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.

Embracing The Educator In Me!

That I always wanted to teach, and that I have been teaching for the past five years, is known to many people. However, there is a certain evolution that has come about in my own perception of education, my approach to teaching, and the significance and importance it holds in my life.

See initially when I moved back to Jaipur, my ideal plan was to continue being a Writer (my primary vocation – ghost writing, content development etc), and teach on-the-side as and when time and opportunity permitted. I was very clear that I would teach in the allied areas of communication & writing, and what is commonly known as ‘personality development’. I got lucky and despite having no formal academic background or experience in teaching, I met friends, colleagues and mentors who gave me many platforms to teach.

However, what I thought would be a ‘thing-to-the-side’ has assumed increasing importance in my life. Teaching now, happily consumes a majority of my day. And there are a couple of reasons I steered clear of this in the beginning, and have embraced it completely, now.

I never believed in ‘tuition’ classes – a rage and I suppose, a prerequisite in India (given our skewed education system). So I always shied away from seeing students at home for fear of being labeled ‘tuition teacher’. No offense meant to the thousands who dedicate themselves to teaching what schools ought to; personally, I was also sure I did not want to teach any set school curriculum or ‘prepare’ students for any standardized tests/exams. A small group of parents and students seem to have seen merit in what I’ve been trying to do – impart life-long skills and ‘prepare’ people for LIFE rather than their immediate exams – and ‘risked’ me 🙂

Ever since, that number has grown significantly. And so, I have now made my peace with seeing students at home – because I am NOT teaching them English, or Grammar, or Vocabulary – rather how to find themselves, and express themselves!

Two other reasons I was a touch reluctant to let teaching become my happy preoccupation – less pay and  mental fatigue. Both my presumptions,  I am happy to report, have been proved wrong! That if one associates with quality institutes, organizations and people, and stands one’s ground in terms of charges/fee for personal one-on-one lessons; one can make a respectable living doing this (which I always doubted). And that after half a decade of teaching versions of the same broader program, because each time I interact with a new set of students or with an individual, my experience of teaching and sharing the same material is completely renewed, with new examples, new experiences, varied thoughts – that has alleviated my fear of being ‘bored’ and seeming repetitive to myself.

I am ecstatic that Jaipur seems to be getting to know me, and has begun to recognize that there is a life for students beyond their prescribed texts at school. That life isn’t limited to 100% marks. That life ought to be about self-expression and the quest to find oneself. And that is why, I find myself teaching more and more. And I am loving it!

That I have begun to get inquiries from out of Jaipur that invariably translate into online/skype/whatsapp lessons is just the icing on the cake. Be it through a workshop, a home lesson, or an online session; it is my endeavor to reach as many keen learners (age being irrelevant) as possible, now that I have finally Embraced The Educator In Me 🙂

Meet The Maker!

The snowy white magical powder shot up through his nose and instantly infused with his bloodstream. Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh……….. He was a rocket ship. A Space x machine booming through the sky, shattering the stratosphere, emerging beyond the high, all captured in his heaven-induced sigh…

The world became a circus ring, he its lord and master. Commander, ruler, emperor, conqueror, the absolute. Chemically defining his self-worth for over five years now, this, was his nightly escape. His moonlight drive. His break-on-through, to the other side. Anonymous king, basking in the delectable stench of opioid, Himmat, found his namesake!

On his way back from work each evening, he’d stop under the Powerhouse Gym, the kind of seedy establishment that served as the epicentre of an altogether ‘greater’ fitness. There, hiding in plain sight at this Juhu crossroads, one of the busiest intersections in Mumbai, he’d meet his maker – the maker of his evenings, the saviour of his day’s drudgeries. His dealer. It was a well-oiled and rehearsed precise exchange. Seven pm, Himmat and the ‘dealer’, caps partially veiling their identities, would slip money in return for the desired, each evening. A split-second transaction, an entire night of merriment. It was just perfect.

Saturday. The end of the week at Himmat’s dreaded advertising agency. No more nagging, unappreciative bosses, no more banal client meetings, no more story-weaving, no more lies – even if, just for one day. Sunday. Special treats were planned. A cocktail tonight. No fewer than three varied narcotics, Himmat had decided, and set it all up through the dedicated phone he had that ONLY spoke to his delights.

The appointed hour arrived, as did Himmat. Powerhouse was bustling with protein-pumped wannabe actors admiring themselves like hedonistic man-slaves as they lifted the weight of the world using their scant brains. No sight of the ‘dealer’. 9314268989…….. “this phone is either switched off or not reachable.” Death to the deserter. Traitor. Bastard. Himmat remembered his mother’s warning from the year before – “your body is a temple, respect it”. In return he recollected his much-admired chef-writer Anthony Bourdain’s immortal words – “your body is a rollercoaster, enjoy the ride”, which he had, much to his mother’s increasing woes, snubbed her reprimand with. He snapped out of his hazy déjà vu. The tips of his toes curled up. His knees began to knock against one another. His mouth became dry like the desert camel who’d searched the parched barren land for all but one elusive drop of water.

He got into his car and scurried out of the curb, brushing the fender against a superbike that was obviously compensating for one of those ‘lifters’ upstairs. He couldn’t give a damn. His car rushed against the traffic demonically. Within minutes he was home. Oshiwara. His mother opened the door to incessant belling. He stormed in. Straight to the bar. A glass of neat single malt. Down the funnel. Momentary relief.

“Feels horrible to be sober doesn’t it?” “SHUT UP… SHUT UP… SHUT UP…” Himmat ran into his bedroom and slammed the door behind him. Fell to the ground. Weeped like a child. Then screamed like a banshee. Then cried some more.

Suddenly, there was utter silence. The room was heavy with breath. Drenched in whiskey. Soaked in despair. A minute. Two. Four. Ten. Not a sound. Not a word. Not a cry. Time for another round? Himmat arose. His urgency had dissipated. He carried the ungainly girth of his misery in lethargy-filled steps. Out the door. Into the living room. Past the kitchen. To the entrance of his flat. Then out. Into the hallway. Towards the service steps. Just one flight up to freedom. Permanently. Forever. Eternal.

He reached the terrace and made his way blankly to the edge. He could see the ocean of people and cars, the ever-present Mumbai cacophony, but not hear it. He could touch the sick humidity, but not feel it. It was on its way out, and away. Life, was leaving him. Liberation. At long last. He shut his eyes. Said a prayer. “Himmat, STOP”! A deep baritone yelled.

 

Anew!

Stolen a few moments from a hectic move

Its hard to describe being in this shiny new pair of shoes

The malignant tumor cut off and removed

A parallel universe, a paradigm shift, removed from abuse

Away from that black hole, the insufferable deluge

Look forward, look positive, a life renewed

A fresh lease of life

Anew!

The VIRTUAL Classroom

I’m someone who shares a love-hate relationship with technology. While on the one hand I do subscribe to a Speaker-Home Automation System such as Amamzon Echo, on the other, I run as fast as I can, the opposite direction from complicated cell phones and the like.

Perhaps based on this theory of ‘impersonal’ technology, I had, until recently, in all my years of teaching, never taken on a ‘distance’ student. I’d been approached often to take classes on Skype or some online platform but had largely steered clear. I’d convinced myself that in order to teach effectively, teacher and student must interact in the physical realm.

I’m pleasantly surprised to share that I was wrong, and that I’d made a sweeping assumption. That if the student is dedicated and one has a reasonably quick internet connection (a non-negotiable prerequisite), the proliferation of knowledge is only aided by the ‘virtual classroom’. Just recently I have agreed to lessons for a few students whom I teach online. Am I succumbing to the trend of the many virtual-institutions that are out there? No, I’ve never been governed by the popular or trendy. What I am delighted to report is that these few ‘online classes’ have proved most wonderful.

I usually take these classes for an hour each. They are either through video-calls or simple phone calls. And especially for my areas of education – Communications, Writing, and Identity Enhancement, they have, until now, worked a treat.

Like I always say… Any human being, teacher or student, young or old, parent or child; is constantly learning, evolving, growing, gaining. I’m happy I embraced online teaching. It only means I reach more pupils, and spread the light 🙂

The Loss of Innocence?

The innocence of childhood and the fear of loss are beautifully depicted in this Marathi short film (with subtitles) that I chanced upon just yesterday. The tension in the film is real, and palpable.

I thought I’d simply share the film and urge you to watch it, rather than ramble on myself 🙂

Does the film have a larger message? If yes, what could it be?

Men Can Not Cry!

Of all the issues in this world that I have been trying to sensitize my students about in the past three years, Gender Awareness, true Acceptance, and Equality tops the list. At least in my opinion, unless we as a people, as a global society can view each other as part of one big family, despite, and along with all the diversity, preferences, orientation that exists – how can we solve the world’s other problems and exist as a happy race?

So through my classes, at schools and colleges, at home or in my workshops; I like to keep talking to young students about Gender. That not only the LGBT community, not just women; men too, have been victims of Gender Stereotypes. This shoe-boxing has thwarted no ONE Gender, but all. It has stifled an individual’s natural instinct to be real.

In one of my classes only yesterday, a relatively young student of mine, when asked about whether Gender Stereotypes affect men, said, “men can not cry!” It was bittersweet to hear. Bad, because it was  brutal reminder of reality. Good, because this rather young student, was so AWARE of the society we live in. And that gave me hope!

As educators, parents, mentors, guides and guardians, it is our DUTY to create a world for our children that is FREE of Gender Bias & Stereotype. Where a man is free to arrange a bunch of flowers in a vase. Where a woman is accepted as an EQUAL artist in a film. Where two men can share their blossoming love, not just with one another, but with the world. Where EACH person, can live with PRIDE & DIGNITY.

As I have often remarked, these are UNCOMFORTABLE subjects for us to talk about. But should that be the case? Should we not talk, expose, educate, sensitize the world’s next generation, to be HUMAN first?

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?