27 August 2011

Organic vegetables from my balcony gardening

When I had first written about composting, a reader asked what I intended to do with the compost once I had made it. Luckily composting takes months so I had enough time to think about this. After about 8 months the bottom pot of my khamba was full and I had a plan.

I purchased a trough (2 ft wide X 3/4 ft deep), added some mud (notice how red uncultivated mud is) and mixed in my compost. I made three troughs this way and planted scallions, radishes, broccoli, beetroot and zucchini. Thus far, no sign of the scallions or zucchini.

Interestingly though I soon had plants that I did not plant! My compost was all the kitchen waste I generated and therefore, was rich in seeds. Apparently, some survived the dessication in the compost. Soon after preparing the pots, pumpkin saplings sprouted in all the troughs. In one, I allowed two to mature while in the rest I proceeded to commit mass murder. However, after the squash invasion was (s)quashed, I noticed a whole bunch of plants with non-squash like leaves. I let them be out of curiosity. In 6 weeks though these champs have grown strong and tall. I have identified one of them as a tomato plant (the fruit was a give away) and another, as a pepper plant. I think the pepper plant is green capsicum; no fruit yet, only flowers.

So in effect I have managed to grow organic vegetables on my balcony and what a joy it is to see them each morning.

21 August 2011

BSc - a degree but no learning

I am reading a book called "Timepass: Youth, class and the politics of waiting in India" by Craig Jeffrey. This book offers an academic view of how youth (mostly male) in Meerut College and Chaudhary Charan Singh University, Meerut indulge in "timepass" and its socio-political ramifications. I am yet to finish the book, yet half way through I am already provoked.

My feelings right now are of sadness. The research elaborated in the book takes place in 2004/2005. A section of the students indulging in timepass are in their late twenties to early thirties, accumulating degrees because they have not been able to secure government jobs or any other salaried job. The book does not record what percentage of the youth in the college belong to this category of the chronically unemployable, but this struck a chord. I have interviewed many people for assistant positions at my organization. Many come armed with an MBA and are applying for the receptionist's position.

Imagine doing a postgraduate degree just to become an office assistant?

It's a cruel joke that our education system is playing on the students. It is acknowledged and accepted by parents of poor economic and social means that education is the ticket to upward mobility. So they toil and sweat to send the child to an English-medium school where with each passing year in addition to regular fees they have to cough up for some fund or another. Then to be able to get a seat, despite our quota system, many will go for tutions and yet, ultimately may only end up doing a BA or BCom or BSc. Of this, having completed a BSc, I can confidently say that in the BSc I got a rubbish education. We memorised heavily for an annual exam and there was no thinking or logic needed for any of the subjects. The course material was archaic and the exam was a test of your ability to reproduce from memory. The only thing I did enjoy was poking around in the laboratory and thinking of the cool experiments we could do with the resources we had. And also Sanskrit - but that's another story.

My point is, we don't have a system where acquisition of a degree ensures employment unless you are at a top school. Even an engineering degree from a B grade place appears to be insufficient (at the last bank adventure N and I undertook, our FD processing agent was a BE in computer science!). This is just wrong. Heck, I am sure that many of the ATM watchmen I worry about are lettered folk who just were not able to find jobs. I have even chatted up autodrivers with postgraduate degrees! And then you see a headline on what the topper in IIM is going to get as her starting salary.

I am all for free market but about about a free and fair market? How can our education delivery spectrum be this wide and importantly, be so redundant?

All countries struggle to determine the best approach to education and we too are learning. But I worry the pace is not good enough, so this demographic dividend which we are all supposed to be thrilled about is going to turn out to be a demographic division; unless, manual labour becomes a major economic force or may be, just may be, we are able to scale up quality of education in this country.

8 August 2011

Pace vs knee pain: my running paradox

N and I have signed up to run a half marathon (Kaveri Trail) and I have been training for it from early July. Since I was trying to lose weight by running, it made sense to have a goal for the work out. (Note: interested readers may wish to be informed that I have lost NO weight whatsoever since I started running. Go figure.)

I enjoy running, well...at my pace one may call it jogging or trotting. My pace has never been great but sometimes, when my heart is beating steadily and my shoes beat rhythmically against the asphalt, I reach a place of immense tranquility - this is when I think I am in the zone. I feel like I don't ever need to stop running. Luckily (?), the shrill piercing sound from a horn of an irate driver is all it takes to break the spell.

The problem with running though is knee pain. It normally manifests during my longer runs but in this training cycle I was rather amazed that even the weekday runs were turning sour. A kilometer into the run and my knee began to announce it's unhappiness, escalating quickly to a screaming inflammation in the next 10 mins or so. This is not fun. It prevents me from getting in the zone; heck, it prevents me from simply signing off from life and living in my head for a while. I can't think: that's the level of pain I experienced. I tried ice packs, strengthening exercises and the whole drill that worked previously, but to no avail. Then, at my last run, not wishing to prolong the agony (my goal is always distance not time) I decided to quicken my pace. And lo! no pain. I went from doing 8 - 8.5 Km/hr to 8.2 to 9 Km/hr. It's not a major change in pace at all, but the relief from knee pain is immense. I never thought that increasing my pace would reduce the pain. I have only tested this hypothesis on the treadmill and will explore it more when I run in the park on Saturday.

It's counter-intuitive but I am fairly certain that increasing my pace has improved my running form to the extent that I am knee-pain free for a large part of the run. Tomorrow morning will tell if there is any stiffness but already while doing bends I don't sense any residual throbs of pain in the knee. Hurrah! I do wish all solutions in life came so easily.