Thursday, 6 February 2014

We need to get dropped off at the highway circle, near the gas station, next to the third tea stall on the Mysore-Bangalore Road

(from Wednesday, January 29, 2014)

When we arrive at the rickshaw stand, a swarm of drivers huddle around us and inquire of our intent. Confidently, and rehearsed, Taylor announces, “We need to get dropped off at the highway circle, near the gas station, next to the third tea stall on the Mysore-Bangalore Road.” Exchanges in Hindi and/or Kannada are tossed around, and before we know it, Appu – the rickshaw OG – ushers us towards his vehicle. The usual bargaining follows as both parties throw random fares back and forth; Appus generous negotiations suggest one of three possibilities:
  1.       We have some serious haggling skills. 
  2.       Appu really likes us. 
  3.       Appu has no idea where the highway circle, near the gas station, next to the third tea stall on the Mysore-Bangalore Road is located.

We quickly confirm number three as the winner, when Appu maneuvers his auto to the “side” of the street and turns to us with an apprehensive smile. We ring up Mrs. Geetha, the principal at DPS Mysore, who is waiting for us at said unnamed gas station, and pass the phone to Appu. An “ah” and “eh” are uttered by Appu, a U-turn is made into oncoming traffic (Indian style), a reactionary swear word (or two . . . okay, more like three) by Tiffany, and within moments we have arrive at the unnamed gas station, next to the third tea stall, on the Mysore-Bangalore Road. Not bad, Appu.

Fortunately, Mrs. Geetha and her driver are still in good spirits, despite the fact that our tardiness has assured their late arrival to school. 

Our observations begin in a 7th standard geography class. The lecture-based class relies heavily on the use of a video module that compares the Amazon River Basin to India's holy Ganges. The majority of students’ desks are void of materials, which suggest the expectation is to listen and follow along. The teacher interjects at regular intervals to pose, mostly literal, questions that seem to require students to use information previously acquired, yet connected to the current topic of study. As noted in the DPS Bangalore North visit (see previous post), students stand to present what sounds like memorized textbook excerpts. At one point, the teacher calls on a student who does not have her hand up; the girl stands, eyes casted downward, and embarrassingly requests for the question again. Obliging her request, the teacher repeats and the girl proudly delivers the correct answer. Like her peers, the breadth of content is impressive, but we both note a lack of depth in the response given by the student and requested by the teacher.

Abruptly, midway through the lesson, the teacher halts her lecture to declare that it is time to interact with “the Mr. and Mrs. Taylor.” Seemingly un-phased by the sudden redirection of the task, students bolt to the back of the classroom with a tornado of questions:  

"What is your good name?"

“How are your accommodations?”

“How is the food?”

“Too spicy?”

“Did you eat lunch yet?”

“What pets do you keep?”

"Does New York City have traffic like Mysore?"

"I love American food. Do you like hot dogs, too?"

"You're sweating.  Are you hot right now?"

"Can I give you a hug?"

"Do you dye your hair?"

"Are you old enough to be a teacher?"

"Do your students love school?"


Second classroom observation of the day: 8th standard history. Arriving a few minutes late, we attempt to quietly make our way into the room unnoticed, but the teacher, once again, pauses the lesson. This time, however, it is to inquire about content, specifically if we would like her to lecture on the Indian Nationalist Movement (INM) to help our research. Taylor attempts to convince her that this is not necessary and that she should continue with her plan. Clearly unconvinced by his words, she launches into a well-rehearsed oration on the INM. Okay, girl!  Get in there.

Below are observations from Taylor’s notebook:

The content is Hindu-centered and predominately pays homage to the actions of Mahatma Gandhi. When Gandhi is not center stage, the spotlight shifts to Nehru.

The role of women is touched on for almost a minute, but the narrative is void of names and any real specifics.

The Muslim airtime is isolated to a brief aside regarding the partitioning of Pakistan and India.  Muslims are only mentioned in tandem to periods of chaos.

While the lesson gives an earnest attempt to be objective, the Muslim League appears to be the "culprit" for the split as well as the proceeding violence the country is still healing from.  

As the class comes to a close, the teacher opens the floor for “interactions with the guests” (yes, this happens again!). Before a blast of questions ensues, Taylor takes the opportunity to recruit students for a small group interview. The energy of the class plummets and students shyly turn away from us in their seats. Quickly interjecting, Tiffany clarifies that the interview is not a test and no marks would be assigned; we simply want to chat. Students swirl back to face us with hands waving (literally) in the air. Although we select four young women, we somehow end up with nine by the time we make our way from the classroom to the school library.

The interviews revolve around a series of questions we have revised from other studies as well as those we have crafted ourselves. Our primary aim is to gather student perspectives about the instruction they receive in regards to the Indian Nationalist Movement.

We start by asking general questions about the time they spend in social studies class. This is followed with a unanimous roar of "history is boring” and “it has no purpose in our daily lives.” Yet there is an endearing tone amongst the girls when we ask about their teacher: "Oh, we love ma'am."

Our queries become more focused as everyone warms up, and their forceful sense of national pride emerges when we ask about their country: "Oh yes sir! I am very proud to be Indian." 

However, we're still trying to piece together our own interpretations circling the last set of questions on identity.  Each of the nine young women identify first and foremost as Indian. When we ask how else they think of themselves, six of the nine young women classify as Hindu, two as Jain, and one as Muslim. The intermediate giggling that has persisted throughout the previous part of the interview seizes at this point and a semi-awkward silence lingers (think about those awkward pauses when a waiter drops a plate in a restaurant).

Recognizing this shift in mood, Taylor, attempting to unearth the feelings behind this, immediately launches into an off-the-cuff “word association game.” He begins by asking, "When you hear the word Hindu, what comes to mind?" Responses range from “pride” to “India” and, as mentioned by the young Muslim girl, “powerful.”

[Awkward silence persists.]

We follow up with the question, "When you hear the word Islam, what comes to mind?"  An immediate moan and one of the six Hindu-identifying girls says, "They're trouble makers and cause pain to India."  The Muslim girl, turning a deep crimson color, quickly retorts with "that's only because we hurt them first." 

[Insert that awkward silence again.]

At this point, our conclusions are far from complete, as this is just the beginning of many data points. However, it is ironic that a curriculum that promotes the tag line of "diversity is unity" as a key lever of the Indian Nationalist Movement would produce a series of responses as we noted above. 

Just as we thank our nine interviewees, a wee lad from the elementary school rushes into the library. Gasping for breath, after his gallop through the hallways, he kindly informs us that Ms. Geetha requests our presence. Because of the frantic look on this little dude’s face, we urgently pack up and follow him to the school's amphitheater where the entire community of students and teachers are awaiting our arrival. What follows can only be described as a school assembly on steroids: dance routines, flag waving, awards ceremony for the recent track race, and speeches that range from the upcoming weather report to the legacy of Gandhi.  As the festivities come to a close we look at each other, smiling with relief that Taylor would not have to make another surprise speech, when Principal Geetha takes the mic and informs the students that "our distinguish guest, Mr. Taylor, will come leave you with some words of inspiration!"

Yep. That happened. Again.

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