The Dichotomy Of A Teacher

Through my childhood my mum took me to many Hindustani Classical Music concerts. Because I started learning music when I was just six, I thoroughly relished each experience listening to these great maestros perform.  The one observation I did make was that if and when any exponent of music did not have an appreciative audience, he or she was immediately turned off, deflated, irritable, angry even. It wasn’t until I performed myself later at boarding school that I realized why and how true this is. Conversely, if the audience was even a little involved and encouraging, the performance could reach unimaginable heights!

I am on about this because in the four years or so that I’ve been teaching, I’ve realized that it is exactly what I go through in class as well. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. Teaching isn’t nearly as selfless as it is made out to be. Sure as an educator I want to be an enabler and impart some wisdom and knowledge that might impact a few students’ lives. But there is a ‘performance’ aspect to this. See just like a musician, a teacher puts immense thought and effort into a lesson. Especially in my case, since I teach Writing, Communication and Identity Enhancement, and do not use ANY text book whatsoever, drawing primarily from my personal and professional experiences or coming up with original and creative tools and methods; when I find that my class is NOT receptive, it is the most off-putting feeling on the planet. Its like “hey, I got better things to do you schmucks!”

But then I have to check myself. Teaching, particularly in the present era is nothing short of a performance. A carefully choreographed concert that HAS to engage and sustain the interest of a generation that has been habituated to  instant-entertainment, youtube and the IPL. So then I ask myself, maybe I am doing something wrong. Maybe there’s something lacking in today’s lesson. Maybe I am not being able to connect with my students today.

Every now and again though, there is that one student who invariably spoils the experience for everyone else, students and teacher included. Even so, one powers through it. Sucks it up. And carries on. Because here’s the thing about teaching. If one can impact just ONE life in some small way, all the performance anxiety, the blood and sweat of preparation, the tears of not being appreciated, its all WORTH it!

Apathy – The 8th Sin!

In the near-four years I have returned to my beautiful home-town of Jaipur,  I have been smitten by the city, the culture, the sights and sounds. However, there is one aspect of the city, which I dare say is a microcosm of a larger, pan-India phenomena, that has disturbed me infinitely – apathy!

At a time when the city is burgeoning culturally, bursting at its seams with engaging, attractive, literary, artistic events and spectacles, many of which are FREE – there seems to be a complete lack of engagement, particularly from my generation of the city. At most events, that people and friends of mine organize with a lot of blood, sweat and selfless service to society; it seems only retirees attend! Why? Where are the young people?

Being an educator, I have made similar observations at the school level as well. Say there’s a Poster Making event on some social issue. The focus tends to be how many – 200, 500, a 1000 posters?! Is that really important? Who the hell cares even if a school collectively, and finally made just ONE Poster – in the process, at least the kids would have been TRULY sensitized, activated, aware, and jolted into action.

The number of selfies with the maximum and biggest celebrities seems to take precedence over the substance of any talk or interaction. The press release and the event-party needs to be where you’re seen.

Apathy then, sadly, seems to have gripped us all. And it is a crying shame! Usually even if I’m ranting or complaining, I try to end on a hopeful note, with a solution. Here though, I am at a loss. I can only pray that as young parents, we encourage our children to engage, really engage, and have genuine empathy.

Great Conversations can be EASY!

Many many students of mine of all age groups essentially want to become good conversationalists. And I keep telling them, just as there are Myths & Misconceptions associated with Writing, there are too, with being a Great Conversationalist.

Whatever the ‘conversation-scenario’ might be, you need a few KEY prerequisites, and I promise you will be on your way to holding a meaningful, engaging dialogue.

  1. LISTEN: Making conversation is NOT about going yap yap yap to PROVE that you KNOW IT ALL. Listen. People appreciate that. Besides, a conversation is a 2-way street. Unless you pay attention to what the other person/people are saying, how will you carry it FORWARD!
  2. GK: The more AWARE you are, the more well informed you are, the more you will engage. There is NO substitute for this. I get that it is BORING to read newspapers, depressing even. I dislike it myself. You know the 2 places I get my GK from? So here’s my trade secret!!! KBC, as in Kaun Banega Karorpati. And this neat app on android and ios called In-Shorts, available free on any play-store, that gives you diverse, interesting news. The best part, each news-story has a visual or video, and is limited to 60 words!!
  3. RESEARCH: Lack of Confidence is sited as a constant niggle. It becomes such a monster, that it can seem all-consuming. You know what the key to alleviating this is? RESEARCH. No matter what the social-scenario may be, there is, logically, a certain about of PREP that can be put into in advance. For example, you are going to your college orientation. If you do a little research about the school, its professors, and the city/locality/history/culture in advance, not only will your nerves have VANISHED, you will definitely engage & delight!
  4. DISPOSITION: Try to keep a friendly disposition. Often times without realizing, our nerves/irritation manifest in our body-movements. We twitch, shake, do not make eye contact, and keep our arms crossed (as if to stay shut off to the world). Breathe. Why Shahrukh Khan has become the legend that he has? I have a theory. What’s his most iconic pose? Arms wide open in slow motion…right? Well, it is all about positive body language and a disposition that says, come, I want to engage with you!

Making conversation is a wonderful thing. It is educative, entertaining, and most importantly, builds relationships. And today, perhaps more than ever, we need that!

TOSSed Salad for the Creative Soul!

I had the privilege recently of getting to know a very interesting couple in Jaipur. Shilpi and Hitesh Adwani. These photographers/film makers have given birth to a silent but potent movement in the city. Their radical, free-thinking school/college/creative playground, The Open Space Society (TOSS), has quietly begun to make an impact.

The couple, and their ‘society’, has certainly made an impression on me. Though I’d met them some time ago,  I finally made my way to meet the two, at TOSS, earlier today. From what I can understand, it is a space that has no ‘boundaries’. Literal ones aside, just as their mission, to espouse creativity; the space has no limits to what can be conceived and created within its liberating campus. TOSS regularly holds workshops in the broad area of the ‘media-arts & sciences’, be it Photo-Book Making or Theater, conducted by carefully selected, highly qualified & experienced, eminent experts. The school also organizes film-screenings and other events, with a slew of exciting, piping hot offerings always brewing.

I’ve always fancied myself as someone who provides an atmosphere for creativity – Shilpi & Hitesh though, have fashioned a living, tangible reality in TOSS, one that quite literally is a manifestation of their creative-karma! Poised to shortly turn into a state-of-the-art, full fledged Media College offering a slew of courses covering the entire Media Gamut, TOSS has to be seen to be believed. Made entirely from reclaimed materials, the air through TOSS is easy yet inspirational, modern yet traditional. To house, among other things, a one-of-its kind Media Library upon completion (very soon), TOSS will emerge as the definitive Media-Studies & Expression destination.

The couple is ingenious, unorthodox, and quietly eccentric (in my view, and I mean that as a big compliment). Just what the city needs to ‘charge’ up the environment. For the young and the young-in-spirit, The Open Space Society must be engaged with. Because here, they don’t give a TOSS about who you are… rather, what you CAN BE! It is then, really, a delectable TOSSed Salad for the Creative Soul!

Open Minds, Free Hearts

Yet another brutal reminder of terrorism. The New York attack. Barely 10 hours back. In Lower Manhattan! My brother, his girlfriend, cousins, countless friends; all a stone’s throw from the scene!

A lot of ‘noise’ is made on this subject. There will be news debates galore, social media will be buzzing in the aftermath of this nth brazen violation of our collective freedom.

Perhaps one way of solving this deep-rooted terror problem is to really start with the younger generation. I always try to sensitize my students about the problems of the world we live in.  Terrorism is a tricky one. What is the right way of introducing such an ugly truth to young minds? How, when, where? One has to be careful not to upset an innocent mind; at the same time not bring up kids in a rose-tinted fool’s paradise.

I leave you with the link to a short film. In my senior grades, I tend to use this beautiful short film to initiate an important discussion. Perhaps, this is one way?

Home School?

I always had fairly well thought out views on education. However, it wasn’t until I had a child myself, that I REALLY began to think about things seriously.

My wife Anuja and I, relatively ‘old’ but new parents, learning each day, every moment with our near-7 month daughter Krisha, have already started discussing schooling. In an education-environment where one hears such horror stories from friends and family; incidents that take place at the ‘best’ schools, among children from the ‘best’ families – we shudder to think what might become of Krisha’s school experience.

And then we quickly realize (guided by our albeit limited but mutual wisdom) that perhaps sometimes we as parents are a bit too hung up on ‘school’. Sure a school is of vital importance. But we tend to forget the absolutely unquestionable role of the ‘home’. That is, in our view, the vast majority of where a child’s real education takes place. Parents, Grandparents, the home atmosphere; are all elements that are so intrinsic to the growing-up & learning mix, that even if, God forbid, a child has a less than ideal schooling experience, it is the emotional and intelligence quotient that has been developed at home, that will help the child cope with that unfavorable climate.

My simple point is this… Spend ‘time’ with your children, not ‘money’. Right now of course we have to be with Krisha all the time since she is so young. But it is our firm endeavor that as she grows older and doesn’t ‘need’ the kind of constant supervision that she does presently, we will still try to give her as much of our ‘time’ as possible. Because home, and time from parents, is really, the most invaluable ‘education’.