Friday, June 13, 2008

Arushi murder case and the class system

I guess it was 17th or 18th May that the news of Arushi murder case came and had all of us hooked to our television screens or newspapers. The case has aroused a lot of public interest similar to the interest that was shown during the Jessica Lal murder case. I will not go into endlessly criticizing the news channels and the U.P. police as that I feel has been rightly and appropriately done by the print media a lot. I want to talk about an aspect, which I read in an article in one of the daily newspapers by Barkha Dutt. What she wrote was that the "Arushi murder case" has brought out the inherent class system in the Indian people and our print media.

First of all, the name given by the media to this case - Arushi murder case
not Arushi-Hemraj murder case or Noida double murders or something like that. People have almost forgotten that a second murder had taken place that night, and the media does little to remind them. While Arushi's photo is shown almost everyday in daily newspapers, Hemraj's murder seems to garner little attention. This just shows that in our country, if a rich man or a rich man's daughter dies, it is news but if something like this happens to the poor, it is hardly of any consequence. We have almost turned a blind eye to the poor people dying in our country everyday. It's almost as if they don't matter. About 10 days after the murder, 60% of the front page of 'The Times of India' was covered with new developments of the Arushi murder case, a whole article on what Nupur Talwar had to say, and on the bottom of that page, overshadowed by the Arushi murder case was a small article on how 16 gujjars had died in agitation. A friend of mine once told me about an outrageous statement of the Sharia law which goes something like - "The word of a man is equivalent to that of ten women", which essentially means that under Sharia law, if a man says something in court, more than 10 women must contradict him to disprove his statement. There seems to be something like this in India - 100 poor people killed will evoke as much sympathy as 1 rich person.

Even though we're a nation of a billion I still feel that each and everyone of us matters. We all have a right to live. We can't weigh two people on who has more right to live, even if one of them is the Prime minister of India and the other is a poor labourer. As we move towards more civilization and education, we should move to an egalitarian society in true sense. Earlier, people used to be discriminated for no reason at all - women, disabled people, people with diseases, people of "lower castes", etc. The sad fact is that all of that hasn't gone away till now. We talk of being in the 21st century and we are still unable to eliminate the basic prejudices in the minds of our people on baseless premises. I just hope we can move towards a world with more tolerence, more love and a world where hatred almost becomes extinct.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

My thoughts about teaching

I decided to write this to express how I feel about teaching. It's one of the most fun things that a person can do. I feel that besides being one of the most noble professions, it is also one of the most pleasurable (if you are good at it, that is). If you are teaching a topic, it would be safe to assume that you are at a higher level than your students in that topic, i.e. you have more knowledge and/or a better understanding than your students. The first step of teaching is getting to your students' level, thinking and understanding what your students know about that topic and how their minds work. Now, to teach them what you know and they don't, you slowly get them to your level.

For example, if you are teaching physics to a group of students who are studying it for the first time, you can proceed in two ways. A bad teacher will start of with boring and monotonous equations, and by the end of class will have succeeded in conveying to his students that physics is also one of the things which do not have any application in practical life and is just boring theoretical knowledge. A good teacher, however will start by talking about things which all of the students have observed in their lives, by starting to think at their level, and himself becoming just a curious student trying to find out why are things the way they are? Then he could go back in time, to find another curious guy searching for answers after he saw an apple fall and the answers that he got (god knows why it never struck him that his shit always fell down and did not go up or just hover in mid-air). The trick is to make the students curious and interested and make them realize that if they use their own common sense, they will not be wrong.

This is the beauty of teaching. Understanding your students first and then making them understand you. And if they now understand it better than you, then it just proves that you are a good teacher.

Teaching in some ways is similar to writing. Authors who just keep on scribbling whatever comes in their minds and in whichever order do not make good writers or story-tellers, because they just end up giving their own confusions to the reader. To become a good writer, you need to have clarity in your own thoughts and ideas, organize them, and present them in a way such that it forms a clear picture in your readers' mind. This is quite similar to teaching. The aim is to form a clear picture in your students' mind. A professional may know a lot about his/her field of interest, but all good professionals do not make good teachers. This is because what may be obvious to them is not always obvious to their students. They may take a lot of things for granted and assume that their students know them which they may not. And they may go on telling stuff in any order because they understand everything, but if it is not told in the right order, it will form a very garbled picture in the students' mind. If you, however start from what your students already know, proceed in an order so that things are always clear to your students, you will form a very clear picture in your students' mind. And in the process, you end up understanding it much better and with much more clarity yourself. That, I feel is beautiful.

I hope I was able to form a clear picture, of what I wanted to say, in your mind.