Saturday, December 31, 2016

Certain things really work

It was hot and humid in Chennai and it was the summer of 2003. I had gone to Chennai to meet the Assistant Commissioner of Labour who was to launch prosecution proceedings against the Directors of one of the Companies I was associated with. There were some very minor discrepancies in the registers under labour laws which was used as a ruse to start prosecution proceedings. Proceedings are never initiated for minor discrepancies.

The real cause was that when the Assistant Commissioner of Labour visited the factory one hot and sweltering afternoon, he was not respectfully treated and made to wait at the factory gates. Government Officers are too conscious about the authority they wield and do not take kindly to anything that hurts their ego. My mission at Chennai was to soothe his ego and ensure proceedings are dropped. The least I wanted was to see the Directors appearing in the Magistrate Court at Chennai and standing in the witness box.

I went to the office of the Assistant Commissioner of Labour and it was around 11 am which is the time when Officers slowly arrive at the government offices. Things have changed since NAMO took over. I was called in around noon and I felt he seemed to be withdrawn and unfriendly the moment I introduced myself. He was this short guy with thick glasses and oily hair. I told him the background of our meeting and asked him to be lenient with us. I was apologetic that he was not given the respect he deserves. I was in this unenviable position but I was clear that I had to protect the Directors. I was tensed and profusely apologized to him. He was unrelenting and told me that the Company had to learn a lesson. I admitted that it was the lapse and indiscretion of one of the officials. Despite my pleadings and declarations, the Officer was firm and in a harsh tone told me not to waste his time. Not one to easily lose cool, I made one final request. He was unmoved and I felt his bruised ego superseded his sanity in arriving at decisions.

Totally dejected and confused as to what needs to be done, I sat on the benches which are a part of the rich heritage of the government offices. My only saving grace, I thought, was my excellent relationship with a lot of peons and other officers. But what could they do in such a situation. I was desperate. Life has its own curious twists and turns. Seeing me crestfallen and disappointed, one of the peons asked me what the issue was. I briefed him but he too seemed helpless. The only way I could lighten myself was to vent my feelings. I continued my conversation and asked him about one Deputy Commissioner of Labour, Mohan, whom I knew very well and who had been transferred to the Electricity Board a couple of years ago. This was a casual ranting more to divert myself from the chaos going on in my mind. I did not know this ranting was precursor to divine intervention at its best. To my joy and surprise, the peon told me that Mr. Mohan was promoted just the earlier week as Joint Commissioner of Labour and was sitting on the sixth floor in the same building .My cup of joy overflowed and I went to the sixth floor.

Mr. Mohan was a very efficient officer, handsome, rotund and full of energy. He had the uncanny knack of resolving labour issues by offering win - win solutions. He was delighted seeing me since we had excellent relations. He asked me what the issue was, probably seeing some worrisome wrinkles on my forehead. I told him what the matter was. He talked to the officer and summoned the related papers and files. He perused the file and seeing there were no violations and discrepancies, called the officer and instructed him to drop the proceedings immediately. He, thereafter, called the Officer to his cabin and explained to him that the Company was known for its clean image and impeccable records and that it would be unfair to proceed against such a company. At the same time to ensure the dignity of his officer, he told me to ensure government officers are given the due respect and attention they deserve.

I sank into the chair and felt lighter by a few kilos. I thanked Mr. Mohan profusely and we had a hearty banter for some more time before I left. While leaving the office, I met the peon who had told me about Mr. Mohan’s promotion. I thanked him but the word he uttered still rings in my ears – “Sir, you always treat people well, and you keep coming to meet everyone here. That in itself pays”.

I informed my boss and the Directors and I received messages saying ’Good job done’. Of course! To this day, I still believe it was divine intervention. But I have to concede that maintaining impeccable records as far as Corporate Governance goes, and ensuring good interpersonal relationships always pays. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Eena Meena Myna Mo

This post is dedicated  to our nearest and dearest Meena who left us for her heavenly abode last month. The very name given to the title is what Meena would have loved. Writing about Meena alone will be incomplete without talking about the couple together. The thought of writing this post was supported by Meena’s daughter Bhanu who provided a lot of spice to the post by narrating many of the anecdotes that follow.

To verbatim quote Bhanu, this is what she said “My mother was a noble soul, calm and composed. I have never seen her getting worked up under any circumstances. She was a guiding force to all our relatives and they feel it is more their loss than ours. I recall Emerson who had rightly said "What is home without a mother? Mothers really have a special place in our hearts. When I think of Amma, I remember her witty, spontaneous one liners which she had for every situation.”.

 Meena and Rajappa Athimber were a lovely couple loved and admired by one and all. There are a lot of fond memories about both of them and an attempt is made to capture some of them for the sake of posterity. Meena, as we used to call her was extremely loving, affable, caring and a jovial lady. Can’t think of a dull moment with her. She regaled us with her anecdotes, puns and ‘ín the moment” humour. She had us all in splits of laughter all the time and we literally laughed our bellies out. One never knew when one would be the butt of her jokes but these were always simple and matter of fact. As a human being, she was a great host and this home had a lot of visitors. She was the cynosure of all eyes in all family get together, and people literally swarmed her for the light hearted humour. Like Reba McEntire had said “”To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone”. She had all the three in ample measure.

Meena and Athimber lived in Mylapore, Chennai. I can recall the days I spent with them when I was in the South of India for seven and half years. There was no occasion when I lost an opportunity to visit them at their home in Chennai. A lot of times I have stayed over and spend time discussing various things with this wonderful couple. Many a time, I went unannounced just to surprise them but the hospitality was always the same. Welcomed with smiles all over their faces and making me comfortable is something I specifically remember. Meena, whatever time I landed, would prepare steaming hot food and serve this with total love and affection. One does not get these in restaurants nowadays whatever the cost you pay. One could see the joy overflowing in the couple when relatives and friends visited them. Then there would be tons of anecdotes and stories about what they had seen, observed and experienced during their various interactions with neighbours, friends, relatives, watching the TV and reading books. I often did not realise how time flies, and the three of us would be talking and laughing till the wee hours only to be reminded by Meena that I have to attend office the next day. She would quip in saying that my Athimber was a retired guy whereas I was employed. She would also add light heartedly that it was difficult to get away from her husband’s discussions easily because he would catch your shirt button and latch on to you. And the only way out was to abandon one’s shirt. Anecdotes galore and I will deal with some of them.

Most poignant one was about their honeymoon to Elephanta Caves. Honeymoon as understood in common parlance is ‘quiet time’ for the couple. It was not so in the nineteen fifties. The whole family went with the couple. Meena used to say that whenever both of them decided to have a quieter moment between themselves, the children ran after them and parked themselves with the couple. So much for honey mooning with your husband along with the sisters, cousins and grandfather. Yet there was joy and happiness in the family togetherness.

 Meena, 19 years old, lost her ring. After a frantic search, it was decided to lodge a police complaint. The grandfather, being the eldest in the honeymoon group complained to the police saying “My little child has lost her ring”. When asked for the age of the child, the policeman was bemused that the “child” was nineteen years old, six feet tall and married. A doting grandfather indeed!

Meena had other interesting incidents to share with us. This was when she was a teenager. She along with her sister, father and mother had decided on a long vacation to Lonavala,. Her father, Sundaram, suffered a severe asthmatic attack at the location and told his wife, “Chelamma, I am unable to bear this, I think I will go”. Chelamma Paatti (mother) was supposed to have replied "All of us can go tomorrow", not really realizing that he was talking about his life going away because of the attack. This was followed by a hearty laugh, with the father also joining the fun. An innocent and loving soul was she, Chelamma, the best in our family.

At Chennai, most of the neighbours in their building would leave their keys at Meena’s house whenever they went out. Meena, one day, remarked to her husband "Everybody leaves the keys with us because we are the “key” people in this building”. 
Yet another day, while watching a programme on SUN TV, she had remarked “ For her son in law, Birlan,  life is all about SUN in his life ie SUN TV and SON, Ajay..

When her niece from Delhi  had come to visit Meena, the niece had remarked that the bathroom was wet and that she required to mop the floor. Meena in her usual lighter vein replied in Hindi " Maaf Kijiye, par  zaroor mop kijiye." So much for play on words.

All of us in our family loved and respected Meena and Athimber very much. A lovely adorable and loving couple just made for each other. Both of them are not with us but they are deeply engraved in our hearts forever. I sometimes ask myself wistfully “Will humour be the same again in our family?” The answer is begging the question. 
To conclude, I again quote what Bhanu mentioned "A day without laughter is a day wasted. My mother truly believed in this saying”.

Miss you Meena and Athimber. May your soul  RIP.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

What and Who Stops YOU?

During the course of appraisal discussions that Krish had with Ram, he had understood Ram’s problem.  Krish tried a lot to motivate Ram in various ways, but Ram would’nt budge an inch. After quite a lot of discussions and exploration, Krish understood that Ram had immense abilities but low willingness. When Ram was given new responsibilities or was told to take up new initiatives, something was amiss. That indeed was the million dollar question. Krish was quite clear there was a solution and that he had to act on this.

Krish spoke to a senior credentialed coach and he was assigned to Ram so that through a process of exploration and questioning, Ram would appreciate what came his way. After several intense coaching sessions, Ram came to the appreciation of the fact that he was stopping himself from acting on ideas, offering decisions, and taking the necessary risks for implementation. However, this was still not the final solution. And something had to be necessarily done to provide a breakthrough to Ram. The senior coach too was looking for a breakthrough till he chanced to read an article by Madeleine Blanchard. What the coach read hit the coach hard - a real whack on the head. The article was a story narrated by Sheryl Sandberg of on one of her Lean In Videos. In her role as COO at Facebook, Sheryl was faced with a big decision. She looked to CEO Mark Zuckerberg for input – but instead of giving her his opinion, or even an answer —he asked her, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” She was thunderstruck.

The same happened to the coach. He thought it was a powerful coaching question. In his next meeting, he tossed the very same question after initially prodding Ram for a while. Ram scratched his head for a moment but this time with a gleam in his eyes. Ram thought for a while and was seemingly talking to his inner self getting present to what was happening with him all these years. It was the fear of failure, the fear of not looking good if he made mistakes, and the fear of inadequacy that was stopping him. Ram had realized that he was the one committing suicide by his surrender to fear. For Ram this question was a life transforming one. It made him understand that he had to cross the limits he had laid for himself.

Is there a lesson for any of us?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Humour saves the day

All of us go through trying times and sometimes reach a deadlock. My personal learning has been that lightening the situation, thinking on your feet and making  interesting and humorous  conversations help.

I remember a few anecdotes and thought I will pen some of them.

I was interviewing a candidate for the post of ‘ Sales Manager’. My colleague and I were in the panel. After the interview finished, there were discussions with respect to the suitability of the candidate. I was of the opinion that the candidate did not answer many of the relevant questions on the subject of Sales and Marketing and hence was unsuitable. However, my colleague had a different point of view. Heated discussions ensued between both of us, and my colleague more often than not loved  to have the last word. Since the right candidate had to be recruited, I asked my colleague for three reasons that he feels that the candidate should be considered. My colleague replied saying that the candidate was good, nice and with a smiling disposition. Intrigued by this, I asked him an innocuous question “ Are you looking for a Manager or a son in law?
This question eased the situation and settled the issue and both of us were laughing our guts out.

At one of our plants, there were negotiations going on with respect to certain facilities to be provided to security personnel. The rationale for these benefits being given was not acceptable to the management  and the situation had reached an impasse with union ready to walk out. The union submitted that security personnel were hard working and sincere and hence their demand. At this juncture, I informed them about an incident that I remembered. I told them that it so happened in a company that a security guard was found drunk during the night shift and when questioned, the union representative replied saying ‘Jane do na Saab, socho na security bahut tight tha’. This diffused the situation and all of us started laughing.

One day morning I left my house in a huff for office, slightly angry with my wife. It is she who ensures on a daily basis that my pen, wallet, handkerchief and my belt are all kept in place for me. After I reached office, she called me and told me ‘Ensure that your pants don’t come down.” I then realized I had forgotten to wear my belt. Both of us had a hearty laugh. This ensured my anger disappeared.

Simple and small, but they say it all. Such humorous conversations cheer all of us and saves our day.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Post Retirement Blues

I have been meaning to write for a long time and be a part of the blogosphere. Somehow for reasons known and unknown I have not written for quite some time. I had started my blog in 2007 immediately after my father’s death, and today being his death anniversary, I decided it is the most appropriate time for a new beginning.

Well wishers have been calling me post retirement on 30th March, 2015 and asking a lot of questions like how do I pass my time, whether I am feeling bored, whether I have taken up new assignments, and the like. Such things have been consuming my thoughts for sometime.

Bang on, last fifteen days has been amazing. I have enjoyed every bit of it. I have done things at my own pace, choosing to be lazy when I feel like. I have chosen not to do things that are monotonous and boring, though life does not always provide that.  I am calling the shots or so do I think.

Just taking life as it comes. Sometimes meaningfully, sometimes God knows what. Is it necessary for everything that is done to have a meaning and purpose or should everything have a defined objective to be achieved at the end?  These are questions that have  come up. No answers and utter confusion. Meaning/ purpose, means/ends and objectives/outcomes have been a part of corporate life. All these once again, sometimes I shudder to think. Or is it go by what the heart dictates, go with the flow and live every moment?

Questions to what am I doing have been answered with two words ”Meaningful unemployment”. A friend of mine remarked it is definitelyt better than “Meaningless Employment”. So, post retirement, the days have started with some yoga and walk. And thereafter, the tongue tingling south indian filter coffee that my wife prepares is devoured. Times of India, Mumbai Mirror, Bombay Times (wonder how  it has retained its name without a fuss for so long though Shoba De and Nana Chudasma had to face flak) and the Economic Times ensure it is 10 am. Thus, one has enough ammunition and garbage for discussions. The wife till now has patiently listened to my chattering

Breakfast, bath followed by prayers to the Almighty, some reading and writing and internet browsing prepares one mentally for that well deserved lunch around 130 pm. Listening to music, a movie selected without much ado and that beautiful afternoon siesta makes it 430 pm. Waking up but not getting up is a choice one can exercise to make it 5 pm. My daughter and my son have had their due share of contributions through their sharing of jokes and anecdotes to ensure that I have a ball.

A steaming hot tea with snacks which can range from biscuits to delicious dosas, idlis and pakoras (depending on how happy one has kept the missus) descend. The usual topics about reduction in weight, what Obama and Modi should have done, and how the world has got fast paced get discussed animatedly. Its usually 630 pm by then.

Having a good social circle helps and either one descends on other people’s houses or their coming over forms part of the evening. Of course! people have come home at all times and it has been fun except when someone distastefully comes during siesta time. The missus also ensures some house hold chores for the evening threatening that food may not be available if it is assumed things in this world come free. Adding icing to the cake has been the IPL at 8 pm. IPL can easily take you to bed time say 1130 pm and that too with memories of the scantily dressed cheer girls.

 If one is both a cricket and football fan, then literally one can be terribly busy.  TV shows, cricket and football matches and Arnab type shows can fill the day so much that one can be far more engaged that one is professionally. Wonder whether cricket in its various forms have been invented for the retired.

What more can one expect of a retired life when the whole universe in various forms is conspiring for you. Yes, it has been fun.  And  believe you me, I am gonna make the rest of my life the best of my life.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

An amazing person was he

Sydney, my brother in law, left all of us on 1st September this year. It was too sudden and  shocking for all near and dear ones. Death lays his icy hands on kings, what else to say. Here he was  smiling and  laughing in the morning, and it was all silence in the evening. Yes, mortals have no choice but to accept since we have no armour against fate and destiny.

Sydney was just 52, my wife’s  younger brother, married to Deanne and having two beautiful children – Roxanne and Sasha. He suffered a massive heart attack and disappeared into oblivion.  A happy go lucky guy whose mission in life was to bring smile in everyone’s face. He was full of pranks and was liked by one and all. Whether it was young children or old men and women, he had his way of endearing to them and finding his way to their hearts.

Sydney was a family man and loved his wife and children dearly. He worked in the ship and hence used to come on long vacations after being out for a year. But there was never a day when being in some other part of the world  that he failed to ring up and talk to his family. He was a globe trotter and was supposed to be the best in his work. When back at home, he used to drop his wife to office every day, and without fail would sit with his children to take up their lessons. He was a passionate footballer and spent several hours at the football field. He was full of life and energy that his presence created an infectious enthusiasm in others. He had a lot of friends and if one walked with him, there would be many stops in between. He was so full of pranks that he would catch people unawares and frighten them by barking like a dog. He was always up to pulling everyone’s legs and everyone took it in the right spirit. This was because ‘pranks’ were synonymous to ‘Sydney’, and everyone knew he had no malice in his heart. Children loved him and it was not very surprising there were a lot of children at his funeral. 

The funeral was attended by more than a thousand people, both young and old. I heard several old men and women weeping loudly and saying ’Sydney, now who will fool around with us and make us happy’. Such was his personal mark on people. A lot of people had  several stories to narrate about his loving nature, his magnanimity, his pranks, his jokes and his light hearted nature. But above all what  stood apart was his help and support to one and all, and to all important causes.
Sydney was laid to rest but he is not the one to rest. Tears flowed down the cheeks of all those  present at the funeral, but knowing Sydney he definitely must be regaling and delighting the angels up there and giving them a wonderful time.

We love you Sydney and will miss you.  

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Amma - None to fill this void

This blog post is very special and personal to me. This is dedicated to the memory of my loving mother who attained Her Heavenly Abode on 13th January, 2014. She was 85 years of age and passed away peacefully. Luckily by the Almighty’s Grace she was fine and looked after herself independently till the very last. Yes, today both my parents are no more but I have sweet and loving memories to cherish apart from the great upbringing they endowed us with. I have been lucky enough to have such loving parents and I have lived life with their love and blessings showered throughout. 

My mother, a simple woman, extremely loving and such dedication for one's family is simply to be seen to be believed.  My father was everything for her, and her two sons , my elder brother and I were her two eyes. She breathed her last extremely content that ours is a happily family. Truly, a life lived to the fullest.
Amma was very magnanimous by nature, extremely enthusiastic and loved to have people around. Her culinary skills were unmatched and she loved to feast guests who came home. I always told her that guests came home only because of her, and thus we had the pleasure of several people’s company. By nature being humble, she would remark in Tamil ‘ Poo ode naar um mannakam’ meaning ‘Along with the flowers, the string also gains fragrance.’ What she meant was we were the flowers, and she the string. I reminded her she was the flower giving all of us the fragrance. Whatever she cooked/bought would be distributed to all her friends and to those who came home, and we witnessed this gesture till the very last. She loved to serve me food and enjoyed my enormous appetite. Sometimes there was no food left for her, but never made it known unless we found out. I remember a quote which said ‘Mother's love grows by giving.’ So apt and true.

She was at the window every single day to wave good bye when I left for work, and this gesture was shown to all her near and dear ones including guests who came home. Whenever any family member or guest left home, I joked with her by saying ‘Tata chollu - Oddu, oddu’ meaning’ ‘Run, run to the window to bid good bye.’ Quite a lot of people remember this gesture of hers and it came to her naturally. She always had an endearing and welcoming smile, and people felt very comfortable in her company. When I returned home from work, she shared coffee with me enquiring about the day’s happenings. She held all her family members close to her chest, and always enquired about every one’s well being. Her grand children were the apples of her eyes, and she humbly but proudly spoke of their achievements. She adapted to her grand children so much that she greeted them with a ‘thumbs up, a high five or a folded fist .’, and said ‘ Its good that I have learnt all of these at this age(80 plus).’
What more to say of my mother, she is truly God's gift. Love, respect  and a window to humanity is what she bequeathed, and this will always remain with me.  I can go on and on. I feel lonely but I am not alone. Wherever she is, she will always be with me.
Anna Taylor's quote would be appropriate to end this piece on my mother:

“Who fed me from her gentle breast
And hushed me in her arms to rest,
And on my cheek sweet kisses prest?
My Mother.

Who ran to help me when I fell,
And would some pretty story tell,
Or kiss the place to make it well?
My Mother.”


No painter's brush, nor poet's pen
In justice to her fame
Has ever reached half high enough
To write a mother's name.

Amma, I love you.