future

A peek into the future

“How about taking your daughter to KidZania and having a good time?”, the good folks at Blogadda asked.  Now, several friends had spoken about the place as a vibrant vivacious fun place for kids. God bless their good souls. If anyone gives me an opportunity to try and bring a smile to the little miss, well they grab a piece of my heart. ‘Yes’, I said and they arranged it all. Seeking to experience the place first hand and see what the world was coming to.

Some search later, the facts seemed to hold promise. To say the least. A Mexican entrepreneur Xavier Lopez Ancona ( & a former managing director of a Private Equity business with GE) wove this idea from nothing and its mushrooming into a sought after, profitable global franchise held allure. Currently, the only Indian franchise is the one at Mumbai’s R City Mall at Ghatkopar. The perpetual dusk setting within, the sculpted roads & stores, the services are all supposed to be similar in every franchise around the world to exacting detail. Including the fuselage of a plane that juts out of the building!

The place is a city in itself. With immigration counters and stamping etc to enter. The immigration folks being cheerful and helpful was a dead give away that this after all is a make believe world that we were entering. Everything else is real. In fact, a tad too eerily real. Real clean sculpted pavements, real products and services that go out on a limb to recreate life as it exists outside, with a charter and a bill a of rights drawn up by children. Suave marketing, methinks, but its a story well told.

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From health services, fire service ( the sirens of the ambulance and a fire engine that do the rounds at a periodic interval can capture attention with a snap of a finger), their own supermarket, a cop station, a radio station, replicas of factories that make stuff from soft drink to cereals etc etc, the place packs a punch. Plus of course, to complete the milieu, KidZania has its own ‘currency’ and a bank (with adult tellers) to boot. A ‘fully functional economy’ of sorts!

Speaking of the economy, the place reeks of real life brands, which must vary from country to country and speaks of hardcore commerce. For example, when the kids play courier delivery folks, they work for DHL. Radio City when they work as a Radio Jockey. Hyundai for the cars. Camlin. Coca Cola, Nerolac. Yes Bank. etc etc. They are all there. Soaking up the kids and their attention. Consumerist reality is everyday reality for all ofus in the real world and that is an unmistakable part of the business model of KidZania

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The idea is simple. Kids from the age of 4 to 14 choose to do various jobs ( from being firemen, dabbawallas, doctors on call etc are paid in Kidzos the local currency, and then dispense it on artistic pursuits like drawing greeting cards, pottery lessons, or simply spending it on food and fun.  Or they can save up the money, deposit in the bank within and use it again in the next visit. Its quite a load of fun for the children. For they get to play multiple roles and for parents get to have a voyeuristic peep into the future. The little miss enjoyed playing a fireman, and going about the fire engine with its loud bells and screaming sirens. She played doctor. And then a super market assistant. She would come back with a wad of currency from each of these places and dutifully hand it over to the missus.

Me and the missus walked about soaking up the place.

We watched kids run around as courier delivery folks. They queued up to clean tall buildings. To paint walls. Of course it was part of play. Never since Tom Sawyer was there this enthusiasm in painting, I must say! There are adult instructors for each activity, who hold court handing over the necessary costume and setting up the boundary conditions and instructions for the kids to play their part. An education, it surely provides kids with with.  One way of adding perspective is to soak into different jobs. To empathise with people is to ‘step into someone else s shoe’, as the cliched expression goes. Kids get to be adults and play different roles. Each activity lasts approximately 20 minutes and no kid I could see had a shortage of excitement there.

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Play is an integral part of learning. Especially so in children. The little miss had such a whale of a time doing all that she got to do. She told us after successfully ‘putting out a fire’, that fire can be ‘dangerous’, with a roll of her eyes. The setting for some tremendous learning to happen is endearing and complete.

On second thoughts, it is near complete.

It is near complete for it is a replication of adult real life as it stands today, it comes a tad too close in making a linear extension of the present day life into the future and overlaying a materialistic mindset on impressionable minds.  That’s at least the feeling I was left with all through. Particularly so, when a tall kid who was playing the role of a courier boy brushed past us, pushing his trolley in infinite hurry. He turned for a minute to give us another look and then went his way with his darting lunges as his Kidzo notes awaited him. In the fully functional economy of KidZania, kids could learn more about adult life than perhaps adults themselves would care to acknowledge. Running around to ‘make money’ and then ‘spend’ it on ‘artistically creating greeting cards’, ‘Pottery lessons’ etc is part of our story. Now, that’s why it struck me as a linear extension of the present into the future.

It is a scary future, where money will continue to have currency over our thoughts and ‘finding meaning’ in life is a distant and dead thought. Perhaps it is a practical and the most likely future as well. The hours at KidZania prepares kids for this kind of a future. Helping them experience reality in safe circumstances, teaching them options and choices for a material world. On how it perhaps would be and what all they would need to do to get ahead. Parents who have this as the most secure future for their children, will simply adore the place.

For those of you parents who imagine a different future, where a life of purpose and meaning without a wad of currency notes dictating what our kids should end up doing, KidZania is quite an experience. For the parents that is. Atleast, it was for me. For it gives a well calibrated peak into the future and nudged me to seek and exercise the right choices now, for an alternate narrative to take root in the little miss’s mind. Possibilities abound. The changing nature of creative work, the fundamental changes that technology has brought to us, the importance of conversation, relating to one another and building relationships, the joy and curiosity in discovery. A heap of such things struck me as possible. Building these into the little miss’s choice set and creating a base of enduring interest there, is work cut out for me.  In the times we live in, its not child’s play.

At KidZania, you could retire to the luxurious parents lounge there(sponsored by Urban Ladder) , (where the kids aren’t allowed) or plough into some cheese Pizza and masticate these thoughts. For you have the time. The staff at the place are friendly to a fault and have an endearing demenour that helps kids gravitate to them like iron fillings to a magnet, leaving you with nothing much to do. Unless of course, you would want to capture every inch of your kid’s experience, every smile, wince, whine, laugh on every possible device – mobile phones, digital cameras, tablets and the like. If you belong to the latter category, you can run behind the fire engine and chase the ambulance like Paparazzi, clicking pictures and recording videos of kids, getting to be adults. To an uncharitable eye it can appear to be an elaborate fancy dress pageant with some high tech props in tow, but to some parents it is a priceless experience.

The entry fee is steep but perhaps it is worth the experience. It is a good place to check out. It sure will get your kid excited (especially so, if he/she has a friend along) and by natural consequence, get you smiling. If you are someone like me, it perhaps will get you to think hard about how incomplete the loud voices for leaving a good planet behind for our children are.  A pretty planet is pointless, if we don’t work the right perspectives into kids who will inherit it.

New runners for new tracks

‘Lets tickle the sky’ papa she says. I look up from the book that nestles in my hand. I smile. I wonder where she picked that up from. I put the book away and ask, ‘How do you do that?’ Am genuinely curious.

She doesn’t wait for me. She throws her three year old hands into the air and jiggles her tiny fingers looking up into the sky. I break into a smile and do the same. She smiles. We both laugh. She laughs because she is happy. I laugh with a singular knowledge that everything that needs to be accomplished in the world is done. For if you could tickle the sky, of all things, well, nothing else remains.

‘She jumps on a whim these days’, I tell the missus over a sepulchral coffee. “Tomorrow is her sports day. I hope you remember”, she says. Silence ensues. Her silence is her way of letting me know that I am not as involved as I ought to be.

“Of course”, I say. “Its on my calendar”. After a reasonably pronounced sip of chaste filter coffee, she adds, ‘well she has grown taller’. I want to say ‘I noticed’, but then bite my lip. Some lessons stay. I bite my lip harder. A mute testimony to my growing up.

The little miss doesn’t care about the silly thoughts that run aground our minds, as she jumps of the sofa with an alacrity of a Kangaroo. “Kang-a-loo” she yells. She still cant get the ‘r’. Landing a stingy meter short of the spot where the the settee begins. The missus gasps every time the little ‘Kanga-al-looo’ takes off.

The sports day arrives with nonchalant ease. I finish up as much of the work that I can. As early as I can and land up at the venue. With a nervous twitch of the finger I switch off the phone and look around to see where the little miss is and what all she is upto. From afar, I spot her. Playing with her friends. I smile. I climb on to what seems to be a ledge of sorts and strain my neck to get a better view.

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The teachers and staff at her school put up a stellar show. To handle one toddler is a sapping experience for me. To handle a hundred or so, must sure be an ask. But they do a super job. But as sapping it is, the fulfillment at the end of the day is an indescribably happy feeling. A sudden feeling of envy creeps out and weaves itself around the teachers. As they run, jump and lead the toddlers. Smiles hold steady sway over the December morning.

The little miss first is part of an aerobic dance. A dance that is imperfect in synchrony but is enough to set the hearts of all parents gathered there afire. The imperfection is a joy to behold. As wobbly hands and toddler legs balance slender torsos aiming to catch the beat of a catchy song. The little miss is right at the centre. We look at each other. Me and the missus. And smile. No words are spoken.

I rush to another part of the gallery. Whipping out the ipad to record her first performance before an audience. A joyous rush gets the heart to beat faster. I shoot a video. The aerobic dance is over as quickly as it began. So it seems. When you know that you wish for the event to linger for longer, you realise its tugged your heart. Today the gluttonous seeking of happiness remains unsatiated. For, soon its time to go home.

A few hours later. I call up my mom. I speak rather calmly. I try to. So I think. I tell her about the exploits of her grand daughter at her first sports day. A public performance. Plus, two races ‘won’. She speaks with joy. And has a volley of questions about the event. After hearing them all, she says, ‘its like yesterday that I came to YOUR first sports day. How time flies”. Silence engulfs the airwaves. She breaks the silence in a bit. “Do you have pictures?”

“I am uploading a video ma. You can stream it soon” I say. As a tiny trickle sits on the ledge of the eye, threatening to stream down my cheek. Its a wholesome melancholic mixture. Of missing. Of longing. Of celebration. Of hope. Of the future with the past in tow. Or maybe its about the past with the future etching its presence. She often tells us ‘Life is a relay’ with a straight face and sane voice. ‘Me and dad have run our part. The baton is in your hands now’.

I strike the upload button with vigour. Am sure as the video streams down from the cloud, it will make her day. Stuff from an unseen cloud will tickle the sky. Her sky.

There are new runners emerging in the family. New runners for new tracks.

Designing the future

They jumped back. 

Much like I did many months ago. At that time, I was walking the streets of San Francisco when what seemed to be a green shrub moved many meters, came close to me and out sprung a much bearded man. 

Putting on display teeth coloured like the crimson Sun.  

He was playing a prank much like the Canadian show ‘Scare Tactics’, the TV show where hidden cameras capture open mouthed shrieks escaping from the throats of innocent passerby in front of whom are propped corpses or broken bleeding hands or something more grotesque!  

His crimson teeth and his harrowing shriek were gruesome enough for me to yell and jump a good distance. A few more inches and I would have landed in Mumbai. That was how far I jumped and I saw from the corner of my eye the entire city of San Francisco wiping away buckets of tears, full of mirth. 

That was exactly how some people jumped, when I posed them a question, without warning: “Look, if we should be designing the future, what should we do?” It was partly the strength of the question itself that made people emit a sputtering cough.  The other part, I must admit, perhaps was due to the sudden poser of what seemed to be a rather pertinent question in the most inopportune of places. 

Like a bathroom stall. When the guy is standing next to you and doing what he is supposed to be doing in urinal.   Or during the morning run, when ace marathoners were counting their steps and running to a choreographed plan.  And to slightly more comforting environs, like a cab or an auto.  The startled looks from Taxi and autorickshaw drivers will stay etched in my mind forever but co-passengers on a plane whose jaw dropped almost all the way to the Earth upon the sudden propping of the question, was something else though!  

Let me explain this a bit more.  You see, when BlogAdda.com & INK talks put out an opportunity to write out a post on designing the future, they quite helped break a lethargy induced labyrinthine walls that had held ideas to ransom for a long time.  Before I could start, I realized I had to be clear about what I hoped to get: My design for the future.  

And it went like this

I dreamt of a future that will be inclusive. Meaning ‘inclusive of all age groups. Of all classes. Of the rich and poor. Or the fit and the falling.  Irrespective of whether you are based out of Minnesota or Mumbai (The ‘Boulder or Bangalore’ expression has been traipsed all over).  

It had to apply immaterial of whether someone was a janitor or the Joint Secretary! Literacy, economics, skin colour shouldn’t come in the way.   Therefore it should cost next to nothing, yet be simple enough to practice and shouldn’t require “the skill that seems like Edison’s wizardry” to a grandma as she watched her grandson play Angry Birds on the I pad. 

Now that was an inconceivably towering future.  I was happy. 

With some satisfaction I reviewed the contours of what I had come up with. In no time, the satisfaction melted only to be quickly replaced by a deep churn in the stomach. If such was the contour, what could be solution and would I, of all people be able to come up with one?  

I’d rather seek help, I thought. And promptly thought I would ask random people seeking an answer.  It proved to be a swell idea. For every conversation left me refreshed. Some by what people wanted and yet others by the elegance with which people shared it all.  The bottom line: It left me with hope that all is not lost. At least not yet! 

For, the future that people wished to design for themselves was simple. Not one spoke of the next big gadget.  Surprisingly, none spoke of producing electricity from lint in the butt crack. Or something as arrestingly innovative as that.  Not even the everyday utterances like ‘global warming’, price rise or for that matter, corruption. Topics that I thought would stay in the forefront of people’s minds.  

NONE. I was flummoxed. To put it mildy.   

This was no national referendum.  Perhaps it was the surprise element. Or maybe how I looked, or asked the question. Or perhaps it was the lack of time to give a considered response. Whatever!  I had a variety of answers. All in the same genre. 

The answers bordered on these: Empathy. Listening. Conversing. Respecting each other. Innovation. Spreading some real happiness and cheer. Quiet reflection. Kindness.  

That made sense. Think of it, we are immersed in our gadgets. Locked up in apartments with wafer thin walls yet iron like cells. Our worlds have shrunk from the vast expanse that mother Earth had to offer to the silent vacuous confines of singularly lonely spaces punctuated only by the hollow glow of a Television set.  

Our view of the world shaped largely through that hollow glow mistaking argument for debate and searching for new lows in the quest for new least common denominators. We have very little time and lesser interest in seeing if another point to a story or a person exists, leave alone embracing it! 

The stories that we hear of fellow people that inhabit the earth, our next door neighbours and their cultures, their Gods their beliefs, practices are all monochrome ones. Perhaps black and white too.  Very narrow definitions that is easy for us to accept and process. Mixed up and cemented. The spectacular colour that every life can hold aloft for us, forever lost in the perpetual quest for speed in ‘slotting’ people, places and countries.  

A pattern was emerging in my mind and in another conversation; I asked a CEO friend ‘Where should we begin’. And he replied, in-between generous sips of his coffee and silence, ‘it’s not simple you see “. Just as I thought there he goes again, he said:  “If we need to design the future, we have to begin with the people that will take charge of the future. Our children”. 

 That made sense. 

On the way back from that meeting, I asked the elderly taxi driver what we should be doing! He said in a matter of fact manner ‘people must talk to each other’.  It hit me like a ton of brinks and silence engulfed the cab. Ironically omnipresent for the rest of the journey.  

That was a very productive day, by any stretch of imagination.  I was hunched on my desk till the wee hours, pondering on what the two elderly gentlemen had said.  I wrote on a piece of paper: “Are children taught to think?  Do they even get to stay still? Reflect on what they do? What they haven’t done? Do they get to play with a diverse set of other kids? Do they understand the value of simple conversation? Of listening and talking. “ 

I went to bed with those thoughts and woke up in a few hours. My plan for designing the future was ready!  It wasn’t anything spectacularly new.  For in one word, it was about CONVERSATION. 

Conversation!  The future ought to be a world where conversations flourish. Where we hold an idea aloft with empathy and debate it. To understand another not only from one monochromatic view of ‘an ‘issue or a position but to accept a person the way he / she is.  

That led me to my grand action proposal:  It’s time to mandate ‘conversation’ in school. Allocated time. Every day. To just find someone new, and talk. Get to know the person. The family. Perhaps exchange lunch.  Understand the food. Talk about interests. Reflect on the conversations. 


How about writing essays on such conversations?  How do we teach our kids to be passionately curious about many things in the world? To entice them to listen carefully and to sort the music in the noise! The design for our future thus must have conversation at school as a key!

With a flourish I told the missus the grand proposal.  Silence greeted me. Silence with hands on the hips. “Could you change her diaper please” was the response.  

 And as I dutifully changed my daughter’s diaper, I thought if my idea was some idealistic hogwash?  
Another ‘wayward waste of time’ as the missus would have liked me think?  What will it get us?  Will this lead to Promised Land? A land of plenty with smiles with angels playing the harp, science to liberate us and the latest maps that will keep us happy?

Perhaps not.  But this seemed to be a pretty good place to start.  Imagine a future where people talk to each other. Listen with empathy. Pass on some kindness. No, not necessarily ‘agree’ to all what the other person says. But enough to hear the other person that instills grace, even in defeat. 

And what better a place to start than school? My daughter let go of a laugh which thrilled me no end. 

The missus rushed in. Only to see the diaper change accomplished to perfection.  Her arched eyebrow in a surprise laden appreciation was all I needed to think that I had her stamp of approval to my idea.
  

Bound by chains !

My morning walks acquaint me with scooters. In chains ! For a few days, i didn’t quite know what these scooters bound in chains signified.

Some wise man had said that man was born free, but was found in chains everywhere. But scooters ? This was indeed new.

And then, I was introduced to a ‘driving’ school for women. Which parked their bikes here. All chained together.

And in the morning, when the learners come up, the locks are removed and the unchained scooters come alive with an array of women with scooters marked ‘L’ signifying ‘a learner’.

‘Learning breaks down chains’ they say. Seems to be true here. And right here, it’s the chains that were latched on by the learning school ! The belief in the securing objects reigns here.

When not in use, objects are chained. There is still hope that the mind stays unchained. To the dark ages of the past.

The Same Wall in K World !

Post – 1 of a three post series on the K World !


Theres this wall. Everyday on the way to work. On the way to work. Currently it echoes a lonely halo in the mornings. For schools are closed and children are away on holiday.

In some time though, schools would reopen. Overflowing satchel and sprightly uniforms will dot the roads. As much as school buses and parents at a bus stop. Tiny hands scratching the air while in animated conversation about an ‘important’ topic is clear. Of a butterflies. Bees. Cricket. actors. Etc Etc. And of course, mothers there have their own.

It is indeed some sight. To watch the contrast. The children without a care and worry. The moving butterfly, the kite that broke free and the odd ‘secret’ visibly keeping them busy. Them mothers, i don’t know. Their subject of discussion remains distant to me.

Coming back to the wall.

The children, they sit on the wall. They are rather, propped on the wall. By ageing grandparents and caring mothers. An escape from having to stand and wait for the school bus. And sitting on the high perch, on the high wall, they converse.

The 10 seconds it takes for me to drive past them, are enough to spot the happiness in them. Animated. Energetic. And that 10 seconds is usually http://premier-pharmacy.com/product-category/blood-pressure enough for me figure the energy expended in keeping them up there. At one place that is.

And in the evening, when i drive back, by the same wall, exactly where the children sat, there are the others that sit on the same wall. Men. Propped by themselves.

Young men. Old men. Middle aged men. All sit and have conversation. Some read the newspapers. Others discuss. Perhaps they too are waiting for their bus to arrive..

For a while now, i haven’t been seeing the children. When the schools reopen, there is going to be chatter and banter. And it is such a sight to behold. Everyday morning.

And i wonder, how it would be to be that wall. To be privy to all what the children speak. Their dreams. Their worlds. I wonder. And then, i think of the company the wall keeps in the evening. I shake my head. And say, ‘time flies’.

The wall will come to bounce with morning energy again. Soon.

Here’s to a great school season. May it rekindle in children the joys of living, the spirit of curiosity, inclusive thinking and a mindset that will make our futures better.

And may they tear down all walls. Save this wall.

This is the first of a three part ‘Kids World’ series on the modern day world of a child

Naah-No gazing !

Its been on the dinner table for some time. As conversation that is. Its been on the parliament’s table. For the same reason. And its been successful fodder to trainers and training programs : For a variety of reasons. ‘Innovation’. ‘Self Belief’. ‘Keeping a promise.’ ‘Positioning’. And an endless more.

Finally, the rubber is meeting the road. After all ! Yes. The Nano is here. You can buy one online ! But hold on. Hold on. Dont go away. This is not yet another post cooing the wonder that this is becoming ! This post isn’t about the Nano.

(You sure must have read about the cobbler and the bus conductor queueing up to buy. And amongst the many images, i am also told by a neighbour of those driving into a Tata Dealership in a Ford Endeavour to check it out for their ‘college going daughter’. It would have fit into his Endeavour as a take away from a restaurant would have !!)

Closer home, a friend’s friend, has booked 3 Nanos for the home. For the wife. For the mother. And one, generally. Monthly installments on the car, my friend supposes to range in the range of Rs.1,500/- ( $ 30 ). Suddenly, the car becomes a distinct possibility for a small man like me.

Ok. Ok. No. No. This post isn’t about any of that.

This is a crystal ball gazing post into the middle and long term future. And now, armed with the might of my incisive arm chair wisdom & a looming Monday, these are predictions of what the Nano will do.

With the rich, the middle class, the inbetweens, the pretenders and just about everyone else ( save Mamta Banerjee ) wanting to get one, Indian roads are all set to change. India too is all set to change !

Circa 2015


a. Employment Generation increases manifold
: You need more policemen on the road. More mechanics. More arbitrators. More insurance agents. More scrap dealers. More driving schools. More RTO offices to grant driving licences. More agents in the same RTO offices. More road building machines. More operators of those machines …. You get the idea right ?

b. Construction industry is booming: With all the world on the road, where would you park. Of course, Parking skyscrapers are being built. And cars would be parked right up there !

Corporations across the country have made it mandatory for apartment complexes to house one more sky scrapper : The parking sky scrapper. With five cars for a four member family, you wouldnt owners to park in living rooms right ?

c. Meters’ Down : For the rest of the folks who still have resisted the revolution and chosen to go without purchasing the Nano are travelling by Nano taxis ! Mumbai no longer has Premier Padminis as Taxis. And Kolkatta has consigned all Ambassador taxis to Singur.

d. Fashions’ Up :
Fashion officianados make their cars fashionable. Paint their cars with objectionable images and articulate graffiti. If some local leader, didnt like it, they scrap the paint. If it costs as much as it does to buy, it costs a fraction to paint ! Better still buy a new one !

e. And a new culture is born: There is peace and harmony in the lives of all Tata Nano homes. When other cars bump into them, they are remarkably calm. If a police officer catches them doing something wrong, they are remarkably calm. For they have in them, the right of first refusal. I mean, they hand over the keys to whoever cares in that area, and walk away !

f. Shoe sales is way up :
Seriously. Now hold your breadth. Drivers, owners and brand loyalists of other cars are jealous of the Nano and its mass appeal. With a general air of irritability, they have been throwing their shoes around ! Now, a common habit ,that was introduced to them in 2009. So, shoe