Learning and Development

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The DAD with the DUDE at VARANASI

Our trip to Varanasi had a singular objective. It was all about bonding beyond the realms of a relationship as a father and son. The idea was to discover what is missing in our relationship and start working towards reinforcing the missing links, so that we evolve as matured adults in our respective roles in fortifying our relationship. The journey started on the 9th of June, 2016. By 5.00 pm in the evening, we had packed our bags and ready to start this interesting journey.

We reached Varanasi on the morning of 10th June, 2016 and checked into our hotel.

Our hotel was located at a quaintly named, Englishiya Line close to the cantonment and the railway junction. It has remained the way since the British left with their Raj, leaving no trace of anything British, off course! The hotel has a decent review across the digital portals of Trivago, Bookings and the TripAdvisor and was fairly living up to its reputation of a 4 star user review. The breakfast (buffet), morning newspaper, travel desk, prompt room service, laundry service (same say delivery) and a fantastic line of cooks for the north Indian cuisine. The only avoidable sight was that of a huge durwaan with his mustachioed salaams every now and then, curtly reminding of the bakshish that he was entitled to, at the time of our check-out!

Day 1 was supposed to be a relaxed one but we ended up planning a detailed city tour, not wanting to lose out on anything and everything that the city had to offer.

We went to the Kashi Vishwanath temple, one of the most revered jyotirlings. Despite the best attempts at fending off the vulture like eyes of the notorious religious escorts or the pundits, (as they want to be addressed to) we were caught off guard and had to accost a couple of them in reasoning out with a blatant lie, that we were familiar with the temple terrain. One of the more adventurous pundits actually came within a menacing proximity to establish his right to accompany us to the temple against a fee as he considered it to be well within his rights. My reaction was a spur of the moment, self righteous defensive act to whisk him off by confronting him in a chaste Hindi, which if detailed over here implied, “take a fly, I am a badass”!

I felt reassuring with what I did, as my son clasped my hands, comforting me.

The rituals at the temple were marked with an anticipated fleecing by the shopkeepers in their invite to lodge our cell phones, shoes, leather accessories and camera in their lockers and under their custody. The actual idea was to sell the offerings (prasaad) for the presiding deity and his consort. The gimmick of monetizing the fear for God yields a handsome return for all the middlemen who consider their appointment as a coercive medium; for the hapless devotees in their atonement for countless sins that they may not have even committed. The only hope being the promise of freeing oneself from the birth cycle or to attain nirvana that most of us would want to accomplish. After the rituals, we gave a miss to an iconic landmark, called the ‘Kachouri galli’ for the want of time as we moved towards the ghats.

The boat ride was something that I wanted to avoid but for the insisting eyes of my son, that implored for and wanted a Yes!  Looking at the receding water levels I let the brave man in me, scout for a boatman and there was a bevy of them while I singled out Manoj from the crowd. I had my hand on his shoulder and while negotiating with him on the boat ride fee, I was in for a pleasant surprise when he offered me the one hour cruise on the Ganga at 50% discount to what the others were asking. I caught the silent admiration in Anweshan’s (my son) eyes.

Your hand was on my shoulder while descending the stairs, I thought you were looking for support and then you addressed me with an ‘Aap’ and you still had your hands holding my shoulder, you made me feel human”. Manoj was helping us to get on the boat, extending his hands to help us walk over the rocks while talking to us, as I learnt from him that respect comes at the cost of discounting our personal bias.

It was such an incredible learning for the father and the son!

The one hour cruise on the Ganga was near normal an experience as we had expected it to be. After having gone through so many travelogues, pictures and the blogs on Varanasi, the Google has tapered our expectation to a state of non ecstasy. We spent the time less on admiring the ghats and the chequered history behind them but more on Manoj and his life and the times. Manoj is a father to two daughters, both studying at school. He shifts his time and shuffles his occupation between the weaving of the famous Banarasi sarees and pulling the boat, earning around 15,000 to 20,000/- a month and peaking at the rush during the October to January season. His aspirations were as streamlined as the serenity of the flowing Ganga. It was difficult to notice any turmoil or upheavals at the surface but what became evidently visible was his impatience to break free of the shackles and the bondage of living each day, as it came.

We noticed a young boy creatively ingenious in carving a boat out of Thermacol sheets and selling ‘diyas’ to the tourists taking a pleasure ride in their boats.What an incredible way to make a living out of the deeply embedded fear that many of us have for our Gods!

On our return from the ghats, we noticed that the Swatch Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission) was the buzz word with ‘Mutralayas’ (urinals) and ‘Shauchalayas’ (toilets) adorning every possible nook and corner of the city. Although, the city did not come across as spanking clean, it was heartening to note that the local shopkeepers were putting up garbage bins in front of their shops and asking their patrons to discard the wastes in the bins.

Varanasi city has the greatness of being known as a city of temples, a sobriquet that comes from the vastness of appeal when it comes to faith. The Gyanvapi mosque, the St. Thomas Church, the Buddhist pagodas and the Jain temples adds to its religious flavour. It is a pilgrimage for the God fearing masses learning to accept and convert into God Loving souls. A beautiful example to promote the grandeur of Unity in Diversity that was further exhibited in the resplendence of the Sandhya Aarti at the Ghats in the evening with people from almost all faiths getting immersed in the trance of Vedic chants, amidst the serenity of the flowing Ganges.

Varanasi is a city to renounce the abject miseries of faith to learn the virtues of Belief!

Day 2 was the one we had planned to make the most out of the day. We were travelling to Sarnath and Rampur fort and the on our return, make a cursory trip the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and closing the day with some shopping for folks back at home. The drive took us across the heart of the city and we were making silent notes of the dugout roads, imposing concrete layouts for the flyovers, the Momo shops, the Biriyani joints, the on-shop thanda (cold) beer outlets, the shopping malls, dozens of tolerant mannequins braving the heat and dust in front of the showrooms, the upcoming gated communities and the striking bill boards which were announcing the clout and the might of the tutorial (coaching) classes churning out IIT graduates and Doctors with the alacrity of a Robot giving finishing touches in the assembly line of a factory!

Varanasi is bursting at its seam. I could relate to the compulsive and aggrieved eagerness of the city, to prove a point. The city wants to breathe free off its fictional status, a stereotype subscribed to its mythical roots. The KFC, Pantaloons, Westside, Adidas, and Dell were shouting aloud to find an identity for Varanasi beyond the ghats and the kachouri galli. Even the new generation pehalwans, we were told, were joining the gyms and trying out the protein supplements.

Driving in the city of Varanasi requires no less of an acrobatic skill. I had heard of the bulls blocking the movement but now, the fancy electric carriages are the new age bulls, to add to the enterprise value of OLA. Imagine an alley converted to a road with concrete dividers paving the one way rule. SUVs, MUVs, hatchbacks, sedans, rickshaws, autos, two wheelers and the e- autos plying and vying for their share of the pie, on the roads! Our driver Kamlesh had a word of wisdom to offer. “If you are a bhaiyaji, a bahubali or the Ruling party's sycophant flaunting the flag in your Scorpio, you are first among equals!”

After a near comfortable ride to the Sarnath ruins and the Museum, admiring the ASI's (Archaeological Survey of India) work on excavation and restoration over the years, to help us educate about our past, we drove to the Rampur fort. We had lipsmaking chaats and lassi as our lunch for the day and then drove to the BHU. A campus that came as a clear departure from the hustle and bustle of the city, with imposing buildings as academic wings, hostels with the young students engrossed in their interpretation of a tomorrow. We came back to the hotel and after the siesta, went ahead with our shopping.

I actually, found a new reason to take myself seriously. People around were addressing me as 'sethji' and I found it very convenient to wield the new found authority crossing the roads or being offered privileges, be at the temple or at the ghats! The feeling was short lived as my son pointed to my protruding belly and a sharp near perfect Hindi diction to be the real reason behind the new found fame! After a series of technical glitches that prevented the usage of the credit card at various shops, that were sporting the Visa and Master card stickers, we settled for cash transaction to conclude our shopping for sarees, sweet meats and some artifacts. On our way out, came across this episode when a wealthy Bhaiyaji with his family was coming out of a shopping mall. The driver was late to arrive from the parking to pick up his Sahib.

"Mare tere gariya mein, dui laath (invoking his mother), muh se khoon bhakbhak phenkey marey, baap bole, beta paan chabake marr gaya"!
(Will kick your bum and you will die, spilling blood on the road. while your father will keep lamenting, my son died, chewing beetle leaf). Bhaiyaji Ishtyle!

Day 3 was the last day that was meant to recount our travel and its objective. We, the father and the son duo spoke to each other, mentioning our discoveries during the trip. My son had three distinct expectations out of the trip. We love each other but we need to give more time to the relationship by appreciating the fact that he is no longer a toddler to be directed what is next. We must be sensitive to his need for a space and privacy which must be respected and trips of such nature must be repeated once every six months. And, lastly we must help him grow up by allowing him to take decisions.

The Dad and the Dude came back home, looking at each other appreciatively much to the delight of the Dude’s mother who had an elaborate dinner spread out for them at 11.00 pm in the night!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Training to be a Buddy to my Son

I had received this communication from the HR department, asking for a self nomination to a workshop titled Work Life Balance.

Training sessions to me have been those out of turn days, when you are paid to be on a leave and very importantly no phone calls. At the end of the session, it was all about wielding the most powerful weapon while filling up the Feedback form.

The Trainer would have by them undetaken many tedious tactics, throughout the session, to ensure that the participants rate and rank the session most satisfactory.

The learning had very little to offer when it required me to go back to work from the next day and thus the feedback on the session was a cursory end of day attendance, after a sumptuous lunch at a five star address.

But this time the training module sounded very different. There was a brief on the trainer and a write-up. What to expect out of the session? It proclaimed that the session was designed to help the participants strike a fine balance between the personal and professional life.

Do not carry work to home and home to work!

As a father, it was a revelation. I did not want to attend the workshop for the paid holiday or for the lunch but wanted to come back home with a sense of relief and get back to work the very next day, charged up to even out the odds.

When I came back home that day, I realised that I wanted a slice of the day for my son.
I deserved to watch him grow up and I have to be unfailing in my work and life by balancing the day. I wanted to groom my son to be someone that I could not or did not become myself!

The first step to the grooming was to get him to a school, know to be churning out prototypes for success, one after another. It was an unending sense of accomplishment when he made it to one of the reputed schools and I was already visualizing him as that ‘someone’, I could not be.

It was quite late for me to realise that I was gradually getting sucked in to a black hole of questionable discontent, if my son did not match up to a benchmark that I had created for him. He was growing up getting measured by a cup held by me. The cup that never got filled up to its brim.

There was something or the other that was always missing in him. It was him being untidy, messy, insensitive, laid back and sassy in his ways. All these were being recorded in an invisible progress report measured by my grooming barometer. It was never him or why he came across, the way he is!

I found it unbecoming of a father to be patient or empathetic to my son. I had to be grumpy, inaccessible and rock solid when it came to my external demeanour so that he always had to think twice before opening up to me. Questioning me was an unpardonable crime!

I was grooming him!

In the process I gave him all the time; the most relevant ‘take away’ for me, from the Work Life Balance workshop. And then one day, I woke up from my slumber when he had finished school with flying colours.

My son wanted a friend, mentor and a counselor to help him chose his life. That meant, I had to unlearn all the years of self imposed doctrines of fatherhood to reclaim a life out of our relationship.

“Well, that’s not difficult Baba”. Anweshan remarked with his eyes gazing at me but with a smirk. “Let me be a father to you for some time and you will have that someone that you wish to see in me! But the condition is, let’s make a trip, only you and me during this summer vacation to the city of renunciation to rejoice and re-discover the the city of temples, Varanasi”.

He actually meant a revisit to our relationship to evolve stronger in our bond.

We are making the trip this month, to come back as the best of buddies!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Raising you Boy, to be a Man!

In five months from now, he turns to be an adult, officially!

I discovered my parenthood with his birth and named him Anweshan. It was such an amazing feeling looking at him, squirming in the hands of the obstetrician when the Doctor called for his father. The day was 29th of November, 1998 at 5.08 pm (Sunday). While, there were a handful of people around me, immersed in their own merriment, I was immobile with an overwhelming feeling of the obvious, the duty to raise a child, the responsibility to groom him to be self reliant and successful and the pride unbound, of having procreated a progeny to perpetuate.

The raising of my son was fraught with my own limitations. When look at those days today, the priority was to create sanity out of limitless expectations from all those folks, who would eventually matter only at the social occasions. Their omnipresence would have been missed if they did not pin point the presence of the obvious, called a tradition. Anything that remained unqualified to be considered a newly blessed parents’ wish, to be admonished and disapproved as ‘Nyakami’. (Feigning ignorance)

The visit of the neighbourhood ‘Hijras’ and their distasteful gyration of arms and hips with hoarse and cacophonous threats to extract a ransom, made me sit up and confront them as a father. Our son was born with jaundice and was under medical supervision and I could not take their heaping of curses at the new born. I remember taking out a wad of currency (the salary was credited by that time) waved at them and while their eyes gleamed at the prospect of a handsome earning, I hurled back the choicest of expletives at them. They were not prepared for the outburst from a ‘Bhadrolok’ (gentleman) and there was this pin drop silence. 

The leader of the pack, Dipali Chakraborty (yes, I remember her name) came forward and apologized, made a silent prayer invoking powers that be and nursed Anweshan with her gentle hands. In chaste English, she spoke of their helplessness of having been socially ostracized to be at the mercy of a fear that envelops our superstition, in making a living. I had a lump in my throat, I wanted to hand over whatever money I had with me, but she took 101/- and some other gifts. Her parting lines were, “be careful with the hygiene, wash your hands before taking him in your arms and yes, no one from my tribe will bother you, ever”.

I remember asking for Lactogen at the pharmacy and the pride that came along with it. I remember buying him the first Teddy bear. I remember his chuckle at seizing something twice his size and failing to make the Teddy, his bear. Oh, so adorable. I remember the sleepless nights, taking turns with his mother (although not every night) to attempt at singing a lullaby that made him yell back at me and eventually settling for a more sensible fare of fables and tales from the Aesop’s and Thakumar Jhulee! I remember aiming the analog camera, when he started crawling on the floor or making feeble attempts to walk, blowing bubbles in the air enjoying his monosyllables. It was a sheer delight, watching him grow. I was raising my son.

And, in all these, I suddenly found fostering an adversary in my wife and his mother. The lactating mother is God’s single biggest bias against a father. The baby boy cuddles and snuggles into the safest nest, his mother. The nature’s bounty for motherhood! Looking back at those moments helps me feel the family, a circle which is incomplete without one another!

Accompanying him to his first day at the playschool along with my wife was a day when I was basking in the glory, of having been identified with a tribe called father. He went in, only to come out in the tizzy along with a swarm of daisies and a bunch of bunnies, his mother comforting him along with a sea of other overindulgent mothers to coax them back to their classes. We, the fathers were standing amused to look at each other’s child to figure out, if he or she was the cry baby! If not, it was such a moment of triumph.

Well, my son is not crying and the exchange glances with the other fathers throwing a dig at them.
Hello Charlie, do something! Ask you boy to grow up!

The pride was short lived as a new father; we did not know that these toddlers have a herd mentality.

They watch and act on the overwhelming stimulus around, to join their band of brothers and sisters in an uncoordinated orchestra of wailing. Any inexperienced attempt at trying to soothe them adds to their motivation and then it becomes a symphony of the wild. The mothers being mothers will still try to calm their nerves and in many cases would end up sending back the kids to their classes and the fathers would be nowhere to be seen. Some would be making animated phone calls; some would be smoking over tea, discussing politics and the state of affairs while some would be blasphemously admiring the kindergarten teachers and other’s wives.

But the common thread in all these three cases would be squinting at their kid’s fate on the first day at the school.

Men will be men and fathers will be fathers!

I started raising my son.