Powering through.

When air becomes suffocating to breath,

You’re scraping through.

When familiar faces look back through strange eyes,

You’re scraping through.

When bonds become bondage,

You’re scraping through.

When you feel like you’re running, even while you’re still,

You’re scraping through.

When the mind disobeys, and takes you for a ride,

You’re scraping through.

When you feel like screaming your lungs out,

You’re scraping through.

When the future starts to haunt instead of excite,

You’re scraping through.

When you live in a plane, but think on another,

You’re scraping through.

But when there’s a little tune to sing, and a waltz to dance,

In spite of what I said before, you’re powering through.

When there is love to be felt and dreams to be dreamt,

You’re powering through.

When there are fights to be fought and morals to be taught,

You’re powering through.

When there are stories to inspire and passions set afire,

You’re powering through.

When there is me as me, and you as you,

We are powering through.

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I am.

Often have I wondered, why do we exist?

We are like plague, devastate as we please.

Life is not just a four letter word,

I have heard that line a million times;

But I feel we make pompous meaning out of nothing,

Searching for water in an expanse of sand mines.

Why do we feel we are important?

What is this obsession with identity that we have?

I am, and therefore is the world,

I am, thus extend my boundaries of real.

If you really think about it, life makes no sense at all,

It’s the fodder of heretics that tells us these lies;

Rationale and logic, connecting the dots,

Of course if you drew random points on a plane, you can connect it nevertheless!

I have searched far and wide, but there is no answer,

Ideologies will differ, but none of them really matter.

We are insignificant, I know I am,

The only difference I seek to make, is in my lifetime.

Scattered are my thoughts, scattered is my spirit,

It will have to be unbelievable, for me to give it a try;

Not to fall prey to concepts created by men,

Pay heed to your rhythm, dance to the music of the soul.

Amidst a hundred thousand galaxies, here we are,

Trying to fool ourselves and prove how right we are!

A voice inside me tells me that this is not how it should be,

Maybe this is how it is, but the change you can be.

Throw away notions of happiness and peek into your being,

Do not chase after shadows, they often cause their own undoing.

But what I want is not so easy, especially today,

In a world so bleak, I don’t even need to say.

I am, and so I need to live,

Just existing is not an option, what is the point anyway?

And if I am to live, I would like it to be worthwhile,

Be true to myself, and be the best at what who I am.

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Tangled threads…

As I picked up my pen today, I knew I had a lot on my mind,
But the pen wouldn’t move as I did not know what to write;

Where do I begin from, do I start from the end,
Do I start from the cause or the mess that I have become?

I know everyone must have felt it, at some point in their lives,
But how come no ones talks about it as they happily disguise?

Questions galore, I had about myself and who I am,
These weren’t the normal career or personal life blues,
These had consequences in real time;

I will ask myself the same questions again tomorrow,
I don’t know what will change in that time,
I just know that I cannot stop, without reason or rhyme;

Have I become a little mechanical, have I lost my emotions?
Have I, in the pursuit of becoming more ‘grounded’, traded for a thousand suns?

Some say it is good to be confused, in what universe is what I ask,
They say bask in the possibilities it creates, I say laugh at the fool it masks;

But I cannot laugh at the way life is taking this turn,
I see failures on the way, from them I cannot really run;

Tomorrow is another day, another arc of the sun,
I can’t think of anything extraordinary that might just happen;

I sense that I just have to keep on going, try to keep my head up high,
Going away somewhere is not the problem, the point is what do I do, when I do get there.

15 - 9

Gazing into a world far away that is out of reach

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Ordinary, yet extraordinary

It is indeed strange how certain thoughts always reside in the recesses of your mind and come back to life, as soon as anything even remotely connected to it occurs. Here’s a chaotic account of all that happened today.

Where? My sofa.
Time- 9:18 am
Duration of this episode: 7-10 mins

Today morning as I started to plan my day ahead, I began to think about what I would eat in the day. Recent health concerns have made me look into what I eat, and I am not as carefree and reckless about my food as I used to be. (To give you context, in a two person meal, I would eat the major portion of the food that was ordered) Those were the golden days! Anyway, coming back to Earth, my mind wandered when I thought about food and I decided on making a broccoli soup and a mushroom sabji. I do not know how to make either, just in case you were wondering; but I was up for the experience of learning! But we did not have broccoli or mushroom at home, and I wondered what now. My mind quickly settled on the option of ordering the necessary ingredients from Amazon Now. So easy, so convenient. Life sorted!

But being myself, another door of thought opened up. I started to think about the experience I was denying myself, because I chose to order food ingredients online. Say there was no Amazon Now, and I had to go myself to the market to buy these ingredients. When was the last time I went to the market to buy anything? I thought for a minute and gave up. Isn’t going to the market, or let’s upgrade ourselves and say going to D-Mart also an experience? Say I meet a person I know, we talk. We share what’s been happening in our respective lives. You think about it even after they have left. Say I meet a friend who stays in the same area, after a long time. Usually, we never find time to meet each other; we have such busy schedules and lives. Say you meet that one annoying Aunty you always try to avoid. Learn to face her, you know you will have to face many such people in the near future.

My point is, how many times do we deny ourselves an experience because we have gotten used to a certain life of convenience? The experience I am talking of, is of running into people. Sure, there are these orchestrated social avenues which create such chances to meet new people. We all take part in such social activities from time to time. What I am after, however, is to make everyday life interesting and meaningful.Let me give more examples.

I am a little crazy about books, and they instantly make me happy. In the recent past, any time I wanted a book for myself, I ordered it online. Delivered at my doorstep, I unpack the package and that’s it. But earlier, I used to visit bookstores a lot to buy books. Not only does the physical presence of books make an impact, but it is also how I observe and interact with people who happen to be in the bookstore at the same time. I never remember being alone at a bookstore and not having a conversation with a stranger. It always makes me feel positive, meeting people with varied interests and yet a like-minded love for reading. I also get to find out what others are reading, what are they checking out. Sure, the online equivalent of reviews and ratings on Goodreads is available, but I prefer the other mode to be frank.

There are many cases like these. Our food ordering patterns, is another example. Going out to dine versus eating alone in your bachelor pad.Working out alone at home? Go to a gym, go for a run in the park. If you like the comfort your home provides, form a group of people who’re interested in the same and work out together. Thankfully, shopping is still largely done via physical stores instead of incessantly ordering online. I sometimes wonder if the number of logistical vehicles have increased on our highways and our roads, because of the increasing home based services. And I do not get this thought sitting at home, I get this thought when I am in the bus looking out, while coming back from school.

Going out of your house, outside of work can open up avenues to new thoughts, to new observations and to new experiences. Most of us get out of the house to meet friends which is travel from point A to point B in the rickshaw/cab/private vehicle. We spend that time mostly with our smartphones. When the concept of sharing cabs came in, I was actually interested. I have heard so many stories about the conversations that have happened while sharing a cab, which re-affirm my take. And these interactions do not need to be permanent, or do not have to be carried forward. They are just what they are, an exchange of words that open up another person’s world to you for a brief moment.

How many times do we get out for the little things? I am not saying that never do things of convenience. There is a utility value to these things, when they are done in moderation. There is a certain time and need for it, and it is justified in their existence. The numerous apps I mentioned have helped in a lot of ways to refine some of our choices. All I am opening up the discussion is for this, that we need to create a balance between saving time vs. cutting down on experiences of human interaction. Think about that uncle who always greets you on the staircase/lift, the smile that appears on his face when he asks if everything is alright. The next time you are in need, you might not feel awkward approaching him for help. Similarly, there is a beauty in doing things which are mundane as well, they increase the overall value of attachment. If you cook your own meal, it gives you a greater sense of satisfaction on having your meal. If you clean parts of your own house, it gives you a greater sense of belonging.

Maybe, this is not a big deal at this moment. Maybe, it is not for everyone. I have considered the possibility that it can only be I who is feeling this way. But it certainly has the possibility to snowball into something alienating. We already feel scattered and isolated. Maybe not talking to enough people and having to communicate has got to do something with it? Why does life have to be about a few important events and monotonous on the rest of the days? I want to believe in the power of the ordinary. I want to believe in the value of everyday communication. Not overdone, but subtle and charming in its own ways.

With that, I decided against ordering the ingredients online, but at the same time, I did not go out either. I just dropped the idea of the broccoli soup. (:P) But I want to explore this idea, and see if my thoughts can translate into actions.

P.S. 1. I realize after reading that it indeed came out to be as chaotic as it was in my head. Apologies if you couldn’t follow my wavering thoughts.
2. My sister informed me that Amazon Now does not sell mushroom or broccoli. *facepalm*

 

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Ae Dhvani, kya bolti tu?

Everybody is busy reviewing their year and as much as you feel like giving those reviews a cold shoulder, you cannot escape its despicable claws. As I was talking to a friend yesterday and discussing the year that went by, the usual remark of ‘I cannot believe it is December already!’ blurted itself out from my mouth. He disagreed with me and rather said that he could believe it was December, because he could trace his journey through the year. I stopped to think, and realised he was right.

This has indeed been a fulfilling year in a lot of ways for me. Jagriti Yatra to start the year, where I met half a thousand people, Teach for India selection, TISS interview, quitting my job at Fractal, working relentlessly even during the notice period, taking the tough call to teach and study at the same time, exiting MAD Fellowship and sadly MAD too, attending Semester 1 at TISS which was one of the most amazing experiences of the year, crushing myself at the Teach for India training in Pune, starting to teach in Malad to 53 lovely 6th graders, completing all assignment work in a week, clearing semester 1, visiting Ahmadabad to reconnect with why I do what I do, turning 24, attending Semester 2 which was even more amazing, and finally, today writing this.

It has been one hell of a year.

Till yesterday, I felt uneasy. I think I felt afraid that I was missing out on life. Afraid, that I am getting no time to myself, while I am in my “best years”. Scared, to think of the constantly changing future. Guilty, of not giving my best to my family. Guilty again, to not giving time to music. Guilty thrice, that I do not exercise. You can infer the way in which my thoughts were going.
However, what changed today is the fact that I revisited one of the few things I absolutely believe in. 

Life is simple, let’s not make it so hard.

(There is an entire TEDx talk on this, by a wonderful man from Thailand whose name I cannot recall.)

While I agree life shouldn’t be taken as a joke, of course we are extremely lucky to have one. It’s a wonderful world.. and all that, yes. However, it’s completely okay to make it your own, to give it your own touch. Stop thinking about all the wonderful things happening with everyone else, fearing that you are the one, who’s left behind. Look at what you managed to accomplish, where you were and where you are. Have you grown? Have you laughed? Did you get your heart broken? Did you cry yourself to sleep; only this time, didn’t you manage it better? Did you travel and meet new people? Did you change opinions on some of your most rigid beliefs? Did you venture into something new just because your instincts told you to do it? If even half of the answers are yes, my friend, you have lived wonderfully.
Maybe things did not go exactly like you planned, maybe they did. It’s okay, you will make a new plan. You will be surprised again. If you made mistakes, instead of resenting them, accept them. Learn from them. Take a chill pill.

Sometimes I feel I want to rush through the 20s, avoid the confusing part and jump to the 30s. Not because 30s are more sorted, but because I want to get done with all the drama youth has to offer. I certainly feel we place a lot of undue importance to this decade, calling it out as our best phase. I feel my teens were equally exciting and so will be my 30s. It’s a smokescreen, and frankly, whichever decade you enter, you will have a hundred experiences waiting for you. However, let’s hold that thought because I am brewing a theory about overestimating the youth. If it goes through, shall definitely post it.

If you haven’t been able to reflect on the year that went by, I would suggest to not let Facebook do your review for you. Do it on your own. Take a couple of days off, thank Jesus for Christmas. I am planning my vacation, when are you? Oh also, do enjoy the shaadi season. Don’t cry because yes, everyone you know is getting married. It’s fine. Nothing can beat free food, however predictable it might be. So get stuffed, and enjoy the invitations.
There are no conclusive thoughts to offer, no concrete take-aways. Kuch tha kehne ko, keh diya. This has been one of the most productive conversations I’ve had with myself in a while. Cheers! ūüôā

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The one that knocked me down.

I had duly hoped that the first blog post I would make about my time at Teach for India would be a positive one, full of hope and magic. But as realities go, this one is starkly opposite to what I had in mind. But I need to write this and I need to put this across.

It has been over a month since I started teaching in Malvani, Malad at a low income school as a part of my Fellowship with Teach for India. For those of you who do not know Malvani, it is an underdeveloped area in Malad West with a low everything. Low Human Development Index (HDI), low Public Housing (PH) ratio, low on civic amenities, low on health care, low on sanitation. You can read up more about Malvani and its current state here. Or you could just look it up on Google. I teach Grade 6, with a total of 54 students. I had 54 students, till Monday.

My class is now a¬†class of 53, because we lost one of our kids recently. I am not naming him because I still can’t accept the fact that he is no more. I will be referring to him as ‘my kid’ henceforth. The reason? Fever. Sounds ridiculous, right? A boy of 11 years, seemingly fit and fine, who has hardly ever stepped out in the world. When my co-Fellow and I found out about his demise, we were stunned. We still are, we haven’t been able to wrap our minds around it. Since it was late in the evening, we decided to wait a day to visit his parents. All I did on Tuesday was to recall every moment that had him in it. We saw him on Saturday, just before the school broke for Ganpati holidays. We gave him holiday homework. He nodded his cute little head like he always did, and happily wished us happy holidays.

On Wednesday, I went to visit his parents who live in Ambojwadi. It’s a slum near Malvani. I do not want to go on to describe Ambojwadi at this moment because it will soon crop up. His parents told me that he was fine till Sunday night. He had dinner with his older brother and his father. On Monday, around 6 am, his father as usual began to wake him up for school. He smiled in his sleep and reminded his father that he had holidays at school. He went back to sleep. An hour later, his brother sensed that my kid’s body had gone cold and he was spitting out spit from his mouth. His heart beat had shot up. They immediately took him to ‘Hindu Hruday Samrat Balasaheb Thackerey Trauma Care Municipal Hospital’, which is in Jogeshwari East, just off the Western Express highway. My retelling of what ensued there¬†is a roughly patched series of events that¬†his parents narrated to me.

His first report that came out, apparently was normal. The doctors assured the family that everything was alright and the situation was under control. Time-check: 11 AM. His mother then showed up, because she was at Chembur till this time, nursing a cancer-afflicted brother. They weren’t allowed to see my kid, and they started to get suspicious because things did not seem “normal”. Soon they came to know that my kid wasn’t conscious. The hospital doctors said that once he gains consciousness, they will get an MRI done.¬†The mother has been working with Child Care Helpline for three years, so she is a bit informed. She immediately called up another brother and asked for a second opinion. By the time the external doctors come, it is 3 PM and they assess that my kid is in a very delicate situation and his chances of survival are pretty thin. I cannot even imagine the disbelief his parents must have experienced at that moment. The parents were aghast, and couldn’t even voice out their shock at not being warned in advance, so that they could at least shift him to some other hospital.¬†No sooner than this happened, my kid slipped into a coma. The only communication which came from the doctors was that they couldn’t say anything for certain. At 6 PM, the doctors (both the hospital and external ones) had lost hope. And within a few hours, my kid breathed his last.

Now coming to the cause. Officially, the doctors said that my kid had fever since 5-6 days and that the parents neglected it. His post-mortem report has come normal. I saw him in class on Friday and Saturday and he did not have fever. Yes, he did complain of a constant headache but he had said that he couldn’t see clearly and his mother had taken him to an eye-doctor. Everything was fine. Or at least seemed fine.

The area which he lives in- Ambojwadi, is inhabitable. I do not mean to sound judgmental but I am sticking to the facts. The place has open drains, has narrow, jammed, make-shift houses crammed up together. Animals and humans alike, roam in a deplorable state. Fleas and mosquitoes are permanent members of the community. I am sure we have all seen chawls once in our lifetime. This has been the most unhygienic one I have ever visited or will visit. (More about such areas here, and this article has it mellowed down compared to what it actually is like.) This made me think hard. My kid and another thousand people who live there, are denied of basic health and sanitation which results in some disease or another.¬†I met quite a few of my students while I was in Ambojwadi, and everyone has some problem or another. One father had his hand cut in an injury, one kid has low platelet count. One kid’s father is bed-ridden due to an accident, one kid’s parent lost his battle to Malaria. They have had limited access to¬†formal¬†education for the longest time and whatever percentage is educated, is not enough. The generation that currently goes to school consists of almost 50% first-generation learners. The families fall under the Below Poverty Line segment of the society and can hardly make both ends meet. I gather that much of their expenses go in treating one ailment or another, which further worsens their living conditions due to limited cash availability. What vicious cycle is this?

I am very new at matters that fall under the municipal corporation and have negligible knowledge about it. I am at a loss of actions. I have lots of words in my head, which are even pouring out on this page right now, but I do not even have one concrete action to begin with. All those articles you read one day on the Internet about how municipal doctors take it casual, started to make sense. Maybe there was some truth behind it. You start thinking about the value we hold for the value of one life. The worst part is, I cannot say anything with absolute certainty. Was it the doctor’s fault? Was it the parents’? Was it the unhygienic conditions? What was it?

I only know one thing. We lost one of our students. And I would have never been bothered by these things, had I not experienced it first hand like this. But now, I am bothered. I am restless. Makes me feel incompetent and useless, the knowledge that whatever I am doing, is such a nano unit of whatever needs to be done. In an ironical way, it also reinforces the importance of what I do. Perhaps, even if one student can grow up to be a problem solver and can help change the community from within, there is hope. As they say, to solve a problem, you need to be a part of it. You need to get your hands dirty. I wonder how useful I am, sitting comfortably in my chair and writing this. A lot to consider, but little to do.

What do I take out from all this? I remember one of the Directors of TFI once saying:

“We struggle for the kids who have no choice but to struggle”.

I think it is time we all became just a bit more socially conscious. Try adding and creating value instead of stressing over bank balances and the next luxury. I am not saying money is not important; how can I, after all that I have just written. But just look at the distribution, is it equitable by any standards? I am not saying leave your comfortable job, or do not travel by auto-rickshaws. What I am just saying is to be a bit more aware. Just look around you when you are travelling, and you will know what I mean. This time, focus on all the details you ignore by default. Just look around. Responsibility is not that bad, it is just doing your bit and through it, experience and unravel life even more. Yes, life is beautiful and all this sounds a bit depressing. But think about this: doesn’t everyone deserve to call life beautiful? Why is it beautiful only to some? Do think about this and it might not cause any waves¬†in your life; that’s okay. But if it caused even a ripple, I am sure it will go a long way.

Thank you for reading, and hope that my kid is in a much better place now. ūüôā

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The one with all the confessions!

(More of a personal outlet than a blog entry, go ahead if you possess the patience. Or if you are plain bored.)

There comes a time in everybody’s life, when the world makes absolutely no sense. When you are consumed with existential questions, and when you question your entire life and everything in it. When you can say that you’ve come close to living a life, because you’ve witnessed versions¬†of yourself, more than what you thought were possible. When you find yourself surrounded by people, but deep in your heart you are alone. You’re no one. (Arya Stark, anyone?)

I have never really understood myself completely. Confession #1.

Throughout my adult life (which has actually been only 5 years), I have hopped from one interest to another, trying to figure out the perfect blend of what is it that makes me tick. I have loved music, dance, writing, teaching, math and anything creative. I was also good academically. But among all these, what was my calling? What was I supposed to do in life? These questions continued to plague me, as I sat for one engineering exam after another, always studying at the last moment, happy to be mediocre, content not to excel. To be honest, I did not completely realize the importance of those years, because my life was good! Good college, good friends, good food and the promise of a bright future! I did not stop to think.

This struggle continued to engulf me even as I gave job interviews. I thought I wasn’t good enough. But the truth is, I did all of this so halfheartedly that I don’t even blame them for not selecting me. Finally, I did manage to find the perfect job for me and it translated into¬†a smooth ride for another 2 years. Fractal has helped me find my footing in the independent world, and I will always be grateful for the experiences it provided me with. However, notwithstanding the awesomeness of Fractal, somewhere I felt hollow. I felt like I could do much more, that my skills and abilities could be put to use somewhere else, where there is actually a need.

I love teaching, and I especially love teaching kids. Confession #2

All this while, a huge part of me was engaged with an NGO that everyone I know must have heard its name from me- Make A Difference. Teaching is that one thing which gives me immense satisfaction and joy, and I feel like I have made good use of my time. With MAD, I started to see how interested today’s youth is, in solving challenges of the country, at the same time, how much more requires to¬†be done to enable them to do so, and to bring awareness about some of the problems thwarting our education system.

I started looking at career options in Education, and while the quintessential option of taking private tuition was always open, I wanted to do something bigger, something that would add value to my life. I also was looking at higher education in this sector, because I realized that just an engineering degree isn’t going to suffice if I am seriously considering a career in the field.

I applied to Teach for India (TFI), Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and Young India Fellowship (YIF).

I had no clear idea why I applied to these three organizations, at the time. Confession #3

But with time, I got accepted into all three. The toughest choice was to choose between TFI and TISS. And guess what I chose? Both.

Yes, I have undertaken a Herculean task. I am going to pursue my Masters in Elementary Education from TISS and I am going to simultaneously be a Fellow at Teach for India. Seems insane, right? It feels that way too. Everyone I spoke to has highlighted how difficult it is going to be, and how it’s going to ask for sacrifices on my personal front. But at the same time, a few have reassured me that I can do it, and I should not lose heart before starting out. How this worked out for me is the fact that my MA course is especially designed for people who work and hence has only 1 month per semester on campus, while the rest is distance. And while I am on distance learning, I can also simultaneously teach at a low income school in Mumbai and get to experience life as a teacher in so many different ways.

And yet, I have no clue how am I going to manage both these things together. Confession #4

(Let’s do a double whammy) I am not even 100% sure if I made the right decision by quitting a well paying comfortable job so early in my career. Confession #5

It’s scary. This journey is already giving me the chills. As I write today, having completed the first month at college, and gearing up for training for Teach for India in Pune, I feel myself questioning where I am in space and time. What about my family, how much will they have to adjust for me? What about my friends, I won’t be able to see them, not even the little that I did see of them earlier. I feel lost, I feel like I am caught up in a whirlpool.

What now? What next? As life keeps reminding me that the clock is ticking, I will be soon exiting the better half of my 20s, and I am still looking for something. A lot of people do tell me, ‘I hope you find what you are looking for’. And yet, I don’t have the slightest idea of what is it that I am looking for. We all do need that sense of purpose I guess, no matter how many Sartres were to take birth and theorize that “existence precedes essence”. (Yaay, my first philosophy joke!)

Since the time I graduated, I have this uneasy feeling that I can’t let go. It has taken a toll on me; the thinking, the helplessness at times, and the warping of emotions. Every time I feel desolate, I ask myself: will I be able to bounce back from here? And somehow, every single time, my heart responds with a resounding yes.

And so folks, there is still hope. Confession #6

That’s the last of my confessions. No matter where I go on from here, I know one day I shall feel proud of the steps I took. I know I am going to end up learning a lot at the end of these two years, and I also know that I will be challenging myself to push my boundaries.

If you’ve managed to stay with me till here, I thank you. For being a part of my life. For being supportive. Do stay with me, till the end.

Now that I have this out of my system, I need to start working on an assignment that’s due tomorrow. Confession #P.S.

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