TOSSed Salad for the Creative Soul!

I had the privilege recently of getting to know a very interesting couple in Jaipur. Shilpi and Hitesh Adwani. These photographers/film makers have given birth to a silent but potent movement in the city. Their radical, free-thinking school/college/creative playground, The Open Space Society (TOSS), has quietly begun to make an impact.

The couple, and their ‘society’, has certainly made an impression on me. Though I’d met them some time ago,  I finally made my way to meet the two, at TOSS, earlier today. From what I can understand, it is a space that has no ‘boundaries’. Literal ones aside, just as their mission, to espouse creativity; the space has no limits to what can be conceived and created within its liberating campus. TOSS regularly holds workshops in the broad area of the ‘media-arts & sciences’, be it Photo-Book Making or Theater, conducted by carefully selected, highly qualified & experienced, eminent experts. The school also organizes film-screenings and other events, with a slew of exciting, piping hot offerings always brewing.

I’ve always fancied myself as someone who provides an atmosphere for creativity – Shilpi & Hitesh though, have fashioned a living, tangible reality in TOSS, one that quite literally is a manifestation of their creative-karma! Poised to shortly turn into a state-of-the-art, full fledged Media College offering a slew of courses covering the entire Media Gamut, TOSS has to be seen to be believed. Made entirely from reclaimed materials, the air through TOSS is easy yet inspirational, modern yet traditional. To house, among other things, a one-of-its kind Media Library upon completion (very soon), TOSS will emerge as the definitive Media-Studies & Expression destination.

The couple is ingenious, unorthodox, and quietly eccentric (in my view, and I mean that as a big compliment). Just what the city needs to ‘charge’ up the environment. For the young and the young-in-spirit, The Open Space Society must be engaged with. Because here, they don’t give a TOSS about who you are… rather, what you CAN BE! It is then, really, a delectable TOSSed Salad for the Creative Soul!

https://www.facebook.com/tossjaipur/

Open Minds, Free Hearts

Yet another brutal reminder of terrorism. The New York attack. Barely 10 hours back. In Lower Manhattan! My brother, his girlfriend, cousins, countless friends; all a stone’s throw from the scene!

A lot of ‘noise’ is made on this subject. There will be news debates galore, social media will be buzzing in the aftermath of this nth brazen violation of our collective freedom.

Perhaps one way of solving this deep-rooted terror problem is to really start with the younger generation. I always try to sensitize my students about the problems of the world we live in.  Terrorism is a tricky one. What is the right way of introducing such an ugly truth to young minds? How, when, where? One has to be careful not to upset an innocent mind; at the same time not bring up kids in a rose-tinted fool’s paradise.

I leave you with the link to a short film. In my senior grades, I tend to use this beautiful short film to initiate an important discussion. Perhaps, this is one way?

Home School?

I always had fairly well thought out views on education. However, it wasn’t until I had a child myself, that I REALLY began to think about things seriously.

My wife Anuja and I, relatively ‘old’ but new parents, learning each day, every moment with our near-7 month daughter Krisha, have already started discussing schooling. In an education-environment where one hears such horror stories from friends and family; incidents that take place at the ‘best’ schools, among children from the ‘best’ families – we shudder to think what might become of Krisha’s school experience.

And then we quickly realize (guided by our albeit limited but mutual wisdom) that perhaps sometimes we as parents are a bit too hung up on ‘school’. Sure a school is of vital importance. But we tend to forget the absolutely unquestionable role of the ‘home’. That is, in our view, the vast majority of where a child’s real education takes place. Parents, Grandparents, the home atmosphere; are all elements that are so intrinsic to the growing-up & learning mix, that even if, God forbid, a child has a less than ideal schooling experience, it is the emotional and intelligence quotient that has been developed at home, that will help the child cope with that unfavorable climate.

My simple point is this… Spend ‘time’ with your children, not ‘money’. Right now of course we have to be with Krisha all the time since she is so young. But it is our firm endeavor that as she grows older and doesn’t ‘need’ the kind of constant supervision that she does presently, we will still try to give her as much of our ‘time’ as possible. Because home, and time from parents, is really, the most invaluable ‘education’.

The Loss of Innocence?

The innocence of childhood and the fear of loss are beautifully depicted in this Marathi short film (with subtitles) that I chanced upon just yesterday. The tension in the film is real, and palpable.

I thought I’d simply share the film and urge you to watch it, rather than ramble on myself 🙂

Does the film have a larger message? If yes, what could it be?

Men Can Not Cry!

Of all the issues in this world that I have been trying to sensitize my students about in the past three years, Gender Awareness, true Acceptance, and Equality tops the list. At least in my opinion, unless we as a people, as a global society can view each other as part of one big family, despite, and along with all the diversity, preferences, orientation that exists – how can we solve the world’s other problems and exist as a happy race?

So through my classes, at schools and colleges, at home or in my workshops; I like to keep talking to young students about Gender. That not only the LGBT community, not just women; men too, have been victims of Gender Stereotypes. This shoe-boxing has thwarted no ONE Gender, but all. It has stifled an individual’s natural instinct to be real.

In one of my classes only yesterday, a relatively young student of mine, when asked about whether Gender Stereotypes affect men, said, “men can not cry!” It was bittersweet to hear. Bad, because it was  brutal reminder of reality. Good, because this rather young student, was so AWARE of the society we live in. And that gave me hope!

As educators, parents, mentors, guides and guardians, it is our DUTY to create a world for our children that is FREE of Gender Bias & Stereotype. Where a man is free to arrange a bunch of flowers in a vase. Where a woman is accepted as an EQUAL artist in a film. Where two men can share their blossoming love, not just with one another, but with the world. Where EACH person, can live with PRIDE & DIGNITY.

As I have often remarked, these are UNCOMFORTABLE subjects for us to talk about. But should that be the case? Should we not talk, expose, educate, sensitize the world’s next generation, to be HUMAN first?

Heart Over Head

A lot of the parents of my students ask me to ‘convince’ their respective children to choose a specific set of subjects, leading up to a specific, predetermined career. This selection of course, and I don’t mean to deride at parents’ intentions, often times has nothing to do with the child’s passion, talent, instinctive abilities or leanings. If I question the parents, I’m often told that they’re too young to know any better, or that they are confused and that it is incumbent upon the parents & teachers to ‘guide’ them. ‘Guide’ though, in most cases, is a euphemism for ‘direct order’. And that, I take issue with.. Serious issue!

Why must we as parents be in such a tearing hurry to have our kids ‘figure it out’? Is it not wonderful that life be this journey of discovery throughout? Does the sense of wonder, amazement, and happiness not count?

I must confess.. I rarely propagate what I’ve been asked by a parent to do! Not because I’m unjustifiably rebellious. But if I feel the ‘suggested’ path is at odds with the student, I DO NOT propagate it.

Instead, I show them this…..

The Doon School – A World Within A World

Circa 95, for me life at the Doon School was a world unto itself. Shielded in large part from the brutal reality that existed outside the hallowed boundaries of the ample campus; we were firmly placed in the school’s embracing womb. No I do not mean we were insensitive to the outside; just engrossed in boarding school life. Our days & nights consumed with sport, competition, and a little bit of studying. A clan, a clique if you will. There were silly things that at the time seemed epic, and swallowed our myopic minds and our racing hearts. Here’s introducing that world within a world…

The House. Not all of us were fortunate enough to pick our houses. Second and third generation Doscos aside; we got what we got. What’s fascinating now is how attached we became to our respective houses. “Men love their country, not because it is great, but because it is their own”. Not to say our houses weren’t great. My point being, irrespective of many factors including the kind of house mates, house masters, and the perception of the house; each boy’s house was his own, and it was loved unconditionally, with utter devotion. The house then, Oberoi or Tata, Jaipur Kashmir or Hyderabad; was to each of its students, a staunch religion. We lived to uphold the honor of the house. From the PT Gong to the One Act Play Competition; the Cricket Trophy to the Music Competition; each student, with relentless focus, pursued every inter-house title for his respective house.

The House also provided an identity, much like a country does. And not unlike countries that sometimes garner the wrong kind of publicity; houses too were perceived more, or less favorably, at different times (depending mostly upon how many sporting trophies lined each house’s trophy cases in the Central Dining Hall). Whatever the prevalent perception of one’s house, so was one’s own identity and standing in the school’s social order.

Beyond unconditional allegiance to one’s house & the self-image it endowed one with; the house was quite literally, the resting place. A safe heaven, a shaded sanctum (well at least when we became senior). A place to return to after a hard day’s work. The ‘common room’, our watering hole, and the ‘newaad’ beds, our counterparts to the luxurious memory-mattresses we’d ‘sacrificed’ to be here, rejuvenating, completely restful. It was in the house where we celebrated every triumph, rued each loss. It was in the house amid ‘house drinks’ that teams were either congratulated, or hauled up. And it was in the house that each Doon school boy made his little family-away-from-family. Safe, comforting, familiar, and reassuring.

The Sc. If the house was the country, the senior most class was its vanguard. A people who defined the consciousness of the rest of the house’s student body. They set the tone for the house – cool, sporting, scholarly, whatever the case. Most importantly, it was from among these super-seniors that we  picked our idols & mentors. We would sometimes easily, at other times justifiably, fashion ourselves on these seniors. The fellow who scored the maximum goals in the soccer tournament final; the guy who had the biggest following at a certain girls’ school; even the bloke who dared to have his head clean shaven! The reasons ranged from solid to plain bizarre; but we all, whether we admitted it or not, had our chosen ‘gurus’.

Apart from providing invaluable ‘guidance’; the seniors also served as ‘protectors’. At least a few important (read those wielding immense influence thanks to high cool-quotient) ones, that every wise junior had the foresight to ‘butter up’; would go on to bail us out in many questionable situations; even recommend us to that much-sought after ‘post’ that the senior was occupying at the time!

The Sc formers then, the senior-most set of students on campus; were a much revered lot. Sure there were those among them that were not in the best favor with students they may have rubbed the wrong way; for the most part though, they provided sheltering respite. They were our unsaid brothers, our insurance of a good time, our indemnity in moments of strife.

The House-Master. Arguably the most complex relationship that a student shared on campus, was with his house-master. A house-master who really was like a foster-parent; complete with all the love & hate trappings that are part of real-parenting. The house being a country, the House Master was its ultimate authority, its Prime Minister. And God forbid the chosen House Master wasn’t exactly Mr. Popular, the house would soon turn into a dictatorship, rather than a democracy.

In all fairness to the House Master, it was a particularly delicate balance that needed to be struck. A tight-rope walk along the edge of fun & liberty on one side; and faultless supervision on the other. A fall on either side would straddle the resultant extremes of ‘anarchy’ and ‘hate’. Despite this precarious prerequisite, most House Masters were happy, as were the boys in their respective houses.

Perhaps the defining aspect of the student-house master relationship was that of the latter being a strong counsel. In a real victory of the boarding school system and its true ethos, decentralized governance meant that it was for all intents & purposes, good or bad, the house master that would decide a student’s fate. It was the keen insight into each uniquely individual student, that a house master used to determine appropriate action. If one were caught in a bind, the house master was there to help. If one were caught flouting a rule, even then the house master would try to resolve the problem ‘in-house’; quite like the patriarch of a real family would do.

As one became senior, the dynamic with one’s house master matured, much like it does between a father & a son. Less formal, more friendly. Less fearful, more mentoring. The best part, a house master’s blessed pupil found himself in the much coveted position of house captain or school prefect. It was then largely incumbent on the house master, to shape a boy’s life on campus. And to the student, the dynamic he developed with his respective house-master, formed the most critical relationship of his tenure at the school.

The School. With all these elements, the house, the house-master, the students; Doon was our universe.  House first, the school a very close second. Pride for the school, often perceived as misplaced snobbishness, was in fact, and continues to be, ONLY respect. Respect for a universe that helped us define ourselves as young thinking adults. Thanks to the school that let us run wild and discover ourselves. Loyalty to an institution that cultivated our sensibilities. And indebtedness to an alma mater that is so deeply ingrained in our consciousness, it would be impossible to shake off.

For all us proud Doscos who spent between six to seven years of our growing up years on the campus; the gates of the Doon School don’t symbolize Alcatraz like they might have when we join as freshers. They’re the welcoming gates to our home. A world within a world, unlike any other.

http://www.doonschool.com/

Lets Go Outside..

The classroom can be a wonderful place for a student to learn, gain knowledge, explore, and discover. Sometimes however, it helps to GO OUTSIDE!

Whenever I teach a session on ‘communications development’, grooming, or what is unimaginatively called ‘personality development’, I like to take my students outside. One of the sessions I always take is at my favorite breakfast eatery in town. Here, the students and I get an opportunity to interact in a more informal environment. And there is an immediate and tangible reflection of this lighter atmosphere in the students’ behavior. They are more open, more free to express, less inhibited. In doing this, I also have the chance to expose them to a real-world scenario. Not that my students don’t go out with their parents; the act of being out with a teacher is altogether different though. So be it simple instructions on table manners, public etiquette, and an informal chat about what’s going on in all of our lives – all of this solicits some surprisingly intimate bonding, confessions, free banter, and subconsciously, gaining of public-conduct skills.

This weekend for example, I am taking one of my batches to breakfast, and now that the weather is better in Jaipur, another batch will just sit outside in the garden with me and we will read stories to each other.

Think of it this way… If man had never crawled out from under his rock, or emerged from his cave, how would he have DISCOVERED the world?

Ta-boo!

Competition.. Schools, parents, children, are all competing..

Vigorously.. Vehemently..

To what end though? To gain that enviable spot at an IVY League College? Which, will then land that once-in-a-lifetime Job Interview? Which will make that student a Ripe Marriage Prospect? Which will then facilitate yet another Suburban, Mortgaged, Cloned, Picket-Fenced Life?

Was a time when our grandparents and teachers told us about stories of courage. Of kindness and of love. Of living life in the moment. As we were growing up, blissful, rolling about in the mud with the neighbor’s children, eating mud, racing paper-boats through rainy-streams; something changed.. Something died..

It became more about Marks & GPAs, less about exploring, expressing, learning and understanding. It became more about Certificates, less about empathy, helpfulness,  sensitivity and caring. It became more about “my Harvard graduate son”, and less about “my son”.

How? Why? When? Because of What? And by Whom? One is not sure about these answers. But I can offer a small solution. Let us TALK to our kids. Not LECTURE, Talk. Not INSTRUCT, Engage. Not REPRIMAND, Explain. Not PUNISH, Reason.

Talking CAN solve the world’s problems, including this one. The world needs, now more than ever, SENSITIVE, AWARE, EMOTIONALLY-AVAILABLE Young People. Let us create those, rather than A+ Robots & Zombies.

And to start, Let Us Talk about ALL the ‘Taboo’ issues…

Because ONLY Awareness will create Inclusion…

I leave you with a film I ALWAYS show my students… Its just a 6 min Short Film.. Please watch..

Freedom…. to just BE!

In the 3 years I’ve been teaching regularly, I have noticed that students, junior and senior, are mired in a labyrinth of restrictions, dogma, and pressure. While some have to subscribe to their family’s views, others do not find an encouraging enough environment, even within their own peer-groups, to be, who they REALLY are!

At least for some parents/families that are privileged enough to not HAVE to have their sons and daughters follow a ‘pre-selected’ path (that has nothing to do with the child’s passion, inclination or talent); children from these families ought to be ALLOWED an independent, uninhibited, exploratory childhood.

In my own modest little way, I try my best to create an atmosphere of NO JUDGEMENT and absolute ACCEPTANCE of ALL my students. And I always show them one of my favorite short films – Vicky!

I leave you with the link to this beautiful, and very important short film, in the hope that while you enjoy the visuals, you also find it in yourselves as parents, to let your children, just BE!

On behalf of ALL the students of the world, and, from the student within me….