A week in Paris: Life on Montmartre hill

A block down the Montmartre hill from the cute place in Paris we had booked was a little bakery. Every morning the owner was ready with a delightful assortment of goods. Buttery fluffy croissants, some of them chocolate-filled, quiches with mushroom and cheese and meat, fresh baguettes and lovely fruity tarts called out from the tiny window. This bakery was our first stop as we stepped out of the warmth of the house into the shades cast by the tall houses on either side of the Rue Lepic.

Montmartre hill in Paris was the centre of the artistic scene in the last century with artists and writers living on what was then part village. Right opposite our bed and breakfast was a well preserved wind-mill, now part of a private property. A couple of houses downhill was the house when Van Gogh worked. As we took one of the small cobbled streets during a long morning walk, we passed by posters describing the life of this passionate artist, who was  keen on continuously developing an improving his personal style, and so keen to have experiences that would refine that style. On top of the hill, close to the Sacre Couer, were the gardens dedicated to Renoir (he had lived and painted here). Nearby is the museum de Montmartre, which houses paintings by most of the painters that have lived and worked in the area.

The most famous place in Montmartre is of course at the bottom of the hill, near the Anvers station – The Moulin Rouge, with a red windmill at its entrance. Home of the cabaret and the French Can-Can the Moulin Rouge is the perfect place for an extravagant night out.

In the midst of all this hectic activity though the Hill still manages to have pockets of silence and quiet. Beyond the crowds that gather to watch the sunset from the Sacre Couer, away from the main stations of Anvers, Blanche and Barbes Rochecourt, are the small gardens and bylanes that criss-cross the hill. These tranquil spots are the places where artists, rich with muses from the interesting life around them, sat and painted.

Sit at one of the outdoor cafes in Montmartre, order a coffee and croissant, and watch the Bohemian Parisian life unfold before you.. there is no better place.

Why do I travel

I have asked myself many times,

Why do we travel? Why can we not stay still?

Are our wishes like those of the birds,

Those that travel across wide seas and beyond borders?

Do we  travel with our wishes, beating our wings and flying away in search of something?

The birds are looking for food and shelter.

What do we need?

Are we curious to know.

Do others live like us? Do they eat what we eat?

Do they live and love like we do?

Curious creatures we are, but beyond that too.

We are something more.

Because when we get up in the morning,

Don’t we open the door and look up first,

At the open sky outside?

And fly even if for a flitting second?

Translated from the original Assamese text as published by Shri Dinesh Sarma in his travelogue, The London Eye.

(with changes and thoughts of my own, similar yet different from the original author, my Dad).


The London Eye, travelogue by Dinesh Sarma


Dinesh Sarma and Bily Devi at a museum in London, 2013

Return to blogging

Happy to start writing again. After a long long gap (couple of years), the desire to write and express my thoughts in black and white has come back.

The last few years has been full of events that has shaken my world view, blasted my world, and forced me to think really hard. Dad passed away after 5 years of cancer treatment. Just few months after he passed away we learnt that Mom too has cancer.  Daily hospital visits drained my physical and emotional energy.

I started developing anxiety issues and did not realise how bad it was until one day I had to go to the hospital emergency with a BP of 180/120.

Me and health problems? Me the fitness freak. Me who ran multiple half marathons? It was very very difficult to accept.

Its been more than a year now and this year has been such a journey, it surpassed the Everest Base Camp Trek and the Stok Kangri Trek put together.

I will be blogging sometimes about this journey, maybe to just put things together in my own mind, maybe also hoping that it will help somebody else who is facing similar things in Life.

I will also be blogging about our Europe trip, the places we see the things we do. The people we meet.

Looking forward to lots of writing.

Rantings of a student who always came first – not a great teacher’s day post

Yesterday was teacher’s day. Newspapers are awash with articles on “My best teachers” and “why I love my teachers” and so on. Facebook status updates are full of poems sung to long forgotten Madams and Misses ( thats what we used to call our convent school teachers, Miss. Thomas and Miss. Mukit etc. etc.).

It is not as though I dislike (d) my teachers. They were, by and large, well meaning human beings who mostly tried to do their job well. Some, such as our Social Science teacher, actually managed. Her classroom was packed with eager kids waiting to hear the next “story” from her. She was one teacher who really inspired us to listen, think and understand.

But, mostly, I am sorry to say, our teachers inspired us too… come first. Yes, that is what was taught to us ( or should I say me?). Personally, I think this is a rather sad thing for teachers to do. I remember being praised as a “jewel”, no less, by my teachers, for bagging the highest position in class and for being a good sportsperson. My teachers could not praise me enough. But not one, not one of them really taught me to think beyond first position.

This was a rather unfortunate situation. For yours truly, like any normal human being, was set upon a pedestal by her own teachers. And yours truly became really really scared of falling down from that high pedestal. What if I did not get the first position in the next exams? I was in such a state where I needed to be first in every damn thing – sports, maths, science, literature, what have you. In the process I got so self-absorbed I failed to notice or appreciate my classmates and the awesome stuff some of them were capable of.

It is perhaps strange for somebody who would be considered an awesome student by any of her teachers to write a post such as this. But with hindsight I think I could have done better with learning something else apart from how to hold on to that tenacious no. 1 position!!

So here, on teacher’s day, I hope that all future generations of teachers, who after all have a great influence on the kids they teach, will concentrate on making their kids better human beings. Of giving them the ability to think for themselves, to deal with failures as well as to enjoy success, to enjoy life for what it is and not merely to compete.

English Literacy and love for learning among kids: Classroom methods

We are having a great discussion within the India Literacy Project group about the teaching methodology we should use in our schools. Our objective being as much to inculcate a love for learning and books as it is to teach English skills, we have been using the Shared Reading approach in our schools.

Here is a video that illustrates how shared reading works:


The video illustrates how to do shared reading with a class, in order to keep it interestng, exciting, and fun. Each reading brings about a different aspect. Day 1 its all about the story, Day 2& 3 the class reads along, Day 4 is emphasis on some words and phonics, Day 5 is doing creative stuff around the story.

There are of course other approaches to teaching. A friend who runs an NGO called Sugathi has developed, with his team, a Theme centric approach to teaching. In this approach, using games, classroom activities, crafts etc. they reinforce concepts and ideas, as well as vocab, among the students.

Do share other approaches that you know are being followed by teachers and have been found to work – my key criteria, it should keep the kids engaged, and help them retain the words, sentence formations etc they learn!

Affordable private schools in India – waking up to the need

We have about 250 million kids who are under the age of 20 in India. Meaning 250 m potentially school going kids. Of this apparently 40% are being taught in the private school system.

Private schools in India have been traditionally for upper middle and upper classes. In the last decade or so, a new type of school has come up. These schools, called the Affordable Private Schools, are targeted at the lower income sector, with a fee structure of Rs. 200-300 per month for a student.

So what are these schools trying to do? They are fulfilling a need that is not met by government schools , of good education, at a cost that is attainable by lower income groups.

There are 73000 of these schools in India today, of which 10% are in Hyderabad.

An organisation that is trying to help these schools ramp up in Hyderabad http://www.graymatterscap.com/

They have funded various projects aiming to help these private schools, such as Idex. Here’s a nice blog post from one of the IDEX fellows.

Are these schools part of the solution to the problem of providing good quality education to children? They can be – provided he opportunity is used to also try out a teaching system that encourages thinking and creativity in the students.