Make Pudding, Make Merry!

Christmas is a time for familial bonding, love and cheer. It is a true celebration of all that we hold dear. It is also a time when we ought to reflect on all the great things we are blessed with and be deeply grateful.

I remember so vividly, when I was younger, my mum would have the gardener bring out the real-life Christmas Tree we had growing in our garden, plant it into a large, beautiful pot, and have it occupy pride of place in an alcove of our living room.

This was followed by the our joint ritual of tree-decoration. It was a fun project that we undertook together, each year. And the process of the tree’s ornamentation itself, symbolised to me, the true spirit and meaning of the festival. It brought us closer together. It made our bond even stronger. The fact that we ended up with a beautifully embellished Christmas Tree was the bonus. The real fun and festivity was in the act of doing-up the tree.

I must confess that some of this bonhomie and spirit of togetherness has been lost in recent years. I see a growing number of parents and children ‘celebrating’ Christmas yes, though the method has changed. It seems to have become more about being out-and-about, at fairs, festivals and carnivals where one shops, eats, and makes merry. And while that is a perfectly legitimate way of spending the holiday, it does tend to miss out on a personal essence.

My hope and prayer this Christmas then is for parents and children to return to a more innocent time. To do some activities at home, together. It could be anything. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate tree. You could play some games together. Make a New Year Card with the family. Or better still, make Pudding!

Merry Christmas & lots of love!

Why Your Child Should Be A CONFIDENT COMMUNICATOR

Wanted to share an Article of mine that was recently Featured in the Indian Express… It talks about the essential skills of communication that young students need in order to make a mark for themselves.

“Confident Communicators Stand Out” by Kartik Bajoria

 With an estimated 500 million young school students, India has one of the world’s largest student-populations in the world. In our cities and urban centres, a vast majority of these students share aspirations and goals. What they also have in common, unfortunately, is an equally impressive roster of scholastic as well as extra-curricular achievements. I call the situation unfortunate very consciously. All our young wards are trying to outdo each other while at school, and after graduating. There are only a finite number of ‘good’ indigenous colleges, and with rising cut-offs and an increasing number of applicants to a similar set of colleges abroad; it is almost impossible for a student to distinguish himself or herself from their peers. This high-pressure and performance-packed atmosphere has necessitated the one and only facet of a student that will make them stand-out, and that is, to be Great Communicators!

Start Writing Young

 As parents, educators, and guardians, it is essential that we develop in our young wards, the ability to express themselves clearly and effectively. This begins with learning how to Write well. Writing, contrary to popular belief, is much less about using big fancy words, and more about communicating a person’s thoughts, succinctly. If we can get young students into the habit of writing from an early age, we will empower them to express their true thoughts.

At School

Writing will enable students to communicate ideas, opinions, and their vivid imaginations beautifully at school, which will directly help them in performing better in various subjects ranging from English to History, Geography and the like; also as they become senior, it will aid them in articulating their feelings clearly and convincingly in a slew of situations. Say a senior student at school is to organize a carnival at school. Knowing how to write well will enable that student to communicate with possible sponsors through emails, with potential exhibitors through presentations & proposals.

After School

Later still, while applying to colleges abroad, a process that requires students to write detailed essays about their lives and goals; instead of seeking the immediately identifiable help from Academic/Admissions Counsellors, they will be able to articulate their own thoughts and stand an infinitely better chance of admission acceptance.

Start Speaking Young

 Similar to Writing young, we owe it to our children to get them to start speaking from a young age. Most children of course do that naturally. What I mean specifically is Public Speaking. The sooner we can organically get our children to interact with, and express in front of groups of people, the more self-confident they will become, the less self-conscious they’ll be.

At School

 At school, this habit of Public Speaking will manifest in a student being able to participate in, and do well at various activities such as Debates, Drama, and Quizzing, which will ultimately add to that much-needed collection of Extra-Curricular Achievements, vital from a College Admissions standpoint. It will also be a skill that will always help a student make a great first impression, be it interviewing & interacting with dignitaries who visit school, or while hosting important events at school.

After School

Being a confident Public Speaker will make any student post school stand in great stead as the person will be able to break-the-ice instantly in many new social situations. Starting with being Interviewed for College Admissions, to then being at a new college and making friends instantly – being able to speak well in public will prove to be the marked difference between that individual and scores of others who may even have better credentials but people will remember the one who spoke well & confidently.

How?

One might wonder how one can get one’s child to become that great communicator. The answer is actually rather simple. Expose students to good writing, and to people who speak well. I always propagate that as people responsible for bringing up a new generation, we should embrace technology. By exposing children to videos of people who speak well, impactful speeches on various online platforms, we give them a sound foundation upon which to build. This initial orientation combined with a great communications workshop can transform the way a student expresses and will ensure that your child stands apart, and proud.

 

 

 

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.

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!

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!

Are We LOST?

I’d written the following piece as a column of mine in the DNA some time back. I thought it would be quite relevant to share it here on my website now that it is long published. It is an article that points a lens at a possible Identity Crisis we are in. It examines the question, Are We LOST?

Circa 1992. I enter the ‘common room’ in my boarding house at Doon and put a Bhimsen Joshi cassette into the decrepit but still surviving Philips Powerhouse music system. As Jago Mohan Pyare sounds through the speakers the rest of the boys playing TT, carrom, chess, or generally lounging around, cringe. They stare right at me, judging, pronouncing me awfully ‘uncool’. And while that wasn’t all the lads at school, I shamefully admit that it was the majority. That’s when it hit me. As Indians, we are in a phase of ‘identity crisis’.

Why am I talking about it in this column? Because it is a crisis that perhaps manifests most vividly through peoples’ choices in Films, Books and Music. And because I am also an educator who interacts with children across all age groups, I am deeply saddened to share that not only does the crisis continue, it has grown to epidemic proportions! We are just NOT a proud people. We define ourselves mostly through Western Culture. If my generation did not know and watch the popular American sitcom ‘Friends’, we weren’t cool enough. If today’s youth does not know or claim to love shows like ‘Stranger Things’ or ‘Breaking Bad’, its just not going to cut it. Binge watching Netflix is IN, watching wholesome Hrishikesh Mukherjee, OUT!

I am not for a moment pretending or propagating that I am, or that everyone else should be some nationalist prude. What I do certainly feel is that there is a paucity of national pride. Amidst all the noise and sensationalism of patriotism, Hinduism and nationalism that is defined by illogical and banal yardsticks that we all know and I don’t feel the need to delve into; we have genuinely ‘lost’ our Indian-ness.

The films we want to watch, at least urban India, are Hollywood blockbusters. The books we want to read are International Bestsellers rather than Indian books in Indian languages. And the music we want to listen to is ‘Gaga’ instead of a beautiful Raga, or ‘The Weeknd’ instead of Bhimsen!

I wonder what has caused this shift. What is it that makes us so terribly uncool to ourselves, if we subscribe to, and openly admit loving anything culturally Indian? Is it a pilfered morality of an urban elite that now all strata of society feel compelled to adopt? Why can we not strike a healthy balance between ‘Ishqiya’ and ‘i Zombie’, between A Suitable Boy and Confessions of a Shopaholic, between Indian and International?

Countries celebrate, venerate their artists, dedicate tombs and statues to them. And we drive ours away. From painters to musicians, writers and film makers; Indian culturists have sought refuge in the warmth and appreciation of foreign shores for decades. I suspect it is this dichotomous combination of people being too ‘cool’ or too ‘touchy’ for these artists’ expression!

To me, all it reflects is a huge identity crisis, that we must do our utmost to stop, by exposing our children to the myriad of mesmerizing Indian art.