Sunday, July 29, 2012

Teacher Educator Mentor

I recently attended a beautiful, thought provoking session by our school's management consultants Sandeep and Manisha. Though, we were all sulking as it entailed a working Saturday, the session was surprisingly insightful. We began by falling into the traps of their tricky questions, like fish caught in a net, as they asked us 'How intelligent are we?'. As we went through the various aspects of trying to define how intelligent we are and furthermore, quantify it as a rating, most of us realised the futility of this self evaluation! We needed to have understood that when it comes to teaching, it is not about 'How intelligent our students are', but about 'How are they intelligent'! Having experienced this first jolt, all of us (our Primary school team of 60 teachers) became more alert and involved, totally forgetting that it was a Saturday afternoon!

We enjoyed exploring the ethos of teaching remembering multiple intelligences and multiple pathways to learning, two educational beliefs that also form the backbone of our school's vision and mission! At the same time, it was heartening to see the commitment level of most of our teachers in teaching students of today... and embracing in the same hug, the challenges and the rewards. Here is a summary of some of the insights shared, beliefs reinforced and questions planted:

What is it and how can one define it? As we see the greatest people in their respective fields, we realise that they all circumstantially evaded the journey of schooling. So does education actually nurture intelligence or streamline children into competitive race-course tracks? What is the purpose of holistic education... to help each child manifest the Buddhahood within and bloom like a lotus in all its natural beauty and glory... or to wither into a well groomed and manicured flower that can merely adorn hotel bedside tables? As teachers is it not our moral responsibility to acknowledge the unique potential and mission of each individual, help them realise it and guide them on the path to manifesting that inner potential, which in Buddhist terms, is nothing but Buddhahood? Should education address the needs of the learner and help him/her connect his inner strengths to the dynamics of the world outside, or the needs of an economically or industrially driven society which needs humanoids to fill in jobs? Having been born in a family of so called intellectuals, and always being reminded (throughout my upbringing) of my ordinariness in 'that department', it was reassuring to find others who believed in an intelligence that went far beyond knowledge and information and celebrated true wisdom.

The facilitators also raised the whole perception of "Teaching as a noble profession" and as educators of a progressive education system and an internationally minded school, it was heartening to see the debate. Is the phrase 'noble profession' an oxymoron? What makes a profession noble? We explored in groups, what we felt personally and professionally about this oft used, cliched statement, and each group shared some amazing insights. 'Noble' brings into mind selflessness, giving and sacrificing. Yes, we do all of that as teachers and our best rewards are the joys of seeing our students grow from strength to strength. In the ancient times, when the select few were educated and had the power to educate others, a distinction from other occupations could have been used to demarcate teachers as higher beings. But what adds hypocritical complicacy to the statement is when the word 'noble' is added to 'profession'. A profession implies something specialised and something which also brings in income. And that is where the hypocrisy begins. Do teachers not deserve to earn? How is it different from other professions then? Yes, we shape the future citizens of the world and yes, we not only invest our time and knowledge, but also our emotions. But if these things can be easily accepted by all as a teacher's duty, then why do employees of MNCs earn much more than teachers? Why does the ability to build bridges or create computer programmes garner a higher monetary value than creating good human beings and caring global citizens? Is it wrong to be paid well and appropriately for shaping the future society and future leaders, but absolutely acceptable for others to earn millions of dollars for ensuring profits in a company that is doing nothing remarkably different than what East India Company planned and did in India? Then why do countries and societies demean the value of our contribution in economic terms? On the other hand, if we, as teachers, get paid decently, as we are in international schools, is it something to feel guilty about? Is society the way it is because for generations, the financial rewards of a teacher by its employer has been meagre to say the least and that not all teachers would deliver their best merely on the nobility factor? Is the profession that a prostitute chooses any less noble? Questions that shook the basic foundation of my own value system and put me at peace with the fact that the nobility of a profession is not by its nature, but more determined by the nature of the individual engaged in it. The examples of shocking and most often not noble behaviour by teachers is widely publicised in the media these days with a scary incident being reported every other week... but does it really bother us as much as it would if the stock market crashed or the Sensex dipped many points or the price of gold increased by a few more thousands? 

The final aspect of the workshop was to help us realise our humanistic mission as teachers. We explored our understanding of the role of a teacher viz a viz an educator and a mentor. In today's world of helicopter parenting, as so beautifully coined and explained by Rachna in her blog on children losing their innocence these days, is it enough being an authoritative fountain head of knowledge? Or do children need more compassionate teachers to help them educate themselves? Or is the role of a teacher much larger to a disarrayed generation that is lost in its life tracks and thus, be the mentor to guide them to finding their own truths? In the PYP, we are all of these rolled into one. Not only do we need to be receptive to the backgrounds and experiences that students bring in to the class room, but also be aware that each child is uniquely intelligent and each child has a unique way of learning. We need to compensate for the role models which may be missing in their lives... lives wrought with broken homes, domestic abuse, ignorant parents, absent parents and the dependence for entertainment and comfort merely on inanimate objects and the digital media! We have to be the parent, the friend, the guide, the sibling and the guru. We need to be role models to these children, as they perceive and imbibe all that they witness around them. At the same time, we need to make them independent learners, who will be able to fit into an ever changing world, wherever they are! The challenges and the responsibilities are immense but the rewards at the end of the day are much larger than a fat bonus cheque. The rewards are rewards of the heart!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


What is the Buddhaland? We hear this often in our Buddhist practice and I have been conscious of it, in concept, from a young age, having been introduced to Louise Hay and her affirmations in my early 20s! In Buddhist terms, it is the land where a Buddha dwells after having vowed to save living beings, completed his own practice, and attained enlightenment. In more practical terms, in the modern times, it is the land where we live and work, creating peace and harmony in our environment through good thoughts, words and deeds. What has however been more puzzling to me is where to find it? In Buddhism, it is simple... the land exists in our hearts and in the physical space where we live and work. Thus, it is rather not about finding Buddhaland but about creating it. 

What is Buddhaland?
After a 3 city holiday, here is an introspection on the 3 cities and in the place where we live... a comparative analysis into what are the factors that go into making a Buddhaland.

A city in Haryana, in which vast tracts of arable land are being swallowed up by urbanisation, the corruption it entails, and the population and related crises it invites. It is called the Millenium City and yet is far from it! A mall city of self centred consumerists and infamously of rapists and murderers! A city where crime doesn't need an excuse, but just happens. Be it an instance of road rage that leads to death, violent anger that leads to the murder of innocent people, or even kidnapping and gang rapes in open daylight from the so called respectable malls! It is also the city of suicides, indicative of the emtpiness in people's hearts. What is most contradictory, is its history. Gurgaon, rather Guru ka Gaon was the forested area where Guru Dronacharya had his school and where the Pandavas had their training. Rich in its natural resources, thickly forested with a large variety of birds and animals, it was a land celebrating the sanctity of the mentor disciple relationship... a stark contrast to what it is today! The forests have been chopped off, the animals have taken refuge in the legally protected Aravali forests (inside which is our campus residence) and the values that are deep rooted in the Haryanvi culture, long lost. Respect for land today has a different connotation...not for its agricultural yield but for the pots full of money it can bring in today if sold to a greedy promoter! Electricity and water are scarce commodities, and public utilities like roads, street lighting and safety do not reflect the high taxes paid by the common man here. So what is amiss? It is the basic sanctity of life... the inner respect that village elders still have in their genes but the common younger public lack. Respect for the environment, public place and above life and people. And respect is that quality what could turn Gurgaon into Guru ka Gaon... alias the Buddhaland!

A sea of people
The economic heart throb of our country is a strange mix of contradictions. Busy streets, busy people, all hustling and bustling to work... be it the common man who is struggling to make ends meet by juggling more than one job a day, or the rich who are striving to mint more money for themselves in a city, where prices go up irrespective of the inflation! And in this survival driven, purposeful humdrum, every individual is engrossed in themselves, their lives, their worries and their pain, so much so that they do not care about what is happening around them. At the same time, the people are all wired together, subliminally, because of their shared struggle. The rich can be seen enjoying their Pav Bhaji at Juhu Chowpatty as comfortably as the not so rich! The public transport too is used by one and all, depending on the need. 

A burst of life force
Everything is shared, including a seat on a train during rush hour. It is like all the citizens in the depths of their hearts care about the other, in spite of any difference there might exist, be it in religion, caste or social and economic status. Everybody is accepted the way they are, be it the youngsters in their funky attire, or the senior citizens walking in sarees and sports shoes in the innumerous well maintained public gardens. Somewhere deep down there is a knowing of everybody being the same and hence, a subliminal respect that breathes in the city life. When needed the same people on the streets who wouldn't look at you twice, will come in hordes to help you if you need so. This quality of balance is what keeps the city ticking with an never before experienced zest for life... striving for better and working with determination towards it.   
Making Buddhaland?

Buddhaland is not a dream, but must be actualised, and one can sense the Bodhisattvas working very hard in the city of Mumbai!

Pune is the cultural capital of Maharashtra and often called the Oxford of the East! Filled with a burgeoning student population due to its well organised and well proven educational systems, it is filled with a rich vibrancy of character. 
The Orchid School
Though the hometown to the native Marathis, who have long escaped the more cosmopolitan capital of Mumbai for their own reclusive and cocooned life style at Pune, yet, it has a strangely youthful nature that adds a freshness to the city and its appeal. Long stretches of military presence, adds a sense of security and visual treat to the big city traveller. The weahter too is gentle and the environment green and well preserved. A laid-back attitude to life is what characterises a typical Puneite. 
Outside Natural
Roadside Kacchi Dabeli
At the same time the natives clutch on to their culture, through their shopping on Lakshmi Road, their local cuisine spilling into street food carts, their original Ice Cream Parlour chain made from fresh fruits, Marathi theatre throbbing alive in the city scape and the myriad educational institutions that gives it a cultural finesse! The youth too add immense character balancing this rich canvas of people, with their born to be free attitude with most students stepping out of their hometowns into independent college living for the first time at Pune and a desire to achieve more in their coming years. A land that is laden with peace... don't bother, don't get bothered aura... naturally complemented by the greenery and the cool weather. One can see in the Pune of today, urbanisation and consumerism raising its ugly head, but the overall ethos of the city is still strong enough to balance the character of a peace loving city and community. This strong desire for peace and a youthfulness to achieve it is another typical quality that makes a Buddhaland!

Highway to heaven!
Coconut and jackfruit in every house!
Green and gorgeous... a city gifted by nature... with its rich foliage of coconut and cashew-nut among other flora! Its pristine beaches with its clean sand and wide horizons, metaphorically seem to open the minds of its people. 

Hearts that are expansive are typified by the locals, who would gladly invite you to a Konkani meal! A zeal to enjoy life and nature is not only a character of the large number of tourists who throng Goa through the year, but also an integral element of a native Goan. The influence of the erstwhile Portuguese adds a westernized element to the life style, be it in attire, food or entertainment. At the same time, the sun, sand and surf, seem to create an ethereal feeling of bliss, of living in paradise! 
Pristine beaches of Goa

An inner respect for one another and complete acceptance of each individual as unique, is what makes the tattoo parlour coexist in complete harmony right next to a handicrafts shop, not just physically but also in ethos. A perfect blend of western and eastern ideologies, a love for life and people in its myriad diversities and its unique entirety, a natural respect for splendid nature as manifested in the city as well as its endless beaches, gives being in Goa, an out of the world feel. Could this be Buddhaland? Maybe!

In the end, no place is perfect. I have lived for a year at Mumbai, three in Pune and eight in Gurgaon. Every city has its own character and atmosphere, but some cities do naturally lend itself to the establishment of Buddhaland. 
Buddha sun
In the end, it is each individual’s contribution and hence, responsibility to turn any environment into an abode of the Buddha. We have been chanting for the same to be established at our campus from Day 1 and that is our contribution from this corner of the jungle. Here is praying for each of us to be able to be pivotal in transforming their home, work place, building society, neighbourhood and city into a land of pure tranquil light!
Buddhaland is just a blind away...

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Ten things I learnt from my mother... a tribute on her 75th birthday!

My mother turns a glorious 75 today and this is a tribute to her spirit. We never get to choose our parents, but we do choose to understand, accept, admire, and respect them. In the last 35 years, I have gone through a journey of doing all of that with my mother! Here is a list of ten things I have learnt from her and will always carry with me all my life:

Open your heart

My mother is emotional to the core and her heart is a softy! Her heart has always been open to learning new things, questioning her own beliefs and embracing new ideas, and above all to helping and caring for people. All through my childhood, I have seen endless visitors drop by and never was anybody grudged and neither did anybody leave without food in their stomach! This open-hearted nature brought her many friends, some opportunist and some genuine, and yet her bitter sweet experiences never biased her.

Strengthen your mind
My mother, being the first girl in the family to study for a Master's Degree, always cherished the opportunity. She sincerely worked day and night to nurture her intellect and thereby topped her course by becoming a Gold Medalist at Jadavpur University, Kolkata! This saga continued once she met my father, an intellectual, historian and author, with whom she continued this journey of learning. I learnt that there is no end to learning and no age for learning either, pretty early in life.

Work diligently
My memories of my childhood are filled with my mother being busy... forever busy! At 75, nothing much has changed... she still continues to be forever busy! An amazing worker, who once determined, would see her objectives to fruition with a zeal so rare these days. Hard working, be it through her days at Loreto College, checking papers of students from other universities, starting a creche at home or manufacturing jams and squashes, whatever she does, she puts in her 100%. This diligence has not only paid her off well, but has kept her young and healthy!

Enjoy uninhibitedly

My mother loves to cook, drink, dance, watch movies and plays and travel to new places. In whatever she dipped her fingers, even work transformed to enjoyment. With this spirit, I grew up with lots of social evenings at home, be it my father's literary friends, or my special birthday celebrations, these are memories etched in my mind and heart. She taught me, that amid the hardest of circumstances, it is important to enjoy life, uninhibitedly. I still remember her taking me out for a tour of our neighbourhood one rainy afternoon through waterlogged streets, just to feel the exhilaration of a Kolkata monsoon! I also remember how special she made my birthdays by serving me special lunch on silverware and baking my delicious birthday cakes at home! She taught me the mantra of work hard, party hard, even before it became a catch phrase!

Respect women 

My mother was fortunate in her times to grow up and encounter strong women. Be it my mother's mother or my father's mother, two exceptionally strong and independent women of their times, or her boss at college, she admired and revelled in her womanhood. She always taught me the importance of respecting and caring for women... a quality which I imbibed over the years of maturing into an adult. She played a pivotal role not only in my upbringing, but also in our family, its handling and management, thereby, exemplifying the power of a woman in a family. 

Be forever youthful
In her youth, my mother was known for her beauty and the length of her hair! She was aptly called Kapalkundala by her friends and inspired many love poems by my father. Now, though the length of her hair may have drastically shortened, it is impossible to guess her age, not only because of all the wonders Oriflame has worked on her face and skin, but also seeing her energy levels and her zest for life! At 75, she is still youthful at heart, which keeps her younger and glowing. Her active and hands on approach to life, helps her continue to strive and add value to other people's lives, not regarding her weak knees! I hope that at her age, I will be half as fit and active!

Meet challenges head on

My mother is fearless! She has always braved whatever challenge life has thrown at her, never giving in to self pity or remorse. Be it work related, financial or dealing with family crises, she wasted no time in getting down to problem solving and fire fighting. There was not even a second when I remember her getting daunted or overwhelmed. A fighter at heart, she would be soon ready with an action plan and get on with fighting the bull by its horns. Not surprisingly, most of the times she would emerge victorious! A spirit to deal with life's good and bad and not escape the situation, is something I learnt by observing her deal with the vagaries of life! 

Never give up
Her fearless character was further blessed with her perseverant nature. This not only helped her tackle difficult situations, but her undying positive approach, sometimes even foolish, made her stronger than others, as she refused to let any situation get the better of her. In modern times, we see so many of us give in to so much stress in our lives and yet I saw my mother cope with all the pressures of her life with a belief that it would be resolved and that she had the power to do so! This self empowering nature is something I have always tried to imbibe, as it was an inherent quality in her which further got nurtured through her practice of Buddhism.

Count your blessings
Like everybody else, my mother too has seen a lot of good times and a lot of bad times! But through it all she taught me one thing... always to count our blessings. She had learnt it from her mother to always look at people around us, when we felt that we were in the worst possible situation. A never-say-die positive spirit actually held her in good stead through many trials, which women from her generation or of her age would not been have been able to brave and emerge victorious! A sense of humility and a sense of gratitude was ever present in my upbringing and I hope I am able to inculcate the same in my daughter.

Have faith

Everything above boils down to a five letter word 'faith'! My mother has always been guided by her strong instincts, supported by her hard working spirit and never defeated by her attitude to life. At the core of her personality is faith... in the goodness of life and people, in fairness and justice, in the powers of the Universe and above all in the strength latent in all of us. I have seen her apply all these ideas into practice, during major hardships and rising above them. I always admired this in her and was happy to see this manifest itself in a more channelised way when she embraced Buddhism more than a decade back. Her faith has brought our family together and I am sure, will bring in many more blessings into all our lives.

As I sat down to reflect, a longer list of things is already churning in my mind. I have not elaborated on evidences to support my thoughts, as many of them are painful and personal. But, through it all, I have realised the gift that only mothers can share with their children. Here is wishing you many more glorious such years ahead on your 75th birthday!

P.S. This post is in green, my mom's favourite colour! :D