Class Notes

In a course we were asked to submit a write up describing a symbol important to one. I have no energy right now to explain the detail the word “symbol here”. But I wanted to post this write up on blog and I have linked a bit with theory which might give some clue to the profound meaning of “symbol”. I have written it in a rush as there is just too much to do these days with too little time, and also this wasn’t a graded assignment. :D So ignore the bad sentence formations at places. Ofcourse, there is a lot to write in this regard. This is perhaps the phase I of 2-3 phases (experienced so far).

“A symbol that is important to me.”

The only subject I recall being taught seriously to me as a child by my parents and elder siblings was Mathematics. Science came in much later and in a different context. Math for me represented “important” stuff in school. This was conveyed to me through different expressions. My interpretation from early childhood experiences was that I do one good (that is doing well in math) I can do all the rest bad (all my mistakes would be forgiven). This was a very convenient solution and negotiation with adult world. In all the classes I would do poorly in every subject while topping in math and at home they would still pat my back!

After primary classes, internal dialogues started playing another role. Math was no more limited as only a ticket to escape from punishment. I would help classmates to solve problems and re-live the experience of being the first one to give the answer which was never wrong. This process of “going back over experience, a way of working upon our representation of events” (Britton 1971) now attached a new meaning to the old symbol. Math was the power to win respect. Everyone around me believed me to be some sort of genius, while only I knew the reality. My parents wished me to be a genius. And so did I. The culture in middle class families is so that there is strong symbol attached to the words like “intelligence” and “genius”. They have shared meanings in the culture. For instance in my case, attaching these words to my personality when I was able to perform in school math better than others was a phenomenon which Edward Sapir describes as: “language is primarily a vocal actualization of the tendency to see realities symbolically”. The fact that one person can solve problem faster and more accurately than other was symbolized by such terms.

Yet, difference in personal experiences result in difference of how an individual symbolizes these terms for themselves. For instance I was always aware of the time when someone called me intelligent that I had to prove it to myself that I was really one and of the distinction between me and those who are not called “intelligent”. This was language created a model of the world in my mind in which there was a distinction between those who are called “intelligent” and those who are not; and in which group does one exist.

In order to justify the term “intelligent” I would do more Math (including topics outside syllabus). I would actually tell myself “I love Math”. This reinforced the idea that I deserved to be called intelligent, since I loved Math more than others. Math was the symbol that I was different from others in terms of being superior. It was the symbol of a secret that I had to keep close to myself to keep the status quo alive. It was the symbol of the struggle to prove to myself that I deserved to be superior.


These days I am writing so many formal/academic papers that when I sign in wordpress I am usually without any idea to put down! Its been almost a month since I didn’t copy paste from somewhere else. Today would be no exception. I was just reading an interesting paper on Multilinguality written by my instructor, who is one of the most noted linguist in the country. Am just putting an extract here which I liked.

My distinguished friends and colleagues often paint a dreadful picture of the
world for me when I, for example, am engaged in some of what I regard as
routine situations:

• Drink water that is not bottled.
• Eat grapes.
• Consume anything white: milk, sweets, eggs, curd, cashew, cheese, and so forth.
• Come home after shopping with a handful of plastic bags.
• Discard a sheet of paper one side of which can still be used.
• Use my mobile phone at a petrol station.
• Open an e-mail from a new person.
• Wish to get rid of an old pencil cell or an outdated laptop and so forth.

They often look at me with a sense of amazement when I tell them certain
things that, by now, should be common knowledge:

• Share the fact that language (always defined as multilinguality) is at once a site and medium for the construction of knowledge; it is not just a means of communication; it is an experience that historically constructs us and sociopolitically models our collectives.
• Suggest that there is nothing sacred about a “standard” language and that all languages are equally systematic linguistically although certainly not socially.
• Try to show that there is no difference between language and dialect and that “a language is only a dialect with a navy and an army.”
• Argue that we need to reconceptualize language; reject the concept of “a language”; fully understand and appreciate its formal aspects but in the social arena recognize its diversity and dynamism and its use as an instrument for action and exploitation.
• Suggest that multilingualism is an asset and can be used as a resource, a teaching strategy, and a goal; that the analysis of subaltern discourses has already brought out the significance of the contribution of the underprivileged
in history and such sites need to be invoked in day today teaching in the classroom.
• Show evidence to prove that multilingualism correlates highly significantly with language proficiency, scholastic achievement, cognitive flexibility, and social tolerance.
• Argue that without discarding the overwhelming importance of formal instruction through textbooks and teachers, we do need to recognize that children and adults actually learn much more than what anybody can ever
teach them.

One could, of course, go on. There is obviously a lot of work to do, probably a series of small steps to gradually move toward the big dream outlined in Spring (2007/this issue). Chakrabarty (2002, p. 39) asked the question, “Should the aim of education be to educate people out of the practices that are contrary to the principles of modernity, to move them away from activities or ideas that scientific rationality, democratic politics, and modern aesthetics find disturbing, if not downright repulsive?” The answer, I am sure, is an emphatic “yes.”

Moh Maya!

An irreplaceable expression. Few days ago it was often used in regard with marks, grades, CPI, midsems, endsems, quizzes, and so on. Those days are over, for the best. But the two words maintain their stronghold on the lingo, only with a slight change in the context. Paisa, naukri, aur badi naukri, aur jyada paisa, foreign visit on company’s cost, chhoti gadi, badi gadi, and ladki (in some cases ;) ) and so on.