Thursday, October 28, 2010

PSBB Teachers 29 - Ravishankar Sir

[Start of Series]

(Part 28 here)

Maths - '98-'99

If ever there was a teacher in PSBB who classically epitomized the "Murthi Sirisu, Keerthi Perusu" adage, it has to be Ravishankar sir. I dont know how PSBB managed to get hold of this dynamo, but he was quite possibly one of the best "catches" PSBB ever made, when it comes to getting quality teachers (sadly though, they couldnt hold on to him since he, like Chhaya Mam, is with the American School now). We were fortunate to be the first batch to have a taste of him and initially, there were very few who liked/adored him. A majority of my classmates were highly irritated with him, some even hated him, but nobody could ignore him. That's quite something, especially considering how puny he was. If not for his beard, he could easily pass off as a school-kid. And when it came to the subject, few dared to even think he wasnt awesome. How could anyone, when this M Sc (Physics) bloke taught us 9th graders Mathematics, and that too with such aplomb! I, for one, didnt know for a long time that his major was Physics. He was a student of Prof Ananthan of the Physics Society, to whom he remains devoted to this day.

Some of our most memorable high-school days were, during his classes, for a multitude of reasons. He used to hate it when folks tapped their pens (among the many student-mannerisms he hated :D) on their desks and numerous pens have thus been broken. Sushil, Joel, Naveen and Sanjeev were prominent....umm...."entertainers" during his class. "Stop thattt sttopp thattt" - his already powerful voice used to boom, thanks chiefly to these guys.
Out of the many remarkable things he helped us with, one will definitely be, I think, exposing us to lateral thinking and brain teasers. One such unforgettable incident was when he asked us, during one of the first few days of Class IX, what the angle between the minute and hour hand at 3:15 was. I knew it obviously wasn't zero, but it didn't strike me (as it didnt most of the others) that we could actually derive the answer. Someone first answered zero, then another person said 1° when I joined the chorus. Then someone else said 0.5° to which I then shifted my loyalties. Finally, a new student, Nikhil Neelakantan gave the correct answer - 7.5°.
And how can I not mention his impeccable hand-writing - precise and beautiful.
Sir now teaches at the American School and is also part of the "Trimurthi @ Sathyamurthi".
Someone who left a lasting impression on most of us.
I am no Abbas, but Ravishankar Sir definitely qualifies to be a superstar and so I wont be way off mark if I say "What a man".

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Curious Phenomenon that is Hindu Liberalism

While choosing a title, I was deciding between Liberal Hinduism & Hindu Liberalism. I'm not trying to indulge in bombastic word-play here, but you must understand both terms because both are in relevance today.
Liberal Hinduism, though fast replacing the more orthodox moorings of the "religion" per se (in heavy contrast to Islam which seems to be getting more radical by the day, the most recent case being that of this Kerala girl) is far from being the malaise, which Hindu Liberalism undoubtedly is.

I am not sure about the origins of this current version of Hindu Liberalism. Agreed, one of the main facets of Hinduism has been its liberal & flexible nature which has, in a way, contributed to its continued evolution and relevance even after (the British-historians-dated) 3000 years, but I have a feeling we have slightly gotten confused between "liberal" and "flexible".

The problem with the contemporary liberal (non Internet-) Hindu's understanding of Liberalism is that, to ensure "Live & Let Live", he ends up following "Let live irrespective of whether you are let" - this dire compulsion to acknowledge, accept, appreciate and most importantly, accommodate alien cultures without the realization that such cultures are potentially detrimental to local culture (for starters) and are eventually destructive for all non-adherents. Not surprisingly, all this seems to have clouded the Hindu Liberal's vision of what exactly is happening at ground-level. And this feeling now seems to have created an invisible phobia towards one's native (Hindu) culture. This is especially visible in urban societies wherein Christians & (more often) Muslims do not seem to have any problems in accepting and admitting their religion while Hindus will take that extra effort to avoid that acknowledgement (let alone proclamation). Any Hindu who makes no qualms about his religion culture is, oftentimes, mistaken for an over-orthodox, possibly partially-backward fundamentalist. You see, stereotypes are always in vogue and the stereotype of the Hindu bigot (ala Saffron terror) is the flavour of the season, promoted chiefly by Hindu liberals. Things have reached such a stage that a reasonably religious Hindu risks projecting a stereotype (mostly negative) of himself while depicting (as opposed to flaunting, projecting and hollering) his religious side - this, not in the United States or Europe in front of non-Hindus, but in India, specifically urban India, in front of fellow-Hindus (but "liberal").

There is another pernicious characteristic that is not necessarily a characteristic of the Hindu Liberal, but one that is widely prevalent among the non-stereotypical-Internet-Hindu populace - which is a marked indifference towards Hindu causes. By "Hindu causes", I refer more to the inherent local culture than Hinduism the religion. Hundreds before me have milked the Babri Ayodhya cow by now and I dont want to do any more damage to her, but I hope you understand where I'm getting at.

I have no statistical backing, but I will go ahead and say this - the ratio of the number of indifferent urban Hindus to the number of urban Hindus is way higher than that for Christians & Muslims.

In a similar statistical-but-not-backed-by-data vein, amongst all communities of the world, Hinduism is probably the community with the highest number of self-proclaimed adherents (no prizes for guessing that these "adherents" are liberal ones) who derive pleasure in making fun of (their-community)-related issues, especially issues of contention, often insensitively. There might be non-Muslims/atheists that make fun of Islam-related issues, but you wont find too many theist Muslims taking (often unfair) digs at their own religion. Similar is the case with Christianity. The Hindu Liberal, however, is always drawn towards Hinduism when it comes to ridiculing & mocking.

Hindu-turned-atheists are the cream of the lot. I'd probably have to write a separate piece on them, if I ventured to describe their characteristics. But one stunning aspect is how Hindu liberals/Hindu-turned-atheists often lose their sense of objectivity and tend to focus chiefly on Hindu-related issues, when it comes to taking a dig or pulling a leg (for starters).

Anyway, to each his own, and the liberal Hindu inside me, however small, also reminds me that Hindu liberals have every right to not be objective, and mock/criticize/deride Hindu customs/issues alone. Besides, mockery isn't really a big deal....ok so it is, but the bigger deal is the mindless and often poorly-reasoned support for anti-Hindu elements and vehement opposition to Hindu causes.
Classic examples of Hindu Liberals today are: Sagarika Ghose, Ramachandra Guha, Malini Parthasarathy (assuming she is not an atheist). I would've loved to add one Islamic-attire Dutt to the mix of things, but since she makes me wonder if the next step after "Hindu Liberal" is "Islamic radical", I leave her out.
Liberal Hindus, however, are fewer in number (not surprisingly) - Amitabh Bachchan and Anupam Kher, to name two.

Sometimes, in a slightly Inception'esque display of emotion, I feel a strange sense of pity-filled remorse, when I feel pissed & irritated with them. Men before me who have tried to decode them, have come and gone but they, rather depressingly, endure and it only appears as if they're here to stay.

There is, however, an unexpected, positive fallout of the fact that their voices are getting increasingly shriller. It means that more people can hear their nonsense. And despite the fact that we Indians, though endowed with reasonably exceptional brains, exhibit a serious dearth of logical thinking, especially on emotional issues, the Hindu liberal's logic-lessness is so resounding, it is sometimes what's exactly required to wake up the sleeping rationalist in you.