We, the students, are the golden ticket winners


In this year’s essay writing contest we were asked to expand upon the idea: 
It almost feels as if Roald Dahl thought about our school when he wrote about Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

This is what Arita (Class VII-2017) wrote, in his winning entry:

Willy Wonka’s factory can surely be compared to our school, and Willy Wonka himself, to Sir.

A crazy man with new and strange ideas, Willy Wonka created numerous new chocolates using innovative methods. A lake filled with chocolates, a plan to transmit real chocolates through TV signals – who other than Willy Wonka could have thought about this?

To learn without textbooks but by reading storybooks, to learn Maths with Japanese puzzle, apps, to use Twitter and movies for learning – who other than Sir, could have thought about this? The chocolate factory is our school, the innovative ways of making chocolate are the innovative ways of learning, and Willy Wonka is our Sir.

But what would Roald Dahl’s book be without the children, without Charlie? We, the students, are the Charlies of our school, who have chanced upon this magical wonderland through the unforgettable golden tickets – through pure luck and chance. We, the students, gasp at Sir’s great ways of teaching – we never stop being amazed by them, just like Charlie, who marvelled at Willy Wonka’s ingenious methods. And again, just like Charlie, we are not only amazed by our school, but we contribute to it. We behave responsibly, we are honest, and we don’t cheat. I admit that some students do misuse the ways, I admit that there are some Augustus Gloops and Veruca Salts, but most of us are Charlies.

And just like Charlie, we gradually become the owners of the chocolate factory. We, the students, manage the Twitter account of our school; we organise events of the Contest Week; we check stories and reviews, we make questions for book exams; the things we write are sometimes even used to teach; we educate others about this world and free them from the virus of faith under the guidance of our Willy Wonka.

The chocolates that came out from Willy Wonka’s factory were a priceless commodity for children all over the world. We, the students, shaped and flavoured by the unorthodox and great ways of teaching, will also be a priceless commodity of the world. There are a very few in the world like us, who think with a rational mind and refuse to be brainwashed. And whom do we have to thank? None other than our Willy Wonka – Sir.

At the end of the book, Willy Wonka hands over the responsibility of running the chocolate factory to Charlie, because he is a responsible child. Why to a child? Because a child is free of the vices of adulthood. We, the students, will also try to remain children forever – to never acquire those vices.

Maybe, about twenty years later, Sir will hand his responsibility over to one of us – one of us who has succeeded in remaining a child. A student, who can still think rationally, a student who is not orthodox, a student who is innovative and can devise even better ways of making chocolates, will be the new Willy Wonka. Till then, my prophecy will remain unfulfilled.

This is why it almost feels as if Roald Dahl thought about our school when he wrote about Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

 

Our school: A real-life equivalent of Willy Wonka’s factory?


In this year’s essay writing contest we were asked to expand upon the idea: 
It almost feels as if Roald Dahl thought about our school when he wrote about Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
 
This is what Nonny (Class X-2017) wrote, in her winning entry:

 

Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory was one perfect place amidst the imperfect world, the air of magic inside his factory standing in stark contrast to its ordinary surroundings. The wonders that lay inside were almost too good to be true, unbelievable unless seen with one’s own eyes.

Our school, too, is untouched by the flaws of the outside world. Here, we debate ideas, read and appreciate books that most adults would find too difficult, learn from movies, forge friendships not only among ourselves, but also with the teachers. The school is so much more than what society expects that people who visit here are shocked and awed.

Both Willy Wonka’s factory and this school stand much above anything else in their fields. Just like there couldn’t be another chocolate factory that could compare with Willy Wonka’s, there couldn’t really be another school as perfect as this one. Both of those places are the result of bold ideas unlike anything else that has ever been tried before. Willy Wonka invented whole new ways of making chocolate, while this school employs teaching methods unheard of anywhere else. Since both of the places deviate so much from convention, are so different from the rest of the field, nothing else can really compete.

Willy Wonka had decided that the best person to run his perfect factory would be a child. He realized that the only person fit to do it would be someone who would not succumb to the temptation of exploiting his factory for selfish gain, someone who would continue to improve the factory and not take it for granted. He understood that all these flaws came with adulthood.

Our school, too, discourages adult-like vices, insists that we remain curious, open to learning, never be consumed by greed for material wealth, not be overcome by the selfish desire to enrich ourselves when there is so much more that we can do to make the world a better place.

Given all the striking parallels between Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory and our school, it is no surprise that it almost feels as if Roald Dahl thought about our school when he wrote about the factory. Although Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory existed only in fiction, our school is a real-life equivalent. No wonder it sometimes feels like something out of a fairytale.

A thank-you note


Sir wrote this letter to us (Class X, 2017) on the Children’s Day, 2017.

During the hectic routine of the day, running from class to class, dealing with day-to-day issues, I never got the time to say to you these two very important words:

Thank you.

Thank you for giving me the best moments of my life.

Of course, we had a lot of fun-filled moments in the class. But for me, the best moments have been the ones when along with you, I could also grow.

In some of those magical moments, inspired by you, I discovered talents within me I never knew existed. For you, I wrote the ‘Big Questions’, I translated the ‘Court’ song, and I even wrote an unfinished story.

Then there were contemplative moments which were equally memorable. Who can forget discussing Sapiens, sitting outside in the sun on winter afternoons? In those moments, as we discussed theories and connected those to our lives, we learnt a bit about ourselves, too.

There are times when I have been harsh and demanding. There are times when I scolded you unreasonably. Sometimes the burden of running the school took its toll, and I was not in my best moods and you had to bear the brunt. But you had always forgiven me, ready to smile and talk as soon as I was ready.

As you grew and developed capabilities better than most adults, you always remained innocent children, free of all the vices of adulthood.

Thank you for helping me build this school. After all, every bit of the school’s teaching materials, from Jinni Stories to Homo Deus, were first made for you. In every event, you have been with me, working side by side. As you learnt from your work, I learnt how education should truly be.

Thank you for inspiring me to get better and let me grow with you.

Thank you for being the examples that all adults should follow.

You are my pride!


A poem written by the teacher of class II to her students, on the occasion of Children’s Day 2017.

People who are as cute as you are very few,
But that is not all that’s special about you.

You are exceptional is so many ways,
Fully explaining it will take many days.

So, on the occasion of Children’s Day,
I would like to keep it short, if I may.

Khushi is the one of the smartest,
Her storytelling skills are among the best.

Uttara, Anjum and Rupsa are very quiet,
But they do get the answers always right.

Swagato is the naughtiest one,
He only wants to have unlimited fun.

Kanishk often gets a bit nervous,
About studies, he is very serious.

Sohini and Soham are the twins,
Between them, we don’t know who wins.

Sabeer is the nicest kid,
No naughty thing he ever did.

Tanisha reads very fast,
But in races she comes last.

Rakib is the slowest one,
He never says, “Finished, done!”

The talkative ones are Oishika, Aziz and Sagnik,
Only a cello-tape can stop them, I think.

If about some of you nothing yet I have told,
Please forgive me, I think I am becoming too old.

You are still very small, you still have a long way to go,
But you are already better than many grown-ups, I really think so.

So many difficult stories you can already read,
To solve new sums, our help you do not need,

To see you speak in English so well,
With pride our heart swell.

You are growing up nice and fine,
One day, in this big world, you are going to shine.

My heart fills with joy every time I see all of you,
Great children like you are really very few!

Let’s go out for dinner


A letter from class VII teacher to her students, on the occasion of Children’s Day 2017.

Your first day of class II was my first day of being a teacher.

As I write this, I am about to complete my sixth year in Levelfield. But funnily, I never wanted to become a teacher. I wanted to do something real, something that could make lives better. I did not think working in a school fit the bill.

Teachers giving mind-numbingly boring lectures, students whispering between themselves, calling teachers by funny names, memorizing books full of useless stuff to pass exams – my own school experience haunted me enough not to think of going back to schools ever again.

Luckily for me, Levelfield was the first place I came for a job interview. From what I read about the school before applying, it seemed very different from most average schools. All it took to change my mind completely about the teaching profession was the Big Question booklet that I saw on my day of interview.

Should we eat animals?

Why are some countries rich and some others poor?

Is greed good?

I was bowled over. Can education be like this? Can schools really teach kids sensible stuff?

I was more than eager to join.

On the first day of my job, I entered the class with a mix of apprehension and excitement. What I was here to do was much more than teaching Math and English.

When I asked Sir about what the milestones for my class would be, I was left stunned by his response.

I was told that the final milestone that I must achieve is that the students as a group must be interesting and fun to be with. The objective of every lesson taught would be to finally make them intelligent, rational, sensible people – the kind you can go to dinner with and enjoy the conversation.

Taking a bunch of kids out for dinner and enjoying the conversation, now that was a far more difficult target compared to getting them to pass an exam.

***

So there I was, first day on that work target.

You came in, one by one, gave inquisitive smiles, said good morning, whispered between each other – “new teacher?”, your curious eyes wanted to judge how this one was going to be? Strict? Friendly? Indifferent? Boring? Entertaining?

I tried to get familiar with your names, asked you to be a little patient with me. I would be able to tell which one of you was Sharmin and which one was Sabnam in a week’s time.

As the day proceeded, followed by weeks and months, I got to know all of you a little better – not only by your names, but by your naughtiness, your concentration, your conversations, your likes and dislikes, your strengths and weaknesses. Yes, all of you were unique but all of you were similar too. Soumyabrata was the brat, Sounak – the weirdo, Aritra – the serious one, Sharmin – the nice one, Shreya – the nervous one.

But when I told you a story, when I taught you a new puzzle, when I tried to make you familiar with this world in which you have to struggle and survive one day, you all listened with rapt attention, eyes fixed on me, devouring every sentence I say, eagerly learning whatever I could teach you.

You did accept me as your teacher and as your friend.

I taught you to write grammatically correct sentences and do multiplication and division. I explained to you the meanings of new words from the stories that you read. I explained the world around as simply as possible, asked the boys and girls to be friends with each other, play together, have tiffin together.

I told you – friendship is important. In this class, all of you must be friends with each other.  You must not form smaller groups. You must not whisper to each other’s ears, there shouldn’t be secrets between yourselves. Girls must not talk only to girls. Boys must not refuse to take the girls in the games of football or cricket. You all must be together. Always.

***

Six years have passed since the time I first entered your classroom. Now you are no longer cute babies, no longer as naïve and as innocent as you used to be. Bordering on adolescence, you are growing up to be mature and responsible people. And you amaze me.

I am amazed to see Sharmin unfazed by the questions of the Leaders of Tomorrow contest, winning the appreciation of a hundred parents with every answer she gives.

I am amazed to see Aritra, being so earnest and so humble in spite of being the smartest in the whole school. I can see that his questioning mind and zeal for learning is going to stay with him throughout his life.

I am amazed to see Abhranil’s dedication in making a conversation interesting, his desire to entertain his audience, his responsibility towards the school and his friends. I can see what a good-hearted person he is going to be.

I am amazed to see Mahek’s confidence and no-nonsense approach. The whole world, with all its strength, will never be able to bully her.

I am amazed by all of you – by your tweets, by your screenplays, by your arguments, by your questions.

I am amazed when I see you expressing opinions about the evils of the society.

When you don’t buy into the prejudices about skin colour, gender, religion that the society may have tried to teach you.

When you display your sense of humour with witty jokes.

When you can connect the movies that I showed you and the stories I taught you with real experiences, news, and politics and see the patterns in the world for yourself.

When you are excited by your friends’ achievements, which shows that you have not grown up to be selfish individuals, competing to get ahead at the expense of others.

My heart fills with pride seeing your capabilities, your potential, your goodness.

***

Every passing day is one day less that you and I have together. But I don’t worry about it much. I know my job is almost done. You all have shaped up to be responsible and sensible people who are going to make this world a slightly better place. The lessons that I could teach you are not going to be forgotten after you write your exams. They are going to be with you, they are going to make each one of you a better person.

I think I am ready to go out for dinner with you now.

Talvar


This is a review of the movie ‘Talvar’ written by Parthib Chandra (Mule) of Class VIII (2017).

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The people screamed for justice. The media screamed for justice. The government screamed for justice, for that’s where the votes are. And justice is what was served, but the Indian version of it. And Indian justice is, simply put, injustice. Perhaps no event in the recent history has been a better example of this than the Aarushi double murder case, as portrayed by the movie.

We all know the story. We all read the screaming words ‘TALWARS ACQUITTED’ on the papers, the same papers which, some years back, screamed ‘TALWARS MURDER DAUGHTER IN HONOUR KILLING,’ the same papers which convinced the judge of the verdict before the trials began. But do we know the true story? Do we know to what extent the nation’s incompetence went?

A new CBI director determined to not glorify his predecessor, determined to save the face of his police chief friend who suggested the theory of the honour killing. A judge determined to sentence Aarushi’s parents before the trial begins. The media determined to sell scores of papers with juicy gossip rather than the truth. Households determined to gossip about how barbaric Aarushi’s parents were. The true murderer determined to spread rumours which might help convict the wrong people. What was one honest CBI investigator against all that? He was an insignificant grain of sand facing the tide.

Yes, huge population of patriotic people are going to be enraged at the words “Indian justice is injustice.” They will argue “But they did get acquitted, what about that?” Sad thing is that it was just pure luck that the case was heard by a sound judge. Such judges are not commonplace. They are the exceptions who prove the rule.

“She was reading ‘3 mistakes of my life.’ Hence, she must have made three mistakes for which her father became angry and killed her!” the police reasoned. Any sane person would have laughed at such logic, as I and my classmates did. But did the nation laugh? Did the judge laugh, who convicted the innocent?

Aarushi’s parents were lucky enough to be released after 5 years in prison, though their life is now forever tainted. But who knows how many countless such people have gone through the same fate, if not worse? This case was one that was brought into light, out of the millions of others in which the victims simply faded into oblivion. No, erupting in hue and cry over one case isn’t enough, correcting mistakes isn’t enough. Such mistakes must be prevented, killed from the roots. The rust from the sword of justice must be removed, the blindfolds put back, the balances balanced.

The folly of Facebook


Class 8-9 (2017) was asked to write a screenplay, persuading one of their family members not to use Facebook and WhatsApp. Here is the best entry by Jyotirmoy Saha of Class 8. 

Me and my brother were playing chess. And a notification comes in his phone, he checks it out and shouts ‘Yes’.

Me: What happened? Trump is assassinated or something?

Brother (in an excited voice): No, no. I got another friend request, and now I have a thousand friends. Isn’t that cool?

Me: Well, check. And how many friends do you have in real life?

Brother: I have five of them, and one of them has one thousand and twenty-seven friends. I have to overtake him, he always boasts.

Me: I see. Well, make your move.

He brings his knight in front, and I had to back off. Then he made his move and continued checking Facebook.

Me: So Facebook friends are like points, I mean whoever will have the most amount of Facebook friends will be like the elites and whoever will have the least amount of Facebook friends will be like the slaves.

Brother: Aaa… not exactly like that, but ones with more FF are more famous in the class than the ones with less FF.

Me: FF stands for Fake friends, right?

Brother (raising his voice a bit): NO, it stands for Facebook friends.

Me: Is there any difference between Facebook friends and Fake friends?

Brother (in the same raised voice): Yes, of course. One has to do a lot of hard work to get Facebook friends, you can’t expect to sit at home and get a thousand friends. You have to take selfies in dangerous positions.

Me (in a sarcastic tone): Yeah, yeah, it’s an extremely hard work.

Brother (raised voice): And do you know how I got the last friend request?

Me: No. How?

Brother: Yesterday I posted a photo of mine with a snake around my neck for which I got 257 likes, and the last friend request came because of that.

Me: What will you do with all those Fake friends? They are not going to help you when you meet with an accident.

Brother: It’s called Facebook friends not Fake friends. And why are you taking it in this way? Facebook friends are there so that you can chat with them.

Me: And waste time, right?

Brother: I don’t waste time. When I am bored I have to spend the time somehow, right?

Me: Why do you have to spend your free time in chatting with those Fake friends?

Brother: That’s Facebook friends.

Me: Doesn’t matter. Both are same.

Brother: I have the free will to choose whatever I want to do in my free time. You don’t have to lecture me on what I should do.

Me: Freewill is a myth. I have told you that many times.

A phone call comes to him from one of his friend. He goes aside and talks, and comes back.

Me: Who called?

Brother: Ramkrishna, that guy you saw with me in the field.

Me: Yeah, yeah, that fat guy. Why did he call?

Brother: He asked me to attack my mirror base in Clash of Clans.

Me: I see.

Brother: And you know I have reached Town Hall 9, and its half way to be maxed up.

Me: How is that going to help you? When you go for an interview, will you be asked for your Town Hall level?

Brother (in a bit irritated voice): “Why do you always think in this way? All of my friends plays Clash of Clans. So I also play.

Me: Just like a sheep, following the herd.

Brother (in an even more irritated voice): Why sheep? The game is really interesting. Ones you start playing the game you will get addicted.

Me: Drugs are also addictive but they aren’t good for health.

Brother: You can’t compare Clash of Clans with drugs!

Me: Why?

Brother: Drugs are injurious to health, but Clash of Clans is not. That game is not going to kill someone.

Me: Oh, really? All this Facebook, WhatsApp and this Clash of Clans is just wasting your precious time, and ultimately that’s going to be injurious to your health. And do you know a person was killed because of a rumour that was propagated through WhatsApp?

Brother: But whoever uses WhatsApp should be smart enough to know which things are rumour and which all things are truth.

Me: You yourself believed in the rumour that the new two thousand rupees notes has a satellite chip in it.

Brother: Yeah, but after I came to know the truth I didn’t believe in it, right?

Me: I only told you the truth. If I hadn’t, then you would have continued to believe in that rumour.

Brother: OK, that’s enough. Come to the point, how is Facebook, WhatsApp and Clash of Clans going to be injurious to my health by wasting my time?

Me: Well, instead of wasting your time in those you can utilize your free time to do something useful.

Brother: Like?

Me:  For example, reading a book to improve your reading skills. Or you can learn cooking so that you can be a bit more independent.

Brother: And what am I going to do with my reading skills?

Me (in a pissed off voice): What do you mean? When you go for a job interview they check your skills, they will not check how many Fake friends you have or what is your Town Hall level.

Brother: A lot of time is left before I look for a job.

Me: You are already in second year of college, and you think a lot of time is left!

Brother: Don’t give lectures now, okay?

Me: When you will grow up and you will not have a chance to change your past, you will understand that I wasn’t lecturing. And it’s checkmate.

Then the game gets over, and he just walks out of the room. And after that he did start reading a book, but he continued playing Clash of Clans and posting selfies though it reduced a bit.

Teacher’s day card for Sir


A beautiful card made by Kirti, Mahek, Nafisha, and Sharmin of Class 7 (2017).

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In the obscure town of Suri, a bunch of students straining very hard to solve Japanese puzzles as fast as possible. This place, run by an ordinary man with a crazy idea, Arghya Banerjee, is unique. Students don’t learn mind-boggling history and don’t memorize formulas. They learn to think rationally and they learn real-life skills.

Sir, we five students feel very lucky to be associated with this school. During our time in this school, we have learnt the things which are going to help us in this selfish world. We thank you heartily and wish you a happy teacher’s day.

Happy Teacher’s day


A very nice poem dedicated to Sir on Teacher’s day by Ipsita, Sania, Bratati, Shambhavi, Prajna, Sharanyaa of Class 8-9 (2017). 

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We see you coming at two-o clock,
We grunt and sigh- Oh my god!
It’s physics time, open your books
Read magnetism, and the law of Hooke’s
We read and read, some fall asleep
We read and hear the pages flip
Then you start your discussion,
And all our grudges fade
You drift away from the topic
And we get more engaged
We become so absorbed in your talk
We lose track of time,
And in an unexpected way,
We hear your alarm chime
We close our books and sigh,
Now it’s time to say goodbye

***

Going to school is a burden for most students. But not for us. Everyday we reach school with a happy mood. Laughing and talking. As we enter the common room, we wonder what topic will be discussed by you today, and wait to enjoy yet another day in the school. In this common class, as you discuss about global news, you open our eyes to the real world. We look forward to even physic classes, because at times you make the atmosphere there from serious to funny by drifting from the topic of mass, force, and acceleration. You try to bring the best out of everyone by punishing them for their misdeeds and rewarding them for their good work. Maybe one day, when we have grown up, we will look back at our past, remembering our school days and the excellent environment you had provided for us, and that day, we would be intensely thankful to you for it, as we are now.

A Perfect World


This is a story written by Bhau, Motu and Koka of Class X (2017).

Purley-AI-Blog-Image-1307x1080I open my eyes as the room gets progressively brighter. Slowly, the soft tune of Beethoven fills up the room. The lights switch on as I enter the bathroom. As I brush, notifications from Facebook and Twitter pop up on my mirror. I dismiss them, only to be confronted by news.

As I browse through the news, I see that almost half of Australia is underwater. An advertisement of the latest government-sponsored virtual reality game pops up on my mirror. The government of all nations of the world is now controlled by three large technological corporations. Gone are the days of democracy and politicians.

My refrigerator beeps and reminds me to update its software by the end of this week. It also tells me that after the latest update I would no longer have the option to manually refill the contents in the fridge. It will automatically monitor the quantities and my preferences, and order supplies directly from the online vendor.

I have been putting off this update for a long time, but now it seems it cannot be postponed any more. One of my last bastions of free will – the fridge which I could still fill up according to my wish – will go.

“According to your health app recommendation, you are prescribed a breakfast of 150 gram of oatmeal, milk and one egg-white,” informs Dos, my robot assistant, putting me out of my reverie.

“I want to have coffee”, I reply.

“You have already violated health app recommendations twice this month. You are not allowed a third violation. That will cut off your refrigerator supplies for two days.”

“Ok, whatever you suggest, then.” I reluctantly agree.

The large screen on my wall lights up and prompts me to play the latest civilisation game. I ignore it. I hear government regulations will soon make it impossible to ignore the instructions of the screen. But let’s enjoy the last bit of freedom till it lasts.

***

As I go near the door, it unlocks automatically. I can see an Autocar waiting outside. The days of taxis with drivers are long past. The Autocar does not have any driver. It is also connected a central network, which knows my location and the locations of millions of other people and vehicles. It effortlessly drives me to work, and I notice that that the temperature is set to 26º, exactly as I want it.

I stand in front of my office door and it opens instantly after scanning my iris. The door opens and I walk to my cubicle. The office seems empty now; a lot of my juniors have been replaced by Mycroft, an intelligent data analyst developed by our company. During breaks, the office seems eerily quiet, in contrast to the lively conversations that previously dominated the office at those hours. I wonder how long I will last in this office given the rate at which Mycroft’s abilities are increasing.

Even before I get started with my work a voice in my cubicle summons me to my boss’ office. Fearing the worst, I walk into the office feeling scared. The solemn expression on my boss’ face reaffirms my fears.

“Shounak, take a seat.”

I comply, not able to come up with an alternative suggestion.

“You must have noticed that many of your colleagues and juniors have been let go, their jobs taken over by Mycroft.”

It is a fact that I cannot deny, so I nod.

“I am sorry, but we have to let you go. The new version of Mycroft can do your job, faster and better than you.”

I nod again. Another irrefutable fact. Even though I knew this day was coming, it was difficult to cope with it. A part of me refused to believe that this was happening.

“There is nothing to worry about. The government’s unemployment benefit schemes will take complete care of you. You will not have to worry about anything. In fact, many of your colleagues like their new life, their needs are taken care of and they have a lot of free time as well. You will like it.”

“Yeah, I might”, I say, not feeling as confident as I sounded.

In fact, the more I thought about it, the worse it felt. Until now, I had some misguided sense of pride for not being one of the millions, a jobless commoner who simply plays games and looks at the government-sponsored screens all day. I felt that I was making some real contribution to the world but alas, that pride was not to last. I was finally rendered useless by ones and zeros.

Dejected, I return to my cubicle. How am I going to spend everyday doing nothing? At some point, I longed for weekends and holidays, to have some leisure time. Now holidays and weekends don’t seem so attractive anymore. There’s a lot on my mind right now, and all I need is a drink.

***

The Claude’s was close by so I decided to walk. I was going to the bar for a drink but what I truly needed was a companion. Work and my virtual assistant, Dos, had somehow compensated for the lack of interaction with other human beings. But today I needed someone, another human being, to listen to me.

I walk into the bar and sit down for a drink. The long desk in front of me is a screen. As I sit down a part of the desk lights up offering me a choice of drinks. I choose a vodka martini and the dispenser below the screen opens up, drinks get mixed in a glass that appears, and it is put in front of me, on my table.

The bar is mostly empty except for a few people who are staring away at their screens. I pick up my martini and walk towards a woman of my age who looks a bit bored.

“Are you busy?”

“No.”

“Can I sit here?”

“Yeah, feel free.”

“I am Shounak. What’s your name?”

“Oh! Hi, I am Eva.”

“So Eva, are you here all by yourself?”

“Huh…? You were saying something?”

“Are you here all by yourself?”

“Yeah, you could say so.”

“So, what do you do?”

“Me? Nothing really. I just stay at home and play games all day long.”

My curiosity is piqued. How does it feel to waste every day playing mindless games?

“How do you feel just playing games all day? Don’t you get bored?”

“Huh…? What? You were saying something?”

“Forget it. Having a conversation with you is like having a conversation with a toaster. How can you spend your whole day playing games and still not get bored of looking at the screen? Don’t you like real things anymore? A real person, a real conversation?”

“Whatever.”

***

Thoroughly disenchanted with Eva I decided to leave Claude’s. I request one more drink, but the screen refuses it, pointing out that my blood alcohol levels are high already.  I return home, angry and annoyed. It is after returning home that I realise my original intention of communicating my feelings with someone has remain unfulfilled. I still wanted to talk to someone, to tell her about my anguish, to communicate my anxieties.

It was then that a stupid idea struck my mind, and like most stupid ideas it seemed smart at that point. I thought that maybe Dos could be that companion I was looking for all this while. Maybe I could communicate my feelings to Dos.

“Hey Dos, I just got fired from my job today.”

“You have nothing to worry about, sir. The unemployment benefit will take care of you.”

“But how will I spend my time?”

“Here are a few government prescribed suggestions of what you can do when you are unemployed.”

“No, no, not the government prescribed ones. I know I can play virtual reality games, spend time on the treadmill, watch the screen for media feeds. I am not talking about those.”

“What sort of suggestions are you looking for, then?”

“How can I do something meaningful?”

“What do you mean by ‘meaningful’?”, Dos asks innocently, unaware of the irony.

“Like work, for example. Something that utilizes my abilities.”

“I don’t understand, sir. You will have to do no work, but you still get the same benefits from the state. Are you looking for anything more than that?”

This is frustrating. How can I make him understand that beyond food, shelter and comfort, we also want to be understood? We want to talk to real people, do real work. Or is it only me? Nobody else seems to feel the need for anything real any more.

I wish I could turn back the clock, and bring the wheels of time to a stop. I wish I could go back to my childhood, when I had real friends all around me, not virtual screens. I wish I could go back to the world which was a little less perfect, little less efficient than this. A world where frustration was more commonplace than vacuous contentment.

I wish I could break all these smart screens on my walls. May be, behind all of them, there will be a door. A magical door to go back to the past.

 

Engineering or no engineering?


This is a screenplay written by the students of Class X (2017) about future career choices.

(My mom just finished talking with my aunt on the phone. I am watching ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ on my laptop when my mom walks in.)

Mom: Your cousin has cleared the IIT-JEE and is soon going to IIT Bombay. And look at you! Whole day I see you watching movies and reading storybooks.

Me: That’s not true. I study enough.

Mom: Study what? History and English? Do you think they are going to get you anywhere?

Me: What do you want me to study then?

Mom: How do you think your cousin got into IIT? By studying Physics, Chemistry and Maths. Now he is going to become an engineer and get a high-paying job.

(At this point I remember the conversation I had with my cousin, Sounak, when he came here last month.)

Sounak: Hey great news! The IIT-JEE results came out today and I got through!

Me: So what are you going to study?

Sounak: I don’t know, really. It depends on your rank. If I had a choice, I would study Electronics.

Me: What is it?

Sounak: I don’t know exactly what one studies in Electronics. But it is typically preferred by better-ranking students.

Me: Oh! But how do you know you are going to actually like it?

 Sounak (looks surprised): Liking? Is that important? All my friends will be dying to get into Electronics. And my father also said that I must get into either Electronics or Electrical Engineering.

Me: But your father is not going to study it, right? Have you ever looked at any Electronics book to know if you are going to like it?

Sounak: Come on, man. Who looks at books after the exams are over? Whenever I get some free time, I watch cricket.

Me: Only cricket? Don’t you watch any movies? Have you heard of this great movie called ‘The Shawshank Redemption’?

Sounak: No, never heard of it. I like action movies. I watched ‘Bahubali’ six times last month.

Me: But you must watch some English movies, if only to get better at speaking English.

Sounak: Come on, man! You are too serious – always talking about learning this and that! Give me a break. For the last four years, I have been studying for this exam. Enough of learning! Now, I will only chill out.

(My mom interrupts my thoughts.)

Mom: Learn from him! Study the Science textbooks.

Me: Don’t talk about Sounak! He cannot express a coherent thought in English without saying ‘come on’, ‘chill out’, etc. He thinks IIT is his final destination. Don’t have so much hope about his future.

Mom: I have even lesser hope about your future. At least he got through IIT. Soon, he will be a well-paid engineer just like his dad.

Me: Neither is his dad an engineer, nor is he likely to be one.

Mom: What the hell do you mean?

Me: His dad is a project manager at Infosys. He was clearly not recruited there for his Electrical Engineering skills, if he had any. If Sounak gets a job at all, he will only get a software job.

Mom: Still, they are engineers – software engineers, and they get a good job. That’s all that matters.

Me: Software engineers are hired from all sorts of colleges, not just engineering colleges. The software firms test no engineering skills, but only reading and logic. And let me also tell you there are plenty of career options other than coding.

Mom: What are they, may I ask?

Me: Economists, journalists, bureaucrats, writers, teachers, lawyers – and in the end, there is always the option to be a corporate slave if one fails in everything else.

Mom: What is this corporate slave?

Me: People who do insignificant jobs in large companies – just cogs in the wheel.

Mom: You don’t seem to respect anything. Millions of people are just corporate slaves?

Me: That’s precisely the point, because they are among the millions.

Mom: So Mr. Know-it-all, what do you want to become?

Me: I don’t want to decide right now, without having enough information, unlike your Sounak who wants to study Electronics without having any clue about what it is.

Mom: I don’t want your decisions. You better study the science textbooks so that you have all your options open.

Me: Don’t worry about the science textbooks. I’ll study them for the board exams. But don’t expect me to pursue engineering, which I will not.

Mom: Just now you said you don’t know what you want.

Me: But I know what I don’t want. I don’t want to be part of the herd who only memorize sums for these engineering entrance exams for many years.

Mom: I’m fed up of arguing with you. You do what you want!

Me: That’s exactly what you should have said right in the beginning.

(Mom storms out of the room and slams the door shut.)

Free will is a myth


This is a screenplay written by the students of Class X (2017). 

(Me and my parents are watching news. The channel plays a speech of Donald Trump where he is saying that he intends to build a wall between US and Mexico.)

Me: Having a person like Donald Trump in the White House is really the worst thing that could have happened to the world. Even I could have done a better job.

Dad:
It is the people who chose him, however stupid he may be. If the people wanted him to be the President, then he deserves to be President.

Me: Why does the choice of the people matter so much? People can be wrong.

Mom: Wrong or right, it is the wish of the people. Each individual’s wishes are unique and must be respected, even if they clash with yours.

Me: Why must they be respected? There is nothing unique or authentic about the wishes of each individual. They are simply a product of genes and society’s myths. Donald Trump doesn’t deserve to be President simply because the people chose him. Democracy doesn’t make much sense because people don’t even have the free will to choose who they want.

Mom: Have you gone out of your mind? Whatever you’re saying is not making any sense.

Me: Think of it in this way. You have watched ‘Hirak rajar deshe’. The king was brainwashing everybody using a machine. Afterward the people thought the king to be great. They also must have thought their opinion to be their own independent wish. So would you consider their opinions to be their free will?

Mom: No. But how is it relevant?

Me: Though your brainwashing isn’t as apparent, it is still happening. So how can you think that you have free will?

Dad: You don’t have any free will because I control you. But how can you say that we have no freedom? If I want to go and vote for Trump, no one can stop me. If I feel like slapping you, I’ll do it. And I want to do it very much at this moment.

Me: Yes, it is true that you are free to act on your desires. But who said your thoughts and desires are free? If your thoughts are free, can you choose not to think anything? No, right? Then admit it. You don’t have free will. You have just been dictated by your genes and brainwashed by the society.

Dad: Now who is speaking nonsense?

Mom: What do you mean ‘brainwashed’? Don’t we have brains?

Me (to myself): Apparently not.

Mom: Is this another theory of that Harari? If so, who has been brainwashed?

Me: Harari is a great man. And I’m not being brainwashed without understanding his explanations. And even if what you said were true, I would have at least been brainwashed by the correct person.

Dad: Who is this Harari by the way?

Me: Ughh… nobody really. He lives in Israel.

Dad: We have listened enough to your nonsense. Get out of my sight if you don’t want a slap.

Me: This is what you always do when you don’t have any arguments left. Why not admit that you are losing? Besides, I’m not scared of your slap.

Mom: You are getting worse day by day. How dare you speak to us like that?

(Dad tries to slap me but I block his hand before he can do so.)

Me: It is really impossible to explain anything to you. You never admit your ignorance. I’m fed up.

(I storm out of the room.)

 

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest


This is another of Nonny’s great reviews.

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The world we live in is dominated by rules and myths which have become so ubiquitous in society that most of us unquestioningly adhere to them. The few who are independent enough to see the absurdity of our norms and courageous enough to rebel against them are always crushed by the might of the system and turned into outcasts.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is an allegory set inside a mental institution. It is run by the stern and inflexible Nurse Ratched, who upholds the established order and maintains structure and routine. Under her, the asylum remains an oppressive environment where patients are forced to speak in group therapy sessions and given medication at fixed intervals.

Into this scenario comes McMurphy, a prison convict who has pleaded insanity so that he can be transferred to a mental institution. He attempts time and again to rally up support against Nurse Ratched among the patients, only to end up frustrated and thwarted each time. All the other inmates have either been tamed into submission by Ratched or are simply too dull-witted to comprehend McMurphy’s rebellion. In the beginning, however, McMurphy refuses to surrender himself to the system and all of Nurse Ratched’s attempts to subdue him only seems to make him more stubbornly defiant.

But, eventually, the system proves to be too big for an individual to fight and attempt to change, and after an encounter with Ratched where he tries to strangle her, he is given a shock treatment which paralyses him. Bedridden and comatose, he no longer can pose any threat to the establishment.

Ratched is the personification of the oppressive authority figures who control us, and McMurphy is a vanquished rebel. His defeat shows that however arbitrary, however wrong, however unfair the powerful are, they always win. Individuals who are sensible enough to see the absurdity of all the rules we have to follow and all the myths we believe in are presented with little choice. Either they have to fit in and take part in the absurdity, or they are crushed under the might of the entire system. No matter how capable or determined one is, you cannot fight the world. It is too big, and you are too small.

Does that mean no revolution can ever succeed? Maybe a failed attempt can give people hope and inspire them to follow in the same footsteps. McMurphy’s rebellion set an example for others to follow. In the last scene of the movie, we see the Chief, another inmate of the asylum, shattering a window and breaking free. His escape symbolises a small victory against the all-powerful authorities.

This movie compels us to ask ourselves whether we really are any more sane than the inmates in the asylum. After all, we readily believe in all the stories that are fed to us, however ridiculous or impossible. We never question the rules that we live by, and we can’t distinguish the myths that surround us from reality. Maybe the ones who don’t conform to the norm, the ones who don’t meet the expectations of society, the ones whom we label ‘insane’, are in reality saner than us.

The Assassination of Richard Nixon


This is a review of the movie called ‘The Assassination of Richard Nixon’ by Sir. Read the story of a man who feels so frustrated with the society that he sets out on a dangerous mission.

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The Assassination of Richard Nixon is a story of how Sam Bicke slowly becomes unhinged. Or is it, really?

In truth, isn’t it a story of how the norms of the society, the myths of the current world, exert enormous pressure on each one of us – ordering us to fit in, or be torn apart? Isn’t it a story of how powerful our social and political institutions have become – making us feel terribly small, like a ‘grain of sand’? Isn’t it a story of how alone we are in the modern world?

Sam Bicke is so lonely that his only companions are audiotapes – some that he listens to, some that he talks into. Devoid of real friends of who would understand him, he finds succour in pouring his hearts out in audiotapes addressed to his idol – music maestro Leonard Bernstein. To Sam Bicke, Bernstein represents not just a confidant, but an oasis of purity in a world full of hypocrisy and corruption. Because music, at its best, is always ‘pure and honest’. The real world can never approach the perfection of Mozart’s symphonies and Beethoven’s sonatas.

Most of us take the imperfection in our stride, and sometimes even add to it. We say things that we do not believe in. Sometimes we lie and cheat. We tell ourselves that those are necessary for our survival. To start a business if we have to pay a little bribe to a government official, who among us have the courage to fight the system? After all, we are too small, and they are too big.

When we stop fighting the system, we ‘fit in’. Most of us still feel the occasional surge of anger when we are forced to nod when a pompous boss dispenses his worthless advice to us in a self-important tone. We feel the occasional desire to strangle the government bureaucrat who ignores us, pretending we do not exist, while we wait outside his cubicle for getting an all-important file signed. But we do nothing. We know the cost of rebellion is too high. We nod, we comply, we flatter. We add to the imperfection of the world. We fit in.

Sam Bicke could not fit in. He was too sensitive to bear all the injustice of the world, but too ordinary to change it for the better. He raged against his boss, but he couldn’t set up on his own. He hated selling, but he did not realize that this is the age of shopping – when everybody has to be a salesman. As he raged against every imperfection of the world, the world rejected him. He was fired from his job, his loan application got rejected, and, in a final act of rejection which really pushed him over the edge – his wife divorced him.

As a character said in the famous movie The Lives of Others – ‘Hope dies last.’ But when hope dies, it takes our soul with it. We do not remain ourselves. Sam Bicke too, in his utterly hopeless state, could not retain his sanity. All his rage against the world found its target in Richard Nixon – the embodiment of everything Sam hated. For Sam, Nixon, being the president and most powerful person on the earth – was the biggest symbol of the evil system. During his life, Sam Bicke lost all his small battles against the system. In his final act, Sam Bicke wanted to win big.

But that was not to be. Instead of a heroic end he imagined, Sam’s life ended in a tragic bungle. Though he could not win the battle against the evil system, at last, through death, he could escape the world he could never adjust to.

Fifteen Million Merits


This is a review of another episode from ‘Black Mirror’ called ‘Fifteen Million Merits’ by Ankini Banerjee (nicknamed X by her friends) of  Class X (2017).  Read this to get a glimpse of the scary future.

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In the modern world, screens have become our best friends. We blindly trust them, we count on them to cheer us up when we are lonely, we can’t spend a single day without them. And slowly, without realising it, we are becoming dangerously dependent on them. Yet, in future there might come a time when we long to escape from the very same screens, but it will be too late to do so. That time, screens will be all around us and we will be forced to look at them, and we will find this equivalent to torture. In this episode of Black Mirror, we look at such a world.

Bing, our main character, is one of the millions of people who pedal on bikes for several hours a day in order to generate electricity. By doing so, they earn ‘merits’, which is equivalent to money. Everybody lives in box-like rooms where all four walls are screens. In these screens, people are always watching stupid comedy shows, porn, or a reality show called ‘Hot Shot’. All they look at is screens. Nobody gets to see anything real. Even food is grown in Petri dishes.

Bing falls for a girl, Abi, who he hears singing in a toilet. Determined to spend his merits on something real, he says he will gift her a ticket to Hot Shot. One of the best scenes of this episode is when Abi tells him to spend his millions in buying something for himself, he says, “It’s stuff, it’s confetti. You’ve got something real.” In the end, he ends up spending all his 15 million merits on the ticket.

Abi goes to Hot Shot to become a singer but, manipulated by the judges, she becomes a porn star. Watching her on the porn advertisements becomes a torture for Bing. He can’t even skip them because he doesn’t have enough merits to do so. If he closes his eyes the screen detects it and continuously tells him to ‘resume viewing’. This is a frightening scenario. It’s like when you are playing Temple Run on your smartphone and you don’t get to click that tiny cross at the corner of the ad because you don’t have enough coins. Bing’s situation is similar, but even scarier because you could have chosen not to look at your screen. He cannot.

Frustrated by how fake everything is, Bing decides to go to Hot Shot, where he will get to speak his mind in front of a huge crowd. He works day and night and earns back his 15 million in just a few months.

The greatest part of this episode is Bing’s speech in Hot Shot. He holds a shard of glass near his throat, which he threatens to slit if they don’t listen to what he has to say. All his emotions; his frustration, his anger, his exasperation is poured out in the speech. He talks about how fake everything is. People, like things, are processed. Their whole lives have become a lie. Even their goals, their dreams are fake. “The peak of our dreams is a new app for our Dopple, which doesn’t exist,” he says, “We buy shit that’s not even there.” People have become so engulfed in the fake system that they can’t even see how fake it is. “Show us something real and free and beautiful. You couldn’t. It’d break us.”

Bing’s speech was the only authentic performance among millions of meaningless ones. But one man against the entire system never succeeds. As he said, people had lost the ability to take in anything real. They failed to relate to anything that he had said. The judges just treated him as another of their “fake fodders”, a way for them to make money. The audience just cheered for him without understanding how real his emotions had been. Everybody treated his speech as just another “performance”. The only one who realised the falseness of the system and tried to protest against it was made into another “product”, augmented, packaged and sold until all his authenticity had been squeezed out.