Artwork by Prof. Arun Inamdar
Through times immemorial, art, either in the form of expression or protest, has been an important medium for effecting social change. Whether it is through poetry, film, music, illustrations, etc., art has been used to rally people for social justice and for equality, whether related to religion, caste, gender, sexual orientation or wealth inequity, to name a few. While the methods may have changed from physical representations such as handwritten placards to virtual formats such as social media, the fundamental concept of using art to get your message across has not. In this first issue of Fundamatics this year, we explore how art has been used by some of our alumni to create social change.
Damayanti Bhattacharya provides a good overview of this issue’s theme in “Imagining a Better World”. In “Celebrate New Freedoms in Newly Free India”, Ali Baba, aka Prof. A.Q. Contractor, talks about the denigration of the four pillars of democracy in India, in his usual inimitable tongue-in-cheek style. In the ongoing “The Entrepreneurial Roller Coaster: Kashish”, Sridhar Rangayan talks about the challenges he faced in organizing India’s first LGBTQ+ film festival, Kashish. Yaquta Contractor and Pradnya J explore the use of lines, colors, and patterns in “Art for Arts’s Sake?”.
In “Bridging Biodiversity Conservation and Arts Practice”, Abhisheka Krishnagopal examines the importance of art in biodiversity conservation. We feature poetry by a regular contributor to Fundamatics, V. Sundar in “Authenticty”. In “My Second Home: The Mysterious Aghanistan”, Devashish Dhar talks about his experiences living in war-ravaged Afghanistan, and hopes that art and culture are not banned there again. And finally, illustrations are an important medium to highlight social issues; enjoy some by Prof. Arun Inamdar below!
We hope you enjoy this issue of Fundamatics. Happy New Year, dear readers… may 2022 be better than 2021 in every possible way.
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Artwork by Prof. Arun Inamdar
Education is the theme of this issue of Fundamatics, a theme that is prompted by the announcement of the New Education Policy (NEP) by the government. Ashok Kamath takes a deep dive into the implications from his unique perspective as an alumnus, a technology manager and a founder of Akshara, an NGO. He notes that the NEP has a strong focus on Foundational Learning & Numeracy (FLN), which is sensible and reassuring. Sensible because the 3 R’s (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic) have always been considered the foundation of any formal education system and reassuring that the only ‘masterstroke’ here is replacing one acronym with another. Hopefully, no foundational damage was done. But the elephant in the room that no one is talking about is Resources. Without increased allocation for HRD — sorry, Education, one is left with serving the tinier pieces of the small pie between an increasing number of plates. One is reminded of the wisdom that reducing poverty is all about ‘increasing the size of the cake’. Apparently, this brilliant insight is forgotten when making an allocation for HRD — sorry, Education. One hopes that this name change implies restoring a broader understanding of the word Education. Recall that the original Ministry of Education was renamed HRD under a prime minister who famously said, ‘Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.’ One hopes that the value of teachers’ contribution will be restored too.
Anurag Mehra shines a light on the stark reality that is our Education System, in characteristically biting language. He underlines the various ills that our fancy policy documents choose to bury. He describes what is basically an under-resourced operation trying to cope with massive numbers. Inevitably, teachers are as much a part of the problem as they will be a part of the solution.
Education is the theme of this issue of Fundamatics, a theme that is prompted by the announcement of the New Education Policy (NEP) by the government.
The ‘Mecca of Merit’ that are IITs have made little if any difference to improving equity and representation in Indian society. But as Parthasarathy describes, IITB is trying to make a difference though it is far from where it should be.
Digital is a tool not a solution in itself. For all the advantages of this tool, it is two-dimensional so its value in conceptualising three-dimensional space and design is a challenge. Sonam Ambe describes an exercise in teaching architectural design online. One can see the innovation and creativity involved in design teaching under the constraints imposed by Covid-19.
Parents of school-going children will find resonance in Ravi Banavar’s lyrical angst, a lived story of hopes only partially fulfilled. Akshay Saxena and Krishna Ramkumar share their journey of the founding of Avanti Fellows and Avanti Learning Centres giving us a glimpse of what needs to be done beyond fancy policy documents.
While the spotlight has been on NEP, what has been happening away from the spotlight is not pretty. The Ministry of Education has decided to create a board for the promotion of Vedic Education on the lines of NCERT. The need for a separate board is a moot point but awarding a private player the right to set up such a board has the makings of another scam. The less said about it the better, so we will not sully this issue on Education with it. Arun Inamdar’s cover illustration describes it well. The people waiting in expectation of abundant fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, while a nasty pecker drills into its slender stem.
Ali Baba returns after a long hiatus to make a plea for Reason. Uncharacteristically, he cannot find humour in the dismal response to the pandemic. While on the subject of Reason, the poet in Varun Sahni was inspired by the newly introduced academic program in Astrology to dream of a career. Don’t miss his poem.
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Illustration by the author
And help you forget all your sorrows
It can give you the strength and the courage to stand
And face all your troubles tomorrow.
For there’s wisdom and wit, beauty and charm
There’s laughter and sometimes there’s tears
But when the story is over and the spell it is broken
You’ll find that there’s nothing to fear.
~~Mike Jones, The Storyteller
Illustration by Nilapratim Sengupta
The headlines on the front page of the New York Times on 1 Jan 2020 were normal:
- Iraqi Protesters assault embassy after US strike;
- E.P.A policies scorn science;
- 3 passports and a plan hatched in Lebanon – Carlos Ghosn’s Escape Act;
- As the markets soared higher, it was best not to look down;
- Nowhere else to run (in Australia);
- US set to ban vaping flavors teens most use.
Some context, for those who may find the above from a distant era:
- The Bush Doctrine – America must spread democracy – was facing checkered success in Iraq.
- The US had already quit the Paris Climate Change agreement and the E.P.A was being shown its place.
- A celebrated global corporate titan, the toast of the automobile world, was running away from charges of financial misconduct.
- Global markets were happily seeing a prolonged bull run.
- Forest fires, Down Under, had the world up in arms about the impending environment doom.
- And vaping, a teen rage, was the new health threat!
As I sit to write this, 370 days later, the world is watching in real time, the Temple of Democracy in Washington DC, being breached, while it awaits a “peaceful” transition to a new President. This is happening while the world is in the grip of a pandemic, which has taken almost 2 million lives already and infected nearly 90 million. Many ruling leaders have seen the pandemic as an opportunity to further consolidate their power, threatening liberty and fraternity nearly everywhere. India saw a merciless regime testing the resilience of millions of urban migrant workers walking several hundreds of kilometers back home, lakhs of farmers protesting bills that threaten their lands and livelihoods, and scantily equipped health workers at the frontlines of the pandemic, while millions of ordinary citizens and thousands of not-for-profits showed what humanity and compassion can achieve.
No leader, observer, commentator or scientist of any standing saw this coming in the way it did. And yet, here we are, trying to reimagine a new world. For as Martin Luther King Jr said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope”
This edition has an extraordinary array of writers speaking on wide-ranging topics like effective delivery of justice, financial inclusion of the marginalized, existential issues of a social sector startup, transition to e-learning, mental health during a pandemic.
Shailesh Gandhi speaks of the need to adapt to a new normal and to seek opportunity in it. He sees an e-justice system as an effective means of dealing with colossal pendency and to improving access to justice. It is an opportunity to ponder on some important questions. Is technology the solution to universal, fair, consistent and speedy justice? Can it help in ensuring that “justice is not only delivered, but seen to be delivered”? Can accessing a justice system become as easy as making a WhatsApp call? For everybody, everywhere?
Dr. Mrinal Patwardhan speaks to us about the new Teaching – Learning paradigm. Its need to find the right balance between “the presence of tech in teaching” and the “absence of human touch in learning”, and the challenges the academic world is facing in this journey.
Alkesh Wadhwani and Prabir Borooah speak passionately about an extraordinary national milestone in providing millions of underprivileged citizens access to basic “banking services” and the role that technology is playing to bridge an inequity that has existed for decades. The authors appreciate the irony and the challenge of empty or inactive bank accounts just as many appreciate the irony of “bulging granaries but hungry people”
Jishnu KR has a wry take on life in the campus during these dark, challenging times, while Shivani Manchanda offers a perspective on an issue still widely considered TABOO in Indian society – that of mental health. One can’t help but wonder – is there another crisis looming ahead? An invisible one?
Anu Prasad shares her travails in keeping a “not-for-profit” startup afloat in this crisis and the lessons she is taking forward from the numerous real-life examples of humanity and compassion triumphing over desolation, despair and disillusionment that she witnessed during this period.
Raj Nair takes a succinct look at some trends that may become the “new normal” in the short term.
Runal Dahiwade and Miraj Vora give a glimpse of a startup whose offering, serendipitously, turned out to be apt for the post-Covid era. Their experience underlines the need for speed, agility and adaptability in uncertain times.
As the world gets closer to the pandemic antidote, there is realization in the privileged class (that IITians represent) that we are pretty much locked into a new paradigm for some time – a surreal digital life in the safety of a gated cocoon, an urban obsession over personal hygiene and health, a growing tolerance to fanaticism and divisiveness in society, a rapidly expanding social divide intermixed with numerous tales of individual courage and resilience. A crisis, especially an unprecedented one, provides impetus to tackle universal issues such as:
- Finding lasting solutions to poverty, illiteracy, human trafficking and social inequity
- Survival of conventional capitalism. Should we be looking at new economic models that encourage and incorporate human compassion, planet conservation, social equity and the need for physical and emotional wellbeing?
- Need for ensuring universal access to affordable and quality health, education and food. Solutions that prevent citizens from getting locked into an infinite debt spiral.
- Providing a shock-absorbing cushion to the most marginalized – children, women, the LGBTQ community, urban and rural workers, farmers, those discriminated on race and caste and many more.
There will be another pandemic. There will be more climate change triggered natural disasters. And human compassion, innovation and enterprise may still prevail. But what cost will it exact the next time around – to our lives and to our souls? Sunder’s poem, Privilege, gives us hope.
Cover Illustration by Amlan Barai
Diversity and Inclusion are among the most used buzzwords right now, and so we here on the Fundamatics team thought that it would be worthwhile putting together an issue on various aspects of the topic.
Just like in any other sphere in life, IITians come in all stripes. Whether it is religion, caste, socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation, disability, we all bring different backgrounds and perspectives to the table. Diversity implies recognizing these differences so that we all learn from the richness of experiences that these individually bring. Inclusion involves valuing each person so that they feel like they belong and are equal to everyone else so that they can contribute to the fullest of their abilities without having to worry about being discriminated against for being who they are. With everything going on in the world right now, it is especially important to recognize diversity and inclusion so that minority voices are not silenced, and their rights not trampled upon.
As someone who belongs to a marginalized community myself, being gay, I am personally well aware of issues faced by people when you are in the minority. People talk about you behind your back, and you constantly have to keep proving yourself that you are no worse than others. I was teased for my lack of athleticism/manliness growing up. Eventually, I decided to start running marathons to prove that I was no different, and earned respect from my peers for my accomplishments in that field…but you shouldn’t need to go to these lengths to be felt included.
We are fortunate to have a diverse set of articles for this issue. All the contributors are alumni, except for one who is an alumnus’ son. In Afsana, Zenobia Driver discusses what it means to be a Parsi growing up in India. Sundar and Sonati tackle the issues of race, migrants and dissent in a collection of four poems. Sridhar Rangayan talks about his days at IDC and his friendship with a fellow IDC alumnus and coming to terms with his sexual orientation. Shruti Gupta discusses hearing disabilities in her article. Neil Ghaskadvi talks about another taboo issue, ADHD, from a kid’s perspective. Chandru Chawla discusses the lack of women in governance roles at IITs, and Anuradha Narasimhan talks about women and the glass ceiling in corporate India. Prof. D. Parthasarthy
We hope you enjoy the articles for this Diversity & Inclusion issue of Fundamatics. Please don’t forget to leave your comments after reading each article, and we always appreciate any support you can offer the magazine through voluntary contributions through our secure Fundamatics donation portal.
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This month we bring to you a “children-themed” issue of Fundamatics. And, by children, we mean for children and mostly by children who are connected to IIT Bombay through their parents — alumni and faculty.
We have a request for you, our readers. Do spare a few minutes from your busy schedules to read and acknowledge the work of these children who have poured their souls into this issue. Please encourage them by leaving your comments at the end of posts that you like and appreciate. It would mean the world to the young ones.
This issue is our tribute to a demographic affected by the COVID pandemic, which has robbed them of green fields and the company of their peers. A few of us on the Editorial team were curious to find how these tiny tots, tweens and teens are coping with the new world order. We did not specify any theme and merely asked them to share a submission reflecting whatever is closest to their hearts.
The cover illustration of the issue (displayed above) is by a 12-year old. A tiny tot illustrated her mother Sherline Pimenta’s (also the author of this issue’s Foreword) story. A group of children presented us with comic strips that hold up a mirror to society – Asterix & Obelix fighting COVID, two brothers saving the farmers’ crop from a swarm of locusts, and a protest against the ruthless treatment of animals – all available in the section titled “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall”. Another group came to us with amazing stories all captured in the section Thereby Hangs a Tale. Others shared mindboggling artwork (grouped together in the section “Brush Strokes”), each a masterpiece in itself. The star piece of the artwork section is The ABCs of Art by the incredibly talented Prof. Arun Inamdar — a perceptive cartoonist and caricaturist — who shares some words of wisdom for aspiring artists. The lead piece of the issue “Story of a Story” is, however, by Prof. Shilpa Ranade, an IDC faculty, who gives us a glimpse into her childhood, adroitly interweaving it with the story behind the making of the award-winning animation “Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya.”
Is there anything for the “adult” alumni in this issue? Of course, there is. This is your chance to peek into the mind of the generation that will be taking over our planet in the next couple of decades. And, we can tell you this much — they will not disappoint you. Indeed, we have lots of hope for our future.
We’re sure you will enjoy reading this issue as much as we enjoyed putting it together. Happy reading and once again. Please don’t forget to comment and share through your social media.
Sections in this Issue
This time, we have had a wealth of submissions, and so have grouped the content thematically into the following four sections for your easy perusal.
We hope you have enjoyed reading Fundamatics, the award-winning ezine published by the IIT Bombay Alumni Association, envisioned as one that is by IIT Bombay alumni, faculty and students, and for the same vast community. And, the best part of Fundamatics is that it is completely free and can be accessed by thousands of our alumni who are spread all over the world. But this does not mean that we do not incur any operational costs in bringing the ezine to you. Your financial support can mean that we can continue to remain in circulation and “free” to you, our readers.