Sunday, October 31, 2010

In Istanbul - with Orhan Pamuk

I was in Istanbul this weekend, courtesy Orhan Pamuk...... no, not really, virtually. That is what his book did. Took me to Istanbul, to Nisantasi and the other surroundings of Istanbul. The yalis, beautiful and burning, so much a part of the identity. Not to mention the pashas. The view of the Golden Horn, the smell of the Bosphorus....... Pamuk shows how a person identifies with a city, and the city lives inside you. How one becomes part of the city, breathes the city, understands and lives the city.

I felt the 'Huzun' get into me as I read the book. It did really get me melancholic, a strange kind of melancholic at the end of it. No, I did not cry, nor did I feel discontent. Actually, resigned is the feeling, and it did take over me powerfully.

Istanbul is about culture, the co-existence(not happy always of course), the resignment. The book shows the amount of research and reading he has done. It also shows how he has breathed the city. The only thing lacking was the food aspect. Towards the last fifty pages, when I ruminated over what I had read and assimilated it, I found that food was one aspect of the Istanbullu culture that he had not spoken about much and wondered why. Was it because he wasn't a food fanatic. But then, in his early days he speaks about how he was hungry and kept eating. Finally, towards the end, he does speak about food, but in passing. He does not attach Huzun with the food of Istanbul. He does not speak about how the smell of the food added to the Huzun. This because, he has discussed how every aspect added to Huzun. I wondered why ? Or is it that is is by default so.

I guess any city that has a river, large lake or a seashore has a more definite personality than those that do not have. Because, they become the focal point of the place. The point which infuses life and takes it. The point that gives continuity between generations, aids transformation and enriches culture. So, it is for the Bosphorus with reference to Istanbul.

Whenever they showed Istanbul on the TV, I always wondered why I felt a tinge of sadness. No, I am not telling it in hindsight. The music that played along with the pictures were oriental - maybe that was it. Or was it because the places looked old. Or was it because the pictures had people who were not dancing and laughing. Rather it had people who looked resigned, not content. Now I understand. Pamuk has spoken about a city like no one I have read. His love for the city(may I call it that) comes thru the way he writes about her. Of course, with fifty years spent in a city, it does define you totally. But then, how many people put that in words. Or how many people think about it that way.

Reading Istanbul, I am reminded of my home town. The place I grew up. She has a beautiful river passing through her. Trichy has culture, old glory(not as much today), architecture and music. However, westernization is taking over here too. When I reminiscence about my Trichy, I remember the bridge over the river and spending sunday evenings with my parents silently looking at the river flowing by, the breeze gentle on your face. I also remember her fury, when she overflowed and flooded the city. I remember the fort area and the Rani Mangamma palace. All falling prey to the new. The old places becoming older. However, I love my place and she is still the best in the world. Pamuk through his novel helped me bring out in words what I felt for Trichy.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Above Average by Amitabha Bagchi

I spent saturday and sunday reading Amitabha Bagchi's 'Above Average'. The book I must say(according to me) didn't reach there. Ok, first the positive. The english was good, the writing style direct and expressive. There are a lot of incidents related in this book, all intertwined. Some hilarious, and some making you sad. One of the good things is that it speaks about places in Delhi, especially Mayur Vihar and gaves a rather good account of how the view would be. The book is good for light reading.

But then, the book did not leave me with anything at the end of it. Ok, it is a first novel from someone who is not exactly a writer(meaning, not a writer by profession). I understand that. Yes, it is the life of Arindham Chaudhary as seen from his eyes, his views and his experiences. But somehow, there is something missing that I am unable to pinpoint. It feels like the author has not revealed something and has left it unsaid. It feels like out of 360 degrees, something like 90 degrees of the picture is blurred. It is not like the ones where the end is left to the reader to choose. No, it is not that. It is like he didn't want to reveal some aspects of the character/characters. He wants to protect them, yet writing a story about them. Only the superflous layers have been shown. In case of some, there is only a mention of them where required.

Maybe I am growing old and the book is meant for students, meaning people of that age. The college stories are okay though some of them feel like they were introduced to add some effects. Besides, the IIT campus life has been discussed in some other books and it feels like a continuation of the same. Understandable that campus life cannot be different.

It was not a book that was rivetting. Rather, it was a book I put down many a time and picked again, hoping I would see something different in the pages to come. The last few pages just summed up or hastened to bring things to a conclusion. And when it was over, I wondered what I got from the book.

Maybe I went in with expectations. Of finding something, of learning something. The only thing I noticed is the way the stories and incidents are presented, in and out, intermingled.

(The above is my personal opinion only).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A kid's fantasy

The other day, when returning home, I had a tiny tot, most probably going to play school, coming in full speed in front of the car and shouting 'stop, stop'. Usually, I get angry with parents who let their kids play on the roads unwatched. I also stop and tell such kids to take care and stay away from the road. But that day, I decided to indulge in this kid for whatever reasons, I still don't understand. So, I stopped the car. He said again, 'Stop, Stop'. I said okay. Then he turned around and looked in all directions. Then he walked to the side of the road, and said, 'Ok, Go'. I took some time to start the car again. Immediately, he announced, 'You can go'. I laughed at the kid. He probably decided to play the policeman on the road. I could see him in the rear view mirror, smiling happily and clapping his hands at having successfully stopped the car and played the part of a policeman.

Kid's always have these fantasies of playing policeman, fireman, teachers, doctors, drivers.... As a kid I don't remember having any such fantasy, though I used to take class for my sisters. There used to be a board at home and every holiday, I used to take some class for my sisters, or used to learn writing on the board. So, sometimes I wonder, whether it was this that has made me a teacher today. It is strange what we fantasize on as kids, and how, those jobs become worthless when we grow up. Especially those of policemen and firemen. Most kids play these roles but wouldn't think twice about them when they grow up.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

When I took my leg off the breaks

Last evening was crazy. A policeman had stopped traffic at the cross roads. Then he said go and we started. Suddenly, the bike in front breaked and this guy and the policeman started chatting bringing the traffic to a sudden halt again. The car in front of me(behind the bike) applied his brakes, and I did too. No speed, nothing. Just started and stopped. Then I heard a bang, someone crashing onto my car. The car was still running, and I turned back to see who it was crashing into my car. I pulled the left passenger glass down. Then I heard the horns of cars blaring.......... blaring............... I just turned back to see what was happening and the driver at the back as well on the side were having their hands raised at me. I just didn't understand why they were shouting at me when they should be shouting at the bike guy who bumped into my car. The policeman had stopped talking and came up to me and told me to apply the brakes as the car was moving backwards. In the melee, I had somehow taken my legs off the brakes and the car had been moving slowly backwards and I hadn't realized it. So, I took the car a little front. Then I could see in the rear view mirror, the owner of the car at the back get out menacingly and charge towards me. I stopped the car. He had every right to catch my ear if I had damaged his car. He came shouting. I told him that I had turned to see what happened when someone bumped into me and had missed in the process and that I was really sorry. I think my bumper touched his bumper.

It was the first time I had touched another vehicle in all these 13 years of driving a car and the second time since 25 years of driving a vehicle starting with the humble cycle. The first time was when I was learning to drive the cycle. I saw this guy coming straight ahead of me with a basket behind in the carrier calling 'poove, poove'(flowers, flowers). I told the anna(brother) helping me to learn that I was going to crash into him and to help me avoid it. He said, 'look straight and drive, nothing will happen'. So, I looked straight and crashed straight into the flower vendor. He shouted at me, asking me what I was upto. I was too stunned to tell him anything. The anna took all the flowers and helped the flower vendor to get his cycle up again. I returned home that day, having had enough of driving. From that day onwards, I have never like the sound of metal on metal. It is a weird sound.

Yesterday, after the incident, I was feeling so bad and upset that I caused harm to someone else's vehicle. He had every right to shout at me. But then, this was started by the two wheeler who crashed into my vehicle which was almost stationery. So, A crashes into me, and I crash into B. So, A crashes into B - by the law of transitivity, right. So, isn't A responsible for the damage caused to B if any. My research oriented brain is trying to model the incident I guess. I thought of this on the way driving back from this incident, and laughed my head off, but still feeling very bad for having touched another person's car. I know how men feel about their vehicles, experiencing how my husband looks after his first wife(22 year old Maruti 800) with so much care, that he would carry her on his head if there was a pothole on the road. So, in this case, A was wrong to crash into my car and I was wrong to crash into B's car. Mistake is A's and mine and B got a raw deal. That is the end of story.

This is the second time when a person has crashed into my car in the past month, the first, a week ago when an auto crashed into my stationery vehicle at a traffic jam and pulled off the black beading above my bumper. My husband's pet is having a bad time with me driving her. Hoping the combined luck (me and the car) improves in the days to come and that I won't hear the sick sound of metal on metal. Also, that I will remember to have my leg on the break come what may till I apply my hand brakes, even it the whole world around me is crashing.........

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Why is teaching fun and not so much fun

Teaching is fun. Fun meaning, it comes with responsibility, a lot of it actually, and then, its rewards are amazing. You walk into class, ready to give your best. And when you take class to your satisfaction and the satisfaction of the students, made evident from their faces, it is an experience. One that cannot be described in words.

Same time, when you see blank faces as you explain something simple, or review what you had taken the previous session, then the whole thing is defeating. You wonder about your own ability in conveying what you wanted as well as your capacity to teach to a class. It is not much fun then. Rather, it makes you feel down and doubtful. Which is a bad feeling.

Another feeling you get is that what you are saying goes over people's head. There are many vigorous nods of the head, some dozing off, some just sitting through the routine because they have got into it. This again feels different. This is the most challenging part because on the spur of the moment you have to make a decision whether to continue with class or change tactics or bring it to a stop and try it another day. Change tactics is what I like, where I try to start where it became hazy, take examples, get the class in, and continue. It is tricky because the examples can lead you away and it takes a lot of effort to connect it again.

So, teaching is a lot of fun where you have the chance to interact with many people, all growing, young and full of ideas. They may be quiet but you know that inside is a young person, full of life, blood boiling to go out and do something in the world. That is the attraction in teaching. You are part of something new, something waiting to happen, something that you don't know how it will turn out. And you have the chance to play a very very very small part, where you are a speck, smaller than an atom in the scheme of things.

Otherwise, teaching is not so much fun. When assignments and test papers are loaded on your table, and you head cries for creativity, it is not so much fun. When you feel like sitting and reading something new, some new article, or do research, and you have to mark the attendance in the online system, it is not fun at all. When you feel like doing something new, and you know you have to prepare for class is again not much likable. For you have to do what you don't like, semester after semester, year after year.

Students change, but the job of a teacher does not. It is a continuous cycle of teaching, taking attendance, correcting answer sheets and assignments and doing a lot of clerical work. With the current paper work, it is like what they say about work in a CMM Level 5 company. There is more paperwork than actual work. Here too, it is the same. I have to give 5 assignments, when I know that students will give copies. I am not allowed to try different methods, like projects, surprise tests, and so on. So, we need to try and innovate in this limited scope. Give different assignments, but how many different assignments can you give. 45 in a class into 5 assignments per paper makes it 225 different assignments. Impossible don't you think for a teacher. Afterall a teacher is human not superhuman. And if you handle two subjects, a total of 450. Not humanly possible is what I would say if you are speaking of quality especially.

So, getting back to teaching is fun one way, and not so much fun when I see the paper work. The target is to maintain the assignment and answer sheets and file paper after paper. That is getting my side clear. But, actually the focus should be in seeing that something creative is done that betters the student from one semester to another. The objective must be to check if there is positive progression in each students performance. That will be the real check. How it is to be done must be left to the teacher, I would say as long as it is democratic. For there lies the challenge both for the teacher and the student.