October 31, 2006

Mega-family household, dates back to Shivaji

Two is company; three, a crowd. When the number goes up to 180, it becomes a TV story. Deccan Herald correspondent Shyam Sundar Vattam wrote about a 180-member family in rural Dharwad that was featured in a BBC documentary. As Mr Vattam put it, the telecast has led to a steady flow of visitors to Lokur, a village 15 km from Dharwad. Lokur (which means people’s place) is home to the Narsinganavar family that has 180 members living under the same roof.
At an age when an increasing number of young couple are constrained by circumstances or contrive to live away from parents the Lokur family represents social anachronism. The mega-family phenomenon, I presume, is something peculiar to remote rural locations that are remote in more than a geographical sense. The BBC crew that went to film the Lokur family found they didn’t even have television. The crew donated a TV set so that the family could watch the BBC documentary on them.
I know of a mega-family at Avlegaon, Maharashtra, that is not accessible by road. An unmade cart-path stops a mile short of the Fauzdar household that had some 150 members when I visited them during Ganesh festival some 10 years back. It was a mansion-like house in the middle of a paddy field. It belonged to a fauzdar, who was the village land-record keeper and he registered births and deaths in the village, in Sindudurg district of Maharashtra.
I went to Avlegaon with Mr R S Sawant, a Chennai-based company CEO whose wife belonged to this village. Mrs Sawant traced back the Avlegaon settlement to the days of Shivaji. The villagers shared their surname with the Maratha ruler - Bhonsle. The fauzdar’s forefathers were in Shivaji’s army. When their menfolk went out to fight battles the women and children of the basti came to stay in the fauzdar’s house, which was built 300 years ago. The fauzdar family owns half the village land. According to Mr Sawant, they are self-sufficient in terms of their needs of rice, cereal, fruits, vegetables and milk.
The core strength of the household is around 80, mostly middle-aged people and young children of those employed in towns. Those of the employable age in the family have gone out of the village, to towns and cities such as Mumbai for employment. They make it back to Avlegaon for holidays and festivals. The house strength was 150 when Mr Sawant and I visited the village. We were there on a Ganesh chaturthi day.

October 26, 2006

Infosys: Paying its social dues in China

As many as 50 of the 100 Chinese undergrads who went through a three-month course at Infosys training centre, Mysore, went back to work for other companies. They were not obliged to join Infosys, according to Infosys china CEO, Mr James Lin. The students who spent three months in Mysore represented the first batch of an Infosys sponsored internship programme.

The company website said China Scholarship Council together with Infosys selected 100 undergraduate students in their fourth year from leading universities in the software engineering field. The program involves a three-month intensive training course on interpersonal and technical skills at the Global Education Centre at Mysore, and a four-month internship at Infosys’ development center in Bangalore.

In return for the favour China is reported to have exempted Infosys China unit from the provisions of the labour law pertaining to trade unions. The Infosys unit in China has 700 employees, of whom 95 percent are Chinese. And they have no union. Mr Lin is reported in The Hindu as saying, “we will never let a trade union be formed here”. The Hindu’s Sandeep Dikshit, in an op-ed page piece says China needs a workforce that is talented and familiar with international practices and business environment. The Infosys sponsored internship programme partly takes care China’s HR needs. To quote Mr Lin (this time, from his company website), “We believe that a truly global company has a global view of not only markets, but people and culture. Through this initiative, along with our investments in China, we hope to provide Chinese software professionals with an opportunity to train on cutting edge technologies.”

Our students can also do with some company sponsored internship. As The Hindu report put it, Infosys paid its ‘social dues’ to China through the internship scheme. I don’t know if the company feels it owes anything to Mysore by way of ‘social dues’. Wouldn’t it be a good idea, if they were to sponsor a few seats in every training batch at the Mysore centre to the bright but socially disadvantaged students from Mysore ? Like China, we could also do with multinationals sponsoring internships to our students who lack employability skills. According to a Nasscom study, three out of every four engineers our educational institutions turn out are found to be deficient in tech. skills, fluency in English, ability to work in a team, and to deliver basic oral presentations.

At campus recruitment big companies skim off the best and the brightest. A company sponsored internship programme for some of those who are left out might be one way the corporate sector could pay its social dues to educational institutions.

October 24, 2006

Spreading the green message, Somnath style

It's the kind of story, I wish, the media would do more often. It is about a young man's effort to convey a green message in a down-to-details way that appeals to those with an accountant's mind. Whenever someone comes up with an idea or message, we tend to ask, 'what's in it for me'. Cost-benefit ratio is the key to sell anything. Which is what T N Somnath, a PUC student, has tried to figure out, to promote his case for saving trees from axemen.

A hundred year old tree, he says, is worth Rs.11.2 lakhs. How ?
Oxygen it produces is worth Rs. 2.5 lakhs
The soil erosion it stems saves Rs.2.5 lakhs
Impact on humidity - Rs.3 lakhs
Ecological benefits of a tree sheltering birds/insects - Rs.2.5 lakhs
Air pollution control - Rs.70,000

Put in such neatly calculated and tabulated format, it raises the question: How did Somnath come up with the numbers ? But I would let that pass.

The pertinent point is Somnath has come up with an imaginative way to create public awareness about the importance of trees. The next time you see full-grown tree being felled, you'd say, 'there goes Rs.11 lakh worth of our wealth'. Somnath is reported to have nailed printed notice boards, carrying his tabulated figures, on the trunks of a hundred old trees in Bangalore city. The credit for bringing the story of Somnath's crusade to save trees to public notice goes to The Hindu reporter Govind D Belgaumkar.

Great work, Somnath ; good show, Govind.

And then, S G Neginhal, retired forest service officer, says in Deccan Herald, a tree does the function of five air-conditioners in bringing down urban temperature. What's more, it harbours nocturnal birds such as owl that feed on rodents and mosquitoes, thereby keeping a check on the spread of rat fever, chikungunya, dengue and malaria.

October 10, 2006

A plate of fruits, stuffed and knitted

The latest Wonderweb mail, from Vibhuti Jain, has 10 photos captioned 'Knitted Food'. To know how these fruits are 'grown' and what it takes I Googled and found a knitting site - Jimmy Beans Wool. Besides Size 7 and darning needles you need dyed organic cotton yarn and polyester batting as stuffing material.

October 8, 2006

Take his tea, but vote for me

Shashi Tharoor, jeetega zaroor. That was the slogan on which he contested the St. Stephen's College Union election, 1974. In his column - The Hindu - Mr Tharoor writes the slogan turned out to be prophetic. His 'most memorable achievement', as college union president, was improving the quality of vegetarian food at the mess. Mr Tharoor had also kept his union out of the JP moment, a stance, he said, he later regretted during the Emergency.

I had won a campus election too. This was at the Delhi School of Economics (DSE), a few minutes walk across the road from the St. Stephen's. Unlike Mr Tharoor, I can't say I achieved anything . At DSE those days we didn't even have a canteen ,for me to improve the quality of its offerings. We used to stroll across to Ramjas College for snacks and smoke. Like Mr Tharoor, I had a regret. I could not keep DSE from joining the Delhi University Students Union.

Till my term DSE students had kept themselves away from the university union affairs. Our college didn't even call its students body as a union. At DSE we were part of, what they called, a 'fraternity', of which the president was DSE director. And the students elected the vice-president. It was during my term as VP the student body adopted a resolution, affiliating itself to the Delhi University Students Union. For the record, I cast my vote against the resolution.

The DSE Students 'Fraternity', presumably, hasn't since been the same again. Politics came to characterise student body election. Mine was the last term - 1959-60 - when election was won through a fraternal contest. My slogan against my only rival was : 'Take his tea, but vote for me'.

October 1, 2006

Medical ethics. Where's it ?

A surgeon who won't take kickbacks from the lab or radiology facility to which he/she sends patients; and won't give a cut to the physician who sent him the patient might lose referrals from other physicians.

Is he naive? Or is he just being ethical ?

Dr Abraham Verghese: I think in the US, and perhaps in India, we've drifted so far away from the ideal that we are not even aware that there is a standard that we're supposed to adhere to.
Dr Verghese, Director, Centre for medical humanities and ethics, University of Texas, addresses this and many other ethics issues in an interview with C K Meena that appears in The Hindu.

Author of My Own Country: a doctor's story, a best-selling memoirs about treating AIDS in smalltown USA, Dr Abraham Verghese was in India to attend a Clinical Ethics Conference at Christian Medical College, Vellore.