Thursday, 19 April 2012

A teacher at work.. Learning lessons of his own

At my own expense, a funny experience that I would like to share with you.

It was the year 1937, I had just graduated from college, unleashed into the world with a degree in hand!
And I, like many people around me, was faced with the monster problem of employment, or rather, the lack thereof.
The world was still writhing in the grip of the great depression.

At this pressing juncture, I chanced to meet the Head-Master of the school in which I had studied. He asked me in what capacity I was occupied, I told him that I was occupied in the search of it.
He offered me a temporary post, for a period of three months, of School-Master at my old school.
I jumped at this fortuitous offer and arrived at school promptly to take up my duties.

The Head-Master assigned to me the task of educating the Fourth-Form in the intricacies of the English language.
All the other teachers at school were seasoned-veterans, my old masters and even in their hallowed company, I felt confident.

I entered the class, at a brisk walk, to face my students for the very first time. I felt no discomfort, no apprehension.
I started teaching and found the students receptive. Feeling justified in my untested confidence, I sat on the arm of the teachers chair.

And lo! I continued my descent to the floor!
There I was on the floor, lying spreadeagled in a daze, the class was risen in an uproar!
The masters from the adjacent class-rooms rushed in to find me still on the ground and all else confusion!

That old chair, in my old school, with it's it's old rusted bolts, had tested a confident new teacher and found him wanting!

Not much damage was done, but a lesson was learnt.

Overconfidence was aptly rewarded.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

An assessment of Indian character - The Measure of a Nation

Thoughts from my continued perusal of the book "Forty-one Years In India, From Subaltern To Commander-in-chief " (Previously mentioned in another post):

The Commander-in-Chief has lived through a period of great excitement and action in Indian history involving the Sepoy Revolution and the Afghan wars.

Having lead the troops against the Afghans in the Second Afghan War, in a description of events, he states:

"It is comparatively easy for a small body of well-trained act on the offensive against Asiatics, however powerful they may be in point of numbers. There is something in the determined advance of a compact, disciplined body of troops which they can seldom resist. But a retirement is a different matter. They become full of confidence and valour the moment they see any signs of their opponents being unable to resist them, and if there is the smallest symptom of unsteadiness, wavering, or confusion, a disaster is certain to occur. "

These words made me reflect upon many events that comprise matters of import in Indian History.
Porus may have been a man of valor, backed by the huge hordes of the traditional four-fold army (The Chathurangabala : Ratha-Gajha-Thuraga-Pathadi, chariots-elephants-horsemen-infantry), but he could not withstand the small, compact army of a determined invader!

Link : King Porus

Link : Caturangabala (hence the game Chaturanga, the father of Chess)

Again, we read of Nader Shah, galloping into the plains of Northern India, looting and pillaging, carrying everything by the might of his sword.

Link : Nader Shah

The British occupation and rule over India is but the continuation of a sad story; Of a vast population unable to defend against the attack of a determined compact enemy force.

How else can we explain the multitudes of Muslim soldiers flying before a few white British soldiers under the control of Clive in the Battle of Plassey.

Link : Robert Clive

Link : Battle of Plassey

It is true that the invaders invariably brought new techniques and advanced weaponry into warfare. The Moguls brought in the use of gunpowder and canons, mechanized bows and arrows, against which our tradition bound Chaturangabala could do nothing!
And Clive? He put to maximum use the British principle of divide and rule, playing one section of the population against another, in securing his victory.

What a misfortune, that the Indians in-spite of individual valor, lacked a sense of coheision and failed to present a determined-united frontage!

Image Source :

Will India wake up, realise the lack of togetherness through play of forces like religion, cast, language and demography?
Will India achieve a sense of Oneness?

That day will perhaps be the dawn of the one true Indian Dream!

Caught Between Scylla and Charybdis

A short description of a funny incident in my life, deeply etched in my mind;
World War II saw me serving in a quasi-Military organization, put in charge of the ARP setup (Air Raid Precaution) in Madurai.

Link : Air Raid Precaution - Another view

We, the men in blue (MIB perhaps) were a special target of attack, as the police officer in-charge had dropped his blue, put on kakhi and joined the police force for the emergency.

No, not them....
Not Them either...

This is who I'm talking about (Blue in black and white!)
That provoked the people and anyone in blue was open game.

On a dark night, with a black-out in force, I received a message from the control room, reporting the assembly of a large crowd, covered in a dark aura and in a violent threatening mood!

The voice of the officer incharge of the room (shivering in palpable fear) moved me so much that I decided that I must join him; at least to give him moral support.

I started walking up the street in mufti to save myself from the crowd.

Suddenly, I found that a part of the crowd was moving up behind me, armed with sticks and stones. In front there was a column of police officers ready with guns and lathis. Vehicles in the service, head light acting as search beacons, were put to use to pick out demonstrators hiding in nooks and corners so that they could be properly dealt with.

Side Note : This brings to mind, The charge of the Light Brigade, only nowhere as dramatic to the rest of the world, but my skin was valuable enough to me!

Link : The Charge of the Light Brigade : The poem

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd and thunder'd;

Caught between the Devil and the Deep sea, I suddenly walked into what I thought was a by-lane, only to find myself facing a closed door.

The people in the house were in no mood to help me out, but the tone of my voice (and the frenetic knocking!) must have ultimately stirred their hearts to sympathy and the doors ware suddenly thrust open, I was pulled in and immediately they were shut behind me.

A few minutes, the clash of lathis and sticks, the crash of stones and guns fired into the air, and then the streets were deserted. I proceeded, with caution, to the control room only to find everything normal and under control, the crowd having already dispersed. Much ado and effort over naught!

I wondered then, is not discretion the better part of valor!!

For those not well versed in Greek lore : Between Scylla and Charybdis

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Patriotism and Recollections

I read recently a study of the mémoires of a British soldier who participated in the Revolution of 1857 (or rebellion as they would have it) glorifying the courage, the presence of mind and patriotism of the British troops . He did not acknowledge the help given, by a sizable section of  troops, consisting of the Sikhs, the frontier men and the Gurkhas, who came to the aid of the British soldiers at a critical moment.

The perusal of this book brought back to my mind a scene during the Quit India movement, to which I was a witness. In Madurai a large crowd had gathered in the square near Meenakshi Amman Temple to demonstrate and to protest against the arrest of Congress Leaders. As I stood in the crowd, I witnessed the police men, all Indians, open fire against their own brothers.

It is sad to recall that some of our men seemed to lack that same sense of patriotism which this English man boasted of.

Revolution if 1857
Image Source :

Links to the Book I read :
Free Digital Read at Project Gutenberg

Kindle Version at Amazon

Paper Back : Forty-one Years In India, From Subaltern To Commander-in-chief

Sunday, 8 April 2012

The theory and the practice : A compromise

Life, I've figured, is a continuous process of weighing and matching theory and practice.
The gap between the ideal and the norm is large and reducing that distance is the work of a life time!
Each time I enter a temple, I go with the pious resolution that I should pray to God, ask for his Grace only and not make any demands.
But the minute I'm in front of the Deity, my resolutions are forgotten and my idealistic theories are lost.
That which is uppermost in my mind is a prayer; for success, for health and for happiness. For that which is mine and for those that are mine.
After all this time, I still wonder, where exactly does theory meet practice?

A stickler faced with change at age 95!

I see the world around me change so much faster than I can change to adjust; so irretrievably and sometimes intolerably, but tolerate it I must, because change is inevitable.
When the changes become revolutionary, men like me, sticklers for tradition, find themselves at sea, adrift, and placed in situations where we need to either accommodate or get out!
I reflect on the traditions of the past and the ever changing face of modern India.