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Posts Tagged ‘Autobiographical’

 

My audience may by now be losing its patience, thinking as to why I keep harping on the term ‘values’ so very often!

The Road to Happiness

Well, it would not need a Sherlock Holmes to figure out what is happening here. Besides being an occasional author, a speaker, a regular blogger and content creator on such topics as Management, P G Wodehouse, Bollywood and life in general, yours truly has undergone several juicy experiences in life – some sweet and some sour. Based on my 35 years+ experience in the corporate world, I have become aware and conscious of the need for high values and ethics in business. Some of you may recall my having worked across the two opposite ends of the Value Spectrum.

Add to this the enriching experience I have had while our planet has been busy spinning on its axis and completing 68 odd rounds around the sun since I have been around and the plot gets even thicker. Those of you who have had the misfortune of trudging through my articles and books would have already sensed an underlying current highlighting this very theme. In me, they would have discovered a fierce critic of any kind of compromises on this front.

My belief is that business ships (and lives too) which are built on a keel of sound values end up not only having a better brand equity but also yield better returns. When we are broad minded and give back to the society at large, we serve a higher purpose in life. Purpose brings inner happiness. Happiness is what we all seek.

Where Do Our Values Come From?

All this may have left my audience wondering as to from where our value systems come from. This would surely need the keen eye of Sherlock Holmes to explore.

Our Genes

After years of research on bonobos – intelligent apes closely related to us, homo-sapiens – Frans de Waal argues that human morality is not imposed from above but comes from within us. In his path-breaking book entitled The Bonobo and the Atheist, he proposes that moral behavior does not begin and end with religion. It appears that our values and ethics are instead a product of evolution and cultural response. All of us strive to be good within ourselves, in our own eyes. This explains our trait of innate goodness.

A cat or a dog may not think through the process so thoroughly, but bonobos surely appear to be aware of the nuances of social norms. They have a developed sense of reciprocity and fairness. They are even known to intervene in a fight between two tribe members so as to maintain peace and harmony!

Ancient apes, whales and dolphins deserve our gratitude for several qualities that we possess – our sensitivity to others, our concern for fairness, love of harmony and other just forms of societal behavior. If religion or spirituality attracts us, it is because that is how Mother Nature has made us. These present to us a template of good conduct; these touch a chord somewhere deep within us.

We, a Cocktail of ‘Gunas’

However, there is no guarantee that all of us follow the template of good conduct alone. As per Bhagavad Gita, each one of us has a unique mix of the three kinds of traits (gunas): Sattwic, Rajasic and Tamasic.

Spiritual texts tell us that both the good as well as the evil are manifestations of the Divine. When Lord Krishna manifests his all-pervasive and all-inclusive Vishwarupa form in the midst of his sermon to Arjuna, he reveals the negative side of the Divine as well.

Conception, Upbringing and Our Role Models

The thoughts of our parents when we were conceived, the manner in which we are brought up and the role models we have in our lives are perhaps some of the other factors which shape our inner value systems.

In childhood, when I picked up some money lying on the road outside my home, with gleeful thoughts of treating myself and my friends to an ice cream or two later, I had no other option but to be guided by the moral compass of my parents. I was made to donate the money to a beggar outside a temple we visited in the evening that day. In many other instances, a straight and narrow path of righteousness was laid out.

It was a common practice for my paternal grandmother to read a few pages of Ramcharitmanas almost every evening. Likewise, my maternal grandmother was a follower of the principles of Mahatma Gandhi, Vinoba Bhave and Swami Vivekananda. Stories from Panchatantra et al defined the nature of books and comics available to us in our childhood.

The rich legacy left behind by my parents and other family seniors comprises the kind of values they cherished. Never to brag about one’s accomplishments. To listen to all, but to do only what one’s inner voice holds to be right. Be truthful and honest, but not to hurt anyone in the process. Do not easily promise anything; once promised, just do it. Treat others in the way you yourself wish to be treated. Be punctual; you have no right to waste another’s time. Eat healthy. Exercise regularly. Be good to others, but protect yourself first. Be always courteous to members of the tribe of the delicately nurtured. Judge people only by their inner qualities; not by their external appearance. As to your future plans, share these only on a need to know basis.

In addition to the immediate family members, there were a bevy of uncles, aunts and cousins passing by the household, some benign and a few others not so. Their feedback and their comments also shaped up our thoughts.

Those were simpler days when the radio was the only means of entertainment. The power supply would often play hide and seek. At bed time, while watching the twinkling stars high above, one could learn much from the stories of various achievements of our ancestors narrated by someone senior.

Lord Rama and Lord Krishna 

Mahabharata was yet another epic which influenced me. Arising out of an age-old belief that a copy kept in the house could lead to conflicts between siblings, I could read it only when I was in college. Some traits of Lord Krishna – a friendly disposition, fleet-footedness, detachment, helping those who are on the path of righteousness, strategic thinking, treating ends more important than the means, etc – are endearing and relevant to this day.

Both the godheads present a slightly different template of good conduct. Both exhort us lesser mortals to follow the path of righteousness, or dharma. But their methods vary. If Lord Rama is an epitome of virtue and is to be kept on a high pedestal and revered, Lord Krishna is less bound by notions of morality. He is a true friend, philosopher and guide. If a villain in our story is troubling us too much, one could frankly confide in Krishna and request him to ensure that the fellow be somehow banished from Earth and packed off to Mars on a one-way ticket. This is the kind of liberty we just cannot take with Rama who would surely take a jaundiced view of a request of this kind!

Much later in life, in the corporate world, I learnt the practice of ethical values at two of the companies I worked with. Tax planning and tax avoidance was fine, tax evasion was not. Creative interpretation of laws was fine; laxity in following the norms of governance was not. Payment of bribes was ruled out.

In one instance, while in the employment of one of these companies, I was invited by a management institute to be a part of their curriculum finalization team. A token remuneration was offered by the institute and accepted by me. As per company policy, the amount was gifted to a charity rather than used by me personally.

Learning from the Younger Ones

Bring in a leader of high values in an organization and see for yourself the manner in which ethical practices percolate down to all the levels. Given support from the very top, businesses then get run by striking a judicial balance between the commercial interests and the society’s welfare. A culture of encouraging Conscience Keepers and discouraging neither dissent nor whistle-blowing permeates such organizations.

In a way, we can learn much from our younger generation which does not feel shy in calling on its employers to either shape up or ship out. Uber experienced this recently, when it came to dealing with reports of harassment by its drivers of some of its female passengers. Likewise, producers of the 2020 movie, The Social Dilemma, deserve a hearty round of applause for giving us a peek into the way we get manipulated by the social media giants.

Values: Teaching and Learning      

I have no academic credentials to say this, but I believe that values can not only be learnt but can also be taught. Learning comes from within whereas teaching is an external stimulus. One moves as if on a spiral, imbibing things within while also absorbing inputs from outside.

If our inner consciousness is awakened, so to say, we may be more open to learning good values. But if we have somehow evolved into dense, obstinate and shameless beings, believing ourselves to be the epitome of perfection, life’s harsher slings and arrows alone may be able to teach us quite a few things. All of us are like sponges which readily absorb the kind of cultural liquid which surrounds us. That is how, keeping the right ‘company’ is so very crucial in our lives!

In-house orientation programs, backed by relevant case studies and real-time experiences shared from across different verticals of the organization can help. The credibility of the resource person often plays a crucial role.

Grooming Spiritually Inclined Leaders

Businesses (and many of our governments too!) need to consciously groom leaders who rate high not only on their Intelligence and Emotional Quotients, but also on their Moral or Spiritual Quotient, bringing in to the work place a set of healthy values and ethical practices.

This, I believe, is the basic need of our times.

 

(SQ Illustration courtesy Sanket; other images courtesy www) 

 

(Related Posts: 

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2021/02/21/a-few-things-which-make-me-angry-these-days

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2018/11/27/values-the-real-soul-of-organizations-2

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/04/28/ethics-and-values

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/towards-sq

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/the-beauty-inside-bonobos-and-management)

 

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(Non-statutory warning: Reading the article below could be injurious to readers’ mental health and leave them a wee bit depressed. Caution is advised.

The author is reasonably certain that this article is not an outcome of the kind of wholesome pessimism which is believed to envelope one in advancing age.)

There is a mood of despondency which descends upon my frail grey cells once in a while. Dark clouds which have gathered upon me are accompanied by sinister rumblings. Lightning streaks of a menacing kind keep lighting up the sky, duly followed by thunderous howls which pierce my ears. One peers into the future and one shudders to think of the kind of world one would leave behind for our progeny to live in. Tectonic plates of our society appear to be shifting, causing major upheavals.

No, one does not allude to the pandemic stalking us these days. Nor does one refer to such universal problems like global warming, economic disparities, widespread poverty and illiteracy etc. Instead, one refers here to tectonic plates of a different kind – the ones which impact our value systems, human values, social harmony, honesty, fairness and justice, norms of democracy, absence of truthful and factual information, materialistic progress, and the like.

Consider what is happening around us these days.

Some Ground Realities

The Lack of a Conscious Approach to Business Goals

Businesses continue to be driven by greed and avarice alone. Hapless CEOs have no other option but to keep delivering results from one quarter to the next.

There are no guarantees that Volkswagen will not soon come up with yet another technical trick to befool the regulators and its customers. Boeing may yet again secure approvals for launching a model which might put air passengers’ lives at risk. Financial scams will keep tumbling out of corporate closets at a standard frequency which might put an atomic clock to shame.

Think of rising inequalities. Consider a report presented by Oxfam at the January 2021 World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda, titled ‘The Inequality Virus’. It says that the 1,000 richest people on the planet recouped their Covid-19 losses within just nine months of 2020, whereas the world’s poorest could take up to a decade to recover from the pandemic induced setback. I am certain that philanthropic initiatives of the richest have not suddenly seen a proportionately higher uptick.

So, every crisis that humanity faces turns out to be an opportunity for the well endowed to amass greater wealth. Is this the kind of Materialistic and Unconscious Business model that we wish to continue following? Our answer would of course depend based on whether we are from the ‘haves’ side or the ‘have-nots’ side of the society.

The Monkey Business Called Politics

Probity and decency in the public life of our leaders is long since buried. Gone are the days when vibrant democracies needed a strong opposition to thrive. These days, even the President of a country can himself turn against the hallowed portals of democracy and send rampaging mobs braying for the blood of those out to declare him defeated in an election. In other words, it is one of those promotional offers – you vote in a President and get another one for free!

The aforesaid top boss’ term has revealed enormous gaps between the ideals of American democracy and the reality. Even before he exhorted his followers to attack the Capitol and the legislative branch of government, he ignored watchdog rulings and constitutional safeguards, pressed to overturn the outcome of an election, and pardoned those who covered for him, all the while funneling taxpayer dollars to his family business.

In yet another country, the main adversary runs the risk of not only being poisoned but also getting imprisoned on some ground or the other, while those in power brutally suppress dissent marked by men’s underwear and gold-painted toilet cleaning brushes.

World over, there is no dearth of leaders who have dictatorial ambitions but mask these well with democratic credentials. Speak of transparent political funding and all one gets is the silence of a tomb.

In yet another country, lies, obfuscation of facts and clever data management seem to have become a norm. Photo-ops, positive optics and feel-good media feed by devout followers keep the entire nation in thrall. Attempts to stifle dissent and to paint anyone not toeing the rulers’ line as unpatriotic continue unchecked. Getting offended by comments made by those living thousands of miles away appears to have become a national pastime. When a stand-up comedian speaks up, our clairvoyant nature allows us to guess what offending remark he is yet to make. Prompt legal action gets taken, nipping the intended mischief in the bud.

Building physical infrastructure is simply great. So is the drive to embrace technology to make life of a common man simpler. But when this comes at the cost of demolishing social harmony and making a democratic country free of any kind of opposition worth its while, the long term price of a ‘progress’ of this kind is rather high. I am not an economist, but I wonder if an economy can grow while the society itself is getting fragmented.

World over, quite a few governments have even used the pandemic as a cover to suppress dissent and cut short processes to introduce laws of an unpopular kind. In the process, their soft power is bound to dive down.

The Rudderless Social (and Anti-Social) Media

During 2020, in India, when our northern neighbour had encroached upon our land, and when the media should have been doling out useful health tips for people to stay safe in the midst of a pandemic, the only ‘breaking news’ was the suspected suicide of a Bollywood actor and the activities of his girl friend.

Social media, duly backed by smart algorithms, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, keeps shaping our thought processes, our choices, our preferences, our perceptions and our beliefs. We are already living in a fish bowl where the law makers as well as the private players are hands in glove to sell detailed information about us to the highest bidder. Privacy concerns and personal liberties be damned. Pretty soon, it may happen that government support is available only to those who have a pro-government presence on various media platforms.

The whole idea is perhaps to help a lay person evolve into a dumb chum of the first order, unable to use his own judgement in matters of public importance; essentially, to numb the person’s grey cells. In other words, we all become zombies (or jack asses, if you prefer) of the first order.

Little do we realize that there are no free lunches in life. Any service available to us free of cost over the world-wide-web we have spun around ourselves only means that ‘We, the People’ are the product on sale!

If our social media czars do not come up with a realistic code of conduct for themselves soon enough, governments, to salvage their public image, may soon have to start dishing out harsher laws.

Perhaps, one of the czars will soon set up an academy to groom many of our whizz kids into becoming ethical hackers and algorithm developers.

Neglecting Half of the Homo Sapiens

If they stay at home, their contribution to society is never even acknowledged. Rather, it is taken for granted. If they venture out of their home and hearth, lustful gazes disrobe them mentally. If they get violated, they only have to take the rap. In war zones, they are the instruments used to inflict deep wounds on the psyche of the other.

Yes, I refer to the tribe of the so-called delicately nurtured. They are the ones upon whom Mother Nature has conferred the unique capacity of keeping our civilization alive and ticking. They may be as tough as nails and proving themselves to be better than the so-called sterner sex in all fields of human endeavour. A fact which was reinforced yet again when a deadly pandemic arrived at our doorsteps. In public, they may get put on a pedestal and revered. But in private, they often get treated like a doormat, treated as mere objects, only to be used and abused.

Doting lover boys, upon metamorphosing into husbands, often shed their chivalrous masks and start behaving like dictators. If a family breaks up owing to mistreatment, ridicule, abuse and violence at the hands of their husbands, it is the lady of the house alone who gets the entire blame – for being obstinate and uncompromising. The general view is that she is a gold digger of sorts.

Such a patriarchal mindset is not an exclusive prerogative of the poor alone. Nor does it respect geographical boundaries. Education levels also do not make much of a difference. Take couples across different countries, economic status and education level and one is apt to find this to be a universal phenomenon. The Chivalry Quotient may vary across all these parameters, but a singular shortage of preux chevaliers is felt all over our planet. Religious beliefs and even some spiritual tenets reinforce such derogatory views.

In respect of the legal framework, our experience in India has been a mixed one. The females have learnt the art of terrorizing their husbands and their families by foisting cases of imagined harassment, with the sole aim of securing better settlements while seeking divorce. Surely, the training in chivalry truly begins at home – either in the kitchen or at the dining table. Laws can play only a limited role.

The tectonic shift taking place here is that of divorce rates going up and couples preferring to remain friends with perks. Upwardly mobile wives who can stand on their own feet detest drawing husbands who refuse to wear skirts and help out with domestic chores. Once the family structure crumbles, there is a higher probability of the value system of the next generation going for a toss.

The Silence of the Lambs

In many of the issues brought out above, are we ourselves not responsible for the mess that we are in? The silence of our intellectuals, the self-centredness and public apathy of the middle class which more or less upholds values in society and the mute surrender of the common man – are these not some of the factors which have enabled this situation to have come about?

Many years back, I vaguely recall having read a satirical story in Hindi, written by a well known humourist in the language, Hari Shankar Parsai. A herd of lambs is made to believe that few wily foxes alone can solve all their problems. Pretty soon, foxes get voted in. One fine day, a ruling comes that to save the ruling foxes, some sheep should voluntarily surrender to be sacrificed each day so the patriotic fervour is kept alive and the nation is run effectively!

I am not a political science buff. Thus, I am not qualified to say if democracy as a model of governance is failing us. But one of its enabling factors is the presence of conscious leaders who are not shameless and still have traces of humility, empathy, decency and a concern for genuine overall good.

With No Malice towards Anyone  

Educated youth who have no means of earning a living, will they not have a raw anger simmering within them? Will the poorer lot not take a jaundiced view of grand government schemes the benefits of which do not reach them?

Perhaps there is a feeling of helplessness within them. Perhaps they have dollops of patience.  May be they realize that they are too small to bring about any change and feel it is better to accept things as they are and continue wallowing in misery and self-pity, blaming God for all their troubles.

But is a meek acceptance of murkier developments in the world around us a better approach? Can we not dissipate the seething anger within by at least saying what we find to be reproachable? Can we not break our silence of the lambs and speak up?

With Whom Does the Buck Stop?!

Are we ourselves not a part of the problem? Why have we, reasonably educated and rather wise people, decided to outsource our thinking processes and have instead opted to become zombies?!

Do we not keep patronizing companies even we know they have been cheating in the past? Are we not the ones who get swayed by propaganda and cast a vote for a particular party or a particular leader? Do we ever boycott a media outlet which acts as a mouth piece of those in power?

If we are addicted to, say, WhatsApp or Facebook, can we really blame their inventors for the issues that we face? Don’t we find it convenient to remain in touch with our friends and family members through these platforms?

When we notice a female being harassed, are we not likely to look the other way? Is the onus of ‘adjusting’ not always put on the female? Can we take a pause before we make a victim the facilitator of a crime?

Overall, by remaining a mute spectator and witness to acts of corruption, misinformation, lies and half-truths, do we not become accomplices to such misdeeds?

It is not wise to altogether point a finger at others only. A knife kind of a tool is given to us. Let us use it to prepare a juicy dish and not to hurt someone. The choice of usage is with us.

Our endeavour therefore should be to stand up, be courageous and outspoken. This alone can get us counted. Even if there is one sane voice amongst all the noise and din, it would resonate with other like-minded individuals out there.

Our salute needs to reach out not only to those who are already raising their voices but also to the decision makers who might eventually get around to listening to us.

Some Silver Linings

All this is not to say that there are no silver linings in the dark clouds hovering above us. As P G Wodehouse puts it, even when the air is pregnant with V or W-shaped depressions, there are always silver linings on the clouds. We shall do well never to repine, never to despair, but to work upon our own selves and on others in our sphere of influence. It is good to remember that, no matter how dark the skies may be, the sun is shining somewhere and will eventually come smiling through.

There are business houses which keep following good values and ethics in their day to day operations. There are leaders who respond well to challenges like social disharmony and stalking pandemics with a dash of human values. They treat dissent as a valuable input for their decision making processes. We also have very few social media and gig economy barons who are being forced by their own employees to either shape up or ship out.

Lawmakers and pressure groups in USA are already reported to be thinking of ways to bring in a wide-ranging overhaul of ethics, laws, the likes of which have not been seen since the post-Watergate era.

Perhaps, eminent legal eagles in India can also take a leaf out of the USA experience. As a country, we had experienced suppression of dissent even during the 1970s, when an emergency was declared. Can some more constitutional safeguards be brought in so that a popular mandate does not give the executive the right to ride rough shod over other arms of the government, thereby increasing the probability of the country being taken in a direction which is not the same as what our founding fathers had envisioned?

Above all, it is the man on the street, busy keeping his body and soul together, eking out a living for his family and even helping others in distress. When the scales from his eyes fall and he wakes up to a life threatening situation at hand, he reacts. The farmers in India are already showing their resolve following the strategy of peaceful protests and civic disobedience used by Mahatma Gandhi many decades ago.

Then we have lone wolf professional bodies. World Without Corruption in Belgium gives businesses a voice in fighting corrupt practices. The Conscious Enterprises Network in UK speaks of conscious leaders leading their enterprises in a holistic value-based manner in all spheres of human enterprise. The Center for Business Ethics & Compliance in Russia is focused on best practices in the realm of ethics and compliance.

Likewise, in India, Spandan Foundation is passionate about human values in organizations and even plans to set up a centre dedicated to the cause. Shakti Leadership highlights the importance of using feminine traits like empathy and compassion in decision making and assists individuals and organizations in their quest for conscious evolution. The Association for Democratic Reforms keeps relevant political issues alive and kicking in public eye.

I am sure there are many others scattered over other continents. Their attempt is to bring like-minded people together and keep the embers of a pious fire aglow, focused on values and ethics.

The Mighty Churning

The society is always in a flux. These days, it appears to be undergoing a mightier churning which reminds one of the episode of Samudra Manthan (The Churning of the Sea) in Indian scriptures. The churning throws up poison as well as the nectar which grants immortality. Those who believe in following the path of righteousness end up securing the latter.

It is easy to see that we have a leadership crisis on our hands. Since a situation also produces a leader, one hopes that more and more conscious leaders keep emerging, nudging us in the right direction.

Admittedly, the silver linings appear to be like a pale parabola of joy, to borrow an expression from P G Wodehouse. This will remain so till the time a bevy of conscious leaders – whether in business or in politics – do not appear on the scene and convert this into a shimmering parabola of bliss.

The solution is not to keep sweeping issues like hunger, poverty, economic non-inclusion and prejudicial animosity under the carpet. Nor is it to raise the existing walls, whether political, commercial, attitudinal or religious. It lies instead in a truly global view based on the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbukam: The World is One Family.

Being a born optimist who believes in having a chin-up attitude, I do hope that some of these tectonic shifts can at least get retarded, if not altogether reversed, in the years to come.

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/06/17/why-the-wren-is-a-patriot-and-not-a-nationalist-guest-post-by-prof-badri-raina

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/11/23/jeeves-and-the-social-media-challenge

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/09/23/bertie-jeeves-and-the-internet-of-things

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/bertie-social-media-and-blogging-blues

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2018/01/10/jeeves-seeks-a-placement)

 

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Those of you who had gone through my earlier post might recall the fact that the trauma of cardiac surgery was adequately compensated for by my Guardian Angels. On the positive side, other than a career breakthrough, pending family obligations got met successfully; marriages of both my children got fixed up in this period. Moreover, in subsequent life, I became a sort of cardiac expert, dishing out sage advice to my colleagues, friends and relatives.

Incorrect Choices and the Value Spectrum

This change was just a way for life to reinforce within me the importance of observing values and ethics in whatever I did.

The strategic flaw in the scheme of things was that I had willy-nilly landed in an organization the value system of which did not match that of my own. It was my pumpkin headedness which led me to continue with the organization for as long as I did. Like a pilot in a flight hit by an enemy’s missile, I might as well have pressed the cockpit eject button much earlier.

If you are one of those who twiddle their thumbs wondering as to why I tend to place a high premium on sound values to be followed in business can rightfully blame my corporate career for the same. Having worked in organizations which were at two opposite ends of the value spectrum, I have seen at close quarters the perks of being value-driven and also the perils of not being so. That is how, in yours truly, you are apt to find a fierce critic of any kind of compromises on this front. The underlying belief is that business ships which are built on a keel of sound values end up not only having a better brand equity but also yield better returns to their stakeholders. When businesses are broad minded and give back to the society at large, they serve a higher purpose.

Our personal Brand Equity gets built by the kind of choices we makes and the kind of company we seek over a long period of time. The right strategy to follow in any career is to give due weightage to this single factor when choosing organizations we decide to work for. We consider this issue in some detail somewhere else in this compilation.

No Fault in Our Stars! 

When one undergoes a humiliating experience, one feels as if one has been simply used and thrown into a trash bin. One’s stock is down. The market is sluggish. Only bears, having come out of hibernation, rule.

The first response is to blame it on our stars. But it is the choices we make ourselves which lead one to suffer in life. We create our own destiny, so to say.

Shakespeare was bang on when he said that ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings’ (Julius Caesar: Act 1, Scene 2).

A Chiselling Towards Perfection

One may say with a reasonable degree of accuracy that Life has indeed been wired to act like a Master Sculptor. Life has not learnt the art of sculpting by means of a correspondence course which was not even completed but left midway.

All this chiselling business, you see, comes in pretty handy in life. Each of these highlights at least one glaring deficiency in one’s personality. At the time it happens, it startles one, much like a nymph surprised while splashing about in her Jacuzzi in the comfort of her home and hearth. Shock and disbelief quickly follows. A deep resentment gets felt, in the vein of what-have-I-done-to-deserve-this.

Eventually, once reason starts returning to its throne, a pitiless analysis follows. Root causes get identified. An action plan to address these gets made and then worked upon. A better self emerges. Weaknesses often get converted into strengths. It is as if our Guardian Angels are gently nudging us to mend our ways, develop healthier attitudes, acquire better working habits and enjoy life better.

All of us have villains in our lives. With any change in the family setting or in the organization we work for, the name and the face of a villain alone changes. The element of villainy simply refuses to go away.

Perhaps all these villains keep popping up to show us our place in life. They teach us the value of humility. The day we are feeling on top of the world and patting ourselves on the back on the successful accomplishment of a long cherished goal, fate, donning the mask of a villain, quietly sneaks up from behind and hits us with a nail studded club.

Blessings in Disguise

In a way, these turn out to be blessings in disguise. If these do not happen, we are likely to trudge along on a straight and narrow path. We are apt to keep wallowing in our comfort zones in a protracted state of procrastination, refusing to budge from our prejudices, much like an obstinate Balaam’s Ass!

We cannot change others. But we can look within and be open to change ourselves. That is indeed possible.

While at school, I won many prizes in local as well as in national level essay writing competitions, but never on the subject of scripture knowledge. However, I do believe that if the concept of reincarnation is believed, whatever Life leaves incomplete in us during this life time perhaps takes it up with missionary zeal in our subsequent lives!

In other words, the earlier we shape up, the easier it is. The choice is entirely ours!

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/12/29/a-not-so-plummy-encounter-with-an-arm-of-the-law

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2021/01/17/some-more-encounters-of-a-weird-kind

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2019/08/01/the-karma-operating-system)

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Life is not necessarily fair. Once in a while, when one’s Guardian Angels appear to have gone off on a long furlough, it appears to derive a sadistic pleasure in hurling huge rocks at one, leaving the clueless soul twiddling its thumbs trying to figure out as to what it has done to deserve the honour. ‘Why me’ is invariably the query which reverberates in one’s consciousness.

The encounter with an arm of the law described earlier was surely not the only nasty experience yours truly has had. There have been few other incidents as well which squarely fall in the category of a ‘harsh chiselling’ of mine. Many others would surely have undergone far more traumatic experiences. Yet, it is worthwhile to touch upon some of these here, so we may unravel the precious lessons each such experience brought in.

Some Once-in-a-Blue-Moon Experiences

A Low Point in the Career

While working in a company which was steadily going downhill due to very high overheads and also an unhealthy level of internal bickering and politics, a highly embarrassed moment had to be faced. In a meeting of all senior managers, yours truly was somehow singled out my boss and publicly lynched for much of what was going wrong with the operations. The unfairness of it, and that too delivered in wide public view, left me shaken to my core. Whereas all those who know me personally can vouchsafe for my chin-up attitude towards life, on this particular occasion, I confess that suicidal thoughts plagued my mind. Always appreciated for my work and sincerity, this was indeed the lowest point in my career.

Late evening, though, my boss offered his sincere apologies. Thoughts of a spiritual nature and a dash of equanimity helped me to regain my mental balance, so to say. A few months down the road, I moved on to a much better position in another outfit.

The Kidnapping Fiasco

While working in a very senior position with a company located in a small town in India, on one fateful night, I and my son were kidnapped by a gang of four and kept in captivity overnight. They were under the impression that I was the owner of the business I was employed by at the time. They had a ransom demand which I would never have been able to meet.

While held in captivity, I could imagine the sequence of events if they decided to bump me off and dump the body at a desolate location. Concerns about my son’s safety reigned supreme. But tact and imagination, coupled with a dash of faith in a higher power helped. Despite a language barrier, I could explain my financial constraints to them. We could eventually manage to get released without much physical harm by the time the next day dawned. No money was ever paid.

Swift police action followed. Based on my cell phone records, the miscreants were identified and nabbed. Support from the law enforcement agencies was timely and effective. But it took me a very long time to mentally recover from the trauma suffered. For quite a few weeks, I could not manage to sleep in my own home.

Some Deadly Glass Bottles

Due to financial and administrative reasons, a small factory within the ambit of a large business conglomerate had to be shut down. Some operators who were of a violent nature decided to vent their ire over me and a colleague of mine. An expatriate customer who had visited us on the previous day was treated with soft drinks. Some empty glass bottles in the office cabin came in handy for the agitated workers to beat us up mercilessly.

The company took prompt care but the personal trauma lasted a few months.

Confronting Jealousy

I was one of the better students throughout my academic forays. Teachers and lecturers invariably liked me. The result was perhaps a general feeling of jealousy amongst other students, something I realized very late in my life. I would often be the butt of jokes – theoretical as well as practical – in the class. On one occasion, I was even bashed up by a class fellow, for reasons unknown to me till date!

Some Precious Lessons

I confess that after each of these incidents, the brow was indeed furrowed. The heart was leaden. Chirpiness, if any, was missing. Shoulders were drooping a wee bit more. The usual spark in the eyes was sorely absent. At the time, one may easily have been appointed the Honorary President of a Global Morons’ Club.

But with the benefit of a 20/20 hindsight, one could subsequently analyze and identify the crucial lessons learnt from each of these experiences.

If the low point in career could be handled with the help of humility, equanimity and one’s own job knowledge, skills and attitude, the kidnapping incident could be overcome with faith, tact and resource. The importance of networking with law enforcement agencies was effectively brought home. As to the glass bottles episode, it brought home the point that consequences of all kinds need to be weighed in and pre-emptive steps taken before a crucial decision gets implemented. Not being humane in decision making could lead to adverse consequences.

If the first mentioned experience here went against the basic rule that one must praise in public and reprimand only in private, the glass bottles one highlighted the need to always put our people first in our managerial decision making processes. The last mentioned one could not be helped, but perhaps indicated the need to be humble, especially when being successful at something.

A Cat with Too Many Whiskers?!

Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again,’ says Nelson Mandela.

Let me hasten to assure you that it is not that I have faced only negative situations in my life or career! Although some dark clouds may hover above us and some rain may fall in our lives, bright sunshine is sure to follow. But before we take the narrative in that direction and the author run the risk of being perceived to be blowing his own trumpet, let us consider a basic thread running through whatever he has shared so far.

The 2020 Corona Trauma

If Homo sapiens were astounded, shocked and awed during the first half of the year 2020 by the sudden arrival of this pandemic, hope was the key sentiment expressed by all and sundry by the time they hit 2021. Many jobs were lost. Many careers went for a toss. Many businesses went bust. But then there was a resurgence of positivity. Wheels of commerce started moving, howsoever grudgingly. Large businesses with deep pockets still laughed all the way to their banks. Pharmaceutical companies reactivated their corporate grey cells and saw an upsurge in their fortunes. Governments with a streak of dictatorship in their character pushed through unsavoury laws, clipping the wings of dissenters and ‘undesirable’ elements in the society.

The basic nature of human beings has this unique plasticity or resilience in it. Add to this the spirit of innovation and flexibility to adapt, and we get a winning situation at hand. We may be down for some time, but never out.

So, if I survived the harsh slings and arrows of life, there was nothing spectacular about it. It was true to form. Perhaps, in the process, I acquired some hard-earned wisdom!

 

(Related Post:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/12/29/a-not-so-plummy-encounter-with-an-arm-of-the-law

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/06/20/of-lockdowns-p-g-wodehouse-and-the-milk-of-human-kindness)

 

 

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“So, Mr Bhatia, what do you think?” asked the tough looking beak-in-chief. I had just been ushered into this mandarin’s plush office. A cup of tea had been duly arranged, with few snacks in tow.

Across the road, the sea was going about performing its normal task, its mighty waves relentlessly pounding the rocks, roaring and frothing. The night sky was clear and a mild breeze was blowing. The moon was enjoying its usual saunter, its soothing light creating dancing ripples on the surface of the sea. It was a scene which was designed to soothe any soul in aguish.

But my soul was in torment. The heart was aflutter. The brow was furrowed. The pride of the Bhatias was wounded. You see, life had so far never prepared me for being treated as a criminal of sorts. Having been a law-abiding citizen all along, I was not used to being interrogated and that too so very late in the day. Having been held in captivity throughout the day, and asked to pen down my responses to a long list of obnoxious and repetitive questions, the nerves were all of a twitter. All this had happened under the stern watch of some of the junior beaks who looked much like a bunch of dreadful villains straight out of a Bollywood movie.

I eyed him narrowly. Obviously, the beak-in-chief’s looks were not much to be written home about. He reminded me of Sir Watkyn Bassett, the magistrate from the canon of P G Wodehouse. Nature, when planning this unique specimen, had endowed him with bushy eyebrows, a pencil moustache and a prominent jaw which would have prompted even someone like Adolf Hitler sit up and take notice. His eyes were a bit too keen and piercing for one who was not an Empire builder but a mere revenue official of a senior cadre tasked with milking businesses which, in his opinion, had many skeletons made of unalloyed gold stored in their cupboards. Revenue officials all over the world happen to be a class apart; particularly, those in India are well known for their deep distrust of businesses. Guilty till proven innocent is their credo. Shakespeare, I suspect, would have etched out Shylock’s character based on an earnest and conscientious taxman hounding him for concealing his royalty earnings.

I summoned all the Bhatia courage, resilience and tact and gave him an artificially sheepish look.

“To be frank, I feel like crossing over the road and drowning myself in the sea,” I bleated weakly.

All gibberish, of course, designed to deflect, deceive, distract and bring in a temporary rapport between me and the party of the other part. His relief on hearing these words, containing as they did no reference to the facts of the case, was great. He smirked. A sarcastic smile adorned his visage.

The dialogue with this officer of the law continued far into the night but I would spare my audience all the boring details which, if mentioned here, might promptly put them to sleep.

As P G Wodehouse would have put it, one of the several difficulties which authors face when telling a story is as to where to begin it. If they take too much time building the atmosphere and etching out the characters, the audience may simply decide to junk the narrative and start checking their social media updates instead.

On the other hand, if the author were to permit his narrative to take off like a rocket to the Mars, the public simply starts twiddling its thumbs trying to figure out what is happening. They simply walk out on the hapless soul, leaving it a wee bit clueless, much like an Olympic athlete who dazzles with his performance in a stadium which happens to be empty and utterly devoid of humanity, thanks to a raging pandemic.

Allow me therefore to go back a little bit in time. Assigned a senior management position in a small company operating out of a small town located on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, I had somehow been sucked into the eye of a storm since past several months. Thanks to a two-timing junior employee and an array of operational goofies, the revenue authorities had been persuaded to suspect something fishy going on in the operations. A detailed investigation was underway for some time. The authorities, as is their wont, were keen to quickly size up their pound of flesh and make my employers cough up a sizable sum without delay. My feudal sense prevailed. A close friend from my college days who had risen to a senior position in the same department of the government elsewhere kept advising me informally throughout the sordid process.

As the episode unfolded, however, it transpired that I was suffering from a misplaced sense of loyalty to the company. My brand equity was at its lowest ebb. The credibility of the technical department which was the real defaulter in the matter was somehow much higher. In me, the company found a ready villain who could take the rap for the unfortunate incident.

Once the case had assumed a shape, I was given the marching orders and left to fend for myself. If I myself had been in the position of the owners then, I would have reacted similarly but perhaps in a gentler and more humane manner. In fact, had the company followed the principles of natural justice and an equidistant approach to all functions, the probability of a corporate embarrassment of this kind could have easily been nipped in the bud.

Subsequently, I had learnt that the matter had dragged on for quite some time and had got finally resolved on mutually agreed terms.

The stress suffered over a period of 18 months of the investigation eventually led to a cardiac issue popping up, duly followed by a long period of rest and recuperation. The family moved in to provide unstinted support and I was soon up and about, living as normal a life as one could wish for.

A great thing about the harsh slings and arrows of life is that even when we feel that there are dark clouds on the horizon and not even a single ray of hope visible anywhere, our Guardian Angels wake up and decide to offer us an olive branch. For the past several years, I had not ventured to seek greener pastures in the town my wife and I made our home. The impression was that for a person like me having a senior position in a company, backed by a package which was otherwise fine though not something to write home about, it was well nigh impossible for me to secure another assignment with a matching, if not higher, paycheck, especially in a town which did not boast of many industries.

A Good Samaritan amongst the broad circle of friends I had came up with an olive branch in the form of a suitable position in the large organization of which he was a key decision maker. An offer got made and was duly accepted. Some nine months after I had lost a great degree of my self confidence, personally as well professionally, I now had an opportunity to turn a new leaf and rebuild it.

This change was just a way for life to show me the importance of observing values and ethics in whatever I did. I realized that one’s brand equity is built over a long period of time. Once built, it becomes like the fragrance of an exotic flower. It travels much ahead of one, often opening up new vistas, offering a wider canvas for one to perform and excel at whatever one undertakes to do. The observant ones amongst those around us are surely able to size us up much quicker than we can manage to do ourselves.

I would urge my audience to take my suicidal intentions – conveyed to the stern beak-in-chief – with a bowl full of salt. Close friends who have noticed the Bertie Wooster streak of resilience within me have held that amongst their circle of pals, I shall be the last one to ever consider a deliberate attempt to kick the bucket.

My idea of mentioning this nasty episode in my life is not to play the victim card and seek sympathy from my audience. I just thought I could share with others what I learnt in the process. My mistake was to not to keep a tab on the ground realities myself. Instead, I practiced partial abdication, mistaking it to be delegation. Trusting some colleagues who had an axe to grind with the company was another. Like the incident mentioned above, there are many others which can also be captured here.

Life, as you all know, is not a bed of roses. It is not a social media platform where narcissism alone rules. It also makes all of us undergo major setbacks. This is indeed its unique way of chiseling us out of hard rock and giving us a better shape.

But with each harsh chiseling, one had somehow managed to wriggle out of the throes of a deep V-shaped depression. One had risen from the remains of one’s dead self. Mighty forces of positivity had prevailed. The chin had yet again become high. The stiff upper lip had come back and the sky had once again turned a cheerful blue. A leap in the professional affairs had eventually come about.

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/04/01/about-me

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2019/04/03/planning-a-career-with-an-owner-driven-outfit-consider-some-of-the-values-followed-by-such-businesses

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2018/07/22/of-a-mom-bassett-and-the-allure-of-policemens-helmets

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/divine-grace-works-all-the-time)

 

 

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