Wednesday, 31 December 2014

A New Year’s Song


As the year slips away, the crowd looks forward to the next 
A year t'was of lost opportunities, and  dates not granted,
A year of fog and mist gone by, the hope of better yet  to be.
But then it was also a year that gave so much, success, n gain!

And so they go for parties at the farm house, to drown their
Failures in clouds of smoke that reek of cannabis and hash,
But then why drown your slips in clouds of smoke if you would
Have a better year ahead, when the day dawns on a new year?

So does  the next day open on a field strewn with used condoms
And broken bottles of a drink did drive all those revellers to a high,
To tide them over the year that was. But then, none did deign to
   Think of a  year that gave them the wherewithal  to  tide over the next !

And so does the next year open on a day when none of the revellers
Do wake up fresh, to a dawn of fresh opportunities and task in hand,
Thus does the year gone by weep tears of rejection as the revellers who
Celebrated the year that was sleep off the hangover of the previous night!

Thus does the year that was slip away quietly, giving way to  a New Year
That supersedes it, a sad woman acknowledging the ascendance of one
Younger than her, with lovers that would dance the night so wild, till the
Drink  and girl that would humour them exhaust them by the night’s end!

All the while I, the silent spectator do watch the fickleness of those that
Dance the night away, little remembering the year that was, one that
Made them what they were, to tide them over the mistakes that they made,
As they drown the night in drink and  sex, forgetting the year that was!

And so, each year passes away at the end like a bride worn out and
Shabby for one that would be more beautiful by the year’s end, a sad
Story of a fickle minded one who would ride over the bride he’d taken
The previous year, all so infatuated with the one he’d find the next year!

Thus do we show our shallow natures to fall for one who would be
Lovelier than the one we knew, for we do love the one who wears the
Skimpy dress, one with figure so slim, that would seem better than the one
That grew fat oe’r the year, feeding on  false protests of love and care!

So we wish each other a Happy New Year as we tide over broken promises,
For a new love that is as artificial as the one  with discarded condoms
And smashed bottles that served a moment so short that it would shame
Lovers that would protest one night stands that would last centuries!

Thus as the music blasts the ear-drums, I wonder of the year that has
Just passed, was worthwhile passing off in a smoke of hash and cannabis,
And discarded condoms that would profess a love so frail, of empty promise, and
Love so dry, I’d rather stick to my love of the year that was and kiss her brow!

But then I am writing these words to impress upon you my friend that
Although the year has come to an end, please don’t forget it for the gifts
That it gave you, success in love and work it gave you, the year that was,
The year that passes you today, the lover that you ignored to death!

This is my last poem of the year 2014, hope you liked it!
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Monday, 29 December 2014

‘A Thing of Beauty’ , a Critical Analysis


The excerpt, A Thing of Beauty by John Keats, taken from a larger poem, 'Endymion: A Poetic Romance,' is written in the Romantic style of writing.  'A Thing of Beauty' romanticizes beauty as something that has the ability to transform life. Romanticising, is about investing objects with a larger than life attributes, it is about extolling the virtues of an object - it could be any object, the poet's beloved, nature, beauty (in the case of this extract) -  anything that has impacted the mind of the poet. Often, the poet might be compelled to write about an actual incident, like for example, in the poem, 'Daffodils', Wordsworth describes how one incident left a lasting impression on his mind. The sight of Daffodils dancing in the wind becomes a memory to fall back on when the poet, feels low at heart.

Some of the important aspects of the poem are listed below:
1.Genre/Style of Writing:
A Thing of Beauty belongs to the Romantic Genre. First published in 1818, the poem, A Thing of Beauty is written in rhyming couplets and the rhyme scheme employed is: aa,bb. The poet has used the  iambic pentameter in the poem.
2. Theme:
a) The central theme of the  poem is Beauty - Earthly beauty and Spiritual beauty. The poet  describes how beauty can be found everywhere. Wordsworth suggests that beauty has a therapeutic quality, the abilty to cure and heal troubled minds, and bodies.
b) The poet’s message is that Beauty has the ability to transform lives, it can dispel negativism,  and dark thoughts. Beauty can also remove the sting from grief, it can help one survive even when there is a ‘dearth of noble natures’ or when one is surrounded by hostile and malicious people. Beauty has a positive impact on one’s health, it can help steady the breathing, and can give one  a sound sleep. John Keats suggests that beauty can be found everywhere in life; as such he draws a list of beautiful things which include: the sun, the moon, trees, daffodils, musk rose blooms,  simple sheep and beauty can also be found in the stories of the bravery, courage and sacrifice shown by people who were not afraid to die for a greater cause. One warning however is that one should not get enthralled by earthly beauty lest one blinded to the Spiritual beauty behind it. Wordsworth expresses the idea of beauty being spiritual in nature and that the ultimate goal of appreciating beauty should be to appreciate God who created beautiful things for us. Keats suggests that beauty has a spiritual source when he implies that it flows from ‘An endless fountain’ in heaven,beauty thus, is a spiritual drink, an ‘immortal drink’ made especially for all mankind.
3. Important Figures of Speech and images metaphors
   a) Metaphors and Symbols: The poet has made liberal use of metaphors and symbols in the poem. The list of beautiful things themselves are metaphors and symbols for beauty. The fountain in heaven is a metaphor for the source of spiritual beauty. The ‘flowery band’ is a metaphor for earthly beauty which is entrapping, mesmerising, and infatuating, as in enslaving, thus one should beware of the ‘flowery band’ lest we should be trapped in it. The ‘grandeur of the dooms’ of the ‘mighty dead’ is a metaphor for bravery, sacrifice and selflessness, all stories true and made up, beautiful stories too!
   b)  Imagery: The poem contains a powerful image of earthly beauty in the lines, ‘are we wreathing A flowery band to bind us to the earth’. This is an image that creates a picture of the universal beauty, a band, however that traps us to the earth. The warning is implicit in the image itself, and the words, ‘flowery band’ contain a paradox, a conceit in so far that we don’t associate flowers with ‘band’ where the latter creates a sense of being bound, tied, or subject to restrictions. A Thing of Beauty is full of sensory images, and one can almost feel and smell them. these include, ‘shady boon’ which creates a sense of comfort and respite on a hot summer afternoon, and so does the description of the ‘clear rills’ that ‘a cooling covert make’. The description of the ‘sprinkling of fair musk rose blooms’ in the middle of a clearing in the forest provides a rich feast of colours for the eyes!
4. The Aesthetics of Beauty  Keats  describes beauty,  as something that ‘is a joy forever’ or that ‘Its loveliness increases, or even that, ‘it will never Pass into nothingness’ then what he is doing in effect is to tell the reader that he is talking about universal beauty that transcends time itself.He is expounding the Philosophy of Aesthetics in an attempt to describe what constitutes beauty itself.
5.  Making connections between lessons with the same themes  For students of grade twelve following the CBSE board, it would be a good idea for them to recall the poem, 'Daffodils' by Wordsworth which they would have read in grade eight. The poem, Daffodils carries the same theme as A Thing of Beauty. It is wonderful how a single instance of watching the Daffodils dancing in the breeze can have such a powerful impact on the poet, Wordsworth in that poem has a treasure trove to which he can fall back to when he is alone and  low at heart! Another lesson that talks about beauty although of a different kind is The Portrait of a Lady, a lesson in grade eleven in which Khushwant Singh attempts to bring out the inner beauty of his Grandmother who was beautiful in spite of the fact that her face was crisscrossed with wrinkles and she walked with a stoop, (but then that was written as a prose piece and not a poem). Common strand that links A Thing of Beauty, Daffodils, and the Prose piece, Portrait of a Lady is that they all talk about the transforming power of Beauty. Beauty is a magical drink that has the ability to transform lives, thoughts, and health!
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Sunday, 28 December 2014

A Visit to the Sadhu Sunder Singh Church-Sohna

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When members of the Pastorate Committee of the Epiphany Church, Gurgaon visited the Sadhu Sunder Singh Church, at Sohna, it was to partake of Holy Communion with the members of the congregation of the latter church. It was encouraging to see the progress made in the construction  of the building. After the service, including Holy Communion  conducted by Evangelist, Anand Beck, (who is also looking after the church) and Revd. Sunil Ghazan, there was a prize distribution ceremony and a culture programme put up by Sunday School Children. I have pasted a few photographs taken on the day of the visit, the 28th. of December, 2015.
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Friday, 26 December 2014

Dr. Dennis Littky was with us!

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When we were told that Dr. Dennis would be visiting us in the month of December, it was a moment that we all looked forward to. While his talk at the India Habitat Centre was for parents and various other Educationists, his visit to the Heritage School on the the 23rd of December, the last day of his stay in India was reserved for the teachers of the three branches of the Heritage schools in Delhi and Gurgaon. A workshop for teachers was organised in the M.P. Hall of the school in Gurgaon from twelve in the afternoon till four in the afternoon. I was able to walk in at about 3:30 p.m. and was able to learn a little about the concept of Big Pictures in Education.

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An introduction on his website - http://www.bigpicture.org/dennis/ reads,  ‘Dennis Littky is the co-founder and co-director of Big Picture Learning and the Met Center in Providence. He is nationally known for his extensive work in secondary education in urban, suburban, and rural settings, spanning over 40 years. As an educator, Dennis has a reputation for working up against the edge of convention and out of the box, turning tradition on its head and delivering concrete results. Presently, Dennis’s focus is to expand the Big Picture Learning design to include college-level accreditation through College Unbound, where students will have the opportunity to earn a B.A. and advanced certifications through a critically challenging, real-world based, and entrepreneurial course of study.’ 
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The very idea of chunking and I guess, chucking out the irrelevant and uninteresting topics in a syllabus for every subject did seem to me to be rather outrageous and highly preposterous , but then the half hour that I spent with the group was enough to make me realise that in any case, the student who is not interested in a particular topic will not in any case be doing himself or the teacher any good just trying to get to terms with it. Dr. Dennis’ ideas on pedagogy definitely seemed to be extremely out of the box, and rather unconventional, going rather against tradition in the true sense. I guess it is high educators around the world realised that Pedagogy cannot be based on fixed patterns and norms, and that  the Education in the twenty-first century will continue to be as dynamic as ever, ever evolving, adapting and never conforming!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The Tiger King and The Enemy, a quick run through important themes, topics, and genres from the Vistas textbook for grade twelve


The Tiger King
   1) Genre of writing : Satire, Comedy
 
       a)  Style of writing tongue in cheek, sarcasm, makes use of literal irony and dramatic
             irony.
       b)  Subject of Satirical attack: The Tiger King is the subject of this satirical attack.
            The writer attacks bureaucratic system through the Tiger King, he makes fun
             of the hierarchical system people in high  positions  follow. Kalki makes fun of
             the vanity, and obsession of powerful people with all things foreign. The writer
             makes it a point to describe how the relationship that exists between the Boss
             and his minions is based not on mutual trust, but fear, fear of being transferred
             or losing one’s job. Suffice it to say that The Tiger King is a satirical comment on
             the existing Bureaucratic society of the country.
    2) Theme: Crime and punishment / Divine Retribution/Harming Nature will lead
         to serious consequences.
             Message: You can not harm nature and then expect to go scot free, even if you
             are a Maharaja. The Tiger King was aware of the fact that even he did not have
             the right of killing tigers, so he made use of the excuse of ‘Self Defense’ to kill a
             hundred tigers.
     3) Important Characters:
           a) The Tiger King- a prodigy who speaks age of ten days. A gentleman of the
                highest order who is obsessed with a long title like His Highness Jamedar-Gen-
                eral, Khiledar-Major, Sata Vyaghra Samhari, Maharajadhiraja Visva Bhuvana
                Samrat, Sir Jilani Jung Jung Bahadur, M.A.D., A.C.T.C., or C.R.C.K.! He is vain,
                self obsessed, obsessed about killing a hundred tigers even if it means
                abdicating his responsibility towards the state, and in many ways, The Tiger
                is a stereotype an equivalent for the  rather proud but vain Bureaucrat!
                The Tiger King is  obsessed with defeating fate for the express reason
                that he is afraid that what the astrologers might after all come true.

            b) Dewan Saheb-A rather confused and nervous Chief Minister who is often
                 terrified of his Master, the Tiger King. Their are two dialogues that figure
                 in the story. The first is when the Tiger King tells the Dewan that he wants
                 to get married and the Dewan  shudders at the sight of the gun in the
                 Maharaja’s hand and he is so nervous and intimidated by the Maharaj that
                 he is depicted as a typical laughing stock, a babbling and blathering idiot.
                 It takes, however the threat of sacking the Dewan that makes the Dewan
                 regain his senses and this is when we see him as not so foolish! He had
                 arranged for an old tiger to be brought from the People’s Park in Madras
                 to be delivered to him so that he could present it to the Maharaja to be shot.

             c) The Hunters- these are down to earth people who fear the Maharaja so much
                 they dare not inform him that he had missed hitting the tiger lest they should
                 lose their jobs. One of them takes aim at the tiger and shoots him and
                 thereafter they become ready participants in the procession carrying the
                 dead body of the tiger into town. Their relationship with the Maharaja is not
                 based on trust.

             d) The shopkeeper-He too like the Dewan and the Hunters is a minion who
                  lives in fear of his Master, the Maharaja. He inflates the cost of the wooden
                  tiger because he ‘knew that if he quoted such a low price to the Maharaja
                 he would be punished under the rules of the Emergency’ and so he quotes
                 the price of the tiger as ‘three hundred rupees’!

The Enemy

       1.Genre: War fiction/philosophy/long reading text-Novel
             a) Style of writing: prosaic, part of a novel. Pearl S.Buck has adopted a prosaic
                 style of writing suitable for writing long texts like novels and novellas. Her
                 writing is marked by regular paragraphs and dialogues interspersed in
                 between. Pearl S.Buck has used a straightforward style of writing.

        2. Theme of the Lesson: The higher laws of humanity are greater than the
            divisive Laws of patriotism. The lesson deals with the themes of pacifism,     
            universal brotherhood, and humanity ideals that go beyond the narrow laws of
            patriotism, and loyalty to the nation.

                   Message: There are moments in life when we have to make difficult choices in
                   life. In such instances it is better to be guided by the higher laws of humanity.      
                  The lesson showcases the ability of human beings to rise above narrow barriers
                   that divide people and nations on the basis of nationality, language and
                   geography. This is what marks some human beings  as being different. Sadao and
                  Hana chose to save the white sailor knowing well that they stood the risk of being       
                  labelled traitors and that if Sadao was caught, then he would surely be thrown into
                  prison, and both husband and wife chose to safe Tom’s life. They chose humanity
                  over the narrow laws of patriotism. This is what made them different from the
                  other Japanese.

        3. Characters in the lesson:

                 a) Dr. Sadao a skilful surgeon who is discovering ways to render wounds
                     completely clean. He was also treating the Japanese General and so was
                     indispensible to the latter. Being educated in America he has a broader      
                     perspective about life  he is therefore different from the other Japanese    
                     excluding his wife, Hana. He is  dedicated to his profession and thus for him the
                     priority is to save lives. Dr. Sadao  gives due importance to the higher laws of
                     humanity. He is however, guilty of being a traitor towards his country because
                     of sheltering ‘The Enemy’. Dr. Sadao’s guilt however is less than that of
                    General Takima. If Dr.Sadao betrayed the country, it was for no selfish reason, it
                    was just to save a life.

                  b) Hana, Dr. Sadao’s wife stands firmly beside him. She supports him in every
                      way possible even if it means taking up all the household chores after
                      the servants have left. She, along with her husband is most affected by
                      the presence of Tom. The stress seems to eat into her emotionally. Hana
                      like her husband has studied in America and so she has a different outlook
                      than the servants. Hana is a symbol for loyalty, faith, and sincere love
                      for her husband. If it wasn’t for her, then Sadao wouldn’t probably have
                      given shelter to Tom. She is steadfast patient and dignified in all circumstances.

                  c) The servants: They represent the common people who lived in Japan in
                      those times, humble, modest, ordinary, simple and thus superstitious. They
                      seem to have all the answers to the difficult questions that play around in
                      Dr. Sadao and Hana’s minds – just let the white sailor die! The servants are
                      by the Gardener who has served the household the longest. He believes
                      Sadao should not have saved Tom’s life since it would bring them great
                      misfortune. According to him, ‘If the master heals what the gun did and what
                      the sea did they will take revenge on us.’ He also believes that ‘That young
                      master is so proud of his skill to save life that he saves any life’ but then that
                      is exactly what a Doctor is expected to do!

                 d) Tom is the white sailor who has been washed ashore in a bad state. Badly
                      bruised and battered by the rocks he also suffers from a gunshot wound.
                      A victim of brutality and torture at the hands of his captors (The
                      gunshot wound and the rope burn marks around his neck are proof enough
                      that he has been a victim of cruelty and torture), it is a miracle how he has
                      survived so much punishment. He is perhaps the reason why the whole
                      story takes place. A young boy of about sixteen, he encapsulates within him
                      the desire to live against all odds, the ‘miracle boy’ who survived all odds.

                   e)General Takima is in many ways a foil to Dr. Sadao. While both of them
                      have studied in America, his education abroad has however not made
                      General Takima sensitive towards life. Hana ‘remembered’ such men as him
                      ‘who at home beat his wife cruelly’ and she wonders if he would not be cruel
                      to a prisoner like Tom. General Takima is like Dr. Sadao, equally guilty of 
                      treason, breaking the laws of the land and not reporting the presence
                      Tom in Dr. Sadao’s house. However what makes General Takima’s guilt
                      greater than that of Dr. Sadao for the very fact that the reason for not
                      reporting the presence of Tom to the authorities was that if he did so, then
                      Dr. Sadao would be arrested and then there would be no one to treat him.
                      General Takima is guilty of the crime of treason as well as the crime of being
                      selfish and putting himself before the state. There is another motive behind
                      his not informing the authorities, and that is that as long as Tom remains
                      in Dr. Sadao’s house, he will have leverage over Dr. Sadao and will be able
                      to manipulate him easily, that is another reason why the assassins don’t
                      turn up finally. The General might be accused of not only lack of patriotism
                      but also dereliction of duty. He is a coward who beats his wife at home, and
                      tortures prisoners on the battlefield but is himself frightened of pain and
                      suffering caused by his ailment!

                 f)  Dr. Sadao’s father, although we don’t get to see him as a living figure is
                     an important character who makes his presence felt as an ultra-nationalist,
                     conservative and orthodox person who believes in Japanese hegemony;
                     the right of one country to rule over the whole world. He represents the 
                     a belief in racial superiority and the concept of the super race that was the
                     driving force behind the second world war. It is ironical that Dr.Sadao and
                  Hana put Tom in Dr. Sadao’s room.


Saturday, 20 December 2014

Glimpses from Yujan-2014


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Believing that pictures speak louder than words, I have pasted on this page a few pictures that speak loudly about the success of the winter carnival that took place in our school today.
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This girl sang so well that the audience asked for an encore!
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The message was clear, keep calm and visit my stall!
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Who could miss that pretty smile behind the flowers?
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All smiles, student and teachers preparing their stalls for the fete.
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Help desk number one – preparing for the day
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Yes there were two of me at YUJAN! Saanchi somehow switched to panorama and then took a snap with this intriguing effect!
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At the click stall, cameras galore, preparing for the day ahead, photographing people with props and hats and shades!
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And sure, the kids enjoyed sliding down the chutes!
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The School Pop Band sang and played to a packed audience!
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From behind the stage, how the grounds looked!

Friday, 19 December 2014

Art Fest - 2014

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The main focus for this year’s Art Fest was the Renaissance period and in keeping with the main features of this period, there were reproductions of paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and reproductions of paintings in the Sistine Chapel. The school of thought and stylistic variations of the Renaissance period were brought out very nicely in  the paintings, sculptures and art work prepared by the students. Some of the exhibits were simply wonderful, the 3-D effect, the sense of depth, symmetry, and the illusion of bending lines made the viewer think there was a bend in the wall although there was none! Also, there were some amazing reproductions of highly methodical and scientific sketches by Galileo of flying machines. The obsession with angles, geometrical patterns, and accurate reproductions of symmetry in nature were all evident in the exhibits.
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An amazing rendition of the spirit of Renaissance by Anahita, a student of mine, who has depicted the idea of breaking free from constricted norms, exploring new ideas, new thought, the spirit of freedom, the freedom to sail on the wings of discovery. This painting is all about breaking free from the constricting norms of traditionalism.
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An accurate rendition of a scene from The Meditation Centre, notice the accuracy of the lines that create a sense of perspective, and depth. An amazing picture that is representative of the spirit of the Renaissance age!
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An amazing rendition of lines that created the illusion of a bend in the wall where there was none!

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The sense of depth, unfortunately not very visible in this photograph created a feeling of being in a three dimensional zone.
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Galileo’s sketches are reproduced here. The obsession with detail and scientific accuracy are evident in this collection of sketches. Galileo was ahead of his time and his sketches were a foreshadowing of the things that would be, today a large number of Galileo’s sketches depict the technological advancements of the twentieth century!
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The Renaissance age paid great importance to geometrical pattern. This exhibit brought forward the need for mathematical accuracy in arts. If art is seen as a precursor of scientific progress, then the Renaissance age was certainly about combining art with scientific exactitude.
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The two guides allotted to me did a good job of describing the features and qualities, and provenance of the exhibits. On the left you have Carishma and on the right you have Ridoo.
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These clay figurines represented the importance of perspective. Lined on a table top these clay figurines seemed to be sending out a strong message about aesthetics, creativity and art.

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Quelling is a distinct art form that involves the placing of coiled strips of paper strategically so as to create a very vivid and eye-catching piece. I like the ant figures at the bottom, it seems as if they are talking to each other!
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This art piece depicts a Athenian school. Seen in the picture are important Greek Philosophers, and great thinkers like Aristotle, Archimedes, and Plato. A sense of depth has been created in this art piece with the two figures in the background being made out of cut outs that have been placed a few feet away from the painted scene. The figure reclining on the steps is a cut out.
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Wednesday, 17 December 2014

H.P. Lovecraft’s style of writing in Shadows over Innsmouth- A Review

When I somehow decided to pick up the book titled Shadows Over Innsmouth an Anthology of seventeen horror stories following the Lovecraftian genre, and edited by Stephen Jones, little did I realise that I would be impressed by the rather typical and unique kind of 'Horror' that would be thrown up by the first story in the anthology - an original novella by H.P. Lovecraft written in 1931, in its unedited version  (so much so that the inverted commas  remain in their incomplete form  and the errors of editing are preserved in situ). I respect, Stephen Jones, decision in keeping the draft for the novella  intact and in its original form.
While the first story in the anthology was a Lovecraftian original novella, the other sixteen were short stories written by sixteen other writers including: Beyond the Reef by Basil Copper,Big Fish by Jack Yeovil, Return to Innsmouth by Guy N. Smith, The Crossing by Adrian Cole, Down to the Boots by D.F. Lewis, The Church in High Street by Ramsey Campbell, Innsmouth Gold by David Sutton,…and so on.
Shadows over Innsmouth has a distinct saltiness about it, and the reader can feel, if not sense the distinct dampness of the whole plot, that suggests thoughts that border one’s consciousness. Unlike most of the other horror tales that have a coppery taste of blood, as in the case of most of them, Lovecraft has managed to create a rather distinct aftertaste of fishiness as a distinct indication of things not so normal. The suggestion of an important member of the Innsmouth society marrying a woman from his  marine adventures  and travels to far away lands and his progeny developing distinctly fishy characteristics after a certain number of years suggests that something is wrong in Innsmouth. The word, ‘fishy’ is very strongly brought out by H.P. Lovecraft in his novella, Shadows over Innsmouth! The residents of Innsmouth who have been affected by the disease brought in by one of the important members of the Innsmouth society makes itself felt when once a year people who have reached a certain age swim towards a particular island, a point offshore to unite with creatures that unique marine life characteristics.
Obed Marsh,  the patriarch of the Innsmouth society is the man who first summoned the deep ones. Baranabas Marsh, the grandson of Obed Marsh, and the owner of Marsh refinery is one of the deep ones. He is probably the result of the union between Obed Marsh and a creature of the depths of the Oceans. He is a hybrid who will soon take to the waters once the transformation is almost complete. The Cthulhu Mythos brings out the myth of the union between human beings and the creatures of the depths of the oceans.  The esoteric order of Dagon is all about a new religious order that promotes the interaction between human beings and the creatures that inhabit the depths of the oceans.
Ultimately, H.P. Lovecraft was critical about his own writing not perhaps realising the potential of his writing. The story of the publication of the Novella, ‘Shadows over Innsmouth’ is one that is replete with instances of rejections by publishers. Is this thus an example of how the cornerstone that was rejected by the builders became the cornerstone of a genre of writing that has became the forte of writers who have adopted a particular genre of writing today?
I very strongly believe that the suggestions presented by H.P.Lovecraft so many years ago needs to be explored by writers today. What makes Lovecraft’s writing distinct from the writing of today’s writers of horror lies in the suggestions that the novella Shadows over Innsmouth provides to the writer. The ability to suggest inferences rather than actual facts, the hints in themselves leave things open to suggestion! It wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that Lovecraft was way ahead of his times in terms of his writings. What matters in Lovercraft’s writings is the suggestions, the hints, and the implied suggestions of the results of hybridisation and genetics of interbreeding of species.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Technology and Education - Is Technology a Panacea for Education

Somehow all educationists who wish to be labeled as progressive have begun bandying words such as, Twenty-first Century Skills, Competency Based Education, Blended Learning, Internet-based Research Skills, and so on. Some of these so-called progressive Educationists will swear that Technology is the ultimate solution for all the problems in Education! Unfortunately in our mad rush to adopt Technology in Education we have forgotten the fact that Technology is meant to aid creativity and problem solving in students and not turn students into mere rote memorizers!  Take for example the instance where Power Point Presentations are simply another excuse for making the students take notes. How much better is the Presentation than the lecture method if it is only used to make students take down notes in their notebooks? A PowerPoint Presentation can never be used as a stand-alone tool for contributing towards the learning of a particular topic, in fact, it needs to be accompanied by a spoken presentation and explanation by the person who has prepared the presentation.
Has Technology made us Lazy? Enter the Copy Paste Culture
Many a time I have been interrupted by some of my students while moderating an important discussion who didn’t want to take down written notes of important observations thrown up during the discussion. They wanted me to simply e-mail the observations to them. They just didn’t want to put in the effort of penning down important observations in their notebooks! Technology, if not used properly does make learners so lazy that they don’t want to use their brains for homework so what they do is to login to one of the websites that provide the readers with ready made notes. What happens next is that the copy-paste culture takes over the slog and plod culture of yesteryears! Excessive use of Technology has made our young learners at the school level to ascribe to the Instant Coffee attitude rather than the Bread Making attitude, because of which they display impatience, have poor concentration levels, and look for instant gratification! A delay in providing instant reinforcement and rewards often leads to students losing interest in the lesson.
When the use of Technology overwhelms and distracts the learner from the lesson
The ‘wow factor’ of technology is, unfortunately, one of the greatest reasons why educationists want to use them. When the teacher switched on his laptop and then linked his blue-tooth enabled stand alone speaker and then played a recording of a popular poem, the students kept looking at the blue tooth device marveling at the amount of sound that was pouring out from this rather diminutive device. Often, when an educationist unveils a new technologically advanced gadget as a tool for learning, it is as if he is a magician who is going to show the students a trick or two! In another case, after the students had read a rather difficult short story based on the persistence of slavery in the southern states of America, (which they found difficult to understand because of cultural disconnect) they were consequently shown a film based on African American Culture after emancipation. The film, a powerful metaphor in itself drew the students away from the theme and message of the short story that had preceded its screening. In this case, it would have been better not to have shown the film, but then the availability of technology, the overhead projector, the Wi-Fi  connection, the speakers linked to the projector and the teacher having a laptop with the film on-board which he had downloaded from the from the website since the film was in the public domain meant that the temptation of showing the film had been too great to overcome! The saving grace, however, is that continuous use of the same technology is that students soon become used to its ‘wow factor’ and then things return to normal! Proper use of technology will lead to what is called as ‘Blended Learning’ and will enhance the learning process. In unskilled hands, the very use of technology might lead to more confusion and distraction than understanding. As a distraction, however, the improper use of Technology might kill Critical thinking and Problem-solving abilities in students.
When Technology undermines socially accepted basic skills
When the student starts using a phone to record important interviews rather than write an important thing on a notepad, he might unsettle the speaker! The same can be said when the same student uses his laptop or calculator to do minor calculations, it can invite frowns and criticism about his inability to do even the most basic of calculations! When a teacher was using a calculator to total the marks in the caging sheet of his students’ answer sheets, he was checked by another teacher who expressed surprise that he should use a calculator to do this, rather than total the figures in his mind!
The use of Technology might, in fact undermine the quality of Social Interaction!
It is said that the advent of the Internet has reduced distances and made the whole world a Global Village. E-Commerce has blurred boundaries and erased distances, which means that you can order a book from a far away country with the click of a button. For that effect, you can also buy stock shares in a distant country while sitting in the comfort of your living room while sipping on your wine. The use of Skype has meant that students can participate in exchange programs with their counterparts in far away countries without even having to leave their classrooms, forget about the expense of buying a ticket and running for a visa. The fact of the matter, however, is that the quality of social interaction has deteriorated tremendously. In times when one had penfriends, one took pains in writing letters, and yes one put a lot of thought while looking for correct words. Each letter thus written was a masterpiece of expression and a repository of genuine feelings. Today, as we are steadily drawn into a virtual world, which is without any depth of feelings and rather unemotional and mechanical. Today, when the teacher decides to switch to the discussion mode, it can be observed that students find it difficult to connect to each other, and they often display a shallow comprehension of what has been said by their classmates. Why also would a student bother to listen to his teacher explain a point when he or she can access the same on Google Search? Students have been known to show a total lack of interest in listening to an answer that might be wrong since they are smart enough having done research on the internet and crammed the notes and observations on a particular topic or poem. What these students are not ready to know is that they can learn from the mistakes others make. Students need to know that there is much to learn from each other and this includes listening to another’s point of view wrong though it may be! Technology might thus curb divergent thought and ideas that go against accepted notes on a website. In such cases, the learner might place more value to what is provided on the internet, rather than appreciate the point of view beliefs and feelings of a fellow learner. In such cases, I have personally observed how students are ready to snap or mock at a student who voices a different point of view. I need to keep reminding them to let the student complete his or her observation. An important aspect of learning lies in appreciating another person’s point of view, learning to be patient in listening to another person till the end. Patience, in such cases, is a virtue which has to be learned if one wants to learn to be a better human being. Education is also about learning important social skills, learning to interact with each other, learning to be polite and learning to open one’s mind to other possible alternatives to a problem.
‘When success is counted sweetest by those who have never succeeded!’
It goes without saying that we all learn from our failures. The Information Technology age and its associated technologies have taught us to be mechanically accurate to the point of thinking like machines. In such cases, errors are frowned upon, we have begun to train ourselves to think like machines. The inherent difference between the way that machines work and the way human beings think is leading to degraded creativity or divergent thinking. In an age which distances itself from the possibility of failure the fear itself of failure, means that we are directly or indirectly encouraging our learners to rote memorize accepted answers and beliefs. It is not good to fail, therefore, find ways to beat failure, even if it means memorizing stuff. Are we thus killing creativity in our learners by encouraging them to stick to accepted interpretations and popular beliefs? This, unfortunately, is the painful reality. How can learning take place unless it is coupled with the pain of failure? What about learning through experience – the experience of failure? Failure in itself contributes to a learning in itself through the mathematical process of elimination!
When the aesthetics of Technology  promises a well-designed presentation
Students often come to me with queries regarding the kind of presentation that they should submit. They know very well that a presentation that is word processed and printed will look more presentable and appealing than  one that has been written by hand! When an essay or an article or a thesis paper is word processed and printed, it brings with it immense possibilities. The placing of illustrations, the formatting of the page, the huge resources of illustrations, the uniformity of the font, all mean that the person who submits a printed project will by default submit a projects which will earn him more marks than the one who has laboured submitting a hand written project which he or she might have drafted a number of times to eliminate errors, which in the word processed form might have made use of the spell checker, and the facility of making corrections on the computer before the final submission! Whom would the teacfavorvour? The handwritten presentation, or the one that has been handwritten, the one over which the student must have literally sweated over?
Where information surfeit overwhelms us!
The immense resources available to us thanks to the Information Technology Age has left us more confused than ever! How much information will you incorporate into your project? How do you process all that information to draft an essay that has just the required number of value points? In most cases, the student will have spent more time in processing the huge amount of information than in thinking about the logical progression of ideas in his essay.
Where the accuracy of Information, facts and figures is more important than the learning of  ideas.
Have we come a great way from the time when Albert Einstein had an argument with his History teacher about learning historical facts and figures? I guess we are still there. For Einstein, learning of ideas was more important than memorising facts and figures which were in any case available in text books. For Einstein it was more important to know why so many people died on the battle field rather the number of casualties. The history teacher laughed at him! Today, the history textbooks have been replaced by the websites that provide accurate facts and figures. Where then does the amount of information available on the net leave our learners? Is the getting of marks in exams dependent on the accuracy of the content, or is it dependent on the logical reasoning of the student and his or her  ideas? Are we in fact marking our students for their memorisation of facts and figures available on the internet? Unfortunately, technology has rewarded those who can memorise facts rather than those who display an understanding of ideas! We are no better today than the History teacher who reprimanded Einstein for not having learned how many men were killed in the battle of Waterloo! 
Technology is a useful tool and it should be used to empower learning, provide for understanding, promote problem solving and out of the box thinking!
This doesn’t mean that we don’t use technology in our pedagogy today. The purpose of this article is not to ignore the contribution of Technology to everyday pedagogy. Rather, the writer’s rationale is that Technology should be the means to an end and not an end in itself. In our journey of progress, we have unfortunately forgotten that we are human beings and think and behave differently from machines. What marks us as different from machines is that we have the ability to thing differently and creatively. In our effort to provide the best in education, we should not ignore the fact that we are human beings, and we need to make our learners versatile, resourceful and creative. Our obsession with technology and machines has resulted in our creating a generation of nerds. What we need to do is to explore ways to use technology in such a way that it creates human beings who have a better understanding of the world they live in. The emotive aspect of learning, empathy for others, and producing learners who have compassion for others is more important than the creation of a generation of learners who are control freaks, nerds, and conformists.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Do traditional courses offered by colleges in India equip students for life?

In times when the gap between skill sets provided by traditional courses to students and the skill sets actually required by employers keeps growing, it has become pertinent to question the validity and appropriateness of such courses. Take for example the traditional B.A. Pass or the B.Sc. General courses offered by colleges, these courses which are traditional in nature would perhaps never equip the graduate for a job in sales or even public relations. Take another example, does a B.A. (Hons.) degree in English equip a graduate to work in a call-centre? I guess, a student of high school, who is fluent in spoken English might not even require a degree in English to be skilled enough to take up a job in a call center! A school education that provides for ample opportunities of spoken skills in the form of debates, speeches, elocution, and JAM sessions might be all that is required for a job in a call-centre! So then is the expense for a college degree course in English and the time spent to acquire the degree worth, especially for a person who is interested in joining a call-centre? The answer, unfortunately, is a harsh, No! So then, why did the student who wanted to join a call-centre waste three years in order to acquire a degree in English from a college? The answer is probably that he wanted a paper degree, a validation that is required by the society. In many cases, it is the industry's requirement that the incumbent job-seeker should a graduate! The fact is that while a traditional degree puts the stamp of being a ‘Graduate’, on the person, it doesn’t necessarily equip him for a job that requires job-specific skills. So then what does someone who has scored very high marks in his Graduation in English, but has poor conversational skills do if he wants to join a call-centre? Some of my students who achieved very good marks in their B.A. Pass course or B.A. (Hons.) course in English did call me asking for help in enhancing their spoken skills. Having joined a school in Gurgaon and being at a distance from them who were in Delhi, I could only suggest that they speak to themselves in front of a mirror, and when they were done, I suggested that they join the British School of Languages. As a teacher at the Senior Secondary School level of English, I felt at a loss because the syllabus at the school level is focussed more on the theoretical component and thus, it promotes rote memorization. Rote memorization enables students to get the required marks to join a traditional degree course but does not, in any case, equip them for a job in a call centre. One of my suggestions to such students to join an English language certificate course at the British Council in Delhi!
An interesting case in my case was that after I had acquired my Masters in English, I went on to do a one year post graduate Diploma Course in Journalism,  from the YMCA Centre For Mass  Media, Delhi, which I felt would would equip me for a job as a Journalist. What happened next was that I appeared for the entrance test for the B.Ed. course offered by The Delhi University. I got selected and then went on to do my B.Ed., followed by my M.Ed. from the same institute, known famously as The Central Institute of Education. What marked my education at C.I E. was the research skills that were developed in me. It was while I was doing my Masters in Education that I was offered the post of a Post Graduate teacher in a Government School in Delhi. I went on to serve the school for seventeen years, but then decided that I had enough of a job that didn’t offer much in the form of professional development. Today, I am grateful for the skill sets that my education in the Centre For Mass Media had offered, and the research skills that I had developed as a student of the Masters’ level (My thesis paper at the Master’s Level was titled, ‘Task Analysis Techniques in the Development of Instructional units for Grade Nine, and excerpt of which exists to this day on Google!). Today however, the exponential growth of the number of institutions offering the B.Ed. degree, a necessity for a job in a school as a teacher has resulted in a lowering of the quality of skill sets imparted to future teachers. A large number of the graduates produced by these institutions however find it difficult to cope with actual day requirements of the job in schools. A large number of these graduates continue to struggle as teachers, and many find it difficult to cope with the demanding environment of some of the progressive schools. The fact of the matter is that a large number of the institutions that provide professional degrees like those required to teach in a school do not equip their graduates for jobs in schools!
This brings me to the question of whether the traditional degree courses followed by many of my students really equipped my students for a professional life? The answer is a straightforward, No! These students had to do a Diploma or Certificate course aligned to their professional aspirations in order to equip them for the job that they had aimed for. Another question that crops up in my mind is whether it was worth the time an money joining a graduate course at the graduate level! The answer, again is an emphatic, No! The three years that the students had been a waste of three whole years. They could have started in their jobs earlier, and they could have built up a portfolio of experience which was worth more than the  money and time they had spent in acquiring a college degree. A strong proof of the uselessness of doing a traditional full time graduation course is that some of the most successful professionals that I know didn’t even do a full time degree course in college. At the most, they did a correspondence course to get a paper degree stamp of being a graduate, and all the while they did a Diploma or a Certificate course, in a year or so, and went on to enter a profession well before the mandatory three years were over. A sad fact is that a large number of my students joined a B.Sc. Degree course in one of the Science streams and then they went on to join jobs that didn’t require an understanding of salt analysis or even Newton’s third law of motions. What a waste of time I’d tell them to spend all those hours in the laboratory, only to become sales executives!
Was it therefore, worth the expense and the time doing a traditional graduate course at the college level? No, it wasn’t! Did college education equip the incumbents with twenty-first century skills? The answer again, unfortunately is an emphatic, No! Isn’t it therefore time that universities and colleges aligned their courses to suit the needs of the time? The answer to this question is an emphatic yes. There is a strong need to re-align the courses to the need to equip the students for a professional life. In times when the economic implications of spending a lot of money and time in acquiring a degree at the graduate level is concerned, it is simple not worth all the trouble in going for a college degree, prestige apart! So then what should colleges and universities do to make their graduate programs successful? Well I personally feel that they need to cater to the times – develop competency  based skills in their learners, develop research skills, the ability to solve problems, and most important of all equip learners for real life situations, to justify the expense and time spent on the courses, and to make their learners successful professionals.Colleges and Universities need to make their courses economically viable in times when the efficacy of the course is measured in terms of the income that the learner would earn after having graduated. What matters today is that these colleges cater to learning outcomes that are tailored to support, and provide skill sets that are meaningful to employers! The fact of the matter is that college education does not today cater to the requirements of competency based education or CBE! In contrast to the traditional courses offered by colleges in India are the slew of MOOCs or Massive Online Courses being offered today. The popularity of MOOCs lies in the fact that these online courses seek to address the gaps that exist in education at the higher level! The potential of MOOCs lies in their ability to bridge the widening gap between traditional education after school and the demands of the workforce at the industry level!