There are some questions to which there are no answers.
Sometimes a question can lead you to a way of life.
As a dismantled individual climbing back up the same swirling stairway I fell from, hitting hard on the edges of the innumerable steps – I was all broken bones, torn skin, and bleeding emotions. Prior to being introduced to ISDM, regardless of my past ventures, there were instances which opened up new perspectives on life.
I didn’t learn much from institutions and books. I learnt more from people, places and events that occurred in my life- ones who brought me up; ones I grew up with; ones I shared my homework with; ones with whom I tried my ‘firsts’ and vowed our ‘lasts’; ones with whom I challenged my limits; ones I shared my passions with; and most importantly, the ones who tried to bring me down – I love and treasure all of them.
Now I look back at everything like a film strip rolling in the dark, and realise the value of every moment and find so much authenticity in the spontaneity itself. How could I forget my own roots?
My ancestors were from Nepal who settled down in India as plantation workers in Margaret’s Hope Tea Estate run by the British during colonial rule. The family tree is huge. My grandfather and his siblings made a whole football team. His parents were illiterate, but he got the opportunity to get some degree of schooling. He along with his brothers and sisters used to help out in the plantation work as well and led very difficult but simple lives.
When he finished schooling, he was forced to join the army but eventually fled and came back looking for a better life in main-town Darjeeling. He began to work in an accounting desk of a hotel for several years and was sustaining his wife and children. He then managed to get a job in one of the most elite schools in India at that time. Working in St. Paul’s School changed his life. He made himself and his family proud. It was not easy to be a part of such a reputed institution. There was something in him that reflected his personality, his values and principles.
I have primary evidence of this as I spent the early years of my childhood with him and my grandmother. I was his best friend for the first fourteen years of my life. I learnt a lot just by observing him. Irrespective of where he was, with family or at work – he was always himself, and I always felt a genuine sense of comfort whenever he was with me. I’m sure this feeling resonated with everyone who knew him in person. He made people feel appreciated and valued; he was strong and confident in carrying forward his words. Being very social in nature he helped everyone who came to him. People respected him for that.
His passing away had a strong impact on me, I began to idolise his life and still do. He is the only anchor I have whenever I tend to drift away in life.
The Question Of Authenticity
When I am asked the meaning of authenticity, I don’t really have an answer, but when I look for examples, I picture him and the life he led, the work he did, the struggle he went through, and how he contributed to the people around him as a pure specimen of the definition. This may seem idolatry but looking at the big picture, there are so many people in the past as well as today who’ve lived lives worth taking note of and learning through their way of life.
Sometimes I wish I could be like my grandfather, but I am not and can never be like him. Authenticity doesn’t mean being someone else at the cost of being yourself. Right now, I am struggling to be myself! What I mean is that there are always things that we can take away- like the core values he carried as an individual and the way he put it into action, the way he carried forward not just himself but his whole family, always reminding himself where he came from, never forgetting his roots!
When I got my first job, I was a wreck – I was going through the darkest days of my life. Calcutta Social Project gave me an opportunity to see the light again. The children I was working with made me feel alive again. They gave me a sense of belonging and in my sixth month with them, I learnt a lot more than what they learnt from me. They tested my patience and broke me down to my emotions and gave me the most important thing in life I was devoid of – love and empathy.
Looking back now, they reiterate the meaning of the word authenticity for me. I can still see their eyes glaring at me, full of energy and intensity, filled with hope, optimism and emotions that no one can snatch away. They taught me what humility is. Initially, I was very clumsy at work, but slowly the children made me feel at home. I could not imagine myself not going to work for a single day. I was so fond of them that I used to spend time with their families on Sundays and they were always inviting me to join them in their meals.
They subconsciously imbibed in me the notion of work ethics. I loved my work and tried my level best to do what I could for them in my own capacity and limitations. I had never felt so much pain as on my last day of work. I left with a heavy heart. But I knew this was not the end of the relationship I shared with them.
The next four months got me engaged more in the office than in the groundwork. I worked for Crayons of Hope Foundation where I was involved heavily in their flagship project called Wall-O-Books which set up libraries for children. Though the areas of work were completely different, I was given a tremendous amount of space to learn new skills and also understand the processes in their work. Terms like professionalism, work ethics, teamwork, collaboration, stakeholders, were very new to me over there. I was so full of energy during that time.
The organisation was a team of nine very motivated people of all age groups, and though I was the youngest, there was never a time that I felt intimidated or felt undervalued – instead, they gave me tremendous amount of respect and valued my work. We bonded more like family than as colleagues, and it was so much fun going to work every day, sometimes we could stretch it to Sundays as well.
On looking back and forth in my own instances of life, I had never realised how much I could learn from that itself. Here at ISDM, the first thing that struck me was that the practice of reflection was so effective to give clarity and also articulate my thoughts and indecisions into words. It helped me silence the babels in my head, understand them further and create meaning and influence action in everyday life. I understood how Personal Mastery is the key to becoming a genuine human being first, and then an authentic professional while discovering and developing our core values, strengths and weaknesses and paving a way of life for ourselves and for others, to an extent.
We have been exposed to a lot of things right from the Orientation week till today. From listening to people from various fields of work and experiences to sharing our own experiences; from learning the practice of reflection to creating models and mind maps; from working as an individual to working together as a group, the whole structure of the process has had a dynamic impact on our growth and progress. It has shone a light to various perspectives and ways of understanding ourselves and the development sector and how everything is interrelated and interconnected. This whole term, we have been putting together our thoughts and actions to come up with answers to the questions put forward, and there seems to be no end to this quest.
-What does Development mean to you?
-Who is an Authentic Development Professional?
-Why is there a difference in the meanings of the word Professional and Practitioner?
-Why do we use the word authentic and what does it really mean?
We have been trying to break down these words and put them back together all this while. But what I believe is that these questions are not seeking any articulated answers from us. What it is seeking is whether our understanding of these questions can test our dispositions in our way of life and how we can contribute to society as individuals and as a global community.
Nehal Raj Pradhan is a student of PGP in Development Leadership at ISDM.