Sunday, February 25, 2007

Hasty Climbers

They say Power Corrupts. I took it to mean that Power leads to corrupt practices like favoritism and bribery and/or misuse of power for selfish practices. But a recent incidence made me realize that apart from the dangers mentioned, power is also intoxicating and like any other addiction Power too blurs the senses and impairs one’s capacity to think logically. Very often one is goaded into over reacting and taking things too far sometimes almost to a point of no return. There have been quite a few incidences like the one I plan to take up. But the same circumstances might have been dealt with in a different manner some 10 years back. Not so now with the kind of exposure children get these days. One has to be extra careful while dealing with adolescents whether parents or teachers. Let me come to the unfortunate incidence that bothers me.

A teenager who is to appear for his 10th board exams was intelligent but over confident. He regularly led any form of protest in school justified or otherwise to the extent of being noticed and singled out by the Head mistress. He was naturally goaded by his peers who supported and prompted his actions. The Head Mistress also bided her time to put him in his place. When the admit cards for the Matriculation exams arrived she refused to give it to him saying that his attendance was a few days short of the required 75% and he could therefore not appear for the exam. She perhaps expected him to apologize and plead to be given his admit card. The next logical step according to her could have been the arrival of his parents to plead his case. I am sure that she would have given him the admit card after a warning. The boy did nothing of the sort. He dared her to stop him from answering the examination and claimed that he would make her deliver the admit card at his residence. It became a prestige issue for the HM who could not bring herself to give in at this stage. The boy approached the District Commissioner and briefed him about the HM’s stand, requested him to do the needful and went home. The DC directed the school to issue the required document saying that since the boy’s form had been verified and forwarded to the Board by the school and his examination fee had also been accepted, he could not be barred from appearing for the examination. The head Mistress had to finally go to his house to give the admit card because the boy refused to come to school to take it. The student community was naturally elated.

My heart goes out to the Head Mistress who should have weighed the pros and cons before deciding to withhold the admit card. As it happens everywhere she might have been advised by a ‘yes ma’am’ group or she might not have foreseen such a reaction from the student. Those in a position of power need to remain cool and assess the repercussions of their action, taking care not to let their power and position get into their heads. However more than what the Head Mistress had to face, I fear the impact the incidence is bound to have on the student community and the boy in question. The boy is not yet 18 years of age and he has already tasted power. What will his future be? Will the learning process be compromised? He could well be an asset to our society but will he let people guide and direct him? There are many more like him. How do we save their future? What should be the role of parents in seeing to it that their wards do not start soaring high even before their wings have acquired the required strength? There is a popular saying - ‘hasty climbers soon to fall’. I often see parents being over protective about their children and cannot accept criticism of their wards from their own parents. There is a danger of skewed mental growth due such an attitude and that is dangerous not only for society but to the children in question who will not strive for improvement.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I surrender

I tell you that I am in awe of the present generation. I feel scared to open my mouth when in the company of children in their pre teens. I become partially deaf and/or dumb when left to deal with them. Let me explain.
In a recent visit to Chennai I met a five year old nephew-the son of a distant cousin. I tried to engage him in a conversation just to keep him from running around.
“Do you go to school?” I asked him in English.
He looked suspiciously at me.
“Yes” he replied in Tamil.
“Which school?” I continued my side of the conversation in English.
He mentioned a name which did not register.
“Do you like your school?” I asked.
He asked me a counter question.
“Are you a teacher?”
“I am your aunt. But why do you ask?” I had a feeling that I was being cornered.
“Then why do you talk in English like my teacher?” and after a moment added, “Why do you talk in English at home?”

His question set me thinking. Having spent a good deal of time in Jamshedpur I seem to be comfortable switching from Tamil to Hindi and English according to the company of people I deal with at a given time. With my husband it is always Tamil and Hinglish or Hindi with my children. I seem to combine Tamil, English and Hindi with an ease that surprises me more than others. My students are mostly from Hindi medium schools so I deliver my lecture in English but simultaneously explain in Hindi too. In the 25 years that I’ve worked my Hindi has improved a lot. I had no answer to the little boy’s pertinent question. Had I insisted on talking in Tamil at home my children’s Tamil would not have been so pathetic. I wonder if there is anything I can do to rectify the situation. I derive some kind of satisfaction when I see that my Tamil has not deteriorated a bit. If it had, the little boy would have been correcting my mistakes.

Children these days are simply brilliant. With the kind of exposure they get, they are not children but mini adults. There is a story that does the round in our family. In order to make a troublesome child finish his food, my aunt asked my 8 year old cousin ‘to call the beggar from the street corner’ to take the child away in a gunny bag. My cousin really went looking for a beggar and came back with one having promised to give him left over food for taking the child away! Such was the innocence displayed by our generation. I dare not narrate this story to the present day kids lest they consider me a fool! I hope you now understand why I take advantage of my age and hear only half of what I am supposed to.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Falling leaves

Why are those who are so very important to their families asked to wind up and return to their heavenly abode leaving much of their work either undone or only half done? How does one explain why a ninety six year old man, whose sons and sons-in-law have retired, manages to survive 3 heart attacks and continues to live partly bed ridden much to the dismay of his family members who feel tied down on account of him?

Some forty-two years back my dad was given 6 to 8 months to live after cancer struck him without a warning. My younger brothers were just 3 and five years of age and it was unfair that they should be deprived of their father’s affection so early in life. In my naivety I prayed hard that I would willingly suffer and die on his behalf if only God granted him a lease of life. I was about fourteen years old and we were doing Moghul History. The story of emperor Babur who prayed for his son Humayun’s recovery and how he fell ill and died while Humayun recovered, seemed so impressive!. I studied in a Christian Missinary school and had a kind of bargaining session with God. I offered to convert to Christianity if only he allowed me to die in my father’s place. I made a quick mental calculation that since I would die in any case, it would hardly matter whether I converted or remained a Hindu. I only hoped that my mother would understand my reasons for doing so. But nothing happened. My father died in about 8 months and my maternal grandfather who was a practicing lawyer took over and life went on. Today I realize that life is not that simple and we all have a role to fulfill. Conversion too involves one’s head and heart and is not a business deal.

Since then I seem to make a special note of more such cases. M…. the Accounts Assistant in our college was not only an expert in her work but a caring mother too. I met on a Diwali day and she told me that she had sent her daughter to her mother’s place for the day. There was nothing unusual about a child spending a day at her grand mom’s place. What was unusual was the fact that the girl had been left there on her own for the first time. Little did M... know that the girl was to be totally left in the care of her grandmothers very soon? The day after I met her, M… fell sick, medical tests, hospitalization and emergency surgery followed and finally in less than 3 months she left us forever. The same was the fate of V…. who was in the Examination Department. Both of them were troubled with occasional gastric problems and would joke about starting a new Graduate School in heaven. Both of them left behind girls in their pre teens that were looked after by their relatives while the surviving parent was busy with office work.

And there was Dr. M.... who was an asset to our college. She was a born fighter. Her husband’s business wasn’t doing well and her children needed help in their studies. She did not want to unnecessarily spend for tuitions. She therefore would first come to us with doubts in Science subjects. (She was in the English Department) She would understand the concepts herself and then teach her children. She got a grant from UGC to carryout postdoctoral research in tribal languages and was doing a great job of it. She suddenly lost her voice and we thought it was a throat infection. We were amused at the way she’d write out whatever she wanted to say and even joked that it would be better if we all spoke less and worked more. She recovered her voice but the diagnosis was not good. Hers was a rare condition of an atypical cancer growth in the lungs where the line of treatment was more speculative than direct. I, for one, felt that it was unfair that a person of her caliber should be allowed to pass on. Time and tide wait for none. On the very day that tsunami struck Mimi joined the victims of tsunami in their final journey while her family dealt with a tsunami of its own.

Such examples leave me frustrated. I have a paternal aunt who is ninety-four years old. She has lost three of her four sons and last year she lost her only surviving brother too. She found her own way to deal with her grief. She has chosen to live on her own and says that keeping herself busy is important to her. I know better. She wants to be left alone to grieve in private.

Strange are the ways of God. When he takes away a parent he takes it on Himself to ensure the family’s well being. He does send someone to care for the children and often such children show a maturity and responsibility not found among their more fortunate counterparts. Very often, such people who are called back are assets to society and their family and the question oft asked is “What next?” However important the person may have been, life goes on with or without him/her. Is there perhaps some element of truth in the sentence I often hear when people refer to my father- that his blessings have accomplished that which he could not have done himself?

M… would have been proud of her daughter who has accomplished a lot as a golf player and has won a scholarship and has left for the USA where she pursues her studies. The same is true of M… the accounts assistant’s daughter. By some co-incidence I happened to read a poem relevant to this post. The jist of the poem was that the leaf that falls first laments the fact and asks why it should be the first to fall when all other leaves were merrily swaying and having fun. The leaf that was still stuck to the branch, while all its “branch brothers” had fallen, asks why it should be the last to go? Neither state is desirable but there is little one can do about it.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Enjoy this

Some Rules that NEWTON forgot to mention
law of queue: If you change queues, the one you have left will start
to move faster than the one you are in now.

Law of the Telephone: When you dial a wrong number, you never get
an engaged tone.

Law of Mechanical Repair: After your hands become coated with
grease,yournose will begin to itch.

Law of the Workshop: Any tool, when dropped, will roll to the
least accessible corner.

Law of the Alibi: If you tell the boss you were late for work because
yu had a flat tire, the next morning you will have a flat tire.

Bath THEOREM: When the body is immersed in water, the telephone rings.

LAW OF ENCOUNTERS: The probability of meeting someone you know
increases when you are with someone you don't want to be seen with.

LAW of the RESULT: When you try to prove to someone that a machine
won't work, it will!

LAW OF BIOMECHANICS: The severity of the itch is inversely
proportional to the reach.

THEATRE RULE: People with the seats at the furthest from the aisle
arrive last.

LAW OF COFFEE: As soon as you sit down for a cup of hot coffee, your
boss will ask you to do something which will last until the coffee is cold.