The Art of Moderating – Moderation

I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to Moderate a fair number of Literary Panels in the past 3-4 years. Currently, I am in Delhi moderating several sessions on behalf of the European Union at the World Book Fair. While the event is still ongoing, and I have sessions that remain, I thought I’d share whatever little I’ve come to realize about the ‘art of moderating’.

So particularly to the uninitiated who are interested in this kind of thing, the first thing is get the ‘fear’ out of your system. Writers/Authors are human beings just like us. They want to engage at a real and human level, just like we ordinary mortals do. So to go into something on the assumption that the people are going to be ‘difficult’, ‘stuck-up’, ‘intellectually highbrowed’, in most cases, is a myth. So relax, and take a deep breath.

Second, be well researched and prepared. Again this does not mean you must have read every word ever written by each author on a panel. But you must have more than a general sense and background about the person and his/her work. Genre, sphere, readership, country of origin; things of this nature. And part of the preparation also is to try and solicit as much detailed information about the ‘subject’ and ‘theme’ of the discussion itself, as much in advance as possible, from the organizers.

Third, try to meet the panelists in advance, strike a rapport. Going in completely cold, unless one is a natural peoples’ person, leads to awkwardness which on stage is a dead giveaway.

And finally, and to my mind most importantly,  be Moderate! It is kind of like an interview really. And many people who interview, tend to be either too verbose, or not engaged at all. One has to find a middle ground, strike a balance, ask relevant questions and then allow the panel to respond freely, give them time and space, try not to interrupt. Judge the mood and direction of the audience as well as of the panel, and if need be, divert from your script or whatever you had in your mind in terms of questions. Let the conversation build organically.

Be polite, well informed, well judged, and always ask the audience to acknowledge the panel with applause and gratitude.

 

Prologue Encore!

So we did our 1st 6 day Fiction Short Story Writing Workshop at the lovely TOSS (The Open Space Society) a couple of weeks earlier. I really enjoyed teaching the workshop, and by all accounts, my students learned and enjoyed as well.

I’m delighted to share that we’re back with an encore. The second batch begins the moment I’m back from the World Book Fair in Delhi, on the 15th of this month..

Until then, I leave you with this wonderful moments-video of the 1st Prologue Workshop, made by the lovely Hitesh & Shilpi, owners and dreamers of the fully realized creative vision that is TOSS. ENJOY 🙂

Get Engaged!

If the title of this piece was misleading and led you to believe it will propagate marriage, I apologize!  However, it may not be matrimony that I espouse; it is, arguably, an even more important kind of ‘engagement’ that I wish to talk about.

Our formal education provides us with a certain amount of knowledge and skills in a specific sphere of study. To my mind though, that has little to do with acquiring a real education, which, to me, is about wisdom, and a heightened awareness of the people and the world around us. I’m often asked, “how come you speak so well?” “How do you know so much about various things?” Before you assume this is some self-indulgent show-off; let me tell you, I quote my own examples merely to illustrate my point. That being, it is much less one’s ivy-league degree that endows one with an education and a world-view, and perhaps more, engagement, with people.

I say this because especially in today’s context, while interacting with many students on a regular basis, I am a bit disturbed when I find that most of them seem to exist in this intangible bubble that is defined by ‘me, myself, and my phone’. There seems to be precious little interaction with the WORLD.

From a casual conversation with a bus, auto or Uber driver to a chance meeting with a Pulitzer-winning writer; EVERY and ALL human interaction, is crucial, and leads to immense LEARNING. Even if one does not physically get to meet people, one can still be engaged. I make it a point to follow, listen to, read, and watch people I admire – be it for their oratory skills, their infinite wisdom, their political acumen, their intellect. Even with my students, I suspect it is I that learns more than they do :).. Seriously though, it is through constant human interaction and engagement that we learn the most. By being present and consciously employing ourselves with seemingly ordinary mortals.

Knowledge and education are omnipresent. We only have to seize each opportunity to soak it all up. The greatest virtue of learning is that it is infinite, and the same is true of human-engagement as well!

Resolutions

Resolutions

I will be…

A Loving Parent

A Doting Husband

A Dutiful Son

A Steadfast Friend

A Responsive Brother

A Fearless Writer

An Inventive Educator

A Sedulous Runner

An Industrious Worker

A Mindful Citizen

A Principled Advocate

A Beholden Believer

Hiding In Plain Sight!

As a Parent and Educator, and most of all as a human being, I have been profoundly impacted by the recent ‘me too’ campaign. It has brought back many ghastly memories of unfortunate incidents of sexual violence I have been privy to at very close quarters; all of which were swept under the rug in the name of this so called ‘societal image’. And that disgusts me!

I’d like to share two primary aspects to this entire sexual-predator phenomena. One, it isn’t always the case that it is maids, staff, and people from a lower strata of society who prey on our wives, aunts, cousins, nephews, nieces and children. On the contrary, it is often times within the uppermost echelons of society, that these monsters lurk. In the garb of patriarchs, uncles, intellectuals, educators, captains of industry; they seek refuge in the assumption that their ‘goodwill’ and fame will make them above both suspicion as well as the law. Two examples from popular culture and literature immediately spring to mind. One is Mira Nair’s masterful Monsoon Wedding. And the other is a running theme in my friend, author Ratna Vira’s writings. That evil exists among us, often times in our very homes!

The second point therefore brings up the most important question perhaps. How do we control this menace? One definite answer is to empower our children. Scores of young people, girls especially, after experiencing a horrific violation, will not have the courage to do ANYTHING about it. Be it shame, or worse still, an inherent belief that the ‘victim’ somehow was to blame; there are many reasons why the violated, do not tell a soul! And that is just tragic.

I did not willfully write this rather sullen post towards the end of the year. But maybe instead of the many relatively banal New Year Resolutions we tend to make around this time of year, this once, we can vow to talk to our children, educate them, sensitize them, and make them aware of what is OK, and what isn’t, and give them the courage and confidence in themselves and in us, that they should not, and CAN NOT stay mute, and MUST SPEAK UP. That from this moment on, all the Sexual Predators that are hiding in plain sight, BEWARE!

Live In, Live Free!

 

The arranged marriage game is not palatable to many young people. Understandably perhaps. But then the alternative, which is the Dating Game, brings with it, its own share of woes. Rejection, lies, deceit, deception; for many, these are the experiences that the dating world earns them – rather than soliciting the ‘one’.

What am I getting at? And how then,  if the two primary sources of finding one’s life partner have their inherent flaws does one ‘settle’ down? Many of my students’ parents might be unhappy to read this – but I’m going to say, Live In! A Live In relationship, in my own experience, is arguably the ONLY true measure or testing ground for compatibility. NO two people are alike. Not even two people in LOVE! It is difficult for humans to co-habit. So what a live in situation does is, it breaks down all the WALLS and FACADE that tends to exist in an ‘arranged’ situation,  or in a ‘dating’ situation; both of which have the people involved at their best behavior, constantly. While in a Live In relationship, which of course you only get into in the first place if you feel ‘seriously’ enough about your relationship; the mask comes off. You are who you are – tantrums, eccentricities, idiosyncrasies, madness, demons – all included.

This then, turns into the ultimate litmus test for not only two peoples’ love for one another, but perhaps more importantly,  of simpatico.

Anuja and I lived together for a good 3 years before we decided to get married. And I think it has held us in good stead, that there were few shocks or surprises post-wedding (at least vis-a-vis  one another). And that is important. Because finally, life throws you enough and more curve balls, and the last thing you want to have to contend with in those situations, is marital problems additionally.

I think for parents as well,  as long as they have a realistic understanding and insight into their children, and feel they are mature and responsible, they should be open to the idea of a young couple living together before they take the proverbial ‘plunge’. Else,  it could just as easily become a plunge into eternal darkness!

A Blank Canvas Full of Filth?

About thirteen years ago, I was in a bad place. Quite disillusioned. I’d lost my way. So I wrote this little poem. Again, quite amateurish when I read it now. I thought however, it does convey my feelings at the time quite vividly. The world, a blank canvas. And depending on one’s stage in life, it can be a beautiful painting or a painful riotous mess. Here’s my take on it, from over a decade ago!

 ‘And All That Jazz’

Fast cars

Speedy lanes

Rakish boys

Foolish dames

 

Chases, places, faces

Quests in vain

Humans littered

Dot the endless chain

 

Play their parts

Love or hate

Or clean slate?

 

Methodical madness

Serial killers

Distressed damsels

 

Untamed flowering love

Heartaches & heart breaks

Unholy consumerism

Nationalistic fervor in drought

Intellectual voyeurism

 

Emotional plethora

Repertoire of sins

Conflict, battle

Some you loose

Some you win

 

Religious biases

Biased doctors

Wicked copters

Twisted tales

Clandestine counters

 

Cheating wives

Cuckold husbands

Divorced minds

‘Vows’ in dust bins

 

Generation Potter

Dope head daughters

Minds in gutters

Sterile rotters

Bashful leaders

Cultural feeders

Perverse needers

 

Gyrating bellies

Insatiable appetites

Travoltas and Kellys

 

Nations at war

Agendas of peace lie tore

Imitation products galore

Pleasure parlors

And HIV whores

 

Sweaty pores

Impure shores

Sliding doors

Sights to abhor

 

Philadelphia sadness

Life’s marathon

Sporadic gladness

 

Bitter sweet symphonies

Endangered species

Cheerleading sweeties

Illogical treaties

 

Some silent

Some squeaky

Some clean

Some freaky

 

This world

This life

Canvas of diversity

And all that jazz

 

 

 

 

Ambition?

I have been interacting with many many students and young people of all age groups over the past three years that I’ve been teaching. And while their enthusiasm is admirable and infectious, I sometimes fear that their perception of ‘ambition’ has become inextricably intertwined with earning lots of money!

Nothing wrong with earning lots of money I suppose. But should that really be the very definition of Ambition? Today I want to leave you with a poem I wrote many years ago, that raises this very question. The poem itself is a tad amateurish, given I wrote it a long time back, and have not made any changes to it. I hope however, that it conveys the essence of what I believe ambition ought to be, and compels you to question your own definition…

‘Ambition Revisited’

 Do you call the shots?

Do you set the plot?

Ambitious? Or have you its meaning lost?

 

Is a life less lived if money is not aspired to?

Blurred ambition, if not monetarily triumphed too!

Like a shamed pilot you flew

Into the endless, malicious material vastness

Without a clue!

 

I say, get the basics straight

Today, ambition is sadly juxtaposed

With material gain

The relentless human strain

Unending journey on the money train!

 

Ambition, the most contorted of virtues

Now lies trapped and corrupted in material dew

Innocent kid in the opium den

Risk and thirst for knowledge are ambition’s real cues

 

Let Lincoln Paper not be the measure

Seek growth, intellectual power

Cherish and make those your treasure

Ambition’s true feathers

 

Ambition is undying ‘will to do’s’ first cousin

Let it not adulterate under a clouded material vision

Ambition must exist, but for the right reasons

The money madness is a huge treason

 

Think

Ambition was born

And now it lies disheveled

Forgotten, Misunderstood

Misconstrued, Misinterpreted

Misrepresented, Dead

 

Rethink

Redefine

Revisit

 

Be ambitious for ambition’s sake…

A Delicate Balance

When I was a young boy, I felt scared of my father. In fact, I was terrified of him. I would always be envious of the relationship that many of my friends seemed to share with their respective dads; all of which were underlined by love, laughter, friendly banter and lots of ‘masti’.

When I got to boarding school, I began to develop some understanding of this entire fear vs respect thing. You see, not just at home, but up until I went to Doon, even at my day-school back in Jaipur, the student-teacher relationship was largely characterized by ‘fear’. But in Dehra Dun, I got my first taste of how a school-master can be many things rolled into one. Parent, father-figure, hard-taskmaster yet sensitive and aware guardian. Friend even. Someone who automatically,  through actions and behavior, solicited admiration, not anger. And I was lucky to be surrounded, for the first time really, by male role models I could truly look up to. Men who were unafraid to express their vulnerabilities, their emotional depth, and their life-insights. Men who led by example, not through demand.

Today as an Educator myself, and as the father of an 8 month old baby girl; I am trying to strike that delicate balance between authority and empathy. Between providing strength, support, encouragement and inspiration in a friendly manner, without compromising on discipline, morals, ethics, and standards. Creating an environment that nurtures freedom of exploration and expression, without becoming wayward.

Have I succeeded or failed? Its too soon to say. And not for me to say, in any case. But I am trying, learning, growing, evolving. And all I ask of parents and teachers is to at least try to find that balance. To spare the rod and Grant Freedom.

Love!

Being at an all-boys boarding school one’s notion of love tends to become, well, a bit skewed. When I got to college, I fell in love, instantly! And in all sincerity and innocence,  thought she was, the one!

After a string of relationships, each of which at the time, in utmost seriousness, to me, would naturally evolve into matrimony; I realized it (love) really isn’t about ONE person. This silly, foregone conclusion didn’t come easy to me. It took time, many years,  heartbreaks, tears, and if I must confess, very shabby treatment meted out by me, for which I am ashamed and sorry.

And then, one fine day, almost 15 years ago, I met Anuja. I’ve written lots about how she stuck by me despite all my problems. Wrangled the demons out of me. Reformed me. So I won’t go on about that. What I do wish to share is that today, a day prior to our 9th wedding anniversary, I think my understanding of Love has finally ripened. And so, I’d like to leave you with a few lines where I shall try to explain that understanding. But before that, I have to say, Love, is the MOST beautiful and IMPORTANT thing of all in this entire world. Go be in love, give yourself, to someone.

Unwrap your heart
Unravel your soul
Untie your ego
Undo your pain
Unhinge your feelings
Unbind your darkness
Unwind your hurt
Un-mind the world
Un-mire the past
Embrace
Listen
Free