If we’re pretending, why not do it realistically?

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”?

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Tunnel vision

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.

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Might as well “plug this in” on paper

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”.

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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.

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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 and Two-wheelers

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”.

We are Punekars. We are Batmen…

This is for TEDxPICT

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?
Money? No.
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.

This is for TEDxPICT

The Friday Evening Dilemma

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…

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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.

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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”?

 

 

Why I deleted my old blog…

The last two years have been radically different for me. No blogging, sleepy morning lectures  and the constant rush of exams. The no blogging part sucks the most though.

When I started my blog, I was twelve years old, barely a teen, baffled by the simplest of things, affected by the tiniest of inspirations. So when I took the time a few days ago to see the job I’d done with the blog as a kid, I realized there was so much I could’ve done better.

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So there I was, backing up the old blog, with all its posts and comments. Once that was done, I pressed the delete button remorselessly and removed the 191 blog posts I had published over 3 years. I wanted a fresh start.

We all love fresh starts. Fresh starts mean clean slates, new opportunities and a way to express yourself better. It’s like that opportunity that many of my engineering friends seek…to drop out and pursue something they’d always wanted to. This fresh start though, was much simpler and rather easy on me (since I could backup all that old stuff).

That being said, I don’t know where this goes from here. Of course, there will be short stories and poems, fun quotes and personal “research”. Maybe even the occasional puzzle. I love puzzles. I love watching people struggle. I love watching people succeed after they have struggled.

Whatever it is, I hope it is different. I hope it is inspiring. I hope it is beautiful.

Here’s to my fresh start. What about yours?

-Saunved