Friday, September 25, 2009

Durga Puja & Me

It’s the much awaited Durga Puja (worship) time once again! When I was an 8-9 year old child, this time of the year always filled me with joy and happiness. It was the beginning of the festive season which continued for more than a month. I used to run to the Kali Temple near my house everyday where the idols of Durga and other deities were made. And it gave me immense pleasure to see the gradual development in the process of giving shape to the clay into mesmerising idols.

The idols were open for public worship from the eighth day of the Puja. And curtains were drawn in front of them from the first day till the seventh so that no body from outside could see the idols, as per the tradition. I still remember how I used to look through the gaps in the curtains to get a glimpse of the idols being coloured, and decorated with various accessories (artificial hair, clothes, crown, jewellery etc.).

I still remember how I waited for the seventh day of the Puja from when the schools were closed. I used to get up early on that day so that I could eat the prashad (offering made to Durga) of sweet yellow rice. And after that I used to wait for the evening when the Puja before raising the curtains from the idols started. That night used to be the one which used to be difficult to pass as I waited impatiently for the morning so that I could have a look at the idols in the pandals (tents in which the idols are kept). The memories of the loudspeakers buzzing with devotional songs and enchanting, filling my heart with thrill have not faded till day. (Though today I don’t like the loud noise of loudspeakers no matter what is being played but those were the days when I waited for those loudspeakers to speak.)

And after getting up on the eighth day, the only thing I wanted to do was to eat the bhog (prashad) of Mahaashtami Puja and rush to all the nearby pandals to have a look at the idols. And then the next three days used to be the time when I went to all the pandals (my home town being a small one, so there were not many, only 8 or 9 in fact) again and again with friends.

Vijayadashmi used to be the day when I felt a little sad thinking of the end of Puja. It used to be a difficult task for me to get back to the regular routine of classes, school and homework. Never to mention that I missed the fun of the Puja days like anything.

When I remember all these things today, I think of being a child again who waited for the Puja days from a month. But I know that it’s not possible being more than a thousand kilometres away from home. But the only thing which gives me satisfaction is the fact that I am going home on Saturday to enjoy those lovely three days of the year.

Happy Durga Puja!!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Time is No Healer

Time is no healer?! Then what about the early life lessons we got from our parents and elders that with the passage of time, everything would be all right? Was all that wrong? Or am I trying to develop some new concept over here? Well, neither our childhood lessons about the healing property of time are wrong nor I am trying to give some ‘path-breaking’ insights into the realms of philosophy.

We come across so many things, events and incidents in our lives that it’s impossible for our mind to remember everything very clearly and vividly. In fact, what actually happens is that the most important things or say, the present remains in our active mind and the rest of the events which happened in the past get buried in the memory. So, technically put, our mind has an active area which works like the cache memory of any calculating device. And in this area, all the ongoing events and incidents are processed. The rest of our experiences are there in our memory, which works exactly as the hard disk or the storing space of a computer.

So, as time passes by, the events which happened in near past keep getting stored in our memory and recent events occupy our active mind.  And since we think and act according to what goes on in our active mind, we tend to forget our past memories. But those memories remain with us and give as much sorrow or joy as the original experience once we try to recall them. And this is the reason, looking at our childhood photographs brings smiles on our faces and fills our hearts with joy.

As T S Eliot wrote in ‘The Dry Salvages’ (Third poem of Four Quartets):

You cannot face it steadily, but this thing is sure,
That time is no healer: the patient is no longer here.

We feel the same pain if we try to recall about something bad which happened with us in the past. In our present state of mind, the experience might not cause as much pain as it had caused originally but as we try to go back to the past, the pain lingers.

And perhaps this is the reason that even though we have moved eight years ahead of the 9/11 attacks on the United States today, the pain, the sufferings and the fear which it caused still haunt us.  We still feel horrified thinking of that doomed day.

To those who actually experienced the partition of India in 1947, the memories still send waves of fear down their spine. People of Japan have not forgotten the destruction caused by the atom bombs dropped on the country during World War-II. And even today those memories are very painful. The memories of the Holocaust are no less dreadful for the Jews even today.

Anything which happens in this world leaves a permanent impact on the humankind and it’s impossible to remove that episode either from history or from our memories.

So, next time when we try to console anyone saying ‘Everything will be alright with time’, we must stop and check ourselves whether Time would act as the healer or not!!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Exam se No Exam

The Ministry of Human Resource Development, on Monday, announced that Class 10 examinations of the CBSE would be optional from the academic session 2010-11 while the grading system will be introduced this year itself. This has sent waves of cheer and relief among many students and their parents, who along with their children have to spend many sleepless nights because of the trauma of the Board examinations. 

On a superficial level, this ‘path-breaking’ move might seem to ease the pressure of lakhs of students who appear for the Class 10 boards every year. But looking into the real problem of Indian higher education system, it’s difficult to say whether this would be of much help to the students. If one tries to find out the reason behind the fear created by the Board exams, one would know that it’s not the pressure of the exams but the pressure of admissions into good schools and pre-university colleges/ institutes which leads to the high mental stress among the students. So, just scrapping the Board exams would be of no use if the students have to face the same, if not more, competition after school. And moreover, if one wants to switch schools, he or she would have to give the exam.

For the last two years of my school life (i.e. after Class 10), I studied at Delhi Public School Bokaro Steel City and on the basis of interaction with my classmates and other students over there, I can easily say that the old students who were studying in the school from before Class 10 didn’t actually feel as much pressure about the Board exam as the ones who took admission after Class 10. Clearly, it was not the absence of exams but the security of studying in a good school which eased the pressure off the students.

Similarly, the proposed grading system (to be introduced from this year itself), which is again supposed to take the pressure off the heads of the young students, may actually increase the pressure sometimes. At IIT Roorkee, where I study currently, the grading system is followed which is devised in such a manner that the top few (up to 10% of the total strength to be precise) students with the highest marks get the highest grade. So, what actually happens is that the students end up fighting with the subject teacher to get every extra half mark, even on a subjective answer. And they are very reasonable in doing so owing to the fact that this half mark sometime may help him get a higher grade. For example, the elective course of Group Dynamics, the grading was so done that a student with a score of 81.5 scored an A+ while one with 78.5 could only manage a B+. Thus, an actual difference of 3 marks out of 100 resulted in a difference of 2 grades on a 10-point scale. Is the competition decreasing here? Doesn’t look to me!!  Moreover, the MHRD has proposed ‘continuous, comprehensive evaluation’ of the students for grading purpose. But to be honest, this ‘continuous, comprehensive’ evaluation is difficult to attain even in the best colleges of the country like IITs. So, it is really difficult to say whether this scheme of continuous evaluation would be successful at the school level or not.

And what happens after Class 10, when the student reaches Class 12? He/she has to sit for the Board exams then. And the pressure would increase now as students won’t have any experience of giving Boards before. So, finally, the student is again on the receiving end.

So, instead of dealing with the problem from the outer level, the MHRD should have tried to go a little bit deeper. And instead of scrapping the exams, it should have taken steps to ensure that students get quality education in good institutions after Board exams even if they are not able to perform exceptionally in them. We need more good quality institutes, and not less exams.

Sibalji, I hope you are listening!!