Total Pageviews

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Education in Rural india: Can we do something about it?

A visit to USA never ceases to surprise me every time I happen to be here. Not that, I am an ardent fan of American culture nor I approve of many things going on here. However, a few things do impact me and I do not fail notice the difference.
During my current visit during Feb, 2010 I happened to meet and interact with a few so-called ’Desi’ kids in the age group of 6 to 8 and I was pleasantly surprised at a few things about them.
First of all, the level of their exposure to knowledge and information was something incredible. A seven year boy is able to log on to internet, search files and information, find websites that interest them, play computer games downloading them from internet, watch base-ball, football matches and comment on the games and the players, visit science museums and comment on functioning of heart, recall names of comic characters in comics and stories, and what not.
Secondly, it is about their attitude and self-confidence. They treat elders as their equals – rather they raise themselves in their image about themselves in the presence of elders and talk and move with elders as if they are equal to their elders; this is a typical American way of life.
They were very inquisitive, persevering in trying to get what they wish to have, had more than tentative view of what they wished to be when they grow old, they could be politely firm about many things, expressed themselves freely about what they thought on many issues, stayed silent when elders were trying to do something – even cooperating in completion of any task the elders were indulged in and many things more.
I was really impressed by their communication skills, clarity of thoughts, ability to explain things, events and happenings, people, and even their thoughts and experiences.
They are more rounded up in their growth in initial years, taking interest in a host of extra-curricular activities. They take interest in a variety of physical activities, hands-on skills, hobbies, out-door sports and events and the likes. It is even more surprising that their parents seem to be patiently able to help them learn and grow in their knowledge and information. I was taken aback once when one of my relative parents opened his car engine bonnet and explained to his four year old son, how a car engine functioned. The child appeared to greatly appreciate how a car worked evidenced by his manner of questioning his father.
More than anything else, I found many parents bringing up their children in a true spiritual path, helping their children develop qualities like acceptance, patience, understanding, tolerance, prayer, living with nature and appreciating nature, not wasting essentials, respect to elders and ancestors, family bondage and the likes.
I do not know whether I am exaggerating the situation, but this was the impression I gained.
Eventually, a couple of days ago, I met a family from Chennai who had come to USA on a visit during vacation and whose little girl was just seven. When I met the little girl, I could clearly discern the quality of her education by her knowledge, communication, attitude and interests. Clearly, she was a city bred girl with superior facilities and opportunities of learning.
I am assuming that the kind of children whom I met belonged to fairly well-educated, upper middle class, and well-to-do parents living in more sophisticated societies with far superior living standards and quality of life. So I cannot rightly summarize this across the board about all children.
But the point I was pondering about: Are these children born superior? Are they born genius?
Here I should remind myself that the children whom I met in America were no different from other children as far as their childish tendencies are concerned. They were children anyway and behave that way – but with a difference.
I have always noticed the difference when I have spoken to children from rural and semi-urban areas. Typically many children whom I met in rural areas were shy, lack vision, had poor communication, had less exposure to information, and had limited ambitions and aspirations. They were also practical, smart, intelligent, and had lot of practical wisdom. My interactions with parents were more discouraging and disgusting.
In fact, I chose a rural and semi-urban area for my retired living to find out whether I could do something for those less privileged children and youth so that at least a few of them may be brought on par with or at least challenge, the city or urban centre bred boys and girls.
I am really not familiar what methodology, tools and aids they use in most primary schools in rural and semi-urban areas. Yes, I am currently groping in darkness about what I can do and have been only evolving so far in my quest to do something worthwhile in a rural area and I am willing to put in resources if I get meaningful ideas from well-intentioned people. Can someone advise me?

A Short Story: KPL 20/20

Killiyoor Premier League: A Cricket Match
It was summer time. Our annual exams just got over when the Third Version of IPL 20/20- Indian Premier League Cricket - matches had an exciting close. We missed watching most of the initial matches. After cajoling our parents, we were allowed to watch the semifinals and finals matches. Finals were an exciting fight between two great titans – Tendulkar and Dhoni. When Chennai Super Kings led by Dhoni won the finals, we jumped to the roof. We had bet among our friends for the finalist and I ended up losing three rupees entertaining my comrades with masal vadas. Sachin was in great form and I was so sure he would win. I didn’t know why he let me down.
I stayed in Killiyoor and ours was a small rural town. Ours was a narrow street where century old houses stood majestically in multi colors. Many of them wouldn’t have seen painting for at least a few decades. Though a small town, people had large hearts. We were all very friendly with each other, though occasionally we had punched each other’s nose when it came to burning real issues like ‘Who was a Superstar – Ajith or Vijay?’ Very rarely elders interfered with youngsters. Our fights were usually settled with exchange of some ‘kit-kats’.
My name is Venky alias Venkatakrishnan and I was twelve and Kicha alias Krishnaswamy who was younger to me by two years was my dear friend.
“Why don’t we play a cricket match?” Kicha asked me one fine morning pulling me up from my bed. He ought to have lost his sleep over this previous night.
I couldn’t wait to brush and wash. We ran out. We had some fine players in our street team - our talents matching only with the likes of Suresh Raina and Virendra Shewak. I already started dreaming about the match.
“But we are only seven people – how can we form a team, yaar?” asked Kicha
We immediately called a general body meeting of all the little ones. Kicha’s house was bigger than others. Our meeting went on acrimoniously even while Kicha’s grandmother ‘Sundari Patti’ distributed sundal to all. The only other interruption came from his grandfather when he was powdering betel nut in a hand-held stone-grinder with loud thuds and when he intervened to tell us how earlier days’ five day test matches were superior and how Chandu Borde those days used to stand at the crease not-out even three full days while his score wouldn’t have crossed even 50.
“Hey, Vasudev and Harini are reaching here next week for the vacations. We can include them in our team.” This was Subbu. They were his cousins.
“You fool! Harini is a girl yaar …… we can’t take girls in our team” said Sai. Immediately a long list of all those who were expected to visit our village during summer vacation was drawn and probable team members were considered. We spent next several hours selecting team, even as we devoured tasty murukku, kadalai and other snacks sent by Sundari Patti!
We narrowed down on fourteen names to be included in the team. We were still falling short of people.
“I can bring Sailesh and Gopu,” I told, bringing some hope to our discussions. They were my seniors in the school. “But they will come on some conditions” I paused adding suspense.
“They will play only if we get them onion rava masala dosa from Murugan Idli shop.” I said. They were cricket giants in our school and also notable gourmets.
Sundari patti shouted from the kitchen, “Oh Children! I would provide puliodarai for everyone that day………… your food problem is solved.” Sundari patti was in irresistible mood.
“I know Sailesh and Gopu stay far away. My father has a TVS 50. He will bring them to the play ground. Don’t worry!” assured Ramki.
With suggestions coming from different corners, we somehow cobbled up twenty members. The next battle began for the captainship of the teams.
Kicha wanted to be captain for one of the teams and insisted on his right to choose his team. Others did not agree and there was a fight. Situation got flared up and suddenly Kicha walked out of the meeting.
Gone! His participation was important. We weren’t ready to lose three of his stooges and patronage of Sundari patti. Some of us ran behind him and virtually prostrated. After much persuasion from me, he finally settled for vice-captainship on the condition that he would be given the opening for batting and allowed to choose at least four of his team players.
Many promises were given and many compromises were made. Vasudev was chosen as captain for one team and Subbu would be the rival captain. We heard that Vasudev was a big guy now and he had even started having his shave. Knowing Vasudev was a big-time batsman, Kicha jumped to be his vice-captain and we couldn’t refuse. Subbu was hardly ten, but was an able bowler with his slow ball that could beat even Dhoni.
Somehow, the team composition was agreed upon, but there was one catch. We had only eleven members in each team, the twelfth man was missing. We hoped that they would somehow emerge wherever they were.
Finances were a real problem. We needed cricket kit, bat, stumps, and balls. We agreed to go for door to door collections. We set out in small teams on a Sunday morning. The highest donation – Rupees ten – came from Gopalasamy, the vegetable vendor who supplied vegetables to most houses in our street every morning. Subbu’s team collected seven rupees, I collected five and Kicha fifteen, thanks to Sundari patti who was ever generous with her contribution of twelve rupees. His thatha had grumbled, but Sundari patti over-ruled him as usual. On day one our kitty swelled to thirty seven rupees – very meager, but promising.
“What can we buy with just thirty seven rupees, Everyone is a kanjoos yaar.” Subbu retired dejectedly.
“Hey, how can we play without any practice?” questioned Ramki. Our conditioning camp began the very next morning. Ramki pulled everyone out at five in the morning. Not only that, he also spoke to his father who was a good friend of Ganapathi Sir, our school drill master who agreed to be our coach and umpire for the match. Though he was due to retire in the next couple of years, Ganapathi Sir, was enthusiastic and energetic even with his rounded little belly and grey overgrown moustache and side-burns. He promptly reached our place at five thirty every morning in his khaki shorts and blue cut banian. He made us run for twenty minutes all the way to the nearby water tank. This was followed by exercises and then the cricket coaching began. We had two used bats with multiple plasters and some old balls and Ganapathi Sir didn’t grudge about them.
‘We need a name for our tournament?’ said Kicha one day. Everyone immediately assembled in the courtyard of Rangu Thatha. Discussions went on for a few hours.
“The name should be very captivating,” said Rangu thata. Many names got sponsored and finally Subbu’s team was christened Killiyoor Demons and Vasudev’s team Roaring Lions. Great! I came up with the title “KPL - Killiyoor Premier League 20/20” for the game and the name spontaneously captured the excitement of all.
The D day was nearing and some of us were getting nervous. One thing, money collected was short. The visiting team members’ arrival was getting more and more uncertain. In between, three of our players fell sick due to fatigue practising in heat. Subbu cut his toes while trying a return catch as he bowled to me during practice and took rest next few days.
Suspense and drama was heightening day by day.
On Ramki’s suggestion we did 108 pradakshinam at the street Ganapathi temple seeking His blessings for the success of our match. Lord Ganesha too answered our prayers soon.
One evening Subha gave us the good news that her uncle was expected from America in a week’s time.
“Hey, Can Subha talk to her uncle about financing our cricket kit?” asked smart Subbu.
“Oh, Subha is very haughty, yaar!” snubbed Sai.
The responsibility was thrust on me to talk to her. Subha was only six and could be very demanding. Somehow I persuaded her to talk to her uncle and she agreed on the condition that her two American cousins should be included in the team.
“Oh, that is not an issue at all!” I promised without knowing the consequences. It was only much later when her cousins arrived we came to know that one was five and the other three and half years old. Subha, however, maintained her side of deal and got us the entire cricket kit – two new bats, six stumps and a dozen balls and a few hand gloves through her American uncle. Her cousins were graciously included as twelfth men in the team. We got a bonus too. Her American uncle volunteered to capture the entire match on his Digital video camera.
So, it looked everything was set for the great KPL 20/20 match.
There was a lake nearby our place and it usually got dried up during summer. It was agreed to be our stadium. Three days before the match, our drill master also cleared and approved the pitch. On the day prior to the match, it rained unexpectedly. It not only dampened our playground, but our spirits too. We cursed weather god. We all marched once again to Ganapathi temple to make 108 rounds.
Even after our clear messages that all players must be present in our village at least one day before the match, yet, on the previous day when head count was made we were only 20 including those American toddlers. We required two more players. Seshu mama and Ranghu thatha filled in the place on the condition that they take care of our evening snacks – couple of pooris and aloo masalas.
On the day of the match, our whole street bore festive look. People assembled at the play ground very early. Sun God was kind and shone brightly. The pitch was somewhat wet delaying our starting the match. Some old people were seen discussing each team’s prospects. Many compared notes about their good old days when they had played cricket. Even mamis were ready finishing their daily chores early.
Latchumi akka painstakingly brought several pots of water from a nearby well for our use.
Revathi (6), Visalakshi (5) and Aswini (7) provided the much needed entertainment by way of their belly dance. They were present with the most colorful and enticing minis. (Who would watch KPL – Killiyoor Premier League 20/20 if entertainment was not part of it?) Sankaran Anna and the visiting Thiagaraja mama provided music with their harmonium and dolak that they used to play during Bhajan sessions in Margazhi month. All the non-players sang in chorus some popular numbers and cheered the dancers.
Sundari patti sent a large basin filled with puliodarai. A few other houses sent roasted ground-nuts, candies, kadalai sundal for refreshment.
Subbu won the toss and decided to field as the pitch was still wet.
The two American little ones were allowed to open the batting and were cheered by all. They never touched the ball and it took fifteen balls to get them out. My senior Sailesh scored just one run. Most catches were dropped. Finally, Roaring Lions of Vasudev managed to score twenty eight runs in twenty overs including a brilliant twenty runs from Vasudev before he was declared run out during their first match. Kicha scored just one run. We had agreed to play three matches to decide the winner.
Ramki opened the batting for Killiyoor Demons. He played a great innings with twenty runs and at the end they scored twenty nine runs – one run ahead of RL. I got out scoring a humiliating duck.
During the second match, both the teams got out for sixteen runs each and so there was a tie. But we were all too tired as sun started rising above our head. Most of the elders who cheered the players initially all left the ground and the spectator gallery was looking deserted. Drinks interval was liberally taken by everyone, but no one could complain. During the third match, everyone got so tired. Kicha and Subbu had serious private discussions about continuing the match. It was left to our umpire to decide. After almost two and half hours of play, it was decided to halt the match citing the scorching sun.
Finally, based on some complicated rules, Ganapthi Sir declared Subbu team as the winner. Kicha was unhappy and picked up a quarrel with me and Subbu. He threatened us with dire consequences and loss of patronage by his Sundari patti.
Somehow, when everyone was hungry, issues were forgotten and we all returned home to take a dig at awesome puliodarai.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

News on Godmen and Gurus

I have no soft corner for Swami Nityananda or for that matter any other Guru or Godmen. Nevertheless, the point to remember is how many of us really know what a spiritual state is. We have only bookish knowledge about spiritualism and we forget that, information with us is not knowing or experiencing. How many of us can really feel the kind of experience Swamy Vivekananda went through when he received enlightenment from Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna or when Yogi Sri Paramahamsa received enlightenment from Yogi Yuktheshwar? History is full of evidences of people having been treated badly when people spoke truth and we celebrate those very same people today as great human beings after they leave earth. Take the case of Lord Jesus Christ. He was crucified for showing love unconditionally to everyone. Take other cases like Galileo or Copernicus who were detained or who were reluctant to make their truth public for fear of retribution. Socrates was forced to take poison for advocating Self Discovery. Even a great genius like Einstein could not initially accept a theory of expanding universe. No one could have challenged and criticized so much Bhagavan Sri Satya Sai Baba like the former editor of the then one of the most popular newspaper groups during 1960s only to note that his entire views got completely reversed at some later point. Religious wars have been waged in the past and continue to be waged over faith. Religious and spiritual leaders are attacked in all religions in all societies by some section or other. We seem to have no tolerance for any contrarion view point and we immediately attack people. We seem to be spending too much time on scandals – thanks to our media who appear to flourish on every sensational episode, only to forget in short time. This seems to be true in politics, business and spiritualism.
Of late, there seems to be some kind of war against spiritualism and spiritual people in our country. Naturally, many of them flee our country to take refuge in foreign land where they receive better following. We wouldn’t have understood Lord Krishna or Lord Rama or Arjuna or even Lord Jesus or Prophet Mohamed (Peace be upon Him) if they were alive today amongst us. We also do not seem to have a true understanding of scriptures and we fight over them.
We believe only what we can see and what we cannot see does not exist in our view. But the reality is ‘objects exist only when we notice’ according to Quantum Physics. We know very little about spiritualism and let us not come to hasty conclusions about spiritual people. Ultimately, let people decide what they want to do with their Gurus and Godmen. When people find they are being taken for a ride, automatically they will desert those places, only to go somewhere else. People somehow seem to need places to go to find happiness and peace. This appears to be the eternal reality.
Lot of good things happen in many places in India and around the world and let us pay our attention to them – they deserve our attention.