Mahashweta: A Review

” The novel is the one bright book of life. Books are not life. They are only tremulations on the ether. But the novel as a tremulation can make the whole man alive tremble.”
– D H Lawrence

The story of a bright, beautiful and talented girl living with her father, stepmother and step sisters who are not as pretty or brainy has plenty of vital ingredients for a potboiler. But far from it, Sudha Murthy in her compelling reader, Mahashweta, has converted it into a captivating tale of a woman who rises like a phoenix from the ashes of her own self.

Mahashweta - by Sudha Murty

Mahashweta – by Sudha Murty

Imagine this: After troubled growing-up years without your biological mother to share and care, meeting a dashing young doctor who is besotted with you and then that fairy tale love culminates in a dream marriage – it has all the trappings of a happily-lived-ever-after story. But not for Anupama. The edifices of her dream world crumbles when she discovers that she has an incurable disease. What happens to her after this revelation and the twists and  turns in life that she has to cope forms the crux of the story.

Sudha Murthy in all her grace and wisdom has succeeded in making Anupama a symbol of all women who fight against odds, both expected and the unexpected. As a reader, I loved the decisions that she takes in the end – they are perfectly in line with the character etched by the author. It is indeed a tale of hope, acceptance, and through that emerging victorious and much more stronger. Through this poignant story Murthy brings to light societal prejudices and stereotypes.

The best thing about the book lies in the postscript. And coming from somebody as respected as Sudha Murthy who is not only an established writer but also the trustee of Infosys Foundation, am sure it is only the truth. If with this book, if one person has moved away from the oft taken path, therein lies the success of the book. And if that is the yardstick, this book is a runaway success.

What is in a Day?

Come August everyone – in India and across the globe – suddenly start their wisecracks about the ‘noblest’ of all professions – Teaching. Reason? Come September 5th, we have our National Teachers’ Day. And on October 5th, that is today, World Teachers’ Day.

Happy Teachers' Day!

Happy Teachers’ Day!

Yet, things are not as it should be in a teacher’s world, at least for an Indian teacher, for this is all I know about. I am one. Once upon a time when we had the Gurukula system and teachers were the most venerated lot in the society. Gone are those days. Now things and times have changed. The less said about the poor status of the teacher in our society, the better.

The best students go for the choicest of professions, which is medicine, engineering, information technology, accounting and the like. It is only the also-rans and cast-outs that enter this profession of last resort – teaching. Margaret Elizabeth Sangster’s exhortation of ‘no one should teach who is not in love with teaching’ has fallen on deaf ears. Poor wages, but compensated by less working days, you see. Which other job will give you more than 140 days holidays and pay you for that? The result?? A teaching fraternity, with less passion and even lesser dedication.

Unrealistic expectations from parents to mould their child into Christiaan Barnards, Nikola Teslas and their like irrespective of the like and dislikes of their children has made things worse for the practicing teacher. It is almost impossible trying to tell the parent that their child has other interests. The oft-heard last word in the matter is, “I wanted to be a X. I could not. I want my son / daughter to be one.’ Many also are in denial mode – I can understand that. Which parent would want to hear about his/her apple of the eye’s issues?

An overburdened curriculum which leaves the poor child to do nothing other than studying so much so that he/she unless exceptional never gets the time or energy to indulge in any kind of talent tapping or talent building. No wonder PE classes are the most favourite ones of most students. Teachers hardly make learning as fun as playing. The heavy curriculum forces the teacher to ensure that he/she has done the job, without looking into what students have got out of it. Besides the teacher learned about the nuances of teaching in a different way. And that way is not the acceptable one with changing times. No wonder John W Gardner said, “Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.” Ouch. A firm nail on the coffin!

Educationists, policy makers who come up with radical changes, without equipping and educating the stakeholders – teacher, student and parent. Many a time the programmes are chalked out without foresight and hardly looking into the ground reality. Look, for example, the No Child Left Behind initiative, which went on to leave every child behind and the teaching fraternity far behind because it was extremely prescriptive, used shoddy measures and one-size-fits-all methods, besides forcing teachers to do the worst possible thing to prove their caliber – to teach to test.

Large sized classrooms is another bane. A teacher after all is only human and cannot be expected to work magic many a time in classrooms of not less than 40 students. The 40 minute classes don’t even give the teacher time to invest a minute in each child! Today in many forward looking schools, pair/group activity in classes in the norm. How can teachers have group activity in crowded classrooms? With all these challenges – poor teacher status, heavy curriculum, standardised testing, large ill equipped classrooms and a teacher fraternity that just about warming up to the needs of the 21st century skills like being a life long learner and engaging in continuous professional development – it is difficult to brag about the nobility of the profession.

Education is the panacea that can cure all that ails today’s world. Therefore unless there is more respect and status in society, high quality induction programmes and continued professional education sessions, societies cannot raise the standards of education. And unless governments invest more money into education, all articulations about what ails education and finding solutions for them, will remain hollow and meaningless.

So what is in a day for us, Teachers? Nothing really. It is just another day. Nevertheless, here’s wishing you a Happy Teachers’ Day!

Eating Right

Every day I leave for work by about 6.30 am. In the lift there are scores of children with their heavy school bags. A parent, sometimes both, is sure to accompany their kids to see them off. At least a dozen of buses stop in front of our building which one of the tallest in the area. And every day, I can’t but help observing these kids and their parents – I am an educator you see.

Today while waiting for the lift (an inordinately long wait always!), I met my neighbour, an Indian lady, with her two kids. Small children – aged about 7 and 4. Both had white bread and jam sandwiches which they were nibbling at – there is no time to sit and eat, you see! There have been occasions when I have seen some children – especially from the Middle East regions – walk into the nearby grocery, buy a packet of Lays & a can of Pepsi / Coke and board the bus. I would stand and stare, with my jaw dropping – I can never ever think of having these for any kind of sustenance,  not to mention then early mornings at 6.30 and 7 am and that too as breakfast!!

We Indians have scores of healthy breakfast options ranging from idlies and sambhar* (believed to be the most nutritious  Indian breakfast according to a recent article) to rotis and dhal or sabji, depending on which part of India you belong to. Media, print, audio as well as video, are replete these days with what is good for us and what is not? Yet, it amazed me as to why mothers provide unhealthy food options for their children. White bread has nothing to offer by way of nutrition. You can however make it nutritious by making use of a healthy filling. Working or not working mothers, there is no excuse. It is essential to inculcate in our little ones good, healthy eating habits.

Healthy Breakfast options...

Which makes me wonder, why don’t we teach this at school? I remember we had a wonderful nutritious breakfast week at school under the aegis of our Home Science department**. Our Home Science students of Grades 11 & 12 addressed different grades about the need for having a good breakfast and ensuring that it is healthy too. We got the feedback that many primary school students went and informed their parents and asked, rather insisted, for healthy breakfasts.

At numerous meetings with my senior Grade 11 & 12 girls I have also gleaned that they skip their breakfast. Breakfast is the most important food of the day. You are actually ‘breaking’ the ‘fast’. The age old adage goes – have breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. In fact I also found out that many students have very late dinners. No wonder they have indigestion, acidity and similar issues at a very young age.

Home makers play a very vital role in ensuring that their children have the right kind of food and enjoy a healthy relationship with the food they it. Not only that, a short thought of gratitude before and after eating the food – for that you must sit at the dining table – will also ensure that children appreciate the efforts of both food growers and food makers. If we can instil these in our children, we would be equipping with a life long skill – something that will keep them conscious of what they eat and how they eat them. Out will go with that issues of anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders plus obsession for zero size figures.   Eating right and enjoying a healthy relationship with food will go a long way in building their self confidence and self esteem – the very need of the hour.

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