'Being different' may be a great tagline for advertising products and films but not for the human species. You may be different or even special but sorry we prefer normal in our systems and societies - 'normal' as we define it, 'normal' as in being able to conform to our practices. We have no use for people who cannot 'fit in' - if you are a rebel and question we ostracize you, if you cannot cope we exclude you. We, as in our systems do not exist for you.You have to make the effort. We don't have to explain anything - things have "always been done like this" and it has worked for 'normal' people. Too bad if you are different.

Tare zameen par? - Thanks but no, thanks. we don't have use for stars on this earth. Let them stay where they belong - out there, far from us. or let them become like the rocks on this earth and earn the tilte 'star' if they can excel in our systems.

While watching the film and seeing the struggle that creative young child has to put up against the system that makes no effort to understand his needs, and how he longs to break free, I was reminded of a recent mail from my friend Chitra. She had this to say

Hi Usha

Indira who is the founder of Poorna school (where my daughter studies and son did his school finals from) read this story in our last parents teachers gathering and said this story was the trigger to start Poorna 15 years ago.

I downloaded it for my reference and it hit me hard that nothing has changed from 1918 to 2008.

Read it, if you havent and if you can write about it in your blog, please do. Indira and I would truly appreciate it.

Many of you may have read it - but I reproduce the story - Tagore's "The Parrot's tale" (totaakaahinI):

Once there was a bird. It was an utterly foolish bird. It sang songs, but did not read the scriptures. It flew, it jumped, but did not have the faintest sense of etiquette.
The King said, ``Such birds! They are of no use at all. They only eat the fruits in the orchards and the royal fruit-market runs a deficit.''
He called the minister, and commanded, ``Educate it.''

The King's nephew was given the responsibility of educating the bird.
The scholars held long discussions, the subject being -- ``What is the reason behind the foolishness of this creature?''
The conclusion was: much learning could not be stored in the tiny nest that the bird could make with just chips and twigs. So, first of all, it was necessary to build a good cage for it.
The scholars got amply rewarded and went home merrily.
The goldsmith started building the cage. The cage turned out to be so exquisite that everyone under the sun rushed to see it. Some said, ``Education indeed!'' Others said, ``Education or no education, at least the bird has got the cage! What a lucky bird!''
The goldsmith got a bagful of rewards. He set out for home cheerfully.
The pundit came to teach the bird. He took a pinch of snuff and said, ``A few books won't do.''
The nephew summoned the scribes. They copied from the books and copied from those copies and made an enormous mound of such things. Whoever saw it, said, ``Bravo! Learning is going to overflow!''
The scribes got cartfuls of rewards. At once they rushed home. None of their descendants faced any poverty ever since.
The nephew was always busy, doing endless number of things regarding the surveillance of the precious cage. Repairs were quite frequent. Apart from that, there was the washing and the cleaning and the polishing of the cage. Everyone admitted, ``Sure signs of improvement.''
Many people were employed and to supervise them, many more people were employed. Each of them got a handful of coins every month and filled their chests with them.
They, their brothers, sisters and cousins began to live in great luxury and happiness.
The world lacks many things; only fault-finders are there in plenty. They said, ``There are improvements of the cage all right, but nobody cares for the bird.''
The words reached the King's ears. He called the nephew and said, ``What's this I hear, dear nephew?''
The nephew said, ``Your Majesty! If you want to know the truth then call the goldsmith, send for the pundits and the scribes, summon the repairmen and their supervisors. The fault-finders cannot make both ends meet and talk nonsense.''
The situation became crystal-clear to the King, and a gold necklace adorned the nephew's neck.
The King wished to see for himself the lightening speed at which education was proceeding. So one day he came to the education center with his entire entourage of friends, companions and courtiers.
As soon as he reached the entrance, there arose a chorus of bells and drums and harps and flutes and lyres and lutes and cellos and violins and cymbals and mandolins and trombones and bassoons and harpsichords and clavichords. The pundits swung their pig-tails and started chanting hymns at the top of their voices. The repairmen and the laborers and the goldsmith and the scribes and the supervisors and the cousins greeted the King with a huge uproar.
The Nephew said, ``Your Majesty! What do you think?''
The King said, ``Amazing! This is a non-trivial amount of sound!''
The Nephew said, ``It's not just the sound Your Majesty, there is also a non-trivial amount of money behind it.''
The King was extremely pleased. He started back. He came out of the front door and was about to ride his elephant, when a fault-finder, who had been hiding in a bush, yelled, ``Your Majesty! Have you looked at the bird?''
The King was startled. He said, ``Oh! I forgot. I didn't see the bird after all.''
He went in once again and told the pundit, ``I want to see your method of educating the bird.''
And he saw it. Very pleasing indeed. The method was so overwhelming compared to the bird that one could hardly notice the bird. It seemed it was rather irrelevant to look at the bird. The King understood that the arrangements were faultless. There was no corn in the cage, no water either. Only heaps of pages had been torn out from heaps of books; and with the tip of a pen, those pages were being stuffed into the bird's mouth. There was no room in the mouth for the bird to squeeze out a cry, let alone a tune. It was really a terribly pleasing sight.
This time, before mounting the elephant, the King ordered the ear-pulling expert to pull the fault-finder's ears severely.
In a rather respectable and predictable way, the bird became half-dead as the days passed. The guardians understood that the situation was hopeful. But still -- as its bad habits were -- the bird looked at the morning sun and flapped its wings in a very objectionable manner. Some days it was even found to make an attempt to break the rods of the cage with its sickly beak.
The administrator said, ``What audacity!''
Immediately, the blacksmith came to the education department with bellows and fire and hammer and chisels. His hits were absolutely spectacular! An iron chain was manufactured and the wings of the bird were cut off.
The King's relatives shook their heads gravely and said, ``In this land, you see, the birds are not only stupid, but ungrateful as well.''
Then the pundits came with a pen in one hand and a spear in another and did something which one could really call education.
The blacksmith became very well-to-do. His wife got gold ornaments. The administrator gained a title from the King for his alertness.
The bird died --- no one knew when. The infamous fault-finder spread the news, ``The bird has died.''
The King called the nephew and asked, ``Dear nephew, what is this that I hear?''
The nephew said, ``Your Majesty, the bird's education is now complete.''
The King asked, ``Does it still jump?''
The nephew said, ``God forbid.''
``Does it still fly?''
``Does it sing any more?''
``Does it scream if it doesn't get food?''
The King said, ``Bring the bird in. I would like to see it.''
The bird was brought in. With it came the administrator, the guards, the horsemen. The King felt the bird. It didn't open its mouth and didn't utter a word. Only the pages of books, stuffed inside its stomach, raised a ruffling sound.
Outside, where the gentle south wind and the blossoming woods were heralding spring, the young green leaves filled the sky with a deep and heavy sigh.

Translation courtesy:

Yes Chitra,nothing much has changed from 1918 to 2008. And shall we make a wager if it will in the next 90 years? Unless we have many more Poornas and Ram Shankar Nikhumbs
27 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    Ohh my! Nothing has changed.

    This is a terrible story.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    I am not ready to wager as yet :)- I do see small changes in pockets like Poorna and over time (90 years probably) things could change. I am just being a NORMAL fence sitter ... lol is the website, do read about the school and what it does when you find time.

    Thanks once again


  3. --xh-- Says:

    yeah, nothing have chanegd in our land... TZP was an eye opener in many ways...

  4. WhatsInAName Says:

    What a heart-wrenching but an eye-opener story you shared, Usha! Thanks a lot.
    This story sends a shiver down my spine. Are we really killing the dreams of our children this cruel way?

  5. ~nm Says:

    what a story. I had never heard it before and its just awesome! I gave out a big 'sigh' when I finished reading it.

  6. Lavs Says:

    Interesting tale. Tagore was a great thinker indeed.

  7. That story sent a shiver down my back. Brrr! Hadn't read it before, thanks for putting it up on your blog.
    Makes me feel very unsure of myself, and my efforts to raise Sonny boy. I am nowhere near the nephew's cronies, but still....

    That last para was CRUEL! Poor poor parrot.

  8. Arpita Says:

    Thanks so much for putting this up.. its a beautiful sad tale...the irony of which lies really in its commoness of experience.
    I find hope in the fact that there is a large lobby trying to mainstream such ideas and while implementation is non existent currently... the govt is beginning to recognise some aspects.. if you have the time you might find it interesting to read the National Curriculum Framework 2005.

  9. Hip Grandma Says:

    Could we get more information about the school?i mean does it cater to children with special needs or something.Or is it a school with a difference where stress is laid on understanding and application pof the subject?We need more such people.nothing has changed you say/i feel it has changed for the worse.

  10. rajk Says:

    Usha, the msg of the blog was very important but I must thank you for the Tagore's story. I never heard of this story before and what a story it was !!! I'm speechless!!

  11. Anonymous Says:

    But the good news is that there are a few schools in Bangalore like Mallaya Aditi and its anex, Srishti school of art, design and sure the current crop of kids have lot sof options...but how many are understanding parents?

  12. Choxbox Says:

    Sent a shiver down my spine. Is probably more applicable to the scenario today than a 100 years ago.

    Can I link this pls?

  13. If any of you haven's seen Jody Foster's Little Man Tate (1991), I recommend that you see it. Not one of her best, but very appropriate.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    This is in response to Hip Grandma's question.

    Poorna is an inclusive school that caters to children from different socio economic background and intellectual capabilities. It is a democratic environment where learning is fostered using creative methods with focus only on learning and not on marks etc. Children are accepted for who they are and not for what they should be is the website address. You may want to go to the children tab and teachers tab to get more details on how Poorna is run and what children have to say about it.


  15. Chitra Says:

    Superb story! And aptly reflects our eduction system!

  16. noon Says:

    Wow - what a story. My God.
    Poorna sounds so awesome - esp now that I am looking for a preschool for KB I wish there was one like this nearby...I should just start a school here I think! Incredible story. Will your friend be able to direct us to some websites that tell us parents how to foster creative learning and not thrust "education" down their throats? It is not an easy balance really for us parents you is such a competitive world. One has to be absolutely sure of their parenting esp if different from the run of the mill/safe/know the facts/score high kind of education they give their kids...
    Also hope you didn't mind my comment on your previous post - was just saying it in jest...was worried if I overstepped.

  17. That was a good story. However, I disagree with your statement that 'nothing has changed'. It definitely has, compared to 1918 the society is much more aware and educated. It might be insensitive, but thats a different track :)

  18. Mahadevan Says:

    What a great lesson!

    But I think there is some awarness about the needs of special group of children - children who are mentally and physically challenged, or rather differently abled. With the right training, one can bring the best out of them( not stuffing the birds' mouth with sacred texts).

    Incidentally, my wife is the Principal of a school for spastic children.

  19. Savani Says:

    What a story!!! So tragic.. human nature doesn't really change, does it?

  20. Usha Says:

    Hi all, Thanks for your comments.
    Hipgran: Hope chitra's response satisfied you.
    Mahadevan: please tell us more about this school in a post.

  21. Usha Says:

    noon: not at all - as I said, ther eis no scoop. They have known each other for over 3 years now and I have known of her since then. and she is on my bloglist too! guess who.

  22. Anonymous Says:

    How many of you will allow your children ( say, ages 3-7) to play with special children (autistic, cerebral palsy, spastic)in the park or school? How of many of you will read story books on disability ( there are a few, beautifully illustrated by Indian authors)? Most of us say tsk, tsk, paavam, aiyo and stay away not quite knowing what to do about including them.In the adult world how many corporate heads with offer them jobs? It's easy to advertise paying honorary jobs for cricketers in banks,but for a disabled person such offers are hard to come by.
    The big bad world is insensitive to regular parents with regular children in regular schools- as for the pain of parents of special children-you don't know of its extent until you are in their shoes. Tare zameen par is a wonderful attempt.

  23. Usha Says:

    You are right - I have known many young parents who want to bring up their children like young siddhartha and protect them from the pain and ugliness of real world. I know that they don't allow them to watch programs on special children and just tell them that a child with palsy has "uvva" (meaning fever).
    As for the system and its lacunae, we have to hang our heads in shame. We seem to believe in excluding them in a special category rather than make any efforts to include them. It used to be a nightmare to help my father in law (who had lost a leg and was on crutches) in and out of trains and he used to starve all through the journey to avoid the nightmare of having to use the train toilets.

    We need movies like Tare zameen par to open the eyes of parents first and aamir as usual has done a great job.

  24. It has been 18 years since Mani Ratnam's Anjali was released. What has changed? Also, remember Sparsh? Yes, movies like Tare Zameen Par are welcome, but unfortunately, their impact on the lives of the physically and mentally disadvantaged begins and ends with the movies - and these days, blog threads :(

  25. Unknown Says:

    It takes a brave parent to accept a child with learning difficulties but it takes sensitivity and understanding from teachers to accept that they are not turning out assembly line goods in schools . Sadly enough most schools and teachers are inept in coping with this because they treat it as a 9-5 job without much giving of the self in the process. My younger child had specific learning problems which I had to cope with single handedly without any support from the school . In the process she has overdriven herself. I wish there was a Poorna in Kolkata .Salutes to Chitra

  26. thanks for posting this.... thought provoking tale

  27. Anonymous Says:

    Change always takes time. TZP was a step in the right direction.

    I'm sure things will continue to get better...