Thursday, March 22, 2012

Travelling in India (Part I)

I love travelling a lot. Many people love travelling a lot. Travelling helps people do something different from their routine activities. They see different things, meet different people, eat different food. It is altogether a learning experience. Moreover many times we are on holiday when we travel. So travelling is connected with psyche as a comfort or luxury. However, travelling comes with some risks also. You may lose your money, you may be cheated, may get in altercation with wrong people and so on. Incidences of cheating particularly are common in India. I thought of presenting some of my such experiences here.  

Once we were going to Manali and one of our friends helped us with phone number of a driver. As per her , the driver has been extremely polite throughout the journey and he also helped her to find a good hotel. In fact she was very happy with the kind of hotels she stayed (cheap and comfy) and she believed it was only because of the driver. I did not find any reason to not believe in her. I called the driver and booked Indica for travelling to Manali from Chandigarh and then from Manali to Shimala and back. I observed that his rates were reasonable. However he came to pick us up with Alto instead of Indica. He told that Indica was not available. But I never liked alto. It is very small, legroom is very low and I could not imagine travelling through such a small car for 6 days. I asked him whether we can get another car, he said it is not possible now.  I tried to negotiate with him on the price as alto is cheaper to drive compared to Indica, but he was not ready to agree. We had no choice but to go with him. We started our journey towards Manali, however he has been very slow in his driving. We were expecting to reach Manali by night. But ultimately we had to take halt near Bhuntar. He helped us in a hotel which was reasonably good. However it was at a lonely place with no much activity around. Considering our safety we disagreed to stay at that hotel. We said we will prefer to stay in Bhuntar. The hotel owner and driver tried to convince us a lot. We moved out of hotel and sat in the Car. Apparently our driver was angry. But we forced him to move to Bhuntar town. By the time we reached Bhuntar, it was around 10 PM and we had no choice but to stay in an average hotel. I think the driver should have driven the car at least at speed of 50 Km per hour which could have taken us to Manali on the same day. We lost one important day and were forced to stay in average hotel.  As we moved to Manali next day, the driver tried to bluff us at every possible opportunity. We wanted to do rafting. Hence he introduced us to a rafting kiosk who were charging at least four times more than government approved price. He again tried to arrange an average accommodation for us for Rs. 1500 to Rs. 2000 per night. But I had already noted the phone numbers of some good hotels from the hoardings on the road to Manali. I called them and checked their rates, they were pretty cheap. I was advised that I should visit log hut area to see the hotel and rooms. As I told drive to take there, he was really upset and told us that the hotels I referred are pretty far from the City. Well, I again called up those hotels and they told me that they were at walk able distance from the Mall Road in Manali. I told the driver to take us to the log hut area and I was surprised to see that quite an excellent quality of hotels were available at same rate. The driver tried to cheat us as we went for skiing the next day. We were really upset with him and decided to move ahead with a new driver. It was indeed a difficult task as driver belonged the same region and could hold us for ransom. But somehow we could get rid of him. I think our trip would have been much more comfortable had we had a good driver.

Another such incident happened when I visited Jaipur in 2010 along with my parents. We booked an Indica and went for sight seeing in Jaipur. We were very much interested  in visiting Jantar Mantar. But he tried to dissuade us by saying Jantar Mantar does not make much sense visit. But of course we persisited. Later we asked him to find a suitable hotel for us to have lunch. However in a city like Jaipur he took us to a shack like hotel and told that the food tests very good. We did not have much choice as we were already out of the city and were very hungry. When we reached the fort of Amer, he said that he will not go up till the gate of the fort. He asked another 500 Rs. for it. We chose to climb the stairs rather than paying the driver extra and it took only 10 minutes to reach the gate.

Such instances are very common when we travel. They spoil all fun that is associated with travelling. We definitely cannot get rid of such instances completely. But we can definitely reduce them. In next post I will write about getting rid of such instances.

Monday, March 12, 2012

I Teach India

Since long back I wanted to do something for society, but I could not do due to some or other obligation. Thus when I saw advertisement of Teach India in December, I was interested in opting for it. But I could not participate as my schedule did not allow it. However by end of February I saw another advertisement for Teach India in Economic Times and I decided to give my best for it.
Within a couple of days after reading the advertisement, I filled up online form. It took approximately 30 minutes to fill the form. I spent most of the time in choosing three most suitable locations. As I stay in Mansarovar and  work at Kanjur Marg, I wanted to choose  a location which falls on my way back to home in evening. So I chose Chembur, Sanpada and Nerul.
Two days after filling up the form, I received a call from Teach India. The person on other side asked me where I work, why I want to join Teach India, whether I will be able to give enough time for training and teaching. By the end of the call I was informed that process of selection involves two interviews and I have finished my first interview. Again in another three-four days I received a call from Teach India. I was again asked whether I will be able to attend all seven days of training. I said yes and then the person on other sided told me that I have been selected for Teach India and wished me all the best.
Training started in a couple of days.  I reached YMCA, Belapur at 8:45 AM on Friday. We were asked to reach there at 9 AM. There were around 22 people of different age group who had chosen to volunteer for Teach India.  However program started pretty late. Very soon I realized that this was an induction and not training. The volunteers from ToI (also called as consultants, they are not on roll of ToI) gave us introduction of program, its goal, organization structure, dos and don’ts , safety issues etc. Thankfully the session could end at 11 AM as mentioned in the schedule. Overall I would say induction was good one but they could have combined it with other full day training schedules.
We were supposed to spend next three weekends attending training, totally seven days. Teach India is joint endeavor of ToI and British Council. The curriculum of program is decided by British Council. Hence British Council trains the volunteers who in turn teach the students. The program is carried out at select NGOs in Mumbai. The targets of this program are youngsters in the age group of 18-32 and who have some basic knowledge of English. Teach India expects that after attending training of three months the youngsters will be able to speak English fluently with strangers. The graduates from this program get to attend a job fair organized by ToI where many retail companies recruit them.
Next two days were full of activities, fun and learning. Many a times we started our session with an activity, which involved using English and some physical work. We played quite a few games which helped us understand how we can use them effectively to teach English. A couple of times we were presented demo classes which helped us how we should teach and how we should not. We also had a micro learning session where we were divided in groups and were asked to teach a lesson to other groups. The method of teaching at Teach India heavily relies on eliciting the information from students, making them speak in English as much as possible. This can be done through methods such as showing a photograph to students and asking students to describe the photograph. Teach India aims to keep STT (student talk time) as high as possible and TTT (Teacher talk time) as low as possible. This is a major difference   when compared to traditional Indian classroom where primarily teachers talk and students just listen. In order to gauge the effectiveness of the course, the volunteers are  also expected to employ ICQ (Instruction Checking Questions) and CCQ (Context Checking Questions). ICQ check whether students have learned instructions and CCQs check whether students have understood the subject.
I have attended only two days of training as of now. But I think I will be able to contribute significantly to society through Teach India. I indeed expect that it will improve English speaking skills of the target group and will help them live their life better.