Monthly Archives: August 2015

Appropriating the Bard of Avon’s very own famous words…

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No one is infallible and we all make mistakes, but some errors are more forgiveable than others.  And when Indians distort facts and history one has to ask whether this is a case of delusions of grandeur or just plain simple lack of knowledge.

When Academic Director a few weeks ago in his address to the parents still put Tony Blair in charge of Britain, he could be let off the hook.  Let’s face it, the British colonial powers left Indian soil a few generations ago, so the need to keep abreast of what goes on in far flung corners of the globe has lost its relevance and accurate factual knowledge of who takes the decisions in Great Britain is hardly going to affect Indian daily life.

Even Academic Director attributing the theory of heliocentrism (sun as the centre of the solar system) to the great Indian mathematician cum astronomer Aryabhata rather than crediting the European Copernicus and Galilei could be overlooked.  After all, those theories have been around for a while and the line between who said what first can become a little blurred.  In fact there is some vagueness about Aryabhata as his assertions were neatly written in verse format sometime in the 5th century AD, leaving a lot of his ideas open to interpretation by other scholars.  And indeed Wikipedia, the modern fountain of all wisdom, would have us believe that Aryabhata was an advocate of the geocentric (sun moving around the earth, not the other way round) theory, although he may not have entirely discarded the possibility of the sun being in the centre of the universe.  Hedging his bets??? Who came up with an idea first is sometimes hard to establish as West and East have done a fair amount of mingling over the centuries starting with Alexander The Great’s Indian elephant safari which undoubtedly also led to an exchange of philosophical, mathematical and astronomical knowledge.  Further incursions and muddying of the waters will have come with the Mughal Empire and the Muslim rulers which will have seen a confluence of Indian and Arab thinking.  And then, of course, there were the Europeans in India: the Dutch, the Portuguese and the British who once ruled the seas.  So can we be absolutely sure that Copernicus and Galileo were totally unaware of the astronomical writings of Aryabhata, as the Indian man certainly did some serious groundwork on the mathematical side??  So, in the spirit of ancient history coming with an element of guesswork, there is no harm in letting Indians believe everything great was produced in their nation, although we can be pretty sure that Copernicus and Galilei were a lot more vocal and confident about their theory than their Indian predecessor.

But I draw the line, when it comes to literature.  There can be no doubt that the most famous line of all: ‘To be or not to be.  That is the question.’  cannot be accredited to Gandhiji.  He may have used the quote in a speech, I would not know, but every person on the planet – who is not Indian (?) – will recognise the agonising words of Hamlet when contemplating his own demise.  To live or not to live!  And when this was written on the board by an English teacher I could not let the matter rest…  and took a photograph.  I did (obviously) have a little word with said teacher, who laughed and said: ‘Silly me, of course Shakespeare.  I think I meant to write: ‘Do or Die’ which was said by Gandhi….’   And although there seems to be an overwhelming consensus on the internet that these words belong to Gandhi, the longest list of ‘Essential Quotes of Mahatma Gandhi’ does not include them…

However,  the quote below is definitely one of Gandhi’s and one I must make the school management aware of each and every time they attempt to turn back the clock of progress.  India will never change if no one is brave enough to be a change-maker.

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A flavour of urban India.

Having shown some pictures of rural Kerala, I suppose it would only be fair if I posted some pictures of urban Kerala, which is not  that much different from N’s High Street really….

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Saturday afternoon in a quieter street in Trivandum.

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Protection from the heat of the sun. Women dress traditionally whilst advertisements encourage a Western dress code…

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A row of auto rickshaws waiting for customers along the busy ‘highway’ into Trivandrum.

IMG_2266 urban india 1 urban india 3Traffic jams are a daily occurrence!!  But there are also quieter areas with old historical buildings, remnants of India’s previous rulers.

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Famous Kerala building designed by British architect

This famous building in Trivandrum, housing the Indian Coffee House, was designed by British-born Indian architect Laurie Baker and  is a well-known landmark.

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Inside the Indian Coffee House.

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A rather sorry statue of Ganesh which has clearly seen better days and found itself abandoned on the road side in Trivandum…

Hinduism and its deities are never far away, although they do not always seem to get the expected treatment and reverence…

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Kerala’s most famous landmark, the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple.  Only Hindus – on presenting an official document to show they are indeed of the Hindu religion – are allowed to enter the temple…

Flying the British flag in India…

 

just the shorts

Of all the things to buy in India!!!  Union flag shorts!  The only thing missing is a belly button piercing to go with my tattoo, and I will have made a complete U-turn and reverted back to teenage hood!  ‘And some Doc Martens boots,’ adds Indian Man In The Know knowingly.  Too hot for India, or my impending holiday, but certainly something to keep in mind for the UK!

I have had to spruce up my Indian wardrobe!!  My holiday is approaching and I need to stock up on suitable clothes as there will be no need for churidars where I am heading.  Nepal, a country on the backpackers route, will have seen it all and most sins can be covered up with a t-shirt and baggy trousers or shorts.  And you may be fooled in thinking that this little sojourn northwards was unplanned, but no, wheels were set in motion before my departure to India in May.  I bought some nicely fitting walking trousers with elasticated waistband to allow for shrinking and expansion issues and I invested in a brand new pair of shorts to accommodate my smaller, new size!!!

A hurried visit to a large M&S store near my daughter’s just before my travels came up trumps!  Summer was still approaching in the UK, so plenty of choice in the shorts department.  Although I squeezed into a size 8, I felt that I preferred the comfort of a slightly more roomy size 10…  I was fully aware that my few months in England had resulted in putting on some weight, but I studied my bone structure and thought that at least my hips would not change in size, so size 10 it was…  And then I put them on last weekend and needed to find some safety pins to cope with the excess space…  Indian food clearly works in a magical way on my metabolism.

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So yesterday, I ventured into Trivandrum, where I had spotted shorts on display not that long ago.  Keeping fingers crossed that the summer season here was still in full swing, I did not anticipate too many difficulties.  But even here, summer seems to come to an abrupt halt when the months of September and October approach and choice there was none!!!  At least not in my tiny size…  Indian sizes, there was variety aplenty, but when looking at size 30 (American sizes…) and less, the racks looked unpromising…  until I found the Union Jack!!!  Not quite my usual style, I would admit, but quite pleasing nonetheless and the shorts FIT!

So I shall be wearing them at all possible occasions:  I am British and Proud of it!  And just to let you know, I declined to join in with India’s Independence celebrations last weekend – after all it was us they threw out…

 

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Reorganising my classroom according to the Bible!!

Classroom now, mid August.  Spot the difference...

Eight mats, not seven!!!!

Tuesday.

Music Teacher sticks his head around the door and surveys my classroom, the English Lab.  His face looks glum, almost displeased and he shakes his head whilst carefully counting the eight mats on the floor.   ‘This is not good,’ he states, ‘Eight mats!  Seven would be so much better.’

I am a little perplexed.  Music teacher has never before graced my classroom with his presence, let alone interfered with the way I organise it.  Eight mats works perfectly well.    In the absence of more appropriate classroom equipment, such as the usual tables and chairs – which may still arrive before I finally say my goodbyes to India in December  – I can fit six small children or four older children on a mat.  In actual fact, it is ideal for classroom management as my gaze scans OVER their heads and any misdemeanours are much harder to conceal from my beady eye!!!

‘What is wrong with eight mats?’ I enquire.  I am puzzled and keen to understand his reasoning, expecting some kind of Indian and magical value attached to the number seven.  Music Teacher speaks very little English, so the conversation between us on the topic lacks a certain fluency, but I do get the gist.

‘The Bible,’ he intimates, ‘The Bible favours the number seven… so we should use seven, not eight.’  For a moment I think I have misunderstood and things got lost in translation. ‘The Bible????’ I echo.  And he merrily continues about the importance of the number seven in the Bible: God created the world in seven days and the seventh day is the Sabbath;  the Bible as a whole was originally divided in seven sections….  ‘Really? I am expected to adjust my classroom according to the Bible??’ I am flabbergasted!!  Is he for real??

Music Teacher is Christian and a staunch follower of Kerala’s Pentacostal Church, who take the word of the Bible literal and put all their faith into daily reading of the holy book and plenty of prayers to God to buy happiness. And I have once – for pure research purposes, mind you – attended a Pentacostal Church Service in Kerala and have never heard more ‘Alleluias’ and ‘Praise the Lords’ in such a short space of time (well, this is relative as the service went on for about three hours) all for the benefit of God granting wishes, rather than giving thanks.  Personally, I have always found that God’s mysterious ways work better when people get off your backside and give Him a helping hand!

Music Teacher’s face looked grave and unsmiling at my reluctance to remove one mat from my room as if he could not grasp my incredulity.   But not finding his arguments very convincing, I just shrugged my shoulders and told him I was intending to take my chances with using eight mats, and would happily go to hell over that one…

Sunday Afternoon at The Curry Leaf

kingfisherThis is bliss, sitting in the cool sea breeze overlooking the still turbulent monsoon waves, whiling away Sunday afternoon with a refreshing Indian beer, in the company of just my iPad and keyboard…

From my viewpoint at the top floor of the restaurant, overlooking the beach, I can watch the Indian locals and tourists frolicking in the water and taunting the waves, only a few weeks after five young men were swept away.  There is a red flag, frayed and torn, hanging limply after constantly being soaked – no match for the unrelenting Westerly wind that brought monsoon rains to all of India, bar the Southern tip where I am – and no deterrent for the overheating tourists looking for a reprieve from the roasting of the sun-rays.  And occasionally, the whoosh of the wind and waves is disturbed by the piercing whistle of a frantic lifeguard trying to keep everyone safe. Today the beach is heaving with visitors; it has been a long weekend with lots of holidays starting on Friday with the Hindu’s equivalent to All Soul’s Day, followed by Independence Day on Saturday and according to the waiter apparently there is another holiday coming up tomorrow in preparation of Kerala’s main Festival of Harvest…but as this one is not mentioned in the school’s diary I suppose we better turn up at school just in case.

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Who can blame the Indian sea revellers! I will be joining them later on on my way back; I can never resist feeling the sea water lapping at my feet, or even accidentally being engulfed by unexpected high waves, soaking my shorts or dress…  Today, I came prepared, wearing my bikini under my dress and even though I will be the only white spectacle on display if I choose to disrobe, life is too short to worry about what other people may think…  There are a few umbrellas, but they are only used by women to shield themselves from too much sun in the hope of retaining a paler skin, so much sought after and idolised by Indian media.

So finally, after having spent four dry months in India during my first stint, I have now discovered how and where to get a proper drink!!!  At a price, I have to admit, but still nowhere near the cost of a pint in an English pub.  The hotel where I stay has a bar, obviously, but rather tucked away out of view and last month I was the only customer there having an interesting conversation with the bartender lingering over a Pina Colada, which he quite liberally kept on lacing with more rum.  Varkala also panders to the Western tastes and alcohol is easy to come by…  I have now found a cocktail bar, although I would not recommend their Tequila Sunrise – too sickly sweet – and most restaurants indeed serve beer to menfolk and Western women alike.  Although last night’s Heineken, which accompanied my evening meal at the hotel, indeed drew some attention from the Indian women at the surrounding tables because in India women do not drink!!  And then there is the Curry Leaf in Kovalam, of course, where A and I often come at the weekends just to have a coffee or a lassi and escape from the boredom of the hamlet of N, or indeed today have my lunch WITH Kingfisher…the whole 650ml of it…so it takes me all afternoon to finish it.  Which is fine, it oils the writing.

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So, to avoid paying premium prices for a little of relaxation with a drink, A and I have been trying to find somewhere to buy a beer, or a bottle of wine, to drink at home in the evenings…  There are indeed shops in N where alcohol is sold, but only men ever go there to buy it.  And thinking about our reputation, and the school’s reputation, we have not yet ventured in those shops in case it would get the gossipy tongues wagging.  Try Trivandum, someone suggested, it is a big place, no one would know you…  It was a plan…until I heard an Estonian girl visiting India for the first time who frequented such place and described the rather louche and unsavoury feelings that accompanied the buying of alcohol..  It sounded like a thing best avoided.  In the end, I asked a trusted auto rickshaw driver, whom I have used a couple of times and who understands just enough English to explain our predicament.  And he came up trumps!!  Whilst I waited patiently in the back of his rickshaw, he went into the shop and bought some prime specimens of contraband…  There are indeed ways and means in India, and often it is a case of knowing the right people to get things done…

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I am on strike today!!!

 

Digging and digging all day long...

Digging and digging all day long…

I have been working on a building site ever since arriving in India, way back in October!  Rather than waiting until the new school premises were completed and provided a safe place for learning, the management thought it wise to start using the building long before it had a roof…  So our teaching has been to the tune of the fickleness of the Indian building trade: walking around obstacles and scaffolding; avoiding electrical leads and wires; power cuts when electricians need to work in safety;  dashing to avoid getting soaked in the rain as the roof was not finished, the screeching sound of cutting tiles…  I put up with it, like everyone else, but yesterday just was the last straw…

Health and safety a priority... clearly NOT an Indian concept.

Health and safety a priority… clearly NOT an Indian concept.

When I was expected to teach straining my voice over the racket of a noisy digger next to my classroom, I stormed out and went to find Academic Director. ‘How long was this noise to continue?’ I asked.  ‘Why could this work not be done at 5.00 o’clock in the morning, at the time when all women in India have to get up to pander to the whims and fads of their incapable menfolk whose day probably does not start until 7.00am?’ I demanded.  A sheepish face was all I got… What did I expect?  He is a man after all with a wife – Principal M’am – to organise him..  ‘I am sure it will stop in about an hour,’ was his feeble reply.  So I retreated to a different classroom where we did written work that did not need any speaking or listening as this was impossible with the clamour going on.  And indeed, after a little while, the ear-deafening pounding subsided and it seemed as if Academic Director might have had a word with the builders after all.

Peace lasted exactly until lunch time when the digger made another appearance…  We resorted to games of hangman in the afternoon, drew pictures on the board and amused ourselves with miming games. And when I had another tête-à-tête with Academic Director, he informed me he thought we would have the company of the digger for another day or two.  Well, that was that!  I thought I can do Indian too, so I told him I would not come into school the next day (today…. it is my birthday after all!!!); there was absolutely no point as it was impossible to teach…  At least I gave him a day’s warning, unlike Indian teachers who just don’t turn up and then after the event will ask for a day’s leave…  A different way of working altogether…

And on the subject of building works and progress, remember the picture of my classroom at the beginning of June – Can you spot the progress???

Classroom in at the beginning of June

Classroom at the beginning of June

Classroom now, mid August. Spot the difference...

Classroom now, mid August. Spot the difference…

After 10 weeks, I now have a whiteboard and whiteboard pens, some of the windows have actual handles so you can open and close them, I have borrowed a desk or two and a chair to stand on so that I can turn on the projector for the Interactive Whiteboard… and the children still sit on the floor.  But don’t worry, it is not as if the school (or the management) has run out of money: outside the gardener is busy planting trees and other ornamental plants;

More plants lined up whilst I have to account for every sheet of paper I use in the photocopier...

More plants lined up whilst I have to account for every sheet of paper I use in the photocopier…

an elaborate statue was commissioned and sculpted to be displayed at the entrance of the school building;

An sculpture which took weeks to complete... a priority??? Or would children benefit from sitting on actual desks instead??

An sculpture which took weeks to complete… a priority??? Or would children benefit from sitting on actual desks instead??

a whole row of expensive and impressive palm trees line the drive to the school; the toilet facilities are fully tiled…

Prime specimen of palm trees are sure to impress visitors, but do they add to the learning experience and value of the students???

Prime specimens of palm trees are sure to impress visitors, but do they add to value of the learning experiences of the students???

As you can see, no expense is spared, apart from spending money on providing quality teaching and teaching resources…  I am having a fight at the moment for the school to supply me with a ‘dongle’ so I can have access to the internet on the interactive whiteboard as it may take another few months (probably years…) before the whole school will have internet access through WiFi.

Clearly, I have got my wires crossed: I always taught that education was about what happens in the classroom and the knowledge and skills passed on, rather than the grandeur and prestige exuded by the building and the grounds of the school…  I think I am still struggling to come round to the Indian way…

 

 

 

 

Speaking the same language as the Indians…

And I do not mean Malayalam!!

It may come as a surprise, but there is such a thing as Indian English.  I was aware of the most common varieties: American, Australian, Kiwi, South African and obviously the Queen’s proper English…  but Indian English??  I am not only talking about unintelligible pronunciation, but there is a whole host of new vocabulary and expressions to contend with. Obviously, it is to be expected that a country that was under the influence of British colonial rule for some considerable time should have adopted some of its language; English  was after all the language of the British Raj.  And although India’s official language is Hindi now, good knowledge of and fluency in the English language is a matter of prestige and therefore very desirable because Indians are fond of prestige, very fond indeed!  But in the absence of the British for the last sixty years or so, the Indians have clearly taken it upon themselves to make improvements and adaptations to the language as they see fit.

My first inkling that I was dealing with an entirely new set of words came during one of my first lessons when one of the children gave ‘dacoit’ as a synonym for robber… ‘Dacoit? Dacoit? Never heard of it!  Are you sure?’ I quizzed.  But there it was in his English book!  I admit I needed some convincing, so consulted the Oxford dictionary online and there it stared me in the face, fully acknowledged as Indian English!

And when inventing new vocabulary, Indians apply a generous amount of logic.  When ‘Indian Man In The Know’ needed to move a date forward, he simply ‘preponed’ the event.  Let’s face it, many English words are derived by changing and adding a few prefixes or suffixes here and there, so I can see sense in this one.  I was however less taken with the suggestion of ‘Nepalese Man in Charge of Organising my Trip in September’ who offered to upgrade or ‘degrade’ my accommodation. He clearly was unaware that the word ‘degrade’ had already been claimed by proper English and as upgrading was not within the budget, I declined to degrade myself and stuck to the initial ‘middle of road offer’, thank you very much!

And ladies, take note. Husbands here indeed come with a sell-by date.  They do not merely pass away or move on to the next world, they expire…. When School Manager related the sorry tale of another volunteer’s late husband, I had to think twice about what was meant by ‘expired’… Had the marriage run its course, or had the poor man indeed popped his clogs?  Thank goodness there is usually plenty of context in Indian stories to help you fill in the blanks.

Furthermore, I have never come across a people plagued by so many mysteries and uncertainties.  Every day a hand goes up in the classroom because one or other student has a doubt, ‘M’am, I have a doubt’.  ‘A doubt?’ I echo, ‘That may be sad and rather unfortunate, but hardly my business.  We all live with uncertainties in our lives.’  When probing a little deeper, it seems the child wants to ask a question.  Now when it is phrased like that, I am prepared to give an answer.  I am slowly working on that one and stamping it out, but these ‘doubts’ are so deeply ingrained…

And then there are the other peculiarities due to Indian languages missing a few sounds which are essential to speak English that can be understood by non-Indians. One day, just after giving instructions for a task in class, a child approached me with a desperate urgency.  ‘M’am, my friend wants to omit!’  It sounded important, but the word omit did not make sense in the least.  Did his friend want to opt out of doing the task, I wondered.  So I waved my hand in a vague notion as if to imply it could wait…  Two minutes later, another voice: ‘M’am, he really needs to omit…’  What on earth was the matter?  Sensing some seriousness in the matter, I asked the child to write the word on the board. Although pronunciation is a big issue, Indian children CAN spell (or can they???)!  And on the board appeared the word: vomit… This was an altogether different matter and said child was excused without further ado, I did not want to clean up any mess…  But omitting the letter ‘v’ plus putting the stress on the wrong syllable, how was I to get the meaning of this Indian English? There is a world of difference between vomit and omit even though it is only one letter apart!

Although Indian children seem to have mastered the spelling of (some…) complicated English words, the same cannot be said of the adults who are responsible for passing on the knowledge…  Just walking along the beach front in Varkala and having some breakfast brought out the best in Indian spelling…

I could write whole essays about the 'o' sound in the Indian language....  Error here is due to the pronunciation of 'own' which sounds like 'on'

I could write whole essays about the ‘o’ sound in the Indian language…. Error here is due to the pronunciation of ‘own’ which sounds like ‘on’ – we’re working on this one, in each and every lesson, but I think it is a battle doomed to fail…

Fried rise....   ????

Fried rise…. ????

Those 'creaps' gave me the creeps, so I gave them a miss...

Those ‘creaps’ gave me the creeps, so I gave them a miss…  I assume even the French may want to add some of their thoughts to this one…

And school, of course!!!

Hmmmm.... could not resist doing some corrections here, but I was very honest and signed it.... but then again, I am not sure whether there would ever have been any doubt about who would have done it, no one else would have spotted the mistake, and the includes the English teachers....

Hmmmm…. could not resist doing some corrections here, but I was very honest and signed it…. but then again, I am not sure whether there would ever have been any doubt about who would have done it, no one else would have spotted the mistake, and that includes the English teachers….