Art of Music


“A thing of beauty is joy forever” said Keats.  I experienced this while attending a music programme today.  The singer explained how art has different forms.  She said that when a sculptor carves something it is beauty of form.  When a painter draws something it is beauty of sight.  When a dancer displays her art, it is beauty of expression.  When a musician sings, it is beauty of sound.

This struck a chord with me.  I had always been a connoisseur of beauty in all its forms.  Nature has always inspired me and so has music.  Interestingly I have no knowledge of music but every time I listen to soothing music, I transcend to a different world.  I have always enjoyed all forms of music and especially instrumental music.  Today it was Carnatic music but the way the singer explained the notes and connected them to beauty and spirituality, it was wonderful.

Another interesting dimension of music is that it has no language, religion, region or country.  It transcends boundaries of nations and cultures.  It unites the world in all its forms and makes you spiritual.   Music has healing properties too.  When I am feeling low, I love to listen to music.  It soothes my soul and relieves me of all my stress and strain.  Music is therapeutic and it definitely relieves you of all your pain.

I love to listen to music when I travel and it cools my body and mind.  Music also triggers my creativity and many a time its crystallises the thoughts in my mind and then words flow like a stream through my blogs.  I love to listen to music to relax.  I wonder how music soothes our body and soul.  It is indeed an art form expressed in sound. The most interesting aspect of music is that you enjoy it even if you do not understand its meaning.

In the picture above,  the singer explained the art of music and how it is a form of beauty and expressed in sound.  She sang Carnatic songs and explained the origin of music from the Vedas.

In the Indian tradition, music is played from the time of birth till the last rites of a person.  It helps us celebrate festivals and enjoy occasions.  The temples, churches and monasteries reverberate with the music of the bell.  The soothing sounds takes you to a different world.  The early morning chirping of birds is another form of music, which revitalises you at dawn and dusk if you are in sync with nature.

Music has no description.  Just as beauty has no dimension.  It cannot be described in words nor documented in a book.  It has to be experienced to be believed.  It has to be felt to discover its beauty.

Let us enjoy the beauty of music in life.

S Ramesh Shankar

We win some and lose some…


We win some and lose some.  Life is a zero sum game.  Today we had three international games in which India played.  The first was when an Indian won the Indonesian open badminton final.  The second was a hockey match where India defeated its sub continental counterpart with style.  In the third match, India lost to the better team of the day in the champions trophy cricket final.  The whole nation forgot about the spectacular victories in badminton and hockey and was cursing the Indian cricket team for its loss.

The lesson I learnt today is our ability to accept loss in a game with grace.  We cannot win every game in our life and there are days we may win and other days we may lose.  We need to learn to accept victory with humility and loss with grace.  I do accept that we are a cricket loving nation and this sport has almost become a religion in India.  It brings together the whole nation and stirs emotions. But to swing to extremes of emotions on winning or losing a game may not be a good idea.

This phenomenon is true for life too.  We may win on many occasions and lose in some.  We need to learn to be humble in victories and reflective in defeat.  This is easier said than done.  We tend to get proud on being victorious in life.  If we continue to top the class or represent the school in a sport, it may go into our head.  We may get into the best school or college based on absolute merit.  We may then end up in the dream company of our choice.  All this should be accompanied by our feet firmly on the ground.  We need to learn to realise that victory could any day be followed by defeat.

On the other hand, when we fail in an exam or do not get admitted to a college of our choice, we almost give up in life.  Neither victory nor defeat is permanent in life.  The earlier we realise this, the more successful we may be in life.  In the cycle of life, victories and defeats are also cyclical.  God bestows us with the best of everything in life based on our hard work and commitment.  We taste success and the moment there is an aota of doubt that we have become proud because of our success, he gives us a taste of failure.

As the successes in life make us feel good and move forward, the failures in life should make us reflect, learn and bounce back.  We neither should climb a tree and announce to the world that we have arrived on achieving our first success, nor we need to regret our first defeat in life.  In my learning in life, failure teaches you more than success. Hence, the need to accept success and failiure in life with equal equanimity.

In my experience, success and failure in life is like the day and night.  We can neither expect the day light to last forever nor expect the night to be omnipresent.  Night begins when day ends only to give way to the next day.  Sun sets today to rise again tomorrow.  Just like the plants and animals learn to live with day and night, we as humans need to accept victories and defeats in life with equal respect.

As in the photo above, we can learn from a kid how to accept defeat gracefully when he is not able to climb a tree.

Every victory will make us proud and should do so.  Every defeat will teach us lessons, which in turn will make us victorious in the future.

Is it time to learn to accept defeat with grace ?

S Ramesh Shankar

Should every effect have a cause ?


Every time something happens in life, we look for a reason.  We are worried and want to dig deep to find out the root cause.  We sometimes even lose our sleep if we do not get to the root cause for everything in life.  I sometimes wonder if every effect  necessarily needs to have a cause ?  If it rains on a bright summer day, is it wrong ?    If someone who has never called you up for years suddenly decided to enquire about you on the phone, is it unusual. 

I personally feel that we waste a lot of time, many a time by investigating the causes rather than the managing the effect.  Why not live with the effect ?  Why not accept the event as it comes and evolve ways and means to deal with it.  In our quest to get to the root cause, we sometimes even forget to celebrate good moments in life.  Imagine someone surprising you with a chocolate on your work desk.   We spend more time finding out who did it rather than enjoying the chocolate.

I can recall many moments in my life where something happens out of the blue.  We can never get to the root cause as to why it happened.  It may not be worth the time and effort even to try to do it.  I recall way back in 2002 I had planned a holiday to a particular country with my family.  I had booked the tickets, accommodation etc.  But when we went for the visa interview, they denied the visa for all of us with the reason that we were potential immigrants.  I was working in Delhi and my children were studying.  We were living in our own house but still it happened.  I never bothered why they denied my visa.  I changed my plans and went on a nice holiday to another beautiful country.

If I had spent my time to invesitagate the reasons why they denied my visa, I would have wasted a lot of time and energy.  My holiday plans would have got spoiled and my family may have felt miserable.  But as we changed the plans and went to another country, we enjoyed the trip and never regretted the incident till today. 

 In life, many a time, we do not follow this principle.  We are always worried why it happened and why it happened only to me ? We spend sleepless days and nights worrying about it.  Why worry about something over which you have no control.  In my view, it is not worth it.  It is like worrying about the reasons for rain on a bright summer day.  Lets enjoy the rain rather than find the cause for the rain.  Can we control the rain ?  We cannot and hence why worry about it.

Another incident which has convinced me that we should not worry about the cause is when I moved to Mumbai in 2011.  I had settled in Bangalore and was staying in my own home.  I never thought I will move out of Bangalore.  But suddenly an opportunity knocked my door and we decided to move.  I never worried to find out the reasons why it happened to me.  This is because it helped me to move to a more vaastu compliant home in Bangalore.  It also gave me an opportunity in work in Mumbai, which I had never done before.

I am told that the wild lillies in the forest grow beautifully without any reason. They do not wait for the rains to arrive to blossom.

It is important to remember that there would be events in life, which occur for no reason.  When things go well, we generally do not bother for the reason.  But when things do not go well, we wonder – why me ?  It may be worthwhile to ponder, why worry for the reason ?  Let us learn to accept things as they happen and learn to deal with them.  It may many a time happen for our good.

Shall we try it ?

S Ramesh Shankar

Celebrating life…


We always wait for an occasion to celebrate life.  Why do we need to do so.  Why not learn to celebrate life every day without any reason ?  Is it difficult ?  I do not know.  May be we are conditioned to do so.  As we grow up as a child, we naturally celebrate life every day without any reason.  We play, laugh, cry without any provocation.  We do what we feel like doing and never regret our actions.  But as we grow up as an adult, we cease to do so.

It may be worthwhile to examine as to why this phenomenon happens.  One of my hypothesis is that the child in us gradually disappears.  We do not live life naturally.  We put up a facade in front of others.  We have an inner and an outer self.  The inner self is the child in us.  It is natural and wants to celebrate life as it comes.  The outer self is regulatory.  It tries to control us and our behaviour.  We behave as others want us to behave rather what we feel.

The second hypothesis is that our family, society and work environment also determines our behaviour.  Fear is instilled in us and we are generally pulled up for laughing aloud or celebrating without reason.  It is considered frivolous to enjoy life.  People around you tell you that you are not taking life seriously.  You seem to think that you have arrived in life.  All this makes us circumspect and look at life very seriously.  We may end up crying when need to laugh it out and laugh at moments of distress.

The third factor could be the perceived image we want to create in society.  We behave the way we want others to perceive us.  We are conditioned by circumstances and people around us.  We do not want to be our natural self lest we are misunderstood by others around us.  We behave in society’s acceptable ways.  It is like I take a particular subject in school or college not because I love the subject but because society will think I am crazy if I take something I like but is not considered normal.

It is time to wake up.  It is time to celebrate life as it comes every day.  Why not get up in the morning and think that today is the best day of your life ?  Why not be grateful to God for bestowing you with all the good things in life.  Why not enjoy today better than yesterday and also the unimaginable tomorrow ?  Why postpone a celebration for an occasion.   Why not tell people around you how much you love them ?  Why not tell your child how talented she is ?  Why wait for the exam results to celebrate your child’s talent ?

I love driving.  Sometimes, I have gone for a drive with my family without any destination in mind.  I have driven to wherever my heart wanted me to take.  Similarly, why not celebrate life without any reasons.  Why wait for a tomorrow to celebrate life ?  After all the tomorrow may never arrive.  Like they say, yesterday is “history”, tomorrow is “mystery” and today is “present”.  Lets celebrate today.

Let us the learn to celebrate life ( as in the photo above) from the gardner, who creates a thing of beauty from Bougainville flowers.

It may not be worthwhile to look at the past and lose our sleep.  It may be not realistic to look at the future and hope something is likely to happen.  It would be better to enjoy today.  It may also not be worthwhile to look for reasons to celebrate.  Let us celebrate life without reasons.  Let us create reasons to celebrate life rather than wait for occasions to occur in life.

The day to start is today and the time to start is now.

S Ramesh Shankar

Leadership lessons from Prime Minister Vajpayee

India lost its three time Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on 16th August 2018 at the age of 93 after a prolonged illness. The nation received the news with numbed silence. I have personally been a great admirer of this person. I do not have any political affiliations but the personality of this human being was magnetic to say the least and that made me a ardent fan. I was saddened by his death and decided to list ten learnings from this statesman, which any human being could try to imbibe in their daily life.

Inclusiveness was in his blood. He had expressed in thought and action through his speeches, poems and actions. I have not heard or met anyone who has known him complaining of his ignoring them. Even the common man felt he was accessible and was never felt excluded in any public actions or policies.

One of the most difficult tasks of a leader is to balance the team, especially when you have members with opposing ideologies to manage. He had the ability to manage diversity and foster inclusiveness through his fairness and equity. Such was his stature and credibility that his silence spoke more than his words.

Even after balancing a team, it is important for a leader to carry along every member of his team. He was a master of listening to all shades of opinion and still being decisive. He had the ability to carry along people with opposing views gracefully. This is difficult to practise especially in a diverse political spectrum when you are running a coalition government.

His ability to build consensus was par excellence. If we look back on the decision to go nuclear or win a war against an erring neighbour was built on political consensus. He was diplomatic but firm. He could place national interests above narrow political considerations and influence people of all political shades to support his views in the overall interest of India.

We hear stories of how he fell on the feet of a tribal woman entrepreneur, who gave employment to hundreds of needy women. His outreach on the Kashmir issue has no parallels in Indian history. He could extend a hand of friendship even to his rivals provided it was in national interest. Humility and humaneness was felt in his thoughts and actions.

He was one of India’s best known orators. He could make his critics laugh even while made a scathing attack on their stance. Such was his stature in parliament and outside that even the opposition listened to him in rapt attention when he spoke. I have repeatedly listened to his speeches to learn the art of differing without hurting others.

His sense of humour had to experienced to be believed. He was an inspirational poet. He could use words, gestures and even pauses to silence his critics. He could sway the sombre mood of any audience with his humour. Even in humour, he had the grace of being dignified.

A statesman is judged by his actions and not by his words. His ability to reach out and contribute to international issues without compromising on India’s interests raised his political stature. He did not give up on resolving international conflicts even when all his humanitarian gestures were snubbed. Such was his personality that even the government in power made him India’s leader in the United Nations although he was only the leader of the opposition.

India’s interest was the basis of all his decisions. He never entertained any action, which was against national interest. We hear instances wherein he even declined suggestions even from his cabinet colleagues if it was not in overall national interest. He was also willing to invite suggestions from political rivals on national issues.

One of his best qualities I would love to imbibe is his ability to criticise respectfully. I have heard many of his speeches in parliament – both as prime minister and as leader of the opposition, wherein he has been scathing in his criticism but without crossing the line of dignity. No politician could ever raise a finger against him for his language, delivery or content although they may not have agreed with his views on any subject.

I have attempted to illustrate a short list of ten qualities, which I admired in him. I am too small a person and have never met him so do not know much about him except from information in the public domain.

This is just my tribute to PM Vajpayee as a common man on the day when his body was cremated in New Delhi and the entire nation paid their last respects to him.

RIP

S Ramesh Shankar

16th August 2018

Dilemmas in Life

At every stage of life, we are faced with dilemmas, which are difficult to resolve. I faced one such dilemma in my life today. I was not sure what is the right answer. If I had said yes, I may have been fair to the person and if I said no, I may have been fair to the organization. So either way it may not be the right answer.

One is faced with such dilemmas in every stage of our life. It may start with our studies. Which course should I take and why ? Firstly, we are not sure and then if we seek counsel, we are further confused. We may get contradictory advise from different persons. . Everyone may have your best interest in mind but how do we say yes to one and no to another.

The next major dilemma one faces in life is that of choosing a job. While you qualify for something, you may end up with an offer of employment in some other field. While you want to choose one, your well wishers advise you for something else. Choosing one can please one and displease another.

Another common dilemma is the decision on marriage. Everyone has an opinion on when one should marry and with whom. If your parents are keen for you to marry and you are not ready, it may be a dilemma. On the other hand, if you are keen and your parents want you to wait for a while, you are still in the same situation. What do you do next ?

Yet another common dilemma is a decision to change jobs. You may have considered all options and possibilities but you may end up more confused than before. While your spouse has a view, your parents have the opposite view and your kids have a third opinion. It is not easy to come out of such a web.

Honestly, I do not have a magic pill to resolve dilemmas in life. But, as I reflect I realise one good way to resolve them is to have authentic conversations with all concerned and share the reasons for your choice honestly and either convince them or convince yourself to change a decision.

This may be easier said than done. It may be easier to convince oneself than to convince others. You have to try it to believe it. In my view, convincing oneself to change a decision is as difficult as to convince others. But, this is one way to ensure that you are listening to everyone and taking the best decision in the circumstances you are in.

As in the photo above, you may be reflecting what to do without knowing how to do it in any situation .

Another interesting thing is that all decisions are contextual. Hence whatever you decide is the best in the circumstances you took it in. If it works out, it is great, if it does not, one should not regret it. One could not have taken a better decision at that point of time in your life.

Life is full of dilemmas and hence it is better to face it head on rather than duck.

Try it.


S Ramesh Shankar

Everyone has a bad day…


I was watching a reality music show on television for kids.  In my view, the best participant did not do well that day.  I felt it was ok.  After all, everyone has a bad day and so did this young boy.  It was a good lesson to learn.  Even the best have a bad day.  The only difference between the best and the rest is that they learn and bounce back fast.  We as normal mortals take our time to spring back to normal.

If we look back, it is true in every walk of life.  The best in the class may not top the class every single time and may slip once in a while.  The best in a game of soccer may not score every single time they play the game.  The best batsman in cricket may not score a century every time she or he walks into a match.  So, it is in life.  We may not have the best of time, all the time.  This does not mean, we do not give our best and put our best foot forward all the time.

The best sportsman always put in their best effort.  They are not rattled even if they don’t win a game or score a goal in a match.  They are willing to realise their mistakes and learn from them.  On the other hand, many of us tend to give up even before the game is over.  It is like the spectators in a match.  If their favourite team does badly in the first half, many of them leave the ground even before the match is over.  On the other hand, the players do not give up till the last whistle is blown.

I have seen in real life that champions never give up.  Whether it is in academics, sports or even at work, the best never rest.  They may fail once in a while.  After all, they are also human like all of us.  But their resilience is worth emulating.  They spring back many a time even before the match is over.  That is why many a time it is said in sports that form may be temporary but class is permanent.

Let us try to understand this from the prism of work.  The best performers may fail in a project.  But they are keen to learn from their mistakes and then excel in their very next project.  Many of us tend to get depressed and down and out after we fail in an assignment.  It takes courage to accept defeat and learn from it.  It is better to learn gracefully from defeat than to jump in arrogance after a victory.

It is interesting to note that failures teach you better lessons than success.  It is up to us to look back and reflect on our failures with an intent to learn from it.  We want to bury the past and race towards the future.  The lessons of the past may help us lay the foundation for the future.  It is up to us to learn from it and assimilate them in our life. If we do not learn from our past mistakes, the future errors may be graver and harder to correct.

Life gives us enough chances to err and learn.  It is up to us to realise that it is fine to fail once a while and learn from it.  In today’s competitive world, many of us including our parents, family and friends find it difficult to encourage us to experiment and fail.  The best leaders give you the space to try out new things.  They are not worrried about failure as they realise that these are the stepping stones to success.

As in the photo above, the best sculptors possibly fail a few times before they produce a thing of beauty for all of us to admire.

Let us look back to move forward.

S Ramesh Shankar