Category: Articles

Against all odds

Against all odds

So often we hear about people who surpass our expectations and beat what appear to us as the most difficult of challenges. They serve to remind us that the human mind is capable of doing anything at all. Take the examples of Mrugank Vaidya and Vivek Venkatesh, Std X students from Thane, who have managed to surprise many with their performance in the board exams.

Two physically challenged students beat the odds

Mrugank cannot see. He lost his eyesight when he was barely two months old, while in an incubator, owing to excess of oxygen. But his lack has not prevented him from obtaining 67.33 per cent in his board exams. What’s more, he attended Sri Ma Vidyalaya, a regular school, and also took the exams with the regular students – except that he used the help of a writer.

Mrugank’s own attitude has been given a boost by his loved ones – his parents Bipin and Smita Vaidya, and his grandfather, Vasant Vaidya have stood behind him while he crossed the hurdles that came his way. Sharvari Deshpande, Sri Ma’s headmistress (primary) revealed, “Oral examinations are a part of the assessment programme in our school and Mrugank too had to take them. In his lower classes, he had to take a reading test like the other students. So we would mark the passage for his reading and his mother and grandfather would train him to read it using the Braille script. His grandfather has really been a pillar of support to him.”

Mrugank’s achievement has made his parents, grandfather and his little brother very proud of him. His father works for a securities broking house and his mother is a housewife. Mrugank is quick to point to his grandfather as his moral support, whom he fondly calls anna.

Mrugank, who is fascinated by an odd combination of cricket and the stock market, wishes to pursue a career in music. He loves classical music and has been learning the tabla for the last five years. Asked how he prepared for the exams and whether he was tense, Mrugank said, “I was not at all tense. I believe in thinking and acting positively.”

Like Mrugank, Vivek Venkatesh too has managed to take on the SSC board exam head on, by scoring 62 per cent in spite of being severely challenged. Vivek suffers from acute muscular dystrophy, a condition in which the muscles of the body get weaker and weaker and slowly stop working.

A student of Sri Ma Bal Niketan, Vivek has been forced to take to the wheelchair. So dismal is his condition that he finds it extremely difficult even to hold a pen. But his proud mother Padma reveals, “Although his physical condition is regressing and his limbs are growing weaker, he managed to write his papers by himself – without the aid of a writer. Vivek was diligent, he was regular at his studies and prepared for all the papers on his own. He mainly used to read the textbooks and used to solve papers from past years in a given time frame.”

Vivek is a resident of the Tikam Society in Kopri colony. Unfortunately, Vivek lost his father to leukemia when he was in Std VIII. He has an elder sister who has just completed her graduation in commerce. Padma is grateful to R Nirmal Jothi, the then principal of Sri Ma Bal Niketan High School and Junior College for the confidence she showed in Vivek’s abilities by allowing him to appear for SSC board exams as a private candidate through the school. Padma is all praises for Vivek’s grandmother who has been an instrumental force in motivating Vivek.

Vivek is adept at using the computer. He has a liking for chess and plays it quite often. He reads the newspapers and keeps himself abreast with current affairs. Vivek wishes to take up and aspires to become a chartered accountant when he grows up.

William Somerset Maugham has said, “It’s a very funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.” Mrugank Vaidya and Vivek Venkatesh seem to know this and are determined to get the best out of life. With such an attitude, these boys are sure to do well in every exam that life throws at them.

High Spirits

High Spirits

As the academic year ends, it presents students with an ideal opportunity to pursue extra-curricular activities and explore new genres in life, which help them to develop some of their dormant faculties. One of the many ways to do that is to enrol with an adventure camp.

Adventure Therapy

  Skiing is perhaps the most far-flung adventure sport for urban populace. No wonder it was the centre of attraction at the Himalayan summer camps organised by a city based student welfare group, Jidnyasa Trust. This is the 12th consecutive year that the trust has organised Himalayan adventure camps jointly with Directorate of Mountaineering and Allied Sports, Manali, Himachal Pradesh. A total of 64 students awaiting their Std X board results participated, of which 37 were girls and 27 were boys. They spent a week in the tents laid at the height of around 12,000 feet. These participants were imparted training in elementary techniques of skiing, like ski exercises, sliding on skis, straight running, side slip, snow plough and turn, fall and recovery while facing the snow storms and bad weather. From a total of four camps, two of them were for skiing and the other two for adventure. In the latter, 58 students participated, of which 28 were girls and 30 were boys. All were in the age group of 12 to 13 years. In the 14-day course, they went through rigorous training of rock climbing and artificial, wall climbing, rappelling, and river crossing in the ice cold thundering beas. All this was done under the watchful eyes of experts. The children were elated at seeing snow all around them while climbing up to Patalsu and Bakhartaj, situated at the dizzying heights of 13,000 feet. One of the most exciting moments for the students was when they had the grand coincidence of meeting the Thane Municipal Commissioner Sanjay Sethi at Solang Nallha. Commissioner Sethi minced no words in praising these participants and gave them a much-deserved pat on their back for their adventurous streak. Sumita Dighe, trustee of Jidnyasa, is a trained mountaineer herself and was the chief coordinator of the adventure course. Chitra Oke, Anjali Hardikar, Vishwas Korde, Vijay Kher, Arun Mulye were the other coordinators. The element of unwinding and fun aside, not many are aware that adventure can be therapeutic too. In fact, adventure therapy is one of the more hands-on psychological approaches that are used in treating mental and emotional disorders. For adolescents with emotional, behavioural, and substance abuse disorders, adventure therapy often proves to be an effective choice of psychotherapy. The real or perceived risk associated with adventure sports provides all its participants a sense of self-worth that goes a long way in helping them restore their psychological well being. As the participants of the summer camps returned after the 14-day courses, they were totally exhausted physically but their spirits are rejuvenated, raring to take on their next academic year.

Oh God, it’s results again!

Oh God, it’s results again!

CBSE results are out. And the Maharashtra Board results are just a few days away. The tension is slowly mounting. Last year, around this time, I met a girl from my neighbourhood who had just come to know of her HSC results.

She seemed absolutely down in the dumps. Assuming that she’s failed, or at the very least, performed real bad, I inquired as mildly as I could, about the cause of her gloominess. She was bit uncomfortable initially, but after gentle prodding, she gave in.

Her response jolted me. She said she was embarrassed to face her Mathematics teacher because she had obtained “only” 98 out of the maximum of 100 in her Mathematics paper.

Till I had met this girl, I was under the impression that with grades like these, students would be rejoicing, celebrating and even distributing sweets to one and all. But it was not so.

On the other extreme, Dr Anil Tambe, a prominent doctor from Thane revealed to me another shocking case related to the board results.

Last year he discharged a 15-year-old girl (name withheld) from his hospital. This girl was admitted to his hospital on the previous day because she had apparently consumed rat poison in an attempt to commit suicide. Why? She had failed in her tenth standard (CBSE) exams!

Both the above cases signal a disturbing trend that has come to besiege the board exams. With increasing competition and peer pressure, board results have become perhaps the biggest source of stress, trauma and paranoia among students.

Each year more than a hundred thousand students appear for board exams across the country.

Most of them attach more importance to the results than is warranted. And as we’ve seen from the cases above, this applies to all kinds of students, not just the so-called dull students but also the brilliant ones who score extremely well.

The Common Entrance Test (CET) has lessened the importance of board results to some extent, but the pressure to clear the CET remains.

The responsibility and blame for the unrealistic pressure does not lie with the students alone. Parents, teachers and the society share the responsibility equally.

For instance, regardless of their expectations from their children, it’s important for parents to declare unequivocally that they love their children.

Parents must let children know that they love them in spite of, not because of, their performances. An old saying goes, “A child needs love the most when he least deserves it.”

Another important aspect is that both parents and students would do well to remember is that these exams and entrance tests do not evaluate an individual’s ability to do well in life. They test memory, mathematical abilities and, to some extent, scientific aptitude.

Gifts and talents such as music, art, sports, and business acumen are largely ignored.

But it is a well-known fact that doing well in academics is not a pre-requisite for doing well in life just as doing poorly in school and college is not a recipe for failure. Dhirubhai Ambani, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein and many other luminaries like them are evidence of this.

This is not to discount education entirely but to emphasise that exams are only one of the many aspects that determine how your careers are shaped.

So when the results of board exams and CET are declared this year, parents must discuss “what next” with the children rather than dwelling on their performance, especially if you are disappointed with the scores.

Of super moms and more

Of super moms and more

Last Sunday the world celebrated Mother’s Day. But few know where the concept of celebrating Mother’s Day originated.

According to some, the earliest Mother’s Day celebrations began in ancient Greece in honour of Rhea, the Mother of the Gods. In the 17th century, England celebrated a day called Mothering Sunday when all the mothers of England were honoured. Because many poor men worked as servants for the wealthy, they would often live at the houses of their employers, which were located far from their homes. On Mothering Sunday these servants would have the day off and were encouraged to return home and spend the day with their mothers. That’s how the earliest Mother’s Day was celebrated.

Unfortunately today, Mother’s Day, like many other special days, has been reduced to a commercially driven occasion, with the pure intention of making profits. In the recent years, India too has joined the bandwagon of celebrating mother’s day. The greeting card and gift companies may use mother’s day to exploit our sentiments, urging us to measure our love for our mothers in terms of expensive gifts, but most Indians still know in their hearts that the value of mother’s love is immeasurable. In fact the joy of motherhood is in itself the greatest gift.

As children, the best gift we can give to our mothers it to love them unconditionally, because that’s how they love us.

To honour young mothers, Thane Women’s Guild (TWG), a city-based, all-woman, not-for-profit organisation celebrated Mother’s Day last Sunday in a unique way. TWG conducted an hour-long programme with 50 city-based mothers of kindergarten children. Held at Hari Om Nagar, the idea behind the event was to provide an interactive platform to young mothers. Two guest speakers, Dr Bhabesh Mithya and Dr Suhas Kulkarni, both paediatricians, addressed the moms on the mental and emotional well being of their little ones. While Dr Mithya mainly spoke on nutrition and its relation to growth and development of children under five years, Dr Kulkarni talked about common health
problems, emotional needs of pre-school children and good parenting skills.

There was a rapid-fire quiz session on ‘Parenting Skills’, with questions ranging from child health and development of social skills to securing the future of children financially. The response to this session was such that when time ran out, the excited mothers requested that more such events be organised. A few working mothers felt that such programmes were a very effective means for de-stressing and unwinding from the working week’s demanding schedules.

The programme was rounded off by awarding prizes to ‘Super Mom,’ the ‘Most Promising Mom,’ and the ‘Future Super Mom’, all of who were spontaneously selected by the doctor guests and other panellists based on the questions and interactions of the participating mothers.

In spite of the tremendous responsibilities that accompany motherhood, the young mothers were evidently enthusiastic about discovering the joys of being young mothers.

Walking Again

Walking Again

Henry David Thoreau once said, “None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.” Indeed, old age is a state of mind and if we choose so, we can retain our youthful outlook at any age. Amitabh Bachchan is perhaps the best example of someone who has kept living life to its fullest in spite of being on the wrong side of 60 and suffering several health problems that accompany aging. When he can do it, why can’t you? Of course you can. The good news is that advances in medical science have made it much easier to beat the health issues associated with old age. Take Arundati Khandkar, 65, a resident of Vartak Nagar. Arundati was suffering from severe knee arthritis and was grossly disabled for the past 20 years, during which she tried every possible treatment but with little success. Arundati had deformed knees that immobilised her almost completely. But today she is back on her two feet and is up and walking as normally as she did during her younger days.

The secret of Arundati’s newfound abilities in her legs is the new ‘knee replacement surgery’, a treatment that is becoming increasingly popular amongst the masses. In fact even former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee opted for it a few years back. After suffering for
years Arundati finally decided to consult Dr Sanjeev Jain, a Joint Replacement and Hip Resurfacing Surgeon, who recommended and then carried out a specialised Rotating Platform Flex (RPF) knee replacement surgery on her.

Arthritis of the knees is the world’s leading cause of disability. Besides being painful, it leads to difficulty in walking, reduced bending of knee, inability to sit cross-legged, and general immobility. RPF knee system is designed to provide high knee flexion. The conventional fixed bearing knee provides 100 degrees of flexion, which is not enough for everyday activities. The RPF knee is specially designed to safely accommodate up to 155 degrees of flexion in patients. This means that with appropriate rehabilitation, a patient can resume an active life style after total knee replacement – in other words, the patient can bend the knee enough to be able to carry out recreational, religious and other day-to-day activities such as prolonged kneeling, squatting and cross-legged sitting.

It’s not just the design but also the surgical technique that plays a role in enabling higher degree of flexion. According to Dr Jain, “Gone are the days when patients hesitated to get knee replacement done due to reduced knee bending after knee replacement. The RPF design and
the surgical technique will change the scenario of total knee replacement.” It is fortunate for residents of our city that such advanced treatment is now being offered by surgeons in here. Thanks to the RPF knee replacement remedy, Thaneites will age gracefully. Perhaps TMC should plan more Nana-Nani parks as we can expect an increase in the number of grandparents who will be out and about taking morning and evening walks.

Have a Summer Blast

Have a Summer Blast

As the mercury rises in the summer, excitement of students begins to surge too. After toiling monotonously for a whole year attending classes, going for tuitions, struggling with homework and finally cramming for exams, students look forward to this time of year, never mind the sweltering heat.

Granted, summer vacations are a great time to catch up with all those exciting activities that you have been dying to indulge in but were simply impossible to take up during the academic year: you would want to play your favourite sport, watch movies, go for outings and generally have fun. But even after you do all of this, you will find that you still have a reasonable amount of spare time that can and must be utilised gainfully.

Have a Summer Blast

Academically you move up one level with each passing year. But it is equally important for you to move up regularly with respect to your personality. And there’s no better time to do this than summer holidays. Unfortunately, most students end up doing nothing constructive during this highly fertile two-month period. But all is not lost. If you’re a student who has not yet made plans of how to make good use of your time this vacation, now is a good time to do so. The question that is probably cropping up in your mind is, "What should I do?"

We suggest that you spend some time this week in your own company and do a self-audit. Find out which zones of your personality you would like to work upon. Do a quick evaluation of your personality and ask yourself simple questions like the following: What are my strengths and weaknesses? Which new activity I would like to pursue? Which existing interest would I like to augment? This simple exercise will lead to clarity of thought and action. And once you’re clear about what it is that you want to do, you can proceed in the direction of putting into practice what you’ve decided.

There are many good ways to spend the next two months. Here are a few suggestions that might be helpful. This is in no way an exhaustive list and you can certainly come up with several creative ideas yourself.

Sign up for an adventure/sports camp
Look out for and sign up with one of the several adventure camps organised specially for school students. Such camps offer a wonderful opportunity for you to experience the real world first hand – away from the protective shield of your parents and teachers. If you’re a sports lover, then you could consider one of the various sports camps that train you in the sport of your choice.

Cultivate the habit of Reading
Supplementing/cultivating a reading habit is a good idea. Reading is a great way of building up a good thinking mind. You even become more creative, besides increasing your knowledge! So join a good library, borrow a few good books on the subjects you like and spend some time reading daily.

Avoid watching excessive TV
Watching TV is an inert activity and tends to slow down your wits. It’s also harmful for your physical fitness. Allocate a fixed time per week for TV viewing and resolve not to exceed this limit. When watching TV, make it a point to watch informative and educational channels like Discovery, Animal Planet and National Geographic.

Physical Activity
Engage in some daily physical activity routine. This is a good habit for life. Swimming, cycling, trekking or simply walking will go a long way in keeping you healthy and in shape.

Replace phones with personal interactions
A worrying habit among the youngsters these days is that they rattle long hours on the phone. Remember, it is much better to meet up your friends in person and converse one-to-one. Personal interactions enhance the quality of your conversations and, in the process, the quality of your friendships too.

Develop new interests
Consider developing new hobbies or expand the scope of existing ones such as painting, drawing, music, cooking, writing, acting and so on. Many of you may not venture into a hobby for the fear of being ridiculed or because you think you’re not good enough. Steer clear of judging yourself and simply take up the activity irrespective of how good you are at it. Remember you’re not competing with anyone, and there is no justifiable reason to deny yourself the joy that comes from doing that which you fancy.

So go ahead and make a new agreement with yourself. Eliminate a weakness, acquire a new hobby, improve your knowledge quotient and transform yourself in positive ways. Then, when the new academic year begins, your newfound personality will be all set to conquer the world.

Triple talent

Triple talent

Rajesh Vilas Shinde is 17 years old and studies in Class VII. His father doesn’t have a permanent job and works as a daily wage earner. His mother works as a housemaid. Rajesh also has two sisters and a brother, all of who attend normal schools. According to his teachers, he is a good student and takes active interest in studies. He loves playing cricket and chess and is a good swimmer, too. Last year, he finished first in the 400-metre race at the district level. Rajesh also contributes to his family’s wages by selling newspapers during his vacations and making Ganesh idols

Sixteen-year-old Jeetendra Dinanath Yadav is also in Class VII. His father sells vada pav on a street side cart, while his mother is a housewife. He has four younger brothers who go to normal schools. Jeetendra is interested in judo, karate and cricket. Each year he actively participates in stage performances, especially dance and drama, in his school’s annual day function. Everyday after school he helps his father in his business.

Annu Rakesh Pandey is a 14-year-old girl and is in Class V. She has an elder sister and a younger brother who attend normal schools. She stays with her father, who is an auto-rickshaw driver, while her mother stays in her native place. While Annu loves playing outdoor games, she also takes care of domestic work and helps her mother in stitching clothes.

Rajesh, Jeetendra and Annu are students of Thane’s Kamalini Karnabadhir Vidyalaya, a school for the hearing impaired. But the trio have more than just their hearing disability in common. For one, they come from the lower economic strata, where existence is usually hand to mouth. For another, their disability and social background notwithstanding, they display enormous talent.

The three are extremely talented in drawing and have, on more occasions than one, surprised the peers and teachers by demonstrating an exceptional ability to create award-winning illustrations. What makes their effort special is that the school does not have a drawing teacher. So, in spite of no formal training whatsoever, the three win all the drawing competitions in which they participate.

Their school is situated at Jijamata road in Thane East and has 60-odd students suffering from hearing impairment. The school has trained teachers in routine subjects, but being run by an NGO trust, it cannot afford to appoint a drawing teacher. Moreover, they don’t get too many opportunities to demonstrate their talent.

Archana Nare, the principal of the school says, “These students can’t participate in many inter-school competitions because the parents can’t afford participation fees. So they have to remain content with competitions that are organised by various NGOs in our school.”

The purpose of this story is not to highlight the exceptional talents of three hearing impaired students, but to underline the importance of determination and self-confidence. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Some use their weaknesses to give excuses for not taking any initiatives and then blaming their misfortune for everything that goes wrong in their lives.

Others count their blessings and focus on their strengths, converting every obstacle into an opportunity to prove that success is the result of an attitude, not of luck. The triple talents of Kamalini Karnabadhir Vidyalaya focus on their strengths – the dexterity of their hands and the imaginative power of their minds. Only time will tell if they will make their mark in the world of art. But one thing is certain – if they continue to believe in themselves, their self-confidence is sure to take them places.

Dressed to Thrill

Dressed to Thrill

Judging competitions involving children is always difficult. But when the participating children are those who need special care, the judgement becomes even more challenging. Ask Suneeta Jain and Ashwini Shinde, who recently judged a fancy dress competition with 70 special children participants held at the Jiddh School in Thane on March 29, 2006. Jain, a psychologist working with Hiranandani Hospital and Shinde, a teacher, found themselves struggling to decide between the participants, all of who displayed enormous talent, their disabilities notwithstanding. In fact, judging these participants was even more difficult because the different types of challenges that each child faces. A few examples should help you understand their predicament.

Dressed to Thrill - special children particpating in fancy dress competition

One girl participant dressed up like a chicken in full white clothes complete with wings and a beak. Any guess what she was depicting? Bird flu! Then there was a child who had become a scarecrow, her hands held upwards, and her head in a black bag. Red lips were painted on her midriff and two artificial hands were stuck on her waist as she danced to the music, looking perfectly like a scarecrow. Yet another participant, Vikram, blessed the crowd as he walked on stage in his saffron attire of a pujari. Manali had become a sage who chanted mantras and performed a puja. A Shivaji Maharaj look-a-like arrived on stage in the typical darbari style. And Lord Hanuman had great fun jumping around the hall and on the stage just like the monkey-god. Each participant was a sheer delight to watch and the audience was fascinated, even as they encouraged the participants when they came on stage.

In the end, three winners had to be selected from five age groups. The prize comprised a cash component, a medal, a certificate and some gifts. But every participant received a participation gift. Two parents, who had helped their wards in dressing up, received surprise gifts for their creativity and enthusiasm. The fancy dress competition was organised with the help of the Inner Wheel Club of Thane Hills.

The special children are a treat to watch. Often, their performances leave us thinking about the determination with which they challenge their disabilities. William Shakespeare said, “Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course.” These children, challenged by nature-inflicted adversity, embrace it with open arms, teaching the rest of us a lesson or two in life. No wonder they are called special.

The variety of Life

The variety of Life

Biodiversity, or the variety of life that exists, is fundamental to the existence of life on Earth. The 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro defined biodiversity as “the variability among living organisms from all sources, including terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are part: this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems”. Biodiversity is an extremely important part of life on Earth because it is not only the variety of living organisms on our planet that affect our ecosystem, but also the interdependence of all these living things, including humans. For example, some anthropological studies suggest that mosquitoes are so important to life on planet Earth that if all mosquitoes were to be destroyed, all life on Earth will become extinct in less than five years.

Biodiversity - The Variety of Life

In spite of this knowledge, humans have been the main cause of destruction of ecosystems even as animals and plants become extinct, and biodiversity is being lost due to anti-ecological activities of humans. Thankfully, there are a few among us who are conscious about the importance of maintaining and restoring the balance in biodiversity.

A big step towards creating awareness about the importance of biodiversity has been taken by the National Children’s Science Congress (CSC) by selecting “biodiversity” as its theme for the next two years. To kick off the CSC in Maharashtra, a seminar on biodiversity was organised by Jidnyasa Trust Thane on 18 and 19 March 2006 at the sports complex of Saraswati Vidyalaya in Thane. More than 125 CSC district coordinators and other resource persons from as many as 28 districts from all over Maharashtra attended the seminar. The seminar served as an orientation workshop for these individuals who would then take it forward to the next level.

Dr Madhav Gadgil, senior scientist and recipient of Padma Bhushan award, chaired the seminar. Dr Gadgil is a renowned ecologist having spent more than forty years in research. He has more than 200 research papers and six books to his credit. Jidnyasa felicitated him on the occasion. In his address, Dr Gadgil made a strong case for a systematic data collection on biodiversity at the ground level. He has developed software, which will be used to map the biodiversity of Maharashtra, which according to him is the “need of the hour”.

The seminar featured many other experts in the field of biodiversity such as Dr Vinaya Ghate, a scientist from Adharkar Institute Pune, Dr Madhukar Bachulkar renowned botanist from Kolhapur, Sandhya Edlabadkar from Chandrapur, Vivek Ponkshe from Pune, Dr Mangala Borkar from BN Bondodkar College of Science, Thane and Shraddha Shimpi from Pendharkar College, Dombivali. Principal of BN Bandodkar College Dr. Madhuri Pejawar and Dr Govind Paratkar from Vaze-Kelkar College were the conveners of the technical sessions. Seven sub-themes of biodiversity were discussed by these experts. These sub themes were terrestrial biodiversity, aquatic biodiversity, conservation of biodiversity, generating knowledge of biodiversity, manmade biodiversity, sustainable value addition, and simulations and models.

A book on “Medicinal forest Plants” and few CDs on environment made by Jidnyasa were released at the hands of the Dr PN Munde, Director Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Borivali. Surendra Dighe, Managing Trustee of Jidnyasa Trust provided information of various science programmes that the trust conducts all over Maharashtra. As many as 50-200 species of life are lost every day – that means we lose 20,000 to 70,000 species in a year. Considering that it takes between 2,000-1,00,000 generations for higher species to evolve, we humans have an urgent responsibility towards planet Earth and towards our future generations. And for that we need to shed our lackadaisical attitude towards the variety of life on our planet.

Make your summers rewarding

Make your summers rewarding

As the mercury rises in the summer, excitement of students begins to surge too. After toiling monotonously for a whole year attending classes, going for tuitions, struggling with homework and finally cramming for exams, students look forward to this time of year, never mind the sweltering heat.

Granted, summer vacations are a great time to catch up with all those exciting activities that you have been dying to indulge in but were simply impossible to take up during the academic year: you would want to play your favourite sport, watch movies, go for outings and generally have fun. But even after you do all of this, you will find that you still have a reasonable amount of spare time that can and must be utilised gainfully.

Academically you move up one level with each passing year. But it is equally important for you to move up regularly with respect to your personality. And there’s no better time to do this than the summer holidays. Unfortunately, most students end up doing nothing constructive during this highly fertile two-month period. But all is not lost. If you’re a student who has not yet made plans of how to make good use of your time this vacation, now is a good time to do so. The question that is probably cropping up in your mind is, "What should I do?"

We suggest that you spend some time this week in your own company and do a self-audit. Find out which zones of your personality you would like to work upon. Do a quick evaluation of your personality and ask yourself simple questions like the following: What are my strengths and weaknesses? Which new activity I would like to pursue? Which existing interest would I like to augment? This simple exercise will lead to clarity of thought and action. And once you’re clear about what it is that you want to do, you can proceed in the direction of putting into practice what you’ve decided.

There are many good ways to spend the next one month or so. Here are a few suggestions that might be helpful. This is in no way an exhaustive list and you can certainly come up with several creative ideas yourself.

Sign up for an adventure/sports camp
Look out for and sign up with one of the several adventure camps organised specially for school students. Such camps offer a wonderful opportunity for you to experience the real world first hand – away from the protective shield of your parents and teachers.

If you’re a sports lover, then you could consider one of the various sports camps that train you in the sport of your choice.

Cultivate the habit of Reading
Supplementing/cultivating a reading habit is a good idea. Reading is a great way of building up a good thinking mind. You even become more creative, besides increasing your knowledge! So join a good library, borrow a few good books on the subjects you like and spend some time reading daily.

Avoid watching excessive TV
Watching TV is an inert activity and tends to slow down your wits. It’s also harmful for your physical fitness. Allocate a fixed time per week for TV viewing and resolve not to exceed this limit. When watching TV, make it a point to watch informative and educational channels like Discovery, Animal Planet and National Geographic.

Physical Activity
Engage in some daily physical activity routine. This is a good habit for life. Swimming, cycling, trekking or simply walking will go a long way in keeping you healthy and in shape.

Replace phones with personal interactions
A worrying habit among the youngsters these days is that they rattle long hours on the phone. Remember, it is much better to meet up your friends in person and converse one-to-one. Personal interactions enhance the quality of your conversations and, in the process, the quality of your friendships too.

Develop new interests
Consider developing new hobbies or expand the scope of existing ones such as painting, drawing, music, cooking, writing, acting and so on. Many of you may not venture into a hobby for the fear of being ridiculed or because you think you’re not good enough. Steer clear of judging yourself and simply take up the activity irrespective of how good you are at it. Remember you’re not competing with anyone, and there is no justifiable reason to deny yourself the joy that comes from doing that which you fancy.

So go ahead and make a new agreement with yourself. Eliminate a weakness, acquire a new hobby, improve your knowledge quotient and transform yourself in positive ways. Then, when the new academic year begins, your newfound personality will be all set to conquer the world.