Monday, June 23, 2008

The Unknown Dubai

Dubai offers all the glitz and glamour that a tourist is looking for. More than anything else, it has come to be known for its shopping festival and every year, thousands of shopping-hungry tourists flock to Dubai. I was there recently and was quite bowled over by what I saw. My wonderment was compounded by it being my first trip abroad. The infrastructure, disciplined traffic (although its currently chaotic due to metro work going on), sprawling malls jam-packed with goods waiting to be picked up, wide eyed tourists roaming everywhere...
No tourist will miss seeing the tallest building in the world being constructed (Burj Dubai), by now already more than 600 mt. high. Almost everyone will go and watch in awe the amazing structure of Burj-al-Arab, labeled as "World's best hotel". Some more enthusiastic ones will go and experience the thrill of riding up and down the crazy slopes of the sand dunes.
If there is a list of 'seven tourist wonders of the world' I am sure the mall that harbours the crazy place called "Ski Dubai" would safely secure a place in the list. Seeing all this, I thought Dubai was a monochrome city. As if it reflects only one colour - that of money. But then I was wrong.
Prakash Kelkar, my friend from college days has been in Dubai for more than a decade now.
It was not surprising that he took me around to see the 'standard Dubai sights and lights'. On the last evening, he said 'let me show you the Dubai that nobody cares too much about'. I was puzzled as to what was in store for me. Surely, he can't take me to a casino or a nightclub ? (As that's what many tourists care about anyway!) So we drove to the waterfront of 'old Dubai' and walked towards the creek. Water taxis were plying people across the creek, agents of luxurious dhows and yachts were trying to rope in customers, but ignoring them we walked right to the end. This is the old port of Dubai, and closing my eyes I could see dhows loaded with goods from India landing, traders shouting orders to deck hands, precious cargo being unloaded and carried to the port office. I thought the old port office has been illuminated rather garishly with too many coloured lights. But it looked pretty nevertheless. Then Prakash led me into a lane which was wide enough only for two people to walk side by side and then up an even narrower staircase. There I was, standing in a Shiva temple !! The narrow lane outside had all the usual shops that you can see outside any temple in India, selling the necessary prayer goodies. I couldn't believe my eyes - I almost expected an old lady in a typical 9-yard Marathi sari to walk up to a shop and haggle with the man there.... "what ? Two dirhams for this garland? You must be mad...." Thats not all, there is even a Krishna temple and a Gurdwara nearby. According to the information I could gather on the net. these are the only Hindu Temples in the entire UAE. Likewise, there is a Shiva temple in Muscat too. Anyone who says that most gulf countries are only occupied by hardcore Muslim fundamentalists should go and take a look at the temples in Dubai please.
Another thing that is a must see in Dubai are the numerous fountains and artificial waterfalls that are omnipresent in all the malls and hotels there. Each one more creative than the other. Just look at the sheer size of this one.....

Thursday, June 12, 2008

100 city HSC students get kiss of life-Mumbai-Cities-The Times of India

100 city HSC students get kiss of life-Mumbai-Cities-The Times of India

Let's get practical

Students appearing for XII board exam in Maharashtra Board also need to pass the course called Environmental Studies. The assessment for this course is done internally and the students need to pass the theory as well as practical test SEPARATELY. Now, about 100 students cleared the theory but failed the practical. As a result, they were declared failed in the overall board exam. This mean that they effectively lose one year, and at best, they can attempt to clear the practical in the next attempt. The story does not end here. As a special case, the Board convened a meeting of college Principals and they all agreed that the failed students could resubmit their projects and get assessed again.
The students will clear it, no doubt. But this episode throws up a deeper question about our education system. What is its purpose - to become aware and learned about the world or to clear exams? It is ironical that the students cleared only the theoretical component on environment studies. The argument being offered is that the colleges did not inform the students and parents properly that it was necessary to pass the two components separately. (Read the article about this in Times of India above or here.) I feel that getting PRACTICAL hands-on knowledge is not seen as as important. I myself remember how in college I passed some practicals that we thought were not important. We had a subject called 'Physical Education' and it was necessary to pass its practical exam for being allowed to take the bigger University exam. (Thankfully, the University did not think of theory tests for this subject!) Now, if you represented the college at inter-collegiate level in any sport, you were exempted from this test. One year, all the boys in our class went and enrolled ourselves for selection to the hockey team and ALL got selected. This, in spite of the fact that more than half us had never held a hockey stick in our lives, but we got in because there were only about 14 boys who appeared for selection. Next year it was basketball. Believe it or not, on the first day, we discovered that two of the "first five" on the court did not know that in basketball you are not supposed to run holding the ball!!! Be that as it may, this loophole in the rules let us sail through the physical education exam.
A generation later, not much seems to have changed in our outlook towards practical learning. Here is something that makes the irony stark. My daughter Vallarie is currently in USA as a cultural exchange student (in XIth std.) through AFS. Her Physics exam is something which a lot of our teachers and education policy makers can learn from. Her teacher based the entire final exam on the various rides in the nearby amusement park ! So she had to figure out the principles of centrifugal forces, circular motion, gravitational acceleration, etc. that she had learnt in the theory class and apply them to the way the rides moved and THEN give her answers. Thank you Hopkinton High School, Contoocook, NH, USA and in particular Mr. Welch, for giving my daughter this insight. She might not pursue Physics later in her life, but I am sure she will never forget the nuances of high school physics.
I would say my daughter is fortunate (in addition to being talented) that she got a chance to study in US for an year. What about millions of children in India who mug up answers to pass their exams?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Waiter, there is something in my soup.....

Mistakes in English spelling appearing on signboards and such places are a continuous source of entertainment to all. There is even a website, that is wholly dedicated to just this. Menu cards are a great source of such gaffes and there are some words that are spelled wrong more often than right. (Schezwan is an apt example - there must be at least 20 different spellings of this word existing in various Chinese food joints across the country). But here is a completely new and original one I saw the other day in a resort and just couldn't resist the temptation of capturing it in my camera.
With the elections around the corner, is this a way of the cook expressing his resentment towards the honourable men and women who are supposed to run our country? It's a moot question whether anybody would really be ready to partake of this delicacy. Ministers beware.....