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!

W’RITE’RS WRONGED!

Until eight years ago, my wife Anuja and I were working with different Media Companies (Production Houses, TV Channels) in Mumbai. Then, merely months into being married, we were both Pink Slipped when the recession hit. The Media Industry was particularly bad, with mass retrenchment and companies either winding off, or laying off almost entire work-forces! That is when the two of us, because we had a fair bit of experience in Writing, decided to become stand-alone, freelance, professional Writers & Content Developers.

To our minds, we had hit upon a brilliant survival-idea. We had a pre-existing network into the Media Industry, and we had both been Writing within our various roles over the years as Directors, Producers and Assistants. This would need NO investment. We’d work from home. And we wouldn’t inform our parents (back home in Delhi or Jaipur)!!  🙂

Then came our first reality check. We were asked by a large corporation (said organization shall remain unnamed) to develop their Website. Now typically we would quote a certain figure for the project with a break-up of Writing/Ideation/Supervisory Fee as one block & Designing Fee as another block. We were shocked to learn that the client, upon seeing our cost break-up, rather nonchalantly said that he’d be willing to spend the money on designing, but would cut the Writing Fee by a 5th!!! Why? Because “kaun toh padhta hai”. Agreed. But where would the ENTIRE ‘idea’ for the website come from? Us of course, which is why it formed an integral part of our ‘writing fee’. Bad luck for that though. It was just fine that any design-software-savvy person (not to take away from the genuinely talented designers that are out there) would be able to create a me-too site by seeing ‘references’ provided by the client! And for that ‘copying’ work, the client was willing to pay, let’s say 1 lac, but not our 30,000 rupee Writing Fee!

This was only the beginning of our brutal initiation into the world of ‘freelance writing’. What we dismissed as a first, one off bad client, turned out, to our horror, to be the norm. We’d write scripts upon scripts for huge television networks for paltry sums of money, and those payments would be made to us, after ‘daily’ follow ups (read phone/email begging and countless physical visits to their accounts departments) 6 months to a year later! So while the on-air talent would be paid, lets say 50,000 per episode, IMMEDIATELY, we’d be waiting for a 50,000 cheuqe for 5 scripts, for a year!

I don’t mean for this to sound like a rant, or ramblings of a frustrated writer. The truth though is, it is tough. We even had to ‘invent’ a Brand and Brand ourselves, just in order to be taken a little more seriously. Even that didn’t work.

I just want to leave you with this thought… If Customer is King (which most clients admit), then shouldn’t the Content, which ought to engage them, appeal to them, appeal them, and ultimately lure them (and that will ONLY happen if it is based on careful study of the target audience and developed on the basis of some real human insights of that target), also be KING? Agreed, hardly anyone reads nowadays. But isn’t an IDEA, or a SCRIPT on which VIDEO content is based, worth something?

I sign off with a video interview that UTV had done with us shortly after our Pink Slips in Mumbai… And urge you, do not WRONG WRITERS. We have VALUE!

Vidya

Ageless and Stage-less

Race-less and Colour-less

Not Biased Towards the Intelligent

Nor Biased Against the Average

Indiscriminating

Indefinable

Invaluable

Vidya

 

JUDGMENT BE DAMMED!

A student of mine recently confided in me. The things he/she shared awakened me to a startling reality. What kind of an environment are we subjecting our children to? The student said his/her peer group at school had boycotted him! Why? Because he failed to solicit the latest model of a cellular phone from his parents, his ‘lesser’ phone, falling a mile short of ‘cool’. To add to these woes, he/she had expressed no plans or desire to prepare for the SAT and subsequently study abroad. This, proved to be the final nail in the coffin! How could this kind of blasphemy be pardoned? Promptly, his ‘uncoolness’ was punished as he/she was struck out of the ‘gang’.

Is it just I who finds this ABSURD? I too attended a school that is sometimes dubbed elitist. I don’t remember being antagonized for who I was and where I came from! Rich or poor, intelligent or average, tall or short, we were ALL the SAME.

It got me thinking. Could this undeniably unhealthy situation be related more to kids’ parents, rather than to the kids themselves? Are we as parents doing the right thing? Instilling the correct values? Being good examples and role models? Or could it perhaps be that we have lost our path? That in our tearing hurry and desperation to demonstrate that we have ‘arrived’, we might have, unwittingly, unintentionally, misguided our children?

I’m not sure. But it is certainly food for thought. In the meantime, don’t we owe it to our children to ensure that we create an atmosphere that is COMPLETELY FREE of judgment? A place, at home and at our schools, where our children aren’t burdened by banal issues like brands & defining themselves through them? A habitat where experimentation, discovery, self-expression are uninhibited and unstoppable?

We grew up in a simpler time, where we were footloose and fancy-free. Shouldn’t we decide for our children’s sake, JUDGMENT BE DAMMED!?