Nothing is permanent..


I recently came to know of two tragedies. In the first case, a mother lost her grown up son in a fatal accident. In the second, a daughter lost her father in a hospital bed. While the first was a young aspiring student preparing himself for the travails of life in a business school, the second was an aged father who had fought cancer and was healthy and self dependant at 85 till he fractured his leg by falling from his bed and succumbed to his post operative trauma.

If we look at both the incidents the affected people were shattered. A mother in the first case was heart broken to get up one day to know that her son is no more and has met with an accident in front of his college gate. In the second instance, the daughter had nursed her father in the hospital for a week and his fracture was operated successfully and within days of her proceeding to help her daughter in another city, her father breathed his last as he could not fight back from the post operative stress.

I can imagine the state of the mind of the mother and the daughter in both these cases. It would have been like a glass sculpture shattered into pieces. While condolences may pour in from around the world, no word can console you. No assurance can build back the belief in you. It is like you can never put together the shattered pieces of the beautiful glass sculpture even with the best adhesive in the world.

Time is the only healer and it takes time to realise it. I have personally gone through a few tragedies in my life and I have experienced this vacuum. It neither can be explained or can be consoled. It shatters your foundations. It makes you lose faith in yourself and even lose faith in God. No power on earth seems to have any impact on you. You are tempted to give up even before you given in.

Let us try to understand why this happens to all of us, who go through such tragedies. I remember someone told me that when you lose your father at a very young age, it is like someone pulling away the umbrella from your head during a thunderous downpour. It is something like that. Life is good and we are treading along. Suddenly a tragedy of this magnitude engulfs us and we are shattered. It comes like a Tsunami and leaves us homeless. We may not have lost our physical belongings but we become emotionless for some time.

We do not know the difference between laughing and crying. There are no tears left in our eyes. We want to be left alone and feel restless in a crowd. Family, friends and society are no longer a source of solace. We look at the sky with blank eyes and no emotions. Music is no longer soothing to our ears. Our life literally comes to a stand still. Days become longer and nights shorter. We do not want to see or meet anyone.

It takes weeks, months or even years to recover from such a shock. It took me more than year when my father died when I was 25. After a few years, I realised that time is the only healer. I recovered slowly but surely from the slipping ground below me. I started believing in myself and others after a while. I visited a temple after a year to assure God that I was now standing on my own feet.

This is the time one realises that “Nothing is permanent” in life. Neither joy nor sorrow. Everything is ephemeral. It will come and go. We need to have the courage and the patience to weather the storm. We should neither get carried away by the joys of life and float in the air, nor buried by the sorrows of life and sink into the earth below. We will realise that time is the best healer.

Life is like the weather today. Gloomy and rainy in the morning but bright and sunny in the evening. Nothing is permanent. Not even the weather on a single day. 

Let us believe in ourselves and our good deeds and leave the rest for time to heal.

S Ramesh Shankar

Ray of Hope

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There is always light at the end of a tunnel. You realise it every time you drive through a tunnel on a highway. However, it takes a lot of patience and perseverance to go through the darkness in the tunnel before you see the light. Life is no different. Every obstacle in life looks like a boulder in front of us. It overwhelms us and we get bogged down by its magnitude. It takes courage and patience to weather the storm and then look for the light at the end of the tunnel.

I have had many experiences in life, wherein I felt as if the world was coming to end and and I was in the midst of it. When you are going through a crisis in life or at work, you are bogged down by everything around you. You are drained out by the depth of the crisis you are facing. You try out all the options and still the you feel that the dark road in the tunnel is never ending. It is at this time you need to reflect and find a way.

I would like to look back at a few incidents in my personal and work life and share my learnings. I have been a born optimist in life. Hence, looking at life as art of possibilities has been my outlook. But, when you are confronted with a crisis then your optimism fades way giving way to pessimism. I recall the first instance in my personal life. I got an income tax notice for buying a timeshare property. I was shocked and perplexed. I have been a honest salaried tax payer for more than three decades now. But this incident happened way back in 1992.

I went to my tax advisor after spending a few sleepless nights as to “why me ?” . When he explained the process which the income tax department follows to track tax defaulters, I was relieved. He explained that they look at new car buyers at random and sometimes at property buyers and so on and then send them a notice to explain the source of income. When I had been an honest tax payer, I had nothing to worry. I had just to explain the source of my funds and how I have paid them. I had also paid all my instalments by cheques and hence there was nothing for me to explain. But spending a few nights with the notice at home was like a long ride in the tunnel.

The second time it was on the work front. I was made the prosecution nominee ( management representative) in a departmental enquiry against a corrupt union representative in one of my previous organisations. I was shocked. I received threats from this person including possible attacks on my family members. I was again worried as to why I was chosen for this unceremonious role. The enquiry was completed and I could help the management with my presentation skills in establishing the charges and ensuring the corrupt union representative was dismissed from service. Then my manager explained to me that I was selected because I was courageous and honest to face such a dishonest employee in an enquiry in a fair and brave way. But this enquiry took more than four months and it was an arduous journey.

The last incident was when I joined a new organization. I was confronted with a court case filed every month by the unions against the management on frivolous reasons. I was always used to maintaining harmonious and trust worthy relationship with the unions in all my previous assignments. When I took charge, I realised that there was a trust deficit between the management and the unions. It took me almost two years to rebuild that trust and thanks to a great team to work with and a responsive union we not only turned it around but today can proudly state that we have not had any court case filed against us in the last four years. But these two years were like a long dark tunnel ride.

Every situation looked dim at first sight. The more you grapple with it the more you are disappointed. When a problem gets complicated and you do not get adequate support, you tend to lose hope. It is at this juncture, we need to believe in ourselves and our credibility. We need to trust ourselves and hope that there will be light at the end of the tunnel. It is like the streak of sunlight always kindles hope on a otherwise cloudy day as in the photo above. This ray of hope re-ignites the optimism in us and helps us find a way.

Let us look for the ray of hope in life every day.

S Ramesh Shankar

Perseverance

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One of the qualities all of us wish we had would be “Perseverance”. I have not come across many people in my life time, who are perseverant in the pursuit of their goals in life. An unflinching belief in yourself and a dogged pursuit of your goal is what you aspire for. But it is just an illusion for most of us. This is one quality, which I learnt from my father in law, who left on his heavenly abode on 20th August 2017.

A self made man from a poor middle class family. After losing his father at a young age, he got into the government service. He rose from the lowest levels to retire from service after more than three decades as a Chief Accounts officer. His passion for mathematics was visible. But, what I really admired about him is his passion to learn new things in life all the time.

I have seen many incidents in his life, which speak volumes of his learning attitude and his passion to persevere. He lived along with his spouse and till the age of eighty five and was fully self dependant. He neither depended on his kids financially nor otherwise. He lived in his self built house, cooked his own food and maintained everything around him with his own hands.

A master of mathematics and a voracious reader. His command over English was admirable. He would discuss and debate on all issues and always had a point of view. He would never be satisfied with any response unless he verified it himself and was convinced. At the age of eighty two, he took to writing a book. He wrote the manuscript in his own hand and then requested my wife to edit it and contribute to complete the same and publish it.

Another interesting attribute I have learnt from him is his meticulous maintenance of records and documents for everything. The accountant in him was embedded in his blood. But the systematic maintenance of household records is indeed worth emulation. Luckily for me my wife has learnt this quality from him. He would maintain the receipt and history of every asset in his house and neatly maintained and easily retrievable.

He was a well read and a pious person. He had deep knowledge of the scriptures and all the Hindu rituals. While he followed all religious practices, he never imposed his views on others. He was always open to be challenged and was willing to accept alternate view points on any issue. He had in depth knowledge of Hindu rituals and could easily challenge the priests on festive occasions if they took a short cut.

If a person can pursue his post graduation at the young age of 75 in order to fulfil one of his unfulfilled goals in life, it is worth adulation. I have not seen many people in my life time, who have persevered with such dreams and pursued it till success much after retiring from service as well. He was a man of letters. Well read in religion, current affairs and even medicine, where he could end up challenging doctors on a wrong prescription.

I recently visited him with my spouse on a courtesy call. While I was leaving his house, he asked me to explain – “What digitalisation means ? “. Honestly, I was stunned and had no answers. I told him that I will research and revert to him with an answer. I did tell him that it could mean applying technology to make human life better. But, I did go back and did a lot of research to understand the concept of digitalisation. But, unfortunately, he is not alive today for me to share with him.

I can only state that he was a perfectionist in the true sense of the word. A man, who would pursue till he got what he wanted. Of course at times it could be termed nagging and you may get irritated by his perseverance. After all , none of us are born only with virtues. But, the positives in him far outweighed his improvement areas. I salute him for his stature and am grateful to have learnt something from my interactions with him.

May his soul rest in peace.

S Ramesh Shankar

20th August 2017

Hurt

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I always wonder why some people do not realise how much they hurt others by their words and deeds. Today I heard of an incident where someone’s mother was admitted in a hospital and was recovering. One of her relatives who came in to see her mother instead of encouraging and consoling her, told her unabashedly that you are wasting your money on her treatment since your mother is not going to live long.

I was shocked and dismayed even to hear this incident. First of all this relative was not a doctor. Secondly, she was neither supporting this person financially nor emotionally to treat her mother. Then, I fail to understand what pleasure a person can get to make such unforgivable statements especially to a daughter attending on her mother in a hospital. You can hurt someone unknowingly and it is forgivable but if someone hurts you knowingly what do you do ?

I do understand all of us end up hurting people around us by our words or deeds some way . We may not realise it as and when it happens. However, we do regret when we realise it and seek forgiveness from the person we have hurt or from God for our cruel behaviour. In this instance, the relative was her aunt. It is beyond my imagination to even think of why people behave this way. I can understand how deeply hurt this person may have felt.

We are brought up by our parents and they sacrifice everything in life to give us comfort and joy in life. They never think twice before spending money on you for your betterment. As we grow up, our parents get old and sometimes they do fall sick and become immobile. It is at this time we need to think of how we can serve our parents. We can never in our life time repay the non financial debt of service our parents have rendered to us. In my view, it is a sin even to think of not treating them well.

In this case, the relative who made these scandalous statements was her mother’s sibling. Her mother had been like a mother to her since the age gap between them is quite a lot and her mother had died at a young age. So instead of being grateful to her and helping the family financially or otherwise to treat her mother, this person ends up making such regrettable statements. I will never recommend that we should even make such statements for our enemies if we are human beings.

All of us are materialistic in life and we accumulate wealth during our youth to take care of ourselves in our old age. We need to realise that serving our elders is a rare opportunity God provides to some of us in our life time. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity. We need to consider it our privilege and honour to serve our parents and take care of them when they need us most.

If we think spending money on our parents or elders hospitalisation is waste of money just because they are old and immobile today, we are inhuman in thought and action. We have to realise that all of us will grow old some day and imagine our children thinking the same way and leaving you in a hospital unattended because they think spending money on your treatment is not a wise thing to do.

Some of us realise our mistakes in our life time. It is possible that some of us never realise it in this life time. Hence, I understand why the Hindu religion says that human being has seven births. This may be because God gives us six more chances to repent for our errors in life. I pray to God that all of us treat our elders with respect and dignity. We treat them the way we want to be treated by our children in the future.

Hurt is like the the shedding of the leaves by the trees during autumn. When someone hurts you, you feel barren like the trees may feel when their leaves shrug off.

Let us learn to forgive such inhuman humans and pray to God that he will bestow them with wisdom in this life or the next.

S Ramesh Shankar

Class is classic┬á´╗┐

Class means different things to different people. As a student of sociology, class refers to the social status in society. It is referred to as social class. It is like the caste system, which creates a hierarchy in society. Class could be based on income, caste, profession etc. An act of high quality is also referred to as class. For eg, in the cricket world, we normally refer to batsmen who are outstanding as class. An oft quoted saying is ” Form is temporary but Class is permanent.”

So, let us understand why form is temporary but class is permanent. It is believed the best in class player in any form of sports is classic although she or he may not be in form on a particular day. We can think of the best soccer players going goalless in a match. The best batsmen getting out for a duck and so on. However, their consistency and quality of the game is unimaginable. Hence, we could easily state that “Class is classic”.

If we move to the social class, there is an interesting theory in sociology called “Sanskritization”. This means people who are in the lower caste do everything in their domain to move to the higher caste hierarchy. This is simple aspiration in life. Who on earth would not like to grow ? However sociologists have studied this phenomenon and called it “Sanskritization”. Today it may look obvious that every one of us aspires to learn and grow in every aspect of life.

Another interesting determinant of class is forwardness or backwardness of a community. This is determined by developmental indicators, educational levels, per capita income and so on. So, when communities are behind their contemporaries in the same society due to clear developmental factors, they are referred to as backward communities. On the other hand, when communities move forward in the same factors they are called forward class.

Another interesting classification of society in the past has also been done based on the professional vocation of a group. This segregation then refers to a community as potters , agriculturists and so on. The profession adopted by the majority of a village or a community gives credence to the name of that community or village as a potters village and so on.

Whatever be the definition of class, I would state that “Class is classic”. In order to attain class in anything we do, we have to be the best in class. This means that in a group of artisans if we are the best, we are referred to as class. This has an important meaning for us in life. If we are the best in whatever we do in life, we will be a class apart and nobody can ignore us. On the contrary, class is respected always.

If I link it to the organisational context, most of us waste our time and efforts by comparing ourselves with our colleagues at work in terms of our performance. It would be wiser to compare oneself to self and be the best in class. If we are the best in whatever we do in the organization, nobody can afford to ignore us, least of all our manager. Hence, it is critical to remember that the best in class will always beat their own standards and records and not bother about others.

Why should we waste our time by comparing ourselves with others if we can be the best ? Our competitors should waste their time comparing themselves with us rather than the other way around. Let us excel in whatever work we do and be always better than the best. The best is class and may not be easy to replicate. We have to outshine everyone around us by our class and not by caste or position or power.

As in the photo above, Taj Mahal is class and hence no new architecture of the world has been able to beat its beauty.

Let us learn to outshine ourselves every day.

S Ramesh Shankar

Where West meets East..

I love my country. India is the biggest and the most vibrant democracy in the world. We may not have the best physical infrastructure in the world but we have the best emotional quotient. We care for our people and we care for the world. “Vasudeva Kuthambakkam” is a old Sanskrit saying. It means the world is one family. We believe in this tenet and try our best to live it every day in our thought and behaviour.

The other day I was flying down from Mumbai to Chennai. It was from the west coast of India to the east coast. The state where I currently live and work is on the west coast. The place where I was born and bought up is on the east. The language they speak and the culture of the two states are completely different. The type of dress they wear and the customs and traditions are also quite varied. But, what is common is our emotional connect. We live and breathe as Indians.

Today the western civilisation has invaded us. We have got the best of technological advancement from the west. We have learnt the traditions from the East and have blended the west to the east to get the best. We need to be proud of our past and confident about our future. We need to learn the best from the west and leave the traditions of the east to continue to thrive in our country so that we get the best of both the worlds.

We have 29 states in India and each has its unique culture. We have hundreds of languages and dialects. While Hindi and English is spoken and understood across the country, we do not have any problem in living or dealing with each other wherever we live. The reason behind this in my view is because by heart we are an Indian. We are brought up with a tolerant attitude to life and living.

We need to continue to learn and grow this tolerance in us. No religion, caste, creed or community should create barriers between us. While vested interests in society may intrude into our culture, we have a responsibility to preserve it and promote it for the future generations. We cannot afford the evil forces of society to impinge on the fabric of our cultural society.

We have to be proud of the past, while we create a future of our choice. We have adapt and adopt the best of technological advancement without compromising on our values or ethics. We have to embed our culture in our younger generations. In my view culture is like the blood in the body. No foreign organism can destroy the blood as long it is pure and has the immunity to fight all external forces.

We need to remember the best traditions of the past while we embrace the best technology for the future. Both need to coexist. We need to remember that our culture is the bedrock of our society. It is the foundation of our democracy. It is the bloodline of our society. We should neither allow our culture to degrade nor dilute due to the invasion of technology.

We have a rich tradition of science in our country. We have to embrace science for the betterment of mankind. But we need not do that at the cost of traditions. In my view, culture and technology are like two our two eyes. While one may be enough for sight, the two eyes provide us the third dimension of sight, which is not replicable by any technology. No camera in the world has been able to better the vision of our eyes.

The sun rising in the east or setting in the west looks as gorgeous across the Indian coast line as in the photo above on the west coast.

Let us learn to embrace technology and imbibe culture. Let the West meet the East.

S Ramesh Shankar

The Walking Encyclopaedia


We had a teacher in college by name Professor PK Vishveshvaran, whom we called the “Walking Encyclopaedia”. Anyone of the students had a query on any issue, she would go to this teacher and he always had an answer. If he did not know the answer, he would neither guess nor fake an answer but accept that he did not know. Further, he would commit to find the answer and get back to the student. It was in the early eighties, where computers and the internet was non existent.

Most of us were in awe of this professor. He was a simple, down to earth and a knowledgable professor, who had no pretensions. He was accessible to everyone and always willing to help. I have not yet met a teacher in my life, who is so endearing. He used to keep a radio in his room and listen to music and news from around the world. His room consisted of open shelves and he used to meticulously maintain reference materials in a very haphazard manner, which only he could retrieve. But the best part was that he could retrieve any information within minutes from a maze of shelves, registers, books and papers.

I have learnt a lot from this teacher in my life. He is like a role model for me in many ways. The first learning is that he led a very simple life and was always willing to share his knowledge with others. Hence, one could learn that simple living and high thinking is easy to admire but difficult to imbibe. Further, the belief that the more you share your knowledge with others, the more you learn and grow in life is something I learnt from this wonderful human being.

The second learning I got from this Guru was that he never aspired for any recognition. He was an absent minded professor in letter and spirit. He used to dress very casually and mingled very well with students and everyone else. One would never get impressed with his dress or his looks. His hairstyle would be strewn all over. He never dressed to impress. On the contrary, you will wonder whether he could be a master of his subject by the way he presented himself. However, the moment you interact with him for a few minutes, you realise what a reservoir of knowledge he was.

The third learning I had from this lecturer was that he was a life long learner. I have seen him from my college days till he lived.,I have always seen him curious and enthusiastic. He had the memory of an elephant and the inquisitiveness of a child. He always had questions to ask and did not hesitate a second to say – ‘he did not know” ? I have always been humbled by his presence and humility.

Sometime back I came to know that he was admitted to a ICU after a slip . His nervous system had been impacted. As soon as this information spread, students from all over the world prayed for him and were generously contributing to support him to recover. The prayers were answered by God within 24 hours and he became conscious and did recover. I did realise that a wonderful human being like him should never suffer from any disease or injury. God was kind to listen to the prayers but he did not survive for long.

I also recall that he attended every alumni meeting of the college and remembered me and my wife from our college days. He would recall the name of the place where I first started my career thirty six years ago and reminded me of the post cards he used to write to us. He took the three books written by my wife and promised to read them and send his feedback and review again through a post card. I recall he said – I will send a snail mail as I am not yet used to emails.

Unfortunately, he died last year. What a great human being he was ? I pray to God to help us learn from his humility and be s better human being.

S Ramesh Shankar