Sunday, 8 May 2022

After the Fire!

On the 08th of April while most of India was sleeping, a kind and alert neighbour who has never called me before, called me on my mobile phone. The time was about 04. 43 am. The number was unknown and my groggy self was quite baffled to decipher as to why someone would make a call in that time. After confirming that it was me, he indicated that there was smoke coming out of our kitchen and asked us to get out of the house. I awoke my sleeping husband and along with our nonhuman companion, rushed out of the house but not without opening the kitchen door and trying to see what was happening; I could not make out anything. Later we found out that our fridge caused the fire burning the entire kitchen in the process. 

We were homeless for a week, living in a temporary arrangement for we could not live in the house which was blackened by soot carrying a strong odour of burnt residue. 

-----

That was a month ago.

Today we have shifted our house and still settling in the new house. Alongside everything, my meandering mind was shuttling back and forth to the old dwelling place from where we were unceremoniously driven away. It still seems strange to us that while we retired to our bed the previous night, little did we know that exactly a month after, we would be waking up in a different house. The uncertainty of life hit us hard but we were quite gracefully accepting the blows. We did not panic. But there were many questions from some of my friends; They argued whether life was trying to tell us something or we were being warned by the divine power. R and I were just focusing on what had to be done - clearing whatever was available and packing the things in boxes to be carried to the other house which was thankfully in the same campus. The whole memory trigger which was laying still chose to hit hard while we were packing. Most of the items reminded me either of people, incidents, moments or generally a time in the past when things were different and we were younger. While I was thinking of something and mechanically packing, my husband was quite focused on meticulously packing (thanks to him, I cannot find many things). 

While bits and pieces of our stuff still remains in the boxes, we have completed most of it. It took us a month to get used to the present house--the walls, the switches, the nooks, corners, and everything else. Sometimes I sit and stare at the new rooms that my old stuff occupies and feel weird because though I know the items, I imagine them in my old place and picturing them in the new place is something that I have to get used to. 

Cooking in the new kitchen though exciting suddenly pulls me back to the crammed kitchen and I search for an item in the exact place that I had kept it in the old place. Then I physically shake myself and nod--a nod to remind me that we have shifted to a new place. 

Getting up in the mornings is also a challenge at times but yes I am slowly getting myself cocooned in the present house and forcing comfort out of the walls and windows. Whether one lives in one's own house or a house provided by the employer, the lived experience is the same. We form a kinship with the nooks and corners, passages, walls and bathrooms.

Well, life has to go on and tomorrow is another day.

Saturday, 15 January 2022

What's your Proustian madeleine?

Reading an article of Raghu Karnad this morning, I came across the phrase, Proustian madeleine. The phrase led me into the magic hole of nostalgia where I started walking the sweet lane of my growing up years. What were the sweets that I enjoyed while I was living through a time when I didn't realise how precious those years would be in the coming years. 

There was peanut candy where peanuts were soaked in liquid jaggery and hardened to give a fine texture. These candies can be found even today sometimes the taste unaltered. It was eaten mindlessly during different times of the day. It was so commonplace that one attached no value of significance to it. It was called kadalaimittai. It is not much of a nostalgia because one feels this emotion when one misses something. But the simple sweet is much available. Perhaps nostalgia is for the lost days of yore.

Another sweet is the then mittai. I don't have many memories of the sweet except for occasional treats now and then. It isn't nostalgia material for me. But I remember the taste of the sweet and I don't see it anymore. It used to melt in the mouth oozing honey; it was a stark difference to the texture of kadalaimittai which was hard and chewy. 

Another sweet we used to enjoy was the palkhoa or the milk sweet. My grandfather used to treat us with the palkhoa and sev which is known as omapodi. The combination is a deadly one. We were looking forward to eating that combo whenever my grandfather used to return from his daily outings. Now neither my grandfather nor the omapodi is relished by me - the grandfather is no more and the omapodi disappeared after his death. But once a while my sister and I talk about those days. In spite of the omapodi still available in the market, it isn't the same!

I guess I wasn't much of 'sweet' person to remember the delicacies of my growing up years. But nostalgia makes everything sepia tinted and mellow which led me into a sweet trail of Proustian madeline!

What's your Proustian madeline?

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

What is a holiday?

 I often wonder,

What is a holiday?

Is it - a complete break from monotony or

a change of place

or

No usual duties

or 

laden with work in the mind but pretending that it is not work day!

The idea of cutting off from routine cannot be understood by me -

for I cannot wake late or remain unbathed or postpone breakfast.

I carry work within my head,

but postpone doing it.

I try to ignore work messages by saying to myself, "I am on vacation."

But the after-holiday thought hoists itself on me wrecking havoc.

Deadlines love me.

I guess I share an intimate karmic connection with them.

They chase me and I chase them. We love playing hide-and-seek,

but almost always, we end up losing sight of each other.

And when a holiday chances upon my schedule, the deadlines arrive,

in pomp and glory.

Grinning and laughing - I choose to play along.

And I always lose.


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?

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