Month: February 2014

The dying habit

‘J.K. Hollywood’. When a ten-year-old student distorts the name of the beloved author who introduced you to magic and worlds of infinite imagination, you feel like screaming endlessly. However, all you can do is express anger by telling him off rudely about the complete absence of any awareness about the outside world and just let it pass. Welcome to our current system of rote-learning, where students learn only what they want, seek information which will get them the highest grade and sit smugly with smiles on their faces, flaunting the ‘rank’ they achieved in school.

This post arises from a dire need to write about what I’ve been thinking for quite a long, long time. Ever since I’ve started teaching a few primary-school and lower-secondary school students as a part-time activity, I come across a range of intellect, imagination, creativity. Those who achieve the ‘1st position’ would have the answers, imagination, creativity, you’re looking for, you might say. However, I find  the scenario alters for every child.

We have an eight-year-old coming at my home for tutoring – attending an institution par excellence but achieves average marks in subjects like English Language. Ask him to write a composition on describing how he spent his vacation, and he’ll use words, ideas, imagination that is brilliant. The sentence structure might not be perfect, but his creativity with words is impressive. Yet, he gets marked on the exam he attempted on a certain day, with a certain topic, under the stressful influence of his parents to give that perfect exam they want him to. His mother questions why he couldn’t score well in his exam when he can write such essays at home. My mother explains how she should be thankful that he has some talent, regardless of whether it gets him an impressive end-of-year report. But the other person isn’t ‘satisfied’.

Then come students whose parents wish to ‘improve their English.’ Their parents want spectacular improvement within weeks as if it’s a diet-plan. They seem to think language and expression is learnt by rigorous filling of lines and notebooks. However, they don’t understand the value of reading. Whilst discussing with my teacher, this issue, she remarked, “Language isn’t taught, it’s caught.” And it really is. I do not intend to belittle those who can’t express really well, I wish to say how parents should understand that wider reading, exposure to ideas and creativity is what matters. My own mum would encourage us to read anything and everything when we were in that phase. Attending the annual book fair was a must for us. I wonder how people throng the ‘Lifestyles’ exhibition but not this one.

I have two students who achieve the top positions in their class, yet answer me that Pervez Musharraf is the Prime Minister of our country. They produce rote-learned essays, where at every occasion, they are consuming ‘pizza and coke.’ Parents are asked to subscribe for the daily newspaper – a wealth of information and reading material at your doorstep – but we get back the reply they don’t want to ‘waste’ their money. Mind you, they are always ready to provide the latest edition of the ‘PSP’ for their child or any other video game. Reader’s Digest or the annual book fair or the annual Karachi Literature Festival becomes out of the question. Watch channels like BBC, CNN, Discovery, we advise, as listening helps. However, their mother doesn’t wish to allow them to watch when it’s time for her favourite T.V. soap. And here we are in this world of ironies.

It is natural, therefore, for the child to revert to endless games, while all the resources he could have used go waste. Reading thus becomes the ‘uncool’ habit and knowledge of the world around you doesn’t matter anymore. Rote-learn, give your exam, get full marks. After all, you ARE achieving that gold medal in front of your parents and that’s what matters. 

The Neighbourhood Tree

The tree has been taken away,

cut off from the mid of its trunk,

which now stands alone,

the rest of its torso absent.

It was a silent spectator,

of laughter in its shade, of the yells and screams,

of children that dived into the muddy stream,

formed after torrentous rain.

It was there as a talisman,

every morning and evening,

a companion on a wintry dawn,

standing tall and sturdy.

It dawned on me today,

why the sky seemed so far away,

why the absence of something,

was so confounding.

I soon realised the great, old tree had been chopped off,

taken away.

The carts stood alone, without the welcome shade.

All what was left was half of its trunk, standing alone.

Beans hanging from its branches,

Plucked and eaten away,

Without thought or gratitude.

It now flits across my memory as the friend once there.

I yearn for it to come back again,

To stand again, tall and mighty,

as the silent spectator, as the talisman,

as a memoir of the days gone by.

Image