Stepping into adult life …

This is a letter I wrote to a friend’s daughter who is leaving for the U.S. to study engineering. Thought it may make an interesting read for many others at the same juncture.

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Aanya …. 29 years ago, i was standing at the same place as you are….an 18 year old waiting to join engineering college. There was excitement in the air, a sense of ‘coming of age’, a little bit of apprehension of what the new, unsheltered world would be like, a burden of expectations (i had a brother and 2 cousins in IIT Delhi, and here I was the blacksheep of the family who could only make it to DCE) and a feeling of freedom. I could fly, i could do whatever I wished to.

The next 4 years went pass in a breeze. There is not a lot i remember about classes, because i attended very few. But there was a lot I learnt in those 4 years. Many of these learnings still shape my life today ….

1. Freedom of choice is not a birthright ; it has to be earned – a dispute with my dad over my smoking led to me taking up a job in college, so that i could pay for my own cigarettes! That small argument with my dad taught me in many ways how we cant take what we get for granted, and that adulthood gives us choices, but also means we have to work to get those choices. Life will no longer serve you on a platter.

2. Success is not a choice, it is a compulsion – after having spent 2 years slogging it out in XI and XIIth, i thought the pressure days were over. Soon, however, I realised that i was not smart enough to be an engineer and not creative enough to be an artist in engineering college, so i did what looked the easiest – i devoted my time to college politics and extra curriculars. I realised that it didnt matter what i did, as long as i was amongst the best in the class at it. I got away with an attendance of 1% in the final year, because the college knew that i spent 150% in doing things for the students that nobody else did ! Being successful was critical, not what i was successful at.

3. Hardwork is the foundation of success – there are a few people in college who become the best at everything with little effort. But for me, like most others, success was the result of nights without sleep, of trying and failing and trying again. Nothing came easy, but effort always paid off

4. The best friendships are made in undergrad – i have been fortunate to meet some incredible people in the last 30 years, and have formed close and deep friendships with some, like your parents, but there is something about the friends from engineering college that cant be explained. We may not meet often, not even speak often now, but i know that whenever i need it, they will be there. You dont need 10 such friends, but 1 is not enough either. Find your soulmates, because when everything and everyone has gone afar, they will be the ones still standing by your side

Aanya …. these are some of my learnings and memories of college….and you will have your own. Just remember to fly, to soar and look afar, to live your dreams. And as you do that, be thankful for everything you have.

Wish you all the very best, at work, in life, in love….

………………………..

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5 C’s of India

We have all heard about the 4Ps of marketing, the 7S of strategy, or the 4 Cs of strategic analysis, but what are the 5 Cs of India ? This is a thought that came to my mind as I spoke to a Chinese colleague recently, describing India to her, “what defines India?”

5 things stand out about this country to me, these are elements that make us different from others, keep countless languages and regions together, bind various religious belief…….

Contradiction : if somebody occupies my family land in the village, it can take 20 years to win the case in court. Yet, I got a verdict for compensation against a builder in a rera court in Mumbai in 1 hearing of 30 mins. As a successful professional, if I want to start a business, I have a choice of funding options – banks, angel investors, VCs. But if I am young and passionate, and don’t have a family to fund me, fund raising can be a nightmare, unless you have a digital idea ! We have the most vibrant democracy in the world….even our voter turnout is good, and yet we put more criminals into parliament than any other country.

Contrast : as the plane lands in Mumbai, looking out of the window, one sees slums all over, and fancy 5 star hotels and high rise apartments co-existing. In a drive to a village in India, modern cars compete for space on the road with bullock carts. Drinking water still comes from a handpump, but cricket is seen on a mobile phone. The weather report will talk of a draught and floods in the same breadth. Of cold winds and heat waves. The contrast in wealth, in the weather, in infrastructure, in the haves and the have nots, …..everything can be of such extreme, and yet co-exist, for the most part, peacefully.

Constant : in some ways, India never seems to change. The traffic remains a mess in every city. Petty corruption remains rampant. Issues regarding gender discrimination, petty politics at election time, reservations, demands to sack the cricket team coach when we lose one series continue to hog the headlines. These are the pet peeves of this nation which we can’t give up.

Change : the country is changing, is evolving. School syllabi are moving from CBSE to the IB, landlines have given way to mobile phones, the dhoti kurta is less common than jean’s and t-shirts even amongst village youth. Mud houses gave way to brick houses and now they are made of concrete. Roti has given way to “double roti” as our staple breakfast. Even the masala dosa has become schezuan dosa ! Everything around is changing, at a rapid pace. And change is impacting all spheres of life, across income groups, across geographies. If you wake up after a slumber, India looks, feels, smells, sounds different.

Chaos : one only has to stand at a Mumbai local railway station platform for 10 mins to understand what entropy really is. If one wants to see Brownian motion, this is it. The scene is no different in the fish market at Dadar, or the streets of Garia, or the anaj mandi in Chandni chowk. The din is deafening. Everyone seems to be talking to everyone, all at the same time. People are moving in all directions. Yet, despite this chaos, despite this seeming madness, work gets done. People get to work, trading happens, business continues, the economy grows. The Indian’s ability to suffer, even thrive in this chaos is amazing.

The beauty of India is our ability to live with all these 5 Cs, together at play. We are a nation that is on the move, is not in doubt. But does the contradiction and contrasts in society slow us down? Or create tensions for the future ? Is our ability to change, our adaptability a key strength ? Is it the cause of our resilience ? But then our rigid dogmas create shackles. The economy, societal norms, our policies, …. everything moves in a zig-zag manner, and yet seems to move forward. Is this because we thrive on chaos? Or because we thrive on chaos, we move forward in a zig-zag manner ?

I don’t have the answers. And nor does India, for all the questions we ask about her. But, it is a country moving forward. It is a country on the go. With its shackles or due to its limitations, it survives and thrives.

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18 … oh ! It is so special

What is so special about this number ?

The sum of digits is 9, and that for many is a specal number. The difference is 7, and ask a football fan and he will tell you how special that is.

For many, it is the age at which one can get a license – a license to drive, a license to drink, a license to vote. It seems to be the age at which one gets freedom

Freedom from what ?

Freedom is a state of mind. And the mind is not bounded by age or by a number.

18 … oh ! It is so special

18 is perhaps just a point in time, a coming of age (in a metaphorical sense) when rights get burdened with obligations. When freedom gets bounded by responsibilities.

It is not the age when you fly free, but the age you fly with a purpose. It is not the age when you can do what you want, but the age you become responsible for your actions.

18 … oh ! It is so special.

Only if you take this time to think about your future. Only if you continue to dream, and live your dreams. Only if you make this the year when you see the thorns along with the flowers. Only if you learn to fall, and stand up again.

18 … oh ! It is so special.

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Excel is the new God

My parents had an arranged marriage ; they met once before their marriage and were introduced by a distant relative of both. That was 1969. Circa 2001, and I had an arranged marriage. I met my wife through a newspaper, we met only twice before saying yes, even if we spent 7-8 hours together in our second meeting. Thats how marriages happened in India. Infact, the majority of marriages in 2019 are also ‘fixed’ in a similar manner.

Some things never change, or so I thought….till I spoke to a few nieces of mine in the past one week.

A niece of mine, 28, succesful in the tech world in San Francisco is single and dating, but is in a dilemma. She knows a guy, she likes him but is not sure if he is “the one”. She is not sure she wants to commit at this stage. I suggest that she should take the relationship forward. Invest time and emotional energy in it, and in 6 months, she would know. But my niece is not sure. Is this too much to invest ? Another relative makes a bold suggestion…. “why don’t you live-in and decide after that ?” I wondered whether my parents would have ever given this advise to me. Not sure if I am ready to give this advise to my son either. Maybe she could look at his horoscope. Isnt that what our parents did !

But, her dilemma is that her “excel” is not throwing up an answer. Hey, whats’ this excel ? She has created a scoring model with criteria, weightages and scores to give the guy a number. She is stuck because she does not know whether the number he has got makes the cut ! This is like a non-validated psychometric tool. Every HR person wants to use it, and every business leader understands the futility of it.

I laugh, and I say that a relationship can’t be built on an excel. But a friend tells me this is not a relationship, but an arranged marriage. The girl is arranging it for herself ! And she is actually quite kicked about the fact that men are getting “objectified”…..after all, they have done it to women for centuries !

But jokes apart, for a minute, if we were to put the wise cracks on men, HR and excel aside, what have we come to ?

I see similar challenges at the work place today. Money drives us more than passion. Intelligence is valued more than empathy. Emotional intelligence has become an oxymoron for most. We rule by excel, powerpoint and email. Mann ki baat tho ho thi nahin !

Somewhere, we are losing our ability to trust our gut. We are losing our ability to let the heart rule the mind. Consultants with powerful excel models and fancy powerpoint slides never made great companies. A dream, passion, luck and a willingness to fail are what greatness has been built upon.

The original business plans of Apple, Google or Amazon were no more detailed than a 1 page horoscope. Maybe the horoscope does indeed deserve a second chance !

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Fire and Dreams…inspired by #GullyBoy

I have been pushed, shoved, beaten to the ground
I have no name, and yet have been called many a name
Each time i fall, i vow to rise higher, stand taller
There is a fire inside me, that burns, that consumes

I live in a dark cave, which lets in no light
I see only gloom and despair in the lives around
Each day only strengthens my resolve to break-free, to fly away
There is a fire inside me, that burns, that consumes

My reality is bleak, is that of one with no hope
My fate could not be worse, can only be of servitude
My dreams are going to change my reality, not be limited by my reality
The fire inside me gives me flight, gives me light

My future is going to be one that only I can see
My pain, my words, my junoon shall alight many fires
My dreams shall change your reality, shall make you break free
My fire shall set you ablaze, shall free you, shall burn you, shall liberate you

The fire that burns shall set us free, shall give us flight
Our dreams shall change our reality

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Que sera, sera

Que sera, sera ….

Between Jan 2nd and Jan 11th, I had a series of goodbye dinners. Each one different. Each one with a different group. One was formal. One was fun. One was stimulating. One was emotional. I felt good that I had made some deep friendships at work in these 5 years, probably more than I did in my earlier jobs. Everyone said good things….sounded like a funeral in some ways because the good is said at the altar and the bad is said in whispers on the benches. People spoke about their learning from me, they spoke about my passion, about how I changed a moribund organisation into an aggressive, fast growing, meaningful company. People spoke with pride. People spoke about how I would come up with an angle to a problem that nobody thought existed. Some people spoke with emotion, some rambled, some were thoughtful, some were funny.

But in their words of praise, there were hidden messages. They were said in humour and probably without malice, but the messages were not lost on me. Maybe I review too much. Maybe my reviews create too much fear. Maybe I micro-manage too much. Maybe I create too much stress for everyone. Maybe my analytical mind adds value, but also destroys value. I remember a poster I once had in my office some years ago, “I think, and hence I am dangerous”.

I need to change. To take back these messages and evolve. In the past 5 years, i have opened up more. Shared my vulnerability, in parts, and with some. I am less mechanical, less robot-like, more human. I think Mihir brought out the softer side in me. Mom’s demise brought out the emotional side in me. Maybe farewell speeches will bring out the calmer, less aggressive but equally passionate side in me. Maybe I will focus on helping others create value, rather than create value myself.

And maybe I wont change. Maybe I will continue to be aggressive, will continue to be the devil, who is always in the detail. Maybe I will continue to think, and strike fear in others. Everything is a maybe. Only time will tell. Que sera, sera.

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Finding myself

Finding myself …

“No chance, no dance”
“When was the last time you did something for the first time?”
“Speak english”
“We are not in the happiness business”
“In data I trust, the rest I leave to god”
“Dont fly at 20,000 feet”

These statements represent who I am. A risk taker, innovative, aggressive, detail oriented, data driven.

But is this really who I am ? There is an emotional side that remains hidden. A loneliness that hides behind a mask. A creative side that is suppressed. An insecure child that is fiercely protected. A protective, grandmother hen that wants to put its wings around the weak and needy.

Who am I really ?

Am I an iceberg ? Cold, austere, partly visible but nobody knows how much is hidden.

Am I a volcano ? Always bubbling inside, waiting to explode. Spreading scorching and scalding heat.

Am I the raging river in flood? Destroying everything in its path, but leaving a mark behind. Creating its own path when one is not available.

Am I the moon ? Mystical, beautiful, enigmatic. The full moon spreads light, but brings out the werewolves.

Who am I really ?

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