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

There is a time for everything in life …


We sometimes wonder why something never happens when we plan for it but happens when we least expect it.  I believe there is a time for everything in life.  One may call it destiny while others may term it luck.  It is true that things happen when they are supposed to happen and not necessarily when we want them to happen.  Even if we look at nature, it may rain on a hot and sultry summer day and there may be no rain on a cloudy monsoon evening.

Life is is no different.  We all have dreams and desires in life.  We want things to happen the way we yearn for it.  But, it does not always work that way.  If we look at our personal lives, we may have multiple examples of how things did not go the way we had envisaged.  It could be the education we wanted to pursue or the boy or girl we wanted to marry.  Life has its own way of opening itself for us and the way we adapt to it makes us a winner rather than a loser.

I am an avid traveller.  I sometimes love to take off in my car with my family with no destination in mind.  Life in a way is like that.  We may plan for something and something else may happen.  So, it may be the best thing to plan for anything and be ready for the opposite to happen.  The earlier we realize it in life, the better it is for us.  It is so much fun to explore your destination after you hit the road rather than meticulously plan for it and change it based on some road block on the way.

If we reflect on our career, the story may not be very different.  We have to plan for our career and work meticulously to achieve our dreams.  I am not for a minute recommending that destiny will determine your career.  What I am putting forth is that sometimes even in our career, there may be a turning point, which we may not have anticipated.  Rather than cribbing and crying over it, it may be helpful to accept it as a reality and make the best out of this turn.

While it may be easier to state that we need to accept the unanticipated turns in our life as destiny or luck, it may be very hard to digest it as a reality and deal with it.  What are the alternatives before us when something does not go the way we want it.  We can cry over it and feel depressed or take it in our stride and move on. I am recommending the latter approach, which makes you stronger to deal with any conditions in your life.

Even if your look at your family situation, life is not different.  Your kids may strive hard for admission in the best universities and may not get it.  But one fine day, they may get an offer from their dream organisation which they themselves may not believe to be true.  That is the fate of destiny.  While most of us feel low, when things do not go our way, we may not be equally grateful, when things go our way and we least expected it.

Like in the photo above, we least expected snow in April in Munich.  But as it was freezing, it was time to enjoy it rather than crib about it.

I would say that we need to strike a balance in life.  While we should continue to strive hard and plan for our future, we should take luck or destiny as it crosses us in life rather than wait for it.  It is like having your meal in a restaurant on the highway as it comes rather than look for a dream hotel, which may never be spotted till you reach your destination.

Life is full of surprises . Let us enjoy it.

S Ramesh Shankar

Crossroads in Life


There comes a stage in life when you feel that you are living on the edge.  You are in a dilemma to say the least.  It is a stage in life, where you feel you want to move on, stay put or take a step back.  You weigh in all the options and then are still stuck to where you are.  It is almost like you are standing on a soil full of quick sand.  It is a terrible situation to be in, but it is true that most of us go through this in our lives.

If we look back at our personal lives, such situations haunt us.  The first such dilemma I faced in life was when my father was seriously ill with a critical illness and was in the ICU.  He had a renal failure and the doctors told me that he has to be on dialysis every week.   It would cost me quite a bit and that amount was almost what my monthly earnings were at that stage of my life.  The doctors asked me as the eldest son whether I would like to go ahead and put him on dialysis or let him die the natural way.  I was shocked and did not know what step to take.  I had no other sources of income and no other person to support me financially.  I took the plunge that I will go ahead with the dialysis knowling well that I cannot afford it and it may be a painful experience for him as well.   The only reason for this decision is that my heart told me that I should do everything to save my father as I could never ever repay what he had done for me and the rest of our family.

If I move to the work situation, the defining moment was in 1995.  I was working in a public sector undertaking, where I had started my career in 1981.  I had done well all through my career and was promoted almost every three years.  Of course, there were ups and downs during these 14 years.  I got promoted in 1995 and then I decided to resign and pursue my career in the private sector.  At that time, this was considered a high risk decision.  Everyone of my age preferred the government service and next the public sector as the best place to work in.  My seniors advised me against it.  My family members were supportive of my decision.  My friends were curious.  I was not sure whether to take the plunge or not.  I decided to move on and have no regrets of what I did.

I am sure each one of us would have gone through such dilemmas in our lives.  It could be life defining moments or life threatening ones.  Each of us weigh all the options before us and take the best decision.  Sometimes we may be proved right and other times we may be proved wrong.  It is after a period of time, people will pass the judgement and tell you how right you were or how wrong you were.  It is our ability to take both of theses situations in our stride and move on, which may make us successful in life.  We have to take a decision, own it up and move on. We ourselves will not know whether it is right or wrong. As long as we’re are sure that it is the best option before us with all the information at our end, we should just go ahead.

 One needs to listen to everyone, seek the advice of elders and the experts and then own up whatever one thinks is in the best interest of everyone.  It may work out or it may not. It does not matter.  After all life is also like a lottery.  When it clicks, you hit a bonanza and when it does not, you learn to cope with it.  As in the photo above, you sometimes do not know whether the river is taking a right or a left turn.  You realise it only after you have taken the turn and reached your destination.

Let us learn to move on in life.

S Ramesh Shankar

Reality bytes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think ? Is it time to reflect ?

S Ramesh Shankar

Mirror


I wonder many times as to how my behaviour with others will impact me.  I have seen in my life and career that many people get away with rude behaviour.  Sometimes people in power and authority think that have a right to behave rudely.  This happens both at home, work environment and society. Let us try to explore why this happens and what is the impact. 

At home, as I grow into an adult and become successful in my career, I tend to believe that I can boss around in the house.  I tend to take my family members for granted and sometimes even my parents.  This further makes me short tempered and unpredictable.  In some families, irrespective of both husband and wife working, there is a sense of superiority in either of us.  We are intolerant to the success of the other person and live in a make believe world. We do not realise how our behaviour as adults impacts the psychology of our own children.

If we move to the work place, the situation is not very different.  As we grow in the organisational hierarchy, we tend to believe we become demi God.  We treat our colleagues with disdain rather than human beings.  We tend to show not enough respect to people down the hierarchy.  It can result in simple courtesies not being extended to our colleagues.  It could be like not wishing back to our colleagues, when they wish us.  It could also mean not listening to junior colleagues or dictating our way through key decisions.

This tendency reflects in societal behaviours too.  People in positions of power whether in organisations, politics or other institutions tend to get egoistic.  They take everyone around them for granted.  Pride and ego dominates their behaviour.  They get away with this sort of antics as long as they are in power.  The moment they lose power, they become cowards and they do not realise how much they have hurt people till they get hurt themselves.

In all these situations, what is common is that power and behaviour seems to be directly correlated.  As power seeps into the human body, our behaviour tends to get from bad to worse.  So, it is up to us to realise this change and keep ourselves grounded and humble.  You may get respected as long as you wield power.  But, it is critical to remember that people respect your position rather than yourself.  In real life,  people respect those with character and humility.  Your words are more important than your deeds.    

All these situations signify that as parents, leaders or citizens our behaviour impacts our future generations.  Our words and actions determine our character.  Our character determine our actions.  Our actions trigger changes in society.  It is up to us to behave in a way we want our future generations to do.  Our behaviour reflects and impacts the behaviour of the younger generation.  It is like our images are reflected in the mirror every time we peep into it.

Let us behave the way we want others to do with us every day.

S Ramesh Shankar