Today is Handwriting Day!

It is sheer coincidence that yesterday a dear former student uploaded on Facebook a scanned copy of a report that I wrote for his brother way back in 1996.  This initiated a lot of responses, some of which appreciated me for the fine handwriting I have. And today I read in * that 23rd January is celebrated in the US as National Handwriting day. And Edutopia ** of course, asks the very pertinent question, “Is cursive writing cursed with extinction?” In their FB page they also ask, “Are you for or against teaching cursive in schools?” and I respond vehemently, “FOR!”

Aron's Eng report_1996

  Scanned copy of my Subject Report, courtesy former students, Aron & Ruban Calvin

Today with tech tools, emails and instant messaging available, and key board proficiency gaining importance, no one seems to bother about cursive writing. Other than for examinations in schools and colleges, we hardly write with pen and paper in the real adult world. In fact the day that we will see pupils/students typing out their answers using tech devices in examination halls, is not far off. Be this as it may, I love cursive writing. I understand that many schools, public and private have altogether discarded the practice of teaching cursive writing. May be I am still old school. I believe that some training in penmanship is never out of place in schools – don’t we often say, “catch ‘em young” for everything? Then why not for this too?

I did my primary school in a nuns’ convent – Sacred Heart Convent, Valparai, in the Anamalai Hills, Tamil Nadu. Therefore, handwriting was given utmost importance. Later, when I moved to St. Thomas Convent, Olavakkode, Palakkad, Kerala too, where I completed my middle school, things were not very different. While the first lessons were given at school, home was equally a place to reckon with. Dad and Mom who took keen interest in our education, paid as much interest in the cursive hand as the nuns did.

At High School & College there was not very great stress on improving my handwriting – may be because by then it was well formed, and adorned with strokes in the running hand. Yet, we had to write a page of copy writing from Social Studies or English lessons on a regular basis. At home, copy writing was the most important routine especially during holidays. We had to write a page copying the editorial of The Hindu newspaper in English and ditto from the Mathrubhumi for Malayalam. Once that was done, we could spend our entire day playing! Smile And the fact that there was nothing indoors – no TV / Computer / Mobile phone etc – it ensured that we all played vigorously outdoors!

Today when everyone tell me I have a beautiful handwriting, I thank the Nuns who encouraged this at school and say a truckload of thanks to Daddy. I wrote these newspaper editorial copies even while at college. Dad must have then thought that his dear daughter’s handwriting has become consistent and steady, and that she needn’t write in copy books anymore. But, I must have been about 20 years old when that happened. The result – a sinuous cursive writing hand, with strokes and swirls, making it the viewers’ delight, the owner’s pride!

What charm is there in print letters? I see none. In fact, you need a cursive hand at least for your signature. Or else, won’t it be too easily forgeable? A lot of archived documents like constitution and so on are written in cursive in many countries. Won’t student have a disconnect with them if they can’t decipher cursive writing? Research and occupational therapy bodies ( The American Occupational Therapy Association – AOTA) vouch for the fact that learning cursive writing will hone the fine motor skills of students.*** “It’s the dexterity, the fluidity, the right amount of pressure to put with pen and pencil on paper,” Ms. Sandy Schefkind, a pediatric coordinator with AOTA says, adding that for some students cursive is easier to learn than printing. Studies also illustrate how writing by hand engages the brain in learning. Indiana University researchers using an MRI machine discovered that children’s neural activity was far more enhanced when they practiced writing by hand after receiving instruction than when they simply looked at letters. As a teacher I also feel that not being able to write in cursive could jeopardize the future of our pupils.  I just cannot underestimate the enormous amount of self esteem and self confidence a beautiful cursive hand can instil in our pupils. For this very reason alone it is worth teaching our pupils the cursive hand. Check it out, for, I am a living example! Smile




What & Where is the Disconnect?

The word education originated in the mid-15 century from the word educate which means “bring up (children), train,” from Latin ‘educatus’.  Educare meant “bring up, rear, educate,” which is related to educere “bring out, lead forth,” from ex- “out” (see ex-) + ducere “to lead” (see duke (n.)). Education, thus got the meaning “provide schooling” in the 1580s. In today’s parlance this means that we provide a conducive atmosphere for learning, thinking, problem solving, collaborating, creating and thereby nurturing in our students the vitally essential skills to become successful 21st Century learners are to be provided in our schools. But do we, in real speak?

What is the status of education in India now? My week end was spent in reading all these reports; and I must add that each one was so depressing. For, if reports are an indication, there is something seriously wrong with our system. On 15th January 2012, the global rankings of the 73 countries that participated in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) conducted Programme for International Assessment (PISA) was released. PISA is annual exam administered to 15-year olds to evaluate educational systems worldwide in Reading, Math and Science. The penultimate position, i.e. 72nd was that of India only overcoming Kyrgyzstan! Second from last!!!

The findings of yet another study done in urban schools by Education Initiatives and Wipro called the Quality Education Study (QES), it covered over 23000 students, 790 teachers, 54 Principals and 83 ‘top’ schools across Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai were part of this survey. This one too, which was released late in 2011, revealed disconcerting facts. All these children came from educated and affluent families, and the schools they went to had all facilities and were technologically savvy. Yet these children showed signs of rote learning. They lacked critical thinking skills, higher order thinking skills, creativity and hardly responded about current social, cultural, civic and ecological issues. So things are not fine at the urban level too.

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER)** has released its report for 2012 on January 16, 2013 and the bad news continues. Literacy and Numeracy skills amongst 6-14 year olds have drastically waned. Academic levels have declined. Enrolment in schools has increased but attendance is deficient. The exodus to private schools continues despite the very many benefits like the mid day meal scheme and monetary aid provided in government schools. Even more disconcerting is the fact that the number of Class 5 students who can do two-digit subtraction problems have declined from 58.8% to 49.1% in just 2011-12.  More than half of all children in class 5 are at least three grade levels behind where they should be in terms of learning levels, says the report. And the blame could partly be attributed to the government’s much-touted Right to Education Act (RTE), ASER 2012 results seems to suggest. While enrolment has increased in private schools, there is great deal of dependence on private tuitions. Considering that 70% of India’s population lives in its rural regions the report needs to be closely looked into to stem the rot.

If all these are not pointers enough, each time CBSE conducted the CTET (Common Teacher Eligibility Test) or states conducted theirs (Tamil Nadu, for example) very few teachers clear the test. In 2011 when the test was conducted by CBSE, the pass percentage was 9%; in 2012 it dropped to 7% and now in the latest test results in 2013, it is seen that only an alarmingly abysmal 1% got through.

So keeping these cavernous slides in perspective, is there some kind of proportion at work? Is it that we churn out pathetic teachers and they in turn are responsible for the grossly substandard results from pupils? Where is the disconnect? What is the disconnect? Whatever be the case, we need to seriously introspect, examine, debate and come out with effective strategies that will bring our education arena from the mire that it is in. There is no point in generating plans. What we need is action. Precise. Specific. Laden with accountability. We owe this to our children, who will be future citizens taking our country into the 21st century.

Have you ever read The Parrot’s Training (read it here: ) an amazingly must-read and true-even-today short story written by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore? Tagore lampooned the educational system that focussed only on mugging and rote learning prevalent in his times through this brilliant and incisive tale of a parrot’s training. Seemingly generations of young minds have undergone the same drudgery of mundane, insipid text books, uninterested and even boring teachers, rote learning, tests and examinations that focus on reproduction than understanding or application, and mindless discipline that Tagore saw in the classrooms of his times. It was this despicable kind of learning that prompted Tagore to conceive of establishing the Santinikethan, the Srinikethan and the Visvabharati.

The disconnect still exists not withstanding the fact that today’s children require a multi sensory engaging experience in the classroom. So, have we ever progressed from the 1860s? Mind you, Tagore lived from 1861 – 1942. To me the wheel of education has just stood still for centuries!!! Crying face Crying face Crying face   There may be changes outwardly but the core of the classroom is just the same. We just do today to our pupils what the pundits did to the poor caged bird a century ago…


Dehumanizing Violence

The beginning of the annual northern journey of the Sun well after the winter Solstice is celebrated as Makara Sankranthi all over India. The name originates from the Sanskrit word Sankramana which means “to begin to move”. Did you know that while most Indian festivals are based on the lunar calendar, this is the only one which is based on the solar one; and the date in the English calendar is mostly static at 14th January? When the glorious Sun begins its ascendancy and entry into the Northern Hemisphere and Capricorn (Makar) in particular, it seems to remind human beings of one of finest Shanthi Mantras from The Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upanishad (1.3.28):

असतोमा सद्गमय। तमसोमा ज्योतिर् गमया।
मृत्योर्मामृतं गमय॥ ॐ शांति शांति शांति

Asato mā sad gamaya
Tamaso mā jyotir gamaya
Mṛtyormā amṛtam gamaya
Aum śānti śānti śāntiḥ

The mantra translates like this:

“From ignorance, lead me to truth;
From darkness, lead me to light;
From death, lead me to immortality
May there be peace everywhere.”

The second line Tamaso Ma Jyotirgamaya’ exhorts us to go higher & higher, to more & more Light and never to Darkness. But methinks we are plunging into abysses of darkness with each passing day. Makara Sankranthi festivities include Kite Flying in some parts of India and bull taming down south in Tamil Nadu. While the glass coated manjas of kites have wrought suffering to humans and animals alike (refer to my my post ), the bull taming competition called Jallikattu is even more virulent and violent. In some other rural areas this is also the time for cock fights, buffalo fights and the like.

The name Jallikattu comes from the term “Salli” kassu (coins) and “Kattu” (meaning a package) tied to the horns of the bulls as the prize money. At the centre of this traditional sport which is considered very auspicious is a man (or men) who locks horns with the bull.  Taming the bull is considered to be a virile, macho act and the victor walks away with a prize money too. The event is held amidst loud cheering from thousands of spectators including foreign tourists. Many a time the bewildered animal runs amok.

At the core of this so-called sport is unimaginable cruelty to animals. Participants pull the bulls’ tails, squeeze lemon in their eyes and even slash their skins and apply chilly powder to turn them wild just to enhance the spectacle of the fight, and to win. There is also danger to the public viewing this spectacle. Is this any kind of valour? Over and above these is the untold miseries the animal (s) suffers when it falls, fractures it limbs, gores down people in its wild agony and after it all loses the battle either in painful impairment or cruel death.

Though the centre has banned Jallikattu, it is conducted as per the guidelines of Supreme Court and Tamil Nadu Jallikattu Regulation Act. The bullfights though initially held only during Pongal time, later started running from January to May. Organizers of the event are required to deposit 2 lakhs as compensation for those injured during the event – a common fallout. This conversion of a ritual into business was slammed by the Supreme Court as mercenary. Yet the spectacle goes on.

What is it that makes human beings so very cruel and sadistic that they derive pleasure in inflicting pain and heaping suffering on poor dumb animals? For the sake of justice and fair play at least, shouldn’t fights be between equals? How can one be considered manlike while indulging in this kind of barbarism? Shouldn’t it be considered most diabolic and fiendish? It is time that we banned such sports that debases and dehumanizes us. If you want to voice your opinion against this heartless and inhuman sport and get it banned, please click this link: . I just did.

Go, fly a Kite; but don’t take a Life!

Kites. Beautiful. Colourful. In an array of shapes.  May be because I have seen them only on very few occasions, I have been as fascinated as a little child whenever I see kites soaring in the sky, against wind… lifting it up higher and higher, till they are just a speck in the vast azure expanse and then disappear from the naked eye. Kite flying is also a ritual in many parts of India at Makara Sankranthi – the day when the glorious Sun begins its ascendancy and enters into the Northern Hemisphere; the time from when days start becoming longer & warmer.

As a teacher while teaching Ruskin Bond’s The Kite Maker to my Grade XI students, I got an insight into the life of Mahmood, the kite maker. In the story, Mahmood, the kite maker reminiscences the past and longs for the bygone era when he was treated with great respect and importance. As the pace of life quickened, people had no time or interest for kite flying. Later I was equally charmed by the wonderful tale of Khaled Hosseni in The Kite Runner, his debut novel. To Amir, the protagonist, kite running was a favourite pastime. The kite here is also symbolic of two overriding yet contrasting emotions in Amir – happiness as well as guilt.

To me kites are a metaphor to speak about anything that rises against odds. While I love to see these colourful things in the sky I was rudely shocked when I read about kite flying competitions. In such a competition one kite will cut the strings of other kites and emerge the winner. Wonder how one string can cut another? It is because the string is coated with glass powder! It is reported that earlier we used Indian Manja, made of normal cotton thread, coated with a mixture of rice powder and gum. Then competitions were not as cut-throat as it is now. Everything was done for pure fun.

Now it seems the markets are flooded with Chinese Manja which is made of nylon and coated with rice powder, gum and finely crushed glass powder. This gives it both a firmness and sharpness which makes it difficult to be cut in kite flying competitions. There is a deadlier Chinese version of this made out of wire called Tangus Manja, it seems. The Indian one is costly as it requires hard labour and is time consuming to make. The Chinese one on the other hand is cheap – just half the price of the Indian one.

Even more horrifying is the loss of life associated with kite flying. Children fall down roof tops and terraces while flying them. People travelling in two wheelers have had their throats slit by the manja. Many birds have also been affected – died or injured, courtesy these heartless kite fliers who use deadly versions of the Manja. And mind you, it is winter time. There a lot of avian visitors to the Indian sub continent ranging from Painted Storks to Amur Falcons.

Am sad, beyond words! How can we take pride in being humans with the power to think when we are so callous about other lives? We must ban these pastimes where death, pain and injury lurks!! Or else get back to using normal thread which will not cause any harm. Is that asking too much?

Are you a kite flier? If yes, please do spare a thought for both humans and animals! By all means go, fly your kite… but don’t you take a life!!!

Conscience – A rarity!

I belong to the southern most state of Kerala. I am proud of the enchanting landscape of my state – the silver beaches, the lush fields and greenery, the swaying palms, the meandering backwaters – all of which gave it the much touted tag line, God’s Own Country. However, looking at the going on since the dawn of the new year, I am not sure if I should take pride in belonging to Kerala.

Strikes and hartals have long since become the pastime of Kerala. Political parties declare strikes / hartals. Most people sit at home. The previous day there are serpentine queues before beverages corporation outlets. Armed with bottles, it is a fun time boozing. Besides, TV channels air movies. An unexpected holiday to watch them, booze again and have pure fun!

The latest in the news is the Government Teachers’ (Schools & College) strike. Being a practicing educator, I can’t help looking at the choice of time for this strike. January and February are the most crucial times in the calendars of teachers in India. Annual examinations happen in March. In colleges, though most of the semester exams happen in April and May, the teaching time ends in March. How can teachers afford to lose out on valuable teaching time now? Lessons have to be completed, concepts have to be taught and students need to be given revision as well as practice tests. It is sad that those who have to mould future generations have thought least about this. They have also not thought of how lucky they are when compared with their peers in the unaided sector. Many of them get a paltry salary and hardly any perks. I even know of managements who terminate teachers on March 31st and appoint them again on 1st June, so as to save on money given to them as vacation salary.

The most horrific aspect of these strikes is the kind of tactics the so called teachers and adults have indulged in. The media has reported incidents wherein velvet bean or cowitch powder was sprinkled on students in Trichur and Palakkad. Cowitch or Mucuna pruriens is a tropical legume. “The hairs lining the seed pods and the small spicules on the leaves contain 5-hydroxytryptamine (serotonin) which cause severe itching (pruritus) when touched. The calyx below the flowers is also a source of itchy spicules and the stinging hairs on the outside of the seed pods are used in itching powder. Water should not be used if contact occurs, as it only dilutes the chemical. Also, one should avoid scratching the exposed area since this causes the hands to transfer the chemical to all other areas touched. Once this happens, one tends to scratch vigorously and uncontrollably.” (Source: Wikipedia) It is this kind of a virulent powder which was sprinkled on young children. It is sad that those who have the power in them to mould minds have stooped to this low a level. What models are being portrayed by these acts? Isn’t there any conscience in these adults?

It is time we woke up to the looming reality. If we put the young minds through these kinds of atrocities, they will grow up mindless and heartless. Then we will moan in our old age that our children are not taking care of us. Why should they when we have not taken care of them when we should have. Conscience – it has become a rarity!

Spare Us, you Goons!

A helpless young girl was brutally gang raped in a moving bus and both she & her male counterpart were thrown out naked onto the street…The passers by watch the scene and do nothing…The Police who arrive argue for many precious minutes about which should be the jurisdiction of the crime…The heavily bleeding naked girl was even given a sheet of cover after the equally naked male escort begged for it…The brave girl after considerable fight, died in a prestigious hospital at Singapore… (Other rape reports and sexual exploitation are coming in from various parts of India.) I don’t need to write about the horrific details of the incident (the media is full of that in all its gory details) and how the youth of the nation, both male and female, rallied around seeking justice with even the edifices of power trembling at the cataclysm at what could have a telling effect on them and their echelons of power.

Having said this, I am ashamed and to a great extent shocked at the reaction of people with regard to this tragically horrific case, especially from people from the political tribe. Today a self proclaimed god man has also joined the bandwagon.

To quote William Shakespeare, these were the most unkindest cut of all. Just listen to these insensitive wisecracks… and believe you me, all of them are honourable people. My apologies to Mark Antony and his famous speech.

Abhijit Mukherjee, son of India’s First Citizen & President Pranab Kumar Mukherjee, speaking to a Bengali-language television channel, said that “highly dented-painted” women visited discotheques and then appeared at India Gate to protest the Delhi bus gang rape. And Abhijit Mukherjee is an honourable man.

CPI-M leader Anisur Rahman, who considers Mamta Bannerjee as his arch rival, while ridiculing the latter’s decision to pay compensation to women who are victims of crimes like rape and trafficking. “We have been told by the chief minister in the assembly that the government will pay money to compensate rape victims. What is your fee? If you are raped, what will be your fee?,” asked Anisur, seemingly of Mamta Didi. And Anisur Rehman is an honourable man.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat claimed that the incidents of rape were the result of adoption of western culture in society as a whole and that erosion of traditional Indian values were more pronounced in urban areas. “Crimes against women happening in urban India are shameful. It is a dangerous trend. But such crimes won’t happen in Bharat or the rural areas of the country. You go to villages and forests of the country and there will be no such incidents of gang rape or sex crimes,” he had said. “Where ‘Bharat’ becomes ‘India’ with the influence of western culture, these type of incidents happen. The actual Indian values and culture should be established at every stratum of society where women are treated as ‘mother’,” Bhagwat added. The one visible western practice that the RSS has imbibed is perhaps wearing of the shorts, or is it Indian too? Or are there more?? And Mohan Bhagwat is an honourable man.

When asked to comment on recent sexual harassment cases in the country, with Madhya Pradesh in particular, BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya said: “Whenever people cross their limitations, deterioration is bound to happen. It applies to everyone in the society. Whoever breaches the line, he/she will confront a Ravan.” And Kailash Vijayvargiya is an honourable man.

Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee President Botsa Satyanarayana termed the Delhi gangrape incident a minor one and questioned the need for women to be out at midnight. He later withdrew his statement. “Just because India got freedom at midnight, is it necessary for women to move on the streets at midnight?” he asked. What brilliant logic, isn’t it? And Botsa Satyanarayana is an honourable man.

If we thought that only men can make chauvinistic remarks, hold on. Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, a Senior Trinamool Congress leader, speaking to a news channel said, “If you’re referring to the Park Street rape, see that is a different case altogether. That was not at all a rape case. It was a misunderstanding between the two parties involved between a lady and her client. This was not a rape.” She made this comment while reacting to another obscene comment made by senior CPI(M) leader Anisur Rehman on chief minister Mamata Banerjee. And Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar is an honourable woman.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad blamed the ‘western model’ of lifestyle for growing incidents of sexual assault on women including rape, saying cities were losing the values. VHP international advisor Ashok Singhal termed as “alarming” the western model of living, which he said had been imbibed from the US. And Ashok Singhal is an honorable man.

Brainwaves. Wear overcoats. Travel in girls’ only buses where women conductors will only be appointed. “The meeting resolved to introduce overcoats for girl students, operate special buses for them and ban mobile phones in schools. Our government is committed to ensuring safety of women, particularly girl students,” said school education minister T Thiagarajan, of the tiny state of Pondicherry. And T Thiagarajan is no doubt an honourable man.

Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray blamed “Bihari” migrants for rapes. “All are talking about the Delhi gang rape, but nobody is asking from where these men came. No one is asking who did this. So many cases are slapped against me (for speaking against Biharis) but no one is talking about the fact that all these rapists are from Bihar,” he said, addressing a public function in suburban Goregaon on Saturday. And Raj Thackeray is truly an honourable man.

Asaram Bapu, the self proclaimed god man said, “Only five to six people are not the culprits. The victim is as guilty as her rapists. She should have called the culprits brothers and begged before them to stop. This could have saved her dignity and life. Can one hand clap? I don’t think so.” I wonder in which world of reality is this so called spiritual man who courts controversy lives in! Does he even perceive the meaning of what he has said. No doubt, Asaram Bapu too is an honourable man.

What is visible through all these insensitive wisecracks?
We get to see the absolutely patriarchal and patronizing outlook of many.
They are all out of touch with what we, common lay people, feel and experience.
Male chauvinism at its very best.
Inability to accept the power that women have started yielding, with many of them being bread winners and focussed professionals.
They are all people with medieval mind sets and want to gain mileage – even at the cost of being notorious for courting controversies.
Each one has only his / her political point of view and nothing else. You and me don’t mean anything to them except votes – and that is needed only every fifth year.

So what we need most of all is a massive mind set makeover for both men and women. And I hope those of us who are wriggling with discomfiture at these utterances will remember what each one has said at the Battle of the Hustings. We don’t need such illogical, irrational and misogynistic people to lead us to help build our nation for the 21st century.  Not for the sake of our coming generations. We have the power to bring them down. Let us affirm to use it.

Spare us, Goons. Be a little kind. Compassionate. Sympathetic. Empathetic. Being a human being, is it too much to ask? And don’t you open your bloody mouth if you can and make absolute foot in mouth statements. We will at least have some respite.

To women, I just want to say this. We have treated this kind of male domination and patriarchy for too long. Like Rip Van Winkle we are in a deep state of slumber. For our sake, and our children’s sake let us wake up. So that, our girls will be strong and brook no nonsense. And our boys will learn to respect women. Therein lies the whiff of fresh breath, of freedom, that our nation really needs.

To all these who want to have dikats to talibanize women I would like to share these few lines that have gone viral in social media:

“Men should be offended when someone claims that women should prevent rape by NOT WEARING certain things;
or NOT GOING certain places;
or NOT ACTING in a certain way.

That line of thinking presumes that you are incapable of control.
That you are so base and uncivilized that it takes extraordinary effort for you to walk down the street without RAPING someone.
That you require a certain dress code be maintained, that certain behaviours be employed so that may be today, JUST MAY BE, you won’t RAPE someone.

It presumes that your natural state is Rapist.”

P.S: I have many men friends and relatives who have squirmed and were / are very concerned at the verbal diarrhoea that the high and the mighty have indulged in, leaving in shreds, sensitivity as a lost virtue. So when I write this it is not against all males; but am afraid, their numbers of those in my side of the fence are few. Them, I salute!