Friday, 11 June 2021

Strange times of teaching and learning

 A blogger friend on Instagram posted on how working from home, though comfortable, makes her miss the office routine of having complete time for oneself in terms of work and socialising. While reading and responding to her post, I realised that my predicament was a mixture of many emotions. During the first lockdown starting March 2020, the fear of the virus and the comfort in the confines of the home made me create a routine in which I managed to thrive quite well. Then in June 2020, the college reopened (no students and no classes but we still had to go to college) and I found myself weary and complaining - there was no point in going to work when there wasn't any need to. The new academic year began in September 2020, I think, and the prospect of classes beginning gave a new energy to me and I was looking forward to the online classes after a long break; when the classes finally began, the students and I were collectively lamenting that we could not see each other and observe the expressions of each other. September passed and so did October and we grew familiar and comfortable with the new mode of teaching-learning albeit punctuated with complaints now and then but overall smooth sailing. I was especially despondent that I could not connect with my first year students who had newly joined college not that I was familiar with the second year students who I had not taught previously.

2020 gave way to 2021 and somewhere there was a tiny thought that the virus would die off and things would gradually return to normalcy. How wrong was I! 2021 seemed to be unfurling like 2020 (March onwards). The online mode of classes continued with few weeks of working from home whenever someone tested positive.

Online mode of teaching

The new academic year was slated to begin from February in offline mode for the students in their final year of study and the rest online. I oscillated between feeling happy and morose. On one hand, I was eager to finally 'see' students face to face while on the other hand, I thought I would miss the comfort zone of online teaching which allowed me to sit in a comfortable position and conduct my classes. Well, on the appointed day, the students came and briefly we were both excited and elated. 

Then the troubles began . . .

The students started to bunk college. The strength of the students began to steadily decline because they were unable to easily shake off their lackadaisical ways of attending classes from the comfort of their beds and breakfasts;  the pyjama and home clothes had to be exchanged for early morning rush hours and presentable clothes. The sheen of offline classes though was welcome in the beginning began to wash off. The reason for this was that though the offline classes had resumed, the normalcy wasn't restored. The wearing of masks, social distancing and constant talk of the virus had killed the easy and relaxed ambience of a campus setup. There were days when I had to drag myself to a class dreading to see the faces of students. I longed for the online classes because either way we had to go to college everyday.

Empty college campus

In April 2021, the cases were rising and the scenario in our state was going from bad to worse. Online mode again! And then the curfew led to suspension of classes which were termed as 'vacation.' I still don't understand my thoughts when it comes to online classes. I am at a loss unable to decipher what I feel and think. Though I am able to comfortably navigate through both the modes, I tend to oscillate in my preferences solely because I tend to hold a picture that is closer to 'normalcy,' which I know would never be restored as before. In the midst of these, the quality of the classes is my concern as well. Sometimes I am unable to give my 100 per cent and function as though everything is normal. It is here that the mental health of teachers come into the picture. As important stakeholders in the education system, it is vital that instructors allow themselves to take time to observe the various changes both mental and physical that they undergo during these times. Understanding themselves either by observation or with the help of others would enable the students also to be able to perceive the changes that these times have brought about. 

Everyone should be able to acknowledge the fact that this isn't a mere change in the mode of teaching but a paradigm shift that comes with its own challenges and takes time to adapt and engage.

Wednesday, 19 May 2021

Reading in difficult times

 One has to admit that reading is a highly inclusive and individual activity which cuts one off from the immediate environs and of course the world outside. While it is a worthy and much commended activity, it also reeks of privilege and a certain 'social uppity.' I realised this the past year and pretty much this year too. I could not read! I could not allow myself to wander and get lost in the pages of a book. It felt snobbish and unkind. I did not read much. Every time I had allowed my self to open a book, I had to close it after a few pages. A disclaimer here: I did admire those who could read and complete books during these grim times and I do not intend to cast aspersions on them. 

For me, it felt heavy to relax with a book and complete it. If I did pick up a book, I took lot of time to turn the pages and sometimes body fatigue got the better of me. Go to see, reading is definitely an act of privilege - that one could cocoon oneself with a book sans care, sans time and sans many aspects stands testament to that. Here I am not even including the privilege of education, ability to possess and borrow books and afford the luxury of knowing good books. 

In spite of all the privileges and sense of escape that books offer, I could not see myself as anyone else but one who loves a good read. I have read through sickness, through my doctoral journey, my heartbreaks, my anger, my feelings of being incompetent and many other such predicaments. But all these also do not prevent me from seeing the point that books are meant for a time - every time cannot be reading time. Of course, there might be many who would argue otherwise but this deliberation belongs to me and how I see them. 

The last two years (Beginning 2020 March) has been particularly difficult for me in terms of reading. I haven't been reading as much as I would have liked to but I do pick up an occasional book only to crawl through the pages rather unwillingly. There are times when I would want to lose myself and shut the world off deliberately and hence I read. Sometimes I read because I start panicking whether I would lose my love of the written word and therefore I shouldn't keep away too long from reading. But could one forget to read, I wonder. Common sense says 'no' but my inner compass admonishes me.

Of late, I forced myself to pick up Albert Camus' The Plague - a fitting volume for the present day and time. And after long, the book engaged me enough that I did not put it away. After all, it's a mirror to the times that we are living. It is unputdownable for the reason that Camus seems to have imagined every single aspect of the pandemic in great detail. Every situation and sentiment in the book made me think of the present day predicament and it has been captured so well. Nothing goes unpredictable. Every single thought that has been described by the narrator has oft covered my mind - the feeling of exile, the thought that this phase is temporary, the despair of not being able to travel, the longing to connect to a loved one far away - it’s so eerily similar that I started feeling that if even one of our political leaders had read this book, they would’ve been able to understand the workings of how to handle an epidemic.

I’ve still not completed the volume but whatever I have read is enough to write this. I forgot to add - this book was picked up when we were in the midst of a power cut which lasted for 63 hours.

Has the pandemic altered your reading habits?

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

The left and right of the earphones!

 I sometimes wonder that I spend most of the screen time interspersed with trying to find the minute L and R of the earphones. It has become an obsession. I can never seem to remember the left and the right looking at them. Some of them know it. I don't. I forget. 




I think that I would remember this details the next time I use the earphones but I fumble and try to read the minute L and R. I have to be sure to get the complete experience. Sometimes I think that the details don't matter. But a small voice reminds, "The devil is in the details." What an evil simile! Why the devil? Why not someone else? Why so much power to the devil? For that matter why couldn't it be, "The victory is in the details" or " The power is in the details?" A bit of research into the origin reveals that the idiom is a German saying. Well, so much so for the English language. Well, the confusion between earphones and headphone and pods is another post for another day!

The details are sometimes unnecessary stress! I find myself frantically searching for the minute L and R when I have to conduct online lectures. From being someone who never used head/earphones, I have landed myself on the other end of the spectrum where L and R have become the bane of my existence. I guess I should enroll myself in OCD Anonymous with specific reference to earphone L and R obsession.

This and more is the effect of the virus in my routine. 

Sunday, 6 December 2020

A clean, well-lighted place: The importance of spaces for the mind

 "A clean, well-lighted place" is a short story by the American writer, Ernest Hemingway. When I entered the Café ChaiCoffee (hereafter CCC), it is this title which resonated in my mind. Incidentally the short story is set in a café and through the waiters and one elderly patron, discuss life and its happenings. Places and spaces are quite an important feature in the lives of people who thrive on ideas and stories - and if the place is well lighted with greenery, it is an added advantage.

When we first heard of CCC, we were quite exhilarated to discover the place which was just a few kilometers away from where we lived. The next day we drove to the place after speaking at length to Sneha, who is the proprietor of the café. Exuding warmth and enthusiasm, she filled our senses with a sense of welcome and camaraderie. As we followed the directions, we gradually were transported into another world amidst the sounds and boisterous main roads of Dabolim. The place which is tucked away could truly be described as a treasure waiting to be experienced and savoured. The first sights that greeted us as we parked our vehicle charmed us while we tried to choose an apt place for sitting and working. 

While I had no knowledge of the Café owners or their long association with art and artists, I googled Raj Bhandare - and imagine the surprise when I discovered that he is the brain behind the Nirvana brand of T-shirts, which is one of my favourite brands with its quirky and urban art prints. My day was made! And then when I looked up the café, I found art alive in every space, inviting one to get lost in the ambience.

When the space makes one happy and calm, the food becomes secondary. But if the food is close-by, the sense of fulfilment is immense. A senior waiter in the short story, reminisces on the importance of having a clean, well-lighted place to spend time and savour diverse things of life be it time or memories. The waiter is spot on because more than a café to spend time, it is important that the place is clean and well-lighted so that an individual feels at home. 

 "You do not understand. This is a clean and pleasant café. It is well lighted." 

~ 'A Clean, Well-lighted Place'

CCC is the newest landmark for those who enjoy quiet spaces splashed with art and a friendly ambience along with short eats to boot. A wonderful space to sit and work without disturbance punctuated with food and friendly chats with the hosts who make it a point to visit each table and share pleasantries which by itself is a delightful gesture. 

While I reminisce on Hemingway and well-lighted places, you could visit the café for an experience worth revisiting and remembering. CCC is located in Lane 3, Upper Orchard, Near M. E. S. College, Zuarinagar-Goa.

Happy soaking in CCC.

Friday, 13 November 2020

Thinking beyond low-cost airlines: Thoughts around Soorarai Pottru

 Suriya's recent film, Soorarai Pottru goes beyond the trope of a hard-working middle-class individual fulfilling his dreams with sweat and toil - it is reminiscent of the existing gap between the rich and the middle-class. The antagonist Paresh who derides the common man sitting next to the likes of him and flying is a stark reflection how 'certain' facilities are seen as available only for an exclusive percentage of people. Liberalisation and consumer driven economy slowly started diminishing the exclusivity of the upper class people. The rising ability of the middle class to spend money on brands and other durables started dissolving the divide thereby causing the upper class sections to reach out for products that were more exclusive than the existing ones. Many middle-class people who were slightly better off than those in the same class started feeling the brunt of affordability of prized brands such as Fabindia, film festivals such as IFFI and many other such events which was considered the space for only a 'certain' kind of crowd. 

Captain Gopinath's victory ushered in that space which was usually considered as the privilege of a select few. Paresh's disdain of the common man with his sweat, grime and low status is actually a reflection of many middle-class sections who are able to afford many durables which was hitherto unavailable to their parents and forefathers. When the grapes which were now attainable were no longer sour, the same availability to certain others causes a sourness of the mind. 

The mind is powerful to ascertain the status of people based on their appearance, language and habits. It is the same mentality which considers knowledge of English as superior and a certain background. Talking in the native tongue is most often looked upon with a frown and displeasure. Similarly a well dressed person is treated with respect in the clothes/jewelley/shoes showrooms which reflects on the person who is meting out this treatment. But it mustn't be  forgotten that the person who is an employee in that particular showroom might come from a similar background of those who he is 'taught' to despise and show disdain. 

How do these judgments come into being? The disposable income? The high paying job which is a part and parcel of many pay commissions? The value attached to superior brands which has been given power by the buyers?

This is where Marxism and Socialism comes into play. These theories might have been a failure but one needs to be aware of the ideologies. Today, Marxism is an ideology which has to be applied to diverse situations and people. As long as the ideology is capitalist, people like Paresh would go to any lengths to avoid being seen in the vicinity of the so called aspiring middle-class people. And to challenge that, we need Captain Gopinaths around, forgetting that he might or might not be a socialist by ideology. 


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