An Asian afternoon in Denmark

It has been over a month in Copenhagen. I need to write a long narrative of interesting events and not so interesting events out here but then I am feeling all too lazy to do it now. I must say I am behaving more and more like a Copenhagen’er these days, riding a bicycle even if that means going for a 100 meters even in the rain, hardly caring about the weather and talking about it a lot, eating more and more bread and running at any God forsaken time and eating up your words midway off course but then that’s a story for another day.

I had off late been feeling the pang of durga puja festivals back home. I tried to search for any such celebrations in Copenhagen but came up a cropper. The nearest festivities seem to be going on in Berlin which sadly I do not have the time to go. So the nearest fellow Kolkata resident that I could rustle up was Madhura. Without sounding procrastinating, Madhura is suffering from I-hate-Copenhagen-weather phobia and an outdoor picnic was quashed by her. What we instead decided was to meet up at her Kollegium at 12 noon and cook up a lunch for ourselves and so everything seemed settled.

Well things were looking really nice today morning until my professor decided to call me up and thought of putting in a brainstorming meeting. The meeting went on till 12:30 noon when I realized I was all too late. A few aplogies and promises of reaching as soon as possible materialised but then something happened which prevented me from reaching on time. I was following the cricket match between India and Australia online and Sachin Tendulkar had come in to bat. There was no way I could leave then and I thought of extending the pretext of the meeting with the professor a bit longer.

I left around 2:15 and reached Tasingegade around 2:35. Its a real treat to bike in Copenhagen. If you don’t have bike and you are in Copenhagen and you are student then thou must be damned. Anyways, the name of the street was another one which I end up pronouncing than what it is. I have noticed a trend. Whenever I ask anyone an address by saying it aloud, everyone says “Sorry, I do not know.”. The picture completely changes when I write it down.  Its usually a smile, “And its that way”. I have even had people chart out the route on google maps and print it out for me.

I was in for a hard luck as I loitered about the street a couple of times after a couple of people tried to convince me that I was on the wrong course and they had lived here for 40 years and there is no such thing for which I was looking. It seems I was destined to go around the same block twice before “haloaaaaaaaa, I could see the kollegium.”

I met an interesting African person on the lift. He asked me “Are you an Indian?”, I said “yes”. He said, “I love watching Bollywood movies. Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan are my favourite actors. I love your movies. Have you ever acted in one yourself? “. The last question got me flummoxed hook line and sinker. I know I am movie quality 🙂 but then explaining to him the fact that movies do not choose all people in India on a rotation basis did not seem plausible in 10 seconds so I let the moment pass with a huge grin on my face.  When I held out the elevator door for him to go out he said, “shukriya and dhanyawaad”(which means thank you). That was an interesting encounter. So here I was moving towards the common with the trepidation of a soldier treading a minefield.

As soon as I entered I could see loads of people (I think 8 of them) belonging to India(from all the 4 corners), Pakistan, Bangladesh. What excited me more was the fact that the food was all cooked and everything was ready, so I could just join in and eat. The aloo gobhi, roti, chawal, salad and egg curry was amazing. It was like an oasis in a desert of pasta and bread. I wanted to ask them to pack it for me but that seemed dangerous for my future chances. Thanks Sarika di, I owe you a ton. I must mention Aruna auntie whom we met, for the free chocolates as well.

The lunch and post lunch time discussion was completely worth it with jokes being cracked around and people guffawing to no end. I think I realized that I needed to talk less but then I have realized that countless times and then forgotten about it. On the way back till the bus stop, I had a real interesting discussion with Khalid. He is a P.hd scholar from Pakistan. A lot of new friends, a lot of new views and the same old traits of friendship made for the ingredients of an amazing Sunday afternoon.

Corollary:

Please note this happened on 10th October, 2010. So even though its posted today since I felt too lazy to finish it the last weekend and felt too lazy today to correct the tenses.

Corollary of Corollary: If the above does not make sense, read it again. If it still does not make sense and I assume you are not jobless, ignore it 🙂 .

THE little boy and the old man

Play :- THE little boy and the old man

Act 1, Scene 1
Place : An overcrowded shopping centre, New Delhi
Actors : THE little boy, THE old man

The Friday night chill was just settling amidst the brilliant lights of District centre. The square was warming up to welcome the Friday night revellers underneath a vast star spangled sky. The little boy was walking with his eyes open wide with amazement. Every little movement, the tiniest hustle and bustle lit up the little boy’s face like a small fiery lantern on narrow metal buoy drifting in a vast dark ocean. His hands were firmly clasped in a rigid grip by the old man’s sinuous and wrinkled hands. Every little shake the little boy gave, made the grip stronger and stronger. The old man was walking with his head bowed and casting furtive, disapproving glances all around. The little boy was walking with a small polythene containing his new GIJOE set when he noticed the abnormally high number of policemen in the square. When the old man followed the boy’s gaze, he could feel a chill going down his spine.

The old man said, “There must be a bomb nearby. We should never have come here. The police are looking for some terrorists. We need to get out of here. Why do you always cry for toys. See where we have landed.”
The little boy was watching the whole scene with joy filled curious eyes, “The police. I have never seen them so close. They don’t look bad. They look just like you.”
The old man flinched on hearing this, “Are you mad ? Me like a policeman. Let’s get away from here before we get caught in some trouble. Hide that polythene of yours. What if the policemen see it? Carrying polythene is illegal. Why do you always make me wish I was never with you?”. The little boy said, “Look at that policeman, he is smoking in public, we should go and tell him what he is doing is not correct.”
The old man replied, “Are you out of your mind? He will book us, beat us and do what not. Let us get the hell out of here.”
The little boy said, “But we should at least object. Should we not raise our voice? That policeman is being paid out of your money. In that case, you deserve the highest right to tell him that he is not doing his work properly.”
The old man rolled his eyes wide and barked, “You are insane. You should listen to me. I have seen so many things happen and I know exactly what these people are. These ideas do not work in the real world.”
So saying the old man dragged the little boy whose little bright round brown eyes were still cast upon the scene with the same glow as it was when he had first seen it.

End of Scene 1

Both the little boy and the old man are inside each one of us. The old man keeps getting old and rigid with each passing day but like a ray of hope the little boy is always present inside us. He will always be with us and ensures our very existence remains human. The little boy makes each one of us, human. It is regrettable that we turn a blind eye and deaf ear to humanity and embrace rigidity. The old man is weighed down by his experiences with a big bad world, the little boy always wants to keep learning. Inside each one of there is a struggle to achieve the balance between the desire to relate new experiences with old ones and the desire to learn new experiences. What we want is to tune into the old man and the little boy talking as in the previous scene and then decide for ourselves. In that case, only we would be to blame if we chose to be human or inhuman. At least, that would be a beginning.

Disclaimer:
Mr. Vidhu Vinod Chopra, I have taken the line “These ideas do not work in the real world.” from your movie 3 Idiots. I hope you do not sue me. I am giving you due credit and since I do not earn anything from this blog so I cannot give you any percentage share. Please do not sue me.

Little things that matter

Life is not about the moments that take your breath away but it is about the little moments that make it breathtaking. During the course of the India – South Africa Nagpur test match, an ad appeared for a public sector bank highlighting the relationship it maintains with people. It showed a beautiful heart touching narrative where a man in his early fifties is rushing for office in the morning. His wife calls him from the balcony to come back and have his medicine which he has forgotten to take. Grumbling, the man comes up and has the medicine. What is particularly beautiful in the ad is the the simplicity and the poignant emotions on display. The masked emotion of love under the irritation displayed by the husband at his wife’s nagging is something which transcends age boundaries. The husband loves the fact this his wife loves him and cares about him. The human heart craves for a little love and care and that is what makes us so irrational over our percevied rationality. The little gestures which are part and parcel of our daily lives touch and affect us in so many ways but most of the time we are too busy and blind to notice them. I got a first hand experience of this blindness today.

Today, for breakfast, our cook auntie had prepared Poha. It was horrible to be honest. For quite sometime Abhishek, Shishir and I have been pondering over, whether we should change our cook or not. This latest incident added fuel to the fire. I decided that we should start looking for a cook seriously. Tonight when she came to prepare dinner, all the poha that was cooked for breakfast was lying untouched. I acted a bit indifferently and answered her questions to what we would have for dinner with cold indifference. She went on preparing it in her own daily way. Suddenly she came with a tray in her hand and 2 bowls of poha (the morning poha recooked with vegetables we bought in the evening) and said “The morning poha was not good”. It was delicious. This gesture of concern on her part really touched me. I felt ashamed of the thoughts I had been harbouring of looking for a new cook. My irritation and indignation of average cooking got the better of me. What I completely failed to appreciate was the fact that she was running her own household and at the same time helping me in every possible way in my existence just to come to grips with her poverty. My irritation had blinded me to the little things that matter. Thankfully, this little gesture woke me up. The little angel in my heart had overcome the big demon in my head.

Recognising these little things that matter are the real secrets to make one’s life breathtaking. Hopefully, I have taken that little step forward today.

Who stole my grades

Disclaimer: This article is not meant to be derogatory for IIT students or those competitive examination champs. It is also not meant to be the reason d’etre for the Ministry of Human Resource Development to abolish grading systems. It is just a discourse of the conversations Abhishek and I had today afternoon after we were well fed and watered and raised a few questions.

Flashback:
Those were the best of times, those were the worst of times. Sounds clichéd. It was the summer of 2004. I was eagerly waiting for my IIT mains results. Having secured a whopping rank of 128 in IIT screening exams and being constantly fed a rich diet of praises from my teachers who felt sure I would break into the top 100, I was expecting a fair result. Although I had done badly in Maths examination owing to those SILLY mistakes(after all 2 + 2 is not equal to 5 in the decimal number system), I expected a rank within 1000. As has been my superstition, I always prefer to spend a lot of time in the toilet when examination results are discovered by my dad and announced to me, I spent around 3 hours in the toilet owing to the website being down with too much traffic. To my dismay, I found I had committed a lot more silly mistakes than I anticipated and ended up with a rank of 1785. I thought following a career in something I loved from an NIT was worthier than studying something in IIT that I did not like.

Back to today:
Today, Abhishek told me that once Dr. Zakir Hussain(a Professor at NIT Hamirpur) declared in class that all the students in NIT are mediocre ones. Well the previous flashback was an attempt to create credibility for my answer to this rather naive observation. If the mediocrity is being referred in terms of preparing for an examination, then yes the students are mediocre but if the mediocrity is being referred to a student’s intelligence and general understanding level then it is not. If a student is to be judged for his intelligence and understanding level, then the platform to be provided has to be uniform. Let us say after a hard grind of 14 years of formal student we take up 2 students who are not informed that they will appear for an examination(not even what kind of examination) and then they are asked to answer the examination, that will give us an indication(albeit a rough one) into their intelligence and understanding level. The examination here has to be carefully calibrated here to measure what a student has understood rather than what a student has not understood and remembered. The whole point of deciding mediocrity based on examinations is as stupid as can be.

In this context, the current grading system in school education in India is questionable. Grading system is like a caste divide in education. Why do we need to allot grade A,B,C and so on ? Does it not reflect the inability of the educators as well as the family to educate/motivate students uniformly ? How does awarding a grade A to a student in class I beneficial in any aspect ? As per my understanding and limited research, the grading system was created to measure the performance levels of students which could be utliised by others for e.g. you appear for a GRE/GATE/CAT test so that based on the test students are evaluated on a supposedly common platform and accordingly rated but how does this help in the school system ? It creates animosity, cut throat competition, a race to the top for students. We humans have a primal instinct for trying to be better than one another. Which is why we love sports to see people warring(in a pacified way) against each other. This brings us to the glorification of those students who top in the board examinations(which in most cases is their ONLY claim to fame).

School education is an extension of the education that begins at home. Imagine your mother telling you, you got an B grade for the way you touched your grandparent’s feet and you should do better to get an A the next time. Sounds ridiculous but then education which is supposed to be a conjugation of our natural curiosity with the cumulative human understanding of the world, if graded, should sound ridiculous too. School education is a medium for students to learn and understand the beautiful world all around rather than to be fascinated by marks. After all how does it matter if a student gets an A or a B in one examination. Examinations should be held on a continuous internal level in order to provide a feedback to the educator and the student as to which aspects of the subject a student knows well and which he doesn’t. It should be an indicator for the educator to change his mode of teaching rather than to the parents to give a new watch to their children as reward. What graded education system is doing today is creating an atmosphere of intimidation, stress and mutual hostility rather than co-operation,mutual appreciation and enhanced curiosity. A child’s curiosity and his unique abilities are not appreciated. What are we really trying to measure here ? We, Indians who had such an advanced education system (“Gurukul system without grades/marks”) are not even appreciating the ancient heritage and wisdom. Somewhere over the years it has got lost in the mindless borrowing from other societies(from British education system) without realising why and in which context it was applicable there. Deciding a student’s aptitude is important which is why I have not raised the question yet on the graded education in Universities since industry and academia use the grades for further calibration but that too has its loopholes(a matter for another blog post).

In this regard moving from marks based system to a grade based system by the MHRD is a noble next step. Abolishing grade and pondering over an alternative system would be the logical and bold next step. The big question here is what would be the alternative. Maybe the time has come to ask this question to those whose minds have not been polluted as ours over this mad and false race of marks and achievement. The time has come to ask the questions in the Kindergarten classes where the mind is without fear and the mind is without all the clutter. The time has come to to nurture the mind in the same free environment when it was born.

Corollary: This post is one of the few to raise various questions on this aspect of education. It will be followed up with more insights in order to not make it look like a research paper. This is the first food for thought.