Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Address and Identity

He was flying in the sky using freshly acquired wings.  The body was left behind, dead.  He was indeed conscious and aware of the flight taking him somewhere, far away.  He could see many boards displayed on the way, in the sky.  He could not read any of them as he was not familiar with the script or language used in those boards.  Finally, he saw a board written in his mother tongue.  He was thrilled to read it: "Way to Hell".  Though the board said it was way to hell, he was happy because it was the only board he could read among the scores of them.  He proceeded on the way to hell.  A strong voice thundered at him - "You are not allowed here. Go on the path of Heaven".  He shifted the path and now proceeded on the path to heaven. The delightfully decorated main door of the heaven before him was closed.  He stood and waited for it to open.  The guard's voice called out to him. 

"Who is that?"     
"I am Puttappa"
"Which Puttappa?"
"K V Puttappa"
"Who is that?"

He was astounded.  What is the arrogance of this nectar fed angel guard, he thought. Everyone knows me by that name.  How does he not know, he wondered. He tried another line now.

"I am Ku. Vem. Pu."

He should definitely know this.  The door should open now, he waited. Derisive laughter was the answer.  He went on giving further other answers to prove his identity.

"Assistant Professor"
"Vice Chancellor"
"Padma Bushana"
"Rashtra Kavi" 

"All that has no value here.  Tell me what does your heart and soul says.....", asked the guard.  He did not know what to say.  He had exhausted all his identities. He stood there blushing and thinking.  He made up his mind and tried the last identity.  

"I am Hemi's husband"  (He remembered the wife's name..... Hemavathy!)

Oh, the door opened and he entered heaven.  

He woke up from a great dream............

This is a near translation of a delightful prose-poem of KUVEMPU, one of modren Kannada's (Navodaya) foremost and well-known poets.  He was one of the earliest recipients of the "Jnanapeeth Award" and Vice-chancellor of Mysore University.

That poem was written some fifty years ago.....

There was an unusual noise on the street.  Subbajji was curious to know the reason for it. She asked her grand daughter to go and find out.  Padma returned and told her grand mother that it was a procession of someone named Appayya Deekshitar.  Subbajji was not satisfied.  She asked Padma to find out full details. Padma ran out again and returned with some more information.  

"Appaiah Deekshitar is a well known Advaita Vedanta scholar, they say.  He has traveled allover the country and defeated many stalwarts of other faiths in debate. He has written more than 100 valuable works.  Appreciating his scholarship and efforts, Vellore King Chinna Bomma Nayakkar had arranged a "Swarnabhishekam" (ritual of a person being showered with gold coins) for him. He has returned to our place after the festival in Vellore. He is being taken in the streets in a big procession.  Hence the noise"

Subbajji did not understand the details and did not understand who this Appaiah Deekshitar was.  She herself slowly walked to the door and saw the procession.  As the procession neared her house, she could identify the person being taken in procession.

"Padma, you are telling so many useless details.  I know him very well.  He is our Acchamma's husband!"  

That was more than four hundred years ago.....

Narasinga Rao was a popular Kannada playwright, stage and film actor, producer and director.  His 75 stage plays have been presented on the Kannada stage many times over. He is better known through his pen name, Parvatavani.  He was invited to the wedding reception of a daughter of his long time friend who was also a writer, actor and director. Parvatavani came to the function and presented a book to the newly wed couple. He did not worry to remember the name of the boy, but knew the girl since her childhood. He wrote on the first page of the book, "With best wishes to Geetha and Geethapriya".  The book is still a prized possession with the couple.

That was nearly forty years ago.....
Identity being established through above methods is not a rare practice.  In discourses like "Harikathe", which is an art form of story telling in which poetry, music and even dance at times are used, the Lord in whose praise the performance takes place is often remembered from time to time. 

If it is Lord Shiva, the chant goes, "Hara Namah Parvati Pataye....  Hara Hara Mahadev" 

If it is Lord Vishnu, the chant is "Indira Ramana Govinda...... Govinda"

With these chants, identity of the Lord is established.  But with Lord Vishnu, the artiste or discourse giver does not want to take any risk.  He establishes his address as well.  The Lord may have many wives as per the incarnations he takes from time to time.  But there is only one eternal servant for the Lord: Anjaneya alias Bhajarangabali. Hence the chant is:

"Aanjaneya varada Govinda......... Govinda!"  

With these two chants together, both identity as well as address of the Lord is well established and there is no risk of wrong delivery!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The artful dodger

A General Manager of a Public Sector Undertaking retired after serving the organization for over three decades.  As per the prevailing practice, a farewell party was organized on the day of his retirement. During the meeting, many colleagues paid glorious tributes to his contributions to the organization.  All his golden qualities were recalled and remembered. Of course, many among the gathering came to know of these remarkable qualities for the first time, only on that day. General Manager himself was surprised to find that he had such great qualities.  He was garlanded profusely by the colleagues and admirers.  A big sandalwood memento was also presented amidst thunderous ovation.  Then it was  time for the General Manager to reply to the felicitation.  As he realized that he was about to make his last speech to a captive audience, he was overcome with emotions.  He thanked all those present and others who sent good wishes by mail and over phone.  He was about to conclude the speech and sit down.  It would have been indeed great had it ended that way.

One of the young subordinates got up and asked the usual question.  "Sir, please tell us the secret of your success so that we can follow the same and grow in the organization like you", he said.  General Manager had to perforce give out the secret. This was not the time to remain silent and hide the secret of success. After all, he could no longer use the formula henceforth.

"The secret of my success lies in the golden formula that I followed all along my long and distinguished career.  The formula had two dimensions.  I marked all papers calling for decisions to my superiors.  Thus I was never responsible for any wrong decisions.  All papers calling for action were marked to my subordinates without fail.  This ensured that I was never guilty of faulty implementation.  Thus I earned all my promotions on due dates as my record was unblemished.  After becoming General Manager I had to take decisions as there was none above me to pass on the buck. But I was fortunate that I became GM only six months ago.  I ensured that all papers on which decisions were required were in different stages of seeking clarifications or referred them to various committees for study and recommendations.  Now that I have retired today, my successor will deal with those issues". 

Charles Dickens's famous novel "Oliver Twist" has a character by name Jack Dawkins. He is a very skilled pickpocket and tries to teach the art of picking pockets to the young Oliver Twist. He is called "Artful Dodger" in the novel. There is a general perception that hard work pays.  It is true in some cases.  But we can see many around us who have perfected the art of not working and yet make it pay for them! They have  succeeded in converting the art of not working into a science as well.  These are indeed even more artful dodgers and much more artistic and scientific than that character in the novel "Oliver Twist".

There are many wonderful methods that these artful dodgers put to use.  They have some tool or the other for each occasion and situation.  They are always cool and their blood pressure never goes up.  They keep smiling and answer all questions effortlessly and immediately.  The superiors have only one problem with them; the tasks assigned to them are never accomplished.  But the reasons and justification given by them cannot be easily wished away.  The artful dodger always has the last laugh.

Some of the common tools used by them are well known:
  • I have not received your letter (or mail in today's world).  Had I received, I would have immediately done it.  (He knows that you have no acknowledgement with you to dispute his statement)
  • I was not there when the letter was received.  The letter was misplaced by the other person. I was helpless. (You have no way of knowing the truth)
  • My internet connection was not working.  (This can happen anytime)
  • The attachment sent with your mail did not open. (There is no possibility of checking the truth. Of course, he did not let you know about it)
  • I replied immediately, but for some technical reason the reply bounced. (Why He did not contact by alternate means of communication?)
  • I thought it was not relating to me.  (He did not seek why it was sent to him)  It does not happen to any communication that gives him some benefit or the other.
  • Since no reminders were issued, I thought the project was dropped.

There are others that are used in face to face interaction:
  • Raises questions at each stage when some new system is to be introduced or discussed, so that he is not included in the implementing team.
  • Frames another question from each answer given in response to his earlier question.
  • Shoots a question even before the earlier question is fully answered.
  • Problems are shown everywhere; The introducer should feel it is a wise idea to abort the plan itself.
  • He can show a number of problems in the existing system; can also show even more problems in the alternate plan equally effectively.
  • Cannot take up new assignment as earlier job is half-done; He is willing to take up the new job, if the earlier job is entrusted to someone else. (Knows very well it cannot be done) 
  • He does not have the required skills; but easily identifies another person who is eminently suited for the new job.
  • Can easily recall someone else's name who did very well in a similar situation earlier.
  • He is willing to do it gladly; but it only creates more problems for the person assigning a new job.
  • Never discloses his competency and remains a back bencher; but can readily recall that competency if the place or position suits him later on.

By now you have your own list with innovative ideas.  Please share them without hesitation. They may indeed be useful someday!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Two Masala Dosas, please

The frail looking short man entered the restaurant near the bus stand of the district town. He sat on a chair at the corner table and wiped the flowing sweat on his face with the long towel around his neck. The summer heat and stay outdoors since morning had made his appearance a big mess.  The dhoti and shirt he wore were indeed white when purchased from the cloth shop, but due to continuous use in the dusty fields had now turned yellowish orange.  He placed his worn out leather bag on the table and beckoned the waiter boy.  The boy moved casually with a steel tumbler of water, placed it on the table and looked at the man quizzically. "Two Masala Dosas, please" said the man.  "Where is the other person?", asked the waiter.  "There is no other person.  Both dosas are for me.  Put them in the same plate and bring it fast.  I am in a hurry to catch a bus", said the frail man. The boy had not seen anyone order two masala dosas for oneself.  He was surprised. "That would cost two Annas. Do you have the money?", derisively asked the waiter. In those days, fifty years ago (1965), sixteen Annas made a rupee. Though decimal system was introduced in 1957 and a rupee was made up of 100 "Naya Paisa", meaning new paisa, Anna was a common usage for sometime thereafter as well. "Do not worry about the money.  Do your job. Bring the Dosas fast", said the man as he moved to the wash basin in the corner of the hall to wash his face and hands. When he returned to his chair, the boy again looked at him. "Have you ordered the dosas?" asked the man.  "You have not yet shown me the two annas", said the waiter boy.
Christine Francis was the personal assistant of the owner and Managing Director of the big Hotel.  The hotel was in financial trouble and the owner was unable to get renewal of the mortgage due that week.  Many in the administrative circle of the hotel knew that the hotel may be up for sale.  The owner of a large chain of hotel was arriving that day for discussion and finalization of the purchase. Everyone of the employees, Christine and Assistant General Manager McDermott included, were tense and worried about the continuance of their own employment. On the way to lunch, Christine stopped at the AGM's office and realized that he was seized with many problems at the hotel that had cropped up all at once. One of the problems was that one of the guests was moaning heavily in his room. Having come to know that the name of the guest was Albert Wells, she recalled that he was a regular guest at the hotel.  She remembered the name specifically because during one of his earlier visits, Albert Wells had a complaint about a laundry bill of 75 cents.  He insisted that the bill did not relate to his room.  The supervisor offered to waive the charge with a view to avoid a complaint.  The guest did not accept waiver, but insisted that it be withdrawn properly and not treated as a waiver. On verification of the records, it was found that the bill actually belonged to some other room and was deleted.  Since he was a regular guest at the hotel, Christine offered to check on the guest personally.

When the room was opened with a passkey, it was found that Mr Wells was very sick and unable to breathe due to acute bronchitis. He had very little luggage and modest belongings.  The old man was shifted to this least preferred room by the front office staff to accomodate another guest as Mr Wells would not protest such a change.  The air conditioner of the room was not working properly and the guest became very sick.  Christine acted swiftly, arranged a doctor and got the guest shifted to a better room. Wen the doctor advised hospitalization, Wells did not agree and asked for a attending nurse round the clock.  The nurse was arranged, but Christine was worried about payment of the bills.  On her advice, the credit investigator of the hotel contacted the bank through which earlier payments were received. The bank informed that Mr Wells's cheques would be honored by it.

The old man invited Christine and the AGM for lunch at one of the expensive dining rooms of the hotel, as a gesture of thanking them for their prompt action and arranging for medical aid.  Christine wondered how this man could pay the heavy bill of the restaurant.  On his visits, the old man stayed in modest rooms and his bills were always small.  He was not known to spend on tips and luxuries.  She did not want to burden the host.  She found a way out by contacting the head waiter at the restaurant.  A small bill was to be presented to Mr Wells and the remaining amount to be debited to Christine's account.

"You have not yet shown me the two annas", said the waiter boy. Summer heat and hunger had made the man tense already.  This derisive comment by the boy infuriated him. "Call your manager or owner.  I want to talk to him", said the man in a high voice.  The boy was now afraid and did not know what to do.  "Dosas will be ready by now.  I will get it fast", he said.  "I do not want dosas now.  I want to talk to your owner", shouted the man. Hearing the commotion in the restaurant hall, the owner of the place came to the table.  "What is the problem, Sir?" asked the owner politely.  "I asked for two masala dosas. Your waiter boy wanted to see my two annas before ordering the dosas.  I now want to buy your hotel. Please fix a price and I am ready", he said.  Before the owner could say something else, he took out the wide belt from his dress.  The belt had many pockets  with wads of currency with them.  He placed them on the table and told the owner, "Cash is ready.  If this is not sufficient, treat this as an advance.  Fix a fair price for this place and tell me the amount.  I will be back with the remaining amount tomorrow morning to conclude the deal", thundered the frail man.

Parappa Basavannappa Patil was short and frail, but he was one of the biggest farmers of the area.  He was also a commission agent and brought the produce from other farmers and by years of hard work had built an empire.  Cotton, Chillies and pulses were his forte.  His appearance was deceptive and he never flashed his status or financial strength.  The owner of the restaurant and others present there profusely apologized and pacified him.

While having lunch with the old man, Christine enquired about his profession and what he did for a living.  When he detailed his life's story, Christine suddenly realized that Mr Wells actually owned a Gold Mine and such other things.  The Assistant General Manager asked, "If you will pardon my curiosity, other things such as what?".  "I am not sure of all of it. There is a couple of newspapers, some ships, an insurance company, buildings and other bits and pieces.  I bought a food chain last year".  The head waiter presented the bill.  The old man looked at it, smiled, signed it off.  He had understood what was the reason behind the small bill. As the startled Christine and AGM stared at the old man, he smiled mischievously and said , "I wanted to tell you tomorrow.  I may as well tell you now.  I just bought this hotel." Then they realized that the old man's frequent visits to the hotel was actually to study its status and strike a deal without anyone suspecting it.
My father had been on a to a trip to North Karnataka in 1965.  He told Parappa Basavannappa Patil's story to us on his return from the trip.  Christine and Albert Well's story is a part of the famous novel "Hotel" by Arthur Hailey.  This novel was also first published in 1965.  Details differ but the central theme remains the same. In both instances, hotel staff doubted the capacity of the guest to pay the bills.  If arrogance was the underlying feeling in Patil's case, it was compassion in Albert Well's instance.

The message from both stories is simple and straight forward.  A person is not to be judged from his appearance or habits alone.  There are many who lead a simple life despite their affluence.  This also applies to knowledge and scholarship. Those with depth and profound insights may keep a low profile.  Empty vessels often make much more noise!          

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Two Brothers and an Umbrella

There were two brothers in a family.  Their outlook towards life, its problems and solutions were entirely different.  Their views were often at conflict and they varied substantially. There would be frequent arguments between them about various issues that came up in day to day life. Elder brother believed in living for today and enjoy life as it comes.  Younger brother trusted in shaping one's life and plan for it.  They were fond of each other and the family ties were deep rooted. Despite their best efforts, they could not reconcile this difference in their attitude to life.

They set out from the house on their daily chores one day.  As they came out of the house, younger brother looked at the sky and said that it could rain later in the day. The elder one said that it may not rain and they need not worry about it.  Younger brother was not convinced.  He suggested that they carry an umbrella as it would prevent them from getting drenched if it really rained.  Elder brother did not appreciate the idea of carrying an umbrella.  "If you take an umbrella, you have to always think of it and take it with you wherever you go.  You have to constantly protect it and find a place to keep it when you sit, stand or move around.  It is such a big pain.  I do not want such trouble.  I want to be free wherever I go.  I am not carrying any umbrella", he declared.  The younger brother had his own argument. "Do not just think of the problem of carrying and keeping the umbrella with you. Think of the protection it gives you when it rains.  You will be miserable without an umbrella if it rains", he reasoned.

As usual they disagreed on the necessity of carrying an umbrella.  The elder brother walked away on his work without carrying an umbrella.  The younger brother went inside the house, picked his umbrella and went about his work with the umbrella in his hand.
In the previous post titled "The vicious circle" (Click on this to read it), there was a reference to life after death, re-birth and many births.  Nobody knows for sure whether there is some life after death  and whether there are re-births. There was also a mention about sharing one's material wealth with others in the society.  It also talked of credit and debit in the life's ledger and the balance one carries to the next world.  The story of the two brothers mentioned above is similar to that. Just as one does not know definitely as to whether it will rain or not, one does not know whether there is another life awaiting after death.  The society is divided into two groups just as the two brothers in the above story.  One group does not believe in rebirth and life after death.  This group believes in taking life as it comes and living for today. The other group feels that there is definitely something after death and there is bound to be rebirth.  This group does believe in leading life in a defined way so that they are able to answer The Lord when they stand before Him on the Dooms Day.  Such a belief is there among the varied religious faiths in the world. Of course, it is also true that there is a third group which does not have any time to think of either worlds, since the daily routine in the present life does not allow any time to worry about life after death.

The analogy of the "Two brothers and an umbrella" typically explains the conflict between the two groups.  The group that believes that there is no rebirth is like the brother who believes that it will not rain.  They live entirely for this life and are not worried for the future ones, as for them there is no future life.  All their actions are centered around this life; their belief leaves only this option.  For them, there is no use of doing anything for the next world which does not really exist. Whether they lead a good life or not is decided here. Chaarvaakas  (a sect that does not believe in God and rebirth) belong to this school of thinking.  "Drink Ghee (not eat Ghee) by even borrowing from others; where is the return of life when the body is burnt after death?", they ask.  Like the elder brother, there is no issue for them if it does not rain.  But if it does rain, they are exposed to hardship and get drenched.      

The second group that believes in life after the death and rebirth lives more for the future ones; their belief makes it mandatory for them to live with the eyes on future births.  They embark on a mission of safeguarding future lives that are not definite at this time.  They make many sacrifices in the present life to ensure rosy things in the indefinite future lives. Some of them are reasonable in their efforts; they do not sacrifice the present life at the altar of the future ones.  But there are others who take things too far.  They lead a miserable life presently for a wonderful anticipated future life.  Like the younger brother in the analogy story, their efforts are suitably rewarded if it really rains.  If it does not rain, all their efforts are a waste and they neither have the pleasure of leading a fine present life nor something in future as reward for the sacrifices made by them.

Which group should we choose to belong to, is the moot point.  It is a matter of personal belief and choice.  In financial terms, it is like taking insurance against a likely or unlikely risk. Probably, the key is in leading a balanced life that is neither too rigorous nor too liberal.  It appears wise to enjoy the fruits of the present life as this is definite.  There is no wisdom in sacrificing the definite present in favor of the uncertain future.  It is also fair to enjoy the fruits of the present life by sharing with others.  There is a limitation to all material wealth.  It should be used and utilized before the expiry date.  Better share them with others rather than allow them to decay with time.  There is a certain enhanced joy and pleasure in sharing what we have with others.  Sharing ensures happiness in the present life; it may also provide some insurance for the future lives, if there are any. 

Which school do you belong to?  Will it rain or not?  

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Vicious Circle

A poor man was struggling to manage his day-to-day life.  The state of his poverty could not be measured or explained.  He simply did not have anything, not even two pairs of decent dress.  He moved around in tattered clothes.  He tried many means for earning a livelihood, but nothing worked.  Repeated failures frustrated him.  Others were reluctant to keep his company.  Life was one big unsolved riddle and mystery for him.  "Why should I ever live?", was a question that was confronting him each day.

A saint had embarked on a pilgrimage and on the way he camped in the poor man's village. Someone suggested to the poor man to meet the saint and seek his blessings.  He was also told that the saint had mystic powers and may be able to find a solution to the man's utter poverty. The poor man now had some hope. He visited the saint and waited for an opportunity to meet him when he was alone. When he got a chance, he fell on the saint's feet and cried uncontrollably.  His pent up emotions got better of him and he could not even explain his problem to the saint.

The saint could understand the problem of the poor man, more through common sense than through mystic powers.  He meditated for some time and by using his powers scanned the past history of the poor man.  During his many previous lives, this man had no record of giving away anything to someone else.  He was extremely selfish and had no tendency to share anything he had.  Since he had no habit of giving to others, his ledger showed "Nil" balance.  As he had forgotten the art of giving to others, he had forfeited his entitlement to receive from others. There was no balance in the account to permit debits and there was no possibility of receiving any credits.  Something had to be done for renewing the account. The sage realized that there was not even the possibility of giving him a loan.  He did not have any margin money to show for borrowing from someone else. He had indeed reached a dead end.  He was caught in the vicious circle.

The sage asked him about his assets or something he could give to others.  The poor man replied that he had nothing with him.  The sage saw that something was partly visible from the pocket of his torn dress.  "What is that? Take it out", he commanded.  It was a small brass tumbler he had kept with him for drinking water. "Let us begin with this", the sage said and took him to the village merchant.  He advised the merchant to purchase the tumbler and give the value to the poor man. "What value can I give to this battered brass tumbler?  It is not even worth three spoons of sugar!", the merchant exclaimed.  "Then you give him two spoons of sugar", advised the sage.  The merchant complied with the instructions.  The sage returned to his camp with the poor man and the small sugar packet. He took out a lemon from his bag and advised the poor man to prepare lemon juice using the sugar with him.  The small quantity of juice was distributed to a few persons available near the camp.  "Your future will be brighter now on.  Lead a pious life and help others, in whatever way you can", advised the sage and left on his pilgrimage.  The poor man followed the advice and continued with his life.

The sage returned from his pilgrimage after a few years and again camped at the village. By this time, the poor man's tide had turned.  He was in much better shape socially and economically.  He helped others whenever the opportunity arose and shared whatever he had with others.  His poverty had gone and he had come out of the vicious circle.  The sage was happy that the account was revived and continued his journey. 
Poverty comes in many shades.  But the general perception is only about one of them; economic poverty.  That is so because it is very evident and visible to all.  It is also due to constant measurement of economic status by people around us. There are other types of poverty as well.  Social poverty or not having a sense of belonging to any recognizable group is another.  We hear of people going into depression or committing suicide despite being financially well off.  A feeling of being unwanted by their close groups at family, friends or at work is often a reason for this and it is a sign of social poverty.  Psychological poverty closely follows social poverty and acts on the mind of the concerned person. Intellectual poverty and moral poverty are still higher orders of poverty.  Of course, these are not very visible and can be easily camouflaged deliberately or otherwise.   

"Garuda Purana" is one of the eighteen puranas and gets its name as it is in the form of a discussion between Lord Mahavishnu and Garuda.  It deals with details of life after death and the rituals that are performed after the death of a person, in some parts of our country. There is a practice of reciting this purana or arrange for its discourse during the fortnight immediately following the death of a person, when the heirs perform sacred rituals. May be due to this practice, no one reads it at other times! Many details in the purana deal with the punishments given to a person in hell for the misdeeds done when alive. This make people shudder at the thought of life after the death and avoid reading this purana itself.

One of the verses in "Garuda Purana" deals with this vicious cycle of poverty and sins.  It clearly identifies the reasons for poverty as not sharing one's wealth with others and not doing good deeds when one is capable of.  It reads thus:

अदत्त दानाच्च भवेत् दरिद्रः दारिद्र दोषात् करोति पापम् |
पाप प्रभावात् नरकं स याति पुनर्दरिद्रः पुनरेव पापी ||

adatta daanachha bhavet daridraha, daridra doshat karoti papam
papa prabhaavat narakam sa yaati, punardaridraha punareva paapi

Due to not giving (sharing), he becomes poor; he commits sins because of that poverty.  As a result of those sins he goes to the lower world (naraka) as a punishment, he is again born poor and repeats the sins.  The vicious cycle continues.......
That leaves us with a pertinent question - should we believe in the theory of existence of other worlds and in re-birth and repeated births?

No one knows for sure, whether there are other worlds or there are re-births. But it is a matter of common sense that all material wealth has limitations of time. Likewise, there is true pleasure in sharing one's possessions with others while living as member of a civilized society.  It is better to share and enjoy their utility while they are still useful rather than hoard them and allow them to decay with time.