Wednesday, September 24, 2014

One Straw Revolution


Nestled in the lap of nature, a school of greener pastures, as green as pastures can possibly get, is discreetly creating a resource pool of new-age agriculturists. Sudhir Raikar spoke to Manguirish Pai Raiker, the awe-inspiring architect of this one-straw revolution.

Courtesy: http://www.indiainfoline.com/article/lifestyle-happy-corner/one-straw-revolution-114072100008_1.html



Societal norms have their own autocratic ways of thrusting expectations on people. For instance high-flying executives, the implicit diktat goes, should move around in a Mercedes, BMW or Audi - all coveted brands matching the position. So several eyebrows were raised when Manguirish Pai Raiker as the President of Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry was seen traveling in a humble Maruti 800. He was naturally quizzed about his unlikely preference. His answer of resounding conviction did more than silence his self-appointed examiners; it hinted at a one-straw revolution in the making. He replied, "Rather than buy a fancy automobile for individual posterity, I would invest my hard-earned money for the bright future of our State."

And he did exactly what he proclaimed, by incepting the Ramanata Crisna Pai Raikar School of Agriculture at Savoi Verem, Ponda in Goa to promote agricultural education in the State of Goa. Raiker magnanimously donated his sprawling ancestral house for the cause which is where the school stands today. What was the motivation behind this monumental decision?

Raiker enlightens, "Thanks to my humble background, I know the worth of education especially for the financially challenged sections. Way back in early eighties, I helped a friend's son - a bright lad with good academic credentials - pursue higher education as also arranged for his accommodation in the city. I eventually helped him find a job too. When he came to me to express his gratitude, all I told him was to find someone like him and sponsor his education. This was the start of my freewheeling social activism. Later I initiated an education-enabling program through an NGO and joined hands with another organization called I Create which undertakes entrepreneurship development and hand hand-holding program in the rural sector. During my tenure as the President of Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry, I initiated this program in the various schools, colleges and self-help groups in rural areas. It was the same time that we started an IT incubation centre enabling and empowering budding IT professionals to start their business ventures."


A post graduate in Management and Law, Raiker is a first generation entrepreneur and a Visiting Faculty to management colleges. A noted trainer and author in the industrial and management arena, he has conducted various workshops programs and speaker sessions across the globe. So how and when did agriculture become the focal point of his attention?


Raiker reveals,"Hailing from a small village, I already had an agricultural background. I was always a proponent of best-of-breed farming techniques and the use of modern implements and scientific methods to overcome the vagaries of nature. There was a lot of talk about this glaring need but no action seemed forthcoming. Besides, this sphere of education is not like your commerce or computer coaching initiatives where all you need is some space and you make money from Day one. To make matters worse, the government didn't regard Agriculture Education as a priority area. On the other hand, this school was indeed the need of the hour as acres and acres of pastures were being consumed by the trading sharks lured by umpteen lucrative purposes of the non-green variety. Our only hope lay in educating young minds at the grassroots about the larger cause of soil conservation, organic farming and environmental concerns such that eventually take to the fields instead of running after cliched jobs. Having firmed up the idea and winning unconditional support from my family, I took the plunge."

But the road ahead was replete with hairpin bends and arduous detours. Raiker had to put in a herculean effort to realize his dream. He recounts the key milestones of this back-breaking voyage:

"The task was easier said than done of course. The first need was for an apt syllabus. The Education Board was very supportive and immediately formulated a Board of studies for the purpose. We also roped in noted agriculture experts for the thought churn. Mr. Pradeep Lotlikar and Mr. Chintaman Perni joined hands with me to establish the curriculum for the XI and XII classes. We traveled all the way to Ratnagiri to seek the blessings of the eminent agriculture scientist and former Vice Chancellor of Dr. B. Sawant Konkan Krishi Vidyapeeth. He gave us valuable guidance and also directed the course design."



The syllabus was then forwarded to the Bhopal-based National Vocational Education Qualification Framework for correction and confirmation prior to seeking the approval of the Academic Council and the Board. This lead time spanned one year of ceaseless perseverance and persistence at different levels. Thanks only to the personal intervention and peer support; it was possible to complete the formalities within the specified time.


"With the syllabus in place, the next job was to create awareness among the target audience. We launched a massive campaign targeted at students and invited them to enroll in our school. As this was the first ever school of Agriculture in the State, we personally reached out to the students spread across the State and also sought help from various well-meaning NGOs. I am truly obliged to the electronic and the print media for their over whelming support to further our mission", says Raiker.

A staunch pillar of support, and an eminent member of Raiker's core team, is Mr. Shrirang Jambhale, Gold Medallist, BSc. Horticulture from Kokan Krishi Vidyapeeth, Dapoli and MSW from Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth, Pune. A noted social activist himself, Jambhale manages the schools day to day affairs and enhancement programs as the principal in charge. Besides, Raiker is actively involved in catering to the micro and macro matters of the school.

Set up under the aegis of The Ramanata Crisna Pai Raikar Education Society, this school is affiliated and recognized by the Goa Board for Secondary and Higher Secondary Education and Department of Education, Government of Goa. Classes are conducted for Std. XI & XII. A diploma course in agriculture, under the guidance of Dr.B.S.Konkan Krishi Vidyapeeth, will commence from June 2014.



How does the school envisage future growth and innovation? Would they be open to collaboration and co-creation with similar entities across the globe?

Raikar replies emphatically, "Of course yes. Over and above the school curriculum, we also conduct a Farmers Outreach Program. We are also shortly commencing a Diploma Course in Agriculture from June 2014 under the stewardship of Dr. B.S. Konkan Krishi Vidyapeeth. The vocational program will focus on developing skills and affinity for agriculture. As for the collaborations, we have initiated MOUs with ICAR, Konkan Krishi Vidyapeeth, Dapoli, India Dutch Education Agency, Netherlands and Michigan State University, Michigan. Faculty members from all these institutions have already visited our school and have conducted coaching classes. They would be regularly conducting train the trainer programmes for the benefit of our teaching staff. Having lauded our efforts, they have also made several insightful suggestions for focused practical training."

The school's vision is to promote and develop agricultural skills for increasing agricultural area of operation and thereby increase productivity and quality through progressive farming aimed at promoting self-employment in this sector.

"We have provided this school with the basic needs like two poly houses (one for Horticulture and one for Floriculture), shed net, small nursery, besides space for conducting practical training. A lot still remains to be done", Raiker reveals.

Going forward, the school intends to create Environmental Awareness as also undertake environment improvement activities like agro-forestry, agro-horticulture, soil and water conservation, sustainable agriculture development, tank de-siltation and watershed management to help build potent linkages between private institutions, government and NGOs. The School predominantly attracts youths from rural areas and tribal populace, those deprived of education. No fees are charged to these students. And despite its social activism, the school does not receive any Government grant.

Legendary Japanese famer-philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka redefined natural farming with his pivotal book One Straw Revolution. Back home, Raiker has redefined education in Goa with his own one-straw revolution, a unique agricultural school of greener pastures that represents many a straw in the single stalk that he had planted - of conviction, of hope, of a better future of lush green possibilities. Needless to say, this straw needs the green house of assistance - monetary and otherwise - from all quarters. Prospective students, donors and well-wishers can visit rcpragrischool.com, drop a line at rsaawni@gmail.com or call on 08322340077


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Curriculum as a Continuum


Avid blogger and linguist Shripad Abhyankar's innovative web lessons have made Sanskrit learning more fulfilling than ever before. Thanks to his selfless activism, more and more students of the language are making the right beginnings rooted in self-study. Sudhir Raikar reports...

Courtesy: http://www.indiainfoline.com/article/lifestyle-happy-corner/curriculum-as-a-continuum-114092300013_1.html



Sanskrit was an integral aspect of upbringing for Shripad Abhyankar. His tryst with the subject began at age five, learning Shree-Rama-RakSha-stotram from his father, a high school teacher of English, Hindi, Marathi and Sanskrit. Many students came home for Sanskrit tuitions and their text lessons invariably became supplementary education for little Shripad. Besides, his grandfather was a BhikShuka (Brahmin mendicant) which meant recital of mantras and Vedas was common during rituals and observances. So before his formal Sanskrit curriculum from the eighth standard onwards, he had learnt word-forms for countless nouns, pronouns and adjectives as also forms of many verbal roots in different tenses and moods as part of his daily recitation.

Abhyankar elaborates, "My father wanted me to win the coveted Jagannath Shankar Sheth Prize at the Matriculation examination. Sadly, I could not fulfil his dream having scoring 88 percent marks as against the winner who secured 96 percent."

Abhyankar enrolled for science at college with Sanskrit as an optional subject. He studied Meghadootam by Kalidas and Svapnavasavadattam by Bhasa, although four years of college were exclusively devoted to science and engineering until his graduation in mechanical engineering. Later during his early employment days, at the industrial township of Kirloskarvadi in Sangli district of Maharashtra, Abhyankar undertook a self-study of Bhagavad-Gita as a pastime.

Abhyankar says, "In the course of this self-initiated learning, I needed to test my knowledge of Sanskrit, grammar in particular. I sifted through several websites in the process and on the suggestion of a gentleman called Himanshu Pota, founder of the forum learnsanskrit-dot-wordpress, my blog slabhyankar-dot-wordpress-blog was born in November 2009."

Enthused by the public response, Abhyankar embarked upon an independent study of shlokas and subhashita-s apart from the Gita. Two more blogs devoted to the two subjects followed in due course.

"Various subjects came to mind from time to time, all related to self-study of Sanskrit. Some Sanskrit scholars even advised me to attempt a deeper study of Sanskrit grammar", reveals Abhyankar.

During one such course, Abhyankar learnt about the examinations conducted by the along with free classes organized in K J Somaiyya Complex in Vidya Vihar, Mumbai. He cleared both Part I and Part II examinations in one seating. Following an email interaction with a gentleman called Manoj Bhavsar, Abhyankar taught Sanskrit for over a year to small groups in the form of classroom sessions where he came to know of various courses run by many institutions, all aimed at self-study of Sanskrit.

"But by my own assessment, I found most learning material not well-graded to facilitate the learning. And while the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan books are undoubtedly a treasure trove of graded learning, the six-monthly schedule of the examinations hampers the actual progress", says Abhyankar.The outcome of this deliberation was a free online course, which at this point offers 37 lessons in simple Sanskrit at the blog titled simplesanskrit-dot-wordress.

Abhyankar employs an innovative method to lure any beginner towards a seemingly intricate subject. Rather than attack the grammar head-on, he begins with simple proverbs and phrases, explaining the meaning and significance of the adage before turning to the finer aspects like case and conjugation. And he insists on memorizing the proverbs which unknowingly but automatically adds to the readers vocabulary and delight in the same breath.

Although his rich and varied blogs, or as he calls them in his chaste Sanskrit, have been well received by readers across the globe, Abhyankar has kept the flame of self-study ablaze in different directions. An upshot of one of his public lectures on "Ways and means to promote Sanskrit across the globe" was an offline program of Sanskrit self-study which is popular even today. Abhyankar keeps himself occupied with his personal musings in yet another blog samskrutacharchaa-dot-wordpress. He soon realized that the subject merits a distinct study. A new blog jyotirvigyaanam-dot-wordpress ensued, presently a re-post from his other blog called samskrutacharchaa.

Apart from Sanskrit, Abhyankar is fluent in Gujarati, Marathi and Kannada. This soft-spoken man, a mechanical engineer and consultant of industrial pumps and valves, has taught us that there are no full stops to any exploration based on self-study and selfless initiative. With activists like him in our midst, it shouldn't be long before we mark a new innings of Sanskrit as the spoken language of choice regardless of the speakers caste, creed, scholarship or status. May his tribe grow!

Monday, September 01, 2014

Yeh Gaane, Yeh Taraane, Yeh Jeevan aur...aur Kishore

At 62, singer-composer Amit Kumar still wears the cherubic Door Gagan ki Chaav Mein smile and his voice still bears the honey-coated appeal of Bade Achche Lagate Hai. In this heart-to-heart conversation with Sudhir Raikar at the historic Kishore den 'Gauri Kunj' in Juhu, Amit recounts a few priceless moments of a bygone era on the eve of his golden jubilee year in the music industry.

Courtesy: http://www.indiainfoline.com/article/lifestyle-happy-corner/yeh-gaane-yeh-taraane-yeh-jeevan-aur-aur-kishore-114082500027_1.html




Dressed in a white T-shirt and grey slacks, he greets us with a fortified smile that can't hide a tinge of fatigue, most probably owing to the litany of droning and dumb media queries flung at him over the years absurd inquiries like 'How could Kishore Kumar sing without any formal training in classical music?' or 'Why can't he sing like his father?'

All it takes is a preamble to the purpose of this interview and he drops his guard for good. Well almost...

What follows a two-hour long heart-to-heart throwing new light on his formative years of upbringing and schooling, his chequered career as actor, his playback career and of course Kishore Kumar. Even at 62, Amit Kumar retains the child-like innocence of Door Gagan Ki Chaav Mein in his eyes and the mellifluous appeal of Bade Achche Lagate Hai in his voice. This in itself is an achievement given his decade long exile from the film industry which continues to this day.

He clearly misses the golden moments of his childhood which were tragically punctuated by the blows of unforeseen circumstances, way beyond the comprehension of a toddler. Born to Abhas Kumar Ganguly (Kishore Kumar) and Ruma Devi (Satyajit Ray's niece) on July 3, 1952, the new-born Amit had all it takes to become destiny's favourite child but destiny had other plans.

The divorce of his parents took Amit to Kolkata (then Calcutta) with his mother where he spent most of his formative years in a staggered academic stint spanning three to four schools. Mention the word school and his eyes light up but only when he describes his stint at the scenic St. Xavier's Hazaribagh with meticulous detail, despite the fact that he was here for a mere six months.

"This was the best time of my growing years as I relished everything about this British boarding school, especially the caring discipline of Father Moore. I distinctly remember how he blew his top when he found that I had been spending my spare time in the company of the big boys, entertaining them with popular numbers of my father during weekend picnics to the hills while they guzzled beer", Amit reminisces.

Much to Amit's displeasure, he was removed from the school as the family felt, in a peculiar afterthought, that boarding was not the right choice for him and them. Father Moore was mighty upset with my parents for what he thought was a selfish move on their part. "The Hazaribagh incident is my sole regret in life. Had I continued there, my life would have surely taken a dramatic academic turn. Of course, my education continued in a different school but the idyllic charm was lost, sadly for ever", Amit shares his disappointment with a dash of nostalgic gloom. Father Moore is no more but Amit fondly remembers him to this day.


Father Moore, St. Xavier's, Hazaribagh

Amit was enrolled in South Point Kolkata where student life continued if not as before. He dreaded maths and science but was excellent in geography and languages, especially Hindi. "Thanks to my academic progress in geography, I have a photographic memory when it comes to route maps. This comes handy during my globe-trotting for vocation and vacation."

The high point of his South Point spell was an endearing incident, one of the many cherished memories of his father. It was during this stint that Kishore once came to Kolkata and took Amit on a father-son excursion around the big city. Visiting Belur Math, catching the latest film at the cinema hall, relishing delicacies at a popular joint, both had a grand time together. Kishore was to return to Mumbai soon after and so he bid goodbye to his son. When Amit went to school the next day, he found a ruckus in the campus as students were all over the place disregarding the discipline and decorum of a normal day. A fellow student then informed him that his father had paid a surprise visit in his inimitable style. "The principal was overjoyed to see the celebrity in the campus but playfully chided Kishore for the mayhem he caused", Amit recounts with a chuckle.



A still from Door Gagan Ki Chaav Mein

This was also the time Kishore was conceptualizing Door Gagan Ki Chaav Mein (DGKCM) in his mind. After several screen tests, one fine day, he gave a few dialogues to Amit and the spontaneity of Amit's rendering convinced him that he had found his Ramu - the mute child artiste of the magnum opus.

Making DGKCM was a huge challenge for Kishore on every front. Financially he was down in the dumps which meant he had to operate with a shoe-string budget (the Muhurat shot was illuminated under his car headlights) and shooting location was primarily the forest region of Ghodbunder Road. Shooting with Amit meant waiting from him from vacation to vacation for the film reels to progress. To make matters worse, the leading lady Supriya Choudhary breached the contract terms which clearly stated that she would not sign any film during the shoot period. Thanks to her rapport with super star Dharmendra, she did another film that must have caused a huge problem with her dates. But the resilient Kishore braved all odds with grit and gumption for three long years and finally DGKCM was released in 1964. The rest of course is history which has etched the father-son duo in the minds of countless film buffs forever.

Among the stalwarts to appreciate Kishore's sublime effort were Baburao Painter and Balasaheb Thackeray (who was Kishore's good friend and did the sketches for one of his unreleased films)

Amit was brilliant in the film as the mute child, so was his father as the lead protagonist and so was just about every other character, whether lead or support. Even the amusing photographer's (Mirza Musharraf) signature line 'I am the most comfortable photographer in the world' is still fresh in our minds, as fresh as the songs including Hemant Kumar's soulfully stylised title number Raahi tu mat ruk jaana (undoubtedly one of the best Hemant Kumar renderings, thanks to Kishore's incisive composition) and actor Iftekaar's telling illustrations.

Making this film was a real struggle for my father. He always had the easier way out of remaking a film like the Bengali comedy flick Lukochuri in Hindi a super hit product, akin to his earlier runaway success story Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, that helped him build the sprawling Gauri Kunj in Juhu but he was not the one to weigh options once he made up his mind, Amit reveals.

With his awesome talent blooming in all directions, it was no surprise that the list of Kishore disparagers was always substantial, especially during his hey days. To add fuel to the fire were his uncanny ways of giving vent to his emotions. "Only those who understood him well saw the wayward method in his madness. The rest just formed and framed convenient opinions", Amit says recalling how once Kishore's elder brother and thespian Dada Moni (Ashok Kumar) was at the Gouri Kunj gate to meet him. When he was informed, Kishore retorted in his inimitable style, "Ha to, main kya karu? Naachu?" (So what do you expect me to do? Should I break into a jig?) Dada Moni perfectly understood the context in which Kishore did what he did (about something that would have transpired between them preceding the incident) and went away without a word. Anyone else in his position would have felt offended and worse, some would have made the matter public conveniently eliminating the context and blowing the matter out of proportion. A maverick that he was, Kishore cared a damn about the consequences of his actions and hence made it even easier for others to malign his name.

Amit Kumar inherits a small part of his father's conviction. That's precisely why he's come to terms with his splendid isolation, away from the maddening cut-throat world of the playback industry given its unabashed opportunists, brazen back-stabbers, politically correct practitioners and their mutual admiration societies of convenience and connivance.

Amit's Hindi playback debut was a rather jinxed affair. His inaugural song Main ek panchhi matwala re from his dad's 1971 film Door Ka Rahi (which was six long years in the making) was eventually weeded out as Kishore didn't find it in line with the filmic situation. After this, he sung for the film Darwaaza which was never released. Salil Chowdhury gave him a break in Zindagi Ek Jua which met the same fate. Ditto for Chalbaaz where Madan Mohan had engaged Amit for a duet with Asha Bhosle. And for films like Aandhi and Jaan Haazir Hai which did get released, his songs went unnoticed. It was the number Bade Achhe Lagte Hai from the 1976 film Balika Badhu that made him a singing sensation thanks to composer R D Burman who found in him a perfect playback fit for Sachin, the adolescent hero of the milestone movie. But even after this landmark, life was still tough as the playback market of his time was ruled by top notch singers of that era - Mukesh, Rafi, Manna Dey and of course his father.

Hats off to Amit Kumar for giving us many a memorable number over the years notwithstanding the intense competition, small banners, second-rate heroes and flop films that he had to condone in the process. Bade achche lagte hai, Aati rahengi bahare, Yeh zameen ga rahi hai, Uthe sabke kadam, Na Bole tum na maine kuch kahaa, Deewana dil deewana, Roz roz ankhon tale are only a few in the long list, beside the treasure trove of his Bengali songs like Mone mone koto din, Ekdin chole jabo and Aaj shoob kichu bhule gechhi.

After R D Burman's death, Amit would have felt the same void that Kishore felt after S D Burman's demise. Kishore still had R D Burman by his side, Amit had no such luxury. There's no denying the fact that he falls short of the Kishore benchmark whether in singing, versatility or in a holistic view of life and work - but who has surpassed it anyway. Why single out progeny on this count?



Like Father, Like Son


To his credit, Amit has a special timbre in his voice which is no less endearing if not as flexible. Unlike the pathetic Kishore clones that made hay only while the sun shone, Amit has always sung the way he does. No wonder, he stands tall on his own merit in the 50th year of his musical journey. No wonder, his fans (http://www.amitkumarfanclub.com/index.php) have been with him through thick and thin. At a time when the film industry denied him his due, his fans have invariably showered their unconditional love and support.

"I don't care what the industry camps think of me. I am happy with my stage shows and am now exploring the world of new opportunities through Kumar Brothers Music, my proposed venture with my brother Sumeet which will gainfully exploit the new-age media to create and broadcast the kind of music that's dear to our hearts".

Amit has a greater responsibility on his shoulders being a special individual - the son of a legend. We have countless Kishore admirers spread across the globe but to appreciate the essence of Kishore's greatness, one has to look beyond blind worship as also the umpteen memorials, museums and tribute nights.

Among other things, Amit should initiate a one-of-a-kind academy for the benefit of the current generation - exploiting every possible media including classroom training and e-learning - to impart tailor-made thought sessions and workshops to unfold Kishore's unique value proposition that includes among other things:

His versatility as a gifted actor, sensitive director, intuitive lyricist and soulful composer,

His indisputable command over pronunciation and expression,

His whacky sense of humour and presence of mind,

His insatiable appetite for risk, and, craving for offbeat creations, and,

His never-say-die and devil-may-care attitude that left his detractors high and dry like in his cinematic frames where his co-artistes are seen running for cover for lack of commensurate facility for expression and improvisation.



Ray with Kishore and Amit

It's only then that the coming generations will rediscover the beauty of his countless renderings whether the classical Payal wali dekhna and Baje baje baje re kahi basuriya, the soulful Panthi hu mein us path ka, Zindagi ke safar mein guzar jaate hai jo makam, Fiza ke phool pe and Koi hota jisko apna or the astute comic timing of Arzi Hamari, Meri riksha sabse nirali and Priye Praneshwari.

They'll appreciate how he could make plain vanilla lyrics like Raju chal raju seem extra ordinary or how he could gracefully veil the mediocrity of a metered stanza like Tum bolo yeh sach hai naa in the otherwise superb Anand Bakshi verse Kuch toh log kahenge.

They'll marvel at the dizzying heights that Man kare yaad woh din, Jab bhi koi kangana bole or Raah pe rehte hai achieved, thanks to his wholesome singing.

They'll admire how he poured his heart and soul to energise the below-par Randhir Kapoors, Kabir Bedis, Deb Mukherjees, Vijay Aroras, Anil Dhawans and Rakesh Roshans, how he helped accomplished artistes like Sanjeev Kumar, Vinod Khanna, Shashi Kapoor and Rishi Kapoor to underline their reeled emotions and, of course, how he immortalized the Dev Anands, Rajesh Khannas, Uttam Kumars and Amitabh Bachchans on screen.

It's only then that they'll fathom the depth of the pithy and pertinent compliment that comes from India's best filmmaker Satyajit Ray, "Kishore was gifted with an incredible voice. As a singer of popular songs he had no equal. If he had learnt classical singing, I feel he would have surely excelled in it because his voice is so fluent, so mellifluous, and so flexible."

Amit Kumar, here's wishing you every success Raahi tu mat ruk jaana, toofaan se mat ghabrana, kabhi to milegi teri manzil, kahi door gagan ki chaav mein

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