Education in India

May 26th, 2008

One of the central themes of Nussbaum’s book is the failure of state education in India. She takes it to task for rote learning and a total absence of critical thinking.

What is interesting is that private education in India is booming. In fact, it’s a thriving industry. The signs are everywhere. On the streets, next to the mobile phone ads, are billboards advertising private schools (known, thanks to the British, as “public schools”), private institutes, private academies. Indian newspapers and magazines have been featuring rankings and reviews of schools. This week’s India Today centers on the best schools in India.

Nonetheless, Nussbaum’s larger point seems to hold. The billboards on the street promise technical training, American English, business and science education. It is hard to see how Tagore’s emphasis on the cultivation of the imagination fits in to this boom in education.

No doubt there are exceptions. Here’s a billboard from the street in Haridwar that caught my eye a few days ago. Whizzkid International School

Performing Aarti in Haridwar

May 20th, 2008

In Haridwar, a family together performs Aarti to Mother Ganga by moving the leaf boat of flowers and fire in circles and then placing it in the water. (Click on title below left to open a brief video in a separate window.)

Performing Aarti

Aarti in the Rain

May 20th, 2008

This post goes with John Rudisill’s “Immersion in Ritual” above. Essentially, it is a narration to accompany the 5-minute video below (“Haridwar-Aarti”), taken in Haridwar on the late afternoon and evening of 19 May.

One guide took us from our hotel in Haridwar to the ghat (landing) where we had reserved places. When we arrived at the top of the bank, however, he turned us over to a second guide, who later informed us he was a priest. Not all of us were completely comfortable with removing and checking our shoes before we went down to the river on the wet, slick steps. As we join the more than 20,000 people already there, you can hear Shila doing a head count (“How many are here? 1–2-3-4-5 . . .”).

Our places were reserved on small wooden platforms set on the steps, each the worship space of a priest. Worshippers stopped by with leaf boats full of flower blossoms they had purchased, and the priest added small pots of flame, some color, and blessings. Then the boats were put into the river, where the current caught and swirled them away. You can get some sense of how many people were there in the shots of the opposite bank of the river. The crowd continued well upriver beyond the range of my small camera, and there were just as many people on our side.

Remember when you went to the beach with your family and you splashed your grandmother and she splashed you back? When a family takes a holy bath, there seems to be some of that keen loving pleasure, combined with worship, grace, and a photograph to commemorate the occasion.

As evening arrived on this occasion, so did thunder and rain, but no one’s spirits seemed to be dampened. Our platform featured an umbrella, which our priest raised for us. He then tried briefly to keep the platform clear of folks who had not paid for a space, but we were not willing to push people off, and the press of the crowd soon made him give up. Our range of vision became more and more limited by those who moved close to stay a little less wet.

My camera’s battery ran out before I could photograph the climactic fire ceremony you can see at the head of John Rudisill’s post on this amazing evening. Nor did I get the monkey and her baby who jumped down, shouting, next to Lee McBride, and then ran under our platform. Far less dramatically, my last shot is of one of the priests, silhouetted as he follows an Indian Premiere League cricket match play-by-play on his cell phone. It was like one of those stories or movie scenes in which the minister gets the World Series score during a hymn — but you are meant to know that the Deity smiles with understanding.


Sights and Smells

May 19th, 2008

You will have to excuse us. We have been thrown into a country and culture jarringly different from our own, and we are still adapting, still forming our considered impressions, as thoughtful people do. But, you want first impressions, don’t you? Okay, here are a few first impressions.

We landed in Delhi in the evening. Leaving the terminal, I immediately noticed a fog or mist. “No,” Katie told me, “that’s smog.” Then, I recognized just how unlikely it would be for fog to form in 90-degree weather. Okay, so the point is that Delhi is a bit smoggy during the summer. Another thing, New Delhi has a system of roads and roundabouts that, at first glance, appear wide, well-kept, and British. Then, looking closer, you notice that the homes and buildings that line the street are walled- or fenced-off. Then, you notice the people living in makeshift shanties on or near the sidewalk. It’s hard to know what to think about this. Smells? In Delhi, the smell of car exhaust is ubiquitous. There is, of course, the alluring smell of tea, fruit lassies, and street food – sweet, spicy, and fried. Like New York or Atlanta in the summer, from time to time, you can catch the smell of hot garbage and urine. Then, you turn the corner and you are met with intense incense, oils, and perfume.

Please take these observations for what they are: first impressions. I’m still working on my considered impressions. And, given our recent, trip to the headwaters of the Ganges River (Haridwar and Rishikesh), it is awfully clear that I cannot judge India or Indian culture based on my first two days in Delhi. The people, the customs, the environment, the infrastructure are vastly different in different regions. I’ll unpack this when I can.