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….

Web Gyaan!

So I have shared one ‘film gyaan’ until now. And in the ‘gyaan’ series, I thought it only fitting, as we move further away from consuming content through traditional media into new media, that I share one of my absolute favorite youtube channels.

The best part about this youtuber, an English gentleman by the name of Robert Llewellyn, is that he produces and hosts one of the maddest, most informative, most non-preachy, and most entertaining ‘Electric-Green’ Energy channels out there. Aptly called Fully Charged, Robert presents and shares some wonderful insights into the future of electrification and clean energy solutions, all in his inimitable, slightly eccentric but totally endearing style!

He’s out to prove to all the naysayers, one of which I was myself until recently, that Clean can be Cool! And what better way to prove that, than with a video from his channel about an Electric, old school, super cool Porsche 911!!!

Hope you enjoy. And please subscribe to his youtube channel and keep up with all the latest in the world of clean energy!

The Discovery!

The sun shone bright as a ripe orange on the second morning of Jeff and Karen’s Mediterranean honeymoon. Full of youthful bounce, the couple made its way out of their resort at the edge of the ocean to the tiny main street of their idyllic romantic getaway. Complete with matching straw hats, together atop their bicycle hired from the resort, the plan for the day was ‘exploration’; perhaps not just of their immediate surroundings, but also of themselves as a newly married, united entity. The air filled with giggles of innocence as Jeff complimented his better half on how beautiful she looked, radiant as she was, like the clear blue waters of the beach. They’d even skipped the complimentary breakfast at their hotel and had decided instead, to wind their way riding, and stop at any street-side cafe that would catch their fancy. They shared a uniquely competitive yet friendly banter, more akin perhaps to that of close friends being as comfortable with each other as they were in their own individual skins; than the sometimes awkward atmosphere that the weight of recent marital status brings. Jeff, the IT programer who’d risen quickly through the ranks at Microsoft, steadfast, scientific, his good looks belying the often-quoted ‘geek’ stereotype; went about everything including their ongoing and mutually agreed ‘discovery-of-the-village’ with a cautiously planned approach. Karen on the other hand, a young, up and coming graffiti artist from the trendy Soho area, unabashed, unapologetic, and entirely arbitrary in her ways; compelled Jeff to just “let go” and “be”. As the two lightheartedly quarreled whilst riding they came upon a quaint little eatery and for a change yelled together spontaneously…. “Breakfast”

Karen and Jeff parked their bicycle right outside the cafe, Jeff instinctively reaching out for a lock that didn’t exist, perhaps a result of his everyday routine of riding to his office and having to ensure the safety of his daily-runner. “No need for locks here darling”, quipped an excited Karen, who’d never used a lock a day in her life, no matter where and for what! The duo entered the cafe. The enticing aroma of freshly baked bread and butter wafted through the tiny 10 seater place. At the counter, behind a modest but well stocked temperature controlled show-window that had the most divine looking confections, just a single, familiar-looking, middle aged man, his hands full of dough, smiled at them and signaled by gesture for them to seat themselves and that he’d be with them, momentarily. Karen and Jeff noticed just one more table occupied towards the end of the small space. Curious to see who else had had the same idea as them, especially given this was a village almost exclusively patronized by tourists, they made their way down the other 5 tables to the one at the end. Along the way, they passed the pale yellow, rustic wall of the cafe, dotted sporadically, with black and white pictures that seemed to be of a young man at the beach with his family. It became clear to Jeff and Karen that they were of the same oddly familiar man that had greeted them at the cafe, making it quite obvious that he was the owner. Before they’d settled into this knowledge, they’d reached the end of the cafe to the ‘table’. And as they caught sight of the couple sitting, eating, laughing, enjoying their morning, at the table they’d been curious about… They realized. The couple at the table, was them!

With This.. I Thee Wed.. Food!

“3 Mixed Grill Sizzlers”

“Yes Sir”

“And 2 Full Butter Chickens plus 6 Butter Naans”

“Ok Sir, I will have the butter chicken and naans packed by the time you eat your sizzlers and are ready to leave”

“errrrrr…..the butter chickens and naans are ALSO to ear HERE”

(flummoxed, bamboozled waiter, bewildered, settles down and leaves to execute this modest order for 3 grade 9 students)

This scene plays out rather casually at the famed Hotel President in Dehra Dun, as two of my mates and I, place our ‘usual’ lunch-order while on one of our formative ‘private’ outings from boarding school (the kind where you’re allowed out of the campus by yourself, unescorted by coddling parents or regimenting masters). And thus begins, not just for me, but for most boarding school students, a life-long relationship. Say hello to our significant other – food!

To a hostel student, food represents the first important relationship in one’s lives. As such, the relationship encompasses, at different stages, the entire emotional scale. When we join school, food represents two things – the baser value is sustenance, and the more heightened metaphor, home.  When a senior takes away one’s home-food, or when one runs out of the laddus that grandma has packed and sent, one experiences what can only be described as the 5 stages of grief. There is denial… “how could this happen to me?”… “I can’t believe I was the one who got caught with my ‘home-food’”… This is shortly succeeded by anger, though it is almost always a passive, internal anger, since externalizing it and revolting against the culprit, necessarily a senior-boy, results in further antagonizing. Bargaining, there’s heaps of… It begins, like any negotiation the world over, with the least possible offer… “Ok out of the 10 packets of Top Ramen that I have, how about you take 2”… this ‘outlandish’ (from the senior’s point of view ONLY, of course) request is met with immediate and terse criticism.. There’s little choice but to sweeten the deal… “ok ya… take 5 out of 10 packets.. that’s fair right.. half and half?”… finally though, the senior takes 8 and one is left with 2!! and that’s a ‘good’ scenario! Alas… Depression sets in… One cries remembering home, curses the day one was sent to this dubious gang-land that they allegedly call the country’s best school.. and finally, after months of consistent similar incidents, one accepts one’s fate.. Food, especially home-food (tuck), is never one’s own.. not until one reaches at least grade 10!

The ties to ‘home-food’ though are just a small part of a much larger picture.. a slice of a giant pie, if I must employ a ‘cheesy’ food analogy.. Seriously though, think of it like a single battle in an eternal war! The ‘other’ woman in this greed-drenched illicit liaison – hostel-mess-food, which in our case was served at the CDH, the Central Dining Hall. About now, your brain will be forgiven for conjuring up images of ‘central jail’, rather than a boys’ mess.. The CDH was indeed, like a jail, with food similar to that in a jail.. and though our school was too fancy to call this hallowed-hall a ‘mess’, it was a right old mess.. Let me share the good news first (yes, there was some…little….but some)… Bread, butter, chapatis and such were unlimited.. Its what preserved our bowels, our sanity, and our ‘growth’.. Because the rest of it, the ‘main course’ and the ‘dessert’, was divided into woefully inadequate portions that would fall prey (yes quite literally) to seniors taking them away (even and despite the presence of masters and beras on duty, such was the ingenious resolve and enterprise of even those who were failing their subjects, but could devise the most clandestine schemes to steal food); or be simply inedible… Like mentioned earlier, if the just-described two scenarios did not befall you, and you got your ‘share’, the body hardly even registered its intake because it was just too little! Share it was, but to call it ‘fair’ would be a cardinal exaggeration!

In case you don’t already see a pattern emerging; that I today, not proudly, though resolutely, use all the food-injustices through my childhood as a solid justification for my absolute inability to ‘share’ my food, even a quarter of a century since boarding school – is not limited to me.. It is a scarring time that is almost like a right of passage, that most boarding school kids go through.. of course, having gone through this trauma, we have all survived and lived to tell the tale.. but like most victims of post any ordeal – some come out triumphant, others not so much.. fact is, this is all in good humor.. some of us have got closure by marrying wonderfully gifted cooks; others have gone permanently into the food & beverage business and made empires out of it (Nirulas being a case in point).. either way, mine, and many others’ relationships with food continues to be, like most relationships in life, bittersweet! Seems like, we’re married, till death do us part!

 

The RATE CARD!

The first time I experienced this phenomena was when a writing project came our way over a decade ago. The client said, “what’s your rate?” Confused, perhaps a bit cheekily, I asked, “rate for what?” Pat came the reply, “per word rate”. Now, I understand that the writing/content industry does often subscribe to ‘fixed rates’. My question though is, should the ‘rate’ for a word such as ABROGATE be the same as it is for IT? And what about ideas? How do we have a ‘rate card’ for those?

The same tends to happen when prospective students come to me to get some one-on-one lessons from me at home. Again, the ‘tuition’ industry in India follows ‘per hour’ rates. Having said that, I am teaching in the age range of 5 – 55! I am often times not teaching any prescribed text/texts or something that exists as a formal subject. I design ALL my study material myself, on an individual, case-to-case basis. This requires immense effort, time, and a deep understanding of each individual’s specific requirements. How then, can I have a ‘rate’?!

Even the vegetable-vendor changes rates according to how he/she perceives the shopper. At least I’m not doing that. My ‘rate’ is based on the amount of time, effort, research, study-material-development it will require on my part.

So let us leave the ‘rate card’ to its intended purpose – for Transport, Hospitality and other services with FIXED valuations; and NOT subject Creativity OR Individuality, to rates!

W’RITE’RS WRONGED!

Until eight years ago, my wife Anuja and I were working with different Media Companies (Production Houses, TV Channels) in Mumbai. Then, merely months into being married, we were both Pink Slipped when the recession hit. The Media Industry was particularly bad, with mass retrenchment and companies either winding off, or laying off almost entire work-forces! That is when the two of us, because we had a fair bit of experience in Writing, decided to become stand-alone, freelance, professional Writers & Content Developers.

To our minds, we had hit upon a brilliant survival-idea. We had a pre-existing network into the Media Industry, and we had both been Writing within our various roles over the years as Directors, Producers and Assistants. This would need NO investment. We’d work from home. And we wouldn’t inform our parents (back home in Delhi or Jaipur)!!  🙂

Then came our first reality check. We were asked by a large corporation (said organization shall remain unnamed) to develop their Website. Now typically we would quote a certain figure for the project with a break-up of Writing/Ideation/Supervisory Fee as one block & Designing Fee as another block. We were shocked to learn that the client, upon seeing our cost break-up, rather nonchalantly said that he’d be willing to spend the money on designing, but would cut the Writing Fee by a 5th!!! Why? Because “kaun toh padhta hai”. Agreed. But where would the ENTIRE ‘idea’ for the website come from? Us of course, which is why it formed an integral part of our ‘writing fee’. Bad luck for that though. It was just fine that any design-software-savvy person (not to take away from the genuinely talented designers that are out there) would be able to create a me-too site by seeing ‘references’ provided by the client! And for that ‘copying’ work, the client was willing to pay, let’s say 1 lac, but not our 30,000 rupee Writing Fee!

This was only the beginning of our brutal initiation into the world of ‘freelance writing’. What we dismissed as a first, one off bad client, turned out, to our horror, to be the norm. We’d write scripts upon scripts for huge television networks for paltry sums of money, and those payments would be made to us, after ‘daily’ follow ups (read phone/email begging and countless physical visits to their accounts departments) 6 months to a year later! So while the on-air talent would be paid, lets say 50,000 per episode, IMMEDIATELY, we’d be waiting for a 50,000 cheuqe for 5 scripts, for a year!

I don’t mean for this to sound like a rant, or ramblings of a frustrated writer. The truth though is, it is tough. We even had to ‘invent’ a Brand and Brand ourselves, just in order to be taken a little more seriously. Even that didn’t work.

I just want to leave you with this thought… If Customer is King (which most clients admit), then shouldn’t the Content, which ought to engage them, appeal to them, appeal them, and ultimately lure them (and that will ONLY happen if it is based on careful study of the target audience and developed on the basis of some real human insights of that target), also be KING? Agreed, hardly anyone reads nowadays. But isn’t an IDEA, or a SCRIPT on which VIDEO content is based, worth something?

I sign off with a video interview that UTV had done with us shortly after our Pink Slips in Mumbai… And urge you, do not WRONG WRITERS. We have VALUE!