Monday, September 04, 2006

Chemistry Miss

Let us see if I can write this without getting too sappy. Teacher's Day in India is celebrated on September 5. This post is a tribute to one teacher who has made all the difference in my life. I studied from kindergarten till high school in the same school, and Chemistry Miss (that is what she is still called by me and my friends and family who know her or know about her) came to our school when I was in my sixth grade. As is usual, one of my class-mates was asking me on the first day of school which Miss I liked that year, and even though I did not know anything about Chemistry Miss, I pointed to her. Needless to say, my class-mate thought I was out of my mind.

I was a mediocre unmotivated student who passed her exams but did not do much more than that till my sixth standard. During my sixth standard, when we started studying three different subjects (Physics, Chemistry and Biology) instead of one (Science), I started learning from her. I still remember the first exam we had in our chemistry class. I got something like 50 or so out of 100, and when she handed the test back to me, she said that she does not understand why I don't apply myself more as I can do much better then. That was the first time I had heard something like this and it took me by surprise. It sounds cheesy now, but at that time, I thought that if Chemistry Miss thinks I can, then I sure can. That was motivation enough for me to start doing better. It started with chemistry but gradually made a difference in other subjects as well.

I used to try and invent reasons to go talk to her and gradually our friendship grew. If she ever gave me a special assignment, I would be on Cloud 9. I used to think that if I did not do well in an exam, she got upset, but that could just be my imagination. She was a very dedicated teacher who wanted all her students to excel, and so my thinking that she wanted more marks for me felt nice then, but could not be true. When we would go on trips in school (we went to such cool places as Kutralam, Aurangabad etc.), Chemistry Miss used to tell us stories about her native town and the movies she has seen (when she wouldn't talk about movies at school at all). On one of these trips she was telling me that she would like for me to study really well and achieve all that she couldn't achieve. I was not sure exactly what she meant but decided then that I wanted to excel in my education.

When we were in our 12th standard, she had some health problem and had to have surgery and take some time off. We got a substitute teacher for chemistry, but he was no good (how could anybody be on par with Chemistry Miss?). When she found out about it, she was concerned about our final exams (12th standard is a big deal, isn't it?!) and decided to tutor us from her house. She got into trouble with our school management for that, but she was still willing to take the risk for the sake of her students. So we would all drive our bicycles to her house and study chemistry when someone from her family would make snacks for us. I have never seen anybody do such things for their students.

I finished high school and went off to college to a different city but still kept in touch with her through letters, phone calls and visits when I came home. Then I moved to the US and still kept in touch with her for a few years. Then we lost touch due to some misunderstandings and other things in life. But still, I often remember what she has taught me (hard work, sincerity and humility in addition to chemistry) and how she has helped me get to where I am. I have thought about setting up a scholarship fund or something else in my school for her, but haven’t done it as I am not sure how she will like it. Maybe it will happen one of these days. Maybe I will get in touch with her again one of these days. But for now, I am just grateful for a person like her to have come in to my life and steering me in the right direction.

Friday, September 01, 2006

30 Days

30 Days is a reality show that comes on FX channel. According to IMDB , this show is “an unscripted, documentary-style program where an individual is inserted into a lifestyle that is completely different from his or her upbringing, beliefs, religion or profession for 30 days”. The individual would either be the host of the show (Morgan Spurlock) or someone else. I have watched a few episodes of this show and it is interesting.

In one of the episodes I watched, the host and his fiancée spent 30 days living with minimum wage. That was hard to see as we don’t normally see that kind of lifestyle that close. They had to think twice about eating out or going to the movies, things that some of us get to do frequently.

In one of the other episodes, an American whose job was outsourced to India, goes to India and lives with an Indian family in Bangalore and tries to get an outsourced job there. This one was very interesting and the guy (Chris Jobin) did a great job and was very natural. His perception of outsourcing changed as he started viewing it as a way for people in India to bring up their standards of life.

In a couple of other episodes, an atheist woman lives with a religious family and a pro-choice woman lives with a pro-life family. Neither the atheist nor the pro-choice woman could really understand the other perspective but then it was a mutual feeling. It made me wonder why they didn’t do it the other way – a religious person living with an atheist family or a pro-life person living with a pro-choice family, but I already know the answer. Religious and pro-life are the majority’s way of thinking.

There was the season finale episode recently where Morgan Spurlock spends 30 days in jail – yes, you read it right, jail. I have no idea why they would let him do that or why he would want to do it (it can’t be that much money, can it?!), but they let him and he did it. This episode was not much to my liking, as it seemed phony (ok, ok, I know it is TV and it is reality TV, but still, this show has set a standard). He is taken aback at some of the poor conditions in the jail but still meets quite a few people who keep coming back. He says that several inmates are mentally affected and so the prison system has more mentally affected people than the mental institutions themselves. Apparently, all the prisons are over their capacity and some people think it is intentional as there are a lot of businesses that thrive due to prisons – businesses such as laundry, uniform, phone companies etc. It is pretty sick if you look at it this way though.

I was surprised to see that the inmates don’t have to do anything all day. They sleep, eat and sleep again. So jail is a perfect place for a lazy bum. Why in the world should some people get food and lodging without having to do anything, is beyond me. As part of his 30 days in jail, he spends 72 hours in solitary confinement and that is more torturous. He is in a tiny room with nothing to do (I don’t understand why there are not even books) but stare at the ceiling. After 72 hours in the solitary confinement, the other parts of the jail look great to him. He spends a few days in a drug rehabilitation center as several inmates are there for drug-related charges. Things are more structured and productive there as inmates have daily activities. He gets to meet his family members and fiancée once and that was touching as they are not used to meeting with bars between them.

The phony part of the show came when the host talks as to how bad it is in jail, and I keep hearing in the back of my mind that this guy knows he is there for only 30 days and he knows that he is there for the show and so what’s the big deal. In addition to this, he gives advices to a few inmates and tries to better their life. Those are noble things but just don’t go well coming from an outsider in this show.

Regardless of how the last episode was, this is an interesting show. At the least, it reminds me that a person/group with a different view than mine need not necessarily be wrong or inferior, but just different.

PS: If you want to see something more interesting, go to, search for "failure", and check out the first entry that comes up.