Friday, March 27, 2015

Kutch


The whiteness is not blinding
Snowy or pristine
It is grainy, moist, patched with dirt
Edged with the bleakest of horizons
Just a bed of salt on a depression
Made many moons ago

The Rann holds, unapologetic
It will recede at the turn of the tide
Lurk under the ocean
Until the year breaks
And it’s time to creep up again
The djinn of the Arabian Sea

Heavily trodden by tourist flocks
And camel feet
It waits in cold silence
For a full moon night
To light up in eerie radiance
For eyes deserving of the trance

A lone traveler, maybe
Seeking empathy for a brackish life
Or lovers distanced in space and time
Journeying to find meaning
Watched over
 Blessed by a wondrous expanse

Miles and miles of desert
Leading into mists in the northwest
Across borders, for those who venture
Too far, too few
Shadows of people
Parted, when the earth was made to split
Back in ‘47

If you want to find me
Come at the first blush of dawn
At the mouth of the vastness
I’ll be waiting

Bring your empty maps
And your stargazer eyes
Leave your beliefs and your lessons behind
Let us be afoot
We need to catch the red sun
We need to bottle the infinite

Walk with me
To where the world drops
If you’re watching from afar
We could be treading seas
Watch us disappear
Where land and sky
Dissolve like sand into nothingness

Monday, June 23, 2014

Stuck.

You know how people say, life is what happens while you’re busy making plans, or while you’re busy looking at your smartphone or whatnot? Well, my variant is - life is what happens while you’re busy daydreaming of a better one, which will not happen for the exact reason that you spend all your time daydreaming, and not trying to actually make it happen. And life has been happening for 23 years now.  I have spent many mornings, afternoons, and far too many nights, living in the figurative cloud bubble over my head. Maybe I didn’t need to add the figurative. Anyway. Sometimes, I tend to fret over what could have been. But most times, I think about what still could be. And that vague, faraway hope keeps me excited.

What still could be. I could still have a successful career. I could still travel all over the world. I could still, write a book maybe. Maybe.

I could still..stop being a procrastinator. One day. But it won’t be today.

You see my problem?


Ugh. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

An Ode to Spring and Other Things

It is a good time to be in Delhi. The city has finally recovered from its biting winter, and is still mercifully distant from the heat that drives you inside metro stations even though you don’t have to take the train. Humidity is 42%, precipitation is 50% and wind speed, 23 kmph.  Weather reports don’t tell you everything, though.  

It is a time when dry leaves are collecting on the ground, crisp and toasty, ready to be trampled in glee. If you’re lucky, you’ll find hues of orange and yellow in the leaves still wavering on scant branches, patiently waiting to fall. If you are very lucky, you'll be caught in the exact moment the wind decides to shake them off.

Most trees have already donned their fresh new foliage, just as cardigans and shawls and sleeves are being happily discarded by the residents. If you spot anyone still wearing a muffler in the city, it’s probably just Mr. Kejriwal.

It is a time when the red and orange Palash is ablaze everywhere. Tilt your neck slightly, and you might catch sight of one.

It is a time to whip coffee and strain tea leaves and stack up piles of books you might or might not read. It is a time to be out, amongst ruins and tombs you never knew existed in your neighbourhood. It is a time to listen to your favourite Amit Trivedi songs. It is a time to write lists and make plans with your friends, and if you’re a teacher like me, replenish your stationery.

It is a time to savour new words and find ways to use them.

It’s a time to be solivagant.

It is a time to sit in the bus, earphones plugged in, and not care about the traffic.

It is a time to take a serious interest in poetry and to buy some handmade paper.

It is a time to show up uninvited to a friend's house.

It is also a time to procrastinate, because not much is going on.

New things await, and they will keep waiting, while I take this time to drift a little, guiltless and elysian.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Yeh Raasta Bahut Achha Hai

I don’t care for Imtiaz Ali’s repertoire and whether or not this is his masterpiece. I’m not concerned with Alia Bhatt’s career trajectory which is bound to shoot up from here. I certainly don’t want to go into details of the Stockholm Syndrome and assess the viability of the relationship between the main characters. I have, however, been obsessing over Highway ever since I saw it three days ago, and I wish Pataka Guddi was the soundtrack of my life. In my humble and probably one-time stint as a reviewer (gush-er, to be more accurate), I’m going to go ahead and say that Highway is a pretty fantastic movie.  

I’ve always thought it’s a pointless endeavour to score any art form,  unless you’re on the jury of an award committee. Try how they might, no critic can tell you how a movie will make you feel.  (Unless you’re watching a movie the Vigil Idiot has deemed worthwhile of caricaturing, in which case the experience is likely to be horrific). Which is why I also think it’s pointless to argue over a review. Who cares if Anupama Chopra gave two and a half stars to Highway, or that she thinks the film ‘posits kidnapping as therapy’? Experience it for yourself and see if you like it.

I found myself resonating longingly with the celebration of the ‘being on the road’. Having been on numerous road trips with my family, many of the terrains and locales were pleasantly familiar, and the salt plains and snow-capped peaks which I haven’t seen for myself, made me wanderlusty. All the drama of the wedding planning and police search is nicely trivialised with the use of a small screen. The movie is ALL about the journey - a journey which does not pander to cinematic conventions of pacing and climax. We discover the characters slowly, through their actions and their words. The ‘na├»ve, rich girl’ is neither parodied (except in some genuinely comic moments), nor fetishized, but allowed to be her own person. The acting is brilliant. I want to use more words like well-crafted and understated and evocative and visceral, but that’ll be too many adjectives and I can’t make the effort. Like many others, I loved Mahabir repeatedly turning away from the cottage and washing his face. Veera sitting on the rock and laughing-crying in silence. Bare feet skimming the grass. The images will stay with me.

I haven’t been this taken with anything I watched on a screen since the first two seasons of Sherlock, so I thought it merited a post.


P.S. - it’s so much fun to talk about something you liked with someone who liked it just as much and for the same reasons. (DK)

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Grumpy Teacher Syndrome



I’ve had many teachers who never smiled during class. They always looked hassled and frustrated, and were prone to outbreaks of moral lecturing. In fact, that’s probably the image which most often comes to mind when we think of Indian school teachers. As little kids, we would dread their lessons. As paragons of adolescence, we would make unflattering assumptions about their personal lives. The teachers I loved and learnt the most from, were the ones who were jovial yet authoritative, and passionate about their subjects. Needless to say, that’s the kind of teacher I wanted to be.

To my disappointment, I’ve found myself to be excessively prone to scolding my students, at times approaching a volume that would attract the canine population around my school. I have all the tried and tested strategies in my bag. Positive narration. Reward systems. Learning-oriented consequences. Individual goals. But there are those moments. When a student is repeatedly flouting instructions. When a student is unable to articulate something that was just discussed in class. When a student is being silly at a time when you couldn’t be more serious. And you snap. All those hopeful strategies exit your brain, and you decide to unburden all the angst of life on your poor, unsuspecting kids. To your horror, you start using phrases like ‘what will you do with your lives?’ and ‘zindagi mein kuchh banna hai ki nahi?’. And before you know it – you are the grumpy teacher you used to hate. (To make matters worse, your students are probably stifling giggles, and exchanging gleeful looks at this moment)

I’m quite lucky, because even after a bout of ranting, my kids greet me with smiles and hugs the next morning. They call me didi and trust me with their secrets and give me little gifts. They are actually patient with me. It’s only fair that I return the gesture. The problem is, it takes a lot to be fair in a room full of people at least ten years younger than you. It’s simpler just to use your grown-up privileges and boss over them. It’s simpler to be angry at a student who isn’t understanding, than to tweak every single lesson in accordance with what she needs. It’s simpler to punish a student who is misbehaving than to reach out and give her opportunities to be good, and give her time to grow.

No one ever said being a good teacher is simple.

There are many spaces we can use to vent personal frustration. Our classroom shouldn’t be one of them. It’s tough to make that choice, but it’s these choices made every minute of every day, which make the difference, between a teacher you resented, or laughed at, and one you will respect for life.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Art of Lesson Planni How Not To Suck As A Teacher

It would seem the first thing a new job/field of work teaches you, is what not to do. Six months into full-time teaching, I've garnered a whole wealth of gyan on non-exemplary things one can do in a classroom. These are hardly breakthrough insights; in fact my training did include entire sessions, painstakingly designed, to impart this very knowledge. But what's a PPT compared to a disaster of a class, when it comes to learning the consequences of the following worst practices?

1. Going into class without a plan, and relying on your brilliant mind to whip up a lesson out of thin air and leave your students gaping in awe.

Consequence: You taught a concept that required careful planning in the worst way possible. Good luck getting them to unlearn it and teaching it again. That is, after you get them to stop being hooligans while you hurriedly write some jumbled words on the board.

2. Planning an over-ambitious lesson (Of course I can teach that in 45 minutes! Oh, let me throw in some new vocab words too. And maybe an introduction of the next lesson?)

Consequence: Your lesson was rushed and ineffective. And went on for an hour and 15 minutes. Now your students are confused, you're demoralised and you don't feel like teaching for the rest of the day.

3. Not planning anything for the Hermiones of your class, when they're through with the absurdly simple work you've assigned to them

Consequence: Didi, done! Didi, look, I finished! Didi, check my work! Didi, give me a star! Didi, can I give myself a star? Didi, can we play kho-kho now? 

4. Not planning an alternative method of engaging the kids you're convinced have ADHD/are out to destroy your self-belief as a teacher/just enjoy watching smoke come out of your ears (No, I'm kidding. Repeat to self: Every child is special. Every child is special.)

Consequence: A rousing performance of 'Chintata-chita-chita' complete with desk-banging, right in the middle of your most crucial explanation.

5. Not planning a method of assessing if you and your kids are actually on the same page.

Consequence, next day, during the follow-up lesson: *facepalm* *headdesk*

6. Not planning for the mock earthquake evacuation drill in the middle of the school day

Consequence: Now, we are going to understand why these two fractions are equal in value - AAAAAAAAAA!

(I should get back to planning now. To be cont.)



Sunday, January 12, 2014

Try Walking Barefoot.

The organisation I work with is trying to solve the problem of education in India. It may be seen as part of a growing movement (?) of NGOs, individuals, think tanks and social entrepreneurs who have entered the same foray, trying to do their bit. It’s a problem many see as synonymous with other social problems, such as corruption, poverty and economic inequality. Education will fix everything, we think. I have recently returned from a four-day retreat at Barefoot College, in Tilonia, Rajasthan. Apart from the bonfires and trekking and the excitement of I-used-a-handpump-for-the-first-time and general merriment, it got me thinking about how little we know about the world, and in particular, the work we’re trying to do. We’re trying to solve a problem we don’t really understand. What is an excellent education? Who needs it? Who is equipped to deliver it?

The distinction anointed to us by our English-medium education is something we take for granted. We’re the privileged lot. The cream, the elite, the civilized, the urbane. We can access well-paying jobs, further education at prestigious institutions, all the comforts modernity has to offer. Experiences, places, people – it’s all there, waiting for us. And we’re the ones who can work for big organisations trying to drive social change.  It’s funny when you start to ponder over this distinction, which sets us apart from crores of people in the country. Do we really deserve all these privileges and respect, just because we went to school and college? Are we really smarter and more capable than those who didn’t? It’s when you realise what Mark Twain and Einstein were talking about. School certificates and college degrees are just.. pieces of paper.  Most of what we learn, which drives us to success, comes from outside the classroom. So, why are we still not seriously questioning what’s going on inside it?

Bunker Roy, the founder of Barefoot College, notes that there is a difference between literacy and education. There certainly is. And it seems that we have developed a literacy complex. How often do we snigger at mispronunciations of English words, or laugh at spelling mistakes? And how often do we subconsciously mistake fluency for ability or intelligence?  Sure, we can read, write and speak in English. But are we really educated? Did we learn everything we needed to? I know I didn’t.

The community at Barefoot College has taken it upon themselves to cater to all the needs of the people, and they don’t let their lack of schooling get in the way. The College is training old illiterate women to become solar engineers and practice basic dentistry. The women we spoke to seemed happy, confident and passionate about their work. They do rue not having finished their schooling, and they don’t want the same for their children and grandchildren, but they have certainly broken enough stereotypes to merit some serious respect. I sat through a 4th grade science class at the Barefoot school. The man who was teaching, a local of Tilonia, never finished his own education. But what a truly exemplar lesson he delivered. All I could think was, how can I achieve the same in my own class?



We need to dig deeper, to understand this problem we’re trying to fix. We need to ask ourselves if what we’re teaching is meaningful for our students. We need to question the global agenda of development - who is framing it and for whom? We need to reconsider the agencies of social change. The ideas of community empowerment, of decentralised bottom-up development, of holistic and contextual education, are hardly new, but they need more traction.  All I can say is, questions are good. I have more questions, but in a strange way, I also have more clarity. School, unfortunately, doesn't teach you that. But you should keep at it. Question everything you are taught to believe. Take off the shoes you wear everyday, and try walking barefoot from time to time. It may be uncomfortable and your feet may get dirty.. but it helps.