The Chess Classroom

Everyone has a point in their pre-teen years where they discover the road the self-instruction. It’s a point where you finally recognize the path to learning, or to learn about learning. We’re born with ability, we just won’t see it right away. No faith in modern ways tend to cloud knowledge of it. Right from the start we have teachers, systems, or caregivers. As we grow up we’re immersed in an always connected world. Some where in between those two ages the opaque doors that shield discovery are broken through.

I recall learning to play chess with my recently retired neighbor. As a fifteen year old it was about finding ways to get better. Find books on chess in the library (didn’t have the web at home in 1993). Get a chess program to play with on the XT. Improve the skill level bit by bit. I sure didn’t exercise these habits when school subjects were in the picture.

When on the path, our proverbial student acknowledges his ability to define and take on new challenges. While on the path he learns to tip life out of balance and take on a mindset that’s conducive to change. He’s caught up in a fever and can ignore everything else. Challenges to him could mean both things – those he likes and those he doesn’t. Every day, he ratchets up his skill and challenge level together.

A Chess Tournament

A Chess Tournament, by ninahale on flickr.com. Some rights reserved. Click through for details.

It isn’t always a continuous or successful process. Naturally, obstacles that aren’t necessarily in line with cognitive abilities appear – outside his practice, as well as inside it. It’s at this point that we learn what constraints mean. We learn that the path isn’t about pure intellectual or internal achievement.

The student works so that learning be life long. It can’t pay off if you’re always in comfortable positions. It certainly won’t pay off if you’re only rigid, or only flexible.

It definitely will pay off if you think of failure and success as something we do. Not as destinations. I promise I won’t downplay failure, I know its hard.

Both are great teachers that we all need to meet. Meet them early, meet them daily. What the student does right after that meeting is important. At times, he attempts to hide his ability from potential social embarrassment, or perhaps attempts to nurture it protectively; In a way that won’t acknowledge reality. In other words those same constraints that the path starts out from in the first place.

The good news – the best classroom where this is happening is the one you’re in right now. Look around. There are others with you too.

Dedicated to the inspiring IS318 Chess team.


Balmaadi Coffee Estate, A Photo Essay

Coffee Plant, Balmaadi Coffee Estate.

This December I was a guest ar the Balmaadi Coffee Estate in the Nilgiris. Balmaadi is led by entrepreneur Unnamalai Thiagarajan. Growing coffee at an altitude of 6000 feet in the wild Nilgiris is challenging. Unna sticks to principles of sustainable biodynamism to produce organic coffee beans that have been recognized in India and globally for their unique flavor. Like their coffee, my short stay there was both a journey through Unna’s vision and an experience into the coffee grower’s life in the wild.

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A Hundred and Fifty Years of the Bishop’s Colours

This year it will be nineteen years having left school. In the years gone by I’ve done little to stay in touch with the school. In that time familiar teachers have moved on. Times have changed and old school friends have drifted away to be replaced by new ones.

Earlier this year, Principal Friese invited alumni to a special assembly. Bishop’s was going to turn 150 in 2014! At the assembly he asked for assistance for the upcoming year-long celebrations.  The assembly rekindled a deeper connection and natural curiosity. Had the school ventured to change their teaching methods? Did they still place great emphasis on all-round development? I had no excuse for having stayed away for so long.

At the sesquicentennial committee meeting I was surprised to see alumni from as far back as the 1960′s. Some had children who were studying at Bishop’s, others were simply there to help. I met alumni from the IT committee, Marketing committee, other old boys and teachers. The committee was chaired by the principal and the headmasters of each of the three schools in Pune.

The school appointed historian related her findings. She’d found verifiable documents (maps, plans, communications) that Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington had planned out an offensive against the Maratha’s (Second Anglo-Maratha war 1803 – 1805) from the bungalow that currently serves as the Principal’s residence. She’d also verified that the original underground Peshwa-era water supply pipeline did pass through the school grounds.

A couple of days earlier I’d met with the  historian who interviewed me for interesting anecdotes and to learn how the graduates of the ’94 batch had done in life. As I recollected details of the alumni I was still in touch with, the list consisted of entrepreneurs, industrialists and even a film director (ever watched Karthik Calling Karthik?). Everyone had done well. Recalling school days wasn’t easy emotionally. In my opinion, my teachers at Bishop’s stood out for their commitment to the general welfare of their students. I say that with great care and an educational background spanning two universities across continents and two schools. The old boys themselves are the greatest testimony the school could have.

As I watched the committees share their progress, their spirit was infectious. I headed back and I thought hard. I’d contributed to the history book and I felt I could do more. Although I wouldn’t be an effective contributor at this late stage I could help in other ways. As I reached out to my professional network to other old boys I was amazed by the enthusiasm with which they got back. Would they like to contribute their memories, reach out to other alumni? Yes, of course they would.

Today, Bishop’s has grown from one school campus in Pune, Camp to two new areas – Kalyani Nagar and Undri. However, they’re still constrained in their teaching methods. Having been around for a long time can be both a boon and a curse. Another entrepreneur Phil Libin Founder, CEO at Evernote shared his insight into the same paradox earlier this month – his dream is for his company to endure for a hundred years and to continue to innovate despite it’s age. The hope is that with this renewed connection back to the school and with the help of other parents, we might have a hand at influencing the course the school charts next.

As the celebrations shape up there’s a lot more that could be done. If you’ve attended St. Helena’s or St. Mary’s Pune, do get in touch. Our historian would love to get your views on the Bishopites you knew or met. If you’re an old boy and have photos, anecdotes or anything else you’d like to share – please get in touch as soon as you can. Your material will make it to a coffee table book that will cover the school through the ages. If you intend to travel to attend the celebrations in 2014, follow the school website for event dates and details.


Travel to Disrupt Self?


Visitor on a Rainy Day

A Koel (Asian Koel) perches outside my verandah.

I inadvertently caught a Koel perched on the barbed wire fence.

Original photograph by Doug Janson.
Asian Koel – Original photograph by Doug Janson.


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