20 Questions with Dakshayani – A Lawyer turned Teacher, Writer, Classical Singer, Public Speaker, Blogger and Volunteer

Interviewed by Deepakar Livingston, Advocate, Bombay High Court
and Ritvik Kulkarni V BSL LLB, ILS Law College, Pune

Dakshayani graduated from ILS Law College in 2014 with a First Class Degree. We are interviewing someone who herself has interviewed the likes of Naushad Forbes (Director Forbes Marshall and Vice-President CII),  Apurv Nagpal ( Ex. MD and CEO HMV), Mahesh Yagnaraman (MD and CEO First Energy) , Padma Vibhushan Pandit.Hariprasad Chaurasia, Padma Bhushan Pandit Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Padma Shri Ustad Shahid Parvez.

my kids 2

She says,The beauty is that you can do anything but when you add purpose to that thing it becomes your passion”.

Here’s an introduction to Dakshayani:

I managed to become independent at the age of 18!

“I graduated from ILS Law college in 2014.  After graduation, I have engaged myself in various activities apart from law.  One such endeavour is the Bansuri Foundation which I will speak about in a short while. My father is a mechanic and with family of 4 members with only one earning member my parents try to make ends meet every single day. Though I come from Ratnagiri (small town in Kokan region), from a lower middle class family my parents gave me the best possible education and I managed to become independent at the age of 18 itself.

I worked part-time in Akanksha Foundation as a teacher and HR Associate after which I joined my current position as a Community Outreach Leader at Bansuri Foundation. I have fortunately been able to overcome many financial and emotional odds because of my education and strong support from Mandar (My Husband) from the time we have been together. Well,I am a cat lover and avid reader.

  1. Why Law?

Joining a law school by the “principle of elimination”

Funnily I was quite adamant when it came to choosing ARTS stream. I did 11th science and then fought with parents and relatives to allow me to take Arts as I could not stand the fact that I was doing something which I did not like!!! Obviously my parents thought I would give up because of their stubbornness; however to their surprise I decided to appear in the Arts stream 12th exam externally.

I thought of joining a law school by the “principle of elimination” which am sure many of you would also have adopted! I never wanted to pursue Science or commerce and never would have loved to learn history or political science in depth  for graduation. I also felt that law will always be helpful no matter what I choose to do later. So that’s how, I landed in ILS.

  1. How was 5 years in ILS? Does law help you in pursuing your goals? Do you have any plans of pursuing LL.M or any other plans for further studies?

“ILS DID NOT HELP ME THE WAY IT COULD HAVE”! “WHAT ILS SHOWED ME WAS CONSTANT COMPETITION”! 

(This is my personal experience and therefore, strictly my opinion)

Sorry to say, but ILS did not really help me the way it could have! This is partly true because I was not in ILS to study law (really passionately) and I guess that also made a whole lot of difference. In your first year you try to figure out what all is possible and what all you can do, however the attitude that you need to sustain through these experiments is what I lacked! I did not even know what a moot court competition was nor did I know anything about legal aid camps, parliamentary debates, how clubs functioned in ILS etc.,

Here it becomes very important to understand how ILS is a place which brings together students of not only various ethnicities, religions but also of various economic backgrounds. More importantly, the diverse economic backgrounds also mean that the resources that these students have at hand are very distinct from one another, the prior knowledge is quite different, the lifestyles and thus the expectations are also quite different. Thus a person like me who comes from a lower middle class family, from a village needs a good mentor who can help the student to grasp the initial cultural shocks and help chalk a realistic and intelligent path forward despite the circumstances.

Thus, ILS never became a place which inspired me to achieve my goals or for that matter, my growth and improvement! What ILS showed me was constant competition and an uncanny obsession of proving that ‘you as individual’ were always exceptional. By nature I am a person who can work hard but I can never stress myself/burden myself with any expectations to the extent that I forget to be humble, loving and compassionate. Thus I never found any excitement or solace in competitions, workshops or anything that happened after university results. (PS: I applied for revaluation only 2 times, in my 1stsem; I could never after that fight ridiculously for marks!)

Post law I choose MA in Education in TATA INSTITUTE OF SOCIAL SCIENCES, as I felt that was a place for me to be!

power to teach

  1. You have been a primary school teacher for 2.5 years even after law school? How has been the experience so far? Why did you not choose to be a law school professor?

I felt challenged both emotionally and physically.

I choose teaching because I need a fair paying job but I stayed in teaching because I had found something magical. At the end of the day, what you do must matter to you. For me, I always thought that I would have been a much different person if at the right times in my life I had a chance to meet teachers/mentors.

I started off by being a center teacher at Akanksha. I taught English and Maths to students in the Kasarwadi community and for the first time I felt challenged both emotionally and physically. I realized how teaching a bunch of 36 odd children at different levels was not an easy game and required immense planning and execution skills. Plus, as these children come from difficult backgrounds, disturbed households, uneducated and violent parents; as a teacher you must be emotionally strong to provide them with great care and love. Equally it is your role to help them understand the importance of education. You are also a role model to them and thus the way you speak, dress; your personal values are always under a constant scanner; as they learn and imbibe from you, every single moment.

I gradually developed interests in teaching these students that LAW just became a degree to be completed/accomplished. Teaching, learning and understanding these children, parting education and serving communities became my new subjects of study!

Thus staying a teacher after completing law school was not even a choice. It was the default option that I had. ( I can never imagine myself in a law firm or court for that matter!)

  1. You were teaching at the Akansha Foundation even whilst pursuing law. You have been always passionate about teaching. Please tell us a bit more about.

“I could be honest and my students would be the same to me”!

Oh well I was so hard pressed to become independent, as my parents needed financial support as soon as possible, thus I decided to work part time as ILS left me with ample of time at hand. That is how I stumbled upon Akanksha Foundation.

The way I travelled my path as a student, as a teenager and then as a post 18 year old; I always felt the need of guidance but unfortunately the required support never came by. Thus I being able to help someone like me, gave me immense pleasure. Plus I thought, around kids I could always be the way I am. There was no need to call anyone sir/madam, take orders and abuses; I could be honest and my students would be the same to me.

Also I learnt a great deal from my colleagues at Akanksha. It was an inspiring place where you met talented and hard-working people. I made life-long friends who were/are double my age and experience. I found life examples of how one ought to be in the society!

I also feel that once you develop taste for teaching. The more you do it, the more you like it. However frankly that does not mean it is a smooth ride; it is the bumpiest! I still have fundamental questions about a lot of teaching practices and beliefs. I still have no evidences for some critical philosophies in which I believe. I still cry when my class fails (yes that can happen with any teacher). I remember when I joined as a full time teacher, after ILS, I cried after 3 days of teaching because I did not know anything about the kids that I was teaching and I felt helpless when I went to my classes. During my bus travels from home to school and back I would either be anxious or troubled about my classes and my watery eyes would make it difficult for me to even play the songs on my playlist!!

When your classes don’t work, when kids don’t learn there are many reasons. As a teacher you always focus on what you do but fail to focus on the real cause. I understood how childrens’ background, their parents, their neighbourhood mattered when they sat in my class. I would make regular community visits to understand my kids better, in their real, daily life context which made my teaching experience better.

  1. You are a classical musician and singer. When did you develop an interest for classical music and start learning it? Do you also teach classical music? Have you learnt to play any instruments as well?

I have received training in Kirtana but had no education of Indian Classical Music. Basically I am an avid listener. Fortunately, my ears are scanners for good and bad notes, so no note goes unturned! I have performed kirtana from the age of 10 and I continue to do so, till date. I practice Indian Classical Music on my own (also my husband helps me a great deal). I teach basics of Indian Classical Music to beginners. Plus I also help people appreciate Indian Classical Music.

Pagdandi Performance

  1. You founded a Trust by the name for Baithak Foundation to promote/teach and reach out to people on classical music. Tell us more about it. What does the organization propose to achieve? How exactly is the Foundation aiming to achieve it?

“Our plan is to help children appreciate Indian Classical Music”

Our Pilot Study (for 1 year): We (I and Mandar) started teaching music voluntarily at 2 locations in Pune, last year. One was an after school center and other was a school. Our experience with students was immensely gratifying and encouraging. Students who had never heard classical music would sit hour and a half in one place watching a live concert recording or a documentary and then practice basic “swarsadhana”! When asked about the music festivals that happen in Pune, students responded by saying that they did not know what a music festival was!!. When asked about “Sawai Gandharwa Mahotsav” they said that they have never heard of it. They were actually surprised to know that thousands of people from India and abroad attend this festival. They had no clue of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi or Pandit. Kumar Gandharva. This reality actually knocked us down.

We were (and actually are) terribly upset about how these festivals, concerts and gatherings are an affair only for very few in our society. We were actually unhappy about the status and I think that made us move forward. I must mention that we were a little apprehensive about how students would really feel about classical music. Many listeners who have never heard classical music before carry certain myths – classical is slow, it is boring, it is too technical etc. However, to our surprise we heard this – I can hear this music for long, it does not hurt my ears – oh this is so interesting and so basic. I think kids themselves gave us the reason to believe that we are on the right path.

Currently, we have started regular music class in Babu Jagjeevanram School, Yerawda and Ahilyadevi Holkar School, Aundh, which means that every division of 30 students has 2 classes of music per week. We have our own music fellows who teach a curriculum designed in-house by Baithak Foundation. Our plan is to help children appreciate Indian Classical Music, know the basics and explore it via a medium.

We have also been able to connect with the Blind Girl’s School in Kothrud where we are teaching 20 students. These students are being taught by one mentor who will teach them vocals on regular basis. The idea is to help these girls excel to such an extent that they can become professional artists.We conduct free workshops and events in cafes and companies around the city to help people appreciate Indian Classical Music.

The Foundation is also creating comic books for students between the age of 9 and12 which will introduce the life of great musicians to them.

Moving forward we wish to reach more schools, children and parents to teach and introduce them to Classical Music- the manifestation of our culture!

  1. You have co-founded an enterprise by the name Seed Shower? What does the entity do? What is your current role in the entity?

Seed Shower is a communications and strategy consultancy co-founded with my husband Mandar. As we both (especially Mandar) are good at communication we thought of leveraging our skills for professional gains. Mandar leads Seed Shower and I am more like a back up when required. We are write corporate history, white papers, web content/articles etc. based on client requirements. We consult SMEs and Start-ups on developing their communication strategy and messaging.

  1. You have published your debut book Pi-Premachi Kimmat Kai, a Marathi fiction novel recently in 2015. Tell us more about the writer in you. When did you start writing this one?

I think I am terrible at writing. I write when it comes to me. Sometimes when it does not come, I keep writing but I immediately edit it when I get the writer bug. I write in English and Marathi. I actually wrote the book with my husband, who is a regular at writing. He wrote his pieces at a 2000 words per day average; whereas I wrote all my parts within 7 days during Christmas Vacation! Writing comes to me when I cannot contain what I feel and I find the need to consciously express it. Whatever I write is very emotional and fluid; as I find it very difficult to always theorize my experiences. Writing is an exhaustive process for me and yet it is intoxicating.

  1. You have completed Masters in Elementary Education from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (2014-2016) with a 7/10 pointer. Why did you go for this course after Law? Who and what inspired you to take up this course? How was the experience there? Tell us all about your course.

“2 years I literally had no life beyond TISS”

I had worked as a teacher and I felt the strong need to know the theory of education to help me be a better teacher. This course was a unique opportunity to meet other educationists and teachers. The course was designed in a manner that would help working professionals. This was also my chance to meet the best education faculties in India. We had many guest professors and field workers who taught us from their several years of experience. We had a batch which consisted people from all over India and thus helped me gain an overall perspective of the approach by teachers across India. The course was a dual mode course; which meant that we stayed in TISS in the month of May and October and the rest of the months we worked and submitted assignments every Monday night. 2 years I literally had no life beyond TISS. Our days in the campus would pass so quickly while we managed to conduct/attend 4 lectures, library sessions, presentations and special events every single day.

  1. You have completed Certificate course in Creativity, Innovation and Change from Penn State University. What is the significance of this course? How did you identify this course?

I was quite curious about the phenomena of creativity and wanted to know how I and my students look at it; hoping that it would help me work better with them. Plus, when you have creative thoughts you don’t necessarily always know how they will work and thus wanted to understand the connection with change. The course helped me understand how to manage my creative process and how to boost it. Plus it definitely highlighted how I can use my creative ideas to actually change things which I did not find appropriate.

  1. Please tell us about the course you taught on Education, Work and Livelihood as a part of the Diploma in Youth Development of Tata Institute of Social Sciences for Centre for Youth Development, Pune.

I was asked to teach the module on Education and livelihood to a bunch of young students who planned to work in the social sector. The module expected me to teach various educational philosophies and life skills. I just tried sharing whatever I had learnt in my past 4/5 years. I taught them on weekends. . My Saturdays and Sundays for 2 months were occupied with this and of course it was a great learning experience for me. I learnt how to engage with adult students and incorporate their experiences to develop a common understanding of current education system and livelihood opportunities.

  1. You are currently writing the official biography of great flute maestro Pandit Nityanand Haldipur. How is it coming up? When do you propose to publish it?

We have been on this book for the past 1 year. This book will be a masterpiece on Pandit Nityanand Haldipur’s humble and committed life story which will help us find the human within us. We hope to publish both English and Marathi versions simultaneously in the next 2 years.  Let me mention here, he was really confused when we approached him to allow us to write about him. He said, ‘I am really surprised to know why you have approached me. I am no great. I am the most selfish. I am doing my work as I am selfish, I find joy in it.’ He is a great human being. He plays flute inspite of facial paralysis and takes care of Guruma Annapurna Devi, full time as she is bed ridden now.

  1. You are also interested and engaged in Creative performances? What do you perform and where all have you performed?

“Saints have universal messages which we must decipher to relate to our current contexts”.

I basically perform to help newer audiences appreciate Indian Classical music and Saint poetry. Sadly, both seem to have become obsolete in today’s modern lifestyle. I find them greatly relevant to today’s crisis and thus that brings to me a moral responsibility of letting more people know how Classical music and ancient Indian saint poetry is still very much relevant. Also, Classical Music and Saint poetry have always been seen as a class affair or a spiritual affair. Many think that saints and their works are rooted in religion and/or their belief in GOD and thus they move away from it. However saints have universal messages which we must decipher to relate to our current contexts. When anything stays in boundaries it has limits but when you break boundaries you are basically open to all. I try to help listeners break these boundaries of various notions, stereotypes that they hold for Indian Classical Music and Saint Poetry.

  1. You volunteered for a period of 6 months in Chanakya Mandal as Course Coordinator for the Virtual learning Classroom (VLC) course. What is the nature of the course? Why did you choose to volunteer for such a long period?

Basically my friend left the job in between (God knows why) and the organizers were badly looking for a replacement, so I pitched in. I also realized that this would give me a great chance to learn the tech behind virtual classrooms, meet great professors/individuals. Also Chanakya Mandal is run by Mr. Avinash Dharmadhiri (Ex-IAS) who would also give regular lectures and also approve my reporting and documentation of the entire program. This was basically a golden opportunity to work with an IAS officer and learn a great deal.

  1. Do you intend to practice law in the Indian Courts anytime in future?

So my way is lighting a lamp than fighting with darkness!

Oh no! I can never do that!!! I am definitely not a person who can fight.

I have an inert ability to find a workable solution. I also believe that I do not have endurance required to sustain in a tough system. What I rather enjoy is focusing on how we can create better people who will be honest and happy. So my way is lighting a lamp than fighting with darkness! I am not a tough hearted person; I am rather more effective when I work in happy places, spaces which are constantly overflowing with high positive energy.

  1. What is your opinion about your pupil pursuing law and pursuing their passion/ interests which is different from law?

I think ultimately one must do what one finds fulfilling. I know that our times are difficult (every generation has its own challenges) but what will stay with us is what we choose to do and not what we regret we have not done! A conscious decision of leading a meaningful life can bring joy. Some may find this joy in LAW while some like us may find it in education or music. The beauty is that you can do anything but when you add purpose to that thing it becomes your passion.

  1. You are an ardent debater and public speaker. You have the credits of winning several prestigious debate and elocution competitions across Maharashtra like Ranade Debate Competition (Maharashtra’s Oldest Debate Competition), Hard Talk- Jointly organized by Cummins College of Engineering and SAE India, Sir Vishveshwarayya State Level Elocution Competition (Organised by COEP) etc., Tell us the significance of debating in a law student’s life and how have you perceived it all throughout?

I am not qualified to speak on a law student’s behalf; however I will state what debate competitions taught me in general. I met some fantastic human beings through these competitions. (I met Mandar, my husband since he is a great debater too!)These competitions taught me to be coherent and articulate. I automatically researched and acquired knowledge about various topics. I also learnt how information and knowledge were important but opinion and a stand point mattered a lot because those gave you the actionables. I obviously learned to fight and leave it and not force my opinions down through someone.

 

  1. You have interviewed the likes of Naushad Forbes (Director Forbes Marshall and Vice-Presient CII), ApurvNagpal ( Ex. MD and CEO HMV), Mahesh Yagnaraman (MD and CEO First Energy) , Padma Vibhushan Pandit. HariprasadChaurasia, Padma Bhushan Pandit Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Padma Shri Ustad Shahid Parvez.  Tell us your experiences with them? Which one is your favourite interview and why?

“Interviewing is like a bug, I am sure you know what this means!!”

“We had to interview Naushad at 11 am and I had my LAW exam at 2 pm!!”

You learn so much in such less time! So I and Mandar decided to interview musicians as we loved music and then we just began. We started writing to big artists, local artists and to our surprise all of them responded positively. No one ever mentioned that they were busy or uninterested in meeting 2 young college students! That’s actually something that I learnt from meeting artists/industrialists – they always have time! They make time for students or for anyone as they find it important to share what they know, what they have!! I remember how we desperately wanted to interview Naushad Forbes and we knew a person who was interning in his company. We made our friend speak about the interview on the last day of his internship when he had 15 minutes to describe his experience to Naushad. The next day we received a call from his secretary saying that he had 15 minutes for us on a Wednesday. We had to interview him at 11 am and I had my LAW exam at 2 pm but yet this was an opportunity of lifetime and we did not want to miss it, at any cost.  Our friendship with him continues even today after so many years as he continues to stay an inspiration. He taught us to make time for everything that is important no matter how small it may seem to you, personally. He teaches us to be humble and human, no matter how exceptionally intelligent you are!

I can go on and on with these interviews! Every interview has made us a better human being. Every interview has helped us identify exceptional qualities in ordinary looking personalities!

pi book lauch by avinash dharmadhikari

  1. You have performed more than 250 kirtans (an art form involving- theme based story-telling and singing of ancient poetry) in numerous villages of Maharashtra. How did you manage to do that? When was your first Kirtan? You have also participated and conducted numerous programmes in the ‘Yuva Wani’ broadcast series on All India Radio, Pune. Tell us about that as well.

My first Kirtan was performed in a small temple in Ratnagiri in front of my Guru and family members. I was in grade 5 then. I started learning kirtan because I always enjoyed listening to them as a kid. Hailing from a religious Hindu family benefited me as I had quick access to holy books, poetry, many Sanskrit treatises and as a kid I was always hungry for books! Slowly I started performing across the Ratnagiri district as I always accompanied my Guru for his Kirtanas. I soon performed at State level Kirtan sammelans and was invited at many places to perform. I still perform at least 2/3 times a year. I perform for the love of the art and thus don’t charge any fees for my performance, I am usually invited in remote villages who have very less/ or has no paying capacity.

  1. What is your message to young students, in particular law students? How does one with similar interests that of you get in touch with you for some assistance from your end?

Try fast, fail fast and learn fast!! Not trying is a sin! As students and human beings we have a lot to learn! Keep meeting people and keep learning from their experiences!!

Do email me directly at   athalyedakshayani@gmail.com

*************

We thank Dakshayani for this extremely passionate and genuine interview and her valuable time she invested in this.  We could fortunately get hold of the best person who fits our title ‘Journeys through the path less traveled’ on this Teachers’ day.

In the process of interviewing her, we learnt amazing things she has learnt and her personal/ professional experiences which have indeed made her strong and determined! It would be no surprise to know that after half a decade, interviewing her will expose and reflect an entirely new gamut of experiences unrelated that we read now!

Lots of happiness and wishes to her; and to her husband Mr. Mandar!! We trust that they both would continue to contribute their best to the society and community like now!!

my kids

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