London 2012. Pure gold.

So here’s the deal, I am not a sports lover, not by a long shot. But, over the last few weeks I’ve found myself reading the sports sections of the newspapers, turning to good ol’ Google to find out about various events taking place in and around London and I’ve had the best time doing it. So why do the Olympics have this mesmerizing effect on people all over the world? What is it about this phenomenon that makes even the most indifferent individual stay awake at odd hours to watch a favourite make it to the finish line? What is it that about this mega event that succeeds in making a sport lover out of me, albeit temporarily?  

You see, while the Olympics provide a thrill for sports lovers all over the world it does something very different for me. Yes watching Usain Bolt fly to the finish line is thrilling and watching Sushil Kumar’s grit and termination was humbling, of course there are the moments when time stands still and the hair on the back of my neck rises but the Olympics do so much more than that. They mean so much more than that.

More than anything, though, the Olympics are about dreams and the triumph of the human spirit. Not just the dreams of the greats like Michael Phelps, but the modest dreams of a Saina Nehwal and the shattered dreams of a Sahana Kumari. And at the end of the day I’ve realized this is what defines my love for the Olympic Games.

Hearing the stories of the athletes and listening to tales of personal and professional struggle is a lesson in endurance, in perseverance, in will power and in the tenacity of the human spirit. And while it is easy to go overboard and get too emotional over the drama of the games, the fact remains that there are innumerable amazing stories represented in that collective body of athletes.

That’s what really matters: when statistics, wins, losses and tallies are all transcended by humanity, by dreams, by human achievement in the face of struggle and strife and through it all sport is no longer remains just about sport – it becomes a metaphor for life itself.

From their inception in ancient Greece, the Olympic Games have been a celebration of the human body, the human mind and the human spirit. The essence of those ancient games still remains to this day. In a world full of scripted drama and false emotions the Olympics capture us, enthrall us, amuse us and awe us by highlighting our commonalities and by simply being gut-wrenchingly ( for want of a better word) real.

Testing the limits of the human spirit won’t end now that the curtains have fallen on London 2012, the defining moments of the last two weeks will stay with us and will accomplish what the Olympics  hoped to achieve – inspire a generation’,  making them stronger, and better at everything they do. Not just in their chosen sport, but in life itself.

Never put limits on your dreams –Dara Torres, Olympic Swimming Champion and 12 time Olympic medal winner

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Guest Post by Neena Nizar Adam

NOTE: In April this year I was fortunate to meet Neena Nizar Adam for the first time. Over the last few months Neena and I have worked closely, chatted at length, organized impromptu parties for our colleagues, grumbled about work pressures, reveled in the joy of teaching and today, I’m happy to count her as a close friend. Innumerable challenges notwithstanding, Neena is one of the liveliest, wittiest and most talented people I know. She is a strong woman whose strength and spirit inspires so many others on an everyday basis.

Neena works closely with the SFS Group (Special Families Support) in Dubai, providing emotional support, resources and organizing activities for children with special needs and helps these families with the support and love they need to cope with their daily highs and lows. You can read more about SFS and the remarkable work they do here: www.sfs-group.net

I am happy that Neena is sharing a tiny part of her own life story here and I can think of no better way to start my new ‘Guest Post’ section. Read on and be inspired.

My Hero by Neena Nizar Adam

I was three when I decided that my father was my hero.

As I stood at the Heathrow airport waving goodbye to him, I didn’t readily comprehend that I wouldn’t see him, or my family, again for another whole year; daddy was leaving me to stay with my Uncle – a surgeon who was scheduled to operate on me that summer.

Neena’s father with her son Arshaan

I’ve never been one of those whiney or fussy kids and my father was never one of those melodramatic fathers you see pictured so quaintly in soap operas; I never sat on his lap while we shared a ‘heart to heart’ or a ‘philosophy of life’. He never read bedtime stories or played piggy-back. Instead, he was my ‘matter-of-fact’ man. He had a job to do and he did it.

He waved goodbye unceremoniously and was off.

Now, 30 years later, as parenthood has fallen upon me like a ton of wet cement, I often wish I could be him.

I cannot recall my father ever crying over me or pitying his plight. I’ve never seen him Google up a symptom or a prescription, but most of all I’ve never seen him lose hope or hang his head low in defeat.

My father was my Ironman and hulk all rolled up into one. He would whisk me off to one end of the globe and back, meeting tirelessly with this doctor and that. If there was some new treatment to be tried, he would be there with me trying it. He was always the last person I saw when they rolled me into the theatre room and the first one I saw when I came out.

I have often wondered how he managed to keep a straight face through all the trials: fixing calipers, making corrective shoes, carrying me up and down the stairs to school, taking me for therapies. I still remember the ease with which he cut my plaster as I sat sprawled out on the kitchen floor while mummy called upon God and everyone else. How did he continue to charge ahead when every step was shrouded in uncertainty? How did he pick up the pieces and start again with equal zest when all his tools were worn out?

Neena and her Ninja’s

I’m certain he felt pain. I’m sure he was confused and lost at several stages. I’ve often seen him turn away from me in hospital rooms or purse his lips tight when the ‘news’ wasn’t too good. I’ve learnt to answer his searching eyes with “no it doesn’t hurt that much, dad” and to quickly nod approval to yet another so-called “new breakthrough.”

For an Engineer from a little town in Kerala, I doubt my father ever imagined himself to be the parent of a child who needed special care, a child who would test his faith and exhaust his resources. But he never stopped trying, and he never gave up on his child and I am here today standing tall only because of him.

Of late I’ve come across many parents who wonder if they are doing all they can for their special child. Despite the love and relentless dedication, the ‘nagging voice’ that taunts and haunts them every now and then never seems to go away.

I don’t know if my father ever heard such a voice in his head or even considered such a thing. He charged ahead with the firm resolve that he did everything he could with the tools he was given. As a parent staring down a similar path, I can only hope that one day I will attain this state of perfection.

It’s not so easy being a parent… and it’s a lot harder being a parent of a child whose needs are far more trying. But Dad you did a great job and I’m so grateful to be your special child!

 Related Article from Gulf News: http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/traffic-transport/mother-with-restricted-mobility-gets-uae-driving-licence-1.1046644

Jason Alexander’s Blog Post on Aurora

I’d like to preface this long tweet by saying that my passion comes from my deepest sympathy and shared sorrow with yesterday’s victims and with the utmost respect for the people and the police/fire/medical/political forces of Aurora and all who seek to comfort and aid these victims.

This morning, I made a comment about how I do not understand people who support public ownership of assault style weapons like the AR-15 used in the Colorado massacre. That comment, has of course, inspired a lot of feedback. There have been many tweets of agreement and sympathy but many, many more that have been challenging at the least, hostile and vitriolic at the worst.

Clearly, the angry, threatened and threatening, hostile comments are coming from gun owners and gun advocates. Despite these massacres recurring and despite the 100,000 Americans that die every year due to domestic gun violence – these people see no value to even considering some kind of control as to what kinds of weapons are put in civilian hands.

Many of them cite patriotism as their reason – true patriots support the Constitution adamantly and wholly. Constitution says citizens have the right to bear arms in order to maintain organized militias. I’m no constitutional scholar so here it is from the document itself:

As passed by the Congress:
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
As ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State:
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

So the patriots are correct, gun ownership is in the constitution – if you’re in a well-regulated militia. Let’s see what no less a statesman than Alexander Hamilton had to say about a militia:

“A tolerable expertness in military movements is a business that requires time and practice. It is not a day, or even a week, that will suffice for the attainment of it. To oblige the great body of the yeomanry, and of the other classes of the citizens, to be under arms for the purpose of going through military exercises and evolutions, as often as might be necessary to acquire the degree of perfection which would entitle them to the character of a well-regulated militia, would be a real grievance to the people, and a serious public inconvenience and loss.”

Or from Merriam-Webster dictionary:
Definition of MILITIA
1
a : a part of the organized armed forces of a country liable to call only in emergency
b : a body of citizens organized for military service
2
: the whole body of able-bodied male citizens declared by law as being subject to call to military service

The advocates of guns who claim patriotism and the rights of the 2nd Amendment – are they in well-regulated militias? For the vast majority – the answer is no.

Then I get messages from seemingly decent and intelligent people who offer things like: @BrooklynAvi: Guns should only be banned if violent crimes committed with tomatoes means we should ban tomatoes. OR @nysportsguys1: Drunk drivers kill, should we ban fast cars?

I’m hoping that right after they hit send, they take a deep breath and realize that those arguments are completely specious. I believe tomatoes and cars have purposes other than killing. What purpose does an AR-15 serve to a sportsman that a more standard hunting rifle does not serve? Let’s see – does it fire more rounds without reload? Yes. Does it fire farther and more accurately? Yes. Does it accommodate a more lethal payload? Yes. So basically, the purpose of an assault style weapon is to kill more stuff, more fully, faster and from further away. To achieve maximum lethality. Hardly the primary purpose of tomatoes and sports cars.

Then there are the tweets from the extreme right – these are the folk who believe our government has been corrupted and stolen and that the forces of evil are at play, planning to take over this nation and these folk are going to fight back and take a stand. And any moron like me who doesn’t see it should…
a. be labeled a moron
b. shut the fuck up
c. be removed

And amazingly, I have some minor agreement with these folks. I believe there are evil forces at play in our government. But I call them corporatists. I call them absolutists. I call them the kind of ideologues from both sides, but mostly from the far right who swear allegiance to unelected officials that regardless of national need or global conditions, are never to levy a tax. That they are never to compromise or seek solutions with the other side. That are to obstruct every possible act of governance, even the ones they support or initiate. Whose political and social goal is to marginalize the other side, vilify and isolate them with the hope that they will surrender, go away or die out.

These people believe that the US government is eventually going to go street by street and enslave our citizens. Now as long as that is only happening to liberals, homosexuals and democrats – no problem. But if they try it with anyone else – it’s going to be arms-ageddon and these committed, God-fearing, brave souls will then use their military-esque arsenal to show the forces of our corrupt government whats-what. These people think they meet the definition of a “militia”. They don’t. At least not the constitutional one. And, if it should actually come to such an unthinkable reality, these people believe they would win. That’s why they have to “take our country back”. From who? From anyone who doesn’t think like them or see the world like them. They hold the only truth, everyone else is dangerous. Ever meet a terrorist that doesn’t believe that? Just asking.

Then there are the folks who write that if everyone in Colorado had a weapon, this maniac would have been stopped. Perhaps. But I do believe that the element of surprise, tear gas and head to toe kevlar protection might have given him a distinct edge. Not only that, but a crowd of people firing away in a chaotic arena without training or planning – I tend to think that scenario could produce even more victims.

Lastly, there are these well-intended realists that say that people like this evil animal would get these weapons even if we regulated them. And they may be right. But he wouldn’t have strolled down the road to Kmart and picked them up. Regulated, he would have had to go to illegal sources – sources that could possibly be traced, watched, overseen. Or he would have to go deeper online and those transactions could be monitored. “Hm, some guy in Aurora is buying guns, tons of ammo and kevlar – plus bomb-making ingredients and tear gas. Maybe we should check that out.”

But that won’t happen as long as all that activity is legal and unrestricted.

I have been reading on and off as advocates for these weapons make their excuses all day long. Guns don’t kill – people do. Well if that’s correct, I go with @BrooklynAvi, let them kill with tomatoes. Let them bring baseball bats, knives, even machetes — a mob can deal with that.

There is no excuse for the propagation of these weapons. They are not guaranteed or protected by our constitution. If they were, then we could all run out and purchase a tank, a grenade launcher, a bazooka, a SCUD missile and a nuclear warhead. We could stockpile napalm and chemical weapons and bomb-making materials in our cellars under our guise of being a militia.

These weapons are military weapons. They belong in accountable hands, controlled hands and trained hands. They should not be in the hands of private citizens to be used against police, neighborhood intruders or people who don’t agree with you. These are the weapons that maniacs acquire to wreak murder and mayhem on innocents. They are not the same as handguns to help homeowners protect themselves from intruders. They are not the same as hunting rifles or sporting rifles. These weapons are designed for harm and death on big scales.

SO WHY DO YOU CONTINUE TO SUPPORT THEM? WHY DO YOU NOT, AT LEAST, AGREE TO SIT WITH REASONABLE PEOPLE FROM BOTH SIDES AND ASK HARD QUESTIONS AND LOOK AT HARD STATISTICS AND POSSIBLY MAKE SOME COMPROMISES FOR THE GREATER GOOD? SO THAT MOTHERS AND FATHERS AND CHILDREN ARE NOT SLAUGHTERED QUITE SO EASILY BY THESE MONSTERS? HOW CAN IT HURT TO STOP DEFENDING THESE THINGS AND AT LEAST CONSIDER HOW WE CAN ALL WORK TO TRY TO PREVENT ANOTHER DAY LIKE YESTERDAY?

We will not prevent every tragedy. We cannot stop every maniac. But we certainly have done ourselves no good by allowing these particular weapons to be acquired freely by just about anyone.

I’ll say it plainly – if someone wants these weapons, they intend to use them. And if they are willing to force others to “pry it from my cold, dead hand”, then they are probably planning on using them on people.

So, sorry those of you who tell me I’m an actor, or a has-been or an idiot or a commie or a liberal and that I should shut up. You can not watch my stuff, you can unfollow and you can call me all the names you like. I may even share some of them with my global audience so everyone can get a little taste of who you are.

But this is not the time for reasonable people, on both sides of this issue, to be silent. We owe it to the people whose lives were ended and ruined yesterday to insist on a real discussion and hopefully on some real action.

In conclusion, whoever you are and wherever you stand on this issue, I hope you have the joy of family with you today. Hold onto them and love them as best you can. Tell them what they mean to you. Yesterday, a whole bunch of them went to the movies and tonight their families are without them. Every day is precious. Every life is precious. Take care. Be well. Be safe. God bless.

Jason Alexander

What do I want from my life?

For the longest time now, I’ve struggled to answer a simple question that has been on my mind ever since I read an article in the Huffington Post by modern-day guru Deepak Chopra.

In his article, Chopra asked a simple question. ‘What do you want from life?’

That’s a pretty simple question right? But it has been weeks since I read it and only now has an answer begun to germinate in my mind.

I tried writing a blog post but it became long and complicated. So I’ve decided to keep the answer simple.

I want to be happy. I want to be fulfilled. And the way to achieve that is by honoring my calling. The reason I came to earth. I teach – I teach bloody well! But in the end, it’s the opportunity to impact lives that really matters most to me. I want to be the best I can be, by reaching out to other people. I want to be whatever I can be to the kids I teach, to the people I work with, to my friends and to my family.

That is really all that I want from my life. What about you?

Posted from airtel@blackberry

Because Good Teachers Matter…

During my summer holidays last year I was sitting in a coffee shop in Calcutta with some of my ex-students when I suddenly noticed one of my own teachers Mrs. Kabita Sen, seated at a table nearby. I jumped up to go over and greet her and in my mind prepared for her to ask ‘Sydney…who?’ I was so happy and so overwhelmed when she looked at me, gave me a broad smile and exclaimed ‘Sydney Atkins’!!!! After all these years she still remembered my name. What a splendid music teacher she was and what a lovely person. She remains one of the most influential people in my life.

Most of us can pinpoint that one teacher who truly affected our lives — both in and out of the classroom. We remember the one teacher who really pushed us to achieve. Or the one who refused to let us take the easy way out. And while we may not remember much about that year they taught us, we definitely remember that teacher from that year.

Good teachers are a rare and fast disappearing species. And from recent experience I know they have become extremely difficult to find. Today most teachers see themselves as are service providers but their fancy degrees and qualifications don’t always guarantee that they will make a difference in the lives of their pupils. Sadly, over the last few weeks I’ve read horror stories pouring in from all over the country. Stories of teachers who continue to misuse their positions of authority, teachers who abuse the trust placed in them and teachers who have traumatized the lives in their care.

The buzzword these days is teacher quality. It was even at the center of President Obama’s education agenda. You see, good teachers matter — having bad teachers severely limits students from reaching their potential in every sense possible. It is no secret that good teachers can make a world of difference in their students’ lives. And as a result, figuring out how to sort the good teachers from the rest has become an important part of educational institutions around the world.

We know that good teachers matter. A lot. The gap in academic and personal achievement between students taught by text-book teachers and those taught by teachers can be life altering for students. Know what I mean? Now days however it all boils down to perfect pedagogy, rigorous planning and assessing, diligent resource making and clever behavior management; but are these things enough or is there something more to being a good teacher?

The secrets to ‘what makes a good teacher’ are more complex than ancient alchemy. Does it take some motivational mumbo-jumbo or a few misty eyed personal stories to establish a rapport? Maybe a friendly yet tough demeanor will do the trick? Does it require all these and more? Who knows? But if I’ve learned one thing in my limited teaching experience it is this: my students don’t care how much I know until they know how much I care. That will remain at the centre of everything I do. Always. I know there are some teachers who will point fingers and disagree vehemently and they’re entitled to their own opinion but I also know that I work with and know plenty of other wonderful people who will agree with me and together we will continue impacting lives the best way we can.

Good teachers really do matter, and if you’re one of them, I salute you.

Ok…Ok…enough for today. Class dismissed.