Ways of nature

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Nature has its unique ways of surprising us every day. I would like to share a few natural phenomena in my life, which have always baffled me. I have been a student of science but have never understood any of these phenomenon and the root cause for them. It happens quite often and every time makes me believe that nature is beyond science and scientific theories.

The first phenomenon is what generically is called the biological clock. As a young student, I could never get up without the alarm clock ringing multiple times beside my bed. I even had to snooze it a few times before I actually got up. However nowadays, if I make up my mind to get up at a particular time in the morning since I have to catch up an early morning flight, I am woken up automatically a few minutes before I had planned to get up. I do keep the alarm as a precaution. But, nowadays I end up putting off the alarm before it takes off since I am already awake. I am told this is the biological clock although I have not yet understood the scientific basis for this.

The second phenomenon is referred to us “Telepathy”. Whenever you think of a close friend or relative, they either end up calling you immediately after that thought or at least text you. You are quite taken aback. When you narrate this phenomenon to them, they are not willing to believe you. In most cases, they tell that you may have dreamt about the same. This has happened to me many times in my life and I have no explanations.

The third phenomenon is that if you are honest and ethical in your life and work, you tend to get back anything you lose by accident. I have at least three experiences in my life where God has been kind to me and I have got back what I lost within minutes of the actual incident. The first incident was when I lost my wallet and Walkman in an auto at midnight at Jamshedpur in the early nineties. As soon as I realised I went back to the auto stand and could trace my auto and get back my valuables. The second instance I dropped my sling bag with my camera and calculator while I was riding a bike. This time again I got it back within half an hour as someone called my home number to inform me that they had found my bag. The third incident happened yesterday when I forgot my laptop bag with my iPad and headphones in the coffee shops of Chennai airport. Before I could call and check with anyone, I got a call from the police that they had found my bag at the coffee shop and I should return immediately and collect it. I think it pays to be honest and ethical in life and work always.

The fourth phenomenon is when you leave a place unplanned during a crisis. During the recent floods at Mumbai on 29th August 2017, I had not planned to go anywhere. However, at the last minute I was invited to inaugurate a HR conference at Manipal. That day Mumbai witnessed 310 mm of rainfall and the city was marooned. I returned the next day and city was already getting back to normalcy and there was sunshine in the evening. May be God took me away from Mumbai( the photo above) for a day to prevent me from any mishap on that fateful day.

Life is full of surprises. I am a born optimist and I have also seen that whenever I need some money urgently and did not have much in my bank account, I got some unexpected transfer to my account. It could be a dividend, which I did not expect at that time or someone returning some money they had taken during a crisis. It could be reward from my employer. God has ways of taking care of you when you need it most.

Although I am not recommending that we live life waiting for these unexpected things to happen to us. We need to slog it out and work hard to achieve our goals in life. I am only saying that if we lead a simple life, work hard and are honest in all our deeds to the best of our ability, then nature has its own ways of rewarding us. It is sometimes unbelievable but true.

Let every day be a new surprise for all of us.

S Ramesh Shankar

1st September 2017

Romantic Rains


We all eagerly await the monsoon after a dry and long summer.  It is indeed one of the most eagerly awaited events in our lives as it brings instant relief from the sweltering heat of the summer.  But much beyond the relief from the summer dryness, the monsoon brings joy and romance into our lives.  The trees look greener, the rivers are full and sea roars as if to keep us active all day.

The farmers await the first rains with bated breath since their  fortunes are tied to the rains.  A shortage of rains or a drought could mean disaster for their lives.  Hence, rains help us have adequate stock of food grains and vegetables right through the year.   The ground water is refuelled and this ensures adequate drinking water for all of us.  We do not realize how much the rains contribute to our daily lives.

Every aspect of our lives is impacted by the rains.  It starts with ensuring adequate harvest of food grains and vegetables.  Then it ensures that we have a perennial source of water for drinking, bathing, washing etc in our daily lives.  The rains also ensure that all our buildings, trees and surroundings are cleaned and washed every day for three months by God without any dry cleaning charges.

The romance of the rains kindles the artistic curiosity of poets and authors.  We have had innumerable movies made around the world, which are based on rains and monsoons.  The waterfalls in the mountains are a source of inspiration and admiration.  The misty clouds in the valleys create a mystic around you.  Rains can only benefit us all the way if we do not obstruct nature in all its natural forms.

The other side of rains faced by humans are disasters due to floods and landslides.  If I reflect back on this negative aspect of the rains, I would say we are mostly to blame for this situation.   We cut trees unabashedly while constructing concrete jungles around cities and towns.  We obstruct the natural flow of rivers and rivulets so as to fulfill human greed rather than need.  So, it is up to us to respect nature and benefit from it or ruin nature and face the wrath of it, as we do nowadays.

Rains also help in bringing out the child in us, which we have lost as we grow up in age.  We have forgotten to dance in the rains and share joy with others.  We have forgotten the fragrance of the wet mud after the first rains hit the soil.  We have nobody else to blame other than ourselves for this state of affairs.  Even the animals and birds protect the environment better than humans as they realize that by doing so they benefit more than they lose.

We have to ensure that our greed is less than our needs in life.  This balance may ensure that we protect nature and the environment around us.  We are keen to take away all the positives of nature without having the gratititude to give back to nature in equal measure.  The day we are content with fulfilment of our needs and not greed, we may be able to protect nature and benefit from it always.

Rains are God’s gift to mankind and we need to learn to do everything to protect our rivers, mountains and lakes so that nature gifts us with more marvels always and we do not deny our future generations of the miracles of nature, which we have enjoyed all through our lives.  Let us continue to enjoy hot chai(tea), pakodas ( Indian snack) and Bhutta ( corn) to celebrate the rains as we have always done.

Let the rains continue to add joy to our lives.

S Ramesh Shankar

Lustrous Leaves

 

Trees  have always fascinated me with all their support to human life.  But I was wondering how leaves are supporting us by themselves.  Although every part of the tree is valuable, the leaves possibly play a pivotal role in our lives.  I can recall different types of leaves used for different purposes right from my childhood.  Each leaf has a unique benefit and our forefathers have helped us understand them better.

I recall my childhood days when on all festive occasions in the family we used to have food on a banana leaf.  It was considered auspicious and if I look back today it is also bio-degradable and hence not ruining our environment like plastic and thermocol  plates do today.  It is possible that the banana leaves also added some nutritional factors to the food.  The mango leaves are used in most Indian homes to decorate the house during festivals.  It is possible they have disinfectant qualities and may be other qualities good for the human beings.

We all have had neem leaves as medicine for many diseases in direct and indirect forms.  The fragrance of euqualaptus leaves can cure cold, cough and other respiratory issues.  We also have betel leave after a heavy and sumptuous meal.  We are told that apart from enriching us with calcium they are good for digestion.  I recall eating betel leaves with salt when I was a kid to cure myself of stomach aches.  We use the coriander and Curry leaves for cooking in Indian homes.  Spinach is a popular green leaf cooked as vegetable and high on vitamins.

Lemon grass is used to flavour food while cooking and so are the Bay leaves especially while making rice items.  Lettuce is a popular salad item in India and around the world.  Amongst vegetarians, using different types of leaves to add flavour to food is quite common.  Apart from adding flavour to food, they also provide us with a rich source of vitamins and other minerals essential to the body.

The leaves absorb carbon dioxide from the air and using the phenomenon of photosynthesis convert it into oxygen and release it back for the benefit of human beings.  Thus apart from providing food and flavours, they are also an important provider of oxygen for human existence on earth.  In today’s polluted cities, trees absorb a lot of air pollutants and helps reduce the toxins in the air.

Another fascinating story of the leaves is the vibrant colours they provide to the environment.  If you enter a forest, you will notice that leaves are not only in all shades of green but provide an array of colours and they also change with the seasons around the year.  They provide a good indication of the seasons with their shredding, regeneration and also changing of their colours.  The dried leaves are also a rich source of manure for the plants.

I have always been a great admirer of nature.  Today as I observed the leaves and reflected on how much they gift us with their abundance, I felt grateful to nature and its creations.  Even if we commit to do our little bit in the vicinity of our home and workspace to protect the trees and leaves around us, we will espouse our gratefulness to nature.

Let the leaves add greenery to our lives forever.

S Ramesh Shankar

Spectacle of our eyes


I have always wondered as to how God created our eyes as the best camera in the world.  No technology in the world has been able to beat our eyes to capture pictures around us.  The best of cameras I have tried in my life so far have not come even near the beautiful capture of our eyes.  It captures in three dimension or may be four.  As apart from the three dimensional picture, it also conveys an emotion to our brain to appreciate the beauty.

Let us start with nature.  We can neither capture sunrise nor sunset with a camera as well as our eyes displays it to us.  The clouds in the sky, the trees, the mountains, the rivers, the valleys and et all are picturized by our eyes like no camera ever can.  The birds, the animals, the insects or even the landscape around us is best visualised by our eyes.  I sometimes wonder as how to express my gratitude to God to bestow me with such a beautiful pair of eyes.

In my view the beauty of a human being is best seen through their eyes.  As they say, the eyes speak more than a thousand words.  We can feel the emotions of a person through their eyes.  When in joy, our eyes sparkle.  When in sorrow, our eyes are moist and give away our sadness.  A mother’s eyes expresses care without a word uttered to her child.  Similarly a father’s stern eyes may deter a child from doing a wrong.

At the workplace, we also speak through our eyes.  Many a times we need not utter a word to say we agree or disagree on any issue as our eyes will convey it to the other person even before we utter a word on the subject. Eyes symbolise words through expressions.  If you look at pieces of art – a painting or a sculpture, the artist conveys her or his emotions through the eyes of the art.  Just by changing the design of the eyes the meaning of an art piece can be changed.

The communication between a small kid and her parents are primarily through the eyes especially when the kid is yet to utter her first word in life.  Children can express all forms of emotions through their eyes easily.  They laugh, cry, get angry or express sorrow by the wink of their eyes.  Eyes express more than words.   Words do not carry emotions with them but eyes do.

Most of us have experienced or seen lovers communicating through their eyes. It may be classmates in college or colleagues at the workplace.  They may not even talk to each other in the presence of others.  But the communication through their eyes signifies the intensity of their love for each other.  This has been picturized very well in movies and plays and described eloquently in songs and poetry around the world.

As in the photo above, the eyes speak for themselves.

While all senses of the human body – sight, touch, sound, taste and smell are equally significant , sight through our eyes is the most beautiful.   Let us be blessed to admire nature and beauty in life through our eyes forever.  Let our eyes inspire us to look at the world through the beauty of other human beings, animals and things.  Let us learn to love other humans, animals and plants through the positive expression of our eyes.

Let our eyes give us sight and insight.

S Ramesh Shankar

Politics at the workplace

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“Politics” could be defined as the art of weaving your way in the organisational context.  Does politics exist in organizations ?  The answer is a resounding “yes”.  Do you need to indulge in politics to be successful in your career ?  My answer would be a resounding “no” from my life experiences.  While behavioural scientists may say that “politics” is not a dirty word and they may be right.  According to them, politics is the art of using the ogranization’s human networks to your advantage.  

I am not against “networking” and using your networks to get your things done as suggested by the social scientists.  What I am against is to indulge in “political behaviour” in your day to day work.  This means simply that you are indulging in “behind the back” gossip.  This results in lack of trust in your team members and saps away the energy of the team.  A lot of organisational energy is used in resolving conflicts and misunderstandings rather than building bonds.

How can one avoid politics as a leader ?  This is a question many people leaders have asked me during the course of my career.   My answer is simple.  As a leader, one needs to clarify the “Dos & Don’ts” of behaviour expected in your team.  Further, one needs to lead by example what you expect from others.  For eg. I clearly encourage my team to raise any issue with anyone and sort it out face to face rather than talk behind the back.  Gossip or talking behind one’s back may be the fountain head of organisational politics.  This needs to be actively discouraged and even punished, if necessary.

On the other hand, if someone wants to build relationships so as to get things done, it is not politics in my definition.  After all organizations are nothing but a network of relationships between people working in different functions.  It is essential to build networks and relationships to get things done effectively.  We need to do everything to enable our team members to network across the organisation and build these relationships.

It is only when a team member ends up misusing a relationship or a network to gossip, politics sets in.  Politics in my view is like a wild fire in a dry summer forest. If not nipped in the bud, it can spread across the organisation and will be very difficult to put off.  I have been asked many a time as to how one can avoid these webs of organisational politics.  It is up to us.  If we want to stay clear of it, we can clearly and unambiguously communicate the same to our team members and colleagues and it works.

I have also been asked if one can be successful in one’s career without being political.  I believe so and have practised it all through my career.  Being a HR professional, I have seen most successful people do not indulge in politics, as I have defined it.  Further, this also ensures that your energy is chanelized to do more creative work in your domain.  Teams work with high energy and enjoy their work without any fear or barriers.

In my view, “politics” in the organisational context is counter productive if not channelised to build networks and relationships.  As a leader, it is up to us to define the rules of the game for our team and ensure nobody crosses the line.  If many of our team members play foul, we not only lose the game but also create poor team spirit and negative energy within the team.

Let us define the rules of our game today and lead by example to ensure others follow it.

S Ramesh Shankar

Travelling around


One of my passions in life is to travel.  I love visiting new places and meeting people.  I also love to understand the culture and crafts of that new place.  I have been lucky to visit different parts of the world and of my wonderful country as well. Every time I have travelled to a new place, it has been a new insight for me. The place, the people and the practices indeed teaches me many life lessons, which no education in the world can.

It does not matter which part of the world I am visiting or during which time of the year.  Every new place has a new meaning for me in life.  Every new location teaches me new things.  I wish I could have been a travel writer, visiting places around my country and the world and sharing my experiences with everyone.  Although, I have almost visited all the states of my country , I am yet to cover all the treasures of my native country.

I remember my first travel out of my country.  It was way back in 1989, when I visited UK for a three month training programme.  Apart from the learnings in the programme, which changed my perspectives on being a trainer, it was indeed great insights into a different country with varied cultures, norms and behaviours.  I still remember how I enjoyed the Big Ben to see the UK parliament or the Buckingham palace and these brought back vivid memories of my limited knowledge of history studied in school.

Another wonderful visit was my first visit to the state of Jammu & Kashmir, the northern most state of my country.  It was way back in 2004 and many of friends cautioned me against the travel since there was tension between ethnic groups and also the state was seized with terror attacks.  Both me and my wife felt that terror is a world wide phenonomenon today.  It can happen in your backyard where you are staying and hence we decided to go ahead.  This was one of the best decisions of my life.

This state gives you the best glimpses of nature.  Its warm and flat at Jammu, cold and chilly in the valley and solemn and snowy at Ladakh(as in the photo above).     As you land into Srinagar, you feel you have arrived in a fairy land.  You can see snow capped mountains around you and the warmth of the people you meet is unbelievable.  All the people you meet here are hospitable and are always keen to make you comfortable.  They call it “Kashmiriyat”.  It means the culture of secularism in simple terms. It is such lessons, no book in management or psychology can teach you.

One of the best states I have visited so far is Sikkim, one of the smallest states of India.  The capital Gangtok is again surrounded by snow capped Himalayas and the city is spotlessly clean.  You have foot paths all around the city and you can enjoy walking around without worrying about any road mishaps.  I sometimes wonder why all of us living in different parts of the country in other states cannot learn from this wonderful state.

Last but not the least, I would urge everyone to travel around whenever you can.  I would urge parents and elders to take your kids around the world and around India whenever you can.  A visit to a new place and meeting new people can never be substituted by books or the television.  My wife and kids have travelled around with me in my country and around the world wherever I could afford to go.  Each visit has brought in a new lesson for each of us.

Lets start our learning journey today.

S Ramesh Shankar

The sunset


The sunset has always been a source of joy for me.  Like Keats said, ” A thing of beauty is joy forever”.  Watching a sun set and taking photos has been a source of inspiration for me always.  If you ask me, I do not know why ?.  Scientists tell us that it is safer to watch a setting sun than a rising one because of the infra red and other harmful rays.  I watch the setting sun as it is a source of beauty and happiness for me.

As the sun sets in the horizon, we have the multicolour formation of the clouds.  No artist in the world can paint it.  No designer can visualise it.  It is the creation of nature and the gift of God. What amazes me more is that every day is a new design.  A new formation.  A new spread of colours.  The combination of colours is electrifying.  It soothes your mind and quenches your heart with emotions.

The setting sun signifies many things to me.  It declares the end of the day and the beginning of the night.  It means that life has both days and night.  While it may be easier to work in the day but much more difficult in the night.  The sun set prepares us for the difficulties of the night.  It cautions us to prepare for the more challenging phase of life.

I am lucky to travel to different parts of the world as part of my work.  Although I do not travel very often but every visit to a new place teaches me some thing.  The last time I was in Germany I was talking about sun sets with someone.  They told me how lucky we are that we have the sun for most part of the year in India.  As Indians we consider bright sun light as signifying higher temperatures and coupled with humidity, it definitely makes it a tougher day to bear.  But imagine life without much sun light.  If you live in countries, where the appearance of the sun is rare, you know what I mean.

The sun is not only a source of energy.  It brightens our life.  It balances nature. It helps us maintain our moods.  I recently experienced the absence of the sun for almost a week during the recent monsoon and I realised how much I missed it. I appreciate the reasons for depression and mood swings in the countries, where the appearance of the sun is a luxury.

The sunset may mark the end of the day.  But it also gives us hope that although we may have to spend a cold night but the rising sun the next day will give us hope and warmth back.  We miss something when we do not have enough of it.  In countries where the appearance of the sun is a phenomenon, its highly valued.  But in nations like India, where there is abundance of sunlight, we value it less till the day we miss it.

I am amazed by nature and everything around us. It is a great source of joy and happiness.  The sun, the moon, the earth, the tree, the sea, the mountains and so on.  If we sit back and reflect, we realise that we are privileged to learn so much from all of them.  Each of them is a mystery and a source of inspiration.  If at all we are willing to keep our eyes and ears open all the time, learning can never end.

The sun sets today to rise again tomorrow.  Let us also resolve to bounce back in life if at all we go through a bad patch in life like the sun does every day for us.

S Ramesh Shankar