Archive for September, 2008

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The Unique School

September 30, 2008

 

That was the first democratic school in the whole world. Everything about it was done in a democratic way. The students would choose which teacher they wanted for which subject. Through voting <Closed Ballot Box> and the most popular teacher who would garner the support of most of the students and fellow teachers would become the principal.

The ‘elections’ were conducted once in every four months when the students could choose if they wanted to retain the particular teacher for a particular subject. They could practically vote them out, if they wished to.

The teachers were allowed to canvass for one week during the end of every four month term. If a teacher wants a plum post like ‘Science teacher’, then he/she had to secure so many votes more than the next teacher who wanted the same post in the same class. The teachers decide where all to contest, but it is the students who decide who would teach what and where. Most of the time, it didn’t matter if the specialization of a particular teacher was Science but still she ended up teaching Crafts. Even vice versa was pretty much ok with the students, as long as they could exercise their right to vote.

The Second standard election was contested fiercely by two teachers. Both of them wanted to teach mathematics. And the mathematics teacher was also generally the class teacher. There was a major burning issue in that class – The students had for long been demanding that they be given two chocolate bars every day. Which ever teacher would come up with an agenda to tackle this issue better, was expected to win the election.

The first teacher told the students that the chocolates were not good for health and especially teeth if eaten very frequently. She told them how the chocolate manufacturers formed a consortium and were getting involved in having a uniformly “Unfair” and high prices. She told them how the “mithai wala” shop outside the school was secretly negotiating with the manufacturers for the bulk deals as he was confident that he would sell the maximum number of chocolates with his ‘deep’ connections with the student leaders of many primary classes. She also told them about how the school funds, which were obtained by the fees paid by the students, would be unnecessarily diverted for purchasing the chocolates which could otherwise be utilized for purchasing some educational aids which would not only make learning fun, but also help them with their academic performance. She pointed out how hard their parents worked to earn the money they paid as fees and the fact that they would definitely not allow the kids to have two big chocolates per day at home, primarily for the health reasons. She ended her speech with a touching personal note – “When I was a kid, I yearned to eat chocolates daily. But my parents were very strict and allowed one per week only. Even though I was angry on them back then, I am glad now as I have been able to retain good health and most importantly healthy teeth”.

Even though the kids were only studying second standard, they were moved by the speech. They started to think. Sensing that the speech was a catalyst to thought, the second teacher, who was about to grant the student’s wish for two chocolates per day, suddenly increased her offer to four free chocolates per day. The big ones – bar chocolates.

Guess who won! Thank God at least our schools don’t run this way!

  

Destination Infinity

   

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Liquified Pursuit of Happiness

September 20, 2008

Sridhar was devastated. A divorce within two years of marriage was something that he could not come to terms with. He and Nidhi were never made for each other. He, a small town. shy boy and she, a cosmopolitan, city dwelling bubbly girl. He had a very limited outlook towards life – Good education, Software job and settled life. He was not outgoing and did not have many friends. She was his exact opposite – adventurous, had a lot of friends and was very talkative. No wonder, whatever she did, it was ‘wrong’ in his eyes. She thought a lot of her freedom was taken away after marriage by him and his family. There was visible friction. He became so paranoid in her eyes that she stopped looking into his eyes. She was so carefree in his eyes that he found lesser and lesser words to communicate with her. It needed only a spark to set the explosion. ‘How could she do that?’ he thought. Everything was over that day. Both of them agreed to get divorced by mutual consent. He was filled with so much grief for the failed marriage that alcohol became his ever loving companion from that day. He had heard that alcohol would make you forget your worries and give happiness. He had no idea of what he was doing as he let the alcohol take complete control over his happiness and life. “All women are like that” was his judgment. And consolation. “All women are like that”

Sneha was supposed to celebrate her tenth birthday on that day. Even though they were not economically well off, her mother managed to save some money without the knowledge of her father and bought her new dress and gold ear rings. She had never worn gold before. Her father had been addicted to alcohol for a couple of years. Sometimes he used to come home totally drunk. When ever her mother objected, he used to assault her. Sometimes verbally, sometimes physically. All this used to happen in front of Sneha. She had grown more and more terrified with every passing day. He came home drunk on this day too. Seeing the ear rings, he started harassing her mother. Sneha never remembered how she got the courage to say,

“Please don’t hit mother, pa”

Slap.

This time she got it. That was the last time she saw her home. Her mother admitted her in an orphanage hoping that at least her daughter could continue her studies beyond the primary school. It was obvious that her father wasn’t going to allow it. Forget sponsoring it. Sneha developed an opinion rather early in life that, “All men are like that only”. All men.

Sridhar’s parents were hell bent on getting him married once again. He was in no mood for it. “I don’t want a life partner” he said. “It’s not for you, we want to see our Grand children” they reasoned. They reminded him daily, but he, however decided to adopt a child. That way, he thought he could at least help bring in some happiness to a child, who would otherwise be deprived of the same – early in life. And his parents would get their grand child.

“I don’t want to go from here” screamed Sneha.  It was about six months since she joined in the orphanage.  “See, this person is ready to help you continue your education. That’s what your mother wanted right? We can’t give you a good education. So, don’t behave like a little kid. He is like your father – you’ll have to go with him”  “I don’t want a father” she said. She was too terrified to forget the last few years. But nevertheless she was sent.

She was very quiet for the first couple of weeks. Sridhar wanted to break the silence and hence the distance.

“Why are you so quiet? Shall I get you some chocolates?”

“No”

“Ice cream?”

“No”

“Barbie dolls?”

”What? “Err.. I mean toys”

“No”

“Don’t feel shy. Ask anything you want, I am like your father”

“I don’t want a father”

That was unexpected. But still he wanted to understand.

“You didn’t like your father?”

”No”

“Why?”

“He used to drink and beat my mother often”

“So that’s why….. But I think your father was a good person”

“All men think alike, I guess”

He had to smile. “Not like that. Tell me this – was he beating your mother always or only when he was drunk?”

”Only when he was drunk”

“See. I proved what I said. Your father is not bad, the liquor is bad. It makes your father go crazy”

“Then he could have stopped drinking, right?”

”Yeah, he could have but once you are addicted to it, it doesn’t leave you easily”

“Do you drink?”

”I used to…..”

“Now?”

“I stopped before three months”

“Why did you drink?” ”I drank because I was sad…. I had divorced my wife recently”

“Why?” “She came home drunk one day”

“Did she beat you?”

”No……!”

“You are luckier. My mother was not”

“Yeah, I think I was relatively luckier”

“So, your wife was also a nice person?”

”She…….”

”Yes. She was not bad. The liquor was… right?”

”Yeah…. I guess so…. So, you’ll stay with me?”

“If you promise not to drink again”

“I don’t have to. My pursuit was happiness. I didn’t find it in that liquid. It is elsewhere. I promise that I won’t drink from now on”


Destination Infinity

You could visit the Short Stories (Fiction) section of this blog for similar articles.

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Inheritance Tax

September 13, 2008

“It’s a common saying in Japan that Inheritance taxes are so high that family wealth does not last beyond three generations” – Akio Morita, Co-Founder Sony

 

Inheritance taxes (In Japan or Estate Taxes in United States) refer to the tax levied on the inheritor or beneficiary of the property/land/estates etc. after the original owner dies. This mostly applies to properties above a certain minimum bracket. Generally millionaires and above.

 

The arguments in developed nations supporting such an inheritance tax are as follows:

 

  • People are forced to sell their assets (which they have not earned) and hence more property (including land) comes to the market hence reducing the real estate values and making available the property which would never have been sold.
  • As lot of people work to earn money for necessities, the unearned money kills the incentive to work and increases the urge for early retirement.
  • Easy access to unearned wealth destroys the incentive for hard work and experimentation.
  • Pouring money on children (some times grown up adults) can spoil the children as they do not know the value of earned money.
  • It reduces competitiveness and make people think about ways of preserving the assets instead of creating new ones. Some times, generations sit and eat because of the family wealth without doing any type of work.

 

You can read an interesting article about the advantages of Inheritance Taxes Here.

 

Also an article wanting the Inheritance Taxes back  (Abolished decades ago)  in Australia Here.

 

But there are dis-advantages too. The high percentage of Inheritance Taxes in Japan, for example, makes it difficult to run family business. An article on that can be read Here. Also people aren’t convinced about taxing money that has already been taxed. Some see it as a dis-incentive to make more wealth. It has also led to devising innumerable ways to avoid the inheritance taxes and consulting is booming on the topic.

 

Here is the take of Economic Times on the ‘immunity’ of such taxes in India. India along with China and host of other developing countries does not levy any inheritance taxes. Do you think India should have one?

 

 

Destination Infinity

 

 

 

 

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Delhi Metro – Showing the Way Forward

September 7, 2008

Elattuvalapil Sreedharan is the name of the person who has shown to the whole nation that it is possible to achieve in spite of the system. He had implemented two important Railway projects – The Konkan Railway network covering rough terrains which was considered impossible to traverse, and more lately, The Delhi Metro.

 

The Government departments and their projects are generally considered to be done at a snail’s pace. There are a lot of allegations of favoritism, when it comes to the appointments of staff and allegations of corruption when it comes to the awarding of contracts.

 

There was one Government initiated project that did not have any of the above. It was the Delhi Metro (Delhi Metro Railway Corporation) headed by the dynamic Mr. Sreedharan who has lived on this planet for more than three quarters of a century. The Delhi Metro was completed ahead of schedule and within the allocated budget. You can read the interview given by Mr. Sreedharan to Rediff, in this Rediff article

 

If any of you have had an opportunity to see, from inside, how some of the Government Departments function, this is a huge step forward. This is an important example that needs to be emulated across the system.

 

Switzerland, for example, has an excellent and Integrated Public Transportation System. It is so much integrated that one ticket is enough to take you from Airport to a point A in Train, from point A to point B in a Bus, from point C to point D in a Boat (or) Cable Car – This in spite the fact that all these services are run by a host of Government and Private Operators. You can read more about this Public Transportation system in Switzerland Here 

 

Why can’t we expect the same in our country too? What Mr. Sreedharan has shown with Delhi Metro is that, nothing is impossible with the determination of one person, in his case and the determination of the people, elsewhere. Let’s hope that the way the other Government Departments function would change soon. And more importantly I hope that the people would demand to see the changes!

 

 

Destination Infinity