The Perfect Internship

I agree that I do get easily moved by kind gesture, and many times I find myself recollecting some things for longer than its impact on my life. But a month long internship experience that I had during my college is something that I fondly recollect even after a year of its completion. The  images of those days at internship flash in my mind  these days since I am on a hunt for job openings. And to begin with an allegation, the Perfect Relations office in Mumbai should be held guilty for a grave offence.

Or let me spare the other departments in the office and focus my allegation towards the Digital PR team that I was a part of as an intern. This was a closely-knit team with an energetic spirit. They may have come from different walks of life with varied experiences, and maybe the only common string between them may have been that all of them braved the horrendous travel ordeal in Mumbai to arrive at office. The ones to be charged with the offence me go by these names – Nicole, Purva, Yuvraj, Ankit, Vishal, Tanvi, and Sushant. Amit Sir can be let off with minor charges as he graced our college once as a guest lecturer to redeem himself. And I request for the severest punishment for Urvashi for reasons too many to  mention. (Surnames have been withheld to protect their reputation.)

Their offence – providing me with the best internship experience a student could have asked for and spoiling me to such a degree that I cannot imagine a better work environment than the one they created for a stranger like me.

The background of the internship is as important as the internship itself. This was a phase when I, like other students from college, was on a relentless quest to get the first industry internship. So much was the desperation that I was mentally prepared to make-do with even an average opportunity or less. Turned out that landing up with this internship (for which Urvashi had been instrumental; but she should still be charged) was not the only lucky thing to have happened, my luck would introduce me to some of the best people I have come across.

I was a studious observer of their ability to strike a great balance between work and fun, the success at each supplementing the other. While I came across admirable professionals who knew their job well and worked to excel at what they do, I also witnessed their vibrant side marked by friendly banter and mutual care. Tracking the social media meant that each of them had come across a hilarious meme or some ridiculous activity by the Indian users of social media. Loud laughters were interspersed with pronounced silence as they went about their way in getting their work done, possibly driven by individual aims of earning for their families or progressing in the industry. They weren’t all too consumed by their work or incessantly bogged down by the pressures of work load. They always made time to inquire if the interns were comfortable, often advising me to leave office early and visit a doctor when my blocked nose made me sound like a breathless toad. Taking work from them was more like helping them in playing a sport rather than sharing burden. They greatly appreciated the little work I could do as an intern, and even today I would say that what I did for the team fell way short of what I gathered from their affection.

In a city like Mumbai. there are difficulties posed by travelling in local trains, harsh weather, rampant crime, cramped spaces and people at times literally trampling over you. I believe part of what keeps a Mumbaikar going is the mutual effort of colleagues and friends in ensuring that the hours of work in the office leave them refreshed and energised for the fresh set of challenges on their way home. While work can be very stressful at times, it can be diluted with some helping hands with genuine care in the well-being of each other. Looking at the positive attitude of the team, I would often feel bad myself for not being able to match with their enthusiasm in life and at work.

Any cynic, including the one in myself, would joke that this sounds like some PR move for a PR agency. Disregarding the poor joke, this post is less about the organisation than its ability to attract such great people into their work ethic. Or maybe it’s the ability of the current employees in the team in bringing out the best in an otherwise less enthused member joining them. I wouldn’t know if this culture that I grew fond of runs beyond the Digital PR team and is all pervasive in the organisation. But this is something I wish every young, aspiring communications person comes across. The level of respect amongst the team members is exemplary and something that needs to be cultivated in a world which is marked by arrogance and harmful slander. Being in the midst of a team like this one would compensate for the headaches of surviving in a chaotic and help sport a strong mind and a gentle heart – both at work and outside. In this respect, to use a PR jargon, this agency has certainly gathered some ‘earned’ PR.

Beyond a few tricks of the trade, what I learnt from the internship was that it is, after all, human beings that make up a workplace.  All goals at work, though translated into statements and monetary figures, are met with ultimately to make some other beings happy who have a stake in the goal. And while financial incentives may bring delight towards the end of the month and carry on for a few days, humans are innocent beings that absorb happiness at an given moment. Nothing is more frightening than the fear of grief. The rattling of the keyboard keys in the office will always be dwarfed by the crackling laughter of employees. A sharp mind at work will always need a tender heart to deal with individuals. And many times, the most expensive meal bought from ones salary may fall short of the gratification one receives from sharing a meal with a great team.

And while I am yet to experience the former, I can boast about having lunch with a bunch of people who, possibly without their knowing, left me with some food for thought.

The Parting Gift

My parting gift from the team at the end of my internship

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STARRY, STARRY NIGHT

This is absolutely spellbinding.

Pandaemonium

This is an extraordinary night sky video made by the US photographer Thomas O’Brien out of half a million images he took over a period of seven years and stitched together using the LRTimelapse software. It is hypnotic, haunting and strikingly beautiful. And do check out Thomas O’Brien’s website, his time-lapse films and his Flickr account.

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“Go to the mango trees, the body of your daughter is there”

….the father of one of the victims was informed over phone by the police. The mango tree – the shade of which may have been a respite from sweltering heat, the fruits of which may have attracted little kids, and the leaves of which would fill the air with its herbal fragrance has become a symbol of death and misery.

The gang rape and murder of two teenage girls in Uttar Pradesh has reminded us of the morbidity that lurks into the dark hearts and minds of some men in our country. Sadly, when such brutality is afflicted on one girl, it does not confine itself to that specific case. It sends shivers down the spine of every Indian girl, her mobility is hampered, the darkness in the streets she normally passes through become more pronounced, a random, but diligent stalker becomes a grave threat, and her parents become more proactive in regulating her movement. All these steps do not necessarily contribute to safety, they just close all avenues to women that are integral to a normal life.

Badaun

Sun sets behind the tree where the two girls were hung after being gang raped (Source – The Indian Express)

In the race for women in this country to elevate themselves above the conventional roles, in the constant struggle to avoid succumbing to the patriarchal authority, in the effort to avoid subservience to the lopsided societal structure, two lamps were extinguished and left to hang on a tree so that everyone watched and absorbed the darkness. I wonder what the final conversation of the girls may have been like- the words they may have spoken in normalcy before they were converted to agitated screams of pain as the men continued to destroy their innocence, moment by moment, movement by movement.

If the Nirbhaya case had faded away from our minds, the image of the the two girls suspended from the tree does more than just remind us of the evils of society. It has given us other cruel visuals to choose from. While Nirbhaya’s case was an open demonstration of sexual violence towards the Indian middle class – a section that she represented, the two girls hailed from a small district that may have had its share of unfortunate circumstances before this incident too.

Once again, the Indian populace is disgusted with the details in the background of this episode. It is a typical case of one despicable situation cascading into another, and this one eventually resulting in death. The two girls became easy targets of this crime because they had ventured into the fields in the shadow of  night to relieve themselves as sanitation facilities were unavailable around their settlement. To think about this, what we do incidentally on a daily basis turned out to be a fatal adventure for the innocent girls. In hindsight, the perpetrators would have been at ease too, as the custodians of law and order – the police – displayed their lackadaisical approach to the situations. A response so listless and apathetic, that the officials on duty now face suspension.

If the officials responsible for taking action against the criminals failed to convince people, how could the ones providing lip service from centuries enjoy from a distance? This was a lip service the politicians wished they never provided. When a journalist quizzed Akhilesh Yadav on the brutal episode and women safety in the state, the CM retorted back asking if she herself didn’t feel safe. To an agitated crowd that is forced to reconcile with sexual violence and threat to life, this comes off as morbidity with its own class. This represents a political system bereft of moral values that have guided the country for decades. And in the parlance of a less humble India, the response of the CM is plain rude, uncouth and insensitive. (That’s still very, very humble)

Before the politicians and law enforcement authorities even half heartedly set out to perform their duties, they need to undergo a mental revolution. Take a hiatus, if necessary, and understand  their countrymen from scratch. We know they run a diverse country, but their response to the public and journalists should not be an extension of their inability to control the situation. The human heart, especially in such vulnerable times, is often tender and grieved. When confronted with images of girls suspended from the trees like bloated branches, the least one can expect is kind consideration and warm words of reassurance. In their hearts they may be itching to go back to the confines of their plush houses and devour a customary feast, but when given the mandate to run a state and queried about a tragedy, leave the impression that they too are human beings, or had been at some point in time.

Though everyone hopes for a fast redressal of this case and harsh punishment befitting the act, I know that the criminals have outlived their crime. With their hideous actions that they may have managed to wrap up in minutes, they have plunged a family into deep despair, depriving them of days that could have been marked with the activities of the young girls. The girls could have been mentally assuring themselves of rising above challenges, developing ideas or simply indulging in innocent dreams, just the way we do at times while answering the nature’s call. But the aftermath for the girls was far from relief. The two families have been robbed off two mouths to feed each, but for a long time, even the little food at home will go untouched by the bereaved family.

However illuminating the sun may be in Uttar Pradesh, it will be gloomy in Badaun. And even more, under the shade of that mango tree.

The Folly of Exam Scores

Source - http://news.distractify.com/culture/satirical-paintings/?v=1

Created by Polish artist – Pawel Kuczynski

“I started studying from the beginning of the year; I revised daily, attended extra classes and even went to coaching institutes in order to excel in my examinations. I am very happy with the outcome, all my hard work paid off,” – says the UAE topper in the CBSE board exams to a newspaper.

The results of the 12th Board examinations (CBSE) were announced on 29th May, 2014 and to the amusement of many, these were some of the best scores in the recent years. The student quoted above scored a staggering 98.2%. The toil of the thousands of students had finally come down to a number, that, though expresses in absolute the achievement of the individual,  will always be inevitably held relative to the performance of his or her immediate peers and the school at large. The final reports on the performance of students reek of statistics and numbers too – the percentage of students who passed, those who scored above 90%, classification of achievers between boys and girls and so on.

One cannot discount the hard work put into the preparations – of students, teachers, and even of friends who constantly aid each other with notes and many a times with the much needed moral support. The joy of receiving good scores is, at least in that moment, unparalleled. While the news of good grades is certainly a reason to celebrate, one cannot ignore that the academic landscape, especially that of CBSE and India at large, is archaic and static with students spending consecutive years in bettering just one thing – scores.

I am a product of the same academic structure and I have spent my life as a student on the crossroads of two contrasting views – one, that competitive scores are an integral means to better opportunities for higher studies and employment, and the other that  marks are merely rudimentary indicators that are inferior to  psychological strength and street-smartness. Unsure if it is for the better or is an addition to my dilemma, I have not managed to lift myself from this middle ground.

I recognise that marks are not the sole pedestal to leverage ones strengths, and that gathering experience, reading, interacting with influential people and other activities can often lead to development of the self in cases where great academic scores may fall short. At the same time, I am in complete disagreement with the popular free-wheeling  notion of absolute futility of decent marks. Trying and achieving good grades is the most basic disposition of heavy financial investment in one’s education. More over, achieving good grades need not be taken at face value. It reflects several attitudes and aspects of the achiever – the dedication, drive to excel, ability to grasp concepts and convince examiners. My point is not to shun the concept of marks, but to go beyond it.

What is being completely ignored in this mix of academics is the importance of encouraging students to think beyond their text books and seek inspiration from the surroundings and nature. I don’t remember a single moment in the classroom when our teachers asked us or made us read the educational plight of unfortunate children around the globe. We were never recommended reading material that depicted the effects of war and reveal the specific ramifications of turmoil while we sat largely insulated from and  insensitive to human sufferings. What does money really mean? What happens if banks themselves go bankrupt? How did the financial crisis of 2008 alter family relations? In addition, never was our mind conditioned to delve into the lives of the non-teaching staff – the janitors, the bus conductors or the ones who served us palm sized pizzas in the canteen. Our paths cross often, but we never stopped for even a brief greeting. Where did they live? What made them happy? Do they have children at home who they wish studied with us? What was the proudest moment in their life? Do they feel their youth returning to them from a bygone era when they deliver their lecture, or do they feel bogged down by the weight of the course structure? Why did they choose the subject they teach? Do teachers have any regrets?

Not wandering into these philosophical tendencies of the mind has created brains that erupt into erratic activity in moments before the exam, to absorb something that they may never care to remember again. What they study reflects in their answer sheets, but not in their personalities. Not inquiring into these prominent aspects of society, we miss out on opportunities to emancipate ourselves from a sedentary lifestyle that is too comfortable to be permanent. We lose the chance of expanding our imagination and making various elements of society a part of our natural thought pattern. Here, not just creativity is killed, but the natural affinity for inquisitiveness and inquiry is stifled under the iron fist of academic lessons.

While the academic structure remains more or less the same, our surroundings are changing rapidly. What mattered to people yesterday has been compromised for what they can afford today and we students today are compelled to study from literature that would make little difference tomorrow. Instead of probing into the difficult questions, we are preparing ourselves to directly answer in examinations. In the heroic quote of the UAE topper that I mentioned in the beginning, I sense an ominous blanket of fullness and nothingness at the same time. Fullness of the positive attitude towards setting everything forthright for a successful academic venture, and the nothingness in the failure to express what a young student can achieve without being confined to closed doors of incessant academic training. I sense the nothingness in disregarding the role of art and nature in achieving a successful and happy outcome, the nothingness from not pushing oneself to understand the environment and the society deeper, and the nothingness in knowing that this quote will be stuck on refrigerators of middle class Indian parents as a reference for their children.

The folly of marks is not just in what one ignores, but also what cannot be changed. Marks still remain one of the most important aspects for relief in academic fees and competitive scholarships, and it still remains the reason for pride and happiness in an average Indian household. And disappointingly, it will still be a reason for me to occasionally fret over losing a few extra digits.

We’ve already spent a significant amount of our time studying static texts off books mandated by the course. It is  now time to pick a leaf from the books of people who can fascinate us with stories, only if we went beyond the chapter titled ‘scores’.