Saturday, February 26, 2011

India visit-- My mother

(The picture here was taken when my mother visited us in Singapore --this is at the airport. Pavithra, my daughter is behind us)
It was lovely to meet my mother. She is about 81 years old, frail, yet with a zest for life very rare to find. Until very recently, she tutored the watchman's children ( security guard of the Apartments we live in--in India we call them "watchman"), helping them do well in the "English-medium" school they went to. Now the 3 children study in a residential school a little away from the city.

Some years ago when she was tutoring them, my sister who is an Professor of English in English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad wrote the following piece:

I overheard my mother showing the children the various rooms in our house and explaining to them what a kitchen, dining room, bedroom and drawing room were.Lucky she had our house to show them. For the children of our watchman live in a single room that serves as all these together.

The children are being sent to a modest ‘English-medium’school. My 76-year old mother, a retired teacher has taken it upon herself to help the children with their studies. She is constantly showing them objects which can only be found in a middle-class home like ours. Otherwise the English words they learn would remain only words to them without any meaning correlation, except where the words are illustrated in the books.

Without the kind of support that my mother offers, these two children would eventually drop out of school, not being able to afford tuition in addition to the school fees.

Literacy and education are important to make these children to make sense of the world around them. But along with that the anomaly of the different kinds of lifestyles stares them in the eye. What answer do we have if they turn around and ask us why their house doesn’t have so many rooms. Can it still be called a house? So do we need to add something like, ‘rich people’s houses have several rooms’, ‘the poor live in single-room houses with the toilet outside’. These children are lucky that their father is a watchman in a multi-storeyed complex which at least has this facility. To think of others who live in slums with common toilets or not even that!

I reproduce the text here, innocuous by itself. But the socio-economic complexities it throws up raked up my guilt.

Our Home

We live in a house.

It is our home.

Our house protects us from heat, cold and rain.

It also protects us from animals and thieves.

The house gives us shelter and comfort.

A house has several rooms.

The rooms have doors and windows.

We cook our food in the kitchen.

We eat our food in the dining room.

We sleep in the bedroom.

We receive guests in the drawing room.

We take bath in the bathroom.

We also store things in our house.

We keep clothes, food, books, toys, tables, chairs and cots in our house.

We should keep our house neat and clean.

This is just one example of things that perplex me about education in Indian schools. Is English language really so important to learn? Is it important to be educated in a curriculum that does not reflect the culture and society that an individual lives in?

But if these children don't go to a school, they fail to gain literacy skills. If they go to a school and don't get help from someone like my mother, they would not be able to make sense of what's going on and eventually probably drop-out.

It brings to mind Paul Willis' Learning to Labour (1977)

India visit-Part 1

(This the first part of a series of bogs I plan to write about my visit to India 29th-6th Feb 2011)

I had a week off for Chinese New Year between the 29th and 6th of February. This was the best time I thought, to visit my hometown, Hyderabad in India to spend a few days with my mother and sister who live there. My daughter Akanksha who is waiting for her 'A' level results also accompanied me.

Its a strange mixture of conflicting feelings that I experience whenever I go home to Hyderabad. I am happy to go home, but the strangeness of the city I grew up in makes me sad and happy and bewitched and angry and proud all at the same time.

We landed in the brand new Hyderabad airport at Shamshabad, at about 3.30pm. Lovely airport --didn't feel like India at all--rather, a great international airport. I was asked to come to the departure area and give a "missed call" to Hyder, our driver, who has been with my parents for the past 19 years. Giving this missed call would enable Hyder to drive into the departure area from where it was more convenient to pick us up. Hyder will never park at the parking lot because he doesn't like paying the parking fee. So he will arrive at the airport, wait at a distance from the airport and wait for our "missed call".

As we drove home to Begumpet from the airport, I thought of Thomas Hardy's book title--The Return of the Native. That title summed up what I felt. The long fly-over took us from the airport at Shamshabad to Mehdipatnam--where the college I taught Psychology for 5 years between 1990 and 1995 is located. As we passed that road, through Masab Tank and Banjara Hills to Panjaguta.....memories of years gone by flooded my mind. How many times have I driven on that route! How different that route was now! At least 2 fly-overs have sprung up, and hordes of shopping malls dot the road now making the once deserted route a hustle and bustle of activity.

We finally reached home that is located in the heart of the city, in the midst of shopping centers --Shopper's Stop, Nalli's Silk , Pantaloons and Lifestyle! My mind went back to year November 1981, when we first moved to Mayuri Apartments, Begumpet. The road would be empty with just a few vehicles passing once in 10-15mins. Now there is hardly any silence for 10-15 seconds.

It's good to see that Hyderabad has such an excellent, world class airport. It is sad to see the heavy traffic on the road with constant noise from honking vehicles---crazy, crazy traffic. It's great to see the shopping malls, indicative of economic prosperity and material progress and at the same time sad that the quietness and calmness of a city I knew is lost. It's good to see the vibrancy in the faces of people--they seem happy and excited and alive. The once sleepy Hyderabad has become crowded with people and vehicle traffic, noisy and polluted.

Ironically, in this very city, on its outskirts, began my inward journey into the depths of my mind, freeing it from many shackles and bondages, and putting me on the road to real peace and real happiness: The 10 day Vipassana course at Dhamma Khetta, Vanasathalipuram, on the Nagarjuna Sagar Road.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Being Present

"Wherever you all there" Jim Elliot

Being present is the greatest gift you can give yourself and others. And yet in this world of multi-tasking and constant connectedness with people are we really present anywhere? Most of the time we are not and this is one of the main sources of unhappiness experienced.

There have been a few people with whom I thought I had a very close relationship. However, whenever I met these people in person, I could barely hold a conversation with them. This was because they were busy doing something else--such as working on their computer or messaging on their handphones. As I thought deeply into why I seemed to think I was close to them when they were actually so non-communicative in person, I realized that the "closeness" I experienced with them was when I spoke to them on the phone or chatted with them online.

When you speak to someone on the phone your entire attention is focused on the conversation (atleast most of the time). This gives the person at the end that feeling of "exclusivity" that is needed for a relationship to grow and sustain itself. The person you are speaking to becomes an important person to whom you give your undivided attention. Every relationship requires this nurturance.

Online chats give this illusion of exclusiveness. It is an illusion because one can never be sure who exactly it is at the other end of the chat--you may be thinking it is your friend but the other could be their spouse or child or just anyone. But however, it does give that feeling of "exclusivity" that is needed in a relationship.

It is important for us to realize this when we are communicating with people. When someone speaks to us, we need to be attentive, we need to listen to what they are saying. He/she is the most important person who has called for your attention. You may want to do something else and that could be an important thing. If that is so, communicate to the individual--ask for time--that you would finish the most important, pressing commitment you have and will be engaged with the person soon after.

Giving your presence is so important in relationships--in any reciprocal relationship. A student in class with a teacher, a teacher with a student; a boss and an employee and the reverse--employee and boss, husband and wife or parent and child and also in friendships.

It all begins with an ability to connect with oneself. Connection with oneself helps us connect with others. Being present with oneself helps us in being present with others. Which is why it is so important for one to take a few minutes ( I take one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening) to be with our breath and understand and connect with our inner world. This practice helps us be present, attentive and engaged with people whom we interact with--particularly when they are physically present in front of you.

This brings about richness and satisfaction in being alive together in this wonderful world.

Jon Kabat-Zinn says this beautifully in his book " Coming to Our Senses" : Robotic Lives

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


I really like this picture. It is the preaching of Anapanasati on a full moon night by Lord Buddha.
Looking at this picture brings immediate sense of calmness and peace to me. It reminds me of the triple gems, the 4 Noble truths and and 8- fold path to liberation. In fact looking at this picture, I get a sense of meaning of life and the reason why I am living it. It helps me understand my purpose and my onward journey.

What a great era it would have been during his time! Just to imagine that he taught sitting under a tree on a slightly raised platform to so many who sat cross-legged on the ground; no microphones, no chalk and board! Just practice with minimum instructions! How wonderful! So beautiful!