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Fellowship Tales

Three weeks ago, I walked into the sprawling, gorgeous FLAME campus. Inwardly, I was a bundle of nerves, but I didn’t let it show. My mind was a whirlwind of questions and doubts – not all of which made sense – and I really, really felt like disappearing down a rabbit hole. (Oh, if only I were Alice…)

It was too real, too fast.

So, when the anxiety – about nothing and everything – closed my throat, what did I do? I took as many deep breaths as I could, and despite the clammy palms and hammering heart, I went around, exploring the unbelievably beautiful campus, and smiled at my fellow Fellows (ha! I couldn’t resist). I tried to imagine what lay in store for me, over the next month and a half, and couldn’t come up with anything at all – because it was all so new and uncertain and, therefore, inexplicably frightening.

11th June passed by in a blur of paperwork and other necessary evils, and before I knew it, my first day as a Fellow had ended. I felt strangely off-kilter and tired; but also somewhat keyed up for what the next days, and weeks, would hold.

…And so began my life-changing journey at TFI. It hasn’t been the smoothest of rides – it’s never meant to be, is it? – but despite everything, the dominant emotion that I feel is a tremendous sense of gratitude. There have been excruciatingly long moments of self-doubt and self-questioning to a degree which made me squirm, but there have also been the illuminating spells of light that shine so bright on me that I blink, caught completely unaware. It’s all meant to coexist, I think to myself, while trying to figure out how I will try not to break down – yet once again – when (not “if”) all hell breaks loose in class. I’ve got used to being knocked down, and trying to pick myself up again. What choice do I have, when 25 energetic nine-year-olds have been entrusted to my care for the next five weeks? (Hint: tree vs. forest; this is one of innumerable TFI inside jokes.)

I’ve also become proficient in abbreviations. Being at Institute is an entire lesson in abbreviations in itself. So, GP, LC, PM, AOD, SL, FA, SC, IP? I have every one of them at my fingertips. (Ask me, and I’ll explain.) The only thing left for me to do, now, is make a list. Wheee.

Every day, I’m reminded of the enormity of the work that – I daresay – I’ve been called to do. It isn’t easy, being in front of those kids all day long. Yes, there are specific moments that make it worth all the sweat and tears, but for the most part (and also since we’re practically still in utero as far as learning the ropes is concerned), there is a constant undercurrent of feeling as though I’ll never be good (enough)….which, of course, leads to frighteningly intense low self-worth. But I am so glad to have a support system in place; whenever things (read: feelings) get too intense to deal with – which, invariably, they do on an unsurprisingly frequent basis – I know I can approach certain people for a much-needed heart-to-heart.

Through these days of unceasing activity, there is one thing that I feel so guilty about that it almost twists my stomach – I have no time whatsoever to really sit down and write. At most, I scribble a sentence or two, but then, that makes it even worse because I feel as though I’m doing it as a matter of duty or obligation. (That is exactly what writing is not. Do you see what I mean?)

Oh, anyway. I digress. What TFI has made me realise, above all, is that time is precious, and there are too many kids who need “didi” – a calm, nerves-of-steel, heart-on-sleeve didi – and not someone who doubts herself every second of every day. I must learn to squash Little Insidious Voice inside my head; only then will I be able to give it everything I’ve got.

Another reason why I feel like a fish out of water, sometimes, is because this is the first time in my life that I’m not being a selfish brat; that I’m doing something for someone else. It feels strange, but so gratifying, to know that I’m part of something that is so much larger than myself. But this does come with its own set of questions (what doesn’t?) – do I have it in me? Will I be able to navigate the “grows and the glows” (another TFI joke) with grace and equanimity? The stakes are so impossibly high; what can I do to stop feeling overwhelmed at the slightest trigger?

All these questions, and more, plague me every day. But you know what? This is also the first time I’m learning to be okay with not being okay (see what I did there?). I’ve crumpled, emotionally, five minutes before class started; I’ve let myself out of class just in the nick of time for the tears to leave unsightly streaks on my cheeks. And I recognise that that’s okay; that’s all part of the process.

…and so, to wrap up this rambling, meandering piece (which, by the way, is all heart and no head), what I guess I’m trying to say is this: the most indescribably beautiful part of TFI is how it teaches you to embrace total vulnerability and authenticity, and how it encourages you to tell your own story – fearlessly, unashamedly – because stories are how we connect at the most fundamental level. And that’s why I’m so deeply grateful to Teach For India.

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