Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Sting and the Slap

This is one incident which will never fade away from my memory...I was told about this by a friend of mine. This was her experience. She verbalised it and contextualised it. But I remained troubled by it. Many a time in the past couple of years, I had to prevent myself from writing about it. But somehow, the pain of the child and the mother felt very real to me. The best way I could deal with it was by writing about it. I often wondered however - what was preventing me from doing so? Is it because, we never acknowledge this? Do we choose to look the other way? Or, do we dress it up in words that dismiss the true significance of such things? A child running towards a kite was stopped by a famous person. He had felt slighted that the child had not responded to his hugs and wanted to 'discipline' him. My friend could not reach immediately because this was a family gathering. But before she realised, things had happened. Whatever, in the midst of an otherwise mundane day, with me achieving practically nothing of value, I found my release.

His tiny mind,
Only five and a half,
Had never felt ever,
A stinging slap.

So, he was surprised
For a split second,
Coz he hadn't seen
That slap coming.

His eyes started filling,
As one tear trickled down.
But the boy in him,
Stood his ground.

Fighting back the tears he
Searched as far as he could see.
Only to notice his mother
As stunned as he'd been.

He felt the slap,
She felt the sting,
How, he didn't know but
They were both crying.

He could feel himself,
Being picked up by his mother.
And heard an angry retort,
Being given to that famous doctor.

He had seen a kite
And wanted to see it fly,
So he'd been running
Towards the terrace all excited.

But this man so famous,
Had held him back,
Had wanted to hug him
To show him he was the boss.

He had resisted,
And wanted to break free.
But the man had felt insulted
And slapped him on his cheek.

Was it wrong to run,
Behind a kite, he wondered
Why wouldn't his aunt
Or his grandmother tell?

The man had indeed slapped.
But more devastating,
Was the silence of the people,
Continuing with their 'pretending'.

The mother held the child
And silently exited the place.
Suffering all the while
The hurt they had to face.

Almost two years hence
The child forgot the slap.
But the mother remembers
The sting of that hostile act.

That day she lost
Her trust in her family
That day she started
Distrusting everybody.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Of Bards more than one - An evening with Tagore and Gulzar

Recently, I read an article regarding research conducted on reading habits of people sent across by a well-meaning individual. The title of the article was pretty incidental I suppose: What you read matters more than what you might think. One observation that caught my fancy was the following statement: 'When volunteers read their favourite poems, areas of the brain associated with memory were stimulated more strongly than "reading areas," indicating that reading poems you love is the kind of recollection that evokes strong emotions - and strong emotions are always good for creative writing.'

Where do Tagore and Gulzar fit into all this?

I had always felt that poetry just...happens! Poetry is a single arresting thought, or a combination of thoughts, which searches for the apt words. I must admit that due to geographical and language-related factors, my knowledge of Tagore was mostly restricted to The Gitanjali and the short story The Cabuliwallah. Selections from his magnum opus and the quintessential story would always appear in English textbooks and supplementary readers and hence, I was 'too familiar' with them. However, every single time I went back to the story of the Cabuliwallah I had often wondered about the genius of a story-teller who could fill a simple narrative with such poignancy and emotion. I had often wondered, how he would have made Mini narrate this same story.

My knowledge of Gulzar was even more less. I faintly remembered that he had something to do with Bollywood cinema, and felt woefully ignorant. While waiting for the traffic jam to clear up, I quickly googled him, only to realise that the corpus of creative work done by this man beats anybody's imagination.

Listening to Gulzar only confirmed my assessment about poetry. He delved into his memories to recollect the incident that had led him towards an exploration of Tagore's works. And throughout the conversation during the book launch, his emphasis was on how Tagore was much more than the Nobel prize winning work, or the ubiquitous short story. Tagore was a poet who spoke to generations. And where better to find this Tagore, than in his poetry?

As I heard Gulzar reciting selections from Tagore's poetry, through the rhythm of sound, the depth of imagery and the precision of detailing, I felt myself being transported into very specific worlds quintessentially arrested in the stillness of time: the worlds of a bride who is being exhorted by her mother-in-law to answer the door and invite the 'guest', the child who brings alive a gripping tale of adventure and bravery, or a child who fancies himself to be a grown-up, like his Dada. . Yet, they were communicating a volume of meaning. They were almost like touchstones of human perceptions of everyday life.

While Tagore's achievement had been to arrest such moments and preserve them for an eternity, Gulzar's feat has been to render the translations in such a precise manner without sacrificing the rhythm for the meaning. His recitation managed to evoke pretty strong emotions; so much that I clapped with great gusto when Gulzar concluded a poem on a child's conversation with his mother with a sweet, ironic twist, suggesting that the child was aware about his make-believe world. 

For me, the greatest takeaway of the evening was the realisation that there is more to Tagore than The Gitanjali and his novels. And there is more to Gulzar than his movies. Further, I found myself nodding in agreement to his suggestion that Tagore's poems, especially those on children, have to be made accessible to children. These poems which foreground children and their narratives offer us precise but pertinent perspectives on how children think and imagine. A quick look at our current system (s) of education will show that the odds are stacked against the development of EQ (emotional quotient) as opposed to IQ. And where better to begin the process of change than with poetry. These are the readings that would trigger strong emotions and hence better creativity.

As Gulzar, in his sonorous voice transported us into lands and time far removed from the cold comfort of the air-conditioned hall that we were sitting in, I could not help but reflect that this was an evening well-spent with bards more than one!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Dear Ma'am, my twins haven't completed their Holiday Homework!

The following post is more of a funny take on the notion of Holiday Homework. It is a heady mix of fact and fiction, and hence, depends more on drama to laugh and ponder over something.

Dear Ma'am

Today, at 1 am, I woke up with a start. SR and SB have not finished their holiday homework, and their school reopens TODAY!  I am sure that you are going to judge them on the completion of their holiday homework, and hence, am 'petrified'! I am very sorry, but...please don't pull up my twins for my tardiness. The fault is all mine.

I tried my best. After all, which mother does not want to be acknowledged as a supermom by her child's class teacher? But, I was kind of taken aback by the two pages of work, which according to your estimate, could be completed in 30 days. This scared the *&;^% out of me and I lost all interest and excitement.  And, at this unearthly hour,  I am wondering whether that was a smart move. Because, ultimately, homework is the yardstick that you will use to measure my achievement as a mom, and my twins' achievement as learners.

You stated that 'summer is a time for taking a break from regular academics' and 'is the time to relax, unwind and have some fun'. However, you were concerned about a 'learning gap' that could possibly occur, and hence were so thoughtfully assigning this work. Pray ma'am, what 'learning gap' are we talking about when a child is entering 'grade 1'? Further, much of the HW that you had assigned was drawn from the textbooks and workbooks assigned for grade 1.

One thing became very obvious to me. You have very high expectations for SB and SR, and other kids like them. Let us see what those expectations are: 'learning an entire song in Hindi' (you have very thoughtfully linked up a youtube video which looked quite garish. SR was positively freaked out), writing the sources of water on an A4 sheet of paper (I couldn't see any reason why an entire A4 size sheet should be wasted for that, so, in an apparent act of 'deviation', I just showed them another garish video that you had linked. I didn't make them write. Incidentally, you have yourself pointed out to SR and SB on so many occasions that paper must not be wasted).

You had very thoughtfully told them to learn a song, poem and a story in their mother tongue. I am sorry, but my knowledge of singing is very limited. And as of now, SB and SR seem to be sharing a similar trait. But they do talk in their mother tongue, and can understand the language. If that was your intention in assigning this task, then by all means, they have achieved it.

On an earlier instance, you had insisted that children 'assimilate' a lot of 'vocab' and hence, they need to be exposed to all kinds of words. I tried reasoning with you, pointing out that expecting a UKG kid to spell and recognise the word 'embarrass' without even understanding the complexity of meaning and the phonetic structure is a tall order. In a single stroke, you just homogenised all kids and stated,  'Other kids are able to do it. Only SR and SB are not able to do it' suggesting in a sinister way that maybe, I was responsible.  With all humility I submit that, without your wise and educated interventions, it took me around 30 minutes to teach my sons the contrasting pronunciation between words like  'this' and 'thin' and then, sort such words into groups. At the end of which, both the parties concerned were equally frustrated. Maybe I don't know English. Or maybe,...I am not a good teacher.

One good thing that happened as a result was that I travelled back in time and recollected my own summer vacations while at primary school. It was a time that I had enjoyed and looked forward to. I made the decision that my sons would do the same.

Though you had not assigned any art and craft work, my twins painted one picture every possible day. I have collected them carefully. Would you like to see those pictures? (I am sure that you very 'thoughtfully' didn't assign such work because, you didn't want SR and SB to paint the walls of our house with their creative output. The damage is already done ma'am:-))

SR and SB learnt how to hold on to the tea filter securely (while an elder pours out the tea) which is actually a demonstration of their fine motor skills. Would you like to see that ma'am?

SR and SB learnt how to build a lego car. It took them three days, with the assistance of their nanny, to follow a manual and complete this task. You may say that it is mechanical and does not endow them with the halo of academic brilliance that you expect, but yes, they did group the lego pieces, interpreted the various steps of assembling from the manual, and finally built a car. I am sure that those skills also figure somewhere on the objectives listed out under Bloom's taxonomy.

My sons learnt and recalled the various landmarks in and around the place that we stay, and of course, learnt a few more things about passenger trains. This is because, we have to pass along a railway track every time we go out.  Do you want to ask them how to identify a Shatabdi, a Duronto, a passenger, a goods and a MMTS train? They will surprise you. (Why do I get a feeling that you won't ask? Incidentally, this can be classified under spatial intelligence.)

SR and SB learned to identify how different categories of groceries and products are arranged in a supermarket. They spelt out the words on the signboards and tried to help me locate the products that I wanted to buy.  (Of course, I had to give them their jellies and Cadbury Gems as a reward). I had the pleasure of watching them evolve into these 'angels' who helped me with everything that their tiny hands could carry.

During this vacation, SR learnt how to clean vegetables with a piece of clean cloth and sort them out into different environment friendly bags so that they can be stored in the refrigerator. SB learnt how to arrange his toys back into his cupboard so that the door closes completely.(This was a major issue earlier!)

SR understood that his grandmother was undergoing a surgical procedure for her eyes, while SB understood the importance of dental hygiene (especially after losing two teeth. The chap now brushes his teeth every night before going to sleep. Experience is indeed great teacher!)

The list goes on ma'am, but I get the feeling that I have lost you somewhere in the first couple of paragraphs

I am not sorry that you will not read this. I am not sorry that you will not see the value of 'experiential learning'. I am not sorry that you will still insist on the power of the written word, the spoken story and the song that is sung.

I am only sorry that in your enthusiasm to avoid a 'learning gap' during the summer vacation, you will judge my sons by their ability to complete the tasks that you have assigned. I am sorry that you will not see what they have actually 'learned'. And,...they are going to be with you for this entire academic year, and hence, I am scared.

I'm afraid my twins haven't completed their holiday homework. I assure you ma'am, the fault is entirely mine!

Your truly
An anxious mother

Saturday, June 11, 2016

A Blast from the Past! A Magical Pair of Glasses

A dear soul had sent these birthday wishes 6 years ago, one of the most thoughtful and well-written lines. I often wonder how long it took to write these words. And every day that I read them, it is a new day, with a new pair of glasses (or lenses???)

Over a period of time, the colour of the glasses may have changed (as yours truly graduated from a frustrated research scholar into a academic and a mother), but the words have not lost their meaning. So, here we go, I post them once again:

A Birthday wish

As you add yet another year of experience
To your quiver called LIFE,
I wish for you a new pair of glasses -
A magical pair - that lets you see
The world a bit differently -

Where troubles look like opportunities
And problems are challenges!
Where while accounting for mounting liabilities
You realize that your assets balance them off.
For after all - accounting is all about Balancing, na?

Where while projecting the anguish of characters
From the novels you read, on to your own life,
You realize that you are scripting your own novel,
To be read by others and all of life is just a drama.
And the more you laugh at your own novel, the more you enjoy it.

Have a nice day and a wonderful year ahead

PS: I added another year this year... and can only sigh at all those ebooks that I downloaded, hoping to read sometime, and all those novels and plays gathering dust on my bookshelf, which I had hoped to reread sometime.