#14 being “happy” : Pharrell Williams, IPC and other theories…

“Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Hats off to Pharrell Williams! No, really.

What poets, painters, philosophers, psychoanalysts and their ilk have spend several wasted lifetimes trying to decipher, Pharrell did in precisely 4.08 mins, in a way that the world stopped and took notice, then plunged headlong into the jive, totally ‘getting it’ when he likens ‘happiness’ to a room without a roof.

Genius.

It’s that time of year when happiness figures prominently in our list of wishes, being the underlying theme to virtually anything we catagorize as a ‘resolution’ and nail to our masts. Makes you wonder if there are others like Pharrell who’ve cracked it, this deeply mysterious state of being where Life is a sun-dappled beach and we’ve worked out EXACTLY how to keep the dark clouds away. Forever.

So what is happiness – a journey ? an elusive destination ? the light at the end of the tunnel which enables us to haul ourselves over burning coal, believing that a bottomless pool of bliss lies just there, over on the other side ? Are there countries and cultures that make it slightly easier for us to be happy ? If yes, what’s the quid pro quo for it?

Like crime rate, religious fervour and political leanings, is happiness something that can be classified and quantified, then dressed in graphs and pie charts. Can it be ascribed to ‘theories’ that make it decidedly easier to understand and pursue..? Does it help if you’re a man / woman, black or white?

I got thinking about this whole ‘country, culture and happiness ‘ thing at the last Parents’ Meet just before Christmas. This time, a small note had been sent out by the school which mentioned something about “IPC” or the International Primary Curriculum which the British government was already in the process of rolling out across all State Schools in the UK. The teachers seemed hot and bothered, keen to discuss the matter and garner reactions from home.

Turns out, the Government has noticed, for some time now, a stark difference in the way Primary School kids are taught here, vis a vis Asia. They figured that pushing kids harder at the Primary level, like Asians do, invariably leads to a better grounding, thus greatly improved results in Secondary School – a belief fuelled by comparison.

Asian Kids In Secondary School Vs British Kids In Secondary School, ON AVERAGE.

It’s also no secret that Grammar Schools here have a staggeringly high percentage of non-whites who sail through stringent entrance exams each year. A Grammar School being that happy ‘truce’ for Secondary Education where nothing else counts but merit – wedged between posh Private Schools ( charging anything from £3000 to £10,000+ per term ) and totally free State Schools where ‘catchment’ is the only consideration.

Hmmmm, there must be SOMETHING about the way these Asian kids are taught, specially back in their own countries. Let’s imbibe a few bits from their model and see where it takes us – that’s essentially what the government here is saying.

And BEHOLD the reaction!

My 7 years old’s teacher, an Asian herself, sat us down with a big smirk and announced – “Parents, it’s all-change from here! Your child will now be doing a lot of the Year 4 stuff in Year 3, which means learning their Times Tables faster, up to a higher number, more reading, harder spellings, comprehension…” she seemed delighted.

And, frankly, so was I.

My kids go to a school that’s been rated by OFSTED ( the ones who monitor standards in education every few years ) as “Outstanding” and yet they get far too little “homework” for my liking. My 10 year old, in his penultimate year of Primary School, is assigned homework ONCE A WEEK ; a mix of tasks in Numeracy and Literacy that take no more than an few hours of his time. Officially, just TWO HOURS of homework IN A WEEK, for a TEN YEAR OLD! To anyone from India, that’s sacrilege.

Of course, these kids could do more! At this age, their minds are like sponge, soaking up anything and everything they are exposed to. They could be pushed a lot harder and be motivated ( threatened with punishment? ) to get into a discipline of doing ‘homework’ every single day as we’ve all done, all our lives ! More so, as there are no ‘exams’ of any sort in Primary School, barring two SATs –  in Year 2 and Year 6. Those too, mainly to gauge the aptitude of the student and put them in some sort of League Table for the sake of statistics.

Ms Raza in Year 3 seemed jolly pleased that her class would now have to pull up their socks and I could see why.

Then I made my way to Year 5 and suddenly I wasn’t so sure.

Ms Ogden seemed more upset than annoyed, to be honest. I naturally assumed that she didn’t particularly take to the idea of more planning and paperwork these changes would bring for the teachers, adding to their weekly woes.

Then she began to speak,

“Parents / Carers…it’s almost Christmas but I have bad news, she began. It is with deep regret that I tell you this – we are going for a concentrated push towards achieving a higher level in Year 5 , “IPC” or something like that, they’re calling it, she sneered.

WHY the need for it, I don’t understand, she continued in the same vein…after all, these are just 10 year olds, still only KIDS…they NEED Art and Music and PE and everything else that will now be slightly compromised, in the name of this, this…. “IPC”…Primary School is where they should draw and sing and paint and play as they learn…SO important for them to do all these things NOW, before “life” takes over.

What’s the point of pressing for better grades if it turns them into robots and takes away the joy of learning? Each one of them is different, each one unique…NOW is the time to let them blossom, allow them to seek out their interests…THIS is the time to learn social skills that will last them a lifetime, learn to be kind and caring, to work as a team, to eat properly, say ‘thank you’ and ‘please’, to swim and ride and do handstands and cartwheels and roundoffs, to use their imagination, play instruments, make models, read and be read to……frankly, I DON”T see the point of all these changes that will do little besides make them stressed and frustrated at SUCH A YOUNG AGE…it’s incredibly sad, I know, but it’s got to be done…I am so so sorry. I shall try to still keep it as fun as possible, so they don’t start hating their last few years here.” she finished, visibly upset.

I sat there speechless.

What does one say to that ?

Clearly, it’s a “culture” thing to some extent, isn’t it, all this business of “marks ( grades ) and results” NOT BEING the ‘be all and end all’ of “education”. It is a concept alien to me. Sure, we had Music and Art and PE and School Trips and Concerts, we had loads of fun, like children elsewhere in the world but we were NEVER allowed to forget that it was ALL about getting the highest “marks” and “coming first in class” – everything else was secondary, even in Primary School. The ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ got sorted right at the onset, a hierarchy very hard to break out of as the school years progressed – perhaps a life-lesson learnt much too soon ( as I look back now ) …

“HAPPINESS COMES FIRST” is scribbled in bold letters outside Nursery at my kids’ school in Barnet. We walk past it everyday, paying little heed to what it implies.

I think I’m beginning to understand it a little better,  though I’m still not sure what the IDEAL Primary School Curriculum might be.How do you even compare the two systems or decide what’s best in the long run, what makes us ‘happiest’ in the end. Not wealthiest or most famous / successful but happiest ?

And then again, as Mrs Patmore remarked in Downton Abbey, “Sympathy butters no parsnips”. I guess the same could be said for happiness 🙂 Sometimes, we need to be pushed to our limits ( whether or not in Primary School – the jury’s out on that ! ) to discover what we’re truly capable of. The pursuit of excellence is happiness too.

Again, the age-old quest for the H word….

Ending this post with a brilliant piece by Hilary Mantel on grief, rather her rereading of A Grief Observed by C S Lewis, the complete antithesis to what we seek everyday.

Perhaps it is by observing grief that we can learn to appreciate, truly appreciate and be grateful for our blessings. Perhaps it is the easiest way to be happy. To be reminded of the things that could’ve easily gone wrong but haven’t. Yet.

Wishing you, my dear reader, luck and happiness, however you may chose to define it, for 2015! Here’s to dreams, sunshine and a steaming hot cappuccino – always a good place to start looking for ‘happiness’

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/dec/27/hilary-mantel-rereading-cs-lewis-a-grief-observed

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#8 “so here it is, Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun…”

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2014-11-20 08-1.24.58Oxford Street, 20th November 2014

 

“So here it is –
Merry Christmas,
Everybody’s having fun…”

The chorus from the Christmas No 1. by Slade ( Merry Christmas Everybody, 1973 , my year of birth !  ) which kicks-off all things White & Wintery for us – you hear it on the radio, in the supermarket, wafting in the cold night air and you just know Santa’s on his way. Again.

Changing the lyrics ever so slightly could also be a fair indication of how things roll in the Autumn months
“So here it is –
Merry Christmas,
Everybody’s raising funds…”

It never fails to fascinate / amaze / amuse/ move me ,  to see how many people come together at Christmas time for acts of charity to raise money and extend a helping hand to others.
Perhaps it is this festive camaraderie that brings out our most charitable side.

Gazing at the glitter and sparkle festooned across London at this time, heeding the call of the High Street to loosen the purse strings, coming home with a truckload of baubles that you did not need but couldn’t resist, confessing to dreams of mince pies swathed in Brandy sauce and desperately trying to find a hiding place for wrapping paper that cost you more than the present ( ok, that’s just me! ) – Autumn is the time for falling leaves and rising debt, such is the allure of “Christmas Shopping”

It is also the time when Britain reminds me, year after year, why it is still GREAT.

A clutch of worthy causes and charities that champion them abound ( more than 150,000 if you’re into stats )  – the British Heart Foundation, Oxfam, Cancer Research UK, PDSA, Mind, AGE UK, Bernados for Kids, Shelter, RSPCA, NSPCC, Water AID, Macmillan UK, Greenpeace, Poppy Appeal – these are some of the biggest charities, with outlets on every High Street selling secondhand wares for our money in addition to organising marathons, bake-offs, blood donation camps, galas, comedy nights and coffee mornings…there’s always something on !

However, there are TWO phenomenal ( annual )  fundraising events I’ve been witnessing since I arrived here and I can’t praise them enough!

They leave me with the same question every year  –

WHY can’t we have something like this in India?

Do we lack the resources – NO.
Do we lack the will – CERTAINLY NOT
Could we pull it off if we really tried – HELL, YEAH!
What’s stopping us then – Ermmmm, er, well….it’s complicated.

Let’s talk about the two events first.

The first, CHILDREN IN NEED – is for, well, exactly what it says, needy children.

It’s the BBC’s baby with a staggering £600 million raised since 1980 for the sake of disabled children and young people in the UK and people volunteer to raise money in the wildest possible ways  – ( I shall wear my pyjamas and cycle backwards for 3 hours in the freezing rain or similar ) schools pull out all the stops and ask you to come in fancy dress + a donation ( at least a pound  ) but the icing on the cake is the Telethon – when all the channels of the BBC collaborate for a  L -O-N-G  night of entertainment – from about 7.30PM  until the wee hours of the morning.

This is where pop stars, football legends, actors, singers, stage and theatre artists, newsreaders, comedians, statesmen, butchers, bakers, candlestickmakers….everyone gets on the telly to act, sing, dance, mime, play the fool and have fun.
A telephone number flashes across the screen all evening and the stars plead with us to pick up the phone and make a donation. Simple!

The sum on the cash till ( money raised on the night ) goes up and up before our very eyes as the show progresses. Setting records year after year, WE raised in excess of 32 million this year and we’re still counting….

Everyone pitches in and no one is spared – THIS was decidedly one of Tony Blair’s BIGGEST MOMENTS in the public eye when he was PM. What a performance !

 

 

We’re also told AND shown exactly HOW the money is spent every year and WHY it is crucial in changing the lives of disadvantaged kids in the UK. This is the bit where everyone’s left fighting tears because it demonstrates HOW MUCH we can do, WHAT A DIFFERENCE we can make to the lives of others of only we DO IT TOGETHER with a plan that works.

A tenner from me won’t change the world, but even a pound from 61 million Britons, just imagine….

COMIC RELIEF is much the same – the name aptly salutes the pair behind it – comedy scriptwriter Richard Curtis and comedian Lenny Henry who simply wanted to help the famine victims in Ethiopia in 1985. They rounded up some famous friends, put a show together, urged  people to donate and from there, it grew into an annual TV gala studded with comedians and all manner of celebrities, raising a laugh AND serious amounts of cash for Africa and the UK each year.

Comic Relief also lead to Sports Relief ( for disabled sports men and women  as well as for the overall encouragement of sport, specially among those who can’t afford the training ) and it championed the Golden Pound Principle – basically, EVERY POUND raised is spent on charitable causes, with ALL operating costs paid for by sponsors. Or by the interest gained on cash waiting to be distributed!

A fantastic cause, a great laugh with comedians trying to out-do each other every year…

And oh, more than £650 million in the kitty since Ethiopia and 1985 !

Stick with this sketch till the end and you will laugh until you cry, I promise…

 

 

What fascinates me is the EASE with which you can embrace them and make a donation. Agreed, that the BBC has tremendous clout, not many can boast such an intricate, all-permeating network. But it’s heartwarming to see how it uses it to facilitate fundraising on a massive scale, nationwide.

We’re made aware of Children In Need and Comic Relief looming large through posters, print and TV ads months in advance. Supermarkets start selling official merchandise, schools and offices pitch in, banks allow you to make donations at the ATM, there are easy numbers you can call or text your donations to, addresses you can send off cheques to, fundraising kits you can order, bills you can round up to the nearest pound ( or more ) towards donations.

And if none of this appeals to you, you could simply drop your loose change into a sealed and secure charity bucket practically at every street corner!

The message is SIMPLE  – Get up and DONATE. we will do EVERYTHING within our power to make it as EASY for you as possible…and tell you EXACTLY where your money is going. No red tape, no bullshit –  JUST DO IT…

Who wouldn’t.

People here may think of it as normal but coming from the Third World as I do, I marvel at such professionalism.

And this is EXACTLY what India needs – a concentrated, organised, annual nationwide effort to raise awareness AND funds for the many, many social causes that could benefit from it.

Of course, we already have numerous charities in place, we have countless celebrities giving their time and money to help the poor and disadvantaged, anonymous benefactors across the country changing lives, we have millions of nameless, faceless bravehearts toiling in the heat, fighting corruption, discrimination, political agenda, social stigma and dogged ( misplaced ) beliefs to bring food, water, shelter, education, health and dignity to those who’ve almost given up on life – and they do it, not for the fame or to see their names on the Queen’s Honours List, ( just saying…) Oh, no!

They do it for the sake of charity alone. And against all odds. Mostly anyway…

Yet there’s nothing, NOTHING that happens annually AND on a national scale with the support and blessing of the government!

No, not merely after an earthquake or a Tsumani or despicable acts of sexual violence, religious unrest or devastating floods.

But EVERY YEAR, come rain or shine.

An evening of fun and fundraising for the entire nation to enjoy and contribute to – perhaps a LIVE SHOW which is beamed across all TV channels, is picked up by radio, supported in Print, endorsed by the government with the added financial blessing of all Corporate powerhouses –  the mind boggles at the amount 1.2 BILLION people could accomplish if they got their act together.

Forget the rest, if Bollywood and Cricket alone joined forces to stage an annual song and dance gala appealing for funds, we’d all be sorted in a day!

If only,

there’s no intent to political gain

no religious/sectarian/caste/class spin put on it

no mile-long queues or complicated procedures hounding those who wish to donate

no ego clashes between A Khan, S Khan and SR Khan or any other Star Who Matters to derail the whole show and defeat the cause!

And

if there’s complete transparency in money matters and a genuine will to make a REAL difference.

It will take a miracle, perhaps, but India is a country where miracles happen everyday….

I patiently wait for this one.

I’m a girl of strong opinions. What I love about my adopted home, Britain, I ADORE – their acerbic wit, their unique brand of self-deprecating humour, their admirable style of fundraising are a few examples.

Then again, there are things that make my blood boil.

Like the Tower Of London charging me  £ 22.00  for a fleeting glimpse of the KOHINOOR.

WHAT ??

TWENTY-TWO QUID to see something which is MINE,  to start with….( not mine, personally, but you know what I mean…)

YOU MUST BE JOKING !!

Let’s stick to fundraising…

 

# 2 broccoli by any other name…

2014-11-11 18.32.17

As Shakespeare forgot to say, broccoli by any other name would be just as vile…
Yet there’s nothing a bit of artistic enhancement wouldn’t change.  Or mask 🙂

My 7 year old son’s verdict ?

Mamma, this food looks very nice but when I eat it…*icon for scrunched up nose!

Oh well…

Dinner is served.

# 1 And so it begins…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My first official blog, not counting the one that fell dormant within months of its birth. I hope to be more faithful to this one, after being told / commanded / shouted at by friends, family and editors to find a proper outlet for my outpourings of grief and joy ( ignore Facebook ) so there!

Still finding my way around but I hope to be an addict soon.

You have been warned!

If you’re reading, hope the sun is shining wherever you are.

Shabnam

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