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Posts Tagged ‘Culture’

Many of us these days are fed up of quiet a few things – handling lockdowns, an overdose of the Work From Home virus, a torrent of depressing news from all sides, being bleary-eyed owing to movie/serial binges on online streaming platforms, to name only a few.  We wish to hedge our bets and take wings. We are looking out for a well-deserved vacation.

If you fall in this category, here is a guide which can help you to choose the country of your choice and plan the gig in advance. What follows is a review of the book by yours truly. 

 

When life puts a human resources expert and a history buff together, one gets a formidable team which loves adventure and believes that the routine and the mundane is lethal. Provide them with an insatiable urge to explore new cultures, discover new places, savour different cuisines and make friends in distant places, and they treat the world like an oyster. They keep falling in love with places they have never been to before. They end up making memories all over the world.

Here is a sumptuous offering from the team of Rajeev Varma and his wife, Meenakshi Varma. It is a meticulous record of their travels to countries as diverse as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey, Russia, Norway, Belgium, UK and Switzerland, to mention only a few. The book here covers as many as 23 countries, with the tantalizing promise of few more to come!

Other than the places and their famous attractions, the couple have often taken the road less travelled. By chronicling their travels, they enrich our understanding of the countries captured in this book. Behavioural traits of many of the countries have been captured lovingly. As one joins them in these wanderings, one gets a sneak peek into each country’s history, the evolution of its cultural and racial potpourri, the collective behaviour of its people and the kind of staple diet they relish. Written in a lucid style, the book offers a vivid description of distant places on our planet.

In fact, one of the outstanding features of these memoirs is the mouth watering description of a wide variety of delectable local dishes on offer in almost all the countries. Even names of restaurants have been captured at places, prompting one to catch the next flight and land there to taste the savouries!

There are several other ways in which these memoirs stand out amongst the otherwise readily available tourist brochures, travelogues and the kind of details available over the world-wide-web we humans have spun around ourselves.

One, these are first-hand accounts based on relatively objective observations, sans any value judgements about any of the countries or its denizens.

Two, given the details etched out so very painstakingly, one can plan one’s next visit to a specific country far more knowledgably.

Three, a realization dawns – that the purpose of travelling to a different country need not always be ticking off the list of ‘Places-To-Visit’ of the more famous of its attractions – the monuments, the palaces, the relics and the museums. Admittedly, these do have their utility as fodder for our public relations and ego-boosting drives on social media and amongst our circle of relatives and friends. But the key purpose of travel is also to get a first-hand initial feel of the soul of a country, rather than merely exploring its physical body.

These memoirs also offer some underlying lessons. If life enables one physically, emotionally and financially, it makes eminent sense to avail opportunities to forget one’s own champagne and caviar at home and instead venture out to taste the world! Moreover, to extract the best juice out of such opportunities life gifts us with, meticulous planning in advance helps, just the way Rajeev and Meenakshi have done in their several sojourns described here.

Travel amuses, entertains, educates and enlivens us. If the book in your hands serves to whet your appetite to explore our beautiful planet, its purpose would have been adequately served. But budget your travels wisely. With similar compilations to follow in the times to come, you may run the risk of splurging on the first few trips, thereby making future escapades relatively dreary – a prospect best avoided!

Another word of caution – every trip could make us realize that we seem to know less and less about more and more. So, keep vacationing, continue to explore newer places and keep following the sequels to this maiden compilation!

 

About the author:  

Rajeev loves travelling, conversing, writing and singing. He is a lover of arts and is fond of theatre and documentaries. He values human interactions and likes to reach out to long lost acquaintances and re-forge relationships.  He has re-connected with friends who were his closest some five decades ago!

A Human Resource Management practitioner by profession, Rajeev was associated with the TATAs in India for nine years before relocating to the Middle East. Initially working for 15 years as Corporate HR Head for organizations in Dubai and Oman, he later managed his own Training & Management Consultancy Company in Muscat, Oman for 10 years.  He is a qualified coach and a counsellor. He is a University topper.

He now lives in NOIDA, India with his wife, children and grandchildren.

His next venture is to write a book on life of expatriates in the Middle East.

He can be reached at: rajeevtheomnist@gmail.com)

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The cultural ethos of an organization is essentially reflected in the way the top honchos conduct themselves. It also manifests in the manner in which the organization handles its relationships with diverse stakeholders.

Empathy is a critical component of the ethos of an organization. The trait of being able to put oneself in another person’s shoes and arriving at business goals and decisions by consensus helps the organization to be more efficient.

Understanding and empathizing with the perspective of the party of the other part also makes it easier to negotiate and successfully close tricky business deals. As an example, when one tries to finalize an order with a customer of Japanese origin, one discovers the value of empathy and mutual trust, because the latter is apt to ask for a detailed costing of the product on offer, a prospect often disliked by most businessmen hailing from a different culture.

Unfortunately, empathy and consensus do not always form a part of the arsenal of business owners and CEOs who are considered successful. Quite a few business leaders have brought to fore a leadership style which tolerates no dissent and abhors a natural impulse to seek consensus. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos are some who have demonstrated that a leadership style which celebrates conflict, disruption and dominance is not only a virtue but possibly also an enabler of sustained creativity, technological evolution and advancement.

Of humility, consensus and culture

However, it appears that CEOs with a Western mind and an Eastern heart are configured somewhat differently. Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, sounds passionate about leadership and transformation, but the route he chooses is based on ethos, empathy, empowerment and democratization. In his book Hit Refresh, he concludes that ‘the choice of leading through consensus versus fiat is a false one.’

He goes on to propose that the ‘C’ in the CEO represents culture, thereby implying that culture building forms the core of his leadership style. In his leadership paradigm, hubris gives way to humility and envy to empathy. A CEO is as much responsible to the investors as he is accountable to the citizens.

A transformation in the offing?

Brand Microsoft has never been about empathy. Rather, its operating style has always been that of crushing the competition. But then, why would it allow Linux applications to run on Windows as well? Perhaps, rapid progress in the realm of technology is making friends out of foes, leveling off the field and making diversity and inclusion the critical components of a business strategy.

How this transformation plays out in future would depend on many factors. The way the market environment shapes up. The degree of freedom truly enjoyed by a senior person at the helm of affairs. The collective consciousness and value system of the core team which supports the CEO in steering the business, possibly based not only on a commercial compass but also on a spiritual one.

The argument one often comes across is that when satisfactory business results are coming in, what is the need for management to deploy such soft practices as empathy, humility and consensus in their operations?

In his book entitled “Be Unreasonable”, Paul Lemberg argues that when a top honcho believes in being reasonable, the business only gets buried deeper in conventional wisdom. He goes on to demonstrate how unreasonable strategies can bring one unconventional success.

This does seem like a workable proposition, especially when one is working in a highly competitive and disruptive environment. However, such a materialistic approach is open to challenge in some ways. One, the long term sustainability of business itself could come under a cloud. The success can then be fuelled only by a perennial outpouring of disruptive innovations, a feat which many businesses may find difficult to achieve. Two, the human capital of the business is likely to remain underserved and underexploited. It is almost certain that team members working under such conditions would not be happy souls who put in their best performance.

A feminine touch

In yet another noteworthy piece of work entitled Shakti Leadership, authors Nilima Bhat and Raj Sisodia argue that too many people have bought into a notion of leadership that exclusively emphasizes traditionally ‘masculine’ qualities: hierarchical, militaristic, win-at-all-costs. They propose that this approach has led to corruption, environmental degradation, social breakdown, stress, depression and a host of serious problems.

They show us a more balanced way, a leadership that is generative, cooperative, creative, inclusive and empathetic. These are traditionally regarded as ‘feminine’ qualities, but are worthy of emulation. In the Indian yogic tradition, these are symbolized by Shakti, the source that powers all life.

Indian scriptures speak of the concept of Ardha Naareeshwara, a form which is an eclectic mix of masculine and feminine features. This is what could turn out to be a better recipe for sustained success in the decades to come. A leadership style which is based on both masculine as well as feminine traits.

The technology explosion

Much like capital, technology in itself is soulless. However, American author Tracy Kidder has held that ‘technology is nothing more than the collective soul of those who build it.’ One would therefore not be wrong in surmising that even in the face of the technological explosion that we experience in our times, human beings – and as a logical corollary, human values – shall always play a definitive role in shaping the society along more just and humane lines.

The power of social media to shape public discourse and reform political decision making is already on display. Yes, there is always the danger of people getting manipulated by an overt use of the same social media. But surely these are short-time blips on the dimension we label as time and cannot last too long.

The future holds hope

Empathy appears to be kicking in. So-called feminine traits like creation and inclusion are taking centre stage. Competition is giving way to collaboration.

A noteworthy feature of organizations which believe in the virtue of empathy is the intention to give back to society some part of what the business gains from it. What follows is a keenness to offer products and services for the overall good. That is the kind of approach that Microsoft and many other enlightened businesses take.

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/super-leaders-the-near-perfect-ceos)

 

 

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Mehboob_Ki_MehndiBollywood often showcases Muslim culture with much elan. Here is an analysis of this genre and a look at some of the movies which fall in the category of ‘Muslim Socials’.

Dustedoff

Including some recommendations, and some warnings.

This post was sparked off by a comment, by blog reader and fellow blogger Ava, on my review of the Sunil Dutt-Meena Kumari starrer, Ghazal. Like me, Ava ‘adores’ Muslim socials, and in her comment, suggested that I make a list of ten of my favourite Muslim socials. A great suggestion, I thought. And then thought some more. Were there ten Muslim socials I loved to bits? Were there some which were fabulous when it came to certain aspects, and horrendous on other counts? Were there some, perhaps, that I wouldn’t watch again (except possibly at gunpoint)?

All that thinking, I decided, had to be shared. Also in the hope that it might elicit some responses from those reading this blog post—please do comment, share your thoughts, and feel free to disagree. With the tameez and tehzeeb one would expect in a Muslim…

View original post 2,225 more words

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Oh, how we love our office, our place of work, the pedestal of our self,
The adrenalin, the morning rush, the smug comfort of power and pelf.

PROMOTIONS

The ego kick, the pampering, the earmarked parking place,
The welcoming smiles, the handshakes, the feigned grace.

The ambition for the corner office, mighty challenges, charged meetings,
Naysayers and villains who oppose us and spice up the proceedings.

Bosses who are supportive but cranky at times; never satisfied, they whine;
Peers who keep us connected to the corporate gossip and the grapevine.

Juniors who adore us, others who detest us but lie low,
The fun of pulling them up when they show up after a furlough.

The pressure of work, the fun and frolic, the humor, the glee,
The water cooler parley, intimate chats over endless cups of tea.

For the henpecked amongst us, the freedom from the fiefdom of a spouse,
Liberty from kids’ PTA meetings, household chores and many an odd grouse.

Vacations planned in advance often getting scuttled at the last hour,
Sulking family members, cancellation costs, well laid out plans turning sour.

When a vacation plan does mature, it is preceded by hectic planning,
Ensuring the world does not collapse while we are away snorkeling.

‘Keeping in touch’ while on vacation a misplaced sense of one-way loyalty,
A habit, an addiction, a magnified view of our role which could be faulty.

Return finds us facing a pile of tasks, an overflowing mail box to grapple with,
Unwarranted blames having come our way, we resolve never to plan a vacation forthwith.

VACATIONS

Oh, the yearning for a real vacation, freedom from the torrent of mails,
Quality time with the family, regaling kids with impromptu tales.

All this makes better sense when our on-the-job performance is going on well,
Or else we could be languishing in the low-performance-and-low-reward hell.

Yet, how about offices where we can take an ‘off’ while being present, filling up the gaps,
A gym, a yoga and meditation room, an allowance for post-lunch power naps.

An environment which keeps our creative juices flowing, our stress levels healthy and vibrant,
Our performance at its peak, productivity high, imagination always fragrant.

Companies like Daimler which allow a real ‘off’ from office would win in the long run,
Incoming mails diverted, deleted from our in-box, allowing us to have real fun.

Some others encourage us to lead a rich personal life, switching off after normal working hours,
Enabling a healthier work-life balance, assigning projects which make us walk out of our ivory towers.

WORK-LIFE BALANCE

The ones which encourage us to put out an out-of-office message which changes tack,
“Hi, I am on the Mars these days, missing Wi-Fi or cell signal, shall get in touch once I am back!”

(Note: For an interesting perspective on the vanishing office spaces, see http://paulbromford.wordpress.com/2014/07/31/why-the-death-of-the-office-cant-come-too-soon)

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With temperatures ranging from 10 to 20 degrees Celsius, it is summer time in Norway. Flowers of all hues are in full bloom. The birds and the bees are going about their daily chores with gay abandon. Streams are in full flow. Fjords present a majestic tapestry of greenery interspersed with charming backwaters.

Denizens of the Land of the Midnight Sun are out in full force, soaking in the scarce sunlight, enjoying the greenery, swimming and indulging in other outdoor sports. That is, the ones who have not decided to take a vacation to some exotic locale in Italy, France or Switzerland.

Time to venture out and explore Oslo! We decide to start with the Oslo City Hall, which is the seat of the City Council and the City Government.

Outside the City Hall, an Astronomical Clock uses five hands to indicate time, sidereal time, the phases of the sun and moon, and eclipses.IMG_1445

The swan maidens Alrund, Svankit and Alvit are the first ones to greet us in the outside courtyard.IMG_1425

Fables of pre-historic times are beautifully presented in finely chiselled wooden reliefs, all works of Dagfin Werenskiold.IMG_1433

Embla and Ask, the Scandinavian version of Eve and Adam – the first human beings who appear from the mythical power of creation – are also there to receive us.IMG_1435

Inside, we find the main hall where the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony takes place.IMG_1473

All around, the walls are lovingly painted. There is Henrik Sorenson’s oil painting ’Work, Administration, Celebration’ adorning the back wall. Alf Rolfsen’s three ornamental works dominate the rest of the hall.IMG_1486

The fresco at the bottom of the staircase represents Oslo’s patron saint, St. Hallvard, and the woman he tried to rescue.  IMG_1469

Upstairs, we walk through the Hadrade Room, named after the founder of Oslo city, the Munch Room with his painting ‘Life’ adorning the back wall, the Festival Gallery and the Banquet Hall with the portraits of the royal family.IMG_1477

The Krohg Room has fascinating frescoes on changing seasons. The City Council Chamber is an open political arena where the public is allowed to observe the proceedings and the Storstein Room where a mural depicts how human rights and the torch of freedom were carried from the French Revolution in 1789 to the signing of Norway’s Constitution 200 years back, in 1814.IMG_1499

We are delighted to see a replica of the Taj Mahal, a miniature marble piece, gifted by an Indian Ambassador.IMG_1502

At noon time, a twelve gun salute declares the birthday of Queen Sonja who turned 77 on the 4th of July, 2014, the day we happened to be visiting the Oslo City Hall.IMG_1482

Within a space of two hours, thanks to elaborate paintings, frescoes and murals, we get a whiff of the history and culture of Norway. We also get a sneak preview of the artistic, literary and commercial accomplishments of the country.

Each nation has a unique culture of its own. It is justifiably proud of its accomplishments. The fact that a nation chooses to showcase its essential character in a magnificent manner touches a chord within us.IMG_1506

Our thoughts wander to the basic concept of a nation. Given the diversity in cultural values, ethnic origins and aspirations of people across our planet, it makes eminent sense to let a collective identity get perpetuated through the concept of a nationality. This fulfils the basic need of a unique identity being acquired by a group of people. By it’s very nature, the concept of a nation is a truly democratic one.

Unfortunately, boundaries also create problems when greed, avarice and envy rule the roost and replace the credo of freedom, equality and fraternity!

(Related post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/a-trip-to-norway-the-land-of-the-midnight-sun)

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