Sunday, December 23, 2018

God will take care...

Not written a post for long, in spite of having many topics to write.  This short post is something that I noticed in my daughter Pratibha some time back.

About month and half back my mother passed away.  My mother and daughter are very attached to each other.  Mother was almost in a semi-coma state for about 3 weeks at home.  She was responding at times.  Every day morning Pratibha used to kiss her grandma on her forehead and tell her "I love you Ollamma" and give her water etc.  Also after returning from work, first she will go to grandma's bed and kiss her and say "I love you Ollamma". She also use to sit by her side and spend some time.

Pratibha was at work, when my mother passed away.  Her mentor brought her home, and to our surprise Pratibha refused to go near grandma's body.  Even she was very reluctant to be part of some rituals to the body, with no emotions.  When we asked why, her answer was "Now Ollamma went to God. When Ollamma was here we took care of her.  Now God will take care of Ollamma", implying that we don't need to do anything now.  She did not have any tears in her eyes.   To all queries, she kept saying "Why to worry, as Ollamma went to God".  For her 'death' means 'Going to God in response to God's call'. Period.

Many people called us after my mother's death and almost all of them had two questions: (1) How my father is coping with the situation (after 70 years of being together), and (2) How did Pratibha take it, and reacting to the situation?  Pratibha is cool, and for her life goes on as usual. 

After some time she started feeling "her Ollamma not being there at home". She kept saying once in a while "Now I feel no one is at home and I'm missing Ollamma"..  It was an expression of her feeling of missing her dear Grandma, and not any worry. 

We the so called 'normal' people become very emotional and keep worrying in spite of having 'belief in God'.. But for Pratibha, her "belief in God" is 'real' and she is sure 'God is taking care of her Ollamma", and not worrying at all. 

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Guru Purnima - A day to remember Gurus...

For last couple of years, wanted to write a post on Guru Purnima day.  But couldn’t do.   Guru Purnima was yesterday.  Attempted a post today, and here it is.

When I look back, I have many gurus in life.  My first guru? Yes, one Madhavan Asaan, my first formal teacher. We sit on a floor made of stone pebbles and filled with sand and a surface done with cow dung solution, some sand in front of us and the teacher holds our index finger and make us write in the sand.  It was called 'Kalari'.  Whatever we learnt on a day, the teacher would write on a palm leaf and give us to take home.  Every day we carry the palm leaf (with a knot at one end) for the class. May be an year to year and half I went to the ‘Kalari’.. That was our nursery, LKG, UKG etc..  We have never heard these terms then.. Remembering Madhavan Asaan, my first formal Guru..

Then to schools and colleges.. Came across many teachers.. Forgot many, vaguely remember many.. and still recollect quite a few because of their teaching and affection towards students.  Still in touch with many teachers, whom I consider as Gurus, and have added value to my life.. One teacher whom I can not forget is Prof C S Krisnamoorthy of IIT Madras.. He has taught me, we have taught courses together; he has guided me for my Phd, we together have guided students for masters and PhD; and we have co-authored books together.  He has contributed the maximum for what I am today, who unfortunately passed away in a road accident many years back.  Remembering him at this moment. 

I was initiated to Hindustani music by Smt Jyoti Ghosh on Sitar and Shri Govind Gosavi sir on Bansuri, and currently continuing the journey with Shri Himanshu Nanda on Bansuri.  With Himanshuji I have a completely different relationship, much more than a Guru and Shishya.  Learning a lot from him and doing some interesting research work together.  My Pranams to Himanshuji.

On spiritual front, I have learnt from many Gurus. May not be one-on-one, but by reading their books. But one Guru stands out is Swami Chinmayananda, with whom I have interacted personally and learnt a lot. Swami Chinmayananda has sowed the seeds of spirituality in me. Value systems of my life are derived from them. Today my humble pranams to Swamiji on this occasion of Guru Purnima.  

Everyday we learn, every moment we learn, that too from many people around.  If I look at past few years, the max I learnt about life is from one person, none other than my daughter Pratibha. 

These days many of us keep getting too many advises  in media such as WhatsApp and Facebook, mostly forwarded by friends and relatives.  I am sure quite a few of those who have forwarded them does not practice what is written in the forwarded advises.  But just blindly forwards to others. Isn’t it a deceit, cheating self?  Pratibha, my daughter can’t read and comprehend any such messages.  But the way she runs her life, is as pronounced in many of those ‘forwards’.   

Some examples:
  • She says “No” where she has to; no difficulty at all.. I am trying to learn that trick from her..
  • She doesn’t bother what others speak about her, she does what makes her happy… We tend to become conscious; also do things to satisfy others / society.. 
  • Her prayers are sincere, when someone prays telling something and does different, she questions..
  • She has many differences in opinion with many at home and outside; that doesn’t affect her love towards them.. Are most of us that way?
  • She never judges people..  Many times we tend to judge people a bit too early..
  • Her love towards anybody is unconditional.. Can we say so with our love towards others?
  • She is so dedicated towards her work.. For her ‘work first’ and ‘all others next’.. Many can emulate this from her..
  • Work doesn’t make her tired, but sitting idle yes.. 

I have been learning such lessons of life from Pratibha for many years.  The lessons are not ‘told’ (or forwarded), but ‘practiced and demonstrated’ every day.  She influenced me in changing my outlook towards life.  Not just mine, but most of my family member’s. 

Well, not extending.. Pranams to all my gurus on this auspicious occasion of Guru Purnima and thanks and blessings to many, who have sent me messages seeking blessings!

श्री गुरुभ्यो नमः

Friday, July 6, 2018

Little Pleasures From the Past

Today my day started on a very high note.  My dear friend Jacob, Professor at Georgia Tech University at Atlanta, USA sent me some info, which made my day; not just a day, but many days.  The info was regarding the publications on my research work (part of my PhD program), that I did many many years back, when I was at IIT, Madras. 

The essence of my PhD work was published in the form of two papers in the most coveted journal for Structural Engineering, viz., Journal of Structural Engineering, from American Society of Civil Engineers.  In three to four years of those papers were published, I left IIT and forgot all about that.  

This morning my friend sends me a piece of info that he stumbled up on that indicates that the papers that I wrote based on my PhD work are well referenced and well-cited, even today, i.e., after almost 25 years of their publication.  What else do I need to feel delighted!!   In research field, number of quality citations of published papers are considered to be the supreme measure, that reflects the quality of the research work.  So, I thought let me flaunt it.

Within the general IIT community, I didn’t get much appreciation or support for my work, except from my guide and couple of professors.  Different opinions I heard were: "I should have chosen mathematical algorithms to solve the problem", "My focus is not in solving the problem, but the tool I chose", "Findings of my research will not have any mathematical underpinning" etc. etc.  In those days there was a general perception among many that a PhD thesis from IIT should have many complex and lengthy mathematical formulae in it.  Mine didn't have any.

But, I received good reviews from my PhD examiners and those reviewed the papers for the journal.  My PhD work was on the topic "Genetic Algorithms based Methodologies for Optimization of Discrete Structures".  My thesis did not have many complex mathematical equations.  More than Mathematics, I chose Algorithms from Computer Science, especially from the Artificial Intelligence (AI) family to solve Structural Engineering problems, which was looked at with considerable skepticism by quite a few.  I happened to listen to a lecture by Prof David Goldberg (A Professor at the University of Alabama) on 'Genetic Algorithms' at the Carnegie Melon University (CMU), USA in 1988.  I was at Carnegie Melon University at that time to work on exploring Artificial Intelligence to solve design problems.  The lecture made me think deeper on the problem I chose for my research work, and resulted in me deciding to go the Computer Science way rather than the traditional mathematical way.  And I chose Genetic Algorithms to solve structural engineering design problems for my PhD.   Possibly the potential that I saw in AI at CMU might have influenced my thinking.

I knew, it was bit early to work in an emerging field, especially when access to computers and computing power were highly limited, and there is a risk associated with it.  The IBM mainframe computer we used at that time at IIT had 512 KB of RAM, and a VAX-11 730 computer in our lab had 1 MB RAM.  I had the privilege of working on Apollo and Sun workstations for my PhD work, which had about 2 MB RAM; a luxury indeed!  My laptop has 8 GB RAM today.  Each run of my computer program used to take about 4 to 6 hours; some complex ones went beyond 12 hours. Though Artificial Intelligence concepts and techniques were well known during those days, the computing power required to run the AI programs was not there.  So it was a big risk that I took to venture into AI algorithms at that time.

In addition to doing research to get a PhD, I wanted to do quality research work.  I did get PhD for the work, but was not sure about the quality of my work.  Today my friend sends me some insights that reflects quality of my research work, done 25+ years back!

As per “Web of Science” report, my two papers together were cited by other researchers 490 times! Wow!!!!.   Maximum citations (32 times) was in the year 2013, 20+ years after the papers got published.  In general, the average citations for any good publication in similar topic in engineering seems to be around 10 - 15 (I was told so), and an average of 245 gives me goosebumps!  Here's a snapshot of "Web of Science" report.

In initial years, citations were less and it grew as years passed, indicating that my research work was well ahead of its time. 

As per the Library of American Society of Civil Engineers, my paper was downloaded 1374 times, which is a good number.

This info from my friend Prof Jacob led to mixed emotions in me.  Absolute delight, because of the assertion that the research work I did as part of my PhD work is of superior quality.  Immense sense of satisfaction to know that even after 20+ years, researchers still find value in my work.  And a bit of sorrow/ worry somewhere in a corner of my mind, that I didn't get to continue a career in research / academics, which I feel is best suited for me.  BTW, my wife realized this, and she used to tell me often to find ways to get back to my research and academics!  

Now, I am getting back to research, not in engineering, but in Music and Autism.

I would like to dedicate this post to my guru Prof CS Krishnamoorthy (fondly called CSK) of IIT Madras, who was a friend, philosopher and guide for me at IIT, without his guidance, my academic work and PhD work would not have been possible.  Me and Prof CSK have co-authored two books, one is on currently hyped topic "Artificial Intelligence". 

Such days are very very rare in life.. So thought of sharing my joy...

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Rising up to Challenge and Change

Changes are always difficult to face and manage.   Changes can be extremely stressful for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).   This post is about the way our daughter Pratibha responded to a major change at home.  

All of a sudden, we decided that my wife be in my son’s place for about 5 months.  When the pillar of 'the home' moves out for a while, a huge vacuum is created, and each member responds differently.  We knew that the impact of that decision in our daily life is going to be huge.  Daily routines of everyone at home is going to change, and not sure of the Impact on our daughter Pratibha.  This is the first time she is going to live with mother away for this long.  Pratibha needs mother for anything and everything.  So, was a bit worried on how are we going to manage this.  As both me and Pratibha has passion for cooking and household tasks, I thought we will together get into managing the affairs of the house. 

The very first day morning Pratibha asked me what all we need to cook for the day.  First thing in the morning, we together decide the menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  For last few years Pratibha used to make tea for all of us and then leave the kitchen to her mother for the rest of the day; of course, barges into the kitchen again to make evening tea.  Now she “took charge” of the house, as “woman of the house”, and proactively started getting into the chores right away, without compromising on her daily activities such as practicing Sitar, solving puzzles (word hunting and sudoku) from news paper, and helping grandfather in daily puja morning and evening.    

As she kept forgetting the menu we decided in the morning, she started writing down the menu.  Here’s a typical menu she wrote. 

Both me and my wife are not that organised in these matters. Pratibha always tries to be organised.   Whenever she goes for shopping with me or my wife, she always make sure that she makes a list, resulting in no misses.  On the contrary, I always use to forget one or two items in every shopping.  After couple of days, she went one step ahead and started making todo list for the whole day.  Every day after dinner she sits with me and makes todo list for the next day.   Here’s a typical todo list she made.

As far as cooking is concerned, she completes cooking of the lunch, that include rice, a dal / sambar and a vegetable Subji in the morning itself and gets idli into the steamer, all in about an hours time.  Also will prepare sambar or chutney to be used as a side dish for breakfast.   My sister ensures that we have enough batter for dosa / idli in our fridge.

One difficulty is, once a routine is set, she will stick to it, and almost impossible to change it.. Typical of Autism!

Our fear on how she will manage with ‘mother being away’ became completely misplaced…  She kept telling “I miss Amma” few times a day.  But she ensured that, the feeling did not come in her way of running the house.  Whenever she gets into the feeling of ‘missing Amma’, I observed Pratibha speaking to herself to get back on track.  She used to tell herself “I am big. I have to take care grand parents and father”.  She would tell this few times to herself, possibly to get rid of the ‘missing’ feeling and gain strength.  A big lesson for us to learn.  

When she completes her work in Arpan and starts back, she calls me to check the status of things at home; whether grand parents had lunch properly, whether the maid came and did her job well, and what all we need to buy in our evening shopping etc. etc. She want to be on top of everything!

Different activities that Pratibha does every day is captured in few picture collages.  Here they are:

Some of the biggest worries of parents of children with intellectual disabilities such as Autism, Down Syndrome and MR are: ‘Can our child become independent?’, ‘Can our child acquire basic skills required for living?’, ‘How will the child manage after us?’.. In order to achieve all these, the children have to acquire the basic living skills, be functionally independent as much as possible, and get integrated into the society. It's not that easy.  By looking at the way Pratibha is conducting herself and managing the 'big change', we not only feel confident, but also feel very proud of her.  

Yes, we have come a long way.  From almost a non-verbal state 20 years back, Pratibha transformed into fairly independent today with high social interaction, sense of responsibility and urge to achieve.  

I am sure the training that Pratibha received at Arpan is immensely helping her in her present day to day tasks.

We feel, Pratibha took the 'change' as an 'opportunity' and managing it exceptionally well.  When the neuro-typical ones tend to find excuses and generally try to evade changes, very happy to see the 'special' one taking the change head-on, and managing it very well.  What else the parents need!

We should respect and accept their ('special' persons') views and ways of doing, if it is not harming anyone.  They are capable of doing many things; let them do with patience and love, in their own way.  We need to appreciate them for everything.  With that, we are sure, they will bloom and prepare themselves to be included in the society.  That is the lesson we learned from Pratibha.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Grand Feeling

It was 2:30 in the morning.  Comes the message from my son “We are extremely blessed and absolutely delighted to announce the arrival of our daughter….. “ .  There was eruption of joy.  My aged parents too were waiting for this news.  My daughter kept on asking every now and then in the night regarding any message from her brother.  She too was jumping with joy.  I was not sure what’s the feeling that made her jump in joy.  Her becoming an aunt? Getting a new member at home?  Whatever it be, it was a “Grand Feeling” for all of us.  Heart suddenly filled with moments of gladness and delight. 

Yes, ‘Grand Feeling’.. Me, my wife and my daughter in law’s parents became ‘grand’ parents.  Just like us, it’s first experience for them too.  My mother-in-law got promoted to “great grand mother”.  Though my parents are already great grand parents, this was very special for them as the baby is in the Kamath clan itself. 

I was closely observing the way my son and daughter-in-law were experiencing the pregnancy.  Away from us.  Doing everything by themselves, the way they want.  No pressure of any do’s and don’ts from anybody.  I’m sure, they enjoyed it to the fullest.

It took quite bit of time to sink in the ‘grand’ feeling.  My mind went back many years.  Days I spent with my ‘grand’ father, who was my friend, philosopher, guide and role model, during early years of my life.  I use to hang around holding his hand wherever he goes. Being with him was my first ‘grand’ feeling.  I imbibed ‘the values’ of my life from him.  Many many instances of me with my grandfather flash-backed in my mind, a unique bond, that can’t be expressed in words.

Now I’ve reached the other end in my life.  I’m grandfather to a new born.  Mind traversed through many instances of ‘those’ days and landed at present.  The ‘grand feeling’ multiplied many folds, when I took the baby in my hands.  Both my wife and daughter on my side, son and daughter-in-law in front, and the baby in my hands; I felt the miracle of her charms.  Tender feelings are hard to express. I realized what a long life is for.  

Mind started flying form present to future. Baby’s growth started flashing - crawling, standing, walking, running, speaking and all other expressions.  What I'm dreaming is a ‘grand’ bond between us - the grand father and the grand daughter - a bond that is built on trust, a bond that gives her comfort, and a bond that makes her lean on me.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

An Odyssey to NishChinta

The KILA was different for two days.  It was bubbling with all possible emotions in humans.  There was joy, laughter, cry, anger, despair, delight and what not.  The pure souls labelled as “Special” were criss-crossing all over KILA, with their parents.  We, the parents of those pure souls have gathered at KILA for reinforcing our resolve to give them a better life, even after we are no more.  

It was annual get together of families of NishChinta at Thrissur, organised at KILA, a sprawling green campus of ‘Kerala Institute of Local Administration’.  For those who don’t know about NishChinta:  NishChinta is a project by parents of intellectually challenged children. It aims at building a village where 100 parents together are going to live and take care of 100 children.  It primarily addresses the most daunting question in every parent’s mind “What after us?”.

We were the first family to check-in at KILA.  Myself, my wife Asha and daughter Pratibha.  Hats off to Mr. Ajit, who has been personally following up and sending messages to ensure that we don’t face any problem at KILA, while checking in, and we get comfortable accommodation.  Yes, we did not face any problems.  As the families would start coming only in the evening, we decided to visit the NishChinta project site.  It was our first visit to the village together.  As we will be spending next phase of our life at NishChinta village, this visit was very important for us.  As Pratibha grew up in Mumbai, we were not sure how she is going to react.  The trip to NishChinta village from Thrissur was very refreshing. Hopping on two buses and the last mile on an auto through interior village roads.  Pratibha loved the bus journey, though it was bit hot outside.

We spent about an hour at NishChinta village.  Saw progress of the construction work of NACALS (NAtional Centre for Assisted Living and Skill development), core of NishChinta, and the houses that are coming up.  We felt Pratibha did not show any uncomfort to be in the village environment.  She picked up few mangos that fell down from the mango tree and was watching plants, trees and paddy fields.   She also curiously played with the ‘touch me not’ (തൊട്ടാവാടി) plant, watching the leaves folding when she touched.  Thanks to Mr Venkat, who helped us remotely for the visit.

Back to KILA and we found families arriving and checking-in.  Met few families and children.  The “special” ones and siblings too.  Spoke to few parents and and also interacted with few children.  Each family is different.  Dinner time was a great time for more interactions. Pratibha was going from table to table and was talking to many people by herself.  Made friendship with siblings, and parents.   It will take time for bonding.  But the process has started.   

I had a very intellectually stimulating discussion with Narayanan Sir, the president of NishChinta Society.  Another parent Prof Sunny Joseph also joined the chat.  All three of us being from academic field, our wavelengths matched.  The discussion was all about a framework that we need to come up for the infrastructure of NACALS.  The discussion helped me to fine tune my presentation for the next day.   

The second day was mostly attending presentations.  The first one by KILA faculty, on rights of differently abled persons and the processes that local governments follow, was an eye opener for me.  The second one, by an Ayurvedic doctor, from the famous Kottakkal Ayurveda College was informative.  Third presentation was mine.  I presented a framework that encompass training, therapy, vocational activities and other infrastructure and assistive technology requirements for us to implement at NishChinta.  I presented the document that we (a sub-committee) prepared on this.  As a presenter I was satisfied as there were quite a few questions, comments and suggestions from the audience.

The evening get together was fun.  The families introduced themselves.  Many of our children presented songs.  I was very happy to see the musical talent in NishChinta children.  Ideas started flowing in my mind on creating NishChinta music group and making the group perform all over.  Yes, it is a dream, and I’m sure we have to work towards realising our dreams.  During the presentations, we could see many typical behaviours from some of our children.  Someone came all of a sudden gave a hug.  Another child went round making things perfect and tidy.  The person sitting near me had a button of his shirt open.  This child quietly came and buttoned it and went!  Another boy started introducing himself and his mother.  Many such things made the ambience informal and interesting.

As we had to attend a family function on the third day, we left early, and missed the most important meeting and opportunity for interaction.  Overall, the get together gave us many moments to remember.. some are touching.. some are hilarious.. some are a bit worrying and painful,..and some are fun.. We got to know many NishChinta families, parents and children.. We consider it as a beginning of a new chapter in our lives. beginning of next phase of our lives..  At the end, our daughter Pratibha felt happy with her new friends.  We felt, she would get along in NishChinta, with her new friends, uncles and aunties.  Still it is going to be a big challenge not just for us, but for all the parents.  

We would like to take this opportunity to record our gratitude to the founding thought leaders of NishChinta, who came up with the idea, faced many hardships in identifying the location for the project, and sowing the seed.  We also want to thank the Executive Committee of NishChinta for providing the continued leadership that they provide in realising the dream.  We know it is not an easy task, especially raising money and doing all the legal, statutory and procedural requirements, and getting work done.  Yes, still a long way to go.  We would like to also congratulate and place on record our gratitude to those who were behind organising the KILA event, especially Ajit and Venkat.  We should also consider that all the EC members are also special parents.  Let us help the executive committee as much as we can, and whatever way we can, as that alone can lead to successful realisation of our collective dream “NishChinta”.  

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Good Morning Cards of April...

I continued creation of Good Morning cards in the month of April too.  The theme I chose for April was "Autism", as April is Autism Awareness Month.  Tried to capture different aspects, considerations and thoughts around Autism and tried to depict them in the cards.  Most of the messages were anonymous and took from different sources.  Some of the images to create the cards were taken from the public images in internet.  I have tried to acknowledge the authors for messages wherever I could find the authorship.

Every day I was sharing the 'card of the day' in a group of families of persons with intellectual disabilities. 

Here are the April cards.