Learning to let go …

We are programmed to acquire. The enlightened ones acquire knowledge. The capitalists acquire wealth. The politicians acquire power. In this journey, we acquire ego.

Humans, with this intrinsic programming of acquisition, don’t know what to do when they have to let go.

Politicians dont want to let go of their seats. CEOs dont want to let go of their opinions.

Even as the scriptures have told us to leave the “moh maya”, we dont know how.

But, in death, we have to learn to let go. In the recognition that life is finite, we have to learn to leave our bodies behind. In ageing parents, we have to accept that their time will also come, and that we have to leave the pallu that always gave us strength.

Moksha for Lord Buddha came from being able to give up everything. I am far from that. But maybe I can also learn to give up some things, to re-program my mind to stop acquiring, and to start letting go.

When I can let go, then Mihir will fly the coop, without a tear in his eye and pain in my heart. When I can let go, I will come to terms that mom and dad are not with us.

I need to acquire the ability to let go. I need to let go of my programming to acquire.

In loosing, I will gain.

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Being a woman …

As a woman, I live many lives. That of a mother, of a successful corporate executive, of a wife, of a daughter in-law. I might live alone, or with my husband, or with my inlaws or in a larger joint family. Each of these lives throws its own challenges at me, its own trials and tribulations, its own pains and joys, its own happiness and laughter. And till I dont live these lives, I really dont know what the journey is like. And the irony is, often I dont even select for myself the life I lead. It is somebody else’s choice, somebody else’s wish, somebody else dream or simply somebody else’s fault.

From the outside, you only see a “screensaver”, a rosy picture. Once you jump in, you are sucked in, as if in quicksand. In themselves, each of these lives can be quite nice, but when you are trying to live them all together, I realise how tough it is. As a woman, I constantly live with the fear, or maybe even the guilt, that I am dropping one of the balls. I get stressed that I dont do justice to any of them. I feel drained at the end of each day, but dont have something concrete to show for what I did in the day. I dont seek appreciation, i dont seek recognition, I only seek cognizance that I do all these things, all together. I dont feel jealous that men have it so easy. I feel jealous when i see other women not having to lead so many lives. I feel tired when I look at myself in the mirror and remember the days when I was still leading one life, of a student, and of a woman…when I was leading my own life, not someone else’s.

Being a woman….it is just so bloody tough.

Thankgod I am a man !

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Synonyms of “woman”

As Woman’s Day approaches, I began to think about the words that describe many women that I know. What are the synonyms I could think of. A few words came to mind but i decided to look up the oxford dictionary, and I found words like ‘mother’, ‘daughter’, ‘lady’, ‘girl’, … and i said to myself: “are these really synonyms?”

“Isnt a synonym a word that means exactly the same?”

But are women simply defined by the roles they play ? And I thus decided to make a list of the words that are my synonyms for woman …
– strong
– frail
– caring
– tough
– determined
– unsure
– courageous
– bold
– demure
– talkative
– silent sufferers
– multi-taskers
– jone of all trades, master of …

– ….. and the list can go on, …

Shouldn’t the Oxford dictionary consider these as synonyms of woman because so many of them that i know are better described by these words than by lady, girl, daughter or wife ! I dont think a woman can be defined through someone else, which is what many of these synonyms try to do. A woman stands on her own.

As i wrote this list, another thing that struck me is that many of these words when paired together are opposites. Mathematically put, this seems impossible. If A = B, and A = C, than B = C. But in women, why does this principle work ?

Well I guess, thats what make a woman so unique. The normal rules of math, of logic, of language, dont apply to her. She stands alone. Stands tall. Stands like an enigma that we cant explain, and hence we try and define her as a mother,wife, daughter, sister ….

Let me not do that. Let me give a woman her due. I won’t make her God because that is something I cant define either, nor will i find any other synonym for her. Let her be a woman, nothing more, nothing less, nothing similar. Let me celebrate her for who she is, and not for whom I want her to be.

Wishing a woman, and every woman, a very happy Woman’s Day.

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In Laws

The relationship with inlaws is a very unique relationship, and can be very different for a woman with her inlaws and for a man with his inlaws. One begins to call a couple as mom, dad, or whatever, when one barely knows them. In India, it is even more queer because a man may have met his inlaws only a few times before marriage.

In India, the man treats his in-laws like he would treat his parents, but they will not treat him like his son. They wont call him by his name. They will call somebody 25-30 years younger with “aap” as a measure of respect !

When the son-in-law comes home, a tilak and an envelope seem to be an expression of love. And if that is not enough, a dinner spread that looks like a king’s feast is laid out.

I can scold my mom, but not my mom-in-law. I can make a joke at my parent’s expense but not my inlaws.

If I am travelling to my parents city, won’t think twice about staying with them, and nor will my friends notice it. But if I stay with my inlaws, friends will say, “in-laws ke saath raha ra ha!”. If my inlaws come to town, they may not be comfortable staying at my home. I know of the extreme cases where a mother-in-law won’t even drink water at the son-in-law’s house.

Such is the dichotomoy of this relationship. And now for a minute, put all of this into the shoes of a woman, and imagine her relationship with her inlaws. And to this, add the filter of the daughter-in-law staying with her inlaws !

My empathy with my wife suddenly shoots up !

Can’t we simplify this all ? Cant we just be friends and not give names to the relationships of son-in-law, mom-in-law, etc……Why can’t marriages come without inlaws at all? Can’t I marry a woman, and not her family ?

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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.


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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