Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Alternate Route

He returned from office that evening earlier than the usual time.  As he entered the house, he realized that the atmosphere was very tense.  Returning from a hard day's work to a tension filled home is something nobody wants.  But life has its own twists and turns and does not always go on as one wishes.  The young girl was sitting in a corner of the hall with swollen red eyes and tears rolling down her cheeks.  Her mother, having returned from a daylong work at office half an hour ago, was cooking supper in the kitchen.

He sat on his usual chair by the window and looked at his daughter.  Before he could choose the words to ask her about the reason for her crying, voice from the kitchen said, "Tell your father about your achievement.  He will be very happy".  Ah! what a wonderful way of communication, he thought.  When the daughter or son does something good or achieves some distinction, she or he is my daughter or son.  When she or he defaults or suffers a setback, she or he is your daughter or son!  There is no discrimination; both father and mother use this logic at home as and when the opportunity throws up.  This time it was the mother's turn.  Another wonderful expression used in combination with this during such situations is to blame the other parent for pampering the child.  The one starting the argument with this logic and has a bigger voice usually wins the argument.  More often because the parent with a weaker voice does not continue the fight and the game ends in a walkover.

The daughter did not speak; her crying intensified.  "There is no use in crying.  Tell him and get scolded.  You have to face it", admonished her mother.  Daughter did not speak even then.  He knew he had a big problem on hand.  He beckoned the daughter to come and sit in the chair by his side.  She hesitatingly and slowly moved to that chair.  She knew by her own experience that whenever one of the parents attacked her, the other parent gave some support.  "Why are you crying?  What happened?", he asked in a kindly voice.  "I failed in my examination.  I could not get minimum marks required for a pass in Mathematics", she barely finished her reply and started crying even louder.

She was always a good student at school, but weak in Mathematics.  As we all know, this happens to many students and Mathematics has killed more students and their careers than Malaria or Typhoid.  There could be something seriously wrong in the way the subject is taught.  Some teachers may not have the necessary skills in teaching the subject. Absorption and retention capacity also differs from student to student.  Once a child develops an aversion to a teacher or a subject, the trouble can only escalate.  The biggest challenge before any teacher is two fold.  The first one is to make himself or herself acceptable to the student as a person.  The second one is to teach the subject in such a way that the child or student starts liking the subject.  There was some discussion at home two years ago about the subjects this girl was to choose at Pre-University level.  Father had suggested a choice of Arts subjects and avoiding Mathematics.  Other well-wishers had insisted on Mathematics as it would ensure (?) a bright future in the competitive world.  Well-wishers had won the battle and she chose Mathematics.  Trigonometry and Calculus intensified the trouble Arithmetic and Geometry had sown earlier.  Now the result was out.  "Fear of failure" that haunted her for two years had indeed crystallized now and staring at her, threatening her future.  Failure in the examination was bad enough; the music to face for having chosen the subject despite earlier warning was the worse part.  Wasting another year for passing the paper and taking up some other course thereafter was the later challenge.  She braced herself for the onslaught about to be unleashed.  She expected a "Jugalbandi" with father and mother scolding her in turns.  She also feared outbreak of a fight among her parents as to who was responsible for her failure. Who among the three, daughter or father or mother, is to be blamed the most?

"Congratulations!"  said the father in a cheerful voice.  She was flabbergasted at this remark.  "Has he gone mad?  Why is he congratulating me for failing in the examination?  Did my failure upset him so much that he has lost his sense of proportion?", she probably wondered.  "Why are you congratulating her?" asked the mother, coming out of the kitchen.  "She has upheld the family tradition!" exclaimed the father.  "What does that mean?" asked the daughter, with a smile on her face for the first time since she saw her result that morning.  "Your father had failed in Mathematics.  Your grandfather too had failed in Mathematics. His father too had failed in that subject.  Now you have made the fourth generation in that exalted tradition.  Should you not be congratulated for carrying forward this great legacy?", he asked.  Tension had eased.  Atmosphere was now more relaxed.  Supper was served in a pleasant environment.

Clearing the Mathematics paper was a per-requisite for finding an alternate course at the graduate course level.  A close relative helped her find a tutor to teach her Mathematics for three months.  This teacher was an expert in the subject as well as in teaching methods.  Supported by this arrangement, the girl appeared in the supplementary examination and passed Mathematics paper.  Six months were still to go for resuming college studies during the next academic year.  She utilized this time for acquiring alternate skills.  Shifting to arts and literature helped her in graduate school and she was now a class topper.  She forgot Mathematics and surged ahead in her chosen field, leaving her friends with higher marks in Mathematics far behind.  She had a lingering doubt about the family tradition of failing in Mathematics.  Several years later she mustered courage to ask her father about it.  He laughed and told her that her grandfather and great grandfather were both very good at Mathematics and were considered as the best teachers in the subject in their times!  He further told her that academic studies were indeed important, but that is not all in life.  In case of difficulty in studies in any subject, alternate routes should be explored.

One of the famous quotes of Will Rogers, American actor and humorist and known as Oklahoma's favorite son, is that he made fun of every known human being but he never found a dull person or a person whom he did not like.  He felt that every person he met was interesting in one way or the other!  The creator has bestowed every human being with some great qualities.  Some never know about those qualities they possess and walk into their graves with them.  Some do find them early in their lives and are smart enough to en-cash them.  Some others are lucky to find a mentor who help them find those hidden qualities and shine.  "Try, try, try again" is one approach.  Finding alternate routes is another approach.  Alternate routes are always available.  Only issue is we have to find them.  And find them before it is too late.     

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ovation for over 15 minutes

"Ovation" is defined as "an enthusiastic public reception of a person, marked especially by loud and prolonged applause".  What was the duration of the longest standing ovation you have ever seen or heard?  For a program that lasted for one hour and thirty minutes?  Three minutes?  Five minutes?  Seven minutes?  Ten minutes?  .....

We were witnesses for a standing ovation for over fifteen minutes at the end of a ballet performance in Opera D Bastille, Paris, France  (picture of the building is given below).  It was still continuing when we left the Bastille auditorium and actually do not know the exact duration for which it lasted!
Clapping and acknowledging some good effort is a common feature in functions and performances. All over the world  leaders, artistes, sports persons or performers of any kind get encouraged when they receive clapping, applause or an ovation.  A standing ovation is a higher form of acknowledgement of a job well done or a distinction truly earned. An extended applause or a long ovation is indeed an excellent tonic for performers and spurs them to even better efforts in subsequent shows. For a real and dedicated  artiste, appreciation of his or her effort by a mature and knowledgeable audience is worth even more than the financial rewards a show brings.  Politicians thrive on the applause and ovations of their followers.  That the ovation given to them is by a hired or hijacked audience matters little to such leaders.  An ovation is an ovation for them!  It is not uncommon to hear clapping even before some start their speech or performance.  Such applause may be to prevent the beginning of the ordeal or bring an abrupt end to a painful performance.  Thick skinned as they are, such performers(?) would  have tuned themselves to carry on with their act unmindful of whether the gathering really wants it or not. 

We can hear muted clapping in many functions and such applause by a handful of persons among a big gathering is often embarrassing.  Untimely appreciation by a small section of the crowd creates an awkward situation instead of enthusing the performers.  People sitting through the length of the programs leave the hall minutes before the performance ends, showing scant respect for the efforts of the performers.  In many shows or performances, especially the ones like ballet, drama etc., the artistes are called upon the stage at the end of the show.  Any artiste or backstage support staff member has a right to be introduced to the audience in every show.  After all, the show is a result and end product of  days and months of the hard work by these very people.  Their importance is known to the Producer or Director of the show.  Even if one of them is missing half an hour before the show begins, they may even have a heart attack.  Audience, especially in parts of our country, need to appreciate their importance and contributions by giving a befitting ovation to these artistes.  This should be so irrespective of the likes or dislikes of the individual audience.

The city of Paris, capital of France, is one of the most vibrant cultural centers in the world. Bastille Opera House in Paris is one of the centers dedicated for performing arts.  The place "Bastille" has its own history.  A fort was constructed at this place in the 13th-14th century to protect the eastern part of the city of Paris from the enemies. (Picture of the fort as it existed before storming is given alongside).  The fort was converted into a prison during the time of Louie XIII.  The jail housed about 50 prisoners at a time.  In course of time, this fort prison was used by the ruling elite to curb activities of any nature which was considered by them as against the persons in authority.  When the patience of the oppressed people ran out, they stormed the Bastille fort.  Storming and destroying of the Bastille fort prison happened on 14th July 1789.  This started the famous "French Revolution" and the entire fort was destroyed during the next four months.  14th July is observed as "National day of France" since then.  It is a public holiday and a tradition has developed now to honor the martyrs on that day.

A beautiful building complex has been constructed at the place where the destroyed Bastille fort stood and it was inaugurated on 13th July, 1989. A metro station located at the basement of the building makes visiting the culture center a pleasant experience.  Its main auditorium has 2,703 acoustically consistent seats.  Its stage facilities are considered unique.  The integrated scenery, costume and accessory workshops, as well as its numerous work areas and rehearsal rooms make the Opera Bastille a great modern theater. Its orchestra pit can accommodate as many as 130 musicians and can be covered.  It is mobile and adjustable.  The main stage area is 45 meter high and 30 meter wide.  Its 25 meter depth provides comfort for stage managers to experiment innovation using the scenery turntable.  The stage has 9 elevators which is used in creation of several levels in the shows and the three main elevators fetch the required scenery up from below stage.  Scenery can be stored temporarily between the stage, workshops and rehearsal stage.

Our host in Paris had painstakingly reserved seats for us for a show in this auditorium on 13th July 2008, which was the 19th anniversary of the inauguration of the building and the eve of the "Revolution Day".  The show was titled "Signes" in French, meaning "Signs" in English.  It was a wonderful show and the standing ovation given to the Director and artistes lasted for over fifteen minutes.  The show itself  was wonderful in concept, design and on-stage execution.  As this piece has already become lengthy, it will be covered in another blog post titled "Painter meets Musician". 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Did you Vacuum Clean Today?

There were two families living in the same street of the small town as we did, some fifty years ago.  The two families were headed by two brothers.  Their big ancestral house and other properties including agricultural lands was divided between them equally.  Elder brother occupied the eastern portion of the house and the younger brother occupied the western part.  Both were teachers by profession and commanded respect from the community, respect earned by their polished and courteous behavior.  The two families lived in perfect harmony and their children too had excellent relationship between them.  More importantly, the two wives, co-sisters as many would like to call, were like twin sisters.

Now a question may arise as to what is the purpose of this piece when everything is just perfect.  The two brothers differed in their views about sharing responsibilities of daily life.  The system of sharing routine work taught and practiced in the family were different.  Elder brother believed that the work should be shared by all the children at home irrespective of the nature of work.  All children, boys or girls, were expected to wash their respective clothes and clean their plates after taking food. Any child could be asked to attend outdoor work like bringing the items for daily use from shops.  The practice in the younger brother's house was totally different.  All indoor work was to be done by the girls and outdoor work was the exclusive domain of the boys.  A girl child would not be asked to go to the market for bringing vegetables or such other items.  No boy was asked to wash clothes or clean dishes.  This made an interesting study for me.  There were no such rigid rules in our own house; any child could be asked to do any work assigned to them.  Assignment of work depended basically on the nature of work, age of the child and capacity to carry out the desired purpose.  Both brothers were right in their own way though opinions may differ when the practices are viewed and evaluated in present times.

Much water has flowed under and over the bridge in fifty years.  Society and its outlook has changed enormously in this time span and there is little difference between men and women today as far as handling different jobs are considered.  Women are still discriminated against, but the spirit has indeed changed for the better. From running houses to flying planes and venturing into outer space, there is no bar and girls have been eminently successful in all vocations.  Many families are encouraging their daughters to take up professional jobs which were exclusive male bastions some years ago.  When both husband and wife are engaged in matching professional pursuits, sharing of work at home also becomes equally important.  Some men are excellent cooks, but the kitchen work still stays with the wife generally.  When the tasks are identified and apportioned, vacuum cleaning generally falls on the husbands side.  This provides an excellent chance to the wife to keep reminding the husband every week: "Have you vacuum cleaned today?"

One husband who was allotted vacuum cleaning at home did his job faithfully for several months.  But he probably disliked the job or disliked even more being reminded by the wife again and again.  There is a maxim in HRD: assign the toughest job to the laziest person in the team.  He will find the easiest way to do it, finish it fast and get back to lazying!  This young man could never be accused of being lazy. But he was innovative.  He found out an excellent way of getting the house vacuum cleaned - he did lot of research and found out about Neato.

Neato is a robot vacuum cleaner; only it does not look like a Rajanikanth model Robot. It looks just like a simple weighing scale. It is battery operated an is smart.  Armed with a 360 degree laser range finder, it scans the room, maps and plans its work and later systematically cleans the entire room.  Its sensors enable it to avoid obstacles like furniture, walls, stairs and even pets.  Its boundary markers tell Neato where not to go.  It can remove all the hairs dropped by pets like cats and dogs.  It takes care of itself and cleans all floor surfaces.  The dirt is collected in a dirt bin inside the robot and can be emptied.  No need for trash bags and recurring expenditure in buying such bags.  Filters provided in it can be changed periodically to make it more effective.  Its blades and batteries can be replaced. When the battery is replaced in the middle of the cleaning, it starts from where it left off and there is no need to set it again!
Now "Neato" vacuum cleans when the husband plays with his other electronic gadgets. He now has an assistant in "Neato" which is not a sweeper but a real vacuum cleaner.  He may be advising his friends (other husbands) to spend $ 400 to $500 on a "Neato" and avoid the frequent question form their wives: "Have you vacuum cleaned today?"
Of course, he may not know what the wife is thinking.  She must be thinking of another assignment for him to protect her right to go on asking that favorite question:  "Did you"!