The quest for identity..

What am i? Is it distinct from “Who am I?” . I think so, as the “who” is a longer and deeper quest in me.

Am I an entrepreneur? Am I an educationist? I am introduced in several forums as either or both. And I wonder if I relate to these descriptions. I do and I do not.

Today I came across an interesting description of myself “an educational reformer”, and it struck a chord. So have I or my organization reformed education yet? Is reform a destination, an end, an end for a new beginning? Is the word ‘reformer’ applicable to a work in progress? And more so when the work in progress seems quite endless?

It’s not just about education do I really seek power to “reform”!  It’s about one’s lifestyle, it’s about moving from mediocrity to excellence in every action- it’s strongly about shifting from a “work-life balance-seeking-mind” to seeing the balance and congruence in one’s thought-word-action. It’s about moving from becoming to being. It’s about  seeing the tagline “Thank God it’s Friday” as the most unproductive and as adulterating one’s natural, beautiful urge to work, contribute!

Perhaps am an aspiring reformer- in pursuit, beginning with myself- afresh with every sunrise to utilizing the gifts of my birth to inspire the world around. For which I have taken one form as an entrepreneur and another as an educationist. Of course, both meet in one designation that my visiting card holds!

Is that me? The quest continues!

Jayalalitha, to me.

A more fitting tribute could not have been given by her party-men, people of her state and citizens of the city she lived in and worked, most of her life. Sentiments were high, strong emotions made people throng the hospital, queue up the Rajaji hall where her body was kept for public viewing, as well as in the procession to join her film and political mentor, MGR in his memorial. Yet, the city did not see any unruly mob-behaviour, violence nor any damage of property or loss of lives. A great tribute to an over-powering leader, a woman at that. Madam Jayalalitha, three-time Chief Minister of the state.

Jaya or Amma as she was fondly known to the people in her state was a special personality, admired, loved, perhaps even hated, but could never be ignored. And this was even before she entered political life in the 80s, after quitting movies. In the late 60s and 70s she was the undisputed queen of South Indian cinema. She was a super star in what was a very man’s world in moviedom. I recall watching one of her film shootings, when I was as young as 6 years old. What struck me even then was that this gorgeous actor was unique and different. She would sit quietly by herself with a book in her hand, until called for the shot – and there, in front of the camera transform into this abundantly talented dancer and actor. Impeccable dialogue delivery, expressions, an on-screen charisma which turned into an off-screen enigma, remained so until today, when her soul departed!

In 1987, when MGR died, she was yet another person in the party, shrugged off, even treated badly when she tried to get near his body in the final procession. Ironically, today her own procession found millions of her fans and followers quietly moving on to bid the final good bye. Perhaps, Jaya/ Amma commands that respect even when lifeless.

People also remember the dark day in the State Assembly in 1989, when her womanhood was breached and she was physically assaulted by opposition party members. She vowed to come back into the assembly only as a CM- and she did! In 1991, she became the Chief Minister with a thumping majority. Every woman in the state must have smiled that day.

She was that woman that all women like to see in themselves- full of grit, courage and determination. She was too intelligent to be just that woman to go round trees in a hero-dominated movie world. And she never ever let herself be reduced to that.

She was too intelligent to just be a political leader following an ideology that she perhaps never related to completely. So, here she was heading a Dravidian party and ruled, governed by her own style and persona.

She may have lost elections due to corruption charges, entangled in court cases over disproportionate assets, had a mysterious friend coterie that was charged as ruling the state through her etc. But what people remember her for is defying the man-supremacy in the political male bastion in Tamil Nadu. And in style!

Jayalalitha belonged to no political dynasty. She fought her way through and in the majority of years in rule, she was known for her administrative capabilities, put the state strongly  in the sports and education map, reportedly made the state rise to become the lowest in crime, among the best in law and order.

Her last few years had blobs of accusation of inconsistent governance, red-tapism etc – but welfare measures for the common man made up for it – Amma canteen, Amma water, Amma pharmacies – yes, “Amma” labelled welfare initiatives that made her dear to the masses.

From “ammu’ (to all in theater and filmdom) to “amma”, this woman’s journey was spectacular. When MGR died, people suspected a political vacuum in the state. In few months, she rose to become, eventually, perhaps a more popular leader than the man himself. And today, we see a political vacuum that this “iron-lady” has left behind! Well, no one dares to even question that she ran the party and the state as a one-woman show. Perhaps, all the women (including me, who’s writing this!) feel satisfied that someone gave the men a real run for their money!

The people of the state have shown their love and respect for her – despite all her flaws that has been reported , perceived in her film and political life – through a send off that one has not witnessed like we saw today. A calm, quiet love for the fighter in her. In a woman!

 

 

 

 

What we teach our children, in school!

Rohit did not quite like his parents’ idea. They wanted him to accompany them to see an ailing uncle. He had just come back from school and was in no mood to go out to the hospital.

“No, dad” he said. “I have to finish a Math assignment”. That was just one of the reasons. He had also wanted to try out a new app on his tablet, which his friend Sam had been talking about at school.

The Math assignment was a serious affair too. His teacher was very firm that students turn in their assignments in a timely manner. “No excuses”, she had warned. Today’s was a particularly difficult assignment.

“We cannot leave you alone at home, Rohit”, his mom explained. “Vinu Uncle has been in the hospital for a few days now. Renu aunty called today and said uncle wants to see us. You may do your homework tomorrow morning.”

He had  already slept in the car on their way back, late that night.

“It’s seven o clock Rohit!” he could hear his mother yelling out. In the next 15 minutes, he only knew that he was in the bus, on his ride to school!

***************

Nirbhay was excited as he walked back home from school. His mom was taking him and his sister to the Star Wars movie that evening. He literally threw  his school bag in his room, his math homework totally fading out from his memory!

After watching the movie that night, he hardly slept, with his eyes full of the Star Wars effect!

***************

As the Math teacher walked into Class 5 B, its silence almost made her uncomfortable.

“I hope  all of you have finished your homework! Come and place your notebooks on my table” she broke the silence. Most students were making  last minute changes in their assignments while a few others were already in line to submit their notebooks.

Nirbhay and Rohit stood up, as the Math teacher asked the class if anyone had not submitted  their assignment.

“Rohit, why didn’t you finish your homework?”, she asked staring into his eyes. “Speak up”, she screamed out, clearly not happy with his silence.

“Ma’m. I had to visit an uncle in the hospital last evening….” “Don’t give me lame excuses”, the teacher said in a loud voice even before Rohit completed his sentence. “go out of the class, right now”

“Nirbhay, what  excuse are you going to give me now?” she asked.

“Ma’m,” said Nirbhay with his head bent down. “ I was down with high fever and vomiting from the time I went home last evening. I had to go to the doctor.”

“How are you feeling, today?” the teacher asked as she came close to Nirbhay. She noticed his eyes weren’t looking good. She touched his forehead with concern. “Sit down. Complete the homework and submit it tomorrow. Will you?”

From outside the class, Rohit could hear Nirbhay’s   “Yes, ma’m”.

He would now wait for the recess to hear Nirbhay complete the Star Wars narration. He had also learnt a very important lesson that day!

The red ink!

It was EVS class in Grade 1. The teacher was introducing the topic “Parts of the plant” to her students. Most children seemed to know the names of the parts. They were eager & enthusiastic to label them on the worksheets given to them.

The teacher did not wait to see if all her students could label the parts right! She drew a thin looking plant on the blackboard. She labelled each part neatly and asked her children to “copy them correctly” in their worksheets.

“I am sure many of my kids can identify & name the plant parts (the Expected Learning outcome of her class, that day). But I don’t want them to spell the words wrong. When I correct their worksheets, I don’t like to use the red ink to mark them wrong or correct their spellings.” Jyoti teacher confessed to me. “Children don’t like to see the red ink on their work too”, she added assertively.

The lesson moved on. “What is your favourite flower?”, Jyoti read out aloud from the book. “Children, write the name of the flower you like the most in the blank, next to this question”. Jyoti’s voice displayed a lot of haste. It was almost bell-time and she seemed quite eager to finish her scheduled lesson plan!

The first-graders were busy writing the answers. I went around to peep into their books, hoping to see a variety of flower names. As I passed by desk to desk, I saw only one answer repeatedly, the “ROSE”. Some students were writing them quite spontaneously, many were busy erasing and rewriting.

I went near Niyati- a bright-eyed girl who had even drawn a rose, next to her answer. “Why do you like the ‘rose’? Don’t you like any other flower, as much?”, I asked.

She stared into my eyes, before looking at her book again. She seemed quite pleased with her neat handwriting and the bonus drawing. She looked at me again into my eyes and said “I actually love the ‘tulip’. That’s my favourite flower.” I was surprised, only so, for a moment. Instantly it struck me as to why most kids in the class had chosen to write ROSE as the answer. Yet, I asked Niyati “so, why did you not write ‘TULIP’?”

“I don’t know the spelling of ‘tulip’”, she said softly.

Children don’t like to see the red ink on their work too..” Jyoti teacher’s voice echoed inside me as the bell rang. Perhaps, parents don’t like to see red ink too; at the cost of honest student expressions and better learning!

 

 

 

11 IDEAS FOR STUDENTS TO BE ON TOP OF FLOODS EMOTIONALLY

A ‘rain holiday’ is something school-going children usually look forward to. Not this time, for students in Chennai & neighbouring districts. Many have been out of school from early November. It may not be presumptuous to say that now, children are likely to be restless at home, waiting to meet their teachers and friends in school. It is also likely that many students and teachers may have suffered to varied extents, some of them severely, owing to this calamity.

Schools are set to reopen soon. School administrative bodies are working hard to get their campus & infrastructure to some shape and hygiene. Teachers will get ready to start their classes and take charge of completing the prescribed syllabi. At this juncture it’s a good idea that teachers pause, be calm & pass on the calm & reassurance to their students before the text books are picked up in a hurry. An emotionally safe learning environment is one of the fundamental requisites of learning.

Here are eleven ideas that teachers may want to use during the initial days of resuming work, as they themselves and many of their students are grappling with emotional, physical disturbances.

  1. Seat your students, including yourself in one circle to carry out ‘Circle Time’. The circle gives a greater sense of belonging. It helps everyone in the group to look at the rest, speak as well as listen. Give a minute to each child to share his/her emotions right now, post the floods. This is an opportunity for students to express and for those who have not been affected, to listen and be empathetic.
  1. Sharing NEWS is a structured protocol that could be planned, especially for older students.

N – Neighbourhood news

E – Experiences (personal)

W – What Worries them, right now

S – Suggestions to the group to ‘Be safe’

  1. Set up a Mood Meter chart on the classroom wall. Ask each child to depict, draw or write an adjective that reflects their current mood, as they enter the class and put it up on the chart. This helps visual, linguistic learners to express their emotions. Diversity in the Mood Meter among the class could be discussed & will help students express themselves as well as understand their classmates better. This could be repeated when children disperse to their homes in the evening. Have their moods improved through the day? If yes, pat yourself on your back. If not, hang on with them for a few more days until things seem brighter!
  1. Cut out small strips of chart paper that could become wrist-bands. Write out ‘I missed you’, ‘We will bounce back’ kind of messages on the strips. You are sure to bring in a smile on every student of yours when you tie these welcome bands on their wrists. Or, pin the strips on their shirt pockets so that they carry these back home along with their smiles!
  1. For older children (for all we know, this could work great with even Kindergartners!) conduct a 30-minute brainstorming on “What could we have done better, as a city?” Apart from them seeing the power of a collaborative, ideating tool like brainstorming; your students could come up with a fantastic idea list. Be sure to send these to the state administration or other think-tanks working on the flood relief.
  1. Do talk about lost school days and collaborate with them on “how do we make up?”. Make sure that the ideas as well as the efforts are generated collaboratively – let students feel responsible to. More importantly, “what have we lost and what should we make up”? Never ever instil a fear of “we cannot cover portions for your exams” and the likes. Nothing is more valuable than lives and the safety of people in a city in distress! Let them hear that from you, their teacher.
  2. Ask your students to pick a topic in any subject. How is the topic helping them cope with trying times like this? Let them discuss in small groups. For instance, a lesson on ‘Diseases’ can lend itself to understanding basic precautions to take in the aftermath of the floods, to prevent infections from spreading. Similarly, every topic has a core idea that has the potential to give them the knowledge and skill to survive and even live well. It’s just that many of us in schools, do not dig deep enough with our students. Students, perhaps even teachers, may even see how well or poorly crafted their learning materials are!
  1. Take stock of students who have lost things like books, stationery items. Facilitate photocopying notes from students who have them intact. Mutually negotiate on deadlines. Communicate that you care, yet that it’s important that we all bounce back, emerge stronger from the crisis and progress. Not just move on!
  1. Lost portions? Do not pass the buck to the students or take on the burden and stress all by yourselves. Ask students to deliberate and choose one lesson/ topic that they can vote for self-learning. Against several periods you have marked to complete this lesson, just allocate 1 or 2 periods to clarify students’ doubts. You will be surprised at their ability to learn by themselves!
  1. Have students or their parents been victims of rumours, fake video clippings and forwards? Do a ‘fact vs opinion’ activity in class & help students differentiate between the two. Let them evolve ways to cope with information overload that is so characteristic of our times now.
  1. Pledges are not old-fashioned! Ask all the students to take a pledge. It could be something along the lines of – ‘Natural disasters is nature’s law as well. We, human beings, will not disturb the ecological balance by abusing nature. We will cooperate, be sensitive and bring harmony that will let us all live well, together’. Needless to say, the actual words of the pledge could emerge from students as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing up with Oothukaadu

 

I was introduced to Oothukaadu songs when I was about ten years old. My mother, along with some neighbourhood ladies had early evening classes by a musician on “Oothukkaadu keerthanaigal”. My mother hardly ventured out to formally learn stuff-  music has been the occasional “venturing out to classes” time for her. On the days I came early from school I would accompany her to this class. I was quite smitten by Oothukkaadu songs even then- just for something that felt melodious and simple to my ears!

I have also had the privilege of dancing to a few Oothukkadu songs. Aadathu Asangathu set in Madhyamavati being my favourite. So Sri Venkatasubbier has been a significant part of my childhood. To me his Krishna-bhakti was something to admire and wonder about in my college days!

My English literature days in college, also expanded my view about a composition. I could see the versatility in Oothukadu Iyer and how he brought life and visualization to relationships especially between Krishna and his mother Yashoda (Thaaye Yashoda stands out here) or the Lord and His devotee (the composer himself, perhaps) (e.g. Alai paayude)

Over a period of time I saw something more than simplicity and melody or elementary literary features in his compositions. A case to delineate is the masterpiece “Maadu meikkum Kanne…”.

A great piece of conversation between Krishna, the child and his mother Yashoda. Well, actually it sounds more like a vivada!

Yashoda uses multiple tactics to stop Krishna who wants to go out to play and rear the cattle. It is interesting to see the step-by-step “graded” approach the mother takes and how little Krishna deals with every attempt his mother makes. Let’s explore this a bit…

The first approach is “bribe”- perhaps the most basic level of getting someone to do something you want them to do. Yashoda lures Krishna with things that he really likes- milk, butter, sugar etc. There is also a subtle hint at the heat outside (veyyil), showing the typical concern of a mother.

Krishna is not the one to succumb to these base temptations! He is clear that he doesn’t want these and that there’s greater pleasure in cattle-grazing! Also,  he says “oru nodiyil thirumbiduven” (will be back in a jiffy!) to convince the mother.

Yashoda, grades up to use a  “threat” now. She reminds Krishna that the banks of the river Yamuna is known for thieves! “And these thieves could beat you up” she says. She puts forth, very gently, the consequence too, – “if they beat you up, you will be affected” is her logic. Little Krishna outsmarts her with his self-confidence. He is not the one who can be threatened by fear! He is a self-proclaimed “the thief among thieves!!”

Does the perseverent Yashoda give up yet? No way! If Krishna is not scared of human beings, would he give up in “fear of wild animals”?  Krishna is not the one to be perturbed. He is confident of managing even forest animals, in style.

Now comes the master stroke from Yashoda- “emotional appeal” at its best with an allusion to Krishna’s father! He will look for little Krishna, won’t he? Krishna’s response here blends the height of assertiveness and elan. 🙂

A beautiful conversation indeed- of logic, reasoning and appropriate responses showing the character of Krishna and his mother in such beautiful light. And set to a melody that makes anyone tap their feet and the heart melt- not just in the visualization of Krishna-Yashoda but in  literary nuances, whether one consciously analyses or not. May the great Venkatakavi live long through his heartwarming compositions!

P.S : Enjoy Aruna Sairam’s rendition of this song!

 

 

NOW is the only truth?

Emotions. We live them every moment. A range of them; some we understand, a few we label right. Or so we think! Some inexplicable, strange, confusing.

Joyfulness is our natural emotion, it is said. Yet, to us it is the most elusive. At the most we feel fun, pleasure, excitement.  Joy in its natural state should give us a sense of equilibrium, a balance, tranquility. This is the most elusive part.

This moment, I am. No anxiety about the next; no regret about the previous. Can we?  What is it about tomorrow that bothers us? What is it about yesterday that nudges us?

Let’s replace expectations with hope that rests in this moment yet believes in tomorrow. Let’s replace regret & guilt with memories of yesterday. The memory that’s like the photograph- that shows what is, not restlessly picturing what could have been!

Life is now. And in now is bliss.