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Feedback: Verified Fact or Fiction?

Hello Voices Team,

I am writing this e-mail in response to the editorial titled “Verified Fact or Fiction” in Voices, in the issue of March 2012, asking the readers for feed back on what they would like to read in Voices.

The first time I came across an article from Voices (IISc students’ newsletter) was about seven years ago. I was a 3rd year B.Tech student and was selected for the Summer Research Fellowship by Indian Academy of Sciences and I was to spend my summer holidays in the Institute. Before I started on my maiden journey to Bangalore, I went and met a teacher of ours in the college ( who gave me the recommendation letter for the summer fellowship application). He told me that IISc is a lovely place to work and stay, wished me good luck and then gave me photocopies of two articles to read; one was about “Places to eat-out in Bangalore” and the other was “Why women do not have pockets?”. Both the articles were written by him and were published in the IISc students’ newsletter, when he was a student at IISc. That was my first encounter with Voices, in a place about 200km away from Bangalore.

I spent two exhilarating months in IISc in the summer of 2005. I went back to my college and came back 6 months later to work on my B.Tech final semester project. Soon I graduated from college and then came back again to IISc to pursue a PhD. Ever since I joined the institute, I never missed an opportunity to grab a copy of Voices whenever it was published and placed in strategic locations like the erstwhile tea kiosk, coffee board, juice shop, in the mess or anywhere I could lay my hands on it. I used to keenly go through the articles and after I finished reading the articles I would take the copy to my room and keep it safely in a file. In the span of these six to seven years, I have noticed several changes in Voices, some small and some big! The editorial moved from the first page to the inner pages,Voices went online and started to work in collaboration with the Students’ Council. Despite many changes, somethings continued to exist. Voices gives each one of us a platform to express our view point and opinion about any happenings on campus. Voices enables us with the right to freedom of expression, a powerful tool which needs to be exercised with responsibility to spread appreciation of good things, give feed back and raise an alarm about anything that seems to be going in the wrong direction in the campus. Voices gives us power to raise constructive criticism and gives us the power to raise questions and let the members of the campus know about the questions raised. The articles in Voices let us empathize with each others’ difficulties, joys and sorrows.

When I think and try to recollect about the articles from Voices that made an impact on me, several of them come to my mind. There were serious articles on minor issues and humorous and satirical articles on major problems presented in a lighter tone and probably driving home the problem in a much better manner. There was an article on the luxury of having a mess facility in IISc (as opposed to foreign universities where you are responsible for your meals), there was an article on “the advantages of having water shortage in the hostels” (a satire!), there were “adventures of Bhoondoo- a hypothetical research student”, flirtations in Tea Board (with the dogs anticipating food!), several cartoons depicting life in IISc, deportment of people in mess, the parking woes, the shitting crows (I had once heard that IISc could be conveniently expanded to Indian Institute of Shitting crows and then someone immediately asked the question, “How do we know that they are all crows up there?”) and the hostel rooms and so on. Many of these articles, though written in a lighter tone, never failed to present the gravity of the situation, besides giving a laugh to my heart’s content. Many a time, I secretly and fervently hoped that the article should have been read by someone with administrative powers on campus and have caused a similar effect of giving them a good laugh and at the same time poising them into action to quickly sort out the problem referred to in the article.

After digressing so much, when I try to come back and answer the editor’s question on what I would like to read in Voices, my answer seems to be very vague to me! It also brings to my mind the question, what is expected from a students’ news letter in a research institution? There is a world of possibilities! I would love to read the aspirations and predicaments, joys and sorrows, success stories and failures, poetry and prose and anything earnestly shared by campus community. I would like to know the different perspectives of the same event that happened on campus. I would like to see how a set tradition can be questioned in the true spirit of inquiry. I would like to see Voices play the role of a fertile garden where the imagination and artistic skills of the students bloom into literary pieces of bright and beautiful colours. However, finally one thing seems to be very clear to me. We are going to read in Voices what we write for Voices, which will in turn reflect very clearly on what we are made of. The onus is on us!

with regards,
K.Aswani Kumar (MBU)

AN ODE TO ETERNAL LOVE

Professor Parag P Sadhale, a one-of-a-kind Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Cell Biology lived life on his own terms and attained eternal peace on his own terms. The following is just an excerpt of what all of us in his laboratory experienced when he decided to rip us all apart and still managed to smile at us.

It is said that ‘Actions speak louder than words’, yet we find ourselves craving for a word lost somewhere in the depths of extreme actions.

Normalcy is more often a surreal camouflage, than a sign of self-belief.

Somewhere in the dark caves of the human mind, still lies a thought that tries hard to not reveal itself and when it does, shatters everything surrounding it.

It takes far more courage to have oneself dissolved into nothingness.

These are not anyone’s words, but sentences that only begin to describe the void that I felt on a bright Friday morning (Friday, the 20th).

For a man who valued his principles more than anything, for a Professor who viewed things in a dimension that can only be described as ‘visionary’, for a mentor who not only inspired but also shared his exquisite wealth with more people than the number of mobile models currently available, for a friend who would smile even if the apocalypse were to happen before his eyes, for a person who regarded every petty aspect of life a challenge to be overcome, for a Vidwan who didn’t think science and music were any different from one another and for a scientist who never gave up learning and learning more even if it meant he had to spend an eternity doing the same, Dear Professor Parag Sadhale couldn’t have thought of a better way than what he did to himself to create an atmosphere so charged with a devastating lull that it threatened to consume everyone and everything around it into oblivion.

He came, he taught, he taught more, he directed, he laughed along and then, when we were ‘Family’, he left us with his characteristic smile.

I have personally known Dear Sir only for a month and a half as a trainee, but in that short period of time, I have learnt a lot of aspects – ‘Questioning everything’, for one. Had Socrates lived long to see the ‘number of questions’ that he made me ask, he would have left a gallon of flesh in dedication. Every time I passed by his office, a unique force would draw me in and stimulate an interaction. ‘It wouldn’t suffice if you just know, you have to learn how to improvise’, he would often hint.

Dear Sir’s company was always something I looked forward to. Be it, being the first to fetch him a cup of tea just so I could have a casual chat with him or to sit right next to him in his car to listen to the sweet ‘Hindustani tunes’ that he hums, Dear Sir’s company has always been compelling. On a warm afternoon during a certain Neurobiology Seminar on facets of memory, Sir called out, ‘Shankar, here. Sit near me’. I was a little hesitant to sit with Dear Sir during a lecture, fearing his ‘Quiver full of Questions’. At the end of the lecture, Sir commented, ‘Did you get that fully, because frankly speaking, I did not’. I laughed and told him ‘No, not a single word except the videos’. He laughed back. That made my day. On another day, he would ask me: ‘What do you mean you did not get it?’ I would go pale and he would laugh again. It was a to-and-fro that I looked forward to every day.

A few days later just before he decided to strip us off into pieces, he took me to a Carnatic concert. On our way back, I was commenting on the various Ragas that the Vidwan rendered in the course of the concert and Sir pointed out, ‘Well, you see music is no different than science. One small change and it can lead to something totally new.’ I was flabbergasted at the analogy.

Now, that I think about that episode, it comes back to me as ‘Life is no different than science. One small change and it could lead to a totally all-consuming result’.

Will we all in the lab ever get over this void? Will we ever stop wondering what we could have done to prevent this crude happening? Will we stop looking at his office every two minutes or so and wonder if he has left us something? Will we stop shedding tears every time we look at his ‘lab slippers’? Will we ever stop anticipating?

Well, like they say: ‘When one door closes, another opens’; but what if the door that just closed took away all possibilities to open ‘other doors’ along with it?

Amidst the hum of the refrigerator nearby, we all just heard a rumble in the silence. The doors of heaven just opened!

Shankar Chandrashekar Iyer (MCBL)

My Last Straw

Since I was a kid, all I ever wanted to do was taste the wonderful, delicious drink, Fanta. Those 300mls of pure ecstasy was denied to me because of my utterly lacking rural neighbourhood. As a child from a small town I did not get a taste of the drink. I would watch TV and see famous people enjoying their Fanta, the elixir. Every time I had my hopes high that I finally found “the” drink, it turned out to be a cheap look-alike. I was a local achiever, in the sense that I had tasted every other drink available nearby. But Fanta eluded me. Most local drinks were only a 250ml and I would know it’s taste like the back of my tongue. I was even gifted with a straw, for my achievements, which I always carried around. But I knew Fanta was deeper and reaching the depths of such a beverage would be a real challenge. A lot of other kids envied my talent of drinking any local drink easily. Most people would have been perhaps satisfied with a local crown, but I was not. I fervently hoped that one day I would grow up and go to a big town and drink a complete bottle of Fanta. That was my childhood dream.
A few years back, one of my favorite local lecturers told me about his adventure in Bangalore where he was visiting as a guest researcher. He described his whole day in the campus of some university called IISc. The highlight of the story for me, was the fact that this place called IISc had Fanta. This piece of anecdote motivated me to get into the campus. So I worked hard to clear the GATE exam. Then, in my dreams, I could see my gift straw into that ‘first’ bottle of Fanta. This clear cut vision drove me to work harder as the days passed. I managed to crack GATE and was selected to study at IISc.
Subsequently, I reached IISc with my trusty straw and an advisor was assigned to me, for my direct Ph.D. I met him on the first day, where he was hoping to discuss my future research, my favorite subjects and so on. I was too excited about Fanta to have anything else occupy my mind. I told him my motivations sincerely, my background, and how I really wanted to taste a complete Fanta. My advisor smirked at my naive thought of trying to complete a Fanta in the first try. However he kindly agreed to sponsor the whole thing.
We both went to some eating place in the campus, named Prakruti. I was overjoyed at the thought of trying out a Fanta for the first time in my own. I had heard of people doing it for a long time, I have seen great people confessing their addiction to the bottle of joy. I never thought I would get it, but there it was. My advisor had ordered it for me and the waited placed it on the table. The waiter asked me whether I wanted a straw. I cheerfully refused and took out my trusty straw and immersed it in my first bottle of Fanta. I started sipping from it and I was enjoying every moment of it.
My advisor who was staring at me for some time said,”You think that the straw that you have, is enough to reach the depths of the Fanta bottle?”.
Alas! It dawned upon me that I had been foolish to think that my special straw, made for local drinks, could reach the depths of Fanta. My old, trusty straw could only help me till 250ml of Fanta and not beyond that. To go deeper I needed a longer straw and I did not have it. My advisor consoled me and asked me not to worry. He said that everyone goes through such setbacks while trying to reach a goal.

“The first step towards amending, is realization. Now that you have realized that your straw is not sufficient, take another straw from here”, he said. He had to leave then since he had a class to teach. I asked for another straw and I drank my Fanta. Sadly, Prakruti’s straw was not enough to brave the depths of a 300ml Fanta bottle either. I could never finish my Fanta. I saved the piece of straw to remind me of the Fanta I had. It was to remind me that I could never finish it.
Over the course of time, I ordered more Fantas and my adviser would ask me to take more straws. He told me that we would never know, when I might just get a straw that would help me finish my Fanta. I saved all the straws I used to drink my precious Fantas. At the end of two years he had forced me to take around 12 straws, none of which helped me finish a Fanta. I stopped ordering more straws and tried to use the straws I carried to drink my Fantas. It was really a very sad state of affairs then.
At the end of my third year, I was sitting in Prakruti drinking my Fanta and staring at all the straws I owned. Voila! the answer to my problem, then, occurred to me. I realized that by jamming one straw into another, I could make a longer straw and thus reach the bottom of my Fanta. The epiphany was that I was thinking of each straw as a separate entity and this narrow thinking was getting me nowhere. No known single straw helped me, yet when I combined the straws, I could reach the depths easily. I finished my Fanta , reached my goal that day and I saved the straw that helped me reached the goal. Heaven knows that this was my last straw. I told my adviser about the breakthrough and he asked me to jot it down so that it might help others understand similar situations in life and he asked me to publish it somewhere. I agreed to do it and the fact that you are reading this, means that it has been published somewhere.

Srikanth Pai (ECE)

The ‘Meeting of the Month’: What transpired behind closed doors

On the 5th of July, a meeting was organized between the Students’ Council and the Administration to discuss in details, and try to find a solution to the raging debate over the impending hostel accommodation for students residing in blocks E, F and P. Long known as the ‘Concentration Camps’ of IISc, students in these 3 blocks were getting restless about the rooms that they had been promised for a long time. What came to light were the compulsions and pressures under which the Administration was trying to solve the issue and the deep sense of mistrust that had developed among the students towards those in charge.

Representing the Administration were the Hon. Registrar (Mr. R. Mohan Das), Prof. Umarji, Prof. Giridhar Madras and Prof. Anil Kumar. Representing the students (and specially the thirty or so disillusioned ones waiting right outside the Faculty Hall) were the SC Chairman (Sreevalsa, Civil), Gen Secretary (Hemanth, ECE), Pratap (ECE) , President of E-block hostel (Nilanjan, Aero). Covering the meeting for Voices was Anindo Chatterjee(CNS).

Prof. Umarji immediately made aware to those present as to what the ground reality was. Out of the anticipated 575 rooms (in the hostel complex being built) which were supposed to be available by mid to end July, only 180 were presently available and a total of 392 rooms in the complex would be available by August 15th. Students from the three blocks were planned to be shifted to these rooms by mid to end August. One of the main reasons for delay was the Tamil Nadu and the West Bengal state elections, for which a majority of the workers had gone back. Also, it was decided to do a physical verification of the rooms in the other hostels, as more number of rooms should have been vacated than they had been. Also, the coming students would be accommodated in Hoysala and the JNC Guest House and the guests there would be shifted to the Centenary Guest House. All the girls would be shifted to the hostel complex being built and one of the hostels (Mrigasira) would be converted to a boy’s hostel (M-block) and the demolition of F-block would be necessary to complete the girl’s wing of the hostel. No specific date had been decided for the shifting.

120 Undergraduate students would be joining the institute this August, a great majority of whom are boys (around 100). They would be allotted rooms in N-block. To that end, a consolidated bunch of rooms in one floor of the block would be required. The SC assured its support to the Administration in this regard. All the girls would be accommodated in Mrigasira. Accommodation for other students has been arranged in Jalahalli.

The main point of contention, however, was a question of priority.

The Administration wanted the students of E, F and P block to continue living in their respective hostels till the time the new(est) hostel complex rooms are available. Nilanjan argued that the old students should be immediately sent to the vacant rooms in other hostels and the new students should be accommodated in E, F and P blocks till the new rooms are available. Prof. Umarji and Prof. Madras said that the Administration wants to avoid ‘double shifting’, as the new students, in a month or so, would have to be shifted to the new rooms. Pratap and Nilanjan retorted that ‘double shifting’ is not that big a problem and the students who have been living in such dilapidated conditions should be given priority over the coming students and shifted first. Prof. Kumar asked whether the old students who have suffered, wanted the new students to go through the same harrowing experience as they have. Nilanjan made it very clear that he had no plans of becoming a martyr and therefore he had no plans to sacrifice the room that is rightfully his.

Another point of contention was the question of ‘assurance’.

The student representatives were not convinced about the assurances being given by the Administration. What would be the course of action in case the rooms were not ready by mid-August? Sreevalsa pointed out that the Administration had asked the Students’ Council not to interfere in the ‘hostel matter’ and that the issue would be taken care of by those concerned. He produced copies of mails indicating the same, which also showed that assurances regarding completion of the required rooms by July had been given earlier. The Hon. Registrar asked the students to take the assurance in good faith and Prof Umarji held that the authorities are doing everything in their power to provide everyone with the same quality of housing. Anindo suggested that the main reason for not believing in assurances also stemmed from the fact that the authorities do not keep the students in the loop and decisions are made without them getting communicated to those whose lives will be affected by those decisions. To that end, the authorities were asked to mail the Students’ Council official decisions which can then be forwarded to the students at large. Nilanjan believed that once the vacant rooms are allotted to the new students, the old students will have to wait no matter what, so a situation like that shouldn’t be allowed to arise in the first place. Prof. Kumar brought to notice that the present meeting would not have taken place if the authorities were not very sure of the time of completion of the rooms. It was decided that a meeting on the 25th of July would have as its main agenda the charting of an alternate plan, in case things do not go as per schedule.

The negotiations, which started with pleasantries and patient nods, over the course of an hour and half evolved to a passionate debate over the issue of ‘trust’. The Administration had made an offer and the students were not buying it. It was finally and unanimously decided that the talks had reached an impasse and that the Administration representatives will have a meeting with the higher authorities and present the case from the students’ perspective, and get back to the Students’ Council.

The same afternoon, another meeting was called. Unfortunately, there was no representative from Voices for that meeting. The issue had been discussed with the higher authorities and the demands of the students had been accepted. The students were assured that a list of vacant rooms would soon be released and the process of shifting would then commence.

The Students’ Council wishes to express their deep gratitude to all the Admin representatives present and also convey their thanks to the authorities for a positive and constructive dialogue which helped in carving out an appropriate solution to the problems faced by the students. They also appreciate their efforts to admit and accommodate as many meritorious students as possible and understand that the authorities are doing their best to ensure a peaceful campus life.

Anindo Chatterjee (CNS)

IISc TMC Election Hoardings

Currently, if an unaware person enters the campus of IISc, he/she might begin wondering whether he/she missed news about an election phase to be held in Karnataka. Almost everywhere, lamp posts, notice boards and streets are plastered with hoardings trying to collect votes for the “clock”, “car” or “bicycle”. That the IISc is primarily a place of research and education and not a political stage does not count these days and the daily routine is disturbed by candidates and their followers barging into the offices and labs.

It is interesting to note, that if elections are going on for the Students’ Council, the prospective candidates are explicitly forbidden from putting up boards and posters or visiting the labs and offices during daytime (prior to 6PM).
Hangouts, if any, are only allowed at places of students’ interest such as the messes and hostels ONLY.

These imbalances of rights and duties among the Students’ Council and other institutions (such as the TMC) combined with an omnipresent lethargy of the students results in a loss of interest in the Students’ Council itself. Barely someone is standing for elections and many times candidates are elected unanimously. It seems that the Students’ Council is considered to be a disturbance within the IISc community and its power has been reduced to begging to the IISc authorities to, for e.g., get rid of the street dog menace, since almost daily people are bitten by dogs these days. Even after years, almost nothing happened and if anything has, it was never a permanent solution. But this is another topic…

Alexander Fell (SERC)

The Devil Lies in the Details

As I sit here almost 8000 miles away from home, trying to pen down an article on request, there are many things that are flooding my mind. But since I have been asked to talk about food, I am going to try and restrict myself to it. I am not a connoisseur or a gastronome. I am a simple person who eats to live (and not the lives to eat kind) and who believes in cooking well to eat well. I have very few preferences in terms of food and as Phoebe once said, I can eat almost anything without a face (being brought up as a vegetarian does leave you a little disadvantaged in that one arena that faces become unappetizing…). I have also almost always had a very high threshold for taste and smell perceptions and that just means that I need a lot of salt to taste the saltiness, a lot of spice to taste the spiciness, a lot of sugar to get the sweetness, I am sure you get the drift by now which is that, I basically needed a lot of anything to sense it, one way or another. I was a survivor in some sense. Quite unlike the gourmet friends of mine, I could eat almost any food and not complain – be it the mess food or the food at some other unmentionable places (unmentionable because I am still not rich enough to spend money on libel cases, you see!).

My introduction to food as an art and an experience happened after my introduction to IISc and a few people (unmentionable now, because of privacy issues rather than the fear of libel) who surrounded me and who kept talking about the texture of food, the smells, the looks, the subtle tastes and a whole lot of such stuff which was completely unpalatable (pun intended) to someone like me. More often than not, I was left amazed at the sensory acuity of my friends… (one of them could actually smell food and tell if the salt was right.. !!! (Wow… and at this point you should imagine me staring at her with my not so very well-known “jaw-dropping look”)

But that was the beginning and from that shaky beginning I have now evolved to see the very many pleasures of food. I have started to explore diverse cuisines and to note the finer points of the entire culinary expedition. I find it fascinating now, to eat a morsel of food and to try and discern the components that built it… I mean, the spices, the herbs, the vegetables that went in… The subtle flavour of oregano or pepper, salt or mustard, basil or cumin, garlic or ginger etc etc…. I find it fascinating that people can actually do that!! I have also started noticing the kind of food that I like more than a few others, I have started paying attention to the texture of food, the amount of oil, the possible variations etc (truth be told, the fact that I didn’t have a PhD on going to pay attention to did help enormously…). I assure you that it would have seemed like a lot of indulgence and vanity to me too perhaps a few years ago but now I can see the art and the craft underneath. I have started to appreciate the view of the connoisseurs. After all no pursuit can be trivial and while books interest me, food could interest someone else. And more often than not, having food could kill you while not having a book will only upset you a little.

I also realize now that my unbridled spirit in dealing with ingredients was kind of kept in check by the fear that I could have others consuming (and perhaps commenting) on the fruits of my labour. A physical distance from such daunting responsibility and a solitary existence in distant lands has now truly liberated me from the bonds of tradition and culinary shows. I now cook for myself knowing fully well that I will still love myself no matter how the food turns out and I experiment with gay abandon. I mix ingredients just because they appeal to me and I match recipes. The fact that I have to cook for myself has only opened up a new journey and I am loving it so far. Cooking can be therapeutic in some ways. Coming back from a crazy day at work with a disastrous experiments, pushy bosses and dumb colleagues, cooking can be a relaxing activity. One atleast gets a good meal at the end of the day and the joy of creating something new is an added bonus. It is an experience that I treasure and look forward to. I am exploring a whole new world and as Mc Donalds says it “I’m lovin it”.

But then through all these years, there has been one thing that has been a constant in my life – my sweet tooth (I didn’t lose it when I lost my milk teeth and grew the permanent set!!). While, I was quite unaffected by most food and not really choosy about what I put in my mouth (well, there is a child in me still); there was one thing which really got me dreaming and drooling. Desserts!!! Oooo wonderful desserts!! Through the more physiological endorphin and dopamine release the desserts – cakes, pastries, cheese cakes, mousse, muffins, chocolates… have made many a rotten day feel better. I have often craved for some simple sugar and chocolate combination when things have been going far from good and my friends have pampered me through. From a cheese cake at Amma’s to the Ganache tart at Freska’s to sometimes the Tiramisu at Miller’s, I have relished many a fine desserts. I have also realised that my weakness lies in the combination of a bitter-sweet taste of dark chocolate or coffee and sugar, like life as it is (well… I knew there was a philosopher in me all along). I love the chocolate melting in my mouth even as the nuts give me something to chew upon. I love the warmth of the molten chocolate as it seeps through the cold vanilla ice cream and I love the sweet mascarpone cheese even as the coffee soaked sponge cake crumbles in my mouth. If there were a heaven, I would say that I have seen glimpses of it and I am very happy with it too…

But then, here lies the challenge for the future, through my culinary explorations, I have still not ventured into the land of desserts, simply because it sounds like sacrilege to me!!! But one day I do hope to make a leap of faith and try my hand at some of these bits of heaven accessible to ordinary mortals like us… Till then I console myself saying that there should be something in man’s reach but just out of his grasp. After all it gives us something to look forward to. So as I prepare myself for my giant leap (sometime in the future) I continue to dabble with smells, textures, colours and tastes as I explore the world of culinary perfection though my own humble means.

As a sincere advice, I would say “the devil lies in the details” and one must watch out for what one puts into their mouth… it is a rewarding experience…

Happy eating and happier cooking to you all!!

Suvasini Ramaswamy (Alumnus, MCBL)

The tale of two lectures

Satish Dhawan Auditorium and Faculty Hall, March 3, 2011. IISc hosted two luminaries who are important actors in the Indian socio – economic – political stage on a single day. Shiv Shankar Menon, National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of India, delivered the IISc Golden Jubilee Lecture on ‘Science and Security’ at the Faculty Hall. P. Sainath, Rural Affairs Editor, The Hindu, interacted with the audience after the screening of the documentary, Nero’s Guests., at the Satish Dhawan Auditorium. The documentary screening was organised by Concern along with Vikalp Bengaluru and Maraa.

Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell


P. Sainath, Rural Affairs Editor, The Hindu interacting with the audience at Satish Dhawan Auditorium. Photo – Concern

Nero’s guests addressed the issue of farmer suicides happening in the country over the past decade or more. The plot of the documentary is Mr. Sainath’s investigations into the farmer suicides in Vidarbha, one of the leading cotton producing region in the country. The documentary was named after the grand party organised by the Roman Caesar, Nero, for the citizens of Rome as described in Tacitus’ Annals. During the party the prisonersof the state were burnt to provide lighting with hardly any dissent from the guests. After the documentary, Mr. Sainath interacted with the audience largely comprising of non IISc-ians.

On growth

Mr. Sainath argued that the measure of growth is an indicator of the economic activity of the state and does not guarantee social well being. Looking at developing countries in South America, he claimed that growth is not essential for HDI. For a country with third largest number of billionaires, the HDI rank is poor (119). Unlike John Kenneth Galbraith’s and Amartya Sen’s argument of growth with justice, the aim should be growth through justice with equitable distribution of wealth. According to the third National Family Health Survey, the percentage of malnourished children in our country is over 46%, this is worse than that of Sub Saharan Africa.

On net percapita grain consumption

Quoting the economic survey, Mr. Sainath argued that in the 1950s, the per capita grain consumption of the country was 444 gms. In 1991, it was 510 gms. However, with a declining population growth, if the per capita grain consumption falls to 436 gms, the argument of growth is debatable.

On agriculture

With a country having 43 million people registered with the employment exchange, depending mainly on IT (which is not a great creator of jobs) is a bad strategy. In India, women are not classified as farmers. This adds to the plight of thousands of agricultural households in the country. A hit in agriculture means a hit in the allied sectors also. Agriculture needs to be declared as a public service. The definition of Poverty line is fraudulent in the country. According to National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector study, there are 836 million people in the country who live on less than INR 20 a day.

On Geneticaly modified crops

Mr. Sainath described GM crops as Agriculture on steroids. Using GM seeds reduces the soil fertility by 25%. Following the Punjab model as described by the RBI governor (D. Subbarao) will be disastrous.

 

Knowledge is power, power is Science


Shiv Shankar Menon at the Munich Security Conference in February 2011. While delivering the IISc Golden Jubilee Lecture, Mr. Menon mentioned about how he was asked to talk on cyber crime as he hailed from a place known for its IT competence. Photo – Sebastian Zwez. http://www.securityconference.de/

 

Science is changing the security calculus of the nation, commented Shiv Shankar Menon, the National Security Advisor to the PrimeMinister. Mr. Menon commented on the two revolutions that has changed the security system of India in recent times. First, being the introduction of the nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapon is a political weapon and leads to a doctrine of deterrence. In 1998, when Pokran – II was conducted, India sought minimal deterrence and was not interested in an arms race. The fear of the enemy is what prompts a country to possess the nuclear weapons.

The second revolution is the emergence of Information Technology. The progress in Information Technology has made the country aware on cyber espionage and cyber warfare. The two success stories of recent times are the succesful completion of the 2010 Commonwealth Games and the improvement in maritime security using GPS navigation.

India should develop its own technical competence just like the case of telecommunication and space technology. It is in the hands of researchers to work towards the security of our country by focusing on innovative technologies across disciplines that would enable India to protect itself. Answering questions raised by the audience, Mr. Menon stated that diplomacy is not a beauty contest where being loud or popular matters. Popularity is not the measure of the effectiveness of the foreign policy.

 

[A Voices Press initiative]

The hobby that makes an impact:

[In the picture: Sayak (top) and Sankarsan (bottom)]

Dear friends, as you know everybody in this institute is involved in his/her own research or work. However, everybody would have some hobby or other. Out of those, some might turn out to be quite beneficial for many people. Hostel committee has been lucky to get the help of some people who fall in this category and feels that they worth a note. Barring few blocks, you would be able to see small remote boxes in almost all TV rooms. This is the result of the interest and involvement of two people among us. Srinadha Reddy of EE department helped us in finding the proper remote models and brought the appropriate working remotes. The small boxes that you see around the remotes were architected by Sankarsan of HV lab, EE department. Similarly, when it was noticed that the 24X7 running hours of the aqua guards was causing frequent malfunctions in them, Sayak from Physics has come forward with a design that will make sure that the units are given enough rest. He has made a prototype, which cuts off the power to the mains of the aqua guard at a regular interval. It was found to be reliable after putting it under observation for more than two months and hence chairman, council of wardens has approved the implementation of this scheme for all water purifiers in all hostels. Hence you can see all purifiers connected to such machines in hostels saving energy and improving their longevity.
Isn’t it nice to see a person working with the electrical tools proves his skills in design (as a CPDM fellow)? Similarly, a physicist solves the minute electronic problems. That is what hobby can make you do and as seen in these cases they are able to make a mark due to their hobbies along with the professional work.
Hostel committee on behalf of all the students would like to thank them all and hope many such people join their hands to this to solve some of the problems we face around us.

Hostel Committee
Student’s Council
(hostel.iisc@gmail.com)

‘It is important to understand economics in the Indian context’, says RBI governor

Dr. Duvvuri Subbarao, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, had come to deliver the M.Ct.M. Chidambaram Chettyar Memorial Lecture at the Institute on August 27, 2010. The team from Voices interviewed the Governor on the sidelines of the lecture. Here are the Governor’s thoughts on various issues raised by the Voices’ team of student journalists.

On shifting from Physics to Economics
Governor: Since I was not into research, my shifting from Physics to Economics was not a tectonic shift in the sense you mean. It happened quite organically. After completing my masters in Physics from IIT Kanpur, I joined the civil services in 1972. My postings during the early years in the IAS were mostly in rural areas. During this time, I realized that I would be a more relevant and useful civil servant if I knew a bit of economics and that was the motivation for this ‘shift from physics to economics’ as you put it. Since I had no background in economics, I was not eligible for admission to a masters programme in economics in the Indian system. Therefore, I went to Ohio State University in the US to study economics.

On research interest
Governor: I got my PhD from Andhra University. My dissertation was on ‘Fiscal Reforms at the State Level’. The economic reforms we embarked upon in 1991 were characterized by three big ticket items: (i) dismantling of the industrial licencing regime; (ii) liberalization of the external sector; and (iii) disinvestment from public enterprises. As you will note, these were all macro reforms carried out by the central government. But very soon we realized that these reforms had to be followed up by microlevel reforms, and that required the proactive involvement of the states. My research interest was triggered by the context of what needs to be done at the sub-national level to carry forward the reform effort. My stint as Finance Secretary in Government of Andhra Pradesh for over five years also gave me valuable domain knowledge of fiscal reforms at the cutting edge level.

On why was India relatively unscathed from the recent financial crisis
Governor: There are several reasons why India was relatively unscathed by the recent global crisis. Let me state three important ones. First, our banks did not have significant exposure to the toxic assets and tainted institutions and their off-balance sheet business was limited. Second, our exports are small in relative terms, less than 15% of GDP. So, the impact of the global downturn was muted. Third, the Reserve Bank instituted pre-emptory countercyclical regulatory measures to check the flow of credit to some vulnerable sectors. All these factors helped in insulating India from the worst impacts of the crisis.

On monetary policy being independent from political expectation
Governor: I can answer this question at several levels. First, the Reserve Bank is a public institution and it is only right that everyone has a stake in our policy. The Government too is a stakeholder, and a big one at that. Importantly, what we in the Reserve Bank do to manage inflation has vital implications for the Government. So, political expectations of monetary policy are not only inevitable, but I believe, also not inappropriate. This is true not just for India but for all countries, particularly for democracies. The important thing though is that Government’s expectations should not compromise the independence of monetary policy.

At another level, it is important to understand that there is a nexus between the Government’s fiscal policy and the Reserve Bank’s monetary policy. The size of the Government’s borrowing affects the interest rates in the economy which has a bearing on monetary policy. Vice versa, the Reserve Bank’s decision on policy interest rates affects the interest costs of the government and hence their fiscal position.

Over the years, the Government and the Reserve Bank have established a healthy working relationship. The Reserve Bank consults the Government but the final decision on monetary policy issues is ours and ours alone.

On the role of a central bank in a developed country as compared to one in a developing country

Governor: RBI has a much wider mandate than most other central banks. For example, the Bank of England is a pure inflation targetter; the US Fed has responsibility for inflation and unemployment. In contrast, the Reserve Bank is a full service central bank. In addition to being the monetary authority, the Reserve Bank is the regulator and supervisor of banks, non-bank finance companies and of important segments of the financial markets. We regulate the payment and settlement system and manage the external sector of the economy. We are the debt managers for the central and state governments. The Reserve Bank has historically played an important role in building development institutions in the country. For example, the Reserve Bank started off the UTI, IDBI, NABARD, NHB etc. In that sense, as compared to a developed country, the central bank of a developing country has a larger responsibility for growth and economic development in addition to the standard mandate for price stability and financial stability.

On economic education in the country
Governor: At the outset, I must confess that I am not familiar with the current state of economic education in the country and it will be inappropriate on my part to make any definitive statement. I do have some thoughts though on somethings that we must be focusing on. First, I think it is important to teach and understand economics in the Indian context. Let me elaborate. There are certain textbook concepts which are not relevant for a developing economy. For example, the concept of ‘Ricardian Equivalence’ does not strictly operate in a poor country. Similarly, the problems of monetary transmission we have here are different from those in advanced economies. In studying economics, therefore, we should be looking for the Indian context. Second, I think, economics education should have a greater empirical orientation. In other words, our teachers and students of economics ‘should get their hands dirty’. Third, there should be larger focus on studying the diversity of India’s development experience so as to understand what works, where and why. This is possibly the most efficient way for us to mainstream successful ‘enclave’ experiments.

On communicating the economic policies and decisions to the people
Governor: Central banks are increasingly realizing the importance of communication for improving the effectiveness of their policies. Let me give an example. The Reserve Bank has primary responsibility for managing inflation. But inflation is influenced not only by the supply-demand balance but also by inflation expectations. The Reserve Bank can shape inflation expectations by explaining the rationale for its policy decisions and thereby better deliver its mandate on price stability.

Beyond, monetary policy issues too, the Reserve Bank attaches value to communication. As a public institution, we have an obligation to explain the background and rationale of our policies as a way of rendering accountability.

On being a columnist with Economic Times
Governor: I was not a regular columnist. I used to write occasionally for Economic Times and also for a few other publications on fiscal and external sector issues. It was an intellectually rewarding experience. Reading is one thing, but when one starts writing, one’s understanding of the subject becomes deeper.

[Shyam (Mgmt), Madhurima (Mgmt) and Abraham (Mgmt) interviewed the Governor. Our special thanks to Mr. Susobhan Sinha (Deputy General Manager, RBI), Prof. P. Balaram (Director, IISc), Prof. M.H. Bala Subrahmanya (Chairman, Mgmt) and Ms. V. Thilagam, PRO, IISc]

From the Students’ Council

By now students would be thinking what Students’ Council (SC) is doing after the election. We, at Students’ Council believe in a systematic approach of addressing the issues raised in our manifesto. We remember the promises that we made and we are committed to fulfill them. Fortunately, this time there is enough participation from the students, pre-elections as well as post-elections. Enough volunteers are available for all the committees that work along with SC. The structure of SC and its present members are listed below. Students are encouraged to direct their concerns to the respective co-ordinators. The important points in our manifesto viz., scholarship hike, GARP funding etc., will be discussed in detail and students will be updated immediately after the CoD meeting. We might seek some information from you, which we think will help us in putting forth a strong case for pertinent issues. Please co-operate and provide the necessary information. SC sincerely intends to serve the student community.

Given below is the list of committees along with the details of their co-ordinators.

[ Courtesy: Students’ Council]