Any takers for education?

When I left my first school after class 10 to join a Kendriya Vidyalaya (Central School), I had no idea what I was getting into. At best, I’d been a reluctant student and I figured that my indifference to academics stemmed from the fact that so many of the subjects that I’d studied were not of my choice. I was terrified of math and science gave me nightmares. So when I joined KV, I assumed the going would be easy from now on. After all, I was studying Humanities…I loved stuff like history, geography and economics, ergo I’d enjoy studying it all.

Well, I wasn’t wrong. I loved academia. I stayed up till late in the night studying and having the time of my life. But what I hadn’t counted on was the school itself. What a nightmare! Firstly, it was more a fish market than anything else. My old school (Prakash Higher Secondary School a.k.a PHSS for convenience) had the air of a chapel..quiet and decorous. Sure it was not as big as KV and did not have all the infrastructure that the latter had to offer, but the students were infinitely better. More serious, more intellectual and more non-violent. Yes Reader, the last two words are ‘non-violent’. For judge of my horror and dismay, when I learned that this new school of mine had thugs and goons as its students – people who did not thinking twice before pasting another person one on the nose! Fist fights and blood shed (minor) were a regular feature of school life. ( I saw a classmate being dragged off by one of his ‘enemies’ and being pounded into a pulp. I was scarred for life). The motto of this school apparently was ‘Anything Goes.’

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Speaking of schools, there was an article in today’s Times of India, Mumbai edition, about the poor performance of state-run schools in Maharashtra. The following are the statistics provided by the newspaper

  • 6.5 lakh class-I students in Maharashtra didn’t understand the meaning of the English sentence: “Show me your pencil.”
  • 5.6 lakh class-II students could not read the number ‘8’ in English.
  • In class III, 5.8 lakh students could not fill in the blank between the alphabet ‘d’ and the alphabet ‘g’ (‘d____g’).

While I know what Mark Twain said about statistics, I don’t think this news report is very wide off the mark. When I was in class XII, my classmates had trouble framing even simple sentences in English. The problem to a large extent lay with the teaching methodology. In many schools, English is almost always taught in Hindi. While students are encouraged to answer questions in English, they’re never taught to think in English. Also, students are not encouraged to read much. The exam-driven academic culture ingrains it in students that any reading, apart from that directly related to studies, is frivolous. How then will students learn English? Not every word in the dictionary, not every turn of phrase can be taught in the classroom. I remember in my first school we had a ‘library period’ in which we were all supposed to take books from the library and read. Many so-called studious pupils got those classes cancelled because they thought it would be better to study and to finish homework during that class than to ‘waste’ it reading books! The logic defied me.

Of course, there are those who wonder why we should read ‘foreign literature’ in an ‘alien language’. But that is fodder for another post!
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Paradise Lost

It bothers me…the callous attitude towards the environment. I was watching a show on the National Geographic Channel today. It was about how human beings are changing the environment drastically because of their intervention. For instance, at the Yellowstone National Park in the US, a hydrologist noticed that the river that runs through the park is eroding more and more of its bank. The bank earlier had a row of aspens and willows which prevented the erosion. This was a protected area so it could not be human beings cutting down trees. Also, the trees outside the park were quite unaffected, so it could not be climate change. Eventually, two biologists found out that new aspens and willows had stopped growing after the 1930s. They connected this with the killing of the last wolf in Yellowstone in that same decade. How? Well, the extinction of wolves in the park meant that there was nothing to check the population of the herbivores. These herbivores could then graze on the newly growing aspens and willows, thus effectively preventing them from growing into fulfledged trees.
Why is this important? It is important because, we’re just part of the environment, we’re not above it. Seriously..think about it. If all the predators in India were killed off, their prey would grow unchecked. They will then overgraze and prevent plants from growing. No plants means no roots to hold the soil in place. Come rain, precious top soil will be washed off. That means loss of fertility in the earth. We won’t be able to grow enough food for our ever-growing population. This can only mean disaster.
Another scenario…no trees, no rains. This is because trees attract rainclouds. It has been proven that much of what is the Sahara Desert today, was lush jungles. It’s worth thinking about, isn’t it?
I fail to understand why people don’t see this. Lets talk about the Sardar Sarovar Dam for a bit. The dam drowns not just villages, but also forested area, of which there is precious little in this country. It also drowns wildlife. Have any plans been made to rescue this wildlife? I watched a show about a dam in Venezuela which flooded a forest. A team of scientists and volunteers went in there and rescued animals that were stranded on the trees. It left me wondering….would it even occur to us in India to do that?
Sure, we worship the cow. But there stops our piety. We see the world as revolving around humans. Nothing else matters.

Hotel Strikes: Hitting On the Belt

It’s hard. You haven’t had time to read the newspaper in the morning, so you take it along with you to work so that you can read it when you get a little time. Morning passes by in a flurry of hard work and you decide to relax a little till lunchtime by reading the paper. And it hits you hard…restaurants and hotels are on strike! Where the hell do you eat??

You finally remember that there is a McDonald’s outlet close by and you rush there as soon as lunchtime rings in. And what do you find? The place is full to bursting point with other hungry workers like you. You have no option but to eat standing. To move to another McD’s outlet would be to expire in your shoes of hunger.

Should restaurants and hotels be allowed to strike? Of course, they should. But on the other hand, they provide vital services, viz. chow for rumbling stomachs. And when you’re ravenous like a wolf, you’re about ready to gobble up the leader of the strike if he happens to come by…that’s killing two birds with one stone – your hunger is satiated and the instigator of you misery dies a befittingly horrible death. But I digress…

The point I guess is that we’re all Champions of the Right to Freedom and Expression (and to Strikes) as long as the protests do not affect us directly. But once the blow falls too close for comfort, we squirm and yell about insensitive jerks who are too selfish to realize that they’re inconveniencing others.

This happened to me today. Normally, I would have supported the strike (or atleast the right to strike). But today, since I was so directly affected, I made a big deal about it. But that, I guess, is life. Let it rain, as long as it does so on someone else’s house!

Loving to Hate Aishwarya Rai

What is it about Aishwarya Rai that attracts so many brickbats? She’s incredibly beautiful, has got a great figure and can, when she puts in the effort, act well.
I’ve thought about this (yeah, yeah..I’m jobless!) and have reached the conclusion that it’s because she is the quintessential Ice Princess that she is so maligned and excoriated. I mean, come on….has anyone seen her lose control..ever? She’s always so poised and perfect…is there no way of getting under her skin? And with regard to her relationships…why doesn’t she ever publicly admit to them? That kind of an admission would humanize her to an extent by showing that she is quite capable of falling in love and giving in to other such ‘earthy’ emotions. It is her silence on the subject of her relationships that deprives her of any commiseration she might be entitled to when her relationships go bust. Vivek (or is it Viveik? Neva mind!) Oberoi might be a bit of an ass and Salman Khan may be a Brat-Prince, but lets face it…they were the ones who got away with all the public sympathy when their relationships with Ash went to ‘lie with the fishes’.
Of course, Ash’s love-life is her personal matter and one has to commend her for maintaining grace under fire. She has never publicly reacted to any statements made about her, negative or otherwise and this speaks volumes about her professionalism.
Sometimes I think Hating Aishwarya Rai is a fad, rather like wearing long, gypsy skirts or worshipping the i-pod. Its something that people just do…maybe to show that they prefer ‘women of substance’ like Sushmita Sen. Or as my mother says, some might just be jealous of how beautiful she is and because she, rather than more accomplished actors, is invited to sit on the Cannes jury or as a guest on Oprah Winfrey’s show.
However, the bright side is (for Ash) that she has just as many fans as she has critics. And as long as her PR machinery runs smoothly, she will stay in the news. Whether it is negative or positive news doesn’t matter…after all, any publicity is good publicity!

A beginning

Finally, after months of dilly-dallying and shilly-shallying, I’ve decided to start my blog again! I’m tempted to start on a very serious note…trouble is which serious note deserves my immediate attention? The current Sardar Sarovar Dam situation or Salman Khan’s jail term? Or should it be the whole hoo-ha regarding reservation for OBCs?

Simple solution – a line on each of them. Okay..here goes…

Sardar Sarover – The people of Gujarat need water, but they should first learn to use it judiciously. The number of times I’ve seen people there let their taps run while they wash utensils, shave, brush or whatever! Also, the people being displaced bacause of the dam should be rehabilitated suitably.
However we should all know what the opposition is saying. A very learned case for the defence may be found here

Salman Khan cooling his heels in jail – He deserves it. Period. Anyone who kills innocent animals just for ‘sport’ are brutes! And anyway, Salman has proven time and again that he is one…like when he dumped a drink on Somy Ali’s head or when he bullied Aishwarya Rai. Industry people may keep saying that ‘woh dil ka accha hai’ but that does not excuse brattiness. Salman just needs to grow up and maybe his three nights in jail in the company of mosquitoes helped him in that direction.

Reservation for OBCs – unnecessary, as far as I can see. I mean, even well-off castes like Yadavs and Jats are OBC. I agree that the really marginalized and oppressed people of our country deserve state support and positive discrimination in their favour. But if reservation of almost 50 % seats in all educational institutes is a bit too much. Where will that leave the general category students? Competition will become even more cut-throat than it already is. And what will happen to the rat race once all the rats have bitten and scratched themselves to death in an effort to get at the last bit of cheese?
A public effort to nip this menace in the bud maybe found here