Wednesday, July 29, 2009


The Fast Track Semester - Vol 3

Yesterday the test got over. Before that, I had given them a practice test and asked them to write it under the test conditions; but they had not written. The test paper was not very easy, because I wanted them to work hard for the final examination. If the test was easy, they would score good marks and become over-confident and would not study. Even if they pass the CIE (internals) cutoff of 40%, which is based on both quiz and test, they would fail in the finals, if the paper is tough. It is easy to pass the internal cutoff because the quiz contributes a lot. Test paper resembles the final paper and hence it is more realistic.

Two out of Four people got 28% each, one got 40% and the highest was 53%. All of them passed the CIE cutoff though, because of the quiz. But with the test percentage being as low as 28%, it is hard to pass in the final. One has to get 40 out of 100 in the final. The question paper is of 160 marks and they have to choose 5 questions out of 8.

The reason for low performance is mainly laziness. Three of my four students were above 79% in their 12th standard. Once they are out of home, they become like unbridled horses. They stop being responsible for their actions. They stop valuing their parents' hard earned money and their own time. I see their failure not as failue to learn, but as decadence of character. Fortunately, with me they do not tell lies. One guy said, he could not come to the class last Saturday because he could not get up before 9AM and the reason for that was watching movies till 5AM using his laptop. I asked him patiently, "What is your father's occupation?", the guy said, "Engineering". I asked, "Do you think you would be rich enough to own a laptop, had your father done his engineering like the way you are doing yours?", "No ma'am". "Do you have the intention to look after your parents in their old age?", "Yes ma'am, of course I do". "Do you think listening to my advice is easier, or working hard is easier? Why do you make me say all these?", "Depends on the situation ma'am. Sometimes working hard is more difficult." By the way this was a part of the conversation between the topper among those four. I think only because he is truthful, he was able to score at least 53% in my test paper. Including the quiz marks, they are at 40,46,47 and 62 out of 100.

You see, with this attitude, even if I try my best to make them understand the concepts, work out problems in the class and give assignments, they are not going to make use of it. They want temporary relief, momentary pleasure, a life of luxury and no introspection. They are least bothered about their own opinion about themselves. I had asked another question, "Do you remember having done anything in the recent past, which makes you proud of yourselves?" None of them had any answer. I don't think I need to comment anything more.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


The Fast Track Semester - Vol2

This is an update on the fast track semester.... I must admit that today I got a bit more excited than usual and hence I want to share the good news that caused it with my reader friends.

10 sessions of Signals and Systems are over, i.e. 20 hours out of 48 hours. Today I gave them the formal quiz. (Before this I had given them 2 practice quizzes). It is of 20 marks and it is a special feature of autonomous curriculum. VTU conducts just the tests; no quizzes. Quizzes coJustify Fullnsist of objective type questions of 1 or 2 marks. I was a bit tensed about the quiz, because this is their only quiz, whatever they score in this will be doubled and finalized. In the regular semester, they get three quizzes and the sum of the better two quiz marks will be considered.

There can be various reasons for a fast track semester teacher to get tensed. One reason could be, the teacher will be questioned for students' low marks. My reason is not that. I was very proud of my teaching so far and I wanted to prove the statement, "Aparna is a good teacher for good students only" wrong. For that, no amount of argument would suffice. Numbers should speak. That is why today morning I was a bit worried. I had told them that it would start on time and any late-comer would lose so much time.

Exactly at nine, one out of the four came. The other three came late. I did not give any extra privilege to late-comers. At the end of the quiz, I corrected the papers, after all there were six one mark and seven two marks questions only. To my amazement, two of them scored fifteen, one scored twelve and the fourth one got eleven. All of them got above ten! There was no scope to copy, moreover the questions were not direct, even though they were not very tough. It was neither an easy nor a tough paper. Class average was 13.25/20 and so, I was just on the cloud number nine! I had prepared the Analog Communication quiz-3 paper last semester and the class average (of about 110 students) was just 10. Highest in that paper was 16 and second highest, 14. Considering that, isn't the today's performance by "so called dull" students in my paper great!! I want to thank these four students for making me feel happy and proud.

To some of you, this post might sound like bragging. My intention is not that. Today I watched the movie "Before Sunset" for the second time. The entire movie consists of only the conversation between two people in the early thirties - Jesse and Celine. In that movie, there is a mention of finding joy in little achievements. I strongly believe that if we wait for big things to happen to be happy, we will never be happy. Key to enjoy life is to cherish every moment of it; be present at that moment.

In fact, my students do the homeworks and assignments with atmost shraddha. Geetha says, "Shraddhaavan Labhate Jnaanam, Tatparaha Samyatendriyaha, Jnaanam Labdhvaa Paraam Shaantim, Achirenaadhigacchati" I have never seen this shloka working so effectively before. Their dedication is paying them well. The satisfaction I get by making these students learn the subject is much more than that I get by teaching during the regular semester. More updates in the next posts.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Being Spiritual!

"Spirituality" is the most misused word in the world-in my view. I've got so sick of it. In orkut, the most fashionable statement seems to be "spiritual but not religious". I am comfortable without using this word. There's a reason why I remembered this word now. What I am going to write below is related to this.

I've been reading "Rasarishi Kuvempu's" literary masterpiece, his first novel- "Kaanooru Heggadithi". I got the motivation to read this after reading K.P. Poornachandra Tejaswi's "Annana Nenapu" - a book about his Anna (father), Kuvempu. Annana Nenapu is not only about Kuvempu, it has much more in it. It is very humorous, makes one float with laughter. Some of the incidents described there generate reverence towards the author's father, by giving a better idea about the personality of "Anna".

One should never miss the preface of great books. The preface for "Kanooru Heggadithi" was written on December 16, 1936 by Kuvempu himself. It starts as "Kaadambari Karathala Rangabhoomi", meaning "A novel is a drama-stage on one's palm". In the preface he explains how a novel should be enjoyed. "Enjoying the novel is also a creative work, just like writing it. Empathy is very important for feeling the novel. Read it slowly, visualize everything. Whatever I have presented here is a tiny drop from the ocean-like life of Malnad. Don't come to hasty conclusions. It is impossible to understand everything in one read, just like how impossible it is to understand people of a new place as soon as one enters the place. Therefore, take your own time. If you get even a little bit of joy, I would feel very good."

Initially it goes a bit slow. I think the visualization becomes easy for a person like me who's born and brought up in a village. Still, I felt like stopping after a few pages. The reason was I think, in some places, it goes too much into low level lives of coolies. That becomes a bit boring: their alcoholism, wife-beating, superstitions etc. But it must have been the reality at that time in that place, which was supposed to be a village near Teerthahalli. I could continue only because I wanted to. And, to my pleasant surprise, the patience started paying after about 200 pages. The novel has 640 pages. Even though the title suggests that the novel is centered around a lady, namely "Subbamma Heggadithi of Kaanooru", it can appear different to different people depending on their taste. Till 500 pages, Subbamma is not given much importance at all. She is the third wife of a "rich" gowda of that village.

What touched me the most was the way "prakruthimaathe" is painted there. One can "see" the golden sunrise, the mountains, the green trees, the birds, the scary animals - especially the tiger, the silver like water and many more. One can get vicarious experience through the character Hoovayya-a very different person from the rest of them. His love life and the lack thereof and the way he takes it, the way detaches himself from the rest of the world in spite of being actively involved in the daily work! Real karmayogi described in the Geetha. The way he sees God in nature! The way he performs Dhyana! Our old wise sages say, "To someone who wants to concentrate, it does not matter whether he is inside a cave or in the middle of a market".

Hoovayya is the real embodiment of perfection. It is not that he never does mistakes. He often makes mistakes, due to the lack of experience and unfortunately he does most of them in understanding his childhood sweetheart Seethe. Both of them pay for it heavily. It is a tragedy as far as that part is concerned. Still, the best thing about it is the message it conveys, by showing how Seethe takes her love failure and how Hoovayya takes it. How it portrays Hoovayya's "Nispruhate" or "Nirliptate"-there is no better word for it. Hoovayya, being a learned and well read person finds peace in himself and nature, in helping his fellow humans, in trying to remove the superstitions from the minds of the villagers, in being good to even his uncle who always wished his downfall. Often one tends to mistake Hoovayya for a hypocrite, but then the reader's better judgment wins. Hoovayya is soft, just like his name-which means flower. There's also a weak person called Ramayya-Hovayya's cousin.

We usually find people like Ramayya, who can be called good as long as everything goes according to their wish. It is tough to find people whose integrity remains intact despite undergoing hardships. Often the appearances can be deceptive; a person can talk politely, he may even help you, but internally he would not be a satisfied soul. Such a fellow always tends to be an escapist. For sometime, just like how Ramayya found peace in Hoovayya's company, he might find peace in great peoples' company. In the next available opportunity (or he himself creates one), he starts hating that very same person whom he used to adore. That happens mainly because he slowly starts comparing himself with this person and realizes the shallowness of the self. He can not digest the facts and the harsh truths about himself. He even doubts that this great soul looks down upon him. The doubt will turn into paranoia and it might lead to a kind of personality disorder. Such people have little capacity to introspect. They think they know everything, when they actually know nothing. Anyways, let me stop talking about such characters, it is not interesting to even think about them.

Coming back to the divine novel: What makes it divine and hence special is its closeness to the nature and the way it presents the common man's life in the early 20th century. It seems like a non-fiction. Kuvempu's knowledge of Indian scriptures and western literature is patent in this work. He is very successful in making me feel the "navarasa" while reading it. Had I read it about ten years ago, I am not sure whether I would have liked it. One needs a bit more maturity to read such books.

About 3 years ago, I had posted an article on S.L.Bhairappa's novels. After that, I read some more of his books. I think only 3-4 books are remaining out of about 20. I respect Bhairappa for his contribution to Kannada literature. Still, I can't help but humbly opine that Kuvempu is much above. I must read "Malegalalli Madumagalu" and "Shri Ramayana Darshanam".

It becomes incomplete without the mention two of my favorite poems by Kuvempu.
One is "Baarisu Kannada Dindimava". The lines I like are,
"Sattantiharanu badideccharisu,
Kacchaaduvaranu koodisi olisu,
Hotteya kicchige kanner surisu,
Ottige baaluva teradali harasu"
meaning, "Awaken (the spirit within) those who are like the dead, Pacify those who quarrel, shed some tears for jealousy and bless them to live in harmony", and finally the last stanza ends with "Sarvodayavaagali sarvarali" I can't translate it well.

Another one is "O nanna chetana, Aagu nee aniketana". The ones which mean special to me are,
"Ananta taan anantavaagi,
Aagutihane nityayogi,
Ananta nee anatavaagu
Aagu, Aagu, Aagu, Aagu"
which roughly means, "May you attain infinite amount of wisdom, knowledge and thus become a yogi". Poetry should be understood in its original language.

I want to just say one thing at the end: Spirituality has to be felt and should not be talked about.

Friday, July 03, 2009


Fast Track Semester!

I am taking a course i.e. Signals and Systems in the Fast Track Semester. This is a special feature of autonomous and deemed engineering institutes. It is offered during the vacation following the even semester. It is for the failed students to pass and others to improve their grades if they want. It has a set of rules for failed students. A students can not take more than 16 credits (means roughly 4 theories of 4 credits each or 3 theories+2 labs of 2 credits each) in a fast track semester. To get promoted to the next semester, a student should have minimum CGPA of 5.0 and less than 5 subjects to carry.

In my subject there are 4 students. All are F grade cases. The semester is for 6 weeks. Each week has 4 slots for my subject and a slot is of 2 hours duration. Yesterday afternoon was the first class. I had no clue how it would be, but at the end of the class I was more than happy with the quality of the students. I was amazed when upon being offered a break at 3:15pm, they did not take it. They worked out the concepts, they seemed to follow what I was talking. It was more of an interactive session. I gave them homework. If they do it and show in the next class, that's my first success of the fast track semester.

When I was offered this course to teach, I accepted without hesitation for 3 reasons:
1) I was very comfortable with the subject,
2) In the next regular semester I am going to teach Digital Signal Processing and brushing up Signals & Systems fundamentals would help a lot, and
3) I wanted to check my effectiveness in teaching the "so called dull" students.

Here I've put "so called dull" in quotes because, I think these "dull" students are really not "dull". They would've failed due to other reasons like laziness to study, health problems, getting tensed and messing up in the examination etc. Hence the first thing that I did was to ask them what did they think was their primary reason for failure. It's easy to give personal attention when the number of students is less. But in some subjects, especially the first year subjects, the number is as high as 50 or 100. That is because first year is common irrespective of the branch.

I told each of them to write down their target grade on the first page of their notebook and sign it. That's like a promise made to themselves and me. They can modify it to set a better target, but they are not allowed to lower it during the semester. We are not aiming at just passing, but on learning and passing.

They all have good sense of humor. They are nice company to be with. For me, not even a minute seemed boring, don't know for them whether it was the same. Let's comment more in the August second week, when the classes end. So long then.

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