US Diaries 2017 – Note #1

Note #1: Why we cannot use a mug in the loo? What’s interesting about walking in the roads in US?
With the advise from experts and experienced people, we realised that it is not a good idea to use water while going to the toilet mainly because the toilet floor doesn’t have a sink from where the water can go out. Water logging can invite leakage and bathroom becoming dirty. So we figured out our own ingenious ways of doing ‘things’ in the loo. This might sound little gross to some of you, but I just couldn’t help writing it because it was a part of our experience.

For lunch on 22nd June, we went to a Lebanese restaurant – Mamoun’s Falafel Restaurant Princeton, Nj, which was 1.4 miles away. This was our first experience of going to a place walking. There were a lot of trees (almost looking like a forest) on both sides of the roads. There’s a small rivulet/lake flowing in the neighbourhood which is why our lane was called Lake Lane. We walked past the rivulet and entered wider roads where there were signals. Very soon we realised that walking on roads in US is so different from walking in India. We were at a zebra crossing and we saw two cars coming from either side. We stopped there. The cars also stopped. We looked at both cars and they weren’t going ahead even though there were no vehicles coming from any other side of the cross road. It was after some time that we realised that the cars were waiting for us to cross the road. We giggled and crossed the road. It also happened many a times that we would see no cars on the road and be tempted to cross the only (that would be an instant reaction) only to realise that it is not a good idea here to cross the road at places where there are no crossings. It also took some time for us to understand how the traffic signals for pedestrians work. It might sound silly, but we got a royal feeling to see all the cars waiting for us to cross the road. 

We walked on the pedestrian walking gazing at all the cars that went by (as a typical new comer to the country), looking at all the beautiful houses, squirrels and birds that played on the trees on the edge of the roads. There was very less cars on the roads, probably because it was the afternoon. The cars parked on the side were parked very meticulously. The pedestrians seemed to gain some respect and priority while walking. The cars would pause if they feel that you are going to cross. For a minute I felt that why is not seen in India? One reason could be that the population density is very high in India and if the cars would pause for every pedestrian  to cross, then there would probably be a traffic jam. Another reason that I felt is that people discipline in life is something that is we need to work upon in India. This is not to compare US and India. That would be foolish because it would like comparing apples and oranges. But if we see someone, some culture or some country following some good qualities, it is definitely good to aspire for them so that we can improvise on our weaknesses.
Anyways, we enjoyed our walk to Mamoun’s. The menu card was like Latin and Greek for the boys because it was a Lebanese restaurant. As I have had Lebanese food in the past, I knew three items – Tabouli, Humus and Falafel. We ordered those three items and a few other items. The staff at the restaurant seemed to me like undergraduate students who were probably staying back in summer. All of them were very kind, loving and always greeted the customers with a smile. We placed our order, and served ourselves. After eating, one is supposed to clear the stuff on the table into the waste bin. This is one more thing that I liked in this culture. In India, we see so many people ordering waiters as if they are their servants. And even waiters and hoteliers serving as if they are fed up of customers. Many times we see there is hardly any love for work that they are doing. 

We finished our sumptuous lunch as we gulped down some juices and started walking back to our apartment. On the way, we stopped at a fountain under which many kids were playing in water. The water under the fountain was ankle deep and the fountain stood within a boundary of a big rectangular pool which had this ankle deep water. On one side of it was statues of 12 animal heads that appear in Chinese astrology. We sat next to it doing nothing and watching the kids play in the water. The quietude of the campus is also something very mesmerising. We just sat there in peace and walked back to our apartment. 

When we came back, we had walked 2.8 miles and were very sleepy as we barely slept in the flight. We did not realise that it was the jet lag that was pulling us down. All of us hit the bed around 2:30 pm and thought of taking a nap. Only Ojas woke up after two hours and tried waking all of us around 9 pm. But nobody was interested to wake up. He ate some food and went back to bed at 10 pm. 

After some time, at around 11:45 pm, I woke up with a splitting headache. The sleep was lost the time shocked me. I was also partly hungry but didn’t feel like eating. So I had a chocolate and checked my whatsapp messages and emails for about two hours and forced myself back to bed. Morning woke me up at 3:30 and I could see Sundar and Aadityan waking up in the next hour. We were all set for a brand new day to explore. But first, we had to eat something. And for that, the cooking range had to be explored. The question was – who would bell the cat? The only person qualified to get into the kitchen was Ojas and he was sleeping. 

I dared to get into the kitchen and had a look at the cooking range the way in which a lay man would wonder which switch to press if he would get a chance to sit in the aeroplane’s cockpit. There was a strong calling for tea. So I went ahead to explore. 

US Diaries 2017 – Note #0

This thread is about my experiences during my stay in US during the summer of 2017

Note #0: 22nd June 2017

The excitement was on since January 2017 when three of our students (Aadityan, Ojas and Sundarraman) got selected for a 5-week summer program called PACT (Program for Algorithmic and Combinatorial Thinking) to be held in June-July in Princeton. Luckily for me, I also got an opportunity to attend the course as a student. 

Finally the day had arrived and we all met at Mumbai airport to leave for Newark (NYC). The Air India flight was a direct one and very comfortable. It was my first long haul flight but it didn’t seem boring as usually people tell about long haul flights. I managed to do some work, get a wink for a couple of hours and watch a movie. At a couple of instances we managed to get some good views of Greenland while we were flying above it. It was a series of mountains covered with ice and water bodies flowing through them. It was a very beautiful sight to watch. The boys also enjoyed the flight. It was a first time flying experience for one of them and he enjoyed it pretty much.

We landed at Newark safely on time with a lot of pending sleep. The immigration went on well. The cops (except for one) had lost their smile. So was the case with most other staff at the airport. But as we came out and met some cab drivers and ground travel staff, they were very kind and helpful. We tried to check if our luggage would fit into a yellow cab (even though it seemed difficult) and the cab driver helped us with all our heavy luggage and also to take it out when he realised that it won’t fit. There was a Gujarati airport staff, Hitesh, who helped us call a min van (something like an Innova car in India). It was a flat rate from Newark to Princeton (about 40 miles) at $96 dollars + luggage + toll + a small tip cost us $ 120. Aadityan was carrying a US SIM from India which didn’t work when we landed but started working once we got into our apartment. So we had to use the cell of our taxi driver to call up a student who was supposed to be in our apartment (where we were supposed to stay) as he had got the keys from the house owner. 

The delight for the boys’ eyes was the variety of cars that they got to watch on the way to Princeton. All the cars that they dream to see in India, like Porche, Limo, Bentley, they got to see all of them. I was busy taking pictures of these cars to send them to my son who loves cars.

Soon we reached our apartment. We knew that it was a Princeton faculty’s house and a 4 BHK one. So we knew that it would be big. But we didn’t imagine this big. It was a two-storied one with a big store and some space at the basement, a big front room with a dining table on the first floor. The first floor also had the kitchen and an office room. Since the owners have small kids, we could see a lot of fur toys and books and baby stuff. The second floor had four bedrooms. The wooden floors made some noise as we walked, but I loved it more than the concrete floors that we usually have in modern houses. 

We settled down in our rooms. We decided to have a quick shower and go to a Lebanese restaurant that was 1.4 miles away for lunch. But what we didn’t expect that (which I think all Indians who are first timers in US also face) is to see the absence of buckets, mugs, taps and hand showers in toilets and presence of toilet rolls. All four of us looked at each other understanding what’s going on our minds about how to do ‘those things’ with the resources that are available. Bang! Here we hit the most difficult problem.

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Jaipur – the city of Palaces – Part 2 | Travelogue

From Jantar Mantar we moved to the City Palace also known as the Jaipur Palace. That was one of the most awesomest (if I can use a word like that by combining two superlatives) things I had ever seen. There were many halls and rooms all beautifully painted on the walls and ceilings. I was stunned when the tour guide told me that the colours used to paint not only included naturally extracted colours from fruits and vegetables, but also the paste made out of gems like ruby, emerald, sapphire, etc. It was really hard to believe that the paintings I was seeing on the ceilings were 200 years old. In few of the rooms, there were guns used for fighting and hunting. They were beautiful. There were also knives and swords of different shapes and sizes. One of the swords weighed 5.5 kgs and was even studded with precious stones!? (I mean, who would think of fighting with a sword studded with gems?) But a king had fought and won a lot of battles with this stone-studded sword. In a showcase was displayed the body armour and helmet used by the king. It weighed 35 kgs. Some guns that were used on camel backs weighed 25 kgs.

Inside, we went to the Diwan-e-khaas (the auditorium for private audience). It was being arranged for a wedding. Today, Diwan-e-khaas is also rented out for weddings. Inside the Diwan-e-khaas, there were three huge jars made of silver. Each of them weighed 345 kgs and were made of 14000 silver coins and could contain 900 gallons (4091 litres) of water. One of the kings used to drink only Ganges water which was brought and stored in these jars. Once when the king went to England, he took the jars along with him (now this is what we can call ‘to live like a king’). From there, we went inside more rooms where there were exhibits of dresses and stuff used by the kings and queens. One of them was a 9 kg sari used by a queen that was made of gold and silver. The cloth which was bundled into a turban was 12 metres long. But when folded into a square feet, the height of the folded turban wasn’t over 6 inches. Since camera was not allowed inside the City Palace, we missed the opportunity of capturing the pictures of the beautiful artifacts those were used by the royal family.

There was a king by the name Sawai Madho Singh under whose name a cricket stadium is there in Jaipur today. Madho Singh was a very huge king (probably that is why the title ‘Sawai’ suited him too, even though in a different sense). He was 7 feet tall and weighed 215 kgs. His chest was 4 feet broad. His breakfast would ‘weigh’ 10 kgs comprising of milk, jelebis and badam. His dresses were showcased inside the palace. Looking at it we could imagine how big he was by looking at the clothes he wore and his portrait. It did not come to a surprise for us when we were told that he died of diabetes at the age of 39.

There was another room, Diwan-e-aam (hall for public gatherings) filled with the portraits of the kings who lived in the palace at different times. There were rooms over the hall with grilled windows for the queens that enabled them to see the happenings in the hall but the people in the hall could not see the queens because of the grill. Diwan-e-aam also has a chandelier which was one of the largest of its kind. There were many life size portraits of the kings in the big hall of Diwan-e-aam. One of the paintings (if I remember it correctly, it was Raja Man Singh’s) was a special one. The eye, thumb and shoes would point at us from whichever direction we look at the painting. We were told that there was a time when 22 kings lived in the palace. So you can imagine how big the palace must be! The part of the palace that we were seeing was just a portion of the whole palace. The other parts are still used by the royal family.

Jaipur was named after Raja Sawai Jai Singh. He had 27 queens. The royal flag carries five colours which were the colours of the flags of five kingdoms that Raja Man Singh had conquered. After his conquest, he made his national flag as a combination of strips of those five colours. When we visited the palace, there was only one flag on the top of the palace. It means the king is out of town. If one sees two flags on top of the palace that it indicates that the king is in the palace. The present king is just 15 years old (a school going boy). After the end of monarchy, the royal army which comprised only of ‘Rajputs’ (a particular clan/caste in North India) joined the Indian Army under the name ‘Rajputana Rifles’.

From City Palace we went to a Govt. authorized art, handicraft and textile showroom where they showed us how they use natural colouring processes to dye clothes. They extract the colours from fruits and vegetables, and the water used for processing is also said to be brought from a particular river/lake which contains a lot of salts and minerals. After explaining to us the colouring procedure, they took us to their rajaai (blanket – a multi-purpose blanket in fact. They can be used in all seasons and also used as carpets.) section where the rajaai collections started from Rs.750/- onwards. It was hard to believe that a blanket that would make us warm weighed just 100 grams as we held it in our arms. They make it out of Australian sheep wool. There were other beautiful silk blankets costing from Rs.1,250 to Rs.1,850 which was quite cheap as compared to its quality. It came with a 4-5 years ‘guarantee’. So did the saris. Since I wouldn’t be using rajaai in Mumbai, I proceeded to the sari section. They showed me a few saris of Rs.1,250 which were printed with bright (natural) colours and looked beautiful. I bought two of them and stepped out of that section into the kurta section. There was a salesman pulling me to the ‘precious stones’ section but I didn’t go there. Kurtas started from Rs.650 or Rs.750. I bought one for me and one for my son. They had an option of sending the purchases by post to our address if we pay 50% of the price. The balance could be paid at the time of delivery. If I remember it correctly, there was some nominal (or nil) charges of delivering at home. I opted for this option and left the shop for the next stop – Nahargarh.

Jaipur – the city of Palaces – Part 1

27th Nov 2013
It was my first visit to Rajasthan and I was pretty much excited about the Jaipur city tour that I was going to take the following day. My friend Shridhar (Shridhar is what he’s called by his dear ones…his real name is Hariharan) and I had come to attend a 3-day ‘International Conference on History and Development of Mathematics’ at JECRC University in Jaipur which was to start on 29th Nov. It had been almost a year that I travelled for the sake of travelling and I had decided that since I was coming here all the way to Jaipur, I should take out a day see the city. For the same reason, we got our tickets booked for arriving in Jaipur a day prior to the conference. The convener of the Conference, Prof. Dr. Ramprakash Sharma, was kind enough to arrange for our stay in Rajasthan University’s guest house – a pretty good place to stay. We had early dinner tucked ourselves into the rajaai (blanket, as it is called in North India) early and called it a day.

28th Nov 2013
Morning woke me up at 6 am and we both got ready to leave for the city tour by 7:30 am. We had thought of having breakfast and then making a move immediately. The receptionist had told us that we would get a bus for the city tour around 8:30 am from the Govt. hostel. The previous night, Prof. Sriram (Retd. Prof. from University of Madras whom I had met at a couple of occasions) had arrived in our guest house. He too was keen on seeing around the city. Hence we three decided to leave the place together. In the morning, I got a call from Krishna Panda, a young chap (whom I had met in another Conference at IIT Madras) who had also come for the Conference gave me a call saying that he too would like to join us and will meet us at Govt. hostel. So, Shridhar, Sriram Sir and I finished our breakfast and we took an auto to Govt. Hostel. There we met Krishna and we booked a ticket for the full-day city tour which was from 9am – 6pm. Luckily we reached there right on time. There were half-day tours also for 3-4 hours. The buses were run by Rajasthan Tourism. A full-day bus tour costs Rs.300/- per person and half-day (3-4 hours) costs Rs.250/- (both excluding entry tickets, camera, meals, etc. Basically, it is the normal bus charge that we pay). Since we four were the last to reach there, we got the seats at the back. However, the journey was quite comfortable (thanks to the good roads).

9:20 am: We started off from Govt. Hostel to our first spot – Birla temple (situated close to Rajasthan University) which was a 25-year old Lakshmi Narayan temple made of marble. We had a quick darshan (visit to the temple) and moved to our next spot – Jantar Mantar. On the way, the tour guide in our bus showed us Jal-Mahal (Jal – water, Mahal – palace. It is a palace in the midst of an artificial lake), which used to be the summer palace of the king. We were not supposed to stop our vehicle there so the driver just slowed down and allowed us to click pictures from the bus before we moved on. On our way, we saw a Golf Course constructed by Raja Man Singh, a very handsome king, who was a Polo champion. His queens also played polo. Unfortunately, when he was 59, he fell off the horse while playing polo in England and died. We also saw another palace on the way which was taken up by the Taj group of hotels. There were few other temples, Vidhan Sabha, cricket stadium and some more monuments that came on the way.
Our vehicle slowed down at the entrance of Old Jaipur. The tour guide told us that till now we were in New Jaipur and beyond the gate is Old Jaipur. The city of Old Jaipur is surrounded by walls from all sides and can be entered through nine gates (Indian scriptures talk about nine openings in the body – navadvaara. This was probably kept in mind while constructing these nine gates that lead into the city). As we entered, we saw uniformly coloured, designed and same sized buildings on either side. All of them had the peculiar shade of pink which is the only shade that we see for old buildings in Jaipur.

On our left side came Hawa Mahal. Hawa Mahal is not a palace, but a structure with a lot of windows. The vehicle slowed down but didn’t stop here. In a short while, we reached Jantar Mantar – what I would call as a Laboratory for learning practical Trigonometry! Jantar Mantar is really famous for its sun-dials that are exhibited in a huge open ground. We took a composite ticket of Rs.70 which could be used for entry to few places at a discounted rate. We were told that we could spend 45 minutes or so in Jantar Mantar. As we went in, the tour guide started explaining about every sun dial. But we went so crazy seeing such large sun dials some as big as a three-storied building, that we didn’t listen to him much and started exploring on our own (a mistake that we did for, we missed the explanations). We took some pictures and came back to our tour guide who was explaining about one of the sun dials that had a big arc with its ends facing north and bisected by a rectangular block in the middle. The arc had time measurements written on its left side for morning and right side for afternoon. When the sun rays would hit the block in the middle of the sun-dial, its shadow would fall on the arc (left or right side, depending on the time of the day). The spot where it falls will show a particular time. We need to add 15 minutes to get the present IST. We asked him why to add 15 minutes. He said, ‘In 1905 when the Govt. decided to give a standard time for the whole country, the time of Allahabad was chosen. Since the actual time of Jaipur was 15 minutes behind Allahabad, we had to add 15 minutes to the time shown on the sun dial. This was the case with every sun dial in the complex for the obvious reason that Jantar Mantar was built much before this rule was passed by the Govt. There were other structures on every star sign which we didn’t get much time to check out. These structures on star signs can be seen only in the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur and not in other four Jantar Mantars situated in Delhi, Mathura, Ujjain and Varanasi.

The history of Jantar Mantar is really interesting. Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh-II (1688 – 1743) was the founder of Jantar Mantar. Jantar comes from the word ‘Yantra’ (instrument) and Mantar comes from the word ‘Mantra’. Jai Singh was a great scholar, especially in mathematics and astronomy. The title ‘Sawai’ was bestowed upon him by the Mughal ruler Aurangazeb. ‘Sawa’ in hindi means, one and a quarter. By this title he meant that Jai Singh was 25% more intelligent than a normal man. Mostly the rulers of Jaipur were allies of the Mughals which allowed them to rule peacefully and enjoy the royal life. Jai Singh had become the king when he was just 11 years old. He discussed with Portuguese scholars in 1729 CE for construction of Jantar Mantar. The first one of its kind was constructed in Delhi (probably offering it as a token of love to the Mughal emperor who stayed in Delhi). The work of Jantar Mantar started in 1728 and was completed (in five different cities) in six years. There are 17 or 18 instruments in Jaipur’s Jantar Mantar:

1. Laghu Samrat Yantra (small sun-dial)
laghu samrat

2. Chakra Yantra (circle instrument)
sri yantra

3. Nadivalaya Yantra Dakshin Gola (equatorial instrument southern hemisphere)

4. Nadivalya Yantra Uttar Gola (equatorial instrument northern hemisphere)
5. Ram Yantra (altitude instrument)

Ram Yantra

6. Brihat Samrat Yantra (large sun-dial). In this sun-dial, local time can be known accurately upto 2 seconds. The reason they didn’t think of constructing one where the time could be accurately calculated upto 1 second is because human eye cannot see such minor change. Hence, it would be useless to do so. This is the largest sun-dial.
Brihat Samrat Yantra

7. Yantra Raj (the astrolabe)

Yantra Raj

8. Rashivalaya Yantra (zodiac sign instrument)

rashi valaya

9. Digansha Yantra (azimuth instrument)

Digansha Yantra

10. Dhruvdarshak Pattika (pole star viewing plate)

Dhruva darshak Pattika

11. Jai Prakash Yantra (the Master instrument constructed by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh himself)

Jai Prakash Yantra

12. Krantivritta Yantra (the ecliptic circle instrument)

Krantivritta Yantra

13. Bhitti Yantra (meridian wall instrument)


Close up of Bhitti Yantra

14. Kapali Yantra (hemispherical bowl instrument)

Kapali Yantra

15. Palabha Yantra (horizontal sun-dial)

Palabha Yantra

16. Unnatansha Yantra (altitude instrument)

Unnatansha Yantra

17. Sashthamsha Yantra (sextant instrument)

Sasthamsa Yantra

One can spend 2-3 hours easily if he’s interested in mathematics, trigonometry and the working of sun-dials. But our time was limited. Time flew and I could see my group walking out of Jantar Mantar. I quickly called out Shridhar and Prof. Sriram (who was trying to find the place where he could see the declination of the sun on the biggest sun-dial, the Brihat Samrat Yantra). As I walked out, I looked back at all those mathematically crafted artwork which would bring a lot of sense and purpose of practical implementation of trigonometry that is usually dumped into our heads in high school. How I wish I could bring a batch of students for a study tour some time to this place and explain something on trigonometry and astronomy!

Travelogue | MY TRIP TO NAGAPATTINAM – Part 3 (Last part)

…contd from My Trip to Nagapattinam – Part 2

I could see a lot of difference in the attitude and behavior of the people as compared to the people from the cities. As compared to the city dwellers, village folks are very loving. The children and teachers were all anxious to see what Vedic Mathematics is all about because they couldn’t get the knowledge easily from Nagapattinam. Even non-Math teachers attended the classes because of their yearning to learn something new. The children looked forward at the classes as a source of entertainment. They were far away from any negative influence that the kids in the cities are affected with. They were so shy that once when I uttered the word ‘Pair’ while explaining a topic in Math, they shied away their eyes. When they heard ‘Pair’ it reminded them of the word ‘couple’. And they were SHY! Which was a surprise for me. Because in the cities, we see children from lower classes exposed to all infatuations and school-love and relationships. But here, it was far beyond their imagination. I was told by Ganesh Sir that the total population of Nagapattinam itself was only 100,000. So, they could easily identify any outsider. If the children would be seen roaming on the roads after school hours, any onlooker would call up the school and inform about such an incident and the student would be warned. To them, internet was a taboo and talking of email ids and facebook was a hush-hush. All the while I enjoyed their village innocence and their love they showered over me. There would not be a single student who would pass by without greeting their teachers. The way of greeting in Chinmaya Vidyalayas was ‘Hari Om’ and I had to keep saying Hari Om as a return greeting every time I walked in school. The teachers too were very loving. Sometimes, if the lady peons who would serve me lunch would not be at the table, the teachers themselves (once even the vice-principal herself) would serve lunch for me despite my pleading requests of not to do so. In almost all alternate evenings, Saravanan Sir would call or come by the school just to ask me if I need anything from the market because he was going to the market. I experienced hospitality at its best over there. Their love gave me the spirit to take classes for long hours.

As usual, I enjoyed the classes very much. The children enjoyed too. We did techniques on faster subtraction, multiplication and squaring for all classes. For 9th & 10th, we did cubing and a few more techniques. For every batch, I enjoyed doing sessions where I could ask a lot of WHYs for everything they say. For example, while doing the concept of area they said, “Area of a square is side x side, area of a rectangle is length x breadth.” And I tried to bring all innocence to my face and asked them, “Why is it so?” They would reply, “It’s the formula Sir. If we don’t use that, then how will we get the answer?” I asked them again, “Who made these formulae? Why are they not different? Why area of a square is only side x side why not ½ x side x side?” They would give a puzzled look on their face. In every school where I’ve done workshops, I’ve faced the same reaction. I then have to lead them to get the thought of deriving a formula. Some would still say, “Area of a square is side x side because all sides are equal.” I then would ask them, “In that case area of a rhombus also has to be side x side because all sides of a rhombus are also equal.” Suddenly someone would come up with their logic saying, “Because in a square all sides are equal and all angles are right angles.” It is a strange thing how we derive a logic behind a statement. When our ‘mind’ is convinced on some idea (irrespective of the fact that it is backed by reasoning or not), it automatically tries to find logic behind the idea to satisfy the ‘intellect’. Say for example, for a person who is convinced that ghosts exist, he can come up with so many reasons to back his statement. These reasons may not sound logical for others. But for him, it is. Because he is sure of the idea and hence whatever reasons he finds is apt for his intellectual understanding. When others wonder and label him illogical, he must be thinking the same thing about others!

So, for children too, they are convinced by these formulae without even questioning its derivation to their teachers. Sadly, we do not get an opportunity to question or think and try to find the reason ourselves behind Mathematical formulae in school. Most of our teachers are taught to teach, not to make the minds to question. When I was in school, our Mathematics tuition teacher Sri P.P.Raman Sir would ask him so many questions which would make us think and derive solutions to problems. This enabled his students to get the exact reason and find the proper logic behind a proof. Unless and until students get an opportunity to think and discover the science behind every working in Mathematics, how are the supposedly to ‘understand’ mathematics? Many of them score, but very few understand mathematics.
While I was taking class here, it was raining outside. I said, “If I ask you why it is raining outside, then would you tell me – It is hot in Mumbai. Mumbai is 700 kms from here. And hence it is raining here!” They all laughed. I went on, “That is how it sounds to me when you say – All sides of a square are equal. All angles are right angles. Hence area of a square should be side x side.” There was complete silence in the class. They understood that their statements did not have logic behind it but still they thought it had logic. That was a thunderbolt to them. Till now they never thought that formulae have to be questioned or they can be derived. This was nothing new for me because in most of the schools I receive the same answers. Very few of them understand the concept of area. That when we say area of a figure is 50 square feet, it means the shape when divided into smaller squares of size 1 foot each, we will get exactly 50 squares.

Slowly, I had to take them to discover the formula for area of a square and rectangle. Once they have understood these two formulae, they gradually start thinking and deriving formulae for area of a triangle and parallelogram. That’s it! My objective is achieved if the slightest thinking process is set during the 8 – 10 hours workshops. In this school, there was one boy of 8th standard, Kamlesh. When I asked their class the derivation of formula for area of a rectangle, he thought for a while and said, “Sir, I can try proving it using an example. Suppose there are a certain number of bottles in a rectangular box, then I can get the total number of bottles when I multiply the number of bottles in a row by the number of columns.” That boy had got the idea. He could try proving a formula by associating it with another example which he might have (perhaps) solved or observed previously. This is a process that has to be cultivated in the children right from a young age – ‘how to get it solved?’ In his book How to Solve It, George Polya, a famous Mathematician says, “Look at the unknown (what is to be found out in a problem). And think of a similar problem having the same or similar unknown. This suggestion advises you to do whatever you would do anyhow, without any advice, if you were seriously concerned with the problem. Are you hungry? You wish to obtain food and you think of familiar ways of obtaining food. Have you a problem of any kind? You wish to find a certain unknown, and you think of familiar ways of finding such an unknown, or some similar unknown.” This is a very useful tip that can be used by teachers, parents or anyone for that matter, who wish to train children in problem-solving.

Two and a half weeks flew like anything. And it was the last day of the workshop. We took class-wise group photos and some casual photographs with the 10th standard students. The 10th standard students were asked to sit casually engaged in some conversation with me so that some candid photos could be taken. They were again shy. Finally I engaged them in another discussion over Pi and when they were engrossed in it, the photographer did his job.

Immediately after the photo session, I bid good-bye to all the students, teachers and staff and left for the railway station to catch my train. Two male teachers came to the railway station to bid me goodbye. For three weeks, with all the love I received from the village-folks I never felt I was away from my family. And there I was, on a train, continuing my journey back to place where I came from – my home, my family.


…contd from My Trip to Nagapattinam – Part 1

I woke up when the power went off (again). At around 5 pm, Saravanan Sir picked me up and we went to the beach. The Chinmaya Vidyalaya, where I had to take class, was hardly a kilometer away from the beach. When I saw that, I was happy thinking that atleast on a few days I could go to the beach in the evenings and spend some time chilling. He explained to me how Tsunami had hit the place badly a few years back. There was a stadium near the beach which entirely disappeared when Tsunami hit. He said that when they came to the beach after the disaster and felt as if they came to a wrong place because they thought ‘How could a stadium just disappear?’ It was moderately crowded, the day being a Sunday. We spent some time on the beach and I was finally dropped at Swamy Mansion.

I went out at 8:30 to get my dinner. It is totally dark. No street lights, no lights from homes due to the power cut. I used my mobile torch to get some light so that I won’t slip my feet in the uneven roads. I reached the hotel where I had taken lunch from. I could see the curiosity of the hotelier’s eyes. They understood that I was new. The pony tail in my hair always caught attention, especially in such remote places.

In Tamil Nadu, they don’t have rice for dinner. They have Idli or Dosa or something similar to what they have for breakfast. They call it ‘tiffin’. I had some Idlis and went back to my lodge. Again, no power. My neighbor in the lodge had told me with a sarcastic smile that at night the power goes out every alternate hour. He was right, full night the power came and went off every alternate hour. I applied mosquito repellent cream all over my body and tried to get some sleep. And I did get good sleep except for the times when the power came and went off. At those points, I was woken up for a few seconds and then I snoozed off again. Finally I woke up at 6 am. After which the power was continuously cut. I had my shower and went to the school with Saravanan Sir who picked me up at 8 am.

I met the Acharya of the Chinmaya Mission Centre in Nagapattinam, Swami Ramakrishnananda, an excellent teacher of Sanskrit. His peculiarity is that anyone who would attend his workshops on Sanskrit for 6 hours, would be rolling on the floor with laughter for 5 ½ hours. At the end of the workshop, they would learn beautiful Sanskrit. He would teach Sanskrit with quick caricatures he drew on the board which would imprint the topic in our minds. I had attended his classes and knew him in person. When I met him, I gave him a packet of sweets. He jokingly asked, “Why sweets? Is it your birthday?” and started laughing. Swamiji is a very jovial person. For the people who know him, even his look is enough to make them laugh.

He asked me, “Is your stay comfortable?” This time it was a serious question. I smiled back thinking how I should say NO with a smile. He repeated the question again. I said, “Swamiji, can I stay in the school? I think I’ll be more comfortable here. I find it a bit risky to lock my luggage, laptop, etc. in the lodge which has got no security and even the lock is a small one.” He thought for a second and said, “Ok. Let me see.” I felt a bit relieved. We went ahead for the school assembly. Following that was the first class of our workshop. It was 6th standard students. Really sweet and loving children from the village side. I enjoyed all my sessions – 6 hours in total, 4 ½ for 6th standard and 1 ½ for 10th standard. The time duration was the same for the following days. On some days, we had a session more which resulted in 8 hours classes. I was used to 6 hours back to back classes but was doing 8 hours for the first time. Anyways, I enjoyed each and every bit, thanks to the attentive & enthusiastic children and teachers who wanted to learn something, just for the sake of learning it.

On the first day evening, the Principal, Mrs. Geeta Bennett, said that they don’t have a room in the school. But if it is ok with me, I can stay in the Computer lab. She showed me the lab. I was so happy and relieved. I told her that I’ll be very much happy staying in the school premises. She was looking a bit hesitant for having asking a guest to stay in a classroom. But I told her that as compared to what Swami Chinmayananda had to go through, I haven’t tasted hardships anywhere near that. I assured her that I’ll be perfectly fine. She said that I could use the bathroom outside Swamiji’s quarters. I felt lucky that I didn’t have to use the school bathroom. Immediately me & Selvakumaran Sir (maths teacher) went back to my lodge to bring my luggage. I had already kept it packed for, I had dreamed of this move to the school. Thus began my stay in the school.

The campus was very peaceful and serene. There were a lot of trees inhabited by different kinds of birds and squirrels. There was a small water body in the neighbouring compound which brought in kingfishers. All this I could see from my computer lab. Sometimes the squirrels would come inside the lab and even in classrooms. It was fun to see them play. Every morning I would go out and watch them play as I had my morning tea or coffee. I could taste the nature at the start of every new day. The school had a small open area which was surrounded by the rectangular school building on four sides. The sand inside the school compound was the beach sand. I used to get tempted to play in the sand very often. The open area also had an idol of Lord Ganesh and a small temple of Lord Shiva. Every morning Swamiji would come and do a small pooja and offer prayers. It was good to see many teachers and students beginning their day after offering their prayers at the temple.

They had a small ground where the students, teachers and Swamiji would play volleyball every evening after school. I was really surprised to see that the students didn’t leave the school immediately after school. They would hang around, play in the ground, run around, small children would play with the beach sand and leave after an hour or so. The junior college boys formed a team against the male teachers and Swamiji. This school had around 11 male teachers, which was too big a number for male teachers in schools I’ve come across in India. Owing to the low salaries offered at schools, men usually don’t take up teaching in schools. Colleges give a good pay and hence we find more male professors in colleges. Anyways, the school used to get over by 4 pm but the teachers and students would play in the evening atleast till 6 pm. Swamiji would enjoy playing volleyball with them. Under his guidance, I could see a lot of bonding amongst all the teachers and a good bonding between the students and teachers.

There was a caretaker in the school; they called him ‘Thatha’ (grandpa in Tamil). He took care of my food. He used to bring food and tea for me from the hotel. The watchmen were also very friendly. They watched me with all awe and wonder as they saw me talking in English over the phone. And they were all the more surprised when they came to know that I knew a few more languages. For them, they knew only Tamil. If someone of them could talk a few words in English, it was a great thing. Among them was Anandan, who could speak and understand English little bit because he had worked abroad for a few years. He would keep singing Tamil songs at the top of his voice. Even though I didn’t understand it much, I enjoyed the melody in his voice.

Luckily for me, here, there was no power cut between 11 pm and 6 am. That ensured my good sleep. Day time power cut was taken care by the generator. I just had to bear 2-3 hours of power cut in the evenings after 6. After a few days, Swamiji had to travel and his quarter was locked. And the pumproom (for the bathroom that I used outside his room) had its switch inside Swamiji’s quarter. So, they allotted a latrine in the boys’ wash room, for me. It was locked for others and only I could use it. Good that it was allotted to me or else, I would have had a tough time to find a suitable place to wash my clothes. Initially I was a bit hesitant to use the school washroom as it is not usually very neat. But that was not the case here. It was clean.

Morning power cut and mosquitoes would wake me up at 6 – 6:30. The children started coming to school right from 8 am. The school timing was 9:20 but owing to the lesser number of school buses, each bus had to do two trips. Hence, few students had to come early to school. Our classes on Vedic Mathematics began at 9 am for the first batch, followed by three 1 ½ hours batches throughout the day with a 15 minutes lunch break. If there would be a special session for teachers, or something for 10th standard, we would continue till 5 pm. After the classes, I loved watching the volleyball matches. My mind was pretty good with calculations, but my body never followed my mind. That’s my understanding of why I never did well in any physical sport. So, I stood apart always and enjoyed watching.

I would enjoy my evening walks outside when there would be cool breezes, thanks to the sea coast. The time during power cuts was spent over the phone and evening walks, or sometimes in star gazing or sometimes with the watchmen when they would try their best to make me understand what they are trying to say and I too would struggle to express my thoughts in my broken Tamil. Once I was trying to make them understand something and I wanted to say ‘man and woman’. Later I understood that they mistook my words for ‘sex’.

…contd in My Trip to Nagapattinam – Part 3


I boarded my train to Ernakulam from Mumbai on 5th Oct 2012 with all excitement in mind. This was the biggest workshop I was going to do. Nagapattinam Chinmaya Vidyalaya had enrolled all students (385 of them) from 6th – 10th standard for Vedic Mathematics workshop.

Nagapattinam is a small town (almost a village) in the coastal side (towards the Bay of Bengal) of Tamil Nadu. Since there was no direct train from Mumbai to Nagapattinam, I had to do a break journey at Ernakulam. I reached Nagapattinam by 11 am on 7th. It was a hot sunny Sunday and three male school teachers – Ganesh Sir (Senior Math teacher), Saravanan Sir (IT) and Madhavan Sir (Physical Trainer); had come to receive me at the railway station. With their pleasant smiles on the faces, they welcomed me to the port town, Nagapattinam. Together we went to the place where they had arranged my stay. All of them were very friendly and loving village folk. In our earlier communications, I had asked Ganesh Sir if I could stay in the school but was given to understand that the school had no guest rooms. Hence they arranged my stay at ‘Swamy Mansion’ where people who come to the place for business purposes, stay for a long period.

The roads weren’t quite good and there was hardly any traffic on the road. Being a Sunday, the whole town was very silent with hardly any shops open. We reached the Swamy Mansion very soon. It was a lodge. I was taken to my room on the first floor which was pretty small. The very moment I entered the room, the question that came to my mind was, “Where’s the laterine?” I asked them and they showed me few common bathrooms and laterines. “Oh no!”, I said in my mind. That was not what I expected. Of all things in the world, I was never able to compromise on bathrooms. I somehow hid my feelings inside as we continued our conversations. Suddenly I realized that I was feeling hot. When I looked for the switch, my neighbor in the next room appeared before me and said with a smile, “There’s no electricity.” I smiled back and said, “Oh, Ok. When will the power be back?” He replied, “No idea. The power cut is for 10-12 hours.” “WHAT!!!!!”, I cried out. “No, no. This cannot be. I must be dreaming”, I thought. But in a few seconds, my mind convinced me that I was in the waking state and whatever happening was relatively real. All my excitement got washed away. Ganesh Sir kept talking about the schedule we were going to follow from the next day for the workshop and I could hardly listen to that. All the sound I could hear was of my mind telling me, “Buddy! How are we going to survive for another 18 days in this place? You are going to die out here without even getting to say good-bye to your dear ones.”

I interrupted Ganesh Sir and said, “Sir, how far is the school from here?” “2-3 kilometers”, he replied. “If I can stay in the school, I can save my travelling time.” Ganesh Sir said, “Sir, we don’t have a facility to stay at the school. We thought you would be more comfortable here and get some privacy. Hence this was arranged.” I replied, “Okay…Sir” and gave back a smile to console his confused look when he observed the uncomfortable feeling on my face.

In some time, two of them left and I went with Madhavan Sir to have lunch. All the hotels were closed the day being Sunday. Luckily we got a hotel and I carried my lunch back as parcel. As we reached back, there was no still no electricity. I went down to the back side of the lodge near the bathroom area to wash my clothes and have a shower. The bathroom floor was not clean. Washing was done on a hard stone made for the specific purpose, as it is usually done in Indian villages. That was my first experience of washing clothes in that fashion. I had a shower and went back to my room. I called up my wife and explained to her my plight. She almost hit the floor with laughter. I said, “Yeah! Laugh. I too will laugh upon this after a few days. But now, happiness is a feeling I can’t experience at all!”

I had my lunch. It was good. Packed in the typical south Indian way, in a banana leaf. After I finished, I looked for a dust bin in my room. I couldn’t find one. I put all the waste in a plastic cover and kept it outside the room. The room had two windows. When I opened one window, I could see another room’s window just three feet away. So, I closed it for my privacy. I opened the other window next to the door which opened towards the common verandah for all the rooms on the floor. I could see every passing person staring inside out of curiosity. I closed that window too and lied down on the bed. Luckily for me, Ganesh Sir had bought a new cotton mattress, bed sheet and pillow for me. So I had a good bed to sleep on.

I lied down, sweating from head to toe, thinking what to do, feeling some self-pity. Suddenly it was taken back to thoughts of my Guru, whom I adore the most, Swami Chinmayananda. When he started travelling all over India, way back in 1950s, how things would have been in those days? How he must have travelled through the villages facing challenging situations at all times, with least of comforts, ever ready to face whatever life offers him; how he must have lived during those days and how much he must have struggled and built a worldwide organization? And here I am, totally low with a few issues like common bathroom, no electricity, etc. How pathetic is this state of mind, I thought? As I lay with those thoughts, the power was back and I slowly dozed off.

…contd in My Trip to Nagapattinam – Part 2

My trip to meet Him at Sidhabari | Days 2 & 3

28th Dec 2011

Morning woke me up at 5:20 am. Had a bath and went to the Samadhi for morning Aarati. After the Aarati, I didn’t feel like going elsewhere. So I stayed inside the Samadhi Mandir for 30-40 minutes doing Japa and chanting stotrams. I could feel a thousand-fold impact on whatever I was doing there. When I came out, I saw the sun’s rays hitting the mountains on their face and then onto their bodies. The sky was clear and there was a small cloud at the peak of the tallest mountain, as if it was covering the mountain’s head like a cap. I stood there engulfed in the nature’s beauty.

After breakfast, I bought some old books (those were out of print today) from the bookstall. I also got the privilege of meeting two Swamis – Swami Ramananda, an old Swami who was in Sidhabari since 1985; and Swami Gangeshananda, the Acharya of the present 3-year Brahmachari course that was going on in Sidhbari. I was so fortunate that when I visited the Ram Mandir, Ramcharita Manas chanting was going on. Few Brahmacharinis were chanting it so beautifully that one could see Ram & Sita standing in delight listening to their own story. I too gave them company and enjoyed the chants with them.

My mother had told me to go to the back side of Ram Mandir and see the view. So I did. The view of the valley was yet another beauty I saw in Sidhabari. Green farms in the ground below, alongside a stream flowing gurgling with water and the Himalayas in the background. Once again, the deep silence brought to my ears the sounds of the water bubbling in the stream.
I had to return to my room to have some rest for my back which was aching again due to the cramped muscles. Probably, the 8 hour bus journey and 1.5 kms trek with my luggage was a bit too much for my muscles in this cold weather. I took this opportunity once again to read Tapovan Prasad.

After lunch, I went to Chinmaya Organisation for Rural Development (C.O.R.D.), the NGO wing of Chinmaya Mission, where they have undertaken the project of upliftment of many villages. It was just 100 metres away from Tapovan. There I met my friend Sheetal who greeted me with great joy and a fractured leg. She was limping in bandage but still showed me around the place. There was a room where the people who were vocally impaired (from the local villages), were making Kangra paintings. They were really beautiful and with what concentration they did using a zero numbered paint brush with just one or two bristles. I told them that the paintings were beautiful. They gave a pleasant smile and said something that sounded like ‘Thank You’ and ‘Hari Om’. There was a dispensary where the doctors did free checkup for the villagers. CORD also had a training centre for weaving where many young girls worked and sold bags, purses, woolen clothing, outside in the market at a cheaper cost. CORD facilitates and helps these village folks in earning their livelihood. Another room was for the children who had ‘Special Needs’, who could not even sit or stand properly. These children and their mothers would be trained in this room. With years of training, the child would be able to stand and sit erect. The people working at CORD were so cheerful; their eyes showed the satisfaction in the work that they were doing. A nurse I met there cheerfully told me that she had 28 Panchayats under her and in them she was nursing 400 children. When she said this, I could see pride in her eyes for the work she was doing. A normal person from the city who lives a selfish materialistic life would feel ashamed of himself if he sees these people in their eyes.

Sheetal then took me to the top floor where that day a special programme was going on. It was called – Panchayati Raj; where CORD played a role in social work where Govt. cannot reach much. Inside the hall were around 150 people who comprised of – CORD volunteers of different villages, CORD’s Mahila Mandal (Self-Help groups), various Govt. officials…heads & district of Panchayats, etc. There they discussed the problems that the common man was facing. I was taken aback when I heard many of their issues. Some of them had problems because of stray dogs biting their cows that resulted in death and hence a loss of around Rs.16000. Stray cows that grazed into their farm land caused them heavy losses. Monkeys and pigs also destroyed their crops. While they were addressing these problems, I was really surprised how those people presented it to the Govt. officials. They didn’t complain or crib about them, but were discussing on how to overcome such problems. It was a good discussion and in the end, a Panchayat head added one line on the dog-menace issue. He said, “Hame in kutton ko ‘aawara kutte’ nahi kehna chahiye; balki inhe ‘besahara kutte’ kehna chahiye”. I was so moved when I heard his words. That was the first time I felt so much respect for some politician. Their culture was so good that they used such respectful even for animals. And look at us!!

Panchayati Raj was another wonderful experience for me. Outside the hall were a few local girls who were selling New Year greetings for Rs.5 & Rs.10, which were made by the local children. They had decorated the cards with sketch pens, drawings & colours. Some of the artists were so innocent that they wrote their own names on the New Year cards. I bought a few cards. Every card sold brought so much joy to the girls who were selling them. I stood there for a minute and took delight in seeing their happiness.

I left CORD by 5:20 and rushed to Tapovan for Aarati. Aarati had begun at Samadhi Mandir. I quickly went into the Gurudev’s Kutiya, spoke a few words to Him and came out. I then attended the aarati at Samadhi, followed by aarati at the temple and then Hanuman Chalisa chanting at Hanumanji’s statue. After that I spent some time chatting with Sheetal listening to her work which she was doing in CORD with contentment. Later I spent time reading in my room and trying to absorb the teachings of the Great Masters.

The night was very cold and I was almost shivering despite using the best, and the maximum, woolen wear possible. That made me wonder – How Gurudev, Tapovan Maharaj and other saints like them must have lived in those extreme climatic conditions and that too with the least of clothing? How powerful indeed must be the Knowledge of the Scriptures they had for which they came to Himalayas, and which they taught and discussed at the holiest of holiest places on earth – the Himalayas!

I don’t remember what time sleep took over my mind. But I do remember my last thoughts – When would be the next time that I’ll get to come to this heaven on earth?

29th Dec 2011

I woke up at 5:30am, had a quick shower and rushed to the Samadhi Mandir. Like the previous day, I savored the sunrise and spent some time in Samadhi Mandir bidding goodbye to my Master. I couldn’t wait for breakfast because if I would leave at 8am then I could catch a bus that would stop right outside the ashram and I wouldn’t have to trek down 1.5 kms to Sidhabari. Offering my prayers, I walked towards the gate. My legs were going forward but my heart was pulling me back. With a heavy heart, I left the ashram and got on to the bus for Kangra. From Kangra I got a bus to Hoshiarpur, and from there to Ludhiana, and from there to Patiala (where I had to reach finally). The 10 hours journey was spent in the best possible manner because I was carrying the biography of Tapovan Maharaj – ‘The Himalayan Hermit – the lofty life of Swami Tapovanam’.

This was my first to Sidhabari and one of the most memorable trips I’ve ever made. Going there in winter was a difficult, but a good choice, for; I got to understand how the saints live in that severe climate. I could enjoy each and every moment very well because I went alone. A journey taken, all alone, especially to the Himalayas, is a very unique experience. Atleast once in a lifetime, everyone should do such a trip where one can enjoy Solitude and also do introspection to a great extent.

Looking forward when He would call me to the next level of Heaven – Uttarkasi!