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

 Living within means


All of us dream to grow and prosper in life.  This is a natural human phenomenon.  It is fair to be ambitious and aim for the moon or even beyond.  We need to set our vision high, evolve our strategy, determine our actions and take the first steps.  Hard work, perseverance with a little bit of luck will definitely take us towards our goal.  We may not achieve what we want in the time frame we set ourselves.  But sooner than later we will accomplish our mission if we never give up.

Let us look back at our own lives.  We start as students in school and then college.  Apart from studying and giving our best in academics, we also strive to excel in sports and cultural activities.   No wonder our parents, friends and relatives are impressed.  Our parents try to give us pocket money for our sundry expenses.  It is here where our ability to balance income and expenditure begins. Living within our means is the first lesson in our lives as a student.

We then finish our studies and get into an employment or business vocation.  We dream to climb the corporate ladder at the shortest possible time.  If our parents reached the peak of their career in three decades, we want to  achieve the same in three years.  I admire this spirit in the youth today.  It is indeed filled with optimism and an appetite to take risks, which my generation did not even dream of.

However, there is one small point to be kept in mind.  There is no short cut to success in life.  Even if we look at the world’s best sportspersons, their successes and accomplishments are visible to us.  We do not see the millions of hours of hard work they put in or the number of failures they face before they succeed in their sport. It is this ability to be focussed and the “never say die” spirit, which accelerates our road to success.

As we reach our first milestone, we tend to believe that we have achieved our goal post.  We want to celebrate even before the ink has dried on our first offer letter.  While there may be nothing wrong in partying on the first night after our first offer, we need to remember that our long and strenuous journey to accomplish our mission has just begun.  It is at this stage we need to learn to become thrifty.  We may be tempted to live beyond our means.  We may be lucky to be brought up in a upper middle class family with all comforts.  It is our ability to realize the world is different now and all the comforts in life have to be earned by us through our own earnings is critical.

We end up competing with friends who come from rich family heritage and want to live a dream life  even before we have earned it.  It is at this stage, we need to get grounded and remind ourselves that life has just begun for us.  We have just run the first few kilometres of our life marathon.  We need to learn to save money every month to build the future of our choice.  It is like the marathon runners conserve their energy in the first few kilometres so as to put in their best foot forward in the last lap of the race.

Life is a journey and it has many facets. My learning in life is that if we can master the art of living within our means, we will always be happy.  Our expenditure should always be  less than our income.  We should never get into the credit trap.  We need to learn to enjoy life within our means.  After all happiness cannot be bought only by money.  Rather, I would say that money buys the least of happiness in life.

As in the photo above, Sikhism teaches you to be grounded, treat everyone as equal and live within your means.

Let us learn to live within our means from today.  After all, it is never too late to begin.

S Ramesh Shankar