Explore this blog by clicking on the labels listed along the right-hand sidebar. There are lots of interesting stuff which you won't find on the home page
Seriously curious about me? Click on ' What sort of person am I?'

Friday, November 27, 2015

End of November

So yet another year has passed by, and yet another batch is going to be ex from next week. I have written goodbyes before, so look them up if you like, all: I cannot think of something new to say to your lot. One of those posts, I seem to remember, was titled Bye-bye time again. Use the search bar, will you? And remember: I shall look out for the few who keep sincerely in touch, and forget the rest soon.

Ancient Egyptian records claim that Rameses II was ‘very old’ when he died; modern tests on his mummy indicate, however, that he was only 52 – just my age. Well, perhaps in those days people grew decrepit very quickly (in Bengali we have a saying about girls: ‘kurir agey chhunri, kuri perole buri’ – she’s a lass before 20, and a crone thereafter – and men only get a few decades extra) – though our epics tell a very different story. Anyway, I felt very old when I was 17, and surprised that I had survived to be 40, and now I see ancestors carrying on into their 80s, so I don’t know what to think any more! In fact till my mid-40s I could outwalk old boys fifteen years younger, and the little paunch has become prominent only because following the accident I have been virtually immobile for six whole months: maybe once I get back to my usual exercise routine I’ll be able to trim it down again to something respectable enough compared to the rolypoly teenagers I see around me!

Ageing is also to a very large extent a matter of mental condition. I certainly have much more grey hair than I did in early 2013, and no wonder: these last two years and a half have been one of the most traumatic periods of my life. There is a  chapter in To My Daughter with the title Expect the Unexpected, but it is always hard to take your own advice, so I have had trouble coping, and that is now showing in many little ways. My knees creak and hurt much more these days, too. Who knows if there’s a turn for the happier around the corner, I might be looking younger again in two years’ time, despite those knees…

I have been thinking aloud in class about how I am going to change my style in the years to come. Fewer girls as the years pass is one very strong possibility. Another is giving more time to stories and movies and games and quizzes. A most exciting option is going out on holiday trips with a largeish gang, provided some dads come along to help – and mothers strictly stay away (unless someone is a most exceptional mother, a type of whom I have seen hardly five in my whole lifetime). More frequent breaks, as my daughter travels farther away and I want more and more to go to stay with her. It will amuse me to see how this town adjusts to my changing outlook. Meanwhile, this year I have turned my mind to gardening, and there might be a dog in the offing.  A new car, too, maybe, and a trip abroad. But most of all I am looking for a housekeeper – remember Holmes’ Mrs. Hudson? Short of having a Watson around, that is the best I can think of.

An old boy – one of the few who have come back to this town with a decent job – took me out to dinner the other day, and I enjoyed it hugely, despite the fact that I have never much liked eating out, however fancy the restaurant. It was all about the company. Thank you, Abhik. I wish, so wish that many more like you could have come back to settle here. And until that happens, nothing bar nothing is going to convince me that Durgapur is ‘developing’. What they did instead the other day, as a small step I suppose towards making this a ‘smart’ city (how I hate that word!), was to bring a bulldozer and flatten some of the shanty shops along the main road near my house: shops selling all sorts of things from fruits to snacks to washing services. I know all these people – they are perfectly nice, harmless folks working hard to eke out a living in a country where government and society use them but don’t care a whit whether they live or die. Not like the fortunate few million parasites who have been lucky to get cushy jobs in non-performing public sector companies and government departments. I like them, I identify much more with them than with the brash, uncultivated but snooty, lazy, greedy, irresponsible, unsocial middle class. The only option they have is to turn to crime or beggary. Of course their shops were eyesores, and so this draconian step by those who wield power (all safe and comfortable themselves) can always be justified in the name of ‘beautification’ – they were littering the surroundings and bringing down real estate prices, weren’t they? Well, nobody ever took care of the root problem of an exploding population, and nobody seems to be even interested in making them permanent places to work out of, from where they can run registered businesses and even pay some taxes. Talk about poorly thought out projects. Naturally all those shanties have mushroomed again within a week. Where else would they go? Why don’t the big talkers in the ruling parties learn how it should be properly done – from a country like Japan, for instance, which too has a very dense population, and has managed to grow rich and stay spankingly clean at the same time? What a tragedy that a country which breeds ‘successful’ professionals by the million cannot produce leaders who can lead, who have even cared to find out what it means to lead!

Monday, November 09, 2015

Private tuitions, anyone?

My daughter has written after ages, a review of Go Set a Watchman. These days I often don’t have to do things because she can do them well enough for me.

One of the many ironies of my life is that, despite having been a private tutor all through my working life, I have been very ambivalent about private tuitions at best and a strident critic at worst – as thousands of my current and ex-students can vouch. I made a (modest-) living giving tuition to school and college students all through my own years in college and university; then came the long stint at school. In all those years I sent hundreds of parents away, unwilling to take their wards into my private classes because either I was emphatic that they didn’t need it if they were already attending my classes in school, or because I wouldn’t take in beyond a certain number (though alas, under ceaseless pressure over decades, especially since I left the school, that number has gone up much beyond my liking, and I still annoy a lot of people every year by turning their children away). I justified my own ideas to myself through my own daughter, who had a single tutor during the last two years of secondary school and none at all at the higher secondary level, and still managed to do perfectly well by just being somewhat more than average intelligent and studying by a routine every year. And my greatest sorrow is that I have been able to do virtually nothing to stem the tide, though the practice has kept me in gravy all these years. And today’s parents are the children of the generation I taught thirty years ago!

In the days when my father was young, teachers gave private tuition – mostly to very weak students, especially whose parents couldn’t coach them at home – to supplement pathetically meagre incomes. Already when I was leaving high school, the average quality of school education had taken a sharp nose dive, so lots of pupils were relying increasingly on private tutors, many of whom had begun to make significant money, especially in the metros. Medical and engineering college aspirants were signing up with coaching classes like Brilliant and Aggarwal’s in droves. Depending on whose point of view you adopt, things have grown much better/worse over the last three decades.

Contrary to common perceptions, it is not only the children of the affluent urban population who attend private tuitions; it is very widespread among the indigent and rural folks, too. Plainly, nobody trusts schools (or even colleges) to deliver the goods any more. Instead, a vast and vicious cycle has been created: a) the (very few) good and sincere teachers in school are roundly ignored, because the pupils are all attending private tuitions already, b) most schoolteachers don’t care to teach (or even to find out how to teach) because they know that nobody bothers, all the real studying is done at tuitions, c) the competent and ambitious among them take up jobs only to build up large private practices, after which they quit, d) parents are having to pay through their noses, though, at least in public schools, education is supposedly free, e) children waste many hours every day in school, and much of the rest of their time is eaten up running from one tuition to another (millions attend five or six regularly), so they have neither time nor energy left for rest and relaxation, leave alone reading outside the syllabus, with highly imaginable consequences, f) private tutors are now seriously rich, especially those who run statewide or countrywide coaching institutes (in West Bengal, it has been a dry joke for decades that no business really works here except for real estate and private tuitions!)

So if I happen to be one of those who have been able to take advantage of the situation, why am I complaining? It is because I wanted to become a good teacher and not just make some money; I also wanted to contribute to making teaching a respectable and aspirational profession again. And I don’t think I can boast of very much success with regard to either. I have got too little feedback in this lifetime about how deeply, lastingly and positively I have influenced my students’ lives – so much for knowing whether I have been a good teacher or not. So far as hard facts are concerned, I believe people come to me in droves to enroll their children for very mundane, immediate, temporary reasons, which I have listed in an earlier blogpost. And though they together pay me enough not to make me envious of the average doctor or engineer or government official, I never managed to get rich, partly because teaching is (still-) not highly paid in this country (consider for comparison’s sake how much a doctor charges for a service as basic as putting a leg in plaster, to cite just one example), and partly because I have always been too lazy to work round the clock, and had moral issues about running sausage factories (there are countless tutors who run classes of hundreds at a time, and so can easily afford BMWs – not that I ever wanted one!). As for the other ambition, virtually none of my good students have opted to become teachers, especially at the school level (with Vivekananda and Tagore and Russell, I have always believed that that is where most of our vital education takes place: afterwards it’s just imbibing facts, technical details and sales tricks), despite knowing full well that competent and hard-working teachers are minting money these days. Part of the reason I know – that teaching still does not assure that precious combination of security and social status that is so dear to the middle class (which is where the vast majority of teachers come from) – but somehow that seems to be neither adequate nor satisfactory.

In the few years left to me, I can’t do much more to become a good teacher, or to enthuse my pupils to follow in my footsteps. Should I then shed all inhibitions and focus on making money?