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, November 28, 2011

153. Duel

Someone asked me the other day, “Why don’t you use dual SIM handset?”
That sounded like a good idea.
For more than a year, I am using two cellphones; two handsets and two service providers.
Because one service provider does not provide range to all the places I have to be.
I keep on carrying both the handsets with me.
I went to a mobile shop and explored. Price was not at all an issue.
I liked one and decided to come back for it sometime later.

When I want something, I somehow always come across ‘the other side’.

I cannot and should not throw away things – especially when they are working.
What do I really need cellphone for? For making and receiving calls.
For sending and receiving messages.
I have a digital camera, so I no more use cellphone camera.
I have very few chosen songs, beyond that I don’t listen to anything – so FM (Radio) is not my priority.
And anyway, one of my handsets has all these facilities – including Bluetooth etc.
I am not happy with the idea of creating electronic waste.
 I really don’t need even one mobile, then why throw two and have the third?

I needed a strong argument for purchasing new dual SIM handset.
I did not have that.
So, I did not purchase.

I left early morning at 6.00 from my friend’s house in Mumbai.
Within ten minutes, I received her call.
She informed me that I had forgotten one of the handsets at her home.
I asked the driver to turn back and gott the handset.
I tell myself::  there is an advantage of having two cell phones.
I could get the information on the other phone.
Imagine if I had only one cell phone and I had forgotten that at her home
– she would not have been able to inform me.

So, better not to purchase dual SIM phone  – I tell myself nth time.

Generally I do not read newspapers. But I picked up a copy of newspaper on 10th November.
The ‘Delhi Times’ supplement of ‘Times of India’ carries a headline:
It describes how a film reveals the link between our cell-phones and
the death of 5 million people and 200,000 rapes in Central Africa.
The documentary is ‘Blood In The Mobile’ by Danish director Frank Poulsen.
Well, I don’t know anything about how mobile is produced and how it works.
But better not to contribute even indirectly to so much of pain and horror in the world.
By the same yardstick, I should not be using many more things. I prepare a list.

So, better not to purchase dual SIM phone – I tell myself once again.

I know the argument and the duel would continue.
I realize that as is my wish, I gather evidence accordingly.
Today I do not really want dual SIM handset and so I am collecting all evidence against that sin.

But who knows, tomorrow if my desire for dual SIM handset becomes strong – the same mind and same intellect would keep on collecting information which will suit my decision.

It has always happened like this and it will continue to happen in the same way.
Intellect is just a means for mind to fulfill its desires.
Intellect almost always surrenders.
The duel continues because the desires have no end.

Monday, November 21, 2011

152. Wrong Corner

Very rarely we agreed, and it was one of those occasions.

By ‘we’ I mean me and my organization. We always had different perspectives and hence different priorities. What I thought most important was neglected by my organization and what my organization thought of prime importance was almost always very insignificant to me.

Still we co-existed and did rather well together – I have never understood the mystery of why and how.

The organization was celebrating its 40th year of consistent existence. There was a gala function arranged. Employees coming from all the corners of the country were engrossed in thematic review, sharing experiences, documenting learning, strategic planning etc.

The agreement I had talked about earlier was: Gender Integration is an important topic to be discussed in this historic meeting. 

Somehow the responsibility of discussing Gender Integration came to me. I was not very high up on the ladder – for obvious reasons – but still I was given the responsibility. Maybe there were two reasons, there was no one else who had enough experience of working on this theme with strong field perspective and I was the self-declared champion for the cause. It was kind of TINA situation – There Is No Alternative. So, I was there – chosen one!

Boss A told me to prepare a power point presentation. I asked him about the objective of the presentation. He was clueless – as all Bosses are. He said, “B has suggested your name. Maybe you should talk to him.” Naturally, B was A’s boss.

I spoke to B. First of all, B did not understand what I was asking. Secondly, he did not remember. Third, he was not ready to take any responsibility of such a sensitive topic.  B politely requested me (he was always polite with me), “Why don’t you discuss with C?”

Yes, you go it right. C was B’s boss.

C was out of town. I called. He diplomatically said, “Ah! You are the expert on the topic. You know everything about it. Why do you want to test me?” Then he added, “You know the best, so go ahead with whatever you feel would be right for the occasion.” C had always given me such freedom – he knew that when left free, I gave my best.

Taking into consideration the importance of the event I prepared a power point presentation. I prepared well giving a lot of thought on what to include, what to emphasize and what to exclude. I took pains to elaborate basic concepts, evolution of the theme in the organization (historical journey), milestones, strengths, challenges, possible areas of integration, programmatic and structural actions required, desired changes at personal, institutional and methodological levels etc. I had ample examples from the field and knowing the audience I had kept the language very simple - avoiding technical terms as far as possible. Instead of focusing on weaknesses, I also focused on strengths – kind of ‘we can do it’ message – which was right for the occasion.

I was aiming to reach out to my colleagues working in remote corners of the country, who were actually spending more time with communities than in meetings. I knew that if I could sensitize them; if I could appeal to them; if I could motivate them - half of my work would be done. Dignitaries including senior officials and board of trustee members were present but they were not my target audience. I had interacted with them earlier too on different platforms. I knew them well enough and was aware that they won’t be affected by my speech. Institutional Change many times comes from bottom up – building from below is the right strategy. Especially, when building from top is more challenging.

As most of my colleagues were more comfortable with Hindi rather than English – I had my slides in English but I spoke in Hindi. I spoke for about half an hour. When it was over, everybody clapped. People appreciated. Some came near me and congratulated. Some patted. Some said, “We knew you would do well” .. ……. .. So many responses.

One of my colleagues, whom I did not know so well, came to me. A group of four to five people joined him on the way. Another group joined. It was as if a crowd was attacking me from all sides. They came from different corners.

One very senior colleague said, “Your speech was excellent.”

I politely said “Thank You” – feeling happy that I have at last reached their heart.

“A real good speech”, added another. Many nodded.

When appreciation pours in, I always know there is some problem. I was waiting to have debate at any moment.

“You know what I liked most about your speech?” another one.

How could I know? I smiled.

“You delivered the speech in perfect Hindi. You never spoke a single English word. That was so beautiful. You have such a command on Hindi – I never knew……”

And they all started praising me for my language skills. 

I was completely baffled.  I did not know whether to be happy for this unexpected impact or to be sad for having failed in generating expected results.

I had reached no doubt but reached at a wrong corner. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

151. Khasi- Garo Kingdom: Part I

Not long ago, I used to read stories which started with a magical sentence:”Once upon a time there lived a King….” I would have liked to start this post with the same line. But somehow I was in Shillong and though I had no chance of meeting the king, I had missed the opportunity of meeting a Village Head as well. This particular Village Head works as a Librarian in one institute, but due to lack of time, I was not able to interact with him. As the line ‘Once upon a time” always takes me to a strange imaginary land, so were my days in Shillong. The State of Meghalaya is an area which includes Khasi hills, Garo hills and Jaintia hills. There are as many as 17 different tribes in Meghalaya but these three are the major tribes. Shillong the state capital is in Ease Khasi district. I interacted mainly with Khasi people and to some extent Garo people during my week long stay. Hence I use the term “Khasi –Garo Kingdom”.

I had to rush towards Shillong without having time to refer to Wikipedia. I had come here with almost a clean slate. The experience added many new dimensions about Geography, History, General Knowledge, Tribal life and culture as well as Nature. I always prefer learning from fellow human beings than from books. Here there were about 150 people from all seven districts of Meghalaya, who were eager to teach me and answer my queries with lot of patience.  This proportion of 150 teachers to 1 student was extremely advantageous for me. I had ample opportunity to ask many questions, so I was not bored at all; and there were many to share the burden of my constant questions.  

‘How to reach Shillong’ was the first question I had to deal with. Initially I planned to take direct flight to Shillong. When I talked to an official I was told that one could never be certain about the scheduled flight (from Guwahati to Shillong), so it was better to get down at Guwahati.  Guwahati- Shillong distance is about 100 kilometers by road and a vehicle would come and pick me up at Guwahati airport. When we left Guwahati, at Jorbat, while reading shop boards, I felt that something strange was around and I started asking many questions. On the left side of the road, all shops said “Jorbat, Assam” and on the right side of the road, the shops declared “Jorbat, Meghalaya”. So, here too there was the BORDER again!

On our way we stopped at a roadside hotel at Nangpoh and I was enchanted by the beauty of the hill stretched across the road.  The hills borrowing the blue tint from the sky were always there around me for the next few days; my association with them grew strong. I became so fond of these hills, that when someone asked me, “What did you most like in Shilling?” - I amused all the people around by saying “the beautiful hills”.

A Khasi woman officer had come to receive me at Guwahati. She told me that Guam means betel- nut. There used to be (and it still is) a big betel nut market in the city – that is why it is named as Guwahati. Here people constantly eat betel leaf with betel nut and lime – this is called “Kowai”. After every couple of hours, people keep on eating it. Men eat Kowai and women to eat Kowai – there is no gender discrimination in Kowai consumption. When people purchase Kowai from unknown shop, a piece of ginger is added into Kowai. The ginger is supposed to act against evil wishes (if any) of the giver. The shopkeeper when sees unknown customers, adds a small piece of ginger without feeling offended, s/he does not at all feel insulted by this custom.

Maybe because people are always consuming Kowai here, they do not talk much. The work goes on peacefully. I had met six people from Meghalaya in one of the training programs earlier – they never talked much there too. One of them said, “Now you know the secret of our silence”. He also added that when they had come to Hyderabad for the above mentioned training, they had come prepared with the stock of Kowais for a week or so. Generally for ten rupees you get ten Kowai. Whosoever purchases it, purchases for all accompanying him or her. I did not see any of them purchasing them individually or paying individual contribution towards it. As the team wanted me to test Kowai, I consumed it on two different occasions. The betel leaf was very strong and within an instant it turned into fiery red. It was indeed difficult for me to consume half betel nut at a time!

Khasi, Garo and Jaintia all are matrilineal communities. That simply means’ girl child’ is not ‘unwanted’ here like most of the other communities, on the contrary they are welcome. However that does not mean that women do not face any problems here. The assets are in the name of women but the practical control is with the brother or maternal uncle – again a man.  The youngest daughter of the family gets the right of inheritance – she gets the estate and she had to look after her parents and if any brother remains unmarried. Here daughter does not go to her in laws after marriage, but the son-in-law comes and resides with his in laws. I met two highly educated Khasi women – one has two sons and the other has three sons. Both of them worried about ‘who will take care of us in old age’ – as according to the custom there sons would go and stay with their in laws. Initially I thought they were just joking, but it seems that there was some ingredient of truth in it.  Because another woman said, “Not all the girls are youngest daughters. Why don’t you ask your sons to marry eldest daughters? Then they would come and stay with your family.”

The society has different tradition and culture and it does not demand strict relations between marriage and progeny – ‘living in relationship’ is accepted by the society.  A 21 year young man living with a young woman with their child is not an uncommon scenario here. It made me re-think about who is backward and who is progressive!!  I found different perspectives about this practice though. Those Khasi who never adopted any other religion – they call themselves as ‘Niyaamee Khasi’ - accept this custom as part of their tradition. But those who have been converted (especially those who adopted Christianity) find this immoral – this is what I observed; there might be exceptions to what I have observed.

Generally when I travel to different areas, I understand different languages by context. But here I was not able to catch a single word either from Khasi or Garo. When people around me were speaking those languages, I was to sit like a dumb person. Both these languages have a rich legacy. However Khasi, Garo and Jaintia languages are written in Roman script – they do not have separate script. People say that Khasi language has many Hindi, Bengali and Nepali words – but I could catch only one word i.e. Raastaa (Road).

Ribhoi district of Meghalaya is adjacent to Guwahati (Assam). The language spoken in Reebhoi area is Bhoi which is similar to Khasi (this is my impression, I might be completely wrong) – so some people in Assam can understand Khasi language. Khasi and Jaintia speaking people too understand each other’s languages – but Garo belongs to Bodo language group; which neither Khasi nor Jaintia can speak fluently. Today the dialogue between these language speaking groups is through English. How they used to communicate in the past is a mystery to me.

I tried to learn few sentences in Khasi. “Ngam bam ja” means “I eat rice” and “Ngam lah kren Khasi” means “I cannot speak Khasi”. I cannot say that I have forgotten these sentences, because I hardly learnt them. “Bah” is used (here h is silent) as a synonym to Mister and “Kaung” is used to address women. Yumiap, Thubru, Tengaman …. these names were difficult for me to pronounce and to remember. I am sure when people from this area visit Delhi, Mumbai, Pune (lot of students from Meghalaya study in these cities) they would certainly be facing such difficulties.

Everybody likes to be loved by others – this urge takes various forms – from individual to my village; my community; my religion; my country etc. Whenever we visit new areas, people generally ask, “Did you like our people/our land/our society? What did you like most?” I have been asked this question in Bihar, in Karnataka, in Rajasthan, in Kerala .. everywhere. Shillong was no exception to this.

For me the most fascinating aspect of Shillong (it is unfortunate that in spite of such natural beauty I remember this human behavior!!) was NO HONKING by drivers!! Even when caught in traffic jam, the drivers used to wait without blowing the horn of the vehicle! I asked Gideon (our driver) about not honking. His reply was very simple. He said, “Everybody wants to reach their place, there must be some reason why the traffic is not moving. Why blow horn?” I respected his wisdom. Even on my way from Shillong to Guwahati, there was a traffic jam for couple of hours and hundreds of vehicles were stranded. But nobody was blowing horn. There were police personnel – where they were there because Independence Day was approaching or they are usually there on such occasions – I do not know. I thought of inviting these Shillong drivers to Pune and Delhi so that here people learn to drive without honking. But who knows; instead of Delhi and Pune drivers adopting good practice, the drivers from Shillong might learn the art of and the fun in honking!!

(I have still too many things to share about Shillong. Maybe, I will write another post sometime later!!) 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

150. Priority Task

Every time I come home from tour, I prepare a 'To Do' List.
It has many activities - writing a report, downloading photographs, noting down contact numbers, cleaning house etc.
I am used to this. It is a routine for me.

Every time I have to travel, I prepare a 'To Do' List.
It contains many activities - taking printouts of e-tickets, withdrawing money from ATM, noting down contact numbers of the place where I am going, carrying identity card etc.
I am used to this. It is a routine for me.

Even when I am not traveling, I generate a 'To Do' List.

There are office 'To Do Lists' and home 'To Do Lists'.
There are phone 'To Do Lists" and there are writing 'To Do Lists'.
There are reading  'To Do Lists' and there are meeting 'To Do Lists'.
I keep on generating these lists.
I keep on  ticking these lists.
I keep on deleting these lists.
By habit.

There are long term tasks and there are immediate tasks.
There are pressing tasks and there are leisurely tasks.
There are mandatory tasks and there are voluntary tasks.
There are joyful tasks and there are burdening tasks.
There are enthusiastic tasks and there are tiring tasks.
There are natural tasks and there are artificial tasks.
There are surprising tasks and there are painful tasks.
There are funny tasks and there are irritating tasks.
There are mad tasks and there are sane tasks.
There are normal tasks and there are not so normal tasks.
There are tasks to be done with others and there are tasks to be completed in isolation.
There are tasks to be made public and there are tasks to be always kept secret, hidden.

Some tasks get done; some take time; some never get done - they keep on reappearing in the lists.

Some tasks even when finished, keep on repeating themsevles; some never get the light of the day; some die; and some I ruthlessly kill.
Some tasks I write on paper and still forget.
Some tasks I note only mentally and never forget.

At times I feel joyous and entertained by what has been done so far and I get motivated by what has not been till done.

At times I wonder how one task generates other tasks and how some aspects of life vanish in thin air.
At times I think why I am doing all this - e.g. writing this blogpost - and I turn around to find another mystery - which makes me forget the first one. I move on without answers, without gains, without achieving anything worthwhile. I keep on moving - from task to task.

At other times I feel bondage of these lists, of the tasks I have to do; of the journey I have yet to make; of the circles I am moving in; of the meaninglessness the chain of activity creates; of the losses I have suffered, of the trap I am caught in.

I wish to throw away this whole burden once again!
I avoid  writing it in 'To Do' List - I am not sure whether I am ready  for it yet again.
This 'Throw Away' keeps on reappearing on my Task Lists and I am getting weary of it.

However, this one is the ' Top Priority Task'.  

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

149. Game Continues

“Yes, you are absolutely right,” Maulik says.

“Will you correct it immediately, as soon as possible?” I ask hopefully.

“Well, Madam, why don’t you write me a mail with cc to Mr. G?” Maulik adds in the same breath.

I am confused.

I ask little bluntly without noticing that it is rather rude, “Do you understand what I am saying?”

“Certainly Madam, that is a gross mistake and it needs to be corrected immediately,” Maulik is a good guy. He is soft-speaking person.

“Then just do it man. Why do you need email when I am discussing with you and you are convinced that this job needs to be done? And it is part of your broad job profile – I am not asking anything extra or out of the way.” I am irked at this email business. The correction I want does not involve financial approval from anyone.  Why this formality of sending an email?

I am not a software person – in the sense I do not create it. However I use it. For one of our programs Maulik and his team are hired for designing/producing software for us. I know the logic but not the application. We have explained what we want as the ‘end product’ but at every step we find few missing links. Especially when I come back from field areas, I have many suggestions because the software is not working properly. Field testing is a must – I keep on telling myself and others if they chose to listen.

But Maulik insists that I send an email to his boss; then his boss will ‘order’ Maulik and Maulik would ‘’immediately’’ complete the job. I wouldn’t mind doing this if it helps. But Mr. G (Maulik’s boss) is known for not answering emails – I even have doubt whether he reads those! Sending an email to Mr. G and waiting for his response would take at least another week. I know it is of no use.

I call Mr. G. I explain. I say, I will write formally to keep things on record, but it would be good if he tells Maulik to make the correction immediately.

Mr. G is a seasoned manager. He says, “Don’t worry. You just send me an email and I will write to Maulik. It will not take more than 10 minutes.”

I know it will definitely not be done in next two weeks!!

If we are informal, we are more efficient and effective.

If we are formal, we tend to be inefficient and ineffective. Everybody knows this and has experienced this. We complain about this system, when we want to get something done - when we are at the receiving end.

But when the baton comes to us, when we have to deliver, we play the same old game. People for generations continue to play the same game – only the players change, the game continues. 

You might like to read Systemaniac.