Thursday, 27 February 2014

A Bird’s eye view of some of the characters of the novel, ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Perhaps the most important characters in the novel are the protagonist Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Dr. Watson. Sherlock Holmes is depicted as the quintessential eccentric detective who has is typical mannerisms and habits. He prefers to close himself in a room smoking on his pipe, essentially filling the room with a fug of tobacco smoke in order to ruminate on the circumstances and clues. That his typical way of thinking over things! His clich├ęd remark, ‘ It is elemental, Dr Watson!’ suggests a degree of superiority and perhaps a degree of pride in his abilities.  I wouldn’t refer to Dr Watson as Sherlock Holmes’ “side kick” because that is just what Dr Watson does not want to be regarded as. Sherlock Holmes might be viewed as a flat character, a stereotype who does not grow as the plot progresses. He is the quintessential smart investigator who can read between the lines. He is rational, scientific, and can put himself in the shoes of his adversary, his foil and equally intelligent adversary, Mr Stapleton. What marks Sherlock as an accomplished detective is his patience and ability to reserve his judgement till he has adequate proof to substantiate his conclusions. His remarkable abilities of observation are described at length in the first few chapters of the novel when he is able to describe the owner of the walking stick, Dr Mortimer rather accurately as someone who had served in a prestigious hospital in London and then had shifted to the country side. Sherlock adds that the owner was a person who walked a lot and had a pet dog. Sherlock Holmes displays immense rationality later in making a connection between the similarity between Mr Stapleton’s facial features to those of his ancestor, Hugo Baskerville, noting the distinct long jawed feature shared by Mr Stapleton and his ancestor. He hides his suspicions from his assistant fearing lest the discovery should prejudice the fairness of the investigation. Unlike his assistant, Dr Watson he is a shrewd person who doesn’t jump to conclusions. He keeps his plan of visiting Devonshire a secret and sends Dr Watson to Baskerville Hall in order to conduct his own investigation-a decision that hurts the sentiments of his assistant! Sherlock Holmes somehow overshadows his assistant in terms of rationality, scientific detachment, and shrewdness to the degree of showing off Dr Watson to be a rather gullible and rather dumb kind of an investigator. Sherlock comes up a triumphant opponent when pitched against a formidable opponent in Mr Stapleton when he double times the latter, often guessing and predicting the latter’s moves well in time. He is quite certain that Dr Watson’s and Sir Henry’s lives could be in danger which is one reason why he personally decides to visit Devonshire without making his intention clear to them.
Dr Watson is the Ex-Military assistant to the formidable detective Sherlock Holmes. He is the more muscular of the two but what he lacks is the the shrewdness and rationality of his friend. Unlike Sherlock, Dr Watson likes to exercise at the club house in order work out the stress of the turn of events. He is more dependent on his visual senses, and goes with first impressions. Dr Watson’s letters to Sherlock display a sense of impulsiveness, especially in his strong belief that Mr Barrymore could have more to do with the death of Sir Charles. The needle of his suspicion falls on Mr Barrymore, the  Butler because he was probably the last man who had seen Sir Charles. His suspicion is stoked by his observation of Mr Barrymore’s suspicious behaviour at night, his tip-toeing to the French window, and signalling with a candle late at night. In his rather ham handed manner Dr Watson places much significance to the suspicious behaviour of the Butler. Dr Watson displays numerous errors of judgement throughout the novel. He is quick to suspect anyone with an eccentric  behaviour. He is distracted by the strange behaviour of Mr Barrymore and can’t think with a clear mind. However, it can be also said that the lucid descriptions of events during his stay at Baskerville Hall do a lot in helping Sherlock Holmes understand the wider picture. His detailed description of his meeting with Mr Stapleton and Miss Stapleton brings out the possible streak of violence in Mr Stapleton’s nature. Dr Watson cannot however be dismissed outright as an incapable investigator as he displays initiative in going out to Coombe Tracey to meet Laura Lyons and interview her. He also displays remarkable presence of mind in tracking down Sherlock Holmes to his lair by talking to Mr Frankland and looking through his telescope to see the errands boy carrying a parcel of food to his benefactor. It can be said that although Dr Watson might lack the shrewd insight of his friend, he is however the kind of person one would like to have when in a crisis.
Another important character in the novel is Dr Mortimer. It is clear that if it were not for the concern of this man for his friend, Sir Charles, this investigation would never have taken place! A man of science and thus a man who should have learned to apply a more rational approach to the whole episode of the death of his friend, Sir Charles, he is however swayed  by the supernatural elements in the whole story. Sherlock Holmes chides him for his rather unscientific view of the whole incident. Dr. Mortimer can be described as a trustworthy outdoorsman whom one would always like to have as a friend, although, perhaps one might question his decision to quit a lucrative post in one of the well established hospitals in London for the sake of marrying a rich woman. Yes, Dr Mortimer is eccentric in some ways, especially when he expresses his desire to measure Sherlock Holmes’ cranial dimensions, but then this can be ascribed to his being a man of science.
Another important character that strikes our minds is Mr Barrymore. The faithful butler of Sir Charles,  he is asked to stay on by his new master, Sir Henry. He however expresses his view that his new master might not after all desire to keep him, since he would probably like to appoint people of his own choice. Barrymore however displays a degree of tolerance towards the presence of his brother in law in Devonshire. He displays an immense degree of secrecy in hiding the fact that he is helping a man on the run from the law, just because he happens to be his wife’s brother. Barrymore’s secrecy and the consequent suspicious manner earn him the suspicion of Dr Watson. He is however a husband who is faithful to his wife and ready to go out of the way to help her brother out even though he knows that this could cost him his job. Barrymore also benefitted from his master’s death because he stood to gain some money from him. Barrymore’s secrecy however could have caused him more harm than good.
Mrs Stapleton and Laura Lyons are two women who fell victim to the predations of an unscrupulous criminal, Mr Stapleton. Ms. Stapleton, who later turns out to be the wife of Mr Stapleton is a woman of great beauty. She became  the unwilling partner in crime for her husband, Mr Stapleton. She refused point blank to be a part of his nefarious plans to destroy the entire succession of the Baskervilles so that her husband could acquire the title ship of the Baskerville estate. She was later brutalised and tied up in Merripit Hall because of her resistance to acquiesce to her husband’s nefarious plans. She does come up bravely to warn Dr Watson rather erroneously thinking him to be the new master of Baskerville hall advising him to return to London forthwith. She however turns out to be a helpless victim in the clutches of a ruthless criminal. A beautiful woman, she remains a victim of marital violence.
Laura Lyons is a woman whose beauty has been marred by the tragedies of life that she has had to undergo at the hands of a husband who had no scruples in ditching her a few months after marriage. One can say that she is damaged goods, damaged by the circumstances and a husband whom she had married against the wishes or her father. The so called cast off, she struggles to survive in a society that is rather inflexible in its principles of  propriety. She is a woman in distress like Ms Stapleton which is why she falls prey to the whiles of Mr Stapleton who promises to get her a divorce from her husband. Laura Lyons incidentally plays an important role in the whole story because she had been convinced to write a letter to Sir Charles to draw him out of Baskerville Hall so that he could be frightened to death by the hound. She is filled with fear when Dr Watson confronts her with the facts. She informs Dr Watson that she had been forced to write the letter although she never turned up to meet Sir Charles. She realises the wrong she has done when Dr Watson links her letter to the fact that Sir Charles had been drawn out doors to meet her although she had not turned up.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Why was the Champaran episode a turning point for Gandhi?

The lesson, Indigo describes the Gandhi's tryst with the landlords and the sharecroppers of Champaran. The sharecroppers of Champaran wanted a refund of the amount that they had given to the landlords in lieu of the indigo harvest. The peasants’ grievance was that they had been made to pay more than what the indigo was worth after scientists in Germany had developed synthetic Indigo. When Gandhi met the secretary of the Landlord’s association, he was told that, ‘they could give no information to an outsider’. The British official commissioner of the Tirhut division bullied Gandhi suggesting that he should leave Motihari forthwith!
It was in light of all the opposition that Gandhi experienced that he probably decided to experiment with Non-Cooperation. The first instance of Non-Cooperation took place when Gandhi was served with an order to  quit Champaran while on a trip to a village to investigate an incident of a harassment of a sharecropper by his Landlord. Gandhi signed a receipt for the order and added that he would not comply with the order. Gandhi was then served with a notice from the Magistrate ordering him to appear for a hearing the next day. The next day, we are told that Motihari was, “black with peasants” who wanted to see a, ‘Mahatma’  who had come to fight for them. The presence of the peasants in such large numbers  put the administration into a tizzy. Gandhi went on to manage the crowd. Looking at the tense situation, the magistrate decided to adjourn the court hearing. Gandhi, however didn’t wait for a judgement to be passed on him. He went on to declare himself guilty for breaking the laws of the land, but then he claimed that he was upholding the higher laws of humanity. This was the second instance when Gandhi used the tool of non-cooperation in so far as he didn’t wait for the judge to pass a judgement on him.The judge then announced an adjournment for two hours and asked Gandhi to furnish a bond for that period. Gandhi refused. This was the third instance when he used the tool of Non-Cooperation. The end result was that the case against Gandhi for refusing the order order to leave Champaran was dropped by the British administration. This was a major victory for Gandhi!
What happened next was that an enquiry commission was  set up by the British Administration and it resulted in the acceptance of the fact that the share-croppers had indeed been wronged. What happened next was that the landlords decided to enter into a stalemate with Gandhi about the percentage of the amount to be returned. Gandhi however relented on a demand for a fifty per cent refund and agreed to a twenty-five per cent refund, thus breaking a possible deadlock with the Landlords. Gandhi later stated that the amount of refund was not as important as even a twenty-five per cent refund would prove that the Landlords were not above the law, and moreover he wanted to pass on the message to the peasants that they had rights and had people who would fight for their rights! Ultimately, the landlords quit Champaran being unable to face the the peasants whom they had been compelled to compensate.
The whole Champaran episode became a turning point for Gandhi because it had taught Gandhi about the effectiveness of Non-Cooperation, and Satyagraha. He had succeeded in teaching the peasants a lesson in courage, he had been able to pass on a message to the British that they could not order him about in his own country. He had proved to the Landlords that they were not above the law, and most important of all he had taught the share-croppers that they had rights. The battle was fought and the peasants were victorious, all through a revolution that was based not on blood-shed, but on the tenets of Non-Cooperation, Satyagraha and Non-Violence. His success in Champaran convinced Gandhi that some wars can be fought successfully not with violence and bloodshed, but through more humane means. The Champaran Episode was and eye-opener not just for Gandhi, but also for the common people who rose to the occasion in their own way to support their Mahatma. The Champaran episode proves to the world that what might not be achieved through violence and blood shed might be in fact achieved through more peaceful means. This is a potent message for all of those who are aggrieved that the tools of Non-Violence, Non-cooperation and Satyagraha are more potent than the tools of violence, namely, guns, bombs and knives-an important lesson for us in times of  impatience and shortened tempers!

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Dr. Sadao, and General Takima - a critical analysis of two central characters in the lesson The Enemy

The central theme of the lesson, ‘The Enemy’  deals with  the paradox of how a human being can also be termed as the enemy of a nation which is at war with another nation.The white sailor who is washed on to the shore is labelled as 'The Enemy' according to the Laws of the Land, and one wonders whether the harsh rules of patriotism might not ultimately challenge the very laws of humanity! It is in light this consideration that the next issue crops up, and that is, who is the guiltier of the two, Dr Sadao, or General Takima? The Lesson, ‘The Enemy ’- an extract from one of Pearl S. Buck’s works is a seminal prose piece which challenges our understanding of the narrow limitations of Patriotism by presenting before us the higher laws of humanity!
To begin analysing the whole issue, one might agree that by giving shelter to ‘The Enemy’ Dr Sadao had broken the rules of patriotism, and he could even be guilty of treason! But then one should also go into the motive for giving shelter to the white sailor Tom, was it that he had a sympathy for Americans since he had studied in America? The answer to this question is a clear no and moreover Dr Sadao makes it clear that there was sense of, ‘repulsion’ in the minds of Dr Sadao and Hana. So then why did he desire to save the life of the white sailor and does it make his crime less acute than that of General Takima? The answer to this question deals with his profession which was saving lives, and the Gardener’s complaint about his master is that, ‘he saves any life’ without distinction between enemy and friend apparently! It is clear that for Dr Sadao, the very purpose of his life was to save lives without distinction, and this is exactly why he went ahead to save the life of Tom! Faced by the dilemma of saving Tom’s life or turning him over to the authorities, he instinctively decides to do the former, as handing him over to the authorities would result in his death. While operating on Tom, Dr Sadao’s hands move deftly of their own accord, they are the skilful hands of an accomplished Surgeon! It is clear, therefore that Dr Sadao was compelled by his duty as a doctor to help the enemy soldier.
Like Dr Sadao is equally party to the crime of treason for the very fact that he didn’t report the presence of the, ‘Enemy Sailor’ in Dr Sadao’s home! General Takima chose to keep the presence of Tom under wraps, but then unlike Dr Sadao, this was not out of a desire to save a life, ( in any case, General Takima was known for his ruthlessness in quelling dissent and there were rumours about torture), rather it was all about using the information about the white sailor as tool of leverage over Dr Sadao so that he would continue to treat General Takima! General Takima’s crime against the state is based more on selfish reasons than a desire to give precedence to the higher laws of humanity over the laws of patriotism! That this is indeed the case becomes clear after the operation when both Dr Sadao and General Takima engage in a conversation. General Takima tries to defend himself for not sending the assassins suggesting that he, “was suffering a good deal. The truth is, I thought of nothing but myself. In short, I forgot my promise to you.”  General Takima goes on to impress upon Dr Sadao that, “ it was not lack of patriotism or dereliction of duty” that had made him turn a blind eye to the whole issue. Dr Sadao realized however after the conversation with General Takima that, ‘the General was in the palm of his hand and that,’ consequently at least, ‘he was perfectly safe’ from any action that the General might plan to take against him in order to  ensure that he continued to treat him! Dr Sadao now knew that the General was after all a selfish cowardly man who thought about himself before the nation! This in any case is not true about Dr Sadao!
Dr Sadao, unlike the General didn’t have a selfish motive for saving the life of Tom, while the General did have a selfish motive in not reporting the presence of the white sailor to the authorities. They both were guilty of the crime of treason, but the the nature of their guilt varies. With Dr Sadao it was about giving precedence to the higher laws of humanity than to the harsh laws of patriotism, while for the General it was about giving the self precedence over the Nation and its strict laws of patriotism. What Dr Sadao had done was to suggest and prove how the higher laws of humanity are greater than the narrow harsh and inflexible laws of patriotism. It was an affirmation about how respect for humanity can help transcend the narrow barriers and boundaries that divide nations on the basis of colour, language, race, and geographical distinctions!  It is clear from the outset that General Takima stands out as the guiltier of the two because of the fact that his motives for breaking the rules were based almost entirely on selfish reasons, to be able to blackmail and compel Dr Sadao to continue treating him without fail. Dr.Sadao too broke the laws of the land, but then the motive was fair, it was not selfish, it was about obeying the higher laws of humanity and it was about saving a life, something he had promised to do when he took the oath of Hippocrates- in a way he was doing a duty towards humanity, he was doing his job as a surgeon! A final round of questions would perhaps clear any doubts we might have about who is the guiltier of the two – What would you choose in such a case, humanity or the discriminating laws of Patriotism? What would you choose you self or the nation? What would you choose risk your life to save another’s life, or save your own life at the cost of another’s life? Dr. Sadao risked his life in order to save the life of the white sailor!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

What is wrong with Sophie in the lesson, 'Going Places' ( CBSE Grade twelve English course) ?

The lesson, ‘Going Places’ by A.R. Barton highlights what can go wrong when a teenager dreams and fantasizes excessively ( yes, that is the theme too ). While it is true that a life without dreams is a dry, drab and rather dead, life that is divorced from reality is equally harmful, bordering on insanity and an inability to differentiate between what is real and what is mere fantasy! Young children often pass through a phase of role playing and fantasizing, but then they soon grow out of it. Sophie, however hasn’t grown out of this phase! She keeps dreaming about what she will do after graduating from school, open a boutique, become an actress, or a manager-all without having the wherewithal to convert these dreams into reality. Her friend, Jansie presents a contrast to Sophie. She is grounded in reality, and she knows very well that they, ‘are earmarked for the biscuit factory’ at the most. Jansie’s cold logic and understanding or reality however might be in themselves rather too depressing, a reaffirmation of the idea that they have a bleak future ahead of them because of their economic circumstances. One might wish for more hope something provided for by dreams and fantasies. It is true that fantasizing or day dreaming within limits might provide a suitable refuge from the stress, disappointments and sadness of real life. In excess however this very refuge might become a trap from which their is no escape.
In many ways, one can’t help pitying Sophie for becoming what she is-a person who will spin tales in order to gain the attention of her father and her brother Geoff, whom she admires. Sophie spins the yarn of having met Danny Cassey probably in order to draw Geoff’s attention away from the motorcycle parts with which he was tinkering. He is the only one who sympathizes with her, although he knows that she has a propensity for spinning tall tales. Sophie is very much like Mademoiselle Loiselle in the short story, ‘The Necklace’ by Guy De Maupassant whose dreams for a better life ultimately leads her and her husband into destitution! Borrowing what she thought was a diamond necklace from her friend proves to be her undoing! Sophie too is like Mademoiselle Loiselle. She is however like a bird trapped in the cage of poverty, and she wants to spread her wings to fly and explore the world that had been denied to her because of her economic circumstances! With Sophie however, we don’t get to see things deteriorating as badly as they did for Madame Loiselle, although looking at how things are progressing we can only guess that her daydreaming could lead to great distress! Sophie’s father is aware about how things could work out for Sophie when he warns her that, “One of these days you’re going to talk yourself into a load of trouble”. Instead of the word, “talk” replace it with day dreaming, and obsession for a more fantastic life. For Sophie, the obsession for a better life coupled with her tendency to day dream and fantasize a lot are sure signs of a mental malady that could cause her great harm in the long run! Some of the danger signs of this tendency to fantasize are described in the part where Sophie walks by the canal to sit on the wooden bench beneath the solitary elm to wait for Danny Casey to come to her. She waits for him and initially is filled with the emotion of excitement which then gradually changes into a sense of disappointment when she realizes that Danny will not be coming after all. The greatest pain is felt by day dreamers when they undergo a phase of disillusionment, a waking from a fantastic dream into a world of reality. Sophie undergoes all these emotions when she wakes up from her fantastic dream to realize that it was after all only a dream, and that her Knight in Armour, Danny Casey will not after all be coming to rescue his damsel in distress!
The message of this lesson is that one should beware of falling into the habit of fantasizing and daydreaming too much, lest the waking up be too painful. Sophie’s dreams and disappointments are all in her mind and she is responsible for her own disappointments. She should have come to terms with the facts and realities of life, the fact that she was a small town girl living the humble life of a girl with little means. She had put too much store in her dreams which were unfortunately divorced from reality, and when she woke up from her dreams, she realized that the reality was made even more harsh by contrast that the dreams had provided to the real world, she woke up to the reality where she was the Sophie of a small town, and that she was the daughter of impoverished circumstances, the daughter of a miner struggling to make both ends meet.

Friday, 21 February 2014

‘An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum’- a critical analysis for grade Twelve CBSE Course

A background of the Poet
Stephen Spender (1909-1995) was an English poet and essayist who took  keen interest in politics. He took interest in the Socialist school of thought which explains his stance regarding the paradox of teaching elementary school children in a slum. His belief as strongly recorded in the Poem, ‘An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum’ is that it is mere wish fulfillment to think that you can teach children on an empty stomach! Stephen Spender became disillusioned by his tryst with socialism and he wrote about this disillusionment in an essay written by him in a book titled, ‘The God That failed’.
The theme of the poem
The central theme of the poem deals with the paradox of teaching elementary school children in a slum. Spender very strongly believes that you cannot hope to provide education to children who are poor and hungry. A feeling of hopelessness coupled with the actual lack of a bright future (symbolized by the words, ‘fog’, and ‘foggy slum’) suggests that the very purpose of educating these children has been defeated. Poverty, hunger, hopelessness, and the fact that they are cut off from the rest of the world is expressed in the words, ‘A narrow street sealed in with a lead sky,’ and ‘catacombs’. It is the poet’s belief that the only solution is to, ‘break' down the slum and let the children run free on ‘gold sands’ and to, ‘let their tongues run naked into books the white and green leaves’. What Spender means is that it is only after the policy makers have addressed the problem of poverty and its attendant problems like malnourishment and inherited diseases that you can hope to provide an education that is empowering in the true sense!
Important metaphors used by Spender
The poem, ‘An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum’ contains a few very important metaphors that support the poet’s attitude towards the idea of teaching children who are impoverished. The metaphor of ‘Shakespeare's Head,’ represents the teaching of concepts and ideas that the students are not able to relate to because of their impoverished nature. The children are so poor malnourished, tired and hopeless that they don’t have the luxury of leisure to study works by Shakespeare. Moreover, ‘Shakespeare is wicked, the map a bad example’ because their exclusiveness tempts ‘them to steal’. It is ironical that by teaching them about Shakespeare, you are in fact teaching the students to steal. What they can’t hope to achieve in the normal course of time, they will try to achieve through unfair and illegal means, and this is more so because you have taught these children that Shakespeare is good, and the world shown on the map is good. The children will, therefore, try to achieve the good things in life by hook or crook! The metaphor of Nature as a teacher appears in the last stanza and it is represented in the words, ‘gold sands’ and the books with, ‘white and green leaves’. The ‘green leaves’ are pages in the book of Nature. The ‘Open-ended map’ rather paradoxically is a metaphor for slavery or imprisonment because it shuts ‘upon their lives like catacombs’. What Spender suggests is that you can’t hope to teach the impoverished children about the real world by showing them the map because then they are reminded of the world they live in and the hopelessness that shuts upon them like, ‘Catacombs’ a twisted maze from which there is no escape. What they can relate to, therefore is not what is shown on the map, but rather the world of poverty and misery that they can see through the windows of their classroom. The windows of the classroom are the true maps that they can relate to, not the ‘open ended map’!  The Sun incidentally is a metaphor for freedom as opposed to the ‘fog’. Stephen Spender makes it clear that history can be written only by those ‘whose language is the sun.’ It is clear that the message that Spender wants to pass on to the reader is that the fruits of education can be enjoyed only by those who are free from the shackles of poverty. A hard hitting point, but then what Spender seeks to express is the idea that policy makers should target the poverty of the children before attempting to provide them with education!

The tone of the poem
The tone of the poem is rather somber and profound mainly because the poet is trying to express a rather serious problem that affects our society at large. The descriptions of the foggy atmosphere, the ‘narrow street sealed in with a lead sky’, the, ‘slag heap…skins peeped through by bones’, and ‘spectacles of steel with mended glass’ all add to the rather festering and palpable atmosphere of poverty and hopelessness. The poet wants to deliberately shake the reader out of his sense of complacency so that he or she realizes that mere donations or high ideals of providing an education that is supposed to be empowering are useless as long as they don’t target the problem of poverty. Poverty is a glaring problem in today’s world and it needs to be tackled before anything can be done to further the development and empowerment of the society. The image of the ‘slag heap… bottle bits on stones’ creates a rather overwhelming sense of hopelessness that can be linked to the de-humanisation of the society. What comes to mind is the image of society that has devolved into a ‘Wasteland’ as described by T.S. Eliot in his poem with the same name. The overall tone of sadness and gloom is paradoxical in nature as it highlights the irony of life in the twenty-first century in spite of all the technological advancement that is taking place. The gap between the rich and the poor is aptly brought out in this poem.The tone of the poem is a mix of hope (as in the last two lines of the first stanza where the boy at the back of the classroom dreams about a squirrel's game), anger, helplessness and despair (see the last line in the third stanza: "So blot their maps with slums as big as doom." Somehow, this line reminds me of a similar line written by Robert Frost in the poem A Roadside Stand, where he writes, "I can't help owning the great relief it would be to put these people at one stroke out of their pain"). There is and everall feeling of anger, helplessness and extreme feeling of angst in the poet about not being able to make people open their eyes to the fact that you really can't teach underprivileged children on an empty stomach!
Style of writing
Stephen Spender has made use of a lot of sarcasm, and irony to expose the fallacies of a political system that claims to address the problems of underprivileged students. Thus he uses very strong words to describe Shakespeare when calls him "wicked" and the map "a bad example". The violence of Spender's emotions towards the hypocrisy of the system of politics and education is evident in the words, " Break O break open till they break the town"- you need to destroy the decadent old world order in order to introduce a new one! Stephen Spender uses vivid descriptions to create a vivid world of decay and waste that are an ironic comment on the progress we have made post the Industrial revolution era. The children in this poem are living on a veritable wasteland, a "slag heap", a veritable junkyard which is littered with "bottle bits on stones" and piles of steel scrap. In many ways, this is a poem that shares the same theme as that of the prose lesson, Lost Spring by Anees Jung, which is a description of rag-pickers who are living in primeval conditions in Seemapuri, Delhi's largest slum, and Firozabad, the bangle making industry. There is extreme sarcasm in the expression "unlucky heir of twisted bones." You inherit wealth, power, and respect, but then this boy in the classroom has inherited his father's genetically transmitted disease of twisted and deformed bones. The student has inherited poverty, hopelessness, despair, and perhaps the sins of his father!
The philosophy of the Poet
Stephen Spender’s poem, ‘An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum’ very aptly encapsulates his philosophy of life which is based on the themes of social injustice and class inequalities.  The poet constantly highlights his belief in the paradox of poverty, the idea that the more advanced the society, the larger the gap between the poor and the rich. His philosophy of life exposes the sham that exists in the society today and the so-called hollowness in the intentions of the humanitarians of the world who want to do good to the underprivileged by donating gifts which are in effect of no use.
Poetic Devices used by the Poet:
Stephen Spender has made use of poetic devices like similes, metaphors, synecdoche, repetitions and epithets in order to bring out the theme of the poem. The second line in the first stanza contains a simile that compares the hair of the children to 'rootless weeds'. In the third stanza, the poet compares the 'skins peeped through by bones' to 'bottle bits on stones.' In the fourth stanza, Stephen Spender compares the 'windows' in the classroom to 'catacombs' from which there is no escape. All these comparisons are similes that describe the impoverished condition of the children, and their circumstances. Their poverty is like a catacomb within which they are imprisoned.
The poet repetes the word, 'far' in the first line of the first stanza and the last line of the second stanza in order to stress the fact that these children are cut off from the rest of the world. They are living in a self-contained world. Apparently, this is why the poet exhorts people who matter to break down the barriers that separate these children from the rest of the world.
Some of the metaphors that the poet has used to describe the condition of the classroom, the condition of the children and their impoverished circumstances include rat's eyes, sour cream walls (which includes a pun on the word 'cream'), fog, green fields, and green leaves. The expression, 'star of words' is yet another example of the metaphor where 'words' are compared to 'stars', a world denied to the children, the world of literature, a world of free thought.When Stephen compares 'language' to  'the sun', he is using the sun as a metaphor for freedom. Light as opposed to fog and darkness. The children in the slum will never write history because the sun never shines on their world metaphorically. A hidden metaphor in the fourth stanza is nature, nature as a teacher.
One interestinging example of the synecdoche is found in the the words, 'Shakespeare's head'. The expression uses the part to describe the whole. Thus Shakespeare's head represents the whole of Shakespearian literature as being the prerogative of the wealthy rich who have the leisure to study classical literature.
Some interesting epithets include, 'civilized dome, lead sky,  and bottle bits,' which are transferred eptithets because these epithets are not employed in this manner in everyday usage. Other epithets include, 'cramped holes, (which is also a metaphor for the overcrowded lodgings or quarters they live in) slag heap, and  endless night.
The poet makes an extensive use of puns throughout the poem. There is a pun on the word, "cream" in the first line of the second stanza. In the ideal, literary sense, cream referes to the best of the best, the creme de la creme. In An Elemenntary School Classroom however, the word "cream" refers to dregs of the society, the unwanted, the "rootless weeds" of the world, the outcasts and the misfits of the society.
Resource Used:
The Textbook Flamingo-Textbook for class XII (Core Course)

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Poster Formats for grade Twelve

Poster Writing is part of the short composition section of the CBSE Grade twelve question paper and it forms part of a choice of notices, invitations, advertisements and circulars. Marks are awarded for creativity, sticking to the format, and following conventions. Posters are fun to make and they are scoring too!
There are two kinds of Posters that can come in the Board exam.

The Event Poster:
Event Posters include events like School Fetes, Book Fairs, Blood Donation Camps…etc
•It deals with events that are to take place. The event poster contains the following value points:
•Statement(also announcement)
•Special Feature
•Other Features
•Important Information
•Concluding slogan/statement
Name of Organizer

The Non-Event Poster:
Posters on Social Issue, Social evils, and Bad Habits (Child Marriage, Female Infanticide, Alcohol abuse, Deforestation…etc)
•This type of poster deals with important everyday social issues. This poster is made up of the following elements:
•List of reasons(to answer the question why?)
Name of the person or organizer who has issued the poster.
Some examples  of  Event Posters are given below:

Note: all posters have to be put inside a box like the one below:

One example of a non-event poster highlighting  drug abuse as a  social evil is given below:

Given below is a poster on smoking tobacco:

This is a poster that was designed by my students, Tarina, Keshav and Upasana on cleanliness.

Note: Posters are written inside a box!

Poster  on Afforestation

Plant more trees, save the Planet

Trees are our lifeline!

Plant more trees because:

1. They provide you with Oxygen     2. Trees prevent soil erosion

3. They provide us raw material     4. Trees provide us fruits and food

5. They give animals shelter   6. Trees provide shade to tired travelers 

A Green Planet is a Healthy Planet!

Grow more trees, ensure a healthy future.

Issued in the public by the Ministry of Environment

How Do You Write Effective Articles, Reports, Speeches and Debates

Students preparing for the class twelve board exams in English should know that good articles have a logical flow of ideas and arguments;  smooth transition of sentences and paragraphs, along with a unity of structure (a well-defined introduction, followed by the argument, and a sound conclusion). A good article has a ‘voice’, it is neatly written without too many grammar and spelling errors. A well-planned article will have fewer errors, and therefore fewer cancellations, and overwriting. It makes good sense to use a blank sheet for rough work to list value points to be used under each of the three paragraphs. Students should use sensible vocabulary without being too pompous, and stick to the word limits, exceeding the word limit by ten to twenty words should not result in a penalty.
Learning Tasks:

1. Determine whether the question in the paper will lead to a discursive article, an opinion based article, or descriptive article; it could also be a factual report, a speech or debate.
Some of the descriptive/discursive/factual articles that appear in the board exam could include topics like International terrorism, Bio-Terrorism, A.I.D.S., Pollution, Population crisis, Unemployment, Crime against Women, Literacy, Communalism …etc. 
The purely factual descriptions include reports, descriptions of concepts, The definition of a good leader, Genetic Research, Gene-Therapy, Renewable and Non-Renewable Energy Sources, E-Commerce, Immunization, Global Warming, A visit to an Old age home…etc. It would, however, be wrong to assume that articles might belong only to one category - thus a question dealing with the ‘Impact of Social Networking sites’ can be either discursive, descriptive, or even both while an article on Global Warming can be an opinion based article. Factual descriptions include reports, description of processes, ancient monuments, biographies and so on. If a student was asked to write an article on Refraction or Optical Illusion, then it would be more factual than opinion based - the same goes for an article on Photosynthesis, Mutation, and even a description of fuel cell technology.

2. Identify a suitable title for the article. It should be catchy, interesting and crisp!
A catchy title will draw the reader's attention. It goes without saying that the title is a window into the article itself, so be sure to make your title not just catchy, but also crisp!

3. Supply the name of the writer, the "By" line, in many cases, the name is in the question itself.
Attribution is an important element of article writing, so don't forget to write the by-line, otherwise, someone else might claim that he is the original writer of your article!
4. Start listing value points under the three headings for three paragraphs, the first being the Introduction,  while the second is the analysis, and the third is the conclusion.

Important Elements of the Article include:

  1. A Suitable Title 
  2. Name of the writer (By Line)
  3. The first paragraph of your article introduces the topic. It includes a brief description of the impact of the problem, a definition, (immediate impact on the society, the environment and flora and fauna). This paragraph sets the tone of the article, it can also include the thesis statement.
  4. The second paragraph will analyze the problem from a broader perspective. It deals with a greater emphasis on the following points (some of which were touched upon in the first paragraph): a) Impact on the environment, society, flora and fauna b) future implications. This paragraph brings out the conflict, the argument and could provide the antithesis to the first paragraph.Steps that were taken by the Government to solve the problem. Facts, data, and statistics are provided in this paragraph.
  5. The third paragraph deals with The writer's suggestions on how to solve the problem. conclusion about the whole issue, and the writer’s perceptions about the topic.All the loose ends, queries, and doubts are tied up in the concluding paragraph. This paragraph provides the synthesis of the first paragraph and the second paragraph.
Suggested value points for the topic: Communication in the I.T.Age:

The first Paragraph or the Introduction can be based on the following headings:
What is communication? It refers to the effective transmission of information
1. Means of communication in the past: horseback, smoke signals, semaphores, the electric telegraph, radio …etc.
2. Means of communication in the IT age: microwave, blue tooth, Classroom Wi-Fi, internet…etc.

The second Paragraph or the analysis, argument or justification could be based on the 
following headings:
Analysis of communication in I.T. age: The advantages
1. Communication has become fast - Vast quantities of information can be exchanged-Broadband,
    Wi-Fi Technology has boosted the  Speed of signals, microwave radio waves
2. Students are able to explore the whole world and do research
3.  It has classroom which is better connected to reality
4. Education without Boundaries
5. Transfer of Money
6. Browsing of books, study material,
7. Exchange of notes in medical research
8. Conferencing
9. Instant communication with pictures
10. Effective means of communication
11. The World as a global village
The Third and concluding paragraph could include the following points:
Benefit  of  Communication in the I.T. age
1.  brings the rural communities into the mainstream
2.  educate rural communities
3.  provide solutions
4. Meteorological forecast
5. Communication
6. Pricing of Farm Produce
7. Illiteracy
8. Global Classroom
9. Basic tailor-made solution to cultural problems
10. To provide rural students sufficient study material
11. Commerce-online transaction
12. Concluding statement:
I.T. has changed the entire society.We have come a long way from the time when we sent smoke signals. The Internet has transformed communication, it has become more effective and faster and more reliable.

Suggested Value points for an article on Global Terrorism could include the following value points:

The First Paragraph: The Introduction:
1. What is terrorism- the definition
2. Brief history
3.Few examples from recent times
The Second Paragraph: The Analysis
1. The impact of terrorism on human life
2. History of terrorism (I.R.A., P.L.O…etc.)
3. Present day examples (detailed-with specific instances)
4. Steps that were already taken by the Government to solve the problem.
The Third Paragraph, the conclusion could include the following value points:
Suggested Steps to solve the problem
1.Democratic methods
3.Educate the masses
5.Military option
6.Concluding Sentence or sentences which summarize the whole article briefly.

Important Note for Speech and Debates:

Students should note that the formats for Speechwriting, Debate writing and article writing are quite similar except for the following distinctions:

Speech Writing:

  • The opening sentence and the closing sentence are different from that of the article. In a speech, you would use a more conversational style or voice because you are addressing a visible audience. Ideally, you would start by greeting the audience and then introducing yourself and the topic. Look at the example as under: "Respected Principal, respected teachers, and my dear friends, a very good morning to all of you! Today, I, Keshav Kumar of class 12-A am going to deliver a speech for morning assembly on the topic, 'How much information should we share on social networking sites.' I hope I will be able to do justice to the topic."
  • The closing sentence of a speech would be: " I would like to thank all of you for listening to me so patiently, have a wonderful day!"
  • Students should note that in a speech, the student is at liberty in not taking a specific stance towards a particular topic. He or she might give equal importance to the positives and negatives.

Debate Writing:

  • The opening sentence of a debate is different from that of an article because like in the speech, the student is addressing a visible audience. Unlike the article, the voice would be more conversational and unlike the speech, where the voice is more conciliatory, the voice in the debate is more firm and aggressive. An example of how an opening sentence would look like in a debate is: "Respected Judges, respected teachers, and my fellow students, I am Keshav Kumar a  participant in this debate. The topic before me is, "We should allow students to bring their mobile phones to school" and I am going to speak for the motion. I am sure I will be able to convince my opponents and all of you that what I argue holds true for everyone."
  • A good debate like a good speech should have a closing sentence, and one of the most common closing sentences could be: " I would like to thank all of you for listening to me so patiently, and I am confident that I  have been able to convince you adequately, though there will be exceptions!Have a good  day!"
  • While the voice in the debate is the most aggressive voice of all, one has to ensure that etiquette is maintained and one's tone is not derisive or too sarcastic! One can use subtle sarcasm, tongue in cheek, or even irony without appearing to be insulting or cheeky!

The Inverted Pyramid Format- What do you put in each paragraph?

Note: A report might be written in three or more paragraphs. The number of paragraphs does not matter as long as there is a distinct Introduction, Main Body or Analysis and The Conclusion. 
Every Article, Debate, and Speech is built like a burger. The top Bun is the introduction, the stuffing is the Body and the bottommost bun is the conclusion.
The analogy of the fish can also be used to explain the flow ideas in Articles, Debates, Speeches and even Reports. The head of the fish is the Introduction, the fish gets a taste of its food The body of the fish can be compared to the middle of the write-up, the stomach which digests the food, it is the main body of the article which contains the analysis of the topic, while the tail of the fish is the conclusion this is where you tie up all your arguments, your loose threads or points.

Steps for building up an effective argument in a debate:

Note: The workshop model of writing can be of great help to students who want to improve their quality of writing. To understand the workshop model of writing better, students can refer to the 6+1 traits of writing. A good article should have the following elements:

  1. Voice: The personal tone, message of the writer, does he or she have a conversational tone?
  2. Idea: The main message, is the message clear? Is the writer clear about his ideas, and arguments?
  3. Presentation: The appearance of the writing, flow, handwriting, neatness...etc
  4. Conventions: The mechanical correctness (Grammatical structure, Syntax). Grammatical fluency cannot be ignored. Some students mix tenses.
  5. Organization: Internal Structure, flow, transitions, paragraphs (introduction, body, conclusion)
  6. Word Choice: Word usage, use of appropriate words which communicate the idea best. 
  7. Sentence Fluency: The rhythm and flow of language (Semantics)

You can also read the following articles as examples of frequently given questions in the paper:




Notice Writing for the CBSE Grade Twelve course

Where Are Notices Posted?
School Notice-Boards
Public Notice-Boards
Prominent Public Places.

The Formal Notice includes the following elements:
  1. Name of Organization (Note: The student doesn't need to write the name of the organisation or school when drafting a notice for a lost school bag in which case it will be an informal notice.)
  2. The Word NOTICE in block capitals
  3. Date (Adjacent to the announcement or below the announcement)
  4. Announcement
  5. Body including: 1.announcement of the event, time, venue 3.important
          information or instructions of the person to be contacted for further
     6. Signature, Name and Official Designation of the issuer of the Notice

Example 1

Example 2 On the Spot painting Competition


Example 3 (lost school bag)


Example 4 Zonal Basketball Match


(Example 5 Notice for an apartment society board)

Note: Notices are placed within a box.

A few questions for practice are given below:

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Classified and Display Advertisements for Grade Twelve

(How the Sharma family used Classified Advertisements to help them to settle in a new city )

We are going to see how both Classified and Business or Display Advertisements helped the Sharmas,  Shift to Delhi

The Sharmas had to relocate from a small town in Haryana to Delhi. They did not own a house in Delhi, and so had to rent one. Instead of hiring a broker, they decided to look at the classified columns of an English Daily and came across the following advertisement which contained the following value points:

TO LET: Type of accommodation and built up area/Location/ Features, furnished or not…etc./Expected rent/Contact address

The Advertisement looked like this:


One two bedroom flat, first floor, built up area 1800 sq.ft./ Rohini Sect.4 /semi-furnished, servant quarter+garage/Exp. Rent Rs.15000/- p.m./Interested tenants may contact: Shri B.K.Sharma, B-26, Kamla Nagar, Delhi 110007, Ph.No.234561/Brokers excuse.


The Sharmas were happy with the details so they went ahead, contacted the landlord and fixed the deal with him. Next, they decided to sell off their old vehicle so that they could buy a new more fuel-efficient car. They decided to draft an advertisement for selling their car and these are the value points they worked on: Vehicle For Sale: make+colour/model/condition/price and contact address. The final draft of the advertisement (which they placed in an English Daily) was as follows:

FOR SALE: One white Santro car/Model-2005/show-room condition,fully loaded,done only 35000kms./exp.price Rs.20,000/- Interested buyers may contact Mr Sharma, Rohini, Sector 04, New Delhi, Ph.No. 011-345897/Brokers Excuse.
The Sharmas, now living in Delhi wanted to buy a brand new washing machine. They pored over the display advertisements appearing in the English Dailies. They finally settled on the brand advertised as follows:  


Special Festive Offer on BMG Washing Machines:

 Rs.2000/- Off*

Fully Automatic
Front Loading  
5 kg Wash Capacity
800 Spin Speed(rpm)

Product Available at Nayar Electronics Kamla Nagar Delhi, Phone number 011-23569224
        *Conditions apply


Recapitulation: Through this presentation, we have learned how Mr and Mrs  Sharma came across an advertisement under the: ‘PROPERTY,’ category with the help of which they were able to get a flat to live in. Since they had an old vehicle, and it was a liability, they drafted an advertisement to sell their old car under the  ‘For Sale’ category. Mr Sharma was able to get a good job in Delhi after his wife looked into the Situation Vacant Column of an English daily and identified a post that was suitable for her husband. The Sharma's old washing machine had broken down, so they were able to select a model that was to their liking - they were able to decide about the washing machine after looking at a display/business advertisement.


The Lost and Found advertisements are usually for lost documents and pets

Lost one white and  brown English Bulldog responding to the name Bobby/ height at shoulders 20", brown collar, white spot over left eye/ lost on the 25th of July at TDL Park at 6:30 a.m./Finder is requested to return or give information about the same to Mr Bharat Singh, B-26, Sect. 17, Gurgaon, Ph.No. 1234567/Finder will be highly rewarded.
LOST AND FOUND: Lost one Indian Passport, navy blue colour, issued in the name of Arjun Kumar/bearing serial no. J-123456/lost on the 1st of August, 2015, at Hong Kong Bazar at about 6:00 p.m./Finder is requested to return the same (as urgently as possible as the passport holder has to fly to America) to Arjun Kumar, G-22, Sect.54, Gurgaon, will be highly rewarded.

Given below is one example of the display/business advertisement:

Note: The display advertisement is based on propaganda techniques.It is meant to be convincing and persuasive.

The Advertisements given below are classified advertisements, they can also be converted into Display or Business Advertisements with a few changes and graphics thrown in.
Available Tutor for Maths for eleventh and twelfth classes/Home tuitions for individual students also offered/ excellent board results/reasonable fees/Interested students may contact: Mr S.K. Ahuja, B-26, Kamla Nagar, Ph.No.011-23840224.
Apex Coaching Centre, Sect.14, Gurgaon offers to coach students in all subjects from grades eight to twelve/flexible timings/expert tutors/pleasing ambience/excellent track record/scholarship for merit holders/Interested candidates may contact: The Director, Apex Coaching Centre, Ph. No. 8929852389.

Wanted two salesgirls for garment store in Kamla Nagar/Min.Qual. 10+2/Preferably with one year experience in selling garments, pleasing personality/Remuneration: Rs.10,000/- p.m.+ perks + bonus/Interested candidates should contact with biodata and two references: The Proprietor, Goel Garments, Kolhapur Road, Kamla Nagar, Delhi, Ph.No.011-23840224

MBA from Harvard requires the post of Regional Manager in an MNC in Delhi-NCR/has two year's experience as Business Development Head in Google Inc. Singapore/Expected package, Rs.50.0/-Lacs annual + bonus+perks+paid holidays for spouse and self/Interested companies may contact, Mr Manoj Appleseed, 12/26, Rajouri Garden, New Delhi, Ph.No. 011-12679667

Wanted groom for Gaur Brahmin girl/Director in MNC in Gurgaon/Height 5'4, fair complexion, pleasing personality/Age-29, prefer groom in age group 30-35/Interested Grooms to send details to Hindustan Times  post Box No. 45, Kasturba Gandhi Marg, Delhi.

Suggested Value Points for Classified Advertisements


  1. Brand + Make + Colour
  2. Model or year of Manufacture
  3. Mileage/condition
  4. Expected Price
  5. Contact
  6. Brokers Excuse (optional)

  1. Type of  Property+built up area in square feet
  2. Location
  3. Facilities
  4. Price
  5. Contact
  6. Brokers Excuse (optional)

  1. Type of Accomodation+built up area in square feet
  2. Location
  3. Facilities
  4. Rent
  5. Contact
  6. Brokers Excuse (optional)

  1. Post + gender + No. of posts
  2. Min.Qual.
  3. Preference ( skills, experience, sp.ability)
  4. Salary/Remuneration + Perks + Bonus
  5. Contact with Biodata + time period

  1. Breed + gender + name
  2. Distinguishing features ( height at shoulders, spot on coat)
  3. Place where lost
  4. Date
  5. Time
  6. Contact
  7. Reward
LOST AND FOUND: (Document)

1.Type of document + serial number +  name
2.Identifying features


Suggested value points for Display or Business Advertisements

  1. Slogan
  2. Statement
  3. Reasons why your products or services are good (at least three reasons)
  4. Special offer inside a callout sign.
  5. Statement
  6. Slogan
  7. Name of Manufacturer and address
  8. Conditions apply
Note: The display advertisement should be creative. It is placed inside a box. It should be eye-catching.

Revision Exercise:

1. You are Mr Ankit Chabra, draft an advertisement for selling off your L.G. double-door, 380 liters frost-free refrigerator. Mention all the relevant details. You have to sell off the refrigerator as you are migrating to Canada. 
2. Mr Neelkanth Sharma, the Country head of Lexar, Computer peripherals has a requirement for the regional head office in Gurgaon. You would like to rent office space, preferably on an independent floor with a minimum area of 4500 square feet, with good power backup and parking.
3. Mrs Bela Ram has just lost her property papers for her flat in DLF Phase II in the Mini Secretariat, Gurgaon. Fill in the required information for the same, and the USP.
4. The Rising Star, Public School, Sector 14, Gurgaon requires a Maths Teacher to teach grade eleven and twelve students. Draft an advertisement for the Situation Vacant column of an English daily. Furnish all the relevant details. Draft the advertisement on behalf of the Manager.
5. You are running an ad agency in Gurgaon. Draft an advertisement for a renowned property developer for residential flats in the lap of nature. Mention important features for the same.
6. Draft an advertisement for a Hair Shampoo aimed at teenagers. Mention all the important details including a list of reasons why this shampoo should be used, special offers, and the name of the manufacturer. Don't forget to mention the USP.
7. Draft a display advertisement for a health drink supplement that can be added to milk. Mention its health benefits, special offers, and USP.

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