I am Scared

I feel scared. Every single moment I spend in her company makes time irrelevant and space insignificant. The future becomes reducible and the past a forgettable inevitability. Seconds coalesce into minutes, which in turn melt into hours. Yet time stands still. The hands of the clock might tick away bowing to the pressures of Physics and logic, yet the elemental aspects of time do not observe neither Science nor Standards. It is just serendipity. That is what scares me.

Untouched by Janus and blessed by Dike, she is a symbol of fascinating truth and fecund transparency. Shouting out her views yet subservient to reason, she both shocks and soothes. I feel scared. She is the Portia of dogged resolve, and the delightful Elizabeth Bennet of immortal fame. As insecure as Scarlett O’ Hara yet possessing the steely nerves of Sonya Marmeladova, she is a delightful paradox. This is what both inspires and scares me.

Bringing out the child in me and yet making me aware of my hesitant and insecure conscience, she conflates my triumphs and tribulations into one moment of surreal peace. It is this very peace that makes me scared. Oblivious to pain and ignorant of pleasure, I am transported to a realm that is so pure that no conflicting emotions are allowed entry into that sacred domain. This is precisely why time stands still and space loses significance. It is this purity that scares me. It is this very domain across whose threshold I am wary of stepping. Yet with hands spread apart she beckons. With eyes brimming with meaning she reckons. But I feel scared.

She is so near yet so distant. I know not whether to fear the proximity or the aloofness. While the remoteness makes me crave, the immediacy produces a chill that runs right down my spine. What is it that I am afraid of? The fact that I will never be able to possess her or the possibility that she would invariably be mine? Hell is when she moves away from my vicinity, but is it heaven when she beseeches me to spend a wee bit more time with her drinking and not head home in a haste? It is this conundrum that scares me. With sparkling eyes speaking a thousand words, having for punctuations a luscious cascade of wavy hair, she is an epic of indelible meaning and irrepressible form. It is this very form that makes me vulnerable and this very meaning that has me in a bind. Yes, I feel scared.

More intoxicating than any brew, yet possessing an influence that is sobering, she leads me into territories unchartered yet traversed from time immemorial. Bestowing me with the license to dream, she also reigns me in when those dreams take on proportions unrealistic and dimensions unconstrained. It is this very balance that scares me. In her presence I am an eagle that soars uninhibited with regal wings spread apart; In her closeness, I am an idea whose time has certainly come; I see my future in her smile and chart out my destiny in her laugh. Each time she throws back her head and loses herself in her peal of uninhibited, unrestricted and unshackled laughter, it is as if I am holding a mirror to my very conscience. And it is this conscience that has me all scared.

I think; I conjure; I ponder; I speculate; I surmise; I despair; I pine; I judge; I deign; I decide; I wander; I shirk; I expand; I wither; I blossom. More than anything else I HOPE. It is this very hope that drives and demands; propels and pleads; enthuses and enervates; motivates and mars. But ultimately it this very hope that keeps me going and makes me live.

I feel scared.

A Night at the Cinema – A Blunder unforgettable & a mayhem to savour

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After what seemed to be an interminable wait following a never ending sequence of advertisements irritable (a KFC ad showing in obnoxious detail 8 different ways in which a chicken could be bit into), and trailers insipid (gangsters and ghosts contended so much for the bragging rights for the next release that at times the distinguishing lines between the two were blurred), the lights finally dimmed and the screen adjusted itself to the usual size befitting a cinemascope. The determined crunching of popcorn and the contended slurping of carbonated drinks served as appetizers of anticipation. However, the fact that Ashita and I were seated in unenviable seats occupying the second row from the screen did not make for a setting that could be termed comfortable. Craning our necks and looking straight up, we were like a pair of excited storks gawking at the launch of Apollo 13! Only the launch time of Apollo 13 was approximately 2 hours shorter than our positional inevitability.

Ashita

When the movie finally started, there was virtual mayhem and a comical melee in the cinema hall. An absent minded professor and/or a dimwit (and everything in between) had projected the WRONG movie (yes you read it right!). Instead of the originally scheduled Varun Dhawan-Anushka Sharma starrer ‘Sui Dhaga – Made In India’, Cinema Hall No.1 belonging to Golden Screen Cinemas in Nu Sentral Mall, Kuala Lumpur decided on an unpopular whim that the audience deserved to watch a Tamil movie titled “Ekantham” (Loneliness) instead! Imagine the consternation of a packed and hollering crowd at the Eden Gardens, when after winning the toss and electing to bat, India sends in Venkatesh Prasad striding out to open the batting instead of Sachin Tendulkar!

However, the ill timed attempt to inculcate a sense of ‘loneliness’ amongst a band of tired homo sapiens backfired as a miffed mob hurtled its way out the exit doors to find, explain and educate the culprit. Hopefully, a forceful massage and a couple of discounted bones were not on the menu! Extremely keen to both participate in the action and vent her frustration, Ashita sprung out of her seat a la Jack In The Box and turning her gaze in a direction which she had decided was where the projector was located, commenced shrieking “It’s the wrong movie” over and over again. Although no credible or tangible purpose was accomplished by this hollering, she sure gained ample attention and more than succeeded in triggering a herd mentality. “It’s the wrong movie” became such a vociferous and addictive chant that for a few fleeting seconds, Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” was in danger of experiencing unfortunate and spontaneous oblivion!

Before proceeding to highlight the manner in which (if at all) the linguistic predicament of a hundred confused souls was resolved, it is apposite to write a few lines about Ashita. If at all anyone deserves to be feted by Bollywood for nursing an unshakable faith in their production lines, it has to be Ashita. Since the time she has been capable of possessing a memory and the faculty of speech, there has not been a single Hindi movie that has escaped either her prying eyes or her prodigious memory. In fact, she can hold forth and wax eloquent over movies the nuances of which even the actors have either forgotten (conveniently) or ended up wishing that they had forgotten (regrettably)! For a person like me who occasionally visits the cinema, motivated more by the prospects of collecting a superhero water bottle (that comes along with a ridiculously expensive and vile tasting popcorn combo) than by the on screen antiques, Ashita is an unparalleled wonder to behold!

Captain

The pandemonium was now taking on comical proportions. While one half of the crowd was jeering yet keeping their eyes locked on the patterns that “Loneliness” was taking on the screen, (after all who does not want to see a cinema for free, even if the actors are rattling about in Swahili), the rest were, with their backs to the cinema waving arms, clenching fists, standing upon chairs and generally yelling whatever were the first words that came to them. I would not have been one bit surprised if I had heard cries of “Sachin Sachin” punctuated with “Inqlaab Zindabad!” The confusion finally came to a merciful conclusion when the by now chastised and hopefully all-bones-in-piece personnel manning the projector took off the Tamil movie and projected the Yash Raj films banner on the silver screen. It was 30 minutes beyond the originally stipulated show time.

But it was thirty minutes the likes of which I had never ever experienced in my lifetime. It was thirty minutes of gathering uncertainties, gallivanting human emotions and more than anything else, gloriously gregarious Ashita!

Even ‘Sui Dhaga’ could not have been tailored to accord such imperfect perfections!

Jay Gatsby with all his frailties

Gatsby

If ever I am given the choice to be transformed into a literary character, it would sans a semblance of any doubt, be Jay Gatsby. Yes, you read that right! Not the morally upright Atticus Finch of “To Kill a Mockingbird” or the immortal Holden Caufield of “Catcher In The Rye“. With all the raised eyebrows, rankled emotions and reverberating objections, it would still be Jay Gatsby of “The Great Gatsby“.

F Scott Fitzgerald’s controversial albeit vulnerable character excites and exasperates his readers while being the very epitome of human emotions and paradoxes.  “If it wasn’t for the mist we could see your home across the bay,” You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.” When professing his undying love for Daisy, Gatsby in spite of realising that there is no way out for his venture into the deepest recession of human emotions, still elects to pursue his chosen course of action. The recalcitrant heart prevails over the rational head.

Gatsby is a pack of pernicious lies; Gatsby is a charade of false assurances; Gatsby is a walking machine of deception, but more than anything else, Gatsby is a helpless prisoner of destiny and a child of inevitable fate. To paraphrase Fitzgerald, “I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before,” he said, nodding determinedly. “She’ll see.” This almost naive belief of Gatsby at once makes him a consummate liar as well as a confused (confounded even) child.

Gatsby’s outward portrayal of affluence and effervescence is but an innocent and deliberate charade for acceptance. An acceptance that has as its edifice the dangerous element of love, an undying love for Daisy Buchanan, his muse,  his aspiration and his very objective for living.  Gatsby shows a dangerous willingness to go to any lengths and indulge in any activity to further his insatiable love for Daisy. It is this mindless and at the same time perfectly understandable paradox that lends Gatsby his rightful place in the Hall of Immortal Literary Fame.

Gatsby’s external masochistic presence grapples with his true and inner frailty and miserably fails in the ultimate conflict. A man who is the epitome of manliness, massacre and mayhem is in actuality a gullible bundle of apprehension, fear and failure. It is this bewildering paradox of gullible human emotions that endears Gatsby to me. The true Jay Gatsby is a totally and unfortunately misunderstood character rather than an affluent brat showing his finger to the world.

Gatsby is not so much fixated with repeating the past as reclaiming it. He desires to make the journey to that ethereal, magical moment when he welded all of his aspirations and dreams to Daisy in Louisville, and also to make that past moment his present . It also means redeeming his wrongs by possessing Daisy once again and forever!

Hence given an opportunity to metamorphose into a literary character, I will choose Jay Gatsby without even batting an eyelid. I may as well be the grist for the mill of human emotion rather than be an artificial and confirming relic of stereotypes and lethargic conventions. To paraphrase the mercurial Kurt Cobain, “It is better to burn out than to fade away.”

(WORD COUNT: 582)

THIS POST IS WRITTEN FOR NOVEMBERSCHILD IN ASSOCIATION WITH KALAMPEDIA – QUEST FOR KNOWLEDGE”. 

The Old Man and the Sea and Life’s Lessons

Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway was a clash of contradictions, an entanglement of passions and a bundle of paradoxes. With an infuriating ego, an intransigent outlook and an impetuosity that rankled eyebrows, Hemingway could have easily competed for the most avoidable role model award! However, in spite of or despite these frailties, the man could write and HOW!  The Nobel Laureate’s cathartic work, “The Old Man and the Sea”  is a monumental testimony not only to the breadth of human imagination, but also a testimony to the sweeping depth of a writer’s ability to impact, influence and innovate.

Right from the time I read this epochal work, I have been repeatedly drawn to it like the pull of the most powerful magnet ever invented. On its surface the story is a simple, not so stellar one involving the travails of an old fisherman, Santiago who endures a dry spell of 84 days without a significant catch. On the 85th day of his unfortunate sojourn, he experiences a veritable tryst with destiny by baiting a gargantuan marlin. Locked in a Herculean struggle to bag it, man, marlin, harpoon, skiff and the sea brave the elements of nature as well as one another for the whole of three days. Finally, after an exasperating spectacle that leaves him enervated, Santiago manages to overpower the marlin and gets the fish onto the boat. However, on his way back, ravenous sharks attracted by the smell of the marlin mount a dreaded attack on Santiago and his boat and in the process reduce his prize catch to mere skeletal remains.

That is all there is to this simple story. Or is it? There is a primeval essence that under girds this magnificent tale and the message it conveys to the reader transcends the mere requirements for awards and criteria for recognition (notwithstanding the fact that the book went on to win the Pulitzer and was a great contributor to a subsequent Nobel). The lessons imparted by this story are immense in their gravity and intense in their elucidation. My prime picks (the ones that make this book an all time favourite and irresistible) would be the following:

Bide your time and it is never too late

What never materialized for a frustrating period of 84 days changed instantaneously on the 85th day for Santiago! As Hemingway himself was wont to say, “a man can be destroyed but not defeated.”

Adversity can be the Mother of Inspiration

What matters is NOT the fact that the sharks decamped with Santiago’s catch. The bottom line is the reinforcement of Santiago’s belief, a reiteration of a faith in his abilities and a relentless pursuit of his aspirations.

Don’t expect fortune to favour you even if you are brave

Exclude the elements of luck and fortune as extraneous to whatever you are out to achieve. Just do your bit to the best of your abilities, intention and conscience. If you want to make a mark, then don’t mull over the outcome!

Age is indeed a clichéd number

Vision is neither linear to age nor directly proportional to weary limbs (unless one attempts to do the insurmountable such as scaling Mount Everest or fostering a hope to land on the moon at 100!)

You are your own Invictus

You are the master of your soul and the Captain of your ship!

These are what makes Hemingway’s work immortal, inspirational & indelible!

(WORD COUNT: 581)

THIS POST IS WRITTEN FOR NOVEMBERSCHILD IN ASSOCIATION WITH KALAMPEDIA – QUEST FOR KNOWLEDGE”. 

 

 

 

By Rote to By Right – Simple prescriptions for an ailing Indian Education System

While the biggest impediment plaguing our education system today is the curse of rote learning, the elephant in the room is a rigid and stereotypical curriculum that solely focuses on churning out torch bearers for professions, thereby paying scant or even non-existent regard to vocation. There needs to be a paradigm shift in the mindset of political mavens and administrators alike to tide over this twin ailment and to position Indian education in a league whose underlying philosophy is unlike any that is currently prevalent.

The bane of Indian education lies in a system that provokes comparison, induces complexes of inferiority as well as superiority, inculcates in tender minds an unbelievably strong peer pressure and puts both students as well as parents in a state of perpetual stress! While grades ossify creativity, the doling out of ranks and classes stratify students and compartmentalize them on the sheer basis of academic and rote distinction as against practical, intuitive and unique talents. Students become mere statistical denominations as 99.8 outwits 99.7 who in turn nudges ahead of 99.6! This is one mindless race which makes even rat races seem an exercise in virtuous endeavor! Right from Grade 1 onwards, children are made to lug and haul weighty bags and forced to sit through even more weightier subjects. A child whose real talent lies in strumming a guitar or rappelling cliff faces is enforced to master the Theorems of Pythagoras and the esoterica of Newton’s Thermodynamics. While a fundamental and basic level of the sciences is a must for every student, there ought to be avenues for channeling their real passion or calling. Mainstream education may churn out millions of engineers, doctors, scientists and accountants, but it is only creativity that has the gift of unleashing a Leonardo Da Vinci, or an Anthony Bourdain, or a Jorge Luis Borges or a Sachin Tendulkar. Hence there needs to be a judicious and necessary mix of rigorous mainstream education and an equally exuberant and effervescent opportunity for facilitating and fostering vocational excellence.

India can take a leaf (or two) from the Scandinavian education philosophy in general, and the Finnish method of learning, in particular. There are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, apart from a solitary exam at the end of students’ senior year in high school. There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions. Finland’s schools are publicly funded. The people in the government agencies running them, from national officials to local authorities, are educators, not business people, military leaders or career politicians. Every school has the same national goals and draws from the same pool of university-trained educators. The result is that a Finnish child has a good shot at getting the same quality education no matter whether he or she lives in a rural village or a university town. The differences between weakest and strongest students are the smallest in the world, according to the most recent survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). “Equality is the most important word in Finnish education. All political parties on the right and left agree on this,” said Olli Luukkainen, president of Finland’s powerful teachers’ union.

While each country’s need for devising an education system is unique and India might not be favourably well off in embracing the Swedish Model lock, stock and barrel, there is no doubt that we can derive a good amount of inspiration and lesson from the Finnish Model. It will at least put paid to the heinous practice of treating our unwitting, unsuspecting and hapless children as fierce competitors with a win-at-any-cost or winner-take-all outlook. Another area where Indian education can embellish itself is by focusing more on nation building and societal ethics. For example, every student should be taught that:

  • Streets, roads, walls and any other standing vertical object is not a personal dust bin and hence people ought to refrain from spitting and relieving themselves in the open. Spitting is NOT a national past time!
  • Archaeological monuments and heritage sculptures are not experimental canvasses for expressing feelings of jilted or scorned love and should not be unduly tampered with;
  • Honking without rhyme or reason at traffic intersections and in crowded traffic is neither a novelty nor a necessity;
  • Children with special needs are as invaluable to the progress of a nation as are normal children. Stephen Hawking being an excellent example;
  • Learning about preservation of environment; protection of wildlife and endangered species and preventing the cascading effects of global warming is equal in importance to mastering either the Fermat theory or Bernoulli’s principle;

The word ‘hunger’ when it comes to education should be the singularly reserved preserve of knowledge and not of the anatomy. No child who comes to school for learning should go hungry. A hungry child is a shame not only on the concerned school but on the entire nation. Hence a drastic extension of the existing mid-day meal and an expansion of the nourishing ingredients forming part of such meal becomes a vital and critical imperative in encouraging a child to come to school and inculcate the requisite knowledge.

Parents would also need to undergo a literal transformation in their breadth and depth of thinking about education. Attaining a degree in Scuba Diving is in no way inferior to passing out of medical school as a potentially famous cardiothoracic surgeon; a rock star gains equal (if not more) stature and status in the eyes of his adoring fans as does a nuclear scientist going on to build his country’s space station. The step-motherly attitude hitherto reserved for vocations must be obliterated and vocations should be accorded the same status and recognition as provided to a profession. To facilitate such broad minded thinking, specialized educational institutions focusing on vocations should be established across India. Here again Finland is a stellar example. Teachers in Finland spend lesser hours at school each day & less time in classrooms. This freed up time is used to build curriculums and assess students. Children spend far more time playing outside, even in the depths of winter. Homework is minimal. To quote Kari Louhivuori, a sixth grade teacher at the Kirkkojarvi Comprehensive School in Espoo, a suburb west of Helsinki, “we have no hurry, children learn better when they are ready. Why stress them out?”

We Indians need to pay extreme attention to Louhivuori’s last sentence – “Why stress them out indeed?”

Baptised by Starbucks!

Howard Schultz’s iconic creation is not just famous, (or infamous, whichever way you deem to tune your perspective) for putting in place esoteric corporate structures to avoid paying it’s rightful share of taxes, but also for mutilating the names of it’s avowed brand patrons. Your’s truly is no exception to this latter rule. Since the time I had my first sip of the delectable Caramel Macchiato, I have been addicted to this particular breed of brew. My visits to the nearest Starbucks outlet hence were more of a pilgrimage than a mundane routine. However, in spite of my unceasing loyalty to both the store and their offering, the multi million dollar franchise has failed miserably to get my name correct. While writing “Venkataraman Ganesan” on every cup of Caramel Macchiato demanded by me might both be cumbersome and tedious, (rightfully so), a shortened version of my name that reads just “Venky” is not asking for too much – or is it?

Here are a few examples of the name slaughtering that I have had to endure while waiting for my coffee. The first time I was asked for my name, I nonchalantly said “Venky” and the result as you can see for yourself, was one that made me look as though I was a compulsive sexual predator!

Wanky

Deciding to give the Barsita the benefit of the doubt the first time, I relentlessly pursued in my vigour to get my name right. Alas, all my efforts turned to total vain as the second time around, Starbucks still failed to recognise me as a law abiding, docile and gentlemanly persona, dutifully abiding the tenets of humanity. With just a few tinkering of the alphabets and a titular respect paradoxically accorded, I was still left to mull over (doubly so) my sexual predilection the second time I ordered my coffee:

Vankee

Praying that I would be lucky the proverbial third time, I was shaken out of my wits when I received my cups (this time around a trusted friend accompanied me to the outlet). I was metamorphosed from being an Indian born in an Iyer family to an esoteric sounding Eastern European with a sibling whose name was equally if not more innovative and peculiar!

Vicky

Now definitely reeling from the shock of not knowing whether I was Vincky or Vinky, I decided that from hereon in I would ask the concerned Barista to “just say “V”‘. That way it would save both the giver and the receiver considerable embarrassment. So with a renewed sense of confidence, on a sunny morning, I made my way into Starbucks and with a swagger which even I did not realise I possessed, told the Barista, when asked for my name – “JUST SAY V”. When my steaming hot cup of coffee came to me, I was knackered and the earth almost caved in under me:

Savi

 Being an avid fan of King Robert Bruce, and also a firm believer in the Horatio Alger version of the world (having been fed on a healthy diet of rags to riches stories), I was firm in my resolve not to lose hope and gave one last try. Suffice it to say, when it comes to Starbucks, not even King Bruce, but his inspirational spider as well would have given up their collective ghosts and Alger would burn every single manuscript of his!

Veky

Finally I am just thankful that I am not a descendant of the Targaryan clan, else I would have had to ask the Baristas at Starbucks to have recorded my name in a manner similar to the following picture that I happened to come across by chance:

Daenerys

 

For the record these days I have shifted my allegiance from Starbucks to San Francisco Coffee. I sip my Butterscotch Macchiato with serenity and I am safe in my relaisation that the name bestowed upon me by parental accorded continues to remain intact and unmolested!