Learning How to Learn – Mann Ki Bath

The Prime Minister spoke to the students and parents of the country in his monthly Mann Ki Bath address. There are numerous issues of national and international significance that he could have talked about. I admire that he spoke about learning discipline and how to face examinations.

Pieces of advice and guidances on cracking examinations and how to score high are plenty. Coaching to get admissions to higher education courses is a big business.

“Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects” is the most popular course from Coursera. I have benefitted by following some of its guidelines. I also highly recommend the simple book A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)  by Barbara Oakley.

If you would like to read intense books on the subject, then read The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization by Peter Senge.

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Stale Data at Election Commissioner’s Website

ECI site provides a good feature to search for voters from all the states/union territories of the country. The problem is that ECI provided data is not synchronised with that published by the Chief Electoral officers of the states and union territories.

Technically, it is a bad practice to provide the same service from two different agencies using different applications and different data sets. If there is a compelling reason to do so, then the two organisations should follow data discipline, make user experience identical, and synchronise the data. Unfortunately, National Voters’ Services Portal does not follow these common sense principles.

During the past year, in a few emails I had communicated the problem to the Director-IT at ECI, but he seems to have ignored my observations.

Situation today:

Voter data at ECI site seem to be what CEO Karnataka published in Jan 2016. The CEO has published two more version since then – in Oct 2016 and  Jan 2017. Voters registered since Jan 2016 do not appear in at ECI site. The voters who have been deleted since Jan 2016 continue to appear in the lists at ECI site.

Navigating from a page at CEO website you can open any voter list and search for the added and deleted voters at ECI site. The added won’t appear and the deleted would show up. Also, the voter serial numbers would differ from those in the list.

Stale and unreliable data published by the apex body of electoral organisation can confuse the voters and lead to wrong actions,  further deteriorating the already poor quality of electoral rolls.

On National Voters’ Day on 25 Jan the President of India will honour various officers of ECI organisation for their “excellent services” to the country.

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Good and Bad Blood are Both Thicker Than Water

Yadavs Mulayam and his son Akhilesh. Bad blood. No – they both have good blood, but there was bad blood between them. Mulayam expelled Akhilesh and his loyalists from the political party, which he thought was his. Before the opposition could have a gala party to celebrate the weakening of SP in the new year’s eve, Akhilesh is accepted back in the party. A prodigal son? Mulayam may soften the situation with such thought, but Akhilesh did not seem repent. Prodigal father? We do not have a moral story to support this.

In 2006 when HD Kumaraswamy parted ways with INC and formed an alliance with BJP to usurp power, his father HD stated that he was ashamed of his son’s act – an unholy alliance followed by stabbing a friend on the back. Did it run in the blood? Most of us would have forgotten how HD treated his mentor Ramakrishna Hegde. On the day HD was to be sworn as the CM of Karnataka, his supporters beat Ramakrishna Hegde with chappals in the stairs of Vidhana Soudha. After denouncing his son in public, it was reported that HD watched the swearing ceremony of Kumaraswamy on TV with glee. In a couple of days, HD publically pardoned HDK and the loyal son and doting father was in the same party. Now the father and son have a great party – most others having left it stinking and sinking.

Madras witnessed the extra-vagrant wedding of Jayalalitha’s foster son DN Sudhakar. I was in that city on that day, inconvenienced and very irritated. Madras became Chennai and Amma disowned the son. She dis-disowned the son again, it was reported. However,  when he came to visit the Amma at Apollo hospital in October last year, he was not allowed entry. Bad blood? There is no common blood between this Amma and this once foster son. Is there water? Amma’s fame is partly due to her fight for Kavery water with the state where was born.

The ever-attempting-to-rise son-of-Sonia is out of the country, partying the new year in a city where his father met his mother at a party in a restaurant. His party would wish him to be fishing in the troubled waters of UP  with the next assembly elections in mind.

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Moments, simple and beautiful

Two weeks ago,  my daughter, Divya, was driving through the ring road in Bangalore. I was in the back seat with my toddler grandson, Dhruv. Seeing a store selling organic products, Divya wanted to buy a few things. A few meters ahead I found an apartment building under construction. Its compound wall had a breach, yet to get a gate. I advised Divya to park the car there for a few minutes and visit the shop while I would wait near the car with Dhruv.

Sooner Divya parked the car and walked towards the shop, two security guards stormed frowning, questioning why I had parked the car inside the compound. They were right and I was wrong. With humility, I apologised sincerely for the act and offered to take the car out though it would be difficult with mischievous Dhruv in the company. I would be grateful if they allowed the car there for about five minutes.

The security guards instantly softened. Their anger melted away, giving place to courtesy and kindness.  “We understand you position, sir. How will you move the car out with this small child?” They placed a chair under the shade of a tree and  asked me to sit. They would get some drinking water. Then we chatted for five minutes till Divya returned. I thanked my kind hosts and drove away.

Life can be simple and beautiful.

I remembered the Disarming Technique propounded by Dr. David Burns.

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Lucky, you, Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker writes in his book The Sense of Style, The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century :

“I have the good fortune of having married to my favorite writer. In addition to inspiring me with her own style, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein encouraged this project, expertly commented on the manuscript, and thought up the title.

Many academics have the lamentable habit of using “my mother” as the shorthand for an unsophisticated reader. My mother, Roselyn Pinker, is a sophisticated reader, and I have benefited from her acute observation on usage, the many articles on language she has sent me over the decades, and her incisive comments on the manuscript.”

Steven Pinker refers to some passages from the writings of Rebecca Goldstein as examples of exemplary writing.

The book is dedicated to Susan Pinker and Robert Pinker, sister and brother of Steven Pinker.

I had goose bumps reading the above references in the book!

David Burns writes in his book Feeling Good Together that his daughter that his daughter worked with him in writing the book, reviewing it continuously.

Lucky are the families whose members share common passions and pursue them together.

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Blames My Boomerang

On getting an invitation for a function to launch HSV‘s new book, I eagerly waited for the occasion and refused to commit to any other task that would conflict with the program. HSV is my favourite Kannada writer. Being in the book launch would also give an opportunity to meet several writers and other readers.

The program was in the evening on 24 September. The 23rd night was rainy, and dark without electricity. The sky was cloudy in the forenoon of 24th and it showered a few times. In the evening, the sky was overcast, but no drizzle. As my daughter had taken our car, I set out on my scooter, heading for the function, convincing myself that it would not rain till I reached the auditorium.  If I reached dry to the venue, I do not mind getting wet on my way back. It is still fun to soak in rains. A chance to bathe in pure water.

As I rode a kilometre on my way to the function, the sky turned very dark. The cloud patterns told me that it would rain in a few minutes. It would be foolish to go further because I would not be able to attend the function with dripping clothes. I wove a string of reasons and justifications to return home. After five minutes I was, sipping hot coffee at home, self-prescribed for the weather.

Then I started peeping out of the windows to see if it drizzled, went up the terrace to feel rain drops on my bald head … every five to ten minutes. And lo! I could have been in the auditorium when not a drop of rain fell on the ground yet. I watched the skies every few minutes for the next couple of hours until the time I would have reached home after the program. No sign of rain though the clouds spread a canopy over my area. This was grossly unfair. I felt cheated by the rain for not pouring. Having lost an opportunity of the evening, it would have been a solace if it had rained and proved my predictions right!


When I wake up at five in the morning, if it is raining I blame the weather though I am secretly happy for the opportunity to miss the morning walk. The blame is not on me, and I carry no guilt. I can hang it on an excuse, naming it a reason.

I would prepare a set of expected questions and learn the answers. I worked hard, with focus. Is it not unfair if the teachers don’t include all or at least some of those questions in the paper?

Caught up in traffic on my way to the railway station, I curse the fate and also hope that the train would be delayed and I would board. When they are often late, why not this day for my sake? If I make it to the railway platform on time and the train has not arrived yet, how bad of the train! Could they ever be on time? I forget the traffic jam and my prediction of my own delay in reaching the railway station and anxiety about possibly missing the train.

A decade ago I invested in a few shares. For about a year I eagerly monitored their prices, prided myself for the wise investments when the prices of some shares rose and blamed the specific companies whose share prices went South. ROI in one company rose 30 times. A year later the company was bankrupt. I have now left it to chance for the investment to grow or shrink. I can blame the economy or take a philosophical stand that gains and losses do not affect me.

Blame is a potent tool. It is fun to blame others – people and systems. It can guard us against accountability and guilt. Take care that it does not boomerang.


“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” — Mahatma Gandhi


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ECI’s Totalisers are Totally Welcome

Today’s newspapers report that the Central Government has decided to stop announcing booth-wise detailed results of polls and would use totalisers to give results by constituency. This corrects a lapse in the system. Since the EVMs were introduced, CEOs were expected to publish Form-20, which give counts of votes polled by candidates by booth. Looking at these forms, the candidates could know the booths (areas) where people supported them and where they did not. This could have led to victimisation of people in some areas. I am not aware of reported cases, though.

While I welcome this move, I lose some data with which I used to analyse some aspects of electoral process.

  1. Though the count of voters in rural booth should not exceed 1,200 and the urban booth 1,400, about 30% of booths in several states exceeded this limit. I have been reporting the correlation between lower voter turn-out and booth sizes beyond the recommended. Now I won’t be able to show this correlation.
  2. I could also analyse correlation between effect of voter demographics (age and sex) and reservation category on turn-out. In future, this report will be based on more coarse observations.

Though I have been reporting various cases of violations of ECI rules, there was no response from the ECI or any CEO. Also, most of the CEOs did not publish Form-20. Hence, totalisers are totally welcome.

Another welcome development is an initiative by ECI to create centralised voter database, which is currently maintained state-wise. I hope that several anomalies would be corrected in the process of consolidating the data.

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