Wednesday, December 31, 2014

For the sake of others

I am neither a misanthrope nor asocial. I am not driven by rebellion or non-conformance either. However, I am strongly driven by values of secular humanism, chief among them being fairness, simplicity, respect, integrity, wisdom, efficiency and scientific thinking. I also judge my actions by a simple thumb rule. I always ask myself "Is what I do thoughtful, helpful, inspiring, necessary or kind?". If the answer is no to any question, I choose to avoid the action. I call this the "THINK" rule.

During the months leading to my wedding and the weeks following my wedding, I have often heard the phrase "man is a social animal" being used as a driver of certain actions that seem illogical but indispensable part of our fabric. In addition, many practices are disguised under the veil of apparently righteous terms like "culture" and "tradition". Many of these actions or practices surrounding the wedding strongly challenged my value system. I was able to reach a mid path on many of the practices I objected to. However, some of my objections were vetoed due to my lack of seniority in the household despite the logic being sound.

In an ideal world, I would have preferred having a court marriage or temple marriage in presence of my parents, closest relatives and friends. This would be the wedding that would minimize effort, money and time and would significantly enhance the quality of time spent with my loved ones, including my wife to be. After the wedding, I would want to spend some time relaxing at home or away from home, bonding with my spouse and her first family.

India, on the other hand, is still a collectivist society where decisions are taken incorporating everyone's view. Everyone's view in turn is governed by societal acceptance and image. No where is this seen more than in a marriage. While I am not against maintaining an image in the society that is a reflection of who you aspire to be, I am against maintaining an image that is corrupted by my community's perception of how an ideal wedding and its participants should be.

For example, I do not see the reason why a bride must conceal her flaws under tonnes of make up. I do not see the sense in buying and wearing dresses that will probably never be used again in a life time. I do not see why hundreds of people, some of whom have never visited your home, need to be treated to a lavish spread of food. It is absolutely fine to indulge in these practices if you think they will make the wedding memorable. However, if you have strong logical reasons to reject them, then you shouldn't blindly follow them for the sake of society.

Moreover, the problem with the community perception is it hasn't changed with time. The reason behind some traditions no longer exist - which makes the same traditions irrelevant in today's society. However, we not only continue following these traditions but also impose them on others, just because they have gone on for centuries.

For instance, calling the community to the wedding was a norm because in olden days, everyone stayed in a close knit village. You interacted with everyone on a day to day basis. Bonds were formed not just because your were related by birth but because of mutual coexistence in a restricted geography.

The people who now form a part of the guest list, technically are not a part of your community because community is defined as a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. Apart from their lineage (because my great-grandfathers lived in the same town in Pakistan), many people neither live in the same place nor have anything remotely in common with my family or me. Yet, we are expected to be a part of their celebration and they are expected to be a part of ours.

What has made the practices worse is the impact of carefully planned marketing driving comparative materialism through the roof from one wedding to another. It is true that people have spend $500 Mn on Indian weddings, which is about as vulgar as wastage could get in a world where inequality is in extremes. You don't need to hire a Mercedes for the bride and groom nor do you need to buy expensive jewellery because someone else from your social strata had it at their son's or daughter's wedding.

When you indulge in tradition and social norms with understanding the rationale, the marriage changes from being a happy union of two people and their families to an exhibition of materialistic power and an exercise in branding.  These practices are the cosmetics that whole families together put up to conceal their insecurity of being rejected by the society, many of whose members wouldn't turn up to help you on a rainy day.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

2014: Gratitude

2014 has been the year that tested my tenacity in more than one way. The year posed many challenges on both the personal and professional front, which took away incredible amount of energy from me. I wanted to end the year on a high, but on the contrary, I am feeling at my lowest ever. My marriage, being the largest exercise in managing egos of diverse stake holders, took away my focus from my classroom. My students, who were on the path of transformation, have now lost the momentum towards their goals thanks to my distracted inputs and the absence of my co-teacher and thought partner.

I am mentally tough and well planned, which has helped me deal well with the stress, but I am disappointed with the permanence of the outcomes which my dedicated effort in the classroom have yielded. Everyone tells me that I have fared fairly well considering the circumstances. For me, these two years were not about surviving, they were about pushing the limits of my belief, of what I can achieve. I have managed to achieve push boundaries for myself, but that hasn't been the case for my kids.

The crucial thing is the year is still far from over - I have 3 months left. I need to plan and carefully channelize my energy towards effective inputs that have a lasting impact on my kids. Before that, I need to get back into a positive frame of mind and there is no better way to do that than showing gratitude.

I am thankful to my wife Pallavi (she is now :) ) for understanding why my work is my first priority during the fellowship duration. I have never been forced to choose between my students and her, because she has always been willing to sacrifice our time together for the sake of my students. She is truly my "giving tree".

I am thankful to the Jafari team who have become my strongest pillars of support. Without them, I would have found it incredibly hard to maintain my sanity. I am thankful to Sarvesh, who has made a huge sacrifice for the sake of my school team. I am especially thankful to Piyali and Neerja for being patient listeners and selfless friends. I can't even express how much Rajesh's presence and advice means to my team and me, despite him having moved on from Jafari.

I am thankful to my children for showing love and patience in what has been a difficult two months. The warmth with which they welcome me when I returned to school motivated me to work even harder for them. They have been open and honest in their feedback and constructive in their inputs. I am thankful for writers of songs with meaningful lyrics because they help me bond with my class better.

I am thankful to Saba madam for showing me what grit and selfless commitment looks like. She is an inspiration. The educational scenario in India would be different if many more people had a mindset similar to hers.

I am thankful to my younger sister Niki. Her high standards of achievement and focused inputs always encourage me to push myself to excel at everything I do.

I am thankful to my friends and family, who have repeatedly compromised on their time with me when I was faced with unplanned demands on my time. Among them, I am especially thankful to Ankita who has been superbly supportive and a real best friend, despite the distance that separates us. Like Pallavi, she never has had any expectations from me, but has always been there when I needed her.

I am thankful for the challenges that have come my way, for they have taught me the value of optimism and resourcefulness in the face of adversity.

I am thankful for my ability to plan and prioritize. For the first time in my life, there have been phases where I haven't had a plan in mind and these phases have been the ones that have disappointed me the most. Henceforth, I will always plan both on the personal and professional front - before I start execution. Efficiency and effectiveness are always a turn on.

As much as I am saddened by what happened in Peshwar, I am thankful for the attacks because they have reinforced my belief in what I do and what I want to do for the rest of my life. Coming around my marriage, they have made me see the importance of events like wedding ceremonies that bring people together, rather than divide them.