Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Is marriage a necessary evil?

I have a question that bothers me since there seems to be no correct answer. Long back, when my daughter was not yet 10 years old, a family friend approached me for details regarding a colleague of mine who was being considered a suitable match for their daughter. The man in question had joined as lab attendant and improved his qualification to become a lab assistant. He was working on his Master’s degree having taken admission in a local college. He had obtained a distinction in Physics Honors in his undergrad course and had a very good practical hand. (He still works with us and gladly fixes electrical and electronic items for us when required). I could foresee a bright future for him and had no hesitation in suggesting that they could go ahead and start negotiating with his family in Andhra Pradesh. I had no knowledge about his family’s financial status but guessed that they may not have been very well off since he had started working soon after completing his 11th standard and a bright student like him who could not continue to study was probably from a needy background. However, I kept my thoughts to myself on a matter that did not concern me.

A few days later I was asked by their daughter who studied in our college to drop by their house when possible since her mother wished to consult me on an important matter. I readily agreed to visit them after college on the very same day. When I reached their place I found the family in a dilemma. Their older daughter for whom my colleague was being considered was upset that her parents should even think of getting her married to a person of questionable financial status. It did not matter that the man had a chance of coming up in life. It was his current status that mattered. She would not settle for anyone that did not have a white collar job and whose father was equal in status to her own father. Her parents on the other hand felt that there was no harm in carrying the matter forward if the boy in question was hard working and responsible.

I tried to reason that since she had a government job herself, they could manage to lead a pretty decent life on their combined salaries. The girl was adamant.

“Would you say this for your own daughter?” she asked.

My daughter was around 8 years old and I had not thought of her marriage prospects at all. She was in grade III and I was not sure where this conversation was leading. But I had the sense to understand that the matter ought to be handled by the family and it was better to leave it to them. Finally the girl’s parents gave in and the matter was dropped. The girl however did not marry at all. She probably rejected all proposals considered by her parents. Her younger sister got married as did her brothers. She never forgave me for even suggesting that she marry my colleague and would refuse to acknowledge my presence when we met while traveling to work or in the market place. She probably did not know how or where to vent her anger and I let her be since I was not affected by her behavior in a big way. She now leads an independent life in Hyderabad while her parents stay with her married brother shuttling between Hyderabad and Jamshedpur. Marriage was not a priority to her and she chose to remain unmarried rather than enter into a matrimony that did not appeal to her. I too had to admit albeit a little grudgingly that this was perhaps a wise step that she took. Thirty years ago this was a bold step too.

Years later I narrated the incident to my daughter who was in college. Her reaction set me thinking.

“What was wrong with her question mummy? Why did it upset you? Tell me honestly if you would have considered the match for me? Would you not prefer to get me married to a man of sound financial background than a person with commitments to his family however promising his career?”

It was a tricky question and I had to admit that she had a point.

When I see my colleague today I feel that he hasn’t fared badly at all. His wife is an excellent home maker and their son has completed an engineering course and will be taking up a job soon. He is used to taking up responsibilities and gladly attends to matters involving his wife’s family. I wonder if his life would have been as smooth sailing and happy if he had married Rajalakshmi (as the girl mentioned earlier was called). The basic question as to whether I would have got my daughters married to promising young men on the basis of their qualification alone still remains unanswered. To be frank I did not have a very great role in the marriage negotiations of my daughters. It just happened the way it did. Had I been at the receiving end of marriage negotiations dealing with hard to please parents of eligible boys I too might have compromised. But would my daughters have done the same or would they have objected? The girls are well settled and their husbands earn well. It is easy for me to preach that marriage is a gamble and the gamble is played out in heaven.

Finally I think that life is a balance sheet. Credit and debit accounts are maintained. Looking back I realize that my mother did not think beyond a hard working husband for me and life hasn’t been bad at all. Among those that got married with me some started off well, some took time to take off but now most of us are at the same level. So life is not what one gets – it is more about how one wishes to deal with it. And it varies from person to person. Marriage is just part of life – not life itself.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ramblings of a living fossil.................

Teacher’s day has come and gone and I haven’t written a line regarding the profession that has given me an identity. The teaching/learning process has gone such a tremendous change and I am unable to decide if it is for the better or not. The inflated marking system and the exam oriented preparation by students have left me wondering whether my perceptions are outdated. The head tells me that it is indeed so but my heart refuses to believe what my head says. I have a feeling that all this superficiality in the learning process will phase out and very soon we will revert to a method that requires the application of knowledge acquired to be successful. Certain sore points stand out and I am going to bug you for answers.

When I was in grade III we had a Math teacher who would give a straight zero if our answers did not have a unit along with the numeral. It had to be 10 pounds or 20 miles and never 10 and 20. No consideration for the numerous steps involved to arrive at the answer. As a child I would find it unfair that one was given a zero after all the effort put in. I later understood.

Fast forward by 30 years-

A student of mine called Jennifer Wadia brought her record for correction. She had drawn a thistle funnel hanging in the air above a beaker of water to illustrate the process of osmosis. I put a big, ugly question mark on her drawing sheet and asked why she had not drawn the stand and clamp.

“It is understood ma’am” was her response.

“I don’t understand something that is not illustrated” I said. “Draw the supporting structure and submit your record”.

“I drew it from my 10th standard copy and there was no stand/clamp in the diagram”

Jennifer was a good student and the school she studied in was the same in which my daughters studied. It was a reputed school and I could not believe what she said.

“Show me your copy. And who was your biology teacher?”

She mentioned a name that sounded familiar. My daughter – then in the 8th standard – was being taught biology by the same person and she was a good teacher. My children never came to me with doubts in biology and their grades were good. What then went wrong?

The next day Jennifer brought her 10th grade biology copy and as she had said the thistle funnel was hanging in the air without a support and the diagram had been ticked as correct.

I went home and asked my daughter for her biology note book and it was the same in her book too. She was Jennifer’s junior by 5 years and the school was churning out generation after generation of students who thought that there was no need to draw a stand and clamp to support a thistle funnel.

“I am coming to your school to talk to your teacher”. I was truly upset that children were being taught in this manner. My daughter would have none of it.

“Please don’t” she wailed. “Teacher had told us that there would be a stand and clamp to hold the thistle funnel. I thought it was understood. She will not like it if you point out”

At the risk of being labeled a living fossil I still insist that a scientific drawing need not be a piece of art but it has to be properly illustrated. And the teacher who cannot be told that she was instilling a wrong concept and/or accept it when pointed is doing a disservice to society. However, knowing the teacher personally and having met her on quite a few occasions I don't think she would have had any hesitation in admitting her lapse and rectified it. I only mean to say that as teachers we do tend to take our student's intelligence and analytical skills for granted. In this case she must have told them that the thistle funnel had to be held with the help of a stand and clamp but since she did not illustrate it, it was not registered in their minds. Believe me, I have no intention of finding fault with the school that has groomed my children. I just wish to point out that such lapses have far reaching effects.

Correct me if I am wrong but I feel that the marking system in our board exams need to be re-assessed. I have to give another example here.

My daughter had answered her 10th boards. She showed me her Biology question paper. It had a drawing that illustrated a biological process. The students had to label the diagram and draw an inference as to what the process might have been. My daughter’s inference was wrong. The question carried 4 marks. I would have given her a zero. But she said that marks were split and she would only lose 1 mark for the inference. She had labeled the diagram correctly and written out the procedure and all that carried marks. I later confirmed her claim and it was true.

Those among you with young children ought to tell me whether the present system where marks are awarded rather than deducted - when the basic concept is wrong – is helping or harming your children. I would rather have my children learning their basics the hard way. Marks to my mind are not important.

I would ask teachers in the making and those that have just taken it up as well as parents with school going children to pay attention to whether your ward is understanding the concept/lesson that is being taught because ultimately that is what is going to help them in their career.

It is not that I want to criticize the present system. I just wonder if it can be improved

Friday, September 02, 2011

Is this normal??

Yesterday was Ganesh Chaturti and a day off from college. Believe me, at the age of sixty I still relish the thought of a holiday pretty much the same way as when I was a schoolgirl. I took the opportunity to visit my doctor for my arthritis.

Weather is unpredictable these days in Jamshedpur. It is sunny now and within the very next couple of minutes dark cloud gather and it starts drizzling and then it is pouring rain. At the clinic were a family who had brought a three month old baby to the clinic. The baby was crying non stop initially but finally went off to sleep. They were totally unknown to me but the sight of the indulgent grandmother and the young mother somehow reminded me of the time when I was a young mother. A girl in her late teens had accompanied them and she took turns to hold the baby. She reminded me of my sister in law who was so very fond of my daughter and took charge of her the moment she started crying. We were preparing to leave when dark clouds appeared from nowhere and one could predict a heavy shower within minutes. The child’s mother started calling someone over the phone probably worried how they may reach home. It was then that I offered to drop them in my car provided they lived within Kadma where I live. They were glad to be offered a lift and by the time all of us got into the car it started drizzling as expected. I started the car and took a turn when it started pouring.

The next few moments were simply horrible. I simply blanked out. I seemed to have forgotten my way and I could not remember where I needed to go. I took a wrong turn and headed in the direction opposite my house. The roads seemed unfamiliar and the sign board made no sense. I slowed down and asked –

“What place is this?”

I truly felt like crying. Why did I have to bring this on myself???

The teenaged girl came to my rescue. She suggested that since it was pretty dark I had perhaps got confused. (It was just 4 in the afternoon). Then I seemed to realize that I had reached the main road that connected our area to the railway station. Luckily I hadn’t gone too far, just about a kilometer in the wrong direction. I took a U turn and headed in the direction of my home. They live at a 5 minutes walk from my house and I prayed that I should drop them at their destination safe and sound. It was raining heavily all the while but the moment I dropped them and proceeded towards home clouds started to clear and when I reached home it was sunny once again. The group must have taken me to be a nutcase.

It took me a while to become normal. What if I had lost control of the car? I’ve lived in the area for the past 38 years and yet why did the roads look unfamiliar? All this took no more than 5 minutes but it was a scary experience. To top it I had to account for the lives of unknown people. It has never happened before.

I reached home and straight away wrote a post for Women’s web to make sure I was okay. While I returned from college I explored the area again. It was not the route I usually take but there was nothing unfamiliar about it. I think the unexpected downpour was the culprit. Dr. Anthony, if you’re reading this post I want you to reassure me. Is this normal??