I am the past, you are the future…

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One of the best lessons I have learnt in life is that the more your share, the more you learn. It starts from our childhood. As a elder sibling in the family, we have to learn to share with our younger siblings and be willing to learn from them. Then you grow into an adult and have a lot to share with younger ones around you. You get into a job and work in a team to share and learn.

As you get married, you learn from each other all the time. Then as you have kids, it is time to give back again. This is the time I realised that the best attitude to share and give back to the next generation is to believe that ” I am the past, you are the future..”. If we live our life with this attitude, we will always be willing to share more, learn more and give back more. We have to realise that we create the future of our choice.

I have to believe what happened in my life is history. I may have succeeded or made mistakes. But the future is with the next generation. Hence, if I believe that I am the past and the next generation is the future, I will happily share my knowledge and skills without expecting anything in return. Many of us conserve our knowledge, skills or experience thinking that if you share you erode your value.

I would argue that it is the other way around. The more you share, the more you learn and grow. I have respected all the people who have shared with me in life and career. I have seen them grow and become more knowledgable and respected in society. On the other hand, people who have conserved knowledge or experience are neither respected nor do they blossom in life.

There is a reason for me to believe that our attitude to life and living should be – ” I am the past, you are the future..”. If we believe, we have experiences of the past, we have a responsibility to share with the next generation as they are the future. If we share our failures and successes, the chances are they will not have to go through the same issues in their lives. If we do not believe in this, the next generation will do the same mistakes we did in our life and their learning curve will be longer than ours.

In corporate life, we always believe that the lessons we learn from our failures are much more valuable even than our successes. Life is no different. We should have the courage not only to accept our failures but the willingness to share what we learnt from them so that the future generations benefit from it. If all of us conserve our knowledge, skills and experiences and take them to our graves, we neither benefit from it nor does the future generations.

This is true in every aspect of life. We need to share and learn in a continual way. We need to believe that the more we share, the more we learn in life. We need to believe that we are the past and the next generation is the future. We are responsible for the past but we also have a responsibility to create a brighter future for the next generation.

We have a responsibility of developing the future generation as in the photo above.

Let us live life king size. Let us learn to give back to others more than we have got in life. I can share that this could be a wonderful way to be happy and grateful in life. We have neither inherited knowledge nor can we take it to heaven. It is this realisation, which will make us give back in abundance. Let us learn every day of our life and let go all that we have learnt to others so that they benefit as much as we did.

The day to start is today and the time 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

Travelling around


One of my passions in life is to travel.  I love visiting new places and meeting people.  I also love to understand the culture and crafts of that new place.  I have been lucky to visit different parts of the world and of my wonderful country as well. Every time I have travelled to a new place, it has been a new insight for me. The place, the people and the practices indeed teaches me many life lessons, which no education in the world can.

It does not matter which part of the world I am visiting or during which time of the year.  Every new place has a new meaning for me in life.  Every new location teaches me new things.  I wish I could have been a travel writer, visiting places around my country and the world and sharing my experiences with everyone.  Although, I have almost visited all the states of my country , I am yet to cover all the treasures of my native country.

I remember my first travel out of my country.  It was way back in 1989, when I visited UK for a three month training programme.  Apart from the learnings in the programme, which changed my perspectives on being a trainer, it was indeed great insights into a different country with varied cultures, norms and behaviours.  I still remember how I enjoyed the Big Ben to see the UK parliament or the Buckingham palace and these brought back vivid memories of my limited knowledge of history studied in school.

Another wonderful visit was my first visit to the state of Jammu & Kashmir, the northern most state of my country.  It was way back in 2004 and many of friends cautioned me against the travel since there was tension between ethnic groups and also the state was seized with terror attacks.  Both me and my wife felt that terror is a world wide phenonomenon today.  It can happen in your backyard where you are staying and hence we decided to go ahead.  This was one of the best decisions of my life.

This state gives you the best glimpses of nature.  Its warm and flat at Jammu, cold and chilly in the valley and solemn and snowy at Ladakh(as in the photo above).     As you land into Srinagar, you feel you have arrived in a fairy land.  You can see snow capped mountains around you and the warmth of the people you meet is unbelievable.  All the people you meet here are hospitable and are always keen to make you comfortable.  They call it “Kashmiriyat”.  It means the culture of secularism in simple terms. It is such lessons, no book in management or psychology can teach you.

One of the best states I have visited so far is Sikkim, one of the smallest states of India.  The capital Gangtok is again surrounded by snow capped Himalayas and the city is spotlessly clean.  You have foot paths all around the city and you can enjoy walking around without worrying about any road mishaps.  I sometimes wonder why all of us living in different parts of the country in other states cannot learn from this wonderful state.

Last but not the least, I would urge everyone to travel around whenever you can.  I would urge parents and elders to take your kids around the world and around India whenever you can.  A visit to a new place and meeting new people can never be substituted by books or the television.  My wife and kids have travelled around with me in my country and around the world wherever I could afford to go.  Each visit has brought in a new lesson for each of us.

Lets start our learning journey today.

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

Learning from the Elephant


The elephant is one of the most fascinating animals in our life. It epitomises power and vitality.  It is tall and strong and one of the best friends of man.  It has multiple facets of its personality.  It disproves the myth that being a vegetarian, you cannot be strong and healthy.  It is useful in transportation in the forests and also helps human movement in difficult terrains.

Each part of the elephant teaches us something.  Its tall and strong personality emphasises the need to be like that in real life to face all of life challenges.  Its healthy body proves that vegetarianism is not a deterrent to good health.  Its tusks tells us to be ready in self defence in case of any enemy attack.  Its height teaches us how useful it is to deal with everyone around you.  Its calmness teaches you not to panic unless attacked.  Its wagging tail teaches you to be grateful in life to everyone.

In the temples, the elephant is used as the guardian of the Lord and also blesses everyone with its long trunk.  It is also used to take the God in processions around the town during festivals and fairs.  In the forest, the elephant by it sheer size can even scare a tiger.  So, in tiger resorts, elephants are used to spot the tiger and go near them to admire them.

In the villages, the elephant is also used in the agricultural fields to transport produce and goods.  It can also be useful to guard the villagers from wild animals and attack by dacoits and intruders.  It can help in pulling carts and also defending in any type of attacks.  History tells us that elephants were used in wars against enemies.  Their loyalty is unquestioned.  

What are the qualities one can learn from the elephant ?  You can learn to be loyal.  Loyalty of an elephant to her master is for their lifetime.  Their calmness in normal circumstances can teach us to be patient and unrfuffled in life.  They turn violent only when attacked and that too in self defence.  It may be worthwhile to know they can run at 40 km per hour despite being bulky and even swim non stop. The elephant is caring and one can learn to bestow motherly love from them. 

We have an opportunity to learn from all the animals and birds around us.  But we neither have the time to admire them nor the patience to learn from them.  I was in an elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka recently and this gave me an opportunity to learn from the elephant.  One of man’s best friend, an elephant can teach a lot to us, which other human beings may not be able to.   It is time to sit back and learn from them.

Long live the Elephant.

S Ramesh Shankar

Guru

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“Guru” is the Sanskrit term for teacher.  All of us have great respect for teachers and have multiple experiences where teachers have displayed their selfless behaviour in abundance.  I met a teacher cum principal about two decades back and she transformed the image of teachers in my mind.  I was working at Indore in a private organisation and was transferred to Delhi.  As all parents do, I went from one school to another seeking admission for my kids after I arrived in Delhi.

The Delhi school conducted an admission test for my kids and after a series of interviews admitted both my children.  In this process, I was interviewed along with my wife as parents before the admission process was finalised.  However, the real virtues of a teacher was experienced by me when my child turned truant. One day I was called by the principal stating that my child was regularly bunking classes and getting into the swimming pool or to the playground during school hours.

I reached the school along with my wife.  I was told about the misconducts of my child.  I immediately apologised to the principal on behalf of my child and told her to take appropriate action as deemed fit.  I told her that I was fine even if my child was suspended for a few day, as he had defaulted multiple times even after being counselled by his teachers.  The principal’s reply was my biggest lesson in life.

She told me that she need not seek my permission to suspend my child.  That was the easiest decision for her and I was not summoned to take that decision.  She told us, that as parents we had a duty to partner with the teacher to reform our child.  She did not want to suspend but counsel the child in our presence and we ( teachers and parents) work together to help the child correct his behaviour.

There was another occasion when I was transferred from Delhi to Chennai.  My daughter was in the final year of school.  I was worried because when my father was transferred in my final year of school, years ago, my academic performance was impacted due to this transfer.  I did not want the same thing to happen to my daughter.  When I went to the school to enquire about this issue and seek the advise of the same principal, she immediately advised me to leave my daughter in her custody to complete her school education.

I had not known the principal and was stunned by this response.  She calmly said that she had two kids and was staying within the school premises.  It was easy for my daughter to stay with her and complete her final year of schooling.  This advise was not only selfless but unbelievable from someone whom you did not even know well .  The rest is history.  My daughter indeed stayed with her and did well in her academics and today is a successful carreerist in a public sector undertaking.

Subsequently, I have met a few other teachers and each time I have been impressed by their nobleness.  They always think in the best interests of the child.  They are unbiased and highly patient.  They want parents as partners to the progress of the child.  They treat every child as if they were their own. They are always willing to give to each and every child equal space and love. They never expect anything in return.

As in the photo above, this principal( in the white saree) is not only a life long family friend today but also a role model for all teachers in society. I salute her.

My salutations to all teachers today on the occasion of Guru Purnima.

S Ramesh Shankar

Sea Change


We watch people around us every day.  Most people grow from childhood to adulthood and their behaviour and actions are quite predictable.  We form our own opinion about them based on their behaviours and generally it is quite as expected.  But, sometimes people change and this change is unbelievable.  We sometimes feel that even animals are more predictable than human beings. I would like to share some examples from my life to illustrate this better.

We had a driver in Bangalore.  He was very sincere and committed to work.  He was a bachelor and was quite self disciplined.  I even enabled him to buy a motorcycle by helping him with a vehicle loan from a bank.  He continued to work well .  He was an occasional smoker and may be had an occasional drink too.  But, all of a sudden he changed.  He went home for a vacation and when he returned, he turned to alchohol and his behaviour turned from bad to worse.  He started absenting frequently and became less disciplined at work.  I moved to another location and hence he started working with someone else.  But, after he moved away from me he stopped repaying the auto loan and his life became quite a mess.  I could not believe such a young and committed boy transforming himself in such a dramatic way.

We had a servant cum cook at home.  She was very honest and hard working.  She had a smiling face and was punctual and dedicated to her work.  She supported my wife almost on everything in my house.  She was married and her husband worked as a Gardner in our own campus. Both their children studied well and we were happy to support them in their education.  But, suddenly one day when my wife and me had gone on a vacation, she ended up stealing some ornaments and when confronted denied doing so.  Further, she deserted her husband and eloped with someone else and this again was unbelievable.  By the grace of God, her husband continued to be honest and dedicated and she returned to him after her paramour ditched her after some months.  

In the third instance, we had a colleague who was quite close to us.  Our families were close friends and we visited each other almost every weekend.  All of a sudden he stopped talking to us .  He avoided us and would not visit us on weekends.  He had advised his wife and daughter not to talk to us or visit us.  We found it strange since there was no conflict between us nor any misunderstanding.  I tried to talk to him to sort out any wrong notions but he ignored all my efforts in this direction.  It was unbelievable but true.  It took years for him to realize that there was nothing wrong between us and today he has started talking to us again after almost a decade.

So, life is unpredictable and sometimes people around you go through a sea change.  Many a time, you can never understand why this happens.  It is very difficult to accept it as a reality.  All your efforts to get to the root cause gives you no clue.  You then leave it to time to heal itself.  Sometimes it works and at other times it does not.  But, it is intriguing and unpredictable.

This is life and we have to take it as it comes.

S Ramesh Shankar