EDUCATED ANGOOTHA CHAAPS: THE REALITY OF ‘EDUCATED’ INDIA.

She comes in, sharp at 9.30, pale, lanky and shivering from the cold that has begun to build up over the past few days. I immediately chide her, “You’ll never wear a sweater to work, will you?” as I hand her her usual cup of tea.

“Forget it, Didi. Where am I supposed to keep the sweater when it starts getting warm again? So I don’t wear one.”

“But you’ll catch a cold this way…”

“Who cares. Do me a favour…” and she brings her cell-phone to me. “Tell me what’s written in this text?”

I read her some promotional text from some company. And I remind her for the umpteenth time that she ought to at least learn the alphabet. Her reply is always the same “Who cares?” And she forthwith busies herself with her work around the house.

This is the daily morning conversation I have with my house help. Over her education, or rather, the lack thereof. She is one of two girls in a five-sibling household. She belongs to a less-fortunate background and hails from a backward region in India. Resultantly, her parents never stressed that she or her sister ever finish their education. She has studied only till the 7th grade, her sister has studied less than that. And the sum total of their education has now reduced to an ability to scrawl their name on forms and bank cheques, should the need ever arise. But for all purposes, they are, what we call illiterates in India – angootha chaap.

Remember that age-old advertisement issued by the Indian Government that used to air on DD  – Poorab se surya uga, where an old man teaches a child from an unfortunate background how to start writing his name? When I was a child I used to wonder would I be able to know it all if I only learn how to write my name? Obviously not, as I later realized. The advertisement was a great initiative by the Rashtriya Saksharta Mission. But unfortunately, education is still underrated in our country.

Learning how to write one’s name is not an education, because one can learn how to write their name purely by memory, without learning the alphabet at all.

In fact, learning the alphabet itself is not an education, because the alphabets are of no use if one does not know how to string them into words and sentences, or read them from a book or a placard. 

Like my Help. She knows the English and Marathi numbers, but does not know basic mathematical problems. She knows the Marathi alphabet, but does not know how to read or write them. She knows how to write her name, but does not know any other word consisting of the same alphabets constituting her name. She does not even know how to tell the time! She comes to me for help with everything related to reading or writing. I fill out her bank forms. I inform her of her child’s scheduled parent-teacher meetings. I tell her when she’s supposed to pay for her loans. I have even instructed her on which medication she should take at what time, all because her ‘education’ amounts to nothing. And the irony is that she has admitted her child in a private school where English is the medium of instruction.

I often ask her, “Just what did you learn till the 7th grade if you don’t even know how to tell the time?” She only shrugs in response.

You may say that it’s her fault entirely for not using her education and I would say you are not wrong. But her circumstances, coupled with the prevalent social outlook on girls her age and of her background does not leave her a choice in the matter. Her parents thought it wiser for her to be married off at the young age of 15 (yes, unfortunately, child marriages still happen in India),  rather than letting her continue her schooling. They thought she would do better being a housewife and a house help, than being a teacher at a primary school. Because teachers at primary schools have liberated ideas and no one in their society needs a woman with a smart mouth.

She’s not the only one. There are countless others in India like her. There are countless men too, who know nothing beyond writing their names. Her brother is no less. He’s cleared his matriculate but does not know how to write a letter in Marathi or Hindi. I wrote his resume for a job application for a clerk’s position because though he can read somewhat, he cannot write at all. Needless to say, he’s still jobless.

Education is still considered a necessary evil in our country not a pure necessity, like clothing and housing. Forget about her class, I still come across women my age and from my background who have only cleared their matriculate and have forgotten much of what they learnt at school because they were expected to be home-bodies. No, this isn’t about how women should be allowed to work; this is about how women should be encouraged to at least get a graduate’s degree, because even if a woman is to be a stay-at-home mom, she ought to  be able to teach her own kids, and not ship them off to tuition classes, which, unfortunately, has become the norm these days in India. There is a parallel education system running, no, thriving in our country, all because there are so-called educated parents at home who are unable to teach anything to their children. What use is such an education? What use are such advertisements on education when the concept itself is reduced to learning by rote? An education does not end at school or college. It begins from there and is a life-long affair. But unfortunately, for many of us, their education ends when they receive their graduate degrees.

There are free schools with free books and free meals but their’s still no zeal in the lower echelons of our society to study. Why? Because earning the bread takes a precedence over receiving an education. Because these free sops are taken for granted rather than being grateful for. Because our society itself permeates an outlook that its okay to be an ‘educated’ angootha chaap. What India needs is not just education being thrust upon the masses, but education being made a mandatory requirement for every walk of life, even if one wants to be a house-help. What India needs is a change in the outlook of the masses, right down to the grassroots, that being educated means reading, writing and speaking at least one language well enough, apart from being able to do basic mathematical calculations. What India needs is a cultural revolution that an education does not end at marriage or being a mother.

What we need is to tell ourselves that its NOT okay to be ‘educated’ angootha chaaps.

She marvels at my 4 years old’s ability to already recognize the alphabet from a chart I’ve hung at home, her ability to use complicated words and count from 1 to 30 and backwards. I tell her again, like I always do, “Sit with me for at least half an hour each day and learn the alphabet. Slowly, you’ll come to learn how to read and write too. I’ll teach it all to you. I’ll even enrol you in night school, if you want.”

She only shrugs it off and reiterates, “Who cares? At my age what am I going to do with reading or writing?” And she busies herself with the sweeping again.

She only’s 26.

(Note: ANGOOTHA CHAAPS – Illiterate and uneducated)

SPEAK UP FOR CHANGE!

It was a Sunday night when my frazzled house-help called me to tell me that she wouldn’t be coming to work… ever.

I was stunned. For any busy mother with too much on her plate, house-helps are more important than their own husbands. I frantically asked her why she had made this sudden decision because she loved working, I knew. She loved the independence and the money these odd jobs gave her.

She answered between sobs, “Didi, I can’t stay here while my husband is threatening my life. He won’t let me be. He’s lost it. He hits me and does drugs. And he doesn’t even care for the children anymore. What will become of my children if he kills me? I have no one here in the city. At least my people can support me in the gaon (countryside). That’s why I’m leaving.”

I knew what she was saying wasn’t a fabrication. Her husband had been very abusive, both mentally and physically, for over a year, going to the extent of making an attempt on her life last year! Heaven knew why she hadn’t bolted back then itself. I insisted that she see a lawyer for a divorce but she was afraid of her folks; ‘what will people say‘. When she didn’t do that I sent her to a doctor to dress the wound. It was superficial thankfully, but the attempt had shaken her to the core, as it would. The police had refused her help because let’s face it, the Police don’t do much in India unless you have connections (if you know what I mean). Sheer will, her children’s education and a helpful sister were the only reasons why she was staying on in the city even after the attempt, but that sister too had lately moved away, leaving her absolutely alone against the wrath of her terrorizing husband.

There was nothing I could do to help her or to make her stay. I was in no position to offer her a place to stay or another job. Even I felt that she would be safer in her gaon. But I did feel strongly that people like her are always trudged upon by the powers that be just because they don’t raise their voices. They never have. Which is why the oppression never ends.

This whole week on Candles Online we are discussing the topic of Raising Voices. For the remainder of the week, you shall have compelling arguments from contributors who encourage raising a voice against some form of oppression prevalent in our society. In this article, I shall be discussing raising a voice as citizens of a democracy.

I discussed above how people like my house-help suffer in silence because they chose to suffer instead of lashing out at their oppressors. But let me not generalize it for people like her, because it isn’t just ‘people like her’ who suffer in silence, but most of the population. Take for example the recent debacle over the movie Padmaavat, which I have written about here. It was shameful that a section of the Indian population was rioting over a harmless piece of fiction, but what was even more shameful was the way the general public was silent over it, except a few brave voices. Everyone knew that the rioting was unjustified, yet people who Tweet or post statuses about what they eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, or are quick to add hashtags to be a part of the latest fad in the country, wouldn’t raise a voice for fear of incurring the ire of the rioters, while the authorities were, as usual, playing coy of stamping out the riots for ‘political reasons’.

Coming back to the point of the unhelpful Police, have any of you lost a phone, or a vehicle and have been turned out by the Police with the statement, “Lodge an FIR, and then we’ll see”? Or have you heard that a rape or an assault victim, especially a woman, has been taunted by the Police, “If you dress like that, or roam around at that hour, its bound to happen”? Or have you ever faced a wall of stone when you approached the Police about your grievances against a political big-wig? And how many of you have taken action against such latent oppression?

The Police are not the only authority or institution that feeds on the fear or worse still, the apathy of the public to get away with it. Every authority, when it does not have the ‘check’ of a watchful public, becomes a dictatorship, even a democracy like ours that is ostensibly of the people, for the people and by the people.

Forget about the government and other authorities, sections of our population face oppression and maltreatment at the hands of those who wield power over them in some way – like my house-help who couldn’t speak up about her oppression for months because of her husband or her in-laws who forced her into silence in the name of saving the marriage. Or abused children who can’t speak up about the heinous acts done to them because of fear of retaliation and ridicule from their families.

You may say, and your point would be valid, that no good has ever come from raising voices against oppression; you would only be beating yourself down while the powers that be will be quick to dismiss you, maybe even kill you! Some of you may say that ‘the system’ won’t allow any changes. Yes, maybe in the short-term it won’t, but in the long-term, it will. You and I may not be able to see that change, but at least our children will because we dared to do it. 

History has taught us that changes come only when a voice is raised against oppression –

The bans on Sati, child marriage, untouchability, apartheid, and the right of women to vote, to study in general schools and colleges, and to own property, these changes all came about because someone dared to say ‘no’.

Having seen what it is like to be in a Democracy, I think it is time that we stopped relying on the power of our votes alone to bring about changes. All political parties, all elected candidates, all oppressive factions of societies suffer from selective amnesia after they come to power. They may write off their promises to us, giving an excuse of authoritative encumbrances or may just shrug us off like dust on their shoulders after they’ve received our votes. The easiest medium of change is raising a voice because it brings immediate attention to an existing grievance. No one achieved anything by staying silent in the face of oppression. Even Mahatma Gandhi’s Civil Disobedience and Satyagraha movements relied on silent disobedience against the oppression of the British.

We are born free and the same powers that gave the oppressor their voices gave us a voice too. We have the additional right to freedom of thought and expression granted by a Constitution that claims to belong to its people.

Speak up for change!

Let your oppression be known.

Your voice makes this society, this nation.

Make it matter. 

 

Image Source: Ninocare at Pixabay.

 

HOW MOZART AND JAPANESE ROCK INSPIRE ME

One of my oldest memories is that of putting a giant set of headphones on, as a child, and listening to music. Being born into a musically inclined family meant that from the cradle up, we were exposed to music, and thankfully music from all genres. If my Father was fond of Ghazals and Indian Classical, my Mother was into Lata, Asha, Kishore, while members of my joint family exposed me to everything right from Western classical giants like Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven to more contemporary masters like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Carpenters and even Metallica. Growing up, I added my own variety to the kind of music I listened to, ranging from contemporary rock artists like Alterbridge and Britney Spears (yes, I’ve had bad taste in music too) to New Age Musicians like Yanni and Secret Garden. And even today, I can’t say if I have one single favorite band or song. I’ve hundreds of favorites, each apt for the right mood and the right time.

I’ve always maintained that there have been two things that have inspired me most in life – Books and Music. And both have worked in tandem to inspire me at different times in my life. So if the happy union at the end of Far From The Madding Crowd made such an impression on me, it’s because Mozart’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ was playing in the background; and if Sirius’ death in the Harry Potter series drove me into depression, it’s because the soundtrack to Requiem for a Dream was echoing in my earphones.

When I started writing on my blog, which isn’t very long ago, I found that if I played music from the same genre as the writing, it put me instantly in the right mood to write in the specific genre. For example, parts of Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack for Man of Steel and Naoki Sato’s soundtrack ‘Hiten’ from the Live Action Movie Rurouni Kenshin, are my go to’s if I’m in the mood to write a scene depicting thrill, horror, a chase, a battle/war or a revelation, mostly in fantasy based writings. But If I want to write a romantic scene, I’ll hit ‘play’ on songs from the band Secret Garden, or my current favorite for this genre – Good Goodbye by One Ok Rock, a Japanese Rock Band that I’ve been addicted to for sometime now. Some songs have been the seed for an idea to base my writing on. Like this poem I’ve published on my blog – Give Up The Ghost, which was inspired by a song of the same name sung by Rosi Golan.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds inspiration in music. How many of you get inspired to be patriotic when you hear ‘Mere Desh Ki Dharti’ or A.R. Rahman’s version of ‘Vande Mataram’? How many of you get pumped up at your gym sessions when you hear ‘Eye of the Tiger’ or ‘I Gotta Feeling’ by the Black Eyed Peas blaring through the speakers? And how many of you cozy up to your bae when you hear a song like ‘Hello’ by Lionel Richie? Is it just coincidence that THE ONE song we play at every Indian Baraat (wedding procession) is ‘Aaj Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai’? No, it’s not just because it’s become a part of Indian-barati-music-tradition, it’s because that song sets you in the mood to have fun!

Music evokes emotion, just like any other art form does. And I believe great music always inspires. There is a reason why Pandit Jasraj’s vocal prowess awes us, and why John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ has moved people to tears. It’s because great music is perfection. It is an outcome of precision, patience, pain and passion; a thing of beauty that appeals to our senses and evokes not just a sensory response, but an intellectual one too.

It’s no wonder that music is one of the oldest surviving art forms in human history. As long as there’s been man, there has been music. It may have started with something as primitive as stones being clinked together, but it has now evolved into a leviathan that has a variety of musical instruments and techniques and studies dedicated only to it. It may have come into existence to kill time or to tell stories of heroes, or for something as small as soothing a baby, but it’s amazing how it’s one of those art forms that has evolved in every culture in the world? Name one human emotion that does not have a befitting song. Name one human being who does not like music of some kind. Such is the power of music!

Pradita Kapahi

MY FOREVER AND ALWAYS

We lay on the grass,

Our hands firmly enclasped.

 

That wetness between the verdant blades,

Making silken lines on your bonny face,

The faint fragrance of first rain,

Wafting through the June air.

 

This moment, our ‘now’,

I wish I could break all the clocks,

On the earth somehow.

 

Forget about seizing the day,

I want to seize this here and now.

 

For we’ll never be more beautiful than this,

And maybe we’ll never know again,

These moments of mellow bliss.

 

But should I close my eyes to the world tonight,

I’ll have you know I won’t have any regrets.

 

You’ve gifted me an eternity of happiness.

 

This life that grows within me,

And your vow that adorns my finger,

They  assure me that our love will linger,

Maybe not for eons, maybe not for years,

Maybe for just a few days.

 

But in that limited time I’ll know, darling,

I had in you my ‘forever’ and my ‘always’.

 

Pradita Kapahi

CELEBRATING FAILURES

We all celebrate success. We throw a party, call up friends and family or go out for dinner or a date, or if we’re alone, we let our hair down and unwind with a drink or do something we have been wanting to do, that helps us relax. Some pious folks pray for their achievements and do poojas or make an offering to their Gods. While some lucky ones celebrate by going out on a vacation!

Celebrating success is a natural outcome of our happiness and achievement. It’s a way of rewarding ourselves for our hard work.  But what about celebrating failures though? Do we ever give a thought to that?

‘Why?’, you ask. ‘What’s to celebrate in failures?’

Good question! I’ll ask you a question in return, “What does failure teach us?”

It teaches us that we need to do better. It teaches us patience, humility. It teaches us the value of hard work and how to wait for the right opportunity. But most importantly, it teaches us not to give up!

With so many good lessons to teach us, how can failure be bad?

You may counter by pointing out that it feels bad when we fail. Sometimes the failure is a huge setback to our attempts. Yes, it does feel bad, specially if it’s happened to you more than once for the same thing. Most of us take failure very seriously. We become depressed, enraged, desolate, hopeless and withdraw into ourselves. It’s normal to feel that way when we fail.

But say, if you were to enjoy your failure, would it do you any harm? Say if you couldn’t pass an important test that you were preparing for, would it be so bad if, after failing, you throw away your sour mood and declare, ‘Oh, so what?! I’ll try again. Harder!’ And then you proceed to call out your friends for dinner, and your friends tell you the same thing, ‘You’ll do better next time”. And you will! Because you have already made up your mind to try harder again. That serves as positive reinforcement for your brain, the party and your own will to try again. It sends your brain the signal that you do not take defeat as a full stop to your attempts.

Positive reinforcement is a Psychology term that roughly means being awarded for a certain kind of behavior. We frequently use this in everyday life to motivate ourselves. Even organisations have long been using this to motivate their employees to aim higher and get better results. An example is how you tell yourself while slogging for your exams, “Just this one week and then I’ll have all the time in the world”, or how a dog is trained by giving it a treat for good behavior. The benefit of positive reinforcement is that we condition ourselves to perform better in order to get that reward, till it becomes our habit to perform better.

This is what celebrating failure does to you. When your brain looks at failure as a reason to celebrate, it conditions itself to not give in to depressing thoughts and instead looks for that rewarding incident/thing that reinforces its will to strive harder, while enjoying the process of trying again.

Celebrating failure need not come only in the form of a reward or a celebration. You could choose the way you want to celebrate differently than the usual connotations of ‘celebrating’. You could meditate, or try a new activity, or try another way of achieving the same goal. You could tell yourself, ‘Regardless of whether I succeed or fail in this attempt, I will do a certain thing to enjoy myself’. Remember, enjoying yourself while you strive to attain something is as important as making the effort itself. Otherwise the task will seem tedious, and you will be inclined to fail more because of mental tiredness than actual lack of capability.

The aim of celebrating failure is NOT the celebration itself;

It is to overcome the depression of failure and the fear of failing again. 

Do the following when you feel you’re becoming depressed over your failure – 

  1. Stop blaming yourself.
  2. Think of things to calm yourself down, like meditation, or a movie you like, or a hangout you like to go to.
  3. Surround yourself with people who support you; don’t drive them away.
  4. Look inwards and identify the reasons why you failed.
  5. After you have identified the causes, decide to either avoid those causes the next time, or try harder to overcome them, or plan another route.
  6. Now go ahead, have a blast. Chances are, by the time you come to this step, you will have already overcome your depression.

Our failures are our means to be a better person. They teach us to strive harder, be smarter about our choices and they teach us that success is not an easily earned thing. Think of all those achievers in history who have had successful lives – M.S. Dhoni, Rafael Nadal, Leonardo DiCaprio, Aishwarya Rai, Gita Phogat... Do you think they never faced failures, flops, being shunned by someone, being called ‘inadequate’? But they didn’t stop at their failures. They treated them as lessons and went on to the next project they had. They did not dwell on their past and their mistakes. If they had given up and succumbed to depression, we wouldn’t know their names today.

If you are still not convinced why celebrating failure is better than mourning them, click on this link and watch this inspirational video by Elizabeth Gilbert, the Author of ‘Eat, Pray, Love‘, who talks about how she overcame the fear of writing a book that wouldn’t match up with the success of Eat, Pray, Love, while also discussing how she overcame recurring failures to become a successful writer. I love it when she says, “I love writing more than I hate failing at writing”. That is why she couldn’t give up on writing in spite of her failures, because writing was ‘home’ for her. That is real passion for your work!

Remember, the most difficult part of overcoming failure is the attempt to overcome it. Celebrating it helps in making it easier for you to overcome that fear.

Let not failure defeat you.

Let it be a stepping stone to your next success.

I’ll leave you with the words of the great leader Winston Churchill,

 

Success consists of going from failure to failure, without loss of enthusiasm.

 

Pradita Kapahi