Thursday, 26 January 2017

The Rooster's Cry - Random Thoughts

Dear teacher,
Will you teach the children the joys of climbing trees
To look at birds nests, the pale, pink and speckled eggs,
Nestling within a tightly knit nest of complex patterns?
Dear curriculum,
Will you show them  the joys of chicks that hatch, the
Thrill of flight, anxious parents that watch them dip and slip,
Rise on trembling wings that soar, to seek the sky ahead?
Dear books,
Will you make them listen to the rooster crow,  greet the rising sun
With a Cock A Doodle Do (the real one not the canned one)?
Or tell them - a scraped shin wouldn't matter just the one!
Dear syllabus,
Will you tell your little ones to throw their cares and fears to
The winds, to gambol in the fields like lambs, toss and
Tumble without care,  play and eat of the sweet grass?

I would rather have  trees and nests, green fields, and
 Lambs that play than  drab, frightening boxes of concrete -
 Prisons to trap the children and make them repeat what to
Is taught, like mechanical parrots!
I would rather have the rooster and the sun,
The blue sky and the eggs than the mechanical processes that
Churn out copy-cats and conformists, mere robots, machines
That duplicate movements meant to create more of their kind!
I would rather  have the green fields and the cool
Breeze to caress my cheeks rather than the canned air in boxed
Rooms that feed a staleness that stinks of decay and deviousness.
The rooster's cry, Alas! I hear no more and the birds have flown away!
Lambs now gambol in laptops and tablets,
Trees are climbed no more, children have better things to do!
The rooster's cry is heard from tinny speakers, but none do hear it,
 The children are too mature today to climb trees or play with lambs.

Don't tell me that children are not children anymore, or they have
Better things to do! If they cannot climb trees or lie in green fields,
Or hear not the rooster crow, what then do they do? Where has
The innocence of childhood fled, if not to pore over screens that
Flicker and spit, ruin innocent minds with loads of information, 
The forbidden fruit that robs the young of sweetness so rare!
Oh, the freedom of childhood, the joys of learning, who a greater
Teacher than Nature can be in whose lap one might
Learn great things? With trees for books, hatching chicks for
Lessons, climbing of trees for exams, might one look for
A better childhood?

Monday, 23 January 2017

Why people think Fear and Anxiety need not be Obstacles

Recently, while supervising at an exam in school, I came across a sentence written of the window ledge, "Thanx for ruining our life." I was disturbed by what I was seeing and wondered what could have been the cause of such negativity and helplessness. On one another occasion, I came across one of my science students in Delhi, who had fallen into deep sleep. It was clear that he was deeply exhausted. Students the world over are facing tremendous stress like never before, and our systems and structures of education are not helping them in any case.
What had once started as a drive to reduce the weight of school bags has now changed into a challenge for reducing stress and anxiety in students. It must have been the result of unimaginable stress and anxiety that a student wrote in a rather sarcastic sense, of course, to thank somebody for ruining his or her life! To blame any one factor for this instance of extreme negativism and pessimism would be wrong, and thereby to advocate the doing away of written exams, or some form of assessment would be wrong!
It is clear in most cases that fear is both self-induced and also other-induced. So, when a mother tells her child to stop crying or else the bogey-man will take her away, she is in effect inducing a sense of fear in her child, a fear of the dark, a fear of strange sounds, empty spaces, and a lot of other things included. The fear of failure in children is induced by parents, the society, and even schools. A college mate of mine used to have panic attacks before the final exams. He would vomit, feel nauseous, and generally debilitated before each exam. He missed a few exams and thus completed his graduation much after me! The society that the student lives in, is also responsible for inducing the fear of failure in the child. So when people talk about their own fears about appearing in exams, their trepidation about impending results, they are in effect transmitting their own feelings on to the child.The school too is responsible for instilling a feeling of fear in the child when it tells him that he might as well seek admission in another school because of poor performance.
Students who don't fear failure will however also suffer from stress and anxiety related issues. Stress results from having to do too much at the same time. A brilliant science student, a girl studying in a girls only school in grade eleven decided that she would like to be a doctor. She joined one of the well-known coaching centers in Delhi. What happened was that she began spending more time working than resting. It became very difficult to complete whatever home task had been given to her. The tutors at the coaching center were very particular that she completed their homework. Her teachers at school demanded that she complete their homework. In the end, it became very difficult for her to cope and so she had to drop a year.
When a group of eighth-graders decided to use fear as the theme for their assembly, it became very clear that they had understood how fear had indeed become a debilitating factor which had robbed most students of their capability to excel. What makes matters worse is the bullying that students receive from their peers. 'Nerds', students who are good in studies are ridiculed when they go to the badminton field to play a game. They fail to play well before they even start a game, just because the comments made by their own classmates have made them so self-conscious and fearful; they are so afraid of making a wrong move that they fail miserably! Failure is infectious, and the fear of it is even more infectious!
Schools and curriculum-framers too are responsible for the fear, stress, and anxiety that students face during their days in school! A drastic shift in pedagogy and assessment strategies will put the fear of the unknown into the minds of learners. Thus, when seventh graders get promoted to the eighth grade and they get to write so much more than in their previous grade they are stressed out and anxious about their performance in exams that for them would be the first time they would be doing a two to three hours written paper! The attraction of 'joyful learning' fades away as all of a sudden, 'academic rigour' and 'deadly deadlines' begin to loom over them like a sword ready to dispatch them off!
So, what then is the solution for all of these issues? At the school level, it is important to introduce students to academic rigour steadily and gradually. What matters the most is that students need to start writing as much as possible from their earliest grades. Some form of formal written tests with a time limit should be introduced in the primary grades itself. The idea of deadlines should be introduced gently but surely in the early formative years of a student's life in school. The old but perfectly fine adage, 'practice makes a man perfect' works even today! Also, teachers should let struggling students taste success from time to time. This does not mean that students are always passed even when they have not done well enough.
The introduction of the grading system by different education boards across the world may have reduced cut-throat competition, but it has not eliminated it completely. Making board results not entirely responsible for getting admission to college, and instead, introducing entrance exams and interviews have helped a lot, though more needs to be done. Today, however, soaring cut off lists in some of the premier universities in the country based on board results have added to the stress and anxiety that students feel during the final year at school.
Parents need to learn to back off and not breath down their children's necks. Parents must accept that their children have potentials and capabilities that can be nurtured through tact and patience and not through threats, induced fear or even bribery. The word 'bribery' reminds me of a question that appeared in one of the Pre-board paper. In the question, students were asked to 'Write an article...urging all parents to give their time and moral support to their children' and not just fob them off with 'expensive gifts'. Parents are known to bribe their children by telling them that if they score a ninety-eight in the best of four subjects, they will gift them a car, or an expensive mobile. While this 'bribery' might have some motivational impact, it also induces undue stress in a student who is not so good to go all out and achieve those magical marks! The bad thing about this form of motivation is that it becomes a vicious circle where the student who achieves the magical marks expects more gifts from his parents to achieve success in college. What matters most is for the student to score well in exams and to view the good marks as the reward, not the expensive car. A few students whose papers I examined mentioned bribery as one of the things parents resort to in order to induce their wards to score well in exams.
We are living in a materialistic world where the economics of life dictate that we participate in a rat race in order to achieve success. Not all the rats will reach the finishing line the first, and not all of them will be the last. What we need our children to understand is that they don't always have to stand first, it is OK to come second or even last. What matters is to enjoy what we are doing and to gladly take ownership for our own performance. When a student comes up to me and tells me that I gave him fewer marks than he deserved, I respond to him and tell him that it could be the other way round, it could be that he had earned those marks. When another student scores a perfect ten on ten and tells me that I gave him a ten, I tell him that he had earned them! The label of being a failure is such a frightful one that one becomes devastated when one tastes failure! This reminds me of the story about Robert The Bruce. Once when he was recuperating from his wounds and the humility of having being defeated once again, he saw a spider attempt to climb up a  web string. It fell down a number of times and each time it fell, it started climbing up once again. Robert drew inspiration from this incident and he went on to be a successful warrior.
A great number of students will not answer a question in class because they are afraid of giving the wrong answer. Some will respond to their teacher's prompting but add that they are not sure about the answer. These hesitations are the greatest obstacles to learning and excelling. What needs to be communicated to all students is that failures, wrong answers, and mistakes can be some of the most powerful reasons to learn! A skilled teacher will be able to turn around a wrong answer to analyze concepts, ideas, and principles. It is good to make mistakes because we can learn from them. People who don't fail don't learn, do they? In any case, who can understand the meaning of success than the defeated soldier lying in the battlefield listening to others celebrating their success! Emily Dickinson's poem suggests that the joy of success can be tasted only by one who has tasted defeat. The fact is that no one who is an expert in cycling can claim never to have fallen off his bicycle. No one, not even an expert swimmer can claim not to have choked, drinking water while learning to swim!
Fear, anxiety and stress can, in fact, be the greatest inducements for us to succeed in life. This reminds me of William Douglas, an outdoorsman,  and a friend of W.D. Roosevelt who could not enjoy adventure activities of canoeing, trekking, and fishing for landlocked salmon because of his fear of water. This fear robbed him of the pleasures of connecting with nature while trekking and canoeing.His fear of water was the result of two incidents that place during his early childhood and teens. It drove the fear of drowning firmly into his heart. Douglas became so fed up of his fear that he finally decided that he had to do something about it. He thought enough was enough and he took up a two-pronged approach towards tackling this problem. He first hired the services of a swimming instructor. He trained under him patiently, day after day, till he had learned enough. But then that was not enough for Douglas. He still had to face his fear. What he did was to swim solo in the swimming pool. The old fear came to him and Douglas confronted it and it fled. He was still not satisfied, and so he decided to swim in Lake Wentworth between Triggs Island and Stamp Act Island. When he put his face down into the water, the old fear returned, but Douglas confronted it and it fled. Nothing can beat the joy of having one's fear, nothing can the thrill of having overcome one's stress and anxiety. Stress and anxiety can be the inner voices that prod us towards success. Fear can be a motivation to strive to defeat it. As Roosevelt stated, "all we have to fear is fear itself!" the rest will fall in place!

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Teams that eat together stick together

Potluck meals are a fine way for bonding together and also for bringing about a change in the working environment. When we decided to organize a potluck lunch and take a break from the mess, it was a wonderful opportunity to display exceptional culinary skills too! The photographs below will give the reader a glimpse of the actual event itself!

Friday, 13 January 2017

Kalki's The Tiger King describes the consequence of harming nature.

Kalki's The Tiger King is a caustic comment on what happens when one harms nature. The short story by Kalki provides a humorous rendition of the consequences of killing a hundred tigers in a rather wanton manner. The Tiger King is killed, of all things by a splinter from a sub-standard carved wooden tiger that has been sold to him at an exorbitant rate (as if he would pay for it), or perhaps even the very surgeons who had been called from Madras did him in. The statement by one of them, "The operation was successful. The Maharaja is dead" suggests that the surgeons probably had a hidden agenda of executing the Tiger King because he had gone too far in killing a hundred tigers.
The consequence of killing a hundred tigers becomes evident in the manner of the tiger king's death and the warning is that one should beware of harming nature lest one should invite the wrath of divine retribution! The manner in which "the hundredth tiger took its final revenge upon the Tiger King" is a warning to all those who would want to subject innocent animals to grievous harm.The Ancient Mariner in Coleridge's Ryme of the Ancient Mariner was punished for killing the Albatross, the Tiger King too is punished for the same reason.
The hundredth tiger appears to be the Tiger King's nemesis, and each tiger that he killed added to the quantum of crime and guilt that was added to his account. The punishment of the Ancient Mariner was different from that of the Tiger King, and one might argue that the latter's death might have been a rather too easy way out from his crime than the former's. The manner of the Maharaja's death is a more sinister punishment than the Ancient Mariner's. The Surgeon's announcement about the success of the operation is eerie enough! It is as if they are hired assassins and the operation was an operation for killing the Maharaja. The warning is ominous enough, destroyers of nature, beware of what you are doing! You will be terminated by a bunch of assassins, 'exterminated,' would be the right term! Kalki's, The Tiger King is a political satire and it attacks the weaknesses and willfulness of people in power. It serves a warning that people in power have a responsibility towards their subjects and their responsibility includes protecting nature. When a person who is in power abuses his powers wilfully, like the Maharaja did, especially in the willful extermination of a hundred tigers, (ninety-nine) the punishment can be severe. In today's times, there have been instances of game-hunting among the rich and the powerful. Such instances illustrate the callousness of human beings towards wildlife. The killing of Cecil the lion, the bludgeoning of leopards by people when they stray into residential areas, all point out towards the need to think about the consequences of harming wildlife. In many cases, the perpetrators of such crimes go scot free, but then Kalki ends his story in a rather ominous manner with a parting warning about how nature-hundredth tiger took its final revenge". You might not be put into prison because of your power, but then you never know who might be watching!

Thursday, 12 January 2017

The Tiger King by Kalki suggests we need a new system to protect our ecology!

The Age of ecology is about protecting and respecting life in all forms.

A reading of Kalki's The Tiger King suggests that we need to work on a system that is embedded in the care of not only human beings but also the earth and all life upon it. What the Tiger King does is simply not what is expected of human beings today. Instances of high profile people hunting and shooting down exotic animals have been treated with dismay and disgust. A few years back (2014) a dentist from Minnesota killed Cecil a black-maned lion in Zimbabwe. Walter Palmer killed Cecil in a bow hunt after allegedly paying $50,000/- for the privilege - Jim Zarroli. The story was that the lion had been lured away from a National Park before being killed. 
At home in India too, we have come across incidents where leopards have been found straying into villages and towns only to be attacked and killed brutally by human beings. This human versus animal conflict has been increasing to a great extent in the recent years and wildlife experts suggest that this is because human beings have themselves started encroaching into wildlife sanctuaries. The need for space has led to wild animals straying out of their sanctuaries in search of food. In our greed for space, we have destroyed what was by all rights the home of tigers, leopards, and even elephants!

We need a new system for the age of ecology!

The agenda for all policy makers and people who matter in the Government, of course, should be to create a system which is embedded in the care of all people and also in the care of the Earth and all life upon it. The Tiger King's responsibility should have been to protect the tigers and not to decimate them! It is highly ironical that " A proclamation was issued to the effect that if anyone dared to fling so much as a stone at a tiger, all his wealth and property would be confiscated." The "celebration" by the tigers in Pratibandapuram after the "proclamation" was premature and short-lived as the Maharaja started killing tigers one after the other. One cannot, however, claim that the Tiger King was not aware of the fact that he was breaking the law and so he claimed that he had killed the tigers in "self-defence"!
Kalki's The Tiger King parodies the lightness with which people who matter treat environmental degradation. The extinction of the tigers in Pratibandapuram is blamed on "birth control or...harakiri...Or simply (running) away from the State because they desired to be shot by British hands alone." Nobody is ready to state the obvious that the tigers were driven to extinction because of the Tiger King and not because of any of the above reasons! The Maharaj's Minions are equally to blame for the decimation of the tiger population because they acquiesced in the whole crime - they were partners in crime, they should have objected and raised their voices in favor of the poor tigers! This is indirectly a comment on the common man's abdication of his own responsibility towards protecting the ecology of the Earth. What we need today is a system that is robust enough to protect the ecology and not just do lip service. We need to create a system that is respected by everyone, a system which protects life in all forms. The poaching of tigers in the tiger reserves, smuggling of turtles, trading in exotic birds and animals all point towards an aberration in the existing system. People in power like the Tiger  King need to understand that they have a responsibility towards the protection and care of the entire Earth. Educating the common man about the importance of having a healthy and well-balanced ecology will go a long way in making him understand how the ecology affects his personal life. Accepting the boundaries of wildlife sanctuaries to be sacrosanct and the need to "live and let live" will help protect the environment and the animal and bird species that reside in them.

The conflict between man and nature also results from the introduction of domesticated animals in national parks.

1. Kalki, The Tiger King: Vistas Supplementary Reader in English for Class XII
2. Zarroli Jim, No Prosecution For Dentist Who Killed Cecil The Lion: October 13, 2015

Monday, 9 January 2017

The Church of The Epiphany Celebrates its Garden Fete on the 8th of January, 2017

This time we had to postpone the celebration of the Annual Garden Fete of the Church of the Epiphany, Gurgaon to the  8th of January, 2017 instead of having it the month of November 2016. I guess this means that we will be having two Garden fetes in the year 2017! The convenors for the Annual Garden Fete were Mrs. Marion Sircar, and Mrs. Lalita Joshua. The Chief guest on the occasion was Colonel (Retd.) Datta, who happens to be incidentally the oldest parishioner of the Church. The church is also celebrating one hundred and fifty years of service in the town of Gurgaon. The fete was part of the ongoing celebrations which will culminate in the month of February, 2017.Without adding too much information, I would like the pictures to tell a story of their own!

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Greeting the Rising Sun Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot

Greeting the Rising Sun Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot: When I last visited the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary in Haryana, India, I was disappointed by the poor lighting combined with the mist that played spoilsport. But then, I was not to be deterred and decided to take a few photographs of birds and antelopes stirring to life. I knew I wouldn't get sharp images but still, I went on taking a few snaps. When I checked the snaps, I liked the surreal effect! This is another of a similar snap posted on the Yourshot website.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Shooting Nature at Dawn at a Wildlife Bird Sanctuary

A few days back when I visited the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary early in the day, I was a bit disappointed with the lighting conditions. The sun had yet to rise and the mist meant that I would not be able to focus on the eyes of the birds. Nevertheless, I did take a few hazy pictures more for the art than for the sharpness, a few of which I have shared below:

Dawn is a magical moment in the national park. It lends a rather surreal effect to the landscape and the birds take up the shapes of shape-changers as they seem to merge into the background!

The males of the Asian Antelopes don't seem to bother about the grooming and upbringing of their little ones. The doe takes care of her little ones while the stag roams around!

It is a very touching sight to see a family of Asian antelopes toghether. The mothers take a collective responsibility of their little ones. Incidentally, I saw a couple of dogs chasing the little ones across the lake.