Friday, December 28, 2012

The Belief Story is Halved - Sachin retires from ODIs

I guess the first thing that comes to mind when you see the headline of this blog is, 'Wait, is that possible? Are we not getting into unfamiliar territory with this news?'

I simply think that we got used to this great cricketer from Mumbai (Bombay, when he made his debut). The world has changed in the last 23 years that we have seen Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar play for India in his blue jersey in one-day internationals with the greatest of pride. Think of this for a minute - when Sachin made his debut:

  • We didn't have facebook
  • Google didn't exist
  • Online shopping did not exist in India
  • Mobile phones were a luxury
  • There were hardly any malls in the country, except for a handful in Delhi or Bombay
  • Imported goods were really just that - imported
  • There were no 24 X 7 television channels
  • Internet was the exclusive preserve of a few scientific organizations, that too, at primitive speeds. If anything, many of us visited the then ubiquitous cyber cafe to experience this new dimension to life called the Internet
  • etc...
Yet, this man has lived through all of this transformation that we have seen as a country and kept the hopes alive for all of us with his singular dedication and commitment to what he knew best - score runs for the national team in the international sphere. 

Facing up to monstrous fast bowlers who were possibly double his height and weight, going to the farthest corners of the world to places that not too many Indians had even heard of and scaling heights in most places he went to, brought pride to all of us. It made us feel that here was someone who represented us in the world. He not only can hold his own, but prove to the world that we as Indians are really the best of the best. 

Sachin, for me, symbolised that incredible belief that many of us at that time couldn't even fathom to think of i.e. dream big, play hard to conquer the world in the most professional way possible, without hurting anybody and yet standing firm in the face of any obstacle on the global stage. This boy-next-door that India has come to love, adore, respect, admire, fall in love with, and indeed revere to the point of seeing him become India's sporting icon, has clearly made me and many of my ilk think big in life and not to settle for less. Like one of the expert writers wrote on his blog recently, he mesmerised our country. 

Perhaps, the lasting effect of this great man's impact on my life and people in my sphere is represented by this one line that my father told me in the '90s in my final year of college. 'Whatever you do, Arun, do it well. Try to use the Sachin attitude in whatever you do in life and you will go places'. I possibly never understood the significance of that short line from my father in 1998, but, I clearly understand every word of that statement now. My father was still working then and he clearly saw a great vision for India and for people like me. But, by using Tendulkar as an example, he was able to clearly demonstrate to me that here was a world-beater like non-other that he had seen in his long life, and that it makes perfect sense for a youngster like me to learn the virtues that Tendulkar represented in my own life.

Look at it this way. Sachin does not even know that I exist and scores of people like me. But, just look at the impact he has had on all of us, cutting across every discernible, stupid, man-made divisions that are all too common in our country. This man is loved and revered by one and all. How many Indians have managed to do that, with such universal effect? Sure, he has had his critics like every other celebrity, but the weight of his universal acceptance as India's champion is far heavier than what any critic might have to say. Incredible India is what we have heard, here is a truly incredible Indian!

I will miss the no.10 blue jersey on the cricket field, Sachin. Not for the records, for they are part of cricket folklore and there are far more qualified sports commentators to analyse those numbers than me. I will miss you for the sheer magnanimity of your presence at the centre of Indian cricket, for the incredible trust, confidence and positive attitude that you brought to billions of your fellow countrymen and for that pride in performance that you taught people like me (who grew up with you!). 

I wish you the very best in anything that you choose to do in the future, but like I posted on my facebook page the other day, my lasting memory of you will be from 2 of your iconic knocks - the upper cut that you hit off Shoaib Akhtar in the 2003 World Cup match against Pakistan at the Centurion Cricket Ground, and the other is that unforgettable 143 against the Australians at Sharjah in 1998, when you really did knock out not only the sandstorm that hit the ground, but also the belief in the mighty Aussies at that time.

Irrespective of anything else, I have learnt from Sachin how one should never ever to give up in life. Hats off, champion! You really have made many, many, many Indians proud. I look forward to cherishing the last part of your Test match journey.  Simply because, a large part of the Indian belief is halved with your retirement from ODIs. And it is not restricted to cricket. It is the belief that you taught us, that needs to be reinforced now, more than ever before, given the challenges that our country faces. Sons of the soil like you are indeed the driving force for that belief to be maintained and eventually increased, even after you finally leave the stage from international cricket. I will always think of you as the Belief Man of India.

I hope someone sensible makes a movie out of your career, as generations after us need to know what a fine Indian graced us.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Gender this world

It is increasingly apparent to me that we are no longer living in the so-called man's world. I have traditionally never ever believed in the existence of a man's world as I always thought that the world is composed of two main genders - male and female. More than anything else, my belief that both genders are equal has always been grounded in the fact that all of us enter this world with nothing and leave this world with nothing. Hence, none of us has any right to proclaim that it is a man's world or a woman's world. I still continue to maintain my theory that it is an equal world, in my humble opinion, at least!

However, a number of events that I have observed over the last few years has made me think again about this equality theory that I hold. I am beginning to see enough evidence that the world is far more vocal about atrocities to a woman, than it is to a man. I see cases reported in the news of manhandling of girls, rapes, divorces, and many other atrocities. Those are atrocities that even I would condemn, irrespective of which part of the world it happens.

But, the change in gender bias that I am referring to is more subtle. It is not direct. It appears beneath the surface, so to speak. One has to dig deep to see how people have begun to change their behaviour towards any semblance of nuisance caused to girls. For example, the latest outburst by Sania Mirza that she has been treated by the AITA as a commodity in the selection of teams for the London Olympics is a case in point. I have seen tennis players, sports journalists, television actresses & socialites (with no tennis credentials) and others appear on national television to determine whether what Sania said to the AITA was right or not. That too, in light of her move after she received confirmation of her wild card entry into the London Olympics 2012 next month. She was silent all these days, when the imbroglio between Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes consumed prime time television.

I found the national debate on this Sania outburst, extremely biased. Why should we support her statement of being treated as a commodity, when nobody ever talked about any bias when Leander and Mahesh were slugging it out in public last week? Everyone talked about national pride & putting the country before everything else in the Lee & Hesh imbroglio. And now, when we see an outburst from Sania Mirza (in her words of being treated as a commodity), why are we not placing the same metrics in front of her i.e. national pride & representing India at the Olympics? Why do we have to talk about gender bias, feminism et al? Why can't the equality I referred to earlier, apply? Why gender? Talk tennis preferences, talk sporting favouritism, talk politicking, I will buy that. But, I certainly don't buy this sensationalism of gender in the entire equation. In my humble opinion, it is unwarranted.

The above case may be quite distant from the circle of influence in my life, in the context of this subtle gender bias. So, let me refer to things that I have seen, where I have observed this 'below the belt gender bias' that shifts gears, rather, flows with the tide. For example, when a guy dumps a girl, it has long been considered man's ego and the age-old way of men treating women. But, when the same treatment of being dumped is meted out to a guy (by a girl), I have observed that the support that the girl receives is potentially far greater than what the guy does. There are support systems that are created for the girl (when she dumps the guy). The guy is blamed, even if only figuratively, of not handling the situation. The guy is told that he was not good enough for the girl. The girl suddenly achieves cult status in terms of the clout she enjoys. Works in her favour. Boosts her ego. Not too many people necessarily even provide the guy with an opportunity to voice his viewpoint in the entire equation. In extreme cases, the guy is deserted and left to fend for himself (emotionally & socially). The girl moves on in her life & the same support system that was once available to both the guy & the girl, completely migrates to the girl's camp. It is never apparent in the first instance, but becomes gradually visible over time. Why does gender have to come in? Is the guy any less devastated than the girl (when she dumps him)? Or, is the girl any more devastated than him (when he dumps him)? Why bring in bias at all? Devastation is devastation. More so, if one is a victim, and the other is the originator of such pain (be it a guy or a girl). Why introduce subtle gender bias in the conundrum of devastation, which in itself is tough to handle?

Another example of this subtle gender bias - the recent election of Sheryl Sandberg as a Director in Facebook. I have nothing against her being elevated to a senior leadership position. But, my problem really is, why does one have to make references to her gender in her achievement? Why can't we keep it simple and say that there was a person who needed to be hired/elevated as a Director in a famous company...and that, this lady got it? Why does it have to be reduced to things like diversity on the Board of Directors? Why can't we just leave it to the merit of the candidate's capabilities to bag the job? Why do we have to bring in gender into this? She was good enough to get the job, period (at least, according to me).

There are even subtler things I have noticed. Guys stand in a queue for a long time to get a movie ticket or railway ticket (assume, no internet for a second). A girl happily walks in, beats the line, goes to the front of the line, pulls out money, smiles at the first 2 guys in the line and manages to get tickets from the counter. She doesn't ever have to wait in the queue? Isn't that bias? Why can't we recognise that both a man and a woman are there to get hold of a ticket and disallow such preferential behaviour?

Another example of such subtle bias that I see more of. Policemen treating traffic offenders. In the event that the offender is a guy, the policeman pretty much rubbishes the guy and harasses him no end. If the same traffic offence is committed by a girl, I never ever seen a policeman behave rudely, scream, swear of harass the girl. Why? Isn't a traffic offender, be it a guy or a girl, supposed to be an offender & hence be subjected to the same course of law that is applicable? Period.

I see other instances in the corporate world too. I mentioned about Sheryl Sandberg earlier. How about people like Chanda Kochar, Naina Lal Kidwai and other wonderful professionals who made it to the top of the financial services industry in India? Why does their gender have to come in the way of crediting them? Nobody ever says that Ratan Tata was the first MAN to buy companies abroad (Jaguar, Land Rover etc). But, almost everyone in the media says that Naina Lal Kidwai was the first WOMAN who went to Harvard Business School from India. So what? Why can't we just say that we are so proud that an Indian had the pedigree to make it to HBS all those years ago? Why introduce gender bias? N.L. Kidwai was a super achiever and good enough to go to HBS & got her due. Why bring in the woman angle? Imagine someone saying that Dr. Manmohan Singh was the first MAN to be economist/FM & Prime Minister. Nobody ever says that - people only say that he is the first Indian since Nehru to be elected as PM twice. His gender is never brought into the equation, right? Then, why do we do that with the other super achieving women in corporate India or other walks of life? Isn't that subtle bias?

I can go on & on about my observations of these subtleties in treating men and women & the changing nature of bias that we see in the world. It scares me. We want to build a world full of hope, full of equality and freedom. We need to teach our future generations that bias is one of the strongest retarding factors of growth and development. Human beings need to be given opportunities on the merit of their case. They need to be given their due for what they are and as they are. If they get something by the dint of their own hard work, diligence and commitment, given them the credit, irrespective of whether the person is a man or a woman. Let's build a planet with less, nay, no bias. I may be talking idealistic, but, I am eminently confident that while deliberate/apparent bias cannot be removed, the subtle bias that I talk of can certainly be removed!

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Some people have the innate ability to convince others. Many others may cite the same points as the 'convincing folks', but may never be accepted. Have you ever wondered why is it that the same point stated by different folks are received differently by the recipient of the message? I have seen this happen with increasing frequency in recent times.

Communication is traditionally referred to as the process whereby a sender dispatches a message through a channel to a receiver. That is theoretically correct. However, why is it that the same message from a different sender, is received differently by the receiver? Has it got anything to do with the stature of the sender? Or, is it related to the personal equations between the sender and the receiver i.e. there may be a message sent by somebody who is not greatly valued by the receiver. Yet, the same message sent to the same receiver, by a some other sender who is looked upon in awe by the receiver, is considered an expert view, or at the least sanguine.

Why is this so? Does this behaviour have any psychological connotation? Does this behaviour have anything to do with any personal vendetta that the receiver may have against the sender he 'doesn't like'?

Maybe, there is another angle to all this. The sender may enjoy tremendous credibility in the receiver's eyes. Or, the sender may benefit from 'favouritism' in the receiver's estimation of him. Or, there may be some open behaviour that is partial, or, more subtly displayed preferences by the receiver. To me, it is illogical that the same message sent by different senders are viewed and received so differently by the same receiver(s).

I have seen this behaviour manifest itself in multiple fora. In the corporate world, an outside consultant enjoys greater credibility in the company's eyes when the former provides certain recommendations/action items. Yet, when the same recommendation is made by any executive within the firm, it is not necessarily taken well. In other set ups, you find that when two friends go out with a group of friends and both of them crack a joke, the audience may not laugh at one of the 2 people who uttered the joke; yet, the same audience may burst into haughty laughter when the other person states the joke. Is there an explanation to this at all? It's the same joke, after all!

You find this 'sender-trap' as I call it in families too. There are people who demand respect. Such people, at most times, are insensitive to the idea of earning respect from family members. And there are others, who consider some people in the family more aligned to their thoughts and actions, than others (the latter are conveniently ignored). Yet, the ignored people, typically might have the same, well-meaning, well-mannered attitude to the entire family. But, they are never considered as part of the family. Their communication with other members of the family (especially, the people who don't consider them as part of the family) deteriorates over time. Ignorance becomes a norm. Silence becomes the way of life. The ignored variety begin to think 'why should I bother communicating with such people, who either refuse to understand my viewpoint, or, are incapable of taking my views?' 

Then, there are bosses who demarcate between people reporting into them. There may be situations when 2 team members may have the same suggestion in a project, where, the boss ignores the person he does not prefer; and credits the person who he prefers. That leads to a lot of ego issues, demotivation etc. The larger point is, the recipient's behaviour results in the 'ignored' employees to wonder why they should even be part of the team,when their efforts are not valued by the powers-that-be. 

Much of being ignored, results in getting supremely demotivated at most times. And in other cases, it can cause lack of belief in oneself (due to total non-acceptance from all quarters). I think, all this, has fundamentally got to do with being accepted as a human being overall. Communication is then just an offshoot. A person can try all he can to convince people and try to explain his well-meaning intentions. However, if the person is fundamentally not accepted by society, he/she is not going to get very far in being accepted in society/life. Otherwise, there just cannot be an explanation to this whole sender-trap. It is communication, at the end of it, which is a very standard process as outlined at the beginning of this blog piece. So, I am convinced that its acceptance of the human being that's at the core. It can't be anything else, to my mind, at least.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A 100 hundreds..!

Sachin Tendulkar reached immortality as far as batting in cricket goes, by reaching his century of centuries in international cricket, when he made 114 against Bangladesh in the Asia Cup league match earlier this week. The man , who has had his fair share of critics, reached the zenith of batsmanship with a nice flick on the leg side, and then raised his bat, and pointed his bat to the Indian flag and the BCCI logo on his helmet. Ramiz Raja and Sunil Gavaskar were in the commentary box! 

And I was at DKOM, on a day that I listened to some luminaries and their experiences in life - Vishal Sikka, the CTO of SAP; K.V.Kamath, Chairman of Infosys (former CEO of ICICI Bank); and popular author, Chetan Bhagat. Not to mention, an amazing DEMOJAM!

Hats off,champion!! Hats off! It will be hard to replace you in international cricket!!

That ability to prove others wrong

For long, I have admired sport for the virtues that it has taught me. Passion, commitment, discipline, love for what you are doing, do the best that you possibly can, make the most of your talents, make a statement to the world et al. Sport usually thrives on the ability of a chosen few to go beyond the ordinary that makes watching sport itself a virtue. But that is not the point of this blog. I firmly believe that sport teaches all of us, in any walk of life, on how to approach life and come up in life, in the wake of severe adversities. 
There is no point screaming at the top of your voice against people who have decided to harm you. It is better to take stock of the criticism being levelled against you (in whichever stream you may be in), and doing the best you can to prove those critics wrong. Like they say in cricket, let the bat do the talking. In much the same way, let critics talk; and all you need to do is perform and the same critics will either stop making comments about you, or will learn to appreciate that they need to watch their word before they speak.

I have seen this element of being criticised or ostracised or denegrated by many people in many ways. Some people end up saying that 'he is not good enough'; others are bit more impolite, and many others are downright rude. Of course, there is this other variety that you need to guard against the most i.e. the type that will sweet talk you and make you believe that you are great, when in fact, they are doing all they can to destroy you, bit by bit. Calculated demolition by people, who know to do it subtly, without your realising it. And this can be both at a professional and personal level. If it is professional, there is enough room to prove them wrong. If it gets personal, that is where the aspect of self-respect comes in. I have learnt in life never to let go of your self-respect, irrespective of anything else.

I believe that critics of all types can be made to eat their words in ample measure. The one thing that you need to watch out for, is to avoid taking things personally. That is easier said than done. Like my uncle famously told me, “You will you find the solution to a problem, if you focus on the problem”. Otherwise, one tends to get consumed by the feeling of revenge against the individual who demolished you and that will make it hard to focus on the issue. That's the key - focus on the issue, because, if that gets solved, then your critic will automatically eat his/her words and be careful about what he/she says to you or about you next time around.

The worst variety are the people who betray you (not just critic you) i.e. you may have grown up believing somebody no end. Such people may turn out to be supremely opportunistic and may stalk you in the smoothest manner possible, without any previous hint. They are the toughest and the worst set of people once can think of handling. When they demolish you they way they do, it affects your self-confidence and belief systems in life itself. You begin to wonder whether you can believe anyone on this planet at all. That is the time of supreme examination of an individual's patience, intellect and most importantly the temperament of the individual, who is at the receiving end of the critics. That precisely, is the time, to have the balance to handle the situation. Very few have that balance. That is where, I believe, sport can help.

The ability to handle the worst situation possible in the most balanced manner. Never to give it back verbatim to the individual who demolished you, but show the same individual that you are actually far better than he/she thinks you are. While those people may have the opportunities to be opportunistic, they conveniently forgot that ever dog has its day. One needs to bide his/her time and just go on about one's regular life and have the gumption to fight back, professionally and with a lot of dignity. A lot of this is to prove to such demolition-driven people to not only mess with you, but also to prove to yourself that you are far better than people think/perceive you to be.

I think, one really is answerable to oneself in the long-run. If I can look at myself in the mirror and be convinced that his/her conscience is clear, that is more than enough. Critics will come and go; so will people who think they have demolished you and thereby won in their lives. But, all of them can be made to eat their words, by your own courage of conviction and firm belief to prove to yourself that you can achieve the benchmarks that you have set for yourself. Opportunistic people are the worst people one can ever encounter; and such are the people who will first realise your worth, when you perform.  Take Rahul Dravid, for instance. Connoisseurs of cricket averred that the man cannot play one-day cricket; he didn’t react, he actually responded with 10,000+ runs in the ODI format. The old connoisseurs had no answer and were forced to agree that he was one of the greatest ever cricketers of all time!

Many of these lessons are embedded in the sublime world of sport, at least for me. I am convinced that all of us can draw from these lessons and adapt them to our spheres of life. There is no need to be bitter, or arrogant or irritable or reactionary.  Just do your own thing, keep your conscience clear and people who have done all they can to kill you alive, will eventually eat their words. Don’t even expect an apology from the people who tried to damage you; you will automatically know that they were wrong, when you go about things the right way, just as they will realise that they passed a judgement on you a little too early for their own good.  
One needs to look no further than a Dravid, or a Kumble, or Ganguly or of course, Sachin in cricket. Or, other champions from other games such as Federer, Maradona, Pele, Viswanathan Anand,  Jesse Owens, et al. All these legends have had their fair share of critics and people who have questioned them through their career, and indeed their lives.  The lesson that these champions taught me is to focus on their sport and make their critics eat their words.

I now firmly believe in many of these virtues that sport has taught me. It helps me live my life better.

First DKOM at SAP

It was a very interesting and new experience for me to visit the Developer Kick-Off Meeting (DKOM) at SAP earlier this week. The entire India office was there for this developers summit, that aims to showcase some amazing software codes to improve the world and make it a better place.

There were some amazing personalities who graced DKOM this year - an Executive Board member who is a technology geek, the CTO of SAP who has made every Indian proud with his success on the global stage, the founder of IIM - Bangalore, Mr. K.V. Kamath (the current Chairman of Infosys and the former CEO of ICICI Bank), Chetan Bhagat, Kailash Kher with a live performance et al. The invitee list with such luminaries is just another certification of the diversity that SAP truly believes in and the values that we pick up from each other's diverse backgrounds. I even remember overhearing that our 37-year old MD takes hours and hours in recruiting people, just to ensure that there is minimum duplication and repetitiveness in terms of similar people joining SAP etc. I guess, that just showed in DKOM as well. And yes, I got to meet the MD for a few minutes and it was nice to say hello to him! Imagine, a 37-year old MD of the second biggest R & D centre (India), of the world’s no.1 applications software company! Incidentally, he was just voted as a Youth World Leader by the World Economic Forum 10 days ago…! Inspirational!!

For me, the 3 highlights of DKOM were as follows - the keynote session by Prof. N.S. Raghavan (the founder of IIM-B), Vishal Sikka's keynote address as the CTO of SAP, and the incredible DEMOJAM. Prof. Ramaswamy is 87 years' old, a Padmabhushan winner. Incredible speech, fantastic control of the mind at that age, amazing clarity of thought, very obvious awareness of the world, and well-rounded knowledge of the modern generation thinks. He talked of world affairs, animal welfare, technology, sports, IT, BT, Shilpa Shetty, Indian history, Indian culture, why we are relevant in this modern age when many countries are disintegrating, how politics and sports are killing our country's growth, why karma and doing your job to the best of your ability is the fundamental thing in life, why commitment is important, how he has come to admire SAP and its numerous initiatives outside of software etc. 

Incredible speech, that had all of us in splits almost throughout the 40 minutes that he spoke. And he received a very automatic standing ovation....and very well-deserved too. The man sure did demonstrate that his knowledge and experience was immensely worthy as far as his winning the Padmabhushan goes. Most of all, he talked about intelligence - inspiration and why it is important to have inspiration in life!

Coming to Vishal Sikka, SAP’s CTO.  I think the man evokes respect, admiration and inspiration for all of us and his success has clearly demonstrated that it is possible for every Indian to reach global heights in professional life. His ability to very easily disintegrate complex, technical things into very simple English, is what has endeared to me to him the most, in the 4 years that I have been with SAP. For such a complex software that is challenged by emerging technologies and competitors, I am amazed to see how he is able to talk so simplistically about the newer paradigms in the software world and why/how SAP is driving that change. Incredible man, who is admired even by foreigners for his ability to explain SAP's technology to all and sundry, in the manner that they need to understand it. And remember, he is a geek (holds a P.hd in Computer Science from Stanford University!).

 Perhaps, I had no expectation from K.V. Kamath and that is why I did not find him particularly insightful or inspiring. Maybe, also because, I know a lot about the man, given my upbringing in a banking family! Yet, KVK told all of us about how the technological revolution in ICICI Bank helped create the kind of financial services giant that ICICI Bank is today.

And then, it was DEMOJAM. While I have heard speeches from eminent people in SAP in the past, I had never seen DEMOJAM before. It was a very interesting experience to see new ideas in software development and how they are relevant in the modern world. This was a competition, where 6 carefully selected teams get to present in front of the entire SAP house in India about their ideas on innovation, new areas of product development and practical application of such ideas. There is a panel of judges that comments on the technical viability and business value of these ideas along with a very noisy crowd that votes for the best ideas in a chorus! The higher the chorus, the better chance a team has to win the contest!
Some of the ideas were incredibly unique. 

The ideas that I saw were - creating mobile help alerts for delayed flights (Khelfish), how to find out the best deal in the market (deal dashboard), Genii (an expert system to solve customer queries in maintenance teams, real-time), translating customer queries and software code (including comments) in multiple languages, location based services (how much revenues and quantity n LA for a specific product vs. other regions etc). I found the concept of the DEMOJAM unique, with excitable crowd participation, a great platform to showcase fantastic ideas, a very interesting host, a super buoyant crowd and a fine winner (Genii!).

Last, but not the least, it was Chetan Bhagat, as a part of the Leadership Talk Series. I guess it is quite easy for all of us in this age group to relate to his story, given that he is from our generation and has spent his time in the competitive education market and then in the corporate world. Perhaps, my takeaway from his interview was one big line he made in between a bunch of jokes, when he said, 'Somewhere down the line, I started believing in myself'. I think that is a tremendous virtue and something I keep telling myself again and again, because, that is the fundamental thing for professional success.  Everything else is external.

In all, a great experience in DKOM. Of course, I spent almost an entire day with a fun-loving German, as much of an oxymoron as it may sound. It was good to spend quality time with him and exchange ideas on our respective cultures and also learn about his experiences in India. He knew the existence of Holi and has visited far more places in India than any Indian would have. Had some very sensible conversations with him as well! I should try and meet more people from different walks of life, more is a sure way of shaping my personality and improving my perspective in life.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Pen & paper are indeed special to me!

If there is one item that stands out from my childhood, it is the old inland letter/postcard. I was one of the most active users of these instruments offered by the Indian postal department, when I used to regularly write long letters to some of the dearest people in my life. These include the greatest friends I had the fortune of growing up with, as also a bunch of cousins who for me had (still do) iconic statures in my life, given their sheer outlook and attitude towards life.

One of the things that I distinctly remember was the excitement I had on Fridays or Saturdays, when I took the time out to write long letters to my cousins – especially 3 of them in Chennai; and 2 of them in Delhi. I used to write to them about sports (cricket in particular, given the common family interest in the game), friendships, hardships, events, exams, holiday plans, interesting girls and many other things that were at that time routine in my life. My letters were potentially never short, unless I was restricted by the space available in the inland letter or the postcard! And restricted space meant more number of letters! More often than not, I used to write on white pages (with lines, not blank sheets!), and they used to run into several pages (10-15-20 pages, at times).

Many of these letters were freewheeling conversations with all of these dear people and I never thought for a second about what the reactions would be, or how they would feel et al. I guess, being the youngest around also helped, in that I got away with anything that was even remotely controversial!

These letters reflected different moods– at times sombre, at other times supremely hyperactive (usually!). I generally ended up saying things the way I felt or the way I saw it – people refer to this as ‘calling a spade a spade’, these days!

I believe that the biggest trigger for me to write on pen & paper was the need to connect with these people, like no other – that’s how special they were to me. There was no internet, no cellphone, no Skype or web camera and no satellite communication technology whatsoever. It was the sheer desire to write long letters that drove me to write the way I did.  

One of the all-time favourite moments of my childhood was my walk to the post office. I distinctly remember the excitement I felt when I used to walk to my neighbourhood post office to deposit the envelope in the right mailbox. At that time, the post office had separate post boxes for the metropolitan cities and for non-metropolitan cities. Every time I placed my hand inside the mail box to send my letter to my cousins in Chennai or Delhi, I almost felt that I had reached the moon or some such zenith! Such was the thrill that the charm of letter writing gave me, all those years back.

My letter writing spree was not restricted to cousins alone. Like I said, I had the fortune of growing up with some immensely wonderful friends in both my school and my college and I was fortunate in that, they seemed to adore the letters I wrote to them. Interestingly, there are three girls and 1 boy that I used to write very long letters to – the boy and 2 girls were from my class and the third girl was from my neighbourhood. There were times, when I used to write 15 page letters to these people, right after coming home from school/college and giving them a long letter the next morning. Wow, that was one kick in life and a supremely happy bunch of moments!

In hindsight, I doubt if there are any other people in the world, apart from my parents, who potentially know me the way these friends do. I used to write essays to them, not letters – 15-20-30 pages at most times. And I still used to have the same excitement when I used to give it to them in person (and not by mail) and used to yearn for their expression/reaction. I was lucky, in that, a couple of them used to write back to me with letters too. That was one big kick in life i.e. not just sending long letters, but potentially receiving a few handwritten letters back. It was an inexplicable feeling!

I recently spoke to this 3rd girl that I refer to above (from my neighbourhood) and we were just reliving the bygone era – we have known each other for 20 years now! And when she casually mentioned that she has stored all of my letters & indeed all the letters that she ever received from her friends, I reached the same high that I did, 20 years back i.e. the same feeling that I used to have when I mailed a letter at the post office, or gave it to her/other friends in person. Felt good to relive that experience again, after so long!

Folks who know me may be wondering why I am writing about letter writing in a blog! Well, that’s the whole point. From that era of taking a pen and paper and writing what my heart used to really feel, to this day of e-mail communication, I am convinced that the art of reaching out to some of my nearest & dearest continues to be in my desire to write. These are indeed old-world charms that I truly have treasured over the years. But, the internet age and this era of instant gratification is something that has taken away my very old hobby/habit, (indeed, life support on a few occasions that I was not in Bangalore), of connecting with such old & dear people. There are times that I have been grossly misunderstood and it is only the pen & paper that have helped me explain my position.

I think I need to get back to my letter writing ways. It gives me peace, and makes a few of my dearest people very happy. It’s worth it!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Key to life is the space between the ears

For far too long, I have been thinking about the basic attitude to life. And I am convinced that life is a series of steps that is full of challenges every step of the way. Many of these challenges are a combination of circumstances, people's reaction to your behaviour (note, not response), pressure, stress, and just the journey of life itself. I am almost convinced that the supreme power above is out to test the limits of an individual in how much he/she can handle.

At times, there are experiences in life that are not a fault of the individual concerned. He/she may mean the best for others, however, the intention can be totally misread, misunderstood. This tends to result in labelling the individual into the 'not-so-good-person-to-be-with' category. And as much as the individual tries to disprove others that he did not mean any harm to them, the chances of that happening in this day and age are rather remote.

I have even seen cases where the same statement uttered by two individuals are interpreted differently i.e. the 'not-so-preferred' individual is cast in a negative light, whereas the 'preferred' folks, with the same point of view are looked at, positively. The 'not-so-preferred' individual can lose hope, confidence and a general sense of being positive, as a result of these experiences. After all, what crime did he/she do, except that his/her points of view were never accepted (especially when his/her intent behind the statement/action was the SAME as that of the 'preferred' folks).

Many of these things border on the social fabric of society. The so-called privileged few tend to forget their roots pretty easily (not all, though). They tend to forget their past struggles and in some cases, don't think twice in dismissing people who challenge them on their way. For them, their success, name & fame tend to override anything else in their lives. This, to the exclusion of everything else, such as, past friendships, past relationships et al.

There are other types of people too - the imposing variety i.e. their supreme belief that only they know everything on this planet and nobody else does. And if such people end up being in your close circuit, it hurts, quite badly at that. They sometimes tend to do it pretty softly too, when infact, they are giving you the knockout punch. Those are the ones that you really need to be careful about. What is worse is, that such people speak so smoothly, that it is rather tough to differentiate between their nice words and their malicious intent to destroy you. These could be friends, bosses, colleagues, clients, family or just about anyone; especially from the least expected quarters or the ones you have traditionally believed the most in your life.

The key to all this, I have realised, is the space between the ears. There is no need to take any nonsense from anyone, lying down in life. It’s ok to be a nice guy, but it’s NOT ok to let people bulldoze over you. The key, therefore, is that space between the ears. Be smart enough to understand that the world is not exactly a bed of roses and be smarter in identifying the thorns. Keep your balance about you, learn to give it back when people misbehave or try to knock you out in the most professional manner, and maintain your self-respect. For me, that self-respect factor, reigns supreme.

I close this piece by saying  that just as people who bulldoze you or ill-treat you, tend to do that without a care in the world, does not mean that you behave in the same way. The key is to maintain your self-dignity and respect, more than anything else. After all, every dog has its day. Keep that space between the ears under control, and most things in life will be in very good control.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

The importance of focus/balance

I met with old college friends this afternoon. Of particular relevance was my meeting with an old friend after 16 years today. It felt great to see him in person after so long. We got busy catching up on each other's lives, and getting updates on what we had been up to over the last decade & a half; and the best thing was that I felt like we were just taking off from where we had left off 16 years ago; as if, it was just last night that we caught up!

During this whole conversation, I realised one major thing i.e. the importance of focus on an individual's career.

For far too long, I have believed that the world has too many distractions that tend to divert the attention of the youth in either tangential or potential wrong tracks. In some cases, these distractions can be unnerving and can even border on irreparable damage. I count distractions such as unnecessary movies, paucity of culture, the lack of importance on values, getting into very attractive but extremely damaging relationships with the opposite gender at an impressionable age, etc. Some are mature enough to handle these distractions, while others are not able to take it. In fact, I have known cases where folks with damaging relationships in college, took a very long time to recover from the mental and psychological impact of such experiences.The only bright thing about such heartbreaks, was that it toughened up the individual due to the bad experience, early in life!

In the course of my conversation with this old friend, I realised how some of us got things early in life; how some others had to struggle to get to where they did; and how many others are still left figuring out their track. .

I am convinced that it is important for us to educate the coming generations to have fun in life, but at the same time, be reasonably measured in their formative years. We cannot let many of the distractions I mentioned above, to take its toll on development.

The key is for the youth to keep focus. Not for a moment am I suggesting not to enjoy life - I am all for it. But, there has got to be a balance in the amount of fun that people at an impressionable age have, and the level of focus that they need to have on their career, in order to build a complete life. Mere fun is temporary; and utter seriousness is not good enough either. I may be asking for too much, but that really is the ask of the day. And,I am specifically referring to folks in the age group of 17-22.

Focus - that's my big new mantra for folks entering college in this era. Make it memorable in terms of fun, relationships, movies,distractions et al; but, not at the cost of losing out on the chance to lay a platform for a great future. No distraction in the world is worth messing up the foundation on which a career is going to be built & on which future families are going to depend on. That is possibly why I see the increasing need for all-rounders and people with a balanced mind and approach to life.

My conversation with my old friend today, just reinforced that one word - balance in life;from the very beginning.