Friday, December 13, 2013

I am interested in joining the fellowship. Please help.

Many people have come to me with this request. To save myself the time, I am writing this FAQ post based on my own experience till now. Before reading this I would suggest you go through the Teach for India homepage to know the basics.

Why people join TFI? 
My friends and I had a combination of different reasons to join the fellowship. Some of us joined the fellowship to make a difference - what better way to change mindsets than positively influencing young minds. Some of us wanted to build perspective about the problems of inequity in education and opportunity in India through the grassroot experience offered by the fellowship. Some of us wanted to push ourselves to new limits to develop our leadership skills. Some of us wanted a sense of purpose and meaningful impact in the work. Some of us wanted a challenge.  Some of us just wanted to take a break from the monotony of a corporate job. Some of us wanted to change the way children learn based on our own experiences with school and in general education. Some of us simply loved children and the fellowship involves a lot of close interaction with children. The list is not exhaustive in any way but represents some of the many reasons one may join the fellowship for.

Why did you join TFI?
I wanted to work in education in the long run. Once selected to the fellowship, TFI offers the most rigorous experience at the grassroot level in the field, regardless of your choice of academic background and past professional experience.It is a great way to network with driven and young people wanting to bring about change in their own small ways to the country. The fellowship pushes your management and leadership abilities to a new level, if you work consciously and with deep commitment towards excellence in the many things you are expected to do. Because of everything it offered, the fellowship was a natural choice for me.

Can I do XYZ alongside the fellowship? (XYZ = manage my own venture/work part time elsewhere/pursue part time education/and the like)
The fellowship is challenging and it is best you keep your complete mind space for it. If you think you are exceptional at managing your work, you can add more activities to your bucket after the first few months.

But wait, you left a well paying job for the fellowship? How do you manage?
Well, unlike earlier, I cannot fit in international holidays, indulgent shopping, a fancy apartment, etc. The money is just about enough to manage your living expenses. It requires conscious changes in lifestyle - you will have enough for the must-have but not enough for the good-to-have material things.

Life as a teacher must be easy right with long vacations and 5 hour work days.
If you are working diligently and driving your kids growth hard - you will have a "6 1/2" days working week which will involve lesson planning, long term planning, community visits, field trips, teacher training, conferences, extra classes, sports, parent teacher conferences, school administration work, observations and feedback,  school team meetings, etc. My work day is usually 10 hours long.The fellowship is a full time commitment. I would strongly recommend you visit and volunteer in a classroom for a few months before you take call to join it.

OMG. That is too much work. Do you have a personal life?
On weekdays, no, but on weekends, you can find time if you plan your schedule wisely. It is something you get better at with time.

What do you like about your job? 
1) I am an entrepreneur working with responsibility and freedom towards an objective of drive my kids' learning
2) I am loved by 70 more people (my students, duh!) in this world, no matter how much they pretend to not like me after a lesson where I have reprimanded them.
3) I am not competing with anyone - everyone can learn and even copy from each other as long as the kids are doing better.

What do you not like about the job?
1) Since I enjoy it a lot, it is often tough to stop thinking about the classroom.
2) In addition to the mental pressure of a corporate job, this job is emotionally and physically much much more demanding. Keeping fit and composed requires practice and effort.
3) Too many meetings and priorities.

What will you do after the fellowship?
I am undecided. My options are:
1) Continuing to work in a staff role with Teach for India or other such organizations working in education.
2) Doing a specialized masters in education
3) Entering research on education/child development
4) Becoming a public policy specialist in education.
5) Going back to a corporate role or joining a start up.
6) Working in consulting in the non-profit sector.
7) Becoming a teacher or a school administrator.
8) Starting my own venture focused on a piece of the problem.

May I visit your classroom?
Yes, you may provided you inform me well in advance!!

Sunday, December 08, 2013

December Diary!!

I have had an incredibly hectic week. I have had many moments where I wanted to blog but I never found the time during the weekdays. I have 6 hours left before I go to a cousin's wedding and loads of work to complete before I leave. However, I want to gather my thoughts before they are lost in the melee of the upcoming week.

We are making a difference
I had been offering a lift to a boy from our school who stays a few blocks away from my house, whenever I saw him waiting at the bus stop on the route that takes me to school. On reaching school, he would get off the rickshaw and walk off without turning back and saying thank you. This boy was not one of those in the Teach for India classrooms.

Last Wednesday, I offered a lift to a girl from one of the TFI classrooms. On reaching school, she got off the rickshaw and waited. Once I had paid the fare, she told me a thank you, wished me good morning and left with a smile.

No matter how challenging everyday in class seems and no matter how slow the progress of our kids appears, at least they are learning something. The show of courtesy put a smile on my face that morning. I made sure I narrated the story to most of my co-fellows to share the small joys of our daily adventures with the kids.

Kids are learning Science now
We have changed the classroom structure. I have taken up the onus of teaching Math in addition to Science. While I am still learning the skill of teaching Math, I have been enjoying teaching Science. The more effort I put in a tight, activity based lesson, the better the kids grasp the concept. The data I gather from the class indicates a higher degree of understanding of the basics at least. Now I have to focus on ensuring retention of concepts. With kids who are challenged in literacy, the challenge is to make them remember and reproduce their learning through simplified ways of expression. My focus is on creating as engaging a science lesson as possible that pushes skills in both critical thinking and literacy. This means more work for now, but stronger structures for the coming 18 months.

Kids know and understand me better now
"They are JUST kids" is an over used statement. Kids have a high emotional quotient. They recognize the slightest change in your mood and temperament. When you are enjoying the lesson, they enjoy the lesson with you. When you are angry, they get impatient. When you are low on energy, they are low on energy. What I am liking more is that some kids even have started approaching me with feedback after a class on how they enjoyed the lesson. Being in control of yourself and channelizing the classroom's energy positively when you are having a long tiring day is not easy. Hence, it is paramount I learn to stay calm and in control of my expressed feelings all the time.

Kids need avenues for creative expression
We have started the Jafari Artists Project in which kids learn new skills in art, craft, dance and debating. Rajesh and I lead debating, which is the newest activity to them. Compared to the colour in art and craft and the fun of dancing, debating on the outset seems boring to the kids. Debating also requires them to push their thinking more, which some of them don't enjoy after a long day in school. But after having the first mock debate, I could see sparks of excitement in some of the kids. They actively questioned Rajesh and me with strong questions on some of our arguments. For example, as an argument against capital punishment, one kid questioned "What is the guarantee of a criminal reforming and not committing a similar crime again?" As an argument against corporal punishment, another kid argued that "Children of scared of teachers who hit so they don't ask questions. If they don't ask questions, how will they learn?" These were the small moments where I could see a debater in the making. My dream is for my kids to participate and win the TFI led inter school debating competition by the end of next year. It is ambitious but should give children something worth striving for.

The Team is everything
I have a team of 8 members including myself. Each of us have had our share of trials and tribulations. And the nature of our job is such that these are not just restricted to our work. Often, you see the effects spill over to your personal well being - both emotional and physical. Some of us were realizing how our morale was drooping ever since the semester started and the effect it was having on the students. We decided to have an honest face to face conversation in everyone's presence. And it felt good. While we are aligned on the broad priorities now, the focus is on converting these into actions. Things should hopefully fall in place both inside and outside the classroom this week for each of us.

The beauty of our job is it allows us to have these conversations. We are not competing with each other. We are working together to make things work for our kids. The better each one of us does, the better our kids will do. And we have to always strive for putting our kids on the path of change.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Purpose is back in every day!!

I finally struck of the most important of my to do list. It said "Make a comprehensive to-do list."

I have always been a 'lists' person. I make lists both for work and personal life. My dependence on them has increased more as a teacher because there is always much to do and much more gets added every single day. If you want to make the most of everyday, I feel it is best you don't spend time drifting through the seconds, minutes and hours.

I was struggling to cope up with the first few days of school as I was taking it one day at a time considering the flurry of changes in plans and classroom structure. I was also suffering from the hangover of a superb holiday. Three days of school and not surprisingly, the latter has disappeared.

I have spent the whole of last evening on my action plan. Now that I have the to-do list, I suddenly find there is more mind space to focus on 'doing' rather than 'thinking about doing'. Not that all the tasks are checked off but now I know how to get there. Time to set the ball rolling!!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Reflections from a Journey

I have been travelling for the last 10 days in the lap of Himalayas – Uttarakhand. Time and again, during the travels I have had thoughts and afterthoughts which I have been waiting to pen down. Now that I have finally time to access my laptop, I am going to write a brief summary of everything.

Thought #1: You are smaller than you think.

I had seen the three pronged peak called Trishul many times during the course of my five hours journey to Kausani. This peak was a part of  the tallest mountainous terrain in the world, the Himalayas. What remained hidden behind the mountain, on which Kausani is perched, came into full view only when my car took a hairpin turn on a road in the city. Within a matter of minutes, a 300 kilometre long wall of the Himadri range presented itself to me. The peaks were numerous and covered in snow.

At my eye level, they seemed to be only marginally taller than Kausani itself, but on further reading, I found out that the peaks on an average were 7000 metres tall (Kausani’s altitude was 1680 metres), with the highest one in sight touching 7820 metres – the formidable Nanda Devi.

 No wonder the mountains extend their boundaries into Nepal on the East and Jammu on the West and are visible at distances of over 800 kilometres. The first and last ray of light of the sun is visible, through the mirror formed by the snow-capped peaks of the mountains. The sight was overwhelming and awe-inspiring.

These mountains have stood here for millennia, watching the world change around them. I am merely a speck in front of their formidable stature. My life is not even a fraction of a micro second if the Himalayas’ life was compared to us humans. I am small in the scheme of things.

A Himalayan Sunrise

Thought #2: It is possible to be at one place at one time, even today!

I was at a jungle camp in Sattal. The camp had no electricity, running water, cooking gas, telecommunication or internet. The camp did have comfortable tents to sleep in and local people to help us with food and water.
After darkness had set in on the camp site, I spent time at the bonfire chatting with the local village men. The range of topics was as vast as the Himalayas (found a new simile!). At one point, I told them that we must stop now and have dinner. To this, they replied it was only 6.30PM.

I was amazed. Time had stopped. And it was not because I was bored out of my wits. The quantity of time spent seemed more because the quality of time spent was incredibly high. There was no buzzing cell phone, no one ringing the doorbell, no side talk or no mail to reply to. The conversation had no future objective, no agenda and nor did the participants share common history. The conversation did not even have visual disruptions because we could only see each other’s’ faces lit by a combination of moon light and the bonfire. We were literally living in the present, giving our undivided attention to each other. And it felt unbelievably good, almost as unbelievable as the height of those mountains.

The firewood crackled as it first caught the flame - I felt I was watching the sparks at play forever

Thought #3: The world is beautiful if you can open your eyes and ears. 

Throughout my stay at Kausani and Sattal, I had very little to do after sunset (except shiver in the chilly weather). This allowed me to spend time to observe things that I had taken for granted - the dim light of the thousands of stars that lit the clear sky, the calls of birds, langurs and other animals in the wild, the fragrance of flowers, the sound of the wind and flowing stream, the rustle of leaves, the sight of every sunset and sunrise, etc.

I realized there is beauty everywhere. We cannot see it because our eyes don’t leave the television, computer and cell phone screens. We cannot hear it because our ears are full of noise of vehicles, electronics and machines as well as sounds from our gadgets that we willingly use to shut ourselves out. We cannot smell it because there is too much pollution and garbage in our cities.

 All we need to do is open our ears and eyes to the right things – and realize there is still beauty in the world worth striving for.

 The White Chested Laughing Bird (whose name I don't fully remember) had a healthy breakfast to start its day.
The spider web shone brightly in the morning light at Sattal.
 People starting their day with a smile - the world could do with some more.
The white of the British era styled hotel I was staying in looked beautiful against the orange of the Marigold flower.

Thought #4: You can make a difference – positive or negative.

Since I could not visit Corbett during my stay, I wanted to at least see the tiger and leopard at the zoo. I went to one in Nainital. I was fortunate to see a full size Royal Bengal Tiger and Tigress, both of them engrossed in mating at a distance of merely a few feet from where I was standing. For a wild life enthusiast who has grown up watching more Discovery, NatGeo and Animal Planet than Cartoon Network, watching two full size adults up close in action is a thrilling sight, despite the fact that they were behind the wall of a cage.

The two animals were large and beautiful, measuring around 4-5 feet in height and 9-10 feet from head to tail. Everything about their physique and stature exuded a brilliance only God is worthy of. A creature so majestically designed deserves to be at the top of the food chain. There is barely any fauna that can match it in its territory, including humans if left without their tools.

Despite their evolutionary superiority, we have managed to reduce them to a fraction of their population. The tiger is just a symbol of the crisis that wildlife in India is facing. There are many other creatures that are not benefitting from projects of the scale of Project Tiger to help their conservation.

We have to learn to live in harmony with the flora and fauna – measure our economic growth subtracting the loss caused to nature and our environment. The villagers I met in the more rural parts of the state understand the importance of the delicate balance of nature– the need of wildlife, importance of different trees, preserving the soil balance, preventing pollution and littering and to some extent even global warming. They live a difficult life, but it is in perfect harmony with nature. Their beliefs may emerge from ancient stories and myths, but their logic firmly points to higher sense of awareness than the urban educated Indian.

Just when I thought the tiger would not wake up from his slumber, he came walking right up to me - boy, what a beauty!!


An afterthought I am having after reaching the end of my post is that: travelling is the best way to learn; reading books comes a close second; I wonder why I spent all those years going to formal schools and what should be my goal as a teacher.

Friday, November 08, 2013

In the name of God

Alisha, one of my ever-curious students, came up to me and asked me if I was a Muslim. I asked her how it mattered. Immediately came the next question, "Bhaiya, do you believe in God?" she asked.  Knowing Alisha, I knew she would remain relentless in her interrogation. In the spirit of maintaining transparency with my students, I honestly told her "I don't in most cases, I do in some." She continued her inquiry by asking me, "What do you believe in then?" I told her I believe in reason, logic or science in most cases. She asked me then, "When do you believe in God?"  I thought for a few seconds and then asked her "There are many questions to which science does not know the answer. For example, from where did the first things in our universe come from? When it comes to questions like this, I think there is God's magic at work somewhere." She finally stopped asking her questions. As is the case with all religious conversations my students had with me, I told her that while I am not religious, I do respect every person's choice of religion and belief and will never force what I think on anyone. She then changed topic and began discussing with another teacher. I took a sigh of relief.

While I was honest with her, I did not explain to her what the other scenario in which I believe in God is . Some call it luck. I don't believe in luck. I call it serendipity - all the phenomenally good things that happen to you when you don't expect it. Serendipity is not winning a lucky draw. Serendipity is not getting through a job interview in your dream company. Serendipity is when you escape being killed or gravely injured in an open firing by a terrorist when your friend coincidentally cancels a dinner meeting with you. Serendipity is when your flight gets cancelled giving you the additional few hours with that one person to tell her she is the one you want to spend the rest of your life with. Serendipity is a sign that God exists and he is looking out for you just when you are about to fall.

My family has just finished a week long Diwali celebration. Being a Hindu on paper, I do participate in the rituals of the festival for the sake of conformity. Being a science teacher and working with a non-profit, I do question the logic of many things that people do during the festival. Why do you need to wear new clothes on a day when you have enough old ones? Why do you have to do things in a pooja whose rationale you have never tried to understand in the past many years? Why do you give a bonus to your maid on Diwali but not give them fair minimum wages and contractual rights? Why do you light crackers adding smoke and noise in an already imbalanced environment?

I believe God does not want me to go to the temple, church or mosque. God does not want me to perform rituals, sacrifices and donations. God wants me to be humane and live in harmony with everything and everyone on our planet. God wants me to be true to my work, my family, my friends and myself.

I believe in Him, but I also believe in reason. What has been happening for centuries may not find a rationale today. When I see our actions in the name of God, I do not see any other reason behind them except one - tradition. Let us not make Him an illusion of our insecurities and keep doing things in his name. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Positives

Being the person I am, I am continuously discontent with the state of things unless they reach near perfection. Some people work till they get it right. Some people work till they never get it wrong. I fall in the latter category. The role of a teacher has put this spirit to test  - and frankly - I find it incredibly hard to be gentle on myself.

However, in accordance with my mid-term self-assessment, I want to take note of positives that have been in this semester:
1) The Artists Project: We started a project where kids are exposed to and trained in one of four art skills - dancing and drama, art and crafts, painting or public speaking for leadership. We only managed to have the selections and introductory sessions in this semester - and I am happy that the kids left the rooms excited waiting to see what was in store for them next semester.
2) Keeping the bar high: I set extremely high expectations with my class. I was strict with the rules and task adherence. There were many times I was tempted to let the kids off the hook during a lesson, teach the section of the class who were listening, give them some free time and just play with them to bond better - but I resisted the temptation. I made the kids work every lesson, made sure they learnt something new every lesson. I made sure they answered the question convincingly to earn their rewards. I saw three of the four classes following procedures consistently toward the end of the semester which is good progress. I need to however work on building a stronger emotional connect outside the classroom.
3) Planning every lesson: I  planned every lesson barring 3 lessons in the whole three and a half months. I planned more than 75% of them with multiple inputs - visual, aural, kinesthetic, etc. While not all lessons were executed perfectly, I learnt quickly from my mistakes to make the next plan stronger.
4) Data collection: Towards the latter half of the semester, I consistently began collecting data from class and taking more formative tests to know where my kids were. The use of white boards helped improve coverage of students while the weekly assessments, notebook and projects gave me a grip of where students are. I need to improve the rate at which I bring the feedback into my planning as well as create an efficient tracking mechanism to ensure more students turn in all deliverable more regularly.
5) 100% Attendance: Considering the surrounding environment of the school and the amount of stress during the initial months of teaching, I am happy I persevered to conduct every lesson my kids had with me. The last two weeks had been an incredible challenge considering a bad congestion, cold, fever and fatigue - but I did scrape through - the kids did not learn as much with my reserves low as they would have otherwise, but they learnt more than they would in my complete absence.

All this said and done, there is a lot more work to be done! I am certainly not okay with the rate at which my students are learning. I have the advantage of some breathing time before I enter the rush of next semester. I can utilize the upcoming three weeks to recuperate and plan next semester stronger. May the force be with me.

Song on Mind: 

Mausam and Escape - the sitar blended with the violin resembles the need for serenity and semblance in the middle of the unforgiving pace of affairs.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Mid Term Report Card

Dear Kapil,
You have completed one and a half month in your class now. You have had long and arduous days. Some days have brought joy and some have brought disappointments. No one said it was going to be easy to be a teacher. Everyone said it would be satisfying - that it has been!

Over the last few days, I have had the opportunity to zoom out from the details and look at the wider picture. Here are some of my observations that may help you!!
  • You have just seen the tip of the ice berg when it comes to the magnitude of work that lies ahead of you. Your kids have an incredibly long way to go till you can be sure they are on a purposeful and different life path. Change will be slow. Change will be painful. However, change is inevitable if you believe and act as per those beliefs. Change will also catch pace once you have mastered a few teacher tricks and techniques. Be gentle on yourself.
  • There will be things within your control and things outside your control. You have always been good at being able to identify the two buckets. In the last few weeks, I have seen that you have let that line blur. Remember, you are not as busy as you think you are. Remember, you are not as tired as you think you are. You are either effective or ineffective. You are either efficient or inefficient. Be true to yourself when you measure your effort. But be gentle. 
  • You are restless and impatient when it comes to work. Not everyone is. Respect that. Put effort in making working styles meet. Everyone is in this movement for the right reasons. Share openly. Learn. Co-create magic!
  • Don't lose your temper on your kids. If you do, don't let the kids know!! Self control and self discipline are indispensable. The kids are smart and they will know. They will learn to show control too.
  • Balance your personal and professional well being. While work is exciting, it is important that it doesn't entirely define who you are. Remember you love travelling. Remember you love writing. Remember you love photography. Do spend time on them. You are not running a sprint but a marathon. Sustain yourself.
Love,
Kapil

Friday, September 06, 2013

What will become of Ahmed Abbas?

Ahmed is a student in my class. He is a tiny kid with an infectious smile. He has a penchant for getting into trouble and hurting himself. Being hyperactive doesn't help his cause. As much as he is a distraction while teaching, I have not lowered my expectations of him in the class when it comes to behaviour. I have invested a lot of time in talking to him and his mother to build a connect. This Wednesday was the first day he showed a strong improvement in his task adherence in class and I was happy that something was finally working.

Having met his mother a few times, I know he comes from the lowest of the the low income households that my students belong to. He lives in a small rented temporary accommodation with his parents and two sisters - one elder and one younger. His father makes hats for a living. His father's income is not regular and strictly governed by the off take in shops. His mother helps his father when demand peaks so that they can maximize their income. My guess is their household must be earning around Rs.40000 per year. His sisters go to an Urdu medium school. His elder sister is bright in studies and is hoping to pass her 10th grade exams. She is aspiring to go to college, for which her mother has requested a special fee concession from the Principal. I have assured Ahmed's mother that I will guide her daughter through her college admissions.

On teachers' day, I was looking forward to meeting Ahmed. I wanted to see if he makes something for one of his teachers on his own accord. I wanted to see what it would be, considering his literacy is at a kindergarten level. However, Ahmed did not turn up.

I called his mother. She told me she could not send Ahmed to school that day because she had to go to the hospital. On further inquiry, I found out his father had been hit by a bus and had fractured his skull. He was on life support in a government hospital. The doctors had given him a poor prognosis and told her that surgery was not an option. She was going to find out in another hour if he would live. She spoke with a sense of calm that was both praiseworthy and shocking.

Ahmed came to school later in the day. I asked him why he was away from home. He said he was bored of sitting at home. His mother had taken his father to the doctor and asked his sister to look after him. I realized he did not know the complete story. I asked him to go home and help his sister manage the home so that his mother is not troubled further. I made him promise he would not go anywhere else that day until his mother returned home. He nodded, gave me the smile and left.

Seeing him leave, a train of thoughts ran through my head.

What if his father lives?
Will he get the right care in a municipal hospital? How long will he take to return home? Will the environment of Shivaji Nagar's slum be conducive for his recovery? Will he be able to return to his work again? Will he live in a vegetative state? Will his family be able to support him then? Who will bear the burden with the mother?

What if his father doesn't live?
Will his mother be able to feed the family? Will his sister have to drop out of school and start working to help her mother? Will the family have to move to a far flung 'affordable' locality? Will Ahmed drop out of school? What will happen of the family then? Will another generation be caught in the vicious circle of poverty?

I have been speaking to Ahmed's mother once in a day. His father still lives on. His condition hasn't improved though. I hope and pray it does. For Ahmed's sake.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Reality of their Lives

It was a typical day at school. After finishing the last lesson and seeing the children off, I went to the Principal's cabin to sign out for the day. When I was there, I realized something was amiss. Two set of parents had been called and there was a frantic hunt on in the neighbourhood for their children. From the conversation between the Principal, parents and supervisor, I figured out what had transpired.

One of our kids in a TFI classroom was thrown in the sewage drain flowing behind the school. What was more shocking was that he was thrown in the drain by none other than two of our school's senior students from grade X. While the ones who committed the crime escaped then, they were soon identified and reported to the school authorities.

I had reached the scene while this hunt was on. The children guilty of the act were brought to the school by their relatives. The conversation between parents, school staff and these students started on an interrogatory tone. They were asked questions about their whereabouts and then confronted directly on the incident. The moment the authorities realized that the children were evading the truth, all hell broke lose.

The father of one of the children slapped him right across his face. He then removed his leather belt and started whipping the child on every available part of his body, including his face. He went on for nearly five minutes using the strength of every muscle in his hand, shoulder and arms while constantly abusing the child. Instead of stopping him, the school supervisor egged him on saying "If you don't hit him, I will. He needs to be taught a LESSON he will never forget." She was holding a thick cane all this while. After he was done with one kid, he turned his attention to the other kid and hit him for the next five minutes. The first kid was still sobbing, his scars having turned red.

The only people trying to protect the children were my colleague from TFI and the man's wife. While my colleague realized soon his efforts were futile, the mother of the child persisted long enough to draw the wrath of the father's fury. He slapped her in front of everyone present there, accusing her of being incapable of managing the only job she has in the day - that of taking care of children when the father is at work.

I couldn't stand watching the drama any longer. I walked away from the scene, taking deep breaths trying to compose myself and not showing the anger that was seething within me. The violence was inhumane. How can one even think of inflicting such physically pain on their own children? How will that ever help change their behaviour? What it will do is only make the children accept that such violence is the right way of serving justice to someone who, they believe, has done wrong. They in turn will become who their parents are today.

The challenges in the classroom are manageable, but the influences outside the classroom are not. Finding ways to isolate my children from their neighbouring environment is difficult. How do I find ways to impart the wisdom that prevents them from internalizing the learning from such incidents - the lesson that is detrimental to them and their future families? How do I make them believe that there is a life that is without fear and violence? How do I make them walk a different path, one that they have never seen or one someone known to them has never walked? Considering we celebrated Independence Day just few days ago with them, how do I set them free from this vicious cycle? Ideas, anyone?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Teaching Science - Accuracy vs. Joy of Learning

I was telling her about my lesson on "Characteristics of Living Things" in which I taught my kids about 7 vital characteristics which all living things show - nutrition, reproduction, respiration, growth, movement, excretion and sensitivity. There were seven, yes, but these seven did not explain how the basic element 'fire' was not a living thing. Being neuroscientist in the making, I thought she would have a better answer for KIDS. She left me with an answer and an afterthought.

This was what she told me: First of all, these seven characteristics are not shown by ALL living things. For example, viruses do not show most of them. Viruses are said to be the bridge between the non living and the living. You should read these articles I am sending you to understand that. Secondly, the most consistent and measurable characteristic of a living things that their level of entropy actively keeps reducing.

And then I get a quote from the wiki article stating:

Later, building on this premise, in the famous 1944 book What is Life?, Nobel-laureate physicist Erwin Schrödinger theorizes that life, contrary to the general tendency dictated by the Second law of thermodynamics, decreases or maintains its entropy by feeding on negative entropy.

In 1964, James Lovelock was among a group of scientists who were requested by NASA to make a theoretical life detection system to look for life on Mars during the upcoming space mission. When thinking about this problem, Lovelock wondered “how can we be sure that Martian life, if any, will reveal itself to tests based on Earth’s lifestyle?” To Lovelock, the basic question was “What is life, and how should it be recognized?” When speaking about this issue with some of his colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, he was asked what he would do to look for life on Mars. To this, Lovelock replied: "I’d look for an entropy reduction, since this must be a general characteristic of life."

I ended the discussion feeling glad I learnt something new but at the same time wondering where to draw the line between being technically perfect vs. making science learning, inquiry, observation and skill centric. As much as I love ACCURATE science and reading about it, sometimes I am just amazed at how much we get caught up with the technicality to take away the joy of learning from kids. Wouldn't it be easier for kids to observe the seven characteristics and be 90% accurate than to check for 'entropy reduction' and be 100% accurate? 

I am sure my kids will not hold a grudge against me when they grow older for the 10% of the time they could not get the answer right. I will be happy when they hit 100% accuracy consistently for most everyday examples and ask me smart questions for those 10% examples for which the NASA scientists are figuring out answers to.

PS: This discussion reminded me of the TED talk I had seen sometime back! Do watch it to get a perspective.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Before Midnight

I love what I currently do. The problem with loving what you do is that you are always thinking about it - for me 'it' is my classroom. I have only felt partially detached from my work when I am running - focusing all my thoughts and energy on finishing the extra lap. That has not happened much off late. Since nothing else is equally effective, my personal time has not entirely been my own.

However today, miraculously, I was able to cut myself off for the whole 108 minutes of watching 'Before Midnight'. If you like a rosy fast paced romance with its highs and lows making way for a happy ending, this is NOT the movie for you. If your idea of a romantic movie is one that combines the colours of a strong rationale and authentic emotion against a backdrop of reality, then 'Before Midnight' is a must watch. Richard Linklater is exceptional as director (again!) and Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have stayed brutally true to their character portrayal of Jesse and Celine respectively, as they move nearly another decade in time.

I personally found this movie to be the best of the three - for the beauty with which it handles the phase of life the characters are in and the metamorphosis of their relationship over time. As they move back and forth between reminiscing the journey of their love and contemplating the possibilities of the future, they realize that coping with the present is the real struggle.

The movie was engrossing for the simple reason that I strongly believe in the definition of love that it represents. I believe true love has many hues that change shade over time. Nonetheless, at any point in time, those hues make the two people more beautiful together, than each of them would have been individually or with someone else.

To be able to capture the essence of something so deep, so simply, is what strikes me the most about 'Before Midnight'. It is good poetry that leaves you with many thoughts, possibilities and positive emotions. I do hope I see Jesse and Celine grow old together with Linklater, Hawke and Delpy teaming up again one last time.


PS: This is also the 200th post on my blog!! Never thought I would last this long when I started writing here.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Five Weeks

People had told me that I won't have the time to write at institute. I had always thought I would find time to write, despite the hectic pace of the schedule. I was wrong. The five weeks I spent at the institute preparing for my teaching stint were the longest of my life in many ways.

They seemed long because my day was packed from 7AM in the morning till 11PM in the night. They seemed long because of the over whelming amount of information that was shared with us. They seemed long because of how much I learned. They seemed long because of the number of highs and lows that were packed in them - as many as there would have been in a typical year of  'normal' living. They seemed long because I was cut off from the world and the people I love in a manner I had never been before. Above all, they seemed long because I feel I know and trust the people I met here at the same level as I have known and trusted my closest friends.

These five weeks seemed long, but they were unforgettable. If I could, I would love to relive them. However, nothing would better the first experience and the element of surprise associated with it. Of that, I would only have memories.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Prelude

I finally met half of the 140 sixth graders I will be teaching over the next two years, along with my team of three other fellows. Majority of them have been with Teach for India for four years but initial assessment results have shown that they lag behind their grade level considerably (some at an emergent level - which means at a KG level of reading fluency). Reasons for low achievement levels have been aplenty and at this point, I do not have enough information to deduce which of those are facts and which opinions.

Let me present some of the facts.My school is run by a large Shia trust and is one of the largest in the Shivaji Nagar area. The class is mostly composed of Shia Muslims (around 60-70%) and Sunni Muslims (around 30-35%) and one-two Hindu student. An intriguing thing is that the school is next to one of the largest dumping grounds in the Chembur-Ghatkopar area - in which people claim bodies of victims of the gang violence are found. This gang violence is a reason why parents of our kids are over protective about their safety. As a result of their paranoia, they are hesitant in allowing their kids to stay back for extra classes after school. Considering the pressure of completing both the state and TFI curriculum as well as the varying achievement level in class, lack of extra time with the kids is going to be a barrier we will have to work around. I am hoping we can reach a strong consensus with the key stake holders on the same - both parents and school authorities.

However, the picture in the classroom is not bleak. I know my kids are strong and gritty in life. I have seen their sensibility in planning a farewell for one of the fellows. I have seen them shower love on the same fellow, like one would on their parents.  I know they are street smart.They may not be able to express themselves as cogently in English as they should at their age, but their thought process is not immature and they can reason.

I want them to consistently demonstrate the same qualities in the classroom. I will have to introduce them to many role models, both male and female, who they can look up to for inspiration to break free from the setting. I will have to drive a culture of achievement in class and make them believe that they can each learn despite and in spite of everything they see around them. Their environment cannot and will not become a decider of who they become in life.

TFI does not joke when it says "Are you ready for the challenge?" in their recruitment campaigns. Clearly, the road ahead is going to be arduous and long. There are no short cuts to this goal. Isn't that why most of us came here in the first place - to challenge ourselves in a meaningful and unprecedented way?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A new journey begins with a new season

With the monsoon, begins my new journey as a teacher. I can't wait to head to Pune and start the process of learning to become one. I don't think five weeks can prepare me for everything there is to teaching. I don't think five decades are enough for that!! But yes, I will learn to independently manage a classroom, to teach kids creatively so that they learn faster than they otherwise would and to utilize the resources available to me to keep improving in the classroom.

 Like nature welcomes the rains without hesitance, I will open my mind to ideas, opinions and people that will help me build new perspectives. Like the streams of water trickling down the slope in the forest, I will find my way through or around problems, no matter how tough or long the path is. Like the first offshoot of grass that breaks its way through the hardened soil, I will start breaking the mould I have built around me, thanks to an education and career that has taught me and sometimes forced me to think linearly within set paradigms. Like the ghats that I love, I will welcome the colours back into my life. 

Friday, May 31, 2013

What do I want to take away from my classroom?

This question is not the same as "What do I want to accomplish in the two years of the fellowship?" While its answer may partially overlap with the reasons for which I am joining Teach for India (learning to be a teacher, working at the grassroot level in an entrepreneurial way, networking with like minded people, building leadership qualities), it is still incomplete. What I wish to take away from the classroom cannot be summed up in big words like these. It is not about surviving the two years ordeal and proving to myself that I made it. I can be mediocre and disinterested and live through far worse. I will still have these points on my resume.

It is making each of the 700 days count, celebrating small victories and learning from every setback - making myself more tenacious. It is about making friends with 30 children and helping them discover their potential further - learning to become approachable, fair and less judgmental. It is about removing the roadblocks in their learning - being more resourceful than I have been in the past. It is about meeting their families and understanding why providing a conducive environment for learning is hard for many of them - improving my perceptiveness.   It is about working with the other fellows, TFI and school staff as well as parents to improve the learning levels - becoming a stronger team player.

All in all, it is not about anyone else but me. It may sound selfish but in this case, the better I become, the more I deliver to the larger goal. There is only one precondition for self improvement- being true to oneself- every single day - and that is also the biggest challenge.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

ज़िन्दगी मिलेगे ना दोबारा


एक ज़िन्दगी है जीने के लिए 
फिर डर डर के बिताये क्यूँ ?
कई रास्तें हैं चलने के लिए 
गलत राह पे समय गवाएं क्यूँ?

आज दिल की आवाज़  सुनों, 
कल शोर और भी होगा।
आज नए ख्वाब बुनों,
कल ज़िम्मेदारी का भोज भी होगा।

अन्धकार है बहुत दुनिया में
हर एक लौ अमूल्य है 
खुद को उज्जवल किये बिना 
तेरे अस्तित्व का क्या मूल्य है?.

हम सबको एक दिन राक बनकर 
मिट्टी में मिल जाना है।
फिर आग में जलने से क्यूँ डरना 
जब मरने से पहले मोक्ष पाना है?

PS: This is the first Hindi post on my blog. I don't remember whether I even wrote in Hindi after school. Having shared a Hindi poem with my friend led to a conversation in Hindi verses, which became the inspiration for the rest of this poem. In retrospect, I think when it comes to writing poetry, Hindi is a much better language than English - inherently poetic. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What made my favourite teachers 'awesome'?


I was in grade four. I had to read the 'thought for the day' in the school assembly, my first experience in public speaking. It was two simple sentences - “A mind is like a parachute. It doesn't work if it is not open.” The host introduced me when my turn came. Needless to say, I was nervous. The teacher who had  nominated me for the task literally pushed me on the dais. I went up to the stage and without adjusting the microphone, read the quote, fumbled with a two- three words (25% of all I had in my kitty) said a thank you and rushed off the dais. After I walked off the stage, the next speaker spoke. Once he finished, my housemaster came up to me and said - "You read well. Did you notice how he spoke (pointing to the next speaker)? You must take a few cues from him to become even better."

That was a big moment - my housemaster had personally acknowledged my presence. The onus was on me to live up to his expectations. From then on, I spoke frequently during the assembly, gaining more confidence. I went on to become one of the best speakers in school and college, winning many competitions in public speaking and debating.

More importantly, that teacher who had first nominated me to read the quote became my mentor. She was in many ways responsible for the confident individual I became. She was one of the few teachers among the many I would meet during secondary and high school, bachelors and masters programmes from who I learnt.

With less than a month to go before I begin my stint as a teacher, I want to summarize what I admired the most in my favourite teachers as their student. I may lose the sense of objectivity if I do this after I start teaching.

Great teachers make you work hard
I have attended many courses whose lecture I have bunked because I had a lousy teacher. At the same time, I have attended some courses where I have attended extra lectures because I enjoyed learning with those teachers. In the latter case, I have also spent more time and effort on my homework and projects.

Even the lousiest of students easily distinguish which teachers genuinely want their good and which teachers are aimlessly spending time in the class. As a result, the effort of students is directly proportional to that of the teacher. It is not surprising that some of our favourite subjects are the ones which we were taught by our most loved teachers early in school.

Great teachers show you the destination, but let you find your own path
I have been watching the documentary "The Story of India" by Michael Wood, which I highly recommend to all Indians. I frankly had no sense of pride in our country (barring some great Indians) until I saw the origins of its culture and ethos in the documentary, beautifully summarizing India's greatness. I will blog about it in another post, but the point I want to make is that I hated Indian history in school. It was a bunch of dates, names, places and events. Instead it should have been an epic story where students were forced to reason, understand stand points of key characters or ideologies and derive lessons for the future.

Effort alone is not even to encourage students. Students want more. They want teachers to drive their curiousity and take them on a journey of discovery. Great teachers present complete facts and enable students to build their own opinions and conclusions, which is critical to develop wisdom and intelligence. Spoon feeding has become a sorry trend in the education industry where focus is on memorizing facts instead of arriving at them through logical and scientific reasoning.

Great teachers are approachable and have no ego
I could always strike up a conversation with my best teachers and ask them anything anytime. Many a time, my questions were not even related to what was being taught in the classroom. Never did they take a question personally. Never did they not respond. Never did they mock the stupidity of the question. That is what made them likable.

Great teachers are like a more experienced friend. They don't give you the perception that they want to control your opinions, activities or life.  You feel like spending more time with them because they are so much fun to be around. You want to do their work well so that you are liked by them.

Great teachers don't give up on you
I had not joined tuitions throughout my school life. In grade X, I came across a math teacher who was disinterested in teaching. I was a bright student but I was struggling to cope with the syllabus in his class. Others were doing much worse. I had got a 75 in math in the first semester, which was probably the worst I had got in my entire school life. Fortunately, he was forced to quit his job due to unforeseen circumstances. A good teacher who had taught us before, replaced him.

He spent tremendous amount of time in extra classes to help us cope with the time lost. In addition, he organized at his home, extra sessions for small group of students of similar calibre to meet our personalized requirements (these were not tuitions).  I did phenomenally well in Math in my boards, topping the school. It was only because of his effort in making ALL of us learn.

This is probably the most important point that makes great teachers stand out. They never give up on any student in class. They set different measures of success for each student and help them meet those standards. It is what makes their job incredibly hard, but it also makes it incredibly rewarding. That is why those teachers are respected the most among the hundreds that students come across in their lives.

It is not by coincidence that a teacher becomes great. It is a result of many hours spent on planning and practicing every lesson and many years of handling the classroom. It is the sum of many answers given many a time, sometimes to the same individual. It is resisting the urge to give a ‘one size fits all’ lecture when it gets unbearable. It must not be easy, but it must be worth it to persist day after day, year after year, because every student is a teacher's legacy.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Coming of Spring

For a clear blue sky and a warmer day
Even the long winters have to make way
A gift of nature is unwrapped
As the white cover of snow melts away

Like a drop of colour on a black and white painting
A green off shoot of leaves emerges from hiding
The birds return, chirpier than ever
Waking the other residents to an early morning

While others welcome with open hands
Man's tentativeness in his way stands
For his priority is his own comfort, and
Weather is known for unpredictable trends

God thinks of him in a mocking manner
"Evolution made you independent and smarter
But it took away from you the joy of small things
Of which and yours, I will always remain a Master"

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Nothing remained, not even a memory

Most of these people were loyal to the countries they resided in, with many generations of their family spending all their lives in the same country. They worked as responsible citizens, paid their taxes and lived as per the law of the land. Some had even fought for their countries in the wars that transpired in the decades preceding 1935. They belonged to countries across the length and breadth of Europe (barring a few like Switzerland).

There were 9 million of them before the holocaust. Only 3 million remained by 1945. The remaining 6 million, including 3 million men, 2 million women and 1 million children, were killed in over 3 years. Whole families and in many cases villages were destroyed. As a result, we don't even know the names of the many who died - literally the existence of a soul was wiped out from every living memory. If you still haven't guessed who I am talking about, I am talking about the murdered Jews of Europe, the memorial of whom I recently visited in Berlin.

Achieving the number across the expanse of a continent in such a short time is no mere feat. Mass murder factories were created with an immaculate logistics system, to identify, segregate, hunt, capture, displace, store, transfer, torture, experiment with and kill in the most inhumane ways possible. The average life expectancy of these people once they reached the death camps was 3 months, depending on their ability to do productive work for their captors and their resistance to the torture before their bodies or minds broke.

What was more shocking is what drove the people who managed the system of mass killing, especially those in the frontlines who were finally responsible for torturing or killing these people, day after day, year after year. I happened to listen to the words of a letter one such Nazi SS officer wrote to his family expressing the joy of having just killed some 100 women and children after having made them dig their own pit (yes, they did not even get a grave to themselves). I was amazed at the amount of unprovoked hatred that a manifesto, which was written on the basis of what could be if the Jews were allowed to thrive, could trigger.

More moving though were the biographies of the 15 families that historians were able to trace and the original transcripts of the letters and diary entries, which written by some of the vicitims who were murdered. I particularly was touched by these letters/entries:

"What is my life worth even if I remain alive? Whom to return to in my old home town of Warsaw? For what and for whom do I carry on this pursuit of life, enduring, holding out - for what?!" - Chronicler Herman Kruk, murdered in a German Concentration Camp in Estonia on 18th September 1944.

"Autum now. September 1. September resettlement with its horrors. A story in itself. It doesn't especially need to be recorded here. If something like that was possible, what else would be? Why war still? Why hunger still? Why a world still?" - Viennese writer and journalist Oskar Rosenfield, murdered in Auschwitz in 1944.

"31st July 1942. Dear Father! I am saying goodbye to you before I die. We would so love to live, but they won't let us and we will die. I am scared of this death, because the small children are thrown alive into the pit.  Goodbye forever. I kiss you tenderly. Yours J." - post script under her mother's letter written by 12 year old Judith Wishnyatskaya, killed in Bylten, Poland in July 1942 .

We have all covered, in great detail, the subject of the first and second World War (WW I and WW II) in our history text books. While our books do cover the world wars in great detail, they seem to overlook the extent of the holocaust. When I visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, I realized what my history text book should have taught me was more than just the dates of invasion, the names of the key participants and the  various phases of the war that led to the victory of the Allied Forces.

They should have taught me that: Murder, torture and extermination are bad. War and violence  should be the last resort of solving problems. Xenophobia is detrimental to the country. Brotherhood among citizens is beneficial. 

What is the use of history, if we do not learn lessons from it. I am reminded of the lines by Italian writer and Survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp Primo Levi,  which were written on the wall at the beginning of our walk through the memorial -“We must be listened to: above and beyond our personal experience, we have collectively witnessed a fundamental unexpected event, fundamental precisely because unexpected, not foreseen by anyone. It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere.”


Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

If you consider an activity important, you will make time for it

The first thing I wear after my morning shower is not an item of clothing nor a perfume, it is my watch because I think it is extremely important to be on time in everything you do. If in the unlikely event where it is not possible, you must at least have the courtesy to inform the concerned parties. However, that is no excuse for being late every time.

I am often told I create an unnecessary fuss about being on time. Why shouldn't I? Why should "I will see you at 7PM" mean "I will see you anytime between 7.10PM to 8.00PM"? Why should "I will be there in 5 minutes" mean "I will see you in 20 minutes", unless of course, you are an extraterrestrial from a planet that spins faster or slower than Earth?  The idea of time emerged from the need of having a  standard universal scale to synchronize different activities. Our poly-chromatic perception of time leads to losses of varying nature.

The first loss is that of time that could be well utilized in a productive or leisure activity of your choice, as and when you fell like. This could further translate into different losses -  loss of health due to the undue stress these delays cause, loss of wealth due to the money that could be earned in the process, loss of respect, for the person who should have been on time and loss of interest in the purpose of the meeting or activity in the first place. Personally, I do take a person's timeliness as a statement of his professionalism and commitment to the objective of the meeting.

Moreover, I do not buy the argument that we Indians should be okay operating on a 'stretchable' timeline than a 'standard' timeline. We claim we work harder because we spend 16 hours a day working. If you are an Indian, think about honest answers to the following questions. What percentage of the office hours do you spend doing productive work? How long are your lunch breaks? How frequent are your tea breaks? How much time do you spend attending to personal commitments at work? How many deadlines do you miss? How much time do you spend deliberating a decision and shifting blame? Whatever be the reasons, these answers offer glaring insights into our delusional perception of our work commitment in the veil of the number of hours spent at work. While we were once a great civilization, by modern world standards, we are highly inefficient and cannot expect ourselves to become an economic giant in the future.

Let me try and quantify this loss for you. We are a country of one billion people. Nearly 60% of population falls in the productive work force age. Taking a conservative estimate, assuming each person wastes 10 minutes of his time, you have 600 million people wasting 6 billion minutes or 100 million hours every day of work time. While it is a crude estimate, our lack of productivity or our inefficiency  is a strong reason why we have not been able to bring about equitable growth in the country.

I am afraid I will have to stop my rant here. I have exhausted the time I had assigned to writing this post. In the meanwhile, I hope you do take out some time to ponder over what I have just said. And God save you if you are late for a meeting with me. 

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The Cage

I am moving on from a well paying managerial job in an MNC to a fellowship in a non-profit organization that pays a meagre stipend. As the news spreads through my company, I am greeted by more and more reactions stating how I have got my priorities right early in my life and how it is a noble course to take. It was humbling when a colleague and friend  (who was high) confessed to others at a party that I was the only man there who had the courage to listen to the voice of his heart and follow it.

I appreciate all the encouragement and am glad many have been supportive of my decision.  As I talk to more people with a background similar to mine, each of them mention the choice they had in their past when they could have taken a path that led to the destination of their calling, but didn't. However, they never delve into the reasons.

Standing at the same cross road as they did then and putting myself in their shoes, I look at the alternate path that lies ahead of me, the accepted and preferred path. I continue working with my current organization. I earn a comfortable livelihood, which keeps growing year on year. I keep climbing up the corporate ladder. I hopefully gain respect of people for what I have achieved. I earn more so to save taxes, I invest more.I buy a house. I buy a car and few years later, replace it with a fancier one. I invest in the markets. I secure my future through more and more insurance to keep up with my lifestyle. I have enough to buy another house.

Simultaneously, on the personal front, I get married. I have kids. I send them to good schools. My parents retire. I grow older.  I begin to feel I have achieved what I set out for in my professional career. I want to do something new, but I haven't planned for an early exit. For starters, the home loan installments are pending for another 7 years. I want to travel the world, but my parents are old and unwell. While I have insurance to manage their medical expenses, it does not replace their need for personal attention. I want to give back to the society and all I have time for is making donations and raising funds for the causes I believe in.

While what I am doing is acceptable, it is  not what I truly wish for. However, my hands are tied. I am scared. The opportunity costs are high. The risk is not worth taking. I do not have time to recover, if I fail. I am caged in my own success, materialism and commitments.

 I think of the cross road I stood on 25 years ago. I think of the life that could have been.

Song on my mind:


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Oh Yes Abhi!

While the latest Pepsi campaign resonated the restlessness of emotions among the youth today, I think it can be equally extended to elders in matters of  pushing young men and women in their twenties into a marital commitment. And their impatience existed a long before Gen Y came to be known for it.

Till around six months ago, my parents and I were hounded by restless relatives to become active participants in the extremely competitive bride hunt that was on in the community for the few marriageable young women left. "Dus crore ki party hai, haath se mat jaane dena", said one aunty. Another tried to sow seeds of suspicion in their head "Kahin uska affair toh nahin? You know XYZ ke saath kya hua tha na?" And an uncle interrogated my parents trying to uncover why they wouldn't look for a prospect for me for an whole hour. I stopped attending any function that would get me in the audible range of one of these matchmakers. So then they had more advice when I accidentally ended up meeting them - "You should attend these functions. You cannot lay low and expect to meet prospective brides. You will fall back."

I am 26 and eligible. I would like to think I am suitably qualified and have an exciting career in front of me. I  also consider myself wise enough to choose my own partner. All the bare necessities kept aside, I am a romantic. I believe it is never too late to fall in love. I also think it is important to be committed to be in a relationship, but one need not be in a relationship to be committed. And the fact that I am not the only young man who thinks so should make parents and extended families  happy that there are 'kids' who don't just 'fool around' in matters of love. My parents know that.

My parents also knew I had chosen my partner  but they were not able to handle the constant nagging. Thus for their sake, I sealed my relationship with an official stamp of an engagement in October. We also called many of these aunties and uncles to showcase my 'find' and announce within my community that I was booked and no longer looking.

I thought that would be the end of their interference in what I consider an extremely personal part of my life. How wrong I was! The nagging continues to this day. Only the questions have changed -"When do you plan to get married?", "Why do you want to push it to three years later?", "What if she falls in love with someone else?". I strongly think some of these questions don't deserve an answer but I try not to reveal these feelings. I have thus far tried to politely answer to each of their queries, keeping my sarcasm in check.

And I also know when I do finally agree to get married, they would each have opinions on how I should get married, who I should call, where I should get married, what I should wear....some people are so jobless that they don't know how to mind their own business.

When I do finally get married, I will, like the last time, host a reception for each of the relatives to announce that I have crossed the bridge of nuptials. I will also treat them to an elaborate buffet, receive their gifts and put up fake smiles for the photograph. But all this will be strictly after the marriage is over.

 I don't want the glitter and glamour to affect the sanctity of the occasion. There should be no make up. There should be no dressing up. There should be no gifts or dowry. There should be no burden of expenditure. I don't want my fiancee or myself to put up a face. I don't want our parents to manage the 'show'. I don't want the materialism to corrupt the marriage.

Instead, the marriage should be in the presence of the basic elements - fire, earth, water and air. There should be blessings. There should be prayer. There should be emotions, real emotions. And most importantly, we don't need an audience for something as personal as a marriage for the two of us - only the closest family and friends, not by blood but by the strength of association.

It is only then I will say "Oh Yes Abhi" to the question of marriage. Is it too much to ask?

Song on my relatives' mind:


What it means to be free

I am standing at the edge of a cliff. I feel the wind blowing on my face.  I take a deep breath. I smell the saltiness of the ocean whose fragrance the wind carries with it. I decide to execute the plan that I have been coaxing myself into for over a year. I jump of the cliff, diving in the direction of the sea.

The few moments of the free fall overwhelm me with emotions. The thrill of adventure. The excitement of speed. The pressure of performing when the stakes are high. The fear of injuring myself.

 I am 20 feet above the surface of the water. This is the decisive moment. I pull open my wings. My speed is broken by their span. I change my course gliding over the surface of the water at cruising speed. I reduce my altitude so as to scratch the surface of the sea. The splashes of water on my face are refreshing. I am moving fast. I am moving in the direction of the light.  I am on my own. I am giving a dream its wings. I am free.

Song in my head:


Tuesday, February 05, 2013

A life that will never be...

It is just another morning. I wake up. I have my routine egg, fruit and cereal breakfast with no sense of urgency or eagerness. I get the first call from my boss while getting ready for work, asking for a piece of data that he should be knowing but probably didn't need to know till his boss asked him. Unlike my initial days in the role, I tell him I will give it to him once I reach office. In the middle of the call, I remember there was an urgent closure that I had been chasing him for for the past few days. I remind him again. He tells me he will discuss it face to face in office. He says he will be there by 10.15AM.

As usual, I reach office by 10.00AM. I switch on my computer. While it boots, I update my white board with the tasks I need to finish today, three-fifths of them requiring closure from my boss. I finish checking the plethora of mails that come from two dozen people, deleting probably 30% of them which are inconsequential to my work, flagging the important ones that I will reply to during the day and feeling amused by the ones asking for the same set of data in different formats sent by at least six different people for the second time this week.

My direct reportees ( henceforth referred to as colleagues) come to work - weary at the start of the day. I cheer them up by showing them a photograph I clicked another day or sharing a piece of writing that inspired me. I chat up with them about their evening with their families, sometimes even offering them a morning snack. In the meanwhile, they give me a verbal update on the jobs at hand and highlight barriers that they are facing, if any. I address the concerns within my purview. I also share with them the  priorities for the day and answer any queries they have about the same. We start working.

It is 11.00AM. I receive a call from my boss asking me to come to his cabin. I find my colleague standing in his cabin. He is being scolded relentlessly for something without being given a chance to explain. Once I figure out what the discussion is about, I interrupt and ask him to step out of the room. Coolly and confidently, I repeat the same point that he was trying to make to my boss. My boss listens and clears the confusion he had. He reminds me to share the data he had asked for in the morning. I tell him it is ready and I will send it to him right away. I ask him for the urgent closure that I wanted, which he promises to resolve post lunch.

I continue working, talking to my colleagues in the field locations, chasing them for certain closures - some of them respond proactively, others need to be pushed and some simply don't care - too many people are driving too many agendas, they say. I receive my boss's call while speaking to one of them and as a rule, our team makes his call the top priority to avoid facing tantrums. I put my colleague on hold and respond to my boss. He asks me that he has just received a mail from XYZ (obviously his senior) on the status of an activity ABC. I tell him that was what I was seeking closure on from him for the last few days. He asks me to come to his cabin right away. I explain the situation to him. While doing so, he is interrupted by a call from his wife. I wait till he completes the conversation explaining his 9 year old son why he must 'punctually' do his homework . He then closes the matter with me and pushes the rest of my agenda for a later point in time.

We break for lunch. During lunch,  I receive a call from a member of another team in the head office asking me for the status of a certain activity whose details they think they had communicated to me. I tell them I was not aware that this was planned. They start giving me a piece of their mind on how I could not know what was happening with the apparently 'most important agenda' of the company. I calmly respond by saying we will discuss after lunch. The first thing I see in my inbox when I get back to my desk is a flurry of mails marked to my boss, his boss, the sender's boss, the sender's boss's boss and a host of other people whose existence I discover through the mail. My boss forwards one of the mails asking if the said accusation is true. I tell him it is, if he is assuming I have read one tiny line on the fifth slide of the seventh presentation in a 105 MB download. To resolve the matter, we plan a concall on the following morning involving all parties, which will probably have no conclusion yet again except a revised deadline.

I go back to my white board where I see I have struck of only two of the five agendas on my list today. I start working with a vengeance until I get a call from another team that reports into my boss, informing me of a development that falls under my scope of work. I discover my instructions have been overridden and certain spends approved in my budget without my knowledge by none other than you-know-who. I smile knowing it isn't as bad - at least this time I am aware the spends are going to happen before they actually happen, unlike the whole of last year. I just make note of the same and continue working.

I again receive a call from my boss. I am supposed to write a speech for him as he takes on his new role (in which he will again remain my boss) summarizing the achievements of the year that has gone by. As usual, he wants it immediately. I go back to my desk, pull out one of the gazillion sugar coated decks filled with convenient truths, write up a shoddy ten-liner and hand it over to him - wondering how a man at that position in the company can't come up with a short informal five minute introduction to his territory and team. While reading the speech, he nonchalantly curses one of my now former team members (who had won the president's honour in the company) who, as per him, was responsible for a costly oversight that, according to me, was as much a case of negligence on his own part.

I remain neutral while he continues his rant post which I tell him my closures are still pending. He tells me he has to leave at 4PM as he has important personal work (yet again). He asks me to travel with him on his way home so that we can close the pending tasks in his car. Left with the alternate option of wasting the rest of the day, I travel with him. I discuss everything on my list with him, knowing that he would probably not remember most of what I told him. I would have to repeat the whole explanation and sometimes even rework on the piece when he discovers the outcome of the points I acted upon.

I plug in my headphones, listening to my current favourite song on loop and head back home. I don't switch on my laptop again in the day.

Song on my Mind:



Saturday, January 26, 2013

That Night

There are moments in your life that remain frozen in your memory for ever, moments that you can call upon to pull you out of the deepest abyss, moments that can make you feel calm in a storm. For me it all happened during that one night exactly three years ago - I found a powerful memory good enough for my own Patronus charm.

Like most happier moments, it was  served when I least expected it. The thinker in me had almost had his own way. The mission of the current trip was accomplished - my 'special' friend was smiling again.The good byes had been said and the stage had been set for a more meticulous execution - at least six months to plan an elaborate announcement of my love for her, probably in a much grander setting.

Fortunately for the foolish romantic in me, God had his own surprise in store. I, the schemer, became only a character in His plot. Fog had blanketed Delhi making it impossible for my flight to land. I was sent back to Bangalore, her city. I would have been a fool had I not taken the sign to go and meet her. Luckily, the thinker in me gave in this time.

God had the script planned - we were to walk on pathways made by embedding slices of stone in the freshly mowed grass, with flowers perfuming our path and stars lighting them in the otherwise velvety black moonless night. We were to then sit and gaze at these very stars on the steps of a semi circular amphitheater  with the only sound interrupting our silence being the sound of our hearts, beating faster than ever with every passing minute. We would occasionally speak, but none of the words sounded like 'I' or 'love' or 'you'. Our hands would accidentally brush, but there was nothing like 'holding hands', 'sitting in each others' embrace' or even 'touching'.

The night was simple. Our task was cut out - being willful participants in God's plan for two idiots in love. It was only till we bade farewell early that morning that we gave God the acknowledgement he needed.

Her eyes were locked with mine and mine with hers. A tear drop rolled down both our cheeks acknowledging the enormity of the emotion. We gave each other a gentle but long hug, knowing this good bye would be harder than the previous one. We were no longer just two friends bidding adieu, we were in love.

It was the night when I first experienced how the universe can conspire to make your deepest and most sincere desire come true. It was the night a non-believer in destiny started believing in the providence of God and not to forget, the power of love.

PS: This song beautifully encapsulates the tale.