Life is full of “Choices”

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We all face ups and downs in life. We are happy about our decisions when things go well but feel disappointed when they things don’t go our way. This is natural. However, on reflection I feel that we always have choices in life and it is up to us to make a choice. Sometimes we may end up making a wrong choice and it ok to accept it as a reality. It is not fair to believe that there were no alternatives before us.

Let us recall any incident in life. I am reminded of the first car I bought in my career. It was a second hand car. In 1987, the company gave me a loan and I could not afford to buy a new car with that money and hence opted to buy a second hand car. This car I had bought after due consideration and review amongst the choices I had in front of me. Fortunately it turned out to be a good choice. I used the car for five years and sold it at a profit after that. Assuming it had been a bad choice, can I blame my employer to give me a limited loan or blame the seller for selling his car to me. I always had the option of buying a car or not buying a car. I could have bought a second hand or a new car. I could have bought some other brand too.

So, my learning in life is that in everything we do, we have choices. We always make our decision based on the best available information in front of us. Sometimes our choice may work out and at other times it may not. This does not mean we do not choices in life. We end up blaming the environment or at least try to externalise or blame the environment for the wrong choices we make. I think this is not fair. We have to own up the choices we make and take full responsibility for the choices we make.

I chose a junior in college and opted to marry her. After due consideration and with her unconditional consent, we decided to marry. Today it is 35 years since we are happily married. Today I can say it was the right choice since it has worked for me. Assuming it had not worked out for either of us, can we blame each other. Nobody forced us to marry. Neither our parents coerced us nor anyone else. We had a choice to marry or not to marry. How can we blame anyone for our decision to marry ?

I feel life is no different. We always have multiple choices in front of us. It is up to us to take our own time, evaluate all the options and then make the best choice in our best judgement at that point of time. We have take full responsibility for our choice and be willing face the consequences if it does not work for us. When it works, we are happy to own our decision and when it does not we want to blame someone else or the environment around us.

I recently met a college teacher who very nicely explained the concept of internal locus of control. He said in life we have to believe that everything is under our control and we are responsible for all our actions. In every situation, we have a choice to say yes or no. We also have a choice to say may be. We could decide then and there or take our time to decide. In every situation, we have to believe that our decision is ours. Everything is under our control and we can make things happen around us. This way life becomes a journey of possibilities. Otherwise, life appears as a road full of obstacles.

I also recently read a very nice suggestion. We all make a “To Do” list every day for our daily chores. Most of us end up either not beginning those tasks or finishing only half of them. It was suggested that instead of calling it the “To Do” list, if we call it “Possibilities” it changes the way we look at it. It infuses a positive energy and makes everything look possible. The chances of our accomplishing the majority of them looks brighter.

Even a diabetic has a choice to eat a tempting sapota/chiku or not. If he eats, he only needs to exercise a little more that day. Nothing more than that.

Let us believe that life is full of choices and we are in full control of it.

Let us begin today.

S Ramesh Shankar

Why is common sense uncommon ?

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I have never understood as to why common sense is uncommon ? The first incident which taught me this was when I was in college. My college was next to a suburban railway station. There was a subway being constructed at the level crossing near the college. One side of the road to the subway was being dug in a broader way than the other side. Both the sides did not seem aligned. As a student, I was bewildered. However, I thought the civil and design engineers were more knowledgable than me and hence may be I did not understand.

However, after the construction was almost completed on the subway, they realised that this was indeed a grave error. There were two different contractors working on either side of the railway line and may be they never had a joint meeting and hence they designed and constructed subways on either side, which were not aligned. They did not realise it till it was almost completed although to a common man like me it was quite visible.

Such incidents happen almost every day in our lives. There are some things, which are very obvious but we do not realise it until someone points it out to us. It is like standing under a shower and turning on the hot water tap without realising that we need to first mix the hot and cold water to the right temperature before walking under the shower. Isn’t it obvious to us that hot water will burn our skin but still many of us end up doing just that.

Another every day incident which baffles me is our reluctance to wear helmets or safety belts while we ride bikes or drive cars. All of us are aware that the maximum deaths happen on the road due to accidents. We are equally educated that helmets and safety belts can help us prevent fatal accidents. We undergo training and even make written commitments to wear them. But when we take out our bike or car, we end up not wearing them stating that with so much traffic and such slow speeds, nothing can happen to us.

The most common thing I see nowadays is people crossing the road speaking on their mobile phones. I have nothing against people speaking on mobile phones or chatting on apps. But what baffles me is why people do not realise that crossing a road speaking on the mobile phone could be fatal. Isn’t it common sense that while you are speaking on the phone or chatting on it, your attention cannot be on the traffic and you may not hear the horn and hence it may just take a fraction of a second to meet with an accident.

I realise that I cannot blame the world for my uncommon sense. I have to take responsibility for applying my common sense and not make it uncommon. I need to commit to myself that I will question myself every time I realise that I am not exhibiting it. If I promise myself that I will wear a helmet or safety belt every time I drive, I should stick to it whether the world is watching me or I am all alone.

As in the photo above, why we do not use safety devices when we are expected to do so for our own safety.

The only way of making common sense common is self discipline. I cannot blame the world for an accident if I cross the road while I am speaking on a mobile phone. The earlier we realise this basic tenet the better it is for ourselves. It is up to us to use our common sense. If we don’t, we have to blame ourselves and not the world around us.

Let me begin today.

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

Take nobody for granted…

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We take life and everybody around us for granted almost every day. It starts from the family to friends and even colleagues in the organisation, where we work. Let us start how this evolves from our childhood. As a child, we are respectful of our parents and others in the family and do not take anyone for granted. However, as we grow up as an adolescent, we tend to take our parents and family members for granted. We decide when we want to leave the house and when we want to return and expect our parents to wait for us endlessly for us to return.

We start justifying our erratic behaviour and interestingly demand services from our family members as if they were dying only to serve our needs. We do realise that this is not desirable behaviour when we grow up as adults and even regret our actions. This may be psychological in nature and may not be intentional. Our parents generally understand and tolerate our rebellious behaviour and at times try to counsel us too. We realise how much we took our parents and other family members for granted when we get into college or a job and leave the safe precincts of our home to live all alone.

Now, let us move to our friends. We almost take them for granted always. One may say friends are meant for that. I also thought so till I realised that it is not fair to think that way. After all even our best friends are human beings and have emotions and feelings. We need to respect them and empathise with them. Our friends stand by us at all times, even more than our relatives. Then, why should we take them for granted. We do realise sooner than later that we need to give them space and respect they deserve always.

If we move to the organisational front, the story is not very different. We take our colleagues( as in the photo above) for granted. We sometimes even take our suppliers and customers for granted. In the worst case scenario, we even take our manager for granted. We start believing that everybody is working for us and we deserve to be served by them. We do not realise that we also have obligations towards them and we should first give then expect anything from other stakeholders.

So, this is a vicious circle. Taking someone for granted is a natural state of evolution and all of us fall prey to it sometime or the other. We need to realise that as responsible human beings we have no business to take anyone for granted. Everyone has a right and has an equal measure of responsibility. This phenomenon possibly happens because we remember our rights diligently but forget our duties. Let us reflect how this impacts our behaviour in our daily life ?

As a child, we consider our parents’ duty to take care of us all the time but we do not realise that we have a responsibility to serve them in whatever way we can in return in every stage of our life. As a friend, we are happy when friends help us in distress but we forget them when we doing well in our lives and they may be in distress. At work, we seek guidance and support from everyone when we are under stress but we claim to be busy when others need our help.

This is my learning in life. We should not take anyone for granted in life. If we try to put ourselves in the shoes of others before we take anyone for granted we may realise their value in our life. It is time to wake up. It is time to be grateful to others rather than take them for granted.

It is time to change ourselves.

S Ramesh Shankar

28th August 2017

Nothing is permanent..


I recently came to know of two tragedies. In the first case, a mother lost her grown up son in a fatal accident. In the second, a daughter lost her father in a hospital bed. While the first was a young aspiring student preparing himself for the travails of life in a business school, the second was an aged father who had fought cancer and was healthy and self dependant at 85 till he fractured his leg by falling from his bed and succumbed to his post operative trauma.

If we look at both the incidents the affected people were shattered. A mother in the first case was heart broken to get up one day to know that her son is no more and has met with an accident in front of his college gate. In the second instance, the daughter had nursed her father in the hospital for a week and his fracture was operated successfully and within days of her proceeding to help her daughter in another city, her father breathed his last as he could not fight back from the post operative stress.

I can imagine the state of the mind of the mother and the daughter in both these cases. It would have been like a glass sculpture shattered into pieces. While condolences may pour in from around the world, no word can console you. No assurance can build back the belief in you. It is like you can never put together the shattered pieces of the beautiful glass sculpture even with the best adhesive in the world.

Time is the only healer and it takes time to realise it. I have personally gone through a few tragedies in my life and I have experienced this vacuum. It neither can be explained or can be consoled. It shatters your foundations. It makes you lose faith in yourself and even lose faith in God. No power on earth seems to have any impact on you. You are tempted to give up even before you given in.

Let us try to understand why this happens to all of us, who go through such tragedies. I remember someone told me that when you lose your father at a very young age, it is like someone pulling away the umbrella from your head during a thunderous downpour. It is something like that. Life is good and we are treading along. Suddenly a tragedy of this magnitude engulfs us and we are shattered. It comes like a Tsunami and leaves us homeless. We may not have lost our physical belongings but we become emotionless for some time.

We do not know the difference between laughing and crying. There are no tears left in our eyes. We want to be left alone and feel restless in a crowd. Family, friends and society are no longer a source of solace. We look at the sky with blank eyes and no emotions. Music is no longer soothing to our ears. Our life literally comes to a stand still. Days become longer and nights shorter. We do not want to see or meet anyone.

It takes weeks, months or even years to recover from such a shock. It took me more than year when my father died when I was 25. After a few years, I realised that time is the only healer. I recovered slowly but surely from the slipping ground below me. I started believing in myself and others after a while. I visited a temple after a year to assure God that I was now standing on my own feet.

This is the time one realises that “Nothing is permanent” in life. Neither joy nor sorrow. Everything is ephemeral. It will come and go. We need to have the courage and the patience to weather the storm. We should neither get carried away by the joys of life and float in the air, nor buried by the sorrows of life and sink into the earth below. We will realise that time is the best healer.

Life is like the weather today. Gloomy and rainy in the morning but bright and sunny in the evening. Nothing is permanent. Not even the weather on a single day. 

Let us believe in ourselves and our good deeds and leave the rest for time to heal.

S Ramesh Shankar

Ray of Hope

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There is always light at the end of a tunnel. You realise it every time you drive through a tunnel on a highway. However, it takes a lot of patience and perseverance to go through the darkness in the tunnel before you see the light. Life is no different. Every obstacle in life looks like a boulder in front of us. It overwhelms us and we get bogged down by its magnitude. It takes courage and patience to weather the storm and then look for the light at the end of the tunnel.

I have had many experiences in life, wherein I felt as if the world was coming to end and and I was in the midst of it. When you are going through a crisis in life or at work, you are bogged down by everything around you. You are drained out by the depth of the crisis you are facing. You try out all the options and still the you feel that the dark road in the tunnel is never ending. It is at this time you need to reflect and find a way.

I would like to look back at a few incidents in my personal and work life and share my learnings. I have been a born optimist in life. Hence, looking at life as art of possibilities has been my outlook. But, when you are confronted with a crisis then your optimism fades way giving way to pessimism. I recall the first instance in my personal life. I got an income tax notice for buying a timeshare property. I was shocked and perplexed. I have been a honest salaried tax payer for more than three decades now. But this incident happened way back in 1992.

I went to my tax advisor after spending a few sleepless nights as to “why me ?” . When he explained the process which the income tax department follows to track tax defaulters, I was relieved. He explained that they look at new car buyers at random and sometimes at property buyers and so on and then send them a notice to explain the source of income. When I had been an honest tax payer, I had nothing to worry. I had just to explain the source of my funds and how I have paid them. I had also paid all my instalments by cheques and hence there was nothing for me to explain. But spending a few nights with the notice at home was like a long ride in the tunnel.

The second time it was on the work front. I was made the prosecution nominee ( management representative) in a departmental enquiry against a corrupt union representative in one of my previous organisations. I was shocked. I received threats from this person including possible attacks on my family members. I was again worried as to why I was chosen for this unceremonious role. The enquiry was completed and I could help the management with my presentation skills in establishing the charges and ensuring the corrupt union representative was dismissed from service. Then my manager explained to me that I was selected because I was courageous and honest to face such a dishonest employee in an enquiry in a fair and brave way. But this enquiry took more than four months and it was an arduous journey.

The last incident was when I joined a new organization. I was confronted with a court case filed every month by the unions against the management on frivolous reasons. I was always used to maintaining harmonious and trust worthy relationship with the unions in all my previous assignments. When I took charge, I realised that there was a trust deficit between the management and the unions. It took me almost two years to rebuild that trust and thanks to a great team to work with and a responsive union we not only turned it around but today can proudly state that we have not had any court case filed against us in the last four years. But these two years were like a long dark tunnel ride.

Every situation looked dim at first sight. The more you grapple with it the more you are disappointed. When a problem gets complicated and you do not get adequate support, you tend to lose hope. It is at this juncture, we need to believe in ourselves and our credibility. We need to trust ourselves and hope that there will be light at the end of the tunnel. It is like the streak of sunlight always kindles hope on a otherwise cloudy day as in the photo above. This ray of hope re-ignites the optimism in us and helps us find a way.

Let us look for the ray of hope in life every day.

S Ramesh Shankar