Victoria and the Seven Year Old

“If you go to Victoria, check out the clock-tower. It’s big, beautiful and the pride of Seychelles,” everyone in Seychelles had told us. Victoria was the capital city of Seychelles. Whenever we went to Victoria, we’d usually go early to get money exchanged. The bank would have limited exchange currency and it’d get over if you were slightly late.

So we took all the precautions necessary.
From my side; that included a magnetic chess board, a pack of cards, a book, earphones, and loading lots of songs into my mom’s phone. It could be a four-hour wait at times; a boy had to go prepared.

When we first went to Victoria, we stopped at the bank. It was probably a little before five in the morning and people were already waiting in line. I took out my magnetic chess board and started playing chess with my dad. A few minutes later, we heard a chime and looked around for the source of the sound.

And there it was; right next to the bank, in the middle of the crossroads. We’d mistaken it for a normal clock when we came in, but that was apparently the famous Clock Tower, just five meters up from the ground.

Expectations

That is the famous Clock Tower? We have larger clock-towers in villages in India,’ my dad said, shaking his head in disbelief. I sniggered, partly because what he said was funny and partly because I’d stolen his queen while he wasn’t looking.

After our work at the bank was done, we roamed around and saw the city life of Seychelles. I remember falling in love with pizza in Victoria at this restaurant called “The Pirates Arms”.

On the drive back home, my mom pointed to a beautiful beach as it rolled past us. I wondered what would happen if Seychellois came to India and we showed them our beaches in Goa.
That is the famous Calangute beach?’ they’d say, ‘we have better beaches outside our homes in Seychelles.’

It was only natural that we glorified the things we had, even if they weren’t the best or the most beautiful. Soon, I realized that this principle applied to the way people worked too. People who weren’t good at what they did would often also lack the skills necessary to identify that they were bad at it.

Victoria taught me to look beyond clock-towers and beaches. It showed me how I could delve into the perspectives and opinions of people instead.

It also taught me not to steal the queen from a chessboard. My father ended up winning anyway.

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Camp and the Seven Year Old (Part 2)

If you’re coming from Part 1, continue reading.
If you haven’t read part one, here it is!

So, the Nokia phone lasted me the entire week, obviously, but it died when I got off the bus that was taking me back home. More on that later.

On the fourth day of camp, a huge windstorm started and clothes on the clothes-line were flying everywhere. Except for mine of course – because I’d decided to not wash them and I was storing the sweaty and used ones in a big blue plastic bag.

I distinctly remember this guy running out of a washroom with a soap in his hand, holding the railing of the corridor and struggling to walk towards our room, because the wind was insane. I’m not exaggerating, it was actually a storm. He got into the room safely.
We later found out that everyone’s clothes had ended up on one side of the camp and were all muddy and wet. I was proud of myself for being smart enough to not wash my clothes then.

On the second last day of camp, we had a “Sports Day” and we paired up with people and had fun. I remember running in my first three-legged race and winning at lemon-spoon and sucking at football, as usual. I finally made some friends that evening and that felt weird because the camp was going to be over the next day.

The next morning, we packed all our stuff up, got ready and climbed aboard the bus that was to take us back home. When we reached my school, I got off along with a few other people.

I was supposed to call my dad so he could send a taxi to get me, but I wanted to pee real bad and my phone was dead. Home was a 15-minute walk, so I trudged back home with my luggage – a black bag that originally had all my stuff in it and a blue plastic bag that contained all my used, sweaty clothes now. The black bag was practically empty.

Once I was at the door, I banged on it a few times. Apparently, my mom had gone for a bath. I held my pee, shifting from foot to foot, shouting for her to open the door.

She came out after what felt like an eternity and gave me a quick hug. Too “pee-occupied” for all this emotional stuff, I ran inside. “My bathroom!” I shouted as I closed the door behind me and had the best pee in seven days. Judge me all you want, but you know what that feels like too.

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When I walked back outside, I could smell the stench of sweat and saw my mother’s disgusted face.

‘What is this?’ she asked, pointing at the now open blue plastic bag.
‘Clothes I didn’t wash because they wouldn’t dry properly enough,’ I replied cheerfully.
‘And you just – kept them like that?’
‘Yep’, I said, walking into my room and flopping onto the bed.

I woke up to the sound of the washing machine whirring in the distance and the smell of home cooked food.

I never went to a camp again.


[Check out all my previous adventures in Seychelles here]

Camp and the Seven Year Old (Part 1)

Once, I thought it would be a good idea to go to this vacation camp in Seychelles. It was one of those week-long camps where you have games, activities, and stuff like that. The “camp” was in a huge school right next to the beach.

I’d never really stayed without my mom for more than a day or two before this but I was pretty confident in my ability to pull off an entire week alone.

I ended up crying on the first night and told everyone that “My eyes water when I remove my glasses.”
And yes, they believed me.

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I hope they believed me.
Let’s just pretend they believed me.

The worst part about camp was that you had to wash your own clothes. I had three underpants and I was supposed to wash them after a day or two. Now, since it rained a little almost every evening in Seychelles (and since I was afraid of seeing my underwear get stolen), I resorted to keeping my underwear super dry and rotated it carefully for the entire week.

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Now that I think about it, why would anyone have stolen my underpants? But seven-year-olds are weird, so maybe they could’ve.

If you think that’s gross, you should stop reading, because it gets worse.

One day, while I was climbing down the stairs to go for dinner (which was at 6pm by the way), I saw that everyone was just running past this kid sitting on the stairs. As I approached him, I heard the words, “Poop” and “Sitting in his poop,” flying around.

And sure enough, there was this dude sitting on the stairs with a stench around him that’d have made cow dung feel bad. The next thing I remember was running down the stairs as fast as I could.

I did not have dinner that evening.

The part that I enjoyed the most at camp was folding the sheets in the morning. Now, that might seem weird, but I guess I was a clean freak back then (says the dude who rotated his underwear for the entire week).

I had a Nokia phone with me, and it was supposed to last me an entire week on a full charge. On the second night, my mom called me up, and she was like, “Hi! Looks like you aren’t missing us at all!”

And I, choking and all teary-eyed, just managed a weak, “Yeah,” and cut the call. All the kids around me were apparently waiting for me to cry, so I removed my glasses, and said, “See? Tears come out instantly when I remove my glasses!”


Did the Nokia phone last me the entire week? Did I have any more underwear predicaments?

Part Two

[Check out all my previous adventures in Seychelles here]

Surprises and the Seven year old

I had a thing for surprising people, no matter what the occasion was.

Won an award at school?
“Surprise!”
Got a bruise on my knee?
“Mom, guess what I have on my knee!”
Lost my stationery pouch?
“Guess what I lost today!”

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It didn’t have to be something good. As far as I was concerned, anything that got people thinking and wondering about the smallest of things was a surprise.

After school, I’d usually walk back home, go to the back of the house, retrieve a key from underneath a potted plant and go inside. No one was at home then.

One particular day however, my sister was home. As I walked up the slope to my house, I realized that the bedroom window (which had no barricades) was open. My sister was in the living room, reading a book, too involved to see me standing outside the glass door.

The plan thus formed was to surprise (and scare) her since I’d come back home a little earlier. So I hoisted myself onto the window ledge, slipped my feet into the bedroom and kept my schoolbag on the floor. I tiptoed towards the door, stifling my giggles as I turned the door handle and peered outside. I couldn’t see much.

I opened the door completely and stepped outside, ready to say “Boo!”
There she was, with a cricket bat raised in her hand. She’d seen the door handle turn and she’d picked up a cricket bat, waiting for the “unknown” to walk outside the door so she could slam the bat down on their head.

I screamed, she shouted and we both just stood there for a moment, trying to figure out what had just happened. If she hadn’t looked twice before making a decision, I’d probably be dead. Luckily enough, she didn’t hit me.

“Are you absolutely crazy?” she shouted.
“I was trying to su-surprise you,” I whispered.
She glared at me for a few seconds and composed herself. Then she hugged me, realizing how stupid I was.

In the evening after my parents got back home, there was a huge discussion about how the maid had left the window open and how my sister should’ve closed it, followed by how I should always think twice before pulling off a “surprise”.

Scared out of my wits after that, I did the only logical thing I could think of doing.

I hid the cricket bat.


Check out all my previous adventures here:

Check out my next adventure in Seychelles here

If we’re pretending, why not do it realistically?

We’ve all grown up to be in classrooms where we are surrounded by people that are around us in a well-defined and practically inconvenient pattern.
In real life, people are all around us, interacting, discussing, arguing, teaching, preaching, you name it. Why is it so, then, that in classrooms people are around us but never really “with us”?

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Tunnel vision

There is a sense of “individual collectiveness” in a classroom. The safety of being one among so many others, free to daydream and devise mischievous plans but constrained enough to pretend to be paying attention to the teacher.
The supposed face of college education, as far as most Indian institutes are concerned is purely didactic.

Didactic: intended to teach, particularly in having moral instruction as an ulterior motive.

For many years, teaching has been this way. The word didactic is derived from the Greek word “didaskein” which means to “teach”. And to be fair to the Greeks, if you turn back the clock by a mere 30 years, the didactic form of teaching almost makes complete sense.

Why is that so?
Back then, teachers were the primary sources of well-gathered information as well as well-organized knowledge, giving them an instant push towards being the only “talkers” in a classroom.
Books were the secondary sources, used after the teacher had given you a particular path to follow. The “availability gap” between information and knowledge was hard for a beginner to grasp. Teachers helped fill that gap quicker back then since they had already memorized the best patterns to fill it.

Come back to the 2000s and you begin to wonder what purpose memorization serves. We’re living in a world that’s full of memory devices and yet we can’t stop stuffing our brains with useless bits and pieces of information that we know we’ll forget the moment it’s carelessly scrawled onto an examination sheet.

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Might as well “plug this in” on paper

Memorization isn’t the problem though. Forced memorization is. In a world where the internet can provide ten different perspectives about the same topic in one tenth of a second, the phrase “blind faith” is sure to die out.

When a teacher tells a student to memorize a particular formula so they can apply it in an examination, the slightly adult mind rejects the suggestion at the outset. This is because the adult mind is cautious when it comes to blind faith. We’ve been betrayed too many times. We’ve gone past the “if you remember, you get rewarded” phase, and moved into the “external rewards are stupid” phase.
It doesn’t matter if we score a little less in our examination and if we don’t know a few formulae. It matters if we cannot figure out where the formula could be used.

It’s like giving someone an Encyclopedia and telling them to remember the things that you believe matter the most so that when you ask them what matters the most, they can tell you what you told them you believe matters the most. Who’s the winner? The encyclopedia?
Forced memorization really is confusing – and once you get out of college, you forget all about it, tagging it as a “part of the learning process”.

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The educational design follows a pattern of:
“You are free to do what we tell you to do.”

It’s a pressure-cooker stuffed with all the ingredients that make up education. Teachers, students, parents, management, society and accreditation organizations. Someone’s blocked the outlet, so all the ingredients just keep scalding each other.

The core problem lies in the fact that many people are, intentionally or unintentionally still stuck in the ““if you remember, you get rewarded” phase.
They will follow rules meticulously, force fear down the throats of “rebels” and reward the “followers” generously. It’s blind faith – and the society accepts it as a part of who we are.

Think about how our classrooms are structured. Rows and rows of desks stuffed into a classroom for the mere convenience of space-economy, forcing the student to look only at the teacher.

In a generation that rejects blind faith instantaneously, we force them to trust a teacher the second she enters the classroom. The way we sit next to our classmates is reminiscent of the way we approach most of them – as competitors.
Some are side by side, some are in front and some behind us.

The usual answer to discussions such as this is, “This is how the world works”.
In fact the linear classroom structure is so accepted in most Indian colleges and institutes that it’s not even a topic of discussion. “Nobody” doubts its efficacy. But if that’s the case, why is management always unsatisfied, why are professors always cribbing about the lack of “natural talent” and why are students always complaining about how “irrational” professors are?

Isn’t it obvious that it is a big communication problem? If everyone’s complaining about everyone else, it basically means everyone is at fault. Why do students bear the brunt of the irrationality then? Just because they don’t have any actual “power”?

I mean, if we’re pretending to be teaching students to prepare for real-life scenarios, why aren’t we doing it realistically? How many real-life situations have employees copying hundreds of assignment and journal pages for the sake of obtaining ‘points’ or ‘marks’?

When we say “This is how the world works. Accept it!”, we become advocates of the “blind faith” cause. We might as well make a poster that says “I believe in blind faith blindly” and stick it to our bodies. I’m not saying we should be innocent about ugly truths and ignore them blatantly. I’m saying we should do something to minimize them.

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Many aspects of our judicial system are already “Kafkaesque”, and we’re progressing towards making our education “Kafkaesque” too.

Change the way our classrooms are structured and it will make a difference. If kindergartners learn better in groups and by arranging desks around each other, so do college students. If you must force people, then force them to interact so they can figure out things for themselves.

Don’t tell students what you think they need. I mean, if you think about it; doesn’t Google already do a good job at doing that?


There’s so much to be said and done about all this. If you agree or disagree, feel free to comment. Let’s spark a relevant discussion so we can figure out where we can go from here.

Punekars and Two-wheelers

Punekars are fantastic drivers. From dodging potholes quicker than one dodges trains in Subway Surfers to going over speed-breakers so fast that you cannot even feel the bump – we are the embodiment of the saying “Ignorance is bliss”.

Every Punekar, irrespective of which bike, scooter or bicycle they have, drives it like Batman’s bike. Anything that comes in the way is an obstacle. Woman crossing the road? Obstacle. Red signal? Obstacle.
We are Pune’s “Batmen”, vigilantes in a city of vigilantes – ever watchful, ever ready to break any rule that defies our logic. Because we are special.
(So special that we don’t even need Morgan Freeman to help us out.)

Of course, we cannot “just drive”. Does Batman “just drive”? No. He talks to people, shoots bullets at enemies and flies on rooftops.
Similarly, an anonymous group in Pune (Established – 1610AD*) has taken up the extremely time-consuming task of spraying tobacco all over Pune’s dividers while driving. These men (and women) have taken the phrase “Paint the town red” to a whole new level.

1610AD* - Introduction of tobacco in India by the Portuguese

Sometimes, the Government does its job (sometimes), and repaints the dividers with the standard colors (yellow and black). But our Anonymous group manages to repaint the walls within a few days. Wouldn’t it have been great if tobacco had been yellow and black in color? You know, just for convenience.

But bike riders are alright. It’s the people who drive four-wheelers that don’t know how to drive.

Here are the rules for driving a four-wheeler in Pune
(Written by bike-riders aka Batmen)

1) Never disrespect Batman
2) Batman is allowed to cut you off in traffic
3) Batman will always take the faster lane. You should drive on the sides
4) If Batman hits your car – you will pay for all damages (and take a public beating if you are rude about it). Additionally, read Rule 1.
5) If Batman hits your car and you are a woman, it will always be your fault irrespective of what happened. Additionally, read Rule 1.
6) Batman reserves the right to scratch your car and damage any components.

Four-wheeler drivers fail miserably at following the above rules. They will always take the fast lane, always curse you when you cut them off in traffic, and always disrespect you when you hit them. How is Batman supposed to help such a city then?
But when these same four-wheeler drivers drive a two-wheeler, they become one of Pune’s own Batmen. Every ready, ever watchful. Vigilantes.

Pune has evolved a lot as a city of two-wheelers. In other cities of India, people usually drive in the same direction in a lane. Punekars have devised a bi-directional lane method, wherein driving in any direction is allowed as long as traffic police are absent. Batman needs convenience for his quick errands – and no lane is small enough to not be divided.

That isn’t all. We have scientifically analyzed the art of driving and created some special driving tactics, such as “Bus Blocking”, “Divider Kissing”, “Traffic Signal Color Blindness Technique”, “Roundabout Reinvention”, “Middle lane Sprawling”, and when everything else fails, “Beat Up that Person who dared to talk back when you shouted at them” Technique. A detailed explanation of these tactics is beyond the scope of this post.

Driving in Pune is an art. It is a sport, where reaching home alive is considered the highest form of achievement. We have achieved perfection in our art form, created a culture out of it, and revolutionized the simple task of “driving”.

We are Punekars. We are Batmen…

This is for TEDxPICT

I don’t know how I’m even getting time to write this right now. It’s less than 72 hours to go till Saturday, 1 October dawns. The Saturday we’ve all been waiting for.

For the last two months, I’ve learned a lot, right from understanding the basics of who knows what to understanding who DOES what.

Sometimes, I’ve felt like I didn’t really help in anything, like I was just there for support, but when I look at the grand scheme of things, it becomes clearer. It was my dream since I was 14 – to organize a TEDx event, to work towards making it a success, to make sure that people would remember it for the experience that it was. And that happens in less than 72 hours from now.

Today, a professor walked up to us and asked us, “Why are you doing this? This TEDxPICT thing? What do you get from it? How does it develop you? You are to-be engineers… you shouldn’t even be doing such small things.”

But the ocean is made up of small drops. Does it mean that all raindrops should just give up because they’re too small to make a difference by themselves?

I am doing this because I dreamed of organizing a TEDx event before I even knew I wanted to be an engineer. I am doing this because when I work with everybody, there is a sense of teamwork and belonging that doesn’t exist in any classroom anywhere. I am doing this because when I look back a few years later at this, I will not remember the exams that I gave or the lectures that I attended. I will remember the hard work and the perseverance that got me past some of the rough patches in my life.
What do I get from this?
Money? No.
Glory? As a team, yes.

But more importantly, what I get from it is that when I decide to do something, I won’t stop until I get it done. It teaches me what no communication skill class ever will, it teaches me to be the best at who I am, to survive on 3 to 4 hours of sleep everyday for a week and manage studies at the same time.

And these lessons will stay till I die (unless I become forgetful or something), because I did those things actively. I loved it, every second, every minute, every hour of it, even when some people doubted us at the worst of times.

And everybody on the team learned it too. Because everyone worked as hard, nay, harder and better and propelled me to be a better person over the weeks.
And now, it’s just 72 hours left.

This is for the final stretch. The big breath. This is for all the days when we worked hard. This is for the first and the last talk of that day. The first claps to echo off the walls. The last light to fade out and the last voice to trail off.

This is for TEDxPICT