The Children of Zeus


Apollo, son of Zeus and one of the major Olympian deities, is the God of voyages.

The Apollo space program got its name from the image of Apollo riding his chariot across the sun.

It was the sheer audacity of President Kennedy’s speech in September 1962 which launched the Apollo program. A speech in which he declared, “We choose to go to the moon, 240,000 miles away using  a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out–then we must be bold.” 

A speech that was made based on US’s first manned space flight a year earlier (Alan Shephard, May 1961). A speech that shifted the goal post from near-earth space fights to a manned flight to the moon within the decade.

It was July 20th 1969 and humanity had come together as one. The Apollo Space program had succeeded in placing Man on the moon. Humanity had finally left its cradle. As a school kid, I accompanied my father to the US Information Services (USIS) center near Mandi House in Delhi. A crowd that milled around was gaping at a full size model of the Lunar Module which had successfully landed on the moon, allowing astronaut Neil Armstrong to step onto the lunar surface and utter those famous words, “ That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for Mankind”. These words, successfully relayed over radio stations all around the world, were uniting Mankind like never before. As a child, I could sense that from the manner strangers were excitedly speaking to each other as they pointed to features of the lunar craft named Eagle. Going to school over the next few days, I recall the exhilarating discussions of my classmates vying with each other about how many newspaper cuttings of the momentous event and the grainy photos they had managed to cut out and paste into their scrapbooks.

**

The other day, I did a day excursion to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. For me the trip was a pilgrimage, growing up as I had in the sixties and seventies. When Space travel and Moon landings were what our dreams were made of. When our imaginations were fuelled by the stories of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein.

As I stood looking at the full-scale exhibit of the Saturn V Rocket that had powered the Apollo missions as well as the replica of the spacecraft that had successfully carried astronauts to the moon and back more than half a century ago, deep emotions stirred within me.

In the sixties when computing, communication and control systems were so rudimentary, I realised the awesomeness of the belief and effort that not only used brute rocket force to hurtle a spacecraft with astronauts beyond earth’s gravity, it could also deploy fine navigational controls to land the lunar module onto the moon surface and then lift off with the astronauts to dock with the orbiting command module before bringing them back to earth. It was the sheer cowboy-like bravado and risk of a journey into the unknown that had brought up the emotions.

NASA Command & Control center for the Apollo missions

” The Eagle has landed!”

Which brings me to the story of Artemis. In mythology, Artemis, the Goddess of the Moon and daughter of Zeus, is the twin sister of Apollo.

An apt name for Humanity’s next phase of exploring the unknown depths of space. Artemis is all about NASA’s vision to return to the moon after half a century. Artemis would deploy the cutting-edge technological advancements in computing, communications, robotics and materials of this century to not only put men and women on the moon but take them on manned flights to Mars and beyond. The Artemis vision incorporates sustainability, international cooperation and involvement of a plethora of private sub-contractors for developing innovative mission equipment and processes.

The following is an extract from the US Presidential Memorandum on reinvigorating America’s Human Space Exploration program:

“Lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities. Beginning with missions beyond low-Earth orbit, the United States will lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations.”

The Artemis initiative envisages the use of a powerful Space Launch System, the Orion spacecraft, a lunar space station similar to the International Space Station called the Gateway circling the moon, reusable human landing systems onto the lunar surface as well as a lunar basecamp. An initiative designed to leverage experience, technologies and mindset from Man’s return to the moon in 2024, to eventually make the quantum leap to Mars and beyond.

In the words of NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, “Pushing the boundaries of space exploration, science, and technology once again, America is on the verge of exploring more of the Moon than ever before. This new era of lunar exploration is called Artemis. Named after the twin sister of Apollo, she is the Goddess of the Moon, and we are the Artemis Generation.”

Could it be that Man’s destiny to the stars remains inexorably linked to the son and daughter of Zeus?

In Learning……..                                   Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgment: ‘The ARTEMIS Plan – NASA’s lunar exploration program overview’, Sept. 2020

My flight over Greenland


In mythology, Niflheim was a land of primordial ice and cold, with  Élivágar and Hvergelmir, the frozen rivers from which arose all other rivers of the world.

According to legends, Niflheim was the primordial region that was born out of two realms. The Ginnungagap, the home of ice and the Muspelheim, the home of fire. Between these two realms of cold and heat, the world got created as ice mixed with fire. Niflheim became the abode of Hel, the goddess daughter of Loki (remember the estranged brother of Thor from the Avengers!), and her subjects.

As my flight cruised over Greenland, I watched the morning rays streaming, glistening and bouncing off the frozen land. A quote of  Albert Schweitzer came to mind.

 “As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.”

But is the melting ice really improving understanding and trust in the world I mused.

From my aircraft window, I could spot the rivers formed by the melting Greenland Ice Sheet.  

Greenland’s glaciers, in existence for millions of years, have now suddenly begun to rapidly retreat and thin. Scientists have concluded that the Greenland ice sheet is in the throes of irreversible ice loss. Paleoclimatic evidence indicates that even a mere 2 °C of global warming could endanger the Greenland glaciers leading to a sea-level rise of six meters. Large swathes of inhabited coasts and islands in the United States, Europe as well as densely populated regions of Bangla Desh and India would go underwater.

My thoughts about Greenland, its melting glaciers and the impact on Humanity were interrupted by the flight steward politely asking me about my choice of breakfast. Looking up at him and then around me, I seemed to be in a cocoon far removed from the impact of global warming playing out below. But were I and my co travellers really in a cocoon or were we shutting our minds to the inevitable? I was left wondering.

In musing……..                                   

Shakti Ghosal

The Peacock Throne and today’s date….


Did you know that close to four centuries ago, on 22nd March 1635 AD, the Peacock Throne was inaugurated by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and unveiled to the world?

Did you know that the Peacock Throne took seven years to build and cost twice as much as the world-famous Taj Mahal, made as it was of solid gold, diamonds and pearls? Kohinoor, one of the largest cut diamonds in the world weighing more than one hundred and five carats, today takes pride of place in the British crown jewels but was originally part of the Peacock Throne. In some ways, the inauguration of the Peacock Throne represented the zenith of the Mughal empire.

The Peacock Throne remains a masterpiece of Moghul creation, unsurpassed in opulence and extravagance before or after. The throne creator and master goldsmith Said Gilani wrote this couplet on the occasion of the throne’s inauguration.

Towards India he turned his reins quickly and went in all glory,

Driving like the blowing wind, dapple-grey steed swift as lightning.
With bounty and liberality, he returned to the capital;
Round his stirrups were the heavens and angels round his reins.
A thousand thanks! The beauty of the world has revived

With the early glory of the throne of multi-coloured gems

A century later in 1739, the Mughal Empire’s decline was precipitated by its defeat at the hands of the Iranian ruler Nader Shah. What had attracted Nader Shah were stories of the Peacock Throne and the wealth of the Mughal empire. Interestingly, it was again on 22nd March 1739 AD that the Mughal capital of Delhi witnessed one of its worst mass killings and slaughter. As the invader Nader Shah ordered Qatl-e-Aam, an estimated twenty thousand men, women and children were butchered in a spell of six hours- the single bloodiest massacre in the shortest time in recorded history. In many ways this sacking of the much-venerated capital city represented the demise of the Mughal empire.

And what happened to the magnificent Peacock Throne? Well, it along with other treasures was taken away by Nader Shah and his army as they went back to Iran. The total wealth carried in today’s value terms was a stupendous eleven billion dollars.

The throne then disappeared! It is rumoured of being dismantled and literally destroyed after Nader Shah’s assassination in 1747, most of the gold and precious stones looted. It is also said that parts of the Peacock throne were used in the construction of the Persian emperor’s Sun throne.

Fascinating is it not that the zenith and the demise of the Mughal Empire in India are linked to the Peacock Throne and the date 22nd March.

In Learning………Shakti Ghosal

A Rajput fort and its Mughal architecture


Amer Fort

The first view of Amer fort is breathtaking. As the car reaches a lake on the left, two forts built at different levels on the Aravalli Mountain range can be seen on the other side. They are crag forts with the walls following the rocky contours of the range. Our guide meets us there and we commence our visit of the fort and all that it holds.

We are told that the Amer fort was really a palace and the fort structure above it was really the fort for protection of the palace below. The Jaigarh fort is connected through subterranean passages with the palace which could be used by the inhabitants of the latter including the royal family to move to the safety of the fortifications, should the need arise due to an enemy attack.  How many times did the Rajas of the Amer palace have to do this, I wonder?

As we enter Amer fort through the Suraj Pol or the sun gate, my mind’s eye can see the vision of Raja Man Singh on horseback entering with his army after his victory over the Raja of Jessore in the faraway lands of Bengal. It is said that after his defeat, the Raja of Jessore gifted a black stone slab. The slab carried the legend of king Kansa killing Lord Krishna’s newly born elder siblings on it. On his return, Man Singh ordered that the stone be used to carve out the image of Durga, the slayer of the demon king Mahishasur, and installed in the fort’s temple.

Getting into the inside courtyards, one sees the huge influence of Mughal architecture with the Diwan-e-Am, the Diwan-e- Khas, the Sheesh Mahal and the Moghul Garden waiting to be explored.  As I stand there, looking around me at the private quarters of the twelve queens of Raja Man Singh, do I hear the eager footsteps of the favoured queen on the staircase going up to meet her Raja?  

‘The Chronicler of the Hooghly’ first year anniversary


I am delighted to mention that on its first anniversary, Amazon has released this brand video of my book, ‘The Chronicler of the Hooghly and other stories’.

Available globally on Amazon.

http://www.shaktighosal.com

Of Germ Pods and Personal Learning Clouds……… two trends of a post COVID future


It is fascinating to see how technologies originate in response to unmet needs and then go on to transform and impact the world in unfathomable ways.

In this post, I look at two such technology initiatives and then explore how they might evolve and impact us.

The first technology initiative is Germ Pods.

It was early April 2020 and the Covid had just started making initial inroads into India with recorded infections hovering around a couple of thousand.  The Government launched an innovative contact tracing and self-assessment mobile App called Aarogya Setu. It became the fastest growing App in the world with more than fifty million downloads in less than two weeks. The App gathered data from positive infection reports on a real time basis and was designed to identify infection hot spots and alert the user about the number of Covid infected people in the vicinity. Government ministries and Indian Airports made it mandatory for all people to register into the App to ensure low risk. Aarogya Setu was subsequently merged with the COWIN portal which was designed to register and update vaccination status at the individual level.

Countries around the world launched similar contact, movement and vaccination status tracing Apps during the pandemic.

As I muse, the import and the transformative potential of the tracing and status app becomes clear. The future would be about a real need to protect and secure the health of oneself and one’s own community. Increasingly, testing for various transmissible diseases, real time tracing and proximity alerts would form the basis of AI based algorithmic analysis to create hierarchies of health risk statuses. In spite of repeated assurances that individual privacy norms would be protected, geographic and digital clusters of such hierarchies would begin to emerge and, in more ways than one, would trample on individual’s privacy and behaviour. These clusters or “Germ pods” would over time become much more than mere health pods. They would morph as digital identifiers of micro-groups displaying differing economic, demographic and social behaviours.  Can you imagine what such identifiers would do in the hands of marketing organisations, Government policy makers and politicians?

What thus started off as mere health protecting ‘Germ Pods’ might become somewhat sinister gatekeeping tools allowing individual entry based on constantly tweaked algorithms; they would actually become functionally invisible to folks who do not qualify. Groups would get shielded from public view as well as from one another, as they get into exclusive symbiotic relationships with marketing organisations and the Government. Overall transparency and accountability in a society relating to spreading of resources would take a hit, further exacerbating the ‘have’ and ‘have not’ divide.

My sense is that in the future, the above transformative technology might usher in a societal problem.

The second technology initiative is Personal Learning Clouds.

 For some years, I have been engaged in training the next tier Leadership for a large business group in India. While the need for Leadership development programs is acutely felt in today’s VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) environment, the organisation also senses that traditional class room case study-based programs are no longer working to prepare tomorrow’s leaders for the challenges they would face. The training manager thus finds it hard to justify costs relating to such training programs. Last but not the least, the program does not really get ‘owned’ by the participants’ boss and other team members leading to the program learning not getting the needed support for effective application at the workplace.

The pandemic has fast paced the shift of training programs onto Zoom and other digital platforms. My client organisation has started seeing this as a great alternative, cutting down as it does requirements of logistics and physical infrastructure. The participants are able to virtually join in from their work desks or homes with a much shorter lead time.

As I think of the emerging trend, I visualize the birth of ‘Personal Learning Cloud (PLC)’ in today’s rapidly changing and constrained environment. The PLC would be flexible, allowing  24X7 accessibility to learning modules aligned to the need and behaviour of an individual and his team. Over time the PLC would emerge as a networked learning infrastructure. It would not only allow overall lowering of training costs but would facilitate the organisational leadership to offer ‘just in time’ targeted learning experiences for personnel according to his / her role and immediate organisational needs. Finally, the PLC ‘s real time accessibility, relevance and interactive capability would allow the learner’s immediate superior to become an active stakeholder in the process and provide support and accountability.

I sense that over time the PLC would make learning personalized as well as democratized (in terms of access) and would allow organisations a better gauge to measure return on investment and ensure work place application. Something essential to keep the ‘just in time’ PLC based learning relevant in a fast-changing world.

My hope is that in the future, the above is where significant growth and development opportunity would lie.

In learning……….                                                                               Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement:

  1. ‘After the Pandemic: What happens next?’ – Document prepared by Ayca Guralp, Instititue of the Future, CA, US.
  2. ‘The future of Leadership Development’ – HBR March-April 2019

The economic inequality fallout of the pandemic


While doing a course on, ‘Welcome to our post-pandemic future’, the aspect of economic inequality trend jumped out at me. A trend that seems to have accelerated since the onset of the pandemic.

Statistics show that the eight wealthiest people in the world now have as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion people combined! Incredible as it seems, that is correct. The combined wealth of this league of extraordinary gentlemen out weighs that of three and a half billion people! It set me thinking. What is that differentiating proposition that creates such a disparity? Is it the intelligence quotient, is it the emotional quotient, a combination of the two or something else?

As I reviewed the behaviour patterns and articulations of these extraordinarily wealthy gentlemen. I could discern a pattern. A common underlying theme behind such incredible wealth creation seemed to be a knack of envisaging a future that seemed impossible, in fact laughable to most folks around. However, these individuals held the belief to hunker down and live into that future, having the doggedness to hang on till they could make it true.

 I discovered something else. As the world shifted in terms of technology and mindset, there came a moment when the window of opportunity aligned with the envisaged future and competence set of the individual. Because of the ability to hunker down and hang on, the individual could recognize that ‘clunk’ of the future as it arrived and take appropriate action. This seemed to be true for Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg as well as the others on the list.

In the next three to five years, how could we expect to see the growing economic inequality pan out and its impact on the world? One might envisage depressed ‘across the board’ consumer demand and a drag on the global economy. Most of us can recognize the negative potential of a severe long-term drag.

In one of my earlier posts some years back (https://esgeemusings.com/2017/01/22/a-brave-new-world/), I had mused:

“…….Our Brave New World too seems to be a story of the blue and red pills allowing us a choice of the path we could take.

One road leads us to a virtual utopia. Inhabited by people fully able to realise their creative and innovative potentials. A world where people are uniquely free to follow their passions and creative urges. Where innovations are exploding every other day and unimaginable wealth is getting created. Where products and services are plentiful and available to all. Where being wealthy or not no longer matters. A world that has finally come to realise the socialistic dreams of Karl Marx and Lenin, but in a warped way.

The other way is to the land of dystopia. Of people lacking meaningful work and condemned to exist on the lower rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy. With not a hope in hell of achieving the higher rungs of potential. Of folks condemned to live on a Universal basic income provided by the Governments of the day. Of large sections of society feeling increasingly dispossessed and spiralling down into drugs, gambling, terrorism and similar madness……….”

 As I think of the growing inequality of today, I do spot some of the above-mentioned patterns of change. But I remain unsure of a pre-determined outcome. Would the economic disparity continue to grow? If so, what could each one of us do to support folks to more effectively handle the situation?

I sense that over the next few years, the world would need to go through a period of healing, not only emotional healing from the damage and trauma of the pandemic but a movement to restore overall consensus and a more equitable share for all towards livelihood. All of us would need to get involved and ensure that groups who have been disproportionately affected are at the table for coming up with plans and solutions, including young people, and that they have a chance to really have a say in what happens next to ensure a better and safer future in the coming years.

In Learning…………..                                                                                                      Shakti Ghosal

The Fault in our times


Do the following look familiar to you? Do they apply to you?

  • Are you living an E- Life, is your life made up of bits and bytes, black and white?
  • Are you perennially rushed, shortchanging your grasp of a situation as you celebrate breadth instead of depth?
  • As you face a situation, do you see yourself reactively ‘firing from the hip’ rather than standing aside and reflecting deeply?
  • In a fast-changing world, are you racing through your days without the clarity of who you really want to be and where you really want to go?
  • With relentless demands at work and home, are you becoming short tempered and easily distracted?
  • Are you so wired up that you are melting down?

Equipped with day planners, to-do lists, smartphones and laptops, we pride ourselves as efficient time managers as we hold the intention to multi-task and optimize our productivity on a 24 X 7 basis. What is that which stops us from bringing sufficient energy into all that we are doing, why is it that we fail in so many of our well-intentioned endeavours?

Have you wished you had more time and the wherewithal to do things better? But is it the paucity of time………. or is it something else?

There is a significantly different element, not time, which is the fundamental currency of performance and effectiveness.

http://www.empathinko.in

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