Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Making history (the ICSE way)

Jaya finished her Class 10 (ICSE) exams last month.

History is one of the subjects she disliked and certainly wasn't good at. So, she was understandably relieved at the end of the paper. She called me - palpably excited - over the phone to say "can you belive it - I'm done with history?" - I teased her, "others finish history, you sound as if you have made history".

Jokes apart, it was a bumpy ride for her. Though she enjoyed every bit her stay in Sahyadri (and is fiercely proud of her school) – academics were an uphill task for her. It wasn’t an easy call for us – there were obvious trade-offs between keeping her at home close to us and putting her in a free and nurturing environment like Sahyadri. Though she would have definitely benefitted from parental guidance, we were equally certain that the competitive pressures of a city school would have crushed her spirit.

No denying we had our moments of doubt and anxiety. But, every time we met the Principal and the teachers – we came back with the realization that, the problem lay more with us than the child. I remember – we once went to meet the young principal concerned about J’s progress (or, rather, the lack of it ) in class. We were quite flummoxed – when he asked us, if we were sure that we weren’t trying to impose our own expectations on our daughter. “Don’t you think – it’s been a great blessing that she has spent 5 very happy years of her life in this wonderful surrounding ?” – he retorted rhetorically. "Don’t tell her what she should do – just help her understand what she isn’t good at. The rest she will figure out for herself." Sound advice – we thought, as we trudged back to the school guest-house.

Now the hunt for a new school has begun – since at Sahyadri they don’t yet have a ‘Plus 2’ (Class XI and XII) section. Our impending move to Calcutta makes the situation a little more complex. Perhaps, having schooled in that city we are a bit biased. We know Jaya isn’t cut out for the top rung old favourites which are high on academics. Other than those, there are the few mass-production education factories (like my old alma-mater South Point and now also DPS) but she’ll be mince-meat in no time there. And, we are quite cynical about the new breed of the so called “international” schools – which promise to make Katrina Kaif of your daughter (through their ‘acting classes’). We have heard some ‘horror stories’ about these places. So the choice is really limited. As Jaya wants to pursue music - someone suggested Shantiniketan. But, without even visiting the place again, we know it’s a non-option. What Jaya needs is a school – that will give her the space to grow and let her progress at her own pace. Sadly, we don’t know of any such place in Calcutta.

Our first port of call was The Valley School in Bangalore – also run by the Krishnamurti Foundation. The parent teacher meeting that, preceded the interviews was itself an education for us. The Director of the school exhorted the parents – “don’t judge us by what we have achieved but by what we are attempting” and then decide if you wish to be part of this adventure. "The real challenge in this journey is not for the child – whose joyfulness we guarantee – but for the educators and the parents." This was followed by a short video of Jiddu Krishnamurti talking on education – which posed some more tough questions for us.

At the end of it – both Jaya and we were convinced that, if she has to go to a boarding it can only be at a KFI (Krishnamurti Foundation) School. One of the senior teachers on the panel quickly sized up Jaya and reading her mind - gently suggested that we shouldn't even waste our time checking out some other schools down south (run on similar lines)that we were planning to visit. That doesn’t mean Jaya will get admission automatically. Being essentially a day school, they have very few vacancies for boarders and the applicants are many. But, I guess the wait and the suspense are also part of the adventure - not just for us but also for Jaya.

We are keeping our fingers crossed !! Either way - it'll be the beginning of a new journey.

Related Blogposts: Masti Ka Pathshala and Back to School

Sunday, April 03, 2011

The Kinky Mahatma and the prickly Indians

We Indians are a rather prickly lot when it comes any writings on the private lives of our national icons – especially if it is by foreign authors. It is telling that, Indian writers generally steer clear of such “taboo” topics (barring a few like Sudhir Kakar) preferring not to court controversy and brick-bats. Western societies are far less touchy on such matters. You may call it chauvinistic hypocrisy or traits of a schizophrenic national character. It is common knowledge that many of our politicians lead rather colourful (nay,sleazy) lives, but our journos maintain a complicit silence over such stories – which you get to hear in the media cocktail circuit (with the rare exception of some toothless octogenerians like N. D. Tiwari and that too because the matter came into public domain due to a paternity suit filed by an alleged off-spring and his romps at the Hyderabad Raj Bhavan). JFK to Berlusconi

Yet, when it comes to salacious gossip about the sex lives of politicians of other countries – be it a Sarkozy, Berlusconi or serial scandals of British parliamentarians – we gleefully lap it all up and give them prime column space in our newspapers. Stories abound about the numerous love affairs of JFK but we get uptight at the mention of the Nehru-Edwina affair. A biography of Ambdkar that, is given a quiet burial because it mentioned his girl-friends.We fill our pages with pictures and stories of Prince William and his Kate - but never talk about our own Prince-in-waiting's Spanish girl-friend. Curiously, we apply different standards even for our neighbours in the sub-continent. After Shahbaz Bhatti – the liberal Governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province – was assassinated recently, a leading magazine carried a story about his playboy past – including details of his love child with a yesteryear diva of Indian media – now a significant other of a well-know industrialist. Perhaps, there was some professional envy at play there. So – every once in a few years when there is a new book on Gandhi that contains some references to his sexuality (something Gandhi had himself dwelt at some length in his Autobiography – My Experiments with Truth ) there is predictable public outrage followed by demand for banning of the book that finally whittles down to cynical dismissal as a cheap ‘publicity stunt’. The latest being the biography written by the Pulitzer winning former editor of New York Times – Joseph Lelyveld (Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India). In what is by all accounts a very well researched biography – what has made head-lines are some passing quotations from letters written by Gandhi to his proclaimed “soulmate” Hermann Kallenbach, which has strong hints of his homosexual tendencies. “Your portrait (the only one) stands on my mantelpiece in my bedroom. The mantelpiece is opposite my bed…..how completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with vengeance”, he wrote to Kallenbach, a wealthy bachelor of who later donated large parts of his considerable fortunes to Gandhi and remained his “follower” for life. Such is the extent of our blind worship that – we unquestioningly accept Gandhi’s somewhat specious explanation of why he chose to sleep naked with nubile young female companions. Boudi Boudoir

We are equally reticent about the love lives of our celebrities in the world of arts, film and literature. Stories abound about of the scores of muses (read, lovers) Tagore had in his long lifetime starting at a very young age with his sister-in-law (legitimizing the “boudi boudoir” tradition among Bongs) - but none of that is documented. Satyajit Ray’s affair with the heroine of some of his early masterpieces came to light after his death – when the lady in question decided to speak up. But, it was allowed to die down and we were happy to believe his wife’s version that apart from that one instance of straying (which she magnanimously condones as an error of judgement) he never looked outside of his marriage – though, some knowledgeable persons have their own casting couch theories. Sudhir Kakar, Jeffrey Kripal and some other psychologists have espoused controversial theories about Sri Ramakrishna’s sexuality, which have met with rightful condemnation from the “believers” (including yours truly).

Sex(uality) maketh a man

All this is not about vicarious voyeurism. What we fail to recognize is that, a person’s sexuality is a very important part in his evolution. You cannot fathom a great person in totality without understanding his sexuality. Though I wouldn’t go as far as saying ‘sex maketh a man’ (in more senses than one) – it certainly forms the essence of his personality. Even as Lelyveld himself argues "it is an effort of imagination that we should at least attempt" in our trying to understand what Gandhi aspired through his 'experiments'(he calls it a form of 'sexlessness' rather than bi-sexualism - or what is referred to as 'flexi-sexualism nowadays). We tend to easily deify our heroes and like to see them only in white. But, it is the shades of black and grey that truly defines them. Certainly – a Nityananda is no Gandhi – but I wonder what would have been the public reaction to similar “experiments” conducted – be it within the confines of a commune – in the this day and age - with our spycams and 'sting' operations.