Anybody can fit into a frame …

I was passing through our domestic airport at Mumbai and was fascinated by people taking photographs in a frame. I realised that everyone – young or old, thin or fat could easily fit into this frame. I reflected and realised that life is no different. If we want to lead life happily, we can live life within our frames. On the other hand, if we are not content than we will not fit into any frame.

Life is a balancing act between need and greed. The day we convince ourselves that we can fulfill our needs but never are greed, we may be happier. The frame of life is drawn by us. It is not built by God and thrust upon us. Each of us have the liberty to draw our own boundaries in life.

Let me illustrate this through examples from my personal and work life. The first example I can share would be the people I have met in life, who live a simple life in spite of all the riches they have. They are symbols of humility difficult even to emulate. They can define the frame of life in which they want to live but on the contrary they fit into any frame they come across in life.

One such name that comes to my mind is that of JRD Tata. He could have bought almost anything in the world if he wanted but showed us outstanding examples of simplicity in everyday life. I was recently reading of how he used to buy chocolates for his gardener whenever he returned from his trips abroad. He used to take his secretary and her family for a treat on her birthdays. I have not come across many CEOs, who would show such gestures.

In my life, I have met people who will happily give credit to others for their successes. We see them in the field of sports every day. We see players, who play for the victory of the team rather than promoting their own personal glory. These persons create a space within their life frames for everyone in their life.

One such name that comes to my mind is that of MS Dhoni. Here was a leader who faded in the background of the team after India won the World Cup in cricket in 2011. He made Sachin Tendulkar lift the cup and lead the Indian contingent jog around the stadium. Such is their humility that if possible they may even disappear from the frame so as to let others get a place to be within it.

Even at the work place, you are privileged to work with leaders, who are willing to lead from behind. They are willing to lead the team in front and then follow the team. However, when there is a crisis they will be the first to be in the forefront. I recently visited Diu, where there is a memorial for our soldiers when an Indian ship was drowned by our enemies during a war in 1971. The captain of the ship decided to drown with his soldiers rather than save himself from the jaws of death. Such people create a frame large enough to fit everyone in their life.

Lets learn to live within our frames of life.

S Ramesh Shankar

4th August 2018

Night Owls…

I was playing badminton and one of my partners asked as to “Why most of the youngsters today are “Night Owls” ? Why do the youth today love to sleep very late and get up late. I thought it was worth pondering over.

I have personally never been an early morning person. During my school and college days I preferred to study late at night and get up a bit later in the morning. On the other hand some of my siblings practised the reverse. They used to study at dawn and sleep early at night.

I would say there is nothing wrong in being a “Night Owl” nor anything right in not being one. It is each person’s personal preference. I would imagine it becomes difficult for us to accept somebody else’s behavioural pattern when it does not match with our own. It may be time to challenge ourselves on it.

I have read of geniuses around the world who spend the whole night creating music or sculpting a piece of art. On the other hand, some others do prefer doing the same during the day. How does it make a difference to others ? This is the point to ponder.

My life is my life and I have the freedom to live it my way as long as it does not impact others. This is to be remembered. As long as I sleep late and do not deprive other people at home of their sleep, it should be fine. It may also be worthwhile to remember that my daily routine should not make life inconvenient to others.

If I get up late, I should have the courtesy to make my own coffee, cook my own breakfast and put things back in place in the kitchen and other rooms so that I don’t make life difficult for my own family members. As long as my actions and behaviours do not create inconvenience to others, it should be fine.

On the other hand, if I lead a life which is diametrically opposite to the others and are least bothered about the impact of my life on others, it is unfair. It is like i love music and play at midnight and disturb everyone around at home and my neighbourhood , it would be uncivilised. However, if I want to listen to music at night and put on my headphones and do the same, then it is perfectly fine.

We just need to remember that our lives are not independent. We live in a inter dependant world and it has always been like that. We cannot inconvenience our parents or siblings at home for our preferences. On the other hand, if we can manage our preferences in such a way that our life does not negatively impact others, it is fair and reasonable.

Our ability to accept a diametrically opposite lifestyle whether at home , work or in society will make all the difference. Life is different for each individual and so are our likes and preferences. So be it. Why should someone else live life the way we like it. Of course it is important to lead life in your own way as long as you do not make others pay for your life style.

When your day ends, their day may begins and that’s their life, not yours. They may even like to go for a drive at night to feel the chill in the air as in the photo above.

Lets learn to live and let live.

S Ramesh Shankar

20th September 2020

What it means to be a professional ?

Many people have asked me this question right through my career. The answer is simple but we make it complex. We think professionalism comes only from professional education or joining professional organisations. Professionalism is a way of life. It is the way we live, act and respond to everyone around us in life.

My five Commandments on how to evolve as a professional would be as follows :

A. Keep your time : The simplest, yet the most difficult thing to do in life is to keep your time. Yet most of us fail in this simple thing. Whether it is a time givento your kid or to your vendor, supplier or employee, it does not matter. It also does not matter if the person is higher in social status or lower. In my view, you are a true professional only when you keep your promised time with everyone around you with equal respect.

B. Respond : Another simple thing we fail to do every day is call back people, who called us when we were busy or away. It could a phone call, a message or a visitor. It is always a good idea to call back each and everyone who called you irrespective of whether known or unknown ( except toll free numbers and marketing calls). We do not consider it important to call back people.

C. Empathise : Every decision we take will be perceived fair and professional if we are able to put ourselves in the shoes of the persons, who are likely to be impacted by our decision. Any amount of data analytics cannot substitute empathy and its related emotions. Professionalism does not mean unemotional decisions.

D. Dress for the occasion : One has to be one step better than what the organisation promotes as a dress code. It may be worthwhile to find out and dress appropriately. A business suit does not necessarily make you a professional nor a casual wear makes you unprofessional. However, remember that you need to be better dressed than what they expect of you. You could do research and find out what is appropriate dress in an organisation or even a nation, when you go abroad.

E. Keep your commitment : If you promise someone, something , you have the liberty to think before you promise. But, you do not have the luxury to go back on your commitment. Again it does not matter whether you have made the promise to your family, friends, colleagues, suppliers or customers. A promise is a promise and one needs to do everything to live up to it. In case, there is a delay, one could always seek for extension of time rather than forgetting it and lowering one’s professional image.

One could argue that there are multiple dimensions of being professional. I agree but it is worthwhile to start from the basics. These are the basics and the simplest. The simplest things in life may not be easiest to follow. It is like our new year resolution of going for a jog every day. How many of us have been able to live up to a new year resolution even to ourselves.

It is worthwhile to remember that professionalism may not be taught in business schools or other professional institutions. It is a way of life and culture. We need to learn from the environment and people around us both at work and beyond.

S Ramesh Shankar

15th July 2019

Silent Service…

I was passing by my neighbour’s home when someone called me by name. I looked back and realised that it was not for me. So, I moved on. Later, my neighbour called me and apologised for the same. She said that she was teaching a student by name Ramesh online and coincidentally I passed through at that time .

I told her that there was nothing to be apologetic as it was a strange coincidence. I enquired from her as to what she was teaching and she told me that she teaches special children in a school for the last 15 years. Her specialisation was teaching autistic children. I was touched.

Many a time in life we believe we are doing a great deal of service to society. It is only when you hear such stories, you are grounded . It makes you realise that how people have dedicated their lives to fulfilling the needs of society, especially the needy.

It is difficult for anyone to teach children. Imagine teaching children online and that too special children. My salutations to the teacher and the taught. It is indeed incredible commitment to a cause.

What I want to share here is not about my neighbour teaching autistic children but her silent selfless service. I know my neighbour for quite some time now. She has never spoken about her service to children.

What I have learnt in life is that the really selfless people do what they do without making any song and dance of it. It is like we say the right hand should not know what the left hand is doing when you are donating. Similarly, the genuine service minded people serve society silently.

In today’s world, we come across people, who do claim to do social service just to make it to national newspapers, social media or the TV channels. They also do it to cover up for all their misdeeds and believe God may forgive them in this way. It is a rarity to see silent people serving society even without their neighbours knowing about it.

I should admit that I realised how little I do when compared to such people. It is people like her who inspire me in life. They are the real heroines and heroes for me . It is like the front line health workers today who are fighting the pandemic without bothering for their own safety.

Selfless service not only makes you a better human being, it makes you a role model for society and the next generations. It helps your own family members and friends to imbibe the right values. It gives you good health and limitless happiness, which money can never buy for you.

As in the photo above, such selfless servers of society do not want their own publicity. They always want to work behind the scenes

Let the world learn from such committed people all the time.

S Ramesh Shankar

16th August 2020.

Journey or destination – which is more important ?

A friend of mine sent me a cartoon, which depicted a tiny dragon sitting on the back of a Big Panda and the dragon asking the Panda – “Which is more important – the journey or the destination ? The tiny dragon replied – “The company”.

We spend our whole life working to reach an elusive destination. It could be a goal in our personal or work life. While it may be a good idea to have goals both at personal and work level so that we may evolve our strategy and plans to reach them, we sometimes forget to enjoy the journey.

On the other hand, there are some of us who keep enjoying the journey but forget about their destination. I have come across both types of people in my life. Rather even I have been both types at different phases of my life.

But this cartoon made me think differently. The answer of the dragon that “the company” neither the journey nor the destination is important set me thinking. I got a new perspective to life and thought it was worth sharing with everyone.

Many of us have chased destinations and some of us have enjoyed our journey. But the question to ask ourselves is “ have we enjoyed the company” along the journey. The answer may be yes, no or may be.

I assume most of us have taken our company for granted. Be it family or friends or colleagues we assume they exist for us. We have taken them for granted to say the least. Lets begin with our parents, siblings or friends. Then our colleagues at the work place, our neighbours and so on. We have so many people for company in our journey called life.

The question we need to ask ourselves is “how much are we enjoying their company and learning from them ?”. We consider it the duty of our parents and siblings to support us. Then we think our colleagues at work get paid for what they share with us. Our neighbours and friends are around because of their fate or their choice. So our life journey continues assuming the company exists and we have no time to enjoy this company and learn from them.

This is the insight and the learning from this cartoon for me today. We need to enjoy the company more than the journey and the destination. If we learn to enjoy the company and learn from all people around us , our life may be more enriched and fulfilling. We may have more people to be grateful to and learn from.

The day we realise that we need to worry less about the destination and the journey and enjoy our company more, life may look more enjoyable to us. Life is an enjoyable journey with surprises everyday. We meet so many wonderful people along the way. We also meet birds and animals and other living beings along the way. May be it is time to hit the pause button and reflect on this perspective of life.

As in the photo above, we may be focusing on the journey or the destination rather than enjoying the company we have in a long drive through a picturesque landscape.

Life is a journey. Let us learn to enjoy it every day rather than waiting for our ultimate destination.

S Ramesh Shankar

7th August 2020

Educated Illiterate !

The heading may look like an oxymoron. How can an educated person be an illiterate ? However, in real life we see this all around us. Educated people may assimilate educational qualifications by passing exams and obtaining degrees and diplomas. However, they fail to behave like an educated person is expected to do in their day to day life.

Let me share a few examples from every day life for us to believe that this is not an oxymoron but a reality in our lives today. Let us start with the driving on the roads. Of late, there is a lot of road rage in most metropolises and it is the so called educated elite, who are involved in most of them. They neither follow the road rules nor are willing to accept their mistakes if they do commit a violation. On the other contrary, they would like to muscle their way through or use their clout to get away.

Even if we take a basic etiquette like standing in queues in public places like bus stands, train stations or other public offices, it is the so called educated class who tend to violate the queues more than others. We the educated class do not have the courtesy to give our seats to senior citizens or women when we travel in public places.

The current pandemic is a good illustration of the illiteracy of the educated in public life. Most violations in terms not wearing masks, not maintaining physical distance or not sanitising hands are mostly done by people who are well aware and are educated and not the real illiterate.

The case study of Dharavi is a good example to illustrate this. Dharavi is probably Asia’s largest slum. I have personally visited this place. On an average, at least 8 members in a family stay within an area of 10 sq feet. Even in this densely populated space, when the local government worked with the volunteers to prevent the spread of Covid, the people living in this slum have cooperated and made it a successful eradication strategy. The average resident of Dharavi may not be the educated class in the classical sense of the word.

On the other hand, the so called elite of South Mumbai have violated all public health advisories and it spread like wildfire in many posh residential societies. So, the conclusion one could draw is that education may give a degree but may not necessarily make you literate unless you have the right attitude to life and living.

Interestingly many so called educated elite are in the false belief that the Covid virus is spread from our servants and workers. They want to wear the masks only when they are in the presence of them. This is another hypocritical belief of the educated. The virus does not discriminate based on social class or literacy and we have to wear masks whenever we are meeting anyone anywhere in the public space.

I would like to clarify that I am neither against the educated nor do I profess that all educated people are illiterate. I am only stating that the so called educated majority are violating laws more than the uneducated. It is our attitude which makes all the difference. Higher Education may be the privilege of the middle and upper class of society who can afford it. But public behaviour is the prerogative of each one of us and has no correlation to education.

We need to learn to be self disciplined. The best of efforts by the government and medical and health workers will not bear any fruit if people like us do not wear masks, maintain the physical distance or wash our hands regularly.

The lesson to be learnt from the current pandemic is that law breakers cannot build a nation. Education aids our growth and success in life only if we are willing to be disciplined. The distinction between the law abiding citizen and others is discipline and not education.

It is like my house help Sudha in the photo above, who wears her mask without fail voluntarily although she has not even a school pass out.

Let us lead by example from today at least to set the right precedent for our future generations.

S Ramesh Shankar

15th July 2020

How much is good enough ?

The results of the class X and class XII were declared by the central and state boards recently in India. The overall pass percentage was more than 90 % in most states and most children have excelled in their exams irrespective of tense moments due to the onset of the pandemic during the last phase of their exams.

One of my close relatives obtained 90% in her class X exams and I came to know that she was not very happy as she was expecting more. I was not surprised. Apart from academic excellence, she is a a natural artist and a devoted dancer. I was not surprised at her disappointment because the world is making children compete in every sphere of life. Luckily for her, her family is very supportive.

However the reality of today is that we live in a very competitive world. Everyday we want to compete with everyone around us. This child in spite of being so talented felt disappointed because some of her classmates had scored more than 90%. Imagine someone scoring 90% and feeling bad. If not for a supportive family, imagine the plight of this child or similar children in society today.

In my view, this is a wake up call for us. Do we live to live or do we live to die ? The current scenario amongst children and adults tell me that we are living to die early. We do not want live life every day and enjoy every moment. There is nothing wrong to be competitive. But competing for the sake of competing may be disastrous. We need to realise that life is multi-faceted. Every child is a talent and may have potential to do things which other children may not be able to.

As parents and elders we need to enable the child to realise her or his full potential in what they are capable of doing. Today most parents want their children to be successful professionals. The ability of parents and teachers to harness the hidden talent of a child is less seen. The day teachers and parents realise that every child is a gift of God and is talented, human potential will be fully harnessed. We need to enable every child to compete with themselves and make them realise that this is the path to excellence and not otherwise.

The situation is no different in colleges or even in organisations. Every leader has to realise that every employee is a talent. We need to assess what they their capabilities are and harness their full potential. If we put a square peg in a round hole, we may not get the best out of anyone. We tend to put creative people in analytical jobs and vice versa and then beat them up to realise their potential. This will only lead to fatigue and loss of talent in organisations.

As a society, we need to focus back on our children. It is not good enough to state that children are the future of a country and society. We need to enable them to succeed. The day every child is able to realise their strength and choose their field of interest to study will be the beginning of a new world. Then when they are able to work in a field of their own passion on their own volition without any societal pressures, we may have turned the corner

Families and societies have to learn to be tolerant and flexible. They need to challenge their own mindset and believe that potential is unlimited in every human being. This will lead us to a new world order where happiness will be the ultimate goal for everyone. Joy in what we learn or do and gratitude to everyone around us for enabling us to do the same will be our motto.

As in the photo above, we need to enable every child to realise their full potential and experience what they enjoy learning and doing.

Let us start today and create a brighter tomorrow.

S Ramesh Shankar

15th July 2020

If we can, we should…

I have always wondered as to why we don’t do what we should. It could be a simple routine of a morning walk or a more a bit more complex as completing a project on time at work. Either way, we always spend more time in finding excuses for our non performance than putting in efforts to ensure our performance.

Interestingly I have noted that this trait in us continues with us from childhood to old age. As a kid, we invent excuses for not doing our home work or for skipping school or college. We become more innovative as we grow into adolescence and take our parents and friends for a ride. We enjoy discovering excuses at this stage of our lives.

Then we we grow as adults and we start working and this trait is not left behind. We always have the traffic congestion for our late coming to office or even the internet breakdown for delay in execution of any work related project. On the other hand, we never miss a flight because of traffic when we go on a holiday or miss a movie online because the net breaks down.

So life gives us all the opportunities to excel in whatever we want to do. We find the silliest of reasons to give up on chances, which come our way without our even asking for it. So, what does this do to us and to others. We miss steps in our career growth and lose our personal credibility. Others lose their respect for us as individuals in the family and colleagues at work.

Now, let us look at what happens if we do what we can. This may appear simple but may be one of the most difficult things to accomplish in life. I find people not keeping their word to their kids to take them for a movie. Imagine you meet people who will always keep their word. I have met many of them in my life – both at work and in my personal life.

First, you have high respect for such people because once they commit, they deliver. Secondly, they infuse this positive energy in others. If you work for a leader who is always on time and always delivers on all her commitments, you tend to become like them. This is natural. If my parents were courteous to everyone around, I learn to be that way. Similarly if my manager does what he can, then I do whatever I can too.

Even in our personal lives we love people who keep their word and deliver. When our parents always get us what they have promised, we respect them. On the other hand, we have scant regard for friends or relatives who always forget what they can do and find reasons for their non delivery.

Interestingly this phenomenon is universal. It is not linked to state, country, religion, ethnicity, culture or language. Having worked in multinational organisations, I have experienced it across the globe. So the choice is simple. If we are determined to do we what should, we can.

Even in the current Covid times, they are asking us to do 3 simple things. Wearing a mask , keeping a metre distance and washing our hands. We can and we should if we want to prevent the virus attacking us.

As in the photo above, if we can relax, we should. Gautam Buddha teaches us relaxation is possible at all times.

Life could be different from today if we make this small change.

Lets give it a try.

S Ramesh Shankar

14th June 2020

How big is our heart ?

Spot your heart

I have always wondered as to how big is our heart ? Is it linked to the wealth we accumulate in life or is it the other way around. The current Covid crisis has proved to me that in most cases generosity of our heart is inversely proportional to the wealth we have in life.

I would like to share a few stories to validate my hypothesis. First the heart breaking story of an expat staying in a gated community who asked as to why we should pay salaries for housekeeping staff when they could not turn up during the lockout ? I was stunned. An expat who may be paying almost a lakh of rupees even as rent every month to stay in a villa is questioning a few thousands as monthly salary for a house keeping staff in a gated community.

Interestingly, he is not alone in this attitude to life. I have heard that a lot of residents staying in posh localities in Mumbai and Bangalore have not paid their domestic maids not only for the period of the lockout but even for March when would have worked for most of the month. My wife and me called all the staff who worked with us in Mumbai and this is what they shared. The best thing was they did not ask for any help and on the contrary enquired about our well being and were reluctant to take any voluntary support from our side for their sustenance.

Another senior consultant who works for a top consulting firm and possibly earns in crores a year did not pay Rs. 1000 collected for staff recognition from each villa to reward them for their yeoman and selfless service during the lockdown. This gentleman ( although I am reluctant to call him a gentleman) is a religious fanatic and invites Godmen and God women to his residence once in a year to show to the community how religious he is. Is this what all our religions teach us ? A true question to ponder !

On the other end of the spectrum, I hear and read of countless inspiring men and women from ordinary walks of life who are willing to give their life earnings to serve others during this crisis. The story of an auto driver in Pune who used his life long savings of Rs. 2 lacs ( saved for his marriage) to feed migrant workers in his city and even postponed his marriage and equally supported by his fiancé for this noble cause.

You hear of the farmer in Kerala who donates all his produce of vegetables and fruits every day to the needy as he feels he can do his little bit for the under privileged.

A temple pujari in Chennai is making masks and distributing free to the common people since he does not have any work as temples are closed and he feels he can contribute a bit to serve others.

You hear the children in a society in Mumbai cleaning all the cars every day and contributing their earnings to the well being of those who need that money. Every such story teaches me a simple lesson in life. You do not need money to be generous and caring to others in life. What you need is a big heart ? Our heart size is not determined by the wealth we accumulate in life but but the love and care we get and we give others.

A small deed to even one person around you without expecting anything in return will do a world of good to us. We need not share photos or selfies in social media for the little things we do in life. It is like the famous quote of Oscar Wild who said – ” We are not born in this world to keep account of the small things we do.”

Time and day to start is today and now. A small gesture to even one person around you will change their world. Try it.

S Ramesh Shankar

21st May 2020

Addiction or de-addiction – choice is ours always ?

All the liquor shops were closed across the country during the lockdown and the lovers of the spirit had a difficult time.  They had stocked enough but it was not good enough as they could not anticipate the two extensions.  This may be equally true for the smokers.  While I am told that both alcohol and cigarettes were available in the black market but it was almost unaffordable for the common man.

The question I ask myself as to why people get addicted to alcohol or cigarettes ?  Being a teetotaller and a non smoker, some may wonder whether I am competent to write on this subject. Luckily for me there are many in my family and friends’ circles who swear by alcohol and the cigarette.  My wife has been a counsellor in a de-addiction centre at the beginning of her career.

I would like to reflect on why people get addicted to alcohol, cigarettes or drugs ?  It is not that people who are born in families addicted to any of these only fall victims to this addiction.  It is common people coming from all walks of life who fall prey to this disease called addiction.

We all go through crests and troughs in life.  Some of us are able to cope with it while others get stressed out.  It may be for reasons beyond their control or their ability to bear the stress.  It is not easy to deal with stresses of life at different stages.  As an adolescent, one tends to be rebellious and wants to prove to the world how one is different and can stand out in society.

As we grow up as adults, we are ashamed to share our stress with anyone and thus find it difficult to cope with it.  In today’s world, where joint families have paved their way to nuclear families and neighbourhoods are no longer a wall of social support, it the the individual alienation in society which is the root cause of the problem.  While we have become comfortable to go to a doctor to discuss all our medical issues, it is still a stigma to go to a psychiatrist or a counsellor to discuss about our stresses and strains in life.

In today’s digital world, human connections are diminishing.  We do not even know our neighbours leave alone distant friends or relatives.  We do not live in joint families and hence do not have parents, elders, uncles or aunts to share our agonies.  The virtual world is a make believe world and we do not realise it unless reality strikes us hard.  We are proud to think that we have hundreds of friends on social media but realise that there is nobody around us when we get admitted to a hospital to attend to us.

It is in this state of mind, we believe that alcohol, cigarettes or drugs can cure us of depression.  We imagine that a drink in the weekend or a smoke at the end of a stressful day will relive us of all pains in life.  This may be psychologically true for the individual concerned but the reality is different.  The best of alcohol or cigarettes or drugs do not have any magic properties to help us get over our miseries in life.  We take time to realise that we are the creators of own miseries in life.

It is our attitude to life and living, which can make a difference.  The day we realise that we do not need spirits to lift us up in life, we can bring a change.  All of us go through similar trials and tribulations in life.  While some of us are able to cope with it, others succumb to the addiction of these artificial support systems.  The spirit, cigarette or drug is like a ventilator to a patient in distress.  The day the patient realises that their life is over the day the ventilator plug is pulled out is the day, they are willing to fight back in lie.

The day we are willing to give up any form of addiction in life is the day we realise that we are the makers of own destiny.  No force on earth can make us happy or sad in any situation.  No stress in life can make us crumble like ashes.  It is our attitude to life, which makes all the difference.  The day anyone realises the harmful effects of any addiction is the beginning of their journey to freedom from addiciton.

I am not trying to be a moralist here.  I have nothing against people drinking or smoking.  What I am against is the belief that drinking or smoking can cure us of all our stresses in life.  It never can.  It is our ability to face a crisis head on and deal with it, which will make all the difference to our lives.  It is like a smoker can give up smoking one day in a fraction of a second when they decide they want. to.  On the other hand, a smoker who pledges to give up slowly and gradually ends up smoking all his life.

It can be addiction to coffee or tea as in the photo above and not necessarily cigarettes or alcohol.

So, it is upto us to decide what we want to be.  Every human being is capable of dealing with their own stresses and strains in life.  It is upto us to wake up one morning and say that ” I am in control of myself and I can lead a life of my own”.  It is then addiction can transform into de-addiction.

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

Why delay ?

S Ramesh Shankar

6th May 2020