Writers As Teachers

Writer quote

As we read all the readily available good books written by great writers, we experience that writers and their books are like teachers that can change our lives without placing any conditions or restrictions upon us. No classes to attend, no exams to pass, no punishments whatsoever. They give but take back nothing in return.

A good writer’s great book stays on with us long after all our wonderful classroom teachers have physically gone out of our lives.

But like a not-so-good teacher, a bad book or an evil write-up has a full potential to harm us…what with no one to correct us or guide us, for no one will ever know what bad elements we got from some bad book (or e-book), while reading it in our cosy room.

And yet, as they say, education is the best gift to receive or give, and classroom teaching is one of the noblest professions where you can directly touch lives, esp. that of the very young who definitely need careful handling.

Hence, full regards to all the teachers in the world…to school, college and university teachers, to parents as teachers and to writers/bloggers as teachers.

(The 5th of September is celebrated as Teacher’s Day in India)

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For: Writer’s Quote Wednesday hosted by Colleen of silverthreading.com

Lingering Campus Ghosts


My university days
The last class finished
The course was over
The final day farewell
Well cried and rejoiced.
The vacation commenced
But we refused to accept!!
We ‘Three Musketeers’
Lingered on and on

For many days to come
We three friends
Like ghosts hovering
Around empty campus
Inside the vacant rooms
Sat on the benches
Laughing and eating
Though sad in our hearts
Searching for all that was

Days later, vacation over
Once again, we got together
Same campus, same rooms
But what we observed soon
Was some hustle and bustle
Whole lot of fresh new people
New students happy and chirpy
Their introductory Open Day
Their freshers’ Welcome Party

The roles had been transferred
The place was taken over
We could not be in denial.
The place is all theirs
What are we doing here?
“We can no more linger on
We are students dethroned”

Demoted to be ex-students
Years down the track
Till now we are ex-students
the respected Alumnus.
But that’s not a problem
Alumni do have permission
to linger on, and linger on.
In their minds and memories
they can forever linger on.


This poem is about how we girls felt in those days, how we lingered on…but I don’t dwell on my university, college or school days anymore. These days, coming across heaps of very old time friends on social media gives us sudden elation followed by confusion and mixed feelings – how much and how long to live in our younger days? It’s quite an effort to assimilate them in your current life hence a balance is needed.

As P G Wodehouse said, “Memories are like mulligatawny soup in a cheap restaurant. It is best not to stir them”

Do you also have some memories about campus days?  Please share as it’s always fun to remember and read about youthful times.

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Previously in response to The Daily Prompt:  Linger

Tell us about times in which you linger – when you don’t want an event, or a day to end. What is it you love about these times? Why do you wish you could linger forever?

Also for Writer’s Quote Wednesday #WQWWC  This week’s theme is Memories

Lasting Impressions

If somebody asks me, which particular teacher changed your life, I will be confused. That’s because in case of most students, life does not change because of one but many teachers. 404x404xagoodteachercaninspirehopebradhenryquote.jpg.pagespeed.ic.hJ31rYnWZU

In the case of most students, just one teacher, or one human being cannot have such a drastic impact that their life alters completely because of him/her. But this too can happen in cases where a young person is truly deprived, a slow student with no clue about where his or her life is going, and then suddenly there comes a messiah teacher in their life to show them a path towards a wonderful life they are supposed to live.

The above extreme scenario may also occur if some student is from a family where there is no real support or guidance available from the first teachers, that is, parents. Quite often, parents are unable to provide guidance due to their own lack of education, or else they lack overall resources. In such a case, many if not most teachers, and sometimes even one particular teacher has a power to become a savior for the child and heavily influence a student’s life. In any case, any teacher is better than no teacher.

But overall it is collectively the whole school or college system that molds us or changes us to become what we are.  The era in which we are born, our city, the type of school we go to, the importance given by our school or college to values, morals, sports, arts; and then overall syllabus and school board’s curriculum, all these factors together have a slow and gradual impact on us during ten to twelve years of our schooling.

In my beautiful birthplace Chandigarh, the place that had connection to the likes of Sabeer Bhatia and Kalpana Chawla, nowadays there are many wonderful schools but during my school days we had two coveted convents – Sacred Heart High and Carmel Convent High.  As a primary school girl I had a secret desire to attend one of these high schools (yes we are charmed by elitist reputation). But the travelling distance was not convenient, well so said my father, and I obeyed.

The result (thankfully) was that I went to a multi-cultural, multi-religious, low-fee government school that nevertheless had a highly academic atmosphere with focus on moral development (not much of religion but values) as well as complete all-round growth.  As I recollect now, the morning prayers and assembly time were compulsory for the whole school to attend. This Assembly, supported by good amplifiers and microphones, involved regular readings of ‘Thought for the Day’, ‘The Daily News’ , all kinds of debates and declamations, open discussions on serious issues, followed by the National Anthem and some patriotic or moralistic songs from any of India’s various religions. Back in those days, such assembly times seemed tedious and long drawn out to many students including me – a supposedly good student. But now, I realize the role played by all those non-academic activities in my life.

Surprisingly, this government school had a very strict school uniform policy, to the point of being fussy and we were always expected to be spic and span. Proper ironing of uniform, supplemented by polished shoes, was must as there was a penalty for the rule-breakers. The habits once formed stayed with me or else I would have been much clumsier than I am right now.

So, coming back to analyse as to which specific teacher played a major role in my life, I would say all of my teachers in my inspirational school were just fabulous, and honestly speaking, I was most teachers’ pet. But, for hiring such perfect teachers and for such a perfect running of our school, I give complete credit to the Principal of our school, a very methodical and meticulous lady, total disciplinarian and highly knowledgeable not just in academics but also all forms of music and dance forms that multicultural India has. Our Annual functions were really popular in the whole city.

Growing up in such an environment I too became multi-skilled and always lived an all-round life, in my academic degrees as well as various careers and hobbies. At times I felt that being too all-round can be a deterrent in the path of any student’s main career, esp. during our formative years. But overall, looking at it objectively, esp. now as I’ve left my ambitious youth behind and will (have to) inevitably grow older, I feel by the time I reach the end of my days, I’ll fully and thankfully value this fact that I lived a multi-faceted life. Lived many lives in one life. Experienced many different educational and creative fields in a wide variety of workplaces. Good…because we are not going to come this way again, are we?

But, with all this, there is no denying the fact that our teachers do influence us till eternity, at least their influence reaches our coming generations. Because parents like us, who grow up in such inclusive and egalitarian school environments, have a mind that seeks similar open-minded academic institutes for their off-springs too. And so my son also went to a much sought-after (for right reasons) government school here in Australia, the serial highest performer ever in NSW, the famous James Ruse JRAHS.  And for this I give credit to my own school teachers.

The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Teacher’s Pet.”

Tell us about a teacher who had a real impact on your life, either for the better or the worse. How is your life different today because of him or her?

Heartful Brainful Me

What percentage of our brain power do we use? There’s this assumption that it is not more than 10%. Is that true? At least we grow up trying to use more.


As I was growing up, like most other dads, my dad too was a great advocate of using one’s brain. Looking into my eyes, he used to put his finger at his temple, knock it and suggest, “Use your brain”.  Say, if he had assigned me some challenging maths problem or was helping me with my homework, then the solution was as easy as saying  – ‘Use your brain’.  At this, I would look dreamily and thoughtfully at the distance with narrowed squinting eyes and act as if I was indeed thinking hard and using my brain.

That was childhood. But as we grow older, we women have our hands more on our sighing hearts rather than on the temples of our brain. In school, where irrespective of our gender, we are allowed to be intelligent and so women do very well in academics often better than boys. While still single, most girls begin their career well and establish a ground. But I’ve seen this phenomenon time and again, that soon, as they get married, when it comes to demands laid by their newly-formed family, women end up using their full hearts much more than their full brains.

In pursuit of best possible care for their family, many of these sensitive souls end up putting their brains in their kitchen wardrobe or in their baby’s toy-box, or else wrap their brain in their teenager’s marks-sheet and forget to take it out. Finally when they do take the ‘walnut‘ out of its closet, it is already distorted and crumpled due to its lack of use or less use than required, or sometimes misuse.

And given the current scientific assumption that even high-achievers have used only 10% of their brain, we can deduce that those women (and men) who have neither fully utilized their educational qualifications nor achieved their career to its full potential, well they have not even used 10% of their brain. What they could have achieved in their career or life, they’ll never ever know. It’s a different matter altogether that what they gain by spending maximum time loving and caring for their children, is much more than any full brain achievements.

There is another category of people who use mainly their heart, hence the brain goes ignored. They are ‘people in love‘.  With illogical infatuation, the brain goes into the bin and heart becomes the king. Brain sleeps while heart sighs and cries and sings and laughs.   Most people in love use only 2.83% of their brain, that too neither in academics nor in any creative pursuits. But possibly they are happy with what they get – an experience of being in love. Ask a dumped lover if he/she should not have got carried away too much, they will always justify, “It’s better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all”.  No regret for all the time wasted.

There is another situation when we cannot use our brain to its fullest and cannot further add any constructive knowledge to it. Well folks, if something is already full up to the brim, can there be any space left for putting anything else in it? Gibberish like stray unhealthy thoughts, redundant ideas, unproductive day-dreaming, constant worrying about others – all these  occupy so much space in our brain that at any particular moment of time or hour or day, our unintelligent thoughts are running hay-wire.

And since our actions are the products of our thoughts, with faulty thoughts we often end up walking in the wrong direction. Even in this wrong direction taken, we are unable to do our very best if we are bothered about office politics or neighborly disputes, or if we look here and there and let others run our life. Unfortunately, most people do have vulnerable brains like that and hence most people use their brains very less, or else guided by others they use it in the wrong direction.

Besides all the above criteria, of course there are many other reasons why we do not use our brain to its fullest potential. Lethargy, lack of direction, lack of motivation, lack of right resources, ill-health – there can be any number of valid reasons.

So where do I stand in all this?  Did I or did I not used my brain to its fullest?

If I had not encountered at least some of the above negating factors, if I could get back my lost years, could regain my lost opportunities and if I could turn back time and spend my life in one city focusing on one career, then I would like to set many things right. I would use my brain to establish an excellent career in any one of my favorite fields, but from an early age. Due to changing circumstances, I got to experience many different work areas, thus becoming a Jill of many trades. The result was people consider me heavily multi-skilled, well versed in most. But am I a super veteran in one? Something that is possible even for mediocre brains to achieve if, year after year, they stay solely dedicated in their singular field of work. Therefore, those who judge others on the basis of positions and awards a person had, would not understand me. But there are others who will tell me I’ve been rather lucky. After all, it’s one life and it’s great to have experienced life in its myriad forms. In fact, gaining myriad skills and jobs is like using all parts of one’s brain a lot, rather than only left brain or right brain. Not bad.

If I could use my brain to its fullest, I would also like to write such wonderful books that even in this brain-dead era of social media addiction, after reading my books, all these netizens would willingly desert their non-smart smartphones, will forget about enlightening others with their copy-paste FB quotes and jokes, even temporarily forget to take selfies but would eagerly que up outside the bookshops to purchase my next book, only to discover at the counter that they just got sold-out.

But right now, even with whatever writing ability I have, there is lack of focus, motivation or will to logically organize the pages upon pages of poems and essays that I have written in my computer folders. One needs the use of full brain so as to practically and diligently put one’s written documents in a meaningful order so that the chaos can be called a ‘book’.  But the brain-using-ability I have right now is only 7.69% or less.

There is another creative side of my brain which again I have used only 5.12%.   I would like to compose my music and sing it too, such music that leaves Beethoven and Mozart open-mouthed in awe and will make Hollywood or Bollywood all sign me up for their next song.

Of course, the list is endless. Would like to do portraits and landscapes in oils and acrylics, something learnt long ago but not pursued, even after winning awards. Knitting and sewing are also the tasks that had rather become a cause of shame for the younger me, as I always opined that these are not meant for the academic me. Not applying myself fully into it, meant anytime I began knitting a cardigan I had to leave it unfinished, for I could simply not grasp the intricacies of shaping a neck using multiple knitting needles and threads. In cooking I would like to learn some versatile international cuisines. Creating a visually appealing as well as nutritious food also demands the use of more than 10% brain, actually 16.87% to be more precise. That’s if we could measure our brain usage in percentages.

Having said all this, I personally feel we do not use our brain merely 10%. We use our brain as well as our heart much more than the assumed 10%.  It varies from person to person and from time to time.

In good humour, I categorised the above few kinds of people who do not use their brain 100%.  There is a possibility that they do not want to use their brain to its fullest. That’s because it is too much an effort to keep trying to use our brain to its fullest. Is it better to live life as it comes along?

Really. People should be allowed to do what they want. Full brain is necessary to discover a vital cure for deadly cancer, or to discover and research the whole physical universe.   But a good heart is as vital as a good brain. It makes this world a better loving place, if all the down-trodden are looked after by some self-less kind hearts.

And see what my poetic heart says:

Using my brain 100%
makes me

Using my heart 100%
makes me
brain dead

heart vs brain
brain vs heart

Not one wins
As I use both
but none 100%

And that’s the
Heartful Brainful Me

 ~~Alka ~~

The Daily Post’s writing prompt brain power prompts us to try using our brain more than our current 10%.

Illuminated pathways…enlightened minds!!!

Illuminated pathways…enlightened minds!!!

???????????????????????????????Schools, colleges and universities are places of enlightenment for those who have it in them.
The first (above) picture was taken by my son at University of New South Wales (Sydney) walking from one department to the other.  Superb reflection of light heightens the reflective academic mood.
The lamps and their reflections and the shrubs on both side – what perfect symmetry!!   

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: Symmetry

The above and below pictures were also sent for previous photo challenge: Twinkle, where we had to share photos of twinkling light…to find a light source and a reflective surface in order to capture a twinkle.


The second (below) picture was clicked by my family at Shanghai Airport. These are droopy pensive lightened up figurines.

Airports too are the illuminated corridors/pathways that lead to some great journeys which are capable of enlightening our minds…and broadening our horizons.  


Pretty Liars…Lie Lie Again


In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Sweet Little Lies.”

The Daily Post has asked:  As kids, we’re told, time and again, that lying is wrong. Do you believe that’s always true? In your book, are there any exceptions?

“It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place”
This is what one Henry Louis Mencken said about lying and truth. 

If a person has murdered someone, or has stolen something or done something he or she should not have done, then it would be difficult for that person to be immediately truthful about it. Unless and until it is clear that there is no escape.  

So is it with something as simple as telling your (exact) age. Women as well as men hide their age if they can, and yet not really labelled as liars.

Even before you ask a woman, “How old are you?” , you know very well that the reply won’t come easy.   The replying party will fidget or look downwards and after a hesitant hmmm and ohhh wellll…she will tell that she is around 40 or that she belongs to this and this age group.

Rarely do we come across a woman telling her age directly and confidently, in a straightforward manner without even an inkling of hesitation.  Exceptions are those men and women who look much older than their age. Normally, if some rare woman indeed tells her age openly, she should be considered an honest and truthful person. Shouldn’t she?  But…she is not. That’s because even if she is telling the truth no one will consider it a truth. Because, nobody believes a woman when she tells her age.

So, whether she wavers or she tells her complete truth, either way it will seem as if she is telling a lie. But a lie that most people accept.  Age and height are tentative, always left for others to guess.  Unless and until it is a job interview or a competition based on age as criteria, it doesn’t even matter whether a person is 31 or 33,  45 or 49.

Age is a fake and frivolous criteria.  It is very biased to judge people on age alone.  An older person can be a better worker, an older dancer might be a better dancer –  life of the party.  A younger person with no sensitivity, no skills, education, taste, class or style should not be deemed better than somebody slightly older but fine in every other way.

Hence, there should be no need at all for any human being to lie about something as fickle as age and yet people are compelled to lie.   This is a fake world that glorifies youth and beauty therefore  women often dilly-dally when telling their precise chronological age.  They have a fear that they would be judged by others on the basis of age.  It is this judgmental world that makes them liars.

After reading this article, make sure not to ask any woman her age because she won’t tell the truth. And even if she does, you won’t believe she is telling the truth.   So what’s the point in making someone indulge in sweet lies.


What’s in a degree?

(I wrote this article in year 2014 when a supposedly less-educated woman had been elected as Human Resources Development/Education related Minister in India. My arguments are valid for any place in the world)

Smriti Irani, the newly elected HRD Minister in India is facing controversy over her educational qualifications after it emerged that she is a college drop-out.  She has also been accused of making contradictory declarations about her degree, in two different Upper House elections, those in 2004 and 2014.

We commonly say, what’s in a name? And here, what’s in a degree?  Like any other thing in life, do we end up over-valuing the importance of degrees as also sometimes under-valuing them? These are two antagonistic clubs.

I have personally seen it all.  I was almost victimized by the pompous attitude of those who had higher degrees. And at a different time, in different social circle, I was made to feel guilty by those who had somewhat lesser qualifications than I have.

At times, I directly experienced the self-opinionated and high-handed attitude of those with so-called very elitist engineering or MBA degrees from very reputed institutions of India or abroad. For years I was surrounded by professional friends working in high-end multinationals, some of whom openly and snidely blurted out that their scientific and technical degrees are superior to that of my M.A ,and so is their job compared to my teaching, public service or later Relationship Banking. This kind of categorizing me in arts stream had one benefit, that I ended up with a degree in IT, thanks to such comparisons. But such odious comparisons can be eventually fatal to people’s career, and also to relations or friendships.

On the other extreme, I also observed and sensed the frustrations and envious insecurities of age-mates who could not complete their basic degrees (for whatever reasons) but gave vent to their angst, as we, the one’s who got better chances fro education, had ended up with some success in life due to our seemingly better degrees. Often, people do not realise where they went wrong. They are not motivated enough towards studying when they are younger, but as the realization dawns, they feel left out and regret. Sometimes it’s too late to catch up.

All in all, having a degree or not having one can seriously damage somebody’s self-esteem and self-worth, and often the impact is life long. Such is the importance of a degree amongst people of Indian origin.

Well, that was based on personal experience. In general, how else is a degree important?

Ask those students who pay heavy fees to avail coaching for entrance exams to get admission in high-demand, lucrative medicine or engineering courses and still fall short of few marks in a competitive exam.
Ask those poor Indian students who cannot get admission in engineering or medical college, as there are others who can afford to buy a seat by giving capitation fee (donation).
Ask a diligent student appearing in a CA exam how bad it feels to fail again and again, and yet again. His/her CA degree becomes more precious than any amount of money, any big diamond.
Ask those parents who sell their ancestral property to arrange money for their son or daughter to get them a foreign degree in a non-Indian university, with possible future settlement in a western country. This kind of degree/diploma can mean better life and better future generations, even if it comes with a cost, that of deserting your own country, a brain-drain that your poor country suffers if you leave it.

Furthermore, for students, their degree is precious as they have spent years upon years slogging, writing notes, typing projects, clearing difficult exams. All this to get a university degree. Such trudging followed by a very tough competition, only to secure a humble entry-level job.

Coming back to the topics…it’s amazing to see how Smriti Irani has been made in-charge of Education Ministry. Without a B.Ed one cannot be a school teacher, without an M.Phil or PhD one cannot be a Professor.  Ask those PhDs who aspired to be a University Professor but could not even get a job of a lecturer or school teacher, thanks to the competitive job market or the corrupt selection committees.  But it seems as if it’s easier to be education minister without even a basic degree.

Am I being judgmental? Not really.  Because there is absolutely nothing wrong in not having a high degree.  images (4)There is no importance of any paper documents that merely declare your graduation results if you are a successful business woman or man. Moreover, an all-rounded progressive society needs all professions, including those jobs that do not need lots of theoretical education but they do demand practical hand-on experience in that trade. No work is in any way inferior to the other. We have a physical body so we need to be healthy, pleasant-looking and stylish if not outstanding. Hence, we need fashion designers who are deft at their job, thus saving us from time spent designing our own clothes. Likewise, we need chefs, beauticians and veterans from all spheres of life. But these jobs may or may not need university qualifications to certify their expertise.

One such hard copy of degree is also not needed by a woman who is an intelligent homemaker and teaches high-level textbooks to her own smart kids. She will not be expected to show a paper degree to anyone. Her children are the evidence of her job well done.

But in a ministerial position related to education, that too of an HRD minister?  The less said the better.

Smriti Irani could have been given any other position than that of Education Minister.  With her background, she will make a fabulous media related minister, could very well be in-charge of some Film Institute. So if she can bring greater success to a department where she her real expertise lies, then why make her slog willy-nilly in a field which is not her domain but is extremely vital for the country’s success.

The HRD Ministry is a serious issue because it, more or less, deals with the intellect of the country. Whatever decisions she takes, will influence every person in the country directly or indirectly. India needs a farsighted vision, a huge overhaul in its education system from Primary to Higher research levels and should avoid taking such political risks.

Thus, the issue is not about her being less educated.  It is about her education related job. Otherwise, what’s in a degree!!


Also read the next part of this article: What’s in a degree – the counter argument