Thursday, April 14, 2011

Types Of Students

10th April is being called ‘Judgement Day’ for IIT aspirants. Given the number of aspirants, this dramatic nickname seems almost un-dramatic. On that day, dreams will be shattered and only a few will emerge victorious. It’s the same with all the AIIMS aspirants. With fewer seats than in IIT, AIIMS is almost unavailable for perhaps 99% students. For every student, the month gone by and the next are crucial, not just for their careers but also for their life- they will, for the first time, know what it’s like to be in an intense competition with real stakes.
In such a scenario, anybody would ask- What exactly does it take for one to make it?
Unfortunately, I still don’t have the answer. But over the years, I have noticed that there are certain types of students. They have their own unique way of doing things, of preparing for tests and thinking of tests. Here is a list of five types of students:
Type 1: The Perfect Kids
If you’re in high school and belong to the second tier of acabemically brilliant students, you will probably spend your teenage years wanting to kill the perfect kids in their sleep. They are perfect as far as academics is concerned. Wen students come from 10th to 11th and the difficult course makes them forget their grades from their Board Exam, these kids, in some curious way, perform the same way in exams as they did in 10th. They never score less than 90% when the others are horrified by how hard academics has gotten. But still, they somehow never seem joyless. They are not necessarily bookworms with big glasses but they still perform like one.
Type 2: The Disciplinarians
If you don’t belong to Type 1, your route to academic success has to be through discipline. You must wake up at five, set time tables and stick to them, decide a precise number of hours for entertainment and perhaps focus less on friends. Sometimes, I think Type I and the disciplinarians are one and the same, except that the perfect kids do a good job at hiding their bookish nature. Unfortunately, the disciplinarians don't always come out right on top, and so, people think they are losers for having worked so hard.

Type 3: The Scientists
This is a rare breed of Science students who weren’t known for their marks until they came to eleventh. That’s because they are scientists by nature and couldn’t do well with the complusion of subjects like English and Social Science till tenth. There are people who still believe that Maths and Science are the real subjects that matter and that anyone can handle the rest, but the truth is that Arts subjects are hard too and some people are really bad at them. But as soon as these kids are done with their tenth Boards, they go from average students to fantastic students.
Type 4: The Artistic Souls
These are even rarer. The biggest mistake they can make is to take Science after tenth Boards because Science truly is not their natural inclination. They are mostly intelligent and so manage to stay in the list of top students, but they never come to the top because they, after all, are not cut-out for Maths and Science.

Type 5: The Happy-Go-Lucky
Their books come out of their bags only before exams. Their phlosophy in life is simple- All they have to do is be happy. They live in the moment. Entrances tests don’t cross their minds till they are staring them at the face. They are easy to spot. Just look out for the school pranksters and when you see their report cards, you’ll see that I’m right.

The irony is that most children grow up to be equally happy. The Perfect Kids get into prestigous institutions and lead the lfe we all dreamt of. The disciplinarians make amazing employees and could quite easily overtake the perfect kids.  The country is in need of the true scientists. The artists have a long road ahead of them if they decide to become what they were perhaps originally intended to be, but if they don’t make it, they’ll always be happy they had a back-up plan. The happy-go-lucky students may not get into the best colleges, but who in the world can prove that their life in total doesn’t turn out to be just as fine as the others. So now, it’s time to embrace who you or your child is and just take one exam after the other in a relaxed manner. Chances are, you’re going to end up being happy no matter how you fare.

Friday, April 8, 2011

For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn

Yesterday, while shopping for shoes, I was reminded of a story my teacher once told me. It was about an illegal immigrant from Bangladesh who was a domestic help’s daughter. At thirteen, she rode a train for the first time, something I had done at two. She didn’t know what an airplane looked like up close or on the inside. She earned for a pair of shoes. She had never owned a pair, but looking at the feet of all the people who walked through the streets of the big city made her want one. Finally, some generous person her mother worked for gave her a pair.  When she got her first train ride to Kolkata, right after she took her place and the train and the train whistled off, she took off her shoes and sat on them. She wouldn’t wear them for they might get dirty and she wouldn’t keep them on the floor since she thought her Rs. 50 chappals would get stolen. Somehow, I was reminded of Ernest Hemmingways’s infamous six-word short story: ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn’.

Destiny crosses the paths of people from different walks of life. Every morning, I see two kinds of children walking by my house. The first kind have well polished shoes with nice, tight socks underneath. The second kind are barefoot. In big cities, both co-exist as if they are symbionts. The difference between the two stares at us in the face, but we don’t seem to notice it. Somehow, we are used to the sight and see nothing wrong with it. We ourselves may not be able to imagine not having a room to ourselves, but we overlook the families that live under bridges, for whom basic things like shoes are a distant dream.

In Lost Springs, writer Anees Jung has highlighted the plight of ragpickers in her neighbourhood. She writes, ‘Wherever they find homes, they pitch their tents that become their transit homes. Children grow up in them, becoming partners in survival’. The children in question think life and struggle are synonymous. It’s a belief they have grown up with, but that doesn’t mean whatever dreams they have don’t go from being a cracked mirror to shattered glass. As children, they at least own their life. But soon, poverty snatches away their only true possession- their freedon. Their fate, quite unfortunately is sealed- they will live the life their parents lived. They don’t have the education to break out of their insufferable situation and although they do dare to dream, when given an option between survival and dreams, the former is the obvious choice. After all, it’s almost impossible to keep fighting for a simple thing like a better life when you have so much going against you. In short, they’re helpless.

Thinking about helplessness made me think of another set of helpless people. It’s the people who despite having a comfortable life dream of a better life for others. It is true that such people are rare, but exist they do. Just like ragpickers and beggers, they don’t have a strong organization to help them reach their goals. There are non-governmental organizations and charity groups, but up until now, neither have been able to come up with a permanent, innovative solution for the pathetic lives millions of children have to face these days. These people, despite having the desire, don’t know what to do to make the world a better place.

Blaming the government is something they have to resort to. Honestly, people who don’t care about children living in abject poverty are quite fine with blaming the government for everything too, but that’s abother matter. In many ways, they are right. India doesn’t have a childcare system half as good as developed countries. In fact, someone from a developed country like the scandinavian nations may think India doesn’t have a childcare system at all. But we also know the ones who graduate at the top of their class in college take a flight to the US or take a job that assures them of a luxurious apartment. Who wants to be stuck in the politics business?

So this is how the blame game and the accusations and the escapism continue to go in round circles while children who are still too young to understand the vicious cycle continue to beg on streets, barely clothes and barefoot.

Right now, the simplest thing to do would be to develop a good childcare plan. It’s no secret that laws passed for benefit of children are not implemented because some families are so poor they can’t help but force their children to work. Children with poor financial backgrounds should be taken under the wing of the state. Living facilities similar to hostels can be provided for them where their parents can come to see them whenever they want. Of course, this one suggestion is a big deal to implement since it needs to be assured that the children are always treated well and get exactly what they were promised- safe and healthy living quarters and an education to go with it.  Understandably, this will require a lot of money, but children are the future of the nation, so what could be more important than to ensure a future for them.

For people who really want to help, here is my advice- DON’T BE AFRAID. Yes, simple as it seems, it’s the first thing we all need to do. Even after we graduate from high school we somehow can never really get ourselves out of the place where the socially conscious, bright kids were the boring losers and the ones who got all the attention were not, well, deep. If you can’t speak out about what you would like to do, you will never find other people like you. If you don’t think you can bring up such serious topics confidently in conversations, write about it. Put Facebook to some good use and spread the noble message. Start a blog, if you wish. But no matter what you do, remember that you’re not alone. Who knows? Perhaps the next person you see looking forlornly out of the glass windows of a fancy shoe store is someone who shares your interests.