When we were young, I remember my grandmother saying often that this was supposed to happen thus, & thus everything has fallen into place. She often used the word from the Hindi dialect called: Banak = circumstances all falling into place. As we moved into our new home in the summer, in the middle of a lockdown (!) it seemed almost unreal when I agreed, much against my own professed rules, to have some pets around. We started with the guinea fowl – small babies and went on to add turkeys. The reason was that they would ward of the snakes which people around told us were frequent visitors to the house. I forgot at that moment that the house was much in disrepair and not lived in, in the true way, for many years and thus the slithering visitors were patronising the property. Once we would start living and I would have everything done up and cleaned regularly, this menace would disappear on its own. Something which stands true now. But then the ‘banak’ were made thus and we ended up having guinea fowl, turkeys and wonder why but we also added some hens and rabbits!
Being peak summer the heat and our lack of know-how & expertise regarding the rabbits & guinea fowl led to fatalities which were emotionally disturbing. The shed which was done before we moved in did not help with its tacky design. The guinea fowl were hardly the non-maintenance type, for the small birds required constant protection from the predator cat and the food, took them some time to get accustomed to and we, to getting our act together regarding what was right for them. Stood true for all the pets we had. The little furry rabbits were extremely cute to have but their living quarters needed some serious design modifications and we innovated along the way – most inefficiently at first. As we lost a few of the cuties, I was determined to educate myself and get some professional help. With dogs, since we had them for years on end, I could predict and even treat them for small illnesses or problems and not have to rush to a vet always. However, here we were completely flummoxed, and nothing seemed to work the right way. Our search for the right kind of help, led us to discover the existence of a rabbit research institute tucked away in one locality of our city. And to think of it that I had crossed and seen it several times during the last year as I commuted to friend’s institution every day. Well, wait over!!
As we explored further and a few phone calls later I was guided to the right person who was extremely modest and unassuming while being very forthcoming about all the information I needed. It seemed I had found an oasis in the middle of a desert in terms of the right guidance and a wealth of information which helped us to educate ourselves as and whenever I spoke to Ms. Jayalakshmi, then Professor and Head, Department of Animal Genetics & Breeding, College of Veterinary Science and now Professor and Head, Department of Biotechnology, College of Veterinary Science.
It was through this first and initial interaction that I became aware of the lovely breeds which were available in the Rabbit Research Institute. I requested Professor Jayalakshmi to help arrange a visit for us. The professor was most obliging and a week later we found ourselves in the midst of some of the cutest and most exotic rabbit breeds, something we did not even know existed. Apart from the rabbits, our visit was made memorable because of the interaction and amazing hospitality extended by Professor Jayalakshmi and her husband who is Professor and Head, Livestock Farm complex. The wealth of quiet knowledge displayed by her was amazing. One wanted to ask the questions and understand the small nuances involved in breeding rabbits. We, of course wanted them as pets but the understanding of the little behaviours and their mannerisms stayed with me way beyond our visit. I remembered her important and very indulgent insight into Mommy Rabbits’ behaviour which later became a focal point for me when one of our darling ‘one-eyed bandit’ rabbit became a mommy. That acuity & perceptiveness made me admire her so much more, for with it came with a humbleness and unpretentiousness which are rare qualities in a person, in today’s pomposity.
As always it makes sense to start at the very beginning. An irresistible opener and very cliched but who cared. She was very charming and most easy to strike up a conversation with, delightfully we are good friends now and I keep troubling her with my doubts and insights about our rabbit pets, all the time. In spite of her busy schedule, she always takes out time to reply and give me long typed explanations to all my queries. Ms. Jayalakshmi, Professor and Head, Department of Biotechnology, College of Veterinary Science tells me in her signature unassuming nature that “like any other biology student, I wanted to become a human doctor when I was in my intermediate. However, since I missed it with a whisker, I opted for my next option of taking up veterinary science. While I joined in veterinary science, I did toy with the idea of taking the MBBS exam again but by then I was fast developing a passion for animals and their science. This ultimately led me to even top the university – getting a Gold medal for the highest OGPA in the university.” Wow! And are not our dear animals lucky and even more lucky are those students who have found their teacher in Professor Jayalakshmi, Professor and Head, Department of Biotechnology, College of Veterinary Science.
I ask her as I am always tempted to ask any educator, I come across about their experience with classes being online and what her assessment is about this situation that teachers and students find themsleves in because of the pandemic. She tells me that after a few days of the lockdown they had started the online classes for students. The same concerns which are there with schools remain, but she lightens the conversation by letting me in on a hilarious observation. Professor Jayalakshmi expresses that the funniest part of online classes was a “zero dress code”. I ask her to elaborate further for it seemed intriguing. She revealed that the teachers saw students in “their night dress, on the beds, attending classes. We could also overhear different sorts of conversations between the members of their family in their homes and frequently we had to caution them about their mikes – asking them to keep them on mute.”
Good heavens!!! And I have had some primary school teachers cribbing of grandmothers sitting in on an English class in the vain hope of learning English in their twilight years and of the feeling that they were educating not just the student but his/her entire family!!!
My, My, My!! Take heart girls/ladies, here we have our delightful grads and undergrads needing some lessons in online etiquette! Professor Jayalakshmi, Professor and Head, Department of Biotechnology, College of Veterinary Science goes on to tell me with eyes displaying mirth and her ‘masked’ smile (we are now in the unreal scenario of always wearing masks) that they have had to accept whatever excuses the students give for either coming in late (for the online class) or absence from a class. Their excuses she elaborates are ingenuine and sometimes hackneyed too. Poor internet connectivity and problem with their devices, however toped their lists! Come on dear young adults, cliché excuses are passe!
And to think that schoolteachers are blaming poor little toddlers and pre-teeners -Take heart teachers, with the little ones, one can at least laugh at their imagination. What does one say about grown up students!!!
Like all the educators around the globe, Professor Jayalakshmi finds a real class much livelier and more fun than an online class. Apart from the fact that “observing and monitoring students in an online class” is difficult, it is most taxing on the teachers too for the learning process gets hampered, she reveals. A very undisputable and legitimate problem stems from the fact that our system of education relies heavily on examinations to judge a student understanding and performance for a whole year. “Conducting online exams is a herculean task for all teachers, especially intimidating for those who are not used to using technology so often and so much. Along with this,” the Professor tells me are “the problem of excuses again. And being unusual times, we must accept all their wonderful excuses,” she muses. “Sometimes having to conduct a re-exam with a new set of questions!” Phew!!!
Whenever discussions or laws in our country are undertaken or made, the most vital stakeholders are left out if they do not have the ‘voice’ – which I broadly translate to mean the influence and nuisance value over/for those in power. A few influential citizenries end up professing to know-all. Similarly, I doubt any opinion was sought from the students when everything went online and the pandemic wreaked havoc with a whole academic year. Maybe the democratic implementation remains few and far in between but most learners had no say in the process as it happened. Thus, it is not surprising to hear Professor Jayalakshmi, Professor and Head, Department of Biotechnology, College of Veterinary Science observe rightly that even the students found this process cumbersome and being something not done earlier, it was intimidating too. “From the point of view of the students,” she explains, “some of them were happy as they could learn from the comfort of their homes but most of them are actually waiting for the classes to resume in the campuses for that life and environment cannot be duplicated at all through online learning.” As exams remain the most intimidating aspect of learning for all students, it is not surprising when she observes that surprisingly and refreshingly exams were the least stressful for students this year. “All of them could complete them since they were short and objective type question papers which meant that they could all register for the next academic year. It was the practical exams and the clinics which being extremely interesting for them – all students missed them.” I am not surprised.
We learn the most by seeing and as with other disciplines, even so true with veterinary sciences when students see the practical aspects of treating animals with their experienced teachers the learning is manifold. A thought process seconded by Professor Jayalakshmi as she gives an example from her own training experience, saying that she still remembers her first day in the clinics. “There was this buffalo which was struggling to deliver the calf – dystocia. Our professor manipulated the calf inside the womb and gently pulled it out thus relieving her of the pains. As this was the first case of dystocia that was successfully dealt with, it has stayed in my memory”, she recalled. She also avers that it is very understandable when students are expressing about missing being in the campus, with their friends, wanting to be part of lectures in the classrooms and yearning for the thrill and anxiety of even an examination! Remembering her own time in her college days at the university she remembers the exhilarating & electrifying atmosphere of competing with friends and colleagues in an extremely healthy way. Here Professor Jayalakshmi, Professor and Head, Department of Biotechnology, College of Veterinary Science recounts for me a remarkably interesting memory which seemed pulled right out of my college days as well. She recollects having a very dear friend now settled in the US and having a successful practice too, always leaving her astonished. I was intrigued and asked her to elaborate. Professor Jayalakshmi smiled from behind her mask and with a mischievous playful glint in her eyes elucidated that, “even after complete and thorough preparation for the exam, my dear friend used to drop the exam, just for the fear of not topping in it. We have seen many a student drops out of exams due to fear and anxiety of failing them, but she would do it out of fear of not being on the top.” Very relatable for me, as I had a friend back in college who was fiercely competitive, and others found it to be good for a class competition, but I found it trivial, for my performance was always mine and linked to no one at all.
As an educator and teacher who has prepared and sent innumerable batches of students beyond the first board exam of grade 10 in our country the anxiety of students to give exams comes from two factors, I have analysed. Their inherent doubt with the concepts of their subject content (due to innumerable reasons on which I can write a complete series of Blogs!!) and the fact that everyone around them sets a huge expectation around their performance without giving them a chance to have a say in it. Not all can be No.1 nor can all those coming in the 10th or 20th positions are idiots or fools. I made my students to understand this fundamental point right from the two years I groomed them to prepare well for their board exams. I have had happy students; I shall not disclose the success percentage because then I shall be falling prey to the same system I abhor so much. And amid all this, educators have a million other responsibilities too. To keep your focus intact and your priorities right, we all look for our safety nets. Professor Jayalakshmi says she has devised a method through all of this because of her faith in her belief of convictions. “I do Satsang (https://www.lexico.com/definition/satsang) every morning something which I have being doing since my childhood”, she discloses. “I also meditate, and these two things help to keep me happy, focused and duty-minded always. The pandemic times have been no exception either. However, I have added a few new things to my list of things I love to do now in these times when we were in lockdown and were restricted to our homes.” I asked her what were the “new things” which have been added to her routine. Professor Jayalakshmi flicks off her mask for a moment to smile her pleasant and calm smile to disclose: “Household duties and learning new dishes!!” Oh yes! Haven’t we all??? It is as if the dual responsibility of home and work has taken on a whole new meaning for all of us. Being the jugglers par excellence, women have taken to this role, nee have continued to live this role all too well and it is the other sex which has found it troubling because with a work-from-home routine in place, they cannot shy away from the work-for-home. Only dampener for them being that they could not escape it as there was no place to go. Lockdowns and the pandemics made many learn what a lifetime had not been able to teach them. And no house was an exception!
Professor Jayalakshmi adds with genuine angst that the “learning of new dishes” had become an absolute necessity as their younger son would have his fancy menu card ready for mom and would want the interesting kids’ food “like pasta and pizzas and other exotic dishes as well.” Thankfully, she says the YouTube channel was her saviour and she learnt a whole lot of interesting dishes through that. How true! With internet and search engines of all kinds available, looking for any kind of information, material, data, facts, evidence, news – whatever, is available always for the hungry minds and souls!!
With every passing year and each grey hair that I add to my mane, a new wisdom and astuteness of understanding dawns on me about events and occurrences in my life. For one, I realized many moons earlier that nothing happens without a purpose and as my grandmother would say to us often, no one gets anything before the right time and more than what has been destined for him/her. Another insightful prudence which has manifested itself into my life’s screenplay, most recently is that some of my most casual friendships, which begin in the most modest ways end up giving me the most satisfaction in terms of relationship suitability.
My quest for knowledge and more factual based info about my pet rabbits led me to an institute and to a wonderful human being whom I have every reason to admire, respect and hold in remarkably high regard. Professor Jayalakshmi, Professor and Head, Department of Biotechnology, College of Veterinary Science has allowed the belief in high thinking and simple living top my list of favourite attributes in individuals I love to associate and be friends with.