Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

I did not think I would feel this way, but I do. I hope it’s just a phase, but after five years of doing the rounds of classrooms in media institutes around Pune, I am bored.

Yes, I am bored, standing in front of students while I talk about reporting and editing and about events unfolding around us, weaving facts about journalism around incidents from my career and life, often egging the students to indulge in a heated debate – just to be met with a wall. Education is difficult!

Sometimes I feel like I am talking to myself. There are those few stray voices who ask questions, but very few. I don’t know how to change things. Maybe I need to reconsider how I am doing this. If that doesn’t work, I’d welcome suggestions from the kids themselves to understand what they want – at least in my classes.

In the past five years and I’ve had some pretty invigorating classes where students who’ve got mad with me and have even used the F-word because they disagreed me. I’ve never bothered to take action for that because at the end of the class, they know that I was just provoking them. We’ve had slanging matches in class too, and then gone to the canteen for tea. I like that kind of response.

I got the feeling that I was losing it, after I recently corrected answer papers of students. As I read answer after answer, what surprised me was that most of them had not even bothered to read what I had given them. And it wasn’t rocket science. Just the basic “what is the profile of a reporter” kind of a question. Frankly, it was depressing.

When I discussed this issue with a former student of mine before I wrote the blog post, she said, “Even to sit through a classroom lecture you need a fire in your belly. Half the kids sit there because they don’t know what they want to do, and try as you might, they will remain unresponsive. To be able to do something as simple as read a paper, you need to know why you’re reading it, and what eggs you on. To scores of students in a journalism class, the newspaper is something that they pick up two days before an exam.”

There’s a general apathy in classrooms to everything that requires a little effort and which is disheartening. What kind of journalists are we churning out? When they come for admissions they give the standard answers about their “passion” for journalism without understanding what the word means. But then you think, these are bright young children, they will change for the better. After all, these were the handful who got in from the thousands who tried and failed. So, they will shine as they go along. Let’s wait and see.

There are the exceptions, but one can count them on the fingertips. Even then I revel in their success. I could name those handful of kids who are doing a great job of their careers, but I’d rather not. And not all of them have ended up in journalism. Like this young man who is teaching underprivileged children and genuinely believes that is his calling, and not journalism – at least not at present. I admire his dedication and his single-mindedness. I told him that he was one of my best students, much before he had even reached his final year.

There are a few kids who are focused about becoming photographers or getting into advertising or PR. They’ve sat through my classes and one young lady in the second year came up to me and said “I enjoy your lectures, but I am not interested in journalism. I am going to become a photographer.” I’ve seen her picture and her self portraits and she’s going to become a brilliant photographer one day. Then there was this attractive young girl in journalism class who ended up acting in a movie! I had once told her she was in the wrong place and should be either modelling or in the movies!

I remember, a couple of years ago in a class with PG students I was stopped from taking a lecture. The students demanded a discussion on an issue that they were worked up about. The same thing happened in a UG lecture in 2011. I think it was on Anna Hazare. A young lady had a heated argument with me and thought Hazare was the worst thing to happen to India. There was a verbal free-for-all that day, but I enjoyed it, and so did the class. But that was two years ago. Since then, such exchanges have been limited.

In 2005 I took a break from journalism and returned five years later totally focused about the fact that I was good at only one thing – journalism! Some months ago, a good friend offered me a job in his company on a pretty impressive salary. I refused. I live and breathe newspapers, and when I turned down the offer, there was no doubt in my mind, why I did so.

After five years, maybe, it is time I take a break from teaching, if nothing works to make it more interesting. Any ideas, anyone?


I just finished four days of GDPIs at a well-known media school and it was an eye-opener – some of the moments for their sheer inanity, others for their intelligence and yet others for their brazenness and refreshing honesty.

I’ve been a part of the panel for the past couple of years and each year some of the kids I meet reinforce my faith in the profession while others make me wonder why they even bother to show up.

Out of the thousands who apply to such institutes only a hundred plus actually make it. It’s only those who seem really interested and passionate about the profession they intend to embark upon who make that impression – at least on me. I am okay with thinking out of the box.

I love it actually when a candidate says “I can sing well, can I sing you a song?” or “I do the Bharat Natyam, would you like me to show you?”. It shows that work is not all they care about. Last year one of the kids walked in with his guitar and played and sang for the faculty! Today he’s playing at the city’s hot spots making money on the side while he goes through his classes during the day.

These are the kids who leave a lasting impression. Every year there are those special ones who make you sit up for their sheer talent, honesty or audacity. This year too there were a few.

Some kids stood out for all the right reasons from the 50-odd students we encountered in the four days I was there.

The first was an 18-year-old from Jaipur, who walked in, supremely confident about her abilities and her talent. She placed her portfolio on the desk in front of us and showed us what she had written for some of the national newspapers. With a journalist mother, writing was obviously in her genes. But she was firm – NO print for her, even though she had the talent. She was more interested in broadcast and was even more determined to make a success of it.

Whether she gets in or not will depend on how she fares in everything else the college had lined up for her. But, wherever she goes she’s sure to make a success of her career – if she follows her heart.

The other was a young lady with a passion for photography. Here was a talent that made my colleague and I sit up. Still only 18, her pictures were amazing. She was focused. She was firm that she would study all the subjects but at the end of the day, all she ever wanted to do was photography. A lot of the kids who came in, said that as well, but it’s the way this girl put it across that was different and refreshing.

Then there was this young man who chucked up an academic career at Delhi’s most prestigious college and wanted to enter the world of media because he loved writing and music – and as he said, “Didn’t know what the hell was going in Economics class, and couldn’t take it anymore. And it wasn’t because of the girls here, there were plenty of those where I come from.”

These are the kids, you hope, who will make it someday in their profession.

Another good looking young man stood out for all the wrong reasons. He walked in today, smug in the belief that his looks and charm would win the day, even if his dismal academic record didn’t. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way always. I asked him if he knew who Rajdeep Sardesai or Barkha Dutt were and he looked completely zapped — “Nope.” I stood up and shook hands with him for his sheer audacity and honesty!

And I am okay with that too, because as a friend commented on my Facebook page, not even adults know who these media personalities are. But when the guy believes his father’s loaded and he isn’t too keen on doing anything except “making out” with the girls and generally splurging on his father’s wealth, it rubs me the wrong way.

I just think that an average kid who comes in through a student loan deserves a chance rather than some rich spoilt brat with spiked hair and low waist trousers, even if he is refreshingly honest. Even if he or she doesn’t know who Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai are.

When we were in school, the day we had our class test results or had not done our homework, most of us would reach school wearing plastic bags, rubber sheets and even note books inside our pants! That wasn’t because we feared soiling ourselves, but because slackers invariably got “six of the best” and it reduced the agony of resting on our laurels for the rest of the day. The trick was to wear reinforced underwear in a way that it was never detected. It was a part of the growing up process in a boy’s school.

“Six of the best” was the ultimate pain we suffered in school and we accepted it as punishment for not doing our homework or messing up our class tests. Some of the teachers used something called a “Flat” which was shaped like a cricket bat, but with dimensions of a table tennis bat. It hurt a lot less than a cane because it covered a larger area but it still hurt.

It was hilarious watching peers sticking their bottoms out to get six of the best and walk away smiling. That was a mistake some students made. The smart ones pretended to be hurt and made painful faces, so the teacher in a rare moment of pity reduced the caning! Quite a few of our teachers never figured out how we could walk away unconcerned after a caning, till someone ‘snitched’! Then it was back to the drawing board, devising new ways to escape the punishment.

I remember two teachers in particular under whom a lot of us ‘suffered’. There was a Mr Dawson who had a cane that was carved. One on the bottom with that piece of furniture and the mark remained engraved for a week. The other was Mr Wright who tonked any part of your body within reach. The folklore is that one day Mr Dawson’s cane broke as he was using it on a student, and it was given a befitting burial under the school building which was then being constructed.

Sure, we didn’t like it. No one likes getting caned in all those sensitive places but it was part of the growing up process in a boy’s school and no one complained – unless in an extreme (and rare) case the teacher went overboard. At the most we shed a few tears in the toilet but I don’ think suicide ever crossed our minds.

Remember the Jungle Jim in school where we would all think we were Tarzan and leap from one bar to another? Well it lay in the open ground ravaged by the elements day after day and it was never cleaned. Every day we would be up there playing on it. The thought that it could cause lead poisoning or rust poisoning never crossed our minds. If we did hurt ourselves on it, off we went to the school infirmary or the family doctor and got our shots of anti-tetanus. It was the most normal thing in the world. Most of my peers are healthy and kicking today, even after inadvertently swallowing all the lead.

When we were kids, my mother, maybe once a week or on special occasions, asked my brother and I what we would like to eat. On most other days we ate what was put in front of us without questioning and if we did ask, we were told “it is good for health!” In other words, just eat what is on your plate!

My wife taught in a well-known school in Lucknow and every year around the time the results were due, parents would drop in home with sweets and gifts or accost her in school, with demands to improve the grades of their wards! She told me about the time a parent pleaded with her to increase seven marks in his son’s examination aggregate so he could be first in class. The reason – the kid had “NEVER come second in his life and would not be able to take it!”

When the school refused because it would not be fair to the student who was first, the parent pleaded that they could then at least ensure that both students stood first! When that didn’t work, entreaties turned to threats. He said he would withdraw his son from school if the impossible was not done. The school still refused and the parent did pull his son out! The boy was then in the 6th Standard. I wondered how this kid would ever go through life if he ever came second in anything!

Another student of the same school, who was in 4th Standard told his parents not to send the driver with their Maruti 800 to pick him up after school. He got an inferiority complex because the other kids came and left in much more expensive cars!

I tease my wife about following Dr Benjamim Spock’s methods on bringing up children. She will ask our son what he would like for lunch or dinner. So the kid now believes he has the right of refusal if he doesn’t like something! So how have things changed in the past so many years?

I don’t think we ever considered leaping off the terrace of the school building as the ultimate solution. I’m sorry if I sound callous here but I do think that, to a large extent, as parents we are to blame for the situation our kids find themselves in today. Have we become extra-protective and over-sensitized to things? Is it also the single child syndrome, where parents bend over backwards to do anything for their child? You tell me…

Our kids, who have it all (and more) and still complain about how life is a bitch, should take a leaf out of Pooja Hule’s book.

Pooja is a student who appeared for the SSC examinations recently. Nothing unusual about that you might say. But here’s where our kids can stop a while and think before they whine on about life and how the whole world is conspiring against them; about how much they have to study, no time to play, complain about their teachers, school, college, Mess food, distances, etc etc.

In 2005, Pooja was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis, a genetically inherited disorder in which the nerve tissue grows tumours that could be harmless or may cause serious damage by compressing nerves and other tissues.

This disorder caused certain blocks in her spinal cord which needed surgery. After surgery, the doctors realised that the problem not only pertained to her spinal cord but had also affected her brain. In 2007, she underwent three brain surgeries.

Due to the frequent surgeries she lost her hearing. Soon she started losing strength and her legs grew weak. All these circumstances led to her withdrawing from school. But her love towards studies and school knew no bounds and her parents got her admitted her into a girl’s school for the physically and mentally challenged.

Even as Pooja continued her struggle with educating herself, she suffered another blow. A paralytic stroke left her right hand numb and without any sensation. But the determination to prove herself kept her going and she started learning to write with her left hand and appeared for her SSC examinations without a writer. She got 83 per cent. Incidentally, her father is an autorickshaw driver and her mother is a homemaker.

(This story appeared in a Marathi newspaper a few days ago, and Aishwarya Kadam, a student of of mine, doing journalism at SIMC translated it into English. I just thought it was worth recounting here)