Day 118: It’s raining ameeras

Speaking of the dead

ChemProf was in town to attend to his familial duties, and I tagged along. We went early in the morning and paid our last respects to a granmy that passed away. It was funny to listen to all the planning, and the beliefs behind them, that went into checking on the dead, in fact on the living left behind. It’s preferable to go in the morning, because you anyway have to come back and shower; so might as well club it with the daily wash. You must have coffee at home and go, because it’s generally not recommended to eat at the house. Once you’re back, you should make sure you don’t touch any item of clothing; or be ready to do a lot of laundry. When leaving their house, you’re not supposed to say goodbye since it would tempt more mourning in the house; we left with a lot of awkward nods.

The conversations there, however, were all over the place. There was a lot of sharing of sob stories of every other oldie that one knows, that suffered more than the one in question. There was some fond reminiscing of the life lived and the love shared. There was a lot of rationalizing the death over the suffering. At the end of it all, the adults seemed like awkward teens at the class party, making small talk and waiting for closing time so they could leave. And like young adults, the men were more out of place in such a setting than the women.

The Kabir within

I dropped ChemProf and the Mrs off at their bus, and was an hour early for today’s kabir session. Unlike the last session where there was a nice quiet before the class, today was mayhem. There was a ballet recital coming up and the overly British-accented tutor was screaming her lungs out to get her students, ranging from 5 year old girls to 25 year old boys to follow instructions. I spent the 45 minutes before the session trying to not listen to her while trying to digest the lyrics for today’s kabir song.

However, the magic from the first session continued when we holed up in the room, the noise of anticipation and eagerness drowning out any external sounds. Tu  peele ameeras dhara, gagan main jhadi lagi – go ahead and drink the stream of nectar, there is a huge downpour in the sky. Yet another wonderful pick for the class, by Vipul. Catchy tune, a much happier number than the last one. The conversations were much deeper than the last, if you asked me. The interpretations for true knowing, a drop vs. the plenty, thirst, and the guru were inspiring to listen to.

In the end, the message that I took away was simple – There is nectar in the guru or the teacher’s words. And do not look for the guru outside you, he resides within. Simple. Indeed.

Sneaking coffees

I had a cross-country trip from South to far East, for the last event of the night. And fancy ideas snuck in a coffee break on the way over. SilverGhoster was free and saturated from the prep for his exams and I needed some filter coffee. So, off we went to grab a cuppa from some good ole Udupi bhavans in Koramangala. As we passed by a couple of CCDs and Costas, brim with their falsified lights and promises of caffeine satiety, I was reaffirmed of my love for pure, simple coffee, the traditional Indian way.

The conversations were haphazard, but I left with a feeling of glee. There was a strange, and yet familiar reaffirmation; the kinds one feels when you know that this would not be a graduate-and-forget kind of a friendship. Not reading too much into what lay within either of us, I felt a platonic comfort that I haven’t formed with another in a while; not since I let MalluMan in and paid for it.

As I drove back to the last event for the day, I wondered what the universe’s grand scheme of things was. Both of us joined the university at the same time, both of us had similar aspirations of leading an educational institution at some point, and both of us loved classic rock in this day and age of the Biebers. And yet, the universe did not put us in the same class. It did not even find reasons for us to meet until an entire year was spent going ahead in the same direction, but on parallel tracks. The logic beats me. If it had put us in the same class, we may have been at each other’s throat by now; there is that commonality of being the loudest in the class between the two of us. If we had met sooner, the circumstances would have made it just another trivial acquaintance.

Whatever it’s strange plans were, or are yet to unfold, I met the SilverGhoster at the apt moment that the universe intended for us to. And we shall wait and watch what lies ahead.

Petting projects

The final event of the day was a dynamite explosion. I was in the company of two, young and overly bright minds – the GardenMan and the ProjectPetter. GardenMan and I were both a little skeptical when ProjectPetter told us of her plans to be in Bangalore, and to meet up. But the first few minutes into the conversation and it made sense. We all loved education, and it’s state in India, how could we not connect?

ProjectPetter told us a lot about the extended personality development program that she was on. I’d probably try it when the timing is right, because the energy levels in the young lass were very evident. Something that she asked me has been plaguing me for a while and could be the answer to a number of the country’s youth hoping to contribute to education. What truly creates the most impact to the education space – working with the government, working for an NGO, or starting a localized program of your own? A worthy thought with no easy answer yet. Do we shoot for quality or quantity? Do the sprout of localized agencies truly justify the impact? The questions are still afresh in me.

Overall, a very eventful day indeed.

Eventful indeed. But is that some interesting food that you gave up there? When are you going to make me taste them?” Scotch 

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Day 111: He has 4 Masters degree and a law degree

Reconnecting with friends is always fun. And, PeePee has been a variant of all sorts amongst the friends circle. What started off as mutual likes on each other’s photo blogs, graduated to comments on the blog and moved on to email exchanges. I still remember the random, unexpected, first email that PeePee sent, full of techniques on shooting a closeup of the moon. I would generally have marked it as spam a d ignored the man on my photoblog. But, I followed it to the last T and this beauty happened. Since then, our mutual acquaintance would go through the phases of the moon; the full moon and its everyday conversations, on everything under the moon, that would wane to the no moon, with some serious virtual silence. He’s been one of those rare acquaintances that I felt at ease with almost immediately and we could talk after years and still catch up like nothing changed.

We reconnected today; I messaged him because I was captivated by his dp when reviewing contacts on the old phone. The new, self-grooming, was definitely spot on. And, we quickly caught up. A successful move to the US, a shack of his own decked up to his interests, new hobbies (wood work :)), and persistent old hobbies, family that lived a few miles away and parents that visited often, and he seems to be living the classic 30-year old’s dream life. And yet, the consistent underlying thread of regret was the mismatch between the familial expectations of marriage versus that of our generation.

He has been riding the same boat of evaluations for marriage as I have, mostly driven by parents. There are staunch restrictions for prospects; should be of the same caste, sub-caste even and all other factors, including matching interests, are trumped by superstitious beliefs. No amount of convincing, discussing have changed their mindset on that. ‘My father has four Master’s degrees, even a law degree, and my mother is equally qualified too. And yet…‘, his voice trails off.

Education vs. Family

A lot of their opinions, and life choices, seem to be affected more by their immediate society than the educational qualifications. Shouldn’t education automatically help you sift out the right from the wrong, the outdated from the relevant? I’ve had this similar query when having sociological discussions with ChemProf as well. Despite being one of the most educated in the larger family, he still has such obsolete, conventional, ideas about relationships, social statuses and gender equality. And I can emphasize with PeePee: the more I talk to ChemProf, the more I realize how futile the whole effort is, and how deep rooted some of these stereotypes really are.

Riding the wall

What also caught me in the whole conversation was the sincere pain I felt in PeePee for hurting his parents. Our generation has very strong principles and has the will to live by it; but it is also aware of the barrier that rests between our generation and the previous one; especially the big barrier about ideologies. The last time I said yes to getting married, it was not because I liked the gentleman; it was purely because I was tired of hurting my parents. And yet, my conviction to my own principles didn’t allow me to see it through.

We’ve become a generation that is strong about its own interests and needs, but is equally aware of the effect of these on the previous generation. We cannot hurt outright, and yet we cannot give in completely as well. We ride the middle line, a balanced act on the tight-rope, and only time will tell if we make it through or the rope tips over.

Talk about long distances, and you now know how we Yoga in KL. Well, mommy tries to do Yoga, but I usually beat her to the mat. And the dogasanas begin.” Goose

Day 67: St. Anger round my neck 

Why do you take everything so seriously, S?“, she asked, puzzled.

Because I did not give up a career of ten years and a steady, fat income, to not care, acting like it’s all OK. Ms. JK“, I retorted and an unplanned stream of tears trickled down my cheeks. Breaking point.

For the last year in college, I’ve been working with teachers to point out gaps in the syllabi and identify ways to make it tighter. During that period, I’ve continued to hear all the popular education-specific jargon in class. We’ve studied about everything, from student-centered learning, to individualized teaching, to comprehensive assessments and modern, innovative teaching methods. We’ve heard about all of this in theory.

Because, in reality:

  • We are still forced to study that same outdated syllabus because it seems to be etched in stone and unchangeable. “Your feedback will be incorporated into subsequent years’ syllabi“, I hear
  • That outdated syllabus is so spineless that teachers themselves comment about how the intended hours are not at all required. They’d rather have us sit in class and work on ‘something’ because there are many more classes to use up
  • In a class of three, we are still taught from an ancient PowerPoint presentation that some alumni must have made as a part of their assignments – poorly researched and outdated
  • Until I brought it up as a teaching method, most teachers did not even consider the option for us to research and present or teach some topics. It would have been 100% teacher-driven, if not for that
  • Almost every teacher on roll takes a defensive stance the minute a point of discussion is brought up. Questioning an ideology or stereotype is effectively looked as a questioning of their subject matter experience
  • None of the teachers have an educational specialization. Our sociology professor is a expert in History
  • We learn meaning, definition and all such synonyms of a concept for 4 hours, because apparently we are providing individualized instruction to the weakest in the class. What about the others that are ready to move on?
  • All instruction is limited to the four walls of the classrooms. We’re, after all, not English literature students to take the teaching to the garden
  • Experiences through workshops and seminars are awarded like candy to a diabetic. In measured and restricted doses
  • You’re expected to continue with your research and data collection, while they continue to have theory classes through the day. Data will magically appear if you pray hard enough.

The experience of trying to change the archaic ways used to deal with students, and content, especially of the Masters courses, has been demoralizing and soul sucking. In the last two days, I’ve questioned every single decision in my life that has led me to this point. I moved from an industry where we were pioneering BYOD and digital nomadism, to one where technology equates to PowerPoint presentations and nothing more. I moved from a group discussing through brainmaps and deciding their work-wear based on their day’s meetings, to one where concept maps ‘do not have the continuity of language’ and the dress code is set by a senile lady to not distract the Fathers on campus.

Every career has it’s pitfalls; my past life had enough for me to up and leave. So, maybe I’m just living the phase where everything in hind-sight is 20-20. But it does seem that as an industry, or specialization, the education department is the most resistant to change. We are tasked with equipping the bright minds of tomorrow, for tomorrow, and yet we are the most deep-rooted in the past. The content and the teaching methods are so aged that the student teachers graduating will be left in a state of shock when thrown into a class full of technology addicted 10 year olds.

11 years ago, my Civil Engineering degree did not land me a job in an IT multinational. My reading outside class hours did. Would this degree follow suit and be just another degree? Would all the learning happen outside, in my own time and under my own direction, again? If so, then what is the while point of having taken two years off to attend a full-time course?

“Relax, S. Sometimes it helps to go with the flow, enjoy life, and see what tomorrow has in store for us. 

Now, can you share some of that wonderful egg, please?” Scotch

Day 34: New experiences, petting projects, and dreams

Petting projects

A normal Saturday took a turn for the better when we kicked off the volunteer group at Pet a Project. Ranga Shankara, the location for our meet, was a wonderful venue and I enjoyed a productive hour, working on my assignments, while the gang rolled in. And it was such an amazing bunch to talk to. The power of volunteerism is that you do not have competition or that innate human need to one-up the other. The six of us were almost instantly chatting away like we’d known each other for years. There was already some playful banter and teasing, reminiscent of thick friends. For an outsider, we could have passed off for a group of friends reuniting after years of being apart. And that says wonders about the team that we have now.

The project itself has gotten me excited for a few weeks now. It follows in line with our conversations over the summer, at Bhor, where as educationists, we agree that there is something critically lacking in our daily school curriculum, that is leaving our children incapable in real-life situations. While the Schools of the Future Program targeted middle-income private schools, that could in turn seed fund the project with government schools, and focused largely on making learning visible in schools, Pet A Project aims at working specifically with low-income government schools, and enhancing the life-skills in these school students.

Questions remain about the true nature of the curriculum that has been designed already, the effectiveness tracking mechanism and the sustainability plan. But for now, it’s project-go, and that has always been a fun and exciting time.

New experiences

 

The day got better when Sid and I lost and found our way to Tortilla House, a quaint home studio in the residential streets of Koramangala, where the day’s edition of the Playback Theatre would be. The Actor’s Collective, founded by a ChristU Alum professor, and itself consisting of a number of ChristU alums, is one of the forerunners in the country on the alternate theatre concept, called Playback Theatre. From our first hello there, we felt extremely welcome and warm, with the ambience and the actors and their smiles.

Unlike a typical play, where the actors are up on stage, almost playing god, and the audience sits below, with eyes of endearment, here we were all right there in one single room. The audience sat at one end of the studio, while the actors took another. The facilitator did a wonderful job bringing the two together, and the crux of playback theatre – of acting scenes based on the stories shared by the audience – was extremely intriguing.

My personal experience, watching them enact my Trust Circle Conundrum, was insightful. The trust circle in itself has been something that I think about extensively, and the questions of my readiness to get into it will always plague me. But watching the actors enact that conflict, especially almost hinting that I should get in there, was a powerful feeling indeed.

Dreams

 

While a number of us shared our stories and watched in silence as the actors brought them to life on stage, the one story that moved me the most was Vinu’s struggle with the true origin of dreams. As beautiful as his struggle was, the way it was enacted was equally powerful.

Do we dream dreams that are our own, or are they dreams that we are made to dream?

His narrative to the question was his struggle with his identity as a homosexual and a passionate man and his dream of having a loving partner, a child and a dog to complete his family. As the relationship went down under, his dreams haunted him and he repeated the question often to justify his need to move on or his lethargy to stay put. I couldn’t have related to another’s struggle like I did with Vinu’s.

An engineering degree, a stable job in a multi-national company, a few trips offshore to work from exotic countries, a steady stream of vacations to exquisite lands, an extravagant marriage by 24, a baby by 26 and another by 28. Whose dreams are we expected to live? Does the society have such an effect on our pysche that even our dreams mirror the societal demands? Did we grow up dreaming of vacations in ultramarine blue seas? Weren’t our dreams more rustic and basic then?

And more importantly, how many of us are dreaming the dream of others and fooling ourselves into thinking they are our own?

“S, seems like you had a lot of fun this Saturday. Is it true that you went to a café where people cut a birthday cake and you dint even get a piece? Couldn’t you have tried to sneak one out, at least for me?” Scotch