Assorted thoughts on education and jobs.

  1. India talks big on demographic dividends. India’s population is second only to China and in few years we’ll beat them, population wise.
  2. But what is the quality of people India produces. Most of them are fit only for menial labour. There are innumerable reports. Students who pass out of plain colleges or engineering institutes, the statistics say, the “percentage of unemployability” range from 50 to 80 percent.
  3. Abdul Kalam, once India’s Brainy President, was rare first to put his finger on India’s abysmal education policy at topmost level. Few politician have guts to do that. But after all who would call Kalam a politician.
  4. Kalam said, only 25% of graduating students are “employable.” His statement is pretty wide ranging and includes all, plain and engineering graduates. And this was in 2007. Thirteen years plus we would be safe to agree that number is less than 25.
  5. Despite the new education policy by the present government, one would be safe to think that new education of the oncoming world is not in government’s hands. Students have to be born and brought up with attitude and mental skill sets for DIY – Do it yourself.
  6. Here is a thing. Schools and Colleges will not suffice to scale the capability standards required. Schools and Colleges are “Fixed Learning”. A syllabus of a Three Year degree course are set a couple of years in advance. By the time the kid’s start a three year degree or engineering, it’s already outdated. The Knowledge thus acquired is not worth a spam.
  7. The solution for future education has already arrived. It’s called MOOC – Massive Open Online Courses.
  8. But “Open” and “Online” does not imply that it’s “Easy.” Self learning is not easy. The discipline required to complete one module of a course is enormous. Many will fail to complete. I have.
  9. But, what will win? Obsessiveness.
  10. Like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. For example, one is learning to “Set up a Tab on a Web Page.” Pretty Simple. But no, it’s not. The effort might take you on a tailspin for hours. And in the end you will discover that “It’s one Comma”, that spent your day. And, believe me, after you spent those hours, you will feel exhilarated.
  11. If the effort does not excite or exhilarate you, the work is not for you. Don’t waste your time carrying on. Because it’s not only once you’re going to face the problem but everyday. You have to love the obsession that the work brings in order to carry on with it.
  12. If there’s no obsession there won’t be any expertise.
  13. Most of online studies are online/offline mixed. There will be some Ten to Fifteen minutes of videos and the thereafter there will be links or a reading list. Download the PDF to study and then the PDF contains words and phrases so one goes online again to search and know. And everything has to be done all alone and by yourself.
  14. Contrary to many peoples beliefs, the technology world will not reduce the workforce, but it will raise the capability bar of white-collar jobs. And vastly increase low paying menial jobs.
  15. Ironically, India is well prepared for this scenario. Our faulty education policy has brought us to this sorry state.
  16. Twenty years back a basic knowledge of computers and a college degree would have sufficed to get a well paying desk job. Now and the henceforth, one needs to know more than just computers.
  17. Same goes with online work. There is no eight hours, ten hours, morning, afternoon shifts. Once started there may be no end. Same with online studies.
  18. People who don’t meet the “capability” standards will still get jobs in technology companies but as “Delivery Agents.” Most of the Online companies, like Food, Grocery and stuff, all call themselves “Tech-Companies.” You have folks from good families riding scooties delivering Zomato, Amazon, Flipkart etc.. These jobs will never be high paying. So young people who are entering the workforce will remain with their parents because they cannot afford loans for houses, at least not in metros or even tier 2 or 3 towns.
  19. Urban kids are falling out of the workforce or stuck with terrible low paying jobs and, on the other side, semi-urban and village kids are joining the workforce. The village kids may have degrees and even a software training, but their social context will not deter them from going house to house with shoulder bags of delivery.
  20. So, there will be competition for “menial” jobs at the entry level itself. Village kids will work for less and urban kids can’t make ends meet on a “Zomato” salary.
  21. These all, mixed with India’s internal migration between states, a toxic mix of fratricide may be brewing which will raise its head in times to come.

Tech knowledges acquired in today’s world is valid for six months, at most a year. If knowledge is valid more than that, it’s either outdated, wrong or the work is menial.

True Story – Movie, Netflix

“True Story” is true to some extent. The character played by Jonah Hill, Michael Finkel, is a sacked journalist of the New York Times (NYT). And the character played by James Franco, Christian Lego, is a convicted criminal serving time in jail. And there is actress Felicity Jones, as wife of Jonah Hill, who is not pivotal but significant, not as character but as an actress in her role. Much on her later.

The movie is led by two very good actors, Jonah Hill and James Franco. The movie has several scenes of conversation between them and it’s here that both show their mettle. When good actors confront, there’s chemistry, and there’s anatomy too. Chemistry between two actors is ethereal, the viewer can only sense it, feel it, the desire to catch every word in the dialogue, to be present in the moment to do so.

Good acting can cure ADHD till good acting last.

Besides chemistry, anatomy is also major player in acting. Particularly the eyes. It’s amazing to see a simple conversation being heightened by clever use of the eyes. Jonah Hill as journalist is interviewing James Franco the criminal and what’s said in the scenes is complemented by how their eyes react to the answers and questions.

The eyes and anatomy and chemistry also fail. They not only take down one but both the actors. It’s because Felicity Jones is miscast in the movie. Or she has no contribution, scriptwise. Or, to be brutal, she is a bad actress.

In most of the scene she is shown roaming around with “questioning eyes”, and “pained expressions”. What she is questioning or on what she is pained, she can’t make clear, acting wise. Her expressions and presence in scenes only cast doubts and the viewer is left guessing the rest. Many of her emoting are misfires.

Felicity Jones eventual fall comes when she confronts James Franco. Now Franco is playing a character who has murdered his wife and three young children. And he is impersonating as if he is Jonah Hill. Felicity Jones as Jonah Hill’s wife is confronting James Franco who denies murder. Here, one can see the complexities of this scene and the difficulties in projecting the predicaments on screen. These are extremely difficult scenes. And difficult shots. What other actresses could have shouldered this performance?

Felicity Jones and James Franco scenes fall off the performance table and breaks into many pieces. James Franco also goes down in his scenes with Felicity Jones, his acting resembling a caricature. He is basically left squinting. It’s plain, chemistry and anatomy and “eyes”didn’t work with these two onscreen.

The movie, “True Story” is not the movie which the promos projects it to be. Some of the epithets used to describe the movie are; “a true crime thriller”, “some mysteries are beyond belief”, “a fix for true crime addicts”, etc., I had difficulty searching a correct photo to attach with my blog. In the end I got one. My reaction after watching the movie was “FelicityJones-ish.” You have to watch the movie to know what I mean.

Yet, True Story has many great moments and it is these that maketh the movie.

Two characters with reputational loss meet, each knowing the vulnerabilities of the other and each feeding off each other and none getting the better off each other.

First Reformed-Movie, Netflix

Ethan Hawke is a clergyman whose job is to service his community by communicating Gods words to people and people’s words to God. In the end he finds that none of these matter but what wins is just plain old love, principally – love between a man and a women.

The story begins with him counselling a disturbed husband who wants to abort his child because of – “Climate Change.” The clergyman has lots of wise words for the messed up husband. Nothing works. Thankfully, the husband shoots himself. This, at least, spares the wife much of a bother. Also Ethan now has a love interest which in the end redeems him.

Ethan Hawke successfully plays a character who is an introvert, reticent and withdrawn. He pours his troubles onto his diary. His dialogues with people trails off into monologues, as the character disconnects with whosoever he is conversing to writing the diary with all that’s left unsaid.

It’s an intuitive narrative with lots of thoughts, pauses and self-talk but the flow of the story maintains a tempo which never lags. And contrary to fashion these days of mobile camerawork, the camera here is pretty static in the screenplay. The camera waits “in front of the house”, “one corner of the room” etc., so the viewer also waits, in a way. To experience this change is refreshing.

The movie, First Reformed, is subtle comment on powerlessness of humans against agencies. Those agencies could be big energy companies polluting the earth, or Churches which depend on donations from big businesses or even ones own body or habits. Sermons, counselling, advice etc., are just empty words. They don’t matter.

What matters is what moves people towards support.

Tallulah – Movie, Netflix

The “Inception” star Ellen Page is now Elliot Page – A Transgender. This is real news.

But, in the movie – Tallulah – she is still a “she.” And I find this awesome and amazing that a face which is placid can project such wide range of emotions. I’ve seen this with Irrfan Khan and Johnny Depp. I’ll add Ellen Page to this list of the few blessed people who just have to “be” on camera to enact the whole story effortlessly.

Tallulah, I found, has couple of meanings. Check here. Some say “Leaping Water” and some, “Princess of Abundance.” In the movie both are relevant but in opposite ways. The character Tallulah played by Ellen is both destitute and “leaps” into troubled waters.

All the characters are messed up in some ways. Including the toddler. And when the two messed-ups meet, things go haywire. That’s the strength of the story.

Margin Call – Movie, Netflix

Netflix gives this movie – Margin Call- 56% rating. Rotten Tomatoes, a review website, rates it 87%. This is closure to “my” truth. Probably no good folks are watching – Margin Call or are they intimidated by the name of the movie?

Firstly, the movie does not require the viewers to possess any knowledge of finance or economics. It needs just a sense that if your money is in someone else’s hands it will not come back to you if some of their shit hits their own fan. It’s often said, the financial market runs on fear and greed. I disagree.

Financial market does not run on fear and greed. It runs on hatred, dislike, distrust and utter contempt of the people who hand over their money to money multipliers.

The movie – Margin Call – is nothing about technicalities of trades. It’s about people who buy and sell horseshit packaged as some high flying words. It’s about people who know “it’s going to crash someday” but keep mum. It’s about people who are a pack of wolves with a pack of lies. It’s about people in one team and one jersey and one goal. The game works best till nothing is moved or disturbed.

Then one day there enters an unknown quantity. The character is uninitiated, unbrainwashed. Worse, and this is for the trade, the character is not even a financial guy. He is a rocket scientist, really.

The movie shows that except people who are low down the hierarchy, most higher ups don’t know or understand numbers. They all want to know things in “Plain English.” The topmost brass even says, “speak to me as if I’m a child or a dog.” (paraphrase mine) This is not bad. They demand to know things at its simplest. Contrast this with fools who give them money after listening to jargons. No doubt they are looked down with contempt.

The movie shows a business of buying and selling duds. Imagine circulating duds and reaping brokerage. And then one day they sell off all the duds. Imagine people who bought duds on that day which they can’t sell now. So, in a way, the company saved itself by using people under them to sell duds and then sacrificing the same people to protect the masters. No doubt, the people laid off got millions, but spare a thought for people who together paid billions but are then left holding the duds. This can be you.

The movie also shows how people tell truths and yet the underlying intention is bad. Like, one speaks truths to the other and then other turns around and lie to the rest. Why? Because, “he was pretty straightforward”, “I liked his openness”, “he spoke like he’s a genuine person”. Bullshit!

Truths are passed on. If someone tells truths but expects to lie to others in return, then that means, it’s a lie in the first place.

Share – Movie, Hotstar

A School girl has a night out with friends, gets punch drunk and later, finds herself prone on front lawn of her house. As she comes to her senses, she finds she can’t recall the interluding moments or able to explain several injuries to her body.

Next up, there are videos and text messages circulating within her faculty showing boys filming her as they try to uncloth her. The voices in the film are sexist and show their glee and mirth as they take advantage of her unconscious state.

The character Mandy, played by Rhianne Barreto, then goes into introspection where she tries to retrace and recall those fateful moments to find out, “what happened? and “who all did that?” Her supportive family then press charges on one who they think is prime but in the end the reality turns out to be something else.

The subject line is thin yet the treatment is interesting. There are no scenes of rape, or nudity in the movie. And no melodrama. No #metoo. The story is low tone and restrained. The idea is to get the viewers invested in Mandy’s predicaments as she goes through emotional turmoils of being defiled by her friends, humiliated online and later being told “it’s not a big deal.”

Also, the casting in the movie is very apt. It’s a mixed race parents, Poorna Padmanabhan is the mother and white father. Rhianne Barreto (Mandy) has Indian looks.

The story is intuitive which requires the main character to project emotions without speaking much and Rhianne Barreto has shouldered this. This twenty something actress needs a special mention.

Eye in the Sky-Movie,Amazon Prime

The finger is on the trigger. This will launch a missile from a Drone which will kill the occupants of a house in Kenya. But before the trigger is squeezed there are innumerable drama of permission taking, politics, ethics and morals. Together they show human fallacies. Every character has his fears and vested interests which manifests itself in their actions and decisions.

The movie is about covering oneself legally first and later, ethically and morally, before one takes a decision which will kill many. There are lots of rationalizations and attempts to explain the decisions. The movie shows quite convincingly the back-end game of passing-the-buck. Also the operational side of surveillance and drone attacks.

It’s an immensely watchable movie but I can’t spare the feeling that it’s a propaganda movie too.

There are three parties in this complication. The British, the Americans and the Kenyens. They are all located in their respective countries. The British interest is to kill individuals which they have identified as terrorists, the Americans own the drone and the missile and the controllers who fly the drone and pull the trigger, and finally the Kenyans, who do the “dirty” and “riskiest” work on ground in Kenya.

Except one Kenyan Character, all the three parties are in there respective cubicles or conference rooms. They are in front of multiple computer monitors, Laptops and large screen displays, in faraway sanitized environments. The armed drone which hunts terrorists in Kenya is controlled from a portacabin somewhere in the United States.

All the three parties arrive as if doing a Nine-to-Five job. And after the job is done, the parties pack their bags and leave for home as if duty is over. The dead and the dying are left to fend for themselves in faraway Kenya.

The actions are maintained tight as the scenes move from one country and character to another. The back and forths are sewn well into the story. Characters who settled for one decision a while ago, change or renege their position a while later. Characters take a stand on a rationale then call their higher ups “cowards” when the superior takes similar stand. There are multiple “Go-Aheads” and “Holdbacks” as stray issues deflect decisions.

And finally when there is all clear, go-ahead to kill, something else happens.

Mosul-Movie (2020), Netflix

There is a brief write up at the start of the movie to inform the context of the story. Thereafter the movie goes into the center of action right away. And stays there. Towards the end the action eases and the objective of the battles is revealed.

The movie uses lots of extreme close ups and medium shots. And the actors are professionals whose faces portray various emotions in different stages of battle; preparation of combat, awaiting combat, during combat, getting hit, watching others getting hit, getting killed, watching others getting killed, taking stock post combat, and rest and relaxation.

Also believably created, is the city of Mosul. Because the city is so well represented in its creation, the actions therein gets more highlighted. The camera is kept very mobile and moves with the troop, and as the viewer take in the actions they also take in the surrounding atmosphere.

Both, the set design and cinematography is excellent. You will feel you are on the streets, bylanes, terrace of houses of Mosul and death lurks all around.

Sand Storm-Movie, Netflix

An Arab-Israeli family with husband, wife, and four daughters, gets wife number two. The marriage arrangements are done by wife number one and two daughters. After a while, husband banishes wife number one and daughters are left to fend for themselves.

The school going Daughter number one has fallen in love with a boy of a different species. This is unacceptable to the father who just added a wife to his kitty. Tribal pride calls for marriage/s within same species. Father fixes a specimen. Daughter’s twists and turns and tantrums does not ward off the inevitable. Fixed is fixed.

The marriage happens. A fat specimen enters the honeymoon room and the daughter, now wife, complains of bad colour of the walls. Several suggestions are thrown. Nearing settlement, a voice calls out – NO. This is daughter number two looking through the window. The movie ends with daughter number one looking at daughter number two as if signalling her oncoming fate. The fat man continues to lurk in the background as if signalling the fate of all the girls.

The flow of the screenplay, camera work and the performance of all the actors are A-Grade. Notable mentions are mother and daughter one and two.

The Moth and the Mountain – Book Review

For the first time, humans reached the summit of Mt. Everest on 29th March 1953. This story is pretty well known. But twenty years earlier, in 1933, a Britisher came up with the unique idea to reach the summit of the Everest. His plan was:

He will fly from London to Everest, land on some high slope of the mountain and thereafter, climb the rest of the way to the summit. He almost made it.

Maurice Wilson, in 1933, was a 35 year old British First World War Infantry veteran. In order to achieve his goal, he took 19 hours flying lessons to get his licence. He then purchased a single engine Gypsy Moth, fitted an extra fuel tank to increase range to 750 Miles and was finally ready for a cross continent flight. His final destination airport – Mt. Everest.

With no communication radio and only a rudimentary on-board compass and primitive maps, and no entry permissions into enroute non-British airfields, the Britisher took off from London and started hopping his way towards India. But not without the British “Air Ministry” trying to stop his scatterbrained escapade.

From London he flew to Fribourg (Hitler’s Germany). Took off from Fribourg for Passau (then Germany, now Austria) but returned back to Fribourg because his heavy laden aircraft couldn’t clear the heights of Alps. Here, he made the first of his many plan changes displaying his focus and determination to get “Everest done.”

He changed his route. Fribourg-Marseille(France)-Pisa-Naples-Catania(all in Mussolini’s Italy)-Tunis(Tunisia,Africa). In Tunis he found no one to refuel. So he took off for Beserta, north of Tunis in search of fuel, but Beserta police locked him up in a jail. After half hour he was released and warned to get out of the city. With fuel dangerously low he flew back to Tunis. Disparately, he searched the airport and found some abandoned oil drums, the contents of which he put into his aircraft fuel tank.

With some dubious concoction in his fuel tank, he flew to Gabes, Tunisia. He took off from Gabes for Tripoli, but within a few miles his engine and aircraft started to rattle and shudder. He diverted back to Gabes and barely made it. He lost his engine at touch down. The engineer at Gabes diagnosed the failure as “water in the engine.”

Now topped up with reliable fuel he flew: Gabes-Tripoli-Benghazi-Tobruk-Cairo-Suez-Gaza-Bethlehem-Aman-Rutba-Baghdad. Beyond Baghdad was the Kingdom of Persia(now Iran) and he did not have any overflying permission to fly over or land in the territory. He needed a change of route.

To chart a new route he needed new maps. So he went searching in the Baghdad bazar and found an old school atlas. On this he charted his tracks: Baghdad-Shu’aiba(near Basrah)-Bahrain. When he reached Bahrain, the British “Air Ministry” finally caught up with him. He was told he cannot go further but fly back to London.

He asked for maps to chart his way back. He was shown a wall map and in that pre-xerox era he had to sketch it by hand on a piece of paper. But instead of plotting his return, he charted his route to Gwadar, a city close to Iran and India border near the Gulf of Oman. He calculated Bahrain to Gwadar distance as 740 Miles. His aircraft range was 750 Miles with extra tank.

But Bahrain official wouldn’t fuel till he gave declaration in writing that he will not fly towards India but fly back to London. He wrote the declaration, fuelled, took off from Bahrain, but instead of turning west, he went east, towards India. The Bahrain officials saw this and alerted the forward bases.

Maurice Wilson flew nine and half hours from Bahrain to Gwadar. On a single engine Gypsy Moth, in 1933, with no communication radio, with basic compass, with route sketched on plain paper, this is a feat. A small mistake and he could have been anywhere.

From Gwadar he flew to Karachi. He was finally in India. (Gwadar, at that time belonged to Oman.) In Karachi, the British “Air Ministry” official showed up again. He was warned not to overfly or enter the Kingdom of Nepal or the Kingdom of Sikkim or enter Tibet to reach Everest. (At that time, Tibet was a sovereign nation.)

But nothing would dissuade Maurice Wilson. He flew Karachi-Hyderabad (the other Hyderabad, now in Pakistan)-Jodhpur-Allahabad. By this time, the British administration had gone bonkers. At Allahabad he was downright refused fuel. Wilson then stole fuel but he left the money stuck on the hanger door. He flew out of Allahabad to Lal Balu (near Purnia, Bihar) and then to Maharaja of Darbhanga airfield at Purnia. Here Maurice Wilson’s fate was finally sealed, flying wise. His Gypsy Moth was impounded and placed under lock and key.

But more adventures remain. Maurice Wilson had 19 hours of flying lessons before he took to air for India. But he had no mountain climbing lessons.

Maurice Wilson only climbing experience was “a flight of stairs”. He was unequipped and unqualified for mountaineering. Out of his aircraft he was, quite literally, out of his wits.

By now out of money, he sold his airplane and proceeded to Darjeeling, the usual starting point for trek to Everest. The spies of the British Empire were also moving with him. Helped by three hired sherpas, he managed to escape Darjeeling unnoticed, disguised as Tibetan Monk. They trekked via Sikkim and Tibet to the foothills of the Everest.

Maurice Wilson planned to celebrate his 36th birthday on 21st April 1934 on the summit of the Everest. But this was not to be. Till 31st May, he made three attempts to summit. All solo. Then he did not return.

In the following year, 1935, a British expedition to Everest found the body of Maurice Wilson. Quite significantly, one member of this expedition was Sherpa Tenzin Norgay.

Flying and climbing are the extrinsic parts of this story. The book actually delves deeper into the making of Maurice Wilson, both physically and psychologically. Also spiritually. How those times of war, how his own experience in the war, the period of Great Depression effecting his livelihood, his relationship with his father, mother, brothers, wives, girlfriends; how these intrinsic things, all culminated to create the man that he became. By the time Maurice Wilson is climbing and stumbling at the heights of Twenty Thousand feet on the Everest, the reader knows who he is. Morbidly, the reader also knows what will become of him.

Maurice Wilson had left London for Everest without informing his mother. All his letters were addressed to his “flame”. All his diary entries mentioned his love. But, in a very poignant moment, on the heights of Everest, when Maurice Wilson is moving from delirium towards death, he made diary entries remembering his mother.

“I am a fool, who with his longing for love and tenderness runs up cold mountains.” ~ Reinhold Messner, The Crystal Horizon