The Last Time I’ll Be 39!

In a couple of days I’ll turn 39. The last year I’ll be in my 30’s! Society dictates that it is one’s 30’s in which career heights are reached, milestones attained, landmarks achieved. If I judge my own life through the lens of this established status quo, I tend to feel like a bit of a loser. At a time when an individual is seizing their place in the ‘career’ sun, breaking free from the quicksand-like clutches of middle management and moving UP, I decided to chuck it all. Relocated, shifted careers, started, effectively from scratch! If I evaluate my life from this factual standpoint, of having made a new beginning in my mid 30’s, my work in education through teaching & writing, its wide acknowledgement and patronage, individual & institutional; I have lots to be immensely proud of. So why then, am I still a tad unsure? Why, when I am being invited by the most premier institutions of the country to lecture, when I have just been asked to deliver a Ted Talk, when I have created a sizeable repertoire of intellectual property across publications pan-India, when I have positively impacted the lives of hundreds if not thousands of students, why, am I still grappling with a not-entirely-conscious yet always-present feeling of inadequacy? Why do I, for example, even in this article, feel the need to keep listing my various achievements, of proving my worth, of justifying my very existence?

When I dig deep and ask myself why this slight discomfort still persists inside of me, there are two answers that come to mind. First, I feel that my own appraisal of my station in life is inextricably linked to money. This might be a result of societal outlook, or something I have inherited from family, I can’t be entirely sure. But I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t admit it. That most of my contemporaries earn significantly more than I do (educators & writers aren’t paid very much at all) doesn’t make me in the least bit jealous – it does however bother me that I don’t, myself!

The second cause of this inner angst continues to be a barrage of unresolved familial issues. I have a vault full of feelings that I need to communicate to certain people in my family; the tragedy is that things are, rather than getting untangled, only becoming messier with each passing day. I may consciously try my hardest to disassociate myself from the legal upheaval and degradation within my family, deny any investment in the everyday grind of this seemingly insurmountable battle; truth is, I am a part of it, an integral, inescapable part of it. The goings on within the home and family impact me, affect me, influence me, profoundly.

Logic dictates that in order to be happy and content in life, one must focus on the positives. The things in one’s life one must be grateful for, thankful for. And God knows there are many of those in my life. A mother who has sacrificed all but her life to be with us boys. A wife who has stood by me through thick and thin, and is truthfully the primary reason I have, in the past 5 to 6 years, had the courage to embrace my calling and effectively end my existential crisis. A daughter whom I dote on, who is the most loving, entertaining, and precious thing to me in the world. A brother who is loving in his own strange and unique ways, a source of great strength despite being a fair few years younger. Mentors and guides who have inspired, enlightened. Friends who don’t quite understand and are often times miffed at my blow hot-blow cold behaviour but continue to be by my side steadfastly. My animal-children, who love selflessly, delight endlessly.

39 years I have been on this planet. I feel that only recently, I have begun to contribute, to give back, to pay forward. I also feel that in life’s greater and final equation, if the scale were to be filled and tested, the positives in my life would far outweigh the negatives. And for these reasons it occurs to me, that to hell with it being my 39th year. To hell with my being a decade late to the party. It just doesn’t matter that it’s the last time I’ll be 39, because the best is really yet to come!

Politically Correct!

The country is in the firm grip of election fever. Homes, streets, offices, are abuzz with election-talk, with people offering their individual perspectives on who will win, loose, and form the new government. It also seems like one of the most unpredictable elections to call. In this kind of politically charged atmosphere, there is a huge part of our young Indian society, missing. Absent from the general discourse, absent also from having their own opinions on the matter.

I am referring to middle to high school students of India. Although they may not be in a position to cast their vote, does that mean they shouldn’t have an opinion? I feel it is vital that they do. Having said that, are they really knowledgeable, invested, aware, enough to have an opinion?

Students in India are made to study how our political establishment works. By middle school, most students gain an insight and understanding, at least of the basic fundamentals of the Indian Democratic & Parliamentary systems. How elections take place, representation, voting, constituencies and the like. But perhaps this theoretical knowledge is too rudimentary, and doesn’t evolve into a more reality-based understanding of anything that is politically current. Our students, especially those attending ‘good schools’ in metropolitan areas, go to great lengths to hone their debating skills and participate passionately in a forum such as the MUN (Model United Nations), debating furiously, international problems and seeking possible solutions. While this is a worthy pursuit, should there not be a platform such as the MUN for our own, native politics? A regular and prestigious event that will compel tomorrow’s voters to research, gain different perspectives, and form their own opinions on national political history, issues, parties, states, regions, problems. It will familiarize them with the current political landscape of the country and engage them in a manner that will best prepare them to make informed decisions when it comes time to cast their own votes in the real world.

This kind of grounding and base-formation will also prevent young Indians from blindly adopting a political ideology that they seem to presently either inherit from their parents and families, or imbibe from their suddenly politically charged college environment – there is an argument here that when a young Indian voter does start thinking about his or her politics, it is too late already to really form one’s own, personal, well thought out perspective.

I remember my own experiences as a child, in most quarters of my family, there was this overwhelming loyalty towards the Congress Party with senior members of my family entirely dedicated to Indira Gandhi. I just accepted this bias towards the Congress to be the gospel truth because I had no other alternative. No forum to debate, explore, or historical perspective on which to base, and come to my own conclusions and opinions. I suspect the influence family holds over young students today isn’t vastly different. And it is time that we, as parents, educators, and responsible adults bringing up a new generation of Indians, thought about this, and provided an opportunity to young India, to decide what’s politically correct for them, themselves!

Is Your Child Fearful Of The Future?

During my interactions with students across middle and senior school have yielded a disturbing reality. That unlike when we were young, unworried, unhurried, kids nowadays are a stressed lot. They seem to carry the weight of the world on their tiny shoulders. While some are constantly burdened by the heft of unrealistic and sky-high expectations, of academic and non-scholastic achievements & targets; others feel a tremendous pressure to create an identity for themselves that is unique and differentiated, yet enabling them to ‘fit in’.

However, among all this psychological load that students tend to feel these days, it is an uncertain future, that many of them seem mortally frightened of. Why, we need to ask as parents and educators, do our kids feel this kind of bleeding pressure? Why, rather than being hopeful, enthusiastic, excited, and optimistic about the future, are they scared, troubled, dismayed, and pessimistic about it?

STOP NAGGING & COMPARING

My own perception of this troubling trend is down to the conscious and unconscious competitive pressure that we place on our kids. Without even realizing it, we constantly nag our children, comparing their performance and achievements with those of their friends and peers, on occasion, even proudly siting specific kids as examples of how THEY should be! All this causes a child to lose not just interest, but a will to explore, discover, and find themselves. It is a behavioral pattern that we as adult care-givers must correct, forthwith.

OPEN FUTURE OPTIONS

The other facet of this increasing disillusionment with the future comes from a predetermined future course of education and career. Now, planning for the future is all well and good. However, many times, as parents, we don’t merely suggest and expose our kids to options, we pretty much assert, even brainwash them into a certain chosen future path, that has little or nothing to do with the child itself, not accounting for his/her likes, dislikes, passions, talents, interest areas and aptitude. In this kind of a scenario, the future, rather than presenting itself like a hopeful and joyous prospect, becomes a tunnel with no light at the end of it. We must therefore, however hard the temptation might be, steer clear of defining our children’s’ future plans, academic, and otherwise. We need to let our kids make their own choices, give them the power to own their own lives.

ALL KIDS ARE THEIR OWN UNIQUE INDIVIDUAL PEOPLE

Lastly, the sooner we can accept that it isn’t necessary that our children are either versions of ourselves, nor is their intelligence defined ONLY by academic achievements, the better the environment that we create for them, will be. If there is a student who is not performing well academically at school, rather than berating that child about it, taunting, warning of a bleak future; the child will be infinitely better served, if as parents, we focused our energies and efforts in identifying areas that the child is good in. I have seen countless examples of students who were my own contemporaries, and even today from among my students, who don’t present an aptitude for traditional subjects, but are remarkably adept and ingenious in alternative areas. One example that comes immediately to mind is a local Jaipur story of this boy who dropped out of school, and employing his immense entrepreneurial skills, today owns and runs one of the most successful chains of Burger Restaurants called Burger Farm!

The future, as it is, isn’t looking particularly rosy. With all the problems that plague the world, the last thing we need is a generation of worriers! In fact, what is required, is the complete opposite – a set of people who are confident and optimistic enough to bring significant change in the world, and heal it. Let us begin by making a small change in our own parenting philosophies today, and enable our kids to shine tomorrow.

Two Years On…

When my daughter Krisha was born, I was nervous, yet overjoyed. At the time, I had written extensively about becoming a father. Many of you read those posts, even reached out to me. It was an exciting time, a new phase, uncharted territory, an unknown path. Now, nearly two years on, I thought I should write an update-piece. Share what the past two years of brining up and interacting with my daughter have been like. So here goes!

With some trepidation life began with Pishu (as Krisha is fondly known at home). Not for any other reason except not wanting to make a misstep. Things soon settled down though. And it has been the most delightful time since. To watch your own flesh and blood, in many ways, an extension of yourself, grow, develop, evolve, is an indescribable feeling. It is an emotional rollercoaster. On the one hand, your heart swells with pride when the first-step is taken, at the same time, the mind fears that some harm might come to the child. While you want your child to engage, interact, and socialise with others, you are vary of her being mistreated, protective, paranoid even! And from the minute she is up to the second she FINALLY falls asleep, she is ACTIVE. Her increasing understanding of things, concepts, language, emotions is scary and fascinating in equal measure.  Her irreverence and abject lack of obedience are both attractive and annoying.

Most of all though, you have, as a parent, an opportunity to be a child once again. With your child, you rediscover the world through their eyes and innocent little hearts and minds, full of genuine surprise and wonder. They are amazed at the simplest facts, lured by the mundane, captivated by the ordinary, enchanted by the elementary. It is enviable, wonderfully refreshing, and always entertaining. Then you see reflections of yourself – physically, habitually, in their personalities, in their likes & dislikes, and in their several inherited traits. When Pishu dances to pallo latke by Asha Bhosle with gay abandon, I can’t help but notice her inherent sense of rhythm, and the fact that she instinctively prefers the ‘original’ to the modern version of the song. Just one example of the infinite list of adorable eccentricities!

Having said all of this, I’d be lying if I didn’t confess to a certain amount of very real and palpable frustration. Of having to give up time, people, places, and pursuits. Time with my wife Anuja, for instance, is something that was crucially important to me – that has almost vanished, and it has caused me much anguish. Similarly, the pets have been, to some extent, deprioritised. Such is the crude reality where time and places are usurped by a new baby in the home.

In the larger scheme of things however, the overwhelming sense is that of immense joy and fulfilment. What a child brings to you isn’t selflessness. I dare say, it is terribly selfish. And that kind of love and joy, can not be replaced, traded, or compensated for, by anything else in the entire world. Two years on, I am proud as a potato and pleased as punch, that Pishu is in my life 🙂

STUDENTS, Create A Profile!

In an era of intense competition, students find it difficult to stand out, to stand apart. Its like each individual is lost in a maze of ‘sameness’, as if just another, among a bunch of red apples! The irony is that we are all unique, peculiar, wonderful individuals, despite which, we seem alike. So what can young people do, to communicate their ‘uncommonness’?

I always encourage people from middle school right up to college graduates to undertake a Profile Writing exercise. This is a simple little 250 to 300 word document where one talks about certain basic information about oneself – Name, School/College, Grade/Year. This is followed by stating 3 Areas of Interest/Passion. And then, really expanding on these 3 areas of interest by devoting the following 3 paragraphs of the profile to these interest-areas. One paragraph each for one interest, with details about Where, When, How, and Why that Interest first began. Any Achievements in that area. And any Learnings/Lessons/Realizations (about oneself or otherwise) during the course of experiencing/pursuing that particular passion. A concluding paragraph that talks about any Current Pursuit that the reader might find interesting, followed by a final sentence on Future Plans, which could be firm, or approximate.

While there may not be any immediate practical use/requirement for this kind of a write-up in a student’s curriculum; young people should view this more as an opportunity to Introspect and get to know themselves well. Undertaking the Profile Writing Exercise compels a student to dig deep, question oneself, and ultimately, know oneself better. It brings about clarity of thought, of purpose, and of a direction for the future. At a time when young students scarcely have time to breathe; this exercise forces them to pause, reflect and discover themselves – likes and dislikes, their learnings, and can provide a significant guidance in planning ahead.

Now to the matter I began this piece with – that it helps communicate a differentiated personality. When one is applying for colleges, or jobs post college, even though you may not be asked for a write-up such as this; supplying the reader/organization/college/company with a Profile of yourself will, in most scenarios, be appreciated. First, it will ‘humanize’ the student and provide a glimpse into the candidate as an actual person (rather than just another on-paper CV or Resume). Second, it will give genuine insight into the candidate as a unique individual. Both vital to communicating a winsome personality.

I strongly urge students to undertake this little exercise. And for this, I leave you with a SAMPLE Profile to get you started. All the best 🙂

SAMPLE PROFILE

I am Karan Malhotra and I currently study in grade 6 at the Asian World School. I would say that my three main interest areas are Swimming, Science, and Music.

When I was just seven years old, I told my father I wanted to learn to swim. He would complete the entire length of the swimming pool at Jaipur Club in no time, and that always amazed me. That summer my parents enrolled me in swimming classes and I learned how to swim. I learned an important lesson through swimming. I realized that to do well in anything in life, one has to work hard and be disciplined.

Science has always fascinated me. Like swimming, my passion for science developed at a very early age. When I was just five my parents got me this Doctor-Set game which I used to love playing. As I grew older, I watched many videos on channels like National Geographic and Discovery which made me even more curious about science. At school, I always take part in the science-related activities and enjoy doing experiments and building things. It is one subject I think I will want to study for a long time to come.

My parents and my grandparents love music. I too developed a keen interest in music and my parents got me a great guitar instructor with whom I soon learned many melodies. This talent was appreciated by my music teachers at school as well and I am a proud member of the school orchestra. Listening and playing music makes me feel calm an inspired.

These days, I am really working on a Solar Powered Rocket for a Science Exhibition. I hope to become a Scientist working in Aeronautics in the future, while still continuing my swimming & music as hobbies.

‘KHOJ’

As I seek I find

Truth, meaning, the self, the divine

I sketch, I paint, I sculpt, I shine

I brush off layers of lies with turpentine

Hidden truths, some yours, a few mine

Some call it a symphony expressed, others malign

To me it doesn’t matter, neither derided, nor enshrined

I am a seeker, not of glory, of an ideal deeper

As you sip tea or nurse your wine

My calling is to keep relentlessly trying

To initiate

To instigate

To persuade

To stimulate

An inward epiphany

An outward inquiry

A Search, Perennial …..

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.