Sleeplessness

Yesterday was one of those rare days in my life when I could not sleep. I had gone on a tour to Germany and when I returned I had a bad cold and cough because of extreme change of weather conditions. Although this has not been new to me but I do not know why I could not sleep. I have travelled to Germany multiple times and have never missed a whole night sleep. But today was different.

I do not even remember as to when I last spent a sleepless night. Yes in the past on a few occasions, when I have travelled to places where there is a huge time zone difference it does take the human body to adjust and adapt. But four and a half hours time difference is not that difficult to adjust or adapt after a day’s rest. I do not know why nor do I want to know.

But this sleeplessness has helped me to further kindle my writing spirit. In a matter of less than an hour, I wrote four blogs. The thoughts started flowing like water in an open tap, There was no traffic on the road and no noise in the environs. It is dawn now and I can only hear the sound of the Rooster in the background. I realize that it may be sometimes wonderful to sleep in the day and enjoy the night this way.

However, on a serious note of reflection, I realised today how privileged I am. I have never complained of sleeplessness in my life. I have been an honest tax paying citizen and have lived my family and society values to the best of my ability all through my life. But today I realised how important sleep is for the health of a human being. If the body is not able to rest, it may not be energised the next day. It may be like a engine running twenty four hours and three hundred and sixty five days a year without any stop. The engine is likely to break down so will the human being without 8 hours of sleep every day.

I realised that there millions of people around the world who may not be sleeping every day this way. Of course some of the highly creative people like music composers, scientists etc sometimes work day or night when their calling comes. It is not sleep which is their way to relax but the work they do and their calling is not determined by the working hours of ordinary human kind like many of us.

Similarly, there are millions of people around the world who cannot sleep because they do not have a shelter above their head or food in their stomach. How privileged I am in comparison to these people. I did realise today after just one day of sleep deprivation. I may sleep during the day tomorrow as it is a weekend but everyone around the world does not have that privilege.

Another learning for me is to be grateful for what I am and what I have in life rather than what I am not and I do not have. There can never be day in my life where all my dreams will be realised. This does not mean I stop dreaming. But gratitude lays the foundation for humility in life. It also helps us balance need and greed. The day we realise we are grounded.

It is almost 5 am now. It is either time for my morning coffee or a quick nap.

What do you think I will do ?

S Ramesh Shankar

18th Nov 2017

Who am I ?

All of us spend our life time discovering ourselves every day. Some of us overestimate our prowess while others underestimate our potential. The truth could lie somewhere in between. Those who think that they have all the answers to the questions of life may be mistaken. Others who wonder why do they only get the tough questions in life, are also under an illusion.

Life has its interesting ways of balancing itself for us. The day we overestimate ourselves and tend to get arrogant, there could be a turn in our life when one would realize that you do not know the answer to the question. It is like you have topped the class right through school and college but are not able to top the batch in your organisation as a trainee. It is then you realize that theory and practise are related to each other but at the same time quite different.

On the other hand, you struggle in life but have always been humble and grounded and when you are almost willing to give up, life has its way of rewarding your hard work. It realizes that your patience has been tested and you need to be recognised. After a stressful wait, you may get a promotion in your career quite out of the blue or be selected to lead a project, which you only dreamt of till that day.

One more learning from my life is that everyone contributes in our life. If at all one reaches the top echelons of an organisation and forgets the contributions made by all the people around them to what they are today in life, they are simply ungrateful. It is not education, position in a organisation or hierarchy in society which determines your value. It is your “Humanness” and your ability to contribute to the life of others, which does.

Many of us who think that we have arrived in life because we have achieved success in our career may be mistaken. We also should realize that every human being around us is contributing to our success. I recently was watching a reality music programme, wherein a young girl was contesting. After she was selected in the trials, when asked where she came from, she narrated her story. She said she belonged to a remote city in India and did not even have the money to travel to Mumbai, where the contest was being held. Her father who runs a cycle shop drove a cycle for five consecutive days in a village fair to earn money as an exibhitionist so that he could finance her trip.

If this girl becomes a super star singer tomorrow and forgets the contributions of her father then she would never arrive in her life. The great people in the world contribute much more to the greatness of others then themselves. While all of us may talk of Gandhi, it may be interesting to reflect that Gandhi’s greatness was not just his personality but his ability to influence the thinking of millions around the world.

There are many people around us, who may be equally qualified or even less but contribute much more than us towards others. We do not value them. The day we realize that everyone’s contribution in our life is unique and valuable , we may arrive to some extent. The day we realize that we have an obligation to give back to society as much as we have got from it, if not more, then we may have arrived.

My wife in the photo above as my partner in life has contributed more to me and my family than we ever realize. We are grateful to her.

S Ramesh Shankar

Second Innings

In cricket, there are two innings in a test match. Similarly in life there are two innings. The first innings is when you pursue your education, then get into your career or vocation and reach the pinnacle of your life and career. Then the second innings begins. This is time you retire from work and settle down in life with your family. In the first innings, we try to take everything we can from society. In the second innings, it is time to give back.

Organisations in most countries determine the retirement age in advance and sign a contract with the employee. On the other hand, if you are practising a vocation or business, you decide on your own retirement age. In my view, it does not matter. All of us need to retire some day so that we can give way to the younger generation. If there are only eleven playing members in a soccer team, then the senior players need to retire so that young potential players will get a chance. Life is not different.

It is better to retire and quit, when people ask “why are you leaving? “, rather than “why are you not leaving?”. There is a time and place for everything in life. It is important for all of us to prepare ourselves for every phase of life. I know of many people who are so busy with their work that they do not have the time for their family, vacations or even for planning for their own future. They live and die at work every day as if there is no tomorrow.

We all need to realize that life has two innings. In the first, you learn and take from society and in the second, we share and give back to society in all ways we can. We need to plan for the second innings in life. There can be no prescription for anyone or anything in life. However, I have seen people who plan everything meticulously and are looking forward to their retirement so that they can give back. On the other hand, there are others who think that there is no life without work and hence dread the thought of the second innings.

One always wonders what would one do when you retire from life. This is a fair question. While you are working you believe you never have the time to pursue your hobbies. You also tend to think that you are so busy that you cannot pursue an exercise regimen every day as your routine. After all work and no exercise, you wonder where is the time for your spouse or your kids. You have not visited your friends or relatives for ages on the pretext of being a work-a-horse.

Now as soon as you are about to retire the same questions haunt you. You start wondering that you will have all the time in the world and have no work to do. You need not exercise now although you have the time since it is no more relevant for your future. Your kids have left home and your relatives and friends do not have the time to host you now. This may be harsh reality of the future. However one needs to plan for it.

The first myth is that work is within the precincts of an organization in a defined role. The second myth is that maintaining good health is an option. The third myth is that your family, friends and relatives will wait for you for the rest of their lives. The day we break these myths in our minds we will make a difference to our lives and to the lives of our near and dear.

My father in law in the photo above was a good example of meticulous planning and preparation for his second innings. He pursued his hobbies of reading, writing and serving the community around him in all possible ways.

Work beyond retirement could be pursuing hobbies, social service, teaching students, reading, writing, travelling or any other way of giving back to society. Maintaining good health is a life long regimen and does not end with retirement. Our indebtedness to family and friends is a life long expression of gratitude.

Let us begin today.

S Ramesh Shankar

Leadership lessons from Ms Sushma Swaraj

India lost a popular political leader yesterday. Ms Sushma Swaraj was India’s external affairs minister and an outstanding parliamentarian. I have been a silent admirer of this leader for many reasons. Today when the nation lost her due to a heart attack, I can share 3 key leadership lessons, which all of us can imbibe to be better human beings and leaders in our own spheres :

A. Humility – A lawyer by vocation, she was an excellent parliamentarian and a former state Chief Minister and cabinet minster in the union cabinet for more than a decade. In spite of all these credentials, she always had her feet on the ground and was working for the welfare of the common man at all times.

B. Communication skills : She was one of India’s best parliamentarians in its history so far. Her ability to put her points across using the most dignified choice of words are worth emulation. She was the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha and I have seen her tearing apart the government on many occasions but even her worst critic could not find fault in her language or her dignity. She bought stature to all positions she held in public life.

C. Accessibility : As leaders grow higher in the hierarchy, they tend to lose their connect with the grassroots.. However, even as external affairs minister of the country, she was accessible to the common man from India and across the world. She used social media effectively and responded to every sos call to her at lightning speed. I have seen many senior leaders not even reply to emails from their own employees or return phone calls since they felt it was below their dignity to respond or call back their juniors. This is one of the best lessons which Sushma Swaraj gave to the common man and leaders of today

While all of the above may appear simple, they are the most difficult to adhere to. I have spent 38 years in corporate life and can share that I have not come across many leaders in my life who have been able to successfully imbibe all these three qualities with equal rigour.

I salute this great daughter of India and pray for her soul to rest in peace. I commit that I will try to imbibe all the above qualities in my life and be humble, dignified in my communication and accessible to the last person in the hierarchy I deal with. Although I have tried all of them but to say the least , I have a long way to go in all these aspects in my life as a leader.

It is time for each of us to reflect and learn ? RIP Sushma Swaraj.

S Ramesh Shankar

7th August 2019

Diversity in spirit

I am proud to be an Indian and love its diversity. I have travelled around the world for my work as well as for fun. Every visit to a new country so far has only reinforced my belief that diversity energises life and living. I have visited more than 25 countries in life so far but yet to see the diversity which India has. We have 29 states. Each state speaks a different language and we have many dialects for each language.

We are a multi religious country and we have the freedom to follow any religion of our choice. Our culture and traditions are the rich heritage of the state we belong to and this interestingly many a time cuts across religions. We follow and celebrate festivals across the country irrespective of which religion we belong to because we think its our festival. The spirit of India is to be experienced to be believed.

I have lived in the south, east, north, central and west of India. I have never felt I have lived in a different culture or a different country in spite of the fact that each state in India is almost like a different country with its uniqueness in culture, language, food habits and so on. The fabric of India is it multi-ethnicity. You experience the benefits of multiple countries just by moving from one state to another. Many of the Indian states are bigger in size and population to many of the European countries.

Today it is common in many organisations to talk of diversity and inclusion. This is not only taken as an organisation wide initiative but also promoted in a big way especially in multinational corporations. Interestingly India as a state that has practised diversity and inclusion in letter and spirit right through its existence. We have no bias or discrimination against any religion, caste or ethnicity for any job. On the contrary the Indian Constitution has protected the rights of certain sections of society based on the principle of positive discrimination to provide them equal opportunity with the rest of the society to catch up in life.

In my view, diversity is much more than gender, ethnicity, nationality, caste or any such factors. It is the ability to think in multiple perspectives without any bias. It is our ability to proactively promote multiple view points on any subject. It is our ability to listen and speak up in society. As a citizen in the world’s largest democracy, I can proudly state that we have the freedom to do all this and guaranteed by the state through our constitution.

It may be unfair to state that this freedom is absolute. Nothing is absolute in life. Every right has an equal responsibility. So sometimes citizen and at other times the state administrators misuse their rights or responsibilities in this sphere. However, we have the balance of the executive, judiciary and the legislature to protect the rights of the citizens. When either or all of them fail, we still have a free media to be the conscience keeper.

It is this spirit we need to bring into organizations of tomorrow. We need to start laying the foundation in smaller social units of family and communities. It then spreads to society and then becomes easier for organizations to imbibe it. We all know that organizations are a mirror image of the societies in which they exist in terms of their culture. We cannot have the diversity spirit in a proletarian state.

Diversity is the confluence of ideas from all sources to evolve the best one like the colourful diversity of Mother Nature in the photo above.

Lets learn from the Indian spirit.

S Ramesh Shankar

The spirit of living

I had gone to attend a leadership offsite in Kovalam. On the way, I had the privilege of meeting my sister and their family. The most fascinating person in their family is my aunt. My aunt is 92 years old and lives her life to the fullest. She always has a smile on her face and her memory is sharp. I have not met many people in my life who have gone through all the trials and tribulations of life and still have given more to others than they have received in life.

My aunt’s name is Jayalakshmi. She is the younger sister of my father. Born in Trichy, she was married to a government employee and settled in Salem. She has six children and went through all the trials of life one can imagine to bring them up, educating them and enable them to marry and settle down in life. Like my father I have never seen my aunt lose her temper ever in my life. I have always seen her smiling under all circumstances.

Her smile is infectious. Till recently she used to cook her own food, was able to do her daily ablutions without any support and would not ask for any favour from any one. I have never seen her sulk or pass on her burdens in life to anyone else. I have never seen her complain to my father or her other siblings of any problems she was facing in life. I knew she had to confront a lot of challenges in life but would suppress her hurt and ill feelings within herself and only share her smile with others.

One may argue that it may not be good for health of if you suppress your feelings. But, what I have seen of her is that her goodness has enabled her to maintain excellent health right through her life. I have never seen her depend on others for any support. Today if I reflect on her life, I realize that if you are willing to give up all your joy to make others happy, then God has his own ways of rewarding you with a long and healthy life.

Every time I visit my sister, I am in awe of this aunt. Her knowledge of things around her is unbelievable. She is a great cricket lover. At this age, she watches all of India’s matches and she was asking me about the recently concluded India-New Zealand series. She was even aware of the ensuing Sri Lanka test series with India. Today her knees have become weak because of old age. But watching TV and reading newspapers/magazines and following conversations with everyone in the family she keeps herself fully updated in life and living.

What I admire most about her is her self discipline. She gets up early morning and after completing her morning rituals has her bath on her own and is ready for the day. She has her breakfast and does not spill a bit and till recently will go and clean her own plate as well. She will then watch TV and listen to morning slokas. She has a cot beside her chair and will happily have a short nap whenever she needs it.

She is more than willing to discuss with you on any subject and and will be happy to share her learnings in life. Whenever you meet her, she will enquire about everyone in your family and their well being. She will not forget anyone . She will never ignore you or belittle you irrespective of age. She wanted me to share photos of my grandson during my recent visit and was more than comfortable to glance through the photos on the Ipad. At the same time, she will never intrude into your space or force you to converse with her.

My lessons of life from her are innumerable. Learn to share joy and keep sorrows to yourself. Learn to be genuine and share your smile with everyone. It is a good idea to be self dependant and not burden others in your life. Patience pays always. The list is endless. But the learnings are timeless.

Grateful to my aunt.

S Ramesh Shankar

What money can’t buy ?

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One of the challenges every generation faces is the craving for wealth. We all grow up dreaming of accumulating wealth so that all our needs in life can be fulfilled. We also tend to believe that with money one can buy anything and everything in life. This dream appears to be the ultimate truth till reality hits us some day. I met a youngster today in my office. She is a talented young professional and is married to another talented professional by choice. They have one kid and both are doing well in their careers.

This young professional made a confession to me. She said that till recently she believed that money could get her all that she wants in life. However, she had a set back in her health and this made her realize that money cannot buy her health. It shook her so much that she decided to take a career break so that she can focus on her health and her family.

Another young guy shared another interesting insight. He said he has all the money he needed but his quest for happiness was elusive. This may be because that money cannot buy happiness too. Happiness is a state of mind. It is an attitude to life. You can find a man on the street in abject poverty who finds it difficult to earn for the food and shelter of his family every day. But this person is content and happy with what he has and finds ways and means of giving back to society. On the other hand, many of us with abundant wealth have our desires and needs unfulfilled forever.

One of my fundamental learnings in life is that money cannot buy health or happiness in life. We need to work every day to evolve habits of diet and exercise so that we lead a healthy life. We need to work to fulfill our needs and manage our greed so that happiness does not elude us. Happiness is function of gratitude and contentment in my view. As long as we are grateful for what we have in life and content with ourselves without comparing with others when our needs are fulfilled, we may be happy in life.

This may be easier to state than to realize. I may confess that it took me many years in life to realize this. Today if I look back at my life, I should state that my family and societal values have helped me to be content and grateful in life. I should thank my diabetes and my spouse’s encouragement for my maintaining a healthy diet and a good daily exercise routine. This has enabled me to maintain good health and be happy in life at all times.

It may be worthwhile to reflect on this issue. I know of the richest people in my country who could have bought islands around the world with their wealth. But they could not buy health nor happiness in their sunset years. This proves that wealth can never buy health or happiness. The earlier we realize this axiom of life, the better it is for us. It may help us lead a healthier and happier life very early in our life time.

The happy kids in the photo above in a remote village proves that wealth and happiness are not correlated.

Another interesting insight is that both health and happiness are self dependant. You can never delegate your exercising or attitude to life to someone else. One has to be self disciplined in diet and exercise to maintain good health. Similarly one has to be content and grateful to everything in your life to be happy. You can neither buy, rent or lease health or happiness.

Try it.

S Ramesh Shankar