A VISIONARY DEVELOPER

Born with an incurable vision impairment, Hyderabad’s Venkatesh Potluri has had a brilliant academic career. “Throughout my childhood, I tried to devise ways to use regular objects as assistive materials. I understood geometry by touching figures, constructed by sticking matchsticks and thread on paper. Later, I operated computers with the help of screen readers, a software that converts text-to-speech,” he reveals.

Even though Venkatesh passed his Intermediate with 85 per cent, he was barred from taking the All India Engineering Entrance Examination (AIEEE), and was denied admission at most premiere engineering colleges owing to his disability.

 He shares, “I felt let down by the colleges who refused to see past my disability. Like any other aspiring student, I was disappointed that I was denied of an opportunity to study not because I was academically incapable, but due to my disability. I realised however, that I had to look at the bigger picture and changed my focus from reacting emotionally to responding through actions. My parents strongly believe in doing whatever it takes and staying positive for me to succeed against all odds. So I carried forward that mindset.”

After struggling for six months, Venkatesh eventually got admission into IIIT-Hyderabad a proud and emotional moment for him and his family.

“The institution accepted me based on my academic strengths. This restored my belief in the fact that academic institutions give opportunities to capable individuals,” says Venkatesh, adding, “My friends and family motivated me to be who I am today, they believed in my ability.”

Venkatesh recalls facing several challenges, including finding accessible mathematical content to study. The complex equations and other such technical study material were not easy to grasp due to their visual representation.

“Studying a math intensive course independently was a challenge at that time due to technology constraints. People with visual impairment find it tough to access mathematical content independently. That’s why I pursued my research during my Masters in Computer Science, focusing on accessibility and assistive technology,” says the youngster, who believes that for any technology to be truly empowering, accessibility should be inbuilt, thus encouraging inclusivity.

To further improve the future prospects of visually impaired students who want to take up STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) courses, Venkatesh developed a unique technique.

“We’ve developed techniques to render mathematical content in audio in such a way that listeners with visual impairment can understand and answer math questions with 95 per cent accuracy,” he explains.

Significantly, this work was presented at the 30th Technology in Persons with Disabilities Conference in San Diego, and was also published at the 11th International Conference on Natural Language Processing in Goa.

The 25-year-old, who is currently a Research Fellow at Microsoft Research Lab India, Bengaluru concludes, “I will continue working on accessibility and assistive technology because it’s a great opportunity to improve technology for people with disabilities.”

 

courtesy    Deccan Chronicle

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HONOUR FOR HARIKATHA EXPONENT

Noted Harikatha artiste Simhachala Sastry awarded ‘Kalaratna’ by AP government

One man, who has been relentlessly propagating Harikatha across the two Telugu speaking states, country and globe, is Muppavarupu Venkata Simhachala Sastry, who was bestowed with Andhra Pradesh government’s highest award ‘Kalaratna’ at the Ugadi celebrations in Vijayawada recently.

Sastry, who has been giving Harikatha performances, for the past three-and- a-half- decades, says that he’s been enamoured by Harikatha since his childhood. “I was drawn by the sankirtanas and bhajans by many great Harikatha stalwarts who to visit the Satyanarayanaswami temple near my house; I would go and listen to them and I got attracted to that art form. I am proud to say that I am the great-grand disciple of Adibhatla Narayana Dasu, the founder of this art form, as my late guru Kalaprapurna Karur Krishna Dasu Bhagavathulu was his very first disciple,” says the Harikatha exponent.

Born into a traditional Brahmin family in Guntur, to M Kesava Rao and Subbamma, Sastry was initiated into devotion, philosophy and fine arts at a tender age. Sastry, who gave his first performance in AP Bhavan, New Delhi, thanks to his uncle PAS Rao, at the age of 14, has not looked back. Bestowed with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Harikatha in 2010, Sastry says that Harikatha was used as a tool during the country’s struggle for Independence. “Two stalwarts — Malladi Devendra and Duggirala Gopalakrishnayya ( Ram dandu fame) spread the message of Independence through the rendering of Harikatha,” he says.

The Kalaratna awardee clarifies that through Harikatha, not only does one instil devotion in the Almighty, but also socially educates, impart values, and provide entertainment at the same time. Giving an example of an episode from Ramayana, Sastry says: “In Ramayana, on the order of his father Dashratha, Lord Rama goes into exile for 14 years, but in contrast, today’s children question their parents. While rendering Harikatha, we have to make it socially relevant, keep abreast with current affairs and make it witty to hold on to the attention of the audiences.”

In the interior parts of Andhra Pradesh, people have attended Simhachala Sastry’s 15-day Harikatha recitals, popular among which are those from Ramayana. For Sri Rama Navami this year, Sastry rendered three-hour Sitarama Kalyanam at Madeenaguda, Hyderabad. “I can render Harikatha for four hours at a stretch and during Vaggeyakar festivals I render Harikatha on the life and works of saints, while other times it is Ramayana, Bhagawatha, Mahabharata and others. I have done Harikatha on about 70 stories,” says Sastry who is also Head of Harikatha Department at SV College of Music and Dance, Tirupati.

He says that listening to recitals of great Carnatic artistes like MS Subbulakshmi, D K Pattamal, Balamurali Krishna has helped him refiine his rendition.

COURTESY     THE HINDU

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They rose to the challenge

A VERY BERRY NUT

It is impossible to contain the excitement that an unseasonal summer shower can trigger. Accompanied by thunder and lightning, it sends everyone into a videography frenzy, which invariably makes its way to your social media timeline. Those shot at night are amusing: nothing is really visible.

Wading through these videos, reading complaints of water-logged roads, no electricity and so on, I had a surprise in store. A fellow journalist had posted photos of some berries, which apparently come into the market after the first summer shower. They appeared new to some of us, but those in the know identified the berries as morri pandlu.

This name was hardly substantial information, and only served to heighten my curiosity. My query on the same post about taste, availability and alternative name was answered by a home-baker and food-writer. “This is chironji or charoli in Hindi,” she said. Also known as Buchanania lanzan in Latin,it is known by various names — almondette, calumpong nut, cheronjee nut, cherauli nut, cuddapah almond, Hamilton mombinpiyalcharsaropkolamavukattumacharu/chanhra (Oriya), kole maavu (Kannada) and muungaappeezh/nuramaram (Malayalam).

I knew chironji to be one of the most important ingredients for sheer kormaduring Ramzan, but I didn’t know it was a berry. Well, it isn’t. It is actually a kernel inside the seed of this berry, found deep inside forests and picked by Lambadi tribals during season.

It is often sold as street food. The women who sell them say that the berries are always picked from the tree, and the ones that fall on the ground are not eaten.

They are even dried and relished later as dehydrated berries. Available just for the few weeks when summer starts to set in, they taste surprisingly good: a bit like jamun when first pressed between the tongue and roof of the mouth, then eventually more like sweet grapes.

Not much is known about the benefits of sucking into these berries during summer. Locals believe it is good for oral health, to improve dry patches of skin and for the health of the gut.

If you can’t find it in the berry form, don’t lose heart: chironji as a nut has several qualities that can benefit the body in many ways. Apart from being high in fibre and protein, it has a cooling effect and is hence recommended for consumption in summer.

The seeds are said to soothe the body when it is hot. Some even believe consumption of charoli improves liver health. The juice of the berries is used to treat diarrhoea.

Also said to be highly beneficial is the chironji oil, especially for rashes and skin irritation.

COURTESY     THE HINDU

Even Gods have Problems! 

My nephew dragged me to a Satsangh and I went reluctantly. I said to myself, that since I have not slept well these last few days, maybe the boring satsang will put me to sleep for a few hours.

Well, I was in for a pleasant surprise. The saint was really good, and humorous, and he broached the topic of human problems. He said we are all complaining all the time, but even the gods have their own set of problems.

Here is what he said: 

Lord Shiva and Vishnu were sitting one day, and Shiva was complaining to Vishnu about his problems. “I have two sons Ganesh and Kartikiya. Ganesh Sits on a mouse, kartikya sits on a peacock. And I have a snake around my neck.
The peacock eyes the snake (peacocks eat snakes). My snake eyes Ganesha’s Mouse. Worse, I sit on the Nandi, the Bull, and my wife Parvati sits on the lion. Now the lion is eyeing my Nandi.
I have so much trouble balancing these things about.  Worse still, Parvati does not like her sister, Ganga to sit on my head. It is so cold on Kailash, and with all these problems, very little clothes on me, I wanted to kill myself.i drank poison, but that got stuck in my throat, and I cant even die”

Vishnu said, your problems are nothing , listen to mine.  “I have one son, Kaamdev, the lord of lust. He has created havoc in the cosmos. I am ashamed.
I have one wife. Laxmi. Everyone prays to me, but they want her to come to their house. And no one wants to let her go. Shiva,your wife is with you, mine is roaming all around the world, with no one wanting to leave her, how would you feel in my place?  Also my Vahaan, the vehicle of travel, is Garud, the big bird. I have no seat belt, so cold up there, and one swish, and I am dead.

You are sitting in one place, kailash, and look at me I am sitting in the ocean, on the head of Sheeshnag, with multiple heads, and if one head goes wonky and bites me, I am dead.”

I was laughing all the way, sleep disappeared, and I came to realize that saintly teachings can be interesting too!

Yes we all have problems, each human being having his or her own set of problems. But we have to face them and get along. ​​

 

Dedicated to all the teachers

The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life.

One man, a CEO, decided to explain the problem with education. He
argued, “What’s a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best
option in life was to become only a teacher?”

To stress his point he said to another guest;
“You’re a teacher, Mrs Sharma. Be honest. What do you make?”

Teacher Mrs Sharma, who had a reputation for honesty and frankness
replied, “You want to know what I make?
(She paused for a second, then began…)

“Well, I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.

I make a C+ feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor winner.

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of class time when their parents
can’t make them sit for 5 min. without an I- Pod, Game Cube or movie
rental.

You want to know what I make?

(She paused again and looked at each and every person at the table)

I make kids wonder.

I make them question.

I make them apologize and mean it.

I make them have respect and take responsibility for their actions.

I teach them how to write and then I make them write.
Keyboarding isn’t everything.

I make them read, read, read.

I make them show all their work in maths.

They use their God given brain, not the man-made calculator.

I make my students from other countries learn everything they need to
know about India while preserving their unique cultural identity.

I make my classroom a place where all my students feel safe.

Finally, I make them understand that if they use the gifts they were
given, work hard, and follow their hearts, they can succeed in life.

(Mrs Sharma paused one last time and then continued.)

Then, when people try to judge me by what I make, with me knowing
money isn’t everything, I can hold my head up high and pay no
attention because they are ignorant. You want to know what I make?

I MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN ALL YOUR LIVES, EDUCATING KIDS AND PREPARING
THEM TO BECOME CEO’s, AND DOCTORS AND ENGINEERS…

What do you make Mr. CEO? Only money?

His jaw dropped; he went silent.

THIS IS WORTH SENDING TO EVERY  teacher you know .

Actually very worth sending again & again – especially to those from
other professions who think they are above teachers

 

courtesy     whatsapp    google images

INNATE LOVE FOR THE WILD

This 17-year-old B.Sc student and wildlife lover is ecstatic about getting selected for an American exchange programme.

It’s a proud moment for Hyderabad as a city-based student Sahil Ahmed has been nominated by the US Consulate General for a prestigious five-week student exchange programme called The Study of the U.S. Institutes (SUSIs). The 17-year-old has been selected under the Global Environmental Issues 2018 category.

Sahil will participate in an all-expense paid programme to the US from June to August 2018. The B.Sc student (biotechnology, biochemistry and chemistry) from St. Mary’s College is ecstatic! Talking about how he got the opportunity, Sahil says, “My college had nominated me along with a few others. We had an interview for 25 minutes with the US Consulate and we just got the results in April. We were supposed to hear from them in February, so I first thought that I wasn’t selected

Sahil will be participating in several workshops and seminars along with students from Brazil, Japan, Russia and China. Sahil has interned with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Hyderabad as an illustrator for a bird app that is currently being worked on. He also volunteers for excursions and trips to wildlife sanctuaries in Telangana. “I have loved wildlife since I was five years old. Even when there were snakes in my backyard, I would be fascinated but never scared. I soon began volunteering with WWF. Since I had a lot of knowledge about the wild, the interviewers were impressed. When they asked me what would I do after the exchange programme, I told them that I would compare the scenario of wildlife in India and other countries and implement the ideas that are being used in other countries to conserve the wildlife here,” he states.

The illustrations Sahil makes for WWF are impressive. “These illustrations are going to be a part of their app that helps people identity birds in any area and also suggests how to help the birds if needed. I also illustrate for their newsletters among others. I would like to keep conveying my thoughts through my illustrations and do my bit to save wildlife,” he says.

Apart from sketching for WWF, Sahil also draws extinct animals. Dinosaurs fascinate him and he often sketches their musculature and how they would look if they had evolved over the years. “Most of my work is in grey and black, I would love to use more colours. I am learning more about pollution, bioremediation and plastic. I want to give my best at the programme,” he concludes.

 

courtesy     Deccan Chronicle

 

Welsh table tennis whiz-kid all set to grab eyeballs

Eleven year old Anna Hursey is set to make Common wealth Games history this week with the pint sized Welsh table tennis player hoping to punch above her weight and win a medal.

Hursey who first picked up a bat at five will become the youngest athlete to represent Wales at the Commonwealth Games and is thought to be the youngest athlete of any nationality ever to compete at the quadrennial everl

She’s taking it in her stride really Welsh coach Stephen Jenkins said.  She is actually really mature for her age.  It’s just inside her   she is mentally strong.

Hursey’s team mates including Welsh number one Charlotte Carey have taken her under their wing to help protect her from the glare of publicity.

Standing just 5 feet 3 inches the Cardiff schoolgirl is a tenacious competitor having already broken records by appearing at last year’s European championships.

 

Courtesy     Deccan Chronicle  sports