Thursday, 31 March 2016

To Change A Mind Overnight



Just recently, I was pleasantly surprised to come across an article  titled, How To Change Someone’s Mind According To Science on www.scoop.it which I decided to Curate! To say that the article hit a chord with me would be an understatement as I am sure you will agree with after reading through my take on the topic.
It happened about three years and eight months back when I happened to join this school, that according to some of my acquaintances, ‘did things differently’ and were ‘ten years ahead in terms of educational pedagogy!’ Well, I thought that I would give it a try, and presto, the first thing I was asked was whether I had an idea of what ‘Experiential Pedagogy was!’ Well in my eagerness to respond and show them that I was capable enough, I responded that it was all about experimentation and stuff. That pleased them enough and I was in! But what happened gradually was that I realised that they did things indeed differently, and sure I did feel a little disoriented. Gradually it began to sink in that ‘Experiential Pedagogy’ was all about letting the learners learn through an experiential set up with students sitting in crews and not rows, and a teacher who acted as a facilitator. This was indeed disturbing and I was not ready to let go of my inhibitions. Looking at my discomfort, the head of the school advised me to ‘unlearn everything’ in order to be able to change my mind! This was easier said than done, for how does one unlearn an experience of two decades in one go?
It took me a whole three years to gradually understand the benefits of ‘Experiential Learning’ over the more traditional form of learning. By three years I was well into crew sitting, group work, using the projector, researching stuff on the internet, and such rather interesting terms as the ‘Popcorn method’ the ‘Carousel method’ and so on. Although I had always taken up discussion as an important tool throughout my career, the different terms gave new meaning to the kind of discussions that took place in class, and when we were short of time and had to move on, I would tell the students to leave their queries in the parking lot. Well that didn’t mean that I was completely transformed as ultimately some of the leaders in ‘Experiential Pedagogy’ who happened to visit my school over a period of time told me that I had probably been doing all of those things throughout my career from the very beginning, the only thing was that the activities had been given different terms. What had been difficult however for me to let go had been students sitting in crews as opposed to rows, and the teacher stepping back and allowing students to come up with their own albeit valid interpretations of the poem. Gradually it began to sink in that the students would ultimately find their way, and that students who came up with farfetched interpretations would any case be moderated during the discussion or brain-storming session.
Unfortunately, it should not take a period of three years to change someone’s mind! The writer of the article, “How to Change Someone’s Mind, According to Science” , states at the end of the article, “Belief change is a war of attrition, not a search for the knock-down argument that gets someone to see things differently in one fell swoop.” It takes years if not ages to form a neural network of ideas in the brain, and to think that one can erase the same and re-write the neural networks that took ages to form in a splint second is invites serious thought! If one knew the secret of how to change these neural networks overnight, than imagine how it could impact education as a whole! A blurb in the article mentioned above reads, “Our strongly held beliefs form a network of consistent concepts”, and these “concepts” are often difficult to change or erase. For ages we have wrongly learned that multi-tasking makes you more efficient and capable, but then recent research forces you to realise that multi-tasking compromises the quality of your work! So how do you get people who have been told that multi-tasking is a good strategy? I grew up in times when TV was the in thing, and I used to study with the TV on! Perhaps it was not a good idea to have watched TV and studied at the same time. My success in exams probably got me to believe that multi-tasking had made me more efficient! Going back to the article, “ psychologists have recognized the interplay among different aspects of knowledge that influence our overall set of beliefs. Building off that research, the cognitive scientist Paul Thagard has more recently put forth the concept of “explanatory coherence”, which suggests “that our strongly held beliefs form a network of consistent concepts”. Thus if I felt that TV viewing and studies went together, then it was because of my strong belief, the reinforcement of which had come from success in exams.
The writer of the article suggests that “To change people’s minds, it’s important to undermine the coherence among the things that they do believe. make them feel worse about their current beliefs. Develop counterarguments to their most significant sources of support. Then expose them to more pieces of information that are consistent with the new belief.” It is clear, therefore that to change minds overnight, (Well that is an exaggeration, surely!) one needs to bring about an emotional change. A person senior to me once told me that to change a student’s mind would require patience and an appeal to his or her better emotions. A most pertinent warning that she gave me and other teachers was never to confront students head on! It is true that very  often it becomes really frustrating to try so hard and apparently not achieve success! Take for example, trying to change a student’s belief that using high sounding words and difficult expressions might fetch him better marks. In the same way, a large number of students believe that writing more in exams would fetch them more marks. Often, “Being settled in what you believe feels good”, so why would one want to be robbed of this feel good sensation, and especially at the cost of letting go of what makes one feel good? The writer of the article comments that, “Feeling even slight reservations about your current beliefs can set the stage for shifting more of your support toward an alternative point of view.” In many cases, one has to introduce an element of disruption in order to promote a change of mind and even promote learning. Resistance to change however does not mean however that your efforts have gone waste. There have been times when a particularly “difficult student” who was apparently someone with a strong conviction about the validity of his opinions met me after a few years and told me to my face that he had seen sense in changing his mind about a particular issue or topic. In his case at least, it had taken many years to bring about a change in his mind, (but then change did happen) and it was not simply because of an insistence that he should change, rather it was because he had been presented with a multitude of evidences from different sources;  to bring about a change in the way he was emotional attached to the way he thought about a particular issue or topic.
If minds can indeed be changed in the shortest possible time, then imagine how beneficial it would be especially in the context of education today. 
A note of caution however is that one should not in anyway think about the need to change minds and attitudes in the form of a propaganda technique meant to expoit vulnerability. Taken as an extreme, indoctrination and brainwashing can be as horrifying as bringing about an unnatural change through hypnosis! A change in attitude and mindset should be a voluntary act in which the subject is a willing partner in a process of training  meant to educate and equip him for a better quality of life! Ideally, the purpose of education is to help make the learner better equipped to deal with the vagaries of life, and moreover, to develop in him essential twenty-first century skills. This does not, however, exclude the need to develop an all round personality which also includes the emotive and social aspects!

Reference:
How To Change Someone’s Mind, According To Science: http://www.fastcompany.com/3058314/how-to-be-a-success-at-everything/how-to-change-someones-mind-according-to-science
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Thursday, 24 March 2016

Spring Time Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot

Spring Time Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot: I enjoy visiting flowershows especially because of the riot of colours which are simply amazing! While browsing through a few photographs that I took at a flower show a couple of years back, I came across this particular bunch of flowers which were very well focused. I thought I should share the snap with all flower lovers!

Sunday, 20 March 2016

1984, Animal Farms and Conformism in a Connected Society


Just recently while reading George Orwell’s 1984, I was struck by the similarities between life as described by him in his book and life that existed in the country of my birth, Ethiopia, post the socialist revolution. This as they existed in those times and seen through the eyes of a teenager were certainly different and somewhat strange. For one thing, the slogans that were raised against the enemies of the state were very strongly voiced, and when they were shouted in unison with the accompaniment of synchronised pumping of the right hand, you just couldn’t help beginning to believe that the Capitalists were truly behind all the problems of the country, whether it was the drought, or the separatists out there in the North.
Socialism became a Utopia a possibility in the midst of machinations of all those venture capitalists who were trying to destabilise the nation, although I did wonder in those times, what there was in the country, one of the poorest in the region to attract the interest of the Capitalists! In the meantime, the slogans continued to denounce the depravity of the Capitalists and the Imperialists. This Utopia however seemed to drift away as the euphoria of Nationalisation began to fade away. People who owned two or more houses were allowed to keep only one, big business establishments were nationalised, farms were turned into cooperatives, and dinner parties with our Russian friends and the Hoy-Polloi began to take up a different colour.
Dinner Parties began on a serious note with important people in the administration maintaining a poker face of seriousness. It was as if they were frightened of each other, and afraid of uttering anything that might be used against them. This seriousness however dissipated with each gulp of the vodka that was served by the Russians. Prior to the gulping of the vodka however, there was always a toast and each toast was addressed to the friendship between nations, cooperation between nations, and so on. As the count of downed glasses went up  the guests would begin singing in Russian although they did not know a single word of Russian. The party would end with Russians, Ethiopians, and Indians claiming to be the best of friends, and they would then joke with each other and call each other names!
But then this was not what Socialism  was all about. The next day it would be back to normal, ‘speak carefully, big brother can listen to you, walls have ears,’ and so on.Mischief could be misconstrued, and you had to be very careful about what you did lest Big Brother might take offence. Then one day there was mention about George Orwell’s 1984, and Animal Farm. The top leadership had taken offence to what this person had written in both of his books, and I wondered as a teenager what could have been so offensive about these books that the Government had banned them! I realised how offended the Chairman and his ideologues might have been on reading both of his books later when I got to read them. To have been compared to Pigs, must have hurt the members of the Politbureau immensely –  George  Orwell had surely exposed the hollowness and the sham that existed within the structure of Socialism itself,and on a more serious note, the fear, paranoia and sense of being trapped within a system of structures and protocols would have daunted even the hard-hearted!
In the meantime, the slogans continued:
DOWN WITH IMPERIALISM!
DOWN WITH CAPITALISM!
DOWN WITH HOARDING!
LONG LIVE SOCIALISM!
LONG LIVE THE PROLETARIAT!
LONG LIVE THE REVOLUTION!
DOWN WITH THE BOURGEOSIE!

And the litany would continue in the same manner, day in and day out, and the manner in which these slogans were said, it was as if everyone had been hypnotised into saying and believing in the same things! It was literally mass hypnosis leading to mass hysteria when these slogans were shouted and the hills echoed the sentiment in return!
In the meantime, the role of the secret police became even more evident. The ideologues, and the protectors of the ‘Faith’ were everywhere, whether it was at work, or in the locality were you lived, they were everywhere! When I was in grade twelve, there was this student, his name was Musa, and he was a a secret spy. He carried a pistol with him and there was something rather sinister about him. I noticed that the others switched off in his presence and when they were forced to acknowledge him, then they rarely talked. I was a mischievous ex-patriot living in another country,  so I took liberties with him, to the consternation of others! 
Another thing that I noticed about the new world order was the role of planning. They were simply so confident that their plans would work, and the Party Members came up with some of the most ambitious Five Year plans that were aimed at improving the country’s economy, educational system, infrastructure, and social structure. I never stayed to see whether these five year plans ever succeeded. All I do know is that there was a five year plan for almost everything! These five year plans popped up every now and then! I have seen echoes of such planners in recent times, especially in people who are literally slaves to systems and structures, so much so that the structure threatens to overwhelm the human factor!
A lot of what George Orwell wrote in 1984 and Animal Farm did take place in the country of my birth post the Socialist revolution in 1975, and the accuracy with which he has described life under Socialism makes me wonder if he had indeed happened to have lived and witnessed the craziness of life in a man made Utopia!
I had heard rumours about the interrogation techniques employed by the secret police to ferret information deemed sensitive to the state. The greatest tool in the hands of the interrogators was however not so much as the torture itself, but rather the fear that one felt on facing them. This feeling of terror and helplessness had been created mostly by hearsay and rumours that one tended to  hear in such a country. Nevertheless there was one story that did the rounds amongst the ex-patriot community and that was about how another ex-patriot lady had been taken to the police station because she had allegedly committed the crime of shoplifting. Well, the people didn’t do her physical harm, they only let loose upon her a pack of ferocious dogs. No the dogs did not maul her, they were called away before they could reach her, but then the mental trauma that she underwent was enough to turn her into a mental wreck.I have not as yet reached the point where the character, Winston commits thought crimes by writing a diary and is taken for interrogation in room 101 where he is supposed to meet the ultimate horror of all those who are accused of crimes against the state!
Life under a Socialist setup is based on a very strong degree of conformism. However, to claim that this happens only in Socialist states would be a gross mistake! Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible describes a similar situation. Based on the Salem Witch hunts, and meant to expose the weaknesses in McCarthyism, the play describes the impact of Mass-Hysteria, and how people are forced to conform  to accepted norms. John Proctor, an important character becomes the lynchpin because he refuses to conform. The moral of the play is that in order to survive in what might be a totalitarian state one has to conform to the ideology of the party in power or else face  the consequences. All the other girls in The Crucible fall in line with what Abigail states because they are afraid of the consequences of not doing so. They are afraid of Abigail more so because she is a clever one who knows how to manipulate others, and yes she is related to an important person in the social hierarchy in the town.
What is common about The Crucible, 1984, Animal Farm, and what I experienced as a teenager living in a Socialist state was the need to conform, and the need to jump on to the bandwagon. A totalitarian regime will force its people to conform to its accepted rules and regulations. It promotes propaganda techniques which are meant to hypnotise people into jumping the bandwagon and conforming in all ways. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World also describes life in a straight-jacketed society. Huxley’s book brings out the themes of forced conformism, the idea of jumping on to the bandwagon, and the use of mass hypnosis as a means of keeping people in line. The kind of slogans that I saw and heard being chanted in a socialist state remained in my mind for a number of years and this stands testimony to the effectiveness of slogans as a means for indoctrinating a whole nation.
Disturbing cues and clues have started emerging all over the world, what with technology becoming all pervasive. The concept of Big Brother is Watching has become even more prevalent all over the world what with Big Brother monitoring our calls and the messages that we send online. The right to freedom of thought and freedom of expression is getting steadily diluted with Big Brother claiming the need to eavesdrop into our conversations in the interests of the security of the state. This attack on the privacy of individuals is taking place today, even in America, a country that is not even Socialist in nature! In times when we have begun to live in a ‘Connected Society’, the internet might prove to be a Pandora’s box that threatens the very existence of the individual today. The presence of cameras everywhere, the fact that you are being monitored constantly  makes the adage that walls have ears more frighteningly more true today than ever before! Is life in a ‘Connected Society’ more horrifyingly Socialistic than ever? – Is a question worth asking. The growing lack of individual privacy in the modern world is an alarming reality, and as days go by, one wonders if Democracy and Capitalism are not just different terms for Totalitarianism today! The film Matrix highlights the erosion of the individual’s when living  in a ‘Connected Society’.
In days to come, the society will gain predominance over the individual and the individual will become subservient to the society as a whole. Subservience, conformism, and jumping on to the Bandwagon are becoming a frightening reality that are threatening to take away the right to dissent and propose an alternate view as espoused by characters like John Proctor in The Crucible, or even, Winston in 1984, or even Bernard in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Orwell’s description of ‘a world of terror where the price of freedom is betrayal’ looms over us menacingly. The treatment of dissent and the debate on what constitutes sedition post  the Jawaharlal University fiasco in recent times has forced us  to wonder if we are not living in disturbing times which are  not really different from those described by Huxley and Orwell!

References:
1. Orwell George: 1984, Maple Press, 2008
2. Huxley Aldous: Brave New World, Flamingo, 1994

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

What are the forces that prevent the eradication of Child Labour in a country like India?

The Lost Spring, a short story by Anees Jung, highlights the plight of slum children and those employed in the bangle making industry in India. What makes matters worse is that these people are not able to emancipate themselves even if they want to! When Anees asks a group of young men, bangle makers in Firozabad why they don’t organise themselves “into a cooperative”, their answer is that “Even if (they) get organised, (they) are the ones who will be hauled up by the police, beaten and dragged to jail for doing something illegal”.
It is clear that children like Saheb and Mukesh are stuck between two worlds, a world of superstition, dead rituals, orthodox beliefs, and the conviction that one is born into a caste - in this case, Mukesh is born into a caste of bangle makers, therefore it is “his Karam, his destiny” to be a bangle-maker. To even think of breaking out of this “god given lineage” is unthinkable according to Mukesh’s grandmother. Mukesh has a dream, a dream of becoming a motor mechanic, but then one wonders if the society will ever allow him to change his profession. Bangle making is a child intensive industry and it is clear that laws are doing little to address this problem. In many cases, it is lack of will to implement laws, that prevents the eradication of child labour, in others it is about lack of knowledge about this social evil. Apathy towards the problem of child labour, procrastination, the presence of greedy middle-men, commission agents and politicians are a few other reasons why child labour continues to exist in our society today!
The title of the lesson, “Lost Spring” is in itself evocative of a major social evil that abounds in our society even today. It suggests lost opportunities, lost innocence, lost happiness, and lost hope. In a nutshell, it spells out how poverty has robbed children of their childhood. In some cases, there are natural forces that conspire to keep people and children in a state of perpetual poverty. In the case of Saheb, it was because of the “the many storms that swept away their fields and homes” that forced his family and him to migrate to “the big city” in search of “gold”. One is reminded about the gold rush in America which caused a large number of people to leave their homes in a futile search for what would be an elusive El-Dorado! In India, we have come across people who have left their homes, and often happy lives to join the film industry in Mumbai. Many were left destitute as their dreams for a better life soured in no time. Rag pickers like Saheb might scrounge for gold in the garbage bins but the only gold they might recover could be limited to a ten rupee note!
That poverty breeds even more poverty can be inferred from a case study of rag pickers all over the country. What begins as a game of scrounging in garbage bins, and turning up with surprise items soon becomes a harsh struggle for survival as children born in rag-pickers families become “partners in survival”! Hard though it may seem, these children soon grow into their profession and they begin to find some kind of comfort in their profession. Thus, for Saheb, rag-picking was an easier task than working at the tea-stall because according to Anees, “The steel canister seems heavier than the plastic bag he would carry so lightly….The bag was his. The canister belongs to the man who owns the tea shop.”
The “rags to riches” story does not work for children like Saheb, or even Mukesh! Films like Slumdog Millionaire might romanticise poverty and the abrupt turn of fortune, but the reality is worse. Poverty is a vicious circle, a whirlpool that sucks in hapless victims and never lets them go! In many ways, I would say that Lost Spring is a rather disturbing lesson that brings out the tragedy called child labour. This is surely a lesson that disrupts our sense of security and forces us to step out of our comfort zone. Lack of education and unemployment  are some of the factors that indeed conspire to force children into child labour. The other factors stem from these two factors. Lack of awareness, natural calamities, apathy, poor enforcement of laws, rules and regulation, and of course lack of will are all extenuating factors. The question of education does come in the story when without thinking, the narrator asks him if he would like to join school if she opened one and readily replies, "Yes" with a smile. Unfortunately, this was quite like the promises that are made and broken at will in his world. Yes there are not enough schools to accomodate slum children, but then one wonders if only opening schools would solve the problem of child labour. Stephen Spender very clearly hints that one cannot educate a child who has an empty stomach in his poem, An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum!

Reference:
Flamingo: Textbook for class XII
(Core Course)
Lost Spring
(Stories of Stolen Childhood by Anees Jung)


Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Disruption is an important element in the lessons prescribed by The CBSE of India


Just recently, when a colleague of mine asked me how I tackled, what she thought was a bit difficult class, particularly whether I gave the students notes, I was taken aback, especially because literature should not be taught through notes! I went on to tell her how I intentionally introduced disruption into the class in order to promote a discussion related to the the theme or plot movement, or even character analyses.
I wouldn’t blame my fellow teacher for assuming that the ideal way to teach students is to give them notes, apparently, the students had been given specific notes on their literature lessons by their grade eleven teachers, and they had been specifically instructed not to stray from what had been given in the notes!
The understanding of literature cannot in any case be promoted through notes, and in many cases, the habit of critically analysing themes and character traits can only come through the dialectical or Socratic method of teaching.
In many cases,where the discussion fails to take off, the teacher needs to let the cat amongst the birds so to say, in order to get the discussion going. The role of disruption as a catalyst for Socratic Dialogue cannot be underpinned enough! Disruption, in many cases can be a suitable introduction to the topic that is going to be taken up in class.
Literature lessons dealing with social issues such as linguistic chauvinism, child labour, social and racial discrimination, ethics of scientific research can only be understood in a better way by making connections between what has been written and what exists in the society. Take for example the novel, The Invisible Man by H.G.Wells. It is fairly clear that the central idea the drives the novel’s plot is the Ethics of Scientific Research. Now how do you as a teacher bring students to understand the concept of Ethics in Scientific research?
One way of doings this would be to tell the students a story based on disruptive ideas. The story goes this way:
Suppose you were to have a rare gene that prevented cancer. Imagine that you go to a medical agency to get your blood tested for a viral infection, and the blood sample somehow ends up at a Multinational Pharmaceutical company. The company discovers this gene and copyrights the DNA and begins to produce a genetically  engineered gene therapy to cure cancer.  Would the registration of the copyright for the gene therapy and the identification of the DNA or the protein that prevents the formation of cancer cells in any way mean that the Multinational Pharmaceutical Company has ownership of the the individual by view of having the copyright of the gene, DNA, and the therapy in their name?
The primary aim of introducing disruption into the pedagogy is to stimulate  critical,and analytical skills of the student, it is also akin to setting a problem before the students that will in effect challenge their mindset and accepted beliefs in view of making them divergent thinkers with the ability of thinking creatively, divergently, and deductively. If the aim of education today is to stimulate problem solving, critical analysis and inspired learning then there is no other way than to introduce a little bit of disruption!
Disruption is about challenging complacency in learners, it is about questioning mindsets that are based on myths, and popularly accepted ideas that go against reality! The group of students that I teach belong to a higher income group, and these are learners who live in a bubble of security, cut off from the harsh realities of life. When my head shortlisted a few short stories based on harsh realities of life, the learners asked me why most of these lessons were based on ‘morbidity’ and lacked the brightness of life. The learners told me that the lessons had themes that were rather dark in nature and therefore disturbing to read. It was clear that reading The Lottery, and Rose for Emily, and even The Crucible had ‘jolted’ them a great deal! The idea behind introducing such lessons was to introduce disruption as a means to prompt them to understand that life is not a bed of roses!
Another instance where my school introduced an element of disruption was when students undertook community service where they visited a slum area and interacted with the residents and children of their age. The students were astounded by the kind of poverty that they witnessed. They were forced to do a re-think about what they thought about the idea of poverty. They simply could not comprehend the hardships of poverty. They were touched by what they saw, and were prompted to think about what they could do to help the children of the slum. Their sense of security was challenged and they realised that prosperity is rather ephemeral in nature, and that the true reality of life is based on the fact  that one cannot be secure in the feeling that one has been born in an affluent family. The students were challenged to think about what they would do if their families were to experience a downturn of luck and they were to be told that their families could not afford the fees of an expensive college!
The true purpose of education is to equip students to face the harsh realities of life! It is all about promoting critical  twenty-first century skills and this can be promoted largely through the introduction of an element of disruption into the mindsets of learners. The true role of an educationist  today is not to provide ready made solutions to the problems in life through ready made notes, rather it is about equipping students with the ability to arrive at solutions to problems that challenge accepted trends of thought. The fact is that in most of the cases there are not fixed water-tight solutions to the problems in life. We are living in a world where the truth  exists not in blacks and whites, but rather in shades of grey.
The fact is that in life there can never be fixed solutions to problems and social issues in life. One has to exercise one’s own individual  ingenuity to solve a problem that might be presented to the learner. There a saying that the ‘instant coffee approach’ doesn’t offer the best solutions to the problems of life. It is often the bread-making approach that offers the best solutions in life. Take for example the instance the short story, Should Wizard Hit Mommy by John Updike  where Roger Skunk goes to the wizard to find a solution to the bad smell that he has, a smell that drives away his friends. Would getting the smell of roses solve all of his problems? Roger Skunk thinks that getting the smell of roses would solve all of his problems, his mother, however thinks otherwise! She smells the scent of roses in her child and reprimands him. She asks him who had dared to change the essential quality of him as a skunk. He tells him it was the wizard and she proceeds to visit the wizard. As soon as she meets the wizard, she hits him with the umbrella. Roger Skunk, according to the writer is aggrieved by this action. The moral of the lesson however, is that parents know what is best for their children because they love them the most. The protagonist of the lesson, Jo is shocked by her father’s twist in the story. Disruption apparently has taken its toll and she rebels against her father’s twist to the story. She just would not like to accept that to smell bad is an essential characteristic of a skunk. What her father wants to tell her is that some of the best solutions in life are based on an understanding and a respect of the essential characteristics of one’s essential traits. To smell of roses would ultimately rob Roger Skunk of his essential identity as a skunk.
The Central Board of Senior Secondary Education of India has a number of literature based lessons in the English Core syllabus that introduce an element of disruption that is mean to challenge the mindset of learners. Some of the lessons that introduce an element of disruption include, Should Wizard Hit Mommy by John Updike, The Enemy by Pearl S.Buck, and The Last Lesson by Alphonse Daudet.  

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Resurrection, Re-birth and Renewal are important themes in Pablo Neruda's Poem, "Keeping Quiet".


The theme of Resurrection during this Lenten season is beautifully encapsulated the words, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”-John 12:24. Perhaps this is also what Pablo Neruda meant in some ways when he talked about the need for stillness, and quietness in the poem, “Keeping Quiet”. It is this “keeping quiet” however that needs to be analysed for what it means for the poet, Pablo Neruda. When he talks about “keeping quiet”, he clearly states that he doesn’t want to have any “truck with death”.  
A few lessons that we might learn from nature according to Pablo Neruda find a parallel in what we might understand about the crucifixion from the New Testament, and other scriptures from other religions which talk about revival. The premise all of these scriptures is that there has to be death before renewal or even re-birth. The assumption that there needs to be pruning before re-growth, or even death and destruction before the emergence of a new world order is reflected in P.B.Shelley’s poem, “Ode to the West wind”. Shelley’s poem describes the cycle of seasons, and these might be compressed into two important alternating cycles, namely life and death. Shelley describes how life and death are essential cycles and how life flows from death.
The crucifixion of Jesus on the cross was essential for the start of a new world order where one would see an era based on the philosophy of forgiveness and not retribution or vindictiveness. The New Testament describes God as a forgiving and merciful Lord, rather than the vengeful Lord of the Old Testament. Also, the world post the Crucifixion is a more rational world that believes less in the esoteric, myth of ghosts, wandering spirits and spells. No wonder it took a sacrifice that shook the very foundations of the world to bring out a change in the outlook of the people towards life!
Ancient mythology describes the myth of the Phoenix, a mythological bird that burns itself to ashes before it can be re-born anew to live another thousand years. The bird that emerges out of its ashes is invigorated, dynamic and full of energy.
A crucial point here is that without death, destructions, and revolution, there can’t be a new world order. The gardener prunes his plants before the spring season so that they might sprout new shoots during the spring season. The growth of ornamental plants thus becomes more luxuriant if they have been trimmed or pruned, it is as if pruning and trimming have boosted the plant’s life-force!
As a corollary to the above idea is the concept of pseudo-death that Pablo Neruda explores in his poem, “Keeping Quiet”. Throughout the poem, Pablo talks about the need for cessation of movement, speech, and any kind of action at a preparation for a period of meditation, stillness, and introspection. This period of stillness is not however a complete cessation of life, rather it is an imitation of a deathlike state where the living being appears to be dead, but is really very much alive! According to Pablo, there is a lot that can be learned from nature, where trees, plants, animals and all things that live take regular periods of rest in order to emerge invigorated and renewed after a period of dormancy and deathlike state of rest.
Dormancy, and hibernation are powerful symbols of what is required for renewed life, and so also is the idea of death and destruction, the only difference here is that death is not a complete cessation of life. cryogenic preservation of stem cells for later use, and the idea of freezing space-travellers bodies during long periods of space travel including the freezing of sperm cells and ovum for later use are all scientifically proven examples of re-birth or resurrection.
The seeds that you hold in your hands prior to scattering them on to the ploughed land appear to be dead to all appearances. You throw them at the wall and they rebound like dead weight, you pick the same seeds and drop them on your glass table top and they make a tinkling sound, they might as well be bits of stones, and they even seem to have the hardness and mass of small bits of stones. Unlike the stones however, the moment you scatter them on to the earth and water the earth, these dead seeds sprout into life, and they might even grow into some of the most beautiful ornamental plants you might ever have seen. In other cases these seeds might grow into plants that produce tenfold the number of seeds. Well that is because these seeds were full of the life force that they have been given by God!
Nature is a teacher that has an important lesson to teach all of us human beings and this is the lesson of Resurrection, it is a lesson that teaches us that we need to take  regular periods of rest. In order to survive in this world or competition, struggle and stress we need to reach a state of near death, a state of state of pseudo-death so that we can introspect and meditate as a means of renewing our selves. This is exactly what Pablo Neruda means when he exhorts all mankind to  “count to twelve, (and) not move out hands,” and “keep quiet” and not speak in any language because in this world of technological advancement, we are only driving ourselves to our death! The “sadness” of "not understanding ourselves” is perhaps the single largest reason why even successful young people are driven to commit suicide. It is because they have become so obsessed with work, movement, and the need to succeed that they have forgotten who they are, what they are, and what their purpose in life might really be.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Take Off Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot

Take Off Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot: Even the slightest noise will make these ducks take to the air! The last duck seems surprised to see its fellow mates take to the air. The picture is of ducks seen at the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary close to Gurgaon, the town where I live.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

A Glimpse of the HUDA Flower Show 2016

This year too, like every other year, the HUDA Flower show took place at Leisure Valley, Gurgaon, and sure there were many wonderful entries, both individual and organizational entries. There was the decorative section, and of course the regular out door displays of flowers, orchids, cacti and other ornamental plants. The flower show heralds the spring season in all its glory!



                                                                           

A close up of a bunch of flowers.




 A cactus can be a microcosm- you can see the ant surely!

The shoes in the static display section seemed rather creative!


Cactus flowers can be rather attractive to look at!


The flowers you see above are entirely artificial!


This peacock is made up of recycled and left over remains of plants and trees!


The photograph above shows a large number of people at the flower decoration section.


Lady in Black, an amazing decorative item decked up with flower motifs.















Wednesday, 2 March 2016

An Antique Car Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot

An Antique Car Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot: This is the snap of the Mecedes Motorwagen petrol run vehicle, probably one of the oldest in prime running condition! A beauty, you would surely agree! And guess what, I was not carrying a DSLR, but an IPad mini! But then I went ahead and took a snap of this antique beauty and was pleased by the result!

The Works -1883 Mercedes Motorwagen Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot

The Works -1883 Mercedes Motorwagen Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot: This is a photograph of the engine of an 1883 Mercedes Motorwagen, probably one of the oldest petrol run vehicles in the world! Seen at The Heritage School, Gurgaon during the winter carnival it was a feast for my eyes! I only had my Apple-IPad and so I used it to good effect!