Tag Archives: chennai

A school is a school is a school…not!

When we knew we were shifting to Navi Mumbai, my first concern was a good school for my daughter. However, I saw that the area we were shifting to, had a number of reputed schools, so I was reassured. I decided a school was a school was a school. Any child in middle school has to start working hard and it really did not matter which school she is in. I found a reputed ICSE school – walking distance from home and I was happy.

However, three months down the line, as we are cramming for first term exams, I’m plagued with guilt. I feel that I should have researched a bit more about schools in the area.
Not that the current school is bad. Everyone seems to think its ok.

I mean if you are extremely academically oriented, this school is perfect. But we have always favoured a school that offers a more all-round education. I believe, a school is after-all the microcosm of society. Children learn social behaviour, they enjoy their childhood and somewhere in the process they also gain knowledge. If you ask me, a child learns from every little experience. You take them to participate in inter-school culturals – they learn. You have a carnival in school and involve the senior children in organizing the event – they learn a hell of a lot! If you have debates and JAM sessions, they prepare for the topics with enthusiasm – and before you know, they have learnt a whole lot more without even realising it. Or how about you ask them to work out a drama on a particular topic they are learning…say in history…how much fun is that!

For me, formal, academic, learning at school is a by-product. Whatever else they learn is what matters more.

So, here’s a reality check. My daughter’s current school has 4 tests a week. Two on Mondays and two on Fridays. It essentially screws up our weekend (among other things). Then they have maths teachers who write sums on the board and ask the students to copy, without really explaining the concepts to them. Copious notes are given on every topic in every subject and students are expected to memorize and vomit! Whatever happened to students understanding and writing it in their own words? I’ll tell you what happened – the students in this English medium school cannot speak English. In grade 7 they are not comfortable speaking the language. So they need to be spoon fed the answers!

However, by doing so, the school is completely curbing any kind of independent thinking. The children are not imaginative or intuitive. They feel helpless to learn if they do not have the answers.

Ok fine. Let’s accept that for the moment. What horrifies me more is that they have exams for art, music, general knowledge and…wait for it…value education!!

I mean…what?!

Why can’t the kids learn art for fun? They are actually given topics to prepare! What happened to spontaneity? What if the kid prefers shading and does not want to use colours? What if the child has a penchant for abstract drawings? Or, what if, the child’s drawing abilities stopped at stick figures? If you have to grade the child at all, why not give them the freedom to draw or create whatever they like. Creative expression. Mark them for the thought behind the art – not for the artwork itself. The point of art is freedom of expression – right?

Ok. Let’s grudgingly grant them the art exam. But value education? This is not an exam subject. This is something, the child needs to imbibe and practice every single moment of their life. This is their foundation as human beings. As global citizens. However, in this school, they are given question and answers to memorise and write. In the meanwhile, outside the school gates, children unwrap chocolates and throw the wrappers right there.

General knowledge exam? How about making that a bit more fun? And having just a quiz and getting the kids excited about it a bit?

Music – kids are given a choice of 2 Hindi songs and one English song. They can opt for any one. And mind you, there is no like a ‘music period’ that the kids have during the week. These songs are sung during the school assembly. So if you happen to have learnt it…good for you! I mean, imagine a school with no music. Sad.

Wait. There’s more. So apparently when the kids are in grade 3 or 4, they are asked to choose a musical instrument. I’m not sure, but I think they are given a list of instruments like guitar, tabla flute etc and asked to choose one that they would like to learn. And then…wait for this…they have to LEARN IT THEMSELVES! So what the hell was all that select-your-instrument-process all about? What if I don’t want to learn an instrument from your list? What if I want to learn the Saxophone? Or what if musical instruments are not my thing. If you are not planning to teach in the school – why make the kids choose at all? I don’t get the point!

Now comes medical check-up. Firstly, I think every school must have medical check-ups. Every school I have been to, or heard of, has it. I remember my school used to have an annual medical check-up. A stern looking doctor and nurse would visit the school, make us stand on a weighing scale, check our height, make us stick our tongues out, pry apart our eye lids…and so on and proclaim us to be in good healthy, albeit a tad overweight or some such thing. But in this school, they give us the medical check-up form and we go get it done ourselves. What? Seriously? If I feel there is problem with my child, I will do it. If you are not doing it, why are you dictating that I must?

Ok, back to the academics. Right. If you are a wholly academic school, let me sigh and accept that. But then, live up to that name. Till date, my child says, they have not visited any lab in school. Not even the computer lab. And computer is such a practical subject! Instead they learn things like –
Step 1 – to open a file go to the top left corner of your computer, click on File and Click open
Step 2 – a new file will open. To save this file click on the top left corner…
Well…you get the drift! What’s the point of learning computer this way? They need to be hands-on don’t they? Fine, have the theory classes, but also take them to the lab and show them how it’s done! Seeing is learning – at least in case of computers.

And Chemistry. An entire lesson on physical and chemical changes. Not one visit to the lab. The teacher gave them the experiments and the results. Duh.

The heavy school bag she has to carry is another Pandora’s box. But I do not wish to open it here. My child lugs a heavy bag (at least around 7 kgs) – up six floors to her classroom. Eeveryday. It breaks my heart. I would like the school’s director the try doing that for a day!

I really think this school needs to loosen up, have fun, allow its students to have fun. They are not allowed to talk – even during lunch breaks. It’s a school, not a monastery, dammit! The poor class teacher is forced to eat lunch with the kids – because, you know, she has to ensure that the children behave! I’m sure she needs a break from the kids and vice versa. I’m not surprised to know that the teacher turnover is very high in this school. All the good teachers leave!
Honestly, I’m really really really disappointed. I expected the school to be up to some standard. People always say education is better in the Southern states – and I thought that was a mindset. Until now. Now I wholehearted agree.

So hats off South Indian schools. Especially the top Chennai schools. You guys have got the formula right. You are the right mix of fun, learning, social skills, cultural grounding and sports. My daughter and I miss you immensely Chettinad Hari Shree Vidhyalayam, Chennai. You are truly one of a kind school.

A tra la la outing

When little girls don’t need taking care of, and before they become teenagers – when it gets too embarrassing to be seen with parents – there is this lovely phase when you become pals. I mean like real giggly pals who do girly things together.

It so happened that on Saturday hubby was not in town, so M and I had to find ways to entertain ourselves. Having nothing better to do my 7-year old and I set off to for the most happening mall in town – Express Avenue, rather the EA.

Kala Khatta Ice GolaSince M was hungry, and I had promised her a surprise treat, we headed straight for the food court. My objective was to get a special chocolatey doughnut from a little doughnut store that I’d read about in the paper. But when we got there she spotted the ice lolly kiosk. We watched gleefully as the man pulled out a disc of ice from his ice box and put it in a machine that shaved it into little flakes. With a gloved hand he picked up the flakes, give it a little shape and poked a stick into it. Then he put it into a glass and spluttered orange syrup (for M) and kala khatta (for me) into our respective ice golas. We found a cozy nook to sit and “mmmmmed”our way through the lollies. M’s lips turned a shade of bright orange and mine turned dark maroon. We grinned and showed our coloured teeth to each other. We were mighty thrilled that we had not chosen the green flavour, whatever that was, because then we’d look like monsters. A lady seated next to us ordered just that and we watched with unabashed interest to see if her lips would turn ugly green. Much to our disappointment it did not, but then we noted happily that her tongue and teeth has indeed turned monster green. Ha! Silly choice! Not smart like ours. We just looked like we had lipstick on. This done, we packed a chocolate doughnut with vanilla ice cream filling and another one with strawberry filling. These were to be shared with the family.

Then we were off to our favourite store – the Body Shop. M loves the store, not just because I’ve told here that all the products in there are not tested on animals, but also because there are quaint bottles in every shelf with the label ‘Try Me’. So M feels obliged to try it. I mean when its sort of pleading with you – why not try it? We obliged and tried most of it. By the end of it our cheeks shimmered pink, our eyes shone blue and our eyelids were emphasized by a subtle shade of pink. The backs of our palm were lined with little streaks of various lipsticks and lip liners. From our wrists arose the fragrance of myriad perfumes ranging from flowery to chocolatey. In the end we picked up a bottle of organic, forest friendly shampoo and walked out totally pleased with ourselves. I’m sure the mirror in there must have sighed with relief – since we had spent a good part of an hour giggling into it and admiring ourselves! Not to forget the patient sales lady who had given up hopes of us buying anything and jumped like a startled rabbit when we told her to bill the shampoo.

Ah! An evening well spent, giggling and doing girly things together. We went home with wide grins on our face. Smelling, I’m sure, like nothing on earth. But absolutely at peace with ourselves.

These are moments I will cherish and treasure in a secret chamber in my heart. I’m not sure how many more such outings we will have. But I know these sweet memories will keep me going, long after such innocent days are no more…

RIP – the living dead

Elections are round the corner. Suddenly political posters are dotting the scenery here in Chennai. There’s one of the CM grinning with one son and then not to be outdone, there’s another one in a similar pose with his other son. Then there are posters with alliances. The people featured in these posters have their mug shots placed in order of hierarchy and importance. So if he is really important his chubby face (invariably all of them are well fed, not surprisingly I guess) grins down at you. Then there are other party cadres dotting the poster in order of importance. Some faces the size of a football and others the size of a tennis ball – as the case may be. Interesting this power play – even in posters.

I imagine what their lives must be like.

They have money. Which unfortunately they cannot happily spend. After all the tax paying middle class of India – will get annoyingly agitated if they find out what their money was used for. So they hoard the money in various banks across the globe. They drive around in rickety ambassador cars with Indian flag pasted on them – just in case you thought they were not patriotic. Mind it.

They travel in planes with Indian masses – when they can really afford private planes. But tsk tsk – again the public will question them.

They wear simple dhotis and khadi garments to prove to you that they care for India even at the grassroots level – just as that lion cloth wearing man instructed them to. (Er…what’s his name again…ah Gandhi!). They have to keep those Gucci shoes and Versace suits hidden in the closet and can only use them when they get a chance to go – on Government expense – to some foreign trip. Pity.

They can’t go to restaurants or to watch movies or to temples or go for a haircut…you get the drift… for fear that they will get rotten tomatoes or worse, bombs thrown at them. Oh yes, and they worry about their lives all the time. Terrorists, opposition party, the people AND their own family members are all out to get them. Darn it.

So yes, their personal lives are not doing too well either. The monsters they have sired and fed lovingly on greed, power and arrogance simply want them to die so that they can take over. Not to forget, the term sibling rivalry takes on mammoth proportions as they grow. Worse still, if they have sown their wild oats around, then there are kids coming out of the woodwork and demanding their share of the meat. What a bore.

They wake up each morning wondering how they can keep their stronghold on the power that’s draining them and the money that they cannot enjoy. The fear of losing it kills them each day. They cannot LIVE. And they are afraid to die. They are the living dead.

May at least their souls be allowed to rest in peace.

Brazil…brazil…duh…

‘Brazil! Brazil!’ - happened in Chennai recently. The show promised to be a sizzler.

It is apparently an award winning show and assured you of 90 minutes of raw energy, music, dance, athleticism and football. The hall was packed when we went in with great expectations. The audience ranged from over-enthusiastic 6-year olds to grumpy 60-year olds. Just our luck, we got seats behind a row of cranky, arthritic 60+ ladies. Each time my kiddo jumped up in childish exuberance, the ladies in front turned to glare. If we clapped they rolled their eyes. If our foot tapping knees knocked against their seat they almost opened their third eye… you get the picture, right.

All around us young girls shrieked and little kids yodeled. Why did we have to get stuck behind this bunch?

Anyways, that’s almost topic for another post. Right now, in this space, we talk about Brazil! Brazil!

The show began with a brief introduction to the group. They are a bunch of people who have overcome a troubled childhood and gone on to make something out of their lives. They gave us a history of why football is the religion of Brazil. There was robust singing, fabulous athletic dancing by hot bodied – shirtless men, along came long legged damsels shaking their assets, then came a lanky lad who handled the football like poetry. There was energetic samba and also a very vigorous, musical demonstration of their martial art form – Capoeira.

And then.

There was robust singing, fabulous athletic dancing by hot bodied – shirtless men, along came long legged damsels shaking their assets, then came a lanky lad who handled the football like poetry. There was energetic samba and also a very vigorous, musical demonstration of their martial art form – Capoeira.

And then.

There was robust singing, fabulous athletic dancing by hot bodied – shirtless men, along came long legged damsels shaking their assets, then came a lanky lad who handled the football like poetry. There was energetic samba and also a very vigorous, musical demonstration of their martial art form – Capoeira.

Yeah. That was all there is to it. While it was lively and even enjoyable to an extent, it really did not have any substance.

It made me think of the cultural richness India has.

There’s culture gushing out from every nook and corner. Be it music, dance, pottery, painting, weaving, costumes, fabric, jewellery making, folk art, folk dance, folk music, yoga… We’d never have this problem of filling up a mere 90 minutes with variety. Didn’t we just overwhelm the world with a spectacular 3-hour show at the opening ceremony of CWG?

What a pity that we run behind other cultures when there is so much wealth – right at our doorstep. And to conclude, while I don’t particularly like Shashi Tharoor, what he says here makes immense sense.  India will be a super power in the future. Not a nuclear power, mind you. But rather a soft, gentle, cultural superpower. I’m inclined to agree.

I hope that one day  every Indian realizes this.

Jai ho!

Ho Ho Ho

I really love this time of the year. The weather is perfect in Chennai and the festive spirit in the air is palpable. Somehow people don’t look so grumpy anymore – and that’s a big relief. But a strange epidemic takes over the city at this time. It’s a new phenomenon that’s been happening over the last two years…

I call it the Santa fever. You can see Santa’s in every street corner. They come in all shapes, sizes, colours and attires. Scrawny ones with just their false bellies sticking out. Dark, hairy ones. Most of them have ill fitting suits. For some the trouser rests well above the ankle. Sometimes the sleeve dangles well after the hand. At times the buttons strain around the artificial belly and you can see the lump of cloth they use to create the belly! Well… you get the drift. They all walk around with sacks of…hold your breath…promotional literature! There’s one Santa asking you to try the fantastic offers at Pizza Corner. Another one wants you to buy Christmas goodies at Macrennet Bakery. Another one insists that you shop at Saravana Stores. But the best one I have seen till date is one Santa who handed over pamphlets of a beauty parlour!

At first my daughter was excited to see the Santa’s. But after about four – she even refuses to look at them. They’re like street lights in every corner!

If you’re walking down the road and you bump into one – try to find the first escape route. You’ll see their tacky plastic face masks in such disturbing close up. You’ll notice its ends tearing off. And suddenly a hairy, grimy hand will flutter out of the outsized suit and try to pinch your daughter’s cheek. What’s horror! We both run for our lives.

Last night – after one such encounter :

“Amma is there a real Santa? Or are there only dressed up one’s?”  asked my perplexed daughter

“Yes. There is a real Santa. He stays up in the North Pole and its not possible for him to meet every child that’s why he asks people to dress up like him so that every child gets a chance to see Santa.” Says me smartly

“But I want to meet the real Santa. How will I know he’s the real one when I meet the real one?” M continues to worry

“The real one will not wear a mask. That’s how you will know!” I said the first thing that came to my mind.

“And will the real one give me a piece of paper or will he give me a gift?” she probes further

“A gift of course!” I assure her

She was silent after this.  So I assumed the topic was over. Today it came up again!

They had Christmas party in school. And apparently Santa came to give them all gifts.

“Amma you told me a real Santa will not wear a mask and will give me a gift. So when school Santa came I was happy he was not wearing a mask. He also gave me gifts. But when I was sitting on his lap I pulled his beard. It came off! Then I saw it was not Santa – it was Chelsea’s mother!” said my worried daughter

I was horrified!! “Oops! You pulled her beard in front of the whole class?” I asked

“Not fully ma. Just a little bit – but I could see it was Chelsea’s mother! So is there a real Santa?” She said, going back to her original question!

Don’t ask me how I wriggled out of that one. It was tough! Sigh. Whatever happened to the sanctity  of Santa? If hairy men, scrawny men and overweight women can all be Santa’s – how do we get the child to believe? Really! So when the child asks us pointed questions all we can do is squirm in our seats and go  “heh heh heh”…

Sunday evening at Marina

Admittedly Chennai’s Marina beach does not feature anywhere amongst the most peaceful places on earth. Certainly not so on a Sunday evening when about a zillion cackling, screaming, plastic laden population descends upon its shores. If you’re snorting and laughing at me for even mentioning the oxymoron here – hold your breath…

It was my daughter M who decided (sigh! as always) that we all need to go to the beach in the evening for some fresh air. “Not to wet my feet amma. ‘Cos I don’t wanna get all that icky sand on my leg. Just to play in dry sand and get some fresh air.” She declared.

So as ordained by the mistress of the house we reached the beach, struggled to park the car and managed to squeeze it in somewhere – feeling much like Mr. Bean carefully parking his mass of metal.

We stepped out of the air conditioned environment of the car and the sea breeze hit us like a sucker punch. The breeze was so strong it left me breathless for a few seconds! Wow. Ages since I felt such fresh, cool breeze on my face. It felt good. I was instantly grateful to my little princess for suggesting this happy outing.

We stepped in to cool sand and navigated our way past the various species of human race that had assembled at the beach. The ‘bajji’ ladies were doing brisk business. Merrily frying onion/cauliflower/potato/chilly/brinjal and other yummy smelling varieties of bajjis in their giant woks filled with oil. All of it served so casually in oil stained newspapers.

The sundal/murukku guy was also enjoying his weekend bonus. He followed us for a while, hoping we will get tempted, but then trailed off. A guy in a four wheel cart was selling something white and fibrous. This thing was displayed in a glass jar – I was amazed at how many people were buying that suspicious looking thing!

The most amazing of all were the corn sellers. They were roasting corn on a little stove fired by coal and the wind was carrying the embers with it. Making it look like a formation of fireflies! In the fading evening light this looked almost surreal and magical. I stared at it fascinated, until I was pushed ahead by my impatient daughter who wanted to get close to the water.

Finally we reached the edge where land met sea. The sea seemed angry. Spewing forth frothy waves and spitting out all the muck that humanity flings into it. So the shore was lined with all kinds of muck. Plastic glasses. Rubber slippers. A trouser with just one leg intact. A wooden box. And what not!

The air was filled with the fragrance of salt and ozone. A lovely primeval smell that somehow helps you connect with Nature. I sat there with family, watching the waves and inhaling the freshness. Each of us absorbed in our own private world. Each of us deriving our own sense of peace. Each of us incredibly alone amidst this mass of humanity.

It made me feel so humble. It’s so true that ultimately you are all alone. You need to find your own peace and your own happiness. Amidst a zillion screaming people, amidst the tinkling of the sundal seller’s bells…I felt so calm. Amidst the slapping wind, the thrashing waves and the flying corn embers I found peace. Nothing else mattered at that moment.

Yes. It’s true. I felt it. You can find peace – no matter where you are. Yeah even at Marina beach on a heavily crowded Sunday evening – you can.