The Great Indian Leveller

S Radha Prathi, Bengaluru, April 30, 2015, DHNS:

When my tailor handed over my stitched clothes a fortnight after the set deadline, the veil was missing. Without batting an eyelid, he gave me another which belonged to somebody else, which complimented my dress perfectly. He said he would call when he found mine and till such time, I could use the substitute. When I rejected his idea, he actually frowned. I would only take what belonged to me like the Aesopian woodcutter.

When I shared this incident with a friend whose family sells electric equipment, she consolingly disclosed that people in their trade use tube lights, bulbs and other such items which can be repacked without causing suspicion for some time before selling them.
These incidents set me thinking. Most conversations in the Indian sub continent reflect a sense of righteous anger that pervades us as we condemn various social, political, economic and ecological issues that haunt us day after day. If an outsider heard our conversations, he/she is likely to think that we are brigades of knights in shining armours in mufti all set to clean up the world.

Alas! The truth is otherwise. The common man who waxes eloquently about the dishonesty of politicians, bureaucracy and the system at large seldom realises that he too constitutes and contributes to the big, bad ugly society that we are talking about. It is clearly the case of the pot calling the kettle black!

Picture these everyday scenes in our lives! Sellers of greens have no qualms about meticulously adding weeds in the little bundles to negate possible losses. Most vendors do not use standard weights and measures. Some spas and massage centres which promise weight loss on the fast track use weighing machines which evaluate you as marginally heavier before they treat you and other scales which show you to be a tad lighter post therapy.

Schools, colleges and universities are known for their penchant to undervalue the efforts and performances of students during the academic year and being overly generous while promoting candidates mostly because it fulfills their purpose of showing a higher percentage of results. The media hypes or sweeps news under the carpet based on their equations with the people involved in the affair.

People jump queues everywhere, issue invalid cheques to buy time, never return valuable books that are borrowed, usurp seats in public transports and theatres, fix exorbitant working lunches, use exclusive workplace facilities indiscriminately as if it is their birthright, some even profess different age, qualification, remuneration, etc. in official and social circles – the list is endless. Each one of us is most definitely contributing to the mayhem. It is time to remember that charity begins at home when we aspire to clean up the Aegean stables.

Childhood Flashbacks

Radha Prathi, April 26, 2015,


Perceptions vary. They depend on a number of factors. Time, place and situations help us to see, understand and retain memories of people, places, animals, things and experiences. We need not look beyond ourselves to realise this truth. All of us were children once and we have both pleasant and unpleasant recollections of that pristine period of our lives. But, as we grow up, the aspects that seemed to have a larger than life proportion deflate like a balloon when we come across them once again in adulthood.

How many of us have not experienced our childhood home shrink when we visit it after decades? The familiar streets, shops, landmarks seem to be altered sometimes beyond repair. The dolls and other props which we thought we could never do without gather dust in attics or have been given away. Have we not found our movie stars and superheroes to have changed hopelessly when we see their recent film because we remember them the way they were in their heydays? Even our friends and peers fill us with genuine surprise during alumni meets, for they look old and haggard because we have forgotten that time does not stand still.

Insects, birds and animals that appeared to be intimidating when we were kids make us wonder what was so dreadful about them when we grow up. Enjoying window time during bus and train rides or simply waving out to strangers and passersby, watching aeroplanes flying over our heads or helping ourselves to a fistful of chocolates when we were flying filled us with immense joy. We hoped to gain citizenship in the imaginary land of goodies, completely unaware that we might reach a stage when we consciously avoid these very items that we craved for. We have longed for endless summer vacations and waited for announcements of sudden holidays without realising the mayhem created when routine life is arrested on its heels due to unexpected reasons. Money was never an issue with us because we did not know how to reckon with it. The rat race did not bother us because we had our own demons to deal with.

On the other hand, we somehow could not come to terms with the fact that our loved ones of the earlier generation could have been young once upon a time. No amount of exercising our gray cells can help us recall the pampering we enjoyed or the embarrassment we conferred on our loved ones, though it is always regaled during family get-togethers. Yet, human memory tucks away unpleasant episodes and has a penchant for popping it up when we are least prepared to tackle them. They anger and upset us in an uncanny manner and sometimes instigate us to act unreasonably and irresponsibly.

Death of loved ones, witnessed during the formative years of our lives, leave us devastated or disillusioned. Emotional scars of injustice and violence meted out to us never seem to go away. These obnoxious obstacles stunt our potential to grow to optimal levels and blossom as unique individuals.

All of us have been through this fascinating passage of time, with all its ups and downs. Yet we find it difficult to believe that our personalities are nothing but a reflection of the conglomeration of the experiences of our formative years. The adult in us rarely relates to the innocent children we were sometime back in our timelines. William Blake, the insightful 19th century English poet, wrote about the contrast in the worlds of children and adults in two volumes famously known as Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience respectively. He chose topics, for instance, a tiger or a chimney sweeper, among many such others and treated them contrastingly from the perception of a child and an adult respectively. Possibly, it is on the same lines why psychologists, seers and philosophers encourage us to awaken the child in us. Perhaps an understanding of our past and roots can sensitise us to elevate ourselves to a higher plane of life. Once we are able to build a conscious bridge between these two definite phases of our lives, the circle of our lives will be complete and our composite existence will be qualitatively better. Perchance the key to a more harmonious world and better existence lies in realising that the child is the father of man after all!

Finding Order Amid The English Chaos

S Radha Prathi, April 18. 2015. DHNS

Even as our country is still weighing the pros and cons on the status of the English language in the department of education, it is time to have a subjective look at the topic. It is a known fact that an undergraduate aspirant has to pass all the subjects of all the academic years before obtaining the degree certificate. More often than not, the English language paper proves to be a stumbling block in the path of achieving their goals. Professors of English at the undergraduate level are finding it increasingly difficult to handle their students.

One set of teachers have to deal with students who profess to know everything on the subject because they have been educated in private English medium schools. Twelve to fourteen years of continuous exposure to the language makes them take on the undergraduate course with a confidence hitherto, unknown to themselves.

Another set of teachers feel that they are saddled with students who qualify for the very same course after clearing all the previous examinations in the vernacular medium. Both the sets of teachers and students have to deal with the same material, prepare towards a common question paper and clear the examination scoring the minimum marks prescribed.

Since the prescribed syllabus serves a common purpose across the science, commerce and arts streams, the text book committees carefully choose pieces of literature which can cater to all pupils belonging to all strata. Question banks are prepared and circulated amongst students. Question papers are set with several choices and in such a way to help examinees who know little to scrape through.

Some basic grammar and a comprehension piece of a medium level of difficulty are thrown in favour of students who fail to grapple the contents of their course books. Most universities make it mandatory for the colleges under them to allot internal assessment marks ranging from ten to thirty per cent. In other words, universities do the square thing by bolstering the psyche of students from non-English background to face the English examination confidently.

Universities invariably do not want to withhold the degree of a candidate because they realise that one cannot miss the woods for the trees. And there lies the problem. It is this very same spirit of generosity and understanding which is creating chaos at another level.

It is strange but true that students educated in the English medium through school and pre university who take the study of the English language seriously, prefer to put it on the back burner when they commence their under graduate studies. Perhaps, a grounding in the language and its literature since childhood makes them confident enough to tackle the prescribed text books on the way to graduation.

Complacent students

Students who have been tutored under the CBSE, ICSE or IGCSE, have often been known to cock a snook at the prescribed material because they have been trained at a higher level. Besides, the pattern of the question paper coupled with the system of internal assessment marking seems to guarantee the passing marks almost effortlessly. This system inadvertently encourages a sense of complacence among such students.

Any amount of energetic enthusiasm injected into the subject by a passionate professor has few takers. Indiscipline and distraction largely rule classrooms during these sessions. All the same, most of the students do attend these classes with a supercilious air because it is mandatory to have at least 75 per cent attendance to classes in order to obtain the hall ticket to take the examination.

The fairly simple content coupled with guide books readily available in the market and on the internet add to the woes of the teaching staff. It can be a little unsettling to acknowledge the harsh truth which showcases the negligent attitude of students towards the study of language. The same can be put down to lack of enough challenge and also possibly the insignificant weightage of the subject in the entire course.

Since language is the vehicle of communication and literature holds a mirror to life, universities should seriously think of introducing English in all the semesters gradually stepping up the level which will definitely go a long way in stepping up the skills of both sets of students. If that happens to be a tall order, they should certainly think of taking the trouble to make different sets of textbooks or at least question papers and remove the subject from the back burner.

One Upmanship Can Take You Nowhere

Very few people realise that one-upmanship can upset the ship of life, sometimes irrevocably. A story in our Puranas illustrates how we tend to weave a web of deceit and illusion in our lives which prove detrimental to us in the long run.

Vinatha and Kadru were the warring wives of sage Kashyapa. Each one wanted to prove her superiority and strength and have an edge over the other despite being sisters.
They requested their spiritually sound spouse to help them mother powerful offspring. Kadru opted to mother vicious and poisonous snakes which instilled terror in the minds of those who sighted them.

Vinatha sought to mother children who would make the sons of Kadru live in constant fear. She was blessed with Aruna and Garuda who went on to become the most formidable eagles ever.

Kadru felt extremely belittled and depressed by Vinatha’s obvious good fortune. She was constantly in search of ways and means that would quell the pride and smug nature of her co-wife. One day, they went for a walk in the twilight hour.
They saw a beautiful white horse grazing on the banks of the river. They commented on its attractiveness and flawless colour. Kadru said the black tail of the horse contrasted very well with its milky complexion.

Vinatha was very sure that the tail was also white and said so. Kadru pointed out that the fading light was playing truant with her sibling’s eyes.
Soon the conversation metamorphosed into an argument which ended in a bet. The sisters agreed that they would examine the horse’s tail by daylight the following day. The one who was proved wrong would become the hand maiden of the other. The rivals retired for the day.

Kadru sent for her sons. She asked them to inspect the horse for its colour. They did her bidding and told her that the animal was Uchchaishravas, the celestial stallion who belonged to Lord Indra. By now, Kadru knew that Vinatha was right. However, her ego would not permit her to accept the truth. She bid some of her serpentine sons to coil around the horse’s tail during the period of scrutiny.
The sun dawned. The women went to see the steed. Vinatha could see that the tail was indeed black even before Kadru pointed it out to her. Unsuspectingly, she agreed to become the handmaiden of Kadru and experienced humiliation beyond description till she was finally redeemed by her son Garuda who fetched the Amrutha for Kadru’s sons at her behest. Both the women could have buried the hatchet and lived in harmony, since each of them wanted to score over the other neither of them could live in peace.