04 April 2012

Shakespeare and senior citizens of Chennai

Though I have never liked to read about politics and cinema, like many people of my age, I am unable to give up the habit of reading the morning newspaper in print. This morning's newspaper carried a very interesting report on how a group of senior citizens in Chennai remember William Shakespeare.

In my student days in the '60s and early '70s, I enjoyed reading his works in  our textbooks as well as outside. I remember an excerpt from his `Tempest' in our English textbook which we had to study when doing Standard 11 (leading to Secondary School Leaving Certificate).

In those days, it was customary to study one comedy and one tragedy from the Bard, when we were doing our first degree course at the University of Madras, as mandatory requirement to quaify for the degree. I had to study `As you like it' and `Antony and Cleopatra'. Though my first love among curricular subjects was English, l didn't take it up  as my main subject for the degree, much against my father's wish, because I found it difficult to memorize annotations (University exams assessed memory far more than knowledge or linguistic skills, a trend which remains till date).

However, my interest in English was enormous. I used to refer to many critics of Shakespearean works when preparing for the exams. I used to read criticisms by Granville Barker and A W Varity, compare them with textbook content and develop my own criticism.

I enjoyed the exercise to the same extent as I did when solving problems in mathematics and physics. My love for mathematics and physics was so strong that it helped me to get fourth rank in the University exams, at a time when there were only two universities (Univeristy of Madras and Annamalai University) in Tamilnadu.

In spite of having qualified  meritoriously in my BSc Course, I couldn't get admission to the M Sc Physics Course offered at Presidency College, Madras, as corruption was rampant in State Government establishments including institutes of higher education, with no value for merit. Voorhees College, in which I did my BSc, didn't offer MSc Course at that time. Hence, there was no chance to continue academics in the same college.  Though I was very interested in doing courses such as MSc Tech in Meteorology at Andhra University campus, Waltair, or MS in the US, my homesickness prompted me to try only for Madras so that I could travel to Madras, attend college and return home on the same day. (I was so homesick that my father used to accompany me to Sacred Heart College, Tirupattur, on the first few days of my Pre-University Course; on seeing this, Rev Fr J G McGuire, Principal of the college, said to my father that his staff would take good care of me and hence there was no need for my father to  accompany me to the college, the location of which was just half an hour's bus journey from Kandili, a village in which we stayed; my father was headmaster of the local Government High School. I had a monthly bus pass with discounted busfare for my daily travel to the College and back). 

Well, coming back to literature, though I enjoyed reading works by western writers, I wished to see plenty of local Indian works also in our textbooks. 

Currently, writers such as Mini Krishnan seem to work to some extent in this direction (I had the pleasure of working with Mini at the Editorial Office of Macmillan India Limited, Chennai, for a few years).

Well, though things seem to have improved in this direction over the years, I think that our curriculum developers should include writers from less known regions such as middle east, south pacific, central europe, africa and australasia, not forgetting aboriginal writers.

Our K-12 curriculum developers should give importance to non-controversial local writers in textbooks, so that our youngsters can appreciate our own literature as well.

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About Me

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Chennai, Tamilnadu, India
I am a retired K-12 Education Management Professional. I have worked at different levels in K-12 school systems, textbook publishing, elearning and Education NGOs. I have held memberships in The Association for Science Education (UK), American Association of Physics Teachers and The Malaysian Institute of Physics. I hold a 1st class B Sc Degree in Physics followed by B Ed [English and Physical Science] and M A [Childcare and Education] degrees. My published works include 59 articles in teacher development magazines in India and the US and a book entitled `Creative Classrooms and Child Friendly Schools' (listed in Amazon). This book is almost an anecdotal account of my professional experience in six countries (including Cambodia where I worked as Technical Adviser to the Ministry of Education, Youth And Sports). I served as mentor in the Certificate of Teaching Mastery Program offered by Teachers Without Borders.