Indian colleagues, leading the research agenda

Researchers experienced and novice work together to develop an understanding of educational issues.

Researchers experienced and novice work together to develop an understanding of educational issues.

 

In recent months an exciting new venture for our work in promoting inclusive education in Bangalore, has been the development of a small cohort of research students who are registered to study for a PhD with the University of Northampton. These are, for the most part, students who have completed their MA programme with us in Bangalore and have already produced work of exceptional quality for their postgraduate dissertations. Indeed, some of their work has been published in reputable research journals and their investigations have attracted interest beyond India. These enthusiastic investigators have been busy of late generating formal research proposals and submitting these for the scrutiny of university committees that oversee research quality and ensure ethical practice.

For those of us involved in supervising the work of these students and providing an appropriate training programme, both during our visits to Bangalore and at a distance, this development brings new opportunities and challenges. It has always been our intention to support colleagues in the promotion of a new generation of skilled researchers who can assist in moving inclusive education forward in this part of India and we are delighted to have recruited colleagues of such outstanding quality. However, we are also aware of the currently limited opportunities that exist for these colleagues to become fully immersed in an education research culture such as that which exists in the UK and much of Europe. We are though, fully committed to the process of assisting our students to change this situation, and have every confidence in their abilities to play a leadership role in the near future.

I have been thinking about these challenges over the past couple of days, my attention having been drawn to an article written in an Indian financial magazine called Mint, by Anurag Behar who is from the Azim Premji Foundation. Under the headline Researching Education, Behar argues that there should be both an increase in educational research in India, and a realignment of focus to ensure that we can gain greater insights into both the role and effectiveness of the teacher, and a deeper understanding of education in a social context. The article is clearly written for a lay audience, but makes a number of astute observations about the current lack of understanding of education provision in the country and the ways in which it may promote positive social and economic change.

A number of expressions in this interesting piece of journalism provide evidence of the thoughtful approach adopted by Anurag Behar. At one point he suggests a specific role for educational research when he states that:-

“with experience and rigorous reflection, one can arrive at relevant (let’s call them) operating principles that can help in flexibly responding to multiple contexts and situations. Given our dynamic social reality, even these need constant critical interrogation”.

He then goes on to suggest some quite specific questions, listing some of what he sees as being current priorities:-

“how can the capacity of our 8.5 million teachers, who have a full-time job, be improved within the constraints and diversity of our education system and social reality? How does community engagement with schools become effective? How can schools foster constitutional values? How should schools be governed, recognizing fully that simplistic, industrial-mindset governance mechanisms are not only ineffective but also harmful to good education? How do we deal with the rot in the pre-service teacher education system?”

As I read Behar’s short article, I wondered how many colleagues working within schools and universities in India would agree with the arguments he puts forward. Those of us who endeavour to keep abreast of educational research in India, are often frustrated by the apparent belief that large scale surveys are the only means of providing useful data. Such work requires significant funding which is not available to either the practitioner researcher, or to many who would wish to engage with the kinds of questions that Anurag Behar would have prioritised. The value of smaller scale studies focused upon the specifics of pedagogy and classroom management is largely denied by those in positions of authority and power in the Indian education system. In concluding his article he suggests that:-

“Research in education must focus on the real and important issues within education. This requires educators themselves to become adept at asking and answering research questions, rigorously and systematically. If educators take responsibility for research, it will definitely cause a quiet revolution in education research and education itself”.

I find myself totally in agreement with this last statement, and hope that Behar’s views may be heeded by those who oversee educational research in India. Our young enthusiastic researchers in Bangalore have already proven themselves, along with many of their peers who have completed small scale research for a post graduate qualification. They have developed research skills and utilised these as they have investigated the realities of classroom life, and the challenges faced by teachers, students and families. Their commitment to the promotion of change and the development of a more equitable society is one of the most important stimuli that encourages myself and my colleagues in our work in Bangalore. In reading the article from Anurag Behar I am heartened to see that others are recognising the importance of fostering a research culture that is clearly focused upon schools, teachers, children and families. Such arguments further justify the work being undertaken by our excellent students and will, I hope encourage them towards ever greater achievements.

A Bard for Every Nation

Othello and Desdemona. Kathakali artistes perform Shakespeare

Othello and Desdemona. Kathakali artistes perform Shakespeare

I had anticipated that being in India on Saturday 23rd April this year would mean that I would miss all of the events and interest surrounding the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. I would however, imagine that  if anyone from outside of the UK was asked to name the most significant literary figure from our country, Shakespeare would, quite rightly, appear at the top of the list. As someone who loves theatre, literature and language I would most certainly concur with this judgement. However, in believing that this most quintessentially English of playwrights might have been pushed to the sidelines in India, a country that is the birthplace of more than a few excellent dramatist; Ramavriksha Benipuri , Rabindranath Tagore and M.Gopala Krishna Iyer  to name but three,  I was most definitely underestimating the reverence afforded to Shakespeare in this country that has such a fine literary heritage.

Unlike my previous trips to India, I can honestly say that to my surprise, Shakespeare has featured significantly during much of this most recent journey. This immersion in the works of the great bard began even before my arrival in the country. To my delight, on perusing the entertainment system on board the flight from Birmingham, I discovered a number of recordings of Shakespeare’s plays performed at the Globe Theatre in London and available to help with overcoming the tedium associated with a long haul flight. Between Birmingham and Bangalore, and then again on the return flight I was able to enjoy performances of Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and even Henry VIII, this latter being a play I had never previously seen performed.

Once in Bangalore the Shakespeare theme continued as I noted that there have been several performances of the great man’s work in Indian cities to mark this anniversary of his demise. On the actual day of celebrations, the Hindu newspaper carried a number of articles about Shakespeare, including reports of events planned to be held in London, Stratford-upon-Avon and in various parts of India. There was also an article about an Emeritus Professor in Mysore who has a great passion for the Elizabethan dramatist and a huge collection of books and other artefacts associated with the great man and his story. During the evening of the 23rd April, a filmed version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was broadcast on an Indian television channel, and international celebrations were reported on the television news. The respect in which Shakespeare is clearly held in India was fascinating to see and is perhaps one of the most positive aspects of English influence upon the country.

I suppose I should not have been so surprised to find this important Shakespearian anniversary being acknowledged here in Bangalore, having once seen an entertaining production of Macbeth at the Valley School near here, and also in company with my young friend Varsha having attended a somewhat surreal and satirical one man show called “Nothing Like Lear” performed in a Bangalore theatre.

Having noted that the Shakespeare commemorations would coincide with my April visit this year, I had planned a small celebration of my own to enjoy with students on our MA course. Thus it was that on this most auspicious occasion, after my far from professional efforts at reciting what is probably Shakespeare’s most celebrated sonnet (number 18), which begins with the oft quoted line “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”  we all indulged ourselves by consuming a magnificent chocolate cake. My audience were evenly divided between those who loved Shakespeare when encountered in their school years, and those who found the archaic English language impenetrable.  I am far from convinced that my own inadequate rendition of a Shakespeare sonnet will have done much to change the minds of the detractors, but I do know that the provision of chocolate cake was popular with all in attendance.

And should you think that Shakespeare and a chocolate cake are too much of a distraction from the serious business of study for a higher degree, I will call up the great bard in my defence:

                                                     “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?”

Sir Toby Belch. Twelfth Night. Act 2, Scene 3.

 

Whilst my performance of Shakespeare would not have won any plaudits, the quality of the chocolate cake was greatly appreciated by all!

Whilst my performance of Shakespeare would not have won any plaudits, the quality of the chocolate cake was greatly appreciated by all!

 

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO HEAR HOW SHAKESPEARE’S SONNET XVIII SHOULD BE RECITED, DO CLICK ON THE VIDEO CLIP BELOW

 

Heat, humidity and virtuosity

 

An evening with some of India's finest musicians gives welcome respite from a busy schedule

An evening with some of India’s finest musicians gives welcome respite from a busy schedule

It felt like standing before an open over door. That is my recollection of first arrival in Chennai in the year 2000. Though we soon came to realise that it was probably the humidity more than the heat that quickly became oppressive. I have returned to the eastern coastal city several times since then, and still I find the sticky atmosphere to be at times uncomfortable. So with Bangalore in the grip of a heatwave, I had anticipated my brief visit to Chennai with mixed emotions. Excited by the opportunity to work with new colleagues and students, I was none the less, not looking forward to a climate that is challenging to those of us from northern climes.

In reality the day was well planned to avoid the worst of the oppressive heat and humidity. Picked up by the driver of an air conditioned car very early in the morning and deposited at the door of an equally comfortable airport, I boarded my flight for the short journey across the country. It was not until my arrival in the city that fronts the Bay of Bengal that I was in a position of having to confront the heat. A short walk across the airport car park confirmed what I had known all along and within a minute I was drenched in sweat.

Fortunately, much of the ensuing day was spent in doors in meetings with colleagues from Tamil Nadu Open University and the National Institute for Empowerment of Persons with Multiple Disabilities (NIEPMD), and later in the day teaching a group of undergraduate students. Apart from a brief period of planting a palm sapling in the coastal grounds of the NIEPMD, the day was largely spent under cover.

A feature of the day was the time spent with teachers and therapeutic professionals who were working with children with a range of complex needs and disabilities. Their enthusiasm and commitment to the children and their eagerness to discuss the work that they were doing, reinforced my long held belief that India has many consummate professionals dedicated to ensuring that children, often from the poorest communities, receive a good education. Sadly, there are still many young people here, and particularly those with disabilities, that continue to be denied access to such facilities. However, time spent with colleagues today was affirming in providing an opportunity to see their determination to change this situation.

Arriving towards midnight back in Bangalore, the air was still balmy, though nowhere near as steamy as that in the city left behind. Teaching here is always tiring because of the heat and noise that are an ever present feature, but even in a heatwave, the high thirtys of Bangalore are easier to manage than the furnace of Chennai.

After seven days of teaching and with only one remaining before we return to England, it was good last night to attend a concert which forms part of the 78th Ramanavami Music Festival that runs throughout April in Bangalore. Pravin Godkhindi who plays bansuri flute and Kumaresh Rajagopalan on violin are two of India’s most accomplished classical musicians, and were here accompanied by outstanding percussionists and a tanpura player. The virtuosity of the musicians and their skills of improvisation made for a memorable occasion. Equally impressive was the obvious joy that they gained from their interactions with each other and the audience. At the end of another hectic day, it was a great pleasure to be able to relax and absorb the atmosphere that pervaded an auditorium filled with enthusiastic music lovers of all ages.

Whilst the conditions here can often make teaching difficult, the fact that we work with such excellent students and colleagues and have the opportunity to engage with local culture is a privilege that we should never underestimate.

Floral artistry of the highest quality

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Until this morning I was totally in ignorance of the Bengaluru Karaga festival that takes place here in Bangalore. Yet another indication of how little I really understand about this city, but also another one of those delightful discoveries that seem so frequently to occur during these visits.

Early morning is most certainly the only time to walk the streets of Jayanagar during this period of excessive and oppressive heat. As has often been the way during my stay in fourth block, this morning I crossed the road and made my way through the lanes that form the hinterland around the hotel where I am staying. These have become familiar over the years, and I now recognise the faces of regular walkers and inhabitants of these streets, yet they can still serve up an occasional surprise.

Walking along a familiar lane, which I know to lead past an often colourful temple, I could see, well before reaching this shrine, that the road appeared much narrower and even more colourful than usual. The closer I got to the temple, the more apparent it became that something extraordinary was under way. To my delight, on arrival I found a collection of the most beautifully adorned trailers with floral displays and decorated idols all being prepared for a parade around the district.

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I have written before on this blog about the craftsmanship that is evident in the use of flowers in this city, but today’s exhibition truly excelled. Floral sculptures of this quality are not easily achieved, and one can only wonder at the dedication of those who have created these amazing labours of love. Sadly, I will not be able to see the kaleidoscopic parading of these floats. I can well imagine the accompanying music and the flash of fireworks that will be an essential part of this traditional and long standing celebration. Rather than expect you to imagine the beauty and creativity that I enjoyed this morning, I will let you judge for yourself the quality and skill of the craftsmen who created these wonderful artefacts.

CLICK ON ANY OF THE IMAGES TO ENLARGE

Balmy Nights and Dosa Delights

Good food, good company and a cooling roof fan

Good food, good company and a cooling roof fan

In all the years that I have been visiting Bangalore I have never experienced heat such as that which is singeing the city at present. I associate a hot sticky atmosphere with some of the times I have spent in Chennai, where the humidity means that it is normal to be drenched in sweat, but the Bangalore climate is generally less oppressive.

This week, by mid-morning the temperatures are usually in the high thirty’s and I find myself grateful for the air conditioning in the room where we teach. It is noticeable that some students have taken a strategic view of the situation and locate themselves where the full blast of cold air can be encouraged to sweep across them. I usually find air conditioning somewhat oppressive as it dries the atmosphere causing my throat to tighten after a long period of teaching, but during this visit I have come to see it as a blessing. However, with the entire city seeking solace from the AC machines, the Bangalore power suppliers are unable to cope with demand. The resulting power cuts, which have been frequent in recent days shut down the cooling systems, meaning that once again we swelter in the heavy atmosphere.

Night time is a challenge. I cannot sleep with the air conditioning blasting in the room. It is noisy and the constant drying of the air leaves me dehydrated. Switch it off and the heat takes over. Most nights I lie on top of the bed, waking several times to drink water and seek the comforts of a rub down with a towel. Such mild discomforts are, of course, a minor price to play when measured against the work with which it is a privilege to engage here in India.

My good friend Sumathi tells me that when the climate becomes so oppressive in her house, she takes a sheet, soaks it in water, wrings it out, and hangs it across an open window. This has a significant impact in cooling the room. It sounds like a positive intervention, but I suspect that if I try it here, the hotel management may well be less than pleased.

It was in the company of Sumathi and her husband Ravi, along with Pooja and Darshan that we ate last night at one of the four MTR (Mavalli Tiffin Rooms) that grace this city, MTR 1924. These simple, but delightful emporia, which as the date suggests, have operated for the best part of a century, serve some of the finest dosa to be found anywhere. I had previously eaten at MTR near the Lal Bagh, and it was a great experience to be taken to this different outlet in Jayanagar. It was clearly Sumathi and Ravi’s intention that we should try as much of the menu, which offers a vast range of South Indian cuisine, as we could possibly manage. As a consequence the table was soon adorned with masala dosa, rava dosa, neer dosa, bhath, plain dosa and assorted chutneys. A feast for the eyes, the stomach and the soul. Good company, good food, good conversation, and all under the breeze of efficient roof fans – what more could one wish from an evening after a busy day of teaching. Indian hospitality is always warm and welcome, the weather here is hot, but something that simply has to be accepted.

Riding shotgun on an auto-rickshaw

Not promoted to co-pilot, but driven to desperate measures!

Not promoted to co-pilot, but driven to desperate measures!

 

There have been many volumes written about the epic voyages of lone sailors such as Francis Chichester and Helen MacArthur, countless books about the great polar explorers like Wally Herbert and Roald Amundsen. It is even possible to buy accounts of far less substantial journeys such as a ramble along the Pennine Way, or cyclists riding from Land’s End to John O’Groats. Why then are there no best sellers describing the adventures of the auto-rickshaw drivers of Bangalore?

Yesterday, I learned (alas too late) a most useful expression in Hinglish, that redoubtable hybrid comprising the butchered use of a combination of any Indian language and English. You can find Manglish spoken in Kerala, Tamlish in Chennai and Teleglish in Hyderabad, but Hinglish seems to be a collective term used to describe any linguistic marriage of the Indian vernacular and the old colonial tongue. “I should, ” I was informed use the expression “wrong roado;” definitely not “wrong roada?” which apparently is  a question directed only towards the most proficient auto rickshaw navigator, but specifically “wrong roado,” an assertive statement which translates roughly as “you are travelling in the wrong direction, you are clearly lost, where on earth are you going?”

Over the years I have experienced many adventures in these essentially Asian vehicles. I recall for example, my good friend and colleague Johnson advising me that an auto-rickshaw was undoubtedly the only advisable  mode of transport in which we should travel to a “local”special school in Kerala.  One and a half hours later, prising my battered form out of the cramped vehicle, having negotiated a thousand potholes, many muddy tracks and not a few hair raising manouvres in and out of traffic, I found myself wondering why a taxi would have proven a less efficient means of travel to this destination. By the time my body had re-established some form of equilibrium, several hours later, it was time to repeat the odyssey  in the other direction, an experience that I hardly relished throughout my visit to the school.

On another occasion, late at night, once again with Johnson (is there a pattern emerging here I wonder?), the auto in which we were travelling collided with a rather large dog. Sadly, the dog came out of this experience somewhat worse than ourselves and our driver appeared more concerned that we should recognise his skill in keeping the vehicle upright on the road than he was for the welfare of the poor beast. I could go on regaling you with tales of drivers who seemed to be auditioning for a stunt role in the latest Bond movie, or others who appeared to be a pale imitation of the racing driver Fangio. I could further bore you with recollections of vehicles that have broken down and others that have made stately progress whilst emitting a cloud of thick black oily smoke. But let me instead bring you up to date and explain why the expression “wrong roado” could have been particularly useful had I known it yesterday morning.

The journey from the hotel where we stay to the venue in which we teach is, theoretically straight forward. I have walked the route on numerous occasions and can usually complete my perambulation in less than half an hour. However, some mornings, with heavily loaded bags weighing us down, we choose to travel by auto-rickshaw. Yesterday was such a day, and having successfully hailed a passing pilot (not always as easy as it may sound) David and I climbed aboard bound for a day’s teaching. At first all was well, but then the driver took a turn down one of the narrow streets with which I am familiar  from my morning walks. In my naivety I assumed that perhaps road works or traffic difficulties had warranted a diversion. However, within moments it became clear that this was yet another example of a driver whose inbuilt satellite navigation system was dysfunctional. Very gently (at first) I suggested to him that we were not en-route for our desired destination. My lack of Kannada (or at this point, even the appropriate Hinglish) did not assist the situation. With an all too familiar head shake the driver ignored my comments and proceeded quite happily in what I knew to be totally the wrong direction. “Madhaven Park,” I politely suggested. “Madhaven Park,” the driver replied, this time nodding in affirmation, but still progressing away from the requested terminus.

Eventually we arrived at the gate of the Lal Bagh Botanical Gardens, a venue that under normal circumstances I would be delighted to visit, but on this occasion,  being  some considerable distance from our intended destination I was less than joyful. The time had come for affirmative action. Locating myself on the narrow front seat beside the driver I decided that sign language, and indeed using the boldest of gestures, was clearly justified. Thus it was that having gently pointed the driver in the right direction and indicating with a frantic waving of arms at each junction we finally arrived at the teaching venue. On arrival the  driver  appeared  even more relieved than ourselves. This may have been something to do with ridding himself of the Englishman who had elected to ride shotgun, though personally I was somewhat disappointed that he didn’t offer me a more permanent position riding as navigator to prevent other similar situations arising.

In truth, I am a great admirer of the auto-rickshaw drivers of Bangalore. They have a refined spatial awareness, generally display a cheery countenance, and are paid very little for offering an essential service. Incidentally my latest excursion was with a driver who knew exactly which route to take, avoided many of the potholes and all of the dogs and delivered us promptly and efficiently to the door. Polar explorers, lone sailors, mountaineers, intrepid all – but let’s not forget these warriors of the roads of Bangalore.

 

Never underestimate the power of dance

Marking MA dissertations is both an interesting experience and a challenge. Many students conduct interesting small scale research studies and write fascinating dissertations that educate their tutors as much as themselves. The challenge often comes with getting them all marked in a limited time span ready for examination boards.

Along with colleagues who teach on the MA in Special and Inclusive Education course in Bangalore, I recently finished marking our latest batch of final studies from a cohort of excellent students. As is often the case there was a significant amount of highly original and innovative work within these dissertations, and the time spent reading and marking was informative and interesting. Most of the students complete research focused upon their own work and schools, and provide insights into the daily challenges that they face and the ways in which they endeavour to overcome these. Often they investigate their own teaching approaches with considerable enthusiasm and critique these in a most honest and reflective manner.

A recent video posted on the BBC news website (see below) encouraged me to return to a number of recordings made by Maitreyee one of our Bangalore students whose excellent dissertation I marked a few weeks ago. Maitreyee works in a special school with many children who present with complex learning needs and in some instances additional physical disabilities. She is an enthusiastic dancer who performs with a local group in Bangalore and had utilised her knowledge of dance to inform her teaching in school.

Maitreyee in her research considered how the use of dance impacts upon both the learning and well-being of the students she teaches. Through a series of interviews and video recorded observations she involved her students at the heart of her project,and was able to demonstrate the many benefits of the work that she has undertaken over several years . Watching the video recordings it was soon evident that many of the young people in her classes use dance as an effective means of communication whilst also gaining a great deal of pleasure from their movement and performance. This is a unique study and one that I hope may find a broader audience though publication.

It was with Maitreyee’s work in mind that I returned to the BBC video posted on this blog which I feel demonstrates a number of things with which I am sure she would agree. Not least that dance can be a tremendous vehicle for learning and that for some students it inspires self-confidence, a means of expression and enthusiasm. Equally important is the message that we should never underestimate an individual who is labelled as having a specific “condition” or described as having a disability.

I have watched this video several times now and each time new thoughts come to mind. Firstly, that I personally lack the co-ordination that is evident in the accomplished young lady featured in the film. Secondly, that she exudes an amazing confidence and authority in her demonstration of technique and her teaching. Thirdly, that she expresses a realistic ambition and dedication for what she might achieve in the future, and finally, that this is a young lady who has great confidence in her own abilities, and that others must also have shared this confidence, though I suspect some may have underestimated  her capabilities.

I don’t really want to say anything more about this video recording, but rather leave it for you to watch and then hopefully to hear about the reaction it might promote in you. If you have comments I would be delighted to hear what they are. I hope you enjoy the short presentation.

Now I’d better get back to some marking I suppose.

 

 

A mania which thankfully has no known cure!

If you have similar symptoms to these, cease any hope you may have had of a cure!

If you have similar symptoms to these, cease any hope you may have had of a cure!

If jetlag has a benefit (which in most respects seems unlikely), it is that I find myself with more time for reading. This may be at times when I would prefer to be asleep; 3.30 am. yesterday, but reading is certainly preferable to lying sleepless in bed and counting imaginary sheep. I suppose there are several ways of approaching the inevitable consequences of long haul flights. I do know of a colleague who resorts to sleeping pills, not a particularly sensible solution it seems to me, as someone who has an aversion even to taking an aspirin. An alternative is to toss and turn in the bed for several nights, (not advisable if you share a bed), until eventually the inbuilt body clock readjusts. Personally I have found that given time, the effects of the jetlag imposition will fade, and until this point I prefer to abandon bed for my study and settle down with a good book.

Books are not in short supply in this house, welcome companions collected and respected over many years which now decorate and insulate many walls of our home. Amongst the many tomes are a number that I have acquired during my visits to India, often interesting volumes that are published in the country and seldom available, or at least little known, here in the UK. No trip to Jayanagar would be complete without a visit to my friends who run Nagasri bookshop. This wonderful treasure house, lovingly cared for by intelligent, book loving experts, is beyond doubt my favourite bookshop anywhere. For forty eight years the knowledgeable proprietor of this bibliophile’s heaven has provided a service to the students, scholars and general readership of the Bangalore metropolis. He knows his customers, remembers their areas of interest and will go the extra mile to ensure that he can meet the needs of even the most demanding of readers. Whenever I visit I am greeted with a welcome handshake and smile, and within minutes I am engaged in conversation about the latest titles from various Indian publishing houses, news of respected authors and commentary about recent and forthcoming editions.

Invariably my luggage is heavier on return to the UK than it was on my outward journey. In no small part this is because of the latest acquisition of books purchased from Nagasri. This time seven heavy volumes added to my travel burden (in my defence I purchased only five – the other two were given as gifts), and these have now joined others either in my study or at the bedside in the queue awaiting my attention.

These latest editions to my collection have been particularly welcome as I have resigned myself to additional reading in the jetlag zone. Allasani Peddana’s sixteenth century epic, “The Story of the Manu” is rather heavy going for the early hours, whereas the stories of Hansda Sowevendra Shekhar are ideal in both tone and substance. However, it is a particular book given to me by my good friend Jayashree that has really held my attention over the past few nights as I have been awaiting the dawn.

“The Girl who Ate Books”, written by Nilanjana Roy provides an exploration of Indian literature and the characters and authors from a significant period of Indian history. Lucidly written, with much humour and plenty of scholarship this book has introduced me to writers of whom I previously knew nothing, whilst providing insights to others with whose work I have long been familiar. As a result of my reading I have compiled yet another list of books that I must purchase and read in an effort to fill some small part of the enormous void that is my ignorance. Books such as this are always a revelation and right from chapter one of this entertaining volume I found myself empathetic towards Nilanjana Roy who described the results of a disease with which I am all too familiar.

Roy details the symptoms associated with “bibliomania” sparing the reader none of the graphic detail. The hours spent trawling bookshops in search of treasured quarry; entering the vendor’s lair intent on purchasing a single volume and leaving with three; an obsession with creating space for further bookshelves whilst forlornly rearranging the current system in hope of finding a little more room; perpetually making lists of recommended books identified in the pages of that which is currently being read; feeling acute irritation when forced to stay in a house devoid of even the most rudimentary literature (I try never to return). This author clearly has a significant problem and I find myself sympathising with her plight. Poor woman, I hear myself  saying aloud, how will she ever fit the next twenty years of books into so small a space? What other furnishings will have to go in order to accommodate more book cases?

But then I turn again to the pages in which she outlines the nature of this mania:-

“Collecting books is the same as looking up at the stars: you don’t want to own the stars, any more than you want to own books or the knowledge in them. All you hope to do is to brush the surface of wonder, to acknowledge that there is still, as an adult, some part of you that is always in awe of, and in love with, the world and the word.”

Oh my goodness – she’s talking about me! I too have the disease. Is there a cure? I certainly hope not!

Just re-read that paragraph above that was written by Nilanjana Roy. When an author uses prose as beautiful as this is there any wonder that the reader can become addicted? If this is true of you, be grateful. It is often better to live in your imagination than in the real world.

I’ll be back at Nagasri bookshop in April. I suppose I’d better take a larger suitcase and start rearranging the bookshelves here in my study.

Can we speak of “Mother India”?

The message is clear. No words that I provide can add to this message.

The message is clear. No words that I provide can add to its meaning.

 

In a speech to the United Nations made in September 2015 United States President Barak Obama stated that:-

“One of the best indicators of whether a country will succeed is how it treats its women. And I have to say I do not have patience for the excuse of, ‘Well, we have our own ways of doing things.’”

It should be regarded as appalling that in the twenty first century it is still necessary to be emphasising that in many parts of the world, and in many aspects of life, women still face challenges in terms of being treated with respect and having their basic human rights recognised. Far from having achieved equality, it is true to say that in many instances women and girls remain oppressed and discriminated against.

Yesterday morning, less than a mile from where I am staying in Jayanagar, Bangalore, I came across a wall displaying the paintings shown on this blog page. I was unable to distinguish the function of the building behind this wall as the only indication provided was in Kannada, a language with which I am totally unfamiliar. However, if a picture can tell a thousand words, I think these are more than eloquent in expressing some of the challenges that many women feel exist within Indian society today. Furthermore, I feel certain that these images would resonate with women, and those who empathise with their plight in many other parts of the world.

The treatment of women in India has come under the spotlight and been scrutinised by the media and through the courts on many occasions recently. The death of Jyoti Singh following a savage attack and rape by a gang on a Delhi bus in 2012 is one of the most brutal examples of the dangers that many women and girls face today. But whilst this extreme violence makes the news, inequalities in education and employment opportunities are less frequently debated, despite being an obvious feature of the local landscape. School dropout rate amongst adolescent girls in India remains unacceptably high, despite improvements in recent years, a recent health survey indicated that 56% adolescent girls (15-19 years) in India are anaemic, as against 30% adolescent boys, and the same report shows that girls in India have 61% higher mortality than boys at age 1-4 years. These figures will undoubtedly be disputed and debated, but appear to be a clear indictment of the inequality that exists in twenty first century India.

Fortunately, there are many people here in India as elsewhere who have not only recognised the inequalities perpetuated by a patriarchal society, but are taking action to draw attention to injustice and stand up for those who are subjected to humiliation and discrimination. In 2014 the second Men Engage Global Symposium was held in New Delhi, resulting in the publication of a document that has become known as the Delhi Declaration and Call to Action. The Delhi meeting proposed a number of activities to enable men and boys to debate and understand the impact of discrimination, and to demand a more equitable approach to ensuring women’s rights in all aspects of life. Amongst its most powerful assertions is the following:-

“Patriarchy affects everyone, but in different ways. Women and girls continue to face significant, disproportionately high levels of gender injustice and human rights violation. Men and boys are both privileged and damaged by patriarchy, but are rarely aware of that fact. Men and boys are also gendered beings. Gender equality brings benefits to women, men and other genders.”

The images from the streets of Jayanagar require no interpretation from myself. They are powerful enough to stand without commentary, my only concern being that they are in a back street of a Bangalore suburb and not more prominently displayed. I have a research student here in India whose work is  focused upon the low expectations which still impede the educational opportunities afforded to girls in some Indian communities. She speaks passionately of the benefits that she has gained through education and the support of a family that values the learning that she has gained. She is also conscious of the fact that many others continue to be denied the education that she has received, and she is determined to work as hard as she can to redress the balance.

Life for many women, both here in India and elsewhere, including my own country, has improved significantly. That does not excuse any of us from turning our backs on the many millions of others who still face danger, hardship and deprivation on a daily basis.

How much longer will women feel the need to depict their lives in this way?

How much longer will women feel the need to depict their lives in this way?

 

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!