Dear friends of mine Apra and Kunal Kuchhal and their family have been the chief patrons of a wonderful home for HIV children called Rays. Both Anuja and I have been huge admirers of this family, and the wonderful work they are doing through their two homes, for a number of years. We have visited the children in the past at their annual gala when the students at these homes display a variety of stalls and games. However, it wasn’t until a few days back when I had the opportunity of interacting alone, one on one, with a large group of kids at Rays, that I realized just how incredible these children are!

As an educator, I try to give my best to my students. I’ve been fortunate to be able to balance teaching and interacting with people of all ages and from varying strata of society. I take immense pride that whenever an opportunity presents itself for me to make even a modest impact socially, I grab it. Having conducted various workshops in the past, be it for converting Text Books into Audiobooks for the Visually Impaired,  or creating awareness about Organ Donation among the young; I try to make teaching fun, and take the preaching and boredom out of it.

However, when I visited Rays the other day, I had the most amazing, the most humbling, and the most educational experience myself. Like I usually do, I began the evening interaction with a fun ice-breaking game that I had seen being conducted at an Education Conference I’d been invited to last year. This, if I might say so myself, immediately did the trick and put the kids and I, at ease with each other.

Then, the agenda was simple. To screen a bunch of varied Short Films that I often use in various classes. These were fun, witty, sweet, emotional (but not depressing) films that centered on themes such as Gender Equality, Good Deeds, Freedom and Family. I was extremely conscious of course while curating the selection, given the trauma, both familial and psychological, that most of the kids who live and learn at Rays, have gone through.

The evening was really enjoyable. The 40 odd kids who were present seemed to have loved each film, they were laughing, enjoying, and had a great time. After the screenings, I had a little casual chat with them about the films. And that’s when it hit me. Not only were these beautiful children full of wisdom beyond their years, interpreting the central message of each film correctly and voicing it in unison; more importantly, they made me realize that they are, despite facing in most cases, an uncertain future, so so full of zest, zeal, enthusiasm, happiness, talent, vivaciousness, vitality, exuberance of youth, and a genuine hunger to learn that seems insatiable. It made me reassess my own priorities, made me look inward and suddenly feel so shallow for all the insignificant things we ‘fortunate’ people tend to keep cribbing about.

The kids at Rays are indeed, Rays of hope for our entire society. When I was leaving, I was asked to sign the Guest Book. I was so moved by then that I couldn’t articulate my feelings. In any case, the paltry ‘comments’ column in the Guest Book was entirely inadequate for me to express what I felt, what that visit had done to me, for me.

They say that teaching is a good deed. I have said this in the past, and I’ll say it again. It is a terribly selfish deed. Because what these enlightened kids did for me at Rays, will stay with me as life’s greatest lesson forever. That I shared an hour of my time with them, and that they were so thankful, is just embarrassing for me. Because really speaking, it is we who ought to thank and learn from these gentle souls. These pure, untarnished beings who take life so happily in their stride, and so unassumingly, spread joy and light!


New OLD Parent!

Anuja and I got married in 2008. Nearly a decade ago. Ever since, initially subtly, subsequently not as subtly, friends, family and ‘well wishers’ started advising us to have a child. And we kept putting it off, furnishing from the most cliche to some pretty far fetched alibis. In the meantime, all our contemporaries, school and college friends, cousins around the same age, were having them babies galore!

This necessitated a rather interesting phase in our marital lives. Because people we’d normally hang out with got busy with new parenthood, we had to seek company elsewhere. In Bombay at the time, we fell happily into a friend circle that comprised mostly of folks about a decade older than us, couples whose kids had gone past the ‘constant supervision’ stage with children well into their pre-teens (which brings its own set of unique parenting challenges but at least does not demand the kind of time and effort that the initial years of a baby does). We were blissful and merry, having become an integral part of this large parents  group that I suspect was trying to reclaim its own youth, having spent the past ten odd years in dedicated service of their children.

Between Anuja and I, we were sure that we didn’t want to have a child in Bombay. For all its libertarian values, free-spirited ethos, and rewards for the driven, the thought of having a kid there and have the kid say, “there’s my school on the 2nd floor of that building”; to two North Indians who’d been fortunate enough to attend schools and colleges with a ‘campus’, this was an inconceivable situation.

Then some four years back, we moved bag and baggage to Jaipur, my hometown. And though we didn’t discuss it specifically, I think we’d both individually, and as a couple, arrived at that point. The point where we felt we were ready. And so we had our beautiful daughter Krisha.

Krisha is now almost a year old, I am almost 38, Anuja, 37. By any standard, we’d be considered ‘older’ parents. Especially in a city like Jaipur (that errs on the side of orthodox), we are at least a decade older than couples who’s have kids around the same time as us! That makes for an interesting situation again, thankfully, mostly a humorous one. I keep joking with Anuja, that these parents want to themselves address Anuja and I as ‘uncle aunty’, what will their kids (who are Krisha’s contemporaries) call us!?

I’ve also come to the realization that I am too old for this! Don’t get me wrong, I am ecstatic being a parent, particularly to a baby girl. But boy is it hard to keep up. I mean literally keep up. I’m getting physiotherapy for my back as I write this, my knees hurt, and I feel exhausted carrying, chasing, and playing with Pishu!

But here’s the thing. There really isn’t a right or a wrong time for a couple to have a child. There will always be justified arguments on both sides – to have kids early, and to have kids late. But this is beyond cold logic. It is a decision that ought to be made when it ‘feels’ right. For both parties involved. Its an intangible, unquantifiable, almost indefinable feeling that you either get, or you don’t get. And if you get it, then take the plunge. All the merits of having kids when we’re young, all the disadvantages of having them when we’re not so young, pale when the time is ‘right’ for YOU!

Anuja and I are absolutely loving being parents, even though we’d be considered ‘older’ parents. Age is just a number. The Time however, must be RIGHT!

Visually Enhanced!

Now, before you think that here is an educator propagating screen-time for young children who are already obsessing over i pads and such, I am NOT. I entirely appreciate the need to, and the struggle of warding off young children from unnecessary ‘dependence’ on visual-aids.

Having said that, what I am most definitely advocating, is the use of the visual medium as a tool to expose, sensitize, and educate slightly older students, particularly students from middle to high school.

As many of you may already be aware, I am a great believer in embracing the power of the visual medium when I teach my students. We are living in a visual world. Children are positively predisposed to the medium. So instead of fighting it, why not use it to their advantage. I always therefore make it a point to screen Short Films and Documentaries (of course age-appropriate) that provoke thought in a young generation that is otherwise largely concerned with their core-academic studies and/or less meaningful pursuits. Be it a film about the Environment or saving Animals; film as a tool is, in most cases, immediately accepted by students (as opposed to other more traditional means such as a Lecture or a Book). Their acceptance sustains their interest and subliminally conveys the sensitive message one if trying to get across to them, in a non-preachy, and relatively less mundane way.

Even as parents, rather than shun the idea of getting our children to use screens, it might be a better idea to instead, tailor the content, so they don’t end up watching rubbish. The world is a place with many pressing issues. And there is a dire need to make a new generation aware of these problems and to sensitize them, since they are the ones who will have to face these situations and come up with solutions. For this, the Moving Image can become an ally in the education of our children and enhance their learning exponentially. Let us Visually Enhance them!


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!

A Pint of Nostalgia

That’s my grandfather holding me in his arms. My grandfather, my dada, MY DADU… My most favorite person in the world. To whom I owe my happiest memories, my world view, my inner light. I was lucky enough to have him around till I was about 13 years old. And those 13 years, each moment spent with him, have gone on to hold me in good stead, even today. Every time I am down, I just have to think about him, and I feel better. Why? Certainly not because of the gifts he showered me with (he hardly did, he was a man of extremely modest means). Not because he gave in to my whims and fancies. Not because he indulged my wants and desires.

Simply because he was THERE. In spades. He spent ALL his time with me. I remember he’d tell my grandmother he was going to the office and promptly make a u-turn and drive to our place instead, spend the office-intended 9-5 with me, and return home, updating his wife that he’d put in a solid day’s work! He wasn’t lying 🙂

Why am I sharing all this? Because I think today, as young parents, we have replaced some of that vital TIME with gifts, money and maids. A child has little or no concept of money. When my grandfather made me boats out of the ‘jibbi’ that one uses to floss one’s tongue, and ran them in a small tub using ‘kapoor’ to propel them; or when he put back any toy I had broken with the enthusiasm of a child; or when he took me to Ram Mandir and sneakily bought me a silly little orange bar, then washing my tongue frantically before entering the house to erase the orange-evidence of sin – I was in seventh heaven. He’d made my day. He’d made many of my days. He’d made 13 years of my life, unforgettable!

I just took my daughter to my maternal grandparents’ home in Calcutta. My own childhood at that home, with that set of grandparents, brings back similarly ecstatic childhood memories. And to see my 7 month old daughter Krisha with her 91 year old Great-Grand-Father…. Just priceless….

Anuja and I are trying our best to give Krisha a lifetime full of Happy Memories. With us, with family, with friends. An unending suitcase of nostalgia where the only excess is LOVE…. Here’s to creating beautiful, human, happy, fond memories!