Serendipity is defined as, ” the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way” The word originated in 1754: coined by Horace Walpole, suggested by The Three Princes of Serendip, the title of a fairy tale, in which the heroes were always making discoveries, by accidents & sagacity, of things they were not in quest of. There are many many examples of serendipity aiding & abetting our lives. To exemplify, look at the discovery of penicillin. One of the first & still one of the most widely used antibiotic agents, derived from the Penicillium mold. In 1928 Alexander Fleming first observed that colonies of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus failed to grow in those areas of a culture that had been accidentally contaminated by the green mold Penicillium notatum. He isolated the mold, grew it in a fluid medium, & found that it produced a substance capable of killing many of the common bacteria that infect humans. Even today infection control is largely dependent on the serendipitous discovery of penicillin.

In my 67 long years, indeed a la Ulysses, ” much have I seen and known” …”Myself not least, but honour’d of them all” But today I sit in confession. Maybe I did not deserve the credit…it was serendipity at play; & I thought I should share some notable occurrences.

अब अपनी रूह के छालों का कुछ हिसाब करूँ,
मैं चाहता था चराग़ों को आफ़्ताब करूँ| (
Now let me take account of the wounds on my soul; My desire is to make the lamps as beautiful as the Sun)

When I look back on the events of my life there are a great many examples I can quote where events developed by chance in a beneficial way ( the classic definition of serendipity) But if I look on my life as Chapters, the whole Chapter associated with my 6 years in Atul is replete with serendipity. Let me explain how & why.

I was a Factory Personnel Manager in the Kalwa factory of Siemens, on Thane Belapur Road. Doing well career wise, as well as financially, after 10 years of service. Important job where I was making a difference. Unfortunately I made myself indispensable in Kalwa & so opportunities to grow in Siemens were passing me by. The last straw on the camel’s back was the promised deputation/training in HQ at Germany was given not once but thrice to people I felt were less deserving than me. Siemens then was golden cage & no one thought I would leave.

मुझे अब देख कर हँसती है दुनिया,
मैं सबके सामने रोने लगा था| (
Today the world looks at me & laughs; But I had started crying before all)

Along comes Serendipity & a consultant talked to me about an opportunity in Atul Products at Valsad. I interviewed, got selected as Asst. General Manager HRD. We went & saw the location and fell in love with the greenery & quality of living at the campus. I resigned & went to Atul, to the disgust of all my Bombaiyya friends. The day I went to join, Serendipity struck again. The GM HR & Admin had resigned just a week ago. So before joining, I was promoted!!! The MD told me I would take over as General Manager & head the Department!! I tried to tell I am ready to join as Asst. General Manager; see my work & then promote me. But Serendipity had struck!! I was given a higher title, higher grade, more compensation, bigger bungalow, bigger car all on my joining day!!!

Atul township gave us the best 6 years of our lives. Huge bungalow to live in & 3 mins commute from factory to house. All my free time I could spend with Rashmi, who was 6 months then. We had become parents 10 years after our marriage. So what one had hankered after, was served on a platter. Till Rashmi become 6 years of age, every day 515 pm to 730 pm, I was with her in the children’ park. Would Bombay & Siemens give me this luxury? Serendipity helped.

HMB the secretary allotted to me, was another signal from heaven that someone up there loved me. The bond he developed with my family was blessing personified!! Every day he would get fresh Mola Ganthiya for Rashmi to chew as she was teething. Giving her scooter rides when she grew up became part of his daily routine. Doctor visits for inoculation & minor sickness, we were always accompanied by him. HMB was so critical to our lives that Vinita used to say, you can travel when you want but then HMB must be in town. I got not a colleague but a brother & that relation continues even 25 years after I have left Atul. There are far too many such contacts to recollect individually. The Finance Head, the Company Doctor, the Legal Advisor all became family. As did the union leaders who are still in touch!!! The limit was our neighbors JMT & family, who would come on their own if they heard Rashmi crying, pick her up & take her to their house. They would feed her & then we were expected to go to their bungalow & have our dinner there, while the son and daughter regaled Rashmi. A confirmed Rum drinker like me had more Scotch in Atul than I have ever consumed before & after Atul. Happy & beneficial occurrences indeed, serendipity guiding our lives.

वो अब आईने धोता फिर रहा है,
उसे चेहरे पे शक होने लगा था|
( he is now washing the mirror; he was doubting his very face)

My team members especially MAB & MRC de facto took over the entire IR workload. Brilliant professionals in their own right, they had a hunger in their belly to prove themselves. I just had to let go & they picked up the ball and ran, made goals, made the department win. Frankly my contribution was just managing the periphery. The MD & other Directors had to be convinced by me. We had common union agreements for all companies on campus. So those MDs & Boards were my responsibility. Representing Atul with the Senior Union Leaders who were National & State level politicians and aligning our agenda with their demands was my role. But MAB and MRC made me a de facto “absentee landlord”. I had to just give directions & get out of their way. They delivered on the grunge work. And I basked in the glory. Serendipity? 101%

Still remember when we were recruiting a HR senior professional from StanChart the consultant told me ” Vikas it will be like riding a tiger. Are you sure you want to hire a threat for yourself?” I told him I am happiest when someone else does my job, then I can find something else to do. After 6 fabulous years at Atul, my Siemens HR Director came & invited me to re-join Siemens. I took that chance to come back to Mumbai, the mecca of professionals. Again a happy development that chance put in my lap, literally.

There are many other events & occurrences where I felt I lived a charmed existence in Atul. The friends I made in Atul are in my life even now & they play a most important role in my well-being even now. When I look back & think I did not want to join a family owned organization which had no brand value compared to Siemens way back in 1991, I see the strong hand of Serendipity at play. कालIय तस्मै नमः There was a time I used to feel proud of myself, as a great HR professional. Humility has taught me to thank Serendipity!!!

चुराता हूँ अब आँखें आइनों से,
ख़ुदा का सामना होने लगा था| विकास
( I now steal my eyes from the mirror; Coming face to Face with God: vikas)

PS all quotes are from Rahat Indori, first appearing my friend Shri Krishna Sharma’s blog आसमान धुनिए के छप्पर सा.English translations are my own. E&OE

PS2 My youngest sister says she likes only those of my blogs where I share stories. This one is full of them. Hope serendipity propels her to like this one.

Parables & Stories from Vipassana

I went for my 4th Vipassana Meditation course in April 2022. What has always fascinated me is the oratory skill of SN Goenkaji & his ability to draw on stories, examples, parables from every religion under the sun, to drive home Vipassana concepts for his audience. Goenkaji does not want us to take anything on face value, on pure faith. He exhorts continuously that we must trust & believe ONLY our experience & sensory inputs. No ideological discussions, but only focus on your own experience. I had written in 2018 on what is vipassana and the underlying concepts. Those interested can check out the old blog at

Here I want to recollect some of the great stories & parables I heard which Goenkaji uses to elucidate his points & explain. So here goes:

#1) A rich man was enjoying his sumptuous lunch one day, when a Bhikshu came & cried out begging for alms. The rich man’s daughter-in-law, shouted from inside,” Maharaj, go elsewhere to beg. Here my father-in-law is himself eating stale/बासी food.” The Bhikshu went ahead, but the father-in-law was upset. He called his daughter-in-law and asked her “why did you say बासी भोजन/stale food? Here I am eating the choicest cuisine, rich with fruits & exotic vegetables, garnished with dry fruits. Why did you call it stale/बासी?”

The Daughter-in-law replied,” None of this is due to your own effort or earnings. You are eating off the earnings of your ancestors, you have contributed nothing. So is it not stale?”

My Learning: Have new thoughts and pull your own weight every day, Never live off past legacy.

#2) When Mohammad Paigamber started preaching, not everyone appreciated his teachings. Some were strongly opposed. One such person used to always disrupt Mohammad’s meetings & vitiate the atmosphere. Some of Mohammad’s followers used to feel very bad & they decided to confront the opponents to teach them a lesson. A meeting place was fixed. Soon the debate between the two sides turned acrimonious. When tempers rose further, it came down to physical fighting & a melee ensued.

Mohammad, seeing this, quietly left the place. His supporters sought him out later & asked why did he run away. Mohammad replied,” When the fight started, I saw the Farishtey/Angels flew away and left the room. Hence I too left!!”

My Learning: Peace and friendliness is godly; always stay on that side.

#3) An old woman once came to a Vipassana Camp set up in a rural environment. While coming, she got alongwith a cloth, draw-string bag/बटुवा. In that she was carrying 30 Rs her life’s earnings, an ornament/हार which she had got from her house & a small piece of sweetmeat/बरफी. One day, when she had gone for meditation, she found the bag/बटुवा missing from her residential quarter.

She became highly agitated & started crying loudly, beating her chest, moaning her loss. Others tried to control her & tell her she is disturbing others’ meditation but she was unconsolably crying out aloud. Every camp resident started searching high & low for the bag but it was nowhere to be found. She was wailing loudly about the loss of her money & ornament. So Goenkaji suggested taking a contribution from all. In place of her lost Rs 30, a total collection of 100 Rs was made and put before her. This was significantly more than her loss. But still she wailed & cried. “What about my ornament?” It was an heirloom, I was so attached to it” etc. The collected 100 Rs could have easily enabled her to buy a new ornament. But she continued to cry & repent her loss!

Finally someone saw that, a monkey on a nearby tree had the bag. Monkey had made of with it, seeing the colorful embroidery. The monkey had no use for the 30 Rs or the ornament. But it was merrily enjoying the sweetmeat/बरफी, sitting atop a tree. People chased the monkey with drums and sticks. Finally the monkey dropped the bag & made off with the sweet. The bag with money & ornament were returned to the old woman. Then only she stopped crying & focused on the vipassana teaching!!

My Learning: The concept of मैं/मेरा I & Mine is so deeply entrenched in us, that once it awakens, it does not allow us to look at anything else. Stay away from मैं/मेरा (I & Mine): many doors will open!

#4) There were 2 close friends: one was blind, the other handicapped. They used to beg for food & live together. One day the blind friend had a fever & could not walk. So the handicapped friend told him to rest & said he would go & beg for food & get some for his friend. While moving around the village, at one house, he was offered Kheer (sweet rice gruel). The guy had no utensil to take the kheer in, so he cupped his hands and the Kheer was poured in. He wanted to take the Kheer for his friend, but it started dripping from his cupped hands. So rather than waste it, he drank up the kheer. When he reached home he told his blind friend that he had got kheer, but could not carry it back for his friend since he had no utensil.

The blind friend had never eaten Kheer in his life and asked what is kheer? So the friend tried to explain ” It is white and sweet” The blind person knew what is sweet, but had no concept what is white. The friend told “White is like the crane” The blind friend had not seen a crane. So the friend caught a crane and gave it to the blind friend to feel & “see” what is a crane. The blind friend touched & felt the crane’s body & exclaimed ” I now understand. The kheer is twisted. तेरी खीर टेढ़ी है!!!”

My learning: Perception is important and if you do not perceive holistically, you may go on a total tangent & err terribly.

Trust you enjoyed these stories which have practical wisdom & learnings beyond compare. Next blog, I will tell you some more stories and parables from Vipassana course, which created deep learning for me

Bhavatu Savv Mangalam: vikibaba punter

Zindagi….ik paheli (Life…an enigma)

जो उलझी थी कभी आदम के हाथों,
वो गुत्थी आज तक सुलझा रहा हूँ|
(that which got entangled by the hands of Adam, even today I am trying to unravel that knot) Indeed Firaq Gorakhpuri said it rightly. From times immemorial, life has truly been an intractable puzzle. Generations before me, and people certainly much smarter than me, have tried to understand life and it’s conundrums. But the jury is still out. None are able to make sense of the constant twists and turns. While the What & the How are somewhat intelligible, the Why still eludes us and we are all the time wondering how to play the cards Life has dealt us.

The constant refrain is of wonder….wonder Why this is happening??? And Why is this happening to me???? The questions continue. Over a period we see the answers to the same question changes. Very similar to a roving spotlight that reveals more and more of the object as the spotlight moves. But try as we will, we never get to understand the whole picture, see the entire object, understand life in toto and what it entails!!!!

The whole experience is akin to the words of Adeem Hashmi who sings वो के ख़ुशबू की तरह फैला था मेरे चार सू,
मैं उसे महसूस कर सकता था छू सकता न था|
(It was like a perfume that spread all around me; I could feel it but I could not touch it) That truly is the beauty of life. We are in the fish bowl. We are surrounded by the water. We sense and feel the water and all that it envelopes. We see the other fish…swimming, struggling, moving all around us. But we can only “spectate”. The “साक्षी भIव sakshi bhav” propounded by Hindu & Buddhist scriptures as the ideal mindset to be in, while in the world.

See everything as a spectator, do not involve, do not entangle. Much like the glob of mercury which changes shape even as you touch it, you can never hold the mercurial Life, as it will always shy away, transmute and tease you as you go closer. Grasping never lets you hold the sand of life. The particles are too thin. You must keep an open palm, not try to hold or grasp, but rather keep your self open to experience the sands of time and the grains of Life. They are free agents and will not be molded even as they shape you.

हम किस को दिखIते हैं शब-ए-फुरकत की उदासी

सब ख्वाब में थे रात को बेदार हम ही थे (To whom could I show the sadness of the night of separation? All were deep in their dreams and I alone was disturbed in the night). (Taashshuq Lakhnavi) Travails of the Life you face are indeed so personal that try as you will, you may never be able to get others to understand and live your pain. Possibly that is why Voltaire averred,:” Man is a social animal, but everywhere he is in chains”.

The chains, the walls around us, the constraints, the loneliness, the pain….all are real and tangible. To you. You are confined only by the walls you build yourself. And all this is creating & shaping your Life/experience. A signature experience. Living together, having the same roof, traversing the same path, experiencing the same friends…still we all lead very different lives. Even couples are independent logs floating down the same river, parallelly, but independently; together yet separate. So the faster we understand Firaq Gorakhpuri who tells the Powers that Be भरम तेरे सितम का खुल चुका है,
मैं तुझसे आज क्यों शर्मा रहा हूँ|
We must quickly see through the irony, the mischievousness, the sheer tyranny of Life and living in the garb of joke, to be able to maintain our keel and dignity amidst buffeting storms and towering waves of the perfect storm that we call Life.

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood…” begins the famous poem “Musee des Beaux Arts” by W H Auden.
Some of you may know the poem by Auden, inspired by the painting by Breughel, of Icarus falling from the sky into the green water to his death. Poets and painters understand suffering, and the related phenomena: how others shy away, pretend not to notice, like the ploughman working his field, and the passengers aboard the delicate ship that sails calmly on. When a stupendous flight of Icarus to the Sun goes unnoticed, who indeed are we mere mortals?

What makes understanding & living Life difficult is our very human-ness. Being human we soon become enmeshed in all that surrounds us. We talk of My family, My child, My house, My Friends, My Company, and so on. As Firaq Gorakhpuri observes मुहब्बत अब मुहब्बत हो चली है,
तुझे कुछ भूलता-सा जा रहा हूँ|
Being too close to the problem, our independent identity ceases. We soon become a part of the problem and so cannot find a solution, as we are as much a part of the problem, as we are a part of the solution. Identity fuses together. Try a simple experiment to understand what I am saying. Move a chair while standing independent of it. Easy? Now sit on the chair. Firmly, with both your feet on the ground. Can you move the chair now? The same chair is impossible to move now. Because you are too close to it. Only distance will help you take an objective stance. मुहब्बत हो चली है then independent POV is impossible. It is natural then that तुझे कुछ भूलता-सा जा रहा हूँ| The human condition and its dilemma is well captured by Adeem Hashmi’s couplet ये भी सब वीरानियाँ उस के जुदा होने से थीं, आँख धुँधलाई हुई थी, शहर धुँधलाया न था| (All the barrenness has come after separating from her; my eyes have got clouded but the city still surrounds me). However much you try, the situational reality remains the same and continues to haunt you.

Given this background and the negativity all around, I take heart in the words of Napoleon,” I am driven towards an end that I do not know. As I reach it, as I become unnecessary, an atom shall suffice to shatter me. Until then, all forces of humankind can do nothing to stop me”. Remember, the bigger they are, the harder they fall!!

सितारों से उलझता जा रहा हूँ,
शब-ए-फ़ुरक़त बहुत घबरा रहा हूँ|

( I am fighting with the stars, as the night of separation comes close, I am afraid….vikas)

PS : Gratefully acknowledge Shri Krishna Sharmaji’s blog which has been an inspiration for many of the sher quoted here

Tu Jhoom

The song ‘Tu Jhoom’ is a part of the album ‘Coke Studio Season 14’: written by Adnan Dhool, composed & mixed by “Xulfi” Jabbar Khan. The song is in Punjabi, & genre is fusion music. Tu Jhoom is rendered to perfection by the maestro Abeeda Parveen & Naseebo Lall. They sing about moderation, self-love, & self-sufficiency & how running after worldly things will not get you peace. I have taken a lot of inspiration from this song & want to look at my life through the lens of the song. I hope you like the song & can look at your own life in this light.

O, Peeraan nu main seene laavaan Te main hasdi jaavaan (I have embraced all hardships; while remaining unfazed) Doopan de naal lar-lar ke mai Labyaan apniyan chaavaan (I have fought all my hardships finally to find solace)
Dukh vi apne, sukh vi apne Main te bas eh jaana (The joys & sorrows of this life are mine to endure; This to myself I assure)
Sab noon samajh ke ki karna ae Dil noon ae samjhaavaan (Why delve into things which are beyond my control; This philosophy is my heart’s greatest cure) Tu jhoom, jhoom, jhoom, jhoom Tu jhoom, jhoom, jhoom, jhoom (Transcend into a greater realm; to discover the soul’s gem)

Being a gangly, dark, lonely individual I always felt awkward & rejected during my growing up years. This despite being the only son. Isolated, without friends, moving from one place to another every 2/2.5 years, I had to laugh & live alone through many a hardship & pain. My condition was purely my own; so learnt that I will need to face the challenges alone. Being an misanthrope, I never considered acceptance & support by others as a sine qua non for my joy. Learnt to seek it & enjoy alone. And that made a difference.

Mai deewani, kuch na jaana, mast ho ke gaawaan (Forgetting my being, I go into a trance. Lending words to my heart, I let my feelings flow)
Duniya raazi karke kamle, phir vi chain nai aauna (all the adulation from this world Still does not resolve my woes)
Saari khushiyan mil jaavan te picche ki reh jaana( If all my wishes were to come true, What would be left in the world to do)
Tere bas me kuch vi nahi eh, dil nu eh samjhavan (My destiny is beyond my control; I always let my heart know)
Tu jhoom, jhoom, jhoom, jhoom O, tu jhoom, jhoom, jhoom, jhoom Tu jhoom, jhoom (Transcend above my me Beyond what the eye can see)
Tu jhoom, jhoom, jhoom, jhoom Tu jhoom, jhoom, jhoom, jhoom Tu jhoom, jhoom, jhoom,

All good till stanza one. But when it came to transcending to a greater realm, larger being was where the disconnect started. I was a self-sufficient “prick” in my growing up days and could never see a larger reality, a superior being. An exposure to J Krishnamuthy, Ramana Maharshi and Ramkrishna Paramhansa did not heal. Reading the Geeta, Bible and Koran did not reveal. Public approbation, mainly through academic achievements, quickly showed the hollowness of it all. Landing good jobs in good MNC and private organizations again revealed the facetiousness of ” worldly success”. In fact I remember , I did look for growth and promotions as a shadow variable of personal growth, but internally I felt all this meant nothing. I was seeking more, without exactly knowing what I am looking for. And when I did get promotions and growth, it did not satisfy me. My eyes were focused on the next milestone. Forever listless & hungry.

Main raazi apni zaat toon ( I have found contentment in my being) Main uttay apni aukaat toon ( I have risen above the status I am deemed) Ae duniya meri fikar naheen (worldly pleasure do not elate me)Main samajh gayi har baat nu ( I have fathomed the word of Thee)
Ki karna eh oonchyaan shaanaan nu (why strive to grasp beyond reach) Ki hath laana aasmaanaan nu (why let unattainable desires unleash) Main hasde-hasde hai jeena (when the secret to true bliss) Main nikal gaye gumaanaan toon (is to embrace yourself wholeheartedly)

I think, what kept me even keeled & sane, I was well aware of my caliber and capabilities. I knew my level & was well reconciled with it. Which meant no hungering after assignments, growth. If it comes, great. If it does not so be it!! Securing rank of First Class First in the Bombay University BA was momentary joy. Following it up with First Class First in MA or getting admission in the Fellowship Program of IIM Calcutta was a damp squib. As were the subsequent jobs. Being elevated as Asia Pacific Director in J&J was also a high that passed away momentarily. The question of So What?? soon followed. I kept remembering that every year there is someone who stood First Class First, so what is so great about that? Working for top MNCs like Siemens, Johnson & Johnson and General Motors only exposed the truth of the phrase, no man is a hero to his valet. The underbellies of all these shibboleths left me cured of the quest for worldly honor.

Mai to mere wargi aan ( I am truly worthy of myself) ee Khud kolon sharmana (Why should I shy away from myself) Duniya raazi karke kamle, phir vi chain nai aauna (all the adulation from this world Still does not resolve my woes) Jo hai tera lab jaayega (what you are destined to get) Kar ke koee bahana (Will find a way to you, do not fret Tere bas me kuch vi nahi eh, dil nu eh samjhavan (Your destiny is beyond your control; This philosophy will make you whole) Tu jhoom, jhoom, jhoom, jhoom O, tu jhoom, jhoom, jhoom, jhoom Tu jhoom, jhoom

A high spot was being awarded at the hands of President Abdul Kalam for Innovative HR Practices that drive Business Results. Zenith of my professional career. But how long can that feeling last. There has always been a sense of healthy disrespect for the world & whatever external accolades I received. I took my joy from my internal self-worth. Possibly the many accolades and recognition I got only helped me feel, I am still contributing, & giving back to my HR community & my family. Way back in 1967 when I was choosing Humanities in Senior Cambridge, my father had warned me: you will ruin your life & marry & get a girl from another family & ruin her life too. That has been my Litmus Test since then. Have I given a good quality of life to my wife & daughter? and Have I stood on my own feet in the race of life?? Unequivocally the answer is yes. So whether providence or luck brought me here, or it was sheer serendipity, when I look back sans regret, I feel joyful.

Mai deewani, kuch na jaana, mast ho ke gaawaan (forgetting my being, I’m entranced) Mai mastani kuch na jaana (So immersed I am that nothing else remain Tu jhoom, jhoom, jhoom, jhoom O, tu jhoom, jhoom, jhoom, jhoom Tu jhoom, jhoom (Transcend above my me Beyond what the eye can see)s)

To end, Remember: Nigah-e-yaar jise aashna-e-raaz kare Wo apni khoobi pe kyon na naaz kare (The fortunate one who is bestowed with the insight into Thy realm Then why should he not on providence’s favour dwell) Tu Jhoom, Jhoom, Jhoom: vikas

At Any Cost

We all have heard & even used this phrase many times. But do we really mean it? are we ready to go to any extent to achieve a goal? are we ready to pay any price? are we so driven that we genuinely feel the benefit far outweighs the effort; & so we are ready to acquire/achieve something at any cost? Does the End indeed justify any Means? Genuine dilemma from times immemorial. Jim Rohn warns, Count the cost first. Don’t pay too big a price for minor values.

The phrase At Any Cost is widely attributed to Machiavelli’s The Prince, which does reflect this philosophy but does not use the phrase in this wording. A possible source is Ovid‘s Heroides (ca. 10 BC), which says exitus ācta probat (“the outcome justifies the deeds”). This got me thinking about when, if ever, I have felt I must achieve something at any cost. The pragmatist in me always cautions, is it really worth the effort? What will be the benefit? or the opportunity cost if I do not achieve? Remember Goddard’s exposition: The reason many people fail is not for the lack of vision but for lack resolve and lack of resolve is born out of counting the cost.

It cannot be gainsaid that every achievement requires you to invest, time money or effort, to achieve the outcome. Corollary: there is no free lunch, only focused efforts will prime you to achieve your goal. Think about how many mountaineers have died in their effort to reach the top of the Everest. Even Sir Hillary & Tenzing Norgay made multiple attempts & risked their life & limb before their attempt in 1953 was successful. The Expedition which succeeded was the 9th British Expedition to scale Everest. The Nepali people believe Chomolungma or Sagarmatha ( local names for Everest) has to call you. You do not climb the mountain: the Mountain calls you to climb. So really think about it: who is paying the cost here?

Most experiments are designed to be done quickly. Get data, analyze data, publish data, move on. But the universe does not always work on nice brief timescales. For some things you need time. Lots of time. The longest experiment known as the BROADBALK EXPERIMENT is going on for a whopping 181+ years. In 1842, John Bennet Lawes patented his method for making superphosphate (a common, synthetic plant nutrient) and opened up the first artificial fertilizer factory in the world. The following year, Lawes and chemist Joseph Henry Gilbert began a series of experiments comparing the effects of organic & inorganic fertilizers, which are now the oldest agricultural studies on Earth. For over 150 years parts of a field of winter wheat have received either manure, artificial fertilizer, or no fertilizer. The results are just what you’d expect: artificial & natural fertilized plots produce around six to seven tons of grain per hectare, while the unfertilized plot produces around one ton of grain per hectare. They can use these studies to test everything from herbicides to soil microbes & even figure out oxygen ratios for better reconstruction of paleoclimates. At what cost knowledge? At what investment of time?

We mortals do not have the luxury of time & resources to learn. But we also have the experience that shortcuts often result in more frustration and bad conclusions. Prior to the days of Google maps, I recollect a trip we made to Matheran, while in college. Going up to the hill station we took the toy train. The terrain & gradient looked so easy that while coming down, a few of us decided to walk downhill. As we climbed down, someone suggested a short cut, No prizes for guessing, we got lost!! It was becoming dark. We were surrounded by thick forestation and we did not know where to go. After wandering around in circles, for a couple of hours, we were fortunate to meet a local who guided & helped us reach the railway station below, just in time to catch the last outgoing train to Mumbai, to the relief of all. The “short cut” proved to be a long cut indeed. I am sure we all have had such experiences where we were so focused on the result at any cost, and gave a go-by to the process leading to more time, effort, cost and frustration.

I believe the “at any cost” thinking typically happens at the start of a project, when time appears plenty, and dead-lines are not looming large. There is a hidden romanticism underlying the bravado of “at any cost” thinking. You wrongly assume that your sincerity & hard work will dissolve all obstacles & the win will be yours. But if you just take a deep breath & re-think, really “at any cost” is just a chimera. In practical life you can never justify results “at any cost”. Even wars, to say nothing of commercial endeavors, have to be justified on cost-benefit ratios. America stopped it’s involvement in Vietnam, when the body count rose & the people started questioning the administration. Look at Hitler. After having practically over-run entire Europe, his megalomaniac thinking made him lose sight of the negatives in opening up Russian Front. And putting his resources in, at a time when the severe winter of Russia was setting in. He could not manage the logistics of men, material & food movement eventually costing him his World Ruler ambition. So Russia campaign at what cost? Similar story played out with our own Indira Gandhi. From a seemingly unassailable position of virtual dictatorship, things quickly folded up all around her, eventually divesting her of her powerful advantage. The Congress Party has never been able to regain it’s glorious position ever again. What cost Congress & the Gandhi family has paid? and is still paying?? Remember James Blaine who gained the  1884 Republican nomination for US Presidency on his third attempt: “Another victory like this and all our money’s gone!”

Maybe you will call me a compromiser, but in my life I have studiously stayed away from the “at any cost” thinking Projects are important. Results are important. But the cost benefit equilibrium has to be maintained. A boss taught me early in life….pull the rubber band but keep an eye on it’s elasticity. Do not pull so much that the rubber band breaks!! For win win solutions, never make it an ego issue, “at any cost” type of thinking. Learn to let go, compromise. Be ready to settle for less today, But invest in a relationship where you will be helped in the long run. What you lose on the swings, try and recover on the round-abouts.

At any cost thinking is about pulverizing the alternative, keeping all the brownie points to your self. But that does not help in the long run. Win Win thinking is not about pyrrhic victories. rather it is accepting the cost benefits not only of your side, but also of the other side. That is why a company like Johnson & Johnson says it openly in it’s Credo….Suppliers and Vendors must have an opportunity to make a fair profit. For your own success these vendors and suppliers must remain in business so that they can contribute to your business success in the long run. At any Cost thinking is focused on immediate & short run wins, But life is about playing for the long term. Winning in long term requires a wider perspective than that reflected by the “at any cost” egoticism. we would do well to remember the warning of Tsem Tulku, Zen Teacher, ” Next time you are faced with a challenge, remember the cost of success is far cheaper than the price of failure”.

Remember James Blaine and his comment: “Another victory like this and all our money’s gone!” So I end by remembering and reminding my readers of King Pyrrhus of Epirus whose army suffered irreplaceable casualties in defeating the Romans during the Pyrrhic War. After the latter battle, King Pyrrhus commented when his generals complimented him for winning the war,” One other such victory would utterly undo us” The mood is similar to that expressed by Arjuna to Krishna on the last day of Mahabharata war as they viewed the battlefield strewn with dead bodies of friends & foes. Victory at what cost?

I echo Madgulkar who sings in Geet Ramayan: “
दैवजात दुः खें भरतां दोष ना कुणाचा
पराधीन आहे जगतीं पुत्र मानवाचI

{ Destiny is riddled with Sorrow, Oh Bharta, and no one is to blame

In the World, the Son of Man is Subjugated & in Chains}

So choose wisely. Can one really afford, at any cost? asks vikas

Who, Me? Indispensable??

As we work our way through life, it is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking one is indispensable. But are we? I know a friend who will go, “Vikas again you are off on your self deprecating mode. Are we all not unique? Don’t we add value in our own special way? ” For sure, we all make an impact on life, on our near and dear ones; make a difference in the organizations we are associated with, leave a legacy. So certainly we will be missed : somehow, by someone. But we need a draw a strong line, before we fool ourselves that we are indispensable.

Contrast this with today’s mindset where people feel proud when meetings are cancelled since they are not available. They take it as a signal of their importance, their need, their seminal contribution. Should not managers’ role be to make himself redundant, ensure team members are prepared with all facts & data so that no one person becomes super critical or their absence a deal breaker?? Today, mostly we hear, “this happened totally because of me” or “this could not be done because I was absent”. To me this is a sad reflection of today’s proclivity of blowing one’s own trumpet, continuously.

Again contrast this with Dwight Eisenhower — five-star General, Supreme Allied Commander, U.S. President. When Ike returned to Normandy for the 20th anniversary of D-Day & was asked to give a speech at a dinner commemorating the invasion, rather than use the occasion to wax poetic about his role in executing one of the most monumental military operations in history, this man of singular eminence instead used the opportunity to read the poem “The Indispensable Man.” quoted below.

Sometime when you’re feeling important; Sometime when your ego’s in bloom;
Sometime when you take it for granted, You’re the best qualified in the room:
Sometime when you feel that your going, Would leave an unfillable hole,
Just follow these simple instructions, And see how they humble your soul.

Take a bucket and fill it with water, Put your hand in it up to the wrist,
Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining, Is a measure of how much you’ll be missed.
You can splash all you wish when you enter, You may stir up the water galore,
But stop, and you’ll find that in no time, It looks quite the same as before….

Many times meetings are cancelled or postponed because someone is not available. “He has worked on the project; his input is critical” is the refrain! I am reminded of an RSS anecdote. As per Annual calendar, an All India Meeting was planned & all invitees intimated in advance for smooth logistics. Dattopant Thengdi, thespian Hindu idealogue, based in Bengal then, confirmed his presence. But as the meeting date came close, he informed that there was a program kept by the local Swayamsewaks & this would not happen if he was away. So he regretted the preplanned meeting. Golwalkar Guruji Sar SanghaChalak, chairing the meeting made it a point to mention,” आपण ज्या कार्यक्षेत्रात काम करतो तिथे आपल्याशिवाय कार्यक्रम, बैठक, शाखा लागणार नसेल तर तर आपल्या कार्य करण्याच्या पद्धतीत काहीतरी कमी आहे. त्रुटी आहे हे लक्षात घेतले पाहिजे” (wherever you are working, if a meeting, program cannot be completed without your personal presence, then you must understand that there is a major fault in your way of working)

Today’s populace can learn a lot about humility in public & professional life. Rather than feeling proud “I did this” or “I did that” one must find the humility in one’s heart to say मी केवळ निमित्त मात्र ( I am only an excuse, not the cause). On a practical level, if you quit your job, someone else — no matter how well you did your work — is going to be able to take your place, and the company will keep on running. On a more macro level, when you die, the world will keep on spinning; society will keep on running; people will continue to wake up, go to school, go to their jobs, eat dinner, make love, go to sleep. Nearly everything will continue functioning just as before. eg In Siemens we used to change the German MD, the German Finance Director & the German Factory Director every 3 years, one rotational change per year. So when any employee resigned, I used to tell him: this company changes its Director every year. You are not more important than the Director! We can relieve you immediately!!

As an old saying goes, “Graveyards are full of people the world could not do without.” This might all seem depressing, but actually it is rather liberating. Too many people say yes to things they don’t want to do, & stay in unhappy relationships or jobs or volunteer positions out of guilt, out of fear, out of the ultimately egoistical worry that that others will simply not be able to function without them. The world is usually not quite so indifferent to us as that, but the truth remains that it can still get along just fine without us. Take your hand out of the bucket & the water flows back in. It is a humbling check to the ego, to be sure, but a healthy, freeing one at that.

Let me end with a story from Mahabharata. After 18 days of war, the conch blew to signal an end to the war. Arjun was gratified & prideful. He believed it was only his fighting prowess that won the day for Pandavas. He stood proud and tall in his chariot surveying the battlefield. Custom had it that the Charioteer must first get down & then invite Arjun to descend. Krishna, Arjun’s Charioteer, asked him to get down first. After freeing the horses from the Chariot, Krishna himself stepped off on the ground. Within seconds Arjun’s chariot burst in flames & burnt to ashes.

Arjun asked Krishna what happened? Chracteristically, Krishna smiled & moved away. Disturbed, Arjun went to Bhishma pitamaha to seek an explanation. Bhishma explained to Arjun that during the war many astra, celestial weapons, were targeted at Arjun’s chariot. But due to Krishna’s presence on the chariot they could not harm the chariot or Arjun. As soon as Krishna stepped off the chariot, they all came back to power & burnt the chariot to ashes. That would have been Arjun’s own fate if Krishna was not with him. Arjun realized it was not his skill, but the presence of Krishna & his invisible power which had won the war for Pandavas. Just like Arjun, let us learn to thank the Krishnas in our lives, our teams, our mentors, our friends, our families for our successes.

To end, as i look back on my 67 years, Sure, I did much, but in the end, I was not so important. I quote Rahat Indori to express my feelings: vikas the explorer

लगेगी आग तो, आएँगे घर कई ज़द में
यहाँ पे सिर्फ़ हमारा मकान थोड़ी है
जो आज साहिबे मसनद हैं, कल नहीं होंगे
किराएदार हैं, ज़ाती मकान थोड़ी है
( if there is a fire, many houses will fall victim; there is not only my house here; Today one who is ascending the throne, will not be there tomorrow; He is also a tenant: not the true owner of the home)

Post Script: The idea/theme for this blog was suggested by my friend & reader Siddhesh, based on a WA post of one Suhas Vaidya. Grateful acknowledgements to both for the inspiration. Pl forgive me, Siddhesh, if my blog does not live up to your expectations.

Mishtooks Galore

Merriam-Webster records 116 synonyms and antonyms for mistake, not including my personal twist on the word above. Mishtook, because it exemplifies and illustrates a mistake. What better way to explain it than by a demo, which catches attention? We all are surrounded by mistakes, errors, something gone wrong, misjudgments, blunders, misunderstandings, miscalculations, & we have to make our way through these troubled waters, the Scyalla & Charybdis to pursue our life goals and emerge successful.

So indeed we are all aware of mistakes, having made so many of them in our own lives. Some acknowledged as mistakes; many defended no end! Some learning points along the way; while many ignored & hence repeated!!! Yes we are indeed aware of mistakes as a topic & have often spent time mulling over them, Intuitively we know in mistakes there is a spectrum on severity & implications. Beginning from an error : I took a wrong turn while searching for an address. Mistake it is, as this error will take me further & further away from my destination. Error, lapse, slip, wrong but not earth shattering; easily correctible. Unless it is career wrong turn!!!

The second level would be misjudgment, miscalculation, a wrong statement/action a mistake whose consequences are not what we had bargained for & hence we resent/regret it. Not following genuine & well intentioned advice of friends, who know better, is a classic example. And finally, not following your girl-friend or wife’s advice takes it to the next level. Undoubtedly all my readers will agree that is a Blunder. 3rd level : blunder, goof-up, blooper, gaffe, snafu, foul-up would be words you can describe such a mistake of major implications on present and future. The Bay of Pigs Disaster which permanently scarred US & Russian relations is an example of Blunder.

Ok, so why are we interested in mistakes? Mistakes have the power to make you something better than you were before. When you accept your mistake & take action to overcome it, you are saying to the world you are better today, that you were yesterday. You know more now than earlier. And that is a great thing. Winston Churchill is credited with,” All men make mistakes, but only the wise ones learn from their mistakes” In fact it is said, there are no mistakes or failures, only lessons. Remember Edison who tried 1000 different elements while trying to invent the electric bulb. Some glowed but broke off, some were stable but did not give out any light. A journalist ridiculed Edison,” You have failed 1000 times” ,” No,” replied Edison” I know 1000 elements that do not work“. If you want to grow & move ahead in life, you must get over the fear of making mistakes. That is what lives of great people have taught us again & again. “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” Oscar Wilde. More the experience less the mistakes. More the Mistakes More the experience. A real virtuous circle???

When you make a mistake, there are only three things you should ever do about it: admit it, learn from it, and don’t repeat it.” Paul Bear Bryant. Mistakes can be the biggest teachers one can have in the journey of life. Make mistakes, learn from them & move on. Make glorious mistakes. Amazing mistakes. Go where no one has gone before. Do not freeze. Do not worry. Explore. Try new things. Whatever you are scared of, try it. Remember you are exposing yourself & the wider you go, greater the opportunity to learn. It is not how & what mistakes we make but the way we resolve the mistakes that defines us & shapes our life. And the best part is that you can equally learn from other people’s mistakes, if you are sensitive and curious. Which is why James Joyce told us ,” Mistakes are the portals of discovery”. Make new mistakes every day!

Of course there are some historical mistakes which cannot be corrected. The decisions which JF Kennedy took in 1960s of supporting the exiled Cubans launch an “invasion” of Cuba scarred Russia/Cuba/USA relations for ever. Jawaharlal Nehru decision to cease fire in 1948 at the peak of the Kashmir issue & then seek UN involvement in Kashmir arguably has cost the Indian polity very heavily. Also referred by Gen Cariappa & press as The Himalayan Blunder, is something we live with even 75 years after the event. Certainly a mistake that cannot be course corrected. Our Missile Man Abdul Kalam has recounted how in 1979 he was Mission Director at Sriharikota, incharge of the Satellite launch program At T-4 before launch, the computer system put a hold, APJK consulted his scientists. They concluded the fuel leakage was not so severe that the launch velocity would not be reached. Kalam by-passed the computer & launched the system, only to see it go into the Bay of Bengal. Lessons learnt, the next launch in 1980 was successful. But 1979 was a mistake.

When such mistakes are done there is precious little one can do save & except capture learnings for future. But sometimes even that luxury is not afforded to you. In my life I always rue one such mistake. Being the agnostic & black sheep of the family, I wanted my marriage to have nothing to do with god. My father-in-law being a staunch Hindu and committed RSS person was not able to reconcile. He tried a lot to persuade me and Vinita for a Hindu Vedic ceremony. But we were immature; I was adamant. And we had a court registered marriage. I rue not listening to him. What would it have cost me except my ego? But i held firm & now will carry the guilt of hurting him to my grave, a mistake which cannot be corrected in any manner now.

To end this blog I want to relate another Einstein anecdote. which speaks to mistakes & how we should learn to handle them. Einstein was a prolific innovator scientist. All his life’s earnings were invested in 2 multi-storied laboratories. The buildings were wooden & contained all of Einstein’s scientific work n innovations. One summer day, an electric short circuit cased a fire in the labs. Within no time the flames were reaching the sky. Einstein & his son we standing in the open fields watching all their life’s earning turn to ashes. The son felt Einstein’s pain So he put his arm around the old man’s frail shoulders. At that moment Einstein spoke,” I am happy. All my mistakes are burnt to the ground. Now tomorrow I can start all over again!” What an attitude!!!

Here is hoping we all can imbibe Einstein’s attitude in handling the mistakes of our lives…vikas


All movie lovers will remember the ebullient & effervescent Geeta Bali challenging a down & out Dev Anand with the lilting taunt,” तदबीर से बिगड़ी हुई तक़दीर बना ले; अपने पे भरोसा है तो, एक दाव लगा ले” The challenge expressed by Geeta Bali’s eyes is beautifully captured by Geeta Dutt’s voice & SD’s tune in Baazi(1951). While to the inveterate gambler Dev plays in the movie numbers are sacrosanct, actually if you think about it numbers play an important role in all our lives. Is it because Life is a BIG GAMBLE and we are all awaiting outcomes with bated breaths though out our lives? With such uncertainty surrounding us, numbers give a sense of definitiveness. Maybe that is why we hold on to numbers through out our fearful lives.

When I was in college in Mumbai in the early 1970s, Matka was King & Ratan Khatri who ran Matka gambling dens in Mumbai was the virtual Badshah of the streets. Every nook & corner had small cubby holes where you could go & register your bet. You were given a small, perforated slip detailing your bet. The model was simple. A 3-digit number would be declared in the evening. The total of the 3 digits was what you tried to predict. If you got it right, the payoff was 1:9, For every 1 Rupee you bet you stood to gain 9 Rs . If you predicted the 3 digits also, the payoff was 1: 72. eg if the 3 digits declared were 279. This adds up to 18, 1 plus 8 again is 9. If you had bet on 9, you were paid out 1: 9. If you placed a bet on 279 you got 72 Rs for every 1 Re you bet. These 3 digits were declared at 7 pm & then again at 11 pm. So you could play for the 7 pm declaration (called Open, don’t ask me why) and/or Close, which was declared at 11 pm. You could bet on a Number , a Pana (the 3-Digit combo) at Open or at Close or both. As the probability of getting the numbers right diminished, payouts became astronomical.

One thing Ratan Khatri managed was make every Mumbaikar familiar and cognizant of the English numbers. This was regardless of education and social class. All learnt to read and write English numbers. On the roads, at kerb sides, outside the betting dens the Pana (3 digits) and the Number was written in white chalk 2 times every day. If your bet was right the payout would happen in cash the next day. Every passing cab or rickshaw was scrutinised to see if it gave any lucky no you could use to bet that day. if 2 taxis had 5 and the ending no. you bet on 5 that day. Movies which showed vehicles’ number plates, advertisements, random slips of wrapping papers were all studiously checked for hints on what number to bet on today. Ratan Khatri laughed all the way to the bank, as the odds always favoured him. But Mumbai was hooked onto numbers.

This college memory is deep in my heart. But what can you say about numerologists and simpletons who will begin an endeavor on an auspicious date? Why is every donation 51 Rs or 101 Rs or 1001? Is a round no bad luck? The street matka mindset is repeated as you go up the social strata and the betting switches to Horse racing. Statistics & number tracking becomes more elaborate. Stakes multiply multifold. But how is the number game different when you talk of Cricket betting? Or the Satta Bazaar? or the number game on the floor of Stock Exchanges? Stakes are different, tools & techniques are different, but in all these games people play, Number is King. Science takes a back seat here along with rationality. And what rules is feelings, emotions, hunches & sentiments.

In a totally different context, Chinese consider number 4 as a symbol of death. While in the western world, hotels omit the 13th floor, in China it is 4th floor. Interestingly this mindset is also not uniform. I was doing some reading on whether & why number 13 is unlucky in some cultures & came across some interesting data. 13 is not actually Unlucky but rather considered auspicious in many cultures. One theory for 13 being unlucky is that this is due to the cultures employing lunar-solar calendars. There are approximately 12.41 lunations (the period of time averaging 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 2.8 seconds elapsing between two successive new moons) per solar year, and hence 12 “true months” plus a smaller, & often portentous, thirteenth month.

In ancient cultures, the number 13 represented femininity, because it corresponded to the number of lunar (menstrual) cycles in a year (13 x 28 = 364 days). The theory is that, as the solar calendar triumphed over the lunar, the number thirteen became anathema. In France 13 was traditionally considered a lucky number prior to the First World War & was used in numerical form as a good luck symbol on postcards & charms. Neighboring Italy: 13 was the lucky number in football pools (Totocalcio). The Italian expression “fare tredici” (literally, “make thirteen”) means to hit the jackpot.

The United States of America was created from 13 British colonies. As such, the number 13 is recurring motif in American heraldry. e.g. there are 13 stars on the Great Seal of the United States & 13 stripes on the American flag. The chest shield in front of the spread eagle bears 13 stripes (seven white & six red). The eagle’s right talon holds the Olive Branch of Peace, bearing 13 olives & 13 olive leaves. The eagle’s left talon holds the Weapons of War, consisting of 13 arrows. The eagle’s mouth holds a scroll bearing the national motto “E Pluribus Unum” (which, by coincidence, consists of 13 letters).

In astronomy there are 13 star constellations in the zodiac (including Ophiuchus). In Judaism, 13 signifies the age at which a boy matures and becomes a Bar Mitzvah, i.e., a full member of the Jewish faith (counts as a member of Minyan). The number of principles of Jewish faith according to Maimonides. According to Rabbinic commentary on the Torah, God has 13 Attributes of Mercy.

So, if you ask is 13 lucky or unlucky, I will say to you that the Jury is still out. I proposed to my college sweetheart on the 13th day of November 1971, 5 decades ago. She said Yes. Whether I am lucky or unlucky I leave it to the readers to decide. I see my own answer change on and off, & sometimes multiple times in a day!!!

So remember, it is not the number, it is all in your mind : vikas

PS: this blog owes a lot to the inspiration provided by Vinit Deo & the article at

Zugzwang (n.)

phrase from chess, but applicable to life

a situation in which the obligation to make a move in one’s turn is a serious, often decisive, disadvantage

Think of an unmarried son or daughter coming home during the vacation. The child (?) is already past 26/27: the age considered appropriate for getting wed, by Indian standards. Finding a suitable time, the parents sit their progeny down & pop the million dollar question, the elephant in the room, ” When are you planning to get married and settle down? You are not getting any younger?”

The youngster’s situation can best explain the concept of zugzwang. Think of the alternatives:

  1. S/he does not want to get married at all. Or at least not at this time and considers there is plenty of time ahead.
  2. H/she already has some particular person in mind…has made promises or commitments.. but does not want to tell the parents now, wanting to stay away from ,” Why not tell us earlier? We could have met the person earlier? Do the other set of parents know? Could you not have waited some more? .” & other EBM ploys” Is she from our caste? Family background? Will the match appear right in the eyes of the relatives & friends from both sides? What does s/he do? etc. etc.

Consider the situation from the point of view of either party. And you can best understand zugzwang. Whatever words are spoken, or action is taken, is a decisive, serious disadvantage, which will cast it’s pall on whatever happens next. Life, & especially such situations, are truly zero-sum games per Decision Theory. Both parties cannot win. And in fact many times, both the parties feel they are losing, end up driving the discussion or decision to more & more unpalatable outcomes. The feeling of being caught between the devil & the deep sea makes everyone miserable. Tempers fly high, Emotions are at peak. And both feel that they are caught in a lose-lose game.

In Marathi there is a classic proverb धरल तर चावत , सोडल तर पळत. ( If you hold, it will bite, if you let it go, it will run away) Think of a snake ( a difficult situation) in your house( your life). Ok, so have caught the snake by the tail. How do you handle it now? Leaving it is fraught with risk., it will escape & fight/bite another day. But holding it by it’s tail is equally problematic; it can whip around & bite. Action must be taken. But every alternative is full of negative possibilities. A true zugzwang.

Life is complex & complicated only because rarely are you faced with a choice between good and bad. That one is easy. Quick wins guaranteed, But Life always presents us with zugzwang. Choices between 2 goods or 2 bad options. One side there may be marginally “more” good than the other option provides. But finally good is a judgement. It is a moving goal post. It changes depending on many indeterminates like your situation, what you can commit, time at your disposal, resources you have etc. etc. So how do we choose? {And we assume that we have the freedom to choose, which by itself is another deep hole.} Really, there are no clear answers which will stand the test of time and analysis, so often we just take a plunge based on limited data points & less-than-complete understanding. And then live the rest of our days agonizing whether our decision call was right. Did we choose the better right, euphemistically? No clear answers there!!

Then there is the choice between 2 bad things. Theoretically one less bad than the other. But how do we judge less and more? what scale do we use? There goes Alice down the Rabbit hole, yet again. Should Hitler have created multiple Concentration Camps or just one? Were the French Revolutionaries better with just the guillotine? Should they have worked on making the guillotine more efficient? Were Hitler’s mass graves with detainees themselves digging the graves, standing on the edge & getting shot better than the Gas Chambers? Which gas causes less pain and quicker death? Extreme examples but the principle is the same as is prevalent in today’s Avoidance Avoidance Conflict dilemmas. With a heart condition, stenting or open heart surgery? A routine test detects a lump. Should I do biopsy or live in uncertainty? Given the diagnosis of Breast cancer , Mastectomy or ChemoTherapy? Should I take radiation, knowing its side effects & harm it causes to surrounding good tissue? There are no blacks and whites left today…..there are multiple shades of grey making choices more and more difficult. What decision model will help me decide to switch off the ventilator for my parent, when the Dr in his Hippocratic stupor, claims there is life still, though in a vegetative state?

It is not only in Medical parlance we see such dilemmas. Think of a typical Union Management negotiation for a long term settlement. Both parties know that they need to resolve the issue & move forward. Though the end point must be mutually beneficial, Union must get a fair deal, wages and benefits, for the workmen, the Management must remain in the realm of capacity to pay, competitiveness and past history & future precedents it is creating. While these outer parameters are clear look at the extreme gamesmanship that often gets displayed in these situations. Most often neither party is ready to be open and transparent and that delays the solution. Both parties stick to their alternatives, without transparency and solution orientation, They both understand the obligation to make a move, but try to see that the attendant disadvantage to themselves is minimized. Sharply differing perspectives on advantage & disadvantage make union management negotiations a long drawn out affair. Same is true when you are negotiating to buy a house or salary & perks for a new job or even a re-sale of a car.

My father was not a good chess player. Additionally, he was a poor loser. So his strategy was simple. Play the game till such a time the outcome is still indeterminate, the game could go either way. Sometimes he would make the right moves at this stage and be in a winning position. Which was fine by him. But as soon as he realised he is cornered, there is no way he can wriggle out of the tight spot, & is staring at a Checkmate, he would put one finger under the chess board, and flip over the Board. Down would come tumbling, Knights, Horses, camels & all. Game over. Obviously he was not ready to be at a disadvantage.

On the other hand, in zugzwang there is an obligation to make a move, rooted in the knowledge that your move will end up with a significant disadvantage to you, how do you handle this? My father’s way will not make you friends. Rather a priori acceptance that Life will deal me many deals where I must play my best, humbly accept disadvantages which may lead to defeat, still not lose my gamemanship & accept the obligations to make my moves regardless of outcomes…that is the way to play this chess-game we call Life. Celebrate your losses. Celebrate the wins. Enjoy the game!

Remember what you lose on the swings, be ready to win on the roundabouts: vikas

Death, be not proud

Wikipedia defines Death as ” Death is the irreversible cessation of all biological functions that sustain an organism. Death is an inevitable process that eventually occurs in almost all organisms.” Remember Benjamin Franklin (1789), “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”. Despite being ubiquitous, Death is dreaded and rarely talked about, except in hushed tones & in dark corners. But I want to make it centerstage & say a few things about this universal phenomenon.

Ba Bha Borkar, a famous poet in Marathi, sings the story of life so very well:

नाही पुण्याची मोजणी
नाही पापाची टोचणी
जिणें गंगौघाचें पाणी

कशाचा न लागभाग
कशाचा न पाठलाग
आम्ही हो फुलांचे पराग

पूजेतल्या पानाफुला
मृत्यु सर्वांगसोहळा
धन्य निर्माल्याची कळI

(Transliteration: I do not count the merits, Nor do I count the sins, Life is a swirling cauldron; I have no attachments; Nor have any pursuits, Like the pollen of the flowers, …To the flowers offered to God, Death is mighty celebration, They feel blessed to be used & discarded)

Actually, if you think about it, it is strange to be afraid of Death. Really, Life hurts much more than Death!! Living is a daily struggle, mostly an uphill battle chasing dreams & other chimera. Sure, some successes but full of disappointments & pain, perpetually keeping us in a state of want, pushing us to achieve the next goal, something better, higher & faster. Ironically, even achievers are unhappy in their worlds. Satisfaction is a moving goal post. As against this continuous seeking, at the point of death, the pain is over!! Swarga, Nirvana, Salvation, the Promised land, Heaven, Jannat, all await us there. So why grieve? why fear death?

Partly I think this is caused by the imagery surrounding Death. The Grim Reaper. Yama, on a black bison. The Purgatory, the Boiling Cauldrons. Even though the Jesus story is of hope, as he came back to life, the sufferings on the Cross is what is majorly emphasized & not the Resurrection. Devoid of all the negative hype, what is wrong with death? Remember, it is inevitable…. Life is a game, and no one gets out of it alive. If you have lived a good life, then Death is an entry ticket into Eternity. And all religions promise that the afterlife will be much more rewarding & comforting, than the struggles of Life!! I think the fear of death follows from the fear of life & living, itself!!!

All these thoughts are prompted by the death of a friend’s mother, another friend’s sister & my own uncle, all in this month. Each life & each death is an unique story. But let us talk about my uncle. He was my father’s immediate next brother, & we all have very fond memories of his love and affection, in our childhood years. He introduced us to British Council libraries. He would assemble all kids at his house, get everyone to play cards, keep a running supply of snacks and nimbu-pani. The evening reward, for participating in the card-playing marathon, was an Ice-cream treat. This was before the Kwality & Joy family pack days. So the entire jing-bang was ferried in rickshaws to Kawre & Solanki Ice cream parlors. He first introduced us to an ice-cream lunch or dinner: idea was to have 5/6 or more, cups of different flavors, & skip the meal.

His giving was legendary. In my mother’s kitchen the Big dabbas of Steel & Copper were procured & supplied by my uncle. As were the crockery & cutlery sets. His loving nature apart, he was super intelligent. A ranker in his SSC exam at that time, his sense of humor was legion. Fie, if you were caught on the wrong end of his repartee…many family anecdotes were made from his caustic, but witty comments.

Somewhere down the line his loving nature gave way to bitterness. He behaved as though God has put him on earth to correct his fellow humans, to show them the right path. Full of vituperative anger & caustic sarcasm, he hurt many & left many wounded. Slowly, people started avoiding him. Even the family members bristled & kept their own counsel, on the other side of the road, where he walked. Unfortunately, this reinforced his feeling that the world is wrong, & he must intervene and tongue-lash people unto following his dictum. He lived to ripe age of 89, saw his children settled, disposed his property, made money & bank balances, but died lonely, and if truth be told, un-mourned. What makes a man change so much? “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies within us while we live” These words of Norman Cousins ring true when I think of my uncle. A loving, kingly man, witty and smart, the life of any party. Why and how does he turn into a man-eating ogre?

Death never takes a wise man by surprise. And wise my uncle certainly was. He had he had lived a full life, by his rules, and was “prepared & ready” to die. He never felt it necessary to grieve & mourn and would not have expected us to grieve. Don’t get me wrong. I am against the ostentatious Rajasthani practice of Rudaalis (professional mourners) immortalized by Mahasweta Devi’s short story, brought to life by Kalpana Lajmi and played by Rakhee & Dimple. Extreme show apart, I do believe Grief is a coping mechanism and has a place in life. Grief is not a disorder, a disease, or a sign of weakness. In the normal situation, grieving is a necessity, a price you pay for the love of the deceased. The only cure for grief is to grieve. But in the instant case the love had evaporated & so literally there was no grief. With all sincerity & humility, I hope, when I die, there will be no grief. Unlike my uncle, i have never tried to teach others the “right” path. But I believe I have shown acceptance and tolerance to all. I have lived a good life. I have no remnant desires. To his credit I must say my uncle too had a very peaceful death. I wish for the same.

ह्रदय कमल सूचि हो….बुद्धि मेरी विमल हो….तृष्णा से शांत मन हो….इतना तो करना स्वामी…जब प्राण तन से निकले (Transliteration: Let my heart be pure like the lotus…my intellect humble…mind free of desires… do at least this much Swami…when life leaves my body)

If you think clearly, “it is not death then a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live” (Marcus Aurelius). Live life king size, Enjoy with family & friends, Contribute whenever & wherever and accept Death, the Grim Reaper, Yama as a friend. A friend buying your ticket and accompanying you to the Beyond, a new Avatar. As a dear friend says, “ उस पल का इंतझार (eagerly await that moment)

So I repeat with John Donne ,” Death be not proud, …one short sleep past, we wake eternally, And Death shall be no more, Death thou shalt die”: vikas, the incurable hopeful

What Freedom Means to Me

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me/ I am a free human being with an independent will” postulated Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre. I will tell you what freedom is to me. No Fear. Walk where your heart leads you. Sans all restrictions and burdens. And yet Voltaire averred,” Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains” . Societal, Familial, Collegial, Organizational to say nothing of Religious and Ideological … pressures abound from all directions. Even my own history & experiences serve to bamboozle me. Slowly Freedom becomes a chimera we all admire & aspire for… but like the horizon, it fades further as we move towards it. And, those who do not move, do not notice the chains that bind them. And thus remain in the false impression that they are free!!! So, immediately after India celebrated it’s 75 years of Independence, I am sitting down to understand what freedom means to me.

If I look back in my own life, freedom was choosing to study Humanities/Arts when all my well-wishers wanted me to be a doctor or an engineer. Freedom was deciding to marry my cousin when others were proposing alternatives. Freedom was deciding to adopt a baby girl, and not a boy. While all these were decisions of importance, Freedom also was declaring that now that I am in a house of my own, i will not force myself to eat everything & clean my plate, as was expected in my father’s house. Rather petulantly I declared I will “waste” food & not force myself to eat all. Not showing obeisance to elders, refusal to touch their feet as expected in Indian society; Wearing dark shirts and light color trousers, when everyone went for the other way round, all were an expression of freedom. Wearing crumpled clothes & hair very, very short was freedom. Every rebellious act could be a statement of freedom. One followed Robert Frost in letter and spirit who said,” Freedom lies in being Bold”.

To me 3 names come to mind when I think of Freedom. Krishna, Savarkar & Mandela. Let me explain. Mythologically, the story of Krishna is a classic mix of freedom and free will. We are all aware of the events and activities surrounding Krishna’s birth in prison, Vasudeva carrying him out on that fateful night of torrential rain, Krishna being brought up by Nanda and Yoshoda. As Krishna started growing up his divine/free will started exerting and the actions that he took…killing of Puthana, Trinavrata and Bakasur all show actions taken to rid the surroundings of nefarious demons who were making the life of the common people difficult. Krishna’s role on Mahabharata & the expounding of the Bhagwat Geeta give us the importance of decisive action in life. The entire concept of Krishna Leela is a classic example of freedom of will & acting to ensure greatest good of the maximum number. The mythological stories of Krishna or Vishnu or Ram all underline the importance of doing the right thing and following the dictates of the heart, boldly and free of any restrictions.

Talk of Freedom, and to every Maharashtrian, the one name which shines the brightest is that of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Savarkar’s iconic escape from the ship, which was carrying him back to India, while it was docked at Marseilles is a story often repeated when people talk of the love for freedom. His incarceration at the Cellular Jail (Kaala Pani) in the Andamans physically imprisoned him, but most of his time was spent writing books, essays, novels and poetry which were nationalistic in fervor and urged all Hindus to agitate for freedom. Freedom was his first love and literally he laid his life down for freedom of thought and expression. To me George Orwell’s words ring truest when we think of Savarkar’s contribution,” If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”. The clarion call of Savarkar rings loud and clear even now.

Historically Nelson Mandela is the 3rd person who comes to my mind when we talk of freedom of action & thought. This champion of Freedom, just like the other 2 we referred to above, spent a large part of his life in prison. Having been born in the Royal family of Thembu, trained as a lawyer, Mandela got into ANC early to oppose apartheid. He flirted with communism, was arrested many times for sedition. He negotiated an end to apartheid and paved the way to the first Multi Cultural General Election after which he served as the 1st President of South Africa in 1994. Mandela believed and professed that “Freedom is something that dies unless it is used” (Hunter Thompson). Under his government, South Africa made great strides in reconciliation between country’s multiple racial groups. Revenge was eschewed and people were free to profess & live with their differences. The secret to Happiness is Freedom. The secret to Freedom is Courage. Mandela taught this truth to a hurting nation.

So what does Freedom mean to me? Freedom is being what you are without having to seek anybody’s permission. Accepting yourself as you are. Accepting others as they are. And no one makes an effort to change the other. Let everyone be. Respect and encourage diversity. As Hans Christian Anderson taught us through the Fairy Tales we all loved and grew up with,” Just living is not enough. One must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower”. Virginia Woolf says the same thing less romantically in A Room of One’s Own ,” Lock up your libraries if you like, but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind”

Take inspiration then from Independence, & be a Zealous Warrior to guard Freedom : vikas

Action Orientation

To Do or Not to Do? Should I? Can I? May I? Could I? To be? or Not to Be? The perpetual question!!!… whose answer keeps changing with the passage of time. “Yes, let me move forward”. “No let it be”. Hip Hop, On Off. Debate and Consternation: never translating into action.

Intellectually we all know smoking is bad. Liquor is harmful to health. Sweets are not good for a diabetic. Regular exercise is beneficial in the long term. Procrastination does not help. But all that knowledge…how often does that translate into action? so what is the gap here? Is this the famous Existentialism Dilemma propounded by Sartre? or is this the philosophy propounded by the Nihilists that life has no intrinsic meaning or value.. so why do anything at all? The Merriam-Webster Thesaurus lists 157 synonyms of “action”; still there are many we have met who shy away from all 157; they are content remaining in suspension, on the horns of the dilemma, never choosing any action & hence similar to mythical Trishanku remain perpetually hanging, between 2 worlds.

Inaction helps none. That is why Benjamin Franklin said, “Well done is better than well said”. There are many who speak well, the spin doctors & artists, but the world respects those who can act & not only talk. Modern management guru Simon Sinek puts it more graphically,” Words may inspire, but only action creates change.” Every new product we see, every new land discovered, every boundary crossed are all evidence that actions speak louder than words, and these actions are actually shaping & creating the world we live in. Merely knowing is never enough. We must act on the knowledge. And this action has the power to change you, change your surroundings & change your world. Inaction then is possibly the biggest mistake you can make.

So why do we not act? Why are we afraid? Do we lack the confidence that we will be able to overcome whatever challenges & difficulties that may come our way? are we so cocooned in our comfort zone that we do not want to see or venture outside? In the comfort zone there are no surprises, no stretch, no new experiences. But correspondingly there is no growth also. All “magic” happens out side the comfort zone. Only when you leave the Comfort Zone behind you, you will go into the Growth Zone.

Prizes are won by people who go onwards, leave the familiar & seek newer pastures. These are the mighty men & women who have done new drug discovery, found new continents, enlarged the frontiers of knowledge, innovated & invented all the products and services we take as normal today. They were able to do this and make the world a better place because they dared & acted on their dreams. Mary Angelou reassures all seekers,” The horizon leans forward, offering you space to place the new steps of change” On your part, you must TAKE ACTION. In the final analysis, the difference between those who dream & those who fulfill their dream is action.

Thomas Jefferson put it so well,” Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask, ACT!!! Action will delineate & define you”. All the leaders we respect, whether it be Martin Luther King, or Nelson Mandela or our own Gandhi; or modern business leaders like Bill Gates or Elon Musk or Azim Premji or Anand Mahindra or Kumarmangalam Birla or Gautam Adani : all have grown from strength to strength as they seized opportunities that came their way & acted with confidence and speed. They were well ahead in the race due to decisive action implemented with alacrity. Look at how Karsanbhai Patel of Nirma gave a run for their money to the well entrenched Unilever and its professional management. Our home grown brands like Oberoi and Taj are ranked with the world’s best hospitality chains because of their constant attention to acting on feedback and continuous improvement initiatives, rigorously implemented. Dare to Dream, the life story of Rai Bahadur MS Oberoi by Bachi Karkaria is a must read for anyone wanting to know the facts behind the rags to riches story. The daring steps & risky decisions that he took laid the foundation of a great business empire & brought up this first generation entrepreneur to the World’s Great list.

Underlining the importance of Action, long ago, another great master Carl Jung said,” You are what you do, not what you say you will do” That quote always reminds me of a school time riddle: there were 7 birds swinging on an electric wire. 4 of them thought they will fly away to a nearby tree. So how many birds are left on the electric wire? The correct answer is 7, as 4 only thought they would fly away. They thought, but did they? or Did not? Thinking is not action. And there if you ask me lies the main issue. We think a lot. But we do precious little. Thinking about a solution and acting on a solution are 2 very different things indeed.

So if we go back to our first question to Be or Not to Be, To Do or Not to Do, my unequivocal answer is Be, Do, Be Bold, Be decisive, Follow the heart and Kiss the World, as Subrato Bagchi says in his life story. The existential dilemma is often a fight between your heart and your head. There are always pros and cons. Somewhere there is always a doubt what would happen. But we must over-leap the doubt and ACT. Think, the future depends on what you do today. Do; don’t prevaricate, debate, or deliberate. The analysis phase should be quickly over & take the leap of faith remembering Martin Luther King’s famous sentence,” You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step” Act and the world will be at your feet. One step at a time!

Remember,” The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it”. These words of Karl Marx are also inscribed upon his grave!!

What more can be said on the power of action? Be a warrior: vikas