Sunday, 23 July 2017

Why are our colleges stuck in a time-warp?

The recent race for seats in one of the colleges of Delhi University, the wait for the cut offs, followed by search for coveted colleges, some of them so prestigious that they have their own interview where they call candidates simply as an eyewash, all of this reminded me of my own days when I landed up in Delhi for admission to one of the colleges in Delhi University. That was nineteen eighty-five and strangely enough, during all these years nothing much has changed in our colleges!
The mad rush for so called traditional courses seems to be without any reason. The colleges have stuck to their guns and the courses remain the same. The B.A., B.A. (Hons) Program, B.Sc., and B.Sc.(Hons) Programs exist even today, and for those struggling with subsidiaries, you continue to have those ‘Kunjies’ or help books that have all the important questions and their answers in them! The core questions remain the same, nothing much changes, going to college in Delhi means, ‘masti’ and if you are in North Campus, it is about having fun, attendance is so lax, and in any case, a visit to K-Nag, or Kolhapur Road for the latest in fashion is the trend. These spots were popular in my time, ( although I joined South Campus after Mr. Hala told me I couldn’t join his ‘Premier’ college because he couldn’t make out the marks on my Ethiopian School Leaving Certificate which in grades. He would call me back, but then I refused finding Venky more convenient). In South Campus, Satya Niketan was popular and so was Naoroji Nagar. The best hangout was Chanakyapuri with its iconic cinema hall and Yashwant place. When your attendance dropped below the minimum required percentage, you visited Dr. Paithankar, (God Bless him for saving many students) and in those days you parked your scooters and bikes inside the college.
However, college is serious stuff, and it is high time administrators and curriculum framers realized that they have not exactly progressed in terms of the demands of the day. Colleges continue to churn graduates who are really not ready for life. Traditional courses that have not evolved in years continue to teach students stuff that has very little or no relevance to what is required in professional life today. A student who graduates with a B.A. (Hons) English Degree might strangely enough not be able to write fluently without spelling and grammar errors. A few might not even be able to speak the language they have ‘Honoured’ clearly! In many cases, graduates from colleges in Delhi often need to go for an additional certification course or even a diploma course before they can start a career.
A number of colleges pride themselves on their so called rich co-curricular activities, their dramatic clubs, social service clubs, and their ‘Advocacy Clubs’ but the reality is that many of these clubs and activities were once popular during the fifties and sixties have not really evolved according to times. One of the colleges I visited recently had photographs of their dramatics club, photographs that belonged to the fifties. The ceiling fans in the huge hall where documents were being verified belonged to the early forties, and the hall itself reminded me of an ancient Gothic Structure. The red bricks reminded me of institutional Calvinism, an era that befitted David Copperfield. The extended untended lawns and the stray dogs that wandered on the campus, all seemed stuck in time immemorial when my uncles were young and they went to college.
The need of the hour is to have colleges that offer subjects and curricula that would equip its students to be future ready. You need to prepare students for the future and not just teach them stuff that is obsolete and ineffective unless it is connected to the present. Three years is a long period of time, and if students believe that these years can be whiled away in ‘masti’, then, I guess this is an attitude that has been brought about by the casual quality of campus life! The fact is that none of the colleges in Delhi appears in the list of the top two hundred colleges in the world!
The world around us is moving away from a regimented and straight-jacketed system of education at the college level, and they are moving towards a more flexible, student led educational system that is tailor-made according to the student’s capabilities. A student who earns credit points as per his performance can make a switch mid-year to another subject of his choice. All over the world, except In our limited world, scholars are working on research work. Research work should not be limited to those doing their Ph.D.,. in fact, it should be made mandatory for all undergraduate students, both in school and in college.
While no doubt a few changes have been brought into the courses being taught in colleges today, take for example the inclusion of Indian Writers in the B.A.(Hons.) English program, these are however too few and too late. The introduction of the B.Voc. Course by the Delhi University seems to be an answer to some of the problems, but then, unfortunately, there is little that a student can do after B.Voc. because he or she will have to get a job. You cannot do your post-graduation or a B.Ed. after B.Voc., all you can do is to join an MBA program.
Professional universities and colleges under them are doing a better job in equipping young people with twenty-first-century skills, but unfortunately, there are few of them that are run by the Government. The burgeoning number of unregulated and unrecognized private professional colleges and those offering traditional courses added to the confusion regarding what one should do after school. The introduction of a large number of hitherto unheard of courses by the CBSE, like Legal Studies, Food Production, and Fashion studies have added confusion with colleges in Delhi refusing to recognize them as valid subjects. Students who have Food Production as one of their subjects might be given the B.Vocational Course as opposed to their choice of an Honours course.
Students are making their way out of the country and many of those who can afford the fees and the expenses are joining colleges abroad.  A large number of private colleges running in collaboration with foreign universities are doing a wonderful job in providing integrated courses to students. Thus, a student of mine who was a science student at the grade twelve level is now pursuing an integrated graduate course from Ashoka University. She is doing Journalism along with B.A.(Hons.) English. A few colleges affiliated to the Indraprastha University offer the B.A.LLB integrated program. A few Universities and colleges in the country are change makers, they are ushering relevance and skills that no other colleges are doing, at least not those in Delhi. A large number of our colleges are stuck in a time warp and they are teaching stuff that might have been relevant a couple of decades ago. The pedagogy is effete and obsolete, it caters to rote-memorisation, and does not promote problem-solving skills. While progressive, Change Maker’s colleges cater to a Growth Mindset, the traditional colleges in Delhi can only cater to the Fixed Mindset! After all, how is that you can pass your subsidiary subject exam just by reading what was in my time 'Champion Guide' one day before the exam?

Friday, 14 July 2017

Takeaways from Expeditionary learning for Progressive Schools in India


Expeditionary learning refers to learning expeditions as opposed to learning while sitting inside a classroom. It also offers opportunities for collaboration between different subjects. Besides learning of syllabus, the expeditionary learner gets the opportunity to develop character and intellect. It would not be wrong to assume that Expeditionary pedagogy promotes metacognition in learners. Ron Berger, claims that Expeditionary Learning or EL builds up a strong culture of collaboration between parents, teachers and students besides developing a culture of respect and excellence.
A Learning Expedition is built around an outbound learning trip, a 'field trip', meant to explore a particular problem, phenomenon or occurrence. Schools often organise outbound learning trips to the mountains, the seaside or even deserts so that students might learn about the eco-system, culture of the people and their means for survival. Such trips might be organised to study the impact of human industrial activity on fragile eco-systems. These expeditions are meticulously framed, the detailed lesson plan is prepared along with all the important learning targets, big idea and activities. Students undertake research work that involves different subjects. Thus, on an outbound trip to the mountains, students might attempt to study how hydro-electric power stations might be weakening the stability of the mountains and might also be one of the causes for flash floods in rivers. This research might involve English as the primary language (in which the case study or the research paper is written) while Physics, Geography, might offer different angles to the study and Statistics might be used to prepare a statistical analysis of the data.
This would bring me to the question of how one might be able to maximise student engagement and mastery of academic standards. To achieve the most out of Expeditionary learning, teachers need to focus on the Big Idea, i.e. what is the student going to remember to retain many years after the lesson? What is the enduring impact of the lesson? After the educationist has managed to narrow down the topic, the educator plans the fieldwork, engages experts and services. Fieldwork is not about engaging in the learning process as mute spectators, rather it is about students working as investigators, proud experts working collaboratively on a problem, and then figuring out what its solution might be. The advantage of such learning is that it helps build character and also enduring academic learning. Fieldwork is rich in content, it targets literacy skills, builds social relationships, and most important of all it maximises student participation because it is based on real life issues. Aan expeditionary task that is interdisciplinary, connected to real life issues, relevant and meaningful, and offers the learner space and freedom will definitely maximise student engagement.
Expeditionary learning, however, can work only if students are leaders of their own learning, they take ownership of their learning, they re-visit their learning targets (I can collate research data and make a graphical representation of it.), and they have adequate scope for self-assessment. Formative assessments can help students gain a feedback on where they are with respect to the task in hand. With a shift from specific objectives to learning outcomes, and from learning outcomes to learning targets, we have made the objectives of learning more student-centric than teacher-centric. Here it is important to understand that Formative assessments are continuous and are actually assessments for learning unlike the Summative end of year assessments which are assessments of learning.
Ultimately, of course, students take pride at the end of the project, or case study when they make their learning public, or for that effect celebrate their learning with an authentic audience beyond the school. Students of grades six and seven of the middle school took up a project on the feasibility of making Gurgaon more cycle friendly. They did field trips, collected data, did extensive research work, and then shared their learning with the city administration. The end result was the start of what would be called Raahgiri Day, a Cyclovia movement that took place every Sunday on a particular stretch of road in Gurgaon. The road would be closed to vehicular traffic from 6:00 a.m to 8:00 a.m. Only bicycles would be allowed. This event was a massive endorsement of the need to introduce Expeditionary Learning in our country, at least till Grade seven.


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You might also like to read:

Berger, Ron Et al, Leaders Of Their Own Learning, Jossey Bass, 2014

Monday, 10 July 2017

Case Studies, Research Narratives and Story Telling make for compelling Pedagogical Practices!

The human mind wanders a lot, and when it wanders, it daydreams. Nothing can trap a wandering mind better than a story telling session. Case studies are like testimonials that describe how a person has been impacted by a particular topic or project.- Why Case Studies Are Great Marketing Tools: Carlo Thomas, 10/07/2017 A typical case study would be one that traces how a particular student learned about the Renaissance period, or how the other student learned how to build a wind turbine through an expedition. In Maths, Case studies can be prepared for Commercial Maths, Calculus, Linear Programming, Vectors,  and so on.

Why should we use story-telling and case studies in teaching?

Story-telling and case studies can work wonders at the beginning of a lesson. A short story, narrative or even a case study in the form of a short video clip, or an audio clip at the start of a poetry lesson would do wonders. You could show a short video clip on the life of a famous poet before actually analyzing his poems. A lesson on the impact of pollution on Marine Life, could be preceded with a short video clip on how a change in the pH level in the seas impacts coral polyps and plankton species. It does not, however, mean that case studies and stories might be limited only to video and audio-clips. In fact inviting famous personalities to visit the school and  asking them to narrate the story of their life can have a powerful impact on students.
Case studies are unique because they combine story-telling with important facts that might become too boring when presented to an audience. When schools wish to introduce changes in their pedagogical practices, like for example a change in assessment strategies, or perhaps the seating arrangement of students, or perhaps even a shift to  expeditionary learning, it would be good to present a case study before teachers who might otherwise be too skeptical about the benefits of sitting in crews rather than in rows.
Students who record their projects or expeditions can showcase their learning in the form of a video recording the story of their project. This video can be posted on social networking sites like Facebook as a culmination of their project. Case studies and Research narratives are celebrations of learning which project students as leaders of their own learning processes. In a student lead environment, showcasing learning through case studies and research narratives promotes modelling of learning.
Case studies don't always have to be in the form of a video. Case studies could also be in the form of a display of project timelines, processes, and results which can be posted on bulletin boards as printed matter. There could be photographs, info graphics, flow charts printed power-point slides, and descriptions.

What are the components of a Case Study?

It goes without saying that a good Case Study should have  the following components:

1. Title: Every good Case Study should have a sound title. A lot of effort is made to make student understand the relevance of having a sound title for their Research paper. A sound title for a Research paper, or a case study is an indication of clarity of purpose. A sound title provides the reader or the audience with an overview of the project, case study or even the research paper.

2. Problem: The case study should mention the problem that is being analysed very clearly. Understanding the impact of global warming on marine life, or  analyzing universal themes in Romantic poetry could be relevant 'problems' though not all case studies will have problems as such. You could replace the word 'problem' with topic for study.

3.  Solution:  Students who have identified a problem should come up with a solution to it. Using renewable energy sources like solar energy, wind energy and hydro energy might be possible solutions for a power hungry society. The solution would not come into being if the case study was not about problems and solutions. The problem and solution part could become a critical analysis of a trend of writing or a critical analysis of important themes during a particular period in literature.

4.  Results: A Case study dealing with problems should come up with not only the solutions to a problem, but also a presentation of results in a graphic form. Results can be presented in the form pie charts, graphs, bar diagrams and so on.

5. Call for action: This is an important conclusion in a good case study. The presenters of the case study need to make an emotional appeal to their audience to pledge to make a difference after going through the case study. A group of students who made a case study for promoting the culture of cycling in their city made a call for action at the end of their presentation, convincing parents and the administration of that city to create cycle lanes and restrict mortised traffic once a week on Sundays.-Why Case Studies Are Great Marketing Tools: Carlo Thomas, 10/07/2017

Note: It might not be possible to have all the components listed above in all case studies, this is because of the fact that some case studies might be built around a specific problem, and they might even attempt to find a solution for the same. In fact, it should be OK if a particular case study does not offer solutions to a problem. Some case studies might be a narrative about an expeditionary learning trip to Shakespeare's Birth place. As such it might simply be a description about historical facts backed by photographs,video clips, and running commentary about the trip.-Why Case Studies Are Great Marketing Tools: Carlo Thomas, 10/07/2017

Suggested Case Studies

It would be a great idea for the project to be a collaborative effort involving different subject groups. The English Teacher could collaborate with the History teacher to work on a project to understand why the Indus Valley Civilization withered away. Similarly, the IT teacher can collaborate with any of the subject groups to develop graphic organizers, bar graphs, pie-charts, and so on. Students of English in m school have to do a Research Paper or a term paper based on one of the novels in their syllabus. These Research papers are based on the theme, plot movement and character development. These research papers can be made in collaboration with other subjects quite easily.

Reference: (Ironically enough, this blog post was prompted by the article on marketing that I read recently.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Portraits - A Tribute to some of the most photogenic faces!

A Photograph of my Neice and this was taken at the Mc Donald's Restaurant on the way to Moradabad

Photographing people can be most difficult and yet most rewarding. In most cases, the subjects would be strangers. I am working on this skill and would like to develop on street photography skills. Nevertheless,  below are just a few of what I find interesting!

An early morning stroll on the Mall in Nainital - people getting ready for the day

What drew my attention to this child was the intense look of curiosity on his face.
On the way to Fatehpur Seekri, one will find people making rattles.

Life can be difficult towards the end.

Reunion, two sisters and their sister in law meet.

At the Surajkund Crafts Fair - these African wooden carvings vie for attention.

A Photograph for posterity. People taking each other's photographs in front of art pieces.

A family Reunion,  brother in law, brother and sister

Tribal Brothers from Bastar

On a lighter note, a portrait of my Brother in Law
A family outing

A candid snap of someone I know

Fluid motion, a photograph of the blogger.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Why Does Sophie Lie? Is Lying Pathological?

I was pleasantly surprised to come across a lead article in the National Geographic Magazine for the month of June 2017, titled, “Why We Lie”. It somehow struck a chord with the short story, Going Places by A.R.Barton (prescribed by the CBSE  for grade twelve English core syllabus). Sophie, the protagonist is a typical teenager who likes to daydream a lot. In her dreams she wants to be the owner of a boutique, and to fund it she wants to be an actress. Twisted logic? Yes, I guess most dreams defy logic! However, when a person begins to daydream excessively, (like Sophie does) one tends to believe in one’s dreams. Lying is one way of becomes pathological, a way for getting people to believe you.
Sophie tells tall stories, stories that are too fantastic to be true. Her stories are built of falsehood, lies that become better and better. When she tells her brother, Geoff “I met Danny Casey,” - page 73 Flamingo he reacts by saying, “It’s never true.” - page 73 Flamingo When later on in the living room, Geoff tells their father that Sophie had met Danny Casey, ‘Sophie wriggled where she was sitting at the table’-page 80 Flamingo because she knew that her father knew she was a liar. Her father’s reaction to this piece of information ‘was one of disdain.’-page 80 Flamingo Later on her father warns her, “One of these days you’re going to talk yourself into a load of trouble”. -page 81, Flamingo
So why then is Sophie an obsessive compulsive liar? Is she aware of the fact that she lies too often? I found some of the answers in the article in the National Geographic Magazine. An extract from the article reads, “Honesty may be the best policy, but deception and dishonesty are part of being human.” {page 27 National Geographic-June 2017} Another extract reads, “Learning to lie is a natural stage in child development. Kang Lee, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, has explored how children become more sophisticated liars as they age.” {page29 National Geographic-June,2017} It is clear from these observations that Sophie habit of lying is a process of “child development” but the question is, till what age is it OK to lie? Jansie, Sophie’s friend ‘wished Sophie wouldn’t say these things.’-page 77 Flamingo She is a reality check for Sophie, and she keeps reminding Sophie that they are “only a few months away” -Page 77 Flamingo from graduating and it is high time she stopped lying! Jansie goes on to tell Sophie that she “really should be more sensible.” – Page 77-78 Flamingo
Interestingly enough, the article in the National Geographic Magazine presents case studies of people who kept on lying long after childhood. These case studies include and art forger, a tell-tale who went on to become ‘Virginia’s Biggest Liar award’ winner, an impersonator, a secret agent who lied for the country, con artists, a card shark, a prankster, and so on. It is clear from the article that people who continue to lie after childhood might end up on the wrong side of the law. Lying beyond a certain age is bound to lead to deviant behaviour and the concern for teachers and parents of teenagers is to make them aware of where they are heading to if they lie too often! What might appear innocent in little children might become a concern in teenagers who need to be grounded in the world of reality.
An infographic on page 35 of the National Geographic Magazine suggests, (and I am picking reasons that I feel relevant to Sophie) that people lie for economic advantage, personal advantage, self- impression, pathological reasons, and avoidance (escapism). If we take each one of these reasons, then it becomes clear that Sophie lies or daydreams for a better economic standard, one in which she is rich, she lies because it brings her the personal advantage of gaining the attention of people like Geoff who ignores her while tinkering with a motorcycle part, she does so in order to break into a conversation between her father and Geoff about football, she lies in order to create a better self-impression, she probably has a poor impression about herself being the daughter of a worker in a factory. Sophie dreams her lies because she wants to escape from a world of economic hardships, limitations and even gender disparity. One other important reason why Sophie dreams is that it is a pathological condition where she tends to ‘ignore or disregard’ reality.
Daydreaming and lying, at least in the case of Sophie go hand in hand, and her father’s concern about where she is headed to is real. Her mother, however, can only sigh as she listens to her father and younger brother responding to Sophie’s remark to Jansie that if she ever comes into money she will buy a boutique. Sophie’s lying begins to take up pathological tones when she begins dreaming about waiting for Danny Casey to come to the bench by the wharf. She actually waits for him!

1.        National Geographic – Why We Lie, Vol. 4 Issue 11, June 2017

2.        Flamingo Textbook in English for Class XII (Core Course) NCERT- 2007

Sunday, 25 June 2017

A Common Core Standards document at the K-12 Level is better than a single board in India?

What we need is a standardized, streamlined and credible board system that prepares students for the future and offers scope for differential learning. The need to shift towards a more experiential and expedition based learning experience is evident in the popularity of the International Programmes in schools today.

A board of exams would have to be a board that prepares assessments of learning while independent bodies (state boards, or central boards) that frame the curriculum would be preparing the learners to be assessed for learning. It is evident, therefore, that for reforms to take place in school education, we need to have two separate bodies, one that frames the curriculum, and another that examines whether learning has indeed taken place.

The system in our country works fairly well with the NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) working on the curriculum and training of teachers and printing of books and study material, while the CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) ideally works in the field of assessments and examinations. The States however have their own exams and boards while having of course the equivalent of the NCERT, except that they are called SCERT (State Council of Education Research and Training) and a separate Board exam at the grade ten and the grade twelve levels in which the question paper is different from that prepared by the CBSE.

The ICSE (Indian Council for Secondary Education) is yet another board which is run on the Cambridge Pattern and it differs in curriculum and assessment from the CBSE and the NCERT. The problem arises when students who graduate from the different boards, the CBSE, State Boards, and the ISC/ICSE boards at the grade twelve level come up with widely differing marks. With the ISC/ICSE, it is about scoring fewer marks, while the same might be said of students appearing for their Grade twelve exams from the state boards. Students appearing for their grade twelve exams from the CBSE Board might, however, score in the higher nineties! Unfortunately, the marks are not standardized and a student scoring above ninety-five percent from the CBSE in his or her best of four subjects might not be half as good as a student scoring seventy-five per cent in the ISC grade twelve exam of the ICSE board! Students appearing from the state boards might not even be lucky enough to pass!

Academic rigour, and marks apart, it is clear that the different examination boards and curriculum framing bodies in the country are working at loggerheads with each other. The learners and students are, unfortunately at the receiving end, especially when they seek admission in some of the centrally run universities in the country. It is clear that in their obsession for numbers of students who graduate from school, some boards might even be resorting to so-called moderation strategies, which would happily see their students sailing out of school. Unfortunately, in their haste to inflate figures of pass outs, and perhaps happily claim to have done their job of educating the youth, these boards are in fact ruining the lives of the very people whom they claim to have provided an education.

One very harsh fact is that very few students who pass out of schools today are future ready; very few are equipped with twenty-first-century skills, hardly any have sound research skills, and barely a few know what they are going to do after grade twelve. A large percentage of students who opt for engineering end up doing tasks unsuited to their professional qualification. In a world that is steadily moving away from traditional work skills and instead is paving the way to welcome Artificial Intelligence, and Augmented Reality if not Virtual Reality, we remain stuck in a system of education that is mostly teacher-centered and dependent on chalk and blackboard.

It is clear that our educational system at the K-12 level needs a major revamp. Modern education calls for continuous evaluation and differential assessments. The now defunct Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation might have had a positive objective but then it failed because of poor implementation, overloaded classrooms, and poor planning. C.C.E. failed because it was not backed with standardized protocols and objectives. So what was happening across schools was that there was no accountability nor any parity between the kind of tools used for Formative assessments. In many cases, marks entered under Formative Assessments were not, in any case, true scores, nor did they really measure learning in the true sense.

The gap between schools using IT and those not even having adequate infrastructure as for example, schools in rural areas is increasing as time passes. The increased call for digitization, and with it, the dependence on online transactions, online projects, and online registrations has meant that while IT literate students manage to handle technology efficiently, those who are not tech savvy are helpless and they have to look for help elsewhere.

While educationists might argue that it would be impossible to bring all the students of the country under one curriculum, what with differences based on Cultural Diversity, Geography, Language, Economic and Social backwardness; it might be argued that the setting up of minimum or basic standards of skills expected of students at each grade level could at least provide some level of standardisation across all schools in the country.

The need of the hour is to have a standard Curriculum framework that sets up benchmarks of skills expected of students in the beginning and at the end of each grade level. These standards need to be set for each subject, and to address the deficiency in IT skills in some schools, there should be a separate set of standards for IT skills expected of students at all grade levels irrespective of whether the school is located in the rural areas of the country, or for that effect urban areas. Setting up of standards for IT skills will ensure that the basic minimum requirement for internet connectivity and the availability of Tablet P.Cs, laptops or even desktops is guaranteed by state education departments.Strangely enough, one might see three major stakeholders in school education in the country today, and these include the Central Board of Secondary Education, State Boards of Secondary Education, the National Council for Educational Research and Training, the State Council for Educational Research and Training, and of course the Executive bodies of the Zonal Education departments. All of these stakeholders of Education need to be aligned to a common objective, and their areas of competence need to be clearly defined. If there is a National Policy of Education, then there needs to be a National Policy of Information Technology in Education, and there needs to be also a National Policy of Teachers Education, all of which are aligned to a common core of state education standards.

The socio-cultural diversity and the linguistic range of students in India call for a unification and standardization or benchmarks of student learning and skills at each grade level rather than a single board system. Having a single Education Board for the whole country would result in stretching of resources and the handling of too many areas in the field of education. Having a single Education Board should not mean that it imposes the same curriculum all over the country. States should have the right to have their own tailor-made, differential curriculum that caters to the requirements of the state. Standards, however, can be set up to be followed and there should be a central body to ensure that all the state boards and curriculum follow the document of standards. This does not in any way mean that we don't have standards at present. The only thing is that some of these standards are too vague and weakly defined. We need to have Common Core Standards similar to the ones we have in America.The Common Core State Standards of America document has a detailed and specific set of standards for each skill in each subject area at each grade level! A lot of effort and time would go into the framing of such a document in the country, but it would certainly be a good investment.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

A Holiday in Nainital

Nainital, a quick getaway from Delhi is merely 300 kilometers away and on light traffic days, this distance can be covered in about seven hours. This time my brother inlaw's family and mine decided to take a three-day trip into the mountains of Uttarakhand. While I drove all the way from Gurgaon on to Ghaziabad and then to Marchula in the Jim Corbet National Park, my brother in law drove from Ghaziabad. Our first stop was Marchula in Uttar Pradesh. We stayed at the Le Tigre Resort for one day and then the next day checked out and left for Ranikhet and from Ranikhet continued on to Nainital. By the time I returned to Gurgaon, I had clocked 945 kilometers on my odometer. 

For my family and I, this would be must be a sixth visit to the city. People visiting Nainital should spend at least a week so that they can visit the outlying areas, one of them being China Peak, others being Sattal, Nukuchia Tal, and Bhimtal. In our case, however, it was just about enjoying the cold weather, a respite from the heat wave scorching the plains.

Strangely enough, the town comes alive at night and people walk up and down the Mall Road simply enjoying the breeze or simply shopping for knick-knacks. While the roads inside the city are overcrowded and there are restrictions on driving on the Mall road, one simple solution is to hire a motorcycle for the whole day.

An early morning stroll to the flat area next to the Mosque can be especially rewarding because people who stay up late wake late, so you have the whole area to yourself. I wake up early and always explore new towns in the early morning. I got some wonderful snaps of ducks and the landscape, as I am sure you will agree on seeing the snaps posted below!

A Boat ride on the lake is a must, not just for the sake of boating, but also to take snaps. My suggestion would be to leave your mobile phones in your hotel rooms if you really want to enjoy the ride!

What is so unique about Nainital is that you can literally have your breakfast off the street. In one of the photographs, you will have seen pastries placed inside an Iron box. Tea can be had (in the morning) from the streetside tea-maker. Steaming and piping hot samosas can be had for ten rupees each, and Momos of all kinds are available. The advertisements for the fast-food joints can be intriguing, and thus interesting too.

Perhaps, I should have tasted the Coffee, but then I did not. As for 'PEACE.LOVE.AND ICE CREAM', well I guess I will leave it for next time! Yes, I will certainly visit Nainital when the opportunity arrives, and this is because it is a convenient and really good getaway from the hectic rush of the city! My advice to you? Well book your accommodation in advance, start early, and enjoy every moment of your trip, even the drive!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Marchula, Jim Corbet Park Utter Pradesh

When my Brother in Law suggested that our first destination on a three-day trip should be to the Le Tigre resort in Marchula near the Jim Corbet Park I was a little skeptical about the prudence of visiting a little-known resort. My family and I left Gurgaon and stayed overnight at my Brother in Law's place in Ghaziabad one day before. We left for Marchula from Ghaziabad on the 8th of June at 6:30 in the morning. Marchula close to the Jim Corbet Park is one of the farthest resort in the region while traveling from Delhi.The resort is 325 kilometers from Delhi and the driving time would vary from 7.5 hours to eight hours depending on the traffic condition. The toll roads and by-passes make the journey relatively easy. The Hapur bypass and the Moradabad bypass offer roads that allow you to speed up while driving. 

Nestling at the base of the Uttarakhand mountains, Marchula can be a bit warm during the day time. The Le Tigre Resort, however, turned out to be better than expected. The suites housing two bedrooms with attached washrooms a living area and a pantry happen to be air-conditioned. Moreover, we were more interested in diving into the swimming pool once we reached the resort and completed formalities by about 12;30 p.m.

Meals were served in the dining hall area, and the food was simply amazing. While we spent a couple of hours splashing and swimming in the pool, we spent the evening trekking a short distance to the Ram Ganga river, where, the sole of my floater came off. The evening before and after dinner was spent listening to music and dancing. If you were to ask me whether or not I had spotted tigers, the answer would be and emphatic, 'No!' Yes, I did come across what I would term outsized chameleons that reminded me of ancient dinosaurs, and birds including parrots that were gorging themselves on mangoes. A flycatcher was actively gobbling up insects, and the two dogs at the resort followed us everywhere!

The only bad thing about the Le Tigre Resort at Marchula was the poor mobile signal. There was no WiFi and no data services, which is a way suits people who want a breather from the constantly connected culture in the cities. Since we had planned to stay for only one day, we did not really explore all the facilities provided by the resort such as the pool table, badminton, and cricket.

Last but not least, there is something about Marchula that makes it mystical! One wonders if this was the very moon that Jim Corbet used to see on his lonely late night vigils for Maneaters! 

Monday, 5 June 2017

Gurgaon - a Hundred Years and more

My association with Gurgaon starts with the moment when my Paternal Grandmother's eldest sister settled in Gurgaon in the early nineteen hundred. Miss Mall as she was called worked with the Health Department.  She, along with my grandfather The Revd. Moti Lal, who later became the Principal of the St. Crispins School Gurgaon, and the Presbyter in Charge of the Church of The Epiphany,  and my Grandfathers younger brother, Mr D.K.Lal bought a plot on what is now the New Railway Road Gurgaon which would later accommodate the Mall family, the D.K. Lal family and the Moti Lal family to which I belong. My grandfather, Revd. Moti Lal was once a resident of Subzi Mandi, Delhi. My Grandfather's younger brother, Mr. D.K.Lal had joined the British Navy during the Second World War and he had been involved in the sinking of The Bismark. His ship had been sunk in the process and he had been adrift in a lifeboat in the ocean for a few days. He would later become the head of the I.I.T. in Batala.
My Grandmother's eldest sister, Miss Monica Mall once owned a couple of buses now merged into the Kamal bus service. These buses were however acquired by the Government during the Second World War. Besides owning a couple of buses, Miss Mall, my grandmother's elder sister also owned a horse carriage known as a Tonga, and a couple of horses to draw it. Gurgaon in the nineteen forties and fifties was a sleepy and peaceful town. If I remember clearly what my Grandmother once told me, our house was the third last house on the New Railway Road. My father used to tell me when he was alive that the road to the aRailway station was fraught with dangers. The road was once covered by a canopy of trees, and robbers attacked people going to the Railway Station.
My association with the once sleepy town of Gurgaon started when I migrated from Ethiopia after completing my grade twelve. In 1985 I got admission to the English Honours course in the Sri Venkateswera college in Dhaula Kuan, New Delhi. In those days my Grandmother and I would visit the vegetable market or the Subzi Mandi to purchase vegetables. Later I began to go alone. Just recently when I visited the Subzi Mandi it was to see it almost as it existed in the middle 1980s!

The only change in the vegetable market is that the stalls have become 'pukka'.

The Subzi Mandi, or the vegetable market remains more or less unchanged.

In those days, the Sadar Bazaar was not so crowded, and my Grandmother's favourite provision store used to be the Messrs Prabhati's store and Messrs. Amri's stores from where all our provisions and rations used to come. Today Sadar Bazaar is overcrowded and I wouldn't dare to visit it during rush hours.I prefer visiting the stores close to my house on New Railway Road rather than visit the Prabhati store. When I clicked the picture below of the Sadar Bazaar road, it was in the morning, much before the market had opened.

I stayed with my grandmother, Mrs. Saloni Lal in our the house that my grandfather, Revd Moti Lal had got constructed in 1961.  There was a lot that I would learn about the history of Gurgaon from her. I learned that Kaman Sarai, that housed the Shyam Sunder Printing Press and the Gurgaon City Police station was once an Inn, a secure resting place for weary travelers. Today all that is left of this inn is the Facade of the entrance that retains its original structure. This neglected and historical structure close to the bus stand is in danger of being completely wiped off and in its place become the premise of a fancy Shopping Mall. Right now Kaman Sarai is being used as a parking lot.

There is another Inn, or rather just the facade in the Sadar Bazar area of Gurgaon. The history of this building is lost in time, and like all the other buildings of historical significance, this one too has fallen victim to encroachment and civic apathy regarding the preservation of out ancient heritage. I have posted a couple of snaps that I have taken of the second Inn in Gurgaon below:

Gurgaon a hundred years back was very different from what it has become today, a megacity gasping for breath and basic amenities. Rich nobles who settled in Gurgaon brought with them artisans and workers and they then set up whole localities. A hundred years back, Gurgaon was just a hamlet, the base of a British Garrison. My Grandmother's eldest sister, Miss Monica Mall, 'Miss Mall' as she was fondly called worked in the Health Center located in Sadar Bazar. Next to the Health Centre was a prayer hall where the Hindi speaking Christian community worshiped in the Hindi. Miss Mall settled in Gurgaon in 1916, thus indirectly marking my hundred years of association with the town. Jacobpura in Gurgaon is said to have been settled by a British officer by the same name. Remarkably enough, My ancestral house, Moti Niwas, on New Railway Road was the second last house in the locality and the road to the railway station was often deserted. People traveling to the railway station were robbed by miscreants so they preferred to travel in groups.

The District Health Center where Miss Monica Mall once worked

The Prayer Hall for Hindi/Urdu speaking Christians

The John Hall has an old history. The ICS British Officer, F.L. Bryne was posted as Deputy Commissioner in Gurgaon and when his son, John Goble Bryne died at an early age, he had a grand hall built in his memory in the early 1800s. I remember my father telling me about how important exams were once conducted in John Hall in Civil Lines, Gurgaon. 

Talking about sweet shops, I remember from earlier times when my family and I used to visit India, My Grandmother would get us 'Mixed Sweets' from the Rewari Sweet shop in Sadar Bazaar. The Rewari Sweet shop was established in 1935. Another equally old sweet shop that is still doing business is the Laxmi Sweet shop. My brother and I used to buy Cholley Bhature from Laxmi Sweet shop whenever we did not feel like cooking. Along the Cholley Bhature we would also buy yoghurt from this shop.

Talking about street food and sweets, well one of the most famous 'Jalebi' sellers still gooing strong is 'Sardar Jalebi Walah'. This outlet is crowded with people rushing to have their daily course of Jalebi with milk. Burnt down during 1984 disturbances, the outlet is doing brisk business.

Maman used to be the best for 'Bhalla Papri' and 'Dahi Vada' and other such street food. I remember having some of his bestsellers. Maman used to have a cart next to the Kitchen Collection store. I really am not sure whether he still sells 'Bhall Papri!'

This is where Maman had his 'Chaat Papri' Cart.

I guess one of the oldest buildings in Gurgaon is the Jama Masjid close to the Sadar Bazar vegetable market. It is an important mosque for Muslims of the town and for others in the outlying districts. Below and around the Mosque are the numerous eateries that provide traditional Moghul street food.

One of the oldest buildings in Gurgaon is the Church of the Epiphany, Civil Lines. Just last year we celebrated its 150th anniversary. The church has been serving the community for almost one and a half centuries now. My Grandfather, Revd. Moti Lal served this church as Presbyter in Charge from 1960 to 1966.

Unofficial sources, relatives did tell me that the name of this city was Gurgaon because Gur or Jaggery for Delhi used to be stored here. I cannot confirm the veracity of this story. When I arrived for a short period in 1984, Gurgaon, the city was limited what is now called 'Old Gurgaon. which included old DLF, Sector 4, Sector 7, Laxman Vihar, Mianwali Colony, New Colony, Urban Estate, and houses along the New Railway Road and Old Railway Road.Yes, how could I forget, Gurgaon Gaon, or Gurgaon Village was also part of the town of Gurgaon. There was a huge water body where the present day Tau Devi Lal Stadium is located. There was a stream that flowed all the way from Gurgaon to Badhshahpur. Gurgaon was surrounded by farmlands with wheat crops and mustard crop. Sparrows were in huge numbers, and the Indian Vulture (now extinct) did service, cleaning the town of animal carcasses.