Friday, October 2, 2015

Hindu Philosophy for kids

Hinduism is learnt at home. It is experienced at the shrine at home. The puranic stories such as of the Ramayan, bhagvatam and Shiva-Puran are narrated to kids and beamed on TV- their various versions with all sorts of creative liberties.  They instill a unsaid moral code, say the sacrifice of the Ramayan. There is a tacit understanding of maya and the underlying unity of all, something that is felt in the puranas as well. However, an organized understanding of the Hindu philosophy, the Vedanta of the Upanishads or the karma theory of the Gita is missing! All hindus need to be exposed to this – with the freedom to consider, accept, reject or enjoy them. 

 A teenaged Ram learning Vedanta

This is needed for more than one reason. These theories provide a reason for why we, the world and everything exists and what is the purpose. They are not objectively substantiated, but their self-consistency and fit to the world we see, is staggering. Subjectivity is their hallmark. As people are exposed to other ideas, in the realm of science, so should they be exposed to these. They could be rejected but could have deep impact on lives. Second, they have the potential to clear so many misunderstandings about religion, the differences and the disagreements. The beautiful eastern philosophical tradition gives a way to reconcile it all. It helps become more tolerant, if not graduating to seeing the truth in the many different expressions. The very multiplicity of the views within the tradition is the first great learning. Lastly, but very importantly, there is great beauty in these theories, like the beauty of the math... How can we keep such beauty hidden and not available for the rasiks

There can be two ways to do it. Inculcate it into school curriculum and let everyone be able to choose which religious tradition s/he wants to study. Long, hard and full of controversies! The other through mass media, comics, stories of Vashishtha Yoga and a Munnabhai Lage Raho equivalent for Vedanta. It could also be an independent organization providing Hindu Philosophy courses for kids -- the Jains have done this for very long.

Pros: Exposure to knowledge, clear misunderstandings, enjoy knowledge!
Cons: Impurity of sectarianism in this knowledge.
Challenges: With so many views, how to teach without bias; what to include/exclude

To reflect: How much of it do you know? The Keval Advait, Vishisht Advait, Achintya Bheda Abheda…

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Hospital feedback system

A couple of years back, I took my mother to a hospital in an emergency because she was suffering from sudden dip inblood pressure. They did a heart check and persisted on us that she should be admitted to an ICU to monitor during the night. When I returned in the morning, I couldn’t find the blood pressure reading on the monitor. When I asked, they realized that they had missed to connect the BP probe! This is just one instance of negligence, bad management and willful mistreatment that I and many others face every day in hospitals in India.

The strange thing is that there are no checks and balances on hospitals. They are completely unregulated, at least in practice and seem to have little incentive to improve given the burgeoning demand unmet by supply. No one has the time or money to avail the legal option. I strongly advocate that hospitals should make monthly data public on number of things including diagnostic tests conducted per patient, % negative, success rate, death rate, etc. However, everything will not be captured in outcome data. There is also an urgent need of a public feedback system where patients can put their objective experiences. One should build a nice digital product like a, which will hopefully create a disincentive to screw it up! Hospitals will be free to give their version and a rebuttal on the platform. Very very needed!

Pros: Adherence to transparency; Better health care; Patient Rights
Cons: Baseless non-objective complaints
To reflect: Legality and how to save the platform from a legal defamation tamasha

Friday, July 31, 2015

Digitizing Indian freedom struggle writings

The Indian freedom struggle was not only a great story of patriotism, love for humanity and sacrifice, but also led to some great inspiring writings. These writings contain some of the Whereas there is always so much jingoism whenever we hear of Bhagat Singh and Netaji, few know that Bhagat was also an intellectual – one of his masterpiece being ‘Why am an atheist’. And there is so much to learn from Netaji – his autobiography ‘The Indian Pilgirm’, the ‘Indian Freedom Struggle’ – his view of the Indian freedom movement or well, the letters he wrote as a kid to his mother!

We need to digitize all these writings before they are lost, make them open, free, easily accessible and searchable, on an easy to use web platform. I guess, the government has already done this with the writings of the Mahatma. There is need to do it for all the many others, who spoke in voices of humanity, courage, love and morality: who had an idea of India – may be some those which we do not today agree to and some those which we haven’t been able to live up to.

Pros: Preserve the best traditions of the Indian freedom struggle; Make it available to all.
Cons: Do not want any politics on it!

Aligning the many ramayanas

There are so many different Ramayanas starting from that of Valmiki – each beautiful in its own way, sometimes an expression of human bias, but more often to find the perfect Bhagvan Ram.  As the master of simplicity, Tulsidas says – Jaaki rahi bhavna jaisi, prabhu murati dekhi tin taisi. Finding the perfection in Ram is to find the perfection in (wo)man.

It will be so wonderful to align all these Ramayanas, that of a Valmiki, a Kamban, a Tulsi, the Adhyatma Ramayana and some 400 more… I would want to be able to read all of these versions simultaneously; to know by a click of the button, what Bhagvan Ram said, when Dasratha/Kaikeyi first asked him to leave for the forest – did he blink an eyelid, and in which version? Or how did Bhagvan Ram explain the killing of Bali from hiding or when did first the incident of Hanumanjee opening his chest to show Sita-Ram appear. I will learn immensely from it and also enjoy – rasika of Ram, not Krishna!

In my mind this can be done by doing good natural language processing on the many Indian languages (one will have to see how to take care of ‘samaas’ and ‘sandhi’ of Sanskrit). Alignment algorithms are a plenty starting with dynamic programming with the more sophisticated ones in bioinformatics. A nice web platform can make it super easy to navigate through these many Ramayanas all aligned to each other.

Pros: Trace the history of Ramayana, Fun machine learning and visualization project
Cons: It is just for fun!
To reflect: Why has it not been done already!

Check out Ramayana for the 4 year old ... need to align this too!

Reading Hindi literature

There are lot of jewels in the Hindi language, be it poetry of Neeraj and Dinkar, or stories of Premchand and Manto. Unfortunately, the younger generation in metros doesn’t show much interest in it! May be this is because they haven't been exposed to it?

I would love to create program to expose school kids to hindi literature. It is for those, who if exposed, would get interested and make it a hobby of a life time. One way to do it is build a scholarship around it, say for grade 9 and 10 kids. They will be given three books to read and then participate in an exam, which will ultimately lead to selection for scholarship. (Remember Sanskrit scholarship in schools?) The idea is to create an initial incentive to read (seeding) and then let people continue with it, if it makes a lasting impact. They leave it if it was boring.

Book selection: one novel from yesteryears, one from now and one collection of poems.

Pros: Get more people to read; Exposure without forcing.
Cons: Another test, another scholarship L But for a lasting purpose.
To think: What will be a good fun test?