Monthly Archives: June 2009

visit: ballet performance

I have heard legends about Yana Lewis – her grace, inventiveness, Indophilism and joie de vivre! (she also happens to be a disciple of the legendary late BKS Iyengar, the grand-guru of Yoga, having been trained by him in-extenso)

Yana is committed to the promotion of classical ballet and has been conducting training / expositions of the art form for years, now. The Bangalore entity of her foundation has been training young students on ballet for a while now, and today and tomorrow (27th June) the entity is showcasing their talents with a many-part performance at Soffia School. (Hope I got the number of Fs correct in the name of the school)

NammaShaale upper-elementary children and erdkinder went for the performance today and were spell-bound by the nearly 2 hours of magic. Considering the excited reactions (read: going on and on and on…) of the children, even some 3 hours after the performance, I think the ballet performance must have been grand & soul-uplifting.

I am very happy for the NammaShaale children and slightly jealous of the adults, who could go for the performance and get their moods and spirits uplifted.

(NammaShaale got wind of this event and could get the invitation, zillion thanks to the timely tip-off & recommendation from Subash and Ira – NammaShaale parents – and of course thanks are due to Rama too, who made the visit possible and gladly ferried the children up and down)

PS: It is a small, small world! Thanks to young ‘Sipayi’ I got to know that Dewang Bhanushali is a director of the The Lewis Foundation of Classical Ballet  a few weeks back – I used to know this Dewang, and recollect the poise and the grace of his movements, when I was with Hughes Software, more than a decade back… It is so nice to see young folks aciduously pursue their interests and reach significant levels of excellence.  Dewang is a trustee of the Lewis Foundation which has trained the young ballerinas & ballerinos, who showcased their skills and grace. May Dewang’s tribe increase!

PPS: Remind us to show that excellent ballet documentary ‘Ballets Russes’ and clippings from the performance of the legendary Svetlena Zacharova, to our children, will you?

saradananda das – the quiet changemaker

From ‘The Hindu – BusinessLine’ archives…

An unsung hero

There is an elderly gentleman around who used to be the assistant headmaster of a school in Balurghat town, the headquarters of South Dinajpur district in West Bengal, who is currently on a pilgrimage to a place the name of which is not known. What can be so special about such a person, in his seventies and a bachelor, who has taken time off after spending a lifetime teaching children at a high school, which he joined way back in 1965 and superannuated from in the mid-nineties?

Nothing much, one would say, and particularly so in the case of Saradananda Das who was such a quiet and unassuming person that the world hardly noticed him. Not only this, he had also come to be seen as some sort of a miser because of the Spartan life he led. He slept on the floor, wore clothes that were just about functional and of course old, and was almost pathologically regular in his food habits which comprised the simplest of fare.

In the ‘business of existence’

If you are a school teacher and you live in this way, it is almost certain that you will become an object of “fun” to a large number of your students although there are bound to be some who would respect you even more for these other-worldly attributes. This was the way in which the bespectacled Das led his life for decades in a small town in the districts, seemingly playing out his role in the “business of existence” which birth had burdened him with more than seven decades ago.

It could be said that his life began mired in poverty and physical upheaval, when his parents crossed over into West Bengal from what was then East Pakistan following Partition. It could perhaps be predicted that it would end in middle-class anonymity, his only claim to immortality being the remembrance of him on the part of the hundreds of school students whom he had taught at the Balurghat Khadimpur High School for three decades. But the memory could not be more than what millions of small-town high school students usually have of their teachers, the pages being turned only when they got together in later life and slipped into a mood of recalling people and events etched into their minds. Even then, it was not sure that Saradananda Sir’s name would crop up — perhaps it would but only as one who was never known to have spent any money, on anyone (including himself) or anything.

Meaningful for promising students

Quite so. Last Sunday, it was officially announced that a Rs 81-lakh trust named Daridra Medhabi Chhatra Sahaya Tahabil (Fund to Assist Needy Good Students) had been set up which would provide a Rs 600 a month scholarship each to ten undergraduate students of Balurghat College and Balurghat Girls’ College, Rs 800 a month each to ten university students, and Rs 1,000 a month each to five poor medical students. The trust had been set up by Saradananda Das.

When a frantic search was made for the “miser teacher” after the announcement, a confidante said he had left on a pilgrimage on May 20, an event which would not be noticed by anyone — something to which Das had become accustomed during his long, quiet campaign to do something meaningful for promising students whose struggle to break out into the world at large was nearly always lost even before it had begun because of a shortage of resources.

It is shameful to have to iterate the point that Saradananda Das is an unsung hero of the Indian Republic. Equally shameful is the fact that he will never be lionised by any political party which, given a choice, would still back a film-star or perhaps someone who has a charge-sheet stuck to his or her name.

RANABIR RAY CHOUDHURY

 © Copyright 2000 – 2009 The Hindu Business Line – Date:03/06/2009 URL: http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2009/06/03/stories/2009060350070900.htm

updates, more updates

Quite a few things have happened in the past couple of months – this is just a quick update.

*** During the closing fortnight – end march, 2009 – NammaShaale had a gala evening event, in which, surprisingly gazillion parents also participated. Manjunath, the TheatreWallah’s wards – which means almost the entire school, held us in awe with their theatrical histrionics and improvisations – while the one man band called Manjunath was busy providing the background music – with flute, ganjira, dholak and what not. The erdkinder gave us a sample of what ‘playback theatre’ is. Very shweet, Manjunath.  (We are happy that this gent is back with a bang, again for the current academic year too  – so we can look forward to having more nice performances by our school children and adults!)

‘Artclass Aunty’ AKA Smt Subhadramma had an exhibition stall in which some zillion artistic outpourings of the children were displayed. There was some healhier food that was ‘on the house’ such as tender coconut and great food from my bete noire – Kanti Sweets.

All staff were honoured – including the dabblers like me – and most of course became richer by a tonne of dry fruits and nuts. My only complaint is that my packet had more than its share of nuts. I vaguely suspect that it is indicative of something, but then I need to think about it, instead of blogging.

Sorry, no photos of the event- as I haven’t got any.

All good things came to an end – but for erdkinder, who had 1 more month (the whole of May) of catching up with their, um, breath?

*** The erdkinder building is inching along towards the finish, and it will take a few more months, before the erdkinder begin their ‘school stay’ and all that.

*** The teachers (‘adults’) continued to work during most of the holidays – planning and implementing. And most of  us made use of our holidays of nearly a month – by doing important things such as falling ill and recovering.

*** The school should have reopened on 3rd June but could begin operations only from 9th, as due to heavy gusts of wind, some tiles from the buildings literally flew off, making the school buildings look like giant observatories, sans the telescopes, of course. It all got repaired and NammaShaale is once again a safe environment.

*** The elementary section now boasts of a very good library rack system – pregnant with books of all kinds. NammaShaale feels that, this would make it easier for the children to access books and keep them back. (Special mention should be made of the erdkinder  – who sanded, polished, primered and painted ALL the racks! Am told that they worked till 10 PM for at least 3 days. Arbeit macht frei, what else.)

*** The children seem to have settled into their routines of work and pleasure (is there a difference like this in a normalized child?) rather easily and hopefully all of them will have a productive year ahead.

*** In the first week itself, the elementary children seem to have visited the Laalbagh to check out some new things that have happened, but I will eventually get around to investigating it and reporting thence…

*** Some parents are working on bringing in sports coaches and in drawing up guidelines for the food, celebration and sundry departments. In the next few weeks, we would see the result of their efforts, hopefully.

*** There are a few new ‘little’ faces in the primary environment, adding to the magic of the environment. As it happens, a few children have left NammaShaale too – we wish them and their parents, good tidings as ever.

*** Namrata, the hindi lady has moved on,  we wish her good luck in whatever she wants to do; and young Mercy has joined the NammaShaale team – she has had good many years of experience in the Montessori environment and is a mother of two children. She is not only good in Hindi, but also at propagating it, among other things. Children are happy with her too. We wish her a great time.

*** A little turtle has joined the NammaShaale pond. Children tell me that his name is Chottu Bheem or something – this sounds suspiciously like a cartoon character, am yet to check. (the turtle looks real)

’nuff said.

‘circular ruins’ vs ‘taare zameen par’ & ‘tinkle’

When I was around 12 or 13 years of age, I read a Tamil translation of  this mind blowingly beautiful short story of Jorge Luis Borges (JLB)- one of the finest literateurs that inhabited the earth, an Argentinian – a remarkable essayist and a fine poet too.

This translated ‘circular ruins’ was Vattach-chidhaivugal – artfully and faithfully done by a remarkable Srilankan Tamil – Dharumu Aroop Sivaramu (AKA Pramil Banuchenran, Bramil et al) – who, in my opinion, is/was one of the finest literateurs too. I remember to have been completely bowled over by the story and recollect that I tried to hunt for more of JLB’s outputs – not with much success though, as my world then was limited to whatever that was available in the local government lending libraries.

Borges is one of my alltime favourites – not so much because of the so called  ‘magic realism’ involved in his writings which is merely a technique, in my humble opinion; he has startling insights into our psyche which are expressed through wry humour and a lots of hallucinatory magic. And, he brings in, his vast scholarship of the world and its affairs to whatever he writes – right down to references to my good ol’ Madras in a short story titled A’l mutasim! His Ficciones is definitely mind bogglingly beautiful in scope and depth… (strongly recommended)

I have been dealing with the erdkinder (adolescents, ‘earth’ children) at NammaShaale for quite a while now and I had been told (gladly!) that, an year back they had worked on one of the works of  Gabriel Garcia Marquez too; so I thought, what the heaven, may be these children would enjoy a reading JLB too – and may be, I should start off with circular ruins!

The children were given a printout of the story each, we did a preliminary discussion about the background of the story – and they were given an assignment based on it – details of which are reproduced here:

Assignment:

This story may make sense only after a couple of readings. Be patient. Coupez la difficulte en quarte; remember?.

  1. List down the words for which you don’t know the meaning – hunt down their meanings and then read the story once again to see if the story makes a better sense. (there would be a spelling as well as a ‘meaning/context’ test based on the story, at some point in the near future)
  2. Paraphrase the whole story in about 10 sentences or 100 words.
  3. Do you think the storyline is plausible? Can it really happen? Is the storyline mildly disturbing? Why or Why not? Discuss.
  4. Can we tell whether we are dreaming or in the real world (what we consider as a ‘wakeful’ state) at any time? Discuss.
  5. Where do you think is the setting of the story? How did you arrive at your guess?
  6. Can you analyse the style of Borges and write ONE paragraph (say 5 sentences) like him? ( No is NOT an acceptable answer)
  7. What are the differences between say, a story in ‘Tinkle’ (assuming you read this magazine) or a ‘Taare Zameen Par’ and ‘circular ruins’? Does it feel like an unfair comparison? Why or Why not? [Notes: Tinkle is a popular Indian kids’ magazine; ‘Taare Zameen Par’ is a popular pulp fiction film]
  8. Have you read ‘Alice in wonderland?’ If yes, what are the parallels between this story and that of Alice’s? If no, go read it – FAST! J (NammaShaale has at least one copy and I have several – feel free to borrow)

    Report to be turned in ON or BEFORE 11th

    scan of a report's title page

    scan of a report's title page

I must say that the children came out with very good analyses and takes on the story – they seemed to have had fun too, in the process. Some of them quickly followed it up with some good doses of Lewis Carrol. Good. Immensely satisfying.

I have reproduced some views of the erdkinder here, verbatim:

‘I don’t know. May be our whole life is a dream till we pass away and then some one else wakes up, maybe you itself’

‘I think it can happen because when I am dreaming it is hard to escape until somebody wakes you up so we could be stuck in a dream with no escape’

‘A Tinkle story is just refreshing to our mind and it doesn’t need any level of analyzing. Most of its content is factual. Similarly ‘Taare Zameer Par’ also has no need of applying our brains to it because all the content is straight forward and the whole focus of the movie is based on melodrama. On the other hand ‘circular runis’ is completely contradictory, firstly it is not a refreshment [entertainment?] to the mind because it makes the reader think about [it] even after reading it. Definitely the content is not straightforward at all.’

‘The biggest differene between them (a Tinkle story and Taare Zameen Par) and this (Circular Ruins) is that they [the former] are meant for TIME PASS and this is not. May be there can be [a] comparison between Tinkle and  Taare Zameen Par because they share a common thing: ‘ENTERTAINERS’ – but it is definitely unfair to have a comparison in between the three.’

Well, we followed up with some more discussions and essentially came to the conclusion that ‘the universe that we perceive and live in is, actually in our head.’ There is an incident that I posted around the theme here: The universe within…

“And if he let off dreaming about you…”

Some links that you may want to whet your appetite with, are furnished below:

30 Days with Borges series – of Jeff Barry – a nice series of thoughtfully put together pages: http://baires.elsur.org/archives/an-index-to-30-days-with-borges/

Borges study center – Borges online: http://www.borges.pitt.edu/helft/helft.php

warli paintings, elementary, truly…

Now, my constant complaint about the attempts of folks to draw Warli-like  murals is that, they almost always get the physics hehind them absolutely incorrect. Even now, this is true of a chic restaurant on Church Street, Bangalore – which continues to display splendidly useless and unreal warli-like paintings/murals.

Sometime towards the end of the previous academic year, my consternation reached such abysmally low & basal levels that, I spent some half-an-hour ranting against bad science in drawings (and films), to the hapless erdkinder who were probably mildly amused…

However, the original aboriginal paintings have no such flaw. The original drawings have their own grammar, form and a nice content,  and they respect science, physiology and symbols – and have a fairly simple graphic vocabulary.

In this context, I got to see a couple of paintings of warli-like stuff, done by an Elementary child in NammaShaale. I was gratified, and all my negativism vanished. They are quite reasonable, though with a different non-canonical colour schema, including background – and they have life.

They are here:

This must be one of the first trials...

This must be one of the first trials...

graduated to the redmud background...

graduated to the redmud background...

one more - the bottom half of the second scan - thanks to smaller bed size of my scanner...

one more - the bottom half of the second scan - thanks to the smaller bed size of my scanner...

More information on warli paintings here: http://india.gov.in/knowindia/warlifolkpaintings.php

(Incidentally, NammaShaale logogram is a warli inspired one)

some startletics on education

(this link thanks to young  ‘Sipayi’)

Whenever I look at the money spent on education and statistics on literacy – I mean the real education – by our Governments, I get woozy and disoriented. So, I want you to have the pleasure of the same!

Please peruse the following site, reflect on the data, if your life permits it. It could be a revelation or it could be a feeling of ‘bah’ and/or so-what’s-new.

http://www.nationmaster.com/cat/edu-education&all=1

In any case, to get a comparative picture, one has to consider the amounts / proportions spent on military expenses, subsidies given to corporates/lobbies, expenditure on healthcare, social welfare schemes etc etc; also, rhe relative sizes and geographical & political exigencies of various nations have to be taken into account. (it goes without saying that all these expenditure heads are happily funded by taxpayers like you and I, if we choose to pay our taxes, that is!)

But, in spite of all the above caveats and generous pinches-of-salt, the statistics do reveal something. What is that?

Answer: We care more for – why Abhishek Bachchan cried during some ‘do’ at Macao. And why Sonam Kapur giggled. And, why Hrithik Roshan sang. And why Aishwarya Rai Bachchan danced. Thanks to India Today webpages, now we know all.

PS: Well, life is not all that bleak, there are so many individuals and organizations and groups which are at work to negate the effects of a Sonam giggling. So don’t you worry.

a russell’s viper, RIP

It so happens that we live in a outskirty area of Bangalore – near a lake, orchards and meadows and fallow fields all around us, but with very few houses near ours and happily so, only a few human beings. So – birds, reptiles and rodents make merry while the stunning greenery forever tries to encroach upon ‘cleared’ lands.

So much for happiness.

With us beginning to occupy the lands that once all happy animals literally roamed free (in fact just 5 years back there were a siginficant number of rabbits in the area, not to talk about the wild boars), the lives of these animals are forever threatened.

Among all these endangered animals, poor snakes are the worst hit. Practically every week some snake or the other gets killed for no reason. Most of these are rat snakes, sometimes I am able to release the rat snakes from a definite doom, but not always. 

Today it was the case of a splendid Russel’s Viper, it must have had a hearty meal before it was mercilessly executed, as the snakes tend to be sluggish in responding after a heavy meal – it looked so majestic, some good 1 metre long. I was late in responding to the commotion in my neighbour’s place, and got to see only the battered and crushed snake, with its life slowly ebbing out. Of course the blood splattered road was cleaned rather religiously with Dettol (whatever) by the killers  even as the snake was consigned to flames.

Our children were disconsolate for quite a while, and we had a tough time trying to explain, but how can one explain away a cold blooded murder?

Our friends in Thekambattu were able to see to the safe-slinking away of a Russell’s Viper at their place. We were not so lucky.

What is poison? What is NOT poison?  If I bite into you (ha, most of you know by now that I am rather rabid, to say the least!) won’t you run to a hospital for some antivenom injection? Everything is poisonous and does some harm if taken in sufficient quantities. I am poisonous. You are poisnous. But we never talk of poisonous human beings. But we talk of poisonous snakes!

What about the constant poison that bleaches our brains clean every day? It also constantly fills our head with toxic thoughts and at best with mighty useless trivia. Like how Shahrukh Khan has named his pet dog. But we never break the monstrous TV sets for how poisonous they are to us. Instead we give then a primary place in our living rooms! Oh sorry, I should not forget that the living rooms are those rooms were people die along with their TV, good riddance too!

I don’t understand the extreme and illogical fear that Snakes generate in us human beings. I think it is some kind of racism, apart from the learned suggestions of erudite scholars of these anti-snake feelings, that they are allegedly part of our brain make-up, ever since homo sapiens sapiens started evolving and all that.

I consider this, the worst case of racism because it follows the same kind of thought process that made the Auschwitz possible;  snakes inhabit the same earth, but they move differently – they slink away; all the other animals in our neighbourhood can walk or at least can take a few baby steps. Snakes cannot, They are different. They look different. They are helpless and relatively in a minority. They are therefore despicable. So, we can get rid of them with impunity!

This anti snake feeling also part of our schizoidal nature. We worship them at one level (naaga devata, naaga raaja and all that) and at all the other levels, KILL them. We worship the mother goddess (many of us exclusively so) and treat our womenfolk, like excreta.

One of these days, in the distant future, some other ‘slightly advanced’ beings may descend on planet earth during their interstellar travels, and may do to us what we routinely do to snakes. We would definiotely look different compared to them, you see…

Sheesh…

But, tell me – what could one do? Would educating the few folks that live near us would help? Dialing up some soul that would remove the snake to safety – such as some feller from some snake helpline or something, everytime a snake dares to slither within our eyesight? Devoting one’s life to saving snakes in distress? Can some Pied Piper take away all the snakes to some good countryside?

… Or Killing the people who kill snakes?

——

Postscript: NammaShaale kids, I hope, would be different. In fact, last year, I had taken a couple of molted snake skins – one that of a rat snake and showed them to the primary children (thanks to the enthusiasm of young Anjana, the adult there) and did a demo of how molting happens. To give credit to the  children, they enthusiastically took part and weren’t afraid of touching the skin at all! In this context I am really happy about our children in NammaShaale. Hope they would become resposnible & caring adults, unlike us.

By the way, it is my experience that, humans generally are afraid of even the snake skin! I have seen guys with their eyeballs bulging out, with froth literally coming out of their mouths, whenever they saw any part of the snake,including a long dead one! And they think I am some kind of a fearless guy, well I don’t want to dispute that! Ha!

some interesting commencement speeches / addresses

Paul Hawken is a famous environmetalist and a passionate ‘speaker’ – his recent ‘commencement address’ at the University of Portland, Oregon (May, 2009) was/is very interesting and makes an impassioned appeal.
‘Healing or Stealing’ – http://www.up.edu/commencement/default.aspx?cid=9456&pid=3144

A pdf document of the same content is available off Paul’s site.

(this news thanks to Valsala Rajan, a NammaShaale grandma)

——

Steve Jobs – the man who continues to redefine popular computing and animation films also gave a ‘commencement address’ in 2005, to the stanford university students.

‘You’ve got to find what you love’ – http://news-service.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html

This is a fine speech too!

——-

The third one in this series is by J K Rowling – this is her ‘commencement address’ at the annual meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association – during June 2008.

‘The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination’ – http://harvardmagazine.com/commencement/the-fringe-benefits-failure-the-importance-imagination

It has the glimmer of a honesty of purpose and candour. Ms Rowling is of course the author of the pulp series – Potty Horror, but the speech is commendable, I agree.

——

Enjoy, happy school reopening on 8th June, more importantly, happy new government at the centre!