Saturday, November 5, 2011

Barsaat and Sahil

I have been quite a model procrastinator when it comes to blogging about my classroom experiences as a Teach for India fellow. It's been 3 months now and I feel that I now know a lot more about my 62 kids, fellow teachers and school. This incident happened within my first month of teaching.

It was the month of August and this time in Mumbai, one would count himself to be lucky if it's not raining. We (Anish: my co-teacher and I) had held up a few kids after school for extra instruction time. Sahil was one of them. After the class, we waited till all the kids leave the school. However, Sahil insisted that on leaving with us and since his house is a little further away, we should drop him near the exit of our community. During our walk back, I tried to ask him about his thoughts on the new class, new Bhaiyas and studies. He pauses and looks at me with his wide, bright eyes. Then he asks hopefully - 'Bhaiya, I speak Hindi?' 
I refuse and encourage him to try in English. He must have been disappointed. He thinks for a minute and blurts out in Hindi anyway - 'Bhaiya, mujhe English padna nahin aata hai (Bhaiya, I can't read English).'
This gutsy and straightforward admission hit me hard. Really hard. Here we were, asking our class to speak in English. Giving them pages of text to read, interpret and form opinions on and Sahil can't even read. How must he be feeling in the classroom? *

Then, as it always happens in Mumbai, it started pouring heavily. There was only one umbrella between Sahil and me, which was mine. In Mumbai rains, one umbrella is not sufficient to protect even one person, forget two with bags on them. I had important things in my bag which I did not want to get wet. Neither did I want Sahil to get wet. So I instructed Sahil to be under my umbrella. We were navigating a narrow street lined with shops and hawkers, full of water puddles and people rushing by. We tried to avoid all these obstacles while staying under the umbrella.
Once in a while, someone would come in the way and we would get separated. Then I would wait and Sahil would rush to get under my umbrella. Then we would move again. Whenever, I saw a puddle or a hawker, my primary instinct was to avoid it by jumping left or right and at times, I forgot about Sahil. Once, I jumped to the left and walked along the shop while Sahil went ahead. Later he stood in the middle of the road in the crowd and looked around, his eyes searching for me. When I reappeared a moment later with the umbrella over him, he says to me with surprise and indignation - 'Bhaiya, where you go?'
I was amused but also became aware that I had to be beside him. The rest of the walk saw a gradual shift in my instinct from being protective about me to being protective about him. Holding the umbrella over him when he would drift away while getting drenched myself. It must have been quite an image - The two of us making do with one umbrella, dodging the hindrances and walking in rain. A Chopin piece could be composed on that walk.

Turns out that all of us were drenched by the time we reached his house (we had decided to drop him to his house obviously). Our first community visit and were we welcomed! Despite our protests, we were made to sit on their dry bed and drink tea while we discussed school and life.

* Since then, we have realized that we were fairly wrong in our estimates about the level of our students. After 2 units and conducting their reading tests, we realize that they are just beginning to learn English and we had been teaching them fairly high-level stuff. In fact, the students in my school can't read any language. A year back before Teach for India fellows, even the students in our class couldn't read anything. Sometime back, I had asked a kid from 5th standard, who had been held up after school to complete his homework, to read a sentence from the pages of text that he had been copying blindly. He couldn't read the word 'number' or anything more than 3 letters. I was shaken. How are students spending 6-7 years in school without learning to read? What are the teachers doing? What is wrong with the system and why does it not focus on student learning?
India needs to invest heavily in good teachers and teacher training. All kinds of technology and gizmos will not enable the student to combine letters to form words and make sense of them. We need teachers. An article in the same vein about the new 'Akash' laptop by Atanu Dey.

Visit to Chail

As I stumbled sleepily out of bed on a holiday morning, my parents announce that we are visiting Chail today. "Uhh.. ehh..ok" is my sleepy response. I had not even heard of the place but sure, why not? Situated about 50km from Shimla, Chail is a hiker's delight. That's a different thing that we did no hiking there. But still, that's pretty much the only thing one should go there for because there is nothing there apart from hiking, despite what the brochures tell you. Chail does have a gossip lover's history though. 

Once upon a time in 1891, Shimla was the summer capital of the British in India and Bhupinder Singh, the Maharaja of Patiala had a flirtatious reputation. His heart was captivated by the daughter of Lord Kitchener, the Viceroy. Now Shimla has only one touristy road which is the Mall road. One fine evening, when she was taking a stroll at Mall road, the Maharaja either kidnapped her or eloped with her. The versions differ but that's not the point of the story. Elopement has been a standard Indian tradition which has gained approval from the Gods themselves. 
Clearly, Viceroy Kitchener was not very favourable towards the whole concept. He heard about this and was outraged. He banished Bhupinder Singh from Shimla. Since then, that spot, which is the highest point on the Mall road, has been bestowed with the name Scandal Point (no surprises there). Statue of Lala Lajpat Rai has been erected afterward here for some god-forsaken road. Still, Scandal Point is the hub of Shimla's social life. Tourists and locals lounge here in the sunshine, eat nuts and gossip merrily. Someone speaks from experience -
"The transmitters of gossip are ever at work and savory and unsavory secrets of our society are flashed to the uttermost limits of Simla with all the speed of wireless."

Now, the Maharaja was furious about his banishment. He decided to build a summer capital all for himself and so he decided upon the panoramic town of Chail which is also on a hill decidedly higher than Shimla.  And this is where we decided to go.
The much spoken about Maharaja's palace is a tourist bluff. There is a Rs.100 fee at the entrance of the uphill road and there's absolutely nothing there to see in the palace or around unless you book a room in the palace-converted-resort. People reach there, enter the palace hall, where there's nothing, and go like - "Alright. What next?" Haha! Gotcha! There's no next. The spread out gardens look pale in comparison with the lush hiking trails all around the place. The frustrated tourist then decides to eat at the restaurant there to extract some value for money. Sadly, the food ruins the mood further. Thankfully, we were forewarned by Ma (who has had many trips here) and avoided this debacle. 

Chail is home to the highest cricket ground in the world. The highest cricket ground in the world looks like this with the sporty monkeys practicing their strutting skills.

Cricket ground at Chail with the monkey

Now, we march on to 'Kali ka tibba', a name which I found risible, which is a temple on top of a hill. Constructed only 6 years ago, it's one of the cleanest and minimalist temples I have ever seen. It is also very environment friendly with solar panels installed all around for water heating and street lights. 

The Solar Panels at Kali ka Tibba

We did miss out on hiking through brilliant trails which we passed along. Someday, someday...

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Occasionally, we must keep doing things like this to reaffirm our belief in the awesomeness of our lives. - I say to Siddhesh sitting along the banks of Ganga after an exhilarating day.  'Rollercoaster' is the name of one of the rapids in Ganga. Other names include 'Sweet Sixteen' and 'Double Trouble'. We went through all :)

There were 7 of us there. After our first 3 eventful, transformational and intense months with our bunch of kids Suvidhi, Jessica, Anushka, Siddhesh and I really needed this break and we were out there in Rishikesh.

We camped along the beachy bank of Ganga. Toilets were a decent trek away and the urge was resisted till it was possible.
Tents, beds, beach volleyball and pretty good food - yes.
Sunshine - Err... Turns out that we were on the wrong side of the river. Camp 'Aayesha' opposite us was pretty sunny all the time. Stupid camp 'Aayesha'! Humph.

Rafting was an experience in itself. Tumultuous rapids and freezing waves hitting you in the face. The chance to lean over in the front and look ahead at the next oncoming wave was super.  We overcame grade I, II and III rapids. Then we did the 'Body Surf' which is the act of jumping out of the raft into the river.
Jumping into the icy water and floating around - fun.
Frozen feet, bruised fingers because of holding on to the rope on the raft - not so much.

Our rafting came to an end and we parked ourselves near the site of the 'Cliffjump' - jumping off a 20 foot cliff into the river. There was a maggiwala  there.
The sight of maggi at the end of the rafting session - mouthwatering.
Realizing that we don't have the money to pay - not the greatest feeling.

On seeing people jump, my new-experience-seeking-mind thought (as usual) - let's do this! 
The desire to jump of the 20 foot cliff into the cold water - adventurous. 
Freaking out (as usual) on reaching the top and looking downward - not so much. 
However, I did jump, primarily because of the organizer asking me to hurry up as there was a queue behind.  Split second after jumping I was - "Aaaaaaaaagghhhhhhhhh. Why in the world did I do this?" I was scared. I am sure my internal organs were not in their right place. Then I hit water. Definitely wasn't the most graceful jump or impact. 

All 7 of us jumped. Jessica overcame her fear of heights and jumped twice. The image of Anushka flying in space as she jumped (pushed actually) will never be forgotten. Neither will her swollen face.

Other assorted events that made up the thalo
Overhearing creepy sardarji's incessant phone conversation with his girlfriend - Amusing.
Watching him pose for (supposed) Kingfisher calender - not so much.

Chatting out in the cold with Siddesh and Suvidhi late into the night - Great.
Creepy, tip-desiring caretaker following us in the night - not so much.

The next morning, we decided to use the local transport to reach the bus stand.
Hitching a ride in the back of a truck - perfect way to sign off the adventure trip (or so it seemed).
The noise, jolts and bumps - could have been done without :)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Day of water and fish

Incessant rains in the city forced even the trains to come to a halt in the city today. This came as a surprise news to me early in the morning. How will my co-teacher reach the school came to my mind immediately? After speaking to him, realized that he was fighting his way through such pretty constraints.

Alright, back to correcting papers. These were Math papers which hadn't been xeroxed properly and given to the kids. It was difficult to make out anything that was written on the papers. Sigh. A lot of time had been spent running around during that exam helping the kids read the question. When I entered the data into the tracker, realized that achievement on word problems was a brilliant 17%. Such a joyous moment for any teacher. They weren't the easiest problems on the planet but still. Just shows that there's a long way to go with the class.

Just as I was keeping the papers away, I heard a resounding crack behind me. I turn around and there's water gushing out from the fish tank and my feet are wet. The glass wall has given way. Ah yes, we have a fish tank in our house. Even when we didn't have drinking water, we had the fish tank courtesy our weirdo landlord. There are 3 huge fishes in a big fish tank in our hall. They are grumpy looking and apparently cost Rs.80 grand a pair. According to our voodoo loving landlady, they are auspicious and react to the mood swings of the landlord and house environment. They are supposed to change color when someone's sick in the house or when there's fighting in the house.

So clearly, today they realized the flooding outside in the city and decided that their own hall needs to be flooded. Within a minute, our drawing room was pool of water with mattresses and bags hurriedly removed. I spent the next 30 minutes holding the glass wall tightly so that water wouldn't gush out. I dialed, people came and things happened. Fish were to be transferred into a water drum. They clearly didn't like the idea. There was minute when we had a giant fish flapping around on our floor. Such a life-changing moment. I burst into laughter into the ridiculousness of it all. Here I was, soaked, arms aching, ankle deep in water and trying to save these grumpy, priceless fish that we wanted to get rid of. Such are the joys of living.

Managed to get myself to school in time. Spent the day explaining the social studies paper to the kids. When I was exhausted, went with a religious fanaticism to a leadership forum in the downpour. Was pretty soaked by the time I reached there. On the way back, waded through ankle deep water clogged roads.
Back home, a smile appears on the lips when I think about the day gone by. Any shortage of water in my life has been compensated for. Not much time to muse more. Work needs to be done for parent-teacher meeting and other plans need to be put in place.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Choice - Dance and go places

The institute has been quite an experience. I came here with an open mind at the beginning of a journey. On our first day, this song was played to us. It struck such a chord with the choice and the journey ahead.
Lines I like from "I hope you Dance" -

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Living might mean taking chances
But they're worth taking
Lovin' might be a mistake
But it's worth making
Don't let some hell bent heart
Leave you bitter
When you come close to selling out
Give the heavens above
More than just a passing glance

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance

..Promise me you'll give faith a fighting chance

Another is a poem by Dr.Seuss called "Oh! The places you'll go!". The first part is lovely.

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

You’ll look up and down streets. Look’em over with care. About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.” With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down a not-so-good street.

And you may not find any you’ll want to go down. In that case, of course, you’ll head straight out of town. It’s opener there in the wide open air.

Out there things can happen and frequently do to people as brainy and footsy as you.

And when things start to happen, don’t worry. Don’t stew. Just go right along. You’ll start happening too.
Oh! The Places You’ll Go!

I had my reasons for coming here. I never looked upon it as a service or giving back. I felt thinking about it like that undermined my choice. It made it seem like I was personally not gaining that much as I should/would from other places.
Of course, I chose this because I believed I would gain much from here. However, that doesn't mean that I can't think of it as a service. What's so strange about doing service for one's country? Is it not a purpose in itself? Does personal growth need to be disconnected from it?

There are two people who I am going to quote here -
At our opening ceremony (which was bloody brilliant by the way), Shashank (a 2010 fellow) gave a speech. He had joined NDA but had to leave because of the injury hhe sustained during training. Thereafter, a few years hence, he was working in US of A, the land of dreams when he saw a Teach for India advertisement. That's it. He saw it. There was an India map on it. He chose. He told Shaheen that the reason he chose TFI was because it had the colourful India map on it. He is proud to say - "I teach FOR INDIA."

A friend is the second person. Many companies came to our campus for pre-placement presentations. He said - "There are so many of them and their names consist of 'Boston', 'Suisse', 'Deutsche', 'Japan', 'America' and the like. I thought, why am I working there?" It made me smile. It made me think.
I was born in India. I lived in India. My father spent his life in the Indian Army. I studied in Indian Institute of Technology. And now, I Teach FOR India.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Teach for India Adventure - The Beginning

I am almost about to give up on writing about my experiences at the Teach for India (TFI) Training Institute. Initially, I had the plan to blog a little bit after everyday. The plan changed after my first 3 days to after my first week. The titles have been changed from "First day" to "Early days" to the more general "The beginning". Finally, after 15 days of training, this post should see the light of the day. The thoughts are neither in order or fully developed. Events after the first week in later posts.

First Few Days
In the first few days at the institute, there was so much happening all the time that there was no time at all to think and absorb. A bunch of new people to meet, activities to do and sessions to attend. I have been on 5-6 hours of sleep since joining, which is unbelievable for me as people who know me would know.

In my previous post, I mentioned my motivations for TFI. I had written "I honestly think I have picked up the coolest job on campus." That was before joining TFI. Now I have and... So far, every hour that has passed, every person that I have met (especially every staff member) has substantiated that belief. The energy around me is amazing. When we arrived at the institute, there were some staff members near the parking area cheering our arrival. Seriously. The humility and openness of the staff is humbling. All our welcome speeches by Shaheen (founder and CEO), Maureen (Director-Training) and other senior staff started with how humbled they are to address the 2011 batch. Wow! The effort they take to interact with all of us and eliminate the power distance. They felt bad when they hadn't all of our 100+ names already.

There is excitement, fun and spontaneity. At the end of a session one night, the whole cohort broke out into an impromptu dance. Our sessions are super enjoyable. In every session, we do plenty of chants, exercises, drum-rolls and finger clicking. We throw around balls in the huge classroom. The efforts to build teamwork, collaboration, belief and optimism have borne fruits. In our respective PM (Program Manager) groups, we have shared our deep and difficult life stories with people we have known only for 2-3 days. As a result, our group is so much closer.
One fine day, we were divided into groups and thrown out somewhere in the city to earn Rs.25 per person. Teamwork and optimism was showcased there. My discomfort and slight skepticism was overcome when I saw a bunch of co-fellows just going out there and pressing clothes and washing cars. That night, we performed a skit and injected humour into the experience.
One phrase that has entered our vocabulary is 'sense of possibility.' I don't think that it was epitomized more when we saw the kids from an Akanksha school. They had studied 11 years under Anjali didi and came from very poor and difficult backgrounds. Their English fluency was astonishing. Even more jaw-dropping was their confidence and their dreams. They spoke about themselves, their families, their transformation, their didi and the change that they'll bring. I think all of us learnt a lot from that session. What we also learnt were some cool dance moves. All of us danced to the tunes of one of the girls, who is a choreographer. :)

P.S - The food is excellent. *slurp*

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Choices - Teach for India

This post appears after months of procrastination. Time has passed and various thoughts have come and gone. Some have stuck around and matured. This will probably prevent this post from being a tirade or mocking and critical of people with a certain mind-set.

For the past few months, I have been asked repeatedly about my motivations for joining Teach for India(TFI). Some people have been more disturbed and surprised than others. Some have stated their presumptions for my choice without hearing my response. Questions have been raised on the purpose of my education at IIT. It might have been understandable to some extent if the concern was about not pursuing an engineering job, which is supposed to be my prime proficiency after 5 years. However, the angst is about not earning as much money as I possibly can. Apparently, for a lot of people, the objective of getting into IIT is to earn truckloads of money later. To borrow a phrase from Liam Neeson’s character in 'Taken', apparently, bank balance is the scale used for dick measuring.

Any such basic interaction with Boring Lamesauce(BL) goes like this:
BL: What are you doing after IIT?
Me: Joining Teach for India. (Further explanation required sometimes) It’s a NGO and I’ll be joining as a teacher.

BL: OH! Accha! (Surprised, curious look) So, What after TFI?
Me: I don’t know. Dekhte hain (Let’s see).

BL: Plans for MBA and all huh?
*Presumption* - This guy is deviating from the 'right' path because he believes that by going off and doing this for 2 years, he can fall back into the right path better!

Me: ehn. (Shaking head dismissively) No intention to do MBA as of now. Sometimes followed by a short monologue that I find a MBA pointless, leaving BL confounded.
*Thought* - I feel that most people want to hear that I aim to get into Harvard, ISB or other such prestigious B-school. Some are so disturbed that they ask repeatedly about what are the TFI fellow’s statistics of getting B-school admits. Why would someone do this? Sometimes, I just feel like saying – yes, I am in it for the Harvard and McKinsey – so as to put them out of their misery of having their beliefs shaken. To be fair, TFI does its fair share of marketing its ties with Harvard, Mckinsey and ISB. Again, that's something that I am not really a fan of.

BL: Ah! I didn’t think that you were into social service. It’s great that you have chosen to serve the nation.
Me: *rolling eyes and sighing* I am not really into social service. It just sounds like a really cool job.
BL gives up on this conversation. Win!

On a serious note, I was actually considering studying something further in Europe but, on introspection, I realized that my motivations were probably not what they should be and seemed like extending adolescence further. After that, I decided to join TFI instead of the 'regular' jobs. So why am I doing TFI? This wonderful post by Ankita, an Indicorps member from Florida working in slums in Chandigarh, gives words to a lot of my thoughts.
I feel downright uncomfortable when family and friends (and sometimes strangers) praise me for the sacrifices I'm making this year.

One pertinent question taking only the current lifestyle into account is, what am I really giving up in these other jobs?
A chance to spend all 5 days in a cubicle in front of a computer? Making PowerPoints all day so that I can have more money to spend without any care? Bitching about my work with my colleagues and friends while getting drunk on a Saturday night in an upscale bar? I am not really a fan of that lifestyle. A lot of people are and they are welcome to that choice. It’s not for me. I don't imagine my 20s to be spent that way.

I honestly think I have picked up the coolest job on campus. Fine, I may not be getting as much money as I could have in trade for my prestigious degree and blown-up resume. TFI may not be the most comfortable, but then, that’s something that comes with adventure. I may not earn a lot, but then I’ll learn to budget and live off a modest salary in a city like Mumbai. Instead of insulating myself from certain socio-economic strata of society, I would be interacting with them and learning many things in the process. I will be emotionally invested in my work as it's almost impossible to be uninvolved with kids.

I do have certain objectives in mind too as I take it up. It's just that mine are different. I hope that, in the time to come, I will be able to agree, at least to some degree, with Ankita and this.

Throughout the day I get to learn. I learn how to form relationships with people from all strata of society. I learn how to cook food... I learn the boundaries of my patience, and the depth of my love. ... others tell me that my efforts are misguided, ridiculous and extreme. They say I can do service without living simply, or challenging my needs. ..The truth is, in my everyday life here, I don't feel like I've lost anything. When I really want something, I have it and enjoy. But the wanting is much less, and the enjoying is much more

"I have learnt to be more humble, more accepting of differences and diversity, learnt to offer respect to people, their views, opinions and ideas more than before. Though I have had these values in varying levels (mostly acquired from my Mother and from other life experiences), I am discovering a new level of humility, integrity, Empathy, sense of possibility, resourcefulness, teamwork, critical thinking and reflection at Teach For India."

I look forward to the intensity of the experience; to the personal transformation of becoming more patient, loving and forgiving; to learning to appreciate what my parents do for me every day and hopefully, provide a positive contribution to the lives of children I am given responsibility for.

Really, I am very comfortable with not knowing right now what my whole life has in store. I don’t feel the need to plan for the next 5-6 years of my life or have a fixed goal or path. I somehow like the adventure and lack of surety. I like the fact that I can roam for 4 days in Paris without a map or a plan and have the time of my life. As my friends and authorities (like the Police) all over the world can testify, I have a penchant for landing up in situations that I am ill-prepared for. Resourcefulness and luck have so far managed to carry me through without severe damages and plenty of stories to tell. Same is the case with this. It might be a 'less safe' choice but then, what’s the fun in being safe. TFI might be everything that I ever wanted or it might be unlike anything that I imagine or want it to be. But then, does everything in life turn out the way we think them to? I don’t have much to lose in these two years at 22.

Jeff Bezos, in his speech, asks:

- Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?

- Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?

- Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?

- Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?

- Will you bluff it out when you're wrong, or will you apologize?

- Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?

- Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?

- Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?

At whichever point I want to look back at my life, I hope that my responses are leaning towards the second part of these questions. As he says towards the end, I want to build myself a great story which I can tell myself. Will my character dictate the plot or am I supposed to just fit into the plot assumed for me? Well, we are our choices. This is mine.

P.S: If you have strong feelings of pity, benevolence, admiration or righteousness, you are most welcome to contribute to my traveler fund. As a symbol of gratitude, I promise to regale you with my stories if you so desire. :) Speaking from past experiences, they are quite something.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Banal Indian cricket fan's retort to F-Aakar Patel

A friend was kind enough to lead me to this unbelievably racist and ignorant article by Aakar Patel. It seems clear that Mr.Patel is not an ardent follower of the game but seeks to denigrate only Indians who are.

Mr. Patel seems to have a problem with people being loud and passionate about sports in general, as anyone who doesn't really follow/care about sports will, and he has masked that issue with racist, rude and incorrect writing. His astounding lack of logic and inaccuracy commences from the first paragraph itself.

“It is thought that India loves cricket. This is incorrect. India loves India. Cricket gives us the opportunity to express this affection. The local cricket match in India is unattended. Even World Cup matches featuring two other sides will be played without spectators, no matter what the calibre of the players.”

As I would like to inform Mr. Patel, India loves cricket. Period. Like any other sport in the world, people usually support their home teams and back them to win. Would Indians watch a match that features India more than a match without them – yes of course. It is quite natural. Is Mr.Patel arguing that fans should watch all matches with equal, unbiased passion and interest irrespective of their home team playing? Did the England-Ireland contest hold only meaning because it was a cricket contest? Was it not watched by an almost full stadium in Bangalore? World cup matches featuring non-host nations have the most audience in the sub-continent and especially India and Bangladesh, which is why the ICC was rubbing its hands in glee at the prospect of hosting a match in the subcontinent. ICC is not worried about the lack of audience in such cases which Mr.Patel should have known if he would have cared to research his article even a little bit. In this world cup, all matches in Bangladesh were watched by a huge audience which is what the ICC wants and is unable to get when it hosts matches at other parts of the world. And if only cricket with the Indian team was followed, IPL wouldn’t have come into existence and neither would have channels like Star cricket and Neo cricket made a living as they feature discussions, analysis and videos of non-Indian teams playing.

Now, Mr.Patel moves onto racism and elitism which I can only classify as wish-I-was-white- because-I-am-so-refined syndrome.
“Indian spectators express themselves physically, through dancing, screaming and jumping about. This is done communally, in groups often including middle-aged men. It is done emotionally, with strong facial expression….. We behave like a WWF audience….
In European nations (I mean race, not geography and so: England, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand), spectator behaviour is more individual. Where communication is visual, it is not through facial expression, but fancy dress.
Instead of screaming, expression is through the written word: banners.”

Apparently, Mr. Patel has never cared enough about sport to invest any time on it but jumps hastily to conclusions. Article is filled with a sense of superiority of Europeans (as a race) over us uncouth Indians. I would suggest that he should go and watch a game that Europeans are really passionate about as a nation, namely football and rugby for South Africa and New Zealand. Maybe he is unable to hear and see the football fans in the world cup, screaming, running around, dancing with joy or maybe he thinks of it as – Ohh the white man is doing it so it’s alright. Of course it is fine when English fans walk into the world cup with only their underwear made out of their flag and yell. Being blind to the costumes and dresses that are there throughout the stadium worn by Indian fans is also one of Mr.Patel’s traits.
Mr, Patel, your description of the clap-clap-clap at the Lord’s is 40 years ago when there was a huge sense of propriety among the British. This kind of behavior is not that prevalent now when people have become more expressive and free with their emotions. Yes, even at Lord’s. When neutral, restrained and not-so-invested people watch sports, clap-clap-clap is what they’ll do. When passionate, caring, hopeful, expressive people watch sports, they cheer and holler and express their approval. They are pumped up. In that age, most British parents would have clapped-clapped-clapped if their child would have won a major sports tournament. Parents nowadays pump their arms, cheer and express support more vocally. Some societies are more expressive and some aren’t. Do you also complain about the Caribbean music, drum roll and dancing prevalent in the West Indian stadiums? Clearly, clap-clap-clap is the only right way to express approval.

“In India, signs are held up which are either obvious or embarrassingly banal. A decade ago, they were also poorly spelled…. There is never real humor, which can only come when we are able to laugh at ourselves… a South African held up a large sheet on which she had scrawled “WAQAR THE SPRINGBOK FAQAR”. So clever, I remember it 18 years later. Indians write rubbish.”

I am sorry Mr.Patel that the majority of Indians have not had elite English education and do not live in rich-urban areas like Bandra where English speaking is the norm. People used to write in English earlier because they thought that was the only way that they could come on TV and the match broadcast was primarily conducted in English. Again, if you had cared to spend any time watching the match, you would have noticed some incredibly innovative banners ranging from “pyaar to hona hi tha” for India-Pakistan unity to mocking Sehwag’s milk drinking habits to Chappell’s finger incident to Ganguly’s doing a Salman at Lords. While I take away nothing from the humour in the Waqar comment, it may be that you giggled because you were like a 12 year old mills and boons reading girl who giggled uncontrollably on seeing a variation of omg! Fuck! But of course, since the white South African wrote it, it was funny because as you generalize so aptly – Indians write rubbish. Your writing is well on its way to giving weight to that statement, Mr.Patel.

“One unique thing is how Indian spectators are silent when the other team scores. On television it’s as if the screen has gone mute.”

Yes, Mr.Patel. Passionate fans all over the world rejoice when their team is not dominating. In football, the fans clap on having a goal scored against them, isn’t it?
While misbehavior, vandalism and attacking player’s houses is never correct or justifiable, emotions run high in sports and some people vent them out in the wrong way. Even in tennis, which arguably has the most dignified, refined audience in sports – players are booed off the courts. Gilles Simon was booed off recently because he had to walk out because of injury. Was the booing fair to him? No. However, fans and sports enthusiasts can be that way. If that is your complaint, then here is a very fine piece of writing that expresses that opinion.

“Usually, Indians are happy if their team wins the skirmish and loses the battle. This is because national honor is often safeguarded by the hero. The astute Ian Chappell noticed that Indians were content if Sachin Tendulkar scored his hundred even if India then lost. In Australia, this would never happen, he said, and it would be seen as defeat, which it is. Since his audience telegraphs this, the Indian cricketer plays for himself much more than players of other sides.”

Sigh. Where do I start Mr.Patel? Ian Chappell is a shrewd observer of the game, no doubt, but he is not correct always. He has also been known to make ignorant comments about people and societies he has little idea of. In 2007, he was of the opinion that Sachin was a man playing for his records and he should retire as he has nothing to contribute.
Recently, he called Afridi idiotic and crazy. His irritation at Afridi’s celebration was childish to say the least. All bowlers have their own narcissistic way of celebrating. Pakistan as a team looks for its leader to perform, garner attention and motivate them which might be unlike Australia but that is no reason to believe that the rest of the team dislikes it.
Mr.Patel, I recommend that you realize what Sachin means to India and why. There are multiple readings available on these topics which attribute it to his excellence, dedication, temperament and how he symbolizes the freeing of Indian economy in the 90s. I will try and explain this in simple words to you. When Sachin appeared on the scene, his batting was a blend of free-flowing aggression and sound technique. He took the attack to the bowlers. He represented courage and hope. There are numerous occasions when he tore apart the opposition while he was there only to be let down by an incompetent, spineless team of the 90s. He has won matches single-handedly for us - from Australia in Sharjah in 98 to Australia in Australia in 08. What does an Indian fan do when he sees Sachin fighting for the team and the rest of the team surrendering meekly? He takes consolation from the fact that even though the team disappointed, its cherished and beloved son did well. It happened so many times that it became a norm. There’s a reason why people switched off television sets once Sachin got out. Chappell is clearly unaware of such a feeling having played for a dominant, balanced Australian team. Lately, the team has become less dependent on Sachin though he is still a huge force. We obviously want an Indian victory. There was celebration over Indian victory in the quarter-final and the semi-final and not remorse over Sachin not getting his century. It is stupid to say that Indians don’t care about victory. However, the fans still support and care a lot for their Sachin – their hero, their child, their God.
Next, you speak on the issue of the Indian habit of littering, throwing things and our racist attitude towards black people. However, you can’t simply package it as the sole vice of the Indian cricket fan. It would have made sense if you addressed the issue on the whole. However, are you not aware that Indians hear racist remarks in other ‘white’ countries?

“Indian spectators are watched over, like inmates.”

Patel dear, there’s security in any sport stadium where passions run high. It is unfair to compare the stands in India with the stands in South Africa where not many people come to watch the match and a lot of people take it as a picnic and family’s day out. In football stadiums, there are stewards all around the stadium and bordering the stands. Any person misbehaving and throwing things is immediately caught, taken out and arrested. Sounds familiar? It happens in European countries too. You should read this about football hooliganism, this, this and this about misbehavior by fans.

“On all Indian grounds, a wire mesh now separates players… In Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, West Indies and England, this isn’t needed….The policing here is excessive, but necessary… I think a bit of racial profiling is fine, and we should be firm only with Indians.”

India has a lot more people watching the match, something that I would expect him to be aware of. India also suffers from constant terrorism threat which makes the security necessary. The attempt at mock racism to make a point is just sad.
Thereafter, Mr.Patel rants on and on about the art of commentary and how Indians only do it the wrong way. Most of his statements are elitist, racist and drawn from an ignorant upper class perspective. First of all, Mr.Patel, there are not too many Indian players who are that comfortable with English to make it as a commentator. If Kapil Dev could, I think he would have been very original and bold in his views. The wise Ian Chappell has had to eat his words many a times and in a country where public figures learn to be diplomatic, especially in the past, Gavaskar and Shastri choose the safe route. Srinath makes some very interesting points and so does Sivaramakrishnan. Sidhu is made fun of everywhere but he is entertaining sometimes. To question Harsha Bhogle’s insight of the game just proves how invested you are in the game. First of all, he is a host and he writes some very insightful and wise articles. You could do with reading through some of them on cricinfo – a place where there are dignified, knowledgeable experts expressing their opinion. You choose to simply state that restrained, un-expressive behaviour and commentary is correct. Commentators also try and capture the emotions of the crowd, bring excitement and their own flavour into the game. Ever seen the commentary during Formula one or Football matches?

Then there’s a long rant on about how India has ruined cricket for everyone by excessive advertising. It’s the advertisers cashing in on the passions of the Indians, Mr. Patel – not the Indian cricket fan. Would he not like if there were no ad-breaks in between the overs? Yes, he would. He wouldn’t care if the hoardings were plain and without advertisements. Majority of these advertisements are by multi-national corporations run by white-people whose elegance and viewpoints you completely endorse. There is less advertising in English matches because they don’t have that big an audience for it.

Patel also laments that he is Indian because abroad “there is the restrained commentary, the women in bikinis (unthinkable in Delhi), the glasses of cold beer (unthinkable in Ahmedabad). Relaxed bodies on sloping green knolls. No danger of such small rewards of civilization ever reaching our shores, but at least we have Sachin.”

I am really sorry that you have to go through the despicable fact of being an Indian. I am sorry that you live in a country where people choose to express their love and affection freely, without restraint. I am sorry that you were born in a conservative nation where women do not wear bikinis and you are forced to watch Baywatch and midnight FTV to get your jollies. I am sorry that drinking is considered a vice in our society still and is banned in public places. I am sorry that we are just so many people brimming with passion about a lot of things including cricket and in an attempt to give opportunity to a lot of people, we have not given you a chance to lounge and relax around the stadium. I am sorry that our trains are so crowded and streets jammed. I am sorry that you are Indian when you would much rather be a ‘civilized’ European.

However, I am NOT sorry about being Indian and passionately supporting my team.
As Kumar Sangakkara, the Sri Lankan captain spells it out before the big final:

the subcontinent, and the teams that represent it, is the "best place" to play cricket. "No other place can match the buzz, the hype, the excitement around the game. When you play a tournament of this magnitude here, it kind of lifts the entire occasion, makes that occasion a lot more glorious."

Now I need to stop reading a paper like livemint and gear up for the big final where I will cheer every Indian run and every Sri Lankan wicket. I will shout, swear and express my support for my team and enjoy Shastri speaking his clich├ęs when our cherished son Sachin returns to fulfil his ambition, his dream.

*Update 1* India has won! And this is how we celebrate. Hee YAAA! Happiness. Kohli made the statement of the day :)

*Update 2* Some links have been added in the blog which Patel dear should read. His beloved European race indulging in 'unclassy' behavior. This Wikipedia article gives a pretty good picture. Some statements from the article - and violence could be arbitrarily traced back to at least the 14th century in England.
Football hooliganism in Belgium is a common problem.
Football hooliganism in Bosnia and Herzegovina is a big problem....Riots often happen after the games and in restaurants, bars, etc.
Football Hooliganism in Bulgaria is fairly typical of everyday life for the public. In Bulgaria fights happen regularly on match days, sometimes even on the field as well as off it.
Football hooliganism in Croatia has seen riots over inter-ethnic resentments and the politics...
Football hooliganism in France is rooted in social conflict and racism....Violent fights and post-game riots including car burning, and store windows was shot and killed by police...two Arab youths were punched and kicked by white fans...more and more banning of violent fans from stadiums.
...German football fans fought with police and rival fans at a friendly match...damaging cars and shops, and shouting racist slogans...The police detained over 300 people...a task force was established to deal with violence and racism in German football stadiums.

Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Portugal, Serbia, Sweden, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, England and many others follow.

Indian Cricket fans still banal and uncouth, Patel dear?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Do we know Our movie?

I strongly recommend watching 'Taken'. Liam Neeson is quite a ruthless badass and the action is gripping and tight. The movie takes its time to build his character and there's a warm feeling that one is left with at the end of the movie.

*The following might spoil the movie for you, though it's not really much of a thriller*

There are points in the movie when one feels for Neeson. Without blaming his ex-wife, there's the undercurrent that he is hard done by. Evident is his desperation to build some sort of a relationship with his daughter by quitting his job and an attempt to make up for the times lost as a secret-killer-agent-spy-something for his country. One can't help but wonder - Why did his ex-wife leave this amazing guy? I wish they had worked it out.

His daughter visits Paris with a dumb friend and they are abducted by a prostitution gang. Once his daughter is kidnapped, he goes on this one-man hunt across Paris resulting in carnage (which is awesome). During this tearing-down-Paris action, one is awed by what he is doing for his daughter. He is the one putting his life on line facing the bullets and daggers while his ex-wife and her current husband are simply lying around in America moping - Such thoughts flitter before we get caught up in the action again.

When he does find his daughter, is he going to tell her everything that he went through to get her back? He should! Is she going to see the movie that we have seen with her dad being the star? The answer is no. She is not even going to have an idea about the movie. He is not going to mention anything. Not the multiple bullet-dagger wounds or his injured leg or his chase for the past 96 hours. When she exclaims in tears on being saved - 'You came for me', all he does is look straight which says - 'but of course dear. Was there even a choice! Are you alright? '

Do our parents and everyone that loves us ever mention everything that they have done for us? Am I ever going to fully realize the effort and sacrifices that they made for me which I seem to have taken for granted? The nights unslept, the mind preoccupied, the effort undertaken, the care given...
If any of our parents had the skills of Neelson, would they have even given it a second thought to do the same as he did? No. They wouldn't have. They are the stars of their own movie. I wish I could watch it.

The movie ends with Neeson trying to fulfill his daughter's ambition of being a singer and the happiness on his face on just watching it happen. That's all he wants. That's all he needs.


A friend told me about the book 'India Calling'. The reviews intrigued me and hopefully I will be able to read it soon.
The reviews I read are here and here.

The book says
For centuries, he argues, Indians had been born understanding their precise place. They knew who was master and who was servant, fixedly.

Also, not only situationally inferior, but someone who is eternally, intrinsically inferior.

The last statement is so evident at places.
This inherent servitude and snobbery is confounding and, at times, amusing.
Especially among some people who seem to have a very wealthy background living in the richest parts of Mumbai, I am amazed at the their desire to create and be a part of the 51st state of the United States. Judging people by how much money they have or their language of communication or place of origin.
It's quite hilarious to see how their self-esteem goes for a toss as soon as they meet someone from 'America'. Their effort to portray that they are almost like them, except only grown up in India is commendable. How they watch the same TV shows, same movies, speak the same language with its abuses and how many people they know of who live there. Because of course, since they have grown up in India, their life hasn't been that cool and they all vie for the American Pie-Harold and Kumar experience which they couldn't have being on the other side of the planet. They only need more money and a BMW and a suburban-house-with-garden/penthouse-in-LA to be worthy of society. Even then, they are hard done by the color of their skin and hence are always at a disadvantage with the ladies.
If only they were American! *Sigh*

Monday, January 10, 2011

Food for rumination

My friends have been kind enough to introduce me to these quotes which, unlike most others, strike a note somewhere within me.

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us walk together.
- Lila Watson

Yesterday, I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me,
Because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”
And so I shambled after.
- Jean-Louis “Jack” Kerouac

Visiting a Teach for India classroom

After being selected for Teach for India (TFI), I received an email from a current TFI fellow, Pukhraj Ranjan, inviting me to visit and observe her class, her school, her day. So I took up this chance as soon as I returned to Bombay.

Visiting Pukhraj's class was a great experience. The school is about 5 minutes walk from Dadar station. Situated on the 2nd floor of a building housing 2 other marathi and gujrati medium schools, the chitter-chatter and bustling of kids was palpable before one entered the building. The The school principal was very warm and friendly while I waited for Pukhraj.

Meeting Pukhraj's class and watching her teach was immense fun. After I was introduced, I was a little self-conscious sitting at the last bench, but it disappeared with time as I was completely ignored as the teaching began. :P The children were adsorbed in the teachings, however, that did not stop them from sneaking furtive glances at me and each other. I was asked my name in hushed voices by kids around me as soon as they found Pukhraj not paying attention to them. Contrary to my expectations, all the students were very well-behaved and could understand English well. Of course, there was the usual cross-talk and the nudging and the day-dreaming.

The first class was on English. I was keenly paying attention to the teaching methodologies used throughout the class. It was a real learning on class management.
The second class was math. Both the classes were an hour long. At the end of the math class, I helped explain and reinforce the concept of perimeter to a small group of students in the class. I loved it. The kids were awesome. We drew various shapes on a slate and figured out their perimeter. Then we all high-fived and sniggered at the shapes given for the homework because we had just done those shapes. Now it was time for lunch break. All the kids took out their tiffins and seeing the delicious home-cooked food made me realize how hungry I was. I was also surprised about why I had never appreciated my tiffin during childhood.

During the break, I got a chance to meet 3 other TFI fellows. They were all fun, eclectic and interesting. Neha, a graduate from NYU, had her birthday that day so there was a huge cake for her (which was delicious!). There are 2 more classes in that school managed by TFI fellows. Class I is co-taught by Neha and Dhanya and class III is taught by Prabhu. I was warmly invited to see their classes as well, something which I intend to do in the coming weeks.

Magic Carpet Ride

All I wish is that you remember the times that we spent together for what they were. The excitement of attraction, conversation and exploration. They were some of the best times of my life. I hope they were good for you too. I never intended to be a hindrance and now, as you embark on your journey to seek what you want, I wish you best.