Archive for August, 2011

“Any serious meeting in the office today – looking very tense?” asked my wife while handing over the daily nourishment to me in a lunch box. “No”, I replied diffidently, slipping into the driver’s seat of my newly acquired hatchback. “It is the 90-minute drive to the office that is bugging me!”

My mind went back to the days when one could enjoy a peaceful cruise on the roads. Old world chivalry, basic decency and courtesy towards co-travelers were still alive those days. However, despite radical improvements in infrastructure of the metro I live in, driving has now become quite a nightmare. These days, it requires a unique combination of myriad skills and attitudes to navigate one’s way through the crowded roads. One’s ego has to be kept in suspended animation. Dexterity, flexibility, empathy, receptivity and humility have to be counter-balanced with aggressiveness and selective apathy. While on the road, one has to expect the unexpected. A penchant for predicting the behavior of others on the road has become a pre-requisite. Moreover, it has to be backed by a deep faith in the Divine without whose blessings one could not make it hassle-free to one’s destination!

It was with immense faith in the heart and a silent prayer on my lips that I drove out of the compound of the complex we lived in. Inside, my heart was all a-twitter, not knowing what was in store for me on the roads on this fateful day! I felt more like an Arjuna entering the battlefield of Kurukshetra, sans – of course – a benevolent guide like Krishna! As I summoned my courage and eased my car into the morning rush on the main road, a cacophony of sounds greeted me.

“Zoom…” came a sound and I was startled to find that a motorcycle rider had decided to overtake me in a hurry from the left hand side. At the very same time, I found another spirited rider overtaking me from the right hand side as well! I maneuvered the car in such a way as to not to harm either of them. Both, of course, sped off, with their truck-like horns blaring at full volume.

Finding a red traffic light ahead, I stopped. After two more changes from red to green, the car fellow behind me started tooting his horn impatiently. The horn became even more strident when the LED counter showed 15 seconds yet to go for the signal to turn green. I could empathize with him, but surely he could see that there was no way I could have helped him to speed up his journey? Unless, of course, our cars had wings!

Just as the traffic light turned green, a bunch of school kids decided to cross the road, leaving us waiting for an opportunity to resume our journey. Mean while, a cycle fellow scraped through the right side of my car, giving the car a nice bath of sambhar and rasam carried in a protruding lunch box. His wife would surely be unhappy to hear of this, I thought. While I was pitying him, he passed me by, looking at me with piercing eyes, daggers drawn, blaming me for all his travails!

After persevering with my journey at a snail’s pace for some more time, an auto rickshaw overflowing with students scraped violently through the left side of the car. Faced with the ferocity of the traffic coming from the other side, I had no room to shift the car to the right side.  In the process, I denied him the freedom to hurry off in an atmosphere of peaceful co-existence. The result was a big dent on both the left side doors. By the time I rolled down my glass window to lodge an ineffective protest, he yelled, hurled some invectives at me and sped off on his errand.

On one of the arterial roads, the audacity with which the bus driver in front of me kept swerving his vehicle from left to right left me quite befuddled. Surely, he aspired to drive a compact car instead! Unable to avoid an open manhole on the road, I could somehow step on the accelerator, thereby propelling the car across the abyss.

Every time I drive, I find a true manifestation of democracy on our roads. Other than the free-for-all that best espouses the cause of freedom of expression, changing lanes is deemed to be a fundamental right. To find either a cow or a buffalo in the center of a busy road, chewing their dose of nourishment with a soulful expression on their meditative countenance, is quite the norm. Pedestrians shooting across a busy road with an unwavering faith that God will take care of their safety is humbling, to say the least.

One of the most amazing transformations that I have noticed is when we sit behind a steering wheel. We believe we are invincible and a cut above the rest. We treat ourselves to illusions of grandeur by bestowing upon ourselves the right to be the first amongst equals, thereby jostling for space, changing lanes at free will, turning without proper signaling and generally behaving as if we are God’s gift to mankind.

We are obliged to show due respect to the buses and trucks pouncing upon us menacingly. We are also expected to be deferential in our treatment of those who prefer to walk across the road carelessly, as also of those on bicycles who show a sudden inclination to turn either way without any signal whatsoever. To those who drive with full headlights on even during day time, we had better show our goodness and concede space for them to pass us by. Even after following the protocol in a sincere manner, there are no guarantees that one’s vehicle would remain unharmed. Well, this is what Krishna taught us – to do our duty and not to get attached to the fruits of our action!

The Mother of Shri Aurobindo Ashram has listed the following twelve qualities which a spiritual aspirant should possess: Sincerity, Humility, Gratitude, Perseverance, Aspiration, Receptivity, Progress, Courage, Goodness, Generosity, Equality and Peace. One can readily see that almost all of these qualities come in handy when driving on our roads. This is what prompts me to conclude that regular driving on Indian roads leads one to faster spiritual growth in life!

Coming back to the day under reference, by the time I drove into the car park at the office, I was sweating and feeling drained of all energy. With a heavy heart, I inspected the damage the car had suffered. I felt grateful that it had helped me to survive another day of the war on the roads. As I got into the elevator looking forward to savoring the morning cup of tea in the office, I was wondering how that mighty warrior Arjuna would have fared in this war!

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The other day, I was surprised to run into a friend of mine. He seemed to have suddenly advanced in age. With drooping shoulders, he offered a rather limp handshake, a far cry from his ebullient self and the firm grip I had experienced all along. We sat down to enjoy a cup of tea. It did not take me long to figure out that his long working hours, devoid of any relaxation and exercise, had possibly led to a gradual decline in his well-being. If urgent steps were not taken, he would be soon courting trouble with his heart, a contingency which is best avoided.

Some Corporate Maxims

In the rush of living life in the fast lane, most managers today hardly find time for themselves. A high-octane careerSTRESS would often demand very long working hours at the work place. This is especially true in India, where the feudal mindset still prevails. As per some of the popular corporate maxims prevalent in this part of the world:

(1)                          A manager’s efficiency and effectiveness on the job is directly proportional to the number of hours put in at the work station,

(2)                          Promotions depend upon one’s commitment to company’s goals, where the level of commitment is in reverse proportion to the amount of leave taken,

(3)                          The company culture is designed to enforce a check-in time in the office, but the check-out time is invariably left open. After all, there is a strong belief in the old adage that those who watch the clock merely remain the hands!

(4)                          The manager has no life outside the place of work. More odd the hours at which mails emanate from him, especially those between the stroke of midnight and till about 4 AM, the more committed he/she is!

For those in the senior echelons, the communication revolution has made the task of “switching off” even more challenging. Laptops and cell phones are invariably present, even though they may be supposedly on leave with their near and dear ones. It is fashionable to answer a critical mail while on a vacation. We now have an entire generation of managers and executives who have developed an addiction to the latest gizmos. 24 by 7 connectivity is the buzz word. If you are not in the e-rat race, you just do not count!

The path of Least Resistance

The result is an early burn-out for most managers. With no time to spend with the family, let alone any quality time,WORK-LIFE BALANCE stress builds up pretty fast. Hobbies and extra-curricular activities get relegated to the background. If at all any health issue crops up, there is no time to see a doctor. Finally, when the visit to a medical specialist does fructify, a brief spell of pill popping provides instant relief and, voila, the problem is solved! A wise doctor would always work on a mix of drugs, diet, relaxation and exercise. But, as a patient, a manager is happy to find his own path of least resistance – focusing only on drugs but totally neglecting diet, relaxation and exercise.  

As to physical exercise, a “busy” manager could not care less. The physical bodies are taken for granted. If a gym is joined, the work-out keeps getting deferred on one pretext or the other. After all, the body is a sturdy one, so why pay any attention to it? On a daily basis, it is imagined that one is doing one’s duty by performing the morning ablutions, by providing the run down body with nourishment which could well be junk food, and by allowing oneself some sleep, howsoever disturbed it might be.

Recharging our batteries

It is rightly said that we are what we eat. If alone we were to focus on developing correct eating habits, with a large dose of fruits and vegetables, good results would ensue. When we eat junk food, do we realize that the same amount of money would allow us to buy fruits which we would not be able to consume in one go? When we continue to flush our digestive system with acidic foods, we cause irreparable damage to our delicate organs. Meals could also be irregular, depending upon the pressure of work at hand. The result is heartburn, upset stomach, ulcer, pancreatic malfunction and, in extreme cases, even cancer.

Why do we detest physical activity? In some cases, sheer lethargy, lack of time management skills and an over-ridingYoga Dhanurasana_Yoga-Asana_Nina-Mel addiction to desk work prompts us to lead sedentary lifestyles. Diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases soon follow. Quite a few of us end up facing the surgeon’s scalpel, with dietary restrictions and exercising regimen which we are then forced to follow.

Undoubtedly, managers perform under tremendous pressure. But what is more important is as to how they take the pressure. For a thick-skinned manager, the going may be relatively easier; for a thin-skinned one, the same assignment could involve a high degree of stress. Possibly, the solution lies in transforming one from with-in, so as to change the way a manager perceives stress because of the circumstances with-out. Regular meditation, a healthy diet and a positive frame of mind could work wonders in the long run, keeping the manager always charged up!

Need for innovative HR policies

Far-sighted managements would surely take notice and fine tune their HR policies to ensure that a healthy work-life balance is maintained for all senior employees. In one of the evolved companies I happened to be associated with some time back, an annual master health check-up was made mandatory for all those above the age of 45. The top guy resolved not to disturb his team members on weekends, unless absolutely unavoidable. A planned annual leave of 15 continuous days was made compulsory – the experiment demonstrated that the company did not collapse during the 15 days’ period! Managers learnt to plan in advance and also delegate their tasks better. Every six months, an in-house yoga camp was held. Two years down the road, employee satisfaction levels had improved, and so had white-collar productivity!

To quote Stephen Covey from his much celebrated book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”: The physical dimension involves caring effectively for our physical body – eating the right kinds of foods, getting sufficient rest and relaxation, and exercising on a regular basis. (7th Habit, page 289).

The Divine has granted us this life and given us a body to live it through. The soul strives to evolve by gaining newer experiences in this life time of ours. But it can do so only through the medium of our physical body. Should we not respect it, take care of it and remain physically fit? Just like our vehicles and household gadgets need preventive maintenance, our bodies also need to be looked after well, so as to fulfill their purpose – that of supporting our soul, the Divine presence within us, to experience what this wonderful gift of life has on offer for us.

Surely, we can summon our will power and plan as well as execute a plan to achieve this worthy goal?

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