Saturday, 30 June 2012

Remembering a Confirmation Service in the C.N.I. Holy Trinity Church, Ghaziabad

While scanning through my external hard disk storage device, I came across a few photographs of my nephews confirmation which took place on the Eighth of March 2009. The Confirmation programme was conducted by the Rt.Revd.Cutting, Bishop of the Diocese of Agra. Revd. Sunil Kumar the present Presbyter In charge of the Church and Revd.Peter Baldev the out going Presbyter were in attendance.


My  nephews were perhaps feeling a little nervous before the crucial moment, but then haven’t we all gone through the same feeling?


In the snap are Revd. Sunil Kumar, Revd.Peter Baldev.


In the above snap we can see the Rt. Revd. Cutting, Bishop of the Diocese of Agra leading the service.  You will notice also the wonderful stained glass that they have in the church.


A sermon by the  Revd. Bishop Cutting


And all the Confirmed candidates step our of the Church for a Photo-Shoot of perhaps one of the most important moments of their lives!


And then the gathering of well wishers after the Ceremony, Mrs. Daniel, the Principal of the Holy Trinity School, and my Mother in Law at the far right.


And my nephews stand before their proud Grandfather and my Father in Law! Well that is me standing in the middle!


The happy Parents


And a Gathering of close relatives and friends.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Photographing those Elusive Birds

One of the challenges before the amateur photography enthusiast is to photograph strange looking birds, especially those not seen commonly. More often what happens is that you get barely a glimpse of an exotic bird because it either flies away startled, or your vehicle moves ahead. That is unless of course you are deliberately carrying your camera switched on and are in a forest for the specific purpose of photographing birds! In many cases you come across strange looking birds in the most unexpected places and have no time to draw out that bulky DSLR, remove the 55mm lens and attach the zoom lens! Most of the photographs I have taken of birds were taken rather unexpectedly, and when I had no time to attach a zoom lens or make necessary calculations.The desired result is often disappointing what with the image turning out to be underexposed or overexposed, or what with the bird having flown the coop!


In the above two snaps, I was stuck with an 18-55mm lens on a Canon DSLR camera and had no option but to ask my brother to slow down the car! The setting was wrong, and I had no alternative but to switch to the auto mode!


Little birds arte even more difficult to photograph because they are so active that they will not stay in the same place for more that a few seconds, and you have to be very fast to get them. The first snap was taken by a Nikon L-100 compact digital camera while the second was taken by a Canon DSLR at extreme zoom of 250mm.

IMG_0179                   IMG_0173

The larger variety of birds, especially those more likely to perch on the tallest trees like these Hornbills are more easy to photograph, although they tend to become restless if you point the camera at them. For this you would need a suitable zoom lens. In this case the lens used was a 55-250mm zoom lens set at its extreme 250mm limit, shot on a Canon 1100D DSLR.


Some birds are either too pre-occupied with their meal as in the first photograph pigeons and a Parrot were busy feeding from a food bowl, while in the second snap, the owl was probable confused having been disturbed from its sleep!


Ducks are by nature very shy, and the moment they saw moving towards them, they started swimming away from the shore.

Domesticated Geese on the other hand, are not difficult to photograph, specially as they expect to be fed!


These painted Storks were photographed from a great distance using the extreme zoom of a 55mm-250mm zoom lens on a Canon DSLR. The use of a tripod is  advantageous in such situations.

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Wednesday, 27 June 2012

School Safety-The Psychological and Emotional Perspective

School Safety is not simply about protective boundaries and metal detectors, rather it is about developing a culture of safety! School Safety is about developing safe spaces, and an atmosphere of harmony. Schools are like homes, they need to provide a feeling of safety and snugness that is found in homes.

With each day that passes, we come across stories in the media about incidents involving violence in schools. I guess, after buildings, the next most important safety issue is the mental health of the students, and the need to evolve mechanisms for preventing incidents involving violence. We are all familiar with stories about quarrels between students leading to so-called Gang Wars. Recently there was even an incident in which a student is said to have stabbed a teacher for not allowing him to copy from another student during an exam. When we talk about school safety we are talking about both the students and their teachers, and in many cases, it would be wrong to blame only one group. In many cases, if an alert teacher notices  a particular student was behaving oddly and he or she talks to him then, perhaps a future eventuality could be prevented.
Bullying is a major problem that can lead to aggression, violent retaliation and other unwanted unpleasantness. It is in this area that teachers should be trained to learn to identify children with poor self-esteem, aggressive tendencies, and hostile attitudes and give them a pep talk or something. Students with such problems and who are repeatedly showing behaviour problems should then be reported to the School Counsellor. It goes without saying that all teachers study Psychology in the B.Ed. programme so they should not have problems in tackling difficult children! I have come across cases where the child did not want to go to school because one of the classmates was bullying him, calling him names, and perhaps eating his lunch! Such children concoct stories about stomach pains to their parents. In more grown-up children there are cases of extortion and blackmailing where the bully and his side-kicks try to extort money forcefully from the more shy and passive kind of students.
Parents send their children to school thinking they will be safe, but then often the child learns to smoke, take drugs, and watch restricted movies from his peers in school. Often problems take place when children are left unsupervised for long periods of time, especially when the teacher doesn’t reach the class on time, or during the transition periods, like dispersal, or recesses. Small quarrels that take place in an unattended classroom will sometimes end up in nasty brawls in the sports ground itself! Children who are differently abled are often the subject of ridicule. They remain in the classroom during the sports period and thus become more vulnerable from further attacks sitting all alone in the classroom with no one around!
Cyber Crime is another problem faced in schools today.While Cyber-Bullying takes place on the net, today’s phones are capable of accessing the internet so Cyber Crimes can take place in the classroom itself! The availability of cheap camera phones has made it very easy for pictures to be taken within the classroom itself. In one incident, a student took the photograph of a teacher while he was teaching in the class. In more serious instances, we have often heard of MMS Scandals and incidents of blackmailing leading to sexual exploitation and extortion. An important step that every school should take is to ban the use of Mobile phones in school. Teachers should be more alert about their surroundings as this alertness will help prevent students from watching movies on their camera phones. Parents should be constantly counselled not to allow their children to carry their phones to school.
The banning of Corporal Punishment, however, should be accepted with grace as beating a child is not the only way of disciplining a child. Unfortunately such cases keep being reported in the media off and on. In some cases it could be a mere case of spanking but in some cases, it could be even more serious with ruptured ear-drums, or cut lips! Physical wounds, however, heal quickly, but the emotional or mental wounds do not heal easily, and it is this mental trauma,  the embarrassment of being publically slapped that destroys the child’s mental peace! I have come across cases where the teacher was being partial to a particular gender of students, and treating the opposite gender harshly, making unnecessary comments or remarks! This in itself is a dangerous symptom of gender bias, a personality disorder which might lead to further complications! Teachers should not pick on a particular student every now and then to reprimand him or her in front of others. It is better to talk to the student face to face and get things straightened out.
The C.B.S.E. has come out with Comprehensive School Health Manuals in four volumes which try to address the psychological and emotional aspects of school safety. These four volumes try to address through an activity-based approach, the learning of Life Skills or Soft Skills, Anger Management, Conflict Resolution, and so on. Besides this, every school should formulate its own pro-active steps to ensure that the school has a healthy emotional environment where students feel safe and comfortable. Having an active House System with prefects can help a lot. The House System can be headed by the Student Council. The Student Council is formed out of nominated members of the Houses. The Students Council should have Teacher Observers in all the major meetings. The same goes for the Houses where teachers take up a more active role! It is also very important for the school to organise activities, like debating, mock parliaments, science fairs, exhibitions, talks during assembly workshops, and seminars for all teachers and students. In Service Programmes for teachers can also help in reviving the Soft Skills of the teachers helping them to cope with difficult situations more tactfully and pleasantly! In a, y case it takes an active teacher to protect the safety of all his or her students in school. In many cases just talking to the student, empathising with the student or counselling the student will suffice!

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Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Promises of a bright morning

clip art illustration of a Sun shining brightly with eyes and a mouth  clipart

The kind  sun peeps  through, as the night draws to an end.
The  world  stirs  restlessly, shrugs off its cloak of sleep and
I wake  from a  dream of two  fish swimming a  circle  head
To  Tail!  A symbol  fair, A voice  sere tells me to  take heed!

  The  Day’s born. Suspense overflows,  stillness  surrounds,
 The  moment  when  dreams  are  dreamt   and  prophecies
 Made,  the stirring for a  busy day to catch!  For  the miles
To   go,  of hope  and  progress,  take-overs  and  sell-outs!

bee eater 6.gif

A  copper - glow  of  the  morning  sun    the world  bathes
And    into  a  bedlam of  little  birds  chirruping it erupts!
Happily   as  they   find  the big fat  worm! Little  children
 Wipe  their   faces  ready to  go to school for fun  and  play.


 Joe hunts for a lost shoe while Ann spills her milk on the
Table.   Mother    tuts   and  hushes   both, and cheerfully
Mops the  milk and  finds  Joe’s shoe. And  they all  have
 A breakfast  of  bread  ‘n butter, and  milk and all is well!


The long lines of school children with faces bright wait
 For  the  school bus  with  bags  bobbing  up and  down.
 Parents  chat, and  dogs  wag  tails  and  the sun  shines
 Bright, a  promise  foretold  of a day of joy fun and luck!

 happy boy running

 A  day  of  events  fine  is  promised   by  a  dream  so
Fair,  of  battles  won and  promotions  granted.  For
So,  t’is told  by  dreams  so fair, dreamt  on  the  end
Of night!  We  greet  the day  with a skip and a smile!

a teacher sitting talking to three little girls

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Gearing up for Safe Buildings and Safe Schools

The recent spate of natural disasters along with the large number of man-made disasters and terrorist strikes have made it mandatory for schools all over the country to adopt safety norms in order to prevent injury and harm to students. A few years back, Chechen terrorists struck at a school in Beslan in what became known as the Beslan School Massacre incident, held hostage students and some staff members who had just returned to school after the vacations. The incident ended with casualties after a rescue attempt by the Paramilitary forces. The St.Columbine school incident in the United States is still etched in the minds of many. In yet another incident, a student shot dead a bully with his father’s revolver in a school in Gurgaon. The question remains that while it might not be able to do a body-search of students, perhaps something could have been done to prevent outsiders from entering the Beslan school by perhaps installing metal detectors and perhaps alert security. The use of CCTV Cameras could perhaps alerted security staff preventing the St.Columbine incident. The recent incident in which terrorists attacked a school in Peshawar, killing many innocent students in Pakistan in the month of December, 2014 is a strong case for the need to secure schools buildings. It seems that besides considering natural calamities, the man-made calamity of terrorism needs to be addressed in very strong terms!
The  Tsunamis that struck the coast of Indonesia and Japan caused great loss to life and property. Earthquakes, landslides are more common to us in India. Out breaks of fires in important building have known to take place especially during summers. In the Uphar Cinema Hall tragedy in Delhi, a large number of cinema viewers panicked and were trampled by others or trampled others in their haste to reach the exit. In most of these cases the number of causalities could have been considerably less if there had been orderly evacuation, exits had been clearly marked, although the smoke would have clearly obscured the signs. It is clear, therefore that schools also should learn lessons from these incidents and adopt safety norms in the following order:
  1. There should be proper security personnel at the main gates and metal detectors should be installed along with a visitor’s book.
  2. Exit/egress points should be properly indicated. If the school building has more than one floor, then there should be a floor plan on every floor.
  3. Bottlenecks should be avoided at any cost, passages, corridors should be spacious, and most important of all, the building itself should have enough spacious  egress points so that students can be evacuated to the play-ground as quickly as possible.
  4. Schools with multi-storied buildings should also have multiple stair cases and ramps. Where there is only one staircase, it might become jammed in an eventuality and might even become a bottleneck.
  5. It goes without saying that schools should have an adequate number of Fire-Extinguishers and sand buckets placed at strategic points. Schools with multi-storied buildings should also have sprinklers and fire-hoses attached to dedicated water tanks.
  6. Buildings built in the shape of a square or a triangle with a central courtyard should have enough wide passages to allow fire engines and ambulances to enter the inner court-yard. Unfortunately, in the event of an earthquake, a whiplash movement could cause one or more of the sides of the building to fall into the inner courtyard blocking exit routes towards the play-ground.
  7. It makes good sense for schools to have a well-equipped dispensary and a qualified nurse.
  8. Play-grounds should be kept free from debris, construction material, and any other obstructions that might cause injuries.
  9. Regular safety drills are an important part of Disaster Management and all responsible school administrators should ensure that students and staff take part in safety drills, and training workshops.
  10. Over-crowding in any form is known to create its own set of problems. This can be seen in overcrowding of school buses, school vans, classrooms and corridors. The  tragedy that took place in Ambala in 2011, when an overloaded van turned turtle is a lesson for us. Overcrowding in any form should be avoided by all means!
  11. Excess use of plate glass in partitions can be both advantageous as well as disadvantageous. The advantage is that they might be easily broken, but on the flip-side is the fact that many more people are injured by shards of glass from shattering window panes in an earth-quake than from other falling objects!
    12. The advent of terrorism has meant that there should be well equipped and trained guards at the main
          entry and exit points in all schools.
    13. The formation of a central emergency response team in schools is a must.
    14. A chief security officer should be appointed, who will then appoint a committee from within the staff.
    15. It goes without saying that that teachers too need to be trained to tackle eventualities arising from
         terrorist strikes.
    16.While fire drills and earthquake drills are a must, the 'Lock Down' drill prepares students and teachers
         for eventualities arising out of terrorist attacks.

The C.B.S.E. has made an appreciable effort in taking out textbooks on Disaster Management Titled: Together Towards a Safer India. A brief look at the textbook for class ten of the C.B.S.E. shows that it is full of important information. The CENBOSEC Quarterly  Bulletin of The C.B.S.E.  Vol.48, April-June 2009 expresses a concern about safety in schools. Vineet Joshi, The   Chariman/Secretary of the C.B.C.E. says in his opening words,  ‘ “Prevention is better than cure’ is an adage that is oft repeated but seldom practiced.Increasingly the need for safe schools is becoming self evident.” ‘

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Saturday, 23 June 2012

The importance of In-Service programmes for Teachers

Now when I look in retrospect at the In-Service programmes organised by the SCERT in Delhi, I realise how important it is for teachers and principals to develop a positive attitude towards their profession, and the students. This is a tribute to the YUVA SLP in-service programmes that I attended as a teacher in a Government Aided school in Delhi. The first thing we were told at the beginning of the In Service Programme was how a positive attitude would change the words, “ God is nowhere” into “God is now here!” It is as such very important to develop a positive attitude among students and teachers as developing a positive attitude in students is beneficial since being hopeful, expecting success, remaining enthusiastic, not getting stressed, not giving up, trying to find something good in everything,  helps achieving goals and attaining success easily! It is therefore very important for teachers to Applaud the students. Teachers should make students reflect on what exactly positive attitude is –and how helpful it is to maintain a positive attitude.  Attitude is a mind-set  the‘way’ we think and look at things. An attitude is positive when it shows clearly the following: optimism, motivation to accomplish  goals, believing in yourself and in your abilities, being inspired, constructive thinking, creative thinking, expecting success,not giving up, choosing happiness, displaying self-esteem and confidence, seeing opportunities. It is clear that having a positive attitude brings happiness and more energy all around, higher motivation for self and others, fewer difficulties are encountered,accepting failures with grace, learning from challenges and shortcomings, more respect for the person.
Attitude, as per the YUVA SLP Hand book for teachers is:  the way you look at things. Half a glass of water may appear half empty to one and half full to another. Attitude is contagious. A positive attitude gives energy to you and to those around you. On the other hand, a negative attitude drains your energy and the energy of those with whom you come in contact. A person with a positive attitude gets on with the job at hand.He doesn't brood over what's gone before or might happen in the future. If there is a problem, she/he quickly thinks of ways to solve it.He doesn't pass the buck or blame on other people or circumstances for it. If the problem cannot be solved with a single hand, she seeks help from someone.He doesn't feel that it's below her dignity to seek assistance. A positive attitude translates into a sunny bright personality.When we are positive, we find that our interactions with the world and ourselves become brighter,more productive and perpetuate the ‘feel good’ factor. This in turn makes us healthier and more peaceful.All of us, at one time or another, express the three different types of attitudes: positive,negative and neutral. Those with a neutral attitude are sometimes the most challenged to deal with, and can be called as “spectators in the game of life.” We often try to avoid contact with those carrying a negative attitude, “the critics of the game of life.” And we are drawn to those with a positive attitude, “the players of the game of life.”
Education, thus is a partnership between the teacher and the student and it is not just about learning tenses or simultaneous equations, rather it is about learning life skills, it is about encouraging students to learn pro-active, and positive coping strategies for success in life! Success in life doesn’t end with a healthy pay-package, but means that you have  the best set of life skills and are always positive and thus always smiling! The learning of life skills is important for all, and it is the duty of teachers of all subjects to ensure that their students should adopt and learn the same.  It is in this context that it becomes important for teachers to attend in-service programmes regularly, at least once a year! It is a fact that over time most professionals develop an attitude of emotional detachment as a result of the oft repeated cliché, familiarity breeds contempt! This can be seen in teachers paramedics, police personnel who after some time develop the ability to detach themselves emotionally from the situation at hand. Often, when teachers join fresh, they might be filled with zeal and zest and have a joyful approach towards their job.I have come across  teachers who had such a positive approach towards their jobs in the beginning but after years had become rather depressed, disgruntled, and disappointed. They kept on complaining about how difficult it had become to teach students, how students were becoming stubborn, they were not doing their homework, that they had problem children in their classes, and so on. If a teacher begins to have such a poor opinion about his students, then what life coping skills will he impart to his students except for a negative and defeatist attitude? 
The purpose of conducting in-service workshops for teachers is thus to help revive their own life skills, to brush up their coping skills, and to revive their positive attitude so that they can make the teaching process a joyful learning process! Perhaps by adopting a more positive attitude they will be able to motivate their students better than if they were themselves de-motivated and with poor self esteem. From the subject point of view also it becomes important to conduct subject specific workshops. One subject in mind that has undergone change is English. When I joined as a Lecturer in English in 1994, we taught formal Grammar. In class twelve we even had what were called as single sentence definitions. In class nine there was a lot of grammar including such topics as Clauses, transformation of sentences,  Non-finites, tenses, direct indirect speech and so on. This went on till class ten. In class eleven there somewhat less grammar as more importance was given to the practice of higher order writing skills, and of course literature. In class twelve there was no formal grammar. Today, the curriculum framers believe in what is called as a communicative and interactive approach towards the teaching of English. As such teachers marking the twelfth class Board papers not to penalise students too much for grammatical mistakes, and to favour them more for communicating their understanding of the question and their ability to put their ideas into words. For many teachers steeped in the traditional methods of teaching formal grammar and the importance of grammatical sanctity, it had become rather confusing to switch over to the communicative approach and to avoid penalising students for grammatical errors! The in-service workshops helped make the teachers understand the philosophy behind this paradigm shift in teaching methodology for teachers of English.
In the year 2009 C.C.E. C.C.A (Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation) was introduced which involved assessment based on different skill areas and different learning objectives. The students performance throughout the year was divided into four F.As.(Formative Assessments where different skills would be assessed through different methods like projects, recitation, speeches, educational games, enactments…etc ) and Two S.As. (Summative Assessments-the equivalent of the traditional written tests). Such changes in the system of assessments and teaching methodology was initially confusing for both teachers and students. However, numerous workshops and in service programmes were organised by the S.C.E.R.T. and Education Departments throughout the country to sensitise teachers and to train them in the new system. The quantum changes taking place in the system of education introduced by the C.B.S.E. and the S.C.E.R.Ts. have made the attendance of in-service trainings and work-shops mandatory for all teachers, and even Principals. Last but not least, it is clear that we just having a B.Ed. degree is not enough, rather it should be followed up with regular in-service programmes and work-shops so that our teaching skills are continuously up-graded and honed!

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Monday, 18 June 2012

Majnu Ka Tila-Gastronomer’s Paradise!

 After a tiring but fulfilling visit to the Red Fort, we were all rather hungry, thirsty and tired, and after a lot of serious deliberation we decided to have our lunch at Majnu Ka Tila, close to the ISBT Bus station, in Delhi. My brother had told me that the food was good and cheap. We reached Majnu Ka Tila and had to park the cars outside a boundary wall and then entered a narrow lane with restaurants on both sides and with a shopping complex on one side. The restaurant we entered was named, “Ma Restaurant”. The ambience was rather mellow  and peaceful, perhaps as we were having launch at about 4:30 p.m. At this late hour there were very few other people around and so we literally had the place to ourselves!


After having our cold drinks we then placed our orders for, “Devilled Buff Momos,”  Chicken Manchurian,  Fried Rice,  Chicken Noodles, Fried Honey Potatoes, and the normal fried potato fingers. Another rather “secret Order” was the fried Pork with vegetables! The fare when it came was simply sumptuous and most delicious! The Devilled Buff Momos were covered in a special reddish spicy sauce which although not too hot, was nevertheless rich in taste! I would dare say that the “Devilled Buff Momos” were simply superb! I had quite a few helpings of the same! The honey potato was quite good with the right amount of sweetness and a slight spicy tang to it. Having gorged on the Honey Potato and the momos I went on to that secret dish, the Fried Pork in vegetables. The pork was crispy and rightly done with an accompaniment of vegetables which lent a “munchy” texture to the dish. We all followed up this rather delicious fare with fruit beer and iced tea. 

I would definitely recommend a visit to Majnu Ka Tila for some superb Tibetan food, and especially for those who would like to enjoy something different from the regular home fare! While the food is particularly delicious and superb without being too hot, it is moreover quite reasonable! One plate of “Devilled Buff Momos” consisted of eight large sized, sumptuous momos costing Rs.67/- The total bill came to Rs.1700/- for a sumptuous meal of Honey Potatoes, Fried finger potatoes, Chicken Manchurian, fried rice, Chicken noodles, Fried Pork with vegetables (dry) and Pepsi, iced tea, and fruit beer for all of us who totalled five adults, and six children!