Quest for life and living…

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All of us may have learnt scientific inquiry as part of our school education. Most of us give up this spirit of inquiry as we transcend from childhood to adulthood. Very few of us have this spirit as a way of life. My sister’s husband was one such being. One can understand this spirit since he was a scientist in the Indian space research organisation for almost four decades.

Today I started my workday with a meeting as usual. I had kept my mobile phone in the silent mode. However I realised that some of my close relatives were continuously trying to reach me. When I sensed there could be an emergency, I interrupted the meeting and picked up the phone. It was indeed one of the saddest day of my life. I was informed that my brother in law had passed away. His name was K Natarajan and had served the Indian Space Research Organisation as a scientist.

He had got up in the morning and had gone to the rest room. When he did not return in reasonable time, his family members knocked the bathroom door. When he still did not respond, they broke open the door and called the doctor. The doctor examined and gave the sad news within minutes. He had died out of a massive heart attack while he was in the rest room.

This may be a very peaceful way to leave Mother Earth for himself. But, I could not imagine the fate of my sister, who was waiting outside with a cup of hot coffee for him to return. I could not imagine how one could wipe the tears of his mother, who is 94 and was staying with him. Life has its way of shocking us. We are rattled out of our normal being. We realise that life can change for any of us within minutes or even seconds.

I would say I was lucky. I had been to Trivandrum only last week for our leadership offsite. I spent a night with my sister and her family. I had spent hours discussing with him on various issues from politics, sports to spirituality. I have seen him from my childhood and have always admired his spirit of inquiry. He always explored knowledge and knowing about life and living.

He was a brilliant student and had an illustrious career in the Indian space research organisation in the field of electro optics. One could spend hours with him discussing on any subject. Apart from being well read, he was open to respect alternate view points and always stood by his views on all issues. I always admired his hand writing. It was almost like engraving in gold. I wish could I could have inherited his beautiful handwriting.

Another invaluable learning from him was his respect for elders and service to them. I still remember how he used to stay with my grandmother and take care of her when he was a student and took all opportunities to learn from her wisdom. He was very comfortable in interacting with people of all ages and used all mediums to interact. Today my son told me how he used to be the first to comment on his facebook posts and even wished him in German whenever he visited Germany for official work.

He took care of his mother right through his life. I had recently visited them and realised how blessed he was to be able to take care of his mother in her nineties. I did not know that today I would write his obituary in front of his mother, who is 94. Life teaches you many lessons the hard way. I cannot imagine how a mother in her nineties will feel losing her son in front her own eyes. I dread to think how my sister will lead the rest of her life without her life partner.

The photo above is symbolic of his family bonding and care.

I commit to live the spirit of inquiry and take care of elders to the best of my ability in life . This can be the only way I can pass on my tribute to him.

S Ramesh Shankar

22nd November 2017

Ways of life

I enjoy walking on the sea shore along the sea with my naked feet making impressions on the wet sand. Many a time I prefer to walk with my spouse, friend or relative. Sometimes, all alone too. Today I encountered the sudden death of a close relative and this made me wonder as to what would happen if you were walking with that relative and when you turn around and find that there are only the impressions of your feet and your relative’s disappears in the sand behind you from your trail.

This was the feeling experienced by me today. It is a feeling of emptiness. You feel as if you were going through a storm and suddenly without your knowledge, you enter a state of vacuum. This space makes you feel weird. A state of helplessness. But you can do nothing about it. All of us go through such moments in our life and have to learn to deal with it.

It was a wonderful feeling to feel the imprints on the sand when you are walking with a partner. But, when you realize that your partner has left you suddenly and without notice, you realize you are left alone in this world to fend for yourself. One is born alone into this world and one also realizes that you leave this planet all alone. But the journey in between is life. You need a partner during this period. Your parents partner you till your adolescence, then your friends and finally your life partner. Of course, your parents are with you through out your life but the presence or absence of a life partner makes all the difference.

My mother’s death preceded by father’s. I was just 25, when I lost both my parents. But, I did realize the value of the partner after my mother’s death. My father lived all alone after my mother’s death with my brother. Although he was a man of few words right through his life, my mother’s death made him more lonely then words could express. I could feel the vacuum in his life although he never shared his grief with us.

Within two years’ of my mother’s death, my father passed away. He did suffer from diabetes and hypertension, which made his kidneys fail. Although, this was the primary reason for his death, I also felt that he died due to separation of his partner in life. All of us, who have experienced the warmth of our parents, friend or spouse in life understand the meaning of true partnership. You are energised by the mere presence of your partner without expecting anything from each other. Their mere presence adds value to your life. The physical presence of your partner is enough. Even their silence adds meaning to your life. Their absence kills you.

When you miss your partner in life for a few days, you miss them. Imagine what happens to you when you lose them for eternity. You end up talking to their photo for a few days till you digest the truth that they are no longer with you. You keep asking God as to why was he so cruel on you ? God answers you through his silence and then you realize that this is the new reality of life and you adapt to it.

After spending many years in my life and after losing quite a few relatives and friends, I realised that this is new phase of life God has planned for you. The only way to remember your partner or friend in your future life is to live their values and fulfil their unfulfilled dreams if you can. There is no point brooding what you could have done to increase there longevity in life. It is better to spend one’s energy to live their spirit in your life.

The ways of life are complex and unpredictable as in the design of the photo above.

Life is a journey and there are a few shocks like these, which mould you to be a better human being

Time to wake up is now.

S Ramesh Shankar

24th November 2017

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

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

Seasons of life


In most parts of the world we have summer, monsoon and winter around the year. Each part of the year signifies something for us. Let us start with summer.  The heat of the summer reminds us of the power of the sun. It helps us gain enough of vitamin D for the rest of the year and also ensures that nature takes care of the excess of water everywhere. It is a also a season of holidays for kids in some parts of the world and time for family vacations.

Then we eagerly await the onset of the monsoon. We get allergic to the heat of the sun and end up with allergies and heat rashes. We pray for early onset of the monsoon and await the forecast of the meteorologist. As the first rains arrive, the smell of the wet mud makes us feel nostalgic and we look forward to a good monsoon. However, cities get paralysed with floods and choking of drains and traffic jams. We then wait for the monsoon to be over and await the winter months.

Winter is mild or strong depending on which part of the world you live in. Either way, the temperatures are pleasant till it starts freezing and the Sun disappears forever. Then we get depressed and feel the absence of the Sun and the warmth. We also have cold waves in different parts of the world and people dying due to very low temperatures and inadequate protection from the chill.

Our life is no different. We have summer, rains and winter in our life too. When we are studying it looks like the long summer with a lot of heat of exams and evaluations. We look forward for a break and it ends sooner than it begins and we have another long academic session. A series of examinations, evaluations and tests is always testing us during this period.

Our youth is like the rains. While it is romantic and full of energy, it does pose us a lot of challenges. We need to get into a job or career and then decide to marry and settle in life. In all these, we face a lot of storms and traffic jams in the form of not getting a desired job or missing a promotion. Then not being able to marry a girl or boy of our choice and then eagerly waiting for a kid. By the time all this is done, the rains of life are over and we tend to lead to adulthood and the winter of our life begins.

As we set into late adulthood and have peaked in our career, we tend to become philosophical. It is like the winter of our life. Our health is impacted in some ways and we feel depressed when our family and friends do not have enough time for us.  No wonder we call it the winter blues.

When summer fades away and the clouds arrive on the horizon, it is the onset of the monsoon.  Life is also like that many a time. While the rains are romantic part of life, it could get flooded with challenges and we have to learn to face it and become a winner.

Thus the cycle of life is of summer, rains and winter. If we decide to enjoy every stage of our life, it is fun. After all, all of us go through it and it is the way life is.
Let us learn to enjoy all seasons of life.

S Ramesh Shankar

Simplicity

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I have always been impressed by the simplicity of the villagers.  I recently had the opportunity to visit a village on the outskirts of Dhaka and the experience was the same.  We were on a boat with our team on a team building exercise.  The organisers informed us that there was a village on our route along the shores of the river and if we were interested we could stop by.

This was a village of potters.  We stopped by and some of us ventured into the village.  As we landed, we were welcomed by a group of old villagers sitting on the bank.  They were clothed in simple muslin and were just relaxing on the shores.  They welcomed us with warm smiles and made us feel special even as we landed.  Then we went to the first hutment.  They were a group of artisans who were making a idol for worship for a religious festival in the ensuing months.  They not explained how they go about it but also were willing to share their idols for photographs.

Then we met a group of goldsmiths.  They were hand crafting silver and gold jewels.  They were happy to share their products and explain the process to us.  There was absolutely no attempt to hard sell anything to us.  They did not take undue advantage of a group of tourists to sell their produce taking advantage of our visit.  They were not at all disappointed when we did not end up buying anything from them.

The third hutment was a potter making pots for making yoghurt.  He explained how it was made and then fired in the kiln.  He further explained how it is marketed in the city. He also did not try to sell his pots to us but was more keen to explain the process of pot making.  This is unlike the city folk, who do not lose an opportunity to sell their produce even when we do not need them.

The last hutment was that of a lady potter who was actually making pots from mud through a manual process(as in the photo above).  When asked if a motorised process would have been more helpful and productive to her, she replied that she could not afford it and she was happy to do it the manual way.  She happily displayed how effortlessly she converted raw wet mud into a beautiful pot .  She then explained how it is dried and then heated in a kiln before is it cooled in sand and then goes for sale.

The best part of the trip was when this lady had kept some mango fruit dried up in a open mud plate.  When some of us enquired as to what was this used for ? , she explained the process of making dried mango papad.  She further added that it was taken by the villagers as a side dish and also helped in neutralising the summer heat.  She requested us to wait and offered us a sample of this tasty mango papad.  She did not accept any money from us as she said that it was just a small sample for us to taste it.

Such is the simplicity displayed by the villagers.  I am not sure if we get corrupted by materialism in life.  As we live in cities with all comforts of life, we forget the basic human values of life.  We are not interested in welcoming our guests.  We are not keen to share our knowledge or skills.  We guard our physical territories as if someone is always looking to invade us and attack us.  We are commercial in all our dealings and look for economic again in all human transactions.

It is time to wake up and go back to our roots.

It is time to learn “simplicity” from our village folks ?

S Ramesh Shankar