There are some things in life which you wish should keep on going, this interview is one of those. After the awe-inspiring first part of the interview with Suranga Date aka Ugich Konitari who blogs at Gappa, we are back with the second part of this fabulous interview. In this part, Suranga speaks about Mumbai, IIT, Pune and so much more. Get ready to discover more of Suranga Date’s world.
Q: We are sure our readers would love to know more about Suranga’s professional and personal career. Can you share with us more about it?
A: Schooled in Pune, (of which I am an unabashed supporter, and call myself a Puneite), am a science graduate with a Masters in Physics from University of California at Irvine. Back in the days (1970’s) when IT was not IT but plain Data Processing and you lugged punched cards around, I worked for, what is today’s leading IT company. A shift to an academic institution post marriage, a job in a technical field at the Department of Computer Science, and a graceful voluntary retirement 25 years later for some very important family reasons.
A lot of folks, including some doctors think I am someone who missed out on a medical career. Some others think the legal profession was saved when I turned to Physics. My parents wanted me to join the civil services, but I was saved in the nick of time by the IT job. With my proclivity to write and limerick and draw stuff about ministers, things would have been rather tough, I think.
And my daughter thinks I should desperately get a makeover. 🙂
Q: Recently, one of the posts which you tipped us talked about the price of soul and concluded that most of them are on sale. What is the reason behind this? Is it because of our declining values and the respect for elders?
A: With everything in life, particularly money, we can associate two things: quality and quantity. In my childhood, it was stressed that the quality of money, eg. what you did to earn it, was important. Its denomination was not necessarily the value.
There is an old set of schools is Pune, named after the teacher who founded them, who is no more. I used to hear my folks talk about this simple, dedicated person with great respect.
Sometime in my teens, some well known industrialist family made a donation as a result of which they simply renamed the school, by the name it is known today. Quantity won.
You extrapolate this attitude to the current time and you can see why we have developed into people who set great store by “quantity”, who have a price. For everything. There is a price to succeed, there is a price to cheat; there is even a price when you do someone’s last rites. (Maybe I’ll blog about that some day).
Disregarding what has been taught by elders, no time to listen, and looking for quick results regardless of “how”, has brought us to this day. We have lost out on quality.
Q: You have spent close to 25 years at IIT, one of the premier institutions in India. The movie 3 idiots and the book 5 point someone raises a lot of questions on the method of education at the Institutions. What are your views on this? What do you think are our strengths and where are we lagging behind?
A: There are 2 issues here. (a) The movie, the book, what it says, and implies about IIT. (b) The actual IIT education system.
I have not seen the movie. Neither am I in a hurry to rectify that. I have read the book. It’s ok. You must realize that the book succeeded because it was published around the time IIT had become a brand. Hence the excessive brouhaha. And concentrating on the activities and adventures of 3-4 fellows, is certainly not a statement of about how IIT is.
IIT’s are more than 50 years old. The method of education at IIT, is excellently organized, with a lot of faculty student interaction; and because introduction of new disciplines here, is easier here than say, in a huge University system with statewide affiliated colleges. It certainly facilitates introduction of width and depth and variety in the subjects that are taught. The faculty is very highly qualified and widely respected. For a responsible student, who respects knowledge, does hard work and expects nothing readymade, there is no better place to learn.
The earlier (70’s) students were not “packaged” for IIT. They were more balanced.
Unlike today’s students, who start in Class 9 with stars in their eyes, and tickets to Kota, Rajasthan, where they immerse themselves in a one-track-coaching-training. Gives them a JEE rank, but doesn’t widen their minds. They come to an IIT, where perhaps everyone in their class has been a first ranker, and they are so rank-enabled, it is difficult for them to understand that someone has to come last. The mentally strong manage. Some don’t.
IIT education is a serious thing. You need to put in hard work. There are plenty of opportunities and facilities for recreation, if you only looked around. Hostel living matures you in a different way (Ask me, I lived in one in Pune, as an undergraduate, age 15 onwards).
Having said this, I think it’s foolish to base your opinion of the IIT educational system on a book and a movie.
Q: India has a lot of beautiful places which are yet undiscovered. You would have travelled to few of those. Which is your favorite place and why? What is the best thing you like about India?
A: I have travelled and lived in Bihar, Maharashtra Interiors and Goa (soon after liberation) as a child (my father had postings there). Later on as an adult, one has enjoyed Kashmir, KuluManali, Kolkata, Darjeeling, Nepal, Pokhara, Orissa (Konarak, Puri). Several road trips along coastal Maharashtra. Come to think of it, one has also enjoyed the south, beaches, hills and all. (Kodai, Ooty, Kovalam, Kanya Kumari, Pondicherry, Chennai) and very recently the Andaman Islands.
I cannot say what the favorite is. The physical beauty and grandeur is surely there, but one remembers the local people one meets. The traditions and food. And what makes India so great is its immense diversity. The lack of boring standardization. There is always something new to learn. (I need to stop before I start sounding like Incredible India).
(For example, in 1977, on a road trip down the Malabar Coast and up the Coromandel Coast, we passed through a small Kerala town (Ottopalam) where we stopped at a weekly bazaar, where they were selling, besides special palm-made-hands-free-rice-transplanting-umbrella-cum-hats, a variety of huge lizards. We bought the former and only glared at the latter. Turns out they were used medicinally and highly prized.)
Q: Marathi Movies are making a mark in the world cinema. Movies like Harishchandracha Factory and Natarang are impressive. The movies, they say, is the mirror of what happens in the society. Is there a sudden love of rural lifestyles by the people who stay in cities?
A: Theatre, Marathi literature, and performing arts in Maharashtra go back a long long way. Knowing natyasangeet has always been considered a plus. Going for Marathi plays was, and still is a highly approved thing in middle class society. See the ad pages of Loksatta.
And Marathi films have not always been with a Rural emphasis. That is just one aspect. We’ve had Marathi classic films since a long time with some very acclaimed performers.
A lot of the current Marathi filmmakers and actors have evolved from Marathi theatre. What has helped, is people getting experienced and qualified in the technical aspects and the ability to get funding for films. A lot of folks from Marathi films work in Hindi films. Amazingly women figure very prominently amongst Marathi film makers and directors, which is a reflection of the openness of the society in question.
I don’t think rural lifestyles have anything to do with it. It really has to do with developing a broadness of mind that allows you to realize that art has many forms. And different forms thrive in different conditions. And today, that broadening is there. Natarang isn’t just about the rural Lavni dance culture. It is about a person, the hero, striving to work towards his goal, within so many weird boundary conditions. How he falls, gets up again. Goes on to succeed. Happens to all of us. He just happened to dance as a Nachya.
Q: Pune, one of the peaceful cities of India was subjected to a terror attack. You love to call yourself a Punekar, As a person with immense experience, what message would you like to give to people who carry out such terror activities?
A: Today, no cities are safe. This could have happened anywhere. Having said this, one notices an abject lack of tolerance everywhere in daily life. In Mumbai, all the time, and now in Pune too. Particularly on the road, from rule breakers and wrong doers. (Just had a bad experience 2 days ago). Education has nothing to do with it. Might is supposed to be right. Everyone looks for quick money and fast solutions. And to hell with the means. Maybe that’s how terrorists happen.
No religion advocates what the terrorists do. They are being used by other people for their own purposes. And if our citizens are doing this, then somewhere, as a government and as a people, we have failed, and must reassign our priorities for the nation.
Q: ‘What should one infer from your Gravatar/Display picture, a woman with belan in her hand flying a broom?’ asked by Solilo.
A: A multitasking, down-to-earth, cheerful woman, with big teeth, who enjoys flights of imagination (even if they are on the broom), always remembering that there are meals to be cooked, things to be cleaned, vegetables to be bought, whistles to be blown, spitters to be filmed, bills to be paid, jokes to be enjoyed, songs to be sung, and yes, of course, blogs to be typed, and questions answered… did you think I was Aishwarya Rai B. flying First Class to London?
Q: Do you think blogging can bridge the so called generation gap as there is an instant connect with readers of all ages? Do you remember of any particular instance where you have been able to achieve this?
A: Most of the time. Regardless of age, the two people must subscribe to a a certain ethos in living. You can glean a person’s personality from the way they write, the way they react, the way they express opinions on their blogs and when they comment on yours. There is a young blogger in her late twenties, who was getting married to someone in a different community. In Maharashtrian customs, you need to say the husband’s first name in a rhyming couplet at various points in the marriage ceremony. I blogged about this custom once, and she almost kind of rushed and thudded on to the post asking if I would send her some of these Ukhanas, In English. Of course, this was right up my alley and she later contacted me with personal details so I could incorporate them as fun parts of the Ukhanas.
That this young woman later on met us all in a blogger lunch is history, and surprise surprise, she was exactly as I thought she would be. I’ve been called mavshi, kaku, even aji on the blog. What more connections do you need? Being referred to in the second person singular by young blog friends is an absolute honour.
Q: You have seen Mumbai grow from the 70’s to the present. Would love to have your observations on the various changes in Mumbai in various decades.
A: In December 1969, when I went to get my US student visa, I drove up to the consulate, had a choice of parking, the visa office had only one person ahead of me and it wasn’t 6 am, but more like 11 am.
In 1973, a trip from the city to the suburbs still felt like a picnic with large tracts of virgin marshy land near the sea, and north on Bandra, you could smell sea breezes in the train.
By mid and late seventies the smells of Mumbai started changing for the worse, and train travel between Bandra and Mahim could always be identified by the rotting smells.
The eighties and nineties saw an uncontrolled migration that changed the face of Mumbai, from a city that had grace, to a city that smelled of nothing but land and money. Today it is difficult to know what good and bad really means. Priorities of the Mumbai citizen, materially, have changed. The downtown city feels like an old dowager, scrupulously living her own imaginary life, minding her P’s and Q’s, while suburbs have developed like a teenager running wild.
Between the middle nineties and now things have changed really fast. For a certain section of the population, the huge gradient of the increase in population, vehicles, construction, cost of living, schools, colleges etc has made competition necessary in all spheres of life. In the mad rush to acquire all the trimmings and reach the target, we’ve ended up keeping our minds on “automatic”. And mental health has suffered.
Despite all this Mumbai grows on you. It makes you resilient. You also start being eternally hopeful. It seems to be like an infinite sink that will accept anything that falls into it. Floods, deluges, bombs, terrorists, nothing deters. You also learn to get cynical about corrupt governance, false assurances, terrible roads, traffic and the police. You observe the “Mall attack”, and sometimes, while walking through the air conditioned environs, still hanker after the old days, where you went to different parts of Mumbai for buying different things.
In all this, it still remains a city where women are treated reasonably well, and I feel safe here as a woman. The common man in Mumbai, regardless of his economic status, is still an altruistic fellow. And there is an abiding spirit here that says I may have 4 walls, but I will share one with you in times of trouble. The BEST buses are still an outstanding option in Mumbai and sometimes I think the drivers need to be awarded; lugging those huge buses through small roads, random traffic and polluted air, several times a day, carrying the heart and soul of Mumbai. The city still has scores of dedicated people who work selflessly for causes of women, children, and the disabled.
Only one thing. Don’t get me started on the roads…
Q: How, in general, would you rate the quality of Indian blogs? Share your favourite five blogs.
A: I often wonder about the adjective “Indian” where blogs are concerned. I see lots of blogs written by Indian women abroad which I would never recognize as Indian, from the writing. I have also seen blogs by non-Indian women, with an amazingly Indian attitude.
So a blog is a blog, I am surely not an authority to comment on “Indian” blogs, but if you have a look at the nominated blogs in a recent yearly selection by a blog aggregator, the variety and the writing ability, the design, and presentation is mind boggling. There are also some very amazing blogs being done in Marathi, which I read. I am sure the other Indian languages are duly richly represented.
I think we in India are richer for being able to blog in so many different languages, and read them, again in so many languages.
My 5 favourite blogs
- Kavi’s Musings: This guy moves around and notices all kinds of mundane things, which actually speak to him. Reading his blog always makes me smile and remember something early on in life. He champions the life and times of the ordinary, with a great sense of humor and gratitude, and you always look at things differently after you are done with his post. His posts have also inspired me to comment in verse…(Latest Post: Leveler)
- Of Cabbages and Kings: Half a generation (Go figure that), younger to me, when I read Manju’s blog, I always get a feeling of a bunch of friends sitting around enjoying a nice afternoon, and one of them tapping you on the shoulder, turning to you, and saying, “Did you know ….?”. For some reason, the way she writes, it exudes a sense of great logic and calmness. I enjoy reading her take on current events, literature, and her personal experiences from social work which she is involved in. As well as her knowledge of Sanskrit and her urge to popularize Subhashitas, which she does in a separate blog. (Latest Post: The Fearless Lion Cubs)
- Ageslessbonding: She belongs to my generation, and I greatly enjoy reading her posts, particularly when I end up nodding and thinking that, that was probably what I would have thought and done. She writes on a wide variety of subjects, and habits of society and how things change. Her writing style is very pleasing, and she gets cheesed off about the same things that cheese me off…. I look forward to her posts. (Latest Post: 7 things you didn’t need to know about me…)
- A Cricketing View: He writes a scholarly, studied and well researched cricket blog. There is no blind support of any particular team. He comments on the game. He has developed his own ratings system for the various teams that play Test Cricket, and taken courses at his University, in statistics (nothing to do with his own doctoral subject) to fine tune his ratings system. Sometimes I feel he is a bit tough on people in our team, but this is the opinion of someone who believes that folks like Sachin Tendulkar can do no wrong. The comments of equally cricket-mad folks on his blogposts are illuminating to read. He also happens to be my son. 🙂
(Latest Post: ODI Cricket Conquered by Tendulkar)
- Wheelchair Kamikaze: This is an amazing blog written by a 46 year old man, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis since 2003. He lives in NY City, and being from a creative field had a camera fitted to his wheelchair, so he could take pictures from a different perspective. He writes about his life, attitudes, the physical problems experienced, all this in a spell binding way. (Latest Post: A Little Housekeeping)
I know some folks afflicted with this and some are family. The strength of mind that these folks have always hugely impresses me, and I read this particular blog in an effort to learn how one deals with difficult things in life and never lose that smile.
Q: What is your advice to someone who wants to start a blog?
A: What are you waiting for? Welcome! Read lots of blogs, comment, discuss. The best way to do this is emulate how we learned swimming in our childhood. They just threw us into the water…..
So throw yourself in, you will learn the art of staying afloat. A little extra practice, and you will enjoy splashing all over the place….
Q: Let’s conclude off with a few favorites.
Color: Keeps changing. Currently, blue.
Movie: Natrang (Marathi), TZP (Hindi)
TV Show: Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Little Champs (Marathi)
Book: “How we die” by Dr Sherwin Nuland. (Also “How we live”, by him)
Time of Day: sometimes dawn, sometimes post-midnight.
Your Zodiac Sign: Capricorn
Readers! We are sure after reading both the parts of the Interview (Read Part 1 of her interview), you would have been awestruck by Mrs Suranga’s knowledge on varied subjects. Don’t you think it is high time you follow her blog and go through her archives to catch up on what all you have missed. Do give us your valuable feedback on what you like and don’t like about the interviews over here as we want to serve the best to you.