January 17, 2010

Hey, stop defending the education system. Even our universities don't do that. :)

Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal’s education reforms for Class 10 board exams are indeed visionary. But caution has to be exercised that urban middle class children are not pampered into thinking that anything that causes ‘stress’ is evil and should be attacked and, worse, not be even attempted.

Encouraging students to abuse their teachers, hate their books, throw metaphorical tomatoes at all centres of excellence is to encourage an illiterate lumpen rage against anything that isn’t dumbed down to the shocking level of intellectual nothingness that we seem to be comforted by these days. If our children cannot use proper grammar, if they cannot spell, if they are unable to sit for examinations, if they are unable to speak a language correctly, if they are unable to study because they are turned off by stress, if they are led to believe that all effort is a waste of time, is this the kind of generation we want to rear as future citizens? Saraswati is a gentle goddess. Maybe we need to change our mode of worship, but let's not disrespect her.

Yet, at the core of the film is a dark and troubling cynicism about the future of India’s young. The technicolour fun and games conceals a destructive anger and a condescending disdain for all those across India who may be aspiring to join centres of excellence or study or teach in them. The incredible popularity of the film shows that as a nation we are in no mood to study and are delighted that idiocy is at last legitimate.
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(Read the full article - it's about 3 Idiots - here.)

What troubles me about this is that the opinion is saying, "Yes the education system needs reforms but as students you shouldn't be asking for them."
Or "Ask for them, but nicely"? I'm a little foggy about what the article is supposed to mean.

Several points here:

1. Anything that causes stress in children is evil. (I'm not talking about kids who've left school, but younger ones definitely.) Because at that age it isn't about how stress is a good teacher, or how it teaches you to cope with life, yada yada. Don't be ridiculous. Munnu wants to play.

2. "Encouraging students..."? :) With or without encouragement, most of us are abusing teachers, hating books and throwing tomatoes at those so-called centres of excellence. Maybe it's time to stop treating us like little kids and just get the fact that if something makes millions of young people unhappy and frustrated, it can't be right? Or is that a privilege that is restricted only to adults?

Also, these centres of excellence of yours - many of their students hate them. And these students are supposedly some of the best minds of the country - can they all be wrong?

3. What's so "illiterate" and "lumpen" about the rage against the system? Most students, if you probe, will be only too happy to tell you what changes they want. Yes, we know that many are not possible in a country of this size, but even a beginning will do. There's nothing inarticulate about that.

4. "...is this the kind of generation we want to rear as future citizens?" Probably not. But since when do children (irrespective of generation) turn out to be what their parents wanted to rear them into? :P Frankly, dear woman, what you wish to rear us into is immaterial. Save yourself the worry of what will happen to this nation when we join the workforce. Worry about the number that'll be too burnt out or too narrow-minded or too rule-book-ish when it joins the workforce. More real concerns. It happens every year, in fact.

5. Saraswati is a gentle goddess? Let's not disrespect her? Touching indeed. :D So now, I take it, my beloved Mumbai University is Saraswati? :D

6. What, by the way, is this obsession with centres of excellence? Quite starstruck we are.

7. We're delighted that idiocy is at last legitimate? What's to be delighted - doesn't the existence of our education system prove it? :) It's idiotic and it's been around for generations.

8. This isn't destructive anger. It's more helpless anger. Because the same students who rant against the system and hate the system are still in the system. I am. You are. What's destructive, Ms. Ghose? We're still in this system that you seem so keen to defend. No one's rebelling. No one knows how. And we all assume that it's just for the next year, or two. Then we'll be done with our education, and glad to be rid of it.

Nope, there's nothing destructive. But what's sad is just this - that there's nothing constructive about our anger either. :)

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Just as a general aside - when you want reforms in public health, you'd ask doctors and patients. Infrastructure, industrialists and junta. (Ideally at least). And so on and so forth. How is it, then, that when it comes to education, it's always Kapil Sibal, and school teachers, and PTA members, and child psychiatrists? Why do we forget the people who make up the largest portion of education - students?

Is it because students are expected to hate the system? Do you assume that no matter how good the system is, we'll still hate it? Or do you just not credit us with the maturity to talk about this? What is it?

Because I'm dying to find out why universal student requests (update the syllabus, make it practical, reduce the workloads, focus on extra-currics) - all of which are legitimate and feasible requests - are ignored year after year, while our politicians continue to discuss if there should be 90% quotas for SSC students in Junior Colleges.

January 09, 2010

Of Manipulative Directors, and Google searches

Dear Sanjay Bhansali & Karan Johar,

Why this obsession with diseases and illnesses? I can't help thinking that both of you have realised that the only way you can evoke empathy for your characters is to make them dying, barely alive, or people with abnormal lives.

You're both manipulative. You know it. Filmmaking to you isn't about telling a story. It's more a strategy on what works best, and what can bring out maximum tissue paper. With *normal* characters in your films being as insane as a girl who giggles while running over bridges every night, I'm guessing that the only way to make sure the audience doesn't go "Phtooey!" is to have the character on the verge of death, or blind-mute-deaf, or autistic.

I won't bring Paa & Taare Zameen Par into this. They created characters that you can come to like, and can imagine liking even if they didn't have their problems. Now that, dear geniuses, is what you should really be doing.

I know both films will probably work. At least Bhansali's will have a good actor to hold things together. But here's the deal - I don't think either deserves to work. (Yes, even before I see them - that is how biased I am. I think of it as just knowing the 2 geniuses and what they come up with.)

Just a message for you - could one of you go back to doing talk shows, and could the other just find another profession? Thanks. Love you too.


Till the next movie,
Mudra

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W.r.t. the various searches that bring people to my blog:

1. Are Gujjus really serious about marrying vegetarians?
Ans. Yes. You will have to turn vegetarian, or take to eating chicken under your desk at work.

2. How to say I love you in Gujju.
Ans. A line that'll drive the message home forcefully, would be, "I love you more than I could ever love diamonds, stocks, food, Narendra Modi and chaat. Put together!" (The only problem is that he/she won't believe you. Nevertheless, they won't mind.)

3. How to know if you're losing her.
Ans. I'm a little foggy about how this leads you to my blog. Now there are very few things (really very few things) that I don't profess to be an authority on, but this is one of them. Sorry boss. Try asking Dear Diana. (2nd Dear Diana joke in a week.)

4. Ischool ke tem pe girl
Ans. Yes, right-thinking minds laugh at this song. I'd linked it years ago for a laugh. Now, though, knowing that there are people out there who actually took that song and its people seriously - that opens up a whole new world. You think email and communication and Wiki are why the internet is amazing? No. The internet is amazing because once upon a time, only people in Jharkhand/Bihar knew of this song.

Now imagine you're someone who grew up in Bihar in the early 90s. Then you got educated, and you left the homeland for colleges in other states of the country. You became an engineer. You took the foreign university entrances, you made it to an Ivy League for an MBA. Your family was overjoyed. The cup of kheer runneth over. You left for Stanford, leaving your mother teary-eyed, your father proud, and all the villagers couldn't stop talking about, "Ramu vilayat jaavat rahi, tum sune?"

You settled into Stanford life. You aced everything. Then, one day, early in January, you're sitting in your dorm room. It's been 7 months since you came to Stanford - 7 months that have been rewarding to say the least. But it's cold as hell outside. And suddenly, you begin to miss everything. You miss the warmth, and the smell of earth. You miss animals. You miss the singing, and dancing, and the weddings. You miss the language. You miss the colours, the smells, the feeling of home, the laughter.

You have 3 options.

1. You could cry and let it out.
- But as research has shown, most people don't cry alone. Even your tear glands get the concept of "utter futility".

2. You could call home.
- This costs a bomb. Plus all that will happen is that your mother will ask you if you're eating enough, your father will tell you to beware of foreign girls, etc. Somewhere, you might begin to cry. And that will only make them panic like never before, imagining that you got beaten up by racists, and then you failed a course.

3. You could log onto YouTube and watch Ischool ke Tem Pe. With its shots of scenery from your childhood, the actress who was your first crush, the school uniforms that remind you of your own, and that strong belief in romances (from which, incidentally, springs your desire to send "wil u b my frand" scraps on Orkut just to relive your childhood)... You get a taste of home which also leaves you... *ta-da* happy.

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Disclaimer: Bihari stereotypes all in fun. For the record, I'm a fan of Ischool ke Tem Pe, Yun na Sharma, Altaf Raja in general, Ravi Kishen, Nagma, and anything Bhojpuri that comes on TV. :)

Updated to add: Recommended reading for the week.

January 06, 2010

Farce

If you get ToI, you've probably seen this ad today, for a project called Aman ki Asha which ToI is spearheading:
Friends are different. Enemies are the same.
No two friends are the same.
They feel differently, talk differently, dress differently, love and even hate differently. And still stay friends.

It is said that the most beautiful thing about friendship is that two people can grow separately without growing apart.

Enemies on the other hand are almost always similar. They share the same intensity of hatred, suspicion, betrayal and revenge on both sides of the battle line. Which is what makes them enemies.

So here's a question. Why is it, that we cannot have differences with our neighbours without making them our enemies?

Yes, we are being naive here. But being intelligent and complex hasn't really got us anywhere.

So we're going to make a start.
Again. With Aman Ki Asha.

A brave new initiative by The Times of India and Pakistan's Jang Group to bring the people of two fine nations closer together. Culturally, emotionally and peacefully.

A people-to-people project, Aman ki Asha is an open platform for a series of cross-border cultural gathering, business seminars, music & literary festivals and citizen meets.

So that the human bond that binds all people gets a chance to survive outside the battlefields of politics, terrorism and fundamentalism.

And lets us celebrate the simple truth that we can have differences. But still be friends.
First off, I had no clue that being attacked by people who find support in a neighbouring country is called "having differences" with said neighbour. "Having differences," in fact, is one of those phrases (not working out, not seeing eye to eye, there is a certain something, etc) which say something without meaning anything.

This is probably being released in Pakistani newspapers by the Jang Group as well. (If it isn't, I absolutely can't see why such guarded language would be used where you miss the issues completely and try to talk about emotional faff.)

There are a few hundred levels at which this thing just seems wrong, so let me outline a few basic things here.

First, India doesn't need peace the way Pakistan needs peace. Yes, I know, politically incorrect, everyone's supposed to need peace, etc etc. Point is, with larger armies and more funds, we're likelier to win wars if it ever comes to that. Which Pakistan knows. Hence it has never come to that.

Instead, Pakistan harbours *international* terrorists who take turns at trying to blow up parts of India. Then, when those terrorists are traced back to Pakistan, the President "strongly condemns" them, and also states that "these terrorists are not in Pakistan." Later, when they are found there, the country starts a trial... which releases them.

Now, seriously, not only do we have better forces, we also have the moral upper ground. What more d'you want, dudes?

Second, we can grow separately without growing apart? Come on, people! What did you recycle to write this ad, Dear Diana's letters?

(Also, our growth isn't going to shoot up if we start trading. It might help the GDP a little if they stopped bombing us, though.)

Third, being intelligent and complex has got you nowhere, so now you'll be naive. Really. Being intelligent and complex has at least saved us from believing that Kasab was roaming the beaches of Bombay the day before the siege.

Fourth, you really want more tolerance? Because right now our country is one that Gandhi would be proud of. We have successfully turned the other cheek for a few decades now. Clearly, though, that doesn't satisfy ToI. The next step is to slap ourselves in the face and smile while doing it.

Finally, the people-to-people interaction. Now I appreciate this. And I genuinely think it's good. My only question here is, does it lead to any tangible benefits in the next decade? (Both countries, being democracies, are about electing a bunch of nuts who don't really know what the people think but who have their own priorities - money, power, fame - clearly set. Which means that we'd be better off getting them to play rummy with each other every week.)

Hey, hey. Start a people-to-people interaction by all means. Just don't market it as the damn media initiative that'll lead to peace. Because it won't.

I know ToI specialises in BS of the extreme kind. But consider this. A month ago, the same newspaper was shrieking about how Kasab is still on trial, how the peace process can't continue this way, etc. Now, just because they managed to tie up with a Pakistani media group, love thy neighbour?

What d'you think the people are? Naive?

January 04, 2010

Bits of Hatred - Instalment #4. I Dislike You Instantly If...

...You wear sunglasses indoors.

...You wear sunglasses at all (guys).

...You can't do a thing by yourself (specifically girls). Yes, we all know that a particular brand of helplessness is always attractive to the alpha male (or any male) but seriously, stop degrading yourself.

...You are a dumb person who thinks he's smart. (Yes, unfortunately, it's always 'he' in these cases - I haven't yet come across a blonde who thinks she's smart.)

...You are nosy.

...You are oversweet. (I.e. you treat people whom you've only just met like your bhais and behens from a previous janm *raaaaaz pichhle janm kaaaa*)

...You're chirpy. Now don't get me wrong. Yes, I'm grumpy most of the time. But I do recognise and appreciate genuine cheerfulness when I see it. It's just that that particular version of cheerfulness where you're likely to say, "Oh look! A volcano just erupted! Isn't that fa-a-a-b?!" - it kinda nauseates me.

...You talk about yourself. Seriously, man, get a blog for that. Look at me. I give you the option of not knowing, right?

...You are a couple that wants to tell me everything. (And when I say "couple" and "everything" together, please understand, this means everything! Everything about each, everything about both, everything about what they do, everything about what they don't, everything they think, everything they feel... Seriously, people. Stop. Take a deep breath. Shut up. [Yes, I'm the next Vidhu Vinod Chopra.])

...You make noise in a theatre / airplane. Really, those are the worst places you could choose. Former, because no one wants to hear you. Latter, because people have enough problems just being in an aircraft without listening to you talk.

....You're on a bicycle.

...I think that's it.

Come on. What's your list? :D

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I understand that this post departs from the Bits of Hatred format by covering a large variety of people. But I just had to vent. :)

Also read Vir Sanghvi's column about the Bhagat-Chopra fiasco in today's HT (it's not up on the HT site yet, will update when it is).

Update: Here it is. Still not on the HT site - link via Rahul.