Gift of Giving

The Gift of Giving is a privilege which only we humans have. Sharing is possibly something which animals and birds also do. But consciously GIVING is a capacity only humans have. That is why I have called the blog as “Gift of Giving”.

Take the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. What prompts Gates to do so much for society at large? Warren Buffet is well known for his uncanny investments, but he has pledged to give away 99% of his wealth to philanthropic causes. With The Giving Pledge he co-founded with Bill Gates they have got 200+ billionaires from 23 different countries to pledge giving to 50% or more of their wealth in charity. The signatories include David Rockefeller, Sara Blakely, Bloomberg, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, Bezos, etc. 2013, our Azim Premji became India’s first signatory to The Giving Pledge. Premji has raised his total lifetime giving to $21 billion; he became the world’s largest contributor (to charity), being named as Asia’s most generous philanthropist in the year 2019 by Forbes. Wealth wise, Ambanis have more!! One hears of their taking, but little of their giving. Obviously Mukesh has not heard Anne Frank’s ” No one has ever become poor by giving”.

Giving is considered noble, elevating; rather than the complementary act of receiving. In Giving, the needs and desires of the receiver are given precedence. A conscious effort is made to fulfill these needs, sometimes even to the exclusion & suppression of desires of the giver. The most classic example would be of a Mother making sacrifices and adjustments to see that her child does not want at all. Even the unspoken needs and desires are sought to be fulfilled, whatever personal or monetary cost it entails. A mother’ motives are tough to analyse and understand as they go beyond the realm of reason.

There is an old anecdote about a child stuck on top of a mountain and crying. Everyone in the village gathered, but the mountain was so treacherous, no one dared to climb up, to bring the child down. Even as all were standing around debating, the mother had reached the top and was walking down with the child wrapped on her back. Trained mountaineers asked how she could go up when even they hesitated, her one line reply was ” It was not your child”. All of us who have received a mother’s love will know, no one can give more than a mother!!!

Gifting and Giving go hand in hand in many traditions. Consider the simplest example of birthday party. You would never go empty handed. And if there is a child with you, s/he would expect to come back with a “return” gift, even if it is a mere chocolate bar.

Sudama, forced by his wife to visit his friend Krishna, went with a bag of puffed rice, as a gift for his childhood friend. The Raksha Bandhan festival is sealed with a gift to the sister, however old or wealthy she is. The Padva in Diwali sees the wife receiving a gift from the husband, the Bhaiyya Duj again rewards the sister. Pune even has a gift for the son-in-law as a part of the Diwali giving. During childhood, Eid celebrations meant receiving Sheer Kurma from Muslim friends and of course rich, almond laded lamb curry for Bakri Eid. Within Muslim households grown ups are expected to keep “Iddi” envelopes/gifts ready for distribution at Eid ul Fitr and would even be entitled to receive their own share of gifting for the occasion. . We will soon get into the Christmas season which began with the 3 Wise Kings who came to call upon the Baby Christ bearing gifts. This giving tradition continues till today. Immediately after Thanksgiving in end November, the “festival shopping” season begins for the X’mas giving. So Giving is a part of our experience & culture.

I am reminded of a story I had heard which is set in the Church context. As we know a collection plate is circulated after the Mass to raise resources for the Church’s activities. An over aggressive, enthusiastic young girl was asked to take the collection plate around. She pushed the plate under the nose of an old goat like me and said, Please give…. a big contribution….Give till it hurts” And the world-weary old-fogey replied with a twinkle,” The very thought of giving hurts!”

But jokes apart, when we give, we get a glow, a feeling of satisfaction, an inner peace. the power equation is also well defined, the giver’s hand is on top and full; while the supplicant’s hand is below and empty. This has been true from times immemorial. Remember the Michelangelo’ painting of Creation!

Often the giver falls into the trap of the God Game, thinking himself superior. Whenever I have felt such false pride, I recount for myself my favorite Zen story. During a time of famine, a Zen master went around the countryside begging for money, foodgrains and clothes from all to help the afflicted. He carried a jute sack on his back, & whatever he gathered through the donations of all, he would put in the sack; then go forward, to seek another donor. Once he reached the court of a King in interior China. He put down the sack he carried on his back & made his pitch. The king asked his minister to give a donation of 20 gold coins. When the minister gave him 20 gold coins, he put them in his sack, swung the sack back onto his back, and started leaving the court. The King stopped him and said,”Master, though I am a king, 20 gold coins is a big donation” “So?” asked the Master. “So should you not thank me for this handsome donation?” asked the King. “Why should I?” said the Zen Master,” It is the Giver who should be grateful!”. He swung his sack back, and left without a backward glance.

I love this story because truly I have understood, it is the giver who should be grateful. Grateful that he has enough that he can give. Grateful that he has a full stomach and can spare some surplus. Grateful that I have met someone with whom I can share my wealth! This truth is indeed sublime. Throughout my life I have tried to teach my wife and daughter that we have enough and more. Someone did not question my capability and competence and rewarded me disproportionately. So now why should I grudge giving to others? What right I have to judge their status & deserving, when someone gave me more than enough, with no questions asked. Take heart in Don Williams’ number, ” I have quite enough to live/And my mind is free..” So my living principle, always give more that what others expect, and give it cheerfully. Sometimes, the first half is relatively easy, but giving cheerfully, with a smile, ensuring the receiver does not feel small or burdened; not playing the God Game; accepting that the Giver must be Grateful: That’s real giving!

The Maharaja of Giving in Mahabharata was Karna. Daan-shur Karna. When asked for, Karna even gave away his divine breast-plate and earrings (Kavach Kundala) though he knew this was a trick to make him mortal & vulnerable in war.

A lesser known side-story is Arjuna became angry for Krishna praising Karna for his supreme generosity. Krishna told Arjuna he would prove that Karna’s generosity was indeed superior. Sometime later, Krishna gave a mountain load of gold to Arjuna. Arjuna said he has no use for so much gold, called the populace and started donating the gold, using a spade. Arjuna felt great he was giving away such riches literally spade-fulls. Later Krishna gave the same gift of mountain full of gold to Karna. Karna’s way was to call people, ask then to take however much they wanted. And he just walked away from the mountain of gold!! Proving thereby that he was a true Giver, supreme in generosity, far above Arjuna in this regard.

Remember, Giving is a virtuous cycle which will bring back for you, more than what you have given. That is the Law of Nature. As you Sow, so Shall you Reap. This is the Law of Feed Forward. What ever you have given to others, will come back to you multifold. Have Trust. Have Faith. Believe. Just Give.

At the end let me tell you a Hungarian children’s story, The Safe. There was a wealthy merchant who kept all his money in a safe. He commissioned the village mathematician and intelligent person to design a new safe, such that money kept in it would double!! Obviously the mathematician tried many designs, but money would not double in the safe.

Later, the Merchant was to go on a long travel. He summoned the Mathematician & threatened : by the time he comes back the Safe that doubles the money is made ready, else he will complain to the King!! He left on his travels giving the keys of his existing Safe to the Mathematician. The Mathematician opened the Safe and gave away ALL the money to the people in the village.

When the Merchant returned he found the Safe empty. He rushed out to confront the Mathematician. But en route every neighbour, who had been a beneficiary, called the Merchant to their house, treated him with lots of love & affection, heaped praises & food on him!!! The Merchant realised that though his paper money was gone, he had become much, much richer. He understood that “Everything we give to others will, sooner or later, returns to us, whether or not it be in a form we expected”

Remember, Always Give more than what People Expect & Do it Cheerfully : your friendly neighbourhood vikibaba

Good Boss Bad Boss

Unto each life some rain must fall is age old wisdom. Similarly, all who have tasted corporate life will agree that they have had their share of good bosses and bad bosses. In my 34 years working for Family Owned, Professionally owned, MNCs – all large and small- I claim that I have had the fortune to meet good bosses & bad bosses in abundant measure. I soon learnt the truth of Mary Angelou’s words,“I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it”.

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I was fortunate to have bad bosses in my life, as they too taught me a lot. Throughout growing up years, we evaluate our parents &….if you are truthful….find them gossly, or marginally, lacking at different times. And then we resolve…when I become a parent….I will be different….I will avoid the faux pas I see my parents committing, and I will be a much better father/mother.

Same with bosses! Being on the receiving end of bad bosses, with a bloody nose and a bruised ego, one resolves….When I am the Boss, I will… Hence I say both types of Bosses teach us! This blog is an attempt to look back at my bosses and put down the “secret sauce”…what behaviours worked & what I try to repeat and what I disliked & resolved to avoid. Hopefully this will sound familiar,  become your litmus test to see if you are on the right side of the continuum & your team rates you amongst the good bosses they worked for. 

So let us define the secret sauce ingredients…..

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Napoleon Hill put it so well: ” Your real boss is the one who walks around under your hat”. I was fortunate to work for bosses who had got under my skin & occupied my thinking. I was never far from their influence. As I thought though issues and probable solutions, something kept telling me Arun Bhende or George Koreth would do thus, in these circumstances. The green lighting of alternatives, made it simple to follow the right path & do the correct thing. The Holy Church gives similar advice to come out of a moral quandary: WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do) Answer that & the path is clear.

Today’s complex world requires innovative thinking and new solutions. Often in my career I experienced complete support & a priori backing of my bosses. In Atul when I became a Head of HR for the first time, reporting to the MD, there were no clear defined paths. Both of us were new to our roles. But Sunil Lalbhai allowed me to experiment & try new things. In J&J similar freedom & reassurance enabled us to win recognition. We won Regional ASPac Leadership Awards for 5 years in a row, leading to other 14 countries asking J&J India be asked not to nominate their HR initiatives, so that other countries could win the Award!! The management team led by Narendra Ambwani was solidly reinforcing HR initiatives. That also resulted in National recognition for Innovative HR Practices that Drive Business Results. This was the result of Boss Support.

My best bosses were always Humble. Never afraid to show their Human Face, taking utmost and genuine interest in my family on the personal front, & my team in office. Literally, issues that affected me were their issues & they always stood by me in times of need & difficulty. This was all the more when I had made a mistake or a wrong call. The Good Boss was with me in the trenches, in the dirt, facing the flak with me…. never allowing me to feel alone or isolated.

In the positive characteristics, finally I would add a strong Team Orientation. With the Good Bosses it is always about WE and rarely about ME. The best bosses are not bosses, they are leaders. They do not say” Go” rather their terminology is , ” Let us go!”. Leading from the front, shoulder to shoulder every step of the way, the Good Boss is forever Rethinking, Reimagining & Realigning. There will be times when the team is stuck & searching for the true North. The good Boss has Superior Vision to look beyond immediate obstacles & chart a new course, maintaining the directional alignment to the goal. The good boss is a Talent Magnet with his reputation spreading way beyond his immediate team. Good people are trying to get on his team as they know the ride will add value to them, while reaching the stars.

Let us cast a look at the other side of continuum now…what are Bad Bosses like?

William Pollard puts it well,” The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow”. But today is time of discontinuity and change. As the famous title of Marshall Goldsmith’s book puts it,” What got you here, won’t get you there”. The Bad Bosses have been successful individuals in the past. And therein lies the rub!! Having achieved a modicum of success in a particular way, the person does not grow out of those habits, does not question the efficacy of the past methods & means. The Bad Boss does not realise that success can be limiting…it binds you to a particular approach/path which brought you success. In reality, nothing remains the same. Situations have changed, circumstances have changed, even the people have changed. The same approach of the past may not be appropriate now. If you get stuck in the way you were successful in the past, the world can pull many surprises. In the corporate world the classic examples are Kodak and Nokia, whose past success became a millstone around their neck.

Just like organizations do, People also change. Changed business scenarios require different competencies and capabilities. A poor leader does not understand this dynamicity.  He is driving his car while looking into his rear view mirror, rather than looking at the road & obstacles ahead, clearly visible through the front windshield. How long can this be tolerated or allowed? Such a boss is bad for his team, and also for the organization, in the long run. The team gets wrangled & mangled for little fault of theirs, as they continue to follow the instructions of the Bad Boss. A sure recipe for disaster for all involved!!

rear-view-mirror

Sometimes the Bad Boss is stuck in his judgement of people or assessment of the situation & ignores data to the contrary. This can be dangerous. I have seen careers of good professionals get ruined by bosses who refuse to admit new evidence/data. Punitive actions are taken, where corrective actions could have sufficed. But the Bad Boss stuck in the past is hell bent on throwing the baby with the bath water, to everyone’s dismay.

We all make mistakes. But the Bad Boss has no expiry date on the examples of wrongdoing & mistakes. Things done at beginning of career, continue to be dragged out & referred to run down individuals. This happens with so much regularity that the targeted individuals have no choice but to leave the company. I saw live examples of this in General Motors as well as in VVF, and good people had to cut their losses & leave rather than be at the receiving end of vituperative bosses who refused to change. While this is  extreme, unfortunately the incidence is not uncommon. 

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Somerset Maugham talked of the Mr Know All in one of his short stories. Unfortunately we have all seen many such Know Alls in our organizations. The sheer intellectual arrogance of one HR Head I worked with in Siemens, isolated HR function so badly that none of our proposals & initiatives got the nod of the Management Committee, as the HR Head had burned too many bridges. One of our Works Managers in Siemens typified this approach even in his spoken language. Mischievously once someone counted that in a two hour meeting, he said, “I know that” nearly 53 times…averaging “I know that” once every 2 minutes!!! Such bosses  love  the sound of their own voice & have never heard of shared air time!!! Difficult folks to work with, as they consider themselves as God’s Gift to Mankind!!!!!

Leadership is action , not position.“, said Donald McGannon. A bad boss considers this a call to take all actions himself! His team receives no encouragement  or support. And his indecisive approach means the same thing gets debated and discussed again & again. One of my MDs in General Motors was a Media/magazine editor in his previous avatar. Saddled with GM India MD role, he withdrew into indecisiveness & prevarication. Subjects debated and concluded, were opened up again next day due to his insecurity. The Management Team played Here we go round the Mulberry Bush, over and over. Such Bad bosses sap your energy & enthusiasm, and are detrimental to the team and to the organization. 

Do write in and let me know if you agree with my taxonomy of Good Bosses & Bad Bosses.

To end, a Good Boss has no need to be a boss – he is content to just point the way: vikas

Look Ma, no hands!!

 

After the last blog I wrote, “Letting Go” I got 2 buckets of feedback….

  1. said wow, what a career, you went from strength to strength, your story will be an inspiration for people searching for “the way”
  2. asked was it all hunky-dory ? how about the challenges & what they taught you?

That is where this follow-through blog took shape.  I felt I must share with you where I royally screwed up & what I learnt from those experiences….inspiration for the title of this blog.

Some of you may know the story of a small boy who was learning to cycle. His mother was cooking, & watching him through the kitchen window. The boy made his first round very tentatively, cycle shaking vigorously, trying his best to maintain balance. In the second pass, the boy was confident, rode the cycle well, maintained perfect balance. As he passed the window once more, he shouted to his mother….” Look Ma!” and whizzed past. Third round he had acquired the confidence & skill and shouted out,” Look Ma, no hands!” … he could ride the cycle without holding the handle!! The Mother clapped. Emboldened, the boy increased speed & was more experimentative. In the fourth round, he shouted, ” Look Ma, no teeth!” ….obviously he had had a fall, & broken his front teeth!

In  34 years of my Corporate life I too have fallen often. Why only teeth, I have lost many more things….my confidence, courage, arrogance, faith and my trust. This blog recounts some of these stories. So hear ye, hear ye, hear ye….how this fool lost his teeth, bruised his ego, and much more!! Some journeys need no roads, only a willing heart!

roads

The nadir of my professional failure was when I left my AsiaPacific Director’s job in Johnson & Johnson and joined VVF as Global Head of HR. I was doing well in J&J but the travel was burning me out. A consultant friend (whom I later realised was no friend of mine), sold me on a stable job in Mumbai as Global Head HR for VVF. It seemed a logical progression from AsPac to Global role:  company had solid growth , 8 plants in India, 6 plants abroad, all good! Too good to be true I realised when I joined, as it was a company with zero professionalism, family owned and managed heuristically, no systems and processes and worst : no appetite for change! Directly from being on top of my professional career, I was dumped into a black hole in Sion. Except protecting my monetary package, the company gave me nothing….no freedom to operate, no chance to learn, no opportunity to contribute. Decisions today, were overturned tomorrow. People were treated as fodder for egos of owners and entrenched “mulajim” who knew how to do “han-ji han-ji” to survive & thrive. In true noir humour, my friends said your title should not be Global Head HR but Global Head HR (Sion)!! That was the job I had!!!

I was desperate to quit …first time in my life I dreaded going to office, as i did not know what surprise awaited me. Vinita saw how badly I hurt every day I had to go to office. She advised me to just quit. Tough call,  but I was clear : having done no wrong, I would not quit without a job in hand.

sun-tzu

Fortunately I could leave in 9 months, but the role I landed in, I had to adjust to a 20% lower compensation. There was no choice (the proverbial Devil and the Deep Sea); at least I was protecting my soul & sanity.  Again I left in 4 months. After this short-lived adventure I joined General Motors, who placed me at Pune where I wanted to be & even restored my comp to pre-existing levels. While I was leaving Onida, the gracious Chairman asked me why I was leaving so soon after  joining. My answer  was “Never reduce someone’s compensation as that becomes a festering tumor which hurts the person daily” Big learning for me was: never think you can win by vanquishing the other person. Leave him his life, leave him his space so that he retains his dignity & honour. A principle which has stood me in good stead in life. A time tested formula followed by the Greek Kings as well as our own Chatrapati Shivaji. Long Live Win-Win!!!

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Early in my career, I realised I must learn to face my fears. The head in the sand model may work for the Ostrich, but for us humans the sand storm sweeps us away, if we do not proactively plan our way forward. I remember many examples where I fell grossly short. At HCL I took responsibility for a Marketing launch meeting, relied on others who promised they would do their part, & ended up with egg on the face in front of Directors as no preparation was complete; as others had not done their bit & I had not checked. At Siemens Corporate Office I called for a walk-in interview in morning at office opening time. Since my staff bus came in late, there was a 150 people’ melee around the Corporate Office reception which could barely seat 10. I reached 75 minutes late. I did not know there was a Board of Directors meeting scheduled same day & they could not enter the office because of the crowd. The Personnel Director had to arrange Security to escort them to the back of the building and bring them in from the Garbage entrance! The US Army has coined a great word to describe such things: SNAFU: ie Situation Normal, All Fu..ed Up!

snoopy

Another classic memory is of a training event arranged in Atul, Valsad where the program was wrongly scheduled on a festival holiday, got rescheduled and all people informed….only we forgot to inform the external visiting faculty who travelled from out-station all the way to face an empty training room. In Siemens,  once I rescheduled the weekly off for the Maintenance group of a 4500 employee strong factory. Maintenance people protested and did not follow the revised schedule, resulting in 2 mandays lost for the entire group.

दिल ही तो है इसने शयाद भुल भी की है
ज़िन्दगी है भुल कर ही रIह मिलाती है
माफ़ करना बंदा भी इक इन्सान है…अपनी तो हर आह एक तुफान है

My lack of numerical ability  often created errors in increment/promotion letters, where we had to withdraw letters and issue fresh ones. This happened with so much regularity that one kind hearted colleague offered to always become an “audit step”, before the letters were issued to employees. I rejoined Siemens after a gap of 6+ years as GM HRD. But the company & culture has changed so much in that period that I felt like a fish out of water, and was scrapping daily with friends & colleagues who had welcomed me back!!! Quickly I left again, as I was miserable in Siemens. My list of faux-pas are legion and so I must cut short their litany. But all of them had to be faced, accepted, apologized for, changed & corrected. My bosses trust was often shaken;  but intentionality & help from friends ensured I never got fired, though I was lectured often.

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So where does all this lead us? I tell you: Life is what it is. And Shit happens. Especially when you are least expecting it. And that is ok. The glorious uncertainty of life makes it all worth living. If it was all predictable we would have long been bored. Chess is the best game only because of the possibilities and probabilities are enormous. And indeterminate.  So my learning in this game of Life, and of HR, is that you need to play the game best as you can. Do not try to control , as like sand it will slip out of your hand. Face every challenge and every day with a smile, keep a true heart, focus on the max good for the max people and you will come out right. Be Open. Do not attempt to be a Master of the Game. Rather be a Player. Just pick up the learning each mistake brings to you. Trust the Process. Go with the Flow. You will be a Winner.

I end with advice from one of the best influencers in my life, Ayn Rand who says,Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark. In the hopeless swamps of the not quite, the not yet, and the not at all, do not let the hero in your soul perish ... The world you desire can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours.” 

खुबिया इतनी तो नही की सभी का दिल जीत सके,
लेकिन….
कुछ पल ऐसे जरूर छोड़ जाएंगे कि भूलना भी आसान ना होगा: आपका अज़ीज़ विकिबाबा learner

 

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                                From People Matters: applies to every day, don’t you agree?                                    सारे जहाँ से अच्छा हिंदुस्तान हमारा

 

 

 

Nahi Udaas Nahi…

वाक़िये इतने अनगिनत हैं इस ज़िंदगी के…साहिब.!!

समझ नहीं आ रहा…किताब लिखूँ या हिसाब लिखूँ…!!!

The First Lockdown was declared across India on 23rd March. We received the news in shocked surprise, as neither Corporate India, nor  families were prepared. Shopkeepers big or small, offices, factories, even e-commerce sites all went into shutdown. Individuals were scrambling to organize daily requirements like milk and veggies, while large organizations were busy providing their employees IT support so that they could work from home seamlessly. In the starting days of lockdown, I wrote a blog : A Crisis too Precious to Waste (  https://vikasshirodkar.blog/2020/04/09/a-crisis-too-precious-to-waste/ ). In my early enthusiasm, I actually listed out 9 positive outcomes that we can all gather/learn from the lockdown. Even in my title, unknowingly I had echoed great men of yore e.g.  Winston Churchill, ” Never let a good crisis go to waste”.

Today is 27th June. We are in Lockdown 5.0. From 23rd March, it is 96 days most of us have been at home. A small number of us, from essential services, health care, pharma, policing or other security outfits have been working  through these nearly 100 days. And possibly working even harder, with more stress than before. Another group started going to work more recently in the last 8/10 days. Uncertain, scared what the exposure to external environment would do to our risk profile, leading to a doubt whether you should have risked going back to office at all!! An even larger majority is still at home. Some in conducive industries like  Technology, BFSI & IT/ITES are practicing the new norm of Working from Home,  for varying lengths of time. An even larger number, in Educational institutions, Retail industry, Transportation, Hospitality just waits for the next diktat … uncertain whether it will be extension of the Lockdown or lifting of it.

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Meanwhile, number of cases testing positive continues to soar. Slowly,  surely.  We now know of cases in our friends’ circle, or in our Society, or even in our building who have tested positive. Buildings/Floors are being sealed and cordoned off by the municipal authorities. If the data shared on the many webinars I attend daily is anything to go by, there is an increase in the cases of depression, anxiety and, of course, stress in the populace.  Uncertainty of when all this will end is not helpful.  Mental Health is always a good indicator of overall satisfaction and happiness within the system. And so this is worrisome. There are some “hidden talents” in each one of us and hidden opportunities in the circumstances. Unfortunately, to paraphrase a comedian in recent times,” I do have many hidden talents. But it is hidden so well, that I can’t find it myself!!” That will not help. We need to plumb our depths and find them.

Against this backdrop, while I was walking yesterday (yes I am allowed to go down to walk in the open within Society’s premises) an old song popped into my head…

“नहीं उदास नहीं

बस एक चुप सी लगी है

नहीं उदास नहीं

कही पे सांस रुकी है”

Literally the world, & those of us affected by this lockdown await with bated breath to see how this whole scenario will play out. The frustration, at least for me, is the sheer lack of clarity on how this will end. Despite Lockdown for nearly 100 days, the no of cases keep increasing day by day. While I do not track numbers, as they are a depressive scoreboard to watch, nor do I watch the news, the SM does creep into your psyche and inform you the latest.  So is it all negative? Bad? Hopeless?

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Again the song plays in my head:

कोई अनोखी नहीं ऐसी जिंदगी लेकिन

खुब न हो

मिली जो

खूब मिली है

नहीं उदास नहीं बस एक चुप सी लगी है

You may be wondering whether I have fallen into the Stockholm Syndrome type of thinking where I am now falling in love with my social isolation, physical distancing, not stirring out of my home? “लज़्ज़ते_ए_आशिकी अब इस से बढ कर क्या होगी… रिहाई का वक्त आया तो, पिंजरे से मुहब्बत हो गयी !” Have I forgotten the joy of freedom, roaming aimlessly, going to malls & restaurants, shopping live, meeting friends & relatives, long drives?

No, I sit to write to you, and aver to myself…नहीं उदास नहीं. Rather, I thank the powers that be (China??) that made this happen. I am grateful that I got a radically different experience, compared to my earlier 64 years. I feel good that I got to stay home for 100 days, breaking the vicious cycle of my constant work-related travel, for the first time since I began working in 1980. I got a chance to do things I have never done.  Whether it was sweeping and swabbing the house, or washing utensils at one end of the spectrum to catching up on a lot of reading, getting on to Netflix for the first time (using my daughter’s account) and doing binge watching of serials and movies; which concept, I had only heard of. Why, we even celebrated birthdays & anniversaries on Zoom! And  had surprise treats for Fathers’ Day and delicious meals shared with family who live in same complex.  I actually learnt to have & enjoy long conversations with my daughter on phone, sharing daily tribulations and tensions of her life. Got close to my extended family on zoom platform, settling down into a rhythm of  weekly calls with the entire gang…..enjoying impromptu performances by grandchildren, hearing about cooking from my nieces, family politics & frustrations from cousins, and in other ways enjoying the “we” time. Getting on  more comfortable terms with my wife of 4o years, because suddenly we were shorn of all paraphernalia of activities & friends, relatives & maids… and rediscovering our joy of being together & doing things for one another after a longish gap.

सुनी हिकायतें हस्ती तो दरमियान से सुनी

ना इब्तिदा की ख़बर है ना इन्तेहां मालूम।

{ हिकायतें= stories; हस्ती = life, world; दरमियान= during; इब्तिदा= Beginning, origin, commencement; इन्तेहां utmost limit, end; extremity. }

Wayne Dyer tells us,” Accept life as it is or take the responsibility to change it!”. Yes, there are no paid consultancy assignments as even the clients are locked down. But that gave me an opportunity to learn new developments & the latest thinking in HR by attending & addressing a number of webinars & online meetings.  I fib you not… to take notes, I opened a fresh, new 2020 diary…one of those Demi sized ones with one page to a date. Given the amount of notes I have made….I am already on the Sept 29th page in that diary!! Listening to so many webinars and calls has kept me on track for my original dream….to be a constant learner.

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So, truly, I have enjoyed the 100 days. Would I be willing & ready to get into another lock down ? Yes and No. NO since we can’t call Rashmi over from Gurugram (where she is working at present) & spend time with her together without agenda…which I miss badly. That is the only NO reason. But for YES, there are so many. My family, first and foremost. My new learning. My improved relationships. My me time

I look back on what I wrote in the beginning of lockdown, and the suggestions I made on how to give a positive twist to this quirk of lockdown, home-locked fate. And I am proud that I have implemented most of the suggestions I made! The Dr has indeed tasted  his own medicine!! During these 96 days I have practiced frugality & learning to do with less; developed a feeling of gratitude for all that we have; sensed a closer bonding with immediate family, and extended family equally; grown closer and re-established contact with friends; done much better time management; sharpened my ability to adjust/compromise; imbibed  new skills; created a “stop doing” list for greater effectiveness to which I keep adding; and finally am leveraging & enjoying solitude. जीने को और क्या चाहिए!!!

Been there, Done it all. If & when the lockdown is lifted, I am sure you all will see a better version of me!!!

I end with this beautiful poem a friend shared, excerpted from The Weighing by Jane Hirshfield:

So few grains of happiness

measured against all the dark

and still the scales balance.
The world asks of us

only the strength we have and we give it.

Then it asks more, and we give it.

mother end

Stay Safe; Stay Together; Stay Happy: vikibaba

Redesigning Leaders by Reinventing HR

On 10th May, I was invited by my friend Shyam Iyer on a webinar to discuss the above topic. I had made notes for my talk and am reproducing my notes on the topic in 2 parts. Here is the Part 1.

Poster-Conversation

 

At the outset, I must compliment Shyam Iyer & 60BitsConsulting for choosing a very relevant & important topic for today’s deliberations. We are in the throes of a crisis and hence the importance of leadership, to drive us out of the woods!! As the actions will have to be implemented by people, hence the importance of HR, as a function, is doubled at the present moment.

I have structured my talk in 4 buckets:

  1. Context: and here I will not speak about COVID19 & the impact on the economy, etc as there is enough discussion already on these. Rather, I will focus on trends and implications we must understand, to be able to overcome the present crisis.
  2. Journey of HR: Having worked in Corporate India, for 34 years, and now 5 years in Consulting, I have seen a fair bit of change in the way the HR function operates. We should understand this base-line, to learn how HR needs to be ‘reinvented’.
  3. Leadership: The ‘What’ & ‘How’ of Leadership in the present context, especially given that we are looking up to our leaders at present, to lead us out of the crisis.
  4. HR’s new role: What are the areas HR has to focus on, to support the Leaders & the organisation at the present juncture.

So let us dive into the Context & Journey of HR.  Leadership & HR’s New role will be Part 2 of this article.

Context: The last blog I wrote was titled A Crisis too Precious to Waste.  I wrote that when the First lockdown was announced & I have listed many advantages we can derive, from the present crisis. As an incurable optimist, while mostly people see this with gloom, I believe there are many advantages and benefits. In the words of Charles Dickens (The Tale of Two Cities), ” It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…..in short the period was so far like the present period”  Don’t those words fit beautifully to today’s times? We are facing a common challenge for everyone on the planet. This crisis is larger than the Spanish Flu, the London Plague, the Swine Flu, or any other pandemic mankind has ever faced. It is indeed larger in scope & impact than the 2 World Wars we have been through. In the WW, some countries were thankfully left unaffected. But the present Pandemic has affected and involved entire mankind.

One major effect of this will be that !! We cannot fall into the ‘vacation syndrome’ trap…we go on vacation, we go back and think all will be the same. This won’t happen now. We can never go back to doing business, the way we used to do in the past. BAU is DEAD! Both Personal and Professional lives will never be the same. A New Normal will emerge. In the Chinese language, the word for crisis is written with 2 characters: WEI and JEI. Wei Jei is Crisis, but WEI is Danger and JEI, by itself, is Opportunity. So the crisis brings together, both Danger but also many Opportunities.

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As you look at the impact & implications of the global pandemic on organisations and people around us, on a 5 point scale, how would you rate our state of preparedness and understanding of what needs to be done?

Let us accept, that most of us were unprepared. I heard Mr Patu Keswani the other day. He openly accepts that Lemon Tree had BCPs…of 3 different scenarios. What if 20% business is affected; what if 30% and what if 40% business stalls? But the 3 scenarios did not help. What emerged was a totally different scenario, for which they were not prepared; the actual reality overtook all. BCPs is like driving by looking at only the rear view mirror; the actual reality will still surprise you. But  “Don’t let the Phantom of the Opera scare you. Remember, collectively mankind wins”. This is beautifully illustrated by my friend Adil Malia.

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Lockdown has brought in several restrictions. But, at the same time, there are opportunities galore. At the age of 65, I am attending webinars & learning on different subjects. I am excited with ideas of virtual lunches and tea breaks. Much is locked down, but many new things have emerged, like this platform we are interacting on today. One of my clients, CtrlM which is into print management, has launched a thought provoking campaign on #InOurControl. I invite you to see their campaign on the social media platforms like LinkedIn. Faced with problems, we are quickly coming up with new approaches, learning new skills & new solutions are emerging.

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Marcel Proust had noted, “Real Voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.” A change of perspective is necessary. We talk about the VUCA world. First introduced by the US Army War College in 1987, this term is liberally used in management/organisational context, thanks to Warren Bennis. Indeed today we live in a VUCA world characterised by Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. So we don’t know what to do. We first need to change the way we see the world we are creating. Bob Johansen of the Institute for the Future has given VUCA a new twist. He redefines VUCA as V Vision; U Understanding; C Clarity and A Agility. What a positive frame of reference, for all of us to look ahead. All of this is going to be done by people, so the need and importance of HR.

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Journey of HR: Let us look at how the HR function has been evolving. Looking to my grey hair, you will know I have witnessed many changes in the way HR functions. I have worked for 40 years in the field of HR., seeing a lot of changes. When we began our careers in late 70s, we were called ‘Bharti Officers’ because Recruitment was primarily what we did. Time Keeping, Attendance Records, Leave Records, Salaries and Wages were related tasks. It was so bad, that many a times the TK or Admin department, as it was called then, was physically situated at the gate of the factory, along with the Security Office! From there we have indeed come a long way. From Admin to Personnel to Human Resources, to now being called the People Function. Remember Human is the only Resource which does not depreciate. Unlike other factors of Management, Human Resource has the potential to always appreciate, if handled properly. From being treated as problem solvers, sitting separately to whom issues would get referred, HR has taken first a baby seat at the strategy table & now emerged as a partner, playing an active role in the running of the business. Industrial Relations have become an anachronism with the waning union militancy and more educated workforce. Some colleagues and friends, who were masters of the IR game did not see the writing on the wall changing, & got lost when the skill requirements changed for HR managers.

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Where would you rate the HR function as it operates today? Service Provider OR Support Partner OR Strategic Partner OR Board Seat?

We have indeed moved up as a function. But still much remains to be done. COVID is a huge opportunity for HR to take a pivotal role. People and Talent are now centre stage for all organisations. Recovery plans will be executed by this important resource: people! Business challenges require people to stretch and deliver: this is a golden chance for HR, to move into a more active role. We have a choice. Do we become an Albatross around the Leadership’s neck, a weight they carry & look to ditch? OR do we become like the Phoenix, burn ourselves on the embers ranging at this crisis time, and the rise from the ashes in a new avatar & take wings? Albatross? OR Phoenix? What will it be?

 

end lion

Next time we will look deeply at Leadership and the new role requirements of HR to redesign and reinvent.

To be continued……..

A crisis too precious to waste

The path breaking movie, Star Wars left us many learnings. My favourite? Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn’s  advice to Anakin Skywalker, “Always remember: Your focus determines your reality.”  In our hyper distracted world of today, we would do well to remember this seminal thought! 

wish

The volume of communication bombarding us from all sides, and our unfettered access to information & other people, fuelled by the ubiquitous social media & our smartphones, have made it more difficult than ever to focus. Despite this reality, there are opportunities to focus all around us. But we must recognize & seize them.  The faith that focus will benefit, both yourself and the people around you, makes this a priority. In other words, before you can help & lead others, the first person you must help & lead is yourself.

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The Global pandemic of CONVID19 and the consequent lockdown has forced us to remain in our houses. Analysts say this crisis is larger than what humanity has seen even in the 2 World Wars, or any other health scares we have experienced in the past  eg The Black Death (The Great London plague) in 1665; or the Spanish Flu of 1918; or the Asian Flu of 1957, in which an estimated 1 million plus people died. CONVID19 pandemic has the potential to overtake the estimated 65 Million infections worldwide & 25 Million deaths due to HIV/AIDS. The worldwide lockdowns & the desperate efforts afoot to find an inoculation to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, or to treat & cure patients afflicted, are well documented and within public knowledge.

When everything around us is breaking up, social networks  becoming purely virtual & digital, work from home is the new reality, manufacturing & supply chain are compromised,  and questions face us wherever we turn, it is easy to fall into despondency or worse, fatalism. Still, I believe tough times are an opportunity to ponder. To revalue everything in your life.  Nature and Industry is conniving to give you time, they have pressed the “Pause” button! You are getting a lot of time to reflect, and decide the next steps, or new turns, that you will take. Transmutation, Transformation, Change is rapidly intruding in our daily humdrum. “Business as usual” is clearly a matter of the foregone past.

I take heart in the words of Richard Bach: ” What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls a butterfly”. A new world, a new reality beckons us; and am sure it will be better than our past!

What_the_caterpillar

So it is in this context I sit to write something positive, though the entire doomsday scenario has plunged us into negativity!  Many may call me foolhardy. But I do believe this crisis has thrown up some interesting learnings which we should take to heart, and blend into the way we will live, in the future.

I do believe our lives will be the better,  in case we survive!! So here I go counting my chickens before they are hatched….imagining the great Indian Chicken Tikka Masala we have in store for us, just around the corner.

true

So specifically what are the positives in this lockdown scenario?

  • We have learnt to do with less: unnecessary shopping, reckless eating out, entertainment till we drop, is gone. Less is More! Simple things give pleasure : the sheer availability of milk and veggies feels great.
  • Count your blessings: you enjoy a roof over your head, you are not worried where the next meal is coming from, essentials supplies are being maintained (hitherto). Life’s needle has moved just marginally for you, if you face the facts.
  • Families, teams & couples have come closer: you have only one another to look up to, celebrate, complain. Conversations have started on lunch/dinner tables, whereas earlier all were in a hurry to gobble food, and head in different directions, with no common agenda.
  • Time: the great leveller, has shown his benevolent side. Earlier a hard taskmaster, seemingly driving you relentlessly on a rollercoaster of tasks & activities, suddenly Father Time has shown his softer side. I see more time hanging on my hands now.  It gives me the joy of planning & executing at my volition. I feel more in command & can do more of what my heart desires.
  • Analyse your time spend. Think whether your short  & long term goals are best served with your “time spent analysis”. Develop a good understanding on where you want to reach, what you want to get done. Use the time-data to act on what needs change,  to get better alignment to your goals. Define priorities & focus on them.
  • In present times, we have learnt greater level of accomodation and adjustment. Our demands and desires have got tempered;  we are less strident about our needs & wants. “Marie nahi hai, KrackJack chalega; KrackJack nahi hai, Monaco ya Gluco  is OK.”  We are different now. I take joy in small tasks.
  • Starve your distractions. Social media, YouTube, NetFlix, and the limitless possibilities of the internet hang over our heads. They tempt us to click links that take us to another video or article. Understand & accept that the internet lures you in, & then take decisive action by logging out of your social media accounts and blocking websites during certain hours of the day. Recognize this is often a bottomless well. This is beneficial “Social Distancing”!

wish

  • This “quiet time” you have been gifted is a great time for you to take stock of your capabilities & competencies. Identify gaps in yourself and use this time to do online certifications, learning, webinars and training. Do not let the tempo of work get in the way of good development opportunities. Come out with a better version of You!
  •  There are only so many hours in a day. Reflect on where your time is best spent, which provides you with the clarity to decide which calls to take, which meetings to stop attending,  and which invitations you should politely decline. This is something that Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, has been advising people to do for many years. Create a “stop doing” list.
  • There is no silver bullet  for solving the complex problems of today. But there are some good places to start, and one of them is: solitude. Having the discipline to step back from the noise of the world is essential to staying focused. Know that whatever incites our emotions, causes the cognitive effects of distractions to linger. In their  book, Lead Yourself First, Ray Kethledge & Mike Erwin define solitude as a state of mind, a space in which to focus one’s own thoughts without distraction — and where the mind can work through a problem on its own. Leverage this to come up with sustainable & effective solutions to life’s challenges.

dream

If you see it in the right perspective, the present crisis has gift wrapped and brought all this to you, while you are sitting at home!! Sad will be the day, if we go back to our past ways as soon as this crisis blows over, & leave all these learnings by the wayside.

Now it is up to us to make use of this crisis time, and the power of our imagination, our faith & our trust in the ingenuity of our fellow human beings, our willingness to experiment and our ability to learn, our inner alchemy, if you will, to transmute the challenges & the mounds of coal that surround us today into streets of Gold, paved with our desires and dreams to move ahead and beyond. 

Believe, indeed it is possible, and it will come to pass!

In a Distracted World, Solitude is a Competitive Advantage;                                     Enjoy yours, while it lasts: vikas

Post Script: Gratefully acknowledge my debt of inspiration to Richard Bach’s Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah; as I believe we all are now.

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Mentoring: A win-win relationship

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Historically, the word Mentor originates from Greece. Ulysses had little time to groom & develop his son Telemachus. Busy with his kingly duties, and waging war on neighbours for his conquests, Ulysses asked his friend Mentor to coach, counsel and guide Telemachus during his growing years. Today’s process of Mentoring was once a proper noun and the name of the first recorded practitioner. Plutarch caught the essence,  “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” Telemachus was a king in the making. So Mentor was charged with making Telemachus an independent thinker and doer, albeit guided and supported by the wisdom of the experienced warrior, Mentor.

Today also the Mentor is supposed to provoke and encourage, guide and support, empower and enable as the Mentee charts his/her own course. In the end, if the Mentee/Protege does not become capable and independent, the Mentoring relationship has failed!  Benjamin Disraeli guides us thus, “The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.” So true…it is about teaching a man to fish so that he becomes independent and self sufficient. Be a signpost to show the right path, but let the protege walk on his own. A lot of people, yours truly included, have gone further than they thought they could, because someone else thought they could!!

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In that respect my father was the greatest mentor we siblings ever had. Even when we were unsure of ourselves, he would always sound the bugle of confidence. Around him, “I can’t do it” was unacceptable. His approach was…try it out. Till you attempt it, never say you cannot do it. And if you fail in your attempt, learn from the failure. Then try again. Success will always be yours. When I look back on my school and college education, on the diverse companies I worked in, & the jobs I handled, I indeed had to struggle often to keep my nose out of the water. But Baba? he was always sure I would emerge successful. And his confidence was so infectious that a pure play Humanities student made it to IIM Calcutta and had a very successful career whose zenith was recognition at the hands of Abdul Kalam for innovative HR practices; and successfully shouldering an Asia Pacific responsibility for Johnson & Johnson.

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At IIM Calcutta, an Arts students having to understand  and master the quantitative methods and math based teaching, I was at the lowest possible ebb:  looking at all the IITians and smart people around me. But my Provost Dr Zahid Gangjee enabled me to see hope within myself. His deft mentoring, restored my aspirations and defined for me,  a new trajectory.  At the very start of my career, my experience in a highly entrepreneurial HCL, working closely with Prof. George Koreth  was another high. “I am not a teacher. I am an awakener” thundered George who single handedly mentored the 7 DCM Data Products break-away engineers to form HCL, and make it grow into the main catalyst for the fledgling data processing industry in the 70s/80s. Under George’s tutelage, HCL HR was the brain to pick, the sounding board to bounce your ideas, question your strategies and iron out the glitches. We did it well and can take some credit for HCL becoming the power-horse of the IT boom in India. Mentoring Works!!! and how!!

Steven S

PW Khandekar, Shrinivas Pandit, my most favorite Arun Bhende (all in Siemens); Siddharth Lalbhai, Dr Venkateshwarlu,  CD Patel & Sanat Mehta (in Atul) ….looking back I wonder what I did to deserve so many brilliant minds helping and supporting me,  as I was finding my way. Naren Ambwani, Pradip Shroff, Dr Ajit Dangi, Rajesh Dalal (in J&J) all contributed significantly to making me what I became. All these mentors truly epitomize what Mary Angelou had written, “In order to be a mentor, and an effective one, one must care. You must care. You don’t have to know how many square miles are in Idaho, you don’t need to know what is the chemical makeup of chemistry, or of blood or water. Know what you know and care about the person, care about what you know and care about the person you’re sharing with.” Their caring was the placenta within which this embryo survived and flowered.

Somewhere in the late 90s in Atul, & Siemens, & JnJ, and later General Motors, I suddenly awoke to the design of the universe. I was being given all this, so that I could give back in return, in full measure. Time came when suddenly I found the tables turning! Even as I was learning & growing, I found Mentoring being thrust on me. Suddenly I saw people expecting guidance and support from me. Now, I had to be the brain that others could pick, the ear they could talk to, a shoulder they could lean on ….and the most difficult thing….expected me to nudge them in the right direction. “Holy Smokes!!” I exclaimed, ” I am stupid guy! Don’t rely on me. I am a fool. I am still learning. I cannot claim any expertise. You are making a mistake”

Still the noise outside the door did not subside, the crowd did not move away. Slowly I understood this is the way of the universe!  Life comes a full circle. And I cannot step away from the treadmill. My task in life now is to call out as I see it, and help others make their decisions, help them stand and be counted, help them become independent, and as a good Mentor….push them in the right direction.  Success is when you have reached your goal, but Real Success is how many others you have helped along the way.

Make impact

It is unfortunate that in Corporate India today, we have so few companies which have successful Mentoring programmes as a part of their Talent Management suite. Many understand the power of Mentoring and how it can benefit upcoming talent. Many have even started Mentoring programmes with much fanfare and aplomb. But the lack of clarity on the mechanics of Mentoring, and the inability to set the right expectations for both the Mentors and the Mentees/Proteges, have left many dead bodies, and programs,  along the path!!

Of course the times have changed and so have the talent. Today’s new gen millennials who account for nearly 50% of the employees, do they still view mentors as the way we viewed them? Probably not. Our generation viewed mentoring as support to advance careers, while today’s talent need mentors to help them meet urgent learning needs or new skills. Moreover, with virtual learning the new gen doesn’t find face to face communication to be mandatory, in contrast to the good old mentor mentee relationship. Finally, earlier employees had one mentor. But now employees look for diverse connections & wider learning avenues. So, will one mentor be able to provide it all??? These are challenges for the corporates, but my request to Talent Management gurus….do not throw the baby with the bath water. Mentoring is a win win relationship.

2 way street

I have lived my life to be a learner and a mentor. I know I have to be mentored -constantly!! Everything in the world has been passed down. Every piece of knowledge is something that has been shared by someone else. If you understand it as I do, mentoring becomes your true legacy. It is the greatest inheritance you can give to others. As John Wooden says,” It is why you get up every day-to teach and be taught.”

To end, I will say our karmabhoomi is Here & Now. We must make progress today and develop talent for our requirements today! I am inspired on this by  Omar Khayyam,               ” Men talk of heaven, – there is no heaven but here;
Men talk of hell, – there is no hell but here;
Men of hereafters talk and future lives, –
O love, there is no other life – but here.” 

Live to Learn & Learn to Live; Mentor and Be Mentored: vikas

Albert-Schweitzer

Stand & Wait

“जाने तेरे शहर का, क्या इरादा है;  आसमान कम, परिंदे ज़्यादा हैं ” sang Vipin Anneja in Jazbaa

John Milton believed (like most of us??) that he was born for a great purpose!!

miltonWhen struck by blindness, in the middle of his life, his anguish poured into the sonnet that began “When I consider how my life is spent…” Like many of us who are waiting for something, and get upset and angry when it does not happen within our time line, Milton too fought with his Maker in the Sonnet. Still, in the last/14th line of the poem, Milton reconciles & gives us that oft quoted epithet, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

I, for one, often take umbrage to this “stand and wait” model of problem resolution. I feel it is escapism and fooling oneself, when you say that you are serving some purpose when you stand and wait. This is best exemplified  in the fast paced game of basketball, when the Coach  asks for player substitution and gets an active player out of the court, and sends another player instead to continue the game. This also happens in Kabbadi, Volleyball, Hockey, or Football. Think for a moment, the mindset of the player, who suddenly finds himself in the dugout, out of the match, becoming a spectator rather than a player of the game!!

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The Hall of Fame baseball commentator Vin Scully, made this Miltonesque quote famous by referring to the player not in the game, as “they who serve by standing and waiting out the game”. Would that player think he is serving? Or feel miserable that he is out of action, for now. The Navy Wives Club of America has their motto as “They also serve who stay and wait”. Really? what are they serving so far away from the war theater ??and how long do they wait?? Is it not better then, to take action & move on?

During my college days, a play become very famous & shaped our thinking. Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot was iconic in impact. Originally written in French, Beckett himself translated this into English and described it as a “tragi-comedy”. It premiered in English in 1955 ( the year that I was born…it that significant I wonder?). The entire play revolves around the discussions & dialogue between Vladimir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo) as they wait for the arrival of Godot in the middle of a road to nowhere!! Godot never arrives till the end of the play!

This play was a jewel in the crown of absurd drama. The British Royal National Theatre in 1990, voted it as the “most significant English language play of the 20th century”. In a way, it typifies the modern man’s life: meaningless existence; we all stuck on a desolate path; with a companion who is equally confused; all the time waiting for Godot; who never arrives!! There are no answers in the play, & even the tree on that road is bare:  bereft of any greenery & new life. Where are we going? What are we waiting for? Who will make our journey a trifle less senseless? Questions that dog you, me, everybody, daily, regularly.

Waiting_for_Godot

I was fortunate to see this challenging play enacted at Chabildas School, Dadar by one-time superstars of the English theater Nasiruddin Shah and Benjamin Gilani;  and the quest and angst of Didi and Gogo have never left me since! Along with them, and a host of other unsatisfied souls,  I have been Waiting for Godot since then!! All of us who are hungry, are missing something, want more, await a direction, await the messiah, await deliverance, await the promised land, want a better future…. we stand and await Godot. And true to form….Godot never arrives! The search never ends! Our eyes continue to pine. Our hearts remain empty. Our waiting for Godot begs the question….Is there a Godot at all? Will someone answer my call? Will there be a resolution? Will I be delivered? Do solutions exist? Will the Messiah finally take pity on me & reveal himself? Questions sans answers. The human condition is to wait, wait and … wait for Godot!!

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We have heard often that “the mills of God grind slowly, but grind well.”  So a waiting period is visualized as an inseparable part of our desires.  And the process to achieve them!! If we get what we want very easily, there is a tendency to undervalue it. Moreover, it is in our nature that whenever we achieve the goal we have set for ourselves, no sooner the goal comes near fulfillment, our desires change and we then are hungering after something else, something more, bigger, better, grander. When you do that, the waiting time elongates. Every minute feels like an hour, every hour feels like a day, and every day feels like forever. Depending on what you are waiting for and how keenly you desire it, sometimes you are ready to wait forever and a day!

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It is rightly said by Mary Gordon:  Waiting is the great vocation of the dispossessed. And curiously, we all are dispossessed as we always want more, something better, something faster, something more sleek. This desire keeps spiralling even when we get what we wanted, as there are always new things to wait for! So often-times I think I am waiting, for something that will never happen, since it is a moving target anyways, a chimera that I chase.

In the beginning, I  quoted the song “Jaane tere shehar ka kya iraada hai” from Jazbaa.

jazbaa

Irrfan Khan plays a down & out corrupt police inspector in a one-sided love affair with Aishwarya. She comes to his bachelor’s pad where naturally everything is in a mess. – इस मेस में कैसे रहते हो?  she asks. And Irrfan’s answer is iconic and memorable  – “मैं कहाँ रहता हूँ  यहाँ ? यहां इंतज़ार रहता है.”

Words which apply to each and every one of us and our lives – मैं कहाँ रहता हूँ यहाँ ? यहां इंतज़ार रहता है. When we will grasp this truth?

Are we stuck in this absurd drama then? Is our human condition just to wait? Will the wait ever end? Is there hope? Remember what AA Milne tells us: Rivers know this, there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.

I end with another fantastic line spoken by Irrfan in Jazbaa when Aishwarya comes to visit him. His assistant: ” कस्टमर आया है”…he replies: आज उम्मीद आई है …  When she bids good-bye, and his assistant asks – क्या सर, जाने दिया आपने? – He says : .   अबे मोहब्बत है इसी लिए तो जाने दिया, ज़िद्द होती तोह बाहों में होती.

I see a great parallel between what we are discussing and Irrfan’s advice. Irrfan too was waiting for Godot…the unrealisable Aishwarya. And when she does not stay, his response is …..keep the faith……Love life…. उम्मीद रख…..do not try to imprison life and its solutions…ज़िद्द न कर……..Trust the process…..मोहब्बत है इसी लिए जाने दे…..Indeed they also serve, who stand and wait!!!

Patience is bitter, but it’s fruit is sweet said Aristotle long ago.                                     So let us stand & wait and enjoy sweet fruit says vikas today.

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No, Not New

Let me confess at the outset that this is an iconoclastic post. I mean, but really, what is NEW about 2020? It is just another year, no?? and how will it be HAPPY I wonder? By wishing? Please…I have seen more of life to believe that!!! So I say again, No, there is NOTHING NEW in 2020. And to make it HAPPY my friend, we have work to do. Mere wishes will not help. Nor the implicit belief in what Lord Tennyson wrote ages ago: “Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier’…”                                                               Don’t know about you all, but I have had it with the sugar syrupy, cloying New Year messages. Enough already!! Let us get on with our living!!!going on

Really, think what is New about 2020? Yes, the date changes. Possibly will lead to errors on important documents and cheque leaves being torn up, as you can’t make corrections. Besides the date change, does the life not go on as usual? So why the hype? Whenever I hear a cheery, Happy New Year, I am reminded of the stand up comic who quipped….Have told so many friends, “Happy 2020…don’t worry, the next year will be so much better than the earlier years”; I love misguiding people!!

Actually, as thinking adults, we should remember that the future is built on the past. Every new beginning, to be rock-solid, must be built on the fragments of the past. The remnants of our experiences will create the strong anchor for our uncertain future. I, for one, believe that the new year should never be based on the abandonment of the past. Child is the Father of Man, Wordsworth told us long ago. In a similar vein, our future must be rooted in our past. What we have done and achieved in 2019 and earlier, should speak to what we plan for 2020. That is why the Turkish playwright, Mehmet Murat ildan tells us, “In the New Year, never forget to thank to your past years because they enabled you to reach today! Without the stairs of the past, you cannot arrive at the future!”

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Yes I agree that the unknown future is full of potentialities and possibilities. Every Hero journeys from the Known to the Unknown. To that extent, the New Year promises potentiality unlimited….it is always brighter at the horizon and the unfulfilled promises beckon to us from yonder. The Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837)  captures it well in his Operette Morali (Small Moral Works) thus,  “Life which is beautiful is not the life that is known, but that which is not known; not the past life, but the future. With the new year, chance will begin to treat you and me and all the others well, and the happy life will begin. Non e vero?” Is it not true? (Translation using Google)

So come January, and the turn of the year, we are overwhelmed. Excited with the chance to turn over a new leaf. Do things differently. Feel that this new threshold will take us into a new trajectory, where magically the world will be congenial,  and life will be much better. But the fact is that we cannot see into the future, we cannot predict how it will treat us, where will be at the end of 2020. Only thing we can be certain is that we will again wish at the end….2021 will be Happy New Year!!!

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As we go through life, many things are thrown our way. Challenges, Achievements, Failures. We need to make our way through all of these. How you deal with both your successes, and your failures, shows your real character. None of us is born with the Magic Key, or possesses the Silver Bullet, to solve all problems & come out always successful. Life forever presents a mixed bag of results and disappointments. The true Hero does not get vibrated or vitiated from his path, come what may. S/he continues onward and forward with hope and joy, adding to  learnings and experiences, with every result… be it positive or negative. So as you prepare for the new challenges and goals, review your past achievements and failures to learn from them: what you need to do more of, to increase your “batting average”;   and what you need to do differently, to avoid “run outs”.

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Walk through all the rooms of the past, not to look for  cracks & peeled paint, but to review the chances you missed, the potentialities you did not capture, the low hanging fruits that you could have easily gathered in your bag. Don’t look for flaws, but focus instead on the possibilities and potential that the future holds. After all, how many of us get a chance to play our innings all over again, bat once more to overcome the mistakes you made earlier and end with a better score on the scoreboard?

Let us take inspiration from the hoary essayist G K Chesterton who guides: ““The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. … Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.

Having said that, I will not repeat the cliche every New Year is like a new diary, a new page opens up for you to write new dreams, expound fresh aspirations or make new resolutions. Rather I will say to you….I hope you have the strength to break your New Year resolutions early!

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Be open to new trajectories life wants to take you into, face every new day as though it is your last, and work to leave a positive impression and an impressive trail behind. This you can do by remaining focussed on Today, Here and Now. Don’t second guess your future. Remain open to new experiences. Seek out fresh and newer pastures. Expose. Expand. Grow. One day at a time.

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Do not pre-commit to paths that you may not enjoy. Live every day as it comes. And if you are positive and exploratory, you will win. No one has a manual for Life. You are the only Pilot  you should trust with this Flight of Fancy and Journey of Finding your potential. Enjoy, 2020 and beyond. (Remember, years are just numbers!)

To end: “…last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.” – vikas, the idiot;                              echoing TS Eliot, the wise

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A Hero’s Journey

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Every journey involves change… letting go of the past experiences, opening yourself up for new ones, a restless quest for moving on. If you look at all the mythology and history, take the Greek gods or our Indian pantheon, all Heroes have embarked on a successful journey, reached their avowed goals, and then set new targets and moved on!! Sports, Politics, Business, Athletics….every form of human endeavour essentially follows the same circle… dissatisfaction with status quo, stretching out, leaving your comfort zone behind, venturing into the unknown, going through fear uncertainty, conquering new horizons. The journey from the Known to the Unknown.

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And a true hero does not rest there. The cycle continues and that is how you breach new frontiers like Alexander the Great, or keep breaking your own record again and again like Sergei Bubka. Is the crown a hero wears too heavy? The relentless pursuit of the next goal, conquering the new territory, putting your flag on a higher mark, breaching the new pedestal is what keeps the Hero going. Edmund Hillary who was the first to climb the Everest did not succeed in his first attempt. Apparently, after one unsuccessful attempt, he was resting in his tent at the Base Camp. He could not sleep in the night…the image of the towering Everest kept him awake. Finally, he got up and came out of the tent, looked the mountain straight in the eye, and uttered the words which became famous , ” Yes I failed in my climbing attempt. But you are a mountain. And you cannot grow. I am a man, and I can. I will come back again and conquer you!!”. Onward Ho! Herman Melville catches the fervor right in his iconic Moby Dick when he expresses Captain Ahab’s innermost thoughts, ” “I leave a white and turbid wake;
pale waters, paler cheeks, where’er I sail. The envious billows sidelong
swell to whelm my track; let them; but first I pass. Yonder…

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I differ from the conventional thinking that Opportunity Knocks! No, it does not wait at every doorstep and invite you. It continues on its path and you must show your heroism and your readiness to catch it, before it passes you by.  The world is replete with stories of people who “almost” made it, but did not, as they did not see the call to adventure and did not leave their comfort zone and did not risk taking the fight into the open seas of competition. Being a Hero is about being ready to change. Achievements are made up of sheer daring, risk taking backed up appropriately by competent plans. Finally ends illuminate the means. As you relentlessly pursue your goals and follow the paths that open, even as you travel, new horizons open up.

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Trust the Universe. मंझिले और भी है. Take heart,  astronomers say there are 300 to 500 billion galaxies out there. Hence it is up to the Hero to pursue and to follow through, taking heart from Ulysses’ famous words, ” T’is not too late to seek a newer world…that which we are, we are,/ One equal temper of heroic hearts/ Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will,/ To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” (Lord Tennyson)

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Whether you study the Indian folklore Heroes like Ram or Arjuna or Krishna or the Greek Heroes like Heracles or Achilles or the modern day James Bond or Rajnikant the thread that joins all these stories together is the cry of the battle. All Heroes are warriors in their own unique way. They challenge status quo and change the situation for the better. They battle the evil forces whether circumstantial or human to create a better world. Modernistic warriors like Alexander Fleming or Madame Curie did the same. Hargovind Khurana or Stephen Hawking illuminated spaces and questions which looked like Mount Everest in the way of progress. Gandhi and Martin Luther King and Mandela brought a better life for fellow humans. Scientists and Technologists who are working on a diverse palette of problems that face mankind are warriors in their own right. In the modern trade and business contributions of Bill Gates & Microsoft; Larry Page & Google; Jeff Bezos & Amazon and our own Azim Premji  and Narayana Murthy have fought their own battles and changed the world for the better for their fellow humans.

Societal change is never easy. The Warrior has to have faith, self confidence and a vision to take up cudgels on behalf of the hoi polloi and bring about a change. These modern day heroes have to set new directions and go in and light up the road for their co-travelers. What matters is their effort. Their commitment. Their dedication and devotion. Their willingness to do what needs to be done. All progress begins with dissatisfaction with the way things are. And it ends in finding a better, easier, more efficient way to do the things. So change readiness is the new success mantra. Don’t wait till it is broken. Fix it, improve it, change it even while it is working so that discontinuous change takes us into progressively expanding orbits opening the gates to a much better and brighter new world.

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Children spend many years of their childhood being afraid of darkness. I think, correspondingly, Adults are afraid of light! Around us we find many examples : Adult  just do not want to see! The task of the new Hero is to show a mirror to his fellow beings. If required the Hero will have to turn the mirror 180 degrees around and help others face reality. He will have to shake us all out of our inertia.  And take us on the road of change. History has proven that the times and the need of the times throw up leaders and heroes. Let us await the coming of the Wise Kings who will lead and deliver us.

My hope for 2020, LET THE NEW YEAR BRING US GIANTS!!! vikas