Tag Archives: Indian schools

HAPPY RANDOM MARKETING OPPORTUNITY TO YOU!

(Note: This is my Hindustan Times column dated 2nd Aug 2015.)

Today we celebrate Friendship Day in India, and by ‘we’, I mean teenagers and people who watch Bindass TV un-ironically. The concept of Friendship Day was first promoted in 1930 by Joyce Hall, the founder of Hallmark Cards. This was followed by McDonald’s promoting Cholesterol and Self-Loathing Day. According to noted historian Mr. Wikipedia, the Friendship Day fad ended in the US by the ‘40s but much like Bryan Adams, it did well in Asia despite being dead.

The concept lived on thanks largely to the efforts of an organisation in Paraguay called – and this is true – the World Friendship Crusade, who introduced the concept of World Friendship Day in 1958. Their plan was to turn the world into a giant Black Or White music video. Maybe it’s just me, but calling it a ‘crusade’ probably wasn’t the best idea. That word stands for friendship in the same way Bombay stands for green open spaces.

A World Friendship Crusade just sounds like a bunch of savages galloping from village to village, forcing people to tie friendship bands around their wrists while singing Purani Jeans. In fact, you can make the nicest, most innocuous thing sound fierce and warlike if you add the word ‘crusade’ to it. If you want to appear extra manly, don’t tell people about your first kiss – tell them how you went on a Hormonal Tongue Crusade.

The World Friendship Crusade continued to pester lobby the United Nations until 2011, when the UN General Assembly declared 30th July to be International Friendship Day. And people wonder why nobody respects the UN. It’s hard to, when you see them spending time on a concept that’s already covered by the most competent authority of all – Bollywood.

Bollywood is the place that first taught us that ‘ek ladka aur ladki kabhi dost nahin ho sakte’ unless the ladka and ladki are actors being interviewed by people whose idea of journalism is ‘tell na who u making sexytime with’. Classic Bollywood is how I learnt to make friends, especially with the opposite sex. The basic procedure went like this:

  1. Be the college stud.
  2. Wear jeans, jean jackets, jean shirts and jean banyans.
  3. Spot the new admission. She’ll be the pretty one in a frock that looks like a Monginis cake threw up on her.
  4. Make a move only to get rejected because The Song hasn’t happened yet.
  5. Chase her around with your mawaali friends while singing about her nakhra, which is all just code for ‘Y U NO LET ME TOUCH’
  6. The girl smiles and eventually gives in to the creepy denim gorilla.
  7. Stockholm Syndrome complete.

Of course, it wasn’t all bad. There were other lessons I learnt i.e. celebrate Friendship Day by losing to your tomboy friend at basketball and then marrying her when she gets hot.

It was pop culture like this that led to students cutting up perfectly good ribbons and turning them into friendship bands. When I say students, I mostly mean girls, who expressed love with meticulously crafted bands and handmade cards involving six types of glitter. Meanwhile, the boys stabbed each other with dividers.

This isn’t to say that boys aren’t civilised. As a kid, I once handed over a card to a guy friend on Friendship Day. It wasn’t handmade because that would be weird and as an ode to our manliness, it featured a commode and some pun about poop. Who’s immature now, huh??

Friendships work differently now, especially in frenetic, stressed-out cities like Mumbai. The older you get, the harder it becomes to make friends, mostly because there’s no time and everyone thinks everyone else is weird. The loneliness eventually leads people to take extreme steps, like arranged marriage.

You do end up accumulating a lot of acquaintances though. It’s easy to mix the two up, but an acquaintance is someone you bump into at bars and make small talk about football with, whereas a friend is someone you can get embarrassingly drunk around, trusting him or her to not turn your stupidity into a viral video. Consider yourself lucky if you have more than a handful of these around. Keep in touch and if you’re feeling extra nice, grab yourself a divider.

Does This Marksheet Make My Brain Look Big?

My favourite thing about the CBSE board exams is that they took place fifteen years ago. But as it turns out, they’re still a thing, with millions of students taking the plunge this week, one and only one question on their minds: How much do I need to score to make aunties and relatives shut up about my future? (Ans: Move to Siberia.)

So first up, best of luck to all you students and/or the impersonators you’ve paid to take the exam for you. Chances are that by now, you’ve heard tons of friendly advice from older people, because giving gyan makes us feel good about ourselves. The advice usually ranges from “Don’t worry, I also scored 23% and I’m rich enough to go to Phuket for honeymoon now” to “If you mess up that six mark math question, you’ll end up wiping windshields for heroin money.”

I have no clue how you’ll do in life but statistically speaking, if you’re a girl, you stand to do better than the boys in your class. I know this because every year, every newspaper in the country will announce the results with the headline ‘GIRLS OUTSHINE BOYS NYAHNYAHNYAHNYAH BOYS SUCK’.

It has been this way for as long as I can remember. In school, the tongue-in-cheek explanation was that girls got extra marks for neat handwriting. Now this sounds like a typical sexist reaction by boys who can’t stand a girl scoring higher than them, but honestly, as hard as I try, I cannot recall a girl having bad handwriting.

When you say ‘girls’ handwriting’, it conjures up an image of perfectly spaced words perched on the line like elegant tightrope walkers, whereas a guy’s handwriting looks like those tightrope walkers fell eighteen stories and splattered across the page. And then there are those girls who take notes with six differently-coloured pens, highlighting and underlining keywords as they go, while the boys are using their chewed-up 045 to draw breasts and horns on historical figures.

Another headline you’ll always see on result day will be along the lines of ‘POOR KID OVERCOMES ALL ODDS TO TOP THE EXAM; MAKES REGULAR KIDS LOOK BAD’. People of privilege – myself included – cannot even begin to imagine the tenacity it takes to be that person, and we have nothing but respect for such people, but it’s also the kind of thing that makes you feel like Deepak Tijori at the end of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. I mean does your 90 percent even count if you didn’t spend months studying under the streetlamp outside your employer’s sweatshop? My parents always tried to inspire me with examples like these and said things like “If you don’t work hard, that poor kid will grow up to be your boss.” Because if your ingrained class bias isn’t motivation enough to study, I don’t know what is.

I imagine it’s tougher for students to study now, what with a million distractions fighting for their attention. If I’d had a cellphone and broadband in school then, well, I would never have gotten out of school. I’d still be living off my parents, scrolling through six different social media feeds while they tried to get me to mark “Top three coal mines” on the Indian map. (Hint: When in doubt, mark things in the general vicinity of Bihar.)

In fact, teachers today should use the internet to teach boring subjects in a manner that students will understand. They should get rid of those dreary post-lunch history lectures and just send students links that say ‘A British Trading Company Came To India. You’ll Never Guess What Happened Next’. The flipside is that you’d get to see exam answers like, “so like Simon was this guy who came here and wuz all up in mah bizness and peeps were like Y U NO GO BACK and he was like no u lol.”

But on a serious note, good luck once again to everyone taking on the biggest challenge of their lives that will totally determine their self-worth for years to come. Here’s hoping you do well so you can move on to the next challenge, and the next one, and the one after that until you wonder why you were even worried about your boards in the first place. In any case, you always have the Windshield Wiping industry to fall back on.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 8th March 2015.)

Warning: Sex Education May Be Injurious To Ignorance

Indians have been waging a war on sex for ages, mostly by having lots of it. The latest gladiator to step into the arena is Union Health Minister, Dr. Alok Nath Harsh Vardhan, who wants sex education to be banned in schools, and yoga to be made compulsory. These two points appear together on his agenda, as if the latter would negate the former, which is ridiculous because yoga makes you flexible and toned and that just helps you score better. (Notable exception: Baba Ramdev.)

To be fair, this appears on Harsh Vardhan’s personal website so it’s not like the BJP has specifically advocated it as a party. I, for one, cannot imagine them ever promoting a populist agenda based on some antiquated notion of culture. But it’s also reasonable to think that Dr. Harsh Vardhan should know better, given the professional title attached to his name. He’s an ENT specialist, so now I’m wondering how he treats colds. Does he ban breathing? Or maybe he tells people that they can never, ever, ever, EVER know about the existence of ice cream because it could be bad for their throats.

Here’s the problem with that approach: people, especially youngsters, really like ice cream. They don’t care about the flavor – at that age, they just want to get down and dirty with a tub of the good stuff, and they’d take eight helpings a day if you let them. With chocolate sauce on top. And that’s not a metaphor.

For some reason, conservatives seem to believe that teaching kids about sex is the same as telling them go frolic as if they were extras on Game of Thrones. We’re talking about a species that is 30% acne and 70% crappy EDM, so clearly, they should stay far away from badonkadonkadonk. But they do need to know about the workings of the human body and mind, because should they choose to mess up their childhood with sexual dynamics that adults are barely able to deal with, they’ll at least know enough to not accidentally produce more Pitbull fans.

The first form of sex ed I ever got was from Shabana Azmi on a DD ad, telling us that “AIDS chhoone se nahin phailta”. That was when my generation learnt that you got AIDS when a woman dug her long red fingernails into your back. I also got a lot of sex ed from Ramsay movies, so even at age seven, I knew that if you took your clothes off and got a bump-and-grind massage under a bed sheet, you would get attacked by a vampire. It was a pretty apt metaphor for STDs, so let it never be said that the Ramsays weren’t subtle.

But I want this generation to have a more informed outlook than I did, while also remaining true to their Indian roots. That’s why I put together this little culturally-approved sexplainer, which defines various aspects related to sex, such as:

Safe Sex: Ctrl+Shift+N.

Unsafe Sex: A union that’s frowned upon by Haryanvi elders.

Appropriate sexual position: Anything that results in a male child.

Foreplay: Company offsite to Bangkok.

Sex with strangers: Bad. Wrong. Terrible. Anti-National. Unless the coitus is preceded by a ceremony where the stranger is coated in haldi, as if he were a bhindi, and someone has been paid to tell you that the stars and planets bless your caste-approved rishta because that’s just how significant you are to the universe, and of course, an obscenely bloated party that only reminds you that most of your “relatives” are just freeloading douchenuggets.

BDSM: Acts involving domination and gratification through humiliation. See arranged marriage above.

That should be enough to get youngsters started on the path to knowledge. For everything else, there’s always the Internet which, incidentally, also gets a fair share of ban threats. Maybe things would be better if people just loosened up and got themselves some ice cream.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 29th June 2014.)

Once Upon A Time, In A Galaxy Not So Far Away…

The universe is an infinitely vast entity, almost as big as Antilla. That hasn’t stopped humans throughout the ages from trying to understand its secrets, resulting in theories that range from the mythical (“The earth is a ball of snot inside the nose of a sleeping giant.”) to the scientific (“Atoms are the building blocks of snot.”).

It is this spirit of curiosity that is the star of my latest TV addiction, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. It is a follow up to Carl Sagan’s 1980 series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which brought science to massy television – something long considered impossible, given that the source material features exactly zero Kardashian booty.

The 2014 version aims to repeat that feat and make science cool again, which is why they got the internet’s favourite astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, to host it. Tyson is the Will Smith-meets-Morgan Freeman of science. He seems like the kind of guy who’d spend his day neck-deep in equations that look like Elvish to us muggles, and then take on a beer-chug challenge at a bar in the evening (and win, because he’d know the optimum angle at which to hold the mug so as to minimise Spillage Coefficient. Then he’d trash-talk the loser with something like “Your mother’s so large that black holes cannot escape her gravity.”)

Fun fact: Cosmos is executive-produced by Seth MacFarlane. Yes, the same Seth Mac Farlane responsible for a gag that consisted entirely of Family Guy characters vomiting on each other for two whole minutes. And yes, the same Seth MacFarlane who opened the 2013 Oscars with a song dedicated to Hollywood’s most famous breasts. So naturally, you’d expect the Big Bang to be shown as a giant Peter Griffin fart, and Pluto would be the Meg of our solar system.

Sadly, that isn’t the case. With eye-popping visual effects, animated stories and a tight script, Cosmos is what the meme generation describes as ‘science porn’, except that you feel no shame at the end of an episode. (I don’t understand this current fad of adding the word ‘porn’ to describe anything that looks drool-worthy. Seriously, stop tagging photos of things like cheesecake and calling it ‘food porn’. That just maligns the good name of porn. Also, don’t ever google ‘food porn’ with Safe Search off. You’ll never look at glazed donuts the same way again.)

I wish schools in India would take some time off from stuffing kids’ bags with lead bricks, and use shows like Cosmos as teaching aids. The country could do with some nurturing of scientific talent – we have enough social media evangelist ninja potato whatevers – as opposed to an overworked, blinkered teacher reducing the greatest minds and discoveries of our species to “Learn this equation. It will come for 15 marks in board exam.”

Cosmos works because along with facts, it brings you the stories of the ambitious, brilliant and flawed geniuses behind those facts. For example, for most Indian students, Isaac Newton was reduced to a set of three equations – a bunch of letters and symbols that they remembered but didn’t fully understand, like Ke$ha.

Now consider his story, which will count for nothing in a board exam, but is fascinating nonetheless. A premature baby, he would go on to battle bipolar disorder and silly English hairstyles, while also laying the foundation of the modern world by inventing calculus. The math of his time wasn’t advanced enough to support his work, so he just invented a whole new branch of math. Normal people would’ve given up and gone out to catch the plague or whatever it is that they did for fun back then. Oh, and he did this before his 26th birthday. (By that age, I’d learnt to not throw up after drinking, which is almost the same thing.)

The only problem with Cosmos is that it’ll make you want to smack people in the face. It’s because you’ll watch stories about how we came into being, of the forces and coincidences that led to this moment where you’re able to read this text because we figured how to control sub-atomic particles and make them carry data, of bloody wars and heroes whose exploits are a mere blip on the timeline of the universe, of suns a million times larger than ours, and as you’re appreciating the enormity of it all, some client will start acting like it’s the apocalypse, all because his logo looks 0.05% smaller than usual. See, that’s why we need to make science cool again – so that kids don’t grow up to be that guy.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 22nd June 2014.)