Saturday, May 25, 2013

Story begins!

I learnt the art of story telling from my mom who is till today a very descriptive and animated life story teller. I grew up and am still leading my life listening to her stories of her own childhood, people and relationships in her life, struggles and victories of her life. Today I wanna share a story that humbled me the most.

There are kids coming from low income families to my class in summer school. One such kid is Mahesh and he is one of the most sincere and intelligent kids I have seen. He is a fast learner and a fantastic dancer who does locking, popping, rock and roll and many other forms of dancing. I had a chance to visit the community he lives in and the things I saw there amused me.

  • Mahesh had studied in a dilapidated Telugu medium school in a remote village of Andhra Pradesh. He has been in Pune English school for only an year. What's admirable is that he has learnt Hindi and English to conversational level in just less than an year.
  • Mahesh's parents are 100% illiterates and that hasn't stopped him from succeeding in academics. Mahesh bagged A2 grade, which corresponds to 81-90%  in 5th standard exams - this being without any kind of help with studies at his home.
  • Mahesh lives in servant quarters in a 10*10 square feet single room sharing the space with 3 other people of his family.
The above facts are just highlights of Mahesh's intellect while there are so many other things to be considered. He is a very curious child who is sincere and always ready to help his classmates. This boy displays tremendous amount of self-confidence and learns quickly. He draws inspiration from the successful people around him and aspires to become an army doctor.

I set out to teach him but now I realize he is already inspired from deep within his heart. I can learn from him and look back into my memories and fondly remember this kid from my first ever classroom. The world is too quick in forming biases about the low income communities but I believe they are no different from others, all they need is opportunities.

You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul.
- Swami Vivekananda

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Why Teach For India

You have heard me speak about dreams and passion in my articles and hope is the tone of most of the books and blogs I read. Now you would ask what's the use of reading so much! Is it just to write about them?


During the past two years of my life I broke out of the cocoon and started practising the most important advantage of living - taking my important decisions without being flown away by other people's influence. I read books, travelled (in my own limits) and spoke to many people just so to draw the courage to declare my decision. I moulded my thinking so as to muster courage to articulate my dreams. This is the path I set out to enter the path of education sector and being a change agent in our society:

Initial thinking:
I always knew deep in my heart that IT industry was not my cup of tea. I choose to do engineering at an age where I was not emotionally strong enough to fight for my choice. I lacked the maturity to understand myself and as does happen with most other middle class youngsters, I too ended up in an engineering college. I do not say I hated my subjects but I couldn't imagine being in that field for a lifetime. Sixth semester was when I decided I would quit the field of electronics and communication. Although I had a GPA of 9.0/10.0 which is a very high standard to qualify as a good engineer, I did not provide the field any justice. For the sake of electronic industry and myself, I quit being a mediocre engineer and continued to dream of another career.

First step:
I got into one of the big four consulting companies (owing to my very good communication skills and aptitude although definitely not because of my electronics knowledge) and decided to stay put there until I could define my dream perfectly.

It hurt my conscience many a times that I am not doing 100% justice to my job. I convinced myself that it is okay to be on the wrong path for a while if that path joins the bigger path you wish to be on. As Steve Jobs said in his Stanford speech, one can connect the dots looking backwards not forwards. This has been true with my case since my stint with consulting gave me friends, resources and time needed for self-introspection. I had nothing to lose but a lot to gain.

I understood that since childhood education has been very dear to me. If I can do something relentlessly forever then it's got to be issues related to education. I applied and got offers from 3 foreign universities for an MBA in social entrepreneurship, two with scholarships upto 15 lacs INR. I got offers from two prestigious fellowships in India, one being Teach For India(TFI). There! I had many tickets to enter the field of social service in education.

Why I do what I chose?
 After a lot of thinking, I took an informed decision of joining TFI movement. TFI is a perfect fit for my ambitions because

  • TFI has restored the honour into the lustre lost old profession of teaching. Here I do not have to teach but I must transform my kids' lives. There are hundreds who have already done that. Thousands of kids came out of poverty, abuse and negligence to have a normal chance at living because of TFI. 
  • TFI provides idealistic youngsters like me an opportunity to combat the educational inequity crisis in our nation heads on. 
  • TFI is a leadership movement. I can learn more things in this fellowship than I could learn being at any other place. 
  • TFI has put me amidst a bunch of high achievers who have jumped into the bandwagon of eradicating poor quality education. Your success is decided by the people you work with and I am completely convinced that I can grow as a tremendous leader embodying patience, humility and a sense of possibility. 
  • TFI has created a structure where every single person involved is welcome to grow and achieve excellence irrespective of whether  is s/he a student, staff or fellow. 
  • TFI is an organisation where leaders truly inspire juniors and they all speak a single language of hope and service.
  • TFI folks taught me the spelling of coolness.

    Here is one of the lot to redefine hope:
Journey and the future
In the next two years of TFI fellowship, I will be responsible for the lives of 40+ kids and it is my capability that their future depends on. Teaching a kid with life lessons is a challenge and I am confident that I am equipped to take up that challenge 40 times over in two years. The curriculum will be like nothing seen before, the methods completely innovative and the love entirely infinite. I will be provided the support system of TFI staff at every step I stumble and it is my responsibility along with fellow cohorts to transform the kids' lives for better. 

The future holds nothing but hopes for my kids. I have met children from low income societies who have transcended all limitations of society because of the excellent education and love they have received from past fellows. I have made a promise to myself that I would work humbly in every way to transform the life of as many kids as possible through education. 

Somebody has to go polish the stars,
They’re looking a little bit dull.
Somebody has to go polish the stars,
For the eagles and starlings and gulls
Have all been complaining they’re tarnished and worn,
They say they want new ones we cannot afford.
So please get your rags
And your polishing jars,
Somebody has to go polish the stars.
-Shel Sliverstein

I can speak volumes about how TFI has changed me in such a little time. One incidence worth mentioning is how my perception of gentleness and love changed. Never in my life did I pet an animal before. But today I wanted to hold a puppy and talk to him for a minute. For a person who has never been closer than 1ft to an animal this is a great feat. It shows about the power of the nurturing environment I am in. I hope to change, I hope to transform myself and the society.

It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.
-Maya Angelou 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Book review: The diary of a young girl

Often I come across a book that is in itself a boring read but triggers a series of events making me more knowledgeable. "The diary of a young girl" by Anne Frank is one such book which bored me with rants of a young adolescent but the one which made me read tens of stories about World Wars, Nazi atrocity, holocaust, cruelty of Jew extermination camps and led me to interesting conversations with other enthusiasts. I am now better exposed to the topic of Hitler than I was earlier. This unexpected stumbling on a reservoir of stories and facts forms the definition of a good book.

The book is a diary as the title suggests of a young girl, Anne Frank who goes into hiding with 7 other Jews during the German occupation of Netherlands. Anne receives a diary as a birthday present on her 13th year from her father, just two days before going into hiding. She writes all her letters to an imaginary friend called 'Kitty' and speaks on a gamut of emotions such as her shock from going into hiding, her growing sexuality, her troubled relationship with her mother, her identity crisis as an adolescent, her routine in the 'Secret Annexe' (the name of their hiding place as given by Anne), her views on the ongoing of second World War, her dreams post-war et al.

The writing style is that of a typical diary (translated from the original manuscript in Dutch) and the reader finds description of mundane routines of the hiding members. The horrors faced by a family in hiding is written in a matter-of-factly manner. The reader gets to see the intensifying and simultaneously confusing emotions of an adolescent and anybody can relate with Anne's emotions of a teenager. There is a glimpse of Dutch and Jewish culture to relish. It is heart wrenching to read the fate of all those 8 members of the 'Secret Annexe' once they were found by the Nazi gestapo officers. An elaborate description of Anne's life can be read here: Of all the 8 Jew victims who were arrested, only Anne's father Otto Frank survived the extermination camp by a sliver of good luck since the war ended just when he was about to be executed. Once out of his living hell, Otto comes back to collect whatever was left in the 'Secret Annexe' only to find his daughter's diary. After removing explicit sexual contents of his daughter and vile description of his wife's character by Anne, Otto published the diary for the whole world to read. Till date this book is the most acclaimed account of a Nazi victim's life and Anne has come to represent the six million Jews who were executed in the holocaust.

Here is a movie that does brilliant justice to Anne's diary: The sickness of Nazi treatment to Jews is very well depicted in the movie. I was appalled, disgusted and angered by a particular scene where a family member had to poop in a trashcan since she wasn't allowed to leave the common room while a potential threat occurred to the safety of hiding. 

While the book and the following research about holocaust was intellectually enriching, I was angered beyond expression on the cruelty over Jews worldwide. The pacifist in me was awakened and I came to the conclusion that all and any war serves no purpose to humanity. Probably I need a very strong reason to again believe in the necessity of a war. The read was very slow and I had to rush through many sections where the detailing got very dull and repetitious. This was one of the books I forced myself to finish. 

I recommend this book because:
  • humanity owes Nazi victims' a simple honor of their stories being heard
  • this book will enable further reading on related topics
  • the reader will get to know Nazi atrocities first hand
"What is truth? It is what you choose to believe"
- Jeet Thayil

Hitler's truth cost the lives of 6 million Jews. DON'T ever believe in a truth that costs the lives of millions. 

Further reading:
To give my readers a glimpse of madness that had struck humanity during second World War, here is a story of a doctor who tortured innocent children akin to lab rats:
 Do read all the hyperlinks in the link above to realize the horror of one man's obsession with murder.