Use & Throw

We have moved from a culture of “recycle & reuse” to “Use & throw”. I remember an interesting incident which happened a few years back. I was digging out my old coloured lights to light it for the festival of Diwali. Usually we use it for the festival and then dump it in some closet for the rest of the year.

We take it out just before the onset of the festival season and invariably find that a few bulbs are fused. The same thing happened to me. I picked up the light and went to an electrical shop to repair and replace the fused bulbs. The electrician was surprised to see me. He politely told me to dump the old bulb set and buy a new one.

I belong to an era, where we were brought up in the family and the community to “recycle and reuse” things. So based on my upbringing, I went to the shop to repair and reuse my colour lights. The shopkeeper gently smiled and said that the cost of repair may be more than the price of a new set of colour lights. I followed his advise,  left my old bulbs with him and bought a new set.

When I returned home I reflected on this issue. I realised that life has indeed changed. The way we look at life today is different from the past. If we considered recycling everything in life as the right thing to do, use and throw is the norm for everything in life today.

It struck me that this may be true in our relationships too. We were brought up to respect our parents and elders right through our life. We were trained to be grateful to people who help us at various stages of life, throughout our life time. But today, we tend to use our parents as providers of comfort and forget them as they grow old and may depend on us. We forget friends and relatives after we have benefited from their help and move on with our own lives.

Relationships have also transitioned from gratitude to usefulness. Gratitude symbolises renewing our relationship for our lifetime. Usefulness on the other hand fixes an expiry date for a relationship. We tend to “control+alt+del” or move on as soon as the usefulness of that relationship is over.

One may wonder if we are moving from “Selflessness” to “Selfishness” in life. It may be difficult to state whether it is right or wrong. After all today, we have mastered the art of justifying every action of ours. No value is absolute and sacrosanct any more. It is all relative and we find innovative reasons to justify our behaviour all the time, to everyone around us.

One more learning I got in life. Once when I was buying new clothes for my family for a festival someone suggested that every time I buy new clothes, I could consider donating an equal number of clothes ( in good condition) to those who need them more than me. This may again be an old fashioned belief but it does help others and is based on the philosophy of recycle and reuse.

Life comes a full circle. Today, use of plastic bags is being banned all over the world as it is polluting the environment around us, choking the drains and causing floods everywhere. We are urged to use cotton bags for our shopping and reuse them. I am happy with this change and I commit to do my bit in this direction.

We used to recycle a pair of shoes for at least two generations in the past whereas now it does not even survive one person for more than a few years as in the photo above.

Is it time to recycle and reuse everything in life ?

S Ramesh Shankar

21st July 2018

Tea under a Tree

One of the most fascinating things in my life is to drive on a highway. A highway gives you great insights on life and living. Apart from the fact that I enjoy driving, every sight around you gives you new perspectives.

The first thing which strikes me is the mesmerising skyline. Whether it is the early morning crimson sky or the blue evening one it is always breathtaking. I wonder how nature paints the colours in the sky. I am amazed at the shapes and sizes of the clouds.

The blue and green mountains along the highway make you realise how small you are and the need to be grounded always. Their mighty stature makes you realise the wonders of nature.

Then you pass through rivers and lakes and they are spots of beauty. Rivers remind you as to how much nature gives you as humans and how less ` we give back to nature. They also make you realise the value of water as a natural resource.

Another interesting aspect of the highway is the road side food. I love to stop by a road side cafe for a cup of tea or even the local cuisine for lunch. People along the highway are very courteous and customer centric. They are keen to treat you as their personal guest and make you smile always.

When you stand under a tree like in the photo above, you experience the rhythm of nature and the taste of tea is invigorating. It not only refreshes you for the drive further but also makes you realise that it is worth syncing with nature.

I also enjoy the quotes written behind trucks and buses. Some of them are very creative and remind you of the potential talent in our countryside. They give you simple lessons of life in a very innovative way.

The long winding roads teach you the best lessons of life. There are times when it looks as if the road will never end and at other times the traffic will never ease. But every time you do reach your destination with or without any hurdles.

We all have the capacity to deal with the hurdles along the highway. It is similar in life. As long as we believe in ourselves, there is no obstacle in life which we cannot overcome. Yes sometimes it may take longer than we believe. It is like sometimes our destination may take longer than we had estimated.

It is up to us to enjoy the drive on the highway or keep cribbing about the weather or the bad roads along the way. If we enjoy the drive, the journey is fun and if we don’t then it is a burden. Life is no different.

The weather may change along the way. The roads may be good or bad. The car may even break down. But it is up to us to make a choice. Either we can crib all the way or enjoy the uncertainties along the way. Every obstacle may be an opportunity to learn something new in life.

Life is like a highway and we need to enjoy the drive.

S Ramesh Shankar

2nd October 2018

The mystery

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Life and death – both seem mysteries to me. One may or may not believe in God or a super power but has to believe that life and death are not easy to understand even today. Nobody can predict who will be born in which family and neither anyone can predict who will die when.

Life itself is a mystery for me. It unfolds every day like a plant growing from the seed. We are born into a family and lead life in different ways as we grow up. We cannot be sure where we will study, work, marry or settle in life.

One may call it destiny while others call it fate. Life has its unique ways of taking us to places where we never believed we will go. It also has its unique ways to help us stay grounded when we start floating in the air.

While astrologers may predict your future based on horoscope and astrological signs, it is still a mystery, which unfolds at its own pace. While some of the predictions may come true, others may take you by surprise.

None of us can be sure where we will be born and what type of life we will lead. We know of kids born in homes of millionaires leading a pauper’s life and vice versa. While I believe we determine our destiny by our hard work and deeds, it is still an unpredictable journey and mystery to that extent.

If we look at death, it is equally mysterious. The only definite thing of life is that both birth and death happens to everyone. Anyone who is born has to die some day. But, we can neither predict life nor death for anyone. It is an elusive mystery for mankind.

None of us can predict who will die when. Neither age nor health could really determine death. I know of people who have suffered life threatening diseases and even doctors had predicted a short life for them but lived for decades beyond those predictions. On the other hand, healthy people living a decent life suddenly die as if they have finished their journey in a hurry.

Apart from birth and death, we face many other mysteries in life. We meet people whom we would have never imagined. We visit places, which we only dreamt of. We may even end up marrying someone, whom we never intended.

Life is fun when it is a mystery. Some of us are stunned by the mystery of life while others may enjoy the unknown journey. In my view, it is worth exploring life as it happens to us. Let the mystery resolve as it evolves. The more unpredictable life is the more adventurous it is likely to be. Life would be boring if we are aware of the what is in store for us in the future.

What the two parrots are talking (as in the photo above) will always be a mystery !

I am not a big fan of mystery movies but enjoy life as it comes. I am game for any adventure in life and am willing to take the risks. Let us take every day as it comes and enjoy the unknown as it unfolds in front of us.

Let life be an unknown mystery.

S Ramesh Shankar

Everyone is different…

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I have always believed that every human being is different and we need to respect it. We either tend to expect a replica of ourselves in others or want them to do what we think is success as defined by us in life.

This starts from childhood. As parents, we want every child to excel in academics. Further, we want the child to excel in subjects which we think is good for them. We tend to believe and reinforce that if the child does not excel in academia, the child is doomed in life.

This further gets accentuated in our academic institutions. Children opt for subjects more out of parental or peer pressure and may not be really enjoying studying them. When they do not do well, teachers tend to believe that the student to be unfit in their class. If every student is equally brilliant in every subject or activity in the class then the role of parents and teachers may become redundant.

Why do we tend to put everyone in a spot ? We do not realise that sometimes we end up putting round objects in a square hole and vice versa. For eg, a child good in sports could be encouraged to excel in sports rather than cram science or maths. Similarly a talented artist could be enabled to display and develop their histrionic skills rather than memorise history.

After home and school, this tendency spreads to the organisation sphere. A manager tends to expect the same performance level from every team member. On the other hand, a leader recognises that every individual is unique and is bestowed with different talents. So, while a manger treats everyone with the same wand, a leader brings out the best in every individual by them giving differential opportunities to excel.

The tendency to typecast people starts at home, spreads to educational institutions, organisations and finally to society. We find it difficult to accept people with alternate talents. If someone in our neighbourhood does not want to enter an academic institution for scholastic studies but wants to thrive on their innate talent we tend to brand them as an outlier in society.

It is time to wake up. It is time to recognise that all of us are different. Each of us are born with innate talent to do different things. It is the ability of our parents, teachers and managers to bring out the best in us. If someone is not able to tap in the talent in us, it reflects more in their inability than our ability.

Each of us have the potential to get an Oscar in the Dolby theatre (as in the photo above). We need to discover the field in which we have the potential and work hard to earn an Oscar in that field.

I have met parents, teachers and managers who do this very effectively. They do not treat every individual alike. They recognise that each of us is a talent and need to be given the space and opportunity to excel in our own way. They are not judgemental and are willing to take the risk with us as individuals. We need to practise the same with our children and colleagues at work.

It is time to realise that everyone is unique and will be that way. We need to bring out the best in everyone through our actions.

S Ramesh Shankar

8th July 2018

Transgender is ?

Trans is webinar series

Who is a Transgender ? What does their world look like ? What are the challenges they face in society ? What is our world view of transgenders ? What can we do ? How can I make a difference ?. These are some of the questions which came to my mind when a friend asked me to join a webinar series called “Transis “

Today after attending 16 webinars I should confess that I realise how little I know of this genre called “transgenders”. Every webinar opened my eyes to their world. Every session I attended I realised how little we know about those sections of society who are disadvantaged in more ways than one.

I am neither competent to write on this topic nor will attempt to be an expert. But my ignorance inspired me to write about how little I know and what difference we can make as individuals in society. Most of us think, what can I do to transform society.

It is like that famous story of the star fish and the small kid on the sea shore. If each of us can throw back at least one star fish pushed to the sand by the waves, we can save the life of that star fish. Similarly if each of us can help understand one transgender person and enable them to integrate into the mainstream of society in whatever way we can make a positive difference to their lives.

I realised how difficult the world of a transgender is when I listened to their stories. A person is not born as a transgender by their choice. They are born into a family by nature’s ordain. Most families consider it a curse that a child of this nature is born into their family. So the challenge for this category of people starts from the day of their birth on this earth.

Imagine a child who is born into a family for no fault of theirs is discriminated and cursed for no fault of theirs. Many a time the child is thrown out of their home or discarded even before they become an adult. A child is born as a male in a female body or a female in a male body. They do not have a choice to live the way they want. Neither the family nor the community around them or the society at large supports them in any way.

I should admit that till today I thought that women, differently abled, minorities etc. were the disadvantaged sections of society. Today I realised that the transgender community have much bigger challenges to face not only to live but survive in a society, which has repeatedly failed to understand them and their issues. We have not only failed to understand them but also have not yet even imagined to create an eco system for their fair living.

If we take a peek into their world, we may realise that their challenges starts at their birth and possibly does not even end at their death. They are rejected by their own family leave alone the community around them. Societies and nations have not formulated adequate policies to enable them to lead a decent living. They find it difficult to get admission to educational institutions, employment opportunities almost do not exist and they do not even have a choice to live a life of dignity of their own choice like you and me.

I hope this blog has opened more eyes than one and each of us commit to change their world by impacting the life of one person at a time. Lets resolve to do whatever we can in our own personal capacity without waiting for the United Nations to write a charter for them.

Lets begin today.

S Ramesh Shankar

9th Oct 2020

Did you see the moon today ?

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Every evening I look at the night sky to look at the moon. The moon is beautiful everyday it appears in the night sky. It is romantic and soothes your mind. I have wondered many a time as to why the moon is so romantic. What is the beauty we see in the moon ?

A sculptor sees beauty in a raw stone. An artist admires the beauty of nature all around her. A child admires the beauty in the eyes of his mother. A poet is inspired by the moon or the sun. Each of us see beauty in some thing or the other.

I admire the beauty of the moon. I can sit on a sea shore and admire the beauty of the moon all night. It symbolises coolness. It reflects the sun light and thereby shows its generosity. It is non discriminatory and goes around the earth to share its beauty with everyone around the earth.

I admire the sun as well the moon. Everything in nature is admirable. If I miss to watch a sun rise, sun set or the moon in the sky, the day is incomplete for me. The moon by itself is sheer beauty. When it is reflected on the ocean, it multiplies its elegance to the human eye.

Let me try to reflect on the qualities of the moon, which makes it so adorable. It is sparkling white in a dark blue sky. It is selfless and reflects the sunlight for our benefit without keeping anything for itself. It is hard working and tireless as it revolves around the earth throughout the year without a break.

What do I lose if I miss to see the moon on any day ? I miss a thing which I admire. I am devoid of the beauty in the night sky. Sometimes on a new moon night, I realise the absence of light and how difficult life would be without sun and moon light every day.

I have wondered many times how poets and lyricists have written so much on the moon. Now when I sit and reflect I realise that if I can tirelessly admire the moon every day, there is so much inspiration for them to write endlessly admiring its beauty.

The sun, moon and the stars are nature’s gift to mankind. While each has its unique qualities, the moon is the most beautiful of all. I can watch the sun for a few moments and the stars forever without really seeing much. But the moon gives you the unique opportunity to admire it forever and without any break when it appears on the night sky.

The moon also teaches us to be devoted and grateful. It revolves around the earth without a break and transmits light to us from the sun without asking why. We as human beings find it difficult to give anything without knowing the reasons. May be the moon can be a good source of inspiration for us to give back more to society.

Life without the moon will be a life of darkness. Let us hope the moon will continue to shine in our life and inspire us every day.

S Ramesh Shankar

17th June 2018

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