School Time

Shoeing it in !

The group that I run with is upto some crazy stuff. Just a shade short of ‘filmy stunts’, several runners have taken to, hold your breath, barefoot running. On the streets of Mumbai !

Life is not a bed of roses. Life in Mumbai is definitely not. Running barefoot will get you to deal with the fact that roads are not even a bed of tar. Forget roses! Yet, chanting the name of long term health of the knee, getting ‘closer to nature’ and better running posture, they are pounding the pavements of Powai with bare skin of their feet. Feet that are used to sophisticated shoes. Yes. Sophisticated is the word.

‘If they could do it, I could too’. I told myself in one of those half-assed-belligerent moments that’s usually devoid of reason. And I decided to venture out too. But no. Not the whole hog. A stepping stone to eventually running barefoot, they said, was to run in ‘Canvas shoes’ I was told. You remember these shoes, don’t you ?

The stuff that you wore for PT classes and something called ‘mass drill’! The mass drill that seemed such a extravagantly pointless exercise and fun filled day : ‘Sports Day’! Yes, the same ‘Mass Drill’ that came nowhere close to a ‘sport’ on ‘Sports day’! Of course, you had to be a sport in taking the effortless affront to ‘synchronous movement’ that was perpetuated in the name of ‘mass drill’, in your stride.

I, as regular readers are aware, am a perpetual sucker for nostalgia, diving into the past at the slightest whiff of an opportunity. Sitting in the shoe store and caressing the coarse canvas shoe was no slight whiff. It was a tornado of sorts! Before you could say four-five words like ‘The- Prime Minister-needs-to-speak’, (or any other four five words for that matter) full chronicles from the past years of starting off with the canvas shoe, were relived in my mind!

Many images from the past did many more sorties in the mind. Images of the ‘mass drills’ were just one genre. The ‘March Past’ was another wonderful display of how earnest kids supervised by strict ‘PT masters’ (as they were called), could swing their arms and legs in such a belligerent spectrum of directions, very rarely in synchrony!

Sports day itself was a delight of a day. Other than the mass drill and the march past, there were Olympic stature events like ‘lemon & spoon race’ where the ‘gold medal’ would go to the bloke who would balance a lemon on a spoon, with his teeth and run a distance of ten meters. Or thereabouts.

If that didn’t excite some, there were other ‘games’ like ‘Sack race’, ‘slow cycle race’, ‘ One leg hop’ and such else. (Now, these are not to be confused with similar games that go on in the present day corporate world). The ones at school were adorned with innocence and glorious charm.

(With such sport that gripped our imagination, India’s medals tally at the Olympics makes sense. A tally thats often eclipsed many times over by nations with population no more than population of Powai. Or even, an apartment complex here!)

Oh yes victory in these events meant that the ‘houses’ that you were allotted to would get points. The ‘houses’ were named after colours and a ribbon of the same arresting colours ( Fluorescent green, or blue, orange or whatever. The essence was in ‘Fluorescent’.) would be tied to your hand. Just in case you wanted to jump ship to a group that held more allure (err… due to a variety of reasons). Alas we couldn’t ! Those scheming teachers!

For several formative years the sport that occupied the mind was cricket. A sport that you could play with anything that resembled a bat, including a fallen branch of a coconut tree, with just a bit of appropriate chiseling! To play which, you couldnt care what you wore ! Anything was good!

In a few years, as innocence faded, newer sport held interest. Basketball, Volleyball, Tennis. I graduated to these new sport and took to new special shoes that pester power at home, brought me. The good old coarse canvas shoes, in my mind, were for the sissies doing the sack race!

So there ! So much for nostalgia !

Last week, I sat in this grand shoe store, in a brand new mall buying the good old canvas shoe. Running my hand over the coarseness of the canvas, i guess I was sitting there for a while! For it was the missus’s embarrassed nudging that brought me alive to the fact that the entire store staff had turned out to see the chap who was caressing the canvas shoe! Almost !

It was more than the attention that I had bargained for, and certainly more than the Rs.299/- I paid for these. I was surprised that Rs.299/- went the distance a long way! Especially, when it came to drawing the attention of an entire store!

Since then, I have run once for 40 minutes in these shoes. I was left with a mega blister that ballooned ‘boulder size’ by evening that bristled with irritant pain for a couple of days.

The blister will go. The blistering pace at which some memories returned, will linger for longer.

By the way, do you remember these shoes ?

An endangered class

We were sitting next to each other in a meeting. May I request you to picture a corporate meeting in a fancy hotel. Fattening food. Fumbling thoughts. Supposedly full minds. The conversations can be about the Sun. And the moon. Sometimes beyond too.

It is in one of those breaks, that I notice the pen in his pocket. Being a big sucker for fountain pens, I am curious. But before that, let me state the commonly known and do a super quick tracing back of the history of pens.

Many moons ago there was an era when the fountain pens beat the wind out of the humble quill to become the default writing instrument. What the humble quill upstaged to become the preferred writing instrument, is a matter of conjecture to me. I would request some education from readers.

In the name of ‘progress’ and such else came the ball point pen. A no mess ‘use and throw’ pen, which incidentally was banned in school for a large part of our growing up years. Ofcourse, no one threw away the pen. For that matter, in that time, no one threw away anything until they had put it to atleast five and a half different uses long after the main use that it was bought for was done. Which is a sidestory that we will sidestep for now.

For most parts of my growing years if I pictured one grand battle over which the world would come to an end, it was the battle between the Fountain Pens and the Ball point pens. Quite obviously, I was on the side of the ball point pens. The reasoning was simple : All teachers used fountain pens. And ball point pens were banned for students!

Many of you would empathise when I say, that I took to ball point pens with a relentless vengeance, when I took to working. So I thought the ball point pens had won that grand battle.

Little did I think that there would soon come a time when writing per se was at risk of being obliterated by the keyboard. And just as the keyboard was rising a flag of victory over what appeared to be a new frontier, tablets and touch screen is stretching it even further. How long the ‘touch screen’ would last is left to anybodys guess. Or a lazy swipe of the index finger.

Ah, pardon the detour. Getting back to the tea break, discarding propriety or whatever, I ask the gentleman, if I could see his pen. A trifle surprised, he hands it over. And says, ‘my dad gifted me this pen when I cleared my 8th standard exam’.

‘Eigth standard ?’

After some pronounced flexing of the non-existant math muscle in the brain, I figured that was 32 years back!

It was a Parker. It carried with it the distinct smell of several years of leaving imprints on notebooks, exam papers and many papers of significance. Not to forget empty artistic doodles in conferences perhaps.

Ofcourse, within it resided some fresh blue ink, that distinctly held the smell of school. Quite obviously opening the floodgates of my memory and grand vision of that time, that the world would come to war over the mighty pen.

I wonder how many kids of the present day world would grow to romance the fine art of writing with a fountain pen. Which is when the missus points out that writing in itself is at risk.

Which is true. Romantic lover letters, I am told, have been replaced by abbreviated text. ‘Yours in ever lasting love’ or something to that effect has become ‘Lv’ in the text message driven writing of the modern times.

Thank You has become TanQ or TY ! ‘Congratulations’ has become ‘Congo’. Happy Birthday is better written as ‘HBD’. Even the ‘Many many happy returns’ is elaborately written as ‘MMHR’ !

Will cursive writing still be taught in school or will using the index finger to lazily swipe on a glazed surface become the new and only norm?

I am not sure if it will happen anytime soon. Until then, lets celebrate the likes of the gentleman who preserves and writes with a pen that’s 32 years old. Just because a father gave it to him. For sailing through class eight !

Such folks are at a different class. An endangered class.

7 stones

Back then in school, oh yes, you remember when you were in school, don’t you? When the biggest possible worry was what the questions in mid term results could be.

When chief amongst the wonders of the world that you couldn’t figure out would be the acute deprivation in that human mind that caused him or her to think up of something as weird as Trigonometry. And then roll your eyes with even more wonder on the mind that thought of including as vile a subject as that in the syllabus!

These were brief interludes. At other times, you were free to do as you thought fit. Many times you just did and only then thought about if what you did ‘fit’ into acceptable scheme of things.

Ah. School days.

No this post is not about school days. Technically. No. this post is about a game called ‘Seven Stones’. That’s a game that caught attention much before games like basketball and volley ball emerged in the horizon.

It didn’t predate cricket, but then, cricket required equipment that was banned by the school. You had to be a Houdini to be able to smuggle in a bat and three stumps. Tall ask. But you could always find seven stones and on the field, and take aim with a smuggled rubber ball.

The rules were simple.

1. There were two teams. One that had to aim the rubber ball at those stacked up seven stones. As soon as the stack was broken, the same that broke it attempted to rebuild all of the seven stones again.

2. Oh yes, the other team weren’t twiddling their thumbs or picking their noses while this restacking happened.

3. They had to aim the ball and hit the members of this ‘rebuild’ team beneath the knees to get them ‘out’. If the ball ‘hits’ you, you are out.

4.Eventually there are fewer and fewer players around to rebuild.

5. The team that would build all of the seven stones before all its players are knocked down, or the team that knocks down all of the players before they can build up the tower of seven stones, is the winner.

Detailed rules are here

After this game ‘players’ would then go back to wondering whoever invented Trigonometry. Or why some crazy Midsummer Nights dream wasn’t as interesting as some of the other dreams that they would rather talk of.

Does this sound familiar ? Well, hold on. The world thinks that the Iraq war has no precedents. I beg to differ.

Examine it if you will. What were established cities, dams, roads , hospitals and the like were pulverised with remarkable accuracy. The news channels giving it a coating of pulchritude, as though it was some fireworks show! People died. Many were maimed. And many more left to fend for themselves.

Ofcourse, the rebuild effort started with greater speed by the same folks who pummeled the land. Like in the game of seven stones, the other team werent sitting there twiddling their fingers. They hit the re builders, usually, beneath the belt.

The other day in an animated discussion about the validity ( or the lack of it ) about the Iraq war, an animated participant said that this was the original idea of one Mr.Bush and another Mr.Blair.

Which is when the animated participant was calmly told that it was a ‘stolen’ idea. With an ever smart twitch of the corporate collar, a smirk and a slanted neck ( which is corporate speak for ‘ha ha you moron you shot yourself on the foot – I got you’) “so whats the evidence ? How can you prove this? “ the participant asked.

With an all pervasive calmness that would befit a zen master, the participant was told ‘go get me seven stones and a rubber ball’ !

Moped memories

‘That’s the morning round’, says the milkman when you chat him up. He is quite happy. And sports a perdurable smile that is instantaneously strikingly envy provoking! You notice that it’s a can load of milk. Another can on one side. Yet another in the front.

Zipping in and out of narrow streets. Every household’s door knocked and delivered. An important vehicle in the distribution chain.

That causes you to wonder. How much can you accomplish in two wheels ? Especially when the two wheels are not big fat wheels that would take you long distances or are powered by engines that would equal an entire top notch stable.

There was a time, when going to school in a ‘moped’ was the thing! When classmates used to haul themselves and those heavy satchels into the school bus, you would dream of ‘zipping by’. It is completely another matter though, that the needle on the speedometer moving up by another centimeter would mean the engine having to quiver like a frail patient in an air-conditioned room with 106 degree fever and ratchet up a noise that could wake up someone in Hawaii.

But if anyone cared, it wasn’t you. For, you had a moped! You had mobility. You had freedom. You were a teenager looking into the future filled with possibilities and the two thin wheels of the moped had ‘arrived’ you.

Like all things, this status changed. In a blink of an eye, the big bad bikes replaced mopeds as the aspirational status symbol for boys. As life progressed and as the boy morphed into a man the moped was a relic, alive only in his memory.

But then, the moped continues to live on. Like with the milkman. In a very different avatar though. The moped had now dons the mantle of a partner for businesses.

Quite often, slipping to don the role of a load carrier.

These are small retailers. Hoarding their mopeds with merchandise, that any lay person would think that one more gram could appear to break the chassis. That’s when the man will haul himself atop all of his merchandise and drive off with a palpable disaffection for any sentiments and focused solely on getting ahead with business.

Safe travel is fortuitous and living is more than just merely ‘getting by’! The milkman and the shopkeeper represent a world that not many peep into. Taking for granted all that’s delivered at home when the only bones that are to be moved are those in the fingers, to dial a number.

But there is world out there. Still on the moped. Underpowered and over-delivering ! Spare a thought. Say hello. Sprinkle a smile. Pass an encouraging word. Give way..

If not for anything else, atleast for those moped memories from those teenage years!


You had to wear something called ‘uniform’. You had to carry something called a ‘school bag’. You had to go buy books & notebooks every year. You had to wrap your notebooks with brown paper and a ‘label’ with space to write your name !

Of course the wrapper and the book were a Hollywood couple of sorts. Parting as soon as they came together !

You had to carry a lunch box. Sometimes, bringing back the lunch you were supposed to have had, if the food didn’t catch your fancy. For you had the raw mangoes for 50 paisa sold outside school.

You travelled in the school bus where your best friends reserved seats for you.

You had homework to do and exams to write. You could never understand Trigonometry or why that man shouted ‘Eureka’ although you kind of had a vague image of him running naked through the streets !

You revelled in English while your best friend was alive only in the Maths class. He thought Shakespeare was the devil in disguise and you thought ‘Differential Calculus’ was the devil without any !

Yet. He managed to beat you in English. And you beat him in math ! You thought it a big mystery and began to respect the devil a lot more.

You had holidays. Of a full two months. Where you had nothing else in your mind but cricket in the hot sun. You played and any ‘whining’ about the heat didn’t register !

You fought over who would bat first. Fights that would disappear between the stumps the minute it started. Fights. You moved on. You just knew how to.

You had favourite teachers. You had your favourite partners.Your friends were the world to you. You would do anything for them. Of course, your parents were God. Most of the time !

You didn’t understand money or loans as much as you understood good food and a great time.
Neither did you understand when some elders said, ‘enjoy your time now. You’ll treasure it for a lifetime’.

You ran with gusto. You played with frenzy. You read with passion. Your tears were rare and you rolled with laughter.

And then you grew up.

Looking back every now and then, wishing it was then, instead of now.

Dear Ms.DeMonte

Dear Ms.DeMonte,

It seems you taught English in school. Its also said that you have yelled. And felled those boys and girls, sometimes with nothing else but stern looks that were as ominous as a Swine Flu warning.

Of course, at times their notebooks have been airborne in a flash, at speeds that would have delighted the Indian Air Force. Crashing into corridors and corners. Enraged. For reasons ranging from faulty punctuation to fumbling pronunciation. Incorrect past tense to imperfect future tense !

Over time your students are said to have (usually) learnt that missing an apostrophe was catastrophe ! Atleast, In your class ! Many years after they moved on into adult life, atleast in one of them, its stuck right through.

This chap that i am talking to today, has a penchant for poorly executed semantic gymnastics. And that too on, as public a forum as a blog ! “The gall”. Wont you say. Like a local weight lifter trying a Olympic ballerina act ! In your name..

But there sure are things that you must be happy about. Like for instance, if you come to know that upon spotting this store

this chap thought of you.

Thinking of the lady who taught him English in class two while his missus is besides him, can well have chaps who read Freud arching their eyebrows in interest. Much like a biology student eyeing a lab specimen.

But before your anger is airborne its important to specify that the thoughts were about English language ! And so he says. Like giving ‘different meanings’ to this notice, just like you would do.

He gave it four. Without changing anything of what was already written there. Just adding those full-stops !

1. Mans. Gift Store Woman Welcome
2. Mans Gift. Store Woman Welcome
3. Mans Gift Store. Woman Welcome
4. Mans Gift Store Woman. Welcome

And was all excited! Like an urban two year old spotting a bullock cart. Additionally he confessed that you visited him in his dream and gave him a pat on his back.

[ Of course, much to the annoyance of his missus. Any missus would be. If the husband, wakes her up in the middle of the night and asks her if she patted his back. ( He also murmurs that ‘what for’ from the missus kept his restive for the rest of the night ) ]

So you see Ms.DeMonte, to say that you have been an ‘influence’ would be a gross understatement. Perhaps a little short of the likes of an Indian film director, ripping off a Hollywood blockbuster. Frame-by-frame. In the name of ‘inspiration’ !

Teachers like you are a rarity these days. Some of them don’t subscribe to your line of thought. Many others don’t understand it. Like that apostrophe-catastrophe bit !

Missing the apostrophe is one thing. Looking up the dictionary for ‘catastrophe’ is quite another. Those stern looks and airborne notebooks indeed seem to have left a lasting impression.

A sober chap talking to another who is four drinks down. About his 2nd standard teacher called Ms. DeMonte for three full hours, says a lot. Wont you think.

Your Truly,
Four drinks down. Three hours now.

PS : I have noticed, despite a general haze in the air, that the apostrophe isn’t there in any of his four options. Am i to expect catastrophe?

Towards a wired future.

Theres this letter you might want to read here.
The times have changed. Haven’t they. In a big way. With Blue-ray technology. Internet & its many applications. DVD drives. PlayStation III ! Ofcourse, things have changed.

And of course, children of today will rise above all the plans the adults of today have for them. That’s my hope. And wish.

Sample this.

An advertisement calling in for students ( in the age group of 5-6 years). Apparently, they are starting a ‘new batches’ ! To teach kids read and spell words using phonetics.

And of course, parents have to be worried if their kid cant spell ‘Dictionary’ at the age of 5. Or 6 for that matter. Of course. And spelling that right, will make a ‘a winner in life’.

And of course,there are exams that measure. And measures that examine. Tuition centers that coach. And coaching classes that tutor. TV programs on stars and the world. And the world full of stars of other kinds.

I think, We are indeed on the right path. Of course. Lets hear it. For all of us. Educators. Policy makers. Kids. Parents. And everybody else in this chain. Yay.

As we hurtle fast towards success in a super connected world. With Orkut facebook, digital technology, faster education, blogs, spell checks (btw), Educational programming and the like…. i the only one, wondering if our education system makes us meander towards a wired future . With short circuited souls ?

( This is Part – II of a three part series on the Kids World of today )

The Same Wall in K World !

Post – 1 of a three post series on the K World !

Theres this wall. Everyday on the way to work. On the way to work. Currently it echoes a lonely halo in the mornings. For schools are closed and children are away on holiday.

In some time though, schools would reopen. Overflowing satchel and sprightly uniforms will dot the roads. As much as school buses and parents at a bus stop. Tiny hands scratching the air while in animated conversation about an ‘important’ topic is clear. Of a butterflies. Bees. Cricket. actors. Etc Etc. And of course, mothers there have their own.

It is indeed some sight. To watch the contrast. The children without a care and worry. The moving butterfly, the kite that broke free and the odd ‘secret’ visibly keeping them busy. Them mothers, i don’t know. Their subject of discussion remains distant to me.

Coming back to the wall.

The children, they sit on the wall. They are rather, propped on the wall. By ageing grandparents and caring mothers. An escape from having to stand and wait for the school bus. And sitting on the high perch, on the high wall, they converse.

The 10 seconds it takes for me to drive past them, are enough to spot the happiness in them. Animated. Energetic. And that 10 seconds is usually enough for me figure the energy expended in keeping them up there. At one place that is.

And in the evening, when i drive back, by the same wall, exactly where the children sat, there are the others that sit on the same wall. Men. Propped by themselves.

Young men. Old men. Middle aged men. All sit and have conversation. Some read the newspapers. Others discuss. Perhaps they too are waiting for their bus to arrive..

For a while now, i haven’t been seeing the children. When the schools reopen, there is going to be chatter and banter. And it is such a sight to behold. Everyday morning.

And i wonder, how it would be to be that wall. To be privy to all what the children speak. Their dreams. Their worlds. I wonder. And then, i think of the company the wall keeps in the evening. I shake my head. And say, ‘time flies’.

The wall will come to bounce with morning energy again. Soon.

Here’s to a great school season. May it rekindle in children the joys of living, the spirit of curiosity, inclusive thinking and a mindset that will make our futures better.

And may they tear down all walls. Save this wall.

This is the first of a three part ‘Kids World’ series on the modern day world of a child

Shaping a child. The Amar Chtira Katha way !

My moorings lie in the Indian culture and tradition supplemented by a valued ‘value system’. The understanding & shaping came, largely, from two sources.

One: My great grandmother
Two: Amar Chitra Katha

Amar Chitra Katha helped me understand visually many an epic & more importantly life at a different time. Mahabharath. Ramayan. Dr.Kotnis. The Freedom Struggle. Akbar. Aurangzeb. The Independence. Panchatantra. Tenali Raman. The list could go on.

I still remember running to the library at school and “search & savour” or “borrow savour many times over” the latest of additions. Many years later, these were beamed into living rooms as soap operas. Ramayan, Mahabharath although were never missed, they were let downs for me.

Arun Govil, who played Ram in the TV serial, was hardly the Ram that I had imagined, aided by the caricature of Ram, courtesy : Amar Chitra Katha ! So was the bloke who played Lord Krishna. I just couldn’t connect to the on screen Krishna. My imagination of Amar Chitra Katha’s Krishna was too firmly entrenched in my mind.

Years passed. I graduated from wearing half to full trousers to school. And graduated to books like Famous Five, Secret Seven, Nany Drew, Hardy Boys, The Three Investigators etc. And adolescence brought other authors and adult hood brought others !

But, even now, the temptation to pick up a Amar Chitra Katha is just irresistible. I buy the odd book at railway stations and airports. It is part nostalgic. Part interesting. But fully connecting ! Cant say the same of the books that I graduated to!

This was an interesting news that I chanced upon. For a moment I pictured me and school bag. Running to the library.

I picked Hakuna Matata for Sight & Sound. Closest that came to Amar Chitra Katha

School Time !

Today, the roads were a little too clogged. It didn’t take me long to figure out that the schools had reopened today ! There were the yellow buses and the red uniforms. Not forgetting the heavy satchels and the heavier minds !

It is the beginning of another year at school. Another year of the wonder years. As i ponder about the education that the kids of today are all set to receive, i hope they somewhere get ‘real’ education. Beyond books and empty competition. I recalled a letter that Lincoln is supposed to have written to his kids teacher.

Still relevant. Very very relevant. Thougth i would share !

He will have to learn,
I know, that all men are not just,
all men are not true.
But teach him also that for every scoundrel there is a hero;
that for every selfish Politician, there is a dedicated leader…
Teach him for every enemy there is a friend,

Steer him away from envy,
if you can, teach him the secret of quiet laughter.

Let him learn early that the bullies are the easiest to lick…
Teach him, if you can, the wonder of books…
But also give him quiet time to ponder
the eternal mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun,
and the flowers on a green hillside.

In the school teach him it is far honourable to fail than to cheat…
Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, even if everyone tells him they are wrong… Teach him to be gentle with gentle people, and tough with the tough.

Try to give my son the strength not to follow the crowd
when everyone is getting on the band wagon…

Teach him to listen to all men…
but teach him also to filter all he hears on a screen of truth,
and take only the good that comes through.

Teach him if you can, how to laugh when he is sad…
Teach him there is no shame in tears,
Teach him to scoff at cynics and to beware of too much sweetness…
Teach him to sell his brawn and brain to the highest bidders
but never to put a price-tag on his heart and soul.

Teach him to close his ears to a howling mob
and to stand and fight if he thinks he’s right.
Treat him gently, but do not cuddle him,
because only the test of fire makes fine steel.

Let him have the courage to be impatient…
let him have the patience to be brave.
Teach him always to have sublime faith in himself,
because then he will have sublime faith in mankind.

This is a big order, but see what you can do… He is such a fine fellow, my son!