Saturday, November 24, 2007

My English Textbook

I have been scrutinizing my second PUC English text book with criticality and I can conclude with confidence that, it is, in a few respects, below the standards. I’m not trying to say I am an insufferable know-it-all who is supremely cynic, who enjoys scorning at textbooks and finding faults. I am not talking individualistically; it is a collective opinion of most students. Open the textbook and you see only translations—almost every other story is a direct translation from Kannada, Malayalam, or Hindi. I agree, translating languages is a difficult and delicate process, but finally, they end up translating things into unusual sentences like “The owl is a vegetarian creature” ( The Rightful Inheritors of the Earth—pg, 3 first PU text). Don’t we usually use ‘omnivorous’ there?

If you think I am being harshly critical, think about this. Why do we need only translated versions in out textbooks? Isn’t English rich in original stories and authors? We’ve got all types of literature which provides an interesting read. If you want an Indian flavour, you can always include RK Narayan’s writings in your textbook. Most stories are in reported speech—we have interviews to bi-heart. Like where Baba Amte was born, and what he did (and is doing) throughout his life. This makes the textbook really boring. Our state needs to improve the curriculum—I must say my school-text books were far better than what I’m reading now. It’s no joke when I say my brother’s eight standard textbook is far more advanced than the primitive 2nd PU English book that I am destined to read. He has prominent works of famous authors and poets—O Henry, William Shakesphere, RK Narayan, Wordsworth, H.W. Longfellow, Connon Doyle’s works….I can give you many examples to illustrate my point.

A story from my textbook named ‘Unni Katha’:
“ Unni,” said Mutthashi, “Tell me a story,”

Mutthashi had chewed on her betel-nut to her satisfaction after her frugal meal of kanji. Now she waited for Unni. Only Unni’s stories could put her to sleep. Peering through the open door she called out to him. “Come Unni,”. She was impatient for his story. “

This is from my brother’s 8th standard ICSE textbook:
We can only be partially acquainted with the events which actually influence our lives and our final destiny. There are innumerable other events which do not leave any impression on us. If we were to know all the changes in our fortunes, life would be full of hope and fear, joy and disappointment, to afford us a single hour of true serenity.”

You’ll probably laugh when you realize the poem below has been prescribed for 2nd PU syllabus:

We are going to see the rabbit,
We are going to see the rabbit,
Which rabbit, people say?
Which rabbit, ask the children?
Which rabbit?
The only rabbit,
The only rabbit in England!”
This is another passage from my text book:
“When harvest-time was at it’s height
They could not take us to the farm,
They left us, bundled very tight,
And prayed we wouldn’t come to harm.”
My brother will snigger if he hears that we have such poems, because they’re doing Wordsworth, John Keats and Sir Walter Scott. Here’s a poem from Whispers of Immortality which is prescribed for him:

The sanguine Sunrise with his meteor eyes,
And his burning plumes outspread,
Leaps on the back of my sailing rack,
When the morning star shines dead; or Long Fellow’s work:

“The shades of night were falling fast,
As through an Alpine village passed,
A youth who bore, ‘mid snow and ice,
A banner, with the strange device,

Do you agree with my point? I’m not trying to say I look out for posh English of flowery language to claim the eight standard book is superior. Rather, I’m trying to say that there are interesting passages, vivid descriptions, originality, and a correct selection of a wide array of authors and an exposure to different forms of English here---patriarchian sonnets, Shakespearian works (He’ll be doing Julius Caesar next year), metaphoric expressions are the very essence of hard-core English literature. If you are a logical thinker, you’ll be wondering why on earth am I complaining? The easier to read the textbook, the easier it is to get marks, right? Wrong! Imagine, they ask us to underline sentences like “Melkkoran was obsessed with work” and say “It is very symbolic” and we’ll be left with wondering what’s so symbolic about the four word sentence. And of course, they ask the question in the exam—“What was Melkorran obsessed with?” for FOUR marks and expect us to write a page. The answer is in one word “work.” Even if you explain the gentlemen’s profession of cutting trees, I doubt it will take up a page. Sometimes, complicated things are easier to decipher than simple matters. Like when a person asks you why 2+2 is four, you’ll start wondering how you’ll explain that. That’s exactly the problem 2nd PU students are faced with, we don’t know how to give page-long descriptions of simple situations like “He was drinking tea and chatting with a friend.”

Ultimately, I don’t know whom to blame. As long as we get our marks, parents and teachers are happy. But what the students are really doing is mindlessly bi-hearting some names, places events, and names of authors and vomiting it out in paper. It’s not helping us to improve our English in any way, and we’re loosing the little interest we have in the language. We have stories which do not have conclusive endings at all—I think it is high time something is done about this and better stories are included in our curriculum to make reading the textbook an experience to savor.

Just a simple thought

I don't know why I am attracted to traditional ideas and ancient thoughts. Ideas crop up in my head so suddenly, at the most unimaginable times, like an erupting volcano. So, when I'm studying Aldeyhydes, and I'm reading "Primary alchols under controlled oxidation in the presence of acidified potassium dichromate..." I stop in midsentence. Something fantastic is wriggling in my brain. I don't ignore it, I nourish the thought, and finally the wriggling worm of a faint idea aqquires meaning and dimension.

I hardly have anything to remember school by--my slam book does not count, many people could not sign it. This year, I have a bright idea, to make college days truly immortal in my memory. I want to design a memory quilt for myself. I know what you are thinking, you are probably shaking your head saying all this is 'old lady stuff'--some primitive craft confined to the hands of dim-witted housewives and circles of gossipmongers who simply have too much time to waste. Something like this might be a challenging and ambitious project for a teenager, and anyways, I'm in the "turning point" of my life (please don't repeat those words again. I UNDERSTAND i'm in the crucial phase). As quilting takes some time, I have strictly decided to begin only in the holidays after my CET exams. But the desire the thought itself has provoked is so strong, that I'm pretty sure I'll complete the quilt in a jiffy.

I have never told you the tale of the headless teddy. It was my first stitching project. I was learning to stitch from a cousin of mine, I was supposed to be stitching a teddy bear, but my first attempt yeilded disasterous results and I had to abandon my teddy bear, which reamined headless till the end. I have never touched a needle from then. Obviously, if I am to stitch something like a patchwork quilt for myself without any past expereince or prior knowledge, I need to research, and I have done it with keen interest.

Quilting is part of the great american tradition, and comes with quite a few stories and superstitions attached to it. For example, if you sew a hundred peice quilt without a single mistake in the seams, then that quilt will aqquire the magical ability to make anything you dream about under it come true. Don't worry, I'm not planning on a hundred square masterpeice--I was thinking of a simple 60 square patchwork. Here's how it will work--I'll get the fabric, and the permanent felt tip pens of all colours (ahem, quite a bit expensive there. I need to use flowery words of flattery with mom to make this work). I'll cut out the squares, and ask each friend to autograph it. Each peice that will become a part of my quilt will be charecteristically special, absolutely unique. That's because every individual is different, and everyone conveys their thoughts in writing in different forms.I'll then give some pratical meaning to all the lovingly scrawled words...I'll sew them together and sleep under them...won't that be lovely?

My quilt shall be a present I'll gift myself...something special of my creation. It, like ordinary gifts shall not collect dust behind glass showcases, or be stacked away in the attics, but shall be used to revive the best memories of college life, bring back, with vigour, the hundred faces of classmastes, when I unforgivably forget them. And slowly, with every stitch, I shall give a form to my college memories, the quilt shall be the greatest masterpeice of expression. All the memories will be sewn together to collectively narrate a story--reminding me of the countless times I've laughed this year. And yes, before going to sleep, the quilt shall give me ultimate comfort, envoloping me in a sixty wisphers of friendly 'good-nights'. I will probably go to sleep with a smile on my face, aware that my freinds are there, in written form on my memory quilt, keeping me warm though the night...but now, I need to allow my fantastic dream to melt, lock it away in my brain for a while, because I am expected to be studying organic chemisrty today. When I'm finished with the quilt, a few months down the line, you can expect a detailed account of it on my blog. So here I go again..." Primary alchols under contolled oxidation in the presence of acidified potassium dichormate..." and the wriggling worm of my idea is forced into the 'restricted thoughts' section of my brain.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The not-so-silent Reunion (Reunion part II)

I remember Varsha had once said to me that I was a different person—a person who found it difficult to talk, to mingle, and one who finds discomfort in the easiest and simplest of matters. Maybe she’s right. Yesterday, I found her phone number I was searching for, and called up Varsha and I was asked to come over. I was nervous, which is so typical of me. I stopped over at the milk store to buy a packet of Pedas, I wore my best set of cloths and put on a friendly smile. This was it, I was going to face my friend again, after two entire years of complete separation….we were finally going to talk. We were going to talk— I hate that word…only the two of us…I wondered what I could say. I would be hearing Varsha’s voice again, closer and clearer, and hopefully, a lot more friendlier than it had been two years ago. I would be, once again, staring into her eyes, talking, laughing and sharing memories.

Mom said she would drop me at Varsha’s place and leave. I felt a nagging worry, queasiness that she was deserting me, the terror of abandonment….pretty childish right? I felt exactly like the first time that I entered into kindergarten. You know, when your parents leave you in Nursery school and wave you off, and you are suddenly faced with something you need to deal with alone? My problem is I cannot deal with things. I need people to be there to instruct, guide and teach me. Maybe my mother sensed I was feeling quite a bit uncomfortable and decided to hang around for sometime, in the Verandah, but she was clear that she would not intrude into our conversation.

The first fifteen minutes were spent in absolute silence. I never begin a conversation. I wait for the other person to start. And I waited for Varsha patiently. She waited for me. We occasionally threw smiles at each other, and I spent quite a lot of time staring at the dregs of Bounvita left behind in my teacup and took keen interest in the brass trophies Varsha’s brother had won in Lawn tennis competitions. Varsha stared at the TV, and coughed. Oh, god, why isn’t she speaking? Does she still hate me? Meanwhile, precious time is ticking away…I look at mother for support, but she is already engaged in animated conversation with Varsha’s mother. I have no choice. I have to be the one to start. I open my mouth, close it. I open my mouth again, twice, and say nothing. No words come, the silence is still haunting. Maybe someone should give me a pen. I could write a 50 page book, then and there….but why aren’t the words coming to my tongue? Finally, miraculously, out pops a feeble, “How’s college, Varsha?”

She’s now looking at me. She shrugs, and finally, the formalness melts, and Varsha’s casual tone creeps into her strong voice, “Fine, but worse than school, you know.”
I am relieved to hear her talking so normally again. So, here bursts out a successful conversation.
“Why don’t you come into my room, Lakshmi?”
That talk stretched for an hour. Suddenly, I was talking more. Mom wasen;t there beside me, but I was talking like the old times, with absolute ease. We had broken the ice, and we were talking so fast that we covered everything from college, school, friends, family, interests, academics in less than an hour. I did not believe that this could have been so easy, and I had restricted myself from doing this for two years. The topic reverted to school. She talked about everyone—even her enemies at school.
“You know,” she chuckled, “ It’s weird that the only people I hate are the people I like,”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s funny, it’s quite difficult to explain. It turns out that the people I usually quarrel with are often my best pals, get it?”
“Well, I cannot hate a person, you see…”
“You cannot?”
“No, I mean, it’s no one’s right to hate anyone else. No one deserves to be hated.”
“So, you did not hate me when I was in school?”
“Nah, you know, you were the one who just took it to the heart. I did not mean the things I said back then. You just take a lot of things literally. I don’t hate you.”
You see, this is why I like Varsha. She’s forgiving, and although she is stubborn in her views, she is clear in her expression. She admits things easily, confesses when necessary and lives with an open heart. She does not hide her feelings.
“I can be mean sometimes, I cannot help it, I am like that.” She says.
“You’re not a bad person, Varsha,”
“Well…” she says, analyzing herself, “It depends on how you look at it. I can be good, and I firmly believe that the things I do are right, but when the world thinks I am wrong, then I become a bad person….my college thinks I am a villain, just because I stand up and object the wrong things.”
The conversation drifted endlessly, and it reminded me of some of the old warmth that we shared. But, to be absolutely honest, the complete truth is that there is still an incompleteness, a void which cannot be filled. I doubt if anything can replace it. It’s wrong to expect too. We have grown up, and, well, we cannot possibly have retained all that innocence, those dreams, ambitions we had as children. We cannot forget that this is just ‘patch-up’ work and a conscious effort to regain a strained relationship. There is an air of artificial deliberateness, we are careful in our actions, and have control over our tongues. Somewhere, I cannot help but feel that the natural friendship which blossomed and united us unconsciously, fruitfully, has ended in carefully planned reunion, after two years. But I am happy that I finally reconciled, and for now, that is enough. Thanks, Varsha, for forgiving me….

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Silent Reunion

Let me tell you a story of an old school rivalry which turned friends into foes. It’s my story. It’s a story of how a simple misunderstanding led to ghastly misinterpretations even before each of us got a chance to correct ourselves and realize our mistakes. It’s the story of me and my best friend Varsha.

No one in school knew Varsha as well as I did. She was a complex person to understand and she did look different with those heavy eyes which spoke of inaction. Only Lakshmi Bharadwaj knew how those eyes which seemed so dull could acquire that cold, hard glacial glint when Varsha was bent upon something. Only I understood her deepest fears, and Varsha confided only in me. We were thick friends—so thick that the English teacher had called us ‘Chip n’ Dale’. In the last year of my school life someone suggested that I move up front in Chemistry classes. I hated the backbench where I was seated next to Varsha, because I felt uncomfortable there but she loved it. So, I asked weather we could move up front together. She said she couldn’t. Maybe I was being harsh, stupid….I simply got up, moved front without saying anything as simple as a ‘See ya later’ or offering any sort of explanation. This rude action of mine, Varsha suddenly interpreted that I hated her. She felt ignored. She asked me to say sorry.

I couldn’t accept my mistake. I pretended I did not do anything wrong, and I did not like saying ‘sorry’ for everything. Imagine, such a very small trivial matter culminated in a bitter chasm. We argued relentlessly, aggressively—it was a battle of words. And Varsha was clear in expressing herself, and she gave me a glare and said, “You’re not my friend anymore until you say sorry, and learn to accept mistakes!” I inflated, I was angry. I was a fool who didn’t see a point in her words. I thought I could manage without her. I could find better friends….I could get more popular then. 17th of June 2005, it was, I still remember the date. I went home thinking Varsha would somehow forget everything, and the next day would be perfect.

Conrtrary to my happy belief, our relationship crumbled, and every school day became a visit to nightmareville. From that day, we stopped talking and from then…the backbench turned silent. The cascade of laughter, the giggles and chortles under the teacher;s nose were missing….the fun had evaporated, and the surroundings had turned grimly silent. The truth was, each of us felt very hollow inside, (Varsha’s eyes betrayed all her feelings) and both of us felt like compromising. But none of us did it. I was adamantly stubborn. I did not like being called a ‘betrayer!, and I chose to remain mute.

It was only when I joined college, and Varsha went somewhere else, I felt that overwhelming emptiness and accepted that this was all due to my mistake. I knew a glorious relationship which was blooming had died, and I also realized it was too late for me to do anything. Varsha had chosen to move along a different path, and I had chosen mine. We had moved away….far away from each other, and my conscience pricked me and said, “You should have said sorry!” The anger which was so strong in the beginning of the year had waned, and I felt like going back to her, hold her hand and say “I’m really sorry buddy, I shouldn’t have ignored you!”….but the sorry never came.

Wednesday, when I was attending a cousin’s musical audition, I felt that I heard Varsha’s voice. Even after two long years, that voice was not forgotten…I instinctively sensed she was there, and she was! She was sitting just a row behind me. My heart raced, I turned Magenta, and I felt a weight of a stone in my stomach. I could have said it. I could have screamed out the words. But I was stuttering horribly, I was shaking all over. I wanted a precise confession, I complete understanding of my accumulated guilt. Guess what I did? I wrote a five page ‘sorry’. It’s the biggest letter I have written to anyone. Writing, I believe is the best form of expression, better than talking anyway, I’m horribly bad speaker. My heart stopped as she read it,…but then, she smiled!

She did something unexpected. She wrote back too. She wrote something like this;
“ Lakshmi, I’m not as good as a writer as you are, so I staunchly apologize if this letter conveys any wrong message to you. I don’t intend to say anything wrong, because we’ve always been FRIENDS, right? I believe a lot in friendship….this letter is to tell you that I don’t hate you, and how glad I am to see you. But ultimately, I thank you for not having broken the relationship of 10 years….and I don’t really know what to say.”

We could have simply talked. But then, talking wouldn’t have helped me. I knew I would have stammered, stuttered, and jumbled up words in the excitement, and a confession would look like a mutter of some gibberish which Varsha could not have comprehended. My letter spoke for me. Before the audition could end, and I could shake Varsha’s hand and express how grateful I was—before the golden moment of saying, ‘Thanks, mate!’, Varsha had disappeared. I knew her well, and she was always a quick-spirited person. She had suddenly disappeared, like a shadow, out of the line of my vision. She had disappeared as abruptly and silently as she had come. But I had her letter, I had her reply, and the written words consoled me.

I plan to call up Varsha sometime after I find her number in an old diary. We both were great friends, and I’m happy that our friendship has revived. When I turn the pages of my mental album, I can clearly see the picture of two young girls sitting near a construction site, legs and buckled shoes dangling, nibbling on Alphabet yummies, waiting for our mothers and whispering together, “We’re the greatest friends the earth has ever seen!” And one of those girls still says we are!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Different Diwali

This year’s Diwali was different for me. This year, I was given the responsibility of managing myself, I was given the choice to make this festival perfect or lousy, happy or grim for myself, because I was in control of everything. You see, my entire family complete with cousins and aunts packed their bags to tour Mumbai, leaving this girl behind, dwelling happily on their decision because the bookworm of the family is busy ‘studying’. My tution warmly gave us a special Diwali offer—‘special’ double maths classes! Charming, right? Honestly, I was not surprised, these ‘holiday specials’ keep happening in tution. Well, the classes too were fun, in a strange way to tell. I mean, we can’t be learning Integration anyway, because this time, on top of the rumble of the wretched Bangalore traffic, there were naughty kids all around bursting crackers like mad, making it all more difficult for the maths lecturer, and bless their souls, easier for us to accuse someone and tell the teacher, “We can’t hear a thing, sir!” (not like we would be listening if there was perfect silence anyway). And I was quickly updated on what’s stirring in the bollywood world when Uma mam was teaching Mechanical effect of electric current and also understood the entire storyline of Om Shanti Om and Saawariya, because a dear friend was kind enough to narrate them.

My Diwali was eco-friendly as always. On Friday morning, the wonderful kids down the road started burning crackers right from six in the morning so, the day started with a bang! And of course, a racing heart and a half-awake mind, which kept wondering why the house was not on fire. My Diwali shopping included books only (you needn’t remind me I am an unusual teenager)—I got a strange book called the ‘Power of your Subconscious Mind’, ‘A century old detective stories’ (They are REALLY outdated stories, I mean, after learning all about DNA fingerprinting, tandem repeats and genetic coding, tyring to find the murderer by studying facial expressions is really lame but the book came off real cheap at the bookfair at the Indian Institute of World Culture!) and O Henry’s short stories—I remember someone had suggested the book to me some time ago, so I pounced on it as soon as I caught sight of it!

One of my relatives arrived with her kids to celebrate Diwali with me, and share some yummy food. A cousin came from Pune to celebrate the festival and we stayed up way past bed-time playing Sequence, Bluff and Chowka-baara. Needless to say, in the next day’s tution classes, my head was lolling, thank goodness the teacher didn’t notice. I watched a lot of TV---I watched Chak De India which was on C-Bangalore, lounged a little reading my books, and visited my childhood friends, who live around the corner, and yet, are so absorbed in their lives that it is often difficult for them to recognize me. All four of us gathered in my friend Shravya’s house in a deliberate effort to rediscover a lost friendship, and ended up talking so much that it was eight in the night by the time I went home. We also visited the studios to get a nice photo clicked. My cousin’s sleeping over at my place every day, and has promised to bring in a nice CD to watch today. On Friday afternoon, we went to the hotel for lunch, and I chatted away happily without a care in the world, because, obviously, it was Revathi’s treat, and we really enjoyed the food and the chatter.

You will be happy to know that I am not forgetting my manners or etiquette. In spite of all the stuff going on, I am miraculously calm. I did not throw a tantrum when they said, “Lakshmi, you’re not coming to Mumbai”, I did not feel sad or hurt, I did not groan when the teacher curtly said “Double maths classes!” Instead, I’m making it a pretty happy Diwali for myself. Now that is a tough job, especially when you are in second PU and the teachers are intent on straining your brain cells to overwork. If you’re a teenager missing out on all the fun, even attending classes and special classes and tests on Sundays loosing temper is quite easy. You’ll be resembling a dog chained to the leash, howling in frustration. But Lakshmi Bharadwaj has control on her Spleen, I cannot be angry so easily. All signs of frustration were erased when I decided to enjoy my Diwali alone, no matter anything. No one should rob me of the right to celebrate, and no one did. And guess what? My Diwali was not spent solitarily, loads of people joined in to celebrate. Cousins, friends and real chums turned up. And I did have a blast, without burning a single cracker.

Well, the fact is, I missed my family a lot this Diwali, but this year’s Diwali was not about moping around, cursing my fate, or I-hate-missing-out-on-all-the-fun attitude. It was about meeting up with friends and cousins, eating, laughing, lighting up the festival of lights with a thousand smiles. And that, my friends, is warmer than the electrical lights we use to light up our homes.