Monday, 22 January 2007

Prez advises IIT-ians

Prez advises IITians
by Remigius de Souza
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President APJ Abdul Kalam, in his inaugural address advised the IITian, “Create low-cost water efficient, electrically efficient dwelling units with proper sanitation and drainage facilities for the needy in urban and rural areas. The cost of a two-room dwelling unit should not exceed Rs 1 lakh.” Event: PanIIT Global Conference, Mumbai. Date: 23 December 2006. (Hindustan Times, 24 Dec. 2006).

Where do we go from here?

The government started the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) – branded elite institutes to serve the corporate sector – with foreign collaboration few decades ago. The IIT students recently had organised protests against the reservations for SCs/STs and OBCs. in education and jobs. Not a surprise!

Since the times of Harappa – Mohenjo-Daro, millions of Indians have been living in two-room dwellings (Basham, A.L. “Wonder that was India”) in cities and villages. Until modern times in India the people exercised their autonomy in decision-making, planning, technology, materials, construction and maintenance of their houses within their means, economy and skills by self-help; obviously they are economical and affordable. They display tremendous variety and diversity, and freshness in its form and language that are culturally relevant, however ancient they may look.

With industrialisation and colonisation the autonomy and initiative of the people is lost. Worst than the mach-maligned caste system in India and the racism world over, the industrial society is broken into numerous divisions of occupations and professions controlled by Agency, which of course do not recognise even personal space, leave aside community. It’s a classless mass society; the underclass is not recognised. This may be an influence of deductive methods of sciences and technologies, which are monopolised by a few for profit and power. Certainly the modern sciences and technologies have devised harder building materials, largest /tallest buildings, which ironically cannot stand the forces of nature.
Modern Technology that failed
Since last sixty years of Independence, with progress and development in India, the institutes of learning and Agency have failed to solve the aggravating problem of the houseless, besides food. There are 100 colleges of architecture, many more institutes of engineering and a few elitist Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). None of them have carried any research or research projects, which form their curriculum, relevant to this growing malady. None of them have tried to impart skills and technologies to the public that remain in the safe custody of the experts, like Holy Scriptures are held by ‘purohits’ – the priests.

Hoewever they failed to design a house, which is equivalent in quality to that of tribal house design, and the and the tribal skills, used by half-naked tribals. None of the experts, specialists, builders, contractors, either in collaboration or individually, have been able to evolve skills and design for a house on a condition that it could last for a designed period of 5 – 10 – 15 or 20 years, which recovers its cost in the due time, and dismantled or recycled, at the end of period without loss of money or materials, without damaging the environment and ecology that is energy-wise, to be built again as desired by a householder like any ethnic vernacular tribal house. None even thought of it.

In the industrialised mass education during 5 to 10 years of professional courses the aspirants are spoon-fed to produce homogenised projects. From K.G. level to university, the formal mass education at any stage fails to liberate the students who are tied to the shackles of status quo; forget about awakening some social responsibility; they are periodically assessed by grading and degrading. They also are groomed to find the answers from the text / scriptures written by other mortals rather than thinking on their own to see the problems and to find answers – to maintain the status quo i.e. to obey an authority.

Educating the educated: Learning from the People

As I write this note, there is news of a “half-animal” (sic) woman of 27 years age and naked, was found near a village in Cambodia. It is believed that she was lost at the age of 8 when she had taken buffalo for grazing in a forest. It is a story of extraordinary intelligence and survival. How could a child survive for 19 years without parents, family, community, society, police, the State ― without Agency ― to protect her? It is easier to survive ― to live sanely ― in a forest away from urban jungle, away from civilised society that are out to kill fellow humans for any reason, on any pretext, or for personal gratification, either directly or by proxy, may it be Singur, Nithari, Kashmir, Mumbai, Tiananmen Square, Vietnam, Iraq, Iran… She doesn’t know any intelligible language, and in the warm climate of Cambodian forest she doesn’t need shelter or clothing, happily in the forest there is plenty of food.

What will happen to the IIT graduates, experts, specialists, the do-gooder elites, even Dr. Kalam, if they are stripped of their certificates and the loads of gadgets and left in the forest? How would they sustain? Perhaps they will succeed in running away. According to Peter Principle, a person is elevated to the highest level of her/his inefficiency. Perhaps it may be worth sending all the learned, particularly the bureaucrat, periodically to grassroots for refresher-courses, irrespective of their age and social-political-economic status. It is high time that the entire education systems needs revamp: read for example, Letters and Numbers plus Things to Make (de Souza, R.), which outlines actions to restructure Indian ecucation system. When we give a talk standing on a platform, as Debhoo Ghosh once told us, we assume standards and don’t see what is below the platform.

Link to "half-woman half-animal" 

Remigius de Souza


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  2. I take that Ar. Remi has good intentions, and some parts of the article does point to some basic problems that we need to address. The article however falls far short of being a well argued one. I am an IITian and am quite proud of being one. Mostly, that pride comes because of being an Indian and not because I graduated from an "elitist" institute. I wonder why an IIT should be considered an elitist one. When I was studying there (IIT Kharagpur), we were a bunch of guys who were as excited and as down-to-earth as one could find anywhere else. Now that I have done some amount of teaching, I find that it takes all kinds of students to make an institute. There are the rich; there are the poor. There are the un-initiated along with the focused and motivated.

    In IIT there was one difference however: We all came through a motivation "valve"; which was the IIT JEE (Joint Entrance Examination). Anyone passing through that valve is usually got his motivation level checked out quite early in life. That gave us a lot of pride, which even today when I look back is justified.

    Quite a few of us were from very poor (economically) backgrounds. A close friend of mine at IIT was so poor that he couldn't afford to buy notebooks. So he resorted to writing his notes in pencil and erasing his earlier years notes and reusing the books again. Many IITians during our times used to take down notes on the backs of computer punch-cards (from old mainframe card-readers. Many youngsters dont even know how they work).

    There were many who couldn't afford to buy a bicycle to go around the campus. And of course, there were a few rich and arrogant lot. But that mix can be seen everywhere. Under no stretch of imagination were we a pampered lot. Maybe some of the infrastructure, etc. was better than what is found in other institutes. But that's just about it. We had our own share of badly trained faculty, intermixed with the sensitive ones.

    What made us tick I think is our peer group, because the JEE bound us together and gave us that confidence to state that we can do something worthwhile in our lives. We simply had to argue out our points in our hostel dining rooms, canteens, corridors, classrooms and seminar halls. If any IITian had to reach a conclusion such as Ar. Remi, he/she would have to first lay out ALL sides of the argument, before concluding. No self-respecting IITian would like to come into a discussion with pre-fixed biases.

    An IITian is best exemplified by this quote: "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Regarding Ar. Remi's article, I request the reader to carefully see whether it allows one to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time before arriving at a conclusion.

    It is pointless for me to stress upon the various the various millionaires/billionaires that IITs have produced all over the world because often money many not mean value. I probably dont even need to point to Arvind Kejriwal (Magsaysay award winner, who initiated the Right of Information Act in India. ), and many, many other IITians who were seen in the press, contributing to making India a better place. For e.g. Susan Chacko, an IITian, is one of the founder of SAWNET. which looks into domestic abuse and other women's issues.

    What I do want to point out is that apart from the IITians you may hear about in the press, there is quite a lot of them who have now graduated and have decided consciously to be in India to do something here. They don't go announcing their work from the roof tops or do any kind of rabble-rousing just to get some attention. You may find them giggling away like teenagers at some rock-show and yet they are called upon to contribute to some very serious stuff happening here.

    Ar. Pavan Gupta studied the infrastructure problems in Delhi for eight years (at the very least) using his own money, and now some of his solutions are being put into place. Ar. Hussein Varawalla has much to say about hospital design in India. Ar. Harimohan Pillai is very well respected for his effort in architectural education. S.D.Limaye, erstwhile chief engineer of Konkan Railway is a down-to-earth IITian (Civil, Bombay) who was crucial in making Konkan Railway possible. The list is actually quite large and one could possibly really settle the debate on how many IITians are present in INDIA contributing seminally to things happening here.

    And regarding, research not being done in IITs.... I am hoping Ar. Remi meant it anecdotally. Or he is completely clueless on what kind of researches that go on in the IITs and by IITians.

    All said and done, the point of this article is not to start a shouting match. Yes, we do need to work on a lot of issues here. That won't happen by rabble-rousing or by posturing. And I personally doubt whether it is much to do with whether the contribution happens because one is in India or not.

    Yesterday, I came back from a meeting with my batchmate; Dr. Pratap Khanwilkar (Electrical, IIT Kharagpur); inventor of a revolutionary kind of artificial heart (Technically, VAD or Ventricular Assist Device,1249,635192352,00.html ) which recently saved the lives of two old men. Does it matter whether those two patients were Indians or not? All lives are precious. Once the medical trials are over, the device that Pratap has invented would save quite a lot of lives. Pratap is setting up manufacturing in India and is also starting a foundation for tiger conservation in Maharashtra. He is extremely proud to be an Indian and wants to contribute to developments here. When the whole world is becoming a village, does it really matter where we stay?

    And, by the way, the issue is not really to do with even IIT. I know of very talented and responsible people who are contributing today; who are not IITians. Let us not attach labels to people and then look at them using their labels. Let us measure people by the milestones they cross and not by unreasonable expectations regarding where they ought to end their journey.

    Sabu Francis

  3. The author, Remigius de Souza, it seems, is very specific about “Research in Building Technologies”. If IITs are conducting any research, why it is kept in the safe custody of the experts that IITs produce? Why it is not made public? And particularly in India is this research “User Friendly”?