Saturday, September 10, 2011

La La Land - The Reading Hour (Sept-Oct 2011 Issue)

By: Shefali Tripathi Mehta

I caught the whiff of the topic even as I joined the conversation late. The girls were chattering excitedly about Victoria’s secret. I slumped into CCD’s bucket chair and in an effort to quickly be-with-it, chipped in, I too had read about her Muslim cook. Half of them fell off their buckets laughing. The other half decided they would ignore me for the rest of their lives.

Thus chastised, I sat all night in my full-sleeved, toe-tipping white flannel nightie planning how to bridge the gap. Enormous it was. Time was when a man accompanying a woman to a lingerie shop lingered outside. The shop sold other things – egg, hairpin, gajak, raincoat. But it had a small hidden corner for the ladies and didn’t have to proclaim that business on the name board outside. Selling rat poison and toilet cleaner was totally respectable. Not so knickers. In that cloistered corner, women attended women. They gave what you asked for and never checked you out to advise, “I think you need the next size”! If you said you wanted one with blue flowers but only yellow were available, you didn’t insist. It was indelicate. Almost a decade ago, I overheard two male colleagues hotly discussing whether it was lin-g-ri or lau-je-ree and wondered why they would need to use it. The word, that is.

Sanitary napkins were asked for in hushed tones. In fact, the hush itself was enough. You just walked into a store with a somber expression and the person behind the counter automatically reached out for the packs in the lowest or the topmost shelves where they were stacked out of sight. A wrong brand and you shook your head very slightly or raised a finger in another direction. If it wasn’t understood, you took the name of the color of the pack. Green one. It was then handed over discreetly wrapped in brown paper. Much later, in black garbage disposal bags. All this discretion came to naught the moment you walked out of the store with the pack that did not look like a loaf of bread or a cushion.

The pacing-thinking night was rewarded with an ad in the morning newspaper for a SALE of women’s itsy-bitsies. A sale that would ‘change your life’. Close-necked and full-sleeved, I arrived at the venue. Outside, a mammoth panel had stringy two pieces drawing-pinned to it. Was my sleep-deficient mind breathing life into pictures from the tattered salon Cosmopolitan? Was inner wear, outer? I mean, where would those that wanted to stick these on to themselves, do it? Since our swim pools and beaches still have soaked-to-the-skin and revealing every tyre, salwar-suited and sareed beauties that bystanding men in underwear cannot have enough of, getting into shape for these little triangles would seem so completely pointless, no?

I stepped into a hallful of frenzied women of all variety – tender zeros and abundant others; covered in shapeless tents and uncovered in low rise jeans; noodle strapped, nude strapped and unstrapped. The chatter was distinct. Sassy guffaws, muffled giggles, restraining grins of 32 As and loud proclamations of 36 Ds.

Some wide-eyed, bushy-tailed male escorts followed their ladies carrying their heap of fantasies, pretending duty; imagining every shapely woman in sight in red lace or yellow sheer; now and then nodding slightly at something held out for approval or pointing discreetly at something some other woman was holding to herself.

Two demure looking kurta-dupatta-ed girls ahead of me rummaged through a carton marked ‘Passion’ in uneven capitals. One pulled out a barely-there and held it out to the other, ‘Here, this!’ ‘Chee!’ The other exclaimed mortified at the public exposé of her private fantasies and buried her head into another carton to hide her flush. ‘What chee? Didn’t we come here for this?’ The spunky first quickly shoved the coveted piece into her own bag. With the number of eyes popping out, I wondered if at such sales they should also sell something to hold the eyes firmly in place.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

To Sir on FB

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To Sir, on FB

The teacher-student relationship has undergone a sea change in the recent past. Shefali Tripathi Mehta wonders if this is a good trend

Because my teacher said so! This statement always clamps any further discussion on any subject between little ones and their parents. The teacher’s word is final, something parents bow down to, and not always willingly.Most children have played out the role of a teacher during play time and have dreamt of becoming one too, some day. Teachers were idols. They were held in high esteem in society too. Parents never referred to teachers without the title sir/miss/ma’am.

Every student had his/her favourite guru and most of these teachers were not just good teachers and masters of their subjects, but also counsellors and friends.

Students and teachers today share a more easy and casual relationship. They are Facebook friends and even text message each other. The general culture of informality in society, spurred by superfast means of communication, including email, text messaging and social networking, have radically altered the relationship between students and their teachers.

Familiarity over formality

In the past, a chance meeting with a teacher in the market or movie hall would catapult a student into an object of envy among other students at school. They would be full of curious questions about the teacher — what they said, what they wore, who was with them. Teachers did not exist outside the school then. Now students ‘Like’ and comment on their teachers’ holiday pictures on social networking sites; and call or text them at odd, after-school hours.

Very often, emails and text messages are without greeting or salutation and writing etiquette is dispensed with in order to get the message across instantaneously. What was once downright rude is now cool. Is this level of over-familiarity good for the relationship that must rest on discipline and decorum?

School lives are essentially organised and actions are clearly right or wrong. There is punishment for wrong and reward for good. The early years ensured there was discipline. Everyone knows that the foremost impression of a teacher in the classroom is about his or her ability to assume and demonstrate authority — command and control the class. Some teachers achieved this by being stern while others were gentle and friendly. But the line that divided the student and the teacher stayed firmly in place — sometimes tautly stretched, sometimes a little lax, but rarely down.

Blurring boundaries can lead to a lot of other problems other than that of discipline. Casual communication tends to get too personal. Students are emboldened to ask questions they would not have the courage to ask in person. Crushes on teachers are commonplace, but so are the more damaging romantic or inappropriate relationships. These have existed even before, but spur-of-the-moment communication and unclear private and professional boundaries lead to greater propensity of such.

But there is enough evidence to state that most schools and teachers are struggling with the complexities that are emerging out of the changing dynamics of student-teacher interaction. Thanks to this, many have laid down clear guidelines on interaction with students outside of and after school; and appropriate and acceptable conduct.

To connect or not

Many argue that teachers are more accessible now, which is good for students. Schools have websites where they encourage interaction with teachers and students; post announcements, results and assignments; and even encourage real-time chat.

Is this required? Is it really good for both parties? Some teachers believe that it helps them understand and know their students better. But wasn’t the teacher-student bond much stronger in the pre-Facebook days? Didn’t the teachers then take time out during school hours and within school to offer help and guidance?
Better implementation of appropriate guidelines will do everyone good in the long run.