My Guru Rashmi

” A city without streets, a king without treasury, a merchant without a business, a face without a nose, life without wisdom and a life without a guru, is all considered the same”.

Indeed, life comes without a manual or a clear rule book on how to play the game. Though you have no map nor any directions to chart the course: what you do have is your learning. You can learn on the fly : as you veer and careen through the course. And you can rely on the Mentor, Guide, Teacher, Guru to teach you the way forward and make the crazy carousel ride of life – a little more predictable, a little less difficult.

Nearly 20 years ago, when my daughter Rashmi was just 4 going on 5, as a Trustee of the local school I was invited on Guru Purnima day to talk about my Guru and my learnings. I chose to talk about my 4 year daughter as my Guru and what I have learnt from her. 20 years later I think those learnings are still relevant and so I thought of sharing these with you.

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A Guru is an aspiration. A Guru is an inspiration.  These are the tings which have inspired me:

  • Rashmi’s original name was Sukhada. {more of that in some later blog} “Rashmi” means a ray of sunshine: while “Sukhada” means happy/joyous. And that was the first learning I got from Rashmi: she was (and is)  always happy, full of joy and looking forward for the next adventure and new experiences. Her ‘happy meter” is forever positively charged and she never seems to feel sad. Watching her face the sunshine and the rain brings its own message : am I using the dark blacks and blues too much in painting my life? Can i use more yellows and reds? Rashmi has shown me it is possible.
  • Trust & Love everyone: whether it is a street side stray cat/dog or me, often I think they are the same to Rashmi. Everything around her appears perfectly cuddly and lovable to her. Even as a 4 year old child in Atul, she was more than happy to take off on 2 wheeler rides with whoever was passing on the street. Whether it was a ferocious local gangster on his Bullet or the Guest House attendant on his bicycle: whoever crossed the main road in front of our house was regally stopped and asked for a ride. The car wallahs and the scooter wallahs all obliged this precocious child and dropped her back with her hands and pockets full of candies and sweets they lovingly bought her after the royal tour.
  • Immediately on return Rashmi would set off to distribute her “loot” to her friends. Even at home if someone got her a bar of Cadbury chocklate : we had told her to share. And we found that this girl would share till the last piece. When there was only one piece left in her had: if my wife or me would ask her “where is my share?” Rashmi would willingly, smilingly give away the last piece. Sometimes I would caution and tell her: if you give the last piece away, you will have none left for yourself. But that never stopped her in giving. Sharing her toys was another grief for my wife and me. Whoever came home went back with gifts of toys which Rashmi wanted them to have. There was no attachment to her clothes, toys, games or food items. When we tried to make her wordly wise and say you cant give all your things away: her simple question was: “why not?”  I have yet to get an answer to that one.
  • Hold no grudges was another way she operated. In children’s fights I have seen her being beaten up  and once even badly bitten by another child. We were of course upset and tried to keep the kids apart. The very next moment Rashmi wanted to play with the same aggressor: without any rancor or ill feeling. There were occasions when we felt it had gone too far and tried to scold or separate the fighting kids. Rashmi would turn against us and say “He is my friend. Let him do what he wants. You don’t interfere. I am ok”.
  • Another uncanny skill was forgetting the past: the minute it was over, it was over!! There was absolutely no carry over. If you are upset and angry, you would take some time to overcome that. But not Rashmi. For her, what was done was gone. She always looked forward with aspiration and hope and  never was burdened by acts of omission or commission in the past. Her whole approach was look forward and carry on. Let the past lie dead on the path: unremembered and uncared for.

On that fateful day 20+ years ago when I went to speak about my Guru in the school function. I talked about these characteristics of my 4 year old:  Being happy and positive always; Trusting and loving everyone around; Having no attachments to wordly things: Holding no grudges against anyone and Forgetting the past and carrying on. And as I talked I realised that our Hindu & Vedic philosophy tells us exactly the same formula to be happy.

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What do our Scriptures say? Live in the present : forget the past, don’t worry about the future. Live in the moment. Enjoy whatever is happening around you. Trust your fellow beings and love them with all your might. And forever Be Happy and think positively and positivity will surround you.

My little one was intuitively living the Vedic philosophy and teaching us the simple formula for leading a happy life. And, I am happy to tell you, even after growing up, my daughter has NOT grown up. She continues in her childlike faith and trust of all around her. She loves everyone apriori : sans cause and sans expectation of any return. ( Which I must say with shame today, we try to correct and tell her the practical aspects of life & living). While having all, she is still detached. And she lives the moment. Happy to seize the day and live in the present. And so I still admire her. And still consider her my Guru. And hope to work towards imbibing some of her abilities and mindsets. Am sure I am and will be a better person because of her.

 

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Love you hamesha Rashmi: vikas

Rain : the Savior

Pitter patter pitter patter
Can you hear the sound of my heart go
Pitter patter pitter patter

Smile Henry’s poem reminds us of the rhythm of the rain. And how intricately every downpour touches and resonates in our heart. Even before actually the rain descends the skies, we feel a sense of excitement. The gathering of the clouds. The cool breeze. The truly pregnant atmosphere: waiting to burst forth. Exists there a soul who has not come under the charm of the beautiful, glorious rain? With a Whoosh and sometimes accompanied by thunder and lightning: the rain starts. Every time this drama makes me feel supremely alive, energized and happy.

Sometimes I wonder if being a Konkani at heart is what makes that special relationship with rains for me. But then, I realize it is not me alone. When the rain starts, it gathers all and sundry in it’s fold. Rains have that power. The majestic spectacle of the rain, the sheer poetry of the falling drops, the smell of the wet earth, the smiling of the trees : one can easily sense that Mother Earth herself is so very happy with rain. And is really preening to welcome this favorite guest.

This rainy season,  along with the first rains a sms hit my phone, which says it so beautifully:

“Saare itra ke daam  gir gaye  aaj market me

Baarish se bhigi mitti ki khushboo jo aayi”

{Translation: Prices of all perfumes fell in the market today: Since the rains wet the earth and that smell rules} And if by chance a rainbow appears in the sky… my, my it awakens the child in each and every one of us. We gaze with wonder at this amazing phenomena, this apparition in the sky and wonder if we can reach out and touch that rainbow. And who cares whether or not there is the proverbial pot at the end of the rainbow? The magic of the rainbow is treasure enough!!

I remember when we were kids every summer vacation we would be in Sawantwadi ( in Sindhudurg district, on the border of Goa and Maharashtra). And come June the rains would start. With more than 110 inches of rain,  their arrival was momentous. Life would get disrupted. Days on end there would be heavy or heavier rainfall. The sound of the battering rain on the clay tiles, which made the roof of our house, meant that wherever you were,  you were surrounded by the sound of rain. Once in a while,  one of the tiles would get hit by a falling fruit or the branch of a tree which could not survive the heavy onslaught. And with that impact a leak would develop and you had dripping rain inside the house. Buckets had to be kept to catch the rainwater and as children we loved going to empty the buckets,  only to have then filled very soon with the fury of the rain.  Sometimes it would rain continuously for 4/5 days. Buses which would ply people and goods were affected. Soon supply of all fresh vegetables would dry up in the vllage market. And we were reduced to having potato curry and lentils for days and days, every meal. That was the time we discovered the joy of sukka bangda and sukka bombil ( dehydrated,  dried fish) which our mothers preserved for just such a rainy day!!

It was such days that taught us the truth of Robert Frost’s words:

“The rain to the wind said,
You push and I’ll pelt.’
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged–though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.”

Remember “not dead” as rain is life giving. Rain brings hope not only for the farmer but also to the modern day economist, who predicts how the economy will grow based on the normal monsoon. The weatherman and the Met department will make predictions: which the passing rain laughs at. People in towns and cities seem to be more bothered about how much disturbance the rain will cause in their lives. And they are happy to debate whether the cleaning of the storm drains will protect them from water logging. Village folks being closer to nature are more welcoming of the rain. But even their thoughts soon veer around to more mundane matters like when to sow, and when to replant. The ones who truly enjoy the rains are the children and lovers. This  lot is happy with interruptions to the routine. They have time to stand and stare. And get wet. Truly they welcome the rains. Literally with open arms. And more open hearts!

We were fortunate as children to have parents who took us to Lonavala in every rains. 50 years ago when it was not as fashionable, as it is now. We would pack a change of clothes for everyone, pile onto the back seat of the car and go and get wet. The taste of bhajjiyas and hot tea still lingers after 50 plus years. Charlie Chaplain has said ” I always like walking in the rain, so no one can see me crying” But really : can anyone cry in the rain? Rain is so uplifting of spirits and mood. Rains are so very full of the promise of life. Rains are so positive and fresh. So I have always wondered at the veracity of that quote: I dare you to ignore the drama and joy of the rains and try as much as you will, but you will not be able to cry ! Nikki Giovanni caught the right nuance when she said ” no two snowflakes are alike, and it is possible, if you stand tippy-toe, to walk between the raindrops.” Every time it rains, I try and play this game.  Some people just get wet, some others know getting drenched with friends is an adventure. Try it,  it is fun!!

So let the rain wash away the pains of yesterday. Tomorrow is yet another day. Rain rejuvenates. Rain promises new beginnings. Remember rain has the power to cut stones and chisel mountains. So what is a human heart in it’s wake?

I end by again quoting Smile Henry:

Like an eagle I soar above the stormy clouds
I awake in the morning with a refreshed intent to be warm and inviting
Content in the present, hopeful about the future, forgetting the past

Pitter patter pitter patter
Can you hear the sound of my heart go
Pitter patter pitter patter

Submit to the power of the rains : vikas

Bolava Vithal, Karava Vithal…jeeva bhave

Somehow I was born with no “faith bone” in my body. I never go to a temples. No angst like Amitabh Bacchan. But I believe that I am well off without constantly remembering god. My feeling is the poor guy has lots and lots of issues to sort out anyway. So why bother him by adding our petty matters to his burden? Remember the song from Sagina Mahato ” Upar wala dukhiyon ki nahi sunta re
Soota hai….Bahut jaaga hai na?”

Unlike Amitabh, I have no active fight with Him. If he is there he has been more than fair to me. I have absolutely nothing to complain. A nice small family of a wife and cute daughter who loves us both. Am the only son in the Sharatchandra ( my father} wing of the family. And as an only son amongst 3 sisters, I got extra love not only from my parents but also from my 3 sisters. The Powers that Be got me into some great MNC corporations. I have good money and savings. And really LG: Life’s Good! So in a way I have lots and lots to thank for. And I am grateful. But G. O. D.? Who or What is that? and why should I bow before him? I have always revered my parents, respected all elders, been a good friend to all, loved my family : and all this has repaid me with an amazingly nice life.

So where does GOD come in all these confabulations? Is Faith important? Should we believe Him? and be in gratitude for all that we get?

Robert Browning sang in the Pippa Song way back in 1800s:
Morning ‘s at seven;
The hill-side ‘s dew-pearl’d;
The lark ‘s on the wing; 5
The snail ‘s on the thorn;
God ‘s in His heaven—
All ‘s right with the world!

Since childhood I have interpreted this as “God is in his heaven (too far to interfere with us and meddle in our lives and so) all is right with the world, (including my life)”. So my effort has always been to keep my head low, not draw too much attention to me and my life, let God be in his own circuit. I will not trouble Him. And hopefully he will leave me alone!!

But the other famous poet ( how well the classical poets understand our human condition) Robert Burns sang in “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest With the Plough, November, 1785” exactly what happened in my life:
“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!”
Here I was all of 50 years old, minding my own business, leading my own life, staying under the radar, never attending mandirs and pooja archanas so that God will not be able to see me from his high perch in the Heaven. And then the best laid plans of this timid mouse “go all askew”(Gang aft agley). Some inopportune (?) moment 10+ years ago I went and attended the Abhangwani program of Pancham Nishad. And as Robert Burns had predicted in 1785, that experience scarred me for life. it left me with “nought but grief an’ pain” instead of the “promis’d joy”. I was infected with the Bhakti Rasa bug. And it went deep into my heart.

Maharashtra has long history of Marathi saints of Varakari religious movement which includes saints like Dnyaneshwar, Namdev, Chokhamela, Eknath, Muktabai, Janabai and Tukaram and many many others which forms one of the base of Marathi culture. The Abhangawani consists of compositions of all these saints in praise of Vitthal, who resides at Pandharpur. There is a 800 years’ old tradition of Warkaris (the bhaktas who come from agricultural background and do the Wari) annually assembling at Dehu (the residence and karma bhumi of Sant Tukaram) and Alandi (residence and karmabhumi of Sant Dyaneshwar) and then walking in “dindis” singing praises of Vithal/Vithoba. They walk every day for 21 days to reach Pandharpur, their destination. The wari culminates in Pandharpur on Ashadi Ekadashi, which will be on 4th July Tues this year. For a person like me who has no faith, it is unbelievable to see people walk the distance of 250 kms, spread over 21 days. And there are women, men , children, even old people who can barely walk : all of them do the Wari, year after year. Last year there wereover 700,000 people in the wari. Viva la Faith!!!

To keep up their spirits, they sing Abhanga which are devotional poems. Considering the people who sing these devotional songs of praise, all the saints have written these songs in simple marathi. Many good classical singers like Bhimsen Joshi, Jitendra Abhisheki, Vasantrao Deshpande, Kumar Gandharva, Hirabai Badodekar & Kishori Amonkar began the tradition of rendering these songs in a Hindustani classical style. That is carried forward by Rahul Despande, Anand Bhate, Jayteertha Mehundi, amongst others. Once I heard the dulcet singing of the bhakti sangeet, understood the simple marathi words I was beside me. Sold , hooked, gone line and sinker. I lived the truth of Sant Tukaram’s abhang “Pandhari che bhoot mothe
Alya gelya dhari wate”
Translation: The “ghost” of Pandharpur (Vithoba) is BIG : he catches anyone who travels on that road.

With all humility, I must confess now Vithal is no longer in Heaven. He lives in my heart. I get shaken and stirred whenever I hear any of the abhangs. I try to follow each and every word and nuance of the Abhang. And I have no hesitation to say openly that every time I hear and understand the words I am sobbing and crying openly. Tears just flow from my heart and my eyes. I am just overwhelmed by Bhakti and the lyricism of the Abhangwani. Bhakti can never be explained in words but I again take recourse to another lovely abhang of the Mahar saint Chokamela (very like the outcast I was)
” Johar Maibaap Johar
Tumchaya maharcha me mahar

Bahu bhukela zhalo
Tumchya ushtya sathi aalo
Chokha mhane paati aanli
tumchya ushtya sathi aanli”

Transliteration :
Oh My Lord/Master & my Father/Mother
I am the low caste servant (Mahar) of your servant (Mahar)
I am now very hungry
and I have come to receive your left overs
Choka (the saint) says I have brought a begging bowl
to receive the crumbs and left overs from your plate

There I go go crying again. Now you understand the last 2 lines of the quote from Robert Burns
“lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!” I cry. And I cry with my heart over blown.

Ashadi Ekadashi is on Tues 4th and Abhang wani of Bolava Vithal will be sung at Shanmukhananda hall.
Do come to cry with me : vikas

GD & PI : Dos and Don’ts for companies

Someone asked me to write my views on the pluses and minuses of Group Discussions(GD) and Personal Interviews(PI) since I have been an HR person and a recruiter for most of my professional career spanning 34 years in Corporate India. After I penned my thoughts on what common foibles companies and their recruiters fall into, I was told that what I had been asked was to write on the topic from a candidate’s perspective. So my labor of love and effort of penning my thoughts was outright rejected.
I re-read what I had written and felt it still has some sense and sensibilities. So rather than throwing the paper away, I am reproducing it here. I stand by what views I had expressed and look forward to feedback from you all readers, who are my conscience keepers, on whether what I am saying is useful and makes sense. So here goes!!!

Views and experiences about the GD PI process

GD is an elimination round in campus recruitment or for entry level professionals: when time is limited and the no of applicants are large and you need to come down to a quick shortlist. The method in my opinion is fast, but fraught with risk. There are too many imponderables : the topic you are given; composition of the group you find yourself in and your own “mood” on that day, in the group that you are in and the topic you have drawn. All in all, if you look at the “reliability” and the “validity” of the GD as a method of selection it will be very low. Using GDs is only a matter of convenience for the panelists.

You will always find some people who find it difficult to express themselves in an un-natural group situation like he GD. They are unnecessarily put at a disadvantage in a GD. Even if in the wrap up, the selectors give chance for some quiet people to speak, some of them can’t build on that opportunity. Obviously because they did not speak they get rejected. And this fuels their negative self estimation.

I have seen many times people just remain silent and the GD is actually hijacked by a few loud mouths. Air time is never shared equally. And the GD process by its very nature may give you a large number of “false positives” (candidates who appear strong in GD but do not display the same potential in in-depth personal interactions) and also a larger number of “false negatives” (People you may reject in GD as they did not, or could not, speak but are actually very good and capable in one on one interactions) . Since GD samples behaviors which are not normal for the candidates and, more importantly, are not even required in the organizational context, I do not trust GD results at all and would rather take decisions based on PI.

PI gives you a chance to evaluate the candidate on solid data. PI samples genuine behavior of the candidate and gives you a greater opportunity to closely probe and judge their suitability. PI allows the candidate to be in a non stressful environment (relatively, compared to GD). Meeting one on one, and using that to observe and probe behaviors, similar to be used in the actual work situation, enables better decision making.

Unfortunately, in PIs I have also seen interviewers who are in love with the sound of their own voice, and expand on their own knowledge, and want to talk 2 times more than the candidate!! This is a sheer waste of time. We must ensure the candidate talks the most and give him/her a chance to demonstrate and showcase their knowledge and skills. For this the HR manager’s role is critical to moderate the process. I have had to tell interviewers “we are not here to show to the candidate what we know. We are here to judge what the candidate knows”.
In a similar vein if the candidate says he does not know an answer or is giving wrong answers, I have seen interviewers don the mantle of the teacher and start a lecture to correct and educate the candidate. An interview is not meant for this purpose. If answer is wrong, make your notes on the candidature and carry on.

We must have a mind set that we are here to select. Many times interviewers’ mindset is to find reasons and causes to reject. If we tell the candidate upfront that we would like to select him/her and so what evidence , what examples can he/she share that support the selection decision: we will reduce the stress levels of the candidates and give him a chance to put his/her the best foot forward.
I believe it is important to spend the last few minutes in an interview to debrief the candidate. This is the minimum courtesy we can show to candidates. This debrief also serves to build your company’s brand image also. And it fulfills a genuine desire on the part of the interviewee, who is quite keen to understand how s/he has fared.

Like the candidates, the interviewers must also prepare well for the interview. Some of the interviews go awry because the interviewers has not prepared himself or the panel has not co-ordinated their act. We must define the challenges of the job we are hiring for, and then evaluate the candidate against the requirements of the role. PI must also be used to evaluate cultural fit of the incumbent to the new company. This chief purpose of the interview is also mostly forgotten/glossed over.

Whenever we have planned a panel interview the panel must jointly decide on some ground rules for the interview. That makes the process more successful. Who will begin? Who will probe? Who will take notes? Who will fill the interview assessment sheet? How will we close the interview: all such matters need to be discussed and agreed. An interview is a ritualistic dance, and we must be prepared and planned for it to succeed.

I have seen many people asking factual data questions about things which are already in the application form. This is an absolute waste of candidate’s and interviewers’ time. Are you an MBA? Which college did you study in? are types of questions which are a no no. This is mentioned in the application form itself. Similarly conjectural questions are a waste of time. But many interviews go that way. Where do you see yourself 5 years from now? What would you do if… is a sure invite to go down the dream path. Such pipe dreams help no one.

Interviews MUST be data based and specific. They must probe and get at the real diamond behind all the fluff. Interviewers must understand it is their job to allow and enable the candidate to shine and give his best impression. If we use this approach interviews will be pleasurable experiences for both candidates and interviewers.

Happy talent hunting: vikas

Learning & Growing…continuously

It should be a no brainer in today’s world that each and every one of us has to be learning continuously. Only with continuous learning, can we continue to grow. Changes and challenges incessantly impinge our lives. And the only “master-key” you have to overcome the challenges life throws at you is to be perpetually ahead on the learning curve…failing which, that same “curve” will fall on our heads, crush us under it’s weight and swamp and overwhelm us with situational demands.

Intellectually even if I understand this, do I follow this approach in my real life? Rather than listening, we are for ever busy holding forth, giving our perspective and what we consider our wisdom for the benefit of anyone within hearing distance. A friend once highlighted for me the traditional truth : when we speak, we are only repeating our own knowledge or views (which we already have); but when we hear, we most likely stand to gain something new and learn and grow. Remember God’s design has 2 ears and just one mouth: so listen twice as much as you speak??

Do not be afraid of your ignorance. When I say “I did not know this” what I am also saying is “I did not know this before, but now I know this” which is an euphemism to say “I am smarter and more knowledgeable now than I was before this interaction”. I know more now than earlier, so I am more intelligent now that I was yesterday. So should it not be common for people to accept “I did not know that”? But what do we actually see? Unwillingness to listen. Unwillingness to accept that I made a mistake. Unwillingness to say “I did not know that”. And in this process, who is the loser? Are you listening?

My advice is : wear your lack of knowledge as a badge of honor, flaunt it openly, say many times you do not know: and in the process learn new things, continuously. In our village there was a saying: when you do not have buttermilk at home and want to ask your neighbor: do not hide the utensil behind your back. Keep it in front for all to see. You are more likely to get buttermilk then!! I have found that when you show that you lack something, many people will come forward to help you. I have forever gained from the munificence of Good Samaritans. “Ask and it shall be given” as the Good Book tells us.

Today’s times are a ground swell of change. In this fast paced and ever changing world, solutions are often outdated even before they are fully implemented. No one person can have the privilege of being on top of all that is happening. I remember a T-shirt my daughter used to wear with a blurb: “If you are not confused, you do not know what is going on!!” Reality changes with the speed of a kaleidoscope! And so it is said that ” If you have not given up some of your ideas and opinions in the last 24 hours: check your pulse! You may be dead!!”

In this rapidly changing environment, no one can be a master of all that they survey. This is the genesis of team based solutions and using multiple experts to work together on fashioning a solution that is workable and lasts for long. And still retain the flexibility in the plans to heuristically change things as we move forward with implementation. Remember, the reality then is possibly going to be different from the reality now. The market place demands are always different from the planning or drawing board stage. Unfortunately we often forget that. And we get committed, nay stuck to cold plans etched on even colder drawing boards. To be successful we must continuously adapt and change. And be ready to learn.

Learning requires you to think different. We all remember how powerfully Apple used this campaign to launch their path breaking marketing approach and products in the late 1990s. In a similar manner, solutions to today’s problems require a flexible and varying approach. Think Different !! Literally like a Rubik’s cube, problem solving approaches will have to be iterative and yet new, innovative and yet consistent. Trying different routes and solutions till you hit on the right one. Rapidly prototyping solutions and then junking them to try something different. Keep on experimenting till you succeed.

Remember the famous story of Edison? He tried some 1600 different filaments and materials for the invention of the electric lamp. What would glow and cast light would burn out or blow; and filaments which withstood the heating, would not glow and give light. After he succeeded, as is the wont of journalists, Edison was asked how he felt about his 1599 “failed” experiments, before he hit on carbon filament which was suitable for a commercial lamp. Edison replied “I did not fail 1599 times. I KNOW 1599 elements that do not work” Learning from experimentation and failures is the key to building a viable solution.

Learning from problems and failures, using these experiences as feedback to further modify and improve your solution, trying new things, and different approaches… it is these iterative efforts that finally give us good solutions in today’s dynamic environment. A popular joke goes like this: Interviewer: “How have you been so successful?” Entrepreneur: “It is because of my good decisions” I: “How did you make good decisions?” E: “Because of my experience” I: “And how did you get experience?” E: “Because of my bad decisions”. Even after finding a solution: continuous learning is about still not giving up your pursuit for a better answer.

Nothing is so good that it cannot be improved. In another context of human endeavor Baron Pierre de Coubertin reminds us Citius, Altius, Fortius. In all efforts in Olympics (the best example of excellence in human pursuits) the motto is to go Faster, Higher and Stronger. It is said that athletes need “freedom of excess”. So also in finding solutions and achieving results we need continuous learning to grow continuously. The “freedom of excess” will take us further, farther and beyond. This is the ONLY route which will help us stay the course of challenges and hurdles that life is throwing our way. Renewing ourselves daily through learning and growing will help us overcome all the challenges and emerge as winners.

Wishing you the strength to break more molds as you learn & grow: vikas

Yes, I know that…

We have all met people who are ever eager to interrupt you, not let you say what you want, and rather pompously proclaim: “Yes, I know that”. I am sure you must have felt the same frustration that I feel when I hear these words. If you know it all: what is there for me to speak? is my opinion of no consequence? what am i doing in this interaction? does discussion have no value?

As a college student, many, many years ago I had read a short story of Somerset Maugham entitled : Mr Know-All. The setting is on a ship. There is person who everyone soon comes to dread as he is always holding forth, having the last word, and generally showing off his knowledge and expertise on every subject imaginable!! Of course he is well read and knowledgeable. But the stance is that I am smarter and I know more than you, him , and all others…combined !!! Obviously he wears his welcome super thin, and no one wants him at their dining table: as they know only Mr Know_All will speak, and others have to only listen.

No one likes such a person: but if we think back do we not have such people in our own social circles? Full of themselves, pompous to the core, these people rough shod over all others in their groups. They obviously looooove the sound of their voice and hold forth ad infinitum. God help you, if you happen to inherit a boss who is like this. Gone are the days when a Boss is expected to now all answers and “tell” his team. Today’s successful bosses are facilitators who will ask the right questions and let the answers and ideas flow from the team. This empowers and energizes the team and enables them to give their best. But the Know-All Boss is never in the “ask” mode. Or worst, if due to some guidance from his own Mentor, the Boss asks the question: Lo and Behold! he quickly goes forward to answer his own questions. Even if some doggedly determined subordinate tries to get an idea or suggestion in, the Know All boss will hasten to interrupt and takeover the point and make it his own or show the flaws and difficulties with the idea which finally ends in shutting up the poor subordinate. Tell me truly: how many times have we found ourselves in this situation, unable to get in a word edge-ways as our Boss knows it all!!!???

On a lighter note, had read a joke: My wife is just like Google, she never lets me complete a sentence. A la Google, she has multiple suggestions ready already!!! Wives, Mothers, Fathers, Bosses, Teachers all use their “pre-eminence” and superiority to stop your thought process as they always think they know what you want to say. And your story,your version, your truth often remains untold.

In Siemens we had a very smart Factory Manager. Super intelligent and capable, technical whiz. Always thought 3 steps ahead of the rest of us. And so he was perpetually guilty of using the famous three words “I know that” ; but, unlike their more famous cousin-three-words (I Love You), these words made enemies for him. People always thought he did not care for others and did not carry his team with him and resultantly, despite his super intelligence, he never grew in the company hierarchy. Organizations have no jobs for Supermen today. In the interdependent world, we need team players. As soon as you say “I know that” new learning and creative thinking stops. In today’s VUCA world I have to learn new things every day. New ways to solve age old problems: creative ways to resolve emerging issues and innovative approaches to change frontiers of knowledge: all these require you to stay humble and never say “I know that”. I know that is static: while today’s problems ( and their solutions) are dynamic.

Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses begins by saying : “much have I seen and known” : an apt paraphrase for “I know that”. But Ulysses knows that this not enough: he goes on:-
“Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.”
Be hungry for new experiences and knowledge as tomorrow’s solutions lie in that gleaming, un-travelled world. Be open: you have not seen it all.

I began with Maugham’s Mr Know All story. So let me tell you how it ends. Our Mr Know All is at one dinner table one night: and holding forth as is his wont. And showing off to others, how he knows it all. He looks at a pearl necklace worn by a lady on the table and compliments her for the classic, natural pearls. He opines that their rarity and purity is such that the necklace must be very, very expensive. He advises her to be very careful of that piece of jewelery. The lady’s husband is not amused. He says his wife bought those pearls from a village fair and they have no value at all. Mr Know All is taken aback. He says all his knowledge and learning is at stake and he knows they are very, very valuable pearls: costing thousands of ponds sterling. The lady is flushing and uncomfortable. She says she has a bill somewhere which shows that the necklace cost her just a pound and a half at a village fair, and she can show the bill. All retire for the night: Mr Know All in a most perturbed state and the couple most flustered. In the dark night, the lady searches out Mr Know All to tell him that the pearls are indeed genuine and most expensive. But they were gifted to her by her paramour. And obviously she cannot let her husband know about her lover and her infidelity. Next morning at breakfast Mr Know All goes upto her table and accepts to her husband and her that he was wrong. The pearls are indeed worthless!! And apologizes for his “mistake” in judging them.

Mr Know Alls of today must temper their knowledge and experience with the heart and humility shown by Maugham’s protagonist. Even when you know the answer, practice saying: I don’t know how to solve this problem. Eat the humble pie and ask for others to help. Seek their opinions and inputs. Let others shine and take credit. Don’t ever, ever say “I know that”.

I am proud that I know nothing, can you help please: vikas

Is forgiving enough?

It is said that “to err is human: to forgive is divine”. But divinity falls short when it comes to the human condition. Forgiveness has many open ends: and so many a times, mere forgiving is just not enough!!

A la lip sympathy, forgiving is also given a nodding acquiescence very many times. People say “I forgive you” but they do not mean it at all. Events that have happened have gone deep into their mind, and though the lips say “I forgive”; the heart is actually saying “How could you do this to me? I can/will never forget this”. The hurt factor remains; and vitiates relationships in future.

This is true in all sorts of human relationships. A school child playing a prank is told by the teacher that he is forgiven: but the teacher keeps it in mind and suddenly the student is no longer a favorite, his marks deteriorate, performance suffers and he is constantly reminded : “I cannot trust you. I remember your last goof…”. Same experience when someone has let down parents or caused embarrassment to a friend. We have all experienced the hurt which relatives can just not get over, maybe after a genuine mistake on your part. Despite a thousand plus apologies. And thousand plus one “it’s ok”!! All future interactions thereafter are seen with colored glasses. In offices, we have seen subordinates struggle to change the boss’impression about them after one faux pas. Unfortunately in the formal environment, there is hesitation in even accepting one’s mistake and saying sorry. And even when you do it, that is not the last you hear of it. “Boond se gayi wo haud se nahi aati”: to paraphrase the Birbal saying into modern parlance.

With wives or girlfriends, the less said the better. A litany of past misdeeds is perpetually pulled out and thrown into the ring, with every new argument. Like the childhood game of Memory, when every subsequent player has to remember all the names of the fruits the earlier players have spoken of, and then add a fruit-name of his own, when your significant other wants to tell you how wrong you have been, it is never this present instance, but the list begins from the past: your first misdemeanor, and then a full recounting of all the times you have been found wanting. Though in the past after your apology you were told : “Ok, I forgive you.” If you think forgiveness was complete, you have a guess coming my friend! Forgiveness lasts, only till you err the next time!! The past is hanging like a heavy weight in between and relationships and actions are more shaped by the past than the present. So you are left perpetually wondering : what exactly was meant when you are told : I forgive you? Forgiveness is never enough.

In the corporate arena, Union Management relationship also throws up many examples. I have heard so many discussions which go like this: ” This person is like this only. You remember last year when there was a problem in the xyz Shop, we discovered that he was in the background, instigating his colleagues. His absenteeism record is also very poor. How many times we have counselled him. But he does not change”. As an HR person, I tried my level best to say “but we are discussing the event of 29/5. Not the past” The answer was always: “Vikas don’t be impractical, foolish and immature. He is like that only. Don’t you remember once…”. So even industrial jurisprudence is a calibrated test tube, wherein your wrong doings are always additive. Even for Union leaders’ their past casts long shadows ahead of them. And again rather than dealing with them on merits, case by case, event by event, issue for issue – very often you are indulging in shadow boxing. You cannot fight and correct the past. Images and impressions carry the day: and that is what holds a person guilty, even before the hearing is completed!

I feel we are missing the wood for the trees here. Forgiveness to be complete must include Forgetting. They are 2 sides of the coin. One complements and completes the other.

If you want to genuinely and completely Forgive, train yourself, your organization, your family, your near ones to also Forget. Don’t hold grudges of the past. Carry on afresh and anew. Treat every interaction with the freshness it deserves. Do not let past experiences (bad, or even good ones) cast shadows on future interactions. Divest and dissect your relationships from their history. Past is NOT a good predictor of the future. When you believe past does shape the future, then you are denying new things happening, people being ready to change, doing things differently, having a free will and choosing a path afresh in every interaction. If you are only your past : what is the difference between us and circus trained animals?

For embracing new possibilities, we must acknowledge full potentiality of the future. Which means effectively we must FORGET the past. And only then will be able to accept new results, take new turns and lead a life free, from the dead-weight of the past. As a case in point consider the Whistle-blowers’ Policy. Most companies are codifying it now. A question I have is Why does every such policy talk about “no retribution”? To me this means the Management and bosses of the whistleblower, as well as the whistleblower himself, are scared that the past will haunt them. The clauses reflect the fear that the person maybe damned for the past action. Actually if you see, we owe a lot to the whistle blower in Enron and Infosys and all the famous reported corporate cases. It is due to the whistleblowers that corporate governance took a different direction. Rather than hailing the heroes, corporates made them scurry for cover. When will we learn to forgive and forget?

Let me end with 2 quotes of 2 wise men:
i) When Jesus said from the cross: “Father, forgive them for they not what they are doing”. What he was saying is: really forget the past and let us look ahead. No analysis of the past. No hankering after the done deal. Look ahead.
ii) And the Learned One, Buddha said : “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” Unfortunately, we keep the anger bottled inside and are not ready to forget. Thereby ruining a perfectly repairable relationship!

Wishing you a poor, poor memory which forgets, even as you forgive: vikas

Dear Maya and Baywatch

Saw 2 movies over the weekend. Very mixed experience. Here goes…

Dear Maya should never have been completed and if done, should never have been released. A more sad movie I have not seen in my 50+ years of movie going. The director (Sunaina Bhatnagar; apparently Imtiaz Ali’s asst and that too on Jab we Met my ALL TIME fav) begins with a theme replete with potential. 2 teen-aged school girls play a prank on the brooding and reclusive neighbor. They write her love letters pretending to revive a 20 year old meeting. And Manisha Koirala (Maya) takes off to Delhi in pursuit of her suitor; selling all her belongings including her house in Shimla. The basic thesis is flawed, nay cracked at this point. Someone who has not stirred from her window for years suddenly in hot pursuit all the way to Delhi? Come on, who will believe the withdrawn and scared Maya will gather so much courage? And then the second nadir point: one of the girls develops guilt on her doings; and though she has moved from Shimla to Delhi, spends her 6 years in college only searching for Maya!!! Another thesis which belies teenager behavior and the attractions of Delhi. Naturally Maya is found. She is well. Has a husband and a child. All is fine and ready for a Hindi-movie ending. Again, the reaction of the girl who has sacrificed 6 years and many relationships to this search is so limpid that it jars. Manisha Koirala disappoints thoroughly in her comeback movie. She looks a real ghost and you wish she had never ventured out of the ghostly mansion. Rakyesh Omprakash Mehra leaves a strong impression in a super thin appearance: he should really consider coming to the front of the camera.

The saving grace was the final message : “Say yes to life”. MK delivers that well. Take her advice: Say yes to life; and No to Dear Maya. Save your time and save your money.

See Baywatch. Baywatch is enjoyable for all the lovely locales, the lovelier bods, and a fast paced and still easy going story. The sunkissed beach has enough arm candy and hot bods for both male viewers and female cine goers. While the story is all predictable to the core, the way the movie is put together is a visual and emotional treat. Good guys win. Bad guys die; all is right with the world. Even the stupidest Lifegaurd gets the lifegaurd he drools over. End of movie.

If you are a prude, your ears may jar a little with all the “fuck”s and “shit” liberally interspersed in the dialogue. But I think in today’s times it is a routine phrase and really it does not stick out. The characters and their speech is all in sync. The one who curses and uses foul language the least is the svelte seductress Victoria Leeds, our own Pee Cee. She holds her own in the Hollywood drama and plays the evil drug dealer making a run on the real estate around the beach truly believable. Convincing, and killing if you don’t get see things her way comes easily to her. And after Dwyane johnson, it is our own Priyanka Chopra who impresses you.

Dear Maya, sorry, but I would rather Baywatch : vikas

Billion + 1

I may make more enemies than friends by this confession: but the truth is I do not like Sachin. Sachin Tendulkar is a youth icon, amazing achiever, God of cricket, symbol of hope and aspiration for all Indians, Little Master, , etc. etc. But still the fact is I do not like Sachin.

My reasons may surprise some of you : but I do think he is over rated and over idolized. Too many followers. Too many people (in fact the whole of India) pinning their hopes on him. But somewhere I keep feeling : finally he is school dropout, just a cricket player : does he really deserve so much? the adulation of the entire country, Bharat Ratna, records galore, youngest this, highest that, maximum runs, Master Blaster, maximum centuries, lots of fancy cars, huge house, and crores of money earned from advertising and awards.

So my going and watching the movie “Sachin : A Billion Dreams” was not an act of a fan; happy to see his god, and revel in the exploits and achievements of his idol. In fact, am not even much of a cricket fan. Used to follow cricket when I was a college student. But the infamous match fixing episodes involving Hansie Cronje and Azharuddin, with Kapil Dev breaking down and crying on national television, totally put me off watching cricket. The thought was : here we have invested literally our life and our energy, in following and supporting Indian cricket: and here are our cricketers selling the country and our dreams down the drain, just for personal monetary gain. Somewhere one did feel good, even at that time, that Sachin had stayed true to his middle class, ethical upbringing and his name was not even mentioned in the aftermath.

So neither being a Sachin fan nor a fanboy of Cricket, why did I go to see the docu-drama “Sachin A Billion Dreams” in the cinema hall? One definition of a Psychologist is the person who looks at other people in the room when a beautiful woman walks in. Similarly I went to the movie to see what other people are seeing in Sachin!! And I must confess, I came back happy.

The movie is similar to a documentary. The format has Sachin himself as the narrator ( & a very self conscious and awkward one at that). And of course the movie showcases all the major milestones and achievements in Sachin’s cricketing career. But what endeared me to the movie was the human interest angle. The story highlights the journey of a simple middle class Bandra boy and the pressures and struggles of an achiever. Lots and lots of personal video footage of Sachin and his family and friends is shared giving us a fresh insight into Sachin the son, Sachin as a husband, a father, a brother, a friend. We see lots of material about his love of cars, his holidays, his friends, his love for music and his pastimes. All this new perspective about Sachin as a human being is novel and nice. That is what made the movie enjoyable for me.

Sachin as a person comes forth very different from his cricketing, larger than life persona. Sachin seems to have taken to heart his father’s teaching : “I would be happier if you became a better human than a better cricketer” and lived by that principle. His humility, his love for his mother and father, his total dependence on his brother as a pillar of support in all his achievements, his relationship with his wife, his enjoying time with his children (though he refused to ever change a diaper), all show him in a very humane light. The values reflected in all these interactions underlines how self-abnegating he was and you can well imagine having NO SHARP EDGES as a team player. “Others above me” shines through all and you understand the person quite differently. This is best exemplified when he is asked : what did you feel when thousands chanted “Sachin Sachin” every time you stepped out onto the crease? His answer is beautiful and strong in its import ” I was always reminded of my responsibility”

Another endearing feature of the film is giving us a glimpse of how this introverted person handled the downs in his life. Whether it was protests of fans when India lost, or when he got out cheaply when there was an expectation of a big innings, or his poor record as a Captain, or his being summarily dropped as Captain without even a prior headsup. All these stories are well told and make Sachin a more lovable character and the movie a more interesting watch.

All of Sachin’s cricketing achievements are well documented elsewhere and spoken about enough. So go and watch the movie Sachin to get an insight and feel for the man; the enormous pressures he underwent and withstood carrying the dreams of the entire nation on his slim shoulders. I must confess, for the first time I became an unabashed fan of Sachin the man.

Sachin you make me proud to be an Indian, proud to be a Maharashtrian, and proud to be a Mumbaikar.

So One Billion plus one : vikas. And counting….

Being a good person

Buddha exhorted : Be a good person, but don’t waste time to prove it.

If you think about it, this is great wisdom indeed. More popular poster art puts it a trifle differently : There is no limit to the amount of good that you can do : if you don’t mind who gets the credit.

Nobody stops you from being good, doing the right things, leaving the world a better place than we found it. However, today unfortunately we want to play to the gallery. We will do good if others will acknowledge me. We want to be admired and recognized. And get the same approbation that little Jack Horner wanted in his corner: he wanted it to end as ” What a good boy am I” . But when there is no credit, no public applause, no labels and stickers and bands for celebration : less people are ready to come forward to do good. Sad but true!

Of course there are exceptions, and those we must recognize and celebrate. Stories of an old Gujrati couple who donated their lifelong saving of over a crore of rupees for soldiers’ welfare. A rickshaw puller in Tamil Nadu who donates enough to start a library in the college in his village. Such examples gladden the cockles of one’s heart. And I want to write about some even more simple examples.

My father had a transferable job and during his 40 years’ career we must have changed 10 to 12 locations/houses. Shifting house did not have the support which today’s moves have. There were no packers and movers whom you could call. We had to ask the local grocery shop and offices for cartons. Each plate and piece of crockery was individually wrapped in newspaper by family members themselves. Shifting were great days, as for a week your kitchen was closed and you were being invited for breakfast, lunch and dinner at friends’ and neighbors’ houses. On the last day, the truckers came with some unskilled help and moved all the packages you had packed into the truck and took off.

On all these occasions, I remember my mother used to ensure that one broom was not packed. It was kept separately. And after all packages and furniture was removed, she would personally sweep the empty house. Idea was the empty house should appear clean and fresh for the new incumbent. What an attitude! What a learning that left on our impressionable minds!! Clean behind you. Do not ever leave a mess. Think of the next person who is yet to appear. What if we all practiced this simple learning in all that we do in our lives. I am sure the world would be a far far better place to live in.

Sometimes, in some locations, our frugal furniture would be supplemented with office furniture. God help anyone of us who did not treat it with respect and deference that office furniture deserved. Cupboards had to be closed carefully. If there was a loud banging sound of the door closing, immediately we would be reprimanded; “Arre office ka hai. Thik se use karo” ” Don’t put your feet on the center table. Office ka hai.” “Apna nahi ki ki tum kaise bhi use karo”. Office ka hai, careful, careful, careful.

The very day our goods were transported, we ourselves would get on a train to go to our new destination. We would reach and stay in the Guest House as our stuff was still enroute. A new series of “dawats” and invitations would start. It was getting to know new colleagues and their families. And when the truck finally reached, the reverse process of unpacking would start. New school, new friends, new neighbors, new colleagues, new equations, new adjustments. One more cycle completed one more cycle begun. As soon as the house was set, it was a practice that my parents would invite all new colleagues and their families for lunches and dinners. It was not only the people who were moving, but also the people who were staying on, as now they are your new friends and family, your new support system.

It took a couple of cycles for us children to understand that what my parents were practicing is what is called “feed forward” in today’s management parlance. They intuitively knew and understood that all the lunches and dinners they had enjoyed before leaving say Kolhapur; had to “given back” in say Amravati. So when they left Amravati and went to Pune, the feed forward mechanism ensured that they were welcomed and made at home in Pune. Their reputation as nice human beings always preceded them. They did good and moved on. A la Buddha they did not waste any time in publicity or propagation. That happened automatically.

My father took it to an extreme. He believed that his hard earned money would never be lost or misappropriated. ” I have never done anything bad to anyone. So why will anyone do anything bad to me” was his life’s philosophy. And he had the courage to live that. Doing good without any expectation of returns, he only got good in return.

29th May was his birthday. If he was alive he would be 89 years old today. But whether we feel his physical presence around us or not, we can never be far from all that he taught us. We all try and practice as much as possible his basic teaching : Do good and leave the rest. Life will repay you.

Thank you Baba for helping us understand the power of being good: vikas