Simplicity

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I have always been impressed by the simplicity of the villagers.  I recently had the opportunity to visit a village on the outskirts of Dhaka and the experience was the same.  We were on a boat with our team on a team building exercise.  The organisers informed us that there was a village on our route along the shores of the river and if we were interested we could stop by.

This was a village of potters.  We stopped by and some of us ventured into the village.  As we landed, we were welcomed by a group of old villagers sitting on the bank.  They were clothed in simple muslin and were just relaxing on the shores.  They welcomed us with warm smiles and made us feel special even as we landed.  Then we went to the first hutment.  They were a group of artisans who were making a idol for worship for a religious festival in the ensuing months.  They not explained how they go about it but also were willing to share their idols for photographs.

Then we met a group of goldsmiths.  They were hand crafting silver and gold jewels.  They were happy to share their products and explain the process to us.  There was absolutely no attempt to hard sell anything to us.  They did not take undue advantage of a group of tourists to sell their produce taking advantage of our visit.  They were not at all disappointed when we did not end up buying anything from them.

The third hutment was a potter making pots for making yoghurt.  He explained how it was made and then fired in the kiln.  He further explained how it is marketed in the city. He also did not try to sell his pots to us but was more keen to explain the process of pot making.  This is unlike the city folk, who do not lose an opportunity to sell their produce even when we do not need them.

The last hutment was that of a lady potter who was actually making pots from mud through a manual process(as in the photo above).  When asked if a motorised process would have been more helpful and productive to her, she replied that she could not afford it and she was happy to do it the manual way.  She happily displayed how effortlessly she converted raw wet mud into a beautiful pot .  She then explained how it is dried and then heated in a kiln before is it cooled in sand and then goes for sale.

The best part of the trip was when this lady had kept some mango fruit dried up in a open mud plate.  When some of us enquired as to what was this used for ? , she explained the process of making dried mango papad.  She further added that it was taken by the villagers as a side dish and also helped in neutralising the summer heat.  She requested us to wait and offered us a sample of this tasty mango papad.  She did not accept any money from us as she said that it was just a small sample for us to taste it.

Such is the simplicity displayed by the villagers.  I am not sure if we get corrupted by materialism in life.  As we live in cities with all comforts of life, we forget the basic human values of life.  We are not interested in welcoming our guests.  We are not keen to share our knowledge or skills.  We guard our physical territories as if someone is always looking to invade us and attack us.  We are commercial in all our dealings and look for economic again in all human transactions.

It is time to wake up and go back to our roots.

It is time to learn “simplicity” from our village folks ?

S Ramesh Shankar

Facing an”Interview”


One of life’s toughest examination is facing a job interview.  Of course, our life is submerged in a competitive landscape and we have to qualify at each stage of our life.  Today the competition begins even when a child enters a school for the first time.  More than the child the parents face the challenges of admission.  Imagine parents being interviewed for admitting a child in first standard of a school.  It is no longer a joke but the reality of today.

This journey continues through school and college.  In the Indian context, getting admission to your preferred school is only the first step.  Then it is middle school, high school and finally the hurdle of a college admission.  Many parents decide what their child should be studying and this makes the admission process more complex.  Apart from admission tests and capitation fees, which are indeed a nightmare, the interview process is itself a life time test.

Now, if we believe that the hurdles are over and life is going to be a smooth sail thereafter, we are in for a shock.  Graduating from an educational institute is only a pre-qualifier.  Now, you have to plunge into the world of the job market.  If you have managed to secure admission in a prestigious educational institution, you may be lucky as employers may queue in to offer you a job based on your merit.  But the majority of students pass out from colleges, where there are many more students than job opportunities.

You may have to go through a series of written tests followed by psychometric examinations and then finally may be lucky to be short listed for a face to face or video job interview.  Many students find it easier to clear the written tests and psychometric ones but find it challenging to face an interview.  Hence, I thought it may be worthwhile to write about it.  This may be helpful to calm your nerves.  My five commandments for a impactful interview would be :

A. Be authentic :  All of us have gone through ups and downs in our academic career.  It is best to be truthful and share your crests and troughs without camoflaging it. You can highlight your areas of interest and your passions in academics, sports or culture.  You should be thorough in whatever you want to share and in depth. Be honest in all your answers and do not try to impress anyone.  Kindly remember the interviewers are smarter than you.

B. Be passionate :  It may be a good idea to share your passions.  You could talk about how deeply you got into a particular subject and got great insights much beyond your syllabus.  You could talk about a sport you are passionate about and life lessons you learnt from it.  It is worthwhile to remember that you cannot fake your passion.

C. Share your experiences :  It is important to share your knowledge, skills or attitude through actual experiences you have had in your life.  If asked about your leadership, it is not expected to be hypothetical but relate it to your personal leadership experience in sports or cultural festival you have actually led.  What went right and how you could have done better ?  Competencies are best assessed by displayed behaviour and not theoretical constructs.

D. Lead the interview process :  While the interview is generally opened by the interviewer, you could take the first opportunity to lead the course of the interview.  This could be best done by sharing your story in an authentic and convincing way and leading the interview process to your strengths.

E. Live your values :  It is very important to display your core values right through the interview process.  This could be fundamental values like truthfulness, listening, ethics, respect and so on. You need to display your values in your behaviour in whatever you strongly believe in.  E.g. If you do not know an answer, it is best to accept it rather than mislead the interviewers. This will be living your value of “truthfulness”.

The nervousness of an interviewee may be symptomatically seen from the empty seats in front of the interviewer as in the photo above.

In my view, if you are well prepared, passionate and honest, you could relax and face the interview with determination.  I am sure you will come out with flying colours.

Wishing you all the best,

S Ramesh Shankar

There is a time for everything in life …


We sometimes wonder why something never happens when we plan for it but happens when we least expect it.  I believe there is a time for everything in life.  One may call it destiny while others may term it luck.  It is true that things happen when they are supposed to happen and not necessarily when we want them to happen.  Even if we look at nature, it may rain on a hot and sultry summer day and there may be no rain on a cloudy monsoon evening.

Life is is no different.  We all have dreams and desires in life.  We want things to happen the way we yearn for it.  But, it does not always work that way.  If we look at our personal lives, we may have multiple examples of how things did not go the way we had envisaged.  It could be the education we wanted to pursue or the boy or girl we wanted to marry.  Life has its own way of opening itself for us and the way we adapt to it makes us a winner rather than a loser.

I am an avid traveller.  I sometimes love to take off in my car with my family with no destination in mind.  Life in a way is like that.  We may plan for something and something else may happen.  So, it may be the best thing to plan for anything and be ready for the opposite to happen.  The earlier we realize it in life, the better it is for us.  It is so much fun to explore your destination after you hit the road rather than meticulously plan for it and change it based on some road block on the way.

If we reflect on our career, the story may not be very different.  We have to plan for our career and work meticulously to achieve our dreams.  I am not for a minute recommending that destiny will determine your career.  What I am putting forth is that sometimes even in our career, there may be a turning point, which we may not have anticipated.  Rather than cribbing and crying over it, it may be helpful to accept it as a reality and make the best out of this turn.

While it may be easier to state that we need to accept the unanticipated turns in our life as destiny or luck, it may be very hard to digest it as a reality and deal with it.  What are the alternatives before us when something does not go the way we want it.  We can cry over it and feel depressed or take it in our stride and move on. I am recommending the latter approach, which makes you stronger to deal with any conditions in your life.

Even if your look at your family situation, life is not different.  Your kids may strive hard for admission in the best universities and may not get it.  But one fine day, they may get an offer from their dream organisation which they themselves may not believe to be true.  That is the fate of destiny.  While most of us feel low, when things do not go our way, we may not be equally grateful, when things go our way and we least expected it.

Like in the photo above, we least expected snow in April in Munich.  But as it was freezing, it was time to enjoy it rather than crib about it.

I would say that we need to strike a balance in life.  While we should continue to strive hard and plan for our future, we should take luck or destiny as it crosses us in life rather than wait for it.  It is like having your meal in a restaurant on the highway as it comes rather than look for a dream hotel, which may never be spotted till you reach your destination.

Life is full of surprises . Let us enjoy it.

S Ramesh Shankar

Blankness


I am not sure if this is a correct word in English.  But I am not worried about that as long as I am able to express what I feel.  There are some days when you are alone and feel that you are in a state of flux.  It is a feeling of emptiness and you think as if there is no meaning in life.  You also feel that there is neither a beginning nor an end to anything you do in life.  Is this a feeling some of us feel some time or the other in our life.  What do we do when this happens ?

The first good news is that we are not alone.  Many of us go through this in our life time.  Not once but may be many times. There is nothing to feel sad or disappointed.  It is like while undertaking a long road trip, you sometimes end up on a road, which is a dead end.  Neither your map works nor anything else.  Over and above there may be no sign of life anywhere around you.  The mobile network may not work too and then you wonder what to do.

If we end up in such a situation, what do we do ?  We do not abandon the car at that point and wonder what to do.  We reflect and contemplate.  Sometimes, we may retract our route and drive from where we came till we find a turn or a person to guide us.  Life is no different.  We have to pause and take a break some times.  It will look as if there is emptiness and we are in a state of vacuum.  It is ok to feel this way.  Just take a deep breath and may be a break and you may be able to restart life all over again.

I am reminded of the problems most of us face while using computers.  When the screen hangs and no key makes any impact, what do we do.  We either switch off and on the computer or press “Control+Alt+del”.  It is the same thing we have to do in our lives.  When we reach a dead end, we have to take a break.  We have to reboot ourselves and start all over again.  There is nothing right or wrong about such instances.  Interestingly many of us face such situations more often than not today in our lives.

This may happen in our career too.  We may feel we have reached a dead end and there may appear no light at the end of the tunnel.  There is no need to panic.  We need to introspect.  Are we equipped to deal with changing directions in our career.? Are we skilled to deal with the changing business environment?   Are we the best in whatever we do so that nobody can bypass us ?  If the the answer is yes to one or all of the above, we know what do do.

In case, we are still groping to find the answer, it may still never be too late.   If we cannot find the answer ourselves, we can ask our colleagues, seniors, family, friends or well wishers.  After all in life, we may have all the questions and it is human not to have all the answers.  If we did, we may not believe in that spiritual power, whom we may call God or by any other name.  Like in the photo above, if you are in a hot air balloon with a boat in the midst of the sea and do not know which side to row, what do you do ?

I am a born optimist.  I believe every question has to have an answer.  If we do not the know the same, it does not mean the answer does not exist.  We need to have the humility first to accept that we do not know the answer to our question in life and then the courage to ask the right person to help us.   Life is complex but the way to deal with it is simple.  When in doubt, ask ?

Is it possible ?

S Ramesh Shankar

Broken Relationships..


Life is a web of relationships.  It starts with the family and then extends to school, college and organisations.  We meet friends, colleagues and well wishers everywhere.  Our life revolves around these relationships.  We gain from some and lose from others.  But then we learn to live with them and deal with them as it evolves.  Some help us move on in life while others teach us to slow down and change course.

Every relationship is unique.  It starts with your family.  Your parents and siblings are the first you connect with.  You get close to your mother or father.  You trust them blindly and consult them for everythinig in life.  Sometimes one of your siblings also becomes a friend and you are able to discuss all issues under the sun.  Then you get out of home to college and then to work.  Now, you develop friendships with colleagues.

This process of building relationships all around you is an integral part of your life.  One of these relationship blossoms and you tend to get closer by the day.  It becomes symbiotic and mutually rewarding.  When it happen between two sexes, you tend to get attracted to each other through mind, body and soul.  This blossoms into a partnership.  You tend to believe that you cannot live without each other.  It is gratifying when this relationship fructifies into a life long partnership through a marriage.

But sometimes life takes a different turn and the person you are closest to ditches you, leaves you and deserts you when you least expect that to happen.  Your life is shattered.  You question the meaning of life and no words of consolation can console you.  You believe that life is unfair to you.  It is only time, which can heal you and this experience is to be gone through to be believed.  It is painful to say the least.

But after you get over it, life becomes easier for you.  You tend to believe that you are made of steel.  No force on earth can melt you.  No hurt can destroy you.  You believe you can now live life on your own terms.  It is like the fire melting and moulding the steel into shape in a furnace.  Your life is now moulded  through tough experiences of the past to take up any challenge in the future.

You become reflective on life.  You tend to believe that everyone goes though ups and downs and it is up to us to take it in our stride and deal with it.  There are no full stops in life.  Life is full of commas and semicolons.  You need to take a deep breadth and if needed medidate a bit and move on.  It is easier said than done.  But life is like that.  How can we define life in all its colours to anyone ?  

We neither can imagine what will happen the next hour, next day or even the week ahead ?  So, why break our head.  Let us deal with life as it comes.  In a way, if you are destined to go through tough times at an early stage of your life, the better it is for you.  It makes you determined.  It toughesns you and you are ready to take on anything in life.  Like in the photo above, you pick up your strands to rebuild your life even if your partner deserts you when you least expected it to happen. You have to learn to deal with the waves of life on your own terms and then become a winner.

Let us lead life the way we want to rather then get bogged down by the obstacles on our way.  It is like the river flowing down the mountains.  It may take months or days to wade through rocks but the river never stops.

Lets learn to move on.

S Ramesh Shankar

Being in the moment…


In life most of the time, we either worry about the past or brood about the future.  We hardly live and enjoy the present.   Why do we fail to be in the present and enjoy every moment ?  This appears a very simple question but most of us have experienced this in our lives and have no answers. If you ask someone when they would be content and happy, they look at something which they hope to happen in the future.  

We can experience this in every stage of our lives.  A student will say that she is looking forward to complete her education and get into employment.  A young professional who has started his career will say he wants to double his income in three years and that may make him happy.  Someone else may say marriage will bring happiness.  For the married, a child is expected to bring joy in their lives.  If you have kids, their education and success in life is expected to give you contentment.   As your children get married, you await the arrival of your grand kids to bring happiness in life.  This is the cycle of the unending quest for happiness in life.

I have always wondered as to why we fail to enjoy today.  We glorify the past or our petrified about the future.  The past is history and we all know that.  We cannot re write history.  The future is mystery and even the astrologers or futurologist cannot predict it accurately.  Then why not live in the present.  One possible hypothesis is that happiness is always relative.  We compare ourselves to the past or to the future and hence this state of flux.

The other theory to explain this could be our belief of fate.  We believe we are destined to be happy or unhappy in life.  If we succeed in life, we say its luck and if we fail we claim it is fate.  Even if we have worked hard and given our best we refuse to enjoy the present.  This fatalistic attitude to life in infused in us.  In my view, while luck and fate may exist, it is we who can make a difference to live happily in life.

I have come across people who are always happy.  The single most factor which makes them happy is that they live in the present.  They are aware of the past and forget it.  They are not clear about the future but do not lose their sleep over it.  They do their best, work hard and enjoy each day as if tomorrow does not exist.  Imagine accumulating wealth all through your life and hoping that you will enjoy it later in your life.  That tomorrow may never come and you may not live to enjoy it and regret not doing so.  So, why not enjoy it today.

I am not saying that we should not learn from the mistakes of the past and be proactive not to repeat them in the future.  I am only saying that we need to learn to live each day as it comes and enjoy every moment in front of us as we experience it.  No two human beings are similar and no two experiences repeat themselves.  We have to give our best at all times and deal with life as it comes.  Like in the photo above, the beauty of nature is there all around us to enjoy every moment of our life every day.

Let us learn to live life each day as it comes.  Let us look at all the positives around us and enjoy today and believe that yesterday is over and tomorrow is yet to come.

S Ramesh Shankar

Crossroads in Life


There comes a stage in life when you feel that you are living on the edge.  You are in a dilemma to say the least.  It is a stage in life, where you feel you want to move on, stay put or take a step back.  You weigh in all the options and then are still stuck to where you are.  It is almost like you are standing on a soil full of quick sand.  It is a terrible situation to be in, but it is true that most of us go through this in our lives.

If we look back at our personal lives, such situations haunt us.  The first such dilemma I faced in life was when my father was seriously ill with a critical illness and was in the ICU.  He had a renal failure and the doctors told me that he has to be on dialysis every week.   It would cost me quite a bit and that amount was almost what my monthly earnings were at that stage of my life.  The doctors asked me as the eldest son whether I would like to go ahead and put him on dialysis or let him die the natural way.  I was shocked and did not know what step to take.  I had no other sources of income and no other person to support me financially.  I took the plunge that I will go ahead with the dialysis knowling well that I cannot afford it and it may be a painful experience for him as well.   The only reason for this decision is that my heart told me that I should do everything to save my father as I could never ever repay what he had done for me and the rest of our family.

If I move to the work situation, the defining moment was in 1995.  I was working in a public sector undertaking, where I had started my career in 1981.  I had done well all through my career and was promoted almost every three years.  Of course, there were ups and downs during these 14 years.  I got promoted in 1995 and then I decided to resign and pursue my career in the private sector.  At that time, this was considered a high risk decision.  Everyone of my age preferred the government service and next the public sector as the best place to work in.  My seniors advised me against it.  My family members were supportive of my decision.  My friends were curious.  I was not sure whether to take the plunge or not.  I decided to move on and have no regrets of what I did.

I am sure each one of us would have gone through such dilemmas in our lives.  It could be life defining moments or life threatening ones.  Each of us weigh all the options before us and take the best decision.  Sometimes we may be proved right and other times we may be proved wrong.  It is after a period of time, people will pass the judgement and tell you how right you were or how wrong you were.  It is our ability to take both of theses situations in our stride and move on, which may make us successful in life.  We have to take a decision, own it up and move on. We ourselves will not know whether it is right or wrong. As long as we’re are sure that it is the best option before us with all the information at our end, we should just go ahead.

 One needs to listen to everyone, seek the advice of elders and the experts and then own up whatever one thinks is in the best interest of everyone.  It may work out or it may not. It does not matter.  After all life is also like a lottery.  When it clicks, you hit a bonanza and when it does not, you learn to cope with it.  As in the photo above, you sometimes do not know whether the river is taking a right or a left turn.  You realise it only after you have taken the turn and reached your destination.

Let us learn to move on in life.

S Ramesh Shankar