Sunday, 26 January 2014

Mitmitta:The Ethiopian miniature Devil-Pepper

Various foodies across the world will go to great lengths to extol the virtues of their favourite kinds of pepper. Pepper, is an essential spice that can transform the bland taste of food into something more, shall I say, tangy, sharp, and perhaps even  hot like when you start sweating and taking in sharp breaths, your host would probably ask you if whether the food was “too hot”!
It takes time to develop a taste for chillies-and I have seen how eating food with a healthy amount of chillies would lead to upset tummies, and embarrassed egos! This, then brings me to the type of chillies that we come across. The false chillies, for me would constitute the Capsicums-they have that sharp scent of the chilly but are without the fire. In India you have two varieties of chillies, chillies that are meant for colour in the curry and are not very hot; the Degi-Mirch is both for colour and that fiery taste. The third variety is called as Tataya-Mirch in the local slang, meaning, Wasp. The word “Wasp” reveals the characteristics  of this tiny variety(Don’t be fooled by its deceptive size!). Unfortunately, I haven’t seen this variety for ages in India. What I have indeed seen is something that comes in between the tiny pepper and its larger cousin, a hybrid which doesn’t  even count!
It was with great eagerness that I looked forward to a packet of the Traditional Ethiopian Mitmitta brought by a relative who recently visited Addis Ababa. The Ethiopians use lots of red chilly pepper in most of their food. Their Doro Wat (Chicken Currie) and Kai Wats (Beef and Muttion curries) are all fiery red with the amounts of red pepper added to them. But then even if this was not enough, talk about adding a light dose of Mitmitta to the Minced Meat! Mitmitta refers to the smaller variety of chillies eaten along regular meals, either whole, or in the powdered form. Mitmitta Powder however is a clever mix of dried Mitmitta Chilly, garlic, onions, ginger and herbs all ground together. The ingredients add zing to the chilly powder-thus it is not just the fiery heat of the pepper that comes out but also a very subtle flavour of the herbs, garlic, and the ginger. Here,I would like to make a distinction between Berbere and Mitmitta. Berbere is a ground mixture of normal red chillies, ginger and garlic. Berbere is less potent than Mitmitta and is used in the preparation of normal meat based curries.
File:African red devil peppers.jpg
The Snap taken from Wikipedia is  for representational purpose as Mitmitta chillies are smaller than those shown in the picture.

I, for one would like to extol the virtues of the Mitmitta powder as one of the best spices that can be added to cooked food which is on your plate like the black-pepper powder or the Oregano Seasoning that you would add to your favourite Pizza or Baingan Ka Bharta! The fact of the matter is that a dash of Ethiopian Mitmitta powder is guaranteed to bring life to otherwise bland food! Any takers, Indian foodies? Now that my stock of this precious condiment is running out, I am worried about what I am going to do after this. We have tried to make Mitmitta from Indian spices, but then something was always missing! The final word, well I would give the Ethiopian Mitmitta Chilly and its powdered form a very high rating perhaps higher than the Bhoot Jolakia, in taste, although I have not tried the Trinidad Scorpion. Tabasco was too hot. For me personally it is not just how hot the chilly is , but whether it has that subtle tang, scent, and right dash of sweetness- all that can be found in the Ethiopian Mitmitta Powder, the biggest achievement in seasoning today! Sometimes it is not just the fiery taste of pepper that makes it favoured but the seasoning powder you make out of it that brings out its true colours! The herbs and spices added to the fiery miniature pepper of Ethiopia helps to tame or cure or rein in its heat and yet enhance its flavour!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Does Experiential Pedagogy lead to Joyful Learning?

When my Principal, described the benefits of  experiential and participatory pedagogy, I was a little doubtful whether it would be really worth the time. However, being curious, I decided to give it a try with my Eighth Grade students. The topic before me was Newspaper Reports, a higher order writing task for which I decided to adopt a more participatory and student centered pedagogy. To make the lesson more student involved, I planned as follows:
1.The first meeting of one hour was devoted to the listing of the learning outcomes. This included specifics dealing with the format, value points, tense form, the heading and the by-line. 
2. On the second day, which was a thirty minutes session, I divided the whole class into groups of five students each. The groups were given their topics and then they were told to write relevant notes on the value points based on the inverted pyramid format where the first paragraph would be based on the following value points: what, where, who, why, when, the second paragraph would be based on the how value points, a summary of the events, and the third paragraph would include the conclusion-students expressing their ideas about what they liked about the event or, what they thought could have been done better, or perhaps how they felt about the event. This was a very noisy session as the students kept discussing their value points, often calling out to me for clarifications. I had to keep reminding the students to keep their voices low. It was a great feeling to see the students wracking their brains for the best possible points.The second day passed away in this manner.
3.On the third day, which again was a thirty session, the different groups were called out to read out their value points. After they had read out their value points, the other students were asked to voice their observations and suggestions on what they they thought could have been done better. This was the peer-assessment session of the lesson. Most of the suggestions were pertinent and relevant! I was amazed to see how well the students of the other groups came up with really interesting and relevant suggestions. The group that was presenting the rough draft did give a spirited defence wherever possible. I did step in when I felt that  had to moderate the discussion. Out of the five groups, three groups were able to present their ideas for the report. I was not disturbed by the fact that only three groups had been able to present their ideas, because I felt that a lot more learning had taken place because of the discussions.
4. The fourth day was devoted to the hearing of the  notes, and outline based on the value points of the report of the remaining two groups, and the reading of the first draft of the three groups. The two groups who had to read out the outline took about fifteen minutes of the one hour class. After they had made their presentations, I told the students to convert their rough points or outline into the first draft. There was a healthy competition among the students to come up with a first draft. After giving the students about twenty minutes, it was time to listen to a reading of the first draft of their reports. I was amazed by the quality of the first drafts as presented by the students in class. They had somehow come up with the most accurate and relevant formats and their value points had been well placed. After each group had read their presentation, there was a brief discussion of suggestions about improvements. I intervened wherever possible, and then instructed the students to photocopy their final drafts in their notebooks for correction by me. It had been a wonderful example of participative, collaborative and student-centric learning where the students had themselves come up with corrections and suggestions. The students also got a training in constructive criticism, they actively participated in the learning process, and there was a sense of pride and ownership about the end product.
The take away for me was that the participation, collaboration, and student-centric approach in the pedagogy did have its benefits. When students were made to think actively, and to learn to peer asses presentations constructively, it ensured that effective learning had taken place, especially because the students in the learning process!The more weak students also benefitted because they were part of a group of students who could train and coach them. The objective of differential learning was thus addressed effectively!  The benefits of experiential learning can, as such not be ignored! The benefits of experimenting with better techniques of pedagogy should be encouraged in all educationists by their immediate superiors! The class might have been a little noisy, but then I was not worried by this because I could see that active learning was definitely taking place! The key observations for this lesson suggest that collaborative learning had taken place, the workload didn’t fall entirely on the shoulders of the teacher, there was peer assessment which provided a healthy atmosphere of moderated debate.Yes, I am sure this approach would work equally well with senior students of grade twelve, I am positive!

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Raahgiri Day-Gurgaon,A Photo Essay

Today, on a cold Sunday morning, we woke up early to be part of the Raahgiri Day in Gurgaon and sure, we were not disappointed. There was so much of excitement at the venue, and I was pleasantly surprised to see students of The Heritage School at the forefront! My school had organised a skit and an exhibition describing how they were part of the reason for making Raahgiri a reality today. Raahgiri is a movement that was the result of the students of the Heritage School along with other organisations pressing for  cycle-friendly lanes in Gurgaon, and the promotion of respect among road users in Gurgaon. This is however a movement that is about social activism at its best. Today when I visited the location, I was able to see people from all sections of the society coming together to celebrate a movement called Raahgiri Day-no mean feat, considering the fact that the whole road is  blocked for regular traffic every Sunday from morning till twelve in the afternoon. A note of appreciation is deserved by the Gurgaon traffic police for their cooperation and being very much part of the occasion. This movement is a tribute to the claim of Gurgaon for being indeed the millennium city of not only Haryana but in fact the rest of the country!
The expression on the faces of these children tells it all, they were enjoying the songs and the performances being provided by the performers on the stage!
A skit on social issues enacted by students of The Heritage School, Gurgaon added food for thought on the occasion!
Educationists of The Heritage School observing their students while they were acting out a play on Social Issues
An exhibition of write-ups, letters and  descriptions about how the students of The Heritage School, Gurgaon had worked hard to make Raahgiri Day what it is today.
Students of the Salwan Public School, Gurgaon performing on the stage
A befitting snap at the end of the Day:this boy came at the right moment for me and posed before the camera. For me, it was the best moment, irrespective of the mask that he had put on!
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Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Using Close-ups, Zoom and Macro to get close and personal with Insects and Birds

The very Idea of using close-ups, Zoom and Macro is to be able to get really close and personal with the subject. In this case it is all about getting really close to objects from the world of Nature. Sometimes, you might have to maintain a proper distance from the insect lest you should be stung, and this applies to wasps and bees! I am sure the reader will appreciate why I had to maintain a respectable distance from the wasp. In this case, the wasp was perched on the windshield of my car, and in order to provide backlighting and to ensure that the dashboard didn’t intrude, my brother held a white sheet of paper to reflect the light back on to the wasp! The result of this exercise is given below:
A respectful distance had to be maintained especially because of the fear of the sting!
The same distance had to be observed while photographing this wasp. The Distance, well hardly six inches, yes you heard it right, six inches was the distance, and yes you could call this one a macro shot! The Red colour of the background might have highlighted the yellow colour!
Some of the most amazing hair styles can be found in birds, and somehow, I can’t help but find common links in hairstyles adopted by both men and birds. I sure you will be able to identify the glaring similarities after looking at the photographs pasted below:
It is not just the hair-style of this bird that attracted my attention, in fact the way the hair seemed to flow over the bird’s head, and the way it accentuates the eyes, think about eye-make up, and I am sure you’ll agree that we have copied it all from the birds! Believe or not, I liked the hairstyle!
And believe it or not, this particular bird seemed most interested in posing before the camera! Well, let me tell you, it was not a tame bird in any case, but then you know how it is in Gurgaon, everyone seems to be a camera freak, and everyone, especially birds like posing and modelling before an audience!
So what if the backdrop is, ahem-a car tyre, but then any road is a ramp, isn’t it? Well I guess you would have to have the guts of this bird to really face the crowd-that too in the sector fourteen Market in Gurgaon!
The Hoopoe, however has a more intimidating hairstyle and that crest is the envy of all those who are fashion conscious. The stripes on the rest of the body have been imitated by all kinds of fashion designers.
Even this little bird seemed curious about the twinkling eye of the camera, but then yes, it too had some thing to show us humans, a serrated tail of course!

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Raahgiri-Gurgaon; Social Activism at its best!


Finally, after having  heard so much from my students of the Heritage School, Gurgaon about the Raahgiri day that takes place from 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. every Sunday in front of Galleria and Sushant Lok, I decided to take a look! Of course I took with me the whole family! The Raahgiri day, similar to the Ciclovia movement is about making the roads of Gurgaon Cycle friendly. The Raahgiri Day in Gurgaon is the result of the hard work and the efforts of the students of the Heritage School who did a feasibility report about the use of cycles in the Millennium city  and handed it to the JCP-traffic in the year 2011. This was done by students of Grade Six!

My Brother Sanjay and  Niece,Rhea
In the photograph are Raima, my niece and Adi, my nephew, Ishi another niece and Nidhi my Wife
In the snap with the Traffic Taos are Rhea and Ishi my nieces and Sapna my Sister in Law
Of Course I was there too!
On the whole there was the atmosphere of a carnival, there were no cars on the road, and people had come out with their bicycles, roller skates, foot balls and otherwise just for a stroll on a road that happens to be chocked with vehicular traffic most of the time! One of the things that caught my eyes was the more colourful and rather more cultured portrayal of the local traffic police who were dressed up as the “Traffic Taou” a rather fond rendering of the otherwise very strict cops into a more cultured and concerned uncle!
What I could also observe was social activism at its best which not only sought to impress upon those gathered  the need to observe traffic rules but also various other issues that affect the country as a whole! 

A selfie for the moment-A group of “ I am Pedalyatri” activists

A poster exhorting Sid to wake up and respect the Road before it is too late!
Last but not least, a standee explaining the making of Raahgiri - into a vehicle free day. It is an equivalent of of the ciclovia movement which promotes open streets. The Heritage school has been an active proponent of the Bike Friendly Gurgaon movement.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Guns and Dolls-Should we promote a culture of violence through the sale of toys?

The recent controversy about the popular sale of a toy gun named after a particularly controversial figure in Pakistan was aired on the B.B.C. recently. The channel presented the views of a couple of parents who had opposing views on the matter. A few clips were also aired  on the channel showing children playing with the toy guns displaying violence and aggression. There is nothing new I guess, about role playing in children especially involving guns and battles between two different groups, children’s simulation of the adult world of conflict! The very tendency to be violent has always been ingrained in the human psyche since time immemorial. While playing with weapons has been popular amongst most boys, playing with dolls has been popular amongst girls. This difference of choice is not just the result of gender but also because of what has been imposed upon children by the society. While it is not unnatural for boys to play with dolls, it is the immediate family and the society at large that imposes this distinction between boys and girls!
But then to come back to the discussion that I saw on the B.B.C. channel, one of the speakers suggested that there was nothing wrong in giving her five year old son a gun to play with, and in any case he would get to play with his friend’s gun! The very idea is that depriving the child a toy gun would increase his desire to acquire one. It is like the curiosity a nicely wrapped object creates than when it is finally revealed in its true form. The other speaker, another mother, didn’t want to give her child a gun lest it would create a tendency to be violent. The important question is whether not giving a toy gun to your child would prevent him or her from being exposed to the vicarious thrill of violence and a desire for more. If the instinct for nurturing life is an ingrained attribute of humanity, then so is the instinct for violence and aggression. While it can’t be denied that both instincts form an important attribute of the human psyche, an imbalance could create disastrous results. Viewed from the perspective of  an anthropologist, both (promotion of nurture in the form of passivity  and violence in the form of offense for the purpose of safety and protection) are important  elements for the continued existence of a culture and a society.
History has shown how regimes have intentionally promoted violence in some form or the other as a safety vent for the welfare of the reigning regime. The popularity of Gladiators fighting in the Roman Arena was a safety valve for any resentment or grievance that people had for the regime. I very strongly believe however, that jousting, bull fighting, and  fighting amongst Gladiators (in spite of all the gore and violence)    had a  somehow less destructive impact on the human psyche  than the kind of violence we sell in the form of virtual games and popular toys. The popularity of virtual games that are based on violence  is the result of research done by marketing organisations that seek to exploit the vicarious thrill for violence in children. The same, however can be said about the excess promotion of games which promote a culture for passivity and lack of reaction for wrongs and evils in the society. One example would be the promotion of the stereotype Indian woman who patiently and rather passively endures the ills perpetrated on her by her marital family and the society. In many cases, the Ideal Indian woman is promoted as a person who has an infinite capacity for punishment! It is often sickening how much pain and suffering these women are ready to take! The harms of selling a product that promotes too much of a sense of security is however as harmful as selling a product that promotes violence.
This brings us to the issue of the popularity of the Osama Guns being sold in Pakistan. The very labelling of the toy guns as Osama Guns is the result of marketing firms who want to sell their product by linking it to a well known personality. It is a marketing strategy in effect, to associate a particular product with a Brand Ambassador so as to ensure that its popularity would leads to  a high volume of sale. It goes without saying that marketing firms should also take into consideration the moral responsibility of ensuring that their marketing strategy and promotion of their products does not have an adverse  psychological impact on the end user! Toy guns and toy dolls will continue to be sold down the years-children will continue to be children but what matters is how these products are marketed. To associate the product with a well known personality should depend on the moral standing that the personality has in the society! One should not popularise and romanticize toys by associating them with persons and personalities who have a questionable reputation in the society at large. The onus of ensuring the proper moral impact of a toy in the society lies with the marketing firms. The moot question is whether we should market a product that promotes violence in the society. It is true that violence sells like hot cakes but then are we ready to stand up to the repercussions of selling such a product? This  also goes for film producers and makers of virtual games who are ready to exploit a trusted formula to ensure that their product sells like hot cakes.The same can be said however of firms that promote an unnatural sense of security in a world that is faced with with uncertainties and the need for assertion of rights.
Unscrupulous marketing agencies will always try to exploit the vicarious desire for violence in children for ensuring the saleability of their products, but the then the moral responsibility should also be taken into consideration. We need to adopt a balanced approach towards the manufacturing and promotion of toys today. In a world that is being steadily torn apart by violence and regionalism and communalism, it is important for toy manufacturers to ensure that they produce toys that also promote the importance of peace and patience and togetherness. Today, more than ever, we need to promote an atmosphere of tolerance and co-existence, and this moral duty is being negated by marketing firms  that seek to popularize their products through cheap marketing strategies that milk and exploit the vicarious thrill for violence in children. If marketing agencies are not ready to shoulder their responsibility towards the society, then the onus of protecting their children lies on the shoulders of the parents. The ultimate peril and choice of buying a toy for their children lies with the parents.
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