Godmen & Godwomen

A friend of mine asked me as to why people in general throng to God men or God women alike cutting across religions. I said I really dont know but could be because most people who have some weakness need an emotional anchor to cover it up.

I find the rich and the famous thronging to religious leaders of all faiths. This could be because they have grown their wealth but lost out on their health – physical or mental. On the other hand, the common men and women also throng to these spiritual leaders – may be to seek what they have not achieved in life so far with a short cut.

All of us aspire for something in life. We work hard and also trust our luck to get us where we want to reach. But sometimes, either our luck or lack of efforts does not take us there. Then we possibly take refuge to God men or women to accelerate our path to success.

We may also look at these religious leaders to be an emotional anchor in our lives. Many of us do not have real family members or friends to support us although we have many in the social network. Then we get swayed to these leaders to seek emotional refuge.

On the other hand, sometimes we are stuck with consecutive tragedies in life and then we lose faith in ourselves, others and even in the super power, we seek refuge somewhere. It is at this time that the religious leaders take full advantage of our emotional weakness and mesmerise us to follow them blindly. We are willing to give away our wealth, health and even happiness to listen to them in every way.

In a democracy, every individual has a right to pursue whatever she or he wants. I have nothing against God women or God men. However, what I am against is their uncanny ability to exploit a human emotional weakness. They prowl around and catch hold of women and men in distress who are seeking an emotional support.

One thing I must admit that these Godmen and God women have something in them. They either have assimilated knowledge in their area of expertise or the gift of the gab. They also develop magical mystic and through their hypnotic powers are able to impress and sway their followers into blind disciples. Then these disciples in turn become their brand ambassadors. We possibly have an opportunity to learn from this strength of theirs.

In my life so far, I have met only one religious leader who did not follow this path. He was simple in living, high in thinking and attracted followers through his simple living and high spiritual powers. He neither sought wealth nor encouraged his followers to bestow their wealth on him. He never used cars, airplanes or material wealth of his followers to establish his credentials. That made him a real Guru.

On the other hand, all the others I have met in life so far have made religion a business. They not only have amassed wealth in the name of religion but travel around almost like a tycoon and wield their political power for other than religious or spiritual reasons.

As in the photo above, the kid displays how most Godmen or God women have misled people more than they have led.

I do envy these fake gurus who are making religions a business and feel sad for their gullible followers who seek refuge in them to get over their own emotional crises in life.

Is it time to discover who can be our real guru in life ?

S Ramesh Shankar

9th Feb 2021

Feel the hunger…

The other day I was playing badminton with a neighbour and he said he was a bit tired and wanted to stop after two games. I wondered what had happened to him as he normally had a good stamina. On inquiry, he informed that he had fasted the previous evening and hence was tired.

He further clarified that he was not fasting for any religious reasons. When further asked for the reasons, he hesitatingly said that he was periodically feeding children in an ashram and hence was fasting on that day. What really struck me is the reason for his fasting. He said he started fasting on every Thursday when the Ashram owner told him that it was not enough to feed the kids but may be good “To feel the hunger” by fasting once a week.

“Feeling the hunger” was a powerful statement and it got stuck in my mind. “Empathy” is not only a word in english but an experiential learning for everyone. Like they say, you need to put yourself in someone else’s shoes to experience what they feel in any situation.

At every stage of our life, we find people sympathising with us but rarely you come across people who empathise with you. The difference between sympathy and empathy is the phenomenon of “feeling the hunger”

As a child when you miss out a rank in the class by a few marks or lose a match for the school there will be many who sympathise with you but rarely some who can empathise. The ability to silently put yourself in the other person’s position is easier said than done.

As you grow into an adolescence and want to rebel at everything in life, everyone around you is critical as they tend to look at it only as a deviant behaviour. However, if one can experience what an adolescent goes through the story would be different. You may lend a listening ear or comfort the person that it is natural to rebel.

Then even as adults you find it irritating when someone gives you advise which they don’t follow. It may be easier to advice others than to lead by example. Leaders in organisations are not respected because they lack empathy.

Today’s generation is not looking for sympathy at all. They are touched by an empathetic leader. In times of crisis nobody looks for advice from the ivory tower. People expect leaders to be on the ground, smell the earth and work along.

Leadership is all about “ feeling the hunger”. It is all about empathy. We need to evolve our ability to put ourselves in other person’s position and experience life as they do. Once we are able to do that, our approach to life and living would be different.

As in the photo above, even while we cut a cake to celebrate a birthday, this neighbour skipped the cake to feel the hunger since it was a Thursday.

A simple off the cuff remark when someone said you need “to feel the hunger” made me think how much I still need to learn on this front. Learning is a life long journey and we possibly learn more as we listen more.

Let our learning blossom forever.

S Ramesh Shankar

16th August 2020

If we can, we should…

I have always wondered as to why we don’t do what we should. It could be a simple routine of a morning walk or a more a bit more complex as completing a project on time at work. Either way, we always spend more time in finding excuses for our non performance than putting in efforts to ensure our performance.

Interestingly I have noted that this trait in us continues with us from childhood to old age. As a kid, we invent excuses for not doing our home work or for skipping school or college. We become more innovative as we grow into adolescence and take our parents and friends for a ride. We enjoy discovering excuses at this stage of our lives.

Then we we grow as adults and we start working and this trait is not left behind. We always have the traffic congestion for our late coming to office or even the internet breakdown for delay in execution of any work related project. On the other hand, we never miss a flight because of traffic when we go on a holiday or miss a movie online because the net breaks down.

So life gives us all the opportunities to excel in whatever we want to do. We find the silliest of reasons to give up on chances, which come our way without our even asking for it. So, what does this do to us and to others. We miss steps in our career growth and lose our personal credibility. Others lose their respect for us as individuals in the family and colleagues at work.

Now, let us look at what happens if we do what we can. This may appear simple but may be one of the most difficult things to accomplish in life. I find people not keeping their word to their kids to take them for a movie. Imagine you meet people who will always keep their word. I have met many of them in my life – both at work and in my personal life.

First, you have high respect for such people because once they commit, they deliver. Secondly, they infuse this positive energy in others. If you work for a leader who is always on time and always delivers on all her commitments, you tend to become like them. This is natural. If my parents were courteous to everyone around, I learn to be that way. Similarly if my manager does what he can, then I do whatever I can too.

Even in our personal lives we love people who keep their word and deliver. When our parents always get us what they have promised, we respect them. On the other hand, we have scant regard for friends or relatives who always forget what they can do and find reasons for their non delivery.

Interestingly this phenomenon is universal. It is not linked to state, country, religion, ethnicity, culture or language. Having worked in multinational organisations, I have experienced it across the globe. So the choice is simple. If we are determined to do we what should, we can.

Even in the current Covid times, they are asking us to do 3 simple things. Wearing a mask , keeping a metre distance and washing our hands. We can and we should if we want to prevent the virus attacking us.

As in the photo above, if we can relax, we should. Gautam Buddha teaches us relaxation is possible at all times.

Life could be different from today if we make this small change.

Lets give it a try.

S Ramesh Shankar

14th June 2020

Phoren returned ?

It is interesting how the world turns upside down within a few days or even hours. It was a great honour and matter of pride for people in India to tell that they have just returned from a foreign trip. They were proud when their children studied abroad or they themselves went on a holiday to a foreign land. They could proudly share it with friends and family with photographs and all details.

However, in the last few days since the Covid virus hit the world, it is the contrary. Nobody wants you to be near them if you have returned from a foreign country. Apart from the compulsory quarantine for a fortnight mandated by the health authorities, people are wary of phoren returned friends and relatives. It is no longer a fad. On the contrary, people are wary of disclosing that they have returned recently from a foreign trip.

I am not against anyone going anywhere to do anything. If a student excels in academics and wants to study in the best university in the world – she or he has a right to do so and should do the same. Similarly, if a professional or a business person gets an opportunity to thrive in a different country there is nothing wrong about the same. However, what intrigues me is that the people residing in these prosperous worlds want to return to India when there is a crisis. Inspite of having better medical and health care facilities, they believe India will care for them more than any other country in the world would. They want to acquire citizenship in these countries for their material prosperity but they still want a place in India’s heart for their emotional security.

The government of India with the help of our national airlines and also the defence forces repeatedly takes up difficult missions to rescue Indians from across the world whenever there is a crisis and they should continue to do so. However, I have only one appeal to these prosperous and successful Indians. While India and Indians will always have a space in our hearts for all of you, kindly do not forget India when we need you. We would urge you to remember India not only when you are in trouble but also when you doing well wherever you are.

I saw a picture today sent by someone on the social media. It shows thousands of successful Indians returning to India during the Covid crisis because they feel it is safer to be at home during this period. On the other hand, millions of migrant workers are left stranded in the metros because there is nobody to take care of them. They could not afford to take flights back home like the prosperous Indians could.

Gratitude is absolute. It can and never should be relative. I cannot and should not think of being grateful commensurate to the benefit I derive from a person, organisation or a nation. I have to be absolutely grateful to everyone who has helped me in this journey of life irrespective of the magnitude of their contribution. It is then I am truly grateful.

Similarly prosperous Indians around the world have to be grateful to their roots in India and the people who have contributed to their success. They should express their gratitude in monetary and non monetary terms whenever and wherever it is possible and not wait for someone to ask. It is like people living in metros should be grateful to the migrant workers from across the country for their daily services. We have to take care of them when they are in crisis and not only use them when we need them. Gratitude is a two way street. One never knows when we will be trouble and and we may need help.

It is like in the picture above. The foreign returnee is not sure whether she wants to show her face or not.

Let us commit to express our gratitude in deeds rather than words and expressions from today.

S Ramesh Shankar

29th March 2020

The journey is as important as the destination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

S Ramesh Shankar

7th September 2019

Accepting defeat with grace…

We witnessed elections in the world’s largest democracy over the last two months. It was characterised by political debates, accusations, allegations and counter allegations as one can expect from such an event.

I admire the Election Commission of India for meticulously planning and organising a fair and largely peaceful election in a seamless manner. We were possibly the first country in the world to adopt electronic voting machines. We can be proud of this accomplishment, which many developed nations have not been able to adopt so far.

However, what we see as an aftermath of such a massive exercise is blame game. Political parities find faults with the election commission. They also blame the electronic voting machines for their losses. Today a political leader even went to the extent of blaming foreign forces for their defeat.

I am amazed at such reactions. One life lesson is to accept a “win” with humility and a “loss” with grace. After all the public at large comprises of citizens like you and me. We are well educated and make our judgement based on ground realities. We elect parties or leaders for their credence and not for any other reason.

We need to educate our political class to adapt to the technological changes impacting them. Today is it is electronic voting machines. Tomorrow it could be artificial intelligence or the blockchain, which may play a role in elections. What surprises me is that the so called educated politicians, who are professionally qualified like lawyers, management graduates, engineers, doctors etc are the first to criticise this way when they lose or their party faces defeat in the hustings.

My learning in life is to accept defeat with “grace” as much as treat victory with “humility”. This is what we can learn from all the best sportspersons in the world. A sportsperson glowing with arrogance after a victory fades into history. On the other hand, the humble sportsperson, who bows out with grace even in defeat is always the winner in our minds.

Politicians need to learn this lesson in life. We should not end up blaming our constitutional bodies and institutions for narrow political gains. After all, the citizens in modern India want better roads, clean drinking water, good health facilities and world class infrastructure. We want jobs for all who need it and health and happiness for the common man. We envision India as the best and the happiest country in the world.

It is time for political parities and politicians to rise above narrow archaic beliefs and work for the larger good of the nation. Let parliament work for 100% of the days, pass all needed legislations. Let the honest citizens be rewarded and the crooks in society be booked.

It is time for us to make India the best democracy in the world apart from being the largest. The government and the opposition needs to work hand in hand like the twin lilies in the photo above.

Let us learn to accept defeat with grace and victory with humility.

S Ramesh Shankar

26th May 2019

Learning “Motherhood” on Mothers’ day

I am not a great fan of “Mothers day”, “Father’s Day” etc, which are celebrated off late around the world. In my view, it is more a marketing gimmick for selling more products and promoting brands. Having said that, the second Sunday of every year is celebrated as “International Mothers’ day”. I would rather learn motherhood from the wonderful mothers around me rather than promote a marketing gimmick.

What can we learn from our mothers ? I would list five qualities, which I have learnt and admired from the mothers I have interacted in my life. There could be many more and these are my significant five. You could share your valuable five and this way we could learn from each other.

The first quality which a mother exudes is “Patience”. I have hardly seen a mother who does not put in extra efforts to display her patience. Right from feeding an infant or dealing with the antics of a child or bracing with the rebellion of an adolescent, a mother teaches us precious lessons on patience.

Perseverance is the second quality I have learnt from mothers. A mother never gives up. They don’t give up on anything. They are willing to convince anyone for getting their things done. They will follow up with anyone and everyone for the sake of their kids at school or otherwise.

The third quality one can adore in mothers is their “Selflessness”. In today’s world, most of us are so self centred that we forget many a time that there is a world around us. A mother on the other hand is serving others all the time and in this process,most of the time, forgets that she has her own world to live in. She lives for others all the time.

Loyalty is best learnt from mothers. They are loyal to their parents, their in laws, their children , sisters, brothers and their friends. While men may also be loyal, the unconditional loyalty of mothers’ is to experienced to be believed. It is to be believed to be learnt from our mothers.

The fifth quality I admire in mothers is their “unconditional love”. We all express our love and expect the same from others as human beings. However, mothers tend to love unconditionally. I cannot visualise a mother loving someone conditionally. This gives them the power of letting go when the love is not reciprocated in equal measure. This is when most of us find it difficult and feel hurt in our lives.

As I said earlier, a mother is an epitome of humanness. She is endowed with limitless qualities but I thought let me share my best five and request you to comment and share yours so that together we learn from one another.

As in the photo above, a mother appreciates her kid as much as she would do to other kids around her.

Our best tribute to mothers would be to imbibe at least one of these attributes from our mothers and live it every day of our life.

S Ramesh Shankar

12th May 2019

A visionary teacher

Today I heard of the sudden demise of our beloved Director of Madras School of Social Work – Prof KN George. He was a teacher with a difference. I learnt a lot of life lessons from this teacher who was a visionary par excellence. He always thought ahead of his times and set the direction for everyone to follow.

During my two years in college, he managed the college with a difference. I learnt the following lessons from his life :

A. Visionary : One needs to be a visionary in whatever field of work you are in. He was a man with a vision and a mission to accomplish it. I remember the transformation of the Madras School of Social work from an antique old two storied building to an excellent modern building with facilities ahead of its times.

B Stature : If one could learn one aspect of life from this teacher was the way he maintained his stature. Apart from being a well respected educationist, he could speak on par with highest civil servants, corporate CEOs or even the politicians. This was by his stature and personality and not by his position alone.

C Spotting of talent : Although he personally did not take many classes he knew every student in the college and could easily spot talent. He used to go out of the way to identify the talent and provide opportunities for realising the potential of the individual to the fullest. I have personally experienced it and seen it in many of my classmates.

D Dignity of office : He led by example and maintained the dignity of his office right through his tenure. This gave him the courage to deal with tough situations and he dealt with them respectfully.

E Eager to help : Although many students were scared of approaching him since he used to scold at first instance, I know of many of us, who have benefited from his unconditional help. He could help people get jobs with a phone call. He could facilitate students getting married if there were any obstacles on the way. He was always around to help.

F. Networking : He taught us through his actions the art of networking and getting things done. He had a connect in every field of life. He could talk to politicians, civil servants, film personalities or even corporate honchos with ease and always find a solution to a problem.

G. Social conscience : A man who always thought about the good of society. I have personally experienced on many occasions where he thought creatively to solve social problems. I was sent for field work to the Commissioner of Police office in Chennai in 1980 to set up a missing childrens’ bureau since it was an age of no computer or IT and tracing missing children was a big social issue.

Like all of us he had his own limitations. After all he was human like all of us. Today is a day to learn from all his virtues and live them for the rest of our lives. Let us resolve to learn at least one great quality from this passionate teacher of ours.

My salutations to Prof KN George – ex Director, Madras School of Social Work.

S Ramesh Shankar

Art of Music

“A thing of beauty is joy forever” said Keats.  I experienced this while attending a music programme today.  The singer explained how art has different forms.  She said that when a sculptor carves something it is beauty of form.  When a painter draws something it is beauty of sight.  When a dancer displays her art, it is beauty of expression.  When a musician sings, it is beauty of sound.

This struck a chord with me.  I had always been a connoisseur of beauty in all its forms.  Nature has always inspired me and so has music.  Interestingly I have no knowledge of music but every time I listen to soothing music, I transcend to a different world.  I have always enjoyed all forms of music and especially instrumental music.  Today it was Carnatic music but the way the singer explained the notes and connected them to beauty and spirituality, it was wonderful.

Another interesting dimension of music is that it has no language, religion, region or country.  It transcends boundaries of nations and cultures.  It unites the world in all its forms and makes you spiritual.   Music has healing properties too.  When I am feeling low, I love to listen to music.  It soothes my soul and relieves me of all my stress and strain.  Music is therapeutic and it definitely relieves you of all your pain.

I love to listen to music when I travel and it cools my body and mind.  Music also triggers my creativity and many a time its crystallises the thoughts in my mind and then words flow like a stream through my blogs.  I love to listen to music to relax.  I wonder how music soothes our body and soul.  It is indeed an art form expressed in sound. The most interesting aspect of music is that you enjoy it even if you do not understand its meaning.

In the picture above,  the singer explained the art of music and how it is a form of beauty and expressed in sound.  She sang Carnatic songs and explained the origin of music from the Vedas.

In the Indian tradition, music is played from the time of birth till the last rites of a person.  It helps us celebrate festivals and enjoy occasions.  The temples, churches and monasteries reverberate with the music of the bell.  The soothing sounds takes you to a different world.  The early morning chirping of birds is another form of music, which revitalises you at dawn and dusk if you are in sync with nature.

Music has no description.  Just as beauty has no dimension.  It cannot be described in words nor documented in a book.  It has to be experienced to be believed.  It has to be felt to discover its beauty.

Let us enjoy the beauty of music in life.

S Ramesh Shankar

Celebrating life…

We always wait for an occasion to celebrate life.  Why do we need to do so.  Why not learn to celebrate life every day without any reason ?  Is it difficult ?  I do not know.  May be we are conditioned to do so.  As we grow up as a child, we naturally celebrate life every day without any reason.  We play, laugh, cry without any provocation.  We do what we feel like doing and never regret our actions.  But as we grow up as an adult, we cease to do so.

It may be worthwhile to examine as to why this phenomenon happens.  One of my hypothesis is that the child in us gradually disappears.  We do not live life naturally.  We put up a facade in front of others.  We have an inner and an outer self.  The inner self is the child in us.  It is natural and wants to celebrate life as it comes.  The outer self is regulatory.  It tries to control us and our behaviour.  We behave as others want us to behave rather what we feel.

The second hypothesis is that our family, society and work environment also determines our behaviour.  Fear is instilled in us and we are generally pulled up for laughing aloud or celebrating without reason.  It is considered frivolous to enjoy life.  People around you tell you that you are not taking life seriously.  You seem to think that you have arrived in life.  All this makes us circumspect and look at life very seriously.  We may end up crying when need to laugh it out and laugh at moments of distress.

The third factor could be the perceived image we want to create in society.  We behave the way we want others to perceive us.  We are conditioned by circumstances and people around us.  We do not want to be our natural self lest we are misunderstood by others around us.  We behave in society’s acceptable ways.  It is like I take a particular subject in school or college not because I love the subject but because society will think I am crazy if I take something I like but is not considered normal.

It is time to wake up.  It is time to celebrate life as it comes every day.  Why not get up in the morning and think that today is the best day of your life ?  Why not be grateful to God for bestowing you with all the good things in life.  Why not enjoy today better than yesterday and also the unimaginable tomorrow ?  Why postpone a celebration for an occasion.   Why not tell people around you how much you love them ?  Why not tell your child how talented she is ?  Why wait for the exam results to celebrate your child’s talent ?

I love driving.  Sometimes, I have gone for a drive with my family without any destination in mind.  I have driven to wherever my heart wanted me to take.  Similarly, why not celebrate life without any reasons.  Why wait for a tomorrow to celebrate life ?  After all the tomorrow may never arrive.  Like they say, yesterday is “history”, tomorrow is “mystery” and today is “present”.  Lets celebrate today.

Let us the learn to celebrate life ( as in the photo above) from the gardner, who creates a thing of beauty from Bougainville flowers.

It may not be worthwhile to look at the past and lose our sleep.  It may be not realistic to look at the future and hope something is likely to happen.  It would be better to enjoy today.  It may also not be worthwhile to look for reasons to celebrate.  Let us celebrate life without reasons.  Let us create reasons to celebrate life rather than wait for occasions to occur in life.

The day to start is today and the time to start is now.

S Ramesh Shankar