Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Stranger

Dear readers,  in my last blog post I had asked you to stay tuned ... So here you go.... 

The post "Who Won" , talks about restoration of trust in humanity. In this blog post, I will describe an incident which I personally experienced. Whenever I become too cynical and  distrustful about any person or a situation or life in general, I try to recall this real life story . It gives me hope.

The first experience goes way back , about 18 - 19 years ago  when I had to visit Cyprus for a very difficult assignment.  My return itinerary had a flight change at Dubai. I was travelling alone. The inward flight from Nicosia, Cyprus was late by 4 hours due to bad weather. The next flight was on the next day, early morning.  

This disruption was not too unwelcome from me. I am a travel bug and I saw this as an opportunity to see the Dubai city. And this was like a Godsend opportunity for me to buy some dresses and toys for my 5 year old daughter. Due to work pressure and a bit due to lack of planning, I could not buy gifts for her from Cyprus.

By the time I got a one day transit visa made at the airport, checked in at the hotel booked by the Airlines, it was already 6 pm in the evening.I did not know  anything about Dubai , where to go, how to go ! Understand that there were no Google maps or Ubers or such prolific internet facility at that time

I inquired at the lobby helpdesk but could not understand anything due to the heavy Arabic accent.  All the signage were mostly Arabic. I could hardly see any females on the streets. I did not want to go alone in a taxi as I did not know the place or the markets or anyone there. 

I sat down on a Sofa, feeling disappointed. Suddenly, a bearded young man came and greeted me "Salaam Alekum !" 

"Hullo" I said. 

"You want to go to a market to buy toys ? There is a huge market quite nearby where you will get fantastic electronic games . I heard you inquire about it at the reception "

"Err.. yes.. but ... " I faltered.

"I am also going that way, if you want we can go together and come back together"

Maybe because I was too distressed by visualizing my daughter's disappointed face, I jumped at the proposition.   

If I look back now, I shiver. 

An unknown place which has very strict laws, I am alone, I do not know the language. I do not have a cell phone, I have very little money on me and a stranger proposes to me about accompanying him to the market which I do not not know is real or fictitious and I accompany him happily

I did not even know his name and till date I do not know it ! 

As we sat in the taxi , he said he was from Pakistan ! That made me very uneasy. But the damage was already done.As I sat stiffly without uttering a word, my friend (??!!) asked the taxi to stop infront of a well lit mall. The market was really a paradise for electronic toys. I went about browsing the toys, asking the price , checking what best I can fit into my budget and he too did the same. Finally I bought the toys and also a very cute frilly pink frock (My daughter still remembers the dress ) . 

With my hand full of bags, I was contemplating whether to return to the hotel alone or not, suddenly I saw the person running towards me . 

"Oh ! Sorry ! I was buying some chocolates and you had disappeared . I got worried.  It is quite late , let us have dinner and return to the hotel"

Some sense had come back to me . 

"No.. I don't want any dinner . I will manage alone. You carry on ... "

 He contemplated for a while. I stood still. I had bought a small pocket knife by then.

"Ok ... lets go then ..." and he hailed a taxi. 

I sat stiffly beside him, holding the small knife tightly in my palm.  I was tense. I prayed. 

It seemed like eternity but finally we reached the hotel. I was sweating in trepidation by then. 

He helped me with my packets till I reached the elevator . As the door closed, he smiled and said "Bye ! Good Luck !

That was the last time I saw the gentleman. 

I do not know his name. I do not know his address , contact number or email. 


I could not say "Thank you " to him, ever. 

The world does have good people. 

Let us not put narrow walls around us based on religion, nationality, race , colour, sex or appearance. Yes, we have to be careful since there are wolves around us  too.  But let us not lose trust. 

Let us not lose hope ....

Cheers !
  

Friday, 12 May 2017

Who Won ?

When I was in class 6th, there was a short story prescribed in our Hindi literature book.  It was written by a famous author named Sudarshan. The name of the story was "Haar Ki Jeet " (हार की जीत) I don't know how to translate this in 3 words in English, but the essence of the story title is "The winning of the loser". 

The storyline goes like this ... Once upon a time there was a hermit named Baba  Bharti. He had a very beautiful white horse named Sultan. Baba Bharti loved Sultan very dearly and he used to say that he will never be able to live without Sultan.  His day started with a  ride on his favourite Sultan and it ended by feeding and caring for the horse.  In that village lived a dacoit named Kharag Singh. He had heard about Baba Bharti and his Sultan from many people and one day he went to the temple to meet the hermit.  

"I have heard a lot about Sultan. Can I see him once ? " Kharag Singh pleaded. 

Baba Bharti was very pleased and he proudly took Kharag Singh to the stable to show him his prized possession. Kharag Singh was amazed. He had never ever seen such a beautiful horse. He thought that this horse should be with him rather than with Baba Bharti. After all Baba was a hermit. Why would he need such a horse ?

While leaving, Kharag Singh looked at Baba Bharti and said " Baba ! I will not let this horse stay with you !" , and went away. 

Baba Bharti was scared. He lost his sleep.  He would wake up with a start at midnight, go to the stable a check on Sultan. 

But months passed by and Kharag Singh did not return. Baba Bharti became relaxed and thought that Kharag Singh had just jested with him. 

One evening, Baba Bharti was riding on Sultan. Suddenly, he saw an invalid man , walking with a limp coming towards him.  He was stooping and his white , unkempt beard made him look very old. 

"Baba ... I have to go to the next village which is 3 miles away . I legs are paining and I cannot walk. Please let me sit on your horse and take me till the end of this village ... I will remain ever grateful to you ... God will bless you , my son !" 

Baba Bharti was very kind. He stepped down, helped the  crippled person on the horse and he held the reins and started walking slowly. 

Suddenly, Baba Bharti felt a jolt.  The cripple was sitting straight on Sultan and laughing. The reins of the horse was in his hands.  He was dacoit Kharag Singh ! He pulled at the reins and started riding away . 

"Wait ... !" baba Bharti shouted. Kharag Singh stopped. 

"Tell me Baba ! I will do whatever you tell me to do. But I will not v return Sultan to you " 

Baba Bharti looked at Kharag Singh and said softly . 

"I will not talk about the horse. But I have one request ... " 

"Tell me , O hermit ! I will obey "

"Kharag Singh, I request you not to tell about this incident - how you took away Sultan from me, to anybody ... "

Kharag Singh was very intrigued and surprised.  He had never imagined that Baba Bharti will have such a request.  He tried to comprehend , but could not think of any logical reason... so he asked

"Baba, why such a strange request ? What purpose will it serve for you ? "

Baba Bharti looked straight at his eyes 

"My son... If you tell about this incident, no one will ever help a person in need ... they will never trust the weaker person ... "  

After saying this, Baba Bharti slowly went away . He did not look back at Sultan even once. 

Baba Bharti went away , but his words kept on echoing in Kharag Singh's ears. He was filled with remorse.  At the dead of the night, Kharag Singh sneaked into the temple with Sultan .  The stable doors were wide open ... Baba Bharti did not care to close them ... 

Kharag Singh slowly tied Sultan.  He had tears in his eyes. Tears of repentance and guilt.  A few drops fell on the ground. Kharag Singh closed the stable doors slowly and went away. 

The next day Baba Bharti got up a dawn and habitually walked towards the stable . Suddenly he realized that Sultan is not in the stable anymore. He stopped short and with a heavy heart started walking away.  Sultan recognized his master's footsteps and started whinnying. 

Baba Bharti could not believe his ears. he ran towards the stable and saw Sultan... Baba was overjoyed !

He embraced Sultan and started crying.  "My Sultan is back ... Now no one will distrust the poor and the handicapped ... "

Baba Bharti's tears fell on the ground ... at the same place where Kharag Singh's tears had fallen...  

Reader, you must be wondering why I have recounted this story ... well there is a reason ... Read my next post ..

Stay Tuned ....

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

4 Great tips for dealing with Office Politics

The lush green lawns of a resort in Goa soothes my eyes. The swaying palm trees,  riot of colours - red, pink, white, orange on the bougainvillea trees, birds twittering , the clear blue water of the sea splashing on the white sands of Varca beach ... is this heaven on earth ?

What if everyday I could be as relaxed and happy as I am today ? I sigh ...

Is it possible to feel such serenity and calmness at work ? I wonder ...

Oh ! Politics at work ! it saps your energy and sometimes fills you up with negative energy .  

Whether you like it or not, at work, you just have to deal with politics.  

Plato has said, "One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors."

So, dear readers, instead of  groaning and moaning, find some tips which you can keep handy. 

  • Sell yourself : I am not talking about taking credit for others work or bragging without actually doing any tangible work.  Give 100% to your job, work diligently and sincerely , with full ownership and responsibility.  But while you do so, also talk about it.  At the right time and place and to the right person, tell about your achievements and effort. Sell your hard work and skills. Talk about your contributions before some political bully steals the show.  Do not make the mistake of believing that people will notice your contribution even if you do not talk about it. Seek out ways to make yourself, your boss and team look good !


  • Do not react :  Your political adversaries , specially your peers or one rung senior to you will try to provoke you at the drop of a hat.  The political people know very well what gels with the people at the top and what does not.  They will try to put you down during controversial meetings or any such interaction. They hardly miss any chance.  Do NOT react. Try to maintain a stoic face during such encounters.  Don't give your opponent the pleasure of gauging your emotions. Once you have collected yourself, thought logically , then act.  Give them back on a subtle manner. Make your point but in a cool and calm way.  This sometimes angers the opponent and they start rambling.  Let them ramble. When they finish, say "Can I talk now ? " If they interrupt, cut them off  saying "Let me finish first ... " . This usually shuts them off.  By that time, you are cool and composed.  This is one skill which I am still learning from my husband. It is very very difficult for people like me who have a  transparent face !


  • Build informal Relationships : Get to know the informal power centres of your organization  Do you know who is respected and who are the real influencers ? Who gets along with whom ? Ensure you have relationships that cross the formal hierarchy in all directions (peers, bosses, executives). Start to build relationships with those who have the informal power. Build your relationships on trust and respect – avoid empty flattery. Be a part of multiple networks – this way you can keep your finger on the pulse of the organization.


  • Defuse the negativity : In one of my earlier post , I had written about "Love thy critics" (Click on the Yellow link) .  Instead of the natural tendency of distancing from the political adversaries, do the oppositeKnow what tickles them and what puts them off. Try to understand their psychology - what are their goals ? Be courteous to them, but always be very careful what you say to them. Learn how to avoid or counter the impact of their negative politicking. Be aware that these people are typically insecure and incompetent. That's why they rely on aggressive politicking to get ahead.


Office politics is a part of work. 

You might hate it but you will have to tackle it to have a say in what matters to you and the organization. 

So, instead of shying away from it, let us take it by the horn and try to make it work for us rather than against us. 

If we can at least start doing it, our everyday lives can become at least a bit like this lovely view out of my window . 

Cheers !


Tuesday, 18 April 2017

We Indians | #MoreIndianThanYouThink

This incident happened way back in 1998, when I visited Cyprus for  a month on an official tour, for the completion of a huge software project which our organization was doing for the Land Department , Government of Cyprus. I had put up in a hotel in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus.  Another colleague of mine, Rajat Lala had been posted there for a year. He had rented a small apartment and stayed with his wife and 2 year old daughter. 

Every weekend my wanderlust did not let me rest in peace. I had to explore new places around Nicosia.  It was one such weekend when me, Rajat, his wife and daughter set out to visit The Aphrodite's Rock. It was about 1.5 hours drive from Nicosia. 

It was a bright and sunny Sunday morning. The blue sky of Cyprus was captivating. We reached the destination eating  sandwiches, chicken rolls, chips and sang old hindi numbers on our way. 

The beach and the rock was breathtaking !

Legend has it that Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, rose from the waves in this strikingly beautiful spot. There are several versions of the story of the goddess's birth, but the most famous is that Aphrodite rose from the sea on a scallop shell. Blown by the wind, Aphrodite's first stop was on the island of Cythera, but this was such a tiny island that Aphrodite kept moving and eventually got to Cyprus, where she began living in Paphos. 

We sat on the soft white sand , admiring the clear blue water of the sea. The huge , gigantic and beautiful rocks were enchanting. Far away, the clear blue sky and the blue water of the sea mingled with each other giving us a feeling of perfect unison. We were spellbound . 

It was almost sunset. The blue sky started getting streaked with the orange rays of the sun. It was a heavenly sight . 

Suddenly , a lady came towards us.  A sweet little girl, about 3 years old, clutched her hands. 

"Excuse me . Can I request you something ? My husband had gone for a swim about 30 minutes back and has not yet returned. I .. I .. am going towards the end of the rock to check him out. Will you please take care of my daughter for 15 minutes ?

 Her eyes glistened with unshed tears. 

Rajat looked at me . I nodded. 

"Sure ! Don't worry ! She is safe with us ... "

"I know ... You are from India , right ? " 

"Yes !"

The lady managed to smile and went into the water . She started swimming and waved at us. We waved back. 

We gave kaju barfi to the kid to stop her weeping. She liked the sweet and wanted more ! Within minutes, she became friends with Rajat's daughter and started playing. 

Minutes passed. 15.. 20.. 25 .. ! 

The sun was setting.  

We started getting worried. 

Suddenly I saw a small red dot near the rock . 

"Look Rajat ! I think it is the kid's mother .. is she indicating for help ?

The beach was almost isolated. 

"But she was wearing a blue swim suit !"  

"Let's go !" I stood up . 

"But ... we don't have a change ! You will be wet ..."

"She is our guest Rajat , and she has asked for help. See this sweet girl . We have to help.  Atithi Devo Bhava .. our Indian culture .."

Rajat and I dived into the water and swam towards the rock. We could feel the strong current. But we braved ourselves and targeted the red dot near the rock. 

We were totally exhausted when we reached the spot. And it was her ! The lady had somehow perched herself on the rock . She was holding her almost unconcious husband. We had to take him to the shore. 

"Rajat ... how ??? " I squeaked. 

"Wait, I have an expandable  plastic sheet with me in my pocket.  If we can create a sail with that, we will be able to take advantage of the wind blowing towards the land ... but ... how will we create the sail ...we need a rod ... a rope ...  "

We Indians always have a Jugaad mentality . 

"Rajat ! I have a elastic hair band ! I will open it and create a rope !"

The lady looked as. She was completely dazed and exhausted. We were speaking in Hindi and she could not understand anything  But I guess she understood the word "rod". 

"Here ... Here ... " She indicated at something on the rock.  We looked up. Yes... about 2 feet up, there was a small twig, swaying in the wind. 

"Rajat ... quick ... it is getting darker .."

Thank God Rajat had undergone mountaineering training during his college days. That is the reason he had that plastic sheet and now he could climb up and break the twig and we lo ! We had the rod. 

In the increasing current , and all of us precariously perched on the edge of the rock, we created a sail . Then Rajat  held the Lady's husband in one hand and the sail on the other. I and the lady tied the sail with in one hand and swam towards the shore . 

It was very very difficult and exhausting. 

I started chanting Hanuman Chalisa and Rajat too joined me. 

Finally, we reached. 

Rajat's wife was crying frantically. A few local people had gathered and we managed to take him to a nearly hospital. 

I left my email address with the lady. 

After two days , I received the following email ...

Dear Godsend friends, 

I don't know how to thank you. That day you saved my husband and saved our family. My little Anne , my husband Robert and I are forever indebted to all of you. 

You know, when I left my daughter with you, I knew that you will take care of her till I return. You know why I was so sure ? Because you are Indians. You know the value of families. I have read  about India. I know about Mahatma Gandhi and how he helped the people of South Africa. A great man . 

 But I personally experienced the Indian culture that day

You care about your guests. Your great sense of Jugaad helped in saving our family, our lives. I am really amazed at how you created the sail !! How can I learn Jugaad ? 

This is my address. If you visit us , we will be very very happy. 

And yes, now I am determined to visit India for our next vacation.  I want to see the great country who has nurtured people like you !

Thanking you again.

Till we meet ! Namaste !

Gratefully , Susan


*** 


Rajat called me yesterday.

"Look at the new advertisement by Luftansa . I have whatsapped you the link .. you will love it .. I was reminded of  that incident in Cyprus ..."

I smiled , took a big bite of Chicken Tandoori and enjoyed the commercial ...







#moreindianthanyouthink



Thursday, 13 April 2017

"Yes Sir !! "

Recently I was privy to a Leadership Council meeting of an organization which has run into choppy waters. The atmosphere in the plush conference room was grave and the top management had grim looks on their faces. 

The MD of the organization initiated the discussion 

"Team , we are not doing well at all ! The cash flow of the organization is stifled and there have been layoffs in all the departments . We need to gear up ... "

"Yes Sir ... " there was unified assertion by everybody in the room. 

"But we have launched a few new initiatives and I think we will be able to recover soon , Right ? " He smiled

"Yes Sir... " everyone smiled.

"Anyone has any suggestions or ideas ? "

All quiet. 

"Yes, Mr. X ... what do you say?  You and your department will never improve, right !"

Mr X squirmed uncomfortably.

As a coach and a consultant, the following week I had several meetings across the organization.  Itreally made me wary about telling the MD about the findings. 

Given the culture of the organization , will he be able to take the feedback ? 

I applied the first rule of giving constructive feedback 

"Sir, I will be giving you some bad news . I hope you are open to it. Mostly it is to do with cultural changes at the top  "

The MD was really taken aback. No one gave him "bad" feedback ! 

"Uh.. hmm ...yes, please go ahead"

I hoped I had made him prepared for the comments . 

Lack of  planned approach towards work  : As an organization, we  do not appreciate planning for work and consider it a wastage of time.  This results in adhoc work, wastage of time and resource, lack of professionalism and customer dissatisfaction. We should promote planning.

Lack of accountability and ownership : As an organization, we should drive accountability and ownership down to the grass root level. This will not happen with a carrot and stick approach, but it  will happen through cultural and behavioural changes from the top. Very frequent feedback,  taking people to task for not doing particular work at the given time / effort,  taking unplanned leaves, not performing as per the expectation.  If after feedback, people do not improve, they should be pruned away from the organization.

Top down culture : We do not take bright ideas from the people on the field. Here we sometimes miss out on opportunities for improvement. On the other hand, anything told from the top is almost never disputed even by the senior members. So , what happens is that we are deprived of contradictory ideas and cannot improve upon the ideas. We should appreciate and encourage people to contradict and give their views rather than agreeing to everything.

Fixed mindset about certain people / department :  There seems to be a  closed and fixed mindset about specific people and departments.  Even when improvement are  done or rectification and corrections are done, the impressions do not change. This results in demotivation and productivity decreases since the feeling is that whatever is being done, it will not be taken well. We should have an open mind and listen and take 360 degree feedback We should look at data and then come to conclusion rather than have a fixed mindset or be judgemental.

The MD did not smile . 

Maybe this was the first time that someone gave him negative comments. 

But high time he learnt to take feedback so that he can bring his company back on track.