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"Bending Modernity" ++

Hi, this is the GenWise team– we bring out this newsletter to help parents and educators to complement the work of formal schools and associated systems. We can help our children thrive in these complex times only by exchanging ideas and insights and collaborating on this.

Our main topic for this newsletter is an in-depth conversation @ The GenWise Club, between 13-year old Siddharth Kothari and Dr Radha Gopalan on a how do we “bend modernity” – given all the progress we have made, how do we learn lessons from our past, and steer the earth in a safer direction (pandemics, climate change, etc.). It was indeed heartening to see the quality of thinking presented by Siddharth, and his exchanges with Radha.

Below, we present excerpts from this conversation. Regular sections on Upcoming Courses and Parenting Tips are also presented.

Bending Modernity

Radha, setting context:

Here’s an excerpt from an excellent but very detailed paper by David Morens and Anthony Fauci (yes the scientist who Trump ignored & fought with!!)…. “Until recent decades and centuries, many deadly pandemic diseases either did not exist or were not significant problems. Cholera, for example, was not known in the West until the late 1700s and became pandemic only because of human crowding and international travel, which allowed new access of the bacteria in regional Asian ecosystems to the unsanitary water and sewer systems that characterized cities throughout the Western world. This realization leads us to suspect that some, and probably very many, of the living improvements achieved over recent centuries come at a high cost that we pay in deadly dis- ease emergences. Since we cannot return to ancient times, can we at least use lessons from those times to bend modernity in a safer direction? ” Any thoughts on how we can “bend modernity“?

The world is his canvas and Siddharth responds in detail on various dimensions around which he believes we could act – spanning Food, Packaging, Tourism, Design of Buildings, International Travel, Preservation of Green Cover, etc. Here is an extract of his thoughts from a couple of these themes, Food:

Siddharth, on Nature Tourism:

Because many people visit forests and other reserves, the forest managers tend to find a way to earn money. They might build a hotel in the forest for the people. They might even capture some animals form the forest and start a forest zoo so that more people visit the forest. This might lead to large areas of forest being cleared. For avoiding this, the forest should have a rule that only x number of people should be allowed to visit the forest in one day. This makes sure that the forest’s ecosystem doesn’t get disturbed. Also some area should be completely roped off to the public-it should be open ONLY to scientists. We should plant a large patch of trees in the city so that people will get a chance to see trees and walk in nature, without disturbing the forest.

Siddharth, on Food:

Because of the growing population, the need for more food is rising. This means that forests have to be cleared to plant crops. Instead, we should try our best to utilize city areas to grow our crops – could we maybe grow crops on top of buildings?

In response, Radha probes deeper into several of Siddharth’s thoughts and proposals:

All your ideas point to humans needing to re-define and rethink the meaning of economic growth and development. I had some responses to your points on:

travel: what about travel within cities – public /mass transport like metros/buses vs private cars? They would reduce air pollution which could improve our respiratory system right? It would also help reduce global warming by reducing fuel usage and which in turn can reduce incidence of tropical diseases in other parts of the world. How does that fit in as a ‘bend’?

architecture and urban planning: apart from all your points about designing buildings we could also integrate your points about food cultivation in cities, creating urban forests right?

food: forests are cleared for grass and feed (soy, corn) for cattle raised for milk and meat. We may need to rethink about how we produce food: local food production (your point about city farms) vs large scale in one location.

Siddharth responds with specific comments on City Layout and Planning, City Transportation, Urban Forests, City Farms, and even Underground Factories! Here’s an extract on City Layouts:

Layout 1: All the factories/farms are concentrated in one area-an area little outside the city (Industrial area). Thoughts: If that particular area is not taken care of that area may face environmental problems such as air pollution. Chances are high that people might not take any problems in the industrial area seriously because it doesn’t affect most of citizens of the city. Layout 2: The factories/farms are spread out. Factories and farms are alternated with patches of trees. Most of the city area is used. Thoughts: Because the factories are in the city limits there is a higher chance that government/people will pay attention to any environmental problems rising in the city. It will also create a balance between trees and factories-the trees will absorb the carbon emissions. Conclusion: According to me layout 2 is better in the long run rather than layout 1. Let me explain. For starters, the distance between the residential area and the factories is lesser so less petrol will be wasted in moving around which means less CO2 emissions. Second, you are making the society more aware about environmental problems- because if the citizens of the city don’t take care of the trees next to the factories, they will face problems such as air pollution. The patch of trees kind of resembles the idea of urban forests. It will allow people to have a nice walk without interfering with the forest (though people will first have to remove the animals form that particular patch of trees and move them elsewhere). This will also be a good job opportunity for many people-looking after the forest.

Radha is overjoyed to feel the passion and the thinking, and responds further, with more probing questions…

Brilliant! So here are some things I wanted to clarify with you: Layout 2: Do you think certain kinds of factories should be located outside and others closer to the city? e.g., more polluting vs less polluting? Maybe offices and research divisions closer to the city and manufacturing facilities outside? So some sort of zoning could be done?

… to which Siddharth has more thoughts and observations… and on it goes.

This could very well have been a live exchange inside of a classroom (or on a treehouse – pre-Covid, Radha is famous for conducting sessions in the outdoors! see pic below). We, @The GenWise Club, are delighted that we can get close to (or even improve upon) the quality conversations, online.

If you are interested in seeing the full transcript of this conversation, please reach out to @vishnu on The GenWise Club, or write to us at


Upcoming Events

External Events

Share your science ideas on antibiotics with scientists Join ‘Talk to a Scientist’ in their next episode where you will read, think, and come up with solutions and ideas to the issue of antibiotic resistance to be discussed in the session. Check out this facebook post for details. Saturday, 22nd May 2021, 5-6 pm IST. For ages 6-16. Register here. (Free)

The neutrino story: from impossible dreams to unreachable stars is a talk by Dr. Srubabati Goswami as part of the series ‘Kaapi with Curiosity’ by ICTS. The talk is on Sunday, 23 May 2021 from 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm. For more details and to register, click here.

A family quiz on ‘Science relevant to Health’ on Sunday, May 23 at 4 PM IST. Your family can register as a team- how exciting is that! The event is by ‘Talk to a Scientist’ and you can register here. There are vouchers to be won too! (Free)

Experiments to Explore is from the fantastic team at Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium, Bengaluru, starting Monday, May 24 at 11 AM. This is for children entering grade 7 or grade 8. Tickets to the event are available here. (Paid)

Creating Healing Spaces is a session on mental well-being during the pandemic, conducted by Dr. Arvinder Singh, Director, Ashoka Centre for Well-Being (part of Ashoka University) The event on Tuesday, 25 May 2021 | 6:00 – 7:00 PM is for high school students. Register here. (Free)

CONTAGION Exhibition from Science Gallery, Bengaluru. CONTAGION explores the phenomenon of the transmission of emotions, behaviours, and diseases. CONTAGION is a 45-day exhibition season, from 30 April to 13 June. There are also several interactive workshops for 15-28 year olds going on till June 6. For more details visit their website here. (Events are free)

Events @GenWise

“Why a lake exploded: thinking about cause and effect” – Sat, May 22, 11 AM @The GenWise Club Lounge

Rachit, a GenWise mentor, will be in conversation with Vishnu Agnihotri on this topic. We tend to explain events by ascribing the cause to a recent event and referring to a specific ‘actor’ (e.g. someone ate a bat in Wuhan and now we have a pandemic). However causality can often be complex- how can we train our minds to think beyond the obvious? All students and parents welcome!

“Talking about Money”- Sat, May 22, 11 AM @The GenWise Club Lounge

Sayali Mahashur says “What do you think is the most important thing in life – you know what I think? It’s money! Okay- ‘most important’ might be a slight exaggeration but it’s quite important…as my organisation’s name “moneylife” suggests! So I would like to spend some time talking about money with you.”

Sayali is a CFA with experience in asset management and investment of more than 15 years. She is currently associated with moneylife, helping people invest wisely. She also assists CMHLP in working on causes of mental health and advises AlgoAnalytics on AI related projects in finance. She made her first investment as a schoolgirl, investing some prize money in Reliance convertible debentures.

All students and parents welcome!

Upcoming Courses @GenWise


Parenting Tips:

Dr. Bhooshan says-

“Children with executive function difficulties are a challenge on busy days. They are poorly organised, forgetful, get priorities wrong, are inattentive at times and are always doing things at the last moment.

Though it is not their personal fault, they create chaos around them. This article shares some ideas to help them get better organised and help you as well.”

One of the tips from the article is-

Double Up– Families dealing with EF issues are no stranger to the mad morning rush to find a matching sock or elusive shoe. One way to manage this is to double up on important items. Keep extra socks, pens, pencils, keys, and other easy-to-lose things on hand.

Dr. Bhooshan Shukla, GenWise Mentor MD, DNB, MRCPsych (London), Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Twitter – @docbhooshan

Do not miss Dr Shukla’s brief course on Gadgets & Devices – Parenting Tips, starting May 22 (tomorrow!). Hurry, few seats left!


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