Inspiration eludes me. Whilst watching George Saunders’ interview on his writing process, I’m shocked at how little of his valuable advice is fusing into me. I am keen to learn but my present disposition is such that no external or internal motivation is willing to be grounded. I am so detached from myself and my sense of reality that everything seems trivial if not entirely futile. I am aboard a slowly sinking raft, amidst wide stretches of water, the notion of drowning is inevitable and distressing yet I am not seeking any shores.
My crippling anxiety related to the most minimal of failures can be traced back to the radical change of education systems, from British Cambridge based O & A-Level system to local FSc, Bachelors and Masters system of education. In the former, the slightest of failure would have a pronounced effect on your grade. There’s a massive difference between an A grade and a B grade. This difference is directly correlated with intellectual abilities. In the British system under which I was taught, A grade is exemplary, a B grade denotes slight intelligence marred by questioning one’s own capabilities, a C grade was considered average but would require one to reappear in the exam since I was one of the “intelligent kids”. D grade is tantamount to public humiliation and absolute negation of any sign of intelligence. Let’s not even go to grade F or U (fail, absolutely fail). To add to this we had marking schemes which would evaluate the band one would fall in, with each grade analysed precisely, determining the scope of answer and how one approached it. Hence attaining complete perfection in every answer was a must.
Now coming to the latter mode of education, the local system where the minimum passing marks is a dreary forty out of a hundred (thirty-five at intermediary level), one is considered a genius if he or she scores a 60 (essentially a D grade in Cambridge system). So passing with a meagre 40 entitles you to excellence.
This results in an internal conflict in regards to assessing ones failures and successes. Having been excessively pruned to a very rigid system of what number defines your intellect from a very early part of life, the indigenous system of scoring and grading beckons mediocrity in all forms of self-assessment. The former has left an indelible impression on me, and also crippled any form excitement from owning up to any praise that may come my way.
Imagine my consternation when a CSP officer asked us to score JUST 40 out of a 100 in an essay. Our goal was to simply aim for the passing marks, and all our efforts were to be solely directed towards those forty odd points to secure the examination. Forty! Forty? This was, to me, an assertion of his teaching technique. He too would aim at teaching his students just enough to help them secure a 40. There would be no extraneous details in the class that might lend a hand to those aiming for a 60, or even a 55. No sir! All shortcuts, principles and rules, lectures and assignments would be designed to attain 40 marks.
At first I was baffled, and disappointed somewhat. How can the standards of the most competitive examination in the country be put so low? The fault of this approach lies alone with me. I failed to take into account half the population who, much like me were striving to get into the bureaucracy, and who unlike me, had to swim through muddied waters to get here. So by an explicit statement of attaining 40 marks, nobody in the class was alienated from the harrowing process. But as for me, I was to be isolated on my own account. I yet have to reconcile my greed for an A grade with the reality of a passing average – a profound understanding of which would eventually help me off my high horse and graze in the reality-stricken field of local education which is a tragi-comedy of its own calling.
I have an ethical issue with CSS and dissemination of education in general, that of absence of personal political and religious thoughts and perceptions. Why is there a foundational and rigorous restriction on inclusion of a political and religious viewpoint in an answer? Does this not follow the same western phenomenon of not teaching creationism in schools? Does this restriction fundamentally not obscure the very purpose which education aims to achieve? Say, if I was allowed to construct an answer based on factual, research based points, and could add to it a personal, well-thought out, well-researched religious (or political viewpoint, depending on individual inclinations) not only would the concerned research help my basic understanding of a phenomenon but also aid in an unbiased approach towards the issue since research always tends to minimise biases by providing a vast canvas of differing schools of thoughts. Now extend the same to class discussion in which student A and student B participate; the former with strong leaning towards politics, and the latter towards religion. Under the supervision of an unbiased instructor, the mutual discussion would not only be respectable, but also induct new and original perceptions to the student who was wholly unaware of the other’s inclinations, or harboured personal misjudgements and misinformation about a particular topic.
By asking students and teachers to leave personal political and religious rhetoric out of the class, the educational system is further promoting social intolerance and ignorance. Why are such crucial matters not discussed and debated upon at a very early stage, rather than leaving it up to experts (who by then are themselves so embedded in a biased system of information).
Isn’t the whole purpose of Education (with a capital E) dissemination of uncontrolled knowledge and information, so that the educator and student both can formulate their own stance, whilst having complete grasp on standpoints of various schools of thought?
In a Pakistani society, where religion has long played a crucial role in individual and collective existence, and much more recently is the question of political awareness becoming part of our social existence, is it fair to blatantly ask students to leave the very core of their identity outside the class door? Does this not promote hypocrisy, arrogance and ignorance of ones own beliefs?
Educational and institutional reforms, on international and national level, all stress on amicable discussions to counter the myriad of problems the world faces. How can one expect to reach unanimous resolutions when the two important factors that figuratively make the world go round are discouraged on such an intermediary level. Healthy discussions and debates require ample research, which in turn introduces us to countless faces of the same issue.
Disillusioned (15th July, 2014)
They say one can travel the wide expanse of the world just by reading books, for in the countless stories are embedded the most far-off places and lives of those one can only faintly dream of visiting and knowing once in a lifetime. They say that if you immerse yourself deep enough into the realms of books, whilst sitting on a sofa with your back against the cushion, or whilst laying in your cozy bed, you can travel far and wide, as distant as the words on the pages before you might take you. Say if that were true, I’ve traveled a good measure of Victorian England, and Colombia, and the rest of South America, and a bit of Europe, far North-West upto the highlands of Scotland, post and pre Stalin Russia, and the subcontinent and the US. Yet, here I am, laying on my bed, my head plopped on a hard pillow, reading David Foster Wallace, unable to comprehend the austerity of his words and his travels as he gives a satirical account of a journey to the Caribbean. I’m wholly unaware of the American phraseology he uses time and time again. I’m detached from his experience, which makes me wonder if I really did travel all those places aforementioned or is reading and traveling a layman’s experience and one who cannot enjoy either is more than willing to attribute reading to the joys of traveling physically? Of course, it must be. I might have traveled wide courses of the world in fiction, but all the while I was sat at home, in a somber corner in my mind. And the realisation strikes me hard. Let’s see where DFW’s journey takes me; either into the mind of one aboard a cruise ship or deeper into my own frantic head, re-evaluating the choices I’ve made in my life, analysing the reality of reading. I still wait for a knock.
The Butterfly Effect (30th July, 2014)
That the lives of 298 strangers aboard the MH17 were inextricably linked to the clash of Ukraine & Russia that had erupted a few months ago. That there is no chaos, but order prevailed, even in a war zone which pronounced their deaths. Their life was to end on the account of a rotten political decision taken months or perhaps years ago. That when they had boarded the plane, unknown forces were set in motion, which coincided with their deaths. That when they were born, each and every one of the 298 individuals, their life was fated to end on an account of a revolt on a distant land. That their deaths were a consequence of the very distant battle they might have heard about in the news, yet went on about their lives, with no concern how it could result in a disruption of their own lives.
The groveling flowers
Supine, yet wild
Gnawing and gnashing at my innards
Silent child of cloud!
Let darkness abound you
Fall off the cliff
Into the darkest recesses
Of misplaced realities
And judgments around
Surround, no fade away
Death better than dying
Again and again
The scent is overpowering
Your ribs are crashing
A four by two box
Shining upon the heath
Lead and be led
Knit and weave,
You, who are two
The embryonic jargon
Fluttering in the garden
Back from disease
Decay, and death
Mutability, end no
End till you
Immersed in horizons
Vast and plain
The tedium of structure
Hobby, lobby and state
Can you or will I
Gather in our palms
Psalms and stakes
It isn’t grim
Nor frothy, inert
Must you listen to the pleas
A thousand songs
And a verve
Rise and dusk,
The allure of reality
Hard to sail, to flog
A carcass ability,
Blue in need, compose
Following the tradition of pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-psychological poetry of those American poets which have been reserved for me to study and analyze, I here present to you a poem, an original work of words, wholly crafted by me as an activity to entertain my senses and spend a good twenty minutes without the light, appropriately titled “Transmutation”.
Were I a prolific, published poet, with a self-aggrandizing habit of writing in a journal, which I was sure of would be published after my death, you would see the following review of the poem by a critic who was as conceited and assured as myself.
“Certainly, the poet had read Kafka’s Metamorphosis in great length, after which the poem entitled “Transmutation” was clinically written or rather derived from. The poem gravitates around an existential crisis which the poet had been publicly affirming to in numerous contexts. On the 2nd of July, three weeks before this rendition of mental sabotage was penned down, the poet happened to visit the Clifford Hangar – a cliff partly suspended in air, off the coast of New Harthshire in England. It has also come to my humble acknowledgement that the poet envisioned the insipidity of death following a visit to a nearby graveyard, and particularly, to the grave of an unfortunate mother who had lost her two sons in two separate accidents back in 1983. We are not aware of their relation, neither of where lie the two twins, but we do know that the poet immortalized them in her “embryonic jargon”, “you who are two/twins diverse”. The poet’s thoughts vacillate between impermanence of death, the corporeality (“A four by two box/Shining upon the heath”) and the vague yet ceremonious display of humanism. Towards the end, the poet witnesses an escape, in form of transformation from the inherent cultural pluralism into the entity of unification”
Just to be clear, this is a bona fide sham of epic proportions. In actuality, the bulk of post-modern poetry seems to me like an inane effort to prove one’s existence via academic jargon, quasi philosophic ruminations and deliberate ambiguity of words and meanings.
In the last few lines, one could deduce that the sound of ‘l’, which is soft upon the lips, implies the poet’s natural inclination and genial acceptance of death. Or, that in the verse “And combine/Consummate conspirator”, the letter ‘c’ echoes of alliteration purposely used to confuse the reader. Or that the “supine, yet wild” flowers insinuates the all-consuming state of nature and death.
Of course, none of this is true. I wrote this with an idle mind, with professed intention to mock the futility of American poetry (or at least that which has been assigned to me).
By the way, my readers are more than welcome to comment with their interpretation of the poem. Let’s see if someone other than myself can make sense out of such nonsensical blabber. My next one will be called “Stasis”.