Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Giving wings to your kids' dreams!

This January I started living a dream. I started teaching in a college of Delhi University, as an adhoc Assistant Proffessor, a dream that had taken shape when I was still a student in the same university, and these days I can't help but fall back on reminiscing all that passed along the way and being grateful for eveything and everyone that made this possible.

I distinctly remember the day I had tagged along with my father to buy an appliction form for DU. While Papa was trying to figure out where we could buy the form, I was soaking up everything around, starry and dreamy eyed. I had done my research and knew that I would easily make it in DRC for Psychology Honours, so I wasn't anxious about my next trip to Delhi for admission and making ararngements for my first year of stay in the city, let alone about getting the form and filling it correctly. While my father remained absorbed in the immediate practicalities of the situation that day, I immersed myself in the undiluted joy I felt at the prospect of studying in DU and mentally made a promise to the universe- I'll make a mark here... leave my imprint.

I daresay I lived up to the promise. I bagged the Delhi University Topper tag (and a cool gold medal) for my batch in Psychology, and also won the Best All Round Student of the College for my batch in DRC. I went on to do my post-graduation in Clinical Psychology at TISS, Mumbai and fulfilled another dream. Even before I had passed out of college, I was already working in Mumbai and staying in a flat with total strangers for the first time. I left that job in a couple of months to start my career in teaching and came back to Delhi. I spent a fulfilling semester in Jamia Milia Islamia University where I taught both undergraduate and post-graduate degree program students before I was finally eligible for my big moment: teaching in DU. Now, I have aced the first interview I appeared in for DU and have started my journey as a faculty in Kamla Nehru College.

In all of this, my family, teachers and God have had huge roles to play, as I keep saying. What I have rarely sung praises for though is my parents' good financial sense without which all this could have remained just fragments of my dreams. It was never planned that I was to study in DU. I come from a small town in Odisha, from a family of teachers and doctors. Being the eldest in my generation, it was always expected that I would tread the conventional path and study medicine. And then, life happened. It's a long story that I have already told a number of times, most recently here. Anyways, it was 6 O' clock in the morning and my father awoke me from sleep that day to ask me if I could be ready for the 11 O' clock train to Delhi that day. My Mom had an inkling that I wanted to do Psychology Hons. from DU and she had been able to do what my crying and pleading a thousand times before to my father had failed to. I was going to Delhi! I was going to study in DU!

Things happened very fast after that. Very few of it was smooth, considering that everything had been decided in the eleventh hour, the final date of application submission in DU inching closer every day. However, never did I see finances being an issue. Sure, my parents weren't aware of my exact aspirations till I had appeared in my 12th board exams (well I did want to become a doctor till the beginning of class 11th, so they are not entirely to blame!), but they sure were prepared. Starting from a comfortable stay that was close to my college to being cool with my needs of a new wardrobe and my insane book-buying sprees (for a small town girl who was used to buying new books at Rs. 300 or so on an average, Delhi was paradise for its pirated stuff being peddled at 50 rupees and such). I don't come from a super rich family, so having never had to complain for finances is actually saying something (also, I happen to be very sensible with money...mmmm, most of the times). Same was the case when I had to move to Mumbai and everything got more expensive. It was a tense moment when in the first week of having joined my workplace after my 2 years of post-graduation at TISS, I had decided to get a room in a flat close to office and had been asked to deposit 25,000 rupees as advance before I could book a room. It was a total surprise for my parents because I still had a month to go in college (it was block-internship period, so no classes) and hence had my college hostel occupancy in place, but they also knew that the longer they made me wait, the worse my health condition would get for travelling 3 hours to and from hostel daily. They shelled out the money the very next day and again I had everything in place so that I could focus on the quality of my work.

I wonder what it would have been like if my parents had told me that they didn't have money to send me to Delhi and Mumbai for my education. It wouldn't have been easy to blame them, as I myself had hidden my aspirations from them deliberately till the last possible time, due to fear of their reaction- rejection of my dreams. I just got lucky. Have a look at this 3-minutes' video here. It strikes the bull's eye at what I'm trying to get at:

My parents also, in a way, got lucky, and they don't have to regret not having being able to support my dreams. Today, they are proud of my achievements! Yet, it might all have been quite different, which is scary. One can't stress too much the importance of parents being on the same page as their kids and understanding their aspirations. Both emotionally and financially, parents need to plan for their children's future from early on. It is extremely crucial in this age of increasing costs of education, for parents to #DoYourHomework, and thankfully a lot of help is on hand!

There are brilliant tools available these days that make the job easy for parents- there are custom made colouring books and story books for kids available for download free of cost (here) that help parents start a conversation regarding dreams and career goals. Of course, as evidenced from my story, dreams change and one needs to prepared for such surprises to the best of one's abilities. There's a neat module available online for exactly such scenarios- it helps parents find out education costs for various careers across various countries both in the current and in the future. There's also a nifty little app called the Homework App which not only gives information on the future value of the course a child wants to take up, but also the estimated amount of money one ineeds to invest to reach that goal. As finance gurus tell us, it's not enough to just save money; one needs to invest that money smartly to be secure of a future in which dreams don't die becuase of lack of finances. A mantra I recently got to know about that finance gurus offer comes to mind, which could save one tens of thousands with zilch costs. We all have to pay taxes, and the taxman takes a significant chunk of our money every year. One can't avoid him but there's a way one can actually cut back on what must be kept aside for the taxman by sharing less with him. One can invest in an ELSS and save upto Rs. 40K plus under Section 80C! It's simple really- Share Less & Save More- learn how here. This small video explains the merits of sharing less with the taxman:

A lot of on-ground awareness action has also happened in the last few months to help parents in this endeavor. At 17 outlets of Crossword Bookstores across 7 cities and in Kidzania, Mumbai for a period of 3 weeks, parents were made to engage in doing their homework, and setting up the foundation of a secure future for their children by the people at Axis Mutual Fund who are committed to creating awareness amongst parents on the need to plan for their children's future. There is clearly no excuse to be lazy and leave it up to chance with so much help available. As a parent, it is highly desirable that you #DoYourHomework and here is where you can start!

Monday, January 4, 2016

A terrorist is like you and me, only (infinitely) more coward

The recent attacks in Pathankot Air Base have been jarring to me. There are clips after clips of the bombings, the combing operations, the funerals and the family members that the martyred soldiers of the Indian Army left behind in my social media newsfeeds. Reports suggest that the attacks couldn't have been executed without the support of Pakistan military, yet they followed so close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Pakistan in which his comeraderie with his counterpart in Pakistan was much celebrated! So what is happening here? Is it that the Pakistani Army and the ISI want to show that the real power lies with them, and Modi's bonhomie with Sharif isn't going to change much?

Terrorism, at its heart though, is cowardice. It arises out of an inability to accept world views that are different from our own and ground realities that we don't like, and feeling incapacitated. It is as far as anything could be from being a show of strength. These attacks in which so many Jawans were martyred did not in the least manage to spread fear, for terrorism hardly manages to do that these days. What it rather evoked, as such incidents do these days, is disgust at their inhumanity and pity at their lamentable thinking.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

New Year: New Resolutions. Overhyped much?

A new year is a time of shouting optimism, delusional self-confidence and selective amnesia. Just kidding. Actually no, I'm serious. It's that time of the year when we religiously forget our past success rate with resolutions and are driven to make new resolutions, yet again (some just old wine in new bottle!).

On a serious, and more positive note, a new year automatically fills us with enthusiasm for making changes in our life that we have long desired but have not been able to act on yet. It offers a fresh hope and a new platform to try again, to start from scratch, even if it is to repeat our mistakes! On the last couple of days of 2015, as I sat meditating on what my resolutions for 2016 should be, I started reflecting on how overrated new resolutions actually are. My mind conjured up image after image and gathered evidence after evidence from my own past for supporting this idea, and ultimately I was left with this: no new resolutions in the new year this time; 2016 is to become the year I tie up loose ends.

Starting new projects is bold and cool, granted; finishing them is the real deal. This year, I plan to polish the skills I already have and improve myself further in everything I'm already involved in. If new endeavors present themselves, I'll lap them up of course, but I won't forget the importance of continuing to shine where I have already sparkled in past. To 'continuity for change'!

Btw if you like to read, and are looking for an inspired beginning to your new year, here is a great list by the awesome people at High Existence.

Happy new year :)

Glimpses from my scrap-book

About a month back, I had my last class of the semester with a bunch of students from each class that I was teaching at Jamia Milia Islamia University. Since I was looking for prospects in other universities in the city, I had informed them that our class of the semester was also probably going to be our last class together- most probably, I wasn't coming back to teach them in 2016. The responses of my students were extremely touching! One class in particular, the 3rd semester, that I taught Abnormal Psychology, made my last couple of hours spent with them endearingly memorable. They got me this cake, as a Thank You token and many came to thank me personally with their own personal tokens of remembrance.

In our last but one class together, I had asked these students to give me feedback on what the Abnormal Psychology classes had done to them, meaning, if there was any change in their perspective towards mental illnesses and those diagnosed with them or any other such influence. I did expect positive feedback regrading this, and also positive feedback for my teaching as well thrown in, but never even in my dreams could I have anticipated the kind of adulation I saw in those little letters for myself and my teaching.
"We will miss you for being the Psychology teacher from the fantasy world."
I had tears in my eyes as I read letter after letter of undiluted love and admiration and truly realised the immense power the profession of teaching has for moulding hearts.
"I want to be like you- intellectual and kind. You made us become better human beings." 
I decided to preserve those letters and keep them close to me always. I know they are going to come handy as shields anytime I come close to somethin akin to burnout! Over the last few days, I took some of my favorite letters and pasted them in a scrapbook, which is now one of my most precious assets. 

Here are a few precious ones:

There is no end to my gratitude to the universe for allowing me to make such an impact on these kids, and for receiving so much more than I gave them.