11 October 2014

Road Crossing Instructions in Pakistan

Look both right and left for cars, motorcycles, animals and pedestrians,

Look "up" for American drones.

 Look "down" for bombs and land mines.

Look sideways and backwards for kidnappers and suicide bombers. 

Hold your bags tight and watch for every person near you.

Then walk zigzag to avoid bullets.

My thanks to Dr. Surjit Patheja for this article

01 October 2014

Power, money, friends and good manners

Every moment and every interaction can be a learning. Even an election to head a sports club.
I recently observed, participated and analyzed such an election.

There were two candidates Mr. Rich and Mr. Simple.

Mr. Rich was a very wealthy man whom several members seemed to be in awe of. He rarely came to the club or interacted with the members until canvassing for elections began. A relative stranger to the club and having little in common, only a few members socialised with the wealthy Mr.Rich. It appeared many people hung around Mr. Rich in the hope of gaining some benefit financial, political or social leverage.

Mr. Rich flaunted his money and his powerful connections. Many members deferred to Mr. Rich though many members privately confided that his presence and push was way over the top. Mr. Rich spent an enormous amount of money wining and dining members, making slick presentations and distributing brochures. Mr. Rich focussed on status and on his personal achievements of which he had many. However he had done nothing notable at and for the club or it's members till date. 

The other candidate Mr. Simple was a down to earth builder. Mr. Simple had served for many years on various committees, projects and activities of the club. He was at the club regularly and had many friends and even more well wishers who appreciated his visible contribution. 

Mr. Simple was approachable and tried his sincere best to resolve issues and address the concerns of members politely and respectfully. He had many shortcomings, but he was lovable.

Unlike Mr. Rich,  Mr. Simple in contrast wrote a simple mail to all members outlining his contribution, and the values he stood for. He stated that he did not believe in expensive dinners and parties but his track record of his contribution and his conduct to let members choose who was to be elected.

When the results were declared Mr. Simple had won by a margin which was the largest in the club's history. It appears that money and power alone or even together can rarely win hearts particularly of the well informed. My belief was reinforced that; 

"Friends and good manners will take you where money and power will never be able to take you"

Behind every successful man is ........

It is often said that, 'Behind every successful man is a woman'. It would be more appropriate to say that, 'Behind every successful man is a surprised woman'.

Normally the woman behind the man, is his wife. Without even being briefed, intuitively a woman knows a lot, if not almost everything about her man.

A man, needs a place to return to, rest and recuperate. Feeling secure within his own home, man tends to lower his guard and social pretences and usually reverts to being just himself. That is the issue, because the man that reverts to being his natural self at home, is a unique and often imperfect creature.

All men are imperfect, only types and levels of imperfection vary. Flaws include vanity, ego, greed, lust, and many other human traits. Obsessed with people and things man is full of eccentricities, fetishes, strange fears, etc. This is exactly what his woman sees.

What women rarely get to see or learn of, is that her man who pursues some form of work/career or professional responsibility, is typically pretty good at what he does, and often well appreciated and respected for it by colleagues and society at large.

Since this is normally not  visible to his woman, she can rarely appreciate his professional competence, and capabilities.

Man generally need props to define himself socially and professionally. Props could include vehicles, associates, designations, size of his workplace , his computer and work tools or perhaps a title or even a crown. 

This creature called man, at home and in his lair, with his guard down, often looks and behaves clumsy and incomplete.  This is the creature that the woman sees. Can she be blamed for being surprised if her man is successful?

Man it appears, is the master of the circus by day, and the clown by night.

Obnoxious People.

Abraham Lincoln that great man, who had risen from humble background to become the President of America once said, "All men respond well under adversity, if you want to test a man's character  give him power"

No wonder people who come to possess some power over resources or people tend to become obnoxious. Bosses, class teachers, principals, politicians, government officials and of course office bearers are more prone to being obnoxious, because they feel,
'You need me, I don't need you.'

Power, it has often be said, corrupts. But this is not true. Power amplifies our personality. Therefore, power makes good people great, and bad people worse..

Life is beautiful and People are inherently good But there are always aberrations in nature like obnoxious people and they tend to be both toxic and ugly.

It is normal for people to sometimes disagree, but obnoxious people are disagreeable.

Over the past year residents of our housing society have had the misfortune of having to deal with an obnoxious man. He was an office bearer and an obstructionist in our daily lives, He could not be avoided, he was like a millstone hanging around our neck. His intelligence only made him vicious and insufferable. Most residents in the housing society, detested the man.

All attempts by residents to engage with the man were futile. Decency and polite behaviour were misconstrued as weakness and timidity. Residents were at their wits end, until they got the following message from a wise man.

All attempts by residents to engage with the man were futile. Decency and polite behaviour were misconstrued as weakness and timidity. Residents were at their wits end, until realisation dawned that, "Dealing with obnoxious people is like wrestling with a pig in the mud. After some time you realize that you are getting physically and mentally exhausted, but the pig is actually enjoying it."
When we interact with people we create a relationship, and in turn the relationship defines us. We absorb the energy and traits of the people we associate with. If we do not want to become horrid and disgusting we should give negative people a wide berth and ignore them completely. If interaction is unavoidable then try not to let them drag you down to their level, respond rather than react to them.
It is said, 'Beware the fury of patient people'. In a rare show of consensus many residents agreed on one point. In a noisy meeting, residents insisted that the obnoxious man would not be allowed to continue in office a moment longer. Those who live by the sword will be felled by the sword.

28 September 2014

What the doctors said regarding a new wing at the hospital

When a panel of doctors was asked to vote on adding a new wing to their hospital,  

The Allergists voted to scratch it,
The Dermatologists advised not to make any rash moves.
The Gastroenterologists had sort of a gut feeling about it, 

The Neurologists thought the administration had a lot of nerve,  
The Obstetricians felt they were all laboring under a misconception.
The Ophthalmologists considered the idea shortsighted; 

The Pathologists yelled, 'Over my dead body', 
The Pediatricians said, 'Oh, Grow up!'
The Psychiatrists said the whole idea was madness, 

The Radiologists could see right through it, 
The Surgeons decided to wash their hands of the whole thing.
The Internists thought it was a bitter pill to swallow, 

The Plastic Surgeons said, 'This puts a whole new face on the matter.'
The Podiatrists thought it was a step forward, 

The Urologists felt the scheme wouldn't hold water.
The Anesthesiologists thought the whole idea was a gas, 

The Cardiologists didn't have the heart to say 'no'.

In the end, the Proctologists left the decision up to some asshole in administration

.........   My thanks to Ms. Priti Quinn for this contribution

19 September 2014

What does teaching mean?

Sept 5th is celebrated as  Teacher's day in India. On that day Rohan an earnest young student friend of mine, telephoned to thank me for teaching him and changing his life, by my writing and our interactions.

I thanked Rohan for his kind words but clarified that crediting me with his learning was in my opinion unjustified. 

I should have been flattered or at least touched by his sincere greetings, but I wasn't.
I asked myself, "If it was not arrogance I felt, then what was it?"

He asked me "If this is not teaching then what was it?"
I had no reply but I had many questions. Questions, I had to seek answers to.

Today, October 5th, is World Teacher's day. I can offer the following thoughts.

Teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin. Unfortunately the two have grown so apart that they are effectively disconnected. No doubt, nowadays  there is a lot of teaching and even more testing but it is doubtful that there is much learning taking place.

As John Lubbock said about modern teaching, "We strain the memory instead of cultivating the mind."

Why is it said that? "A student is not a vessel to be filled but a lamp to be lit"

A vessel when filled cannot absorb anything more, in fact it rejects anything that is additional or new. That is why most students cannot retain much of what they are 'taught'. At best they retain information only for a short period of time, sufficient duration to get them through the tests.

On the other hand, once lit the lamp provides illumination wherever it reaches, thus dispelling the darkness called ignorance. A lamp also helps light other lamps. Learning demands more learning as a fuel, just like a lamp demands more oil to keep on burning. The greatest learning being 'learning to learn'.

This is all about learning but then what does teaching mean?

It could be said that -
Teaching is the art of assisting and facilitating discovery.

Once we set off on a voyage of discovery, life becomes an endless adventure.

On this adventure called learning we will discover many things and experience many relationships, not all of them pleasant or useful, but in the end like Rohan we will hopefully discover ourselves.

17 September 2014

I am wealthy because I follow my heart.

When they grow up, young birds leave the nest. So in 1985 three years after we got married Mohini and I moved out from my parent's home to make space for the families of my two younger brothers.

We decided to  move to a small flat at Salunke Vihar on the outskirts of Pune (India). 

Salunke Vihar was a government project built to provide affordable housing to our soldiers and their families. It was located in a desolate place with a dirt road for access. In addition to retired people, the cheap rent attracted  many young couples starting out on their careers.

Salunke Vihar offered a large, open and safe space for children to play. The air was fresh and the community of residents were friendly and caring.  It was a relatively large township by the standards of those days, built for providing accommodation for members of the Indian Armed Forces at relatively low rates against soft payment terms.

The only problem was access to the city. Auto rickshaws rarely plied to that side and the bus service was pathetic and almost non existent. The nearest main road was 3 kilometers away, and therefore people often had to depend on the  kindness of residents with vehicles.

Being a son of an industrialist albeit a small one, I was amongst the few people who owned a car in the society. Keeping with the spirit of the situation, every time we travelled the dirt road, we would offer a ride to fellow residents and even visitors. Often people thanked us for the ride, sometimes they would not even acknowledge the assistance. This lack of appreciation and courtesy perturbed me.

I met many people and had some interesting experiences but one encounter changed my outlook on life almost totally .  Decades later I can still remember the events very vividly. 


It was about noon time on a hot May day where the summer peaks. It is never as hot in Pune as it is in other places like the Punjab or Delhi, but it was pretty uncomfortable.

I was driving out on an errand and running a bit late. I rushed out of the main gate and hit the dirt road. Rounding the corner, there I saw standing next to the road an old man. His back slightly stooped with age and a small bag by his side.

Looking like a character right out of a movie the chubby old gentleman wore a colourful bush shirt and had a big straw hat on his head.  Sweating profusely the old man was mopping his forehead and face, yet he had an irresistible and   pleasant look about him. I debated for a second whether to stop and offer him a ride or continue rushing to my appointment.

'What the heck? ' I convinced myself,  'Once a Boy-Scout always a Boy-Scout, I felt compelled to offer him a ride.'

The old man slowly shuffled up to and agonizingly slowly got into my car. He was taking so damn long. For a moment I regretted my decision to give him a ride, this old man was delaying me.
I wished the old man had not taken so long, and the old gentleman sensed my irritation. But he dissolved my frustration by apologising and thanking me at the same time, speaking in Hindi “Thank you so much son, may God bless you and keep you happy”
Blessing me and thanking me, blessing me and thanking me, he went on and on. When he thanked me for about the tenth time, I interrupted him and told him, "It wasn't a big deal and not an inconvenience at all for me to give you a ride. This was on my route anyways." I added that at least he was appreciative of my kind gesture unlike so many people who remained ungrateful.
He smiled and nodded his head and said" I believe, I understand what you mean. May I ask you a question?" Of course I like nothing more than an interesting conversation and that is why I probably gave people rides in the first place. I replied "No problem. Please ask."
"Why did you give me a ride?" He asked. 
" Did you see a man on the road and think that let me give him a ride and then he will feel obligated to me, or did your heart speak with your conscience and asked you to do a good deed to this old man and give him a much needed ride?" he added.
I told him that I felt sorry for him and thought it would be nice to assist him.
He responded, “Does that not mean, you were only following your heart’s desire and did the good deed? So logically speaking, it should make no difference to you whether I thank you or not or am grateful to you or not?"
He continued “May I say that, your heart desired something and that you were able to accomplish it, that itself is your reward. If you have got your reward, it should matter not whether I thank you or not."
I was stunned by the realization of what this kindly old man just said.
He continued, "The poor of the world are not only those who do not have shelter or enough food, but also those who cannot implement what their heart desires. My son you are blessed and truly rich for you are able to follow your heart’s desire."
We reached the main road in the few minutes we had this conversation, I was captivated and hungry to learn more. I wanted to hang on to this awesome man and never let him go. He insisted that I drop him there at the bus stop.
I waited for a minute and then his bus arrived. He stepped onto the bus which slowly disappeared out of sight. But the old gentleman and his presence and words will be with me for ever.


I contemplated what had just transpired. I felt foolish about my puny ego. In a matter of five minutes this seemingly insignificant yet great man had awoken me and transformed my life.

I learnt that unhappiness stems from unfilled expectations. If I had no expectations for the good that I did to others, I would give more, and yet be happier. Was it not my good fortune that I had the God given opportunity to be compassionate?

Life is made up of good times and not so good times. I was sometimes broke, but I was never poor. The valuable lesson I learnt that afternoon has always blissfully guided me.  I learnt that the the joy is in the doing and not in the expectation of the fruit. I would do what I had to and let God do what He has to.

I should follow my heart and I would always be wealthy.