Saturday, September 26, 2009

Down the memory lane-2

Let me begin with wishes for a very happy Navarathri and Eid to all of you. Festivities being part of the Indian scene getting in and out of shops has been a tiring experience. Not that I am a great shopper but getting a hair band for my scanty hair took me nearly half an hour what with enthusiastic teenaged girls crowding the ladies corner picking out make up kits and accessories to deck themselves for the pujas. I found myself sorely missing my grand daughters who have just begun to understand what it means to own bangles and stuff. That reminds me. I happened to look at a photograph taken soon after I finished my 11th standard boards. I could hardly recognize the teenager looking back at me. She had worn danglers (Jhumkas) and a ‘mattal’ to support ear rings that would pass off for mini plates and a vertical line instead of the round bindi I normally sport these days. I really wonder if I was really that crazy and if I was indeed so when did my teenage enthusiasm die? Be that as it may Navarathri is the time when girls are given special treatment. For my part I did my bit for the girls mentioned in my previous post and escorted a handicapped friend Prema to visit a friend of hers whose husband is recuperating after a mild stroke that had him hospitalized for a week or so. And again the visit took me back to the days when I had just arrived at Jamshedpur and we all lived in the same locality. Prema’s family has done for me that which I need several more births to ever repay.

My mother in law was seriously ill and bed ridden. She was forbidden the intake of more than 5 gms of salt per day and her kidneys were failing. Being diabetic she would be constantly hungry and with 2 small children I’d be at wits end unable to cope with her demands for spicy (forbidden) food. Prema’s mother was a friend of my mother in law and the dear lady would say that since she cooked early for her husband who left for work at 8 in the morning I could come over to her place anytime to pick up stuff for my mother in law. I’d sometimes knock their door at 6.30 in the morning and come back with steaming hot food.

“V was not always like this” she’d say referring to my MIL. “It is her illness that is making her act strange. You think she’d eat all of it? She’ll probably just taste a bit of it for a change and refuse the rest. Don’t worry about anything. You can come over anytime.”

To her credit I must add that she never discussed all this with anyone nor did her children, Prema included, question the reason behind my early morning visits. In fact Prema doesn’t even remember any of it now. But I have not forgotten the favor. It was like having my mother close by. My mother in law was also completely at ease about my contact with the family. She knew that T mami (Prema’s mother) would never set me against her. There were times when I’d have a complaint or two against my MIL. Her advice would be the same.

“Don’t bother about her outbursts. She’ll cool down by the time you go back. Do you think she’d have spared P (my SIL)? She is one person who is the same within and without. You’ll soon understand.”

True, my MIL was like a pressure cooker releasing steam from time to time. One had to understand the soft interior behind the tough exterior and T mami helped me see it.

I don’t know why I am reminded of my younger days so much these days. I lost a dear cousin to cancer. She was younger to me by a year and the first leaf to fall from the branch that sprung from my mother’s side of the family tree. She is mourned among others by her 82 year old mother. She was in great pain and has perhaps found liberation in death. We shared a childhood together spending our vacations in Gobi at my grandfather’s place. Her mother was an inspiration to me with a balanced temperament and uncomplaining nature. Those were days when parents generally let children run wild during vacations – no special treatment or attention. Anyone who was free would feed the children and one would fall asleep on mats spread out in a common hall. I wonder why the current generation of young mothers are so protective about their children.

My child won’t eat this or that……….
My son is an angel he’d never start a quarrel…….
My son won’t get sleep unless the AC is on……..

When we were young and up to mischief, anyone including the servant could scold us and our mothers would go about their work as if nothing had happened. They interfered only if there was a danger of children hurting themselves during a quarrel and the maximum punishment inflicted would be to withdraw the culprit from the scene. Never mind who started the quarrel. But we were happy as long as we got to enjoy ourselves.

Is this over protective attitude due to the fact that we have smaller families and more time in hand, thanks to modern gadgets? Or is the affordability in terms of money and means having a negative impact on inter personal relationships? Does one feel the necessity to flaunt one’s status in life even to one’s own parents and siblings? I am only generalizing but there seems to a subtle change taking place in society and the next generation of children may perhaps tend to be more self centered and uncaring and this will not be good in a society where the divide between the rich and poor is increasing by the day.

To conclude, I may add that almost all festivals are celebrated to denote the triumph of good over evil. Different reasons are quoted for celebrating Navarathri. Devi Mahatmiyam says that even with the combined strength of all the gods and demi gods, it took a long drawn war before Shakthi won the battle against Mahishasur, a demon. Ram led a battle against Ravan and ultimately defeated him. Demons are vanquished and justice prevails is the message. Even Gods could not accomplish it in a day. Corruption, terrorism, caste differentiation, communalism, avarice, dowry menace, female feticide and unhealthy competition are some of the demons that damage our social structure. We may not be able to change the world. Why not begin with changing ourselves and inculcate the value of community life in our children? They need to be sensitized by parents and no time is better than the present time. Let us begin right away. Happy Navarathri!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

dreams and more dreams.

Let me begin by wishing all of you a very happy festival season. A Happy Navarathri, Id-ul-fitr and in general a happy, pleasant time to all of you. I started writing something serious but retained it as a draft because I felt that this was not the time for it. Vacations have begun and we plan a trip to Shiridi, Mumbai and Shringeri. I hear that the Malabar coast is luxuriant after the rains and I've never been to Shringeri.

In this post I am generally going to share with you some eerie dreams I had. Sue had long back tagged me asking me to write about my dreams. Being the boring teacher that I am, I wrote out a long list of figurative dreams of how I wanted terrorism to be wiped out and other similar stuff befitting my age. She then told me that she meant real dreams and I had promised that I'd share them later so here I go.

Dream no.1 I was around 13 years of age and it was a Saturday morning. I was studying in a residential school and we were allowed an extra hour of sleep on saturdays and Sundays. I woke up sweating profusely. I had a dream that my dad was in hospital and he was on some life support system. There were all kinds of tubes and stuff and he was all skin and bones. I recognize him only by his voice. We, in the boarding school believed that Friday night's dreams come true but if it was a bad dream its effect could be neutalized if shared. I quickly woke my friends up and shared my dream. Unfortunately the dream did come true and in the months that followed the same dream recurred a few more times and 4 months later when I visited my father in hospital I was shocked to see everything exactly as it was in my dream. My dad, a 175 pounder had been reduced to a skeleton and some 6 months later he died. I had never seen the interior if a hospital room before so I cannot explain how I got such a vivid picture of the hospital scene.

Dreams no.2 Just before my marriage I had a dream that my dad had come with a suitcase and said that he planned to spend sometime with us. He continued to come in my dreams prior to my younger sister's and older brother's weddings. My younger brothers got married some 12 years after our weddings. I almost expected him to come in my dreams when the two younger brothers got married. But no, he didn't.

Dream no. 3. This again involves my dad. I had, by then, almost stopped expecting him to visit me in my dreams. It was more that 33 years since he passed away. I was advised bed rest following high blood pressure. My dad took me in my dream to Patna for an interview. He leaves me at the gate of the Secretariat and vanishes much to my annoyance. My name is called out and I try to go in when a little girl asks me if I was PR and when I answer in the affirmative she asks me to go back saying that I was not called. I insist saying that I had indeed been called but she does not let me in.

I wonder what dreams are? I've had my mother in law coming in my dreams soon after her death. My father in law's blood urea count shot up before his death and he developed blisters all over his body due to that. A few days after his death I dreamt that he was looking good and was telling a friend of his that he was fine and all his blisters had healed. But for some reason my mother has never comes in my dreams. I think it is because my mother lived to see us well settled while my father didn't. If there is something called soul then my father's soul perhaps wanted to be part of any celebration in the family.

I have regular dreams but most of the time I cannot remember anything when I wake up. But these are a few that I can remember and they usually involve my dead relatives. I don't read too much into my dreams nor do I look for interpretations. But I do offer a silent prayer asking God to take care of things.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

All is not lost

I had lamented in my last post the plight of education and the dearth of good teachers to train young minds. True, the teaching profession has lost its charm thanks to their underpaid and over worked condition. However all is not lost. The pictures posted above indicate the effort of Mrs. Anjali Bose, a seventy three year old social worker who has taken it on herself to do her bit for the girl child in Jharkhand. Her school is called 'setu vidyalaya' or 'bridge school'. The Jharkhand government identified her organization and gave her the job of coaching 50 girls between the age of 9 and 14 and raise their level of understanding to that of Grade 6 in a regular school identified by the government. Their education upto the 12th grade would then be the responsibility of the state government. These girls had to be school drop outs as certified by the headman of their village. The school was to be a residential one and the time granted to them was 9 months. She was supposed to appoint a teacher, an assistant teacher and a cook.

Mrs. Anjali Bose was already running a sewing class in her house in the outskirts of Jamshedpur. She converted it to a residential school and within 4 months the change undergone by these girls was visible. Today at least 30 of these students expect to be absorbed in the school marked out for them. They take their exams in February 2010.

The government carries out periodic checks and the grant is given out in part after ensuring that the previous amount has been properly utilized. The cause for cheer mainly lies in the fact that palms were not greased to obtain it nor does she plan to press for renewal of the project. Should the authorities consider her competent renewal should automatically follow is her stand.

It is not as if it was a cake walk all the way. Parents were wary and suspicious of her intentions. More than other things parents from a rural background had to be convinced about the importance of educating the girl child. A truly service minded teacher had to be appointed, who would agree not only work for the pittance paid to her but also double up as honorary store keeper cum warden. Many of the girls were illiterate and had to be taught from scratch. The government allowance covered only the children's board and lodge. The 5 staff members ie 2 teachers, a cook, a gatekeeper and maid who kept a round the clock vigilance on these young girls were perhaps expected to live on fresh air and water. Extra bathrooms had to be built, bed and bed linen had to be provided, at least 2 sets of uniforms had to be stitched and a buffer amount kept ready to counter any delay in payment by the government. Then there was always a chance of the girls falling ill so that too had to be taken care of.

Luckily, all these issues have been addressed. The teacher who works for them is sincere and efficient. She has her own set of problems but she still manages to teach these children some singing and gets involved in their physical training and games too. They are given simple chores to do and a healthy foundation to community living is being imbibed by these children albeit unconsciously.

The photographs above were taken on Independance day and in the first photograph Anjalidi can be seen addressing the gathering. This is an example of good work done against all odds and the dearth of good teachers that society faces is not because they are underpaid but rather because the importance of the profession has been conveniently forgotten. But I still insist that all is not lost.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Happy teacher's Day

I am a little late with my teacher's day post the reason being my dilemma as to whether the celebration of teacher's day is required or justified any more. Don't get me wrong. I have a lot of respect for teachers since they train young impressionable minds. But teaching is not a preferred career these days. When I was growing up teaching was considered as perhaps the safest option for working women. I know of a friend whose mother would allow her to leave town and work in another place some 250 miles away only on condition that she worked in an all girl's school with a teacher's hostel attached. The rules for teachers in this school were only slightly more lenient when compared to students. If students were allowed a weekly outing and had to return by 6 in the evening teachers could go out daily if they wished but had to leave whatever they were doing and return by 7 in the evvening. Teachers could go for a matinee show on Sundays while an occasional film was screened for students in the school auditorium. Yet these teachers gave their best services and students loved and respected them.

My own brothers were schooled in a primary school where there were benches only for the seniormost class ie the 5th standard. The rest would sit on wooden planks with all sections of a particular class being held in the same hall. Their first standard teacher was a widow who had taken a 2 year diploma course in teaching after finishing her matriculation. When my brother joined school he cried so much that I sat through the class for a whole week. I was myself in standard 10 and studying in an expensive boarding school. My father had just passed away and the family could no longer afford costly education for my younger siblings. The week I spent in a corner of the class was an eye opener. They were being taught by a born teacher who inculcated a love for learning in them. Today my brothers are doing well in life with one of them having graduated from IIM, Bangalore in the mid 80's and another a product of Anna University, Chennai. The headmaster, a simple unassuming man came home to meet my mother on Gandhi Jayanthi Day along with my brother who had been awarded the first prize in an inter school speech competition. He was perhaps in Standard 2 or 3. My mother treated him to some salted buttermilk. He recognized some potential in the boy and predicted a great future for him. This man was given the President's award for best teachers on Republic day. Those were days when merit was recognized and lobbying was unheard of. A good school may not have tall multistoreyed buildings but they certainly need the right person at the top. Unfortunately I forget the name of this great man but he certainly led by example and motivated the teachers under him to do their best.

Fast forward by 40 years. I was approached by a saleswoman who frequents our apartment complex to help her daughter with English. The girl was in standard 9 and studied in a government run Hindi medium school. I asked her to bring her English text and saw that she had a few good pieces in her book. Poems by Shelly and Wordsworth, an abridged version of part of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice etc. I was delighted. I had studied 'The Merchant of Venice' in the original for my 11th Boards and I welcomed the idea of reading Portia's piece on 'The quality of mercy..........'. But unfortunately I was not prepared for what I got. That the girl could not read a line from her text book was bad enough but she could not write the full 26 letters of alphabet or frame simple sentences using 4 to six words. How she managed to land in standard 9 was a mystery. I asked her to write a paragraph on her school in Hindi. She barely manged to write something but her writing was bad and spellings worse. What about science I wondered. She had managed to scrape through her exams. The teacher had written out a few answers that she had memorised and managed to pass. I wondered if this was the state of affairs in North India and if it was always so. After all my brothers and many others like them had studied in vernacular medium schools and were very successful in life.

"It was never like this" said my colleague and my mentor and Ph.D guide Dr. AKP endorsed her view.

"Your brothers sat on wooden planks but I had to carry my own mat to school" he said. "I had to cross a river on the way and very often the flimsy bridge made of bamboo poles would sway during cyclonic weather and yet we braved adverse weather conditions to attend school.

"Sir, government school teachers are being paid well what are they upto instead of teaching their students?" I asked.

"One can hardly blame them." said my guide. They are given all kinds of odd jobs. They are involved with counting cattle and livestock, they participate in polio eradication drives and carry out door to door surveys to identify below poverty line families that qualify for BPL ration cards. Census counts, distribution and rectification of erroneous voter identity cards or any work that the government wants them to do is gladly taken up by government school teachers. Our teachers only had to teach but these people have to do everything but teach. Does the DEO have the moral right to ask them why their students cannot write a simple sentence or understand basic science or Indian history for that matter?"

I seemed to understand something though not everything. We are a densely populated country and millions of young men and women are unemployed. Why cannot the government appoint them on adhoc basis to do such work and leave teachers to do the job assigned to them at the time of their appointment? If this is the way we treat our teachers do we have the right to celebrate teacher's day?

However I still admire those that take up the profession and struggle to do their best against all odds. It is these men and women who still allow us to hope that all is not lost.

Happy teacher's day to all teachers!!