Thursday, June 26, 2008

Preoccupations With Occupations

Super hectic time of year. Work's in full swing again though it isn't something that happens often or for very long. Very soon, little odds and ends will crop up disrupting the smooth rhythm of classes, lectures and thought processes.

Among them, the inevitable students' elections which are seemingly casual on the surface with the kids putting up relaxed friendly faces but oftentimes there's actually a lot of frenetic activity behind the scenes. What's it with the male psyche and the lust for power? We once had a student candidate crying disconsolately on the steps after a loss. He was all snappily decked out in his Sunday best, suited, booted and neck-tied, and we were told he'd blown a small fortune on little professionally printed vote tags and a huge banner bearing his name. Enough to drive anyone to tears.

And then the sports. We had an unimaginably hooliganish intercollege free-for-all last year where rival college students taunted and threw stones at each other on the streets. Something similar had broken out the last couple of years but the powers-that-be had obviously dismissed them as one-off incidents and failed to provide adequate security. Needless to say, all hell broke loose last year which ironically brought it to the notice of the local media which tends to do nothing much else besides the in thing of lambasting politicians and eulogising our little small-town "celebrities." I suppose negative news is better than being constantly roundly ignored.

On the personal side, I've scored a little triumph this year. After all these years of teaching lit, I finally have the privilege of teaching Hamlet. I've taught Shakespeare before, put in several years of teaching Julius Caesar, in fact but Hamlet is in a class of its own. The brooding introspection and existential preoccupation. The Oedipal undertones. This is a challenge I'm enjoying every aside and soliloquy of.

Here's to the classics.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Football Fever? No Fervour, Por Favor!

Life repeats itself.
The Euro games. The football. The hype. The hoopla. The images. Fans in painted faces. Girls in look-at-me clothing. Beer-barrelled males in national colours. The debates. The arguments.

I'd watched World Cup '82 . Well, reruns of it a couple of weeks after it actually ended, and on a black and white TV, and without any real idea what it was all about. At a time when very few people around had TVs, my mother had gone out and splurged on one the year before, and housefuls of neighbours would turn up when anything interesting was on the program. In early summer, my grandmother had fallen and broken her thigh bone and was very ill but that didn't deter neighbours from swamping the house. My aunt was reported to have remarked that she couldn't understand how so many people could stand to watch men in the same black and white shirts chase a football around every night.

By the time the '86 edition rolled in, we'd been subscribing to Sportsworld and Sportstar magazines and regularly following the BBC radio sportsnews and English FA Cup on TV so we'd become pretty football-savvy. We could reel off names of players, even relatively obscure ones if they were cute, and knew which teams had great footballing history. We loved the spectacularity of Mexico '86 and were hugely entertained by the witticisms of the glib commentators. Like a French player taking a fall being breezily described as, "And that's a French roll." I remember Mum, my older sister and I once actually pulled off an all-nighter taking in 4 matches in succession. We stocked up on fresh pineapples slices, brewed tea at midnight, munched on snacks and were deliriously happy. By the time the final whistle blew on the last game, daylight was already breaking on the horizon.

I hardly remember the '90 edition. And on the late afternoon of the '94 final, my sister's husband's younger brother was killed in a road accident. My younger sisters went over. I stayed home with my mother who had cancer then and could no longer stay out long hours at night. We watched the final together in tired distraction, our minds not really registering any of it.

Personal circumstances change priorities, and repetition brings ennui to even the most exciting things after a while. Sports extravaganzas on TV no longer impact my life quite so emphatically as they once did. Now I barely manage to take in the first half of the early games. I don't know which teams are playing and I don't have the fixtures either. I just don't have the time or inclination to follow events, players or teams anymore.

But when I see images that always appear to accompany spectacular footballing events - colourful stadiums bursting with fans and noise, players celebrating goals in exuberant orgiastic frenzy, skimpily clad fans flaunting national flags and colours, nattily-dressed experts and ex-players debating on the refereeing, the goals that were allowed or shouldn't have been, the penalties, the offsides, the play-acting, the absurdly bizarre new rules etc etc, I'm reminded time and again of the old adage, "The more things change, the more things remain the same."

Saturday, June 07, 2008

My Favourite Pick-me-ups

First time I ever bit into into a thirst-quenching watermelon was when I was part of a college excursion tour travelling all over the country in the middle of summer. June, in fact. Since watermelons don't thrive well in Mizoram soil, for years and years I yearned for those dripping slices of summer fruit. Then a couple of years ago, we had a sudden flood of them in the shape of imports from neighbouring states and especially sweet ones from across the Bangladeshi border. Now we drip sweet, wet and chilled in summer up here in the mountains too. Ah bliss.

Salted cashewnuts. L-o-v-e these. I could eat tons of tins of them but like all good things in life, they're fattening. Sigh.

Salted biscuits. Yep, while some people have a sweet tooth I guess I have a fetish for salt. I remember wolfing down entire packets of these when I was all of 16 and slogging over my college exams. Needless to say, when the results came out and college reopened, I 'd padded up in all the wrong places.

I discovered chicken noodle soup as a university student in Shillong. There was this small, rundown, seedy-looking Chinese eating joint at Police Bazar where they served this lipsmackin', mindblowin' bowl of the skinniest noodles mixed with chicken and veg pieces. Absolute yumsville. My friend and I often bunked classes to slide them down our good-food-starved throats.

Life's not all eats and grub though. A great pick-me-up is a good light read, and Archie comics have been a hot favourite for years. Amazingly, there are people who express amazement that intelligent adults still read and enjoy the Riverdale crowd.

Nothing cheers me up as immediately as sunlight pouring in through the window when I wake up in the morning. Sunshine, blue skies, birds chirruping in the leafy trees....

The ultimate pick-me-up-er. My computor and internet connection. When lines are down or there's no power, I hate to admit it but I go cold turkey.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

To Be or Not To Be

At work sometime last week, we were discussing this new kid who'd taken admission just the previous day. The mother had called a colleague for advice after the new institution she'd been sending her daughter to didn't measure up to its hype and the girl had been forced to cool her heels for an entire year. What grabbed my attention was when someone mentioned the kid's first area of interest was the study of criminology. Whoa, now that would sound like an interesting profession out West but in a little state like Mizoram that's dependent on financial handouts from the Govt of India which is, to begin with, just a Third World nation itself, criminology? Hilarious.

Another colleague married to a forensics medico spoke of a concerned parent dropping by sometime ago to ask the doc's advice on her son's ambition of getting into forensic science too. She said her husband had explained quite clearly that the field wasn't one which seemed as glamourous or easy as many people believe, and if the kids could take a look at the forensics lab, they'd be quickly stripped of their delusions. We all agreed that much of these unreal misconceptions come from TV, with shows like CSI, Bones, Monk, Life etc glamourizing a world that actually takes a great deal of hard, painstaking labour and tedious investigations. And that's not even taking into account the most basic and fair to middling primitive resources we have here. Dreams fuelled by TV - that's so typical of the very young. The idealism, the romantic view of life and its possibilities. The impracticality. The need for a reality check. The earth-to-teen paging.

I'd been there once so I know. As a starry-eyed teen, I'd once longed for a career in advertising. Not that I had any real idea idea what exactly the job entailed but I enjoyed creative writing and teachers were always appreciative of my essays and compositions, and people were forever asking what my ambition in life was. However I was lucky enough to know what was what and the fleeting dream didn't last long, and I was perfectly content to trot off to the local college that my older sister was always raving about.

But then I suppose it's not the done thing to tell young people to dream small. I like challenging my Sunday School teens with the true life story of David Hartman who went completely blind at age 8 but went on to make it as a medical doctor and now practises psychiatry in the US. Now that's inspiring! On the other hand, you can't just sit kids down and tell them they can be anything they want like the woman in the Readers' Digest anecdote whose little daughter said she wanted to be a nurse. "No, honey," says the mother, all peachy keen to let the girl know it's a whole new world out there and she doesn't have to stick to stereotyped gender roles. "You don't have to be a nurse. You can be a doctor. You can be anything you want!" The little girl's eyes fire up with ambition as she goes, "Anything? Then I want to be a horse!"

Aye, there's the rub..