Sunday, June 30, 2019

Toy stories: Recommendations for all age groups, almost

In the past week, I have proven my worth as a toy expert more than once. And I have done it so well that I am thinking of updating my Twitter bio to “Toy buyer for hire”. It has a nice rhythmic ring to it too.

Anyway, for now, I think I will share my expertise for free, so the next time you grapple with the question of “What should I buy for my friend’s or relative’s X year old kid”, this post could come in handy.

You can read the entire article here.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Language pangs, or perhaps not

When I first made my foray into Bombay, the thing I struggled the most with wasn’t home food or monsoons or living alone, but language. For someone whose primary languages back home are Tamil and English, the Marathi mixed Hindi was a challenge. It still is, when people reference Hindi idioms and quote famous Bollywood dialogues in context.

You can read the entire article here.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The vicious cycle of mandatory attendance

A friend threw a question at me yesterday – “Should attendance be mandatory in undergrad colleges?”

It takes us to the fundamental input vs outcome-linked model. Let’s break that down.

If books can teach everything and the teachers in class and debates between students add little value, while the exams are linked purely to the books, then there is no true worth to attending a class.

If books can only guide students to learn while the teacher can take it a notch up and help in the application of those learnings, encouraging debates and discussions in class, whether or not the exams are linked to mugging up the textbooks or are application oriented, there is merit in attending the class.

In college, all of us have gone through both these types of classes – the ones where the teaching is only a verbalization of the book and the ones where the teaching is so many notches higher in giving insights that the textbook becomes only a supporting guide.

So, the onus is really on educational institutes to be able to provide quality teaching to attract students to the class and get quality outcome. Reducing learning to an input based, mandatory attendance model is detrimental in the long run.

And do you know how detrimental? Let’s move on to the step after college. These students become office goers, the two types there. The input-focused ones and the outcome-focused ones.

The former exhibit and inculcate a culture of spending time in office, putting in long hours, staying till lights go off, speaking about how they spend 14 hours in office because life is a ‘desk-sitting’ competition, analyzing every other colleague from that perspective.

The latter work towards outcomes, have sensible meetings when required, stretch hours if there is an urgent team delivery involved, pack up and go home when the outcomes are achieved, and take flak from the input-focused team for leaving in ‘half a day’ when leaving at 6 pm.

So, perhaps it is time to start at college, to help students understand how value addition needs to be measured so that we can build better team leaders, managers, business heads, and CEOs. Who fill focus on adding value to their clients and shareholders rather than increase the OpEx with an extended use of electricity and pantry in office.

Friday, June 07, 2019

A periodic forever

I started getting my periods around 1996. Or 1997. Sometime thereabouts. My parents kept it a well-guarded secret for years after, not wanting anyone in the extended family to treat me differently or indulge in difficult conversations. But, the practices I saw around me were all pervasive. Most of my extended family followed a “No kitchen, no Pooja room, no touching bed, not even the sofa, no physical contact with anyone” kind of model those days. I think they still do. Those images have stayed with me for a long time now.

For many years I didn’t believe in idol worship. Then I moved to being agnostic. Now I am a full time atheist, the kind who goes to temples to admire the architecture and then stand and stare as the Aarti takes place. But, I hesitate before walking into the kitchen that houses the Pooja area when I am having my periods.

I am an unabashed feminist. Mostly. I am part of the D&I committee at work, I try to attract all my ex-female colleagues to my place of work so we can be a more balanced organization, I worry about the lack of representation at the head of the table. I am the works. But, I carry my fresh sanitary pad well concealed in my purse from the office desk to the toilet.

Conditioning acts in strange ways. It makes us irrational and illogical, unquestioning of processes that have been followed forever (our own definition of forever) and takes us a step beyond, making us sticklers to follow those processes. Because. Because, we don’t know any other way it is done.

It explains why we don’t put our feet on books, for instance. I try to ‘logicise’ that our feet are dirty because the ground is dirty, because Indian floors always try to attract dirt so it will make the books dirty. But, really? Who am I kidding? I have been told for a long time I am not supposed to put my feet on books because books are a manifestation of “Goddess Saraswathi” and putting our feet on books is as good (or as bad) as putting our feet on the Goddess herself.

Anyway, last week was my first step towards breaking away from this conditioning. No, I don’t think I will ever bring myself to putting my feet on books because that conditioning is too strong. But, after 11 years and roughly 430 period days (adjusting for maternity) in an office environment, I found the courage to walk to the toilet from my desk with the pad in my hand, and not in a purse. Even then, I had it in the inside of my palm so it wasn’t out there in plain sight. But, baby steps.

I dream of giving my daughter a world where she goes about her period days like any other normal day, carries the tampon to the toilet in plain sight, explains to her male friends / colleagues why she looks sick, and thinks of menstruation as the most normal thing to happen to a healthy girl (even more normal than contracting a cold because a cold is really nothing to wear on the sleeve like a badge of honor).

This dream of mine is simple and doable, compared to every other dream, because it is so in my control. All I need to do is to call out ‘conditioning’ to her when she encounters it, so she doesn’t have to work it backwards after 30 years of spending life on this Earth.

Monday, June 03, 2019

The imposition syndrome

I learnt Hindi back in 1996 for three years. At school. It was my third language, like that distant cousin who you might be polite to at a wedding party once in a while but cannot really stand in regular WA groups.

In my traumatized 3-year relationship with Hindi, which was kind of the mandatory third, because the only other option was Sanskrit (the Latinest of the Latins in my world), I am happy to inform you that I aced the subject. If you don’t know me, you wouldn’t know that I am undoubtedly the biggest mugger upper alive. Context or no context, science or no science, logic or no logic, I can actually ace anything (I learnt Mandarin three years back and topped that too, only difference being I really liked learning it and wanted to learn it Xie Xie).

Anyway, coming back to Hindi, very good help those three years of Hindi imposition did, because I turned up in Bombay in 2008, and asked the auto wallah what Sau meant, can he please say that in English. As an aside, in Chennai, we call them autos, not rickshaws.

It took me years and constant reminders to colleagues and friends at lunch and dinner tables to explain what that Hindi statement they made just then was, and after being (still am) the butt of many a joke, I have mastered the difference between pone bara and sava bara. But, I am informed that I don’t really know Hindi because I think cucumber is kakadi and potato is batata. Well, well, when you learn the pure Hindi of Bombay, it does morph into Marathi eventually.

Point being, Hindi imposition doesn’t really help. It makes us, the ones who didn’t make the choice to learn the language, very defensive. We learn the other languages better than the one being imposed on us. Also, we learn to survive with the languages we know. We learn to navigate the societies we live in, picking up local languages on the way.

So, if someone is selling this trope that learning Hindi is useful for the Southest of the South Indian, the Tamil, to survive in the Northest of the North Indias (which is all of it beyond the Vindhyas as far as we are concerned), sorry not required. We will fall and rise and fall and rise.

To sum up, TR style:
Say no to Hindi imposition
While doing Tamil composition.
Our right to the constitution
Cannot have any substitution.