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.

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