Counter with confidence

One benefit of  teaching as a profession  is the endless opportunities it provides one to serve wisdom on a platter .Not that the listener is always keen! But it does pay to listen to the finer nuances of learning in a classroom . Nuggets of wisdom from the young!

Its amazing how children carry such wisdom on their young shoulders and they carry it lightly too. While  pointing out errors in language  to a student , I was stumped to silence when the student countered nonchalantly  that he was a good shooter, a great swimmer and excellent at carpentry. Does it matter so much that his English is not so great ?

To every individual who dithers at the threshold of confidence ,think of those moments of your personal greatness ..the smallest of the smallest achievements  and that build your self belief on those because you are what you think you are! There is so much more to you than what anybody might read in you or refuse to read in you.

The society sets up numerous  standards  and constantly nudges you to try  measuring yourself against them… the charmer, the handsome hunk, the diva, the sports star, the hard working student, the most obedient, parent’s pride , the super successful so on and so forth . The ads , the films , the need for the likes all build up the steam.

For you to be truly happy , forget what is expected of you and just be yourself , be true to your own expectations , dreams and aspirations ..the rest is bound to follow!

Not off to a spinning start , thankfully!

And this felt good.. I had announced rather childishly on my facebook page on being declared the Best Speaker at the Toast Masters Club.  I was still reeling under the pleasure of having ventured beyond my comfort zone to find it strangely comforting , when I was suddenly thrown off my balance.  As I  was trying to get up from my bed the next day, I realized that the world around me and myself were on a dizzying spin. This is interesting , I had thought initially to be on this merry go round , all alone and sans apparatus , sans tickets! Soon, though , I realized the seriousness of the situation when , my head spun too fast and all I could do was to manage to totter unsteadily to the toilet to vomit . I panicked  as my subconscious ticked off all the wrong boxes , terrifying prospects of joblessness, pain, humiliation and what not.  Then somebody told me , its possible that this has been brought about due to stress . Really! I felt relieved , then I can handle it . I immediately decided  upon a routine of meditation and yoga and thankfully , I am not off to a spinning start any more !

Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda’s simple yet evocative poem urges us to pause for a moment and introspect upon the consequence of our actions. The poet address mankind at large, exhorting us to count till twelve and to keep still while the count lasts. The poet reminds us that this one action of not doing anything for short duration will u break the barriers of language and geography and unite us in a silence that binds us to a higher purpose. The poet feels that these few moments of silence will save the earth of much damage and will help us to reflect on the impact of our deeds. The fishermen at sea and even those who constantly prepare for wars would for a moment be united in a brotherhood dedicated to a good cause , the betterment of the planet. The poet makes it clear that he is not advocating total inactivity because inactivity is even more dangerous. The poet says half jokingly, he wants no truck with death, he is not asking for total annihilation due to lack of positive action. He laments our lack of purpose , our solidarity to the preservation of the planet. If we do not unite ,we might just continue to expedite our own destruction . According to the poet , it is sad that man kind does not realize the harm its actions cause to its own survival . He hopes that we would learn a few lessons from the nature of earth , that of a seed etc which seem dormant yet is so full of life. The poet , does not insist nor preach , he just gives a suggestion for us to ponder on and moves away from the limelight.

The desire of the modern man for fast paced development has done much harm to the environment . Most of the so called development comes at a huge cost , of that of nature , its other inhabitants and men themselves.
Its time for us to ask ,development at what cost rather than seeking it blindly.

Questions & Answers

1. What will counting up to twelve and keeping quiet help us to achieve?

The act of counting twelve and keeping quiet will help us to reflect upon the repercussions of our actions in the name of the welfare of mankind. Not only that, this short duration of inactivity will save many lives and minimize the adverse impact of human activities on the planet.

2. Do you think the poet advocates total inactivity and death?

No, the poet is not advocating total inactivity. Infact , he cautions that we should not misunderstand his message. He wants mankind to think about the negative impact his actions has upon the earth. He hopes that introspection on our part will help us to minimize rapid pace at which the planet is heading towards destruction or total annihilation.

3. What is the sadness that the poet is referring to in the poem?

The poet says that it is indeed sad that mankind does not realize the simple fact that by destroying nature , he is destroying himself. As a people , we are single minded in our resolve to progress to move on . The poet wants us to be single minded in our resolve to save earth as well.

Aadu Jeevitham by Benyamin- A Review

As unusual as the title sounds, Benyamin’s Aadu Jeevitham translated as Goat Days is definitely a must read. Considering that it is his first novel, the writer shows a great deal of maturity in the choice of  theme and the way he has tackled it. Through his sensitive and poignant portrayal of the trials and tribulations of Najeeb, a gulf employee , the writer draws our attention to the dark underbelly of the much eulogized life of a gulf malayali. The riveting flow of the narrative and the twists and turns in the story ensure that the reader has to finish reading the book at one go.

Najeeb migrates to Gulf like many other of his compatriots  in search of a better life.His dreams are razed to dust when he falls into the hands of a Arab goat farmer who exploits him in the most despicable manner.Yet the fact is that  Najeeb does not nurture any ill will against his employer and nothing seems to shake his belief in god , who he thanks at every turn . The portrayal of Najeeb as a man caught in the web of time and fate unable to shake himself free, gnaws at the heart of the reader. In fact what comes through is the author himself, his sensitive and understanding stance of life.

Benyamin whose real name is Benjamin Daniel is a revelation. A writer who revels in the usage of the most simple form of language devoid of pomposity of any kind , yet so successful is a rare phenomenon. To those keralites who dream of the riches of the deserts of the gulf , this story is an eye opener. The writer himself has had his share of grief and pain in life and perhaps this has made his view of the world more humane.

What can one take away from this book? Well! Najeeb’s unflinching faith in god is inspiring, so is the fellowship and care each affected show to the other. The kindness of the hotelier , who saves Najeeb and has saved many like him before stands out too.

Aadu Jeevitham , is a book like no other . It will occupy a special space in Malayalam literature . The debut raises much interest and curiosity in the writing of Benyamin and one realizes that here is a work not tied down by barriers of language , region , religion or time. Benyamin is a writer who deserves a global audience.

Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers by Adrienne Rich

The Poet

Adrienne Rich is an influential American poet who wrote boldly about issues concerning women, war etc. The poem , Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers speaks about the  suppression a woman feels in marriage.

The poem

Aunt Jennifer’s tigers prance across a screen,

Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.

They do not fear the men beneath the tree;

They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.

Aunt Jennifer makes beautiful woollen tapestry showing tigers  prancing against a beautiful green background. The  poet admires the beauty of the animals who don’t fear the men standing beneath the tree. The poet admires their ‘chivalric certainity’ , their courage in the face of obvious terror. The fact that the tigers are lifeless makes them bold and chivalrous . The sight of men who could take their lives do not frighten them , instead these topaz denizens roam about fearlessly in the green world created by Aunt Jennifer. Here the poet contrasts the timid and meek nature of Aunt Jennifer to the proud ferocity of her creations , the tigers. The contrast of the bright yellow against green creates a beautiful image as well.

Chivalric certainity –  figure of speech is alliteration i .e .repetition of  the same consonant sound in two consecutive words.

denizens means inhabitants or those who live there.

Bright topaz refers to the bright yellow stripes on the tigers body.  Topaz is  natural mineral which is of  reddish yellow colour.

Aunt Jennifer’s fingers fluttering through her wool

Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.

The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band

Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand.

The swiftness of the movement of the fingers of Aunt Jennifer eagerly creating such a beautiful scene is affected by the heavy weight of the burdens and bindings imposed upon her by the wedding band ,which sits heavily on her fingers. Here the poet draws a contrast between the fanciful and courageous depictions in Aunt Jennifer’s art and the her own timid and meek nature.  However  high her art and imagination soars , she is pulled down to the harsh realities of life by the massive weight of the wedding ring she wears. In fact, she finds it a struggle to  move the ivory needle used to spin the beautiful pictures . But it is commendable that the lady overcame her innate shyness and lack of courage  to present her vision of life in the tapestry.  The obvious contradiction between the lady in real life and the fanciful and ferocious nature shown in her creation is brought out beautifully by the poet.

Massive weight suggests a very unhappy marriage , one which restricts joy and freedom to Aunt Jennifer.

Fingers fluttering – figure of speech is alliteration i .e .repetition of  the same consonant sound in two consecutive words.

When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie

Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.

The tigers in the panel that she made

Will go prancing, proud and unafraid.

her terrified hands- here  a part of the body has been used to represent the person and the figure of speech is synecdoche.

Here’s another example from Ozymandias by P.B. Shelley ,. The phrase ‘the hand’ in the third line refers to the sculptor.

“Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them.”

The poet says that even death cannot free Aunt Jennifer of the ordeals of her unhappy marriage. Her fingers which seemed to have a courage and freedom which she herself never had will remain submissive and terrified even in her death. The word ‘ring’ signifies the wedding ring which instead being a symbol of love and care had become a symbol of oppression and unhappiness in her life. It could also signify the fact that her life was led not according to her will , but as per the overpowering wishes of her husband , who sort of  created a wall , a prison or a ring ,circling her , thus terrifying and intimidating her.  Unlike Aunt Jennifer , the lady  who never breathed free , the tigers which she created are never intimidated or frightened, they have no fear of any kind. The poet draws our attention to the fact that the ordeals of her married life did not stop Aunt Jennifer from creating such proud , aggressive , fearless creatures  in the panel.

1. Why are Aunt Jennifer’s fingers fluttering in the second stanza? Why is she finding it difficult to pull the needle?

Aunt Jennifer is a woman of meek and submissive nature  who has a fierce and bold imagination which she uses to create proud ferocious creatures in her tapestry. She gives vent to her feelings  and  her desire for a free world by creating a beautiful scene of proud tigers prancing in  green forest. Her fingers are fluttering as creating such tapestry is an enjoyable act for her . However, she does find it difficult to pull the needle as the harsh realities of her unhappy marriage weigh her down.

2.What is suggested by the image of ‘ massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band’?

The image created is that of a over bearing husband who has curtailed the freedom of his wife. Instead of being a symbol of love and care , the wedding band is symbolic of oppression and unhappiness in Aunt Jennifer’s case. It is noteworthy that the poet spells uncle with a capital ‘U’ perhaps hinting at his authoritative and rude ways.

3. What are the ordeals Aunt Jennifer is surrounded by , why is it significant that the poet uses the word’ ringed’?

The poem is a reflection upon the  ordeals  Aunt Jennifer faced due to her  unhappy marriage. The use of phrases like ‘massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band’ hints at the oppression she faced in marriage. In fact , she is so terrified that it is not easy for her to let herself free even in her  art. Aunt Jennifer finds it difficult to pull the needle to create the tapestry , however what she creates is a scene of ferocious tigers prancing about a green back ground . Her artistic creations give us an indication of what her aspirations and ambitions are and her thirst for freedom and assertiveness .

The word ‘ringed’ is indicative of the bindings and restrictions imposed upon Aunt Jennifer by her husband. The ring is also symbolic of the bonding of marriage.

4. Why do you think Aunt Jennifer created animals that are so different from her own character?  What might the poet be suggesting, through this difference?

If art is an expression of the ambitions and aspirations of the artist, then its clear that ,Aunt Jennifer aspired to have a free and independent life. The proud , fearless tigers she created are an extension of her desire to be like them in reality. However, she was so tied down in marriage that not even death could have released her of fear and sadness. The poet suggests that as a woman , Aunt Jennifer yearned for  a fearless and assertive personality and a marriage wherein she had equal voice.

a piece of the firmament

She held
secure
a piece of the firmament
azure
a hope , a nourishment
sincere
a wish, an adornment
treasure
a dream , a parchment
promise
a deal, an agreement

of a life after life
together
sharing
space

a piece of his blue bright sky shed light
in to the wintry darkness of her soul.

A Learner Centered Classroom

The notion of a learner centered classroom is alien to most of the teachers who still harbor the belief that the learner is ignorant , an empty vessel to be filled with the divine gift of knowledge which the teacher alone possesses. In these technology driven times , it is important to realize that no student an ignoramus. In fact he is well aware of ideas and concepts beyond the reach of the text books and the prescribed syllabus, thanks to technology and often, supportive parents .The teacher, however , has the advantage of experience which can give the information readily available a colour and tone that comes with years of observation and experimentation.The teacher has to leverage this aspect in the most amicable manner . A pleasant and understanding teacher who is learned but willing to listen to his pupils is delight to be with for any student.

A learner -centered classroom revolves around the needs and abilities of the learner. It not only debunks the notion that the learner is ignorant but actively seeks to encourage the interaction and participation of the learner in the process of learning. It poses greater challenges to the faculties of the teacher in terms of constant innovation and creative thinking. Activities, though time bound have to enable the learners to experiment and learn for themselves. Here, the teacher considers the learner to have equal stake in the process of learning. The teacher willingly goes beyond the text book , designs activities which are individual , pair or group based , encourages the student without reservations and is honest enough to accept her lack of expertise in case , such a situation arises. Co-operative learning is the norm of the day and it works in the best interests of both the parties, the learner and the teacher , benefiting the school and society at large in the long run.

So, does a learner centered classroom undermine the role of a teacher ? The answer to the question is a resounding , no . Not only that, it actually benefits the teacher by keeping the learner in her alive and thirsting for more knowledge. After all , she has to get back to a bunch of enthusiastic young learners ,who will keep her on her toes!!!

Living to learn

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