Friday, July 29, 2016

The Paradoxes of Our Lives - What We Believe Strongly As the Truth, Is Certainly A Lie

What we believe strongly (key word) to be the truth for ourselves, will most certainly show up as a lie we created for ourselves.

Strong beliefs have that tendency to overlook the obvious. To believe what we want to believe. Hitler did it, Bush did it, so many did it before us.

When suffering from strong beliefs, pipe down and check if the opposite is true. Whether what we believe is really the truth, or a big lie.

Helps move from stuck positions. (Caution: Stuck, by its very use, means that any movement from it could be painful! Have fun!!)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Thought for the Day - To Grow Is To Merge Into the Big Ocean

To grow, merge into the big ocean.

You can't grow by isolating yourself in the swimming pool.

PG Wodehouse - Plum - Bookmark - BBC Documentary - 1989

Priceless!

Anjali - Save the Giant Panda Campaign

Yesterday I was backing the car out of the gate to drop Anjali at school when I saw two papers stuck on the gate. I stopped to examine what these papers were - they looked like important looking notices from impotant departments - which is normally cause for concern. On closer inspection I found that the top one, fully drenched in the over night rain but hanging on like the last leaf in O. Henry's classic story of the same name, was actually a cry to save the Giant Panda by Anjali.


  
The drenched appeal to 'Save the Giant Panda'
Written in pencil was this message.

"Save the Giant Panda!
To know how, look below.

(If you like it, tick it.)

When you look below you find a print out with information on the various ways to help the Giant Panda. Obviously this concern for the Giant Panda is coming out of the school project she did a day before on endangered and extinct animals where the Panda and the Dodo came into picture. There's nothing much one can do for the poor dodos, but the fact that Giant Pandas only eat bamboos and in large quantities and are no longer able to because those habitats were being reduced and threatened by humans, must have begun the current campaign.

The print out had a lot of information (you could tick on what you like). I am pasting the entire content of the print out in the blog (putting it on the blog is one of the things you could do to help the Giant Panda  as is written below). I must admit that was not my primary intent because I was more interested in the creativity of the act initially. But this is what one good deed or intent can do. It can make others think and act.
 
Friend of Giant Pandas 
Every good intent and deed deserves and gets support, big and small. Good job Anjali, for persisting with your thought and putting it out there even if it was raining and even if your effort might have been washed away. But the paper clung on through the rain, like your thought surely, and I saw it and I am sure many more will. I am sure many people will donate for the cause and that the Giant Pandas will have lots of bamboo to eat and do fine ever after.

If there's one thing to learn from this, it's that we can go out and do what we can, in our limited space and time and energy without thinking really of whether anyone will notice (like the painter who painted his masterpiece in the cold, snowy night in the 'Last leaf'). Great possibilities may emerge. So a teacher in a school gives out a thoughtful assignment, the child thinks, the child acts and then the small ripple gains momentum. Wonderful stuff what one thought can do.


A paper on a gate in rainy weather! But she didn't let those limitations or possibilities stop her. She believed perhaps that someone would see and do their bit. And that one act of faith can lead to another and another. I am so glad for the Giant Pandas that they have friends like Anjali who contribute with all their might.

The Print Out With Information (content below)

What The Print Out Says

Travel smart
Panda tourism is on the rise. The Chinese government and WWF are now working on ways to reduce the impact of tourism on panda habitats, by promoting eco-tourism.




Other ways you can help
spread the word
Do you have your own website or blog? Why not 
link to us.
HOW YOUR MONEY CAN HELP

€ 15 ($19) Could buy 5 cartridges of film for infrared cameras used to monitor giant pandas and other animals in the Minshan Mountains.

€ 44 ($56) Could buy a water-proof suit for a ranger who patrols the panda's habitat.

€ 44 ($56) Could support a ranger for a five-day training course on GIS (Geographic Information System), which will help collect more accurate and critical information about the giant panda’s habitat.

€ 89 ($111) Could buy an energy-saving stove, which saves half the annual firewood that a household traditionally uses for cooking and heating.

€ 222 ($278) Could buy a biogas energy system, which would save half the annual firewood used per household, improve the sanitation of the home and get a cleaner energy source.

€ 222 ($278) Could buy an infrared camera (including film and battery) to be used for animal-friendly monitoring of wild animals in nature reserves.

€ 340 ($427) Could provide a household home garden, which would alleviate poverty by planting walnut, pepper, and other kinds of vegetables to be sold or used in the home.

€ 1,109 ($1,392) Could save an injured giant pand
a.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Thought for the Day - When In Doubt, Compare the Choices and Choose in Favor of Growth

Many times we choose unclearly. We end up doing things we ought not be doing. Like let's say something that's not good for you. Why would you do it knowing fully well it's not good for you? Whatever the reasons, these decisions impact our growth, our quality of our life, our career, our financial condition, our health, relationships and pretty much everything.

I know I need to eat healthy stuff and in smaller portions. I know I need to exercise. But I choose to eat unhealthy stuff and in large portions. When it's time to exercise, I don't. I stay up late watching useless stuff on TV. I end not feeling good about it. It's not what I want to do I feel but something compels me to do it.

One way to get clear about making the choices is to ask this question before doing anything one is unclear or unsure about - what's a better choice? Or rather, what should I be doing for my growth? The alternatives are evident always. If not, one at least ends up being clear that this decision is an outcome of choice. Either way there is clarity in thought, in action.

When unclear about choices, ask the q - is there something better that I'd rather be doing (that aids my growth). If there is, the choice is obvious.

If both choices, still do not appeal, refrain (from unsure action).

If on the other hand you have no better choice and you want to go ahead with the unsure choice, commit wholeheartedly to whatever you set out to do. At least now you're clear why you are doing it.

The road in between does not lead to a happy space. But chosen well, with a few such decisions a day, life could take a U turn for the better.

Orientation Session - Department of Dance, University of Hyderabad

I am a big fan of Orientation Classes. It sets everybody up with the right expectations. Its definitely not a good idea to assume that everyone knows what to do and how. That's a reason why orientation classes help - to clearly set expectations and shine some light on the way forward. It's like telling cricket teams - boys we are here to win. It's what everyone probably knows but saying it sets the boundaries clear and builds energy.

I requested Dr. Sivaraju, Dean, Department of Dance, to give me a shot at speaking to freshers as they come so they have a full two year period to plan. It's easier for someone who has been there to guide them along the major areas to plan and prepare for. I am so glad Dr. Sivaraju considered the idea and gave me a session early into the semester, yesterday.

The Mindset - Fixed vs Learning / Growth Mindset
If one understands the importance of choosing the right Mindset or Approach one can learn anything. So we examined some of the major points of the bestselling book 'The Mindset - A New Psychology for Success' by Dr. Carol Dwecke.

We examined the advantages of a Growth or Learning Mindset over a Fixed Mindset. The Learning Mindset gives one freedom to ask, to grow and to be fine with not knowing everything. The Fixed Mindset is stuck in the idea that it knows everything and any thing that is not known is a direct commentary on its intelligence or talent. If one gives the freedom of saying I-don't-know but am willing to learn, the other is a self-imposed prison of I-know even when one doesn't.

Some characteristics of the Fixed Mindset are - a desire to look smart (without backing it with hard work, knowledge and process), avoiding challenges, giving up easily, being defensive, seeing effort as fruitless, feeling threatened by others successes and as a consequence, stagnating in growth.

The characteristics of the Learning Mindset are - a desire to learn, embracing challenges, persisting in the face of setbacks, seeking help to find ways to improve, seeing effort as a path to mastery, learning from criticism and finding lessons and inspiration from others' success. The learning mindset is about hard work, high standards and process orientation.

In every way, the growth mindset frees the student. One can ask questions, engage in discussions, seek help without inhibitions, accept that one does not know everything. By adopting this mindset, students can take a huge self-imposed pressure off their shoulders and look to build on what they know.

To change from a Fixed Mindset to Growth Mindset 1) ask for help 2) do small acts that change things 3) work on belief and mindsets 4) get process orientation 5) get over the-world-owes-me and denial (as in my life is perfect syndrome).

The beliefs that anything can be learned with hard work and growth orientation, that intelligence is not fixed, are truly empowering.

The 2 Year Journey at the UoH
The session was more or less about the 2 year journey. It starts with where one is at the moment (self-introspection, analysis, feedback) and a clear idea of where one wants to get (the outcome of this journey, a 20 year, 5 year, 2 year, one year goal). If one gets to see the goal and a fair idea of where one is now, its easy to use the resources at hand i.e. time and energy.

While looking at resources we looked at time on hand - 365 days a year and the same number of hours in each day. Now its a matter of how many hours one uses and how effectively they can be used. An average of 10 hours a day over 600 days will get one ahead of the others by 6000 hours more of practice.

Hard work is the first commitment one has to make then. The next step is working hard efficiently. Good teachers, a learning mindset, a peer group that's active and buzzing, meeting and analysing works of the masters, will help prod the journey forward in a efficient manner. There is no need for force, one can achieve it elegantly.

The Making of an Expert
A brief reference to the article on the 'Making of an expert' and the 10000 hour principle to become an expert were discussed to drive home the idea of hard work. The article talks about how expertise is created by deliberate practice (getting better at what one is good and expanding current skills and also getting better at what one is not good at with specific sustained effort). It includes getting mentors who can help and guide. It make it clear that champions work the hardest.

Since they had all committed to a 2 year journey and were now at a stage where they could use the knowledge of the faculty, the brand of the University for their advantage, students were advised to use the resources i.e. time and energy efficiently, understand current context and then seek a clear outcome in terms of what they want to achieve. Their calendars must be packed with things to learn, people to meet, events to attend and to volunteer, performances to give etc. Once the calendar is packed, get down to doing it.

Here one must share the lovely TED talk by Josh Kaufman on 'The First 20 Hours - How to Learn Anything'.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MgBikgcWnY

Good luck students.

A Nice Link - Sruthi Dhulipala's Blog "A Memory"

A lovely post by rockstar-writer-learner-ponderor.. among many parts Sruthi Dhulipala
I loved it. Thanks for sharing Sruthi!
https://sruthidhulipala.wordpress.com/2016/02/10/a-memory/

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Nice link - Laws of Attraction

Nicely put

'When you change, everything will change. When you get better, everything will get better. All you have to do is look within and change for the better and everything changes for you.'

'I decided I would never ever ask again.'

'Disgust. Enough. Decide. Desire. Resolve - I will do it or I will die.'

'For 30 days take control of your mind. Give more of yourself without thinking of any return. All you need is a purpose and faith.'

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMLsuBCTrSg

Paradoxes of Our Lives - To Really Experience Good, Be Good With the Bad

When we want something badly, to the extent of excluding everything, we are in reality, without even noticing it, even more attached to its opposite. Our focus shifts from what we want to what we don't want. And when we focus on what we don't want, we make that bigger and it becomes bigger than what you originally wanted.

What we have now created is a monster of what we don't want.

For example, our attachment to only 'good' can make us seek the smallest 'bad' in every experience. The smallest 'bad' becomes larger than the 'good' and infects the 'good'. This is a good way to make a possibly good thing bad.

To really experience 'good' it's perhaps best to actually be good with the 'bad' in it. In fact when we look at the 'bad' and 'good' in a nonjudgmental manner, there is a good chance of not letting the 'bad' drag us down, and while doing that, perhaps experiencing the 'good' for what it is.

I was reading the other day about a writer who aims for 100 rejections a year (she does not aim for positive results only). She gets a lot of good work done. But to get there she realised that she has to increase her rejection rate. Out of 100, a 5% hit rate is all she needs. The person who gets hurt at the first rejection and does not apply again has no chance, or less chance. The one who actually sees the rejections as just another part of the process, actually sees more highs. (The one who actually seeks only highs and judges the lows, will certainly sink.)

If I want more 'good', I need more 'bad' experiences (or what I would judge them as 'bad' for the sake of this conversation). When I am ok with meeting so many 'bad' I have stopped judging them, and am perhaps even fine with them. Most experiences could be 'bad', but a few could turn out 'good'. Then perhaps I can enjoy and appreciate the 'good' that much more when it happens.

To appreciate something, to secretly want something, the trick seems to go the other way then. Seek the opposite out actively, get comfortable with it. Don't judge it. And from it will emerge your 'good'.

  

Friday, July 22, 2016

Meeting Abhinay Renny - The Man Behind TEDx VNR VJIET (And Other Things)

Abhinay Renny has just graduated from VNR VJIET. The young mechanical engineer added a few more tags while finishing his engineering course - tags of novelist, poet, basket ball player, romantic, altruist and ideator. He is also the TEDx licensee for the event conducted at VNR VJIET on April 2, 2016. I have been intrigued by what he does and why and wanted to catch up - I'd never have done anything like the above and not many would too, at that age.
Me and Abhinay
Abhinay now has job with the TCS. I figure that it must have been an eventful 4 years at college that must have come to an end. (Somehow I feel a bit of the sadness I felt when I left college to go into the world - wonder why?) Abhinay hopes to do his Masters in the US. As we chat at home, he comes across with intelligent observations, candid and transparent ways and a pleasant and peaceful demeanour. Also what comes across strongly is his learning mindset (I always say I don't know - I don't even know the meanings of some of the words I wrote in my book! he says) in the way he speaks about books, issues or the way he records our conversations. Quietly. Unobtrusively.

I asked him what made him go and get a TEDx licence and conduct the event. He said that the story actually began earlier than the TEDx event. It began with his writing journey. And his writing journey began with a railway journey that never happened because he and his his basketball teammate Vikas missed the train. Ok, to put the horse before the cart, it all started when the VNR VJIET team had to play arch rivals St. Martins in a final. Vikas was selected to play an Inter varsity basket ball game for JNTU in Orissa - but stayed back to play the important game for VNR VJIET. (If they won, they promised he'd get to fly!) Unfortunately the team lost and with it all promises of flying to Orissa too. With little time to lose and little money (and a low battery charge), the two boys sped away to the railway station in their basketball clothes to get Vikas to Orissa in time. Vikas was a good basketball player but was unfamiliar with the process of getting to Orissa without tickets. And that's when Abhinay's altruistic nature kicked in.

You see, you can't do things in petty measures. You have to do them by the heartfuls. Abhinay Renny had no business going with his friend really. But he seems like the type who will always go beyond the call of duty.

The train was missed. The boys somehow went to Vijayawada railway station with general tickets, missed trains, got into wrong trains, finally got the right train, pleaded with hostile ticket collectors, got space in the general compartment and finally got a hesitant Vikas going to his destination.

'I returned to Hyderabad with little money, still in my basketball clothes and went and drew some money from the ATM. Straight to the hotel and I ordered a biryani. I must have looked a sight!' he said.

Why would he do that? I don't know. But that's the kind of a person this boy seems to be. Vikas, is so big, but he cannot handle this stuff sir, felt Abhinay, who feels that its his duty in a team of eight of ten to help. So the slightly built, energetic Abhinay helps his team member along, going to Vijayawada too.

After he returned, he decided to write about this experience of missing trains. He went home in the holidays and he wrote and wrote for 20 days. 24000 words he says proudly. He also remembers his mother feeding him as he consumed page after page.

Abhinay says - 'I had no idea what a novel was, what a novella was and how to get published. I checked google and got all the information and went ahead and got it published. I found a free publishing site in the US called Create Space and they helped make my book a reality.'

The boy who did not like reading much and who thought people who read books must get a life was slowly converted into a reader, a writer. Much credit must go to his friend Swathi who got him reading books like AR Rahman's biography and Ramanujam's biography. (She reminded me of Anjali who somehow selflessly buys gifts for her friends.) 'Somehow the idea of One-world got formed in my head,' he said. 'That's a theme that stayed with me.' It's a good theme to hold young man.

Two of the speakers - Ramana Gogula and Sandhya Kode 
For his book launch at the college on August 18, 2015, a big event where the Principal and Board members came, Abhinay invited me as the Chief guest and I was glad to go. It was a fine program. I did not expect to see much more of Renny really. Why would anyone? A book written and published while in the final year. What more could anyone do?

But then, I did not know Abhinay Renny well then.

Within the year, or say, a few months, the boy wrote another book 'Rainy Summer'. But before that, he applied for a license to host a TEDx event at his college. VNR VJIET was to be the third college in Hyderabad after IIT, Hyderabad and BITS Pilani, Hyderabad. With a word from his senior Tejaswi Reddy who, before she left for Dubai, spoke to Renny and told him that he must conduct the TEDx event to improve the college reputation , Renny took it upon himself.

'I wrote to all TEDx licensees in India to get some information and got some information - most of which was misleading,' he laughs. 'They said it would cost some 5-6 lakhs. Where can we get that kind of money from?'

To make matters worse, most people he met were doomsday predictors who said - No way, this will not happen. Be it students, lecturers or whoever, the predictions were gloomy.
"It was almost as if they were afraid that it might just happen,' he said with surprising clarity.

Undaunted, Abhinay got a small team of like minded people to help him - Meghna, Samhitha, Charsisma, Vineeth. 'I was very clear I wanted a team that would listen.' But at that stage there was nothing - no permission from the college, no license. Just a dream. And a team.
TEDx VNR VJIET team

Permission at college was getting tough because there was protocol, disbelief and red tape. He had to convince people that an event that was not a festival, and not a money spinner, was actually good for the college. Time was running out because if he wanted to do the event before he left he needed the license from TED, the permission from the college and then actually organise the event before his final exams in April 2016. On top of all this, there were exams and there were placements. By December, Abhinay Renny decided, I need to get this license sorted out.

Then after some more work and being assured that he could pull it off, Renny filled in an online application to TED. His application came up for review (he had to book a slot for interview which normally comes after a three week gap) in a midnight interview. The interview did not go well, and his first attempt failed.

The first rejection was a blow but he was asked to speak to the TED Hyderabad organiser. He did. 'I was seven minutes late to meet him and that delay set me back by an hour and a half,' recalls Renny.
'He is a busy ophthalmologist. I made up my mind then and there that I would be as busy and important as he was one day.'
Speakers, Abhinay and VNR VJIET Management

After a few words and a recommendation from the TED Hyderabad organiser, Abhinay applied again (and still without permission from the college - the boy was still winging it). This time he got the license after another long interview. Now that he was in business, one would think all would be well. But after the license came the drama of getting the college to give its nod still remained. Apologies, protocols, permissions, budgets. At a time when Abhinay Renny found himself giving up almost, he found inspiration from his senior Anurag who asked him to be clear about his purpose - and also asked him to watch the Simon Sinek TED talk 'Start with Why'. TED helped itself in that sense.

Clearer about his purpose and much inspired by Sinek's brilliant TED talk, Renny went about picking his speakers and being clear on the theme of ideas and not personalities. 'My purpose was that I wanted to change the thought process,' says Renny clearly.

Costs were high *Rs. 2 lakh at least), funding was low but he kept his cool and his team supported him throughout. Finally he got his money, his support, his event. Unshell, was the theme. In fact at a critical moment when he was stuck with no money Abhinay recalls that the coordinator gave money from his pocket. 'Murli sir gave me sixty thousand from his pocket,' he recalls. At the same time, Abhinay, frustrated as the D day was approaching, shot off an emotional mail at 1 am to the secretary Mr. Prasad. He received a reply at 130 from Mr. Prasad who was abroad then, with cc to all others involved. That got things started moving,

'We curated an audience of 100,' said Abhinay. 'From 600 applications we picked 100. They paid 500 bucks each to attend.'
I did not know that. Wow!

'Picking the speakers was an interesting experience. There were many who wanted celebrities. But TED is clear - the ideas are more important. I did not want to compromise on that. Ideas must be original, worth sharing,' he says.

'All through I kept my mind clear about my purpose, my why - to change the thought process,' Abhinay says. 'That's the line I used everywhere - with my management, with TED in the interview. The 5 minute talk with Anurag and his showing me the importance of purpose changed the outcome.'

The D day was April 2, 2016. It all went well for Renny and the team. A big job done.

I remember they were ice cool about it. Every box was ticked, every whim was indulged. Like Meghna who would call me in all that chaos and coolly check - whether I would want transport - the last call at 1130 pm the night before had to be one with a checklist. 99 out of 100 would have skipped that call but not she. When the right energy happens, It all unfolds perfectly. the air, the atmosphere, the energy was perfect. I told my friends that I have not seen such professionalism any where else. Abhinay himself gave a fitting thank you speech which was as good or better than any talk that day.

The story was fantastic to hear from the man himself.
'My turning point for thinking I could pull this off was my writing my first book in 20 days sir,' says Abhinay. 'I felt I could do anything if I could do that.'



Ah, smells like ownership.

I asked Abhinay, who spoke to me through the day, if he could share his tale of ownership with the team from Gap Miners. Abhinay said he would be happy to. Like a seasoned pro he got into the act, spoke beautifully and honestly about his journey and connected amazingly well with the audience.

'I always say I don't know... I told my placement officers that I know little about languages but I will learn... I spoke about Pawan Kalyan in my job interview.... I just organised myself and worked backwards to get the event done as per plan.'

I could see it had a huge impact on the audience and I knew this boy was now a seasoned speaker himself. More importantly he understood ownership, was extremely adaptable and had a learning mindset. He quickly picked what was required, spoke those points, did not get flustered and delivered tellingly. Not a word more, not a word less. Superb stuff.

'I went to Infosys Mysore where they had a TED conference. I was impressed that a thought, an idea like TED could be a bigger brand than Infosys. If we do what we believe in with focus, I guess the world will chase us,' he says.

I could not but help give him copies of all my books. If anyone deserves them, he does. Well done Abhinay Renny and team TEDx VNR VJIET and I am sure you will do great work wherever you go and impact many hundreds of lives as you flit by unassumingly, unaffectedly. Take a bow!

Nivedita N - Assisting Authors and Helping Them To Get Published

Nivedita N is a poet. Two collections of her poems are "Writing by the Window" and "Aerogramme and Other Poems". But that's only a small part of her introduction. 

Nivasini Publishers, A Not-For-Profit Organisation
Nivedita also writes, copy-edits and publishes for Nivasini Publishers, a publishing unit that she founded. Nivasini Publishers, a not-for-profit publishing house that believes "that words have the power to enrich and change society",  has published several books with lovely production values. Many superior publishers do not match its work.  The proceeds of the books are directed to Yamini Foundation that houses disabled children and Sphoorthi Foundation that houses homeless children. Wonderful work.

While doing all this, Nivedita is also busy organizing book events for new authors and poets to meet and engage in the primary goal of the publishing house, in the most unobtrusive of ways.
Me and Nivedita
A peek into how she thinks - at her events, the writer is celebrated and the reader is celebrated - in fact all stakeholders are celebrated equally. There are no Chief Guests - everyone is a Chief Guest. Now, that's how events shoud be.

Nivedita is also part of Blue Stencil.com which offers editorial and proof reading services.

Assisting New Authors to Get Them Published
Her creative pursuits aside, Nivedita works in an interesting area - assisting authors in their lonely journey of publishing. Its a growing number, new authors and authors who need assistance and they would do well to seek her help. Nivedita promises cost-effective solutions and combined with her expertise and warm and supportive disposition, authors would help immensely.  Writing the book is perhaps the easiest part one would think. To get some expert help in editing it and giving it more definite shape, highlighting strengths and leaving out weak aspects, is all the work a good editor can do. With a little help from a good editor, books can improve tremendously. 

Copy editing, Proposal and Synopses Writing
The process of proposal writing or simply, synopsis writing itself can be nightmarish for many authors. Sometimes a third person can do a better job at it - just as Cameron Diaz does the movie trailer work in 'Holiday' one can seek help to write a good synopsis and proposal. Also knowing the many options of getting published helps authors make up their mind about costs, vehicles and reach. 

Writing, copy-editing, proof reading and publishing apart, Nivedita also helps in writing book publishing proposals, synopses, and guides the author through the publishing maze – literary agents, self publishing, e publishing and conventional publishing. 

Knows Her Craft, Supportive and Practical
Having written for major print publications like The Hindu, Wow! Magazine (Hyderabad’s premier magazine); online portals, The Better India, Hill Post and for community blogs like The South Reports (now-defunct) run by Uma Sudhir and TS Sudhir  of NDTV, Nivedita knows her craft. As an editor she has proof-read books and copy-edited Nivasini Publishers and for Neesah Magazine - both of which she has founded and which bring out books with extremely high production values. 

In her copy-editing journey Nivedita has dealt with Poetry, Children’s literature, Novels, Young Adult Fiction, Short Stories, Nonfiction, Essays,  Travelogues and Memoirs. Some of the books she has edited are "Ah Poetry", "K2K Trip", "Little Friend", "Celebrating India", "Family Matters", "Restless Fingers", "Voices of Silent Creek" etc. Currently Nivedita is working on "The Girl from Jalandhar". 

Having seen her work and having met her, I know she will deliver the goods - and some more.  Poets and writers who wish to interact with her aside, authors in need of some cost-effective and good editing and allied services, can contact Nivedita at mailnnivedita@gmail.com.

More information about Nivedita 

About Blue Stencil

Couple of testimonials
Testimonials
Nivedita was really helpful. She was always patient and supportive. She made the grammar perfect. She was quick. It was a wonderful experience to have started my writing career with her. - S, Writer

Nivedita has been truly a literary agent kind of a person. She helped with submission guidelines for publishers and what the best when the book is ready. - K, Novelist

Good luck Nivedita and keep up the good work!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Thought for the Day - In Love Thoughts Focus Inward, In Fear Outward

Just a thought.

Is it that in love, our thoughts go inward? And from there, expand outside?

As in, there is a feeling of being secure, nurtured, cared. And its a nice feeling, so I would like to share with others and then I expand it outward. Since I am feeling good and secure, I am not worried about sharing with others.


And in fear, our thoughts go outward? And from there, we try to secure ourselves?

As in, our first reaction is that of securing ourselves from attacks. Because something we are holding on to dearly is under threat - a belief, an idea, an identity. Our entire focus is on fighting the threat and keeping ourselves, perhaps our ego, safe from that threat. My entire focus is on keeping that out, away from me, away from possible pain.

Maybe, if we let go of our idea, belief, identity, there is nothing to fear? Nothing but a happy, floating space. Maybe in that space, there is scope for feeling love.

Sunday Cricket Lessons - Release High!

For a long time, I stopped releasing the ball at its highest point and started hitting it. Suddenly I discovered the benefits of releasing it at the highest point. Ah, it makes the ball do so much more.

To put things in order, the stuff I learned from the past few months of research is as follows

1) hands high up on the chest helped me get side on easily, helped me look over my shoulder
2) rhythmic run up while running in (instead of a slow one)
3) jump and turning into position (instead of no jump)
4) holding the action for a moment before release
5) Releasing at the highest point (instead of pushing the ball)
6) Finishing strongly

Some benefits like more pace, more nip, more penetration. Feels better. Almost there.

Thought for the Day - I am Fully Good Space, Not Just a Little But All Of Me

I'd wager that most people feel they are ok - there's some good and some bad in them they might think. Some feel they are more bad than good. Few feel they are more good than bad.

But what if we are fully good? Not just a little bit. But all of us.

Hmmm. Relief.

Why did we feel otherwise then? 

Thought for the Day - This Moment Is All I Have

If this moment is all I have, what do I do with it? Before it dies, before it segues into the next, by which time this is gone. Do I spread myself across moments and go thin as they pass by, or do I stop it all and put all my want into this moment.

I want it all, now. Like a child.

I compress it all - my effort and the result - by my intensity of want in this moment. Now!

There is a way that the world arranges itself around those who have these instant wants, who cannot wait. The world wants to take care of their wants. They expect, and the world fulfills.

That apart, perhaps the moment also deserves full attention. Perhaps it will stop moving away, wait, and look me in the eye. Like lovers do, deep into each others eyes, afraid that by looking away, this moment will be lost.

Time, might just stop. This moment after all, is all we have. Engage with the moment then, fully, deeply, directly. 

Thought for the Day - What Is It That I Want

If I ask myself, what is it that I want, many times I find no answer. I remember a time when after a puja that my mother had performed for me a few decades ago (she suspected that I was under the influence of some bad planetary moves - not knowing that I was under the influence of my own bad moves, and did not need the bad moves of planets to help me), the pujari thrust a coconut at my face and said - this is most auspicious, ask for what you want.

This was most unexpected.

I looked at it dazed, not knowing what to ask. Could I ask really? For myself? But what do I need? Why burden this god with this petty request of mine? Time ticked away. God was waiting. I decided to nobly give the chance a go by. I think after a while I settled for world peace. God granted me world peace in my neighbourhood.

A few years later when I went to Ajmer with a group of friends I cautioned them as we entered the dargah and told them of what had happened to me and the coconut. 'Think of what you want and ask,' I advised. At Ajmer Sharif, they say you will get what you want. Once again, when my turn came, I looked on blankly. I could not think of anything for myself. I think I once again settled for world peace.

By now, the universe figured out that I was incapable of asking anything for myself and in one of the unforgettable moments of my life - in an act touched by the divine - something precious was granted to me without my asking for it. Among the two or three moments of clarity and absolute wonder in my life, that remains.

In many ways, that has been the story of my life. I never asked. I never knew what to ask for. Most times I don't know what I want. Except world peace of course. When asked recently by a friend of mine, I felt the futility of being without knowing what I want. Clearly I mean. A vague idea like world peace, yes, but no clarity. Almost as if I feared that I deserved it not - if it happened good, if not, fine. It's an ok existence but its nowhere near the excitement that the 'dil maange more' promises.

Maybe I think, its not a bad idea to want for myself. Not everyone is going to be as generous as Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti at Ajmer and understand my state and grant me a boon. Not everyone would want to put up with a wavering, directionless existence of a man without any clear wants - except world peace - and that only the world at large would be interested in.

So a new resolution - to want. To want for myself first. Clearly, unequivocally. And to set aside all else that interfere with my want. I have the power to want. So, each time, before any act, I will ask myself this one question - what do I want from this? If I am clear about it I act. If I am not, I refrain. No more hanging about with others and their wants. If I want I will, if not I leave.

I feel like a Hollywood star already. Maybe, I think, my life just got a little bit more exciting! 

Thought for the Day - How We Lose Our Godselves

I was reading a book recently and it talked about how the godself within you will take care of everything and how I can let go. It suddenly struck me then - how when I was a kid I somehow believed I was god. I think I did for a long time and was so secure in the knowledge that since I was god nothing could ever happen to me. Those were the happiest days of my life - save a couple of incidents when some idiots came and messed with my heaven.

But then, when I look back in retrospect, I can see how that godself started leaking away. Little by little, a new thought, a fear, a negative belief, started creeping in. As they took up space, the godself obviously was pushed out, or pushed into a corner. Over time of course, all I had inside me was just me and these fears, beliefs and stuff and no sign of my good ol godself to rely on. I had to fight alone.

When I read that line I realised suddenly that the godself was right there somewhere. The fact that I was alive was proof of that. That we are all born out of that state of fullness, completeness and we slowly let it leak away when we believe an alternate truth - almost as if to challenge the godself and say 'hey, I can do this by myself you know, I am big enough now'.. If like a madman or an innocent child, I had held on to that godself, I did not have to fight the battle alone.

It's comforting to know that a godself exists inside. That when I nurture and grow that godself I have nothing to fear. That I feel good enough, feel worthy enough. You can't not be good enough when you're dealing with the godself.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Bombay Talkie - Movie Review

More from the Ismail Merchant collection I got as a gift from Sumana. 'Bombay Talkie' is about a British author Lucia Lane (Jennifer Kendall) who visits India to research Bollywood. She stays at her friend Hari's (Zia Mohyeddin) house. Hari is a writer, poor as writers go, and hates the super star actor Vikram (Shashi Kapoor) whom he considers illiterate and less worthy. But Vikram is getting all that Hari doesn't.

Lucia falls in love with Vikram and they have a roaring affair. Vikram is married to Mala. It would have been easier if Lucia fell in love with Hari who also loves her. But Lucia, harbinger of bad luck, falls in love with Vikram and vice versa. Hari, Mala, Vikram. Lucia and even the producer of Vikram's next film get messed up thanks to this one decision. It ends with Hari killing Vikram who finally gets over Lucia.

Jennifer Kendall is a wonderful actress. Movie meanders all over. No second viewings.

But I learned about the writer Ruth Prawer Jhabwala who apparently is the only one to have won both the Booker Prize and an Oscar. She wrote 12 novels and 23 screenplays.  

The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families - David Niven Ph.D.

It's a book that someone left at home and I picked it up to see what David Niven Ph. D. had to say about happy families. Truth be told I picked it up because I wanted to see the structure and how it would work because I have a similar project on hand - and not so much as to make a happy family at home. But by the end I picked a couple of ideas that will help me make things better.
Harper One, 200 p
Te book's structure has a short introduction, a short story or an example and the research on which it is based. It discusses many issues families have - competitive siblings, dysfunctional families, bringing children up alone, grandfathers and kids, what kids crave for, how relationships can be mended, what family members expect, what older people want, and so many other issues.

What comes across is how people find strength in families and how much they miss home support by just ignoring that huge aspect, how friends and extended families can help if we see them for the strengths they bring and not just ignore them for their faults - perceived and real. To understand that no one comes without faults is the first thing and to know that one can go through life much more easier if they work together rather than alone is another. Being open, communicating, being supportive, being forgiving will make lives and relationships far better according to the book.

More interestingly I found what I was looking for. The lead in paragraph which set the context, though it was just a few lines, was really boring. Worse, it took the focus off the key point and I struggled through six or seven small one pagers without understanding a word. Before discarding the book I decided to give it one one last try and decided to ignore the first para and read only the story. Ah, huge difference. I could easily read the stories, make sense of it, check out the research on which it was based and make some sense. Cut out that first boring para is the lesson.

It's the stories my friend, not the gyan. Leave the reader to make sense of what he has read - don't make sense of it for her.  

Nice Link - Carlsberg Ad

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Secret Life of Pets - Movie Review

There was a subtle threat - 'you promise but then by the time we plan to go the movie is gone.' I jumped up and did what I don't normally do - fixed up the plan for today (and not tomorrow or more conveniently ...later). Tickets were secretly booked online, Anjali picked up from school (from the school bus in fact) and then onwards to the movies. It was a perfect time to celebrate because she showed me a huge silver medal that she earned (bigger than any I ever got) and three certificates for English in a test. 'I am second in the international ranks,' she told me. All the more reason.

We picked up some french fries. 'Nice,' critiqued the Masterchef fan as she took a bite. 'Crispy on the outside and soft inside.' Gary, Max and George could not have said it better. The movie began.

It was surprisingly good because it was just a fun story with no message. A whole bunch of pets living in New York with their dysfunctional owners. Max, the hero is a tiny dog, who thinks he and his owner Katie are soul mates. Until Katie brings home Duke, a big, bullying dog. They don't get along too well initially but owing to a lot of unforeseen activities with street animals after their walk, they find themselves in an Animal Control van. Freed by a rebellious bunny who leads a movement against humans and who is against all sorts of domestication, the two dogs find their way home, helped certainly by love. Love in the form of a love struck Pomeranian Gidget who loves Max (but he does not know it). Gidget manages to get a dangerous hawk Tiberius on her side and rustles up support from the other domesticated pets and they set out to find Max (and Duke). After a roller coaster journey of fabulous chases, stunts and bunny's machinations to get them, Max and Duke and all others get back home.

What a movie! Would I watch it again. I certainly would. Some characters are memorable - Bunny, the rebel leader, takes the cake, Pops and Gidget are the others apart form Max and Duke. But then the stray cat Ozone with a British accent - ah, I wished I saw more of that. Fabulous. No emotional drain, no messages, just pure adventure and fun.  

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

In Custody - Movie Review

I got a bunch of Ismail Merchant (of Merchant ivory fame) DVDs that Sumana was getting rid off and have been planning to watch them ever since. Yesterday I watched a movie that he directed, 'In Custody'.

Its so visually captivating that you yearn to go and live in those spaces. Deven (Om Puri) is a Hindi lecturer in a college but his true love is Urdu. He gets an assignment to interview the last of the great urdu poets Nur Shajehanabadi (Shashi Kapoor), finds the poet sunk in bad health, bad company, bad wives. The interview is done over a long period of time, with great difficulty. The movie ends predictably with the poet's death. But it leaves a haunting image of a world gone by (even then) and the new. Clealry the poet could not cope with the change - something I am sure many are not able to cope with even now.

For those visuals, I could watch it again. And perhaps, again. For sheer ease of performance you can watch a grossly overweight Shashi Kapoor, Om Puri, Neena Gupta, Sushma Seth and Shabana Azmi along with many other immensely talented artistes. It's based on Anita Desai's novel of the same name.

Anjali - The Anonymous Peacemakers Plan

While cleaning out Anjali's shelves yesterday we found many old outdated notebooks and scrapbooks from the past two years. She sifted through them and discarded some and kept some. While sifting she found a note hidden in one of the old notebooks.

It said 'Hi Rida, I am sorry. I was wrong. - Harsh.'

Shobha asked her what it was about. So Anjali told us the story behind that note.

'You know one day Harsh and Rida (her friends in school) had a fight. They  stopped speaking to one another. So Mansi told me - Anjali you can write cursive writing like Harsh so why don't you write a note apologising to Rida and write another note from Rida apologising to Harsh. So we took a paper and cut it into two and one piece I wrote to Rida and on another I wrote to Harsh. Then we quietly slipped the notes in their bags as if each one had written to the other.'

'Wow,' I said. 'What happened after that?'

'It didn't work,' said Anjali laughing embarrassedly. 'Rida said she knew it was not Harsh's handwriting. She asked who else knows how to write cursive. That was two years ago when I was in the second class so not many knew cursive writing. She finally found out that it was me who wrote that note.'

'Then what happened?' I asked.
'Then we told Rida to forgive us,' said Anjali contritely.
'Oh,' I said envisaging a sad end.
Anjali perked up after that.
''Then you know what happened? Rida told us it's ok, I will myself write a note to him and will also make a paper rose that akka taught me. Rida said she would put her real note in Harsh's bag.'

Whoa, that's some twist in the tale. I was pretty excited now and wanted to find out how the story ended.
'Did Harsh see that note from Rida?' I asked.
'I don't know,' said Anjali. 'We kept it in his bag and left it. We don't know what happened? I think that plan was a flop.'

Perhaps the plan was a flop young lady but the intent was huge. Its wonderful to see that Mansi and you played such a fun, harmless ruse to bring two warring factions together. All it needs is someone to say sorry and our egos are satisfied. You even got Rida to make such a lovely gesture. It's a wonderful, creative idea to bring down tensions.

How I wish the adult world thought like that too. And maybe said sorry a bit more often.



Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Eye of the Needle - Ken Follett

Ken Follett wrote 'Eye of the Needle' when he was 27. It is one of the most famous spy stories and movies of all time. So after the tedium of plodding through Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' I decided to reward myself with a racy spy thriller. Funnily this book's plot is set in the World War II times and there are several references and scenes that include Hitler and Germany. So it was an extension of my journey.

The Needle is a German spy or double agent living as an Englishman and supplying information to German intelligence. At a critical juncture in the war, the Germans are unsure about the Allies moves - will they land in Calais or Normandy is the question. The Allies plot a huge ruse to mislead the Germans with fake barracks, planes etc on the ground. The Needle gets information of the hoax, takes pictures, and trusts no one to deliver the film. As he moves towards Germany he kills everyone who sees his face, including five policemen in one encounter and lands up on an island inhabited by a young family - a crippled husband, a beautiful wife and a small child - and an old shepherd. A roaring affair, more murders (husband and old shepherd) and its between the woman Lucy and the slightly love struck Needle. Will he get away with the information and thereby defeat the purpose of the huge hoax the Allies planned or will Lucy find a way to stop him?

Fantastic. Very filmy. Lovely conflict. Now to watch the movie.

Monday, July 11, 2016

A..Aaa - Movie Review

This was on the list because I heard some people say it was funny. I did not find it funny - a couple of laughs at the most. I found the story unconvincing, the characters motives confused and I wasn't exactly thrilled by the end of it. But a moment of freshness in the end and you forgive much of the earlier unhappiness.

There is a rich girl who attempts suicide for rather flimsy reasons revealed later. She is dominated by mother. The girl comes across as slightly unintelligent, heightened by certain gestures etc she makes and her generally superficial character. To get away from it all she goes to a forgotten aunt and uncle  in the village - an aunt with whom her family has a twenty year old feud. Then why is she going there? Anyway she meets the boy and slowly makes him see sense i.e. that he ought to marry her and not the landlord's daughter who has always got what she wanted and who speaks a bit like a devil has got inside her.

Overall an unhappy experience for me. If you're wondering - A is for Anasuya and Aa is for Anand. 

Anjali - Ok, I Don't Know! What a relief!!

Anjali recounted a time when she and her friend Samaira (who has now left the school) played a game in the bus ride back home. They waved at people on the road and whoever got the most responses from people on the road won. It was a lovely game.

'The idea was to console them,' she said, using 'console' in the 'making the other person feel better' way.  I pointed out that perhaps'console' might not be the right word because 'console' is more about making people feel better when they were in grief or some sadness or stress. What Anjali and Samaira did I said was perhaps add joy into the lives of the people on the road.

'I know, I know' said she irritated at my splitting of the hairs and a frown came over her happy face. She does not take kindly to being corrected. (I don't either.)

I kept silent.

After a moment, she said softly.

'Ok, I don't know,' remembering the talk I gave to her class about the Fixed Mindset and Learning Mindset. (The FM goes 'I know, I know' and the LM goes 'I don't know, but I will learn and can you help me learn.')

Soon as she said that she looked at me and laughed. We both laughed for a long time after that.

I felt relieved. If she could take that sligh snub in her stride, remember the Fixed Mindset response of 'I know, I know', lower her ego and give a corrected 'Learning Mindset' response of 'I don't know and its ok but I will learn' and laugh about it, she will be in a good space as far as learnng and self-correction goes.

The faster the better. Time, I did that faster too.  

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Traffic - Movie Review

A 2000 movie on drugs that moves between Mexico and the USA. It shows various sub plots running simultaneously - and all of them don't meet as in most such movies. So there's a US government official who is out to snuff out the drug issue, his daughter who is a drug addict, a Mexican police duo trying to snare a drug lord, a drug lord who is caught leaving his wife in a jam...ummm that just about covers it. Almost.

It's a bit too complex to explain so let it lie there. In the end, if we take a head count, one half of the policeman teams gets killed, the daughter goes through hell and back, the drug lords wife secures his release and gets his witness killed. All is not well in the end but there is no end to drug stories. Certainly no happy endings. But I forgot to mention that this movie has a star cast that makes you sit up - Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta Jones, Ben Del Toro, Dennis Quaid etc.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Anjali - We Play Fully When We Play a Match

Badminton time again. Anjali and I were knocking the shuttle over and over in increasingly longer rallies. Now I could see after two days that there was an increased level of competence. Since we were discussing the point system I suggested we play a game.

'A game?' asked she, surprised that we had graduated to games already.
I shrugged.
'Let's play,' I said. 'What's the big deal?"

After a few points, one could see that the competitive spirit had kicked in and Anjali was fighting hard to win points.

She realised it too.
'When we play a match we play more fully no Nanna,' she observed after a hard rally.

Yes Anjali. It's the oldest way to get people involved, interested, engaged - throw them a challenge. Make them compete against something - time, another person. That's when we are, like Anjali said, playing 'fully'.

At other times we obviously are not. Can't blame us. There is no challenge, there is no interest. It's the manager's, teacher's, mentor's, coach's job to create that challenge. If there's no one to do it, its in our own interest to be interested, i.e. to create a challenge and engage more 'fully'.

Link to my TEDx Talk on April 2, 2016 - "Cricket, Creativity and Writing' At VNR VJIET

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Dhanak - Movie Review

Ramaraju and I, planned to watch the movie a week ago. By the time we acted it was out of theatres. Then we suddenly noticed it playing in one theatre and booked ourselves for an afternoon show. He bunked his office. I bunked my work.

'Dhanak' has the classical set up in its story. An eight year old boy (Chotu) who cannot see due to an eye condition, a ten year old sister (Pari) who would do anything for her younger brother including failing for two years so she could help him in his class, an evil step mother and a hen pecked uncle who take care of the kids (obviously not too well) because their parents died in an incident. Into this darkness comes light in the most improbable of ways - a poster featuring Shahrukh Khan advertising eye donation. Pari (older sister) writes letters by the dozen to Shahrukh (c/o Mannat, Mumbai) and when things go from bad to worse, one day decides to take her younger brother to Shahrukh Khan who is shooting for a film in Rajasthan, several hundred miles away. She has promised him that she's get his eyesight back before his next birthday which is now fast approaching - and uncle is doing nothing but make empty promises. A ten year old girl, a blind boy, the desolate desert, the unknown and an improbable dream. Perfect set up.

Will the kid get his eyesight back before his next birthday? Will Shahrukh Khan save him? Will their dreams of watching the dhanak (rainbow) come true? The kids, Hetal Gada as Pari and Krrish Chabria as Chotu, are outstanding. The rest of the movie goes by slickly, a work of a person who knows his craft. Rajasthan looks beautiful. There is hope, there is a rainbow. There is fun.

There are to many positives to harp on what's not there but let me say it - maybe the rainbow could have been brighter if we'd come out of some more darkness. Never in the movie did I feel afraid for the kids - somehow I knew it will be alright. It's not a bad thing to have a stream of good people come by into our lives, but then what would I crib about. I also felt - since he is blind and they would have to deal with the dark anyway - was there not a case for the boy to take care of his sister at night when all is dark and people who see can feel helpless.

But surely, too many pluses in the movie to nitpick on small issues. Maybe there is no place for fear, doubt as the kids show, living on fantasy to hide their reality.

Good to see Nagesh Kukunoor do what he does best. There is an assuredness and confidence to it that makes it all seems solid. This man is back and my guess, is that this time its for good. Go watch - for the hope it epitomises. We all need it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Anupama Sircar's "The Learning Graph" - Remedial Therapy Center for Children with Dyslexia and ADHD

With Anu (Anupama Sircar), the first thing one remembers is that her human side comes across first. Not many people come across like that because a lot of people are obsessed with themselves, with what they are doing or thinking. Needless to say, it is always a pleasure to meet her because there is always something to discuss, to laugh about and in the most honest of ways. There is no artifice about her. To top it all she has a warm and ready smile, a clear way of articulating things and the humility to laugh at herself and the world. She genuinely likes people, life.
Anupama Sircar - At The Learning Graph
I've known Anu, for a long, long time now. But to put the order right, I've known her in-laws first. Sircar Aunty who has been a steady encouragement in my writing journey, always showing up for my book events, and always encouraging me despite all the trash I wrote and showed to her, Amit (Anu's husband) who is always warm and welcoming and ready to discuss music and movies and good times, and Ajanta (Amit's sister) a dear friend (and another early die-hard supporter of my improbable writing journey) who's probably the root connection being Shobha's friend from school. Suffice to say, I know Anu for over two decades and more now.
Happy in the Activity Room - She really loves her work

When I heard that she had started 'The Learning Graph', (spelt ‘thelearningraph’) a Remedial Therapy center for children with dyslexia and ADHD I asked her if I could visit and do an interview of hers.  I had no idea what a remedial therapy center was about (did not know too much about dyslexia or ADHD either) and wanted to know more and see for myself what Anu was doing. (Another thing that you know of her is that she is the kind of a person who goes about her work and her causes with a lot of professionalism and care.) Anu was gracious enough to invite me over and give me a lot of information about the wonderful work she is doing.
Busy with two keen students
The Learning Graph is a Remedial Therapy center that focuses on children with dyslexia and ADHD mainly. As one can see in the home page of the website, dyslexia is not a disability and has many advantages - with a little help it can unlock a lot of creative stuff. (I loved the way the two dys-lex-i-a's were juxtaposed and one struck off - the one about it being an "impairment to recognise and comprehend written words" and instead, the other one, which goes like "a learning advantage and a unique ability to recognize and comprehend complex, visual patterns".) There is a lot of information given about what dyslexia is (learning disability to comprehend or recognize written words), what causes it (runs in the family, a structural difference in the brain, requires alternate neurological pathways to develop to strengthen that part), how to recognise symptoms (http://thelearningraph.com/dyslexia-symptoms - must read this section because it has such comprehensive information), dyslexia remedy and its strengths. The Learning Graph focuses on the segment of children with a learning disability in the conventional sense, because to me, they seem equipped for something much more than what normal chaps can handle. The Learning Graph aims nobly to dream of a "world of equal opportunity for children where IQ and EQ are equally important and every child possesses the academic, social and emotional skills required to succeed in all spheres."
Explaining a teaching aid to me
Anu is a certified therapist and has completed her 'Remedial Therapist Course' from Ripples, an authorized center.  This course is a 6 month course and is comprehensive - psychology, cognitive blocks, case studies in schools, at home, hypothetical cases. She has also added a few more certifications to learn and know more about the subject. The fact that she taught English at Bengaluru's Vidyashilp School for a decade surely helps her to understand children and their psychology.
Some of the many teaching aids that 'thelearningraph' uses
I asked Anu why she chose this area to work with. Anu said something that was very heartwarming - that in all her years as a teacher at school she always felt for those who struggled at the back of the class. The whole system was praising the top 5 and a whole bunch of children were being left out. I love the underdog too and identify with them, having been a backbencher all my life, so I can understand what it must mean to have someone even think such thoughts about us.

The interview then.

Q. What does 'The Learning Graph' do really?

Anu: We help the child improve her or his learning curve. When we say child, we specifically work with children with Learning Disability (LD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). To explain this area of work some more, there are four broad classifications in this area - Autism, Slow learners, Mentally Retarded and LD. I chose the LD space because there are many in the other two areas who are far more qualified and experienced.

Children with LD have an average IQ and belong in the category of 90-110 range. So it’s difficult to recognise symptoms. It's just that they have a neurological dysfunction. There is no cure really but it is an established fact that with intervention and support, the condition can be remedied if the child is brought under care at the right time.

Q. What's the philosophy behind the remedy for dyslexia?
Anu: At The Learning Graph we believe that a qualified and experienced therapist is the best help for a dyslexic student. With a structured, systematic design we promote understanding, memory recall, use of spoken and written language. We use a combination of methods such as cognitive intervention, phonics and word analysis, spelling, word recognition and oral reading fluency, grammar and syntax, text comprehension, hand-writing and study skills.  

Q. What is the right time for a child to come for support?
Anu: Intervention can start at the age of 6. Typically it could take from a few months up to 2 years to see some marked improvement in the child's abilities.
Anu explaining a chart to me
Q. And how does one identify the issue?
Anu: To identify the issue one has to be aware, and not be in denial. Children with LD are like everyone else. But they show signs like having trouble with reversals (confusing b with a d), formation of letters, spellings, reading or just being slow. Just get an assessment done and you can remedy the situation. (for more information please visit http://thelearningraph.com/dyslexia-symptoms)

One other thing I'd like to mention is that for some kids we just get an eye test done and that solves it for them. All they need is a vision therapist and nothing else.

Q. What do you do once the child comes under your care?
Anu: To start with we do a Standard IQ Assessment test - or rather we have it done at one of the centers in Hyderabad. It is done by a clinical psychologist. This test covers both IQ and education assessment and is very detailed. It costs Rs. 9000 approx. and takes time. It is done over a couple of weeks.
Unfortunately in Hyderabad there are few centers that do the testing (Ripples is one). I am considering adding testing as a service at The Learning Graph. There is a huge waiting time for parents who wish to get the test done.

Based on the Standard IQ Assessment, I prepare what we call the IEP or Individualised Education Plan. I do the IEP myself. It takes into consideration attributes like reading, writing, spelling, visual, auditory, sensory perception.
All set for her students 
As for the age group - the child could be from 1st grade to 10th grade. Our interventions are typically for three sessions a week, one hour per session. Interventions are a combination of cognitive and academic exercises. For some learners we use the kinesthetic medium - or other mediums - based on the multiple intelligence theory.

Q. What are the services that The Learning Graph provides?
Anu: Like I mentioned above, we provide Informal Assessments, Academic Interventions (identify the problem area, prepare interventions in reading, spelling, vocabulary, creative writing etc), Cognitive Interventions (memory, attention, spatial orientation, auditory and visual perception). We also do Parent Empowerment sessions that deal with Child Management and how to track the child's learning curve. We have a behavior modification sheet based on the ABC model where the parent keeps a record of the Antecedent (activator), Behavior and Consequence and observes what happened pre and post incident.

Q. What are the aids you use to improve the child's learning graph?

Anu: We use several aids. Blocks, Mazes, Puzzles, Cognitive games, Reading cards (progressive), Worksheets (Anu herself developed and designed over a 100 worksheets for children), some Montessori material as well, the Fleurestein Instrumental Enrichment Kit. The children go through a well structured program that has a proper plan. Progress is monitored on a daily basis, feedback is given and child motivated for the next session. If they do well over a week, after the regular positive reinforcement that we normally give, we give them an additional incentive of a smiley score card that is up for everyone to see. The children are quite happy here. They miss other sessions but not these.
Anu explaining a chart that helps spatial orientation 
Q. How many children have you handled so far? and how has the experience been?
Anu: I completed my certification course in 2012. Unlike many others who work in schools I chose to work from home after my course. My work requires one-on-one attention. I can at best handle two at a time. So far I have handled 50 children in the past three years.

Turning them around has been the most fulfilling part of the journey. To see their improvement, their confidence, to see the sparkle in their eyes makes me happy. Many show improvement early, in two months, and most show improvement over a period of time. The longest we have had is one child who was with us for two years.

Here I want to mention that all the stakeholders need to tune into the child and their learning graph during this period for maximum effect. Parents, school have to be in line with what we are trying to achieve as well. For example if parents let the child watch television for hours on end, it will impact the work we have done. I am pretty strict at that. I prescribe that the child watches no more than 30 minutes of television. The parent must enforce discipline in the child's interest and not give in to every whim.

Q. Do they regress sometimes?
Anu: Sometimes they do. They come back for a refresher course.

Q. What are the typical challenges you face?
Anu: All challenges I face are in dealing with parents. Most don't accept that something is wrong with the child. Schools themselves are supposed to give certain provisions which they do not. They do just enough to show that they are doing something in that area. I'd love to see more awareness in schools to support such children, treat these children with more care and sensitivity. Schools need more resources and need to get more organized to deal with these children. All schools now have one resource person but most need more than one resource person.

Q. What are the future plans for The Learning Graph?
Anu: I am keen to expand the scope of this venture and take Remedial Therapy to economically backward children in government schools etc. For this I worked a bit with Priya Kosalaram, who works with economically backward children to help with their homework.

My big dream is to create a school for students with LD and ADHD. Hyderabad still lacks facilities for dyslexics. There are about 40 remedial therapists here - we are constantly in touch. But in Chennai there are full fledged schools that offer the entire spectrum - testing, sensory integration, remedial therapy and even a school.



A detailed lesson plan
Q. What are the big lessons you learned on the journey?
Anu: That these children respond most to a personal touch, that emotional bond. Call it love if you will. When you remember the name of the child, remember what they like, they are so happy. Like one kid who comes here who is so happy that I remember that she eats a dosa everyday. She loves it when I mention it to her. I talk to them about the music they listen to, movies they see, remember their birthdays and get them cupcakes, give them feedback. They love being treated with love, affection, care.

Q. What is it like in the child's mind? Did you ever get a peek there? Their fears and apprehensions?
Anu: Yes. It’s scary for them. They know they are not able to cope and do not know how to handle it. Like some code is missing. Like this child who learned everything here and did well - he would get stressed out asking me if he would remember everything in the school, how he will remember, if it’s ok to remember one answer out of five. They feel the gap, they are scared.

Q. Who are the other specialists in the area that you work with?
A. There are vision therapists, speech therapists, sensory therapists. Sensory therapy is a big area.

Q. How has the experience changed you as a person?
A. It has made me stronger and more determined. It has certainly made me more patient. I am so charged up to do more - there's so much work to do in this area. I love this work.


By this time some of the children started to come in. I watched Anu and her colleague deal with the children in a professional and yet gentle and encouraging manner. The children did their exercises seriously, smiling in between, getting applause for the good work. It was a fun place to be for them and one could sense that. The place has a nice, warm energy and you don't expect anything but that from Anu. 
Some of the 100 worksheets Anu has developed in the shelves behind her
The Learning Graph conducts events regularly - Graded Reading Program, Spelling Bee, Handwriting competitions, Reading with Expression and Fluency, Diya Making, Empowering the Parent, Fast Track Classes in Summer and Learning to Write Right, Enrichment Programs.

For further details check out the website www.thelearninggraph.com. You can reach Anupama Sircar at 99634 42662, 96182 37838 (centre) or email her at anupamasircar@hotmail.com, anupama@thelearninggraph.com. 

The address  
The Learning Graph, Flat 201, 2nd Floor, Surya Classic Apartments, Kakatiya Hills, Madhapur, Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad. 

Wonderful work Anu. I learned so much in those couple of hours I spent with you and am now that much more wiser and sensitised. To know that 13-14% of children have Learning Disability was a revelation. But what's most heartening is that with your care and intervention they could all unveil some startling talent that they have and join the ranks of other greats in their dyslexic group - Einstein, Graham Bell, Tom Cruise, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney to name some. It's an impressive group and I am sure you're just the person who will allow the children to find that strength within and soar away. Good luck and God bless.