A Slice of Life?

A drunken cop haunted by memories of the past & the very tragic instances in his life.
A series of strange, yet identical murders of young men.
Some professional rivalry interspersed with support from a godfather within the department.
Nosy media. A concerned, caring mother. An optimist priest who is sure that God’s plans will finally prevail.
A perfect cauldron with ingredients to cook up a pot boiler.
Is there a connecting link betwixt the cruelly killed men? Can anyone nail the culprits?
The other cops are clueless. Not the protagonist.
The story of Memories, a Malayalam flick – a crime thriller – starts from there.

Memories

That there is a tight script and the fact that the story & its intrigue keeps the viewer glued to the silver screen is in itself a tremendous feat, a feather in the cap of the director, Jeethu Joseph, and that too in his debut. There is some fine histrionics by Prithviraj who dons the role of Sam Alex – even when he plays the utterly negative role as a cop addicted to alcohol.

Movies wield a powerful impact on the audience, especially on the impressionable young. And therefore one thing that kind of put me off is that the portrayal of the drunken cop has been carried too far. It is beyond belief that working places will tolerate drunkenness, whatever be the reason for it. So what is the message conveyed? That if you have inner struggles, it is okay to take refuge in alcohol? Isn’t that every drunkard’s testimony? “Am drinking to forget everything.” Alcohol consumption is psychedelic and self-prescribed.

Research on alcoholism clearly says that one of the short term effects is impaired judgement. The less said the better about long term effects.  However, our cop says it is ‘common sense’ to arrive at the brilliant conclusions – about the nature of the injuries, the codes & the language used and even drawing a connecting link between the dead men. It is worth highlighting that Kerala is India’s booziest state.  A 2011 report by one of India’s largest trade bodies similarly found that Kerala accounted for 16% of national alcohol sales. So the movie seems to convey the message that it is okay to get sozzled (only you must have real reasons for it!), despite “spirits” you will be given responsibilities (provided you have a ‘Godfather’). There are also scenes from the de-addiction centre where yoga and meditation is used to help one overcome chronic alcoholism. 

So, this can’t be a slice of life, can it???

The Waste Land – Musings

I write this post after seeing a friend, Rajasree Ramesh’s FB status update:
“Datta, Dayadhvam, Damyata
(Give, sympathize, control)” 
~T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land and Other Poems

I go back to my Victoria College days. MA English Literature classes. The second year had Modern Poetry paper and the poems to study included the Second Coming and Sailing to Byzantium by W B Yeats; The Wreck of the Deutschland and the Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins; and Ash Wednesday, The Love Song of Alfred J Prufrock and The Waste Land by T S Eliot. We had some of the finest Professors teaching us and Modern Poetry was taught to us by Dr. P. Achuthan. A teacher par excellence, he is said to have done his Phd investigating the influences of the Bhagavad Gita on T S Eliot in The Waste Land.

I still remember that it was in January of that year that we were to being The Waste Land sessions. However, the overly rights conscious people (many times for the wrong things!) that we Keralites are, there was an indefinite college teachers’ strike that was going on at that time. The strike began and we also got the news that Dr Achuthan was going to another college on transfer. Ten of us – nine of us girls and the lone boy – were so upset that we may not have Dr Achuthan teaching us the poem that he loved the most – The Waste Land and wrote his doctoral thesis about.

It was then that Dr Achuthan asked us to go to his home. In the drawing room of his house we made ourselves comfortable. We were very clearly told that he will need two full days to do justice to the 433 lines of the modern verse characterised by ‘disjointed narration, fragmented identities, and splintered religious faiths’. Today, looking back I admire the passion and enthusiasm of this phenomenal teacher. He did not want to ruffle feathers by teaching us at college while others were on strike. So to camouflage it perfectly, we were invited home for those precious classes. We would listen to him in rapt attention, take a break for lunch  and then reassemble for the post lunch session. Two days of 10 – 4 pm classes and we were through. I guess he was able to passionately instill in us his infectious liking for The Waste Land. By March I had memorized the 433 lines of poetry – not because I was expected to do so – but for the sheer love of the poem and it multifarious insights. I also remember that his interpretations of the poem were minutely written in my orange coloured poetry book – The Faber Book of Modern Verse. And my greatest regret is that I lost this prized possession at a crucial point in time, amid the battle of life.

The Faber Book of Modern Verse

The Faber Book of Modern Verse

It seems that Eliot was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and was under the care of Dr. Roger Vittoz in his sanitarium at Lausanne, Switzerland where he wrote most of the lines of the poem. May be that accounts for the disjointed narratives, the tell tale signs of his broken will. Just as he delved into the caverns of his own mind to find decay and deformities within, The Waste Land meanders through the innards of the cadaver of the present day society (true even now!) – waist deep and sinking in sickness, perversion and corruption of every kind.

Very often I have used its first line “April’s the cruellest month” to drive home the desperation of the vexing exam months of March and April of my students. I also love the liberal use of myths, folklore, legends, reference to various authors and their works in different languages, rituals in different cultures, metaphors, allusions and alliteration. Inspite of the all pervading decadence, the best of all is how the poem ends. Eliot also uses one voice, shifts to a dialogue and then to situations where more than two characters speak – even taking readers by surprise. Amid all the eroding values and grim desolateness that is portrayed, what I loved most was the optimistic note with which the poem ends with words the Thunder offers, taken from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata. 
Shantih  Shantih   Shantih

The three ‘Da’s that Prajapathi utters to his disciples: “to give,” “to sympathize.” (i.e. have compassion) and “to control” (here, self control). Eliot seems to say that the claps of the “Da’ thunders if followed will be rewarded by spiritually rejuvenating rain, literally and figuratively. Thus even while civilization is crumbling -– “London bridge is falling down falling down falling down” –- the poem ends with a peace mantra: “Shantih shantih shantih”, meaning Peace. Peace. Peace. Invoking Peace. Peace that passeth all understanding. How uplifting!

Thank you Rajasree for helping me relive these moments! 🙂
And, yes, today is T S Eliot’s 125th birthday!

Interesting trivia about The Waste land:

  • Eliot’s original title for the poem was He do the Policemen in Different Voices (Courtesy Charles Dickens 
  • It was written in 1922 and was dedicated to Ezra Pound.
  • The five sections of The Waste Land are titled:
    1. The Burial of the Dead
    2. A Game of Chess
    3. The Fire Sermon
    4. Death by Water
    5. What the Thunder Said
  • For more Trivia go to this link: http://www.funtrivia.com/en/Literature/Eliot-T-S-8901.html

Unconditional Positive Regard

Twitter is a great tool to get oneself not only informed but updated. Yesterday I came across this tweet and went on a trail of discovery.

According to the link, Unconditional Positive Response or UPR, is a great tool to prevent persistent negative reinforcement (which is sure to happen when we use “shh!” or “shush” to control behaviour in the classroom). Interesting. The article had also provided an outline of what UPR was. This is what prompted me to look for UPR.

Carl R Rogers, the American humanist psychologist is the propounder of UPR and this is central to his theories. He provides insight into what he meant by UPR:
Unconditional refers to holding ‘no conditions of acceptance…. it is at the opposite pole from a selective evaluative attitude.’ (p. 225*)
Positive offers ‘warm acceptance…’ (p. 225*)
Regard means ‘a caring’, here the care the therapist shows for the client – without being possessive or without expecting any fulfilment of personal agenda. (p. 225*)
In a nutshell it just means to accept a person and give support irrespective of what he/she says/does. Acceptance of a person just as he or she is. I think this concept has a wonderful bearing in the field of education.

How can we use UPR in the classroom? Speak firmly but with warmth. Threats, warnings, one upmanship and through that creating power struggles within classrooms are a big no no. After all we adults must show our mettle with our equals – fellow adults. Not with our students. Accept our pupils. Recognize each one of them as individuals with their own strengths and weaknesses. No comparison of one with the other. No insults and humiliations. Provide a very supportive climate that will tell them that we care. Genuinely care. This will create engagement. Accountability for learning. A caring bond with a student will convey that you believe and have faith in him/her.

I think UPR is absolutely essential in today’s world. It is a parenting necessity. A must have for the classroom teacher. When the home and school fronts work in tandem, we can create a new breed of young people – those who have empathy, compassion and of course unconditional positive regard! And that should augur a peaceful, gentle world!!

Let’s strive for this…

The-ultimate-lesson-all

Resources:
*Rogers, C.R. (1959), A Theory of therapy, personality, and interpersonal relationships as developed in the client-centred framework, by C R Rogers

Customer Service

Recently, there was an occasion to visit a hospital. I was in considerable pain and went to the hospital quite early in the morning. I was the first patient – good for me; I got the first appointment to see the doctor in question. I had to wait for over an hour to meet the doctor and even that I did not hyperventilate about. In fact I was so grateful I would meet the doctor first and that awareness brought in a great deal of relief.

The nurse and the doctor were very courteous, gracious people. They offered me the best of services. After meeting the doctor, I was asked to take my papers to the reception and make the payment with the cashier there. I go there. Earlier, I had seen this young man enter, and take up his seat while waiting for my doctor.

I go to him. I present my papers.
He looks at me – his eyebrows arching like a question mark. I present my insurance card.
“75 dirhams.” He mutters. I hardly hear him.
“Excuse me.” I say.
“75 dirhams.”  He is a lot more louder.
I give him a 100 dirham note. I attempt at giving him a sunny smile of mine, though I am still hurting. Ouch, it is lost on him! He gives me the change – 25 dirhams. I look at the notes. One 10 dirham note is torn. I mean really torn. 

I tell him, “Could you please change this note for me?”
“What?” He literally barked. “Why?” An irritated expression dons his face.
“It is torn and I want another note in place of this.” I say firmly. I also tell myself, be patient, Asha. You are a patient here. And hold your temper in check.
He mutters something under his breath and thrusts a better note into my hands.
Thanks.
Not torn. I heave a sigh of relief, happy to get away from such a grouchy person. 

Customer Service

I thought a lot about this young man. Maybe he got out from the wrong side of his bed. Or it must not have been his day – he has my sympathies for the day had just about begun for him. Notwithstanding that, behaving discourteously to a customer is uncalled for. Unlike other customers, those who come to hospitals are in pain and discomfort, and harbour within them fear, anxiety and a host of other negative emotions, thoughts and feelings. How nice and reaffirming would one feel if the patient is dealt by smiling nurses, technicians, other support staff and doctors! Am sure, half the ailment will disappear in the face of such sunny, warm and delightful countenances and behavior.  

Ah, speak about customer service!

The Peace Trail

This week was celebrated at my school as Peace Week. From candle lighting & pledges to Peace Assemblies to singing anthems of the sub continent countries to releasing Peace balloons, there were scores of ways we went on the Peace Trail.

What is Peace? Where do we find it? These were some questions our pupils pondered upon and talked about. Isn’t it such a blessing to be in places where there is no conflict, to eke a living? Only when we get into a conflict zone, a place where human rights are trampled, do we really learn to appreciate Peace. When I say this I mean external Peace. It is so true that we realise the worth only when something is not there with us. So we pine for things we don’t have. I am reminded of the immortal words of John Keats in the Ode to a Skylark:

“We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:”

While working in schools it is so good to be in touch with young people but at the same time it is also scary to see their fragile selves. I am sure this is true of children all over. I know that many adults suffer from this syndrome but to see children going through these issues even while at impressionable ages is bound to strike you like a whiplash. Many have major self esteem issues. Then there are those who long for attention. Those who feel solitary and ignored. Those who feel the peer pressure. Those who have no friends. Those who dominate like raptors and those who are meek as doves. Those who experience complete neglect from their parents – for they are busy earning and making life comfortable and luxurious for their children. It pains me to see that these parents do not realise that their children don’t need anything material; they expect only quality time spent with them. The complexities that today’s children are far too many. Not to mention the stress of studying lessons and writing examinations that will brand them as achievers, mediocres and goners.

So I hope all young people will endeavour to do just this. Accept yourself, warts and all. Once you embrace yourself, your heart and spirit feels so light. It is such a liberating feeling.

The Peace Cloud

The Peace Cloud

You are special. You are you, so unique and there is no one like you in this whole Universe. Like yourself. Love yourself. Feel good about yourself. Never try to be someone else. You can only be you and never others. You can emulate others but still you can never be anybody else but you. And once you make peace with yourself, there will be Peace within. When there is Peace within, there will be Peace outside too. Imagine such a place full of young people and Peace. They will cause a ripple of Peace first. Then the ripple will grow wider and wider. What a tranquil and serene world will that be!

Finally, in our eagerness to find Peace we look for it outside. The infinite well of Peace resides within us. So go within. Explore. Discover. Enjoy. Find that Peace that will make us graceful human beings who will weather storms without breaking or bending. Have Peaceful days, weeks, months and years ahead!

And The Mountains Echoed

“A story is like a moving train,” writes Nabi, one of Khaled Hosseini’s characters in And The Mountains Echoed. “No matter where you hop on board, you are bound to reach your destination.” 

Absolutely true. If you have been in a moving train you would have realized how it is a macrocosm of life. Observing people can be such a rewarding exercise to get an insight into human nature. Simple window gazing is also an interesting pursuit. Khaled Hosseni, the captivating writer that he is, is able to give each and every character quirks and traits, and make each one of them stand out in a particular way as he weaves his plot deftly and courses to the end. Having read his The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, I knew his latest book, And The Mountains Echoed, could be also a wonderful read. 

And The Mountains Echoed

I was not disappointed. This book will tug at your heartstrings, for it did to mine. The story spanning from the fall of 1952 to the winter of 2010 takes us across continents and datelines, alternating between war torn Afghanistan, the US, the ‘chic and fashionable’ Paris and the picturesque Greek island of Tinos. Saboor, Abdullah & Pari’s father, narrates a charming yet haunting story – one begins to wonder what place does this story of a cruel ogre and a little boy have in the narrative; and soon it is laid threadbare before the reader. The endearing bond between ‘Abollah’ (that’s how little Pari calls him) and Pari is beautifully etched; yet it aches your heart to see that they go in two different ways in the beginning of the story and even more so when the eagerly awaited meeting takes place at the end.

Nila Wahdati is portrayed as a complex character much ahead of her times, shocking the Puritan sensibilities of many as she live life on her terms. I almost saw in her parallels to our own Indo-Anglian / Malayalam writer Madhavi Kutty aka Kamala Das. May be because she too was an iconoclast who openly and freely treated hush and taboo subjects like sensuality and sexuality in a guilt free way and with remarkable ease. It is Nabi, her chauffeur and Abdullah’s uncle, who knows the secretively hidden sides of Nila. 

Hossein’s way with words casts a spell and makes the story come alive. Many a time while reading his books I have written down some of the lines that resonated with me.

“If an avalanche buries you and you’re lying there underneath all that snow, you can’t tell which way is up or down. You want to dig yourself out but pick the wrong way, and you dig yourself to your own demise.”

“If you were the poor, suffering was your currency.”

“It is important to know your roots. To know where you started as a person. If not, your own life seems unreal to you. Like a puzzle.”

“It was the kind of love that, sooner or later, cornered you into a choice: either you tore free or you stayed and withstood its rigor even as it squeezed you into something smaller than yourself.”

“She is furious with herself for her own stupidity. Opening herself up like this, voluntarily, to a lifetime of worry and anguish. It was madness. Sheer lunacy. A spectacularly foolish and baseless faith, against enormous odds, that a world you do not control will not take from you the one thing you cannot bear to lose. Faith that the world will not destroy you.” 

“Some people feel unhappiness the way others love: privately, intensely, and without recourse.”

“The rope that pulls you from the flood can become a noose around your neck.”

“They say, Find a purpose in your life and live it. But, sometimes, it is only after you have lived that you recognize your life had a purpose, and likely one you never had in mind.” 

“When you have lived as long as I have, you find that cruelty and benevolence are but shades of the same colour.” 

“You say you felt a presence, but I only sensed an absence. A vague pain without a source. I was like a patient who cannot tell the doctor where it hurts, only that it does.”

I would give full 5 stars to this book. Yes, a wonderful read.

Onam – The Legend

The word festival conjures in one’s mind myriad images – fun, festivity, good food and most often a religious connotation / connection. India being the land of festivals, we practically have a festival in a day, every day of the year. Don’t we Indians love to celebrate!

If ever there is a festival that transcends even religious barriers, it is Kerala’s own festival of Onam. Other than being a harvest festival at a time when Nature is at it best in beauty and bounty, there is also a well known legend connected to it. Like any other story there is long long ago to begin this one too. 🙂 The legend of Mahabali is narrated in the VIIIth canto of the ancient text of Mahabhagavatham.

Long, long ago Kerala was ruled by the Asura King, Mahabali. True to the lineage he was coming from, (Mahabali’s great grandfather was the illustrious and devout Vishnu devotee, Prahalada of the Narasimhavatara fame) Bali was an ideal ruler – benevolent, compassionate and most importantly true to his word. He was generous and charitable. Though an Asura (Demon), Mahabali was an ardent devotee of Lord Mahavishnu, the Preserver of the Hindu Trninty of Brahma (Creator), Vishnu and Maheswara or Siva (Destroyer). Naturally his fame and munificence spread everywhere. A folk song of the times goes like this:

“മാവേലി നാട് വാണീടും കാലം
മാനുഷരെല്ലാരും ഒന്നു പോലെ
ആമോദത്തോടെ വസിക്കും കാലം
ആപത്തങ്ങാർക്കുമൊട്ടില്ല താനും
ആധികള്‍ വ്യാധികള്‍ ഒന്നുമില്ല
ബാല മരണങ്ങള്‍ കേള്‍ക്കാനില്ല
കള്ളവുമില്ല ചതിയുമില്ല
എള്ളോളമില്ല പൊളിവചനം
കള്ളപ്പറയും ചെറു നാഴിയും
കള്ളത്തരങ്ങള്‍ മറ്റൊന്നുമില്ല “

When translated it means:

When Maveli, our King, ruled the land,
All the people were equal.
And people were joyful and merry;
They were all free from harm.
There was neither anxiety nor sickness,
Death of children was unheard of,
There were no lies,
There was neither theft nor deceit,
And no one was false in speech either.
Measures and weights were right;
No one cheated or wronged his neighbour.
When Maveli, our King, ruled the land,
All the people formed one casteless band.

His valour, administrative prowess and strength of character got him the title of Chakravarthy or Emperor. This confidence in himself is said to have made him ambitious. He wanted to rule the Earth, Swargaloka or Heaven and Pathaal or the underworld. The Devas (Gods) who inhabited the Heaven came to hear of this and shuddered with fear. Besides Bali’s name and fame made them extremely jealous and insecure. They ran to Lord Mahavishnu and beseeched Him to save them by doing away with Mahabali.

Mahavishnu is said to have taken the form of a poor brahmin named Vamana (dwarf) and appeared before Bali. Mahabali asked him what he wanted. “Three steps of land that can be covered by my foot”, he said. Mahabali told him he could take as much he wanted. As soon as his wish was granted, the Vamana began to grow in size. With one step he measured the Heaven and with the second, the Earth. There was no place to keep the third step. Mahabali knowing that this was no ordinary person before him, knelt in front of the Vamana, bowed his head and asked the third step to be taken on his head. As he was pushed down to the underworld or Paathala, Mahabali is said to have asked the Vamana for a boon. Since he dearly loved his land and people, he said he would love to visit them once every year. The King’s nobility moved Mahavishnu and he granted the boon, wherein he could visit his land once a year and that he would always remain one of the most loved of kings. In the Malayalam month of Chingam (in August / September as the Malayalam calendar is a lunar calendar) it is believed that Mahabali visits Kerala – and that is Onam time. All houses are decked to receive the King. Among other things homes are decked with floral carpets called Pookkalam. Courtyards are adorned with clay pyramids decorated with wet rice flour. And Mahabali is said to visit homes on the second Onam day – Thiruvonam.

Mathevar is placed on a wooden platform decorated with flowers and rice flour designs: My Mother's handiwork!

Mathevar is placed on a wooden platform decorated with flowers and rice flour designs: My Mother’s handiwork!

The Time Keeper: A Review

“Try to imagine a life without timekeeping.
You probably can’t. You know the month, the year, the day of the week. There is a clock on your wall or the dashboard of your car. You have a schedule, a calendar, a time for dinner or a movie. 
Yet all around you, timekeeping is ignored. Birds are note late. A dog does not check its watch. Deer do not fret over passing birthdays. 
Man alone measures time. 
Man alone chimes the hour. 
And because of this, man alone suffers a paralysing fear that no other creature endures. 
A fear of time running out.”

So succinctly put across. Yes, everyone feels that Time is like a Damocles’ sword hanging above one’s head. Humans alone are afraid of time running out – of growing old, of falling ill, of dying – of loved ones and oneself… well, the fears are innumerous. In the Time Keeper Mitch Album explores the value of Time.

Dor, the first man to count the hours; Alli, his wife who he loves so very dearly and their 6000 year old love story…
Victor, who longs for eternity…
Sarah, who wants no time…
Both want to stop the clock for different reasons…
And their fates are intertwined in the web of the deftly crafted plot by Mitch Albom. And it is the tale of Time. Time that is often taken for granted and appreciated only when one has nothing more left or very less left of it.

The Time Keeper

Though I took a week to read this ‘unputdownable’ book, it was only because Time was at a premium. 🙂 Every night I would take the book to read in bed, read two or three lines and drift to sleep, thanks to hectic day time schedules. I vaguely remember waking up in the middle of the night and switching off the lights! So much so I had to read the rest of this inspirational book first thing over the weekend.

This book also reminded me of the enthralling tale of the miser Ebenezer Scrooge whose ghost journeys through Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future to realise the value of relationships, charity and compassion – in the perennial classic of Charles Dickens – The Christmas Carol.

I also loved the way how the author has weaved the tale around myths and history with masterful ease – the Tower of Babel for instance. Pick up the book and curl up on a bean bag and yes, Read!!! 🙂

The remarkable juxtaposition of the two threads interwoven with the third one – of Dor, Father Time, is a clever technique. Notwithstanding some improbable situations (it is a fable after all) one never fails to imbibe the strong message of the story. Take care of the moments and days and years will take care of themselves.

Some lines simply captivated me for their wealth of meaning.
“And when hope is gone, time is punishment.” 
“When we are almost alone is when we embrace another’s loneliness.” 
“You really loved her?” “I would have given my life.” “Would you have taken it? “No child,” he said. “That is not ours to do. ” 
“Time is not something you give back. The very next moment may be an answer to your prayer. To deny that is the most important part of the future.” 
“Ends are for yesterdays, not tomorrows.”
“With endless time, nothing is special. With no loss or sacrifice, we can’t appreciate what we have.” 
“… once we began to chime the hour, we lost the ability to be satisfied.” 
“Everything man does today to be efficient, to fill the hour?” Dor said. “It does not satisfy. It only makes him hungry to do more. Man wants to own his existence. But no one owns time.” 

I certainly feel that young people (many of whom get dejected about not getting what they want and for seemingly silly reasons contemplate taking their own life) must read this book. It is sure to teach them some valuable lessons. Nothing is worth killing onerself!

Reflections: Teachers Day

Every year Teachers Day in India is celebrated on September 5th. (and everything that I write here is based on the Indian perspective) The special day for teachers in India is dedicated to a quintessential teacher’s birthday: Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, a teacher, statesman, philosopher and former President.

Teachers Day

What is the scenario at schools today? Low pay packets; humongous expectations from both parents and management; overburdened with work; crowded classrooms clamouring for individual personalised attention and instruction; callous, unconcerned pupils; technological challenges that make one a refugee first, immigrant next and a native per force in the digital world; the obsession with standardised tests and thoughtless one size fits all propositions of boards and education bodies…
Teaching has never been tougher as it is today.
Being an educator by profession, I can’t but help taking a critical look at the education system prevalent in our country. 

I am just back from home after summer holidays and saw the reality of it playing out everyday at home. I have a nephew who is studying in Class IX (CBSE). Everyday he comes home with projects galore. There is time only to do homework and projects.
So, when is the time to read and understand lessons done at school? I have no clue.
Without systematic study, how is he going to cope with his studies? I have no clue.
(Mind you his school is just a 10-minute walk away. His tuition teacher is a stone’s throw away.) 
After seeing it all, I only felt sorry for the young boy. True, he too has some time management issues but he is a child after all. 

Studies are no longer interesting. They have become mundane chores. The spark of curiosity is totally, totally missing. It is just regurgitation of lessons learned in answer papers and notebooks. There is nothing beyond books and lessons. Sorry, textbooks. Is there nothing beyond grades and scores? What about igniting the passion for knowing the unknown? Missing, totally. What about discovering and honing other skills like music, drawing, painting, sports etc? Nope. Where is the time? Now you might ask aren’t there children who are doing all that and coping with studies? All I am saying is that they are exceptions than rules. My nephew, a smart and clever chap, is bored beyond anything else. I know, if you need to keep him hooked, you need to really be thinking on your feet and package it in a ‘smart alec’ way. At this rate I am afraid he will burn out too soon and lose all his yen for studies. He is already on the verge of it. In fact, the scenario was so disappointing and depressing that I have started reading articles on “Unschooling”. 

If this is the plight of students, what about teachers? Not too different. While it is true that every profession has good and bad professionals, methinks the the scale is too tilted in favour of the inefficient in the case of education. The best ones are not attracted to the profession. There is no money or respect for the profession is the common rejoinder I hear. Besides many parents still are obsessed about a couple of professions: medicine; engineering; computers & software (though there are a handful of students who take up offbeat courses). The leftovers are often insipid and tasteless. They are teachers not because they are passionate about teaching – but because their job gives them holidays in line with their children’s and some pocket money. And from such kind of teachers, stakeholders harbour inordinately high expectations. Parents expect them to wave a magic wand and make their child a whizkid. The professional course (B.Ed) is an antiquated course. Teachers are forced to teach what they learned yesterday to students today so that they can handle their tomorrows well! Can that ever happen?

Students. Sadly, they have very few role models before them. Many parents have no time for them. It’s work, office, and material considerations. They cannot even give quality time – even if it means just an hour – to their child / children. To compensate this they offer them material rewards or even a huge sum as pocket money. Instant gratification is what is sought and easily provided. Value systems don’t matter and many don’t inculcate any in their children.

The management. Results. That is the yardstick of whether a school is good or great. Crass commercialization has corroded the innards of educational systems and systemic decay is visible even to the naked eye. Administrative bodies. Standardised tests rules the roost. it is a one-size-fits-all proposition. A student is judged by the grades and marks he gets. Though collaborative project based study is required, paucity of time in schools make teachers give it to students as individual projects. (As many as 10+ days were declared as holidays in Kerala due to the fury of the monsoons this time; over and above this is our fanatical obsessions with bandhs. The Supreme Court banned it but we reincarnated them in another name: Hartal! It is freedom to protest, folks!!) Many a time parents end up doing these projects for the child. Now how will that be a learning exercise is a good question to ponder over.

So, do you get it – we are in a totally messy situation. Celebrations apart and notwithstanding the challenges, it is time to introspect: Are we as teachers –

  • Passion-driven? Without this our classrooms will be dull and drab.
  • Action-driven? Without this we will never be able to infuse energy & bring the fun element to our class. Isn’t it because of the fun aspect that PE periods are students’ all time favourites? 
  • Empathetic? Without this we will never be able to strike an emotional chord with the child. This in turn will make our students compassionate individuals too.
  • Lifelong learners? Learning just does not end with the classroom; a key point that must be driven home over and over again!
  • Being Mindful and Reflective? We need to help pupils stay on course and be aware – not only about things around but also things within themselves. Self awareness is key to effective relationships and achieving success in adult life. It is always easier if we ‘catch ’em young’!
  • Encouraging collaborations and curiosity in classrooms? It is these skills that our pupils require in the 21st century to function as effective citizens and humans. 
  • Patient and Persevering? Without this none of the above is possible!

Let us think of every day as a Teachers Day, by enjoying what we do in our classrooms. Let us transform our classrooms into hubs of activity where pupils take responsibility for their own learning. Let us make our classrooms engaged, connected spaces so that our pupils will learn the art and science of collaboration. And may we succeed in making each student a passionate lifelong learner, the most critical objective of education. And thus let us contribute immensely to nation building.