“Stretch because it tests you” – Anand Shah

Today was one of those days when everything around you keeps collapsing like a pack of cards. When, every little thing seems to exist just to stretch you beyond the limits. When, a stone seems like a mountain and every step seems like a steep climb. When, hassled and harassed by life and travel in this maximum City, I found myself split into two clones inside my mind. And then, the clones started a reflection conversation peppered with tough questions. “Why am I doing this?” – the question that always seems to bring out that  micro bit of the real me. The same question that Race Across America participants get asked a few days into their cycling ride. Most bikers just ignore it. Some think about it and very few tell why they are doing it. This is the question that unravels the vestiges of false pride, ego and expectations in me. Why am I doing what I am doing now?

To begin the day, I traveled from Chembur to S. Cruz to pick up some books for my Children, donated by a kind hearted person from my network. This meant, changing two trains and a long auto ride. By the time I reached School, I was drenched in sweat and exhausted by the travel and traffic. There, I stepped into a classroom full of trash. I have been teaching the kids that a classroom is like masjid or mandir and they should keep it clean like one. So, we started cleaning the class together and just when we were settled and got started with the lesson, another teacher asked us to shift to an adjacent classroom (which had no furniture) because they wanted to use ours for a exam. Last minute changes and surprises. Grrr. Another 30 minutes wasted in the chaos. Anyway, at this point, I remembered some lines from the Teaching As Leadership book. I quote ” The most successful teachers and leaders are quick to make strategic adjustments when incoming data and information signal a change in the circumstances. These teachers bring wise adaptive judgment to their plans as they execute them, staying loyal not to the path in the plan but to its ultimate purpose” There have been so many surprises at School over the last 4 months and something tells me that it is just going to be like this and I must be prepared to accommodate such changes and still keep going, keeping in mind the “ultimate purpose” which is student achievement.

I digress. So, at the end of a really exhaustive day, I walk to the train station, get into a crowded train and it started raining. Not the heavy rain but the constant annoying one. When I got down at Kurla, it was raining heavily. The auto Q line had 50+ people waiting. None of the buses to my route were in sight. I had no umbrella. I was drenched in rain, my extra bag broke and papers started spilling out and that was the point when I thought I had stretched myself fully for the day. Just somehow, when the rain started pounding heavily, I sighted a bus that goes till about a few kms from home. Ran, got in and heaved a sigh of relief. But, when I got down at Diamond garden, it was pouring  and I just could not get any auto/cab or bus. Stretch. I told myself. Accept. “Matra sparshas tu kaunteya, Sitoshna sukha dukha da” Thank you Lord Krishna. Kind of you for these words. A year ago, such a day would have left me utterly frustrated, sad, fuming and I would have come home angry. Livid. Not now. Instead, there was a constant reflection going on. So many questions and answers. Debates. Sankirtan in the mind. Cymbals and drums included. There, squished between so many sweaty bodies in the narrow aisle of the bus, I just kept recollecting what Anand Shah told us at the leadership forum – “Immerse because it teaches you. Stretch because it tests you”. If I think this is misery, how are the millions of poor living everyday life in this insane city ? How much more difficult is their life? What soothes their wounds? What brings comfort to them at the end of a tough day?

I don’t know the answers. Back in the barracks, I am just lying down, thinking about this intense experience. I am sure that there are many more such days coming up. How I accept them and learn from them will help me deal with life itself in a better way.

If you have reached till here, God bless you. I’d like to share some ‘lesson learnt’ for a TFI aspirant or applicant:

  • When you choose a placement city, be very sure and base your decision on as many solid reasons as possible. (I don’t regret my choice of Mumbai but I do think I should put in more thought into where I live in this city for year 2 of my fellowship)
  • As a Teacher, you are already handling so many demands and challenges. Travel to and from home should not be one. Spend time thinking about travel and food. Talk to fellows and friends before choosing to live in a place in your placement city.
  • Try to minimise all other challenges and stress factors in life during the fellowship. Everything else that drains your energy outside teaching is going to be detrimental to the progress of your kids.





  1. S. Sadaruddin

    This blog post is very helpful and inspiring. I seem to come across your blog everyday…it’s very entertaining.

  2. Pingback: Pain, shell and The Prophet | The stories from our Teach For India journey
  3. kanika

    You really have way with words.Description of your TFI experience is moving and inspiring at the same time.I am applying for the Fellowship, but still cant zero down the placement city.I want to opt for mumbai but after reading ur posts i realise tarvel will be a challenge in itself.Any suggestion is more than welcome.
    Thanks in advance!
    kanika 🙂

  4. Srinivasan Swaminathan

    Hi Kanika
    Thank you for the kind words of appreciation. If you have been to Mumbai and liked it in the past, it should be OK. But, though the travel here is crazy, if you carefully choose where you live (ideally, within a few kms from your school) traveling would not be such a frustrating thing here

    Wish you all the best !

    • Kanika

      Thank you for the feedback, Srini.

      I could complete my application today after a lot of technical difficulties. TFI team was very supportive in the entire process.But in the midst of technical chaos I forgot to download the reference form. What can I do about it now? I have the downloaded PDF version of application but no reference form.


  5. Kanika

    Thank you once again, Srini!

    Ankit and TFI team, both have clarified that they don’t need recommendation form. It was a technical error.


  6. kanika

    Hey there,

    I have received a mail regarding first review.Looking forward to phone interview.

    How are your champions and superstars doing?

    I guess you seem busy, i dont see any new posts…


    • srini091

      Hi Kanika,
      Congrats on the first review mail and wish you all the best for the phone !

      Classes are going well and now we are in a phase when most Municipal teachers have gone on census duty and we are trying to get the kids come to school without fail. Challenge !
      Thanks for reminding me..I am going to write today, given that tomorrow is a off day


  7. kanika

    Hello there…passed through the phone interview and assessment centre day also went well. I really enjoyed the sample teaching session.I chose ‘how to make singular nouns plura’…used some candies and made some cards…I hope they liked it…keeping my fingers and toes crossed 😉

  8. Srini

    That’s awesome to hear ! WIsh you all the best Kanika and do keep in touch. You can also mail me – srini.swaminathan2010 (at)

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