26/11 continues to rankle our worst memories, when our beautiful and lively city was attacked by a band of heavily armed terrorists from across the border, who wreaked havoc by spraying bullets and lobbying grenades at the hapless, innocent and hardworking people of this city. What started as firing at Leopold Cafe, soon spread to famous restaurants locations such as CST station, Cama Hospital, Marine Drive and two of the most iconic hotels not only of this city but of our country- the Oberoi and the Taj Mahal Palace.

I didn’t know that great valour and presence of mind shown by the staff of the Taj had in fact been taught as case study at Harvard university, and came to know about it only the other day when a friend sent me a Ted talk video on the subject.

The speaker, a faculty member of Harvard university explains this case study and this video leaves the audience in the midst of a plethora of emotions – heart rending at the trauma faced by 500 in house guests , 600 visiting guests and 500 staff, gut wrenching misdeeds of the abominable terrorists, pride at the presence of mind and valour shown by Taj staff and above all amazement at the management lessons learnt out of this unforgettable tragedy!

While the Tata group is respected world over for their philanthropy and employee friendly policies and practices, the management lessons are real eye openers:

(1) the young apprentices and starters are mostly undergraduates, who are generally recruited from smaller towns such as Tiruchirappalli, Nashik and not from Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai;

(2) while recruiting the grades of the candidates are not seen but the emphasis is given on their attitudes. Teachers are talked to so that the students who are obedient, cooperative, empathetic and positive in their outlook are identified in preference to class toppers and A graders

(3) these staff are encouraged to be guest ambassadors and not brand ambassadors. Any positive note by a guest for a particular employee is taken note of and rewarded within 24 hours through recognition instead of through annual Diwali bonuses!

And such is the impact of the above that on the doomsday even the lowest ranked employee- telephone operator, waiter, cleaner, guard et al formed a human shield around the guests and protected them instead of escaping ! And mind you these were youngsters in early 20s for whom escaping the crisis should have been a natural priority! At the end these heavenly armed mad dogs on a death mission could kill only around 50 people, half of them being Taj staff!

As it is, any reference to 26/11 evokes the saddest memories, but I recommend viewers to check out this TedX video on YouTube by Rohit Deshpande. It will give goosebumps alright – the greater lesson being what the practical management lessons are all about!

Receiving and giving

Came across a beautiful message yesterday on the importance of giving and unity. A preacher asks the congregation about the secret of longevity of the giant redwood trees, the tallest trees on the earth that have survived flurry of storms, blizzards , snow, heat and yet have survived for hundred of years? Someone from the congregation attributes it to the depth of their roots! Preacher explains that in fact their roots are quite shallow; these trees expand their roots horizontally beneath the surface so as to form strong interlocking bonds with the roots of fellow trees. By doing this, they don’t only strengthen themselves but give strength to fellow trees to ! As the preacher finally concludes, this gift of reaching out to others, giving them strength and in the process forming a strong unity is the secret behind these tress longevity, stature, magnificence and uniqueness.

He then goes on to beautifully explain the fine nuance between living and life. He says by giving we receive. By getting things, we make a living. By giving, we make a life. We are only the caretakers of the divine property, but we misunderstand and treat ourselves as owners. We should learn from redwood trees – support each other and give strength to each other. In return, we shall receive longevity, strength and above all happiness. Isn’t it a beautiful thought?

Old, Plain Day

I saw an interesting item in today’s newspaper. It was around the dedicated days – in fact, it was about an overdose of such days and yearning for a free, plain day.

As the news item mentioned, moving from Father’s Day on Sunday ( which was also an International Surfing Day and international T Shirt Day – thank god I wore a T shirt on Sunday, albeit unknowingly) to International Yoga Day on Monday ( also World Giraffe Day and World Peace and Prayer Day) to today being a World Rainforest Day, it’s been one helluva busy period 😃! This is not all – tomorrow the 23rd is World Widows’ Day and 24th is World Fairy Day and World UFO Day. In fact, the news item further laments that all the remaining June Days are dedicated days, 1st July is International Jokes Day, 2nd July for some reason is World UFO Day again, 3rd July is International Drop a Rock Day and 4th July is International Day of Cooperatives! The item celebrates 5th July, exactly 2 weeks from today that has been mercifully not dedicated to any cause and is just a plain, old day!

In the earlier days of my blogging, dedicated days were my favourite to pen a new blog! Luckily very soon I realised that it’s not just Father’s, Mother’s, Teacher’s or Children’s Day ! Virtually every day, sans a few intermittent good, old , plain days as the aforesaid news item describes such days, is a dedicated day and I would have run out of steam and ideas had I persisted with my initial resolve!

Happy 5th July no event day!

Flying Sikh

Father’s Day is celebrated the world over on the third Sunday of June honouring fatherhood and paternal bonds, as well as the influence of fathers in society. Going by the tradition, tomorrow, being the third Sunday of June 2021, is the designated day for this occasion.

India has a tradition of treating father with utmost respect not only in his capacity as the Head of family, but as someone who begets a child who is then born to a mother. Our most revered scripture Ramayana is replete with the stories of an ideal son, Ram, following his father’s orders most obediently though it meant tremendous hardships for him. We belong to the land that has produced sons like Ram, Prahlad and Bhagat Singh, who brought great glory to their fathers.

Respect for father requires no special day and this is true almost for all important days that we celebrate. However, this year in particular, Covid pandemic has wreaked havoc and it has been especially harsh on senior citizens – our fathers and mothers. This was not the end we envisaged for those who brought us into this world and whose love, affection and blessings we always craved for. There’s something depressing about this father day.

And today the nation received the sad news of the sad demise of another of his glorious sons – the flying Sikh Milkha Singh, who lost his battle to Covid a few days after his wife lost her life too! This father day let’s dedicate the occasion to the father of Indian sports – the flying Sikh!

Let’s defeat the third wave

Some people are brave hearts. While I don’t know whether they maintain social distancing or wash their hands regularly, but they definitely have an aversion to using the mask. They either don’t wear or wear it well below their nose, as if virus hates the nasal opening and likes to infect through mouth cavity only! It’s not clear whether their attitude arises out of ignorance or just that they have been plainly lucky to have avoided Corona?

But these are not all! There is another set that has an aversion to vaccine. These are easy preys of the canard being spread about the side effects of the vaccine. There have been news of bodies turning magnetic due to ill effects of vaccine.

Yet there is another set for whom crowded places are a must visit. Whether it’s their shopping requirement , religious affiliation or political inclination , they simply cannot sit at home or avoid such places where social distancing is made mockery of.

While writing the above piece, I am acutely aware of our Corona warriors – doctors, health workers, essential service providers et al – who are daily risking their lives for our sustenance. There are also daily earners who have no choice but to earn their sustenance daily. I salute all these and I think we should all remain eternally grateful to this section.

We can still fall victim to Corona in spite of mask, hand washing, social distancing and vaccination. But then we know that while death is a certainty, to walk in the middle of the road or railway track is suicide! We cannot defeat the death, but let’s not commit suicide.

Life is nothing but a set of challenges

And Covid is just one of them

If we can overcome all others

Why should to Corona we succumb?

Obliteration of Corona may not be immediate, but let’s ward off the immediate threat of the third wave that’s knocking at the door!

Stay safe!

Life and Death

In a sermon on death, a priest was explaining the truth about death to the congregation. He first stuns the audience by saying he’s dying. He said he started dying since the very day he was born, because death is the only truth and end of the life and the each day that we lived brought us closer to death. He then makes a statement that rankles everyone in the audience! He said, “ Everyone in this parish is going to die!” He looked around and noticed one man in front smiling broadly. “ Why are you so amused?” he asked. “ I am not from this parish,” the man said. “ I am just visiting my sister for the weekend.”

The incident reaffirms that we are all scared of death and do not want to reconcile to the fact that death is a reality and definitive end of this life. To avoid this reality, we go to any extent, like the man in the above incident, who felt he was immortal as if only the members of that parish were to die of which he was not a member.

Because we don’t regard death as definitive reality and the end of life, we continue to accumulate material happiness as if life is perpetual. Let my readers not get any impression of I turning philosophical preaching metaphysics, it’s just reiteration of my thoughts expressed in my birthday blog. Each birthday takes us a step closer to the end and while we should celebrate the day of our arrival in this world with our nears and dears, we should not forget to reflect on the reality of life!

I would like to thank Abacus Consultants, Colonel D K Sabharwal and Anindita for introducing me to Mitch Albom, whose work I found to be mesmerising and whom I want to read more.

Pain and pleasure

Came across these beautiful lines by Robert Browning Hamilton :

I walked a mile with Pleasure;

She chatted all the way;

But left me none the wiser

For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with sorrow;

And ne’er a word said she;

But, oh! The things I learnt from her,

When sorrow walked with me.

The above lines beautifully encapsulate our frame of mind during pleasure and sorrow. When we are happy, we move ahead merrily as if there’s no tomorrow. When we are entrenched in sorrow, we move ahead heavily, again as if there’s no tomorrow.

The above lines can also be interpreted with more relevance, if we substitute sorrow with problems. I think the Poet exhorts us to take sorrows or problems in our stride by taking them as learning and remain optimistic or hopeful because if pleasure is transient so is sorrow.

There’s another angle to interpreting the above lines. Pleasure seems to be getting over very quickly, for we are in celebratory mood and everyone is with us; when we are in deep sorrow or serious problem, we are alone so it seems mountainous. As a Hindi song describes it beautifully-

Sukh ke sab saathi

Dukh mein na koi

This is much oft explained enigma that pain and pleasure are the two sides of the same coin and go hand in hand. Like we celebrate a transient happy phase, we should keep hope in difficult phase too as sukh follows dukh and vice versa.

What’s in a name?

I have a dear colleague, who is a good friend too, having a very fascinating name – Nehru Singh. Before meeting him, when I heard his name, I found his name to be quite enigmatic. Nehru is a household name, rather surname, thanks to our first prime minister Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru. We also know that people with Nehru surname are Kashmiri Brahmins or Brahmins at least as Nehru was always addressed as Panditji. Singh is a generic second name that follows the first name across communities and geographies in India – Sikhs, Jats, Rajputs et al. When you hear a name that comprises a surname and a second name, you are bound to be fascinated. But this fascination didn’t stop here! The person with a North Indian surname as a first name and a North India second name as his second name word, actually turned out to be a Tamilian from Deep South. Further acquaintanceship with him revealed that the place from where he came has had a long tradition of naming their children after famous and iconic personalities ! He has Bhagat Singh, Subhash Chandra, Gandhi etc all in his family!

The reason for this out of turn remembrance for Nehru ( it’s neither his birthday today or his anniversary ) is a fascinating piece of news that I read in today’s newspaper. Salem’s CPI District Secretary A Mohan’s youngest son is AM Socialism, who is marrying a girl from staunch Congress family. The girl is named P Mamta Banerjee ( report says that the girl was born when Mamta was in Congress). News further says that both the Tamil families seem happy to wear ideologies on their sleeves. Socialism has brothers Communism and Leninism and Communism has a son Marxism ( as report cheekily says – not the other way around- Marxism is hailed as father of Communism). We now have a classic case – Mamta, the Chief Minister of WB, married to the principle of socialism and down South a girl Mamta married to a boy Socialism.

In comparison to the above, the name Nehru Singh now appears to be music to the ears!

Long live Tamil Nadu and its tryst with the science of nomenclature!

Passion and profession

My readers would recall a blog written a few days ago regarding a big shift in my life from being a student to a bank employee. My memories were evoked by a story by PG Wodehouse in which the protagonist, an avid and talented cricket player, having a distinct chance of upgrading to county cricket and from there to England’s test cricket team, has to dump his dreams due to family circumstances and has to pick up a mundane bank job.

While a part of the story that resonated with my story ( though I was hardly a talented sportsperson or a scholar) touched the chords of my heart, the story of the protagonist does not end here. He works hard and sincerely in the Bank, but his heart is simply not there. Once cold and dark English winters pave way for warm and sunny spring, he feels suffocated inside the bank building and wants to be in the cricket field.

The story ends on a happy note. The protagonist is helped by his affluent friend to pursue further studies in university and try his luck with higher form of cricket and is thus liberated from the depressing and and suffocating atmosphere to pursue his interest.

The aforesaid story, which is full of interesting twists and turns, will resonate with many of us as we may not be in a profession or doing a job in which our heart lies. Especially those with interests in fine arts such as music, poetry or painting face greater hurdles in making their passion their profession too!

The current pandemic has forced many of us to think about our hobbies, interests and passions and to pursue them as stress busters if not source of income. Many of us are helping our partners in household chores ( cooking, washing etc) willingly and with enjoyment. We are also able to catch up on reading, exercising and meditating.

The pandemic may be once in life time tragedy for many of us, but there’s a learning that needs to be realised and imbibed.

India shining

Mumbai is reopening from tomorrow albeit with some restrictions. Actually, we should stop calling these steps or Covid related protocols as restrictions and lap them up as the business as usual for future. There’s no way that uninhibited return to Pre Covid life seems possible at least in near future.

So what are these so called restrictions that we need to adopt for all times to come at least as it looks now? We have no choice but to invariably wear mask when we go out of our homes. This we will have to ensure till at least 75% of the country’s population receives its first dose of vaccination. We will have to avoid crowds – difficult for those using public transport, especially local trains – but we should avoid if given the choice. And the foremost requirement is to educate ordinary citizens to adapt good hygiene. Spitting and urinating in the open should be a sin and not only a taboo! Let’s have more Sulabh shauchalays and let’s maintain them well!

To my mind, at least in megapolises like Mumbai, while Metros , housing and traffic management could continue to be top of the mind issues, we need to invest in two things – CCTVs and public toilets. CCTVs will address the multiple problems of traffic offenders, criminals, public spitters and defilers, pet owners ( who let their pets dirty all the pavements ), road romeos and all those who try to take the system for granted. And we need more clean public toilets, especially for our ladies.

India is a superpower, economic behemoth, space explorer and IT Hub. These are our proud achievements. Let’s now become a social superpower- one that provides the best life to its citizens with super social and physical security, top class and affordable health care and superb amenities. And then we will see number of migrations from India coming down- on the contrary, talent returning home!

That will be the true “ India shining”.