Archive for November, 2008

The Global Fire

Disclaimer: My intention was to post on a topic directly concerned with graduate school, however tragic events occurring at the time of posting have conscientiously forced me to publish something more apt. At the same time, I believe that my current geographic location, resulting from my choice of pursuant degree and thereby vocation, contribute greatly to my below expressed opinions.

I woke up today, morning of thanksgiving eve, and went online with two intentions. First was to make my long overdue post about the importance of time management in grad school, and second to look up recipes for the thanksgiving dinner I intend to prepare for my friends & family tomorrow.

As I search through recipes for a vegetarian gravy, I receive an instant message froma friend in Bombay

“bombay under attack……………Commandos storm Oberoi and Taj hotel……bomb blasts in parle and santacruz, firing outside leo polds, cama hospital”

Almost simultaneously I turn on the TV, go to CNN.com ( my dad always told me their international coverage was the best), and dial home. The first two sources have nothing to report about the situation, my sister’s cell phone is ringing…… 4th ring, she answers, she’s home, everyone is fine. A little relief….yet the anxiety persists.

Next I call friends, everyone is fine. They were at a bar celebrating a mate’s birthday when news of the terror attacks started circulating. Thankfully, they abandoned celebrations and headed to a nearby friends house to take cover. I say ‘take cover’ because 6 hours later as I am typing this, the attack continues. I read this at  CNN.com

“…gunmen have taken over the Taj Mahal Hotel and Hotel Oberoi, and were holding hostages on multiple floors.

Earlier, A.N. Roy, the police chief of Maharashtra state, said his force was still involved with suspected militants at the two five-star hotels.

IBN reported ongoing gun battles at both hotels. At least two explosions were reported at the Taj.

One witness told local reporters gunmen had tried to find people with U.S. or British passports.

The two hotels mentioned above are apparently still under siege and  ‘terrorist’ have taken hostages.”

At times like this its hard being away from loved ones. For now, I know my family & friends are safe.. as for my city, my country, this planet…. about them I am not so sure. I realize  though, that this is all part of reason why I am pursuing a US degree in public service and not a more sought after and lucrative MBA.

My mind’s a bit of a mess right now, so forgive me if I am not completely cohesive. When such incidents occur I am reminded of how much work we have to do. By ‘we’ I mean human beings and by ‘incidents’, I mean globally occurring acts of aggression, spurned from actions of inequality and injustice. Actions, thought seemingly distant and insignificant by some, yet bearing consequentially detrimental outcomes for all .

I am giving serious thought to our ‘war on terrorism‘ not solely in Afghanistan and Iraq but in any national that is ‘fighting the terrorists threats’.  I ponder a few questions –  When we wage one to stop another, who really wins?

We may say we need to fight fire with fire but really isn’t it water that ultimately douses the flames?

For now though it back to my Financial Management Homework. Thanks for reading!


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I alluded in my first post to the wonders of confronting Excel as a former English major.  Believe it or not I wrestled with how much of that confrontation to discuss here, because There is No Crying In Baseball, and also because like Sarah Palin, I know what I know what I do not know what I—oh bother.

As a blogging team, we share membership in one of the required courses at Milano, called “Making a Difference”, which brings together students from all programs.  We’re in different sections, but we have that common reference to our work.  However, from there as a policy student our similarities end.

My other course this term (my part-time schedule includes two) is Policy Analysis, the first course towards my MS in Urban Policy Analysis and Management.  First up was a tour of the rational model, and (here I’m really zipping ahead) subsequently we’ve been dealing with all sorts of Excel-ent focused work in cost-benefit analysis. 

I could lie here, but how could I to you, dear internets??  I hit the wall.  Blammo!  If you’ve ever had the experience as a student of leaving a class session feeling that you’ve understood the concepts, you feel somewhat ready to tackle a project, only to spend the next few hours (or days) staring bleary-eyed at your computer wondering where it went wrong, then you understand what the last few weeks were like for me.  It’s driven me to distraction.  I spent hours playing with Excel, manipulating numbers here and there, only to end up with results that seemed a) Really Wrong, and b) unknowing of how to fix them.    I had gone to sessions offered by our helpful (and they really are) teaching assistants, again felt like “aha!  GOT IT!” and within 36 hours felt I had cycled right back to confusion.

It’s not just that on a superficial level I have not worked with economic analysis before, it’s that my mind is literally not trained to think that way.  Give me a stack (or a nexus) of theoretical concepts with a dash of brain-busting philosophy sprinkled on like parmesan (mmm, cheese!) and I am a happy, hardworking camper.  Give me a policy problem that asks for a financial comparison, and I want to help, truly I do, but thusfar I am still working on being useful in that regard.

One of the hard things about grad school is that you are confronted daily with all of the things you do not know–perhaps not literally daily, but certainly often enough–and one of the challenges becomes how to integrate that into your outlook without allowing it to overcome you.  If you are, like me, a student entering a graduate program that is a field (or 10) away from your “comfort zone”, reminding yourself as often as possible that you are trying something new, and to be kind to yourself, becomes imperative.  Some days I am better at that than others.

I am hoping that very soon I will have a professional “day job” context in which to experience the other, real-world side of my education.  One of the reasons that challenging moments in study become overwhelming for me right now is that, frankly, I am not in any other worlds against which to compare, to consider, to contextualize myself and my nascent professional capabilities.

I don’t want to jinx that “very soon” by saying more, so let’s move on, shall we?


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So I have this bracelet. It’s not one of those rubber yellow ones, or a white one, or one of the military ones that the candidates held up during the debates. It may sound a little silly, but I look at this bracelet every day. I guess to be more precise, I look at what is inscribed on the underside of the silver cuff that my mother gave me as a gift.

It reads, “Be the change you wish to see in the world. – Gandhi “

Every day before leaving my apartment I read this and slip on the small, shiny bracelet before I head off to classes in my Nonprofit Management program. Not only does it remind me of family and the support I have from my mom, (that’s important when you head back to school too!) but it reminds of why I am even here, pursuing a career in public service.

It’s easy for students to get caught up in midterms, 10 page papers, textbook readings, class registration, finals and lectures. That’s why we’re here after all! But we are also here to represent something bigger than ourselves. It is important for us to stay involved and active in the kinds of differences we want to make in the world. Whether you want to be a city manager, a school administrator, a campaign advisor or a social worker, it is not only important, but it is refreshing to BE that change.

Over the past few weeks I have had the chance to engage in some voter advocacy for the presidential election by canvassing and phonebanking for my chosen candidate. It was not only fun and moving, but I was able to meet and talk with the kinds of people whose lives I want to help make a difference in. Volunteering is a great way to embody the ideals that we are learning in the classroom, and I encourage everyone to get out there and do whatever it is that inspires you!

Tomorrow Americans will have a very simple (yet very crucial) chance to voice their opinion and to take action. VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! Be that change you wish to see in the world!

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Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world, indeed it’s the only thing that ever has…

These are the words of American Cultural Anthropologist, Margaret Mead. On the eve of the US election I share with you a personal story that constantly fortifies my conviction that no matter how small or insignificant we think our actions to be they usually have an impact more far reaching that we ever imagined. Changing the World really does not have to be as hard you think! As dramatic as  it sounds, on November 4th, 2008 US citizens will all wake up with Special Superhero Powers. Superhero friends, I urge you to use your powers to change the world. Vote. It’s really that simple.

Sleeping with Snakes

At a relatively young age social and civic engagement, became an integral part of my development. I was born and raised in Bombay, the world’s second largest city (17 million people), also home to Asia’s largest slum (Dharavi). Growing up, it was hard to conscientiously escape the impacts of  blatant social and economic disparity which surrounding me. By age 12, I learnt that children much younger than me were suffering and even dieing making firecrackers, which on countless occasions, I had so fondly set ablaze. Children were literally dieing just to make me happy. Around the same time, I was exposed to the cruel world of wildlife trafficking. Restlessness foreced me to act on this newly acquired knowledge. The action came in the form of boycott and volunteerism. It was the experiences I had while volunteering with wildlife rescue and rehabilitation efforts which made me realize that  change begins with me.

Twice a year in India, during the months of February and July, thousands of Lord Shiva’s devotees flock to the temples to pray to the mighty God of destruction. Blessings are sought by ritualistic feeding of milk to snakes (usually Spectacled Cobras). How do you feed a  snake milk you ask? ‘People with snakes in baskets’ sit outside these temples and collect money in exchange for feeding their snake milk. You might think these ‘people’ to be snake charmers, and you would be wrong. After rescuing and rehabilitating over 200 snakes, let me assure you that serpents are practically impossible to ‘charm’. Sorry to burst your bubble, but snake charmers are a misnomer if I were knew one. Now, back to the story. If you know one thing about snakes its that they are reptiles, and if you can recollect 7th grade biology you will remember that reptiles are cold-blooded, egg-laying carnivores……. that do not consume milk!!! According to the Indian Wildlife Protection act possession of a domestic species of wildlife is illegal. This makes the snake feeding ritual not only inhumane but also illegal.

So why then would people indulge in such activities? The answer is a mix of traditional superstition and factual ignorance. Two important notes; 1) A majority of the demographic who indulge in snake milk-feeding rituals come from low income backgrounds, often times these are immigrants who move to the city in search of a better life.  2) India looses over 20% of it food grains to rodents and pests. Rodent populations that would normally be kept in check by predators such as snakes balloon to uncontrollable sizes because snakes are taken out of their natural habitat, brought to the cities to be feed milk by people who believe that the act will bring food to their plates. This may sound excessively simplified (and so some extent it is) but the reality is that lesser snakes in the city means fewer rodents nears farms and granaries, which translates to more food for the masses.

In the mid 90’s, I use to volunteer with a small, yet highly motivated wildlife rescue and rehab organization. The feeding of milk to snakes was an issue which we knew if approached in a police-like approach of Confrontation and Confiscation would not yield lasting results. People had to be made aware about the consequences of their action. Our plan was simple; go to the temples, boisterously talk about the situation, confiscate the snakes, and set them free after tending to their wounds (we’ll save the process for another time). Resources for our first campaign (July 1997) consisted 8 volunteers, a 4-seater hatchback, a rainy day and a city of 17 million. Not the greatest odds but yet we managed to rescue over 150 snakes that day. Two years later we had over 40 volunteers, broken out into strategically located teams, each with its own vehicle and a total catch of 7 cobras.

In conclusion I have to say Making a Difference is not as difficult as it might initially seem, it usually a lot harder, but stay persistent will pay off. Just ask the Snakes.

P.S.: That last campaign ended late, so the 7 cobra’s came home with me and spent the night in my bedroom (in their baskets ofcourse), hence the title.

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