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Showing posts from July, 2020

Adventure: the flighty temptress

Outside Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashi [2012] In one of her Harry Potter novels, J K Rowling describes adventure as “that flighty temptress”. Life is a flighty temptress and adventure is the wicked witch with her magical potions. I have drunk deep from both: the witch as well as the temptress. Life would be sheer wasteland without these two seductresses! The best adventure I have had was in the Garhwal Himalayas. The school where I taught in Delhi gave me the opportunities to trek on those rugged landscapes that belong to the gods and apsaras. My first such trek was to Hemkund with its altitude of 15,000 feet. Another unforgettable trek was to Gaumukh a few years later. There were many less adventurous treks in between in the Land of Gods where, as Arun Kolatkar would say, every stone is a god or his cousin.   Mountains seduce me far more immodestly than gods and their cousins. Mountains tease you with their peaks. When you conquer each peak, you transmu

New Education Policy

Source: Dawn From the highlights available so far, the New Education Policy 2020 [NEP2020] seems to be well-meaning. There are certain changes that are very much needed. For example, it seeks to make school education more pragmatic and career-oriented by introducing vocational education from grade 6 with internship. It will certainly help a lot of students to find jobs much earlier than the present system does. The objective of NEP2020 to foster “holistic development of learners by equipping them  with 21 st century skills, reduction in curricular content to enhance essential learning and critical thinking and greater focus on experiential learning” can also work wonders if properly implemented.  The existing system lays undue stress on rote learning and mere reproduction of that memorised knowledge without any creative and critical thinking. This system does not take the students beyond the most fundamental objectives of education: acquisition of basic knowledge. In

Lizard’s Gospel

Fiction It was when the coronavirus disease had forced Ravindran to stay at home day and night that he began to understand the language of the lizards. The lizards were there all over the house ever since the house was built nearly two decades ago. Less than two decades, in fact. It wasn’t easy to forget the year. Lizards shared the house with Ravindran right from the time he built the house. They behaved as if they were the real masters of the house. Not that they made much noise about it; they were usually quiet. Once in a while they would let out a cry, a click, or a squeak. Krishnan, one of the oldest men in the village, once told Ravindran that the sounds made by lizards have specific meanings. The meaning depends on the time and direction, he said. What time of the day or night and from which direction – east, west, etc. Ravindran dismissed Krishnan’s theory as mere superstition of an ignorant villager. Now he understands the language of the lizards. They are say

Right wing myopia

Shyam was grazing his goats on the hillock when a group of men stopped their SUV on the roadside and walked towards him. “If we tell you the exact number of goats in your flock, will you give us one of your goats?” Shyam was amused. “Yes,” he nodded. One of the young men took out his smartphone, fingered with it for a while and said, “123.” [The notorious IT cell of the party had apparently accessed Shyam’s flock too.] “Right,” Shyam agreed. “Pick your goat.” The men picked up a goat and carried it to their SUV. “Are you from any right-wing organisation?” Shyam asked as they moved on. “Yup,” one man said. “How’d you know?” “Simple. First of all, you came to me totally uninvited. Secondly, you taxed me for telling me something I already know. Thirdly, you don’t know a thing about goats. This creature you’re carrying is my dog.” This is an old story that I have adapted for this post. This story was kicked up in my memory by another adaptation of

Great people are strange

“Great people are very strange,” Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s protagonist Little Prince comes to that conclusion after his encounter with a king of a tiny asteroid. The king was delighted to see Little Prince because he didn’t have anyone to rule over in his kingdom. Without subjects to rule over, no one can feel like a king. To be a king means to boss over others. Little Prince is bored by the king’s desire for a subject. He yawns. Yawning in front of a king is contrary to etiquette, the king points out. Little Prince explains that he is tired after his long trip and loss of sleep. “Then,” says the king, “I command you to yawn.” Everything must go according to the king’s commands. When Little Prince says that he cannot yawn as per orders, the king says, “Then I … I order you to yawn sometimes and…” Little Prince can yawn whenever he likes. But he should pretend that all his yawns are in tune with the king’s orders. “May I sit?” Little Prince asks. “I order you to si

Colours of Truth

5 years ago in Delhi when I grappled with certain godmanly truths There are no absolute truths except in rigidly well-defined systems like mathematics and science. Even a scientific statement like water boils at 100 degree Celsius is true only under clearly defined atmospheric conditions. Water will boil at 68 o C on top of Mount Everest. Mathematics can claim more absolute truths. A formula like sin 2 Ɵ + cos 2 Ɵ = 1 is absolute and won’t change even on the Everest. But what sense does that formula make to most people? The more absolute a truth is, the less valuable it is in day-to-day life. Absolute truths generally belong to specialised cliques and communes who have their own unique languages like trigonometry for example. For ordinary mortals like me, absolute truths are like The sun rises in the east or The cow gives milk . But then if you ask me where the east is I’ll have to say that it is where the sun rises. [That’s like saying that David is Absalom’s fath

Miracles happen

Lewis Carroll’s Alice could believe “as many as six impossible things before breakfast”. Impossible things do happen around us not too unfrequently. Miracles have their own places in our lives. In his 1961 book Persuasion and Healing , psychiatrist Jerome Frank describes a treatment performed by the German physician Hans Rheder on three bedridden patients. One patient had an inflamed gall bladder and chronic gallstones. The second had had a pancreatic surgery and the recovery process was becoming tough. She lost weight rapidly and was reduced to a mere skeleton. The third patient was dying from a painful uterine cancer that had spread throughout her body. Medical science stood gaping helplessly at these three patients. There was little that could be done anymore. So Dr Rheder decided to do something unconventional. He told all the three women that he knew a faith healer who could cure with remarkable success simply by directing his healing power to a specific place. Each

Happiness is so easy

Joy of Life: Painting by Francois Girard “Mother asked me whether I have spoiled you by pampering you,” Sheena said. She was on the phone. She had sent me an image of her dinner plate some half an hour ago: one chapati folded neatly into two, three pieces of grilled chicken, a few slices of raw onion, and some homemade sauce. She is a good cook and loves doing it. I think she loves whatever she does. No wonder, she is always happy. It is a delight to talk to her; happiness spreads from her very being into our souls in a mysterious osmotic process. Sheena (not her real name) is a class 12 student of mine. The online Parent-Teacher Meeting was over a couple of hours ago and I buried myself in the sardonic humour of Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light . When Thomas Cromwell’s “chief duty” of getting his king new wives and disposing of the old begins to weigh heavy on my aesthetics, I put aside the novel and pick up my phone. That’s when I see Sheena’s tempting dinner pla

Nero’s Fiddle and Modi’s Muddle

Nero could not have played the fiddle while Rome burned. The fiddle didn’t exist in ancient Rome, for one thing. Ancient Roman historian Tacitus wrote that Nero was rumoured to have sung about the destruction of Troy while Rome was burning. He added that it was probably just a rumour. History has enough evidence, however, to show that Nero did initiate some relief measures though the people of Rome didn’t trust him. The Romans thought that Nero had started the fire himself in order to clear the area for the Golden Palace and the surrounding gardens that he constructed there soon. More interestingly, Nero later put the blame for the fire on the Christians who were a disliked minority in Rome in those days. Two thousand years later, Nero’s soul seems to have found its appropriate material counterpart in no lesser an avatar than India’s Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi. Modi is fast-tracking his Central Vista project in Delhi which will cost the nation Rs 20,000 crore but will g

Poop and Butter

Fiction Even after years of observation and contemplation Derry could not determine which side of the bread was to be buttered. The problem started when he was a little boy. Little Derry sat looking at the bread in one hand, holding the butter on the knife in the other, and wondering why he could not apply the butter on the other side. “Okay, then apply it on the other side,” his mother told him with losing patience. Then Derry would wonder why the other side. Initially mother thought it was just a childish game. When it went on endlessly, she decided to take the boy to the parish priest for counselling and blessing. “Both sides are created by the same God and hence equally holy,” Reverend Father Nicholas counselled little Derry. “I thought the baker created the bread,” Derry said solemnly. He looked like Immanuel Kant saying, “I want to stop philosophising, but I Kant.” Rev Nicholas was offended by the boy’s solemnity. The priest was used to everybody saying Amen

English worship of mediocrity

One of the infinite paradoxes that haunt CBSE is its attitude to the assessment of English. A student in Kerala was awarded 100 marks in all subjects except English in the last class 12 examination. There may be other such students too but my information is confined to this case for now. My first question is why the student was deprived of one mark in English? [The other questions will follow soon.] I have been an examiner of CBSE for two decades now. I have never succeeded in comprehending the Board’s claim to “objectivity” in assessment.   The Board gives an astoundingly protracted set of instructions to the examiner before the evaluation process every year in order to ensure “objectivity”. But don’t you dare to follow those instructions! If you do, you become an outdated gargoyle stuck up on a post-truth façade. Why? [That’s the next question.] Why? Those instructions are only meant to help you to award marks liberally. Almost any answer can be accepted as right if yo

The Awards I never received

Recently I reviewed a book in my blog. The author of the book did not express any opinion about the review though I was asked politely enough to add the review at two more places which I did. A month later I came to know that my review was sent verbatim by the author to another blogger who published it in her blog without making any change as if it was written by her. The author of the book went on to heap praises on that review and promoted it in various social media too. She even described it as the best review her book had received. Apologies and explanations followed in due course of time though I never pointed out any of these to the persons concerned. Someone else who knew me through my writings raised the question somewhere without my knowledge. This happened when I had just turned 60, too old to be surprised by such events. Life makes you immune to surprises much before the age of 60. I can say boldly placing my palm on my heart that I have done my best in the tw

Ashwatthama is still alive

Fiction Image from Pinterest “I met Ashwatthama.” When Doctor Prabhakar told me this, I thought he was talking figuratively. Metaphors were his weaknesses. “The real virus is in the human heart, Jai,” he had told me when the pandemic named Covid-19 started holding the country hostage. I thought his Ashwatthama was similarly figurative. Ashwatthama was Dronacharya’s son in the Mahabharata. He was blessed with immortality by Shiva. But the blessing became a horrible curse when Krishna punished him for killing the Pandava kids deceptively after Kurukshetra was brought to peace, however fragile that peace was, using all the frauds that a god could possibly use. Krishna of the Kurukshetra was no less a fraud than a run-of-the-mill politician in my imagination. He could get an innocent elephant named Ashwatthama killed and then convert that killing into a blatant lie to demoralise Drona. He could ask Bhima to hit Duryodhana below the belt without feeling any moral qualms in what