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Travelling with …..

A sea of humanity, most of them with a far-away look, moving like robots following the arrows on the walls. Some have a worried look, some are in a hurry, others have the resigned look of having to wait for hours. All of them are travelers. The mode of travel may differ, plan, train or bus. The comfort level and cleanliness may vary significantly from airport to railway station to bus stand. But the humans are the same – their destination written in their minds, their bodies going through mechanical rituals of security checks, ticketing, baggage deposit.

Each individual has a different reason to travel. Some are excited, others are in anticipation. A few in anxiety and some more with sadness of parting. Some people enjoy travel, even look forward to it. Many take it as part of a routine to achieve something at the destination. There are also travelers who have to force themselves to make the journey.

To many individuals it is the company that determines their joy of journey. Friendships are formed, bonds are strengthened, discoveries made about co-travellers. It is as though a new window is opening, giving them a view and perspective hitherto unseen. For human relationships are far more important than the mode or luxury of travel. I try to travel with people I wish to know. It is a legacy from my grandfather who decreed that you really get to know a person well when you travel with him. He was an avid walker, trotting miles and miles to any venue he had to visit. If someone offered him a lift, he would ask the person to get down and walk with him – longer time spent together, no distractions, and very meaningful conversation.

Of course, no one walks any more.

Good Morning

I read a nice quote the other day: “Education is Head, Heart and Hands.” I often keep wondering at the education system and how we have been blindly following it for decades. Many generations have gone through the rote-learning techniques. The world has changed, needs have undergone tremendous alterations, but year after year children are made to “learn by heart” when the First Battle of Panipat took place, and to do “long division” without making “silly mistakes.”

I doubt if we can change the system in the near future. So can we supplement the learning by some more additions, innovative, creative and curiosity-based? Can we give some relief to children by providing them with some exciting learning which they will enjoy and actually look forward to?

I have a few tips and techniques that I keep practicing whenever I get a chance. I will welcome more such inputs so that we can all put our heads, hearts and hands together and do something challenging.

Slow and Steady

Have you noticed this……… You are mostly accepted, befriended, welcomed and treated according to

Sad but true. Most people want to know your status, designation, wealth, or what contacts you have, who you are related to, and who you can influence.

Shouldn’t you be accepted for what you are i.e. your abilities, your temperament, your way of interacting, and for what your skills or achievements are, what you can share with others etc?

Look around and observe carefully – you will find a few, just a few people who will interact with you for the second reason……

Cherish them, nurture your relationship with them, and you will never have a shortage of good friends.

Who are you?

I see illiterate plumbers and carpenters relaxed at work, doing things at their own pace, hanging out at chai corners, and taking off from work whenever they want to.

I also observe highly educated and accomplished CEOs’, Presidents & Directors who are perpetually rushed up, missing meals, tense, anxious, and unable to take breaks. Would they have been happier if they had dropped out in 5th standard?

On my part, I walk down to work

find time for anyone who wants to have a serious talk, drink tea and have food at my convenience, take an afternoon nap, and wind up the day by 6 pm enjoying the last cup of tea in the veranda or roof garden with my loyal four-legged friend Daughty.

Anyone wants to join me?

Education

In the morning when everyone is either getting depressed reading news headlines of corruption, violence and politics, or is madly rushing off through traffic jams for work, one ordinary gentleman comes to the courtyard of our BDA Shopping Complex on his scooter, spreads out some eats on the parapet wall for the crows – who are just waiting on trees and buildings all around – and they swoop down to eat. Then he opens a cloth bag and pours out some grains, and before you know it, hordes of pigeons fly down to have their breakfast.

He then goes to a corner and sits and leisurely watches them enjoying their meal. When they have all finished and flown away, he starts his scooter and leaves. Today I saw that the crows had quickly finished what he had kept for them, and were eying the grains of the pigeons. He promptly went to a shop nearby and came back with ten packets of ‘Lays’. As he kept opening each packet and pouring out its contents, I could see the joy with which the crows hopped, skipped and jumped towards him.

Walk the talk

How many people do you think feel so comfortable with you that they know when there is a need they can just pick up the phone and talk to you? Whether you actually do anything for them or not, if they have the confidence that you will be there for them if and when they want/need you – you are doing a great service to them.

You have heard the proverb “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” I personally feel that we should be available to a friend not only when he or she needs you, but also if she wants you.

Similarly, if you do not need anything significant right now, but you just feel a little lonely or isolated and want someone to listen to you, who would you call – and what is the probability that person will respond to you at this very moment?

That is what true relationships are all about. Strive to build better relationships in 2019.

Ali’s Corner

Dr. Ali Khwaja

Trust

Do you trust people or are you very cautious?

I generally trust people. Due that of course I get cheated occasionally – but more often than not, people live up to my expectations. I prefer not to dwell on the small minority who at times let me down or betray my trust. I would rather focus my attention on so many others who are honest, who keep up to their word, and who I can trust without being disappointed.

I feel I am happier than those who do not trust others, are extremely cautious (and suspicious), and prefer to live in their own cocoons lamenting that everyone in the world is bad.

If I decide to allow only good people to occupy my mind, I am certainly going to be more at peace and enjoy the world around me. Take this example: A friend was trying to teach History to her daughter, and was persuading her to ‘memorize’ the year when the First Battle of Panipat took place. The daughter flatly refused and said, “I don’t want to remember horrible people who fight. I will only remember the peaceful and loving people.” We need to learn from children.

Good Evening

I find many of my friends losing out on the joy and serenity of the ‘evening’. For them the day just plunges headlong into the darkness (and bright artificial lights) of the night.

The slowly fading sunlight, the birds flying to their nests, the gentle cloud formations, and of course the “go-dhooli” of the cows returning home – are pleasures that many of us are losing out on. We are shutting ourselves in our rooms, windows closed, and oblivious of the path the sun is taking towards the horizon.

Symbolically the sunset reminds us that it is time to call off, to be with family and friends, to unwind, and to merge with nature.But the urban rat race does not allow such privileges to many of us (or do we deny it?). Every evening when I sit out in the verandah with a cup of tea, I feel one with nature, feel the cool breeze and watch the gently swaying leaves on towering trees, and I am reminded of the retro Bollywood song,
“Ye shaaaam mastaniii, madh-hosh kiye jaaaye….”

Gratitude

I ask my new counseling students to write down a few things they received in life without having to work for them. The answers, as expected, vary widely – but many of them inevitably mention their parents, spouse or children. Whatever may be their answer, the reason for stirring their mind to this issue is to help us understand that we do get many blessings with no efforts from our side. Contrasted to the losses or things we have missed out, there are many material and non-material bonuses of life that we get and enjoy.

The next step is to introspect whether we show our gratitude for these free gifts or not. Do we just make these things part of our life and enjoy the fruits, and take it for granted that we deserved it so we got it? That is a very insensitive approach to the joys of life. When we struggle long and hard to gain something, we are proud of ourselves and pat ourselves on the back. But when something comes free, we need to acknowledge, thank and show gratitude for it.

Do list out everything that you have received without personal effort, and make a note of how you are going to periodically and constantly show your appreciation & admiration to the source.

Cultural Diversity

I was once invited to the Bengali Association to give a talk. I reached a little early and I had the opportunity to listen to a soulful rendering of “Rabindra Sangeet”, the poetry of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, by a lady who enthralled the audience, and yet was lost in her own world of the great poet’s thoughts. The beauty of the moment was that I could hardly understand a word of what was being sung, but yet I could revel in the serenity of the moment.

It made me think once again of what I often perceive – how each language has a beauty of its own, how fortunate we are to live in a country that has a treasure trove of innumerable languages, dialects, literature, culture and quotes. If we make up our mind we can unite all the myriad languages of our country, pull out each pearl of wisdom from every one of them, and merge them to form a legacy that can be passed on to future generations, to overcome the strife of competition, parochialism and regionalism

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake…..”

The TIME

Time is the one resource that never comes back if it is lost. Hence those who value time know that it should be treasured. Managing one’s own time is definitely a great skill and asset, but we also need to evaluate whether we are giving our time to others who need it badly.

Perhaps the greatest gift one can give to another human being is our time: Giving full attention, doing tasks for someone, involving in activities that the other person wants… and most important, listening to a person who wants to be heard. There are innumerable people around us who wish to speak out, to pour out their emotions, and have the joy of knowing that someone cares enough to give them undivided attention. If we can do that, at least to a few people around us, we would be doing wonderful service.

Look around for someone who is not necessarily your close friend or relative. If you sense that the person is lonely, isolated or feeling left out, just sit with him and give him your listening ear. You need not comment or advice, you can just be there for him – and experience the joy that you are giving him.

Are you an Imposter?

Lately there has been a lot of buzz in the Internet on the “Imposter Syndrome (IS).” I don’t know if it is a fad that will die off soon as so many other ‘viral’ news do. The ‘IS’ theory is that high achievers often feel that they do not deserve the appreciation and recognition or success they have achieved, and are in constant fear that one day they will be ‘exposed’ as imposters and will lose all that they have gained. I don’t know how or to whom that happens. But I do know many hard working and competent people who have attained success, and yet feel humble about it, saying that they are being over-rated. They are certainly not imposters, but genuine and modest individuals who do not get drunk with power of success.

I am not an achiever, but whenever people praise me or put me on a pedestal, I often feel that whatever I have attained is due to many others who have been part of this process and have contributed significantly towards whatever achievement I am being recognized for. I am often reminded of the words of Isaac Newton when he was praised for reaching great heights. He is supposed to have said, “I could see far ahead because I could climb on the shoulders of tall men.” What he implied was that great men have helped him by lifting him up and giving him greater wisdom.

I do not like climbing over shoulders, but I have certainly learnt so much from so many named and unnamed people that I have lost count. I feel no achievement of mine is a singular effort. I feel humbled whenever someone praises me for any so-called attribute of mine which they admire. I feel that it was just a matter of learning from every source, gaining from each interaction, and expanding from all experiences. I salute all those who have contributed to whatever I am today

I am not an imposter. I am a genuine person. But I am sometimes the actor on the silver screen whose dialogues people adore, not realizing that it was the script writer who deserves the credit. I have had many script writers in my life, and continue to have many more who empower me to move on and continue with my humble mission. I salute them all.

The Elder one

He was much older than me.

Unassuming, humble, no great achievements to his credit, he lived a simple life. He would drop by once in a while, but always when I was alone or feeling isolated. I don’t know how he could sense it, but he knew exactly when I was by myself and in need of company

He would just sit with me for some time, or walk me down to a nearby tea shop and treat me to hot tea and biscuits (always HIS treat). He was not my counselor because I would not share anything with him. He was not a friend because we had nothing in common. He did not teach me anything – in fact he used to make very limited and light conversation. But somehow he was there to fill in those odd hours when I had no one else with me

I moved away and was out of touch for quite some time. Then much later I got news that he is no more. It set me thinking about how we neglect some people who become strong pillars in our life without making it obvious, and we do not appreciate how much they have contributed to make our lonely moments peaceful and serene.

If you have someone like that in your life, cherish him or her !

Life of a common Man

Last week there was a “bandh” and the bustling city of Bangalore had a sleepy look, no traffic jams or congestion.

I spent the day catching up with correspondence and writing, leisurely enjoying cups of tea. But my heart goes out to those who are on daily wages and would have lost their earning, the sick who were not able to go to hospital, the homeless who may not have been able to get food in restaurants, the hawkers whose perishable goods may have been spoilt.

I do not know politics, business or economics. But I watch human suffering and inconvenience helplessly, and feel guilty also that I did not do anything actively for such people. I tried to appease my conscience without much success, and went back to sipping tea and reading good books.

Why are we so insensitive to the reality of the common man? Those in power get away with anything and we quietly surrender our rights to them. Ironically many such moves are decided in the comfort of air-conditioned rooms, and are supposed to be “for” the common man. No one questions them and the poor are the greatest sufferers.

Next time something like this happens can a few of us work towards helping out those who are deprived of their daily wage?

Gandhigiri

Many people may have laughed at it, but I was truly touched by the concept of Munnabhai’s “Gandhi-giri”.

Every now and then I come across someone who was hurt, insulted or put down by others, and who, instead of retaliating or taking revenge, decided to be nice to them and tell them very gently how they can be friends. This is also the concept referred to in management jargon as “creating a win-win situation”.

I have also had a few occasions in my younger days when deep hostility developed between me and some other person, and when we resolved it amicably we became the best of friends and have stood by each other for years.

There is a Chinese proverb that says: When you set out to take revenge, first dig two graves. Revenge, hatred and hostility inevitably destroys both parties to lesser or greater extent. One striking example is the crores of cases languishing in courts of law for years and years. We know that justice delayed is justice denied. But then we need to ask ourselves, “are we more particular of getting justice, or do we want to be at peace?” If your answer is the latter, which I hope it is, then….

Try out Gandhi-giri at least once before Gandhi Jayanthi on 2nd October.

Ali’s Corner

Dr. Ali Khwaja

Happy New Year

The New Year has begun

and has erased whatever has happened in 2017. Sankranthi and Pongal marked the first major festival, and many more will follow in a never-ending stream. Different people celebrate their own festivals with fervor. Some do participate in others’ rejoicing too. There are the old timers who spend days preparing for festivals and religiously follow all rituals. There are many more who are quite secular – they use every festival to break out, get out and enjoy partying!

While we should respect all faiths and their festivals, is it not high time that we kept our celebrations and rituals private, after office hours, and get down to work? Let us declare holidays on Independence, Rajyotsava, Gandhi Jayanthi and such national occasions and come together to celebrate our great country and our unity.

Republic Day is nearing…

Shall we all raise a toast to the greatest republic of the world and do something good to bring every Indian closer to each other?

The widening GAP

There were cruel kings and landlords who used to keep the masses in abject poverty, while they enjoyed unlimited luxuries. We believe that now in a democratic set-up with equal opportunities, the differences have been brought down to a great extent.

But when I look deeper

I find that the rich-poor gap is widening again at an alarming pace. I see some people with mediocre capabilities working in multi-national organizations or having businesses earning unbelievably high incomes. And I still see capable and sincere school teachers and salesmen who earn not even 10% of the former. Is this trend going to continue? As an ardent reader of history I have seen that whenever disparity goes beyond tolerable limits, there is an upheaval, and society undergoes transformation.

Where are we heading? But this is just armchair thinking on my part, maybe soon we will be able to say ….

“Aaall izz well.”

Feeling Nice

I am a firm believer in the proverb:

“You will forget what people said, you will forget what people did, but you will never forget how they made you feel.”

I get reassured on this fact very often. If I make it a point to focus on the positive people instead of the negative ones, I find that there are so many who make me feel so warm and loved, by very simple gestures. It happened recently when an old (almost forgotten) student of mine sent me a touching and appreciative email saying that I have been instrumental in changing her life, and that she is doing very well in the past few years. And what made me appreciate her reaching out to me even more was the fact that the mail had no other agenda. She just thought of me and sent the message.

It may appear to be a small gesture, but it really, really made me feel wonderful. And believe me, if we keep track of such moments, cherish them and keep them fresh in our memory, life becomes so beautiful.

It may appear to be a small gesture, but it really, really made me feel wonderful. And believe me, if we keep track of such moments, cherish them and keep them fresh in our memory, life becomes so beautiful.

And most important :

Don’t forget to make the other person ‘feel’ nice in return.

How good am I?

Do I need to put the other person down to show how good I am?

We do have to compete in many areas, we have to win over to move on, and we have to face conflict from those who hold different views. That is fine.

But what I wonder about is…..

When facing any opposition or when there is a need to prove that we are right, why do we focus only on pointing out the negative aspects of the opponent, instead of highlighting where we are right or what we have achieved. It is done by politicians (listen to election speeches), religious gurus, business competitors and even by family members. A neutral person listening to such put-downers and criticism is not interested in the unpleasantness and wants to keep away from both parties.

I feel that if I am confident about myself I should stop accusing the other person and emphasize on what I have done or why I deserve better treatment or reward. Trying to climb over others’ shoulders may make you go higher – but before you know it he or someone else will be climbing over your shoulder and you are back to square one.

Comparing oneself with others, trying to prove I am “better than thou” not only does not get long term results, but makes life a little bitter.

How about ignoring your opponents and detractors, and focusing on yourself, your progress, your skills and your goals? How about competing with yourself?

Try it out, and make it a habit.

Bound to Social media!

The bright look of surprise, the glow of recognition, the thrill of the encounter – when you meet someone you are fond of, either alone or in a party after a long time, there is so much excitement. We give a warm handshake, a hug, or a friendly pat. We inevitably ask, “Where were you?” and are ready to start off catching up with what happened to us during this time.

Earlier such an encounter would lead to exited conversations, expressions of joy or concern, inquiring about so many things, and maybe sitting down over a cup of tea to talk nostalgically. But nowadays I have noticed, the moment we meet the person, out come the mobiles, and a series of selfies or photographs begins. Someone wants the whole group, another wants an exclusive pic with one of them, someone else wants to stand between two close friends. Check mobiles, not very happy, and someone is called in to take few more photographs while we strike poses.

There is an immediate exchange of Whatsapp numbers and a forceful request that the photos should be forwarded at the earliest. What happens after that I don’t get to see, because I do not have a smartphone, but I can guess that a lot of time is then spent ‘uploading’, ‘forwarding’, ‘commenting’ and ‘like-ing’. Some curious people who were not present there probably log in and check out what we were doing with whom and when.

I’m looking for people who are just willing to show genuine affection, concern and joy, to spend those valuable few minutes talking, looking into each others’ eyes, and exchanging the warmth of a touch.

Concern and Curiosity

Have you had occasion when you wanted to reach out to someone known to you, inquire about his welfare or express your solidarity – but hesitated wondering if the person would like your interference, may misinterpret your intentions, or give you a cold response?

Similarly, have you had occasions when you did ask someone about what is happening in their life, and regretted it because the reply was not very encouraging?

In fact I feel the lesser the number of people greater is the personal touch, the individuality and the warmth. But perhaps I am a small minority who thinks that way (see, I’m going into numbers again!)

Differentiate between concern & curiosity. If you ensure that every time you ask someone about himself or herself it is out of genuine concern and not just to fulfill your curiosity, you stand a very good chance of being appreciated – and your relationship will get strengthened. .

It takes a little bit of practice but if you keep doing it regularly, you can interact with all the people around you, sending out a very touching message of love and togetherness. This is another tool to battle the ever increasing epidemic of loneliness.

Closeness

Scared to allow someone to get too close?

Sometimes we are scared to allow someone to come too close, for fear of loss of relationship. By trying to protect ourselves against hurt, are we missing out on getting happiness?

If we are let down by someone we trust, or find a close friend was back-biting us, at some point perhaps a person we love unconditionally cheats on us – and we are left with shock, pain and anger.

We become resentful, stop trusting others, become judgmental, and we build a shield around us. But what we forget is that for one person who cheated or let us down, there are many more around us who have been nice, genuine and caring.

If we do not build an emotional wall around us, but develop the skill called ‘empathy’ i.e. being able to analyze, understand and anticipate human behavior, then we can be safe and at the same time have some truly tried and trusted friends.

The Talk

I was invited by Public TV to conduct a Career Guidance session at their Career Fest in Palace Grounds. Though I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were hundreds in the audience (and I was flattered when some of them told me, “we came only to listen to your talk”), I was once again concerned about the absolute lack of awareness or knowledge about the immense possibilities and options that today’s world offers, and more so with the method they need to use to select their career.

As adults we force children to go on studying for hours and hours, day after day, completing “portions” and facing innumerable exams. But we do not give them any inputs to actually make them successful and happy human beings. We do not guide them and teach them how to take the right decisions. Worse, we not allow them to follow their dreams and aspirations, and wish to make them robots by getting into routine and boring careers just because there is more “scope” in them. It is the responsibility of every adult to ensure that we allow children to blossom out and grow the way they want.

Aside:Western countries were spending more and more money making robots, till they realized that very intelligent third world youngsters are willing to work like robots at much less cost !

Seek Help

I was invited to preside over a Panel Discussion on Mental Illness and Borderline Personality Disorder. While many insightful thoughts, research findings and professional opinions were presented, my thought went off to the word ‘Borderline’. I sat asking myself, “Are we not all borderline cases when it comes to mental health, social behavior and relationships?” It is just that some people get labeled and many others get away doing things that are unacceptable or hurtful to others.

I feel we must take the trouble to reach out to the recluse, the person who is all by himself, one who is a little grouchy, and the person who does not seem to come forward to interact with us. Many a time they are quite lonely people, suffering from the disease of loneliness, and not knowing how to come out of it.

There is so much to be done by each one of us to maintain and promote mental health, but the label itself carries so much stigma that unless it directly affects us, we do not wish to even talk about it, leave alone helping someone No one wants to cross the ‘border’.

Commitment

Recently someone called me and wanted to meet me for his own need, and on the fixed time he neither came over nor did he inform me. Later when I checked with him he was not sorry in the least, and just smiled and said, “I forgot.” I was upset and was fuming at these type of people who do not keep up to their commitments and do not bother to inform. Then a thought struck me – we only remember those who let us down, and we spoil our mood.

On the other hand we don’t give any significance to those who are very responsible and always keep up their commitments.

So I started making a list of those who are punctual, committed and who value my time – and always keep up to their word. I am amazed at the3 way my list is growing. I am going to keep those names prominently displayed, and make all efforts to be nice to them and strengthen my relationship with them.

Ali’s Corner

Dr. Ali Khwaja

Independence

The festival worth celebrating most, our country’s Independence Day, has just gone past.

Most of us were born after India gained independence, so we have not experienced what it is like to live under the control of a foreign power. When we go around a totally free, democratic, secular and unrestricted gigantic nation, we perhaps cannot visualize what it must have been to be asked to crawl on certain roads because the Britishers felt offended by the ‘natives’, or what it was to see signboards reading “Dogs and Indians now Allowed” in our own nation.

The one very important festival that binds us together whether we are Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, atheist or Banjara is our Independence Day. Let us not only celebrate this great day with all enthusiasm and from the heart, but let the spirit of Independence continue in our hearts many days after 15th August is over. Let us cherish and protect this freedom from restrictive practices, internal and external threats, and even from our own narrow-minded thoughts if they occur.

Happy Independence!

Who Are You?

As an ardent student of human behavior, I often like to know how much time people spend in trying to understand their own self. Many of us take deep interest in analyzing, understanding and commenting on others. Not only those who are involved with us, but even about political leaders, film stars, celebrities etc. Hours are spent in idle conversations and comments about people whose lives we cannot (and should not) change in any way. But we do not spend even a fraction of that time trying to analyze and understand about ourselves.

You will live with yourself 24/7 X 365 for all the years of your life. You need to know your upbringing, attitudes, values, likes and dislikes. You need to introspect on what have been your achievements and your frustrations. You should evaluate what you have gained and what you have missed out in life. You should also be aware of the changes within you, how your aspirations and priorities evolve, what makes you happy or unhappy. Only if you do this periodically will you be able to face any challenges squarely.

In my training programs I often ask a question unexpectedly, “Who are you?” and ask them to answer immediately. It is amazing how many people flounder – they write the roles they are playing, ‘what’ they are, but many cannot really answer ‘who’ they are. Are you able to answer to yourself,

“WHO ARE YOU?”

Around me

I sit on the balcony and look out. Some fields below, cows grazing, and birds flitting about. A dog wags her tail when I call out to her, a cat ignores my greeting and walks away majestically. The gaze goes beyond, and the land rises up to lush green-covered hills. Not very tall, but majestic by themselves. Serenity all round, everything moves slow and is measured paces – even the sun casting longer and longer shadows on the hills.

Though green dominates, other colours merge smoothly, even the bright yellow of the sunlight as it turns golden and then a dull orange. A spattering of red, purple and blue complete the panorama.

Whether we humans go there or not, nature flows. The dog chases the cat, the bull eats up the grass, and wild animals eat their prey. The lush green landscape turns a barren brown – until the torrential monsoon rains bring back the green from nowhere.

The trees voluntarily shed their fruit, the crop is razed to the ground. The old tree faces the brunt of thunder and collapses. Yet the fact is that nothing changes – unless man goes on a merciless mission of wiping out the bounties of nature.

Future Citizens

The Future

We spend less than Rs. 80,000 crore annually on education in our country, which works out to about Rs. 640/- per Indian. On the other hand much bigger amounts are spent on other areas of development. For example we pour in Rs. 3,60,000 crore annually for defence alone. A recent announcement was made that we are going to spend Rs. 1,10,000 crore for the Japan-collaboration bullet train from Mumbai to Ahmedabad.

It is said that a nation or society that progresses most is the one that takes deepest interest in the welfare and development of the next generation. If we could ensure that we are putting in more effort towards the well-being and proper growth of our children, we can look forward to a peaceful and happy old age.

Mrs. Sunanda Ali, who heads the unique Peepal Grove School in rural Andhra Pradesh has well said: “Children do not need to be prepared for the future. They are the future.” What are we doing about it?

Think Through

Someone gave me an interesting food for thought. He said: “Creative ideas come in bed, bath and bus”, i.e. when you are about to sleep, when you are leisurely taking a bath, or when you are travelling. I do find it true to a great extent.

Give it a thought. On my part I ensure that I have a pen/paper or my electronic notepad handy when I am travelling or about to sleep. I don’t take them into the bath, but often I am desperate to come out and jot down the inspirational thought that occurs to be in the bathroom.

When the mind is free and is allowed to roam without restriction, that is when the best of thoughts and ideas come to us. Not if we are perpetually stuck to our mobile phones.

Footnote: A long- struggling Bollywood lyrics writer, Mr. Anjum Jaipuri, who subsequently become fairly successful, had told me long ago: “beta, geet (songs) air-conditioned rooms mein nahin likhe jaate hain, they are written on the back of bus tickets.”

The better bond

Someone nicely said that a child goes through three stages before he reaches adulthood: “Hold me tight, Put me down, Leave me alone.”

Babies want to be held, toddlers want to be put down and explore on their own, and teenagers just want to be left alone! I was thinking that often this happens in love relationships also – the honeymoon phase (hold me tight), then wanting some space and independence (Put me Down, or ‘Let me Do it My Way’), and unfortunately in many cases if the relationship has not been nurtured over time, it becomes ‘Leave me Alone’. At the intellectual level we know that this could happen both to children and to our partners – but do we work on it practically, try to bring about better bonding? If we can anticipate that this is a natural progression of a relationship, there is a lot we can do to improve on it, and keep the warmth and togetherness alive. Becoming aware of the individuality of the other person, ensuring that we do not develop emotional dependency, resisting the desire to control – are some of the lessons we need to learn.

Regardless of which stage you or your child is in, do work on it. We should aim for a situation where our loved ones always love to be held tight by us. It takes some hard work, sacrifice, compromise, but it works in the long run.

Don’t Gossip

Grandfather taught me that one should not be too curious or inquisitive about others and their personal lives.

He exhorted me to maintain a dignified distance, not indulge in gossip, and allow people the freedom if and when they wished to disclose something about themselves. That was ages ago. Today everyone wants and expects everyone to be curious. It started with the advent of social media, when everyone started announcing to the whole world what they ate that morning, who they met, and what clothes they are wearing; not to forget announcement of who they are in relationship with! They expect everyone to read and take interest in the most mundane of their daily routine, and they are thrilled with the number of ‘likes’ they get when they post something.

Then came selfies. An endless stream of photographs on WhatsApp, Snapchat and Instagram are loaded up for all and sundry to see. And they expect people to give their comments, so that they can comment on the comments. No one likes or wants privacy anymore.

Is it because, as I suspect, we are getting more isolated and lonely in the real world and hence we crave for attention and acknowledgement in the virtual world? Also, we seem to be getting apprehensive and reticent to face real comments and build personal relationships. We seem to be getting vicarious pleasure in sharing our most personal details to just about anyone who wishes to ‘click’ on our page. But I have stuck to my grandfather’s teaching – and I do not have any curiosity or any desire to go into anyone’s personal life. That makes my life less complicated and it gives me more time to reach out to those who are important to me.

The Numbers

I often wonder why numbers are so important to us:

businessmen want more customers, multinationals set higher and higher yearly targets, religious gurus want more and more followers, ordinary people want more friends on Facebook – in fact we patronize those who have large number of people accepting someone. I see people rushing to buy something just because there is a big crowd and the stocks may get over(!) Even with a religious Guru I have heard people say, “You should go to him, thousands come to listen to him.” As far as I am concerned, I feel that lesser the numbers, greater is the personal touch and better the interaction/ understanding. To get gyan I would love to listen to someone who has the time and patience to talk to me alone. I thoroughly enjoy listening to retro music sung by my friend Ganesh, who doesn’t mind singing even if there is a total audience of two.

I will be very happy if five people read this little write-up of mine, and I will be grateful if one genuine friend sends me a greeting.

In fact I feel the lesser the number of people greater is the personal touch, the individuality and the warmth. But perhaps I am a small minority who thinks that way (see, I’m going into numbers again!)

To be loved or to Love

I find most people prefer to be loved rather than to love.

Fine, that is their choice. I have seen over the years and decades that it is not easy to receive love from the right person at the right time and in the right form, but I also see some people quite determined to make all efforts to receive, cherish and treasure that love. Some others do not get what they want, and spend days and years craving for that elusive warmth of knowing that they are lovable.

Taking it one more step forward, I see people who are receiving warm, caring and genuine love from someone they love too. But among these are there some who are still not happy. They want EXCLUSIVE love. It is not sufficient that the person is showering affection in different ways and consistently. They start comparing whether the person is giving love to someone else too…. and if yes, they become unhappy. They lose the value of the love they are receiving, and make themselves miserable trying to ensure that they are the ONLY recipient of that person’s love. This happens in sibling rivalry, office colleagues, friends, relatives, and of course with romantic lovers.

I often wonder if that is a sign of deep inner insecurity and incompleteness in oneself.

Ali’s Corner

Dr. Ali Khwaja

Someone gave me an interesting food for thought. He said: “Creative ideas come in bed, bath and bus”, i.e. when you are about to sleep, when you are leisurely taking a bath, or when you are travelling. I do find it true to a great extent.

Give it a thought. On my part I ensure that I have a pen/paper or my electronic notepad handy when I am travelling or about to sleep. I don’t take them into the bath, but often I am desperate to come out and jot down the inspirational thought that occurs to be in the bathroom.

When the mind is free and is allowed to roam without restrictions that is when the best of thoughts and ideas come to us.

-Dr. Ali Khwaja

Little joys of life

The fear in people’s faces, the anxiety constantly enhanced by exchange of social media forwards has become part of life. There used to be a proverb, “Do not be so busy making a living that you forget how to live.” Now I think there are people who need to be told, “Do not be so desperate to live that you forget that you have to make a living.”

I feel there is life beyond all the so-called horrifying things that are thrown at us from time to time. I have lived through enough natural and man-made crises to truly accept that “This too shall pass…..”

Let me share something very thrilling: There was totally unexpected torrential rain a few days ago. I just walked out (without my mask, don’t tell anyone) and thoroughly enjoyed getting wet, feeling the raindrops on my face, relishing the chill weather in the middle of summer, and generally knowing that pandemic or not, the skies will keep pouring their bounties on us….

-Dr. Ali Khwaja

Watch the Dusk this evening!

I go to my terrace just before sunset and I see birds in the sky and on rooftops.Some tiny ones I cannot identify as they flit away instantly. I see a lot of crows (they are my favorite. I think many people who do not like crows are color-conscious and can think only of ‘Fair and lovely’). I see pigeons, an odd mynah sometimes, and lately quite a few eagles. The eagles are very stately – they hardly flap their wings once in a while but soar majestically high up in the sky. As the sky darkens I get to see some bats too.

Competing with the birds are the squirrels that so graciously leap from one tree to another fearlessly, almost as though they are flying. None of them feel constrained by any virus, nor do they fear for tomorrow. They fly alone and they fly in the amazing ‘V’ formation giving each other the air-uplift to reduce their efforts. They do not interfere in each others’ lives, nor do they compete for anything – unlike humans.

Competing with the birds are the squirrels that so graciously leap from one tree to another fearlessly, almost as though they are flying. None of them feel constrained by any virus, nor do they fear for tomorrow. They fly alone and they fly in the amazing ‘V’ formation giving each other the air-uplift to reduce their efforts. They do not interfere in each others’ lives, nor do they compete for anything – unlike humans.

And the backdrop to this amazing and picturesque panorama is the clouds – fascinating, changing shapes and colors, reflecting the golden hue of the setting sun. Even the mighty sun gives way graciously to the all-enveloping night. And it is time for me to come down and put on the artificial lights.
-Dr. Ali Khwaja

Coping with Uncertainty over Exams

The only thing worse than facing exams is to prepare extensively for them and then be told that they have been postponed! Though it did happen earlier also once in a while, this time it has been across the board. Those who were appearing for Board exams and simultaneously preparing for entrance tests have been left high and dry, without even an indication of what the new dates will be.

Most students study with the exam dates in mind. They calculate the number of days left and divide the ‘portion’ accordingly, and even build up their tempo as the date keeps coming near. Right now students do not have even a vague idea when the exams will be held. So what are they supposed to do? Here are some useful tips:

  • Since the elders are at home, if they can organize a couple of hours of ‘family studies’ time. Those who know the subjects can teach the student. Those who do not know can study along with the student and can ask questions to each other. Be serious and committed to the time set apart and let there be no distractions during study time.
  • Revision can be done based on answering the ‘why’ of each topic rather than just memorizing the lessons. Remember the song ‘Bum bum bole’ in the movie “Taare zameen par” in which the teacher asks so many intriguing and fascinating questions about the world around us? Even you can do it, with each family member providing some inputs based on their experiences.
  • Ensure that you do not remain out of touch with any subject for more than 2-3 days at a time. Pick up the book and browse through for at least few minutes, mark out the doubts and difficult portions, and either study them on your own or ask someone to explain to you.
  • The kitchen is a wonderful place for experiential learning. Children can occupy vantage points in the kitchen (boys included) and discuss how each action connects to some subject: vegetables to botany, nutrition to zoology, cutting and splicing and cooking on the stove to physics, oils etc. to chemistry, origin of each type of food to geography, names of every vegetable to different languages, and of course the economics and expenses of food production to mathematics.
  • Maintaining a daily routine is fundamental to getting back to regular academics after the break. Force yourself to wake up at a particular time, change into day-time dress, allot specific undisturbed place for studies, and set a time-table with lots of breaks in-between for entertainment. When studying there should be no distraction from any family members.
  • Make a list of all possible careers and start the process of short-listing based on not just your interest but also your capabilities and aptitude. Keep ready your Plan B: For example if you do not get a good enough rank in NEET to get a seat in MBBS, check out whether you would like to do dentistry, alternative medicine, nursing, paramedical courses, nutrition, pharmacy or even hospital administration. Utilize this time to explore alternatives and options that come closest to your dream career.
  • Equally important is not to allow the forced home-stay to pull you down and spoil your mood. Those who have been used to socializing, moving around or playing outdoor games may feel very frustrated. Learn to handle the future where discipline is required – hostel stay, military life, living in a different city or in a very cold country where you cannot go out in winter.

I can assure you that you can emerge stronger, more disciplined and more versatile in handling difficult situations once this pandemic is over. It all depends on your positive mental attitude, willingness to change and cope, and your creativity in making lock-down life free from all mental lock-downs. -Dr. Ali Khwaja

I will stay at home!

I will stay at home. And I will strictly monitor my husband and children from stepping out, even if the lockdown has been lifted. After all, I want to ensure our safety and I do not want to take any chances.

We will all be secure at home and will not allow anyone to come in. Of course the plumber or the electrician may be required for some repairs so they are unavoidable. I also want the security personnel in our colony not to stay at home but to man the gates and turn away outsiders.

I naturally expect the policemen to be out on the roads ensuring law enforcement. The electricity, water works and sewerage personnel should ensure smooth facilities round the clock. Of course the municipal staff must efficiently collect the garbage every day without fail.

I do hope the doctors and other staff are on regular duty in case any one of us falls sick, and that a taxi will be available in minutes if we need to go. Similarly, the medical shops should not only be open, but should be stocked up with all possible medicines that may be required. Ditto the grocery and general stores.

I will under no circumstances allow my children to go to school. But I do hope the teachers will continue doing their duty and preparing and telecasting the on-line classes for us. In addition the book suppliers, internet service providers and service personnel for our laptops should efficiently provide their services.

Though we are all getting together and trying out new recipes every day, my children just cannot do without their pizzas or junk food. So we should allow the Swiggy delivery boys to commute freely and come and deliver our orders within minutes.

My mother-in-law lives alone and I am concerned about her well-being. But I will keep checking on her through video calls and will avoid going over to her place or bringing her to our flat which has limited space. My maid servant who has been serving loyally for years cannot be allowed into my house because she lives in a slum, and can carry the dreaded virus from there. Once everything is clear then I will expect her to come back on duty.

My husband is carrying out his work so diligently in the WFH mode, and definitely he should be given full salary. But small shopkeepers and businesses cannot pay to their staff if they are not getting business themselves – and we obviously cannot pay our driver because we are not going out anywhere. I feel the migrant labor workers should immediately be sent home as fast as possible so that they do not pass on the virus to us local residents.

I am a very concerned and law abiding citizen. I will ensure social isolation and complete protection, and I trust the other citizens I have mentioned above also show the same attitude by providing us the basic necessities and protection that we are entitled to as citizens.

– Dr. Ali Khwaja

Make the best out of the forced home stay

There was a time when children used to just run out of houses in the summer vacation, explore all the nooks and corners of the locality or village, create their own games and entertainment. Many went off to their “native place” to enjoy the hospitality of grandparents and the wide open spaces of nature.

We have come a long way from that era. Children no longer have the freedom to roam around freely and run back home only when they are hungry, or find their own friends to play with. Summer holidays have generally become regimented, and this year the Corona virus and lock-down has put severe restriction on the activities that children can take up.

Though it is sad to see the kids confined at home, this period can be used for unwinding, recharging batteries, chilling out, looking at a broader perspective life beyond academics, and automatically learning life skills. We live in nuclear families and even play areas have disappeared or reduced. Tests and exams are getting postponed resulting in stressful days expanding indefinitely and families are being forced to spend 24/7 together in four walls of small houses. Obviously relationships are under strain and there is a great need for children to be given an opportunity to bring out their mental, physical and emotional energy. Let’s see how it can be done.

It will be very nice if parents and concerned adults could explore as many of the following activities as possible, and give rewards or brownie points when they implement them:

  • Put them in a safe place like terrace, enclosed garden space or a spare room without any electronic gadgets and ask them to take up any and every unstructured physical or intellectual activities. Ensure they spend at least some time in sunlight as it increases their Vitamin D levels. If possible pull them out of bed at sunrise and make them do surya-namaskar.
  • Children, particularly boys may be asked to spend some time helping in the kitchen, and every aspect of kitchen activity should be correlated to all the subjects that they are studying.
  • Discuss the family tree, traditions, ‘native place’ and what life was just one generation back. Have an open discussion on both positive and negative aspects of earlier lifestyle.
  • Children of different ages if available may be grouped together and encouraged to play, since most of the time children stick to their own age kids. They can learn so much from the elder and younger ones. Let the elders ‘teach’ some subjects to the little ones. Also, ask the child to teach a parent some subject the parent is not very familiar with.
  • Encourage children to discover objects of nature around their houses e.g. types of trees or flowers, different animals (right down to the little squirrels), birds – even cloud formations! Doing gardening, even in a few pots in the balcony, teaches them delayed gratification and the wonders of nature.
  • Collect all possible unwanted things and scrap from the house and give them a garage or shed to play with them, create something unusual, find out how things work. Let them have the joy of taking apart some mechanical objects without the anxiety of putting them back again.
  • Talk to the child about the work that Dad or Mom do, what they like and dislike about their work, their stresses and challenges. Ask the child also to freely list out what he/she likes and dislikes about each parent, and discuss it frankly.
  • Make each child list down what he or she would do if made the Prime Minister of the country, how to handle crisis, how to improve education etc. These can be circulated to other children and a group discussion can be initiated through a webinar.
  • And most important …… teach children stress relieving techniques such as yoga, meditation, music, punching a bag, jogging on one spot, creative work, whatever suits the individual child.

It may not be evident immediately but the above activities also make children connect their studies to real life, hence increasing their motivation and desire to learn. For those children whose exams are postponed but not cancelled, let us work out a simple time table for them to periodically revise and review what they have studied, and spend the rest of the time as mentioned above.

– Dr. Ali Khwaja

Management of Change

Management of Change is the buzzword in B-schools and Corporate Boardrooms. We are told that it is not enough to adapt to change, we should also anticipate what change is likely to come. We need to apply it universally to every aspect of our life.

The lock-down in the past months should be a clear warning to us that change will not give us any prior intimation of its coming. So let us learn a lesson from it.

I have been a strong believer in learning from nature. The change of seasons can be anticipated well in advance, but we still find ourselves complaining, fretting and fuming – whether it is the heat of summer, the flooding in the monsoons or the biting cold of winter.

If we learn to enjoy adapt to and enjoy every type of weather, we can probably handle many challenges of life, the workplace and our relationships.

Does it sound too idealistic? – Dr. Ali Khwaja

We all are ONE

The lock-down, social media reports and news from all over is making us more scared, anxious, and judgmental about others. This is not a good sign. Yes, many people may be making mistakes, doing things they should not do. But they are not evil or illegal. This is the time to contribute towards
“Sarve bhavantu sukhinah, sarve santu niramayah” i.e. “May all be prosperous and happy, May all be free from illness.”

As the late President of USA Mr. John Kennedy has said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” It is not our fault if we are suspicious. We are actually “taught” to be judgmental from our childhood. Without realizing its consequences our elders have instilled a fear and suspicion about those who are different from us, hence it becomes so easy for us to put the blame on “them.” We need to unlearn it and consciously remind ourselves to be non-judgmental. If you wish to have evidence, look out of your window and see the crows, eagles, squirrels and stray dogs happily floating around oblivious of any lock-down. They have understood what one-ness with the universe means. Only when we learn to accept and love every living being on earth we can hope to lead a relaxed and happy life, content that the world is full of nice people, and that together we can overcome any pandemic. Start the process now! – Dr. Ali Khwaja

Addiction to Technology (Weapons of Mass Distraction among today’s children and adolescents)

It is obvious that children and elders locked up at home will gravitate towards their mobiles, laptops and TV, let us do some work to understand. Twenty first century child is a digital-native, born and brought up in the digital world. Added to that the child watches his parents constantly glued to mobiles, tablets, laptops etc. and even when they are small, children are given access to many electronic gadgets.

Electronic gadgets teach a lot to children, but they also take the child away from certain realities of life, relationships, life-skills, nature and emotional development. Hence it is important to create a proper balance of all activities that a child does, and ensure that wider exposure ensures proper development of life skills.

Addiction: over 40% of smartphone users suffer from nomophobia (no mobile phobia). They develop anxiety if they cannot connect instantly to friends and others. Ironically those who get addicted to technology suffer from loneliness. Loneliness in USA is reported to have gone up from 20 to 47 percent of the population from 1980’s to 2020, and is growing fast. The smartphone gives a person an illusion of power, having everything at the finger-tip, which is not true. In fact an addict loses control over his basic life skills.

Curiosity: is inherent in every child. And technology is definitely fascinating, offering extensive variety and quick changes and development. Do not suppress the curiosity of the child. Sit with him and do exploration together, answer his questions, make him look for answers.

Freedom: Never give freedom to a child to get into activities that you may have to curb later. Go very slow, even if he throws tantrums, evaluate at every stage how he is using the freedom, and keep giving him incremental facilities. Let electronic gadgets not be lying around for the child to pick up whenever he wants.

Peer pressure: Kids learn peer pressure first from their parents who are trying to compete with their relatives, friends and colleagues. If the child wants something because “all my friends have ….,” make it very clear that you will give only if you think it is good for him, not because his friends are doing it. Periodically make the child aware of positive and negative peer pressure.

Self-esteem: Build self-esteem of your child. Only children with low self-esteem resort to artificial means of boosting themselves up, making wrong friends, showing off their gadgets.

Social skills: while every child needs to develop all five parameters of Emotional Intelligence, sharpening social skills is very important to prevent a child escaping into the fantasy world of gadgetry. Children should be made to interact with people of all ages and background, tackle conflict and difficult people, and thus develop confidence.

Boredom: Digital natives get bored very easily. Their mind and body needs constant stimulation. It is the responsibility of the elders to provide them with indoor and outdoor activities that make them active, involved and enjoyable. Bored children tend to spend more time on Apps.

Loneliness: Most children appease their curiosity about technology, periodically dabble in it, enjoy using gadgets, and at the same time move on to other activities. The ones who get addicted are those who have low self-esteem, poor social skills and who feel lonely or unloved. It is not enough that their parents love them, they should also feel that their parents love them.

Policing and punishment are rarely effective in preventing a child from getting addicted to technology. More effective steps are:-

  • Be aware of the interests, hobbies, socializing and leisure activities of your child
  • Encourage child to talk on any topic, express innermost feelings & take your suggestions
  • Involve yourself in technology, explore together, but be firm on keeping limits
  • Have open discussions when issues like trolling, blue whale, pornography come up
  • Discuss why the child cannot make friends, play outdoor games or do other physical activities
  • Give alternative physical and intellectual activities that do not involve technology
  • Fix up in advance a ‘weekly off’ from the phone, if difficult start with 6 hour ‘fasting’.
  • Take the child out into nature and away from the city periodically
  • Be careful not to scold when you find him doing something unwanted. Talk calmly, firmly
  • If possible, involve a third person (teacher, uncle, counselor) to tackle addiction issues.

Smart people do not need to rely on smart phones! 🙂

The Silver Lining Award!

I was invited to a school to give out awards to students on their Annual Day. One category among the prizes that really touched me was a “Silver Lining Award” given to a student in each class who has progressed most from one term to another. It may even be a student who is at the bottom of his class, but if he has gone from 20% to 40%, i.e. doubled his marks compared to others who only made marginal improvement he or she was given a citation to acknowledge and appreciate his progress.

Those who stand first in academics or extra-curricular activities inevitably keep getting awards. I sincerely hope and wish that we learn to appreciate, reward and encourage students who are struggling and progressing, rather than just those who are perpetual toppers. This will motivate all students to put in more efforts without comparing themselves with others.

Please spread the word to schools.

Forgiveness

Every religion has strongly emphasized on the virtues of forgiveness. Here are a few examples:

  • Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs says: “Bure da bhala mana. Gussa man na vasa (Be grateful to the one who is bad to you since he is only an instrument. Don’t allow anger to fester in your mind.)”
  • Jains begin their 10 pillars with “uttam kshama (forgiveness based on correct perception and correct knowledge)” and end with “kshama vani (asking of for-giveness from each other)”
  • The real spirit of the joyous festival of Holi is to forgive wrongs of others.
  • Muhammed, the Prophet of Islam used to pass by a house where the lady would throw rubbish and hurl abuses at him. It is recorded that one day he was going past and the lady did not come out. He stopped and went in to ask the lady whether she is not well on that particular day.
  • The essence of life of Jesus and his teachings is practice of forgiveness. “Forgive them O Lord for they know not what they say”, “Turn the other cheek” to the person who slaps you, are two of his universally known preaching.

What we do not realize is that forgiveness is for our benefit, and not a charitable act done to the persecutor. When we forgive another for anything that he or she may have done to us, we are really saying “I no longer give you the power to control who I am, how I think, and how I’ll behave in the future. I take responsibility for all of that now.”

Forgiveness is an act of self-love rather than some altruistic saintly behavior. It gives us control over our inner life and thoughts. Mark Twain said it so beautifully when he wrote “For¬giveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” Similarly a Chinese proverb says: “one who pursues revenge should dig two graves”.

Just fortify yourself, take a deep breath, and forgive the person who hurt you. And then …… enjoy the fresh air! – Dr. Ali Khwaja

Why students do not study

Many children do not perform well in their studies, and even become rebellious when forced to study. Among those who do not study properly, the most common issues (presuming there is no developmental disability) are:

Environmental factors: too many distractions, TV, social media, peer pressure, addictions, does not like the school atmosphere, feels subject is of no use, bullying

Inability to comprehend: Slow learners, dyslexia, fundamentals are weak since previous year, does not like teacher, sitting too far back in class, language difficulties

Home: Strict or too lenient parenting, parental expectations, comparison, competition, boredom and loss of motivation since he feels he already knows enough

Emotional/physical issues: Anxiety or stress, exam fear, mood swings and anger, past failures, bad relationships, sense of isolation and loneliness, self-esteem, poor eyesight, fatigue.

If the correct cause is not identified there is no point in pushing him or scolding him. He may not only not study, but also disturb others and create problems in class, become rebellious with parents, and get into bad company. Once the cause(s) is identified we can work out who can resolve each to what extent: parents, teachers, friends, counselors, special educators, doctors. With team effort most children can be encouraged to study well and achieve success.

Life goes on: The Old orders gives way to new

When john F. Kennedy fell prey to an assassin’s bullet, the United States of America did not come to a halt. Neither did India, when Indira Gandhi was shot by her own bodyguards. History has recorded many great men who accomplished tremendous tasks for mankind and became immortalized by history. Neither the death of one great man, nor national tragedies like thousands being wiped out by earthquakes of floods, has brought life to a standstill.

Yet every achiever has grandiose illusions about his immortality. Every parent also believes that only he can give a proper upbringing to his child, and without him the child would not be able to face life. Yet some of the greatest people on earth have been orphans,

Nature often teaches us lessons which we ignore. Lush green fields are harvested, the summer sun parches the soil into brown cakes. But come monsoon, and fresh greenery sprouts as though from nowhere. The old order gives way to the new. So it is with humans. Every generation is but a medium of the next. On the passing away of the old, there may be a momentary pause, but the show goes on as before, with newer and sometimes better actors taking centre stage. Like all good actors, each human has to bow out when the curtain drops.

God resides in his lesser creations

Watching the evening rush of the city. I sit back and wonder at the single-minded determination on each face that flashes by. Every person seems to know exactly where he or she is headed. The businessman in his air conditioned car awaits the green signal with impatience writ large on his face, while the sandal footed clerk gathers his umbrella and Tiffin box as he looks for a break in the traffic so that he can dash across.

Some are rushing home while others have appointments with friends in the melee, an old man stumbles and falls. The brisk walker and motorists skirt around him and rush off, with a cursory glance. A handicapped youngster hesitates as his crutches dodder over the high pavement. People give him space, so that he may not fall on them, and move on briskly. These people are the non-conformists. They disturb the efficient routine of the rush hour traffic and are irritants in the clockwork precision of corporate life.

And yet, I can feel the radiation of an uncanny glow, something supernatural which is not definable. Am I the only one who can see the aura around these humans? Is it my imagination, or do I feel that God is sitting right there with the sick, the old and the handicapped, and watching the zealous rush past him to their respective temples, churches and mosques?

Learn to let go…..

KATHERINE C Kersey says in the book of Art of Sensitive Parenting, “Children are given to us-on loan-for a very short period of time. They come to us like a packet of flower seeds, with no pictures on the cover, and no guarantees. We don’t know what they will look like, be like, act like, or have the potential to become. Our job, like the gardener’s, is to meet their needs as best we can, to give proper nourishment, love, attention and caring and to hope for the best.”

Since a small baby comes into this world totally helpless and vulnerable, the parent has to take care of all his needs. But we do not carry the baby around when it is time for him to start walking, we do not feed him when he is old enough to eat by himself- the same way we need to understand that as a child grows, we need to let go of him emotionally, too. As parents, we need to understand that true love is in nurturing and allowing our child to grow wings and fly out.

Why parents do not allow growth

Parents who do not willingly grow with their children and allow them to be mentally and emotionally independent, need to ask themselves if they are facing any of these situations:

  • Unresolved past about their own childhood, including resentment against their own parents.
  • Strong indoctrination that was instilled into them by their parents, and they are not willing to let go of it [particularly in matters that are not in conflict with ethics or morals].
  • A sense of insecurity that they may lose control over their children. This can happen if one parent is not happy with the other or is going through a bad career stage, making him or her try to redeem self-esteem by controlling the child.
  • Desire to prove to others that one is a good parent. It may be to impress in-laws, society, relatives or colleagues.
  • An inherent suspicious nature that makes the parent think that freedom will inevitably be misused by the child, assumptions that if the child is doing small wrong things he will go on to do bigger ones.
  • Taking out one’s frustrations and unfulfilled dreams on the child, and wanting to see one’s own glorification through the child achievement or behaviour.
  • The worst case is when one parent wants to cling on to a child only to get even with the other parent, to gain support in marital conflict or use the child as a pawn to get something from other adults in the family. If none of the above factors are present, a parent should actually take pride in seeing the child become more independent and able, not just physically, but mentally, too. But some parents do have genuine fears whether they are letting go too early and whether the child may stumble and fall. Firstly, such parents should remember that when their child first learnt how to walk, he did stumble and fall many times-yet, he was encouraged to walk. Secondly, a parent can use the following guidelines to ensure a smooth transition of the child towards adulthood:
  • There should be congruence between both parents about how much independence to allow at every stage. If grandparents or other adults are part of the family, their consensus should also be taken, or they should be requested not to give contradictory messages to the child.
  • Anticipate the needs and desires of the child before he begins to demand, for instance, when would he like to select his own clothes, when to start giving him money, when to buy him bike, when to allow him to stay overnight with friends etc. Many parents get taken aback when the child start making these demands because they were still in their own world thinking that the child is ‘too young’ for all that. *Be consistent in laying down rules. Never keep fluctuating on basic issues such as curfew hours, time on television, how much money to spend, selection of friends, use of telephone, etc. A privilege once given should not be taken away, unless he has purposely misused it [accidental or one-time misuse should be let off with a warning].
  • Let the child test the waters. Give him money once to do his own shopping, allow him to go out alone one day, and ask him to come back and narrate how things went. If he is not open about his movement or activities, warn him that he may not get that facility.
  • Communication is perhaps the most vital tool. Encourage and motivate your child to speak on any subject under the Sun. Tell him to share all his good and bad experiences. Assure him that you will not punish him if he comes and shares-and live up to that promise.
  • Punish immediately when he misuses any facility. The punishment should be crisp, impersonal, without hurting the self-esteem of the child and with prior warning. Similarly, reward him amply when he does not misuse any facility given to him.
  • Periodically, the whole family should sit down and discuss these issues openly, planning for the future, anticipating obstacles and if necessary, agreeing to disagree. Parents who allow their children to become independent progressively are doing them a great favour, because in tomorrow’s challenging environment, this will be the greatest factor in determining success and achievement.

Listen……. You will do well

Listening is an art which needs to be carefully cultivated. It is amazing that, despite the progress made in management education, no management school lays emphasis on listening as a tool for effective management.

In fact, if its significance is truly understood, Management by Listening [MBL] could become the next buzzword after MBO, Kaizen, TQM etc. How would you react if you were to be told that listening is a very difficult art?

Obviously, unless you were hard of hearing, you would ridicule the suggestion. Yet it is a fact that listening is a skill very few of us have inculcated, or even understood the significance of.

Let us take an example. Think of a situation when you are absorbed in your work, and a dear colleague comes over to you requesting your time for an important disclosure he has to make.

He starts off with his tragic tale of how his boss

[or wife, or father]

insulted him that day due to no fault of his, and that has made your friend so depressed that he is thinking of taking some drastic and fool hardly action.

More often than not, you would cut him short before he has finished, with either of these two responses: [1] “That reminds me of the horrible time I had when my boss

[or wife, or father]

had ridiculed me and I was so mad…” or [2] “Don’t worry, young chap, such things do happen, and you must learn to take it easy.” It is not the end of the world after all..” Will you reflect why you had responded as above ? Would you believe if you were told that it was because you were feeling thoroughly uncomfortable listening to your friend, and you felt that you must say something appropriate to ease the embarrassing conversation ?

You may not agree, but it is true. Most of us cannot wait to start talking when someone else is having his say.

Our mind starts wandering off to the right response, reaction, or even how to steer the conversation to something more suitable to us.

When someone is recounting something which is important to him, we are listening to his story, but the central character in our minds is neither the talker nor the subject he is talking about; it is WE ourselves.

With the talker’s voice droning somewhere below our conscious level, we are recounting similar incidents or similar emotions which we have been through.

Thus there is a dearth of people to listen when we really wish to speak. This is precisely the reason for the universal success of consulting psychologists, loving grannies, docile quiet housewives, and even practicing god men.

Yes, there are people who listen when our urge to talk is over-whelming. They do not but in with their own similar experiences; they do not underplay the importance and intensity of our emotions of the moment. They may understand nothing of the problem we are facing, but they do understand our feelings.

They have the time and inclination to listen without prejudice, not interrupting unnecessarily, offering no solutions, and extending their unconditional empathy. That is what listening is all about.

It may sound simple, but it takes a great deal of conscious effort to practice effectively. To be able to put aside our own problems, our anxieties of being late for the next appointment, to forget our very being for the time being, and to merge with the personality of the talker, is true listening.The increase in pace of jet-set lifestyles, the breakdown of the joint family system, the pressure of work, matrimony, commuting, inflation and competition, all lead to pent up emotions whose ideal outlet is …….. talking it over. And to be able to talk it over, there should be a listener. And for the very reasons cited above, there are very few listeners available around us. The listener has to do so without forming opinions and prejudices about either the talker, or the people he is referring to. He must show the talker that he is interested and ask open ended questions which help when the talker pauses uncomfortably.

Management gurus are increasingly making us aware that the most valuable investment of any organization is its manpower. A satisfied and motivated work force can achieve results which the best technology or most sophisticated equipment cannot. And for men to be motivated, one precondition is that they should have the feeling that someone listens to and understands their problems. There are many managers who complain that their subordinates do not communicate properly, or understand work given to them. It will be worthwhile if instead of reeling off orders, managers allow subordinates to first talk freely. The same is case when explanations are sought.

A typical scenario is that of the boss shouting out his dissatisfaction, asking the subordinate why he performed badly, and continuing the tirade after the subordinate has, at best, uttered “but sir……” People concerned with marketing or negotiating important deals are trained in the art of communication. They are expected to be very effective when they talk, and are evaluated on their convincing power. Not many realize that any customer can be convinced, or bargained with, only up to a limit which he has set for himself. The skill of the negotiator lies, not in repeatedly badgering the customer, but in understanding where this limit lies. This can be done only by listening to the customer more than talking to him.

Listening in important deals, should be done more with the eyes than with the ears. This is because 55% of the intake in communication is visual – the body language, postures, gestures etc. In fact, another 37% of communication is by the tone [“how he said it”] and the circumstances. Thus only 8% of communication is based on the text of what has been said.

Let us take an example: If a customer were to tell a persistent sales person “I will consider your offer,” the hopes which the latter will have of striking a deal will depend on when, how, in what tone, after which sentence, with what posture, and in what mood, the customer said the words.

Listening is an art which needs to be carefully cultivated.

When Japanese delegations go for important business deals, they are said to have one member who does not speak at all – his only job is to listen [with his eyes as well as ears] and to report at the end of the day to the other team members those subtle points which they may have missed in their enthusiasm to talk and convince.

We have traditionally had a culture of meditation, silence and patience. If we inculcate these into our working life, we will find ourselves becoming much more effective managers.

The next time someone comes over to you to pour out his or her problems, take a deep breath, purge your mind of all other thoughts, and sincerely turn to the talker and listen. Listen hard and with unbiased empathy. Listen without interrupting except where absolutely necessary, and listen until the talker is exhausted with the outpouring.

You will not only have helped a person tide over a deep depression or a seemingly insurmountable problem, you would have also won a grateful friend for yourself, increased your own knowledge, and learnt how to tackle people better, resulting in better work efficiency.

Selecting a spouse: Who’s the winner? Head or heart?

Love is blind, they say. Tell that to unmarried people, they will retort, “Rubbish”. On the contrary, tell that to married people, they will exclaim, “How true”.

What makes a marriage tick? Banjara academy set out to find answers to this age-old question, and came up with wide range of findings. For young men and women, falling in love was most important. Educational qualifications, similar upbringing, hobbies and interest, looks, caste and financial status all came later. Horoscope was no priority.

The results of the survey were released at a workshop “Selecting a Spouse”. Participants narrated their experiences and the refrain was that it is the relationship and not the person that matters the most.

Asif, a young doctor, who is engaged, says everything starts and ends with love. “Love marriage” which is arranged is ideal as we should always have the family backing. I believe it is always marriage between two families rather than two individuals.

Karan, an architecture student, feels arranged or love, marriage is a gamble. “Marriage, for me is an empty room. You put two people together and see how they build it up. Some may build a harmonious marriage, while in some case one of the spouses may walk out or sometimes both the spouses may walk out.”

But Malavika, a student, disagrees. “Marriage is not a gamble. You can’t pick up a man by throwing a dice. For me the ideal spouse should be down to earth, respect each other and sharing and caring”.

“Falling in love should not be kept as priority because then it will have to do more with looks, the way one presents and often we tend to look at only the positive side. It’s only after marriage that we see the negative trait in the person, says chairman of Banjara academyDr. Ali Khwaja.

“This shows that youngsters are giving importance to the concept of ‘love first and marriage later’ with the presumption that this would ensure a smooth and happy wedded life,” says a counselor.

Says Dr. Ali Khwaja, “For married people, the most important factors that make a good marriage are intellectual compatibility, similarity of upbringing, education, caste, financial status, similarity in careers and then comes falling in love and horoscope matching”.

Vasu and Saraswati, who have been married for 43 years, agree, “We can’t demand respect, it has to be earned. Two individuals should have emotional maturity and should understand each other’s weakness and help each other overcome it.”

TIE THAT BINDS

  • The four pillars of happy marriage are good communication, respect, trust and commitment.
  • While unmarried youth stress the importance of love, married people emphasize the need for compatibility.
  • Married couples say nuclear family is more conducive to happy married life.
  • Learn to love and not look for the right person to love.

Life from a guard’s point of view

Kumar, the watchman of the building next to Banjara since almost twenty years, sits on his broken down chair looking blankly into empty space, sometimes listening to music on his old battered mobile, at times reading a tattered newspaper. At lunchtime he pulls out his tiffin and has a leisurely meal by himself, gets up to wash and drink water – and he is back to his musings.

His routine has not changed a bit due to the shut-down. The only change is that periodically he used to get up to open the gate for a vehicle to go in and out, and now he doesn’t have to do that. The tea-man who used to stop by during his rounds is not to be seen, most domestic servants who would chat with him when they went in and out are missing. One thing is that he seems relaxed, contented, and quite at peace with himself. There are such unsung heroes also around us.

Festivities with a difference

This Ugadi must have been a unique festival to us. The rush for last minute shopping, buying new clothes, visiting temples, entertaining guests, going out to the Malls or cinema were all missing. I wonder if that gave us an opportunity to introspect instead of just celebrating.

Ugadi is New Year to most of us, and it is supposed to teach us that life doesn’t mean only happiness (sweetness) but that every facet (taste of life’s experiences) is important including bitterness of the unhappy moments of life and the sweetness of the happy moments. What are we experiencing now with the threat of Corona hanging over our heads, the anxiety of financial losses, the uneasiness of having to sit at home doing nothing? But these are nature’s ways of telling human beings not to become so proud of their achievements and forget that there is something much more powerful than them that controls them.

Stay in Touch

I hear so many of my friends who lament that though they love books and used to be prolific readers earlier, now they “just do not get the time to read.” Well, Corona has offered you three uninterrupted weeks to read, read, read. If you have only stocked up provisions and not books in your house, then you are very short-sighted. If you are only reading short forwards and watching one-minute videos on your mobile, then you are missing out the deeper aspects of life – on this one occasion when you can just delve into the world of literature, adventure, human behavior, biographies, poetry or just plain humor.

Similarly, if you have not had time recently to connect at leisure with your family members, neighbors or long lost friends, do not give up this opportunity to pick up the phone and have a long chat, find out what they have been doing and what they intend to do. These interactions will build long term bonds and will leave you with wonderful memories.

Memories

Memories are so precious. They cannot be stolen or taxed, and they are our treasures forever. While some of us lament that we are getting older, in reality we are getting richer – with so many events and experiences to recall. The happy ones that we use to boost our todays, the sad ones that make us cherish better times, the painful ones that become lessons of life. In these days of forced confinement, try to pull out one each from these three categories and go back into the world of nostalgia and see how much they have enriched you…..if you are willing to learn from each of them.

Also try to recollect some memorable events of your days in Banjara with your team mates. Beyond the lectures or the notes, there would have definitely been some experiences, learning and enlightenment that you carry with you. Pull it out from the recess of your mind, dust it, and perhaps share it with someone you love.

It will enrich you during these days of Corona anxiety.

Communication

While most of us do understand the significance and importance of communication, let us also reflect on “Purpose of Communication”. Whenever you start a communication, whether with an individual or with a group, be clear on what you wish to achieve.

I am a strong believer that communication and the way you relate to people, is the most important single factor that determines your success as a life skills trainer. Be clear about the purpose of your communication at that moment with that particular audience. Are you communicating:

  • To inform
  • To convince
  • To inspire and provoke thinking
  • To impress
  • To entertain
  • To defend yourself
  • To preach
  • To build better relationship
  • To pass time fruitfully

Often you will need to switch from one context to the other. Keep your awareness clear and you will be very effective. Similarly be aware of your ‘Para-language’ i.e. volume, rate of speaking, tone, pitch and inflection. See how emphasis on one word can change the meaning of your communication – You want me to go?

You want me to go?

You want me to go?

You want me to go?

You want me to go?

Happy Communicating
–Ali

Dealing with Tantrums of your Child

Some of the basic reasons why a child throws tantrums (becoming adamant, crying loudly, refusing to be logical, known in Kannada as “hatta”) are:

  • Seeking attention (particularly from parents, teacher, or adults)
  • Feeling tired and restless or uncomfortable
  • Physical factors like hunger, sleepiness

It is the child’s way of expressing anger and frustration. Kids don’t have inhibitions or control like adults, and they do not know the right words to explain what they want, hence they resort to tantrums. If the behavior is dealt incorrectly, the child may learn to use tantrums to manipulate people and to gain attention. In dealing with tantrums, the ultimate goal is to teach the child acceptable ways of expressing anger (or emotions).

Children want a sense of independence and control over the environment — more than they may be capable of handling. This creates the perfect condition for power struggles as a child thinks “I can do it myself” or “I want it, give it to me.” When kids discover that they can’t do it and can’t have everything they want, they resort to a tantrum. If the tantrum succeeds in eventually getting the child what he wants, then it becomes a habit.

When a child is throwing a tantrum:

  1. Don’t punish, shout at, or hit the child at that time.
  2. Don’t reward the child or give in to his demands till he calms down.
  3. Stay calm and ignore the behavior to the extent possible. Do not get agitated.
  4. Keep the child safe from physical harm, but otherwise leave him free.
  5. Isolate the child if possible. Walk away and ignore him.
  6. Don’t worry that others are seeing and may look down upon you.
  7. Try not to discipline your child in public. Be firm and consistent. Plan in advance how you will deal when the next tantrum comes.

At Home: When the child throws a tantrum at home, calmly carry or gently push the child to a place where the child can be left safely by himself/herself (within your vicinity) then leave the room, and don’t go back until he/she calms down. When the child is calm, have a talk with him/her about his/her behavior. If you don’t feel safe leaving the child alone, stay with her, but don’t respond to the tantrum in any way. Don’t even make eye contact.

In Public: If the child throws a tantrum in public, carry or lead him out of the public area if possible, and take him to a place where you can have some privacy, be with the child, and wait calmly without reacting to the tantrum. When the tantrum subsides, talk to the child about his behavior, and then return to your activities. Remember that you may be embarrassed but be assured that if you ignore the tantrum will not last very long.

Sometimes it won’t be possible for you to escape from the public place easily. Under such circumstances, just grit your teeth and hang on. Ignore the screaming child. Ignore the glares and snide remarks of the people around you. Keep your cool. (Anyway, a screaming child in a check-out line speeds it up, so your child is actually doing everyone a favor.) Once you are able to make your escape, talk to the child about his behavior firmly but gently.

  • Distract your child. Take advantage of your little one’s short attention span by offering a choice or a replacement for the coveted object or beginning a new activity to replace the frustrating or forbidden one. Or simply change the environment. Take your child outside or inside or move to a different room. This will give you temporary relief.
  • Know your child’s limits. If you know your child is tired, it’s not the best time to go grocery shopping or try to squeeze in one more errand. Avoid giving him instructions that may lead to his throwing a tantrum.
  • Give him personal attention, spend more time with him, whenever he is doing something nice and peaceful. Give him simple activities where he can succeed and feel proud, and you can praise him for it.
  • Make sure your child isn’t acting up simply because he or she isn’t getting enough attention from you. To a child, negative attention (a parent’s response to a tantrum) is better than no attention at all. Try to establish a habit of catching your child being good (“time in”), which means rewarding your little one with attention for positive behavior. Whenever the child does NOT throw tantrums, reward him particularly with non-material things like a hug, praise in front of others, taking him out for a drive or park, playing games with him etc. This will reinforce positive behavior in him.
  • Try to give your child some control over little things. This may fulfill the need for independence and ward off tantrums. Offer minor choices such as “Do you want orange juice or apple juice?” or “Do you want to brush your teeth before or after taking a bath?” Teach him to express his wants and needs calmly and to verbalize his emotions, e.g. “Are you feeling very angry?” The aim of the parent should be to channel the emotions and desires of the child to more constructive outlets.

We all want to feel special.

It is so important for us to get exclusive attention, affection and love which is not being shared with anyone else. Obviously our loved ones feel the same way. I am a strong believer that it is more joyful to love than to be loved. And love has to be expressed in a way that the receiver appreciates and cherishes.

While we definitely love our near and dear, do we make them feel special? Do we connect individually and exclusively with them, instead of sending them ‘Forwards’ and interacting with them through WhatsApp groups? I may sound old fashioned, but an unexpected phone call just to say “I was thinking of you”, a handwritten note expressing affection, a small gift handed over without occasion, a genuine admiration or appreciation of the person’s qualities or even looks – these build long term close relationships.

Let’s ensure we do it, regularly.

I may be an old-fashioned dreamer, but I am still fascinated with the full moon.

On a full moon night if you go away from the city to a place where nature is in abundance, and wait patiently after sunset, you will see an orange glow in the east, which slowly expands into a bright silver-blue moon rising majestically above the horizon. If there aren’t too many lights around, you can get dazzled by the way the moonlight brightens up every object as far as the eye can see.

No artificial lighting can give you the illumination that moonlight does, and it is all pervading across the landscape. If you walk around in this enchanting ambience, you can observe so many objects around you very minutely – and see things that were not noticeable in the harsh daylight.

This pleasurable experience can be yours if you shake out of deadlines and remember when the moonlit nights come around – and if you take the time off from your ‘busy’ schedules to walk into the shimmering silver environment.

Child Behavior & Discipline

Unfortunately most discipline techniques are based on what NOT to do, and not on training the child WHAT to do.

  • Explain rules clearly – repeat periodically, when there is no issue.
  • Do brainstorming “what is discipline” and then “why is discipline needed”
  • Take child’s opinion in framing rules, explain certain rules cannot be changed (and why)
  • Explain what punishment is given, why, how (including for repeated offences)
  • Punishment to be given without delay, but be patient, bring down your temper
  • Describe the action of the child, and how it broke the rules. Listen to his side of the story
  • Bring in the human element – your emotions – “I felt sad when you …..”
  • Do not pull down self-esteem of the child. Punish the act, not the child
  • Ask yourself truthfully whether the punishment is necessary. Be a role model
  • Think of constructive punishment. No corpora punishment under any circumstance
  • Consistency: g. the word “shit” is not allowed. If it is allowed/not allowed on different occasions, it confuses the child and gives the impression “It is me who is bad”.
  • Immediately after punishing, show friendliness and concern for the child
  • Develop assertiveness – calm and forceful personality
  • Keep identifying and appreciating good qualities of child. Punish the act, not the child
  • Keep an eye out for those who disrupt, and engage their minds otherwise.
  • Aim for “inner transformation” rather than “forced compliance” It works !

Teaching your child to value money

If you find that your child is spending too much, or does not seem to know the value of money, try out all or some of the following tips:

  • Get him involved in domestic budgeting, ask him to keep accounts, and reward him when he does so.
  • resent him with a copy of the book “The Ultimate Gift” by Jim Stovall (Embassy Books), and discuss what he felt after reading it.
  • Give him some money and ask him to spend it in such a way that every day he spends at least some amount, but the entire amount should not get over before 15 days – and all the money should be spent on SOMEONE ELSE, not on himself.
  • Force him to keep detailed accounts of money that you give him, and reimburse only if he gives a complete account. If there is an amount missing, next time give him less.
  • Encourage him to rough it out with limited money e.g. spend the whole day roaming around outside, eat food, travel, meet friends – on a shoestring budget, and without taking money or favours from anyone else.
  • If he takes money without permission, be very firm in denying him money for a fixed period of time.
  • Keep a strict watch on whether he is getting money from other sources (e.g. grand-parents, friends), and firmly stop him from doing so, by seeking cooperation of the others.
  • Take the child to an orphanage, a school for special/disabled children, a slum, and just show him around, observing closely their lifestyle, dress, food etc. Do not lecture to your child about them, but give him exposure to allow the impact to slowly sink in.
  • Give your child opportunities to earn small amounts of money through menial tasks that are done by servants (e.g. washing the family car, iron clothes, carrying out the trash, weeding or watering the garden). Pay him the wages that are normally paid, but praise him that he has actually “earned” the money.
  • If you have already been giving money freely to your child, start reducing the quantum in small increments. Explain why you are restricting the money, and tell him in advance what you will pay for and what you will not. Never succumb to tantrums or emotional blackmail.

The above exercises have to be done continuously over a period of time, and only then the affect starts showing. If parents relent mid-way or break the firm norms to make exceptions, the exercise becomes a failure. The child may at times throw tantrums, but it is imperative to understand that what is being done is for his own good.

It Almost Rained

Week after week the sun was beating down on us. Breeze was at a standstill, clouds playing truant. And the weekend passed off, hot and stuffy, with most of us preferring to remain indoors.

Monday dawned bright as ever. The day took on its harshness of the summer heat. But …. by afternoon it did not seem as hot as the other days. Before evening, those who ventured out could feel a pleasant breeze caressing their bodies. Looking up at the sky one could see stray cloud formations, and the sky acquiring a dull grey colour from the earlier bright blue.

There was even a slight promise of rain. A stray raindrop touched the skin now and then, the breeze was picking up rustling leaves and taking away the sweat. Those who had the sensitivity and will power to stop work and step out could experience a cool evening after many days. Those who had the time and inclination to lean back and admire the sky could see beautiful shades of grey and white intermingling with the golden hue of the setting sun. But most other city folks continued with their work, oblivious of what nature was offering them free of cost. Maybe some turned off their air-conditioners or reduced the fan speed – but kept busy with “important” work.

It almost rained, but it actually did not. Nature perhaps was teasing us, tempting us, and telling us that the best things in life are free – if you have the ability to enjoy them. The beautiful evening melted into a calm and cool night. The next day dawned on a softer hue, the sky was still in a naughty mood, playing with colours, dancing with the clouds. But when nature saw that humans are too busy to even step out, the heat started picking up. And it became another typical hot summer day. – Ali

A (un)true story

Every day, a small ant arrives at work very early and starts work immediately. She produces a lot and is happy. The new Boss, a lion, is surprised to see that the ant is working without supervision. He thought if the ant can produce so much without supervision, wouldn’t she produce even more if she had a supervisor!

So he recruited a cockroach who had extensive experience as supervisor and who was famous for writing excellent reports.

The cockroach’s first decision was to set up a clocking in attendance system. He also needed a secretary to help him write and type his reports and … … he recruited a spider, who managed the archives and monitored all phone calls. The lion was delighted with the cockroach’s reports and asked him to produce graphs to describe production rates and to analyse trends, so that he could use them for presentations at Board meetings. So the cockroach had to buy a new computer and a laser printer and … recruited a fly to manage the IT department.

The ant, who had once been so productive and relaxed, hated this new plethora of paperwork and meetings which used up most of her time…! The lion came to the conclusion that it was high time to nominate a person in charge of the department where the ant worked. The position was given to the lizard, whose first decision was to buy a carpet and an ergonomic chair for his office.

The new person in charge, the lizard, also needed a computer and a personal assistant, who he brought from his previous department, to help him prepare a Work and Budget Control Strategic Optimisation Plan … It was at that time that the lizard convinced the boss , the lion, of the absolute necessity to start a climatic study of the environment . Having reviewed the charges for running the ant’s department, the lion found out that the production was much less than before.

So he recruited the owl, a prestigious and renowned consultant to carry out an audit and suggest solutions. The owl spent three months in the department and came up with an enormous report , in several volumes, that concluded : “The department is overstaffed …” Guess who the lion fires first? The ant , of course, because she “showed lack of motivation and her efficiency was continuously going down”.

Please Note: The characters in this fable are fictitious; any resemblance to real people or facts within your office is pure coincidence…

I know you are a busy person, but do try the following ……

On a cold January morning, step out of your house as soon as the sun is up, or maybe a little earlier if possible. Walk into the open and watch the sky brighten up slowly and lazily, watch the sun barely peeping out through the winter haze, experience the slanting rays of the sun as they hit your body, caress you through your clothes, and slowly warm up your whole being. As the sunlight battles and defeats the chill that was making you uncomfortable, savour the warm hug it gives you.

And remember …. remember the months you spent cursing the sun. The days you would have to go out on a summer afternoon, and would protest loudly about the heat. Recollect how you would want the sun to just disappear over the horizon and give you relief. And not having patience to wait for that to happen, how you ran back to the shelter of a concrete roof and sat under a fan or in an air-conditioned room.

Ask yourself … is the sun your enemy or your friend? Does it scorch you with its heat, or does it caress you with a warm hug? Does it intend to harm you or heal you? If you understand this aspect of nature, you will realize that the same is true of all your friends, in fact all human beings. They give you bouquets and brickbats. At times they may appear to be like the harsh summer sun, but if you accept them in those hot days, you will find them very useful when you need their warmth in your coldest days. They may make you very happy, they may hurt you badly. Learn to accept both, as we learn to accept the day with the night, the summer with the winter, and life with death. — Ali

You have a Mind. Use it.

Often you will be deeply impressed by someone’s words or comments. If others around you are also equally impressed, then you will succumb to agreeing, just because you do not want to be the odd-man-out. We often feel that there is safety in numbers. A “consensus” or collective decision usually means that everyone has agreed to say collectively what no one believes individually – since a Committee is defined as “a group that keeps minutes and loses hours”.

Are you an independent thinker, or do you take shelter under numbers, saying things like “everyone agreed to it”, or “so many others are saying the same thing”? There is a tremendous shortage of independent thinkers. George Bernard Shaw said something like “a few people are very unreasonable …. I wish there were more of them.”

I’m not asking you to become a revolutionary, or to rebel against the whole world. Remember that your thoughts are the only aspect of your life that not even the most powerful dictator can control. If you give up this control to others, just because they are larger in numbers, or because you feel safer in belonging to a group, then you are insulting your intelligence – and maybe heading towards deep disappointment and regret some time in life.

However busy you are in life, try to develop the habit of being Proactive. Rub the blackboard of your mind clean, and start writing what you actually believe in. Have your own mind, listen, evaluate, analyze, but do not go with the “herd mentality” of getting swayed by something just because many people are saying it. In this age of media bombardment, protect yourself from the tsunami trying to control your mind …. your last refuge. – Ali

Are we recessed?

For the a few years or so, the word “recession” has become one of the most commonly heard ones. I am surrounded by people who lost their jobs, people who are scared that they may lose them, people who have run up debts, and people who are confused what direction to take in the future. But I really wonder, is there anything to really worry about? How many wise people have told us that we only learn in adversity, that failures are stepping stones to success, that hardships sharpen us, and – “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough get Going.”

But we seem to have become so used to luxury and the easy life that we cannot face setbacks any more. When youngsters with three years were earning double of their seniors with thirty years experience, they did not introspect. When people jumped jobs twice a year to reach dizzying heights, they did not look down. When greed overtook wants, they forgot what their actual needs were.

I think there is poetic justice in the global recession, which has at least made us more aware of reality, of poverty, of failure, and of broken dreams. Those who live through this phase will emerge very strong. The younger generation will re-learn the value of delayed gratification, the difference between needs and wants, and the satisfaction of working slowly and steadily towards their goals. The elders will regain their dignity, “experience” will no longer be a dirty word, and people will have time to slow down the merry-go-round of their lives and actually admire the beauty of nature around them – without the background music playing! -Ali

Family Stories

Family stories are tales about people, places, and events related to the members of our immediate family or their ancestors. Family stories casually chatted about at the dinner table, or regaled again and again at family gatherings can parallel great epics or notable short stories. The memorable stories of our lives and of others in our family take on special importance because they are true, even if everyone tells different versions of the same event. These tales are family heirlooms held in the heart not the hand. They are a gift to each generation that preserves them by remembering them and passing them on.

Listening
The first step to collecting family stories is to become a good listener. Good listeners encourage great storytelling. When a speaker feels that the listener is interested, he or she is more inspired to communicate generously. A good listener gives full attention to the teller, does not interrupt or contradict the facts of a story as it is being told, and offers the teller encouragement with an interested facial expression and body stance. When a teller feels encouraged by an interested listener, there is joy in the telling.

Interviewing Elders
An effective way to hear family stories is to ask questions. Family stories can be collected by interviewing a family elder. Make a mental or written list of topics that might generate some questions to ask the elder.

Questions about:
People, places, events, objects, important transitions, work, or travel can be story starters. Although short-term memory may sometimes be limited in the oldest of relatives, long-term memory may be very much intact. We need to help the teller journey back in time to retrieve these treasures. When families are disintegrating, and when the joys of storytelling are fading away from children, this is a good way of reviving both. Do try and practice them.

Is the Customer Always Right?

Often we are reminded that we cannot be successful in business unless we go out of the way to please the customer. We need to put in extra efforts, be very polite, tolerate his idiosyncrasies, pamper his ego, and acknowledge any nonsense that he says – because the customer is always right.

Sometimes I feel we have taken this too seriously, not only in business, but also in our lives and our relationships. We have begun to define “customer” as any person from whom we need money, favours, licence, any material benefit. And this does not stop with our commercial dealings. We practice this very sincerely, a little too sincerely I feel, in many of our personal relationships.

When we know that he can provide us with some benefits, when we can extract monetary benefit from him, he is always right. We are willing to bow down, crawl when we are asked to bend, and fawn all over him – till we get what we want. Maybe then the roles may be reversed, but who cares?

In our mad race of the “competition”, whether it is for a job, a contract, a promotion, a sale, or even getting a spouse, we are on the chase like salesmen. And exactly like salesmen, we pursue only till the deal is done. And when we ourselves put the “customer” on a pedestal, it is but natural that he takes advantage of us.

If we can stop selling – our products, our services, our own selves – we will be able to deal with people much more rationally. We will be able to build better and longer lasting relationships. But it takes a lot of courage to stop selling – for we are afraid of competition. Only those who can step out of the rat race and watch the world go by, can have the courage to achieve this bliss. – Ali

The Failure

People sniggered as he walked past – those who cared to take notice. Others did not even feel his presence. Nondescript, clumsily attired, disheveled hair, torn sandals flapping at every step.

No one knew much about him – no one cared to. Somewhere in the blurred and distant past he was part of society. Some vaguely remembered that he came from some noble stock. But that was very long ago, and none cared for the bygones. Today there was only one word to describe him – failure.

He did not have a job (was he capable of doing one?), he lived in a shed in the compound of a long-closed factory, he didn’t seem to possess any clothes other than those on his back. He had no friends, at least not among the respectable citizens. The lunatic hanging around the City Market square seemed to like him very much. So did the stray dogs that the elite wanted terminated. There was also the old beggar woman, crawling on hands and stubs of legs, who seemed to be fond of him. Wasn’t the company he kept itself enough evidence of the fact that he was a failure?

One day a highly respected scholar was passing by City Market. He was an acknowledged authority of wisdom in many fields, and a very prosperous and respected man. The scholar saw this man sitting on the pavement and noticed that he was scribbling something with a pencil stub on a dirty bunch of papers. With disdain he went near him and inquired what he was writing. The tone of the question clearly conveyed his contempt that the person could write at all. Silently, and with glazed eyes, the man held up a bunch of ragged papers to the scholar.

“Reality of Life” read the scribbled title. The scholar started reading and his jaw dropped in disbelief. The wisdom of the words pierced as an arrow. The depth of the thoughts could only have come from profound intellect far beyond the average. The scholar kept shaking his head in disbelief as he read page after page of unbelievable excellence, an insight into life that no human had unraveled before. “Where did you get these notes from?” asked the scholar sternly, as a policeman interrogating a criminal. The man sitting on the footpath raised his eyes, and in the depth of those eyes appeared the mysteries of time immemorial. “I wrote it” he replied simply.

The scholar berated him for lying. He laughed derisively. A rainbow of emotions passed through the scholar’s mind – incredulity to greed. His heart was racing with the idea that was forming in his mind – an opportunity of a lifetime. He looked down again at the miserable figure on the pavement, and loudly started scolding him for being useless and an imbecile, a burden on this earth already overloaded with other vermin like him.

Continuing with his loud tirade, he slowly and purposefully thrust the bunch of papers in his bag, and walked off without a second look. The man on the pavement seemed to be giving a blank stare – but none knew what was going on in his mind’s endless depths. He was quick to grasp what had happened, and he accepted it with the same cynical grace as he had accepted every turn of his miserable life.

Days passed by. Life on the pavement was no different from one day to another. The rich, the beautiful and the intelligent would turn their nose up and walk past our miserable wretch, while those who thought they were more miserable than him reached out for his support. He often wondered what he had to give them. On the other hand, they knew what they were getting from him. No one said it in words, but deep down these wretches knew how much more wretched they would be without him.

One day he was shuffling along the main road that led to the Town Hall. Suddenly he was stopped by a lathi wielding policeman. He looked up in surprise to see that a fabulous function was being readied. There were buntings and banners. The crowds were waiting to receive the honourable Governor. The occasion, as announced by the banners was – the release of a book by the very same rich scholar who had snatched the papers from him. The book to be released was entitled “Reality of Life.”

The man pushed behind by the policeman looked towards the floodlit Town Hall. The book was yet to be released … but he knew every word of what was written in it.

Gratitude

Have you had occasion when you did a good deed to someone, and found that he has no gratitude? At times you may have even felt that the person is being a little cold or negative towards you, and may not only be hurt by his behavior, but also perplexed. It is not as though you are expecting much in return, but the least the person can do is to acknowledge the good that you have done for him. Right? Wrong! It is a sad but true facet of human behavior that a person does not act out of gratitude, but for future expectations. Perhaps that is why the Bhagavad Geeta gave the immortal advice “Karmany eva ‘dhikaras te, Ma phalesu kadachana” I remember in my childhood my Granny used to say in Hindi “Neiki kar, Ganga mein daal” i.e. do well, and put your good deeds into river Ganges to flow away with the water. The logic behind this inexplicable behavior is very simple. You do something good to me, and do not expect anything in return. I am initially grateful, but slowly the gnawing thought hits me – you are superior, you are in a capacity to help, you will get everyone’s admiration. I am inferior, at the receiving end, I cannot give back to you, and everyone will look down upon me. This leads to resentment, jealousy, and in my efforts to protect myself, even gossip or badmouthing you. I am not doing it consciously or with bad intention, but I do end up hurting you. And you not only feel very bad, but also perplexed at my behavior. You cannot change mankind. You cannot change even one person’s thinking or behavior. But you can change yourself to understand human behavior, and accept its little idiosyncrasies. “Karmany eva ‘dhikaras te ……..”

The Greatest Power

India has launched its first spaceship to the moon. Many countries have made nuclear bombs. Man has learnt to harness the great power of nature, whether it be the sun’s heat, the waves of the ocean, or the vast skies. But most of us have still not learnt how to control our emotions. They say that the last frontier of science is the human brain – when we understand it thoroughly, we will have made the greatest breakthrough. And the mind is from where our emotions emanate. So many of us struggle with our emotions, unable to control them, letting them control us instead. Has it not happened to you that someone said or did something, and you reacted instantly – only to regret later? It is because you could not take the responsibility of your “response-ability”. We all need to work on it. Make a resolution that you will gain more control over your emotions, and thus over your words and actions. Feel, experience the power that you will gain.

Verandah

Among the various species going extinct at a fast pace is a lifeless thing that adds life to every home – the Verandah. Once upon a time there was no house without a verandah, and the bigger varieties had a number of them, including many houses that had verandahs running all round. Tiny houses had verandahs at least big enough for a weary traveler or vendor to rest his aching bones, or for the family grandfather to catch up with the world going past when he could no longer walk out due to arthritis. The Verandah was also a lovely place for the young mother to distract the attention of the baby and feed him while he watched traffic with fascination. Large bungalows had giant verandahs, replete with swings, potted plants, and the khas thattis that cooled the breeze entering the house on hot summer days. The verandah cut out the sun and let in the air, it provided a buffer between the harsh outdoors and the cool interiors. It was a place for family tete-a-tete, gossip, escape from stuffy interiors, and a cozy den to sit and watch the rain with a hot cup of tea. Today we enter houses that greet us with formidable doors, steel shutters, and a “magic eye” from where the wary housewife peeps out whether to allow the visitor in or not. The latch-key has assured that the door can be shut every time someone enters or exits, and the home is cut off from the outside world, the nature around, and the cool breeze that warms the spirit. Apartments do have balconies, but many residents, unless prevented by law, prefer to close them up with windows and grills and make them additional tiny rooms in space-starved flats. The joy of a verandah can never be equaled by any other space in a house. I never give up an opportunity to sit, stand, relax, or swing in one. Next time you see one, try it out, if you don’t have the luxury of having one at home.

Will the correct door open?

Myself when young did eagerly frequent Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument About it and about that: but evermore Came out by the same door wherein I went. — Omar Khayyam

Why does it appear at times that we are going in and coming out of the same door all the time? Even though material wealth has increased considerably, and we now have the best of living conditions, there is an emptiness that many complain about, a feeling of always being “rushed”, a greater feeling that something is missing. Is it because we are going to the Doctor and Saint of Wealth and Power, the ever-elusive and yet always attractive magnets that draw us to them like moths to the flame? Lately I have been reading about watches that cost a crore of rupees, hotel rooms at 18,000 dollars a night, Kalyan-Mantaps that charge five lakhs and have to be booked one year in advance, cars that are being bought hungrily even with price tags running into crores. On the other end of the spectrum I see every little hut has a colour TV, every coolie has a mobile phone and a bright T-shirt, and every restaurant is overflowing with people. In this scenario what more could a person want? Success is coming at an earlier and earlier age, health care has taken giant leaps, home delivery of food is guaranteed in 15 minutes (“If we delay you don’t have to pay anything”), most children are earning much more money than their parents ever saw in their lives. Then why is it that we have no time to see the sunrise or sunset? Why are we entering doors all the time, when we need to be out in the fresh air? I have asked the questions, but I don’t have the answers. Do you? — Ali

Who has taught us?

Another “Teachers Day” has come and gone. A few of us did greet our teachers, but most of us forgot – or just did not have the time. Some of us do not even know who our real teachers are, who made us what we are today. To some extent we do revere, respect and love our parents for what they have taught us. But we often forget those who are not bound by any blood relationship, who did not HAVE to, but yet taught us so much about life that today we go about with our heads held high. Some have taught us from text books, others by lecturing or sharing experiences. Some others have taught by inspiring us or by being role models. We have also learnt through bitter experiences with some individuals. In some cases we have woken up to the learning years after the wisdom was handed down to us, like the young man who said, “As a teenager I was dismayed at how little my Dad knew, now ten years later it is amazing how much he has learnt.” It was not his Dad who learnt, but the young man who learnt that Dad indeed knew quite a bit. Even the illiterate have taught us – by leading lives that the richest could not afford to. The beggar sharing his stale roti with a stray dog, the coolie who gives away a part of his meager earning to charity, the young man who refuses to use influence or give a bribe to get a job – they are all our teachers. In a very subtle way, almost imperceptibly, we have learnt many lessons of life from them. This year on Teachers Day, along with a Seminar to felicitate senior Special Educators, we brought out a little booklet titled “I am a book, I teach” in order to remind us that books have also been immaculate teachers. Let us never forget those who have taught us. – Ali

Life without Electricity

I have lived in a village with no electricity. In fact the entire village was just three houses and a mosque perched on a hillock at a junction of the busy Kashmir-Kanyakumari National Highway with a dust ridden track leading into some nondescript remote villages. The only thing of significance in this village was a “Request” bus stop where occasionally one or two villagers from the interior would alight or board. And for the facility of these villagers, some good Samaritan had, decades ago, built a small platform around a massive shade-giving tree. One could sit, recline or lie down on this platform at any time of the day. I recollect the special days when I would make it a point to be present in the village – an elderly Mullah would dutifully call out the faithful for dusk prayers, and often finding no one responding, chant his prayer all alone. Once in a while I would diligently don my prayer cap and stand behind him, lost in thoughts of the unseen and sublime Almighty. Immediately after the dusk prayer I would stroll down to the platform under the tree and sit gazing East. As the dusk gathered the darkness all around, and as the blue of the sky turned darker and darker shades of grey, in front of me there would suddenly appear a piercing and steadily growing brightness as though the thick foliage and trees have caught fire. The light would spread through the jungle like a bush fire, brightening the whole horizon. I would sit there staring, spellbound. A few minutes later, like a warrior rising up to proclaim his victory, would rise the source of this unusual brightness – a shining full moon! I don’t know how many months I have watched the full moon rising from the horizon of the tiny hamlet of Asifnagar. But its impact is forever etched in my memory. For, the moonlight would brighten up the countryside as no city floodlights ever can. For miles around I could see the brightened fields, the huts, the highway. Only those who have lived in a village without electricity can truly appreciate the true beauty, charm and brightness of the full moon.

Go back to Permanency

We all love to have permanent things in our lives. The moment our basic needs are met, we move on to our safety and security needs. If you live in a rented house, you want one of your own, if you have a temporary job, you aspire for a permanent one. If you are engaged you want to get married. Yet why is it that we are moving more and more towards seeking temporary and instantaneous gratification? We cherish our oldest friendships with nostalgia, but we look for anonymous contacts on Internet. We love to work with old friends in a familiar environment, but we keep changing jobs. We want long-term and steady customers, but we neglect those who have already purchased, and chase new ones. Not being in the rat-race of this society, I do not identify with competition. But those who are out to beat competition seem to be making things difficult for themselves. I see people who have happy marriages getting sucked into extra-marital affairs. I watch mobile service providers trying to lure new customers and giving horrible service to their existing ones. Builders had taken the prices of apartments to dizzying heights till the recession hit them, and only now they are falling over each other offering “economical” housing. As consumers we keep changing our gadgets and accessories even when they are working perfectly well, just to keep up with the neighbours. Next time you find yourself talking about the “good old days”, try to go back to living those wonderful times. Cherish permanency in every aspect of your life, whether it is your dining chair or your spouse. Learn to value what you have (and “who” you have), rather than getting carried away by advertising blitz and seeking new things. Then you will be able to lead a life that is recession-proof and depression-proof. — Ali

Impression

Every person I meet, casually or with specific purpose, leaves behind an impression on me.
Inevitably I tend to gain, by learning something from the other, by correcting my perceptions, or by getting stimulated into a line of thinking I had neglected earlier. This, I have realized, is only possible if I keep a completely open mind. The moment I look at you and start evaluating you, I am creating a barrier. If I form opinions (inevitably negative ones), I am shutting myself out from learning from you. Judgmental people can become very lonely, and I am working hard to inoculate myself against this major epidemic of the 21st century. As the old proverb says, “When there is so little time to love, where the time to hate is?” Let us use every moment of our interactions to increase the love, which increases the warmth in our heart, and which leads to a sense of fulfillment that no material things can give.

So when I meet you next, in case I forget to tell you, let me thank you in advance for enriching my life.

Some tips to improve your quality of life:

When a Loved One Hurts You

Every close relationship is defined by expectations – and there needs to be a sensitive balance. But when someone you have loved, trusted and done favours to, decides to willfully hurt you, it becomes extremely difficult to accept. If you are looking for a reason why the person you thought is very close to you let you down so badly, read the book “Games People Play” by Eric Burne. It describes the functional and dysfunctional aspects of close relationships. If you are focusing on the person who hurt you then you are intentionally keeping him or her in your mind, allowing the hurt to fester like a septic wound. If you are craving to get an answer to “WHY did (s)he do this to me?” then you are increasing your pain and anguish. The opposite of love is not hatred, it is indifference. If you want to get the person out of your life, you cannot do it by hating or by being angry. You can only do it by developing a sense of indifference. Anyone you are indifferent to cannot hurt you. By continuing to be angry, you may be spoiling other loving relationships, you may lose the ability to rationalize other relations, and you will definitely be a very, very sad person. If someone near and dear has hurt you intentionally, you are assisting him or her in increasing your hurt and fulfilling the other person’s desire. Also keep in mind that stress is cumulative. The stress of agonizing over the past will get added to any new stress you have to face in life.

If you have understood and agreed with what I have written above, then you have to start the process of….

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is not about giving up anything – except bad feelings. You can forgive and not even tell anyone that you have done so. There are many things you don’t have to do when you forgive. Here is a list of most of them. You can probably add more.

  • You don’t have to forget what happened or pretend it didn’t happen.
  • You don’t have to give up your grieving or diminish your feelings of loss or pain.
  • You don’t have to excuse or condone selfish, rude, or abusive behavior.
  • You don’t have to become a doormat. Forgiveness is not weakness; it takes strength and courage to let go and forgive.
  • You don’t have to justify other people’s behavior
  • You don’t have to reconcile with anyone or renew your trust in them
  • You don’t have to remain trapped in negative thoughts and feelings like anger, guilt, resentment, blame, shame or pain.

It’s not necessary to understand why someone acted as they did in order to forgive them. They may not even know why they said or did something hurtful. Understanding their motives, opinions, and concerns may help us widen our own perspective, but “why” information about them is not a prerequisite for forgiving.

Alcohol and Addiction

Alcohol passes through stomach lining (then through small intestine) into bloodstream, then to brain. It depresses the central nervous system within a few minutes, depending on speed of drinking, the dilution, whether food has been eaten etc.

People react differently to alcohol: Feel High, sad or depressed, they develop error of judgment, slow reactions. Some become violent, other forgetful, and some have hangovers.Everyone has a different “limit” in drinking.

Then……Why do people drink?
“Makes me feel good, relaxed” “I am at ease with people”, “To get away from problems”, “Everyone else does”. “Makes me feel attractive, smarter, and stronger.” These are all temporary boosts that extract a great price. Withdrawal symptoms can make a person dysfunctional. The whole family suffers when one person becomes addicted. If your parents drink….. You are more prone towards addiction. The dividing line between social drinking vs. problem drinking is very thin.

Harmful effects of Alcohol: Liver, stomach, brain, heart, pregnancy.
40% of all serious accidents in USA every day, have an alcohol connection. In India also the number is very high.

How to Avoid
Ask yourself why do your friends force you to drink? What is their motive? Say: “No thanks, it makes me sick” “My mother is waiting for me”, “I have a sports match tomorrow”, and be firm. If forced on you, take only one sip, and quietly throw it away Get more involved in sports, yoga, talking it out, spirituality, whatever suits you

Counselling Potential Addicts
Forced treatment does not work. Motivation on the part of the client is important. Motivation varies from time to time. Understand this and accept it.

  • Establish a good rapport
  • Show unconditional acceptance
  • Make him realize you are interested in his welfare.
  • Identify problems caused by his addiction
  • Work out alternate styles of coping with problems
  • Alternate behavior patterns at usual drinking time.
  • Avoid places where he usually drinks.
  • Avoid drinking peers
  • Give free choice, give information of alternative means to give up

Follow Up:
Counsel family to support client during the withdrawal phase, and to avoid criticism. Give unconditional support and listening to family FAMILY MEMBERS should understand Three C’s which are not in their control: Cause Cure Control

COMMUNICATING (Adult with Teenager)

  • Use her language & terminology – allow her to use slang/criticism
  • Use e-mail, SMS, Whats App
  • Listen more than speak
  • Tolerate her wide mood swings from adult to child – don’t react
  • Allow her silences on vital issues (but express your disappointment)
  • Encourage her to talk about her friends (be non-judgmental)
  • Be consistent in exercising your authority
  • Be a role model in day to day activities
  • Show interest in activities that she likes
  • Give her space
  • Offer to help her, but allow her freedom to choose
  • Send her unexpected messages/gifts (and don’t expect response)
  • Share family worries, but reassure that you can handle it
  • Praise specific acts of hers (note, card, gift, public acknowledgement)
  • Bring up topic of concern, be non-judgmental, and ask for her views
  • Talk to her about boys, sex, values, morals & take her opinion
  • Don’t react to her anger outbursts or use of bad language, ignore and move on
  • Discuss role models and what is happening in her world – without passing judgment
  • Whenever possible, give her praise, positive strokes for smallest deeds (not grades) Communication is the most important factor of how she is going to behave with her elders.

I Am…………………….

We have a social Self (the image we present ourselves in society), a personal Self (how we are to ourselves and our closest confidantes) and a secret Self – some very personal experiences or attitudes which we just cannot share with anyone else. This is common to all of us to greater or lesser extent and generally should not cause any serious issues.

However, if there is a wide gap between these three, then we need to introspect whether we are living an artificial or hypocritical life. There will be some discomfort trying to balance the three aspects and shuttling from one to other. Without our realizing, it can take a toll on us in the long run.

I have been noticing that with the advent of technology and social media, many of us now have an e-Selfwhich is what we project to others through Facebook, Linked-in, Instagram, Tinder etc. Hiding behind the protection of the smart-phone we build an image that is just not real.The consequences of such adventurism can eventually be very emotionally traumatic……

The widening GAP

In a slum area nearby there is a small bakery. Among other things they used to stock small packets containing six Parle-G biscuits, costing two rupees per packet. I would see tiny children raising their hands to the counter with 50 paise coins (I didn’t know these coins still existed)asking for one biscuit!

The bakery man would open the packet and give out one biscuit each thus earning 3 rupees for the 6 biscuits! While he made 50% extra profit, I used to wonder about the kids and their families, who could not or would not spend 2 rupees for a full packet of 6 biscuits.

This is how the poorest of the poor keep losing out, paying more than what we do for the same commodities (including exorbitant interest on loans they are forced to take). No wonder they continue to be in debt traps and poverty from generation to generation….

It is said that the nation or society that has the most promising future is one that takes utmost care and gives the best upbringing to the next generation.

When we give good inputs and guidance to young people, we are not doing them a favor, we are doing something for ourselves – when we grow old and become incapable of looking after ourselves, it is these youngsters who will be ruling the world and the society around us. We will either be able to enjoy our sunset years, or spend every day lamenting, “Whaaaat has happened to the world/country/ locality/ society/ family – it is not like our good old days.”

Your good old days were good old days because YOUR elders had created a good environment for you, but if you have not done the same, then you deserve to be miserable.

Do give a thought – you invest so much in your home, savings, insurance, health etc. but the greatest and most profitable investment is the one you make in the new generation.

Do you feel very lonely when you are facing an unexpected setback or challenge?

Suddenly you may feel that everyone in the world is happy and enjoying life, while you are left behind in your own misery. At times you may also feel that friends and relatives let you down exactly when you need them.

If you have experienced the above even once in your lifetime, there is a way to vaccinate yourself from facing it in future: Whenever you even suspect that someone known to you (need not even be a close friend) is going through a setback and is feeling isolated because of his or her misery, just reach out to that person. All you need to do is to convey verbally or non-verbally, “Main hoon na” i.e. I am there for you. You don’t need words and you need not help materially or physically.

Helping others is a great way to inoculate yourself against future hurdles or challenges. You can give unlimited emotional support, and you will still have a reservoir to give more. Unlike charity, giving emotionally does not take away your wealth, it increases it.

A friend of mine was commenting that clouds can be quite naughty and playful

You look up at a clear sky, put away your umbrella and go out – and within minutes you are caught in a downpour! You see heavy rain and call off your plan to go out, and in the next two minutes the rain stops. Even as we look at the clouds and their formations, there is something lively about the way they keep changing shape, sometimes breezing past briskly and at other times remaining stagnant in the same place in the sky. They can get jealous of a beautiful full moon and cover it up completely, and they can overcast the whole sky and prevent you from getting nourishing sunlight.

Most important, they can withhold the rain for weeks on end causing drought at places and water shortage in the cities, or they can create thunderstorms that flood the countryside creating havoc and destruction. Perhaps we need to take more interest in them and study their behavior the way we study humans, animals and plants.

Who knows what wonderful things we will learn?

Why do we have the need to possess or literally own another human being?

When we feel that someone belongs to us, we are willing to go to any length to protect, promote and possess that person. I really wonder if that is love, as we believe. Am I doing all that only to satisfy my ego or my sense of ownership? I often wonder how we can totally ignore others in need and go out of the way to do anything and everything to someone we believe is “mine.”

Is there really anyone that I own in this world? The harsh reality is seen when someone claims to deeply love another person, and when the other rebuts or lets him down, he goes all out to hate and hurt this person he claimed to ‘love.’ Remember the proverb:

“If you love someone, let him go. If he comes back, he is yours, if not, he never was.”

A little Tibet

Muniamma and Kumar squat on the opposite sides of the road and spread out their wares on plastic sheets. Kumar specializes in eatables – one-rupee sweets and indigenous chocolates to fancier packaged junk food. Muniamma sells trinkets, toys, knick-knacks. Most children entering the school arch stop and look on with awe to see if there is something new or enticing to buy. They laugh, giggle, and chat leisurely, as they have reached school way ahead of the time for the first bell.

Nestled between undulating hills and valleys, nature holds sway for miles around. Even the clouds spread and roll in abandon in the unlimited skyline. Walk down the steeply sloping road beyond the arch and you are in a school campus with low-rise buildings, playgrounds, staff quarters and a breathless view of the hills in all four directions. This is the Tibetan school in the Dhondenling Tibetan Settlement, a few kilometers from the one-road little town of Odeyarpalya, a five hour drive from Bangalore.

The charming Tibetan refugees live in 22 ‘villages’ named simply by the alphabets ‘A’,’B’, ‘C’ and so on. Their children walk, cycle or ride to the school. The amazing part is that they love to come to school even an hour or two before assembly – for school is second home to them. From Muniamma to the ever-smiling Principal, teachers and support staff (not to mention a battery of tail-wagging street dogs) everyone welcomes the kids, tiny tots to hulking teenagers.

Time stands still in Dhondenling. No one seems to be in a hurry or under stress. Thousands of miles away from their mountain country the third generation refugees live in contentment and peace – and yet with the undying hope that they will return home one day. Children scamper all over the school campus and beyond. A monastery perched on the highest hill looks down benignly on the lone scooters on the winding roads below, the isolated buildings of the administration office, a traditional hospital, the agriculture cooperative society and a tiny bank.

This is a place where nature rules. And it rules with compassion and care, allowing myriad varieties of birds to flit around, for occasional wild elephants to meander through, for trees to grow to unbelievable heights, and for humans who love nature to learn that life should be allowed to progress at its own pace….

Invaluable

I read something very touching the other day:

Imagine that you had the means to give every person in your life an expensive gift. How happy and appreciative they would be! And how much satisfaction you yourself would get. Actually, you can give others a special gift, something they really need.

It won’t cost you anything.

What is it? Your attention! Most people want attention and respond appreciatively when they receive it. To give quality attention, however, you must be an empathetic listener. Most of us forget to listen to our near and dear. We are very polite in listening to even boring strangers, but we take our most loved ones for granted.

Every now and then I make a resolution that I must give more attention, show greater sensitivity and express more affection to those selected few who are very integral part of my life. But slowly I slip, and soon I realize that I am taking them for granted.

Many a time we work hard to take care of the needs of our near and dear. We deprive ourselves of our needs and wants, spend more money to take care of their needs and wants – but we do it more in material things, and very less in fulfilling their emotional needs and wants. Yet in today’s fast paced and competitive world, what our loved ones need from us is some TLC (I hope you know what it is), small loving gestures and the feeling of warmth that comes from knowing that they belong to someone. Let us please give it to them.

Number game

We are all the time encompassed with numbers. The year that has begun is 2019, the date of every day is important to keep planning ahead, we constantly look at the time to keep up our pace, all our near and dear have become trapped in their mobile phone numbers. We are governed by PAN numbers, PIN codes, Adhar number, our vehicle numbers, and our alpha-numeric passwords, our blood pressure readings.

I remember the good old Bollywood movies where the poor man pushed into jail would lament that he has become “Qaidi (prisoner) No. XXX” and has lost his identity. I hope we are not becoming Qaidis entrapping ourselves in our own jails.

The years come and go, leaving good and bad memories – but I want to think that life is more than just numbers. It is emotions, relationships & people. It is names, greetings, pet-names, endearments, descriptions.

It is Us !

Republic Day

4 years ago just before Republic Day, I saw an old man selling pins with small metallic National tri-colour flags for five rupees. I bought four of them, and started wearing them in rotation every day. Initially no one seemed to take any notice of this new appendage on my shirt. Then comments started: “Hey, Republic Day is long over, why the flag?” Some people even passed sarcastic remarks, “you don’t have to wear your patriotism on your chest every day”. It set me thinking. People wear their religion, caste, political affiliations on their sleeve, and it is accepted. Everywhere I turn around I see people flaunting their faith or their community – on their foreheads, in their dress, through ornaments, and even on the dashboards or windscreens of their cars. I want to wear my Nationality on my person wherever I go, because I genuinely love my country and am proud to be an Indian, and I hardly have any other regional or parochial affiliations. My language, religion, caste, region or political affiliation are very minor in comparison to my identity as an Indian – and I would like others to know this fact, through a tiny metallic tricolor flag proudly worn on my chest.

Super Hero of the needy

When someone falls sick, a loved one is dying, there is an accident or disability, or when someone is struck down with mental illness – Ramaswamy is the first name that comes to mind.

One phone call, and Ramaswamy does not give you advice what to do, he just informs you how many minutes it will take for him to reach you. Like the pizza delivery man, Ramaswamy is with you in minutes. He takes charge, quietly runs around doing everything possible to relieve the situation, provides solace and reassurance, and manages to get results at lightning speed. Be it a case of brain trauma or mental illness at NIMHANS, a serious case of cancer in Kidwai hospital, a destitute who needs admission in a government hospital, or a person from a far off village lost and desolate looking for a cure in the giant city of Bangalore – he’s there.

Ramaswamy has the uncanny knack of making friends with the right people – never for himself, but to ensure that the contacts he builds up will be useful when the next emergency strikes to a stranger who calls out to him. Travelling from one corner of the city to another, be it by car, scooter or BMTC bus, he does not hesitate to take every suffering soul to the right destination for the most appropriate and affordable cure. And he does not stop with that. He knows where financial relief is available, which authorities to wake up from their slumber to release most deserved concessions or grants to the poorest of poor. He completes his work and moves on …. To meet the next person in need.

Sun is shining, Oh so Bright!

The mist cleared up early. It is nearing 7 a.m. and the sun is peeping over the tallest trees in the East.

The day is becoming quite bright, and the little residents of the salubrious Manthan (Churning of minds) retreat, are up and about. A squirrel comes running and jumping at amazing speed, climbs briskly up the tall wooden pole, and perches himself (herself?) comfortably on top. Enjoying the view and surveying the surroundings, he smoothly glides on to a thin tree branch. For a moment I gasp, is he going to lose his grip and fall? Not at all, he knows how and what he is capable of. Before I can catch my breath, he has effortlessly moved on to another tree and then another, and is out of sight.

There are tiny birds, smaller than the usual sparrows we see in the city. They move in and out of my vision so fast, I cannot keep track of where they are going. In the meanwhile my favorite Vividh Bharathi radio station is broadcasting another session of “Bhoole Bisre Geet (forgotten and scattered retro Hindi songs)”. The slow and lilting music goes well with the slow and measured movements of nature around me. A hot cup of tea appears by my side, and before I can say thanks to the eternally loyal Thirumalamma, she has glided away noiselessly and is sweeping the far end of the campus.

I wish every morning can be so beautiful and bountiful. But I have to get back to the concrete jungle. For every day is not Sunday, and I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep……

Your Attention Please

I read something very touching the other day:

Imagine that you had the means to give every person in your life an expensive gift. How happy and apprecia¬tive they would be! And how much satisfaction you yourself would get. Actually, you can give others a special gift, something they really need. It won’t cost you anything.

What is it? Your attention! Most people want atten¬tion and respond appreciatively when they receive it. To give quality attention, however, you must be an empathetic listener. Most of us forget to listen to our near and dear. We are very polite in listening to even boring strangers, but we take our most loved ones for granted.

Every now and then I make a resolution that I must give more attention, show greater sensitivity and express more affection to those selected few who are very integral part of my life. But slowly I slip, and soon I realize that I am taking them for granted. Many a time we work hard to take care of the needs of our near and dear. We deprive ourselves of our needs and wants, spend more money to take care of their needs and wants – but we do it more in material things, and very less in fulfilling their emotional needs and wants. Yet in today’s fast paced and competitive world, what our loved ones need from us is some TLC (I hope you know what it is), small loving gestures and the feeling of warmth that comes from knowing that they belong to someone. Let us please give it to them.

Corporate work life

The VIP Guest House of IIT Roorkee, calm ambience of the formal dining hall at dinner time. I saw a young gentleman looking a little lost as he entered, so I invited him over to my table. He turned out to be a very successful Corporate Executive heading operations of a large MNC. He had just finished giving a talk to the students on developments post demonetization.

As we spoke his phone rang 3 times in 10 minutes, and he kept on telling the person at the other end that he will be with him in a short while. He explained apologetically that his associate was calling him back to the guest room because he needed advice on a presentation that they were preparing. Apparently his boss had called up from Delhi to tell him that an important customer wants a proposal on Monday morning.

I then understood that despite it being a Saturday night, he and his associate will sit late in the night, prepare the proposal, drive to Delhi early morning, and go his boss’ house to show him what he had prepared. He said it is quite likely that boss will make major changes, so he will sit on Sunday night and finalize the presentation.

The person I was talking to was in his thirties, good looking and smart, he said he has two small children, and he will not be able to spend the weekend with his family – which is a regular affair. Of course he earns a salary which has so many zeroes in it that I cannot even count!

Modern Leadership

Ratan Tata appointed Cyrus Mistry as the head of the Tata empire after extensive professional search. Narayan Murthy and his team appointed Vishal Sikka as the Head of Infosys bypassing senior executives. Mulayam Singh Yadav appointed his son Akhilesh Yadav the Chief Minister of UP when he himself could have enjoyed that position. And subsequently each of these stalwarts got into a public spat with their appointees, accusing them in the media and elsewhere of mismanagement, and tried to take back control.

I have often seen this desire among successful leaders to want to become Remote-controllers and to rule by proxy, without having the responsibility or answerability that a designation brings. And even after having gone through a rigorous and time consuming selection process, they are so unhappy eventually with their appointees that they want to take back their positions, undo whatever the successor had done, and start from square one. In many cases this process can be unpleasant, acrimonious, bitter.

I often wonder why such people cannot let go and retire gracefully, even if their successors are not doing things exactly the way they would want them to. What makes them hand over authority, keep monitoring from a distance, and again step in to make changes? In most cases age is catching up with them and the task of rebuilding is not an easy one.

I suppose we do not learn from nature how the old order gives way gracefully to the new and the cycle of fresh harvests and new blooms continue to make the world a better place.

Giving time a Break

There is a famous proverb: “Man travels all over the world looking for happiness, only to find it at home.” The mystic poet Kabir Das had also said something similar about searching everywhere for God and then finding out that He resides in your own home.

I have always been a critical admirer of proverbs and quotes of famous men. But I do not blindly follow and applaud them. There are times when I find some very popular proverbs either irrelevant, senseless, or even exactly opposite of what I believe in. When I identify such a quote, I just ignore it and move on. But I find so many people who blindly read, repeat, forward and quote to others, without giving a deep thought to their relevance – more so if it is a quote by a “foreigner” with an impressive sounding Western name.

With due respect to many great people (who may often say great pearls of wisdom, but not always so), I think we should introspect and evaluate the relevance or usefulness of a quote. Going again to the proverb at the top, is it necessary that we come back after our explorations and find happiness at home? What if we have grouchy family members, or if we are going through stress at home for various reasons? We can perhaps find happiness when we explore beyond and see how others are dealing with their life situations.

Travel is a great education in itself and even a source of joy.

Road to Happiness

I don’t know if I am over-reacting, but I find more and more people who do not stick to their commitments, punctuality, or minor responsibilities. In this era of very easy communication, I find people who do not take calls or messages, do not call back, and do not show any remorse when questioned on it.

At times it becomes a question of how important or useful you are to them. If you are a person in authority or are useful to them in some way, then they do not wait for you to contact them, they are calling you up constantly, sending mails, sending “gentle” reminders of what you have to do for them. And once the work is over, they go back to the same attitude of indifference.

I do agree that we live in a competitive world, and everyone wants to keep climbing up the ladder of success. But what I fail to understand is that having people to support you when you stumble, cheer you on when you are struggling, or guide you if you are straying from your path – are as important as those who can actually give you a lift.

Even Newton, when praised for his great achievements, is reported to have said, “I could see far ahead because I was standing on the shoulders of tall men.” There are emotionally tall men and women all around us. They are not celebrities or billionaires or persons in authority. But they can lend their shoulders, not only to climb and see far ahead, but sometimes to lean on and have a good cry. Are you nurturing such shoulders?

Measure of Success

“Please tell me which is the best career?”

“In which career will I make the most money?”

“Which career has the best ‘scope’?”

These are the questions I am faced with on a regular basis not only from students, but also from their parents. I wish I could answer them ….. but I am only a counselor, not an astrologer or a palm reader. I can assess a person, find out all the abilities, traits, aptitude and intelligences, and I can match them to the most suitable careers. But can I predict how much money the person is going to make? If I could do that I would not be sitting here as a counselor and would probably be minting money myself elsewhere.

In today’s era of innumerable challenging and rewarding careers it is so sad to see people following the herd mentality and losing out on very promising opportunities. There are very nice, simple and proven methods to select the right career most suited to an individual, match it to his or her interest/ passion if any, and thus select a course and vocation that will be most successful, profitable, and enjoyable.

If you wish to take that path, I can assure you that you will never regret your decision, and you will be able to make your vocation into a vacation.

Selfishness

Are we all selfish people?

Enrollments for the new DCS batch are going on, and I am amazed at the number of students who are coming into this simple, experiential and unorthodox course with such high qualifications and credentials. Some have given up high-paid and high-status jobs, others have put aside prestigious achievements, comforts, their status, and have agreed to become students – to learn about life, about themselves, about others, and how to reach out to people.

When intellectuals say that humans are basically selfish and greedy, that they only look for their own benefit, I want to tell them about our students – and also those who have been giving selfless voluntary service for years after they qualify in our counseling course. These are the people who keep reinforcing my faith in humanity, and I feel so privileged that I am able to have such amazing people around me. That is what keeps motivating me to continue with my humble mission.

I am sure you too will find some selfless people around you – it is up to you to spend time with them, nurture your relationship with them, and find an oasis in the self-centered world.

Growing up

As I grow older, I realize that I have so much to learn from younger and younger people. It is nice to be old, with all your happy and sad memories, the nostalgia and particularly the beautiful relationships you have built and you cherish – even if sometimes the people are no more. But if we get stuck in the past, and keep talking about “In my good old days….” we are denying ourselves the opportunity to participate in the most exciting and challenging things that are happening now, which we couldn’t even have dreamt of some decades ago.

I will not forget the hundred year old man who, when people asked what the advantages of being a centurion are, he replied: “No peer pressure.” I agree with him. If I spend time with people of my age or older, I find very few of them willing to adapt and adjust to the new world and enjoy what it has to offer. Living in the past is not going to bring back the past, but will deprive you of living in the present, and planning for the future.

That is another topic of interest. Many elderly people do not want to plan for the future (except bolstering their investments or health insurance) just because their age has crossed certain numbers. But there is more to life than just physical security. Here I would like to quote the story of another centurion who was very positive and enthusiastic, and when asked the secret of his motivation, he replied: “every morning I drag myself out of bed with all my bones aching, go outside and fetch the newspaper. I open the Obituary Column to see whether my photo is there. If it is not there then I know I have one more day on this earth and I might as well enjoy it!”

The Guru

Guru Purnima came and went this month. Even the full moon was a little dull due to cloudy weather. I received many messages of gratitude and appreciation that warmed my heart – though personally I don’t believe that I have really been a Guru as such.

Which made me think –what really is a Guru? Is it just the teachers who taught us through text books, is it the religious wise men who give sermons, is it the person who coaches you when you have exams and sees that you pass? Surprisingly my best and most effective gurus have been none of these – they have been people who encouraged me to think for myself, motivated me to progress without them being my crutches, cheered me on when I was doing something nice, and stood by me when I faltered.

Some of my gurus have also been my worst critics who made all efforts to pull me down, and in the process lit a spark of determination in me that I should prove them wrong!

Many a time we do not realize how much we are learning from different people, leave alone acknowledging and appreciating them for what they have given us! Shall we start doing it now at least?

Writing

When I write, I do so for myself.

Sometimes people appreciate what I write, at times they say they do not understand, and some just ignore because they are too busy to read trivia. Of course in this age of Instagram and Twitter, perhaps reading a few paragraphs, and that too on paper and not on the mobile, must be quite a task to many people. But that does not discourage me, because I write for myself…..

I have always held the view that it is better to love than to be loved. Not many agree with me, at least not in practice. But I believe that when I love I am in control of myself, I am choosing to do what makes me happy. I am not dependent on anyone, not even on the person I love. Hence life is so much smoother and fulfilling.

Similarly, when I write I am bringing out my thoughts. Why should it be important to me whether others choose to read, agree, criticize, condemn, or as in most cases ……ignore? If you are reading this, don’t evaluate my expression. Use it to create thoughts and ideas of your own – and share it with others. You may have much more and better things to say than me, and there may be people who appreciate your inputs.