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

Everything happens for a reason…

I have always wondered if everything in life happens for a reason. I am not sure of it but increasingly tend to believe it. Let me share a few incidents in my life, which makes me believe so. One may call it providence, destiny or even coincidence. For me, it does not matter. What matters is that everything in life happens for a reason. I think it is nature’s way of balancing our life.

I could start from my childhood. I opted for science subjects in school because my parents wanted me to do so. Then I was advised to appear for engineering since that was the “in” thing to do in my childhood. I did not get admission in any engineering college. So, I was persuaded to do my graduation in science. After my graduation, I had the courage to convince my parents that I wanted to pursue my post graduation in human resources. So, in my view, my not getting admission in engineering was a blessing in disguise as otherwise, I may not have got the opportunity to study what I wanted in life.

Then I got a job in a leading automobile ancillary in Chennai, which is my hometown based on my summer internship in that company. However, within a week of joining I got an offer from a leading public sector undertaking and my father advised me to take up that offer as it was prestigious to join the public sector those days as compared to the private sector and my father had served the government service for more than three decades. This photo along with my colleagues was taken at Durg station within a few months of joining this company.

Today, if I look back it was possibly one of the best decisions in my life. It not only laid the foundation for my career but also shook me out of my comfort zone and made me brave enough to face the world. There has been no looking back since then in my career. I have lived and worked in the north, south, east, west and centre of India and this has made me an adaptive human being and so are my kids. They have moved around the country and can easily adapt to different cities, environment and other conditions of living.

My first posting was in an iron ore mine in the steel plant. It was a God forsaken place although naturally beautiful and surrounded by hills. I cursed my luck when I was posted there since I did not have a choice. It was the policy in the steel plant that all management trainees had to have the first posting in one of the three captive mines of the steel plant. I was lucky that I got posted to the largest of the three mines.

If I look back again, it was possibly the best way to start my career in human resources. We had multiple unions and were threatened by gheraos and strikes every other month. This helped me ground myself and learn the true value of fairness in work. It hardened me as a professional and today I can confidently say that I am game to face any tough situation because of my learning in those first three years of my career.

When I started my career with the steel plant I thought I would retire from there and settle down in my home town after my retirement. However, life took me to multiple cities and different states as I have changed jobs four times since then. Each change has been a new beginning and an opportunity to work in different environments and learn. I have had my own quota of ups and downs in my life and career but life has taught me with each incident.

Today when I look back at my career, I am grateful for all that happened in my life. I am thankful to all the managers, colleagues and team members, who had moulded me to what I am today. After all these experiences, I have started believing that everything in life does happen for a reason. It is up to us to make the best of the experience life offers to you. It is up to us to view the glass as half full or half empty.

As a born optimist, I have always seen life’s glass as half full. Hence, every incident has been a great learning experience. What is your experience ?

S Ramesh Shankar

A day in my life at Mumbai


My weekend begins like any other day at around 6 am with a cup of fresh brewed coffee. We pray to God and listen to devotional songs and infuse our home with the fragrance of incense sticks.

We then proceed for our daily walk in the park.  We are lucky to just cross our road and there is this beautiful green park along the Arabian Sea.  We go around the garden for about four rounds and use this opportunity to chat about all our family members and their well being.  We are greeted by the melodies of the birds and the soothing music of the sea waves. We also have interesting exchanges of men and women we meet in the park and have given them nick names to identify them.

On alternate weeks, we go for an Ayurvedic massage to tone up our body muscles and detoxify ourselves after a long working week behind us.  We go together for this too and have been doing so for more than a decade now.

We then return home and do our routine yoga for about half an hour.  This is followed by a simple vegetarian breakfast like idli or poha and reading the morning newspaper at leisure.  We exchange news items we have read and share common interests we have in the city or around the world.  Then it is time to attend to household chores.  It is interesting that the division of work between me and my spouse has been quite clear and consistent since the time we got married 33 years ago.  I take care of all the household chores outside the house like shopping for provisions, vegetables or repair of household goods etc.  My wife takes care of all issues at home.  Of course we are happy to help each other in case the need arises like the sudden leave of the house hold maid etc.  We have always respected each others’ likes and dislikes and hence supported accordingly.  For eg, my spouse does not enjoy driving and hence I drive always.  On the other hand, I do not enjoy cooking and hence she does it.  Of course, if there is a need we are willing to support each other in these chores as well.

On some days, we go for a day trip organised by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) or indulge in writing poetry or blogs as both of us have our own individual hobbies. A visit to a nature park is of common interest.  We love to admire birds, trees and animals and follow the experts of the BNHS quite regularly whenever time permits.  Alternatively, we indulge in writing as our passion dictates us.  We also help each other as editors and critiques of whatever we write.

It is also true that I love to go for a weekend trip whenever I can, to be with nature as in the photo above near Tarkarli, a beach resort near Goa.

We always prefer to have home made lunch consisting of rice, lentils, vegetables and yoghurt.  We watch the news or some car show on TV and then it is time for an afternoon nap.  It is followed by evening tea and snacks.  This is followed by some cleaning and clearing work at home and browsing through some magazines or books, which we may collected during the week before.

Then the evening begins by another stroll in the park to admire the sunset and get refreshed by nature.  We return home for our early supper.  This is followed generally by a music programme on TV or a sports match like cricket.

We watch the evening news at 9 pm and this is followed by some documentaries or business shows of relevance and then it is time to go to bed.  We love to listen to soothing ghazals or instrumental music at night as we go to sleep.

Our day ends at about 1030 pm and we end the day by thanking God and everyone else for a wonderful day.

S Ramesh Shankar

Our five senses

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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

My second innings – “Era of gratitude”

I have been a big fan of cricket right from my childhood. I find a lot of similarities between the game of cricket and life. If my first innings was about my career, my second innings is about my giving back to society.

All of us aspire to achieve our career dreams and goals. We strive our best to get there. We may partly or wholly be successful but we try our best. We desire for all the material things in the world and fantasise to get them. We may again get all we dream of or at least most of them in our life.

If I call my first innings as the “Era of gratification”, I would say my second innings should be an ” Era of gratitude”. God has been kind to me. I have achieved almost all I dreamt of in my career. My family and friends have supported me to be happy in life most of the time. Now it is time for me to give back to society.

I have bought all the material things in life I have wished for. Today I hardly crave for something and regret that I do not have it in my life. So, it is time to give back. It is time to express my gratitude in actions and not only in words. I assume I can do it in many ways.

The first thing I plan to do is to write more and share my experiences of life and living. This may help the next generations to think and reflect. It may help the youngsters not to make the mistakes I did. It may help them take the right decisions.

All my net earnings from the sale of my books (Sights & Insights and Life and Living )will be donated to a charity, which works zealously in “eradicating preventable blindness amongst children”. This way I will share more, learn more and at the same time give a little back to society.

I am also starting an organisation by the name “Hrishti” ( Means joy in Sanskrit). I will use this organisation as a platform to coach and mentor. I will try to mentor and coach business and HR leaders and again use all my net earnings to promote the same cause.

I also plan to work with start ups and NGOs to share my experience and learnings so that they can learn from my insights at work and life. This may help new start ups and NGOs to scale up and succeed in their chosen fields. At least, they will not repeat the same mistakes I did in my career.

I also want to teach in business schools, engineering colleges and universities. This way I can share my learnings and also enable young students to be industry ready. The gap between industry and academics needs to be bridged and I think people like me have a role to play in it.

I can also be a consultant to organisations and share my experiences in areas of their need. I may be able to give back to society in more ways than one. It is upto me to explore all possible ways to do it. After all when I needed help or support, there were thousands of people amongst family, friends and organisations, who did that for me. Now it is my turn.

Lastly, I am blessed to have enough of what I need to live happily for the rest of myself and my family. Hence, I commit that everything I do will contribute to society’s larger good.

Time to start my second innings in life post my retirement is after 31st March 2019. You can follow me on http:\\srameshshankar.com or connect with me at srameshshankar@yahoo.com or srameshshankar@gmail.com post this date. My mobile number will also remain the same as of today. I will continue to post every Friday even in the future.

S. Ramesh Shankar

Fights

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It is quite common to end up fighting with your siblings as a kid. We all have done it and the kids of tomorrow would do it. We feel it is fully justified when we did it but a bit immature when your neighbouring kids fight with each other. Fights could be over sharing a meal or even sillier an issue than that but it does happen. It’s fun to see children fight and then end up playing together as if nothing happened.

It is funny when adults fight. The most common occurrence is between spouses. All of us who are married would have experienced it umpteen times in our own lives. Most of the time when you look back on the issue on which you end up fighting, it is quite silly. But our ego does not allow us to give in. Each of us stand by our own stance and are not willing to compromise. Only time heals the issue or sometimes a mediator becomes necessary.

Another dimension of a fight is when teams on a play ground end up fighting with each other. Everyone agrees that sport is the best way to build comradeship but when two teams end up fighting on a play field, it is not sporty. It generally starts with an argument and sometimes ends up in a fist fight or even a riot on the field. Physical injuries apart from emotional distress are the only outcomes.

The worst dimension of a fight is when it happens between communities, societies or nations. It can be over sharing of waters of a common river flowing through them. It could be over boundaries and demarcation lines between them. It could be due to failed commitments. Whatever be the issue, it starts with a small flare up and then ends up almost like a battle or a war.

The interesting aspect in all types of fights is that “Ego” of individuals is the root cause. Kids do not like to give up their space and fight for their rights. Adults never want to compromise. They are willing to give up their values to protect their ego. Communities and nations fight with each other because of a ego conflict of their political leaders. Any fight could be nipped in the bud if we are willing to “let go” of our egos.

The best example is given by kids. While they end up fighting at the drop of a pin, they are also willing to forgive and forget at the shortest possible time. Adults as individuals have more inflated egos and hence take more time and efforts to give in. Teams suffer from clash of individual egos and team prestige. It takes time and effort from more than one individual in a team to resolve conflicts between them. Nations fight on prestige and false sense of supremacy. It takes months or even years to settle an international dispute between nations.

My learning is that fights may be inevitable. But, it may be a good idea to learn from children. While it may be normal to end up with a dispute, it may need a lot of guts to give up our ego. We need to give in and be willing to compromise and move on. There is no dispute on the earth, which cannot be resolved by sitting across the table and sorting out. We need to be willing to give up our egos as individuals, teams or communities.

Fights are quite common between spouses as seen in the photo above. We may not talk for days but need to learn to resolve it between us.

Another interesting learning can be from animals. I have never seen two animals fight and never give up. After the fight is over, they move on and are willing to live together again. The most common sight is that of street dogs. They may end up in a fight over food. But as soon as that is over, they end up playing with each other and move on in their life.

It is time to learn to give up our “Ego”

S Ramesh Shankar

Ways of nature

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Nature has its unique ways of surprising us every day. I would like to share a few natural phenomena in my life, which have always baffled me. I have been a student of science but have never understood any of these phenomenon and the root cause for them. It happens quite often and every time makes me believe that nature is beyond science and scientific theories.

The first phenomenon is what generically is called the biological clock. As a young student, I could never get up without the alarm clock ringing multiple times beside my bed. I even had to snooze it a few times before I actually got up. However nowadays, if I make up my mind to get up at a particular time in the morning since I have to catch up an early morning flight, I am woken up automatically a few minutes before I had planned to get up. I do keep the alarm as a precaution. But, nowadays I end up putting off the alarm before it takes off since I am already awake. I am told this is the biological clock although I have not yet understood the scientific basis for this.

The second phenomenon is referred to us “Telepathy”. Whenever you think of a close friend or relative, they either end up calling you immediately after that thought or at least text you. You are quite taken aback. When you narrate this phenomenon to them, they are not willing to believe you. In most cases, they tell that you may have dreamt about the same. This has happened to me many times in my life and I have no explanations.

The third phenomenon is that if you are honest and ethical in your life and work, you tend to get back anything you lose by accident. I have at least three experiences in my life where God has been kind to me and I have got back what I lost within minutes of the actual incident. The first incident was when I lost my wallet and Walkman in an auto at midnight at Jamshedpur in the early nineties. As soon as I realised I went back to the auto stand and could trace my auto and get back my valuables. The second instance I dropped my sling bag with my camera and calculator while I was riding a bike. This time again I got it back within half an hour as someone called my home number to inform me that they had found my bag. The third incident happened yesterday when I forgot my laptop bag with my iPad and headphones in the coffee shops of Chennai airport. Before I could call and check with anyone, I got a call from the police that they had found my bag at the coffee shop and I should return immediately and collect it. I think it pays to be honest and ethical in life and work always.

The fourth phenomenon is when you leave a place unplanned during a crisis. During the recent floods at Mumbai on 29th August 2017, I had not planned to go anywhere. However, at the last minute I was invited to inaugurate a HR conference at Manipal. That day Mumbai witnessed 310 mm of rainfall and the city was marooned. I returned the next day and city was already getting back to normalcy and there was sunshine in the evening. May be God took me away from Mumbai( the photo above) for a day to prevent me from any mishap on that fateful day.

Life is full of surprises. I am a born optimist and I have also seen that whenever I need some money urgently and did not have much in my bank account, I got some unexpected transfer to my account. It could be a dividend, which I did not expect at that time or someone returning some money they had taken during a crisis. It could be reward from my employer. God has ways of taking care of you when you need it most.

Although I am not recommending that we live life waiting for these unexpected things to happen to us. We need to slog it out and work hard to achieve our goals in life. I am only saying that if we lead a simple life, work hard and are honest in all our deeds to the best of our ability, then nature has its own ways of rewarding us. It is sometimes unbelievable but true.

Let every day be a new surprise for all of us.

S Ramesh Shankar

1st September 2017