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Joy of giving…

I have always be in awe of our festivals in India. Diwali is no exception. Apart from lights and crackers, one recalls Diwali with fond memories because the entire family got together once in a year and celebrated together. We got up early at dawn and had an oil bath before sunrise and enjoyed all the sweets and savouries all day.

Today I got a new insight on Diwali. It is celebrated in India with two different beliefs in the northern and southern part of the country. In the north, people believe that Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya after his 14 years in the forests and hence is welcomed back with lights and crackers. In the South, it is believed that Lord Krishna killed a ghost by name Narakaasura on this day in Dwaraka Yuga.

The new insight I got today is from a forward about the story of Narakaasura and the lessons for all of us. It is believed that Narakaasura is the “I” or ego residing in all of us as humans. When Lord Krishna killed Narakaasura, he eliminated our ego and released more than 16000 evils in us. So the next day on amavasya we pray to Godess Lakshmi to lead us to the right path.

Every ritual in Hindu religion and so in other religions has a deep insight for all of us. We generally get swayed by the rituals and start believing that they are of no use and most of us including me give up rituals because they serve no human purpose. I have been no exception. Now that I have all the time in the world, I am able to reflect and get new insights into these rituals.

Another interesting belief that we should clean our home and get rid of all the unwanted things. This is also symbolic that God wants us to give up all that is not necessary and take up the good things in life.

It is also enshrined in our religions that the best way to serve God is to serve the human kind. If we give more, we get more. If we are content with what we have, God always gives us more than what we need. This is the challenge for all of us. How much is enough – is a question difficult to ask and answer for oneself ?

I have admired people who give away without expecting anything in return. Recently another friend forwarded a message with a great insight. It was a couplet from Rahim. When Tulsidas looked at Rahim donating, he found his eyes looked at the ground and so asked him ” O great person, where have you learnt this amazing way of giving ? “. As your hands rise ( to give), your eyes look down. “. Rahim replies – “. The Giver is someone else ( God Almighty), giving day and night. The world has a misconception that I am the giver. So, I lower my eyes in embarrassment. ”

The best people I have met in life are those who give unconditionally. They are anonymous most of the times and recipient does not know that they are the donors. They give because they have a surplus and they are grateful to the Almighty for it and want to thank him for the generosity bestowed on them.

It is like the exotic orchid in the photo above, given my colleagues at work, which are blooming because of their unconditional love.

This blog a salute from my side to all the wonderful people who have made me what I am today. They have given me support, advice, money and love unconditionally. I can never ever return their favour in any form. I promise to give back without expecting anything in return as I bow in gratitude to them.

S Ramesh Shankar

27th October 2019

Quest for life and living…

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All of us may have learnt scientific inquiry as part of our school education. Most of us give up this spirit of inquiry as we transcend from childhood to adulthood. Very few of us have this spirit as a way of life. My sister’s husband was one such being. One can understand this spirit since he was a scientist in the Indian space research organisation for almost four decades.

Today I started my workday with a meeting as usual. I had kept my mobile phone in the silent mode. However I realised that some of my close relatives were continuously trying to reach me. When I sensed there could be an emergency, I interrupted the meeting and picked up the phone. It was indeed one of the saddest day of my life. I was informed that my brother in law had passed away. His name was K Natarajan and had served the Indian Space Research Organisation as a scientist.

He had got up in the morning and had gone to the rest room. When he did not return in reasonable time, his family members knocked the bathroom door. When he still did not respond, they broke open the door and called the doctor. The doctor examined and gave the sad news within minutes. He had died out of a massive heart attack while he was in the rest room.

This may be a very peaceful way to leave Mother Earth for himself. But, I could not imagine the fate of my sister, who was waiting outside with a cup of hot coffee for him to return. I could not imagine how one could wipe the tears of his mother, who is 94 and was staying with him. Life has its way of shocking us. We are rattled out of our normal being. We realise that life can change for any of us within minutes or even seconds.

I would say I was lucky. I had been to Trivandrum only last week for our leadership offsite. I spent a night with my sister and her family. I had spent hours discussing with him on various issues from politics, sports to spirituality. I have seen him from my childhood and have always admired his spirit of inquiry. He always explored knowledge and knowing about life and living.

He was a brilliant student and had an illustrious career in the Indian space research organisation in the field of electro optics. One could spend hours with him discussing on any subject. Apart from being well read, he was open to respect alternate view points and always stood by his views on all issues. I always admired his hand writing. It was almost like engraving in gold. I wish could I could have inherited his beautiful handwriting.

Another invaluable learning from him was his respect for elders and service to them. I still remember how he used to stay with my grandmother and take care of her when he was a student and took all opportunities to learn from her wisdom. He was very comfortable in interacting with people of all ages and used all mediums to interact. Today my son told me how he used to be the first to comment on his facebook posts and even wished him in German whenever he visited Germany for official work.

He took care of his mother right through his life. I had recently visited them and realised how blessed he was to be able to take care of his mother in her nineties. I did not know that today I would write his obituary in front of his mother, who is 94. Life teaches you many lessons the hard way. I cannot imagine how a mother in her nineties will feel losing her son in front her own eyes. I dread to think how my sister will lead the rest of her life without her life partner.

The photo above is symbolic of his family bonding and care.

I commit to live the spirit of inquiry and take care of elders to the best of my ability in life . This can be the only way I can pass on my tribute to him.

S Ramesh Shankar

22nd November 2017

The journey is as important as the destination

Today our scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation almost made a landing on the moon after valiant efforts. The mission may have partly failed to land on the moon although the orbiter is encircling the moon and will give invaluable data to our scientists to explore further.

While the nation was watching the entire episode through the night on national television channels there was a sigh of despair amongst the mission team when the object failed to land on the moon. It was kind of the Prime minister of the country to watch this live and then go and address all the scientists the next morning to keep their spirits high.

One of the statements made by the prime minister of India was “The journey is as important as the destination”. It was a great insight for me personally. Many a time in our lives when we fail, we tend to focus on the failure which is the destination and forget the learnings through the journey.

Our wonderful space scientists would have worked for decades to achieve this impossible mission. They would have learnt a lot of valuable lessons through this journey. Hence, it is important for us to celebrate the journey as much as the destination.

It is true for scientists, sportspersons and even the common women and men like us. We need to enjoy our journeys as much as keeping the focus on our destination. It is like someone undertaking a trip to a beautiful hill station and keeping their eyes closed through the journey in a train waiting for the hill station to arrive. Imagine what all beautiful sceneries one would missed if one were to do that.

If we take any company in the world and even the most successful ones, they would never have achieved success unless they enjoyed their journey and celebrated all along their way to success. It is important to remember for every successful product in the market, there would be hundreds of products which would have failed and never hit the market before.

Life is no different. We need to keep our focus on our life goals. However, it is important to learn throughout the journey of life and celebrate each milestone on the way. If we do not do that, we may stop learning and that can be our biggest failure.

Another important lesson learnt today from the ISRO experience is the role of a leader. The leader should be with the team more during failure than during success. It is the inspiration of the leader during failures that makes a team succeed again and again.

Our best wishes to our Indian Space Research Organisation scientists and every Indian is proud of their accomplishments today. We are one of those pioneers in space research in the world only because of them. Let us salute them. I dedicate this blog to my brother in law was a scientist with ISRO for four decades.

S Ramesh Shankar

7th September 2019

Ways of life

I enjoy walking on the sea shore along the sea with my naked feet making impressions on the wet sand. Many a time I prefer to walk with my spouse, friend or relative. Sometimes, all alone too. Today I encountered the sudden death of a close relative and this made me wonder as to what would happen if you were walking with that relative and when you turn around and find that there are only the impressions of your feet and your relative’s disappears in the sand behind you from your trail.

This was the feeling experienced by me today. It is a feeling of emptiness. You feel as if you were going through a storm and suddenly without your knowledge, you enter a state of vacuum. This space makes you feel weird. A state of helplessness. But you can do nothing about it. All of us go through such moments in our life and have to learn to deal with it.

It was a wonderful feeling to feel the imprints on the sand when you are walking with a partner. But, when you realize that your partner has left you suddenly and without notice, you realize you are left alone in this world to fend for yourself. One is born alone into this world and one also realizes that you leave this planet all alone. But the journey in between is life. You need a partner during this period. Your parents partner you till your adolescence, then your friends and finally your life partner. Of course, your parents are with you through out your life but the presence or absence of a life partner makes all the difference.

My mother’s death preceded by father’s. I was just 25, when I lost both my parents. But, I did realize the value of the partner after my mother’s death. My father lived all alone after my mother’s death with my brother. Although he was a man of few words right through his life, my mother’s death made him more lonely then words could express. I could feel the vacuum in his life although he never shared his grief with us.

Within two years’ of my mother’s death, my father passed away. He did suffer from diabetes and hypertension, which made his kidneys fail. Although, this was the primary reason for his death, I also felt that he died due to separation of his partner in life. All of us, who have experienced the warmth of our parents, friend or spouse in life understand the meaning of true partnership. You are energised by the mere presence of your partner without expecting anything from each other. Their mere presence adds value to your life. The physical presence of your partner is enough. Even their silence adds meaning to your life. Their absence kills you.

When you miss your partner in life for a few days, you miss them. Imagine what happens to you when you lose them for eternity. You end up talking to their photo for a few days till you digest the truth that they are no longer with you. You keep asking God as to why was he so cruel on you ? God answers you through his silence and then you realize that this is the new reality of life and you adapt to it.

After spending many years in my life and after losing quite a few relatives and friends, I realised that this is new phase of life God has planned for you. The only way to remember your partner or friend in your future life is to live their values and fulfil their unfulfilled dreams if you can. There is no point brooding what you could have done to increase there longevity in life. It is better to spend one’s energy to live their spirit in your life.

The ways of life are complex and unpredictable as in the design of the photo above.

Life is a journey and there are a few shocks like these, which mould you to be a better human being

Time to wake up is now.

S Ramesh Shankar

24th November 2017

Who am I ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

S Ramesh Shankar

The spirit of living

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grateful to my aunt.

S Ramesh Shankar

What money can’t buy ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Try it.

S Ramesh Shankar