Monthly Archives: November 2010

yet another kannada day…

Every year, it has become a practice to celebrate the ‘rajyothsava’ (read: karnataka state formation day; this is usually celebrated throughout the month of November in Karnataka) at nammashaale – generally as ‘kannada day;’ yesterday was that day at the school – with some 1.5 hours of theatricals and much else on display, by the children. All pieces were very nice, well thought out, meticulously organized and richly orchestrated as usual.

Thanks to the persistent goading, guiding, cajoling, coaxing and encouragement from Anita (of course with help from the rest of the staff) – who is the ‘chief’ kannada ‘teacher’ in the school, almost all the children participate in poetry recitations or theatrical productions or dances – during the day. Yes, even the otherwise generally reticent(!) and recalcitrant erdkinder participate.

Well, every year after such a show, I do resolve to myself that I would at least become literate in kannada, ready for the following year’s programme, to appreciate correctly what’s going on, on stage. That I would be able to read in the original, the likes of D R Nagaraj, Masti, Kuvempu, GP Rajarathnam, TP Kailasam, SL Bhyrappa, Girish Karnad et al, et al. As usual, I solemnly resolve to myself, this year too that…

I have read the translated works of these folks, but I know how difficult it is to translate the culture behind the text and linguistic nuances and the cultural richness in to a rather sterile language like english. I have read quite a few of some original pieces of real literature (in Tamil) and their rather sad translated versions (in english), and I know how much goes missing in translations. Frankly I don’t know whether there is any other way…

On the contrary, I read Marcel Proust, Italo Calvino, Albert Camus, Franz Kafka et al, et al – all in ‘translated into english’ versions, and they are delicious and mind boggling.  I think, the magic of the original is perhaps almost faithfully translated by the master translators – may be more on this, in some other post… But I still wonder how great these tomes will be, if read in their native tongues.

Now, for the reportage (finally!):

The celebration started off with a ‘free’ kannada adaptation of that well known Katha Upanishadic verse: sahana bhavatu. The ‘senior’ erdkinder along with Anita and Soujanya recited the verse. Nice. (Was informed that it is the incredible Da Ra Bendre who did the adaptation)

The primary children sang a kannada song (on ganesha, I think), unfortunately I do not remember the title. Sorry.

The elementary children did a fantastic job of the following:

  • A theatrical adaptation of the poem – ‘Kumbhakarnana Niddhe’ (Kumbhakarna’s sleep; author: Srinivasa Udupa) – an imaginatively produced, well acted one, comprising hilarious attempts at waking up Kumbhakarna. The refrain of ‘Kumbha karnanukku Goththe Illa’ is still ringing in my ears. And I continue to chuckle when I think of how Ravana’s mustache suddenly fell off and the unflapped child had to make do and continue to twist an imaginary mustache and deliver the lines… what is drama (or life) without such snafus…
  • Another adaptation ‘Puttu Kittuvina Knicker Jebu’ (In the pocket of the little one – again by the same Srinivasa Udupa) – is about some 23 items carried by a child in its pocket, including a mouse. The elementary children came armed with all these items and were busy showing them off, throughout the recitation. I was half expecting to see a display of a real mouse (the computer peripheral, I mean) but then…
  • There was this rendition of Gadagada gudugudu uralithu goli (roughly: ‘tumbled along, the rolled marble’  — Jeeva Raghunath – english version: – kannada translation: Ashvini Bhatt) by the elementary children – about all the transactions involving the exchange of a marble will all kinds of things. Memorable.

The erdkinder put up a theatrical presentation of a work of Chaucer – adapted by Bagalodi Deveraya as ‘Donney Guddhappana Akaala Marana’ (roughly: ‘The sudden death of rowdy Guddhappa’); this was quite hilarious. The adolescents love for theatre shown through. Really.

The programme ended with the distribution of  lovely (and sticky) besan laddoos from Kanti Sweets (sadly only one per head was dished out; wish I were a clone of Ravana)

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The children and the adults who were involved in organizing the event must really be congratulated for the sumptuous treat. Thanks folks!

A few parents had come for the programme and some of them were seen clicking pics – and these will be shared on the blog, if these parents choose to share them.

(a report on a previous ‘kannada day’ celebration here)

spirituality, education & andre gregory

I don’t normally participate in formal social gatherings and avoid like the plague, the ‘spiritual’ get-togethers – especially the ones that proclaim to teach some particular species of meditation or healing or, oh well, even the nirvana, if you will. There is no major reason for it, apart from perhaps a very personal and an intense sociopathic attitude. Probably I am yet to grow up, and am childishly & endlessly curmudgeonly – these are very valid explanations too, I agree.

But, a few years back, I attended a gathering (of some good souls, many of whom happened to be thoroughbred Gandhians – except one, you know who that was) and there was this oddball young lady who kept looking at me, me with my flowing beard, unkempt hair, hardcore Tamil accent,  tasteless jokes and a sagely pretension – lost in a reverie.  Presently she moves closer to me asks me in a reverential tone, if I have a regular spiritual practice. I ask her – may I know why you want to know; she says – I follow some spiritual practices, so I want to know. I say – sorry, ha ha, but I am a teetotaler. She is slightly embarrassed, but asks again – no no I mean meditation & yoga. I got bugged and asked her – do you think I am a spiritual person just because I fit the physical stereotype? She is taken aback and asks – yeah, but are you one? I merely tell her – I have a beard because I am lazy, that’s all. I shave once in two months, okay? I am not anything special. She gets puzzled (read: deer in the headlight) and moves out of focus; of course I was (and am) arrogant, but, unfortunately, in those days, I did not gladly suffer fools. (these days, I of course do – because I am forever suffering myself)

But, I also feel that one need not carry an identity card (and wave it about incessantly) and loudly claim that one is spiritual and therefore is not interested in mundane thingies. This is because, I believe that, any kind of spiritual or inner-work is very, very intensely personal. I also think that spirituality (or whatever!) can not be seen as a practice separate from the normal day to day living. Just because a person sits in isolation and – desperately & irritatedly tries to focus the thoughts and reigns in a wandering (and wondering) mind, it does not mean anything about that person being spiritual. But if one genuinely struggles, perhaps, this struggle by itself could be spiritual. A show of a stereotypical ‘spirituality’ is worse than committing a veritable crime.

But the spiritual shows go on, some folks learn and move on. Sometimes the veneer of pretension gives way. Some folks even become happy. Most other folks carry on with their put-on cloaks of spirituality, strutting about like virile peacocks… What fun!

I think, spirituality, examined-life and work ethic go together; there need be no dissonance nor any incongruence in  dealing with these ideas. The joyous ordinariness of our everyday lives could itself be spiritual, if only one pauses to mull over it.

This reminds me of an anecdotal recollection of what Andre Gregory wrote to one of his friends:

“You know,”  Andre Gregory writes, “somebody once told me that in France in medieval times, if you wanted to go on some kind of spiritual journey, if you were really lucky you would meet somebody who might have been a teacher (you were never quite sure), and that person would say to you ‘What is it that you wish to do?’ And you would say, “Well, I want to be a shoemaker.’ He’d say, “There’s a wonderful shoemaker in Lyons who may be somebody quite spiritual. I’ll send you to him and you can apprentice with him. The only rule is that you must never, ever discuss anything spiritual with him.”

And so you would go off and work for this person for four or five years as an apprentice, and then you would really get to know how to make shoes, and he would say,  “You know, you really know how to make very good shoes now. There is an opening in a partnership in Dijon with a very special man who makes shoes. I can get you that partnership, but you must never, ever discuss anything spiritual with him. You must concentrate on making very beautiful shoes.”

And so off you’d go to Dijon and work for years, and shortly before his death, the old man would say. “Well, soon this business will be yours. You’ve become a really fine shoemaker. Now, one of these days, someone who is younger than you, may come wanting to learn something spiritual from you. Only tell him about making shoes.”

(excerpt from Chop Wood, Carry Water – pages 123-124)

So much for business, spirituality, spirituality business, business of spirituality, spirituality in business…

IF you did like the take of Andre Gregory, you may like The Legend of Matajuro.

a lesson in history

… or in sex education (oh no!), if you will…

I have the shared the following story many times in the past, with groups of school-going children, fellow ‘teachers’ and sometimes in the random corporate ‘training’ sessions that I have conducted – all lost in the twirling mists of the past.

Anyway, over to the story.

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Many years ago – two children, siblings actually – one a 8 year old, the other 6 years of age were living in a distant suburb of Chennai – this suburb was quite close to the Meenambakkam Airport – and was more like a sparsely populated village in those days. These children went to a happy municipality school close by and were enjoying open spaces, clean air, safe environments… Oh those begone halcyon days of the past…

And now, these children were discussing some matter of earth shaking importance to them… A transcript follows:

Presently 6 dawdles along and asks 8 in a semi hushed tone, with surreptitious glances, just in case…

6: Anna (‘elder brother’ in Tamil), is it possible for males to give birth to children?

8 is stunned and stumped – he thinks for a while, with the burdensome responsibility of an elder brother, who ought to know ‘things,’ weighing down heavily on him. He is given to devouring everything that has anything written on it and so is looked up in awe by 6; 8 is considered as a repository of all knowledge in the neighborhood. And so, 8 is already suffering from a very debilitating performance anxiety, because the question is very technical and he has had no direct experience in the domain. And so, 8 scans his brain, and aha, he has the answer staring at him. He is delighted.

8: Umm, yes Giri, I think it is possible for men to give birth to children.

6: Oh! (with obvious relief) I also guessed as much. It explains a lot of things. I too have seen so many pregnant men, but never thought that they too would have children inside, instead of a huge stomach. I thought they ate too much. Heh!

8: Ummm. Ha ha!

6: But, but, how do you know that? Have you seen men delivering babies?

8: No. But I think it is possible.

6: How come then, we don’t hear of any man delivering babies?

8: Um.., I don’t know whether it is still possible, but am very sure that it has happened in the past. In those days, it must have been possible.

6: Really? So there are books about it??

8: Yes! I have read in our government ‘tamilnadu textbook society’ history books about these facts!

6: Oh really? Tell me, tell me more about that please, please!

8: Yeah. You see, in the Moghul history, this is what happened. Moghuls were the emperors of North India then. Babur started the dynasty. And then, Babur got Humayun, Humayun got Akbar, Akbar got Jahangir and so forth. They are all males you know – and still they ‘got’ their children. If you see their pictures you would understand…

6: Thanks Anna, (with a glowing face) you know everything

8: (with obvious relief, but put on airs) ahem…

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See, in those days 8 did know somewhat about the birds and bees – but not much. But, there were proofs to the contrary in the textbooks. Given the available information and weighing the rather public evidence, I suppose he came to a correct conclusion. What do you think?

I think it took many years for 8 to get out of the trauma of the discovery of ‘delivering’ men (as opposed to delivery boys). But finally he got his deliverance… At least I think so. I know that 8 year old rather intimately. It was actually yours truly.

But the state government texts and NCERT books are not to be blamed alone here… All the new fangled books for IGCSE to IB are full of these kinds of cognitive dissonances and uselessly lame ideas.  When are we ever going to learn from herstories, and itstories?

Anyway, this conversation happened some 40 years back. The fact is that the same state of affairs continues in the textbooks and in ‘education,’ is quite sad. But there is hope, as we will eventually arm our children with two questions (for any given context), that will open doors, provide pointers and make them good meta learners. These questions are very simple yet powerful – if asked, answered and then revised based on current understanding; they are 1) Why and 2) Why not.

I am glad to say that in the nammashaale, the children are encouraged to ask these kinds of questions, repeatedly, nay, incessantly… Hope the parents would pardon us.