Reality bytes

Today I went with my wife for a tour to Dharavi in Mumbai. This is one of the largest slums in Asia. There are almost a million people living in an area of less than two square kilometres. A home is less than ten square feet and on an average houses five adults. It is indeed an eye opener. You need to visit the place to believe it. We went through an organization, which organises these tours and partly gives back its profit to support the people and children living in Dharavi.

The first part of the tour is the commercial area. In this part, thousands of men and women are working in different types of industries. The first sight of old car bumpers getting shredded and recycled as plastic beads to be moulded into chairs and other plastic durables. Then we pass through suitcase makers, the leather soles for shoes, leather bags, bakery and food items being made for consumption within themselves as well as for sale around town.

You realise how difficult are the working conditions. In dark room with minimum light people inhale dust and paint flakes as they shred material waste to generate the raw material for plastic remoulding durables. People from the remote parts of the country are working day and night leaving their families behind just to earn a livelihood. We realise how privileged we are even to be born in middle class families. Our parents take care of our education, provide us a place to stay and a decent standard of living.

Then you move to the residential area. We see people from different states of India and following different religions living peacefully together. It is here you realise that wealth may not help you buy happiness. You see children, adolescents and adults enjoying each other’s company and helping each other in their daily chores. You see happiness writ on their smiles and this makes you realise that it is not materiality which can bring you happiness in life.

You also see schools – run by government, NGOs and private organisations. While the government and other organisations are tying their best to improve the quality of their lives, the problem is mammoth. One good thing I noticed is that I did not see children working in the commercial areas although this cannot be totally ruled out.

Some of my reflections and learnings after today’s tour are –

A. We need to be grateful to God and our parents/elders for all the comforts we enjoy in life and never realise their value

B. We realise that happiness is not directly correlated to the wealth we possess. Rather happiness is a state of mind and attitude to life.

C. We also need to realise that we need to give back to society more than we get as are indeed much more privileged than millions of people around us.

As in the photo a( courtesy – Reality tours & travels)above, children sitting in a cart within the slum seem happier than many of us. We realise how privileged we are in life.

What do you think ? Is it time to reflect ?

S Ramesh Shankar


The definition of success can be different for everyone.  It also depends on the stage of our life and our career.  It could be simply stated as achieving what we want in life.  As a kid, we mostly feel that we are successful if we achieve our scholastic goals in school or college.  We also are happy if achieve our goals in sports or cultural activities.

Most parents also define success for their children as acamedic accomplishments. This definition of success changes as we grow in life.  The moment we get through our acadmic part of our life and stand on our own feet, we redefine success .   At this stage, we tend to define success by our material wealth and accumulations in life. We would like to be the richest and the wealthiest amongst our peers.

As the career stabilises, promotions are also a measure of success.  Then we yearn for recognition and status in society.  We also grow in the family and respect is a way to defining success.  Our happiness gradually moves from self to others’ success.  At home, the accomplishments of our kids make us feel successful.  At work, the performance of our team members make us feel proud.

After we pass through this stage of our life, we realise that it is time for us to give back to society.  We redefine success in life now.  We believe that our contributions to the success of other family members and friends makes us happier.  At work, we would like our team to excel.  We also want to give back to others what we have learnt from our elders and seniors.

We now are no longer looking for more material wealth but mental peace and happiness.  Our spiritually gets redefined and we reach a stage of self actualisation.  At this stage of life, we start working on how we can support others and make them successful.  We are no longer in a rat race being competitive with others.  Our concept of success is more within us than without.

The interesting aspect of the evolving definition of success in life is linked to our life stages.  Some of us grow faster than others.  It is important to remember that we are human and hence we need to adapt ourselves to the meaning of success in life as we grow up.  It is equally essential to respect the definition of success of others in our life as they may be at different stages and may have different needs to fulfil.

Running for a marathon like in the photo above could be measure of success for some and not for others.  It is quite fine to be that way.

Let us learn to enjoy our successes in life as we define it.

S Ramesh Shankar

“Never say die…. Attitude”

I am a born optimist in life. I generally do not give up on anything – in personal or work life. I believe there is always a way forward if we try. I admire people who have a “Never say die.. Attitude “. Their attitude is infectious and efforts admirable.  

Life is full of choices. We can choose to be happy or sad. We can choose to try or to give up. We can choose to live healthy or otherwise. It’s all in our hands. I have met people, who will never give up on anything in life. There are such people in all walks of life.  

The first example comes from the field of sports. We do not see a great sportsperson give up till the last moment of the match. It’s their belief in themselves. Winning is journey for them and not a destination. They never rest after winning a match. They rather start practising for the next. Not to give up ever is infused in their blood and this is what makes them great.

Let me share some examples of people I have met in my life and how they have inspired me to never give up. The first person I met was a batch mate of mine who started his career with me in a public sector undertaking. He had an ambition of joining the civil services and tried three times and could not make it. But never gave up. However, what inspired me was his efforts to go to the USA to work and settle. He applied for a visa at least ten times and was rejected each time for some reason or the other. But he never gave up. He kept on trying and finally has gone and settled down there. Even in the USA, he lost his job after some years due to a recession but did not give up. He studied further by taking a break and again bounced back into a better job.  

Another inspiring story is that of a colleague at work. She worked with me and was posted in a remote location. Her husband had a congenital disease and works in a public sector organisation. She has one child who is studying well. This lady is an epitome of this attitude of “Never say die..”. She has been trying all types of treatment for her hubby and is confident that he will fully recover. She takes care of her daughter like mom and dad together. At work, I am yet to meet anyone in the organisation, who does not praise her for her attitude. Thus both at work and in her personal life, she never gives up.

I salute such people. Their self belief and their tenacity are admirable. All of us can be that way but we tend to give up when things do not go our way. It is at such times, we need to look around and get inspiration of people like these, who are like super humans, who we can be inspired from. It is like in the photo above, these people never give up and even try to keep the sun between their fingers.

Let us never give up. We need to learn from them.

S Ramesh Shankar

Taking for granted ?

Do we take people for granted ?  I assume we do.  It starts from the family and then extends to society and organisations too.  Let us start from the family. Do we take our parents for granted ?  Yes we do.  We almost assume that they are duty bound to take care of us and our needs for the rest of our lives.  We are not much bothered about them but if they do not support us when we need them we feel betrayed.  

The story is not very different with our spouses.  Whether we both are working spouses or not, it is a fact that we take each other for granted.  Let us assume that our spouse is not working in an organisation but a home maker.  We almost imagine that they do not have much work and no tensions at home.  If we  get what we want at home on time, we assume that it is their responsibility and hence take it for granted.

On the contrary, let us assume that both spouses are working.  Even in this situation, we do not balance home and office work.  We tend to take for granted that our wives will take care of our home as we are busy at work.  We do not even realise that our wives also have work pressures and balancing home and work is not easy.  Hence, taking your wife for granted is more true than not.

Now, let us move to the organisational sphere.  Do we take our team members, colleagues and bosses for granted ?  Yes, it is true that many of us are so self centred that we look at the world only from own prisms.  We are not much concerned as to how it impacts our team or even our peers.  We take them for granted.  Sometimes, we also take our bosses for granted and assume that they will cover up for us in any crisis.

Why is it that we take everyone in life for granted ?  I assume it is a psychological phenomenon.  Human beings tend to believe that the whole world exists to support them.  We assume our family members, colleagues at work and members of the community are duty bound to help us to be successful in life. When this belief becomes one sided, that is where we start taking people for granted.  

The moment we start believing that we have to give before we take help from others, this problem will perish.  We have to learn to respect everyone and not take anyone for granted in life.  There is nobody in life, who is obligated to you.  We are born alone and will die alone.  But, we need the support of everyone in life to be successful.  Help is always mutual and respect is earned rather than given.  Hence, taking people for granted could lead to more distress than happiness.

We should neither take people or things for granted.  It is like taking a turn while driving your car by looking only at one of your side view mirrors as shown in the photo above.  This is like the driver taking his skills for granted.

Let us learn to respect people from today.

S Ramesh Shankar

Complex – inferiority or superiority

We all have complexes in life.  Sometimes we call them inferiority complex and at other times superiority.  In my view, complex is only of one type and that is inferiority.  When we are not able to accept our inferiority, we project it as superiority complex.  This happens to us in all aspects of life.  It starts at home.  As a senior family member, we find it difficult to accept our mistakes. We find it more difficult to say sorry.  Most of the time, we use our status to exert our power.  We think we are superior to the other younger members of the family and hence can get away with it.  In my view, we are inferior and everyone including a child understands it although may not express it to us out of respect.

The best example of the expression of complexes is seen between spouses in a marriage.  Each of us think, we are superior and can argue till the end to justify our behaviour.  We many a time may realise that it is our mistake but our status and ego prevents us to accept defeat in an argument.  We may prefer to keep quiet and not talk to each other rather than accept inferiority or defeat in any situation.  All of us who are married may have gone through this situation many times in life.  I have gone through and have always found it difficult to reflect and accept reality.  It is definitely easier to write about it than display it in day to day behaviour.  

The work situation is no different.  As managers and leaders, we think our seat of power gives us a right of superiority.  We want to win every argument with our team and want to dominate in every discussion.  We think that if we listen more and give in to ideas, we may be perceived as less effective.  This sense of superiority in us is actually a weakness rather than a strength.  Hence my hypothesis that there is only one complex in life and that is inferiority.

The behaviour of individuals in society is similar.  We tend to behave as if we know everything in life if we are the oldest in a group.  We tend to believe that experience can make us a master of all situations.  While it is true that experience is a good teacher, it may not necessarrily answer all the questions in life.  It may be a good idea to listen to all shades of opinions in society. Everyone in life, old or young, senior or junior may have something to contribute.  It is up to us to learn from everyone in life.

The earlier we realise that all complexes in life are those of inferiority, the better it is for us.  Irrespective of family, work or civil society, there is nobody inferior or superior in life.  Everyone may have ideas and it is up to us to learn from all of them.  It may be useful for us to convert every weakness into an opporutinity to learn from others.  If we live in a dream of superiority, we live in a world of delusion.  

Just like in the photo above, being taller or shorter than the other person does not make you superior or inferior in life.

The earlier we accept the reality, the faster we grow up in life.

S Ramesh Shankar

Looking back or Moving forward

It is that time of the year when the Christmas carols can be heard. The end of a calendar year and the beginning of a brand new year. We look back to move forward. All of us love to reflect on the past year and build hope for the next year. We are happy of some events and regret others while we look back. We are optimistic about the future and hence wish the new year brings joy and happiness to all of us.

It may be a good idea to look back. But, what should we look back at. We need to realise that looking back and being grateful to people, who have contributed to our success in the previous year may be a good idea. It may be worthwhile to feel happy about some of our key accomplishments during the year. It may be worthwhile to learn from some of the mistakes we may have committed in the previous year.

But many of us tend to spend more time looking back then moving forward. This is what we need to guard against. It is like driving a car looking at the rear view mirror. The rear view mirror is very helpful when we need to reverse or when we need to overtake someone on the road. It is not possible to drive a car on the highway by only looking at the rear view mirror. We need to look at the windscreen and anticipate what is coming in front of us and how the road is twisting and turning before us.

It may be a better idea to move forward rather than looking back at all times. We need to believe in ourselves. We need to realise that there would always be a sunrise after a sunset. We need to hope that tomorrow would be better than yesterday and today. It is like most of us do not spend time in planning for an event. We spend more time in fixing issues while an even is occurring in our lives.

It is better to plan and foresee the future. It is better to dream and anticipate change. It is fun to hope and aspire for the upcoming year. We tend to spend more time in analysing what went wrong rather than anticipating what could happen in the future. It is this change in attitude, which would help us navigate change. It will help us anticipate and prepare for whatever is likely to happen.

I am a born optimist. I would prefer to spend less time analysing the past and more time in dreaming about the future. We cannot do much about what has happened in the past. But, we can create a future of our choice. While past is history, future is mystery, yet to explored. While history can teach us lessons, it may not be able to anticipate what is likely to happen. I would prefer to brood less about the past and dream more about the future.

I have learnt in my life that it is worthwhile to reflect on the past to learn for the future. But, if it is better to spend less time looking back then moving forward. The past will not necessarily lead us to the future. It is important to remember that we need to move on in life irrespective of what happened in the past. We need to cherish good memories but it may be worthwhile to spend more time in shaping our future.

As in the photo above, the peacock in the forest was not sure whether to look back or move forward.

Let us learn to drive our life by looking more at the front windshield rather than looking at the rear view mirror. I am by no means suggesting that we need not look back at the past. I am only recommending that looking ahead in life is more fruitful than brooding about the past. I am saying we need to learn to move ahead. The earlier we learn this lesson, the better we can anticipate the future of our life.

Lets move forward.

S Ramesh Shankar

Tomorrow never comes…

“Procrastination” is not a common word in English but we practise it almost every day.  There is a nice quote in Hindi which says “What we need to do tomorrow, do it today, what we plan to do today, do it now..”.  It is true that we tend to postpone issues on the slightest pretext. We do not need excuses as we invent them for anything and everything in life.

Our day begins and ends with excuses to procrastinate things.  We postpone the morning walk because it is raining.  We do not clean our room because we are late to work.  We skip breakfast because we postponed buying provisions for the kitchen.  As we leave for office, we reschedule the first meeting of the day since we are caught up in traffic and cannot reach on time. So, the day goes on by postponing one thing or the other and hoping that everything will get done tomorrow.

This habit of delaying or postponing things is not unique to a country.   Of course, it could be more prevalent in some countries than others.  But, I believe it is a human trait.  I am not sure if we are born with this trait or we inherit it.  I believe we develop it and let it blossom out of our own laziness. We always have reasons to justify it and if we don’t find one, we can always make someone else responsible for it.

I have been no different in life.  I always had reasons for postponing things. I was intuitive and innovate in inventing excuses.  One day I reminded myself that postponing exercises is not going to harm anyone else.  It will only impact my own health since I am a diabetic.  I used to skip my walk whenever I came late from work.

One day I realised that “Tomorrow never comes.. “.  If we think that we can make up in life by postponing things we are under an illusion.  Life goes on like a train without a destination.  It could give us opportunities to learn like the train stopping at various stations on the way.  But, it is up to us to reflect and learn from our mistakes.  Imagine a smoker thinking that he can give up smoking from tomorrow.  Most smokers believe that smoking is injurious to their health.  They resolve umpteen number of times to give it up.  Every time, they wait for that auspicious day or hour to start, which never arrives.

Life is no different.  It does give us reminders and opportunities to learn. But, if we decide to procrastinate and think that a better tomorrow will arrive for us to change, it may never come.  It is up to us to start today.  It is better to start now rather than wait till the end of the day.  It does not matter if it is a simple or a complex decision in life, the best time is now or never.

Like in the photo above, it is not good enough to buy a nice cycle and park it in front of your home.  The time to start cycling is now if you think cycling is the best exercise to keep you fit.

Why wait till tomorrow ?  Let us start now.

S Ramesh Shankar