As an engaged, invested and student-centric educator, I always try and provide a Constructive Critique and Detailed Individual Feedback to learners who have been with me for a short or long-term program. I thought it might be a good idea to share with you all, other educators, students, parents and institutes, a sample of the kind/type of specific feedback/letter I share with them at the end of our ‘formal’ interaction/program.
Therefore here’s one that I signed and presented (hand written) to a student who recently completed a Communications Program with me. Hope you like it, and more importantly, see the merit in undertaking this sometimes arduous but entirely favourable exercise.
Competition, a word that instinctively solicits little respect or reverence in me. To my mind, the only USE of competition, is to track one’s own progress. Having said that, when I met the few of you initially, and realized what you had already, and were capable of achieving, especially unaided, un-nudged, entirely voluntarily, you inspired me to get involved. And so, in this instance, this competition, the World Scholar’s Cup, has been an initiator of a most happy and fortuitous encounter.
Through our many sessions, I have thoroughly enjoyed engaging with all six of you, getting to know you somewhat as individuals, more insightfully perhaps, as a self-motivated, potent, erudite, free-thinking & acting group of young leaders. It’s been fun, educational, enlightening.
That you have all shone at the finals at Yale might have to others, to me, been most unsurprising. You each has the definite capacity to change the world, never forget that. And for both therefore, for your individual accolades at Yale, much more so however, for each of your individualistic outlooks, your strength of character, and your resolve, and the life-potential you so clearly embody and palpably project, I congratulate you.
I, nor anyone else, has had nothing to do with your success. It is all your own. Relish it, but learn from it. Cherish it, but don’t stagnate on it. Be proud of it, but not arrogant because of it.
A last piece of unsolicited advice from the old man… communication skills, a certain flair and proficiency in them, isn’t limited to one specific competition. They will serve you well, through life, and help you be the leader you are, in every life sphere. To inform, influence, and impact change!
Aarnav, to you I want to say, stay curious and quirky. If sometimes you get the sense that people question your methods and choices, IGNORE them. You strike me as someone with a vision for a future life that is as much about you the individual, as it will be about your fellow humans. Chase that vision, without a care!
Much love & luck
My wife and I were sitting one day, quite recently, and commenting on how we hadn’t been to the theatre to watch a film in a long, long time. In fact, since our daughter was born two years earlier, we hadn’t ventured to watch a film. When we tried to recollect when, before Krisha’s birth we had been to the theatre, we couldn’t recollect that either! Perhaps our absence from cinema halls had nothing to do with being preoccupied with our child in the first place! We decided to delve further.
The more we thought about it and discussed it, the more it dawned on us that the entire cinema-going experience, at least for us, had been replaced by a number of alternatives that were more accessible, more affordable, more pleasing, more entertaining, and just more convenient. First amongst these was the slew of online content options – what is technically known as OTT Platforms – Over The Top content that is streamed using high-speed internet through applications such as Netflix and Prime. Not only do these great content-providers offer a slew of brilliant series & films of varying genres and nationalities, they are accessible all the time, anywhere, with viewing possible on the largest of home-theatre screens, or on the go on one’s mobile, laptop and tablet devices. With India’s smartphone base having increased to a sizeable 250 million people in 2017 itself, and internet users poised at between 450-600 million people, we are part of a larger mass who is starting to consume entertainment at home, not at the cinema halls!
Another reason for our long disappearance from cinema halls, we felt, was a result of not having a great experience at the theatre itself. For my wife and I, we felt that many cinema halls attracted unsavory, rowdy crowd that we did not want to be in such close proximity of. At the other end of the spectrum, if we went to a high-end cinema hall with fancy seats and other amenities, a single movie experience for the two of us could end up costing over fifteen-hundred rupees, an amount not necessarily large in itself but compared with annual subscription costs of OTT platforms, a lot to pay for a single film.
Ultimately though, we concluded that the chief reason for our growing disenchantment with the Indian cinema experience is just the quality of films. Most content on OTT platforms is simply of a much higher quality, at least to the two of us. I appreciate that taste is subjective, it changes from person to person; but even if there are Hindi movies that are interesting and well-made, they are available soon after theatrical-release, on one OTT platform or another. So unless one’s a die-hard fan of a specific actor or director and must absolutely watch a new release at the earliest, the cinema-going experience has become redundant.
It so happens that one of my best friends from boarding school is an old-school, single-screen theatre owner in Dehra Dun. At his theatre Prabhat Cinema, I have had some of my best childhood memories. He would organize special movie screenings for the entire school sometimes, and regularly for our smaller group of friends. Those shared viewing experiences were always special, they made us bond. To that end, I understand the allure of a theatrical experience, and miss it even. But with screening technology having come a long way since, with our homes being turned into mini-theatres now, that ‘shared viewing’ experience too, can be had, at the click of a button, without ever leaving one’s homely-comfort.
I’m not entirely sure how cinema-halls are going to reinvent themselves in the face of such growing competition and with people going less and less to the theatres. I suppose a section of society will still want that as their familial weekend experience and activity. But to my mind, the cinema experience today has become irrelevant in the face of too many luring alternatives.
Everywhere I look, each place I visit, and most any conversation I have these days, ends up becoming a discussion or a debate about which school to choose for one’s children! Agreed, there is a paradigm shift in education, as is the case with a younger, more aware, hyper-restless generation of learners. To become obsessive about what school to send them to, or to place all but the entire onus of an education on the school, seems like a stretch.
A child’s first point of contact, and the most constant influence remains the people at home. Parents, grandparents, staff, family friends, friends. This the world that the child inhabits for a vast majority of his or her life, at least in India, for an overwhelming majority, until the child is an adult and college-ready. Shouldn’t it follow then by sheer logic, that a lot of the child’s ‘education’ will come from their immediate and perennial familial observations, interactions and circumstances?
Why then do parents place increasing stock in schools, worse still, blaming the educational institutions for any/all behavioural, learning, developmental shortfalls!
I’m the first person to understand and appreciate the vital role a good schools plays. In my own case, I think my schooling had a profound impact on the person I turned into. Having said that, equally influential was my home-environment, good, and bad. I tend to think that somehow as parents today, we’re a tad escapist. For reasons that range from a genuine lack of time, to a more disingenuous lack of parenting skill and interest; we have found a ready scapegoat in the child’s school. What’s arguably even more reprehensible is that is a child falters, the school is to blame. If he shines, the parents are to be credited!
I can only hope that we as young parents (or parents of young kids) take a little more initiative on our own with regard to our children’s upbringing and education. Make time, spend time, set right examples for them to follow. We are equal, if not greater stakeholders in our kids’ education, and we ought to pull our socks up and accept the task!
I am delighted to share the link to my first Ted Talk
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
I can be limited
Or be immense
I can be shallow
Or reach into uncharted depths
I can be loved
Or be despised
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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! 🙂