Saturday, November 22, 2014

Crippled

There is an attitude commomplace in everybody's mind that "I help others because I want them to grow". This belief was violently shaken and shattered to bits through my journey in Teach For India. I came here thinking that I will put my life to good use for these 2 years of fellowship by uplifting a low income community. I couldn't have been more wrong. That weak thought process in my mind is now crippled for heaven's sake.

The kids I directly taught and those whom I interacted with only on a partial time basis opened up a vista of learning for me. They pushed me to be the best person I could be everyday for every moment. Authenticity of character was demanded at such purity and quality that I had to be on my toes at all points of time. I was tried, tested, teased, mocked, questioned, pushed and transformed all at the same time. Compassion, my biggest weakness was the most required skill on the job. Kindness to self was what killed me but my kids demanded I be kind to myself and them at all times. Goal setting and planning became second nature to me. While in my pre-fellowship phase, I struggled with orderliness and effectiveness, during my fellowship they became the religion I practiced.

I stumbled heavily in my fellowship to find the real value of open and honest communication. I let my strengths and weaknesses be seen naked by strangers, trusted in Seva, rejoiced in giving for I now know that I always receive back in abundance.

The last leg of my fellowship is proving to be just awesome. Winding up everything that I started and chalking out a next step for myself are exciting ways to end the fellowship. If I had any notions about "helping" others then I am glad that I don't hold any such frivolous thoughts anymore. You receive more by helping and hence in true sense you didn't help at all but got helped.

“The Simple Path
Silence is Prayer
Prayer is Faith
Faith is Love
Love is Service
The Fruit of Service is Peace” 
―Mother Teresa


Friday, September 5, 2014

What teaching is at TFI

Today is a day on which my belief, pride and joy about my profession is restored - it is Teachers Day. I would like to add to the celebrations by writing a small reflective post on what it is to be a teacher at Teach For India.

  • Achievers quit their high paying jobs to teach. 
  • Rich adults lead a lower middle class life out of choice. 
  • Teachers spend on kids from their pockets. 
  • Fellows ignore fever, cold, headaches, body aches to be in class each day, every day.
  • Socially active folks give up on going out and partying. First comes the school and then everything else in life. 
  • The conversations always revolve around the kids. 
  • These leaders give up on a few personal relationships to just be here to teach. 
  • The fellows undergo a substantial, accelerated personal change; their spirituality grows immensely.
  • Money becomes the last thing on one's mind. 
  • Fellows assess themselves on how well they are able to spread the love rather than how much material wealth they are able to acquire. 
  • All stigmas about caste, financial status, religion and language get shattered. 
  • One becomes highly reflective about one's actions.
All the above mentioned affairs occur not just once in the duration of fellowship but repeat everyday. I am grateful for getting this opportunity and humbled by all the learning I have had in the past 1.5 years. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Electrified!!

I have mostly used this blog space to lament on my experience of reading. I have doled out formal reviews of the wonderful books that I've read. And mostly, all this was done in public eye; my blog was very much in the public space through social media, shares in email chains, back links from other bloggers, guest entries, correspondence with the authors etc,. But I have grown beyond that stage. I am going through an immense personal metamorphosis and the blog hasn't been a reflection of that at all. I felt estranged from this passionate lover from the past. I no longer wish to have that estranged relationship with writing. I want to chronicle all the beloved learnings and experiences I face through this blog. It will be a mirror to my self-journey.

I am currently reading Salman Rushdie's "Joseph Anton" and moved by the bare authenticity of the work. To see a book's realization through the creator's eyes is electrifying. As I have a deep connection to books and experiences, I am able to relish in all the details that the author has provided. A book is so much more than just a work of imagination to an author. An author leaves behind his personal self in the pages. A book is a glimpse into his mind. A book is a piece of author's soul left behind for all the posterity to enjoy. I cannot thank enough the book sale, where I bought this book. Lost in the world of education sector, I had temporarily departed from writing although I read many life altering bits. I am connected to my element whenever I am reading.

I am an engineer by training and an educator by choice. But the world of books has a strong calling. I cannot put my finger on what role I will play in the world of books but I just know that I am here to stay.

There is no friend as loyal as a book. - E Hemingway 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Kind to self!

It's been long since I penned down my thoughts. I  recently had a wake up call that I absolutely lack work-life balance. I enjoy my job immensely and in such a scenario, my work has become my life. It is the ideal condition everyone aspires to be in. I am never exhausted mentally and I have the energy to do six days' work at once. Nevertheless I consciously choose to take a step back and relax a bit. I need a respite from workaholic schedule.

Today I was faced with a situation where there was a minor mishap in my work. It occurred due to a combination of faults from 3 people but I had to face the consequences. I was chided by my superior and fell into the guilt trap immediately. My mind was clouded with the self-abnegation. I just couldn't forgive things going on a any path that is less than perfect. I was cruelly judging my preparedness, dedication and capability all at once. It took a colleague's soothing moral support and my own reflection to bounce back into being happy.

What makes it so hard to be kind to self?

  • Ego
  • High expectations from self
  • Societal expectations
  • Fear of failure
  • Doubts about one's own capability 
  • Locus of control lying outside of your mind
  • Less energy to stop the penetration of external influences into your mind
  • Lack of clarity on one's efforts and the outcome
  • Circumstantial pressure
  • Self-criticising 
All the above reasons are daunting to tackle at once. But all it takes to overcome them is self-awareness. Being extremely conscious of one's own thoughts and emotions is crucial to practising kindness on self. We find it easy to help a friend at times of distress but to muster the will power to help oneself requires practice, confidence, resilience and grit. High degrees of honesty plays a major rule in accepting mistakes and turning them into learnings. One more underestimated tool for practising kindness on self is humour. Being able to laugh at your mistakes is the most courageous thing to do. Standing up to an enemy (your brain) who knows you very well is outright intimidating. First line of defence is to empathise with self. Then the below cycle follows:
  • Take notice of the mistake
  • Observe your emotions towards the mistake
  • Embrace your weakness
  • Be vulnerable and stop playing perfect
  • Analyse the growth points
  • Do damage control
  • SMILE
  • Go back to the arena being vulnerable and ready to make another mistake
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” 
― Dr. Seuss

Friday, January 31, 2014

Book review: Ajaya - Epic of the Kaurava clan Book1

Ajaya
The play dough of any creative writer in India, The Mahabharata is retold yet again from a villain's perspective in Ajaya - Epic of the Kaurava Clan. I was unswayed by the rebellious tone of the author, Anand Neelakantan's previous novel Asura. Hence, I approached this one with trepidation. The first 100 odd pages were gloomy as ever with only crows cawing, rain spattering during night, dust, stench and hunger taking precedence over any other word of imagery and descriptive details. It was a turn off for a person like me who can't take in pointless negativity in a book.

The novel revolves around 3 protagonists- the one at the supreme rung of social heirarchy; the crown prince of Hastinapura Suyodhana, the ill-fated low caste outcast Ekalavya and the casteless urchin Jara who follows Ekalavya everywhere like a dog. The crude inhuman reality of any society is brought about in the description of the lives of poor Ekalavya and Jara. The author has gone over the top to gain sympathy for such people. Since this task is overdone by him, the readers develop an initial disgust to such a writing style.

As the story proceeds, Suyodhana is shown in the light of a non-villain. I wouldn't say hero because he has not been portrayed as a person having revolutionary ideas and the courage to bring about a substantial change. He is a prince who doesn't believe in the rigid chaturvarna caste system that prevailed during his times and values merit and generosity above all other human virtues. While the Pandavas are shown as charlatans who would do anything to uphold the prevalent dharma (social order), Suyodhana is projected as a firm believer in establishing an egalitarian society. The book discourses views on an ideal society with the master strategist Krishna and his followers (Pandavas, Drona, Parashurama) on one side and the idealists such as Kripa, Balarama, Karna, Kauravas and Bhishma on the other side fighting for casteless, merit based societal norms.

The reader can't help but rejoice in the character of Suyodhana for he is everything that we imagine a modern political visionary should be. My heart went out to Suyodhana when a Pandava marries his first love, Subhadra. The atrocities of upper caste individuals(Drona, Kunti and her priest gang) against the politically weak (Suyodhana) individuals and lower caste heroes (Karna and Ekalavya) make one's blood boil. The reader in my mind was doing a full split cheering act when Karna won the coveted 'Dharmaveera' title based on sheer talent and merit. The flight of the nishada boy Ekalavya who is denied basic survival and respect in society makes you wonder whether the time of Mahabharata epic was really habited by God and god-men.

The picturing of low caste livelihood, their shanties and slums, untouchability, unequal opportunities to flourish in life really got me thinking about the fantasies of the epic of Mahabharata. After many millennia of its inception, we still base our moral decisions drawing on the wisdom of Mahabharata. This book drives home the common clich├ęs that history is written by the victors, a hungry man is not a free man and others. I started questioning the deeds of many main characters of Bharata- the deeds which I took on their face value till now. 

Although this book has a dejected and dark beginning, the overall read leaves with a lot of questions in your head, the mark of a good book. Read this compelling book if you want to 

  • fathom the difficulties a commoner like Karna had to face to level upper caste Arjuna in his renowned skills.
  • mull over the intricacies of 'Dharma' that Pandavas so fondly fought for and in the process burnt half the country.
  • be challenged over what is right against what is humanity.
“There’s no path to liberation that doesn’t pass through the shadow.” 
Jay Michaelson

Our epics, fables and folk tales have age old wisdom. It is upto the wise people to not accept received rigid wisdom without questioning its moral fabric.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Interesting blogs that I came across

A friend of mine always keeps telling me that reading should be a social thing for adults as well as children. So keeping with her philosophy I am going to share some of the interesting things I recently came across that are worth mentioning.


The blog wander is a site I stumbled upon while browsing FB (funny thing how FB has been the source of some of my very good reads). Five 20 something girls share their views on life, travelling, love, friendship, self identity and lot of other things that really matter to 20 somethings all around the world. Few of my favourite articles are:

My partner and I have this habit of reading about interesting people from all walks of life and we mostly come across mind blowing people and their head turning lives in TED videos. One such amazing person I know about now is Raghava K K from Bangalore, Karnataka. He is a guy who quit schooling at 16 to become a caricature artist and life made him don many more titles such as cartoonist, painter, reformer, celebrity show manger etc. Here are a few of Raghava's videos that will inspire you beyond wits. 
 



Not to mention, Raghava has a very interesting life partner too- an accomplished western classical music composer Netra Srikanth. 
 

New reads,new lessons

Owing to ill health and professional creative writing I had resigned from publishing any article in this blog. It haunted me many nights that I wasn't sharing any of my reviews for the books I read. But it slowly dawned on me that what I missed the most was not sharing the formal book reviews but the stories and learnings I imbibed.

In the past two months I struggled to keep up a living (read job for outsiders) I am madly in love with. I chanced to read quite a few good books:

  • Asura - Anand Neelakantan
  • How I braved Anu aunty and cofounded a million dolalr company- Varun agarwal
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull - Richard Bach
  • The Ugly Duckling - Hans Christian Anderson
Varun's book was a delight for me, a Bangalorean. Any Indian will love this casual book, more so if one happened to be a Bangalorean. This is a story of yet another engineer who "came out" (:P) of the boring rut many Indians get into - life of a techie. He braves many odds against him and becomes a successful entrepreneur. This book is a peek into the lifestyle, language and attitude of a typical Bangalore guy. I was actually impressed by the courage this guy shows in meting out all naysayers from his life and achieving his dream of doing something on his own. 

Asura was a dark shade of Ramayana for me told in the voice of the antagonist - Ravana. There are few books that are not delightful reads in themselves but which make you end up opening a new window of thought. Asura led me to read many of the famous versus in original Valmiki Ramayana and I can now point out so many outright male chauvinistic views in our age old holy classic. It sickened me in a funny way. 

Jonathan Livingston is the dude. This seagull goes above and beyond the normal societal conventions imposed on a seagull and flies away his journey to glory and inner peace. It's a breezy read of 85 odd pages and a quickie when it comes to inspirational books. I got inspired and went out to watch a movie all alone on a weekend! Ha 

The Ugly Duckling is a oh-so-cute kind of children tale that has messages on identity crisis and finding oneself going through a tumultuous journey. An ugly drake is hatched out of an egg warmed by a duck and for the one single fact that he is an ugly misfit he is rejected by many of the other animals. But he ultimately finds out that he is a beautiful swan and thereafter finds peace in his new found identity after a long struggle of trying to fit in all the wrong places. 

A new update in my reading habit is the use of kindle :D although I am using it through an app in my cell phone, it is a welcome change. 

Happy reading :D