An Age Of Deceit

many faces veil man’s innate ugliness

truths lurk in plain sight obscured by wafer-thin lies

we are creatures of habit, prone to the worst kind

deceit, not decency, becomes the family heirloom

with the habitual ease of a fair weather friend

we purge not deception but embrace fabrication

and think absolutely, entirely, completely, nothing of it!

 

The World Book FAIR? (An Indian Visitor’s Perspective)

As most of you who read my posts regularly would know, I’ve been at the World Book Fair in New Delhi for the past week. I was fortunate enough to have been asked by the European Union (EU), the Guest of Honour at the Book Fair this year, to Conduct & Moderate several of their Literary Panel Discussions and Events. That has been a most enriching and rewarding experience, resulting in, among other things, some good friendships especially with a few Cypriot writers – in particular with Jeanie Keogh, JL Morin and Evridiki Pericleous. But that is not why I feel compelled to write this post. That reason, is altogether different, and I’m afraid, not too positive.

You see the World Book Fair in New Delhi is a headline event. It presents India to the world, and the world witnesses India, on show. It also happens to attract a staggering, in actual fact, the largest visitor footfall of any Book Fair in all of Asia. To say then that it is an important event, would be grossly understating its importance and stature.

Given this background, I have been, and now I speak purely as a patriotic Indian visitor, rather appalled at the state of affairs throughout the event. I don’t, I assure you, point out the subsequent negatives in a flippant manner. I am extremely conscious of the time, effort and hard work that must obviously go into mounting a mega-event such as this. Having said that, during the course of 2018’s Book Fair, I’m ashamed to share that several aspects of this literary extravaganza, leave a lot to be desired.

At the very entrance, there is just ONE window where tickets/passes were being sold. I don’t need to spell out the chaos that ensued, given the event’s popularity that I spoke to earlier. Then, Pragati Maidan, as a venue, half of which seems to be under siege due to various parts of it under-repair (which in itself is a good thing), makes navigating this vast campus, extremely time and effort-consuming. Particularly for children and elderly people, to have to walk from the entry point upwards of 15 minutes to reach the various halls, is no joke, compounded by very poor, or in most instances, NO signage that clearly spells out where the various venues are located!

The bus service that would allegedly ferry visitors was haphazard, ill-planned, and a bus standing and waiting would invariably refuse to go, its driver explaining that it will either ONLY go to a certain Hall and not to another one (adjacent to it even), or ONLY go when it is absolutely full-up! As a result, the bus service, to my mind, became redundant, particularly for people who had finite time to be at the Fair, or wanted to make it to a specific Session within the event.

Then there was the entirely farcical ‘security check’, where the two ‘officials’ behind the luggage-screening monitor were constantly chatting with one another, not for a split second even, actually looking at the monitor, in order to ‘monitor’ the contents of the bags that were being put through the damn machine. The result, an unsafe environment, and the entire exercise, only adding to the pandemonium and waste of time!

Then there were the bathroom/facilities. Leaky, unkempt, uncleaned, messes of disease and defecation that were completely unusable.

Lastly, and in my view perhaps the most annoying aspect of this entire travesty – the INCREDIBLY LOUD & INCESSANT Public Announcements. We’d invariably, mid-panel-discussion, with an Author reading from his/her works, be interrupted by the single loudest, most inane, and repetitive public announcements inside the hall. So loud in fact, that we’d have to stall our Panel Discussion for the entire length of this ‘service’ announcement, which could range from a minute to five, breaking the rhythm of the session, diluting the atmosphere and mood, and robbing precious time from the allotted one hour that most Panels would last.

Mostly, I try to end my posts on a positive, hopeful note, with a possible solution. In this case, I’m regretfully just ashamed and embarrassed. As an Indian, if this is the show we put on for our own, and for visiting countries, I just don’t know what to say! It isn’t FAIR!

Oops, It’s a Girl!

The girl child is the world’s most precious gift. The reality in society however, particularly in many patriarchal parts of India, including my state of Rajasthan, is the diametric opposite! Its a shame really.

When my wife and I decided to have a baby, while Anuja was neutral, I desperately wanted it to be a girl. However, the pressure we felt from within the family as well as from society at large, for the yet-to-be-born to be a boy, was palpable, disgusting, frustrating, shocking! In fact in these parts, if one does end up birthing a girl, the traditional response is “koi baat nahi, next time” – meaning don’t despair, better luck next time!

This isn’t something new, unknown, or not chronicled. But it is just something that has upset me so much, I had to write about it. After fretting and fuming about it for months, I have come to realize that….

Oops it’s a girl, that may be how you feel. But it’s my girl. Joyous, beautiful, gift; a human manifestation of our love. This divine creature we’ve been blessed with is our everything, our greatest creation, our single biggest delight. And the world can go to hell for all I care. We will love her, protect her, nurture her, free her, expose her, amaze her, entertain her, educate her, be there for her, unconditionally.

To my daughter Krisha, I promise, both Anuja and I the proudest parents, will devote ourselves to you, absolutely. Because a girl, is, beyond a shred of doubt, mankind’s savior.

Love!

Being at an all-boys boarding school one’s notion of love tends to become, well, a bit skewed. When I got to college, I fell in love, instantly! And in all sincerity and innocence,  thought she was, the one!

After a string of relationships, each of which at the time, in utmost seriousness, to me, would naturally evolve into matrimony; I realized it (love) really isn’t about ONE person. This silly, foregone conclusion didn’t come easy to me. It took time, many years,  heartbreaks, tears, and if I must confess, very shabby treatment meted out by me, for which I am ashamed and sorry.

And then, one fine day, almost 15 years ago, I met Anuja. I’ve written lots about how she stuck by me despite all my problems. Wrangled the demons out of me. Reformed me. So I won’t go on about that. What I do wish to share is that today, a day prior to our 9th wedding anniversary, I think my understanding of Love has finally ripened. And so, I’d like to leave you with a few lines where I shall try to explain that understanding. But before that, I have to say, Love, is the MOST beautiful and IMPORTANT thing of all in this entire world. Go be in love, give yourself, to someone.

Unwrap your heart
Unravel your soul
Untie your ego
Undo your pain
Unhinge your feelings
Unbind your darkness
Unwind your hurt
Un-mind the world
Un-mire the past
Embrace
Listen
Free

 

 

Get Paid, Pay It Forward

I know I have said lots about writers being woefully underpaid, and that is absolutely true 🙂 However, do not let the title of this post mislead you. It is not a tirade on the financial plight of Writers or Teachers. It is to share what I try to do in my life, in my own small way, about balancing ‘paid’ projects with ‘voluntary’ work.

So there are Ghostwriting Projects where we charge handsomely. Similarly when it comes to Teaching, depending on whom and where, I tend to charge well. But I don’t do this just because I CAN. I do it so that it allows me the luxury of then devoting time to certain projects, causes,  events and enterprises where I am happy to work pro-bono.

Again, the point here is not to try and sound like sage; I’m not. But given that I am nowhere near capable of making monetary contributions to the many causes I feel strongly towards; the next best thing I know how to do, and absolutely love to do, is volunteer my time and my few skills. Just one example of this Work-Volunteer Balance I try and maintain is a Workshop I did for this NGO that is doing tremendous work in the advocacy and promotion of Organ Donation. So for over 100 school children from multiple schools across Jaipur,  we organized a sensitization event where I held a Film & Poster Making Workshop. Here, the kids were explained how they can make short films and posters on this subject, and went back to their respective schools and produced some brilliant work! In the process,  not only were they familiarized with this important issue, they became advocates of the same. A win-win.

People often tell my wife and I that we are very EXPENSIVE! Our ‘rates’ are TOO much. But it is because we know the quality we provide, and, it is these projects that help us, PAY IT FORWARD!

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/

Web Gyaan!

So I have shared one ‘film gyaan’ until now. And in the ‘gyaan’ series, I thought it only fitting, as we move further away from consuming content through traditional media into new media, that I share one of my absolute favorite youtube channels.

The best part about this youtuber, an English gentleman by the name of Robert Llewellyn, is that he produces and hosts one of the maddest, most informative, most non-preachy, and most entertaining ‘Electric-Green’ Energy channels out there. Aptly called Fully Charged, Robert presents and shares some wonderful insights into the future of electrification and clean energy solutions, all in his inimitable, slightly eccentric but totally endearing style!

He’s out to prove to all the naysayers, one of which I was myself until recently, that Clean can be Cool! And what better way to prove that, than with a video from his channel about an Electric, old school, super cool Porsche 911!!!

Hope you enjoy. And please subscribe to his youtube channel and keep up with all the latest in the world of clean energy!

The Discovery!

The sun shone bright as a ripe orange on the second morning of Jeff and Karen’s Mediterranean honeymoon. Full of youthful bounce, the couple made its way out of their resort at the edge of the ocean to the tiny main street of their idyllic romantic getaway. Complete with matching straw hats, together atop their bicycle hired from the resort, the plan for the day was ‘exploration’; perhaps not just of their immediate surroundings, but also of themselves as a newly married, united entity. The air filled with giggles of innocence as Jeff complimented his better half on how beautiful she looked, radiant as she was, like the clear blue waters of the beach. They’d even skipped the complimentary breakfast at their hotel and had decided instead, to wind their way riding, and stop at any street-side cafe that would catch their fancy. They shared a uniquely competitive yet friendly banter, more akin perhaps to that of close friends being as comfortable with each other as they were in their own individual skins; than the sometimes awkward atmosphere that the weight of recent marital status brings. Jeff, the IT programer who’d risen quickly through the ranks at Microsoft, steadfast, scientific, his good looks belying the often-quoted ‘geek’ stereotype; went about everything including their ongoing and mutually agreed ‘discovery-of-the-village’ with a cautiously planned approach. Karen on the other hand, a young, up and coming graffiti artist from the trendy Soho area, unabashed, unapologetic, and entirely arbitrary in her ways; compelled Jeff to just “let go” and “be”. As the two lightheartedly quarreled whilst riding they came upon a quaint little eatery and for a change yelled together spontaneously…. “Breakfast”

Karen and Jeff parked their bicycle right outside the cafe, Jeff instinctively reaching out for a lock that didn’t exist, perhaps a result of his everyday routine of riding to his office and having to ensure the safety of his daily-runner. “No need for locks here darling”, quipped an excited Karen, who’d never used a lock a day in her life, no matter where and for what! The duo entered the cafe. The enticing aroma of freshly baked bread and butter wafted through the tiny 10 seater place. At the counter, behind a modest but well stocked temperature controlled show-window that had the most divine looking confections, just a single, familiar-looking, middle aged man, his hands full of dough, smiled at them and signaled by gesture for them to seat themselves and that he’d be with them, momentarily. Karen and Jeff noticed just one more table occupied towards the end of the small space. Curious to see who else had had the same idea as them, especially given this was a village almost exclusively patronized by tourists, they made their way down the other 5 tables to the one at the end. Along the way, they passed the pale yellow, rustic wall of the cafe, dotted sporadically, with black and white pictures that seemed to be of a young man at the beach with his family. It became clear to Jeff and Karen that they were of the same oddly familiar man that had greeted them at the cafe, making it quite obvious that he was the owner. Before they’d settled into this knowledge, they’d reached the end of the cafe to the ‘table’. And as they caught sight of the couple sitting, eating, laughing, enjoying their morning, at the table they’d been curious about… They realized. The couple at the table, was them!

The RATE CARD!

The first time I experienced this phenomena was when a writing project came our way over a decade ago. The client said, “what’s your rate?” Confused, perhaps a bit cheekily, I asked, “rate for what?” Pat came the reply, “per word rate”. Now, I understand that the writing/content industry does often subscribe to ‘fixed rates’. My question though is, should the ‘rate’ for a word such as ABROGATE be the same as it is for IT? And what about ideas? How do we have a ‘rate card’ for those?

The same tends to happen when prospective students come to me to get some one-on-one lessons from me at home. Again, the ‘tuition’ industry in India follows ‘per hour’ rates. Having said that, I am teaching in the age range of 5 – 55! I am often times not teaching any prescribed text/texts or something that exists as a formal subject. I design ALL my study material myself, on an individual, case-to-case basis. This requires immense effort, time, and a deep understanding of each individual’s specific requirements. How then, can I have a ‘rate’?!

Even the vegetable-vendor changes rates according to how he/she perceives the shopper. At least I’m not doing that. My ‘rate’ is based on the amount of time, effort, research, study-material-development it will require on my part.

So let us leave the ‘rate card’ to its intended purpose – for Transport, Hospitality and other services with FIXED valuations; and NOT subject Creativity OR Individuality, to rates!