Hard Times

When the going gets tough get going. Nope, it’s not that oft-repeated saying but this classic Billy Joel number from the 80’s.

I was reminded of it when I watched my grandpa make a sprint to our patio to check out the peacocks. No, I ain’t kidding. We actually have peacocks frolicking in our backyard (and front too) with all the bee eaters, shrikes, racket-tailed drongos, puppies and strays, magpie robins, kites, shikaras, mongooses and even lapwings on a rainy day! And yes, my grandpa still sprints!!!

Getting Younger and Wiser

He’s 95 years young, no, not the peacock… my grandpa. He’s lived in India through pre-independence, post-independence, license raj and post-liberalisation.

To put that in context, he was a babe in the woods when the British ruled India during the 1920s. His world was a privileged one. He had a proper fiefdom with hectares of land and people at his beck and call. He ran away from home to study in Chennai since he didn’t want to be an illiterate gentleman of the farm. After all, he was just being true to himself.

Just as an aside, we made a trip down memory lane to visit his Chennai roots. You can read more about it here….

There was no saffronisation though people were rigid in their religious beliefs. My grandpa was a staunch believer in the Congress party and the ideals it stood for. So he participated in the Salt Satyagraha, albeit on the sea shores of Chennai. He spent a brief spell in jail as a freedom fighter. There is a photo of Gandhi and Nehru together addressing one of the freedom struggle movements here.  Now, he reads the magazines and papers, and watches the news on TV but he abhors politics. He has seen and lived with people of a better breed, who stood by what they believed!

As I go through old albums I come across a ticket stub for a cruise ship bound to Australia. There is a post card datemarked circa 1940s with an address bearing the same street that my brother resided in 70 years later (Though both these glories actually are that of his brother).

He recollects how people would bow before him because he was a zamindar (landlord). Society did not believe in dignity of labour and people still lived in the varna system, he says. Yet, he worked along side his ryots (farmer).  There is a weathered press clipping where my grandpa is extolled for using the latest technology (irrigation at that point in time) on his farm. There are certificates bestowed on him by various agricultural institutions including for skills he mastered in silk worm rearing.

Perspective aplenty

There were no malls when he was a teen or a sprightly man living through his 30s, 40s and 50s that charged Rs 120 for a plate of idli/vada or a Sukhsagar by the sea in Jumeirah in Dubai. Instead what he had was an anna to buy himself a hearty breakfast of puri/bhaaji, dosas for lunch and a ride back home with some change left over. Wow, 1 anna got so much more than what Rs 100 gets me today. Again, to put this in context one anna is probably worth 6 paise today. LOL, we don’t even have ten paise and 100 paises make one rupee. And even the 1 rupee has become obsolete.

My old gentleman was and is a tough nut.

He married for love, not an arranged nuptial which was all the rage then. His wife was a socialite (so he says) and she was always impeccably groomed. She was a baker and she inspired women to come into their own through baking, agriculture, sewing and other handicrafts. So what??! Remarkable, I say, considering this was the 1930s when women were not expected to do more than bear children and slog over wood stoves from four in the morning to twelve at night. Society was patriarchal, not matriarchal.

When the going gets tough, he got going.

He lost his land in the land acquisition act. From being a gentleman farmer in his fiefdom he came to the big, bad city where he reinvented himself to become a manager in the transport & logistics sector. He travelled from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. He got his children the very best he could offer from imported biscuits to Sharbati wheat, even then called grains of gold.

From a man who held on to his conservative beliefs, whether religion or women’s rights, today, he is the more progressive individual I have met. Unfortunately, his kids never enjoyed that mindset but we grandchildren do. There is nothing we can do or no one we can beat, so thinks our grandfather.

As I stare at hard times progressing steadily into my 30s I falter and fall. Losing a job, battling health issues, struggling to meet financial commitments, getting a start-up off ground and still staying focused on the positives becomes tough.

But heh, one look at this diamond in the rough and I know I have what it takes to meet life head on. After all I’m of his stock.

 

 

 

Too late to learn?!

That was the chorus playing in my head after a luncheon session.

Context – I was complimenting a colleague on her ability to handle people and stay unruffled despite frayed tempers while getting her point across. You could have been a professor the way you explain with such patience and wit, I said. No, you need to have a higher degree, she said. Why don’t you study now and get that degree, I said in a ra-ra mood. And before I could continue with the ra-ra-ing I heard another voice chip in and say, “No, it’s too late now.”

I turned around to see my colleague nod vigorously in agreement to the statement that had chimed in (from another female colleague).

Now, all of us were middle aged, middle class women with responsibilities; some with kids and some otherwise.

I turned around to address the larger group (women mostly) on whether they would pursue studies, given a chance. And the resounding chorus.

Yes, you guessed right.

“It’s too late now.”

Got me thinking, is it really?!

Without getting into gender stereotypes male colleagues pursue studies (most often an MBA) while their family and work life continue in joyous abandon. Got me thinking again, huh, why?

Yes, yes we know. Women take the brunt of marital/familial responsibilities and often have to play an award-worthy role of balancing priorities of husbands, kids, parents, in-laws, families at large, pets, friends, etc, etc… so their ambition & aspirations gets buried somewhere or lost in the long journey of playing life.

But there are women out there who actually manage to win that award and pursue studies as well. It may not be an extended MBA, it might be something simple as a foreign language course or a baking program or a web designing course or what-have-you. What gives?

US

We forget to ‘listen’ to what we want and need.

We forget that we are individuals (too).

We forget we are ‘gifted’ individuals and not mere responsibility-driven women.

We have bought the dumbing down, stereotyped cliches that society (for the most part) feeds us.

We have bought into ‘pre-defined’ roles assigned to us.

Good for everyone, but what about you? Where do you go once all those entities exist from your zone and you are alone?

Continuing Adult Education is important. For women, perhaps, more than men. Equip yourself with skills that will support you and keep you agile.

 

 

 

Neoexistential crisis…huh, what?!

This is truly a first for me.

How much is too much? and When is too much ENOUGH…

I didn’t mean to be cryptic but thought of letting these questions buzzing in my head out there in the open! Now what’s the deal, eh??

Here goes: I finally found a job that I like working in a place I like for a boss I respect with people I share a good rapport with, the usual stuff notwithstanding, and I get paid a decent sum, which maybe indecent by some standards but heh, whose complaining.

So what’s my gripe you ask..

The problem, and don’t laugh here, is I like my job so much that the world outside has ceased to exist. I wake up at 1 in the morning to check my mails. I respond to mails in such a jiffy that at times I do not read the mail through and end up sending addendums. I’m trying to be the go-to person. I alert my boss to whatever I think is important, even if it means calling him at 10 in the evening (yea yea it is night but in my work-filled haze it is but the start of a pleasant evening when I start working on documents and organising my mail).

I volunteer for work outside my defined profile and JD, and at times end up taking on more than I can chew..and boy, believe me, never knew leather was that tuff…ugh!!

Now I find myself unconsciously donning the role of admin assistant (nowhere near my JD), fairy godmother (you get my drift :-(( ), one-woman army (huh, since when) and doormat.

Yes, and before I forget there are a team of similar drones all over the organisation whom I found ludicrously endearing and leg-stomping hilarious but now…..

HELP….

 

How do you hit the jackpot

After more than a decade of working, mostly being part of the print media I have come across less than a handful of people who I look up to. While one was a great mentor the other two were great managers who knew when to pull the leash in and when to leave it loose.

Most of the people who were in the supervisory or higher-up roles were routinely bad, pathetic in fact. Reasons varied from:

  • Indifference to creating a motivational environment for the team to work with
  • Lack of mentoring skills
  • Scheming to serve one’s own ends; even using subordinates/co-workers as pawn
  • Inability to foster a spirit of bonding & build team work
  • Discouraging youngsters/co-workers from trying new ideas/methods
  • Having a MY WAY or THE HIGHWAY attitude
  • Defeatist when confronted with a problem/new situation/challenge

and so on and so forth…While I’m trying to understand what makes a person stay on with the same organisation for reasons other than job security & not wanting to get out of a comfort zone; what I’m also trying to understand is why do people, especially youngsters job hop. Surely, monetary benefits can’t be the only reason since a pay hike of 1000-2500 rupees really doesn’t matter. Would be great to get your thoughts on both counts.

Meanwhile, here is my pick of the lot for being a REALLY COOL boss.

  • Give your employee the end-goal and allow them to navigate their way towards that goal
  • Create a sense of working towards a purpose as a TEAM
  • Make each member of the TEAM accountable for their responsibilities, actions and achievements
  • Applaud good work in public and reprimand bad moves in private
  • Mentor the team or put a buddy system in place
  • Be a friend but only when asked for
  • The Boss is the (wo)man with a vision so be CLEAR in all communications & set expectations

I’m working with one such……

 

Angst

A pow-wow over breakfast is healthy and stimulates you to be sharper on your feet, more than breakfast itself. Now I’m sure most people would disagree with this and argue the merits of having a healthy breakfast for healthy living. But that is not the topic of this post. And perhaps this post won’t really strike a chord with male readers, but here it is.

This particular morning our pow-wow digressed from corporate life and gossip to women and the lack of support there of in every aspect of living the day-to-day. Whether it was middle age angst or .. leave it for you to decide.

“All I want at times is for some one to get me a cup of coffee when I go home. I do not want someone telling me you – don’t need to work- I’m here for you- or take up all my burdens for me- just that thoughtful gesture will give me the strength to wake up to another day of struggle,” said this lady.

Feisty, driven, caring mother of a teen, considerate and duti-bound daughter of two aging parents (80+) this lady is the one we look to for support and direction when we get lost in the corporate quagmire of processes/politics/what-have-you. To have her voice such a thought seemed ludicrous. After all wasn’t she a super-woman?

Before anyone could react another lady chipped in, “I know what you mean. Every day I wake up to a day of chores and I have no complaints coz this is what I have been doing every since I can remember. But there are times when all I want is for someone to say thank you or just show they care or appreciate my efforts.”

And these thoughts found an echo in all of the women. Which brings me to this post?

None of the women are whiners. They shoulder more than their fare share of responsibilities. Each one is accomplished and successful, both on the professional and personal front. Their wants to be appreciated was not directed at the male sex but were generic.

Leading me to wonder :

  • Why women are not as quick to claim credit for anything they do
  • Why are uncomfortable at praise or complments showered on them
  • Why societal approval is still important
  • Why aren’t women as good at vocalising concerns compared with men
  • Why women are still hesitant in reaching out

 

 

Harmony

I have always believed that a new kid on the block or an old foggie on the precipice of retirement should choose a small company.

The logic is simple:

If you are young and it is a small organisation: than you get

  • more responsibilities
    feel the rush of working and accomplishing on your own
  •  more accountability
  • great camaraderie
  • mentoring and timely feedback
  •  trial and experimentation is possible since the structure will be open
  • learn more than your job definition
  • an expedited learning curve

If your are old and in a small organisation:

  • your experience carries a lot more value
  • you have been hired for your experience
  • you have the opportunity to groom, mentor, provide feedback and see the results firsthand
  • you have responsibilities
  • you cannot be a deadweight
  • you think out of the box

If you are young/old and you work in a mammoth, chances are:

  • you are lost in the labrynith
  • there is no scope for change
  • set systems and processes need to be adhered to
  • creativity and experimentation aren’t welcome
  • there is always you to blame
  • the buck stops with you but the decision to carry forth the buck is some one else’s
  • constant prodding/monitoring/miscommunication

At least this is my perception, what do you think??

Bum’s Rush

Underpaid and unappreciated, a recurring theme in many a professional’s life. Well so was it in mine giving rise to this post Bum’s Rush.

Now before you start to think I’m still one such perish the thought.

This post was started last year and kept in cold storage for nearly a year now. Several events in the interim period laid this blog’s original intent to rest.

Discovered I could write,  and get paid for what I write! A wow moment!!

Get appreciation for writing on issues I’m passionate about and get appreciated by friends, acquaintances and random strangers. A wower moment!!!

But more than all this I realised I could write to connect with people and make change possible.THE WOWEST moment!!!!!!!!

Being given the Bum’s Rush is easy but accepting it is in your own hands.

Decide whether you want to chase money or chase your passion.

Somewhere something’s got to give and you are sure to get paid in a myriad ways when you bring your passion to work or make work your passion.

All of us get stuck in a rut and give in to the system (making money to meet commitments and taking on/getting thrust with commitments so having to make more money and a never-ending cycle).

De-clutter your life – whether it is sitting down to figure out where you are headed or simply tearing up your credit card and breaking a cycle of debt; whether it is deciding if IN A SHORT LIFE you are doing what you want or whether you will let the years pass you by.

Life is waiting...........

THE TIME IS NOW.. WAKE UP

TODAY IS when you live your LIFE the way you want to

THE TIME IS NOW….YOU WILL be all that you can be

THE TIME IS NOW…..

To borrow my fav line………… LIFE IS CALLING, where are you?!!

Office Bullies

Ever been in meetings where one person hogs the meeting and it soon becomes a monologue instead of a meaningful discussion

or where you try presenting your views only to be met with sarcasm and barbed comments belittling your ideas and intelligence

or where you go all pepped up to present this great idea which may take the company forward, no guarantees of course, but it just may..and even before you are through with the intro of “Heh I think..” there are a whole bunch of gloomy gusses waiting to water down that great idea or a single person single-handedly injecting vitriol

or your young colleague who has slogged hard at a presentation sees it receiving token acknowledgment

Been in any of these ARGHhhhhhhhhhhh situations, than I bet you know what an office bully is!!!

Surprisingly office bullies don’t have to be your heavyweights – the old has been done that who has become a part of the office furniture it could even be that mild-mannered ever-smiling friend who just likes to get a kick every time he sees a colleague fume or turn red with embarassment. So how does one deal with an office bully???

1st acknowledge the fact there is one, and it isn’t you that is acting like a magnet attracting slug (that slimey greeney thingie under the fridge)

2nd, introspect; analyse the situation; identify what triggers this bullying behaviour

3rd, initiate a dialogue with the bully without getting into a mud-slinging contest to see if you work together, after all that bully may be good at something where you need help (most bullies have low confidence levels and this is their way of giving a boost to their ego)

4th, if the above fails rope in a colleague who could act as a buffer till you come up with an alternate plan

5th, confront the bully. Remember, a bully always backs down when cornered (remember your school playground, well being in a corporate game is almost akin to a playground)

6th, that doesn’t work. SOS help-ur HR personnel or your boss, depending on who is sensible and has their head screwed on right and tight

Finally all else fails get yourself moved to another team or division where you don’t have to face the bully…



Journey

Journey

It all started four years back when I was going through a phase in life when I had lost my identity and was struggling to find myself from an array of faces I was smeared with.

Lost and lonely would not be too dramatic a way of putting it.

I have never been of a wholly religious bent of mind. Rituals were mindless and mind-numbing, something convenient to adhere to at times of chaos. Endless chanting of verses, whose meaning I was unaware of was a practice I had followed ever since I could remember.

Just like the almost annual pilgrimage to Tirupati with family. It seemed like the billion plus India boasted of wanted to be at the shrine the same time I did, always. Queues and jostling people, from behind and beside and in front- How could I stand the torture was a question I always asked myself.

As a child, I never had a choice, and as an adult I gave up the choice..to emotional blackmail and superstition.

That year though was different. Every where I turned there were only questions and more confusion. Conflicting advice and contradictory information. I was slowly getting buried under the barrage when childhood memories trickled in. Of the dark sanctum sanctorum and the light of the lamps that illuminated a shining visage which glittered in the darkness.

I forgot the torture and the mass of humanity. I forgot the noise and the constant din that was Tirupati. All I remembered was that vision I used to get for a fraction of a second.

I booked myself on a packaged tour, informed my shell-shocked family of making the pilgrimage alone and headed to the bus stop.

I did not remember seeing my co-passengers or noticing anything of the 5-hour journey. All I remember is wishing for a million things all along the way, the least of which was finding myself again.

We arrived at 2.30 in the morning. My mind was buzzing with thoughts whose thread I was too tired to pick up. We were marched to the Sudarshan token counters to get our tags and photos webshot. This, I was told, a new system they had put in place to control and direct the crowds. Our darshan time was 11.30 am.

We were dropped off at a hotel. I was given a single room with strict instructions to be ready and present in the lobby within an hour.

I freshened up. Ready to meet my destiny, I thought. At the lobby were a group of boys, noisy and cheerful like it was a college campus. How I envied them their gaiety and carefree attitude. Next to them were groups of families with young kids in tow.

We set off to the Alemelu Mangapuram or Shri Padmavati Temple at Tiruchanoor. It was nearly four when we reached there. The temple doors were just being opened and we were asked to queue up. The quiet serene atmosphere soothed my nerves.

Surprisingly, even the boys and the younger kids seem to quiet down, such was the serenity. We were ushered into the inner shrine and granted darshan of the Goddess. Oil lamps throwing light on her golden form.

It was still dark when we finally came out of  the temple and taken to have breakfast at the tour operator’s hotel. I decided to skip breakfast as this journey was a masochistic exercise to discover self.

Around seven we were deposited at the starting point of the serpentine queue. Seven hills the local APSRTC bus circumvented to deposit us here. People had already gathered ahead and conversation was centered on how long we would be in queue before getting to Venkateshwara temple interspersed with Govinda Govinda Elukuntalwada Govinda.

We were still waiting at 11. The crowd was not restless just more excited. Finally at 11.30, our scheduled time to meet the Lord the gates opened and the crowd started running. It was a two following two structure. There wasn’t  a melee but after some time the run slowed down to a jog and finally a sedate walk. We had reached the cage. We sat on the benches.

Some of the cages were already filled with people, who by the looks of it had waited longer than we had. Food was littered all along the cages with bottles, plastic covers and tetrapacks adding to the color.

These cages were probably to reign in the frenzied masses of humanity and give people room for introspection.

In my cage, there was a rush as people clambered to find seats on the benches and I found myself pushed with the boys to the far corner. We settled down. I lost in thoughts while the boys amused themselves creating dialogues for the Telegu version of the Ramayan being played on the boxes straddled on the metal grills, which fenced off the cages from the world outside.

Every hour a cry of Govinda Govinda echoed through the walls. It seemed like the Mexican Wave, only here people were clustered in different cages instead of being together.

Eight hours later and we were still there. The boys had by now taken me in their wings. I was one of them, and as such, expected to laugh at the witty dialogues and monkeying around.

I was glad of the camaraderie and support to hold on.

When all of a sudden the gates opened and people started running out. The boys formed a protective ring around me as we started to get squeezed out of the cage with the swirling humanity. I do not remember walking just moving on and on and on until  I felt water beneath my feet and realized we had reached the main gate.

My protectors still around me. Fencing me off from the mob and giving me direction. I moved to towards the garb gudi, the sanctum sanctorum, and not a drop of water or food inside of me.

I have never been more aware of myself than at that point as my ring moved me towards the Idol. We moved to the wooden platform from  where I could see the glimpse of light and further up wooden platform from where I saw the oil lamps and HIS eyes. HIS EYES and his form slowly emerged out of the darkness.

Seconds later the ring moved forward like there was a Shove or push from outside. My eyes were still on HIS EYES, his form glistening and soothing.

We came out and everything else is just a hazy memory. The boys getting me the Ladoos, prasadam that brought me back to the Land of the Living. We shared a jeep ride downhill.

PEACE

I did not find myself. That process took time but I had found short-term peace enough for me to see the pieces and start assembling myself.

To this day, every time I get lonely and lost I see HIS EYES and remember this journey. Sometimes I make the trip but in my mind’s eyes this was my journey of a lifetime, which brought me back to Living.

DOWN, hopefully not OUT

This is the third attempt at writing this post. Not because of sheer laziness or lack of something to say. Just that the mere subject touched a raw nerve. I had titled it Layoffs and scrapped it again.

I meant to write a post on Dealing With Getting Laid Off, but heh, how do I write without sounding preachy and shouting from the rooftop. So out it all went.

CONTEXT first: My placid morning got stirred when a friend skyped asking for openings and vacancies. Further prodding and sheer nosiness got this out- laid off for not meeting targets; EMIs rolling out and house expenses to be met. Can I help?

Racked my befuddled head (coz this friend was comfortably well off but a month back secure in the everyday job and the 10-11 existence and now!!!) and scoured my contact list-passed on a few numbers and got back to what I was doing..snoozing. I couldn’t though.

WHAT NEXT: Thanked God and the bosses-that-be it wasn’t me? Prepared a Oscar-winning speech for why not me and then came the memories of a nightmarish quality.

Circa 2000: Heated words and the “you can shove your job you know where” and the heroic walk-out. Come morning and I woke up with a flush. I had no job and a blissfully unaware family, mom and dog waving me out the office and a brother asking me to stay safe. So there I was, out the gate with a hundred in the pocket, no cubicle to go to and NO boss to report to.

Old habits die hard indeed as I took a familiar route and landed on the bus terminal close to work. Free ad in hand I walked to a park close to what was my office till that morning. Within no time circles adorned the paper and frantic calls to jobs I had no idea about. Anything to have an appt letter in hand and next pay cheque in bank. This routine continued the next 13 days along with walk-ins to organizations that friends suggested. I did what a sales guy called cold calling, and the product I was doing a hard sell on was ME.

My nourishment these 13 days was hope, a bottle of water that I got from home, bananas and buns. Suffice to say, I stayed healthy physically and started breaking out mentally. No calls from companies desperate to hire me and the only calls I got was from banks soliciting a client, if they only knew it was a jobless penniless client they were soliciting!!

Two weeks on and nearing to the EOM I got a call at my neighbourhood kirana shop. Why you ask? No landline at home and mine was a prepaid connection with the balance hovering close to the last rupee. Running out I answer with a breathless voice. Hello said the voice on the end of the line. “Can you come in today and write a test. We shall discuss the details once you are done.” What do you think?

Of course, I ran and reached the organization in as quick a time as the BMTC would take me. My hands were quivering as I took pen in hand to write the test (Eh youngsters we did not have a notebook (read Lenovo) to take our tests on, it was still paper and pen!!) and my head abuzz with Will they, Won’t They as I tried making sense of the paper.

Two hours later I submitted the completed paper and waited to hear the result. 30 minutes which seemed 30 years and more and I could already feel my hair turning grey and my knees clatter.

Yes I snagged the job and the rest of the story isn’t worth a telling. But lessons learnt:

  • Words once spoken can never be taken back
  • Do not jump out till you got a ship/boat under you coz the waters may drown you if you aren’t equipped to swim= if you don’t have savings/rich family background Stay put till you get a better job
  • If something doesn’t go well, work harder. Perhaps you aren’t doing something right. Introspect before you start pointing at someone or something
  • Choose wisely before you take up an offer. Remember after that the choice is not yours
  • Always, always save.. a rupee, a hundred, a thousand. Doesn’t matter how much, but SAVE.  You never know when it rains or there’s a flood. Always be prepared
  • Constantly upgrade your skillsets
  • See your saleability in the market
  • Enhance your knowledge base
  • Be better than what you are
  • Do not get emotional about the organization or the people you work with. Make friends but remember being true to your job and good at your job matters more.
  • Build relationships that go beyond the workplace
  • Weigh loyalty: Check if the organization values loyalty, see how they treat people across board – from the office boy to the MD