Lessons Learned as a RTI Journalist

afroz11 300x198 Lessons Learned as a RTI Journalist

Afroz Alam Sahil

Known popularly in the media circles as RTI maverick, Afroz Alam Sahil is a RTI journalist and a social activist who has investigated and brought to light many facts related to high-profile cases. He has exposed many underhand dealings and funding irregularities of many organizations and personalities. His expose of Dow Chemicals, Bhopal Gas Tragedy and Batla House encounter has opened many a Pandora box that has revealed startling information that was hidden from the public.

What prompted you to become a journalist?

I come from an ordinary middle class family in Champaran, Bihar. Right from the time when I was young, I noticed that people were always happy to talk to a journalist because they want the truth to come out in the open. I realized this even when I was young in school. My family wanted me to become an engineer after I passed 12th standard. I wrote the engineering entrance exams and got selected. Thankfully my friend told me to apply for the mass media degree in Jamia as a second option. I wrote the exam and got selected too. I had the acceptance letters from many colleges for an engineering course but I couldn’t bring myself to accept it as my heart wanted to pursue journalism. I told my elder brother about it and he stood by me and convinced my parents.

What was the first lesson you learnt as a journalist?

In the first year of college, I came across a book on the Right to Information Act. It was a life-changing experience because that’s when I realized that if there were an act like this in India it would be difficult to hide the truth. I started researching more about it and found that many people were already campaigning to pass the RTI act in India. I learned that RTI is a very powerful tool that could be used to bring the truth to the people. In 2006 (while still in my first year of college) I participated in the Drive against Bribe RTI campaigns by Parivartan along with Arvind Kejrival, Manish Sisodia and many others. This opened the future path for me in many ways. I got an opportunity to write in mainstream media about this campaign and more than 1000 letters to the editor (Hindi and Urdu Vernacular newspapers).

Beyondheadlines is an online news-portal that you have started recently. What are the lessons you have learned from this venture?

I left a well-paid job in TV9 as a RTI journalist to start Beyondheadlines.in. I started this because I had learned that until I was working for someone else, it would be difficult to expose the truth. I felt that I was not helping anybody and was rather becoming a part of the system that systematically suppressed news. I wanted to create an alternative system and report news that is not being covered otherwise by other media due to political pressure. Most often, mainstream media rejects most of the news items saying, ‘public does not want to know/read this’ but when I publish the same on our website I get an overwhelming response. This justifies the existence of alternative media like Beyondheadlines as we want to focus on news that mainstream media is rejecting for various reasons. I have learned that there is enough power in the media to help people in many positive ways. I hope to achieve that with Beyondheadlines.

You are known as the RTI maverick with over 5000+ RTI applications to your name. After exposing the truth in many high-profile cases, what have you learned from this experience?

I have filed RTI petitions for many cases and at that point I didn’t know that they would become so high-profile. Batla House, Baba Ramdev, Godhra, Lokpal, Political funding for Nitish Kumar and many such RTI were petitioned for. My involvement in exposing the truth behind the Batla House case garnered more national attention towards my work. I have since learned that small things that you do can lead to a big transformation in the system. My passion for RTI stems from the belief that right to know is as important as right to live.

Everybody is aware of the corruption in the system and to a large degree it is we who have contributed to it. We do not hesitate to bribe a government official to get our ration card while we should have systems in place that ought to work without resorting to such measures. It is my firm belief that using RTI as a tool, we can bring about a revolution in countering corruption and establish accountability and transparency. For instance, a poor Rickshaw puller in Bihar, Mazloom Nadaf got his house under Indira Awas Yojna because of the RTI act.

That is the power of RTI. It can expose high-level corruption like DOW Chemicals case and fake encounters of Batla House and also help poor uneducated people to know their rights.

You have worked with many renowned activists so far. Share the lessons you have learned from them?

Corruption is everywhere. I have worked with many activists on many RTI campaigns. I have found it very disheartening to learn that most of them are only after funds and those who campaign for accountability and transparency are reluctant to declare their own sources of funds.

As a RTI journalist, I had filed petitions under the RTI act to organizations of Shri Anna Hazare (Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Andolan Nyas), Shri Arvind Kejriwal (Public Cause Research Foundation) and Shri Manish Sisodia (Kabir) way back in 2009 hoping that they would be happy to release the information as they are the ones who are campaigning for accountability and transparency. Sadly there were half-hearted replies and responses that the information was already posted in their website (but it was not). When people who campaign for the right to information are not forthcoming with their funding sources then how can you expect the corrupt bureaucrats and government officials to come forward with information?

Tell us more about INSAAN Foundation and the campaigns you have spearheaded through this organization.

Through the course of my career as a RTI journalist I have learned many valuable lessons. If you wish to run a media company you must either know how to blackmail people or have a group of fraudsters to help or have corporate and political funding. Having realized this, I felt that we need an organization that would campaign for the ordinary man and raise awareness for his rights. INSAAN aims to do just that. With transparent accountability and no corporate or government funding of any sort we have spearheaded many medical campaigns and have helped genuine people in need.

As a journalist and an activist, what are the valuable lessons you have learned in life?

I have learned that media is a very important tool. It can be used very powerfully. We talk about corruption in all areas but we are the ones who are spreading it. For many, media has become a mere business and those who have a genuine passion for it are forced to compromise. This needs to change and I am hoping that the little things that I am doing might add some value and bring about a transformation.

Connect with Afroz Sahil here -

News Portal – http://beyondheadlines.in/
INSAAN Foundation – http://insaanfoundation.org/
Facebook Profile – https://www.facebook.com/afrozalam.sahil


Blogger of the Week goes to…

golden trophy cup 400 clr 1716 225x300 Blogger of the Week goes to...

Blogger of the Week Award

Every week, we will be announcing the Blogger of the Week Award. The winner will receive a gift voucher of Rs. 500 from Amazon / Flipcart.

The Blogger of the Week Award for Jul 22 – Jul 28 goes to Ramashree Alladi’s interview blog – Lessons Learned from Teaching


To participate in this ambitious project of lessons learned, you can either write a blog or give an interview. Drop a comment at this blog and we will contact you soon.


Lessons Learned from Chess

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Jaikar Pandurangan

A chess trainer and a passionate quizzer based out of Chennai Jaikar Pandurangan is a post graduate in Economics after graduating in Chemistry. He worked for two decades with a DSA of a financial institute handling sales and service, later with another firm handling financial inclusion. Now he indulges in his passion of teaching the beautiful game of chess to children. With students from across the globe in USA, South Africa, UAE he also lectures at three chess academies in Chennai.

What got you interested in chess in the first place? Have you played in any tournaments?

I have seen my cousins play the game since when I was 5 or 6 years old. I have represented Madras District in the Tamil Nadu Junior and senior state chess championships

As a strategy game many lessons from chess can be applied to real life. Can you share the life lessons you have learned from this game?

I have many lessons to share here, just as Garry Kasparov explains in his book, ‘How Life Imitates Chess’. Chess has improved my concentration and I also learned to develop huge amount of patience thanks to this game. You also unconsciously learn to apply analytical and logical thinking in all things in life. There are times when people irritate and provoke you to do doing things that are unprofessional. Thankfully Chess taught me patience and immense concentration. It also helps me to take the right decisions with clarity and clear thought.

When I was working in the corporate sector, Chess helped me to strategize and use techniques that would help in clinching a deal. Prophylactic thinking always made sure there were no surprises at every turn, as the answers are known much before the questions arose.

What made things more interesting was the tendency to listen to people patiently during conversations, digesting what they say at the same time analyzing as they speak with improved memory. Thanks to chess I find it easy to communicate, quote and put my argument across the table very effectively.

How did you start training kids for chess?

Chess for kids was always a passion, with changing times and encroachment of gadgets into children’s hand made it more compelling to leave a stable corporate job and take this up. Chess not only improves memory also helps in decision making, for it is the same part of the brain which stimulates whether playing the game or dealing with a situation in work or at home. Clarity in thought and actions helps in making of a good human being. Chess has given me so much in life and I have learned that only way I could do justice to these lessons is to teach it to kids.

Share the lessons learned from this venture.

Simple lesson I have learnt is to believe in your passion, love what you do….. Always be prepared for ups and downs, victories and defeats for life goes on.

Has chess training improved the life of the kids? Share your thoughts.

First thing I hear from parents is ‘my kid is not making tantrums/ crying at defeat anymore’. They have learnt to accept defeat… (It took me 14 years of my life to understand half of it). If a kid at the age of six or seven can accept defeat and still go ahead and fight another day, I think I have brought about a huge transformation in his metal makeup.  This is what encourages me to teach every single ward of mine. When they develop this level of determination and the willpower to face any adversity on board and life, I truly believe that they will surely be champions in life, always.


You can connect with Jaikar at –

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jaikarpan
Twitter: jaikarpan


Blogger of the Week Award goes to…

golden trophy cup 400 clr 1716 225x300 Blogger of the Week Award goes to...

Blogger of the Week Awardc

Every week, we will be announcing the Blogger of the Week Award. The winner will receive a gift voucher of Rs. 500 from Amazon / Flipcart.

The Blogger of the Week Award for Jul 15 – Jul 21 goes to Gayatri Aptekar’s blog – Lessons Learned from my Marriage. Congratulations!

To participate this ambitious project of lessons learned, you can either write a blog or give an interview. Drop a comment at this blog and we will contact you soon.

Lessons Learned from Children’s Education

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Balambal Nagarajan

Balambal Nagarajan holds a Master’s degree in Botany from the University of Madras. A gold medalist and a University rank holder at both graduate and post graduate levels, she has also been awarded a gold medal for being an outstanding student at the postgraduate level. With a passion for teaching and interest in the field of education, she started her career as a ‘curriculum developer’. Her initial stint of 3.5 yrs at EZ Vidya helped her grow from a ‘curriculum developer’ to a ‘researcher’, ‘team leader’ and a ‘facilitator’, conducting teacher empowerment programmes across several schools in Tamilnadu.

Associated with EZ Vidya, she had worked on diverse projects/products like – anchoring the development of Chrysalis Kindergarten Curriculum, which is a comprehensive and holistic curriculum for Kindergarten children; providing support as Subject Matter Expert for the Chrysalis Science Curriculum; conducting training and orientation programmes for client schools; researching and documenting workshops for Effective Leadership and Management Programme for CBSE School Leaders. EZ Vidya also conferred on her the prestigious “Sir Neelakantan’s Award for Excellence” in the year 2013. She shares some valuable lessons learned in life about children’s education.

What kickstarted your passion for education and what are the lessons you have learned from this field?

After I finished my graduation, I joined an organisation that developed computer curriculum for children. Though initially, I wasn’t sure of what was in it for me, I soon developed an intense interest in the field of education as I diversified into other academic subjects, developed teacher and student materials, designed teaching-learning strategies and worked with education professionals. I discovered that there are several interesting ways and methods through which we can trigger and motivate a child’s brain to learn, enjoy the journey and discover himself/herself in the process.

Whenever a new idea/approach or an interesting experience was created for the child, there was an adrenaline rush in me that motivated me to do more and more. I also realised how much of this I had missed as part of my schooling and hence wanted to reach out and touch the lives of more and more children, helping them blossom into independent and confident individuals with a mind of their own.

The fact that my career and my passion helps a social cause – in redefining the education system of our country – gives me great pride and joy and has kept me going for the past 12 years.

What do you think about the current education system? What would want to change in the curriculum of today?

Beyond kindergarten or sometimes even in kindergarten, the teaching methods are driven to face an examination. This sadly changes the way a concept is approached and both teachers and children move towards mere rote learning.

Children who have a good memory in photocopying a piece of text on their examination sheets are considered ‘intelligent’. ‘Teaching for exams’ has replaced ‘teaching for learning’. To build a prosperous, happy and dynamic India, all we need is a complete overhaul of the present education system. A curriculum that enables every child to discover the joy of learning, offers scope for experiential learning, throws open challenges, encourages thinking in different dimensions and expression of thoughts, facilitates collaborative learning with peers and the society and assists in discovering oneself along the journey is the need of the hour.

We can no longer thrive if we continue the education system that was brought in at a time (during british rule) with ‘servitude’ being its primary outcome. We cannot expect leaders and innovators when all we have been building for 17 years of school and college life are ‘slaves’ (people who are expected to do as said).

In your opinion what are the most valuable lessons that we should be teaching our children today?

One most valuable lesson that I would consider as the need of the hour is ‘Respect – Respect for self and respect for others’. Though this may sound simple or even clichéd, I feel taking care of this can solve most of world’s major issues.

Respect for self – Both parents and educators in an attempt to ‘discipline’ the child end up in destroying the very ‘core’ of the child. Hence, children of today struggle with self-esteem issues as adults. They either grow up fearing to voice their thoughts and become too submissive or they try to break out of the shackles and create aggression. Scolding them in public, putting down their thoughts, conscious/unconscious comparisons, denying freedom of expression, ridicule are some common things that are done even by well-meaning and aware adults. When a child respects self, he/she grows up to be confident, assertive and happy.

So, should we just let the children do/be as he/she wants? Absolutely not! That’s when the respect for others comes in. It’s a critical balance. When a child respects another individual, every problem that is unnerving our society now will dissolve and disappear for ever.

Respect for others – This is more ‘caught’ than ‘taught’. Do we treat our house help, driver, a sales person, helpers in supermarkets with politeness and respect and do we thank them? Do we ensure we pull gender bias by its root in our homes by treating boys and girls alike? Do we show simple respect for others and their time by being punctual? Do we consciously try not to differentiate and pass judgments on people based on their colour, caste, education and profession?

Seemingly small actions but the impact is unimaginably huge. We are all constantly being ‘watched’ by our children. They follow what we do NOT say.

Is there a dearth of good teachers in today’s society? What do you think about it?

Yes, very much! The two primary reasons being recognition and remuneration. Many brilliant teachers have left the profession for these two reasons.

As a parent and as an educator can you share any valuable lessons you have learned from your journey?

We must never say to a child “Enough of playing, come and study”. It gives a very strong message to a child that studying is serious and lacks fun. We must always consciously use a language and show signs that indicate that learning is loads of fun and we can most definitely learn through play as well.

Before introducing a new concept, “Why am I teaching this?” is an important question that a parent/teacher must ask oneself and “Why am I learning this” is a question that a child should be able to answer. This helps a teacher or parent decide the correct teaching methodology/approach and makes learning relevant to the child. Anything that is irrelevant or has no personal connections is ALWAYS shunned by the brain.

We must avoid mundane teaching and spend a little time looking for interesting and fun ways to teach a concept. Why so? Let’s think of our past and see what experiences we remember the most. They would most probably be ones in which our emotions were involved – intense happiness or sadness. So, when we invoke joy while teaching, there are more chances for the learning to go into long-term memory and not drift away once the class is over.

It’s never too early to begin reading to a child. Reading can be started right from 4 months of age. Spending some time together with a child with age- appropriate books helps develop a life-long fascination for books. Then school or reading becomes less of a bore or chore.

Self-fulfilling prophecy works. When we believe in something – be it positive or negative – our thoughts, actions and words orient towards that belief and the receiver receives them and automatically responds to fulfill the expectations of the sender. Hence, as a teacher and as a parent, we must always show that we believe and trust our children and send positive signals to receive positive results.

Connect with her at – https://www.facebook.com/balambal.nagarajan?fref=ts

Lessons Learned from our Art and Heritage

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Vijay Kumar

Vijay Kumar works in the shipping industry in Singapore but he has a different persona when he is online. An art connoisseur and enthusiast, he has delivered many illustrated talks to diverse audiences and also authored columns in the Hindu and other magazines on art appreciation. He and his group of art enthusiasts were also instrumental in raising awareness and bringing back many a stolen art/idol/statue back to India. Tracing his interest in art back to Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan, Vijay talks about the myriad lessons learned from our art and heritage.

What started you on the journey of preserving history in stone?

In some ways the starting point was Amar Chitra Katha – which generally got me interested into mythology and history even while I was still very young. The most direct influence was a visit to the Tanjavur Big Temple when I was about seven or eight years old, which left a lasting impression on me.

Years later, when I read master story teller Kalki’s magnum opus Ponniyin Selvan I had a sense of Dejavu ! The Tamil work of fiction loosely revolves around the event which transpired in the Chola Kingdom in and around 969 CE – it was originally serialised in Kalki as a weekly story and despite almost seven decades the book continues to be bestselling work of fiction in Tamil.

The direct fall out of reading the book was that it inspired me to search and understand the historical framework and we created an egroup to discuss the work in particular and South Indian History. We have been running it for almost 13 years now and many of the members have since been inspired to become celebrated Authors of Historic fiction, research scholars in History, Epigraphy etc.  Such is the profound influence, a good book can have!

I was always interested in art and photography and hence took to documenting and studying stone sculptures as a personal journey. I then realised that though there were lots of written material on this subject, authored by distinguished scholars, they seemed to target a mature audience – in other words they resembled Phd thesis. So when a friend asked me to document my learning process, I started to consciously simplify the narrative on the art of sculpture to aid in easy assimilation for interested lay readers. By staying away from complicated terms and sticking to a visual medium I was able to reach onto many readers who are interested in art and architecture.  I first start started writing about temple art in an eforum and was very happy seeing the response.  Considering the need to take it to a larger audience I migrated to  www.poetryinstone.in as a bi lingual blog. We have since extended the platform into facebook as a group to discuss and share ideas and seek advise from scholars in diverse fields.

There is a growing awareness about our art and many youngsters are turning to the Internet and social media with their questions and submissions. I want to leverage this initiative more in the coming years and eventually create a fully searchable database of Indian temple art that can assist both the amateurs and scholars.

What are the lessons you have learned so far in pursuing your hobby in historical statues and idols?

The most important lesson I would say is the tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment when I marvel at the wisdom of our ancients – their knowledge and dedication is quite profound. The entire length and breadth of this ancient land abounds in artistic edifices. Every state has its own share of monuments going back 2000-2500 years.

These are our ancestral treasures and sadly for various reasons we have abandoned them. Entire monuments have been lost, museum exhibits gather dust due to neglect and ancient buildings are left to crumble. Thousands of our art has been stolen in the last few decades and the sad part is we are not even aware of scale of this looting and we have remained mute spectators, while they are openly auctioned in International markets. Though the custodians can be easily blamed for this wanton loot, there is equal blame residing with us and the community. This is where I feel there is a need to sensitize our youth.

The study of art and iconography has waned in the last 25 years that there are very few smart people coming up to close the ranks when eventually our experts retire. There is still a lot of Indian art that has to be studied and documented – texts to be interpreted, inscriptions to be deciphered that might throw new light of our history and culture.

You have been involved in publicizing stories about statues/idols that have been looted in India and have ended up in auction houses abroad. What got you started on this?

Since I am largely self-taught my favourite pastime is to search for old publication and photographs of our heritages sites. I then catalogue and file them for a future reference. I also routinely scour online databases of several academic institutions for archival photographs and file for future reference.  This was done with no specific objective but merely to support my self learning.

Since very little of India has been properly documented and there is no central archive, most of our losses and thefts are not properly recorded. This is where my little effort has yielded rich dividends.

Further during the course of our endeavours to create a digital database of sculpture, me and a group of volunteers undertake trips where we document entire sites in great detail. These trips enable us to experience first hand the art forms and also brain storm their evolution.

Dating and assigning sculptures to regions and time frames is now like a popular game for us and the above help us a lot in aiding our law enforcement. Actually we are quite surprised that a small group of quasi enthusiasts can help crack several high profile cases.

Share with us successful stories of Idols that have been brought back home.

Since these are sensitive issues we prefer to remain behind the scene for now. You will definitely see more successful restitutions within the next few years and hopefully better laws and enforcement by our authorities. One thing is for certain – Our Gods ARE definitely coming back home.

What are the lessons you have learned from this endeavour?

The first and foremost lesson is that you are only a tool – many a time you do things that have no apparent reason, but in hindsight seem to be destined. So never look for immediate goals, targets or monetary rewards. Go with your heart and believe in yourself and keep educating and empowering yourself.

The second is the power of the internet and social media – not only to raise awareness and public support – its value as data gathering tool and as a discussion platform are manifold.

The future generations will increasingly turn to the Internet and hence there is a an urgent need to create content in a format and form that can be easily assimilated by them.

Do you have any suggestions as to how to protect and nurture our cultural heritage?

Three things are paramount if we are to successfully safeguard our treasures and hand them over to the next generation.

First and foremost is to raise awareness. This has to be done from a very young age. A combination of site visits, talks by experts, heritage themed art competitions etc. will help to get the young interested in our art. Today’s youngsters spend much of their time in shopping malls, theatres and beaches – if only we could get them to include heritage sites into their circuit!

Public /private partnership in conservation:  The status of conservation of our heritage sites is pathetic. The scale is so great that unless we can create a grass roots level movement it is not going to be possible to attempt something of this scale. However, there are good signs – we have seen many small groups from the IT sector – to combat their current work stress and pressure – take weekends off in helping cleaning/clearing sites. These help to build healthy teams as well. Corporates need to be more philanthropic in adopting heritage sites and ensuring that schemes are implemented even in small towns and villages.

The last one is the need to properly document our treasures. There is no better deterrent than having a photo archive to ward of looters. We have seen in many high profile restitution cases that we are handicapped in our case due to lack of proper photographic archival evidences.

Your favourite period in history and kings who nurtured art and architecture?

I am a bit biased towards South India and to me Stone sculptures of Pallavas and specifically three Kings between the 7th and 8th C CE – Mahendra Varman , Narasimha Varman and Rajasimha Pallavan is very dear.  Among them they pioneered an art revolution in South India and left a lasting impression on almost everything they touched. I can confidently say that the granite sculptures of the Pallavas have no parallels in the world – for the unforgiving nature of hard granite to the complexity of a monolithic ratha – is truly astounding.

As regards metal of course the crown would go to the Cholas – Chola Bronzes are the high water mark of aesthetic perfection in metal craft in this part of the world. In particular the period between 950 CE to 1045 CE – the works of the Great Queen Sembian Madevi to the Emperor Raja Raja Chola and his son Rajendra Chola – there is no other single piece of arresting art as being face to face with a Chola bronze of that period.

Painting – of course tons of great things have been written about the paintings in Ajanta – but the south too produced some fantastic works – sadly we have left them to rot and we get to see only a few fragments in the caves of Badami, the niches of the Kanchi Kailasntha temple, the Panamalai Uma and Sittanavasal. The fragments reveal an exceptional pedigree of art in the region – sadly lost forever.

What are the current endeavours you are involved in?

We are trying to create a wikiloot – a crowd sourced tool to help in identifying stolen art and aid in their restitution. Creation of an online searchable digital database of sculpture as an open source free to use platform.

If there is any lost heritage (statue/idol) that you would like to bring back to India, what would that be?

Every single stone is our ancestral treasure – they were a part and parcel of the very fabric of our great land. Today they might be valued at a few hundreds to millions of dollars in the International market, but to me each one of them is invaluable, for they were not meant to be pieces of art by their makers. They were meant to be gods or made up the abodes of the Gods.

Instead of securing the return of any, my objective is to build awareness so that a lasting awareness is built that will effectively stop the trade in looted antiquity.

Connect with Vijay Kumar here –

Blog –www.poetryinstone.in
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/poetryinstone
Twitter: @poetryinstone , vj@poetryinstone

Lessons Learned from Cooking

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Sumeetha Manikandan

‘I don’t know how to cook’ was the first thing I told my husband, right after he proposed. He didn’t balk because he already had a ‘Goddess of cooking’ at home (his mother). He was supremely confident that I would learn the basics and advanced lessons from her. And I did learn but it was only when I started cooking on my own did I properly learn the many life lessons that one ought to know.

Learning to plan

Cooking requires planning as much as it requires attitude and patience. One cannot plan to make puris and set the oil to boil and then discover that there is no atta at home (a lesson learnt hard during the early days of marriage). Trust me. You don’t want to feed excuses about a missing atta to your husband after he has visualized a full meal that included piping hot puris and potatoes. I learned to plan the meal, just as I planned for a project.

Tried and tested…

There are kitchen goddesses all around us who can whip up a delectable meal within minutes. I am not one and I have since learned that when I am in a hurry (which is most of the time) I better stick to tried and tested recipes rather than try something new. That’s because something almost always goes wrong (murphy’s law). When you have just one hour to spare in the morning before you sat down to write a complicated article, you don’t want to be worrying about that weird potato curry recipe (by which Tarla Dalal swears) or a rasam that tastes weird.

Never commit to a timeline

Unless you are cooking Maggie (It takes me ten minutes to cook this!) you must not give a precise timeline as to when you would finish the project uff cooking! Broad generalized timelines are fine; “It will take about two hours to finish”. Never give timelines that range within minutes unless you are planning to toast bread for dinner. You don’t want husband and the child to bang plates and spoon screaming for food while you are stirring through ladies finger curry and sambar that refuses to boil. Cooking is stressful enough, don’t you think?

Always… always taste what you serve

Unless you have cooked all your life and are dead sure about your cooking, never ever let any dish leave the kitchen without tasting it before you serve. Trust me, you will save yourself a lot of aggravation, giggles, outright comments and a reputation of being a bad cook. First impression is really the best impression when it comes to cooking.

Experiment on yourself

When you are trying a new dish by following a video or a website, first experiment on yourself or else you will end up with chapathi atta mixed with peas and masala that tastes suspect and large enough to serve two families with extended relatives (which you finally chuck out in the bin). Experiment in small quantities and only on yourself. If you survive unscathed then you can experiment on others (like your husband).




Lessons Learned from Teaching

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Ramashree Alladi

Ramashree Alladi, is a teacher, academic counsellor and the author of four graded Hindi books for beginners. A consummate teacher by profession, Ramashree shares the many valuable lessons that she has learned over the years.

Have you always wanted to be a teacher?

No, actually. Though I did see a lot of teachers at work in my family, I did not think seriously of taking it up as a career. I was headed for a career in software, and was studying at NIIT for it, when they asked me to do a stint as a teaching assistant in their computer lab. As I did it, I realized how much more I was enjoying teaching than writing code. That’s what made me decide on taking up teaching rather than software. Looking back though, I think I should have caught on sooner!

Any valuable lessons that you have learned from your own teachers?

I remember a particular teacher called Mangalam Teacher in National High School in Calcutta. If any of you are from that school, you will remember her too, because she was around for decades. We used to love her class – she used to teach Biology. I remember admiring her teaching. She would enter the room, and there would be this almost-palpable buzz of all things positive in the class! She loved her subject.

I think watching her, and other good teachers over the years, made me see the qualities that good teachers share: a passion for their subject, a cheerful acceptance of every student in the class with all their warts and all, and a sense of total responsibility towards the teaching-learning….in all those years, I don’t remember a single instance when Mangalam Teacher (or Rina Mukherjee, Muthulakshmi, Sulochana, Rajashree Akka, our music teacher, Lakshmi Krishnakumar, MTRC, Hyderabad, Prof. Bopayya of Mysore, Dr. Malathy Krishnan, my guide during M.Phil at EFLU, Dr. Lakshmi Chandra at CIEFL, or many other good teachers I had the good luck of coming across) ever felt that if a student didn’t understand something, it was the student’s fault. They just always assumed that it was they who hadn’t done something well enough. Knowing how to define quality in a particular field helps you to get there.

What set you on the road to publish Hindi books for beginners? Any lessons learned from this venture?

Dr.Montessori has developed this outstanding system for learning unfamiliar pieces of information called the Three-Period-Lesson. It’s simple and highly effective (please do look it up). Knowing about this system on one hand, and the unbelievably flat, un-interactive Hindi texts in the market at this level (letters of alphabet/basic vocabulary and grammar) made me quite determined to some day create better learning resources for beginners in Hindi.

But it was all only a plan in my head, till my sister who runs Greenwood Montessori School in Bangalore said that she really needed something like this for her school as her children were plodding through Hindi in a most uninterested way, and would I please get a move on and do it?? So I did, with loads of support and help from my family, and I am quite gratified by the excellent use children are making of the series.

Almost every week, I hear some parent or teacher telling me how much their children like the series, and how “I’ll give you homework in Abhyaas – Akshar!” is being used at the proverbial carrot in their environments/classrooms.

My friend Jagruti was mentioning last week that a parent of Learning Tree Montessori School, Adyar, Chennai, had commented in a parent-teacher meeting that the series is very easy to use for the child as well as the parent, and is there something like this in Tamil too? Its this kind of thing that makes me determined to take this system across to other languages as well…I hope I will be able to do it some day…

I have learned a great deal about the print media in the process. And I think I am also seeing that a good product will sell. Contrary to what many people say.

Many think that learning in India has always been through memorizing and not through practical methods. What are your thoughts about this system?

I don’t think the Indian system is based on memorization. The original Indian system was based on the student asking questions – the teacher taught only that which the student wanted to know. I think that’s the origin of the saying that even if there is infinite water in the well, how much you can take depends on how big your vessel is…..How much more learner-centric can education get?

The memorization of verses in the oral tradition makes sense too. The auditory as well as the kinesthetic senses come into play, and a high level of retention is achieved. As far as meaning is concerned, I think the verses had so many layers of meaning that one couldn’t get at them all in one go. So the simplest layer of meaning was presented, and the rest of the verse is retained in memory as it is. As the person grows and learns, he discovers more layers of meaning from the same verse, because he has the words in memory… An example would be the ‘poornamadah poornamidam……verse. It refers to the concept of zero, the additive identity and also the nature of the Universe.

(And I don’t know how many more things besides) It wouldn’t be feasible to explain all of it to a child, so we just explain the ‘zero’ part of it, and let the rest unfold later on.

Montessori system is being hailed as the best one by many an educator as it relies on many practical lessons to impart valuable life lessons to the child. What do you think about this? Have you learned any lessons from being a Montessori teacher?

Yes, I do think the Montessori system is an excellent system of education. I look forward to seeing Montessori schools go all the way up to educating the child till he is an adult. The pre-primary / primary level is only one part of the story (and its an excellent part), but there is more to it.

Dr.Montessori developed a very sound system for 9 to 12 year olds, and also for teenagers. More of us have to learn all about it, and come to know it and trust it – only them we will want to send our children to Montessori school till they as 18. And schools will develop only when we want our children to get that kind of education – schools don’t function in a vacuum.

I feel very sad when I see parents pulling out their children before they complete the three-year cycle in a Montessori school. If they knew more about this wonderful system, I am sure they wouldn’t do this. As always, knowledge is the key. Knowing exactly how the system helps the child would set parents’ mind at rest about various concerns such as coping in a ‘big’ school, the competitive environment, etc.

Being a Montessori teacher means being a student everyday. Children’s minds work in such beautiful, original ways….it is a privilege to watch them. Though I am not seeing 3 – 6 year-olds every day now, I always listen in awe when my sister shares stories of the children in this age-group in her school.

Here’s the latest: A group of children are now learning all about the classification (phyla) in the animal world. (yes, the young ones – they are capable of learning so much more than we sometimes think…next time you come across a child seemingly uninterested in what you are trying to teach, jump a few levels. You may be pleasantly surprised). The teachers had brought one of those plastic animal-model sets to show them. In it, there was a plastic sea-cucumber, (phylum Echinodermata) but it had a rather pronounced ridged line on one side. So a child asked, ‘here is this animal’s vertebral column. Why didn’t they put it in subphyllum Vertebrata? Are the taxonomists wrong, or the model-makers wrong, or are you wrong?” Such beautiful clarity of understanding, such logic, such confidence, don’t you think?

Another favourite of mine: As I was walking on the road along with a child,  I pointed to a corporation garbage-box and asked, “ what should be done with all this, do you think?” I got such a long silence that I thought she hadn’t heard me, or wasn’t interested.  Then she said, “I can’t think of anything better than to collect it all and put all the non-biodegradable stuff into orbit in space. Anything else we do will be bad in some way. But even this is not very good, because if we do this everyday all over earth, it will get too much even for space…” (She was 5 ½ years old.)

If it were possible to travel back in time, what life lessons would you share with your younger self?

That’s a twister. Here are a few possible answers….

  1. I think the things we learn help our future selves, not our past ones
  2. Having a bit of knowledge ahead of its time may actually render it useless. Like having a cell-phone number before cell-phones are invented.
  3. And anyway, there are so many many variables involved that its not possible to ever predict how changing one past action will affect the rest of them.
  4. Thinking “If only I had done it like that!” never helps. What helps is to remember the lesson and use it in the future.  If possible.
  5. I think of it like this – you buy knowledge from life, and you pay in time. So till your payment is made, in years or days or moments, that bit of knowledge isn’t yours….
  6. And even if I did get back in time and told myself something, I doubt I would be wise enough to listen!
  7. And actually, I think knowledge isn’t an object that exists – its co-constructed, it comes into being just as Time does.

Having said all that, I admit it would have been nice to have known things ahead, to have had a holographic version of me come tell me, “Go here now, don’t step there, wait a bit there, go to that city, call this number…” But overall, its easier to believe in a benevolent Universe, and say ‘its all for the best’.
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Lessons Learned from my Daughter

photo 2 300x300 Lessons Learned from my Daughter

Sumeetha Manikandan

They say that we can learn myriad lessons from children but to ruminate over them you will need to slow down, catch your breathe (in my case do an obstacle race through the ‘mess’) and think deep.

Hmm… lessons learned… what have I learned….to hide the chocolates…not to keep chill water in the fridge… make sure that her grandmother’s dentures are out of reach…to hide the glue stick, powder, make up items, spare sketch pens, crayons and water colours and the binoculars (which was supposed to be for bird watching and not to spy on the neighbours) ….

And while I was trying to list out the things, she came. Mummy, why has thatha kept the tape along with his medicines? Why does he take medicines? Will you take medicines too one day? Why does… How does… What does…?

And she went on… and on… Being curious about every little thing she asks hundreds of questions expecting me to answer every one of them. I have since learned that one can never learn enough and the thirst for knowledge to know more must never be quenched.

Earth to mummy… earth to mummy… I want the chocolates that thatha keeps. No. Please. No. why? Because of your teeth. Teeth is fine. I will brush after I eat. No. Thatha refuses to give me unless you give the permission. I went to paati and she said the same. I asked amsu (domestic maid) to give it me and she said the same.

She made it sound as if she had gone to different government bodies to get approval and permission to build an apartment. You need to say ‘yes’ for chocolate right now. I am not going to. Please, please, please say ‘yes’…I resolutely refused to look at her and then after sometime she was busy doing something in the corner quietly (which was very suspicious!). After a while, I found out what was happening…

Dear Tooth Fairy,

Send an ee   mail to my mummy and ask her to say yes to chococolattes.

Thank you


And while I was reading through the letter, she had called her father who promptly agreed to her demand and had given her the chocolates. After a gleeful exhibition of chocolate and a little portion of bribe for her father who had facilitated the deal (to which I protested!) we settled down.

I marvelled at the focus that she exhibited in achieving her goal. Ah! Here is another lesson. Go after your goal (in this case chocolate) with a single-minded focus and try and achieve it no matter what.

After the chocolate debacle and some gloating about getting the thing she wanted she had some more demands. I want to watch TV. No. I want to go down and play with my friend. No. I want to go to park. No. I have work. I need to finish this and then only… Mummy you are always working… the laptop is always on… the internet is always on… take a break with me please. And that was another lesson that was worth learning. Get a life for god’s sake.  

After some successful negotiation and bargaining, I got some respite from work and her questions and when I handed some glue and chart and she set about to make Mr. Maker proud. After precisely 15 minutes when I came upon the scene, I found minuscule chart pieces (I am sure I will unearth more from other corners), glue sticks, my visiting card (gasps!), sketch pens and water colour mixed together and a very contented Raks.  She had made a… a…it looked like a rocket… or it could be a pen… or a sword… or a….

Mummy I have made a vase for you. See it has your name. Yes. My visiting card has been artfully cut down to only my name and coloured and while I was wondering how to set it down without getting the ‘just-about-to-dry-glue’ and colour on my hand, her expression was taking an all familiar route from expectation to furious indignation. And I said, thank you. It’s beautiful, lovely. I will use it. And she smiled magnanimously. I didn’t have to rack my brains for the lesson here. Be proud of what you do and flaunt it. And at that moment, I really wished I could travel back in time and teach myself this lesson.

Blogger of the Week Award goes to …

golden trophy cup 400 clr 1716 225x300 Blogger of the Week Award goes to ...

Blogger of the Week Award

Every week, we will be announcing the Blogger of the Week Award. The winner will receive a gift voucher of Rs. 500 from Amazon / Flipcart.

The Blogger of the Week Award for Jul 8 – Jul 14 goes to Alladi Mahadevan’s interview blog – Lessons Learned from Organic Farming!


To participate in this ambitious project of lessons learned, you can either write a blog or give an interview. Drop a comment at this blog and we will contact you soon.