Sunday, 9 October 2011

A week in India

The entrance to my apartment, mines the one at the top there...

'I have written such a long letter only because I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.'

Have always loved this quote, so will do my best to keep it brief, despite the fact that it feels like I could write endlessly on this most hectic of weeks.

Today was a day dominated by sleep. The previous eight had been largely devoid of it, and my body seems to have finally realised just what I've been depriving it of, and has thus decided to exact it's revenge appropriately.

You win this round sleep...

But what a week! Have rarely felt such a juxtaposition of emotions in such a short space of time, ranging from the effortlessly ecstatic to the downright depressed. Moments of sheer joy seem to catch one by surprise here, in a way that leaves you instantly reflective and appreciative. At the same time, being in a completely new place, completely on my own and with no easy exit in sight allows loneliness and apprehension the space to creep up on you before you know it.

But despite all of the feelings that have been swirling about in my head, I'm pretty excited about what lies ahead of me. I've met the students I'll be teaching and they bring new meaning to the word precocious. It's difficult to describe without meeting them, but these kids(I'm teaching across three Grades, aged 14 to 16) are just brimming with passion, confidence and intelligence. Sure they're moody and are trying to impress each other half the time - but they're teenagers all the same.

Taught a class to my Grade 11 English lit group on the importance of creating distance in narrative voice using Joyce as an example and they completely figured it out for themselves over the course of the class through discussions with each other. All I had to do was facilitate - now we're planning to read through another one of his short stories to see if they can spot the same techniques and then they're going to write a story from their perspective in the same way, label it anonymous and give it to the Grade 10's to de-construct. QUALITY. 

Had the chance on Friday to go with some of the students to another school, where they were to present their MASTERY projects. This was an initiative started by Riverside about a year ago and essentially it involves students in Key Stage 3(Grade 8 -10) taking one issue or aspect of a subject that they are passionate about, researching it on their own for 2 months, interviewing people about it and finding experts in the field to help focus their research - culminating in them putting together a portfolio and essays on it, and then presenting to a field of experts about it. 

If ever there was an instant validation of the Riverside model, watching these kids present was it. Mastery projects ranging from safety in the automotive industry(physics angle), oral hygeine(biology aspect), drug abuse in sports(biology angle) to how logo's are designed and utilised by companies. Sharen, the kid who did the last one, is only 15 and is already looking into ways he can start his own design firm while completing school. 

some of my ultra talented, supremely confident students, performing at an event on Saturday

The simple essence of it is that there does not seem to be a kid at Riverside who isn't passionate about SOMETHING. They all may not know what they want to do with their lives, but they know what excites them, what they're good at, and why that is(big emphasis in Howard Gardner's multiple intelligence theory on how teacher's teach here) . They are also prepared to work pretty hard to get to where ever that may be - which makes them a joy to teach. 

Aside from all of this, the school philosophy aims to inculcate them with a philosophy of doing good for others, as well as for themselves. Each of the Grades got involved in a social project this week for Joy of Giving week(coinciding with the big G's birthday) and did some pretty inspiring stuff. The best thing about it was that the teacher's were encouraged and supported to do the same amongst the faculty group. Riverside believes firmly in the concept of positive role models and this applies to every aspect(the teachers are expected to show a commitment to lifelong learning themselves so that they can inspire the same in their students, rather than just telling them to do it.)

everyone giving it socks on the bus!

For my part in the week, I got the chance to take out about 35 old age pensioners from their ashram for the afternoon and evening on Friday. These are people everyone should meet if they come to India - clapping and singing mad Gujarati songs,  out on the bus, shouting their heads off on the boat, dancing their hearts in the restaurant and just generally living life to it's absolute maximum, despite everything. As I looked at the ease with which they threw themselves up on the 'dancefloor' in the restaurant, I thought about my own reluctance and realised it's inherent foolishness. Why the hell wouldn't I want to be up there with them!? One of the older guys gestured to the room in full flow and in his best broken English he exclaimed to me - 'What happy life!'.  

the ladies show me how's its done!

Throughout the course of this week I've been kicked in the face(literally, should see my nose!), picked up and dropped back my brother to and from the airport, been inspired by Kiran's story of setting up the school, eaten paan for the first time, danced the gurba, taught my first ever real class, met a 9 time world billiards champion and had a conversation with one of students about a chance meeting she had with Seamus Heaney in America , herself the daughter of a major Bollywood screenwriter. She's amazing by the way(anushka), you'll be hearing a lot more about her on I think - she's already writing screenplays herself!

But despite all of this madness, the moment that best sums up India happened just a couple of hours ago, as I searched desperately for a place to get my haircut(if you've seen my hair recently, you'll understand the need for that adjective). Having been faced with so many little annoyances in other errands I had attempted to run in the previous hour, and finding myself in a part of the city I hadn't found myself in before, I sucked up my pride and asked someone for help. Suffice to say, my new friend Anuj bought me some pani puri at the stand he was at, explained the directions to me and then told me to hop on the back of his moped - he would drive the 15 minutes to drop me there himself!

me and the bro at the airport

India can only described in moments, and this week has been full of them.

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