Life as an adventure

“Do you still make such adventurous trips?”, he asked. I had just narrated to a colleague how I once ended up in Shirdi without much of a plan, with not even a pair of clothes to change into. I did not bother to clarify what he meant by that. I wondered what the import of his question was. Perhaps he meant that I had mellowed down over time.

During the initial days at EZV, I had a once to make a trip to Kochi. It was for a workshop, to kickoff an engagement with what is now a big and very popular organisation. Everything was set, we had prepared fairly well, and for a change, I was well in time to catch my train. I can not remember now, but there was some goof up with the tickets – either they simply weren’t confirmed or we had got them booked for the wrong date or some such thing. Essentially, the TTE told me that I could not travel on that train. I wasn’t going to take such a verdict sitting down. Back then, I don’t remember if flying was so common that it may have occurred as an option. Evidently not, for I boarded the general compartment, which was packed. I found enough place right next to the door, to stand, with my bag placed overhead. There were a bunch of college kids who would want me to go inside, but I wouldn’t oblige. I made the 12-odd hours of the journey, standing right there, and I completed my work the following day too. When I hit the sack the following night, it had never felt better.

There seems to be the adventurist, throbbing with life, deep within me. He may have mellowed, as my colleague I described above seemed to imply, but he refuses to die completely, and perhaps never would. For this person, adventure is a deeply satisfying aspect of life. And part of it lies in the surprises that life has to throw. Some of us choose to embrace these surprises, and seek adventure in them. So, when one year after another passed for me, in EZV, some of my closes friends and family members, including my father, were surprised. Perhaps, rightfully so, for they knew this part of me that seeks thrills and therefore must keep moving on.

It is past midnight now. I sit in the waiting room of a railway station, having traveled from one town to another, waiting to get to yet another. And as I do, I reminisce, that what neither they, nor indeed I had expected, was in the manner in which these thrills were to be found. The work trip mentioned above, is one of the many trips I had made on work. The aspect of travel, which I had earlier written about, is itself perhaps just one aspect of this adventure.

I read somewhere, a long time ago, that ‘One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure‘. It resonates a lot with me, and I suppose it is this part of me that may never die. I am grateful to EZV, for the varied pursuits that it has afforded me. Indeed I am grateful because my fortunate association with the organisation itself has been an adventure; it has been one hell of a ride. And, I can’t wait for more to come, at EZV and beyond, for as long as I breathe, everyday shall be lived as an adventure. Now, if the reader will excuse me, I am off to board the train & experience the adventures that await me with another group of teachers, tomorrow.

Advertisements

All the many things

I remember one of my first adventures at EZV was a trip here. I chose to ride the distance, though I recall the duration of the ride turned out to be more than I had anticipated. Back then, I used to ride my motorcycle a lot and this was yet another opportunity. I paid a quick visit to an ancient temple in the vicinity as well. However, it is not only for these reasons that I remember that day. It was my first official ‘sales call’, all by myself. I had never imagined myself selling anything before that day.

Back then, ‘Chrysalis ICT’ was our mainstay. For some reason, I was asked to go to this particular school and make a sales presentation, which I did. I felt on that day, that I had done a fairly good job. It is another matter that I couldn’t clinch the deal. I wasn’t just allowed to go for the call though. We had a mock sales presentation at office, when one of our colleagues was asked to play the Management Representative of an imaginary school and I had to ‘pitch’ to him. This person was known for his histrionics and I remember him going overboard, that I struggled to keep a straight face and do my job. After all, Chitra was watching! Looking back now, I can’t believe the kind of time we may have had on our hands to go through such a thing!

This was but one example. I have had to work on numerous other things that I wasn’t ‘meant’ to work on. For instance, I remember doing Quality Checks for several content objects, particularly audio-visuals, perhaps some ten years back. I was told that I possessed an eye for detail back then, which was quite a surprise to me. All these experiences were significant learning experiences for me. Equally importantly, the experience in itself was of value. Each activity allowed me to enjoy a certain unique experience irrespective of what I learned out of it.

I see now how we try to allow people to try their hand at different things for just these reasons. Now, of course, things are a lot different and as we scale, we may not have the luxury that some of us had back then. Yet, this aspect is slowly becoming a part of the system, so that we consciously allow people such experiences as best as we can afford. I am sure that this inherent variety in work, the associated challenges, the richness in varied experiences and the learning thereof are significant perks at work. And I am grateful to EZV for these invaluable experiences.

You did it

My father and I share an interesting relationship. As a child, I do not remember much of him, except for his stern looks when I would do something that I wasn’t supposed to. Given the number of times I was guilty of that, I am not surprised about the stern look as a predominant memory. As I grew up, things got even more difficult. I was turning out to be the problem child. While the things I was interested in changed with time, the one constant was my strong affinity to indulge in activities that put him off. Be it staying up late at night or watching one movie too many, not coming home during the semester breaks or just binge drinking, I found just about every way to displease him. It continues even as an adult, be it the divorce or more recently, my refusing to participate in a family vacation. The only difference is that he seems to have found ways not to react.

Another and related memory for me is that he wouldn’t appreciate me. “Don’t be too proud”, and “You can do better than that”, are two messages that I would receive from him time and again. The latter being well deserved, and the former, more a cautionary note. I sometimes think that he may have held the belief that appreciating his children would put them at the risk of becoming vain. Perhaps it is culturally influenced, and as a grown up, I look back and I am able to understand him very well. I am also grateful to him & my mother for bringing me up the way they did. I ought to write more about them, I remind myself.

So, when six months into my stint at EZV, I got an unprecedented raise in my salary, the first thing I wanted to do was to let my father know. It was unprecedented, because it was done exclusively for me, before my completing a year, which is when these things happen. And I remember some people telling me that it had never happened before. I was of course excited, and perhaps mildly surprised at myself. However, I made a request to Chitra – that while I was grateful, the raise itself wasn’t so important for me. I requested her for a letter of appreciation, and she readily obliged. The only reason that I had wanted it was to show it to my father.

It has been ten years now, and it is now time for me to be doing the appreciation. With several young, energetic and committed people giving it their all, I sometimes rue at my inability to be so generous with praise. Partly, it is because I am just not mindful of the fundamental need that most people have – a pat on the back. However, I also think I may be a tough taskmaster, and my benchmarks are usually high, sometimes perhaps unreasonably so. This is only with me, of course. Chitra still is the one to quickly recognise promise, and acknowledge it publicly, even though her own benchmarks are no less. Over time, it has become a part of EZV itself. I am grateful to be working in an organisation that is quick & generous to acknowledge and even reward contributions from people. While it in itself is a wonderful thing, I am also grateful that it reminds me of what I ought to do better – be less grudging and more generous with praise.

Conversations

I had picked him up at an important junction, near one of the exits to the city. I tend to do it, sometimes when I am driving alone. If someone asks for a ride, more often than not, I oblige. After all, I usually have the car all to myself. While on most days, I quite enjoy it, sometimes, I feel guilty about it as well. Today, it was quite early in the morning and it was just him, apart from a family at the junction. This time around, I did not wait for anyone to ask. I just the car in front of this gentleman, rolled down the window and asked him if he wanted a ride to Pondicherry. The family was larger than my car could accommodate so neither they nor I bothered.

The man I had picked up started speaking, we made small talk. I warned him that I may drive fast, and requested him to fasten his seatbelt. He wondered if it was mandatory as per the law. I told him that I wasn’t sure of that, but that he could consider it mandatory, if he wanted a ride. He just smiled and obliged. We made small talk, got to know a bit about each other. He was visiting someone over the weekend, and was curious about the place.

“I work in software”, he said, and added the name of a well known company. I hadn’t even asked him. He was a young chap, perhaps fresh in his job and was evidently enthusiastic to tell me. I did not venture to ask him what he meant by software. Partly, I wasn’t keen on knowing, but it is also about the nature of his work itself. I don’t understand much of it, apart from the fact that they write programmes to do things for other business establishments.

Even as I knew where the conversation was headed, it was his turn to ask me what the nature of my work was. For the longest time, I have shared with my colleagues that it takes some effort to explain what we do to people who may not be aware of the happenings in the domain of school education. So when people ask me, my response would depend on the situation. Sometimes, it is the end of the day and I am on a bus or a train and too tired to make conversation. Or, I may just be hard pressed for time. At other times, I can simply be moody and uninterested in pursuing the conversation. On such occasions, I try to keep it simple and say that I am a teacher or a publisher.

However, on many other occasions, it provides meat to speak about things. Interestingly, a lot of people are able to immediately relate to the work we do. After all, several of them went to school themselves, and are able to look back at the shallowness of the experience. Either that or for many, it was simply harrowing to be able to get through it all. Ask people what they liked about the school, and it is usually about friends, sports or other so called ‘extra-curricular’ activities. Learning itself is seldom perceived as fun, as an innately desirable pursuit. And so there is immediate agreement on the need for such work. Some of them even end up volunteering to help, and wonder if they could get involved in some way.

I am grateful to EZV that it allows me to speak about my work very proudly. Not only this, it has been the context for several great conversations during my sojourns across this country, the reason for which has also been my work. Thank you, EZV.

My heart’s fill

He made a passing gesture, as if to serve me some Kozhakattai. It wasn’t the sweet one, but a variant, known as ‘Upma kozhakattai’, a popular snack in some households. I knew that he wasn’t going to serve it to me; it was a perfunctory move, a mere gesture towards me while he was serving others, at about 4 o’clock this afternoon. That is because he may have guessed that I would turn it down, as I am likely to do most of the times. It isn’t that I always turn down the food offered to me. However, one habit that I have developed, which my colleagues find peculiar, is that I choose to eat only when I am hungry. This, even if some exotic or delicious dish, say a brownie, is presented to me.

One of my earliest memories of EZV, is the food. I vividly remember how in the evenings, the smell of food would waft through the office. It would be a pizza one day, vadai another. And eating would be a community affair. This, not just in the snack time. During lunch hour, groups of people would get together and all lay out their lunch boxes. There would be chats, laughs and lots of food.

I am grateful that when I am hungry, there is something to eat, at EZV. The ‘5 pm hunger pang’ is quite a common thing and one is glad to have just about anything. I am also grateful to EZV for all the food for an entirely different reason too. Sometimes, it prompts me to say no, when I don’t need it. While this may seem like a trivial thing to write about when one reminisces about a decade in the organisation, to me it is no less important.

In order that I not trivialise this matter, but also because this is something I genuinely feel about, let me add this. When I look back at all that I’ve got in the last 10 years, there are very many things that come to my mind. I have been making an attempt – however unsuccessful – to capture them. One of the overarching emotions though, can perhaps best be summed up with the following words –

अन्नदाता सुखी भव |

I realise that I may be among the few lucky ones to be provided with plenty. In a world where for the large masses, even a decent meal is a luxury, my existence certainly comes across as a huge blessing. In the last 10 years, I have always had more than what I needed. This has allowed me to live a comfortable, if not luxurious life. I am well-provided for, and I am grateful to EZV for this.

 

Where it all starts

It is one of the best aspects of our work. At EZV, we imagine a certain kind of education that we call ‘Living Well’ education. Broadly speaking, we hope that such an education will allow individuals to discover and hone their potential while cultivating the qualities required for citizenship that is guided by informed and ethical behaviour. I should perhaps write more about this, but it wouldn’t be an understatement if I said that we imagine a better world, and the way we think we can get there is through education. By its very nature, our goal may be a far cry – given the yawning gap between ‘what ought to be’ and ‘what is’. Therefore, one can imagine that any impact that we make, however small or seemingly insignificant, has far-reaching consequences.  So when a school leader changes her attitude towards her teachers and how she leads them, we feel we may have moved one step closer. Or, when after a workshop, a teacher tells us that she ‘feels liberated’, as one of them shared with me recently, we feel hopeful. At such moments, we taste victory, so to speak.

It can also be one of the worst aspects of our work. At least for me, some times. When the mind focuses on the status quo, it can inspire us to work harder. But sometimes, it can also bog us down, as it does to me. It makes me cynical, and wonder if we could even make a tiny dent. At other times, it makes me sad, that the people responsible for educating our children are being ignorant at best, and callous at worst. There may be times when I am irritated at the refusal of people – leaders, teachers and even parents – to see the need for change. And then there are instances when I am filled with unbridled rage, when we come across people who see it but refuse to change, for whatever reasons. As much as work at EZV can be uplifting, it can also lead to a feeling of despondency if one is not careful. The key is to ensure that any negative feeling only spurs us towards action. It would be easy to just criticise things and turn cynical.

Either ways, I realise that it is my own ego that contributes to such feelings – of apparent victory or despondency. It reminds me of a verse from the 3rd Chapter of the Bhagavad Gita –

प्रकृतेः क्रियमाणानि गुणैः कर्माणि सर्वशः।
अहङ्कारविमूढात्मा कर्ताहमिति मन्यते॥

I am thankful to EZV for allowing me the opportunity to work with schools. Despite a reminder to myself, to keep the ego at check, it may be the school that holds some hope whatsoever for all those of us dreaming of a better tomorrow for this world and for all of us in it.

Crazyvians

There is one person who loves dogs and cats so much, that strays outside of our office are fed and groomed. Those not exactly fond of quadrupedals need to be wary of these furry friends lounging at the entrance.

Yet another young chap will be kind enough to inform you before the start of the meeting, that he needs a break – to  run down the street to grab a cup of tea. “I’ll be back in ten”, he’d say only to never return, leaving some of us to wonder if he is alright. A phone call would reveal that our man, in his absent-mindedness, forgot about the impending meeting and settled down for a conversation with someone at the tea-shop.

Some don’t seem to go home at all; they are hanging around till late every evening. Others’ routine unfolds with clockwork like precision. They are in on time, and at the stroke of their exit time, they are seen leaving. It is so precise, that I could calibrate my watch with their entry and exit, if I needed to.

Some are sports geeks, the latest fad being running a marathon. A lot many are foodies, always ready to partake any food that is presented to them. Some are engineers, others social workers, yet others ex-teachers, and not to mention the management graduates. While EZVians may be a very diverse bunch, in terms of their education, their personalities, the languages they speak or food they prefer, there also seems to be some common things uniting them. For one, I have never seen anyone shirk work or frown at the prospect of a task. In fact it is always the opposite – people are always enthusiastic about pitching in. This is despite the fact that the best of our ideas seem to creep up in the last minute, and involve significant effort. And significantly, all of them (save me, perhaps!) are of a pleasant disposition and are in general smiling.

I am thankful to EZV for bringing in a diverse, passionate and genuinely warm set of people into my life. Every single one of them inspires me in different ways – something that I seem to need, quite often.