Thursday, December 20, 2012

Back to School!

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of accompanying my wife to her alma mater where she was invited as the Chief Guest for her school's Annual Day celebrations.

The Canara Institutions (of which my wife's school is a part), much like Loyola High School in Margao where I studied, is over a century old. They have both defined the lives of multiple generations - often within the same family - and are what I consider, "institutions with a soul". I cannot describe what I mean by that, but those of you who have studied in either - or similar - institutions will know what I mean.

It was at this Annual Day that I suddenly realized that in March of this (academic) year, I complete 20 years since I walked out of "high school" - and with it, walked into a new world, leaving the many pure and simple pleasures of school life behind. It's been 20 years since I attended programs like the Annual Day, Sports Day and so on.

Some of these memories have been coming back through my cousins and of course, my own son as I see and hear them prepare for some of these functions and events. But it is quite something else to be physically present there and transport yourself through a decade or two - or three - and a million memories. All in a matter of minutes, without Picasa, without Facebook, without external hard disks, without an electronic screen.

But it isn't the memories I am writing about.

There was something else that caught my attention - and rekindled my joy and my optimism.

It was the children.

Be it the march-past, martial arts display, nursery kids' program, prize distribution or the MCs, the spark in their eyes was so uniformly present. In fact it got to a point where I engaged in a furtive exercise to find a kid who was merely going through the motions without that spark - I am glad to say it was an exercise in futility. The confidence with which even the nursery kids were strutting their stuff, was amazing. The few kids I got a chance to talk to - albeit briefly - caught my attention because of the confident tone in which they were speaking to a total stranger.

Even at the risk of muting the efforts of their teachers and parents, I had to hand it to the kids.

In the backdrop of all the nonsense that has been demoralising me in the last few months, the spirit I saw in these kids was a morale booster.

It was a reaffirmation of how traditional institutions can adapt to the times to measure up and prepare the next generation. Being a reputed but traditional institution in a semi-urban but fairly conservative setting, I had expected good quality and high standards. But I had also expected an air of resigned contentment even if without any complacency. The spark and enthusiasm I saw in the children - and the measures taken by the school to gear itself up for modernization - took me completely by surprise.

Fortunately, a very pleasant - and encouraging - one.

Like someone rightly said, "We worry about what a child will become tomorrow; yet we forget that (s)he is already someone today"!

After having briefly "gone back to school", the journey coming back home turned out to be a journey back to reality, when the attender on the Rajdhani Express came around asking for tips!

Looks like we have a lot of people we need to send (back) to school!

Monday, August 13, 2012

When the Troubleshooter got into Trouble!

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I vividly remember my high-school science teacher telling us - when teaching us about electricity - "Don't try to be a good samaritan if you see a wire lying on the road. It might just be live!".

I was a live and mute (dumbfounded, actually!) witness this morning to exactly this. Except that a sense of guilt and embarrassment far overshadowed my amusement.

I was easing my car into the parking slot this morning in Panaji and inadvertently rolled into a ditch that ran between the road shoulder and the footpath. I had seen it before parking but didn't realize it would create trouble; and was in fact trying to do my own bit by making sure the car wasn't obstructing traffic. The ditch was about 8 inches wide and about 4 inches deep. Even then it would still have been a non-issue except that for some weird reason the front tires that were in the ditch kept spinning and the car wouldn't budge (I realized but only later, that there was in fact a very simple explanation for this).

While there was no damage whatsoever to the car, it was perched awkwardly enough to attract attention. Nothing like a little excitement on a Monday morning - and that too for Goans - so in 30 seconds flat even though it was before 9AM on a Monday, there were at least 3-5 friendly onlookers who came to "supervise", "advise", "oversee" and "guide" the rescue operation.

After about a minute of futile rubber-burning, a onlooker about 20 feet away who had been thoughtfully watching this until now stepped forward because he saw something I hadn't and gave me some meaningful advice. And stood bang in front of the car to make sure I did it right. All I had to do was turn the tires a bit to help the tire get better traction on the edge of the road so the car would move without the tires spinning.

Under CC license from Flickr
I took his advice.

I turned the steering.

And hit the accelerator.

It would been a brilliant idea. If only I had turned the steering a little more.

The net - or rather, wet - result was that the onlooker got splattered with fresh mud! On his white shirt and black trousers! On a Monday morning!

As I rushed out of the car to apologize, the poor Samaritan gave me a weak I-know-it-was-not-your-fault-but-dude-wtf smile and walked away shaking his head in disbelief.

Mr. Good Samaritan, my apologies. Thank you for your help this morning and may God bless you. I hope you had a good day after this and have a wonderful week ahead!

Thank You!

Gagan Narang, Saina Nehwal, MC Mary Kom, Vijay Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt and Sushil Kumar: take a bow as we salute you.

You excelled in the face of every odd - paltry training infrastructure, dysfunctional political environment, stepchild treatment to every sport other than cricket and in the shadow of meritocracy's death.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Circle of Life

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My memories of my childhood evoke only emotions of joy and happiness. And the nostalgia that goes with it. I had the privilege of a happy childhood thanks to my parents, grandparents and uncles.

An integral part of those  memories are mental images of full-of-life, vibrant grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, neighbors, neighbour’s neighbours and who-have-you. All in their prime of life.

The insatiable and inscrutable desire to "grow big" was also an integral part of childhood for all my friends and me – in whatever terms the notion of "big" was defined in our teeny brains back then.

So grow big, we did. My cousins, friends and me. And then off we went to college, for post-graduation, for our jobs. Chasing our dreams and aspirations.

In my case, my dreams and aspirations brought me back home.

I returned to join the family business after a 14-year stint away from home. Needless to say, it was – is – a H.U.G.E transition for me – I switched not just my "job" and my industry, but I also transported myself across timezones, geographies, economies, cultures and pretty much darn near everything that defined my world.

As I settled in, I was thrown off-guard by something I always knew and was always conscious of, but never prepared myself for.

The circle of life.

I was prepared for culture change, for generation gaps, for differences in mindsets, for unaligned perspectives and priorities. But the circle of life, I was not prepared for.

Pretty much all those full-of-life, vibrant grandparents, uncles, aunts, neighbours, neighbour’s neighbours and who-have-you had moved on in age. Many of them had even moved on from this world. And why wouldn’t they? From being a little toddler myself back then, I have my own toddler now, so it’s only natural that time has moved on for everyone else too.

Yet, it’s not as if I visited home for the first time in 14 years – I’ve been meeting these folks almost every year. But somehow, my mind’s eye was not seeing what my physical eye was transmitting.

Until now.

Just as I was struggling to settle into my new environs, the realization hit me that the circle of life was in full play. Even before I could attempt to take that in my stride, I was knocked back even more when I accidentally ran into the funeral procession of a friend’s father.

I had grown up, but apparently, wasn’t ready to grow up.

Of course, much of my immediate circle is still full of energy, but the signs are beginning to show.

What brought me to the brink of this emotional churn though, was the passing of my maternal grandmother this morning. At the ripe old age of 88, my maternal grandmother breathed her last.

All my student life and almost through to graduation, I had this rather uncommon privilege of having all my 4 grandparents alive – their individual and collective influence was the lynchpin of my value system and character over & above everything my parents taught me.

As I reflect upon the lives my grandparents led, I feel like a dwarf - whatever I may have achieved, I don't think I can make the kind of sacrifices they have made all through their lives. In particular, my grandmothers - both of them. While my paternal grandmother was compassion in its purest form, my maternal grandmother consistently and unflinchingly subjugated herself, her wishes and her interests for the greater good of her family.

Today, with her passing, it dawned on me that life was beckoning me to prepare for the journey ahead.

To traverse the circle of life.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Spiritual Intelligence: International Religion of the 21st Century?


Religion it would seem, has failed us.

Prayer was to have helped us find salvation and good karma was to have paved the way for a promising destiny. Evil should have vanquished at the hands of good and the villains should have long-rotted in hell. Peace, love and discipline – preached by all religions – should have prevailed.

Instead, we find thugs leading the good life while honest citizens languish and terrible fates seem to befall the best of people we know. Religious figureheads seem as scam-prone as politicians and even temple trusts are not immune to embezzlement. Ethnic strife is, ironically, fuelled – not quelled - by religious beliefs and views.

In contrast, the long-decried materialistic ways of the West that focus on instant gratification seem to offer a more predictable and higher standard of living than our spiritual ways that promise a pathway to a future paradise.

The scientific method has empowered us with so much information that the fabric and credibility of religion have been impacted.

But has it really?

Have we truly been empowered by information or are the dangers of applying half-knowledge lurking round the corner?


Indians are by nature heavily influenced by culture and tradition and in a sense, fairly possessive about them too. And that's not bad at all. Except that when the culture and tradition are not “scientifically-grounded”, it's easy for us to get confused.

Needless to say, our culture and traditions are heavily influenced by our religion and compounded by regional variations. Given that we have no dearth of regions or religions in India, the resulting mix of culture and tradition based on religion is both, strong and fragile, widespread and localized.