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

Our five senses

Bangalore 8-9-june2007 165

As human beings, we are born with five senses. They are sense of touch, hearing, smell, sight and taste. Today we are losing our sense of senses. I do not know the real reasons for the same but may be worth exploring. We need to revive our senses. They not only help us lead a more fulfilling life but will help us add joy to the life of others. The increasing lack of senses is making us live senseless, in society.

Let us start with the sense of touch. Can any of us forget the warmth of a mother’s hug on a day we are feeling low ? This touch is magical. It seems to cure us of everything. It helps us get over our sorrow. It re-energises us to bounce back in life. We get consoled without even a word being spoken. Today we hug each other in the social media and are shy to hug in real life. This is not only because we do not have time to meet each other in person but feel it is less socially respectful to hug someone. Lets give a hug to a person in distress and experience the magical effect on their well being.

If we move to the sense of hearing, it is equally magical. One would always long to be with family members or friends, who are active listeners. We generally tend to speak more than we listen. Let us listen to kids at home, colleagues at work as if our listening will change their world. We can experience that the richness in our relationship becomes qualitatively better to the quality of our listening. Here again, one need not go far away from home to learn. In most of our cases, our parents are good listeners and we have failed to learn from them.

Today we do not have the time to enjoy the fragrance of nature. If we go on a morning walk, the smell of the jasmine, plumeria or parijatam can transcend us to a different world. But, most of us either do not go for a morning walk or jog or cannot recognise and enjoy the smell of these beautiful flowers. This is partly due to our lack of time and supplemented by pollution and lack of flowering trees in our environs. We seem to be losing of ability to sense the smell of flowers around us. If our eyes are blind folded and we are asked to identify different flowers by their smell, many of us may fail to do so and may blame choked noses for the same.

We are also losing our sense of sight. Today, we see only what we want to see. We may not be colour blind by birth but are unable to sport all the colours in the beautiful world because of our lack of sight. Many of us may not have the time to enjoy the shades of the rainbow and explain the Indigo to our kids. We do not get up to the colourful hues of the sky during sun rise or have the time to do so at sunset. We do not have time for holidays to spot animals and birds of different colours and breeds.

Last but not the least is our sense of taste. We seem to have become bland in our taste. We have our breakfast , lunch and dinner in a hurry and also while watching TV or playing on our phone. We do not have time to sit back and enjoy our food. We cannot distinguish between different food varieties and enjoy the diversity of food of different states in our country. If we are blind folded and asked to identify the taste of different ice cream flavours, we may fail to do so.

Life has indeed become senseless – literally and figuratively. But, whom should we blame for this state of affairs. Can we blame our ancestors or our parents ? Can we blame the society or community around us ? It is time to realize that we need to blame ourselves and nobody around us. We are responsible for this pathetic state of our senses.

In a park ( like in the photo above), you can get in touch with all your senses.

It makes sense to revive our senses to day

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

Leadership lessons from Prime Minister Vajpayee

India lost its three time Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on 16th August 2018 at the age of 93 after a prolonged illness. The nation received the news with numbed silence. I have personally been a great admirer of this person. I do not have any political affiliations but the personality of this human being was magnetic to say the least and that made me a ardent fan. I was saddened by his death and decided to list ten learnings from this statesman, which any human being could try to imbibe in their daily life.

Inclusiveness was in his blood. He had expressed in thought and action through his speeches, poems and actions. I have not heard or met anyone who has known him complaining of his ignoring them. Even the common man felt he was accessible and was never felt excluded in any public actions or policies.

One of the most difficult tasks of a leader is to balance the team, especially when you have members with opposing ideologies to manage. He had the ability to manage diversity and foster inclusiveness through his fairness and equity. Such was his stature and credibility that his silence spoke more than his words.

Even after balancing a team, it is important for a leader to carry along every member of his team. He was a master of listening to all shades of opinion and still being decisive. He had the ability to carry along people with opposing views gracefully. This is difficult to practise especially in a diverse political spectrum when you are running a coalition government.

His ability to build consensus was par excellence. If we look back on the decision to go nuclear or win a war against an erring neighbour was built on political consensus. He was diplomatic but firm. He could place national interests above narrow political considerations and influence people of all political shades to support his views in the overall interest of India.

We hear stories of how he fell on the feet of a tribal woman entrepreneur, who gave employment to hundreds of needy women. His outreach on the Kashmir issue has no parallels in Indian history. He could extend a hand of friendship even to his rivals provided it was in national interest. Humility and humaneness was felt in his thoughts and actions.

He was one of India’s best known orators. He could make his critics laugh even while made a scathing attack on their stance. Such was his stature in parliament and outside that even the opposition listened to him in rapt attention when he spoke. I have repeatedly listened to his speeches to learn the art of differing without hurting others.

His sense of humour had to experienced to be believed. He was an inspirational poet. He could use words, gestures and even pauses to silence his critics. He could sway the sombre mood of any audience with his humour. Even in humour, he had the grace of being dignified.

A statesman is judged by his actions and not by his words. His ability to reach out and contribute to international issues without compromising on India’s interests raised his political stature. He did not give up on resolving international conflicts even when all his humanitarian gestures were snubbed. Such was his personality that even the government in power made him India’s leader in the United Nations although he was only the leader of the opposition.

India’s interest was the basis of all his decisions. He never entertained any action, which was against national interest. We hear instances wherein he even declined suggestions even from his cabinet colleagues if it was not in overall national interest. He was also willing to invite suggestions from political rivals on national issues.

One of his best qualities I would love to imbibe is his ability to criticise respectfully. I have heard many of his speeches in parliament – both as prime minister and as leader of the opposition, wherein he has been scathing in his criticism but without crossing the line of dignity. No politician could ever raise a finger against him for his language, delivery or content although they may not have agreed with his views on any subject.

I have attempted to illustrate a short list of ten qualities, which I admired in him. I am too small a person and have never met him so do not know much about him except from information in the public domain.

This is just my tribute to PM Vajpayee as a common man on the day when his body was cremated in New Delhi and the entire nation paid their last respects to him.

RIP

S Ramesh Shankar

16th August 2018

Process – means or end ?


Is a process a means to an end or an end in itself ?  In my view, it should be only be the means to an end and not an end in itself.  However, in many organizations today, processes seem to become an end by itself.  I was recently on a field visit to another country.  The CFO was trying to explain to me as to how they have migrated for all their banking needs including employee salary accounts from a multinational bank to a local bank.  When asked for the reasons, he explained as to how it took more than ten days even to open a salary account in the multinational bank as compared to the local bank, which could do the same in one day.

This incident reminded me as to how we have become slaves of organisational processes.  This is more prevalent in multinational organizations rather than local ones. One of the reasons many multinational organizations are losing their competitive advantage in many markets is that they seem to be wedded to processes more than the results expected out of them.

It is time to question all our processes and ask ourselves as to whether we need them.   We need to examine whether each process meets an end or only delays an action to achieve a goal.  Many processes may have evolved over time due to various historic reasons.  The origin of some of them may have been linked to ensure better compliance or correct some serious violations in the past.

I have two interesting learning experiences to simplify processes.  The first was when I went to a school in Bangalore to seek admission for my son in XI standard.  The school refused to give admission forms. I was disappointed.  They told me that there was no need to fill up an admission form before admission.  I thought it was a polite way to decline admission for my son in the school.  However, they said that it was enough to give a copy of the final mark sheet.  They would short list based on his marks and then put up the selected list of students on the notice board.  We could then fill the admission form after that.  It actually happened that way and it was a simplified admission process.  This not only reduced the cost for parents but eliminated thousands of students to fill up forms and pay for them even though the majority of them would never get admission in that school.

The second instance was when I wanted to buy a small speaker to listen to music in my office.  I made a purchase requisition and even after two months, the speaker could not be procured.  When I enquired they said that they could not identify a vendor since most of them were not agreeable to our payment terms.  However, when I raised this issue with the head of supply chain in my organisation, we decided that it was a silly process to follow for an item of so less value.  Hence, after this incident, we decided that we will allow all employees to procure items less than Rs. 25000 ( $400) directly using their credit cards and claim the same through a reimbursement process.  Sometimes, the cost of the process could be more than the cost of the item to be procured. 

It is like having a process to procure these mud pots(as in the photo above) to be more expensive than the cost of the pots itself.

Both these incidents taught me that it is possible for us to challenge every process in any organisation and simplify it.  We simply have to ask whether a process is a means to an end or an end by itself.  Further, we need to examine if it serves any useful purpose.  Otherwise, we just need to question it and eliminate it.

Let us start today.

S Ramesh Shankar

Whom should I blame ?

The monsoon is here and it is pouring cats and dogs. The roads are choked. The traffic is crawling. Trains have been interrupted and there is water logging everywhere. Everyone is badly impacted. Whom do I blame ? We want to blame the state government in power ? We want to blame the city local body ? We want to blame the central government and so on.

The local body, state and central government have to take responsibility for the state of roads and monsoon preparedness in general. There is no doubt about it in my mind. But, how about blaming myself for this state of affairs, at least partially ?

While it is fashionable for everyone especially the elite to blame the state and everyone else, we refuse to look within us. I was reflecting on this question today morning and thought about the following :

Why does my milkman, who is 75 years old not complain of rain and deliver milk without fail at 530 am every day ?

Why does my newspaper boy deliver my newspaper at 7 am every day even in this heavy rain ?

Why do my maid and driver not bunk their work and report regularly every day ?

All the above people come from the lower strata of society but do not shirk their responsibility by blaming the environment or the state while discharging their duties. Why do I want to blame everyone around me except myself ? What can I contribute to prevent this in the future. I have ten ideas to share and I commit I will personally try to follow the same.

A. Prevent the use of plastic and disposal of waste over drains in office and at home near my neighbourhood

B. Segregate waste into organic and inorganic and ensure safe disposal.

C. Ensure rain water harvesting is done sincerely in my community

D. Ensure storm water drains are clear and cleaned before the monsoon in my community and at my workplace

E. Report manholes and water logging to the municipal authorities in time

F. Ensure that everyone around us uses dustbins in public places

G. Carry cotton bags for all types of shopping

H. Recycle everything possible at home and at work

I. Dispose of e waste appropriately in designated places

J. Take responsibility for my community and my workplace for all of the above.

If you agree, like my post and say yes. Your ideas can add to mine too and will useful to all of us.

Enjoy the rains and let us inculcate a habit of “I can” contribute to changing the environment rather than blaming and cribbing at all times.

S Ramesh Shankar

10th July 2018