Star Party

आपण सर्वांनी लहानपणी ध्रुव बाळाची गोष्ट ऐकली असते. तो कसा आकाशात एक तारा बनून अमर रहिला. मी ही ती ऐकली होती. पण त्यामुळे काही मला या आकाशातल्या ताऱ्यांचे विशेष आकर्षण निर्माण झाले नाही. एक मात्र होते, मी जेव्हा जेव्हा आजोळी जायचो तेव्हा अंगणात रात्री अंथरुणावर पडल्यावर वर मोकळे आकाश दिसे. सभोवती गुडूप अंधार, प्रकाश प्रदूषण नावाचा प्रकार अस्तित्वात नसे. त्यामुळे लख्ख चांदण्या दिसत, आणि आम्हा  सर्व चिल्ली-पिल्ली मुलांत आकाशातील तारे, तारकासमूह, नक्षत्र ओळखण्याची चढाओढ लागे. धमाल येई, आणि असे करत करत गोष्टी ऐकत आम्ही झोपत असू.

जसे जसे मोठे होत गेलो हे आकाशदर्शन मागे पडले. मध्येच केव्हातरी अमेरिकेचा आकाशात सोडलेला Skylab हा उपग्रह कक्षेबाहेर येवून पृथ्वीवर(भारतात देखील) आदळणार आहे, त्याबद्दल झालेल्या चर्चा त्याबद्दल आठवते आहे. सकाळ मध्ये डॉ. प्रकाश तुपे यांचा प्रत्येक महिन्याला एक लेख येत असे(अजूनही येतो वाटते), जो त्या महिन्याचे आकाश कसे असेल याची माहिती, नकाशासकट येते. तरीही रात्री जागे राहून आकाश निरीक्षण करणे थोडे जीवावरच येई. डोंगर यात्रेदरम्यान आपसूकच किल्ल्यांवरून भरगच्च आकाश दिसे. बरोबर कोणी तरी असलेला काही बाही माहिती सांगे, कोणी सांगे की उपग्रह घिरट्या मारताना दिसतोय वगैरे. पूर्वी केव्हा तरी जीवाची मुंबई करायला गेलो होतो तेव्हा मुंबईच्या प्रसिद्ध असे नेहरू तारांगण(Nehru Planetarium) पाहायला गेलो होतो आणि आकाशदर्शनाच्या अद्भूत जगाची झलक पाहायला मिळाली होती.

काही वर्षांपूर्वी आकाशवाणीवर दर महिन्याला रात्री तास दोन तास पुण्यातील आयुका संस्थेचे(IUCAA) अरविंद परांजपे, जयंत नारळीकर मंडळीनी आकाशदर्शन कार्यक्रम केला होता. एकदा, मला वाटते वर्तमानापत्रातून, पुण्याच्या जवळ ताम्हिणी घाटात ज्योतिर्विद्या परिसंस्था तर्फे रात्रभर आकाशदर्शनाचा कार्यक्रम असणार आहे हे समजले. आम्ही जायचे ठरवले. मोठ्या दुर्बिणी, तज्ञ मार्गदर्शक असणार होते. ज्योतिर्विद्या परिसंस्था ही पुण्यातील खगोलशास्त्रात(astronomy) काम करणारी बरीच जुनी संस्था आहे हे माहिती होते. त्या ऑक्टोबर मधील थंड गार रात्री, ताम्हिणी सारख्या दूरवरच्या गावात आम्ही विन्झाई देवीच्या देवळात जमलो होतो. रात्रभर तेथील मोकळ्या पटांगणात विविध तारे, ग्रह, नक्षत्र यांचे निरीक्षण करत होतो. मध्येच तज्ञ मार्गदर्शक खगोलीय घटनांबाबत, आणि दुर्बिणीबद्द्ल इतर गोष्टींबद्दल माहिती सांगत होते. मध्येच कॉफीपान देखील होते. असे करत करत रात्र केव्हा सरली हे समजले नाही. एका अद्भूत विश्वातच फेरफटका मारून आल्यासारखे झाले.

मध्ये मी अमेरिकेत गेल्यावर एक दुर्बिण(Celestron) घेऊन आलो आणि थोडीफार झटाफट करत देवढे जमेल तेवढे त्यातून पाहू लागलो. पण काही दिवसांतच उत्साह मावळला आणि हे सर्व मागे पडले. परत काही वर्षांनी पुण्यातील पिंपरी-चिंचवड भागात खगोल-विश्व संस्थेतर्फे पुसाणे नावाच्या गावातून रात्रभर आकाशदर्शनाचा(star gazing program or star party) कार्यक्रम होणार आहे हे समजले. संस्थेचे मयुरेश प्रभुणे आणि इतर जणांनी छान कार्यक्रम आयोजित केला होता. आयोजकांनी त्या दिवशीच्या star party साठी आकाशगंगा(galaxy) हा मुख्य विषय ठेवला होता. त्यांच्याकडे संगणकावर Starry Night नावाचे एक आकाश निरीक्षणाचे सॉफ्टवेअर देखील होते. आम्हाला त्या रात्रीच्या आकाशाचा नकाशा, आकाश कसे दिसेल याची माहिती देणारे एक पत्रक देण्यात आले होते. आकाशनिरीक्षणाद्वारे हे जग, विश्व कसे आहे, आपल्या पृथ्वीव्यतिरिक्त या अथांग ब्रम्हांडात अजून कोण कोण आहे, ह्याचा वेध घेण्याची उत्सुकता मानवाला आधी पासूनच आहे. भारतात सुद्धा आर्यभट्ट, वराहमिहिर इत्यादी प्रभृतीनी आकाश निरीक्षण करून गणिताद्वारे कित्येक गोष्टींची नोंद ठेवली आहे, तेही नुसत्या डोळ्यांनी, त्या काळी दुर्बिणी वगैरे नव्हत्या. हे शास्त्र चांगलेच प्रगत होते, त्या परंपरेची माहिती मध्ये मी बंगळूरूमध्ये एका Indian Institute of Science मधील एका कार्यक्रमात झाली.

काही वर्षांपूर्वी अमेरिकेच्या मंगळ मोहिमेची(Mars Exploration Rover) बरीच चर्चा झाली. मध्यंतरी भारताच्या चांद्रयान आणि मंगळयान मोहिमेचे देखील चर्चा झाली.  दर वर्षी काहीना काहीतरी खगोलीय घटना घडतच असतात. एक-दोन आठवड्यापूर्वीच अमेरिकेत सूर्यग्रहण झाले आणि ते साऱ्या देशभरात दिसले, त्याची केवढी चर्चा झाली. तर असे खगोलीय विश्व प्रत्येकाने एकदा तरी star party च्या माध्यमातून अनुभवले पाहिजे आणि मुलांनाही त्याची ओळख करून दिली पाहिजे असेच आहे.

 

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Learning Urdu Language(اردو زبان)

I being a polyglot, I like languages, scripts. During my Indology course, I learnt even ancient script Bramhi. Because of my education and profession, which is related to computers, I learnt quite a few computer programming languages as well in the past.  I also got exposed to languages and use in computers more when I was involved in localization for software systems. Due to that, and also mainly my exposure to languages such as Urdu(which has right to left script), because of trekking to forts in Sahyadri, I wished to know more and learn Urdu, Persian and even Arabic. One can find many inscriptions in these right-to-left scripts on the forts, I was left wondering as to what would their content be, due to lack of knowledge of those scripts.

My opportunity to learn Urdu came by in 2009, when I learnt about Urdu diploma program which is run by NCPUL(National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language, under Government of India). They have tied up with various Urdu schools all over in the country to run this special program which is open to anyone, and the program is highly subsidized. Plus they provide all the course material which includes 4-5 books. I enrolled myself into it that year and whole new world of this language, script, literature, its influence, role in the history opened in front of me.

I wanted to write this blog mainly to let my readers know that if you want to have opportunity to learn it, the course would begin soon in year 2016. The registration will soon be open. Watch out for an ad which appears in the newspapers later in December for more information. You can get more details on their website too. Let me give you brief details of this course and what all you can expect.

The course, of course, begins with Urdu script. The detailed explanation of various rules associated with reading and writing, with help of practice books is provided. Introduction to words, simpler to complex is provided. The nuances of language is further introduced with help of book containing reading material. During the course, student is also introduced to influence of Arabic, Persian and even Hindi words to the language. As it is well known fact that Urdu developed during 13th century in Deccan, by borrowing words from different languages which army-men spoke. Urdu poetry, such as ghazals, is also introduced. Ghazals are hugely popular in India, and many students come to this course have background of ghazals. The course ends with an easy examination at the end of year. The lectures are conducted twice a week, for about 3 hours each time, and one can attend one of the two days.The course material consists of following books:

  1. Urdu for All(introduction to Urdu script)
  2. Ibtedai Urdu(preliminary reading material)
  3. Assan Urdu Shayari(poetry)
  4. Intekhab-e-Nasr-e-Urdu(essays, advanced reading material)

To me the key thing was script. We generally are familiar with many Urdu words due to its closeness to Hindi, and also due to wide use of it in movies. I am, of course, no Urdu expert, and have a long way to go in ability to read fast, also decipher variants of scripts, and writing. I am on it though, slowly and steadily! Google Language Bar also provides Urdu as a choice for input, that makes it easy while typing on computers, but writing on piece of paper is always a joy.

Vivek Sawant: Pioneer of computer literacy for masses

It is sometime amazing to realize and know how some unassuming personalities you were aware of, making their mark in the society. You are forced to visualize the way you have known them and to trace their association with you; also their journey. Same thing happened to me recently when someone was interviewing Vivek Sawant on the radio.

I was in last year of college where I was studying computer science. We had one of the elective subjects which was related to computer hardware. I had opted for that and Vivek Sawant was our teacher for that. I still distinctly remember, we reaching out the college very early, for his lectures. He preferred early morning sessions. I along with my friends would hang around at the main gate of the college, waiting for him to arrive. We would seem him enter on his two wheeler and walk to towards classroom. Tall, skinny, with his full sleeved shirt tucked out, trouser with bell-bottom style drop, simple and serious face, almost looked like the man in hurry. He, of course, was good and passionate teacher, as I remember, with ability to explain points by simplifying. After few months, the sessions ended, and I never saw him again. But I had kept hearing/reading about his achievements in computer literacy in Maharashtra.

It was revealing to know many facets of his personality when I listened the interview with much interest. The interview was in two parts. First part focused on his upbringing, and C-DAC days. Later part was on his involvement in MKCL for which he more known. When I heard about his background, I came to know the reason behind his simplicity and humble personality. He belonged to family of freedom-fighter father who was Sanskrit expert, a dedicated and committed teacher as well. He got dose of his values from the family on commitment towards society upliftment. It naturally influenced him and took the teaching profession after his education.

He was teaching in Fergusson College in Pune on the subjects such as Physics and Electronics. In 1988-89, he was involved in C-DAC activities when it was lead by Dr Vijay Bhatkar, for government of India, as India wanted to get into super computing space. This is the time he was visiting faculty for us when I was college. He and Bhatkar played pioneering role in C-DAC by forming a team of engineers and architecting and building super computer and related software and tools. Few years later, he was pulled into computer education field by forming and head education arm of C-DAC called ACTS. Today, C-DAC’s ACTS is known for its quality education in advanced computer science areas.

Almost a decade later, as computerization was happening on large scale all over in India, government was also going towards e-governance, the government of Maharashtra felt the need spreading computer literacy to masses, so that benefits of e-governance can reach to society in faster manner. He, once again, was summoned for this job. Vivek Sawant’s value based upbringing came handy here as it had imbibed social angle to his personality. He made full use of that and came up with various innovative ways of making MKCL work by partnering with small and solo interpreters to reach vast population all over Maharashtra, and also by coming up with eLearning delivery framework, to reduce the cost as well. As he said(and I found later on MKCL website), his six tenets for MKCL were: Bigger, Better, Faster, Cheaper, Wider, Deeper. This is explained as:

  • to a very large population with various diversities : Bigger
  • with high quality of relevance and applicability in life and work : Better
  • at an affordable cost : Cheaper
  • within a shortest possible time : Faster
  • with a wide accessibility from metros to villages : Wider
  • in a mass-personalized manner : Deeper personal experience

For over last 15 years, the kind of response, success and spread of MKCL has managed to achieve, it is no doubt, is a success story and firm belief of Vivek Sawant in knowledge based and value based education system to fight various problems in the society, made it possible.

It was indeed motivating to understand his social focus and using technology to change the society and empower them. At the end of the interview, he quoted one Sanskrit verse which explained meaning Bharat(Sanskrit name for India). The meaning goes as the society or country which is striving to go after knowledge. I think he is truly living that verse by his deeds.

Update: Today, Sept 5, is Teacher’s Day in India. I wrote this blog on Aug 28. Retrospectively, if I look at it, this article is my tribute to teachers.

Two Pune stalwarts no more

Pune is well-known for personalities, organizations in various fields-may it be politics, social reforms, research. Two such personalities, who had made their mark in their respective fields, recently passed away. The common quality of both of them was that they were very good orators. This blog post is about them and my direct and indirect personal memories associated with them.

First one is Maratha/Shivaji history researcher and fort expert. Name Ninad Bedekar. My personal memory associated with him is before my big leap into history and trekking in Sahyadris. This was when I was part of a unique one day tour to Panshet dam and its vicinity way back in winter of 1996. He accompanied us for the whole day, and in his very peculiar style, he narrated events from Shivaji’s life. His narration was very impressive displaying his command over Marathi, and Urdu language. The memory associated with him is related to a book called Durgkatha. This book is compilation of stories associated with different forts. He delivered more than 3500 speeches regarding Maratha history all over the world. For helping his research in history, he studied Modi script, Persian and Arabic script and languages. Ninad Bedekar belonged to Sardar Raste’s family who were formidable generals during Peshva era. He was engineer by profession and perused his passion towards history after his retirement. He celebrated his 61st birthday in style-by trekking 61 forts.

The other one being champion for the cause of customer rights in India. Name is Bindumadhav Joshi. He came from the family who supported nationalist movement and swadeshi. Many of us, including me, in Pune associate him to departmental store called Grahak Peth and his yearly magazine published as special Diwali issue, called Grahakheet. Both these initiatives, of course, were by-products of his mission of life-customer rights’ awareness movement. He along with others such Suryakant Pathak established Grahak Panchayat though which worked relentlessly on putting customer in the center of capitalistic economy since last 40 odd years. The high point of the mission was coming with Consumer Protection Law. The organization was instrumental in spreading awareness among the consumer about fair price, adultery in the goods, uniting the consumers against malpractices by sellers and even producers of the goods.

I remember listening both of them so many times over radio, passionately talking about causes they supported. Though their legacy stays with us and continues.

Vasantotsav Vimarsh

Among many things, Pune city is also known for various music festivals/concerts which are held through out the year. The most famous being one started by Pt Bhimsen Joshi way back in the memory of his guru Sawai Gandharv. Apart from music performances by various artists, they also have started recently two sessions called Shadja where documentaries/films around lives of music performers are shown, and the other one is Antarang wherein interviews of artists are conducted. Both of them are very useful to general audience to understand more about their favorite artists in general.

The other big name in the list of music festivals is Vansantotsav which is held in the memory of Pt. Vasantrao Deshpande. Starting this year, they now have started a session named ‘Vasantotsav Vimarsh’ which is aimed at discussing issues in musicology. I found this step very interesting. Musicological deliberations are very rare(the other one which goes close to this activity is Sudarshan Sangeet Sabha which is facilitated by Chaitanya Kunte). You will find that not every music performer is a capable of talking on musicology, and the vice-versa is also true-that is not every musicologist is capable of performing. Single person doing both is very rare-but very desirable for variety of reasons. Ashok Da Ranade was one such personality.

I, being very interested(due to my exposure to Indology) in musicological aspects of any music as such. Musicological aspects does not mean only music theory. Every student of music does go over theory formally or informally. Musicology goes beyond that. It can cover historical topics, research, current issues on performance, education and the state of the art, inter-relation with other forms of music, ethno-musicological topics, cultural aspects.

Here is quick account of this year’s Vasantotsav Vimarsh. Hope it generates some interest in readers of this blog on this topic. It was interesting to find that all of the speakers are trained performers as well which is again is very very rare.

Deepak Raja spoke on raag-tatva in his opening speech. He is accomplished sitar player and very active in talking and writing about various aspects of raag concept of in Indian classical music. He also runs his own blog as well. The details of is presentation can be found on his blog.

Samir Dubale spoke about state of education in music, challenges, and shared some of this experiments. He touched upon on topics of creating awareness and ability to understand classical music though his organization called SPECTRUM. About a decade back, I had attended this music appreciation workshop conducted by him and had found very useful. He spoke about on some of the ideas and initiatives they have taken to improve quality music education at FLAME school of fine and performing arts.He about how their ideas on education have attempted to encompass modern day advancements and how it gives exposure of modern day needs of music as an industry. He also stressed that this will help create music teachers who are equipped on various aspects of music and will fill that gap of quality music teachers especially at school level.

Urmila Bhirdikar spoke about Pt Mallikarjun’s music and relation with Maharashtra. This is the topic one of my current interest. She touched upon state of music during colonial era in and around of North Karnataka and South Maharashtra(then part of Bombay state). Many aspects of this topic were covered in Rahmath Tarikere’s book on Amirbai Karnataki which I had translated in Marathi recently. Urmila Bhirdikar is trained Kathak dancer and expert in sociology. Her views and findings from cultural theory perspective were very interesting

The session ended with Aneesh Pradhan speaking who himself being an accomplished tabla player. He spoke about state of music patronage during bygone era. He presented historical account of how music was supported by princely states’ generously and how were these artists treated. Gone are the days of princely states now, the music has stayed alive on patronage of society and general public.

The sessions were aptly compered by Chaitanya Kunte and stressed the need of such musicological deliberations which will enrich and spread awareness of music in society in general. Let me conclude this account by quoting Pt Usman Khan, sitarist, who said that his guru has advised him to not to lower his music to audience levels, but make attempt to bring audiences’ level to his level of music. I guess sessions such as Vasantosav Vimarsh help to achieve exactly that.

Going beyond school education for children

We, as parents, try to make our children good at multiple skills, all the time, by going beyond school education. Even these days, schools themselves are promoting these extra-curricular activities. Different activities have different goals. But one thread is common-prepare children to face challenges of life in 21st century, explore their potential to the fullest.

Few decades back, children were encouraged to explore music by taking courses in vocal or instrument playing. This activity is still popular. Drawing/painting is another. I remember as a child, I was encouraged by my teacher to take state level drawing exams. Sports is another activity. Formal coaching in cricket during summer vacations or otherwise is also quite popular. During last few years we have been hearing things such as abacus, vedic mathematics also.The key thing here is to find potential in the children and encourage to pursue on that further.

MENSA has been around for IQ test and thereby giving indications on abilities and interests.

Few years back, I had come across multiple nature test by Jiva. Multiple Natures system is a theory developed by Steven Rudolph. It identifies 9 unique natures in each individual, namely: Protective, Educative, Administrative, Creative, Healing, Entertaining, Providing, Entrepreneurial and Adventurous. By understanding one’s strong natures, children can exploit strengths and find greater success in everything he does.It also combines something called ‘multiple intelligence’ with this.

There is another organization called NeuralSpace which claims to be India’s first authorized training center for BrainRx system which is for training brain for various goals such as improving learning and cognitive skills. This probably is useful in children with certain psychological disorders reducing their learning abilities, but can be applicable to anyone to enhance these skills.

There is another things which has recently been employed in skill development in children which is neuro-linguistic programming(NLP) technique. NLP is very old and developed to treat certain psychological disorders in all ages. Organizations such as IntelligencePlus exploit this techniques in skill development for children.

Recently came across something which sort of baffled me and made me think about to what state this mind-set is going to take us. IntelligencePlus recently organized event for children, where in more than 25 schools around Pune participated. They called it InnoVenture, and aimed at developing entrepreneurship skills in children. While the idea and the intent is good, is it required to burden children in this fashion? Can we not achieve this in little subtle and fun way at home or among friends? For example, one of my friends, taught simple skills such as sales and negotiating by having his daughter trade her piggy bank cash in exchange of notes by asking for more and more commission every time.

The point I am trying to make here is that while the ideas and intent of all such programs are novel and good, we as parents need to be more pragmatic and encourage these by examples, in informal and fun way.

What do you think?

A quick update: Got to know that technique called Mid Brain Activation is claimed to be fake by Dhabholkar’s Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti(MANS) and they seems to have busted it in.