Saturday, April 12, 2014

Real Steel

Inheriting a history of repeated failure,
Yet achieving the impossible in his tenure,
Wounded in battle, but standing tall in the war.
What is this man made of?

Completing a journey of a million hurdles,
While his own demons he handles,
Tired on the path, but always in motion.
What is that man made of?

Making a voice heard in a jungle of chaos,
Speaking with courage for a worthy cause,
Choosing the right, rather than the easy path.
What is this man made of?

Remaining calm in the face of calamity,
Holding back anger as a reflex to stupidity,
Never showing frustration, but reason
What is the man made of?

Melting hearts that were frozen since ages,
Lending a ear to the ones in dark cages,
Free falling often, yet being a pillar of strength 
What is that man made of?

Working without support nor appreciation,
Never boastful of his contribution,
Of a royal stature, yet living in a humble abode
What is that man made of?

PS: Dedicated to one of the most awesome people I know - BJ!! 

Song on my mind: Strictly, in the spirit of true friendship!!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Random Act of Kindness

I was at Powai lake the  other day for a meeting with my manager. (Yes, we do have occasional meetings at places of our choice to set the a mood suitable for the nature of the discussion)  After the meeting, I was taking a walk along the lake while watching the sunset. I hadn't eaten anything after lunch so I was hungry. I couldn't find any place nearby despite searching. I saw an old Sardarji and his friend eating a vada paav. The Sardarji was on his phone while his friend was waiting for him to finish the conversation. I asked his friend from where he got the vada paav. He gave me directions to the place. I thanked him and was about to walk towards the place when the sardarji indicated to me to wait. I decided I will respectfully wait. When he finished, he told me "Son, that place is far. You will have to walk around 10 minutes. If you are hungry, you can take one of our vada paav as we have got extra ones." I politely refused and told him I was anyway walking in that direction to meet a friend. He smiled and told me "Have a good evening."

We had met for the first time and yet he offered to help. Him choosing to do so despite having no vested interest in me put a smile on my face. It is surprising how I unintentionally miss out on many opportunities through the day to make someone's day memorable.

A small deed of kindness only asks for a large heart. No money. No gifts. Just the act of wanting to make a difference. I will keep that in mind henceforth.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Vote of Thanks

My first year of the fellowship is almost nearing an end. It has been one crazy roller coaster ride with its share of highs and lows. I have too many things on my mind and I am hoping by writing them down, I will free up some much needed mind space for other equally important things.

Showing gratitude was one of my new year resolutions. I want to end the year by thanking everyone (or everything) who (which) has helped me see this through. In no specific order, I would like to acknowledge:
  • My students, Mehak and Aliya, for constantly showing me the mirror and setting high expectations of me in the classroom - whether it is in my conduct or in my effort.
  • My students, Muzammil and Awesh, for making me see that permanent change has no easy fixes.
  • My students, Alfiya and Farheen, for making me believe that transformation is possible and there is a leader in each of us that is waiting to be discovered.
  • My students, in general, for all the love and for providing me the toughest challenge of my life.
  • BJ, for demonstrating leadership against all odds and showing the value of relationships.
  • Harry, for all the free hugs and making us feel at home, wherever we are.
  • Pritish, for the passion he has shown for kids beyond the classroom and the courage with which he has spoken for the betterment of the kids.
  • Akriti, for showing me how you can build the sense of independence in kids.
  • Neerja, for all the craziness and for genuinely working harder than she ever has.
  • Suman, for being at the "forefront of a revolution" and being an incredible ideator.
  • Piyali, for being the ocean of calmness and for being the confidante she is.
  • Jigar, for being whoever we have wanted him to be, whenever we have asked.
  • Nicky, without who, I would be a fraction of the teacher I am today.
  • Pallavi, for letting me follow my dreams and for zealously following her own, despite the distance.
  • Niki, for being a silent supporter and never questioning my priority for the classroom.
  • Mom and Dad, for taking interest in my work, giving me my own space to grow and paying for my trip to Europe!
  • All my grandparents, for managing when I have not been able to be there for them.
  • Rekha aunty and Seenu Uncle, for seeking to understand. 
  • Priyanka and Varuna, for the time of my life that I have taken away from them.
  • Ankita and Amal, for not letting the distance drive the course of the friendship.
  • Shalmalee, for always reminding me that excellence is not relative.
  • Paras and Vinny, for taking risks and making me believe I am not alone.
  • Nanda, without who my house would become a junk yard.
  • An ex-boss, for being the egoist who  helped strengthen my decision to take a different life path and whose memory still keeps me going.
  • The terrorists of 26/11, who made my city bleed and fueled in me an anger that became an inspiration.
  • Paris, for making me believe in a way of living and thinking that I didn't believe could exist.
  • Berlin and especially the Museum of the Murdered Jews of Europe, for reminding me the importance of not forgetting, yet moving on (how relevant this has been to the history of Jafari!!!).
  • Mumbai, for helping me find my own feet.
  • Nature, especially the Himalayas and the Western Ghats,  for re-fueling my mental energy reserves whenever I am drained.
  • The Intouchables and Queen (movies), for making me relive the sense of freedom I want my students to experience.

Song on my mind:

Sunday, March 09, 2014

The Delicate Balance

I had a very forgettable day at school yesterday. Somehow everything seemed to be falling apart in school. Our classes which are otherwise the more disciplined ones were have their off days.I discovered some students who were leaders in the class had chosen to be dishonest. Some others had chosen to not show respect to their team members and some even to their teachers. I was mighty upset at how I realized progress in the classroom was just a delusion I was living in. And in my frustration, I did end up showing my anger to my kids.

I came back home. I decided against calling parents of kids who I had chastised for an update and give myself time to process information with clarity. I chose to take the evening off. Thankfully, my friend was here from Delhi. I did speak a lot with her about the state of things. While our conversations were not necessarily restricted to the classroom, I could connect back a lot of what we spoke back to my students.

Both of us decided to watch Queen the next morning and headed straight for the movie after breakfast. While the movie left me feeling very optimistic, throughout the auto ride from the theatre, I kept thinking about the amount of work there was left in the class and how I have let procrastination get the better of me in the last two months.

I could give many reasons for procrastinating - physical and emotional fatigue, excessive socializing due to planned and mostly unplanned visits by friends, rework due to the lack of understanding of where the kids were academically and more than the usual household commitments. All these reasons are justified, considering it is as important to sustain myself and my social life as it is to be committed and persevere towards excellence. But in the struggle to balance both my own well being and my professional goals, I favoured my personal wellbeing more  in the last 3 months than my professional goals, which I have always chosen otherwise.

Did I do something wrong? Definitely, no. Did I have an alternative? Probably, yes. Did I make time to find the alternative? No, I just tried working harder and that had a contrary effect on my own health. What am I going to do about it now? I will make up for it by executing a supremely well planned strategy for my time with the kids post summers.

I have always looked into the mirror more than I look through the magnifying glass. I have always been hard on myself. I took a break from being that for the first time in many years. While it lasted, it did feel good. However, mediocrity leaves a bad aftertaste.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

All you need is love

I had taken some of my kids who had received the Avasara Scholarship to the American School of Bombay for the award ceremony. There were seven of my students, their mothers and some of their siblings.

One of my students Amrita was accompanied by her mother and two siblings - Jyoti who was four and Gayatri who was less than two years old. Jyoti was not supposed to be attending the event, but had to join her mother at the last minute due to her dad not being at home (which is also their vegetable shop) to attend to her. I thought what could go wrong with having an additional kid as long as their mother was accompanying them. However, meeting Jyoti was quite an eye-opener for me in understanding what some of my kids may have faced as they grow up at home.

Since her mother was busy attending to the youngest daughter, Jyoti's care was left to Amrita. Amrita being a child herself and having no experience in handling kids did exactly what she saw her parents do at home - asking Jyoti to follow or else get beaten. Jyoti, who was agitated at being dragged along, would start crying every few minutes.

I couldn't see the child being treated in the brute manner so I asked Amrita to leave her to me - and she did. In her time with me, there were three instances that I clearly remember.

The photographs of the winners were being flashed on the big screen. I asked Jyoti to clap when she sees her sister. She clapped with me for all winners. When her sisters photo came up on the screen, she screamed loudly "Isko maaro. (Hit her!)" I was shocked at the reaction. How could a child so young know violence and that too for her own sibling? What could have provoked her to dislike her sister and express it in a explicit way?

I did not have to wait much to get the answer. It had been two hours into the event and I was getting tired of baby sitting Jyoti. After the event was over, I let Jyoti walk around freely while I spent some time engaging with others at the event. I heard Amrita screaming at Jyoti and in return Jyoti was screaming back at her - shouting "Maa ki ch**t" repeatedly. Amrita's mom slapped her to shut her up - so now instead she started wailing  I did not interfere. I was appalled that a four year old child was using an invective for its intended purpose, without knowing the meaning of the word. The only place where she could have learnt this was at home, where it was being used with regularity for her to have picked it up. How then can I teach my kids to use kind words and show respect when they don't see their role models do it for three quarters of every day?

On our way back, Jyoti started crying because she did not want to go back to her mother or sister - she only wanted to be with me. I personally was exhausted after a tiring week and did not have any more energy to entertain her. I did not give in to her protest. She lay on the road and refused to move. Another girl's mother convinced her to walk with her and she unwillingly agreed.

In a matter of two hours, she had bonded with me more than she had with her mother. Even a young child can sense compassion and love and reciprocate it. I was worried my students get so little of both when they are growing up, especially considering they are replaced by another child younger than them within 2-3 years.

Our challenge as teachers is more fundamental in nature - it is not academic growth but making our kids humane! We need to spend more time at their homes than just in the classroom - knowing them and their families and investing them in the importance of education.

We had shining examples in front of us - mothers of Shofiya and Mallika, whose daughters reflect maturity and wisdom that is far above what you see in the community; parents of Aliya, who have taught all their three daughters English and send two of them to college; Ufera's mother, who teaches kids (without corporal punishment) in her neighbourhood so that they can do well at school.

Regardless of any of them going to college, I at least see Shofiya, Mallika, Aliya and Ufera becoming loving and compassionate mothers, learning from what they have seen their mothers do for them - every single day of their life. I see their children learning from them and certainly going to college. We ourselves have a lot to learn from these student's mothers - because while we are here for two years to make a difference, they have been making a difference all their lives!