Last Thoughts

The following is my speech from International Speech Contest at Toastmasters (April 2016), for which I won the Second Place at the District level!

“Imagine a big explosion as you drive through the Holland Tunnel to Manhattan. Imagine witnessing the great symbols of American financial strength burn and collapse to the ground. Ashen faces walking north, crying, and holding one another, just walking as far as they could from the horror they had just witnessed. Imagine!

Well, I had a plan that day. The plan was to discover and roam around NY City and then have lunch with my Uncle at Windows on the World, on the 106th floor of the WTC. It had only been a few months since I arrived to the City that never sleeps, to pursue higher education. There was still a lot to be explored and seen and my Programming class wasn’t until late afternoon.

Instead I see, grown men fallen to their knees, sobbing. I took out my cell phone only realizing no circuit is available. I ran out of the car looking for a phone booth but there were long lines. The streets were silent without subways, taxis or buses; only sirens could be heard through the canyons of buildings.

I could see in everyone’s eyes, it was terror. Life was over.

I was one of the lucky ones who survived the unexpected. As I witnessed the Big Apple turning into ashes, I learned a lot that day.

First, that it all changes in an instant. As I am running from my car looking for a phone booth I thought about all the people I wanted to reach out to that I didn’t, all the ‘I love you’s’ I wanted to say but didn’t, all the hugs I wanted to give but didn’t. All the people I wanted to mend my relationships with, all the grudges I wanted to let go off but didn’t. I wanted to call my grandfather and tell him that I am sorry for yelling at you. I wanted to call my mom and tell her that I love you and thank you for loving me unconditionally. But there was just one phone booth and a loooooooong line. As I thought about that later on, I no longer want to postpone communicating my feelings to anyone.

The second thing I learned – and this is when I see people helping each other, strangers hugging other strangers, everyone racing to the closest hospital to donate blood – that the world is actually a great place! Often we talk about the negativity that has clouded the world. How disasters provoke selfishness and brutal survival-of-the-fittest competition, but here I was in the middle of downtown witnessing how in times of need, we, the human race, striking back against the selfishness and greed of our modern world, and helping out other beings. People were panicked and running for their survival, but if someone fell down, they didn’t get trampled, they were helped up. People were acting selflessly. As I donated blood that evening, I experienced a serene sense of satisfaction, a satisfaction that I did something good for the humanity, a satisfaction that is still lingering with me after 15 years, a satisfaction that cannot be described in words but can only be felt.

And the third thing I realized was that I didn’t want to be just another software engineer. I wanted to change lives. I wanted to mold lives. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to give back. I wanted to be an educator. And that’s what I became. An Educator. And everyday I have that opportunity to mold those young, nascent, minds into constructive, compassionate human beings. This is my way of making sure that there is no another 9/11

I was given the gift of a miracle, of not dying that day. I was given another gift, which was to be able to see into the future and come back and live differently. Lets say you face a life death experience, I hope not – but imagine, and how would you change? Imagine what would you get done after you realize life is unpredictable and you won’t be here forever.  Imagine the positive changes you would make within yourself and in your relationships. Imagine what the best self of you look like.

Imagine!

And now start working on it this very moment. For all we know there might not be a tomorrow!”

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My Social Justice Educator Role Model

“Neecha andar neech jaat neechee hu ati neech, Nanak tin ky sang Saath vadian so kia rees.” (There are lower castes among the low castes and some absolutely low. Nanak seeks their company. What has he to do with the high ones? For, where the lowly are cared for, there is Thine (God’s) Benediction and Grace) (Nanak, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 15). 

Social Justice is the desire to create a fair and socially mobile society through wealth distribution, equality of opportunity for personal development and protection of human rights. Nanak espoused the enhancement of all human beings but emphasized equal opportunities, equal access to sources and resources; equal participation in decision making; equal rights, egalitarianism, equitability and social justice for the marginal, disadvantaged, deprived and exploited ones.

Nanak is my inspiration to be a better educator every single moment. Quality instruction involves highly rigorous work, critical discussions and challenging problem solving, provided in a warm and inclusive environment. I strive every day to provide this kind of education for my students. I strive every day to create equitable and excellent lessons. I strive every day to make everything about ‘social justice.’

Every day I enter the classroom, I think about the lessons I had to learn myself as a student. As a Sikh kid growing up in a mostly Hindu neighborhood, I struggled with my own identity. My long uncut braid and hairy body stuck out like a sore thumb, and my ethnic background was associated with the word hairy and unhygienic—an insult lobbed casually at Sikh girls and boys who didn’t trim their hair or beard.

I needed someone to show me my culture has glorious role models of integrity, creativity and intellect, like Nanak and that we need more people to tell those stories.

Yes, cultural and societal knowledge can (and should) be taught at home—However, it must be asked: Who will validate these familial educations outside the home? Who will help students of color navigate the murky waters of a system not built for them? Who will give those who do come from cultures of power the impetus and tools to navigate their privilege so they can ally with the disempowered?

Who will teach these students to look at the world around them and figure out the problems and solutions with context and empathy? Who will teach them to tell their stories, and listen with open minds to the stories of others?

As an educator I know this is not just a job; it is a privilege. Being able to teach with and learn from my students is a gift. I can teach them scientific concepts and laws and about the social issues they see in the outside world. I can show them how this knowledge is not only to understand how science governs our world, but can be used as tools to subvert power, question normalcy and change society as we understand it.

For that to happen, though, they need to understand society as it is. They need to face the conversation happening in our world right now with frankness and honesty. So, it is often not easy. It sometimes doesn’t feel good and rarely ends in simple answers. Still, as an educator I must ensure that each student who enters my room at some point leaves feeling empowered to stand up for what they believe in. They may not always agree with me, but at least I will have given them the tools to share those beliefs.

At the end of the day, that’s my job, my privilege, my responsibility: When a kid leaves my room, they’re going to have heard as many stories as I can give them, and they’re going to feel like they can tell their own.

 

 

SIX

 

Six long years ago, in the summer of 2010, I packed up my life in New York, bid farewell to friends & family (in the hope of never returning to US) and moved to India for good – to start a new chapter of my life – MARRIAGE!

The advertisement

It was late December 2009. I was enjoying Christmas holidays at school in NY. My Dad, who was in Delhi, used to spend entire days pouring over newspaper’s matrimonial sections. One fine day, he came across this ad in the newspaper.

 

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CD’s Matrimonial ad in the newspaper

 

My Dad read this ad and asked to me send an email at the given address. I, like a good daughter, obliged.

And we exchanged our pictures over the email.

The Guy

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Picture CD sent to woo me

 

The Girl

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Picture I sent to woo CD

 

Knowing each other

After around 2 months of constant chatter over Skype, I had a good idea that this is it. My search for a perfect guy was over. But, how do we meet ? CD was in Bangalore, My Dad was in Delhi. Me and My mom were in NY.

Engineer to the rescue – CD arranged the first family meeting through CISCO Telepresence with me and my mom being in NY and he and his family in Bangalore. It was an instant hit. !

Engagement

A few weeks later we decided to get engaged! I flew to India and was excited to see CD in person for the very first time!!! It was his shy smile that took my heart away and still does 🙂

February 14, 2010 – We got engaged !

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We are engaged. !

 

Marriage

Work commitments and job didn’t let me stay in India for long and I returned, with a few memories – but they were enough to hold me until July 25 2010 – The WEDDING Day!
It was a great wedding, beautiful dresses, delicious food, everyone was happy and we were MARRIED!

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Just Married. !

 

Fun Starts NOW

The Married Life ! And now, the real test began!

CD and I belong to the same culture, hold similar values – so it was pretty obvious – that it will be easy to adjust! (Ha! Humor me!)
The transition from being completely independent in NY to being married in a joint family was surely not easy.

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I felt like this – where did I put my head. !!!

So, How did we make it work?

Here’s my take on what made our marriage so successful:

1. Trust

You got to trust your partner – it goes without saying. No matter how BAD it looks, you need to trust that eventually your partner will do the right thing.

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It can’t get worse than this, but we survived. !

 

2. Love

At its core, love is a decision to be committed to another person. It is far more than a fleeting emotion as portrayed on television, the big screen, and romance novels. Look after each other as best you can: if you want to grow old with your partner you have to make sure you always look after each other in every shape and form. Whether it is making a meal, holding your partners hand when crossing the road or being a shoulder to cry on when something goes wrong.

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Love is being deeply connected !

 

3. Humility

We all have weaknesses and relationships always reveal these faults quicker than anything else on earth. An essential building block of a healthy marriage is the ability to admit that you are not perfect, that you will make mistakes, and that you will need forgiveness. Be tolerant of each other: everyone has bad habits or annoying traits. Whether it is leaving a wet towel on the bed or listening to the radio too loudly, you have to tolerate each other and realize that no one is perfect.

 

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He grew humble as he got more & more of this

 

4. Forgiveness

Because no one is perfect, patience and forgiveness will always be required in a marriage relationship. We are practicing to humbly admit our own faults and do not expect perfection from their partner. We TRY to not bring up past errors in an effort to hold each other hostage. If you are holding onto a past hurt from your partner, forgive him or her. It will set your heart and relationship free.

 

 

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Forgiveness feels like Free like this. !

 

5. Shutting up

More like he learnt this trait very well. !

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Keep your mouth SHUT. !

 

6. Time

Relationships don’t work without time investment. Never have, never will. Any successful relationship requires intentional, quality time together. And quality time rarely happens when quantity time is absent. Set aside time each day for your spouse. For us, its after G sleeps. But we established his schedule, so that he goes to bed early so we can spend some time together.

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Bunking work to spend time together in SF

 

Spending  time also means, giving each other space – to be comfortable in their own zone.

 

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CD at Yosemite – hiking with friends

 

However, even with all this, there were times, when I literally went for this throat – with both hands

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Went for the kill. !

 

And worse – Public humiliation !

 

7. Hard Work

Making a marriage succeed is certainly hard work – just like pulling a cart – you both need to pedal in the same direction & with conviction that the cart will move

 

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Pulling the cart of marriage

 

 

8. Slot Machine

Marriage is a like gambling – but with hard work, you improve your odds of winning !

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Marriage – Slot Machine. !

 

In the end, it has been beautiful SIX years of togetherness – with lots of white, black & more than 50 shades of gray in between 🙂

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The perfect couple. ! CD & me