Sunday, 30 December 2012

A New Year’s Song - A Poem

So the time has come to bid this year a farewell!
A year of good and not so good, ups and downs,
Of tears of joy and tears of sadness, of bitter and
Sweet, thick and thin, fare thee well!
And so we pray for a year to better the one that’s passed!
Now await we the year to come with arms so wide,
With hope and faith for better than worse, little
Think we of end of times as Mayans prophecy
The end of worlds, but wait for none time and tide!
And we look towards one to better the one that’s passed
An eventful year ‘twas for you and me, but savoured
Not we the lessons we learned! So look we towards
One to better the one that’s gone, for one more
Year of lessons to learn and gifts to earn!
A spark of hope for one to better the one that’s passed!
So the time has come to bid the year a farewell,
And so pray I that the year to come may be for you,
A year of hope prosperity and joy yet to be! But,
Forget not the lessons of the year that’s passed,
Little knowing that it might be for better or for worse!
But some will not see another year, felled were they
By hands so harsh! Yet  lit they a spark of hope, for
A better year, a year filled with compassion and pity!
For their life was not in vain, as they lit a flame so bright.
So does one year pass into another,
While we pray for one to better the one that’s passed!

Why are Diocesan Missionary schools finally losing out to newer, better run private schools based on latest educational trends?

There was a time when some of the best schools were schools run by dedicated missionaries from New Zealand and Britain who had the zeal, zest and passion for selfless service. Admission in such schools was open to all, and of course, even the idea of donations and the payment of a “booking amount was preposterous enough!” These schools, some of them in the Capital, and a few in the interiors of Haryana, Punjab, U.P. were well known once upon a time. Today, some of them are in ruins, such as one once popular school in the middle of a market in Ambala. Unfortunately, that spirit of selfless service service to humanity and a higher cause is missing entirely! Rampant nepotism coupled with favouritism along with a lackadaisical attitude by the managements have ruined what used to be strong edifices of Education. There seems to be a distinct dislike for talented staff members over those who can just be yes men. If the chewing of Gutkha and tobacco can endear a staff member to the management, then God save the rest!
Is it poor management, greed, commercialism and a lack of a strong leadership that has resulted in the degradation of the high standard of education imparted by these once famous Western Missionary lead schools? What marked these schools apart from others was the strict discipline, etiquettes, high standard of education and the presence of a dedicated staff which was morally, ethically and spiritually dedicated towards their calling and profession. Today, hardly any of these once popular missionary schools figures in any of the lists of topmost schools that are published often in the English Dailies!
In many cases I have observed that these missionary schools still get a good number of admissions only because of the goodwill that their missionary founders had earned for the schools during their tenure!Today this goodwill is wearing thin, what with lackadaisical staff, and  a rather more commercially inclined leadership. Is it only the earning potential of a school that makes it  a good school, or is it the values and the quality of education and the goodwill that it has that makes a school the best in the region?
It is unfortunate, that the once dedicated missionaries who worked selflessly for the upliftment  of the common man have now been replaced by those who are more interested in the financial benefits, and in not vacating premises allotted to them during their tenure! While the spirit of selflessness can be found lacking in those who have been given the responsibility of running these school, it is also observed that the teachers are found lacking in a sense of responsibility often going home to have a sip of tea,wash clothes, or even stepping out of the school during duty hours to do their personal work. The use of official transport for personal work at the village that is during the harvest and sowing season, wastage of electricity supply, all paid by the school, are all some of the reasons why these once popular schools are now losing out to other private public schools! Another reason is the appointment of poorly qualified teachers based on familial considerations. I have known of one school where most of the staff members are related to each other. So you have husbands and wives, brothers, sisters…and so on working in the same school! In such situations you have a rather tightly knit community of staffers who would simply not like any change to be introduced in the school, and moreover they are united in their insistence in not being sincere to their professions! So it becomes a rather free for all kind of situation where everyone tries to moonlight and take advantage of a weak administration which exists in fear of the existing united staff of brothers sisters, wives and husbands! The fact the tuition culture is allowed to thrive in these schools makes it difficult for the teachers to teach sincerely in the classes, since they would anyway be teaching the same children at home. A Post Graduate Teacher in Chemistry in one such school runs a Coaching Centre at his residence and the Management seems to turn a blind eye towards this. A Principal once told me about how he once stood before the door of the classroom of this Chemistry teacher who was supposed to be teaching, and the teacher was not aware that the Principal was standing at the door, nor was he aware about the students who were pulling each  other's chairs, all this because the teacher was preparing notes for his coaching class! Ultimately the teacher gave the Principal a written apology. In the same school, the Physical Education teacher is known to pursue his side business, which is that of  giving physiotherapy massages. Teachers in primary classes are known to pressurise students to take tuitions in English even when they themselves can't speak or write the language properly! Another primary class teacher is known to force parents to buy insurance policies! The Acting Vice Principal of one such school is known to give tuitions to students in biology till class tenth, thus never having taught the subject properly in the school itself lest the students should stop coming to him for tuitions. Even after being told to vacate his premises for the forthcoming Principal he remains adamant about not vacating the same!
The sense of territoriality is so strong in some of these schools in the interiors of Haryana, Punjab that they view outsiders with suspicion, and anything new policies and systems introduced in the school for their benefit are decried. It is because of this inability to move with the times, to learn new things, and to progress with the times that has made some of these missionary schools atrophied and fossilized in time. They have stopped developing since the time that the missionaries left them! I was particularly amazed to notices how one school in particular followed an archaic form of marking attendance, and was ever more surprised to notice how lessons were planned, and the lesson plans were rather vague sketches of lists of topics! In an era where we are talking about rubrics, experiential learning, innovative techniques, research methods, these schools are stuck to what one of my teachers tells me about the “tu padh” method where the student is made to read while the teacher just sits and supervises the whole process!
The missionaries have left a legacy of a very good quality of education, but then they have also left behind a breed of teachers and institution heads who have the very colonial habit of running home for a cup of tea every now and then. Unfortunately they have learnt very little about the dedication, sincerity, and selflessness of their missionary predecessors! It is an age where the clergy is completely divorced from any knowledge of education policies, and how to run such schools, and they are often taken for a ride by those unscrupulous administrators who might just have a little more knowledge than their cleric friends! It is therefore  inevitable that some of the famous Missionary School will one day fade away into fond memories! If such institutions are meant to be mere teaching shops or money minting machines, then whatever happened to that missionary zeal that gave these institutions their edge?

Friday, 28 December 2012

Dhanpatmal Virmani School ; Down Memory Lane year-2003

While going through some CDs. in my collection I came across some photographs which rekindled some memories of the days when I taught in that school.
 
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The Annual Day function which took place on the seventh of February, 2004 was special, because the skit was based on the Freedom Struggle, and it also included patriotic songs from the film Rang de Basanti. recognizable in the photograph are Devpal Singh and Nikhil who is now a Physical Education Instructor.
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In those days the School was a boys school, and so dressing like girls was challenging. Gaurav Doonga was an accomplished dancer and he is in the yellow dress.
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This snap taken on the 28th. of November 2003, is of students who contributed the most to an organisation providing relief to Cancer patients.On the extreme left is Dr.Dharambir Singh, the present Principal of the school, and on the far right is Mr. Rattan Lal, now retired from the post of Librarian.
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On the 27th. of September, 2003, the Delhi Government launched a cleanliness drive in the locality of the school and the students participated wholeheartedly in the drive.
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3rd August 2003 was the day a picnic to Oysters, in the premises of what was once Appu Ghar was organised, an sure enough, the students had great fun! Appu Ghar and Oysters in Delhi used to be the favoured picnic spots for students studying in various schools in the capital.
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Posing in this photograph is the team of students selected to play the roles of teachers on the occasion of teachers’ day, Fifth of September-2003.
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It was a hot hot day on the 27th. of August, 2003 and the water supply had failed so a water tanker had to be called. Students rushed to the water tanker to fill their water bottles!
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Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Is Christmas only about decorations, gifts and Santa?

 
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Today, when I visited a popular Mall in Gurgaon, it was appropriately jam packed! It seemed as if all the roads from even Delhi seemed to be leading to that Mall. The parking lots were full, and I did think about turning back home! Santa, bells, holy leaves, and even songs about Rudolf seemed to be playing all over. There was even this little boy riding with his parents, wearing a mask that seemed to have some likeness to what Santa would look like!
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What is it then that makes Christmas so attractive to everyone? My pastor says that it is the glitz, and glam, the sugar coating, the gift-wrapping, the late night parties, the modern Western culture that makes this occasion  so attractive! This brings me to Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol which revolves around a rather miserly man called Scrooge. Mr.Scrooge is haunted by three ghosts and each ghost  teaches him a lesson. They are the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Future. Mr. Scrooge undergoes a process of transformation after coming across the three ghosts. He learns about the significance of Christmas and Dickens very aptly sums up the meaning of Christmas as a time for forgiving others, a time for sharing, a time for socializing, a time for being generous, a time for fellowship…etc. Dickens however goes on to suggest that one should celebrate the Christmas spirit, not just during Christmas, but rather all one’s life!
 
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What then is Christmas spirit? It is certainly not about glitz and gifts but rather it is about charity and the giving of alms, it is about fellowship, respect for other human beings, it is about fulfilling one’s social obligations and social responsibilities, it is also about being contented and satisfied with the little one has. The meagre fare that was served at Bob Cratchit’s home in the play the Christmas Carol was appreciated by the whole family. It was ironical that the impoverished Cratchit family was more contented than  Mr.Scrooge who was a rich man! The Christmas spirit is also about tenderness. Tiny Tim was a handicapped child who would have died if Scrooge hadn’t undergone a transformation which made him more sensitive and responsible. Ultimately, after being shown the possibility of Tiny Time dying because of  lack of proper treatment, as shown by the Ghost of Christmas future, Scrooge decided to sponsor the little child’s treatment. He becomes a guardian to the little child and pays for all his medical treatments.
One of the Pastors of my church in Gurgaon who is now a Bishop recounted how people would light candles before one of the life-sized manikins of Santa Claus that had been kept in front of the Church. The manikin had to be placed back inside the church! So what then is the message of Christmas? Is it about lighting candles to a manikin of Santa Clause, or is it about giving each other expensive gifts? The fact is that Christmas is not about any of these things! Christmas is about how Jesus Christ came into this world for the forgiveness of our sins! That he was born in a manger, and yet was visited by the three wise men from across the globe was significant for all of us.That this great man was born not as a rich king but as a humble son of a carpenter seems to have been lost in a world that believes in materialism and the giving away of expensive gifts and sumptuous meals and visits to Malls! In our craze for shopping for gadgets and new clothes, haven't we perhaps forgotten to give away the money that we spend on gifts to each other to those destitute people who can’t afford one square meal a day? Would we rather be Scrooges of the twenty-first century to spend exorbitant amounts on our children than perhaps be reminded about our social duties and responsibilities towards each other?
 

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

What if the world were nothing but a virtual computer simulation?



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An interesting article in the Times of India appeared on the 17th. of December titled, “Master Computer controls Universe? Physicists mull theory that humans may be mere pawns in a P.C. programme.” The article described how scientists are trying to “discover whether the universe exists within a Matrix style computer simulation created by a super-computer of the future.” An interesting and thought provoking surmise that changes our perception of life as we know it! The article goes on to describe how, “experiments  being conducted in the University of Washington could prove that we are merely pawns in some kind of larger computer game.”  According to Martin Savage, a physicist working on one such project, “Imagine the situation where we get a bid enough computer to simulate our universe and we start such a simulation on our computers (and) if that simulation runs long enough and have the same laws as our universe, then something like our universe will emerge within that simulation, and the situation will repeat itself within each simulation.” this leads us to the string theory of the Universe which suggests, according to the article that,” there are 10500 universes with different laws that determine the behaviour or particles within them.”
The idea that we might be living in a virtual world, an artificially created world from which there is no escape has been the central idea of many science fiction short stories, and science fiction films. Today as the world heads towards a life dependant on computer programmes and simulations, we notice how the boundary between the virtual world and what we believe to be the real world has started getting narrower and narrower! So then, if  scientists do find proof of the existence of a master-computer which controls the Universe then it would indeed suggest that we are nothing but pawns in a virtual game being played on a computer by a higher being! This would further suggest that our fate and destiny are pre-determined by the laws of the game and that our actions also are programmed, so nothing that we do or try to undo matters because it is not voluntary! It further suggests that our efforts to change our destinies would not really make any difference!While the above idea might only be conjecture, something yet to be proven, the possibility of changing the rules of the game might be possible. This would mean that although a higher being might have written down the rules of the game, it might be possible as participants in the game to cheat or mess it up!
Although life in a Matrix would be too constricting and limited there would surely those who would try to break out of it. However what if those who tried to break out were to discover that there was nothing out of the matrix but empty space? Such a possibility would force these escapees to return to the matrix to a predictable life of fixed routines and finite possibilities. Unfortunately we like to believe in a world where miracles happen, a world with infinite possibilities and alternatives even though in normal life we are accustomed to definite patterns and outcomes. We are discomforted by things that are not expected, but then expect miracles to take place when we are ill or down financially, expecting a miracle cure for our loved ones, or perhaps that lottery ticket that would bail us out of our troubled times. We turn to spirituality and pray for these miracles to take place having faith that our prayers will be answered.
What then if we are already living in a virtual world where everything is fixed and determined according to the rules of the game and the computer programme? What if even the number of miracles that take place in our lives is pre-determined; you can only have so many miracles... you've had your set of miracles, and now don't have any left! Suppose that the number of years that we live, the number of children that we have, our professions, our ups and downs, and our relations are pre-determined? This is all in keeping with the requirements of a simulation which require a pre-determined sample, and pre-determined variables. A simulation can be successful only when we are able to feed in the required data into the computer programme. So, then, does it mean that we might as well bid goodbye to miracles because in a simulation everything is accounted for and we try to avoid and eliminate extraneous variables? Does this mean then the end of faith and hope for all of us? It would depend on whether the higher being or beings playing the virtual game were benign and kind, perhaps He or they would listen to our prayers for miracles.
The above observations lead us to the question of who this being is who is playing this virtual game. Plato in the allegory of the cave in The Republic hinted that we are already living in a world which is at a second remove from the real, a world which is an illusion.According to him what we see and think of as real is but a shadow! One wonders whether he might not have had a moment of lucidity when he was able to glimpse the person running the virtual game? Who then is this power that is playing the virtual game, Is it God, or a group of higher beings, or perhaps pure thought? Would it be possible for enterprising persons to break out of the roles assigned to them in this virtual game and find a way to baffle the being or beings running the virtual game? Would it then be possible for people to do the unthinkable, turn into Trojan worms and computer viruses to turn the tables on what this higher being has planned? These questions are interesting and they lead us on towards possibilities of there being bugs and loopholes in the computer programme running the simulation! If this world is nothing but a simulation in a matrix style computer run by a computer programme then would it mean that we would continue to have multiple re-births in different avatars dictated by the laws of conservation of mass and energy?
The laws of quantum physics however defy predictability  in a way that questions the possibility of life being nothing but a simulation, and simulations are possible only where we have a given environment and all the variables are accounted for. The randomness of the location of an electron in an orbital  path defies logic and any set rules! The chaos theory of Quantum Physics suggest that there is a world that follows random patterns, which in itself defies the logical patterns of a virtual simulation game. So then does this mean that there is still hope and that we might after all be able to break out of a virtual, simulated game?
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Saturday, 15 December 2012

Some stamps of British and French Colonies (History through stamps)

 


Stamps are an important source of Historical Information especially as they depict important events, names of rulers, pictures, landmarks and so on. When I went through my stamp collection recently, I noticed that the names of many of the countries seemed rather strange! I was confused about Swaziland, since I thought it was part of Rhodesia, remember King Lobengula? Anyway, so I began to research on the internet about Swaziland and came to know that it is one of the few countries which follows absolute monarchy.

 

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It is interesting to see how stamps of yesterday might be important sources of information of the past. This is specially true with regard to the stamps I have pasted below. The names of the countries in the stamps have changed completely and this is because they were initially colonies and changed their names after gaining independence from their colonial powers. A large number of slaves were shipped from Swaziland in those infamous years when slave trade was a profitable trade!
Swaziland is one of the few remaining countries under absolute monarchy. It gained its independence from British rule in 1968. The capital is Mbabane. The above stamp commemorates the opening of the Swaziland Railway, an important event in the history of the country.
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The Republique Du Dahomey is now the Republic of Benin. It used to be a French Colony till it gained independence in 1960. Both the stamps have depicted two important unifying factors, a sound Railways and a strong system for communication, the telephone.
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I am proud to have a number of the famous Lundy Puffin stamps in my  collection.The Puffin stamps have an interesting history which is worth quoting:
The short history of Lundy puffin postage stamps
In late 1927 the British GPO ceased their post office activities at Lundy due to low activity and interest. For the next couple of years the owner of island (or “King of Lundy” as he preferred) M.C. Harman (1885-1954) handled the mail to and from the island without charge using MV Lerina. On November 1, 1929 Harman decided to offset the expense by issuing a series of private postage labels with a value expressed in “Puffins”; one puffing being equivalent of the British penny. The rest, as they say, is history… Besides postage stamps Harman was also inspired to issue his own coins. There are two Lundy coins, the puffinand the half-puffin, with Mr Harman’s bust on the obverse and a puffin on the reverse. Both were ordered 100,000 copies at private mint in Birmingham. The coins lead Harman in trouble with the British authorities in 1931 for unauthorised minting of money. (   http://www.stampcollectingblog.com/lundy-puffin-postage-stamps.php )
 
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Amazingly, Somalia was a French Colony as  depicted in the above stamp…
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and Djibouti too was a French Colony, that’s why they speak French in Djibouti!
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Aden, now the Republic of Yemen was a British Colony, and it was a free port!





Friday, 14 December 2012

On preparing to be an Engineer or a Doctor

My Dream of fairies and angels is rudely shorn,
When Mom wakes me six in the morn!
Quick bath, gobbled meal and off to bus.
At school, a dreary class awaits ‘cause I’m tired!
So do I ignore my teacher and my class
For lessons so crass on ears so full!
For when do I get the time to relax?
My dear parents want a great Physician out of me,
So  coaching it is  four to eight! Marathon classes me
Kill  so! Back to home stumbling and staggering do
Reach to have a quick meal and do my work!
Alas fall I, off to sleep all my work scattered around!
So have I suffered breakdowns sere,
For mine parents insist  that Doctor or engineer I would  be!
So give me a life of joy and fun  to be,
But when do I get the time of a child to be?
To dream of fairies and angels and flowers so fair,
To join my friends who laugh and talk of things  so rare.
Time does pass but I know it not,
Lost am I in competitions sere, so do I search far ‘n
Wide so to find the child I’d be.
Forced am I into the adult world of competitions so harsh,
To find my my class so dreary and crass!
For am I so tired, so down,
While I search for the child I’d be!
Alas  drop I off to sleep, while the theorems do haunt  me so!
In my dreams   see I  lessons so harsh, which do
Me burn oh so Sad!
This poem is dedicated to one of my students a nice sweet girl whom anxious have I seen!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Virtual World-photographing Lasers

 
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The cultural programme at my daughter’s school ended with a  laser show. The lasers created a virtual display of the most amazing shapes and patterns! The challenge was to use filters which would filter out the excess light without compromising the image quality. Finally I decided to use a Hoya PL-CIR polarizing filter on a 18-58 mm lens on my Canon DSLR camera.
 
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Lasers continue to have a special effect in altering  our perception of the world. The other world effect of the lasers can be clearly seen in the snap above! Could it be an alien ship landing, or a cosmic spectacle? The figures in the foreground evoke a strong human element to the whole spectacle!
 
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The eerie image of figures in the foreground, frozen in time, looking at the laser display might appear to be rather evocative of sci-fi thrillers and serials. Anybody remember the Twilight Zone series that used to be telecast in the late seventies and early eighties? I guess not!
Taking the snaps was a challenge because I did not have the convenience of a tripod, couldn’t use a flash, had to use a wide aperture of f-5.6, a shutter speed of 1/10th. of a second, and yes, the ISO was boosted to 3200! Of course the polarising filter came in handy!
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Dedication ceremony of a Church in Deorala, District Meerut

 
 
 
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My brother in law called me up on the sixth of December  and reminded me about the impending inauguration of the St. Peter’s Church in Deorala which was to take place the next day. Incidentally in 1969, his maternal grandfather had constructed the same. The trip from Ghaziabad took us about two hours and we reached just in time to view the ribbon cutting ceremony taking place. Incidentally, the ribbon was cut by the Secretary of the Church of North India, Agra Diocese, Dr. Revd. P.P. Habil. Dr. S.P. Singh, Director of Evangelism was also present on the occasion. The Church when we entered it appeared to have been renovated, neat and tidy little church, and all credit would go to the Evangelist, D.P.Malaywar.
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In the above snap you can see Dr.Revd.        In the above snap you can see Dr.S.P.Singh
P.P.Habil, Secretary Agra Diocese                  Director of Evangelism
 
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Those present included residents from                My Brother in Law, Mr. Peter, his wife,
Different communities!                                          Mrs. Jyoti Peter, and Nidhi Lal
 
Who would have thought that the vision of a Priest in a small town of Deorala and his effort in building a chapel would result in its becoming a  dedicated Church albeit 43  years on! The Church today stands as a testimony to the efforts of Revd. P.K.Singh. Evangelism is not dead, and that this is so is proved by the efforts of Evangelist, Mr. D.P. Malaywar.
 
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Evangelist, D.P. Malaywar
 

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

A Day with Special Children

It was my turn to spend time with the Special Children today. I had looked forward to this day because I was curious to know more about these special children some of whom are autistic. I reached the Enrichment Centre on time and the moment I walked down the corridor to my assigned class, I was greeted most enthusiastically by other special children who were in their classes. The five students of the class assigned to me were to reach at 8:45 a.m.( class for the normal children starts at 8:00 a.m.). In the meantime I was debriefed about all the five students in their early teen, three boys and two girls. After the debriefing, which included a description about the schedule for the day, I accompanied one of the two teachers to the main-gate to welcome the children. At the gate, I was introduced to many other special children. One girl  a student of the class to which I had been assigned seemed to be in a particularly cheerful mood,  mischievous twinkle in her eyes, she sang a number of popular Hindi film songs all the way to the classroom. Many of the children we met at the gate were special in some way or the other. There was this particular boy who walked on his toes. When I asked the teacher accompanying me, she told me that he was Autistic and he felt more secure walking on his toes. There was another boy who had been accompanied by his parents. He became agitated the moment he saw his parents walk away. I could see the tenderness in his father’s eyes, who didn’t want to leave his son. It was the mother who was made of sterner stuff who spoke sharply to the father telling him to leave the son. When I asked the special education teacher, she told me that the fear of his parents leaving him behind was the cause of his agitation. A few days ago, the parents had left him with his grandparents for a few days and this had put a sense of insecurity in his mind.
After we had escorted the five children to the class, Bhuvan was assigned to me. He seemed to be a rather intelligent boy although I was told that he was autistic like the other four.  After introductions were over, and everyone greeted me with smiles, Veronica kept on staring at me! She had a rather sweet voice, bright intelligent eyes and a wonderful accent,  although she spoke a few words at a time. After this we sang the school prayer and then went out for assembly. Each child carried a board with his or her name on it, and these boards were placed on the ground and the children stood on them. The students after returning to their class then went on to identify the day, date, month, and year. First period for Bhuvan was a work experience period, so he led me to the Carpentry Workshop.  His assignment was to cut four  pieces of wood and then to plane them with a planer. I had a wonderful time helping him saw those pieces of wood and planning them. At the workshop I met many other  special children, some of whom I had seen in the library on various days. They were all curious about me, and so were their teachers. One particular boy came to me and rather excitedly showed me his colourful jacket. Another boy kept looking at me, intelligence gleamed in his eyes. His teacher later told me that he wanted to know more about me, and she told me that once he came to know my name, he would search for information about me from the internet. I told him to go ahead and tell me the next day what he had found out about me. And yes, I told him that I taught English!
After the first period, the children returned to their classes, washed hands and then had their snacks. After this in the second period, Bhuvan had computer class. I accompanied him to the Computer Lab. He was given the task of typing sentences written in a story book on the computer which he did quite accurately! After this we returned to class and Bhuvan and Veronica had another task, which they mimed to me, “walk time”. Before I went out for this activity, I was told by the teachers that they had a habit of taking short cuts and not completing their five circuits. So after a brief instruction not to take a short cut, we set out to the play ground. An innovative method for counting the number of circuits had been devised for them. Each time they completed a circuit, they would remove one Velcro attached red marker from the board which they then placed into the pocket. Veronica was very excited during the walk pointing towards strange plants and herbs while Bhuvan seemed to be more serious, concentrating on the task before him, rather like a more mature C.E.O. of a future company, what with his no-nonsense attitude!
After lunch, fourth period was all about speech therapy, and I accompanied Mohit and Sunil both from the class I had been assigned to. Both of these special students had problems with speech, so the speech therapist  made them  practice different sounds, and some words. While Sunil had a problem saying the letter “L”, Mohit would answer only if you gave him a choice. Speech therapy over, we returned to class where, I was then given the task of teaching Bhuvan Maths including marking the time on a clock face, which he incidentally did very well, followed by marking lines of a particular length with the help of a ruler, and last but not least, simple sums of division with the help of different objects. We also played a version of Snakes and Ladders, it was called Snacks and Ladders. Along the way there were some rewards in the form of eatables marked by small pouches or pictures of chocolates, biscuits and wafers. The children enjoyed this game a lot. They would clap with glee when their counters landed on a space which was marked with a reward! A fine way of teaching counting and numbers, I'd say! The last period was for Occupational therapy, and Bhuvan took me to the Occupational Therapy room where another teacher took him through different routines, swinging from a ladder attached to the ceiling, pedalling, slotting pieces into a cut out puzzle,…and so on. What amazed me so much was that Bhuvan went through each routine with great ease and confidence!
It was finally time to bid the students and their wonderful teachers a farewell, and all five of those most special students bid me a warm farewell. I was particularly amazed when Veronica said in her rather sweet and distinct voice “Good bye, Rodrick Sir”! She had memorised my name so well.Veronica had the habit of pressing her fingers into her ears most frequently, and when I asked her subject teachers and her therapists, they told me that she did this because she was probably sensitive to a particular frequency of sound and so was trying to block it out. Some of the students seemed to like making noises. At first I found it odd, but then their teacher told me that they liked making sounds because they liked hearing themselves! All this information that I received about autistic children through a single day with them has made me  appreciate them even more.  They seemed to be really special because they  viewed the world from a totally different perspective, one which was most unique from ours! There was a lot that I would be taking away with me. I was also particularly touched by the exceptional patience of the teachers who were looking after the special children. They were quick to praise and appreciate them, they were tender and affectionate towards them, they answered my unending stream of questions patiently, and of course they seemed to have a huge reservoir of ingenuity!
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Thursday, 29 November 2012

Anil Kant Night at Gurgaon

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It was a blessing and a great honor for us to have Pastor Anil Kant  with us today, the 29th. of November at the St.Crispin's school Gurgaon. The magic and the spiritual gift of music once again brought forth a moment of revival for all those present. Although the rain played spoil-sport, the people present were enthralled by the soulful music.  Also present on the occasion were the Bishop of the Diocese of Delhi, (Church of North India) Sunil K. Singh and Mr. Richard Khan who heads the Bible Society of India.
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Reverend Sunil Ghazan, the Presbyter In Charge of the Epiphany Church of Gurgaon said the prayer at the beginning of the programme. The choir of the Epiphany Church of Gurgaon also sang a hymn on the occasion.
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The ground was full and those who hungered for spiritual bread were numerous:
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Some of the different moods of Pastor Anil Kant have been captured below: 
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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Lonely Journey of a Ras


The Ras’s journey was a long and mystical, full of surprises and Epiphanies. Revered by some as “Jani Ho” he is the Corner Stone of the Ras Tafarian movement. Two rather mystical incidents early in his life were his encounter with a Lion, and the death of a close friend. These were two defining moments which were to shape the direction which his life would take. The mystery of his death the manner of the  disposal of his remains, and the fate of the rest of the Royal Family continues to be a topic of much discussion and debate such as that of the last Tsar of Russia.

Astride  a  Horse, he  gazes at the distant horizon,
His  faithful sword  in a  scabbard  fastened to his
Waist, spear  held in his hand. His  round leather-
Satchel  filled with  the precious  bread, Ambasha,
Horn   topped   with   the   bitter-sweet  tej  to last!
 
Eagle eyes  hooded  against   the rising  Harar Sun,
Heart heavy with  the loss of his close friend,Tefari
Broods  about the  encounter  with the Lion, visions
Of the Lion of Judah spurring him on a long journey
To  lead  his    people  out  of   Abyssinian  darkness.
 
Addis, still a distant destination and a Cousin not in
Favour. But  heavy lies the burden  on shoulders so
Young,  parents  not   around,  all so alone!The lions
In  the bush  roar  their  prophecy  of a  new reign of
Prosperity, and  joy   for  a  nation  brought  to  light!
 
This poem is the result of my memories of what I once read in a discarded book which I once found in the library of the Arbaminch Comprehensive High School in Arbaminch where I studied till class nine. This book was about the early life of the Ras, and it had been discarded for condemnation because the country had turned towards Socialism and all material pertaining to the Ras was consigned to the flames!
 
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Sunday, 25 November 2012

Gagging the Post-How freely should we express our points of view?

The recent incident of two Mumbai Girls shooting into the limelight and questions being raised about the provisions of Articles 66A of the IT Act, deserves a debate on what constitutes, “sending messages of a menacing character (or)  causing annoyance” within the framework of Democracy. In a democracy,  Freedom that infringes the rights of others becomes licence and can no longer be termed Freedom as such! We need to understand what constitutes infringing the rights of others; casting aspersions on character , mud-slinging, vilification, mockery, lampooning and even making caricatures  (in the form of cartoons) can all be said to be an infringement of the right to dignity and respect. Many democracies  throughout the world however have  different attitude towards  the right to Freedom of Expression. Some of the more mature and developed Western countries even accept Cartoons and a mild form of lampooning of some of their famous and great personalities.  It is ironical that while we talk about provisions of Freedom of Expression, we do not talk about Freedom of Privacy while tapping phone calls of those in opposition to us! While it is true that the Freedom of Expression doesn’t mean that we should vilify another person, it is however easily curbed through legislation, rules and acts whose context might be conveniently misunderstood.
It is highly surprising that even though we live in a Democracy, we behave in a most immature manner and go overboard in matters of arresting young people desirous of expressing their opinions on social networking sites which might be only expressions of the obvious! The gifts of Information technology, and networking sites which most politicians and famous personalities use to express their opinions are at odds with the provisions of Democracy if they are gagged by acts and rules which might not have been  properly interpreted! Having spent a greater part of my early teens in what was once a Socialist Republic of a North Eastern Country in Africa, I observed the atmosphere of paranoia that existed in the society stemming from the fear of being overheard criticizing the military  junta! A single word spoken in censure of the government policies would lead to the arrest of the speaker, and the labelling of him or her as a traitor, often leading to the status of a political prisoner. The brain washing and re-education programme would be then given in prison. In some cases, the perpetrator was never seen again. Such extreme lack or tolerance was understandable in a country which was being run by a dictatorial administration whose very foundation was based on a coup d'├ętat, and bloodshed in a military take over. I remember how all the Expats ensured that they didn’t speak anything that could be taken otherwise by the Government. As a teen, I had many friends from that country and I could sense the extreme state of fear that they lived in.
The relative freedom that I found when I came to India was rather intoxicating. In my Political Science classes we were taught about the various Freedoms that were the foundation of a Democracy, and of course we were taught about the Rights of citizens living in a Democracy, our Duties as responsible citizens, and the need to respect the Rights of others. The cartoons of Sudhir Talang and many others that appeared in the English dailies were a testament to the greater amount of freedom that existed in a Democracy. The famous serial, Ulta Pulta by the famous Comedian Jaspal Bhatti targeted corruption in such a way that even the very victims of corruption could sit back and have a good laugh!  The I.T.revolution truly opened up the boundaries for freedom of expression in a manner that had never been possible before! It is probable however that this heady mixture of  social networking sites and ease of access to a large number of people might have become a target for misuse. The appearance of morphed photographs, remarks made in bad taste, comments mocking the sentiments of different communities and individuals on social networking sites have been on the increase recently. However, in such cases it is the malicious intent that should be taken into account. There are frequent live telecasts of people who engage in public opinion polls, debates, and even public discussion forums, making vociferous comments, mud slinging and yet they are not prosecuted for indecency or even propriety. We tolerate indecency and even vulgarity in T.V. serials and reality shows, but are intolerant towards comments which reflect the obvious state of affairs!
Excess freedom can however be intoxicating in nature, and its effect can be seen in all aspects of life, whether it is the revolution that is taking place in the Education sector, or even the Entertainment Industry. Today we have more lampoons, satires, comedies and cartoons than ever before, most of which are really in bad taste and yet they are passed by censor boards. Students in schools are spoiled for choice today than we were in our days. If our youth today is more expressive and voluble in its criticism of what they don’t like, then it is because they have been born in the I.T. age and age where they have greater freedom than ever before! Earlier, children were not allowed to talk out of turn, they were not allowed to appear in the presence of adult guests, sometimes not even allowed to be present on such occasions! I guess times have changed and your child knows about his rights, and can question you as and when he wishes. It is therefore rather surprising that we  who have given so many freedoms to our younger generations should now be talking about taking action against those who are voluble in talking about the defects in our system! Today we stand at the crossroads of an era where Information technology is the road towards empowerment. We can either enjoy the fruits of the I.T.Revolution(albeit in a reasonable manner), or we can go back to the stone-age practice of gagging expression. The Jasmine Revolution, and the  uprising at Tahrir Square- Egypt stand testimony to the fact that today it has become very difficult to moderate opinions posted on the internet!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The Craft of Interviewing

One of the most popular methods of selecting or rejecting candidates in a school whether for the post of a Principal, or the post of a teacher continues to be the Interview. Unfortunately this is also a most maligned tool. A high attrition rate of selected candidates or inability to retain them for more than a year might also point out to defects in the selection procedure which is based on the Interview method. Attrition might be attributed to inability to judge whether the candidate matches to the expectations of the philosophy of the organisation, or the inability to identify discrepancies in the eligibility of the candidate for the post. Unfortunately when a candidate who has passed through the rigours of the selection process leaves the organisation rather suddenly, it leaves a bad image not only on the organisation, but also has a traumatic impact on the candidate. During a training held recently, it was made clear that every candidate who goes through the interview should leave with a sense of fulfilment even if he is not selected, having due respect for the objectivity of the selection procedure.
It is true that many organisations subject the candidate to a battery of tests and processes of elimination which include Psychometric procedures, Aptitude tests and a thorough screening of the Curriculum Vitae before calling him or her for the interview. The traditional interview however has much that is lacking in terms of validity, and better form of the Interview is the Behavioural Event Interview or the B.E.I. The B.E.I. unlike the traditional method of interview has better chances of analysing behavioural manifestations of attitudes, mind-sets, skills, values, and motives. An accurate analysis of these traits in the candidate might help avoid embarrassment caused by a high attrition rate among selected candidates or inability to retain them for a justifiable period of time. If the Philosophy and Mind-Set of the candidate doesn’t match with those of the Organisation then it would be better to be forewarned and the Organisation could then look for another suitable candidate.
The key to the B.E.I. method of interviewing candidates lies in making the candidate feel as comfortable and at ease and then this is followed by asking him or her relevant probing questions that would attempt to analyse the relevant attitudes and values and mind-sets. The strategy of the B.E.I. is to probe for critical incidents in a persons earlier life and career which would have a future bearing on his or her ability to serve the organisation faithfully. One important assumption on which the Behavioural Event Interview is based is that past performances are suitable predictors of future performances. Thus, having  defined behavioural indicators are a necessity for an effective B.E.I.
It is true that the Interview is a craft learned through experience and development of skills of being able to make the candidate feel comfortable and not intimidated in any case. It is also an art that has to be cultivated painstakingly. The best interviewers could also be those who have undergone this process a fair number of times.The ideal Behavioural Event Interview is not an interrogation method such as many of my readers might have undergone. There was this interview that I went through sometime in the year 2010, and amazingly I had to face a panel of interviewers who kept firing questions at random. Some of the questions were as funny as, “Why are sewer covers or manhole covers round?”. This question was not connected to my professional profile, but still it was thrown at me at random. My reply that “not all manhole or sewer covers are round!” was met with amusement, and one of the panel members, a retired Principal appreciated my answer while the person who asked the question squirmed, although I later told them that the round shape was ideal for accessibility. An effective Behavioural Event Interview is all about careful planning, and trick questions should not be asked. It is also all about a one to one interview and not about be bombarded by question by a large number of panel members. Unfortunately the greatest mistake is to make the candidate feel intimidated! The workshop that I attended recently on the B.E.I. made it very clear that the Interviewer should sit at a tangent to the interviewee, and not directly opposite to him, without of course  being too close for comfort.
I am most thankful to the organisation which set up this workshop on the B.E.I. method and did a wonderful job of acquainting me further with the latest methods of assessing candidates.!
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Friday, 16 November 2012

My Memories of The Arbaminch Airport and the D.C3 Aircraft

 
 
 
 
 
It was a rather unassuming Airport in nineteen seventies, nothing more than a dirt-track that served as a runway, a sock and a radio antenna that was raised on a pole. Samson, my classmate in class seventh and eighth was also the airport manager’s son and he would often take me to the airport or rather airstrip. In those days the aircraft that frequented the airstrip were the D.C3s.,the double canvass winged aircraft that served as a crop sprayer, and the few single engine  aircraft that seated six passengers and had the legend Admass Air emblazoned on the sides. In those days all communication between the pilot and the airport was via the Short Wave radio band and could be heard on ordinary radio sets.
Of all the aircraft that landed and took off from the airstrip, the D.C3 was the most impressive! Just before the aircraft landed, the pilot would call up the Airport Manager, the Airstrip would be cleared of the animals grazing around the airstrip and the D.C3. would touch the edge of the airstrip trailing a rather long trail of dust behind it. The D.C3 squatted on its tail with a nose up attitude which seemed to be rather strange because while parked, the D.C3 had a nose pointing up towards the blue sky. Samson often took me on a tour of the plane and it did look odd walking up an incline from the tail towards the cockpit. This plane also had a tiny chemical W.C. at the tail. My memory of flying in this plane goes back a further few years when at the age of three or four we flew from Mekele to Asmara. It was a most uneventful flight (except for the tendency of the plane to drop a few feet each time it hit an air pocket), and there were only four of us, both my parents, my brother and I.
The twin piston engines of the D.C3 had a distinct beat and it never flew at a very high altitude. You could see the D.C3 pass over the town in a rather sedate manner. In those days, the largest aircraft that could land on the airstrip in Arbaminch was the D.C3. The plane had seats that could be folded over to make space for the cargo. I often observed that besides sundry parcels, odds and ends, the aircraft was loaded with corn of all things! The only time I was aware of an accident involving this plane happened when a D.C3. plane took off with a full load of cargo including corn, and for some reason failed to clear the tree tops in the forest which started after the perimeter of the airport. The reasons of the crash were never clear, but the sound of music could be clearly heard on the radio coming from the cockpit of the plane. Was it engine failure, or was it that the aircraft was overloaded beyond its payload capacity was never made clear. All we knew was that two young pilots had lost their lives in the crash.
4297 ET-ABR Ethiopian Operating flight ET 231 to Addis Ababa sometimes spelled Addis Abeba Lalibela Ethiopia 13 October 1974 Christian Hanuise
The wreckage of the plane could be seen from the main road just a few kilometres from the town, that was till the trees grew taller. I remember visiting the crash site with my father and brother after the crash had taken place. The place was still smouldering in some places, and debris was scattered all over the place, cables, instrument panels and melted blobs of aluminium littered the place. It felt really bad to see this rather beautiful plane in such a state. Of  the Pilots, nothing could be seen ( they had been airlifted to Addis Abeba in another plane). One of the pilots had survived, but he passed away en route because of serious head injuries.
 
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Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Last Stand-A Short Story

From our elevated position overlooking the plains, we saw three bright flashes far away which seemed to punch into the air and, in what seemed to be instant later, came the sound of the ordinance whistling past to land a kilometre away with a deafening explosion that knocked the breath out of our shaking the Earth  and causing a storm of dust and debris to rain over our  entrenched camp. We now knew that our hidden camp had been discovered finally! It would take only a few more ranging shots to make a direct hit!
The last remnants of Humanity had abandoned the big cities and fled towards the mountains where the alien cyborg Robots would not yet follow. it was here that they would  make a last stand. The alien Cyborg Robots were out to clear the Earth of all human beings which for them were vermin and posed an unnecessary obstacle for preparing the planet for the settlement of alien  creatures from another galaxy. I looked at Clara grimly and indicating towards the hidden trail said, “ Well it is time to put our emergency evacuation plan into action!” She nodded and said, “ Yes Fred I have already alerted the team leaders and even as we are speaking, the families are being led to their buses!” “Well done,” I exclaimed, recalling that she had gone into emergency mode the moment our watchers reported the activity in the plains, especially when the field guns in the plains were being pointed towards our positions in the mountains.Clara interrupted my thoughts, “ Fred, don’t waste time in obliterating the tracks leading to the hidden track,  there is also the matter of activating the timers!” We had planned to cover up our escape route and signs of our camp by detonating a series of explosions.The klaxon continued blaring  and  children, men, women, families, and the elderly  rushed to board the waiting buses which would take them deeper into the mountains.  After we left, all signs and remains of the camp were to  be obliterated making in look as if one of the high explosive shells had hit us. 
The knock on the door to the command centre was followed by the entry of Ramesh, a twenty-three years old computer expert, Philips, a former army special forces soldier, and Tina, the communications expert. They were an integral part of my team. “Hi Fred!” they called out albeit in a serious tone, “Guess it is time we moved on to the next camp,” said Ramesh in a matter of fact tone.  “Yes, Ramesh, it had to come to this one day: wonder how the Cyborgs were able to pinpoint our location so soon!” I said. Ramesh replied, “ It was those Condor Drones we saw last week!” I nodded my head in agreement, there had been a rather unusual activity of the Condor Drones flying high above the camp the previous week which did suggest that they had probably registered the heat signature of the camp. “ How’s the evacuation going on?” I asked Tina. “Fine,” she replied, “Ramesh has set the timers on the explosives for thirty minutes, enough for us to clear the area in time!” I grunted, “Good,” and picked up my haversack and we all trooped out to our 4X4 Sherpa SUVs. parked outside. We were all lost in our thoughts, Camp David had served us well, hidden from the plains behind a wall of mountains, it was well placed flat piece of ground which we had excavated to make underground bunkers. There was a nearby stream of clear water flowing which supplied our needs for fresh drinking water.We had earlier identified an alternative camp higher up in the mountains and we had named it Camp Goliath.
There were five 4X4 Sherpa SUVs. and I boarded the nearest one. The Sherpa was a tested and proven vehicle which had been modified to run on different fuels and also to work at high altitudes. Each vehicle was able to work as an independent command centre, with communication equipment, radios, satellite links, and enough computing power to run an entire mission. These SUVs. were in constant contact with the buses that had preceded us towards higher ground.
There were tears in the eyes of all those who formed the rear-guard. For all practical reasons Philips, Tina, Ramesh and I travelled in separate vehicles (Clara however always accompanied me) because we reasoned that if we travelled together in the same vehicle, and the vehicle was hit by a missile, then the entire command  system would be wiped out! If this happened, then there would'nt be anyone left to look after the survivors.
We had been ever on the move since the year 2014 when the strange spacecraft had started to land on the Earth, especially in the larger towns and cities disgorging a large number of Cyborgs which went about wreaking havoc in the cities and towns, killing all those human beings that had the fate of coming in contact with the killing machines. Curiosity in those who turned up to see the alien crafts and the Cyborgs turned to horror when the killings started! The cyborgs quickly rendered communications useless in the cities. The Army, Air force and Navy were neutralised  in a matter of hours, the high tech machinery, tanks, fighters jets, and even the destroyers were rendered useless with the firing of electro-magnetic pulse beams at them which resulted in fried circuits. It was a matter of time before the remaining people realised  that they should flee from the cities to the relative safety of the mountains. It had been six years since we had left the towns and cities. The process had been gradual and slow, and we had collected enough food, fuel and those EMP proof weapons for the final stand we would make against the aliens. The K-4 mountains did afford some safety from the H.E. rockets that the Cyborgs preferred to use because their flat trajectories meant that they could hit targets that were in the line of site, but if the object was shielded by a rock face or a hill, then these rockets couldn’t climb over the obstruction to dive at the object. The radio suddenly crackled, “ Incoming H.E. rockets identified, E.T.A. two minutes, Camp David!” the terse voice was that of Phillip’s. Clara, without missing a beat remarked, "I guess it is high time we left! those H.E. Rockets can flatten the whole area in one go!" I looked at the terrain, high cliff faces on both sides shielded us from the enemy, Clara drove the SUV expertly, “Yes, I guess there will be nothing at the camp site when the Cyborgs arrive to inspect their trophies of war!” I replied. Of course the Condor Drones would have relayed images of the destruction to their command centre. I went on remarking to Clara, “ But, then they won’t be fooled for long into thinking that they have destroyed the entire remnants of us!”
The type I Cyborg Robots were rather mean looking machines and they were designed to kill. They looked like a cross between a spider and a scorpion, and their two front eyes also worked as laser guns firing a lethal beam that could cut through steel six inches thick! Woe betide any hapless human being who dared to face them, they were simply decimated, Kevlar vest, weapons and all! The type II Cyborgs were humanoid in form, and they were deadlier than the previous versions. The type twos appeared in 2015 a year after the type ones. What made them different from the type ones was that they were more dexterous, more powerful and could shift loads many times their weight. The H.E. rockets were handled by the type twos. The type III Cyborg robots like the type twos were shaped like humans but then their heads were bigger than the rest of their bodies. Type threes were the leaders, commanders, and decision makers. The Condor Drones were operated by the type threes. The type threes had arrived barely six months ago, and since their arrival, the condor drones became more active, and the frequency of their sorties had increased, especially over camp David.
A bright flash appeared from the general area of Camp David, at a lower altitude than we were driving at, and the flash was followed by a deep rumble. Clara and I looked at each other quietly. The second salvo of H.E. rockets had found the target with great accuracy, and if we had been a little slow in evacuating the camp, then surely, we would have been decimated! We had been planning for all sorts of eventualities, and this had been one of them. Till now we had adopted a rather hide and hide  kind of an approach towards the enemy. To fight them this early would have been rather foolish. We would make our final stand against the enemy at Camp Goliath where we had hidden the highly secret pulse guns, and pulse rockets which were lethal weapons, and could in theory cut through the thick armour of the Cyborgs. Well that would be another day, right now it was all about   reaching Camp Goliath.
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Sunday, 11 November 2012

Some more photographs of the Epiphany Church of Gurgaon Garden Fete-2012

Space being a constraint, I couldn’t put in a lot of photographs in the first blog so I have put in some more photographs in this post.
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