The future depends on what we do in the present

I am “Designing the Future” in association with BlogAdda.com & INK talks.

“I’m so crazy I don’t know this isn’t possible!”, said Daffy, while riding an invisible bike.

The “Porky & Daffy” cartoons were my favorites when I was 6 years old. Not knowing that something might be impossible was an old idea that has stuck with me even today, just like that invisible bike. Since I did not know that it was “not” possible, I voluntarily dropped out of school, as I believed I could learn better outside it. And I clung on to a bag full of these old childhood ideas, pulling them out one at a time and playing around with them. My latest muse is Gandhigiri. Old, rusted, washed clean on every 2nd October and then thrown back into the bag. But I decided to take it to the streets and waited to see if it would get swept off!! Well it did not!!

The idea of designing the future brings a million possibilities in my mind – from Wow, to super high-tech to Utopian. But unconsciously there is an attack of these visions of the future, where I see a dwindled number of humans dressed in steel – and no trace of green on our land.

My major concerns today are global warming, going far away from our Indian roots, and an increasing gap between the haves and have nots. These dark thoughts are clouding my vision of the future.

But suddenly there’s a ray of sunshine!

“No matter who you are, some scholar can show you the great idea you had was had by someone before you.” ~Albert Einstein.

We often tend to find ourselves trying to be different, and then complicating that which could be simple. The design of my future is to be as simple and basic as it can be to create a breeding ground for a change, a change that can be scalable and easy for a child as it is for an adult. I believe that quite simply,  execution of the most profoundly discovered ideas can change our future. Not each one ought to be intellectually driven and satisfied to enable it: what is needed is only awareness of the impact a small change of actions can make. I have taken inspiration from one of the most eminent persons in the last century, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

I took up an experiment, just like Gandhiji did, to take responsibility with a few other people. A group I organized outlined five broad causes and worked on them for a week. Read the Manifesto of Mission Gandhigiri, and then read  the results, what actually happened.

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Hello all,

Here’s how we the Youth of Coimbatore can and will drive change in Coimbatore for this week. Activities under five broad causes are going to be executed in different places in the city, with a thrust on R.S Puram and Kovaipudur. Read on!

# For the environment: Planting AND adopting trees and working on responsible waste disposal through people and shops we are in contact with.

# Hope for our public spaces: “Saying that Indian are dirty and we are like that only is cute, but doesn’t do anything to solve the problem. Meet The Ugly Indians! < http://theuglyindian.com/ >  become one, and change Coimbatore’s public spaces (almost) overnight. Open dumps, cigarette littering, paan stains, public urination… it’s absolutely cleanable.

# Celebrating India: A few years down the line Indians are going to be indistinguishable from the increasing mass of Global Village citizen. Becoming “modern” isn’t a bad thing but the word is a bit misused in the context of progress. Modernizing is not about aping Americanism and Westernism, but about how we can bring riches from our past in a present-day context.  It’s about Kalamkari, Karma and Kozhukottai, and you’d better be ashamed if you don’t know what these are. Bring on the Art and Culture – in dress, speech, thought, expression… In association with Bhakti Natya Niketan and Prastara we present to you, BHARAT.

# Serving the lesser privileged: Shanti Ashram from Coimbatore has been doing dedicated service for 26 years in many villages of the city. Under their auspices, we take part in programmes aimed at poverty alleviation and “Sarvodaya” in the 40 villages they have adopted.

Anybody can volunteer, call Aditi at 09787581258 for details.

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What resulted:

For the Environment:
One school and one college agreed to adopt saplings until they they could take care of themselves. We planted 10 saplings in Govt Music College and Govt Corporation School for Girls.


For our Public Spaces:
Volunteers and bakery owners adopted innovatively designed cigarette bins to curb the menacing problem of cigarette litter that no drainage/waste system is designed to handle. One small stretch of pavement in prime commercial area was ‘spot-fixed’! The ground saw sunlight, litter found its place and the walls got a fresh coat of paint. Plastic litter scattered around a favourite sports ground was cleared.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Service to the Underprivileged:
We attended a workshop at Shanti Ashram and became the first volunteers for their newly launched Poverty Solutions programme with easy, effective solutions. Sixty of us took home “undiyals” (traditional piggy banks) to save money and distribute after four months in the following ways: ⅓ for our own progress, ⅓ for our family and ⅓ as contribution to Poverty Solutions.

Celebrating India:
A series of lecture-demonstrations on the highly overlooked question of why we must stay close to our Indian roots (and still branch out into the world!) struck a chord. The sixty young people in attendance were those at that crucial part of life when they wonder, “Who are we, really?” This talk was accompanied by a dance performance and tour around the venue – the magnificent 7th century temple at Perur.

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This was the execution of an experiment of my design for the future. And what I found in the last few days was startling:
* The area of pavements cleaned or amount of garbage picked up was a measly figure, but those 60 people will never litter their roads or public spaces again.
* Countries and their cultures are dying, but these sixty people care and make efforts, however small, to know, revive and preserve that which is important to them.
* 43% poverty hasn’t been reduced to 3% overnight , but sixty people are taking their role in poverty alleviation seriously, having contributed time, money and efforts.

Coimbatore has hardly changed in the last one week, but can and will see something beautiful in the coming years because these sixty people who took part have experienced inner transformation – they are BECOMING THE CHANGE. This complex idea executed itself to manifest solutions so effortlessly and quickly that it’s quite surprising. As the experiment goes on, 60 could turn into the 16 lakh people of the city, and we’d be looking at a revolution in sensitivity, change and action. Permeating Coimbatore, right through to the world.

My Design for the Future? Being the change, sixty people at a time.

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See more about Gandhigiri at www.facebook.com/Gandhigiri.Cbe

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Mission Gandhigiri ’12 featured in the Deccan Chronicle! See the article here.

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Experiment: Gandhigiri ’12

I’m halfway through Gandhiji’s My Experiments with Truth. It’s had an impact on me in no small measure. The man who always felt so big and chaste was an experimenter. Very, very human. Before reached this pedestal of truth, his journey was littered with cigarettes, meat, Westernism, dancing (!) and a lot of court cases. He made mistakes, turned them into stepping stones and became a source of light for so many people. Not surprisingly, his quotes are used, overused and abused. Most noteworthy in this category being “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

But there’s a reason for its overwhelming relevance. In very simple terms this one sentence solves the complex relationship between problems, responsibility and solutions. And so the last few weeks I’ve been dreaming, thinking and acting.. and with Ashutosh, I came up with the plan for what might turn out to be the largest youth movement in Coimbatore.

                                        Experiment: Gandhigiri ’12

Hello all,

Here’s how we’re going to drive change in Coimbatore, on one day. There are activities under five broad causes and we’re going to execute them in different places in the city. Read on, speak up, do your bit.

For the environment: In association with an NGO, planting trees and cleaning the tanks in the city.

Hope for our public spaces: “Saying that Indian are dirty and we are like that only is cute, but doesn’t do anything to solve the problem. Meet The Ugly Indians!  become one, and change Coimbatore’s public spaces (almost) overnight. Open dumps, cigarette littering, paan stains, public urination… it’s absolutely cleanable.

Vegetarianism drive: Apart from abstaining from meat ourselves, lets make an effort to request hotels, homes, broilers and butchers to help reduce meat consumption on this day. Not impossible. And if you’re wondering why non-vegetarianism is such bad deal, read this: Top 10 reasons not to eat meat.

Celebrating India: A few years down the line Indians are going to be indistinguishable from the Westerners – progress isn’t a bad thing but the word is a bit misused in this context. It isn’t about aping the West but about how we can bring riches form our past in a present-day context.  It’s about Kalamkari, Kalari and Kozhukottai, and you’d better be ashamed if you don’t know what these are. Bring on the Art and Culture – in dress, speech, thought, expression…

Serving the lesser privileged: Collecting blankets for night shelters, cleaning up the places where they stay, getting food and medicines, crowd-sourcing funds etc. In a country like India, there’s no dearth of opportunities to serve people who were born less fortunate than us (sunny side of widespread poverty 🙂 )

ANYBODY in Coimbatore can join this. While there are no restrictions on age, this one’s aimed at youth (and, like the oldies like to say, for “the young at heart”!)  School goers, unschoolers , colleges or working people… if you are ready to give in selfless service for just one day (it happens to be a holiday too, YAY! 😀 ) then it matters not. This movement is starting with one person, and can accomodate hundreds – no amount of service is too small or, too big.

Pick your area of interest and message me/write on my wall, and soon we will create an open group to keep you posted on all the details such as location, time, course of action etc!

On Gandhiji:

He was more than a freedom fighter and is a lot more than the face on our currency. Truth and God went deep with this man, and applied to almost every area of thought. This year we celebrate some things that he believed in, which are more relevant today than ever: vegetarianism, environmentalism, service, simplicity, and his beloved motherland – Bharat.

Bapu said, Be the change you want to see in the world. Abused as this quote is, it hasn’t lost the relevance with the relationship of problems > solutions > changing.

We take responsibility for our Coimbatore on his birthday this year, and he’s going to smile a lovely smile when he sees! 🙂

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I posted this as a note on Facebook a few hours ago and the response has been fantastic. Which goes on to say, to all the stinking pessimists, that there are good people who want to serve and make a difference. I’ve spoken to some NGO’s and big social workers, including Siruthuli and Shanti Ashram, and the next two weeks seem to be promising. I only hope Bapu is watching. 🙂

Trust.Children.

An amazing teacher from RV introduced me to the editor of Teacher Plus magazine this summer. I wrote this for the magazine, explaining the reasons (and beliefs?) backing my decision to unschool. Realizing that this could be a great way to reach teachers,  mom and I decided to address it more directly 🙂 Here goes.

All I am saying … can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.

John Holt

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(Authors note: Do not read this in a closed space. If u cannot step outdoors, at least step out of  your past experiences, future expectations and your  present conditions. Because this is as much for you as for your children)

Breathe.

Life is learning. As we look back at each day in the months and years we’ve come through, they seem alike to each other. But take one yesterday out of the journey and it’s a missing puzzle piece. What makes each day so different from the other? Look at it…It was a new step up in some learning. It holds true for everybody – we all learn. Everyday.

This learning is shaped by the experiences we have – some we choose, some just come upon us These experiences are of all stripes – the discovery of a shape in the clouds,  a fleeting thought while falling asleep, a bout of anger after conflict in the playground or a fresh mindset after travelling to another culture. The beauty of experiences is in the variety; the strength of it in the quality of learning we gain. To direct this experience-based learning actively on a large scale, guided  by our desires and interests is life-learning.

I read about life learning a few months ago. I brushed it away thinking it was idyllic and worked more only for talks. But the little acorn of ideas was planted firmly, and it grew. It grew into an enormous oak of thought that began to take root in my life. I understood that it was important to make learning choices based only on interests, because it works best. And after a small transition period, I began an active journey of life – learning.

I read a lot and write a bit, as opportunities come by. My activities include practising Bharatanatyam and studying allied arts. My list of regular activities used to be longer, but now, with limited areas the focus has increased manifold. One of these passions might well turn out to be my career! Also, there is time to do a lot of more short-term or sporadic things such as conducting programmes for children, learning web design, travel, cooking etc. as there is no externally dictated schedule binding me. There is harmony in what I like and what I do.
And I  manage to do this because I quit school.
If the real goal is to’ learn to do’ it is quite possible in the absence of school too , because there are so many sources one can learn from. As for the mandatory requirements, there is the option of open schooling.
I am completing the formal class 12 equivalent examinations through NIOS. Not only is it a nationally recognised board, but it also allows for wider freedom in subjects, methods and pace of learning.
In school, there are only six subjects or 3 streams at the higher level during the K-12 years. So much of those precious growing up years are spent in the same routine of rote learning from rote teaching. Learning is largely theoretical –bounded by limiting prescribed syllabi only.

While the key to improving  is encouragement, punishment and humiliation and graded labelling is often sought after.  But most importantly, their abilities are taken for granted. The benchmark for all is academic excellence – assuming that it is the only way forward for EVERY CHILD. As impressionable, innocent minds, they trust and allow this false notion of progress to rule their mind. With authority present at every level,  the child has got to obey, without thinking for himself. So at the end of the 15 or 16 years, after writing a great number of exams the child says I have learnt. What the child has learnt, in fact, is only to obey.

The problem here is that each child is differently wired. But there is a concerted effort to make them all alike – striving for the same  academic excellence. The uniqueness of each child – in terms of desires, abilities, way and pace of learning – is undermined, disrespected and cleanly forgotten. This does result in frustration for many and a pitiable waste of the child’s unique talents.

The abilities children possess are really undermined. It is presupposed that they are stupid and that facts and values need to be poured into them. But the fact is that each of them is blessed with curiosity and sensitivity. Once harnessed, they can do wonders. IF WE LET THEM.

The fact is that we can’t handle the genius that comes in a child. Often and openly we suppress them – when the bright kid asks a smart question that happens to be beyond the syllabus or the teacher’s knowledge, when a kid wants to give alms or questions the inequality of fortune, we just shut them up. This question or action or desire is unique. And  That is the sparkling dust of genius – so common, yet so often brushed away.
Remember the glee on his face when he discovered he could make noises – where did it go? What happened to the endless questions that tingled the child’s curious mind? During the first few years of life, rapid and essential learning takes place in children, in varied areas and paces. Yet, the child is happy and blooming because the direction comes unbounded from within. We have never felt the need to predetermine his first step – who will teach him? when will he be “thorough” with it? Assessing and grading?
because he wants to, he WILL learn it. It is as natural as life itself.

Is it possible to provide for such learning conditions for our tweens and teens? Constantly aware that I am addressing this to teachers, I know that only you can do this.
They are in your palms, waiting to be nurtured. Be the mom, the gardener, the friend, the switch button that can bring the genius out
Give them the “Yes I m interested”
“Now that’s a different thought” or you should tell me more types wala  gentle nudge that pushes them only closer to what’s waiting to be a genius.
So simple
And YOU will be the Experience(read :the best Teacher) in his life

World Do-your-bit-and-green-it Day

June 5, 2012 – World Environment Day

The school calendar (of all things!) reminded me of the occasion just a day earlier. I contemplated reaching out to Green Print and Street Cause EForce, but realized there wasn’t much time. Perhaps you could reach out to them, reader, and maybe I will, sometime in the future.

But thank God inspiration was on my bedside table – I picked up my big Change the World Guidebook , gathered some stationery and got down to greening the world with Mom.

Easy tips and cartoons to bribe them into helping the world

We came up with these colourful posters and baby-steps to coax people into doing their bit (yes, they are like blissfully unaware kids who need to be bribed). One of them, along with the You are a Super Power intro of the book, was put on the notice board of our apartment and accordingly a “Super Power” meeting was scheduled for 4 pm.

4:30 pm, and there were only five of us in place of the estimated 20 kids. My ex-school friends who come to the apartment for tutions saw how the carpets were still empty and I read a “Unschooling and changing the world it seems…hmph!” expression on their face. Not done. Not done at all. Resorting to desperation, I put on my adorable expression and excitedly pleaded (!) with all the kids on the block to come to my SuperPower meeting. Turns out that they were old enough to stop believing in such fallacies but I managed to drag them anyway. With the number at 15 we began. And it was a hit.

Turns out that my suspicions were right. Kids are kind, thoughtful and sensitive, but with the people and environment around they get conditioned to the comfort and thoughtlessness that comes with a carbon-heavy lifestyle. My mom told them, “Yes, we parents are selfish – we want lots of water to clean the vessels and a car to go even till the next lane. But you have to stop us from polluting and wasting things, just like myy daughter does.” *Beautiful moment* Then the kids went on to identify and make small doable commitments to make life a little more eco-friendly. Madhurya promised to make do with half a bucket of water (“except on Sundays Akka. I have to wash my hair no?”). Mehul said he’d give up riding his dad’s scooter because it was polluting (and illegal, since Mehul is just 12) Liya said she’d eat when her mom called so as to avoid re-heating on the gas or in the oven. And with that, we concluded our first Super Power meeting.

My successful Super Power gathering!

Then came the part of reaching out to the adults. The big, responsible ones who drive fancy cars and frequent expensive stores. The ones who think its their right to exploit and dirty the earth. Armed with the colourful posters, a pretty friend came along with me to stick them on the walls and windows of R.S.Puram.

I don’t know how many gave an eye or brought this to their life, but I was glad to start off somewhere. The energy never gets lost – it’s out there, working it’s magic in ways we can’t see. Let the universe work its mystery.

Untitled.

It’s official. They’re leaving. And they’re leaving me all alone.

Trust me to fall in to the trap of attachment each time beautiful relationships are made. Fevibond is strong as hell and it’s good while the objects need to be stuck – quite a job when it’s time for breaking the bond. Flipside to everything.

So I’m unschooling. And to see me through this journey and many more, they were always there. One made the video that got me through to TedX Coimbatore ’12 all the way from Hyderabad, and one has spent hours with me discussing schools and learning and freedom. They gave shape to my dreams and made it worthwhile for the world to look at it. Advice, love, encouragement, warning.. all of it. Even if his mom didn’t like it, or he had the world of Chemistry waiting to be conquered.

So I’m unschooling and they are not! For them to go where they dream and breathe and hope each day it will take all the determination and hard work in the world. None of the amazing work that they’ve turned out the last few months because the world they want to be in is hard, cruel, competitive. But none of it matters once they’re on the mountain they’re preparing to climb.

While I’m making a herculean effort to be strong by the impending absence of their support for the next many months, I’m sending a lot of optimism to make your vision come true. The vision, when it comes true, will make them feel big and capable and accomplished. Maybe then my two favourite class guys will call themselves the Big Brainy Men. Maybe after this I’ll have the promised Volkswagen Beetle and an almost permanent place to stay at Boston.

I see a beautiful tomorrow coming your way, boys. Even if I’m crying while letting you go today.

Besto :’)

A tribute to the Anaikatti camp and all things beautiful.

Anaikatti.The word rings with a familiar sweetness, spreads a reminiscent
fragrance… A little gulmohar, lot of open spaces and fresh air, and
maybe I smell some magic too.
Listen and smell but also look into my words to find what I want to
show you – A beautiful place and community, locked in a beautiful
time.

The Annual summer camp of our dance school brought with it a fresh
intensity and renewed magic. For 10 days I thought that “living” dance
meant the rigourous three-hours dance and theory session but there was
more in store. This sank in after I soared through those three days at
Vidya Vanam – good times fly, but through better ones I soar.

To give a box type time table or a minute to minute schedule would be
to rob you of the (over)flowing beauty of our sojourn. The essence of
it was a certain flow of instincts that were given space to lilt with
the beauty that upheld the atmosphere – whether it was in the form of
a gentle poetry appreciation session or an enthusiastic, charged adavu
session. No doubt this entailed freedom of mind and space for
everybody. A freedom that should not be mistaken for confused chaos –
instead, it was like the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurthi said, “Right
freedom is always accompanied by order”. There was no need for
imposing discipline or motivating by rewards – order came from within.
This beautiful space was what Akka and Paati pictured when they saw
through their collaborated vision.

A lot of these naturally nice things were a result of the little
community that had formed. Senior students were supposed to take care
of the little ones but sweetly enough, it was the little ones who had
more love to give. Living with teachers in a space outside dance class
and while eating, doing yoga and laughing did a great deal in building
a student-teacher rapport that blurred fear and distance and sprinkled
some love onto the relationship.

But perhaps our greatest mistake, and joy, was in dancing with the
Anaikatti students. First, we wrongly prided ourselves in being able
to give 10 talented students of Vidya Vanam School the opportunities
availed by the students of Coimbatore – but instead, we were humbled
by how much we had to learn from them. The world may shake their heads
and pitifully call them the lesser fortunate – but, the irony! We, who
claim to be advanced and blessed, have not an ounce of the spirit for
life that those beautiful children possess. In the end it was us
thanking God for being able to learn from them.

Rukmini Athai had this to say: “I feel that the divine spirit that is behind all these arts is one. You cannot say that music is an art that should be heard only at a concert, nor is dancing an art that is meant only for the stage. All these arts cannot be real unless they become part of Life.” A unified and holistic approach of bringing ‘living the arts’ that Athai speaks of was experienced at the dance camp – not
only in the aforementioned abstract ways but also in the activities that took place – from yoga in the morning, nature treks and biosphere visits, salangai and garland making, ‘abhinaya’ dumbsharades, new (and swift!) dance-piece learning sessions.. to washing plates after eating, sitting on the floor and doing everything as a united community.

We cannot be grateful enough to Paati for giving us such an
opportunity. If she sees this, she’d only smile her big smile and say
“I’d love to have you over, anytime!” and then laugh her big laugh.
Through all the hospitality and help from her part come the waves of
strength present in her vision for Vidya Vanam school and her love not
only for the children of Anaikatti, but for the children of humanity.
Paati, if you’re reading this, thank you so much. Again and again.

Finally, I suppose our only regret is that we did not have more time
at Vidya Vanam. But with the little time we had, a lot of memories
were created to be carried back with us. (In addition to photographs
and memoirs by hidden inspired writers from amongst us 😉 ) Now, back
in class, I see a renewed intensity and a fresh beauty that wasn’t
there before; also the instincts swaying towards the beauty and
quietly asking, “Which  beautiful experience next?”

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This article, with more corrections, is going to be published in Sruti magazine sometime soon!

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All photographs by Aarooran Ramaswamy. Use it if you want, but please let us know.