Echoes – II

Echoes – I.

I find the news about Tom unacceptable. I was unsure of what to make of it. I wasn’t alone. There were so many who felt like this. The furtive exchange of messages on various forums were a testament to the opaque and tragic nature if the news. I know that some of us who felt the loss turned to his blog to reaffirm his presence. He had raised his writing over the years and had been regular. Every story narrated with that seasoning of personal experience. In everyone’s mind Tom had been a brilliant personality. His writing will endure and reflect that brilliance in a small way.

Echoes – I

It’s difficult to gauge the impact people have had on you. This blog was much livelier at one point of time. Why so? I think it’s an easy answer to give. At the time I was surrounded by individuals who drove me to think and write about things. When they moved on a lot of that motivation and flow went along with them. Now I’m trying to teach myself to understand and work with the void. Before the reader can exist, I think I have to learn to write for myself.

At one point when this blog just existed, I did write with a lot more freedom. It’s a whole lot easier that way. Somehow that conversation doesn’t seem to exist any longer. Like a flickering light bulb it brightens and then dims unpredictably. That training to just come here and write seems to have vanished. That training to focus for extended periods of time in writing seems to have gone.

I’d spent a great number of years writing here for the web. At the time blogging was still a pretty new concept. Nobody really read my blog, but then again anybody could read it. I didn’t really understand the idea so well. I started the blog as something I thought would just stick with me and it did.

A colleague who first found my blog remarked that I was writing ‘so that I would remember my experiences when I’m older’. That was prescient. In a way what we write will live on even beyond us.

I wrote through my first job, I wrote through my post-graduate years and then later I wrote some more. Altogether 6 years worth of writing existed. I compiled it all together on this place when I decided to move to India.

Back home, I’d begun working with a colleague closely. Let’s call them Tom. I recall we got together and reviewed my blog going through each post. I remember it being in a professional context, but my writing was personal. The review may have had something to do with the fact that the blog was very visible when someone searched for me. I’m certain that colleague got the idea of why something like that needed to exist. On the other hand, the implications were awkward to spell out. Should we hide some of the posts? I was uncomfortable with the idea that every word that I’d put up here was being scrutinized.

I respect those who can write about their work in a commanding and engaging manner. If you’ve been able to get to that point, it couldn’t have been easy. Writing about someone can help boost them, or it can hurt them irrevocably. I’ve been at both ends, as the writer and as the written. It can also be beneficial. Imagine a single founder plugging away their experiences on a blog. An outlet for the frustrations they’re grappling with. Here the line between personal and professional doesn’t exist any longer.

Later Tom and I moved apart. I like to think he took something from here. He began to write for himself at a very different level, mastering the medium. I loosely stayed in touch with him and his writing. The void rolled in as time went on.

This afternoon, I was with my toddler when I received a text ‘Did I know the news about Tom?’ I did not. I hadn’t spoken to him in a while. I learned through friends that he had passed away in a freak accident. The unpredictable nature of life had hit hard. Remember that void I spoke about earlier? I felt it right there. There was nothing else to go by. I found some time for myself and I looked up their blog. I started to go over Tom’s writing. In an abstract way, he was there for that little bit, narrating his experiences.

Echoes – II.

Bishop’s 1994, our 25th Year Reunion

Earlier this year, the Bishop’s School Camp Principal Mr. Joel Edwin reached out to me to meet. Little did I know then that it would set in motion a truly special sequence of events. It was a unique opportunity to reawaken the school spirit that was dormant all these years.

Rahul Kocchar, Mr. Joel Edwin Principal The Bishop’s School Camp and me.

A sunny May-morning Rahul Kocchar and I visited the school in response to Mr. Edwin’s email. The school was on holiday and we met up with & Mr. Dawson & Mr. Edwin at his office. He wanted our support to get the class of 1994 together. Our class was to be guests of honor at the Junior School Sports Day on 11th December. Although their email had gone out earlier, the response was tepid. Rahul and I reached out to our classmates that same day to begin organizing an outreach.

Mr. Joel Edwin brings with a fresh perspective with him to alumni relations. I remember our first meeting at the 150-year anniversary organization team meetings. Mr. Edwin and I’d never met but he spoke to me like a headmaster might speak to any student. He welcomed me back to the fold with scolding. Why had I stayed away from school for so long? It’s this level of familiarity and sense of family he maintains that is the driving force behind renewed school-alumni relations.

When Satish, Vikram, Kishore, Rahul, Vishal, Janak, and the other boys met up for the first couple of meetings, the extent of their ambition was astonishing. In the first couple of meetings our key goals were set. We were to throw a dinner for our former teachers, many of whom had retired. Teachers were to be driven to and from all the events. The class of 1994 would pay a fitting tribute to our beloved former Principal Mr. B.W. Roberts by creating a bust in his honor. Would the school approve of the bust? Would the alumni contribute to achieving our goals and attend enthusiastically?

The core team backed up their intentions with strong efforts and co-ordination. Answers to all questions had to be sought out. Satish brought together the class of X-A reviving old connects. Confirmations and donations began pouring in from alumni all over the world. As the big day got closer, the tempo of the core team began to step up. More joined the core team to help manage music, connect with teachers. Speeches were written, the core team met with each teacher to invite them and to take pictures for secret mementos. The school support staff was also to be recognized, especially the long-serving members.

X-A 1994 together again.

The big day had arrived and we met at Harding Hall for breakfast and to put on our school ties and belts. Once again we were to be schoolboys. We walked over to the Jeejeebhoy Ground as guests of honor along with the wonderful and former Junior School Principal Mrs. Roberts to flag off the Sports day. Altogether 55 old boys had made it from all corners of the world.

As the day progressed, one by one our former teachers began to arrive. Former Bishops headmaster, Mr. Guzder, Mr. Dupratt, Mr. Fernandes, Mr. Chavan, Mrs. Jolly, Mrs. Postwala, Mrs. Singh, Mr. J. Bhaskaran, Mr. Varghese, Mr. Dolas, Mrs. Randhawa, Mrs. Daniels, Mrs. Oliver, and many other teachers were in attendance. Colonel Simant Upadhyay of ’94 gave a moving address encouraging all to step up and live up to every challenge.

Mansfield House takes the Salute.

That afternoon, we assembled outside The B.W. Roberts Building to pay tribute to Mr. Roberts, to our former teachers who were no longer with us and for the unveiling of the bust. Those who spoke about Mr. Roberts shared a glimpse of the kind of person that he was, the love that he had for the school and the people behind it. He was a General in every sense of the word said Mr. Guzder, and galvanized those around him to action. A special moment was a moving rendition of “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ol’ Oak Tree” by two present students. A fitting tribute to the man who led us in every regard.

“A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold”

The night’s Dinner was our tribute to our teachers, to be with them and to enjoy their company once more. Several more moving and sentimental speeches were made by teachers and students as the drinks flowed and the night wore down. Our teachers thanked us for their mementos, a personalized picture of them with words students would often use to describe them.

Class of 1-A with Mrs. Oliver our class teacher.

25 years on we still enjoyed a sense of belonging and warmth that we had in school. To watch the spark of recognition flare in our teachers’ eyes for each and every one of us was priceless. To echo Mr. Dolas’ words, we all went away from that day with our glasses full of emotions. I know that the love and respect we extended to our teachers that day would go a long way. Even as I write, some of the boys continue to help teachers out with the funds that were gathered. If anything, what the class has done is only a reflection of their sincere efforts to shape us through those 11 years, to smoothen out our rough edges and perhaps to show us a glimpse of who we now are.

We will always remember our roots.
The class of 1994 with their teachers, Headmaster and Principal.
The class of 1994 together again.

Mr. Boland Roberts, Bishop’s School Pune

Mr. Boland Roberts was former principal of The Bishop’s School Camp from January 1973 to June 1999. Mr. Roberts as he was fondly known as passed away on the 12th of April 2018.

He was my principal for 11 years. I thought a note of how I remembered him would be my contribution in celebrating a truly incredible person’s journey.

The most amazing thing about Mr. Roberts was his beaming smile. It makes it hard to imagine the person who owned that smile was also a disciplinarian. If you knew the gentleness of his smile you’d have trouble reconciling those ideas too. When I remember him, he’s leaning over me as a much smaller boy, smiling down and asking me a tough, direct question to engage me. He often moved around the school grounds after morning assembly in his black cape, occasionally speaking to boys he ran into.

Other old boys will recall he personally handed out certificates before school gatherings, providing a firm handshake and verbal encouragement to every boy for every reward. I remember receiving a book at his hands in class VI and every time I went up there to meet him, it was special. He did his best to make it so.

Class X of ’93 had a serious run in with him. They were caught by him in the St. Mary’s annual fair despite having clear instructions that they were not to attend. This was a classic moment of rebellion and they were pulled up by Sir himself. Schools can go much easier now, but back then I believe Mr. Roberts genuinely wanted the boys of Bishop’s to be gentlemen ambassadors of the school.

He was my principal in class X of ’94 and continued to lead the school up to his retirement in 1999. He ran the school with vigor and I’m sure he enjoyed every day of it. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and I believe his immense contribution in making Bishop’s an institution will be remembered.

Forty

I’ve turned forty! I really hope I’m getting wiser, some of the signs say otherwise hilariously.

The morning began with getting my son to the school bus stop. After we got on the bus, there was lingering anxiety for so many things. For instance, where did he lose his pencil-box? There are so many things that aren’t in our control. A dear friend called to check in with me. It didn’t take long for us to get around to his business, to trade ideas and to share advice.

In this past year if I’ve learned anything it’s that as I get older the debt that I owe to my parents, family, colleagues, and friends only grows. I’m glad to have such awesome people to share my journey.

Enthusiasm Behind Perseverance

Mathieu Ricard’s notes on perseverance at meditation encouraged me to write about the examples of people around me transforming enthusiasm into perseverance.

At work, I have a colleague who’s now completed more than 2 decades as a founder, CEO of the same company. I had the good fortune of spending an entire day watching him work. His pitch about his company may have changed over all these years, but when the occasion calls for it – he puts in a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm behind that pitch. I’ll bet that intensity of energy has only grown over the years. I once asked him how he manages to continue to stay interested in what he does? “There’s always something new to pursue” he answered.

At home, my better half balances responsibilities at our home and a full-time job. She’s now completed 8 years as a professional and she has a sense pride in how everything comes together. Cheekily I’m always looking for opportunities to remind her how awesome our home looks now that we’ve finally been able to finish it and about so many other things that would not have been possible without her. Nevertheless, there are times when the balance goes out of whack and it becomes imperative to put out the flames of discouragement.

There are many such examples of perseverance in the people around me that I can uncover. I welcome the enthusiasm that I’ll experience in the night before I’ll go running the next day. Or the energy I’ll feel when someone new joins the team at work.

I eagerly work towards moments when users spontaneously respond to an application that I’ve been working on. Rare and special, these discoveries send a eureka-like electricity through the mind. From the users perspective, this is appropriately labelled the A-ha moment. It’s a well-designed application that’ll deliver this milestone consistently. If a user’s hit that milestone, they’re more likely to come back to use the application, refer it to others and to use the application towards their next moment. So now you know why in consumer software you’re a user!

It’s difficult to see how perseverance pays off in the near term but it’s important and I think just like the A-ha moment it’s also the secret behind every big story. Like financial interest, it does compound and the right efforts do pay off in bigger ways the longer you’ll stay at it. It’s evidence of such experiences that impel me to keep going and to work through the sticky stuff that the longer journeys tend to throw at you. At the end of the day if you can spend a few moments to call up some subtle enthusiasm for the challenges of the next- I believe that’ll hold you in good stead.

A clutch of thoughts with no specific objective

A few thoughts on achievement. It’s a good idea to aspire to achieve.

On achieving whatever it is that you desire, it’s certainly possible to lose connection to the emotional content of your work. For instance, it’s never easy to come in every day with a smile. I’m fortunate to know of a few rare, exceptional people who can do that.

Another visual that comes to mind is the blogger who can see her audience’s claps (and Likes if you must) but knows inside herself that her product is a shadow of her former self. There will always be way more popular blog authors out there, but they all know what I mean when I write that.

What does one do then?

In such times I’d say, dare to dream bigger. To dream new. Dream on. But don’t stop working.

2014 Goes By

A viral cold has brought with it an opportunity to reflect. Going over all the events that dot the past year, I realize how challenging it can be to nurture an idea to fruition. Tangible outcomes, the ones you can feel or touch, those that are real to you and everyone else; they’re hard to create from scratch.

I’ve joined up this year’s Startup Leadership Program from Pune. Although I was greeted with initial questions on “what are *you* doing here?”, as I went through the program it’s helping me open up in many ways. An interesting discovery for me has been to learn that a significant number of startup founders had begun their own spiritual journeys. A friend called that leaning out as “downshifting”.

Through the entire year, I trialed three different ventures. One which I setup at the beginning of this year, another which I joined in Bangalore in June and the final one only recently which stuck and continues to evolve. The experience of teaming up with collaborators to solve a problem energizes me for weeks together, although I don’t explicitly seek it out, the rush is welcome.

An emergent sequence of circumstances brought me back in the saddle of running the community website – punestartups.org for startups based out of Pune. With it came the ability to contrast design habits around products for the desktop and for the mobile-first world. I’m now certain that India is going to be a mobile-only connected audience.

My son’s growing up. He’s interacting and racking up those inches. He isn’t putting on a lot of weight. He enjoys sharing his world with us and vies for our attention, especially on days when my better half and I are working from home. He’s devised infallible ways of interrupting whatever we’re doing. Crawling up to my desk on all fours, he barks a sweet puppy dog bark alerting me to his presence.

Apart from the usual routines I’ve made it a habit to run, build software and meditate whenever I get the chance. I’ve signed out off the many digital social networks and they’ve been replaced by other networks of a different kind.

I’m looking forward to the next year.

Growing Children, Growing Parents

Our 3.5 year old boy attends a local Nursery not far from where I live. We’re fortunate that he’s been able to fit right in and that he looks forward to attending. We think it may have something to do with the attention that he gets there, the experienced teachers, the methodology but we can’t be certain.

Earlier this week the school invited us for an open day to share the kids’ work. Parents were asked not to speak to the teachers about how their kids were doing so, but they cornered the teachers anyway. It was eye-opening to see that almost every parent who was there shared the same question, the same anxieties.

As parents we do our best to grow our little boy. We hope that we’re imparting the right values, opening him up to the right experiences and that our contribution will enable him to grow and take life on on his own terms. On one hand, we know that it’s one life and on the other hand, one can’t take parenting too seriously either.

With that backdrop let’s revisit the question – “How is my child doing?” asked every concerned parent, including ourselves. I believe we were really asking “How are we doing as parents?” To every parent, the teacher is the neutral observer who weighs in on the values every child has picked up at home and displays in the classroom. My little guy is a tad unpredictable – he’s won his teacher over and at home we see a very different person.

His teacher shared a tiny insight into how his mind works. He loves to be approached as an adult would. His wish is that everyone around him respect his wishes and not necessarily adhere to them. Whether that is the key to his behavior or otherwise, I can certainly say that I’ve crossed that lines several times.

I get up in the morning and after getting through a few daily rituals, I wake him up to get ready for school. I then change and wash him. I do this daily. Although in theory, this ought to be pretty simple – there are days when I botch this up thoroughly. An explosion of yelling ensues as he gets upset and my better half has to step in to referee the situation. On good days we get through it in a breeze.

As he grows past the three’s, the most engaging activities for me as a parent are the ones we both can enjoy together. While I can’t ride the junior trampoline at the park with him, I certainly can enjoy trading ideas on what we can build together with his blocks. Recalling our quiet sessions assembling blocks evokes how every child feels, peeling away a sense of play, exploration, sharing and more. They renew my confidence that I can play and work with my child.

For a brief moment Parents be children; Children be parents.