About Me

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I am a professional Indian Classical Singer. I hold a Ph.D. in Economics and Master's Degrees in both, Economics and Business Management; and I also work as Faculty in Economics for Management students. I have a passion for writing and this blog is a platform for me to share my experiences and express my thoughts and ideas, views and opinions, gathered while working in diverse fields.

Wednesday 26 February 2020

Breaking Stereotypes

I recently received an international award as a classical singer and an economist, and some thoughts, some memories came to my mind and I penned them. Having done that, I thought of sharing them with you all.
My childhood dream was to become a singer! I used to dream of singing in front of an audience, dream of recording in a studio, dream of being broadcast some day... Much of that dream, I'm living now!
After school I selected 'Arts' as my stream (I prefer the term Social Sciences or Humanities though, as it describes the stream more accurately!) Back then, all the intelligent students, the achievers, who would do something worthwhile in life, were the ones who went for 'Science'! Arts was often looked down upon as the poor cousin of Science. Being a good student all through school, many of my close relatives and friends did not understand why I was thinking of 'wasting my life' enrolling for a B.A. And when I said I wanted to do a career in music and an 'Arts' course would offer me time and space to do it, people felt it was the most ridiculous 'excuse' ever! Who gives up a great academic future and career just to pursue a 'hobby'.. was their skewed logic! For them, music could at best be only a hobby, not a profession, as is the common perception in many educated families. I was the first one in my family of engineers, scientists and doctors to select 'Arts', and the first one in my family of music lovers to take up music professionally. So obviously, you can see the lack of understanding in my social and family circles, anything beyond conventional norms! And this didn't stop here, I was often looked down upon by the Aunties whose kids were pursuing engineering, and even my parents were given unsolicited advice as to how they could allow me to waste my life like this! Stereotypes everywhere in our society! We just don't let people be! My parents stood by me in all my choices with their rock solid support, and that's the only reason I happily sailed through everything.
I applied to both Science and Arts, and saw my name appear in both the lists, just to prove to these intrusive Aunties and other 'well-wishers' that I was selecting Arts out of choice, and not because I couldn't make it to Science! At that age, it mattered what people thought about me, it doesn't bother me now 😜 That still didn't impress them, though! Then one day, I selected Economics as my subject for graduation and just a few years around that time the great Amartya Sen received the Nobel Prize in Economics, and whoa! Suddenly in the eyes of all these well-meaning critics, I was doing something worthwhile, majoring in Economics, which suddenly had become glamorous! All us Indians were proud that an Indian had won the coveted prize, it was in the news everywhere, and Economics was the subject he had received it for!
I never understood then, I don't understand now, the whole hue and cry about Arts, as every subject is great and is knowledge after all! I also could never understand how the perception could suddenly change due to a completely unconnected event! I later went on to pursue a PhD in Economics, as I gradually fell in love with the subject, and people's perceptions changed completely. I'm happy that times have changed as compared to what they were 23 years back, with 'Arts' now receiving the status it deserves.
That I did not give up on my dream of becoming a singer either (so it was no 'excuse' after all!) and the conviction I had all through about what I was doing, was later on lauded many a time by the same people who once ran me down: the irony of life!
And then there was the perception that if you strive to excel in one thing, you can't excel in another! So back I was fighting another stereotype! And that too, Music and Economics! Oh my God! Completely unconnected, poles apart from each other! But then, I feel destiny decides some paths you choose in life, and I just went with the flow and kept doing with utmost dedication and sincerity, all that came my way! And I continue to do so!
Moral of the story: People do not necessarily always mean to hurt you. They just don't know that their casual remarks hatched in ignorance can be of so much pain and distress to others. So, be nice, be kind, be positive!

Friday 8 February 2019

The journey to 'Vidya Vachaspati'!

It was February 2009 when I received my Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Pune (now Savitribai Phule Pune University), and relentless hard-work of five years had borne fruit! To hold the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, with an equally impressive Indian term 'Vidya Vachaspati' was quite a feeling, I must admit! Today, when I look back at the past 15 years, i.e. before and after receiving the doctorate, I am filled with a sense of nostalgia! This is a long story, so be prepared, this post is gonna be long too!

I completed my Master's in Economics in 2004 and immediately after that, I wanted to register for a Ph.D., not knowing much of how to go about it. Ironically, some of my professors advised me against it, as according to them a Ph.D. wasn't the cup of tea of a young student, freshly out of the post-graduate course! This notwithstanding the fact that I was a topper all through; that these very teachers had lauded my knowledge of Economics time and again, as well as my ability of analyse and reason, as also the fact, that I was the only one to pass the famed State Eligibility Test in Economics, (in which generally, under 2% of those who used to appear, used to actually pass), which was one of the reasons why I had landed a teaching assignment in the revered Fergusson College (now Fergusson University). While I did appreciate and respect their point of view, what I did not understand was, that if I was eligible and qualified to teach graduate and post-graduate students at an institution of the stature of Fergusson College, why would I not be capable of studying my subject further in terms of doctoral research, which was only a logical extension after post-graduation and getting a teaching assignment.

Of course, where there is a will, there always is a way! One of my professors at Fergusson introduced me to the subject of Organic Farming and suggested its Economic Viability as a research problem for my Ph.D. Being a typical urbanite having almost no connect with rural life till then, I was sceptical of doing a research which would require me to collect primary data on the field, talk to farmers and make questionnaires in the local language, make umpteen visits to villages, and what not! I accepted it though, as it sounded interesting and challenging! I used to have lectures at Fergusson in the morning, and the entire day after the classes, I used to sit at the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics next door, and read all M.Phil. and Ph.D. theses in the area of Agricultural Economics available there. I also used to read whatever other material was available: books, journals, newspaper articles, that were even remotely connected with my topic. Finding dedicated material on the economics of organic farming, not just as a product, but as a sector, was extremely difficult though.

This went on for one whole year, and the amount of study I did in that one year was probably more than I did in my entire college life! All the more, as this was my beginning into academics as a career, and teaching at one of the premier institutions in the country did require me to be on my toes always, and well-prepared before every lecture! Getting to teach Research Methodology at Fergusson College, along with Economics, around the same time, honed my research skills and knowledge too! In 2007, I joined the Institute of Management Development and Research (IMDR) as full-time faculty in Economics and luckily, here too, I got to teach Scientific Methodology and Research, albeit with a Management perspective.

One of my cousins mockingly asked me once, "Oh my God! I'm surprised how come you have not got bored of studying till your master's, that you want to study more!" "No!" I told her, "I have made 'studying' my profession, and by my own choice! So there is no question of getting bored!" And for those, who know me as a classical vocalist and are wondering when I did my Riyaaz in these 5 years and what happened to my concert performances, let me tell you that Riyaaz was in the evenings and performances mostly on weekends! The greatest thing doing Music and Academics simultaneously, was always to not let one get compromised for the other.

By the end of one year, I was ready to present and submit my research proposal to the University. My presentation and viva took place in May 2005 and I got a confirmation from the Research and Recognition Committee in a couple of months and I was now a registered Ph.D. student under the University of Pune! First milestone reached! It is like a person who is running to catch a bus and when he actually manages to catch it, he sits down to catch his own breath, heaving a sigh of relief! Such was my state of mind too, and after this confirmation as 'Research Student', my pace of work slowed down, for the next couple of months! This would have continued for some more time, but for a push from my Guide, who simply asked me about the progress for the past 2-3 months, and that was enough to jolt me! Of course, the six-monthly progress report to be submitted to the University does keep one on one's toes!

I made a research design and a plan to help me give some direction to my efforts and give me a somewhat clearer vision of what I was supposed to do. My Guide had told me very clearly at the beginning itself, that I had to fend for myself and find my own path, and I think that was the best thing she could do for me! It made me take up new challenges and gave me new insights and vision into the problem I was studying.

I decided to do my whole primary data collection in three batches:
1. Interviews of Farmers and Group Discussions with them
2. Interviews of Stakeholders
3. Pot-culture Experiments

The farmer-interviews included those pursuing chemical farming and those pursuing organic farming, and a third category of those who had shifted to organic farming from chemical farming. This made me have several visits to villages like Walhe, Dongargaon, Supa, Kedgaon, and Khalad. I experienced rural life so closely for the first time and got to understand the amount of indigenous knowledge that even uneducated farmers had! This was often passed down to them through the generations. But at the same time, getting financial data and costing was also a big task, as I realised that the practice of maintainig financial accounts was almost non-existent with most farmers! Very often data was ambiguous and came in terms of how many bags of Urea rather than how many Rupees! So my job was to convert all of this into financial terms for my data analysis. From these very visits, interviews and group discussions, emerged my case studies which I could present later on as an Appendix to my thesis: stories of successes and failures, of trials and tribulations, of gains and losses, amidst the general air of farmer-suicides that had gripped the agricultural sector by then.

The second one was to interact with the various stakeholders and conduct formal, at times informal, unstructured interviews. These included members of NGOs in the field of organic farming, agricultural scientists, agricultural economists,  manufacturers and retailers of organic products (inputs as well as final products), Government officers, officers of NABARD, Government Agricultural Research Centre, organic growers, exporters, and so on. This gave me myriad perspectives of the problem I was studying, which was definitely enriching, but at times baffling too! This was most often qualitative data, which made the analysis and compilation complex at times.

The third was a series of pot-culture experiments in three crops: Fenugreek, Spinach and Coriander. The use of the experimental method for a thesis in Economics was considered rare. It was the most difficult task for a person belonging to a Social Science and Humanities background! The experiment failed a couple of times before I could get it right, but a great amount of study of books and research papers on experiments in agriculture combined with the laboratory facility of the  College of Agriculture, Pune as well as that of Fergusson College, made life somewhat easier for me. A bigger issue was the statistical analysis of the experimental data which made it necessary for me to re-study Statistics, not just as how we had studied it in college, but as applied to specific experimental data. At times this whole task felt so unnerving that I used to wonder why I selected a topic which required so much field work and primary data!

The secondary data also made me move around, as nothing came on the platter, given the inter-disciplinary nature of my research problem! Apart from the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, the University of Pune and the College of Agriculture, Pune, I got access to a lot of secondary data from the Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth, Rahuri and the Maharashtra Organic Farming Federation. The Organic Farming Association of India, Goa made me an honorary member of their own accord and sent me all the latest updates through their newsletters. I also had a brief visit to the Institute of Commercial Horticulture of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University. A lot of economic analysis of the agricultural data had to be undertaken to establish a connect with externalities, conversion costs, pricing, subsidies, support price, export norms, agricultural credit, Government interventions and policy initiatives.

There were times when I would wonder, if ever this uphill task would be completed and if ever I would finally be able to submit my work! In these weak moments, it was my mother who stood solemnly behind me. Her own experiences while doing her Ph.D. in Botany were also an inspiration for me! She always told me to hold on no matter what. "If you don't give up, you will certainly be able to complete it one day," was her advice, which was so right!

Once the data was collected, analysing and putting it all together was also an arduous task. I also had to be alert to the fact that this was a work on Agricultural Economics and not on either Agriculture or Economics alone. So the balancing act was also necessary to maintain the academic rigour. But following Mom's advice never to give up and keep going, I could finally find my way through everything! Writing the thesis was comparatively easier for me as I believe I do have something akin to a flair in writing, and this was also duly recognised by the referees who complimented the 'lucid and flowing language of the well-written thesis' in their report.

The Pre-Submission Viva followed, and that was like a net practice for the actual thing. My work was passed in that and I had to now submit the final thesis within one month. Now was the time of DTP work, proof reading and re-reading and finally printing and binding it to give it its final form! I submitted the thesis in February 2008, having no idea that it would take another whole year for it to be processed! I am told that the University usually takes around 3-4 months to process it after you submit your thesis. Mine might have been one of those exceptional cases! I used to go to the University, initially once a fortnight and later almost once every week to follow-up! Finally, after 8 months, the report of the first examiner came and my guide called me up congratulating me on it. The report mentioned that this was a unique thesis and recommended it for the award of the Ph.D. degree! Soon, the second report followed and we were waiting for the third referee to send in his report so that my defence viva could be scheduled. When I went enquiring in one of my follow-up trips to the University, I got to know that the third copy of my thesis had gone missing and was yet to be sent to the third examiner, and so there was no third report yet! That caused some more delay and a bit of a disappointment to me as I was eagerly and anxiously waiting for the third report to come. All is well that ends well, though and they did finally locate it and it was duly sent to the third referee who sent in his report in due time.

I must mention here the fond memory of a friendly presentation on my research topic, which I had done in front of my faculty-colleagues at IMDR, a couple of weeks before my actual Ph.D. defence at the University. It was a kind of a rehearsal for me and helped me in making my actual presentation more crisp and to-the-point to adhere to the 30 minutes time restriction, as well as in anticipating some of the queries which could come from the audience.

My final defence viva was scheduled on 9th February 2009, exactly ten years ago! I have a hazy memory of that day as compared to the rest of the events in the five years from 2004 to 2009! What I remember clearly is that my viva took place half an hour earlier than it was supposed to, for reasons not known to me, and while I was setting up the Power Point Presentation, the HOD at the University's Economics Department, the External Examiner and my Guide walked in and I was asked to start my presentation immediately! The best thing that a career in teaching gives you is presence of mind, effective public speaking and a knack to handle such sudden changes, while you are manning the dais! So the moment they said 'Start' I started and put forth all that I had to say to cover a 300 pages thesis in 30 minutes.

What followed was an open defence and I answered all the queries and questions satisfactorily. The external examiner re-iterated at the end that he had come across many theses in Agriculture written by Economists, but he felt mine was unique and outstanding! Two of my Professors from Fergusson College also attended my defence viva and were extremely proud of the mature work I had accomplished at that young age! Whatever back-breaking hard-work, sweat, (at times even tears) had gone into this, all felt worthwhile after getting these responses and feedback from my seniors in this field. 'Congratulations Dr. Kalyani' was what I heard afterwards from my Guide and my colleagues present in the room, and trust me it was both, a strange and a happy feeling to be addressed like that for the first time in my life!

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Ten years completed!

It was July 2004 when with my newly acquired Masters Degree in Economics, I delivered my first lecture in International Economics at the famous Fergusson College, my alma mater! The switching of gears from being a student in the same college to being associated as faculty happened quite seamlessly. My professors knew I was good at academics as my performance had been consistently good; I had been a rank-holder all through and most importantly, that same year at the first attempt (which was quite rare!) I had cleared the Maharashtra State Eligibility Test (SET) which is mandatory for holding faculty positions at the graduate, post-graduate, and University levels. I was one of the mere 2.13 % of candidates appeared that year (which included candidates from various disciplines, not just Economics!) who passed that exam.

The beginning thus, was good and my professors had absolutely no reservations in giving me a much coveted assignment to teach graduate and post-graduate level students in place of a temporary vacancy created due to one of the senior professors going on a sabbatical. They did not seem to mind the fact that my only teaching experience was of some 30 odd days in an assignment I had done while still a student! They firmly believed that I knew my subject well, and that the art of teaching that subject, I will learn slowly by trial and error! I eternally remain thankful to them for the confidence they showed in me. On my side, it was not an ad hoc or interim arrangement till I got another job or as it is said, deferring of unemployment! On the contrary, it was a serious choice I had made that academics was to be my career, and I would do it as seriously as any other vocation I would have taken up. Unlike a lot of people who take up teaching assignments just for the heck of it, mine was a decision firmly taken after giving due thought.

However, for me it was quite difficult to get into the faculty mode suddenly! Simple things such as going and sitting in the Professors' Common Room in that stately British era building, when I did not have classes to conduct, was intimidating! Addressing students almost as old as me was equally daunting! However, having performed on stage since the age of 6, first as a dancer and then as a singer, stage fright was almost non-existent. Yet, this was a different ball game altogether and the feelings of whether I would be able to make them understand, or whether I would be able to solve all their queries, were very much present. Add to it that the field of Economics is extremely dynamic. A new policy or proposal, a new subsidy, a new law, or even a new public statement made by the RBI Governor or the Finance Minister has implications on the knowledge and information you impart and hence along with theoretical knowledge you have to be abreast of the happenings in the economic environment around you every single day.

Gradually, the apprehensions, the fear, all vanished and I started enjoying my job at Fergusson College. The small age difference between me and my students became a strength rather than a weakness and they started seeing in me a friend rather than a traditional strict and matter-of-fact professor. I started handling other branches of Economics like Public Finance, Monetary Economics, Economics of Development, Labour and Industrial Economics, and the quintessential Indian Economy which is part of most syllabi of Economics in India. I got an opportunity to teach Research Methodology, while I was myself doing my doctoral research in Economics at the University of Pune, which opened new insights and perspectives to the study of Economics. At the same time, I had to guide masters level students for their dissertations which made me think beyond my areas of comfort and study different aspects of this fascinating subject called Economics.

When my three years at Fergusson got over, I felt as if I was leaving my home! But a fresh new beginning was awaiting me as Faculty at the Institute of Management Development and Research. It was here that I forayed into other related areas, Economics being one of the vital pillars of Business Management. I got further involved in studying Research Methodology, a more specialised version of it in terms of Business Research Methods and Qualitative Research. Working in a B-school, I felt in addition to my core discipline, I should have some knowledge of Management subjects as well. This culminated in my enrolling for the two-year Masters in Personnel Management programme, a specialised programme in Human Resource Management of the University of Pune and completing it with Distinction. Additionally, I got to handle a lot of complex issues and anchor crucial institutional processes which helped me hone my managerial skills. It is a myth that people in academics only study, teach and lecture. An educational institution is as much an 'organisation' as any other business organisation and requires similar managerial skills.

It is July 2014 now, and 10 fulfilling years of professional academics have gone by, which were full of learning, growth, experience, self-discovery, and pushing my own limits to venture into new areas.  The same continues! 

Saturday 14 June 2014

My Presentation in Istanbul on The Sustainability Paradox of Gender Equality in Higher Education in India

It was sometime in September-October last year that I got to know about the International Federation for University Women (FUW) inter-disciplinary seminar topics for the 31st Triennial Conference which was to be held in Istanbul in August 2013. Working in the field of Higher Education, more specifically in Economics and Business Management, the ID seminar on ‘Gender Inequality in Higher Education: A Threat to Sustainable Societies’ caught my attention.  I felt it was a nice area to work on and it got me thinking about the status of gender inequality in higher education in my own country, India. Contrary to public opinion, as an individual and as a woman working in this sector; and in the city of Pune (which is a seat of Education and Culture in the country, and is often referred to as the Oxford of the East); I hardly ever saw gross gender inequality in the educational system. The educational system I feel is quite egalitarian in terms of opportunities offered in education and further in employment in the education sector. I always felt it was the social system which was more to blame, it is the family, their role expectations about women, particularly married women, and that was where the gender inequality issue stemmed from. So it was worthwhile to explore the problems of gender inequality in higher education in India in a systematic and scientific manner.

As a result, I studied this question more in detail, by referring to a lot of secondary data on this subject, quantitative as well as qualitative, referring to research work already done in the area of gender inequalities and also the systemic realities in terms of rules and regulations made by the Government and other regulatory bodies. This opened in front of me, new dimensions of the problem and I then started looking at it as an Economist too! I realized that wherever there were problems of capacity, quality or accessibility in Higher Education institutes, the onus was knowingly or unknowingly shifted on the Government to provide for everybody, particularly in a welfare state like India. The Government in turn has to combat several macro-economic issues like inflation, growing fiscal deficit and a high subsidy bill. Moreover, even if it were possible for the Government to provide everyone with everything, would it actually help in increasing female participation in higher education or in reducing their drop-out rate? The answer to this is not a complete yes, because the problem, as stated earlier is neither completely systemic nor economic; it is socio-cultural and socio-economic.

There is a social and attitudinal change which is required, something which is far difficult to achieve than merely subsidizing education or increasing the number of seats. Two main conclusions, or rather recommendations which emerged out of my research paper were that sensitization of gender issues should start at the school level, as the same school child becomes the adult of tomorrow, and becomes a part of the higher education system. This will work on two levels, of sensitizing the child and also the parents indirectly, thus making a humble beginning towards changing the social fabric and bridging the gender gap. Secondly, it is very important to link education to employability, so that it leads to economic independence of women, so that they are empowered to make their own choices and decisions. It also makes their families and the society at large respect and understand the importance of education in their lives.

My seminar at the IFUW conference in Istanbul was scheduled on 19th August, and I was the first presenter of the day. My paper was extremely well-received as the members in the audience, belonging to various countries, were all interested in India, the emerging economy. It was also interesting to point out to them that in the context of employability during the global recession and recovery, India still fared better than most ‘developed’ economies! At the same time, it was also interesting to discuss the problems of social dualism and regional imbalance prevalent in India which were greater causes of worry than the depreciating Rupee!

The amount of discussion in the audience which my paper stimulated was by itself an indicator of its accomplishment and left me satisfied with the entire exercise which had lasted almost a year! It was also nice to interact in person with my convener and the other presenters, with whom I had been in touch via email; also for a year! It was a good idea on the part of the organizers to have a pre-seminar meeting of all the conveners and paper presenters, so that we got to know each other well before our actual seminar.  It was also extremely interesting to listen to the other presentations in my seminar which acquainted me with the condition of fellow-women in other countries in the context of higher education. It was the perfect platform for sharing of ideas, experiences and future goals. At the last IFUW triennial conference in Mexico, my paper was read out in absentia as I could not attend it due to other pre-determined assignments. Having missed that chance of interacting with IFUW members from all over the world, I felt this one at Istanbul was all the more special to me!