India: Scooters aka Autos

October 28, 2009:

A scooter ride in Delhi- what an experience! It's as exhilarating as a roller coaster ride except that you’re on your way to work. Scooters are three-wheeled motorized vehicles also called autos (short for autorickshaws). They are convenient to use as they can be easily maneuvered through the heavy traffic and small spaces characteristic of streets in urban India. There’s a driver’s seat in front and a slightly larger seat for two passengers at the back. The sides are completely open but the top is covered with a thick plastic canopy. Some drivers know their way around and others pretend that they do. Only a fraction will honestly admit that they don’t know where you want to go and ask you to guide them. So sometimes you get to your destination directly and sometimes you go around in circles within the city limits before you finally reach where you’re supposed to be. And all this time you’re sitting in an atmosphere of dust, smoke and oil fumes, sunglasses covering eyes and a scarf covering hair, being bumped and jostled, shaken and stirred in this motorized vehicle that has no shock absorbers whatsoever. Every time the scooter runs over a pothole it is thrown into the air and you’re flung around within the interior, up and down, left to right, holding on to your laptop and bag with one hand lest they get thrown out of the vehicle from the open side, and holding onto a metal bar with your other hand lest you get thrown out onto the street and under incoming traffic. I actually know someone who did fall out and broke her leg. She's fine now. I guess all of this sounds like a slapstick comedy, or more like a driving nightmare, but I love it – it’s exciting, exhilarating, and so Indian. I grew up on this and riding autos is second nature to me. One has to develop the physical and mental skills, balance and coordination, and sheer guts to negotiate these amazing rides in real time traffic which follows no rules and that no amusement park can match.

India: Of parks, peacocks and people

October 20, 2010:

I went for a walk this morning in a nearby park. Parks in India are crowded, like every other public space. One can't escape the sheer numbers of people here. But, much to my delight, along with the morning joggers and walkers were bold and beautiful peacocks strutting their colors on the lawns! They're supposed to stay within an enclosure in the park. But they're birds and of course they're going to fly over the wire fencing! I also saw dozens of beautiful spotted deer - such a treat. They, unlike the peacocks, naturally stayed within the enclosed sections of the park. In addition to the fauna and flora, were small informally-gathered groups of people practicing yoga on the lawns here and there. And there was one large group of about 35-40 people who were engaged in laughter therapy where you get together and just laugh out loud for an hour. That's supposed to release the euphoria-producing endorphins in one's body. But the best image for me was that of an early morning motley group of peacocks, parrots and pigeons pecking away at seeds that someone had scattered for them along the long-abandoned ruins of a mid-fifteenth century monument that stood right in the center of the park. India never ceases to amaze me; life here reminds me of a complex jigsaw puzzle in which diverse people, different life forms and myriad activities are harmoniously juxtaposed, co-existing in close proximity, heterogeneous and yet part of a homogeneous whole.

India: Diwali in New Delhi

October 17, 2009:

Today is Deepawali, or Diwali for short. The Festival of Lights – a major holiday and celebration for Hindus; the night when Ram returned to his kingdom in Ayodhya after slaying Ravana; the night when the Goddess Lakshmi visits each home to bless it with wealth and abundance; the victory of good over evil; the start of a new year for many Hindus; the lighting of lamps to show the way. Deepawali literally means a row of lights. The city is lit up as almost every house and building is adorned with oil lamps, wax candles or electric bulbs - twinkling, glowing, flashing, dancing, hanging, undulating. Lights along verandahs and rooftops; ribbons of lights cascading down building facades like a waterfall; strings of lights running along the railings of balconies or spiralling around pillars like living, glowing, flowering creepers; lights on trees and around courtyards; lights along thatched roofs and down glittering walls of steel and glass highrises. Families rich and poor are celebrating Diwali. The fire crackers go off in the skies and the celebrations have begun.

Here is a piece written by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar that appeared in today’s edition of The Times of India:

For an oil lamp to burn, the wick has to be in the oil, yet out of the oil. If the wick is drowned in oil, it cannot bring light. Life is like the wick of the lamp; you have to be in the world yet remain untouched by it. If you are drowned in the materialism of the world you cannot bring joy or knowledge into your life. By being in the world and yet not drowning in the worldly aspect of it, we can be the light of joy and knowledge. Lamps are lit on this day not just to decorate homes but also to communicate this profound truth. Every human being has some good qualities. Every lamp that you light is symbolic of this.

Light the lamp of love in your heart; the lamp of abundance in your home; the lamp of compassion to serve others; the lamp of knowledge to dispel the darkness of ignorance, and the lamp of gratitude for the abundance that the Divine has bestowed on us. Light dispels darkness and when the darkness of ignorance within you is dispelled through the light of wisdom, goodness prevails.

A Starting Point

The last few months have been a whirlwind of travel and discovery. My Fulbright Research project has taken me into South Asia where I've been examining current issues in early education and teacher education in diverse contexts, and I have tried to understand them from multiple perspectives and world views. I have visited institutions, universities and schools; spoken with policy makers and practitioners; participated in conferences and panel discussions; and observed children in a variety of settings. Underlying it all has been the sharp reminder of how closely cultural values shape teaching and learning around the world.

My posts here are not in real time but after the fact as I near the end of my travels. But I want to begin with sharing some of my notes on the culturally rich tapestry of South and South East Asia within which my consequent discussions on schooling, teaching and learning will be contextualized. So enjoy the brief posts as they gradually appear and give the readers a hint of the flavor of some of the places I've visited this year: New Delhi, Goa, Allahabad, Puducherry, Ahmedabad, Pune, Mumbai, Singapore, Bali, Colombo, Galle, Anuradhapura, Male...

Culture, Learning and Teaching

 "...educational changes and innovations can only be implemented successfully and be sustained in a community if they make sense within the existing worldviews of the local people."

Amita Gupta, Going to School in South Asia