Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Here I come...

Each person has his/her own passion...something they cannot resist..that which pulls them inspite of common-sense saying a big Noo...u can call it a weakness...

I get into that trance when I am near clear waters. Be it a swimming pool..a clear lake..a stream..a pond...even a small tank near a field which is fed with a pump-set.
It need not neccessarily be a deep pool..just a wide tank filled with cool water would do...hmm..but the regular bath tubs are not in the list..they are so narrow and well... restricting I guess.

While riding in a boat (only the speed ones would do) or when I am gazing into flowing waters...I can literally feel a tug..as if mysterious hands are pulling me...its like I cant think clearly and there are two 'me s'....and one of 'me' is already in the water.

(hmm..I find it a great feat to manage just one 'me', imagine handling two :-) ).

Sometimes when I am near 'not so safe' waters like tall falls or swirling rivers ..one of 'me' ( the still sane one..) drags the other one forcibly.

The waters that take the cake are flowing crystal clear streams and deep blue lakes.
The feeling one gets while coming up from the deep is akin to no other feeling...pure bliss..

Well there are only two kinds of water that puts me off..the murky kind and the one with debris.

So..the moment I see water...I say...
"Here I come...."

Friday, 23 February 2007

--A poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson

My all time favorite...such moving words..
so much like listening to a melancholy tune...

Home they brought her warrior dead:
She nor swooned, nor uttered cry:
All her maidens, watching, said,
‘She must weep or she will die.’

Then they praised him, soft and low,
Called him worthy to be loved,
Truest friend and noblest foe;
Yet she neither spoke nor moved.

Stole a maiden from her place,
Lightly to the warrior stepped,
Took the face-cloth from the face;
Yet she neither moved nor wept.

Rose a nurse of ninety years,
Set his child upon her knee—
Like summer tempest came her tears—
‘Sweet my child, I live for thee.’

without using so many words, it portrays the sorrow of the wife..her obstinacy to die..bringing out the love for her hero..
The poet builds the drama, getting us worried about the wife...then finally shows us what makes her break..
The stanza
"Rose a nurse of ninety years,
Set his child upon her knee—
Like summer tempest came her tears—
‘Sweet my child, I live for thee.’"

is a seperate poem by itself.....
When everything else fails to ivoke a response ,an elderly woman who is portrayed as an expert in understanding emotions...senses the wife's instincts..
'Set his child upon her knee—'
the precious gift he has left her makes her break down!

This is one poem where the poet takes you on an emotional tour !

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

A Modern Gurukulam

While everyone is talking about the pros and cons of Indian Education system, the innovative way founded by Shri.Jiddu Krishnamoorthy came to my mind.

I had the great oppurtunity of visiting Rishi Valley School near Madanapalle (AP) many times and its I should say I was very lucky to get a real insight into the system of education followed in the school.

The school looks like a village from a Bharathiraja film and it is said that the great location with majestic hills with a view of plush green valleys was hand-picked by the founder himself . The climate is pleasant throughout the year and a visit to the school is like taking a vacation in some exotic hill station.

The guest houses look like old Madras Bungalows and the dorms are in a similar style giving the entire place an old world charm.
You are surrounded by chirping birds which reminds you that the place is a bird sanctuary and any RVite passing by would stop and answer your queries about the birds.

The two aspects that impressed me are, there are no day scholars in the school (except the kids of the staff ) and so everyone is on equal grounds and the next one is that all the teachers live in the campus .This is a great advantage to the school as they can make a complete impact on the students without any outside influence. No day scholar telling her boarder friends " Hey..I went to a party yesterday and......" ..

What I saw was a homogeneous mix of kids from different regions and from various walks of lives ..you name them...they have them..diff languages..diff religions and diff races and even mixed races.... What a
blend ! It feels wonderful to see all these kids play together in great hrmony.

They have no uniforms, no exams upto 8th standard, have classes like yoga , batik , carpentry , bird-watching and pottery.
Visitors are not allowed to dip their fingers in clay :( while the students there were happily operating the electric wheel and were blissfully making pots and were thoroughly enjoying themselves.
The happiness I could see in their faces... a million pounds cannot bring that. (This promptly sent me to Golden Bridge Pottery in Podicherry to enquire if there are any classes there...but no luck :( )

Although there is no uniform they have an unwritten dress code and wear appropriate clothes for different activities.Instead of exams , they have assignments and projects. I saw a 5th standard child ('fifthie' as they put it ) going around the campus asking other students what brand of shoes they were using and making a pie-chart with all the data collected. What a way to learn...! I mentally yelled at everyone who made me do tonnes of exercises in text books to understand the concept.

The classes are not always conducted in class rooms...one can see groups of student and a teacher seated under trees ,on stone benches or on long steps that are fixed here and there. The teacher would be in the centre while all the students would be seated around him/her in such a relaxed manner (as if they were watching a TV show! ). You can even see a bunch of them sharing the book with the teacher reclining on him/her.
Would you believe me if I tell you one little boy was swinging on a banyan (ariel) root during a class and the teacher was patiently calling out to him repeatedy? What rapport they have ..there is absolutely no fear or false respect in the children's faces. Just open minds and happy learning. I always think that only people who have a passion for children, nature and teaching go to Rishi Valley to teach there. There are many teacher who are RV products themselves.I have also seen some acadamecians who stay in RV for a few months and take pleasure in teaching the kids their subject.

Kids call the lady teachers and staff 'Akka' ..no 'Miss' ,'Ma'am' or 'Miss.Jones' there. They have a unique drawl to their 'Akka' pouring all their love into it. No standing up and bidding 'good morning's..just a 'Hi...Akkaaa.' . Even when I stop to talk to RVites ..their dialogues are always generously sprinkled with 'Akka's.

The library looks so inviting and using the Library is part of the curriculam and each child is expected to share his views in class.
Have you heard of a school which invites a teacher from the UK to tell stories and to teach the nuances of story-telling ? No wonder the kids had such great communication skills.

Importance of recycling and use of biodegradable material is not just a text book topic there and the use of plastic and polythene bags are prohibited.. Beats me how the kids dont complain but follow it in such a positive way.

Wild life preservation, enviromental awareness, appreciation of nature ,
kindness to animals are areas which are concentrated upon.Even the snakes (that are found commonly) are caught and taken away to be left loose in a remote area.

There is a hill called 'Astachal' and everyone gathers there at the same time every evening and in cloud of 'Sambrani' smoke to chase away the mosquitos sit there in absolute silence and watch the sun set. I was reminded of this

"The birds have vanished into the sky,
and now the last cloud drains away.

We sit together , the mountain and me,
until only the mountains remains."

____ Li Po

The education does not stop with the school but also extends to the hostel life.All the snacks the kids bring are collected together and shared equally. I was surpried to see that the living quarters are swept and mopped by the kids themselves . Dignity of labour at work. Most important of all...the boys are included too.I have seen teen-age boys doing the dishes with blaring music in the background and wonder of wonders enjoying the chore.

There is no topic that is taboo and the kids talk about anything under the sun with their teachers , all while walking around the school in the evenings.

Workshops are conducted by experts in the field.For example, Hindustani music by Bombay Jayashree....films by..who else but our ManiRatnam ,wild life conservation by Sekar dataatri are just a few in the long list.

But there are some criticisms about the system too...many ppl say that, these kids are brought up in a simulated environment and hence would find it difficult to face the real world. Well..I personally feel that the kids are fine and have no adjustment problems.After all being street-smart or pushy does not really help in the long run. Kindness, altruism, team spirit, generosity are no trivial traits and they never go unrewarded.

What better way to widen the mind than keeping them happy and making the learning experience a pleasant one..As the saying goes, if no learning is achieved , the teacher has failed more..It makes sense to see if the kids are in a receptive mood before teaching anything..

I sincerely feel that we should have more of these kinds of schools and also the final board exams should be modified to suit these schools.

I remeber reading an interview by actor Nandita Das in which she says her ultimate ambition is to set up a school like Rishi Valley. We need more of such people to better our existing system.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Sweet Granny and Super Sivarathiris..

This post is similar to the theme movies that our channels telecast to go with the season :)

Tommorrow is Sivarathiri on which day Lord shiva is worshipped even during the night.
One is expected to be awake in the night and an elaborate plan is drawn to keep sleep at bay.
I am wondering how many households are still preparing for it in the traditional style.
It kindles in me memories of Sivarathiris we had celebrated in my grand-parents house as kids.
It used to be a kitty party of sorts.
All my aunts and their families would gather at my grand-mother's place to perform the pooja. So we kids had a good chance to spend an entire day together.

My grand-mother and her team would make a sweet item called "Thiruvadhirai uruvaakali' in bulk and after the morning pooja, used to take our help distributing it in the neighbourhood.
Viradhams were followed and poojas were conducted in timely intervals.
A big gang used to travel together to visit Shivalayams.
Neighbours and relatives would frequent the place and they would sit in batches and plan the agenda for the night.
All kinds of traditional games would come out of their hiding places and the coins were counted and boards were kept ready.

The evening started at around 7:00 PM when all the ladies would gather in a large hall (in my grandparents' place it was the outhouse).
(I always got the impression that they did'nt want to disturb the sleeping men in the main house..but in retrospect, I think that the men must have had their own kind of party!)

The dinner is part of their viradham of not having rice and the usual accompaniments.
(Please dont even think that the viradham as the name suggests had anything to do with fasting...infact its just the opposite :) )
It comprises of all the tiffin items and snacks that one can phathom.
Every relative would get something from her kitchen and it was one great pot-luck event.
Bunches of bananas and grapes, dozens of seasonal fruits would be consumed throughout the night, not to speak of payasams and other sweet-meats !
( If anyone asks me what kind of a viradham it is where you dont eat steamed rice but eat steamed rice batter ....I guess Idlies are light while rice and the side-dishes are heavy provided one eats just a few idlies !)

And the games event would start after the first round of dinner. Although we can see some groups already in progress even before the official trigger is pulled which in this case is my grand-mother sitting down to play.
Here I have to say that my grand-mother's aunt (mother's sister )- (Ranganaaya) who would be quiet during the day time would slowly creep out of her bed and join one of the senior groups.
Had there been a "Dhaayam" event in Olympics..this great-grandma would have bagged the gold.

As told by my mother (from her memories of Sivarathri at her grandma's place), Ranganaaya was part of the 'Bhajana Ghoshtee' that would sing devotional songs throughout the night. She was a great patron of the "Kadha Kaalakshebams" during her prime. Trusted sources even say that she was part of a "kolaatam" team and would dance away to glory, till the break of day. So a generation before my grandma's , kadha kalakshebams, bhajans and dances were the ones that kept them awake on Sivarathiris.

Some of the games that were played were...

Dhaayam: It was the most popular of the lot and it was the first preference to many. There is another side to this preference. It is believed that playing this game of chance brings ill-luck (can be tracked to mythology) and so is SRICTLY prohibited in the house.
The only exceptions to this rule are "Sivarathri" and "Ekadesi" nights when you are allowed to play Dhaayam to your heart's fill.

This game is a more complicated form of today's 'Ludo'. The player or the team that achieves to bring all their coins to a central "Home" first, wins the game.
The main attraction of the game is all the screams and yelling that go with it. You can hear the players shouting "Oru dhaayam daa" or "Oru panandu daaa" as if their very cry would roll the dice to the required sum . And also the opponent shouting the unwanted number to irritate the other person.People would take sides and there would be general cheering going on.

Pallaanguzhi: This is a game which requires a special wooden box with seven cups carved on both the sides along with little shells called "sozhie". The game starts with five shells in each cup on both the sides. The player who is left with less than five shells at the end, loses his game. There is a special game in which upto four playes can play...but I never got the hang of it and so stuck to the original two players game.

Paramapadham: This is nothing but our 'Snake and Ladder' but with a large printed sheet .It has lots of figures printed in it..a few of them quite wierd.It has snakes which roughly translated could range from one inch to 150 feet and the same goes for ladders too.
God help if one is bitten by the big one. This is also an exciting game where there are lots of twists and turns.

There are other games like 'Aadu puli aatam' and 'Sokattaan' and the only thing I know about them are their names.

So the ladies would move from one game to another and there would be general chatter . I would stay awake only till 12:30 or 1:30 AM. So I am not sure if they stay awake all night. I assume that the ladies would also
lightly doze off and then wake up again to resume the games.

What I like best about Sivarathiri is the way my grand-mother and her contemporaries who always appear all grown-up and matter-of-fact let down their guard and get into a carefree mood. It made me realise that there is a playful side to my grandma who does'nt otherwise appear so.

Sivarathiri is one occasion that helped me understand my grandmother and makes me remember her as a sweet, joyous and loving person though she likes to refer to herself as 'strict' .

Happy Sivarathiri to you all !!!

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

A Declining Passion

Came across this rhyme in 'Charlie and the Chocolate factory'..
It echos my views on today's book-reading and TV watching habits.


Oh,books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago !
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.

Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And Children hitting you with sticks -
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They'll now begin to feel the need
Of having something good to read.

And once they start - oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowing growing joy
That fills their hearts. They'll grow so keen
They'll wonder what they'd ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did.


P.S. My idea of a little heaven..(from the same poem)

"One half their lives was reading books!
The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wonderous, fine, fantastic tales
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales! "

Saturday, 10 February 2007

The third Gender

I was witness to a very unpleasant incident a couple of weeks back while I was seated at the front desk of a shop.
A Eunuch had come to the shop asking for some money and the men who were gathered in the vicinity made gestures and uttered words that would make a sailor blush.
I could not help but compare this to balking at a handicapped person or uttering profanities at the so called lower classes.
The former has everybody's sympathy while the latter has legal remedy .

Actually it took me all this time to do this post because I was scrutinising all related (legal) Acts and wanted to see if there is atleast one section under which they can seek remedy.
No points for guessing....the result I came up with is "Zero".
I found some Act that mentioned them and was very hopeful until I understood what it was enacted for.

The 1897 amendment to the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871, which was subtitled "An Act for the Registration of Criminal Tribes and Eunuchs". Under this law, the local government was required to keep a register of the names and residences of all eunuchs who were "reasonably suspected of kidnapping or castrating children or committing offences under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code".
Something similar to the rowdy-sheet that the police maintain.
Though further enquiries revealed that this act is not followed in the present day.

If not anything else there should be a law in the country similar to
"The scheduled Castes and The Scheduled Tribes Act" , which protects them and penalises wrong-doers who
"intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate a member of a SC or ST in any place within pubic view".
Why can't the eunuchs be placed in a similar category?
Are they not treated with more repulsiveness?
The place with the most scope for abuse is the police station where the police, on a regular basis, violate all canons of civilised behaviour by physically, sexually and verbally abuse and humiliate them.
The discrimination and violence that the Eunuchs face show that it is high time that both the government and the human rights movement in the country begin to take this issue with the seriousness it deserves.

Armed with all this information I discussed this with many Junior Advocates (albeit their discomfort discussing this taboo topic) . When I asked why no public interest litigation was filed for them, they did not have one good word for the community. If on the one side people ridicule them , there is another set of people (mostly men) who are petrified of them.
The gist of the discussion was that the Eunuchs are a confused ,
sex-starved ,obsessed and ill-mannered set of people in their opinion.

The police in turn reels off a long list of atrocities that the Eunuchs specialise in.
The law that is used most to threaten the Eunuchs, as well as the homosexual community in India, is Section 377 of the IPC, which criminalises "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal" even if it is voluntary.
They are actively invloved in brothel-keeping, trafficking, pimping and soliciting which fall under ''The Immoral Traffic Prevention Act ".
So legal system is very apprehensive about giving them protection as this will lead to misuse.
There were many who plainly told me that Eunuchs do not need any protection and if there is any need , it should be the other way round.

So I understood that there are many faces to this problem and there could not be any remedy by just creating a law to protect them.
What needs to be done is effective tackling of the problem from multi-directions. A consolidated effort will be more effective.
There may defenitely be problems faced by the law enforcement authorities from this community. But what can we expect from a community that is shamed , disgraced and most of all shunned from the society for ages.
It is such a pity that they are not accepted by their own families.
They need to be treated as human-beings, be given equal oppurtunities and employment benefits and benefits that handicapped people are entitled to.

The Govt needs to set up schools in each State if not in each district where these people can be taught how to deal with their handicap.
They can be taught to earn a living legally and in a fulfilling manner.
The important aspect is to give them counselling in handling their sexuality.
They need to be taught to dress down, tone down their speech and desist from the common practices like 'clapping'.
They should work towards 'mainstreaming' themselves, and focus on expression of their hidden talents that can contribute to them being accepted as citizens in their own rights.
The NGOs can also conduct work-shops to educate them and bring about awareness in them.

The society in turn needs to be a little more tolerant and understand that its not their fault to be born with such a great handicap.
If the handicapped are facing physical problems these people are facing both physical and psychological problems.
The public cannot be ignorant or insensitive.
Even children need to be educated that there are people with differences and it should not come in the way of their right to be treated with respect.
They need our sympathy and support not ridicule and shame.

Times are changing and with growing education and awareness I am sure it is not a great feat to live in relative harmony and tolerance for different kinds of people with mutual respect and regard.
Afterall have'nt we achieved what had to be done for the physically challenged ?

Well, I for one am very hopeful about the future.