What my ego taught me

Picture any coming-of-age movie with bratty teenagers making life miserable for their teacher. That was math class in my school. 

My math teacher in senior high school was a brilliant teacher. Gentle, patient, knowledgeable, and effortlessly simplified complex concepts for those of us who were terrible in mathematics. His only flaw, was that he was a Tamilian, with a dark complexion, and a very thick accent. For a majority of my classmates, he was great fodder for bullying. They openly mocked his accent, and laughed in class. There weren’t any repercussions on their education — they had tuitions after school to make up for that.

Being a fellow Tamilian, I could understand his frustration. And that motivated me to be that one person in class that he could call a student. The other teachers were treated with more respect (or perhaps, fear), but student disinterest in studies, was blatantly clear.

In college, the atmosphere was completely opposite. Unlike school, the students had their independence. And the teachers — highly accomplished academics — were indifferent to them. Students didn’t dare disturb classes. But if they were disinterested, they’d just leave. Here too, private tuitions were the safety net.

In both my school and college, I stubbornly refused to take these supplementary classes. Some of the reasons included: my firm belief that extra tuitions were for ‘dumbos’ who couldn’t study on their own; my stubbornness in sticking to that judgement even as the ‘intelligent’ ones folded in; and my unwillingness in spending exorbitant amounts in fees when the same (sometimes better) education was already being paid for (that too at a subsidised rate).

It was these beliefs, that pushed me to ask questions in class, to seek clarifications on things I struggled to grasp. At first, I felt stupid. But my egotistical self that refused outside help, gave me no choice. Between feeling publicly stupid, and privately admitting I needed help, apparently, I preferred the former.

And so I asked questions. Even as I felt I was being stupid.

It was after one Accounts class in school. One of my classmates came up to me to seek clarification on a topic that had been introduced that day. I had asked the same question in class, just moments earlier.

It was then, that I realised, that by asking questions, I wasn’t being stupid. I was asking the questions everyone wanted to ask, but for some reason didn’t.

Ego, stubbornness, being judgemental, aren’t traits I, or anyone, would be proud of. By no means am I advocating it. These very traits have hurt me very badly. In the years since, I have tried to let go of my ego — it’s a work-in-progress, and I think I have made a fair amount of progress.

I have learnt that there is no shame in asking for help. It is wrong to label people as ‘dumb’. And it is naive (even, dangerous) to judge people based on my unfounded notions.

But for compelling me learn to teach myself, and brazenly ask questions in uncomfortable environments — abilities that have helped me immensely in my work as a user experience designer — I am thankful to that adolescent, egotistical, judgemental self.


Don’t study!!

As little kids, we’re always told by our parents to study… Well, almost always. When I was small, my parents never really had much trouble with me as far as studying was concerned. But once every year, they had to tell me NOT to study!

Navratri is celebrated every year, sometime around October… Although it is celebrated at least twice a year, the one culminating in Dusshera is celebrated with the most enthusiasm. Navratri literally means nine nights. During this festival, various forms of Goddess Durga are worshipped.

Technically speaking, puja (religious ritual) is performed on each day of the festival. But I’ll fast forward to the ninth day. On the ninth day of this festival, we worship Goddess Saraswati, the Goddess of learning and knowledge. In any field, there is always scope for learning. And knowledge can be gained in any form. So all those items from which we can gain knowledge and wisdom are collected and a dias is formed. An idol of the Goddess is placed atop this dias and a puja is conducted. In the north, a similar puja is performed on Vasant Panchami.

A special Rangoli (decorative design) is made, incense sticks are lit, special dishes are prepared and offered to the Goddess…

As little kids, we used to look forward to Navratri – a welcome break from school, special dishes, the festive atmosphere around the entire city. But we had a another reason to be excited…

On this very special ninth day of the puja, it was absolutely compulsory for us not to study! Yes that’s right! We were told not to study. Now which kid wouldn’t want that? 🙂

We wondered why, on the day the Goddess of learning is worshipped, we were told not to learn… Nevertheless, it was a very exciting thought… how nice it would be if we didn’t have to study…

But when the day actually arrived, with nothing to do – we weren’t allowed to read, or engage in any activity related to art or use musical instruments, we weren’t even allowed to work on the computer or watch tv – the day was extremely boring! To not learn, then seemed a terrible thing indeed…

It is said that the Goddess herself offers her blessings to everything that is placed in the dias, so we must not study and wait for the puja to conclude and then study. But more importantly, by not allowing us to do anything, it was a lesson in itself… Life would be incomplete, and worthless without knowledge…

On the tenth day, the puja was concluded. We were told to pick up our books soon after bath and told to read something new… It signified a fresh start… We were once again told to study with interest (pun intended)…

On this year’s Saraswati puja, my mother and I spent the whole day cleaning the house 🙂