Like A Boy/Like A Girl

I often hear parents and grandparents say to a boy-child if he has fallen and is crying, “come on,  behave like a boy”. Similarly, if a girl-child is being unruly, the remark is “come on, behave like a girl”!

Gender stereotyping them, begins at such a formative stage in our lives, that it is bound to create narrow, limited, fixed, and ultimately frustrated human beings. Imagine these children grown up! Do we feel they will be able to express themselves freely? Do we think that they will be ‘happy’ in their own skins?

I know I have talked about this in my previous posts as well. But the problem is so natively rooted that something needs to be done to correct it. The gender-divide is more in our heads than it is, in actual fact. It is why we refuse to accept the genders in certain ‘roles’. When a great chef is a man, pat comes the observation, “men are better at women in most areas that are viewed primarily as the purview of women”! Similarly, when there is a woman who has risen to become a Top Cop, or an Industry Captain, snide remarks such as “oh she’s hardly like a woman” are sadly inescapable!

Why the shoehorning? Why the boxing? Why a DEFINITION?

Let us UNBOX, UNDO, and SET FREE!

Great Conversations can be EASY!

Many many students of mine of all age groups essentially want to become good conversationalists. And I keep telling them, just as there are Myths & Misconceptions associated with Writing, there are too, with being a Great Conversationalist.

Whatever the ‘conversation-scenario’ might be, you need a few KEY prerequisites, and I promise you will be on your way to holding a meaningful, engaging dialogue.

  1. LISTEN: Making conversation is NOT about going yap yap yap to PROVE that you KNOW IT ALL. Listen. People appreciate that. Besides, a conversation is a 2-way street. Unless you pay attention to what the other person/people are saying, how will you carry it FORWARD!
  2. GK: The more AWARE you are, the more well informed you are, the more you will engage. There is NO substitute for this. I get that it is BORING to read newspapers, depressing even. I dislike it myself. You know the 2 places I get my GK from? So here’s my trade secret!!! KBC, as in Kaun Banega Karorpati. And this neat app on android and ios called In-Shorts, available free on any play-store, that gives you diverse, interesting news. The best part, each news-story has a visual or video, and is limited to 60 words!!
  3. RESEARCH: Lack of Confidence is sited as a constant niggle. It becomes such a monster, that it can seem all-consuming. You know what the key to alleviating this is? RESEARCH. No matter what the social-scenario may be, there is, logically, a certain about of PREP that can be put into in advance. For example, you are going to your college orientation. If you do a little research about the school, its professors, and the city/locality/history/culture in advance, not only will your nerves have VANISHED, you will definitely engage & delight!
  4. DISPOSITION: Try to keep a friendly disposition. Often times without realizing, our nerves/irritation manifest in our body-movements. We twitch, shake, do not make eye contact, and keep our arms crossed (as if to stay shut off to the world). Breathe. Why Shahrukh Khan has become the legend that he has? I have a theory. What’s his most iconic pose? Arms wide open in slow motion…right? Well, it is all about positive body language and a disposition that says, come, I want to engage with you!

Making conversation is a wonderful thing. It is educative, entertaining, and most importantly, builds relationships. And today, perhaps more than ever, we need that!

Write Right – Myths About Writing!

Writing… That holy grail of creative pursuits and self-expression that to most, is scary, unattainable,  insurmountable. While I am not claiming that it is easy, what I do want to share with all of you, is that the REASONS a lot of us assume it is IMPOSSIBLE, are WRONG!

When I teach Writing, be it at a school, a college, an independent workshop or at home to an individual student; I often come across certain perceptions that have taken hold, and are difficult to shake-off. So to all you budding writers out there, here is my list of MYTHS & MISCONCEPTIONS about ‘effective writing’

  1. NO FANCY LANGUAGE is NEEDED – There is a common misconception that in order to write a compelling, engaging piece of fiction (especially), one needs to be some kind of Language Pandit. UNTRUE. The point of good writing is not to use big, flowery words. Sure, it helps to have a wider vocabulary at one’s disposal rather than the alternative. Having said that, it is NOT necessary. Many amateur writers become unnecessarily ‘language-lavish’, which, rather than serving the purpose of the story, draws attention and focus away from it!
  2. DEGREE IN LITERATURE – Similar to the earlier point; many people seem to believe that one has to have ‘studied’ the subject (language), in order to write. Sometimes this is also interpreted in a way where people believe that one MUST have ‘read’ lots, to write. Both are UNTRUE again. Sure, reading helps. But like a dear author friend of mine always says, reading too much, cramps his originality!
  3. NOTHING INTERESTING HAPPENS AROUND ME – In other words, people feel they do not have an engaging enough PLOT; perhaps not realizing that if we were to really analyze a book, a film, a story that we really liked, we will come to the realization that it wasn’t the ‘action’ or the ‘events’ that got us hooked on to that story but rather its primary CHARACTER/CHARACTERS. Great stories are much less about what’s going on ‘outside’, much more about what is going on ‘inside’ a PERSON.

The Skill-Set that is required to become a good writer are completely different from what we tend to assume. And the good news is, with a little discipline, ANYONE can learn them. In an age where everywhere is going visual and there is less and less ‘written word’, a romantic like I can only hope that we as a society do not let the endless creative possibilities and the resultant joy that writing provides, become extinct. Because while a picture might be worth a thousand words, those thousand words are able to ‘paint’ the picture; and that has immense value!

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/