Did you understand the question? – Akka?
Have you finished copying this down? – Akka?
Have you written all 25 words of dictation? – Akka?
Completed yesterday’s homework? – Akka?
If ‘a’ and ‘e’ are vowels, what are ‘bcd’? – Akka?
My days are littered with calls of ‘Akka,’ the only difference being one of intonation. An Akka with a stretched out stress on both vowels is a guilty apology, probably for a notebook forgotten or homework left incomplete. An Akka with a sharpness of consonant sound is shock or complaint, against insufficient time, ambitious word limits or surprise test announcements. An Akka that touches only higher pitches would suggest I walked in with chart paper or my favourite sponge ball, hinting at play and games over the next hour and a half. But perhaps my most frequent friend, an Akka with a slight upswing that signals a request for repetition, a confession of not understanding, a reflex that occasionally drives me up the wall. What did you eat for lunch, I asked. ‘Akka?’ they answered. How was your weekend, I asked. ‘Akka?’ I heard…
But every once in a while, questions get more prosaic than that. More coherent, more descriptive, but no less impossible to answer.
Why should we stand in attention for the flag hoisting?
Why did they kill Alan Turing just because he was homosexual?
Why is it playi-ing but swim-ming? Where is the extra ‘m’ from?
Have you heard of Bob Marley?
What is that machine from World War 2?
Why are they fighting in Syria?
More often than not, I find myself swimming in a sea of questions I do not know how to answer, either because not all the details are at the top of my head or because I just don’t know. Why is it swimming, when it would be just the same if it was swiming? And by that logic, why isn’t it playying? I thought maybe it is something about vowels given we occasionally treat ‘y’ as one (or was that just in French? :/) but then again, jumping doesn’t work that way…
Except what specifically triggered this post today was a question from class 9. We were doing a timed exercise in skimming and precis writing – each kid got a page of the newspaper and fifteen minutes to read every article on it. Each article then had to summarized with a varying word limit depending on the size of the article. The longest summary was 100 words, and the shortest was 10 words. Anyway, in the middle of this exercise, I was telling them about a teenager millionaire in the US, whose claim to fame was this very action – taking news articles and converting them into byte-sized summaries. The app was then, I had heard, sold to Yahoo for millions of dollars because he had to get back to school and concentrate on his SATs. If he is a millionaire, why does he have to go back to school, one asked. The reply came quickly from the bench in front of him. Because no matter what he does, if he does not have an education, he will not be respected. I flinched. I did not know whether I necessarily agreed with that one, but I did not know if that was a path we should be going down just then. Before my thoughts could be ordered, the conversation had moved on. Why did he need more money? Didn’t he have enough? I smiled. Is there any such thing as ‘enough money,’ I asked, just to see what would come of it. Don’t we always want the next big thing? From phone to cell to laptop to tablet? That is when things got a little confusing. They agreed but seemed unsettled. One asked me if I was that way too. Another asked why the world was like that. And then they started citing examples from around them to prove the point. A little later, I could hear whispers about why it needn’t be that way. And I made a note to self to pick up this thread of conversation sometime later. Later, but soon.
The debate between pursuing ‘money’ and ‘dreams’ (assuming for a moment that while they might not be completely disjoint, they are not always in complete sync for most of us) is a conversation I have had multiple times in college. It was one that usually saw us agreeing that chasing dreams was a luxury not everyone began with. Money being unimportant was a stance that only those who had a cushion of a bank balance could afford to take. So there I was, caught. I could tell these kids that they could be whatever they wanted, but would that be fair? Is it my job as a teacher to be realistic or is it my place to be optimistic, hopeful and outright crazy? Is it unethical of us to feed children the “anything you want to be” dream? Or are we letting adult cynicism get in the way of ambition? Or if there is a balance between the two, where is the line drawn? As you can imagine, none of these questions got answered. As my mind was getting ahead of itself and tumbling over questions and answers, I was interrupted by “Akka, how many minutes more?” and voices of protest at my answer. “In five minutes, you all better be done reading.” Akkaaaa, they cried, in the ultimate use of the word, every ‘a’ speaking of an added degree of unhappiness and protest.