Saturday, April 19, 2014

One Hundred Years of Solitude

I first read García Márquez in the university. His most famous novel was my text, in the undergrads syllabus of Comparative Literature.

I was not used to reading long works in English, back then, thanks to the erstwhile government policy of introducing ABCD from 6th class. Unavailability of any library in school, or anywhere else, added to that.

I bought One Hundred Years in the first Calcutta book fair after I joined uni. I got a Penguin Modern Classics edition at a low price. I did not know, I was buying arguably the most powerful work in the World literature after the WW II.

It was very easy to read. Almost as easy as Alice in the Wonderland – the only other English novel I enjoyed reading until then.

What struck me most, however, were the images. Rarely I had come across a piece of prosaic work where images were born spontaneously. They were like rainbows after rain; or the blow of the wind through the dense leaves of Amazon forest.

It was actually a film unrolling before my eyes. I could not understand that, those days. I was witnessing the coming of modernity to Macondo.

I was, in a way, foreseeing the coming of modernity to Calcutta, to India.

This is why I feel perfectly at ease today with any technological innovation; with any social change ensuing that.

One Hundred Years prepared me for that, years ago.

That was the beginning of a new journey. Frenzied, I found out García Márquez from each nook and corner of every library I would visit.

I enjoyed the gory non-linear narration in Chronicle of a Death Foretold. I followed the life and death of a madman in The Autumn of the Patriarch. I tried to feel the Colonel’s grief who does not get the letter. I wanted Erendira fly away on her large wings like Pegasus.

I read about twenty books – novels, stories, non-fiction and interviews of García Márquez in two months. The only book which I began, but could not cross the first chapter, was The General in his Labyrinth.

That book has remained unread ever since. Maybe now I shall take to that again.

I have not read The Memories of My Melancholy Whores. But, I have seen the film based on that.

I sense I have to read that now.

I discovered García Márquez over a decade and a half back. He never stopped writing in these years.

I do not know what is magic realism. But, I believe human mind cannot imagine anything which does not exist anywhere. Very few can, however, see the real, uncovering the veil of gross habit that we call reality.

Some people get glances of that, and call that fantasy. Rarely a mind enquires so much that it pushes through.
In my childhood, Bibhutibhshan took us to that playground. Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and Feynman’s writings made me an untrained visitor to the game.

Gabriel García Márquez inspired me to stay back, and embrace it, forever.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

On the teaching of Biology

Biology is taught in India in very wrong ways.

It has always been taught like that. A boring, lifeless subject about life, where you have to draw a lot of diagrams and label them, accompanying almost all answers.

That was how biology was taught in my school. And in almost every other school in the city, it was taught similarly.

Most other cities were not notable exceptions. Students were forced to remember different organ systems, tissues and their functions in animals. Topics like photosynthesis and respiration were like doses of quinine fed to the mind. Their relevance in everyday life, their application, were never clear.

Most of us hated biology. Not so much as we hated political geography. Yet, very close to the latter.

Nobody ever told us that Biology was the show of the magic called life. No teacher ever felt the necessity.

In my middle teens, the worst patch of my life begun. That would continue for the next twelve years. But, it was in those years,  I first came to see the magic show.

The magician's name was Ajit Sengupta. And the method he followed is structuralism.

He laid the structure of the science open to us. And everything changed!

It always began with the study of the cell. How the cell developed from inanimate proto-cells through geological evolution and replication, maybe quite accidentally. How the unicellular organisms behave.

I came to know some of those unicellular organisms are practically immortal.

That the multicellular animals like us may be seen as co-operative clusters of such unicellular organisms automatically led our interest to knowing more about them.

Detailed study of the cell started.

As those cells developed in the salty water of the sea (most of the earth is still the sea water), it was natural to be curious how those cells behave with a change in the concentration of salt in the water.

That led to matching it with our personal experience of physical discomfort which comes with electrolyte imbalance. This link threw us back to the evolution of human beings from the sea animals.

We studied almost everything in biology through cells. We studied the cell for about ten months.

However, in the school, it was the regular dose of clueless tissues, functions and life cycles.

Although they were sometimes interesting in themselves (such as, the life cycle of the earthworm), we failed to associate them with any immediate purpose.

It is not normal for a teenager to feel interested in anything that he cannot use for an immediate purpose.

But, some of them appear to do that.

They score highly. They become doctors.

I just wonder which kind of doctors they would make.

Of course, some of these same teenagers who crammed and diluted, would later change their pattern of association.

But, how would we know who they are?

A genuine disrespect and apathy for the teaching professions are responsible for this.

Students do not feel interested, because teachers do not know how to teach. Teachers do not know because genuinely passionate students usually do not become teachers in school.

They do not become teachers in school because they lose scopes for further research and studies.

Of course our education system is responsible for this vicious cycle.

Today, when I feel that I could be a doctor myself, I blame this education system which forced us to hate biology in our early teens.

I also hate this social system which forced us to see a career of doctor as a way of wealth creation, and not as an art or magic just like Physics.

It is not so in most other countries. I know the school curricula in most countries of Europe. They could associate teaching with everyday life.

But, that is another story!