I had a thing for surprising people, no matter what the occasion was.
Won an award at school? “Surprise!”
Got a bruise on my knee? “Mom, guess what I have on my knee!”
Lost my stationery pouch? “Guess what I lost today!”
It didn’t have to be something good. As far as I was concerned, anything that got people thinking and wondering about the smallest of things was a surprise.
After school, I’d usually walk back home, go to the back of the house, retrieve a key from underneath a potted plant and go inside. No one was at home then.
One particular day however, my sister was home. As I walked up the slope to my house, I realized that the bedroom window (which had no barricades) was open. My sister was in the living room, reading a book, too involved to see me standing outside the glass door.
The plan thus formed was to surprise (and scare) her since I’d come back home a little earlier. So I hoisted myself onto the window ledge, slipped my feet into the bedroom and kept my schoolbag on the floor. I tiptoed towards the door, stifling my giggles as I turned the door handle and peered outside. I couldn’t see much.
I opened the door completely and stepped outside, ready to say “Boo!”
There she was, with a cricket bat raised in her hand. She’d seen the door handle turn and she’d picked up a cricket bat, waiting for the “unknown” to walk outside the door so she could slam the bat down on their head.
I screamed, she shouted and we both just stood there for a moment, trying to figure out what had just happened. If she hadn’t looked twice before making a decision, I’d probably be dead. Luckily enough, she didn’t hit me.
“Are you absolutely crazy?” she shouted.
“I was trying to su-surprise you,” I whispered.
She glared at me for a few seconds and composed herself. Then she hugged me, realizing how stupid I was.
In the evening after my parents got back home, there was a huge discussion about how the maid had left the window open and how my sister should’ve closed it, followed by how I should always think twice before pulling off a “surprise”.
Scared out of my wits after that, I did the only logical thing I could think of doing.
We’ve all grown up to be in classrooms where we are surrounded by people that are around us in a well-defined and practically inconvenient pattern. In real life, people are all around us, interacting, discussing, arguing, teaching, preaching, you name it. Why is it so, then, that in classrooms people are around us but never really “with us”?
There is a sense of “individual collectiveness” in a classroom. The safety of being one among so many others, free to daydream and devise mischievous plans but constrained enough to pretend to be paying attention to the teacher. The supposed face of college education, as far as most Indian institutes are concerned is purely didactic.
Didactic: intended to teach, particularly in having moral instruction as an ulterior motive.
For many years, teaching has been this way. The word didactic is derived from the Greek word “didaskein” which means to “teach”. And to be fair to the Greeks, if you turn back the clock by a mere 30 years, the didactic form of teaching almost makes complete sense.
Why is that so? Back then, teachers were the primary sources of well-gathered information as well as well-organized knowledge, giving them an instant push towards being the only “talkers” in a classroom. Books were the secondary sources, used after the teacher had given you a particular path to follow. The “availability gap” between information and knowledge was hard for a beginner to grasp. Teachers helped fill that gap quicker back then since they had already memorized the best patterns to fill it.
Come back to the 2000s and you begin to wonder what purpose memorization serves. We’re living in a world that’s full of memory devices and yet we can’t stop stuffing our brains with useless bits and pieces of information that we know we’ll forget the moment it’s carelessly scrawled onto an examination sheet.
Memorization isn’t the problem though. Forced memorization is. In a world where the internet can provide ten different perspectives about the same topic in one tenth of a second, the phrase “blind faith” is sure to die out.
When a teacher tells a student to memorize a particular formula so they can apply it in an examination, the slightly adult mind rejects the suggestion at the outset. This is because the adult mind is cautious when it comes to blind faith. We’ve been betrayed too many times. We’ve gone past the “if you remember, you get rewarded” phase, and moved into the “external rewards are stupid” phase. It doesn’t matter if we score a little less in our examination and if we don’t know a few formulae. It matters if we cannot figure out where the formula could be used.
It’s like giving someone an Encyclopedia and telling them to remember the things that you believe matter the most so that when you ask them what matters the most, they can tell you what you told them you believe matters the most. Who’s the winner? The encyclopedia? Forced memorization really is confusing – and once you get out of college, you forget all about it, tagging it as a “part of the learning process”.
The educational design follows a pattern of: “You are free to do what we tell you to do.”
It’s a pressure-cooker stuffed with all the ingredients that make up education. Teachers, students, parents, management, society and accreditation organizations. Someone’s blocked the outlet, so all the ingredients just keep scalding each other.
The core problem lies in the fact that many people are, intentionally or unintentionally still stuck in the ““if you remember, you get rewarded” phase. They will follow rules meticulously, force fear down the throats of “rebels” and reward the “followers” generously. It’s blind faith – and the society accepts it as a part of who we are.
Think about how our classrooms are structured. Rows and rows of desks stuffed into a classroom for the mere convenience of space-economy, forcing the student to look only at the teacher.
In a generation that rejects blind faith instantaneously, we force them to trust a teacher the second she enters the classroom. The way we sit next to our classmates is reminiscent of the way we approach most of them – as competitors. Some are side by side, some are in front and some behind us.
The usual answer to discussions such as this is, “This is how the world works”. In fact the linear classroom structure is so accepted in most Indian colleges and institutes that it’s not even a topic of discussion. “Nobody” doubts its efficacy. But if that’s the case, why is management always unsatisfied, why are professors always cribbing about the lack of “natural talent” and why are students always complaining about how “irrational” professors are?
Isn’t it obvious that it is a big communication problem? If everyone’s complaining about everyone else, it basically means everyone is at fault. Why do students bear the brunt of the irrationality then? Just because they don’t have any actual “power”?
I mean, if we’re pretending to be teaching students to prepare for real-life scenarios, why aren’t we doing it realistically? How many real-life situations have employees copying hundreds of assignment and journal pages for the sake of obtaining ‘points’ or ‘marks’?
When we say “This is how the world works. Accept it!”, we become advocates of the “blind faith” cause. We might as well make a poster that says “I believe in blind faith blindly” and stick it to our bodies. I’m not saying we should be innocent about ugly truths and ignore them blatantly. I’m saying we should do something to minimize them.
Many aspects of our judicial system are already “Kafkaesque”, and we’re progressing towards making our education “Kafkaesque” too.
Change the way our classrooms are structured and it will make a difference. If kindergartners learn better in groups and by arranging desks around each other, so do college students. If you must force people, then force them to interact so they can figure out things for themselves.
Don’t tell students what you think they need. I mean, if you think about it; doesn’t Google already do a good job at doing that?
There’s so much to be said and done about all this. If you agree or disagree, feel free to comment. Let’s spark a relevant discussion so we can figure out where we can go from here.
Punekars are fantastic drivers. From dodging potholes quicker than one dodges trains in Subway Surfers to going over speed-breakers so fast that you cannot even feel the bump – we are the embodiment of the saying “Ignorance is bliss”.
Every Punekar, irrespective of which bike, scooter or bicycle they have, drives it like Batman’s bike. Anything that comes in the way is an obstacle. Woman crossing the road? Obstacle. Red signal? Obstacle.
We are Pune’s “Batmen”, vigilantes in a city of vigilantes – ever watchful, ever ready to break any rule that defies our logic. Because we are special.
(So special that we don’t even need Morgan Freeman to help us out.)
Of course, we cannot “just drive”. Does Batman “just drive”? No. He talks to people, shoots bullets at enemies and flies on rooftops.
Similarly, an anonymous group in Pune (Established – 1610AD*) has taken up the extremely time-consuming task of spraying tobacco all over Pune’s dividers while driving. These men (and women) have taken the phrase “Paint the town red” to a whole new level.
1610AD* - Introduction of tobacco in India by the Portuguese
Sometimes, the Government does its job (sometimes), and repaints the dividers with the standard colors (yellow and black). But our Anonymous group manages to repaint the walls within a few days. Wouldn’t it have been great if tobacco had been yellow and black in color? You know, just for convenience.
But bike riders are alright. It’s the people who drive four-wheelers that don’t know how to drive.
Here are the rules for driving a four-wheeler in Pune (Written by bike-riders aka Batmen)
1) Never disrespect Batman
2) Batman is allowed to cut you off in traffic
3) Batman will always take the faster lane. You should drive on the sides
4) If Batman hits your car – you will pay for all damages (and take a public beating if you are rude about it). Additionally, read Rule 1.
5) If Batman hits your car and you are a woman, it will always be your fault irrespective of what happened. Additionally, read Rule 1.
6) Batman reserves the right to scratch your car and damage any components.
Four-wheeler drivers fail miserably at following the above rules. They will always take the fast lane, always curse you when you cut them off in traffic, and always disrespect you when you hit them. How is Batman supposed to help such a city then?
But when these same four-wheeler drivers drive a two-wheeler, they become one of Pune’s own Batmen. Every ready, ever watchful. Vigilantes.
Pune has evolved a lot as a city of two-wheelers. In other cities of India, people usually drive in the same direction in a lane. Punekars have devised a bi-directional lane method, wherein driving in any direction is allowed as long as traffic police are absent. Batman needs convenience for his quick errands – and no lane is small enough to not be divided.
That isn’t all. We have scientifically analyzed the art of driving and created some special driving tactics, such as “Bus Blocking”, “Divider Kissing”, “Traffic Signal Color Blindness Technique”, “Roundabout Reinvention”, “Middle lane Sprawling”, and when everything else fails, “Beat Up that Person who dared to talk back when you shouted at them” Technique. A detailed explanation of these tactics is beyond the scope of this post.
Driving in Pune is an art. It is a sport, where reaching home alive is considered the highest form of achievement. We have achieved perfection in our art form, created a culture out of it, and revolutionized the simple task of “driving”.
I don’t know how I’m even getting time to write this right now. It’s less than 72 hours to go till Saturday, 1 October dawns. The Saturday we’ve all been waiting for.
For the last two months, I’ve learned a lot, right from understanding the basics of who knows what to understanding who DOES what.
Sometimes, I’ve felt like I didn’t really help in anything, like I was just there for support, but when I look at the grand scheme of things, it becomes clearer. It was my dream since I was 14 – to organize a TEDx event, to work towards making it a success, to make sure that people would remember it for the experience that it was. And that happens in less than 72 hours from now.
Today, a professor walked up to us and asked us, “Why are you doing this? This TEDxPICT thing? What do you get from it? How does it develop you? You are to-be engineers… you shouldn’t even be doing such small things.”
But the ocean is made up of small drops. Does it mean that all raindrops should just give up because they’re too small to make a difference by themselves?
I am doing this because I dreamed of organizing a TEDx event before I even knew I wanted to be an engineer. I am doing this because when I work with everybody, there is a sense of teamwork and belonging that doesn’t exist in any classroom anywhere. I am doing this because when I look back a few years later at this, I will not remember the exams that I gave or the lectures that I attended. I will remember the hard work and the perseverance that got me past some of the rough patches in my life.
What do I get from this?
Glory? As a team, yes.
But more importantly, what I get from it is that when I decide to do something, I won’t stop until I get it done. It teaches me what no communication skill class ever will, it teaches me to be the best at who I am, to survive on 3 to 4 hours of sleep everyday for a week and manage studies at the same time.
And these lessons will stay till I die (unless I become forgetful or something), because I did those things actively. I loved it, every second, every minute, every hour of it, even when some people doubted us at the worst of times.
And everybody on the team learned it too. Because everyone worked as hard, nay, harder and better and propelled me to be a better person over the weeks.
And now, it’s just 72 hours left.
This is for the final stretch. The big breath. This is for all the days when we worked hard. This is for the first and the last talk of that day. The first claps to echo off the walls. The last light to fade out and the last voice to trail off.
Throughout school in Seychelles, I wore tons of weird shoes. From pointy, black shiny ones to brown, loose flat ones. Everyone else usually just wore sandals. Me? I had certain “standards” to maintain as a kid. So for the first year of school I wore the spick and span black shoes that I had bought in India.
When they wore out, I got a pair of weird brown shoes. They were a little too large for my feet, a little too loose to play football in and a little too much like a grown man’s shoes. And although I was proud of them when I got them, things turned around pretty quickly when I got to school on the first day of wearing them.
The shoes spelled out the perfect recipe for disaster. Football would usually consist more of flying shoes than the actual ball, and eventually even the heftiest of attackers would stay away from me for fear of getting “the boot”.
That wasn’t all. I would be the “barefoot” runner in running competitions, since my shoes would fly off at odd angles. The only good thing it did was distract the other runners just long enough for me to finish ahead of others. (Pro strategy if you ask me).
Seychelles was a sandy island. You could be on top of a mountain, and sand would still be there. It was no surprise then that the first ritual after coming home was removing sand from my shoes. So, I decided to throw away my “standards” (and my shoes) and switch to sandals instead after they wore out.
But the shoes weren’t done with me yet. A few people from Seychelles national TV were filming on our school grounds for some documentary. We were playing a football match, with me kicking my legs all over the place in a frantic attempt to clear the ball from the defensive area.
The camera could’ve captured any of a hundred thousand things about me, but when the documentary finally aired, there I was – not my face or my body – but my legs and my flying shoes. Of course, I didn’t know then that they were filming for a documentary and I had no clue when it would air, so I didn’t watch it.
Nonetheless I was a sensation in school the day after it aired. I felt like Harry Potter because I had no clue why I was famous.
“We saw your shoes on TV,” someone told me.
“My shoes?” I asked.
“Yeah, you were kicking wildly in the air and then the scene changed.”
So I finally became the “Shoe guy” for everybody.
That was the end of the brown shoes. I put them in the shoe cupboard and refused to wear them, no matter what happened. That was followed by a huge discussion at home about how I shouldn’t let the opinions of others affect who I am (which ended with me sulking and firmly deciding that I didn’t want those shoes after all).
For the next few weeks, I was the “Shoe guy” who wore sandals to school. Come to think of it, it could’ve stayed that way for years, if it hadn’t been for a guy who started wearing the most fluorescent pink shoes one could buy.
I gladly handed over the title of “Shoe guy” to him, and stepped back to my old tag of “Malabar” (which meant Indian in the Kreol language).
Of course, nothing really ends on the perfect note and I got teased for many other things. But what I learned was, if you were weird, you weren’t accepted but you could still be famous even if you weren’t accepted but you could easily lose all that infamy if someone did something that was more embarrassing.
Since that day, whenever I did anything embarrassing, I just pointed out someone famous who had done it worse. That way, I would be a style statement. As the years passed, I erased all the “Xyz guy” tags, until I just became the “guy”.
Friday evening comes with its own emotions. The ecstasy of finally reaching the end of the week, the knowledge that this weekend will flash by like all others do and the realization that all grand plans you make for the weekend are seldom implemented.
Then comes into view the larger picture – of all the “Friday evenings” and of all the grand plans you’ve ever made. It’s as if all decisions come with their own “let’s give up” factor. Here’s what they look like…
Take for example this blog post. I thought of writing it at 4PM. I ended up eating a kiwi, listening to a song on loop 22 times (and kept a count of how many times I listened to it), tried fumbling with the feel of my blog by customizing it (and realized I was making it worse), had a coffee, and almost four hours later, I decided to give up on it (until I realized what I was writing about).
But come to think of it, does it really have anything to do with Friday evenings? I asked myself.
After thinking for some time, it dawned on me…it has everything to do with Friday evenings!
Because, isn’t every day like a “Friday evening”?
There’s the inspiration, there’s the want to be awesome, there’s the will to become somebody, and then it just goes away, all of a sudden. Poof.
For young people like me, the drive to be somebody is rooted deep inside, but it has obviously dwindled from when I was a kid. I hate looking back at all the Friday evenings I lost trying to wanting to become somebody.
It’s true that we all become somebody some day. And we all have that “weekend” where we do implement our plans. But then again, how well do we do it?
In the grand scheme of things, how many Friday evenings have you spent being who you are instead of being who you wanted to be?
And what about today? What’s your plan this “Friday evening”?
I was clumsy as a kid. Skinny legs, short height, round spectacles and an undying obsession for books. Seychelles wasn’t exactly the place you wanted to be if you were any of those things. Seychelles was a place to play football, swim, run and dance – everything I absolutely sucked at.
When it came to football, the usual order of things was like this:
Go into the school ground during lunch
Get picked last during team creation
Screw up in the most horrendous of ways (or better, make a self-goal)
Resort to reading during lunch-times
Feel bad about not being any good and repeating step 1 …
As if that wasn’t enough, the teachers would stand up for me and help me out whenever I had a problem (since I was new and foreign and didn’t know Créole at all). That alienated me even more.
Sometimes, I’d feel like bringing a cricket bat and ball and showing everyone that I could play cricket twice as better as they played football, but I was half afraid of someone stealing the bat, and half afraid of someone hitting me on the head with it.
So I decided to play football in the least destructive of ways. I would stay back near the goalkeeper, swing my legs at the passing attacker (usually miss) and pretend to have tried really really hard by showing the required amount of emotion. Watching Bollywood movies helped a lot with the acting part.
That served my purpose and I began getting picked more often during team creation (on the premise that I would at least try).
Life would have been all nice and peachy if it hadn’t been for a particularly aggressive kid on the opposite team. He would fly in with the football, shove me aside and score his goals. Who was going to spot a skinny little Indian lying in the dust anyways? Tick-tock.
Then began the days of watching football matches on TV. Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Chelsea. People watched successful goals. I watched failed goals. I watched why they failed. I learned.
On a fateful day, I put my logic to use and resorted to swerving out of his way, going behind him and diving with my legs forward to tackle him.
When it failed the first time, I tried again, faster, sneakier, tighter. Before long, I had blocked two definite goals and turned from a trier to a performer.
Of course, it didn’t always work, and I never had the potential to defend any more than a fellow seven year old’s tactics, but I did learn not to absolutely suck at football.
Eventually I came to the realization that just brute force wouldn’t get you anywhere in the world. No matter how hefty and strong the attacker was, all that mattered was reading his movements.
Things weren’t all peachy and fun after that either, because nothing ever ends with “and everything was fine“. There was the “high jump” incident and the “guava stealing” incident. There was also that one time I came on Seychelles national TV ‘by mistake’ (and everyone except me saw the footage, of course). But that’s a story for next time.