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Vol. XXX No. 9, September 1-15, 2020

Our Readers Write

Master of Express Estates

I read with great interest the article Master of Express Estates. As a sub-editor working with him from Nov. 1988 till end-1995, my image of him was more of a respected elder (he should have been well into his seventies then) than a journalist. Though he was seated behind a huge desk in an executive chair in the editorial room (I believe it was Mr. Ramnath Goenka’s in the early days), he was not part of the daily general desk routine.

His masterly editorial touch was reserved for the city and district copy. And that, done without much ado. From the first time I met him (when I reported to him after landing in Chennai from the Kochi IE office) throughout my 8-year tenure, he was a father figure commanding love and respect.

I remember that in a burst of inspiration, I even prostrated before him in the office. It is no exaggeration to say that he got me married (he passed on my horoscope to one of the editors of the Express Group’s Tamil newspaper, Dinamani). Of course, everything went through and he made it a point to attend my engagement. Incidentally, the venue was the house of Prof. K. Swaminathan, the editor of the Collected works of Mahatma Gandhi, and also a one-time Express editor.

By the time Master passed away in his eighties, he had moved out from the Express Estates. I am one among hundreds who was deeply affected by him and his persona.

Srinivas Chari

Nehru & Krishna Menon

I was delighted to read the anecdote of a vegetarian meal at V.K. Krishna Menon’s house for Jawaharlal Nehru.

I am reminded of the anecdote about his breakfast in Gobichettipalayam where he had come for a meeting of the TNCC. When he was served Uppuma, C. Subramaniam explained to him, “ Panditji, it is nothing but Kesari minus sugar plus salt.”

Jairam Ramesh’s biography of V.K.Krishna Menon is a veritable journey into the freedom struggle and thereafter. It was thrilling to read about his mobilisation of British Parliamentarians in support of our freedom. He emerges as a most misunderstood person.

S.S. Rajagopalan

The lockdown mismatch

I thought I had missed the July 1 issue of Madras Musings when I received the post copy of the issue – July 15 (Vol. XXX, No. 3). The previous one was June 15 (marked Vol. XXX, No. 2). On checking the website, I find that the date and numbering system is rather different – The issue with the same content is dated July 1 (Vol. XXX, No. 6).

Perhaps there is a need to maintain continuity in numbering without breaks, but readers like me are liable to get confused. I feel it is better to have a common Issue Number for both print and web versions in all future issues to avoid wrong referencing.

Quite likely the extra lockdowns have upset your half-monthly (not bimonthly!) schedule. And there may be readers who are unaware of the uses and misuses of terms like biennial, biannual, biweekly, etc., though the Indian Railways may have popularised the usage of biweekly contrary to what my dictionary claims!

Thomas Tharu
Kasyap A-7
Nehru Nagar Fourth Street
Adyar, Chennai 600 020

Editor’s Note: Reader Tharu is correct and we stand admonished. We were all ready with the July 1st issue for print when the lockdown was extended and so we uploaded it on the web. We decided to print the same issue on July 16th and hence the confusion. We trust there will be no more breaks in printing.

Covid – the social reformer

Seeing the title readers may wonder if the lock down has addled my brain. Well, let me explain.

We ill-treated our migrant labourers and made them walk home on empty stomachs. Here we are hardly three months down the line requesting them to come back. Many are even offering them a pay rise and accommodation. Builders Associations are even hiring charter flights to bring some of them back from Jharkhand and Bihar. Already 5,000 migrant labourers have been brought back by labour contractors for the foundries of Coimbatore. We shouted ourselves hoarse when our maid absented herself for a couple of days. We shouted almost till the point when they threatened to quit. Did you in your wildest of dreams think of a day when you would pay them their full wages and beg them not to come?

For ages we have been talking about simple weddings. Our big fat Indian weddings often led to the ruin of middle and lower income families. For the rich it was an occasion to flaunt their wealth and their social and political clout. For the poor it was time to mortgage their houses and take loans which would be paid back over decades. All this for a crowd which left complaining about the hard idlies and the watery sambar. Now it is the time of Online weddings with only 50 persons in attendance. Parents who celebrated the wedding of their children in January will be wondering if they should have waited until March and saved several lakhs which could have been given to the couple instead.

The less said about funerals, the better. The large flower bedecked chariots with scores of inebriated men dancing in front and the elaborate rituals that followed often put poor families back by years. If only the money had been spent while the person was alive there may not even have been need for such an early funeral.

You open your cupboard and out tumble your costly Kancheevarams and Patolas. You wonder why you bought so many. The huge sofa that you bought to impress your kitty party friends lies forlorn, occupying almost three fourths of the room.

You are thankful though for the Zoom meetings and the technologies that make them possible. It saves you the bother of dressing up and going to the meeting venue, listening to boring speeches wondering whether someone will notice if you left midway. Now you sit in your old clothes, join the meeting, register your name and listen for a few minutes (this is to send a reasonably informed congratulatory message to the organizers). You then switch off the video and audio and go about your work. The only thing you may miss is the tea, snacks and the gossip.

In a few months the Corona Virus may cease to be the threat that it currently is. Will our mindset remain the same or will be go back to our old ways? I leave it to the readers to answer this question.

Prema Raman

Why not open book examination system in New Education Policy?

When I was a student of Annamalai University (Tamil Nadu) several years ago, Dr. C.P. Ramaswami Iyer ( Dr. C.P.) was the Vice Chancellor. It has been well recognized, then and now, that Dr.C.P was one among the brilliant educationists, scholars and administrators of his time.

When Dr. C.P. was the Vice Chancellor for the second time in 1960s, he used to be present in the campus for around ten days every month. He used to address several meetings of students and staff on various subjects at the Shastri and Gokhale Halls . The venues would be filled with the participants who were well aware of the eminence of Dr. C.P. and were eager to hear his speech. Many used to carry note pad and pen to write down the highlights. I was one of them.

Among the variety of topics that Dr. C.P. used to cover, the need and importance of reforming the educational system and the testing methodology of the knowledge level of the students were two frequent ones. He decried the prevailing pattern of examination, where students are closeted in a hall, question papers given just at the beginning of exam along with blank answer sheets and at the end of the stipulated examination time, the students hand over the answer sheets and move away from the hall. An unknown teacher then evaluates the answer sheets and provide grades and marks based on the answers provided, with little knowledge about the background and capability of the student.

Dr. C.P. was of the view that the prevailing system of examination was flawed and was doing immense harm to the future of the students , by not evaluating them suitably and adequately. He regretted that in this traditional examination system, students were expected to provide answers as they had learnt from the text books without any scope for original thinking. In other words, if the students did not provide the answers that were taught to them from the prescribed text book, they would get poor marks. If the student applied innovative skill and came out with fresh and innovative ideas, it would not be encouraged or credits provided , as the student had strayed from the prescribed and accepted examination path.

Dr. C.P. advocated that at least in the case of courses for higher studies and competitive examinations for job selection, an open book examination system would be the ideal method for assessing the capability of the students. He suggested that students should be allowed to take any notes or books that they want to the examination hall and the questions should not be routine or predictable, though the questions should be within the overall syllabi for the course. The question should be directed in a way that the student would have to apply his/her mind, instead of reproducing the memorized lessons in a routine way. Dr. C.P. even went on to the extent of saying that setting such question papers for students in the open examination system is a challenge for the teachers as well. They need to exercise their thoughts very carefully and keep an open and interested mindset in evaluating such answer sheets from the students, who undergo the open book examination system.

Today, what the student gets in the classes is education given by one person namely the teacher and given to the students for getting academic qualification and marks. The education is not oriented towards knowledge for the sake of knowledge but for success in the examination. Marks obtained have become the be all and end all for assessing the merits or demerits of the students.

In today’s context, this suggestion should be considered for NEET examination and for selection of candidates for All India Services. It is high time that educational experts in the country introspect about this great suggestion of Dr. C.P. and try to implement the idea, at least in an experimental way to start with.

With the Government evolving the new education policy which is now discussed all over India by a cross section of people, it is strange that the open book examination system has not even been thought about or mentioned.

Nandini Voice for The Deprived
M 60/1, 4th Cross Street
Besant Nagar
Chennai 600 090

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