In early February, just as I was recovering from the hectic bout of travel in Jan and the highs and lows of JSFoo Pune, we had to start readying for two events – JSFoo Chennai and Cartonama Workshop. Cartonama Workshop, as Sajjad pointed out, was a challenge because this was the first time we were trying out a small-scale-high-intensity event with ticket prices that were higher than what we had marketed earlier. This was an interesting challenge. I was not to be part of the Cartonama workshop, except for handling accounts and small details. But because Kiran was getting into the code mood and I felt that I needed to relieve Kiran of handholding Sajjad on learning how to manage an event, I decided to work with Sajjad.
I am best when I am working alone. To work with someone, especially to train a person, is a tough askance because it means that you have to be careful and trusting enough to let the other person make decisions. At the same time, the other person has to feel ownership and charge of what they are managing. The lines, in this case, are very fine and it requires a great deal of patience and maturity to handle such situations. Fortunately for me, Sajjad has enough ability to learn quickly and, above all, he is geohacker i.e., he knows his area well.
Cartonama Workshop was an even bigger challenge for me because it meant that I had two responsibilities: one was to stick to my PhD writing schedule and show commitment to myself and second was to ensure that I did just about enough to help Sajjad take off the ground. Both were tough challenges and there were many days when I was unable to meet a single one. There were days when I would be intensely involved with the workshop and was unable to focus on my writing. And there would be days when I was just about focussed on my writing, but was unable to carry the momentum through and through to the next few days. This was extremely frustrating. All the patience, wisdom and calm that I had gathered and learnt during my JSFoo Pune days was slipping off and there was nothing that I could do about it except to let each day pass and hope for a good next day. It was in these moments of frustration that I would lose my patience with Sajjad on some days, and would go off-colour on other days. Yet, we managed to work together!
Despite the seeming haphazardness of the situation, our focus remained on doing a good workshop. I was told by some of my wise friends that when you desire to see someone succeed, you do everything possible in your capacity to make sure this happens. And, it will happen! Thus was the case with Sajjad – the desire to see him succeed.
Sajjad and I are like kids together – we have always been childlike with each other ever since we knew each other from around JSFoo Bangalore. Some of the best relationships in my life have been those that are childlike – filled with mirth over the smallest and tiniest of things, full of guffaws over silly things, laughter, a great sense of connection, timing and tuning with each other. I guess that is what made things work for Sajjad and me.
Handholding is toughest in the earliest days of the event. I often wondered whether I was giving enough ownership of the project to Sajjad or was I making too many decisions myself? Was I being too tough on Sajjad or backing him up too much on various occasions? Was he learning enough for himself or was I leading the way too much for him? I think Kiran helped here. There would be nights when he would read email threads that Sajjad was engaged in, and explain how he felt Sajjad was learning and responding well to situations. As Kiran got more and more confident about Sajjad, the task for me was to learn to let go more and more. Closer to the workshop days, Sajjad was fully in charge and very wired. He would ensure that he sat me down and got all the to-do lists and details done.
Closer to the workshop days, I was getting more and more frazzled and hassled. I had an accident with my scooty about two weeks before the workshop. I had fractured the bones of my little finger on the right hand and bruised a good part of my upper body as a result of the crash with a SUV on the road. Part of the focus from then on was to find a way to stay spirited and to recover. I was also on a good road of writing before this accident happened. I lost most of my momentum after the accident as the focus was on recovery and healing. The challenge was to pick everything back and to continue life as normal. Part of the reason why I managed to stay spirited after the accident was because I realized that worse could have happened to me, but I came out with very little. It was a nice experience in the next two weeks as I learnt that a person is differently abled when she has something missing or broken on her body. With the breaking of my little finger, I learnt how to perceive my world differently and to make sense of it with four fingers on the right hand!
Closer to the workshop days, I was also plunging more and more into my writing than managing the workshop. Nigel began working to make things happen. He deserves a very special mention. I think Nigel worked very hard in the last week of the workshop and by the end of the second day, he was dead tired. Call this Mallu brotherhood (:P) or call this Nigel, the person who is a fantastic team member!
As much as Sajjad is generous enough to say that I was backing him up on the two days of the workshop, I really think backing is what Billy does best when the event is drawing nearer. I am glad that Sajjad and Billy worked to get things together and as usual, despite things coming together and breaking down, Cartonama workshop happened and it was great.
Two mentions are important here. First is for Mikel and Schuyler – the two workshop trainers. I had met Mikel and Schuyler in 2007 when they came down to Bangalore. Mikel is a much changed person since I last met him. He exudes a wonderful sense of warmth with his demeanour and his eyes. It is amazing to be around him. Schuyler, on the other hand, is a curious cookie. I had read Schuyler’s blog posts a few days before he came down. I felt a great sense of intensity in the man as I read his analyses of events and occurrences. Schuyler also has a great sense of humour and great timing. Combine his outward appearance of a tough, mean, funny and knowledgeable guy with the intensity and humility that he bears within and you have, really, a curious cookie! I was most touched when Schuyler announced at the close of the workshop how humbling an experience it was for him to be with people who desired to learn and that their curiosity to learn humbled him. I believe this is the hallmark of a good teacher. Someday, when I am able to get to where Schuyler is, I will repeat his words loud and clear (and with enough voice modulation that Schuyler does :P)!
The second mention goes out to the participants of the workshop. Everything about the arrangements was not perfect – but everything is never always perfect. The trick is to learn to work with imperfections and make the most out of them. The workshop participants did just that. They had a strong desire to learn and they were always helping each other learn. I often found people talking to each other, helping when the other person was stuck, and generally bonding. If Cartonama has been a success, it is because the participants were amazing – down-to-earth, willing to help, willing to learn, making adjustments when they were needed and overall, having fun!
A couple of weeks before the Cartonama workshop, Kiran was responding to a twitter thread about sexism and negative attitudes towards women in technology circuits. He responded to the thread by applauding Anupama Sharma and myself for organizing JS conferences in India. I was irked when I read Kiran’s tweet because to me, organizing an event is only one part of what defines my identity as a person, as female, as woman, as a risk-taker, as a daughter, as a researcher, etc. Attitudes towards men and women can change when we build strong organizational cultures where men and women are not restricted to doing things that are presumably ‘natural’ to their gender. In HasGeek, I do some bits of organizing and a lot of learning. I don’t know the ABCs of technology, but I am learning the skill of working with people and developing the ability to maintain an open and inquiring mind. This is what I place value on. I also place value on being supportive, caring and ensuring that everyone has a good time at an event. To an outsider, this might seem as part of the (presumed) ‘essence’ of being a woman. To me, this is the highest value that I would place on anyone in society, be it man or woman. I am going into this tangent here because I am taking on from a point in Sajjad’s blog post where he mentioned how he enjoys working in HasGeek. I believe that it is the onus on each one of us to consciously work towards questioning what is deemed as ‘natural’ and ‘essence’ of genders. Genders are roles that we learn in the proces of socialization. They end up defining us for the rest of our lives, unfortunately. And gender roles are extremely violent because they compel us to behave in ways that are resentful and harmful in the short and long runs. How do we move forward from what we have learnt through social conditioning to building an environment where we learn to trust and respect each other, no matter what our genders? This is a question that I’d like to stay with during my time at HasGeek.
For now, Cartonama workshop has ended and a year full of events is what we have on our plates. I still have my thesis and writing and what not! I hope I can make the best of all the worlds and become stronger.
In the meantime, all rise for Sajjad, Nigel, Billy, Schuyler, Mikel and the Cartonama Workshop participants! <clap> <hip hip hurrah> <clap> <hip hip hurrah> <clap> <hip hip hurrah>
P.S. A very special mention for Parag Gupta who came in at the right time and helped us with the website and logo design, and fine tuning the text for the website. Parag is awesome to work with! There is a lot more to be heard about him in the coming days! And oh yes, Millers Beer bottles are beautiful – I learnt this one from Parag 😀