Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Monsoon memories...

My paternal grandparents’ house was made entirely of wood. It still is. Only the four walls of the home are made of brick, unlike the imposing structure I call my maternal grandparents home. The house is very old, built by my great grandfather, who was into the wood business too. He was a pioneer of sorts, who knew that wood would be worth its weight in gold, in a few years to come. People laughed at him when he started a small wood shop as a side business. They laughed louder when he loaded the wood into Lorries and sent them off to far off markets. They stopped laughing when he leased his own fleet of Lorries that took wood from Kerala to Chennai and from there on to, buyers distributed it around the country. Perhaps they went out of the country too. I am not sure.

The results of his travels were the impeccable house he built, from prime wood he kept for himself and a fully wooden cow shed complete with a wooden loft to keep hay! Every stair in the house is made of wood. Stair landings are made of wood and even the floor at most places are made of wood. The wood is old and cured now, cured by time and people. It has mellowed like fine wine and gives out an aroma that I can only describe as “home”. For some strange reason, the humid and wet weather of the place has had no effect on the wood.

The rooms in this house are cavernous and one can hear ones echoes at times. Space, I guess was not a constraint in the old days.

This post is not about wood, but the wood takes on significance in my life as I spent all my holidays in my wooden paternal grandfather’s home.

Every stair landing in this house has a small cupboard and after we were born, coir mats were laid, so that we did not slip on the shiny wood. Every landing has a window, and I spent considerable time in these spaces, reading, sleeping, watching the rain or just staring out. I felt very secure here for some strange reason.

The stair landing gave me hours of contended time just sitting and watching the dense forest, rubber plantations and from some windows glimpses of rice fields nestled in valleys in between imposing mountains. The terrace of the house was useless as nothing could be seen from here. Only canopies of coconut and mountains. The terrace bustles with activity and clinks of glasses in the evening after the rosary and I did not feel afraid to go and look at the pitch darkness around the house. At other times I avoided the place like the plague.

Sitting at the landing looking at the rain, is and will be my most persistent and pleasant childhood memory. The water pours from the awning and the whole landscape took on silvery hues. I watched the sand around the house taking the ritualistic beating during monsoons and felt the tremor of the thunder claps making the house shiver like a scared child. The rain fell in cascades, as in this part of Kerala the rains are not like I have seen anywhere.

The wooden floors were immaculately kept and sitting on the bare floor and reading and falling asleep was routine. For some reason the wood bonded me to the house like brick and cement can never. I still don’t feel the bond with my home in Bangalore, like the bond that I have with that house in Kerala. The house seems to be a living breathing entity. Every nook and cranny is home and unlike tiled floors, you can sit anywhere.

The house has an attic. This is a wonderland that I finished exploring only recently. A section of the attic is above the outer kitchen where wood is still used. I suspect this is to smoke several stuff kept on top over the grill like floor. We never ventured there as we were told that we would fall into the boiling cauldrons below. Besides the floor here was frail with wooden rods laid at a certain distance to from each other to allow the smoke to filter through. Next to this section is the place where bunches of ethaka (banana) hang to ripen. This is the very ethnic Kerala variety and not the type you get in market. Tasteless and bulky. Exhortation to eat the bananas fell on deaf ears and my grandparents’ watched in despair when they were loaded into the jeep to market. There is only one way I eat them till today, and that is steamed.

During the rains the attic was an enchanting place. Many of the tiles of the roof were made of glass to let light through. It felt good to see the rain drops splattering on the tile, leaving me dry. In the mornings, the slanting rays of sunlight fell into the attic amidst swirls of smoke from the wood kitchen. It was a magical sight. One day I plan to take a professional photographer and make him record my living memories.

Sitting in the attic, with the rain hitting the tiles above and reading or just lying on the wooden floor watching the sky through the glass tiles is an experience I cannot describe.

When monsoon begins, the days turn dark and sunlight is a distant memory. But there is nothing gloomy about this darkness. The cozy wood ensconcing the house ensured that my memories of monsoons past were magical in my paternal grandparent’s house.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Educating the educators

Corporal punishment is in the news again. We are a country that needs laws to curb grown up men and women from hitting kids. In fact we need laws to ensure we behave like a civil society. But let us not go there for now. Right now, I want to talk about teachers hitting kids.

I remember as a kid waiting at the Cubbon Park to get on a peculiar type of carousel. There was a family already on the carousel and they ensured that when a child got off they would put another from their family onto the carousel. I waited patiently for the nice Uncle to give me a chance and then from somewhere, my Dad walked up stopped the carousel and told the head of the family manning the carousel to give me a seat. The man realized that he was monopolizing the play equipment and obliged. This more or less sums up us Indians. Here was a 8 year old kid waiting patiently for her turn play on the carousel but this man was not man enough to ensure that the kid also got a chance.

If you remember your childhood, you will remember that the only adults who ever cared for you were your parents, family members and family friends. You could never hope to be treated kindly by even parents of kids who did not know you. We are a selfish society.

And our teachers are not any different. Teaching is a vocation, but in a country like ours it becomes another job, another meal ticket. Therefore expecting our teachers to be nice to kids that are not their own is asking a bit too much.

I studied in a school where teachers were nurtured. Yes, you heard it right. Teachers were nurtured to be teachers. The others were let go. The nuns who run this school, created such an environment, that only genuine aspirant dared apply for a job in the school. The school still continues the tradition. Please don’t misunderstand me here. Teachers are not intimidated here. But guided. And most were willing to change their mindset and become teachers’ a.k.a imparters of education and not mere roll callers and home work and class work checkers.

My niece recently passed out of the same institution. She was doing poorly since 8th std due to tensions in the home between her parents. The teachers zeroed into the root cause of the decline in marks and rectified the same. After failing in 8 subjects from 8th std, she recently passed with a first class in ICSE without repeating a year.

What I am trying to say is that, teachers, like students need to be taught that a B.Ed is not enough qualification enough to be a teacher. A sympathetic attitude towards students and a genuine desire in their welfare and above all a genuine desire to impart learning is paramount. And it starts with the school management.

If a teacher is caught hitting a child, punishing him/her or removing him from the job will in no way deter future kid beaters. What will deter them however is the practice of evaluating teachers not only in teaching, but a whole lot of other parameters that would indicate if a person is suitable to continue in the post.

Thanks to Blogbharati for linking this post.