Fanaticism leads only to self destruction- Random Forays by Vivek Atray

A spate of recent events has confirmed what we already knew- that fanaticism and unmitigated lust lead only to self destruction. The Dera episode is so fresh in our minds that its details are not even worth mentioning. Suffice it to say that not only did the so-called Baba self destruct, he also destroyed the lives of innumerable others through his perennial misdeeds and through the recent incidents of unimaginable violence.
The Blue Whale video game which seems to have spread its tentacles even to traditional cities like Lucknow is another instance of blind and senseless belief in a dictum or decree. For the uninitiated, this computer game challenges participants to a series of ‘dares’ and the last stage is the commitment of suicide by the ‘player’. What is appalling to note is the fact that several Indian youth and many from other countries have fallen prey to the wiles of the creators.
Both these examples are similar in certain ways, even though they may not appear to be. The commonality between them is the so called craze, bordering on madness, to a certain ‘cause’. What compels a young 14 year old to give up his life for either of these ‘followings’? This is something which needs to be examined in some detail.
Jon Krakauer called them “people who are seduced by the promise or the illusion of the absolute!”
Wikipedia defines fanaticism as “belief or behaviour involving uncritical zeal or obsessive enthusiasm”. While we all know that enthusiasm and motivation are the keys to success in any sphere, it is the obsession and desperation for anything which obviously leads to disaster.
Students who are made to go into over-drive in their teens, in order to prepare for “higher studies” at hallowed institutions, actually find themselves utterly depressed; their mental health suffers a great deal. Youngsters who spend a few hours on the sports field or pursue extra-curricular activities, end up winning many more laurels even in academics than the single-minded studious sorts. There are exceptions to every rule, but parents would do well to encourage their wards towards being all-rounders rather than becoming uni-dimensional in life.
Jilted lovers are known to indulge in acts of vengeance against the objects of their desire if things do not work out. Stalking someone or being constantly obsessed with one person obviously leads to counter-productive situations.
Sports persons have to tread a very fine line between giving all that they possess to their endeavours and becoming over-desperate to achieve their goals. And this holds true for each of us, in any sphere. When a marketing man has repeated nightmares about his targets and the dreaded consequences of not being able to achieve them, he is clearly in a state of near-fanaticism, perhaps by compulsion.
Greats like Roger Federer or Usain Bolt have clearly been passionate about their sport and have left no stone unturned to scale the heights that they have, but over-indulgence has certainly not been their method. By playing some music at times, or going hiking with the family, Federer follows a balanced, not fanatical, approach to the attainment of brilliance. Bolt too must have spent years waking up at 5 am and toiling for hours before he accrued the marvellous abilities that he had, but he just does not seem to be the fanatical sort.
Many scientists and inventors, hundreds of corporate honchos and even some serving government officers, spend most of their lives driven by an unseen force that just pushes them harder and harder towards their work. The family often suffers but they do not relent. Life ultimately passes by and they realise then that they did not have time to enjoy any of it.
According to Philosopher George Santayana fanaticism means “redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim.” Even the scriptures state that over-zealousness for anything will never yield results. The mindless pursuit of an objective somehow overtakes all else in the life of such a pursuer and leads to an unwanted end.
Winston Churchill described such a person most perfectly, as one “who cannot change his mind, and won’t change the subject.”
It is clearly a balanced approach that becalms the mind and leads to happier endings!

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The Need To Control The Rabble-Rouser – Random Forays by Vivek Atray

The Oxford dictionary defines a rabble-rouser as “a person who speaks with the intention of inflaming the emotions of a crowd of people, typically for political reasons.”

In these cantankerous times, the pressing need is for society to maintain its calmness and balance. Controlling the habitual rabble-rouser is one way to do so. In fact, it is of the essence! Too many of them are vitiating the atmosphere, not only in the political sphere, but in every realm.

While even the global landscape is dotted with notable rabble-rousers these days, there’s not much you or I can do about them. But we can surely do something about such persons at the local level, and even in everyday life.

The rabble-rouser is practically ubiquitous. He is visible and audible at every little gathering, especially on the street, such as when a fracas breaks out, or even when a milder incident such as a smallish accident takes place. When the vehicle owners step out hurriedly to assess the damage, a crowd will collect within no time. The rabble-rouser will emerge from nowhere and join the audience. He will quickly go on to provoke one of the parties into adopting a sparring attitude. And before the police arrive, or matters get really heated up, he will stealthily steal away!

At a factory gate meeting, his actions will be will be even more damaging. He will shout the first chant of ‘Hai Hai’. He will urge someone to throw the first stone. And at a political rally, big or small, he will create a ruckus through his words and tone, whether on the stage or off it.

The rabble-rouser effect first became apparent to me when I was a young SDM at Kalka subdivision. During a village tour, our group found one particular gentleman to be extremely agitated and complaining loudly against the government. The local MLA was a powerful man and he mentioned something about the need to offer him a minor position in order to keep the man quiet in future. The MLA had obviously sensed the mood of the local populace who were inclined to agree with the rebel, and he was receiving a fair degree of nods during his anti-establishment speech.

What I did not realize at the time was that our man would get really lucky and would soon be made the Chairman of a state level corporation, complete with a ‘sarkari’ car and a red light (those were the days!)
Rabble rousing can be quite a gainful activity it seems. In an Ajay Devgun film, his character rises swiftly to become the main sidekick of the gang leader simply by virtue of being persistently antagonistic.
The evident damage that such people cause is in their negative influence on society. Even in our own lives we find some persons who do not let a family settlement take place because they keep needling the main actors in the ‘drama’. Some of them also act as rumour-mongers and impact reputations adversely with ease.
Each individual can play his or her own role for the social milieu by not falling prey to the designs of such instigators. These days even Whatsapp messages can be rabble-rousers, as they sometimes contain potentially pernicious information which cannot be verified easily. Thus we find users mentioning “forwarded as received” when they send a message of which the veracity cannot easily be verified. The thing to do is to refrain from forwarding messages which are capable of causing more harm than good.
Sometimes the originators of these missives, the online rabble-rousers, may actually be spreading a fear psychosis by design.
Some people will share stories like ‘gangs of robbers are on the loose in the area’ with the intention of alerting their dear ones. The result however could be a mindset of mass worry in the region, often without reason.
The antithesis of the rabble rouser is a masseur whom I know. This worthy will tell each client that “So-and-so was all praise for you, Sahib” Thus instead of spreading animosity, he creates friendships. Truly a role model for us to follow, for there is probably a mini rabble-rouser in each one of us!

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Vacations Are The Life-Pauses That We Need- Random Forays by Vivek Atray

Life is such an unstoppable treadmill these days that we scarcely know how to take a breather. We simply keep running without knowing how to switch off from the world’s madness. I have friends who have not been on a vacation for years. They have been hurtling towards an unknown destination at breakneck speed and literally destroying themselves. I have often found my own self looking haggardly and have realized that I have been wearing myself out too much.
Pausing one’s life for a while is an act of rejuvenation. It is akin to catching one’s breath at an aid-station during a marathon run and similar to refueling on a long drive.
Life-pauses enable us to contemplate and ponder, to ruminate and mull. Even a lonesome long walk is like a pause. It gives us time and space to think deeply about life’s imponderables. A short vacation, away from the humdrum of everyday life can be even more revitalising. Many exacting issues can find solutions in the midst of nature, with birds chirping merrily in the vicinity and a cool breeze playing with one’s hair. Indeed, major life decisions should be taken when one is far from the madding crowd. Families can bond better on a trip. Even strained relationships can improve with quality time spent in relative isolation. And of course, the smartphone has to be reined in!
Jack Adam Weber said that the vacation we often need is freedom from our own mind. Over thinking has verily become a stressful habit for the modern human being. Decluttering the mind and simplifying one’s thoughts can result in an astounding feeling of freedom. The process of simplification usually involves getting away from calls, files, meetings and usual chores. Even constant television viewing and being the recipient of incessant newsfeed can be almost debilitating if we are not careful.
It is the mind which needs more of a rest after all, not so much the body. When was the last time you sat down alone without fiddling with the phone? The ability to convince oneself that one’s happiness depends more on calmness and mindfulness, than anything else, is what really matters.
Surveys indicate that corporate executives do not usually avail of even paid vacations, and a majority of them actually work while on a holiday. Is it such a great idea to be sitting at the Anjuna beach and staring at a spreadsheet instead of at the sunset, or wherever else?
Vacations can also turn out to be frenetic at times. Some families prefer to indulge in endless sight-seeing and frenzied activity while in the touristy mode. The result is that they end up feeling even more fatigued once they return to their normal eco-system.
A get-away does not have to be expensive either. One family that I know well does not go to far off places, but simply shifts to the nearby home of friends who are abroad. Even a week long sojourn gives their lives the kind of sprucing up that they need.
In the celebrated Frank Capra film “It’s a Wonderful Life” a guardian angel actually shows the suicidally inclined protagonist (played by James Stewart) what life for his loved ones would have been like had he not been alive, and the whole scenario changes. While we ourselves don’t need to analyze our situations in quite as drastic a manner, getting a wider perspective is always a smashing idea.
Shying away from the burdens of life is not the aim. Being able to handle the challenges that one faces is the goal. No one can tell where life is headed until they see the bigger picture and experience a sense of ‘aboveness’ as some saints call it. By being able to distance one self from the mundane, one is able to have a birds eye view of life.
Vacations can only seem like becalming life-pauses if we are receptive to their value. And a Milton Berle quote goes like this- “Laughter is an instant vacation.”
Which means that those who don’t have time to holiday still have hope!

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Good Looks Do Matter, But Not Much- Random Forays by Vivek Atray

Legend has it that noted Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw was propositioned by danseuse Isadora Duncan who fantasised that their child would have his brains and her beauty, and thus it was their bounden duty to ‘facilitate’ such a child’s entry into the world. Shaw’s laconic response was of course even more legendary, since he refused outright, stating that the child might inherit his ‘beauty’ and her ‘brains’!
Looks or the lack of them have indeed played a major role in human history. Good lookers or even better lookers have gotten away with ‘murder’ at times, simply on the strength of their appearance which dazzled the eyes of the onlookers into taking biased decisions.
A men’s joke tells the tale of how a stunner walked off with a bounty at a gambling den, claiming that the dice had rolled in her favour. Her rivals at the table were all men of course, and they kept blaming each other long after, for focussing on the victor instead of concentrating on the game!
In modern times there are many studies which indicate that facial beauty has given a fillip to a career which might not otherwise have taken off. It is indeed a fact that a good looking person makes more of an impact in an interview as well as in the first meeting that he or she attends with a group, than do others.
Ray Williams writes in Psychology Today that physically attractive people certainly have the edge in life as they are preferred for significant roles in a plethora of fields over average looking persons.
But there are several detractors of this theory as well. Williams himself quotes a study by psychologist Alan Feingold who discovers that there are “no notable differences” in levels of sociability, dominance, general mental health, or intelligence between attractive and unattractive people.
Having been in public service for a long while now, one has come to some conclusions of one’s own on this issue. It is indeed a fact that great-lookers make headway in the introductory stages of an interaction or a presentation, by becoming the cynosure of all eyes for a while, but it is also true that their true mettle is what decides their success in the ultimate analysis.
Despite not having been blessed with great looks, some of us have never really felt any ‘lack’ in our lives. And somehow the shades of success that one enjoys present an aura to others that enhances the perception of one’s looks as well! The overall impression that one conveys is what matters after all, and if one is a good communicator as well as reasonably adept at one’s work, looks take a back seat.
The youth of our country look much better than we used to, for sure, these days. Even uncles and aunts have started looking like upgraded versions of themselves, with a plethora of style treatments at their beck and call. But personality is what truly matters, even in this era of slickness, when a plain James will dress up to look astonishingly good.
And the personalities of human beings can be honed as well as fine tuned, unlike physical features which more or less remain the same, or become worse, as time takes its toll.
Many a normal looking person has wowed friends and colleagues by dint of his or her pizzazz and confidence. It is the inner self which determines how much outer glow one emanates, and there are numerous examples of those who have transformed themselves by simply becoming more positive and warm human beings.
“A smile is an inexpensive way to change your looks” advises an internet quote. A scowl can make even a George Clooney or Hrithik Roshan look ugly after all.
It is also true that those who carry within them a pool of inner peace, by practising calmness and meditating regularly, or by other means, look more beautiful or handsome.
The crux is that good looks can get one only thus far and no more. It is the little basket of qualities that one holds onto as life unfolds which enhances one’s appeal much more than any exterior facade could ever accomplish.

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The Reading Habit is a Leading Habit – Random Forays by Vivek Atray

In this visually expressive era, with video inputs fast becoming the norm rather than the exception in everyday life, those who adopt the reading habit clearly have the edge over others.
Youngsters who have read books while growing up and older people who continue to do so are markedly different in their thinking and easy to recognise these days. A rare bird is the avid reader who can speak with equal felicity about Wodehouse and Rowlings. Voracious readers constitute a dying breed that needs to be nurtured and quarantined. Such persons may become extinct in the coming decades!
These days we are continually fed videos of global and local happenings on our smart phones, and people are watching whatever they can, little realising that if they are avoiding the written word, they are blundering immensely. Agreed, the value of visual content cannot be undermined to any extent, so powerfully graphic is its potential. What one views is easy to relate to and appreciate, one way or another. But how many videos can you watch of people playing silly pranks on each other? They may entertain, but they do no more than that.
In the scurried existence of the digital era, Youtube and TV channels as well as social media channels like Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp are streaming videos at us left right and centre. It is only the discerning user who is able to stave off most of such feed and spend quality time living his life. Reading, on the other hand, even on digital platforms, gives us a calmer and steadier series of thought generating inputs.
Language in its written form provides the sort of canvas that the realm of videos cannot quite match. Many people are heard opining that a particular book was much better than its celluloid version. What was missing in the silver screen version was perhaps the romantic or poignant descriptiveness that the author was able to bring out in the printed version. A film maker may wow his audience with his craft, skill and imagery. But he or she has little opportunity to go into absolute detail in a 2 hour film and portray each nuance of the protagonist’s persona to his heart’s content, which an author can well do in a book.
The written word verily has a place in every field of human endeavour. Leaders who read more stand out in the corporate world and in government. They are not only well informed but also have a cogent and well thought out point of view on most subjects. The top honcho of any organisation can easily be found out and exposed if he does not possess in depth understanding of his organisation’s processes, which can only come by reading about them.
The intricacies of an economic crisis cannot be understood by watching a television debate. One has to read about the issues involved in depth, in order to get to the heart of the matter. However, endless rummaging of newspapers alone does not give one the edge in life. The reading of well researched books or blogs written by renowned authorities gives one insight unparalleled.
Digital reading is here to stay, but discerning forays into the ocean of verbiage that exists online are required. One has to know which pages to access and which ones to leave aside. Subscribing to endless numbers of digital channels will not help.
But the sheer charm of sitting in a garden, an old classic in hand- its pages shrivelled with time- just cannot be matched. And then shutting one’s eyes, to ponder over what one has just read, perhaps even snoozing over it! As Edmund Burke said, ‘Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting.’
Families that encourage their young ones to fall in love with the written word are doing the right thing by them. Several youngsters are enamoured with creative writing too these days, and that is a great sign. Writing is perhaps an even more fascinating pursuit than reading, but the two are intricately linked.
Benjamim Franklin had this bit of unforgettable advice for us- ‘Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing!’

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Emotional Intelligence and the Law of Success- Random Forays by Vivek Atray

Most of us go about life focussing on our own problems, our own goals and our own happiness. While this way of thinking is rather natural for most human beings, people with superior emotional intelligence seem to centre their thoughts on others and the bigger picture of life. Peter Stark puts it rather starkly when he says “Emotional Intelligence is when you finally realise, it’s not all about you!”
The possession of qualities like empathy and balance is an essentiality if one is to find and retain that elusive inner peace. And clearly it is the individual who retains that calm in the face of turbulent times, who finally wins the battle of life.
Daniel Goleman, the guru of emotional intelligence, declared that social skills-managing relationships and building rapport with others- are vital to our effectiveness. He declared that emotional intelligence is a much more likely predictor of success than IQ.
A recent crisis situation at a local high school tested the leadership qualities of the principal in no uncertain terms. Three of the dozen students who’d gone trekking to the faraway hills were missing and their phones were inaccessible. The local police had swung into action but the parents of the children were worried to the extreme, as there was no news of their wards.
The principal could gauge that the situation was about to explode, as tempers were rising in her room, and understandably so. She held her calm though, and through her own sensible words and deeds, by being quietly effective, she was able to instil in the parents a sense of belief.
And when the much awaited call came, late into the night, the room erupted in joy. The young ones had been found, and were hale and hearty. And one of the parents was effusive in her gratitude.
“Ma’am it was you who gave us the confidence to have faith in the face of uncertainty!”
Leaders, who are able to transmit that quiet confidence into their team, and maintain a solid unshakeable demeanour, are more than likely to win all round praise. A shaky ‘sheikh’ may not make for a natural captain, whereas a humane and cheerful boss is always the crowd favourite.
“When we focus on others, our world expands”, states Goleman.
The quality of our interactions with others-our people skills- become important, particularly in a largely automated world. With lifestyles being dominated increasingly by technology, most people find it difficult to interact effectively with human beings, although they are very adept at handling gadgets!
Mike Brearley, former England skipper, was said to have a ‘degree in people’ and thus played and won far more Test matches than he would have on batting merit alone. His ability to extract the best from temperamental geniuses like Ian Botham meant that England was able to win 17 Test Matches and lost only 4 under his stewardship.
Successful people have the emotional intelligence to understand that life is not about self-centredness but demands an ability and willingness to appreciate others and retain their calmness in all situations.
A brilliant techie would thus do well to look around and enhance his understanding of human situations, by raising the levels of his connectivity with not-so-skilled others. A scientist who excels at robotics, for example, must also possess the pizzazz to raise his hand when able bodied individuals are needed in an emergency like a road accident.
That hazy and unfathomable goal of ‘success’ becomes clearer to the person who smells the earth after the rains and realises that he may never feel as happy as he just did, even if he accumulates all the wealth and fame that the world has to offer.
Test tubes or mathematical units cannot be used to measure success anyway. The quantum of success is unidentifiable. Even public acclaim cannot be a concrete parameter, so fleeting it is. We may feel successful and content at having achieved only moderate goals in life, or totally dissatisfied despite having conquered the world.
Paramahansa Yogananda, author of the Autobiography of a Yogi, has the last word. “It is what you have attained within that determines your success”

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Governments Are The Greatest Entertainers- Random Forays by Vivek Atray

Arun Shourie writes in his book on governance, of how a tiny statured individual joins a government job but cannot sit comfortably. His chair is too high and his feet do not touch the ground, you see! He asks around for a foot stool and is told that he would have to write out a note with a requisition. On doing so he is bombarded with a series of queries by the Finance Cell asking him in writing just how he was managing till now, what are the precedents and whether a budget provision had been made for the purpose!
On sending a detailed reply with complete justification he hopes that he would finally be presented with the prized object, but he has no idea of what lies in store. He has to send an endless series of responses over the next few weeks, and predictably, the foot stool remains a utopian mirage. Eventually he realises that the file in question has become so thick that it would fit the bill very well, and he duly plonks it onto the floor in front of his chair!
Yes, Governments are serious organisations, with public welfare usually being their stated objective, but they are also great entertainers, especially for the observant amused onlooker.
I have had occasion to delve deep into governance mechanisms and have discovered a whole bunch of quaint oddities that need to be shared in these columns with the discerning reader and perhaps in a book some day!
Firstly, the ubiquitous file, which is spelt with the same letters as ‘life’, and ends up being exactly that for all sarkari types. Files provide humour unparalleled at times. Spelling howlers and grammatical mistakes are the norm rather than the exception. Thus the word ‘snacks’ often becomes ‘snakes’ on a file of the Hospitality Department, and the word ‘institution’ often becomes ‘intuition’ on any file.
Secondly, the frequency of meetings is so high, that one becomes aware of certain patterns about them. Thus, some meetings are just for the sake of formality, and everyone goes through the motions. Others are high voltage affairs with a pre-planned assault on a particular officer being the main objective. Yet another type is the largely attended day-long marathon, with lunch provided for to satiate appetites, and everyone nodding off in turns, when they are not in the firing line.
Thirdly, the large numbers of holidays, including anniversaries of personalities one has scarcely heard of, are a source of mirth to friends and family. Since the corporate world scarcely believes in shutting shop except when absolutely necessary, a lady with a career in the private sector whose husband works for the government is sure to crib about the ease of doing ‘business’ on the other side!
Random incidents from years bygone come to mind and inspire a chuckle even today. Once I was driving a gypsy as a young SDM with the DSP seated beside me and a posse of constables at the back. We were on a tense mission and the road was dark. Spotting an unusual switch I pressed it on reflex, wondering what it was for. The very loud sound of ‘Tu cheez badi hai mast mast’ emanated suddenly from a speaker, and loud guffaws followed, thereby easing the atmosphere a great deal, and reminding us of Raveena Tandon instead of the criminals we were looking for!
On another occasion we were waiting for a Minister at Pinjore Gardens with bouquets in hand, when we were told that the said Minister would not be coming. A cop ran up just then to inform us that the Governor had decided to stop over on the way back from Shimla. And without any further ado, His Excellency’s cavalcade zoomed in towards us. As he alighted from his car, the Governor spotted the flowers in our hands, at the ready, and showered praise on us for being so swift in welcoming him. We handed them to him silently, of course, not wanting to burst his bubble!
Yes, there are several glum faced people in government and they always appear so. If only they knew how effortlessly entertaining they are!

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Love’s Unique Avatar in These Frenetic Times- Random Forays by Vivek Atray

Love has always been a “many-splendoured” thing; but has it lost some sheen in recent decades? The whole concept of romantic love centres around the fact that it requires quality time to be spent with the loved one. In recent times, however, time of any sort of quality has become the rarest of commodities.
Our grandparents would vividly recall each moment of their “courtship” (which happened after they were already married!) Those were the days when even a lone instance of the meeting of eyes was considered momentous. There was hardly any opportunity in that era for them to lay their eyes, let alone their hands, on each other before wedlock!

There are even stories of just one glimpse, just one fleeting gaze, just one little look, which made the heart flutter for decades thereafter.

Our parents were not really much better off. They too were excessively shielded from the (supposedly potentially scandalous) influence of the opposite sex. There were some smiles exchanged in college perhaps, and a few love letters here and there, but no real contact. Love was more about pining for the other, about longing and yearning.

Then came a phase when our society became somewhat more permissive. Holding hands was no longer a “sacrilegious” act, even in public. Thus when our generation was “at it”, so to say, we could really plunge into romance headlong. Romance bloomed, especially in urban areas. Dates meant day long outings with no mobile phones to bother about. We could really spend quality love time with our respective beloveds.

The sheer sense of independence that came with being bold enough to date someone without bindings was short-lived though. The smart phone put paid to all such states of unfettered existence. Nowadays those long hours of gazing into each other’s eyes have been replaced by long hours of gazing into mobiles! The result is that the mode of expression of love has been altered irreversibly. There is no longer the unhindered drive to the hills or the uninterrupted walk along the lake side. A distant aunt or a long-lost friend will always call just when a young couple are about to declare undying love for each other!

Personal letters of course became passé years ago. Only a rare charmer writes long-hand love notes these days. The act of writing and then tearing up a letter, and then re-writing it, while biting one’s nails, may seem filmy, but it used to happen!

Our movies too reflect our changed mores of loving. A sense of matter-of-factness has replaced emotional and sensuous love in most of them. Jumping into bed together has become the norm rather than the exception for heroes and heroines, with very little left to the imagination. The charm of ‘what could have been!’ seems to have been lost somewhere along the road.

Unrequited love has been a subject of much analysis by litterateurs and film-makers alike. Even in “The Great Gatsby”, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gatsby loves Daisy to the point of madness, but it is not to be! The best line from the book is perhaps this: “There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired.”

In Hindi cinema, examples of love that could not be abound, right from the times of Pyasa to Ek Duje ke Liye. Current films somehow reflect a business-like sense of love. While it is surely true that young lovers feel very deeply about each other even today, the cake seems to have been taken out of the pudding somehow, with only the icing left to taste.

As Emily Bronte put it, so majestically, “Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same!”

The whole concept of love is thus about soulful feeling and heartfelt magnetism. But our whole existence has become peripheral in a way, with our spans of attention being the greatest sufferers. We feel anchorless at times.

Divine love seems to be the only recourse then. God does not seem to be in a hurry to hear from us, but it may be a good idea to write a letter in pen and ink to Him once in a while!

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The Need to Educate the Educators- Random Forays by Vivek Atray

“There are two educations. One should teach us how to make a living, and the other, how to live”, said John Adams, and he had a point. The real purpose of educating young minds in their growing up years seems to have been eclipsed somewhere along the road.
The Gurukul system of yore was practical and inspiring. Even a few decades ago, teachers would take pride in their profession and many of them were deeply revered by their students. Often, in the classrooms of the present era, information and rote learning have become the main objectives. Inspiration and life skills have taken a back seat.
The individuals who exit the hallways of institutions of learning nowadays are thus well equipped with skills related to number-crunching or software coding, but they know little about life itself.
Teachers have somehow lost the motivation to make a mark in the hearts of their students. They tend to treat their job like any other office goer does, little realising that in their case they are preparing the future of humanity. Every word that they say matters, every anecdote has the potential to inspire, and every rousing lecture is worth its weight in gold.
Aristotle hit the bulls eye centuries ago. “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”, he emphasised.
A school teacher (from the old school!) who retired after 35 fulfilling years found out one day what really matters in life. Standing at a buzzing railway station one evening awaiting his train he found a young couple striding up to him accompanied by a pair of toddlers.
“Sir”, said the young lady, “I’m so delighted to meet you today. It’s been years! I must tell you that you inspired me no end as my class teacher.” And as she proudly introduced the elderly gentleman to her husband and wide eyed kids, there was a tear in his eye. He realised that the real earning of his life was not the salary and pension that he earned, but the goodwill that he had generated amongst hundreds of youngsters over the decades.
Unfortunately, our system has been encouraging sheer numbers over real qualities and raw marks over refined knowledge. Thus while teaching shops and tuition centres thrive, high school students are loath to even attend regular school. The goal of securing admission in top institutions and then careers in blue chip companies usually obfuscates the true purpose of education and even life!
Thus men and women who graduate into the real world from our portals of learning are usually not ready for it. And the reason is usually the example set by parents and teachers. The latter have not found motivation enough to instil in the youth the values and balanced qualities that they need to tackle their future with wherewithal and grace.
Also, it is well known that teaching is not one of the sought after careers these days. Thus there is a need to glamourise and propel to the forefront the supposedly namby-pamby role of being a teacher! This can be done inter alia by improving incentives for true performers and laying emphasis on quality over statistics in teaching assessments.
And once top drawer professionals start making a beeline for teaching as a career option, the scenario would certainly change. In a country of India’s vastness this is easier said than done, but endless dithering will never get us anywhere.
The example of hundreds of well placed young pros who have spent a couple of years at the “Teach for India” or “Make a Difference” programmes, not with the aim of earning money, but to educate the underprivileged, is path breaking.
What is needed is to utilise to the fullest the Faculty Development Programmes that most institutions run these days. Then, if an educator wakes up in the morning with burning zeal within him or her, even 15 years after being in the teaching line, will the real objective be attained.
Without that kind of fire within them today’s educators will never appreciate what Robert Frost meant when he said so beautifully, “I am not a teacher but an awakener!”

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Six Minutes for Parents with Vivek Atray

Parents! Please keep your calmness intact and bolster your kids by staying positive…

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