Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Daughter is a Daughter

“I’m going to the swings”, my four year old son announced as he ran away to play. We were there at his school to attend the parents-teachers meeting. Pretty little girls stood confidently, displaying daughterly love as they held to their parents’ fingers, while most of the boys were all out in the playground. The few that remained seemed uneasy, sullen and shifty eyed. I was suddenly reminded of the old Irish saying- ‘a son is a son until he gets a wife while a daughter is a daughter all her life’. About a year ago I was searching a name for my daughter to be born, in ‘Durga Shaptshati” and other hymns for the Goddess. Our eyes would invariably turn to the girl’s section when rummaging for clothes for our son in the cloth’s shop. It seemed strange that while the dresses for the girls were of so enchantingly varied nuances, those for boys look all alike. Similar would be the feeling in the toys shop. While there were only guns and cars for the boys, the girls had an umpteen choice in dolls of various hues, besides of course other toys. Was this related to the mental makeup of the two genders, I wondered. The reaction of a female is emotional while that of a male is of resentment and irritation to a situation, it is generally believed. While he tends to break away, she clings and supports. The presence of a lady ensures sanity and discipline and makes a house a home. It effervesces grace, cheerfulness and warmth as opposed to either stifling sobriety or uncontrolled boisterousness in a male dominated house. The sister is the best medium of expression of her brother’s feelings as the boys get taciturn when emotions are to be expressed. She is a confidante of both her father and brother. No wonder it is this special relationship with the father that she judges all men by his standard. And, as the bard said through Cordelia in King Lear- “I cannot heave/ My heart into my mouth”, the relationship is inexpressible.
“He or she?” my trance was broken when the class-teacher asked, lovingly pecking on the chubby cheeks of my one year old in its mother’s arms. ‘He’, we sheepishly grinned, and she immediately lost interest in the baby’s charm and started recounting how naughty her pupil has lately been.

Friday, October 9, 2009

पापा, जवाब दो ना

पापा, जवाब दो ना l

अब भी याद है 30 साल
पहले की वो बात
जय करते थे हम उस पार्क में
जहां थे मोर, खरगोशऔर थे बारहसिंघे
एक झरना था, पुल था ,और था एक हाथी
बहुत बड़ा...
हाथी भी क्या खूब
जिसकी पूंछ से चढ़ते और सूंड़ से थे फिसलते
30 साल बाद पार्क अभी है , लेकिन बदरंग
हाथी है ,पर कमज़ोर
झरने की जगह बचा है, तो एक छोटा नाला
जिसमें पड़ी हैं बेजान सैकड़ों पन्नियां,
सिगरेट के डिब्बे और कंडोम
5 साल के मेरे बेटे के उस सवाल का जवाब
मेरे तो क्या
पूरे शहर के पास नहीं है
गेटकीपर,डिप्टी कलेक्टर , कलेक्टर, सीईओ,
एसपी,एसएसपी,और यहां तक कि डिविज़नल कमिश्नर
तक के पास नहीं
बेटे का सवाल था...
पापा.......वो बत्तखें कहां हैं जिनकी
कहानी तुम रोज़ सुनाते हो
जो कभी टहलती थीं किसी झरने में
जहां पानी होता था, हिरन चौकड़ी भरते थे
खरगोश थे ... उजले से,
साही भी था कांटों वाला
और था एक पत्थर का काला हाथी
क्या झूठी थी कहानियां...???
अफसरों से लदे इस शहर में
मैं मूक हूं
किससे पूछूं इसका जवाब
इसलिए सिर्फ कहता हूं
आप अगर इलाहाबाद के किसी
घर से पढ़ लिख कर बने हों कोई अफ़सर
और खेले हों कभी उस काले हाथी की गोद में
तो एक बार ज़रूर जाइएगा वहां
बचपन के रंगीन सपनों को
बदरंग हुआ
ज़रूर देखिएगा
ये विरासत शायद आपने ही
छोड़ी हो
अपने बच्चों के लिए l

Tuesday, August 18, 2009



16th August was an evening well spent. Amidst tumbrels, kettle-drums, dholak and, the masterly rendering of the verses by the actors( Uttam Rai as ‘Sufi’ in particular) made the NCZCC auditorium come alive with the staging of the nautanki ‘Andher Nagri’. The nautanki art form is one of the forms of folk-theater in our country. The ‘Swarg Repertory’ has staged many plays in this form not only all over the country, but, even abroad at the World Theater Festival 2004.
The play ‘Andher Nagri’ by Bhartendu Harishchandra was adopted in the nautanki form by the Director, Atul Yaduvanshi, not only because of his fervour for re-establishing the folk-art but also to attack the systemic degradation our society is undergoing. It begins with the entry of a saint with his two disciples in the town of ‘Andher Nagri’ ruled by the ‘Chaupat raja’ where everything was available in a penny- ‘tak ser bhaji, tak ser khaja’. The timelessness of the play is seen in the portrayal of the market where representatives of many religions, regions and professions are seen. The contemporary is referred in phrases like- “Aayaa viklang varsh/ Kaat angutha liya tab” in a new definition of modern Eklavya. The saint decides to leave the place immediately on learning of its strange ways but one of his disciples, Gobardhan (aptly played by Gaurav Bajaj), chooses staying back. His greed gets the better of him. When a woman’s goat gets killed by a wall that fell and, she seeks justice, a farcical court drama begins. Nor the culprits could be identified, nor the woman be compensated for her loss but since justice had to be shown to have been done, poor Gobardhan is sentenced to death because the noose could fit his neck. The timely appearance of his guru saves him, who by his wit, makes the King hang himself.
The music, light and stage decoration were all perfect. The wailing of the woman whose goat had died and, her dress were the only weak spots.
The play with its attack on the system and pelf, closes on a positive note with the end of the whimsical and arbitrary authority and, a clarion call for all of us to wake from our slumber.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Can we learn something from him ?

Two days back i was caught in the rain and had to take shelter at a roadside shop along with many others . A richshaw-wala , instead, preffered to use the raining drops to wash/clean his rickshaw. I tried to catch the act on my cell-phone. The picture is not very clear, but says a lot.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The whole merit system fails on use of unfair means at board exams

This article of mine appeared in The Economic Times on 28 May 2008.- The link is -
Come March every year and India’s education authorities devise newer schemes for controlling the perennial menace of the usage of unfair means in board exams. In fact, the problem is not India-specific , it pervades the whole of south Asia and China. There needs to be a comprehensive policy to deal with it. The alarming rise in the incidence of cheating in exams around the late 70s coincided with the growth of the middle class and its desire to get admission in medical/engineering colleges — most of which used to give admission on the basis of board-exams marks. The UP board’s brochure of 1992 exams proclaims that its high school pass percentage of 14.70 was the lowest in its history and the intermediate pass percentage of 30.38 was the lowest since 1969. The 1992 exams, it may be noted, were held under the very strict Anti- Copying Ordinance of 1992. The document, Challenges of Education, (circulated in the course of the formation of the National Policy of Education 1986) also stated that the exams and grades have generally lost their reliability. Realising the falsity of the boardexam scores, most good institutions have started admitting students on the basis of tests, but, the mindset of the society, in holding these scores as a measurement of a student’s calibre and the potential of his success in the job-market , remains.
The lure of high scores in the board exams can be understood by viewing the job-market . The board exam results are the basis of many large-scale recruitment by the government. Recruitment of Parateachers (Shiksha Mitra, Shiksha Karmi etc.) in many states, on the basis of merit, based on marks scored in classes 10 and 12 is one example. Uttar Pradesh, for instance, has 1,88,000 Shiksha Mitras at present and the number is to steadily grow because every new primary school has to have one Shiksha Mitra. The UP government has also recruited permanent primary school teachers under the Vishist B.T.C. scheme (numbering about 1, 20,000) on the basis of merit, based not on any test but, on board exams and B.Ed. marks. Thus, in such a scenario, boardexam marks can make or mar the life of many and therefore, they are to be had howsoever. The irony, that many thus selected primary-school teachers had been cheaters in exams, cannot be missed. Another important cause of student’s resorting to cheating in exams is the total absence of teaching in many of the secondary/intermediate colleges. In fact these colleges don’t have students but only examinees.
Cheating in schools with better academic environment has a different reason. The social pressure of expectations for results drives students to employ all means to score in exams. “Contemporary instructional processes contribute at best to lower order cognition, memorisation, and fragile learning; together they make a grand nexus for large scale failing in examinations . The competition for scoring percentage of marks creates unusual stress in the students,” says a CABE report. Coaching institutes and self-financed colleges promote use of unfair means for their own ends. A good result guarantees more clients next year. Lastly, there can’t be denying the fact that an impression is rife in the society that cheating is a fact in all facets of life and those who don’t cheat are tagged as fools for not understanding the system. What is a good student expected to do when he sees the mass around him copying and scoring as much as him, if not higher? Usage of unfair means in the boardexams undermines integrity and fairness at all levels. The whole merit system of the society is corroded. Each succeeding generation of examinees is weaker than its predecessor resulting in worse professionals, rather, society as a whole. In view of the above, well planned and holistic measures are imperative. Some of them can be listed as follows:
* Recruitment for all government jobs should be on the basis of tests and not on board-exam marks, thus reducing the premium on board-exams .
* Board exams should test understanding, not knowledge of rote. Objective tests make examining easier but make cheating easier as well. CABE Report 2005 says our exams are designed to examine the fragile learning due to memorising huge stock of information. It recommends sustainable learning.
* Semester or term system can be adopted in classes 9-12 . They will lessen the burden on students and examining boards, ensure continuous evaluation and teaching, and reduce dependence on coaching and guide-books as compared to the combined and accumulative course.
* The National Policy of Education 1986 had also advocated the awarding of grades not on the basis of one annual test, but, on the basis of periodical tests.
* The board-exams should frame questions requiring long answers and text books can be allowed in the exams. This will test higher order cognition and ensure ‘sustainable learning’ .
* CABE Report has dwelt on the importance of academic supervision to ensure quality secondary education. If the teachers are made to teach in the schools, there would be no reason to use coercive action against examinees during exams.
Measures to check cheating shall be successful only if they target the cause. And, there is no doubt that it has to be checked in order to have a healthy and vibrant society. 

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I read this poem below in the school magazine of my son. It was written by one of the teachers there. The poem is self-speaking , hence requires no paraphrasing.--

माँ-माँ कहते रहते तुम
पर कर न पाती तुमसे बात
मन की बातें सुनने का भी
समय नही था मेरे पास ।

जब कागज पर रंग भरकर
दिखलाते तुम फूल और चिडिया
तब मैं कहती वक्त नहीं है
बेटा अभी ज़रा ठहर जा ।

माथे पर चुम्बन दे देती
कम्बल में चुपचाप सुलाकर
पर पास तुम्हारें रुक न पाती
सुना न पाती लोरी गाकर ।

कर्तब्य कर दिए सब पूरे
सुख सुविधाए तुमको देकर
पर बचपन में संग तुम्हारें
खेल सकी क्या जी भरकर ?

जीवन कितना छोटा हैं
और गति इतनी तेज़
बड़े हो गए इतने तुम
और साल गुज़र गए कितने एक ।

ना तुम मेरे पास हो अब
ना कागज़ पर सूरज , बादल ,
बस यादें आँखें नम करती
जब छुडाती थी तुमसे आँचल।

अब समय बहुत हैं मेरे पास
दिन काटे नहीं हैं कटते
काश !सालो पीछॆ जाकर
मैं वो सब करती, जो तुम कहते।

-- अलका अग्रवाल

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

यह तस्वीर है गंगा माई की जो मैंने कल २०-०५-०९ को फाफामऊ पुल
से ली। ये सफेदी पावन जल की नही है , ये गरम रेत है। क्या संगम क्षेत्र को रेगिस्तान बनने में अब अधिक वक्त नहीं है ?

Saturday, May 16, 2009


My springtime has not been very long back. It has been only thirteen years since I passed out of the University, and eighteen, since I passed out of my teens. It isn’t such a long time - or is it! – looking at the Valentine brouhaha. Spring(basant) in our culture has its associations with love and merry-making, culminating in the festival of Holi. It evokes memories of my student-days when individual emotions could be privately celebrated without caring a fig about the moral police if only one could somehow manage to dodge the family members.
The relative closeness between the two genders in terms of physical space was still less and girls pillion-riding with a non-relative did raise eye-brows. But falling in (puppy) love, which happened ever so often, was fun. The mere presence of someone from the opposite gender permeated the atmosphere with a certain indescribable excitement. All those formative years spent in a single-gender missionary school made the opposite sex seem so strange. The identity revealing cell-phones and the caller i.d.’s were still a few years away , and one could have the pleasure of hearing one’s flame’s voice over the basic phone without getting identified. Being identified involved the risk of rejection by one’s secret love, and so, remaining incognito could let one have that ray of hope alive forever. That split second exchange of a furtive glance, the stammering first conversation, those unsaid rendezvous of the neighborhood grocery shop, the university library and the lane near her house. The goose-flesh one had when she got touched accidentally while handing over a book or a pen. Those ingenious tricks to somehow get acquainted to her and begging help from one’s sister, friend’s sister and class-mates for this favour. Those deliberate checking of the bicycle chains and petrol in the scooter while waiting for her to pass by was permeated with a sensibility and an emotion of which romance is made of. Do today’s valentines riding the fast lane of life , fraught with increasing calls of competition , casual inter-personal relations , decreasing spans of attention and, when genders are not so strangers to each others, possess the same degree of romance as we did, I wonder!
The present generation might be having its own definitions of romance which, of course, they have every right to. But , perhaps, the celebrations should not be limited to a single day. Shouldn’t the emotion of love, which is ever-present in all of us, be celebrated every day, and can’t we profess that Valentines day is but an occasional episode in the general drama of spring?

Monday, April 27, 2009

SMOKING GUN Someone's Gotta Do It

Publication: Times Of India Mumbai; Date:2008 Sep 11; Section:Editorial; Page Number 18


Someone's Gotta Do It

Skand Shukla

This entire hullabaloo about smoking is so painful. The statutory warning on cigarette packets sets my heart afire. The frequency of inhalation increases to exhale the anger within. As if we smokers smoke merely for the sake of it. As if the world would become a better place if all of us stopped smoking once and for all. I exhort the smokers of the world to unite, as we have nothing to lose but our lungs. Only united can we ward off the prospects of a smokeless world. Only united can we plead our case, enlighten non-smokers and make them see the fire of service burning within us. Has anyone wondered how our roads are made, our electricity lines put up, and our irrigation canals laid out? It's we, the unobtrusive social servants, who make this possible. It's we who choke our lungs with nicotine and provide revenue for the society to move. It's we who knowingly and willingly die a slow death to make civilisation live. While governments across the world are concerned about rising unemployment, we are the ones whose smoke sustains so many — tobacco cultivators, cigarette makers, admen, dentists, cancer specialists... the number is legion.

I must concede, however, that we smokers have private ends to serve too. We inhale to fight pollution. Surprised! Well one needn't be, for it is based on a simple medical philosophy. Aren't we given weakened doses of viruses to make us immune to various diseases? The same belief governs us smokers. We inhale small amounts of tar, nicotine, carbon monoxide and what not to fight environmental pollution. Has anyone given a thought as to how our distaff side would have felt liberated had there been no smoke? Non-smokers seem to be patently anti-feminist. As the two genders smoke together, their mingling smoke-rings signal the burning away of gender differences and their coming together. Enveloped in the smokescreens they feel empowered to conquer the evil world. People seeking a curb on smoking forget its importance in community life. The mere threat of losing the 'hukka-pani' relationship has brought the mightiest to his knees. Non-smokers should become aware of our contribution to the world. Damned be the definition of a cigar as a roll of tobacco with fire at one end and a fool at the other. A generous fool should be more welcome than self-centred wisdom.
Publication:Times Of India Delhi;
Date:Oct 26, 2008;
Section:Times Life;
Page Number:88

Soul Curry
His daughter's keeper
There is no black or white in life, only shades of grey prevail, discovers Skand Shukla
TIMES NEWS NETWORK THIS incident took place some years ago at a remote district in Uttar Pradesh, where I had been posted as the district education officer. It had all the characteristic features of a backward district, a low literacy rate — merely 27.2 per cent for women, being one of them. One afternoon, as I entered my chamber after a gruelling field tour and wading through a waiting crowd of applicants and complainants, I found myself face to face with a young lady, who was giving my steno a tongue-lashing. "Your SDI school is corrupt, Sir," the young lady said, directing her anger at me. I offered her a seat and a glass of water to calm her down and asked her to tell me her problem. She had applied for the post of shiksha mitra in the primary school of her gram panchayat, where she stood first in the merit list of applicants. However, she said, the SDI of the block was not forwarding the list to the district office. I explained that the delay did not cheat her of the opportunity, as her ranking would remain unchanged. But, it was not as simple as that. "I'm married and my gauna (when a bride goes to her in-laws' home for the first time) is after a couple of months. The SDI is waiting for me to go to my sasural so that the boy, who is placed second in the list, can move up to the first ranking as I get declared the resident of a different gram panchayat," she said.
"Perhaps, the SDI has got some bribe for this. I want to work, Sir. I want to be financially independent," she added, almost in tears. I assured her of justice and sent directions to the concerned SDI to be present with the records the next day. Later that evening at home, I was told I had an urgent visitor. The man, in his late forties, fell at my feet when he saw me, exclaiming, "I'm the father of the girl who met you at your office regarding the shiksha mitra issue. Please don't appoint her to that post." I was shocked. "But why?" I demanded. "Your SDI is not to blame at all. The fact is I myself got complaints filed to delay the selection process. I am a poor man and got my daughter educated with great effort. She was married a year ago. The boy, placed next in the ranking, has given me money for stalling my daughter's appointment so that when she leaves for her in-laws' home, he gets the job. The money this boy has given me will help me organise her gauna ceremony," he said helplessly. He was in tears, caught between fatherly duty and love, while I stood dazed, unsure of the administrative action to take — to give the young girl a taste of emancipation, or to support her father in his quest for his social responsibilities. I could do neither as I got my transfer order the next day, before I could get to the file. I remain unsure to this day of the decision I would have taken.

BRIEF CASE: Ode to Indolence
5 Jul 2007, 0051 hrs IST, Skand Shukla

The characteristic that differentiates Allahabad from all other cities in India is indolence. A laid-back attitude is cause and effect of the city's life. This ambience perhaps made this city give to the world many renowned philosophers and litterateurs. Government offices and the university give sustenance to economy and culture in this city of babus. The ubiquitous tea shops that line the roads have immense socio-economic importance. These are the places where students who throng the city with the dream to make it big in life undergo socialisation. These tea shops are to Allahabad what pubs and discotheques are to Pune and Mumbai. Here our middle class 'chills out'. Sitting on wooden benches beneath the tamarind and pipal trees, they discuss weighty social and political issues, cast an appreciative glance at beauties passing by while sipping sweet, syrupy tea from small 'kulhars'. The impersonal market system of the modern economy has not swamped the city yet. Tailors, barbers and grocers still have personal equations with their clients, not only in suburban mohallas but also in upmarket Civil Lines. The paanwala knows what his regular customers prefer. The leaf used and the proportion of kattha, chuna and zarda is tailored to the specific tastes of each customer, often without prompting. He must have an elephantine memory given that his regulars run into hundreds. Paan shops are great levellers. Everybody, irrespective of his social standing gets the same treatment at the shop. The other great equalisers are the cycle rickshaws that are by far the most popular means of public transport in Allahabad. The few autorickshaws that are seen are a recent phenomenon, as the city has spread a little beyond the Ganges in Phaphamau and Jhunsi, and beyond the cantonment in Sulemsarai. But they are not happy additions. How can the smoke-bellowing cramped autorickshaw ever compete with the happy informality offered by the cycle rickshaw? One is afraid though that things are changing. The Mughlai paratha and egg roll at The Moghals, or at Meals on Wheels, are making way for the fare served by multinational eateries like McDonald's. But given Allahabad's love affair with local traditions, new entrants are unlikely to wipe out the golden oldies like Coffee House, Netram, Sulakhi and Hari Namkeen. Rapid change is for others. In Allahabad, we like taking our time.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

TOI Edit Page article

GLORY UNCROWNED Bald And Beautiful
9 Apr 2009, 0010 hrs IST, Skand Shukla
The link is-


Those were dreadful days. My eyes inevitably turned towards the bathroom floor, the towel and the comb to see how many had been lost. Still in my mid-twenties, the thought of going bald was nightmarish. All tricks were tried to retrieve every lost hair getting tonsured during monsoon; applying exotic oils, henna, egg-yolk; washing hair with all sorts of things like reetha, shikakai, lemon-juice and cleverly advertised shampoos with bewildering ingredients actually, almost anything anybody suggested. The barber was asked not to massage one's head too strongly lest the endangered species fell faster. A comb was a must in the back pocket to straighten any strand gone awry, lest a bald patch was revealed to unknowing classmates, girls in particular. New styles of combing hair were devised to cover the sparse spots. Medications were sought to bring back my lost glory. Even the promise that a particular medicine would not grow the hair already lost, but retain what remained, was music to my ears and raised my dampened spirits. What bouts of envy were endured whenever someone with dense foliage was seen! How small one felt when someone taller stood by one's side! For he could certainly see my balding pate. But with time, as my hairline receded further, it was no longer a secret. I approached my late twenties and then, even my family started expressing concern. Who would marry a bald man, they started thinking.
         I, on the other hand, turned to cultivating a sense of stoic resignation to the inevitable. Beliefs like a bald person is blessed with riches, his personality manifests maturity and intelligence, he need not trouble over greying hair, and that God hid with hair the heads he didn't like were held strongly to maintain a confident self amidst those copiously gifted with plumage. They are things of the past. I don't look down on the bathroom floor, on the towel and the comb now. No hair can be found on them because none are left on my head to fall. I still have one problem, though. When washing my face it is difficult to know where the forehead ends and the head begins.