The most unexpected people can hold the mirror to you and show you a side of you that you didn’t think of before. In my experience, people who know you rarely offer negative feedback. The closer they are to you, the harder they find to tell it like it is, unless there is a direct provocation. Mostly, they tend to live with your rough edges. Sometimes, a surprised glance, a hurt look, a flash of anger or a sharp retort could, if you are self aware enough, bring you to the path of self-reflection and acknowledgement of wrong behaviour.
On Saturday morning though, as I returned from dance class, the security guard below my apartment block stopped me. Hesitantly and offering prior apologies, he asked me if I specifically disliked being greeted with a ‘Good Morning’. He was concerned. Was he greeting me correctly? Was there something wrong in how he says these phrases that are obviously in English and not in his native language, Hindi?
Now the person I’m referring to obviously comes from very humble origins and with little education, but he has a dignified bearing that I always notice and appreciate. Puzzled and quite taken aback, I asked him why I would mind being greeted, and why he thought I minded. And he told me that unlike the other adult members of my family, namely my husband and my mother in law, I rarely responded to his greetings. Further, he told me I usually had a frown on my face and rushed past him without paying any attention to his politeness, leave alone responding to it. All this he said in a mild way, not being offensive, but continuing to be genuinely concerned.
Now imagine my plight! I have no idea what my face told of my feelings, but I went through a few seconds of complete bafflement! I’m not even sure I was gracious enough to properly apologise though I did assure him he was not at fault in any way, that I might have been pre-occupied, etc etc. As I climbed into the elevator to go home, I fully examined my own behaviour. And I accepted that I’m not a good listener, I do walk around with a frown or an ‘I’m busy’ look on my face, I do not adequately react to those around me. I said a silent prayer, appreciating the gentleman for his courage in having this conversation and vowing to change myself for the better. To smile more, to give every person I encounter full attention and a proper response, to reinforce basic etiquette and manners (something I feel we always teach our kids but tend to overlook ourselves).
I learnt something valuable this weekend. Feedback comes from the most unexpected sources and in the strangest form. To be tuned to receive it graciously, reflect upon it and act upon it is also a life skill to be cultivated. Life may not always be good, but its ever interesting, always an adventure, big or small and I’m grateful to starting this week with an enhanced sense of what a blessing it is!
Over half of January has gone by. 2014 is shorter by half a month!
It’s been a ‘wake up call’ sort of day for me. And the thoughts in my head have been about looking ahead. I’m making a conscious effort to break from the past in the sense of not spending too much time ruminating over the last year, what it was like, what I learnt, etc. That stuff is important, but I tend to overdo it and get dangerously into the zone of procrastinating over stuff I need to get done NOW and in the future.
So, why so dramatic? What am I waking up about?
A few really important things.
1. Finances: I’ve opted for flexi work and consultancy the last many years and the kids have been a cushy excuse. I can’t look at joining work full time immediately, for various reasons. But I realized that my flexi work often took up as much time as full time work and paid me very little. So this year, I’m going to be a little more hard-nosed about money. That, of course, also goes for my spending, as I gear up to apply for PhD programs this year and hope to slide back into student life over the next few years!
2. Priorities: Being superwoman ain’t easy. It’s also stupid! I’m taking Rahul’s advice in 2014 and focusing on ME. Of course, it doesn’t mean everything else fades away, but there will be times I will make choices that appear completely out of character. All those of you out there who think I already am a self-centered *****, get ready for more of that! No apologies.
3. Productivity: A big part of my self-improvement drive this year hinges on this. Managing my time better and also meeting targets set for myself will be critical for me to achieve my goals. To begin with, I’m betting on being more self-aware of my schedules and less scatter-brained as I’m juggling many things as usual. Accountability to myself is also something I will be very careful about. I’m one of the most self-delusional beings on the planet!
4. Focus: This is the toughest one and should have been the first, but I’m under-confident. It’s in my nature to segue here and there and I love the experiences that emerge from those distracted journeys. But I’ll have to change some of that this year.
So you can see. 2014 begins on a very different note. My list looks a lot more like the ones in self-improvement books. Already, it’s not sounding like me, but someone else. And I’m intrigued, amused, impressed, motivated and also a little bit blah about it already! Hmmm…
I admire art and I admire artists more. Art demands an honesty and level of consciousness that is exhausting while requiring at the same the exact opposite, spontaneity. Anyone who can pull all of that off together while exhibiting magnificent technique and composition and content is a magician of sorts.
I try and bring that sort of almost brutal honesty to my writing, but I do find myself playing to the gallery once in a while or simply exploring tangents that take my fancy without real conviction. Those are also important aspects of the journey of an artist. And yes, I do consider myself a part artist or an aspirant at least.
But at what point does an artist know that she has arrived at a point when she can share her work with the world at large? When does she throw herself bare and invite reactions? Some artists I know say that they knew when they were ready. They just felt it. Were more confident and had more clarity. Others say there was no defining moment. They simply toiled away at it till someone pushed them to share their work. They took tentative steps forward into the public realm and only when appreciation came in did they realise they were on to something.
I guess in art, like in everything else, how you perform is as much a matter of talent as that of the personality of the artist. In this too, there are contrasts. Reticent and quiet people can be aggressive in self promotion and social, gregarious artists can be self deprecating and low on confidence. The training of an artist, therefore, needs to be about art and attitude in equal parts. Which is true for a lot of other things as well I guess.
It’s hard for artists though, because they rely on self discipline and mentoring to learn and progress. It isn’t usually an institutionalised process of learning and progression; and certainly not time bound. Finding the right mentors and having a sense of purpose and balance become critical ingredients to the artists journey.
But balance can often take away from the passion needed to bring out your art, deter you from taking a stand and inhibit expression perhaps. It’s an old joke, that artists are slightly unbalanced, eccentric, crazy. Indeed they must be, for they hold up a mirror to society and human nature, both of which are twisted and complex, and perhaps even unfair.
Mixed classrooms are an opportunity to teach our children the values of inclusivity and tolerance- Sep 4, 2012
The social divide is, in my perception, the single largest obstacle between India and progress. The apalling manifestations of this divide strike me everyday. The insecurity of the privileged classes and the growing frustrations of the have-nots can explain many of the negatives we experience around us- all manner of crime, anger, safety of women, and so on. And what’s really scary is that our response is only to build more walls, shrink further into our cocoon. We imagine we are spreading our legs in plush comfort, but actually we are squeezing into a very small mental and cultural space. Already, life has lost much of the diversity and stimulus I remember from my childhood. Our social response to dealing with the social divide by sanitizing our surroundings, making everything in our lives as ordered and predictable and controlled as possible, will only mean more boredom, more and more of ‘sameness’…shudder!
Today’s observations are in the context of education and the outright rejection of the elite to the possibility of mixed classrooms as recommended by the Right to Education Act. A Hindustan Times-C Fore Survey, carried by the HT today, exposes the paranoia of urban middle class parents with school going children. 72% believed the quality of education would decline, but that doesn’t bother me so much. What really struck me were the responses to a question that asked parents if having classmates from a lower economic background would help your child become a less prejudiced person. 22% said yes, an astonishing 55% said no and a substantial 23% were non-committal. Now that tells me a lot and I’m not smiling! Being less prejudiced is not something we even consider a desirable attribute any more. It seems to me that we parents want our kids to be smart, intelligent, successful, have myriad skills that will help them land plum jobs in this competitive world. But we’re probably not too concerned about whether our child will grow up to be a sensitive, socially responsible individual. Nobody cares!
We’ve pushed the capitalistic thought so far into the social consciousness of this nation that social equity isn’t something most of us even consider a desirable. Those of us who are vocal about social equity are considered a bit strange, almost like we are disconnected with reality. But the reality is that masses in this nation face huge barriers to progress that they desperately need and crave for. It’s not just us: everyone aspires for upward mobility, even though that might mean different things for different people. And it’s not right for us to begrudge anyone that right.
We need to code an inclusive approach into our children. We need to get out of the ‘step over someone to get ahead’ mentality and believe that we can all progress together as partners and collaborators. Yes, resources are scarce but there are also many opportunities if we have the right attitude.
Mixed classrooms are a great opportunity to build an inclusive and tolerant mindset in our children. My daughter studies in a mixed classroom as Shikshantar has implemented the RTE this year. The kids seem scarcely aware of the differences and the bonding seems great. Of course, Shikshantar uses Hindi and English both as mediums for pre-primary education, so language in itself is not a barrier. But what I’m trying to say is that children aren’t judgemental at all, unless we teach them to be. And they stand to learn a lot from diversity.
I was heartened to read in the same HT spread on RTE that educationists are a lot more positive about mixed classrooms and despite obstacles, are admitting to this being a positive step forward. Its time we changed our mindsets to allow a new generation increased access to quality education. It could mean a bright new future for our nation, increased security and less strife for the world that our children will inhabit in their lifetime.
I visited the post office today. I must have entered one after years and years. I used to get sent for errands to the post office and the bank during my teenage years in Lucknow. We lived in a campus out of the city and there were a finite number of families there. Strolls in the heat to converse with the dull inhabitants of these institutions was not my idea of how to spend a summer holiday, but you just did what your parents asked you to back then!
So its ironic that when we were married, we chose to put the modest bounty we had collected in cheques from friends, relatives and well wishers into a post office investment scheme! Well, we pretty much locked the money away there and forgot about it. Recently, we’ve been trying to figure out how much is in there and how we could retrieve it etc.
Anyway, I climb up a flight of stairs of a private residence to get to the Kailash Colony post office. It used to be elsewhere before, in a dark and terrible dusty property and this was quite an improvement. The employees were really sweet to me, despite my total clue-lessness! As usual, some of the work got done, and more paperwork is needed to complete it, but it was all very good-natured.
What struck me there was the pace of things. The post office, despite its new branding as India Post, is frozen in a previous time. There seems to be no hurry at all. Everyone knows what to do, how to do it, there is very little noise and employees do not look hassled. They actually smile at you!
Observation no.2. Senior citizens love the post office. I saw three seniors come in, get their work done and leave satisfied. They confidently marched up to the man who owned the only desk in the place, presumably the manager there. They sat in a chair, filled the required forms, they got great service, they even made polite conversation, and then they left.
Despite the really thin paper with poor quality print that you see on withdrawal and deposit forms, passbooks etc (now we’ve got used to private banking, with its jazzy paraphernalia!), things worked around here. I compared my experience with others, and both my mother and my mother in law told me the local post office near our home was equally relaxed, with pleasant staff.
So, why have I given up on the post office? Because I don’t write to anyone in physical form any more, because I think the courier is a superior option even when there is no real reason to spend more on a communication; because I have lost faith in any service the government provides and assume the private sector is more efficient. That isn’t true in this context. I have chased enough misplaced couriers in my life to know that!
I resolved to see the positives in everything on this blog recently. The post office experience showed me a positive side to India, and I am proud and humbled as well.
Udai’s class recently did an exercise in which they wrote a letter to someone, figured out the address to send it to, acquired postage stamps etc and now those letters are on their way! I thought it a quaint activity at that time, but am glad they did it. It’s unfair to give up on systems that actually work!
Watching sports and great sports-persons always amazes. Tonight, as we watched the Great Fed and Murray battle it out, amid bouts of rain at Wimbledon, we talk about sports as a talent, as an attitude. Yes, certain people are immensely talented at sports. I have known those with great accuracy, great body coordination, great stamina, great focus, great instinct, great reflexes and all sorts of combinations of the above.
The two men in my life I have known best- my dad and my husband have had, in addition to a smattering of the above talents, had that other ability that, in my opinion, really makes or breaks a sports-person. The killer instinct, the ability to be so keenly competitive that you fight for every single point as if is a matter of life and death. Interestingly, these are two gentle and civil people. The killer instinct manifests itself through intense strategy, rarely via aggression. The strategy disarms opponents, but players who can match their intelligence throw them off their feet and offer real challenge. Rahul appreciates the same ability in an opponent, I’ve seen the pleasure he gets out of playing when evenly matched and how easily he tires of opponents who are as skilled but less cerebral in how they play their sport.
Now me, I’ve never been much of a sporting person. Even at things other than sports, I get too complacent too soon and give up easily when challenged beyond my comfort zone. I wish dearly I had more of a fight in me. Back at school, we had a classmate called Shariq who was our house captain. He pushed me to try new things at sport. I did reasonably well at stuff like shot put and discuss, but what he discovered in me was a sort-of talent for long distance walking! The first time I competed, he ran many laps with me, ensuring I didn’t slow down or give up. So I’m hoping (not in sports, but in life) maybe I’m one of those slow and steady sort of winners. I’m hoping the tenacity and long-term stamina that I think I have can make up for the lack of the killer instinct! Someday…
What I learnt from conversations with the youth in urban slums: They crave opportunity and deserve support- April 9, 2012
A few of us friends met up for lunch yesterday. Randomly, someone observed that one can experience kindness from the most obscure sources, describing an incident when an auto driver was sympathetic and understanding, willing to forego his payment when she misplaced her wallet (he needed to wait a while and eventually got paid). Another friend remarked that kindness and understanding often came most spontaneously from those who themselves have so little to lose.
In my work with slum dwellers in the past year or so, I have often noticed the warmth with which we (who go in to research and sometimes help them) are treated, despite the fact that it is hard for them to trust people who come with promises to help, having experienced disappointments before. I am specially touched by my interactions with children and young people. These kids are usually bright, cheerful and enthusiastic, despite the harsh conditions of their life. In the urban slums I am referring to (specifically in Sundernagari in East Delhi and in the slums in Gurgaon), food may not be available to kids in plenty, but they show no signs of serious malnutrition.
Education is another story, however. In the slums of Delhi, kids do attend government school, but the quality of education is nothing to write home about and young people feel complexed and frustrated as they reach their teens, many dropping out in secondary school to seek domestic work and other forms of informal employment. In Gurgaon, slum children do not go to school at all and they sort of resent the fact that their parents make no effort at all!
When asked why they drop out, slum kids express a lack of confidence in being able to find employment. They are convinced that they will find it difficult to succeed in a world that gives opportunity only to those who speak English. It always seems strange they think like this, because I can think of a zillion types of jobs that require intelligence and hard work, not super fabulous communication skills and certainly not in English! I wonder if this is a BPO/KPO driven hype where poor urban youth sees thousands working in such set ups and see that as the modern form of white-collared mass employment? But seriously, it is a challenge for these young people to reconcile their very basic levels of education with available opportunities; and then put these in context of their aspirations, which in a world influenced by media and mobile technology, have changed considerably as well! In this scenario, I was pleased to read some NGOs making an effort to help slum youth find jobs. A lot more such initiatives would be needed, with counseling efforts to help these young people fit into modern working environments, develop a basic understanding of work ethics, rights and responsibilities, avenues for growth, etc.
Gurgaon rape: 5 points for a petition to demand facts and improve policing in the city- March 15, 2012
As the momentum built up through the day among Gurgaon’s citizens to protest against police apathy towards the recent rape and of course, many other rapes, molestations and other crimes against women in the city, I began to wonder about what a petition to the government would look like if I were to write it.
Well, with regards to safety, my first concern would be to examine the quality of policing and the condition of police reforms in the country, especially Haryana. After all, policing is one of the central functions of governance, public health and safety being the overall objective of good governance.
Here are some of the points I would put in.
1. Police-population ratio: As per data from the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2010, there are only 130 policemen in India per 100,000 people, way below the stipulated UN norm of 220. Fewer policemen are recruited in most states than the sanctioned number of posts. This also means most policemen never get a day off and this hugely impacts their performance and motivation. A petition to the Haryana government would need to ask (or find out beforehand) what the figures are for Gurgaon and demand a better ratio for an upcoming urban area that is a lucrative source of revenue for the state government.
Poor quality of policing is also closely linked to the mode of recruitment. Widespread corruption and the usual practice of ‘buying’ jobs means there is no control on the quality of recruits.Which brings me to reforms, the main point on the agenda.
2. Adoption of police reforms as dictated by SC in 2006: Policing in India was governed by archaic laws made in 1861, until in 2006, the SC laid down seven directives for states to adopt. These included functional autonomy for police (via tenure security, streamlined appointment and transfer processes, a buffer body to delink police from government), more accountability (organizational and individual).
The petition should ask the Haryana government whether any of these reforms have been implemented and urge them to do so. Less political interference would directly result in better policing as rapists and perpetrators of other crimes with political patronage would not get away as easily. Recruitment process should also be addressed.
3. Training programs and general capacity building: Does the Haryana government regularly train its police force? A research exercise conducted by MIT and IIM in Rajasthan in 2008 shows that public perception about police force as well as actual performance can improve with small interventions like training in hard and soft skills, giving policemen a day off, etc. Building motivation, sensitizing police to social conditions is especially important in Gurgaon, which is urbanizing rapidly, creating stress between existing and new populations. The petition must demand information on existing training and suggest capacity building programs.
4. Creation of a mechanism to engage with community: Citizen groups must demand a cell within the police that will engage with citizens and seek to understand issues, address problem and foster an environment that is capable of evolving creative solutions for the long-term issues threatening the city’s socio-economic fabric. This cell must communicate outwards to offer correct information to the public. Citizens can help provide professional PR and communications support so the police don’t keep goofing up on what they have to say!
5. Protection of victim’s identity: ‘No loose talk by police personnel’ must be included the petition. It is important to protect victims if we are to get more rape cases reported, investigated and hopefully more rapists convicted. The petition must urge the government to make this a legally binding order. Citizen groups also need to take it upon themselves to specifically protest if this is violated. Media should take voluntary responsibility to refrain from publishing identifying details.
I guess I could go on, with more research. But I will stop at this for tonight.
My point is that, as citizens, our approach should be well-researched and we should be willing to get involved in this through till the end. Perhaps it is the job of a focused citizen task force to pursue this, but it needs to be done in a sensitive and sustained manner. It’s our city and we need to rally together to ensure these questions get answered and reforms addressed and implemented. Otherwise, it is our lives at stake!