Friday, May 12, 2017

Obituary to Robert M Pirsig




The classical philosophical novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is one of its kind in literature. Its author Pirsig passed away on April 24th. Ever since I read his two novels I wanted to write about it. I analyze and interpret almost every book I read. Some books remain in my memory forever. Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and J D Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye are some examples. But Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a book that totally changed my perception of life. It changed the way I think and see things.


I never had the courage to write in detail about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance because every time I read that book I gained something new from it. So I let it go. The book was published in 1974.

I skip introductions in books usually. This book was gifted by my brother who left me two years back. It was approximately 29 years ago. When he gave me the book, the title or its cover did not attract me at all. I was totally confused what I had to do with Zen and Motorcycle and how the two were related in any way. I flipped through some pages and kept the book aside. On my first read, the book appeared to me as a detail about motorcycles and its workings. I was 14 years that time. After a couple of years, while I was doing my specialization in English Literature, I decided to read it again. This time I read the introduction given by the author. In the introduction, Pirsig explains that despite the book’s title, it should not be associated with the orthodox Zen Buddhist practice or motorcycles as such. On the second read, the underlying philosophy of Quality and its relation to his personal life began to develop in my mind. Pirsig tried to bring in this book the idea that Quality cannot be defined. It can only be felt. Once you define Quality it loses its meaning. He supports this by explaining Zen. Zen is nothingness. You cannot describe nothingness. You have to feel it. The book ranges from Eastern philosophy to empiricism, and rationalism to rhetoric.


The story is in the form of a personal trip the author took with his 12-year-old son Chris from their home at Minnesota through the Dakotas to California. The book is a struggle with the author’s personality and his philosophical quest in forms of conversations with his son and his friends who joined the trip.He named this conversation as Chautauquas. In the book, he identifies himself as a professor who makes his students go crazy over a definition of quality, a man who is sectioned to an electric shock treatment in order to remove his past from his memories, a father who tries to bond with his 12-year-old son and so on. I was always curious to imagine the sort of person he was because most of his autobiographical musings remain unexplained. It is the reader who has to find the answers. You feel like you are in a maze and you try desperately to find different ways to come out of it. It keeps you thinking over and again. The name Phaedrus which he pronounces in many places in the book remains a mystery which unfolds at the end of the story. Phaedrus, is named after an Ancient Greek Sophist who appears in Plato's Socratic dialogue, Phaedrus in this book is an analytical prodigy who is highly disenchanted with the western notion of reason.

The book differentiates between Quality and Reason. Quality as such is undefinable whereas reason is concerned with things that can be defined and explained in detail. He regards quality as the primal experience, the absolute bedrock from which all languages arises. There is a conflict when you try to define Quality with the help of language. Quality, otherwise reality is undivided. Language splits things into parts while trying to define something. So the very attempt of trying to define Quality is absurd. It is an evolving process of experience. 

We all know that the words we use to describe our experiences are never adequate to encapsulate the uniqueness and the zest of the actual experience we felt. Let me try to explain it with a work of art. The artist creates something. He leaves it to the audience. The audience tries to interpret it according to their knowledge and experience. Once the creation is done the artist should be left free. The one who sees the work of art may have different views and interpretations. Take an example of an Impressionist painting. Some people might be intrigued by the colours while some others by the perspectives. It all depends on personal experiences and the way we conceive ideas. No two persons feel the same while looking at a work of art. It can only be felt inside and it varies from person to person.But once you try to describe it the whole purpose of the art fails. 

In the book, he also tried to bridge the abyss between Western and Eastern philosophies’/thoughts. He describes himself as a difficult professor in many ways and in his own words by the end of the terms, his students were so exhilarated that if he had asked them to jump out of the window they would.

One of my favourite excerpts from the book.

“In our highly complex organic state, we advanced organisms respond to our environment with an invention of many marvelous analogues. We invent earth and heavens, trees, stones and oceans, gods, music, arts, language, philosophy, engineering, civilization and science. We call these analogues reality. And they are reality. We mesmerize our children in the name of truth into knowing that they are reality. We throw anyone who does not accept these analogues into an insane asylum. But that which causes us to invent the analogues is Quality. Quality is the continuing stimulus which our environment puts upon us to create the world in which we live. All of it. Every last bit of it”.

(Pirsig, 1974, p.317).

Persig's key message to us is his recitation of Socrates's message to Phaedrus: And what is good Phaedrus and what is not good/ Need we ask anyone these things?


The book is a tug of war between mechanical and spiritless. Pirsig’s iconoclastic approach did confuse me in many places while I was reading the book. It still does. But from my personal experience I suggest this book to all students who take philosophy as a serious subject but with a note of caution that it is not for light hearted reading.

Reference:




Images are taken from Wikipedia under Creative Common License.

Written by Sreevidya Devanand.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Are You A Maker?

May 2nd Tuesday was Global Day of Design to inspire children to design and create. It was Maker’s Day for our students in the Resource Centre. It was not a preplanned project. We collected whatever materials we could like popsicle sticks, straws, buttons, balloons, paints, brushes, toothpicks, and a box of wooden blocks which was Shirin ma’am’s treasure. We had some ideas in mind but we just gave random materials to the children when they came to the library and asked them to brainstorm and come out with some ideas making them sit in groups of five.



 While asking the students to brainstorm, I was thinking about the last time I fixed something or created something. To my dismay, I realized that I never tried to design or discover to accomplish something. Not everyone is a maker. I told myself. But a conversation with the other librarians reminded me of my childhood when I used to make balls, watches, caps and tops out of palm leaves. It was a kind of weaving technique which most children of my age knew how to do. I also used to make wall hangings out of recycled materials. Is not that making too? I think it is. Well, I was a maker too then.





Times have changed. Children need not have to sit with palm leaves to make balls and watches. In the new wave of technology, children make VR Headsets. So what exactly is a maker space and who is a maker? Anyone who makes something by hand is a maker and the space they utilize for the purpose is Maker Space. Maker Space in the Resource Centre is an initiative by Ms., Madhur. We have many children who are real creative genii. For them, this has been a wonderful opportunity to nurture their spirits and become makers or creators or developers. As educators, we are committed to making students help learn new technologies and interact and collaborate with their peers to work on hands-on projects.



Given along with this post are the pictures we took when the students were in the process of ‘making'. Most of them were surprisingly enthusiastic and they came up with these amazing stuff.





Chain Reaction with Popsicle Sticks


Chariot from Sphero


Mat from Popsicle Sticks


Banjo..





If you want your students to be creative you need to give them challenges and specific themes to work on. Some examples are building a house out of cardboard, making something that a Sphero can pull around the library etc. These help students to stay focused. Let them explore new tools and come up with amazing results. They should be given some free days or blocks of free time so that they do not feel restricted. Let them be creators, innovators, explorers.

“Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use – do the work you want to see done.” 




Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Kwame Alexander at GEMS Modern Academy

Monday 24th of April was a special day for The Resource Centre. Newbery Award-winning author Kwame Alexander visited our library and had a book discussion with the students.

“Kwame Alexander is a poet, educator and New York Times bestselling author of 24 books. He received the Newbery Medal for his novel The Crossover. Newbery Medal, is the American Library Association’s top award given to the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. Kwame Alexander regularly travels the world as a literacy advocate and expert.”



His book Crossover has many features that distinguish it from other novels. The novel is basically in the form of poetry. In other words, it can be called as a novel in verse. Words change from line to line and sometimes drops diagonally across a page as if the narrator moves down a basketball court. 12-year-old Josh Bell offers his story in a painful, sad and funny way. The story is quite compelling. Although the story tells a lot about basketball, it rummages through deeper issues like tension revolving around Josh and his twin brother. In Alexandre’s own words he tried to bring into attention in Crossover, the joy and sense of humor that was ubiquitous in his family.



It is not a small achievement to listen to a Newbery Award winner who is as persuasive and alluring as Mr. Alexander. He captured the attention of a large group of students from different grades with ease. He kept on switching from personal anecdotes, reading out his poems and asking questions to the students that made up the audience. Among the questions were who among the audience is a great basketball player and who is the best rapper among the audience.He recited some of his poems for the audience.



The students in the library were literally celebrating the moments with Mr. Alexander and passionately asked him questions like what inspired him to be a writer, what was his latest work, how many books he has written, why did he choose basketball as a theme in his novel and what made him switch on from basketball to soccer to endangered species and finally to a novel. Mr. Alexander was taken by surprise at the variety of questions coming from the students.



His another work ‘Booked’ deals with serious issues among middle schoolers like bullying, racism, and education. It is relatable equally to students, parents, and educators. It has a lot of message about family, friendship, and learning. One of the beautiful chapters that caught my attention while having a quick glance through his work ‘Booked’ is given below.

Basketball Rule #1

In this game of life
Your family is the court
And the ball is your heart.
No matter how good you are,
no matter how down you get,
always leave
your heart
on the court.



It was a wonderful experience to listen to such an appealing writer as Mr. Alexander. The students who attended the session were indeed lucky to have interacted with such a great author. His presence in the library was electric and heartfelt at the same time and he kept the students on their toes till the end. Applause to Ms. Madhur who arranged such a wonderful event in the library which I feel will remain in memory forever for all who attended the session.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Oceans on Earth Day


In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught” – Baba Diom, Senegalese Environmentalist

The first Earth Day was celebrated on 22nd April 1970. Causa Proxima for that was the devastation caused by 1969   Santa Barbara oil spill that killed millions of fish and thousands of sea mammals and birds. 47 years later, millions of people from hundreds of countries around the world are celebrating Earth Day today.


We are concerned about global warming, pollution in our neighborhood, vanishing rainforests and damages done to the terrain.  We should.   However, there is also another part of planet earth that needs our immediate attention- our oceans.



(An islet in French Polynesia)

Why are our oceans so important?

Oceans cover  71 percent of earth’s surface and is home to millions of marine organisms.  From single-celled bubble algae to blue whale, the largest animal on earth, millions of species call oceans their homes.  But we live on the land, how are our lives dependent on Oceans?

Let us start with oxygen.   The first image that comes to your mind would be that of a tree. Trees provide us oxygen to breathe.  However, they are not the major source of it. Rain forests provide us 28% of oxygen in the air. Trees and plants of other areas add another 2% to it. The rest of it is produced by sea plants- consisting of tiny algal planktons that help produce 70% of the oxygen we consume. In simple words’ if we ruin the marine flora, we all will choke to death.

Next vital element of life is water. You got it already! Water in the land is maintained by the water cycle. The water of the ocean evaporates and forms clouds and rains on the land.
The third essential is food. Seafood is an important source, but the story doesn’t end there. All our food sources, plants and animals need water to grow and absorb nutrients and without the water cycle, we just won't have any form of food to eat.

In a nutshell,   apart from sunlight, every single essential for life on earth is dependent on oceans.  Ruin them and ruin the life on this planet.


Christmas tree worm

 How safe are our oceans?

Sadly, not very. The increase in  atmospheric carbon dioxide is a major threat,  causing an alarming increase in ocean acidity, which is a threat to all life forms including planktons, the lungs of our planet. Many sea creatures such as the beautiful coral to sea bottom-dwelling clams are under serious threat.  Pollution, plastic pollution, in particular,  is another serious threat.   The increase of oil, mercury and pesticide pollution is yet another. Destruction of mangroves and over fishing adds to it. It is time we seriously do something.



Plastic and other marine debris in Hawaii Beach

 What can we, as individuals do?

A lot. Let us identify the important ones.
  •  Reduce your carbon footprint to slow down ocean acidification. Save energy in every way you can. Habits as simple as switching off lights when you exit a room helps. So do buy locally produced vegetables. A google search should get you dozens like these.  
  • Never buy products with microbeads. These get into the sea and cause serious hazards to sea life. Called the plastic soup, micro beads are the worst form of marine plastic pollution. Next time you buy a cosmetic product , check and avoid the ones that contain micro beads.
  • Use less plastic and turn to  recyclable  materials.
  •  Do not litter on beaches.
  • Do not buy fish that are below minimum legal size. Catching juvenile fish prevents them from breeding, causing a fall in their population.
  • Do not buy ornaments made of endangered or threatened marine wildlife. This includes corals and turtle shells.
  • Spread the awareness and be aware of ocean pollution and its devastating effects.

“The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites one family. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. The earth is sacred and men and animals are but one part of it. Treat the earth with respect so that it lasts for centuries to come and is a place of wonder and beauty for our children.”
Chief Seattle

All pictures in this blog post are from Wikimedia reproduced under creative common license.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Budding Talents

“There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it” 
Gustave Flaubert     
           

This school year had been spontaneous so far. Past weeks had been hectic for us librarians as we had to welcome new students to the library. With these students coming to the library, we had to deal with more requests for library services and facilities. They require assistance and instructions on selecting a book, locating it on the shelf, using the library software and maintaining discipline in order to keep the decorum of the library. Most of these days we were busy orienting the Grade 4 students on all these matters.

As part of the information literacy program, I was introducing the different genres and sub-genres of literature to Grade 4 E students. With every genre and sub-genre described, they were asked to give an example of each and they came out with excellent examples. They talked about their favourite fiction and non-fiction books vehemently.


When it came to poetry I was curious to know how many of them were really interested in poetry. Kids usually love small poems, onomatopoeia, limericks and haiku. I believe some of these might even inspire children to create their own poetry. I asked the class if anyone has written a poem. To my surprise, two girls raised their hands and told they had. I asked them if they can recite it for the whole class. Saiyette Aima and Yvonne Marie Abraham came up with these beautiful poems upon my request.

Saiyette Aima





Yvonne Marie Abraham.



Until I heard this I never knew how much thrill a child-made poem could bring. I have no doubt that anyone who hears these kids will agree that they beautifully depicted their emotions. The candor and unique phrasing in the poetry are admirable. Children have the most vivid imagination and hence the best poets. 

One of the sheer joys of being a librarian are moments like these. Spending days with students, books and technology is quite enterprising. 







Friday, April 7, 2017

Authors talking about Literacy


Listed below are short videos of authors talking about literacy. This has been released by The Library of Congress. Please watch the videos. It explains views of different authors on the importance of reading and how it benefits one to shape his/her life.

Lois Lowry

Lois Lowry is known for her book The Giver which was inspired by her own life. She visits her father in a nursing home. He has lost all his past memories. Seeing him she feels that once memories are erased there will not be pain anymore. The book The Giver is based on this where she depicts a society where the past is erased from the inhabitants and they all live in a peaceful co-existence.The flaws inherent in such a society is brought into details later in the story. A society cannot exist without a connection with the past and lasting human relationships.This book has recently been made into a movie. The ambiguity of its ending is another interesting factor of the story. The reader is left to decide the ending of the story according to his/her imagination. This book is a great read for anyone who loves to read about a dystopian world like George Orwell's 1984.




Margo Jefferson







Raina Telgemeier

Riana Telgemeir is the author of the graphic novels Smile, Drama, and Sisters. There is no need to introduce this author to children as she is famous for these three books. Except for Drama, Smile and Sisters are true stories which she has taken from her own life.




Posted by Sreevidya Devanand

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Kindness In Small Packages




It is the beginning of the new academic year and we had cartons of newly arrived books in the library that needed to be sorted out, labeled and arranged on the shelves for the students and staff. I was sitting in a corner of the library doing this work when Ms. Madhur approached me with three girls. She told me they were there to help me with the work. I thought they might help me with two or three cartons of books.  Still, that would be a great help when we were running short of time.The children sat with me and I gave them careful instructions on how to do the work and what each one of them should do so that the work gets finished fast.

The kids were very enthusiastic, full of vigor and positivity. I started feeling positive too in their gracious presence. They were amazed to see the wonderful collection of books. We slowly started a healthy conversation about books, the things we like to do the most, how we spend our free time and so many other small things which usually doesn’t come to our mind but having a great impact on how we reflect ourselves as persons and in a group. I personally don't believe in the stereotyped question: what do you want to be when you grow up..Children get confused and their tastes and interests change as they grow up. So I asked about their ambitions. One of the girls Harsha who is very humble told me she wants to become a teacher.She always helps her mother and she likes to read Roald Dahl. Itrat, who is very energetic has not yet decided whether she should be an artist or a doctor. She is too much into reading that she finished a Geronimo Stilton while helping me. Her brother who was with us for some time is dreaming about his life as a scientist and is quite interested in farming. Kwaish, the third child surprised me by telling that she wants to become the prime minister of India. I was so enthralled to hear all this. Such wonderful dreams these kids have. Children are much more than what we think they are. I could see the spark in their eyes when they spoke about their dreams and ambitions. They do have a clear picture of what is happening in the world. I learned so much from them the two days I spent with them. They taught me how to stay calm in times of stress.

Each time I asked them to take a break, they humbly declined to say that they love doing this work more than taking a break doing nothing. In a world where everyone is busy with their own agenda, their own problems, these kids stand out. In a self-centered materialistic world, teaching our children to step beyond all that is a herculean task. The parents of these children deserve great appreciation in that respect.

I could hardly believe my eyes when we finished the entire tasks, the next day, at four in the evening. There were 29 cartons of books out of which we finished 25 in two days. Without out this three children, I couldn’t have made it possible at all. When I thanked them, they smiled and said: “there is no need to thank because these books are for us to read and we really enjoyed the work.” I left the school feeling very positive and radiant.


Acts of kindness come in small sizes and packages. It was a non-premeditated, and selfless act. To me, it was rather a Zen-like experience.  Achievement for a parent is how their kid treats others and how they see and feel about themselves.



“Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” 


Desmond Tutu.

Posted by Sreevidya Devanand

Obituary to Robert M Pirsig

The classical philosophical novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is one of its kind in literature. Its author Pirsig pas...