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Updated: February 16, 2014 13:59 IST

What’s in your bag?

Usha Raman
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The smartphone may have taken over, but the need for stationery remains. Photo: K. Gopinathan
The Hindu
The smartphone may have taken over, but the need for stationery remains. Photo: K. Gopinathan

Textbooks, notebooks, pens and memory sticks — never leave for college without these.

A few weeks ago I was in conversation with someone in my office when a student knocked on the door (which was ajar) and walked in to make an appointment. I pointed to a sign-up sheet on the door with clearly marked time slots. He stepped back, studied it for a moment and came back in to ask for a pen so that he could write his name against one of the slots. My visitor looked at me, slightly shocked.

“He borrows a pen from the professor?”

I smiled. “It happens.”

I find that pens, notebooks, scratchpads and other random bits of stationery that we (old-timers, no doubt) carried around as part of our everyday luggage are fast disappearing from college bags. Students sometimes even come to class without notebooks or pencils, so when I ask them to pull out a fresh sheet of paper for an in-class writing assignment, they scramble to borrow from each other or run to the computer lab to grab a couple of sheets out of the printer tray. This is in total contrast to my own training in journalism school, where we were exhorted never to leave home without a pen and something to write on. “You just never know who you might run into and have the opportunity to interview,” said our teachers. As a result, I never go out without a notepad and a pen, no matter where, or for how short a duration—and no matter how small the bag I am carrying.


It would appear that for many, the smart phone (or even the not-so-smart one) has taken the place of many things. The ones I am most concerned about, in relation to learning spaces, are writing instruments and writing surfaces. Okay, a stylus and an e-surface might come close, I agree, but close is not good enough. Would it be possible to whip out your phone or tablet, jot down a thought, tear off the piece of paper, and hand it to someone to keep or pass on?

Even the closest analogy involves a gap between the thinking and writing and passing on. You have to unlock your phone or wake it up from a dormant state. You then have to open the notepad app. Then you have to pick your way through the tiny surface keypad (dodging autocorrect as you go along) and then save it under a name you will recall, before you can share it. It all seems quite cumbersome. I would still maintain that nothing beats that good old notepad/notebook and pencil.

But to get back to my main argument. Even if one does not behave like the obsessive chronicler that my journalism professors idealised, it is important that we equip ourselves appropriately when we enter a classroom or lecture hall.

Would we even think of going to school without the mandated pencil case, geometry set, ruler and of course, all our notebooks? But when we move to college, in many cases, we tend to throw that heavy baggage aside and substitute it for…a smartphone?

While it may not be necessary to pack all the books relating to a course, it would help if the books or papers related to a particular course are with you at the point when those papers are being discussed. Reading with the class, in the class, can be a good way to reinforce the understanding of the text. It can also prove useful when you have actually not read the text before the class — referring to it during the lecture can create some familiarity before you have to read it more carefully when studying for the examination! Additionally, a notebook is always a good idea, along with some loose leaves of paper in case there is a class assignment. Modern stationery innovations such as the five-subject or divided notebook make for good organisation of ideas and classroom inputs. It also saves you from having to carry different notebooks for each course. These days, a spare pen drive or memory stick can also prove useful. Packing for college should be thought of as just as systematic a process as packing that school bag.

But wait, I seem to be forgetting something. Oh yes. A pen. Or even better, two. It’s usually not a good idea to have to borrow the basics from a teacher!

The author teaches at the University of Hyderabad and edits Teacher Plus magazine. Email:

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