I have the happiest office in the world
Design, space and aesthetics have always been important to me. My mother tells me that the character of a person is determined by all the things he chooses to have around him. When I was a CEO in the corporate world many decades ago, I may have been one of the very early ones who designed the entire office as an open one. I remember many of my colleagues and staff then had to struggle with the idea of sitting without safe walls around them. Now an open office system is a common phenomena in all offices. In Parikrma, (www.parikrmafoundation.org) for many years I did not have any office at all because in a school where space is so dear, a library or a science lab or even a room for remedial classes had to be given more priority. So I had to make do with sitting in either a storeroom, or the audiovisual room where the walls had to be kept uncluttered. I remember I have had critical meetings with very important decision makers out on a stone bench in the play area amidst children happily running around during their break. It was only a couple of years ago that I had the luxury of a little extra space that got converted into an office. Now my office in one of the Parikrma schools has two regular walls and a glass wall that you can peep through and a glass door that is never locked. And just yesterday I found that the hinges of the door had rusted with no use and is falling apart. The drab hand-me-down furniture in my room has come from companies that were renovating their offices. I have some worn-out chairs that have seen better days in IBM. An aging desk with drawers was donated to us by Sarawathi Memorial Trust. The credenza behind with dog-eared-worn-out corners has come from some other well-wisher. Each of these pieces is good by themselves, and had been purchased with great care for their erstwhile plush offices, and now is trying very hard to blend in like a crucible in my little cabin. So, from outside my office may look like any other modest office but everything changes when you step inside. My room bursts with colours from the paintings of the children that are hung on the walls. When you walk into my office your eyes will not rest in any of the furniture but go straight to the walls. The walls could well be from any of the well-known galleries that promote unknown artists with bursting talent. The colours are bold, uninhibited and the picture frames attached with profiles of the artists. The art teachers of Parikrma know that the children have to be allowed to express themselves in an unrestrained manner. We never tell the children that they have to conform to boundaries and lines but allow them to create new frontiers. On the wall with our children’s self portraits I have frames with purple faces and green ears. If that is the reflection of themselves they see in the mirror everyday, then so be it. We do not want to curtail their free spirit and lack of any shame with our adult do’s and don’ts and this comes through in their art. Each frame tells a story of grit and hope. I tell my visitors that they need to think of my office walls as the incubation lab for many a Picasso to emerge. But art is the not the only reason why I am so happy and proud of my office. In which office have you ever seen a stream of children rushing in during breaks to give you a tight hug and kiss? Parikrma children are like effervescent light bulbs that infuse energy wherever they go. In my little office with them sitting on my table, fiddling with my pens, curiously checking my laptop, they are the vitamin pills that I need everyday. I tell many of my classmates that I haven’t started dyeing my hair as yet, an act that defies my age, only because of this daily dosage of vitamins. But even that is not the only unique thing in my office. In which office have you seen a corner preserved for a dog to find a quiet place to take a nap, away from the children? And she is no ordinary dog. She is streetie called Bianca who has stepped out of the pages of Othello to claim my office as her home. Bianca emerged out of our Reading initiative that made the children of Parikrma read a few plays of Shakespeare to christen their school dogs. In our Jaynagar school we therefore have a Bianca, in Koramagala a Titania, in Nandini Layout an Isabella and in Sahakaranagar a Romeo and Juliet. Bianca walks in to a Junior Classroom and becomes an educational tool for Show and Tell. Bianca sits at my footsteps and participates in all the meetings I have. She is one of the mediums by which we teach our children responsibility and empathy. She is also an important line item in our school budget sheet. I believe that when Bianca is sleeping in my office amidst all the chaos and cacophony around, all is well with the world. An office is a place where we spend many hours of our lives. It has to generate creativity and a sense of well-being. I feel so happy each day when I step into my office because I know I am doing something meaningful in the world in my own small way. The vibrant colours on the walls, the palpable energy and joy of living of the Parikrma children and the constant tail wagging of Bianca, creates such positive vibration in the room that I am sure we can transfer a wee bit to others as well. Please drop into my office whenever you can. In my office we are pre-ordering the future of 1,700 disadvantaged children. I promise you will leave my office with a smile on your face and a spring in your step. You will leave knowing that it does not matter where you come from but what matters is where you are preparing to go. And I can give some great coffee as well!
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