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‘Wake up call’ day!

Over half of January has gone by. 2014 is shorter by half a month!

It’s been a ‘wake up call’ sort of day for me. And the thoughts in my head have been about looking ahead. I’m making a conscious effort to break from the past in the sense of not spending too much time ruminating over the last year, what it was like, what I learnt, etc. That stuff is important, but I tend to overdo it and get dangerously into the zone of procrastinating over stuff I need to get done NOW and in the future.

So, why so dramatic? What am I waking up about?

A few really important things.

1. Finances: I’ve opted for flexi work and consultancy the last many years and the kids have been a cushy excuse. I can’t look at joining work full time immediately, for various reasons. But I realized that my flexi work often took up as much time as full time work and paid me very little. So this year, I’m going to be a little more hard-nosed about money. That, of course, also goes for my spending, as I gear up to apply for PhD programs this year and hope to slide back into student life over the next few years!

2. Priorities: Being superwoman ain’t easy. It’s also stupid! I’m taking Rahul’s advice in 2014 and focusing on ME. Of course, it doesn’t mean everything else fades away, but there will be times I will make choices that appear completely out of character. All those of you out there who think I already am a self-centered *****, get ready for more of that! No apologies.

3. Productivity: A big part of my self-improvement drive this year hinges on this. Managing my time better and also meeting targets set for myself will be critical for me to achieve my goals. To begin with, I’m betting on being more self-aware of my schedules and less scatter-brained as I’m juggling many things as usual. Accountability to myself is also something I will be very careful about. I’m one of the most self-delusional beings on the planet!

4. Focus: This is the toughest one and should have been the first, but I’m under-confident. It’s in my nature to segue here and there and I love the experiences that emerge from those distracted journeys. But I’ll have to change some of that this year.

So you can see. 2014 begins on a very different note. My list looks a lot more like the ones in self-improvement books. Already, it’s not sounding like me, but someone else. And I’m intrigued, amused, impressed, motivated and also a little bit blah about it already! Hmmm…

Old habits in a new bottle: Is the digital age really changing us?

One hears constantly about how digital media is transforming us. How our attention span and even retention is shrinking. How we now use certain parts of our brain far more than other parts that will eventually dwindle away!

Well, I have always had an attention span issue. As a child, I wouldn’t be able to study the same topic for more than say 15 minutes. During my Boards in Class X and XII, I remember resorting to pacing and reading aloud to myself in the wee hours of the night to stay focused. It was never the subject matter, but the ability to sustain focus that was the big challenge.

Which is not to say that I am fickle or uninterested. I wander away and then return to things I consider important. The process of gleaning knowledge is different and I segue into other topics much like you dip into someone else’s food while eating at a communal table, only to return to your own with even more relish!

There is still a problem. The more serious matter sort of sits around for a while before I come to it. In the good old pre-digital days, it was a print out or a bookmarked chapter that sat at the edge of my study table while other relatively frivolous content (magazines, pictures, letters, cards, easier chapters from easier subjects…you get the drift) would occupy centerstage. On my computer screen, Gmail, WordPress, Facebook and Twitter tabs sit there providing the endless tempting and often unimportant snacks while the article I mean to read occupies a corner tab patiently awaiting its turn.

Now all this makes me wonder if my habits have indeed changed with digital media? It’s just the same tendency playing out on the computer screen, right?

I am also thinking that there is a certain merit in cultivating and sharpening this ability to segue, absorb other seemingly trivial inputs and then returning to consume more serious content (which you must, and give it adequate time and attention too!). Perhaps this dipping and returning adds more dimensions to your understanding and allows you to have a more enriched perspective, which then feeds into your output. Perhaps instead of constantly berating the digital age and shouting out dire warnings, we may just need to adapt a bit?

Strong women, meaningful work- How Padma Shri awardees Laila Tyabji and Geeta Dharmarajan inspire me- Jan 25, 2012

I scrolled down the list of Padma awardees and of course, there are several I know of and several others who don’t mean much to me. But two of them are people I happen to have met recently and been very impressed by. Laila Tyabji, founder Dastkar is easily one of the most graceful women I have met and Geeta Dharmarajan of Katha disarmed me by her complete humility. My interactions with both reiterated my belief in passion being the driving force for change!

I meet Lailaji in the context of the India Urban Conference that I had been involved with in the latter half of 2011. I was helping a friend put together the ‘City in Public Culture’ theme and we had involved Ms Tyabji to speak at a session focused on the link between arts & crafts and development. She presented her case entirely from the point of view of the artisan, outlining clearly the linkages between livelihood, poverty and dignity; elaborating their struggles in the context of rapid urbanization, industrialization and socio-economic changes that have both created a market for the crafts and devalued them at the same time. Positioning the arts & crafts in India as not a dying industry, but one that is resilient and adaptive, Lailaji rued that India’s development agenda gave more credence to growth in sheer numbers than to skills and long-term growth agendas. Her empathy with the communities she works with, her clarity in her understanding of the political agenda and her commitment to offering the craftspeople a platform comes from an inner conviction that arts & crafts are linked with identity and dignity, two themes that lie at the very core of our existence as a society and will determine the legacy India is giving the world.

Having recently interacted with a community of leather workers, embroiderers and jewelry makers and seen first-hand the tremendous importance their skills played in their local economy and social fabric and indeed their self-image (especially in the case of women), I was able to internalize and appreciate further the content of Lailaji’s discourse.

I met Geeta Dharmarajan in context of the same project, when the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation called a meeting of the state and city-level nodal officers for the Rajiv Awas Yojna (RAY) with a selection of community-based organizations at HUDCO a few months ago. The meeting was unique in having the objective of building a platform for government officials at state and municipal levels to understand issues from a community perspective, in the hope that innovative approaches would evolve to implement the slum-free agenda of RAY.

Geetaji made a strong case for the role youth can play in implementing development interventions in low-income communities. She shared many examples of how youth empowerment and training had provided communities with the agile, skilled workforce that assisted local businesses to become more efficient. She spoke about how young people with a sense of purpose were changing perceptions in their families and larger communities. Later, she attended a follow up meeting specific to Delhi where she further urged the Ministry to consider a project for mobilizing youth to conduct government surveys, thereby collecting richer, more valuable, community-centric information that could be used for effective redevelopment designs for slums. Her focus and belief in youth was impressive; so was her ability to speak up for her cause in a much larger context and force audiences to pay attention through her simplicity and conviction. Speaking to her later, I was extended a warm invitation to visit their field areas and experience their initiatives first hand.

We don’t need to quantify the good work Dastkar and Katha have done. What strikes me most is that these organization work with, not for the communities they engage with. Just feeling the force of the personalities of these two women, the tremendous involvement in their work and the sheer respect they command is sufficient to know that they, through their organizations, are making significant impacts on the section of society that most needs our innovation, empathy and passion, not mere charity!

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