Personal observations on life


Bulbbul Twitter Review: Anushka Sharma's Netflix Production Gets ...

On a rainy Friday afternoon, I watched Bulbbul on Netflix.

By Indian standards it is a very short movie. It did not move me to tears or rage, but left me reflecting on womanhood in India, or the reality of being a woman in India.

First, the facts. Bulbbul is an Indian supernatural drama film written and directed by Anvita Dutt and produced by Anushka Sharma and Karnesh Sharma. The film stars Tripti Dimri, Avinash Tiwary, Paoli Dam, Rahul Bose and Parambrata Chattopadhyay. It was released on Netflix on 24th June 2020, and is set in the erstwhile Bengal Presidency in the 1800’s.

Let me capture the story in a nutshell.

Bulbbul is a child bride given in marriage to a man named Indranil, about two decades older than her. But she is more attached to her husband’s youngest brother Satya who is about her age. She is lusted after by another brother of her husband, Mahendra, who is mentally challenged. Bulbbul’s attachment to Satya soon raises suspicions in her husband which are fueled on by Mahendra’s wife Binodini, who is presumed to have an affair with Indranil.

Indranil sends Satya off to London, and in a fit of fury, beats Bulbbul up till her feet are in a pulp. Indranil leaves the Manor soon after. Dr. Sudip, an empathetic doctor treats Bulbbul for her injuries, but Mahendra takes advantage of her helpless condition and rapes her. In the ensuing violence, Bulbbul’s feet are permanently damaged, and she herself appears to have died. Yet she is alive when Binodini comes into the room and cleans Bulbbul’s  thighs. Binodini tells her to keep silent, which Bulbbul does.

Satya returns after five years to find Bulbbul a strong and independent woman, running the Manor. A string of murders has happened in the village, and Satya suspects Dr. Sudip. However, it turns out that it was Bulbbul herself who kills the men who wrecked the lives of herself and fellow women. She is the ‘chudail’ – the she-demon with feet turned backwards. She meets a violent end just as Satya discovers the true identity of the ‘chudail’.

There are various themes that the movie handles:

1. Child marriage

The root cause of all evil in the story is child marriage. The uprooting of a child from her home, expecting her to live from then on in a strange household with a strange man is actually the beginning of the whole tragedy. Bulbbul’s friendship with Satya becomes natural and inevitable because of this.

2. Patriarchy

‘A woman’s personal life consists of only her husband,’ says Indranil to Bulbbul, when she says that the book that she was writing with Satya was a personal matter. The movie is in fact a fierce critique of patriarchy, and how women rise from the ashes and fight for what is right. There are many helpless girls and women in Bulbbul who suffer at the hands of cruel fathers and husbands.

3. A reinforcement of the she-demon myth

Women, traditionally, are perceived as gentle, sacrificing creatures with no capacity to rise against those who ill-treat them. If she does, she has to be a she-demon or a witch, even if what she does is morally right. This is what happens in Bulbbul as the heroine turns into a she-demon to mete out revenge, and is a normal lady of the Manor at other times.

4. Oppressive social customs

There are any number of oppressive social customs portrayed in Bulbbul, understandably because the film is set a century back. However, some of those customs exist even now. For example, take the case of Binodini who is married off to a mentally challenged Mahendra. She is forced to marry him, which inevitably leads to her dissatisfaction with life and infidelity. In fact, along with child marriage, the tragedies that happen in Bulbbul are all created by human beings, in the name of social customs and traditions.

Personal observations on life

How to detox your life?

If you would like to detox your life, please accept my congratulations, because it is one of the best decisions that anybody can take. It takes quite a bit of will power to detox your life, but it is absolutely worth it.

What are the steps involved in detoxing your life? Let us see.

1. Reflect on your emotions as you feel them. Be mindful of what exactly you are experiencing through the day, each moment. Are you experiencing happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, regret or guilt?

2. Once you have identified what exactly you feel at any particular moment, reflect on what effect that emotion had on you. Did it make you feel good about yourself and about your life? Did you think of it as a learning experience? Or did it make you feel worthless, and inferior to everybody else? Did it ruin your relationships by making you do things like screaming at people?

3. Once you have identified what exactly the effect of the emotion was on you, whether it was positive or negative, find out the cause of the emotion. It could be a person, or an event, or some external circumstances that you could not have done anything about. Very often it is another person who has treated you in a certain way, or said something to you. It could also be habit such as sleeping late, that make you feel crappy the next morning.

4. If it is something that you can control, stop it or avoid it from now on. If it is a person, cut him/her out of your life. You may still have to live with that person, or work with that person, but you can train yourself to be immune to that person. If it is a situation, avoid getting into the situation if you can. If you cannot avoid it, train yourself to turn that situation to your advantage.

5. Once you have cut out all the toxic influences in your life, it is time to fill it with all that you love, consider positive and healthy for yourself. It could be hobbies such as gardening, or going out with chosen friends, or just reading. Nurture relationships with people who make you feel worthy and valuable. Remember that it is loving relationships that make a person happy. Do the things you love to do. Invest time and energy in improving yourself. Above all, nurture the attitude of loving life on this beautiful earth.

Once you detox your life you will be like a stream that has crystal clear water. All the impurities that bothered you, and all the garbage that choked you, is gone. You feel light, and beautiful inside and out.

Believe me, it is totally worth it.

Personal observations on life

‘Is life worth it’?

Today, as I sat down at my desk, beginning my work, I got a WhatsApp message from my 10 year old son. The message was a question: ‘Is life worth it?’

I sat back in my chair, and took a deep breath. My son, all of ten years, was going through existential angst. I texted back to him, “Yes, it is.” Then I added, “Love is what makes life worth it’. He texted me back, ‘I love you’.

As I reflected back on this little exchange between my son and myself this morning, I wondered if he knew the significance – the sheer weight- of this question. I am sure my son does not know that this is a question than mankind has asked itself over and over, over the millennia, and will keep asking long into the future as long as it inhabits this universe.  The professed task of religion and philosophy has always been to answer this question.

Monotheistic religions answer this question by saying that God has a plan for all human beings, and that life on earth is worth it because it is the fulfilment of God’s plan. According to this view, if a person failed to do what God wanted her to do in this life, her life would be worthless and meaningless. There are some schools of thought that believe that each human being has a soul that is immortal, and life is worth it if she lives her life in a way that expresses the beauty of this soul, though noble actions. Most religions advocate a combination of these two views.

There are also philosophers and thinkers who do not bother much about God or soul. According to them, each human being finds meaning in life differently, and it is up to each one to find her own meaning. A few of these thinkers believe that one’s life is worth it if she manages to do or achieve what is really important to her. Another school of thought holds that life is worth it to the extent to which a person feels love and care for something or someone. In this view, life is worth it because through life, one is able to experience love.

And then there are the nihilists who believe that life is simply not worth it, that it has no meaning at all.

However, since I am not a nihilist, and I am now reading ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Victor Frankl, I had a ready answer for my son’s question. Love is what makes life worth it. It could be love for other human beings, or some purpose higher than ourselves. It is this love that makes you achieve ‘flow’ and gives you optimal experiences, as the Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would say.

Life is definitely worth it.


Why am I sick and tired of Zoom classes?

Set up Zoom Meeting – Love Hz Movement Feedback

I am one of those educators who embraced online education wholeheartedly, with or without a pandemic going around. I thought it was a historical necessity that human kind had to adopt sooner or later. It was one of those landmarks in the inexorable progress of educational technology. I was all for it. In the beginning, my enthusiasm was so very palpable.

Then, as I conducted more and more Zoom classes, and as the novelty began to wear off, I was surprised to find myself dreading my Zoom classes. From that point on, things have gone downhill. Right now, I am just sick and tired of it for several reasons:

1. The intangibility of online learning

Back when I taught my students face to face, there was a certain tangibility to learning. I could say to some degree of confidence whether my students had understood what I had taught. I could see it in their body language, the way they sat, the expressions on their face, perhaps a nod of comprehension, or the way they stared back at me. I sort of knew whether I was reaching them. And depending on that knowledge, I could modify my lesson, or add some extra explanation here and there. It was an interactive experience, in which both my students and I actively participated till we were both reasonably happy about what we were doing.

But now, as I look at my students’ faces, they look back at me with an awkward blankness. Their faces lack expression, even when they say that they have understood what I have taught. To make matters worse, my students being adolescents, they have a chronic reluctance to show their faces on camera, and instead post myriad Korean actors and cartoon characters as their profile photos. (One of them told me once that she looked ugly at that time so could not switch on her camera). So sometimes I teach looking at these weird characters and wondering what on earth the real individuals behind the profile photos were doing. All in all, I have no way of knowing intuitively whether my teaching has been effective or not.

2. A lot depends on student motivation

Online learning is for students who are really motivated to learn. Sadly, some of my students have a chronic lack of that quality. Since I am not physically present in front of them, they like to play truant, and escape after class has begun, saying that their video or microphone has suddenly developed a problem. I have no way of verifying it, so have to swallow whatever explanation they give. There are some other students of mine who are expert multi-taskers. They listen to my classes, and play video games with each other at the same time. Technically they are present in my classes, but they are so distracted that they learn nothing. Sometimes I call the parents of students who are absent in my classes and ask them what happened. The parents are then surprised and say that their child is sitting in front of the computer and attending classes. But when they go close and check they see him playing games. It is worse in the case of working parents with no one at home to supervise the kids.

3. Marking student work is a circus

I teach English, and it involves a lot of marking of compositions. Right now I ask my students to email the compositions to me. Then they say that they don’t have a computer, and are only using their mobile phone to attend my lessons. So then I ask them to take photos of their compositions and send to me, which they do. But when I try to print out those compositions, it comes out very blurry. So finally what I do is after a couple of compositions I ask them to get their parents to bring the books to me. This gives rise to a host of other problems because parents find it difficult to bring it doing office times if they are also working. Some do manage to bring, and I mark them. Then getting the books back to the students is another hassle.

4. Lack of access to technology

I teach in a comparatively well-to-do country. Even here, half of my students do not have access to a steady wifi connection and a standard quality computer. Therefore, almost every day I have students messaging me that their wifi signal was not good that day, and they could not come online. Some of them would attend the class with a faulty microphone or video. Some of my students are not economically well-off, and I cannot expect them to be fully prepared with all the gadgets needed.

My Zoom classes, frankly speaking, have been more an exercise in crisis management, than in real teaching. Honestly, I cannot wait to get back to face to face teaching.

English language teaching

How to write argumentative essays?

Resolved: Debate is stupid | The Outline

Argumentative essays are pieces of writing that conveys an opinion of the writer regarding an issue. It is very useful to know how to write an argumentative essay because it helps the writer to develop logical thinking and the capacity to think of the many perspectives of an issue.

Here is a sample template of an argumentative essay:

What is the topic you are writing about? Define the terms if necessary.
What is your stand on the topic? (Are you for it or against it?)

First body paragraph
Give one reason why you feel the way you do about the topic
Give one piece of evidence to support your reason ( a personal story or a statistic)

Second body paragraph
Give a second reason why you feel the way you do about the topic
Give one piece of evidence to support your reason ( a personal story or a statistic)

Third body paragraph Give a third reason why you feel the way you do about the topic
Give one piece of evidence to support your reason ( a personal story or a statistic)

Fourth body paragraph
Counter point: Give one good reason why someone would disagree with your main argument
State why you think that person would be wrong (give a counterclaim to their claim or point)

Conclusion Sum up your main idea and your arguments for it.  

Sample topic : Should girls and boys receive the same kind of education?

  Sample plan:


The topic – what is meant by education – I believe boys and girls should receive the same kind of education

Paragraph 1: reason: boys and girls are equally capably of studying anything.  No different in ability.

Evidence : Public exam toppers – equal percentage of male and female

Paragraph 2: reason: Both boys and girls have dreams of doing some work they like in the future. Without education they cannot achieve that.

Evidence: examples of women who have achieved their dreams through education.

Paragraph 3: reason: women cannot have financial independence without jobs. Without education there will be no job

Evidence: In poorer countries where women are not educated, they cannot get a job, and they are forever dependent on men.

Paragraph 4

Counterpoint: boys and girls have different roles in society based on their biology. So girls should learn how to take care of children, and to cook whereas boys should learn how to earn money for the family by doing a good job.

Why I think this is wrong: Both boys and girls should be equally responsible for looking after children and cooking. Even though women given birth to children, men also can share the rest of the responsibilities. In the same way, women can also earn for the family by working.

Conclusion: In the light of the arguments given above, it is clear that boys and girls should be given the same education. Boys and girls are equally capable of learning, they both have dreams of achievements in life, and without an education, a woman will never be financially independent.