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If you are one of the millions of people who believe in their daily horoscope,  or even if your are casually curious about it you’d have been hit with this news couple of weeks ago. For some true believers, this news has been heartbreaking  to hear that the Sun was not even in the constellation that they thought their sign was when they were born. If you were wondering how this drastic change in the Sun signs came about,  read on.

You need to get familiar with a few technical terms, in order to navigate.  Now, first things first – Let’s see what a constellation is.  Simplifying the definition given in the Wikipedia, I can say  ” a constellation is a perceived pattern formed by prominent stars within apparent proximity to one another.”  It must have been the bright sky without today’s light pollution coupled with the good imagination of the people from ancient civilizations that gave rise to these constellations. Many of the constellations were named after different animals or characters from mythological stories. I suspect  some of them were defined by people who really had some extra time at hand as well , because only a few constellations resemble the figure they were meant to represent! Here is the constellation of Scorpius, where it is indeed easy to imagine  a celestial scorpion is shown below.

The Constellation of Scorpius – The bent tail almost comes to life!


The next important term that you need to understand is ecliptic.  The ecliptic is the apparent path taken by the Sun on the celestial sphere.  If this definition sounds like Greek or Latin, the diagram on the side should help! The celestial sphere is the imaginary sphere around us.  If you project the earth’s equator on to the celestial sphere, you get the celestial equator. Since the Earth’s axis is not perpendicular to the plane it revolves around the Sun, the path of the Sun on the celestial sphere is also  at an angle to the celestial equator. This path is called the ecliptic. But how to observe the path of the Sun among the stars since no stars are visible when the Sun is around? By observing the eastern sky just before sunrise, and the western sky just after sunset, it was possible for ancient civilizations to maps the path of the Sum among stars. The ancient civilizations who defined these constellations also observed that this path passed primarily through 12 constellations, which they called the Zodiac. Each of the constellation in the zodiac was assumed to occupy 30 degrees of longitude on the celestial sphere – the amount of distance covered by the Sun in the sky in one month’s time.  Since the Moon, and other planets also revolve around the Sun in almost the same plane as the Earth, they are also always seen in the vicinity of the zodiac for Earth based observers.

There are two points in the sky where the ecliptic intersects the celestial equator. These are the days when equinoxes occur. One is the vernal equinox at the beginning of spring (so called vernal equinox), and the other beginning of the fall (autumnal equinox).  About 1500 years ago, the spring equinox coincided with the beginning of the constellation of Aries, and the Sun was at this position around the 14th of April each year. Due to the phenomenon called precession, the vernal equinox is moving slowly on the ecliptic and now actually occurs around the 20th of March each year.  However, western astrology still considers the vernal equinox as the ‘First point of Aries’ even though, the constellation of Aries may be far from it.

Until 20th century, constellation borders stayed sort of amorphous.  In 1925, the International Astronomical Association defined constellation borders assigning specific boundaries between all the constellations in the sky, and dividing all the area of the sky into 88 constellations.  When this new sky map was created, the ecliptic actually passed though 13 constellations instead of 12.  The Sun actually moves through the constellation of Ophiuchus, between Scorpius and Sagittarius.

In the map here, you can see that the ecliptic passes through Ophiuchus before going to Sagittarius. But all this change happened about 85 years ago. But then why is it making big news now?

It is just that a fact that was known to astronomers and for others interested in the sky, was brought out as ‘news’ 🙂 ! On January 15th 2011, when millions of people heard for the first time that the Sun goes through a 13th constellation, and when the exact times of the year during which the Sun is actually in a constellation were listed out  by Minnesota Planetarium Society, hell broke lose for a lot of believers!

Now lets assess what is the impact of this on your life. There are two options for you. If you believe in western astrology, you can take the following stand to stop lot of heart ache –  “According to western astrology, zodiac was divided the ecliptic into 12 equal parts. The first point of Aries has long since been disassociated with the constellation of Aries. So although I understand that the Sun was not even in the constellation of Leo when I was born, I am ready to believe I’ll have qualities of a Leo, because, well – astrology says so”.  This is technically a correct argument. In summary, your sign did not change, based on the principles of astrology.

If you are a non-believer of astrology like I am, and don’t believe that the Sun or the Moon or any stars can predict your fortunes, then well and good! You don’t have to care a bit about any definition or redefinition of constellation boundaries. After reading this post, you can be happy about knowing one new fact about the sky, though  😉


Picture source : Normally I make it a point to give proper credit to pictures that I use in the blog posts. Unfortunately this time, I regret not saving that information, and not providing it in the post

p.s:  This is a slightly modified version of the speech I gave today at my Toastmasters club. This was a project from the Advanced TM Manual – Speaking to Inform.


Doe (Do), a deer, a female deer
Ray (Re), a drop of golden Sun
Me (Me), a name I call myself
Far (Fa), a long long way to run !

I am sure most of you recognize this song from the classic movie – “The Sound of Music”. The song tells about the seven musical notes used in western classical music – do re mi fa so la ti do.  Here, in this gentle introduction to Indian classical music (ICM) I am going to tell you about another set of 7 notes, sa ri ga ma pa da ni –the very same notes as they are known in India.

Indian musical traditions date back to several thousands of years. Around the 13th -14th century AD, it started splitting into two streams. Both these systems are in vogue today. The basics of the two systems are the same, but there are differences in style and presentation. The system prevalent in most of the northern India is called by the name Hindustani, or uttarAdi (northern music). This had an influence from Persian music during middle ages. The music in the south retained more of original elements of Indian music, is called Karnataka or dakshinAdi sangeeta (literally, southern music).

I will compare and contrast Indian music classical with western classical music to make this an easy learning experience. Just keep in mind that whenever I refer to western music or Indian music, they refer to the classical variety.

Let me first tell about the similarity. Both western and Indian music are based on an octave with 7 notes and 12 semi-tonal intervals. A note is called svara in Indian music. The 7 notes are shadja, rishabha, gandhara, madhyama, panchama dhaivata and nishada. Don’t worry about the complicated sounding names – These are always represented by the solfa syllables -sa ri ga ma pa da ni while singing.

There are some key differences that can make Indian music almost alien sounding to an ear trained to listen to western classical music. The first difference is that the notes in Indian music are seldom played or rendered plain at their nominal position. The notes generally descend from a higher note or glide from a lower note or oscillate around the nominal value. This is called gamaka , and this technique of singing a note is employef commonly in Indian music.

The second difference is the floating key used in Indian music. The compositions in western music are set in and are always performed at a certain key. There is no such hard and fast rule in Indian music. A performer uses a pitch in which he or his instrument sound best. This is normally set by the sound of a drone, called the shruti. In a performance, all the singers and the instruments set their pitch to the shruti set by the main performer.

Coming to the next difference, harmonic elements are almost absent in Indian music, while western classical music has abundant harmony. In western classical, you will find combination of notes that sound nice when played together form chords. You may also find different instruments, or vocals singing a different note blending very harmoniously. On the other hand, Indian music most of the time does not use of playing or singing different notes at the same time. Indian music a melodic system, where compositions are set in different melodies, called raagas. The term rAga actually means color, and indeed is a true representative of Indian music. There are hundreds of raagas which have individuality by the notes they use, the sequence of notes, and also the gamaka or the variations on the notes in the raaga, and the mood they create.

Last, but not the least is the importance of improvisation. In a western music scenario, most of the pieces you would get to listen in a performance are pre-composed. The performers may also have the notation in front of them when they sing or play. On the other hand, in an Indian music concert, there is heavy emphasis on improvisation and elaboration. There are compositions, but the artist would augment it with his own imagination and explore the contours of the raaga he is performing.

There is a saying: “Shrutih mAtA, layah pitA” – Being in tune(key), and keeping a good rhythm are like parents to have good music. There is a well defined rhythmic system in Indian music. It can be as simple as keeping the rhythm by hand or use a plethora of rhythmic instruments.

To conclude here are the key take-away points. Indian musical system is based on the same 7 notes and 12 semitones as the western music. However, absence of harmony, increased use of melody, the glides on the musical notes and the emphasis on improvisation make it distinct.


p.s: This is a speech I gave at my Toastmasters Club

Last year, Al Gore was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the year 2007 was announced, for supporting the cause of the environment.   His film “An Inconvenient Truth” has won an Academy award as well. Although I haven’t seen that film, I really appreciate Al Gore for the concern he is showing on the Earth’s environment.

What is this ‘Inconvenient Truth’? It is something that most of us know, but not willing to acknowledge. Our tendency is to push the mess under the carpet, unseen until it gets so big, and can not be concealed anymore. Well, the unpleasant, inconvenient truth is that the global warming caused by human activity has harmed the earth’s environment in the last 4 decades, probably more than what had happened in the previous forty centuries. And worse, we are turning a blind eye to that even after knowing the consequences of global warming.

The harm done to the environment is nowhere more visible than in the melting ice sheets and the receding glaciers. Over the years, glaciers are receding, and ice sheets in the Arctic and the Antarctic are melting away. In the last 25 years almost 20-30% of the arctic ice sheet has melted. Between 1850 and 1980 the glaciers in Europe have lost about a third of their landmass. Parts of the Arctic Ocean and the Antarctic Ocean are actually warming up at a rate twice or thrice that of the other regions in the world. The ice cover in Greenland has about 10% of the world’s supply of fresh water, and if all that melts, the sea level will increase by about 20 feet. In The frozen continent of Antarctica has about 99% of the land covered in thick ice sheets. If this would melt, the sea level would increase by about 200 feet. Overall, the sea level has increased by about 6 inches in the 20th century. This may further increase by about a foot in the 21st century. Considering a large population of the mankind lives on or near the coastal regions, any impairment would be of great consequence.

Glaciers on all the 6 continents have been receding and melting away. The glaciers on the Kilimanjaro in equatorial Africa have receded to less than 60% of what was there in 1975. In Glacier National part in Montana, more than 40 of the 137 glaciers have disappeared in the 20th century. In Greenland, new islands are breaking away from the mainland due to melting ice. Several pacific and Indian ocean islanders are always living is fear of being overtaken by the sea.

Glaciers in the Himalayas are drying up faster than those in the rest of the world. The Gangothri glacier, source of river Ganga, is receding so fast that it has lost about 3 kilometers in the last century. This comes to an alarming 83 feet every year. In case of Gangothri glacier, the rate of receding has been shown to be much higher in the last 3 decades. NASA pictures have shown that Gangothri glacier has receded about 850 meters in the last 25 years. If the same rate of depletion continues, it is feared that the glacier may totally disappear by the end of the 21stcentury.

If Gangothri glacier melts away, it will affect more than 1.5 billion people in India and Bangladesh directly. In the current world economic scenario, no country is shielded from the events happening elsewhere. Billions of more people around the world will be affected by a slow catastrophic event of this nature. When the glaciers recede, the oceans will swell and cities and mangroves near the coast will face the threat of getting submerged. Just remember what happened to New Orleans when hurricane Katrina hit. The fate could befall to any coastal, low lying city when the ocean level rises.

So, should we care about climate change? Yes, we should! Every one of us can, and has to do something to slow the negative impact on the environment. But how do we do that?

We can do several small things for the betterment of our environment. Every bit counts. Save energy wherever you can.When possible, take public transport, or walk, or bike instead of driving. When we drive, we can combine and reduce the number of trips. We could use renewable energy resources such as solar and wind power. We can also reduce garbage**, recycle, and compost  bio-degradable trash.

We can also plant more trees. More trees planted means more carbon dioxide taken out from the atmosphere, and less trapping of heat in the atmosphere.What is stopping us from doing these good things?

Let’s get rid of the resigning mentality that the actions one person change the earth. True, one person can not change the world. But it takes lots of drops to form an ocean. We are all but drops. But if there are no drops, where would be the ocean?


Mother Earth has been so kind to us. Isn’t time for us to be kind to her?


**p.s : As per today’s news KLIV, the city of San Jose is proposing a ban on plastic bags. Way to go!

Today is the next day after New Year Day. When I was young, the day after Yugadi, the Indian new year day was celebrated as “Varsha Todaku” – Difficult to translate – but something like :Hurdle day for the new year  🙂 If you did anything good on this day, it is believed that you would do that through the whole year. No doubt that I was expected to do things that were considered good by my parents. 😉   Extending that principle, today is the “varsha toDaku” day for the Gregorian calendar , and I want to do something good. Such as telling a nice old story.  

India has been the home to one of the ancient civilizations of the world. Some of the thinkers from the early period, four thousand years ago, seem to have had thoughts very advanced for their times.  The Rig Veda says: “The truth is one – the wise call it by many names“. Another Samskrita couplet  says : “Just like the water from the rains ultimately reaches the ocean – your prayers will reach the almighty, whatever you call him.”Starting with these roots, India supported everything from Atheism to Monotheism to a multitude of Gods and Goddesses.


Ancient Indians saw Gods and Goddesses in all forms of nature. The Sun, the Moon, planets, the air, rivers, the ocean, and even animals were seen as personification of the almighty.   With so many gods, can mythological stories fall behind? This story is from Indian mythology, but could be true irrespective of where we come from!

Vishnu, also known by names such as Hari, and Narayana, and thousand other names, is the God responsible for  maintaining the universe. Narada,  the celebrated celestial singer, is a great devotee of Vishnu and chants Vishnu’s names all the time.

One day Narada came to Vaikuntha, the heavenly abode of Vishnu, located in the ocean of milk, and asked what he always wanted to ask – “Oh Hari, pray tell me who your greatest devotee is.” Narada was indeed expecting his lord Vishnu to pat his back and tell  that it was indeed Narada, who was the greatest of them all. But to Narada’s utter surprise, Vishnu uttered an unfamiliar name. Narada, shocked and furious, asked who this person was. Vishnu, almost in a Google Earth way, zoomed on  a farm down below on the earth and showed him a farmer working there.

Narada felt  his stomach burning with jealousy. He wanted to check how could this farmer be better devotee than himself? Narada, with his special powers, flew down to earth, followed the farmer unseen like a shadow for 7 days and seven nights and returned back to Vaikuntha.

When he returned, he was really mad at his Lord Hari. He told Vishnu “ Oh Hari, do you think I am a fool to believe that this farmer is your greatest devotee? I followed him like a shadow for a week. In total, he chanted your name seven times! And, you call him your greatest devotee?  

Vishnu said – Let me give you an important assignement. After you finish that, lets discuss about him. Vishnu, then he took a golden  bowl, and filled it with oil. and told Narada. – “Oh my child, now I will place this bowl filled with oil on your head. Go around my palace 7 times, but make sure not a drop spills.” As Narada was about to leave, Vishnu added “ And, by the way,  please do not touch the bowl, please”

It was indeed a difficult task. Narada somehow managed to tiptoe around the palce 7 times and returned and told Vishnu. “Oh, Hari! See this. I have come back without spilling a drop of oil, and without touching the bowl even once”. Vishnu said – “Wonderful, Narada. I was confident you would do this task amazingly. Pray tell me how many times did you think of me when you went around my palace”? Narada says – “Oh Narayana, do not be silly and try to make fun of me! It was such a balancing act, I did not think of anything else apart from the bowl filled with oil”

Vishnu said – “Narada, now think of that poor farmer. His wife is ill, and he has young kids to take care of. His parents are old. As the village chielf,  he has to help other farmers in the village matters. Life is a tight rope walk to him; Everything he does, he does with devotion. He is a devoted father, a devoted husband, a devoted farmer, a devoted son. He takes my name once before going to sleep, and only asks for strength to carry on with his duties. Now tell me – Who is better? You or He?”

Having understood what the Lord of three worlds had in mind, Narada could only remain silent.

I think our lives are no different than Narada’s with a bowl filled with oil on top of the head – always trying to balance the load of responsibilities on our head!


If only we carry out all our responsibilites with true devotion, do we ever need to pray to any God?



I remember my maternal grand mother, from the time I was about 5 years old. I was envious of my friends, and my cousins, who got a chance to go to their grand parent’s place during the summer break. This could never happen to me, because we lived right next door to my grandparents. My ajji was a plump lady, with a loud laughter. She was different than other women of her age whom I knew. She was an excellent harmonium player. She had very swift hand movements on this instrument. If you know that the harmonium is a western instrument made for producing harmonic music (such as a piano), and it is not very easy to play Indian classical music (which is melodic in nature), you definitely can appreciate how hard it is to execute the complicated sangatis in a composition in a raga of Karnataka sangeeta. She had a wide repertoire of kritis which she played on this instrument. I was really very young at that time, and I remember only a few. The composition Raghu vamsha sudhambudi  in kadana kutoohala raga, by Patnam Subramaniya Ayyar , still rings in my ears. It is unfortunate I don’t have any recordings of her music now.

After my grandfather passed away, she started forgetting things slowly. Initially it was thought it is the common old-age related problem. (ಅರವತ್ತರ ಅರಳು-ಮರಳು) The first things she forgot were those that were learnt the hard way. Like her harmonium playing.  The swift movements on the keyboard were gone in about an year. Then she started loosing her writing. When she was taken to NIMHANS to see what was happening to her, she was still quite alert, even though a shadow of her former self, and refused to see a psychiatrist! The doctors at NIMHANs told that she suffered from a type of cerebral dementia which had no cure and things may worsen from where she was. 

Later she almost lost her speech.In the following years, she  forgot more and more. By the time she passed away, she had forgotten who she was. She was in a state where there was no yesterday. Yes, she was a victim of Alzheimer’s disease.

Most of us know about celebrity victims of Alzheimer’s disease such as President Ronald Reagan, but what is not known is that this disease is the 7th leading cause of death in the USA. There are more than 5 million people suffering from this disease in the USA. I  think the numbers, as a percentage of population would be comparable at other countries too. Surely, Alzheimer’s is a silent killer.

A German physician by name Alois Alzheimer was the first one to present a case study of one of his patients with severe memory loss. When he did an autopsy of the patient’s brain, he saw enormous malformations in the brain, dead  cells, and shrinkage. This was in 1906, more than one hundred years ago. Alzheimer’s destroys brain cells, causing problems in voluntary, and involuntary functions of the brain.The effects we see in a Alzheimer’s patient are the results of  abnormal changes are taking place in the brain. Apparently, changes in the brain may start more than 10 years earlier than visible symptoms appear. So it is very important to understand the stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

In the initial phase, is hard to realize that something is wrong with the patient because the symptoms are often confused to be those of normal aging process. When the part of the brain that control language, reasoning, sensory processing, and thought are affected, the symptoms become more pronounced. The affected person may keep telling the same thing over and over again, and also utter some words that are not easily understood. The victim may have difficulty performing daily tasks too. When the ailment gets to the advanced stage, the victim  may have difficulty walking, and they often suffer complications from other illnesses, such as pneumonia, or bed sores. The patient will even fail to recognize family members.

As of now, there is no positive clinical test for Alzheimer’s. Even CAT scans and MRI can not detect the changes in the brain tissue in the earlier phase of the disease.The doctors still have to analyse symptoms, rule out other possibilities, and the come to the conclusion that a patient is suffering from Alzheimer’s. So a thorough check up from a physician and a neurologist are required.

It seems researchers have discovered a protein, which they have named Alzheimer’s Disease Associated Protein (ADAP), in the autopsied brains of Alzheimer’s patients. If one day, they are able to find it in the bloodstream or spinal fluid, may be that will help in easy diagnosis. There is no cure yet, but seems some drugs have shown some promise in delaying the brain damage in affected patients.

When my grandmother passed away, she was totally unaware of what was happening to her. She did not have a yesterday, nor did she have a today. It has almost been a quarter century, but as for as the treatment to the condition, there is not much difference. At least there are reasons to be hopeful.I sincerely wish scientists will find a cure for this killer disease soon.

November is the Alzheimer’s Awarness month. If you know a senior who may show any symptoms, please do not delay seeing a qualified specialist. Get an evaluation as soon as possible. A cure may not exisit today. But if the onset of the degeneration is delayed, it may be possible that a cure is found in the near future.



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A Collection of  Samskrta Subhashitas, translated to Kannada

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