Wednesday, November 13, 2013

saga of notes

Excerpt from the book An appetite for wonder by Richard Dawkins

Theoretically the idea was to use your lecture notes in revision, but I never looked at mine ever again and I suspect that most of my colleagues didn't either. The purpose of a lecture should not be to impart information. There are books, libraries, nowadays the internet, for that. A lecture should inspire and provoke thought. You watch a good lecturer thinking aloud in front of you, reaching for a thought, sometimes grabbing it out in the air. A good lecturer thinking aloud, reflecting, musing, rephrasing for clarity, hesitating and then grasping, varying the pace, pausing for thought, can be a role model in how to think about a subject and how to transmit a passion for it. If a lecturer drones information as though reading it, the audience might as well read it - possibly in the lecturer's own book. 

Every time I read such stuff, it rages me to the roof. We never had any such lecturers who would put us into thinking or think themselves for that matter. All we did was to copy notes from one book to another book. I remember our lecturer telling us that he had a tough time collecting good notes from a student who used to go to a good college/school. And the notes from those students (most of the times girls because of their good handwriting) used to be our bible at the class. The teacher used to copy whatever written in the notes (including a Math problem) on the black board and all of us used to write it down in our notes. We used to mug up the notes before the exams. I never used to like writing down notes or even copying from someone else. But I had no other option. If you do not have notes, you are bound to fail in the examination. That used to be our state in places I studied (till my graduation). I will be surprised if there is any improvement in those institutions even today. It makes me feel sad to look back and think the way we got educated.

But on the other hand, I remember a positive story about notes. During my graduation, we had no lecturer for Statistics subject and all 17 of us failed during the first year. It is one of my greatest failures in life. For the first time I had failed in a subject I liked the most. We used to fight with the college management asking for a lecturer. They had a tough time getting one considering their budgets. We used to see some faces for a maximum of few months and they used to come in different colors and languages. I remember one lecturer who came to teach us Statistics from Tirupathi. He used to teach us in Telugu language and we had no other option but to listen. So some of us  (most of the time three of us) decided to visit a few institutes in Bangalore and beg-borrow-steal Statistics notes from the lecturers there. And we happened to visit Vijaya college, St Joseph's college and a few others. Some of them were very kind to us and asked us to copy the notes. Some of them even taught us important chapters and also helped us with some tricks to solve bigger statistical problems. Most of the time we copied the notes sitting in the library or if we had access to a near by xerox shop, we used to get it photocopied. And we did that for a few months till we got enough notes to pass in the exam. While returning back from Bangalore with the notes in our hand, we used to feel a sense of achievement for sure. We shared the notes with all our classmates and some how passed our exams. So the notes from a-good-college-in-Bangalore saved us in the end.

I think we have a long way to go. Only in some institutes in major towns one can get good access to teachers and resources; while the other major parts of the state (mostly rural areas) will continue to face challenges.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

holy land and holy colors

I used to read about it a lot; I used to see them in photographs; I used to hear from people about it and finally I made it to the place. Its the holy land of Varanasi or Banaras or Kashi that attracts perhaps most number of tourists in India to make sure they watch the best of the worst in the history of mankind. Its a very unique tourism that projects both Indian filth and Indian wealth. I still wonder why people from all over the world visit this place full of filth and dreadful activities happening all the time. At least I wanted to witness for sure all that I had read and was curious to know about.

I took a boat ride for 30 minutes across the ghats and saw all the drama of spirited people working hard enough to make sure the dead people reach heaven. Its the act of cleaning up bodies in the river Ganga and burning them till the ashes mix up with the river. And at the same time people take bath in the river and drink up the holy water to make sure their lives are cleansed off the sins they've committed (or will be committing). I feel sad for gorgeous Ganga having consumed most number of dead bodies in the history of any river and being a carrier of dead bodies till where ever it flows ~ A river so lively with the dead.

Talking about people, Varanasi is full of people, a random look with both the eyes anywhere on the streets of Varanasi can capture a minimum of 1000 people in the frame I guess. Its people everywhere; people walking in the holy costumes; people riding bicycle rickshaws with 2 foreigners sitting and watching the whole drama around; people trying to imitate priests on the street to make sure the visitor drops a penny or two in their pocket before entering the temple; people who are busy making money by selling everything and anything on the streets; people who are urinating right across the streets not noticing others who are trying to ignore the sight; people with long beards who are spirited enough so that they can sit on the banks of river in the holy costumes and smoke the holy drugs to get high; people who carry dead bodies to the river bank and make sure the dead gets a good place on the ghats-of-their-choice till their spirits gets washed away in the holy river; people who can row a boat and convince a foreigner or a tourist to pay 1000 bucks to see the ghats burning dead bodies; and people who are living in the town from ages who doesn't care a damn about what is happening around; holy cow! I can go on and on. Varanasi is absolutely jam packed and is a live river of people.

Here are some photographs from my trip:

Reserved for the dead

Flower vendor waiting for the bodies to arrive so that he can decorate them with flowers

Tourists taking a pleasure boat ride watching the ghats burning dead bodies

Boat men working hard to make sure tourists like the ghats. They ensure they take you to the ghat where you can see bodies burning. 

The smoke and the river - a very symbiotic relationship

The ghats on the banks of the Ganges

A submerged temple

For some reason the place was full of sky-baskets

The one who posed at the right time

They smile at every tourist and make a living

Crowded streets of Varanasi

Sunrise over the Triveni Sangam where Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati meet

Yamuna river so serene in the morning

Sunrise over the holy sangam

The new Yamuna bridge at Allahabad

Boats returning from Sangam early in the morning

Where you see the congregation of boats, that's the Sangam point