Tag Archives: Humanity

Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini

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Khaled Hosseini is a name that reckons stories with a delicate yet intense voice that speaks volumes on the impact of war, riots and displacement, especially in the Islamic countries. All those who have read his books must have had shed tears in silence as you flipped pages and poured over the lives of Hassan and Mariam. His writing has pulled our hearts to see Hassan’s emancipation and have been company in Mariam’s journey.

But let me warn all Khaled Hosseini fans that you might be disappointed if you come looking for a full fledged novel. Hossieni was impelled to write Sea Prayer when the image of a 3-year old Syrian child, Alan Kurdi, washed ashore in Turkey in 2015, splashed across the media. He didn’t make it. The image is vividly set even in my mind since I had many sleepless nights after I saw the image in the newspaper. When I held my own little one in my arms, rocking her to sleep, I was in tears as Alan’s image kept coming back to me. A life, just a bud, lost due to the monstrosity that humans inflicted on each other. This book is a tribute or rather a vent out for the anguish and ache Hosseini experienced. In this poignant account, he  tries to highlight the predicament of parents under such cataclysmic environs. The book, is a reflection of life like Kurdi’s, that has been fractured and forced to flee from home by war and persecution.

Sea Prayer is a letter, from a father to his son, on the eve of their journey that shall take them away from their homeland. Watching over his sleeping son, the father recollects how their land Homs, used to be before the wars and siege. It is also a vivid portrait of their life in Syria, before the war, and of the swift transformation of a home into a deadly war zone.

Khaled Hosseini transports you to war-torn Syria and manages to rip your heart as he depicts how much the country has changed. It is told from a father’s point of view, telling his son how beautiful their country used to be. The father with a heavy heart says that his son would not remember his beautiful land and will only remember about hiding, praying and looking for shelter. Under the dark ominous clouds of the night, the father casts a nostalgic eye on the glorious days gone by at Homs. Through his words he seems to evoke hope in his young son’s heart, and perhaps within himself, despite their given circumstances. The father is uncertain of whether they will make it across or not. Hence the name Sea prayer, he prays the sea will not hurt his son.

This has been a difficult book to review simply because it gives rise to a whole gamut of emotions. The intensity of the letter grows manifold when read alongside the marvelous illustrations by Dan Williams. The water-colors capture the spirit of the story .They start with beautiful, rich vibrant colours that detail a breathtaking landscape, the souk and the land in all its beauty. As the book progresses they become more grey, dark, morbid and ominous. There is a stark contrast in the hues which once was a riot of colours is reduced to monochrome, justly so to highlight that the lives of the refugees too has lost its buoyancy.  This book is a perfect partnership between author and illustrator.

Do not expect the magic of his novels here, and yet you will have the strings of your heart being tugged and your soul scorched by the harshness of their reality.

Certain lines that really touched me:

” These are the things you know. You know a bomb crater ca be made into a swimming hole. You have learned dark blood is better news than bright. You have learned that mothers and sisters and classmates can be found in narrow gaps between concrete, bricks, and exposed beams, little patches of sunlit skin shining in the dark.”  

” I look at your profile in the glow of this three-quarter moon, my boy,your eyelashes like calligraphy, closed in guileless sleep. I said to you, ‘Hold my hand. Nothing bad will happen’.”


” These are only words. A father’s tricks. It slays your father, your faith in him. Because all I can think tonight is how deep the sea, and how vast, how indifferent. How powerless I am to protect you from it…….

Because you, you are the most precious cargo, Marwan, the most precious there ever was. I pray the sea knows this. Inshallah. How I pray the sea knows this.” 

 

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International Dot Day: 15th September

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As much as I had wanted to celebrate International Dot Day in my school I couldn’t since everyone is knees deep in studies. With exam just round the corner there was no way I could celebrate this fun day. But as a parent of a young child I feel that this day holds lot of scope and learning opportunities. 

For the uninitiated, the International Dot Day, is a global celebration of creativity, courage and collaboration. It began when teacher Terry Shay introduced his classroom to Peter H. Reynolds’ book The Dot on September 15, 2009.

The Dot is the story of a caring teacher who challenges a hesitant and reluctant student , Vashti to trust in her own abilities by being brave enough to “make her mark”. The teacher encourages her to begin with a small dot on a piece of paper. But the dot becomes the catalyst in developing confidence and courage in the child. It ignites a journey of self-discovery and sharing, which has gone on to inspire countless children and adults around the globe.

The book may seem a flimsy 32 page , but it contains within its pages a story that  has transformed teaching and learning around the world as people of all ages re-discover the power and potential of creativity in all they do. The story leaves an impression on people of all ages. You don’t need to be a child to appreciate and be motivated by the simple story. When Vashti goes from being a gloomy and an irate child, with no confidence, to someone who has the maturity and ability to help someone else to believe in themselves. She helps others to gain confidence and search within themselves for strength.

On reading the book you question why are the other children not written about in the book. The story doesn’t speak about the other children in Vashti’s art class since it is about her personal journey. The story accentuates the fact that she is not comparing herself to others but challenging herself to do better. It is a typical human trait to constantly compare ourselves to others. We happen to judge our progress by comparing ourselves with others, rather than creating our own yardsticks. This often gets in the way of our own personal progression. When we begin to focus on our own individual milestones it becomes much easier to get on with moving forward, rather than wasting energy on worrying about what everyone else is doing. When we do not pay attention towards what others are achieving or planning, we can focus and concentrate our energy on enhancing and honing in our own innate talents.

What this book teaches is not just restricted to individual experience. We have all faced a roadblock, where we felt stuck and unable to move forward.  We have all come face to face with the fear of expressing ourselves. This fear arises out the trepidation of what people would think, and the fear of ridiculed or being jibed. This fear has led to shut down a long-held dream, wilting of long passions and the chance to truly succeed.

As a teacher- librarian what drew my attention was the role of the Art teacher. She didn’t make Vashti feel small for not being able to draw. But what she did is what we lack in the teachers nowadays. I know my comment here will not be welcomed but that’s how it is. Each child/ person has talents which are hidden and are needed to be discovered, which often than not has to be a teacher. But most fail to do so. Teachers expect children to have a set of skills and the one not having the is labelled a loser. But that is far from the truth. More often than not, it is this black sheep that surges ahead of the crowd and shines.

We need to celebrate differences and accept that each person is unique, and fit together as pieces in a big jigsaw puzzle. Each person has creativity and originality, but the acceptance for the same needs to be in place for a person to showcase it. So whenever in doubt about yourself and your potential, never let it come in way of your self-expression. Just like Vashti, make a small dot, start small, and then you will see can make a mark.

International Literacy Day: 8th September

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                       Courtesy: karadionline.blogspot.com

Communication skills are the most important skills for the development of a society. It is needed to converse and engage with a fellow human being and to facilitate understanding. Nearly every individual learns to communicate verbally by observing their family and surrounding. But it is rather unfortunate that  not many get a chance for formal education. Thus with the call for eradicating illiteracy and bringing people together to help impart education the idea of celebrating an International Literacy Day was first discussed on September 8 to 19, 1965, during the World Conference of Ministers of Education in Tehran, Iran. On October 26, 1966, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) gathered for the 14th general conference and proclaimed that September 8 will be celebrated as International Literacy Day.

This year, the 52nd International Literacy Day was celebrated on the theme ‘Literacy and skills development’. For ILD 2018, “skills” means knowledge, skills and competencies required for employment, careers and livelihoods, particularly technical and vocational skills, along with transferable and digital skills.

The main aim of the International Literacy Day is to draw attention towards and highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies. Literacy and level of education are basic indicators of the level of development achieved by a society.

In India, the literacy rate may have gone up over the decades, but the gap between literacy in urban and rural areas is still wide. There is also a gap between the male  and female literacy rate across India. The overall literacy rate works out to be 64.8 %, the male literacy rate is 75.3% and that for females is 53.7%, showing a gap of 21.6 percentage points between the sexes at the national level.

One of the main factors contributing to this relatively low literacy rate is the usefulness of education and availability of schools in the vicinity in rural areas. According to a survey, there is a shortage of classrooms to accommodate all the students. The rural areas suffer with respect to providing a space where a school can function properly. Children are more often just seeing as helping in bringing more money to the otherwise burgeoning family. Thus education does not come across as a necessity or even of use in improving their quality of life. For them hours in school are loss of time that could earn them more. Thus they need to be first educated about the usefulness of education and how an educated child can raise the standard of the family.

Another deterrent towards complete literacy is lack of access to quality education.The Gross Enrolment Ratio is a yardstick used in the education sector to determine the number of students enrolled in schools at different levels. It is the ratio of the number of students who live in that country to those who qualify for a particular grade. The GER numbers for primary, upper primary and elementary levels of education is significant as it is close to 90%. But, there is one catch in this, studies show that many children, especially in the rural areas, of class 8 cannot read a class 2-level text. This clearly shows the gap to access to quality education. A lot is written on paper and a whole lot of policies and plans are made for opening of new schools. Crores are spent on the project but the question here is does it actually get translated into ‘well-educated and literate society’? We have many institutions at school and college levels. But often, these institutions don’t deliver what they are supposed to. It has been observed that the GER consistently drops with the increase in grades, dropping to a low 24.3%. This means that only 24.3% of the total number of students eligible to study in colleges are actually attending college. Now one may ask why is it so? There are many answers as well as questions to it.

Is the curriculum followed by the schools not practicable, or is it not followed effectively. Does the government have any checks in place to monitor the quality and standards of the teachers? Are there regular checks and inspection in the government run schools to ensure that the funds allocated are properly utilized? Are teachers inspected for their education and verified? Is the curriculum preparing the students for life outside or is it just imparting facts? Is vocational training and skill enhancement a part of regular curriculum?

From my point of view, all these questions together form the larger problem. A regular check of what students are taught in schools does not happen in many cases. The syllabus is not updated regularly to keep up with the new advances. The books only impart information which many a times is hardly relevant to developing skills. There are many instances reported where the teachers are not qualified enough to teach students, and yet continue to be part of the teaching fraternity. The problem of teacher absenteeism has also beleaguered the Indian education system for long. Studies suggest that improving school infrastructure, allocating sufficient funds, increasing the frequency of inspections, providing daily incentives to work and conducting frequent parent-teacher association meetings are the best ways to get teachers to attend schools regularly. There should be regular training programs for teachers to keep them updated about latest research and findings in the field of education. So, rather than focus just on improving literacy rate, which is, of course, important, the real focus should be on providing quality education. And education should mean downloading facts and information into young minds. But to create a generation that can read and write and is also adept at handling life situations competently by imparting skills and knowledge for the same.

After all, access to quality education, is the birthright of every child.

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Witness the night: Kishwar Desai

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Witness-the-night

Female Infanticide is problem that troubles India since many years. It has deepened roots to such an extent that even education and literacy cannot mar the effects of this crime. Though secluded to some states now, it still poses a serious threat resulting in an imbalanced male-female sex ratio. Girls are killed right in the womb without a second thought. And the hands that perform this dreadful act is not necessarily male, females who themselves have wombs are party to this crime in the name of taking forwarding the lineage. I was drawn to this book because of the cover, which shows a girl half cowering with deep eyes that see to bore through you. So I immediately read the blurb as to see what it holds for me. I was captivated from the start: Durga. A fourteen-year-old girl, found all alone in a sprawling house in Punjab. Silent, terrified, and the sole suspect in the mass murder of thirteen members of her family.  Though hard to digest I was hooked to the story line to know what can drive someone to commit such a horrifying act.

Set in small town Jullundur (Jalandhar) in Punjab, the story is about a 14 year old girl Durga caught in a nightmare, accused of having murdered thirteen family members, and a 45-year-old social worker Simran who is working hard to find out the truth. The story opens with the diary entry of the girl that feels unvarnished, though a confused confession to a crime in which she was involved. The details of the crime are unclear and distorted, but it appears that the girl might have staged her own rape in order to make it look like “someone had tried to hurt me”.

Simran, a fiercely independent and outspoken social worker is given the task to speak with Durga and find out the truth from her. In course of time, Simran realizes that the incident is not as straight forward as it seems. Durga looks like a scared child but she keeps silent  about the incident and seems unemotional about the whole incident. It is up-to Simran to find out the truth on her own. As she tries to uncover the truth, she finds that the relationship of Durga with her family has sinister undertones to it. There are many skeletons in the closet which would be hard to unearth.

The narrative shifts between Durga’s diary entry and Simran. Durga, is sent to a remand home, as she is charged with the murder of 13 members of her family in one night. All of the victims had been poisoned, some had been stabbed and others burnt. Hard as it seems to comprehend how such a task can be done by a teenager, when the coils unwind you do understand the working of a tortured, unwanted and neglected girl child. Despite the lack of fingerprints and no evidence to suggest an outsider was involved, Simran is convinced there is more to the story than meets the eye. She wonders if a man was involved or whether Durga acted in self-defence. She feels that the only reason the case has attracted a blaze of publicity is because of the large inheritance involved. There are many instances of her having to pilot around the police to reach the actual conclusion. Its in many ways depiction of the law and order system that goes silent when blinded by money.

What follows is Simran’s painstaking investigation in which she immerses herself in the corrupted and vile Indian legal and judicial system in an attempt to unearth the truth. What she finds out along the way is often eye-opening. But it’s not until she is forced to confront an entire clan intent on eliminating unwanted females, often before they are born, that she begins to understand Durga’s dilemma.

The book is written from 2 viewpoints, Durga’s and Simran’s. While Durga’s writing is serious and dark , Simran’s is sarcastic and funny at times. Durga’s writing is reflective of the conservative, cloistered and shackled life she has led for 14 years. While Simran’s life shows the contrast in city life where even though a woman she leads life on her own terms and is fearless about it. By juxtaposing these two females, Desai shows the contrast in the existence of the two.

Though an easy read there were many issues I faced while reading. Firstly, I could not fathom the idea of a 14 year old girl murdering her family to avenge her unborn sisters and herself. Such a thought seems unrealistic no matter how many justifications are presented. Secondly the novel is riddled with continual exposition. Almost every chapter has something important to say about the plight of women, the trauma of having achild killed, ways foeticide is done, and so on. The author’s attempts to mould them into the plot is unsuccessful. They seem more like preachy monologues by the narrator than part of the narration. I do truly care about female infanticide, but would have preferred to discover the issues and decided what to think about them for myself rather than have them shoved down my throat, choking me, gasping for breath. I had almost put the book down if the desire to know the reason for the murder had not driven me on.

The opening chapter was shocking and held the promise of an intense mystery and drama, but the intensity evaporates by the climax. Motivations often seemed weak, and there were very few moments that pulled me out of my seat. The book marvels in parts where Desai describes how the girls where killed in earthen pots filled with milk(a cleanser in Hindu rites) or drugged to death, or worse buried alive in the fields behind the house. The incident with servant girls being bought as objects of pleasure to keep the boys tied to the house and not stray out. These give a depth to an otherwise rushed and hurried writing. The ending seems highly unacceptable after all that happens in the book. It seems that Desai after burning herself out of ideas haphazardly gave the ending . The book could have achieved greater heights if the writing and treatment to the sensitive topic was better handled.

Sharing some powerful quotes:

“Most of them I knew were just waiting for a chance to avenge themselves on the world that had robbed them of the one thingy they would never enjoy again, their childhood.”

“The midwives used to take away newborn girls from their mothers, seal them in earthen pots and roll the pot around till the baby stopped crying. Or they would simply suffocate them. Or give them opium and then bury them. For a largely farming community, girls were a burden. A woman confessed to having had seven abortions in the hope of a boy.”

“Tired of the sound of the baby crying, she took some poisonous juice from the oleander flower, mixed it with castor oil, and forced it down the child’s throat. Eventually the crying stopped. The crying had bothered her more than the act of killing.”

” Carefully, Sharda took out a paper envelope from which she drew out a tiny white skeletal hand…This hand was buried in the vegetable plot….Cradling that hand still in my hand, like a precious flower, I gazed out at the innocent-looking field behind our house which…., I  imagined the claws tearing away the flesh from tiny bodies which never had a chance to cry out or draw their first breath……

 

 

Dog Boy: Eva Hornung

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This was unlike any book I have ever read. After my first reading I was left aghast, as to how a child could be left to fend on his own. It took me a while to re read this one since the imagery had left such an impact, that the moment I held the book in my hands I had such an eerie feeling of deja vu that I had to push myself to re read. It is thought provoking, fascinating, gripping, sad, heart wrenching and at times so graphic that it feels your guts are being pulled out.

Imagine that you are a 4-year-old boy, abandoned in Moscow in the bitter winter cold?  What would you do? How would you fend for yourself in the biting winter? Would you wander off and join a pack of feral dogs and, over time, assimilate to the point of becoming one of them? Ludicrous? But these are the premises of Dog Boy”. Hornung’s work is inspired by the true account of a Russian boy named Ivan Mishukov, who lived with a pack of dogs for a period of two years before being discovered at age of 6. Ivan had run away from a home where adults had ill treated and abused him. In choosing to write about such a child, her dog-boy, Romochka, is not Ivan Mishukov, though he seems to share many characteristics with him. Eva Hornung opens up a Pandora’s box, full of questions about our humanity, our dealings with other creatures, our sense of family, and our sense of what is normal.

The plot: Romochka is four years old when his mother and uncle never return home (reason not known) to their small apartment building in an outer suburb of Moscow, leaving the little boy to fend for himself. While his mother had always told him not to leave the apartment or the building, when his food supply runs out, Romochka ventures out to explore.  All he has with him are some clothes and his blanket.

Outside, he ventures farther from his building than he’s ever been before, and starts to follow a beautiful stray dog down the alleys. The dog, a female clan leader, takes the small boy to her den . There he lives in the nest with her four puppies, and begins his life as a dog. There are seven dogs when he first arrives: the mother and leader, Mamochka (a Russian nickname meaning tender or sweet Mother); her two older offspring, Black Dog and Golden Bitch; and the four puppies: White Sister, Black Sister, Grey Brother and Brown Brother. Romochka becomes a member of their clan, sleeping and eating with them, hunting for food . He thinks more like a dog than a human, but since he was four when he came to them, he retains a mixture of confusing and complicated desires and human instincts. As the years go by, Romochka loses “normal human behaviour” and becomes wild. For an eight-year-old, he is feared, infamous in the poverty-stricken area that the clan considers its territory. Set in communist Russia there is  the militzia who are a constant threat, as are the gangs of kids who hang out in abandoned buildings before returning to their real homes and families. Romochka develops a bit of a reputation among both groups. There are increasingly military sweeps in an effort to round up homeless children to be locked into state run ‘homes’. The condition of these homes is hardly better than the life they are supposedly saved from. The fate of the thousands of dogs is at risk, if they are fortunate they’ll be spared, but most are mercilessly shot as menaces to humans. The possibility of discovering a real, genuine “dog boy” is tantalising to the psychiatrists who work with orphans. These people see such examples as research projects without understanding the impact and outcome of their intrusion. Thus, Romochka is hunted down like a prey by humans, even as the dogs try hard to protect him. The clan loses members but such is the loyalty and bonding that the sacrifice is hardly any task for them. The struggles of an eight year old, as he is pulled between his twin identities as a dog and as a boy is emotional and traumatic.

I had a very hard time getting through some parts of the book, as the writer doesn’t hold anything back. She goes into explicit and gory detail of their survival techniques; the constant licking of pus and blood from their wounds, the hunting and what they were eating.  Like for eg: the boy eats raw rats, pees on frozen food in order to eat it, plays with the bones from carcasses, and the most graphic and bone chilling is when he puts his hands into a bird carcass and pulls out the heart to eat it.

” Dog Boy” , gives rise to myriad of emotions and also kicks up a storm of questions in one’s mind. The story is like no other story that is told from the perspective of animals, or near enough. It is certainly no Charlotte’s Web or any other children’s book told from the point of view of an animal which leaves a soft fuzzy feeling inside. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that this is no children’s book at all. It is dense, descriptive, questioning, wondering and brutally honest. Beneath it all lies layers of philosophical thoughts and questions-the riddle of human nature, and a jab at what separates us from other animals, or at what we think separates us. I cannot do justice to the book while writing the review because there is so much to talk and question.

The book is a perfect platform to debate humanity and if humans really rise above the animals. A peek into Romochka’s life with the dogs reveals how they look after each other despite danger to own life. Quite unlike the humans who leave a small child alone in a big city, at such a tender age. It forces you to think, ponder, question, analyse, reflect and revisit the human aspect of life , and see for yourself are we human enough !!