From Mademoiselle to Corporate Mademoiselle

The table next to me is dirty, smudged with white-board marker stains. The board itself could be replaced. The window panes in front of me are broken and the curtains are full of dust. I see a lizard creeping out from behind the junk dumped in one corner of the room…and I’m glad this is my last day in class.

Am I? Glad? Really?

I don’t know.

Taking a step back, I change my focus and my eyes now fall on the text book I had bought in 2007 because I always like to have my own copy of the book I’m using in class. I have used this one only twice. I see the CDs of music which are always in my bag, au cas où...my students writing oh-so-seriously today, every now and then looking up at me and mouthing out their favorite sentence “Ce n’est pas facile mademoiselle…


I will miss being called mademoiselle by all those students. I will miss admonishing them every time they call me Madame and seeing them laugh and correct themselves. I will miss interacting with them, breaking my head over the difference between Passé Composé and Imparfait, sharing with them anecdotes from previous classes and what I love (and don’t love) about French culture, telling them that it is important to read in French and to try and be more cohérent in their discourse. I will miss discussing their histrionics with my colleagues.

I am at the crossroads, but there is no hesitation in my heart. I know the path I will choose. I have already chosen it. From mademoiselle to corporate mademoiselle, it's been an interesting journey. I have learnt a lot, grown and truly come into my own under this roof. But it is time to move on. The change is huge, and I steel my heart as I take this step. I can’t help but remember the lines of my favorite poem at this moment :

The woods are lovely , dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep.

And miles to go before I sleep.

And so, with a tremor in my hands, I close the French book and lay it aside and pick up the book on visual design and usability.


iPads and e-reading devices in class? A distant dream or an approaching reality?

When I started teaching, simply getting the audio system in my class to work was technology enough for me. Looking back, I am amazed to see how much technology plays a vital role in teaching in the 21st century. It’s now become common place for me to download interesting articles and exercises from the Internet and use them for class the next day. From computer laboratories to laptops and smart phones in class to interactive boards, technology has now become an integral part of teaching. The next and most obvious move is towards e-reading devices, of which the most popular candidate seems to be the iPad. The question is, how feasible is using an iPad in class?

iPad in class : Pros and Cons

What’s the first thing people notice about the iPad? Its sleek design? Wrong. Its features? Wrong again! Its price! The iPad leaves a rather big hole in the pocket with its steep 400$ price tag. On the other hand more and more students are investing in laptops, of which a considerably large percentage of students want to buy a Mac. Given that scenario, an iPad would be a much more economical option for class, especially since most students already have a desktop at home. In the 6 odd months of its existence, nearly 1300 teaching applications have been developed and released, making it a rich and important classroom tool.

Apple’s untarnished reputation of being a relatively virus attack free system that resists phishing attacks makes it a safer option of file sharing crucial in a classroom situation. Its unique hardware-software combination is such that everything functions smoothly and the need for technical support rarely arises. The simplicity of ease is augmented by the tactical screen which jumps at the slightest command of your fingers tips. Imagine not having to remember all those scores of command codes!

Most classrooms haven’t been built to support computers, making it impossible to have desktops installed in every classroom. With changing teaching techniques more and more institutions and courses are making it obligatory to use laptops. Even if internet connectivity is assured using wi-fi technologies, another problem would still persist - that of a crazy jumble of wires snaking their way across class! The iPad has an extremely efficient battery that lasts for more than 10 hours, making it ideal for use in classroom situations where wi-fi internet is available.

To top it all, the iPad, weighing barely 0.7 kg with a breadth of barely 1.4 cm is not just a portable option but a much lighter and incredibly sleek option in comparison to the bags full of heavy notebooks and laptop that students lug around these days. Once universities and educational institutes integrate the ebooks into their system, the ease of access to research material and sharing files between professors and students will go up considerably. This in turn will lead to increased and more enriching exchanges of knowledge across various sections of academic circles.

All that remains to be developed to bring in a fresh wave of ideas and completely revolutionize teaching is the development of an application that enables uploading of documents on a platform from where they can be easily shared and discussed.


So much for women's independence...

A few months ago, at a dinner table in France, I was part of a discussion about an Indian woman who has climbed the professional ladder with amazing efficiency and is today almost at the pinnacle of success in her field. My fellow diners that day included this lady’s professor (and mine) who herself has made a name for herself in the same field, even though she does not quite the same kind of clout as her erstwhile student.

As the discussion grew and we forayed into the debate of women’s independence and their right to an independent and successful career even if they got married and had children, my professor remarked on how it is easier for Indian women to build a career. Defensive immediately I questioned the comment, saying that a majority of Indian women even today were oppressed and had to fight for even the basic right to education, so where was the question of it being easy for them to work? She pointed out that she was not referring to that class of women which was oppressed and didn’t enjoy the right to have any other profession than that of a homemaker. She was talking about women like her student (and me) whose families encouraged them to study and even if they had to fight to pursue their dreams to realisation, once they had the family behind them, there was little other hindrance. All we had to do was study or work towards our goal – the house, the family, children if any were taken care of by the family. It got me thinking – how many “career women” in India actually come home after a long day at work to do any housework (not taking into consideration the existence of a husband who ought to help and share the burden)? Even if there isn’t a mother or mother-in-law at home to ensure that house continues to run on well-oiled wheels, there is an entire army of domestic help starting from the maid who comes into to sweep and mop the house to the cook who will ensure there are three freshly cooked meals on the table and probably even a gardener and chauffeur if the woman can afford it. My professor, who is probably as financially well-off as this lady we were discussing could and even now can never even dream of this kind of a support system.

Back home, I can’t help but notice the pride in women who have a career and how they seem to think they are completely independent. But are we (note, I do not hold myself apart from the rest of them)? Can we really make it without the support system we are so accustomed to? I look at myself, who is still not completely financially independent and cannot even think of moving out of the house, and wonder how I’d manage if I had to live alone, without my mother there to pack my lunch box in the morning, ensure I had my multi-vitamins when I am not well. I wonder how we’d manage without the maids who come in daily to clean our house and I’m filled with a sense of shame almost, more so when I see one of our maids who is barely 19, pregnant with her first child and goes to three houses to sweep, mop, wash clothes and vessels….and I wonder, can I really call myself an independent woman of the 21st century?


The Modern Reader

I have been following the entire iPad brouhaha very closely, reading up on pre-launch reviews and now the first reviews that are rolling in from different quarters, curious and keen to see how and more precisely if this would change reading habits.

Looking back at the history of technology, every time a new technology was announced, people dismissed it saying nobody would ever use it. Take for instance, the reaction in the beginning of the 19th century of teachers vis-à-vis the introduction of paper in classrooms where slates were used previously.

Students today depend on paper too much. They don’t know how to write on a slate without getting chalk dust all over themselves. They can’t clean a slate properly. What will they do when they run out of paper?

Or the way teachers reacted to the use of calculators for mathematics:

We can’t let them use calculators in middle school. If we do, they’ll forget how to do long division or how to multiply three digit numbers by three digit numbers. What will they do when they don’t have access to a calculator?

With every new technology, there was resistance and as time went by the “new” technology was no longer new or avant-garde. Instead it moved on to become common and before its detractors knew it, it was a necessity. It happened with paper, it happened with calculators, it happened with the PC, Internet, Cellphones…will it happen with e-reading devices?

Can e-reading devices, be it Apple’s iPad, Amazon’s Kindle or any other similar device that will be launched in the coming year replace traditional reading material? Will books be passé by 2020? I can see them replacing laptops, especially in American Universities and B-schools where students are already accustomed to using digitalised course material. But will they penetrate the larger market? Will the generation Y be going to be bed with a e-reading device on which the latest novels and reviews have been downloaded instead of a honest-to-goodness book or magazine?

I am not so sure…

PS Follow the argument here

PPS Check out this hilarious review by Stephen Colbert review by Stephen Colbert


R.I.P Randhir Shrivastava

Sitting at the window sill, staring into the inky blackness outside and my ears straining to pick up the faint sounds of the movement on the road outside, my mind takes me back to 2006...my heart heavy with longing, sadness and frustration at my helplessness on certain fronts, I vow today to make you proud of me.

Going back to my favourite poem of all times to calm my troubled heart....

Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep

- Robert Frost


Happy Holi

I have never been particularly fond of Holi. Ever since I can remember, I have perceived Holi as a festival of muck (all that water mixing with the dust in the building compound) in which people got dirty (people running amok throwing water and colour on each other like semi-lunatics) reducing them to the status of an animal (think of elephants who cover their body with dust and them spray themselves with water or hippos who love immersing themselves in stagnant water). Not a very pleasant picture of the festival, as you can see! I fail to see the connection between the origin of the festival and what is done today in guise of Holi celebrations. More than that, I hated and still hate being forced to be a part of this madness, more so since I would invariably fall sick because of the colours and water.

This year, as I watched my nephew waiting impatiently for his sole friend to come and play with him, because he wanted to squirt him with coloured water using his new pichkari, I felt a twinge of sadness. Whether I liked the festival or not, the choice to play and run wild was open to me. I’m not sure how many children today have that choice, since so few residential societies today enjoy that sense of camaraderie where festival calls for get-together, potluck parties and much bonhomie.

Despite my aversion to the festival I have some rather fond memories of the festival. Memories of playing with cousins on our terrace and then sitting down to a scrumpcious lunch with puris, gujiyas, meetha chawal and kheer. Memories of planning my route back home from the library so as to avoid those mischievous boys who threw balloons and were so viciously perfect with their aim that they almost always got my back. Memories of mixing colour in a tub full of water and filling my pichkari with that water to chase my friend around the building compound. Memories of going down to play with my building friends – only to come back up 15 minutes later, crying because someone had thrown too much water on me, which was forgotten an hour later when I went back down to join the lunch organised for everyone and chatter with aunties, uncles and friends. Some good some bad. But enough to fill my plate and leave a smile on my face. I wonder if my nephew will have such memories to fill his heart with a burst of colour and make him hold on to the idea of the festival even though he has grown up and moved beyond the lunacy of its celebrations…


Quelle horreur!

In a recent discussion with a friend, I sat rolling my eyes as he pontificated about how integral computers have become in our lives and how most homes in America have several desktops and/or laptops. Always willing to enter an argument on that front, I launched into a tirade against all that is capitalist and consumerist proclaiming that it is eating away our world and leaving us with waste that we do not know where and how to dispose. I was told, rather cockily, that I might as well get used to this evil world, of which I am very much a part because technology has pervaded our lives so much that we can no longer exist without it. I begged to differ, holding strong to my stance that we can always set limits on our dependence to technology and that we don’t really need more than one PC in a house.

A few days ago, I am appalled to admit I was forced to eat my words. My personal computer had been giving me a lot of trouble recently and in the last couple of weeks it was an ardous task getting it to function smoothly without hanging several times during an hour. I cleaned, cajoled, caressed but to no avail. I finally had to let go and deliver it in the hands of “higher more knowing authority” as it were, the end result being that I have not had my beloved lappy for the last few days. The weekend was easy but once the week started and I felt the assignment deadlines looming, saw the reminders for pending replies, got frantic about my lack of activity of the online forums of which I am a member – and I found myself desperately missing my computer, even though I could use my brother’s PC when I needed. Feeling caged and helpless without my own PC, I could sense my stress increase and I had to stamp down the urge to run out and purchase a new machine at 7 in the morning. Waiting for a slightly more decent hour, I frantically dialed my friend’s number, railing at him to fix my computer as soon as possible, crossing my fingers behind my back, that he wouldn’t remember my tall claims, just a week ago, of how I can exist without my own PC!

Quelle horreur! I can sense my worst nightmare coming true – I am becoming a product of this evil consumerist world that is making us depend increasingly on machines for the simplest of tasks!

PS I hope the said friend doesn’t read this post! Teehee!