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Monday, April 14, 2008

A Review of Far From Home: Confessions of a Foreign Student by Douglas Waudo

Following is the review of the book Far From Home: Confessions of a Foreign Student by Douglas Waudo. Dauglas was my student for two years. In his first year of BA i had come to know that he wanted to write a novel and i remember asking him to read Things Fall Apart which was written by Chinua Achebe as a BA student. I also vaguely remeber the inspiration to write was his sister who had passed away in Bombay after suffering of cancer for a long time, if my memory serves me right. By the time he reached the third year I had left the college. But he had managed to complete the novel by then. Prof Lourdusamy, the publisher of the book had sent a copy for review. It was later published in two websites from Africa. Thought should archive it in my blog. I have taken it form the website - Here it goes.....

Far From Home: Confessions of a Foreign Student by Douglas Waudo

A Review by Anil Pinto, Lecturer, Department of Media Studies, Christ College, Bangalore University, India.

Far from Home is a tale of ‘the lives, hopes, worries, fears, experiences, guilty pleasures, mistakes and lessons learnt’ of the Kenyan students studying in India. Through its protagonist, Raymond Wasike, it brings out multiple facets of the lives of foreign students, especially the African students in India. Ray who comes from Nairobi full of dreams and ambitions gets drawn into the complex life that almost all the overseas students perhaps get introduced to. Despite his strong will and determination to fulfill his purpose of coming to India, Ray becomes a prodigal son, drops out of college, becomes a drug trafficker and even gets arrested for rape. The novel ends in Ray longing for a new life, without of course trying to reject the past although he thinks ‘that chapter in his life had nothing good or worthy written on it’.

The title Far from Home is polyphonic with pun in it. Although the ‘land of dreams and aspirations’ tries to reassure, it can never be another home or a home-away-from-home as there is no lasting concern beyond the need for recognition. In the absence of a caring family the system that tries to fill the void only destroys the individual. It is also a place that is far away from the homeland, Kenya. The subtitle of the novel Confessions of a Foreign Student indicates the theme, which at one level is very Christian in nature. It is a confession and therefore demands forgiveness and understanding. The last is one of the important objectives of the novelist himself. Although the word ‘foreign’ could have been replaced by the politically correct term ‘overseas’, the retention of the word makes the title ironic. The students are perhaps treated as foreign, despite their stay for as long as five years. The novel portrays a complex insight into the world of Kenyans in India and the west coast of India in particular.

The life that is projected in the novel is very fragile. In the absence of the traditional family control, the life gets easily controlled by forces outside oneself. However, the novel is one of hope. Ray can always think of going back to his family and beginning life afresh. The world view of the novel is traditional Christian. Family is the ultimate institution an individual can confide in.

Unlike most Eurocentric narratives this novel is as much about the struggle of a family as of an individual. The novel also offers interesting insights into how African constructs and views India. We have been by and large concerned with the image in the West of India. Whereas this novel offers a vital point of view of Africa, which the Indian intelligentsia has by and large refused to take note of.

The writing of the novel is driven by a vision for the future of the African students studying in India, and a passion to tell the tale in a convincing manner to initiate change. Keeping with its purpose, the novel calls for a change in the way educational institutions have seen the ‘foreign’ students. One perhaps requires to take recourse to more accountable systems on the part of the educational institutions towards the parents of these ‘foreign’ students.

In author’s own words the novel makes ‘an interestingly informative, educative and entertaining reading’ with its modern-day tale of prodigal sons and daughters of Africa in India. It is a voice from the margins of Mangalore.

One needs to appreciate the efforts of Prof Lourdusamy who has consistently and many a time alone tried to foster the creativity of students through many such publications such as Al-Buds and Blooms which were anthologies and now a novel, a first time in the 125 year history of St. Aloysius College.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Resistence to Blogs. A response

I had posted the following write-up in 'ictineducation' gmail group on 28 Nov 2005 following a National Seminar on ICT Technology in Higher Education held at Mahatma Gandhi College Trivendrum/Thiruvanathapuram, Kerala in Nov 2005. I had presented a paper on blogs in education there which attracted stimulating/emotional/resisting discussion. This long reply was an attempt to address the issues that came up after my presentation. Of course, as is the norm in most of these cyber forums there were no responses to this.

"I wish to respond to some of the questions raised at the workshop
following my presentation on blogs.

Mr Alwyn D'Sa's enquiry as to how blogs ensured that the lazy
students submitted the given assignments.
My reply: The concept and the nomenclature 'lazy students' does not
exist in the ELT discourse. The issue is not one of being politically
correct in the usage of words, but one of approach. I see
non-submission of assignments as a case of low motivation or lack of
interest on the part of students owing to other external factors. The
way out would be to find out the cause and remedy it. Apart from this
there are institutional factors which most of the time ensure that the
students/learners do their job irrespective of the problem they face. A
blog in itself cannot do anything as it is a tool or a medium, a unique
one at that. My experiment with blogs was to take assignments to the
doorstep of my students or to the places of their comfort, utilizing
the unique possibility that blogs offered. Medium itself is a message.
And therefore the assignments given through blogs and the blog as a
medium itself will change the way a learner perceives learning. For
example the assignment posted on my blog for BBM students. No other
medium will enable such creativity in giving an assignment.

Honourable chairperson's comment on the necessity of looking at the
cost factor. Also his statement "A chalk is a luxury in a government
My reply: The cost factor works quite differently here. If you look at
the other possibilities discussed like the use of movies, radio,
cartoon they do not require any investment on the part of the students.
Whereas the use of blog, both by the learner as well as the teacher,
does. If the institution does not have a free internet facility to view
blogs, then the students need to have the connection at home or need to
go to an internet browsing centre. Both these involve investment on the
part of the students. I agree. But, for the teacher if s/he has the
internet connection at College, the person can manage it without
spending money. Or, if the person has an internet connection at home
then s/he does not have to spend extra for the sake of blogs. Even if
the teacher spends Rs 10 for half an hour (this is the average tariff
in most parts of our country) per week it will be about Rs 40 per month
and Rs 480 per year. Which I don't think is much for a lecturer who
is drawing UGC or state government scale. This reasoning holds good, if
an undergraduate teacher has inclination to reach out to the students
through the cyberspace.

"A chalk is a luxury in a government college" is no argument at all
to question the feasibility of using the internet to reach out to
learners. The question is one of interest on the part of the teachers.
(I am not saying that one must have interest and must make use of the
internet/cyberspace as if it were a panacea) Developing infrastructure
is of course a challenging task in institutions which have serious
resource crunch. But it is no impossible task. There are various
sources that need to be tapped namely UGC, different central/state
government projects, alumni/ae, IT companies both big and small which
dispose off their PCs when they go for upgrading their infrastructure,
donors, benefactors, and local MLAs and MPs who have local area
development funds. It requires effort. But it pays to take that extra
step. I can cite innumerable example of my friends and myself where a
lot of money was spent from the personal kitty even with the meagre
salary which we used to get in the initial years of our teaching.

At last, I need to clarify my position.
1. The whole concept of blogs as I presented and as I am experimenting
with, is different from most other possibilities for creativity. The
basic difference is that a blog can be used more as an extension of a
classroom and a class away from classroom- the virtual classroom. Most
of the possibilities with technology largely talk about classroom
practice, without considering the cost, gadget failure, infrastructure
availability, technical know-how required for teacher and the time
available. For example, Use of movies especially clipping requires
editing. Where is the facility. Or to show full length movies one
requires TV sets as well as cassette, VCD/DVD players, uninterrupted
power supply. Giving worksheets involves huge photocopying cost apart
from more pressure on depleting green cover/forests. With the little
time, normally 45 to 55 minutes, that is available and the vast
syllabus to be taught to what extent can a teacher try these
2. I am not of the view that it is time everybody shifted to blogs and
the cyberspace. Or that it is an answer to all the problems that
ESL/EFL classes face. I present blogs as another possibility,
especially under the changing socio-economic profile of the students.
It is also to be noted that the PC penetration is far more than that of
TV or radio in the institutes of higher education in India
3. I feel that making use of blogs will empower the students in the era
of information technology. There is far lesser chance of teachers of
other disciplines taking the initiative to initiate the students to the
cyber world. A very crucial question to ask is why are we teaching
English? For the sake to teaching it? If it is for the sake of teaching
it then it serves no purpose at least for the learners. English is now
used and is increasingly going to be used for 'faceless
communication'. The employability of the students will depend on
their ability to use English via emails, telephones and such other
telecommunication media. Use of the cyberspace will enable the students
to use English with its practical implications. It is in this
background that I propose the experiments with blogs.

. The discussion that happened after the presentation was very useful
to me in terms getting more conceptual clarity. I thank all those who
actively took part in it both during the session and during the tea
break. I will be very happy if this discussion continues and will be
pleased to answer any queries regarding my own views as well as blogs."