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Monday, October 14, 2013

Constraints and contradictions (the Bijoya rant)

We listened to the Mahalaya broadcast on the radio to herald Devipaksh, bought Pujo specials of our favourite periodicals, sang and danced in school on Mahapanchami before school let out for the biggest festival in Bengal. As I write this, it is Mahanavmi, and while you are reading this Devi Durga ceremoniously departs, making every Bengali a tad solemn, if not outright sad, for the next few days.
Meanwhile, my usual wave of depression before and during any festival has escalated into a worrisome to and fro between crushing sadness and utter numbness. Pujo comes once a year, and we are constrained by time to complete all the pandal-hopping, adda and eating while it lasts: and therefore, come what may, be there whatever issue that demands reserved and solemn attention, I force myself to forget it all and enjoy -- hence the depression. This year it is much, much worse because it is not just about mundane problems and home and school or even philosophical luxuries of thought like the social hypocrisy surrounding festivals or the commercialization of religion. This year, every fibre of my being reminds me from time to time of the grey, gloomy feeling that is loss; of the denial and desperation that precedes its acceptance; and the anger and indignation that resists any attempt by powers more rational to make a suitable replacement. Yes, we have a new Maths teacher at Aakash, who taught here last year and has been called back from where he was transferred. The first class with him involved a lot of unpleasant friction: whether that was because of the nature of the situation, I can't say. We are getting used to him, as we must and as youngsters like us very easily do, though I cringe every time he decides to criticize RJ Sir's methods: I hate talk like that (especially since RJ Sir was better!) even when it involves a simple change in faculty, let alone one where someone died. Died, dammit. For Heaven's sake, show some respect.
But in spite of everything, time passes, the moon takes its position as predicted, and like clockwork, Pujo is here. It is here too soon when I am not ready, but I must swallow the guilt that I feel when, amidst all the fun, some pinprick of a trigger lets the repressed memories into the forefront of my consciousness: something like a story of someone's death in the Pujo special, or running into an Aakash faculty member at a pandal. I can feel myself leading life at a very uncomfortable equilibrium between joy and gloom, which makes me feel incomplete as a whole. But that is no matter, for every human life is full of contradictions: each a unique interplay of light and shadows created on the screen when the rays of one's life-force are reflected, refracted, dispersed, scattered beyond recognition by the obstacles, the limitations, the constraints thrown in by the pesky little devil that is fate. So when Pujo comes, Pujo must be enjoyed. When a new teacher comes, he must be respected. When tests come, even if on Mahanavmi when you are unprepared, they must be answered. Screw the depression, screw the guilt, screw the unrealistically ideal dreams.
Between this Pujo and the next let us hope, and pray to Maa Durga if we are so inclined, that all the bad things that happened between last Pujo and this one are not repeated, (especially the pain and suffering!) and that we have the strength of will to accept the past, survive the present and face the future. As for all the good and happy things that happened: births, successes in exams, weddings, reunions with loved ones long lost; and love and forgiveness and compassion given and received -- for all these things I have just one thing to say: আসছে বছর আবার হবে ! Hope with me, friends, dream with me, that it'll all happen again in the year that comes... and that in some small way, we will make it happen.
আসছে বছর আবার হবে... হবেই হবে!
===================================

সকলকে জানাই শুভ বিজয়ার প্রীতি ও শুভেচ্ছা। বড়রা প্রনাম নেবেন। বন্ধু আর ছোটদের জন্যে রইল এই special message:

মায়ের অনেক কাজ, প'রে ডাকের সাজ 
কতদিন থাকবেন বল?
যেতেই হবে যে ফিরে! বিজয়ার sad সুরে 
সকলের চোখ ভরা জল।

পরের বছর ফের আনন্দ হবে ঢের 
মা যখন আসবেন ফিরে;
হবে mindless fun, সারারাত নাচ-গান 
দুর্গা -র family-কে ঘিরে।

শিউলির গন্ধেতে আবার উঠব মেতে
আবার উঠবে বেজে ঢাক।
ততদিন ভাল করে পড়া-খেলা দুই-ই করে
একটি বছর কেটে যাক!

এখন কথার শেষে, শারদীয়া হাসি হেসে 
বলি আমি টা-টা, goodbye!
সত্যের জয় যাতে জীবনের প্রতিপদে 
হয়, সে শুভেচ্ছা জানাই।

P.S.: 
যতই থাকুক পড়া, ভুলিস না এই ছড়া --
লিখেছি খাটিয়ে কত মাথা
মিল রেখে শব্দের, তাল রেখে ছন্দের ;
কাব্য কি চাট্টিখানি কথা?
===================================

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Growing up, and it hurts.

It's been a long time since I posted something here. Meanwhile, I've joined new coaching classes, a new school, cleared ICSE with 95.3%, got into the student council, qualified NTSE. Recently, I had a blast leading the student volunteers when my school hosted the CBSE East Zone Swimming Championships. I won prizes for my school, got a best speaker prize... got a piece in the paper about that, too. And for a long time, I've been telling myself to post something on the blog, especially since I gave the URL to a couple of new people. I was wondering what it should be about: school life? Classes at Aakash? The tougher and different life as a class XI student? There are so many shiny, new, wonderful things (and some bad ones, like the Nairobi shootout) happening all around that I've been spoilt for choice, and of course because of aforesaid routine, I've had less time to think. Basically, you could say that I'm growing up. I still have problems with grown-up things, of course, like decisions. And conflict. And choices. And, that which finally brought me to put finger to keyboard, death.
This Monday (yesterday, that is... feels like ages ago), when I returned home after school, my Mom showed me a text from my coaching class (Aakash, as I said) with some very surprising content: classes were not happening that day. That is so unusual for Aakash that I called to check, verified that classes would resume today, but I never asked why. In course of the day, there were speculations, reports of bigwigs in the building, and exchanges of text messages among Aakashians in town. But the most important text, which explained everything, was the only one I didn't notice until today morning when I switched off my alarm. My friend KB who goes to school and Aakash with me was nonchalantly telling me that Monday was off since RJ Sir, our Maths teacher at Aakash, was no more.
Instinctively, I was shocked and sad. This guy's been teaching us for the past six months, and though we found him a little (a lot!) weird, he took really good care of his job and of us. He appreciated us taking interest in the subject, and said mostly nice things about us to our parents. Now that I think of it, his dedication was more than wont: he picked out important sums from the fiendishly long Trigonometry exercises and wrote them all out, got them xeroxed, and handed them out, giving us faster and cleaner practice... and that's the last we will see of his handwriting, which I will treasure.
They say he drowned in a swimming pool... I'm crushed to think that he had to suffer. Human selfishness prompts me to worry about where we'll go from here without his teaching... but I trust Aakash to come up with someone good enough, maybe even better, come next Monday. The problem here is that Aakash is now a gloomy, sad place. Everything reminds all of us of the excruciatingly punctual Maths teacher who walked military style, told us silly jokes, and always mentioned the exact former examination any problem appeared in, grinning at our elation if we solved it without his help; the person who, incidentally, was the first teacher to teach us at Aakash when we began classes on 8th April, and set himself apart by systematically outlining the entire syllabus on that very day. We will remember him for always addressing us with 'aap', the most formal pronoun in Hindi. We will remember his habit of spinning around and asking 'anybody?' before we even finished reading the problem he wrote on the board, and of catching us unawares by snatching up somebody's book at random. We will remember him for his new Spice smartphone, which he never brought to class since the day, on the mischievous advice of our Physics teacher, we asked him (the most serious of our three teachers!), for a treat in its honour...
There isn't much to say. We being his students are much less aggrieved, I would imagine, than his family and close friends, who shall be in my thoughts: even his colleagues, the other faculty members, show worse signs of grief, and have not yet found their way to acceptance. We could see it pained our Chemistry teacher today when he asked, as poker-face as possible, how far RJ Sir had left us prepared for our test this week, what Maths classes we had for the rest of the week, etc. On our part, everyone in the class would agree that those questions slashed painfully through the thick silence that filled our classrooms today, and answering them hurt bad. The last class on Friday had been his, and we had managed to find a joke that extracted a rare smile from the very disciplined gentleman. The mixed-feelings-evoking distinction of being the last class he ever taught probably lies with our classmates from the weekend batch, who had Maths for the last class on Sunday.
I would like to conclude by thanking RJ Sir for every effort he made to teach us better, for being a very revered, very appreciated part of our lives for the last few months. We are lucky that we had him with us, and very unfortunate that an untoward accident took him away from us. We shall no longer see him leaving Aakash at 7:10 pm sharp, jaunting briskly while rolling out his sleeves, curtly acknowledging any student who wished him a good evening without slackening his pace. He will always be one of the top people in my list of good teachers and, I believe, that of many others. I conclude with a message that my rational mind tells me is a mere ornament, but my grief insists upon.
π±α π±α π±α π±α π±α π±α π±α π±α π±α π±α π±α π±α π±α π±α π±α π±απ±α π±α π±α
Good day, Sir, for I don't know what time of day it is where you are. Sir, if there is an afterlife, I hope you find peace, contentment and loads of numbers in it. I hope you find a better phone, and wonderful batches of students to teach, inspire and guide to the doors of whatever IIT equivalent they have there, and I hope you get to meet Aryabhatta and Euclid and Pythagoras and Euler and every other famous mathematician. :)
It was not very nice of you to leave us this way, or any way really -- but not in our hands, eh? I know you suffered when you left: it is a salve to our grief to know that, at least, you are not in any more pain. Do leave your good wishes with us and whosoever comes to teach in your place (not that you can be replaced..!) so that we may achieve the goal that you intended us to achieve. We will do our part, Sir, because that's the only way to honour you. R.I.P, Sir, and thank you so, so much.
π±α π±α π±α π±α π±α π±α π±α π±α π±α π±α π±α π±α π±α π±α π±α π±απ±α π±α π±α

Note to readers: If you are someone who knew RJ Sir, please leave a line or two, because my friends and I don't have much to remember him by. Also, if you have authentic information about what exactly happened, please let me know, because nobody seems to be able to explain how an adult could drown in a pool... was he ill or injured? Was there nobody around? Most importantly, did he suffer much? It hurts not to know.

Update: The news was not on any English daily but through my friends I came to know that the Bengali daily Anandabazar Patrika carried the report as well as a Hindi daily. The image that follows is a screenshot of the Anandabazar report's considerably glitched e-paper version.
He came to help Durgapur's children. Durgapur, unfortunately, was not kind to him.
The last news of RJ Sir, ABP 1st October 2013.


Friday, April 5, 2013

What do you mean hot? School weather, I say.

I read somewhere that people still like to talk about the weather. And it reminded me that in Australia now, people are probably dusting up the woollens. How funny, since up here the mere sight of a blanket would give me the headaches now. Outside my window everything is tinted a harsh, smouldering yellow. The verandah is flooded with slanting blocks of sunlight, cut up into inclined bricks by the shadows of the brick-pattern grill, standing against the afternoon sun which has travelled west far enough to be shining directly on my house from between the trees that block it out for the rest of the day -- and now it shines on the little tulsi plants the SPICE Club gave me as a farewell gift. As the day rolls, it will once again disappear behind the last tree, and then reappear beyond the trees in a new red avatar. What a wonderful thing it is that light comes in so many wavelengths -- it allows the sun to dress up differently for every part of the day.
It is still too early in summer for the room to be hot this late in the afternoon, and I have an old, rather noisy ceiling fan drolly breezing up the air around me with its tired revolutions: so I can barely feel any heat inside the house except for the humble warmth of the laptop under my palms. I only see the blaze of the sun outside and feel the heat in my imagination. I sweat up in my thoughts whenever I hear a vehicle whiz by, because I know how it is to be outdoors under the summer afternoon sky: I momentarily remember the feeling of my sweat-drenched clothes sticking to me and my sweaty skin protesting with an angry tingling whenever an escaped strand of hair sticks to it. And funnily, I find that I miss all of that: I miss the feeling of the sun burning up my head as I walk to the bus from the school gates. Back in the day, 4th or 5th April were the days CCHS usually reopened for a new year, usually with early-morning classes for the summer; and for the past few years, this one included, classes are already in full swing by now, and I envy those kids for being able to do all the summery things in school that I can't. I will miss Carmel in particular, but I don't mind a new school: I just want back that sweaty, bright yellow walk over sun-scorched sand from the school gate to the bus, and then, when I alight near home, the beautifully contrasting reprieve of shady trees and a fan-cooled room. I want back the neat demarcations on my arms and neck between tanned and untanned skin, coinciding with the borders of my uniform. I want back the five minutes after outdoor PE when fluids are not allowed, which seem to go on forever, and the enhanced taste that water seems to have at their end.
It is nice to know, therefore, that I'll get those summer school days back again, albeit just two more times. The kids in school now moaning about the heat have no idea how bad they'll miss it after the Boards.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Same old, same old

So. First post after ICSE, and I have nothing special to say, because it doesn't feel special anymore. The results are not out yet, but the new school will start soon, and with that we gear up for the next big exam which is less than two years away. Once again there will be studies, some fun, new friends, old friends, home, school, gaming, mall, blog. The only difference: no more studying Geography, Bengali, and most importantly, History.
Speaking of History: kids need to know about the past because of tradition, heritage, not repeating the same mistakes, understanding where we come from, belonging... I get it. However, I find that very less History is written with these things in top priority. I'm fully aware that I'm probably not the first person to notice that our History books, even those taught in Primary school, are full of violence. Yes, the past is unchangeable. Human beings have done some terrible things which we cannot go back on, and I do not advocate covering it up and never talking about it again. I do, however, emphasize the need to exercise great caution while dealing with past human acts which are not that glorious. It goes without saying that the way tyrants and butchers are termed heroes will have a negative effect on children, but my chief concern is elsewhere. I fear, and experience confirms my fears to a great extent, that the tiniest of kids, not to mention the know-it-all adults, learn to hate a religious or linguistic or ethnic group based on what someone from that group did some time. History becomes a 'we or they' deal. Some greatly educated and respected men and women I personally know can't stand the thought of behaving sociably or even civilly with Muslims. Some others have the same problem with the Chinese, or the Sikhs, or white people, or whatever. And their justification is what 'they did'. I understand that when terrible things are done in the name of religion or national pride, people on the receiving end might develop a general fear of that religion or nation, and I excuse the poverty-stricken, starved masses of my country whose opinions are dictated by the vested interests of some people who could afford literacy or affluence. But what about the "educated" ones? What about the esteemed executive of my city, who happens to be the son of a Hindu family, who lamented to me last year about how ‘Muslims were taking over our country' and how 'we shouldn't allow them here' because of 'what they did to us'? And I find that the History curriculum taught to 16-year-olds portrays the last years of the Freedom Struggle here as more of a struggle for religious supremacy between various factions rather than a struggle for democratic self-rule. Coincidence? I think not.
Presenting facts without emotion can be difficult, but this is something that History books, especially school textbooks, must do. They must stop presenting their opinions about which party disrupted a coalition's working: just say they didn't agree! And stop adding adjectives about how one side's army 'brutally' attacked the other, as if the other side didn't kill anyone: just say who won, and maybe mention that there were a large number of casualties without naming sides. Not as simple as it sounds, and the lines can get blurred: I know. But they must try, and children must be given the right attitude about organized conflict before they are taught about it. If they are too young for that in primary school, teach them Language, Science, Math, Geography and send them home: or limit History to conflicts not involving one's own race or country, and definitely not that bomb called religion. The curriculum of those years is mostly repeated later anyway, so why not start with it when they have developed some human values. Meanwhile, the onus is on teachers of History in classrooms, in schools and colleges, to ensure that children do not view the morality of violence based on who is committing it, and that the only loyalty that the subject inculcates in them is the loyalty to human welfare, human progress, and peace on earth. For all. History teachers nowadays probably affect children more than Value Education teachers. I know some who know the gravity of their influence, and try very hard: but the books are not helping them.
Recently I was given a hugely thick History book, a non-academic one, which I have by now read about a sixth or perhaps a fifth of. It is hitherto doing a good job of presenting History neutrally when it gets hairy and humans start fighting, but I'm not recommending it here until I see how it handles the real problematic parts: 19th century to the present, and especially the 20th century with its two World Wars and cauldrons of hate. I can tell that they have tried, though -- and unless all other books and all teachers take note of what is wrong with the present method, History will inevitably repeat itself. World War III: Nuclear Conflict... sound nice to you?
Makes one hell of a video game title, yes, but we won't be alive to play it.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Better late than never

It took me a tad too long to come up with something for this New Year's. I'd been meaning to have fun with the Doomsday-didn't-come thing, but couldn't find a good way. Even now I won't say I'm satisfied with the product. Nevertheless:
Wallpaper 60

Texture ideas for the header text are from www.vladstudio.com. Learnt the background from www.oktutorials.com. Mayan warrior mask tweaked version of real photo found on multiple sites (real source unknown).
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