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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.

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