Category Archives: Articles

Cancel the Class xii exams

The board exams at the end of schooling years are a rite of passage. A torturous experience, an act of growing up and claiming one’s space in the world – because one’s space depends upon one’s marks. The school leaving grade, the graduation to the grown up world and the certification of basic ability that enables one to seek specialisation all come with this exam. 

And yet, all examinations have some basic rules. First, they have to be fair to all candidates – this is the golden rule. For this to happen, the assumption is a normal school year, calm conditions to prepare and safe spaces to take the exam. None of these hold true today. There is nothing to gain from holding the class 12 examinations under these circumstances. The pandemic rages in a cataclysmic manner, and almost every family in the capital city and many others is running pillar to post for survival. No student, whether directly impacted or not, could watch the fires of our times and be in a state to focus on work, to do well in exams. Being disturbed is normal for now, but is not conducive to a normal examination. The only students who may be able to be productive would be those who suffer from some type of apathy, the rest of us are all affected. 

A more practical risk, especially at a time when contagion rates are raging at 30-40% is that the examination itself could be a super spreader, however well it is organised. We hear reports of teachers who were drafted for some Panchayat elections who suffered and succumbed to the pandemic. The class 12 exam will not be excepted from the wrath of the virus. It does not understand virtues, or purpose, it seeks contagion. 

The other basic rules of assessment are that they must be valid, relevant, accurate and timely. In the middle of the worst of the pandemic, a high stakes test is certainly not going to hold to the standard of ‘valid’. Any replication sample at another time will surely diverge from this test taken under hugely distressing circumstances. The relevance of assessment is not based on a single test taken in three hours – it would be much more relevant to assess the portfolio of work product created by the student during the year, or work on the pre-board scores that have already been taken by the schools. There are many other innovative options, or composite options that can be used, though in this chaos, it would be best to keep it simple. 

The accuracy of this examination depends upon its administration. One look at every organisation around us today will tell us that the illness is leaving everyone short staffed at almost no notice. People are coping but there is little accuracy left even in emergency grocery or medicine deliveries. If the supply chains of so much has broken down, there is no reason to assume that the supply chain of the examination can remain smoothly operational. There can be no guarantee that even students make it to the exam, let alone invigilators and so on.

Timely, they say is another key pillar of assessment. The exams have already been postponed. Students are now preoccupied with learning how to survive in life, learning how to cope with news of horrors near and far. They are learning how to cope with sorrow, to comfort near and dear, to step up and volunteer, to serve. To save, to savour life itself, while helping another. To overcome fear, to know dread and find in themselves the resilience to go on. Our students are learning other things that are more timely than any curriculum based examination can even imagine. 

These are hugely exceptional circumstances, and we must concede to reason in the face of such an onslaught. A wise person battens down the hatches in the face of a storm and goes underground. It is time to do the same with the class 12 examination now, so that we emerge safe to assess and be assessed by examination another day, another year, when things are better. 

The Future of Ed-Tech

An Ed-Tech maturity model that builds on an understanding of the big forces driving the future of learning.

The 2 page note has two parts, a predictor of the essential competencies of ed-tech that is predicated on a charting of Ed-Tech models along the two key axis that will drive the successful deployment of Ed-Tech.

No spoilers above. Click to find.

The basic model is presented here. The essay, and other explainers follow.

Journey note

Do not read this for education substance, I will write again in a week for that. This is a personal note from an educator – to herself probably, but it is about the professional space. 

“I have a dream”, said a great man once. And now roads are named after him. In most cities in that country, MLK is the road that divides the town. Everyone knows it, that one side is the traditional, the other side still aspires. Appropriate for education, where one aspires, knowing that traditional is not necessarily better, but it is the other side of that street that marks a line. I had a dream too, to see education true. A system where each student could prosper, indeed flower. And as I learnt more about it, I found myself being bounced from one perspective to another. I am so tempted to list the top ten problems with education here, but I will refrain. Enough time to do this elsewhere, and if we are to be honest, who does not know what the problem is – right? Everyone has a strong opinion, and everyone knows that the problem is not them, it is the other. 

The student says the system is the problem, the system blames its parts. Teachers know they are special, which is why they cannot change, and changemakers debate whether the teacher or the principal/head of the school should be retrained. The public sector blames the private, the private, naturally blames tenure in the public. A thousand times these, again and the wheel keeps spinning. I spun with these, and found myself agreeing that private set ups find more innovative solutions, but it is also true that equity can only be because of the public set up. In all of these, I wondered why nobody was asking the right questions – then. 

There were so many questions to ask, but no one wanted to ask them. Why do teachers not change their ways when each batch and each student is different? Why do school heads let themselves be run by administrative needs and not student needs? Why can students not hop in and out of school, all life long? Thousands of questions like that. I wanted to ask these questions, but few others wanted to – so I struck out on my own. 

I set out some projects, and I shall not bore you with all of them. School Safety Project – because how can students learn unless they have safe spaces? I call this a win, because India now has a school safety policy, there is CCTV and there are guards and barbed wire. But it is not a win, because there is no real freedom or safety to think – being policed is not being safe, it is being watched. Safe spaces for learning are not run by bossy know it all teachers who are hustling you to the test. But I still call it a win, and take a breather, for the warrior too gets tired, and we must take what we get on the uphill journey. 

There were many other projects, and they are in the about section right here. Some are done, some are paused, some are underway. I admit, I find it more rewarding to do the next thing rather than update my CV or profile. There will be errors there. And things past that I forgot to change. I am too busy running to keep up with myself. Not because I am achieving so much in education, no one does. Just as there never can be true expertise in education, there can be no one person who changes things. But we push, and push, and one day something shifts a bit. Look, they are already talking about social and emotional learning – what is that if not a safe space for learning. It all connects up in the end. 

It gets tiring. I once met a bunch of educators socially. I admire all their work, and they admire mine, I hope. I have begun to get more confident of this after talking to many of you – thank you for telling me. I asked them, why do you keep going? We all had a hearty laugh, because it was hard, hard. You spend six or ten years of your life shifting the needle on one small shift that had been proven to work, then evaluate the impact, and it has changed by a fraction of a percentage point. It takes more than a generation for any improvement to show – and this is why I am lucky – I am surrounded by heroes who will not give up the fight. The rewards are not many either. Except for love and respect, and that too cannot be relied upon. 

“Who will listen to you?” someone had taunted me once. That person invites me often now. But does not pay me. This is where we get stuck. Each of us can see that we need to dig deeper, ask more meaningful questions. But where do we find the funding to do so? We have to follow the project that gets funded. And Education does not have much money anyway. So we continue blundering in the dark, questions neither asked, not answered. The old continues to inform the new, while the next races ahead – it’s a mess. One needs a lot to be heard here, not just content. More than a good question, more than a good answer, one needs a traditional tilak and costume, a form. I found it in my next – and now maybe past – project. I called the project – the Centre for Education Strategy. I told you, I had a dream, like the great man did. The dream was to cross the line. Excellence for All in education. 

The line between a good education and a mediocre one was not one of money. It was one of care and competence. And hidden curriculum that included confidence. Look at the young lady who is the daughter of a rikshaw driver who made Miss India – she has it. Others, placed as she was did not. I wanted to make it better, I wanted Excellence, that edge for all. And for that, I thought, we needed a strategic approach. No wars are won without strategy, and a policy is a guide, not a strategy. A strategy pierces through to the goal like an arrow, and I dreamt of teams of questions that would shoot for that goal. I will not judge the project, which is now a part of my brand name, but must go. It is one in the series of projects I run, and then write about. Education and CSR took up two years for me, as had the Impact of the RTE act on school systems. There have been many more, all under the umbrella idea of Education Strategy that delivers Excellence for All. As with my observations at the gathering, we can all claim progress, knowing it is slow. Yes, even with edutech, which is now reduced to exampreptech. Examtech is not an education, but one day I will find the right questions to ask them too, and then they shall pivot. 

There are projects that are past, there are those that I am working on, writing on, speaking on and advising now even today. Some are slipping into the past, and I shall blame the pandemic, it is time for the Centre to end its life. It is time for the next quest to begin, and as ever, it shall be a multiple headed hydra. School managements, governance, financing, Responsibility – these are the big questions I want to ask. How do you get it right? Can you show others what right means? Is that the right way ahead? Is this how we build our tomorrow? 

There is a lot to say and learn still, and many many more questions to seek answers to – I for one know that a good education for all will be achieved when I see good questions rise all around me. Till then, I shall keep asking questions to breed better questions. 

For those who want a more pragmatic response: 

I write, I speak, I advise. I prefer to be paid for these, for I find that the fee facilitates the engagement. Free advice will always be generic and  inspiring. Paid advice will be harsh and useful. Those are my terms. Each will be a series of questions, one set more rigorous than the other. 

I am on several advisory boards, and a prestigious school board. A few other things too, I forget easily. I am a Fellow of the RSA. (FRSA). I have shunned titles and job roles, and other such boxes, but at my age, I begin to see its uses. I follow my age, and my preaching to wind down my public voice and do more research writing. All my work has been based on solid research, I just did not have time to write it down. Just shared the results in my speaking and advisories. Now, I plan to write for the longer term, for keeps. Let us see, I may still speak with fire and brimstone when you invite me to that keynote. 

I plan to work on Sustainable education. I am creating models and theories for Balanced Education. I seek to be a philosopher next, and that journey is about to begin. I am currently also working on a text – The Paradoxes inherent in our Education, things I have noticed, truths I have faced, reasons why we keep getting stuck. Of course, I am also working on ways to get us free, and so, on the 7 Phases of an Educated Life. 

Wish me luck, and join in the journey. 

10 Hurts: Trolls and triggers

All trolls are not bad, even if they try to be so. Nor is all of social media bad, except to those who do not know how to handle it. Having said that, there have been numerous occasions when it has hurt hard and felt personal. I remember two – one because it was recent, and one because it hurt and had long term consequences. I shall tell both stories in these ten, just to let them go. This one is the more recent one, and was started by an anonymous troll, or some handle already forgotten. See, years online make one a bit careless of persons, especially those who try to hurt you, they obviously do not deserve entry into one’s time, or attention.

I am going to contradict myself right away, right now and here. I happen to be an egalitarian. (An elitist egalitarian, but we shall save that for another day). I have tried to respond to everyone on twitter, and it is only now that the algorithms do not show me all the replies, so I have been unable to offer them this courtesy. All created equal, and deserve equal courtesy. Except when the intent is clearly malafide. I try not to block, for everyone can have a bad, needy, snarky, lashing out kinda day, but I do ignore.

Some trolls of course compose their attacks with great artistry, and it penetrates. This one did, if slightly. So, here comes this attack, totally unnecessary, out of the blue, and clearly lacking in evidence or information, and totally personal. I had tweeted something about saving the climate, possibly about not bursting crackers (always emotive with those who associate fireworks with clean air) – in any case it was about good stuff that should guide our behaviours. And winging its way down the internet tubes comes an accusation of layers of make up, and chopping trees for new furniture every year and running down the ozone layer by driving SUVs. I think it stung because I am growing old, and have discovered, only recently that make up can make one glow. So yes, true, about once a month, I do put on make up. One cannot step up on stage looking drab, nor run webinars looking like a couch potato – it insults the effort of the organisers and the investment of the participants. So yes, sure. In a good cause.

But having paid attention to it, I decided to use this as an opportunity to reflect. Why ever not? It was presented to me on a platter, and while that person or their nastiness did not matter, my values mattered to me.

I looked at cars first. For the past ten years, my office has been in my own building, and I have insisted on scheduling outside meetings only once a week. I do not step out more than twice a week because I do not want to add to the traffic jams and pollution. True story. And as I grow older, my work is becoming more reflective than active. This is how I structure my life, around my age, needs and understanding of the world around me. See, I am getting defensive now. This is what trolls do, and this is a path that refuse to take. Walk back. Oh, and I use an electric car, and have done so for 7 years. I am sure one can debate the location of pollution, but certainly, it is an investment (it does not really pay for itself) into the technology, and one numbers tick chalked up next to demand for a better way of life. Pliss, industry to align to what consumers are calling for by buying and using this technology – we so do not want to pollute, provide us a better way. So far, a win, I would say.

Then, chopping trees. I do not print anything, have not for twenty or more years. At most ten pages a year. I always write my notes on the back of single sided documents that are sent my way, or indeed on the inside of large shopping envelopes. Yes, weird flex, but I actually brought back the brown paper packaging material sent by walmart with groceries full of notes. The rest were made into A4ish sized sheets. I am a bit funny about saving paper. (I feared it might be turning into a fetish, so I bought a dozen notebooks for the lockdown. Too much of anything is bad).

What else – ah furniture. I looked around – the sofas came from my parents, the comfy chair belonged to my mother’s grandfather. The work table was an antique (kempton park fair, for the win!) but battered (so not expensive) games table to which I added the base of an old ironing board so that the various levels make it multi purpose. My main work table was from a second hand store, and so on. Only a few beds (I am ready for family as guests, so yes, a few) were made by local carpenters, and that too over a decade ago. Anything I have purchased since then has been second hand, and recyclable, preferably metal. No trees were chopped on my account.

It hurt, for a day, I remember. We all pretend to be strong, but trolls can get to us. But this one, I thank. Because it gave me a chance to reflect on my behaviours, audit myself, and find myself happy with the report card. I could have made different choices, but a reflection on the whole, I am trying to be the person I want to be. Not perfect, no way, but on the way to some enabling choices.

(Hmm: now to find more hurts for the series. Ah, there is the other SM one, that shall keep for say, number 5. The third I think should be about the ‘intervention’)

10 Hurts: Art and Beauty (1)

Sometimes, I realise, we are made by our hurts. Things that hurt us either remind us of who we are, and who we are not. And help us choose. I am going to list ten hurts that made me remember myself, ten moments in life that rebooted me to my authentic self. Some, tiny incidents, some episodes and some phases.

(Do I have a list of ten hurts that I remember? Nope, not that jobless. But there must have been at least ten, and I remember two- enough to make a start)

So, this was when I had just come back to India, and decided to live in Delhi. London had been wonderful, and a great launching pad for my aesthetic self too, among other things. I traveled a lot, often budget, often luxury, but always in search of wonderful things that uplift. That is my definition of a good aesthetic whether in nature or whether created, that it must boost. Give a bit of a lift to life and the soul. Living next door to Europe there was much beauty to see and learn from, some of their countries and cities have made it their very purpose to be beautiful. Consider Florence, Venice, Vienna, Salzburg, Paris and so many more. Consider Switzerland. Immersion helps. London learnt from those, even if grittier and expressed it in so many ways, for example food. I have eaten the most beautiful food in that city. It permeates, and it was absorbed.

Then, I am uprooted to Delhi. Now, don’t get me wrong, it is one of my home cities and I will always have a deep rooted, even visceral love for Delhi. And only a true Delhi person will be able to admit that a love for Delhi is just one step away from deep anger and frustration with the city. London is rough, but Delhi, it is abrasive. Blame the dust. I had aimed for lofty aesthetics and Delhi is a combination of bling and ceramic tiles. I do not joke. Delhi, especially a decade ago had the aesthetic that is at its kindest given the benefit of doubt, saying it must be a work in progress or jugaad gone wrong.

I blame the dust. And the extreme weather. Nothing lasts here, so everything is bought to be ‘mail-khora’. Buy things that are brown, the dust will not show up on it. Buy solid ugly furniture, it will weather the extremes. Buy things in plastic, it is cheap and easy to replace. Buy things that do not hurt you when they break, because the help does not care for their value, and you cannot possibly dust them thrice a day unless you are super rich. Everything has to be middling, unless you are the super rich who can outsource their aesthetics to professionals.

For like many other places, in Delhi, even being rich does not guarantee good taste. I could go on about the subjectivity of good taste, but let us just acknowledge that Delhi and I had different views of it. Gurgaon, I am sorry to say, fared even worse in my eyes – it was a copy of Dubai, which was a copy of London, which was a copy of Europe and Empire, which was a memory of what was at its artistic best exploitative and elitist and so troubled. (Ya, I just did that, it’s only an adda here man, not a treatise. Chill). Anyway, with money, it felt copycatty, without money it was synthetic (madam, curtain aaj kal is hi material mein chalte hain. No, I do not want what is chalte hain!)

Surrounded by study tiles, thick tiny carpets, uncomfortable sofas, shiny objects d’ not art at all, I went minimalistic. It was honestly a fear of dusting. (I kid you not, it takes ten minutes in Delhi for a layer of dust to be visible again). And yet, I hoped, it was soothing, comfortable and aligned. Form with function is my holy grail, and that, I hoped would fit into the admittedly excessive demands of the Delhi climate.

And yet, I could not allow myself to either be hoity toity, nor allow myself to sink to synthetics – and don’t tell me that in your heart of hearts you have not tried to bring a balance that works for you too! I wanted nothing fancy, but something pleasing. Simple wood that did not try to hard, a sofa with straight plain lines that did not call themselves to attention, polish that did not have at least one drippy line. Try getting that in Delhi (at that time – it’s so much better now). Again, unless you were super rich, in India you could access the finest workmanship if you were very rich or connected.

I’m coming to the hurt. But that is actually less important than the journey. It just happens to be the memory pivot.

Now, every one who seeks their personal aesthetic balance knows that is always about the cultivated ‘eye’. This is again a lovely segue into the colonised mind, the constructed outlook and all sorts of pretentious versus authentic perspectives – but I shall resist for now. For me, a charpoy under a neem tree is a beautiful aesthetic, but practically I could not possibly fit it into my city living room.

Now, this ‘eye’ is notoriously fickle. You show it a hundred ugly things, and it begins to normalise those. The ‘aise hi to hota hai’ virus is catching. Fashion, trends and convenience begin to creep in, and before you know it you have lost your authentic eye and have slipped into the quicksands of the contemporary ( I so want to pun on contempt here, but again, shall refrain). You lose yourself, basically. You get confused and make mistakes.

So, in order to remind myself of what I hold dear, I made up a motto for myself. I held it like a talisman, and everything I looked for must go past the talisman or it would not do for me. This motto was, ‘art and beauty’. Anything I brought into my life must elevate, must bring me to a deeper understanding of myself and something beyond me, must have either a deep personal history, or some story. Something more than the mere physicality of the object, and it’s ephemeral comforts. Something that makes me think, for I am insistent on creating thinking spaces. (Our livelihoods depend upon that).

Art of course, has it’s own purpose, and it leads you within. It makes you question different versions of what is made visible, and to seek within the shadows. A blank wall can be art too, for it creates that thinking space. Beauty, for me, comes from alignment. In physical spaces it comes from an alignment of form and function, of seamless flow, of a sense of uninterrupted possibilities. Sounds fancy, but the simplest of spaces can deliver that, as can the most ornate. It is about feeling good, about being able to be your best self. The purpose of a space is the elevation of personhood. For me, it was via this cusp of art and beauty, done minimally. I still wanted to minimise dusting, this was Delhi after all.

Now Delhi has this ability of making hardy folk of us all. Those of us who survive in Delhi are like the local keekar shrub that calls itself a tree – bony, edgy, with thorns and few small leaves. We give neither shade, nor kindness, and only sufficient food for goats to thrive, and the rest of us to be left in contemplation of the dusty desert that surrounds us. We Delhi people are not easy to get along with, and we cover it up often with bluster and laughter, at our core, we are the keekar. The keekar, except in relief does not know art, nor beauty, even as itself may be both. It knows utility and survival. This is us, the people of Delhi, we are abrasive. I made the mistake of telling my sister in law of the criterion of art and beauty, and was mocked mercilessly for years about it. Mercilessly, and mocked. Of course, she was young then, and has now discovered the need for both, as a palliative and as an escape from keekardom that Delhi inevitably delivers.

It hurt, and the memory of it still hurts. Not because I was wrong, but possibly because I was so alone. I was new to the city, and in my quest for building a fulfilling life, not only did the shops only showcase either derivative copycat, or badly made tat, or folksy impracticalities (dusting, remember) meant for feudal households. And then, the people too, were the same. Either pretentious, or keekar. My choices lay clear – grand solitary isolation, or placing myself in the bowels of either the pretentious or the parched.

Neither art, nor beauty found hope here. But as I slowly built a life, on my own terms, in my own way, they found a home.

It is not perfect, and my eye is not as good as it was. I make mistakes, as need demands sometimes. But then, there are a few moments of perfection, when art and beauty, when alignment and opportunity, when the soul and its aspirations find a space to rise, and be. That, for me, is enough.

(Catty postscript: One of the older pieces we have is an ancient leather chesterfield. Just last night, the leather squeaked when the person sitting on it (not me) moved. Much mocking and laughter, and I felt the familiar annoyance rise. Of course, I reminded myself, it is not my fault that you do not know how real and good leather works, at the same time reminding myself that it needs some good cream and elbow grease – after all these years it is cracking beautifully, as grace should. And did)

Oh, and why did I write this? I was reminded of this by a tweet by Neil Gamain where his speech on Make Good Art was mashed to music. Here, listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWjVUQjqaB8&feature=youtu.be

Something better

We live amongst the ruins of economic philosophies. Socialism has been too slow. Communism lies in ruins. Marxism is beyond the pale. Collectivism never really took off. Capitalism is evil. You go on, add to this, for nothing has stood tall and proud, both economically and ethically. 

As we walk through the ruins of these economic philosophies, we pause to pick up some artefacts along the way. Oh look, social housing – what a good idea it was, we exclaim. We put it down again, remembering the gun ghettoes and the highrises that led to things like Grenfell and worse. It wasn’t all bad, but we did not make it work, as it should. We stroll along, crunching over bits past and forgotten, unaware of the good ideas we are cruising past, crushing them to dust. Magpie like, we look for the shiny ones that fell, but only recently. There are so many to find. I even found a public library in that trash pile recently, and a part of me died as I threw it back, knowing how much good it did while it lasted.

Capitalism and it’s trickle down was the hope we were sold, but then, I realised, the only thing that trickles down in real life is slime along walls that leak. Those on the floor tend to slip on it, and we blame the slime, not the building. Capitalism, as they call it, has failed they say. The grand building is all facade, for it is top heavy. All the money has risen to the top, there is not enough for those down below. Look, no healthcare, terrible housing, failing schools and barely any savings. These are the wages of capitalism, they say. I wonder. I wonder if they mean Capitalism, or corporatism.

Because capitalism had barely time to find its foundations when the corporate ganged up to play, and play it did, creating bigger and bigger leagues to win. Soon it became all about big, and leagues and winning. We’ve even forgotten how it started, have we not? I remember sitting at my mother’s knee, and sitting outside my father’s classes, his booming voice ringing out as they taught me about perfect markets. Perfect markets were not about corporate gangs, they were about people buying and selling. About fighting to look after your interests, with equal rights, and equal weight. Ceterus Paribus, they started. We were fooled by assumptions, we took them for granted.

Corporations, they ignored them. Their businesses were built on finance and products and profits. What did they know or care about utility, that delicate fragrant flower that gave out beauty, and fragrance, and wellness and happiness and then could be sold at the market in exchange for a meal, and a safe roof and a warm fire. The flower sellers could sing, as could the farmers, and the cobblers. For they were building more than spreadsheets.

The lies we told ourselves were quite incredible. Bigger is better, we learnt. Sure, bigger begets more, but is that better? Did you remember to count in the songs we sang, not to cover up the hollow in our conscience as we pushed our vendors for cheaper materials, but the songs that came from happy lips that loved the work they did. Did we remember to count in the little bits of good that we did for our communities, because we cared about people, not just because CSR was good PR and more.

There were more lies. We taught ourselves double entry accounting, accrual, valuations and internal rates of return, discounting everything and screaming now, now, now. Now and forever, for all accounting survives on the going concern concept. We thought we were forever, we were infinite. We forgot that when we puff ourselves up so much, the bubble bursts. Our hubris was our own, and it was hungry, eating up the earth and the air and all above and below.

When we looked around, we found holes in the ozone layer, dust where grass should be, smoke where fog could be, and our lights were dimmed. So we turned it up, chopping even harder and faster. We were the wood and the axe, and we chopped up what made us. We mocked the fool who sat on the branch he was chopping, not realising that he was us, and we were doomed for the fall.

We fall, and as we fall, we see the debris around us. The pieces that fell with us, some just before. Some, ready to fall upon our heads. We know this cannot last, and as we walk amongst the ruins, we know we have much here that is worth saving. The sun is still shining upon us. So much of what we have built is good, and deserves to go on. Capitalism may be dying, but not all of us are convinced that we can use its parts to build something better.

In all the civilisations that we built with our flaws and our genius, we also founded some beacons. I remember memorising history at school, and all good kings were remembered for the wells they dug, the roads they built and the grains they distributed. They were not remembered for their grand statues, for even Ozymandias must fall, nor for their grand palaces, for each grand palace or temple will be built upon by the next generation. We stand on the shoulders of giants, and our glory must perish. What remains is the institutions we build for others.

It is the parks, the libraries, the hospitals, the roads – it is the public good that sustains us. And this is what we must learnt to sustain. Capitalism is not corporatism, capitalism is about personal transactions building institutions of exchange.

From the debris of the past, let us find ways to build public institutions, this is how we will survive. We have some great examples even in dismal times – a National Health Service in the UK that saves lives regardless of whether you are rich or poor, a public broadcasting service in America that is funded by donations and grants that tells stories that matter, a railway network in India that holds prices so that people can find better opportunities for work in distant towns, and still go home for love and renewal.

We will survive this only on the strength of public institutions that serve the larger good. Our measly accounting and financial toolkits forgot the world of good, and brought us close to our doom. We share this world, the sun, the water, the air. Even the air that contains the virus, and that shows us again, that we are either saved together, or we all perish together.

This is us then, at the crossroads again. The path to growth lies crumbling to dust, but the path to good is steep. Our choice now, whether we go, dust to dust, or have the muscle to make the climb. For we shall be saved by the institutions we build. 

Still Here

I do not know the names of the little blue flowers that lean out of the mountain out towards the fast flowing river far down below. I know the ones that line the balcony and separate me from the river. They are little now, but will have thorns when they grow up. They are here to protect me, lest I lean out too, looking upon the river rushing below. I cannot be trusted, you see, I am human, as are the others on this balcony with me. 

I soak in the beauty of the mountains around me. These are the foothills of the Himalayas. They are made of mud. My grandmother would tell me that humans were made of mud, just like these majesties that soar above me today. Fragile, as the floods showed us not many years ago. Standing because they pack themselves tight, intensely holding on to the next piece of earth, as if it was themselves. A few tree roots more would have helped them, would bing them together in the communion of trees, but those have been chopped and logged away. May that remain are weak, so many washed downstream by the monsoon each year. The mud mountains look old, but their fragility is not due to their age. It is their nature to stand so, fragile, proud, and still there.

Much like us, fragile, and still here. 

Pan-Normal

The room I sit in to work does not have a work table, but it does have loads of books. I call it my library. It has many tables, I have collected them over the years. The french table too delicate to be used as an everyday dining table could be it, but the chairs scare me with their fine legs and straight backs. The rent table that I pounced on at an antique shop is too low to be called a work table, but it works perfectly with my lounge chairs. This is where I sit. The brown leather barrel sofa seat has a lamp, and a lovely tuck in table, just the right height for my laptop, but I have not started working there yet. One must have something to look forward too, I think. And while the pandemic rages, my old furniture meeting my not so old furniture in different combinations must suffice. 

Since I cannot travel, I do not meet new rooms. I transform old rooms to new. The drawing room that used to host visitors now our cozy room, we retire to it when we read books that will slowly lull us to sleep on the long sofas. I change it around every fortnight. I need to see it renewed. Also, this is how I keep it clean or why would anyone bother, but we must not speak of such mundane things. We live to rise above the mundane, this is why we keep moving. Or keep it moving, as we can. 

The upstairs neighbour is a restless soul too. He has just replaced a window. He had replaced a wardrobe before that, and before that a bathroom. I have seen none of these, I have heard all of them. These houses are built of concrete. Every drill bit reverberates through the walls and through our skulls. We stay patient. The lockdown cannot affect us, it is the neighbour who is cracking under the stress. We can hear him.

Poor chap, we think, all alone on that floor. We do not say it. One assumes the other has thought the same thing, that’s the thing with marriage. Sometimes you do not have to exchange that glance across a room. Or suppress a giggle at a moment you know has been noticed. Time stretches in the pandemic. I remember a weird moment a week later, a month later, retell it and we twinkle our eyes to it, as if raising a glass to the moment.

We would have shared it there and then, but all the theres are right here now, we do not step out. All the thens have become irrelevant, they are so similar. Days of the week do not matter anymore, except when pretending to remember for work calls, when we quickly scramble to do the math in our head and work it out. Sometimes you hear the other person doing it too, and wonder – will they get there first? Do we even care? Those who don’t, become friends of the moment. 

We are a little community of sorts, those of us who have found the moment. Where the other stuff has it’s place, but is just not here. We perform, like we always have. We pretend that calendars and times and schedules matter, as they always have. But we secretly know that if they disappeared, we would still be here, and we would be okay. We would still do what we needed to do, we just would not be rushing and dashing around like we used to before the pandemic. 

It has changed us. Some now crave to go back to their old selves because they think they know it. At least they know what do do with it. Or used to, in the old world. I wonder if they will fit in the new. I wonder if our new selves will fit in the new world, one that is here, but has not been fused by our presence yet. It was built in our absence, in the times when our screens stood in our stead. From where we sit, the new world is a giant screen, full of little boxes. Each of us is one little box, a tiny pixel. And when we zoom out, we will be able to see the picture we made. Our world, made in our likeness. Our new normal.