Thursday, May 25, 2006

This Land of Heros...

When Abdul Khan returned to his bed after cleaning-up, he found Noor Mohammad already asleep. Their other friend, Salim, was snoring. Abdul, smiling to himself, laid down next to his friend. He could not sleep easily; he has been worried about Noor for the past few months. But of late, things have been turning around for Noor and he was happy for him. As a celebration, both of them had finished their work today at around 9PM and gone out for a bit of fun. It was almost end of the month and they had gotten a small advance from their shop owner.

When they met for the first time about an year ago, Abdul and Noor hit it off with each other quickly. Both had come to Mumbai in search of work, like million others before them and perhaps million others after them. They had met at work; although Abdul was 7 years older than Noor, the fact that they were from the same town in UP also helped them to identify common memories and places and hence strike a bond. Both had left their places of birth and had come in search of work that can help them support their families back home. Noor had been married for about 3 years and had trouble with his wife; Abdul, meantime had come to support his wife and 2 kids, with a dream so that his two sons can have a better life than he has. Definitely they will have at least a bed to sleep on and a roof over their head, unlike him right now. However, with Noor it had been a different problem. Noor’s wife had left him and gone back to her parents. Noor, in an attempt to get over it had come to Mumbai; but mentally he could not and brooded over it all the time. But the luck was changing in his favor. Noor had received a letter from his uncle that his wife was repentant and hinted that she wanted to return. For Noor, it was a ray of hope – he believed that he would win his wife back. That was about two weeks ago.

Due to the upcoming festival season, the work was tight and the orders were flowing in; both of them did not have much time to do anything else. Finally, they did get some time off from their boss. Tonight both Abdul and Noor decided to go out for a dinner in one of the nicer restaurants and cap it off with a movie. Noor was a movie fanatic and was die-hard fan of Aman Khan – Noor, if he can, will not miss the first-day first-show of his favorite hero. He had not seen the new movie due to hectic time at work. Noor and Abdul had gone to a local restaurant, had a sumptuous mutton biriyani for dinner and had later gone to the night show. Noor’s child-like fascination for Aman Khan never ceased to amaze the more level-headed Abdul. It seemed that Noor almost lived in Aman’s character and did believe that someone like Aman would save them from their misery or fortune would smile at him like it did, unerringly in every movie for Aman. It was a three-hour escape from reality as far as Abdul was concerned. For Noor, it appeared that was the reality! From Abdul’s point of view, the movie that they went was no different from any other movie they had been to earlier – Aman Khan was a poor man, who woos his woman, marries her in spite of all the hardship, becomes rich and in the process loses her and wins her back. During their walk-back from the movie, Noor could not stop talking about the movie and why it was the best ever movie; and how his hero was the best amongst the lot. Abdul could see that Noor identified himself with Aman due to the fact that Aman wins back his wife in the story. But Abdul was very glad for Noor – it has been really a long time since he found Noor to be this happy and talkative; it was a big change from the past. On the walk-back, Noor had also told Abdul, he had planned to go back to his hometown during the upcoming holidays and see if he could get together back with wife. He seemed quite positive and sure about it.

That was about an hour ago. Abdul had told Noor to go to sleep, where he will join him on the outside. Abdul opened the shutter of the bakery where they worked, cleaned up, set up for the next day work. He downed the shutter, slipped the key into his inside pocket and spread his mat and pillow on the pavement next to his friend. It was a muggy late September and they had decided to sleep outside the bakery they work at. He looked down at his friend – Noor was smiling in his sleep – perhaps he was dreaming about returning to his wife, much like his hero. It was around 2.30AM in the night, when Abdul slipped into sleep.

Around the same time, Aman Khan was in the bar of the five-star hotel, downing his 6th drink of whiskey. He felt good – his latest movie was a roaring success; he had his foolish fans eating out of his hands. He smiled, looked at his watch, exited the bar, got into his expensive, imported and huge SUV and drove off…

Abdul, in the twilight zone between unconscious state and awareness, was slowly waking up - he felt a searing pain in his leg; he found out he was in a hospital and was told that few of his bones were broken. As he was gaining complete, but rather painful, consciousness, he could begin to recollect what happened the previous night. Just before getting run over, for some reason he had come awake – he saw a huge phoren vehicle that had climbed the pavement where they had been sleeping. After he had been hit, in a moment of lucidity before slipping into darkness, he saw Salim writhing in agony, but Noor lying, scarily, still. And seemed dead – very much dead, with that smile that he went to sleep with, still in his face.

In the early hours of September 28, 2002, Salman Khan, the bollywood actor, in his Toyota Landcruiser, allegedly drove over four pavement dwellers, killing one and severely injuring two other. Tested nearly 24 hours after the accident, his alcohol limit was purportedly twice the permissible limit.
One can get more details at

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Black Thursday


In an unprecedented event, the Sensex (the Bombay Stock Exchange 30 share sensitive Index) fell by a massive 826.38 points on Thursday, the 18th May 2006. This was the highest ever fall recorded in the history of Indian Stock Market. The financial experts and the newspapers promptly dubbed this day as Black Thursday.


I first had that itch to try this out when I was a teen-ager. I think it was normal for any teen-ager, influenced by the movies and what that hero [1] had done. Since then, it was something that I have always wanted to do but never had an opportunity to start. Our “out of town, in the middle of nowhere wilderness” college did not provide any such opportunity. When I was in my mid-twenties, I was so immersed at work and at things that bachelors do after work-hours (I’m talking about hanging out with friends at movies and such) that I had no time for anything else. However, the innate desire still remained. Then the thirties came. I was at a place where I had an opportunity next door. I went to that place and checked it out; the place was full of energetic kids. I shied away from that once more, since I did not want to be sticking out as sore-thumb amongst them and with my conditioning, I was pretty sure, I would be; and be an embarrassment to myself and a joke to everyone else around.

Then towards the late 30s, when I was in the US, I finally found a perfect place – it was in the work place and the participants were all around my age; at least they were colleagues. If I was making a fool of myself, it was contained amongst my peers and now I had a safe excuse of being old enough not to be good at it. In fact, some were amazed that I had started at this age! Then I came back to India and was lucky enough to find an arrangement where I could continue the same at my new work place. It was just that I had to switch from one style to another.

Yes, I'm talking about Martial arts - martial arts that everyone got inspired by that one guy [1]. On my return, from being a green belt in Taekwondo, I started again as white-belt in Karate. After 5 years of being at it, I finally passed my black belt test in Dec 04, 2005, in presence of the founder of our style. A lot of people have asked me as to how I manage to balance work and find time to stick to karate training with regularity. My answer to them is always: “that’s why”. I very strongly believe Karate has given me a outlet for de-stressing; so much so that, in spite of the pain that our sensei puts us through, at the end of it, I always feel more lively, inspired and fresh. The tougher the class gets, the better I feel at the end of it. As an added bonus, I’ve been fortunate to find a good and dedicated teacher. Also, I quickly realized Karate alone will not succeed; it has brought in associated paraphernalia – the workout regimen; I found that it is highly impossible to stay through a karate class without being fit; that now has ensured me that I have some kind of workout at least 5-6 days a week.

The 18th May, 2006 was indeed a personal Black Thursday for me. On this day, it was a culmination of almost a life-long dream and some commitment of six years. I was awarded a Diploma Certificate and my black belt. I was now officially a Shodan (first degree) in Shotokan Karate.

[1]: The hero was, ofcourse, Bruce Lee and the movie was “Enter the Dragon”
[2]: If you want to find more about our Sensei and the founder of our style, check out links on this blog site

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Adoption of Change

For the fear of Kaavya[1], I would like to upfront acknowledge the following paraphrased quote is not mine: “When asked about the sameness of routine that they go through, most people admitted would like to see change in them. At the same time, if you ask any organization, you would hear change management is the most challenging aspect of their business. So what is the paradox here? It is NOT that people do NOT want change; it is just that they do NOT like being changed”.

So given that most people do like changing and would like to, so what is that mindset that make adoption of change easier ? This could be best served yet another anecdote. I used to work with someone who told me a story of how he got booked by police while driving at 50 miles per hour in a zone that had speed limit of 30. This was in the US. As a penalty for the offence and to save negative points in his insurance, he chose to attend the 8 hour training class, instead of getting a ticket. If someone had attended this training, they can really tell you what a torture it is – they just sit you up and bore with you on all the road rules, and why one needs to follow them etc. At the end of the class, he believed that he would never again drive over the speed limit. Then after a while, once the memory (of the painful) training faded and he sensed no cops around, he found himself speeding over the limits again. So, when he actually introspected, he got the answer; he would actually would not stay within the speed limit, if the only thing that stops him is the fear of getting booked – when there is no cop, he will drive over the speed limit; but if he goes a bit deeper and understand why the speed limit exists and the implications that he can put his life and some other life in harms way if he exceeds the limit, is when he actually starts driving within the speed limit. This is where the internalization for the need to change his behaviour dawned on him.

Generalizing the above anecdote, when we apply ‘policing’ to ensure that behavioral change or adherence to the situation happens, then the act of adherence or changed behavior exists only until the policing is applied. We see it all around examples of this in India – how the traffic rules are flouted when police is not around, how laws generally are bent to suit one needs – this also has an implicit message; that policing does not lend to a sustainable change. I believe this is the same with the organizational changes driven by metric or stricter management reviews alone. However, at the same time, I’m not against the need for policing – there are times when policing helps; for an initial understanding, for leading people to experience the change – it gives the new law (or old laws, in case of India) or the new behaviour a chance to succeed; particularly, for people who are unable to think conceptually and need to experience the fruits of change. Or in places like Singapore – where a sustained policing through couple of generations have ingrained such a change/mindset in people’s DNA (however I’m not certain, given the globalization of information, if it is sustainable). For me this is one way of ensuring change – the Deterrent way.

The alternate way of adoption of change (or adherence to law) is by internalization within ones mind. One truly understands why a change to a new situation or a law is required: one can conceptualize in his or her mind as to why a certain action is required and is in complete harmony with it. They are the people who can actually see the reason of whys rather than dwell on the action of hows. In the speeding example above, the internalization of need for behaviour had come about, since this person understood that why part of it (not endangering any lives) rather than how part of it (keep within the speed-limit). Sometimes, this kind of internalization also serves to do what is right in grey zones rather than doing what is required by law or what is current norm. This is where some of the transformation starts; and some revolutions too. People who can conceptualize the need and can actually visualize the end-state and adopt change through this route are leaders in thought and in action. The path to this internalization could be through experiential or by purely by thought process. The change is much easier and sustainable over a longer period of time, if change is walked on this route. I call this, the Cognizant change.

So, do we expect every change to be Cognizant? Yes, I believe for it to be sustainable over a multitude and over multiple time-periods, it has to be Cognizant. (I wonder if this is the only place, where the "Cognitive" change, is also driven by "Affective" understanding) However, I believe, our starting point for adopting a change could be Deterrent. But sooner (than later), it has to move to zone of cognizance and probably, end up being Affective, as the final state. I believe. It is simple reality of laws of nature – we cannot hold anything or anyone in a state of order for long against its free will. Water cannot be kept in the ice-form without expending energy. When the energy is taken away, it does return to its natural form. Only place the water stays in its changed form, ice is where everything in the ecosystem is lending itself to support that form of existence – in the mountain peaks, in the poles and inside the freezer at full blast in a refrigerator – that becomes the natural state of existence; cognizant of its morphed state in a ecosystem in equilibrium. But more of that in an other essay.
Cognition (/kognish’n/ )
• noun the mental acquisition of knowledge through thought, experience, and the senses.
Deterrent (/diterrnt/ )
• noun a thing that deters or is intended to deter.
Deter (/diter/) • verb (deterred, deterring)
1 discourage from doing something through fear of the consequences. 2 prevent the occurrence of.

1. of, caused by, or expressing emotion or feeling; emotional.
2. causing emotion or feeling.
Coming Soon:
2. After Change Adoption, what?
3. From Personal adoption to an ecosystem adoption, is it easy ?
4. But Change is Constant, isn’t it?

Foot Notes:
[1] For the context, a google search on Kaavya Vishwanathan would yield several results
[2] From

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Cold Revenge...

Vik was looking forward to the evening; He had an air of edgy tension about him – he was so wrapped in his thoughts, that he realized, in fact, the evening had arrived and its just about half hour away. He had the mien of expectations around him and at the same time he was taut. He had waited so long, worked out of his earlier innuendos by his own kind – In 30 minutes or so, he will have shown his doubters in his peer community; Couple of his peers and their cohorts had derided Vik’s capability publicly and had made fun of what Vik could do or capable of. That had led Vik to be taken out circulation out of potential opportunities for a while. Slowly and painfully, Vik had worked on his revenge. It was not easy, but Vik’s determination had seen it through. Vik would take care of that today; He knew those peers were here at the event too, he had chanced upon them, unbeknownst to them. They would taste what revenge means – that was definite and certain – Vik would ensure that. That would be indeed sweet for Vik. And cold. How true, thought Vik of the cliché – revenge when served cold will be the sweetest.

It was time now, he was 10 minutes away – he got out of his room, walked down to the event and waited nervously. After what seemed forever, Vik heard his name called out; In the Annual Chef’s event, the highly regarded, the much talked about, highly secretive Vik’s recipe was making its debut – he went into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, and picked up his dessert creation – it was a mélange of mainly Red Wine, Vanilla and Gelatin; and he had picked an unique name for it; Yes, Revenge, the dessert, will taste the best when served cold.

Friday, May 12, 2006

To act or Not to act

I had an epiphany while doing my exercise this morning; triggered by an incident. One of the towels that was left to dry in our balcony (at the 2nd floor level) had fallen off due to heavy winds last night. In my first two laps, I did not see the towel; but in my 3rd lap I saw the towel and recognized it – someone had picked it up nicely and let it hang on one of the water pipes – so it was not getting any dirtier or blown around in the wind or anything like that. However, as soon as I knew it was my towel, I had this great urge to act immediately – pick it up and then take it upstairs to the room… That’s when I had the epiphany…

There are two things for us to be successful (in general, I'd believe):

  1. To be able to ACT IN AN UNKNOWN situation (being comfortable with not knowing what the immediate action is, but not getting stunned to stillness).
  2. To be able to NOT ACT IN A KNOWN situation (being restrained enough not to jump into action, but act with deliberation).

#1 above is fairly obvious. Most of the inventors come from exploring the unknown and having a curiosity of where no one has gone before (including Captain Kirk J). This is about discovering possibilities.

However, refrain from acting in a known situation was something I had not thought about at all, thus far. That was not my strength. Which is why sometimes I would miss out articulating the systemic view; and get to urgent things before important things. My point here is NOT that, we should NOT be action oriented; but the point is: If acting a little late is ok and has no impact, why not act later than sooner? Maybe newer information would present itself to give additional clarity or a better solution; specifically if its not a black and white situation and the solution is in the large grey zones between those boundaries.

When we are operating in a much limited circle of 'awareness', our action will be driven by what we know. Hence those and solutions resulting from those actions can end up being sub-optimal; since we do not know what we do not. Once we decide to go beyond the charming lure of the known, we start to look beyond the “obvious” and not allow us to be short-changed by what we know. Then, this self-awareness that there might be possibilities other than the known and choosing deliberately not to act, becomes our differentiator. I think this is key in a Strategy part of the cycle (of Strategy and Execution); when we are looking for a systemic and a holistic solution – striving to continuously raise the bar.

I’ve an examples to quote on the above, using my favorite metaphor repository – cricket J. Sanjay Manjrekar who is a good friend of Sachin Tendulkar (and hence you may want to discount some of what he gushes about Sachin), said that one of Sachin’s greatness lies from the fact that he can wait on the ball till the last moment and play it – and legend says that Sachin has a 6 ways of playing a ball and score runs off it where as lesser mortals would be happy defending it. Since Sachin picks the length and line early, it is easy for him to make a decision about what he needs to do with the ball; but he just does not act immediately, he plays it at late as possible and as differently he wants to; that’s where his genius about cricketing ability comes about. To me, Sachin, by choosing not to act earlier than absolutely necessary and in an obvious manner is creating and inventing possibilities.

This leads to the next stage then. The point that we could be creating/inventing possibilities would imply that we have created a situation that is perhaps widely unknown and unsolved. However, the need to make progress in resolution, still remains. Sometimes, in that situation, we realize that we need to develop new skills, functions and knowledge; and that puts us in a situation of unknown. This is the #1 above; we seek and act (like doing, experiencing, learning, reading etc) to get more clarity on the unknown and hence put us on the path of solution that is directionally valid. Here our awareness of our own limitations and choosing to act becomes a differentiator - being comfortable to act in an uncertain situation is, to me, key to the execution part of the cycle.

I do think the combination of the two above is the one that continuously raises the bar, expands the bounds of knowledge and pushes entity (either the person or the organization) towards excellence in creating, achieving and sustaining value.

I think the Shakespearean question is really not “To Act or not to act”; it is “To act AND not to act”.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Tree

In mirthless autumn fatigue,
I, the Tree, stand bare,
Stripped of my cover,
at the threshold of cold winter fare.
Seemingly tired and resigned,
To face up the inimical snow
Assumed that I'll end up dead.
Little does the winter know;
I am quietly at peace;
With my roots deep in the earth
and my branches devoid of leaves,
Gives me the balance and strength
To counter the icy chill...
I, in my countenance still,
know that just around the bend
with my tenacious calm,
I will walk winter to its end;
Giving way to lovely spring,
I will regain all my glory
Rustle and whisper sweet nothing
I will dance to the gentle breeze.
I know nothing touches me,
For I am rooted deep in my beliefs -
They are my branches that take me ashore,
When adversity had shipwrecked me.
Oh yes, I've experienced grief
several times before...
But, each time, at the other side of harm,
I had help, patiently waiting,
to take me, with its open comforting arms -
in His blessing: The hope of eternal Spring. Posted by Picasa