Determination vs. Obstinacy


Many a time people want to achieve their goal by hook or crook. Their very attitude is proof of the fact that they are not in a position to distinguish between determination and obstinacy.

When a person refuses to weigh the pros and cons of a situation and pursues his ambition blindly, he is not only likely to harm the people around him but will wreak havoc on himself both physically and mentally.

An episode from the Mahabharata unfolds the unfortunate repercussions of tenacity. Ashwaththama, the best friend of Duryodhana had promised his dying friend that he would ensure the annihilation of the Pandava family at all costs. He manipulated the death of the Pandavas and ended up killing the five sons of Draupadi. In hindsight, he realised that his mission would be completed if he managed to abort the foetus if princess Uttara who was carrying the posthumous child of Abhimanyu. That way he could effectively put a full stop on the continuance of the Pandava clan. Accordingly, he went to the princess and aimed a potent blade of Darbha grass at her womb. The petrified Uttara ran away in panic. When Ashwaththama chased the pregnant princess, he was intercepted by none other than Lord Krishna.

Krishna understood that the son of Drona was not in a position to distinguish the right from wrong, and there was simply no way he would tarry to listen to the Yadava king. It was then Krishna looked at the gem signifying human intelligence studded on the forehead of the Brahmin. He hastened to pluck it out and prevented the perpetration of foeticide. The mindless Ashwaththama could not focus on his evil undertaking. Thus, Krishna rescued the unborn baby. He ensured that the last scion of the Pandava family – Parikshit- the one who was tested arrived safely on planet earth.

When one examines Ashwaththama’s behaviour, it is not difficult to see that he was being faithful to his friend and true to his promise although his bosom pal was dead. All the same, it is apparent that he lost sight of human propriety in his zeal to redeem his promise. Had he realised that the means is as important as the end he could have spared himself of the ignominy?

Gift for teacher? Classroom Discipline


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S Radha Prathi, Sep 5 2017, 0:08 IST

If teachers were asked what they would consider the best teacher’s day gift, the answer would be an unanimous chorus — classroom discipline!

Well, that happens to be the harsh truth. An average classroom in any school across urban India is almost always in a state of chaos. The teacher-student ratio is unwieldy in most. Under the circumstances, a conscientious teacher has to also double up as the bad cop, usher the students to step in mentally, not just physically, into the classroom. Healthy classroom practices like interactions, discussions and debates on the subject of study is often replaced with pontification, which has almost become a mandatory feature in the lives of teachers. Seldom can they do much else, because the law of the land forbids them from using the cane.

Most teaching staff are ashamed or afraid to rope in the help of colleagues, seniors or the head of the institutions because they do not want to show themselves to be weak or helpless. Besides, they do not want to jeopardise their chances of getting an increment by showing themselves to be lacking in class control skills. The students, for their part, ranging from primary school to the undergraduate levels seem to find it extremely difficult to sit still in the class and focus on what is being taught. Their attention span seems to be consistently declining year after year. They seem to have collectively traded the art of listening for the art of merely hearing that serves no purpose.

Such being the case, teachers have to often repeat themselves to reach out to everyone in the audience. In the process, a sense of repetition and redundancy sets in in the ones that got it the very first time. They become restless till the teacher takes the lesson forward but only after another round of disciplining. When this exercise becomes repetitive, it can get tiresome for both the students and the teacher. Precious classroom time is spent in shepherding students individually or in little groups into a state of silence before continuing with the lesson. Over a period of time, both parties get familiar with the pattern and play it out like clockwork to the point of frustration.

When teachers bare their hearts out on the subject, they are told categorically that “content is king” and the conduct of the teacher is the benchmark in a classroom. While that may be true, even experienced and passionate teachers who do know their subject and carry themselves with dignity are finding it difficult to handle disruptive behaviour. All the same, teachers agree that kids should have their fun and freedom as long as they do not constantly disrupt the classroom. They also vouch for the fact that the young are perfectly nice alone; it is only when they get together they become unmanageable.

It is time for us to unravel this conundrum. The restiveness stems from the environment the child comes from. The pressure to do well and realise the dreams of their parents has pinned them down. The gadgets they use and the amateurish exposure they get to various subjects on the internet make them feel that they know it all. The junk foods they consume, the sedentary lives they lead and the assorted pollutions they have to deal with have rendered them weak. Their preference to play with gadgets than with siblings or friends has made them strangers to empathy. The stress and strife of modern life is taking a toll on the children.

If we hope to salvage the future of our children, we must work on these issues on a war-footing. Remember, the family is the first school and the mother is the first teacher. Parents should make it their own imperative to spend quality time with children no matter what their age. Children who hail from sensible, ethical and loving homes will reflect those qualities.

Having well behaved students can prove to be a tremendous boost to a passionate teacher’s morale and her capacity to teach. Precious class hours can be channelised to sow the seeds of knowledge, nurture analytical thinking, and help children blossom into responsible, intelligent and considerate individuals. When teaching becomes a fulfilling and pleasant experience, a teacher can make a world of difference to the taught. When that happens, every day will be Teacher’s Day!

Serendipity in Seri


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Once, a couple of us were walking through a boulder-strewn path in the Himalayas. What began as a light drizzle at the head of our trek turned into a steady shower. There was no going back, because the tents we left behind were being dismantled.

While they could be erected again with a little effort , a couple of early birds in our group had already forged ahead an hour ago. We could not possibly leave them in the lurch by staying back. So, we decided to brave the inclement weather towards Seri Valley — our destination.

The obstacle-riddled path appeared to be more challenging when we had to cross a moraine, some newly formed streams and a little stretch of ice. The continuous rain and the dipping temperature proved to be quite a menace.

A slip here and a fall there amid wiping the water off the spectacles slowed me down. Benumbed hands failed to feel the little icicles falling all over and around us. The colourful and beautiful flowers that bordered our path at times had to be sadly ignored because personal comfort appeared to be more important than “stopping by to smell the flowers.”

Conversation almost came to a standstill with exceptions when we had to seek one another’s help. Gusts of cold wind blew about; we trudged along cold, wet and hungry. When it became increasingly difficult, we sighted a frail little open yellow tent among the rocks. Our escort prompted us to seek shelter there till the storm passed.

We found a lone shepherd huddled in blankets in the tiny tent. He ushered us in without a word. He shared his humble bed and let us use it, though we were drenched to our very bones. Just when I thought that his cup of mercy had overflowed, he allowed us to build a fire with his precious little stock of firewood.

A couple of hours passed. He answered our many queries but asked no questions of us. His body language did not display resentment, so we stayed on. The rains subsided. It was time to move on. We thanked him profusely for the hospitality. He nodded and asked us to reach our camp before the next spell of rains set in.

Some experiences in life do have a wonderful way of tweaking our path and make us reflect on existential questions. He seemed to be the essence of Sanghajeevi (social being) for Lokasangraha (betterment of the world). I simply could not stop thinking of experiencing serendipity in the wilderness.

On Making Pragmatic Promises


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There is a sea of difference between bravado and an earnest promise meant to be kept. People make tall promises in a moment of generosity or false pride.

When they do keep their word, they end up compromising on their well being or losing their possessions and peace of mind. If we are afraid of going back on our promises, we must give considerable thought to the commitments that we make, lest we end up feeling frustrated or shortchanged for lack of pragmatism.

A story from the Vishnu and Vamana Purana, deals with this aspect of promises in a telling manner. Once Mahabali, an Asura king, wanted to gain power over the three worlds performed a related Yajna. He gave away rich gifts of the receivers’ choice when they came to attend the rites. Then, Mahavishnu manifested himself in front of the king as a dwarfed Brahmana.The Asura king welcomed him with due respect and rituals and requested the lustrous young man to seek gifts from him. When Vamana sought land measuring three times his feet, Mahabali could not help feel amused.

He urged the recipient to ask for more. After all, he was a mighty sovereign, hoping to have the whole universe under his custody. He could certainly afford to give more than three feet of land measured by the tiny feet of the celibate who stood in front of him. The young man refused to alter his stance.The king set out to fulfill his promise in a ceremonial way, much against the counsel of his Guru Shukracharya who thought something was fishy. Mahabali was also intelligent enough to understand that the young midget who stood in front of him was no ordinary boy. Yet, he did not want to retract his vow. When the time came for the mysterious midget, to measure out his land, he grew magically. His giant feet measured the earth in one pace, the heavens in the other. When there was no other place to gain his third measure, Mahabali kneeled humbly before Mahavishnu, offering his head for the third pace.

Nevertheless what needs to be commended is that he made good of his promise even at the cost of his own life, which cannot be expected of mere mortals.

Raising Our Daughters the Right Way


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Bringing up: In a world full of judgements and suspicions, we have to raise our daughters with the correct set of values.

Under the wings...Under the wings…

Archana insisted on homeschooling her twin daughters as she had nightmares about admitting her children to the kindergarten in the metropolis soon after being bombarded by stories of lurking paedophiles around learning centres. Vandana gave up her lucrative job because she wanted to be at home when her daughter arrived home at noon. She had heard horrific stories of children being administered sleeping pills in their milk at daycare centres. Meera laughingly calls herself the designated chauffeur of her kids because she is always driving them in and out of one class or another.

Lakshmi opted for voluntary retirement just when it was her turn to get promoted, to ensure that she could fund her daughter’s dream to study abroad. Suma, a qualified lawyer, decided to be a stay-at-home mother because she believed in the dictum “Better safe than sorry” (All names have been changed to respect their identities.)

What these young and not-so-young mothers have done for the apples of their eyes, is not unusual. Each of these mothers and several tens and thousands of their kind have been doing more or less the same thing in various capacities. No, they are not cynical or paranoid, they are just being careful. With reason too. We live in a world which is riddled by multiple standards, inequalities in every aspect, uncertainties and incomprehensible expectations. Hence, leading a normal life believing in the intrinsic goodness of fellow human beings is out of the question.

Now is the time for us to rethink our parenting strategies, especially where it concerns the girl child. After all, parenting is called an art and not without reason. We must prepare our daughters to hope for the best but be prepared for the worst right from the moment they arrive in our lives. Here are a few areas that need
serious looking into:

Physical well-being
A taste for a nutritious balanced diet punctuated with some form of exercise should be introduced right from the beginning. When a healthy diet and a physical regime coupled with personal hygiene become a habit, immunity levels will soar, and keeping healthy will not prove to be a challenge. Teaching them martial arts or sports or simply involving them in everyday household chores will help them build stamina and can prove to be a boon in times of need.

Modesty & morality
Modesty and morality should not be mixed up. Remember, being prudish can cost them dearly. They must be taught the difference between good touch and bad touch. Girls should be taught not to be ashamed of their bodies or the changes they undergo. They should be encouraged to spell out their doubts and fears. It will do well to sensitise girls to the fact that the outside world will judge them by the clothes, accessories and the makeup they wear, though character cannot be determined by the length of their sleeves or necklines.

Subjects like virginity, rape, honour, domestic violence, honour killings need not be drawing room conversations, if it feels delicate. All the same, there is no point in sweeping the subjects under the carpet and looking the other way when they do crop up.

Using such topics as a launchpad to clear the cobwebs of a growing mind can go a long way in preventing girls from becoming judgmental. The knowledge will also cushion them to some extent, if they are unfortunate victims of such
circumstances.

Coping with new age trends
Many girls go through a phase in life when they get their facial or body parts pierced or tattooed, when they colour, curl or straighten their hair or undergo cosmetic surgery on a whim and regret it later.

Depriving permission outright may not go well with everyone. So, the stubborn ones can be encouraged to try the temporary option and then if they really care for the fashion, then they can be told to take the plunge.

Being feminine
Girls should be taught to appreciate and enjoy their feminine side. Since we live in a diabolical world, girls can be groomed to be soft-spoken and delicate damsels. So, they should be clearly told that they must not hesitate to protect themselves even if it means biting and kicking the molester on the face, or very simply amplifying their lung power.

Expanding the mind
Encourage your girls to have friends, go out and mingle. While dating or having a relationship is not wrong, they should also be taught when and where to draw the line and how to say no firmly when they feel uncomfortable. Writing a diary or pouring their concerns to an agony aunt can help them ease their tensions. Ask them to be careful about what they post and with whom they share on their social media sites, especially their pictures. With so much cyber crime going on, one can never be too careful.

Evaluation of Evaluators


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The citizens in the world of academics are only too aware that there are wheels within wheels. Students, their parents and their teachers know that the path to progress is many tiered.

Students have to imbibe what they are taught, customise their knowledge to cater to the needs of the examination system and then await results post evaluation. The process appears to be ancient, normal and warranted as far as one can see.

The evaluators take over from the point the students finish their examinations, and it is this factor that most students and parents are apprehensive about. Realisation dawns on them that the ball is no longer in their court; their results are in the hands of unknown evaluators especially when they take up the board or university examinations.

The routine of nervously scanning through the Internet and news channels for the forthcoming results can be quite draining to all examinees, no matter to which age group they belong. Though the law of cause and effect is well known to be proportionate, it is apparently not applicable in our desi educational system to a large extent.

It appears that the shloka from the Bhagavad Gita which says, “Karmanye Vaadhika-raste, Maa Phaleshu kadachana,” which means “You have the right only to do your duty, but never anticipate the fruit for your deeds” is applicable to the students who complete their examinations. That is why we find students spending their vacation with fingers crossed for the outcome of their performance.

The anomalies in the realms of examination results can range from appearing late to appearing wrong. Though all boards and universities do have channels for re-totalling, revaluation, availing copies of answer scripts and even provisions to appear in the court of law, the number of mistakes that happen have not come down considerably.

It is understandable that to err is human. After all, it is the teachers who correct answer scripts. It is quite possible that they could have made an error or two out of sheer oversight or fatigue. Considering the fact that they are also willing to recheck and award rightful scores when approached through proper channels also speaks for the fairness and the transparent nature of the system.

All the same, the students find it difficult to repose faith in the system because many of them have been unsuspecting victims of sheer apathy and convoluted processes which have scorched their spirits and singed their opportunities.

Shortage of evaluators

When the matter is scrutinised from the teachers’ point of view, many factors that seem to justify their slipshod job come under the magnifying glass.

Firstly, there is an acute shortage of evaluators. Since most teaching jobs are offered by private educational institutions, they have a floating population of teaching staff.

Teachers resign their jobs at the end of the academic year in search of greener pastures and are sometimes willing to take an unpaid holiday while in the process of switching jobs. This trend automatically shows a large dip in the number of evaluators during the annual academic break.
Teachers who are hired on a contract basis for the occasion try to earn a little extra money by hurrying through the answer scripts.

The teaching faculty with secure jobs usually decides to put up their price during this season and prefers to go on strikes and dharnas. They feel that it is probably the best time to make their presence and value known. The harsh truth is that teachers are the lowest paid educated class in society.

It is a fact that teachers are burdened with the onus of wading through a sea of answer scripts without respite and the remuneration mostly does not match with the effort put in.

Apart from that, the evaluators are answerable to the chief examiner as well as the students if they have bungled in the process of correcting an answer script or totalling the marks obtained. They can be even sued in the court of law for not taking up their responsibility seriously.

The callousness in assessment of students can be averted to a large extent if knowledgeable and conscientious teachers are chosen for the job consciously. In addition, they should be given their due importance, respect and remuneration. They will be only too delighted and diligent to carry out the responsibilities bestowed upon them. And then, the rest assured students can enjoy happy holidays.

The Duty Bound Are Uplifted


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It is not what we do, but how we do it that makes all the difference. Perhaps, this is the reason why, we are often counseled to work with passion, dedication and discipline if we hope to achieve success. This concept is also expounded as Karma Yoga by Lord Krishna in the Bhagvad Gita. Sage Dhaumya reiterates this tenet by narrating a story to the exiled Pandavas in the Mahabharata.

Once, Sage Kaushika sought alms of a housewife. She happened to be serving lunch to her husband. She requested the holy man to wait till she completed her job. The enraged Kaushika glared at her. The lady of the house told him very calmly that she was not the crane which was burnt down by the sage’s ire. Kaushika was taken aback. The lady had just referred to the incident that had happened on his way to her doorstep. A crane had relieved itself on the sage. It was burnt down to ashes in a moment when the sage had glowered at it. The sage who was proud of his yogic power could not figure out how the lady came to know what had transpired. When he could not contain his curiosity any longer he blurted out his question. The lady told him to meet the butcher Dharmavyadha to clear his doubt.

More surprise awaited Kaushika, when the butcher enquired whether the former had been sent by the lady especially when the sage could not figure out any medium of communication. The sage spelled out his confusion. The butcher gave him a long look, asked the sage to wait and slipped inside his shop. Apparently, he had to attend to the needs of his elderly parents. He emerged after a while and then told the sage that he was committed towards his duty just as the lady was committed towards her husband. The sincerity of purpose with which each of them carried out their duties bestowed them with a superior spiritual power. This in turn helped them to anticipate and understand the events that take place in and around their lives.

Kaushika was enlightened with a new dimension of knowledge. He realised the value of dignity of labour. He learned that whatever is worth doing is worth doing well. He had indeed stumbled on a universal truth that being duty conscious can uplift our spirituality quotient.