Day 96: I wanted to go alone, and be invisible 

Drama, drama, drama

We finally got the teaching practicum report printed, collated and spiral bound, only for SrA to realize that two of her pages were swapped and out of order. Well, too bad. That’s exactly why I’d handed each one of them the report before it was bound. That time was spent staring at her own pictures and now she was in a fit. A and I tried to pacify her, suggesting she put page numbers to clarify. But before long the whole spiral binding had been ripped out.

A and I agreed; had it been either of us, we’d have submitted the report as is and dealt with the consequences later on. But somehow, because it was SrA, the value of our time was immaterial. It frustrates me more than while printing itself she took twice the time as the other two, and claimed some of her reports had ‘disappeared’ although she’d put them in. Whacky-O!

Vidheyak

GardenMan, his senior and I have been working on submitting a policy proposal for an upcoming competition at IIMB. So after all the drama of submissions, I read up about the case and worked with GardenMan while Senior joined us. We spent a lot of time traveling between one workspace and another: no access, no charger, whatnot.

When we finally got discussing, I realized that public policy, especially the tender and bidding process was something I knew very little about. It also became evident that a lot of work in India is wrapped in so many litigations that the good ones chose to stay away from it while the bad ones make all their money. What also got me thinking was how we’d picked sides with a company in the case, purely because we knew it and had heard about it, while the other two was very new. Branding and marketing definitely plays into our psyche.

Plans on the fly

As we were driving back, Gardenman and me at our usual cynical best, he told me about a play that he was planning on attending in the evening. Societal Woes, st Jagriti Theatre. Both the location and the topic were close to home, and I agreed to join him.

He willingly invited me along and then told me something that sent a chill down my spine. ‘I was tired of being social all week. I wanted to put on my black sweater and black jeans, and be invisible for the night’, he said.

How often have you felt the need to disappear? To feel like you dint exist anymore? Wouldn’t it be powerful if we all had an invisibility cloak? We could walk into and out of situations, unnoticed. We could read, learn, explore, and grow, all while going unnoticed. We wouldn’t have to put on this mask that we all draw over our true selfs every morning. We could cry when we wanted, yell and scream when we pleased, and not worry about what the others would take out of it.

Restaurant with the perfect garden

The evening began with a great dinner at The Fat Chef. I love this place for its ambience, the garden at the back. There’s always a dejavu of walking in with H the very first time and being thrilled at the garden. The food was good too. I let myself fall off the diet and enjoyed an all American dinner. Funny how all I craved when I was in the USA was for good old parotta and egg curry.

Societal Woes

I was watching a play after ages and the feeling of sitting amidst the actors, with the scenes unfolding around us, was exciting. All the characters were very relatable, right from the Kasi mama and NRI Rahul, to the skimpily clad Roshni. The story took an unexpected twist from the mirth and banter to suicide and societal pressures, and the entire audience drew silent after the concluding soliloquy.

An amazing performance by the actors, and to think that most of them were senior citizens, well into their 60s, was very inspirational.

White’s Field

I’ve always had a pessimistic view of Whitefield, because of the manic IT crowd, the ever-changing migratory population and their lack of regard for what the city originally stood for. Thanks to GardenMan, I saw a certain side to Whitefield that I did not know existed.

We drove by the twin lanes, Inner circle and Outer circle, encompassing this huge garden at the center. We drove my the oldest villa in the locality, a 150 year old house; Paul uncle is a sweetheart and he lives with his mother, he said. We drove by modern, posh houses, complete with their security cameras and their neighborhood watches.

Seemed like the place Whitefield Rising would rise from.

After all your shenanigans of the day, all I get is a single carrot to munch on? Unfair. 

They should make a play called Doggie’s Woes and I will lead the cast.” Scotch

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Day 94: Don’t underestimate the power of a blind man

Back to Bethany

I did a solo trip back to Bethany Special School to collect completion certificates from the school. I also managed to pick up one of the carpets made by the students from amma’s sarees. It is always a pleasure being back. All the teachers welcomed me back warmly, enquired about the other two, and invited me to say hello to the students. I met Tarun, and our usual sweethearts, Jeslyn and Stuti, and they remembered. Stuti did a full bow and told me that she saw us during her dance for the Prize Day. Even Tarun recognized us during the Vote of thanks apparently. Beautiful souls.

I spent about two hours substituting for Ms Deepa since her mother was in the hospital. Got their computer running, then typed up a few mails and printed out letters for the Principal. It somehow justified the purpose that I was there for, as if the 20 odd hours we spent there didn’t. Maybe it’s me and my idea of not taking back anything but learning from such an institution.

Visually Impaired

The final Teaching practicum for the semester was at a an institution for the visually impaired, called Mitra Jyothi. It is support and resource center for the blind, and the founder is a visually impaired lady herself. So, I was in awe from get-go. We saw the Braille printers and slates, and a number of books published by the institute. It was an impressive establishment for sure. I even saw a blind student type up a super complicated formula in Excel as a part of the computer training, using the screen reader.

I learnt of volunteering opportunities to read books and convert them into talking libraries, and to edit recorded audio to make them blind-compatible. After the recent learning from Radio Namaste, this might be a great place for me to work with them over the weekends.

What affected me the most from the trip was something that the coordinator said. She spoke about the self-respect of the visually impaired and how not every blind man with a stick by the road wants your help to cross it. Most of them have been trained to take care of such basic tasks on their own, and unless they ask for help, you should stay away. A bold and yet powerful observation.

It got me thinking about how in our life’s aim to collect brownie points for the next, we offer help and assistance when we find fit. But what if the person at the other end doesn’t want your help? Are you smart enough to know where to back off?

Silver Ghoster

I’ve had a few decent conversations with SilverGhoster, and it has been refreshing to talk to someone of the newer generation that remembers their Shakespeare. Reddy child, doing his MBA to take over his mother’s school, and we talked about how Christ School is a major threat for their much smaller institution in the area. It talks immensely of brands and how the little mom-pop shop is invariably squashed.

That doesn’t counter the fact that they themselves suffer at the hands of poor teaching methods and teachers. Since it’s run by someone with minimal to no education backing, they still profess rote methods to innovative techniques. I was excited when he told me that most classes have about 25 to 30 students only. We spoke about how powerful that really is and the potential it has to bring real changes in the lives of the students. He had a valid point about the quality of teachers and their willingness to stay in a competitive market. We briefly spoke about recruiting at Christ and so.

Overall, seems like a sensible chappie.

Awkward Dreams

Woke up from a dream where I was being chased by a buffalo. Think the while scene was in a multi-story building, maybe even an infinity pool somewhere. At one point, I am standing in a crisp white room, possibly hiding from the buffalo it walks in, looks directly at me and doesn’t recognize/spot me. Then it takes a little Sniff, and charges directly at me.

And that’s how I was woken up by a blind buffalo chasing me through a fancy resort.

Don’t underestimate the power of a blind man? Is that what the visually challenged computer teacher said? Noo! I’m sure you made that up. Wait! He really said that??

Funny guy!

But it’s scary that they’re in the dark all their lives, no? ” Scotch

Day 74: Teaching sisters-to-be

I miss the Thursday escapades in Bethany Special School. Since we’ve completed our planned two month stint there, we moved to a different assignment and as my luck would have it, we’re off to teach Computer literacy to a group of Sisters and nuns in training. Remember the punctuation first meeting?

From get go, I was shocked at how disorganized the whole thing was, because SrA was more concerned about building up the paper pile than getting work done. We eventually started, 30minutes late, and I realized that we had a task ahead of us. Some of these girls, sorry sisters, were touching a keyboard and a mouse for the first time in their lives. We had to start from pointing to the parts of a computer and move up.

They were all extremely eager to learn and keen. They listened to us like children and giggled when they had a word typed. The little pleasures of being a teacher were clear.

There’s a definite cracking between SrA and me, and that is showing by the day. I could sense a lot of the disconnect through the session, and it was obvious that A would be the meat and us the bun. SrA and I are clearly poles apart. She’d sweet talk anybody to get a favor; I’ll dig my own grave by calling a spade just that. She uses her religion as a handicap to procure little goodies along the way; it’s that system of unwarranted reservation that irks me about our policies. She will sit back and let another do her job for her; my self-respect would rather have me pull a nightouter than have another do my job. Poles apart.

You and I are also poles apart, S. I like to laze and relax, while you like to steer that wheel and zoom by. And yet, we’re good pals, no? Maybe SrA can be the shower to your doglife!” Scotch 

Day 68: Punctuation

Our next series of teaching practicum is with a bunch of girls “learning” to be sisters and nuns. We’re specifically teaching them computer literary, because it’s a critical skill for them to be successful as sisters of God in the future. Forgive my sarcasm in describing the assignment; after spending two months with the Special school at Bethany, I’m a little let down by the assignment to serve such a small, narrowly focused and limited group. My professional ethics will ensure that I give this project my utmost and some more. But, I’m convinced that the ulterior motive attached to the assignment will make it an unsatisfactory experience. Only time will tell if some major life transformations are due in the next four weeks with them.

It’s a group of 13 young girls, mostly in their early 20s, and from as far off states as Jharkhand, Bharti, Odisha and Himachal Pradesh. As a part of their nunning efforts, they are all at a convent near the Uni, specifically to learn English. We spent an hour with the group, learning their current skills in computers, what they would like to learn and why, and we received some very varied responses.

  • They all like the color pink
  • Some could barely state a two-sentence introduction about themselves before their control of the language became a barrier
  • They all started life like regular kids, learning computer science in school to become engineers, before God beckoned to them
  • A number of them described each other as being ‘Happy person’
  • “I want to learn whatsapp and Facebook”, a few said
  • A girl described the one to her left as ‘She is very punctuation’. I am torn between gaging the effectiveness of their English lessons while also contemplating if they really need this foreign language to survive in their line of work.

Here’s to four weeks of a different kind of teaching practicum.

OK, OK. Four weeks of a new kind of rant, eh? Nom, Nom, nom!” Scotch 

Day 16: Of minorities and handicap

It is really disheartening to see people use their religion and religious choices as a handicap, a crutch to rest on and derive benefits from. When getting admitted into a Christian university, I anticipated some amount of bias towards those of a similar religious affiliation. Until I walked in, I’d known only sisters and nuns like Mother Teresa and expected them all to be saintly.

The college has change my perceptions on that entirely. I’m all up for waiting for a slow learner in class and ensuring their up to speed. But using their inabilities as an excuse to take away learning experiences from others is just pretty unfair. In a democracy, irrespective of your religious affiliates or minority status everybody deserves an equal vote. And the majority determines the way forward.

Rant, rant, rant. You do realize that it’s the age of the weak? And if you didn’t support the weak, then how would you differentiate yourself from the right wing ideologies? 

Can we go for a walk and get some fresh air,  instead?”  Scotch

Sniff! Can we go now, please? 

Day 4: Of special children 

Teaching practicum today was a revelation. We visited a special school in the city and spent two hours learning about the various roles the teachers play, the challenges that they face and what makes them do it day over day.

A stark contrast between these schools and a normal school was the vibrance of the smile that each teacher carried. Veena, the computer teacher told us about how she’d walk into the school, in the morning, with her mundane worries and problems. But within the first five minutes, the children would bring a smile on her face and she invariably goes back home rejuvenated. Compare that to the general energy curve of teachers in “normal” institutions. It wanes through the day and by evening they are ready to snap at the first minor slight like a sharp twig.

Ajay, was a child of about 6 or 7, who had spinal issues that prevented him from standing up straight or walking on his own. He was sitting quietly, by himself, in the grass when he spotted me. He asked me to sit next to him. When I did, he asked me to call A over, and then sister as well. The child was collecting friends.

We met the “nerds” of the school, extremely regular-looking children, complete with their nerd glasses. They were the furthest in academics in the school. They had all attended regular schools at one point and were forced to switch over because they were either slow learners or showed minor signs of mental retardation. In most cases, it was the parents of other children that wanted these kids gone from regular schools. Huh!

Tarun was one of the senior boys in the school and walked us through their games room. Half his brain seemed to be eaten out from the inside, while the outside looked normal, with hair and all. His smile made it all disappear.

Stuti had a severe speech impairment and she could only call me ‘Se-Ah’. But that didn’t stop her from coming over and introducing herself to me or offering me her lunch.

All the teachers spoke passionately about how each child was an individual and there was no canned, one-size-fits-all approach with these kids. They talked about how most of these kids forget a lot of what was taught when they return from the summer vacations and they had to redo these lessons over. All are common with the mainstream education around us. Except, here that reality pinches much deeper.

I was surprised by the strange indifference that the principal showed to the kids. As she walked into the class for the autistic kids, Tuvon walked over to her to say hello. She almost looked past him towards the walls and moved on.

It made me wonder if that is what is bred when you do this long enough. When you teach special children for enough years, do they just become like normal children to you? And is that a bad thing? After all, we do want them to feel included, don’t we?

Oh! All this talk is making me ultra solemn. Am I not your very own, crazy, special child? Pet me and your worries will be forgotten! ” Scotch