Saturday, July 13, 2013

Price Tags

Written at: Mahathma Nature Cure Centre, Kannur, Kerala

I only just realised how warped the concept of self-worth has been for most of us. We’re constantly under the influence of the media, social and cultural pressures, striving to attain an ideal we are rarely able to achieve. Surely, some of us do. But I’m talking about those of us who constantly feel a sense of lacuna, in spite and despite of having done everything in our reach.

I realize we attach way too much importance to worldly achievements: it matters what school you went to, what grades you managed, how many extra-curriculars you participated in, career choices you made, how “successful” you have been in getting to the top, how accepted you are in the social circles and how many people you call “friends”. Of course, the list goes on. I have been as much victim to this sort of thinking and I’m sure I continue to be even as I write this, but the realization that I’m more than just these is reassuring.

Having grown up in a city like Bombay, I have always been too busy running after dreams that are far too ambitious. I may achieve what I want some day, or maybe I shall not. But the problem isn’t in being ambitious, or wanting to pursue worldly riches. The problem arises when these achievements become conditions to evaluate the self. Am I worthy of anything if I’m not XYZ? I’m good at ABC but I’m not that (whatever that achievement might be in our head) so maybe I’m not that good.

One always works with the assumption that once you have XYZ, you will feel worthy, you will feel happy. But do we really ever get there? Perhaps not, I’m pretty sure if we covered everything from A to Z in terms of achievements, there would still be something, something we don’t quite have. Clearly, the problem is not one of achievements, but one of perception. A perception of the self that is far too conditional, one that undermines that everything that has been achieved or learnt as being just another achievement and not really significant. Not quite enough!

Well, it’s for the first time I realize that I’m more than my achievements. It’s for the first time I find significance in doing things I always thought as being far too trivial and “unproductive” (A capitalist trap, perhaps?). At this point of time, I don’t have a job, I don’t have a bank balance to see me through unemployment, I’m not in the best of health and I have pretty much nothing a “modern”, urban-bred 27-year old educated woman should have. I will not deny this fact haunts me often, but I’m not going to let such ideas take me down. Our perceptions of self are far too conditional and it’s time we decided the amount of value we place on our “self” ourselves. I’m glad I finally experienced a sense of self-worth which is beyond worldly achievements. In spite of what I have or don’t have, I feel worthy of life!

PS: The monsoons and the green hills work wonders for my creative juicesJ thank you Mother Nature! 

Monday, July 1, 2013


As a student in school as well as in college, I took pride in being the in-house teacher for my class mates. Several children experience difficulty in asking questions in class for they are worried their questions are silly and people may think they’re dumb. But with me, they were happy to ask whatever they wanted and I was happy to help. It’s not just my messiah complex, but I genuinely enjoy teaching. In fact, the prospect of teaching somebody else makes me push myself. I question my intellect “Do I really know this?” and work extra hard to obtain absolute clarity. It’s pleasurable. Too bad I didn’t want to become a teacher by profession. I guess I felt it came to me so naturally that there would be no real challenge in doing something you are already good at?

In any case, I’m terrified of public speaking. I even repress memories of the few times I’ve actually had to address an audience, be it a classroom or just office colleagues. It only involved me being unable to prepare for I’m too inconfident about everything I plan to say. “Is this what I really want to say? Does this really mean this? Am I too fast? Is this unclear? Is this unstructured?” Classic case of performance anxiety.

It is only recently that I decided that it was time I stopped being so scared. May be I do have something to offer to a student. I believed my gut and applied to a coaching institute offering to teach sociology to their students. They readily agreed. In fact, they want me to teach some other general stuff as well. Woohoo! I went home happy. In any case, this is to start only a month later, thus leaving me with enough time to prepare myself for the exercise.

The next day, the lady from the institute calls and says, “Hey are you free to take a class tomorrow?”

Me on the other side of the phone “Umm tomorrow? (Always pays to sound like an eager beaver when it concerns a prospective job…dam) Yeah, sure!”

Lady: “Okay see you at 7:30 AM tomorrow”
In such a situation, what should someone be doing? Start preparing immediately, perhaps! But what do I do? Just prance around the house restlessly, tire myself out and sleep off. I’m so hyper that I’m dysfunctional to even prepare for class.

It is only by 11 PM that I decide that it’s high time I get my act together. Somehow, in an hour’s time I conclude that I know everything I need to know and all I need is a sheet of paper with pointers about what I’d like to say. I thought, if I don’t know what the students don’t know, how can I even prepare?”

I reach class to see my “students” who are only a year or two younger than me. Gulp!
The class began; at first I was a little confused. I had to stop a couple of times to ask if they were on the same page as me. Luckily, the class was interactive and had more gyaan to offer than I did. Fortunately, none of it was refined enough. Once I figured what it is I knew more than them, it was easier to proceed. No one beats me at political correctness and that’s all I had to teach them. They’re going to need it to take the exam anyway. Soon, I got a grip and next thing I notice is that people are taking notes in my class!

When the class was over, I was elated. I was the same person who always feared making presentations in class, struggled to articulate what I wanted to say and was usually the student no teacher ever noticed, only because I made myself invisible even as I sat on the first bench, always.

And here I was, taking a class on Indian Society. A remarkable leap I say, iFear to iCan!