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.