Also etc….

There is nothing predictable about the streets of Jayanagar

There is nothing predictable about the streets of Jayanagar

In Bangalore I never have to travel far to be surprised. The streets of Jayanagar are populated by colourful people and bright images, and I can guarantee each morning as I explore the lanes I will find something new that holds my gaze. This morning it was the kind of poster that I would never anticipate seeing on the streets of a European city.

I suppose that in the post-enlightenment era of the twenty first century, most Europeans have become distant from those beliefs and mystical claims that feel more attuned to an age of soothsayers and fortune tellers. For this reason it seems strange that posters such as that at the top of this page can be found in many locations around this area. This particular image caught my attention this morning, mainly for its bold assertion of being able to provide a solution to almost any problem you might care to name. Marital difficulties, bad debts and education are all listed as being within the domain of the advertising astrologer, who clearly has powers at which the rest of us can only marvel. I found myself reading this poster and wondering if I should contact this sage in order that he might address the persistent internet connection problems that have been a feature of my stay here in Bangalore this time.
I mentioned this advertisement to one of our students this morning, who asked me whether I had ever seen such notices posted in England. I had to inform her that I had not, and that it seemed unlikely that I ever would. However, I do believe that in many tabloid newspapers it is possible to find daily, or weekly horoscopes making claims about the likely outcomes for any Virgo, Capricorn or Pisces who cares to read them. I remember as a teenager being mildly amused by these harbingers of fortune that informed me that Thursday would be a bad day for financial transactions, but Saturday would bring joy in my love life, or other such predictions; though I never took any of this seriously. But here in India, the views of astrologers are regularly sought prior to making major decisions. Auspicious days are identified for all major events from opening a new business to setting dates for a wedding.
Whilst I am unlikely to engage with this pre-scientific approach to managing my life, I appreciate that there are others who hold great faith in such procedures. Whoever posted this advert clearly has great confidence in his ability, with the guaranteed immediate solution so prominently displayed. I wonder if they offer money back for bad predictions.
The feature of this poster that made me smile more than any other was the last phrase – “also etc”, a catchall phrase if ever there was one. As I continued my walk along the lane away from this advert, I found myself envisaging the wide range of problems that might arrive at the astrologer’s door today. Personally I would be grateful if he could do something about the noxious fume belching traffic that is choking the streets of Jayanagar, and while he’s on the task maybe also consider a way to make it possible to walk the pavements unobstructed. But then again, if that were to be achieved, it would be a miracle!

Rowing boats and navigating a safe passage

Look carefully. There's some serious learning going on here!

Look carefully. There’s some serious learning going on here!

Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,

Life is but a dream!

         (Traditional Children’s rhyme)

Between teaching two cohorts of students and running a training day for our research students here in Bangalore, we like to make the most effective use of our time. This sometimes means providing training sessions in either the schools where our students work, or in those of colleagues who provide support to our work here in the city. We are dependent upon the goodwill of so many friends in Bangalore and we are therefore always pleased to be able to give something back in kind to them and their schools.

Thus it was that yesterday a group of teachers and parents found themselves seated on the floor, rocking to and fro, whilst chanting the children’s rhyme that appears at the top of this posting. Later in the morning, the same group were playing a simple traditional Indian game of hop and catch, though restricted space somewhat limited the scope of this particular escapade.

If having read the above you are wondering what this has to do with the professional development provided to a school staff and parents, I probably owe you an explanation. Latha, who was one of the first students here in Bangalore to graduate from the MA programme, had asked that we visit her school to work with parents and colleagues to consider how early educational experiences can help children to become confident learners. We were more than happy to oblige, and suggesting that formalisation of education is being increasingly imposed upon children at an ever younger age, we decided to demonstrate the value of informal learning and to explore the uses of play.

Great fun was had by all as they experienced the kind of activities that we would hope all parents enjoy with their children. This was accompanied by more serious discussion about early years learning, the promotion of healthy child development and the importance of providing secure relationships between children, and for children and adults. We examined in some detail the many learning opportunities that exist outside of the classroom, and the importance of acknowledging that children learn much from people who are not formally designated as teachers. By the end of the day we had all reflected upon a unique learning experience, and promised to go away and encourage the children and adults in our lives to learn by being more playful.

Today was rather more formal, though also involved a number of enjoyable learning experiences. My good friend Savitha, who has been so supportive of our work in Bangalore, and is a fine example of someone committed to running an inclusive school, invited me to assist her staff in developing inclusive classroom planning strategies. Knowing of the great enthusiasm always exhibited by the staff of Pramiti school, it was easy to facilitate a range of practical tasks focused upon the children with whom they work.

Both of these days were not only rewarding, but were important to those of us who come here to offer the MA in Special and Inclusive Education programme. Having rowed boats across very smooth waters, and navigated a route through classroom planning, we will now hoist sail and sally forth to work with our next group of students.

The teachers at Pri. .miti School are amongst the most inclusive I have ever met. Not just in India, but anywhere

The teachers at Primiti School are amongst the most inclusive I have ever met. Not just in India, but anywhere

Monkey business and a critical campaign

A campaign that could make a real change in the lives of many children

A campaign that could make a real change in the lives of many children

In England if you wish to have good views of our native red foxes, the best place to seek them out is probably in the city. These sleek long tailed creatures were originally woodland and forest dwellers, and indeed many still live this lifestyle, but there are also large numbers that have become urbanised and have taken to living within our cities and towns. Indeed the foxes of Bristol have become so famous that they have featured in television documentaries as people have made them welcome in their gardens, watched the growth of their cubs, and walked along with them on the avenues and streets of that historic city.

The fox is a clever animal (often depicted as cunning in children’s stories) and may well have realised that he is less likely to be pursued by woefully sad people who take pleasure from chasing terrified creatures across the English landscape mounted on horseback, if he assumes a more urban identity.

In India I have often seen monkeys. Whenever I have visited the Valley school, surrounded as it is by forest, I have encountered troupes of these acrobatic mischief makers sauntering along the forest floor, sitting on rooftops or high in the canopies of the trees. I remember seeing monkeys sitting along the fence of a park as I travelled into the city from Delhi international airport, and I have caught glimpses of these creatures in Cubbon Park, here in Bangalore. But until today I had never met monkeys during my morning walk through Jayanagar. However, this morning, there they were marching down a lane towards me, all slinky swagger and mast high tails. Amongst their number was probably the most obese monkey I have ever see. The urban diet is clearly doing him no good!

This fellow should certainly go on a diet!

This fellow should certainly go on a diet!

Monkeys are not essential when it comes to finding interest on the streets of Jayanagar, where colourful posters and hoardings advertise everything from cosmetic surgery and ayurvedic health treatments, to website design and translation services. These often provide information overload, and in many instances their content passes me by without holding my interest beyond a few seconds. However, near Madhavan Park my attention was held by a large poster which announced a particularly important event.

I remember as a child that poliomyelitis, usually simply referred to as polio, was a terrifying disease causing terrible muscle weakness or even paralysis. I attended primary school with a boy who wore a leg caliper and had restricted mobility as a result of contracting this awful condition as an infant. In England now, instances of polio are fortunately rare, largely because of a national programme of immunization developed by the Polish immunologist Hilary Koprowski in 1950; if ever a man deserved to be lauded with honours and awards, it was surely this one.

The poster that arrested my gaze today announced two national immunization days and declared an intention to immunize every child under the age of five years. A second poster, with information in both English and Kannada, depicted a child being given the simple oral drops of the vaccine that will provide a life time of protection. Such posters provide a salutary reminder of the terrible health risks that still confront many children and families living in this country, particularly those from the economically disadvantages communities that form such a significant proportion of the population. The message conveyed is simple, but probably needs to be reinforced by education and other means of communication. However the word is spread, as I see many children and adults on the streets of Jayanagar who bear the scars of this disease, I hope that the campaign and its vital message has the desired effect.

DSC00347

As a postscript to this posting: For those of you who are regular readers of this blog, and have been kind enough to inquire. You will doubtless be pleased to hear that I am now fully clad in clean clothes, my laundry having returned from its extensive tour of the state of Karnataka!

Streets enhanced by floral delights

Choose your colour or have a mixture of each. This lady will help you make your choice

Choose your colour or have a mixture of each. This lady will help you make your choice

It comes as no surprise in a land which presents a kaleidoscope of colours, that flowers play such an important role in the lives of people in India. Rainbow festooned stalls bearing flowers can be found on several of the back lanes of Jayanagar, as well as in the markets and outside many of the temples. On my early morning walks I sometimes pause and watch the stall holders arranging their multi-coloured blooms, which they invariably handle with pride and care, ensuring that they are displayed to great effect on their barrows.

Those without barrows squat on plastic sheeting on the ground, their humble posies displayed for every passer-by in hopes of attracting a few rupees from early commuters or those returning from the temples. I suspect that they have difficulties competing with those who appear to have a preferential position within yards of the temple doors, where I sometimes see both men and women purchasing offerings for a puja.

In some places magnificent garlands hang in splendour beneath makeshift awnings or from flimsy looking wires. Their heady scent fills the immediate vicinity and in the morning breeze drifts amongst the slowly waking streets. Once in Gandhi Bazaar, I watched two ladies seated on the pavement, threading flowers to make garlands such as these. I gave my full attention to these industrious craftswomen in the hope that I could gain some insights into the ways that they manipulated thread and flowers together, but the speed of their hands and the arachnid like dancing of their fingers meant that I was no wiser even after several minutes of observation. Furthermore throughout the whole of this dextrous performance these two skilled ladies were engrossed in conversation, barely watching the interaction between thread, flowers and fingers. This was motor learning of the highest quality. The dignity of such labour is easily overlooked, or worse than this, regarded as menial and of little worth. If you happen to think that this is the case, I challenge you to create such works of art as these two ladies managed from such simple materials.

Simple garlands, or works of art?

Simple garlands, or works of art?

On a few occasions when I have spoken at a conference or run a workshop in India, I have been presented with a small bouquet of flowers. This is a tradition much different from that in the UK where the giving of flowers to men is a rare event. Why this should be so, I have no idea. Surely men can appreciate flowers just as well as women, and I cannot imagine why such a simple and kindly gesture should be inhibited simply because of one’s sex.

Flowers adorn many vehicles in Bangalore. I have travelled in simple autorickshaws decorated with a pendulous garland strung across the windscreen. Cars often have small sprays hanging from their rear view mirrors, and I have even seen bicycles with floral decorations on their handlebars. Near the building where we teach the MA course there is a wedding hall, which when in use is adorned by an abundance of blooms, the hues of which would challenge even the most ambitious artist’s pallete.

Walking the streets I often note women with a small arrangement of jasmine worn neatly in their hair, the white and yellow petals dominant against black tresses, adding yet more colour to their traditional attire. Such seemingly small, but creative attention to detail is a feature of every use of flowers in this country.

Today I passed a jeweller’s shop where a team of men were arranging floral garlands around the window. On enquiring I was told that this was the first day of opening and that decoration of this grandeur was important to this significant event. Later, I was informed, a priest will arrive to perform a puja, on this auspicious day, and then the shop will be sure to trade successfully. I complimented the men on their work and wished them well for the remainder of the day, they appeared pleased that I had even noted their efforts, and even more so that I had offered my encouragement.

So many are the flowers around the streets of Jayanagar that it would be easy to ignore them as simply one more piece of street furniture along these crowded lanes. To do so would be to miss the creativity of those who lovingly arrange and sell them, and who most obviously take immense pride in their work.

No official event in India can be allowed to pass without flowers

No official event in India can be allowed to pass without flowers

Staying focused as we approach the finishing line.

Everyone assumes a role as we learn together on the MA programme

Everyone assumes a role as we learn together on the MA programme

Supporting our MA students in Bangalore as they work on the preparation of their dissertations is always interesting and at times challenging. At present we are working with a very enthusiastic and able group who have generated excellent research proposals and piloted one of their data collection instruments. At this stage of their progress they come back to us with many questions and a few anxieties about aspects of their piloting that maybe didn’t run as smoothly as might have been wished for. At the moment our job is not simply to give answers, but to give them opportunities to find solutions.

As part of the proceedings we encourage these neophyte researchers to bring their issues to sessions in order that we can help them to think these through, and learn about managing their projects. This invariably leads to lively debates and results in a stimulating learning environment from which we all benefit. Today was no exception.

This afternoon started with one of our students showing a brief clip of video recording of her work with parents of children from a village community near where she is based. Many of these adults are parents of first generation learners and our student wishes to gain data from them to inform her research, which is examining the effectiveness of the school provision made for their children. This is an exciting project which demonstrates the commitment and impact that some of our students are having in fostering more inclusive learning opportunities.

In order to gain the data that she requires this keen researcher is planning to use focus groups, but like many at this stage of her research development, she is apprehensive and has questions about how best this should be managed. What are the difficulties in collecting data from parents who cannot read and write? How do I manage a group when they don’t follow the conventions of taking turns to speak? These and other similar concerns were brought to the table. So this afternoon, much of the time was spent in role play, with students taking  the part of participants, researchers, recorders and observers. Everyone took the role they were playing seriously, and the action was followed by a lively discussion, with an exchange of ideas and suggestions that helped in the development of a set of principles for focus group management. Hopefully our student feels more confident and many of her questions will have been addressed. I look forward to her reprting back after the next stage of data collection.

Sessions such as these, led largely by the students themselves, and often involving friendly banter and laughter, can only be conducted when they feel at ease with each other, respecting their classmates and demonstrating a willingness to share ideas. I am sure that as these students begin the last leg of their journey towards achieving their MA degrees they are forming friendships that will endure, and have gained new skills and knowledge that they will take forward for the benefit of the children and teachers with whom they work.

Days like today reinforce the fact that it is a privilege to work together with such committed professionals.

 

 

Landmarks and Locals

The "Green Mosque" (hopefully) an ever present landmark in the lanes of Jayanagar

The “Green Mosque” (hopefully) an ever present landmark in the lanes of Jayanagar

One of the advantages of my early morning strolls around the streets of Jayanagar is that I have gradually built a mental map of the area around the hotel where we stay. Bangalore is a vast and confusing city, and even getting to grips with Jayanagar fourth block demands a certain mental dexterity. Furthermore, just as I feel I am getting to grips with the area, something changes and I find myself having to reset my compass as I set forth into uncharted lanes.

In England navigation is relatively straight forward. Streets have names, usually clearly displayed on street corners. With a few notable exceptions, once a building is in place it remains there; in some cases for hundreds of years. Here in Bangalore the shifting sands of development mean that every time I come here a new building appears, or an old one disappears. Furthermore, whilst streets are labelled as mains or crosses they sometimes appear to defy logic and I rarely find this system to be a navigational aid. Simply knowing that I am on 12th Cross offers little comfort, and is so unlike a friendly Acacia Avenue, Bilberry Road or Gladstone Street. When asked to give directions in an English town with which I am familiar, this always seems like a reasonable request. The same demand in Bangalore would tax my brain and in all probability result in me sending an innocent soul up a blind alley.

Fortunately there are a few immovables here in Jayanagar that have a certain permanence to them. I find that temples and mosques are particularly helpful. The local bus depot and a couple of large colleges also help; the Ashoka Pillar and of course the Lal Bagh appear reliable, but beyond these features I am always cautious. In various locations there are excellent wall paintings, for instance one depicting Nehru and Gandhi seated together (copied from a famous photograph) and another of a flying Hanuman. These have been in place ever since I started exploring the streets of Jayanagar. But I am ever conscious of the fact that they could so easily be erased.

Overconfidence can soon become my downfall on these morning walks. This morning was a case in point. I found myself standing at what I call the “Green Mosque” (simply because of its green and white décor), a place with which I am comfortably familiar, though I could never give directions to anyone wishing to locate this interesting building. From here, or so I thought, my way back to the main road on which the hotel is located is simple. Walk past the temple with colourful gopuram, turn left at the blue building and walk to the junction where there are always colourful film posters. From here the route is straight forward – or so I believed. Fifteen minutes later, when I found myself again standing before the opposite side of the “Green Mosque” to that visited earlier, I was mystified as to how I had apparently completed a circle having made no progress towards my destination.

Contemplating the nature of being lost, and after much speculative wandering, I came upon the cause of my confusion. How was I to know that the blue building would, since my last visit have been painted yellow? And whose decision was it to start pasting those film posters on a different wall? Ah well, this is all part of the joy of exploration, and a reminder not to become too complacent about my understanding of this complex maze of lanes.

I have a slight suspicion that I have been recognised by a number of the local inhabitants of the back streets of fourth block. This morning, as is common in this friendly district, several people smiled and one elderly gentleman greeted me with a welcoming namaskar. I suppose I am easily recognised as a European stranger on these streets. Perhaps it was just my own insecurities showing, but I feel sure that when I reached the “Green Mosque” for a second time this morning, a group of men gathered at the roadside were shaking their heads, sniggering and saying to each other, “there he is again, completely lost, and not for the first time.”

I suppose I could have approached these amused bystanders and asked them for directions. But I suspect that this might have resulted in me being even more disorientated than was already the case.

Tomorrow I will venture in another direction, probably past the bus station and the Jain temple (assuming they are still there). Of one thing I am certain there will, as ever, be plenty to explore and try to understand on the streets of Jayanagar.

Hanuman is flying, and therefore I am not relying on him as a navigational aid in Jayanagar

Hanuman is flying, and therefore I am not relying on him as a navigational aid in Jayanagar

In the world of sleeping watchmen

Early morning newspaper sorting. With regulation balaclava to keep ears warm in 10 degree temeperature.

Early morning newspaper sorting. With regulation balaclava to keep ears warm in 10 degree temperature.

The second night in Bangalore is always the worst. On the first night, after arrival in the city and following a long day of travelling, I usually manage to stay awake until around ten o’clock before collapsing into bed and sleeping through until around seven the next morning. But for some reason once I reach night two, my body rebels. My inbuilt clock tells me that something is amiss, and when my brain wants to sleep my body resists. So it is that I spend night two, fitfully between sleeping, turning in the bed, getting up and reading and occasionally even writing. All of this matters little as tonight, being night three, I will sleep.

As a result of this undesired restlessness, I was out for my morning promenade today earlier than I would usually countenance. Before the earliest appearance of the sun, the morning scream of squirrels and the whirling black kites, I found myself exploring the nearby lanes of Jayanagar. This early morning ritual is a valued personal time before the chaos of the Jayanagar streets and the business of the day begins. A time to think without too many interruptions, and to observe the life of this effervescent district of the city.

Those few souls who were on the streets at 6.00 am this morning were huddled in blankets, as they shuffled about their early morning business. Men in balaclavas and women, shawls bound tight around their heads and shoulders, shivered in the reluctant new dawn. All this, whilst I, an Englishman recently arrived from freezing climes, enjoyed these most comfortable temperatures of the day. I noted at one point an elderly man seated on the roadside, peering from beneath a colourful blanket, watch me as I passed. He shook his head in apparent disbelief, before returning to his hibernation. I suspect he thought it madness that an Englishman in tee shirt and lightweight trousers had ventured out so poorly clad in a temperature of only ten degrees.

One feature of these early walks is the many sleeping watchmen who huddle in the doorways of shops and businesses. Notionally on guard, these nocturnal workers cut a shabby sight as they lie like discarded piles of old rags beneath a jumbled arrangement of multi-coloured cloth, or sit with knees beneath their chins on plastic chairs dozing towards the end of a long night’s duties. I find myself wondering how skilled a burglar would need to be to pass unnoticed beyond these snoozing security men. Would they spring to life in order to apprehend the creeping villain, or might they simply slumber on? I like to think that they dream sweet dreams, but I suspect like my personal second night in Bangalore, every night is passed in a restless shuffling for these men.

There is a road near here that in my mind I have labelled newspaper avenue. Here every morning, men can be seen sorting the day’s newspapers ready for delivery to houses or to local vendors. Squatting on the pavement, heaps of newsprint before them they count and neatly arrange their wares into bundles, adding supplements and advertising junk, occasionally handing them up to a two wheeled delivery man who sets off for his daily rounds. Like others on the streets at this hour these workers are wrapped against the morning chill. As I passed today a cow, having neatly removed a single newspaper from a pile was being shooed away by a paper sorter whose momentary lack of vigilance had enable this bovine vagabond to take advantage. Cows in England do not, as far as I am aware, read newspapers. I suspect that this may also be true of the cows of Jayanagar, and that this particular black and white beast was intent on a more literal devouring of the news. Before too long the newspaper men’s work will be done, and hopefully like me they will be bound for breakfast before the commencement of another busy day.

It’s good once more to be walking the early morning streets of Jayanagar; to have the space to think, to observe and hopefully to learn.

About to be bowled over in Bangalore

In India it would appear that even Swami Vivekananda was a cricket fan!

In India it would appear that even Swami Vivekananda was a cricket fan!

Back in Bangalore for another couple of weeks teaching and meeting with teachers and students. I awoke this morning after a good night’s sleep, and seeking the BBC on the internet was pleased to hear of an outstanding victory by England against South Africa in the latest test match in Johannesburg. South Africa being ranked as the number one test team in the world were confidently tipped to beat England, but the tables are turned and the English team go into the final match of the series with an unbeatable        2-0 lead. I’m not sure whether the partisan emotions which accompany international sporting events such as this are a wholly good thing, but I was quite naturally hoping for an English victory.
I have just been for a leisurely stroll along the road from the hotel where I am staying in Jayanagar. I didn’t go far as my attention was diverted by the unmistakable noise of a crowd at a sporting event. As I could have predicted the occasion for this cacophony was a cricket match, being played on a hard surface by two enthusiastic teams under an unforgiving afternoon sun.

Finding a place under the shade of a tree I rested for some time watching the spectacle and admiring the considerable cricketing talent on display. A large outfield was patrolled by swift and dextrous fielders, making life difficult for the batsmen who clearly wanted to make quick runs but were severely hampered by the efficiency of the fielding side. A couple of nifty bowlers caused the batsmen to play largely off the backfoot, and whilst one was having some success, I felt that others were slightly ill at ease with the pace of some deliveries.
As I left the ground, I surmised that the final outcome was some distance away, so I will try to find the result over the next few days in the local newspapers. What was apparent was the obvious enthusiasm of the many spectators who surrounded the boundary, which was matched only by that of the gladiators involved in thegame.
Cricket is an obsession here in India. Whole television channels are dedicated to showing current matches and those from the past, and it seems that most times when I see a screen in a hotel lobby it is showing a cricket match. This morning was no exception as I noticed the latest Australia versus India one day international being screened. (I do hope that India can perform better than in the last match!)
I recall on an early visit to India having a conversation with a lady who clearly wanted to dispel any lingering guilt that I might feel about the British Empire. (I should emphasise that having been born several years after 1947, I bear only minimum responsibility for events before that date!) She was pleased to list those actions and establishments given by the British that remain a positive influence in India. The civil service structure, railways, and the fine Lutyens architecture of New Delhi were high on her list of noble reminders of the British Raj, but all of these were exceeded in their importance by the gift of cricket. I remember that this lady then proceeded to regale me with a short history of the game in India, from the reported first game played by English sailors from the East India Company near Baroda in the eighteenth century, to the mastery of Bedi, Capel Dev, Gavaskar and of course the little maestro Tendulkar. Her face lit up when I told her that I had seen Tendulkar score a century in a test match at Edgbaston, and that Bishen Bedi and a whole host of other Indian cricketers including Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly had played for Northamptonshire, the county in which I live.
Since that day I have had many conversations about cricket in India, and usually find myself in awe of the knowledge of the game that is evident amongst the general population. An extreme example of this would be the small child who approached Sara and myself during a visit to Chamundi Temple near Mysore, who greeted us with a common opening gambit of “where you from?” and having receive his answer demanded more information, “where in England?” Surely, I thought, this boy will know nothing of Northamptonshire. How wrong could I be? On hearing of our home location he proceeded to recite the names of every player in that season’s Northamptonshire County cricket squad. We were more than suitably impressed.
Whilst in Bangalore over the next couple of weeks I can guarantee a number of things. Television screens will be dominated by cricket; at least once a day someone will ask me about the England cricket team; and most terrifying of all, a ten year old friend named Sanay will attempt to lure me into a situation where he can bowl at me (usually in semi-darkness), at devastating pace in order to demonstrate that I know longer have the reflexes that I once enjoyed as a regular cricketer, and that Indian cricket is (in his mind) far superior to that played in England.
Owzat?

Below:- Three images from this sporting spectacle

This bowler was too quick for the comfort of some batsmen!

This bowler was too quick for the comfort of some batsmen!

A hard and bouncy wicket and a sandy outfield - a far cry from Lords!

A hard and bouncy wicket and a sandy outfield – a far cry from Lords!

A fast delivery survived!

A fast delivery survived!

In the vanguard of research developments

Getting to grips with the challenges of sampling. Three keen researchers in discussion with Dr David Preece

Getting to grips with the challenges of sampling. Three keen researchers in discussion with Dr David Preece

Throughout this week three students who recently studied for the MA in Special and Inclusive Education which is managed by the University of Northampton in Bangalore have been here in England. Having proven to be outstanding students on the MA programme they have now advanced to enrol as research students working at PhD level. This is a moment of considerable pride for them, for their families and also for the university.

A common concern expressed by students studying on the Bangalore based programme, is that there is a limited corpus of research literature related to special and inclusive education in an Indian context. Students inevitably find themselves referring to journal articles, books and research reports from outside of India which presents the added challenge of having to critique this work in relation to an Indian education system. It should be obvious that some of the approaches to teaching and learning adopted, for example in the more affluent areas of Europe or the USA, will not be easily applied in rural Indian schools. Issues of resourcing, training, expectations, attitude and understanding all need to be interrogated before any confidence can be gained in the application of ideas from socio-economically advantages countries. It is therefore critical that the research capacity in this area in India is increased, and that more Indian researchers make a contribution to the research literature. Data in relation to inclusion and exclusion is at a premium at present, and it is essential that local researchers address this shortfall in order that teachers, parents and children can move towards a more just education system with confidence.

The three colleagues who have joined the PhD programme here in Northampton this week have already begun to address some of the limitations in research in special and inclusive education in their country. Two have recently published papers in peer reviewed journals based upon their MA dissertations, and all are developing proposals to address critical areas related to the teaching of previously marginalised children in their communities. Their research will of necessity require them to engage with teachers, parents, children and policy makers in India, thereby broadening understanding of the complex issues that they are proposing to address.

As all teachers in India are confronted with the challenges of meeting the requirements of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act introduced in 2009, they are increasingly seeking the support of colleagues who have begun to consider how first generation learners, or those from scheduled tribes or scheduled castes, along with others with disabilities and special educational needs can be included in Indian classrooms. I am sure that in this regard our students in Bangalore will make a significant contribution to the support of their colleagues, and these new and enthusiastic researchers will provide data with which they can inform change.

Meeting with these three new research students this morning they described the journey upon which they are embarking as “exciting”, “scary”, “daunting”, and “challenging”. I am quite sure that all of these words are apt, but also convinced that in the near future they will be making a significant contribution to a growing body of research literature in India. We are fortunate in having these students here with us for a few weeks in Northampton and I am sure we are going to enjoy working alongside them in India over the coming years as they progress towards their doctorates. I look forward to reporting their progress over the years ahead.

A life to live long in the memory

 

 

Krishna Nath (1934 - 2015) activist, writer and scholar

Krishna Nath (1934 – 2015) activist, writer and scholar

 

I believe the first test of a truly great man is in his humility. (John Ruskin)

References to “great men” or “great thinkers” seem to be distributed quite liberally these days, and the attributes of greatness appear to have been diminished in an age of celebrity. Whilst I have been fortunate to meet many eminent scholars, writers and teachers during the course of my career, I have met very few to whom I might assign a title of greatness. However, I was greatly saddened during my recent visit to Bangalore to hear of the death of an individual who I first met in 2000 and was fortunate enough to spend time with on several subsequent occasions who certainly justified the much overused sobriquet “great man.”

Professor Krishna Nath, who was born in 1934 passed away a couple of weeks ago whilst staying with friends at the Valley School in Bangalore. Born into a family of freedom fighters who opposed British rule in India, Krishna Nath continued a heritage of dissent and protest throughout his life, often adopting the cause of Dalit and Tribal peoples who were oppressed and denied basic human rights. As a Satyagrahi he went to prison on thirteen occasions having taken non-violent action on behalf of people who had been subjected to demeaning actions by various authorities. By organising the occupation of Hindu temples by members of the disgracefully labelled “untouchable” castes, thus challenging the authority of a conservative and extreme leadership of that faith, he placed himself in direct opposition to powerful forces and paid the price with periods of incarceration. His actions attracted a number of critics and bitter opponents, but also won great respect from more liberally minded Indians and a wide range of politicians and intellectuals.

As a young man, Krishna Nath was politically active with the Samajwadi movement, campaigning on issues of social justice and equality, and deeply opposed to the dynastic politics of Congress and the inward looking approach of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Having seen the dawning of Indian independence in 1947, like many other idealists at the time, he quickly became disillusioned by the inability of successive Indian governments to provide greater stability and opportunity in the lives of the country’s poorer people.

It was not only for his work as a social activist that Krishna Nath was held in high esteem. Having spent much of his life studying the culture and traditions of the peoples of the Himalaya regions, he was regarded as one of the leading authorities in this area, and wrote a number of scholarly works that have informed an understanding of the region and its people. The World Buddhist Conference recently honoured him for his contribution towards Buddhist thought and culture. Sadly, very little of this work has been translated into English, though it is to be hoped that a suitable scholar might be found to undertake work that would be invaluable to those who would wish to understand more of the culture and history of this little known region. Perhaps the University of Varanasi, with which he was associated over many years may take on the responsibility of ensuring that his seminal work reaches a broader audience.

I was fortunate enough to engage in conversation with Krishna Nath on a few occasions when my visits to the verdant lands of the Valley School near Bangalore coincided with his. Listening to his profound thoughts on Gandhism, the state of Indian politics, the plight of Tibetan Buddhists and Buddhism, or on many aspects of Himalayan art, music or languages, one was soon aware of being in the presence of a true intellectual who had made an immense contribution to the life of his country. Amongst all of this, his apparent simplicity and humility stood out as a characteristic of a man who was more interested in his listener than in hearing his own voice.

Amongst all his intellectual prowess, there was a  very natural and often humorous side to Krishna Nath. I recall for example crossing a busy road in Bangalore with him on one occasion. By this time he was not terribly nimble on his feet and clearly did not enjoy the chaos of the traffic. Standing between hooting cars, lorries, motorcycles and auto rickshaws (not to mention an assortment of cattle) in the middle of the highway, Krishnaji turned to me and said:-

“Richard my friend, I always feel close to God when I am crossing the roads in Bangalore!”

I knew exactly what he meant and was grateful when we reached our destination in one piece.

On another occasion, leaving the dining hall at the Valley school, I was unable to locate my sandals that had been left outside the door prior to entry. Just as I was about to accuse the local monkey population of yet another theft, I heard Krishna Nath exclaiming that his feet had most certainly swollen as his sandals felt extremely tight! Gazing at his predicament I was soon able to solve the problem by locating his footwear and relieving him of my own.

I could have wished to have spent more time with a man who was a great scholar, and a tireless fighter of injustice and oppression. Listening to him speak I was acutely aware that every word he used was carefully measured and his statements weighed and considered before he proffered an opinion. His life was an example and an inspiration to all who came into contact with him. The Dalai Lama, and numerous Asian intellectuals considered Krishna Nath to be a friend and sound counsellor, and many have good cause to be thankful for his tireless campaigning on their behalf. The memories of the few occasions when I was able to sit and listen to him, are ones that I treasure, and I count myself fortunate to have known him.

Many of the recordings made of Krishna Nath Speaking are not available in English, despite the fact that he spoke the language fluently. This brief recording is one of the few to have English sub-titles and provides only limited insight into his great intellect