Monday, December 12, 2016

Is success tiring you?

Every success, whether big or small, has its own price to pay. Success brings limelight & recognition not without hard work and exhaustion. A few months back, I was re-discovering this the hard way. The success was sweet but I had to pay heavy price - my health. At work, I had started several projects to reach my goals. I wanted to be ahead of all others and wanted to leave no stone unturned in my quest. Each project required tremendous efforts, dedication and focus. I felt it was all worth it because each project was successful. The spiral of success was pulling me inside and I was running with all my energy. I wanted to reach the top at shortest possible time, so I was running harder and harder.
Like world of physics is governed by Newton’s laws, Corporate world is governed by Murphy’s laws. Out of several Murphy’s laws which derail your plans, one law that clearly stands out is “When everything is going smooth, you have overlooked something very important.” In my case, it turned out to be my health. All successful initiatives were taking a toll on my health. I was working non-stop often feeling tired, fatigued, irritable. I had stopped exercising, meals were irregular. Global initiatives meant, con-calls at unearthly hours causing lack of sleep. No matter how hard I wanted to run, I could not. I fell ill and doctor strongly advised me to improve my lifestyle.
That is when I decided to take a break and go for a trek in the Himalayas. We had a strict exercise regime. I had to work hard to get back in shape and improve my stamina and endurance. I started exercising with the same sincerity and rigor that I showed at work. Slowly but surely I got back in shape and exercise regime worked.
The trek was most enjoyable. Being closer to nature and un-connected from internet gave me enough time to reflect on my challenges. It was almost like meditation which helped me listen to my inner voice and sort out my priorities. Little did I know that the trek would also teach me something about the way I was chasing success.
This learning came on the toughest day in our trek - we had to cross the highest pass in our trek which was located above 17,000 ft above sea level and later walk for another 4 hours. It was cold, windy and air had 25% less oxygen. We had to fight all adverse situations and cross the pass.
I was upto the challenge. I started on an upbeat note. I started walking as fast as I could, just like I was chasing my projects at work. I wanted to reach the peak as fast as I could. I was a man in hurry, I was worried that if I don’t keep the speed I may fall behind or worse still I may not even make it to the peak.
Initially, it felt good, I was making good progress but soon my legs started tiring and I suffered from shortness of breath. Soon, I was so tired that I could not take even one step forward and had to rest to catch my breath. That is when the most experienced trekker walked up to me and said, “What is the hurry dear! You are walking too fast. That is not sustainable.”
“I don’t want to be left behind”, I said.
“You would be left behind if keep running like this. Slow down. Find your own natural speed.”
“My own speed! What does that mean?”
“It’s the speed at which you don’t feel tired. The speed at which you don’t feel like stopping. The speed at which you can enjoy walking.”
“But that will be too slow?”, I said in bewilderment.
“You don’t have a choice. That is the only speed you can sustain.”
I was introspecting.
He started walking past me as he said,”When you are crossing that pass, you are not competing with anyone else. You are competing with yourself. You could win only if you walk with your natural speed.”
I realised he was walking very slowly, almost at a negligible pace. But he was comfortable, able to look around, admire the beauty and smell the roses.
I was still short on breath so I had no other choice but to follow my fellow trekker’s advice. His advice sounded profound. I remembered a quote by confucius, which so far had made no sense to me - It does not matter how slow you walk towards your goal, as long as you don’t stop. I got up and started walking slowly. Small steps at low speed made the walk enjoyable. Rather than thinking about the peak,  I started looking at breathtaking views around. I heard cooing of birds and noticed rabbit-like animals jumping around. The glaciers look relaxing and the grass looked greener. I started enjoying the journey than worrying about the destination. I didn’t care whether I was falling behind or leading the pack. All I cared about was whether I was walking with natural speed or not. I had to ensure I don’t tire myself up.
Needless to say, my team leader’s advice worked like a magic and I crossed the highest pass without getting tired. It was a great feeling. I had stopped competing with others and started competing with myself. I had stopped running and worked on finding my natural speed. That made the success very enjoyable.
This was the turning point in the trek that helped me to set my work-life right. I came back to work refreshed and charged up. But I didn’t start running like I did before. Instead, I worked on finding the natural speed of each initiative, each team and each project. If I could keep moving with that natural speed, I reckoned, I would enjoy my journey not just the destination, like I did at my highest mountain pass.
So, if your success is tiring you up, probably you are running too hard. Stop, take a break and find your natural speed - speed at which you wouldn’t get tired, speed at which you can enjoy the journey and not just worry about reaching the destination, speed at which you could smell roses on the way. Go find it!!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Dichotomy of Krishna’s love

Last week I had a pleasure of watching a colorful, artistic, surreal, opera-like musical play  - The Rajput Princess. It was a story of the divine love between Meera - the princess and Lord Krishna. Although, artists were amateur dancers and singers who weaved a magic around us for a couple hours. The play made a deep impression on my mind.

The play refreshed the story of Meera-Krishna in my mind. While attending a wedding ceremony curious young meera asks her mother who her husband was. Her mother points to a temple of Lord Krishna and says he is your husband. Meera assumes this as truth and grows up thinking about Krishna and hearing his stories all the time. Astonishingly, without seeing Krishna in person, Meera falls in love with him and declares to her husband on the wedding day that her heart belongs to Krishna. The large-hearted husband builds a Krishna temple for her and accepts her love as a part of their life. However, his father and brother can not accept seeing Meera in love with Krishna. Meera’s husband gets killed in a war. The jealous father and brother ask Meera to leave the palace. Meera has to spend the rest of her life as a simpleton going through all the worldly hardships but her love for Krishna sees her through. Her mystical, heavenly love makes sure she remains happy despite worldly miseries.

This play reminded me all the stories of Hindu Gods I grew up with. Out of all Gods, Krishna is the most interesting. Everything about him is unconventional. He is mischievous, political, bends rules, in short he does everything that other Gods don’t. Above all, Krishna stands out as the most woman-friendly God. Krishna is a woman-magnet. Ever since his adolescence, woman got attracted to him. Radha who was a married woman fell in love with him. So did many other gopis in Gokul where he grew up. In raas-leela, a festival in which all women come and do a folk dance, every single gopi felt that she is dancing with Krishna. Fascinating isn’t it? As a king Krishna had many wives and yet he was a subject of romance for many other women.

When I wear my analytical hat, I find these stories absolutely amazing. Krishna seemed to have a magical effect on women who would confess about their love despite their marital status. Considering conservative Indian societies, this was unheard off. But their love was so powerful that woman were ready to break the conventions. Another puzzling thing about Krishna’s women was they all knew the existence of other women in his life but they didn’t seem to mind. All gopis in Gokul knew others loved him and he loved Radha the most. But that didn’t deter them from liking and loving him. They were never jealous with each other. They were in love with him together.

The reason why this play had deep impact on me is, it highlighted the flip-side of Krishna’s love. Most women who loved Krishna had to pay a price for it. Some of them like Meera, drew societal wrath. They were publicly shamed, often isolated. More they loved Krishna, more difficulties they had to face. Krishna’s love gave them mental strength but worldly hardships. Some others like Radha, loved him dearly, may have fancied their chances of being with him forever. But never came close to being there. More they try to hold on to it, more it slipped out of hand. And there were many gopis who loved him unconditionally, despite knowing that they have no real chance of getting him. Yet, they could not stop.

Loving Krishna meant an extreme sacrifices for his women. That’s the dichotomy of Krishna’s love.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Romance in Umbrella

Well, let me start with a confession. Part of me is highly influenced by Bollywood films. I adore all the cliches, be it old movies or new. Like millions fellow Indians, I like to try out things that I see on screen, whenever I can. 

Till that day, Walking with a girl in rains carrying one small umbrella was one such unfulfilled dream.

I was very young when I watched  the song "Pyar hua ikarar hua hai" featuring Raj Kapoor and Nargis. Reactions of people around me told me there was something special about that song. When was in my teens, I heard Gulzar's song "Mera Kucch Saman" my favourite lines were 

Ek akeli chhatri me jab adhe adhe bhig rahe the
Adhe sukhe adhe gile sukha to mai le aayi thi

There were innumerable other songs which showed couples walking together in rains in an umbrella, looking at each other and then falling in love. I was quite intrigued by those scenes. In those days, I used to think that they fall in love and develop romantic interests because they walked in an umbrella. So I was all keen to try that out on a girl I liked in the class.

It was last lecture of the day. Not many students were there in the class but my crush was there. Therefore, I was there too. She was concentrating on the lecture, I was concentrating on her. She looked beautiful but she was not aware of it. A thunderstorm broke out when the lecture was about to get over. There was lightening, clouds roared loudly. All the essential ingredients of a romantic walk were coming together. I made sure I had my umbrella. I was also tempted to check if it was opening properly before offering it to her. I was also tempted to practice the tune of of pyar hua ikarar hua hai... on whistle to ensure it comes out well. But I would have attracted undue attention from the professor so decided against it. I was rehearsing my pick up lines to offer her the umbrella. I was quite excited that I would fulfil my childhood dream today, albeit a small one.
The lecture got over. She started leaving the class. I rushed forward with my umbrella beating anyone else who could probably indulge in a similar daydream.
‘Hi!’, I said
‘Hello, how are you?’ She was warm and friendly.
‘I am good. Thank you. It’s raining so hard. We can’t possibly go without an umbrella’, I started building my case without wasting any time.
‘Yeah true!’
‘Do you have one?’ I asked her.
‘No, I don’t.’
I could not believe my luck. When something has to work it just works, I thought to myself.
‘I have one. We can share it.’ I tried to sound as casual and friendly as possibly could.
She just smiled.
‘Is that a yes or a no?’, I said to myself, completely inept at decoding this non-verbal communication.
‘Shall we?’ I kept pushing the agenda, blatantly.
‘That’s a sweet offer but…’
I knew it was a no. Words didn’t matter.
She didn’t carry her umbrella because she was carrying her raincoat. She quickly wore it, got on her scooter and whizzed past me, splashing water on me. Umbrella could not help, literally.

By next rainy season, my crush had become someone else’s love.  I lost my umbrella and any intereste in trying out romantic umbrella walk.

In the meanwhile, Bollywood kept churning out songs after songs showing romantic couples with their umbrellas, making me feel more and more inadequate.
Years passed by but I was unable to find an umbrella and a girl willing to share it at the same time.

Life moved me to Singapore where the rains was a daily affair. Well in my forties, like many other dreams, I had lost hope of fulfilling this dream, till it suddenly happened that day.

It was raining heavily and I had to step out of the office and go for a meeting couple of blocks away. I borrowed my colleague's umbrella. It was quite a small umbrella, good enough for me.

When I was about to cross the road I heard a sweet, gentle female voice.
‘Excuse me!’
‘Me?’ I turned around.
An unknown girl was trying to talk to me. She was a her thirties, slightly shorter than me, had a fair complexion, straight hair and sweet smile. She was wearing a short black dress and looked beautiful.
‘If you don’t mind, may I walk with you in your umbrella till next block? Would that be OK?’
What? Was it happening for real? Or was I daydreaming again?
‘I know it’s an odd request and if you say No, I completely understand. But I have an urgent meeting, just a block away and I can't find any taxi too’, she kept pleading.
‘Oh of course. You can join me. That’s not a problem at all.’
‘Thank you very much,’ She said with a smile.
Both of us held the umbrella and walked quite close to each other, saving ourselves from rains. I was close enough to smell her perfume. Heavy rains were forcing us to walk even closer. My arm was brushing against hers. But she was quite cool. She kept talking about the weather and sudden rains. I was trying to find out what I actually felt. But I wasn't quite sure, what I actually felt. It wasn’t too long before we reached our destination. She thanked me with a warm friendly smile and left.

I stood there for a while. Something that I was waiting for since my childhood suddenly happened to me and I was not sure what I felt about that. The girl was beautiful, warm and friendly. I walked quite close to her but did I feel romantic? Hell, No. Did she feel romantic? I am sure she didn’t.

So what is the fuss in movies all about? Do movies show the real life or what they show in movies is what we bring to real life? Do we actually feel romantic or we feel that we are feeling romantic because that is what is shown to us in movies? Do we stay true to our feelings or do our feelings get shaped by what we see on big screen, year after year?
Well, one sparrow doesn’t make a summer. I can’t conclude based on my experience alone. Have you felt romantic walking as a couple with umbrella in rains? What is the big deal with romance in umbrella? 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Great Lollypop Strategy

After a stressful day, I was at a toy shop waiting for my wife and son to arrive.

The stress was work related, arising out of fear of losing something after trying very hard. We were working with a client for past few months to develop the requirements, help them define KPIs and optimum action plan in the hope that we would bag a consulting project soon. We were quite close to winning it as we were way ahead of our competitors. But there are no fairy tales in corporate. Because there are purchase departments, there is no 'they lived happily, thereafter'.  They have their own ideas and in the tough economic environment, they were asking for their pound of flesh.  It was a long drawn negotiation, initially my management showed the flexibility but soon we hit the wall and the purchase department didn't want to give up.  On that stressful day, they had put forth their next unreasonable demand which they assured me was the last one. The management had made their position clear that they won't relent. And here I was staring down the barrel, unable to decide whether I should walk out of negotiation table or fall at my management's feet for one last favor to ensure happy ending of last few months tireless efforts.

Soon my wife and son arrived and we started shopping. My wife had to purchase some toys for a stream of unending birthday parties, some planned, some in anticipation.  Purchasing birthday gifts is not as easy as it seems. You need to know the age, gender, the kid's general liking, their parents' likes and dislikes.. And more importantly, you need to pick a gift that seems unique, knowing fully well that all invitees are going to visit the same toy shop. I didn't have bandwidth for this process but my wife had it all worked out. She was navigating through the maze of shelves and picking things with amazing efficiency.

My son's face told me that he has a different agenda. He had spotted a toy and was inspecting, under pretence of making a purchase for his friend. But I knew he is going ask this toy for himself at the check out. I didn't have appetite to deal with another negotiation so I pretended that I wasn't there and buried myself in my thoughts and my emails.

As we drifted to the checkout counter, my hunch came true. My wife had picked up all the toys from her list and found one extra, expensive toy in the basket. My son sheepishly said he wanted it. My wife was furious. An argument broke out between the mother and the son, the temper rose and tears started making their way. I had to intervene. As usual, I heard both sides and concluded that like in most other cases my wife was right. My son's demand was unreasonable.

'Well, today seems a day to deal with unreasonable negotiators', I thought to myself. I found myself caught between similar situation, one party was right in every conceivable way but the other party could not be ignored. I was totally in a fix. If I did what was most logical, I would end up offend my client or my son. But I could not do what they wanted and set a bad precedent.

'What do I do now?' I stood there scratching my head. Just then, a middle aged saleswoman from that Toyshop walked up to me with a broad smile. Perhaps, she had observed everything that transpired and I am sure she would be watching such scenes everyday. She whispered, 'Just buy him a lollypop and he would be OK.'  'What? Really?' I thought to myself as I looked at her in disbelief.  She just smiled again and said, 'Trust me!' And left.

I didn't have any other solution on hand. So I decided to do what she said. I went up to the cash counter picked up my son's favourite flavour and thrusted in his hand. His eyes lit up. He was very glad to receive this unexpected albeit insignificant gift. I asked my wife to bill her purchases sans that expensive toy and took my son out of the shop. Rest of the evening went smooth. My son was in a cheerful mood and never even asked about the toy. Lollypop strategy suggested by that unknown saleswoman worked! I don't know the child psychology behind this phenomenon but it just worked.
Next day, when I reached office, I decided to use the same strategy to negotiate with my client. I had to figure out what could be positioned as a lollypop. My analytical mind began the processing. The lollypop was a nicely wrapped gift that was very attractive and appealed to heart. The perceived value of the gift was much higher than monetary value and when offered at the right time it was an offer too good to deny. I did some research and figured out that my company was about to host an exclusive black tie event which provided an excellent networking opportunity for my client. The event would attract quite a few officials well sought after by the client. It wouldn't cost my company anything significant but the perceived value for the client was very high. This fitted the exact description of the lollypop.
I wrote to the client that their latest demand was beyond our ability to fulfil but we could invite them for this exclusive event instead. To our surprise, The Lollypop strategy worked. The client accepted the offer. We won the deal.
I have no idea how it worked. How did my son or my client decide to settle for something that was insignificant as compared to their original demand? Did they give up? Or they were asking for something knowing fully well that they won't get it? Or they wanted just the lollypop in first place and asking for something outrageous was a negotiation ploy?
I may never know. But now I know that if I am caught in difficult negotiation, The Lollypop strategy is worth a try!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Riding on impulse!

Jakarta traffic can be as unpredictable as London weather.

They were cruising along to Soekarno-Hatta airport in Jakarta well ahead of time, managed to reach the last mile 30 minutes ahead of schedule. The domestic terminal, the cargo terminal and the flights that were approaching the boarding gates were the familiar scenes that told them they had almost reached the airport. They had successfully avoided long weekend rush hour traffic that everyone had warned them about. Now it was time to let the hair down and crack some jokes.

After a few rounds of long winded office jokes, the worry-wheel guy said in a concerned tone, 'Guys, we haven't moved an inch in last ten minutes.'

Laughter dampened but to reassure everyone the tech-guy opened google maps, punched in some keys and said, 'We will reach in 7 minutes. I have always used Google map. Never got it wrong.' And he started his next joke.

The worry-wheel lost his interest in jokes and started looking outside nervously. He noticed some Ojeks - Indonesia's traditional two wheeler taxis amidst large swanky cars.

The well-planned guy double checked his e-boarding pass and said to himself, 'I don't even have a check-in luggage. Even if I reach 45 mins later, it is OK.'

The sleepy-impulse guy was snoring all this while. As the vehicle didn't move for a while, he woke up. He saw the tech-guy telling a familiar joke, the well-planned guy pretending to listen and the worry-wheel looking outside with the usual worrisome look.

He asked the worry-wheel, 'Whats up, dude?'

'These Ojeks are picking up passengers from taxis and dropping them to airport. Perhaps, those who are about to miss their flights. They must be charging a bomb.' The worry-wheel replied.

'Not everyone knows how to use technology to their advantage like us. We will be there well ahead of time says Google', the tech-guy proudly glanced at his Google maps again and reassured.
'Dude, what if Google is wrong', asked the worry-wheel meekly.
'Google is never wrong', the tech-guy was so authoritative that the discussion ended abruptly.
'Besides, we have already done the web-check in. We had the called the cab. Estimated the time, planned the route. Everything is going as per our plan', the well-planned guy was quite sure. He also showed his bar code boarding pass proudly.
'In case the airport security doesn't accept this, I have also taken a print out' , said the worry-wheel to reassure himself.
The impulse-guy paid scant attention as he was watching the Ojeks.
'... And let me guess, you haven't done any of these things, right?', the well-planned guy asked a pointed question to the impulse-guy.
The impulse-guy smiled sheepishly and said, 'Well, it didn't occur to me.'
'He is not even on the same flight as us. Because he forgot to book the flight. I wonder how he can do that', the worry-wheel supplied the crucial but uncomfortable information to the group.

Everyone was aghast. The impulse-guy was non-chalant.
'You are bound to miss your flight', the worry-wheel was quite concerned.
'What do you mean by didn't occur to me? Don't you plan?' the well-planned guy was infuriated by that weirdly insane comment.
'Didn't you miss your flight three months back too?', the tech-guy was sarcastic.
'Well, I decided to go to Bangkok instead of Singapore last time', said the impulse-guy unconvincingly.

'Aren't you worried? What are you going to do now?' the quintessential worry-wheel.
'I have never done this before. It would be an unique experience', the impulse-guy was talking about riding the Ojek amidst traffic that resembled a parking lot. 'It would be fun!' He exclaimed and in a flash got out of the cab and waved at an Ojek.

'There is no reason to do this. Everything is going as per our plan. He is not running away from taxi but running away from making a good plan', the well-planned guy said.

'He is taking undue risk', exclaimed the worry-wheel.

'He is the biggest non-tech guy, I have ever seen. He doesn't even know what on-line check-in means', the tech-guy was really irritated.

They dismissed his maverick ways and resumed their discussions.
(30 minutes, 6 jokes and 100 meters later)
'We couldn't have planned for such scenario. I mean we were at the airport entrance 45 minutes ahead of schedule still we haven't managed to reach the terminal', the well-planned guy was irritated beyond consolation.

'Oh my god! Google is not predicting the arrival time now. May be the signal in this area is weak. What do we do now?' as google stopped communicating the tech-guy panicked.

'I knew this would happen', the worry-wheel had nothing else to add.
(In the flight)
'It was a great experience. The bike pierced through rows of stationary cars. Then this guy took a detour in paddy fields on an unpaved road. He honked at the cars that strayed on the shoulder-that was his lane. Then he entered the airport through parking and dropped me off at arrivals. He took a lot of money but the experience was worth it. I could have caught my flight like my colleagues too but this bike ride was great fun', the impulse-guy was talking enthusiastically to a co-passenger sipping on his orange juice.
You never know what you are gonna get when you ride on your impulse!