Sunday, July 31, 2005

Women as Chattel: The Saga Continues

A woman in Kerala has won a divorce from her husband after she found out that she was artificially inseminated with her sister-in-law's husband's sperm and the fertilized egg was transferred from her womb to her sister-in-law (the victim's husband's sister) who had been trying unsuccessfully to have children. As an aside, the victim's husband had apparently been harassing her for dowry.

Digested that?

As far as her husband's family was concerned, she was nothing but a piece of property they owned, a fruit tree which they saw nothing wrong in harvesting. No thought as to her feelings, her sense of being, her moral authority over her body. And all this, to help a daughter of the family, a status to which the victim should have had equal rights to, if not more. Not to excuse the husband's behaviour, but men folk may not comprehend the sense of violation the victim felt. But the women? What was the sister-in-law thinking? What was the mother-in-law thinking?

I have felt for a long time now, that women, more so than men, are responsible for the dredges in which women wallow in our societies. Mothers-in-law forget that once upon a time, they too were daughters-in-law (Kabhi Saas Bhi Bahu Thi). They forget that their daughters will one day be daughters-in-law. Sisters-in-law forget that the daughters-in-law are the ones that now care for their parents. Women in high positions in society forget the struggles they went through that younger women face as they build a career and manage their families. The thought is: "I went through it, so you do too." Not: "I went through it, and so I will spare you that pain."

Who knows, if the victim had been treated properly, if she had been made to feel part of the family and not a dowry vehicle, she may have even agreed to donate her egg to her infertile sister-in-law.

Click on the title for the entire story.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Life in Bangalore: Schools III

This is the last in a three-part series. Parts I and II appear here and here.
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I am fast discovering that this is an inexhaustible topic!

I want to mention a couple of things as I continue writing about schools in Bangalore.

Firstly, I understand that most international schools follow US teaching methods (low student/teacher ratio, time for extra-curricular activities (music lessons, for example), and that the management works with each family with full awareness of a student's educational background. The expat community naturally gravitates towards these schools. I don't have personal experience with those schools, but I do know that most are expensive by Indian standards. For an expat, if school expenses are included in the compensation package, this may not be an issue.

Secondly, I grew up in the school system here and as I've heard time and again, especially from Indians who have gone on to study in the US and from American students and faculty, the Indian school system provides a strong foundation in the basics. Multiplication tables may be learnt by rote, but Indian kids are taught their tables by the time they finish elementary school and that is a key factor in many Indian kids doing well in math. The principal at my son's school says to me that when some of her students go back to the US after finishing kindergarten at her school, they've been able to do second-grade level work straight away.

That's all fine, but it's no use if my son hates going to school in the first place. Before we came here, he used to hate weekends because there was no school on weekends. Now, it's the other way around.

I also write about this with the understanding that, parents being parents, no school system is perfect for their children. There are problems with schools in a lot of other countries as well, even in the US. One only needs to look at the newspapers on a daily basis for an inexhaustible list of problems plaguing our school systems in the US. There was a recent, horrific story in the Washington Post about the goings-on on school buses, including first-graders being bullied into blowing condoms, elementary school girls being prodded and poked by the boys on the bus and so on.

No matter where you live, the only way to deal with problems is to be aware of them in the first place. By recounting my experiences here, whether with schools, housing, or the other aspects of Bangalore life, I do hope to make you aware.

And I do not mean to suggest that these are insurmountable problems. As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, schools do need to understand that you are watching.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Life in Bangalore: Schools II

This is the second in a three-part series. Parts I and III appear here and here.

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In my previous post, I limited myself to the Montessori curriculum and the pace at which it is taught at N's school. By stressing completion of portions, the school pays no attention to an individual child's learning speed or process, which principle is at the core of the Montessori method.

As for the social aspects, it was his teacher herself that I had to complain against. N heard her referring to his classmates as "stupid" and "slow poke", and witnessed a smacking incident. He came home angry with his teacher. Apparently he told her whatever she did was wrong. The teacher herself told me a couple of months later (as a complaint against N) that N gets angry even if she so much as raises her voice against the other kids. And of course, I thought, "good for you, N!", while nodding my head in sympathy.

Schools tend to be the center of discussion whenever we go out to meet our friends, and they all have one story or the other to tell. A couple of weekends ago, a friend recounted this story in which her daughter's entire second grade class was locked in the classroom because a few of the girls had misbehaved. The teacher padlocked the door and left. The door was finally opened half-an-hour later when another teacher heard cries coming from the room.

In an ideal world, all teachers, not matter what type of school they are in, are supposed to treasure the kids that come to them and do everything to build and nurture their self-esteem. This requirement is not unique to Montessori schools.

Then there is the story of a 4 year-old who did not come home on the school bus. He had gone off with his friend to his house and no one on the bus or among the school staff realised that the boy was not on his bus (although the minder on the bus did take a roll call - go figure). The mother finally came to know where her son was when her son's friend's mother called her up to tell her. She of course raised a big ruckus at school, but realised that nothing had changed a week later to ensure that children went where they were supposed to go at the end of the day. She promptly pulled him out and put him in another school.

I do agree that all parents need to do their homework about the schools and more importantly, make the teachers and the management aware that you know what's going on in the school and that you are concerned. But no matter how much homework you do, the first year will be the transition phase where you are figuring out everything - from the methods to the curriculum to the processes in place.

At the other end of the spectrum from N's school is another Montessori that a friend's son goes to. Complete lack of structure there. If a child wants to water plants all day, fine, he can do that. At the end of the year, my friend realised that her son had not learnt anything to do with reading, writing or math. And the management takes offense to any inquiry from the parents as to what their children are learning. She finally pulled her son out of that school two months into the 2005-2006 school year and put him in a new one. Because, as all parents are, she was concerned about her son having to pass those first-grade entrance tests.

International schools have entrance tests too, but they are sympathetic to the diverse learning environments their students come from. In that sense, their tests may not be as bad as those at some of the established old schools in Bangalore.

As for a plan, here is what I think might just work:

For a pre-first grade child, a neighborhood school will be ideal. The child will not have to travel to and from school by bus (it's such a pitiful sight to see little kids trudge off to the bus at 7 in the morning) and again, most neighborhood schools have a better student/teacher ratio. The only caveat is that the parents need to watch what is being taught and how it is being taught.

In terms of homework, there is no alternative but to have your child do it (I did not want N to think that I did not expect him to finish the work his school had given - so he did everyone of those horrid 8 pages every weekend for 5 months last year). The bright side is that of course, he is learning a lot, and I provide other outlets for his creativity.

When the time comes for first grade, there are alternatives (a friend mentioned the National Academy for Learning (NAFL)) to the international schools that are not very expensive and that discourage learning by inifinite repition and rote. The NAFL, for example, says that it uses an "alternative approach to education, through an integrated curriculum and innovative learning techniques".

There is a wonderful book "Bangalore Mums' Guide" (by Reena Mehta, published by Navneet) that lists all the schools, various kids of classes (music, dance, drama, etc.), and other information for parents in Bangalore which is a great reference to have. It lists the contact info for the schools and the facilities available at each school, and the admission process.

With a little bit of homework when the child is still in kindergarten, it's possible to whittle down the number of schools you want to approach and only target the ones you are comfortable with. Parents with kids already in those schools are excellent sources of information regarding entrance tests, the teachers, and so on.

N will have to move to a new school at the end of this year for first grade, if we decide to stay on longer here. Our plan is to steer clear of the old schools and go to an international school, one to which a couple of our friends are already sending their children. Apart from the diverse international student population, the one other advantage I see is the student/teacher ratio. I hear that it's much better than at the regular schools (1:20/25 vs 1:60).

That admission process will begin in a couple of months for the 2006-07 school year. I will keep you posted on what transpires.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Life in Bangalore: Schools

This is the first in a three-part series. Parts II and III appear here and here. My post about our experience with Greenwood High is here.
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Schools are aplenty in Bangalore. There are schools of every shape, size and hue occupying every street in this sprawling metropolis - from 'international' schools to unpretentious playhomes for toddlers.

Finding a good school that meets all your criteria, on the other hand, is a near-impossible task.

The only criterion I had in my mind for my son when we first moved here was that his school should be within walking distance from our house. Under no circumstances was I willing to put him (my baby!) on a bus to and from school. So we picked a house that was close to a school with kindergarten classes.

He had been going to a Montessori school in the US and it had worked beautifully for both myself and my son. He was happy at school, I was happy with the pace at which he was being taught and at which he was learning. As luck would have it (or so I thought) the school we picked in Bangalore also followed the Montessori method (they had all the Montessori materials - many of which my son recognized and was very happy to be in the midst of - and they followed the concept of mixing age groups in their class rooms).

That illusion was shattered within the first week of school. My son came home with three pages of homework. By the end of the week, he'd had three pages of homework every day, and about eight pages to complete over the weekend. And he arrived from school every day, exhausted from the amount of writing work at school, in addition to working on the materials.

I had a chat with his teacher, and her justification was this: he had arrived late to the school, and she was loading him up with work because she had to 'finish the portions' for the year. That of course, is antithetical to the Montessori method, and, it was my reality check. As the year progressed, it was obvious that all these young kids (3, 4 and 5 year olds) were being prepared to face the entrance tests for first grade!

Yes, there are entrace tests for first grade. And get this: they test the children on skills that are beyond the first grade curriculum. As for the logic behind that, I am at a loss.

The reality here is that the schools, especially in Bangalore, are catering to a wide variety of demands - those of the returning NRIs many of whom have had their children in Montessori or alternative environments in the US, and those of the parents who are more intimately aware of the demands put on young children in grade schools. So the schools call themselves Montessori schools to attract the NRI population, but follow a strict, rigorous, curriculum to train the children to pass the inevitable entrance tests. I've heard of parents complaining that the schools don't work the children hard enough.

Most parents, frankly, are scared. Admissions to the schools that are considered good (although overpopulated, understaffed and in many instances, on the outskirts of town) are extremely hard to come by. Parents stand in line for days to get registration forms at these schools. So that first grade entrance test is a defining event in a scholastic career.

There are the international schools of course, but these too merit close scrutiny. There is nothing preventing a school from slapping on the 'international' tag. Moreover, they are expensive because they mostly try to attract and cater to the expat population.

The thought that I want to leave you with is this: there is nothing wrong in children learning to read and write and do math (and color, although my son hates it) and, if you want your children to grow in this school system, they do need to. Unless you want to be an outlier and send your children to schools that have no tests whatsoever until high school (Valley School, for example).

But, if you want to be in the mainstream, be prepared to put your foot down if your child is being pushed too much. You are the best judge of your child's mental framework and nothing is worth squashing his creativity (which I guarantee the reams and reams of repetitive homework will do), not even a seat in a "good" school.

So, suck in your breath and steel yourself for the 'untidy' or 'could be neater' comments on his homework. It's a safe bet that neither Steve Jobs nor Bill Gates has pretty handwriting, and remember neither finished college.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Aadhar Charitable Trust for Child Cancer Treatment, New Delhi

There is a fantastic effort on to raise funds to support parents of child cancer patients, parents who cannot afford treatment of their children.

It is amazing what a little money can do. Taking text straight out of Aadhar's pamphlet, here is some food for thought:
  • many childhood cancers are curable if detected early and treated completely;
  • cure rates for childhood cancers are 75% compared to 60% in adults;
  • curing a young child with cancer saves a great many years of productive life. A five year-old child may have more than 70 years to live;
  • it is estimated that 400,000 years of life will be saved by treating children diagnosed in 1999.
The Aadhar Charitable Trust is hosting a fundraiser on September 18th in New Delhi. If you want more information, call Dr. Rajeshwary Kulkarni at 011-91-11-25264435, or e-mail her at aadharcharitabletrust@gmail.com.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

My Interview with Greg Chappell

It's been a month since Greg Chappell, the master batsman and former Australian captain, took over as India's coach. He and his wife chose to make Bangalore their home during their stay in India. The team just completed their traning in Bangalore's own Chinnaswamy Stadium. In a couple of days, they are headed to Sri Lanka to compete in the Tri-angular series against Sri Lanka and the West Indies.

And today, I interviewed Chappell for my radio station! The interview lasted nearly an hour and that time was exclusively assigned to our interview. A part of that interview was already broadcast today and the entire interview is scheduled to go on air in the next couple of days.

It was a fantastic experience to talk to Chappell. The man was generous with his time and thoughtful with his responses. He's convinced about his philosophy of coaching cricketers (www.chappellway.com) and from all reports, he's made everyone (including the BCCI) aware of how he likes to operate.

One good thing I already see from his presence here as coach: VVS Laxman is back on the roster. Hope he stays there for a long time. He deserves it. It's an absolute pleasure to watch him play.

I think I might post the transcript of the interview once it goes on air.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Bidapa's "Mistake"

This is what Bidapa had to say about the reason for his arrest in Dubai.

"After the party was over, I noticed the pouch lying on the television set
and decided to throw it away later. However, while packing all things were
shoved into my bag. There were two-three people helping me with the packing, so I really do not know who shoved it, or whether I myself
shoved it in."

Bidapa claimed he carried the bag to Bangalore and subsequently to Dubai
without realising that the packet allegedly containing marijuana was still lying
in the side-pocket.

http://ww1.mid-day.com/news/nation/2005/july/114272.htm

And this is precisely why airline personnel at the check-in counter ask you if you had the bag in your possession all the time and if you packed your bags yourself. It's a question that merits some thought.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Life in Bangalore: Garbage Crisis (Warning: not pleasant reading)

The one thing I hate the most about living in Bangalore is - there is no other way to say this - the piles of shit I have to jiggy around everytime I decide to walk to my destination.

The reason we live where we live (meaning our area of Bangalore, not Bangalore itself) is that everything we need - grocery stores, medical stores, other convenience stores, even my son's school, are all within walking distance. Given Bangalore's terrible traffic situation, I thought it was best this way. Unfortunately, I failed to account for the absolutely horrific amounts of garbage strewn everywhere and the piles of feces, new ones of which unfailingly appear everyday.

My son's school is literally within 500 steps of our apartment in a very busy residential/commercial locality (i.e., we don't live out in the boonies) and I'm not exaggerating when I say that we have to gingerly navigate the streets for everyone of those steps for fear of our feet landing in one of those piles.

I don't know if my memory of my earlier life in Bangalore has taken on a rosy hue (granted it was more than 10 years ago) or if Bangalore was just a cleaner place then. I just don't remember seeing so much of the filth I am seeing now.

Or may be, I am seeing Bangalore with new eyes. May be Bangalore was just as filthy then, but I was not bothered because I did not know any better.

I loath to blame lack of infrastructure for a shortage of civic sense, but a recent trip to the interior of Karnataka was an eye-opener. We drove through many villages and the lack of infrastructure is glaring. More on this in another post.

Sometimes as I'm walking or riding around Bangalore, I look at the people - on the streets, on bikes, in buses, in carts - and I think where does one start if a sizeable portion of them is to be educated on how to properly dispose garbage or not to defecate on the streets. When people are worried about basic things like where their next meal is going to come from, safe drinking water, and a roof over their heads, proper garbage disposal, I'm sure, does not even figure on their lists.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Commercial Street, Bangalore

Finally! A proposal to limit Commercial Street to pedestrian traffic! Finding parking was a nightmare, anyway, what with all the parking spots occupied bright and early by none other than the merchants themselves.

We, the shoppers, after two or three rounds of futile trolling for parking, would end up parking about a 10 minute walk away and then do battle on the narrow street with even narrower footpaths with other harried shoppers, hawkers who push their wares in your face, street vendors who strategically occupy every street corner, one column of vehicles parked along the street and another column still engaged in the exercise of finding a parking space.

Now, if only someone has the bright idea of regulating pedestrian traffic to flow in one direction on each side of the road!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Been away for a week...

and itching to write...

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