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Yesterday Once More

Whenever I meet our students who had walked through the portals of our school years ago, I enjoy every word of their recollection of those golden days. The sparkle in their eyes, the excitement in their voices and the glow on their faces is unmatchable. And I know that they are a part of our school even if they are in different continents of the world. Students are always an integral part of my life. I  don’t use the word ex- I just don’t like to - because past students too still belong to this school. I always wished I would be able to visit my school sometime. And I did !!!! I was in Kochi for a Conference and before I took a flight back home, I drove to my school -The Naval School- as I have known it. 

I almost jumped out of a moving car, as we drove in to the front entrance of the school – my Alma- Mater. It was just the same – well, almost. As I sent my visiting card to the Principal, I waited outside his office excitedly. Right opposite was the stage where I have performed and also received prizes. The decorations seemed so much like then. Children in costumes were moving around while teachers were shouting hoarse giving instructions. I was informed by the peon that it was their Annual Day and I smiled, recalled the 4 Annual day performances that I had given on the same stage. The Principal called me in and as I introduced myself, he said,” Welcome, Ma’m, Nice to know that an ex-student is an educationist ” I smiled. And I spoke to him of my lovely teacher and the support staff, the functions and the school elections. I sought permission to click snaps, which he consented, adding  that I should stay over as a special guest for the golden jubilee celebrations that was in an hour’s time. Very unwillingly I refused. I had a flight to catch. I saw the Honors Board which had my brother’s name scrolled on it – All India first. The only All India first till date. I called my brother and told him that none had broken his record yet. I felt like the little school girl once again. 

When I walked out of the gate, I looked straight to see the backwaters. The huge wall came between me and the backwaters. I remembered when we studied, we sat on the grass with legs touching the backwaters, watching the sailors move in their boats and the yachts moving slowly with sailors waving to us cheerfully. We particularly enjoyed when the paragliders were in action. I don’t recall the Mughal Dynasty that was taught. We watched the birds chirping and were constantly distracted by creepy insects that moved. I owe my aesthetics to my history teacher, Mr. Kalidas, who always took us to our favourite spot. There were no boundaries then, limitless green pastures for cows and buffaloes. I loved it all. Modernity and practicality may have forced the authorities to have walls and security. Price we pay for prosperity! 

The old gatekeeper’s parting words continue to ring in my ears ” I don’t know who you are but I heard the Principal say that you are a leading educationist. My heart is full. I am so happy that our student has made it big. I wish we had known ..you would have been the most ideal Chief -Guest for the Golden Jubilee Annual Day. And I also pray many more from this school become educationists like you.” Coming from an elderly person, I sought his blessings and drove away. I was emotional for the next ten minutes and reflected – when our students meet me, I experience a great sense of pride. If I had taught them, I recall the sessions we had, if not, I listen to their experience and feel it as my own – that is what a School is all about. The bond that we share with our students is much beyond recognition, power or money. Yesterday, the tables were turned – I could well imagine what must have gone through their minds – a sense of pride in meeting a fellow educationist – their student.
 
I can’t rewind the time -machine, so I did the next best thing - I played one of my favourites -The Carpenters – “Yesterday Once More”……..

The clock was ticking away faster than usual that Monday morning and all of us were getting late to work. The lunch -boxes were just getting packed and I was in my creative best – trying out a new dish. Murphy’s law seems to have  been perfectly in place with the driver reporting  sick, a few urgent calls from school, an event preparation, a few proposals to be cleared …  What a day I chose to try this new recipe!!!! ….. a Monday morning!!! And there slipped the bottle of spice from its precariously balanced position. I admired my reflex action of diving to hold it tight, but, not before a dash of it fell into the dish. Still in an self- admiration mood, I chose to taste it. Gosh! It was spicy – a little too spicy for comfort. So, on the advice of all the members of the family, out came some potatoes, tomatoes and when the pungency continued mildly, I added the lime. Every one was enthusiastic , no one was  anxious about getting late. And the dish turned out to be yummy. That got me a brilliant idea – A family that cooks together stays together !!! 
I got a small group of teachers to develop a family cooking time in the school’s premises. I discussed this with the celebrity chef, Shantanu Gupte from the Food Food channel. The 22nd of September saw the Wonder Family Chef Contest. It was heartening to see that families competed with each other creatively and nutritionally. 12 teams of Grandmothers, fathers, mothers, aunts and uncles formed the team. Guess who cheered them – their kids. 20 ingredients were provided and the teams had to use at least 16 of them to make a complete Sunday lunch from Starters to desserts. We saw some exotic dishes like the Macaroni payasam, Chinese fusion etc with equally exotic names. The table decorations and the food display was a feast to the eyes.. Anxiety and calmness, noise and silence, nail-biters to cool as cucumbers, we saw them all. It was 3 hours of sheer fun. The judges including Chef Shantanu Gupte moved from one table to the other tasting dishes and giving tips, adding value to their experiences in the kitchen. It was the day for the Mohapatras who walked away with the prize.
 
A session for parents and teachers on ” Making nutritious Lunch Boxes ” was organised in the evening where  Chef Shantanu Gupte prepared some yummy easy to make lunches for kids. It was 7 p.m. but no one wanted it to wind up. Shantanu was all in praise of the School since no one had ever taken such an initiative before. Parents were enthusiastic about the fun time they had. And guess what did the kids say???!! - “Now I will get something new in my lunch box”.
 
Earlier in April, we had a Sulonian Wonder Chef event with students and teachers forming teams. It was an all – boys team that won the prize. I was happy that we have all emerged from the shackles of gender-bias. A few lessons that students carried home. It taught them to be more appreciative of the efforts of others. It is an art and a skill. That it need not be a profession but it is good hobby. And above all, it is a great a stress-reliever. On a more philosophical note, we all go through highs and lows in life. One must see a day of challenges as an extra spice that fell into your dish called life. Learning an art, being with friends, reading a book, watching a fun movie, playing a game are ways of making the dish more palatable. We must teach our kids this simple, creative technique to help make their lives less complicated yet yummier.
 
Happy  Kitchen Time- Moms and Dads !

My pranams to all our Gurus in the Universe on this auspicious day of Guru Purnima! It is a day for acknowledging with immense gratitude, humility and reverence, the contribution of the Gurus who selflessly mentored us to be the person we are.

It was a beautiful and special day for all teachers in School. For me, this day holds a special place in my heart. While Teachers’ Day is all about celebrations, Guru Purnima is a sacred day where every child seeks the blessings of all his/her teachers and offers a traditional GuruDakshina of coconut, betel -leaf, betel-nut and a fruit. While teachers blessed their students, the halls reverberated with a divine feeling and the music by the students only added  to the divinity in the air. Today, no one knew how the time flew as the audience comprising students of Std X and XII students sat in perfect silence as they listened to some professional performances of the young Sulonians in rapt attention. Classical and semi classical  music,  Abhangs, Vedas, Shlokas, Bhajans filled the air. The music had a mesmerising effect on all. It was amazing to see such talent and knowledge in children. Something that left us all in a trance was the recital of the Ganapati Atharva Shirsha  and Purusha Sooktam, giving  the essence of the philosophy of Vedas. The pronunciation and the ‘dhyanam’ left us  with a feeling of richness and pride of being Gurus. It also makes us feel good that a lot of our families are deeply rooted to divinity and devotion. Who says the Gen-Next don’t have their roots??  My heart swell with pride.DSC_9529Guru is the dispeller of darkness. To me, darkness is a state of mind. But just as the Moon  appears to be very bright at times and hidden  sometimes, we mortals go through those moments as well. We have to condition our minds to consciously move away from negative thoughts, actions and emotions. When we are guided by a Guru, we see light and make the right move. I believe that there is a Guru in each one of us. The little child who reaches out to another child by peer tutoring or goes out to help the less privileged, one who guides a friend when s/he is at crossroads, one who steers a friend away from a wrong doing, one who is in control of his emotions and has a vision for mankind is a Guru in that situation -for s/he is the dispeller of darkness.

May this Guru Purnima dispel darkness and bring lots of goodness and cheer. Let us all contribute our bit towards humanity making our lives more meaningful.

Why Talk?

Discussions and informal interactions are tools to enhance comprehension, thinking and communication. Parents and teachers must use this tool effectively to build bridges and delve deeper to have personal insight. I personally encourage a lot of these, and practice them myself. This is not only to remain connected with students but also to build academic competencies through these intellectual discussions. The student learns to put forth his view -points, chooses to interpret, disagrees and is able to put up valid arguments. This powerful tool helps to keep students grounded, explain a rationale and yet appreciate and respect others.

In classrooms, when the teacher holds discussions and often informs students the previous day about a topic, students ask : “Will this be on the test?” The answer is ” It gives students what they yearn for – learning engagement, broadening perspectives, promoting higher level thinking , interpretation ,enhances language, enhances logical reasoning skills and decision making”. When I have informal talks, I steer the chat to help them to use their minds. This is done by posing carefully constructed questions that will make the students have a more disciplined way of thinking. And how…..?

I couldn’t but enjoy the wonderful rains yesterday. The  school grounds looked beautiful with trees swaying with the gentle winds and the lush green carpet that we could see and admire from our classrooms. The  laughter and chatter of voices could not keep me from coming down. It was a perfect Kodak moment. Kids in colourful raincoats and teachers with fancy umbrellas enjoyed the rains, splashing and dancing together oblivious of the envious looks of many who had to hold  themselves back. I could not resist  the invitation from the four and half year old  kids who dragged me into their circle. What I experienced for the next twenty minutes was sheer pure bliss. For the teachers, the excitement and joy was contagious. Before we knew, the group was large enough to have a rain dance in circles. Our discussions with the tiny- tots moved from rains, seasons, health and hygiene during rains and emotions related to their experiences.

A teenager asked me if I had advised parents (during my Orientation Meeting) against allowing their wards a night out with friends. “What is the harm in spending the week-end with friends? We only play computer games. Why are we being asked to play outside in the evenings ….”.. the discussion did have a digression at times but I gently steered him to focus on the purpose  ” I put across some questions and encouraged the young lad to answer them honestly, knowledgeably and appropriately. I realised what a huge responsibility I shoulder, when I speak to parents during Orientations. Fortunately, I have this wonderful platform to share my insights, experience and concerns openly with parents. The young boy went back smiling quite convinced that his parents were right in disciplining his daily schedules. 

My readers may remember a blog post , where I mentioned about a little girl who fought against all odds to make it with 92% in the Boards. She now completed her Grade XII from our school with 85%. She was a little low when she realised that her family was not willing to send her out of Thane due to her physical conditions. She wanted to do Law in the Govt Law College. Her elder sister, who was my student too almost 8 years back did not support her decision too. The three of us had a long discussion and even decided how she would reach GLC. She travelled alone for the first time in her life. She did it with confidence and courage. I am sure she too would feel responsible and careful. She will continue to learn from experiences and gain new perspectives.

These are just a few examples of how we can establish a climate of openness, of inquiry, of trust and mutual respect. It is a small step that we can take in our daily routine to build better family ties and bonding.

It’s been so overwhelming to receive our children back in school after a seemingly long summer vacation. Though we were, in our office, working, the school comes alive only with the chatter, the laughter and energy flow of the kids (of all ages).

Once again, the school came out with stupendous results reiterating the efforts of the faculty and the parents who provided all possible support and guidance to enable the students to realize their potential. All this is apparent from the fact that 49% of the class of 2013 of 357 students secured over 90%. This is by no way a mean achievement. Our senior students just added more colour and glitter to the crown with not just their academic results in ISC but also with their achievements in professional courses. 13 students of the ISC have made it to the top 1% in the country and 16 have cleared the IIT advanced examination with very high scores. Many others have fared very well in varied professional courses including the National Law School examination with one student bagging the 9th rank at the All India level and another with a 28th rank in the All India Hotel Management examination. Who can ever say, perseverance does not pay? Nothing of this would have been possible but for the untiring efforts of the teachers and painstaking studies made in understanding each child and his / her needs.

Faith and trust are two friends that we must always have by our side. A few days before the Board exams, distraught parents approached me to withdraw their ward’s name from the Board examination. I asked the student, “Why do you want to withdraw? To which he retorted, “If they (his parents) don’t want me to write, I won’t, I don’t care. I could see hurt & anger in his eyes. I took him out and asked him “I think you should write the exam because I know you can do it. Why is it my son, you want to do such a thing? He burst out crying saying “I will live upto your expectation, Madam!” I laid down three conditions

1) No mobiles, No TV, no FB

2) 12 hours of studies.

3) No going out, no eating out.

He agreed and promised to get over 70%. True to his word, till the last day of the exam he kept his word. On the last day, perhaps the temptation of chatting with friends got the better of him. His one line on FB read – Finally it’s all over! On seeing the pop-up on the FB and a few others joining in, I called him and asked him if it was all over. A strong silence followed, he asked “Who is speaking?” and I said, “The Principal”. He was profusely apologetic saying that this was an easy paper and just that he was well prepared, he got tempted and that he will never ever let me down. I laughed because I knew it all kids went offline thereafter.

This ends on a happy note that faith and trust makes every child perform beyond his / her own expectation. It is also an eye-opener for all those who believe in status-quo. Inspiration, motivation help children take up the onus of learning and leading. They only achieve who believe they can.

Have a great rewarding year ahead !

Children love this, grandparents look forward to this, parents heave a sigh of relief, teachers wait with bated anticipated … yes! It is the summer vacation.. . A more relaxed schedule after a frenzied pace of activities is all that one is really looking forward to.  

It has one more glorious year of happenings and events at school. With 8 International Awards, 27 National Awards,19 State Awards and several district level recognition and prizes, from academics to theatre to sports to research in Science, we won a place in every field.. While we all feel happy about our students’ achievements, it is important to strive harder and explore more learning opportunities and challenge our own records each time. More importantly, enjoy the moments of one’s own learning. I believe that if S is the path to success starting at the bottom point of S, we move up and when we reach the tip of the S, we must realise that it is time to start once again with an S. Our journey of life is thus made of many such S formations all linked with each other. One must take care to see that the link is not broken. We are all life-long learners. 

The theme that ran across the school during the last week was – “Walking the Extra Mile”. The Kinder -Garteners had fun with the Merry Go Round, the mini Giant wheel, the fun rides that was brought to the school premise to avoid making a trip out in the hot April weather.. The kids even told me ,” We are lucky ..we have two picnics.” The joy and the twinkle in their eyes and the excitement and enthusiasm of their teachers was worth all the efforts. The parents’ involvement with plays and presentations with social messages for an eco – friendly celebration of festivals was a learning experience for the kids. The teachers’ puppet show for the kids too brought joy to the kids. The “Food from all States” saw such a wide variety of dishes from each region that left me wondering, why we need to run behind the Chinese, Mexican, Thai food when a little bit of creativity will add the right spice to the already varied fare we have in our country. I was so over-fed that I had to request some of them to allow me to decline the plate but one of the boys from Kerala who wore the traditional mundu said, “You have to eat the Appam because my father made it before he left for work . He makes the best Appams in our family.” I couldn’t refuse him because I saw pride in his eyes and his chest up with pride. 

We also hosted the Wonder Chef Team challenge with 6 teams of 6 members with four 13 and 14 year old boys and girls with two mentors – one from among the teachers and the other from among parents. We had chef Shantanu Gupte from Food food program, Chef Sanay from the Satkar Group and Chef Suzaane from the UK as the judges. It was one of the most creative and innovative cooking that I experienced. Parents and teachers played their roles of being mentors to the hilt. Students benefited from the expertise of their mentors. To give a twist to the event, the mentors changed teams during the course of the Challenge. The purpose of this event was to provide students with life- skills - Communication, strategic planning, time – management, problem solving, creativity. Chef Shantanu Gupte shared his experiences as a newbie in the field of cookery with the participants. Not wanting to be left behind, the teachers had fun learning to make different veggie Kebabs.  

A lot of children are participating in Sports to begin their days on a physically active note. The matches, the activities, the workshops and training sessions for teachers are making us feel that the school is still in session. But, vacations are essential to unwind and energise. They must be relaxing for all. In our quest to learn many skills, holidays should not become an extension of their everyday schedule followed all year round. It is time to stand and stare, smell the freshness of the new dawn, feel the gentle breeze in the park, hear the chirping of  the birds that fly back home every evening, watch the sea waves …. It costs nothing but provides the best experiences by sheer observation. . 

Looking back, at the year gone by, O Wow ! – is all that I can say. Let me hum the vacation tune too…

Happy holidays !!!

I was sitting under a heap of requests and invitations to speak on the 8th of March-the occasion – International Women’s Day !! I pondered …..

The day just doesn’t begin without the woman brightening up the day for every member in the house. So, each day is a Woman’s Day. For us at school, it is a pleasure to hear from kids about the multiple roles women in their houses play. Mom is dearest, though. When children define the roles a woman plays, I am a little uneasy because it is not always positive. It means different things to different children. It is no longer universal. But, in their own minds, they seemed to have defined their expectations. A lot of these perceptions comes from the home environment and a small percentage may be attributed to the school, their peers and the society at large. This piece is a reflection of thoughts on woman and success after my informal chats with over 200 kids. 

What makes a woman successful? How does the society view it? Very often, one associates success to career women, leaders in different fields, or drivers and navigators of the careers of members of their family. Most often when one sees independence, aggressiveness, a booming voice, attire, body language that oozes “I care less attitude” in a woman coupled with a career, one assumes that she is a super successful woman. Is it so? Should external signs such as these define success? 

To analyse why power and money became the spinners of success, let me take you back to history. Battlefields and wars defined power and success. Who led the battlefields? The Generals! What were their traits typically like? They were commanders, were excellent in leading their troops with directions and orders given in a loud booming voice People just implicitly followed them. Yes, if the General was a shrewd strategist and driver, victory was his. Drawing a parallel to the Business-Houses, one could see a single person designing, strategising, planning, issuing orders to the team for execution. He was the owner or the CEO. This was two decades back. Today ,we have specialists in different fields to consult, plan and execute. Only collaboration and inter-personal skills that helps a good business proposal to turn into a profit centre. 

Let us take our family system which similarly, has undergone a change. Decades back we had a strong patriarchal system, where, the oldest male member was accorded the position of the decision-maker. The women confined themselves to roles involving care for the family and the kitchen. Today, women have moved out of their homes for work. They may have compelling economic reasons or the intellectual urge to satiate. Yes, the role of the Indian woman is changing and so also the fabric of the society. Challenges galore .. but are we daunted? 

I am happy to see that women have broken professional barriers and have raced ahead. With the myriad of opportunities available, there is looking behind. I believe women must celebrate womanhood each day. Women are blessed with the most beautiful qualities that actually define success – Compassion, empathy, sensitivity, assertiveness, patience to listen, love, care, strength, courage and commitment. Women can manage a basket of tasks at the same time. They are stronger -emotionally and are equipped with people -skills.. But , let us also remind ourselves that while the society is going through a reformation, it has not moved in geometrical progression with the changes. Hence, we may face disappointments and challenges. One has to brave that with time, understanding and patience. In the road of success one must not lose sight of these gentle traits that have we have naturally been endowed with. One should do things that gives one mental peace and contentment. Empowering oneself and others, learning new skills, feeling positive about oneself and being the person you are, will make you the most beautiful woman on earth. 

I narrated this at a function on Woman’s day … leaves you with an aroma of freshness and positivity….. 

A little girl was disappointed that she was not a winner in any event . She was dejected by the many rejections she faced from time to time. The mother heard her quietly. She took three bowls, filed it with equal quantity of water. In bowl A, she placed a carrot, in bowl B an egg and in bowl C, she placed coffee beans. When the water came to a boil, the mother asked the daughter to feel each of the contents. While the carrot became very soft in boiling water, the egg hardened but the coffee beans did not undergo any change. What she observed was that the water had a beautiful tinge of coffee brown colour and the aroma of the coffee beans had spread all over the house. 

Be the coffee beans and spread the aroma of compassion, sensitivity and love all around you. Celebrate womanhood each day of your lives. 

Yours ever,

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