Teach for India: A Journey Of Personal Transformation

Posted on April 7, 2012 in Volunteerism

By Tarun Cherukuri:

“How does one become a butterfly?” he asked
“You must want to fly so much that you give up being a caterpillar.”

Metaphorically, this is the same question I started with on my TeachforIndia (TFI) journey as a fellow in 2009. What is my depth of drive to serve people? I always had deep reverence and admiration for Gandhiji, as how much one single man could do for millions of spiritually starved people just by changing himself. I hoped that such an intense journey of personal transformation will lead to discovery of my inner self — my self-actualization need and my drivers for it.

During January 2011, I was running a Writer’s workshops based on central themes of the Lion King story in my classroom. Our big goal for the year was to plan, perform and organize the Musical for the story. My kids were into the story at a factual and sequential level in Reader’s workshops since September 2010. Wanting to take it up high on Bloom’s cognitive development level, I hit on this idea on integrating it in to writing as well. As is the process, you need to model the way of writing on the topic to the kids. Also, being 10 year olds, I realized that I really needed to delayer the emotion to the basic level so that it made a deep connect with all of them. In the process, I realized the distance I have covered on the journey of personal transformation during the course of fellowship. The themes that we wrote on were –

“I was put to shame when…” (SHAME)
I was a 16-year-old caterpillar, who couldn’t take the possible ignominy of not cracking the IIT- JEE test and ran away from hostel for one full week on the streets. Now, the butterfly can make itself vulnerable in front it its kids by sharing any story of my life in intricate details, just like little Simba got over shame in the end of the story!

“I fear about…” (FEAR)

From fearing about being judged in public like Simba, I have shed my cover and inhibitions as I found my purpose being a teacher in front of my children.

“My responsibilities in the Circle of Life are…” (RESPONSIBILITY)
From being self-driven, I am now driven to make the TFI vision of ‘one day all children will have an excellent education’ a reality by 2060. It has given my dreams new wings.

“I want to serve….” (SERVICE)
I truly feel that I want to serve now, not out of self-righteousness but because I believe that my happiness and liberation is bound up with the underprivileged children of this country.

“I am attached…” (ATTACHMENT)
From being a product of the rat race system, I am no longer attached to the fruits of my action and only focus on working positively. I have found my objective equilibrium with the world.

It is with this rooted deep desire to do something for the country which is purposeful, passionate and impactful, I reflected deeply about the root cause of our governance failures and my possible contribution to it. I have grown to believe that answer to bad politics is good politics. Power when combined with passion, purpose and integrity can fast-track wellbeing of people. One of the fundamental questions I asked myself was, “What does it take for a young person with idealism, intellect, integrity and Indian as his/her only identity to win an Indian election in the current scheme of things?”

It has been 65 years since we have realized our dream of political independence. However, we have yet to realize our economic, democratic and spiritual independence.

Any other field or profession in India has success stories of people who have beaten heavy odds to be successful. My goal is to show that we can crash barriers to entry in the field of politics in India as well. Irrespective of identity and position in society, a patriotic and spirited individual must be able to qualify to win and rise in our system of democracy. My mission is to demonstrate that it is possible and hopefully in the process institutionalize it through the Indian School of Democracy.

Studying at Harvard Kennedy School for the last one year has made me realize the importance of India’s urgent need for a public policy school which not only develops the discerning intellect of a student but builds empathy and integrity through community experiences. William Faulkner, an American writer and Nobel Prize laureate from Mississippi, would say “to understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi”. I can vouch to that wisdom from my limited experience of two years in the Wadgaonsheri community in Pune at TFI.

I still do not have all the answers to the big question but believe in the direction which my ideas are leading me. Hopefully, going back to my roots after my study, understanding some of the towns and villages of India in all its hues and sounds, listening long and deeply enough to people and serving them in my own means might open up the necessary opportunities.

There is much to feel sceptical about, the rationality of my logic and the audacity of my dream. To them I will politely quote Robert Kennedy, who paraphrased George Bernand Shaw’s words…

“Some men see things are they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not?”
And on that day when I finally get to fly, you will know me and the fact that I have given up being a caterpillar!