Culture, Education, Equality

No Outsiders protests: Paving path for more Islamophobia

While some of the UK population watch in despair that yet another attempt to bring the country back from the brink of disaster is failed by the incompetent bunch of tossers aka MPs, something else happened in a school in Birmingham which probably won’t create enough uproar, at least not for the right reason. I can’t help but link anything is happening in Britain these days to Brexit, and this is no different. However, at the end of this essay, it will be clear why the links are relevant and why Brexit needs to be stopped before it breaks the society apart.

Parkfield primary school in Saltley, Birmingham adopted the No Outsiders, an LGBTQ awareness course. This has caused an uproar amongst the families of the pupils and a few weeks back, the parents threatened to withdraw children from the school unless the course is suspended. After a few days of standoff, the authorities gave in to the protests of the parents and dropped the programme. A few weeks later, today on 14th of March, following consultation amongst the Academy trust, parents and the DfE, it was decided that the course will be suspended until a resolution is achieved between the school and the parents.

When this issue first came in the news, about the protests, we had a debate at home and thought perhaps the four-year-olds don’t really need to understand about lifestyle choices, but it could be introduced on a slightly later stage, say about seven. But then, thinking about the children of non-binary parents who would spend a long time doubting their identity during their formative years, my opinion swayed towards including the LGBTQ awareness right from the beginning of the school age. Also, not knowing how to view someone’s parents who do not fall into a mummy-daddy stereotype, it would perhaps become a reason for the children to distrust/alienate. Nevertheless, we did the rational thing of going through the pros and cons of teaching about relationships from the reception years and acknowledge that there may be more room for discussion on the age of introduction. However, if the school introduced the course from reception as mandatory, although some of us may be slightly uncomfortable about it, we would not oppose the plan vehemently.

So what would you say about the parents who boycotted the school, took their children out of the school and made them protest at the school gates along with the parents demanding the resignation of the headteacher who proposed to introduce the No Outsiders programme? “What a bunch of w@nkers”, right? What would you think of the parents if I add the detail that 98% of the children who attend the school were Muslims and the reason behind the parents’ protest was that the teachings were against their religious beliefs? I’d still think “What a bunch of w@nkers”. I don’t think it needn’t be any more complicated than that.

But is that the reality? The reaction on the social media with supposedly moderate reader base suggests otherwise. The majority of the reactions are in the same vein, criticising the religious indoctrination of Islam and how a school’s curriculum is now influenced by the religious naysayers. Personally, I have been involved in a number of arguments opposing the decision and unsurprisingly enough, the likes and loves were generally from non-Muslim readers, whereas the criticism to my argument and commendations to the school board’s decision were mainly from the Muslims.

So what was my argument? That education knows no religion in particular. The state of UK has no official religion, even though every Tory prime minister likes to mention during Easter and Christmas that Britain is a Christian country. The essential values of being British are individual liberty and respect & tolerance. So whilst the schools need to respect the beliefs of different faiths, it cannot be hijacked by the one single faith. One may argue, what about over-indulgence regarding Christmas and Easter? And I’d fully agree with them, but let’s not meddle into that topic. So, No Outsiders is an essential programme, apt with the increasing bigotry in society. I went in further suggesting that if the religion was of such paramount importance to the parents, why do they send children to a state school with no recognised affiliation to one religion?

Probably my argument seems a bit Islamophobic. However, it is quite the contrary. Allow me to explain. But before doing so, let me present some other findings that I thought would support my perspective. The epicentre of the attention, headteacher Andy Moffat is Gay, he’s been awarded an MBE for the No Outsiders programme that broadened children’s tolerance, and he changed a few schools due to arguments he had regarding his teachings. He was also nominated for an award given to World’s best teacher. In a world where teaching qualities are in decline, Andy Moffat is an exception. The point I’d like to highlight about the details I provided is that he changed a few schools before arriving at Parkfield. The reason? You probably guessed it right, that he told the children that he’s gay, that being gay is normal, that he tried to introduced No Outsiders in those schools. He was forced to resign or abandon the programme whilst being in the previous schools because parents have complained. So you see, everywhere he’s been in the past, he angered the communities with views for schools that broke the glass ceiling. This must be a déjà vu moment for him, being confronted by a group of unhappy Muslim parents that his teachings were against the religion?

Déjà vu? Yes of course. But it’ll be surprising to find out that schools he resigned from before Parkfield were due to parents’ complaints who were Christians as well as Muslims. It was contrary to the Christian values. So, does that imply, that perhaps there was something wrong in Mr Moffat’s teachings if he irked the feelings of parents of two religions? No, absolutely not! And I would brand the parents who opposed to the programme in the other school the same what I thought about Parkfield protesters — “What a bunch of w@nkers”. If the same issue was flagged by 100 other religions, the feeling won’t change. One may argue that it’s easy to pass my judgement being an atheist. There are two points to add. First, atheists don’t have religious sentiments. So something cannot hurt a feeling that you don’t have. Secondly, there may be atheists who are/were opposed to the course. I’m my view, if they are so opposed to it that they had to demand an apology from the teacher, they are probably homophobic. They are a bunch of w@nkers as well, in my view. Now, disagreement on the age of introduction is slightly different, where parents admit that children should be taught about homosexuality in schools but reception may not be the year. This argument doesn’t apply for Parkfield because even parents of students in Year 6 took part in the protests. I do not know the details about the parents from the other school, but citing religious feelings meant that if the children aren’t ready at 4, they won’t be ready at 11.

Education for children should be based on no bias. Schools should be at least one place where the children can learn how not to be bigots. We have the outside world to teach that anyway. They should learn what is right and not discriminate based on race, religion, sexuality. They need to learn to be tolerant. No Outsiders is a course created to broaden tolerance and it’s myopic not to realise how essential it is to be living in a multicultural society. There is already a lot of bigotry related to religious education, with parents unhappy about their children knowing about other religions because they are “unholy” or “violent”. The trust shouldn’t have bowed down under the pressure from the parents. What would be next one to go? Sex education? Teaching about contraception? What about science or anything that questions the existence of God? However, those who are raring to have a go at the Muslim community for the conservative sentiments, please note that before the Equalities act repealed it in 2010, the Local Government Act, passed in 1988 by Saint Maggie herself, prohibited the local authorities to promote homosexuality.

These days, when we are becoming increasingly click happy, it’s easy to pass judgement without understanding both sides of the story. The reports in the newspaper cited a number of protesting parents who said that the course is against the religious belief of the community. Yet, it needs to be understood that No Outsiders is not a new curriculum introduced this year. In Parkfield primary, the programme has been running for at least two years. There was an article published in 2016, how a teacher is transforming communities with his No Outsiders curriculum. The article also cited the reaction of the parents. Whilst some were against the course, some expressed the importance of the course, do the children are not presented a one-sided version of what is acceptable and what isn’t. So, suddenly after two years or more of running the programme successfully in the school, why did the parents realise that it’s wrong and they started demanding the resignation of Mr Moffat? Was it a sudden awakening in the entire community or are there in fact, external influences? Was it the retaliation for the foiled Trojan Horse campaign? The other fact to be borne in mind is that from the previous school, he was forced to resign because it was untenable to continue teaching whereas in Parkfield, although the course was axed until further resolution, Mr Moffat is presently continuing as head teacher. So apart from the meeting with parents, it’s not clear how much pressure was put on him in the previous school, whether it was only from parents or from staff and trust as well. Or is it simply because the Parkfield trust doesn’t want him to resign for personal interests, of keeping an MBE teacher to maintain their Outstanding Ofsted rating?

Let’s now look at the aspect what I mentioned before — the Brexit connection. This news of the LGBTQ course being dropped from Parkfield Primary will obviously be seen in different lights by people from the different political spectrum. Whilst the faction in the left are busy lambasting the trust and the communities for dropping the course for an ideological reason, the ones on the right — Tories, far-rights, gammons, zombies — this news is a golden opportunity for them to peddle their politics of fear. Soon this will be one of the chapters in the next Tommy Robinson book, an agenda on the Britain First campaign to protest outside a school with largely minority students, a reason for Nigel Farage to travel to Brussels to give a lecture on the untenable situation Britain was in. This incident will be seen as the effect of Muslim conservatism on the liberal British society. A further reason why Brexit was justified to limit the influx of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa. It’s another red herring to feed the xenophobic minds of the 17.4m who believe that immigrants are the root of their problem.

The utter bigotry of the xenophobic faction of Britain, who is sure to earn a mileage from this incident is blatantly disgusting. People who express their dismay in the intolerance of the Muslim community in Saltley are perhaps the ones who instil homophobia in their children. It’s probably these stalwarts of tolerance who protest at the supermarkets when they make all their meat supplies halal. It’s probably these beacons of liberalism who squirm hearing someone speak a language that’s not English. Where the country would be without these gems of Britain, the only group of people to withhold the true British Values? And that’s why, on the august day of 23rd June 2016, these saviours, the modern day Knight’s Templars finally won the crusade against the barbaric invasion that was the “swarms of refugees” heading towards the UK. The Brexit result was the manifestation of the anti-immigrant and Islamophobic bias of the general public, brainwashed by the profiteering peddlers of the Leave campaign.

It is therefore unfortunate that the after carrying on with the No Outsiders course for over two years, the protests not only meant a lost opportunity for the children to learn acceptance and tolerance towards the LGBTQ community but also, this will fuel the hostility towards the Muslim community. A community that is already branded for harbouring extremist feelings by the nationalist press and media, this will only marginalise the Muslim community, another little hurrah from the Brexiters. Needless to say the persecutions faced by the LGBTQ community in the UK will see no improvements if more and more schools keep dropping it. I don’t know what the future holds for Mr Moffat, not the pupils of the Parkfield primary school, but I do hope that the protesting parents realise the repercussions of their action, not just for the parents, but for the long term future of their children being integrated into the society. Let’s hope that the parents and the education trust will reach a resolution in favour of continuing with the curriculum. Let common sense prevail over bigotry and prejudices.

Education, India, Politics

The JNU protests with the context of nationalism

JNU students protests the arrest of the JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar

Thank goodness that this was JNU, not Jamia Millia Islamia, so the students were arrested by plain dress policemen inside the campus and were charged for sedition and their social network profiles are pasted all over the Internet as the traitors of India. On the contrary, if they were from Jamia, perhaps the students would have been branded as members of SIMI or potential terrorists. Whilst there were reasonable doubts over Guru’s role in the attacks, the curtain of secrecy around his execution is definitely not a shining example of the Indian judicial system. This is not the first time someone voiced concerns over his conviction and execution, but perhaps twenty-something students are much softer targets of the state than the seasoned politicians and stalwarts in the legislative procedures. Needless to say, his execution took far too long, but the sudden and secret operation, tantamount to assassinations of Soviet-era political dissidents, was not without political motives. If Afzal Guru was proven a terrorist beyond doubt, he should have been executed when he was convicted. It didn’t have to be done hidden behind an iron curtain. How the government wrapped the news around secrecy, didn’t inform his family, or denied a funeral, the integrity of the government was definitely questionable, especially approaching 2014 as all political parties were keen to prove their good intentions to the electorate.

DSU, the hosts of the cultural programme are a leftist student body, and they used the occasion to debate and discuss the systemic killing of Afzal Guru. A bold decision indeed, where the presence of the socialist voice in most part of India is in decline. Perhaps the decision to commemorate the occasion was spurred by the reference of Afzal Guru during the Hyderabad university protest and the death of Rohith Vemula, another victim of state-sponsored oppression that created an uproar but soon fizzled out and forgotten, with no action against the Uni authority who rusticated Rohith.

Smriti Irani said the anti-India chants were insults to mother India. So did Rajnath Singh, the home minister. Not sure who that fabled mother India is, she must be a polyamorous person, sleeping around with everyone’s fathers. When thousands of years before, the poet wrote Janani janmabhoomischa swargadapi gariyasi, he didn’t confuse the identities of the mother with the land one is born. The personification or to be specific, maternalisation of India is yet another subtle way of splitting the society at least in two fragments — ones who are okay to accept it, and most of a billion population belongs to this side and those who don’t. Mother India, Mother Nature, Mother Earth…the examples are boundless across the world, in every region, every culture. To carry on with the practice in the name of heritage and culture is basically an easy way of indoctrinating nationalist feelings from an early age. The country is your mother, so criticising your country is tantamount insulting your mother — the logic is simple and effective. And we like cheap drama, or nautanki, as proven by the success of soaps. So, the slogans were defaming the motherland etc are all bogus arguments altogether, in order to gain political mileage and appease the crowd that is already biased through a systematic brainwash from childhood.

If a nation is greatly offended by someone challenging the national unity and integrity, that definitely raises a question on the integrity of the nation itself. To truly become a country that is a champion of unity and integrity, the country will have to progress including everyone, not differentially. Incidents like JNU protests question and point at the shortcomings, where the systems and psyche of the nation still have a long way to go before we can truly proclaim ourselves as a diverse yet united country. Perhaps, this was also an occasion to remind ourselves that the nation can be the biggest terrorist – and there are numerous examples across the world – as the country and its government and institutions are the ultimate voice, and it can control the voices that speak against it. Sedition is a blunt concept in this day and age. It only tells if the legal system is at par with the reforms needed for the twenty-first century. There was no threat to the country or any violence that ensued the claims, people were debating views and ideas, not dealing ammunitions. The charges against Kanhaiya Kumar will not hold ground during the court hearing, and he will probably be discharged without any conviction. Looking beyond the anti-India chants and claiming to immortalise Afzal Guru, there was an attempt to defy the government, defy the legal system. Defy the fact that no matter who is in power, a nation is still merely a puppet of the whims and avarice of the politicians who run it. It was a protest against the preferential treatment by the government and at large, the public. We act based on the bias in-built within us.

If there were any group of the population who is and has always been vocal against such atrocities are students. They are the harbingers of change, the visionaries of tomorrow. The outcry to tarnish all protesters in the same colour is both foolish and dangerous. Even though the charges against the arrested students won’t hold water in court, social vigilantism spread their profiles and images all across the country. And needless to say, in a prejudiced country like India where people still ask age, religion, father’s name, mother’s name, husband’s name for a job application, where equal opportunity is perhaps merely a word in the HR strategy document gathering dust in a locked cabinet, these students will be discriminated against for a long time.

And then there are the right-wing student unions like ABVP, they are getting the mileage they wanted on a national platform, whilst the student movements have historically been mostly left-wing. Without a direction and vision, their agenda of inciting hatred against the protesters have struck the chord with millions of students, who would now subscribe to their ideology. The ABVP treats themselves as the sole spokesperson of nationalism at university campuses, and in fact, their role during the debate was undemocratic, by trying to overrule a meeting that was approved for, by directly threatening the university governing body.

We Indians have a great tendency and ability to paint everything in the same colour. We do not treat issues singularly, but collectively. So, the outcry to shut down JNU is widely endorsed, people voicing concerns over the injustice in India are anti-nationalist and the protestors are traitors to the motherland. And the treatment they received from the country collectively — be it the media, politicians, police or public, just proves their point. They exposed the system and its divisive position. People voiced their opinion against anything undemocratic, before India was independent, and after. However, in the new Swachh Bharat surge, it appears that such thoughts and protests have suddenly become undemocratic, and therefore need to be swept under the carpet. So, rather than condemning the DSU student union for their villainy, we should pat their backs for standing strong against all adversities and being bold enough to choose an occasion that aptly demonstrates the shortcomings of the legal system and human rights in India.

A caricature on the legal system in India

Also, glorifying another country, even if they were deemed your enemy, does not count as sedition. If Pakistan has done something praiseworthy, people can say good things about them, just as it was found that the government finally passed the Hindu marriage act, allowing Hindu marriages as official. However, the JNU protesters went beyond this and voiced anti-India chants that mainly caught the media attention. What the BJP government and their ABVP sidekicks are turning a blind eye on, is they cannot make someone love their country, nor can anybody else. Forcing someone to say Bharat Mata ki jay does not prove they are proud of their country, but it is tantamount an abusive husband raping his wife night after night and boasting during the day how much she loves him!

It is not necessary to love the country one is born in. It is most likely, as there is a bond developed since the childhood that is mainly nostalgic rather than informed, but that does not mean that people cannot change their opinion later on. Think of North Korea or Saudi Arabia, can the citizens there love their country with the rogue people running it? More oppressive the state becomes, more vocal the voices of the public need to be before the country truly becomes a place one can be proud of.

The same can be said about the Kashmir debate, which was another reason why the sedition charge was brought in. It is almost comical how the rest of the nation has unanimously decided that Kashmir is part of their country and even debating the subject is sacrilege, although they tactfully exclude the views of the Kashmiri people, whose fate were being decided by the rest of India whether they should stay a part of India. The government doesn’t even recognise what the Kashmiri residents think, let alone arrange a referendum. With the unfortunate disaster at Siachen glacier recently, I wonder how many centuries it will take the fools across India and Pakistan to stop wasting exorbitant amount of money in protecting a border whilst that money could be utilised in progressing the country forward, improving hundreds of millions of lives who still lacks basic necessities of life – food, clothes and shelter.

A University is an ideal platform for such poignant debates, as what we learn in the courses are hardly ever used afterwards, but we learn from classmates of various location, background and views shape the person we become in the future. Whatever and whoever the DSU supporters have discussed, disputed, criticised or defamed, that could have been countered with an equally critical discussion of their actions and agenda. Also, this has become a platform for all political mudslinging, where depending on their political clout, the parties are extending support or criticising, rather than leaving it as a debate between two politically opposite orientated student unions. There are a multitude of conspiracy theories going around for both sides — about the protesters shouting anti-India slogans coming to campus days before, or the ABVP activists in the DSU rally saying anti-India chants — digressing from the fact that this is not an issue to start a witch hunt, but to reflect the truth behind the claims and debate how the society can progress. Sending police in plain dress and arresting student body president just exemplifies the point these students have been trying to prove — that India is fast becoming an oppressive state and anyone who dares to speak against the government or the country, will be publicly persecuted. Let’s hope that the protests such as this keep continuing all across the country, to challenge the government of its actions and the public at large, to change their age-old ideas about nationalism and love for the motherland. It’s time we share the social profiles the Bhakt media spread over the internet to show they were anti-nationals, to spread the excellent work they have done for human rights in India, and for its better future.

1. Speech from Harsh Mander, a social worker and a writer while attending the protest rally against Police arrest in campus
2. The translation of Kanhaiya Kumar’s original speech
3. A write-up in Bengali regarding the JNU protests, criticising the Government stance, with the header “Musclemen cannot invoke love for nation”
4. An account of the protest, as witnessed by a JNU student present actually present during the protest

The only moot point is that with the advent of technology, we are fast becoming net-activists. We are exasperated at something, we act on it, we criticise, and then within two weeks, that lesson is forgotten. We go back to our daily lives or find another issue to fight about. We don’t fight hard enough to bring closure. It’s like thousands of matchsticks are lighting up and put out, and failing to light the candle with a raging fire that the country needs to cleanse the injustice gathered over centuries. To make it really happen, people are needed to come down in the streets, be visible, be heard — revolutions cannot start from the confines of the room.

Education, India, Politics

The Guardian article on Vyapam scam in India: A tale of greed, corruption and lies

Last night I had a dream. It was about unknown suburbia in India, with its crowded and bustling roads full of old buses, vans and rickshaws. I was with one of my colleagues but had no idea what we were doing there, and we were lost, away from the city we were meant to be. The incessant din, multicoloured two-storey houses, political graffiti on the walls and the web of power, telephone and cable TV lines above our heads were reminiscent of an India that was evolving in the new millennium, yet far away from the shiny edifices of Gurgaon and Bangalore, or the super-fast highways in Bombay. We ended up in a train station, but the name of the station was nowhere to be seen. A train trundled into the station, and we boarded the train without knowing where it’s heading to. We were meant to be looking for the first or second class cabins but just rushed into the general class. Inside the compartment was dark, despite a bright day outside, and it was crowded like any other passenger train in India. I was desperate to find out where we were, to know which way to go. In the vapid heat inside the train, people giving us a little more room seeing my colleague struggle in the crowd, I made a last-ditch attempt to read the station name – leaning over the barred windows, as the train started to speed up, leaving the platform. The first time I read a name, it did not make any sense, and even in my dream, it felt absurd. I looked again, and it read like “Coal Nagar”. I know this does not exist, but in my dream, that name brought back all the information we needed. Coal Nagar was a suburb of a big city called “Anjar”, another imaginary place, but situated in Madhya Pradesh, and the city map flashed in my mind. As the train lazily chugged along the busy suburban landscape of houses, bazaars and scooters, we knew that Anjar is only a few miles away, and we will soon be in Anjar, then find a mode to get to Delhi and then back to the UK. The sepia themed dream ended there, as we headed off towards Anjar leaving the unknown flurry of vibrant imageries, rapidly transforming in front of the barred windows, yet leaving an indelible stamp in my heart of an India I had never experienced.

I have not been to many places in Madhya Pradesh, yet that dream immediately connected the imageries to the central Indian state. The images in the sepia background instantly reminded of the film “Manorama six feet under”, both telling the tales of a forlorn India — far away from the new open market era image projected to the world, but still the epicentre of the present identity of India. A busy town, with a strong connection to the rural surrounds, yet brimming with dreams and aspirations to escape the confines of the place to move forward to the bigger cities, inviting them with all their allures of 2BHK apartments and urban myths transgressed through hearsay of the people, who made it to the big cities.

It was an interesting coincidence when I came across this article shared in The Guardian this morning. As I started reading the article, wonderfully narrated in a crime thriller pace of storytelling, the same images, still vivid from my last night’s dream, immediately struck my mind. It was a déjà vu of the “Manorama…”, a web of crime unfurling in a sedate township and the sandy sepia coloured background. Anjar in my dream is not Indore, but there is no reason why it can’t be. Yet, in the dream, whilst there was a life awaiting me outside the small township, this article instead divulges a sordid story of power, greed, corruption and shallow political exploitation of the Indian rural and suburban youth aspiring to break free the shackles of caste, class, religion and life long struggle. A vortex that consumed the futures of hundreds and thousands of youth coming from a rural background.

Vyapam scam unfolded in the summer of 2015, when I was barely coping with tremendous pressure at work, and hence, most of the developments around the investigation past me by. This report may appear a bit long, but the narrative keeps the reader interested throughout and tries to analyse the findings from many different perspectives. Although the memories, left in the sepia-tinted past, would evoke a sense of nostalgia, as the story unfurled, it divulged the primitive tooth and claw sides of the Indian politics and the web of corruption spanning not just a vast state but entire central India.

I believe in the boundless possibilities and talent in India, and want to see the potentials fully utilised to thrive, not just as a country, but benefit the entire world. Yet, I wonder when that day would come when scams such as this will be buried as the skeletons of past in that new shining India…

A sculpted pencil by the Russian miniature artist Salavat Fidai.
Photograph: WENN
Source: The Guardian
Full article below:

The mystery of India’s deadly exam scam

Education, MBA, self development

My year in Cranfield: An introspective account

Yet another piece dug out from the memories past. Although this is an academic report, this was one of the time I did take a deep dive into my being and raison d’être, and this is the outcome…

1. Introduction[1]

The spectacular year finally came to an end – the Cranfield FTMBA 2008-09 is over. The rest of the time when I’ll be in campus, it will be time to retrospect the year I spent in the Bedfordshire marshes – and what is a better way than to capture my reflections in this report.

Initially, I planned to write the report without any predefined structure; however, as the ideas came pouring into my mind, I decided to put the report in three parts – Time before MBA and Part-1, Part-2 and finally, about the path beyond the MBA. Most of the pre-MBA objectives and Part-1 objectives were discussed in the SOAR-1 report, and it also featured some of my development targets during the Part-2 of the MBA curriculum. The first part of the report, therefore, will discuss the objectives of the SOAR-1 report and their fulfilment during the Part-2 of the programme. The second part then will discuss my reflections on the MBA curriculum and some of its highlights and their effect on my personal development. Finally, the last part of the report will focus on looking beyond the MBA curriculum and put the MBA into the perspective of a more enriched view on life.

To put this report into perspective in terms of applicability during and beyond the MBA curriculum, this is rather a candid personal narrative around the incidents during the programme and the way they changed my points of view toward any situation – personal or professional. In the text, some of the situations or jargon was used in a rather inappropriate manner, to make the report informal but to undermine the core objective of the MBA curriculum.

2. The yesteryears…

Part-2 of the MBA curriculum began with an entirely new format – enabling each individual to decide the extent of learning he wants to extract from the programme. At the end of term-2, I almost felt a sigh of relief that the learning team events will be over and I’ll have an entire half to me to decide how I want to utilise that extra time. The GROW model discussed at the beginning of the Part-2 seemed a perfect way to showcase our targets for the coming two terms; and to achieve them, co-coaching method appeared to be the perfect answer. First few sessions went as planned, as we were full of enthusiasm about the new model of the curriculum; but as time went by, and we were sucked into the vortex of numerous assignments and reports and presentations and projects, the focus of the objectives was, to the least, partially lost. When the SOAR-1 report was written, halfway through the MBA, the vision was obscured by immediate, short-term targets – primarily around the area of employment, skills development for the MBA curriculum itself, and networking[2]. As we proceeded towards the end of the curriculum, the priorities changed and our views became more crystallised with increasing insight.

In this section, I will discuss the goals I set at the time of writing SOAR-1 report, their progress as documented by the co-coaching sessions and then, compare their intended outcomes at the end of the MBA and my present standing in those situations:

2.1 Time management

My realisation during the time of writing SOAR-1 was that I did not utilise my time well, which in turn, prevented me from pursuing other objectives beyond the MBA. From the beginning of term-3, I, therefore, went into overdrive and tried to control everything to the order of milliseconds, perhaps. As discussed with my co-coach, I drew up a grandiose timetable for weekdays and weekends, soon to be found completely inadequate. I then relaxed them a bit, but even then, I had too much on the list – more than I could manage at a time; yet I completely missed the time allocation for the assignments. When the realisation came, all the assignments had already come barging in, and I discarded the timetable plan and adopted a ‘Just-in-time’ approach, like right now, I am writing the SOAR-2 report on 24th August, as I know I have enough time to write the report and the assessors, to check it. Where I started charting every conceivable activity in coming two weeks, in the final stage of part-2, I only keep a list of activities, updated as and when any entry changes and struck them out when they are complete. So, to assess the outcome of the objective, I am either a clumsy time-manager or an efficient one – “it all depends”, as everything is “context-specific”!

2.2 Leading and influencing skills

As already discussed that I went into a control-frenzy at the beginning of term-3, I thought that there will be leadership and influencing opportunities galore. What I did not realise was, that there were 129 other students, who also wanted to become leaders and put similar objectives in their SOAR-1. So my all exuberant leadership approach took a nosedive right after the beginning of the second half when we were to select a country to do our IST report on. I preached selection of a Scandinavian country, as they are doing quite well in international trade, and they are the happiest countries in the world – so I wanted to see the humane factors behind their ‘right balance’. However, it was turned down, as I was not vociferous enough and realised that “I’ll never take up a sales job” (but that is again stereotyping!). So, we chose Ireland, but what a great project it was! I realised that I was acting rather like an amateur matador, who chased the bull and panted and got tired; and that I should rather be an ‘empowering’ leader. To find out the leadership qualities I had, I also asked a few of my previous teammates to give their unbiased feedback. Luckily or unluckily, I only managed to get two feedbacks, giving contrasting information – one said I led well, yet sometimes I tend to do everything by myself, the other said I lacked it and was rather a ‘Plant’ type of personality, capable of playing second-fiddle better than being the leader[3]. I took the back-seat and actually steered the dynamics of the entire team, in other assignments, without much gusto. In our Part-1 OBPPD reports and SOAR-1, we wrote about role-playing for each assignment, with a manager, timekeeper etc. At the end of the programme, I see no use to them, roles emerge naturally. Enforcing something on someone he’s not can only hinder the progress.

2.3 Public speaking

When I look at the SOAR-1 report, sometimes I tell myself – “You must be mental”[4]! I believe that the frenetic pace of Part-1 blurred my vision and I lost the focus on my priorities. It is true that coming from a non-native English speaking background, we lacked some of the finer expressions of English language (The one I really like is, what my co-coach Simon often used – “wing it”…although he never used it regarding the co-coaching processes!). However, all of us, who were selected here through quite a rigorous process, must be adept in putting the ideas across the table. Of course, presentation skill is an art – and we were lucky to have a past master like Steve Carver; yet it was to develop with practice. However, the opportunities were scarce; there was a Presentation club, but I never went to a session in Part-2. While in Part-1, I was careful about the team performance, and therefore quite hesitant about presenting. Come Part-2, and it all changed! I did some very good presentations especially GLB and IST and the lecture on China IBE in front of the whole cohort and the faculty in the auditorium – it really boosted my confidence. However, I learnt more from this, that we can always captivate the audience with our innovation and shear information, rather than sweet-talking. So, at the end of the MBA, I am leaving quite confidently that whatever be the topic, if I have interesting data to share with the audience, I will be easy with them, and they will interact without much effort. Well, some preparation beforehand in front of the laptop and observing the recordings always came in handy…

2.4 Preparation for interviews: assertiveness

After the first few weeks into the Part-2, I could strike this target off from my list of priorities – not because I found a job – but because I realised that jobs are not that easy to come by these days and first I’ll need a small stamp on my Passport called Tier-1 visa. Well, I’m still being defensive in this, as I know that the situation is not like that – otherwise, around 25% of the cohort would not have found some placement – and I needed something more. I appeared in many interviews but was not able to convert them into further considerations. So, at the end of Part-2, I am fazed, clueless about what to do, as I totally shifted my priorities from searching for a job, while I was making the near-perfect referencing list and editing and reediting the assignment reports so we got above 60% marks in the modules! Eventually, we did, but I’m nowhere near my SOAR-1 target. However, the breathing period between end-August and Christmas, when my Tier-1 is expected, will come as a blessing-in-disguise, as I could reflect upon my skills when I’ll be tired playing crazy-taxi on Facebook (Just a couple of five-minute games a day to ensure proper blood circulation in your fingers!).

3. Today, tomorrow…

I believe the report has been a spoiler so far, talking superficially about finding excuses not to follow the SOAR-1 objectives or success of them. It will be even more blasphemous if I solemnly confess, that although I found the GROW sheets quite useful, I never used them too religiously. In fact, we met only five times for the co-coaching sessions, although initially, we planned to have ten meetings – and I only filled in two sheets (I said it’s a candid report!…it could be found anyway from the annexure). Actually, between the SOAR-1 and now, something happened…

3.1 IBE

No experience during the MBA has been so enriching as was the IBE. It actually changed the whole meaning and perspective of doing my MBA and opened new windows. Part-1 mostly dealt with hard MBA material, except for some excellent Richard K mystic lectures – “There is a river flowing through this room (LR9)”. When I saw so much emphasis around people management and people issues, I thought – and this view was shared by many other students from the sub-continent – that this is another “western” management concept, only applicable within the confines of books and thesis. I was so wrong! It is the people, who we will be dealing with all the moment, and our mutual perception about each other will shape the business or the transaction between us. In the IBE, all I learnt was about people. Business is almost the same, same GAAP regulations, same frameworks, tools and techniques, same Microsoft office…but its people why doing business in different corners of the world is so diverse in nature, and that is why I don’t whinge much about the IST team not choosing Norway, as Ireland had also been an equally enthralling learning. Actually, in China, I learnt from all people, from the chief of business houses to expatriates, from tour guides to shop assistants – the tour was only seven days long but the impact was immense. I wanted to share my experience in this report in detail, but that would have been too irrelevant, so I have attached it as an annexure just to glance through[5]. The key learning from the tour was that how easy it is to fall into the traps of ‘Ladder of inference’[6] and ‘Preconceived notions’ and once fallen into such an impasse, how difficult it is to come out of it. On the other hand, I realised how easy it is to build relationships, yet we try to put everything into a framework; only to complicate the situation. From a business management context, it is the understanding of the national cultures, the concepts of Trompenaars’ model of universalism and particularism[7] etc. The foremost criteria of running businesses are to understand the people involved with it, and to understand the business context – without which, it is impossible to be successful.

IBE helped me transform in many ways – not only did I become more flexible regarding people issues, but also, in communicating, which will relive the question on networking.

3.2 Networking

During the “Facing the future” meets, one group made a number of spreadsheets on the Cranfield experience and one of the phrases was rather comical – “Our networking is NOT WORKING”!I really found this to be true. At the beginning of the MBA, we had gone through a Networking workshop, which made, perfectly no sense to me. Although I came to Cranfield to change myself and to broaden my perspective, I found it quite incomprehensible, especially the concept of contacting unknown alumni to build rapport. Why would an alumnus want to network with me, unless I had some specific questions regarding his experience/job? I had been a strong supporter of tête-à-tête communication – verbal or non-verbal, but in some specified context – not randomly, just because I had to.

During Term-2, we understood the importance of having strong-ties and weak-ties, and the importance of each in our professional lives[8]. I used to have more strong ties in my personal life and a few ones in the professional network. I did have weak-ties mostly in the professional sphere, and they all came useful in some way. On the first eve of the IBE, we had a networking event with Rutgers business school students in Shanghai. I truly believe that it was a waste of time and effort for me – one of the few disappointments of the IBE. However, I did network with people when I attended an MSI simulation with the Exec MBA students from an Austrian business school. In future, I’ll be looking forward to such networking events with some common purpose – the lack of purpose just kills the interest.

3.3 Learning from electives

After the struggle during part-1 regarding subject modules and learning team meeting, part-2 has been a fresh breeze to me. The electives were to be chosen by me, the study time, assignment preparations and everything relevant to it. There are some of the modules worth mentioning-

3.3.1 Globalisation

GLB started from where we left completing the concepts of micro- and macroeconomics in Part-1. The lectures were extremely engaging, the assignments were even more interesting. It broadened the perspective on larger economic issues concerning international trade and the covered a wide range of criteria that sets the dynamics of globalisation. It also helped in another way – removing the green blinkers from my eyes.

3.3.2 Sustainable business

I wanted to mention this module as an eye-opener for me. Before coming here I was quite naïve to believe that there are great companies who value the environment, society, diversity etc. I was also a member of Greenpeace, believed to be the protector of earth’s environment. I was convinced about it until Sean ‘The Sheriff’ Ricard[9] proved to the class that companies do CSR to be more profitable in the long-run. I was not convinced then but thought it as an alternative motive. As we researched companies for our assignments, I looked at the CSR initiatives and reports and all of Sean’s words started to make sense. The sustainability reports often say “We are passionate about society and sustainability”, yet none mentioned what loss they underwent to sustain the CSR. There was not an answer, as the companies did not incur any loss. I took a closer look at the policies during the SB sessions and assignment, and it emerged that most of the initiatives involved cutting cost or improve quality for a premium price – as simple as that.

3.3.3 Managing Strategic innovation

This elective was truly a great module, as this was only the second module to involve a large number of guest speakers from the specialists in their respective fields, in-class participation and a simulation. The objective of the course was to enrich the student in identifying the opportunities for innovation and convert raw ideas into well-documented business plans. At the end of the programme, I can say that I have developed the capabilities – although they were rooted within me from my innovation-based engineering background – to use them in a future professional context.

3.3.4 Leadership and Implementing change

It might appear that I am about to mention all my electives here, but the account of learning will be incomplete if I do not mention these two modules. Implementation change actually fitted between the leadership and the OBPPD and PM modules we had in Part-1. The module was all about managing people issues during change and crisis, the innate behavioural patterns of humans.

The LS elective was one of the cornerstones of the MBA curriculum, with the extent of focus in weaving the concepts of OB and PM to the context of management. However, the most significant development point was the evening guest speaker sessions showcasing the most accomplished leaders and setting new standards in managing the business. I found three sessions extremely enriching, in terms of insight as well as by the charisma of the speakers – Andy Bond of ASDA, Jackie Moore of Deutsche Bank global HR operations, and Andrew Kakabadse. While Jackie presented an extremely focussed view on leadership and being facilitating and passionate, Andy showed how one can be successful in separating personal and professional lives – just by keeping things simple. I also agree with that idea, that it is us, rather than the system that makes things complicated leading to delay and error. From that day I adapted the good old KISS philosophy – ‘Keeping It Short and Simple’.

3.4 Inspiration from cohort

Starting from the pre-MBA phase, the interaction with the cohort in a number of academic and recreational activities made me learn much more than the case pack actually did. At the beginning of the curriculum, we observed a lot the phrase “It’s your MBA”. Although it was clear that we were required to be selective about the programme, at the end of the curriculum, it appears that different people among the cohort actually did different MBA – some spent the year at social clubs, some buried within books, some only networking, but there were some people in our cohort who were the perfect example of managing work and fun together. They ranked among the top-tier of the students, yet could be seen in every social event, sporting meets, and competitions – always in charge of their action. To name the top five people I was inspired watching and working with during the MBA, I’d put the list as – Nick White, Scott Riddle, Juan Leon, Wlad Silva, Jo Kelly and to some extent Patricia Friedel. I did not interact with all of them with the same intensity; yet, a close community as we were, words always spread almost instantaneously.

A small example of the different level of MBA was evident from the students’ reaction to the careers service. Most of us only interacted with them when they were to apply for a job or they were shortlisted for the interview. Initially, at least in Term-1, I also shared this popular view, which changed during the rest of the programme. Not only did I find them extremely helpful, but they also made every effort to meet the needs of every single student who approached them for guidance. This takes us back to the concept of preconceived notions and paradigm – without evaluating the truth, we accept the prevalent opinions.

4. …and forever

As promised in the introduction, this part will be used to thread all the disjoint pieces of information I used in the previous sections from my MBA experience, to put all points into perspective towards applying the learning to enrich my life. Before arriving at Cranfield, my motive towards doing an MBA was two-fold: to change my career in terms of role and geography; and to understand the concepts of management well so the entire business, in whichever sector I will be working, is well understood.

The MBA has been a life-changing opportunity for me – to identify my strengths and develop skills that I need to develop in order to make the transition from an MBA to a professional career. However, I see the learning from the programme to be perfect to apply in a much wider context – to one’s entire life. It is not only the business situations where we face dilemma, crisis, politics, change etc. – we face it every moment in our life in different circumstances. The best example could be drawn from the book ‘The Goal’ by Goldratt, where he used the same analytical skills to solve the problem in his factory as well as resolve family tensions[10].

4.1 Skills and ideas to take forward

Cranfield enriched me in many ways, and I was able to develop a lot of skills here that I could not in my previous professional life. To begin with, it will be a huge amount of academic exposure covering a wide range of management knowledge – 30 case packs weighing 70kgs is just a mere quantitative measure of it.

[1] I acknowledge, with gratitude, the contributions of many, from work and life, who made the past year productive, enjoyable, although also suitably challenging. My MBA cohort deserves special mention and I thank my Term-1 team members Matt Kelly, Juan Leon, Daniel Martin, Pradeep Raman and Kundan Singh; my Term-2 team members Gesu Baroova, Benito Giordano, Chioma Noel-Nwafor, Tom Pitkethly and Andy Proud. I thank especially my co-coach Simon Morhall for his empathetic listening and timely feedback. I also thank David Grayson and Stephanie Hussels for organising such a great IBE trip, which has been one of the cornerstones of my MBA journey. I thank my fellow residents in Lanchester Hall for making my evenings and weekends filled with fun with their youthful interjections. And for other friends, in London and halfway across the globe, words of thanks are perhaps not required…
[2] Appendix 1.1: Copy of the SOAR-1 executive summary
[3] Appendix 1.2: Responses of the SOAR-1 development questionnaire (anon.)
[4] Favourite quote of Ronald Weasley, Harry Potter’s best mate.
[5] Appendix 1.3: Personal learning statement from the IBE report
[6] Ladder reference
[7] Trompenaars (1997)
[8] PM article
[9] The title was bestowed upon him during the press-conference, 2009
[10] Goldratt, E (1984)