Math, Money and My Students

How do you make maths interesting? There are many ways, but one metaphor that has been fairly effective with my students is money. They come from backgrounds where resources are limited, so something related to increasing wealth (or protecting oneself from losing it to a thug) piques their curiosity.

They want to know if they should borrow — if so, from who? They want to understand the difference between saving a hundred rupees under their pillow vs depositing it in a bank. They want to know whether they are even eligible (or qualified) to open an account in the bank… Some of my students wonder whether it makes a difference for someone to save if he/she has so little?

Fortunately, compounding comes to rescue. When you help them work out how 10,000 rupees grow in to 41,770 in 15 years at 10% interest (roughly the rate offered in Indian banks currently), they look at the black board with interest. Their eyes light up much more, when asked, how would it feel if the tables were turned.. that is, if someone had lent them or their parents money, and was compounding at a high rate? How a loan of 10,000 rupees can become a loan of over 20,000 rupees in a matter of just a few years? My students probably know of a friend or family member, who was duped in to borrowing money at a high rate of interest, and later found themselves unable even to make the interest payment.

The kids now know that a small regular saving can grow to a large one through compounding over time. They want to start saving early, even if it’s just a few rupees every week. They even encourage their parents to register for bank accounts. Yaseen, one of our young students, helped his illiterate father fill out the bank application and complete all formalities that were required to get their accounts registered.

P.S. — As bonus, I learned that simple interest is called सामान्य ब्याज in Hindi. And compound interest? You guessed it right (;)) : चक्रवृद्धि ब्याज.


Day in Life: Commute, Teaching in Inner Parts of Delhi

The daily commute to the Parichay project site can take some time to get used to. Below are the 5 steps. At the end of it all, traffic jams no longer annoy you as much.

Step 1: Get in to a shared Auto-rickshaw

Step 1: Get in to a shared Auto-rickshaw


Step 2: Make the Bus stop, and Get on it

Step 2: Make the Bus stop, and Get on it

Step 3: Yet Another Auto

Step 3: Yet Another Shared Auto

Step 4: Walk the Inner Streets of Tukhmirpur

Step 4: Walk the Inner Streets of Tukhmirpur

Step 5: Walk some more, and pray for no rain

Step 5: Walk some more, and pray for no rain

Once you reach the Parichay site, all the weariness disappears at site of enthusiastic kids who can’t wait to ask you more questions!

My Parichay Class

My Parichay Class

Of Dreams and Possibilities…

Tell us about learning.

How were wheels invented?

How were trees formed?


How did the world begin?

If we connect many powerful computers together, can we see the face of God?

These are just a few of the several questions my students ask me. The kids are extremely thirsty for knowledge, and their genuine curiosity inspires me so much.

ImageI began my class by sharing the story of my grandfather. A 7-year-old Hindu in the newly created Pakistan, how he had to vacate his home, leave his friends behind, and start life from scratch after he walked across the border into Amritsar. The fact that he was able to work hard, sell fruits on the streets, save enough money to educate his kids… is something that the students connect with. Everyday, they see their own parents struggling to make ends meet, whether it is pulling a rickshaw, working 12 hours in a factory on minimum wage, or making handicrafts. These kids are their only hope of transition out of poverty, through education and luck.

In a few class sessions, we have talked about evolution, universe, politics, women’s rights, and money-lending practices. We have talked about what a democracy should be and what it becomes if corruption is unchecked. My students want to know how they can do their little bit for positive change. They want to succeed in their lives, and their idea of success is to be able to add prestige to their family and country.



I asked Vijay about the career prospects for the kids. Some of them do not go to a regular school yet, some are a couple of years or so behind by age, and many of them, especially girls, are unlikely to be able to attend high school. Life, employment and stuff tends to happen before all that. “The next generation is likely to see bigger benefits. With this batch, my hope is that they do not become day laborers or rickshaw pullers. They can become security guards, peons, office boys, and 1 or 2 might get a decent government job if luck is by their side.”

The last I asked them, at least 3 boys in my class want to be engineers. 2 girls want to work in the police force, and another 2 want to be doctors. I hope their dreams come true…



Parichay is located in a poor, densely populated neighborhood of Delhi. Open drains, mosquitoes, garbage dumps can be seen on every street. Many residents of the area are rickshaw-pullers, day-laborers, or hourly factory-workers. At-home births are common, as is the incidence of disabilities and illiteracy. People believe in myths and black magic to the extent that their beliefs can cause monetary and physical harm to their own families.

Entrance to the Homes of Several Community Members

Several families of this area live in 1-room homes above a garbage-ridden factory. Here is one such entrance to the residences

Championing the cause of education in such a community is a bigger challenge than it sounds. Children are seen as sources of income from a young age. Government schools overflow, while private schools are too much to afford. What you end up with is tens of thousands of children who cannot even write their own names.

Located in a set of 2 small rooms, Parichay, Vijay told me, started on the principle of self-sustainability and community partnership. It would be a place where anyone could come to learn, and the volunteers would seek to go beyond just classroom teaching, by creating awareness about social, economic and other issues that are relevant to the community. This involves knowledge-sharing around hygiene, birth-control, education for girls, and awareness of government schemes designed for poor and the specially-abled.  Currently, the women of this community run a Spices unit and HandiCraft unit to generate revenue that helps run Parichay.

Speciallly-abled students class at Parichay

About 70 kids of different age and ability groups are currently a part of the Parichay Parivar (Parichay Family). They come to Parichay before — or after — school hours. “The teaching is centered around developing communication skills”, Vijay told me. “We first want these kids to learn to communicate, because everything else is dependent on that. Once they master a language, they can read, write and become aware of some of the very basic things that we might take for granted. For instance, filling a form in a bank, getting an ID card, applying for a government scheme or a job.”



This year, I am spending my vacation with the most awesome kids in Delhi. These kids are among the most generous you will ever meet, although they have little to call their own. They reside in thickly populated inner streets of Bhajanpura, but many of them lead lonely lives. For the 70 of them who are lucky enough to be part of education at Parichay, there are another 50,000 who will not be able to spell their names correctly.

I will be sharing their stories, and what I am learning from them, in this blog. The more you learn about them, the more inspired and you will be.


From AID Delhi’s page:

Parichay is a registered NGO; In 2000, Mr. Vijay Bajpai started Parichay in Tukhmirpur area of East Delhi. Parichay operates in a small basti where people are from very poor socio-economic background. He started this project out of his sheer interest in social work, as he observed that most of the children in the locality do not go to school and the youth are an ignorant mass. The people lacked the sense of hygiene and almost all children suffered from one or the other disease. His journey was tough as he started all on his own, until he collaborated with AID Delhi.

The Ultimate Question that Education Should Answer

There is an ongoing debate about the current model of teaching. How is online education — free videos from the likes of KhanAcademy and Coursera — going to change how our schools work?

It is a great question, with views ranging from a collaboration-based interaction in school, to a total replacement/overhaul of the current infrastructure. I am somewhere in-between the extremes, but believe that like all change, this evolution is inevitably going to happen. We should embrace it.

Harder Question(s)

In this post, though, I wish to go beneath the tactical stuff and actually ask the harder question. What exactly is education? What should a human being get out of an ideal learning system? Technology and implementation are one aspect, but unless we think about the meaning and philosophy, it is easy to get accelerated in a sub-optimal direction.


Our Current Model: Education for (outdated) Employment

Education for employment has been the model of the industrialized world. Students go through the grade/class system, much like products in a factory batch. This is the model churning a brick in the wall. However, even as the world has become automated and factories have either become extinct or evolved in to a modern efficient version, education has been left catching up. Expensive degrees, low-paid teachers. It is imperative to ask: what are we teaching our kids for? Equally important, what should education for our kids be about?

Beyond Employment: Personalized Education — a Compass for Life

We are all unique beings of the same universe. We have our own quirks, our own talents, our own drawbacks. We learn at different rates, we forget at different rates. If there’s one common thing, it is the desire to live a good life in an ever-changing world.

Can we not have a way of education, where:

  1. Learning is Fun
  2. It is customized to individual pace
  3. It’s diverse and dynamic — curriculum evolves in realtime
  4. Accessible to all, through modern technology
  5. Inter-connectedness of subjects is not lost
  6. Learning is inspiring
  7. It is not just about finding a job or earning a degree, but your education should answer the question ‘how do I live my life’ in the moment, every moment.

Pipe dream? Certainly not. Like Gandhi’s revolution, MLK’s mission, Google’s search engine, and the technical innovation changing our world every day, this is possible now more than ever.

Remembering Sahir

main pal do pal ka shaayar hoon
pal do pal meri kahaani hai
pal do pal meri hasti hai
pal do pal meri jawaani hai


I’m a poet only for a second or two;
My story will be over soon.
My existence is only for a moment or two;
My youth will be over soon.

— translation, modified, from here

Many of the Hindi songs whose lyrics have stayed with me over the years have been penned by Sahir Ludhianvi. Whether it is Kabhi Kabhi, Tabdeer se bigdi hui, Main Zindagi ka Saath, Sahir has explored the depths of love and infinities of life like no other lyricist. He can juxtapose the impeccable beauty of nature with the emotions of a waiting lover in an almost effortless way.

duur vaadi mein duudhiya baadal,
jhuk ke parbat ko pyaar karte hain
dil mein naakaam hasraten lekar,
ham tera intezaar karte hain


in a distant valley, while a milky cloud
leans over to kiss the mountain,
with unfulfilled wishes in my heart,
I wait for you…

There is a certain pain, a very palpable one, in Sahir’s words. Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai…  He was not one to care much about the conventions of the world, or be drawn to its materials. Do you have any Sahir verses that are a favorite of yours?

At some point, would love to dive deeper in to his life and poems, and write more. For now, if you wish to spend 20 minutes for Sahir, highly recommend hearing his story from none other than Javed Akhtar: