Monday, December 30, 2013

I rise from the Ashes....

Birds have fascinated human beings since a long long time.  One of the greatest inventions of modern times, aeroplane or airplane, was motivated by and a  result of man's umpteen efforts to fly in the air like birds.  Birds have been an inseparable part of our lives, dreams, imagination, stories and literature.

We were taught in schools that animals were classified in various categories and one of them was as Fishes, Amphibians, Reptiles, Birds and Mammals.  It is not known whether Lord Maha Vishnu also went to one such school or was the founder of this school of thinking.  He started his "DashAvatara" (ten incarnations) on similar lines - the first was a Fish (Matsya) followed by a Tortoise (Kurma), an Amphibious Reptile.  Amphibious since it can live both on land and in water but a reptile as classified by Zoologists.  He chose a reptile (Adishesha) for a bed and a bird (Garuda) as a vehicle. Then there was a Boar (Varaha) incarnation followed by a Lion-man, Narasimha.  While describing all other incarnations, Bhagavata uses the adjective "Adhbhuta Roopam" (fantastic form).  When it comes to Narasimha avatara, it uses the adjective "Atyadhbuta Roopam" (unbelievably fantastic form).  After Narasimha,  normal service was introduced with the next six incarnations in human form, Vaamana onwards.

Birds have been used as symbols in ancient philosophical literature to drive home complex tenets and principles.  Mundaka Upanishad's verse Dwa Suparna Sayujaa Sakhaayau is an excellent example of explaining the concept of "Atma and Paramaatma" through two beautiful birds sitting on the branch of the same tree.  One bird eats the fruits on the tree and is sorrowful; the other does not eat the fruits and is yet happy.  Many scholars have used this verse to further their own interpretation of vedic knowledge.  The beauty of this example, like many others in vedic literature, is that it is amenable to multiple interpretations and each one appears to be just right when you contemplate on it!  The earliest discourses on Bhagavata were given by a sage in the form of Parrot, a bird, Shukacharya, believed to be the son of Veda Vyasa.  Shukacharya, being a bird with a sweet voice was a perfect medium for giving discourses on Bhagavata to King Pareekshita, son of Abhimanyu.  Shukacharya was also chosen as the emissary of Srinivasa (Lord Balaji) to go to Asskasharaja, father of Padmavathi, to settle the marriage related issues as there were no matrimonial websites in those days.

Birds have been used extensively in ancient Indian literature and many of them could speak as human beings.  There were also birds using their own language in some stories, but there were expert men and women who could understand their language!  The earliest epic "Ramayana" had the two brothers, Sampaati and Jataayu. In fact, Ramayana took is birth itself due to a hunter killing one of the two loving "Krouncha" birds.  Mahabharata had many birds with the Swan of "Nala-Damayanti" fame again filling the role of matrimonial website.  Jataka Tales have their own bird stories, one of them being "Naagaananda"  where Jeemootavaahana prevents Garuda from killing snakes in future.  Panchatantra's Pigeon King Chitragreeva continued the tradition of the bird stories. Shukasaptati is a collection of seventy stories told by yet another parrot to a woman, one story a night, to prevent her from going to meet her paramour when her husband is away from her.  These are only some examples of how birds have made our stories and literature rich and interesting.

Western literature has its own complement of birds and bird stories.  Just as we have "Gandabherunda" (a bird with two heads, which is the official symbol of the Karnataka Government) and Sharabha (a bird-lion that can fly), it has the bird Phoenix, a bird that is a legend in itself.  (Picture shown alongside is taken from the internet).  Having its roots in Greek mythology, this bird is believed to die by fire and a new bird takes birth from the ashes of its predecessor.  Some versions say that the dead bird decomposes and a new one takes birth from the decomposed remains of the dead bird.  Hence the saying, The Phoenix rises from the ashes.  This bird is believed to be associated with the Sun and similar to the size and shape of an eagle.   

There is a small town by name Phoenixville in Pennsylvania, USA.  The town is about 30 miles north-west of Philadelphia and is situate at the junction of French Creek and Schuylkill river.  It was an industrial town some decades back with iron and steel factories, silk mill, hosiery and pottery units.  There is a tradition of Phoenix burning in this town.  Phoenixville has a "Fire bird Festival" every year.  A giant wooden Phoenix is constructed before the festival. The construction of the wooden bird takes several days.  The festival also provides an opportunity to local artistes to showcase their talents.  The festival has several shows and activities and is organized on a grand scale and is similar to our village fairs.  At the end of the festival, the wooden Phoenix is burnt down.  The picture given alongside, taken from the internet, shows the bird being burnt down.  The festival brings the memories of our own "Ramalila" and burning of the three statues of Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Meghanaada.

This years Phoenix burning was slated for 14th December and we were ready to go and enjoy the sight despite the biting cold and snow.  Unfortunately, snow turned into rain and we had to give up our plans due to bad weather as watching the spectacle in the snow and rain in an open ground was not suitable.  The festival itself went off very well though things were scaled down due to bad weather.  May be, we have better luck next time!       

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Of meeting or extending deadlines

The earlier definition of the word "deadline" was in relation to a prison.  In that context, a deadline was a boundary around a military prison beyond which a prisoner could not venture without risk of being shot by the guards.  Crossing the deadline was an invitation to death and the prisoner was well advised to stay within that boundary line to stay alive.  Death could not be prevented by staying within that boundary; death is a certainty of life.  Though death could not defeated by staying within the deadline, its coming could be ensured in due course without an invitation for early arrival.

Modern definition of deadline has entirely changed.  It is the time by which something must be finished or submitted.  It is the latest time for finishing something, usually an assigned task.  Not finishing the task before the deadline is considered as an indication of inefficiency or of being not serious about achieving the assigned task.  When life was proceeding at its own leisurely pace, things were done as and when they were actually completed and not when they were expected to be completed. In individual-centric tasks deadlines may not assume as much importance as work to be accomplished by teams.  This becomes all the more critical when the achievement of deadlines is linked to performance of organizations, like meeting customer expectations or reaching a sales target.  Unless all members of the team work with single-minded dedication, meeting the prescribed deadline may not be possible.

There are people who question the very rationale of having deadlines.  They may argue in favor of "natural way" of doing things and allowing issues to take their own course.  They may suggest that deadlines are not always necessary and it brings more mental pressure and blood pressure than working with pleasure.  But experience has taught us that adopting an attitude of "allowing natural way of doing things" often results in matters drifting and reaching nowhere.  However, there is a need to fix a deadline after evaluating the resources and reasonable possibilities.  Excellent teamwork can do wonders and the sum total of team's capabilities may exceed the arithmetic aggregate of individual capacities.  Fixing a realistic deadline provides a better chance of achieving it.  A reasonable deadline provides energy and enthusiasm to start the assigned work with the confidence of achieving it before the expected date.  Artificial deadlines tend to make the very effort of traveling the path laborious and painful.  A deadline arrived at after free exchange of views of the members of the team has a higher chance of being met than those imposed from above. Organizations have to often fix a deadline first and work backwards to plan and mobilize resources.  This is the reality of the given situation at times and finding additional resources to meet deadlines in the circumstances becomes necessary.

Attitude of different members in a given group to achieve deadlines makes an interesting study.  Some always believe that deadlines are there only to be extended automatically. They neither contribute their share of efforts nor allow others to proceed systematically. They act as an impediment in the progress of others as overall progress is impacted by individual lethargy.  Periodical review of the progress of the task becomes necessary in such situations and blocks have to be ironed out firmly in the interest of the team.  There are bound to be some weak members in the team.  The issue is not whether they are weak, but one of whether they are willing.  It then becomes the responsibility of the leadership to provide support to the weak but willing and carry them along.

There is also an issue about relevance of deadlines in creative assignments.  Creativity does not yield to deadlines.  There is a certain minimum time before creativity incubates and emerges.  But a very creative production which arrives after the time limit for its utility is past is also a waste.  Thus there is a need for achieving a golden mean between creative brilliance and practical schedule for delivery.

There are some who always achieve the deadline and there are others who never achieve it.  For the achievers, it is a sacred duty.  For the non-achievers, well, it is a way of life.  They often stay that way because they are able to get away with such attitude.  What should be done with such weak links in the chain?  Their continuance in the team is to be evaluated and suitable decision taken without hesitation.  Just as rewarding performance is important, punishing non-performance is also necessary.  Never leave out the failing man and do not put unnecessary extra burden on the efficient horse! Teams drift because performers are disheartened by watching non-performers get away easily. Leadership should also dispassionately watch individual performance in team tasks and ensure that true performers do not go unrewarded just because they are shy of blowing their own trumpets.

What should a member of the team do when he feels that he cannot deliver his share of output before the deadline?  It is advisable to frankly say so, with valid reasons, before accepting the assigned task.  This will provide the team leader to choose an alternate player or press additional resources to reach the goal.

Not meeting deadlines lead to time overruns.  Time overruns lead to cost overruns.  Cost overruns threaten viability of the projects and very survival of organizations.  There was an excellent cartoon by R K Laxman in which a senior officer is explaining about a project to a minister in a dilapidated project site.  The explanation goes something like this: "Finishing this project costs a big sum of money.  Abandoning the project will result in wastage of even bigger sum of money already invested.  We are, therefore, implementing it at a slow pace to keep the losses at a minimum".  Projects that do not meet deadlines probably belong to this category!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Little Girl's First Book

Schooling and Education has undergone a tremendous change in the last five decades.  Of course, it has been undergoing change constantly over several centuries and the last few decades is no exception.  But for us, having seen three or four generations in the past decades, changes that have taken place make an interesting study.  In our childhood days, schooling was something that hardly caused any worries in households.  The number of children in each family was large enough and provided sufficient examples to teach the early lessons in Arithmetic.  There was neither any need for queuing up near schools before the child was born nor planning for a child after ensuring that a seat will be available three years down the line.  Children were considered as an integral part of a family's wealth and every new arrival was treated as a new chapter in the Lord's scheme of things.  Nobody said "We cannot afford children" in those days.  If anyone grumbled about the high number of children in the family, an elder member of the community would admonish him or her instantly.  "People ask you how many children you have.  Not how much wealth you possess!" would be the refrain.  Basic concern for the families was providing food for all.  Other things were secondary and assumed to take care of themselves.

Schooling in our childhood days began at the age of five or six.  There was no concept of pre-schooling and pre-pre-schooling.  In rural areas, Government Schools were the ones available and met the requirement.  There were no issues about the availability of seats.  Like the proverbial "Pushpaka Vimaana" (an airplane that expanded its seating capacity as and when passengers entered it and always had one seat vacant for the next entrant), schools accommodated any new student without hesitation.  The school fee was also nominal and the concepts of "Freeship" and "Scholarship" were taking care of even this minimum fee in most cases.  There was no requirement of school uniforms and some students were lucky to have an acceptable level of dress on them. Uniforms became the norm later on in High Schools, say from eighth or ninth year of education.  Once admitted to first standard at age five or six, a reasonably agile student could reach a level of High School education.  College education was a luxury and only a fortunate few got that distinction.  A graduate was more scarce than "Doctorate" scholars of today.  The situation was slightly different in cities and some private educational institutions were available.  But the overall situation was nearly the same as in rural areas.

Early schooling, known as primary schooling, had only one book to study each year.  Written mostly in local languages, once prescribed as a text book it was in force for several years.  A single book was used by many siblings and was often sold as a second-hand book when there were no other children at home to use it.  Carrying lunch box to school was unknown and school bags and baskets were not heard of.  Early schooling was with a slate and chalk-piece.  Local language and arithmetic were the basic subjects taught at schools.  Teacher was a God for the students and disciplining the students by beating with sticks was an accepted norm in society.  In fact, parents would meet the teacher and tell him to take care of their ward, meaning an additional dose of reprimanding and beating. A student complaining of beating by a teacher at school was assured of another generous installment at home. Home work was indeed very little as there were no books for doing it.  Fortunately for the students, slates provided a limited area for assignments. Student notebooks were indeed a luxury and many children finished their education without using even one in their life.

The contrasting events of today and the amount of preparation to receive a new born astounds us.  Inquiries about schooling facilities starts immediately after the newly-wed couple return from honeymoon.  Some, of course, may decide that they never will have kids to avoid all the resultant problems unmindful of the fact they miss the innumerable pleasures of being parents and thereafter grandparents.

I chanced upon a neatly printed and bound book recently, presented to an expectant mother by her friend.  The title of the book was "Thank heaven for little girls".  This was going to be the first book of the little girl and it was waiting for her even before her arrival.
  • The book - "My baby book" - starts with details about the mommy and daddy of the baby and their history since their birth.
  • Then there is provision to record the family trees of the mother and father, going up to the arriving baby's great grand parents on either side.
  • Details of the arriving baby's initial details follow, including the expected date and actual date of arrival.
  • It chronicles the first reactions of the would be parents and the many preparations made by the parents for receiving their baby.
  • it records the guests present at the "Baby shower" function and the gifts they presented.  (Do not go to a "Baby shower"function without a gift.  Otherwise it will be "NIL" against your name!).
  • Then there is a page for recording the details of the "day before"and all the excitement that it brings to those who were there to "see my arrival".
  • The next page puts on record the actual arrival and incidental details including the name, length, weight, color and what people thought "what I looked like".
  • The child's birth certificate and tiny prints, hand prints and foot prints, are imprinted thereafter on the soft page that follows.
  • Headlines of World news, National news, Local news on the day the baby was born is written down on the next page.
  • Two pages are reserved for the "homecoming" and those who waited at the home to receive the baby with the gifts they brought with them.
  • The world around the baby with even the price of a measure of milk, diaper, gas, car, computer, and even babysitting rates can be noted down in different pages.
  • After immunity chart for mentioning dates of various injections and inoculations, growth ingredients are put on record month after month.
  • The recordings continue till first day at school after which other books take over!
If you look at it physically, it is just a book or just another book.  If you view it with feelings, well, it is much more.  It is a chronicle of beginning of a new life and nature's continuity process.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Doctor-Father's advice to a Doctor-Son

The flight from Bangalore to Frankfurt was delayed by one hour due to late arrival of the plane from Frankfurt on the previous leg.  The wait was rather boring and such delays at the beginning of the journey have the effect of making one feel tired even before the journey starts.  Once inside the magnificent Boeing 747-800, the atmosphere was altogether different.  The mind was working on a different plane now and started wondering how such a big metal bird floats in the air at speeds in excess of 600 miles an hour carrying over 400 passengers and crew.  The redesigned and highly efficient new aircraft, introduced only last year by Lufthansa between Bangalore and Frankfurt, took off with relatively less noise level and started doing its job unmindful of other things.  Boeing claims that this aircraft is more than 10 percent lighter per seat and consumes 11 percent less fuel per passenger than its nearest competitor Airbus A380.  This translates to a trip cost reduction of 21 percent in terms of seat-mile. The journey is enjoyable due to the perception of lighter per seat weight even for those passengers whose own weight has not come down despite several crash weight reduction programs!

Persons sitting by our side on long haul flights generally tend to sleep off and avoid conversation with strangers.  But once drawn to talking we can find some very interesting personalities among them.  Towards the end of the flight I succeeded in drawing the person sitting next to me into a conversation, though I suspect that he will be claiming that he succeeded in drawing me out of my shell.  Either way, it was an enjoyable two hours of talk and the fact that he was a dozen years older did not come in the way of our discussions.

He turned out to be a Doctor from South India, a Pediatrician, who moved to USA in the late 1960s.  His father was also a Doctor and was instrumental in grooming him in his earlier years of practicing medicine.  He shared with me some of the learning points he inherited from his father in those formative years of his professional life.  The knowledge he thus gained from his father was very interesting and absorbing.  Before we parted at Frankfurt I sought his permission to use those fine learning points wherever I found fit.  He was very understanding and encouraging and gladly permitted me to dos so.

The young doctor reached USA and wrote his first letter to his father about his status and life in the new land.  Writing a letter was the best form of communication in those years as telephone was difficult and electronic communication was nearly non-existent.  Within a few days he received a letter from his father listing out the grammatical  mistakes in the letter and asking him to rewrite the contents after rectifying the errors!  This gives an idea about the rigor adopted by the father in grooming the young doctor.  Some of the interesting points he recalled are summarized below:
  •  Look like a Doctor, feel like a Doctor and behave like a Doctor.  That will make you feel confident and earn respect in the community you serve.
  • Have a Stethoscope around your neck. (More required in those days).  It makes others recognize you as a doctor!
  • Never visit a patient with an unshaven face or with a baseball cap.  Remember you are visiting a patient or a patient is visiting you.  You should not look like a patient yourself.
  • Have eye-contact with the patients but do not make it excessive as it may make them uncomfortable.
  • Always sit on par with the patient, neither above nor below his seat level.  You are neither superior or inferior to him.  Treat the patient as a equal human being.
  • Treat the mind of the patient.  It automatically opens up treatment of the ailing body.
  • When the patient is talking keep your mouth shut.  Do not interrupt. Let him/her unload whatever he/she has to say.  Some part of it may be vital for the course adopted for treatment.
  • When the patient is about leave ask him/her whether he/she has anything else to say.  Vital information may come out in such moments that may help during treatment. 
  • Understand the patient.  That enables you to understand the disease.
  • Do not use medical jargon and terms while talking to a patient.  Use simple language which they understand.  The patient is interested in getting healed and not in your knowledge as a doctor.
  • If the patient starts talking about medical jargon and terms, then you raise the level of your interaction. Let him know you are the boss in your field.
  • Treat the patient first for the problem he has come with.  Do not discuss and treat some other ailment you may diagnose in him/her. That can follow later. 
  • Never go to the room of a woman patient without knocking.  Even after knocking, never enter the room of a woman patient without a woman nurse or assistant.  That may save a lot of troubles later on.
  • Do not hesitate to levy a reasonable fee.  Remember you have to make a living by practicing medicine.  Be considerate to financially weaker patients.
  • Finally, relieve the pain and relieve the purse.  The patient should feel the first, but not the latter. 
Many of these words of wisdom are equally applicable for other professions as well.  Teachers and trainers for example.

Just as we were parting at Frankfurt, the doctor mentioned about a woman athlete who had a long and distinguished career and won many laurels and prizes in competitive games.  She developed pain in the joints and went to a orthopedic surgeon.  The doctor advised her that she needs new joints to replace worn out ones.  "No doctor, I am convinced that I do not need new joints", she shot back.  "All I need is a new doctor!", she said!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

All packets are intact!

Traveling has its share of pleasures and pains.  Packing and unpacking are indeed an integral part of the traveling saga.  Packing and unpacking woes leaves their scars on the trips and sometimes even beyond them. Missing suitcases, rerouted or late arriving baggage, broken handles, torn bags are all part of the traveler's worries.  Broken bottles, leaking creams and cracked souvenirs leave indelible marks on materials as well on the mind.  The relief one experiences when things are in order after unpacking at destination is sometimes seen to be believed.  This is all the more true when the journey is through three or four long flights and crossing many countries and airports.

There are funny instances too.  At the baggage receiving areas in many international airports warning signs are displayed: "Beware of similar looking baggage!".  Despite this warning passengers sometimes take out the wrong suitcases and realise this only after opening them at their hotels or homes.  When they make a quick trip back to the airport, they find another passenger confronted with a similar problem.  If it is a boy and girl suitcase swap, it may result in a marriage in true "Bollywood" style.  Afterwards they need not worry since it will be common suitcases thereafter.  Of course, they may not worry about suitcases at all as there would be many more things to worry about.

Recently I had to help pack a close relative's luggage items for a long trip to a far away land.  I was cautioned not to open a carton box and that it should go in the suitcase as it is.  Instructions were faithfully carried out and the carton box was loaded along with other items, many of them being glass ones.  When the phone call came after the person reached destination, the first thing I heard was that all the items were safe and just as they were before they were packed.  "All packets are intact!" was the first communication.  Other details of the journey followed only thereafter.

The problems involved in moving (shifting to a different house) is no different.  First is the problem of sorting out the existing items at home.  Even bigger problem is the one of discarding useless items.  In fact, the existence of some of the items at home dawns on us only when we see them at the time of shifting!  Life has been going on for several years without their use and yet it is difficult to discard them.  They are again packed and carefully taken to the new house only to keep them in the attic till the next move is made.  Even with all the care taken in packing and moving the items, there are always some parts broken which even the best "Fevicol" cannot bind.  This loss of goods due to breakage is universally accepted and many companies give a fixed or variable allowance called "breakage allowance" when employees move on transfer.

Modern living has introduced the services of "Packing and transporting agents" who take care of all the packing, transporting and unpacking at destination.  Some of them advertise that they are the "Second best packers" meaning that the Lord is the best packer ever in business.  They even exhibit a Pomegranate or Jack-fruit in their advertisements as a tribute to the best packer in business.  When shifting work is entrusted to these second best teams, one need not worry about shifting except the big bill and broken items.  They are not responsible for breakages as it is a natural by-product of shifting.

A close friend met with an accident and was admitted to a hospital for treating a fracture.  When I met him at  the hospital, his first request was to move the wrecked car to the garage of his house.  Not being familiar with automobiles I was at a loss to meet this request.  The car had been moved by the Police from the accident spot to the yard in front of the police station.  If the car was not moved immediately, there was the danger of many parts missing in a few days.  Anyone who has seen vehicles dumped in front of a police station knows this.  I suddenly remembered an advertisement by a "Packers and Movers" company that claimed "We move anything, anywhere, anytime".  When I called the company over phone, the person receiving the call said they do not do this kind of work.  I asked him as to why they claimed to move anything, anywhere, anytime if they could not move a wrecked car from police station to a garage.  The person at the other end said that he did not know about it and would ask his father who was the owner of the business.  I left my telephone number to call me back.  The call was returned in the evening and they agreed to do the job.  The father-son duo came in their Jeep and towed the wrecked car from the police station to the garage at the friend's house.  "I am not charging you anything, Sir.  Thank you for reading our advertisement and reminding us of its value", said he senior man.

While thinking of packing and forwarding, an old accountancy joke comes to mind.  Managing Director of a company was in the habit of charging all personal expenses also to the company's account.  His accountant being a paid employee had no alternative but to comply with the given instructions.  When the Managing Director's mother died, MD instructed that all the funeral expenses should also be charged to the company's account.  The Accountant queried as to what "Head of Account" he should debit the expenses.  MD thought for a while and nonchalantly replied - "Packing and Forwarding expenses".  Some wonderful accounting that was!             

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Wedding Reception, with a difference

Marriage functions were a week long affair in this part of the country, some six or seven decades ago.  It was pruned to five days in the 1950s and 60s.  It was abridged to a three-day capsule in the later 60s. This continued till the 70s after which a two-day function became the norm.  The second day was for the main event and a reception would follow in the evening.  Elders considered the main event on the second morning very sacred.  When they attended this part of the function, they felt it as a duty performed sincerely.  Modern busy life style brought a new meaning to "Wedding Receptions".  There are some advantages in  such receptions; there is no need to be at the venue at  fixed timings.  One can go at any time during the time slot of three to four hours.  Neither the host nor the guest have time for each other.  A mere broad smile and shaking of hands will assure the host that the invitation has not gone a waste.  The guest also does not bother about niceties of being taken care of.  In such gatherings, everyone takes care of himself or herself. In fact, except the photographers and videographers, everyone is relaxed and comfortable.  Or one does so believe and behave.

In many countries, such events are planned in detail and often the job is entrusted to a "Planner" or "Consultant".  Even the table at which the guest is to sit is per-planned.  There is no place for gate-crashers. "I just came to know that the function is arranged.  What is the meaning of formal invitation between us?  It is our own function, no?", one does not have the luxury of saying so in these countries.  Hosts here believe that they are planning all the details of a "Wedding Reception".  The events are certainly planned, but not by the hosts.  The Choultry or Hall owner decides what are the decorations to be made.  We are allowed limited freedom of selecting from one of the photographs in the album shown to us.  The caterer decides what the guests eat.  Videographers and photographers decide where we stand and for how many seconds.  There may be some excellent music concert by well known artistes, but it is more of a humiliation to the artistes than recognition of their talents in the high decibel level noises in the hall.  When the reception is to be held is decided by the rent paid for the hall.  This often dictates that the reception is held before the actual marriage ceremony.  In the initial days this was frowned upon.  Now everyone has reconciled to it.  One can even say that families who hold the reception after the main event are still backward and need to become progressive.  More important than all, when the bride and groom arrive at the hall and give "Darshan" to the waiting guests is decided by the "Beautician".  An answer has now been found for solving the problem of restlessness among the guests.  Many wedding receptions now allow guests to have a sumptuous dinner before greeting the newly-weds.  If you are in a hurry and the newly-wed or going-to-be-wed couple have not arrived at the venue and held up at the beauty parlor, hand over the gift (mostly in the form of an envelope as it is easy to carry and avoids pains of shopping for an ideal gift) to the parents of the couple.  Assuming that they have also not gone to visit another beautician.  There is perfect understanding among all concerned and there is no possibility of being misunderstood.

A wedding reception that we attended last week was indeed a reception with a difference.  We knew only the bridegroom, one of our students.  But the invitation was extended to us by his parents who had traveled some 30 kilometers only to invite us personally.  The invitation had a long list of family members of the hosts and indicated that they were from a cultured family.  The invitation requested the guests to be present at the venue by 4 PM.  Some cultural programs were also planned as depicted in the invitation.  When we reached the venue at 4 PM, all the persons mentioned in the invitation were present to receive the guests.  Refreshments were served in an orderly manner.  Cultural programs started on time.  Little children recited "Shanti mantras" to begin the program.  They were followed by four young girls who represented the four directions - East, West, North and South.  Each one had a message for the gathering; peaceful co-existence, spirituality, patriotism and teamwork.  There was a group dance in praise of the Mother Goddess Chamundeswari.  Elder members of the family were called upon the stage to light the lamp to inaugurate the celebrations.  All of them were given mementos specially made for the wedding reception function.  All the teachers of the bridegroom were invited one by one and honoured on the stage and newly-wed couple received their blessings. There were teachers starting from Nursery school to College. Those who taught music and Hindi were also there.  There were other items of cultural programs including skits and group dances.  The bridegroom himself took part in the events through singing and mono-acting. 

At 7.30 PM the newly-weds entered the stage from the two sides, singing and dancing.  Thereafter it was a regular wedding reception.  The only difference was it was a served banana-leaf dinner instead of the usual buffet fare.

The quality of cultural program was of a very high quality and received wide appreciation from all the guests.  It was indeed a "Wedding Reception" with a difference.  

Friday, August 9, 2013

Artha Shoucha - Purity in "Financial Dealings"

It was a hot afternoon and the sun was blazing in full glory.  Most of the people were indoors and taking rest after lunch.  Their afternoon siesta was disturbed by the continuous noise of the ringing of the big bell.  The King had arranged for fixing a big bell in an elevated place in front of the palace.  A long  rope tied to the gong was enabling ringing of the bell by pulling the rope.  Anyone aggrieved could go to the bell and pull the string.  The reverberating noise would bring all concerned to the adjoining court hall.  The King himself would arrive and the court would be in session.  The hearings were open and the general public could sit and watch the proceedings.  There was no need to file a complaint and wait for a date for hearing.  The parties to the litigation would be heard immediately.  The evidence would be evaluated and judgement pronounced then and there, save for rare exceptions.  The judgement was just and often harsh on the wrong-doer.  There was no escape from the consequences of wrong-doing, irrespective of who the accused were.  In the early days after the bell was fixed, there were a number of instances when the bell was used by parties seeking justice.  In due course, the very existence of the bell reminded the people of the harsh and merciless judgement that would follow if they did anything wrong.  Now the people were law abiding and did not dare to do any injustice to others.  The community was living peacefully and the state was prospering making everyone happy.

Ringing of the bell after a long time triggered a plethora of questions.  Who is ringing the bell now?  What is the reason? Who is the complainant?  What could be the contents of the complaint?  These were some of the questions on the lips of the people of the city as they flocked the courtyard.  The King also arrived shortly.  Everyone was surprised when they saw the complainant.  The rope tied to the gong was being pulled not by a man or woman but a dog!  It did not make any difference to the King.  He started the proceedings in right earnest.

"What is your complaint and what is the relief you require?" asked the King.
"I was going in the street without disturbing anyone. One man threw a stone at me.  It hit me with full force and I am bleeding profusely.  I want him punished for his act", said the dog.
"Who was the man?", the King asked.

Dog gave the description of the person who hit him.  While this inquiry was going on, the palace Vaidya (Doctor) started applying a bandage on the wounded part of the dog's body.  Within a few minutes, guards of the courtyard brought a man fitting the description given by the dog.  The dog identified its assailant.  Court proceedings continued.

"Did you hit the dog with a stone?", the King thundered.  The assailant did not muster courage to lie.
"Yes, your majesty. I hit the dog with a stone", he agreed.
"What was the reason for throwing a stone?  Did it attack you?", asked the King.
"No your majesty, it was an unprovoked action", said the man sheepishly.

Guilt was established beyond all reasonable doubts.  The attacker had confessed to the crime.  The King had developed a practice of asking the complainant to suggest the nature and quantum of punishment.  He asked the dog to suggest the punishment to the accused.

"Make him a Dharmadarshi (Trustee) of a temple, Your Majesty", said the dog.  Everyone present, including the King and the ministers, were surprised.  To avoid any misunderstanding King asked the dog: "Are you sure of what you are suggesting?  Do you think it is a punishment? Is it not more of  a reward"?

The dog replied in the affirmative.  "Yes, your honour.  I was myself a trustee of a place of worship in my last life.  I had to handle a lot of temple funds.  I could not resist some misappropriation of funds for my own benefit.  I am now born as a dog.  Let this man be made a trustee of public funds.  He is most likely to misappropriate funds for selfish ends.  As a consequence, he will be born as a dog in the next birth.  I am repenting for my misdeeds in the last birth.  I may be born as a man again in my next birth.  Then I can throw a stone at him and take revenge!"

Whether there is a next birth or whether dogs could talk is not the question in this story.  Whether taking revenge is a proper response is also not the moot point.  Handling public funds or others property without misuse is the basic issue.  This has become all the more focused now in view of the multitude of scams that are unearthed regularly, day after day.

Bharata Ratna Sir M Visvesvaraya, former Devan of the princely state of Mysore and identified with the KRS Dam, was known to be an epitome of utmost probity in public life.  He is said to have two sets of candles in is office.  He would use the candle bought from government funds in the night until he finished his official work.  Just as he finished his official work, that candle would be extinguished and another candle bought from his personal funds would be lit for doing other chores.  There cannot be a better example of "Purity in Financial Dealings" than this.  The word "SCAM" would not find any takers if such is the practice today.

Purity in financial dealings is the most precious of all purities.  Especially when it involves public funds or others money.  Hence the saying:

सर्वेषामेव शोउचानां अर्थशोउचम् परम् स्मृतं |
योर्थे शुचिर्हि स शुचिः न म्रुद्वारि शुचिः शुचिः ||

SarvEshAmeva showchANam arthashowcham param smrutam
Yorthe shuchirhi sa shuchihi na mrudwari shuchih shuchihi

"Purity in Financial Dealings" is the most sacred of all purities.  A person not pure in his financial dealings remains impure even if he is clean in all other respects.  Bathing any number of times using any quantity of cleaning material (like mud, soaps etc.) does not make him clean.

Who can tell this to our leaders and their followers (us)?         

Saturday, July 27, 2013

View from High Places

A New York Times correspondent is reported to have asked George Mallory, the famous English mountaineer as to why he wanted to climb Mount Everest. His reply is considered as the most famous three words in mountaineering - "Because it is there". Mallory is credited with having taken part in the first three British Mount Everest expeditions in the 1920s. He and his partner Andrew Irvine disappeared somewhere on the North-East ridge of the mountain when they were about 800 feet from the summit. Mallory was in his prime and 9 days short of 38 years when he disappeared. Their actual fate was not known until May Day in 1999, when their bodies were discovered.  Whether the two actually reached the summit or not is still being speculated. If they actually did it, it was nearly three decades before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay did it on 29th May 1953. Tenzing's grandson Tashi Tenzing (daughter's son) climbed the summit in 1993. Tenzing's son Jamling  Norgay, along with Edmund Hillary's son Peter Hillary, also climbed the peak in 2003 making it three-in-one in the family. They indeed reached great heights!

Man has always cherished reaching great heights physically and have a view of the surrounding from "High Places". In our part of the world, one can always see a temple, small or big, on every noticeable peak. The objective behind these constructions were probably more to motivate people to climb hills and keep fit rather than seek divine intervention. Modern civilization has made it a point to construct high rise buildings or towers and establish an observatory there to have a 360* view of the surroundings.  We can also go the top of such buildings or towers to have breathtaking views of the world below. We need not carry the burden of oxygen cylinders or suffer the exhaustion of climbing in ice clad surroundings. The observatories levy a cost for the services of the lift and using their facilities.

 One of the first such view we had was in St. Louis, Missouri, USA.  The magnificent Steel Arch standing on the banks of the mighty Mississippi river is a great sight even to look from a distance.  It has a viewers gallery at a height of 630 feet from which one can have a beautiful sight of the Mississippi river on one side and the city buildings on the other. Going in the elevator up to the gallery is itself a thrilling experience. The movement to the top of the arch is through a cabin designed as a combination of train, tram and lift. The picture alongside (taken from the internet) provides a view of the arch during the night.  A visit to the city of St. Louis is incomplete without a view from the Steel Arch Gallery. Please CLICK HERE to read about details of this arch and our visit there.

Another memorable "View from High Places" we had was from C N Tower, Toronto, Canada.  We got this opportunity on the drive back from  Niagara Falls.  The 553 meter (1815 feet) structure is a concrete communication and observation tower completed in 1976 at a cost of 63 million Canadian dollars. Construction of the tower was a successful venture and the loans were repaid in 15 years.  It gets the name from the "Canadian National Railway Company" that constructed it. It has 147 floors and elevators take us to the top of the tower in less than a minute: 58 seconds to be exact. From the observation towers one can see up to a distance of over 100 kilometers and even the mist rising from the distant Niagara Falls. The revolving restaurant at the top of the tower is a great attraction and takes a full round in 72 minutes.  The 360* view from the observation tower gives a wonderful view of the Lake Ontario and the surroundings. A picture given alongside (taken from the internet) gives a view of the tower from the lake. The tower is a key symbol of the city of Toronto.

City of New York is full of skyscrapers and viewing galleries. Empire State Building has been a landmark for the city since 1931. A view of the city from the observation gallery on the 86th floor of this building gives a full 360* view of the city and its many buildings around it. The building stands 1,250 feet (381 meters) and has 102 stories. Height with Antenna is 1,454 feet (443 meters).  Its statistics simply amaze us.  The building was constructed in the times of "Great Depression". The building was opened within 14 months (March 1930 to May 1931) from the time its construction started! It was completed four months ahead of schedule and at a much lower cost than originally planned. Super fast elevators take the visitors to 80th floor in seconds. After changing elevators for moving up to 86th floor we reach 86th floor viewing gallery. There are hundreds of tall buildings around it and the view is to be seen to be believed. For a payment of 5 dollars a visitor can get a handheld radio device and can hear an interesting commentary that explains the view ahead from different view points. Books are also available to illustrate the buildings and scenery that one sees from different angles in the observatory. Our visit to this gallery in August 2005 is still fresh in memory.

Eiffel Tower in Paris, France has mesmerized millions of visitors over the years. Constructed to commemorate the 1889 world trade fair held in Paris, it stands 324 meters (1,063 feet) tall and offers a panoramic view of the city and its surroundings.  It is said to be the most visited paid monument in the world.  The lift system takes the visitors to three different levels and the visitors gallery at the third level is always full of visitors. Once a visitor reaches this level, he/she would like to stay and keep on looking around for a long time. "Visit Paris at least once in your life time", an uncle used to stay. A visit to Paris means a visit to this wonderful tower also. The picture alongside (taken from the internet) gives a view of the tower and the fountains nearby.  Our visit to the tower in July 2008 is always a cherished memory.

Seattle is one of the most beautiful cities in the Pacific North-west and "Space Needle" is the city's official landmark. It was constructed for the World Fair of 1962 held in this city.  It is a 605 foot tall privately owned structure.  As the coastal area is sensitive to earthquakes, special precautions have been taken to make it quake resistant.  It has withstood a 6.8 Richter Scale earthquake in 2001. Constructed in 1960s at a cost of 4.5 million US Dollars, it underwent a renovation in the year 2000 at a cost of 20 million US dollars. Its elevators move at a speed of 800 feet per second and take the visitors to the 502 feet high observation deck in a flash. There is a revolving restaurant at the saucer-shaped top. The New Year fireworks from the tower is a fantastic event and worth watching. If you plan for a wedding in the Pacific North-west, Space Needle is the place to go as this has been a venue for numerous weddings. The picture given alongside (taken from the internet) gives a beautiful view of the city and the bay. It you want a view of the city of Seattle without actually going there, click on this link: Our visit to the tower in December 2010 was on a Full Moon Day.  We went to the gallery in the evening just before sunset and could see the view before sunset as well after moonrise. It was indeed an unforgettable experience.

We narrowly missed the view from the famous "London Eye" due to time constraint during our visit there in July 2008.  But it was compensated by the visit to "Singapore Flyer" last month.  Details of that has to wait for another day.

Most of these places offer ticket sales on the internet and the tickets purchased are valid for one year.  A proper planning will ensure a smooth visit to these "High Places" and provide a pleasant sight seeing.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Add-ons and Group tours

In the initial days of "No-frills Airlines" or "Budget flights", a passenger holding such a ticket entered the cabin and was greeted by the cabin attendant.  The passenger had been made to walk a long distance from the boarding station to the aircraft.  The airline had dispensed with the use of aero-bridge or buses for transporting the passengers from the boarding station to cut costs.  The exchange between the attendant and the passenger went on like this:

Attendant: Welcome aboard, Sir. May I see your boarding pass?
Passenger: Sure.
Attendant: You're in seat 21 C. That will be $5, please!
Passenger: What for?
Attendant: For telling you where to sit.
Passenger: But I already knew where to sit.
Attendant: Nevertheless, we are now charging a seat-locator fee of $5. It's the airline's new policy.
Passenger: That's the craziest thing I ever heard. I won't pay it.
Attendant: Sir, do you want a seat on this flight, or not?
Passenger: Yes, yes. All right, I'll pay. But the airline is going to hear about this.
Attendant: Thank you. My goodness, your carry-on bag looks heavy.  Would you like me to stow it in the   overhead compartment for you?
Passenger: That would be great, thanks.
Attendant: No problem. Up we go, and done!  That will be $10, please.
Passenger: What?
Attendant: The airline now charges a $10 carry-on assistance fee.
Passenger: This is extortion. I won't stand for it.
Attendant: Actually, you're right - you can't stand. You need to sit and fasten your seat belt. We're about to push back from the gate. But first I need that $10.
Passenger: No way.
Attendant: Sir, if you don 't comply, I will be forced to call the air marshal. And you really don't want me to do that.
Passenger: Why not? Is he going to shoot me?
Attendant: No, but there's a $50 air-marshal hailing fee.
Passenger: Oh, all right, here - take the $10. I can't believe this.
Attendant: Thank you for your cooperation, sir. Is there anything else I can do for you?
Passenger: Yes. It's stuffy in here, and my overhead fan doesn't seem to work. Can you fix it?
Attendant: Your overhead fan is not broken, sir. Just insert two quarters into the overhead coin slot for the first five minutes.
Passenger: The airline is charging me for cabin air?
Attendant: Of course not, sir. Stagnant cabin air is provided free of charge. It's the circulating air that costs 50 cents.
Passenger: I don't have any quarters. Can you make change for a dollar?
Attendant: Certainly, sir! Here you go!
Passenger: But you've given me only three quarters for my dollar.
Attendant: Yes, there's a change-making fee of 25 cents.
Passenger: All I am now left is a lousy quarter? Whatever will I do with it?
Attendant: Hang on to it. You'll need it later for using the toilet.


The above exchange between the passenger and the cabin attendant may appear far fetched.  But those who frequently travel do not find this amusing.  Every additional service (?) is charged extra.  Finally, the consumer would be left wondering as to whether the old system of charging fare was much better!

Arranged tours are no different.  Touring or taking a vacation has now caught the imagination of the present generation.  Those from the older generation linked to the younger generation are no exception.  A vacation or "Leisure Travel" as it is called in the travel agent's language, is planned in advance and is a part of the family budgetary exercise.  As the name itself suggests, it is well and truly a budgetary exercise and involves all the ingredients of a balancing act.  Period of the vacation should be the maximum and yet cost should be minimum.  As many places or attractions are to be covered within the shortest time.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner should be included in the package and the choice of items (Vegetarian/Jain/Non-vegetarian/European/American) should also be as desired.  Travel Agencies keep all these in mind and prepare the packages.  Later on sell them using all marketing skills.  When the booking is finally done, both the agency and traveler are happy.

A recent tour of  Singapore and Malaysia brought these things into sharp focus.  There were some funny aspects too.  Some of them are here:
  • The Agency and its employees are mainly interested in  finalizing the bookings without delay.  It is their business.  Standard and well known companies never lie and answer all the questions truthfully.  The only problem is that unasked questions are not answered.  These unasked questions create many problems as the tour progresses.
  • We advise young bankers about dealing with auditors: Do not withhold any information from the auditor.  Do not volunteer any information either.  An auditor is a trained and knowledgeable person.  He is expected to ask the right questions and get his answers.  If he does not ask them, well, we are not at fault.  Travel Agencies and their employees have perfected this art.
  • They give full details of the attractions/places covered by them as part of the package, in their pamphlets and websites.  As regards others, it is only said "Explore at your convenience".  You are taken to the gate of the building or theme park or attraction.  Their duty ends there.  To enter the building or park or attraction, you have to pay an entrance fee.  It is not included in the package.  It is optional!
  • If you have the money and are willing to pay, the day or evening is well spent.  Otherwise you need not worry; you can sit at the gate and patiently wait for those who have gone inside to come out to resume the tour.
  • You do not have the luxury of sitting in the air conditioned coach to await the arrival of fellow passengers who have gone inside.  The coach drops you at the gate and is gone for bringing the next batch of tourists.  Either pay up and go inside the attraction or stay out and sweat it out.
  • While waiting like this you may need food or water.  It can be bought at the nearby outlet.  At your cost as it is not included in the package.  Not included in the package because you are expected to be inside the building or park or attraction.
  • If there are children in their fold, parents have an additional problem.  You are taken to the gate.  Children see the attraction from the outside.  They want to go inside.  They cannot be sent alone. Adults have to accompany them.  Tickets for admission are not part of the package.
  • If the aged (senior citizens would be more appropriate) are with you, the problem is even more acute.  "We have come this far.  We may not come again.  If we do not see now, we can never see it" would be their refrain.  Children may at least be promised another visit.  What about seniors?  Can we guarantee another visit?
  • The guide with you at the spot tells you that he does not know what was told to you when booking was made.  The one who made the booking is across the seas and cannot be reached.  Even if you reach him by some means, he/she would say that the questions were not asked.  He/she would also assure you that had it been asked, he/she would have truthfully answered them!
What is the solution for these problems?  It is not always possible to travel on one's own, especially to parts of the world where you do not know the local language and conditions.  Temptation to travel and see the world also cannot be resisted.  Tours by well known operators offer good value for money and have their plus points.  The real solution lies in doing one's homework and ask the right questions.  It also lies in putting some extra money in the purse or get an enhanced limit on the credit card.  Dispensing with the practice of keeping accounts while on tour is an added virtue for a leisure traveler.    

Monday, June 17, 2013

They are never Late!

They were there, as usual, sitting with their tools on the steps of the entrance to the closed shop.   It was still 5 AM and the shop itself would come to life four hours later.  Men and women, who were more fortunate than them, were trickling on to the streets for their morning walks or to get milk for the hot cup of coffee to start their day.  Day after day, even on most holidays or festival days, these labour women would be up much before 5 AM and report for duty on the steps of the closed shop sharply at 5 AM.  They may not know how a cup of hot coffee or tea tastes in the morning.  Their breakfast probably was met out of the leftovers of the food they cooked on the previous night. The tractor would show up in a minute or two and take them with their tools to begin the day's work.  They do not know their place of work on that day or any other day.  The tractor is their destination and the tractor driver knows the final destination for the day's work.    Their work would end just before sunset and wages for the day would be paid to them.  On the return journey, they would again be dropped at the pick up point.  Then they get back to their roadside temporary hut after buying the day's requirements and cook their supper.  They sleep well after the meager supper.  They are fortunate not to know what is "sleeplessness".  They are not lucky to know what is "Provident Fund" or "Earned Leave".  They need not spend on beauty creams and hairdo mainly because they cannot spend on them.  It is difficult to guess their age; they look forty even when they are just twenty.  

The three women labourers from North  Karnataka do not know what is being late to work.   What they know very well is that they lose their daily bread if they are not there at 5 AM.  They do not know what is being late because they cannot afford to be late.

They were not there, as usual, while others waited for them.  Those waiting for them were losing patience because they were getting late.  The vehicle in which they were sitting was parked against the traffic rules, but their was no other place to park.   The policeman round the corner may pounce on the driver at any time.  The city had come to life long back and the traffic was getting thicker by the day.  Everyone was rushing on their two-wheelers or four wheelers or in public transport.  Young children were already sitting in their school buses dressed in crisp uniforms looking for the day's excitement at school.  But for these who made others wait for them, things were casual.  What if they are five or ten minutes late?  Heavens are not going to fall.  They are not there for the others; others are for them.  After all, they are colleagues; what is the problem in waiting for a few minutes?  This is not the first time they are coming late.  This is their usual practice.  A practice developed because others have allowed them the luxury for so long.  Should they change their practice just because some others are annoyed?  Let others learn to develop patience.  Patience is the first of virtues.  Patience prevents tension and heart attack.  To be late is their right.  They know they can be late because they can afford to be late.

Being punctual is a way of life for many.  Being punctual is an anathema to many others.  Being unpunctual is itself a way of life for them.  "Take life at your own pace" is what they believe in.  Even if other lives are affected due to this practice.  Some go a step further.  They take pride in being late.  Sometimes they even say, "Look, we are so consistent.  We are always late!"

There is a popular anecdote about Bharata Ratna Sir M Visveswaraya, former Dewan of Mysore.  He entertained visitors every day in the morning for a few minutes even when he was in his 90s.  He lived actively for a full hundred years.  One senior functionary of the Government sought an appointment to meet him.  The appointment was granted for 11AM.  Sir MV as he was known, was faultlessly dressed and in his study to receive the guest at the appointed time.  The guest was late and after waiting for a few minutes, Sir MV went inside the house.  Next day, the guest arrived early and waited for the former Dewan.  Sir MV met him alright, but gently chided him for two things; being late on the first day and coming without appointment on the second day!  Sir MV was known for immaculate preparation for any meeting or delivering a speech.  And always being punctual.

Sir MV may be a person too difficult to follow.  The lessons are far too many.  But the lesson from the three labourers from North Karnataka is simple and easy.  Not to be late on any day.  Even if you can afford to be late only because you value others time.

Better late than never, they say.  But never late is better than that.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

It is the ability that counts!

The young Branch Manager (BM) had a big problem on his hands.  Authorities in the bank had specifically briefed him about the new assignment.  Recently promoted, he was posted as the In-charge of the bigger branch with a heavy customer inflow and growing business levels.  Eye brows were raised when the inexperienced greenhorn was handed over the reins of the sensitive branch.  He was aware that he was under scrutiny of his peers and many of them desired that he should fail.  Manpower shortage was a problem for the entire industry and his branch was no exception.  With business growing month after month, managing the affairs of the branch with limited manpower was indeed a challenging task.  He and his two Assistant Managers were very active and had formed a core team to manage the affairs of the branch.  One of the senior clerks in the branch was as good as an assistant manager and shouldered far more responsibilities than expected of his designation. They were early years of computerization and  this branch was chosen for a initial implementation of a new software for advanced computerization of operations.  Quantity of manpower was limited and its quality compounded the problem.  Aging staff members fighting to upgrade themselves to handle the requirements of new environment presented a pathetic sight.  But the show had to go on.  Each day brought new and unexpected problems.  He was more into fire-fighting and trouble-shooting than attending to the requirements of business development.

Bank organized a three day workshop on computerization and he was directed to attend the same.  He was sitting in the program next to a very senior BM who was due for retirement in less than a year.  Partly due to age factor and partly due to the deliberations which he hardly understood, the old man often dozed during the sessions.  He would suddenly wake up in the middle of his stupor and ask a question of the moderator.  Even before the answer was completed for the irrelevant question, he would be back in his sleepy world.  This was an irritant for the moderator but provided comic relief to the others.  On the third day of the program he suddenly got up from his drowsiness and uttered a sentence: Kuch nahi hoga (Nothing will happen).  The senior man resumed his sleep before our hero could ask him what was the meaning of his statement.  Fortunately, the veteran was wide awake during lunch time and this gave a chance to our hero to pull him aside and ask him the meaning of his comment during the session.  The veteran smiled and replied, "You see, they are talking of new machines and new technology.  Machines do not work.  Humans work.  Aaap jitna bhi accha machine lagaao, Chalanevaale wahi gadhe hain!" (The machines (computers) and software may be of excellent quality, but those who run them are the same old donkeys).  BM was left wondering how true the experienced man's uttering was.

When the BM returned to his branch from the workshop, a rude shock awaited him.  The senior clerk was promoted and transferred to another branch.  A substitute was provided in the next two weeks.  He was an elderly man who was weak in application of interest and arithmetical calculations.  Most of the bank work revolved on these requirements.  Assistant Managers found difficult to work with him and complained about him to the BM.  BM cursed his own fate but decided to get on with things and face the situations as they unfolded.

The branch had its share of complaining customers who frequented BM's cabin with their complaints on various issues.  Their number came down progressively over the next two months.  BM was pleasantly surprised at this development and probed the matter.  He realised that the complaining customers were spending more time with the new elderly clerk and left the branch thereafter with a smiling face!  This man was very good in public relations and had his own way of tacking tough customers.  He could not manage routine counter work but was an expert in understanding human behaviour and meeting customer expectations with unorthodox approach.  Most of the complaining customers were pensioners and senior citizens.  This man was very effective in making them feel important and solving their emotional concerns.  Once emotional concerns were attended to,  they were not much worried about minor service issues which resulted in complaints earlier.  Suddenly BM found an alley in the substitute clerk who gave him relief and time to attend to business matters.  He slowly stated relegating some other issues like liaison with software and hardware vendors and follow-up actions with Government agencies etc.  The substitute clerk did not have the ability to manage routine banking hall activities but able to deliver out-door errands quite effectively. In course of time this clerk was even better than the two Assistant Managers form utility point of view.  The branch won the "Best Branch Award" that year and the new clerk had made substantial contributions for the achievement.

There is a maxim in HRD: It is the ability that counts, not the inability.  Every person is bestowed by the creator with some qualities or the other which could be used effectively.  Effective leaders are able to spot such talents quickly and harness them for achieving team goals.  Of course, the leader should have the time and patience to work on this belief.  Otherwise most of the team members in many teams may be declared as useless or ineffective.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Father and Daughter atop Mount Santis

Switzerland is a popular tourist destination and millions of travelers from all over the world visit this country every year.  It is one of the most peace loving countries and its policy of armed neutrality has stood the test of time. The country has not been in a state of war for the last two centuries, since 1815.  Thought it houses the second largest office of the United Nations, it joined United Nations only in 2002.  Important organizations like ILO, WHO, WTO, IOC (International Olympic committee) and UNHRC function from this country. Mother nature has smiled liberally on Switzerland and one of such bounties is the Swiss Alps mountain range.

Mount Santis is one of the mountains in the Swiss Alps and is about 80 kilometers from Zurich.  The scenic drive from Zurich to the foot of the mountain takes less than two hours.  There are two ways to reach the summit from the foot of the mountain; the adventurous can go hiking which takes four hours or by a cable car that takes ten minutes.  The cable car trip costs 45 Swiss Francs or 36 Euros.  The cable way was installed in 1935 and and the ten minute ride is thrilling and exciting.  The rise of the car in the last part to the 2502 meter (8209 feet) high mountain top is breath-taking and when one looks down from the cable car, the true emotion is fear!  (Pictures of the observatory given here is taken from the net).  There is an Observatory building at the top of the mountain with a 123 meter (403 feet) high transmitter mast.  This building also hosts a souvenir shop, cafeteria, restaurant and conference hall as well.  Visitors and skiers throng these places.  There is a Hotel by name "Berggasthaus" which literally means "Mountain Guest House".  This hotel is now run by the fifth generation of the promoters. The hotel takes up contracts for hosting marriage ceremonies, family celebrations, social functions and conferences.  The advantage of getting married here is that the couple need not spend money to reach Switzerland for a honeymoon since they are already there!

We reached the foot of the Mountain and stood in the line for cable car tickets.  It was then that I first spotted the daughter and her father.  The father was well past seventy years and the daughter was around thirty years of age.  He was apparently sick and his every step forward was with a lot of effort.  Strangely, he was holding a stick in his left hand and she was holding his right hand and helping along.  We reached the ticket window, bought our tickets and were led to the cable car straight away.  We were lucky to get a spot in front of the cable car cabin and got an unobstructed view of the surroundings as the car moved to the top of the mountain.  Once on top of the mountain, we made a round of the observatory building and tower and had a view of the surroundings.  The signboards indicated a view of the six countries in 360 degrees; Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, France and Italy.  The weather changed dramatically in a few minutes and it suddenly became windy and misty.  We moved inside the restaurant for lunch.  They were there again; Daughter and her Father.

She helped him to sit on the chair, holding the chair in one hand and him in the other.  She opened her handbag and pulled out a small towel to wipe his face since he was sweating despite the cold weather outside.  Once he was comfortably seated, she moved to the food counter and got two trays of lunch.  A bib was taken out of the handbag and tied around his neck.  She encouraged him to eat the lunch and finished hers quickly.  Hard items were cut by her into pieces since he could not do it himself.  Sitting next to him she helped him to his lunch for the next half an hour.  There were long gaps between two spoonfuls and yet she did not take the easy way out by feeding him.  It did not look life father and daughter any more; it was rather a child and his mother.  Food particles stuck to his shirt despite the bib.  She patiently cleaned all that and led him slowly to the large glass window to explain the surrounding view.  When they came back to the table and he sat for the second time, he smiled at her.  It was his first sign of expression in an otherwise blank face.  She patted him on the back and waited for their turn to enter the cable car on the return journey.  We returned to the foot of the mountain in the same cable car.  She helped him to his seat in the car and drove away.

There was an argument the other day about loving daughters and sons.  Someone mentioned that daughters love their parents and always take care of them.  Another disagreed and said that sons too love their parents equally.  Someone else mentioned that the sons love their parents to the extent they are permitted to do so!  The discussion was probably more emotional than rational.  After recalling our encounter with the daughter and her father on Mount Santis, my vote would go to the daughters, right or wrong or whatever.                            

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Where is my Prize?

In order to encourage youngsters to do well in various activities, promises are made of giving a prize or a gift when the task is achieved.  Such promises are made with good intentions and motivates the child or youngster to achieve the set goal.  The value of the gift or prize in monetary terms may not be high, but the offer drives them to work harder and accomplish the proposed task.  In course of time, the one who offered the prize or gift may forget it, but the one motivated by the offer fondly remembers and looks forward to receiving it.

Fifty years ago, "School Day" functions were simple affairs and held without much fanfare.  There was no habit of conducting such functions in primary schools as is the practice now.  Pre-primary and kindergarten schools were not in existence then.  Middle schools (fifth to seventh or eighth year of education) were the earliest times when a student got the first taste of a celebration.  Inviting parents to such functions was also not done as most of the parents were illiterate and kept a distance from the academic activities.  There was no system of collecting contributions and spending money as most of the students and their parents could not contribute for organising and conducting a function.  This was all the more true in small centers.  The function would often be held below the tree in the school compound and in broad daylight.  There was no place for artificial decorations and multicolor electrical lights.  Many towns and villages did not even have electricity supply.  There were no expensive tailors designated for stitching special dresses for student activities like dance or plays.  A well-known person in the village or town would be invited as the chief guest.  One or two patriotic songs from a teacher or students represented cultural activities.  There would be speeches from the chief guest and head master.  The content of the speeches was also generally the same; to exhort the students to study well and get good marks in the forthcoming examination.

One such "Annual Day" function was held in the middle school of a small town some five decades ago.  A leading merchant of the town was invited as the chief guest.  He was respected for two reasons; his literary knowledge and philanthropy.  He owned a shop selling silverware and gold ornaments.  He was known to help poor students discreetly.  He was also liberal in giving donations for various social causes.  The annual day function went on as usual and when his turn came to speak, he urged the students to do well in the forthcoming examination.  The headmaster in his speech had informed that there will be a taluk level examination for the seventh standard students. The chief guest stated that the student securing the highest marks in the examination will be given a prize by him.  The function ended on a high note with this promise.

One of the students present in the function went to the head master on the next day.  He had a query to ask.  Was the proposed prize to be given to the student getting the highest marks in the entire taluk or was it for the student getting the highest marks from this school?  The head master had not applied his mind on this issue.  The boy's argument was that as the announcement was made in the function of this school, it should be for the student of this school.  The head master told the boy that he would inquire about it from the chief guest and clarify later.  The matter stood there.

The examinations concluded followed by the six weeks summer holidays.  The results arrived on the day of reopening of the school.  The boy who had raised the question had secured the first position for the school as well as for the taluk itself.  The issue was now clear for him; he was to get the prize.  As he had to move to a high school, he obtained the TC (transfer certificate) and got admitted there.  Whenever he passed in the vicinity of his old school, he would go to the head master and ask when the prize would be given away.  The head master would tell him that he had not yet heard from the merchant and would let the boy know in due course.  This went on for about six months.  The head master got fed up and finally told the boy that it was better for himself to go to the merchant and ask him.  The boy went near shop several times but did not have the courage to ask the elderly man.

Finally, one evening the boy went inside the shop and greeted the Seth sitting in his shop.  The Seth returned the greetings and asked the boy what he wanted to buy.  The boy reminded the merchant about the school day function and his promise to give a prize to a student securing the highest marks.  He also said that the Seth can verify from the head master about his securing the highest marks in the examination.  "No, I do not need to check your statement.  I trust your statement and your perseverance in waiting and coming to me.  I am glad you prevented me from failing in one of my duties.  You will get your prize tomorrow.  Come to the school tomorrow morning", he said.

When the boy went to the school next morning, Seth was siting with the head Master.  A silver cup with appropriate engraving on it was ready and the prize was given away after the morning prayer.  The Seth offered another prize for a student for the next year and smilingly said that he would not forget the offer this time!  The boy himself offered prizes to young students later on in his life and did not forget his offers either.           

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Drunkard's Daughter

The years spent in Middle School (5th to 7th year of education) were indeed wonderful days. General economic conditions in the early 1960s were difficult.  Aftereffects of Indo-China war of 1962 and Indo-Pakistan  war of 1965 had added to the misery.  As students, in the age group of  11 years to 14 years for most of us, we were hardly in a position to understand that.  We lived in our own world and school days were merry days and playful as usual.  Lunch break at 1.30 PM was eagerly looked forward to by all my classmates and I was no exception.  Students coming from nearby houses would run home to have a quick lunch and return to school for post-lunch classes.  Those staying away from the school had to perforce stay in the school compound and eat lunch from the boxes brought with them in the morning while coming to school.  Of course, there were many who did not have the luxury and practice of having lunch.  They were used to food only twice a day; before coming to the school in the morning and in the evening after returning from the school.  This had its own advantage; they never suffered from indigestion and related ailments.

For the children staying back in the school compound during lunch time, there were other activities.  Playing cricket or football was one of them.  There was no practice of giving pocket money to children in those days mainly because the pockets of the parents themselves did not have any money in them.  There were a few kids from relatively affluent families who carried small change in their pockets.  They had  attractions just outside the school gate abutting the main road of the town.  Two carts carrying items for sale beckoned them.  One of them carried groundnuts and uppukadale (salted chana) and the other laden with cut fruits available in the season.  Uppukadale and Groundnuts were acceptable, but we had strict instructions not to touch the cut fruits.  The threat of cholera was always lurking round the corner.  My mother's advice was soft and firm.  If any child in the family is tempted to eat any fruit sold on the cart, she should be informed.  She would arrange for getting the item and serve it at home in hygienic conditions.  If the instructions were violated and someone fell sick, she would not take care of them.  The threat was enough and there was no need to test her resolve.  We understood her perfectly and she ensured that the instructions were always complied with.

The cart with cut fruits was tended by one Hanuma.  He would procure the seasonal fruits like Guava, Mango, Jack fruit, Papaya and Watermelon.  Pineapple and Apple were also seen but rarely.  Mother's instructions were not to touch them; there was no ban on watching him clean and cut the fruits.  He was an expert in his trade and probably worth an award these days when everything is measured and awards given away.  He had his tools - knives of different sizes and shapes to handle the variety of fruits ranging from the hard and thorny jack fruit to the softer fully ripe papaya.  Processing activity of cutting and arranging the fruit pieces went on simultaneously with the sales activity of handing over the cut pieces to children, collect coins, count them and store them below the gunny bag table cloth.  He did brisk business during the lunch break and moved away to the nearby bus stand once the children got into their classes.

Hanuma was a hard working man and was always involved in some work or the other.  He had a small plot of land by the river side and grew vegetables there round the year.  After harvesting them for the day's sale he would proceed with other errands like sale of cut fruits.  His wife Ramakka carried the vegetables basket on her head selling them from house to house in the morning.  The quality and freshness of the vegetables ensured that there was no carry over of inventory for the next day.  Between them they earned a decent wage.  But the one weakness of Hanuma ensured that the family always lived in abject poverty.  Drunkard and inebriate are terms for a person who drinks hard liquors habitually. Drunkard connotes willful indulgence to excess. Inebriate is a slightly more formal term than drunkard.  Dipsomaniac is the term for a person who, because of some psychological or physiological illness, has an irresistible craving for liquor. The dipsomaniac is popularly called an alcoholic.  Hanuma was probably all of them.  He loved his family but it appeared he loved his evening drink even more.

Ramakka suffered silently and somehow managed the family affairs.  All her efforts to bring round Hanuma failed.  One evening she appeared before our house and wanted to see my father.  He had just returned from school and took his usual place in the front yard.  Their conversation went on like this:

"Swami, Hanuma's drinking is killing us.  Why don't you help me?"
"How can I help you, Ramakka?"
"Hanuma respects you a lot. Please advise him to give up drinking."
"I have advised him many times.  Every time I talk to him, he promises not to drink again.  But he does not stick to his promise.  His friends are not good.  He also cannot resist the evening drink."
"Then what is the way out for me?"
"We have to keep trying and hope for the best.  By the way, who is that girl hiding behind you?"
"This is our daughter Saraswati, Swami."
"How old is she?" 
"She is six years old, Swami."
"Have you admitted her to school? All children at this age should attend school."
"What will she do with school, Swami?  She helps me with household work and selling vegetables.  That is fine with me.  Hanuma also wants the same."
"Do not talk nonsense.  Do not spoil her life.  Bring her to school tomorrow.  I am the headmaster.  I will admit her to the school.  Ask Hanuma to meet me in the morning."

Hanuma duly arrived in the morning.  The discussion went on like this:

"Swami, It seems you wanted to see me."
"Yes, Why have you not put Saraswati in school?"
"What is the use of school for us poor people, Swami.  Moreover I cannot pay school fee."
"No need to pay any fee.  I will get her fee waived by the Government.  I will get her free uniform from Headmaster's quota.  I will also arrange for books from some other students who are promoted to the next class.  You have no excuse.  She should be in school by the time I reach there."
"Swami, should I really do it?"
"Yes, otherwise I will get you arrested by the police for violating government order."

Hanuma was afraid of government and police.  He did not even think of checking with someone.  He complied with father's orders.  Saraswati was admitted to first standard at school.  She was better than average in studies.  She passed her examinations every year.  By the time she came to High School, I had left the town and was working in a far away city.  On one of my home visits I learnt that father had arranged for her learning typewriting and shorthand in the local "Institute of Commerce". The Institute head was persuaded to give her a slot in the early morning class when the attendance at the institute was thin.  No need to mention that the fee was waived by him.

The last I heard of Saraswati was that she had secured a job as a Stenographer in the State Government and working in a building near Vidhana Soudha (State Secretariat). That was thirty years ago.