Where West meets East..

I love my country. India is the biggest and the most vibrant democracy in the world. We may not have the best physical infrastructure in the world but we have the best emotional quotient. We care for our people and we care for the world. “Vasudeva Kuthambakkam” is a old Sanskrit saying. It means the world is one family. We believe in this tenet and try our best to live it every day in our thought and behaviour.

The other day I was flying down from Mumbai to Chennai. It was from the west coast of India to the east coast. The state where I currently live and work is on the west coast. The place where I was born and bought up is on the east. The language they speak and the culture of the two states are completely different. The type of dress they wear and the customs and traditions are also quite varied. But, what is common is our emotional connect. We live and breathe as Indians.

Today the western civilisation has invaded us. We have got the best of technological advancement from the west. We have learnt the traditions from the East and have blended the west to the east to get the best. We need to be proud of our past and confident about our future. We need to learn the best from the west and leave the traditions of the east to continue to thrive in our country so that we get the best of both the worlds.

We have 29 states in India and each has its unique culture. We have hundreds of languages and dialects. While Hindi and English is spoken and understood across the country, we do not have any problem in living or dealing with each other wherever we live. The reason behind this in my view is because by heart we are an Indian. We are brought up with a tolerant attitude to life and living.

We need to continue to learn and grow this tolerance in us. No religion, caste, creed or community should create barriers between us. While vested interests in society may intrude into our culture, we have a responsibility to preserve it and promote it for the future generations. We cannot afford the evil forces of society to impinge on the fabric of our cultural society.

We have to be proud of the past, while we create a future of our choice. We have adapt and adopt the best of technological advancement without compromising on our values or ethics. We have to embed our culture in our younger generations. In my view culture is like the blood in the body. No foreign organism can destroy the blood as long it is pure and has the immunity to fight all external forces.

We need to remember the best traditions of the past while we embrace the best technology for the future. Both need to coexist. We need to remember that our culture is the bedrock of our society. It is the foundation of our democracy. It is the bloodline of our society. We should neither allow our culture to degrade nor dilute due to the invasion of technology.

We have a rich tradition of science in our country. We have to embrace science for the betterment of mankind. But we need not do that at the cost of traditions. In my view, culture and technology are like two our two eyes. While one may be enough for sight, the two eyes provide us the third dimension of sight, which is not replicable by any technology. No camera in the world has been able to better the vision of our eyes.

The sun rising in the east or setting in the west looks as gorgeous across the Indian coast line as in the photo above on the west coast.

Let us learn to embrace technology and imbibe culture. Let the West meet the East.

S Ramesh Shankar

The Walking Encyclopaedia


We had a teacher in college by name Professor PK Vishveshvaran, whom we called the “Walking Encyclopaedia”. Anyone of the students had a query on any issue, she would go to this teacher and he always had an answer. If he did not know the answer, he would neither guess nor fake an answer but accept that he did not know. Further, he would commit to find the answer and get back to the student. It was in the early eighties, where computers and the internet was non existent.

Most of us were in awe of this professor. He was a simple, down to earth and a knowledgable professor, who had no pretensions. He was accessible to everyone and always willing to help. I have not yet met a teacher in my life, who is so endearing. He used to keep a radio in his room and listen to music and news from around the world. His room consisted of open shelves and he used to meticulously maintain reference materials in a very haphazard manner, which only he could retrieve. But the best part was that he could retrieve any information within minutes from a maze of shelves, registers, books and papers.

I have learnt a lot from this teacher in my life. He is like a role model for me in many ways. The first learning is that he led a very simple life and was always willing to share his knowledge with others. Hence, one could learn that simple living and high thinking is easy to admire but difficult to imbibe. Further, the belief that the more you share your knowledge with others, the more you learn and grow in life is something I learnt from this wonderful human being.

The second learning I got from this Guru was that he never aspired for any recognition. He was an absent minded professor in letter and spirit. He used to dress very casually and mingled very well with students and everyone else. One would never get impressed with his dress or his looks. His hairstyle would be strewn all over. He never dressed to impress. On the contrary, you will wonder whether he could be a master of his subject by the way he presented himself. However, the moment you interact with him for a few minutes, you realise what a reservoir of knowledge he was.

The third learning I had from this lecturer was that he was a life long learner. I have seen him from my college days till he lived.,I have always seen him curious and enthusiastic. He had the memory of an elephant and the inquisitiveness of a child. He always had questions to ask and did not hesitate a second to say – ‘he did not know” ? I have always been humbled by his presence and humility.

Sometime back I came to know that he was admitted to a ICU after a slip . His nervous system had been impacted. As soon as this information spread, students from all over the world prayed for him and were generously contributing to support him to recover. The prayers were answered by God within 24 hours and he became conscious and did recover. I did realise that a wonderful human being like him should never suffer from any disease or injury. God was kind to listen to the prayers but he did not survive for long.

I also recall that he attended every alumni meeting of the college and remembered me and my wife from our college days. He would recall the name of the place where I first started my career thirty six years ago and reminded me of the post cards he used to write to us. He took the three books written by my wife and promised to read them and send his feedback and review again through a post card. I recall he said – I will send a snail mail as I am not yet used to emails.

Unfortunately, he died last year. What a great human being he was ? I pray to God to help us learn from his humility and be s better human being.

S Ramesh Shankar

Maturity versus Immaturity


One of my young colleagues asked me where does maturity end and immaturity begin ?  It is difficult to answer.  He was shocked at his interactions with one of his key stakeholders.  While it started off very maturely and informally, it ended with a bad taste in the mouth and a sense of immaturity. So, the question is ” where does immaturity begin and maturity end or vice versa ?” 

When you interact with someone senior, you assume that the person will be more mature than you.  Maturity is relative.  It has to be experienced to be believed.  Age and experience does not necessarily guarantee maturity in anyone.  I have met a lot of young students and aspiring professionals, who have displayed exceptional maturity.  On the other hand, I have met senior professionals, who are yet to mature.

So, how does one deal with immaturity ?  In my view, maturity is a state of mind.  It has to evolve for a person.  Some of us gain maturity early while others take more time.  It is our ability to adapt to different kinds of persons and their relative level of maturity that makes us successful.  We may sometimes take light hearted humour as informal.  Then it may lead to informal interactions and then when one fine day informality is misunderstood by the other person, it hurts us and is termed as immaturity.

Does it mean that we should avoid informal interactions ?  I would not say so.  I always believe in creating a work environment, where informality prevails.  We should not only be physically accessible to our team members and colleagues but also mentally and emotionally at all times.  However, we need to learn where to draw the line.  It is easier said than done.  One needs to learn by experience where informality ends and formality begins.  It is a very thin line and we are bound to err many a time.

So this colleague asked me –  “How to deal with the immaturity of his key stakeholder?”. One needs to gauge the behaviour of others and learn to draw the line.  The line is not dependant on age, experience or seniority.  It is based on relative maturity.  One learns to draw the line by experience and most times by facing the consequences.  It is painful at times but one learns by facing it in real life.

I have seen this phenomenon at work and even in personal life.  It happens in the family and society as well.  We find unpredictable and irrational behaviour by very senior people.  It is difficult for youngsters to deal with them.  On the other hand, we find very mature and competent young people who wear maturity on their shoulders even before they gain enough experience.

I had a lot of questions from these young colleagues (as in the photo above) during a recent team building workshop on a boat in Bangladesh.

My learning in life is to moderate yourself than attempt to moderate the other person.  It is not easy for us to mould the behaviour of others.  It is easier to adapt our behaviour to suit the style of the other person.  As I said earlier, failure may be the stepping stone to success in many situations but there is nothing wrong with that too.  After all every sportsperson wins after losing many games.  Further, no sportsperson gives up after losing, even though the road to victory may be long and ardous.

Lets us begin the change today.

S Ramesh Shankar

Simplicity

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I have always been impressed by the simplicity of the villagers.  I recently had the opportunity to visit a village on the outskirts of Dhaka and the experience was the same.  We were on a boat with our team on a team building exercise.  The organisers informed us that there was a village on our route along the shores of the river and if we were interested we could stop by.

This was a village of potters.  We stopped by and some of us ventured into the village.  As we landed, we were welcomed by a group of old villagers sitting on the bank.  They were clothed in simple muslin and were just relaxing on the shores.  They welcomed us with warm smiles and made us feel special even as we landed.  Then we went to the first hutment.  They were a group of artisans who were making a idol for worship for a religious festival in the ensuing months.  They not explained how they go about it but also were willing to share their idols for photographs.

Then we met a group of goldsmiths.  They were hand crafting silver and gold jewels.  They were happy to share their products and explain the process to us.  There was absolutely no attempt to hard sell anything to us.  They did not take undue advantage of a group of tourists to sell their produce taking advantage of our visit.  They were not at all disappointed when we did not end up buying anything from them.

The third hutment was a potter making pots for making yoghurt.  He explained how it was made and then fired in the kiln.  He further explained how it is marketed in the city. He also did not try to sell his pots to us but was more keen to explain the process of pot making.  This is unlike the city folk, who do not lose an opportunity to sell their produce even when we do not need them.

The last hutment was that of a lady potter who was actually making pots from mud through a manual process(as in the photo above).  When asked if a motorised process would have been more helpful and productive to her, she replied that she could not afford it and she was happy to do it the manual way.  She happily displayed how effortlessly she converted raw wet mud into a beautiful pot .  She then explained how it is dried and then heated in a kiln before is it cooled in sand and then goes for sale.

The best part of the trip was when this lady had kept some mango fruit dried up in a open mud plate.  When some of us enquired as to what was this used for ? , she explained the process of making dried mango papad.  She further added that it was taken by the villagers as a side dish and also helped in neutralising the summer heat.  She requested us to wait and offered us a sample of this tasty mango papad.  She did not accept any money from us as she said that it was just a small sample for us to taste it.

Such is the simplicity displayed by the villagers.  I am not sure if we get corrupted by materialism in life.  As we live in cities with all comforts of life, we forget the basic human values of life.  We are not interested in welcoming our guests.  We are not keen to share our knowledge or skills.  We guard our physical territories as if someone is always looking to invade us and attack us.  We are commercial in all our dealings and look for economic again in all human transactions.

It is time to wake up and go back to our roots.

It is time to learn “simplicity” from our village folks ?

S Ramesh Shankar

Blankness


I am not sure if this is a correct word in English.  But I am not worried about that as long as I am able to express what I feel.  There are some days when you are alone and feel that you are in a state of flux.  It is a feeling of emptiness and you think as if there is no meaning in life.  You also feel that there is neither a beginning nor an end to anything you do in life.  Is this a feeling some of us feel some time or the other in our life.  What do we do when this happens ?

The first good news is that we are not alone.  Many of us go through this in our life time.  Not once but may be many times. There is nothing to feel sad or disappointed.  It is like while undertaking a long road trip, you sometimes end up on a road, which is a dead end.  Neither your map works nor anything else.  Over and above there may be no sign of life anywhere around you.  The mobile network may not work too and then you wonder what to do.

If we end up in such a situation, what do we do ?  We do not abandon the car at that point and wonder what to do.  We reflect and contemplate.  Sometimes, we may retract our route and drive from where we came till we find a turn or a person to guide us.  Life is no different.  We have to pause and take a break some times.  It will look as if there is emptiness and we are in a state of vacuum.  It is ok to feel this way.  Just take a deep breath and may be a break and you may be able to restart life all over again.

I am reminded of the problems most of us face while using computers.  When the screen hangs and no key makes any impact, what do we do.  We either switch off and on the computer or press “Control+Alt+del”.  It is the same thing we have to do in our lives.  When we reach a dead end, we have to take a break.  We have to reboot ourselves and start all over again.  There is nothing right or wrong about such instances.  Interestingly many of us face such situations more often than not today in our lives.

This may happen in our career too.  We may feel we have reached a dead end and there may appear no light at the end of the tunnel.  There is no need to panic.  We need to introspect.  Are we equipped to deal with changing directions in our career.? Are we skilled to deal with the changing business environment?   Are we the best in whatever we do so that nobody can bypass us ?  If the the answer is yes to one or all of the above, we know what do do.

In case, we are still groping to find the answer, it may still never be too late.   If we cannot find the answer ourselves, we can ask our colleagues, seniors, family, friends or well wishers.  After all in life, we may have all the questions and it is human not to have all the answers.  If we did, we may not believe in that spiritual power, whom we may call God or by any other name.  Like in the photo above, if you are in a hot air balloon with a boat in the midst of the sea and do not know which side to row, what do you do ?

I am a born optimist.  I believe every question has to have an answer.  If we do not the know the same, it does not mean the answer does not exist.  We need to have the humility first to accept that we do not know the answer to our question in life and then the courage to ask the right person to help us.   Life is complex but the way to deal with it is simple.  When in doubt, ask ?

Is it possible ?

S Ramesh Shankar

You miss something you do not have any more …

As we grow up in our family, we are lucky to have all the comforts of home.  We are fully taken care of by our family members and get all the comforts of life.  But, as we complete our education and then get into a job, we are compelled to move out of our home.  We live on our own and have to fend for  ourselves.  We realise that our mom is not around to give us our morning coffee.  As the day progresses, we miss her and many more people and things around us, which we were quite used to.

We search for our tooth brush and it was not in place as soon as we get up and look for it.  Then there is nobody to offer our morning coffee.  The breakfast is not laid on the table and nobody to wish us a great day ahead.  As this change sinks into us, we realise that we miss our mom or spouse or that special person in our life, who has be nurturing us from dawn to dusk every day.

We are busy at work but may be even forget this vacuum in our life temporarily but as we return to our den in the evening, we realise that the situation is the same.  There is nobody to open the door for us.  There is no evening tea waiting for us and more important we have to freshen up and cook our own food.  This cycle of life makes you realise that you always “miss something you do not have any more”.

We were used to the pampering by your beloved mom  and then when we have moved out we suddenly miss her.  We may have been complaining morning, evening and night how bad our mom’s cooking is.  We may tell her how our friends get excellent delicacies every day and we don’t and so on.  But, as we land all alone in life, we realise how much we miss her.  Her food, her warmth, her care and love can no longer be measured in a value.  

Today I visited my niece.  She is married and settled down in life.  She narrated an incident of how her mom visiting her made her day.  She was feeling more cared for when someone is there to say good bye, when she leaves for work. Her mom’s cooking food for her makes it tastier and more enjoyable.  She said she realises today after being married for more than a decade when her mom visits her once a year.

This is true for everything in life.  We miss something only when you do not have it any more.  Life is a competitive journey and we face all odds to do our daily chores.  We are taken care by our family and friends as we grow up.  But, as we try to stand alone and live life on our terms, we realise how much we miss all that we had in life before.  It may be things or people but they look invaluable and irreplaceable to us now.

Of course, we can always buy things and replace them to comfort ourselves.  But, we cannot replace the love, warmth and care of the people around us.  It is this realisation, which makes us human and helps us to keep our feet on the ground.  It is important to realise that we can never repay this debt in life.  It is an emotional debt and has to repaid by love and care only.

At this moment, when our elders grow up, we may have to realise that it is not good enough for us to provide them with physical comfort.  Even they can buy them from the market place, which they can afford.  We need to repay our debt by unconditional love.  We have to be with them not only when they need us but even when they may not expect us.  

Like in the photo above, the baby elephants may miss their mother after they get separated from her in the wilderness of the forest.

Life is a journey and we need to learn from all that we miss, which we do not have today.

S Ramesh Shankar

Who is the ultimate judge ?


There have been many instances in my personal and work life when I have felt that I was misjudged.  Let us start from my personal life. As I grew up as a child, I felt I was scolded by my parents or teachers for no fault of mine.  It could be a simple incident wherein your younger sibling could have done some mischief but you are scolded by your parents as the elder one. Similarly in the class room your teacher may scold you for some nuisance created by your neighbouring classmate. In all such cases, you feel let down. 

The work situation is no different.  You give your best and feel that you have had a great year.  When the annual appraisal is done, your manager assesses you as below par.  All through the year, you are praised by everyone for your contributions – team members, colleagues and even seniors.  But, when the promotions are announced you are ignored or superseded.  You feel miserable and feel the whole system is unfair to you.

So, whether it is the work situation or your personal life, such instances occur in regular periodicity.   I have always wondered as to “Who is the ultimate judge ?”.Some may philosophically state it is God.  But, having experienced many such situations at work or my personal life, I feel the ultimate judge is our own conscience.  If we ask ourselves objectively, what is the answer you get – that is the ultimate truth.  What the world sees is extrinsic but what we see from within is intrinsic.

It is easier to look back and examine it objectively.  It is very difficult to go through a situation like this and digest it.  I have gone through at least three such situations in my work life and may be many in my personal life too.  Each time I have felt very bad and deeply hurt.  It has taken a lot of time to recover and bounce back.  But, each time, when I have asked my conscience, I have got the right answer.

Today, when I sit back and reflected on these moments of my life, I laughed at myself.  It may neither be easy to cry nor laugh at oneself.  But, when you reach a stage in life when such incidents can be taken in your stride, you start believing more in yourself.  One sure shot answer to judge yourself apart from your conscience may be the feedback you get from all the people around you other than the person, who has misjudged you.  If the majority opinion is similar to what your conscience states, there is nothing to regret.  On the contrary, the person making the wrong judgement may regret such a judgement on you some day.  After all they too have a conscience and it will tickle them some day to wake up .

Life is a journey of ups and downs.  Each incident teaches you something.  It is up to us to live through and learn from them. It may be easier to learn from the positive experiences rather than the negative ones.  It takes time to reflect on the negative experiences but when you are able to do it, it could teach you more than the positive ones.  It is like failures teach you more than successes in life.

Like in the photo above,  God does not necessarily exist in a puja room.  God is within us.  

Let us listen to our conscience every time we are in doubt on anything in our life.

S Ramesh Shankar