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Teaching Equality

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EGALITE
Wikimedia Commons, Coyau, 15 February 2009

Equality as a concept appears simple, but teaching it in the classroom may be as challenging. One may begin by asking the students to make a list of inequalities they perceive at home, school or in the society. These inequalities based on sex, income, caste etc can then be discussed one by one with sensitivity and care.

Complete equality is a myth, like complete freedom. A state may grant it to all its citizens by a rule of law but the society or economy may become the stumbling blocks. Political, social and economic equality are all interdependent. To achieve one without the other is very difficult.

The story of George Orwell’s Animal Farm is a classic fictional story to let the students understand how difficult it may become to establish Equality. In the story the animals of a farm revolt against its owner and establish their own rule. Their primary aim is to practise equality in the farm. They write the slogan, ‘All are Equal’, at every nook and corner of the farm. They are very happy. However their happiness turns is short-lived as the theory of equality is not being practised in the farm. Even the slogan is changed. It becomes “All are equal but some are more equal than others”. I had given one copy of Animal Farm to each student for their extended study.

The students can then be given the case studies of two states, one a communist and the other a democracy, to evaluate the status of equality in each. USSR is a classic case for communism.
It was a state whose entire edifice was based on equality and it crumbled. The examples of democracies can be many but it is advisable to avoid one’s own country. It is always good to begin with the study of a different country. The insights acquired can help understand one’s own country better.

Equality and Freedom are like two estranged sisters. A parent like Democracy finds it difficult to maintain a balance between the two. Very often one grows at the cost of another.

©arun jee, 6.11.20

Wikipedia: what, why & how?

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia & me

“Why don’t you try your hand at Wikipedia”, my teacher asked me in 2009. Wikipedia was 8 years old then. It had already raced ahead of its print counterparts like Encyclopedia Britannica or Americana in terms of volume and popularity. I was only a user of this knowledge platform, unaware that I could also become a contributor. The teacher here was the same under whom I had honed my skill of writing and research and who used to encourage me for such activities from time to time. 

I took the plunge and began my journey as a writer or what Wikipedia calls as editor. My first edit appeared in September 2009. Since then I may not have made a significant contribution in terms of volume (about a thousand edits and 10 articles) but it has been an enriching experience as a researcher, writer and editor.

Today when it has turned 20, it is proper to look at this movement called Wikipedia. It is also important to understand why more and more people from different parts of the world should join it.

What is Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia started by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger on 15 January 2001. The idea was to develop an online encyclopedia according to what Rick Gates had proposed in 1993 and what Richard Stallman had propagated, ‘free-as-in-freedom’, in December 2000.

Wiki was first launched as a feeder project for Wales-founded Nupedia, which was a free online encyclopedia run by only expert editors under some strict guidelines. Nupedia was founded in 2000 but its progress was so slow that only 12 articles were published in a period of one year. So a need was felt to start a project that could accelerate the pace of writing for Nupedia. It was in this context that Wikipedia came into being. Wiki is a Hawaiian word which means “to hurry, fast, quick” The growth of Wikipedia was so fast that it soon overtook its predecessor and emerged as a brand in itself. It had opened the floodgates for the community to write, edit, create.

Wikipedia became a hit soon after its launch in 2001 and it became the most important knowledge resource in the world, being used by students, journalists, and even academicians in due course. Now when it has turned 20 it has become a kind of phenomenon. According to an article published by BBC on 15 January 2021 (interestingly the source is Wikipedia itself) it has 56 million articles, 3 billion edits, 1.7 billion unique visitors a month, available in 316 languages. Another recent article published in The Guardian mentions, “It is the 13th most popular website on the internet, according to Amazon’s monitoring site, Alexa Internet, and the only one in the top 50 to be run on an entirely non-commercial basis”. 

In 2001 when Wikipedia was started, it was being supported by a non-profit organisation named Bomis. Jimmy Wales was one of the founders of Bomis. Since 2003 its owner is an organisation called Wikimedia Foundation that runs entirely on charity. Each year Wikimedia Foundation makes an appeal to its readers to donate. As soon as it receives the target money for the year, it closes its doors for donations. 

Initially Wikipedia was its only project but now there are eleven such projects being supported by Wikimedia Foundation: Wiktionary for words, Wikimedia Commons for media files, Wikibooks, Wikiquote, Wikisource, Wikiversity, Wikispecies, Wikivoyage, Wikinews, Wikidata & Wikipedia. The main goal of all these projects is to disseminate human knowledge by following the free content model.

Controversies

Since its inception Wikipedia has had its fair share of controversies. Involving the community for writing has been its major strength and the same has proved to be its major weakness on a number of occasions. Alex Hern, The Guardian’s UK Technology editor writes that when it was celebrating its fifth anniversary, in 2006, it became the subject of mockery in the mainstream press for its article on David Beckham. The article said, “David Beckham was a Chinese goalkeeper in the 18th century”. It became a “comedy of errors”. Also a case of vandalism that was fixed in 11 minutes. The article on David Beckham is one of the many that are ‘semi-protected’. The semi-protected articles can be edited only by registered users on Wikipedia. A list of Wikipedia controversies is available on its own site, here.

Reliability and accuracy

Despite the odds Wikipedia has played a stellar role in knowledge creation or its equitable distribution in the world. In 2005 a comparison was made by scholars between Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia by collecting 40 articles on Science from each. An average of three errors were found in Britannica and four in Wikipedia, a comparable level of accuracy.

Katherine Mehar, the Executive Director of Wikimedia Foundation, mentions that “a YouGov poll from 2014 found Wikipedia to be more trusted in the UK than BBC.” She is not pleased with this scenario though. She says, “If there is a trust deficit in the sources that we rely on then ultimately that deficit will catch up with us as well”. 

YouTube’s CEO Susan Wojcicki “announced recently that the video site will henceforth will use excerpts from Wikipedia to counteract the videos promoting conspiracy theories.” What an irony! YouTube, one of the giants in the corporate world will depend on a volunteer-run platform like Wikipedia to fact check the information.

Need for diversity

Wikipedia has several outstanding achievements to its credit over a period of 20 years. However it is facing a major challenge even today. Its community is very far from being diverse. A recent Wikimedia Foundation survey has revealed that “about 91% of its editors are male and 77% are white. As of late 2019, only 18% of the biographies are about women. Far fewer than that are about non-whites.” Though Wikipedia’s English edition has more than 31000 editors, 11 other language editions have just over a 1000. Half of the language editions have less than 10. 

All these figures reflect how there is a dire need for diversity in the Wikipedia community. Editors are required for many languages other than English. A better representation is expected from the Asian and African countries. The scenario in the Indian languages is not that great. Among the Indian languages, by the way, Oriya and Punjabi are doing relatively better than Hindi. 

It is not that the policy makers of Wikimedia Foundation are unaware of this. They are aware and they are taking the initiatives to fix the issue. But unless the users wake up to the call to join the movement, the improvement is not possible.

Joining the community of Wikipedia has several benefits that are personal. One gets the opportunity to write, edit, create, collaborate etc. One also acquires the skills of research and critical thinking. But beyond all this one also gets the opportunity to work for a cause that is for humanity. A cause for the knowledge that is free and is intended to be equitable.

And finally why just be a user? Why not become a contributor and try to make it better and better, with whatever one can.

A few tips about editing

Anyone can write for Wikipedia in any major language of the world, by following the guidelines available on its site. One may make edits of spelling, grammar or update the facts in the existing articles. One may also create a new article. But it is advisable to begin by editing the existing ones first. While adding the contents one must bear in mind that the contents are reliable and verifiable. Suitable references are required to support these contents. Before deciding to create an article on a subject one should also make sure that the subject is notable and it has received enough coverage in books, media etc. Otherwise the proposal for the new article may not be accepted. Biographies of living persons are not accepted easily. But Wikipedia seems biased in favour of institutions.

Humour in the classroom

File:The Ladies' home journal (1948) (14764633911).jpg
Courtesy: The Ladies’ home journal (1948)

You might all wonder who is this guy and what is he up to? Is he here to teach and preach on Humour in the Classroom or is he going to create some humour in this classroom too? Let me assure you that I shall keep my own teaching or even preaching to the minimum. As far as the humour in this classroom is concerned? No. That is not the aim of this post. 

My aim is to reveal how humour can be created in the classroom with the help of two videos: one from a movie and the other of a well-known teacher. I would also share the insights of some practising teachers in addition to my own. 

A classroom is a mini world where humour exists in the form of students’ smiles, giggles, laughter, pranks etc. A lot of these happen in the absence of the teacher. Rather the teacher may himself be the subject of such humour, without his being aware of that. But we are not going to discuss them here. We’ll reserve them for some other day. Our focus today is on the teacher driven humour in the classroom. The one that is in alignment with the objectives of learning. And for which the teacher determines the distance, volume and direction. 

Two classrooms: a virtual & a real

Let’s begin the discussion with a video from a popular Hindi movie by Amir Khan. Enjoy watching:

Courtesy: T-Series

This video has a classroom scene from the movie, Taare Zameen Par, in which the teacher, Amir Khan, makes a sudden appearance as a clown with all his costume and other props. The objectives of the teacher here are to introduce himself to the students (8-10 year old) of the class, engage with them and finally prepare them to learn his subject, that is Painting. He achieves these objectives successfully by his singing, dancing, acting, costume as well as by the timing and manner of his appearance. The key to this entire show, however, lies in the humor employed by the teacher in the classroom.

What is the source of humour in Amir’s classroom? How is he able to create humour? My immediate answer is: Incongruity, thou art the source of humour! Amir creates humour through various incongruous situations in the classroom.

A typical teacher is expected to dress formally in the classroom. Amir arrives here as a clown. A teacher is expected to be serious in the class like the Principal in his other movie, Three Idiots. But here he dances and romps around. His comparing a tree with a person, his descriptions of the sun, rain or the stars or even his tongue-twisters are the other examples of incongruities/oddities in the video. The students had not seen such a scene earlier in the class. They are amused to see a teacher in this new avatar. And the result is an immediate rapport between the teacher and the taught.

I agree that a classroom in a movie cannot be compared with that in real life. The primary aim of a movie is to entertain, and not to teach or educate. A real classroom, however, is meant for learning. The main aim of a teacher there is to help the students learn. Despite the differences humour may be common to both. In the former humour can add to the entertainment, while in the latter it can aid learning.

Let’s now enter a real classroom of a super teacher, Dr V S Ravindran, who by profession is a child psychologist. But I would like to cite him here as a teacher who is effective in reaching out to his students. And the key to his skill lies in humour. Dr Ravindran is a living example of humour in the classroom. He can make a boring topic like Discipline in today’s schools lively and enjoyable. Besides learning, the audience gets peals of laughter as a bonus. I am sharing a video below in which he is speaking to the educators about the attraction between boys and girls. Listen to him carefully and enjoy:

Courtesy: DR V S Ravindran, ICTRC

In the video Dr Ravindran begins with a typical query from a teacher, which is followed by his answer:

Teacher: Boys and girls having attraction towards each other. हमको क्या करना चाहिए? (What should we do?)

Dr Ravindran: हमको कुछ नहीं करना चाहिए। जो करना है, वो दोनों करेंगे। (We should not do anything. Whatever has to be done, will be done the boy and the girl.)

His answer to the query is the gem of a trigger for laughter with which he sets the tone for his presentation right in the beginning. Dr Ravindran uses such triggers one after the other in his presentations. And as soon as the educators open their mouths for laughter, he puts the chunks of learning for them to swallow and digest. A number of such videos by Dr Ravindran are available on YouTube. One may observe his techniques like wordplay, ambiguity, punchlines, playacting, variations of tone etc.

Personally I have had the privilege of attending some of Dr Ravindran’s lectures. I did try to integrate some of his techniques in my classroom. I learned to use humour also from another popular counselor based in Delhi named Mr Jitin Chawla. His presentations are again a big hit among the students in schools. In a recent conversation he shared with me that earlier he used to focus merely on delivering the contents in his lectures. But when he observed the speeches of Dr Ravindran he realised the need to infuse humour in them.

The two videos shared above are only the samples to reveal how humour can be created in the classroom. But they are not the final words on the topic. This is also not to suggest that a teacher should always generate laughter and mirth in the class. One may take some ideas from these and devise one’s own method and style to make the process of learning enjoyable for the students.

What do the teachers say?

I sent a questionnaire to a select group of teachers on this topic. One of them objected to the use of humour saying, “Humour in the classroom? O my God! How can you even think of that?”. According to him, a classroom is a solemn place, which should be miles away from humour. However the rest of them concurred that humour should be used as a tool in the process of teaching-learning.

I am sharing below some of the inputs/anecdotes that I received in response to my questions:

Dr Tarun Kumar, Prof & HOD of Hindi at Patna University says, 

“कक्षा में हास्य का होना जरूरी है पर ये विषय से सहज-स्वाभाविक रूप से जुड़ा हुआ हो, उसे सुबोध-सुगम बनाने वाला, अलग से comic relief के लिए नहीं। अनायास लगना चाहिए, सायास-आरोपित नहीं”

Mr Chetan Joshi, an acclaimed flautist and teacher of Hindustani classical music, says that when he introduces a Raga like गोरख कल्याण to his students he begins by saying,

“जिस तरह गुलाबजामुन में न तो गुलाब है ना जामुन, कश्मीरीमिर्च में भी न कश्मीर है न मिर्च उसी तरह राग गोरखकल्याण में न तो गोरख है न ही कल्याण”

Ms Gayatri Morris, Vice Principal, Global India International School Ahmedabad, insists that just playing with words is not enough. It should be used at the right moment and in the right manner. She shares an anecdote in this regard: 

“Once I happened to enter the classroom and found my students in a boisterous mood as they had been just told about the upcoming educational tour. I immediately wrote on the blackboard: Thank you for being quiet! I heard a few chuckles in response and I immediately had their attention.” 

Mr Nishesh Kumar Sinha, a well-known Educationist from Ahmedabad adds, “Humour eases the learning process and helps the students learn things in a better way”.

According to Mr Mrityunjay Kumar, a technocrat and educationist from Hyderabad, “One should understand the fine balance between being humourous and being insensitive/disrespectful. If the class hasn’t been groomed to use humour as a tool, it can backfire and reduce the dignity of the classroom, and sometimes the class teachers”

Ms Manju Arif, Principal, DPS North Bengaluru writes, “While using Humour the teacher has to be mindful of the language, context and sentiments of the stakeholders.”

Ms Meenakshi Choudhary, a seasoned Biology teacher, gives an example of how she tells the students that the heart has nothing to with feelings. It doesn’t fall or rise in love. Feelings are, in fact, associated with brain. And the poor organ, heart, is blamed for what the brain does.

To sum up

There is no denying the fact that humour is a useful tool in the classroom. If handled carefully it can do wonders!  Some teachers are gifted with this skill while others like me may take longer to cultivate it. But acquisition of the skill is not that difficult. One doesn’t have to become a stand up comedian for that. A bit of experience and planning should be enough. Seriously.

Divasvapna: episode 1

Photo credit: Arun Jee
Source: Divasvapna

Gijubhai’s Divasvapna is the story of a teacher who succeeds in making innovative experiments in the classroom. In the true spirit of the book’s title the teacher daydreams of igniting a fire for learning in the students. And he works hard to turn the dream into reality. His one year journey in the classroom was not a cakewalk though.

First day when he entered the class, he was full of energy and enthusiasm. He had been allotted class IV by the headmaster. The teacher had come prepared with the activities for the day. He knew the students were used to a lot of noise and disorder in the school. He should give them the practice of remaining silent. Let them savour the joy of silence. His first activity, thus, was a game of silence.

As he entered the class, he explained everything about the game. That the game would begin with the teacher’s uttering the words, Om Shanti. After that everyone in the class would become silent. All the doors, windows would be closed. The classroom would be dark. There would be a complete silence in the class. The teacher had expected that the students would get a new experience from the game. They would get an opportunity to listen to the sounds outside.

But the students had some other plans. Why would they listen to the instructions of a new teacher, specially the one who was polite and soft? They were used to loud instructions, corporal punishments etc. None of them paid attention to him. Instead they became noisy and mischievous. Some of them made catcalls, others were clapping, laughing, repeating the words, ‘Om shanti’ in a tone of mockery. The teacher was completely at a loss. He couldn’t do what other teachers or even the headmaster expected him to do, that is give corporal punishment to the students. It would have been against the very idea of education for which he had joined the school.

Unable to understand what to do next the teacher gave them the day off from the school, much before the school was to get over. When the headmaster came to know about this, he was angry. He reprimanded the teacher and asked him to stop making such experiments in the school.

The teacher had failed on the very first day in the class. He was very disappointed.

What should the teacher do the next day? Should he use the same game, the same strategy or he should make some changes? Should be be harsh with the students, as suggested by the headmaster and the other teachers? Let’s know about all these in the next episode.

©arunjee

e e cummings translated in Hindi

1

कौन जाने चाँद 

कौन जाने चाँद 

एक विमान हो, 

जो खूबसूरत लोगों से भरे आसमान के

एक सुन्दर से शहर से आये

तुम्हें और हमें बिठाकर ले जाए

फिर क्या 

हम उड़ जाएं 

ऊपर

मंदिर, मस्जिद, गिरिजा घरों की अट्टालिकाओं

सितारों और घटाओं

से भी ऊपर, और ऊपर

उड़कर हम पहुंच जाएं

उस नैसर्गिक शहर में

जहां पहले कभी कोई नहीं गया

जहां नित नूतन वसन्त हो खिला 

जहां परस्पर प्रेम का हो सिलसिला

जहां फूलों को भी कोई न हो गिला

_______________________

ई ई कमिंग्स की कविता:

who knows if the moon’s

who knows if the moon’s

a balloon, coming out of a keen city

In the sky-filled with pretty people?

(and if you and i should

get into it, if they should take you into their balloon,

why then

we’d go up higher with all the pretty people

than houses and steeples and clouds:

go sailing

away and away sailing into a keen city 

which nobody’s ever visited, where

always

      It’s

          Spring) and everyone’s

In love and flowers pick themselves

 

2

सुनता रहे दिल मेरा

सुनता रहे दिल मेरा 

पक्षियों का कलरव सदा

उनके गान से बड़ा नहीं कोई ज्ञान

इनमें जीवन का है रहस्य छुपा

वृद्ध हो जाएंगे हम इनको सुने बिना

भूखों, प्यासों, निडर के बीच

मै विचरण करूं

कोमल हृदय में निवास करूं

रविवार के दिन भी गलती करूं

क्योंकि जो सही है वो युवा नहीं

मैं कुछ भी उपयोगी न करूं

सच से भी बढ़कर तुम्हें प्रेम करूं

बस एक मुस्कान से 

आसमान को जीत लूँ 

———————–

ई ई कमिंग्स की कविता:

may my heart always be open to little

may my heart always be open to little

birds who are the secret of living

whatever they sing is better than to know

and if men should not hear them men are

   old

may my mind stroll about the hungry

and fearless and thirsty and supple

and even if it’s sunday may i be wrong

for whenever men are right they are not

   young

and may myself do nothing usefully

and love yourself so more than truly

there’s never been such a fool who

  could fail

pulling all the sky over him with one smile

 

Demystifying Poetry

Art work credit: Sandeep

Why poetry

I too dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.
Reading it, however,
with a perfect contemp for it,
one discovers in it after all,
a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise…..

This is an extract from a poem on Poetry by Marianne Moore. She begins with the disclaimer ‘I too dislike it’. Her aim is to take the readers into confidence at the outset. And then to tell them how one gets something genuine in poetry, how reading a poem can be exciting and joyful.

This ‘genuine’ that Moore refers to is the truth of life a poet seeks to express in a poem. The poet is the articulate and the reader is the inarticulate part of that process. However the joy factor is not less important than the ‘genuine’ in Poetry.

Moore knew that poetry is difficult to understand. It is concentrated, full of associations and images. It is also subject to interpretations. Still she encourages the readers to enter the difficult terrain of poetry. She assures them that despite the difficulties, reading poetry can be rewarding. The complete poem is available here.

Why to evaluate

One should begin reading poetry for enjoyment, and not for evaluation. Acquiring the tools of evaluation at the initial stage is like putting the cart before the horse. But it is also true that the process of evaluation begins with the choice of our first poem. Otherwise we wouldn’t say that we like this poem more than that. Or X poet is my favourite. Our choices also change with age. In childhood we like nursery rhymes more but as we grow older we prefer poems with deeper meanings. 

It is true that too much analysis could lead to a loss of enjoyment. But some knowledge about the important aspects of poetry can surely help us understand and enjoy it better. A good way to acquire the knowledge and a critical sense would be to read poetry for enjoyment and to reflect while one reads. One can pick up the tools for evaluation as one delves deeper.

Content & Form

What is the poet trying to convey and how does he do that? These are the two questions that can reveal the two important aspects of Poetry: Content and Form. Content refers to the world view or the theme of a poem. And its types are as many as the variety of life itself. Still content of poetry can broadly be classified into themes like Doubt & Faith, Life & Death, Love, Grief, Nature, Society etc. Form is the outer appearance of the poem that includes rhythm, rhyme, poetic devices, structure, length etc. 

 In an essay on The Criticism of Poetry, James Reeves says ‘content determines form and form modifies content’. According to him both are inseparable in a poem. While composing a poem a poet doesn’t work on the content first and then on the form or vice versa. Both happen simultaneously. Reeves cites the example of Alexander Pope, the most celebrated poet of the 18th century, to reveal how the rigidity of form puts restrictions on the content of Pope’s poetry. Heroic Couplet was Pope’s favourite and probably it was required for the content that he sought to create. He was ‘laying down the laws of thought and conduct in the polite society of his time. In one of his well known poems, An Essay on Criticism, Pope uses the following Heroic couplet to express:

Good nature and good sense must ever join;
To err is human, to forgive, divine.

Fifty years after Pope’s death Wordsworth and Coleridge set new norms for a new age called Romantic Age of English Poetry. This was also the period of French Revolution when all over Europe the ideas of Freedom and Equality were taking shape. Wordsworth and Coleridge collaborated to produce a manifesto for this new school of Poetry through their book of poems called Lyrical Ballads. Their range of content had widened and also the range of their form. James Reeves says, ‘The novel ideas which he (Wordsworth) had to express in his poems could not be expressed in stereotyped forms. Nature was an integral part of Wordsworth’s poetry. The following lines have been taken from his two different poems:

Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.
The Tables Turned

I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.
The Solitary Reaper

Great poets are known for the experiments they make both with content and form. One of the leading American poets of twentieth century, E E Cummings, is known for several experiments in Poetry. An extract from his poem, [as freedom is a breakfastfood], below reveals how he did away with punctuation marks in his poems:

as freedom is a breakfastfood
or truth can live with right and wrong
or molehills are from mountains made
— long enough and just so long
will being pay the rent of seem
and genius please the talentgang
and water most encourage flame

Cummings is known also for many of his shape poems.

In modern Hindi poetry Suryakant Tripathy Nirala is well-known for his experiments. His poems, भिक्षुक or तोड़ती पत्थर are pathbreaking both in terms of content and form. He must be the first to have chosen a beggar or a woman worker as the subject of his beautiful poems, creating a new convention of using the deprived section of the society as the theme of his poems. He was also the pioneer of free verse in Hindi poetry. 

वह आता–

दो टूक कलेजे को करता, पछताता

पथ पर आता।

          भिक्षुक

वह तोड़ती पत्थर

देखा मैंने उसे इलाहाबाद के पथ पर

          वह तोड़ती पत्थर

Nirala is followed by several other contemporary poets like Muktibodh, Nagarjun, Kedarnath Singh, Alok Dhanwa in Hindi poetry who broke the existing boundaries of content and form. 

Poetry & civilization

A civilization is measured by the greatness of the poets associated with that. Elizabethan period in England, the periods of Guptas, Harsha, Akbar in India or Tang dynasty in China are known for the poets and other artists who were active during those times. Poetry used to be an essential part of social life during Tang dynasty. In order to be eligible for their civil services exams it was necessary for the candidates to be the masters of Poetry.

Great poems are those that stand the test of time. People don’t get tired of reading them even after hundreds or thousands of years. The poems of Kalidasa, Tulsidas, Kabir, Rahim, Subramaniam Bharti in Indian literature or those of Homer, Virgil, Chaucer or Shakespeare in European literatures and several others in Chinese, Japanese, Persian, Arabic have entertained and inspired the mankind for years together. They will continue to do so in the years to come.

Poets are gods

A contemporary Indian poet, Ashok Bajpei, says in a recent interview that poets are gods. Their work is to create works of art for posterity. God is known to be the greatest Creator. Bajpei says that through this process of creation the poets become one with god. One can certainly perceive a tone of arrogance in his statement.

But a similar sentiment can be observed in the following lines of a Shakespearean sonnet:

Not marble nor gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme
Sonnet no 55

The sonnet is available here.

Shakespeare composed this sonnet to immortalise his love for a friend. He says that war, death, or time can destroy the magnificent monuments built in the memory of princes, kings but nothing can erase the words that I create to celebrate my love. They will remain forever. He was so prophetic. Even after five hundred years, I and a large number of English teachers were teaching this poem in CBSE schools until recently, thousands of kilometers away from the place of Shakespeare’s birth.

A stanza from Longfellow’s A Psalm of Life is also relevant in this context:

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time

You can read the complete poem here:

Great poets do leave their footprints on the sands of time. The average ones just wither away.

©arunjee, 23.11.20

Pottery on the fringe

Most students living in the school hostels would go home during the Diwali holidays. But it was customary for the small group that stayed back to visit the house of Nazeeb Khan, a potter in village Gilpatti near Bathinda, Punjab. The purpose was not just to buy earthen diyas, but also to behold the process of making the age-old source of light. 

A group of twelve students and three teachers set out on a short expedition on foot on 11th November 2014, the day of Diwali. Early morning they walked for two kilometers to meet Nazeeb, who received them warmly outside the village and escorted them to his house. In the past it was inconceivable that a potter would be free from work on a Diwali day. Nazeeb and his family members would start making diyas several weeks before in those days. Still they could not fulfill the demand of the customers.  Things are different now. Very few people are interested in earthen diyas these days. 

Nazeeb Khan giving shape to a diya. Photo credit: arun jee

There was excitement among the students. They had come to observe Nazeeb making diyas and also to try their hand at pottery. It may appear to be simple, but a small diya has to go through various complex processes — selecting the appropriate clay for kneading, giving shape on the running chak to baking — before it reaches the hands of its user. Nazeeb is adept at these skills. He did not go to a school to acquire this art. It has come to him naturally by watching his elders. The students enjoyed watching Nazeeb’s fingers negotiating with clay dough on the moving chak. They were awed by the way he was able to mould the clay into the shape and size of his choice with a certain fluidity in his movements. Some of them even tried their hand at this creative process, but in vain. Little did they realise that what they were trying to do in one attempt has taken years for Nazeeb to master.

Nazeeb’s ancestors were potters who had come to Gilpatti some 300 hundred years back in search of livelihood. Since then the coming generations have been engaged in this profession. The difference between then and now is that pottery was the only source of income for his ancestors, but for Nazeeb and his generation it is just a part time job.

Fifty years ago when the majority of people still used earthen pots and utensils for their daily use, the potters were in great demand. They had to work constantly to meet the requirements of the community in the village. The times have changed now. The earthenware have now been replaced by the metal ones in every household, those of steel the most common. These pots (earthen) have just remained the works of art which may fetch higher prices in some high end markets, if recognized by the connoisseurs. But it is no longer a regular source of income for them. Nazeeb and his community wait anxiously for the season of Deepawali when he and his family would make use of their skill to earn as much as possible. In the remaining part of the year Nazeeb earns his livelihood as a barber. His elder brother, Anwar, works as a conductor in a bus. His uncle drives a horse cart.

The descendants of Nazeeb’s great great grandfather have expanded and have branched out. Most of these families live in close proximity with one another in a kind of ghetto but pottery isn’t a full time profession for any. Just as they live on the northern end of the village, their art and profession of pottery is also on the fringe.

©arun jee

    

Teaching Justice

File:Iustitia van Heemskerck.png
Courtesy: Wikimedia commons

Justice is no less challenging to teach in the classroom.

An interesting way to begin is to have a role play of the dialogue that Socrates had had with a group of young people on Justice. They ask him, Why should we be just when people who tell lies, twist rules, avoid paying taxes are more successful than those who are just? Socrates replies that if everyone violates rules and becomes unjust, then no-one would remain secured in the society. He explains further that it is in the long-term interest of everyone to follow the rules of Justice.

This conversation between Socrates and the young people must have taken place 2500 years. But their question and his answer for Justice remain valid even today.

Justice is to deliver to each citizen his due. Due and deliver are the key words here. What is due to the citizens from a state should be clearly defined. It should be known to one and all. And it is for this purpose that a constitution is framed by a state. The constitution is meant to spell out the dues/rights of the citizens. However mere granting of the rights is not enough. An efficient system is required to deliver these rights to the citizens.

In the ancient days when monarchy was in vogue there were several kings known for their efficient delivery system of justice. But the rights of the people were limited. In the modern times when political systems are more oriented towards the people, rights of the people have increased and so have the scope for justice.

I have heard some elderly people saying that the British system of justice was better for India. Probably they mean that their system of delivering justice was more efficient. But they tend to forget that the rights of the citizens were limited at that time.

©arun jee, 11.11.20

Teaching Freedom

Courtesy: Wikimedia foundation, Creative commons attribution, Toby Hudson

Teaching an abstract idea is always daunting in a classroom. I have experienced this year after year. Two years back something similar happened when I took the assignment to teach Political theory to the students of Grade XI. The topic was Freedom.

My first question in the classroom was What is freedom? And the students were tongue-tied. The expression on their faces said — if not asked, I know; but if asked, I know not.

In order to break the ice, I turned to a few questions related to their life. Do they have complete freedom at home to eat whenever they like? And if not, then what restricts that freedom. The answers were the availability of the foods or the schedules of time etc. Similarly I asked if they have the freedom to do what they like in the school. Could they move around the corridors, playgrounds according to their choice? If not, then why not?

Soon the concept of freedom started sinking in their minds. The ice had been broken. We then started discussing how absolute freedom is a myth, what were the restrictions on freedom and why some of these were necessary.

Interestingly many grey areas emerged for intense debate. The students got polarised on topics like the freedom of choosing the subjects for study or the parents’ role in limiting such choices. We also discussed various types of restrictions put by family, friends, society, nation etc.

The discussion got intense when the question came to the freedom of the boys and girls in choosing their partners, particularly in an Indian setting. We discussed how the degree of this freedom is increasing and the so called ‘love-marriages’ are not so uncommon these days. By now the students had become partners in learning of this concept called Freedom.

My own horizon broadened while exploring the concept in books like Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom and John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography.

In the following days I had to teach the concepts like Equality, Social Justice which were as abstract and challenging.

©arun jee, 29.10.20

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