Let’s try non-judgemental ways to engage with young people

I find it curious that Orhan Pamuk features as sixth in a list of authors young Indian urban readers intend to read in the near future, after Chetan Bhagat, Jhumpa Lahiri, Amish Tripathi, Charles Dickens and JK Rowling, in that order. I do not know what that aberration means (I see Dickens as one too, but can still be explained by a classic hangover!) and whatever little Indrajit Hazra’s article in August 4th’s Hindustan Times (the survey is conducted by partner C-Fore) publishes is not offering clues either.

The events of the past few months have made me change my views of how I see the world around me. Like the Chandravanshis in Amish’s Shiva trilogy, I now accept that each human lives in his or her alternate reality. The reading preferences of the youth are an alternate reality that we snobbish literature enthusiasts may scoff at, but it is a reality nevertheless. Hazra offers explanations even as he looks down on these reading choices, telling us that the Indian market is going through a phase before it inevitable matures into a more evolved market that presumably will prefer more refined literature. He implies that it is important to be able to consume more thought-provoking literature, for “we are what we read”.

Sure, we are. But then, we are a young nation of wannabes. We are in a constant flux of identity–developing or undeveloped, rural or urban, lower middle class or upper, young or mature, traditional or modern, confident or uncertain, and so on and so forth. Young people have to negotiate complex relationships with themselves, peers, family and society. Young people are fundamentally different in the way they consume, process and engage with information and remarkably astute about the way they see the world around them. Yet, as has been so effectively put forth in the recently published ‘The Ocean in a Drop: Inside-out Youth Leadership’ authored by Ashraf Patel, Meenu Venkateswaran, Kamini Prakash and Arjun Shekhar, the opinions of the youth apparently don’t really matter in the overall scheme of things. We are not interested in understanding young people and their aspirations and worse, we are seriously afraid of placing decision-making in their hands. We prefer to see them as consumers and part of the workforce. We forget that they can be effective change-makers as well. We, the elders, hold the reigns. We expect too little from young people.

Then how can we blame them if their reading preferences are not up to snuff? It is unfair, isn’t it, to provide measured inputs, to box the thoughts of young people into regimented education systems, to prepare for a life whose purpose is to produce and consume, and then to judge them about their lack of interest in art and literature? Or indeed, about their lack of values or disinterest in serving society, accusations that I have heard often enough!

I observe a curious mixture of over-confidence and under-confidence among young people. On one hand, they can conquer the world, being confident of aspects like new technology that fall squarely in their domain. On the other hand, they are constantly searching for identity and trying to grasp the soft skills and the right attitudes that they instinctively know will serve as the icing on the cake in their pursuit for material success. The latter explains why genres like self-improvement, health and spiritual are so popular.

I am, however, heartened to read that 37% respondents read authors other than those six listed in the beginning of the article, showing variety. Entertainment (38%) features as the most significant reason to read, followed my ‘Material that makes me think’ (27%), ‘Easy reading’ and ‘Material I can talk about with friends and colleagues’ come in 3rd and 4th (23% and 12%). The motivations are still the good-old ones and that should tell us that things have not changed as drastically for the worse (ouch, there is judgement there!).

Clearly, given the right exposure and guidance, young people can be encouraged to read a wider selection of fiction and non-fiction. We have diversity in genre and language to offer in this country. New technologies have made reading material more accessible than ever before. Perhaps the most fundamental changes we can make is to allow young people more ‘free’ time to read and engage with cultural and creative aspects of life, to expand their minds, so to speak. Also, we must invest in cultural resources to do so- libraries, accessible and affordable spaces and opportunities for the arts to save us from going under the intellectual poverty line Nilanjana Roy so eloquently blogged about recently. I’m sure experts have many more suggestions, but as a parent of two kids aged 9 and 5, these are the two principles that I am actively trying to follow- allow them time and space, and expose them to culture and creativity. Let’s see how it goes!

Let politics not be a dirty word anymore! #youth #passion #empathy

Morning conversations while dropping kids off at the bus stop sometimes linger through the day. This morning, we spoke about the need to convey to kids the importance of passion. Personally, I think in demanding all round excellence from children, we fail to recognise and feed their interests and passion.

Now, as I read several editorials that celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday, I wonder what drove great leaders like him to sacrifice their personal ambitions, face extreme difficulties and overcome enormous obstacles in order to achieve greater good? I am struck by the idea that great leaders are not just driven by passion, but have the rare gift of empathy and an ability to connect with fellow humans on a very basic level. Madiba and Bapu both had that and there is a reason why millions followed these men in a surge of passion with the belief that they were being led towards betterment and emancipation.

Are we a more cynical bunch of people today, us citizens of India who are quick to criticise but lazy to act even in matters of our self-interest? Or is it that leaders today are too far removed from our hearts? It is hard to believe that Rahul Gandhi, for instance, could truly empathise with the experiences of an ordinary citizen. Perhaps Modi’s non-dynastic humbler origins are what give so many Indians a level of comfort because they believe he may understand their daily struggle and genuinely seek to uplift them. Be that as it may, I cannot think of a single political leader today who I may believe to be selfless and exemplary.

Then there is the aspect of new leadership. We expect a generation of elite youth disconnected from the realities of how most of our countrymen and women live, burdened by the privilege of their education to step into the lead-heavy shoes of leadership? Why would they when the pursuit of self-interest is easier?

Perhaps if we’re to permit passion to drive young people without constantly judging them and assessing their ‘performance’, we might see emerge into politics young people with drive, with inherent qualities of empathy and leadership. When you look around you and see the enormous energies trapped inside young people, wasting or being misdirected, you just have to find a different approach to harnessing it. Politics must stop being a dirty word in our minds if we are to change the future world that our children inhabit. And, like many great people have said, we could begin the change from our own communities and neighbourhoods. I have a plan brewing in my head as I write this.. Will keep you posted!

Beyond protests, what’s next? Snippets from the media that cleared my mind

It’s been hard to lead a normal life amid the shrill noise of protest and violence in India-out on the streets as well as in the confusing, noisy world of news and media, life’s been tough. Especially for those of us who tend to be emotional, patriotic, easily involved and passionate about issues like rights, respect, dignity and all that good stuff.

For many of us, there has been no doubt that protesting the state of affairs has been long overdue and yet, there is a sense of despair about what the outcome of protests could be, will be. I work in the development sector, though not in women’s development, but since so much is interconnected, I have the small consolation that I do get to play my little itsy bitsy role in the fabric of ‘change’.

Satheesh Namasivayam’s editorial on The Hindu’s Open Page on Sunday, though, was a mood-lifter. It gives tremendous credence to the act of protesting as well as clearly outlines the various ways in which protests can be and must be taken forward to bring out meaningful outcomes. The last of Sateesh’s points addresses the work to be done within us. “You do not go too far in the work of leadership without beginning the evolution work on self,” he writes.

And in that vein, Tabish Khair’s piece in the Magazine section of the same day’s Hindu turns the discussion on young men. Titled ‘A letter to young men who protested against rape’, the article praises men for joining the protests, but also asks them to really prove their intent by shunning the patriarchal habits ingrained in themselves and those around them. The piece speaks to the youth and I’m curious about reactions from young men about being asked to cook, clean and do housework alongside their mothers and sisters. More importantly, Tabish tears apart a lot of the generalizations and assumptions we have been making while protesting crimes against women. Which women? What kind of women? He exposes us- we have been driven to impassioned protest because we see in Damini ourselves, what of the thousands of ‘other’ women who face worse? In calling on men to set an example for their sons and daughters by shunning age-old patriarchal values and truly respecting women, Tabish calls for real change.

And finally, there can be no change without collaboration. Union Minister for External Affairs Salman Khurshid’s editorial in The Hindustan Times today is likely to be seen by anti-government readers as a too-late too-false too-tame apology, but I would rather acknowledge his point. Perhaps there is no way for a public figure to grieve publicly without seeming to resort to cheap publicity or adding to the stress of the already too-tense atmosphere (or take the risk of falling flat seeing as we are so used to political figures turning up with blank faces to announce relief money or empty condolences after a tragedy). It is true, though, that governments and citizens would need to be on the same side to truly fight societal menaces like corruption or lack of safety. Khurshid brings up the issue of India’s image in the world’s eyes at the end of his piece.

Yes, India is being touted as unsafe for women, unsafe in general. And while there are rape statistics, records of poor justice, etc to back up these claims, I think we go completely overboard with sweeping statements about safety after a sensational crime takes place. At our weekend workshop with students from Katha and University of Minnesota, we inevitably ended up discussing the infamous Delhi rape case, and safety in general. One participant from the US pointed out that she felt safer (in the daytime at least) in a Delhi slum that in a poorer part of an American city; another mentioned that in a Brazilian favella, it would have been impossible to take out an iphone and take a picture without having it stolen (or forcibly taken from you) and so on…. We judge ourselves too harshly and we let the world pass judgement on us too easily. Yes, we hate the government right now, but in our passion to protest we also forget that we are proud citizens, that we love our country and our city and that there is so much positive about where we live as well. Let’s not forget this even as we go about doing all we can to make our public spaces and our lives safer and better.

And I have to point out, as a parting shot, that the best thing to come out of all the protesting, from my perspective, is a renewed focus on public spaces, urban design and infrastructure. When citizens begin demanding better urban spaces, a lot can be done. Here’s to a permanent change from citizen apathy (and sheer lack of awareness) to an informed, invigorated bottom-up process of urban renewal!

The future is in safe hands: Inspired by the bonding, empathy between students from two ends of the world

When mHS took on the task of hosting a workshop in the slums of Delhi for a class of American students from the ACARA program at the University of Minnesota, we spent a lot of time worrying about how to do this without just landing inside a community like aliens and shooting questions at those who lived there. And so we partnered with a well-known NGO Katha, which runs a school in Bhumiheen Camp in Govindpuri near Kalkaji, New Delhi. Class 12 students from the Katha Khazana school took the lead in introducing 15 American students to their community. They took them home, helped them speak to shopkeepers and neighbors and relatives, showed them places they liked and places they would like to change. They also spoke of their aspirations, their lives, their dreams, their future, their joys and sorrows…

I explored the slum with this specific group both days. The three Katha kids were fabulous-confident, expressive and innocent.

I explored the slum with this specific group both days. The three Katha kids were fabulous-confident, expressive and innocent.

In the two-day workshop, we who were wearing the facilitator’s hat found that while we did need to step in to translate conversations related to the assignment the University students were doing, we had no need to intervene in the bonds that we being formed between the Katha kids and the American ones. By the end of the two-hour visit on Saturday, the tone of conversations was relaxed and informal. By the end of that first day, Facebook requests were flying around. By Day 2, they were sharing earphones and exchanging views on music, eating together, taking pictures together, body language had changed. Even the girls from the Katha school who were from conservative families (parents were calling every half hour to check on them) were mixing openly and clearly feeling very comfortable with the American students.

Fevicol from Dabangg 2!

Fevicol from Dabangg 2!

Celine Dion on Shanu's playlist...Greg from mHS finding that rather bizarre!

Celine Dion on Shanu’s playlist…Greg from mHS finding that rather bizarre! And I loved Shanu’s hair and sense of style too :)

Undoubtedly, this is a different generation. With apparently so little in common (language, affluence, social background, family structures, exposure….), young people can connect effortlessly both in person as well as via social networks on a variety of common subjects like music, role models, aspirations, relationships…… In a flash, they can bridge an enormous gap, something that has never been possible before in the history of humankind; and technology helps them do this effectively and maintain that connection long after their time together. What’s more, they have no hesitations about taking that leap. Not all the bad news in the world-media screaming headlines about rapes, warnings from anxious parents and Embassy bulletins giving all sorts of travel advisories, nothing can deter young people from taking forward a connection once they deem in worth their attention.

What is equally striking is the enormous capacity for empathy. In these two days, we saw children who had never stepped outside the proverbial ‘West’ sit squeezed inside the matchbox-sized homes of their new friends genuinely trying to find out about how they live and what bothers them, We saw them walk over open sewers and across garbage dumps, ask the most sensitive questions in the nicest way and even walk into the filthiest toilets in the world without even wrinkling their noses! I actively tried to dissuade one particular student from doing that. He hadn’t been too well and I had just seen the appalling conditions in the community toilets. I genuinely thought he didn’t need to subject himself to that experience. But on he went. “If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me” he declared! Of course, those toilets are not good enough for the community and that’s a story for another post, but I was sufficiently impressed by his determination and genuine empathy with the people who lived in Bhumiheen Camp.

So they were trying to see what the difference in height was when Tim was kneeling! Hilarious :)

So they were trying to see what the difference in height was when Tim was kneeling! Hilarious :)

After lunch on the mHS office spillout...the clicking went on for a while...in an attemot to sort of delay that moment of separation!

After lunch on the mHS office spillout…the clicking went on for a while…in an attemot to sort of delay that moment of separation!

Observing the young people from Katha and University of Minnesotta during this two-day workshop filled me with a sense of hope. The future is in safe hands if the young can so effortlessly exhibit sensitivity and concern and genuinely find common ground with those unlike them. I am inspired, indeed infected, by the innocence, spontaneity and simplicity of the interactions i saw and resolve to bring more of these aspects into my life. A new, better way of doing things, perhaps.

 

Of sexual repression and the search for a new freedom @THiNK2012

Christopher Turner. A session on psychoanalysis for the 21st century. Rather refreshing. Here are a few random thoughts…

When Tarun asks Christopher why a Brit academician turned to investigating matters of sex, Chris actually blushes. Yes, he turns beet red!

When asked is his family disapproved, he says he is glad his family doesn’t read everything he writes!

We all fight our own battles of sexual repression. In every culture, in every time. To me, sexual repression is something we need to take seriously here in India. I live in Gurgaon, Haryana. Yes, that place where all the rapes are happening! Where rape is almost condoned.

Of course I know that rape is a form of releasing anger and exhibiting power; but there is something in the theory that if sex were most accessible, rape would not be that default form of expression it seems to be becoming in parts of the nation where women are right at the bottom of the pecking order!

What is it about sexual liberation that threatens the very core of our culture, here in India? Where the sexual liberation is happening right now in our cities. Children as young as eight are in the know about sex. I doubt the idea of sex would surprise my own son. The other day, I was chatting online with someone who reads my blog often. I don’t know this guy personally, but he pops up now and then to have random conversations with me. But this day, he asked me if I had done it before marriage! I was taken aback, but more amused than shocked. What do you even say to someone who is asking for such personal details? I didn’t think it as intrusive, rather it seemed like he was really struggling with this idea of how to contextualize sex in his life. It’s a struggle many young people from traditional backgrounds need to resolve for themselves.

Chris talks about advertising using the sexual revolution to sell stuff! Well, that’s proof that we are having this revolution in India. Think Axe Deo, car brands, chocoloate, fairness creams, anything and everything uses sex to sell it!

Another thing. Chris says- Intellectuals can’t have good orgasms! I’m wondering about that. Somehow it makes sense. Intellectuals cannot truly enjoy anything. They are so busy analyzing the present, they cannot really experience the now in a spontaneous manner. Same goes for sex perhaps. But maybe they can have an intellectual orgasm with their partners and methinks, that might be doubly pleasurable!

Improved access to housing will positively impact life in many ways, but how do we resolve the essential issues of costly land and political apathy? Oct 31, 2012

Abhijit Banerjee’s editorial in the Hindustan Times today really touched a chord. It is a controversial thought, that public displays of affection fuel sexual urges and encourage rape. And he certainly does not support regressive ideas that curb our freedom of expression or swathe women in burkhas!

I appreciate the connection he makes between lack of decent housing (adequate space, privacy) and sexual repression (inability to have conjugal relations). This is yet another reason in a long list for why we need to pay serious attention to the issue of housing low-income households. Those of who work in this sector are constantly shocked by how little credence is given to the right to shelter in popular discourse. Even funding agencies rarely fund initiatives in housing, but get worked up about closely related issues like water and sanitation, health and women’s empowerment. Many of these issues would be positively impacted in a substantial way by improved access to quality housing.

While Abhijit creates a very believable picture of what an average man on the street experiences every evening as he prepares to return to his cramped accommodation, the policy suggestions he makes merit some additional comments. I do not agree with his implication that high rises are the panacea for our housing problems, for instance. Low rise, high density has been repeatedly shown to be a more realistic answer, especially for low-income groups who cannot pay maintenance costs for high rise buildings and are not comfortable with high rise living.

I do agree, though, that there is a conspiracy to keep land values high in our cities. Architect-planner SK Das, while chairing the seminar by my students yesterday, also commented on the need for policy and planning solutions to keep land prices low. This certainly is a first step to create a more equitable society. The question is- how do we professionals influence a game that seems firmly in the hands of powerful politicians and builders?

Teaching a new generation in an information-rich world: SPA Diaries- Oct 31, 2012

Both my parents have been academicians through their careers, so observing the relationship between teachers and students and simply understanding the position of the teacher has been something I have inadvertently done all my life. My father always told me that I was born to be a teacher and yes, I do love teaching. Sadly, the status of teachers has declined in Indian society and education has become more a transaction than an enriching process. And so, it’s rather late that I have taken up what I perhaps should have done earlier!

My experience with advising students at SPA this semester has taught me a lot about a lot things- the psyche of the present day student, the role that faculty must assume in an information-rich world, the malaise that plagues our educational institutions and how, despite all obstacles, the show must go on! With the final seminar presentation done and done well, I can now write about what I felt through the journey, as a teacher and as an observer.

When I first started interacting with the students, I was struck by how bright and idealistic young people are. This is perhaps a usual first reaction to teaching and we got off to a positive note. A few weeks in, I found myself sympathetic to the student community, who are aware that their institutions gives them limited exposure and seek a more exciting, challenging experience.

I also observed distinct differences in student attitudes, but was glad to see that they still approached faculty with respect and a genuine expectation that they will derive value from our experience. I wrote a post before I actually started teaching about how things appeared the same but how attitudes had subtly changed, referring to the awareness of a new power among students and a sense of confidence (arrogance, intolerance) in their dealings with faculty and adverse situations. That post was critical and based on hearsay, but after having interactions all semester, I believe this empowerment is not a bad thing. I just wish there was a better process of managing and harnessing this sense of empowerment to challenge and encourage students, and address their needs better.

I feel like we need to accept that young people have different attitudes now, instead of forcing them into the mold of what we think students should be like. I also recognized, through these weeks, that backgrounds from which students come vary hugely. It is perhaps not possible to have a one size fits all approach to mentoring these knowledge seekers, whose motivations vary as much as their capacity to imbibe, contextualize and express themselves.

These differences come out starkly in the use of the English language. A bunch of erudite, suave kids confront you with part-intelligent and part-gimmicky questions and observations, some nearly mocking you, others genuinely inquisitive. Another bunch of sharp minds navigate this sea of ideas struggling to structure their thoughts because English is an alien language, because they are self-conscious about their means of expression, because material that they study appears alien to them and it is so much harder work to study it. The majority of the students seem to be somewhere in between. They have a basic grasp on the language and they put in a minimum effort into what they do, but need an extra leg-up to push their boundaries and really benefit from the education they are receiving.

Here is where the teacher comes in. With a glut of information available to them via the Internet, students are desperately seeking exposure to a new world view, to new ways of thinking. They are seeking assurance, but also direction. With my students, I was amazed by their instinctive sense of right and wrong, their strong convictions and passion for what they were researching. But equally surprised by how easily they lose heart and go astray. Perhaps distractions and caveats are an integral part of the journey of seeking knowledge. We were pretty clueless too at various points, and angry when our faculty did not think our angst was genuine!

What really surprised me though, and I wonder now why it did, was the motivation that came from having to share their work on a public forum. After seeing their ups and downs all semester, I was amazed at their confidence and their sharp sense of what would work and what wouldn’t. My students were addressing the rather complex idea of what the role of the architect can be in the low income housing market. They had received a rather negative response (their perception, not mine) from their peers and faculty during the first few weeks of their research. That invigorated them and warned them of prevailing attitudes. Besides putting in data to counter some of the criticism, they also invited a renowned architect-planner Mr SK Das to chair their seminar and Prof PSN Rao from SPA’s housing department as special guest. They surmised, and rightly so, that these experts could help them field questions that were too complex for their understanding. It was a smart move and it paid off. I am not implying they genuinely wanted these inputs. They did and they got excellent comments. External experts also were able to contextualize the content for the audience and offer directions for how students could think about their career and future.

I was also impressed by the natural confidence of students in being able to answer questions, accept gaps in their research, re-frame questions in the light of their work, etc. These were not qualities I had seen when we were working together through the semester and the dynamic of being up there on a public platform was very interesting to see! I also realized that the process was far more important than the end -product, though I do wish they go on to produce a paper that would be relevant to the community.

 

Violence is an easy answer when real issues go unaddressed: Cases of South Africa & India- Oct 9, 2012

J M Coetze’s Booker winning book ‘Disgrace’ is deeply disturbing. It tells the story of the cultural backlash against whites in South Africa. The story caused me to have violent and dark nightmares because of the matter of fact reactions of the “victims” of violence, in this case a middle aged man and his young daughter. I finished the book last evening in a grim mood, wondering how it would be to live in a society where being safe was apparently not even a right any more.

Today, on cue as it has happened often enough lately, The Hindu carries an editorial by Anita Lakshmni Powell titled ‘Bring my my machine gun’ about the violence in South Africa. Shocking stats: One of 4 men in a nation of 50 million admitted to committing rape, half of them say they’ve done it more than once. Murder is commonplace; the police system reports one million unsolved murders a year!

A report by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation report, released in 2010 claims that violence is cheap, easy and the thing that works, the only answer where there are none. The report draws strong correlations with the disbalance is South African society (SA is one of the most unequal countries in the world, with a Gini coefficient of 0.7 in 2008;  the top 10% of the population accounted for 58% of South Africa’s income, the bottom 10% accounted for 0.5% and the bottom 50% less than 8%, as per a  recently released World Bank report). A quarter of South Africans are unemployed and traditional routes to prosperity, like education, simply aren’t working well enough.

To me, all of this sounds scarily familiar. Unemployment, growing disparities, rampant violence, rape as a means of expressing frustration, hatred, rage…..we see this all around us. And a weak policing system, a judiciary that simply cannot cope, political apathy.Is this where pockets of our country are going as well (13 rapes in Haryana within a month!)? Is India destined to be a violent nation? Will we also be no longer able to step out of our homes without fear? Will our children live a gated, over-protected life and never experience freedom, for fear of reprisal from their youthful counterparts who happened to be born on the other side of the social divide?

The real bad news in South Africa, the editorial claims, is that violence is a language that was endorsed as the rightful means for recourse even during the anti-apartheid movement. The establishment turns a blind eye to violence and politicians glorify violence in their campaigns. Violence is culturally acceptable.

Fortunately for us, we did not win our freedom through violent means, but the aftermath of Independence saw a nation steeped in blood and gore. Our system still frowns on violence and there is no social endorsement yet for it. In SA, a gang rape of a mentally deficient girl was distributed brazenly as a video on mobile phone; here rapists still try and run away from the law. But that’s neither here nor there. Increasingly, we are become inured to violence and perpetrators are becoming bolder. Increasingly, we want to believe that the bad things happen to someone else and live in fear of becoming victims. The larger issues are taking way too long to be addressed and in the meantime, paranoia is taking hold of our society.

The South African experience should be a wake up call for us. Inclusiveness is not a warm and fuzzy type of concept that idealists (like me, I have been told recently and yes, I am a bit angry about that) promote. Inclusiveness is a necessity, so that we do not become an inhuman, abnormal, highly stressed and unworkable society. Equal opportunity, as much as possible at least, regardless of religion (ref: Sachar Committee report), caste, ethnicity, gender, income level, is the goal we must adopt, as a nation. Otherwise, we are doomed indeed. I shudder, I hope. I fervently hope for change.

An emotional ride: Kids tell their stories of 10 years of Shikshantar- Sep 27, 2012

Shikshantar, where both my kids study, is celebrating its 10th birthday this week. Yesterday, the primary and secondary blocks threw their classrooms open to parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles to take a peek at how they had expressed their journey in the school. The theme was Stories and narratives were central to the exhibits around the school.

Oh boy, it was an emotional ride. While the younger kids had attacked the theme with enthusiasm and gusto, the older ones clearly expressed a strong bond with their schoolmates and the institution. Hearing the teenage kids, I was transported back into a world where even the tiniest gestures by friends meant so much, when passions ran high and relationships were intense; when we felt strongly about everything in our lives, when adults were often perceived as enemies of fun.

It was a pleasure to see the comfort the kids shared with their teachers though. I visited in the late afternoon, when things were beginning to wind down. In most classes in middle and senior school, groups of kids were hanging out and having a lot of fun. And also chitchatting and laughing with their teachers.

Here are some pictures I took, that express the love and the bonding the kids feel with their school, its spaces, its people and the entire world it creates to nurture them.

Nitya shows us a model of senior school as they visualize it to be. This is Udai’s class exhibit

Dear to all of Udai’s class, this model is about the nostalgia of the pre-primary block. Vanar Vatika, their open air play space in J Block is shown in all its glory!

I loved this way of showing kids inside a pipe….the big pipe really does exist. You can crawl inside it and it is my personal favorite space in J Block

An interesting way for kids to express the favorite part of their day at Shikshantar. The school day comprises unique elements like circle time to encourage sharing and expression, daily outdoors and project time as well as choice time, where kids can revisit activities they enjoy

Middle schoolkids got a wee bit sentimental!

Comfortable and full of enjoyment!

A middle school student explaining their exhibit

The school was peppered by these larger than life paper dolls…very expressive!

They looked rather dramatic against the lawns….

Shikshantar is also where we parents meet our friends- Gauri and Preeti share a laugh

Preeti and me….one of those crazy ‘pose’ moments!

 

I loved these quirky little figurines the kids had made from old plastic bottled and waste material….cute ones and hilarious ones!

How can you not love that guy?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let them struggle! A parenting adage for our times- Sep 2, 2012

The last Open House session at Shikshantar, which is where my kids study, was about ‘autonomy and boundaries’. Many relevant things were revealed and discussed through case vignettes assigned to parent groups as exercises.

It’s clear we live in stressful times. A consumption driven economic philosophy is pushing the world towards a me-myself-mine mindset and each of us wants to succeed within this paradigm, creating a stressed and performance-oriented life. Our kids are at the receiving end of this lifestyle. We fail on two fronts here. We curtail their autonomy by being over instructive. The luxury of negotiation is no longer a part of our lives. It’s simply too tiring and time consuming! We also are unable to clearly set boundaries. On one hand, we expect discipline, but we also give in to demands easily. We end up confusing our kids about right and wrong, what’s ok and what’s not!

In all of this, what’s most critical is that by controlling children’s lives, over protecting them, over monitoring them, we are not letting them develop some of the most critical life skills. Ability to resolve conflict, confront bad situations, just ‘deal with it’ basically. As parents, teachers, coaches, we need to recognize that children must go through their own struggle, on their own. We may help them out if we see they are stuck and seeking help, but a lot of the sorting out needs to be done within themselves, through self-reflection, goal setting, prioritization and other critical skills we all covet and use (or not!) daily.

I had the opportunity to experience a heart wrenching moment this afternoon. Udai and me were in music class. We have individual lessons, one after the other. Each of us sits in on the other’s class. He is starting afresh and has been having a hard time with getting a couple of notes right. These notes, the Sa and Re, are critical. It’s impossible for the teacher to move ahead unless he perfects the essential saptasura. This concept was being drilled into him again and again, in a firm but nice manner. He was just not getting it right! I could sense the struggle, sense the tears welling up. I watched him fight them back, control himself. He snapped himself out of the emotional web, concentrated on instructions and managed to improve his rendition within the half an hour time span of the class.

Through this, much as my heart ached for him, I said not a word. He did not once look to me for help or support. He chose to bond directly with his guru and leave me out of this. I am proud of him for making that choice, for showing the maturity and for taking a challenge on directly and forthrightly.

It’s a small example, but I really do feel my kids benefit hugely from me staying out of their hair! All those of you who have the opportunity to influence a young person, all those who are role models in whatever way, it’s a great adage to hold on to- Let them struggle! It’ll be a lot more helpful than making life unrealistically simple for the little ones, who must grow up one day, soon enough, too soon in fact!