Our past may not determine our future…

Adapting is the key to the future

One of my ex colleagues called me up to check on how to deal with the current crisis. I told him that “ I don’t know” and that’s the truth. Although I have spent almost four decades working for the best corporations of India and the world, I have not come across a crisis of this type.

This is symptomatic of what the future has in store for us. Our future challenges cannot be solved based on past experiences. Our past may not be able to help us to solve the complexities of the future. It is as simple as the seasons in a year. In the past, we could predict, summer, winter, monsoon, spring and autumn. We could also predict when it will rain in our region. Now with climate change, nothing is predictable. It snows in Middle East and its hot in Europe, which nobody would have even dreamt.

Our life is not going to be very different. We may not be able to anticipate the future. The best of corporations with their intelligent employees and the best of artificial intelligence cannot anticipate the future. Someone has beautifully said that “ The future has a habit of suddenly and dramatically becoming the present..”. That is what is likely to happen. Who imagined a 21 day lockout in a country like India ?

Economic power or technological power may not be able to enable nations to find solutions for human problems. We can find a solution to a problem provided we understand what it is and how it going to impact us. What the current Covid crisis has taught us is that we neither can predict the future nor anticipate it. We have to adapt to the future as it evolves in front of us.

One of things we always talk in corporates is adaptability. It is this ability to adapt to change,which could enable organisations and individuals to cope with it. Even though we may not be able to anticipate or predict the change, we can develop the ability to adapt to it and steer it to our advantage.

All of us may have gone through multiple crises in our lives. Some of us manage it well and get over it fast and move on. While others may get sunk by the crisis and get stuck for the rest of their lives like sinking in quicksand. They can neither pull themselves out nor help others stuck in a similar crisis. The successful people find ways and means to adapt to the crisis and move on.

Organisations are no different. They are like a summation of individual behaviours. That is what we call the organisation culture. HR specialists and managers need to develop this adaptability as a special skill in their teams. If members panic and get sunk, then the organisation may never survive and thrive.

The other quality one can think of is Resilience. This is our ability to withstand a crisis without getting ruffled too much and bounce back. While we may not be able to anticipate a crisis of the Covid type even in the future, we can show resilience and bounce back sooner than others. Organisations which bounce back faster than their competitors are the ones who will succeed and not the ones who keep analysing what went wrong and how to deal with it in the future. This is because the future is no longer going be a reflection of the past.

As individuals, one great lesson this crisis has taught us is to be close to nature. Everything we have done to move away from nature has harmed us. The more we cut forests, build on lakes, dump garbage in the oceans, the more we may have to pay in the future. Individuals in the past fought for survival and growth. On the other hand, individuals in the future will fight for clean air, drinking water, healthy food and so on. These may appear basic today but may become extinct tomorrow if we do not get back to respect nature as we did in the past.

I am a born optimist. I believe this crisis will wake up the world forever. As nations, communities and individuals, we will be more conscious of our duties and responsibilities than in the past. We will create a future of our choice and try to evolve it to become predictable again.

Time to start is today. Let us as individuals commit to make one change in our personal lives. It could be as simple as carrying a cloth bag for all our purchases rather than dumping single use plastic, which is used as carry bags even today. It is not for governments to mandate anymore. It is for individuals to change our own behaviour.

As in the photo above, if you are rowing a boat in the ocean, adapting to the waves will be the key to success as a boatman can never anticipate the wind or waves on the sea.

S Ramesh Shankar

28th March 2020

Park & Purpose

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Each of us may have a different purpose to visit a park. Some of us go to the park to exercise. It could be a walk, jog or practise in an open gym as in the photo above. While others may go to play or just to relax and rejuvenate themselves.

So each of us may have a different goal to visit a park and it is fine. I have been visiting a park for the last seven years for my morning and evening walks. Apart from walking, it is chat time with my spouse. We walk together and exchange our thoughts, beliefs and stories as we have experienced the previous day.

As we stroll around the park, we can see kids playing and sharing joy. Kids do not come to the park to maintain their fitness. It is sheer entertainment for them and that is the way it should be. They may be looking forward to meeting their friends and teasing each other after a hard day at school.

On the other end, we see young adults meeting and mating at the park. It’s a beautiful park along the sea shore and ideal locale for romance. So as the sun sets, we can see lovers in full glory. They are oblivious of the world around them and that is how all of us have experienced love as we grew up as adolescents and young adults.

Then we see senior citizens strolling around the park in groups. They play a game of housie, have some snacks together and share their stories with each other. The park is a place to meet and seek good company for them. Their world may be lonely at home and hence the park provides an ideal place for socialising.

As you go around the park for your walk, you meet people from different age groups and in different colours and costumes. It is fun to admire the energy and enthusiasm of different groups. Of course, you also meet people who have entered the park with no stated purpose. They may be just admiring nature or enjoying the sunset all alone and why not.

Another interesting dimension is that a public park brings people from all religions, caste, creed, nationalities and social status together. There is no discrimination and each one has the complete freedom to enjoy the park the way she or he desires to. Even observing people of diversity in the park is great fun.

I am not sure even a religious institution like a temple, church or mosque can provide you with such a beautiful social setting. It is indeed a gift of nature that a park brings people together with no boundaries or discriminations.

Let the parks bloom and all people visiting them fulfil their purposes.

S Ramesh Shankar

Art of weaving…

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We need to learn a lot in life from nature. One of the things I have admired in nature is the ability of birds to weave their own nests. Most of them do not have the resources near them but they still succeed. They gather resources from wherever it is available without cribbing about its non-availability. They then gather bit by bit and weave their nest in right earnest. Their nest is pulled down by greedy humans and other animals around them but they do not give up.

On the other hand, what do we do as human beings ? We find every excuse under the sign to complain. If at home, we blame our parents for discrimination and try to avoid doing any work at home. At school, we complain to our teachers of lack of time to do our home work or any projects or assignments. At work, we innovate ingenious reasons to delay a project or not deliver our commitments on time.

If we are willing to learn from the birds around us, we can weave our life to success. We will never crib about resources or lack of it. We will always find a way to locate alternate ways to solve an issue. We will garner the support of every member of our team to support us to succeed. We will share success and failure with equal measure. We will collaborate to excel. We will achieve our goal irrespective of the circumstances or the environment around us.

Another important lesson we can learn from the birds is to never give up. I have seen the birds’ nest is destroyed by insensitive humans or even by the travails of nature. The birds are not wasting their time in finding out why it happened and who can be held responsible ? They seem to focus on rebuilding their nest so that they are ready for the future. We tend to focus on fixing the blame rather than garnering our energy to prepare for the future. What is the use of crying over spilt milk is the message the birds give us loud and clear. Isn’t it worthier to spend time to find new sources of milk for ourselves.

Another dimension of learning from the art of weaving is that every problem in life may not have the same solution. No two birds build the same type of nest. Every bird weaves a nest, which will best protect its offspring’s from the travails of nature. It also knows the way nature is likely to behave and hence reinforces the nest with necessary materials to support it. Life is no different. Every challenge in life is different and we need to be creative to finding an innovative way to solve it. We need to course correct our solution mid way as the dimensions of the challenge changes along with way.

As in the photo above, the honey bees are another fascinating creature to teach us the art of weaving. Their honey combs are one of the most well designed under the sun. They are built to ensure maximum safety and there is clear division of labour. We can learn from the honey bees how to optimally use resources to build our life’s nest. We need to learn to benefit from the strengths of each team member so that the collective output is the best we can achieve in life. It is not worthwhile to trying everything all alone.

Life is a complex phenomenon. We need to learn to weave our life like the birds beautifully do every day. We need to be creative, collaborative and never give up irrespective of multiple failures. This is the learning birds give us. We need to grab it with both hands and make the best utilisation of limited resources available to us. We need not complain as God has given enough for all to live, survive and grow.

Lets learn the ‘the art of weaving life” from the birds around us.

S Ramesh Shankar

Heritage

“A thing of beauty is joy for ever” said Keats. Every time I pass through a heritage building, I am struck with the beauty of the same. I cannot take my eyes off it and wonder why modern day architecture cannot do the same to me. Today design and architecture has evolved and technology has enabled the unimaginable to be imagined and created. In spite of all these developments, I am yet to come across any modern architecture which can be more stunning than a heritage building.

I sometimes wonder how our forefathers could design, develop and create something out of the world and make it last for centuries. Even today if you visit a building or monument around the world you will notice that the older the building is, the stronger it is in design and execution. I recently visited the state residence of the Governor of our state. It is a huge mansion built almost a century back. When I visited the campus I was amused to know that buildings built in the last fifty years need renovation but the ones built over a century back or intact and in great condition.

“Old is gold” is another common saying. I do not know if the earlier generations spent more time in planning then execution, which has created heritage buildings, monumental in design and beauty. Today we hear of buildings collapsing within a few years of construction. What has gone wrong ? I can understand that relationships have become more virtual than real due to the evolution of technology. But how can evolution of technology in the field of architecture and design create buildings that do not last for a century as in the past. How can material science with all its advancement not help us create structures of envy as our earlier generations did ?

Just like heritage buildings, I also love the antique furniture of the bygone era. I still love to go around town shopping for antique furniture or handicrafts, which represent our rich heritage and culture. I wonder why today we cannot design furniture or handicraft, which can be the envy of the generations to come. I do not know the reasons but the reality is that antique has more value than what is designed today. It has more art and more followers than modern day creations.

Another interesting insight is today’s film songs also do not stick to our hearts. I can sing a song of the generation gone by even today and they are termed classics. The wordings of the song are like pearls of wisdom and each word gives an insight into life and living. Today’s songs are rich in music but fade within years of their release and most people cannot remember their lines.

I sometimes wonder whether this is a generational issue. I have no answers but may be more questions. I have met young artists and architects, who agree with my views. Hence, it may not be an issue of my growing old and not appreciating the new. It is much more deeper than that. It could be that the generations of the past created art with limited resources and hence created more value out of limited inputs. Today, we have technology and resources at our command and may be long lasting value is no longer a goal in the minds of the creator.

The Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus ( Victoria Terminus – VT) (in the photo above) is the main railway station of Mumbai, built during the British era in India. It’s a world heritage site and I pause in front of it every time I pass by even today.

What is your view on heritage ?

S Ramesh Shankar

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