Dating and work

Pre-script: Don’t judge. At least, not until you’ve read the whole post!

There are some stark similarities between the two areas of life that take up a large part of our lives: Work and Marriage. Preposterous, some might say, as I compare a holy institution with a platonic one. While some others ponder which one is which. Allow me to explain!

Living in India and seeing the generation before ours, the similarities are sure there. In the olden days:

  • Marriages were arranged by parents, jobs were arranged by placement departments in college
  • It wasn’t rare to see one marriage and one job see you through the entire life.
  • To consider another partner/job made the society look at you strangely
  • Both alliances were holy and YOU were the one who had to make adjustments and adapt.

Fast forward a few years, aspirations have grown, and so has restlessness. And where does the comparison stand:

  • The arrangements are starting to be made consciously by people, after they finish their engineering and are figuring out what profession to choose 😛 (Sarcasm Detected!)
  • The mortality rate of jobs has fallen steeply. The number of unsuccessful marriages has increased too but not as steeply.
  • There is realization that people make an organisation, and not the other way round. Both companies & marriages are not holier than thou anymore, and people are truly trying to find their match in both.
  • When marriages and work relationships hit turbulent times, you still try to adapt but it’s now a two-way street. Employers are more flexible and provide options like lateral movements, sabbaticals etc. And if it still doesn’t work out, you part ways.

Funnel1

In case of a relationship, you would typically go through phases as you get to know the other person better. Initial phases of filtering might be against some set criteria. If things progress well, the dating phase would allow you to know each other better and evaluate compatibility. Some might go into the living in phase. And eventually, if there are more things looking good than not, then you would commit and get into marriage.

Visualise these stages like a funnel with validation and filtering happening at each stage. And this is for a decision which is more heart-driven than mind-driven. Agreed, Indian society is still largely far from the validation funnel, but I see things moving more and more in that direction.

In contrast, think of choosing a company/employee, which is supposed to be driven more by the mind that the heart. There is a filtering stage where companies and people eliminate. Subsequently, there is an interview stage where you talk, discuss and get to know each more (A lot of companies still don’t see interviewing as a dialogue but that’s a complete topic in itself). Some companies like to do a 360 degrees interviewing, which lets you meet the people you’ll be working with.

Funnel2

But then, if you make it through, you’re suddenly faced with the marriage question and you have to decide based on the information you have. At this stage, the information you have is either from your interviewing phase, where the company is often putting it’s best foot forward. Or it’s based on what people on the internet say (Glassdoor), which could be stage managed to protect a brand. There are answers around, but they might not be for the questions that YOU have.

And that’s where the biggest disconnect lies. There is no Dating or Live-in phase in Work.

The side effect? You might start working somewhere, not like it and decide to quit after a short duration. But it’ll show on your record, like a failed marriage. Too many of these and it might become difficult to explain.

These failed alliances are expensive for companies too. There’s a huge cost associated with hiring, training and if an employee churns before they’ve contributed enough to break-even, then you lose what you’ve invested and are forced to incur that cost again.

Sure, there are some forms of dating equivalents in the work industry, but this is why they don’t work.

  1. Internship: could be seen as a way of trying out a job, but it’s only there for fresh graduates, and not experienced people.
  2. Sub-contracting: you could be employed or for an intermediary company but working for their client. And if it works well, you could convert to a full time employee for the client, and the client needs to pay the intermediary some compensation. There’s often a clause in employee agreement which forbids them from quitting the intermediary and joining the client company. This form of arrangement is often tilted in favour of the intermediary company since that’s what their business and margins are. And most employees would find themselves in this arrangement by chance, not by choice.
  3. Probation periods: Again, they are part of the employment contract and insures the company against severance cost in case of a bad hire. Probation period is actual employment, so looks like a shirt stint for an employee.
  4. Hiring from Hackathons: companies conduct Hackathon which are open to the developer community. Gives companies a chance to see the engineers at work, and the companies can contact them to explore hiring them. Again, a good option for companies which limits the risk of a bad hire. But for an individual, hackathons don’t really give the feel of how it would be to really work for the company.
  5. Contract to hire: people could be employed as contractors, and if things go well, they could join as permanent employees.This option provide a trial to employees, but it exists to protect the company against bad hires, severance cost, and liability. It’s often seen as an inferior choice by employees since the durations are long and it’s seen as actual employment. This is the closest option we have right now to trial employment but sadly, it doesn’t have equal rights for employees and employers.

I wonder wouldn’t it be great if you could truly ask out and date companies? Where you could choose to go work for a company for some time, maybe part-time, and then decide whether you want to join them. Of course, there are thorny unknowns like employee contracts forbidding double employment, and non-disclosure agreements which would need to be addressed. But if something like this existed, wouldn’t it help you find your true work match rather than jumping from prospect to prospect, relying on luck, and be tagged as a job hopper?

If you’re here reading this, do comment and share what you think!

The office door that splits us

There’s a fine gentleman I know at work, he’s soft spoken, well mannered & very courteous. He acknowledges people around him, never cuts them short & seems to give everyone their space. I saw him at the supermarket the other day, and though he looked the same, he seemed quite different. He was pushing his shopping cart through a crowd of people, was rude & I saw him shouting at the Billing clerk. I think he might have a Split | Personality!

Sounds familiar? Ever observed someone you know at work, outside of the work environment, and felt they’re different, more like the rest of the people. I have, many a times.

In India, there are two cultures at play in our daily lives.

One is the real culture that’s out there on the street. The culture that’s come about living with inadequacies for the population. Not enough space on the road. Not enough seats in School. Not enough space on the Bus. In a culture like that, it’s Survival of the Fittest, with no regard to fellow men & women, They’re simply Competition. In a culture like that, a human is simply Demand, and there’s enough of it. In a country of over 1 billion, there’s definitely no scarcity of people, and what’s not scarce is often taken for granted.

The other culture is what the companies are importing from foreign shores, and individuals are adopting as they travel more & more. In that culture, people are well behaved, courteous, polite, acknowledge people, hold the door for them. Acts that exhibit selfishness are looked down upon. A kind of culture that comes out from abundance. There’s enough for everyone, so there’s no real reason to not treat fellows humans well.

Not to say that there’s anything Right & Wrong about these, both are appropriate for their individual situations & settings. In the first culture, Push & Shove doesn’t mean you bear ill intent for those on the receiving end, they are merely casualties of your selfishness, which is the popular way of life. On the other end, in the other culture, if someone holds open a door for me, it doesn’t mean it’s a heartfelt gesture. The gestures itself have become a norm in the society and a lot of times, are just followed for the sake of conformance.

The interesting thing is how living in india, we casually switch between these two cultures as we step in and out of our offices (and some other controlled environments). I might cut into someone’s lane, honking, on the road, but hold the door for the same person as he walks into the office*. This creates a weird duality of behavior, where it becomes difficult to gauge intent from action.

* But not do that for an access controlled door to avoid unauthorized tailgating 😛

Let’s look at four (theoretical) behavior sets someone could exhibit outside & inside controlled environments.

# At Work Outside Analysis
D-D Discourteous Discourteous Probably someone who doesn’t believe in courtesy, or maybe in acts of courtesy that are done without meaning them. Someone very practical. Might get strange looks at work. 
C-D Courteous Discourteous While in Rome, Do the romans … Err, I mean Do as the romans do. Most commonly observed behavior amongst the 4 buckets. On the side of practicality & conformance. 
C-C Courteous Courteous The idealist. A lot of people moving to India from West fall in this category. Gets strange looks outside work, and often people think he/she is going to pull some prank & might search for a hidden camera. Or, people might think it’s someone gone Bonkers, or visiting from SatYug. Once the initial apprehension fades, the courtesy shown by these individuals is misused, abused & taken advantage of, in full measure. People in this category often decide to convert to C-D. Some get really pissed off and convert to D-D.
D-C Discourteous Courteous Is a strange combination. Someone who loves fellow humans, but hates his Job & cowerkers. Individuals sometimes move into this bucket just before they are about to quit, or while serving their Notice period. Defiance!

Ok, so which bucket do I fall in? I’m not sharing that, you’ll have to stalk me to figure that out.
This post just ends here. If you’re looking for a logical conclusion or recommendation, I’m Sorry I have None. This is just about some things I’ve observed, and tried to analyze. No right & wrong, black & white here. Just shades of Grey that we can reflect on individually, so we understand ourselves better.

Why Positive Visualization doesn’t work for me

My friend Vinay Vyasarao, on a hammock somewhere near Gurgaon

The Voice (thereafter referred to as V): Relaaaaaaaxxx!!! Imagine yourself in a hammock, in a forest, bird sounds, you’re relaxed, reading a book. Let it be vivid, detailed, feel it, live it. Your favorite song is playing …
Me (thereafter referred to as … Me): Hey hey, wait a Min! What’s it playing on? Do you have a Sound system?

V: It’s playing on your ipod, you’re listening through the headphones.
Me: It gets sweaty. Can’t we get a portable CD player or something? Would be interesting to hear music in a Jungle ambience.
V: Ok, we have music playing on a portable CD player.
Me: Does it have batteries, or do we have a power extension cable running through the forest?
V: Battery powered, Don’t worry, Relax! Let’s continue, your favorite song is playing…
Me: Hold on, I hope this CD player of your has a remote, getting off this hammock is not easy, you know.
V: Yes, it does, Don’t worry!
Me: Does it have a USB slot?
V: What does THAT have to do with anything?
Me: Well, if it doesn’t, I’ll have to get off this hammock when the CD ends. How much can you cram into that Audio CD? 70-80mins tops?
V: Don’t worry, we’ll have someone change the CD when you ask
Me: Hey, I thought I was alone here, is there someone else too?
V: Yes, imagine there’s someone with you.
Me: Hmmm, can I imagine anyone?
V: Yeah!
Me: Anyone!!??? You’re sure?
V: Yes.
Me: Can it be a different person everytime I do this?
V: This is not about fantasizing, it’s about Positive visualization, Dammit!!!
Me: Well, Take it easy Dude, isn’t this supposed to be my Visualization? So I can visualize anything that motivates or relaxes me, right?
V: Ok, don’t worry, Go on, Imagine anyone you want?
Me: Ok, Done (hmmm…Nice!!!)!
V: Just curious, who did you imagine?
Me: It’s my vivid visual dude, and it has privacy features, so don’t even try to peep!
V: Ok, Let’s continue, your favorite song is playing…
Me: Right!
V: … and you’re totally at ease, Relaxed, no worries, none at all, totally in the present, no desires, none at all…
Me: Hey hey, hold on!!! Talking of desires, how about a chilled beer?
V: What?
Me: I’ll feel more fulfilled if there’s some beer too
V: Ok, you got it!
Me: Which one?
V: Which one do you want??
Me: Can you get me a chilled Kingfisher Ultra?
V: Sure, you got that!
Me: Where do I place the bottle between sips?
V: !!???
Me: I mean the chilled beer bottle is sweating condensed water and making everything wet, the book too, this is a library book BTW, and it’s overdue. Now, it’ll be overdue & Wet!
V: Ok, we’ll get a small bench next to the hammock, you can place the bottle on it
Me: Cool, Thanks! Is there a chance I could get some Chips & fries with that?
V: Hmmm…Sure!
Me: Wait a minute, you said it’s the jungle, How’ll you get me fries?
V: Ok, IMAGINE this is a jungle area next to a resort, and that Resort has a kitchen
Me: Damn, why didn’t you tell me first, we could order some chicken from the kitchen!
V: Ok, sure!
Me: And in that case, it might be better to get an amplifier, this portable CDP just doesn’t cut it for this Jungle feel.
V: !!???
Me: We could place the speakers such that we have a wide sound stage. We’ll stick to 2 speakers though.
V: Yeah.
Me: Let’s play a CD and see how it sounds
V: Let’s play Dire Straits, Yeah let’s Rock it!
Me: Relax, take it easy 😉
V: :)?!
Me: Looks like the soundstage is not right, we need to toe in these speakers. Hey Voice & Deeps, could you give me a hand?
V: Deeps? Who’s that?
Me: Deeps, Deepika, the person I imagined, she’s a Bollywood actress, let’s just say her degree of temperature is much higher than room temperature, and can scald!
V: Oooooh … your visualization is turning out to be more interesting than I expected, I’m feeling it, living it…
Me: Hey hey, hold on, I got an Interrupt, it’s from the Real world!!!
V: From who? What does it say?
Me: It’s from my Boss, and it says “INTERRUPT_DREAM: Friday is a weekday, Why are you staring into space, STOP day dreaming during Meetings!!!

Best wishes for 2009

As we start this new year, if there’s one word that comes to my mind, its “Hope”.

Hope that the world would come out of the chaos into greens of harmony …
Hope that we’ll, once again, feel safe when we step out of our homes …
Hope that the world would learn its lessons & realize the perils of short-term artificial Boom …
Hope that people will embrace contentment and resist greed …
Hope that these times will leave us wiser & tougher, wiser to know better & tougher to withstand what couldn’t have been avoided anyways …
Hope that we’ll value good health & the love of friends & family …
Hope that we’ll be able to give back to the society, to those who aren’t as fortunate as us …
Hope that when we see injustice done, we’ll have courage to stand up to it at the opportune moment …
Hope that we’ll be less gullible but still hopeful …
Hope that we’ll uphold our morals & will be able to look ourselves in the eyes …
Hope we’ll able to live by our own morals, and not by those thrust upon us …
Hope we won’t do to others what we don’t want to be done to us …
Hope we’ll be able to give a benefit of doubt to others, like we give to ourselves …
Hope we’ll be able to forgive and move on, with lesser weight …
Hope that we’ll be able to handle the money or lack of it, & still be at peace …
Hope we have the appetite when we sit down to eat …
Hope for a peaceful sleep …
… and Hope that we’ll look forward to the day when we wake up each day!

I actually Hope for a perfect world, but if that’s going to take too long in the making …
… For the meantime, I hope for the Ability to handle the ups and down of an imperfect world!

Best wishes for 2009!

Cheers
Manik

Zindagi, phir bhi, khoobsurat hai …

Sickness, says arvgrins, makes you nobler. It’s the first time I’ve heard that, and don’t know how true it is, but there sure seems to be some truth to it. He added that it makes you grateful for the little “big” things that you often take for granted. Have been going through patches of sickness last few days and I do agree that it brings along a wave of emotions, gratitude being one of them. If you look at the flip side of it, it also means that during the regular “non-sick” days, you take a lot of things & people for granted. We (the regular lot, not counting the enlightened within Our category) need a wave of lows to appreciate the highs that life has given us, which isn’t a good scenario. So, before I emerge out of this wave of lows, I wanted to capture some thoughts that I can get revisit and correct my course next time I start taking life’s gifts for granted. This post isn’t about the lows, it’s about some sensory flashbacks that give me a high, and some which take me lower.

Images: Ever think about something and have the images of some place run through your head? Let the thought pass. On another day, think of the thought again, and hey the same place coming into your head? I’ve realized that the subconscious ties together thought and visuals, sometimes with reason, sometimes without. And everytime you have these thoughts, you have an urge to visit these strange places from the past. These “strange” places include the kitchen of my school canteen, a chauraha (crossroad) somewhere, a railway crossing somewhere else, a few spots in my college, sleeper coach of trains, a temple on a mountain, a narrow alley somewhere else. Following the mental signals takes you back to these places after so many years, and when the urge has taken you there, it’s without a purpose. But it does bring along a satisfaction, as though you’re paying tribute to some moment of your past, a milestone revisited, mentally tick-off the urge.

Taste: Quite similar to the above, it’s the taste of something you used to like in the past, the food getting tied to that period of your life. You have an urge sometime to go back & eat the stuff again. A few interesting examples: yellow cylindrical rice crispies (trying hard to get an image), Indian style chowmein, bread with yellow toppings at small bakeries (Masala toast), pineapple-cheese-cherry sticks on crushed ice, salted bread crumb preparation (used to call it Chunmun), Bread with Bhujia

Smell: This is clearly the most mesmerizing. I have these really good & bad moments associated with smells, all wired so perfectly in my head. Smell of a certain incense stick & wet ash brings back the worst moment in my life. A certain deodorant reminds me of a very cold and lonely period, my first visit to the US actually. The smell of certain perfumes brings back memories of college days, my first kiss, getting wet in the rain together, a mix of the perfumes we were wearing that evening. I’ve still retained 1-2 empty bottles of those perfumes from years ago, some fragrance still remains. I’ve hunted for and bought new bottles of some which still sell in the market. The fragrance still brings a mutual smile to our (my GF & mine) lips.

Music: Some of the most cheesy (they now sound cheesy) bollywood numbers, some western romantic & some rock numbers still take me back in time.

Audio visuals: There are some movie scenes that give me goosebumps or a tear trigger (you get the feeling that comes just before the first tear appears, but tears don’t really appear, just moist eyes) each time, and every time you see it. I would imagine that for an artist, such a scene would seem like a masterpiece, it successfully has a viewer relate to it and empathize too. Mission accomplished! Some scenes from movies old and new, have this affect; most recently I experienced this for the movies The Namesake, Ijaazat and a recent release, Dasvidaniya.

Yesterday, my GF sent me some official papers by courier. Looking at her handwriting reminded me of the cards (Thanks Archies & Hallmark for creating those lovely cards) she used to give me. And it also made me realize how little we get to write these days, we exchange thousands of emails with people but don’t know what their handwriting looks like. It was so different earlier, but it was taken for granted then, and now it’s pure nostalgia.

To sum it up, an empty mind has a positive side too, and going off the road to recover does give your mind some time to smell the proverbial flowers, some of which were planted long ago, but still haven’t withered. Life is beautiful!

I have an itch … and a confession

I’m back & for a change, I’m going to talk about the changes I’ve been going through while I was away. Life, in the last few months has been full of this crazy lil’ thing called change. A change of job (I joined Yahoo!), moving to a new city (Bangalore is lovely, a little too rainy but still lovely), setting up home (I think I might do a dedicated post for that)… it’s been hectic but enjoyable too in a different way.

Not too long ago, I was settled and comfortable, but had an itch of trying something new. To let you know this “itch” isn’t new to me, I have this quite often. Most of the time, it concerns something minor: setting of a room, an Operating system, a new genre of music, a new brainwave, some new gadget/application, a new fancy (can’t call it a hobby as it rarely lasts a long time). And sometimes, it’s a little more than minor: move houses, try out a different role at work, kick a habit. And every couple of years, there’s this “super itch”, that’s the kind I’ve just gone through. It shakes up your world, your routine and also your finances…and it almost seems stupid, at least to observers. But no matter what the size of itch is, one thing it guarantees you is first-hand experience. I know many people who won’t attend to an itch so strong but Me, I’m not like that. The excitement of the unknown excites me. And so does the opportunity to start afresh. My itch provides me ample projects: big & small and I accept them with glee. Sometimes, I feel that I live from project to project.

And then there are days like these, when I look back and realize the unsettling feeling I give people while I attend to my itch. Be it my close ones: family & friends, who’ve always been shocked at the decisions I’ve taken, but still understood & supported me. All my past managers, who’ve been shocked at my crazy ideas and the umpteen times I’ve wanted to try out something else. Not all my coworkers have been so shocked though. Maybe they were itchy like me too, you scratch my back & I’ll scratch yours 🙂 (If you’re my ex-coworker and you don’t like what you’re reading, don’t feel bad, I’m not talking about you, I’m talking about “them”, you know;), of course you’re not itchy). And not to forget, my wife, who’s always been a friend first. I feel gratitude for everyone who’s tolerated me, and still been supportive. Thank you very much.

And now for the confession:
a) I have an itch (covered above).
b) I don’t have a roadmap, but I’m loving the journey
c) That’s it, what else were you expecting, the above is enough confession if you think about it 🙂

P.S: When you haven’t updated your blog for long ‘cos life has kept you busy, and you want to break that gap and post again, lame posts like these just “happen”.

Festive Blues

Oh it’s a time for joy & happiness
….Of celebrations, parties and letting go
But my heart, it seldom obeys rules
….It wants to let Joy decide when it wants to flow

If joyous times and sad times were in our hands
….We wouldn’t ever want to undergo the latter
But life’s not like that, it’ll give you a taste of all
….To life, your preferences don’t really matter

And now the festive wave has passed
….Souls like me can breathe easy then
Emotions can flow again without guilt
….And I’m free from expectations again

The holiday season is officially over, it’s Jan mid and it’s back to business. And I’m happy to be free again.

“Free? Weren’t you free till now?” …. you may ask.
Well, not quite, I was in shackles for a few weeks.
“What shackles?”
I was in the shackles of people’s expectations.
“What did the people expect from you?”
Well, people expected me to be happy all the time
“What’s wrong with that? Is that too difficult for you?”
Letting people’s expectations drive my emotional state is what’s difficult
“But everyone is happy, you should be happy too”
I “might be” & “can be”, but the problem arises when someone says “should be”
“I don’t get it”
OK, tell me this, who created a second?
???
I mean, who came up with this concept of a second, a pal, a shahn
Maybe some man long back
And who said 60 secs=1min, 60min=1hour, 24hrs=1day and 365/366 days=1year?
Probably some mathematician long long ago
OK, and why do you think the guy did that?
To divide time into finite parts
And why would someone want to divide time?
To plan better
Plan what?
Hmmm, to plan things better, things like when to wake up and when to sleep, when to plant crop
Ya, but what is the planning with reference to
The Sun?
Yes, and more actually. The sun, the planets, the solar system, the cosmos
Ya, Ok, I’m with you so far
OK, so time was divided to align man with nature, you agree?
Yes
Now lets come back to 1 person, any one person. Can you define when he’ll be happy and when he’ll be sad in terms of a formula?
Hmmmm
Ok, think of astrology! Astrology is all about finding that formula for each person, based on date and place of birth, and using that formula to predict the future.
Ok
And what else is the formula based on?
Planetary positions at time & place of birth and at time & place when you’re predicting.
Right, so we have nature again playing a role here.
Right.
OK, based on this, different people will experience phases of joy and sorrow based on the relative planetary positions between their birth time and now.
Right.
Now, let’s talk about festivals. Who created festivals?
Our ancestors, and festivals are region-specific.
And what were the festivals based on?
Different things, some season changes, some based on lives of great men who lived centuries ago
And what do u do during festivals?
Different things for different festivals
What’s common between festivals?
Everyone is supposed to be happy?
Now, keeping in mind the (probable) driver behind human destiny (phases) and emotions (fluctuations between those phases) and the fact that man created months, years etc. to divide time, Do you think the entire population of a city or of a religion or of a country can be going through a happy phase at the same time?
Maybe
But how fair is it to expect everyone to be happy?
I dunno
Most probably, just some of the people in the group are happy
And the rest?
They’re puppets of other peoples’ expectations. They’re happy because everyone is “supposed to be”/”should be” happy.
I get your point.
Some people are artificially happy due to this expectation/pressure. Some others who don’t want to force their emotions go into a shell during festive times
Ok.
So the festive season is over, I’m free from expectations and it’s time to come out of the shell.
Welcome back.
Hello World!

P.S: Festival blues or Winter blues is a milder form of Seasonal Afflective Disorder (SAD) , which is a psychological disorder in which the patient suffers from extreme depression during the winter/fall season.

Some links:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seasonal_affective_disorder
http://psychcentral.com/lib/2006/11/not-in-the-holiday-mood-it-might-be-the-blues/
http://psychcentral.com/lib/2006/11/beating-the-holiday-blues/

A matter of respect

Theres always an argument when we compare culture of India with that of the West.

The general perception is “kids in India are taught to respect more than those in the West”. I dont agree; in fact have beliefs to the exact contrary. I believe Indians respect age while in the west, individuality is respected. Indian kids are taught to bow and touch the feet of elders. How many children actually know the reason behind that action? Very few (I didnt)! Still, kids grow up touching elders feet and then they pass on the tradition to their kids, minus the reasoning*. Dont get me wrong here – I dont have anything against age-old customs and am sure there would be valid reason behind the action. What Im against though is respect with too many “where” clauses.

Lets take some examples:
In India, if you meet an elder (outside of the workplace) whos not related to you, you would probably address them as Uncle/Aunty. In the west, you would address them by their first name. By placing elders on a pedestal, we cage them in our expectations. Elders in India are expected to conform to a typical image set by the society. We start setting standards for what an elder should or shouldnt do. In the west, everyones privacy is respected and what they do in their life is no-ones business but theirs.
An example: A person in their fifties remarrying in India would raise quite a few brows in India, whereas in the west, no-one interferes.

Indian society tends to set the norm for “when” people should do “what”. Out here, if youre 30 and still single, your relatives would be very worried and would express their concern at every possible opportunity they get. If you married for a few years without kids, people would be curious about “whats going on”. And you get asked over and over again till you come up with something that satisfies their expectations … for the time being that is.

I once attended a session on cross-cultural sensitivity and was delighted to know that in America, its considered rude to ask someone whether theyre married. Wow, I wanna go to the US of A!

We tend to judge people by their profession and tend to look up to people or look down upon them based on what they do. So, a driver, a steward, a cleaner would be treated like an untouchable, someone inferior whereas an executive as an equal or superior. In the west, people arent judged by what they do, no work is considered low. Its nice to see people interact freely with people they meet in their daily lives with no hang-ups about what they do. People are not afraid to take a break from work or to try a different profession after a few years.

In the west, basic courtesy is shown to even people you dont know. People wait for pedestrians to cross streets, people give way to others in lifts, corridors, even on busy roads. If someone snicked against your arm by mistake, most people would be courteous and apologize.

People are disciplined and respect queues, rules, protocol. Often, youre delighted when strangers smile and say Hi as they walk by. In India, there is major havoc on this front too. Rules are broken without much thought, we jump queues, push our way through anything and everything: buses, lifts, roads, malls, restaurants. Look around consciously and you will see even the so-called-“educated””creme of the society” honking on roads, driving on high-beam, parking in reserved slots, grabbing seats for the handicapped in buses and trains.

Lives are lived selfishly, oblivious to the existence of other people around. We feel pride in saying we are religious but if you go to any popular temple, youll see people pushing other people aside to pay their respects to The Almighty, to reach Him, to touch Him. What about the divinity that lives in each one of us: in you, in me and in the person you pushed aside to speed up your “darshan”?

Then, thinking of all this, arent people in the West more respectful than we are?
Is touching elders feet any good if we dont have an iota of respect for people we work with, live with, travel with? Arent we in shackles of other peoples expectations? Is respect for an elder any good if we cage them with our expectations and refuse to treat them as individuals?

I guess each one has to figure that out on their own!

* http://www.swaminarayan.org/faq/charansparsh.htm

Its raining Chemists

Last week, I was out to buy a few medicines & suddenly realized that in last few weeks, more than 10 chemist stores/pharmacy stores had setup shop around the area where I live. There were four pharmacies in the same market complex itself, one of them newly opened. Well, buying medicines is going to be convenient now, I thought. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

As I walked into the first of the four stores (98.4), I saw a huge rush on the counter, no queue but around 12-13 people ahead of me. There were some people buying prescribed medicines, some others buying shampoos and others buying drugs for common cough and cold. One was stating his membership number so the points he had earned through his purchase could be credited to his account (I still find the concept of credit points at a pharmacy weird). My turn came after about 20 odd minutes and as I handed the prescription to the pharmacist, he declared that he had just 1 of the four medicines. So I walked out, I stepped into the 2nd pharmacy store (Guardian). Same story, huge rush, 8-9 people ahead of me, people buying shampoos, face packs and mouthwash, waited for around 15 minutes and again the guy behind the counter told me he’s got just 2 medicines on the list. Third (newly opened) chemist had just shampoos and soaps but 5 people waiting nonetheless.

And as I was walking into the last medical store in the shopping complex, I got a feeling of deja vu. I realized that it wasn’t just a feeling; the same sequence had happened almost thrice before. I had come to this shopping complex and none of these big, branded, flashy & colorful medical stores had medicines I had been looking for. What good were these glamorized pharmacies if all they stocked were Crocins, Aspirins, Vitamins, Sanitary Napkins & Shampoos.

Flashback……A month & a half ago, I was hunting for health clubs around the place I live, and I had found just 2 of them in a 5Km radius of my home, one of them being a high profile health club which charged a bomb for membership. I had picked up the Yellow pages and started calling the gyms listed; all but these two had closed down. One of the guys I called commented that he was running into losses with the health club, so he had to shut shop.

I find worth mentioning that there are at least 8 full fledged hospitals (not just clinics) in same 5 Kms radius in which there are just two health clubs. What’s the relationship, you might wonder! As I see it, Health clubs signify proactive & preventive while hospitals/chemists mostly signify reactive & remedial, and it makes me wonder how we’re approaching the years ahead. We have more pharmacies than health clubs, more hospitals than recreation centers. Most of the clubs & recreation centers that I see are way out of reach for even the upper middle class; they cater only & only to the rich. Development in healthcare isn’t something bad and medical problems aren’t always caused by things we do; sometimes it’s just destiny. But, some of it IS in our hands, in the way WE live life. We’re aware of this but we still go-on pushing our system: sleep late, sleep less, wake up late, overeat, gorge on oily food and aerated drinks & live sedentary lifestyles. Then, once in a few months, we de-tox ourselves and find peace for a few days. Of course, the peace is short-lived and we return to our chaotic lives where we continue to constantly abuse our body & system.

Anyways, coming back to where I started from: As I walked to the fourth medical store in the shopping complex, I saw that there were two old men buying medicines there. One of the men had handed the pharmacist a list of toiletries and the guy behind the counter was getting the stuff from the shelf. The second old man was very frail, somewhat yellow and had a disorder because of which he wasn’t able to speak properly. He initially struggled to explain to the chemist, the name of the medicine he wanted. I was getting impatient! Then, after a few minutes, the old man slowly reached into his pocket and brought out a piece of paper which had the name of the medicine written on it. The pharmacist took the piece of paper and went to get the medicine from the rack. The medicine cost 47 rupees and the old man gave the chemist a 100 rupee note. The chemist handed the old man he balance of 53 bucks. But the old man looked puzzled as he looked at the 50 rupee note and three coins that the guy had returned him. He told the chemist that he was expecting 65 bucks back. The guy again tried to explain him that 100 minus 47 was 53 but the old man still couldn’t understand and insisted that the pharmacist return him 65 rupees. The discussion went on for a few minutes and then the other old man offered to help and tried to explain to the person that the drug cost 47 rupees & the pharmacist had returned him the right amount. The thin old man thought hard as he tried to count something on his fingertips and then as he suddenly realized his mistake, he slowly said to the chemist “Sorry beta, pataa nahi mujhe aajkal kya ho gaya hai” (Sorry son, I don’t know what’s happened to me these days). The chemist replied “Koi nahi uncle jee, kya pataa budaape mein humaari aapse bhi buri haalat ho” (No problem uncle, who knows in our old age, we may be in a worse state than you’re in).

When I heard that, something in me snapped. I felt so bad that I instantly felt a strong urge to cry. Then something happened within, and the feeling instantly turned into anger. Right then, I got a phone call from my wife, and for no reason, I snapped at her. I remember driving back home with a heavy heart. I made up to my wife after I reached back home but I continued to feel heavy & sad all day. It’s been quite a few days since that incident happened, but the pharmacist’s words still pierce deep. I don’t know whether it was pity for the old man, or the guilt of my impatience, or was it the agony of imagining myself in the old man’s shoes for that brief instant. Whatever it was, what I saw & heard touched me deep and stayed there. It’s scary visualizing old age, taking into account the increasing life expectancy & the lifestyles that we’re leading today. Maybe the increasing medical stores around us signify preparation for rush hour … as my generation ages!

So…Do you Blog?

Well, I’ve been asked this question a couple of times. My reply’s always been in the negative but each and every time, the question has surely made me think. Why should I blog? Or rather why do people blog? Logic instantly provides the following answers:

  • To air one’s opinions.
  • To have a living identity online, which is more than a profile and less than a website.
  • To solicit feedback or bounce thoughts off an open audience

Each time that I’ve thought about this, I couldn’t relate with any of these reasons enough to start blogging. But last week, I was discussing this with a friend at work. When I asked her the same question, the reply was something I could instantly identify with. She said writing maintaining a Blog is like maintaining a diary; you write to capture your thoughts and feelings. The only difference between the traditional diary and the new-age Blog is that a diary is private and a Blog essentially is public, though you could very well write some things and not make them public.

That made sense but it got me thinking on another level. The purpose of writing is to communicate, so then why do people write diaries? Anyone who’s ever maintained a diary would vouch for the fact that putting something down on paper relieves you instantly. Why is it so? Does it have something to do with the fact that when we’re carrying out a complex thinking process, we find that it helps to scribble on a paper or white board. People who design (mechanical parts or devices or software) often find that simple tools like a pen and a paper aid the thought process. More often that not, people don’t put down sentences or bullet points when they’re thinking, rather they draw shapes and diagrams.

Closer to the work area, we often see that when you get people into a room to brainstorm, a lot of interesting ideas come up. And brainstorming is most effective when everyone sticks by the thumb rule: when you get an idea, state it immediately, don’t validate and re-validate it. This may have something do with the fact that it’s the nature of creative ideas to pop up unexpected and not seem feasible at first sight. Once you stop questioning their feasibility, the approach starts becoming clearer. Probably, that’s why creative thinking is called thinking out-of-the-box. So, Writing or expressing yourself surely helps you think clearly.

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend Steve Bender’s Project Management Plus workshop. Once of the work-management techniques discussed in the workshop was a best practice of recording notes (whether in writing or talking to a Dictaphone) at the end of the day. You can then read/listen to previous day’s notes before you start your next day. This, according to Steve, helps on two accounts:

  1. It helps you download your thoughts before your get home. So you tend to stop thinking about work problems after you’ve downloaded them.
  2. Most of the time, when you’re persisting your mental state and reloading it the next morning, you get fresh ideas and solutions.

Another practice which works on the same lines is talking to someone about a problem, you feel light even if that someone has no idea of the complete picture. The person listening just has to be a good listener and the conversation almost always has a relieving effect on the person talking. The age old saying “Baat karne se dil ka bojh halka hota hai” (You tend to feel light if you talk to someone about a problem)So expression, it seems, in whatever form it manifests, helps you see things in perspective and aids clarity of thought. So I’m convinced now, ‘cos these things do make sense.

The Fat Man shall talk and maybe he’ll become lighter in the process :D!