Monday 15 September 2014

Short Story 2014 Longlist, Bindu Saxena


Prologue: The protagonist of this story is, ‘Nano’ - a young woman who lived with techno-phobia. At a certain point the condition was so grave that she was afraid to even touch a computer! Who transformed Nano, and how she conquered her plight will you know in this story.
We all face problems, situations, inhibitions and challenges. My point of discourse here is not what those are. What I wish to convey is if you see any parallel between this story and your life, map your problems against it to get a new insight and solution.
”Why some of us think that a new learning is really not that important and necessary”, I ask myself.
Many of us manage with remote abilities. They listen to the old diskettes of their mental maps and no attention is paid to what’s new on the scene. People confess with self and others: “We are good in this but not good in that.” I ask, “Do they even try being good in ‘that’?” 
This notion of being at ease with what we know restricts our growth if we allow ourselves to rest in our self-created cocoon and swirl like a fetus in our own resonance.
 If you are one of those:You are trapped in an invisible box. You are on ‘autopilot’ mode. I need to rendezvous with you…
This complacency which makes us ‘content’ with what we are knowledgeable about becomes our self-fulfilling prophecies. There is no fire in our bellies, no hunger to learn, and nothing to look beyond. Result?
A day comes when we are so stuck in its boundaries that it causes death of ‘realization of our potentials’- to perform better and live happier.
It’s akin to using a flaked stone tool of Paleolithic era when the world has transgressed into Neolithic technology with polished tools.
Nano is my close friend. This smart woman lived with an Achilles’ heel: She was afraid of technology. She disbelieved she would ever learn to use computers, and justified that she didn’t need to, nor had time to learn.
 Well into her 40s, she holds a middle management position in a marketing company. A brilliant strategist whose contributions in marketing have been substantial!
Taking advantage of my closeness, I joked about her being silly at times and coached her in areas I found she needed to upgrade.
Having attained a good position on the totem-pole, she often invited jealousy from colleagues. I also heard she was ridiculed for being “techno-phobic.” Their judgmental attitude and rough hewn began to brew resentment in her. It hit her self-esteem. It reflected in her work. 

One fine day, she asked if I could help her learn to use computers. The voice was urgent. I said. “What happened that made you suddenly interested in learning?”
Techno-phobia is a common problem with people of this age group, but I was doubtful if she was really a victim?! She could easily learn once she found the need. With that background in mind, I pleasantly offered to help her.
She wanted to learn it all too soon and wanted to be perfect the first time itself! After an hour of working on her memos, she tried in vain to send them. Frustrated, she wanted to check out other programs.
I suggested she saved the files she had typed before she opened other applications. This suggestion being not registered, the computer froze up making her 2 hours of labor futile. The machine was hung up for a few seconds. She wanted to explore the internet. We got on to it. When she tried to type on the keyboard, nothing happened.
This process kept repeating whenever the machine was idle for 5 minutes, making her vividly unhappy. Her frustration soared. She began to feel I wasn’t genuinely helping her the way she wanted me to, and by the end of that evening her stress level went up. Her upsetting social dynamics was quite visible.
It was a bit discomforting for me, too!
While I’m deft at using computers, I never really sat down and helped somebody else learn. I learned by exploring and making mistakes, so I assumed others would do the same. Maybe I don’t know how to coach, I wondered.
My mind needed rest…

Did I make a mistake by agreeing to help her? While I had these self-doubts, she was frustrated with her snail progress. Exhausted, we quit that evening to re-group ourselves.
 I realized that teaching somebody to use computers and knowing how to work at it are two separate skills.
 It was frustrating not just for her, but for both of us. She fiddled and erred. Her inclination was obvious.
On the flip side she sounded like a broken record… ‘I wouldn’t be able to learn’ and often thought of ‘giving up’ - every time she encountered a problem.
Her problem was her ‘Invisible wall’ that poked to unchain her from its boundaries. “Until she removed these walls, it wasn’t possible for her to look beyond,” I thought.
Being a self-centered person, she never interacted with people unless there’s a strong need. She would always look for the solution to any problem only within her self-created boundaries. In the present situation also, she walked with pebbles in her shoe not knowing how to remove them!
Within her box, she could relate only to those who thought alike. She didn’t want to know what she didn’t know. When presented with an opportunity to learn, she was frustrated.
I had a strong opinion that until she discovered she was ‘in a box’ and ‘on autopilot,’ no amount of reflection could benefit her.
We all learn by making mistakes and she too had to learn by making hers.Protecting and preventing her from failing, would not yield results. She must need to work her way through it herself as I had to work through mine while making her learn – emerged this powerful insight in me!
My Box too had its boundaries that crippled me. I realized I haven’t explored and learned new things about the machine, in a long time, myself. So, I have to explore; fail to explore again and learn what I haven’t, before I could coach her.
I was determined that next day before I’d visit her, I should spend time learning what I hadn’t.“I have to be on a higher page as her to be able to inspire her.”  

While I slept with my game plan secure in mind, she was wide awake till mid-night struggling to learn, but having attained no results, she went back to her shell.
It was 10am when I woke up. My phone rang and she was on the line, wondering why I hadn’t shown up yet.
When I reached her house, she had a cheerful disposition. I learned that she had been reflecting. She made a conscious choice to let go her inhibitions. She wasn’t crest-fallen.
Armed with technology tools, with her native intelligence augmented by learning, she was confident to head for a breakthrough.
But, before it happened it was important for her to understand that her instincts no matter how well honed in other fields be, but when it came to computers, she had no prior experience.
She might develop intuitive judgments over time, but she would have to work on, and at it a lot, before it become a second nature. I assured her.
She made a significant progress. She was open to challenges. Her attitude changed from reactive to responsive, which was a positive shift. She wasn’t worried about preparing presentations in a jiffy; instead the focus was more on following instructions and surrendering to learning.
Her self-esteem was no longer attached to results. Even when the connection dropped, and she lost unsaved files, it didn’t perturb her.
I did not have much experience on the Web myself. I often got lost, so whenever she took a break, I tried to explore, and realized how exciting it was to see technology equalizing information! 

Together, we appreciated the partnership and expanded the capacity of our ’walls’ by pushing their boundaries. It was fun learning together!
With our openness and engaged flow, we forgot that we hadn’t had lunch. I offered to go pick up something.
To my surprise when I returned, she was well into her ‘comfort zone.’ There were 12 slides made already. Nice transitions and Clip art were chosen for them, and all set for presenting on the screen.
I could not contain my joy and screamed delightfully congratulating her for what all she had accomplished. I gave her a verbal nudge! For a moment, she took in what she did ‘disbelievingly’ and then beamed with joy.
After getting my sanction how adept she was in using Power Point and navigating the machine, she thanked me profusely for being supportive throughout this experience.

Her smile laughed at her ignorance - of her potentials to perform in a field she thought was not her forte.
In this process I also learned a lot, myself. I had a computer for a long time, but I was too lazy to explore the Web. In working with her, I learned ‘how to learn’ and that is the essence of coaching!
 In this cycle of learning, she and I stood at the same junction. Our paths might be different, but here we both needed to paddle in unison. I thanked her and returned home. She went on a holiday and was incommunicado for a couple of days.
The dawn of the New Year saw her making some great presentations to her Big Cheese. She even got the honchos turned on about using computers themselves.
She ‘discovered’ herself. She explored further, and paced farther. She didn’t even know when she broke open her ‘invisible walls’ - and shifted from ‘autopilot’ to ‘action’ mode.

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