Saturday, August 17, 2013

Looking at Possibilities

While doing my MOOC with Coursera on Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence*, Prof. Richard Boyatzis, the Course Instructor shared with us a host of videos that were inspiring. Of it all, the one that captured my attention and being was that of a YouTube video on Under Four Trees – a school that was started by Mrs. Zikhali for a small community in Nkomo Primary School in rural KwaZulu Natal, Mnqobokazi, South Africa. The amazing project is sure to leave you inspired. Do watch this link below – and if you are in the field of education, this is a must watch.
To me it focused on two things:The power education can wield even making the poorest of the poor, rich.Passion for what one does can convert all of the problems into possibilities.
Two wonderful lessons. It is not that these are eureka moments – it has always been there. However, when one sees the fruits of the events through videos and films, it conveys home a very strong message, and encompasses you with an unshakable faith that there is nothing that we cannot accomplish. 
When Nomusa Haslot Zikhali, the Principal, reached Mnqobokazi to start the school, she was flabbergasted. There were no buildings. No resources. Just a wild field replete with undergrowth and bushes. The challenges were too many. Inclement weather. Rains that would make the stream they had to cross overflow with water. Crocodiles in the stream. Dust laden winds. Parents wanting their children to look after cattle or even younger siblings. And that was when she decides to move closer to the community and set up the school. She had to go from home to home in the community to impress upon them the need to educate their children. Her passion to educate these children weighed high than the troubles and travails.
In spite of that, in January 1999, there were just 10 children ready to join the school. And where was the school started? Under Four Trees!!! Each class – Classes 1 ,2, and 3 were allotted one tree each and the fourth one was Mrs. Zikhali’s office. As an educator, I am ashamed to say that I would have given up and just left the place for greener pastures. I am sure 99% of us educators would have done that. But not, Mrs. Zikhali. She persisted. And converted every problem into a possibility. The government did send other teachers to start the school, but they all gave up. Mrs. Zikhali on the other hand took the challenge head on. Thus from a one-teacher-220-student school, Nkomo Primary School has moved into another league now: 900 students and 23 teachers. Eight classrooms. And plenty of support from Africa Foundation to raise money for infrastructure.
Another challenge Mrs. Zikhali had to face was the presence of most vulnerable children in her school – whom she calls Child-headed Households, a chilling euphemism for those whose both parents were dead. Her school now has 153 of them – i.e. 17% of the under-13. To persist under these challenging and emotionally draining circumstances requires determination and the keen desire to make a difference in these students’ lives, which she had in plenty.  Her inspirational tale of nurturing, educating and transforming has been made into a movie called Under Four Trees by filmmakers Suzanne Cross and John Simpson.
Inspirational Leader
Inspirational Leader
Thank you Mrs. Zikhali for teaching me some very crucial lessons. The best one I will cherish and practice is to convert every problem into a possibility! If we look for solutions we can think creatively and find a way or two. However, many of us look only at the problems and therefore the possibility of a solution is just not there in the vicinity or in the periphery. May your tribe increase and be beacons that will enlighten the path of many educators like me.
1. Mrs. Zikhali’s photograph from http://underfourtrees.co2.
[* I wrote about being a fan of online learning vide my post Am delighted to get a certificate signed by Prof. Richard Boyatzis, Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio and to have completed it with 84.5%. If you have never tried a MOOC, please do it today! :) ]

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Independence Day

Freedom. Ask me about it!!! :)
The very word conjures magic in my mind. With fascists, dictators and authoritarian regimes around the globe, proud to say that my country India stands high in a pedestal. 
@ 67 we have a whole lot of achievements to our credit.
Nation building...
Self sufficiency...
Improvements galore...
White and green revolutions...
Yet, methinks the SOUL of Freedom has deluded us even now...
To achieve that we need dignified, accountable politicians who will make our visions a reality, by keeping the interest of the nation at all times...
A well oiled officialdom, who will ensure that right things happen in the right way at the right time...
And a populace of patriotic Indians who will remember the sacrifices of the freedom fighters, not just on Independence or Republic Day, but each and every day, in fact every moment... and will live together in camaraderie and achieve all success together by keeping the secular fabric of the nation intact...
Into that kind of an India let us all awake! 
Let each one of us be the change we wish to see in and for our Nation - and make her truly, Sare Jehan se Achcha Hindustan Hamara...
Happy Independence Day, Folks!!!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Facing the Book!

I have been a Facebook user for nearly 5 years now. I do enjoy being part of this wonderful fraternity. It has brought so many people closer to me  - those I would not have been in touch, thanks to the hustle and bustle of life. It takes me back to good old times and the people from those days when pictures are posted and then tagged. It has also been the quickest means of communicating with all of them. I remember to have met with scores of my former students during my summer holidays by just communicating about my visit over FB.
I am grateful to FB for having brought to my peripheral vision very many students whom I have taught in at least half a dozen schools. Many of them are whom I know well for they were my students; some who know me as I have taught their older sibling(s); a few who have just heard about me as a teacher – all eager to share updates of their personal and professional lives with me. Then there are former colleagues and friends. College mates – classmates, juniors and seniors. These networks are so powerful and through these networks we have been able to organize get togethers and alumni associations as well.
At some point in time I realized that so many people require some kind of motivation in their lives. This made me have a page called Charaiveti for that purpose alone, where I post uplifting messages. To my team members, I have opened a group which I administer. I make it a point to share with them any interesting piece of information regarding teaching and learning, educational technology, interesting careers, online courses and MOOCs and so on. For other educator friends I share those links in a different page called Aware Teachers.
It is quite gratifying to see through FB that our former students have spread their wings, earned Most Valuable Professional titles, shouldered responsibilities both professional and personal. Those are priceless moments when we as educators feel rewarded, and the reiteration dawns on you that, yes, we are in the right profession.
FB also gives me a space to comment and reflect on day-to-day happenings, be it the Delhi Gang Rape, the cloudburst at Uttarkhand or even closer home the travails of a coalition government that gets knotted even more complexly even as it tries to extricate out of messes they create.
Many of us family members are also on FB and that is also a great way to stay updated. Instead of posting invitations by snail mail, I uploaded the invitation of my daughter’s marriage to inform everyone and to invite them for the same. Yes, I am very active on FB and as of today have 1403 friends! Over 75% of them are my students who form a huge slice of the pie of my life!!
However, I find some irksome habits in some of my FB friends. Things that are part of social media etiquette. You might be a hard core fan of Chefville or Farmville or other thousands of ‘ville’ games the FB offers. I am not. So it would be nice if you could stop sending me request for any games.
Oh, yes! You have an idol or a brand – NaMo or Coke for example. Why should you assume that I too share your passion? I may not. In fact, I will not. I would like to read, think, rationalize and come to my own choice of opinion.  And that is my own opinion – in a democracy I am entitled to mine right? So, I would be delighted if you could stop sending me suggestions to like pages & shares, unless they are to me harmless ones like say Optimists’ Creed or something as inspirational and patriotic as the Unity Song: 
Then, there are friends who tag others for anything and everything. Here too I would advise you to tread the careful path. Many don’t like tagging and I have seen some people in my friend circles flying off the handle because they have been tagged. I don’t mind being tagged one picture or a post – but definitely not in one with something I dislike / am uncomfortable about. Like say, KFC or Dunkin Doughnuts. That is not my style!
Now, with comments, one can upload pictures too. I find that some silly picture of a funny scene in a movie with a punch line uploaded along with the comment – not in mine but in others’ walls. This is most distasteful and an insult to the person who has updated his status. I wish people would resort to this only to substantiate something – not to poke fun on somebody.
Then there are ‘friends’ who will explode when you share some information. There will be comments, counter comments and altogether it gets into a gooey mess. I have had this experience  and finally had to delete comments that were not very charitable. In this digital space it is worth remembering that each one is entitled to hold his or her own view. So why would you want to comment on the appropriateness of the post – it is the sweet will and pleasure of the person concerned; unless, the post is about you. I think most of us don’t do that.
So, let us face-book peacefully and without infringing others’ space. In that case, I will be most happy to be an FB friend of yours!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Guru Poornima Thoughts

गुरुर्ब्रह्मा गुरुर्विष्णुर्गुरुर्देवो महेश्वरः
गुरु साक्षात परं ब्रह्म तस्मै श्रीगुरवे नमः ॥
Gurur Brahma Gurur Vishnuhu Guru Devo Maheswaraha
Guru Saakshaat Parabhrahma Tasmai Sri Gurave Namaha ||

A timeless chant that pays wholesome tribute to all Teachers. Gurus. Who is a Guru? Derived from Sanskrit, Guru means teacher or a preceptor. The word comprises two syllables – Gu + Ru. Gu denotes the ignorance in the learner and Ru refers to the radiance of knowledge that dispels the darkness of ignorance in the learner. One who thus dispels the darkness of ignorance and brings in the light of knowledge is the Guru, the Teacher.
Hindus all over celebrate the full moon day of the lunar month Ashaada (Karkadakom in Malayalam, Aadi in Tamil) as Guru Poornima. It is also called Vyasa Poornima because it is the birthday of Sage Veda Vyasa to whom we owe the codification of the Vedas. He also wrote the Brahma Sutra, the Mahabharatha, the 17 Puranas and 18 upanishads and the Sreemad Bhagavatham. The Bhagavad Gita, a small part of the Mahabharatha has been a beacon to believers as well as seekers and management experts who look at it as an ultimate source of inspiration to handle the day to day problems in life.
Having said this to me who is a Guru? Anyone who has taught me valuable lessons to enhance the quality of life, And where else will I begin? Well, the age old adage says, “Matha Pitha Guru Daivam” – i.e. the order of respect is first to the mother, then the father, followed by the Teacher and at last God. So on this Guru Poornima day I pay obeisance to my mother and father. A wonderful couple, who are celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary this year, they have been instrumental in giving us, their children and grandchildren, the right kind of values to live by. Thank you will be an oversimplified phrase; nevertheless let me use it to show my eternal gratitude to them. On this day of reflection and thanksgiving, I realize how lucky I have been to be part of their lives. My first Gurus and the ‘best-est’ ever!.
Teachers. May be I don’t have a phenomenal memory or I did not have inspiring teachers, I don’t remember any from my school days who have made learning a pleasure. However, I have had some amazing teachers at Government Victoria College, Palakkad, where I studies for 5 years – for my graduation through post graduation. I still remember the commitment of Dr. P. Achuthan (our Professor who took Eliot’s Waste Land for us for MA). Sir was transferred and there was an ongoing teacher’s strike. He asked all ten of us to come to his home where he held classes for us. Two full days. I have never experienced such an exposition to Waste Land, since that. Later I also had the pleasure of working under Dr. P. Achuthan, when he joined as the Principal of Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Pallavur, where I was working. I also remember two other teachers – Prof. K. Balakrishnan (KB) who had a fantastic sense of humour and Prof. P. Balakrishnan (PB), who was a dignified gentleman. PB’s classes of John Donne’s metaphysical poetry still ring in my ears. He was the one who asked us to read E R Braithwaite’s novel “To Sir with Love”. That year, I remember, the class gave him a new year card, addressing simply as ‘To Sir with Love’. I think it was a turning point in my life. I got introduced to teaching as a profession and from then onwards, there has been no looking back.
Bosses. Oh, yes. Sister Tresa Martin (Arikkat) who was my very first mentor at Marian College. An amazing human being, she was quick to appreciate and thus fostered in me the confidence in my own ability to excel as a teacher. When teachers have inspiring leaders as bosses, it shapes their views and practices of education. I have so many to remember with gratitude. Sri. Gopinath, who was the Principal of Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Kollengode, who gave me a break at a most needed time of personal crisis. A paternal relative, he not only opened the avenue for me but also ensured that ensconced safe and secure at the school. Then, Mr. A. M. Menon, the Principal of Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Pallavur. Mr. Menon had no doubts about handing me over Classes XI and XII, though I was just a new recruit after completing my Bachelors in Education. Even to this day, I look at it as a great act of kindness. If everyone is looking for only experienced hands, who will give young and new ones a break? So in my practice, I have taken the risk of appointing teachers without experience too. Mrs. Kalyani Nambiar taught me that come what may we must be sticklers to the right kinds of values as we are in the field of education. And my Professor, Dr. P. Achuthan,  honed not only my teaching skills but also enriched us with his vast knowledge of spirituality.
Mr. Sarvesh Naidu. Mr. Naidu is till date the lodestar to me. His leadership and multi faceted personality has always goaded me to follow that style of functioning. So many more mentors: Mrs. Lakshmi Ramachandran from whom I learned the art of maintaining a wonderful rapport with all stake holders in education (Till date, I marvel at Lakshmi Ma’am’s phenomenal memory – she remembered students’ and their parents’ names. Phew!!); Mr. Michael Guzder, who taught me it is best to utilize the strengths of team members to the optimum (the work is done and the is worker happy! – Simple logic and practical wisdom!! Truly Mr. Guzder style!!!); Dr. Aninda Chatterji, who made me look at things in different perspectives and find solutions to problems (out of the box thinking or no-box-at-all thinking, if you can call that!!); Mrs. Asma Gilani, who is more a good friend than a typical boss and from whom I have learned the art of speaking one’s mind, especially when you are in the right.
Students. With nearly three decades of teaching experience, their numbers are only growing. I have learned so much more from these students that it will go on into an endless list. And if I can say about only thing that these students of mine have taught me, it is this: PATIENCE! As a person, I do believe in speed. However, when it comes to my students I am infinitely patient; so much so that my daughter once complained to me: “Ma, you have more patience with your students than with me.” Ouch. Ouch..
Friends. So many of them, but can’t help taking some names. Because they are truly special. Neena Shoukath – with her undying faithfulness and warm love. She taught me the true meaning of friendship. Subhadra Kutty – with her ringing laughter. She taught me what it mean to smile and they world will be with you. Mind you, these two friends and I – we are in touch even after  37-38 years of friendship. That speaks a lot, doesn’t it? Seema Krishnan – for the wonderful rapport we share and talk about all and sundry – and best of all how we cackle like witches! Then there is Sheela Anand who inspires me with her commitment to sustainable practices. Anitha Raghu who enriched me with a wonderful gift of Reiki that I really needed at that time. Anuradha Ajith Kumar, who gave me wonderful moments of camaraderie while leading her school.  
Family. My siblings. My brothers-in-law. My niece and nephews. Each one of them is special. I have learned so much from each one of them that enlisting that will take another blog. We are a happy, large family. Then there is my daughter Aathira and the latest addition to our family, her husband, Praveen.  You learn from your children too. So they can also be called “Guru”. So, what have I learned from Aathira? To be forthcoming about what you think. To do whatever that gives you joy and have no qualms about it. And most importantly to say No, when you feel like saying it. And from Praveen? To stay cool and unperturbed. There will be challenges, but worrying won’t get you anywhere.
Gurus. Swami Chinmayananda has been a great influence in our family. I remember listening to his talks. The powerful voice, the enunciation which will begin in soft whispers will then reach to majestic crescendos, the beauty of the English language that tumbled forth like a roaring cascade – I guess this was when I realized the magnetic charms of the English language. Some of his saying were mind blowing. One that I always fell back upon when I confronted issues is, “A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him”. Then there is the Art of Living organization from where I learned the “Art of Living”. Sanjeev Krishnanji from Rhythm of life who shared with me his wisdom and nurturing practices. Sivanada Ashram from where I received the training for being a Yoga Instructor.
Books. Very many of them. Being a great lover of books, I have turned to them time and again for wisdom, solace and for just sheer joy.
So, all of you out there and who have taught me even a teeny, weeny thing, my salute to you. You have enriched my life and raised its quality. Thank you!!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A fan of Online Learning

My tryst with online learning started in the summer of 2012. I stumbled upon this link: got interested & enrolled for it. The six class affair happened at the right time for me. Summer holidays were on; students and teachers were on holidays. Besides I was going on holiday only after a fortnight.  I could not have asked for a better time - an impetus to plunge headlong into the course. Ahoy, Power Search! (I see that there is an advanced course open now – and yes, you guessed it right - I am hitting the ‘take the course’ button now! :)

I took all the lessons during the fortnight and took the final assessment from home though I was busy planning and preparing for my daughter’s wedding. And the result was most gratifying. It empowered me with a handle full of tips and tricks like these:

  • Colour filtering
  • Choosing effective search words
  • Word order matters
  • Use of these in searching: site; file type [pdf; doc; txt]; symbols like –, +; and words like define, OR etc.
  • Search by image
  • Shortcuts like date/time range
  • Verifying authenticity of information
Oh, boy, the best was yet to come! On 25th July I got this – a multi coloured one - my certificate of completion. Though the scores were not mentioned in the certificate, the course staff sent me the feedback: Mid-class assessment score:  100% Post-class assessment score:  74%. It was truly a happy moment.

Google Pwer Search

The end of 2012 saw me participating along with a dear friend Ms. Sheela Anand in a Mentoring Programme titled Developing our Mentoring Skills offered by Electronic Village Online (EVO) Taking the course with a friend is a very enriching experience because one can engage in conversations and dialogues about various aspects of the programme as well as enriching perspectives for the assignments. the programme gave us insight into these:
  • use various synchronous & asynchronous web tools to communicate with colleagues worldwide,
  • interact through e-mail, text chat, voice chat, among others,
  • reflect on and define our mentoring skills through exchange with peers,
  • discuss possibilities of implementing the skills in our communities of practice.

Though the programme did not give me any certificate of participation, it gave me a lot more by making me reflect into my own practice. I have mentored in the past and continue to do it even now. Therefore it impressed upon me that as a Mentor I am only a support / guide / listener. I must never don the roles of a saviour, parent, lawyer, banker, social worker or even employer. I can only listen and gently assist in encouraging the mentee to find solutions on his/her own. This was very insightful as in introspection I remember I have taken roles of a problem solver and an advisor while mentoring!

This summer of 2013 saw me take up a MOOC – Massive Open Online Course. Online courses available on the world wide web are rapidly changing the face of education and learning. Many famous Universities have open up their portals for such online course which are free. Besides there are signature tracks available for those who are looking for credits for their higher studies. The MOOC that I participated in was Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence conducted by none other that Prof. Richard E Boyatzis   from the Departments of Organizational Behaviour, Psychology, and Cognitive Science and H.R. Horvitz Chair of Family Business, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA. The Coursera site on the instructor says, “Using his Intentional Change Theory (ICT) and complexity theory, he continues to research sustained, desired change at all levels of human endeavour from individuals, teams, organizations, communities, countries and global change.” He is also worth remembering that he is an authority on the concepts of resonance in leadership and emotional contagion. This was a challenging course and as I write this I await the last week of July for the results of my course. Right now I am doing a Course in Psychology from

That is not all. Now I am enrolled for at least half a dozen online courses offered by Coursera and Udacity, in the course of the year. It includes two courses offered by the University of Edinburgh on Critical Thinking in Global Challenges and E-learning and Digital Cultures respectively. I have thus become an an addict. An addict for a right cause – of taking in a share of the exponentially growing knowledge that is available around me. And the best thing is I can proceed at my pace.

Why don’t you explore MOOCs? I am sure you will also turn to be a fan of these delightful affairs.

The Sky is the Limit

Learning has undergone a sea change in the last decade or two. From the clutches of the expectedly all-knowing fountainhead of wisdom, the Teacher in the classroom, it has been liberated! Two decades ago when I needed to gather information about Hiroshima or the Sinking of the Titanic to equip myself to handle the Class XII lessons in English of the same names, I relied heavily on encyclopaedias and reference books which were aplenty in the school library. For English comprehension passages, I took refuge in magazines Down to Earth, Readers Digest, National Geographic and the ever reliable Hindu newspaper. With the advent of the information age came Google. Everything is now available at the click of a mouse. Ouch, the mouse seems antique now with touch screens and styluses available in smartphones, tablets and net books. According to Richard Alleyne, “Every day the average person produces six newspapers worth of information compared with just two and a half pages 24 years ago – nearly a 200-fold increase.”
In the current scenario the Teacher is now meant to be just a learning facilitator, a guide, a resource provider, a curriculum and instruction specialist, a mentor, and a classroom supporter as well as manager. Everything else, but the store house of knowledge. Rightfully so. Today’s students are digital natives and even have much more knowledge than the teacher in an area of his/her interest. It is best that our young students are never underestimated. Even though I have hardly taught in the digital era (I moved up to be an administrator), and taught only in traditional classrooms, I have been enriched by the perspectives offered by my young adolescent students. They have indeed enriched me with wonderful insights into the dynamics inside and outside of the classroom.  So, it goes without saying, the teacher needs to be a life long learner. Move from a digital refugee to a digital immigrant and then transit into being a digital native. It is possible with some perseverance.
So how does one be a lifelong learner?
  1. Nurture a good element of curiosity. It is this CQ – Curiosity Quotient – that enables one’s quest for continuous learning.
  2. Be passionate about teaching (read: about what you do). Well, Thomas L Freidman in his paean to globalization, The World is Flat, calls this PQ – Passion Quotient – and even argues that it is more important than IQ.
  3. Explore. The World Wide Web is full of opportunities to learn and hone our skills and practices. At the same time be perceptive about what is authentic and what is not.
  4. Enrol. Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs and enrich your awareness about anything that interests you from History of Rock music to Volcanic eruptions. Many of these courses are offered by universities like Stanford and MIT and are mostly free of cost. You can look for courses in and Edmodo also features interesting courses for professional development.
  5. Find time. Time is always at a premium. You must find time for your up skilling – you owe this to yourself as a professional.
  6. Persevere. Don’t give up. It might be challenging at times. It is these challenges that make or break people. 
I did some courses online. I will share my experiences of them in my next post.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Memories of Karkadakam

Today is the 1st day of Karkadakam, the last month according to the traditional Malayalam calendar. The Malayalam calendar is called Kollavarsham (Kollam Era) and accordingly we are in year 1188. Though Medom is the first month according to the astronomical calendar, the 1st of Chingam (the next month after Karkadakam) is considered as the beginning of the New Year after Kollavarsham was adopted as the regional calendar.

My childhood memories of Karkadakam are that of non-stop rains. It rained, and rained and rained. I remember, while travelling by public transport to school, the roads used to be covered with water along  with the  paddy fields on both sides. There would only be sheets of water and it was hard to distinguish what what was road and what was not! By the time we reached school, we would be dripping wet. And we remained so for the whole day. School timings were from 10.00 am – 4.00 pm and a change into real dry clothes would be possible only after reaching home by about 5.00 pm! Probably it is those tough experiences that has made us take life head on.

Karakadakom is known as Kalla Karkadakom, meaning a black month – an inauspicious one. No auspicious event would be held – the weather was never conducive for that. The month also brought in its trail copious rains, troubles and travails to the peasants who just depended on farming and agricultural produce. The incessant rains rendered them with no work. And that meant no money. The damp weather forced people to be indoors. This was also the time when people fell ill. So, Karkadakom brought in its wake poverty, illness, and hardships. It is to beat this negativity in the air that temples and homes reverberated with the chant of Ramayana. Prayers were recited to clear the cobwebs in the mind and bring clarity and serenity to the soul. Karkadakom thus also got the name, Ramayana month. It is also believed that Maharshi Valmiki completed penning that immortal epic in this month.

Another memory is that of a massive operation clean at home. This happens on the eve prior to the first day of Karkadakam. All families were into agriculture in our small village of Pallavur in Palakkad. We were no different. The cleaning operation was a tradition. Our home, including the granary, would be cleaned meticulously. This was symbolic of  removing Chetta, (Jheshta Bhagavathy) who was considered to be the presiding deity of all that is dirty and decadent. We would then put it all in bamboo winnowers called Murams. There was no trace of plastic those days! Everything from grocers came covered in newspaper. Throwing away these biodegradable materials to the uninhabited parts of the huge compounds or outside it was accompanied by chants, “Chetta go, Shibothi come” (Chetta po, Shibothi vaa). Shibothi seems to be the the truncated version for Sree Bhagavathy, a semantic change that was necessitated by the excessive length of the word. And Sree Bhagavathy was worshipped as the harbinger of everything that is good and prosperous - especially in the wake of the new year being round the corner – in Chingam, which also brings the wonderful egalitarian festival of Onam. The entire month of Karkadakam sees the worshipping of Sree Bhagavthy, the Goddess of Prosperity. Lamps are lit in the morning and evening in the Machu (household shrine).

Palm 2
A view of the fields behind our home

Then gradually rains became scant. This year of course has been an exception. Paddy fields are all being filled in and converted into house plots. We have sold our paddy field too as it has become very difficult to manage – with practically no labour available to do farming chores. And today as I sit here in the date-palm fringed land, I cannot but long for these renewing practices we had in the past, in my home town which is fringed with palms of a different kind – the Borassus flabellifer, the Asian Palmyra palm.

Palm tree 1                                          The Borassus flabellifer, the Asian Palmyra palm

Today, things are very different. I really don’t know if all homes in Palakkad engage in removing Chetta and inviting Shibothi. My mom meticulously does it. I am so grateful she does it – at least our children are familiar with all the traditions we have had and she has never let it slide into a mere ritual. And it is my resolve to continue to engage in them in years to come too so that these nurturing practices don’t die a gradual death.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Challenge of our Education System

Sir Ken Robinson in his pertinently titled Ted Talk, “Schools Kill Creativity” declares “All kids have tremendous talents — and we squander them pretty ruthlessly.” (Read - ‘in schools!’)
Seth Godin in his Stop Selling Dreams quips: “The current (educational) structure, which seeks low-cost uniformity that meets minimum standards, is killing our economy, our culture, and us.”
Godfrey Canada in his Ted Education Talk, “Our Failing schools: Enough is Enough”, asks vehemently, “Why is it that when we had rotary phones, when we were having folks being crippled by polio, that we were teaching the same way then that we're doing right now?”
Many thinkers have gone hammer and tongs about the ails of the present day education system. I think this is especially because the percentage of very passionate teachers in our educational system is miniscule. Therefore the killing of creativity.  Therefore the mediocrity. Therefore the one-size-fits-all approach. And therefore we don’t create thinkers, creators and problem solvers but create conformists in plenty.
Today while at a our corporate strategy session we were overwhelmed at the requirement of the number of passionate teachers we will need in the next ten years – a modest 320,000! We find it difficult to fine one good hand – how will we find so many inspirational teachers? This set me thinking.
When we look at schools around us, there is one thing that simply bamboozles me. In many of the Indian curriculum schools, we plan career mapping sessions for our pupils. We introduce them to people from different walks of life. Doctors and Engineers abound the list – the Indian parent clientele have not outgrown that, sadly. Computer specialists, Researchers and Scientists also are not left far behind. Some of us do have a passion to bring in those from other professions – from designers to pilots, psychologists to lawyers, and representatives from the Armed Forces and the Services – IAS, IPS, IFS and the journalists. Some of us venture a little more further and bring those from off beat professions to expose those to impressionable minds – singers, actors, dancers, forensic experts (we did this at our school) and even conservationists. However, do we ever speak about our own profession, Teaching? No wonder then that even a teeny weeny number (not even one per cent of the total number of Class XII students) ever want to try their hand at one of the noblest of professions: Teaching! Whom can we blame but ourselves???
Today Teaching is taken up not by the passionate and those who have an aptitude for facilitating learning. It is embraced eagerly by those who want to have a comfortable job.  Your children can be in the same school; you will have the same holidays as your children and (a candidate at an interview candidly put it across to me), “In which other job will I have a two month vacation in summer and nearly a month long in winter?” (That the said candidate got rejected immediately is beside the point!).
To all passionate teachers out there: Can we spell out the pleasures and joys of the teaching to our pupils? We must be advocates and advertisers for our own profession. I am ashamed to admit, I am also one to be blamed. For it is most rightly said, “Teaching is the one profession that creates all other professions.” I guess I will start with my own school. Correction starts from me.
Resources and links:
Doodle Courtesy:

Friday, June 14, 2013

A Requiem

Today when I read in the Times of India about the impending demise of 160 year old telegram in India, I thought that a memorial service is in order. According to the report, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited will discontinue its telegraph services shortly. The last telegram will be sent on 15th July 2013. One more addition to what tomorrow’s students have to study as it becomes part of history.

Indian Telecommunication industry which is today touted to be one of the fastest growing one (second only to China, of course) began with the pioneering and experimental electric telegraph between Calcutta, the then capital of India, and Diamond Harbour. Subsequently the East India Company popularised it throughout the nation. The vastness of the country necessitated a separate department which came into being in 1854. One unforgettable name in this development is that of Dr. William O’Shaughnessy.

The Dot Dash Machine! It's becoming history!!

The Dot Dash Machine! It’s becoming history!!

I remember that any telegram that was served was actually received with a lot of anxiety and trembling, so much so that in many cases receiving a telegram was synonymous with receiving bad news – death, accident, illness and so on – unless the circumstances were otherwise. The weddings of my aunts and uncles saw us receiving so many telegrams with messages. There used to be a code for the telegrams booked and conveyed at the sender’s end – “phone-o-grams” as these messages were called in those days. 4 was for “A Happy New Year to You”; 8 – “Best Wishes for a long and Happy Married Life”; 10 –“Congratulations on your Success in the Examination”; 23 -“Best Wishes for your Success in the Examination”; 100 – “Our Deepest Condolence” and so on. It had messages for every possible occasion – festivals like Diwali, Id, Guru Parb, Navroze, Onam, Christmas, occasions like new arrival (of a baby), birthday, housewarming, successes of all kinds,  superannuation, pleasant and safe journey, national celebrations like Independence and Republic days, and speedy recovery from an illness / after an accident. There was even one for the Thread ceremony!!

Even for my wedding in 1983, I remember getting only telegrams for best wishes from those near and dear ones who could not attend the function. Those days Archies, Hallmark and Paper Rose and the like were hardly around in India – and definitely not in Palakkad! I remember my grandfather and my Dad going through each one of telegrams carefully and making note of all the names who had sent in the greetings. The unwritten rule was that we have to reciprocate when there was an occasion in the sender’s family.

Another occasion when I received a telegram was when Tata Tea informed me of the interview at Munnar. I had applied for the post of a teacher at their High Range School, Mattupatti, Munnar. Once the interview was over, they asked me to come over once again for a medical check up, again via telegram. (Appointments would be offered only if the medical tests were okay.) I remember that they communicated my selection and asked me to join as soon as possible, also vide another telegram. Smile

Today, when I read the news item #, all these memories came into me. With the advent of super fast communication strategies at the wink of an eye, the click of a mouse or the touch on a touch screen, via mobile phones (Indian mobile subscriber numbers will touch 1.200 billion in 2013 according to projections!), SMSs, instant messages and emails, it is only but natural that time consuming strategies will die a sad death. The ‘dots and dashes’ of the Morse code is now on the verge of the hearing its own death knell raised by the latest gadgets courtesy a population of techno savvy digital natives, immigrants and refugees.

International Morse Code

International Morse Code

Yet, one cannot feel sad about the passing away good old times. Information was slow to reach but life was so simple and uncomplicated. Life was full of trials and yet, everyone looked at it with hope and faith. Joys were many and sorrows were shared. Living conditions were great with fresh farm produced food, clean and clear water and lots of fresh air in our rustic countryside of Pallavur. Climate changes rarely were noticed.  No preservatives. No GM or Instant food. No non stop channel discussions and live coverages. Most importantly, the Idiot Box with many of its irrational, melodramatic and silly soap operas was just not there. In short, there was nothing to pollute and sully either one’s physical or the inner being.

Alas! Those are bygone days now. And since I feel some of you will be on the same page with me on this, I use this phone-o-gram message for the requiem:
                         Message 100: “Our Deepest Condolence.”

PS: You have outlived all of us by living for 160 years. And have served many many millions! Blah, talk about corporate social responsibility!  So, Rest In Peace. Peace that passeth all times and climes.


Image courtesy:
The Telegraph equipment:
International Morse Code:

Monday, June 10, 2013

Life in the Now

One of the most nurturing of renewal mechanisms that the human body can indulge in is Mindfulness, according to Richard Boyatzis and Melvin Smith¹. As someone who is very keen on renewing myself on a day to day basis, I find great joy when I do things mindfully. Mind you, I have not mastered it. Just aware. So trials are on to make it a part of me. For example, a walk barefoot on the green grass in the park is something I mindfully did today! Yes, in the hustle and bustle of life it is always not possible to be mindful – and that is when the mind is in autopilot. Sometimes you do things so mechanically that you don’t even realize you have done it. Doesn’t that happen to you?
I have read about mindfulness through the books of Thích Nhất Hạnh (fondly called as Thây), the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk and the Dalai Lama. Called in Pali and Sanskrit as smṛti / स्मृति, Mindfulness has its roots in Hinduism and later its offshoot, Buddhism. Perfected by Buddhists, it means focus, attention or awareness – a way of engaging with life and experiencing the present moment. Yet another author whose books have extolled the virtues of being mindful, The Power of Now, is Eckhart Tolle*. “Neurons that fire together, wire together”, said the Canadian Psychologist Donald Hebb. This came to be known as Hebbs axiom and going by this, the more we practice mindfulness, the more we develop neuro-pathways in the brain associated with being mindful. This makes it easier for the mind to be fully in the present moment. In today’s stress ridden existence, living in the moment makes one’s inner being resilient and activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS), according to the studies conducted by Richard Boyatzis and team. PSNS activates a set of hormones that lower blood pressure and strengthen the immune system according to Annie McKee, Frances Johnston and Richard Massimillian.²

Flower Power

While mindfulness is a perfect tool to manage stress, it also helps us to create a world where we experience depth, meaning and an authentic connectedness with everything one does and how we do them.
How can we create mindfulness within us? Use our senses to the hilt. Be aware of what we see. Listen to what we hear. Sniff and experience the smell – follow our nose! What is the texture that we feel? Savour the taste – be it of the elixir of life, water, or of a grape in our mouth. Experience all these. Focus on our breath. Close our eyes. Just delve within. Watch our thoughts and let them go. Be mindful of whatever we do – bathe, brush, walk, talk or even while attending a telephone call.
Wish you a mindful journey ahead! I will also trudge along and yes, we will reach there!!

¹ In
Positive Renewal
² In
Mindfulness, Hope and Compassion: A Leader’s Roadmap to Renewal
* Power of Now has a series of exercises that can take one through to experience the potent power of the Now.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Njavara Rice

A couple of months back I bought a kilo of Njavara rice. I was sorely tempted to buy it when I saw the dark brown unpolished rice. In the hustle and bustle of life, I somehow missed out making rice out of it. Today, being a Friday, a holiday, I did some spring cleaning. Lo, there lay the packet of rice! The menu for lunch was instantly decided. Even while washing it, the colour did not run. That told me the rice was authentic. Cooking it took longer than usual but that was not a dampener. The cooked rice had such a unique taste. Rice with ripe mango pachadi (a traditional wet dish made with ground coconut, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, green chillies and yoghurt), cowpeas dry dish (called Upperii.e. cowpeas cooked with turmeric, chilli powder and salt and garnished with fried onions and fresh coconut scrapings) and some pickle – it was a yummy and delicious lunch.

Njavara Rice, endemic to Kerala

Njavara Rice, endemic to Kerala

Njavara, with medicinal properties, is an endemic rice variety of Kerala. I am proud that there are eco farms that cultivate this rice in my home district of Palakkad, in Kerala. It belongs to the Oryza genus of grass and is a wild form of the cultivated rice Oryza Sativa commonly known as Asian rice. Njavara rice has a prime place in Ayurveda – both for internal consumption as Kanji (porridge) and external use like in Njavara Kizhi which is part of Panchakarma treatment.

Njavara when consumed internally is said to remove the ills affecting the respiratory, circulatory and digestive systems of the body. It’s cultivation is just like that of paddy. A study at the Regional Agricultural Research Station, Pilicode, described Njavara as a unique cereal having high content of free amino acids. A study conducted at the Agricultural University, Vellanikkara, Thrissur said that “being a rare indigenous genetic resource of high value and unique production and quality characteristics, it is necessary that Njavara is studied thoroughly, conserved, propagated and utilised appropriately.”

Though I have heard about Njavara, I have never known much about it till I explored it today. Worse still, I had never tasted it ever till today! It is time we protected these indigenous treasures from extinction.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

World Book Day Thoughts

Today is World Book & Copyright Day. Can't have a better day to celebrate it as today is the birthday of the Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare and the day the celebrated Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes was buried. A birth and a death. In between is the journey of life. With technology changing every minute, to me the power of the Book is still unquestionable. Yet as an educator I can see that the love for books and art of reading books is dying.
My books
How did I come to be an ardent book lover? I remember fondly my childhood days. Daddy used to read books to us just before we went to bed. And the most vivid memory is that of Dad reading Jim Corbett’s stories to us. Probably because we live in the midst of coffee / tea plantations with forests and wildlife around in Valparai, Anamallais, I could connect that with the topography mentioned in the stories. Dad had a knack of reading it in such a way that it painted a picture in the mind’s canvas. He bought us lots of books. During summer holidays when we spent time at Dad’s work place, he introduced us to the books of Enid Blyton. My guess is it is those books that got me hooked to reading – not surely the classics. Abridged editions or original versions were not good enough to inspire me read more.
Later as I grew up, I not only started reading but also collecting books and build a library. I do have lots of books now and would love to keep on reading. However, today, when I see students around me not really reading, I wonder if it is because many of us, English teachers, focussed first on classics. (We are old school, you know! I plead guilty of this till recently when I laid hands on a wonderful book called Caring Hearts, Critical Minds by Steven Wolk, which completely changed my perceptions and brought in refreshing insight.) We wanted them to read Oliver Twist and Three Musketeers or Anna Karenina and Moby Dick first. There is nothing in them that would hold their attention. I must also add that those books were written by adults for adults. Yet, we asked our students to read them.
Instead if we ask them to read something they can relate to - like something they see around them in the real world - may be they would find reading a more engaging experience. For example reading books like Freak the Mighty (Philbrick 1993) that explores friendship or the award winning Bamboo People (Mitali Perkins 2012) that hinges on the redemptive power of love, family and friendship. Or Copper Sun (Sharon Draper 2006), the riveting story of the trials and tribulations of an African girl and the practice of slavery. Any Small Goodness (Tony Johnston 2003) a story steeped in hope, love and warmth. Or Scrawl (Mark Shulman 2010), a juvenile fiction that deals with social issues like bullying and peer pressure.
The sad truth is we teach reading to test. Not for the pure pleasure and love of it. We ask them the very evident questions, not those that will make them think. “Instead of teaching ‘Reading’ as a school subject”, how about teaching “reading filled with real purposes, experiences and emotions of life” asks Steven Wolk.
Yes, we need to do this to stoke the embers of this dying fire of reading. For even in this techno savvy geeky world, everything boils down to reading. Adult life is full of that. Read, comprehend, analyse, synthesize, extrapolate and create completely new things out of what you read. Granted what you have to read may not be in hard copy but surely it is in the form of an e-book, kindle edition and or the plain and simple PDF. I hasten to add that this is also reading, but minus the essence. I mean the heady fragrance of a brand new book or the musty smell of an old book. To a connoisseur of books both are sure to gift a very special olfactory experience. Something that makes one want for more! Sniff, sniff & sniff!!!
By the way, did you know that there are perfumes that you can spritz on your e-reader or kindle to make it smell like a paper book? It is like bottled scent of ink on paper – check this one out! Eau de books??? Or is it meant to be worn as an actual perfume? In any case, I doubt if even book lovers would love to walk around smelling like a book. It is great to sniff will it be so to walk around wearing it on your sleeve?
Smell of a book
I think language teachers have their tasks cut out. It is time that schools, teachers and parents helped today's digital generation discover the simple joys of reading books. Meanwhile, I have rediscovered the joy of reading, thanks to a lot of books that my children, Aathira and Praveen, gifted me for my birthday. From The Immortals of Meluha I am traversing into the absorbing tale of the The Secret of the Nagas (Amish Tripathi – the second in the The Shiva trilogy).
Are you reading too? Happy World Book Day to you!
** Caring Hearts, Critical Minds; Steven Wolk, Stenhouse Publishers; Page 191

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Nostalgia of yet another Vishu

Today was Vishu, a very auspicious day for a Keralite. A festival that is the harbinger of prosperity, plenty and joy. A lot of very special images fleet across my mind's canvas...
Even Nature is ready for the festivities. The Labernum is laden with flowers. Mangoes and Jackfruits green and ripe are aplenty. The Sun is bright and is almost above the line of the equator.
The eve of Vishu montages:Mummy & all of us arranging the Kani, the special arrangement of everything auspicious and yellow, so that we can view it first thing in the morning...The array of yellow coloured fruits and vegetables like mangoes, jackfruit, golden cucumber or the Kani Vellari, lemon, home grown bananas...The mirror adorned with gold chains and stringed jasmine flowers/ tulasi petals, the idol/photo of Krishna, the Kasavu Veshti, the Bhagavad Gita and everything else from raw rice to halved coconuts...The dazzling Labernum blooms aka Kanikonna... A host of other flowers to decorate the Lord from the ordinary hibiscus to the sacred Tulasi leaves and to the beautiful and enchanting Lotus flowers the Daddy will get from our Lotus Pond...The lighted lamps, the wafting fragrance of agarbathis and camphor...
Arranged so that this sight is what one sees first in the morning
Arranged so that this sight is what one sees first in the morning
The morning of Vishu memories:
Mummy waking us up one by one, covering our eyes with her hand, getting us to wash our faces without opening our eyes and then making us sit in front of the necklace adorned mirror...
Lo! You open your eyes and see your reflection in the mirror decked of course in gold and flowers...
As children the best thing to remember was the Vishu Kaineettam... (No pocket money those days. All you will get during the entire year would be a few rupees as Kaineetam, that the elders would give you!)
Then the very interesting part for children - the bursting of crackers & fireworks... (Gradually this became a much toned down affair, thanks to the awareness that child labour was rampant in the firework factories in Sivakasi and of the chemical pollution it releases into the air !)
When we had our cattle, Mummy used to take the Kani into the cattle shed for the cows to see...
All reminders of times when we lived close to nature... and treated every living being with respect and love...
Then the rush of local people - kids, young and old, to collect their share of Kaineettam from Daddy...
Sumptuous feasts...
Times when all would come home for Vishu... the joy, the merriment, the bonding and the camaraderie...
Today am at Sharjah. Far away from my loved ones, physically at least. Virtually I was even able to see some of the vishu kanis... The eve of Vishu gave me actually the blues... (which I tried rather unsuccessfully to beat by watching the Malayalam movie Amen in the nearest theatre!)  How I missed being at home during this festive time! Made a decent feast for myself with sambhar, rice and koottu curry - yet my mind, like a disobedient child, ran back to the courtyards of Sreyas (our home is named that); in the midst of Dad and Mom...
How true the age old adage is: East or West, Home is truly the best! Only one has to leave the shores of our land to realize this!!
Flowers of the Indian Labernum or the Kani Konna
Flowers of the Indian Labernum or the Kani Konna
Happy Vishu to all... May this Vishu bring you joy, peace, health and prosperity!!!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Are we equipping our Students for Tomorrow’s Jobs?

The other day, I was reading a very interesting hypothesis by the celebrated columnist and author, The World is Flat fame, Thomas L Friedman. His formula for knowledge acquisition in the 21st century is CQ+PQ>IQ. i.e. Curiosity Quotient + Passion Quotient will be greater than Intelligence Quotient. Thomas Friedman states that when curiosity is paired with passion in the exploration of a subject of interest, an individual may be able to acquire an amount of knowledge comparable that of a person who is exceptionally intelligent, because of the vast amount of information resources available through the Internet. He goes on a step further and declares, "Give me the kid with a passion to learn and a curiosity to discover and I will take him or her over the less passionate kid with a huge IQ every day of the week." IQ "still matters, but CQ and PQ ... matter even more." For an educator this is sweet music. But are we equipping our students with these clever quotients in the classrooms is a million dollar question?
Juxtaposed to this is the resignation letter of Mr Gerald Conti, Social Studies Department Leader at Westhill High School, New York. After 27 years of teaching, he felt his profession no longer exists. The policy makers, he felt, have sold out education to private industries like Pearson Education, who have gone hammer and tongs with standardized tests. (I must add here that CBSE has launched an assessment training programme. No prizes for guessing. Yes, its partner is Pearson education!)
Seth Godin in his Stop Stealing Dreams says, “as long as we embrace (or even accept) standardized testing, fear of science, little attempt at teaching leadership and most of all, the bureaucratic imperative to turn education into a factory itself, we’re in big trouble. The post-industrial revolution is here. Do you care enough to teach your kids to take advantage of it?”
"Standardized tests can't measure initiative, creativity, imagination, conceptual thinking, curiosity, effort, irony, judgment, commitment, nuance, good will, ethical reflection, or a host of other valuable dispositions and attributes. What they can measure and count are isolated skills, specific facts and function, content knowledge, the least interesting and least significant aspects of learning." says Bill Ayers in his book, To teach: the Journey of a Teacher, by William Ayers.
To me the crux of the matter is simple. Let us make schools places of joy and fun. Let us make our students thinkers and creators. Decades from now, they will thank us for inculcating in them these skills. Let our children not say “I hate school”, like in this cartoon.
Meanwhile, it is sad to see the 'assembly line' model working stronger than ever though we have moved away from the Industrial Age where conformity and standardisation were the norm. Without teaching creativity and being inspirational in the classroom how can we create in our students CQ - Curiosity Quotient and PQ - Passion Quotient? Without these it is not possible for them to take up jobs of the future! Mr. Conti, you have hit the nail on the head. You have done your best. So may you be able to live a superannuated life free of guilt!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Homage to the Maestro

I write this post after seeing the breaking news on television just now – “Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair passes away”. An enchanting and amazing Kathakali performer, it goes without saying that he was one of his own kind. Kathakali is the finest traditional and finely stylized dance-drama form of Kerala. It has lively sopanam style music accompanied to the rhythmical beats of percussion, vibrant and colourful costumes that goes with the nature of the character personified, the elaborate make up, the graceful dance with eloquent gestures or mudras and the brilliantly executed navarasa expressions. I have had opportunities of seeing this amazing artist who breathed life into the very many roles he had enacted on stage.
I am reminded of the 70s and 80s when I was growing up in my rustic home village of Pallavur. As a youngster I was fascinated by the temple arts that were showcased every year at our Thripallavur temple festivals. There would be Ottamthullal, Chakyaar Koothu, Koodiyattam and night long Kathakali shows during festive times. And my favourite was of course the Kathakali which was performed on two nights. I remember going to watch the performance and coming back home at dawn. I had to attend school and later college after the show but that did not dampen my spirits. Looking back I am really amazed at myself – how I enjoyed and sat completely engrossed during those Kathakali performances. I remember seeing Nala Charitham Aatta Katha, Daksha Yagam, Keechaka Vadhom, Panchali Shapadham, Kalyana Sougandhikam, Santhana Gopalam, Bali Vijayam, Poothana Moksham and the rarely performed Manikanda Vijayam on the story of Lord Ayyappa at our temple precincts.
That was how I got introduced to the grace of Kalamandalam Raman Kutty Nair and Kalamandalam Gopi. I was spell bound by Raman Kutty Nair’s brilliant portrayal of Hanuman in the Ramayana stories of Kathakali – the Vella Thadi character and the adorable romantic hero - virtuous hero roles perfected by Kalamandalam Gopi – like the characters of Nala, Arjuna and Karna. It remains clear in my mind even today, decades later, replete with the antics of the monkey (he was playing Hanuman) that made us go in splits. Even more thrilling was when he would walk right into the midst of the audience with a branch of a tree, acting every bit a primate! I never knew the intricacies of the art form but delightfully enjoyed them each time I sat through them.
hanuman 2
Sri Raman Kutty Nair was the doyen of the “Kathi” veshams in Kathakali. All the “Kathi” characters are anti-hero ones like Duryodhana, Keechaka and Ravana. He had also enacted with élan the “Pazhuppu” veshams – the characters of of Parasurama, the Brahmana of Sandhana Gopalam and Kuchela in Kuchela Vritham. Equally memorable was his “Kattaalan” vesham in Nala Charitham second day. Scores of awards and Padma Bhushan later, he occupies the pride of place in the minds of art connoisseurs.
One more maestro departs from the stage of Life. However, though his legacy will live on, there will never be one more of his kind ever! May his soul rest in eternal peace. Kathakali lovers all over the world will bid adieu to this maestro with tears in their eyes.
Source for the picture:

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Savage Ravagers

There is no agony like an untold story inside of you. ~~ Maya Angelou
Picture a little three year old gypsy girl…
Imagination sure will run riot! The picture of a little girl who is in her “magic years” comes to my mind’s canvas… a little one with a dusky complexion… wild unkempt hair because her mother cannot afford oil…
Chattering non-stop in a language that is soon losing its babyishness that would probably make her impoverished mother smile and forget temporarily the trials and tribulations of her dreary existence…
Living life in a make-believe world, pretending to make pancakes with coconut shells…Asking so many questions about things around her that will whet her curiosity…
Nimble hands getting used to handling small objects and thus perfecting her motor skills…Getting familiar with the concept of “I, me and mine…”
Boundlessly energetic and exploring world around her…
Enjoying blissful sleep huddled to her mother and waking up again to the beauty of another day...
Can we imagine such a girl? Eyes shining with a wondrous sparkle at the bright new world around her… The innocence of a sweet smile adorning her little lips… Tiny fingers and the frail legs that make her flit around as gracefully as a dandelion seed floating in the air… An embodiment of innocence with a disarming ability to trust everyone implicitly…
Normally, at the age of 3+ she would a pre-schooler. Perhaps running around the verandah / yard of an Anganwadi because that would only be what her poor mother could afford. No, here she was perhaps just tagging along holding the pallu of her mother’s sari for they belong to a nomadic tribe… leading a gypsy-like existence…sleeping in the street…
It is such an angel who was despoiled by a group of men! And where did this happen? In the literate shores of Kerala! In God’s own country, where men seem to behave worse than devils!! It is reported that the little girl was abducted at dawn when she was sleeping with her mother in the verandah of a shop. By the time the ant eaten little one was found at about 10 am, she had suffered inhuman aggressions on her tender body. She may be a gypsy girl. But doesn’t she have a right to live and that too to live safely and securely???
The whole world loves a child. But not these fiends… How can anyone even look at such a small little girl with such deviant lust??? What ails these menfolk? Have they no conscience at all? Reports say 14 of them were arrested and that they were drugs addicts and habitual offenders. So what??? If you take drugs, wreak havoc on your own body, not others. Respect their body temple. If you drink, ditto! Habitual offenders – you brutes have not had the real taste of punishment and that is why you repeat such foul acts with impunity. To those MCPs who say that women invite rape unto themselves, pray what provocation did this little girl give to be ravaged like this?
The little one is in the ICU, battling for her life in a Calicut hospital. She has already undergone two operations. There is the lurking fear of an infection. What will her future be? Will she make it alive from this ordeal? What emotional and psychological scars and trauma will be hidden in her persona as long as she lives?
Little girl, we beg forgiveness. I hope you will beat death on its face. I hope you will grow up to be a brave girl who does not blame yourself for what happened to you. Like what Albert Camus said, I hope, in the depths of winter, you will learn that there is in you an invincible summer. Let your light shine and be a source of strength and courage to all. Like a tiny bird through a storm cloud sky, a tiny piece winged its way through the chaos and I hope and pray that is YOU. I know it is easy for me to say all this while you suffer. But I feel your pain. I feel your agony. I feel your numbness. I feel your helplessness.
Well, can 22-female-Ks* of all ages wake up and do the act???? We must or we will never be able to protect our mothers/sisters/daughters from sexual assaults of such base creatures that are just worms of the veritable hell! When the state does not act, when law keepers cannot protect and when there is no justice delivered to very many sex offenders coupled with the snail’s pace of trails at even fast track courts, the only option seems to be taking law into our hands and mete out retribution, like how Tessa did. If you feel that I am exhorting for eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth dictum like Hammurabi, the Sumerian ruler did, my answer is: Yes, there is no other way out.
(* “22 Female Kottayam” is new generation neo-realistic movie where a woman with a ravaged body and a distraught mind plans a macabre yet much needed revenge against the one who ruins her and executes it with élan. It appealed so much to the angry woman in me.)