts and not the nurturing of the human soul. Not only medical field but the society as a whole needs to understand this, as people grow old and become aware of their fleeting life, they are more interested in writing the story of their lives and believe in living in the moment.

Amid this pandemic, there is a need to remember our old traditions of the ‘art of dying’ and accept death and decline as normal and eternal truth. We must accept our lives of old age that will come along with sickness, frailty, isolation. Ultimately, we will need the support and care of others. We would rather spend last days of our lives with our family members than in ICU. In a nutshell, Gawande has said a lot of things about life and death and most importantly how medical science/field can correct the wrong committed till today not accepting the inevitability of old age and death in this book. Acceptance will lead to finding solutions that can make old people’s lives better and joyful in their last days.

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‘Pursuit of Happiness’ in a Classroom

Education is meaningless without happiness” – Manish Sisodia
Image Credit: Clicked by me

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony”

Mahatma Gandhi

It took one microorganism to make us aware of the fleeting nature of this life. There is a sense of realization among all of us about a lot of things. How all of us were just running a rat race to reach somewhere which we didn’t even know? We wanted to be productive 24*7 and 365 days of the year. We were collecting all material resources but we didn’t have enough time to experience the pleasure of those things. The current lockdown forced us to slow down. This pandemic made us realize the value of happiness, satisfaction and living our life in the moment. This whole crisis is reminding us to be sensitive towards other human beings, nature and, especially towards our own lives.

However, a lot of us are not happy now. When things were so-called normal, we had other problems to talk about. Now in this ‘new normal’, we are not happy because our movement is restricted, we are not able to go out and do whatever we want. As per the World Happiness Report 2020, India was ranked 144 out of 156 countries. Why Indians do not perceive themselves to be happy? What is the reason behind it? Did we ever learn about happiness in our schools or colleges? Did someone from our family ever talked about happiness or being mindful of our thoughts and emotions?

Though whenever we touched the feet of our elders, they told us to ‘be happy’, no one taught us how to be happy and what is happiness and what needs to be done to achieve happiness. We realize the value of happiness as we grow or when we face some difficult phases in our life or maybe some people might be realizing the value of happiness during this lock down amid the unprecedented corona virus pandemic.

Nevertheless, the Delhi government’s experiment to start a happiness class in schools for class I to VIII has not only inspired the other Indian states but also other countries. During the recent visit by the US President, the first lady Millenia Trump visited one of the schools of Delhi government. She attended the happiness class and found it “very inspiring”. This book tells the story of Delhi education model. It’s written by the education minister and the Deputy Chief Minister of the Delhi government. Written in a very simple language, he covers all the radical reforms as well as innovative ideas taken by his team. He, along with his colleagues Atishi Marlena and Shailendra Sharma took this experiment of bringing radical reforms in the education system of the Delhi government.

These reforms are holistic as it covered almost every aspect be it infrastructure, allocation of the budget towards the education sector, empowering the principal to appoint estate managers and providing high- quality training to teachers, engaging parents through mega-Parents-Teacher Meetings(PTM) and School Management Committee(SMC) , and most importantly creating the education model of coexistence through happiness classes and entrepreneurship mindset curriculum.

Starting a happiness class with a curriculum in a government school of India is a path-breaking step by the Delhi government towards pursuing contentment not only as a State but as a nation. Happiness curriculum is based on the “co existential thought” (Madhasth Darshan) inspired by education philosopher A Nagraj. This thought is based on understanding all aspects of life, including spiritual, intellectual behaviour, and material. The idea is to address the mental and emotional needs of the children by creating a stimulating environment through mindfulness, critical thinking, story-telling, and activity-based discussions where children reflect on their thoughts and reactions scientifically. Through these processes, the child becomes self-aware and also towards family, society, and its surroundings.

Anecdotal evidence shows that there has been noticeable changes happening among the children. Behavior of students is changing towards their teachers and parents. They are becoming inquisitive towards learning other subjects. This book mentions some interesting anecdotes from happiness class. One child started asking his mother if there is any food for her before eating dinner and one kid became aware of his father’s financial situation and stopped asking for an expensive school bag.

It is so ironic for us as a society as well as a nation that we teach our children mathematics, science, history, geography, economics, business, etc, but we never teach them how to be happy, how to be mindful of our thoughts, how to critically analyze any issue before making any judgement and how to live in harmony with nature. We learned how to make money but we don’t know how to live our lives with satisfaction and enjoyment because it’s not about material things, a high paying job or, a big house we have but its about how we do feel inside? Are we able to understand our emotions? Why are we feeling what we are feeling?

Amid this pandemic leading to this moment of reflection, we as a family, as a society and as a nation need to realize the value of inculcating happiness, self-awareness, satisfaction, and how to live in harmony with nature. So, this is the moment we should start pursuing the feeling of happiness forever as an individual, as a family, as a society, and as a nation.

This blog has been republished by The Arm Chair Journal. Please find the link here.

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The Quarantine Tree of Happiness

P.C.: Minaxi; Image only for Representation Purpose

It’s been a while since ‘new normal’ is ‘actual normal’. Everyone is living a life that none of us had ever imagined. A lot of things have changed, and are changing along with each passing day, which makes me wonder whether or not this world is going to be better or the same.

Life in quarantine is difficult for many people due to various reasons yet for few this came as a blessing. People who never had time to live in the moment are realizing what it means to live in the moment. Students, who complained of shorter holidays are now enjoying a long break. Some are happy, but some are having second thoughts about the unforeseen future, yet each one of us is living, learning, or longing for things to be alright and back to normalcy.

A few years back, I met someone who gave me profound advice on how to be happy and grateful for everything you have, close your eyes and remember about a place, person or perspective that made you believe in something which you otherwise have never thought off, which made you smile even for a second or taken you somewhere, far away from your self. You are, what you make others feel about themselves.

And the big question is how to nurture your tree of happiness during this quarantine period? Why not all of us plant a sapling or bury some seeds and remember this lock down as something extraordinary, which happened to make us realize the importance of intangible feelings and emotions we have forgotten long back. I know, for some people this won’t be possible due to various constraints, but for those it is feasible they have this chance and can surely go for it and do it. Somewhere down the line, from now when we look back and realize what we did was something meaningful for the life and to mother nature, even when everything was gloomy and uncertain, the memory of our quarantine tree and its leaves would shine and beam through our thoughts and give us the feeling of sustainability worth cherishing.

Make a list of all the happy places you have been or planning to go gives you a sense of belonging to that particular place, time, and thought. Happiness binds you to the places you want to be. Rejoicing is a choice, a story which brings a tear of happiness in your eyes, a movie or play that makes you wonder, a child whose glimpse makes your day delightful, a cup of tea which brings the smile on your face, the smell of your garden, the fragrance of old perfume, the box of un-posted letters, the magic of invisibility of everything that you think in a day is amazing and is what happiness looks like.

The most important thing is to become “mindfulness of your thoughts and feelings”. If you are aware of your emotions and feelings, the process of being happy has started. There are no lesson plans, or theorems needed for happiness, or its learning outcomes, happiness is simply the treasure of your heart and how large it can be for others who can not do anything for you, a single stroke of happiness transforms everything in life, and the thread of happy feelings often weaves the best warmer to wrap around your thoughts. Taking examples of happiness are ways of telling you that nothing can deter your power if you decide What happiness means to you, and Where you truly find it, irrespective of its kind, that is Material, Behavioural, Intellectual or Experiential, based on Modal of Happiness as proposed by A. Nagaraj (1999). So the most important thing is to become ‘mindfulness of your thoughts and your feelings’

Humans have a significant capacity to transform their thoughts into invigorated learning and reach out to millions of others needing your help to be happy.

“Choose happiness above everything else, not because you have better things to do but things will be better, if you are contented and truly happy from within. Seeking happiness leads you to yourself and virtues of life which gives you clarity of thoughts and rationality of emotions.”

Stay happy and preach happiness.
Be fortunate enough and thankful for your happy thoughts which travels all through you.
Show gratitude, when you can not do anything else.
Stay humble and choose kindness.
Be buoyant.
2020 will bring out sanguine hope of thinking.

Guest Post: This blog is authored by Minaxi. She is a research scholar in education. She is a very close friend of mine. This blog has been edited by Ritambhara. All views expressed are personal.

Why Political Science & IR is the best optional for UPSC?

The pursuit of knowing was freedom to me, the right to declare your own curiosities and follow them through all manner of books. I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free. Slowly, I was discovering myself.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Many civil services aspirants reached out to me to share my experience about taking Political Science and International Relations as the optional subject for my civil services preparation. I gave the mains examination thrice with Political Science and International Relations optional and qualified twice for the interview. I feel that Political Science and International Relations is one of the best optional subjects for anyone appearing for Civil Services Examination. So, I am not coercing anyone to take this optional and it absolutely depends on the person’s own interest and ideas. In this blog post, I will be talking about the pros and cons of taking Political Science and International Relations:

PROS:

  • It helps you to prepare for the General Studies paper also as the syllabus of this optional overlaps with General Studies Paper I, II, and IV
  • Taking this optional means that you have to read not only Modern history, World history, Indian Politics but also International Relations
  • The Political Theory section of this optional makes you think about ethical and philosophical issues which are helpful in Ethics, Integrity & Aptitude paper. It also helps you in answer writing
  • Reading Political Science & IR also helps you to understand the context of things happening in and around the world. It also helps you interlink concepts and understand things in a better manner
  • The best advantage of taking Political Science & IR is that it also helps you during interview preparation

CONS:

  • This optional is quite vast and you need to read a lot to have a solid grip on this paper
  • If you are not a regular reader of the newspapers, you will find it difficult to prepare for this optional paper
  • For some people, the Political theory part is boring as it is very theoretical. It makes you difficult to ace in the first paper.

Please also read the posts below where I list the important books on Modern India, Indian Government & Politics and Comparative Politics & International Relations:

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India and the World

“India is a country harder to describe than to explain, and easier to explain than to understand and also India is a place for seeking, not concluding”

Anand Giridharadas (2009)

Review of Globalization of World Politics: This is one of the most amazing books I have ever read on international relations. This is a very thick book of more than 500 pages and looks quite heavy from outside. But if you are an IR geek, you will absolutely love this book and will not put it down till you finish reading it. And if you are preparing for civil services and your optional subject is ‘Political Science and International Relations’, this book will help you to cover the second part of this paper and also help in fetching good marks. Most importantly, this book helped me to build a strong understanding of IR concepts. This book is divided into five parts: The historical context, Theories of world politics, Structures and Processes, International issues, and Globalization in the future. My most favorites are ‘Theories of world politics’ and ‘International issues’ sections. Theories of world politics discuss realism, liberalism, neorealism, Marxism, post-colonialism, etc. in a very detailed manner and the beauty of international issues section is that it took one important issue and entwine its’ trajectory with international relations that help you to see these issues from a unique angle. For instance- culture in world affairs and terrorism & globalization.

Review of Global Politics: This book is very similar to the Globalization of world politics but the style of writing is very different as it’s written by Andrew Heywood. I would suggest reading both books because both give a very different perspective on same issues. This book is also very useful and insightful if you are an IR geek or preparing for civil services. I can bet that all those news articles related to foreign issues will make more sense if you have already read these books.

Review of Does the Elephant dance?: This is one of the best books I ever read on Indian Foreign Policy. David Malone served as the High Commissioner of Canada to India from 2006 to 2008. Though this book came out in 2010, it is still relevant because the author has deeply examined how the Indian history, culture, internal domestic politics has an important role to play in India’s relations with other countries. This book is quite comprehensive where the author has dealt with India’s relations with all its neighbors as well as the USA, China, West Asia, East Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America and Russia. I really found the last chapter- “The Evolution of Indian Multilateral ism: From High Ground to High Table” of this book quite interesting where the author has written about India’s evolution from idealist moralizer to the often-pragmatic deal maker and how India’s soft power has an important role to play in the philosophy of Indian multilateralism.

“Indian diplomacy is like the love-making of an elephant: it is conducted at a very high level, accompanied by much bellowing, and the results are not known for two years”- A veteran diplomat

Review of Pax Indica: This book came in the year 2012 when I was in full preparation mode for civil services examination. And it also came just after David Malone’s book Does the Elephant dance? So it was a kind of continuation read on Indian Foreign Policy with all updated facts. Except for the last chapter, other chapters are the same thing as in other books on relation of India vis, a vis other countries, and obviously in a super-refined language of Shashi Tharoor. In the last chapter, he talks about ‘multi-alignment’ as a grand strategy for India in the 21st century. According to the author, the name of the book Pax Indica has no similarity to Pax Romana or Pax Britannica rather it must be built and sustained on the principles and norms that India holds dear at home and abroad.

Review of Challenge and Strategy: This was the first book I read on Indian foreign policy when I started preparing for Civil services examination. Rajiv Sikri was an Indian diplomat with more than 36 years with Indian Foreign Service and though this book is quite old and a lot of things have happened in Indian foreign policy since this book was written. However, as this book has been written by a seasoned diplomat, it gives you a lot of insights of India’s relations with other countries and especially focuses on policies and strategies that can be used by Indian diplomats and policymakers to make India a major player at the International level.

Miscellaneous Books/Reading Materials: And even if you read all books related to IR in the world and have not read IGNOUs booklets, then I would suggest stop reading this blog and go download all IGNOU materials right now. And one more very important thing, you need to read the history of India and the world before plunging into the field of International Relations because as someone said:

“Know the history of these countries before getting to know their relations.”

I will also suggest one nice strategy for everyone whoever is trying to understand any concept in totality, then must not stick to one book rather explore all kinds of books, articles, newspapers, magazines, etc. written on that topic. Please find some of the books/magazines/newspapers below I referred during my preparation:

  1. The Hindu ( follow Suhasini Haider) and it’s Foreign Affairs page
  2. Indian Express and it’s coverage on international issues
  3. World Focus magazines
  4. Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA) policy briefs and articles are must-read to understand strategic perspective
  5. International Relations by Aneek Chaterjee: Only a few topics(Decision-making theory, Systems Theory) from this.

I always believed that India as a nation had something unique. As a birth-place of Buddha, Gandhi, and Ambedkar, India has shown and will always show the path of peace, harmony and also live up to the spirit of the philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam’. I will end with this beautiful quote by Mark Twain.

“India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. Our most valuable and most artistic materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only!”

Mark Twain, writer, America

Please also read the posts below where I list the important books, I read on Modern India and Indian Government & Politics below:

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Indian Government and Politics

If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions, I should Point to India.

Max Mueller (German Scholar)

Indian Polity: M Laxmikant: Indian Polity by Laxmikant is the bible for UPSC aspirants. It is not only helpful for prelims but also helpful for mains examination. Indian Government and Politics section of the Political Science & International Relations (PSIR) require you to be aware of all constitutional provisions. Most importantly, you have to be aware of the current happenings of Indian politics and constantly try to see the bigger picture and what happened in the history of Indian politics with respect to that particular issue. For instance: If President’s rule is declared in some states, you should know under what article of the Constitution of India , it is declared and what is the Supreme Court judgement on President’s rule and what is something about this particular president’s rule.

Indian Government and Politics: B L Fadia: This book by B L Fadia is a kind of guide book for the section on Indian Government and Politics. It almost covers the whole syllabus. It is a quite methodical and full of text, so it can help you to summarize or to have many view points on a particular issue. However, the book is quite boring.

Indian Government and Politics: A S Narang: This book is very similar to B L Fadia’s book. However, two things are different: one is that the book is quite old, so it is not updated as per current happenings and the second thing is that the writing style is totally different as compared to the B L Fadia’s book. Just have this book to get an idea of how the author has written on a particular issue. It’s not compulsory to buy.

Series of Books by Subhash Kashyap: Subhash Kashyap is a well known political scientist, India Constitution expert and a distinguished scholar and a writer. He has written extensively on parliament, the constitution of India and Indian political system. His books on Indian Constitution and Parliament gives you a lucid perspective on legal and political issues which helps in writing answers for mains examination. I would highly recommend reading these books if anyone has taken PSIR as an optional for the Civil Services Examination.

The Constitution of India: P M Bakshi: This book has all the acts of the Constitution along with the important cases. Keep this book with you whenever you want to refer some important case related to any specific article of the Constitution of India.

The Oxford Companion to Politics in India: Niraja Gopal Jayal & Pratap Bhanu Mehta This book is very important and highly recommended. It can help you to analyze the important issues of Indian politics. This book is divided into eight parts comprehensively covering all important issues starting from the institutions, the society, political processes, ideological contestations, social movements, political economy and different ways of looking at Indian Politics. I would recommend this book reading as many times as you can and if possible also make notes from this book that will be useful for revision just before the mains examination.

Miscellaneous: (Highly Recommended) : The Indian Government and Politics section of the PSIR optional is quite dynamic and also need a lot of analysis and interlinking of many concepts for better understanding. So, I will also recommend reading unconventional books on Indian politics, history and memoirs or autobiography of politicians to understand the political dynamics and the nuances of Indian politics.

  • NCERT Books on Indian Politics, Democracy and Constitution of India
  • IGNOU Notes on Indian Government and Politics
  • Read 2-3 newspapers daily. The Hindu, The Indian Express, Times of India
  • Watch Rajya Sabha Debates. Big Picture and also the Samvidhhan series
  • Watch out important Supreme Court judgements
  • Check out the PRS website for all new bills, Standing committee reports and their summaries

Please find my other blogs on Political Science and International Relations here:

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My Journey through Modern India

Review of India’s Struggle for Independence This was my first history book which I read during civil services preparation. It’s an interesting read with nice anecdotes, stories and, quotes weaved into small chapters. This book is an easy read. It can be easily finished if someone targets to read one or two chapters in a day. Since Bipin Chandra, the main author of this book, is a historian with a left-leaning perspective, he gives a one-sided picture of the modern India. This book is special as it made me aware of the freedom struggle for India’s Independence.

Review of Modern India: This is a book on India’s freedom struggle written from a subaltern perspective. This perspective challenges the elite perspective of Indian nationalism and has been critical of Congress driven nationalism. Sumit Sarkar has narrated the story of Indian nationalism from the perspective of masses. Though a different perspective, I found this book a little tedious. However, it is a must-read if someone wants to understand the history from the perspective of masses.

Review of From Plassey to Partition: A History of Modern India: This book changed my perspective of reading history books. It made me realize that history is written by the writers and not the victors. The whole concept of historiography is so important if someone is reading history or trying to make any conclusions from the history book. Writers write history based on the information available and also interpret the historical event from their own lenses. However, this book is a piece of art. I found it very unbiased, quite nuanced with a lot of details, and thousands of citations as if you are reading a research paper. This book makes you understand with a lot of clarity the conflicting questions present in our politics. For instance- How Indian masses were hardly in sync with the leadership of Congress at the national level? The concept of popular consciousness was absent. Local grievances and the local leadership played an important role in any national movement started at that time. Indian national movement was very vague so that each group could interpret it in their own ways. This book is a must-read for all history lovers. The first few chapters are little dense but slowly you will not feel like putting the book down.

Review of Social Background of Indian Nationalism: This is also one of the best books ever written on Modern India. As the title depicts, this book is written from a social perspective. Someone should read this book to understand how did feudalism evolve in Indian society? How did new classes emerge? What was the role of means of transport and modern education in the development of Indian nationalism? What were the factors which played an important role in the crusade against the caste system and untouchability?

Review of India After Gandhi: This book is very special to me because it was a gift from Chaitanya. It was a superb read. I read this book in 2012 and finished it in 15-20 days. It has around 1000 pages but I wanted to finish it as early as possible. This book was unputdownable. It was one of the best books I ever read. Reading this book created a kind for urgency to me to read more books if you want to get selected for civil services. Since then I never stopped reading non-fiction books. Ram Chandra Guha, the author of the book has so vividly narrated the story of post-Independence India that it feels like you are watching a movie. It also helps you in understanding the current day politics because whatever is happening, it has its background in history. This book is a masterpiece and one of the best books to know about the post-independence history of India. It tries to answer some difficult questions like Why India has survived as well as succeeded as a nation despite having huge diversity and differences? However, the author has also been criticized as being pro-congress in depicting the post-independence history and politics.

Review of India since Independence: This book is similar to India After Gandhi by different authors. Some chapters of the book explaining the consolidation of India as a Nation and Land Reforms are very insightful. However, this book is written in academic form rather than like a story. It might not be an easy read but if someone wants to understand the left perspective of Indian politics since Independence, this is one of the best books.

Review of Modern Indian History: This book is like a guide book to help you remember all the historical events and helps you write better and structured answers for modern India history questions. The best thing about this book I liked is that it has created separate chapters for different Governor Generals of India, and the events happened during their tenure that makes you clearly remember different acts and treaties signed between British India and different rulers of that time.

Till today, I only remember reading these books on Modern and Post-Independence India. When I read more books or remember my old books, will update this blog. Till then, keep reading guys!!

Nowhere to go….

“As If I was tasting life for the first time, the magical side of it”

The year 2020 has turned out to be the worst year in recent times. There is so much grief these days around the world that it seems I don’t remember when last time things were normal. A celebrated actor Irfan Khan died today and It left me heartbroken. I felt like losing someone from my family. I couldn’t concentrate on anything for the whole day. He was an actor par excellence. His acting was effortless. I will always remember him for his magic created on celluloid. May he rests in peace.

People are dying because of the dreaded Coronavirus disease. Migrants are walking for thousands of kilometers to reach their homes. Some died due to hunger and exhaustion. Many people are stuck in different cities away from their parents and family members. Some want to visit their loved ones but they can’t, because of the severe lockdown imposed in our country. People are depressed and lonely these days.

This crisis has turned people’s lives upside down. I am sure many people have lost everything because of this crisis. We might be able to build our economy but we will not be able to bring back this lost time and people’s lives. If you listen to experts, things are not going to be normal so soon. This epidemic is going to be a long haul. Physical distancing/Social distancing is going to be the “new normal”. The world is not going to be the same again.

When people say time heals everything, I feel they say it to console others. We never forget our loved ones who lost their lives. That pain never goes. Just that we don’t want to show it to the world and we want to look strong. We remember the person at every moment of our life without making any sound as if everything is going on smoothly. We don’t even want to tell ourselves that something is broken inside us. Sometimes we are angry with the person who left us in this cruel world to survive. We try to find out his/her mistakes so that we can say that this person was not good enough to deserve our love just to console ourselves.

But nothing really stops in this world. As someone said, ‘no matter how bad your heart is broken, the world does not stop for your grief‘. We have to move on hiding that pain in the darkest and smallest corner of our heart so that no one else can see. Death is the truth. It reminds us almost every time not to forget that this life is ephemeral. We should live this life fully and we should move on and be hopeful in life. I will end this with Imaran sir’s dialogue:

“I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye”

Irfan Khan(Life of Pi)

Book Review of Capital

“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics”.

Plutarch
Migrants returning to their home walking hundreds of km due to lock down declared by the government due to corona virus crisis.

The present migrant crisis in India is a stark reminder of the economic inequities existing in our society. When rich and middle-class people are spending their time in the comfort of their homes doing various activities, poor and marginalized migrants are walking for a hundred thousand kilometres to reach their homes. Some also died on the way because of hunger and exhaustion. In this context, I thought to write a short review of the book, “The Capital” by Thomas Piketty. How income inequalities are going to hurt us in the longer-term unless some concrete steps are not taken by the State and its people.

I never read the whole book but managed to give a paper presentation on it in my final year of public policy course. Whatever critics say, this book has brought the issue of income inequality at the forefront. Income inequality is not only an issue based on some statistics but also it’s a moral issue that will always pinch the conscience of the people. This book became popular since it got published. Piketty also hailed as “the Modern Marx” by “The Economist” magazine. He is a French economist who also taught at MIT for two years. His major work is a compilation of historical data about economic inequality. He is critical of economics discipline.

“To put it bluntly, the discipline of economics has yet to get over its childish passion for mathematics and for purely theoretical and often highly ideological speculation at the expense of historical research and collaboration with the other social sciences.”

Thomas Piketty-The Capital in 21st Century

The core concern of the book is to put the issue of inequality in its broader historical context. The author’s main argument is that in an economy where the rate of return on capital outstrips the rate of growth, inherited wealth will always grow faster than earned wealth. He also adds that the concentration of wealth at one level is incompatible to democracy and social justice.

The history of the distribution of wealth has always been deeply political, and it cannot be reduced to purely economic mechanisms.

Thomas Piketty-The Capital in 21st Century

He rejects the Simon Kuznets hypothesis which says that though societies become more unequal in the first stages of industrialization, inequality reduces as they achieve maturity. However, Piketty does not think like that. According to him, demography, low taxation and weak labor organizations will fundamentally lead to greater inequality.

The author feels that unless we do something, ‘free-market economy’ will become a ‘patrimonial system’ with an entrenched hereditary upper class and the rest of the population. He is highly critical of higher compensation paid to senior executives of MNCs that is responsible for extreme inequality in the wake of 2008 financial crisis. To save the world from this ‘doomsday scenario’, the author proposes various measures namely a global tax on inherited wealth, changes in income taxes, use of inflation to redistribute wealth downwards and also enforced transparency of banks.

His paper -,“Indian income inequality, 1922-2014: From British Raj to Billionaire Raj”? co-authored with Lucas Chancel argues that income inequality was highest in India in 2014 since the creation of Indian Income -tax in 1922. They concluded that the top 1 percent earners in 2014 earned 22% of India’s national income. Though there are various counter- arguments to it. Jagdish Bhagwati & Arvind Pangariya refuted this argument in their book, ‘Why growth matters’. Swaminath Aiyar also disapproved of his idea of stark inequality in India in one of his articles on the grounds of statistics and his failure to distinguish between different kinds of inequality.

Thomas Piketty’s hypothesis criticized by many economists. According to them, his approach to economics is anti-mathematical. As per the paper, “Income Inequality, Catastrophe Predictions, Thomas Piketty, How income and economic unit are defined can create significant differences in the data produced and in the interpretation of the data? For instance, Stephen Rose and Thomas Piketty reached different conclusions about the status of the middle class based on the definition of income and economic unit. Generally, there is no correlation between increasing income inequality and general welfare. His use of tax records to approximate income is convenient and allows easy comparison across different countries and at different times and he also not considered the social security payments as part of his data.

Though income inequality is a complicated issue, Piketty’s biggest contribution is to elevate the income inequality issue to the forefront of both public and scholarly attention. Whatever is the reason behind stark inequality existing in society, the issue of inequality will always be debated as a moral issue.


Why Money Heist (La casa de Papel) is so popular ?

“This is about Resistance and love”

I always enjoyed watching crime shows because it allowed me to see the evil side of human beings. One of my friends suggested me to watch Money heist. This quarantine period gave me enough time to binge-watch this series in 3-4 days. It was so addictive that I don’t even remember anything doing except watching this series. Now my phone ringtone is the intro song( I don’t care at all) of this series. And for Bella ciao theme song, I have no words. Despite not knowing the meaning of the song, I am not able to get over this song. I listen to this song everyday and possibly listened it more than 100 times till now, researched about it, found out its meaning and what has been the history behind this song. What was the purpose behind using this song in the La casa de Papel. This song needs a separate blog post altogether.

La casa de Papel aka Money Heist has achieved many milestones. It is the most-watched non-English series of the Netflix and 3rd most popular show on IMDB . There is also a documentary on Netflix exploring the phenomenon of Money Heist. I did a lot of research to understand why it has become so popular in the world? Many protests around the world are influenced by this series where people used Dali masks and protested against their governments. For instance- students protested against new financial reform in the year 2018 in Italy.

People can have different interpretations of this series. However, I see this series purely as resistance against the establishment/system which made it extremely popular. As the creator of the series Alex Pina also adds that the idea of rising against the system is ingrained in the series.

“To rise up against the system is reckless and idealistic – [it’s] Don Quixote! -Alex Pina

The conversation between our favourite El Professor, the leader of the band of robbers code-named after major cities and police inspector Raquel Murillo about “printing money” at the Royal Mint of Spain shows the aversion towards the capitalistic system. He tells that they are only printing money and not stealing, which is also done by the governments around the world that is called “liquidity injections”. No one questions the system on what basis they are printing more money? This is so true. Various Central Banks around the world do this in the name of “Quantitative Easing” to increase money supply thereby encouraging lending and investment. And then comes the “robin-hood” role played by these robbers who want to emerge as the messiah to the poor and subalterns by dropping some money from the sky.

Symbols used in the series are real-life symbols used as the ‘symbol of resistance’ at some point in history. Red jumpsuit, Dali mask, and Bella ciao have historical significance. The red color is a symbol of revolution and its also a colour of Marxist ideology. Dali mask was created by a famous Spanish artist Salvador Dali. A lot of his work was emerged during Zurich’s Dada movement that was about rejecting the modern capitalist system. Masks have been used around the world to show solidarity with others. As per Aidan Mac Garry, political scientist, “the masks have become anti-establishment trope wielded by ordinary people to register their dissatisfaction with the ideas and policies of the political elite”.

Bella ciao(Goodbye Beautiful) is an Italian folk song that was used as an anthem against fascist resistance during the second world war. But the beautiful thing about this song is that it has been used by migrants while crossing Mediterranean and protesters against the capitalistic governments. Recently Italians started singing Bella Ciao to show solidarity with corona warriors fighting to save the lives of the people in this deadliest pandemic.

According to me, the most important reason for this series’ popularity is the feeling of love among its flawed characters. Either it was love between Tokyo and Rio or between El Professor and Inspector Raquel (later renamed as Lisbon when she joins the band) or Nairobi and Helsinki or Denver and Monica or Palmero and Berlin. As Nairobi says, to love you need courage,the attachment between Nairobi and Helsinki was very touching as it was not a physical but psychological bonding. In a way it was courageous as Helsinki plays a gay character. That moment, when Helsinki plays the mouth organ when Nairobi’s coffin is moving out of the Royal Bank of Spain, breaks my heart.

All the characters are strong and powerful. They have so many good qualities but they are also flawed which is the one thing audiences like, as people see themselves in different characters whenever they watch any series. It’s very difficult to talk about all the characters in one blog as there is so much there to understand why any character of the series is behaving in a way and what point the creator of the series wants to make through that particular character? That’s why I decided to write about my favorite characters from this series. I liked the El Professor, Inspector Alicia Sierra and Nairobi. Though Tokyo was the narrator of the series, I never liked her because she is too reckless.

I liked El Professor because he is intelligent which makes me a sapiophile . He is weird and quite manipulative. But he also falls in love which was not in his plan and that was the sweetest part which made him flawed character. His meticulous planning of the heist, understanding the core competencies of each robber, displaying emotion and fraternity with all his band members, making origami to keep himself calm and immense knowledge about each and everything made everyone to fall in love with him. Nairobi is a flawed character but somewhere I felt that she is a strong feminist. When she takes charge from Berlin during the heist and says this dialogue, “matriarchy begins”, then she wins my heart. Since she dies in season 4 so we can say Bella ciao to this beautiful and strong lady. Inspector Alicia Sierra is a fierce lady and I want to be like her. While working as a police officer- she is fearless, ruthless, strong, confident, truthful and ready to go to any extent to find the culprits. Even though she is pregnant, she is seen as the most powerful official in the tent, who has the same acumen and capability as El Professor has.

I feel like going back and watching some conversations again as it gives you those lessons of life, about politics, ideology, protest, ethics, morality, love, emotions, everyday living, carpe diem and right or wrong. Carpe diem is so important currently since the whole world is struggling because of coronavirus pandemic and how our life has become unpredictable and having very little value as we all are confined to our homes. Though Berlin’s character is too controversial, he is the one after Professor and Tokyo, who delivers some of the best dialogues of the series and he is also one of the most liked characters of the series. I will end my blog with one of his dialogues: “Love can’t be timed, it has to be lived”. So, this is the moment to realize and start living your life as if there will be no tomorrow.

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This quarantine period, find your Ikigai

Image Credit: Clicked by me

ONLY STAYING ACTIVE WILL MAKE YOU WANT TO LIVE A HUNDRED YEARS-

Japanese Proverb

I read this book a few months back but thought to write this review now because this quarantine period is the best time to find your ‘Ikigai’. Today is the 18th day of the lockdown and it is expected that lockdown will get extended for two more weeks until April 30. Though a lot of good things are happening due to this unprecedented lockdown, people are also feeling bored and frustrated. This lockdown can be used as a ‘reflection time’ to find out what is that one thing which anyone can do with full happiness, love, and satisfaction.

Ikigai is a Japanese concept which means ‘reason for being’. What is the purpose of your life or what gives you the utmost satisfaction? As per the centenarians from Okinawa, Ikigai is the reason we get up in the morning. When you are so engrossed in your work that nothing around you matters, it means you have found your Ikigai. But it does not apply to any Netflix series 😉 It means that you have immersed yourself into the work that you are doing. You forget about your surroundings. For instance- it can be writing, painting, gardening, photography, dancing, singing, decorating, coding, etc.

Image Source: Forbes article

This diagram sums the whole concept of Ikigai. What you love doing is your Ikigai. If your job is your Ikigai, you will not think of it as work. You will love doing it. That’s the most important thing. Some just don’t enjoy their jobs because they have no interest in it or they are just not good at it. That is why the whole problem of stress which consumes our body and mind from inside. As per the American Institute of Stress, most health problems are caused by stress.

I liked the way the authors of this book explained how stress functions. Modern humans are alert most of the time, stuck in the epidemic of multi-tasking, sitting in front of their laptop, having junk food, and waiting for notifications from their mobile phones 24 hours a day. The human brain equates the ping of a cell phone or an email notification with threat of a predator which has huge health implications on the body leading to adrenal fatigue, cardiovascular diseases, insomnia, anxiety, and high blood pressure.

Though a little stress is good for you, you need to be mindful of reducing stress by having a stoic attitude. A high degree of emotional awareness and ultimately finding meaning of your life and going with the flow is required to reduce the stress level. When we achieve flow in our work, we have full concentration without any distractions.

The flow is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.

Csikszentmihalyi (Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience)

The book also provides some useful suggestions to achieve the state of flow:

  • No screen time for the first hour after waking up and the last hour before going to bed
  • Switch off the phone before you achieve flow
  • Do technological fasting for one day of the week
  • Check and respond to your email once or twice per day
  • Start your work with something you enjoy
  • Find a less distracting place to work
  • Divide your work into small activities

These days, we all are doing mundane tasks of cleaning, washing utensils, doing the laundry, etc, and the question is how to make these mundane tasks enjoyable. Turning routine tasks into moments of flow is key to our happiness. This is called the micro-flow. Even Bill Gates enjoys washing his dishes every night as it helps him relax and clear his mind. I don’t how others do it but I generally play some nice songs while cleaning my house.

This book is for those who want to find their Ikigai and also want to know the secret of a long and happy life. Just to provide an easy list for everyone, it provides the ten rules of Ikigai:

  1. Whatever you do, don’t retire
  2. Take it slow and you will go far
  3. Don’t fill your stomach. Fill your belly to 80%
  4. Surround yourself with good friends and stay away from toxic people
  5. Connect with communities
  6. Walk a lot and do Yoga
  7. Reconnect with nature
  8. Do mental work out
  9. Be grateful for things you have
  10. Live in the moment (Carpe Diem)
  11. Have a purpose(Ikigai) in life

“Simple Living and High Thinking” has always been the motto of our country’s ancient traditions and also reiterated by inspiring personalities like Swami Vivekanand, Gautam Budhha, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln and Mother Teresa. So now when the whole world is slowing down during this quarantine period, find your Ikigai and make your life more meaningful and happy.

How COVID-19 is affecting the higher-ed students in India: Need for corrective action

COVID-19 pandemic is impacting all sections of society. However, the impact on higher-ed students is the least discussed so far. Unlike schools, where students come from nearby localities, university students come from afar. They travel across their districts, their states, and the country to realize their dreams. Thus you will find the greatest amount of diversity in these students of higher-ed institutions – rural and urban, poor, middle-class and rich, from different religions, castes, and backgrounds. During this crisis and lockdown, when classes can not be conducted on the university premises, institutions are adopting digital tools for delivering lectures to students now back in their homes.

Many instructors and universities have leveraged ICT and tools like Google Hangouts, Zoom, Skype and Microsoft teams to impart live classes to the students. Universities have already started conducting exams and taking assignment submissions online. This is a great way to make education more accessible during these tough times. However, this access is not going to be uniform across all the students belonging to different sections of society.

The poor students are going to be affected the most during this period. Their access to appropriate devices like laptops and computers is going to be very difficult during this period. According to the India Internet 2019 Report, 99% of users in the country access the internet through mobiles, not laptops or computers. Laptops and desktops usage is only 2% and 1% respectively in rural areas and 6% and 4% respectively in urban areas of the country. Further, internet penetration is still very poor and stands at a mere 27% in rural India. Under the Bharat Net program of the Government of India, more than 40% of the villages are yet to be connected to the internet grid.

Thus, lack of access to the internet and proper devices is going to negatively impact students in leveraging online platforms. Many such students will not be able to attend online classes and participate in assignments and exams that are conducted online. In such a scenario, the rural students are in a disadvantageous position and the urban and rural poor students will be highly disadvantaged.

Recognizing this challenging situation during COVID-19, many universities such as MIT and Harvard have announced that they will either provide every student with a Pass or A/A- grades during this semester. Steps like this ensure fairness and empathize with students facing difficulties due to their prevailing circumstances.

In India, however, no debate or discussion is going on this pressing matter yet. It is an important issue affecting the future of the students who are the future of the country. UGC and deemed universities must provide suitable guidelines to ensure students are promoted to the next level fairly. It is a tough situation concerning the poor and the marginalized students and it must be dealt with utmost empathy. Keeping in mind the “digital divide” all further exams and assignments during the rest of the semester must be made voluntary. All students must be promoted to the next level. Alternatively, institutions can use the tests conducted so far as the basis for final assessments in a fair manner.

Unless such corrective measures are taken urgently, COVID-19 and the after-effects are going to deepen the divide across the poor and the rich students, rural and urban students for generations to come.

This blog is authored by Chaitanya Prakash Namburi. The author has a Masters in Public Policy and Computer Science and currently works for Google India. All views expressed are personal.