The ‘Write’ Fit

As many of you might know already, I am conducting one of my holiday-time workshops during this Christmas-New Year school-break. I thought I’d quickly explain in a few brief points, the key features of this Creative Writing Workshop.

  • The Workshops will be for children between 8-12 years of age
  • It will serve as an Introduction to Creative Writing
  • We will begin with absolute basics of Sentence Construction
  • I will introduce the basic concepts of Fiction Writing
  • We will watch Short Films to understand Fiction/Story Writing better
  • We will also learn about Non-Fiction Writing
  • Things such as Essays, Summary Writing which are needed at School
  • Each piece of Writing the students write will be Read Aloud on Stage
  • In addition to Writing Skills, this will give students practice in Public Speaking
  • Ultimately, the Workshops aims to build Writing as well as General Confidence

The workshop will span 6 sessions of an hour each starting 26th December till 31st December from 5:30 to 6:30pm at the Wonder Years Play School in Vaishali Nagar.

A Decade…

This December the 12th my wife Anuja and I will be married a decade. It seems like a lifetime together, and I mean that in the most positive sense. I’d like to think that the times, good and bad, that she and I have endured, have made us stronger, closer, wiser.

The reason I write this post is not to paint some fantastical, Utopian image of marriage. Quite the contrary. It is to share that, like any relationship, wedlock most of all, needs tireless work, effort, and patience. The fact of the matter is that every individual is intrinsically unique and different from the next; for two people to cohabit is in itself a tall ask. Then if those two people happen to be man and wife, things get trickier still.

Love, the way one came into it, the way one experienced it at the beginning, the way one perceived it and defined it, changes. It changes dramatically. There comes a point in every relationship when the inexplicable romantic-rush mellows, the madness lessens, and a new status quo is established. One isn’t necessarily with one’s partner for the feverish, weak-kneed whirlwind one experienced initially. It really comes down to companionship. Friendship.

Of course in our case, the scales are heavily tilted in favour of Anuja being the overwhelmingly resilient one. Having said that, really speaking, there are just two or three factors that make a marriage stand the test of time – Mutual Respect, Friendship and Shared Life Goals.

If there is genuine respect for each other, for one’s work, ethics, principals, and an understanding of why the person is the way he/she is; chances are that the relationship will beat the odds. I think both Anuja and I respect one another for our good qualities deeply. I also feel that we recognise one another’s shortcomings at a very real level but understand and appreciate that as human beings we are bound to have limitations, and that these limitations aren’t a reflection of who we really are. In fact, it is our better traits that are emblematic of our true characters; the individuals we have grown into, despite our circumstances (past and present).

Friendship I’d reckon is at the very top of this list. We absolutely LOVE hanging out with each other and I can safely say that there’s nobody else either would rather be with. We can make each other laugh. We share a cultural context. We speak the same ‘language’. People talk in a derogatory light about the ‘friend-zone’ – I happen to think that if one is friends with one’s life-partner, there couldn’t possibly be a better scenario!

Finally, and both Anuja and I have said this often – the whole ‘opposites attract’ paradigm is terribly overrated. It certainly doesn’t work in the long run. Two people who decide to spend their lives together must have a shared basis for doing that. Certain key philosophies, opinions, outlooks have to match. How to bring up one’s child.. What the couple wants ultimately from life.. Some vital shared interests. These are absolutely crucial to the longevity of a marriage.

As we inch closer to turning 10, I can confess that the lead-up to this monumental milestone has not been easy. Its been tough for me psychologically due to various (non-marriage related) reasons, and by consequence, for Anuja, who has had to endure a less-than-ideal, perhaps ‘absent’ partner in me. Having said that, this, like any other rough-patch, is a temporary, passing phase. What really matters, the things that really count, the truths that ought to be constants, still remain, very much alive. And I’m extremely excited by the prospect of what the next decade holds for us!

A Confident Communicator

We live in a complex, competitive world. A world where it has become immensely difficult to be noticed, and to stand out. For an entire generation of young students in senior school, busy preparing for their exams, applying to colleges, and charting out the future course of their lives; it is imperative that they find a way of distinguishing themselves from their peers. But how do they do that? Especially when a vast number of their contemporaries have similar or better grades meaning they are as academically accomplished; they have more compelling sporting and co-curricular accolades!

Really, the ONLY way then, is a student coming across as Confident. In his or her Public Presentation, that individual is able to create an impression of a Self Assured, Well Spoken, Aware, Driven, Sensitive, and Confident person. This ALONE, can be the difference between imminent success and abject failure. In today’s working-world, be it in one’s own business/work or in the professional realm; young candidates MUST come across as CONVINCING. Their Outward Personalities must neither contradict, nor fall short of their on-paper records. They must PROJECT & EXUDE Polish.

This plain yet vital truth is something I have been trying to make students as well as parents aware of through the past half-decade I’ve been teaching. The ABSOLUTE non-negotiable importance of a student cutting a first rate Public Persona & Image. And I am pleased to share that a many parents have seen sense and logic in my campaign and entrusted their wards to my care and tutelage – a responsibility I take extremely seriously. The results are plain to see in the form of many testimonials from my students on my website and my other social media platforms.

Very shortly, I will be able to announce a round-the-year Program where High School Students will have a chance to interact with me in Batches over the Weekends where I will focus on making them Effective & Confident Communicators – both in terms of Written as well as Spoken/Verbal/Oral Communication that will groom and prepare them to take on a slew of real-world (public) situations where they will need to present the best possible versions of themselves.

Through several activities and exercises including and not limited to Speech-Making, Interviewing Skills, Conversation-Making; the idea of this continuing-workshop will be to make students understand the importance of Public Image and give them the TOOLS to present themselves like WINNERS.

The world is a superficial place. There is no point brushing that under the rug. And in order to compete and succeed, it is NOT enough for students to achieve, just on-paper. They must come across, as such. As Confident Achievers.

BRANDING MYSELF Part 01 – WHY?

In an age where millions of people and products are vying for our attention, it has become imperative for an individual to STAND OUT. And one of the few ways of doing that, is to fashion ourselves as individual Brands. Brands that communicate strategically differentiated and aspirational values that find a collective audience.

Be it a young person in college who is at the cusp of professional life, a doctor who is well into his practise, or even an established senior artist who is well regarded; NO ONE can escape the immense advantages of proliferating an image that speaks to the individual’s core target audience. A brand that stands tall before the product or service that the person espouses. A unique image that needs to be thought of, cultivated, and communicated as such.

The most ready example I can use is myself. Until five years back, NOBODY knew I even existed. Despite having worked in the Media Industry for over a decade, aside from my family and a few friends (personal and professional), no one was aware of anything about me – not my background, my current work, my future plans, my passions, my interests. I decided to address this situation. Of course in my case, form followed function. I was relocating to my hometown after twenty years. I was (for all intents and purposes) shifting careers (in my mid 30s). All I knew was that I wanted to continue to write (though not for television) and I wanted to teach (something I’d never done before). Risky? You bet. Impossible? Absolutely not. BUT. I had to be known. People in this ‘new’ city had to become familiar with me. For any person, organization or institution to take me seriously, they had to TRUST that I was a legitimate professional with a robust academic and professional background and future plans that were well thought out and serious.

This, at an individual level, could not possibly be done through traditional advertising. It had to be, an ONLINE BRAND. I had to market myself, effectively, on the internet, and on Social Media.

Today I am happy to share that in large part, the Writing Assignments I get, the Columns I Write, and the Students I have (at workshops, institutes and at home), are due to the Brand that I have built, online. Mine is the perfect case-study about the power of an online Self-Branding Exercise. In this blog, I wanted to share the basic WHY. The reason that necessitated this exercise in the first place. In my follow-up post, I will share the few key steps I took in order to come to a Brand Image for myself. So until then, do seriously think about creating an online Branded Persona for yourselves. All the best!

How To Conduct An INTERVIEW

Interviews give us a glimpse into a person, the person’s thinking, their world-view and their opinions on important matters. They are one of our most human, real, and interactive ways of getting to know someone. Interviewing someone is a skill that requires tact and knowledge. It is a vital skill that is equally handy for school and college students, as it is for more grown up people.

Be it a ‘celebrity’ a student needs to interview on a school visit for a school-paper or publication, or a working professional is to interview a visiting dignitary to the office, or moderate an event/conference; the rules and basic requirements to conduct an effective interview stay by-and-large, the same. Here I’d like to share my top 5 tips to conduct a great interview.

  1. Research: One must research the Interviewee/Subject thoroughly. Most of our research nowadays is done on the Internet. There are however dangers to this kind of secondary research since the internet is populated with incorrect information. So while researching on the web, ensue that you use multiple sources/websites/platforms and check your information against many sources. Second, try to always read up previous interviews that your interviewee might have granted reliable media. And third, don’t just focus your research on the Person but also gain a deep understanding of the field/sphere/world that the interviewee belongs to. If you are for instance interviewing a politician, then ensure that you know, in addition to information about the individual, about the political party, the ideology, the history and the current context of that person’s political allegiance.
  2. Occasion: One must also be conscious of where and during what event the interview is taking place. If for example you were to have a Film Director visit your School over Annual Day, aside from asking him/her about films, it would be prudent and appropriate to ask the person about their opinions on schools and education as well. After all, that is the event, occasion and circumstances in which the person is present right. So always keep in mind the forum at which the interview is taking place and include the occasion by asking specific relatable questions.
  3. Be Polite: In an era where we are bombarded with interviewers who are rude, aggressive and persistent; it is always a more mature approach to be friendly, kind and polite in one’s interviewing demeanour. I personally don’t subscribe to the ‘pressure-tactics’ and coercive  interview style that many have adopted. Even if there is a question that you want to ask that seems uncomfortable or is being evaded by the interviewee, let it go, ask a few other questions, and then come back to it in a differently worded manner. Be polite and be kind. It always makes for a more immersive and meaningful interaction.
  4. Pre-Meet: It is always a great idea to try and meet your subject in advance. Be it a day in advance or even if it is just a short while before the actual interview; a mere ten minute face to face meeting between interviewer and interviewee helps break the ice, establish rapport and comfort level, gives the two individuals a chance to get to know each other a little and allows the interviewer to share the line of questioning he/she has in mind and ask for the interviewee’s consent. All this advance-preparation goes a long way in ensuring a smooth, honest, and free-wheeling interview that translates in obvious camaraderie on-screen as well as in print.
  5.  Conversational: Finally, keep the interview conversational. There are two human beings talking, not a machine interrogating another machine. Engage, listen carefully, and develop the chat organically. Often times we get so caught up with our predetermined questions that we forget to even listen, and irrespective of the interviewee’s responses, we surge forward with our line of questioning, irrespective of it making sense or not. By listening carefully, we give ourselves the freedom and liberty to stray from our script and ask questions that are more natural, ensuring that the interview is more instinctive, logical, and engaging for the two people concerned, as well as for the viewing/reading audience.

We seek interviews because we want a peek into the minds and hearts of well-known individuals who might just share insights that enlighten us. Because we expect them to open-up to us, we must in-turn treat them with the respect of being well-prepared, and well-mannered.

WHAT Exactly I TEACH

Aside from conducting specific workshops in Fiction & Non Fiction Writing, I also see students at my home. These students range from kids in Junior School through till College. What do they come to me for? A vast majority of my home-students come for a mix of things as part of a student-specific program that adds up to overall confidence building. The program, that I try tailor-make to each individual student’s requirements and unique personalities, contains some common elements; however the focus and the way the program is structured, varies from student to student. It is an amalgam of Writing (business communication), Public Speaking, some basic Body Language, Etiquette and Manner, and a host of exercises that endow students with vital Soft-Skills that come in handy through their Professional as well as Personal Lives.

Because Parents and Students often don’t understand at the outset what exactly I teach, I am sharing a typical Lesson Plan of mine which is as follows: 

TOPIC TOOL SESSIONS
POWER to CONVINCE Email Writing

Reply Writing

Discussions of Various Scenarios

2
POWER to CONVINCE Proposal Writing 1
POWER to PRESENT

PUBLIC SPEAKING

Speech Writing

Speech Watching

Speech Delivering

3
POWER to ANALYZE Review Writing

Identification of ‘Aspects’

2
POWER to PRESENT SOP Writing

Building a Story

2
AWARENESS Current Affairs

Tips & Tricks

Apps & Resources

1
PUBLIC SPEAKING/CONVERSATION

PUBLIC-INTERACTION

Power of Listening

Power of Appreciating Opinions

Group Discussions on Several Topics 2
BODY LANGUAGE Sitting, Standing, Talking, Gestures, Dressing 1
INTERVIEWS How to take an Interview

Mock Interviews

2
Table Etiquette  How to sit at a dinner table

How to use one’s cutlery

How to cut and eat food

How to ask for something

How to conclude the meal

How to use the napkin

1
Leadership, Management Organize yourself

Time Management

Calm

Inclusive

Decisive

1
COMMUNICATING an IDEA

+

SELLING

 

(combines Analyzing, Convincing, Presentation)

ADVERTISING

Explanation

Developing a Brand

Research

Developing an Advertising Campaign

2
DEBATES

(test Presentation, Clarity of Thought)

JAM (Just a Minute)

Longer Debates

Prepared + Impromptu Debates

 

3
GENERAL CONVERSATION Dos Donts

Greetings/Salutations/Sign Offs

1
CAREER-DISCUSSION Another Way of Getting Kids to THINK

Advice/Aptitude/Reasoning

1
RECAP Last Session Recap/Questions/Doubts etc 1

 

Each Student is different but what is common is the absolutely non-negotiable need to come across as Confident, Self-Aware and Articulate individuals in an increasingly competitive world where there is little else except one’s winsome personality to separate one from another. My interaction with students aims to instil in them, through a combination of Writing & Speaking Exercises, the Power To Communicate effectively and confidently.

 

A Boarding School Education

Two decades after my own Boarding School education finished, I’m still regularly asked – “Should we send our kid to boarding school?” I suppose people feel that I can offer them a unique insight into the world of residential schooling, one that perhaps eludes the vast majority of folks who attended regular day-school. Perhaps they’re right. And then perhaps, it really comes down to common sense.

That a boarding school education can be infinitely enriching. That it can expose a young mind to limitless possibilities of self-discovery. That it can liberate a student from many conscious or unconscious constraints. These are foregone conclusions. Ones that most people are aware of.

Having said all of this, there is one insight I can offer. And that is, that for all the wonderfully exploratory benefits of a boarding school; it is NOT necessary that these will prove to be assets for each and every child. Boarding School is a testing environment. People used to believe that as long as a particular boarding school does not have bullying, it is well and good. But even WITHOUT bullying or ragging, it is STILL a testing environment. It is a space where a child needs to be strong-willed, self-confident, and self-driven. If there is a child who is extremely attached to home, isn’t particularly self-motivated; chances are that the atmosphere a boarding school offers will not sit well with that student. In the best case scenario, that student will go through the motions (years) at school not benefitting at all. The worst case scenario could be much more tragic, with the student developing many complexes and issues, that might become permanently embedded!

So, when it comes time to send you ward to boarding school, it is less the advice of other people, less the reputation of a school, less your own enthusiasm as parents that should determine your choice – and more your own child’s disposition, of which, you should have a clear, objective, un-biased perception and assessment. ONLY if you feel that your son or daughter can ‘handle the pressures’ of a competitive space where one has to work immensely hard to carve out a niche, should you take the plunge.

Like I said at the beginning, while people may be able to present many advantages and disadvantages of a boarding school education, it is for you as a parent, to really judge what you realistically feel your child is best suited to. And if that means sacrificing a boarding-school education to preserve his or her well-being, so be it. It can be a life-altering education but it can unfortunately also be, a scarring one. So THINK hard before you commit your child to it.

The WRITE Advice

I am often asked what the prerequisites to join one of my Writing Workshops are. Truth be told, the requirements to benefit from a Writing Program, long or short, are just three! And they have almost nothing to do with writing or language prowess!

  1. OPEN MIND – A Writing Workshop is a space where one has to come in with an open mind. It is similar to taking an acting or theatre class in the sense that one can not be shut off, closed off, or conscious in the least. One must surrender oneself entirely; to the mentor, to one’s class-mates, and to the program itself. Holding back one’s feelings or emotions, being guarded about one’s positive or negative thoughts, being bothered by judgment and being concerned with how one will be perceived are all factors that will prevent one from truly engaging and gaining from a writing program. So the number one condition to take one of my Writing Workshops is, to be Open, and to submit fully to the class.
  2. TRUTHFULNESS – Great writing doesn’t necessarily come from great narrative. It comes from honesty. One must therefore be honest in one’s perceptions, observations, and in the portrayal of one’s characters and incidents. There are only so many plots and so many stories out there. What differentiates a great piece of writing from a relatively less engaging piece of writing is the ‘honesty’ with which it has been written. This means that one’s characters must be extremely real and well known to the writer, as must the situations. Anything that does not seem convincing to the writer himself-herself will jump off the page and seem contrived, made-up, irrational, untrue, a fallacy. One must therefore write about things and about people that one is intimately familiar with. Create worlds that one has experienced, lived and inhabited. That is not to say that one can not write about people, things and places that are outside of one’s realm; it requires genuine inquiry and research. No half truths here.
  3. WRITE via SUGGESTION – At school one hears this from teachers all the time – be descriptive, be creative in one’s writing. What does this really mean? In my own perception, it means one very simple thing. Write observations, not feelings. If we describe an observation, it will automatically convey the emotion, that too in a vivid, picture-like, immersive manner. It is one thing for instance to say “Ram felt incredibly nervous”, and quite another to say, “Beads of sweat formed on Ram’s forehead. His toes twitched in his Kolhapuri chappals like prisoners wanting to break free from their fleshy-confines.” Its plain to see what makes for more engaging reading, while leaving something for the reader to infer. Readers must be able to infer, rather than being presented the ‘whole truth’ in words. If one can get into the habit of writing though describing situations, one will have addressed this third and final requirement to be part of a fulfilling writing program.

Writing can unlock an infinite landscape of creative expression. It can be liberating, therapeutic, cathartic, and hugely satisfying. Be open, and dive in!

Teach Without Prejudice

Over the past five years, I have taught at many schools, colleges and institutes. Some have been well known, others start-ups, and still more have been extremely modest places. I have been advised by many people to ‘choose’ the places I teach at, and organisations I associate with, CAREFULLY! Why? Because if I associate with ‘lesser’ institutions, the ‘good’ ones will not want to have me!

THIS, I find preposterous. While I realise that most of this advice comes from well-meaning people, from a place of genuine care and concern; I REFUSE to ‘select’ the places I teach at on any ‘basis’. I reject the notion of ‘strategising’ a career of an Educator. Teachers MUST go where they are needed – no matter the size, stature, status of the organisation. At least that is what I firmly believe. If all good educators ran along to teach at the ‘best’ places, who’d be left to teach elsewhere?

Teaching for me is about trying to reach out to the most number of students. A vital part of that pursuit is to interact with students through a multitude of engagements. This automatically means that instead of being permanently tied down to one institute, I give myself the freedom of ‘visiting’ several institutions, engaging in various ways be it workshops, long-term programs, with entire batches of students, with individuals through one-on-one classes, and even through online teaching. This vast spread of teaching-vehicles allows me to have students who represent a wide range of age, social standing, geography, demography, and inclinations. And that is what keeps my teaching fresh, invigorated, and of course, allows me to reach more people.

Knowledge can only grow when shared. And when you share, you don’t discriminate. If indeed there are people or organisations or schools or colleges that feel I am not to be ‘touched’ because of my prior or ongoing associations with any individual/institute, that’s just too bad for them!

“Education is the foundation upon which we build our future”, and the future belongs, to EVERYONE.