Friday, September 30, 2016

You Have Not Availed The Limit Fully

The Managing Partner of the firm was sitting before the Bank Manager. He was discussing about his application for enhancement of the firm's working capital limits. When he put in the application, he was confident that the enhancement requested would be approved without any trouble. After all, his firm was one of the old customers of the bank and the dealings were always satisfactory. As the key person handling the finances of the firm, he exercised utmost restraint while using the funds from the working capital loan account sanctioned by the bank. Drawings were always kept at the minimum and interest was serviced as soon as it was levied. There was not even one instance of seeking excess withdrawal during the entire year. In fact, the drawings were mostly less than half of the limit sanctioned to the firm. He did not quarrel about the service charges levied by the bank from time to time. Inspectors deputed by the bank were free to visit the unit and see the stocks and books of the firm at any time of their choosing. They were treated with due courtesy and all their questions were promptly answered. The books of accounts were always up to date. Financial statements and information required by the bank were submitted without any reminders for them. There was absolutely no reason for the bank to decline his request for enhancement. If the bank does not approve enhancement for a client like him, who stands a chance for enhancement of the limits, he reasoned.

He was flabbergast at the way in which the Bank Manager looked at the application for enhancement of the limits. "There is no doubt about yours being one of the best accounts we have at the bank. We would have no hesitation at all in enhancing the limits except for one issue. There is no justification for enhancing the limits this year. You will appreciate that you have not availed even half of the limits approved for you last year. Bank has placed scarce resource at your disposal by sanctioning the limits. But you have not availed the limit fully at all. Whatever was sanctioned earlier has gone a waste. When the bank gives you a limit, we expect you to avail the same. If you did not really require it, bank would have placed the funds at the disposal of someone else who needed it and earned interest. Funds sanctioned to you were blocked and remained unused. Hence we find it difficult to enhance the limit now", the Manager said. For the first time, Managing Partner realized the importance of availing the limits fully. 

"You are a good client and we respect you for that. Bank will certainly meet your genuine requirements. But the resources placed at your disposal have indeed to be used. If they are not used, it leads to the inescapable conclusion that they are not required by you. It would be given to someone else who has more needs for it.", the Manager concluded.

Saint Vijayadasa is one of the most revered philosophers and composers in the "Haridasa" heritage. He lived in Raichur district of North Karnataka in the 18th century (1682-1755). He is credited with more than 25,000 compositions in Kannada language and continuing the tradition of Saint Purandaradasa. His compositions are sung and practiced even today. He was born in a very poor family and had very difficult upbringing. He had to withstand the ridicule and humiliation heaped by his relatives and other villagers on his mother, brothers and himself. He took all the suffering in his stride and believed in the path chosen by him. He did not hold any rancor or hatred even against his worst tormenters. He was highly respected for this approach to life and became a cult figure during the later part of his life. He had many followers and disciples who conferred many luxuries on him out of reverence and affection. While he did not have two square meals a day during the early part of his life, he was able to manage a large group of students and disciples who accompanied him on his tours, by providing for all their requirements. He was given palanquins, servants and all other items required for a luxurious living. While he received any item given to him by others, he never used them and remained a humble being leading a simple life.

Gopaladasa was among the foremost of the disciples of Vijayadasa. His childhood and upbringing was very similar to that of Vijayadasa. Gopaladasa had a different view about using the many items given by his Guru's followers. He was not happy with his Guru not using the items offered by the people with reverence. "Guruji, All these items are given by your followers due to the respect they have for you. In a way, it is given by the Lord himself through them. If you do not use them and let them go a waste, is it not an insult to the Lord himself? Any resource that he gives us is to be used properly. Allowing them to go waste is not acceptable to the Lord. Unless used properly, these material things lose their vitality and become useless. Lord has created these items for proper use. You should use them henceforth", he told Vijayadasa. Vijayadasa agreed with the views of Gopaladasa but did not yet like to use them. "I agree with your line of thinking. But I have got used to my present way of life. I suggest that you use these items on my behalf. Thus the resources will not be wasted. Please do so", he advised Gopaladasa.

Thereafter Gopaladasa put all the items received by his Guru to proper use. If he did not use it himself, he would give it away to the needy. It is said that he would proceed in the palanquin ahead of the Guru and advise those waiting to see Vijayadasa about his arrival. "I am not the Guru. He is coming behind me by walk. Please receive him and pay your respects to him", he would tell the gathering!

The conflict of spirituality and using material comforts at the same time often confuses us. Some believe in giving up all material comforts and lead a hard life as they think that it is the real practicing of spiritual living. There are others who believe that material comforts are gifts of the Lord and as such they should be respected and used. Vijayadasa and Gopaladasa represented these two streams of thinking. Who was right and who was wrong? Apparently both were right in their own way. 

The real answer for the conflict appears to be a golden mean between the two. Use of material comforts to an extent that it is not a vulgar display of luxury could be the middle path. What is vulgar display of luxury? There can again be many interpretation of this. Use of material wealth without attachment would be the key. Using them when available and not craving for them when they are not around, would not obstruct one's spirituality.  

A banker does not renew or enhance a credit limit unless the earlier sanctioned limit is availed fully. A banker wants the borrower to avail the limit and pay interest to him. Otherwise, he would place the resource at the disposal of someone else who needs them. What does the Lord expect when he showers some material conveniences to us? He expects us to use them judiciously without let them go a waste. He does not expect any interest like a banker. A mere acknowledgement of his kindness and treating his other subjects fairly is all he wants!

What about those who do not believe in the existence of The Lord? They are the lucky ones without any problems and conflicts. For them, material wealth is the means as well the end in itself.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Big Bird's Long Flight

Kalidasa had a special affinity for the city of Ujjain, better known for the magnificent Mahakaal temple. The name Mahakaal denotes the big Shivalinga in the Mahakaal temple. This city located on the banks of river Kshipra in the Malwa area of Madhya Pradesh state in Central India is a pilgrimage and tourist centre since more than two thousand years. Many people argue that Kalidasa hailed from Ujjain due to his animated references to this city in his works. There is a strong belief that he was one of the Navamanis (Nine Gems) in the court of King Vikramaditya of Ujjain. Of course, many others claim that Kalidasa was from their area as well.

Kalidasa knew that birds and objects flying in the air should naturally go in a straight line since that is the shortest distance between any two given points. Yet, he specifically advises the cloud messenger in his Meghadoota to take a detour (वक्रः पन्था यदपि भवतः - 29th sloka) and fly over Ujjain instead of going in a straight line to its destination in the Himalayas. This is despite his own urgency to send a quick message to his beloved wife living in Alaka Nagari in the Himalayas. He emphasis that there are distinct advantages in taking a detour on certain occasions, like the darshan of Lord Mahakaal and sight-seeing tour of the city of Ujjain. 

Joel Garner, recently appointed as the Manager of the West Indies Cricket Team, was a much feared fast bowler in his playing days (1977-1987). Though he was a part of the famous four-pronged West Indian pace attack and was in the company of illustrious names such as Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft and Malcolm Marshall, he held his own as a fast bowler. He stood 6 feet 8 inches tall and and the balls he bowled fell like coconuts from a coconut tree. Batsmen facing him would say that it was as if the balls were coming down from the clouds! For this feat he was nicknamed the "Big Bird". While he could bowl only fewer overs due to his being a part of the big attack, he took 259 test wickets in 58 tests with a cheap run rate of 20.97 per wicket. His economy rate in one-day cricket was a miserly 3.09 mainly due to his toe crunching yorkers. The batsmen were more concerned in saving their feet than scoring runs against him. Big Bird - Big Eggs was the popular saying in those days denoting the big wicket hauls he took in the matches he played.

Air Bus A-380 is the biggest bird flying in the sky today. It is bigger than the Boeing-747 and has successfully challenged the Jumbo jet that ruled the sky for nearly three decades. Its physical facts are astounding. Its length is 73 meters (240 feet) and height is 24 meters (79 feet). At 80 meters (262 feet), its wing span is more than one and a half times of a football field (160 feet). Its Zero fuel weight (mere weight of the plane) is 361,000 Kilograms (KGs). It can take off from the runway with a load of 560,000 KGs and its 10 fuel tanks can carry 3,20,000 liters of aviation fuel. Refueling can be done in just 40 minutes. It can fly non-stop for 15000 kilometers or 9,320 miles. Its double decker body can carry 550 to 850 passengers depending on the configuration of first, business and economy classes. Its four Rolls Royce or General Electric engines lift and hold this massive plane for 18 hours and enable it to cruise at a height of up to 43,000 feet. It can provides the luxury of a bar, a gym and a duty free shop in its huge body. It needs a 3 kilometer long runway for takeoff or landing. At 400 million USD, it is the costliest civilian airplane today.

All these are mere statistics unless one flies on a long journey in this huge aircraft. Emirates is the biggest user of Airbus A-380 today with 82 such planes in its big inventory. Its A-380 fleet connects 40 cities on long haul flights extending up to 17 hours non-stop. The Airline has been the winner of "World's Best Airline" recognition this year from "Skytrax World Skyline Awards".  Emirates also has won the "Best in-flight entertainment award" for 12 years in succession. It is no surprise that Emirates has been a major tool in the emergence of Dubai as a world tourist and business hub.

A journey on its Dubai-Washington DC (Dulles airport) sector today was a memorable experience. The flight duration was a little over 14 hours. The cabin crew consisted of persons from 20 countries who could speak 18 different languages. The entire lower deck was configured for economy class passengers (First class and Business classes were accommodated in the upper deck)  and this provided the luxury of sitting in the first row of a plane in an economy class seat. The flight was wifi-enabled and the seats were very comfortable with lots of room and leg space. The windows were larger than those in other aircrafts and gave a magnificent view of the outside scenery. The three cameras on the plane (bottom, side and the top of the tail) gave a continuous coverage on the individual TV screen for interested passengers. The interior for the early morning take-off was lighted in a special way to give the effect of sitting below a star-studded night sky. It was instrumental in inducing fast sleep to those who wanted to spend a large part of the 14 hours in deep sleep.

All passengers were given a small pouch with eye-blinds, a pair of soft socks and tooth brush and paste. 900 movies on the inflight entertainment in many languages from different parts of the world gave company to movie buffs. Music and news channels engaged interested others. There were movies in all indian languages as well as classics from Hollywood and Bollywood. The distance of 7355 miles (11,367 kilometers) was covered in a little over 14 hours with a cruise at 40,000 feet above sea level. The take off was one of the smoothest such experience. There were very few turbulent moments on such a long flight. Even while losing altitude for landing, there were no jerks. Landing was equally smooth. One could feel fresh and relaxed despite the long legs of transatlantic journey.

It is often a curse to be a vegetarian on long haul flights. But not so on this flight. It was a privilege to be a vegetarian today. A special vegetarian meal was delivered ahead of all others in a tray with a sticker having one's own name on it! You can be enjoying your vegetarian delight when all others are still waiting for their turns.

Emirates has emerged as a preferred airline for passengers the world over. People from India taking transatlantic flights to continental America are using Emirates flights more and more instead of traveling via Europe for various considerations including cost and service.

Kalidasa was indeed right when he advised the cloud to take a detour instead of flying directly in a straight line. There were other flying alternatives but a slight detour on a Airbus A-380 was indeed worth it. A three hour drive to the final destination instead of an alternative of one hour drive did not matter.  

Emirates flies A-380 aircrafts to New York and Washington DC on the Atlantic side, and Los Angels and San Francisco to the Pacific coast side of USA. Take a flight on the world's best airline in a big bird flying in the sky.  It would be a memorable experience. Vakrah panthaa Yadapi bhavatah ..... Even if it is a slight detour for you.......

Monday, September 12, 2016

Please have lunch with us

We often use the word "Emergency" in our daily routine. What constitutes an "Emergency"? Online dictionary defines the word "Emergency" as "a sudden, urgent, usually unexpected occurrence or occasion requiring immediate action". It further describes emergency as "a state, especially of need for help or relief, created by some unexpected event". It gives some illustrations as well. Weather emergency and financial emergency are given as examples. We know about weather emergency like hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes. We know many people who are always in financial emergency, especially when they find someone who (they believe) can lend. There are many natural causes creating emergency situations. We have an equal or even more number of emergency times which are entirely man-made. Everyone knows about political emergency and management emergency. These are totally man-made emergency creations.

There was an emergency situation last week due to a bundh (shutdown) called by various organizations to protest a certain event. As with any bundh, there were the usual pro-bundh and anti-bundh sentiments. Nevertheless, the bundh was total. The bundh had its usual share of problems for people arriving in the city early in the morning with all transport facilities shut down. Those living alone with dependence on food served in restaurants and small outlets had the problem of hunger. Unfortunately, hunger does not accept any bundh calls irrespective of the enormity of the reasons. The problem mostly arose for them from either having no facilities for cooking in their places or due to not knowing cooking (or lazy to cook) issues. Some were prepared with standby arrangements like bread, milk, fruits and allied items. 

There were many kind hearted families who invited such troubled souls to join them for lunch. Many telephone and mobile calls were exchanged with the message "Please have lunch with us". Some were honored while some others were politely declined. Some had the problem of reaching the host's house though willing and eager to join them. The roads were blocked with burning tires and stones laid horizontally across the road. Though the bundh was voluntary and streets were deserted, there were volunteers moving around on motorcycles as well to enforce the bundh. Invitations for lunch were accepted and met when the host's place was within a walkable distance.

When should an invitation for lunch, supper or dinner be accepted? Should all invitations be accepted without second thoughts? Are there any guidelines available anywhere? What are the factors to be considered for accepting or rejecting such offers?

Krishna voluntarily accepted to act as the ambassador and represent Pandavas before King Dhritarashtra and make one last effort to avert Kurukshetra war. He arrived at Hastinapur after a long and tiring journey. It was sunset time when he was received amidst excellent arrangement by the Kauravas led by Duryodhana. Duryodhana knew that he had to cross the final obstacle of Krishna to deny any share in the kingdom to the Pandavas. Krishna must be pleased and trapped at any cost to achieve my goals, he thought. Unprecedented arrangements were made with welcome arches, banners and decorations. Bheeshma, Drona and other elders were also present. Krishna received all the bouquets and offerings with a smiling face. After exchange of pleasantries with those present in the welcoming party, it was time to retire for the day.

Duryodhana was confident that Krishna will stay with him. Krishna was his close relative. Though people were more conscious of the marriage between Krishna's sister Subhadra and Arjuna, Duryodhana had better and closer family ties with Krishna. Krishna had married Jambavanta's daughter Jambavati after the "Syamantaka" episode (which is recited even today during Ganesha Chaturthi). Krishna and Jambavati had a son by name Saamba. Duryodhana had a son and daughter twins, son Lakshmana Kumara and daughter Lakshmanaa. When Lakshmanaa's swayamvar was announced, Saamba went there and kidnapped her. He was only following the example set by his father when he kidnapped his step mother Rukmini. He fought the Kauravas, defeated them but was ultimately captured and put in jail. Krishna's elder brother Balarama intervened and got Saamba released. Though Krishna was apparently not interested in the alliance, Balarama persuaded both parties and Samba and Lakshmanaa got married. After all, one of the Pandavas has married Krishna's sister. But Krishna's own son is married to my own daughter. Thus Krishna is closer as a relative to me than Pandavas, Duryodhana thought. Duryodhana invited Krishna for dinner with him in his palace and later on to stay overnight there. This is what Krishna told him:

संप्रीति भोज्यानि अन्नानि आपद् भोज्यानि वा पुनः |
न च संप्रीयसे राजन् नचैव अपद्गताः वयम् ||

Sampreeti bhojyani annani aapad bhojyani va punah
Na cha sampreeyase Rajan nachaiva aapadgatah vayam!

An invitation to dine with should be accepted under one of the two circumstances: when invited with love and affection or when confronted with an emergency. 

O King Duryodhana, (you are a party to the dispute for the resolution of which I have come and hence) your invitation is motivated. Neither your invitation is with affection nor have I come in distress or an emergency for accepting the food offered by you!

Krishna refused the invitation as neither of the two conditions were met. Bheeshma and Drona also were anxious to invite Krishna for dinner and stay with them. They were hesitant to violate Duryodhana's  intentions. Now that Krishna refused his offer, they came up with invitations to join them for dinner. Krishna refused those offers as well for one simple reason. He told them that they kept quiet in the royal court when Draupadi was harassed. They had lost the entitlement to invite him due to this one failure. Vidura was the only one to openly and unhesitatingly protest the action. Hence Krishna chose to go with Vidura even though there was no explicit invitation from him! Later on Vidura tells Krishna that he should have accepted Duryodhana's invitation and not come with him. That could have persuaded Duryodhana to accept truce, he says. Krishna just smiles. Rest is history, as they say.

Those who accepted invitations for Lunch on the bundh day were following the principles enunciated by Krishna in Mahabharata. The invitations were not extended with any ulterior motives. All those invitations made on that day were out of love, affection and compassion. Hence first condition was fully satisfied. Those who accepted the invitations were indeed confronted with an emergency as defined in the online dictionary. Hence the second condition was also equally satisfied. Krishna said one of the conditions was to be met. But here was a rare instance when both conditions were met to full extent. 

That the invitations were accepted without knowledge of the above history and existence of the stipulated conditions did not really matter!

Friday, September 9, 2016

You Are Being Watched

The Gurukul had students up to its full capacity. The location of the school, popularity of the Kulapati (Head of the Gurukul) and the facilities available had added to its importance as a well known centre of learning. The students came from different parts of the large area surrounding the capital. That the Kulapati was also Raja-guru (King's counsel) added to its importance. The students belonged to different sections of the society. Some of the students were the sons and wards of noblemen and hence came from affluent backgrounds. The aristocracy of their family and upbringing had rubbed on many of them and they considered themselves far superior to other students in their classes. They looked down on other students who came from humble backgrounds. They treated those with such antecedents rather harshly and showed their impatience in having to sit with them as equals in their classes. Such treatment meted out to humble students was bordering on arrogance and reached undesirable levels. One student with most humble nature was being harassed much more than others by these upstarts. The Kulapati came to know of this and decided to remedy the situation. 

When the session was in progress one day, a servant brought a big banana bunch to the classroom. All the students were looking at the banana bunch with anticipation. At the end of the session, Kulapati announced that he was giving them a post-class assignment. It was a practical assignment, he said. All the students would be given one banana each and were required to eat it after the class. This was perhaps the most simple and welcome post-class assignment they ever had! Eating a banana! Many of them were desirous of doing this assignment more than once. But there was a caveat. The banana was to be eaten when nobody was watching them. They should ensure that they find a place where their act of eating the banana was not seen by anybody. They were advised to report their action on the next school day, after three days, due to intervening holidays.

The class was convened after three days. All the students were eager to tell the Kulapati how they did their post-class assignment. Some of them wanted to request him for giving them similar assignments, but with different items to add to the variety. Kulapati asked the first student to make his presentation. 

"I went to my room. Closed the door and windows. Covered the holes and the gaps in them with cloth. I ate the banana in the closed room and came out later. Nobody saw me eating the banana.", said the first student triumphantly.

"Well done!" said the Guru and called the second student. "I did just like the first one. But I went one step further. I lied down on my bed and covered myself with a bed sheet while eating the banana.", he said even more confidently.

"Very good!" said the Guru and called the third one now. "I went to the river. It was full of water. I dived into the river with banana in my hand. When I came up from the water, banana was gone into my tummy!", said the beaming student.

"I went to the nearby hill. Climbed on the top most tree and ate it there. There was absolutely no chance for anybody to see my eating the banana", said the fourth student observing that others were very impressed with his innovation.

Each student gave his account of how successfully he ate the banana without anyone noticing them doing so. Now was the turn of the poor humble student who was most harassed by his classmates.

"Kanaka, how did you eat your banana?", Guru asked him. Kanaka got up and sheepishly walked up to the Guru with the banana in his hand. Other students were derisive with their laughter. The banana had lost its color and become black after three days. Kanaka could not even eat a banana. What else can he do? Others wondered.

"Sir, I am sorry that I could not finish my post-class assignment. You had told us in the last class that the Lord is watching all of us all the time and hence our actions should always be pure and humble. Wherever I went with the banana, I could see him observing me. There was no place where I could escape his watchful eyes. Hence I am returning the banana to you. I may please be forgiven for my failure to carry out your instructions.", said Kanaka while keeping the banana on the teacher's table.

BFSI (Banking, Financial services and Insurance) sector is a term used to denote organizations and companies providing a wide variety of financial services to the communities. Universal banks and allied institutions have been playing a vital role in the life of common man for several decades. These institutions have come to sharper focus nowadays due to higher advent of technology and large sums of wealth and money they handle each day. BFSI sector is the custodians of the society's financial wealth and maintaining its integrity is the essence to hold the confidence of the general public.

Due to large expansion in economic and commercial activity, this sector has grown manifold in the last few years. Their operations have become deeper, wider and complex. A generation of workforce is retiring and making way for a new generation. Workforce in BFSI is being augmented by higher recruitments and training them to shoulder managing these onerous responsibilities. Just as adequate knowledge, requisite skills and right attitude is required in handling these positions, integrity has become even more important.

There are many factors that tempt the younger generation manning these vital positions. The propensity to use short cuts for success is among them. Following established systemic requirements and ensuring that the subordinates follow them as well are two most important functions of managers at different levels in this industry. There are multiple regulators watching actions of these young executives. The systems provide for many layers of supervision and scrutiny. Hence it is all the more necessary that actions are beyond any questions, show transparency and respect for the systems and procedures. There is absolutely no doubt that the competition is severe and there is always a need for innovative methods to beat the competition. But any innovative methods used should also meet the requirements of regulators and stand to scrutiny at a future date. The levels of watch and scrutiny are such that there is no escaping from them.

The above story from the life and times of Saint Kanakadasa who lived during the days of Vijayanagara empire in South India is very much relevant today. Raja-guru Vyasaraja was the Kulapati. Kanakadasa lived in the 16th century and is a highly revered poet, composer and social reformer. His teachings and works are a treasure house of knowledge.

Kanaka was lucky as he had only one Lord watching him when he had banana in his hand. Today's young executives in BFSI industry have many watchers around them. Nothing escapes their scrutiny. Internal auditors, external auditors, superiors and regulators are watching every action by these positions. Above all, the general public is more aware of the implications of their actions and are also watching them. The confidence they repose in these institutions depends on their judgement of prompt and proper actions of these executives. 

Yes. You are being watched!