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!

Back To School!

Over the weekend of 3rd May ’19, my own alma mater, The Doon School, invited me to conduct a Writing Workshop with boys from middle-school grades. Needless to mention, I was delighted to be back at school.

Wonderful as it was to return to my old stomping-grounds, it wasn’t ONLY nostalgia that made the visit and the interaction with the students exciting; that I have now been actively teaching for nearly six years, have poured tremendous hard work and passion into this pursuit – it was a huge validation of my work and efforts to be called by Doon.

I must share that my observations of the boys currently studying at the school filled me with pride and immense hope. That here is a school that is clearly doing many things right, because in a long time, I haven’t had the chance to communicate with kids that are as sharp, perceptive, intuitive and enthusiastic, as this bunch. It is almost a given for old/ex students of an institution to say, “It was much better in our time.” I am happy to report that Doon seems to have changed dramatically, though, for the better. The systems, infrastructure, facilities, the standards of boarding and lodging, it all seems exponentially better than it was when I was a student there. And let me make one thing perfectly clear – there is NO romance in enduring bad food, and poor living conditions. The vastly improved pastoral care and general environment is palpable, most noticeably in how happy and content, even kids who have recently joined, seem to be. This is most heartening.

Of course, to return to the institution that instigated my own journey of self-discovery, to now aid, in some small way, the potential discovery of a new generation of Doscos, is deeply fulfilling. Somewhere in my subconscious mind, I think I’d decided that I’d return to school only if and when I had a compelling reason, a meaningful contribution to make. This workshop has proved to be that ideal reintroduction.

It has been a moving and exciting weekend, Back to School! 🙂

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 🙂

‘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 …..

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.