Monday, August 18, 2014

My Madras

I was born long after Madras was rechristened as Chennai. I was born long after the trees along the Marina Beach lost itself in the growing roots of modernism and globalization. I was born long after bell bottoms paved way to formal pants and tight shiny clothing of women from the retro era moved on to where we are now. I was not around for the period when Spencers had a much different and a glorious facade. I was born after the fires licked the Moore Market that I only see in pictures now. I never got to see those beautiful trams nor the clean Coovum river. I was not around for a large part of what many people claim to be the best and glorious period of Madras, but it's still the part I connect with the most and if God wills the time machine's existence, I would love to return to the 80's and live here, all over again.

     In an age of fast-pacing and rapidly moving world where change makes its presence felt all over and spilling, my city has managed to hold on to Her reigns and let the gallop slow down, but never stopping. The change that has come about has always been nothing but gradual, taking one step at a time and relishing what it may have to offer. While cities like Bangalore and Delhi may have lost the scent of itself over the years, Madras still lingers on. There was no greed with the city in wanting to swallow the latest and the newest. By this, I do not mean that we shunned anything new and progressing. There has always been progress. The beauty of the ascendance and progression is largely determined by how it is done. In that manner, there is no beating Madras. We hold on to our davara-tumblers long after porcelain coffee mugs have come in. Filter kaapi still beats CCD's cappuccino hands down. 

    Very few cities have a classiness to it. On that front, Madras is almost synonymous with culture and dignity. Margazhi season kutcheris, bharatnatyam recitals, the flavour of Mylapore, literary fests and a long list of festivals and fairs that we celebrate in our own little silent ways.I've heard North-Indians say how South-India, Tamilnadu and Madras in particular don't have fun in celebrating our festivals and weddings. 'It's a drab', they say. But who says loud music and heavy dancing is the only way to unwind? Have they witnessed the 'maalai maatharthu' of a typical Tamil-Brahman wedding here, the excited talk and chatter between households and people across the streets during Navrathri Golu or taken a walk along the long roads on the pristine night of Karthikai Deepam? This just happens to be a different character and hue altogether that no other city has. A silence that shouts joy more than anything else.

   Yes, on more issues than one, Madras is said to be conservative.But it has never stopped anyone from doing anything they want to do. What I love most about this city are the people. Large-hearted, warm people who despite their inhibitions, never throw you about. Shorts never changes a good old auto-driver from giving us the right directions and goodwill. On a particular night, I got lost in North Madras (Royapuram side) and it was  pretty late. I didn't know the way around that area quite well and had to stop two or three times to reach back home. Each of them told me the way like I was related to them.The kindly auto-driver called out to me to be careful and made me wait till the vehicles on the side of the road had passed and the sweeper ladies on the flyover said, 'Badhrama ponga, kannungala' after my friend and myself thanked them. The local departmental store owners smile every time I walk in and the Bhaai's never let go without saying a bye.Religion is not a problem for us and Madras is a a haven of mutual co-existence and religious harmony. Everyone smiles.The bus conductor, the traffic policeman, the daily commuter on the train and the kids on the bicycle. From a city so welcoming, what else would one want? 

  It's been 375 brilliant years of sambar-vadai, filter kaapi, Carnatic music and divine beaches. It's been 375 years of happiness amalgamated with street plays, MGR, Shivaji Ganesan, Superstar Rajinikanth; plays and theatres that support drama and art. It's been 375 years of diverse architecture: vernacular, Indo-sarcenic, colonial and the ones now. It's been 375 years spread with tree walks, temple walks, Panagal park and Ranganathan street hustles. It's been 375 long years of sentiment, love, emotion and pride for Madras. 

Like I read somewhere, Chennai is a city. Madras is an emotion. That explains everything I have to say. 

Happy 375th to you Madras! :) We love you. Let's clink our tumblers together for the years to come. 


Image source:  Internet -google images

One of my Madras doodles.You can check  our the rest of the sketch series on Madras over  here.


Saturday, August 2, 2014

For a Mere Twang of Joyous Life : Education and Learning

These are but a fraction of my ever-pursuing questions, thoughts and ideas about the vast gap between learning and being educated, a pause to acknowledge the idea of life rather than chasing it. Predominantly, these are questions I would like you think about and I would absolutely love to know your thoughts about the same. Cheers! | 

After having gone through battles in examination halls, memories good and bad at institutions and officially now, a graduate still on a break post-undergraduate studies; it's safe to now indulge in these thoughts that I have been a participating member of in my head all this while. All these years, as I aggressively tried to approach the idea of it, I was only but a passive phase all through it. Had I contemplated more on all of this, would I have been happy or eternally in a state of chaos? (Though, sometimes, chaos is a lot of happiness)

     What a safe life we all lead! Kindergarten, 14 years of school, 4-5 years of undergraduate studies and some more on graduate college and so on and so forth.Most of our parents never considered homeschooling as an option. We just settled into a life of grade after grade of education, of math that makes one's head reel and biology classes where the chapter on reproduction was very quickly skimmed through. There lies no immediate goal, no quest in a child to pursue something in life on the broader sense of it. This hit me massively as I just finished my undergraduate studies because that's when people finally started asking me, 'What next?' Even for that, there are definite set of expectations and options that they'd like me to be a part of that they approve of. Apparently, taking a lot of time to decide what one wants to do for the rest of their life sounds foolish to many because there is a comfortable life ahead of everyone if they choose the path of higher education, a job, marriage, babies and a settled life. How unsettling can it get?

  If at the end of 22 years of age, I take a commemorative step to reflect on my past; there is nothing there but for a well-scheduled life full of classes, exams and 'extra-curricular activities'. The main aim was to do well in the annual exams so that we can move on to the next grade. No one asked me, 'What do you think about taking a day off from school and do something on your own?' Our earlier generation's probable struggle with receiving a decent education has thrown the coming ones into the shackles of the pin-pointed rat race with no finish line, ever. How different would life be today if we were to appreciate kids and people for who they actually are, their understanding of the world, their short term and long term goals?

  What would be the result today if I was asked 'What next?' when I was 8 years old? At 13? At 17? (Assuming the general mode of education is off the table) How different would it have been if I just went to the park one day and slept the day after. While it is true that we would be possibly 'immature' to make the 'right' decisions and not really know what to do, thus 'ruining' our lives; isn't it also equally possible that we would end up discovering more about ourselves in ways we never envisaged we could? Would world peace and contemplative questions ever be accommodated in the current system? Imagine, if we could do wonders after two decades of dealing with authority that knows which direction you have to go by, merely by being pushed to make a decision of our own after say, 3-4 years of being allowed to think for a bit; how would life be if we were allowed to be whatever we are from the very beginning? Life experiences would be a word with immense depth, will it not then?

  Being driven to 'settle', forcing our way through a vivid journey along beautiful sights so that we could enjoy our the visions to assimilate, years later just so that we can sit and take it in... strikes a wrong chord in me somewhere. It is not my opinion that the education system that the world is currently subject to is wrong, but I'm merely wondering why another path would be scandalous to anyone who feels good parenting is the perfect high-end English medium schools, tuition and  extra music or art lessons that can always, only be a sidetrack? Or is it a concern of the fast-paced society we are in where our credentials lie in degrees earned, money made and the house we buy? Will parents have the time to home-school their children, will children be appreciated for the schooling they give themselves in a community?

 For, I sure as hell don't know what I've been chasing all these years. I don't quite know why I studied what I did. I don't know why I'll have to know what to do next when all these years, I was told what to do. Why do I have to 'settle down'? (Boy, do I have a tough time getting that!) Have I been restricted by education and its circles of tight authority or was there much more of a learning there than I am giving it credit now?

Schools without degrees, learning something merely because one loves it and not to enroll in contests to win recognition, putting otherwise exorbitant fees to build a workshop or a place for children to live their lives on their own terms and a life full of travel.. is that too much or too Utopian ask?

I can only hope I have the answers when I become a parent and if I end up where I think I will end up siding with, I can only really hope I have the courage to not put my child in a school at two and a half years of age.. but ride bicycles with her and spell out poetry or whatever the hell she wants, however overwhelmingly beautiful and scary.

Image source: Google pictures: Courtesy Indian Health Service/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 
Image Source: Google pictures :photo by Stephan Jouhoff)