LazyChef Goes Keto

I know!!!

I know!!!

A diet. What am I thinking!

They promised me cakes, and fat and proteins.

And magical stuff like it would reverse memory loss and cancer and of course obesity.
Small print says maybe.

But now I’m starting this. So sharing the stuff I’m planning to make. And making.

It’s actually quite easy.

And no, one doesn’t feel hungry at all though eating very very little.

It’s the fat, people.

Hmm. Is this a bit like poison to kill poison? Coz I’m still wondering how eating fat will make me less fat.
Ya ya, Ketones I know.

Drink water, y’all. Recipes marked Keto.

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A few Home Truths about History

1. Your history was not as perfect as you think

2. Your history was never documented accurately, so no one will ever know the truth

3. Of what was known, a lot could not be reconciled – your history is full of contradictions

4. Your history is not what was taught to you.

5. They will continue to discover new things about history – and re-interpreting it. Each lens that looks at the same facts will do so in a different manner.

6. History evolves, and it depends upon many many things.

7. History has always been a tool to manipulate the emotional gullible.

8. History, as taught, history as written, history as retold, and history as believed are all different animals in the jungle of influence.

9. History is written by the victors, is re-told by the losers, is embellished by storytellers and is believed by the simple.

10. There is no right and wrong in the past. Just like today, there are people, powers, interests, survival, greed, ideologies and resources. Nothing and no one ever really wins or loses. It doesn’t really matter. They were all people.

11. Any wins in the past (zero, chola empire, nasal surgery, gravitation) are all commendable and must be remembered but if they have not continued to evolve and grow, then all they are is stories. A culture, history and tradition of science and progress is useful only if it has been sustained. It’s value today is to encourage freedom and endeavour.

12. History’s job is to stop stupidity in the future.

13. One cannot dwell in the past. However you remember it. Neither in victimhood, nor in glory.

14. Unfinished battles of the past belong there – in the past. They were done then. Do not fight in the name of the past because it will cost you your future.

Unless you are using and manipulating the stories of the past to build your future. Then do it, knowing that it is a low game that uses the good in others for your own good.

15. History is usable as the storehouse of emotions – watch out for yours.

The Story Teller

Imagine the hostile lands around the Silk Route, a road that connected many countries. There was work to be obtained along that route, because the route sustained trade, which made money. There were caravan makers, and camel traders, and silk merchants of course, but also cooks, and washermen and clothiers. There were bandits and protectors who worked the long caravans that traveled together for safety. The terrain was often harsh, icy deserts, sharp climbs and immense flat sands, the only consolation coming in the cities that were far flung. Villages could feed but a part of the caravan, the steppes were good for hunting sometimes but not always.

The people of the silk road were often hungry and very tired. There was fortune to be made on the road, both good and bad. Some days were good, and workers got paid their wages, and traders sold their wares. Other days were bad, if the wind swept away your cargo, or it fell down a hill side. A desert storm could destroy much, as could the robbers – there was plenty of the bad as well as the good. There were days of hunger and becalm.

But in the middle of it all, was the relief of the story teller. The story teller turned up uninvited, for who would not want to hear a story. A small coin from each and some food and drink, the storyteller was always welcome.

He would tell tales of great kings, and their brave deeds. Of princesses and their beauty. Of ministers and their magic. Of traders and their adventures. He soared above what was real, and his audience soared with him. The aches and pains of the journey, the sorrows of loss melted away in the hearing, the joy of gains was raised manifold. The night passed in ease, with the comfort of the fire and the company, the storyteller lulling us all to dream of a better time and place.

When the fires dimmed, and the embers remained, the story teller was satisfied. He was paid, and fed. He had enough drink to warm his belly. He had spread some joy, eased some pain and helped them all to another day.

The storyteller was always welcome, as he went on his way.

Teacher’s Day Salaams

“It’s not about my, or my passion for education”, I blushed. “It’s about the students, the teachers, who are on the frontline of this battle day in and day out.”

I sounded like the cliche our education system had become. I used to write essays like this at school. And then helped my son and my nephews with those. Great King? Write about his land reforms, he built roads, dug wells and did great things to get justice for the poor. Climate Change? Write about land erosion, tree roots, ecosystem, microclimates, ozone layer and extremes of temperature. We knew our ‘seven points for five marks’ formulae. Everything was a formula. Running a classroom session? There’s a standard method to that. Teacher’s Day? Write an essay.

So I did. To reflect.

There is no one standard formula for quality education at scale for a nation as large as India. And as each year, September 5, Teacher’s Day comes as a day of celebration, and of reflection. The road ahead is long and troubled, true. But the road traversed was no mean feat indeed. India, today, stands at the brink of success. We can do it, in one great push, all together. It is time for India’s Educational Dunkirk.

The good news first? We have so many metaphorical boats ready to reach out in the education sector. Today, on teacher’s day, I want to salute these navigators, who kept themselves afloat and reached out to do so much good in the land of teaching and learning.

I salute those teachers who landed up at school everyday, professional and perfect, holding fort and ensuring that nothing stops the journey of education. They too must have had tough days, but they did not give up. Some commute for hours to get to school, some fight battles at home to get to the classrooms, and some fight inner demons to control themselves to stand and deliver in the classroom. My first salaam to them.

I salute those school heads who hold things steady so that teachers can build real learning for their students. Those who lead from the front and take the risk of saying, “Let’s try this”, and when it works, celebrate the moment of happiness with their schools. To these great leaders goes my second salaam.

Then, I salute those who work in education for less pay than they would get in the world outside – the volunteers, the NGOs, the interns, the researchers and so many more who dig deep into their well of resources to give to every learner they meet on the road to good. Some are teachers who are not rich, but will buy school books for their students, some are people who will go deep into the jungles and set up village schools, some are professionals who set up help centres to encourage more to follow in their footsteps, and some are students themselves who reach out to other students. Each giving a part of themselves, for we are in it together. We raise the tide for us all. My third salaam goes to them.

But more than these, I salute the silent warriors of education. The people who quietly teach one or two students each year in their neighbourhood and charge nothing. The ones who quietly create class notes and put them online for all to share. The ones who stop on the way, even when their lives are so rushed, and share a bit of their learning with those who need it. And do it for no credit and for no money. These quiet soldiers are the ones who create magic – and my deepest salaam is theirs.

They are the ones who build the fabric of the future. When times are tough, I think of them and I am inspired again. When stories of cheating in exams, of plagiarism in reports, of teachers that beat students, of sexual assault in schools, of university shut downs and falling standards hits the stands, then I think of these – the recipients of the four salaams – and I know, it will be fine. For every corrupt soul who lets greed and laziness create ignorance and stupidity in the country, there is another who is lighting the lamp of critical thinking, of debate, of curiosity and of personal growth.

This is why my last salaam today goes to teachers who are learners, and to learners who are teachers. Not just within the classroom but to each one of us who converts a moment into a learning moment. To the everyday people who devote time to tutor a needy learner around them. To the quiet free tuition classes, reading rooms and libraries for the neighbour hood.

But equally, to to the everyday inquisitiveness of the aunty who wants to know your salary, and the uncle who wants to know how much rent you pay, to the random person who knows where you are going on a train or a bus – and to all of them who join in to tell you of a better way. To all the teachers within them, a salaam. A salaam to those who will join in the public debate on which route is better, whether it is about getting to a place or a career. And one to those who will walk on past their destination, because they are curious to see what is next. Another to those who will jugaaad their way to the goal, regardless of the means, and then to their neighbour who will tell him how useless his quest is – competing quietly and so encouraging each other to do better. To each of us who learns, so that we can tell each other how much better we are than them, another salaam.

Our quirks make us who we are, and who we are at our core is a nation of teachers, (Let me tell you what to do…) in one way or another. Here’s to the learners within the teachers, who learn indefatigably, so that we can all tell each other how it should be done. And so we all learn and grow together, in our own Indian way.

Assessment, Moderation and Boards

Part 1: Fundamental Fix

“To have one examination determine a future pathway for a generation of youth is folly akin to forcing them to put all their eggs in one basket”

The Class 12 Examination of the various boards are one such hurdle. They have been since living memory, and thus, it seems they will continue. Each student is bound to a particular board by the school they sign up to – and there is no other way. One could of course step out of the schooling system and go the NIOS way, but then, very few in India take the results of that board seriously. Already, even before we have begun talking about these – we are hit by the fact that all boards are not created equal.

Nor do they need to be. But they do need to be able to calibrate on equivalent examinations.

For a student, there is no greater prison than to be beholden to one exam, one board, and one set of criteria for success.

My appeal is to the Universities to expand their range of requirements, my appeal to the MHRD is to allow students to take multiple exams across boards, and/or, start a series of professional exams at the level of Class 12 that are voluntary, inexpensive and accessible nationally such as the SATs and other certification exams. Each subject could be a separate specialist examination board, or each industry… these are discussions going forward. These break the monopoly of specific exams, and are more inclusive – lifelong learners can join in anytime and upgrade their basic qualifications. Let each student have more chances at success.

The current situation must never be repeated – and from this should emerge some policy level changes. (1) One needs a national level examination designed professionally to be able to calibrate the various papers and examinations. At this time there is no data that allows the standard statistical tools of adjustment across various boards to be applied. The statistics and the tools exist, and are relatively easy. The data is not there. (2) All Senior Secondary Boards must be asked to declare their methodology for aligning the level of questions, their marking schemes and their moderation policies. Most boards globally do this so that there is informed participation in an examination. (3) The various boards need to build transparency in their goals, and in their redressal mechanisms. Finally (4) Build a free flow of information and learning in assessment sciences – the current education boards have some excellent faculty and knowledge in the area that is not visible to the direct consumers of their work. This is unfair to both sides and must be fixed.

There are other suggestions that will improve the Senior Secondary Exams, but these are basic – and we must make a start.

Part II:

Assessment and Moderation

(i) Tweet collation
(ii) Principles of Assessment
(iii) Principles of moderation
(iv) Governance

Part III:

Policy Reform Opportunity

Five Principles to Keep Children Safe at School

(First Published: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/five-principles-to-keep-children-safe-in-schools/)

Five principles to keep children safe in schools
May 5, 2014, 12:11 PM IST Meeta Sengupta in EduCable | India, Lifestyle | TOI
Whether you see it as childcare, or a place to learn, or about meeting friends – the entire premise of schools revolves around safety. We send our children to school to learn all this because we know they will be safe there.
Sadly, we know that this has not always been so – children have been hurt and abused at school. Whether it was an explicit MMS sent out by school bullies or a child being abused by the caretaker and bus attendant. These were sexual – there are other kinds of abuse that our children face from classmates, teachers and even school heads. Often we forget that our harsh behaviour can have serious consequences for young minds – take the example of the poor young girls who committed suicide in Bangalore after they were punished for playing Holi. They clearly felt unable to deal with the consequences of the humiliation meted out to them and the school failed in providing them a safe place to learn from incidents. The school failed them thrice – once in not providing them a safe place for self expression, two -in giving them disproportionate punishment, thus becoming an aggressor (even if they thought it was okay, and had precedence), and three, in not providing them a safe place to deal with their feelings.
There have been multiple incidents since then. Some sexual in nature, some due to negligence and others due to willful harm inflicted on our children. Are our children safe at school? Will the rules help keep them safe? They may, but safety is an attitude. A safe school builds a culture of safety where there is both awareness and alertness with sensitivity. This is signaled in many ways, not just in watching out for sexual abuse. It is the task of a school to provide a safe, caring, nurturing atmosphere.
It is not easy at all. Especially for large schools the challenges are immense. There are distant nooks and crannies in large schools where anything can happen. There are times when all children cannot be supervised – for example – as they go from a specialised classroom to another, or from a sports complex to, say, the library. Children have always found ways of bunking out of school. Unless one establishes a police state within the school there is only a limited degree of control that a school can have over every moment for every child.
Some places have resorted to that. There are metal detectors outside some schools in the UK. Some schools have cameras everywhere. Other schools insist on specific routines to be maintained that restrict the freedom of students.
They are not wrong in setting up routines. It is these routines that will ensure that the school becomes a safer, more caring place. Here are some things schools do to ensure that schools are safer places:
Ensure that every part of the school is supervised by a teacher especially during break and sports. Corridor, Break and Sports grounds duties to be assigned separate from teaching duties (a teacher cannot be in a classroom and be teaching at the same time)
Create a buddy system where children are paired up, or are in groups of three. They are responsible for knowing where their buddies are at any point of time, and preferably staying with them. Another version of the buddy system that has seen a reduction in school bullying is assigning an older child to look out for a younger child in the playground. If the younger child feels any danger they have a person to approach who is responsible for helping them. The choice of the system and the specific design depends upon the needs and circumstances of the school, and the details must be designed with care. The idea is to create a watchful, caring safety net for children.
Awareness. Educate children and make them aware of their own rights over their bodies. Nobody can command them to do what is not right. (It often bothers me that when we train our children in unquestioning obedience we put them at risk. Anyone in a position of authority then must be obeyed, regardless of what they ask children to do.) Teach children about good touch and bad touch. Tell them that they have the right to say no. Teach them that their ‘no’ must be respected. Show them what to say and do to save themselves.
Include parents in the safety community. Share their tools of keeping children safe. Help them understand that often sexual abuse comes from known people. Share the statistics and the stories. Engage experts to run the communication and workshops with parents – because these are issues that are about fears, vulnerability and hurdles – and must be handled with sensitivity.
Create an atmosphere of open communication within the school. Let children chatter freely with teachers, with head teachers and each other, sharing their fears and hopes. This is no guarantee that there will be no abuse in the school but healthy and open conversations can often identify potential flash points and early action can be taken to save children from harm.
There are more lists available for school leaders that will help them keep their school safe. Even with the best of care, and the best of intentions there is no guarantee that something bad will not happen. Even so, with care, with vigilance and with supervision the school can be made a safe space. It takes effort, and this effort must be put in by the schools. At the end of the day, for a school leader – there is no substitute to management by walking around.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

Five Tasks for a School Safety Committee

(This was first published: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/5-tasks-for-a-school-safety-commitee/)

5 tasks for a school safety commitee
July 21, 2014, 10:13 AM IST Meeta Sengupta in EduCable | Bangalore, India | TOI
“But how could it happen?”
The school in question this time denies responsibility. Then accepts it. More reports are printed – of there being a dark room for punishments in the school. Of painkiller injections being given to children without parental consent. A girl was raped in school by staff. The horror and disgust – and disbelief is overpowering. What is worse is that it could happen anywhere. Unless we step up.
Parents now reveal that at the time of admission they sign on a document that absolves schools of responsibility for the safety and security of a child.
How can this be legal?
Schools are first places of safe learning before being anything else – certification agencies or funnels to higher education or anything. They are safe places. They exist to provide safe environments to children to explore, be curious, to learn, to be taught. This is why schools have walls, fences and gates – to keep their wards safe. This is why access to schools is restricted – only people who have been authorised to work with children, having been tested for their competence and abilities are allowed into the fenced area where children play freely.
Schools cannot run away from their responsibilities. They cannot simply shrug and walk away.
Enough lazy governance, schools. It is time you step up and did the job you were hired to do. Simple. Safe Learning Spaces. This is your business.
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The current case has occurred in a private school in Bangalore, there have been others previously in government and private schools too. Our children’s safety does not seem to have become part of the daily concerns of either schools or parents. How many of you as parents accept the fact that you have to jump over an open ditch or walk over half made steps to get your child into the school? How many of you have checked the police verification certificate of the transport operator that takes the child to school? As teachers – do you react in shock that children are not supervised often on the school premises?
Granted, accidents happen and mistakes get made – there is no system that is 100% foolproof. But the lack of a safety system for school age children is an abdication of responsibility. Building the conversation and seeking action on school governance is a mission – this is the only way such episodes can be minimised.
There is much parental anger and disgust now because of the horrible incident that has occurred. This needs to translate to better parental engagement in schools – and please – not just the mothers. The best schools are able to engage parents in school processes in meaningful ways. Some have a parent escort in school buses, where parents take turns. Some have parent reading programs, parents help with changing for swimming, with supporting remedial sessions, some play sessions, school book fairs, fund raising activities and more.
The engagement of parents in school boards is vital – if the school does not have a formal mechanism for parents to be part of their management committee or board, then parents could make a start by creating a parental advisory board that engages with the school. No, this is not like a trade union of yore where you go and fight for your rights – this is about creating constructive engagement with the school to improve the safety and learning that will help our children. All children.
The RTE act mandates a school management committee – and this should be taken up by all schools, not just the ones that have been forced to by regulation. The composition and powers of the school management committee are crucial – the SMC must have community engagement. Parents, teachers, senior local community members, staff from peer schools and subject matter experts based on the needs of the school. The SMC sits above the school management and has the power to advise and instruct the school leadership.
Start small – start with a School Safety Committee if the SMC and the school governance structure seems too tough to do (it is easy, really)
And what should this school safety committee do?
1. Assess the risks that are facing the school. (For example physical risks to children, non availability of good teachers which will hurt learning.. etc.)
2. Ask the school high they mitigate those risks. (Do they have a school safety plan? Are drains and ditches being covered? Is the canteen checked for hygiene regularly/ Is the food from the canteen and water in the tap tested for safety? Are teachers and workers police verified? Is there a safety training system to make sure that at least one person per floor is trained in first aid, fire safety etc.?Are school toilets cleaned regularly so that they don’t spread disease? Are they inspected to ensure that unsavoury activities are not going on in closed spaces? Are there fire extinguishers in every zone, sand buckets easily accessible? Are wires all taped up? Are electrical inspections done regularly? Is the school building safe? Does the school guard check entry authorisation? And so on. (Comprehensive list available))
3. Ask and verify how the school safety checks are documented and reported by the school. Every school is responsible to a number of people for doing the job it promised to do – and therefore must have proof of having done so. This responsibility – indeed – liability- cannot be wished or delegated away.
4. Create a system for inspecting the school in a friendly, informal and comprehensive manner to verify the truth of the reports, and to report anything untoward. Parents can report to each other informally and document whatever they find at the school and have a civilised conversation with the school to agree a plan to resolve the issue. Good schools will always agree to make things better and will appreciate well mannered support from the parents. Bad schools may not like it and will call it ‘interference’ – and then a parent knows that they have to make tough choices about feeding a monster or finding alternatives.
5. Ensure that the school environment is open and transparent. Let there be lots of dialogue between schools and parents, let everyone in the school know that they are watched all the time. Ensure that supervisory rosters are visible, and that parents, students and school managements can check on them every time.
Is this creating a police state inside the school? No – this is creating an atmosphere where we look out for each other and create a chain of care. If one person – say the poor girl who was hurt and abused at her school – is missing, then her buddy, their chain buddy, their teacher, their supervisor, the visiting parent – all must create an instant alert. Some one in the system will care enough to make the right thing happen. Someone must care to keep our schools safe.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

Five Principles to Keep Children Safe at School

(This was first published here: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/five-principles-to-keep-children-safe-in-schools/)

Five principles to keep children safe in schools
May 5, 2014, 12:11 PM IST Meeta Sengupta in EduCable | India, Lifestyle | TOI
Whether you see it as childcare, or a place to learn, or about meeting friends – the entire premise of schools revolves around safety. We send our children to school to learn all this because we know they will be safe there.
Sadly, we know that this has not always been so – children have been hurt and abused at school. Whether it was an explicit MMS sent out by school bullies or a child being abused by the caretaker and bus attendant. These were sexual – there are other kinds of abuse that our children face from classmates, teachers and even school heads. Often we forget that our harsh behaviour can have serious consequences for young minds – take the example of the poor young girls who committed suicide in Bangalore after they were punished for playing Holi. They clearly felt unable to deal with the consequences of the humiliation meted out to them and the school failed in providing them a safe place to learn from incidents. The school failed them thrice – once in not providing them a safe place for self expression, two -in giving them disproportionate punishment, thus becoming an aggressor (even if they thought it was okay, and had precedence), and three, in not providing them a safe place to deal with their feelings.
There have been multiple incidents since then. Some sexual in nature, some due to negligence and others due to willful harm inflicted on our children. Are our children safe at school? Will the rules help keep them safe? They may, but safety is an attitude. A safe school builds a culture of safety where there is both awareness and alertness with sensitivity. This is signaled in many ways, not just in watching out for sexual abuse. It is the task of a school to provide a safe, caring, nurturing atmosphere.
It is not easy at all. Especially for large schools the challenges are immense. There are distant nooks and crannies in large schools where anything can happen. There are times when all children cannot be supervised – for example – as they go from a specialised classroom to another, or from a sports complex to, say, the library. Children have always found ways of bunking out of school. Unless one establishes a police state within the school there is only a limited degree of control that a school can have over every moment for every child.
Some places have resorted to that. There are metal detectors outside some schools in the UK. Some schools have cameras everywhere. Other schools insist on specific routines to be maintained that restrict the freedom of students.
They are not wrong in setting up routines. It is these routines that will ensure that the school becomes a safer, more caring place. Here are some things schools do to ensure that schools are safer places:
Ensure that every part of the school is supervised by a teacher especially during break and sports. Corridor, Break and Sports grounds duties to be assigned separate from teaching duties (a teacher cannot be in a classroom and be teaching at the same time)
Create a buddy system where children are paired up, or are in groups of three. They are responsible for knowing where their buddies are at any point of time, and preferably staying with them. Another version of the buddy system that has seen a reduction in school bullying is assigning an older child to look out for a younger child in the playground. If the younger child feels any danger they have a person to approach who is responsible for helping them. The choice of the system and the specific design depends upon the needs and circumstances of the school, and the details must be designed with care. The idea is to create a watchful, caring safety net for children.
Awareness. Educate children and make them aware of their own rights over their bodies. Nobody can command them to do what is not right. (It often bothers me that when we train our children in unquestioning obedience we put them at risk. Anyone in a position of authority then must be obeyed, regardless of what they ask children to do.) Teach children about good touch and bad touch. Tell them that they have the right to say no. Teach them that their ‘no’ must be respected. Show them what to say and do to save themselves.
Include parents in the safety community. Share their tools of keeping children safe. Help them understand that often sexual abuse comes from known people. Share the statistics and the stories. Engage experts to run the communication and workshops with parents – because these are issues that are about fears, vulnerability and hurdles – and must be handled with sensitivity.
Create an atmosphere of open communication within the school. Let children chatter freely with teachers, with head teachers and each other, sharing their fears and hopes. This is no guarantee that there will be no abuse in the school but healthy and open conversations can often identify potential flash points and early action can be taken to save children from harm.
There are more lists available for school leaders that will help them keep their school safe. Even with the best of care, and the best of intentions there is no guarantee that something bad will not happen. Even so, with care, with vigilance and with supervision the school can be made a safe space. It takes effort, and this effort must be put in by the schools. At the end of the day, for a school leader – there is no substitute to management by walking around.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

Words Waylaid

It is natural for language to evolve, indeed that is what makes it robust. English, the language that seeks to retain its pristine identity that never was, is probably the most mauled of them all. This of course is its strength. It’s very malleability makes it relevant, even localised. But whether by design or serendipity, the words in the language have broadly meant the same all over the world. The words have traveled, and with them their meanings. Many of them have been new words, as witnessed by additions to the dictionaries each year, a few radically redefined. But times like now have been rare, when one looks aghast at one’s interlocutor (how could I resist that word!) and wonders what they even mean when they use some words. Often, I do ask, and I have to admit, I am guilty of the accusation thrown at me – I do use the dictionary meaning of words. Apparently, these days, it is not enough.

Growing up in India, and then learning how to grow up in England, I was one of those ‘convent educated’ cocky management graduates who actually learnt the language well enough to be able to use it to establish entry credentials into most places. In England, I (as many others were too), was patronisingly praised for speaking English well. Duh, a bit oblivious of history, are you, to play that note? I’d normally respond by admitting, in the very English self deprecating manner I had learnt to adopt – “My English is not as good as it used to be in India, living in England has made it less accurate’. The reaction was always priceless, a quick pursed lip and a forced smile, as I smiled to myself in a certain satisfaction that we used to call ‘cheap thrills’ back in India. Each time I silently thanked that red grammar book, the Wren and Martin, ubiquitous in our school years across states in every convent school. I will freely admit, I never learnt the grammar of the language as I should have, but read voraciously, and so, survived. Grammar Nazis may well find faults even in this piece, go ahead, do, but what I am going to talk about is far worse, so hold your horses. (Wait, when did pedants earn the title ‘Nazi? Bit extreme, innit?)

I noticed it first with the word ‘communal’. In India, communal was an adjective used for the inevitable riots that broke out in my town at certain parts of the year. Communal was a word to be feared, for were communities not always in opposition to each other, ready to battle at the drop of some carrion or the raising of a flag? In England, in my peaceful corner, communal was the village green. The one with the cricket pavilion at one end, and the coffee shop at the other, where we mums would push our strollers, pause, roll out our blankets and picnic with our toddlers. The fire, blood and terror of the word ‘communal’ took years to melt away, to be replaced with a sense of shared rights, of civil exchange and giving way so that there is enough for all.

But what is happening today to words is worse, so bad that it is beyond scary. There are words that used to represent a certain meaning that are now distorted beyond recognition in the way that they are used. It used to be a a good, kind, if slightly woolly headed, well meaning person who was accepting of other people’s ways of living who would comfortably don the title of a liberal. Liberalism, even in casual conversation was broadly a good thing, a harmless and certainly a tolerant view of life that came with a certain superiority because it was an exercise in self control too. Even if i don’t like it, I’m respectful of others views, and in that I have used various good muscles. This good was recognised by others, and societies knew that they represented good and orderly ways of living, indeed, civilised ways of being because they were liberal. For the better read, liberalism (and the oft confused libertarian thought) came with its own literature and history. They used the term with greater precision, knowing that the very idea of a liberal embedded a paradox – for a liberal would never be able to take a strong stand for liberalism, they could only allow it to be, along with other liberals. To be bigoted about liberalism, or even to take a firm stand for it would be to destroy the very idea – and academic critics were quick to pounce on it. True liberals knew that they were validated in accepting and even upholding the paradox. To live it was to defend it with the utmost civility. Yet today, the word liberal is splashed about as an accusation. Young folk on the west coast of the US have not helped the word by their strong protests. Liberals, you live the paradox, you uphold civilisation by your acts of self control. You do not impose – and that is the obligation the title imposes upon you. For the word liberal to be used as a strong accusation in light of recent events may be fair, but it is not the word that has fallen off it’s meaning, it is the people who have fallen off the word. The word does not change its meaning just because some people who used it as a cover have now discarded it. The word ‘liberal’ still stands for what it always did. Liberals all over the world are still there, quietly bemused, holding on to their paradox, for they know that in a world where even paradoxes are allowed to have their place, we can all thrive.

Another such word is ‘secular’. With much history and baggage, much intrigue and manipulation, it was a word that even the founding fathers of the Indian constitution found tough to handle in their sensitive times. Yet, India grew to learn of its diversity and value it, even if for many it was a tolerance only for display, their insecurities growing like worms nesting in rotten cupboards. India’s Idea, they said was to foster diversity, for in diversity, as every portfolio manager knows, lies a certain management of risk. And yet we know of fallible men, and women, who seek to retain power, and for that they mangle all that is good, in service to their venal needs. The Idea of India is mocked now, and so too is the word ‘secular’. An ideal that we knew would be difficult, for again, it entails self control (by all), it calls upon one’s better self to consciously design a future that gives room to all to all to grow, it asks each of us to shift a bit and make room for others so that there is enough for all. And yet, when it was misused and manipulated for appeasement and electoral gain, it was not the word ‘secular’ that should have lost its meaning. It was the people who used it incorrectly who should have been knocked off their secular pedestals, for they did not deserve the goodness of the word anymore. The word remains as it was, a distant dream, a work in progress, a hope of a civilisation where we can share and grow. The shadows of greedy people that have fallen on it does not change the word, then why does it bear the blame? To shame the victim, to cast it aside is not an act of valour. It is the weak who abuse the word, and today, the word ‘secular’ too needs rescue to return to itself.

There is another word that is in danger, being pulled away from its original meaning and it is happening now, as we watch. This is the word ‘populist’. With the alt-right gaining ground, something gave way. The word alt-right is a neologism, a euphemism even, for what festered and grew out of the vestiges of the Nazi Fascist years in the twentieth century. When times were difficult, jobs and wages suffered, many people yearned for something better, something to hold on to, something to change. Anything. The hunger and the need did what it always does, allows our baser instincts to rise regardless of our better selves. Who can deny it, that the better self can survive only on a full belly and a safe neighbourhood. The higher self rises above it all, too distant when times are tough, and it is in these tough times that our lower instincts, common to us all, multiply. Become popular. The venal appeal to this, multiply our fears and thus become ‘populist’. The word then gets taken over to mean much more than it should. It is not the ‘populist’ approach to hurt others, it is something worse. Populism is about the many, and when people misuse populism to serve the few, then again, it is the word that is the victim. It is the word that is losing its identity and meaning in this game of distorted mirrors. A word that stood for light movies, pleasing songs and slightly risqué dances that expressed freedom is now seen to represent the voice of some other thing – it is a word that needs a rescue too. Before it is normalised, and the new normal becomes the face of the world we never wanted to create or become.

For surely we are better than a warp in the waylaid word.

Delhi Summer

As the Delhi summer rides in, it scatters us, the weak, right back into our little caves. We prepare for the summer as if for a siege. I personally start with a prayer, for I know that there are forces beyond hope and good planning that will be needed to keep the electricity and water running through the searing months in this rough town.

Rooms are prepared for the coming months. Bedsheets and bedcovers are cool, old and soft. A splash of bright colour, often in defiance to the brilliance outside. Soft pillow covers, in what used to be pristine white, but now a faded ivory that holds the stories of years of restless midnight punches and shuffles, as one hunts for that elusive cool spot. Curtains are thick and drawn, rooms darkened. We hide behind more than one, the outermost part of most houses are sheeted in green netting that protects our gardens and potted plants from the scorch that allows nothing to survive. Then, come the traditional bamboo chiks – large sheets of stiff curtain that are rolled up only when the evening breeze stirs. We stay still, quiet, indoors, till the sun has had its way and gone. The sound of the air-condtioner and the fan, our constant companion, nay, protector, in summer’s face have replaced the soft, insistent clack-clack of grandmother’s rotating hand fan.

Our clothes are soft, light, bright – in appeasement and defiance – in alternate measure. Our food stores full of dry goods, thankfully it is too hot for the basics to go bad as they do in the monsoon. It is too hot for mosquitoes, they are driven away out of existence by the excessive heat. Nothing weak lives, only a few can survive this. Our water drums are filled, and preparations made for scarcity. Few of us, with memories of tougher times, fill them for fear of water supplies drying up. Rations, after all, were not so long ago. Even now, the news brings stories of some areas not getting water for a week, for two, for half. We prepare. But even the young, the secure with their own gated colonies and ‘guaranteed’ water supplies that drain the water table for the entire city know this – the only cool water for the bath is going to be what you store. Taps are connected to overhead water storage tanks that bear the full brunt of the sun, the water as hot, or hotter than one can bear on ordinary skin. We plan for the seige of the sun, and the battle lines are drawn.

Till we begin to wonder at ourselves. Delhi is a land of fighters, and we are not used to being nobbled in this manner. To be cowardly just to be cool, feels a bit uncool. We are the land of the flexed muscle, the brief battle, the quick win and the celebration after. We live for our laughter, and quiet dark rooms are certainly not our thing. We look at the workers, their routines remain unchanged, even as they vary their timings. And we decide, we will not be beat. Delhi was often looted, but never won or lost. Delhi always rose again, and with it rose the sounds and smells of laugher and good food. Out come the crisp cottons, the dhakai sarees, the swaying kurtis, the silver jhumkis, the black as thunder kajal outlining defiant eyes as they stepped out dazzling in the bright sunshine. The men too, for nothing can be allowed to wilt when it comes to us versus the sun. We stand as tall and strong as any other. The watering holes buzz, as they never have before. We hold up standards, and summer fashions match the best in the world. Sarojini buzzes, but now there is more, as e-commerce brings us the perfect handbag, and dress right to our doorstep, just in time for the party at the farmhouse, or that shared workspace now a bar. Walkers claim the morning cool. Ice-creams and gol-gappas break through the heat of the evening. On the hottest days, even marked by tradition, thousands are served free cold lassi to beat the killer heat. We even wed each other in this weather, for when ‘arrangements’ have been made, even the primal gods are but participants.

Through all this, it is the tall triumvirate that holds my spirits up. The bougainvillea, the gulmohar and the amaltaas. The delicate leaved bougainvillea that pretends to be so weak, that it cannot stand on it’s own slender stem survives it all, blushing and blooming in heady defiance as it climbs onwards, as far as it can. The red and orange Gulmohar tree, it’s crown rising far above the sultry town, claiming the right to hold its own regardless of the odds. And the amaltaas, it’s flowers dripping gold off bright yellow chandeliered flowers, as if nothing can stop the goodness. They lay down a carpet of pink, red, orange, yellow and gold for me to walk on. With these flowers as canopy, and as carpet, one knows, that there is no siege but in the mind. It is ours to walk on and win.

Pretentious, Unending Gab