10 Years Ago [en]

[fr] Il y a dix ans, le 9 septembre 2011.

10 years ago I was in Rishikesh with other Hindi students. The internet connection was really bad, and I saw a post on Dave Linabury’s blog about the attacks. I didn’t know whether to believe it or not.

I went down to the hotel rooms, a bit shaken, to see if the woman from our party with a radio could tell me anything. She was thinking it was a horrible hoax when I arrived, and it took us less than 10 words between the two of us to realize it was for real.

It was the evening in India. We huddled in a hotel room with a TV to follow the news. I remember thinking very hard (it would have been praying if I prayed) “I hope Bush doesn’t do something really stupid like invade Afghanistan”.

Eat, Pray, Love: Damn You, Elizabeth Gilbert [en]

[fr] J'ai aimé Eat, Pray, Love plus que ce à quoi je m'attendais. Le trip "spiritualité indienne sauce occidentale", je m'en passerais, mais il y a plein de bonnes choses -- outre l'écriture, que j'aime beaucoup. Pour plus de détails... lire l'article complet en anglais!

Damn you, Liz Gilbert. I didn’t want to like your book, but I did. I even like you (well, the narrator you). Yeah, of course I can relate: 30-something heartbroken woman finds peace and love. Which single woman in her mid-thirties wouldn’t?

It annoys me, though, that you found them through faith, because I can’t do that.

I don’t doubt that you had a life-changing experience. I’m not either against religious or spiritual paths journeys per se, as long as they actually serve to grow us as human beings. But like the friends you mention near the end of your India book, I *cannot* believe anymore — believing there is a God or some other power, personal or not, is too incompatible with my worldview. A part of me would *like* to believe, so that I could find the peace you found. But I’d be faking it, right? Because another part of me is *certain* that there is nothing up there — or in there, aside from ourselves.

Bangalore 016 Gandhi Bazaar.jpgTo your credit, you do not proselytize, nor try to tell us that your way is The Only Way, and that we should all be doing it too. You bear witness of your own personal path, which involved a spiritual adventure in an ashram in India. I can appreciate that. But I have trouble relating to that aspect of your journey. (There is the Siddha Yoga issue too, which bothers me, but that I won’t delve into here.)

Also, whether you want it or not, your spiritual journey is coloured by a very specific — and modern — Indian school of thought (and by that, I don’t just mean Siddha Yoga). You acknowledge that, but in some respects you are blind to it, for example when you serve us truths about Indian spirituality or religions in general — you are talking from the inside of a specific religious tradition, not giving us access some kind of general truth. It’s a mistake many make, and I guess I can forgive you for it.

I personally believe that our conversations with God are conversations with ourselves. I believe we are much bigger than we think, and probably much bigger than we can ever know. And I say this not in a “mystical” or “magical” or “supernatural” sense, but in a psychological one. So for me, any religious or spiritual path is no more than a path within and with ourselves, using an exterior force or entity (“God”, “energy”) as a metaphorical proxy for parts or aspects of ourselves which are not readily available to our consciousness. Yes, it’s sometimes a bit complicated to follow for me too.

So what I can relate to, clearly, are your conversations with yourself in your notebook. I know I am a good friend. I’m loyal. I can love to bits. If I open the floodgates, I can love more than is possibly imaginable — just like you say of yourself. But I do not let myself be the beneficiary of so much love and care. “To love oneself,” not in a narcissistic way, but as a good friend or a good parent would. I know this is something I need to work on, I knew it before reading Eat, Pray, Love, but your journey serves as a reminder to me. It’s also reminding me that meditation (even when it’s not a search for God or done as religious practice) has benefits — and that I could use them.

So, thank you, Liz Gilbert. We may differ in our spiritual and life aspirations, but your journey has touched me, and inspired me. I didn’t expect it to. Thank you for the nice surprise. And damn you, because now I can’t look down quite so smugly anymore on those who rave about your book.

Shit, I'm Reading "Eat, Pray, Love" [en]

[fr] Malgré moult réticenses, en train de lire Eat, Pray, Love d'Elizabeth Gilbert, si ce n'est pour pouvoir critiquer en connaissance de cause. Misère: j'ai bien du plaisir à le lire, ce livre. Elle écrit très bien, pour commencer -- un genre de style que j'adore, et qui me fait penser à celui d'Anne Lamott. Je me reconnais dans certaines de ses facettes. Par contre, j'appréhende l'épisode indien, comme vous pouvez imaginer, et la dimension "quête spirituelle" me fatigue franchement. Encore 248 pages à lire!

I’ve just turned page 100 of Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller Eat, Pray, Love, and I’m afraid to say I’m enjoying it.

I’d managed to stay away from it so far. Just like Harry Potter many years ago, the amount of hype surrounding the book put me off. But there was more: I have a big problem (and still do) with the whole “spiritual quest to India” trip. Warning: I haven’t reached the “India” part of Gilbert’s book yet, so I may still end up cringing uncomfortably at that point.

Two things made me cave in and buy the book. The first, which had been nagging at me for a while, is that in order to be properly critical of it when facing the masses of fans, I need to know what I’m talking about, and hence, read it. All to easy to criticize a book you haven’t read. The second reason is that I heard Elizabeth Gilbert in Radiolab’s episode “Help!”. I didn’t know it was her at first, but I thought she had a lovely voice, and I liked what she said. Shit.

So, I bought the book at Heathrow Airport, and started reading it yesterday. One thing is certain: Gilbert writes really well. I love her writing like I love Anne Lamott‘s. She does things with her words that make me envious — she lets them run off and play on wild forest paths as I sometimes try to let mine, but with infinitely more grace.

As for the story, well, the jury is still out. I love life stories. Some aspects of Elizabeth’s story hit very close to home — close enough that I actually started crying a couple of times while I was reading. For me, not for her. I recognize myself in her, just like I imagine many readers do, and I guess that’s part of her success. Eat, Pray, Love is more than just her story — it’s ours, us women in their 30s, not quite where they imagined they’d be in life. (God, I can’t believe I just wrote this.)

In other ways, though, her story is not my cup of tea: I’ll skip lightly over the whole Indian guru thing (another day, maybe, but remember: a degree in Indian religions and culture, and a year in the country, and being pretty much as atheist as can be). And the predictions of the Indonesian medicine-man. And the spiritual journey thing (knowing, though, that I have yet to see where it will lead — I may be pleasantly surprised, who knows). And have we not already read too many stories of women who figure out they maybe do not want the whole “house, husband, kids” thing and struggle with walking away from it all and living “free”? (I’m waiting for the books about the women who want it all but are failing at getting anywhere near it.)

In the details have lain some treasures, though. Elizabeth Gilbert’s comments on the kind of traveller she is resonate with my own self-interrogations on the question these last few days. And her written conversations with God-who-might-be-herself have helped remind me that I need to spend more energy using on myself those qualities that make me a good friend. I think I am a good friend, or at least, I try my best to be. And I try to be the kind of friend I would want to have… I think. No reason I cannot be friends with myself.

And with that, I’m off to read the next 248 pages of Eat, Pray, Love — in hope that I make it through the Indian episode safe and sound.

Time-Melt in Pune [en]

[fr] Encore des nouvelles de Pune, où tout se passe bien. Mes photos sont en ligne (en vrac).

I’m losing track of time. When did I get here? A week ago already? It has flown by so fast, but it feels like I’ve been living here (almost) all my life.

We just got home from a wonderful meal at Shabree, a restaurant that does Maharashtrian thalis. We ate till we (almost) burst!

Finding a rickshaw home tonight was easier than last night, when I watched a bunch of guys my jeweler had asked stop at least a dozen rickshaws before finding one who would take us back from MG Road.

Pune 191 Laxmi Road Shopping.jpg

I think I definitely like Laxmi Road way better than MG Road. It’s more alive, more “real”, less “trying to be upmarket”. There are nice shops in and around MG Road though, but if it’s just for pleasure, I’ll take Laxmi Road. Our trip today was successful: goda masala (I still need to write up some Nisha recipes for you, I can’t keep up!) and a few other spices, Nisha’s brand of tea, an oil-lamp for my dad, lots of cheap fresh coriander, nail polish, and a few other things I forget. Oh yes, we found a shop which probably has the cable or card reader we’re looking for.

In other news, I dump-uploaded my photos, so they’re now visible online in my Pune 2010-2011 set. Clearly some of them need a little work (whether I’ll ever get around to doing it is another story) and I need to break them up into smaller, more manageable sets. Feel free to add tags to the photos and to point out which ones you think are particularly good — it really helps me after when I try to turn them into something presentable.

I’m exhausted again (because the day was long and nice!) so I’m going to leave things here — aren’t holidays supposed to be restful? 😉

De la dégradation de la langue [fr]

[en] About my French spelling being worse than it was 15 years ago (is it the keyboard? is it something else?) and the terrifying experience of "losing my French" while I was in India 10 years ago.

La mienne, en l’occurence.

Plus de 15 ans que j’ai passé mon bac (XB, s’il vous plaît). Plus de 10 ans que j’écris sur le web. Quelque part en chemin, j’ai fait une licence en français.

Et parfois, quand je me relis, je suis horrifiée par les fautes que je trouve dans mes textes.

J’ai toujours été bonne (allons, n’ayons pas peur des mots — excellente) en orthographe et grammaire. Au gymnase, franchement, je crois pouvoir dire que j’avais un français écrit irréprochable.

Ça s’est gâté, ensuite. Dix ans à prendre des notes à l’uni, d’une part ça vous fiche en l’air la calligraphie (qui ne fut d’ailleurs jamais mon fort) et d’autre part, ça vous ramollit les règles de la langue.

Je me demande aussi parfois quel rôle joue le clavier dans tout cela. Je me retrouve à faire des fautes de “frappe” inimaginables lorsque j’écrivais à la main. Une terminaison en “-é” au lieu de “-er” par exemple, qui vient se glisser là, mine de rien, au milieu d’une phrase. Je l’attrape au passage si je prends la peine de me relire, bien entendu, mais le drame est que la faute ait simplement jailli de mes doigts. Ça n’arrivait jamais, “avant”.

(D’ailleurs, je tiens à le préciser, je ne me relis que très rarement. Oui, je sais, ça va faire des jaloux — chacun sa croix: mes compétences dans le graphisme frisent le zéro absolu et je suis tellement peu physionomiste que c’en est régulièrement embarrassant.)

Qu’est-ce qui a donc changé?

  • Est-ce le clavier au lieu du stylo?
  • Est-ce l’absence de correction en rouge pour me rappeler de temps en temps mes manquements à la perfection de la forme?
  • Est-ce l’âge?
  • Est-ce la proportion moindre de français par rapport à l’anglais, dans ce que j’écris aujourd’hui?
  • Est-ce la plus grande quantité de texte écrit que je produis?

Allez savoir.

J’ai vécu une autre expérience de dégradation de la langue, orale celle-ci, qui m’a profondément marquée. En 1999-2000, comme vous le savez, j’ai passé une année en Inde (le cas échéant, chers lecteurs, relisez vos classiques).

Bilingue déjà à l’époque, mais avec un anglais passablement rouillé, je me retrouvais pour la première fois depuis ma petite enfance à communiquer exclusivement en anglais, durant des mois — à l’exception de l’occasionnel e-mail qui, m’avouera-t-on plus tard, arborait des tournures de phrase de plus en plus étranges à mesure que passait le temps.

Après 6-8 mois, une amie de Suisse est venue me rendre visite. Et là, catastrophe. Je cherche mes mots. Je suis maladroite. Je construis mes phrases à tort et à travers. J’étais en train de perdre mon français! Il avait suffi de si peu de temps…

Je savais que j’avais pas mal perdu de mon anglais durant mon adolescence, au point qu’il m’était devenu pénible de le parler. Il revenait après quelque temps, bien sûr, mais c’était depuis longtemps ma deuxième langue. Jamais je n’aurais imaginé que je pourrais (aussi vite!) perdre mon français.

Je vous rassure, il est bien revenu. Et mon anglais est resté — j’avoue qu’il est rare que je passe une journée sans utiliser mes deux langues à présent (et internet joue très clairement un rôle là-dedans).

Mais même sa langue maternelle, quand on ne la pratique pas, se dégrade.

Lift09 — Ramesh Srinivasan — Cultural Futures [en]

What would a diverse digital world/web look like?

How is the web impacting the world?

Design exposed Ramesh to questions of culture. *(steph-note: I think this is a very good point/thing.)*

Put technology in the hands of *people*: things happen. Used in a different way and in a different context than what they were planned for.

Cultures understand how to take technologies to use them in ways that best benefit them.

Usability tends to push us towards thinking that there are specific uses for the technology, and we design them for those uses. But out there in the wild, other uses appear.

Example: Native American communities in Southern California, spread across reservations, connected through wifi.

Rethinking the museum. Piece of pottery — viewed by Zunis through stories, uses, rather than characteristics. Intersection between what the Zuni say about the piece of pottery, and the museum.

Video camera in villages in Andhra Pradesh. People seeing themselves in different ways.

=> comparative study Ramesh ran. 2 villages, similar demographics. “Create videos” around their everyday lives.

What happens? specially in an environment where 80% of the villagers are illiterate?

Power of choice. Characteristics of illiterate societies (very ritualized). When they start creating videos, some kind of literacy settles in. They’d take videos of things in the communities that were wrong, and send it to the government. Social action. Posted on YouTube, even!

What happened?

Mobility, dissemination, social capital, dialogue outside the focus group, confronting ritualization by interrupting everyday life.

Taking it to Policy. Scale vs. The Local.

How do policy-makers view the world? Example, waterlogging (monsoon). Hundreds of terms in people’s vocabulary for that, but only one for those complaints on a policy level.

Public Grievance & Redressal website

Where to start? tagging to overcome ontology issues, for example.

Two main issues:

a) how do we develop web systems that actually show controversy (wikipedia doesn’t really show that, for example *steph-note: except in talk pages*)

b) search: information has moved from “in your mind” to “what you can find = Google”. Google’s algorithm is based on a certain idea of how things should be found. eg search for Africa — head over to page 3 at least to find the first page *produced* by/in Africa… that says something! How do we show different ways of solving a problem?

Sugata Mitra: Outdoctrination (Hole in the Wall) [en]

As always, these are just my notes and I may have misunderstood stuff. And as always too, check out Bruno’s writeup.

Build an argument for family eduction. 4 ideas.

Sugata Mitra

Remoteness of quality of education

  • as you go further from the centre, you can… ?
  • socially/economically remote from the rest of the society

Guess: schools in remote areas don’t have good enough teachers, and if they do, they can’t retain them.

Test taken by students, plotted against remoteness from Delhi. More remote = worse, but did not correlate with infrastructure (?).

Pilots for educational technology are usually the best schools => usually perceived as over-hyped and under-performant. ET should reach underpriviledged schools first, and not the other way around. Improvements at the bottom of the scale are proportionally higher at the bottom of the scale.

So… alternative primary education where there are no schools, not good enough, no teachers, teachers not good enough (“can be replaced by a machine”!!)

Children and self-organisation

The Hole in the Wall experiment. 1999-2004 (HIWEL project)

The Kalkaji Experiment. Hole in the wall of the office and pretty powerful computer with touchpad and internet connection, altavista etc in it. Within eight hours, one of the kids was teaching a younger one how to browse.

Second: Shivpuri. Children in groups can self-instruct themselves to use a computer and the internet.

Madantusi experiment, 2000-2001 (village near Lucknow). No internet, just CDs. 3 months later: “we need a faster processer and better mouse.” They were using 200 english words they had “learnt” from the computer.

=> language is not a barrier, it could even teach them some of the language.

Many other experiments in other places. steph-note: lots of footage shown

6-13-year-olds can self-instruct, irrespective of background, in groups

300 children become computer literate in 3 months (windows, browsing, chatting, e-mail, painting, games, educational material, music downloads, playing video), with one computer. Usually, one at the computer, 2-3 around advising, often wrongly… but they learn.

Letting it happen. Hole in the Wall site.

Children and Values

Example of confusion: sometimes it is necessary to tell lies: 50% yes, 50% no.

Natural self-organising systems: galaxies, molecules, cells, etc. traffic jams, stock markets, society…

  • remoteness affects the quality of education
  • educational technology should be introduced into remote areas first
  • values are acquired, doctrine and dogma are imposed
  • learning is a self-organising system

A digital, automatic, fault-tolerant, minimally invasive, connected, and self-organised educational technology. To address remoteness, values, and violence.

Inde spirituelle ou matérialiste? [fr]

[en] India's materialism is not anything new. If you dig into vedic religion, it's centred on sacrifices and actions more than interior spirituality. That side of Indian religious expression came about later. As for Gandhi, I think it's important to keep in mind that his background includes connections to the Theosophical Society, and that his philosophy is therefore not a pure traditional product of Indian thought.

J’écoute en ce moment à la radio une émission sur l’infanticide féminin, en Inde entre autres. Sujet et émissions intéressants, mais à l’instant, quelque chose qui me fait bondir. Parlant de la dot, l’intervenante (dont je n’ai pas bien compris le nom) nous dit que l’Inde moderne devient en effet matérialiste, tournant le dos à ses idéaux spirituels du passé, et même à la philosophie de Gandhi.

Holà. Primo, si on va creuser dans la religion védique, c’est une religion du rituel et de l’acte, et non pas de la “spiritualité intériorisée” au sens où nous l’entendons. Ça, c’est venu plus tard. On voit encore aujourd’hui cette primauté de l’action, lorsque vous trouvez des gens qui pratiquent consciencieusement les puja ou qui passent au temple faire des offrandes, sans pour autant croire à l’existence des dieux.

Mais bon, c’est pour dire que l’importance du matériel en Inde n’a rien de nouveau, et que la spiritualisation de l’Inde est entre autres grandement due à son intéraction avec l’Occident. On y voit plus d’expression religieuse, mais cela ne veut pas dire que les gens sont plus spirituels que chez nous, où la religion est une affaire privée et souvent avec peu de manifestations extérieures.

Quant à Gandhi, souvenons-nous de l’influence qu’a eue sur lui la Société Théosophique, et que les valeurs qu’il a prônées (totalement indépendamment de leur valeur) ne sont donc pas un pur produit traditionnel indien.

Travel Plans [en]

[fr] Prochains voyages: Lisbonne puis Vienne à la fin du mois de septembre, et peut-être l'Inde cet hiver si j'ai les sous.

  • (25)26-30th September: Shift in Lisbon, Portugal
  • 1st-3rd October: BlogTalk in Vienna, Austria

I’ve more or less got the trip to Lisbon and the return from Vienna sorted out. I’m in trouble for getting from Lisbon to Vienna during the week-end without emptying my bank account. Anybody else doing this? Got ideas where I should look? (Trains, planes, coaches?)

I’m also tempted to go to India for two months over December-January (get back here in time for Lift early February). The problem there is finances: I don’t know yet if I’ll be able to afford it. One idea would be to try and get some consulting work over there (Delhi, Pune, Bangalore…) — if the rates in the industry are worth it. Anybody know what opportunities a videshi bloggy consultant might find there?

Do speak up if we’re going to be in the same place at the same time!