Saturday, 26 February 2011


Today, we started our practical examinations. Last week, I had gone as an examiner to some other college to conduct their practical examinations. I was quite exasperated since my viva could not go beyond "what experiment are you doing today" or "what is the compound you have just prepared?" Just the title of the experiment or the structure of the compound was enough for me to give 2 marks.
But students in my college are no better.
Whatever happens to all that we teach them? Where does it go?
It is at times like these that I feel I should retire right now.

an email

A source of happiness-- an email from an ex student who has just got into a PhD program in Germany. I have got quite a few such emails, but this is special, since after a lot of personal sorrow, the boy, I hope, has found some peace and hope in his life.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Remembering Miss Compton

Miss Compton's premise was that a good teacher could teach anything and teach it well! This was of course at school level.
She taught me Geography, Macbeth, Art and Religious- and-Moral education at various times in my school career. She had also taught Math, History and English language to others at different times. In fact, she told us that she had taught everything except Hindi and Sanskrit.
I remember her geography classes the best. She taught us physical geography. Every Monday afternoon, we would take some sandwiches and go for a trek - different directions on different Mondays. Once we reached the top, we would all take out our notebooks, draw the contour map of the opposite hill, or make a note in the map of the exact position of the scree, or just map the landscape. On the way back we would stop at the roadside teashop, and drink hot, sweet wood-smoke flavoured tea. Those cold evenings were really enriching.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Walk the talk - Gaddafi
sent to me by Arjun

malkangiri questions

The collector of Malkangiri seems to be very popular with the local tribals. He seems to have inspired great loyalty in his engineer who has worked with him for a mere 3 months.
Will the government see light and allow him to work in the area for longer than usual time and give him support?
Will the Maoists see him as a threat, eroding their support base?


I am contemplating my retirement, due in a couple of years. It has made me realise how much I enjoy teaching.
When I had completed my PhD, the idea of teaching in a college was totally unappealing. I thought teaching the same syllabus over and over would be awfully boring. I was very keen on research.
After a hiatus of 10 years, when I realised that I could not go back to research, I applied for a teaching job with utmost reluctance. It was a case of making do. In fact, I hated my first teaching job and was really bad at it.
But now, I find teaching really enjoyable. I have realised I am good at it.
I do not find teaching the same thing again and again, boring at all.
It is the students you are teaching to, that determine your lecture, not the content. Every time I teach a topic, it is different both in how I teach it and how it is received. In fact, after the first time, the lecture gets more fun for me. The first time I teach a topic, all my concentration is on the content. I have read up a few books, made my notes, but I am not fully clear with how I am going to explain the concept. The second time, I am concentration is half and half..... a bit on the content and a bit on the actual teaching.
After that, my whole effort is on the teaching process. I am fully familiar with the content and the lecture becomes better and it is really enjoyable.

Friday, 11 February 2011

students and environmental studies

The University has a few compulsory, but pass-fail type examination for all its undergrads. The first year students do a course called 'Indian heritage and culture', the second year students as in all other universities do a paper called "environmental studies" and the third year students do a paper called 'Science and civilisation" .

Year-end exercise for us is setting papers in these and correcting the answer books.
The papers used to entertain me in the past years. In fact, my children, when they were in school, would wait for me to bring home the science and civilisation papers. The answers would lead to much hilarity in the household.
But this year, it is depressing me terribly that we have a generation of students who think global warming and a hole in the ozone layer are the same things, taht in the aquatic ecosystem, the tiger is the secondary consumer.......too many such things.
I am not amused at all this year.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

women in science

I was a little disappointed with the WiS report (Rohini Godbole et al).
Here is one article that I feel, presents the situation better.
Women leave "voluntarily" - they take themselves off the career path not because that is what they wish to do, but because they cannot cope otherwise.
Wake up early, make breakfast, fill water in the kitchen , in the washing machine (there is always water shortage), wake kids up, clean up the boiled-over milk, chuck the burnt toast, make fresh toast, find socks, find misplaced car keys, make packed lunch for 4 people, drop kids at bus stand, clean all the mess you made while running frantically, get ready go for work.
After this, stand in the lab for 10 hours inhaling benzene or whatever- get back before the kids get home, (the time doesn't add up does it?), picking up vegetables for the next day, make dinner, check homework, clean up and then hopefully go to sleep.
Mainly, the time doesn't add up.
Can you be surprised if the woman drops out of research ?

Janet Rowley's interview

Two things brought out in this interview
1. In this age of limited money , "fishing" expeditions do not get funded. But if you only look at
what you already know exists, how will you find what you don't know exists? The envelope is
not going to be expanded.
2. What women can do when working part time, in between childcare responsibilities!

Saturday, 5 February 2011

"Faced with power cuts, water shortages or crumbling roads, we get angry and vocal about our unhappiness. The media are only too happy to amplify the discontent and the politicians take note and try to respond since that gives them an opportunity to talk about having done something to address the needs of the public when the next elections come by. Sadly, we don’t seem to get angry and vocal at all about the fact that we haven’t been able to ensure a quality education for every single child, even 60 years after independence."
It is human nature to react to problems that have short term consequences and never to problems whose consequences are felt much later.....anthropogenic climate change is the best example. Like the frog in water that is slowly heated, we don't react.
That is the reason why we do not accept power cuts, but accept bad quality of education. We know theoretically, that if we do not educate the children of all economic classes, we will produce a generation of unemployed youth ripe for a life in crime. But all that happens in a time frame of twenty years. Who can think so far ahead?

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Two Indias

In one of my previous posts, I had written about heaping too much praise on children for trivial achievements. This culture of hyping has spread everywhere.
Young people who barely cross the line of being 'besura' give long performances singing difficult songs with great, but misplaced confidence. Those who have barely detectable grace and flexibility, go on stage and dance the 'salsa' - the desi version of salsa. Everyone applauds. Am I the only fly in the ointment?
At the risk of sounding like the archetypal old lady, bands that performed at fests of yesteryears were really good else they got booed or had rockets thrown at them. The rockets were made of punch cards and were pretty accurate. I remember a band from St Xaviers Calcutta which was amazing... I still recall it.
At the same time, I hear of amazing youngsters. Young people who design amazing stuff, who come up with brilliant devices for the handicapped as part of their BE project. Youngsters who start enterprises that are based on brilliant ideas. Brave young people who don't hesitate to work in the villages of Jharkhand to undertake social audit braving Naxalites and cerebral malaria.
In this too, we have two Indias.