Evening at Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 2015
and so does everything around... the situation, the people, the perspective, the needs.... and we too change.... the wise and courageous seek change.. because only change is constant!

Monday, March 30, 2009

33. Care Taker

Wish I had video clips to share with you, but nevertheless, I remember the small (and big) incident fully.

On Saturday, I was in a small village. It was only 11.00 in the morning, but the Sun was blazing merrily. The volunteers who had come to receive me had some work in the school office. So, I was just waiting aimlessly in the car, in the school campus

The school building on the left hand side was gorgeous. A huge playground increased the beauty of the building. Many boys and girls were moving around all over the playground. They were all going home. Suddenly a pair of kids, just passing by the car, attracted my attention.

The sister was about seven year’s age. She was wearing white blouse and sky blue skirt. Her short hair was tied in a pony tail. She had a rack sack on her back. Her left shoulder was carrying one more school bag – that was probably of her younger brother aged four to five. On her right shoulder she was carrying something wrapped in a piece of cloth, it looked heavy. The bro was all smiles. His sky blue shirt was bit torn. With his curly hair on the forehead, he had naughty plans written in his eyes. The sister was obviously given the responsibility to bring her young brother safely home. She was the care taker for the time being.

The young bro had different view of the situation. He was looking at the occasion as a complete freedom to do whatever he wanted. He knew that the sis had limited power and he could stretch the limits. The sis was calling him and asking him to catch hold of her finger, which she had stretched forward. The boy was running. He was teasing her and challenging her to catch him. He was young, motivated and was burden-less. Naturally he could run fast. The sister was running behind him. To increase his hopes, he was stopping after a distance and waiting the sister to cover the distance. The sister with increased hopes, made a dash. But as she came within a catch-able distance, he again ran. He also laughed loudly and teased his sister.

It happened once, twice, thrice. Every time the little sister ran with hope and every time she failed to catch the bro. Fourth time, she lost her heart. The moment the bro ran away from her, she sat down. Her belongings were thrown on the ground. A water bottle dropped from the bag. She started weeping. Her whole body was trembling. She was frustrated, defeated, lost. Her shoulders were dropped; she buried her face between the shoulders, knees and chest. She was completely helpless.

I was in two minds – whether to help or not. But I was aware that being a total stranger, my intervention would scare both the kids. I decided to wait for couple of minutes more. Someone who knows the kids would definitely come forward and help them.

The boy stopped at a safe distance, turned back and yelled, ‘catch me if you can’. He was ready to laugh loudly, but he noticed that his sister was missing from the level of his eyesight. Then he saw her sitting and weeping. For a moment he was perplexed. He looked around, with what intentions I cannot imagine. His eyes bulged. He was silent for a moment.

Then he ran faster; this time not away from his sister but towards his sister. He approached her silently. She did not notice him even when he came near. The little boy hugged her from behind, kissed her left cheek, patted her and pulled her face upwards. He wiped the rolling tears of the sister. Now the sister was surprised, but she still could not trust her bro. She thought it was one of his tricks. She continued weeping. The boy gathered the things that were fallen around, he made his sister drink little water. The sister started smiling. He made her stand and then stretched his little hand forward so that the sister can hold it.

They walked towards the other end of the playground. Both of them were smiling, chatting, both were happy. The role of care taker was completely reversed now.

If they can take freedom of playing, teasing, challenging, troubling each other…. and then come back and support, help, motivate, love each other..... they can face any difficulty that life might bring to them.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Use of CFL

The February-March Poll Question Was:
Do you use Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) at your residence?
27 visitors answered the poll.
3 visitors (11%) are using 100% CFL at home , congratulations.
9 visitors (33%) are using CFL partially, good beginning.
10 visitors (37%) are not at all using CFL, please re-think.
5 visitors (18%) are 'planning to use', hope the plan is implemented in the near future.
Request all the visitors to answer poll questions... I am putting only one poll per month.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

32. blink

I am not able to tell you how I rate this book and I am not sure whether I recommend it. :) I have taken an incredibly long time to finish just 254 pages. This clearly indicates that I did not “love” this book. But I did not give up in between … that means it was ok.
It is a story of ups and downs. If you are talking in terms of IBC (Introduction, Body and Closure) I would say it began well, in the middle was ok and the closure was disappointing.

Some books are badly written; some books are well written; and some books are cleverly written. I could not help feeling that ‘Blink’ by Malcolm Gladwell is cleverly written. May be, Malcolm’s journalistic background has taught him to write cleverly.

What if somebody starts you telling human interest stories – about how someone used ‘thin slicing’ to arrive at a right decision when a team of scientists with all their logical thinking was proven wrong? Naturally you would be interested… Deep inside, we all hate logic because we are bound by it in routine life. So, the defeat of logic, the defeat of formulas, and the defeat of well set mechanisms pleases us.

To his credit, Malcolm Gladwell makes use of human psychology very effectively. First he tells us the grand success of ‘thin slicing’ – which we normally call ‘first impression’ and later moves on to tell us how it does not work in all situations. (Clever balancing act!) He writes about Warren Harding – the worst USA President – (I believe Gladwell will have to change this after the Bush regime…) and informs us how ‘snap judgment’ can run into a disaster.

Gladwell is a good story teller. He narrates various experiments which study human behavior – human relationships, human biases, human inclinations … which we are not consciously aware of. Gladwell talks about ‘priming for action’ – how our subconscious takes suggestions and our decisions are based on those involuntary suggestions. We all are driven by gender, racial, class, caste,… many biases, though we are hardly aware of those.

Gladwell talks about getting ‘below the surface’, ‘behind the locked door’ – the processes triggering snap decisions – and assures us that we can change our perspective by changing our experiences. Here Gladwell is motivating.

John Gottman’s invites couples in his “Love Lab” to discuss some topics for few minute and almost accurately predicts whether this couple will be divorced or not after 15 years. Samuel Gosling conducted an experiment where he judged people’s personalities through visit to their bedroom by strangers. Bob Golomb is very successful car salesman because he has trained himself not to be driven by biases. Van Riper surprised American militaries while playing a rogue in computerized Millennium Challenge game (mock war on computers – based on which USA decides war strategies).

You name an area, and a related story is there in the book. Psychology, Sports, Music, War, Food, Beverage, Advertising, Films, Crime, even Politics … every type of example is nicely packed together.

Gladwell elaborates what happens when market research overtakes instincts. There is a story of a singer Kenna, whom market is not accepting though all those who have ‘ear’ for music ‘instantly’ like him. There is also story of ‘Pepsi challenge’ to Cola, which Cola mis-interpreted. For me the most exciting story is of Tomkins, who could “read” faces correctly: and how Emkins and his team worked hard to come out with thousand of configurations of face muscles – which can lead to ‘read mind’ rightly.

But at the end, I asked myself, ‘Hey, what is this guy trying to tell me?” Honestly, I was left clueless. First he tells positive side of ‘thin slicing’, then he explains ‘how it does not work’, then he moves on to elaborate how it is difficult to explain the instinct (market research goes wrong here), how blind tests have both the aspects, how disaster happens …. I mean it was interesting and all that…. but why take a position of a scientist when you are entertaining (and the other way round)? Why make a mystery of a common power which everybody has at some or the other time in life (but not always)? Why make a theory of a power, which one cannot explain logically?

Oops….. I need to blink!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

31. Shortage

At my workplace, every year we (my team) organize an event on the occasion of ‘International Women’s Day’. The idea is to sensitize the colleagues and bring in new perspectives. We invite different guests and the program is generally only for couple of hours, on Saturday. So, it was yesterday, 14 March, in the afternoon.

We are 80 people working here. We send invitation to all through LAN. My team personally invites everyone (except for the few who have never attended in the last eight years). Our workplace cleaning task is outsourced; we invite all those ten workers for this program. This personal conversation gives us idea about the expected attendance and we make adequate arrangements. Some of my colleagues are traveling and some have deadlines to complete….. We know in advance that they won’t be coming, so we do not wait for them. The attendance is of course voluntary, the choice is with my colleagues.

I do not know whether you have observed how people enter into any program hall and how they choose chairs. Generally, they will try to occupy last rows. Some people come and like to sit in groups. Some people like to be left alone. Some people take this opportunity to exchange ideas (when the program is going on) and some are engrossed in ‘sms’ing! From the organizer’s perspective, bringing back row people to the front is Herculean task. With all the formal and informal appeals, some people do not move, some move only to the next row…. keeping all front row chairs empty.

I think occupying back seat is a safety measure. If the program is boring, one can just slip away without disturbing the audience and without the organizers noticing you. I appreciate such visionaries – it is a practical aspect of ‘happy living’.

The program went on well. After it was over, I met some of the colleagues who did not attend. I casually asked them why they did not attend. I was stunned to get the answer “We wanted to, we came, but the hall was already crowded and there was no place…so, we went back. Why don’t you have the program in a bigger hall?”

At least 15 people wanted to attend the program, thought that there was not enough space and so went back. In the hall there were at least 25 empty chairs…..

There was enough from one side, and there was shortage from the other end. This shortage was artificially created and it affected the benefit of few. What happened? I believe it has to with distribution, accommodation, and discipline. If everybody would have kept back row chairs empty, it would have helped. But the early birds use ‘choice’ as ‘right’.

Thinking about ‘those who are not here’ is an essential part of any equitable distribution… but the ‘haves’ do not generally think of ‘have nots’. They not only assume that others will come and get whatever is the benefit; they also comment, “Oh! But they should have come in time” forgetting that everybody cannot have enough access to and control over resources.

The ‘have nots’ are not assertive enough and/or interested enough, so at the first opportunity they withdraw. I do not know whether it a lack of motivation or from experience they know that ‘the best is over for them’. They complain for what they did not get, but mostly do not take that ‘extra step’ to achieve what they want. So, the gap remains, the artificial shortage (non issue) becomes a ‘real issue’.

Arranging the program in a bigger hall (increasing resources/schemes/facilities) seems to be an obvious solution, but with the present mindset what is the guarantee that we will not create artificial shortage in that situation too?

Creating artificial shortage by haphazard and selfish choices is one part of the problem. Not taking extra efforts to create a space for ourselves is another side of the same coin. Unless we tackle both these issues simultaneously, whatever we may have, some will always be left without it, even when they want it. We all seem to love ‘shortage’ in one form or other and we all contribute to creating it.

So, why complain?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

30. Women’s Day

Hmm… today is International Women’s Day.

I am not very fond of these national and international days… though I see a value in it. I mean it is a good occasion to make people aware, to look back and to take new direction, to share and to learn etc. But most of the times such ‘days’ have become a ritual. There is no life in it…. nothing new. People say the same thing over the years, I doubt whether listeners remember anything. I have given hundreds of public speeches … and I can see through its hollowness. Nowadays I prefer to work with small groups, because perspective building is a long term and continuous process.

For this reason, for years I kept away from Women’s Day. Every year my field teams look for ‘some resource person’ – who would inform a bit, entertain a bit, speak in a simple language and make women smile. Knowing me, they are always sure that I will not stretch my speech beyond a ‘boring line’. But I never accept those invitations. I keep a distance… because I feel I am contributing to the cause of women (directly or indirectly) for the rest of the 364 days. My personal journey is also a contribution, simply because I happen to be a woman.

I do not want to ‘do’ things unless I am convinced, and I do not really bother about alienation …However, for last couple of years, I am setting a new trend. I realize that I have gained a lot from various unknown women in rural and tribal India. Somewhere I should accept their debt and help others by sharing my experiences.

Last year I addressed one gathering of women in Pune.

For me, it is a hectic day today. I will travel a distance of 200 kilometers (using public transport) for giving a speech. Rather a bad effort – if you calculate input-output ratio. I mean consider travel time, money and energy spent. The output? I will make some people think for a minute, smile for a second… and satisfaction to organizers that an event is successfully achieved.

I will reach the place by 12.00 in the afternoon; from 3.00 to 6.00 is the main function in which I will speak. Then I will facilitate a couple of meetings and there would be lot of informal interactions. I will meet few friends and exchange happenings with them. I will be talking for most of the day and will be tired at the end of the day. Will start back by midnight and reach home by 7.00 next morning. On Monday I have to be in the office at 8.00 am… to work with a team on completion of a document!

Thus will end the ‘Women’s Day’. I am not sure whether I would contribute anything to the betterment of women by giving a speech. After all, may be it is a bad idea to accept such invitations and to assume that I can ‘guide’ people. May be I should follow the path of not getting involved in Women’s Day. May be, I should just be with myself on this day.

It is funny. When I was not doing anything, I felt that I must contribute. Now I am taking an initiative and I feel that I should withdraw.

Robert Frost has rightly said,

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both….”

What is your say on this?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

29. Breaking Chains

On Friday, one NGO had invited me to facilitate training on Child Rights. I am not an expert in this area, so, took this opportunity to understand the topic. The participants were 30 women from four small villages near Sangamner. They all are members of Village level Child Rights committees.
I get tired easily if I have to constantly listen to one person. Therefore I always plan meetings, trainings, and workshops in such a way that everyone gets opportunity and is motivated to be involved.
During one game (kind of role play) on ‘inequality’, one woman voluntarily shared part of her life story. I got interested and during lunch break chatted with her.
Bhagabai (name changed) does not know her age. Her eldest son is about 45 years, so she must be 57-60 years old. She was married at the very young age of 7 – but stayed with her parents until she was 12. She was married to the son of her aunt (father’s sister). On my casual remark “‘the aunt must have treated you well…”, she laughed loudly. She told me various incidents on how she was harassed. Not providing enough food, verbal and physical abuse, giving extra workload, not allowing talking to other women … these were some of the methods used by the mother in law.
Bhagabai has four sons and two daughters – all married. I inquired, “You don’t abuse your daughters in law in any way I suppose….” She smiled understanding the direction of my remark and replied, “No, I do not. What I suffered from, I will not sow, so it will not grow.”
Bhagabai was silent for a moment. But from her expressions, it was clear that she was thinking deeply. She was in a position to reveal some uncomfortable truth. She was in two minds about sharing it with me. Finally she decided to trust me. She added, “But this maturity has come to me very late in life. You know, I have a younger sister-in-law. I have treated her very badly. I did to her all that my mother-in-law used to do to me. I used to beat my sister in law. Reasons? Any small reason could do, even I used to treat her badly without any apparent reason”.
“Why?” I could not help asking.
Bhagabai sighed, “See, that time my world was very limited. I had never gone outside, never spoken to strangers, and never heard anything beyond routine mundane things. I was immature because I had no exposure. I had suffered and wanted to take revenge – on whosoever I found. No one told me how to live differently. I did not know that there was some other way in which I can think and I can live….”
“Then how did you change?” I asked encouragingly.
Now Bhagabai was smiling again, her voice became stable and strong, her eyes were shining… She told me, “This all I learnt in Self Help Group (SHG). I met so many different people here, I saw them living differently. They told me what is good and what is bad. My horizon expanded since I joined SHG. I have developed a sense of good and bad after attending to workshops, trainings, meetings… I feel that no woman should be verbally or physically abused…..”
I was overwhelmed with the honesty and with the trust Bhagabai showed in me.
Generally in India the trend is to measure success of SHGs in terms of savings amount, credit availed, income generated through various activities ….. All quantitative measurements. I do not undermine their importance, but bringing in qualitative change, behavioral change is more important.
One major mandate of SHGs is to create congenial atmosphere for women’s empowerment –bringing in positive change by helping women to see ‘alternative paths’. Breaking old chains is inevitable process of such a demanding journey. Breaking chains not only brings freedom to others but even to those who are bound by the age old traditions.