Now…Now…Now

Long long ago, in my 30s, I had read a Zen Koan. It was about a Zen monk who is running, to avoid being eaten by an angry tiger, pursuing him. As he rushes to save his life, he falls into a precipice, a deep gorge into which the monk will fall to certain death. Desperately, the monk reaches out and grabs a shrub growing on the rock surface. Temporarily it arrests his fall. He is hanging onto the shrub, looking down on a sheer fall of hundreds of meters, considering his imminent death. Just then he sees a ripe berry on one of the branches of the shrub. He plucks it and eats the berry. And then says: “wow, that berry is so sweet”.

Story over. The end. For years & years, it left me wondering : what was the import of that story? Till a time when I grew wiser (??; arguable, I can already sense my friends sniggering) and understood that the Monk epitomised living in the present. Being in the here and now. And enjoying what you can, when you can. One of the most influential philosophers of the modern day, Eckhart Tolle has penned a whole book “The Power of Now” to celebrate living in the present. Tolle says “You cannot be both unhappy and fully present in the Now”. If you live with your whole heart and being in the Here & Now/the Present, then you understand the nonchalance of the Monk as he stares at imminent death and still enjoys the juiciness of the berry. Naturally he says ” that berry is so sweet”.  In his death, he teaches us to live Now.

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Truly we should understand that we must enjoy Life Now. This is not a rehearsal!!! we pass this way but once and get only this chance to play the game right. So why mope and tarry? Play boldly. Experiment. Whatever happens, trust that it happens for the right reasons. So do not fight the consequences. Learn to enjoy all outcomes. Napoleon Hill, the famous author puts it well, “Don’t wait. The time will never be right !” The present FIFA matches we all are seeing shows this courage on every striker’s face. When you have executed your play and gone forward, and have reached striking distance: now you must take your shot. The opposing Goalie will try to stop: but the sheer energy and enthusiasm that erupts in the entire stadium is all egging you on to take your shot. The time is Now!!

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This is not new wisdom. Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor 161-180 CE, best known for his Meditations on Stoic Philosophy, exhorted us back then “Confine yourself to the present”. One of my favorite English Romantic poets John Keats puts it graphically, “Now (is) a soft kiss – Aye, by that kiss, I vow endless bliss”. That was in the 18th century. Closer to date, Osho observed, “Now is the only reality. All else is either memory or imagination”.  Despite all this good advice, we tend to live everywhere but in the present. We bargain away today, living continuously in the past memories. Successes of the past make us happy; but we continuously relive all our past miseries. Yet a car cannot be driven by looking only at the rear view mirror!!! New and vibrant reality is constantly unfolding ahead of us. We need to understand this reality and act in the present.

The other mind game we play is living in imagining the future. Had read somewhere that Tomorrow is a mystical land where 99% of all human productivity, motivation and achievement is stored. Consciously and deterministically we must withdraw from the mystical future: focus our attention & act in the present. Results are intricately tied to the present. It is said that there are only 2 times in life: Now. Or too late.

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History is replete with examples where companies (and the individuals therein) did not capitalise on their innovations and discoveries in time and left it, till it was too late! Most famous example is  digital photography : Kodak owned the patent but kept it away as  executives thought it would affect their photographic film business.  Affect it did,  as Sony and Fuji walked away with the entire business, forcing Kodak to shut down!! Motorola stuck too long to its traditional cellphone designs and did not leverage its Razr brand or couple it with a smartphone, until the Motorola brand itself was run into the ground!!! Another example is of DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) . While IBM dominated the mainframe computer business, DEC emerged as the “owner” of the minicomputer space from 1960s to the 1990s. In 1993 its rank was 27 amongst the Fortune 500 companies!!! But it lost out totally by not entering the workstation and personal computers business quickly enough. This is what has given rise to the famous epithet: The best time to start was yesterday. The next best time is now!!

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Consider the phrase: “Life is nowhere”. How did you read this? Life is no where? Or…Life is now here. Success obviously belongs to those who realise Life is NOW HERE. All our actions and reactions have to be tempered in the present. And we will reap the benefits also in the Now. As James Joyce has noted: “Hold on to the now, the here, through which all future plunges into the past”. What beautiful clarity!

Let me end with another favorite Zen story. This is about a very beautiful lady monk, who was in a Monastery.  Despite following her vows seriously, a male monk developed a one-sided romantic interest in her. He started keeping messages for her hidden at places, where she would find them. Naturally, she was disturbed and did not know how to stop this. One evening, when all the monastery monks had assembled for the evening prayers, she stood up in the middle of the gathering of monks; and said “You who love me and keep sending love notes surreptitiously, if you truly love me & want me, stand up now. Come and embrace me in front of this assembly”. When shocked silence followed and no one moved,  she again said ” If you cannot profess your love NOW and HERE, do not bother me again”.

The time, friends, is NOW!! Do not tarry. Do not postpone.  Remember, Tyrion Lannister’s revelation in the Game of Thrones, “You are in the Great Game now. And the Great Game is terrifying”. All the best in your battles.

NOW…for ever…Now: vikas

end

Correct? …or… Continue?

Albert Camus put it so well : “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life”.  Our human condition is such that we all have to make compromises, adjust, sometimes rethink our goals, and carry on. Continue, or Correct?

Think of the time before Google maps:  when we went into unknown territory, a new town and searched for an address. The process was iterative. With many stops on the way, much questioning the locals, moving forward and backward alternately: totally confused, insecure, feeling you have been on this road before, till by happenchance – suddenly, we found ourselves on the doorstep we were searching for long!! As we traversed the unknown roads and bylanes, the constant question in the head was : Correct my path? or Continue on this one?

This dilemma dogs us wherever we are and whatever we do. Correct? or Continue? and Google cannot help us answer this question in all walks of life.

correction

“Correct” word can be used as an adjective or as a verb. As an adjective it denotes something which is already perfect, accurate or right. We are of course talking of “correct” as an active verb. The verb ‘correct’ denotes rectify, amend, ameliorate, cure or improve. It is this sense of the word that we are trying to understand and expand here. It has it’s Latin roots in “correctus” which signifies improved or amended. It is the past participle of “corrigere” which translates to “make straight”. Now tell me truly: how many times in the twisted paths and turns of life have we wished we could correct as in improve, amend or make straight? We chose a path, an alternative, an approach…and as soon as the first signs of challenge, the first difficulty, the first proverbial rock in the middle of the road is in front of us;  our heart cries out: Do I continue? Or do I change course, move away, correct?

Pawn chess piece of smallest size and value beating businessman

On such occasions we have often hungered for the magic wand which would dissolve the difficulties facing us. Or at least the magic goggles which would show us the smoother route to a better future. But life has no easy options. Rarely does serendipity help like it did Alexander Fleming in the discovery of Penicillin.  Fleming went on a holiday with his family. Before leaving, he had stacked all his cultures of staphylococci on a bench in a corner of his laboratory. On returning, Fleming noticed that one culture had developed a fungus, and la viola!! the colonies of staphylococci immediately surrounding the fungus had been destroyed, whereas other staphylococci colonies farther away were normal. The first famous words when he saw that fungus which was later to lead to the discovery of the first antibiotic in human history was “that is funny”.  Later he has written: “One sometimes finds, what one is not looking for. When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did.” Fleming, and humankind, was lucky.

On the other hand,  most of us have to struggle like Madame Curie who continued her  lab research till she discovered radium and polonium. For all her research and contributions in understanding radioactivity, while the world gave her a Nobel prize. But in this very process she got so much exposed to radiation that she died of aplastic anemia. She continued her efforts till she found answers, but paid with her life! Edison, the Wizard of Menlo Park, tested thousands and thousands of different materials to create the first incandescent lamp. During his research he found some materials would glow and give  light but would not last. Some lasted, but would not glow. After much effort,  Edison found tungsten which lasted and glowed. Edison at one time had 1093 patents to his name. The phonograph, stock ticker, Motion picture camera, first electric battery for a car are amongst his inventions. All these inventions were a result of his burning desire to continuously rectify, amend, improve and correct.

Some say that “mistake is the first step to success”. When you are on a path of scientific discovery or innovating to create a more robust, better version of present product, maybe experimentation requires making several ‘mistakes’ on the path and moving ahead. As Orlando Battista has observed: ” An error does not become a mistake unless you refuse to correct it”.  Most scientific advances/innovations have a long history of failed efforts. But it is not the mistake that is the first step of success; rather the real fact is that, correction of the mistake is the first step of success! To benefit from the school of experience, a man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them and strong enough to correct them. Mistakes , slips, errors and attempts are the building blocks of success.

The lesson to learn in this journey is – do not continue to water a dead flower!!  Sometimes we must have the courage to recognize the dead end; and make a required u-turn to move ahead, albeit on a different route.  We must consciously guard against the mindset typified by Nikki Giovanni’s famous quote: “I am so hip even my errors are correct”. This may make sense in a poet’s world, but in the real brick and mortar world we will have to learn to cut our losses when we are faced with brick walls, correct our course and continue on our path. Remember, a man who has committed a mistake and does not correct it is making another mistake. Possibly graver! Remember, never leave a true relationship or a right direction for a few faults or difficulties. Nothing is perfect. Nobody is always correct. In the end, correcting your path, and continuing till you reach success will get you to the Holy Grail of perfection.

Tu sais, La vie continue: You know, Life goes on: vikas

continuar

 

 

Contemplation, Rumination, Introspection

We are in the Holy month of Ramadan. This is considered the most sacred period of the year in the Islamic culture,  to mark that Allah gave the first chapters of the Quran to Prophet Muhammad during this month.

Is it a happenchance that all major religions/ethnic groups have a month defined? Christians observe the month of Lent; Jains follow Paryushan; Parsis have their holy month of Bahwan; the Maharastrians have their Shrawan. Typically this is a month of introspection, of prayers, abstinence, and….gratitude. Gratitude for being alive. Gratitude for the good life you enjoy. Gratitude for your friends and family. Gratitude for all the things bestowed on us by the Almighty…by whatever name you call him.

The Arabic root of the word Ramadan/Ramzan is Ramida or ar-ramad which means scorching heat or dryness. Experiencing that, burning your negative thoughts & actions, and emerging into the joy of munificence, celebrating life and experiencing joy of both Cleansing and Community  is what Ramadan is about. It is believed that the gates of Heaven are open in Ramadan, and the gates of Hell are closed! Prayers offered in Ramadan give you the highest Thawab – spiritual rewards!!! In the final analysis, Ramadan stands for contemplation & rumination; introspection & learning; reflection; self discipline; self control; sacrifice; empathy & charity and through all this :  self purification.

A Muslim pilgrim prays at the top of Mount Noor in Mecca

Lent, Shrawan, Bahwan, Paryushan, like Ramadan are characterised by prayers and withdrawal into self: a time to take stock and balance your life’s books, if you will. A space and time for renewal and recommitment.

Ideally this sort of intense soul searching should result in much greater sense of clarity and acceptance; more trust in self and/or the powers that be;  and finally, gratitude. This triumvirate of Acceptance; Trust & Gratitude can guide our lives through the most challenging situations and circumstances. But we humans are indeed the most difficult to predict and understand.

When things are going well: we will find the roots in our efforts and convince ourselves that we deserve no less!! It is always our own actions; our karma; our purushartha that is giving results.  But as soon as the first thing happens that is not as per our desires, we find external factors to blame. In India often it is our Naseeb/Fate/”Vidhi Likhita”. Or the politicking ways of others who do not want us to succeed. Constant refrain in difficult times is always : God why me?

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There is a classic anecdote of Arthur Ashe.  The legendary Wimbledon player was dying of AIDS which he got due to infected blood he received during a heart surgery. From the world over, he received letters from his fans. One of them conveyed: “Why does God have to select you for such a bad disease?”. To this Arthur Ashe replied: The world over-50,000,000 children start playing tennis, 5,000,000 learn to play tennis, 500,000 learn professional tennis, 50,000 come to the circuit, 5000 reach the grand slam, 50 reach the Wimbledon, 4 to semi finals, 2 to finals. When I was the one holding the cup, I never asked god “Why me?”.  And today in pain, I should not be asking GOD “why me?

Curious indeed are the ways of the Allah! Unto each life some rain must fall, as a saying goes. We all know the well reported case of Anant Ambani’s weight loss. Earlier whenever we saw the over bloated Anant on the cricket ground with his svelte mother our hearts bled for the Ambani family. We pitied Mukesh Ambani despite all his riches; looking to the overweight human balloon. His 108 kg weight reduction may have set the balance. But think of Sridevi. Despite all those Botox injections and trying to look younger than her debutante daughter, her untimely and unnatural end made her a matter of  abject pity. It is said that “God tests his true soldiers” but what a debonair Shashi Tharoor  or the once powerful Indrayani & Peter Mukherjea couple are going through makes the question “Why me?” look legitimate.

To me, all these cases prove another truism: all bills must be settled in this life, before you go yonder. Great riches gotten through questionable means; great power wrested by a hungry soul – all will have costs attached. And unlike Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Grey we do not get an external picture to sully: the gashes and wounds go directly to our souls and bodies; besides creating challenges for our families. e.g. those who knowingly smoke and drink will pay for their indulgence in other ways. What you do in this life catches up with you here and now.

That is where these Holy Months come in giving us a chance to review the life hitherto lived. It is never too late to make amends and go back to the Right Path. The concept of Jainism is a powerful one here: the Paryushan ends with a wish ” Micchami Dukkhadam” : which is shorthand for saying ” if I have hurt you or harmed you by my actions or thoughts in any manner: forgive me.” Introspect and repent and make amends,  for Christ will be born again heralding hope and peace in the time to come. The main message of all introspection and self learning is positive: accept; trust and move forward in gratitude.

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Arun Shourie whom we have all known so well for his public life as a brilliant economist, Editor, author, Minister shared a very moving personal story of his son who  suffers from cerebral palsy. Dealing with his son and now aged wife who are both totally dependent on external support Arun’s advice is that we must “learn to love till it hurts” . Calling himself the “servant -in-chief” to both of them, he quotes the Dalai Lama ” If you want to be truly selfish, help someone.” To this line Arun adds his own twist : “If you want to be truly selfish, help someone – who cannot do anything in return for you!!”.

What better advice can come to us in the holy month of Ramadan: accept others for what they are, trust all, love till it hurts, give till it hurts; and be grateful for all that you have, and be doubly grateful that you are in a position to share your fortune and give to others: as you have received!!

Ramadan Kareem : shukar guzar vikas

 

 

 

 

 

Parmanu

“Sare Jahan se Accha Hindustan Hamara” my heart sang as I left the theater after seeing Parmanu: the Story of Pokhran.

It is a very feel good movie which manages to engage and enthrall you. 2 hours 9 minutes: a story which has NO suspense: since the denouement is well known: the bomb blast did take place at 1545 on 11th May 1998 in Pokhran.  No new news , something which happened so long ago and was well documented and read about in the whole world. Despite these obvious challenges the director Abhishek Sharma and the scriptwriter duo of Saiwyn Quadras and Sanyukta Chawla Shaikh manage to keep you guessing and on your seat. The same script writers gave us Neerja and again they come up again with a balanced and sound script.

John Abraham obviously carries the whole film on his own shoulders. Though there is a motley team of 5 people ( from DRDO; ISA; Army; etc) who support the story and the principal character of Ashwath Raina, it is John Abraham who pervades nearly every shot in the movie. Boman Irani as the Chief Secretary in PM’s Office has a significant role; all other characters play a second fiddle and execute their supportive roles well: letting John carry the main narrative and drama fully on his own steam. Diana Pretty, oops!! sorry,  Diana Penty playing the role of the person in charge of Security Ops does precious little besides looking cute. Anuja Sathe playing John’s wife shows great promise; but her role finally starts interfering with the flow of the story and so you want her to move on and disappear from the screen so that you can watch the story of India’s entry into the Nuclear Club unfold in all its glory.

Very smartly, live-stock TV footage of  leaders of that  bygone era viz. Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif; a visibly angry US President and our own rhetorical Atal Behari are blended in the movie, to embellish the narrative and give it a semi formal, slightly more authentic feel. But that does not draw away from a very tenuous argument the Director puts forward: 6 people battling all odds: a failed nuclear test 3 years ago;  an irritated neighbouring state; pressure from USA; PM’s tottering political fortunes; lack of time; US satellite surveillance; coordination required with multiple  governmental agencies in India manage to pull off successful nuclear test blasts of  3 fusion and fission type of nuclear devices. Our superhero Aswath singlehandedly completes the tasks which in reality were a masterful working together of many governmental agencies in complete secrecy. Similarly the glossing over of contributions of Jawaharlal Nehru, Homi Bhabha, Indira Gandhi, Vikram Sarabhai, Raja Ramanna and others from the roll of honour for India’s nuclear success looks churlish: we love Atal Behari; but we love others too, right?

The movie has some other gaps: The stupid inappropriate songs which slow down the pace. Or the first half of the movie which becomes maha relaxed after the initial PMO meeting where Ashwath Raina is introduced. The time taken to show Ashwath’s relationship with his wife after he is suspended. The over mature young son playing the balancing act.  The ISI agent who is caricaturistic;  as is the CIA counter intelligence operative.

But despite all this the movie works. The story keeps you guessing on the next events. Challenges and solutions flow seemlessly. Protagonists get the audiences’ love and sympathy all thru their difficulties; and you want them to succeed. Though we all know the conclusion (the successful nuclear test) already, the movie does pick up pace as it approaches the climax, and that whole sequencing is handled well whereby you actually move to the edge of your seat and feel your heart swell with pride when you see the smart computer graphics of the bomb blast and its effects.

As the koimoi.com review sums it up : Don’t watch the movie for anyone else; watch it for your country. America haters can see the movie to see the abject failure of the CIA intelligence gathering machine and the resultant angst. Whatever the reason: do watch the movie and feel good to be an Indian!!

Jai Shakti! Jai Pokhran II !! Jai Hind!!!                                                                                     Proud to be an Indian: vikas

 

Ours – by choice!

We are adoptive parents. We adopted a baby girl in 1993 from Vatsalya, an agency in Kanjur. My daughter Rashmi recently turned 25 years. She is a Textile Designer working in Raymonds.  And she is now poised to go to London College of Arts for further studies.

Recently as a part of my HR consultancy work I was approached to help set up comp structure, job grades, policy manuals, org chart etc. When I came to know the NGO who needs that support is Vatsalya, I told them I will be privileged to work for them and will do so au gratis: as Rashmi’s smiles for past 25 years have put me in a debt to Vatsalya which I can never repay.

Life has come a full circle: and I am back in Vatsalya after 25 years. That led to some long drives down memory lane, looking at old papers and photos. One of the things I came across was a letter we had written to a known couple who were prospective adoptive parents. Their questions were:

  • why did we adopt?
  • why a girl?

The old letter Rashmi…Ours – by choice! I had written still rings true. And I  reproduce it here as my next blog.

Be forewarned this is longer than my normal 1000 words limit. But I earnestly exhort you to read it fully.  This would give you some fresh insights into parenthood – be it natural, like yours or adoptive, like ours.

QUOTE

Our decision to adopt a child was necessitated by our need to become parents, to be called Baba & Aai, to be loved and depended upon. Having completed 12 years of marriage, we knew we would never become natural parents. Initial period of marriage began with a positive choice not to go in for parenthood very early. When we started feeling the need to call someone our very own, parenthood eluded us.  Normal round of doctors – allopathic, ayurvedic and homeopathic – did not help. Neither of us were interested in faith-cures and religious solutions. Some tension did mount.

Every new doctor, every new suggestion added to tension. Will this work? Somewhere down the road, we decided not to try any longer. There was the occasional snide remark, the purposeful probing question. But both of us had reconciled enough with our state to not care. Being self-content and not overtly social must have helped us. During this period the idea of adoption took seed.

Vinita had worked in an adoption center. So the concept was not alien. We began to discuss it with one another off & on. The driving force was a shared view – we want a baby. The main question was – were we prepared? were we willing to change our life-style? were we ready to abnegate our concerns and our personalities?  would be be able to adjust? could we take the responsibility? were we prepared?

This phase dragged on for quite a while. Both of us are strong willed, with firm views, not very compromising on personal matters. Hence these discussions were held again & again. At no stage did the question of societal acceptance bother us. Why should it? Why care for others? It was to be our own decision. We were to make it work. How much time do we spend with others? Are we truly ourselves in company? The inner self is bared to so very few that we both were sure that how “others will react” was not worth worrying about.We should do it if we want it. What others feel is not really relevant in such an important matter.

The only others we were both worried about were our parents. Their acceptance of the child was important. Social legitimacy would stop there. If they accepted the child as a part of the family – we would be very happy. For ourselves. But more for the child. We concluded that only the grandparents were important. Cousins, brothers, sisters, uncles, nephews, aunties, etc should also accept the child. But if they don’t we will love the child more and make up the loss/gap. How much time do all other relatives spend with us anyway? The apriori, predominant position was of grandparents.

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So we decided that they would be the only people with whom we would discuss. Share. All others we would only inform.  Their opinion would not concern us overly. Our parents, individually, we did talk to. And we did not get any major objection. No: what are you doing? how can you think like this? Only there was : why don’t you wait some more? try some more? Politely we said no. And, with strength morally doubled, went on ahead.

During this period we had found out that 10% of couples are childless. We were far from alone. Now came the question – girl or boy? Unanimously the choice was a girl. What are girls made of? Sugar and spice and all that is nice. Boys? Nails and frogs! Both of us were convinced that girls are far more affectionate and giving of their own selves. Our view. Maybe right, maybe wrong. Why should we adopt a boy? To carry one’s name? What is that? carry it where? After one is no more, does it matter? And who guarantees how that name will be carried on? Polished or tarnished? Who can say? Did my parents conceive me with the express desire to carry on their name? I don’t think so. I happened. Whether I polish or tarnish their name is a matter of chance. Did they really plan it all? Do they have control?

Children, beyond an age, will be independent. They will do as they damn well please. If you like it, good for you. If you don’t, well… How many “own” children have lived their life only for their parents? What lineage, what name do they care to carry forward? So why should we think that the adopted child will be any different? We can well imagine that that child too could turn out an iconoclast, a misanthrope, what-have-you. But is a natural child any guarantee against this? a big question mark, best left to unravel itself.

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So the conclusion was boys are nothing special, but girls surely are. And what we were doing, let us not forget, was purely for our own selves. To fulfill our own need. Our desire. So why expect any return? Give the child the best possible for you. And that should include the freedom to think. The freedom to spurn you. The freedom to spite you- if she feels you have stolen her true heirloom. Whatever it might have been. Have we all not thought, as children, that actually these people – who claim to be my Pa & Ma – are not really my Mother & Father. My parents are really Kings and Queens who will come one day and rescue me from all the misery that these normal, average people hood) are putting me through. By adopting a child are you doing any favour? Are you going to deny the child the right to despise you? We both were clear, we are doing what we are doing, for ourselves. In no way can we abridge the rights of the child. And if the child grown up to hate us for what we did- we must accept it. Que Sera Sera.

So why adopt at all?  Because we have too much and we want to share. We have a need to hold a tiny being and call it our own. Because we feel we will get a lot of joy from that small bundle. Because social consciousness demands a return price for all all that we have, and asks for the right of all who do not have. Can we not begin with a small, infinitesimal impact?

Vinita and I were not born in one house. If we could decide to come together and share with each other, why not one more in the house with whom we can share? And so we went out and chose. Chose a sweet, innocent child. Rashmi. A ray. A ray of happiness. A ray of joy. A ray of light. A small bundle of love. The greatest gift we have given to each other. Ever. Forever.

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She will of course have to be told that she is adopted. All recent literature recommends that. Told at a time when she can take it. Very, very difficult to decide. But we will face it when it comes. But we will tell her. Tell her she was not born from Vinita’s womb, but she is our own.  Tell her we have tried to give her what we could. Tell her to forgive us for what we could not. Tell her she is free. Free to continue to stay with us if she wants. Or leave , if she feels that is her path of happiness. But above all, tell her we wanted her. Only her. So we chose her. Only her. Tell her that we love her very much. Tell her of our need for her. Tell he she is very special. Very dear. Very very close to her. Tell her we would like her to love us back. If she wants. And we pray she wants us. As much as we want her.

Society at large still may not understand. Either our need. Or our decision. Some people do come and ask questions. Questions like: what will happen to her in school? Will other children torture her? Our answer is : we hope not. But children may taunt. We hope our love for her will give Rashmi the confidence to say: I am possibly loved far more than any one of you are. Questions like what will happen at the time of her marriage? our answer: Have we jeopardized her fate? Have we reduced her chances? Have we created complications for her? We are sure we have not harmed her interests in any way.  And as a free independent being, she is sure to have a fate and a will of her own. Who are we to interfere with either her will or her fate? We are just beggars of her affection. Happy to receive, if she wills it. And adjust we must, if she wills it not. Life is larger than all 3 of us. But for us, she is all.

R&V

Legally we are her parents. But legality? what is it?  Emotions are far more important. And in emotions  we are trying our level best to give her everything. Everything we can. That may not be much. But it is all we have.

Somerset Maugham had said that life is such a curious game that if you demand too much from it, you normally get it. We hope we are able to give Rashmi that confidence to demand and get whatever she wants from life. We are only incidental in providing her with a base. But she is all. She is important. And she needs to understand that she needs to only demand, and life will run forward to give it to her.. That is our hope for her. And our only prayer. For her. Amen.

UNQOUTE

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As I read all that I had written 25 years ago: I feel good that we have done our part and Rashmi has truly flowered as an independent, confident woman of the world. Our decision to adopt 25 years ago felt right. And even now it feels right.  Rashmi has proven true to her name: a ray of sunshine, full of promise and potential.

Bon Voyage Rashmi: continue to learn & grown in the new environs of London : vikibaba

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Failing to fail

The old proverb “If at first you don’t succeed try, try again” … should actually read “If at first you don’t succeed FAIL, FAIL again”.  Life has taught me –  true path to success is strewn with failures, multiple attempts, missed calls…all rich learning experiences & events which propel you on the road to success and achievements.

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Johnson & Johnson (where I had the privilege to work on Global transformation teams) gave me a lifetime opportunity to be trained by IDEO;  world’s most famous design & innovation company. We were seized with how to design the new  global HR service delivery model for J&J and turned to IDEO to understand how to create human-centered design. We wanted a creative approach to problem solving that starts with people and arrives at new solutions tailored to meet their lives.  Clear advice of IDEO was “rapid prototyping”. Put a stake in the ground based on present understanding; study the impact and change again. We experienced  IDEO’s formula of  success: “Fail often to succeed sooner!!”

Unfortunately, this runs counter to our deep rooted fear of failure. We are brought up on a diet of doing it right first time; ironing out all the glitches before we launch. Failure is a bad word: whether in school or in corporates. Witch hunting and blame fixing becomes the norm whenever there is a failure. This is like trampling on all the clues and evidence on the “crime scene”… and then bringing in Sherlock Holmes!! Actually each and every failure brings in learnings. But rather than analyzing what happened; what went right; how did we go wrong and what do we need to do differently, we tend to get into an over- gear of “burying the body” and obfuscating all the evidence such that even the fabled Hercule Poirot cannot help us!!!

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Fortunately, the days of shooting the messenger who brings in the bad news have faded into history with the Roman Emperors who would hear no contrary views. Today companies and bosses are far more open and ready to  take risks. This creates more transparency and openness on one hand; and on the other, better team solutions by leveraging everyone’s inputs and creativity. No gainsaying this is indeed the need of the hour, where no one has all the answers and even if  one does –  we soon experience that given the VUCA world, the problem/challenge has undergone a change;  and so we need to start all over again.

It in this context we must understand James Quincy CEO of Coca-Cola comment in his Strategy Summit in May 2017: “If we are not making mistakes, we are not trying hard enough”. Innovation means experimentation; and experiments mean failures. There is no learning without failing. There can be no success without setbacks.  Truly innovative & efficacious companies know that. So, to be successful – double your failure rate!! And from every failure: analyze and capture learnings. Try again and Fail again. This is the path to resounding success. Which is why NetFlix CEO Reed Hastings laments: ” Our hit ratio is too high. We have to take more risks, to try more crazy things….we should have a higher cancel rate overall”

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We have our own classic example of Abdul Kalam’s over riding the computers at Sriharikota at T minus 20 secs of a SLV  blast-off; and seeing the Missile nosedive into the sea – under the watching eyes of the nation and the press. But with the backing of Satish Dhawan they faced the Press and told them that they will learn from the failure and come out successful – which they did within an year.  Recently SHAR-ISRO gave the country a gift that can be best called ‘one of its kind’:ISRO launched India’s 100th satellite along with 30 others, out of which 28 were from different countries!!

It is not rocket science, but sheer common sense, that you improve your odds if you increase the no of tries. In Angel Broking and VC funding there is only 10% chance of success. Pharmaceutical companies have high profile R&D centers with latest equipment and top class scientists working on hundreds of molecules which may lead to one marketable drug in 3/4 years time frame. Movies  is another high risk game; it  is seen that 1.3% of all films earn 80% of Box Office collections. Point being there is no sure fire formula for success: Big Shots are just little shots who kept plugging away till they made it big!!

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Seeing it in another way : there are umpteen examples where success bred the “failure trap”.  Companies became over confident and complacent: refused to change with times and their past success was the biggest millstone around their neck . Cases of Nokia; Kodak; and closer home Hindustan Motors; HMT Watches; Bush Radios  are all well documented to prove that past success guarantees nothing in the future. Such companies and their managements get lulled into a false sense of security based on their past; and stop analyzing the causes of success. They fool themselves that success is due to their superior strategy/better product/more intelligent understanding of the market. And since they do not investigate the real causes of success -their failure to ask why- makes their success shortlived. They can break this vicious circle ONLY and ONLY when they face failure and learn from their failures.

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Karl Slym who was my MD in General Motors once made all of us on the  management board sweat. He asked each Director if they had achieved their target. Marketing said yes; as did  Manufacturing; ditto Logistics & SC; Technical  like-wise and also Finance &  HR. Then the prophetic hammer : “Gentlemen if each one of you is green on your dashboard; why is GM India red?” There was a story in Fortune 2009, after Alan Mullaly moved from Boeing to Ford he asked people to use a color code for their management reports. Green if all was well; Yellow if it required more scrutiny and Red if there was a problem. All reports which were tabled used to be green; totally frustrating the new CEO. Are we really doing that well in Ford was the question? Till the day one Department Head dared to table a Yellow report. While all other Board members were stunned into silence; Alan’s response was a thumping applause when that report came up for discussion. Thereafter, the reports submitted started becoming more colorful.

It is the Leaders’ role to encourage failure. And to learn from each failure. Of course a pilot or a surgeon does not have the liberty of making mistakes and learning from them. Fedex will attempt a “Perfect Order” in terms of deliveries (right package; right address; right condition) and be perfect in facing the client: but they experiment and improve in all other internal facing functions.  Corporate world will do well to remember the Pixar President’s edict: ” Mistakes are not a necessary evil. They are NO evil at all”. That is why Tatas have a “Dare to Try” award. Trikaya Grey gives out in their Annual conference a “Heroic Failure” award. Even NASA apparently has instituted a “Lean Forward, Fail Smart” award.

Happy failing; happy learning; happy growing: vikas

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PS This piece is inspired the research done by my partner and friend Ramchandra Rao for one of our assignments. Gives me a chance to acknowledge his contribution in my intellectual life…

Humor: Underutilized? or Over-rated?

Dr Suess said correctly: “From there to here, and here to there funny things are everywhere”. But do we see the humor and acknowledge it? Do we keep our eyes and hearts open and understand the “dark” side? OR do we shy away from fun and  laughter? and feel it has low importance in our day-to- day living?

Think about it.

Whether it is movies or books: the tragedies walk away with glory; the comedies never get their due. Even look at authors…the comedy writers actually have a difficult task on their hands. Thinking of situations and dialogues which will bring out the juxtapositions and ironies of life and people, the element of surprise and suspense, the unexpected happenings : all of which give rise to a chuckle  or a smile from the reader or observer: a very difficult task indeed. But Literature and Drama recounts the tragedies as the greatest productions, which get remembered the most!!

Even in corporate lives we are forced to remain staid. No exuberance. Don’t show the joi de vivre. Business is serious stuff. Don’t smile too much….and never, but never laugh aloud. In the corridors of power and upper echelons of management, humor is looked down on as a dilution of the sanctimony of business. It seems like the lofty goals and objectives of the corporate world must be achieved with a serious demeanor. If you have a frown on your face and a “no nonsense” hard nose expression, you will be more respected and your efforts applauded more. Literally you should not giggle or laugh your way to the ‘Finish’ line: as you need to project the sheer dint of effort and seriousness of purpose to commemorate the achievement. Higher the success achieved more seriously must you project the struggle of reaching the goal. As if…if you laugh as you cross the end line, you are undermining the success itself!

Contrast this with the king of comedy Charlie Chaplin pronouncement: “A day without laughter is a day wasted”. On an individual plane, we all understand this truth. We want to be happy and smiling and laughing in our personal and familial lives. We enjoy company of those who make us laugh. We do not want to be around people who mope and crib all the time : they suck out even our energy. And yet we do not value those who make us laugh. We admire the “dark arts” but the proverbial Joker is considered lowest on the totem pole of society.

Are we afraid of the sarcasm side of humor? the loose comment which actually is an insidious cannon aimed at flattening the listener? We all know people who use humor as a defense, a wall to keep others out or to protect their own brittle egos. In such cases humor loses it’s innocence. It uses guile, an artful deception, duplicity to project friendliness but actually hurt and harm the other person. Truly it is not such humor which brings joy and smiles. Such a person is not actually funny. They are just being mean and trying to fool their audience by hiding behind their “joke”! Erma Bombeck noted correctly: ” there is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt”.

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In another perspective, Will Rogers reminds us : “Everything is funny as long as it is happening to someone else”. Unfortunately, often we get so immersed and involved in the story and it’s developments, that we fail to retain a sense of objectivity. We invest  heavily in our own position; or in the opposition of someone else’s position that it becomes a “do or die” situation. Naturally we cannot see the humor in the situation. We have gone so close to the problem that it’s tentacles have enmeshed us: making us apart of the problem and depriving us of the “outsider” view which would have shown us the ridiculousness of our position and thus enabled us to escape it’s grasp and think of an easy solution. Taking oneself seriously is possibly the biggest dis-service you can do to yourself.

My 35+ years corporate experience convinced me that we do not laugh enough in the office space. Most laughter is contrived: like when the Boss or the Super Boss makes a joke and I have to laugh the loudest to provide evidence of my great sense of humor.And even as I laugh I am looking at the Boss to see if he is seeing that I am laughing at his pathetic asides!! Equality and camaraderie, which are sine qua non for humor to flower, are conspicuous by their absence in corporate boardrooms.

So where  does it hurt? In my opinion, humor has great potential and great power. It equalizes social and corporate power distances. It can be the oil and grease which  smoothens relationships.  It is a door opener: allowing easy entry into conversations and issues. When tempers are running high and positions are taken, humor can change equations and open closed minds. It brings much required levity to unnecessarily serious situations and people. It is a simple and readily available solution applicable in most distraught conditions and with the most difficult people. It has fantabulous stress busting capabilities. It is an sure charmer which endears you to the audience making you the soul of the party. In case any reader wants to understand more benefits of humor in social interactions I would welcome you to read anything by Oscar Wilde and/or PG Wodehouse and feel the calming effect and innate charm of humor in their own hearts.

Life has taught me to be a continuous learner. I never make the same mistake twice. I make it 5 or 6 times: just to be sure!!!

Hoping you learn to laugh at yourself:  joker vikas

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What is right…???

After all, what is right?

This question, seemingly simple, is a most complex one to unravel. And as we attempt to answer it: we are dragged further and further into the conundrum; from which many times there is no escape, no clear answer. At the most, we can compromise at some level, decide for ourselves : enough is enough –  and beat a hasty retreat. All the while convincing oneself that if we survive, we will live to fight another day: and find the “real answer; the absolute truth; what is actually right – on that other day!!!

Take the recent case of Sridevi’s death in Dubai. Morning shock  as she was loved by many cinegoers. First we hear that she died of a cardiac arrest. The press reports are full of surprise : she had no history of any cardiac problems! But  Doctors had opined …they have to be right? Soon comes the version of 29 surgeries in California; Botox injections galore; diet and hunger suppressants; medications to alter BMR;  so much torture to make the body beautiful, that the heart could not sustain and gave up. Within hours the reality changes: a new death certificate from Dubai does the rounds of social media where death is due to “drawing(sic!)” – all official; signed by the Physician in charge. And then :  drowning in bathtub is not the real culprit. Drink abuse. Husband should have stopped her. People suspect foul play.

Even when the body was brought back there was an eruption on the social media: after all she was just a performer; made money from acting; no known social commitments: does she deserve a State funeral? Are we demeaning the national flag which is wrapped around bodies of soldiers who die for the country? What is logic of wrapping this actor’s body in the tri-color? Again someone decided based on how they saw the situation. Some others object, as their interpretations vary. What is real? what is correct?

As observers,  relying on social media and reflected “reality”, we are confused. What happened actually? what is right? This is true of the Nirbhaya episode. Of the Ryan school killing. Ayushi Talwar’s murder. The infamous Tandoor Murder case with Youth Congress President Sushil Sharma’s involvement. Remember: No one killed Jessica? In a crowded restaurant, she is shot in front of hundreds: but prosecution eye witnesses turn hostile, one after the other. Manu Sharma is acquitted as the Sessions court concludes there is no evidence!! After public uproar, High Court hears the appeal and then Haryana Congress leader’s son is finally sentenced. But Manu Sharma still approaches Supreme Court as …no one killed Jessica!!!!

These are all high profile cases, but think about day to day issues also. Do we ever get a proper handle on “reality”? Do we get clarity on what actually transpired? We have all witnessed road accidents, and heard the multiple versions of who did what, when, how and finally what happened. Even when a smallest altercation takes place between 2 people: if you listen to their independent versions, you will end up with 2 totally contrasting perspectives. Think of the frequent arguments between spouses: does either ever feel I am wrong? ( We may say so just for buying peace temporarily,  but do we believe fundamentally that I was wrong?)  It is always ” But then you…”  “And then I ….” All sound and fury which never seems to converge! The differing views of the “reality” are so entrenched that it is impossible to judge who is right? what is real? and who has propriety on their side.

In business organizations today we actually encourage different points of view and call for groups/boards to discuss and decide the course of action. The underlying faith is that differing points of view and perspectives being brought to bear on an ambiguous situation will reduce the uncertainty of a futuristic decision. But the very process of discussing: does it not presuppose differing realities with each person;  and, a social reality we all must create jointly? Do we launch a new soap in an crowded market? Will this flavor of a new cream biscuit be accepted by the consumer? Will whole wheat noodles appeal as a more healthy alternative?  What is the strategy to win against competition? All complex realities with no clear cut right and wrong answers. And so we bring in cross functional teams, with their multi functional perspectives and try to understand what is the “real” way out? what will work? what should be the answer? what new reality do we want to pitch for and champion?  Finally the game is about defining what is THE right way ahead.

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Ask any Muslim Jehadi or a Tamil suicide bomber and they will aver what they are doing is right. Others may have a different perspective on this but then, that is “their” reality. When marketing spends are approved and a particular advertising is launched, there is faith is that it will work and generate customer pull for the brand. Reality , like market share or consumer voice, gets monitored and validated!!!

I believe the mistake we make is in searching for a single rule, a single tenet, a single principle: an absolute reality. As children we believed and behaved as though everything fell into right or wrong: black or white. As we mature we understand that all things don’t fit neatly into such boxes or labels. Most things in the world are not black. Most things in the world are not white.  Living and learning should teach us the new reality:  most things aren’t wrong or right. They are just different. Maturity is knowing that there is nothing wrong with different. We can let things be different, we don’t have to try and make them black or white, we can just let them be…..

My conclusion is best captured  by Joybell C author of The Sun is Snowing  (Sic! read the title again) “And when I was a child, I thought that God was the God who only saw black and white. Now that I am no longer a child, I can see, that God is the God who can see the black and the white and the grey, too, and He dances on the grey! Grey is okay.”

It is fine- Live your own right: vikas

School of experience

Let me begin with a confession :  I have learnt more from my mistakes than from my successes. And if I am considered a wise person today, it is because I have made many, many mistakes with gay abandon; nay, even pride!!!

I remember early in my career I transferred into the Siemens factory on Thane Belapur road: the veritable “holy grail” of rabid unionism of Dr Samant and RJ Mehtas of the 1980s. I took an operational decision which was wrong. Resultantly the entire Maintenance department stayed away from work. Being an engineering company, this was awkward: to say the least!! To complicate things, this happened on a weekend and was discovered only on Monday, by the top brass. I had tried to patch things up by burning some midnight oil over the weekend. But the union decided to teach this rookie personnel manager a lesson, and did not co-operate. Come Monday morning, I was summoned into the German Works’ Director cabin. But what he told me that day not only surprised me, but also gave me a life long learning!!

“Shirodkar, first wipe out that serious look on your face” he thundered. “what has happened? Is there a fire? Has anyone died? Has the factory totally shut down?” When I explained the productivity and mandays lost, his only counter was ” What did you learn from this incident? What will you do different next time?” Over the next 30+ years, I was to learn that taking a decision was more important than prevaricating and remaining indecisive. My mother’s kitchen’s teachings of not crying over spilt milk and being bold while experimenting with a new dish and presenting what you cooked with elan and flourish, have stayed with me since.

One major reason is exemplified by Johnny Cash, the best selling music artist of all times, who said “ There is no fence to sit on between heaven and hell. There is a deep wide gulf, a chasm” So make a call; learn your lesson and move on: falling down the chasm does not help. Take a stand. It is how you manage the implementation and aftermath of a decision that make it right or wrong for posterity.

As drivers we have all experienced this. When you are overtaking a vehicle, and there is oncoming traffic (so you must complete your maneuver quickly before the oncoming truck/car makes it difficult to overtake),  there comes a point when you are parallel to the speeding car ahead, and the moment of truth occurs: Do I press ahead and overtake? or better i reduce my speed and try again later? While it is good to be cautious and abort overtaking if the oncoming truck is too close, you cannot go on postponing the decision to overtake. At some point you must take the leap in your mind, increase speed further and overtake. Decisiveness and action;  over doubt and rethinking. No “fence to sit on”. Just make your move.

Like all Indians, am sure you too watch a lot of cricket. With the superior camera work today, one can actually sense the resolve of a Kohli or a Dhoni when they look at a ball and smash it for a sixer. In the same manner, the unforgiving camera catches the hesitation and the doubt, in the way the bat swings, when a ball is miscued and ends in a catch, or misses the line completely and the stumps rattle behind. The teaching is ingrained in the doing: which is why Dhoni has said in an interview ” I don’t study cricket. Whatever I have learnt is through cricket I’ve played on the field”. Experience itself is the teacher par excellence.

For meself, I must say although I am a good teacher, I am a much better student. I keep my eyes and ears open to new learnings that life affords me. And a la Papa Hemingway ” I like to listen. I have learnt a lot from listening carefully. Most people never listen”. Forget not that the Maker in his infinite experience has given us 2 ears and just 1 mouth. Listen double than what you speak. Enjoy all that is happening to you. Travel. Eat unfamiliar food. Meet new people. Open yourself to new experiences. You have to create and recreate yourself constantly.  My hoary 62 years have taught me : Just when I think I have learned the way to live, life changes. And thus, the learning continues ad infinitum!! So, Live each day as it comes. Be warned of Dorothy Dix’s caution, ” It is the dark menace of the future that makes cowards of us” 

For action, I take inspiration from the most famous follower of Martin Luther King viz. Rosa Parks. She spearheaded the Montgomery Bus Boycott to protest the Bus Segregation and went on to be called “the first lady of civil rights” by the US Congress.. When questioned about her courage in refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger she said ” I have learnt that when  one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done, does away with fear”. What an prescription for facing up to life’s odds and experiences!!!

Life has a way of unfolding as it is meant to be. Remembering Papa Amrish Puri in DDLJ:   Ja Simran, jee le apni zindagi!

Trust Life. Experience fully: vikas

 

True or False

As children we all have enjoyed the game ” Truth OR Dare?”. What always intrigued me, in that game, was the underlying assumption that speaking the truth was something fraught with risk, full of tension and…to be avoided as far as possible!!!! Why has Truth acquired this persona? Am sure Goddess Veritas is not amused by the way we look at truth today!!

St Augustine had roared “Truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. It will defend itself”.  But even here you will notice the imagery is negative…as though speaking the truth is a problem. Literally it begets the question: Can you handle the Truth? Myth has it that the goddess of Truth Veritas hid at the bottom of a sacred well as she was so elusive!!

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All this is a far cry from the shining demeanor that Truth is clothed in romantically, and in literature. Common opinion projects that nothing can be purer than truth and truth can stand on it’s own, despite any opposition.  When Thomas asked Jesus’ We do not know where you are going? How can we know the way? Jesus replies ” Via et veritas et vita I am the way, and the truth, and the life : no one comes to the Father except through me”  (John 14:6). Truth is ascribed much power in the Good Book (John 8:32) : ” Then you will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free”.  Goethe affirms ” Wisdom is found only in Truth“.

Why then in today’s time has Truth  lost it’s shining glory? Is it because your truth and my truth may not be the same? In this age of duality and plurality have we lost the path? Has Truth suffered in the vedantic debates of Dvaitism and Advaitism? Buddha was clear when he affirmed that “3 things cannot be hidden: the sun, the moon, and the Truth” But if you just look around and follow the strident arguments taking place around you, you are tempted to ask the question: What is Truth? Who “owns” it? can anyone speak the truth; the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Why are there so many cases in the courts where both parties feel equally strongly that the Truth is on their side; and on their side alone? Did the lower courts not interpret and understand Truth in delivering their judgement? If they did: why are so many appeal Courts overturning the lower courts’ pronouncements: which in turn are challenged upto the Full Bench in a Supreme Court? and even there, there are dissenting judgments and opinions amongst the Full Bench!!! so who is right? who knows the truth?

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Says Swami Vivekananda, “Truth can be stated in a thousand different ways, yet each one can be true”.  Is this making life simpler or more difficult? I had read somewhere every great truth is a truth, whose exact opposite is also a truth!!!! So where does that leave simple folks like us who are trying to find a golden path through life’s complex questions? Oscar Wilde cautions “Truth is rarely pure and never simple”. Begging to differ from Saint John ( 8:32 quoted above) I would say that the Truth will set you free; but it will first piss you off!!!

For evidence I will parade all the arguments I have been a part of, where both parties, albeit speaking in stark contradiction, believed that Truth is on their side. On a wider scale, look at the Holy Wars, debates between Shias and Sunnis, Netaji Bose’s action agenda v/s Gandhi’s nonviolence; Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, in modern times Israel and the Arab world, Netscape with it’s open source and Microsoft’s competitive dominance or the latest debates between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. Every area of human endeavor gives examples of opposite “armies”  righteously believing Truth is on their side. And in today’s daily Kurushetra, we miss an expert, a chatbot Krishna who can interpret and guide us on the way forward.

The dilemma of modern living is that were  Krishna to appear, his second act would be to disappear!! … and leave you to figure a way out of the conundrum, yourself! If you find the Buddha on the road, KILL HIM!!! We will do well to heed Alfred Whitefield’s advice ” There are no whole truths: All truths are half truths”. To which I will add my word of caution: & you may have got the WRONG HALF!!!!

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Don’t get me wrong. Like you, I am also brought up on the dictum: Truth is a truth even if no one believes it; a lie, is a lie, even if everyone believes it. Truth is like a surgery: yes it hurts; but it cures. Truth is visceral. It is there. Dogen said it so well “If you are unable to find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?” Better to be hurt with the truth rater than be comforted with a lie. My team members were always told to tell me the bad news first. No mollycoddling or sugar coating. Say it like it is. Tell me all and let me make sense of how badly we are mauled and how we will recover our position. Better to fight with eyes open knowing your sword is broken rather than getting surprises in action. Truth has a way of catching up with you. So like the Scout motto: Be prepared!!

I will end with a deep personal insight of the iconic Marilyn Monroe. She said” I am selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes. I am out of control and, at times, hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best”. Instead of Marilyn, it might as well be Truth telling us this. Yes, Truth is hard to handle! Truth pushes you no end!! Beats you blue. And leaves you gasping!!! Yet I deserve the best. And, despite all the discomfort, I vote for Truth. Always.

Let Truth alone  prevail : vikas

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