Saturday, October 24, 2009

who is the loser?

Who is the loser?
“ Love Thy Neighbour”- says the Bible. The central message across most religions is the same. But do the so-called expert practitioners of religion stick to it?
A few months back, I had attended a lecture series by Swami Parthasarthy at the Kamaraj Memorial Hall in Chennai. I have been a recent ( last three years) but a keen follower of his teachings and have read his books Vedanta Treatise and The Fall of Human Intellect. His clarity of thought on important issues of life coupled with his simplicity of communication is addictive.
Inspired by the lecture, I decided to follow it up with a home study group near my residence. I found out the venue and the timing and reached there well before schedule. As I entered the house, I noticed a deep silence; nobody was even exchanging pleasantaries. There was not a courteous hello mentioned to a stranger who had stepped into the house for the first time( I still do not know who the host was!). As the bhajans began, some of the group members had a hymn book but there was no attempt to share it with a newcomer.. We then completed the songs and proceeded to read the chapters…
There were discussions on various parts of the chapter and I must say that there was a concerted effort to dwell deep into the words and into their meanings.. Being an avid follower of the Hindu scripture ( especially the Gita), I found the discussions quite enlightening. This being my first attendance, I shared some of my doubts—some of which were clarified .
As the session concluded, I went and introduced myself to two ladies in the group. I was taken aback at the questions that were thrown at me- “ Is this your first time”/ “ have you attended the Gita lecture( at a particular place where this group normally goes)/ Else we will not like to “lower” our discussion standards here/ We cannot entertain “impulsive” questions/ People can make out if you are a novice etc etc”)!! I was flabbergasted.. and then let out a meaningful smile..
I am a Tamil Brahmin married to a Christian for the last twelve years. Both of us were batch mates at IIMA where we met. During my initial advent into a Church in Chennai, I remember a very cordial welcome by the Pastor of the Church- even though both of were newcomers there ( and they had no way of knowing whether we were Christians or not). And I have been an active participant of their forums and workshops. I have never been made to feel like a stranger- and this attitude is one of the strong reasons that our Church is growing rapidly. While some may argue that since Christianity is relatively a “new” religion in India and hence displays more “inclusiveness” in handling people, I believe that an older religion like the Hinduism, through its practitioners, should do this more is almost like the older member of the family extending a warm welcome to his descendants/ children..
But this was not to be. And this particular problem continues to plague Hinduism as a religion. It is getting more and more elusive and is being considered “irrelevant” by the youth simply because not enough care and effort has gone in to disseminate it among the larger sections of society. The teachings in the Gita or Vedanta are absolutely inspiring and extremely useful . But does anyone know? Or does anyone care? The upper class Hindus have displayed a “Holier than Thou” behavior in preserving the scriptural knowledge so elusively that it has the danger of becoming “ obsolete” to the modern generation.
The objective of the Home Group that I talked about earlier, I am sure was to share Vedanta teachings . But by making the new comers feel “alienated”, they are doing quite the contrary. What is the use of studying Vedanta if you are not able to share it with humanity at large? Sharing knowledge is one the greatest services to man-kind.. and to do it with love is the only way Hinduism will be taken forward..
Religion should be made available to people when they are young . When they need directional clarity and mental strength to go about the purpose of their life. Not when they have become old as just and “life processing mechanism”. And modifying traditional heirarchical mindsets will go a long way towards ensuring this. So who is the loser in all this? We- the people. Both the practitioners and the students. The former will have to find ways to “include” more into the student fold, and the latter will have to actively seek and demand the same. After all , “ a man who does not read is as good as the one who

back to school


Find the “adjunct” in the sentence that you are currently reading; or identify the “indirect object” in this sentence.

What you just read is a small part of the ordeal that the students in the eighth grade of a Tamil Medium Corporation school in Chennai, go through, as a part of their English grammar syllabus.

I call it ordeal because it is one! For the students especially who are experiencing it.

Let me elaborate. I have recently volunteered to teach at the local Government school . During my first interaction with the Head Master of the school, it was decided that I could teach English grammar, as that is a subject that lacked adequate faculty at the school. I accepted readily and looked forward to the experience. I picked up the English text book from the school along with my class schedule ; I was assigned 8th class, B Section.

On the first day at school, I was greeted with great enthusiasm by the children. After a brief introduction by their current teacher, I took over.

I started by asking in English, what the children thought of English grammar as a subject. The question was understood by less than 50% of the class. And among those who comprehended, there was a clear expression of dislike. I prodded further-as to what was in their minds. The most popular response was “ we do not see the use for it”. The reply hit me hard.

Of course as I tried to reason with them why grammar in any language is required , I could sense that their feelings were more to do with their inability to understand the basic language itself! That was the real issue.

I started looking at the facts. The English literacy in this particular class was less than 40% i.e less than 40 out of 100 could read three words in English consecutively without any help. The rest needed support in both alphabet identification and in pronunciation.
Secondly, apart from the regular class hour, there was no other avenue or forum that encouraged English reading for the children. There is a semblance of a library- but due to lack of space, the books are piled up in one corner ( the range of books is utterly poor in collection). And there is no space in the library for students to sit and read . Finally, there is absolutely no effort to converse in English even during the English classes.

Of course, I did not expect these to be present in a Government school. But I did expect that the English language syllabus in a Tamil Medium school is designed keeping in mind all of these.

This is not to suggest that English grammar is not needed for the children of 8th grade. But the pressing need of the hour is making students reasonably fluent in English- reading and writing. And a grammar that goes with that level. By incorporating a fairly evolved grammar curriculum, , the students have begun to feel “fearful” of the language itself. And are avoiding it. In fact when I distributed free books that had English alphabet based words to help the beginners, there were hardly any takers.

A chat with the Head Master revealed that he is constrained by the syllabus thrust on the school by the Government. He agreed that there is a major mismatch between the current English level of students and what is required by the curriculum. But bridging the gap seems an arduous task. While, the idea of introducing English grammar needs to be lauded, over ambition in that effort does not help the cause. It may result in alienating the language further among a set of students for whom the environment is anyway not conducive to learn or practise English. ( no conversation at home happens in English, possibly no English book reading, English TV channel watching or English movie seeing).

Any language is best learnt by usage i.e talking. Not by rote of some theoretical concepts. We all learnt our mother tongue that way. Grammar in that context is understood more as you practise the language and not as a set of rules to be followed. In real life, we never end up needing this level of grammar knowledge- unless you take up literature as a profession- in which case it could be taught at that point in time.( in fact even I had to learn the concepts before I could take classes for these kids!)

So, who needs high flung English grammar? Not the “below poverty line” children of Government schools anyway!.

why i like to write

Why do I like to write?

Why do I like to write? Or for that matter why does anybody like to write? What need does it satisfy?

At a basic level, writing is a form of telling. When you meet interesting people or visit interesting places, you like to share information about these to others. You can add your bit of flavour in the commentary or in the narration, but it is essentially “telling” others what you have seen. “Peopleogues” and “Travelogues” fall under this. Sometimes, even sports writing or pieces about events can be classified under this.

At another level, writing is about creating an imaginary world that satisfies enormous number of fantasies. This is especially true of fiction writing. It allows you to dream, invent characters and objects that will do things that are not possible in real life. It could be an escape route from the everyday drudgery for many.

At yet another level, writing is about sharing your opinion on something. It could be in any subject that is of interest to you. You get into the issue, analyse it and acquire a different perspective. And this stimulates you enough to want to share it with the rest of the world. It is a deeper and a more involved pursuit than the first two. While the former require width and exposure, this one requires a more thorough and a studied approach. A well-researched piece of article or book on any subject has the potential to change people’s thinking. At its peak, it is a powerful influence on humanity. This form of writing comes under non-fiction.

This last one interests me the most. Especially the ability to “influence”. While getting into an area and studying it thoroughly, one’s own perspective on it may undergo a sea- change. And that excites me no end. What can be more rewarding than picking up a problem, tossing it around amongst a group of “relevant experts”, and coming to well thought out conclusions on the issue?

The whole process forces you to change from within. To start with , just the act of meeting many people exposes you to the world at large- that you begin to feel connected. Secondly, establishing trust with the respondents in order to get a genuine set of answers expands you as a person. It does not come in the first one or two meetings, It requires discussions, contradictions and further discussions. It has to become clear to them that you are really interested in understanding the issue at hand. And that, while doing so, you will in no way demean their reputation or short circuit their opinion. It is a much bigger task than it appears to be. Thirdly, you also learn to ask the “right” questions. This makes your own thinking process more clear. You end up crystalising the “big picture” in any problem and weaving a framework around it for a methodical study. And finally, as you reflect on the answers given by them, you cannot but partake in the “emotional journey” of others. You may agree or disagree but you end up processing the issue in a deep manner. And as you share your views with them, they also feel joyous that someone else is actually “taking” the pain of “thinking” through issues for them. For both parties, it is a very enriching experience.

And it is this experience is what translates into well researched and analysed “writing”. Reading a piece such as this can open up many minds in a way that could not have been imagined before. In fact over a period of time, one begins to utilize the same analytical skills that have been used in the writing, to analyse real-life issues. And a certain objectivity and rigour set into one’s own thinking. Done more and more, it becomes a habit; and you begin to relish life experiences because you look forward to acquiring “new perspectives” on old issues.

So why do I like to write? Because perspective building- both at an individual level and at an audience level energises me. And I am able to use that energy to propel myself forward in other areas of my life.

So that’s what writing means to me- perspectives. Through this article, I hope I have been able to get across a fresh perspective on “writing” to you!

Thank you for your patient reading.