Monday, March 28, 2016

Are You a Hyper Tourist ?

Image courtesy - viewmixed.com

Travelling has the knack of bringing out the abnormal in us. It can either turn us into lazy bums or into the hyper tourist. Of late HT has acquired something of a badass reputation from the breed that prefers to distinguish itself from the hoi-polloi and calls itself a traveller. The traveller will try to immerse himself in the local culture. S/he shuns the comforts of hotels, bathes sparingly, takes a snooze in a cave and licks ant-chutney off the same plate with tribals s/he has just befriended. The HT on the other hand would rather stay in their comfort zone, on the beaten track and in areas where the amenities are similar to what they have at home if not better.

Unlike the traveller who takes off on a whim with just a backpack, the hyper-tourist plans their itinerary like a war strategy. The destination is selected after much deliberation, intense research on the World Wide Web and discussions with other specimens with ample experience of straying. This is followed by further research on familiarising oneself with the new habitation, usually by the female. Pretty soon the female has acquired a formidable collection of anything that starts with ‘top ten’. It can range from ‘must visits, must not visit, hotels – cheap and expensive, local food that give you stomach cramps, bargain haunts, hidden gems that’s public knowledge.’ The more adventurous the female is, the thicker the folder becomes.

Spotting this peculiar type is easy. They stand out like a sore thumb dressed in sneakers and anything that doesn’t go with it. The female carries a handbag large enough to fit a dead body. The male of the species lugs around a camera the size of a Mumbai apartment. They can be seen striking funny poses and clicking anything that looks remotely interesting. It’s only later they discover that the heritage looking building they captured was in fact a urinal.

The femme has the propensity to suddenly go missing and leave her mate in a state of panic. She can be invariably found inside a swish looking store, surveying dresses, shoes and handbags, surreptitiously checking their price-tags and rolling her eyes in horror. Soon she’s seen moonwalking out of the store.

Their favourite activity is walking with a map in hand, looking lost or standing in front of Louvre and asking passers-by where Louvre is. Despite the extensive research that included weather patterns for the next 5 years before packing, they are either sweating or shivering in weather inappropriate clothing. Whatever made you think, weather is like humans that reads its horoscope and behaves accordingly. Of course, it has a mind of its own!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Reluctant Teacher

Also published on Huffington Post India

I come from a family of educationists. My Mom was a high school teacher, my Dad principal of a reputed public school. Yet, I had no desire to be part of this field. Like many others I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do in life. My parents would try their best to sow the seeds of ambition in my head and failed spectacularly. I found studies dull, Maths terrifying. Decades later while going through my daughter’s textbooks I found out why. Textbooks prescribed by schools are written by academicians with an expertise in making even the most interesting topics mind-numbingly boring. If I had to quote an example of how not to write, I’d use school textbooks as examples.

It also makes you realise the importance of good teachers who rise above textbooks and ignite a passion for learning through inquisitiveness and exploration. Blessed are those to have teachers with the ability to think like a kid to get into their minds and make learning as exciting as it’s meant to be. Our children definitely do not need harsh men and women who never shy of castigating them for not being good enough. It’s not as if I did not have good teachers. In fact some of them have influenced me deeply. But I’ve also lost count of number of times when as a student I was shamed for asking a question that the teacher deemed silly, punished for arguing because it made her look bad in front of the class. I can still recall vividly the fear I felt in the pit of my stomach when my Math teacher approached me menacingly and slapped me on my face because I did not know the correct answer. I was in class V. I am sure she has forgotten me but I never forgave her.

Life has a way of making you eat your own words. Even though I was adamant I’d never get into this profession, I joined a school as faculty after my daughter was born. I’m not ashamed to admit that it was less for the love of teaching and more for the love of the work hours – because that allowed me to spend more time with her.

It’s not as if I hadn’t taught before but it was more as a hobby then. Just after I’d given my final year exams in college, I started teaching spoken English in a privately run management institute. As a fresh out of college girl, it was as much a learning experience for me as it was for my students. These were men and women eager to attain fluency in a language that’s an entry ticket into the swish circle of the corporate world. Walking up and down the classroom, I felt their exhilaration as I coaxed out their thoughts and views in freshly mastered words and phrases.

Years later when I walked into a roomful of 14 year olds, their eyes sparkling in anticipation of the many pranks they’ll get to play at my expense, I realised how much easier it was to teach students who were much older to me. Unlike last time, I could not take their attention for granted and had to work harder to get them as excited as I was about flowcharts and computer coding. Class after class as I shouted myself hoarse to be heard among students determined not to let the petite newcomputer teacher speak, I would recall my own schooldays when I did the same. This time I felt the new Economics teacher’s hurt as she ran out of class XII D that thought it was cool to rag her mercilessly and then brag about it.

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