For Papa

My father passed away on 21st September 2020. He had a cardiac arrest and suffered little. He lived big and always, always on his own terms. He had a deep confidence in his own ideas of right and wrong – I can say this because of how often he was willing to change his thinking when provided with new evidence and perspective (and through some impassioned shouting matches). He moved with the times, wanted me to go further than his imagination, and constantly struggled with the inner battle between a romantic heart and a rational mind.

This post to make sure this one tribute (and maybe others after it) don’t get lost in the din of social media. This is by my father’s elder cousin, Sudhir Tewari, who knew him intimately before I did – as a brother, a friend, a fellow cricketer.


Can he be no more? An Almorian, an altruist, a biblophile, a born cricketer, a cricketing buff, an aficionado, a raconteur, a chef, a gourmet, an epicure, a conversationalist, a connoisseur, a chatter box, a dapper lover, a humorist, a host, a gossiper, a friend, a guide, a doting father, a recent golfer….and more…. and great & perfect at that!

Not many in the family and among friends may either not know or be in a position to readily recall his real first name. He was known as Babboo to one & all and he took demonstrable pride in his nickname. In fact, his mother had lovingly ‘nicked’ it further and she addressed him invariably as “Babua”! She confided that once she herself appeared to have forgotten his real first name. Try as she might, she was not able to recollect it. In the thick of a cold wintery night in Almora, therefore, in panic she rushed into Babua’s study to glean his real name (Rajeev) from labels pasted on books & notebooks and heaved a sigh of relief!

From his childhood, Babboo was extremely fond of books, magazines and comics of all hues and they would be strewn around everywhere in the house in plenty. Till the moment he had stepped out completely in the open to play cricket in the courtyard with home made cloth ball, he would continue to take a glance at something or the other that was readable. His life too remained an open book, warts and all, without pretensions and without any attempt to hide anything from an already ugly world. Also, true to his love of cricket and fondness to open the innings, he continued to bat fearlessly in the treacherous game of life as well in perfect copy book style. Umpires often may make wrong decisions but a disciplined cricketer leaves the field without the slightest demur in the greatest traditions of the game!

I have had the fortune to be in his company intimately for some years not only as a member of the close knit clan but also as a dear friend, class mate and player on the cricket ground. He would not mind playing truant to indulge the game he loved. Lean, thin and in perfect form always in a dapper costume, he was agile on the field and literally looked number 1 with a batting cap on his head! Off the field too, he was second to none. He was always sharp & witty and he had a splendid gift of repartee as well. Once during an examination in college, he sought some clarification from the invigilator in a Zoology paper that was supposedly tough. The invigilator pleaded helplessness & ignorance in the subject as he was a Sanskrit teacher. Instantaneously, Babboo quipped, “Sir, in that case, you may help by reciting the ‘roop’ (various forms) of a ‘frog’ (Rana Tigrina) at least”! In that tense environment, the entire examination hall burst into laughter.

Dear Brother Babboo, in remembrance of and deep reverence to what you personified, I cannot afford to shed tears at this juncture as well to bid you farewell. You led life on your own terms valiantly as an Emperor. Dear Usha and Dear Baboosha, you have inherited a rich legacy. We are all extremely proud of Dear Babboo’s superior skills, accomplishments and all that he has bequeathed to us. Entire Almora mourns the loss of its valuable opening wicket. Rajeev’s wicket may have fallen. Babboo the eternal batsman, however, continues to live!

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Modi, what is this communication?

India has had a lot of time to prepare for this outbreak – it did not (chalo koi baat nahi – many countries have failed there). However, individual towns + states were already going into lockdown. Teething troubles of lockdowns such as citizen vigilantism, apartment complexes ostracizing people, delivery workers being beaten up etc.. were visible. Mass migration back to rural India was visible – creating its own pandora’s box of problems.

India had time to prepare for the #21DayLockdown – the lockdown instructions in themselves seem fairly standard so what was likely needed was clear clarifications on what these things actually mean. What we see:

1. The primetime 8 PM address giving people just 4 hours to sort their lives (compared to 48 hours to prepare for taali-thaali) – deja vu to demonetisation and probably to the forthcoming disaster. The dangerous throwing around of the word “curfew” loosely.

2. Very crucial points about essential services remaining open and hence there being no need to hoard – missing. Could easily lead to total panic on the streets. This government may thrive on panic, the public doesn’t.

3. 15000 crore for medical facilities is great news – how is it being spent? Where are the tests? We cannot start now – the bus is moving already..

4. Migrant/daily workers and their lives/economies – where is the plan for that?

5. Financial taskforce and the stimulus package – as Chidambaram said on twitter, India has the capacity to create a package in hours – why are we taking days?

Most importantly – the one thing truly appreciable about Modi is his oration and his ability to create a narrative. I also quite applaud his ability to think up gimmicks that make people feel involved (eg. the taali-thaali bit). Therefore, the question is this – How is THIS Prime Minister failing in communication when it matters the most? This address has done nothing to reassure people that India is in control, just created utmost panic. Was that the strategy? Does Modi truly not know how to communicate unless it is to create a sense of pointless panic that can be exploited for political gains? Is Modi’s communication limited to electioneering and actually useless when needed as a statesman and a leader? Is it impossible for him to deliver a strong, reassuring address that actually covers important details instead of regular blabbery?

Throwing around words like “curfew” (serious implications), not clarifying what it means to have essential services open but ‘no one should step out of the house’ diktat – is just poor communication. The confusion and panic, with heightened citizen vigilantism, can lead to a real mess and untold misery (not unlike demonetization). They don’t even need to re-create the wheel here – just look at notifications issued in USA – clearly telling people what they can and can’t do – not throwing around words like curfew and ‘no one is allowed to leave the house’!

This shows up in other situations too – the lack of press conferences (shouldn’t you have your propaganda down pat by now?), the lack of statements on serious issues in India (waiting to build the narrative), the monologue of ‘Mann ki Baat’ – but where is our leader and statesman when we need one?

I don’t know how things will be on the other side of coronavirus all over the world but one thing that is clear – this man is completely incapable of serious governance and crisis management. Just like demonetization (which was not even an urgent, time-bound announcement), far too many things will be clarified by notifications and new rules. Far too much panic to add to an already stressed out populace.

They only know how to create a crisis, not diffuse one.

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Ode to Hope by Pablo Neruda

Oceanic dawn
at the center
of my life,
waves like grapes,
the sky’s solitude,
you fill me
and flood
the complete sea,
the undiminished sky,
and space,
sea foam’s white
the orange earth,
the sun’s
fiery waist
in agony,
so many
gifts and talents,
birds soaring into their dreams,
and the sea, the sea,
chorus of rich, resonant salt,
and meanwhile,
we men,
touch the water,
and hoping,
we touch the sea,
And the waves tell the firm coast:
‘Everything will be fulfilled.’

(Note: Neruda is probably my favorite poet – from his love songs to his birthday gift to himself to his expression of becoming a poet at 60 – to me, it is an expression of a life fully lived with much to share and many layers to uncover. This poem is a good piece of writing to have handy – it is truly an ode to hope, to everything that will be fulfilled..)

Image: Google Images

Education ‘for all’: ESSA guidelines and school tracking systems

American education policy has consistently focussed on the terms ‘for all’ as evidenced by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 which was a civil rights law; the No Child Left Behind policy of 2002; and the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, signed by President Obama. However, research since the 1970s has shown that one aspect – high school tracking – violates this noble idea of education ‘for all’ at the points of both access and outcome. I examine the problem and propose measures that can be implemented at local levels of school leadership.

The No Child Left Behind policy of 2002 has come a long way in establishing our commitment towards education for all. Despite critique that waivers allowed during the Obama administration harmed the very students who needed the pressure of ‘no child left behind’ to make schools focus on their success, the policy started an important conversation on universality which the Every Student Succeeds Act attempts to consolidate. Here is a highlight from the website:

Requires—for the first time—that all students in America be taught to high academic standards that will prepare them to succeed in college and careers.”

Three years since the act was signed and with state plans for accountability ready and being implemented, it is time to consider if ESSA does create frameworks for its desired outcomes.

What is the problem?

ESSA does not focus on college or career readiness beyond the highlight as seen on the website. With little clarity on what college readiness or career readiness means, states are creating their own parameters based on AP test scores (college readiness) or CTE/Workforce Innovation Board certifications (career readiness). There is also an assumption that only vocational education will lead to career readiness, as per state plans. In state responses to ESSA’s accountability measures, the one aspect conspicuous by its absence is school tracking, which violates the notion ‘for all’ at the point of access and outcome of college or career readiness.

What is tracking?

School tracking refers to the system of placing students in different clusters of subjects according to their ability, interest and goals. The most common tracks are academic or college track and the vocational tracks. However, there are multiple tracks in between  these two, which move towards one or the other end of these two tracks. There are also differing levels of mobility and flexibility between tracks in different schools. The rationale behind tracking is to group students according to ability and/or interest to allow for more focussed training towards their goals.

Research since the 1970s, however, has revealed several problems in the actual implementation of tracking in schools. These problems directly impact the notion of quality education ‘for all’ in America’s schools. Firstly, research on the impact of educator perceptions on student choices revealed that educators tend to place students in tracks based on stereotypes of race, gender and socioeconomic class. Even though teachers believed they were following the human capital theory idea of creating a hierarchical workforce, their decisions were not based solely on merit and ability. Secondly, Rosenbaum in his seminal work, provided evidence that the vocational track had a negative impact on students’ IQ while the academic track had a positive impact on the students’ IQ. This means that students from weaker sections of society were being subjected to poorer quality of education and an ‘obedience first’ socialization. Thirdly, research has also shown that students in the academic track report greater levels of satisfaction and better relationships with their teachers while students in the vocational track report lower levels of self-esteem. They also report more impatience and unkindness from their teachers. Jean Anyon’s work on hidden curriculum in schools has shown that teachers’ expectations from students become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Hence, the the environment created in vocational tracks can be hampering student development.

This creates a two-fold problem for the notion of ‘for all’ as mentioned in ESSA. Firstly, college readiness is clearly not accessible to all students based on factors other than ability or interest (point of access). Even career readiness ‘for all’ is seriously compromised as the quality of education being provided in the career tracks is poorer, not just in terms of content but also in terms of the environment necessary for a student to flourish (point of outcome). Hence, advantaged students compound their advantages while those that such policies aim to assist continue to spiral in below-average competency, as also shown by research.

What needs to be done?

I propose five measures, most of which can be implemented by schools independently, or atleast by school districts.

  1. Engage with parents and counsel them to be involved and help their children make choices that reflect actual interest and potential (not just current ability). Schools tend to accommodate parents and children’s choices without question, which can be problematic as families in weaker sections of society operate through a need for immediate security through blue-collar jobs. As educators, it is our responsibility to provide informative counselling and encourage them to consider the child’s potential while choosing tracks. Accomodation limits access to the academic track, violating the idea of opportunity ‘for all’.
  2. Look internationally for ideas such as broad scoped tracks and delayed tracking.
    1. In Japan, students are segregated into tracks very late in high school and spend most of their school life studying a common curriculum. This helps in making tracks look like focussed training for life after school as opposed to an ‘identity’ or a marker of several personality factors.
    2. Broaden the scope of tracks with more common curriculum to create well-rounded students braching out into different areas of the workforce. In Germany, school tracks are considered important for individual development. However, the tracks do not differ greatly from each other and tracking is based on merit, leading to fewer stereotypes and resultant consequences. This also ensures basic quality in all tracks and reduced problems created through stereotyping and self-fulfilling prophecies.
  3. Enhance and encourage mobility between tracks. Schools that encourage greater electivity by students, greater selectivity in tracks, greater mobility and inclusion have lesser variation in experiences. While this may not solve the problem of poorer quality vocational tracks, it does equalize opportunities and experiences of students.
  4. Professional development of teachers that examines their privelege and bias may be useful in mitigating the lowered expectations of students in the vocational track and the biased track assignment.
  5. ESSA needs to specify the meaning of college and career readiness and the expectations mandating all students get both access to quality education and robust frameworks ensure equal opportunity for high-quality outcomes as well. While states have been given the freedom to devise their own accountability structures, there needs to be greater clarity on expectations at a federal level, especially since states have not responded to ‘for all’ through their accountability measures.

Why now?

While tracking has been a part of American education for a long time, it has also been criticised for a long time. However, lack of policy has not incentivised much change. Since 2002, a commitment to quality education ‘for all’ has been in focus with much critique directed towards the lack of universality in implementation. This makes it urgent and important to look at aspects of schooling that may not be in policy books but are omnipresent in American schools and challenge the central idea towards the democratization intended through these federal policies. My proposals recognise that tracking can be useful however; some structural changes that can be implemented at school level will also ensure it follows the spirit of American education – quality ‘for all’.


So long 2018. Thanks for everything!

I am aware that the time for 2018 reflections is past and it is now time to be thinking ahead into 2019. But isn’t the ability to reject ‘topical’ timelines the whole point of a personal blog? If not, then it should be..

Last year I finally stopped crossing my eyes to look at the bridge of my nose in a (pointless?) attempt to balance my favourite glasses. Result: I looked outwards to see the world in all its glory. I still scrunch my face occasionally of-course (you didn’t really believe I stopped caring about the glasses on my nose, did you?)

2018, you’ve been great in every way. So how do I love thee? Let me count the ways..

1. An exhilarating, life-affirming tour of the United States of America in February was the best possible start to the year. There is no other word that can best describe the adrenaline, excitement, and contentment of my three weeks there. 29468981_10155341400511546_8415406465623261184_oAlong with my trusty suitcase, I visited 8 cities across 7 states and three timezones. I slipped in the snow several times. I ate more burgers and fries and pizzas and sandwiches and cookies than a person should. I visited New York and completed my trilogy of visiting the fabled great city trio of London-New York-Paris. I left my heart in Chicago with the broad streets, high-rises, Frank Lloyd Wright and a sense of the old, the regal, the traditional. I fell in love with the eclectic vibe of Arizona with cactii and palm trees and the most gorgeous sunsets.

2. I returned to my work on a special educational technology project (which I am not allowed to disclose, yet). There was the magic of being with a bunch of constructive, positive people who laughed and worked and made every day a great joy. There was the purpose and belief of solving a real problem. There was the confidence and self-awareness of exactly where we stood and what we set out to do. In short, it was a space which resonated with every personal value I hold dear and brings out the best in me. After years of hopping around, I found something that made me reconsider my long-planned PhD and wonder if I should push it by a few more years to work in a place that I could finally settle into, without thinking of the enemy of any real work – “what’s next?” That is pretty special and I am very grateful to have had this experience.

3. The (inexplicable) desire to pursue a PhD brought me to Arizona State University in Tempe. Here, I fulfilled an old wish from my girlhood – of living in my own apartment, inhabiting my own space. In the years of college and later, of heady highs and lows where dreams were woven and shattered, I had forgotten about this particular wish. I realised it through the peace I found in my ‘own’ space, through the wonderful solitude of my evenings on my patio, through my sudden impulse to buy art and vases and table-mats and scrub the kitchen clean. This apartment is a small statement to my constant struggle to live an independent life and the fulfilment of this girlhood wish brings me immense happiness.

4. The year rounded off with a fabulous vacation to the Grand Canyon during Thanksgiving. Stargazing in the Canyon goes down as #1 life experience yet. The walk from Hermit Point to Hopi Point with spectacular views of the Colorado river is a close second. Our old, cozy log cabin in Williams was straight out of a children’s storybook. IMG_20181123_151323The best part of this vacation were the people I shared it with – especially the women with whom I laughed late into the night, every night. This vacation was about re-discovering sisterhood with constructive, independent, strong women figuring out their places in this whacko world. It was about sharing and laughing at the ad-libbing that adulthood is. It was about feeling well-cared for and relaxed because women just know what needs to be done and do it without direction! I am certainly very grateful (in a brand new sense) for all the women I know, who are always up for a chat or a few chuckles as much as they are there for the ups and the downs. I always had great women friends but last year, I acknowledged their presence more keenly.

2018 turned the tide. A decade since I turned 18, adulthood feels like home.



Why targeting Nehru is everyone’s favourite past-time..

The assault on Nehru is part of two larger projects, both of which must be contained and defeated. The first must be defeated to maintain the Idea of India as a progressive, inclusive, secular space. The second project must be rejected as it seeks to delegitimise our struggles as a colonised nation and consequently, belittles our stratospheric rise in merely 70 years since Independence. It also trivialises our momentous decision to remain non-aligned and forge our own path forward.

Knowledge is key to resistance. Must read this excerpt from Purushottam Agrawal’s piece in The Wire titled ‘Why Hindutva Ideologues, and Some Liberals, Love to Hate Nehru’

“Spreading hatred against Jawaharlal Nehru and pitying Gandhi for the “dreadful mistake” of choosing him as his political heir has been an integral part of the disinformation campaign by the cultural and economic Right in India, mainly the RSS and its affiliates. Given the RSS’s understanding of the Indian cultural experience, it is quite natural that Golwalkar in his Bunch of Thoughts sees Muslims and Christians as ‘internal threats’; and ridicules the Indian freedom struggle which Gandhi and Nehru led for ‘reducing itself merely to being anti-British’.

On the other hand, there has been a trend in western academia that insists on denying the devastating effects of colonialism, and locates the causes of all problems facing India in its own tradition and culture. In this project, the terrible man-made famines that accompanied colonialism are normalised as a natural calamity recurrent in Indian history; the deliberate de-industrialisation and de-urbanisation which took place is projected as an eternal characteristic of the Indian landscape and ruthless economic exploitation shown as some kind of ‘service charge’ for the civilising mission.

Belittling the leaders of the Indian freedom movement is necessary for both these projects. Gandhi, who has grown too big to be easily maligned, has to be projected as a politically harmless saint; even as a brand ambassador for the fantastical ‘Swachhta Abhiyan’. But his ‘protégé’ Nehru has to be portrayed as a power hungry hypocrite. Some writers love to negatively contrast the ‘compromising’ Nehru with the ‘revolutionary’ Subhash Bose; while others prefer pitting the ‘anglophile’ Nehru against the ‘authentically Indian’ Sardar Patel. Whatever be the ideological impetus – Hindutva, colonial, ultra left or even liberal – targeting Nehru has become something of a cottage industry for analysts trying to explain what has gone wrong in India.”

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Safe Spaces

When I heard the term “safe spaces” for the first time, I immediately thought of my English Honours classroom or the never-ending Debsoc discussions that spilled over into Metro rides and dinners. Those were safe spaces – where you could say the most counter-intuitive, blasphemous, even racist arguments if you wanted to and you would be cut down only through words. And people would consider your point before they tore it down. They were “safe” because you would not be physically or sexually assaulted for your beliefs. They were safe because you didn’t have to fear for your life outside the classroom if you had offended someone. They were “safe” because teachers and peers protected you from ad hominem attacks and unthought stereotypes were taboo (it wasn’t a ground rule, it was taboo because you would be proved wrong through argumentation and everyone would hate you for derailing the discussion). They were safe because you could ENGAGE “safely”.

Here, in Oxford that I saw “safe spaces” as homogenous, self-congratulatory spaces where no one can contradict you or make you see a viewpoint hitherto not engaged with, however despicable. As someone who loved debating in college and believes everyone must learn to debate as a life skill, obviously I rebelled against the notion. But surprisingly, the self-righteousness of safe spaces doesn’t allow people to see that there may be a problem with safe spaces itself. In creating safe spaces, the central point of universities or thought in general has been forgotten – the single verb “ to engage”.

Moments of Self Awareness

“I’m glad you are having a great time. I miss you. Come back soon”, said my friend from Delhi. Grinning broadly at the statement, I cut the phone and happily joined my friends for an evening swim while vacationing in Matheran, just before dusk. It was the sealing of an unspoken bond of deep friendship, unlike any I had known before. To me, it was a revealing moment when I realized that Delhi was now like my paramour. Mumbai had always been my first love but now, Delhi would torment me every time I came away from it. I was on my yearly trip to Mumbai and was vacationing in Matheran with my closest childhood friends. However, I missed Delhi and my friends there. I missed them so much that it was almost like an ache. The ache made me happy. I felt tender and vulnerable. The vulnerability heightened my senses and emotions, so now I was more aware of a sense of peace at being amongst people I grew up with, who I am most comfortable with. I was aware of the happiness and a sense of deep contentment flooding through me. I was also acutely conscious of missing Delhi and my friends there and the resultant ache, which was a happy ache. It told me that I would finally, after years of crying over Mumbai, return happily to my paramour and let him engulf me and torment me as he always does. I reflected on this sudden awareness that I seemed to have while at Matheran but sadly allowed the noise of regular life to drown out this amazing feeling.

Powerful moments like these bring about self-awareness. Self awareness is the single most important realization in life. Every single leadership school, book or guru will stress on it, including Warren Bennis who wrote ‘On Becoming a Leader’. In his chapter on Knowing Yourself, he used this excellent quote, ‘I have often thought that the best way to define a man’s character would be to speak out the mental or moral attitude in which, when it came upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensively active and alive. At such moments, there is a voice inside which speaks and says, “This is the real me”’ (James, William; Letters of William James) Self-awareness makes a person more confident, self-assured and controlled. It makes people calmer and more at peace with things. It does all the practical things like better decisions and greater productivity but transcendentally it puts to rest the turbulence of the mind. It is a flickering moment when you will feel alive like you don’t usually do and it is that moment that has to be grasped. That time in Matheran, I was more aware of myself than I had ever been. That was my flickering moment to grasp, to voice my state so that I would know myself. I lost that moment. What my feelings were saying to me then was a deeply troublesome and uncomfortable realization of how a lot of things in life were spiraling out of my control and that I needed to check them. However, the sheer hedonism of surrender took over and I did not seek to hold that moment and learn more about myself and maybe, begin a process of self-awareness. I have never felt like that ever since and I do not know how to become aware anymore. Hopefully, life will give me a second chance.

What was more important was the moment I lost. A moment when I should have told my friend that I missed him too. A moment when I should have strengthened a bond. This is more general than self-awareness and something people do very often. It is a rare moment to be struck by unexplainable emotions and people feel the intensity of their emotions in those moments but let them slide away. Those moments never return and are only regretted later in life. Such moments are powerful. They give you a glimpse of what it is like to be truly alive and happy, how exhilarating emotions can feel and the kind of pure joy which can only be aspired to. Pure happiness and joy is an aspiration, the highest one since everything we do in life is finally building up to that one moment itself. Like Ayn Rand says in The Fountainhead, “Love is reverence, and worship, and glory, and the upward glance. Not a bandage for dirty sores. But they don’t know it. Those who speak of love most promiscuously are the ones who’ve never felt it. They make some sort of feeble stew out of sympathy, compassion, contempt and general indifference, and they call it love. Once you’ve felt what it means to love as you and I know it – total passion for the total height – you’re incapable of anything less.” (Rand, Ayn; The Fountainhead) People don’t realize that emotions are to be achieved and that is why, moments when a heightened emotion is felt is a lucky moment indeed. In this journey, a moment lost is many years lost. Every moment that affects you in a powerful way should be pinned down, written about and pondered over. It will not necessarily mean something then, but will build up to a person’s knowledge of themselves later.

I realized this when I saw the most colorful, beautiful tent I have ever seen. I went to the Jaipur Literature Festival in January and this tent was one of the venues for the various sessions. The ‘Baithak’ tent was a riot of bold, inundated colors amidst a mass of winter colors in the cold January morning at Jaipur. It stood out boldly and proudly, letting the sun make it look transparent and delicate. I was overjoyed at seeing this tent. The clean simplicity of a splash of bold, uninhibited color aroused an indescribable feeling in me. It made me feel happy. It made me feel stronger yet tenderer. It made me remember emotions I had felt at bitter-sweet times in my life. It was a mix of exhilaration and a heightened sense of pain. The emotion was all positive. Unlike the single, unadulterated color that caused it, the emotion was a crazy tumult of many emotions coming together to make a happier me. It was like many bright colors coming together to make the white of the rainbow. These single colors came together not only to create a powerful image but also a powerful emotion. I loved seeing a power play between two entities that complement each other. Here, the objects and the people were against the color of the tent.

This moment I captured in words and my friend captured it for me in a beautiful photograph. The tent was on object of art for me and I wished I could take some of the color back home with me. This moment told me what colors can do to me and I have recorded this moment, to come back to later in life, when it will all make sense. It was one of the most powerful emotions I have felt and remember. In low moments, this brings back a smile on my face as I remember what I felt then and re-live it.

All said and done, moments are the strong building blocks for life and its experiences. Sadly, people lose some of the most important moments in life by not paying enough attention to them. They enjoy them and let them fade away without realizing that if they only stopped to think about why they felt how they did or even articulated what they felt, the moment would become a memory and comfort them at other times. It would become a building block, a dot that could be connected with others to make sense of what life has been. As Steve Jobs said in his famous Stanford Commencement Speech,

“You can’t connect the dots going forward.”

All that people can make sure is that they mark that dot and all else will fall into place.

Next time you feel different, stop and think what is it, why is it and let the moment become a part of your memory. It will only help you create a clear picture out of a haze of ideas and opinions. The knowledge of what people felt at these moments can be the most empowering bit of knowledge ever. Take a little time to get it from yourself.

Read some philosophy…

Read philosophy. Dance. Read some Kafka. And then some more. Read some more philosophy. Read Plato. Then Kant. Then Nietzche. Then read Kafka. Disturbed? Dance. Then read some more. Wonder. What sits at the back of our minds? What is in those dark crevices we never shake? Why do we lead such superficial lives? Why don’t we shake those crevices? Show them some light? Let that question come ahead. You won’t. Why don’t you? It disturbs you without being articulated. Think about it. Try to articulate it. Let it enlighten you. You won’t. You’ll drink coffee, talk to an acquaintance, sleep. It’ll stay hanging, unarticulated and unresolved. It will go back to those dark crevices. Why are you afraid? Read some more philosophy. Write your term paper. Read some more. Articulate. You won’t. Sleep. Go to class the next day.

Damn you.

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Baithak – Jaipur Literature Festival 2012

[this is a writing assignment that asked me to describe my experience of an object of art that I encountered. The art object in question is the Baithak Tent at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2012, as clicked by Ritambhara Agrawal]

I was going to enjoy literature. I was not going to be dazzled by the tent or fall in love with a photograph that caught the ceiling of the tent in a beautiful way. I was going to have fun with my friends and listen to authors speak. I was not going to resist going to the Baithak and sitting with the crowd there. My trip to the Jaipur Literature Festival was all that it should not have been and the Baithak was at the centre of it all.

I was tired and hazy and all I wanted was a strong cup of coffee and my bed. It had been an all-night journey, no sleep, serious conversations and a feeling of dread followed by no breakfast and generally weary feeling. Nothing could cheer me up. Or so I thought. I had forgotten the effect colour has on me. I saw the Baithak tent from a distance, as I was hurrying to get a cup of coffee before the next session. It looked straight out of a carnival that we read about in books. It made me smile. The designer was playing with literature by putting something so obviously out of a book there in the festival as a venue. I also appreciated the idea of a riot of strong colors amidst the colorful crowd. The colors did not blend; they stood out, lending a solid base to the rest of the carnival. The next session started and the Baithak was forgotten.

The next day I had to attend a session. But strangely, I did not want to go. I did not want to sit amidst the crowds; I did not want to sit with my friends. But I wanted to hear the authors and poets speak. I decided to walk into the session late and sit at a corner, from where I could leave when I so desired. However, I was spotted by my rather enthusiastic friend who for some unfathomable reason had been saving me a seat and I had to go and sit with them all. I looked around and marveled at the tent again. The thick strips of bold and powerful colors stitched together for a regal feel and the low couches and beds made me feel like a guest of the royalty. It had the charm of the old, royal tents and I was struck once again, by the effect color can have on me. The clean simplicity of a splash of bold, uninhibited color arouses an indescribable feeling in me. It makes me feel happy. It makes me feel stronger yet tenderer. It makes me remember emotions I felt at bitter-sweet times in my life. It’s a mix of exhilaration and a heightened sense of pain. The emotion is all positive. Unlike the single, unadulterated color that causes it, the emotion is a crazy tumult of many emotions coming together to make a happier me. It is like many bright colors come together to make the white of the rainbow. These single colors come together not only to create a powerful image but also a powerful emotion. I love seeing a power play between two entities that complement each other. Here, the objects and the people were against the color of the tent.

There was another complicating element here. The sunlight streaming through the tent, complementing the general warmth felt while listening to people who make the literature we read today. The sunlight paled the colors of the tent, making the cloth of the tent look transparent and delicate. It did not weaken the colors though. It seemed to refine them and make them look more delicate and sophisticated while retaining their power and solidity. I saw this photo much later and fell in love with it. I was amazed by what a camera angle can do and how beautiful leaves silhouetted against a tent ceiling can look. It had color and the sun, two beautifully uplifting images. It made me smile broadly and forget all my irritation. I was alive, I was litening to lietartore and I could feel an emotion as powerful as I did when I came into the tent. That is all that matters, really. Jaipur, I shall come again. We have a score to settle. I have things to do. To re-live that I which I lived and live that which I was not able to.