Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Monday Musings 219 – …and it passed away!

Monday Musings 219 – …and it passed away!

A year passing away is at best a symbolic event, if at all it can be called an event – for in reality nothing really happens on that day. There is nothing big bang about the day, the year passes away in sleep really. So like all his ancestors 2014 also will pass way tonight. May its soul rest in peace.

Each year has its own biography, adorned with events and idiosyncrasies, for each year we give the year an opportunity to swing from the heights of imaginative brilliance to the lows of mind numbing stupidities. It is through this concoction the year acquires a flavor, so distinctly its own. At the end of 12 months, on the day of its passing the specific events are forgotten and may be they are irrelevant, only the lingering taste of it remains. It’s like food. Once the food is cooked and eaten, only its zayka remains. Now zayka is an interesting word – it means a combination of taste, aftertaste and flavor. The question then is what is the zayka that is left behind as the year has passed. That and only that matters.

The counter question is equally powerful – does passing off of a year really matter? What is the fuss about passing off of the number on a measuring tool called the calendar? The sooner we recognize the ephemeral nature of things, people and fortunes, the sooner we shall rest in peace – pun intended. Our significance in the larger scheme of things is always a heightened mirage, a story of indispensability we have been telling ourselves only to delude the mind, quite well knowing that the world will go on even without us, may be a wee bit better. So this soul will drink an extra glass in exasperation while everyone around him will drink in celebration.

I like the internet forward which says it best – “we all have two lives. The second one starts when we realize we only have one”.  It can be a truly liberating view. In the last few years, just like everyone I have made a few resolutions, missed following most of them by the end of January, but managed to limp forward with a few of them. I don’t think there is anything wrong in making resolutions but it will be na├»ve to believe in its magical ability to make things any better that what they were, a fact that will become amply clear by end of January or at best by end of March. The recognition and the realization that there is only one life or its miniature version, that this year will exist only once can be very burdensome or can be very liberating. It decides our attitude towards that very abstract notion called time.
I ask myself what is my attitude towards time and get no clear answers. Do I treat it like a perishable goods and hence with soft hands, fearful to spend it on things that do not merit spending something as precious? Do I treat it with nonchalance of a king, who knows that he has enough and more of it and hence treats time with disdain? Do I ignore it like one would ignore seasons, for they come and go, of their own accord and over whom we have little control – for we can only chose our clothes and not the season? I ask myself much more and get no clear answers.

So I also ask myself, how should I treat this day which shall pass away in its sleep? Should I treat it as just another day or should I make an event out of it, just like many around me are making? I don’t have clear answers.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Monday Musings 218 - Two things

Monday Musings 218 - Two things
The title may be a shameless rip off, but then who cares when the point I make it is original. Then I also ask myself what if the point is equally a rip off and I tell myself who cares as long as the articulation is new. Didn’t someone say, the tale is in the telling!

So here are the two things. The first one is actually a question that I wonder about. Let me share the set of questions first and then I will share what makes me wonder about it. What makes the beginning of a trend? When can one say that something or someone ‘created/started/ignited’ a thing which others picked up and soon many more started to do or talk or write about and hence one can safely call it a trend? What happens when established names, celebrities and icons pick up, accidentally or deliberately, what may have been dealt with already by a novice or a newbie, but by sheer virtue of their established stardom walk away with a lion’s share of the credit of having started the trend?

Three novels hit the Indian market in the last few months with practically the same theme, if not the same plot. The protagonists, male or female from the heartland of Bihar and their story of adjustments, trials, exploration and discovery in the hallowed corridors of the Delhi University. The contrast is pretty obvious – Bihar and its teeming millions, uncouth and desi in the popular imagination, an archetype popularized by the inimitable Lalu, set against the sophisticated and elitist Delhi university. Sparks had to fly! First came the bilingual ‘What a loser/Loser kahin ka’ by the new kid on the block, Pankaj Dubey, then came ‘Half Girlfriend’ by the celebrity author Chetan Bhagat and finally ‘Your dreams are mine now’ by Ravindra Singh, another established name.

So who started the trend of spotting that there is a story in pitching these contrasts against each other and weave a story around it? It is an amazing context that was begging to be explored. Imagine in erstwhile Hindi movies how class was the context that was juiced out for decades – the rich girl/poor boy or vice versa. The story itself was immaterial as much was the potential that such a contrast provided, something that was fascinating enough to be written about in the confidence that thousands will be keen to watch. The person who spotted this potential of the plot was a genius. Once spotted many more added their genius in exploring in multiple shades and nuances this basic plot. Pankaj Dubey, by that yardstick and in that sense, must take the credit for spotting the potential of the story that lies in the tales of thousands of students that come from mofussil India and what they go through in the elite educational institutions in the process of adjustments and integration. I also believe that the choice of making the protagonist from Bihar was equally a stroke of brilliance because Bihar represented the most entertaining version of that caricature. However a point must be made in haste, that for Pankaj, in contrast to the other two authors, it would have been not only a literary pursuit but also cathartic – for he himself was the Bihari in DU. Only he would really know where the shoe pinched. So take a bow Mr. Dubey for giving voice to people like us, who have had similar stories. (By the way I can offer you another plot – how about the deadly combination of being a sardar from bihar in big institutions – do you smell a book in that entertaining concoction? In case you do, do not forget to pay me royalty fee!!)

The second point that I wish to make is really how amazing this experience really is. I am sure across decades the student migrants from the belly of India into the hallowed campuses have engendered a hundred struggles. These struggles sometimes funny, sometimes tragic forge a personality or destroys it. The responses have been seamless assimilation or traumatic alienation or any shade in between these two extremes. The elite or the urban would never understand the impact of these struggles for this was never their journey to be understood or empathized and hence a non issue. I also know for sure that in hindsight most of these stories are happy stories because they leave the protagonist stronger and better placed to deal with that bitch/dog called life. This struggle may not be romantic or grand enough but for the person who has gone through it, is significant enough. So here is three cheers to all those from the hinterland who will land up to the urban universities in India every year with starry eyes, a desi heart and an ‘aluminum box on his head’

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Monday Musings 217 - Two tales for the cubiclewallahs

Monday Musings 217 - Two tales for the cubiclewallahs

Two conversations over the last week stayed with me – one was the disdain wreaked on me by friends back home on an innocuous question like “What do I really do at office” and the second was a conversation about what keeps some managers interested in their teams even when they move on.
The first generation job holders find it difficult to explain to his/her brethrens back home as to what do they really do at office. They understand work in simple terms – if you are a farmer you till the land, if you are a driver you drive the car, if you are a miner you enter the mines, if you are shopkeeper you open the shop every morning and sell, if you are a doctor you wait for folks to fall ill so that you can offer cure and if you are an engineer you make things. My folks understand work through the prism of the life of an ACC cement township, where every morning hundreds would trickle in every morning at the sound of a loud siren that would indicate the beginning of the 8 to 4 shift, an afternoon siren at 12.30 to indicate lunch and an evening siren at 4 to indicate end of shift, when the same thousands would trickle out – a tad tired and a tad dirty. In between what they really did was not difficult to understand – some ran machines, some picked up stuff, some made entries so on and so forth.
They found it difficult understand just as I found it herculean to explain, what I really did at office. For instance the notion of attending and calling meetings one after the other the whole day and then repeat it 5 days a week was pretty amusing to them. For instance a childhood friend after having struggled to understand what we really do in those meetings remarked, “So when do you guys work?” I kept silent. Another friend was not that kind when he remarked “so you make all that money by a few people sitting in a circle and just…err….talking and doing nothing, is it?” I swallowed pride but smiled but have not talked to him when he added “we do that all the time but our parents quite disapprove of it”.  
I am sure someday they will realize that we are a hard working lot and earn our pizza with the sweat of our brow…mmmm….ok not really sweat of the brow, but we do sweat. The notion of work is in the hands and head of the worker and just like one man’s food is another man’s poison, one man’s work can be another man’s leisure.
The second thought was around how do managers behave once they move on to another role or another company? Do they keep calling old team members to find out what is happening and whether the world has actually come to an end? There are some matured ones who stay away consciously and purposefully because they recognize that what is worse than a breakup is to call up your ex and check about the new partner.
However many are not matured enough. They would relish calling the old team members to figure out how is it working with the new person and subtly fish for compliments as how things were so much better under him/her than now. Indispensability is the aphrodisiac for managers. There is unmatched joy in hearing about the ‘good old days…with him of course”. Subordinates are also smart because they understand the subtleties of this call and fuel it appropriately while praising how ‘meaningful/enjoyable etc” life was under the previous regime. Such managers damage the purpose of continuity in the teams those they had nourished and built, but more importantly they betray their own insecurities, which is up for display for those whom he had led with the assurances of high conduct only in the recent past. I feel sorry for them and then I ask myself if I had some something similar consciously or unconsciously ever. Suddenly I don’t like what I am writing and so I stop.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Monday Musings 216 -The irrationality of quick change

Monday Musings 216 – The irrationality of quick change
The print and electronic media is filled with the 6 monthly report card of Mr. Modi. Every observer worth his ink and byte is adding his two bits on this subject. The general theme describes these 6 months as a lot of fan fare and blitzkrieg but not of much change on the ground. Many also consider Mr. Modi as lucky as some of the external factors like oil process have softened and so inflation control is not entirely his doing. Napoleon would have concurred because legend has it that when he used to recruit a general, apart from testing on skills of war he would also ask “but….is he lucky?”
I am more intrigued about general hurry everyone is in finding earth shattering change of nation correction within a span of 6 months, particularly when the mess took much longer to be created. I am not a big fan of Mr. Modi, his brand of politics and his persona per se, but this is not about him. I find similar theme at play in organizations very often.
A new manager in a team, a new leader in the function and a new executive in the organization are all burdened by the expectation of quick changes, overnight transformation and solving permanent and amicable solutions to longs standing problems, and to use a phrase used earlier, particularly when everyone realizes that the mess took far longer to create. Actually every time I see such a manager, leader and the chief executive, I feel sorry for him/her. I also believe it is grossly unfair to burden them with such unreasonable expectations even when they are already burdened by the onerous task at hand.
It is not difficult to understand why Mr. Modi on one hand and the manager/leader/executive on the other hand, carry that burden. Partly it is their own creation and partly they are at the receiving end of a fundamental human fragility. Since they come to power or chair on the promise of transformative change they are actually creating circumstances where people will judge them on the highest standard of delivery. In politics such promises are explicitly made, in organizations it is subtly hinted. The messiah metaphor is a burdensome cross to shoulder because messiahs are always under scrutiny in the salvation they deliver, and there is nothing more heartbreaking and disillusioning for the masses than to discover that gods they revered had feet of clay. Managers and leaders must be very careful in what they promise, explicitly and implicitly for if they raise expectations of the teams/functions/organizations they lead for correction, progress and change, they better deliver it. Hell hath no fury than a team disappointed!!
 The second reason is a fundamental human fragility which is perpetually in search of a messiah – someone who has the magical prowess of ridding him of all that ails his mundane existence. Most of us have problems and most of them have no clue what to do with them. Whenever someone comes with an idea of a promise, either of the Promised Land, or of salvation or of solving the organizational strategy problem – the reaction is the same. We prostrate to his messianic powers, even though they are alleged and unproved as yet. The heady lure of a solution can blind even the most rational and the most objective. The problems of the nation cannot be solved in 6 months is rationally known to everyone. The problems of a team/function/organization cannot be solved in a year is known to everyone. Human beings love the notion of a magic wand. There is a starry eyed kid in each one of us who wants someone to solve our problems, accumulated over years – pronto! Sometimes it is the parents who take the shape of such messiahs, sometimes politicians and in organizations it is the manager/leader/executive. Surely it is their job to correct things and let us hold them to the highest standards of delivery and scrutiny, but can we be at least fair to them and give them a fair time frame to solve what they have begun solving.  
Unreasonable time frame to show results because he was given a mandate for change and progress will make Mr. Modi commit errors – make him to focus on quick fixes and the tactical or manipulate results optically. The same happens when we give unreasonable time frames to managers/leaders/executive to ‘show results’. The pressure to show results in not always from the top, it is equally from the bottom when as team members we expect miracles from our leaders and to my mind the unreasonableness of this pressure for magical change from below is far more serious and damaging than the pressure from above.
Teams/functions/organization, like nations take time to correct and build. Let’s give Mr. Modi and our leaders in the function/organization that we work in, a fair time to make that change happen.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Monday musings 215 - The Robot

Monday musings 215 - The Robot

(this is supposed to be tongue in cheek - i say this for reasons of political correctness and personal safety)
I had a moment of epiphany the other day and in the spirit of unity of 'man'kind i must share it with others. The usual asterisks apply, that any resemblance to living is purely coincidental and no effort must be undertaken to solve the mystery of who might have inspired the author to write his musings - for the truth is, it is collective wisdom of fellow passenger's, the closest example being a memoir written basis the shared experiences of fellow inmates of Guantanamo bay detention camps or Tihar. 

The epiphany is that the first robot, a device which impersonates a living being, obeys orders and behaves in a pre programmed manner, without any resort to intelligence, intention or individuality was actually a husband. The husband was actually a prototype of what got created in the last century to be called as a robot, experimented and improved upon for centuries in his ability to do as told, behave as directed and still be made to feel grossly inadequate in his ability to take orders and execute them properly - the operational word being 'properly'. 

Now let us explore the world of robots a a bit more. First and foremost, the primary job of a robot is to follow instructions, which are inbuilt into him while he is constructed, bit by bit. After he is wired, if he does not obey the program which is supposed to guide his behaviour, he is considered 'rogue'. He will be reconstructed again and again till the time he does not 'toe the line'. A normal robot is only the one who behaves as per the script - any deviation from the script makes him, what else - rogue, which will attract reprogramming or invasive corrective surgery. All those who have been or are husbands may find this 'process' familiar, but they are advised to to accept and talk about this familiarity only at their own risk. The author shall be preoccupied to manage his own risks once this blog is posted.

Over time the robots are perfected and improved by the use of technology and new inventions, which by the way means that the robots only become better in doing what they are told to do. Some will argue that over time husbands are also improved and perfected, in guess what - to do what is told to them, in the manner in which it is told to them, which incidentally in all assessments by their respective programmers, they always fail to do.

I researched this subject and anecdotal evidence suggests that respondents refused to be identified with their 'true views' on this subject citing personal safety and domestic harmony. I could not argue with such noble objectives and dispute the ultimate human instinct of self preservation. They also recommended caution to me while writing on this subject and highlighted virtues like endurance and the famous sports  motivational maxim 'no pain no gain'.

A last word on this subject - being a robot is not such a bad thing. It takes away the risk of being wrong all the time. Just keep following the program and you shall be such a 'sweet', well....errr...hmmm....robot. Before anyone accuses me of typecasting, stereotyping and the grossly unfair and rude comparison between the husband and the robot, let me add to my defence, the husband and the robot's life may after all may not be comparable. 

The Robot gets programmed only once. The program for the husband may undergo multiple changes, without notice, till he does not know which program to follow in that situation. Needless to say the one he chooses to always the wrong one. !!   

God bless the Robot


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Monday Musings 214 - The raconteur's dilemma

Monday Musings 214 - The raconteur's dilemma

As i see it, life makes sense only in retrospect. While its happening, the joys appear heady and unreal while grief, to borrow a phrase from someone i know, is like 'undergoing an operation without anasthesia'. One is so engrossed in dealing with both that making sense of it is the last thing on our mind, not that even if we tried it will truly make sense in most cases. 

Recently i tried to make sense of my journey and here are a few things i discovered about the process in general and myself in particular. The usual asterisks apply that this may not be 'applicable to all'. 

The first thing i realised is that the past looks hazy and details lost. The details i remember are only those that i have told and retold many number of times as a raconteur. Actually the version that i tell may have drifted a bit from the way things actually happened. The possibilities are both - i might overplay my struggles to glorify it or underplay it because 'i feel blessed to have overcome them'. Struggles are struggles only when we are going through them - when it all ends, they are mere memories. I realised that forgetfullness has become my ally. I wonder whether it is actually a good thing or not - for forgetfullness helps in dealing with the tribulations that left a scar, but it also makes you forget what gave immense joy and blessedness. Sometimes i envy those who remember every small thing about their growing up years or even what happened only a few years back. I have only have a vague memory, most details appear to be lost. 

The second thing i realised is that my propensity to talk about it is equally appalling. Although my self view on this subject is rather flattering, because i consider myself a fairly self aware person, who can do a thing or two in reaching out to his 'real motives' in a situation, but fall short about talking about it. The reasons i attribute to this inability, is not some psychotherapy mumbo jumbo (Ok ok, its a science - happy!) but because i am convinced of its futility. Forgetfullness provides me the capability of moving ahead. I know the limitation of this stance and the good news is that i am working on it. So the agreement i have with self is that i will talk about the past like a 'commentator' or an 'observer' - as if it was a story, written by someone else or a play that someone else acted on. This way i will retain equanimity, a balanced view of the past - neither glorifying my successes not overplaying my struggles. 

The third thing that i realised was how blessed i was. The story, despite its hiccups of the past has turned out quite well. Although recent scriptures say 'picture abhi baaki has mere dost', i assume they refer to only the blessings that are yet to come. 


Monday, October 20, 2014

Monday Musings 213 – Clean >> Light >> Begin

Monday Musings 213 – Clean >> Light >> Begin

I have come to believe that it is the deep symbolism of festivals that make them special. The rituals in itself may not mean much as much as what we do in its preparation, in the buildup of it, in the way we as individuals and families go about ushering it in that make them special. 

Diwali to me is around three activities and they may mean more than what we take them for - for as I see it, it is these three things and the rich imagery of it that makes the day special, not in a religious sense but in a very broad way. Diwali is about CLEANING first, LIGHTS next and BEGINNING third, and in that order. 

Have you wondered why does the CLEANING begins much before you usher in a NEW BEGINNING!!. Cleaning symbolizes recognizing that living as a pursuit will generate waste, what was useful once may become junk now. The act of cleaning, and in most households diwali cleaning is not an activity that is solely delegated to paid workers or maids the way day to day cleaning is done. Diwali cleaning is deliberate, collective and yet immensely personal. Everyone goes through his or her clutter and decides what must be kept and what must be thrown. The family comes together to decide collectively what must be given away. Unseen corners must be cleaned, old boxes must be cleaned, all that has been stored must be sifted to retain only and only that is relevant, functional or useful.  What is done of the house, must apply to lives as well. Lets CLEAN our lives in ways and manner in which we deem fit - capability, attitude, health, relationships!!

The second act during diwali is the act of LIGHTING. The pursuit of bringing light to dark corners, ignored corners, every room, terrace, balcony, even bathrooms. No space in the house is not worthy of being bathed in lights, uplifting them to equal status for once during the year. Can we light up all parts of our lives and remove the veil of ignorance from them. Can we look squarely into the blinding play of ego, unawareness, denials and our own motives and light them, if not with the esoteric renunciation, at least with the mundane awareness. Let us LIGHT. 

Finally Diwali is about making a NEW BEGINNING. Old books of accounts are closed and new ledgers are formed. Diwali marks the beginning of New Year above all. This may mean many things for us. A new beginning at a behavior offers us an opportunity to make clean what is toxic in us, in what has been a thorn in our relationships, in what is causing dysfunctionality in our interactions and make way for what is functional and positive. A new beginning could mean the whole world of regenerating practices around reading, learning, playing; chasing hobbies so on and so forth. A new beginning could mean reinventing oneself at the jobs we are doing today and what is our aspiration tomorrow. A new beginning is about adding new capability, new knowledge, new skills, new thinking to what we already have. A new beginning is about acknowledging the true nature of the current state and then beginning the exciting journey of making it better. Finally new beginning is about belief, that this day can become a decisive inflection point, that a new beginning can actually be made, that reinvention is actually possible. 

So, Clean, Light and make a new beginning. I am doing the same. 


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Monday Musing 212 - "In the beginning there was the word..."

Monday Musing 212 - "In the beginning there was the word..."

There is great magic in words. Many of them are not merely words but stories unto themselves. Over a period of time they acquire a life of their own and the average reader is far removed from its origins or initial usage. The science of it is called Etymology.

In the course of enjoying a recent book I happen to learn the origin of the word ‘sincere’. Apparently in the old times while a sculptor would make a bust or an idol, he would apply wax to fill cracks if any and then cover them with the crushed stone powder with which the bust was being made. Obviously those with such wax linings were considered of poorer quality than the ones which did not have any cracks and hence did not need such wax corrections. Hence the one which were pure, were without wax or sin cere as in latin, and voila – sincere!!
I suddenly recollected how a classmate of mine during my business school had educated us, quite dramatically at that, that the act of making decision was essentially a violent act. Apparently it is not such a great idea of be in two minds and vacillate between two positions. To arrive at a decision is to kill the two and arrive at one, i.e. de (two) Cide (kill) and voila again decide!!

Dan Brown in his novel The last word opines that early thinkers and ancient people considered the mind as the most powerful reservoir of wisdom, energy and power. Such an enlightened mind was capable to creating miracles and hence worthy of being worshiped. Hence the word temple to describe the side of the head – the holy place where such a mind rests.
The Italians would keep a ship suspected with contamination or carrier of infections in observation for forty days, (quaranta = forty) and hence anything under observation in a secluded place or position is to be quarantined.

The Bible says “In the beginning there was the word…” It’s not surprising that most religions have written words that are considered holy and pious. All religions have some book or the other for its followers to abide by, take inspiration from, resort to in times of ambivalence, ambiguity and crisis. These written words have stories to tell, advise to give, directions to provide, comfort to offer and at the end of it all, happiness to promise. It is through the words, its meaning and imagery that they have managed to survive, thrive and spread over hundreds of years. Then it suddenly dawns upon me that in my own religion Sikhism the hymns sung in mellifluous raags, which should have been called as songs are not called songs but are actually called Shabads, which means  ‘word’.

Let’s know the world of words better. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Monday Musings 211 – Ehtraam Naseer

Monday Musings 211 – Ehtraam Naseer

I recently read an interview of the legendary Naseeruddin Shah as his autobiography hits the market, where he outlines his definition of destiny/luck. What he broadly says is that while he was still studying acting, he realized that he was not really cut out for the mainstream cinema, however he sensed that occasionally there were some movies being made, which indicated that soon a time will come where such cinema will definitely be made aplenty – and when that day would come, he better be ready. So Naseer, the perfectionist that he is, prepared himself all those years, doing odd roles, however relentlessly working, preparing, and chiseling himself for that day when movies of the kind that he wanted would be made. And when that day did arrive, Naseer dazzled on the celluloid, literally dominating the world of parallel cinema. He prepared himself for his destiny.
I find this tale quite inspiring. I find the idea of ‘preparing for ones destiny’ quite powerful and liberating.

Destiny in common parlance is associated either luck – which is happenstance, the grand arch of time which makes you be at the right place at the right time with the right people. The invisible hand of chance is too strong in this postulation and hence quite limiting to my taste. Playing poker has better chances.

The other definition of luck is a preordained path or destination that has already been drafted by someone else and by implication it means we are only playing the role that has already been scripted for us. We will reach where we ought to, the subtext being, irrespective of what I do or don’t. When one throws in the role played by, for the want of a better word, God, then things become murkier. This model takes all power of self selection, self direction and self formation away from the protagonist and binds his movements and his script in the hands of some puppeteer. That puppeteer despite his alleged divinity is not acceptable to my sensibilities, even though I might acknowledge some undefined power that exists.

Naseer Saabs model is beautiful in its simplicity and by giving the power of decision in the hands of the hero; it also is uplifting and energizing. I also draw lessons in the corporate world from Naseer Saabs theory. Do I know what kind of professional, manager or leader will be required in my chosen field a decade from now? Am I at least studying the winds of change if not decisively understanding them, to know where that future might lie? Am I preparing hard enough, long enough, patiently enough in the wait of that day? If destiny is about being prepared, then the whole idea of success and how it is achieved undergoes a change. It moves from the unknown to the known and from the uncontrollable to controllable. What is the proportion of time spent in the pursuit of that preparation versus the time spent in agonizing in the wait of that glory?

The best are those for whom the future does not matter, for they enjoy the present – the second best are those who prepare for the future for they craft it – the worst obviously are the ones who wait for it.
Ehtaraam Naseer Saab!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Monday Musings 210 – The wheel of fortune

Monday Musings 210 – The wheel of fortune
Indian world view is essentially cyclical – whether it is notion of time or life.  Time has four yugs – Satyug, Dwapar, Treta and Kalyug, which is inconsequential in itself – of greater significance is the fact at the end of each cycle spanning all four, time is expected to begin again. Life too is cyclical, swinging between life and death only to reappear as life again. Compare this to the western worldview of linearity where time moves in only one direction and so does life. Time and life once gone never comes back.
This Indian worldview of cyclicality shapes our reaction to things generally. I have been at cross roads to my own reaction to this subject. The western notion of rationality which has been accumulated through years of education and reading,  fights for space with the essentially Indian ethos which has been a part of growing up years, upbringing and social values.
I see the swinging wheel of fortune around and I notice its patterns. May be I am noticing it more now with my heightened consciousness about it. I see individual fortunes swinging from one extreme to another, sometime waxing and waning owing to omissions and commissions of individual brilliance or stupidity and sometimes for no reason at all, euphemistically called as destiny. Sometimes I see abject poverty and failure accompanied with proverbially silver linings and sometimes fortunes hide much grief, unhappiness and poor health. Small towners are more philosophical about it and I get this strange feeling that they are also better at dealing with it. My bias also is that the corporate-wallahs take their fortunes more for granted and with a misplaced sense of permanence, for reasons only known to them.
Every time I see great fortunes, havens of prosperity and abundance being marooned into deprivation, I wonder about the fickleness of it – and I also ask how much is my Indian-ness responsible to my reaction to it. Rationality would have demanded that I analyze reasons thereof so that I find a source of the decay, while the notions of cycles make me conclude that this is the essential nature of things – what shined, will corrode. It begs, nay demand that I treat my own fortunes and good times with humility and with heightened sense of impermanence. Success must rest lightly on the shoulders for it is like a butterfly.
I also see green shoots emerging in families which have spent decades in deprivation and darkness. Rationality would have demanded that I analyze reasons thereof and that I find a source of that resurrection, while the notion of cycles make me conclude that this is the essential nature of things – what has been corroded will reclaim it shine. It begs, nay demand that I treat my own struggles with hopefulness and with a heightened sense of impermanence. The journey must rest lightly on the shoulders for it too is like a butterfly.
I see the above two lines cross in many ways. Sometimes I see success hiding so much and of failures revealing much more. Amongst friends, families and colleagues, I see the beginning of the end of good times crossing concurrently over the beginning of the end of bad times – and the recognition of the cycle makes me deeply thoughtful.
I guess this is a sign of getting old – very old.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Monday Musing 209 - The Tea

Monday Musing 209 - The Tea

The road journey is often considered a poorer cousin to the more glamorized air and somewhere in between rail journey. The roads are usually left for the poor or the nerdy.
Of the many joys of the road, the one that I especially became aware of this time was the ubiquitous tea stall. The diversity of this brew is as breath taking as the locales itself and each as distinct from each other as the weather, language, dialect, sartorial sense, and the nature of the pot holes.

While travelling from Rajkot to the Gir National park and thereafter travelling in and around it, we stopped for our usual cuppa many a times. I can, with reasonable confidence certify, for whatever that certification is worth, that the best road side tea is brewed in this part of the country. The sample size of around 10 and without any instruction whatsoever to make it 'special', what got dished out was a treat to the senses. It was perfect in its thickness for the taste, perfect in strength to give relief to the jaded body and spirit, perfect in aroma to uplift the mood in total. When I asked the locals the reason for this perfect blend he credited the quality of milk in that area, which kind of assured me because I was suspecting that Narendra modi might take this credit too going by the track record of usurping credit for everything that is good in Gujarat. 

This experience got me thinking about the nature of tea that gets dished out in various parts of the country, particularly on its highways, away from the cities. Here is my collection of the places and regions that I have had the fortune of visiting. 

The north Indian roads prefer it milky and strong. Adding water to it is considered a sign of short circuiting the grandeur of tea making. Personally I think the north, on an average, cannot tell their tea from their milk, precisely because of their preoccupation with the quantity of milk they use. Their tea is actually flavored milk. 

Bengal roads and to a great extent even Orissa offers sugar syrup in the garb of tea. It is thin, slightly strong and bitter because the same tea powder is boiled more than one time. 

TN and Kerala serve decoction and process wise perhaps the most scientific way of making tea because they create the tea separate and mix is with milk outside the container in which it is boiled - at the point of serving which is the glass. This process is followed nowhere else. In all parts of the country everything boils together. Actually these places have copied the coffee making process and adapted to make tea. The great Indian innovation, you see!!

Hinterland UP and Bihar, and not surprisingly so, will check with you whether you want the 'special' in which case it will be more milk and cardamom or ginger thrown in, or else you have to manage with the ones for the hoi polloi, which will be watery and without flavor. 

I am sure there are more archetypes to the humble road side tea than above. I am keen to taste North east and Kashmir to know what they have to offer. Till then, Gujarat rules - with or without the intervention of Mr. Modi. 


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Monday Musings 208 - Matters of guilt

Monday Musings 208 - Matters of guilt

I don’t remember feeling guilty much of my life. This does not obviously mean that I have nothing that in normal circumstances for normal people would evoke guilt. There have been many such instances which do qualify as definitive cases for making a man feel guilty. However guilt, like many other things as beauty, love, revenge and spite, lies in the bosom of the beholder - and so when it came to the choice of feeling guilty for a misdemeanor, I have usually chosen the easier and better path of brushing it aside as an essential part of coming of age ritual, very conveniently overlooking that 35 plus is not really an age when one is still growing up. If it was to happen, it should have happened long back. Hope however remains the culprit. The last time I felt guilty was back in the third grade when buoyed by the spirit of friendship I had considered a friends eraser as mine, claimed it so with nonchalance and was dumb enough to get caught. 

So this time, when after ages when the damn thing called guilt did raise its serpentine head, I was surprised that its vestiges were still alive. So here is my discovery about guilt. To begin with it is clear that it is a very very bad thing. 

Amongst the many human emotion which are of same family as guilt, such as possessiveness, grief, jealousy, and anger, I would rate guilt as the deadliest. It is like diabetes mellitus - not really a disease, but a disorder that kills you slowly but definitively. It is almost as if it is enjoying the process of killing you, like you relish a dish in solitude. It only becomes worse with time. Like diabetes it does not kill in itself, but actually creates a shutdown in all other organs, particularly the heart. Having a heart in itself may be bad but a guilt ridden heart is much worse.  

Guilt normally begins like a small cut and then it feeds on itself and it grows and grows. Soon you are engulfed into its octopus like grip, questioning your own sanity, worth and goodness. When one starts questioning his own goodness and realizes that his self score is a pathetic F, it is much worse that others giving it an F. It is precisely because of its degenerative effects that man created the science of justification and rationalization. It is just so much better to blame it on Rio, or Robert or Rahul. Why begin something that you know has only one end. 

Guilt causes strange chain reactions. The prospect of loss of face robs you of sleep. Your ability to concentrate plunges faster than a stock index, resulting in complete inability to focus and stay calm. The foodies are hit even more as it results in loss of appetite. 

There are only two potential lessons I learnt from this episode - don't do anything that might cause guilt or learn to justify it better.  I know my lesson - what is yours?


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Monday Musings 207 - Scrutiny

Monday Musings 206 - Scrutiny

Scrutiny as a tool for progress
It’s not even a month that the new dispensation at New Delhi has come under scrutiny. Its decision on rail fare hike and ensuing rollback and then the annual budget itself came under fire. It announced the death of their honeymoon. Alas the doomsday that was predicted by the absolute majority in the parliament leading to a decisive shift towards the right did not arrive. So who checked its arrival?
I guess scrutiny did that. There is intense scrutiny of everything that the government does by the opposition, or whatever is left of it at least, the judiciary, the executive, the free press and an ever buzzing hyperactive social media. Everyone knows that whatever they say or they don’t, will be deciphered, analyzed, decoded and split wide open – and that keeps them cautious, on their toes and vigilant.
Scrutiny is such a good thing; Organizations create their own structures of scrutiny. They create review mechanisms, dashboards, reports, MIS and the ever ubiquitous meetings to keep each other in check. There are some lower order objectives of doing all of the above – like bringing everyone on the same page, sharing information, giving updates on progress so on and so forth. However the larger order purpose of these meetings is keep everyone in check by putting each other under perpetual scrutiny. Actions get dissected, results get analyzed, decisions get scrutinized – so that the wayward are brought to their senses, the vagabonds are tied to sanity and the ship stays on its course.
Social structures have scrutiny in built into them. Families and cultures have scrutiny in built into them, again with the unstated purpose of regulating behavior. The wayward are not appreciated, excommunicated and in some extreme cases hunted down.  Organized religion thrives on scrutiny through the notion of sin and the right and wrong. One man’s God becomes another man’s Satan, and instead heavens opening up, it is hell that is let lose.
Even games have scrutiny for smooth play and sports have to be scrutinized by organized sporting bodies. Companies are scrutinized. Sectors are put under regulatory scrutiny. Professions are scrutinized through their associations.
The all pervasiveness of scrutiny might lead us to believe that left to himself, man, his vocations and his interests will only cause mayhem and chaos. Whatever comes out of the fruits of a man’s toil must be kept in the leash of some scrutiny or the other. So we have a whole bunch of scrutinizers as a separate profession in itself whose job is brings sanity in every scheme of things.
I keep thinking, however, who will scrutinize the scrutinizers – because scrutiny is such a good thing.

Monday, July 7, 2014

206 Monday Musings: Mother Maria

206 Monday Musings: Mother Maria
I read about Maria Sharapova’s ignorance about Sachin Tendulkar with a deep sense of spirituality.  I am sure most of us in the subcontinent believe that she has committed sacrilege and there is a judgment day that awaits her for it, but not before she must be condemned right here on earth, if not stoning her  Taliban-style, which regretfully continues to remain illegal and poor in taste.  
However most people miss the sheer depth of the statement Maria dear has made, if she was any less stunning than she currently is, I might have recommended her for sainthood, which if done now would be a terrible waste of beauty. Now I am known for many vices and may be remembered for many utterances that breach the boundaries of sanity, but I assure the reader that it shall not be known of me, that I wasted a beauty standing on very long legs on something as sainthood.
Coming back to what Maria said and what it means, let it be known to man, who spends years to attain immortality and timeless fame, that he shall never be known enough for every man to know him, in this case a woman of course.  One may be an icon, a legend, a God, even if only of a game of white flannels and a red cherry, he shall remain known only to a few. There will always be a large part of the world that shall remain oblivious to his existence. With sufficient time everyone forgets everyone and with still sufficient time everyone gets forgotten.
I often wonder, is there a qualitative difference between remaining unknown with all the genius you may have been bequeathed through the chicanery of chromosomal mutation, spending enormous time and effort to convert that genius into something fruitful and the pursuit of excellence and fame - and remaining unknown without attempting much – and I discover to my satisfaction that the latter still remains my preference. I might raise the hackles of a few who might the votaries of the former, to whom I shall always submit, that Maria will remember neither.
In expressing her ignorance about the existence of Sachin, Maria in a stroke of brilliance united me and Sachin – that she knows neither him, nor me. I have never felt so special, wanted and important in my entire life.
In the long term, we are all dead. In the long term we are all forgotten. Thank you Maria for reminding us that. Hope we listen to you at least – you are so eminently listenable. Even if no one else does, for the love of those ear danglers, I will.
Eternally yours

Monday, June 30, 2014

Monday Musings 205 - The fourth dimension

Monday Musings 205 - The fourth dimension
My self view about how good am I as a son, husband and father is very kind to myself and psychologists might read red into it, although I do not worry much about their theories as I recognize they have a living to make. However one of things that continues to be on my mind all the time is what kind of persons my daughters grow up to be.
A few years back I had arrived at three parameters that I will use to judge myself as a father.  First I wanted to develop in them a love for literature or fine arts or performing arts. In my mind a love for any of the above necessarily develops in a person an appreciation for the finer things in life, the ones which make a person perceptive, nuanced and sensitive.
Secondly I wanted them to develop a love for the outdoors, either through sports or through travel. I did not and still do not see enough emphasis that families and parents consciously put in developing this aspect in children. My belief is that through outdoors a child develops a sense of perspective, of his own place in the universe. It roots us to humility by making us realize that while our sense of self makes us become larger than our surroundings, in reality we must never forget that in our best we continue to remain a tiny speck in this vast universe.
Third I want them to have a virtue called tolerance, which I rate as having a high criticality. It helps us to accept people who are different than us, accept situations that are not to our liking, acknowledge practices and circumstances that might be alien to us, but real to others. It helps us live with outcomes which are not to our liking, despite our most intense desires and even after back breaking hard work. Tolerance helps us survive the vagaries of life.
I was having a chat with a friend of mine who has a pretty grown up child and who had a recent experience. I got my fourth item on my list through this conversation.
It just so happened that the child, a grown up of 20 worked extremely hard for something. The child is a go getter, extremely confident and believes that anything that one can dream of, can be achieved. The hunger for success and achievement is high and is backed up by natural talent and relentless hard work. However there are subtle indications that this single minded dedication to the goal makes her oblivious to how human interactions are taking place. There is an indifference towards softer aspects of one’s ambition particularly when others are also involved. It just so happened that the result eluded the child and it was clear that not many others who were required to contribute and help her succeed did so. It was under these circumstances that my friend raised some questions, which got me thinking and led me to add a fourth dimension to my list of three.
The thoughts began by highlighting the power of prayer – not in the religious sense but in the sense that one must acknowledge the power of some higher order which runs this universe and along with acknowledgement must come respect for it. One must also acknowledge the power of collective wishes for oneself and make efforts not to attract too much negative wishes for ourselves even if it is equally futile to try to please everyone. My friend lamented that too much of brute ambition which rubs too many people the wrong way and too much negative wishes from people impact not only the outcome but also the quality of the outcome. If the purpose is to be successful then maybe these things are mumbo jumbo but if the purpose is to be happy with that success then one must be sensitive to these softer things.
I realized that in a very different way my friend was suggesting that the child must also have a spiritual side to her – which is now my fourth dimension to my work as a parent – will I be able to help my child acquire a spiritual side?
I must.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Monday Musings 204 - The boats we get into....

Two things happened within a week of each other for me. Last week I listened to a TED video where the speaker Dan Gilbert said that human beings were fundamentally creatures who are in perpetual state of work in progress. The second thing that happened to me was that I met J.

There are stories scattered all around us. Human stories are many and magical. The more we encounter reasons to be cynical, doubtful and disbelievers, the more nature throws at us stories that raise our own sense of being to a new found level of belief, faith. J is one such story and since I promised him that I will not mention his name in my ode to his story, I must remain content in calling him J.

Many decades ago, during the peak of the Vietnam misadventure of the USA, many Vietnamese families attempted to move out- some wanting to escape the brutalities of their own brethren and some who wanted to get out of the mindless massacre by a foreign country. Many families attempted to leave the country on small fishing boats, needless to say not a a very safe and reliable way to leave a war ravaged country.

Young J, all of 6 years was made to board one such boat, the only one amongst his familymembers which   included his elder brother. I am a father of a 7 year old and I keep imagining the plight of that young child. I keep imagining what his tender mind would have made out of being on that boat and then landing in a refugee camp in Malaysia and living the next 3 years there. I keep keep imagining his fear, his wait for his parents and the the brute dawn of reality that they won't come.

Having spent those 3 years in that camp with children of that war, by propitious twist of fate, J was adopted by foster parents in Canada and so the journey of life took the young child from the refugee camps to a new house many miles away and Ina different continent. He grew up in Canada with his new parents and spent the next 6 odd years with then, by which time his elder brother traced him to Canada and joined him. J was reunited with his elder brother who also moved to canada. 

As the young child transited into an young adult, J experienced familiar rebelliousness that youth usually typify. He started to hang around with friends who were not bad but were of limited aspirations or talent. Even though J scored in high nineties during his high school and could have got through any university of his choice, going to the university was infra dig in the gang he moved around. So for two years after he completed his high schools he was almost a wage earner and used to fix frames as a construction worker. 

While life was taking its own shape as it does, a question kept coming back to J' s mind-  why was he chosen to be on that boat? Was he abandoned. Human mind is a meaning making machine and a young boy is not best placed to understand the grand sweep of destiny.

His brother, acutely aware if his talents, relentlessly tried to persuade him to chase bigger dreams, that would do justice to his talents and capability. However young J continued to hang out with those friends and do odd jobs, mostly menial and much below his calibre. And then things changed.

One night he received a warm and emotional letter from his mom, who incidentally had been united with him when he turned 20, a full fourteen years after he had stepped onto that boat. In that letter an emotional mom shared with him that there was not enough money for more than one person to be on that boat on that day and the family, too much in love with J, had chosen him. I am sure that there was much more in that letter, but J only shared that it tripped something in his mind, heart and soul. so after two years in fixing frames he applied to the number one university of canada to study advanced maths. Now a decade and half later - I am guessing he would not be less than 40, though he looked not a shade more than 30, J is a practicing actuary and a deputy CEO in a life insurance company.

coming back to where I began, human beings most certainly are work in progress. If you don't like the shape it is taking, go on and make the change you want. You just never know which boat will take to you to the shore of happiness.

God bless J


Saturday, May 31, 2014

Monday Musings 203 -That time of the year

Monday Musings 203 -That time of the year

Every corporate wallah will tell you it is that time of the year, when the mercury outside will be competing with the mercurial inside - both will hover at extremes and will vie for the reason for human insanity. It is the rating season. 

Every office goer knows that it is the decision time, the time when his labor will bear fruits, or at least it is expected to bear fruits. The employee will search for the evidence of the fruit, while the boss will search for the evidence of labor. The general trend is to overestimate fruit on the back of overestimation of labor or under-allocation of fruit on the back of underassessment of labor - and between the boss and the bossed, it is not very difficult to guess who does what!

Actually the preparation to this season begins from somewhere January itself, for the month not only heralds a new year but also a nice inflection point for those who were in slumber for the rest of the year, They wake up and that too with a vengeance, and try to work hard and portray the work harder than it is, to nullify the lack of both in the previous period. They rely on what is called 'recency effect' - in the hope that their boss will remember the proximate hyperactivity camouflaged as work and will forget the usual somnolence that was passed as work for most part of the year. The boss however is not the boss without a reason. He understands the trick because he himself indulged in it not very long ago.   

The employee behaves like an expectant parent - for the effort must be rewarded, and must be healthy. The boss behaves like sentry, who has the power of holding you off from the sanctum sanctorum till he derives his own sense of pleasure and power. Technically the reward is for work and is independent of who is guarding it - but sometimes the guard becomes more powerful than the guarded. The priests sometimes start believing that they can actually regulate your access to God, and the worshipper starts focusing on the priest more than the divine. 

The canteen, the cooler, the corridor is abuzz with who will get what. Everyone overestimates the ratings for the friend and underplays his own chances - both sides knowing that this is not what each other really believes in. In his own mind each is listing down all the reasons why he has far far far far.....exceeded expectations (not of the organization alone but also the industry, the country and often the civilization itself). The boss may also be preparing a similar script but towards a very different outcome.  

Cometh the day cometh the havoc. Faces will tell the story. Those who miss the bus obviously curse the boss, his aunt and her dog - but those who get rewarded also curse the boss, his aunt and her dog - because they either got less than what they thought they deserved or because someone else got more that what they thought that someone else deserved. How unfair!! Rarely does one find a really happy man walking through the organizational corridors. Everyone is in mourning. 

I am a boss and an employee. I know I, my aunt and her dog will be cursed. I also know most likely I will pass on the favor. 

I need a drink. 


Monday, May 12, 2014

Monday Musings 202 - Pearls in unusual places

I met an old B school friend of mine the other evening and some interesting conversation happened apart from the customary banter that so characterizes such get together. Insights come from strange people and under strange circumstances.
My friend, who spent a decade in the corporate world, quit one day the Nine-to-no-time routine and decided he had enough of the formal work schedule. I recount 3 great moments of epiphany from the catch up – who says only the wise hold the keys to wisdom!
1.       On the purpose of work
“I have decided to keep ‘happiness’ at the centre of my life and let everything else take its place…… the trick was not only to decide what I want to do but also what not to do……finally it was also about the courage to hold on to this decision when everyone else expected me to behave in a certain manner….the courage to live life on my terms and not because I was expected to live it in a certain manner….”
2.       On office politics
His wife, who also happens to be a college friend, was perturbed about some office intrigue with potential impact on growth prospects. His advice on the subject will put sages to shame. “ never has sword been picked up in the fight to become the wazeer (the minister) – sword always gets picked up to be the king……why lose sleep over something that is not the fight for the throne….if a 10% increase in money increases work by 100% and tension by 200, then it is obviously a bad bargain….”
3.       On Anonymity
I shared that I was hoping that I will soon get a publisher for my impending book and commented that ‘I don’t want to die in anonymity’……to which he immediately commented….” That is something that I am working hard to be continue to remain…anonymous!”
“….as times elapses the world elapses there are only two kinds of people in the world, good and not good…in the short run, there are many kinds, but the longer the time elapses, the world remembers only the really good one – rest all remain anonymous.”
I think what he left unsaid, graciously – that I should be a little more realistic about my own genius. Working hard is good, having aspirations is fine, ambitions are normal – but a bit of reality check will put things in perspective.
I am sure these are not the last words on the subject, but good places to begin a conversation.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Monday Musings 201 - Four circles and one point

Monday Musings 201 - Four circles and one point

Way back in rural Jharkhand in a small hamlet of sorts, so typically of the mofussil India, where I grew up, academics swayed between escape and a threat - escape in the sense that it offered a glimmer of hope that would lead us away and out of the oppression of backwardness; and a threat in the sense that children would be harshly reminded of what misery awaits them should they not spend hours and hours with books. I know for sure that this archetype was a fairly common - and children of this archetype are in organizations today. 

I am reminded of this archetype as I went through an amazing diagrammatic representation of what brings joy to the cublicle-wallah as he searches the elusive corporate salvation - a state of bliss and happiness that the sages and oracles promised us many eons back - just that they never worked in organizations. 

The diagram has four circles which cut through each other - and at only one point all four circles cut through each other - and that is the sweet spot. It talks about evaluating work on four key points - 

1. That which you love  2. That which you are good at  3. That which you can be paid for
4. That which the world needs

Let’s look at some combinations. This diagram does not belong to me. However the question at the end of it does. You must ask yours. 

a. Work which you love, are good at and the world needs - is your passion and can be converted into a missionbut it won’t be making money for you because you cannot be paid for it....the market has no time for your fantasies.

b. Work which you love, are good at and that you can be paid for - is your passion and can be converted into your professionthere is no larger purpose in your are just a cog in the will die, to borrow a phrase, without having made a dent in the universe because you never moved beyond the letter 'I'.

c. Work which you are good at, can be paid for and the world needs - is your profession and can be converted into a vocation - where is the Joie de vivre, where is the mojo, where is that spring in the steps and the song on the lips when you get ready to make millions out of something that you do not love...this is cruelty and worse, self inflicted. 

d. Work which you love, can be paid for and the world needs - is your vocation and can be converted into a mission.- You are mediocre but are lucky to be riding high demand which hides the inevitable discovery of your mediocrity. When the tide will ebb, you will be discovered. But enjoy till the party lasts. 

Coming back to the archetypes, the focus clearly was and perhaps is, what can you be paid for and to some extend what does the world needs, but never, never the other two. 

What do you think happens to these archetypes in organizations after 10-15 years?

Look around and you may know.