Reflections 2019

2019 came and gone. I was only beginning to get a hang of it when it just slipped away. Leaving a lingering feeling of nostalgia. A new year in the new decade wrapped in promises and hope arrived in no time.

Hoping the best one can, I move forward. Firstly taking stock of things; some reflections and some promises that I made to myself in 2019….

  1. Wake up @5 am  

I resign to my own abilities (rather lack of it) to make this happen. This is one of those resolutions that I have been recycling  for the past few years. Maybe its time to put it to rest permanently in the trash bin. No point as you can see.

  1. Read. 20 books 

Normally I could do 8 or 10 books, so reading 20 books was steep by my standards. So I was trying almost every night fighting sleep and Abhijit Banerjee’s and such books weren’t helping. I was moving at a deathly slo-mo pace. Though with a lot of help from Mr. Harry Potter. No, not with his magic, but its just so hard to put down. I thought I was possessed with the magic of its story. I was binge reading book after book, sometimes till 3 in the night. Plus the lovely thing is that me and my daughter are reading them together. I never considered reading them, always thought they were children’s. But happy I waited this long, at least I don’t have to wait for one whole year for the next book to arrive. It would have been excruciating. So, I am a through and through Harry Potter fan…. I accept, submit and prostrate.

  1. Write. Petitions, research papers, blogs

All of us here, will agree the new year has started in an unsettling way. The ripples of which haven’t eased yet. I did my part too. I went protesting and have spent quite a few hours debating with family, friends and colleagues. I wasn’t surprised when I found out, a few of my close family and friends landed up on the other side. And I am quite guilty that this has altered my perceptions about them. Though I fully agree that that shouldn’t be the case. Our world view is so polarised that there is no space for neutrality. We have a society that is today far more opinionated and staunchly divided. Frankly, I am at loss here, I don’t know what can be done of people like me. 

  1. Walk+Run. 2000 km

In the middle of the year and towards the end my fitness band started acting funny and stopped recording my time. So all those months’ data is gone. Maybe it just needed an update, who knows? Then I was down with dengue and took about two months to come out of it. Then while I was dropping my daughter to swimming classes I got lured into it and I started learning swimming. It was amazing though but left me tired to get any running done. So, I can’t figure out how much exactly I walk+ran last year but by making some average I could have just done about 1500 km give or take. 

Running is something I have taken a liking to and I take it very seriously. I look forward to it. Its painful, not physically but its my mind I need to take care of. It breaks me, one persuading the other and at worst one pulling the other down. Sometimes I run and don’t feel anyone around, its just me, my other self and the constant thumping of my feet hitting the ground. This monotone is at times music and sometimes deathly boring. I look for distraction. That is it, that is the trick if I could just park my mind somewhere before I get on running I could run more. It is a hard endeavor in solitude, almost meditative. I am sure you will agree if you run. The feeling after the run is ever intoxicating, I can’t precisely put it in words but it is this feeling I am chasing. Or so I would like to believe. Its part of me now.

  1. Eat. More millet, protein

This is working. Keeping it for next year.

  1. Sleep. @10 pm

Still working on it. Lots to do.

  1. Learn. Meditation

Few days a week we do meditation in the mornings at our learning centre so I have made a start in this matter. Its relaxing but extremely challenging for the mind. Its a work in progress..

  1. Make. Videos

Miserable. Not one I made. I am going to scrap this, I need to make sure there’s a need for it actually. Dumping this one.

  1. Start. Carpooling

Yes I do this whenever and as much as possible. Keeping it forever.

  1. Grow. Food

If not food per se, my house in general has become more green from inside. I am putting pots in every corner and planting in anything I can put my hands on. The result is not instantaneous. It takes weeks for some of the seeds to sprout and takes almost a year for some of the plants to flower. Need lot of patience. Takes up most of my spare time during weekends. Enjoying, keeping it for next year.

Wrote a few things that I cherish; few that I need to work on:

  1. The mutual understanding and commonalities in philosophies that me and my friend (partner) have at the learning centre is very precious to me. It is paramount that our heads think the same way (or approximately) for the success of our centre. Fingers crossed, don’t want it to be jinxed now that I have said it!
  2. Be more efficient. Once I read, Wherever you are, be there. Makes perfect sense. We try to multitask and with distracting gadgets at our fingertips, its increasingly difficult to get more done. So I just reiterate to myself to be present at the moment and do the best, the maximum that can be done, be it on whatever or wherever. I hope this yields larger fulfilment.
  3. Focus on finesse. Devil’s in the detail. Work often ends up half done or clumsy. Going back and redoing is a waste of time and effort. So focusing on getting it done properly at one shot got to do the trick. I guess so.
  4. Time Management. The fact I am writing this blog after two weeks it ought to have been written is clearly showing my need for this. Plus I told you I was possessed all these days.
  5. Writing. I wish to write books on my field of study, three of them or a big fat one. I hope to do it if I am able to do no. 4.
  6. Trekking. Wish to do lots of trekking this year, now that kids are older and trekkable!

Year-on-year yet, I seal the list of promises and hopes that I have from myself. Wishing you a year full of triumphs with some despair and fulfillments after a few misses. Have a meaningful and happy 2020!

Books I read, in finished order:

Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling

Kane and Abel by Jefferey Archer

Best of Ruskin Bond

Summer Hill by AS Neill

How to open a Sudbury Valley School by Daniel Greenberg

Era of Darkness by Shashi Tharoor (still working on it…)

Leonardo da Vinci The Biography by Walter Isaacson

Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

World without Men by Murakami

The Last Juror by John Grisham

Eat Move sleep by Tom Roth

Go set a watchman by Harper Lee

Educated by Tara Westover

What I talk about when I talk about running by Murakami

Miss Leila armed and dangerous by Manu Joseph

The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azakban by JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix by JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by JK Rowling

 

The Business of God

For Ganesh festivities this year we decided to take kids where all the actions take place. The Central Railway Loco Works in Lower Parel, near the Lalbaug flyover in the heart of the city. This is one of the several hubs of Ganapati idol manufacturing and there are others in Lalbaug, Parel and Chinchpokli. Once you enter, this place looks like a huge industrial shed of several thousand square metres of workshop made in a temporary makeshift arrangements of bamboos and metal sheets. As we walked in, we saw many statues lined at various stages of finishing. There were few workers just gearing up for the morning shift. Several of them are migrants, who come into the city for just the season. Once monetised they move back to their villages or migrate elsewhere looking for work. On an average around one and a half lakh people get employed in these idol making factories and generates about 10-12 crores worth revenue (source: TOI).

The idol making works begin starting from the month of July at least 2-3 months in advance. Some of these idols are as tall as 25 feet. A young worker mentioned close to 25,000 idols are made at this workshop in Lower Parel. Any other small talk with him didn’t make any head way, our fervour of citizen journalism seemed to bother him. Until few years ago the number of ganesh idols across the city had touched more than 2 lakhs. Standing there I looked at all the incomplete and half done idols and was wondering the number of man-hours that would be required to bring them to completion. I assumed there would be a chief sculptor, probably an old lanky fellow in dhoti-kurta and topi, commanding his workforce with a series of his assistants measuring off of the model sculpture with vernier callipers and making diligent corrections. But soon after 5 minutes I understood the workings of the place and how all this was achievable. 

All you need to make these gigantic statues is few sacks of gypsum, some beaten coir and a FRP (fibre reinforced plastic) mould. That is it. Oh yes, some average dexterity, like un/screwing. If you have them then you can make them. The magic lies in the FRP mould and a very streamlined assembly line. Just like any factory where the kit of parts are made separately and then finally joined together for the final product. Every idol is a combination of seven pieces made separately in their moulds, i.e.,  head, trunk, legs, hands, palm and abdomen. Nothing is left to the sculptor’s imagination not even the humble rat. The design and its assembly is quite flexible, for example if you fit the palm facing up you can put a modak, if you put it front then it would look like the hand giving blessings. 

The idol is hollow and hence lightweight and can weigh anywhere in between 800-1000 kgs. The moulds are crack opened and lined with a mixture of beaten coir dipped in a paste of gypsum and water. After which it is closed like a sandwich and screwed at the edges. Then further layers of gypsum paste is lathered inside by hands till some significant thickness is achieved. The mould is let alone for 15-20 mins, while the other mould is picked up and its crevices are cleaned. After the small wait the mould is unscrewed and viola the leg is ready. After all the parts are readied this way, different combination of body parts are used to assemble the God of your likes.

God here is a commodity waiting in the assembly line. Smaller statues are as expensive as 15,000 Rs. whereas the big ones can be 1-1.25 lakhs.

From here, the idols will be spray  painted and worked upon by hands for finishing touches. The paints and decorations that were being worked upon gave this toxic smell. None of these workers had masks or decent gloves. They live and work among these fumes and chemical compounds. After 10 days of festivities the idols are immersed in the water body. One of the curious child asked what happens after you immerse them? It stays there, in water. The next day BMC and NGO people remove it, said one of the workers.

One of the blog written by an employee of the Pollution Control Board, Gunwant Joshi, says that the pollution has already reached at alarming levels.

“Heavy metals like lead, cadmium and chrome from which these paints are made are not easily assimilated in an aquatic environment and this leads to contamination of water bodies there by affecting various fish and prawn species. Further, they may even reach humans via the food chain when we consume the fish and other sea food. High levels of lead and other heavy metals can damage the heart, kidneys, liver, circulatory and central nervous system. The problem becomes more acute when the amount of input to these water bodies far exceeds their decomposition, dispersal and/or recycling capabilities. The toxics from anthropogenic inputs not only alter the natural fresh waters, but also have detrimental effects whose impact can be felt for long time.” Below shows the before and after concentrations harmful chemicals as measured by MPCB.

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The problem is here and not going anywhere. Some of these pictures I have taken from newspapers and other media. Here I am also attaching a link of an article from India today https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/gk-current-affairs/story/ganesh-chaturthi-338428-2016-09-15

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First there were amputated gods now there will be half broken, battered and soggy ones, waiting to be loaded and dumped on a landfill with 10 days of merriment in between. Once out of sight, it’s out of mind and either ways the public perception and sentiments are very short lived. I wish to go around taking signatures of people on these pictures. Because once we are past the threshold then we can’t look the other way saying we didn’t sign up for this. How do we show the damage that we are doing?  I hardly see any political will and public is ignorant or apathetic.  Changing public perception and behaviour is herculean task, and we are racing against time here. What do we do and where do we start?

We are open!

This morning I was preparing dosas on one burner, tea on the other, loaded the cooker with dal and rice and kept the milk for its ceremonial boil. While I worked with precise hand movements, frequently peeping at the clock which is purposefully running few minutes faster. I realised I was in the zone. I lined up the tiffin boxes and filled the water bottled. I also added a periodic holler at 5 minute intervals down the bedrooms. In one of the rooms I could hear an argument about how much toothpaste to take, gaining steam.

This was ok, nothing I can’t manage remotely. It was the other room with pin drop silence that was making me anxious. Before I marched into that room, I turned the browning dosa, poured another dollop of batter and spinned it with my ladle.

These high intensity workouts in the kitchen must ring a bell with some of you. Today was our first day at school. But there’s no bus waiting to catch. There’s no fear of getting remarked “late arrival” in diary. No last minute ironing of uniforms. No worries of not following the snack schedule. But this morning I am strutting in a frenzy. I want-to-be and have-to-be on time to open the front gates of our new school. Even though it is for 5 kids. Once a slacker, always a slacker.

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Doing the talk and walking the talk is quite different, I realise. Rewind a year ago, I would have been readying things for my childrens’ school, buying uniforms, toolkits, shoes etc. Eager to ship them out of the house. What had conspired and took us with a whirl is interesting to reflect upon today. Even though I keep saying that we have read John Holt and knew Sudbury Valley Schools, I hardly think we (my husband and I) ever came close to thinking of starting a school. Those were things we talked at tea parties with friends and cousins’ meet. It had just remained good material for gyan charcha. When it came to pick a school for our kids we put them in a school that seemed the most pragmatic to us. 

Maybe we were waiting for people like us to find each other. We found them indeed, a small group with a passion to create change. We disagree and debate on the silliest of the things, but we stuck to each other. Because we knew that was the only way this could work. Since then, it has changed everything. Forever. For our children life will never be the same again. I don’t expect them to be special. What they will have is a very unique childhood. I hope they will grow up to be self aware and fearless. Call it opportunity if you will, but I understand it is a difficult one.

I opened the locks in a rather contemplative mood. Self doubt comes naturally to me. The empty large rooms stared at me. Plain white walls demanding action. Few hundred books scattered on the floor waiting to be stacked up. The mess that needed to be cleaned. The path less travelled is difficult, I mock at myself. I take a deep breath, one day at a time. I turn around to find my partners-in-crime and their children. Screaming and screeching the kids were just happy for no reason. It is their first day too and look at me. My co-facilitator’s presence is assuring enough that we are in it together, I felt at home. We don’t know it all and will never do. This ever changing world and the children in it are all different. There is really no one-size-fits-all. 

We have come a long way but today we begin. I hope we maintain our eagerness to accept change and be open. Be inclusive and tolerant to all in our community. Rise up to every challenge. There are many things that we offer in a learning environment like this, but If I were to pick one precious thing then it is time. The luxury of time. Boundless with no commitments. 

I recently learned to swim and one of the initial lessons were to learn to float. I simply couldn’t do it. I struggled while all kids around me went on to the next level. The coach repeated that I need to relax my muscles. Finally when I got it I realised what he meant was let go. The moment I let go, I could see how much fun it can be. It is difficult to explain how that realisation happens. I simply didn’t let myself be. This is something we hope to offer in this learning environment. Self discovery!

Looking forward to many such discoveries in years to come. Sharing few pics of the day.

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New Beginnings!

Howdy people! One more year gone. A year that ended well with lots of new beginnings!

Last year environmental consciousness pushed me to do more. Composting and recycling plastics weren’t enough. I had been contemplating for a while but this year I made the switch to using menstrual cup. Stopped using shower heads in the bath and I now use only a pail of water for bathing. 

But the highlight of this year was our effort along with fellow parents from my childrens’ school that has culminated in starting our own school. This new school will provide complete freedom to children to chart their own path of learning. 

Last year the thing that I stuck to was my fitness routine which I ardently followed least three times a week. Starting the week with yoga + stretching, then I ran 5k midweek and ended with an intense cardio workout. This has tremendously helped me build excellent stamina.  

Few of the not so very proud things that I have done this year. Losing patience with my 8 yr old daughter?! I am not very happy about how I handle the situation sometimes. Primarily because now I think I have had enough and deserve a break to do things for myself.  

Secondly I guess I have become very edgy too. I am losing patience and have become very intolerant towards mediocre work and display of foolery. My sharp criticism sometimes is not received well. I realise its the way I put it too. I need to change that!

This is also the year that I turn 40. So I have great expectations from myself. Life begins at 40, some say!  Some of the things that I have noted here for myself in this year:

  1. Wake up @5 am
  2. Read. 20 books
  3. Write. Petitions, research papers, blogs
  4. Walk+Run. 2000 km
  5. Eat. More millet, protein
  6. Sleep. @10 pm
  7. Learn. Meditation
  8. Make. Videos
  9. Start. Carpooling
  10. Grow. Food

 

Schools : Past :: Future : ?

When I begin to write, I first think about the title, not always but usually. Then I make a quick search on the internet, just to make sure I don’t come out as stealing. The education conundrum, thats what came to my mind. Unsurprisingly the top few searches with same title called out the glaring inefficiencies of the education system (most of them surprisingly about Indian education). A report from Reuters on Indian schooling, a Pakistani educationist criticising the politicians and bureaucrats on only able to achieve 52% literacy and an article that talked about the pathetic quality standards at the university levels. 

Information available on this topic is quite a lot. Some of which unsubstantiated and biased. So I thought of starting my research from first principles so to speak.

How does one define education? Etymologically that is. Wikipedia says it is derived from the Latin origin ēducātiō which means breeding, rearing or bringing up. To nurture the child and help him grow. So it is a systematic way to pass on the knowledge, values and skills that the previous generations acquired. Thus, it is validated by the society and provided to its people for its own good. It is something that you take into your system that comes from outside. But can you educate one to walk or cycle? No. That comes from within which is known as learning. It is something that originates from the self. It can be innate and tacit. It can’t be taught, but it is an understanding which arrives in your conscious or subconscious. Learnings are instinctive and gained from experiences. Sometimes it takes the form of hunch or gut feeling. But how do you teach a gut to feel? Understanding of knowledge is very complex and abstract. When it comes to its delivery there is broadly an instructional mode and an intuitional mode. You can’t program the masses to have the exact intuition but you can mass produce textbooks. Maybe thats why we landed up in an instructional mode of knowledge dissemination.

Peter Gray, developmental psychologist in one of his articles mentions that tens of thousands of years ago when we were a nomadic tribe we were highly skills and knowledge intensive society. Because to hunt and gather food one needed to know about plants, keep a watch on animals, make efficient tools etc. Researchers who studied these tribes say that they never separated work from play. Then roughly 10,000 years ago after agriculture was invented, human beings settled in places. Surety of food gave them opportunity to have more children. Also it worked in their favour as more children would mean they had extra hands to plough and sow the land, help with household chores or to take care of other siblings. This is how it started. 

Utilising or employing young children for the works of the family or society. Whereas they would rather spend their time outside playing but they had to be beaten down and tamed to be useful. This was unnatural to the very being of a child where play and exploration was part of living. Later with the advent of factories children were employed as large scale unskilled labourers. Agriculture labour really helped breaking their will and succumbing them to the pressures of work that was repetitive and mundane. This helped in getting the workforces in factories to fall in line and be obedient to the authorities. Education thus became a vehicle through which newly minted workforce could be produced to do brainless repetitive work. It was the Protestants who first made it compulsory to have every child to go to school. They thought that everyone has a right to interpret the Bible and get emancipated.

During the early 19th century, curriculum was put into school. Curriculum became the idea or the mechanism through which the perceived knowledge was packaged into a dispensable format. Carefully then it was divided into chunks of subjects of sciences, math and languages. Further classifying them into age appropriate categories. Everything that deemed necessary for making a civilised “man” was put in the bucket (on the timeline of education, women going to schools is a recent phenomenon). 

Late 19th to early 20th century is when schooling became very competitive and was pursued only with self interest. The defects of following the system became very evident in our generation. John Taylor Gatto, an American educationist and a teacher for 30 years says that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders. In 1990 he was called by the US Senate committee to talk about how schools in future will look like. For which he said “school in 2000 will look exactly like school in 1990. School in 1990 is almost exactly like school in 1890.” The way schools are right now it can’t feed the pace of current going-ons in our world. It has not changed much since 150 years ago when the Prussians first devised this model of education. 

Educational consultants I met, one of a kind niche professionals of today, think the current education can only help one get data entry jobs. What children of tomorrow need are  leadership qualities, problem solving and critical thinking. Hence they are leading us towards International Schools. The reputed Forbes magazine has estimated the International Schools market to be $89 billion market by 2026, of which $39 billion will be raised by pupil fees. More than half of these schools are in Asia. Yes its only us folks who thinks international is everything to do with “west”. The rise of edu tech startups, some of which backed by Zuckerbergs and Premjis of the world are now a hundred billion dollar industry. Gamification of education and delivering it on cool apps is their answer to rid the boring classes and teachers. Various Online and Open courseware available are completely changing the way we will learn in future. An article on smithsonian.com talks about colleges in Europe and the US are going to become irrelevant by 2030. The large overhead costs and popularity of online courses are not making it viable anymore to run a juggernaut that a University is. 

What is then the right path that leads to learning? Filling up as many kids in a class is not lifting the masses. Connecting them to electronic gadgets is not making them social and problem solvers either. Maybe we are thinking hard on the problem the wrong way. Why not leave it to them? Let’s put them on the driver’s seat and hand them the rein. Some of us may scream…no way! How can they take decisions for themselves? We have to tell them what to do, what to want or wish? The main impediment in bringing about this change is us. We just can’t let go. I know its difficult and am learning too. But how wonderful it would be to leave our children in an environment where they are free to learn and explore? 

It is a false notion that a child can’t learn unless taught. A striking example of this is an infant learning to balance her head thats close of 30% of its body weight. Then learn to crawl, sit and walk, all of which completely self taught. Mind you these are one of the most difficult of physical skills we would ever learn in our lives. They make long jumps, double cartwheels and mid air somersaults all look cakewalks. While we were learning all this acrobatics we learnt to comprehend language and also to speak. All of this within the first two years of our lives. We don’t need teachers to teach but to facilitate learning. Teachers have to be learners themselves, because they are not keepers of the vast knowledge anymore. That is Google’s job. Knowledge is not wrapped in an expensive hardbound book, it is now floating on the cloud with access to all. Answers are not the only important thing its the questions that are now vital. If we stop being curious we can’t progress. Curiosity of a child is the most valuable asset. What’s the worst fear we as parents have? That our children will not learn and not survive? By virtue of millions of years worth evolution and the way we are wired its impossible for our species not to learn. Isn’t that how we survived the dark and ice ages, world wars and cold wars, floods and famine. So worry not, we shall also survive the politicians of our age! 

I don’t intend to be evangelistic here. And I am sure you know it deep down that my worry of all this is not redundant. My only effort is to urge you to question. It is coming is all am saying. So, when it knocks at your door, what will you do?

Education and what it didn’t do for the Indian populous

Think about the purpose and the scope of education in our society and you will agree that it needs to change for the future. The purpose of education in our society has primarily been that of elevating the masses towards human development. To be literate has been reduced to having the basic skills to read, write and count. We were predominantly an agrarian society till few decades ago when the masses migrated to cities for a better and sustained livelihood. Where new skills were required to quench the mechanised industries. They required workers who operated machines in factories, several small scale industries and textiles mills which constituted the blue collar economy. Besides being literate they needed different skillsets. Compared to the generation prior they did better in terms of providing food and basic comforts, and of course had their challenges. But this generation also knew that the only way to push their children out of this kind of life and into white collar jobs was to aspire for them much lucrative – pensioned government jobs.

The state couldn’t provide jobs for all and the only way to select a few was to measure everyone on a single yard stick of educational merit. The certificates were only meant to be the foot in the door, everyone agreed the real learning happened on the job and shop floors. In that regard the current education did very little for us. But to say that it was completely futile would be too harsh. My parents and the extended family is today an example of that. My father, the 8th among the 9 children used to walk 8-9 kilometres a day to go to a school in rural Kerala in the 1950s. After he topped the SSC board, he was busy taming cows and goats, while his elder siblings similarly having completed basic schooling were busy tilling the land. Upon the insistence of his teacher, my father’s widowed mother gave him the permission to travel outside of Kerala (the first person to do so in family) to join the Indian Airforce. After 15 years of service he retired and joined the banking sector, all the while collecting degrees in economics, accountancy, sociology and humanities through correspondence. He knew he would need them to move on in life. Having jumped ahead of the lot, my father found himself morally responsible to mentor the children of his siblings. He would tutor them to appear for government exams and our house became the launching pad for many of my cousins, who would then fly off to greener pastures.

While growing up priorities were made very clear to my brother and I, the only way to progress any further in life was to study hard. So both of us did that, we became engineers and went abroad to further study. We also collected degrees, BE, MS, MBA. Did this make our lives better? Yes it did. With greater knowledge, are we pursuing our passions? I don’t even know what that means. From an agrarian income dependent family in the past two generations we have become a knowledge centric family spread across the globe. We build chateaus on paddy fields now. 3 out of 5 of my cousins belong to either of these professions: teachers, bankers, engineers, doctors, dentists, ayurvedic doctors, pilots, researchers and MBAs, all of which need degrees and certificates. This is not an unheard story but a familiar one. This is debatable of course if all this can be considered as progress. If not completely happy, at least it has given us enough opportunity and financial independence to seek what happiness meant.

I was going through a recent article by the Oxford University and Human Development Index on decreasing poverty levels in different states in India. Though the article talks about the welfare schemes but it is difficult to miss the walloping truth that the literacy rates are comparable to how poor the state is. 40-52% of people in Bihar, MP, UP are below poverty levels which is very comparable to the literacy rates in those states. Malnutrition, child and women health is directly comparable to how literate the women in that area are. All of us know about the much applauded scheme of Nitish Kumar, Bihar CM where the government gave free bicycles to girls so that they can go to school.

The state’s juggernaut task of running close to 13 lakhs of schools with tens of lakhs of teachers could only achieve mere literacy, is a sad state of affair. Plus all of us put together we are not there yet. But if you were to step into the shoes of the State (if it were a human being) what else would you do to empower the masses? Besides running the welfare schemes and creating jobs, the only way to empower will be to make them literate and skills ready. Hence in the due course we have now an over supply of engineers and their employability is totally questionable. Just over a quarter of the engineers in India today are employable, said a much debated Mckinsey research report. AICTE has ordered to shut down close to 200 engineering colleges due to lack of proper facilities and standards. What this necessarily tells me is that we managed to put the foot in the door but completely forgot to take the brain along. We have pushed our children into going to schools but they still can’t put together a sentence. Reports of tenth standard students failing to do simple math is not new. No wonder we are a mediocre society, but a tolerant one who is patient towards failing infrastructure, substandard education and with a dearth of people with professional attitudes. Only because we don’t know as society how better can better be. We haven’t seen the brighter sides yet and our politicians’ and bureaucrats’ myopic visions can’t aspire a better life for us.

I was mulling over what education should mean to my children. I have that leisure today only because my father didn’t end up tilling the land. Having moved up the natural progression towards upward mobility in the current class society of India. Now I can take a pause. And think. 15 years hence what I do not intend to do is push them into the already overflowing pool of half witted professionals. Thankfully survival is not the question here, we have learnt how to do that. The second/third generation educated class have to really define what education means for next generation because they are the ones who will make the choice for them. What education should lead to is an environment where learning really happens, where a child can discover herself/himself and their passions, strive for excellence, fight their battles, survive in this overpopulated world with meagre resources, be sensitive to nature and contribute to society. So it’s about time. This shift and change of mindset needs to happen now. Because the leaders of tomorrow are in kindergarten today.

still writing Part 2….

“We are the 99%”

This is the most powerful slogan from the Occupy Wall Street movement. This was a protest in 2011 addressing to tackle the hardcore capitalistic agenda of decades which created the social and economic divide in the Amercian society. This was not a leader led movement but people led in its true sense. “the 99%” says it all. It captures the emotions of the general population that has been victimised under the hands of a few “1%”. People felt they were cheated of their fare share of opportunities.

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From moment to movement

I went through a similar feeling last week. A few like minded parents of the Shishuvan school, where my children go, met under the King’s Circle bridge in Matunga. The agenda was to discuss the mass resignations happening in school. The Principal, Vice Principal had resigned in protest along with four other staff members. The school is managed by a Trust that belongs to a minority community. The protest was against this Trust that has set in motion a divide in ideology and the founding principles of the School. “From an open and inclusive culture it has started to become stifling”, said one of the staff members who resigned. The trust component was missing now. Rumours said that many more resignations were in pipeline.

When the school reopened this academic year, it seemed not ready yet. Small things like diaries and ID cards were missing. Children from primary section were asked to bring cash for their books, which was unheard of before. Some may argue these are smaller issues, but I have heard its where the rot begins.

School’s ERP system was up in toss. The teacher retention is poor, despite 80% increase in fees in the past three years. Parents were all anxious and shaken by the current upheaval and decided to write an open letter. The idea of an open letter turned to an online petition addressing the Trust and the Shishuvan staff. Soon a whatsapp group was created, “Save Shishuvan”. The title so apt, must have struck a chord with the larger community of parents. From a group of 7-8, we were 150 parents in a matter of few hours. A well defined and curated petition was floated. Very efficiently the petition found its way in all the groups of all grades. Many called their fellow parents hoping to wake them up from slumber. The expectation was only 200 signatories but it snowballed to 900+ signatures in 4 days. Our petition demanded a parents sabha, an open forum where the members of the Trust, Shishuvan staff and Parent body come together to discuss the resignations. We were 900 hopeful parents. We had the voice and we had spoken!

A group of 60+ parents got together to submit the petition in person to the Trust’s office but found a “closed door”. Later during the day the management announced that they accepted the resignations and the handover was to be done in two days. The chitter-chatter and the notification dings in the groups stopped. Though only for a few seconds, but the silence was killing. Then phone calls to each other began and frantic typing on groups started again. One of the parent said, “they nuked us”.

We were idealists and maybe even romantics. Seeking the change like its our right. We misinterpreted the strength of the 1%. We were so hopeful, that it made us dream again for the future of our children. I am disappointed and now doubting if I was also delusional. Didn’t I see it coming? But hope is infectious. Like one of the other poster in the OWS movement says, “You may say I am a dreamer, but I am the only one awake”.

Feeling proud to have been part of this journey.