It's only later that it becomes anything like a story

Around a time like this, some months back, it was foggy. Both within, and without. Nine pm, atop a mountain which overlooks the city, with two friends, all tenacious in their lack of directions, but raring to change the world, is the kind of stuff postcard moments are made of. All three of us, on the way to an Ivy League MBA degree, were intoxicated by the soon to catch escape velocity of our lives. Until, one point in the evening when I stood up and told them my plans to become a teacher in a low income municipal school in Pune. Thud! And in just one moment, I realized bad brakes in high speed.

Things got lonelier. Friends became few. But within, it still felt nice. I was sure I would miss 100 % of the shots I would not take. So, I went ahead to my new world of three feet tall friends.

It is said that when you are in the middle of a story, it isn't a story at all, but only a confusion, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood, like a house in a whirlwind, crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids. It's only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all, when you are telling it to yourself, or to somebody else.

Yet in this midlength of my experience, there are some realizations, a few light bulb moments and many confessions that are worth the dashboard space. Here they are:

On relationships and emotions:

Strangers are friends that you have yet to meet. So now I reach out every time I can. Earlier my experiences with people were mostly transactional and some lone Saturday night, it all felt like a mass of dots. But more and more these days, I feel like we're all connected. Earlier, I was like an idiot searching for the perfect hand when each genuine grasp was worth the time. Life’s too short and I want to add beautiful people in my life each day.

Second, on a seeming surface level contradiction to my first point, I have realized some of the essence of non attachment. Looking life from a distance is my personal distillation of the tenet. Its only when we distance ourselves from some things, do they actually whisper a meaning to us. When someone once asked Sunita Williams, the NASA astronaut of Indian origins as to how does the world look like from 100 miles above when you can see the curvature of our planet? She said, “You feel so far but so close, like you can’t come home, disconnected from the hustle and bustle of Earth. There is a spiritual feeling: You’re privileged just to have this view. You see the planet differently, as a whole, the amazing colors, the animals and plants and people not separated by anything.” It’s only in this ideological wilderness that I am in these days, away from my friends, away from those mindless trips to the mall, that unnecessary phone call, and that thoughtless rush of a diehard capitalist, that I feel that 100 mile indescribable feeling for life.

On change:

The size of the endeavor doesn’t matter as much as how meaningful it means to you. You just can’t compare providing excellent education to 400 million children in your country to putting up a man in the moon or absorbing the colors of the sunset through the hills. And that’s the beauty of the theory of change. Everything counts. Nothing is irrelevant, nothing small. Everything connects back to something bigger. A huge portion of my life was spent thinking I wasn’t capable of being the change. And the later part was wasted in thinking whether the change I was trying to make was Big enough. So after more than a quarter of my life wasted on that experiment, I now believe that you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. And like Steve Jobs says, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.

Imagine the 600 million young Indians thinking that way.Thats one Gandhi, multiplied six hundred million times. Crazy mathematics. That’s the power of being the change.

On leadership and personal transformation:

After reading a lot of leadership literature in my life, I often wondered, whats the best definition I wanted to pin down on leadership? I journeyed a lot. But each time, I returned with that unreachable feeling of a giant trophy up on a mountain. Its then that in Teach for India, I met Shaheen and serendipity together by virtue of this poem by Lao Tsu,a Chinese philosopher and Bang! I got my definition of leadership.

“Go to the People
Live with them
Learn from them,
Love them.
Serve them.
Start with what they know,
Build with what they have.
But with the best leaders
When the work is done
the task is accomplished
The people will say,
‘We have done this ourselves.’

Doesn’t it sound like leadership door delivered? In fact it’s the easiest or the only way to the “trophy”. Leadership through service. You be an engineer or a doctor, a travel guide or a businessman, a mathematician or a musician, if you think of each and every profession in the paradigm of service, as a thankful way of giving back to the part we owe to our existence in this world, we would be a better place and Leadership will be unto you.

Coming back to where I started, when you are in the middle of a story, it isn’t a story at all. Its only later that it becomes anything like a story. With disconnected jigsaw pieces in my hand, I am walking around looking for the right metaphor piece to complete the perception of this experience.

The roller coaster is just about to free fall. And I am hung at the topmost point. That precise moment is now.

A squarefoot of idealism !

What can we take on trust in this uncertain life? Happiness, greatness, pride - nothing is secure, nothing keeps. “ Since Euripides said that some two and a half millennia ago, much water has run under the bridge! I wonder which way would Euripides tweak it had he lived long enough to witness the Dark Middle Ages, the Industrial Revolution , the age of Colonialism and nuclear bombs, the www boom and the current Recession !Poor guy would be left with such a sense of exaggeration. Really, too much change has happened to this world in too less time. But the question that looms large is, Is this change for free? Or does it come with its own price? If it does, who is paying for it?

I personally hate using numbers but when they tell you a story, I prefer putting my ears onto the ground for a moment. I came across this beautiful video some time back called The Miniature Earth. It has a unique point to make. It says, if we could turn the population of the earth into a small village of 100 people, keeping the same proportions we have today, it would look something like this…there are 50 men, 50 women,.. 9 are disabled,…43 live without basic sanitation,18 live without an improved water source,6 people own 59% of the entire wealth of the community,13 are hungry or malnourished,14 cant read, only 7 are educated in the secondary level, only 12 have a computer, only 3 have an internet connection, If you keep your food in a refrigerator, your clothes in your closet, if you have a bed to sleep in, and a roof over your head, you are richer than 75% of the entire population,…If you have a bank account, you are one of the 30 wealthiest people in the world,..and so on. And the thought that they leave you with is, Appreciate what you have and do your best for a better world.

Some days just go into your personal history. That same day, I had watched the movie” The Motorcycle Diaries” and was seething with an urge to make my own world with my own rules. And this video happened. It served me as something more than just an amusing data interpretation exercise. On reflection , I found a great connection between the Great Wall of China and poverty, between the Pyramids and educational inequity, and it is that, all of them are man made. And yes, to make it sound a little truer, this “man” is made of you and I !And we made it.Period. But if theres something to look up to, its this.. if all these injustices, inequities are made made, wouldn’t its mitigation just be a case of another concerted human effort? It looked like a quasi inspirational moment . So if I am the reason why 1 in 3 children who begin primary school will drop out before reaching 5th grade, if more than half of us would lull our kids to sleep with just hungry stomachs , I are sure kidding myself with all the advertisement of an Incredible India or that the world is flat. I realised something needs to be done.

But What?

And then one day, good luck struck noble intentions.I came across this advertisement in the Times of India about a certain movement which is to start in India by the name , Teach for India. Drawing its inspiration from the hugely successful program Teach for America in the US, which was started by a 21 year old Princeton graduate called Wendy Kopp some 20 years back, Teach for India promised to put India’s most outstanding college grads and young professionals as leaders and change makers in the low income and governmental schools and in the communites there in with the vision that, one day every child will have an excellent education. That one square foot of advertisement looked like a lot of what I was always wanting , a space for idealism fuelled by a paradigm of service and that one magic chance to change the world. It doesn’t need any explaining that the little extra between the ordinary and the extra ordinary is one’s education. I cant imagine my childhood without books, fairies, summer vacations, my loving teachers, and those letters from hostel to Ma. And I cant imagine that for any child. With the fond view of a world where every child could get back his childhood, where every child is an owner of his dreams, where every child has a sentimental convocation photo on his dashboard, where every child feels that he/she is born to make manifest the glory of God in each one of them, I joined Teach for India. One step closer towards a really flattened world.

You be an engineer or a doctor, a travel guide or a businessman, a mathematician or a musician , if you think of each and every profession in the paradigm of service, as a thankful way of giving back to the part we owe to our existence in this world, we would be a better place. With around 600 million young people waiting for change to happen in India today, what more beautiful a concept can there be, than to fillip this completely renewable and assumingly inexhaustible source of youthful energy to create millions of nodes of changes in every
gully, nukkad and crossroad of India.Just imagine. One Gandhi, multiplied six hundred million times. Crazy mathematics. That, is the power of "Be"ing the change. And that is the space where wonderful organisations like Teach for India aspire to work.

And lastly, I would leave you with a thought to reflect on. Someone once said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves – who am I to be brilliant, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world…”

For change to happen, you either wait to see, or you choose to Be! Take your pick.

Until next time, think about it!

(It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story. Join the movement. Be the voice.For applying for the two year, full-time paid fellowship program with Teach For India log on to )

P.S: Thanks Anoop for your pics. They just breath so much life.