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!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

95. Limited Choice

“You are from Mumbai?” the woman asked me in a sort of accusing tone.

“Yes”, I answered without any guilt. I was no Mumbaikar in the sense of ‘belonging to Mumbai’, but then I was staying in Mumbai.

She was a woman in her 50s. Many times rural women due to hardships appear older than they are. So, may be this woman was just in her 40s. Of course, the woman in front of me did belong to middle class. Actually I was given her reference by a friend of friend in Mumbai. Her name was Suman. Suman Mavashi , to be more precise.

I gave her the name of my friend’s friend. Her face softened a bit. In fact, she smiled.

“Come inside. Would you mind if I ask you why you are here?” she asked, the accusation had reduced, just mild curiosity remained and she did not hide that.

This was a small village, consisting of only about 100 houses. The nearby calm river and the green hillocks made the spot very beautiful. I was very peaceful that moment and was enjoying the typical forest smell.

I was working with an organization as a Full Time Activist. As part of spreading the message, the work, we were visiting unknown villages and meeting lot of strangers. However I was a woman and very young then, so nobody allowed me to travel without reference. And these references worked like magic wherever I went. My friends and all their friends seemed to be good people. Their name opened new doors for me.

I told Suman Mavashi everything I was supposed to tell. Initially she listened to me quietly. Then she asked number of questions. She offered me food. She took me to few more homes and introduced me to various people. We had number of informal meetings and cups of tea. I ate lot of food that day as no family accepted ‘no’ as an answer to food. Well, I was happy. When well fed, we all are happy, isn’t it?

By the time I had my last sentence spoken; it was time for the last bus. Suman Mavashi wanted to have few words with me alone, so I went back to her house. I was excited with the experience but feeling tired. She too must have been tired. We were chatting something very non consequential. Suddenly she asked me, “As you stay in Dadar area, you must know XYZ.”

Yes I knew him and knew him well. He was office bearer of one organization with which my organization was closely associated. We had good contacts. We met at least once a week. XYZ invited me and my colleagues to his house very often. I knew his parents well. His wife was my friend. To his kids I was an elder friend. Such relations should normally be termed as close relations. I just nodded to Suman Mavashi.

“How well do you know him?” Suman Mavashi asked very sharply. I was alarmed by her tone. Her face looked hurt and angry. She was trying to control her emotions but tears emerged. She started weeping loudly as if somebody had just passed away, her body was shaking.

I was shocked. There was nobody around. I did not know this woman very well, though I had taken liking towards her during the last few hours I had spent with her. She was helpful, witty, kind and calm. She was sort of a community leader. She was well read and was enthusiastic.

I did not know what problem she had with XYZ. I told her ‘Yes, I know XYZ rather well. Do you too know him? I asked casually.

“I want to kill him,” Suman Mavashi said and I was stunned. I put my hands on her shoulders and tried to calm her down, but to no effect. With my kind gesture she broke down. She looked so sad, so helpless that I was frightened for her life.

Suman Mavashi had a story to tell. One of her nieces was closely working with XYZ in his organization. In the recent past, the 20 year girl had committed suicide and the family was still in that trauma. I knew this girl too and I was aware of her sad demise. The family suspected that XYZ had sexually abused the girl and hence she committed suicide. Actually the girl committed suicide after she was detected as pregnant.

Listening to Suman Mavashi, I was stunned. I was numb. I was terrified. I wanted to run away from her. How could I trust her more than XYZ? I knew XYZ for few years, I knew his family, and he had been always good to me. He always cared for me. We were good friends.

“Don’t you believe in me? My niece had left a note. But just to avoid public scandal we did not complain to police. But my niece was so simple, that she won’t name XYZ if he was not involved.” Suman Mavashi added.

“Don’t you believe in me? “ She asked again. “Do you think I am telling a lie? You are too young, you are like my niece; just be aware of people like XYZ. Don’t move alone to strange villages like this my child. Take care of yourself. All the people around are not good.” she kept on speaking and crying. She collapsed in my lap. I kept on patting her. Slowly she stopped crying. Her body stopped trembling. I was motionless. That was a deadly peaceful moment. I realized that whether wrong or right, true of false, Suman Mavashi was convinced that XYZ was guilty. I had no words to console her.

Somewhere inside me I was deeply affected. The intensity of Suman Mavashi’s sorrow touched me. It was frozen cold. It was lifeless. It was unnatural. It was alien. It broke something within me. I felt so lonely, so insecure. I could understand the pain she was going through. I could feel her helplessness. I could sense her feeling of taking revenge.

I suddenly grew that evening.

I could never talk to XYZ on this topic. I could never share the incidence with him. Somewhere something had changed. I had become a different person – rightly or wrongly I do not know. I never judged XYZ. Slowly the friendship died. For that matter I never judged anyone, and many such relations ended.

But that evening I realized that people can be 'different' to different persons. There is always a possibility that you will never know the truth. Basically because truth is most of the time what one understands; how one interprets. There is nothing like absolute truth. Not about human beings. Everything changes, people change, relationships change, expectations change….

So if someone accuses a person close to me, I can understand the accuser as well as the accused.

Sometimes, for no apparent reason, people close to you change. We hear totally different (strangely disappointing) opinions and stories about them. It hurts. Sometimes two people who are close to you hurt each other badly and both of them want you to trust them, believe in them - with their version of truth. In the process, you are torn, you are stretched beyond limits. Your values become weapon for others to hurt you.

Sometimes, I wish I had never met Suman Mavashi.

That day Suman Mavahi unintentionally made me realize certain aspects of life for which I was not prepared then.

I am not prepared even today.

However life chooses whatever gifts it wants to give me!!

I have limited choice!!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

94. Puzzle

Lately I am going through a funny experience. This is one aspect of growing old I guess.

A few months ago I met an old friend - now a very famous person. We were introduced to each other in 1984. She must have invited me for dinner at her place about 300 times during those five/six years. I was sort of their family member – a pampered one. I was part of their joy and sorrow. We used to talk to each other a lot during those days.

Later I left that city and kept constantly moving on. Those were the days when letter writing was the only means of communication. By the time I could afford email and mobile, I had lost contact with her. Because she has grown to be a ‘Page 3 Person’, I did not dare to contact her. In the mean time life had taught me how to deal with such losses and so I did not lament. I have grown to realize that everything disappears when it ceases to contribute, when the teaching is transmitted.

The other day I happened to attend a public program where this old friend of mine was the chief speaker. She instantly recognized me, was happy to see me and started chatting with me the moment the official function was over.

My friend was bit emotional – naturally. Then she asked me, “Do you remember this?” and narrated a particular incidence, which I did not at all remember. She was surprised. Then she kept on asking me the question repeatedly and funnily I did not at all remember any of those events, happening, joys and sorrows.

It was striking that she remembered certain portion of our interactions which I had completely forgotten. Even after listening to her, I was not able to recall any of those incidents.

Last week, I met another friend. Here too, I was meeting her after almost 10 years. In earlier times, her home was my home for few months. For about 10 years she had taken care of me – by feeding me nourishing food, by offering books to me and by sharing life with me. The contact was lost due to unavoidable circumstances –my moving out of the town again.

This friend was talking to me and again I had the same feeling. She was remembering certain portions of out interactions, discussions which I had completely forgotten and could not recall.

Whatever incidences my friends were sharing (and asking me whether I remembered those) were not at all inconvenient to me (rather they were emphasizing goodness in me), but I had no traces of those. Does it mean I have a bad memory?

Does it mean that we understand/interpret the same facts differently and we underline experiences differently?

Does it mean that the intensity of each person is so unique that the same experience can be labeled (sorted and stored) differently by different persons?

Does it mean life is a jigsaw puzzle of pieces and everybody gets hold of one or the other piece only?

Does it mean that we should be more tolerant and more patient – because whatever is important to me is not important to others and vice versa?

Does it mean that human beings are so complicated (and so is human life) that no one ever will be able to complete the jigsaw puzzle called human being and human life?

Friday, July 16, 2010

93. Who is J.G.?

“Who is John Galt?”

The statement is repeated hundreds of times in Atlas Shrugged’ by Ayn Rand.  People utter this statement simply, without expression. Sometimes fear is attached to this utterance. Attached to this statement is a feeling of terror without reason.

The question is symbolic; it is apparently a question but in fact a statement.  It indicates lack of knowledge, lack of information, a mystery, and helplessness. It denotes that one has reached a dead end, a situation where ‘Devil and Deep Sea’ are the only two options.

That evening I remembered “Who is John Galt?” I even asked - in hope and in desperation – not exactly about John Galt but about one person whose initials were also JG. In a way I asked “Who is JG?”

The name JG appeared in one of our important communications and we (our team) were asked to share the progress regarding discussions with this particular JG.

So I asked my colleague, “Who is JG? Who has discussed? What?”

He did not know. We realized that both of us did not know. And we were supposed to discuss this in the next 10 minutes - on an important international call.

Then I asked the question to the people who are supposed to know, who should know. 
They asked back, “Who is JG? Who has discussed? What? For what?”

That was great. I had just few minutes at hand and I had no time to get amused or irritated.

Then I turned to those who must know.

And they asked, “Who is he? And discussion about what?”

That was indeed fantastic.

People meet every day, they call every week, they have internet connection, they are supposed to work together, and they are part of one team. But it is interesting that someone who is miles away from us, has access to such a piece of information which none of us have. No doubt knowledge brings power, but some people seem to think that not sharing knowledge generates more power.

I believe that communication is not a skill hurdle or technology problem, it is basically a mindset problem. There is no dearth of communication tools. What matters is whether one feels like communicating, what message one chooses for communication, how one communicates. People can meet, they can call, they can send text messages, they can write blogs, they can write letters, they can meet and spend time together without talking, they can express their anger, joy, happiness, they can choose not to express, they can trust each other. There are ways and means to choose recipients, messages, tools, outcomes. What is lacking is the urge to communicate!

The lack of communication reflects on how one treats others, how much importance one gives to team work and how much one values egalitarian sharing.

Who is JG -John Galt? – is much deeper and subtler question than it appears. It reflects on life values of ourselves and the people around us. Beyond certain limits, one cannot choose people around – life is full of compromises.

However, one can certainly choose life values.

It is better late than never!!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

92. Wish


“What is your last wish?” the officer in uniform asked.
“Why?’ I said, as I did not properly understand his question.
“Oh! The judgment is over. You will be slain tomorrow evening, if everything goes as planned.” He added in a matter of fact tone, but I could see that he was more than happy.
My last wish! That is indeed funny.
Sounds strange, isn’t it?

After few hours another officer came, he was friendlier than the earlier one.
“How are you going to kill me?” I asked. I can definitely be destroyed, but I am not sure whether these backward people have the required knowledge to destroy me.
“Why take so much interest in the means when the end is coming buddy?” the officer was amused.
“Just want to tell you that you people cannot kill me. Neither the bullet can kill me, nor the fire, nor the water….” I started explaining. The officer started laughing.
“Look, he is preaching Bhagvadgita. At the doorstep of the death everyone becomes a philosopher” He shouted loudly to his friends. They all laughed.
"Nainam Chindanti Shastrani, Nainam Dahati Pavakaha…" someone chanted from outside and was followed by another waver of laughter.
Yes, I know this particular shloka very well. I smiled.
Truth is more fictitious than what one can imagine.

I do not know where to start this story, because it is still happening, I am in the midst of it. From wherever I start, it sounds like a sudden start; from whatever angle I see it is complex. The end is clear, but how I will reach that end still is uncertain.

If I say that my life took a sudden turn like life of Passépartout; some of you would immediately recollect ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ by Jules Verne. Have you watched the movie by Jackie Chan? But that is not the story I want to tell you.

My master was as intelligent as Passépartout’s master Mr. Phileas Fogg. We need no high IQ to conclude that my master was as eccentric as an intelligent person could be. But the times have changed and even a traditional Londoner does not have a luxury to live like Mr. Fogg. Globalization, rat race, competition and what not. Yes, I read daily newspapers and watch innumerable channels (which by the way provide the same news!) and so I have picked up these words.

My master was an Anthropologist. He lived more in history than in present, more with the dead than the living. So, it was actually a big surprise that he had me. Because I belong to the era of scientific revolution, technological leap is the right word than scientific.

It was a weird combination of two of us. There was my master - deeply interested in skulls, cave paintings, ancient religions and scriptures. And there was me, with knowledge and skill that a modern life requires. My master had a great sense of humor. He must have gauged this contradiction at the first instant. That is why he named me ‘Master’ as I was the real master of all the actions he needed to do in the external world. The sense of humor is contagious indeed. Because I do not know why and how, but I responded by calling him ‘Grandmaster’. I still remember how he laughed at that. I hardly saw him laugh ever again.

Grandmaster had no family and no friends except for his Anthropological Society colleagues. They always discussed serious things like beliefs, scripts, and monuments – another group of people who spent more time with the buried. Since I joined, I used to take care of Grandmaster. With modern gadgets cooking, cleaning, shopping ..everything has become much easier. Grandmaster must have been a genius in the field, because he had ample money. His bank balance was very good.

One of my basic responsibilities was to prepare itinerary for Grandmaster’s travel. I accompanied him everywhere he went. It was easy because he was very methodical. But making his travel schedule outside the territory was bit difficult. He liked to go to places where not many people go- naturally only flight booking was not sufficient. I had to arrange for many things. I am efficient, but not a magician. Grandmaster often forgot that and expected me to provide anything he wanted. So I had to prepare wildest of checklists and store different things in the travel kit.

Slowly I learnt that Grandmaster does not need highly technical tools – just a digital camera and a laptop would be enough for him at the end of the day. What he needed was a torch, a knife, a rope, a piece of cloth, a brush and many such small things. Once I knew this, I could stock things easily and even make purchases at the local stores. The cash transactions always excited me because in the city we only use credit cards.


Like Mr. Fogg, and Passépartout, one day we left the city with a very short notice. Both of us were blindfolded and dropped on a kind of ‘no man’s land’ by a helicopter. I did not know what was happening and why it was happening. But Grandmaster was always so weird that I thought it to be one of his scholarly and secret excursions. I concluded that it was something important and urgent. I was not sure whether like Mr. Fogg; Grandmaster had a bet with his colleagues at the Society.

A day passed in walking and we were reached nowhere. Night arrived, I put the tent, served ‘ready to eat’ tin food and Grandmaster slept. I naturally could not sleep. I was awake. The night was strangely still, the black backdrop made the stars look fiercely shining. I was curious. I decided to take a little walk outside, just around the tent. It was chilly silence everywhere. Fearing for Grandmaster’s safety, I returned within three minutes.

And there was the tent, but there was no Grandmaster inside! I turned to left and searched for him, but no Grandmaster. I turned back and searched for him, but no grandmaster. I turned to right and searched for him, but there was not Grandmaster. Grandmaster had completely vanished from the world.

I was not dreaming because I cannot dream. I was not confused, because I cannot get confused. But my logic was completely defied. Grandmaster’s safety was my first and foremost responsibility. I had committed a mistake by leaving him alone. Where could he go? Within three minutes?

And then they came, from all sides. I could see a gun aimed at Grandmasters’ body. Was he dead? Was he unconscious? Who were these people? Why were they violently handling Grandmaster?

“Hands Up, otherwise we will kill your friend”, asked one of the crowds. I obeyed them. I do not question human beings, I only obey them.

“Don’t say anything about me, don’t reveal my identity” cried my Grandmaster. One of them kicked Grandmaster and they pulled him away. I never saw him again.


The people, their leaders, their officers asked me many questions. But I could not answer. Grandmaster had ordered me not to speak about him. There was not much to speak about me either. So, I did not answer those questions. They tried to harass me but they could not. I did not cry, I did not shout, I did not feel any pain. They used second degree, third degree even the fourth degree, but I was not affected. Initially they were curious that I neither eat food, nor drink water and nor sleep. The curiosity was turned into obsession and then into a mass fear.

They are frightened. The panic button is pushed. Everybody wants to get rid of me at the earliest. But apparently they have a democratic system and the Human Rights Groups are active, so they can not just make me die ‘accidental death’. Hence, the drama of Justice was played to perfection. Now trying to kill me is going to be more frustrating and frightening experience for this community, because I repeat they will not be able to kill me.

I belong to S6 generation. I have no emotions, no feelings; I am designed to have only intelligence and a sense of duty. Like a human servant, I can’t speak about Grandmaster; because I am not emotionally attached to him. Because of his order, I can’t tell these people that he is one of renowned Anthropologist. I cannot utter his name, by his strict order. I can’t communicate to his Anthropological Society colleagues, because I am supposed to communicate only with my Master i.e. Grandmaster. I am not sure whether I wish to see Grandmaster and take him back to his comfortable home. As he is not there, I can just wait for Grandmaster, wait for his next order.

They have kept me in a dark underground cell. I can carry on for six years (S6 means one who can live on inbuilt battery for six years!) without Solar Energy – that is going to madden the community.

I wish I could wish like a human being. I wish like human beings, I could die instantly.
But I cannot, because I am a Robot, Generation S6 Robot!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

91. Managing the Boss

Most people when they become Manager or Boss, they change, they are transformed. Some change for better and some change for worse. Power brings out the best in some and the worst in some. It is an interesting process to observe – good becoming bad or bad becoming good. Sometimes it is fun, sometimes it is very painful.

When a person is promoted, s/he feels that s/he is managing the show – mind you, the WHOLE of it! The concept of Management differs from person to person; it also changes according to work culture. Some manage resources, some mange people, some manage work, some manage their own position at the cost of others, and some manage just the Boss - both in positive and not so positive sense!

It is not that only the Boss manages the subordinates, the process is also the other way round. I once observed a very interesting phenomenon of how people manage their Boss.

This boss, let us call him ‘A’ was a very authoritative person, I am sure, he still is. (Did not I say that for some people power brings out the worst?). He was a sort of ‘know all’ person. Generally the typically famous institutes have expertise in producing such ‘know all’, though, in fact he wasn’t from a typically famous institute. He was intelligent no doubt but always showed it off.

People need to survive, so they are forced to follow moods and wishes of the boss. The best policy to adopt is to become a ‘Yes Wo/Man’. People have no other option, because of many reasons beyond their control. We the Indians are really tolerant and we are taught to ignore people to some extent. When it crosses limit, people leave places. That is why the saying: “People do not leave the Institute/Organization, they leave their Boss”.

Anyway, here was a small group (just 10) of middle aged people (all men), all normal human beings. They had to constantly listen to A (their boss) – his boasting, his arrogance was irritating, but the subordinates somehow managed to survive his onslaught.

Once the subordinates had some demands, nothing personal but all related to work. Something like say filing cabinets and a change in canteen menu (just examples. I cannot share the real demands as I need to protect the identity of those involved in the incidence.) . ‘A’ declared, “Noting doing”.

Fortunately or unfortunately, A’s Boss was present during the discussion. He must have just attended a seminar on ‘Participatory Decision Making’ or something of that sort; he insisted that “Let the subordinates decide what they want. Let them make a priority list, and then we can decide based on the available resource.” Both A and B left the group to finalize the demands.

I was observing the group of subordinates closely. Some of them were my friends, and I had no stake in their demands, so they were freely discussing the agenda in front of me. In fact they wanted me to listen to them and help them. In a disciplined manner, they started creating a ‘wish list’. I was stunned with some of their demands, as everybody knew those would be never accepted by their management. Some of the ‘wishes’ were indeed irrelevant and childish. Even an outsider like me realized that those were not going to be fulfilled.

If something is happening in front of me, I cannot keep myself aloof from that. I voluntarily intervened and reminded them about the futility of putting such demands to the management – for example, (again a fake example) an additional cup of tea during the day or an additional weekly half day off the work.

They laughed at my intervention. Someone asked me “to have patience and see the end result”. It was ultimately their workplace, their boss, and their life, so I wisely decided to keep quiet. One of them gave me a paper on which only 5 demands were written. He winked and asked me “to wait and watch”.

The ‘wish list’ was completed. The Boss “A” and his boss “B” both arrived. One representative of the subordinates started presenting the list. When the first three demands were rejected by “A”, B became bit sympathetic towards the subordinates. He openly asked A to be little more considerate to be more sensitive to the needs of his workers. A was pressurized and accepted next two demands.

Then A realized that something was going wrong and bluntly rejected few more demands. Again B intervened and the group got next two demands sanctioned. It was like a game – which I did not understand at all. I am too straightforward to play such games. I guess I know not only what I want but what the other is capable of ‘giving’- and I ask for only that. But here something strange was happening. Apparently the group of subordinates was enjoying the process and A was getting more and more stressed.

The discussion ended. B was very happy to have ‘participatory decision” – may be that was so unique moment at that place! A was happy with himself. A had ultimately rejected more demands than he had accepted. Apparently he had rejected all critical demands and accepted trivial ones, so he was the winner. The group of subordinates was happy too. That rather puzzled me.

After formality of a cup of tea, when both A and B left, the group gathered around me and started laughing merrily. I was confused. I asked, “8 of your demands were rejected and only 5 were accepted, how come you are all happy?”

The one who had given me a piece of paper, asked me to read it. It was amazing. The five demands, which were listed on that paper prior to the discussion, were all approved. That was the reason the group was so cheerful. But how did they do it? What was the trick?

One senior person from the group said, “Sister, we knew which one Boss would reject, so we deliberately added those demands in the list.” Now this was beyond my comprehension. Slowly I realized that the group had cleverly mixed ‘possible’ demands with the ‘impossible’ demands. Another one added, “If you corner your boss to agree with yourself, his ego gets hurt. So you should always create a space where your boss can stamp his authority. Bosses unfortunately need the ego fodder more than normal human beings. By providing that fodder to him, we managed to get what we wanted.” Third one elaborated, “Even when our demands were right, if Boss had to accept it all, he would have felt defeated. Now he thinks he has won the battle. However, creating the impression of his win, we have gained what we wanted.” Fourth said, “Nothing wrong in fooling the boss, but never let him know that you fooled him.” Fifth smiled and advised me, “You should give your boss an opportunity to say ‘NO’ to you, and in the process you force him to say ‘YES’ unknowingly.”

A great strategy! An example of collective intelligence! Rare understanding within the group! A real humble way of winning the boss without making him realize that actually he has lost it! It showed thorough planning! It demonstrated diplomacy skills and tangible shrewdness!

That was a grand lesson in ‘Managing the Boss”.
(But it seems that I have not learnt anything from it!!).