‘Photograph’

I can be pretty

I can be pretty disturbing

I can be momentous

I can be somewhat unnerving

I can comment

I can cement

Be an embellishment

Or a strong statement

I can be moving

I can be captivating

I can be repulsive, revolting

Truthful

Boasting

I can be limited

Or be immense

I can be shallow

Or reach into uncharted depths

I can be loved

Or be despised

Be revered

Or be maligned

I can be social

Or be aloof

I can be political

Serve as proof

I can nudge lightly

Or shake provocatively

I can be subtle

Or dance emphatically

I am, who you are, and what you want to say!

The Last Time I’ll Be 39!

In a couple of days I’ll turn 39. The last year I’ll be in my 30’s! Society dictates that it is one’s 30’s in which career heights are reached, milestones attained, landmarks achieved. If I judge my own life through the lens of this established status quo, I tend to feel like a bit of a loser. At a time when an individual is seizing their place in the ‘career’ sun, breaking free from the quicksand-like clutches of middle management and moving UP, I decided to chuck it all. Relocated, shifted careers, started, effectively from scratch! If I evaluate my life from this factual standpoint, of having made a new beginning in my mid 30’s, my work in education through teaching & writing, its wide acknowledgement and patronage, individual & institutional; I have lots to be immensely proud of. So why then, am I still a tad unsure? Why, when I am being invited by the most premier institutions of the country to lecture, when I have just been asked to deliver a Ted Talk, when I have created a sizeable repertoire of intellectual property across publications pan-India, when I have positively impacted the lives of hundreds if not thousands of students, why, am I still grappling with a not-entirely-conscious yet always-present feeling of inadequacy? Why do I, for example, even in this article, feel the need to keep listing my various achievements, of proving my worth, of justifying my very existence?

When I dig deep and ask myself why this slight discomfort still persists inside of me, there are two answers that come to mind. First, I feel that my own appraisal of my station in life is inextricably linked to money. This might be a result of societal outlook, or something I have inherited from family, I can’t be entirely sure. But I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t admit it. That most of my contemporaries earn significantly more than I do (educators & writers aren’t paid very much at all) doesn’t make me in the least bit jealous – it does however bother me that I don’t, myself!

The second cause of this inner angst continues to be a barrage of unresolved familial issues. I have a vault full of feelings that I need to communicate to certain people in my family; the tragedy is that things are, rather than getting untangled, only becoming messier with each passing day. I may consciously try my hardest to disassociate myself from the legal upheaval and degradation within my family, deny any investment in the everyday grind of this seemingly insurmountable battle; truth is, I am a part of it, an integral, inescapable part of it. The goings on within the home and family impact me, affect me, influence me, profoundly.

Logic dictates that in order to be happy and content in life, one must focus on the positives. The things in one’s life one must be grateful for, thankful for. And God knows there are many of those in my life. A mother who has sacrificed all but her life to be with us boys. A wife who has stood by me through thick and thin, and is truthfully the primary reason I have, in the past 5 to 6 years, had the courage to embrace my calling and effectively end my existential crisis. A daughter whom I dote on, who is the most loving, entertaining, and precious thing to me in the world. A brother who is loving in his own strange and unique ways, a source of great strength despite being a fair few years younger. Mentors and guides who have inspired, enlightened. Friends who don’t quite understand and are often times miffed at my blow hot-blow cold behaviour but continue to be by my side steadfastly. My animal-children, who love selflessly, delight endlessly.

39 years I have been on this planet. I feel that only recently, I have begun to contribute, to give back, to pay forward. I also feel that in life’s greater and final equation, if the scale were to be filled and tested, the positives in my life would far outweigh the negatives. And for these reasons it occurs to me, that to hell with it being my 39th year. To hell with my being a decade late to the party. It just doesn’t matter that it’s the last time I’ll be 39, because the best is really yet to come!

Culture Influences Children!

We are civilized people who live in a cultured society. The word culture represents a certain predisposition in the way we conduct ourselves personally, professionally, and in our general way of living and interacting with the world. Children too, naturally, are products of the ‘culture’ they are exposed to, both at home, and outside. However, in order to really understand in what ways ‘culture’ impacts and influences a child, we need to examine culture in its various forms.

FAMILIAL CULTURE

Every home and household practices & follows a certain culture. A status quo of behavior and a belief system that is usually a result of what the child’s parents (in a nuclear family), or patriarch/matriarch (in an extended joint family household) have established over a period of time. And since a child’s earliest understanding and education is imbibed from observation of what goes on at home, the culture prevalent at home greatly influences how the child behaves, be it a positive or a negative manifestation. Let us take an example. If there is a home where the parents are quite emotionally reserved and unexpressive, and that is what the child has seen since the beginning, chances are that either the child will imbibe that ethos as is, or turn rebellious and go the other extreme. That is of course, a behavioral aspect of the culture at home. Let us take another example. If a child belongs to a very wealthy business family, and has seen that there is a culture (propensity) on the part of the elders to discuss money all the time, a leaning towards a show-of-wealth, again, chances are that the child too, will adopt a similar ‘culture’ (habit). As parents and guardians, we need to therefore be acutely aware of what kind of precedents we are setting for the child/children in our homes, because whatever that may be, it will be observed, digested, and put into practice.

RELIGIOUS/COMMUNITY CULTURE

Not too distant from familial culture is culture that is derived from the religious beliefs and practices of a specific family. If a child grows up seeing a lot of time and effort being devoted to religion, prayer, ceremonies; that is the culture he or she might also adopt. Similarly, communities and their peculiarities also form part of the cultural exposure and inheritance of a child. If we were to generalize and use a cliché, a Bengali family where there is omnipresence of the arts and other intellectual pursuits, a child in that environment will be obviously influenced by that kind of leaning. Similarly, a different community that might propagate a philosophy of austerity, it is likely to be inculcated in the children of that family too. Culture then, is really what kind of atmosphere the child grows up in.

OUTSIDE-HOME CULTURE

A huge part of what influences children also includes the kind of culture they are exposed to, outside the home environment. Educational institutions, especially school (since those are very impressionable years), plays a significant role in shaping a culture that a child will adopt for the rest of his or her life. I can tell you having been to a very close-knit residential school myself, one that lay a lot of emphasis on pursuits outside of academics; that I am now, and will remain forever, a person who believes firmly in the merits and power of overall development, and this philosophy will find its way into every aspect of my life, including the way I approach parenting my own child. My point being, the kind of value system and beliefs that children are exposed to at school and during their formative years of learning will undoubtedly have a huge impact on how they turn out, negative, or positive.

NATIONAL

Finally, of course, there is a culture and an identity to be inherited from one’s motherland. Even children, and subsequently adults, who may believe that they are global-citizens, will in some form or fashion, consciously or unconsciously, digest a culture that has been part of the place they were born in, and grew up in. While there are undeniable commonalities across the world’s citizens, it is this nationality-induced difference that makes us uniquely diverse, and that, is a cultural standpoint that children can-not escape. Without pronouncing any judgment; a simple example will demonstrate this. An Indian child, when he or she grows up, is less likely to put their parents into a care-home, choosing instead to keep them at home, and care for them personally, than say, an American. That is usually down to a cultural difference between these two nationalities.

Culture is then, a term that straddles and encapsulates a whole lot. It is a wide gamut of ideologies that children are privy to from various sources, and what children finally practice is an amalgam of all this varied assimilation. All we can do as parents and care givers is to try our best to ensure that our children are exposed to the ‘right’ kind of culture, at home, and outside!

Gully Boy – Hindi Cinema Comes Of Age!

FINALLY watched Gully Boy.

A deeply satisfying film. The story of the underdog is portrayed by a stellar ensemble and masterful writing & direction.

The effervescent Alia breathes a palpable realism into the mercurial Safina, not an easy task by any means, and she makes it look effortless.

The shapeshifting Vijay Raaz is despicable yet empathy-evoking at the same time. On the one had you loathe him for his treatment of his family, on the other, you empathise with his beliefs of being ‘stuck’ in a stifling class-divide.

Even ‘lesser’ characters engage and solicit genuine emotion. From the layered and complex best-friend down to the protagonist’s aunt, who, though barely present, registers her outlook through brilliant dialogues such as “If you must sing, let it at least be Ghazals” when Murad comes under fire for pursuing this alien ‘hip hop’!

Of Ranveer Singh, it can be said that here is a star who’s ‘actor’ is born. Nuanced, studied, judged.. Ranveer infuses Murad’s Gully Boy with an entirely believable vulnerability. His frustrations, trials and tribulations resonate through his body language, his expressions, his restraint. And his slow yet steady transformation from reticent, introverted, unsure suppressed slum-dog into the life-force of a generation is breathtaking. Supported by an absolutely charismatic Siddhant Chaturvedi essaying mentor MC Sher, the duo defines Bollywood’s modern-age friendship.

Reema & Zoya have entrenched themselves, and therefore the audience, into a world of which they have gained an insightful understanding and appreciation. The music, the omnipresent hero of the film is fresh, painfully moving and trendy all at once. The film, which suffered the imminent risk of becoming a ‘foreign’ peek into a marginalised people is anything but that – it is genuine, heartfelt, sincere, REAL!

Politically Correct!

The country is in the firm grip of election fever. Homes, streets, offices, are abuzz with election-talk, with people offering their individual perspectives on who will win, loose, and form the new government. It also seems like one of the most unpredictable elections to call. In this kind of politically charged atmosphere, there is a huge part of our young Indian society, missing. Absent from the general discourse, absent also from having their own opinions on the matter.

I am referring to middle to high school students of India. Although they may not be in a position to cast their vote, does that mean they shouldn’t have an opinion? I feel it is vital that they do. Having said that, are they really knowledgeable, invested, aware, enough to have an opinion?

Students in India are made to study how our political establishment works. By middle school, most students gain an insight and understanding, at least of the basic fundamentals of the Indian Democratic & Parliamentary systems. How elections take place, representation, voting, constituencies and the like. But perhaps this theoretical knowledge is too rudimentary, and doesn’t evolve into a more reality-based understanding of anything that is politically current. Our students, especially those attending ‘good schools’ in metropolitan areas, go to great lengths to hone their debating skills and participate passionately in a forum such as the MUN (Model United Nations), debating furiously, international problems and seeking possible solutions. While this is a worthy pursuit, should there not be a platform such as the MUN for our own, native politics? A regular and prestigious event that will compel tomorrow’s voters to research, gain different perspectives, and form their own opinions on national political history, issues, parties, states, regions, problems. It will familiarize them with the current political landscape of the country and engage them in a manner that will best prepare them to make informed decisions when it comes time to cast their own votes in the real world.

This kind of grounding and base-formation will also prevent young Indians from blindly adopting a political ideology that they seem to presently either inherit from their parents and families, or imbibe from their suddenly politically charged college environment – there is an argument here that when a young Indian voter does start thinking about his or her politics, it is too late already to really form one’s own, personal, well thought out perspective.

I remember my own experiences as a child, in most quarters of my family, there was this overwhelming loyalty towards the Congress Party with senior members of my family entirely dedicated to Indira Gandhi. I just accepted this bias towards the Congress to be the gospel truth because I had no other alternative. No forum to debate, explore, or historical perspective on which to base, and come to my own conclusions and opinions. I suspect the influence family holds over young students today isn’t vastly different. And it is time that we, as parents, educators, and responsible adults bringing up a new generation of Indians, thought about this, and provided an opportunity to young India, to decide what’s politically correct for them, themselves!

Back To School!

Over the weekend of 3rd May ’19, my own alma mater, The Doon School, invited me to conduct a Writing Workshop with boys from middle-school grades. Needless to mention, I was delighted to be back at school.

Wonderful as it was to return to my old stomping-grounds, it wasn’t ONLY nostalgia that made the visit and the interaction with the students exciting; that I have now been actively teaching for nearly six years, have poured tremendous hard work and passion into this pursuit – it was a huge validation of my work and efforts to be called by Doon.

I must share that my observations of the boys currently studying at the school filled me with pride and immense hope. That here is a school that is clearly doing many things right, because in a long time, I haven’t had the chance to communicate with kids that are as sharp, perceptive, intuitive and enthusiastic, as this bunch. It is almost a given for old/ex students of an institution to say, “It was much better in our time.” I am happy to report that Doon seems to have changed dramatically, though, for the better. The systems, infrastructure, facilities, the standards of boarding and lodging, it all seems exponentially better than it was when I was a student there. And let me make one thing perfectly clear – there is NO romance in enduring bad food, and poor living conditions. The vastly improved pastoral care and general environment is palpable, most noticeably in how happy and content, even kids who have recently joined, seem to be. This is most heartening.

Of course, to return to the institution that instigated my own journey of self-discovery, to now aid, in some small way, the potential discovery of a new generation of Doscos, is deeply fulfilling. Somewhere in my subconscious mind, I think I’d decided that I’d return to school only if and when I had a compelling reason, a meaningful contribution to make. This workshop has proved to be that ideal reintroduction.

It has been a moving and exciting weekend, Back to School! 🙂

Is Your Child Fearful Of The Future?

During my interactions with students across middle and senior school have yielded a disturbing reality. That unlike when we were young, unworried, unhurried, kids nowadays are a stressed lot. They seem to carry the weight of the world on their tiny shoulders. While some are constantly burdened by the heft of unrealistic and sky-high expectations, of academic and non-scholastic achievements & targets; others feel a tremendous pressure to create an identity for themselves that is unique and differentiated, yet enabling them to ‘fit in’.

However, among all this psychological load that students tend to feel these days, it is an uncertain future, that many of them seem mortally frightened of. Why, we need to ask as parents and educators, do our kids feel this kind of bleeding pressure? Why, rather than being hopeful, enthusiastic, excited, and optimistic about the future, are they scared, troubled, dismayed, and pessimistic about it?

STOP NAGGING & COMPARING

My own perception of this troubling trend is down to the conscious and unconscious competitive pressure that we place on our kids. Without even realizing it, we constantly nag our children, comparing their performance and achievements with those of their friends and peers, on occasion, even proudly siting specific kids as examples of how THEY should be! All this causes a child to lose not just interest, but a will to explore, discover, and find themselves. It is a behavioral pattern that we as adult care-givers must correct, forthwith.

OPEN FUTURE OPTIONS

The other facet of this increasing disillusionment with the future comes from a predetermined future course of education and career. Now, planning for the future is all well and good. However, many times, as parents, we don’t merely suggest and expose our kids to options, we pretty much assert, even brainwash them into a certain chosen future path, that has little or nothing to do with the child itself, not accounting for his/her likes, dislikes, passions, talents, interest areas and aptitude. In this kind of a scenario, the future, rather than presenting itself like a hopeful and joyous prospect, becomes a tunnel with no light at the end of it. We must therefore, however hard the temptation might be, steer clear of defining our children’s’ future plans, academic, and otherwise. We need to let our kids make their own choices, give them the power to own their own lives.

ALL KIDS ARE THEIR OWN UNIQUE INDIVIDUAL PEOPLE

Lastly, the sooner we can accept that it isn’t necessary that our children are either versions of ourselves, nor is their intelligence defined ONLY by academic achievements, the better the environment that we create for them, will be. If there is a student who is not performing well academically at school, rather than berating that child about it, taunting, warning of a bleak future; the child will be infinitely better served, if as parents, we focused our energies and efforts in identifying areas that the child is good in. I have seen countless examples of students who were my own contemporaries, and even today from among my students, who don’t present an aptitude for traditional subjects, but are remarkably adept and ingenious in alternative areas. One example that comes immediately to mind is a local Jaipur story of this boy who dropped out of school, and employing his immense entrepreneurial skills, today owns and runs one of the most successful chains of Burger Restaurants called Burger Farm!

The future, as it is, isn’t looking particularly rosy. With all the problems that plague the world, the last thing we need is a generation of worriers! In fact, what is required, is the complete opposite – a set of people who are confident and optimistic enough to bring significant change in the world, and heal it. Let us begin by making a small change in our own parenting philosophies today, and enable our kids to shine tomorrow.

Write & Deliver Great Speeches!

I had recently written this article for a national publication and thought it might be of value to share it with all of you on this forum as well. So here is my article on How To Write & Deliver Great Speeches.

A great speech is one that solicits a range of emotions, feelings and responses from its listeners. It must amuse, tickle, inform, question, relate, opine, entertain, engage. While it isn’t easy to achieve all these seemingly incongruous reactions, it is very possible. All it needs is a planned approach that takes certain key aspects and factors into account.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

One of the most overlooked aspects of speech-writing is information about the occasion and the target audience. We tend to focus on writing a brilliant speech that is thoroughly researched and beautifully written while failing to take into account who our listeners are going to be. The more information we have about our listeners, the better informed we will be to make intelligent, strategic content choices. If for instance you know in advance that the audience will be made up of mostly middle-aged business people, your examples, your jokes, the context that you provide in your speech will be more appropriate and relatable to that audience. If on the other hand you know that the audience is going to comprise mostly of say, school children with a smattering of parents, your choice of humour, anecdotes and the language and style in which you speak will organically be one that finds favour and understanding among this relatively younger age group. In fact, the topic of one’s speech almost becomes secondary to the audience and the occasion, that is how important these two factors are. So do your homework, first and foremost, on these two aspects.

HUMOR

Speeches, no matter how serious one’s topic, must engage. One of the best ways of engaging a live audience is humour. Having said that, one must tread carefully while employing humour. First, it should never dilute the main topic. It shouldn’t be as though in a speech on gender equality for example, you are making sexist jokes. By that same token, if you are addressing a group where most people will be sought after individuals of a certain community, it would probably be unwise to poke fun at that community. So use humour, liberally even. But pay particular attention to what kind of humour. A good trick to avoid any controversy arising from jokes in public gatherings is to make the humour ‘self-deprecating’. Jokes at the expense of oneself rarely offend anyone. They are funny, engaging, yet inoffensive. Sharhrukh Khan’s now famous Ted Talk address is a great case in point where he pokes fun at himself being a self-obsessed ageing movie-star.

PERSONALIZE

We place a lot of importance of researching facts, figures and statistics while preparing our speeches. Of course, this is of paramount importance and must be done. However, it is often in lieu of a personal touch to our speeches. Understand this, when people come to listen to speeches, they are there not just to get factual information on the topic or subject. That, they can, themselves, just as easily get from the internet. They are there chiefly to listen to a unique and personal opinion of the speaker. This opinion can be communicated most effectively, if the hard-factual portions of our speeches, are generously peppered with the speaker’s own ‘experience’ of the topic. His or her own stories, anecdotes, and slices from their personal lives that reflect their engagement in that sphere. For instance, if the topic of the speech is School Uniforms, one must share one’s own experiences of that by way of a story that could be the one time the speaker had to play a cricket match in school uniform and it was terribly uncomfortable to play effectively (if of course, the speaker’s opinion is that uniforms are not a great idea). My recommendation would be to begin the speech with a personal incident that connects topic and speaker rather than starting by simply stating “the topic for my speech is x,y.z”. The latter is passe, amateurish, and uninteresting. Towards the middle too, continue to share more anecdotes, and again, at the end, before stating your final opinion, try and include yet another personal incident. The belief that sharing personal stories is somehow unprofessional is not the truth. Personal stories must be wholeheartedly and generously used.

CONNECT WITH AUDIENCE

Most of us have an inclination to memorizing our speeches and delivering them verbatim. Without realizing, what this does is that it calls for all our attention and focus during speech-making, on trying to recollect the content of the speech. This distracts from any real engagement with the audience. A live event thrives on a human connection. Therefore, it is a good idea to write one’s speeches, but then, divide the speech into cue-cards with only the main points written on them, and use the cue cards to make the speech in a less formal, more instinctive, natural way where your mind and body is free to establish a connection with the audience. This will take practise since the memorizing habit will take some doing to kick. Once it happens though, you will find that you are able to adhere to all the body-language basics that are recommended for speech-making, because you will have the head-space to pay attention to those vital elements. Eye contact, dividing your sight-line between all quadrants of the audience, smiling, walking and using the length and breadth of the stage, gesturing with your hands; all these little tricks that give the audience the feeling that you are there, present, and interacting individually with each audience member will start to come naturally to you.

TONALITY & PACE

Finally, remember that you are there to make an impact with your speech. The first requirement in order to do this, is to have your speeches heard and understood. Rather than shoot like a bullet train and rush through your speech-delivery, a direct consequence of wanting to get the memorized speech delivered and done with; it is recommended that speeches be delivered in a moderate tempo. This helps the audience get the necessary time they need in order to really process and understand each point you are making. Pausing, increasing pace and volume, decreasing pace and volume, at crucial junctures throughout the speech also makes speeches more interesting, and make them seem like a dialogue or a conversation, rather than a boring lecture. So identify the most emphatic points in your content and at those places, pause, so that the focus of the audience in firmly on that extremely critical point you made.

A great way of improving one’s speech writing and delivery is to watch and listen to good speeches. On the internet, one can find a host of videos of great speeches. Similarly, there are any number of books that one can refer to and read the greatest speeches ever delivered. It really boils down to simple, yet personal content, that makes for the most memorable and compelling speeches.

Two Years On…

When my daughter Krisha was born, I was nervous, yet overjoyed. At the time, I had written extensively about becoming a father. Many of you read those posts, even reached out to me. It was an exciting time, a new phase, uncharted territory, an unknown path. Now, nearly two years on, I thought I should write an update-piece. Share what the past two years of brining up and interacting with my daughter have been like. So here goes!

With some trepidation life began with Pishu (as Krisha is fondly known at home). Not for any other reason except not wanting to make a misstep. Things soon settled down though. And it has been the most delightful time since. To watch your own flesh and blood, in many ways, an extension of yourself, grow, develop, evolve, is an indescribable feeling. It is an emotional rollercoaster. On the one hand, your heart swells with pride when the first-step is taken, at the same time, the mind fears that some harm might come to the child. While you want your child to engage, interact, and socialise with others, you are vary of her being mistreated, protective, paranoid even! And from the minute she is up to the second she FINALLY falls asleep, she is ACTIVE. Her increasing understanding of things, concepts, language, emotions is scary and fascinating in equal measure.  Her irreverence and abject lack of obedience are both attractive and annoying.

Most of all though, you have, as a parent, an opportunity to be a child once again. With your child, you rediscover the world through their eyes and innocent little hearts and minds, full of genuine surprise and wonder. They are amazed at the simplest facts, lured by the mundane, captivated by the ordinary, enchanted by the elementary. It is enviable, wonderfully refreshing, and always entertaining. Then you see reflections of yourself – physically, habitually, in their personalities, in their likes & dislikes, and in their several inherited traits. When Pishu dances to pallo latke by Asha Bhosle with gay abandon, I can’t help but notice her inherent sense of rhythm, and the fact that she instinctively prefers the ‘original’ to the modern version of the song. Just one example of the infinite list of adorable eccentricities!

Having said all of this, I’d be lying if I didn’t confess to a certain amount of very real and palpable frustration. Of having to give up time, people, places, and pursuits. Time with my wife Anuja, for instance, is something that was crucially important to me – that has almost vanished, and it has caused me much anguish. Similarly, the pets have been, to some extent, deprioritised. Such is the crude reality where time and places are usurped by a new baby in the home.

In the larger scheme of things however, the overwhelming sense is that of immense joy and fulfilment. What a child brings to you isn’t selflessness. I dare say, it is terribly selfish. And that kind of love and joy, can not be replaced, traded, or compensated for, by anything else in the entire world. Two years on, I am proud as a potato and pleased as punch, that Pishu is in my life 🙂