Thursday, January 18, 2007

My Style

Passerby has tagged me yet again. I hope I've measured up to her expectations.Here I go.

Pressure cookerLike a pressure cooker I get worked up when I see an injustice being done to those who cannot even defend themselves. I need to let out steam from time to time to remain sane.

Chewing gumI like chewing the cud both literally and figuratively. I used to sit for hours in a grassy field under a shady tree chewing grass while reading a book when I was a student. I could also spend hours recalling past events and reliving special moments. I’d only need some soothing music in the background. Unfortunately marriage and children have taken all that away from me.

BookshelfMy life I feel is like a well stacked bookshelf. In fact all our lives are the same. We have tragic experiences but can we not look for comedy despite tragedy? I am sure we can. Life is a bookshelf and caters to all tastes.

My eyesI happened to find a photograph of myself as a fresh graduate and oh my God!! I wondered if those eyes belonged to me. It was my proposal snap and they speak volumes of my expectations from life. My recent photographs show a kind of indulgence that comes with age and experience. I now understand why even total strangers feel comfortable talking to me.

A healing touchA touch…… and a gentle one at that….. says it all!! One has to just touch me. And I understand what they wish to tell me. Is this what one calls ‘ a healing touch’??
A touch does so much. It acts as a warning signal, a comforter and what not.

Fluffy pillows
Pillows help one relax. I am a very relaxed person, cool and comfortable, ready for use to all who need to do so.

A string of pearlsA string of natural pearls bound together by a silk thread appeals to me much more than diamonds and gold. They seem to symbolize a group of like minded people with a well rounded approach to life and a personality without sharp edges and cutting corners. Pearls seem to spread the message of love and tolerance.

Rangoli and Kolams that are based on geometrical designsYou start with a plus sign and expand it as far as your imagination takes you. There is just no limit. My dream for my motherland is something like that. Perhaps that is the reason why my heart goes out to all those youngsters who represent future India.

Crisp cottonsI love wearing a crisp cotton saree. As a schoolgirl I loved the way our principal dressed up in a well ironed crisp cotton saree. The dignity it symbolizes is incomparable.

Walking to healthI am lucky to live in a small town with well maintained roads. A morning walk in a road that seems to go on forever gives me immense pleasure. The road that winds on and on is not only a connector of places,When we walk on it it connects me to people from all walks of life.I look for familiar faces on the road-a cute couple in their late seventies with the husband walking 10 steps ahead of his wife, a little boy rushing to school on his bicycle with his mother invariably warning him to be careful, a father transporting his polio stricken teenaged daughter by cycle, perhaps to some coaching class and many others. When I fail to see even one of them, I worry about their well being. I haven’t spoken to them but I wonder if they notice me the way I notice them.

Let me tag Ardra and Srijith Unni and find out what their style is!!Ardra, I remember your tag.I've asked my brother for a few photos of our childhood.i'll post it as soon as I get them.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Are we out of focus?

The Nov.27, 2006 edition of India Today carries the report of an exclusive survey of top schools in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Bangalore. It claims to have exposed ‘the alarming gaps in student learning, with performance falling way below International levels’. I grabbed the magazine and took it home and to be frank I was not prepared for the findings which stared into my face. In the following week we were to take a group of students on a tour to Orissa. I took the magazine along to either try involving our Honors students in a group discussion or at least get the opinion of my colleagues. Unfortunately I could do neither for want of time. The summary of what I understood is as follows-

1. Learning seems to be taking place in watertight compartments with little relation to real life.
2. Class VIII students consistently faltered even on concepts they had learnt in junior school.
3. Only 37% of the students were able make a two step reasoning that water is H2O and it evaporates to form steam. Therefore the chemical formula for water and steam is the same.
4. Class VI Indian students were outdone by international students of class IV in some tests.
5. Class VI students know that whales are mammals and mammal breathe through their lungs but many fail to make the connection.
6. Students fare well in rote questions but trip up on those needing interpretation and analysis.

I suggest that those of you with school going kids, go through the article, and, get first hand information of the outcome of the survey and come up with a strategy best suited to your child to make learning a pleasure. Do incorporate the practical application of book knowledge in their day to day life. Let their analytical skills develop to the maximum. On the one hand we send our wards to school even before they overcome stranger anxiety and pressurize them to come out in flying colors and on the other side is an education, that when imparted, is not even encouraging them to think logically. Do we have the right to force such methods down their throats? Could this be a reason for the spurt in teen age suicides and depression? I read with a heavy heart the news of a father who was so ambitious that he would beat up his son for every wrong shot he played while practicing Table Tennis. One day he hit him with some hard object for refusing to practice. The boy collapsed and died even before reaching the hospital. Would it not have been better if the father had tried to find out why the child did not want to practice? The world is in the grip of terrorists. Let us no alienate our children by setting unrealistic goals for them. It takes just one step in the wrong direction for us to lose them forever.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Health,wealth or happiness?

I sometimes wonder what we want out of life. Is it health, wealth or happiness? Or a judicial mixture of all the three? I sometimes feel that while wealth cannot give health or happiness per se it could perhaps play the role of a facilitator. While wealth cannot ensure happiness, lack of it can definitely create problems which in turn can act as impediment to a healthy and happy life. It requires a highly seasoned mind to look for happiness in negative conditions. It is difficult but not impossible and once one gets the hang of it, believe me the experience is immensely enjoyable.

Let me give you an example. I have a good friend Prema. I met her on the very day that I arrived in Jamshedpur as a young bride of twenty -two. Her parents were good friends of the family, her father having gone to school with my father in law. The first thing I thought about her was ‘how cheerful this girl seems to be’. She had a high -spirited nature and her resounding laughter was infectious. I was later told that she had a job as a teacher in a semi government school and was practicing shorthand and typing hoping to take up the job of a stenographer in a good organization. She had an older brother, a qualified engineer who had to resign from his service with the Indian Railways due to his schizophrenic tendencies. The second brother was employed in Tata Steel and following an accident on duty he had lost an eye. She had a younger sister who was not a very good student and could not hope to have a career worth mentioning. She was actually studying at that time, but later took up a job as a poorly paid Hindi teacher in a private school. Prema had taken it on herself to support the family and put away all thoughts of marriage and family till at least the time when her younger sister would settle down in life. The family first got the youngest sister married after whom Prema was forced to marry a person who did not have a permanent job and she agreed to the proposal only because her brother wanted to marry and settle down and he would not consider marriage unless Prema settled down in life. Prema agreed, albeit half-heartedly, because the idea of marrying a man without a permanent job did not exactly appeal to her. She had by then taken up a job in Tata Robin Frasers and had a good career ahead. As luck would have it, her brother passed away within a month of his marriage. Her mother followed him within a year and her husband lost his job within six months of their marriage. He got in and out of jobs for the next ten years and Prema’s role as the breadwinner continued. She longed for a child of her own but fibroids in her uterus made sure that she did not. Then came the final blow. She suffered a massive stroke and went into a coma for 11 days and when she recovered her right hand was only partially functional and she had to drag her right leg to be able to walk. She had to attend to her ailing mother in law and humor her husband who still hadn’t landed a permanent job. She took medical separation from TRF and dreads the day when, upon her retirement, the paltry allowance that TRF pays her would also stop coming.

Another person in her place would have gone berserk but Prema continues to laugh and spread cheer. She is the perfect companion to her husband, maintains contact with all his relatives and takes up her responsibility as a homemaker without any grudge. She has a kind word of concern for my children and insists that I describe my trip to America in detail. I look at her with new respect and admiration each time I meet her.

What is it that keeps her going? She has neither health nor wealth. Yet she radiates a positive energy and spreads joy and hope in the hearts of all those who meet her. She may definitely have her moments of frustration but she definitely does not let it affect her interaction with others who are better off than her. Despite her handicap she takes her responsibilities seriously and is an asset to her husband who shows a better understanding now than when she had a job. Am I right in concluding that while health and wealth have a major role to play in life, they cannot have a lasting role in the joy or satisfaction that one feels from within?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The World is Growing Small!!

A gentle knock at the door woke up Ramji. ‘ It must be Gowri’ he thought.

“Come in” he called out.

“How do you feel now uncle?” asked Gowri as she entered. “Has your fever subsided?”

“I’m better now Gowri” replied Ramji, “What are you doing here? Don’t you have classes today?”

“I’ll leave shortly uncle” Said Gowri, “Papa will drop me at college. I’ve brought some food for you. Have your lunch before it turns cold. I’ll come again in the evening. There is something important that I wish to tell you. Bye!”

Gowri sped off like a reindeer. Ramji wondered what it was that she wished to tell him.

Gowri was Ramji’s friend Govind’s daughter. She was bright and intelligent. He had known her as a child. Govind had been a pillar of strength when Ramji lost his wife at the age of twenty-six. Gowri was just two years old then. She would play on her own while the two friends chatted over coffee. The conversation invariably hovered around the need for Ramji to marry again at least for the sake of his children who were being looked after by their maternal grandmother as a temporary arrangement. There were plenty of good offers but Ramji refused to relent. He felt that his children would not be well looked after by a step mother and the risk involved outweighed the benefits of having a wife to attend to their needs. Govind finally gave up. The two friends had been transferred to different places but had continued to remain in touch over the years. Ramji had single-handedly brought up his children and now with his daughter married and his son employed as a chartered accountant he could sit back and relax. After twenty years they had been posted in the same town again and Gowri had now grown into a pretty young lady - self assured and confident. Since they lived close by Gowri would often drop in and chat with him on a wide range of subjects ranging from fashion trends to social issues. They would argue about the government’s policies, national and international events generally agreeing to disagree.

Sunder wondered again about Gowri’s intention to talk to him about something important. Gowri was doing her Masters at a reputed college in town. She had plans to join the administrative services and considering her perseverance and intelligence it did not appear impossible.

‘Gowri perhaps wants to talk to me about her choice of career’ he thought ‘I’ll advice her to take a course on public speaking. It will help her to face the interview and group discussion that were supposed to be tougher than the written exam. I hope she makes it to the top.’

He wondered if Gowri was in love and wanted him to talk to her father about it. He had hoped to ask for her hand for his son Srikant but if the girl had someone in mind he would stand by her choice. He was sure that, being a balanced young girl she would make the right choice.

The suspense was becoming unbearable. He could hardly wait for the evening to come. When Gowri brought him some snacks and tea in the evening she was in a pensive mood as if she was rehearsing an important dialogue.

“What is bothering you Gowri?” he asked “ You don’t seem normal. Is there anything that I can do?”

“It is something that only you can do uncle. Please don’t laugh it off since it is something serious. I’ve decided to marry.” Said Gowri.

“Good, that was not unexpected. Tell me who’s the lucky young man? Have you told your father? Do you want me to talk to him?” Ramji was keen to play the role of a matchmaker.

“Uncle” Gowri looked at him with pleading eyes. “ I wish to marry you. Please do not say no to me.”

Ramji was too shocked to respond. This silly girl must have lost her mind! He couldn’t have heard right. Oh God! What would Govind say on hearing this!

‘ My children would never agree,’ he thought. ‘At a time when I should be talking of my son’s marriage I cannot marry a girl younger than him.’

“Leave me alone child,” he almost screamed, “you do not know what you say. I’ll ask your father to get you married to the most eligible bachelor in town. Leave me alone I say! I did not consider marriage when my children were young and needed a mother to look after them. You are like a daughter to me. How could you even harbor such an idea?”

“I’ll go away uncle,” said Gowri in a voice that betrayed no emotions. “But I stand by what I said. Your children are now settling down in life. You are not yet fifty. Don’t you need a soul mate to look after you? I wish to be your companion for life. I see nothing wrong in it.”

“Gowri! Please listen to me. With your charming personality and intelligent mind you will never lack suitors. I am twenty-four years older than you. Almost like a father. Your father’s association means a lot to me and I cannot do this to him. You may also regret your decision later. Concentrate on your studies. Marriage can wait.” Ramji almost pleaded with her.

Gowri left.

Years went by, and Gowri joined the Administrative Services. She continued to visit Ramji but made no mention of the conversation that took place between them. It appeared as though she had gotten over her passing fancy. Govind started looking out for a suitable match for her and Ramji heaved a sigh of relief.

On a Sunday morning Govind stormed into Ramji’s room.

“This foolish girl of mine seems to have lost her mind. Do something about it Ram. I don’t understand a word of what she says. I asked her what she thought of your son Srikant and she says that he is like a son to her and refuses to consider the proposal. What on earth does she mean?”

Govind continued to fume and fret while Ramji tried in vain to pacify him. Just then Gowri entered the room.

“Papa” she said, “I’ve always wanted to tell you. However, I did not know how to bring up the subject. I do not feel inclined to marry the young and eligible bachelors of your choice. They seem light headed and frivolous. I’d like to marry uncle with your blessings. Love transcends caste, creed, physical appearance and also age. Should you both have any objection, just leave me alone. I have a job to support myself and I’ll concentrate on my career.”

The two men listened to her in a stunned silence. Such things happened to others or perhaps in romantic novels and movies. They could not take place in the lives of simple, ordinary people like them. Ultimately they had to relent and Gowri married Ramji proving that Love was both blind and deaf. Or was it?

This is a real life story that did the rounds in the early 70’s when I was newly married. I was very eager to meet the girl who, according to my source of information, was a very smart young lady, about the same age as me. I got to meet or rather seeher once at a common relative’s wedding. She was very much the person that I expected her to be and seemed quite at ease catering to her husband who was then nearing retirement. I had my own hectic schedule to cope with and I soon forgot about them.

Years later, I met a young man at my daughter’s place and the conversation hovered around strange marriages and when he started narrating the above story I had to stop him midway to check if he was talking about the person known to me by hearsay and of course he was!! The world was indeed growing small. I was glad that I could set right a misunderstanding he had about the couple. He had grown up believing that Ramji had ended up marrying Gowri having gone to Govind’s place with a marriage proposal for his son Srikant. He was happy to know that this was not so and was surprised that it was Gowri who had insisted on the marriage. I was glad to hear that their marriage was a success story and as far as Gowri was concerned LOVE was neither blind nor deaf!!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!!

Let me begin with my good wishes for a very happy year ahead. May this New Year bring sunshine in your lives.

Another year has gone by and I feel inclined to reflect on what a New Year means to us. Is it just another new calendar or could we strive to make it eventful? I went for a small get together last night and we had people reciting poems in Urdu and Hindi. One such recital was about there being no difference between the year that has gone by and the one that is being ushered in and the reference given was that of the rising cost of essential commodities. It was delivered in an apparently light vein. ‘Bitter truth delivered as sugar coated pills’ I thought to myself. I then made a quick list of what an ordinary person like me could do to make this New Year different. I cannot stop the price of potatoes from sky rocketing nor can I stop people from buying gold at ‘any cost’ but-

1) I can do my bit to sensitize society on the issue of female foeticide and infanticide. This is a problem that needs to be addressed immediately and I am going to do my bit by talking to my students, and, their parents if need be, to create awareness about the gravity of the problem.
2) I am going to ponder deeply on the emotional health of our school going kids and see if something can be done to give back to them, their childhood, which seems to be slipping away from their lives. This I plan to do by educating my students who will be dealing with families of their own in the near future. I feel it is the inferiority complex among the parents of today that makes them push their wards too far. I want my students to be proud and confident about their own capabilities. Only then can they have faith in their children and let them grow at their own pace.

The founder of our college Dr. N. K. Singh was accorded a grand felicitation by the Senior Citizen’s Council for Excellence and the views expressed by some of the speakers based on their experience and observations merit consideration. One such advice given to parents by Dr. N.K. Singh is –

You give the children your love, but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You house their body, but not their soul,
For their soul dwells in the house of tomorrow,
Where you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you,
For life goes neither backwards, nor tarries with yesterday.

I have almost fulfilled my duty as a parent and cannot rectify or undo any error in parenting that I may have unknowingly committed. But I do have a few more years as a teacher. I have decided to devote the remaining years of my teaching career to learn to let children explore and innovate instead of imposing myself on them by way of ‘teaching’. Who knows what I may end up learning from them!

For a New Year message this has been a serious piece of writing and that too from a person like me who is known to make light of everything. I’ve been listening to a lot of intellectual stuff recently and feel that the social problems that haunt us need to be addressed as best as they can. Let us all join hands and do our bit in the year 2007.