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!

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.

Bistro Quaint – Nestled In Goodness!

Cafe Quaint at the Jawahar Kala Kendra has served as a huge respite for both Anuja & I. It does our kind of food, yummy, low-on-spice yet high-on-flavor (a concept that seems lost on the vast majority of Jaipur), in a setting that is the right mix of cafe & homey, just right! Naturally then upon catching rumblings of a possible addition to the line-up, we were rather excited.

Bistro Quaint threw open its doors about a week back. Anuja and I, with our mum and daughter made it there to lunch, just yesterday. For those familiar with the city, the Bistro sits in the heart of Jaipur’s toniest – C Scheme, just a stone’s throw from Governor House in Civil Lines. Occupying part of the first level of an upscale designer collective called Studio Hermosa, Bistro Quaint has neatly positioned itself, both in terms of a strategic catchment as well as moving slightly further-up the culinary ladder.

Appropriately, the valet dispenses with automotive duties and one is ushered up the tiled stairwell from within the boutique store. The delightfully appointed, albeit narrow passage reveals the Bistro.

Beautiful. Simple yet sophisticated. Easy yet elegant. Comfortably classy. The ambiance is inviting, the decor, modern while referencing the classical.

 

The space offers seating for about twenty and additionally, has a small but utterly charming balcony section that offers a few alfresco lovers a sweet spot.

To the best part… The food. The menu is simple. It is reminiscent of Cafe Quaint though it has been supplemented well by some newer, exciting options. Perhaps the most welcome addition is a dedicated Vegan Menu. Not only will this appeal to a growing number of Vegan diners and people with increasing food-allergies, it is also a masterstroke in a city where a large number of people favor vegetarian food.

We ordered a bunch of things. A vegan Pesto Penne, a vegan Avocado Tartine,  some Waffles and a Four Cheese French Toast.

Everything was quite delightful. Attributes that one always appreciated of the food at the cafe – Freshness, Lightness, continue, with an added dash of culinary sophistication. For us though, the scene-stealer was the French Toast. Ayesha and Twinkle, the tour-de-force behind Quaint, have elevated this humble European staple to an altogether higher level. The secret, the Brioche that they bake themselves.. The heavenly bread makes each bite into the French Toast a momentous event. An absolute must-have.

Although we didn’t get a chance to sample dessert, the home-made Sorbet and Gelato beckoned, big time.. Next time..

Bistro Quaint is such a welcome addition to Jaipur. And though it seemed a tad more expensive than the Cafe, the quality of food, the variety of dishes, the ambiance, and the location of the place itself make it all worth it.

I suppose for Anuja and I personally, what is most admirable is the two ladies, Ayesha & Twinkle, both of whom, to us, are emblematic of a new generation of brave, driven, motivated, go-getters who are changing the mundane culinary discourse of the city. We always wanted to do it, never had the gumption. It is so incredible to see that Ayesha and Twinkle do 🙂

While we Wine & Cheese, the Arts Bleed!

Watching an interview with the Director and Lead Actor of the film Manto, I sensed my own expression change from delighted to indignant. Nandita Das and the brilliant Nawaz informed the interviewer that Manto is in fact, the first film based on a Writer from the subcontinent. The FIRST! Isn’t that a crying shame?

Is this not symptomatic of an inherent divide that exists in our society? Let me give you an example of my own observations in this regard. The space between the old cafe at Jawahar Kala Kendra and the relatively new Cafe Quaint in the same establishment isn’t confined to just ‘one floor’.  People sitting on the ground level seem to be infinitely more engaged and concerned with real issues that plague the world. They are the artists, the thinkers, the sayers, the storytellers, the speakers, the truth-seekers. Unfortunately, they are NOT the opinion-makers. Because opinion in India is fashioned not by fact-seekers but rather by the money-makers, the kind that DO NOT sit on the ground-level eatery at JKK. They’re the ones who visit Quaint on the first floor. Before you think I am deriding a people out of some prejudice, I too, am part of the latter. Ever since the ‘plusher’ eatery opened, I haven’t even had a whiff of the old coffee house! And so, we ‘influential’ lot, that pretends to be concerned with the world’s problems and with a society’s sickness, ONLY pontificates. Our ruminations must be cossetted in luxurious ambiance, bathed in lush light, showered in the right mood, accompanied by a glass or three of the finest, not realizing that as we take tender delicate petite bites of the hor d’oeuvres, it is in fact the very fabric of our souls that we are nibbling away at.

Why else have we the elite not been able to ensure that our Artists & Storytellers have cities, towns, streets, buildings named after them? Why else does India shun our own greats, a list so long and shamed it is embarrassing. Why else do these artists & creators adopt other countries and nationalities? Why else do we the opinion-makers never seem to discuss what REALLY matters, sweeping all our dirty secrets under beautifully hand-woven carpets?

There run two parallel universes within our world. One of the Artist who finds the truth, however heinous and ugly, and tells it. Just like Manto, the artist, even today, holds up a mirror to society. But we, the trend-setters and jet-setters of society do not want to acknowledge our reality. We want to embellish, correct that, entirely skew the truth using layers and layers of ‘selfie filters’ that we don’t only apply to photographs but indeed to our entire lives. We want to see ‘pretty art’. ‘Why should art not please the eyes when it’s primary function is to find pride of place in our swanky new homes and offices, especially hand-picked by our fashinable interior decorators?’ This IS the maxim. THIS is the rudimentary, perfunctory, convenient and ‘likable’ definition of the Arts that we have come to form. One that dilutes the very essence of art. One that kills its reason to exist.

Being in our positions of power and influence,  we have perpetuated a similar dilution across the landscape. Our music is now a filtered-down, weak, soul-less expression of similarities. Our films tend to pander to our most abridged feelings. Our stories glorify the banal and sidestep any meaningful life-essence. In this fancy overcrowded factory that absolves us from any deep reflection, producing instead brands that become the talking-point; we have created a fake world that is both intellectually-limited and presents a severe paucity of truth. I dare say, very soon, we will have canvases hanging with just the Brand Name of the ‘coveted’ artist on our walls!

While Wine and Cheese is all well and splendid, it seems to have cost us dearly. What we value has changed dramatically. Who we value has shifted diametrically. In the process, we have displaced the real heroes of our times, our Artists. We have lessened ourselves for having done so. As Indians, we have done a huge injustice and disservice to our own history, one that used to celebrate, venerate, our creators.

Some Hits, Some Misses

I am asked constantly by parents, “how will your classes benefit my child?” Simple question. Fair question. NO simple answer.

As an Educator, I’ve learned this. There are NO guarantees in learning.

First, a student-teacher relationship is like that of a person’s with his or her therapist. It may be the world’s most intelligent student and the most sincere teacher; unless a genuine rapport is struck, there will be negligible learning.

Second, it isn’t always necessary that ‘benefits’ of an education, or of an interaction, are Tangible or Immediate. Things that some of my teachers told me at school, I am only now realizing some two decades hence, are relevant.

Third, teachers today are functioning in an environment where students’ attention spans have greatly diminished. Add to this, the fact that the class HAS to be entertaining. Not just any plain old entertainment; we are competing with the entertainment-value that a youtube video provides! So unless a teacher can connect with a student in a manner that vibes with the student, there is limited possibility of learning.

In my modest five years of teaching, in groups and individually, I’ve had some great triumphs, where students have endeared themselves to me for life, and I’d like to think there is a perceptible change that has come about in them. Having said that, I have no qualms admitting that there are several students whom I have failed to engage. Students who, it would seem, have not benefited from our interaction at all.

In the teaching-game, like in life, you win some, and you loose some. But your wins keep you going steadfastly on your mission!

‘Celebration’

A band does not define a bond

A day does not make you belong

A tie ought to go beyond
An obligatory duty to which society must respond
Many days that ‘celebrate’ seem so wrong
Relationships ought to be more strong
In rehearsed & staged norms
Reflections reek of an inherent hypocrisy
Superficiality adorned
A couple, a gender, a brother-sister, conned
Slighted by the world’s assigned expression
The vast majority, tragically, plays along!