Is it a job or a work that am committed to?

Qutubthe driver is about 70 years old. He has been in this profession for over 50 years now.

“You have to take madam to Ramgarh lake tomorrow”. When my host (his employer) instructed him so, he gave me a big smile. “I will pick you up at 7 AM tomorrow madam”, he said. The next day he was at the hotel at 6.55 AM, with an even bigger smile.

Bada Sahib always entrusts the task of taking visitors around Jaipur, only to me. He knows I will do the job given to me very well”. There was pride in his voice as he kept talking to me about himself as he drove me in the car.

Suddenly, with a very aggressive tone he yelled out to a lorry driver “Who gave you the license to drive?” He didn’t quite stop with that. He excused himself to me, stopped the car and walked up to the lorry driver to give him a short lecture on how to take a turn into a by-road from the highway!

“I should educate these people, hai na madam. They are not taught to drive properly. It’s my duty to correct them when they make a mistake!”

Qutub started talking to me about all the tourist spots around the place. He knew all the stories and significance of each attraction; shared them with me with much enthusiasm and detail. All along he would ask me the same question every 30 minutes or so “Madam, am I not driving very well?” :

He drove me to Ramgarh lake, a beautiful lake near Jaipur. He was also keen that I visit a temple and an old fort nearby that “most tourists miss visiting”. Qutub was keen that I go back highly satisfied with this trip and he was quite sure that it was entirely his “responsibility”!

He also chose to drive me to the lake through villages so that I don’t miss a scenic drive along the way! “Am sure you have not seen such a place near Chennai, Madam” – a presumptuous Qutub also ensured that I enjoyed looking out of the window and didn’t miss the desert patches that we drove through or an occasional peacock that we could spot!

My host called frequently to check on us and apparently chided Qutub over the phone, when he said that he had taken the by-pass route and not the highway as was instructed. This irked him a bit. “Madam, please tell Bada Sahib that the roads that we passed by have been laid well. Tell him that you enjoyed the scenery on both sides of the road.” “Madam, the highway would have more traffic and would have taken us longer” He would keep on justifying his choice over his master’s command; the whole day! I could understand that every act of his was to make sure I got the best ride and experience. And I did!

Visiting the places around was made more special by his narratives and the care with which he drove. He did deny me an in-between meal or a visit to the carpet weavers that I wished to do. He did refuse me some extra time that I sought, to capture more pictures in the fort and the lake. “I have to get you to the airport in time. It’s my responsibility” he said. I couldn’t agree more!

Qutub had been driving since he was 20. He drove heavy vehicles until a decade ago and slowly turned to a ‘safe job’ as a car driver with a family that “gave him Sundays off”! He loved driving. “Driving is one among the 64 art forms in the world”, he emphatically declared. “Am I not right madam?” he asked me in such a tone that I hurriedly agreed.

Qutub’s passion for his job made the whole day special for me, his guest. At 70, he was full of smiles that reflected his commitment. He reflected the care that his employer had for his guest for the day. The job of a driver was neither mundane nor routine for him. He was proud of what he was doing for the past 50 years!

“Madam, do not forget to tell Bada Sahib that I took you to Ramgarh in the shortest time in the best roads. Definitely better than the highway route”, he reminded me as he reached me at the airport well before time!

Commitment to one’s job makes work a passion and that leads to joy! May the tribe of Qutub prosper!

 

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“How old are you?”

If you did not know your year of birth, what would you think your age is? :)

Each one of us has a chronological age and a biological age.

One’s chronological age is calculated from the day one is born. This is the age, which we think of, as ours! Our biological or “real” age  refers to the current condition of our physiological body. The two are not necessarily the same. At 45 years of chronological age one’s biological age could be at 30 and vice versa! Physical activity, genes, exercise, nutrition and overall physical health contribute to this “real” age.

Fitness routine is a great way to keep our biological age decades younger than the chronological age! Improving flexibility with yogic stretches, strength training for muscle health, cardio programs like running, walking that help build stamina and endurance are all important. Understanding aspects of physical exercise and its specific benefits helps us plan a holistic wellness program as per our individual needs / goals. Awareness of diet & nutrition helps us eat the right way and the right amount.

There is also the psychological age. The age of one’s mind. This can be arrested at youth, forever. I mean it.

Are you excited to get out of bed every morning? Do you watch the sunrise, say at least once a week? Dare to get wet in the first drizzle of the monsoon? Would you stop by to see a unique plant on your way home, say “hello” to it with a smile?

Do you attempt to learn new things on a regular basis? Do you love the work you do? (After all you spend about 40- 45 hours a week, at work.)

The above are some things that can keep wonderment, curiosity and love for nature in tact in us. New learning & skills improves neurological function.

Contemporary work and lifestyle is filled with data, numbers and gadgets. There is constant flow of information from different sources at high speed attacking us, 24/7. We are in an era when email applications are set to check automatically for new messages every 5-10 minutes. Yet we click ‘check mail’ button more frequently than that! Sounds weird? Yet, we all do it!

We tend to look at the phone every two minutes as if looking at our handheld will automatically make someone text us! So restless is our mind.

To balance this “inevitable” lifestyle and “evolved” human nature we need to develop/ go back to things that naturally pace down our brain. Reading books (not e-books!) for example,  not only improves our focus and concentration but also regulates over-speeding brain activity.

Stress is a part of our daily lives. We may not be able to eliminate it altogether. Managing stress properly, however, is possible with cheer & smile, meditation and relaxing techniques, efficient time management and a basic willingness to make the necessary lifestyle changes. Do any of us have more than 24 hours a day? How is it that some of us accomplish much more than others in a day?

A balanced mind makes us grow younger. We can arrest our psychological/ mental age at a desired level. Choose an age and stop it from growing older! You can do it with consistent effort. And of course, the key is to enjoy this effort.

The next time someone asks you “what’s your age?”, ask them if they wish to know your chronological age, biological age or your mind’s age?! That’s what i do :)

Tough shoes to wear…

Much has been written about ‘being the boss’. How to, what to, when to .. the list is endless. Wondering if that much has been written about ‘understanding the boss’; ‘a boss’s perspective’!!

So, let me trash some myths from a boss’s shoe- a shoe that I wear perhaps in terms of being the CEO of a company. So technically people think I am THE ultimate boss and I am not answerable to anyone!

Every employee is a boss! A healthy retention of good talent is a dream of a leader. It also helps in the balance sheet of the organization.

Every client is a boss. (I don’t have to elaborate on this!)

The board (however inactive it may seem), the investor (even if it is just oneself) is the real boss.

One’s conscience is the true boss- if the boss believes that she/ he will get sleep in the night only  if she/he is conscientious!

Yes, the final decision in most operations as well as several strategic moves, rests with the CEO. In such cases like mine, where an organization was founded on a vision that was born out of a personal experience, this becomes even more centralized- at least the ‘final’ decision. Yet, one can’t deny that the process of decision-making can be and must be made collaborative in a progressive organization. This is vital for the long-term health of the organization, to get multiple perspectives, to revisit the vision set and so on.

Many short-term decisions still rest with the boss. This is simply because the boss has a wider view of the direction of the organization. At such times, for a team that seeks “participatory management” the boss seems autocratic, too powerful to take the right decisions!

A conscientious boss attempts to explain the rationale behind decisions, especially one that brings major changes. But many a times the rationale cannot be conveyed organization-wide for two reasons. Confidentiality that becomes important from long-term growth & innovation point of view and maturity of the employees across  levels that is determined by one’s educational background, years of experience, exposure, attitude, empathy and most importantly trust in the top management!

(I am yet to understand the term ‘transparency’ in such contexts. Trying, still!)

Another myth is that the boss ‘enjoys’ better travel, accommodation and office ambience (leave alone the salary). In small/ medium organizations budgets are limited and leaves only the boss taking a flight while an employee below is made to take an uncomfortable bus (thanks to IRTC being always booked in full) to their destinations.  This, at times, leaves one with the perception that the boss enjoys benefits at the cost of the employees below!

To me this is less to do with hierarchy than to do with utilizing the time of the boss, giving him a peaceful travel to think through strategies and be better prepared for a high-stake meeting (assuming ‘flights’ offer peaceful travel!!). The bold assumption here is that the boss’s meeting are more high-stake and turn-around ones!

The most subtle and important of such distorted perceptions that leave a boss in not-so-good humour among the employees is the fact that the boss has the last say in meetings!! Why not and shouldn’t he/ she? The boss is the moderator, is the custodian of the vision (remember not the owner but the custodian!) has or should have a broad view across departments, across hierarchy and the future direction of the company. No one can see the impact of the decisions as well as the boss does. So, who should have the last say?! 

Not to undermine the intellect and diversity of the group in the meeting- the boss should ideally conduct and facilitate meetings in a way that everyone has a chance to speak, induce devil’s advocacy, do a loud analysis and ideally communicate this too! Yet, when many a times there is no consensus, when people stick to their point of view, when they fail to see another’s point, it becomes important for the boss to draw the curtains with a punch line of his/ her own! Rightfully so, to save the organization of a “meeting paralysis”.

Sadly, this is seen by the people-in-no-agreement as an autocratic style of the boss. The few, who may simply agree to disagree or are in true agreement with the boss, are seen in bad light as ‘yes-men’ of the boss. And the boss is seen in bad light too, as someone who likes yes-men around him/herself!!

The boss’s world is tough. More so if the boss believes in democracy! Democracy in an organization is not as simple as getting everyone to cast a vote! Democracy in its true spirit means much more and needs a very understanding, mature team of people who all see the long-term impact of steps, initiatives and decisions taken. This is not easy to achieve at a single point of time in an organization.

The boss’s world is tough. More so, if it is a woman. Despite all the respect that a woman gets, especially if she is perceived as ‘worthy’ to be the boss, she still belongs to the “more emotional gender”. And men and women colleagues like to believe that “she” may not be always right!  And when she is truly emotional by nature, there is this doubt of ‘logic’ missing in her decisions.

The boss’s world is tough. More so if she places love and care foremost in the business. “Love doesn’t work in commerce”; “Care leads to indifference”. Employees don’t take her seriously!

To fight this all, the boss’s clan needs to be talking more, writing more, communicating their perspectives better and with more clarity. Apart from running the business, that is!  🙂

Phrases and proverbs – my dear dad’s way #3

Post #3 on a series on my appa’s way with sayings! )

“Uthadu theyarthavida ullankaal theyalaam! “ (Better to let your feet be worn out than your lips!) – A bad management lesson?!

Oft-quoted by appa. He was an ever-active man. We have never seen him laze! His daily routine would include very manual tasks like watering the plants, pumping water to fill buckets, cleaning his car, dusting the house. All this in-between his phone calls (only landline during his active work-life) to catch up with a client as courtesy, negotiate to seal an order etc. His mother, then in her eighties would demand a medicine or a drop at her daughter’s house and he would oblige, instantly taking his car out!

“Get me the cutting of a news item from yesterday’s Hindu”, he would occasionally demand from me. “wait appa..let me just…..” before the sentence is completed, he would himself rush to the old newspaper stack and start cutting out the news item, quoting rather predictably “Uthadu theyarthavida..” !

It would many a times annoy me. Can’t he wait for a few minutes? : My mind would, rather angrily, ask myself. But I knew this man too well to raise this question to him. Most of the things he did were never questioned for a rationale, by any of us! It was his characteristic trait and was accepted as ‘soooo him’!

Coming back to the saying; while it reflected his philosophy to be self-reliant and not depend on others, I wondered if it beats the management philosophy of ‘delegation’. Did he ever delegate work at office I wondered. I’m sure his subordinates and colleagues at work had a tough time coping up with his expectation and speed. 😀

I am quite the opposite. I still ‘demand’ things at home and work. Am quite independent but do think that other people ought to do what they should! At work my primary objective of delegation is empowerment. I find a lot of my colleagues tending to do things themselves because they can do it faster and better than when passing it to their teams. This has led to, I believe, a stagnation of people at a particular level in the organization! I try to delegate, be patient and see if my colleagues can learn and come to speed. Well, some things, I never learnt from appa, you see!

I also see another problem with this philosophy, so tangible in appa’s last years. His physical weakness and old age led to his dependence on others for a lot of things. He stopped driving when he was about 80, owing to cataract in the eye. After this, no luxury of drivers at his disposal made him feel strong enough! “I’m unable to take the car when I want to” was his lament till his end. He grew sadder as he had to depend more and more on others to even give him a wash and dress him up.

All the people around him did it all for him, with utmost love and care. He knew it too but his unflinching belief that ‘he would rather use his feet than his lips’ made him die a slow death as his dependence on others increased!

 

Phrases and proverbs – my dear dad’s way #2

(Post #2 on a series on my appa’s way with sayings! )

If Mohammed will not go to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammed

Used  occasionally by appa, but quite a sharp verbal sting from him. He loved visiting people and homes. He was in an era when there was no social media and the only way to stay in touch was to call them from the landline or dropping by their homes.

He made no calls prior, to check if people were available or were busy. He never paused to think if the people he visited knew him well, entertained visitors etc. To him, it was his right to visit people he wished to visit. Simple.

He also made it a point to mentally note down locations of people he knew. So when he took someone to Kapaleeshwara temple, at least two acquaintances of his in Mylapore had to see him dashing to their homes. Wait, he didn’t care much whom he brought along. Many a times a niece or nephew in his car had to face the embarrassment of walking into a home uninvited!

And when he walked in comfortably into this house, he would quote rather loudly,  “If Mohammed…” Got it? 🙂

To him it came very easily. He had no inhibitions. His smile and warmth made even the most ‘cold and hostile’ host loosen a bit when he entered their homes. He wouldn’t stay beyond a few minutes. No coffee, no snacks. Many a times he would have been gone by the time the host realizes who he was!

Thinking about appa, it was a very unique trait in him. It showed that it was important for him to be in touch, most times without calculating the benefits in each case. In the larger scheme of things it helped, according to him. There was no categories for him to visit. It could be the neighbourhood medical shop employee’s house as much as his boss’s. It could be his close friends’s house as well as my close friend’s!

He also used this saying with his close relatives and friends. The sting was to convey that they had not taken the efforts to visit him in a long time. And that he had to make the move. But, the mountain was hardly a definition for appa. He was ever mobile.

His ‘keeping in touch’ continues to help us, his family immensely. Apart from giving us a huge list of friends and relatives who are ever ready to support us, it has given us such joyful memories of being with people, all the time.

When he really did become immobile, in the last one year of his life, several Mohammeds took the effort to visit him. It showed that they missed him and his visits. Yet, ironically he took a dis-taste for visitors when he was ill in bed. The mountain liked to be left alone most of the time! Such is life…

Phrases and proverbs – my dear dad’s way! #1

 

It came naturally and seamlessly to this man: my dear dad. Right from the time I remember this has been a very important aspect of his communication. The phrases and proverb way!

It was so characteristic of him that I never saw it the way I see it now. I never recognized the impact it made when he was alive. Now, I see, I recognize. This series is dedicated to appa. Am going to recall and present some proverbs that were so dear to him and used so spontaneously by him to convey his point. Quite emphatically.

A stitch in time saves nine

This was perhaps the most frequently used one  by appa. I can think of two reasons for that. One, he himself never postponed things. Be it filling the fuel tank in his car that was his most prized possession or dusting a dirt on the table that he suddenly spotted in the flash of a tube-light at bed time, I have never heard him say, “I’ll do it tomorrow”!

Secondly, despite his penchant for doing things on time, none of us at home seemed to have got this gene! We were always the, “I will do it tomorrow” kinds. 😀

So, he had to use this saying several times to drive home the point.

“Appa, do you know Mr. X of YZ company? I might need his help for an assignment next month.” The “next month” bit was not heard by him. He would instantly dig out his diary, find Mr. X’s number through some other contact of his, make a call and get the matter done. Even as you are wondering what exactly the assignment is going to be about!

I remember the first time this saying registered in my mind. I must have been in class 4 or 5. As I was leaving for my annual exams, I discovered the sole of my shoe was giving way. As I was telling myself that I must give it to the cobbler, appa rushes with it to the cobbler around the street corner and gets the shoe back in time for me to leave for school! He signs of with “A stitch in time saves nine” perhaps this time literally. His pitch to me was if we let this rest till evening, the shoe could be beyond repair!

I rush to school for my English, paper II exam. Guess what? There is a composition question that asks us to elaborate and explain a few sayings. And, lo, ‘A stitch…’ is one. I can still remember how excited I was as I reeled off eloquently, all the time fondly carrying flashes of my appa as a real hero.

Today, I won’t say I have conquered the disease of procrastination. Yet, I quite do things in time, at least don’t push them to the edge of a crisis. And every time I think of doing it ‘tomorrow’, my dad’s unique voice echoes these six words loudly.

He himself didn’t follow this in the last stages of his life. He postponed going to the doctor when we saw signs of illnesses in him. “Tomorrow” he would say, quite unlike himself. And we let him be.

Perhaps he would have lived a few years more, perhaps not. Yet, I feel like asking him why he didn’t stitch up his ailments in time. I hope he hears me wherever he is.

More sayings of appa will come along, in this series. 🙂

Small things, big joy!

I met someone at a neighbour’s function recently. He had apparently attended a talk of mine in a Rotary club almost a year ago. The 20-minute talk had been on ‘How children learn’, a favourite  topic of mine.

“In the past, I had always been breathing down on my son’s neck to make him study hard. I thought it was a parent’s duty to do so. I came back home with a smile, after I heard you that evening. Today, he is studying a lot better and am stress-free too”

So, what triggered the change in him?

My talk had touched upon some basic facts like, all children are intelligent, only differently so. While some children are musically intelligent (and given the right opportunities could become an ARR), some are logically intelligent and become Math wizards.

I had spoken about how parents normally react to their child’s playing of music in the background while studying.  It is important to understand that musically intelligent kids get more stimulated when they listen to music, tap on the desk that they are working on! “Just let them be”,  I had appealed to parents in the audience,  “they are not ‘you’ and their ways to stimulate their brains to ‘learn’ could be way different from the way you learn”

Most Indian parents shudder to think that their kids could choose careers that suit their ‘intelligence’.  A professional degree should be obtained to pursue a lucrative career and the “other things” can remain a hobby! My talk that evening did not attempt to question this theory of parents. That was a bigger topic and twenty minutes could have hardly done any justice to this. And am not sure if am competent to talk about this, as an educator or a (struggling) parent!

My talk was simply to open parents’ minds to see their children as unique individuals with innate, unique ways to learn! Children with a natural intelligence learn better, perhaps with their pet in the room, or while gazing at the stars, sitting on the terrace. Bodily-kinesthetic kids like to be physically agile while learning- a good game of cricket before they sit for study time could actually make them learn better. It is best not to cut down on their physical playtime during exams! Several Math topics could be taught through analyzing cricket scores, a game that interests them!

I was recalling the points in my talk mentally, when this gentleman continued.  “From that day, I don’t force or coerce my son to study. I guide him on to reflect on what makes him study better. Not only has he discovered his preferred learning style, he is even learning better these days. Thanks to you”, he smiled.

A deep sense of joy engulfed me. In a twenty minute talk, a message that I shared about ‘How children learn’, made study-time in a family more pleasant and stress-free! It reaffirmed, more emphatically, that the possibilities of an organization like EZ Vidya are immense!

No more will I frown about making back-to-back speeches. If somewhere a child can have happy evenings because of what I share on a stage, I just feel blessed. 🙂