Our educational system

This topic can generate a multitude of opinions from the most un-erudite  group imaginable. For once, a topic where each one has enough personal experience to talk, instead of spouting theory and conjecture.

It has been my opinion for a long time, that our system needs to be revamped. When I was a student, through primary school and right up to my undergrad, I always said that our system put too much importance to the ability to cram information with the temporary retention of information being the goal. Those who understood concepts well, and refused to cram stuff they did not understand were punished. It drove me crazy, and I could not see a solution.

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Eulogy – Part II

(This is the concluding part of a two-part series. Please read Eulogy – Part 1 before you read this.)

He yawned loudly. Somehow he always remembered to cover his mouth when he yawned. Even in private. She had reformed his bohemian ways a long time ago: her eyes large as saucers and an admonishment of ‘be polite’, with her hand gently covering his mouth. He wryly wondered how she expected him to improve such behavior while she doled out such delicious punishments. Nothing like that now. He was still drawing a blank. There was nothing he could think of that was profound enough to be said at a podium, but impersonal enough that it could be shared without causing any embarrassment.

His family had been extremely cooperative and understanding. His wife had stopped scowling at him, and had interrupted him only once to announce that the Fedex package he’d made her track would arrive only on Monday. Damn! The stuff that R had left for him would probably have steam-rollered through his writers’ block.

When I need you, I just close my eyes and I’m with you, and all that I so wanna give you, is only a heartbeat away…

What a freakish Karan Joharesque coincidence that the radio would blare out this song while he was thinking about her! She had sung this song to him once in expression of her love. True romantic that he was he had pointed out how the tune of the song was exactly like tumse milke, aisa laga tumse milke…. Her reply, of course, was less than charitable.

“Idiot! That song is a copy of the English one.”

“Oh! I thought you had composed the lyrics of this one for me, and simply Anu Malik-ed the tune!”

Anyone else at any other time would have assumed that the song was merely being alluded to, but the sheer spontaneity of R coupled with her literary promise allowed no such conclusions. If anything, one was more inclined to believe that she had extemporaneously composed the whole thing.

Again, that moment was too trivial to be shared. Also, no one else would understand what he felt there. Without any warning, his writers’ block dissolved and thoughts words started flowing in his head. He started scribbling furiously like he did during history exams whenever he was afraid that the answer would simply evaporate from his head.

He read and re-read it to make sure it was just the way she would have wanted it, which was an irony in itself. From then on, it was like someone had pressed a fast-forward button; the next moment of coherence he experienced was at the podium, in front of her weeping family, the staid-expressioned extended family, and the various acquaintances to whom this was merely another social call. It was an out-of-body experience as though he could float over the happenings and actually observe the man in the blue suit giving a sweet eulogy.

“The fact that you’re all here in no way means that R meant equally to all of you. In fact, knowing R as I did, I’m sure some of you are here to make sure she’s really gone.” There were small knowing smiles among the family and friends, and looks of pure horror on the acquaintances’ faces.

“R and I were very intimate at one point of time and drifted apart rather cynically. We were never in touch and surprisingly her probate attorney contacted me with her wish that I give this eulogy. This surprised me in two ways. One: I did not think I meant so much to her after all this time, and two: she was an extremely private person who had opened up to me very slowly. The thought that she would want a speech inspired by one of her most intimate life-periods to be made in front of (quite frankly) pure strangers would have been ludicrous to me fifteen years ago. I suppose she changed a lot in these years, but then, you know her more than I do now. What I do know, is what she was then. I would like to talk about something from that space-time.”

Her eleven-year old or so daughter was staring at him at this point with those very eyes…

“Of all the moments we shared, and we shared some great ones as friends and many more as a couple, the unlikeliest choice for this occasion would be the time we parted ways. For some reason, as I thought about what epitomized her personality; this somehow allows me to convey the most while saying the least.

It was a warm night in Manhattan. (Those things come once in a while!) I remember her eyes burning a hole in mine. She had the ability to appear ice-cold while seething and fuming inside. She said, ‘I love you and a part of me always will. This is just not working out. No matter how much we are attracted to each other, and how much we miss each other when away, we can’t seem to allow the other to breathe freely when together. I am unhappy in a quiet desperate way without you, and I am kicking and screaming while crying myself to sleep when I’m with you. There just seems to be no solution here. I love you a lot and want more than anything else for you to be happy. Neither one of us is happy when we’re together, and no matter how much we pretend otherwise, we both know that our relationship is volcanic and tempestuous, sans stability. Now that we’re parting ways, I am going to feel like I made a ridiculous mistake, and that being without you is like slowly choking to death, but this is a feeling I can overcome, and I will move on. I am sure it will be even easier for you.’

She said that and walked away slowly. I knew she would not turn back to look at me even once. The amazing part of this woman was not that her resolve never weakened. It was that she anticipated those moments and took precautionary measures. I just kept watching her leave until she became a humanoid speck on the horizon and then nothingness. Her last words lingered like an eerie echo. ‘…I will move on. It will be even easier for you.’

Friends and well-wishers, as we say goodbye to a truly exceptional human being, all I can say is, ‘She was wrong.’

He climbed down the podium tearfully and walked straight into his wife’s embrace. It was a beautifully conducted funeral.

The next day Fedex brought over the package that should have arrived on Saturday. It contained an old love letter he had given her, and a neatly printed-out letter he had never seen before. Written above the heading, in that scrawl he had loved so much were the words, ‘This is the eulogy I want you to give. It is nice enough, and has nothing personal. I have loved you all these years.’

He laughed through his tears at the control-freak he now missed so much.


PS: Snafu celebrates its 100th post! I hope to keep writing, and writing more frequently. A warm thanks to all readers.

Eulogy – Part 1

“Sit up straight.” he still heard her voice in his head. R had had a booming voice—feminine, but strong. He chuckled at how she would have responded to this description. Come on, he scolded himself, you’re a writer; this should come naturally to you.

He had fought with his wife early that morning. Twelve years into a marriage, fights and quarrels were commonplace, but this one was weird off the bat. Unlike other fights, in this one, he knew she was right even though he kept fighting with her. The reason was obvious when you thought about it. Everything started the previous evening, around 6 pm.

He winced as soon as he heard someone knock on his door. He had warned his secretary, “No calls!” Well, if she had still let someone through, it had to be important. Damn it! He didn’t want anything important to disturb his Friday evening reverie. “Come in”, he said, hoping his unwelcoming tone would make things obvious to the intruder.

A wiry, bespectacled man entered wearing a hand tailored suit. It was exquisite. The man kept it short. He was a probate lawyer for R. Probate and R in the same sentence could mean only one thing. How did it happen, he asked. Automobile incident was the lawyerly reply. Why could these legal bozos never say simple words like road accident? So, why was this attorney here? Well, R had left him some special things and a dying request. “What things, and what request?” he asked and immediately regretted the order of his questions.

The lawyer responded that the items were in a box which would be Fedexed to him the next day. She requested that he give her eulogy. This Sunday? Yes. In two days. Shouldn’t be too hard for a writer. The lawyer left with as much discreetness as he had entered.

The sun came blazing through the open window and drenched his table in golden luminescence. He was doing that circling thing with his pen again. An observant friend in school had pointed out that he moved his pen in circles only when pondering something about rotation or uniform circular motion.

He strained his eyes to concentrate. He was sitting with a pen and paper for an hour now, with no words yet. The only words he had come up with were, “words cannot describe the impression she made on my life.” She was an ex, but more than that. He had been in three relationships before his marriage, each one with their own versions of pain. This one was strange. There was a didactic tone to this one. She taught him: something the others had not done. This was without doubt the most educational relationship he had been in. He could not say that: how was anyone to understand what that even meant? He could not even explain to his wife the importance that another woman held in his life. Understandably, she had pouted for about two hours before ‘allowing’ him to give the eulogy.

He remembered that evening in Manhattan. He hated walking in TriBeCa but she dragged him as always.  She had a keen eye, and spotted what looked like a presidential dollar coin on the sidewalk. As she tried to pick it up, there was a scream of April fool! as she realized that the coin was stuck to the ground. He laughed spontaneously and she did too, but as the joke grew on her, a tear started to roll down her eye. He realized that a reprimand was coming. She was the one person he knew who could combine maturity and  petulance into one mood. As he pacified her, he realized that this high-maintenance female was exactly what he wanted and she made him happy. He couldn’t write about this either. Too trivial an incident and no way someone else would see the meaning in it.

What to do then? He sipped his coffee and closed his eyes. Maybe a nap would do him good. The evening might be better. After all most of his best works were a product of a tearing hurry caused by an impending deadline, and the more desperation the better.

Eulogy Part 2


Stayed up last night reading a molecular bio type paper. Not my cup of tea at all. Had to spend extra time learning stuff. Man! They use too many abbreviations. Deciphering a paper is the first step to critiquing it! T’was fun though.

I heard a joke about a person walking up to various professionals to ask them how much time they would need to read and understand one book. At the end was an engineer, who asked the only counter-question: when’s the exam?

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Microblogging seems like fun. I can just jot down some ideas as and when they come to me. I have come home to cook dinner, and will go back to the lab after eating. The roomies are watching ER. Why? Dunno!
People work a lot in this world. Somehow things change, and they affect the results of our life-experiments more than any of our efforts.
We can do only what we can. It might seem a little depressing, but in reality, it tends to set you free of responsibility.
What say?

Sibal’s spitball

Union HRD minister Kapil Sibal wants to give a higher weightage to 12th board marks in the IIT qualifiers. Specifically, he wants to raise the minimum 12th board score from 60% to 80-85% for a qualification to the IIT entrance exams. He says that it will reduce the influence of coaching classes, and focus the students on 12th boards.

When did this man turn into the nut he seems to be today?

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Scientific Misconduct – An Insight

“There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale
returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.”

Mark Twain

Human beings are passionate; scientists more so than anyone else. That we take a few given facts and let our imaginations run wild is probably our best quality as far as science is concerned. For centuries, budding scientists have taken for granted many bits of established theories and facts while questioning many others. The result has been a victory for science whether the scientist himself benefits or not.

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Obama’s speech to Congress

America listened with fatigue and weariness as the President announced his healthcare plan. This speech was aired on every news network as well as website or blog.

The president promised that people with some or the other form of insurance right now will not be forced to change anything. He said, “Under this plan, it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition. As soon as I sign this bill, it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it most. They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime.”

He said that people without coverage are a burden to other taxpayers because of their emergency room visits. Hence he says that it should be mandatory for everyone to carry some basic health insurance. I do find it odd that healthy young people who are unlikely to fall sick that often will be bullied into spending extra money on healthcare.

He says that a public option is mandatory for those who have no coverage and that it will be competing with private insurers and keeping them in check. He also seems to assure that the public option would not be a burden to the taxpayer. It will be run by its own revenue and not on taxation. It is a kind of unfair competition when the government includes one of its players in a game where the others are privately funded. This government-aided player will have the advantage of never failing. Money can be siphoned off from profiting governmental ventures to this player when things get rough. In other words, if the governmental ventures profit, the money won’t be returned to you as a tax refund, or a tax credit, but will actually be used to fund an institution that is not working in the first place.

Business, like evolution, does work by natural selection. Bad businesses should be allowed to fail. At no point do we need to bail out a venture that ends badly. So what if people have invested in it? That is way the game is played. You cannot be a partner in profit only.

I am confused. There is one point though. He is a good speaker. He can sell you any idea. Even when he says something like, “I am not gonna do any reform” which is what he meant when he said, “People on the left want a universal health care system, while people on the right want to abolish the tax breaks on employer provided health care. Doing either of these will be a great change for people who are happy with their health care.”

He said that people without coverage will get the big benefit of his plan, because he will introduce an insurance exchange marketplace, where insurance companies should also come on board because they would jump at the chance of getting new customers. How? These people are uninsured because they’re considered high-risk or high-maintenance by the companies. So what will change now? I believe the government will offer tax breaks to these insurance companies to make it more profitable to insure these people. So, money from your pocket will be used to insure people who are a health care risk, so much of a risk that current insurers do not want them at any cost.

To be fair to the president, we must take care to make sure that the silly myths about Obamacare are dispelled. This plan will not federally fund abortions. It will not insure illegal immigrants. Trust me, Democrats don’t have any advantages in helping illegal immigrants. Republicans benefit more from keeping illegal immigrants here because they work below minimum wage and benefit the small entrepreneur who is the republican base. The other myth is the stupid ‘Death panel’ concept. That is absolutely false. Attach Obamacare on the real points.

For example, Obama said that he wants the public option to be self-sufficient, and not supported by taxation. He said that it will be run like a regular business, but will sidestep some of the overheads and the profits that a private company has, and hence will be able to provide a better deal to the public. This is him making the case for socialized medicine. He will never use those words, but it is pretty much true. However, the VA, Medicare, Medicaid etc are government owned, and percentage of satisfied customers for all these is higher than the privately insured customer base. So, there is a point to be made for a single payer option even though, as Bill Maher puts it, “I know socialized medicine sounds like Stalin himself is going to come over to your house and perform a forced sterilization. But, really all it is, is universal health care.”

As I asked before in my earlier post about this, why can’t every person just vote his interest? Yes, the richest 1% will be paying more than us. So what! Simply put, each person should vote his interest, and not based on some principle and a fantasy of being rich someday. Even though it irritates me that healthy prudent people might be paying for others who cannot afford health or those who are irresponsible with their health, I keep thinking that this beacon of capitalism has public schools, public libraries, parks, unemployment and welfare options, affirmative action, and many other such taxpayer supported programs.

The one thing that Republicans have proposed that makes complete sense is tort reform. It should not be so easy to sue doctors who made judgment calls in the heat of the moment. Doctors who are afraid of being sued increase healthcare costs by ordering superfluous tests simply to back up their already correct diagnoses, paying a lot for malpractice insurance which cost is transferred to the patient, which helps increase his premium, and by refusing to treat patients who might die on the table.

There are a lot of people who are saying that they are happy with their healthcare. Most of them fear getting sick. Forget stuff like serious surgery, some basic visits to a hospital cost a lot. Many medications demand a high co-pay, which makes it tough for people to afford treatment. Some of these people are just lucky that something bad has not happened to them. I would love to treat healthcare as a regular business, but the truth is that people without other luxuries can find a way to live, but this is a necessity that threatens our very life if not present. At some point, when we are opposing reform, we are saying to the uninsurables, “To hell with you. You can die for all I care.”

I think the public option should be inferior to the private one. I think there should be a set of civil hospitals like we have in India: a completely parallel medical system, which does not interfere with the private medical scenario. Freedom to choose is an important right, but mere survival of the weakest of our species should be the least we can expect from people.


Hi guys
I have introduced myself to blogging from the iPhone. That’s right. I will be sharing my idle chatter from any and all places where today’s oxygen (read 3g) is available.