My First Full Marathon

‘The magic of a marathon isn't in the 26.2 miles on race day; it's in the nearly 500 miles of training that happens in the months before. It's in the countless feelings, frustrations, and fears I have worked through while running down those desolate, tree-lined roads. You see, I wasn't supposed to be a runner. But I am. And my life is better because I chose to be one.’ - Stacy Lucier.

As the M-day- 25-Aug-2013- came close; my mind started casting doubt about my ability to finish the complete course of 42.2 kilometers. But since I had anyway announced to the world through my daily Facebook status updates that I was going to run the marathon, backtracking was not an option. I forced myself on my training plan focusing on the taper period.
24th August being a Saturday was a holiday for me. In the afternoon, I went to the Hitex exhibition centre at Hyderabad for the marathon Expo to collect my race packet. This time it was a much bigger expo than last year. There were many more stalls. But, I went directly to the stall where full marathon bibs were being distributed. I showed them the confirmation email, handed over photocopy of my id proof and collected the bib no “1487”. Last year, we had a timing chip that was supposed to be tied to the shoe. So, I enquired about the timing chip. The amicable volunteer pointed me something pasted on reverse of the bib and explained that the shining strip there was the timing chip.  Then he guided me to another stall to verify my timing chip and collect my T-shirt.
Back home that evening, I was wondering how to go to the start point. I messaged couple of friends and one of them suggested we can pool in a cab together. Then my cousin Arya called me and offered to drop me at necklace road which was the start point. I had an early dinner, arranged my running gear and went to sleep by 9:00 PM. The full marathon was to start at 5:00 AM. My plan was to start to necklace road by 4:00AM. I had to get up by 3:30 AM. But quite like the night before the half-marathon last year, I could hardly sleep this time. This was not unexpected. Various things were running in my mind. I just lied down and kept my eyes closed all throughout. When the alarm rang at 3:30AM, I got up. Arya was ready with his car by 4:00AM to pick me up and we started. On the way, we picked up Satyajit and his Italian friend Gio. We reached the venue by 4:35 AM.
The full marathon crowd was much thinner than the half crowd that I had witnessed last year. Also, at that early hour, it was not a hotspot of activity. I realized that, unlike half marathon which attracts a lot of crowd, the full marathon crowd is not that popular. Only serious runners take it up. I guess the crowd would have been around 500-600. Arya took a couple of snaps and left. I mingled among the sea of runners and found a 5:30 pacer. My plan was to stick to them. I knew that 5:30 would be difficult. But I wanted to start with them. Satyajit started along with the 5:00 hour pacer. We parted ways.
The sky was still completely dark. The air was charged. Exactly at 5:00AM, the run started. As the crowd moved ahead, I kept pace with the 5:30 bus. We moved along steadily. The initial run was around the Hussain Sagar. After about 2 kilometers, my shoe lace came off. I secured them carefully and ran again to catch the bus. There was light banter and folks were talking about various things. After sometime, as the first water station arrived, the group slowed down to sip some water. Since I was not thirsty yet, I kept running and left the group behind.
In the faint light of the dawn, just ahead of me I could see another person running in an Orange T-shirt. I ran closer and saw that it was a “Chennai Runners” T-shirt announcing the TWCM on 1-Dec-2013. While running just behind him, I noticed that he was wishing “good morning” to all the police personnel who were managing the traffic. Some of them responded back. Many of them ignored him. Nonetheless, I liked his friendly attitude. I moved closer to him and started a conversation.
We ran almost together for the next 20 kilometers. I found that he was a very active member of Chennai Runners. He has completed 6 full marathons at various places. He advised me on many things like how to tackle the hills, how to pace etc. It was a very good conversation. Most of all, he asked me just to enjoy the nature than have any time target.
As we looped across the Hussain Sagar lake, the sun rose from the east. The sun had its resplendent reflection on the lake water. It was a sight to behold.
By the time, we looped back to the start line, the half marathon had been flagged off and we could see the massive half crowd just in front of us. The course took us up the first flyover and having crossed that soon we were running on the Rajbhawan road. There were lot of police personnel deployed there. Soon I saw a very tall, fair and well built gentleman and a lot of police officers were milling around him. My friend from Chennai told me that he was a commissioner of Police. When we went near him, he shouted and wished him. Mr Commissioner told him that his wife was running the half this time and he was here to cheer her. A short distance ahead we crossed someone in a batman dress. Again my friend shouted “Batman! Save the world!!”. Batman waved and he waved and we moved ahead. I was really glad that I was running with him. Some of his enthusiasm also brushed against me and I also started waving and shouting at the crowd.
Soon, the second flyover came and we took that on the stride. Even before it ended, the third started. By the time we were in Banjara hills road no 2 it was another hill to cross. I was looking for something to eat. I could not get a banana. Grabbed a couple of glucose biscuits and some Gatorade and kept running.
By the time, I reached Jubilee hills, I could see some folks collecting the litter that was lying on the roads. They were the waste warriors who were doing a superb job of collecting the bottles, paper glasses and banana peels. Hats-off!!!
Also, on the way were numerous photographers who were taking snaps. Then there were volunteers who were cheering and showing the way, guiding and encouraging us. I felt really glad and humble that so many people were helping and supporting us to run the marathon.
By the time I reached Madhapur, I was running among the half crowd. We took a left turn at Hitec city and went towards Gachibowli. On the road from Hitec city to Gachibowli there were many daily labourers who were waiting beside the road on their way to work and were watching us. I was pretty tired by then. I asked my Chennai friend, who seemed to run pretty strong to move ahead as I wanted to slow down a bit.
I kept running slowly and reached highway. Taking a right I went up the last flyover. On the way up, it was hard. I looked around. There were some mikes which were blaring out some local songs. Everyone around me was walking. I also eased down to a walk. The walk gave my tired legs some rest. By then it was almost 26-27 kilometers from the start.
Again on the way down the flyover, I started running. It was a busy road. Kept running till I reached IIIT junction and finally I could grab a couple of bananas there to get some fuel in the system. Had to wait there for a couple of minutes so that volunteers could stop the traffic and let us go. From there the half crowd separated as I took a left turn and started running on the ISB road.
The ISB road is my regular weekday route to office. In contrast to the heavy traffic that I witness on weekdays on that road, on the Sunday, it was pretty empty and desolate. There were a couple of volunteers beside the road. I grabbed a bottle of water from them and mixed some Gatorade powder and ran. By the time I reached the Wipro junction, I could see several volunteers standing there and cheering the runners. I could count only 5-8 runners ahead of me. At the water station, I had some water and popped some sugar boiled lozenge in my mouth and kept running. By that time, almost 31 kilometers was done. We had been running for 4hours 15 minutes by then. I was running with the 5-6 other runners from Mumbai. They were talking that they would finish the run remaining 11 kilometers in the next 1.5 hours and targeted a 5:45 finish. I thought it may be difficult, but if I stick to them may be I also have a chance for a sub-6 hour finish. But it was getting increasingly difficult. I had to start walking again. So, I decided to do run walk for the rest of the distance.
By 33 kilometers, a motorbike with 3 folks stopped just ahead of me. One of the guys jumped from it and started running. I just realized what happened. What is the use of running a marathon and cheating it? One does not run a marathon against anyone. One competes against himself.
I kept pushing myself. By 34 kilometers, my fingers started getting swollen. My hands accumulated a lot of blood. I never had similar experience earlier. While running and walking, I had to raise my hands up to let the blood flow down. When I entered the university, there were few people still cheering. I pushed on. Now it was more of walking than running.
Finally, I managed to come out of the university on to the highway. On the highway, there were those conical red road dividers that separated the incoming traffic from the runners. I was a bit afraid running there as some loose chips on the road could come hurtling from under a vehicle tyre and hit any runner. I was quite fatigued and exhausted by that time. But I knew that it was only mental. I knew that having run so far, it was only the last mile. I knew I have to finish it.
By the time I saw the Balayogi stadium, I was bit relieved. But I knew that inside the stadium there was a circuitous route to the end. It was almost 6 hours of running by then. I pushed along inside the stadium and kept running slowly. Finally, someone told me that medals distribution will be stopped within the next 2 minutes and that I need to dash. By that time, I was fairly inside the stadium and started my last victory run on the red turf for a strong finish. As soon as I finished, someone put a medal around my neck.
I checked the time. It was 6 hours and 10 minutes from the start. I didn’t feel anything then. I was neither happy; nor tired. I was calm. My mind was blank. The feeling of completing the marathon had not sinked in yet.
It was 11:10 AM and by that time, most of the crowd had left. I dad some snacks, drank some water asked someone to click some snaps on my phone. Then I called home and reported all is well.
Took a public transport to come back home.
Back home, the exertion of the run was creeping up on me. I felt exhausted but the feeling of achievement was also brimming up. I realized that with the marathon, one item from my bucket list was ticked off. I was elated that I kept another promise to myself. Running the marathon was not the big deal, but the months of dedication, determination and discipline in the practice was the big deal. That was the real triumph. That was the real accomplishment.

I would like to dedicate this post to all those who were involved in organizing the Airtel Hyderabad Marathon 2013. I thank Hyderabad Runners for organizing this awesome event and giving all runners a chance to run and test our mettle against ourselves. There is so much effort involved in organizing such an event.  You guys do it for the love of running and for the sake of runners. You forgo your own running to provide a wonderful experience to the other runners. Each detail was taken care of. The more I say about the medal, the less it will be. I do not many medals, but this was arguably one of the ‘awesomest’ medal that I have ever seen. Apart from the organizers, the policemen and the volunteers did a wonderful job as well. Thanks to you all.

My Full Marathon Training

I completed my first full marathon - Airtel Hyderabad Marathon - on 25th August 2013. The Airtel Hyderabad Marathon is one of the toughest of the road marathons in India. Since I stay in Hyderabad and had ran the half marathon last August, and since the running bug bit me, it was a no brainer for me to participate. I had planned for running a full marathon at least once in life. So, after I recovered from Chicken pox in March, I started preparing for the marathon earnestly since April. I customized my own marathon training plan and followed it religiously. I ran for 4 days a week with 3 rest days. The 4 days consisted of 2 short runs, one medium run and a Sunday long run.
When the registrations opened in May, I got a mail from the organizers having participated in it last year. Immediately I signed up for the full, though I had my own fears and apprehensions. But I continued in the training.
To make it more interesting, I posted my runs in facebook so that my friends could see and comment. Their comments kept me motivated through out. Overall I ran for 85 sessions over a period of 5 months and covered almost 840 kilometers in training.
The training progressed slowly starting from about 24 kilometers a week. The initial few weeks were short runs and gradually I increased the mileage. I started with short runs of 5 kilometers and long run of 8-9 kilometers.  In one of the long run of 13 kilometers after about 4 weeks of starting the training, I felt pain in the back. I realized that I need to do some core strengthening exercises to keep the back pain away. Also, need to sleep properly the previous night to keep the fatigue away. I also realized that back pain would stop as soon as I corrected my posture. The next Sunday, I reduced my mileage of long run. It was a recovery week and the back pain during the sun did not appear.
I followed a different strategy the next week for the long run. Slept almost 19 hours on Friday night and Saturday night and went for the long run. Ran 16 kilometers absolutely pain free. Followed similar approach for next few weeks and kept increasing my long run distance.
But one weekend, I ran a 24kilometers long run and injured my left foot somewhere. The pain in foot started after the run in the afternoon. The pain was severe and threw me out of track. Took rest for 2 days. Went out running on the 3rd day and could not run more than 3 kilometers. Had to limp back home and took rest for next 4 days. I felt bad. I was afraid as well. I thought I may not be able to run the marathon. But assured myself that time will heal me.
Again, the next week, I started running and slowly increased my mileage. By this week, my mid week runs were 12-15 kilometers. I had a bit of pain in feet. But the long run of 27 kilometers that Sunday was pain-free. Those days, my weekly mileage was almost 60 kilometers. I used to feel very sleepy in the night. I had to retire to bed latest by 10:00PM and did not have much energy for anything else. I think I should have slept more.
Due to a week of incessant rains in July, I had to miss few runs. This was the second week when my training hampered. In the subsequent weeks, I ran 2 long runs of 34kilometers in alternate Sundays. In these long runs, I also realized that the fatigue was more mental than physical. The last 10 days before the marathon was easy on running but difficult mentally. I still had a lot of fear and anticipation before the D-Day. I was not confident if I could finish it. But I focused on the taper period and reduced my running mileage.
Here is my training mileage chart:

Actual Weekly Milage
Weekly mileage - Actual

p.s: I will post my race report shortly

My Toastmasters Journey

More than 12 years ago, when I was with Polaris software lab in Chennai, a colleague of mine mentioned about Toastmasters. He told that this is a club which helps develop speaking skills. I listened to him but thought to myself - I have pretty good speaking skills. Why do I need to improve it further? I shrugged the idea off and literally forgot all about it.
By 2007, I had moved to Hyderabad and was staying in Erramanzil. Around the same time, I read book, How to Make a Name for Yourself, by Scott Ginsberg. He had byte sized motivational nuggets in his book. If I remember correctly, one of them was on consistency of practice, in which he said, joining the toastmasters was one of the best decisions he had ever taken. He further added, "The best swimmers are always in the pool".  The best toastmasters attended the meeting every week. It resonated with me. How simple. Not only with Toastmasters, but with any endeavor, the most consistent person would eventually become better and better in whatever he does if he applies himself to improvement.
This book also piqued my interest in Toastmasters. I wanted to know what it all was. Why according to Scott joining Toastmasters was that one of the best decisions in his life? I googled toastmaster and found some hits in the site. To my surprise, there was a toastmasters club operating in Erramanzil itself. I thought about visiting it many times. But blame my lazy bones, my wish remained as such. I never visited that club. There were other important priorities in life. Toastmasters had to wait.
Sometime last year, I do not exactly remember who informed me, but I came to know that Elan Toastmasters Club was conducting a story telling contest. I attended that and enjoyed it immensely. This prompted me to attend some regular club meetings as a guest and to check them out. Overcoming my laziness, nervousness and shyness, I just walked in. I did not know anyone there. Though I was all alone, quickly, I realized, the meetings were fun. It also provided a forum to practice public speaking. I liked it. But when my workload at office increased, Toastmasters again went to the back-burner.
I have a quaint habit of reflecting on my own life when the year draws to an end. In the last week of December 2012, while doing the balance sheet of my life, I realized that the biggest obstacle I had in front of me was putting things off to do later, and then never do them – in other words procrastination. The next big obstacle was that, even if I take up something, I was not consistent. I decided to tackle both the things head on in 2013. Toastmasters were one of the 3 priorities I picked up for 2013.

Late January 2013, I became a member in Elan. 
Toastmasters are not only about communication skills. It develops leadership skills as well. But in the initial months of joining the club, I did not realize how this will help develop leadership skills. I was taking up roles like Ah-counter, Vote counter, Listener etc. I used to come just in time for the meeting. I gave a few prepared speeches and few table topics speeches also. But yet, I did not realize what all planning goes in before a meeting. I did not ever see the action behind the scene.
In May, I attended Orations 2013. It just blew me away. I never thought that there could be so much learning from just those 2 days.
Then, we had the club officers’ elections. Inspired by the speech of our club president, TM Chandra, I nominated myself in the last minute for the post of Treasurer. This was the first time ever in my life I ever contested any election. I was asked to give a small speech about why I should be elected and try to convince the members to vote for me. I spoke something about being consistent. Eventually, I got elected. Then we had the first meeting of the new Executive committee with the members of the existing EC. That was an eye opener. I got to know that it was not just planning for a single meeting that is done, but the EC members plan for all events for the entire year. Being part of EC is a big responsibility and it is a sure-fire way to develop organizational and leadership skills.
Apart from honing communication and leadership skills, toastmaster also presents an opportunity to network with many like minded people from diverse fields. I have made many friends through toastmasters and will continue to grow my friends in the large happy family and beyond.
This is how my Toastmasters journey has just started. I do not have any destination as such in toastmasters. My goal is simply to be consistent in attending the meetings, do my role and enjoy the journey.

Ideas That Spread, Win

Ideas that spread, win. Some ideas spread like a wild fire while others turn out to be a damp squib. As per Seth Godin, an idea has to be remarkable enough to catch attention. If it is not bold or audacious enough, no one will notice. But just having a purple cow of an idea will not make it go viral. There is a method to the madness. Even if you have a hotshot idea, not everyone will be interested to listen to it. So, the first task, if you want to spread your idea, is to figure out who is interested to listen to your idea. Typically, one needs to talk to innovators and early adopters among the consumer base to spread the idea. They are the people who care to listen. So, connect with them first. Then, a critical mass will be formed and slowly the idea will snowball.
Christian Sarkar and Vijay Govindrajan mooted the housing problem for the poor and turned it over to the crowd as a design challenge. The 300$ house challenge was definitely a purple cow. It was one of its kind events. It promised an invigorating intellectual exercise for the students, academicians and research community. It offered economic opportunity for those marketers and business that want to milk the bottom of the housing pyramid. It offered CSR opportunity for others and promised to do some good for the poor. Rarely has there been such an idea that brings in so many benefits together in its wake to so many diverse stakeholders. They threw open a competition to students, architects, businesses to design the best prototype for a 300$ house. This was an exercise and experiment with reverse innovation. For a localized problem, a decentralized global team would provide a solution.
One thing led to another. Many people and groups were interested. There were as many as 300 responses.  Innovation is contagious. People did not stop at providing the design. Some went further. They built prototypes and some went a step further to build sustainable communities and villages.
Now, being aware of an idea does not mean anything. It is what you do with it. So what are you going to do about it?
This post is written as part of ‘The Idea Caravan’ organized by Indibloggers with Franklin Templeton Investments. Franklin Templeton Investments partnered with the TEDxGateway Mumbai organized in December 2012.

Time is Money

Franklin Templeton, the investment company is listed on the NYSE under the ticker BEN. This was in honor of Benjamin Franklin, who was highly admired by Johnson, Sr., the founder of the company. Benjamin Franklin was one of the founding fathers of the modern day US. He was born in 1706. Very few people in this world have donned as many different hats as Franklin.  In his lifetime, he had been a great statesman, a shrewd politician, an astute businessman, prominent philosopher & writer and printer, inventor and diplomat. He was a person who made up his mind to cultivate his virtues. He listed all the character traits that he wanted to develop and then spent considerable time enhancing each character trait.  In fact his autobiography is a bible and workbook on character building.
In a 1748 article, "Advice to a Young Tradesman, Written by an Old One", Ben Franklin announced "Time is money". This phrase has since become a holy grail of many men and almost all business enterprise. I can even stick my neck out and state that in today's world, time is not money, but in fact become more (important) than money. Well, almost for everyone.
How would you react if I tell you that from tomorrow you have to spend 5 hours every day on your feet to secure water for your domestic use? 
Is this some kind of a joke? You may be wondering why on earth anyone would do that. Water anyway comes directly to your taps. If ever there is a shortage in supply, you do have money in your wallet.  You can always place an order for a water tanker privately. Most of us are smart enough to avoid all such hassles. We buy all amenities and conveniences in exchange for money.
But there are remote villages in India where womenfolk have to carry pots full of water over their head everyday for more than 5 hours. These women, who carry such heavy load, apart from risk of developing health problems, are also wasting 25% of their life in completely avoidable chores. This is not a figment of my imagination. It is the fact in many of our villages. If they had water available to them easily, it would be a boon to all such people.
An enthusiastic team, an innovative idea, and a big dose of determination is all that is needed to change the life of many people in those villages.
See how Cynthia Koenig of Wello water is contributing to the lives and times of the villagers. With this innovative approach, they are not only providing them with an alternate delivery mechanism, but also are giving the villagers the gift of several productive hours every day. They are giving them the gift of time. And as I mentioned earlier, time is greater than money.
But, here is my take on this.  I agree on the benefit of time saving part. But Wello water and other organizations promoting this should not just let the 5 extra hours that these women gain daily, just fizzle out doing nothing. There should be some mechanism to get the womenfolk utilize this free time for their benefit and that of all others in their village community. Can you think of any innovative idea that can help villagers utilize the extra time they get?
This post is written as part of ‘The Idea Caravan’ organized by Indibloggers with Franklin Templeton Investments. Franklin Templeton Investments partnered with the TEDxGateway Mumbai organized in December 2012.

Think From The Heart

Last weekend we went to Eat Street.  Eat street is a popular food court on Necklace road in Hyderabad. It is on the banks of Hussain Sagar, a large man-made lake built over 500 years ago in Hyderabad. The lake and its surrounding areas have been developed into various recreational centers and parks. It serves as a popular weekend unwinding destination for the Hyderabadi crowd.
There is a good choice of food available there from several outlets. Wife went around and zeroed in on a very interesting and exotic looking potato fry on a stick – A Tornado Potato. It is one of those things that entice you with its presentation only. The substance, as we found later, was just deep fried potatoes.
Wife ordered it. While that was getting ready, we occupied the chairs towards the side of the lake. I just looked down at the lake and could not believe my eyes.  Every type of plastic - bottles, packs, straws, cups, polythene bags - was littered there on the bank.
This lake like numerous other lakes in and around Hyderabad is actually dying. While other lakes in the city are dying due to one reason - encroachment, Hussain Sagar is dying because of pollution. Industrial effluents and domestic sewage finds its way into this lake through some of its inlet streams. Today, no one would even dare to touch the water from Hussain Sagar. If you travel in the Hyderabad MMTS towards Secunderabad, there is a stretch where the train crosses the Hussain Sagar. The stench there is unbearable. If you look down to the stream running into Hussain Sagar, it is covered with filth and black muck. The sight is enough to make you puke. It is difficult to imagine that this lake once provided drinking water to the city. I do not think this could have happened in the last 30-40 years. This must have been the case may be a century ago.
Water pollution has become a huge problem now. I remember that in my childhood, we used to drink the tap water directly. No filter, nothing in between, but just pure unadulterated water. Water used to gush out of municipal supply tanks in schools, parks, railway stations, temples and other public spaces. We used to drink it. Free. Best part was that there were no charges - hidden or otherwise. We guzzled the water straight from the tap.  I know, you may be turning your nose up now by reading this. But it was quite common in those days to drink water the municipal water. There was no real fear of drinking polluted water as such. No one ever had any compunction drinking that water. Some people used to filter water by simple mechanical filters.
But, by the late eighties/early nineties, water pollution started raising its ugly head in India. With industrial waste and domestic sewage diverted directly to rivers and seas, slowly, over years of abuse, the water resources started getting so contaminated that by the mid-nineties, tap water became simply untouchable.
Overnight, the simple mechanical filter of yesteryears gave way to electronic filtration system using UV light and other technologies. Over the years, as water contamination kept increasing, these water purification systems became more and more sophisticated and even more expensive. Today, an electronic water purifier costs anywhere between INR 6000 to INR 20000.  A normal mechanical purifier costs around INR 2000. 
These days, there is no place for public goods. When the brain starts thinking, every idea becomes a monetization opportunity. Water is a business with super normal profits. Wherever you go, you find the ubiquitous disposable polythene packets and plastic water bottles. While it is of no less concern that being non-biodegradable, these plastics pose a separate threat to our environment, what is equally worrisome is the malpractices that are happening in the bottled water business. There have been instances of unscrupulous, unlicensed bottled water businesses sprouting across homes and supplying plain tap water in cans to unsuspecting consumers. Unaware of this, most of the road-side eateries and many middle class residents today still use these 20 liter cans or water for their cooking and drinking purpose. Each of these cans cost at least from INR 20 to INR 80 depending on its source and brand.
The founding fathers of our country wanted to have a sovereign, free and egalitarian society. But in this age of consumerism, nothing is free. In our country almost 30% of the population subsists on less than a half-a-dollar a day. Is it possible for them to buy clean drinking water? No. They cannot. But does this mean, we leave out the bottom 30% of our population who cannot afford to spend 20 bucks on water daily? Should water be available only to those who can afford to pay more? Is this the society we plan to build?
I doubt that our previous generations ever even in their wildest dream thought that their progeny will have to pay for plain water.
There are still some people who know that problems are all we need to make lives meaningful. Some beautiful people think from their heart, and not from their brain. With their perseverance, even insurmountable difficulties give way. I believe that when thinking starts from the heart, not from the brain, the ideas and innovation that sprout becomes a gift to the society. Suprio  Das from Kolkata has given one such wonderful gift to the society. He took the problem of providing clean drinking water to the poor head on and came up with an innovative solution.
Do check out Suprio Das’s inspiring story in this Video at TEDxGateway Mumbai.
How wonderful would it be if we all think from our heart! Would you ?
This post is written as part of ‘The Idea Caravan’ organized by Indibloggers with Franklin Templeton Investments. Franklin Templeton Investments partnered with the TEDxGateway Mumbai organized in December 2012.

All you need is a problem

Many of us want to lead a fulfilling life. But we do not know how. In these days of crass consumerism, when people run blindly after money, we hardly have any role models to emulate. Folks who have made it big in today’s world, the hero’s of this age , the ideals for youth – are nothing but mints printing money through their talent. Is there anyone who has offered his talent, dedication and service as a gift to the society?
You would be surprised to know that we have someone from a village in South India – Mr. Arunachalam Muruganantham – who has stood out from the crowd, paved a new path and is showing the way.
Mr Arunachalam identified a problem. For the next few years, his goal was how to get a solution for it. Like a postage stamp that remains stuck to the envelope till it reaches the destination, Mr. Arunachalam silently and relentlessly worked towards that goal, undeterred in the face of challenges on the way. Finally, he was able to get a break through solution. Today, he is also challenging the hegemony of MNCs. He has developed a unique method and model to produce low cost sanitary pads for women.
As per him, all we need is a problem. Yes, let our goal be to design the solution for the problem. Then we keep trying. We may fail. We may fall down on the path. But we have to dust ourselves and rise up to work again towards our goal. Eventually we will succeed.
Talent is a gift. Some people use their talent and come up with something unique and useful for the society. But once we arrive at a solution, we also have a choice.  We can make it a gift to the world or we can make a business out of it. The choice is ours.  Mr. Arunachalam not only gave the gift of hygiene to millions of poor women but also is an inspiration to the millions of youth in India. This selfless act is a true gift that he has given to society which has made life better for millions of women all over the world. This is a gift that cannot be repaid by any award, reward or royalty.
To know about his inspiring story, please watch this video:
This post is written as part of ‘The Idea Caravan’ organized by Indibloggers with Franklin Templeton Investments. Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012.

A Stark Contrast

If you happen to cross any big traffic junction leading towards Hitec city in Hyderabad on a weekday morning, you would notice a stark contrast among two tribes that happen to meet there. One going to work and the other already working.
On one hand, there would be the sleek software professionals heading to office to start their day. Most will be nattily dressed. In their hurry, they do not spare a second thought about their surroundings and just go about their daily life. But they are not a homogeneous tribe. They have different echelons of power within them. The ones higher in the pedestal would be cocooned in air conditioned cars, comfortably separated from the crowd, their heads buried into the morning pink paper. Most of the masses would be sleepy heads slumped over two-wheelers. And the rest would be dragging themselves on their own lazy feet. But all of these software professionals would have the tool of their trade slinging across their back or handing on their shoulder - a knapsack or a laptop bag. And again, almost all of them would be brandishing weapons of mass communications - their Smartphone - in their hands or belts. If you brush past them, you can get a whiff of a branded perfume or deodorant, along with a nonchalance look and an above-than-thou frown.
On the other hand, on the sidelines of the road, there would be some others, who would have already started their official day. Among these, there would be small children. These children do not dread to wake up in the morning to go to the school.  Instead, every morning, they wake up to clean the cars which stop in the traffic signal. Clad scantily in tatters and holding a dirty rag in their dirty hands, they go about their business. The car actually never gets cleaned. But then, under that muse, they can beg for some money from the well heeled to quench the fire in their stomach. Then there would be young women in the group as well. Mostly, they would be carrying a malnourished baby with them. The child would be covered in soiled clothes and invariably have their eyes closed. They would seek sympathy and ask money for the starving child. Then there would be impoverished older folks with some deformities and diseases. Blood and pus would be oozing out from old bandages in their head or hands. They would tap against your car window or if you are waiting on a bike for the signal to turn green, they will take the opportunity to touch your hands or tug your sleeves for a few coins.
The office-goers, on their part, will be squirming inside whenever they see someone from the other tribe approaching.  Some of them will throw a few coins just to get rid of the beggars. Others would maintain a stoic silence after a cold look towards them.
By their look, attire and language, you can fairly well infer that most of these road side beggars are not native to Hyderabad. You don’t need any market research or governmental committee report to prove it. Yes, just by looking at them you can say that they have migrated from some other region. But have you ever wondered what made them leave their homes, villages and native places and come to cities like Hyderabad to eke out a living by whatever means possible?
These folks are driven by the same forces that have made most of us leave our native place and find our feet in another city or state or country. Lack of prospect in the native place and a hint of a good future somewhere else make all of us move. The situation is same everywhere. These people also face the same fear and anxiety that we all have. They also undergo the daily grind. Their life in fact is even tougher. 
But there is a big difference as well. Many of these people and their ancestors were folks who survived on their own in their villages. But, with so called socio-economic progress of the country and with advent of industrialization and advanced communication technologies, there has been a massive change in social and cultural structure in the communities they served.
I remember in my childhood, there were snake charmers, monkey-dancers and bear-dancers that came during specific time of the year. They would entertain us with their performance and their animals. They were basically nomads who moved from one place to another. Ever wondered where these folks and their kith and kin’s have gone now? Their livelihood was snatched away some times directly by government regulations to protect animals and other times indirectly by changes sweeping our country. Unlike us, they could not adapt to the new changes coming in. They got left out - left out by the society, left out by the government, left out by all of us.
The nomadic tribes have even bigger plight of not having an address to officially prove that they are residents of this country. Lack of education exacerbates their problems and they are not even aware of their rights. Recently, I watched a video of a speech made by Mittal Patel at the TEDxGateway Mumbai, organized by Franklin Templeton Investments in December 2012. I realized how ignorant I was of the plight. Wonderful people like Mittal Patel, are working hard to improve the plight of the nomads, country artisans and entertainers. 
So, the next time, you see some of these nomadic folks; do not just give them some money and feel good about it. Please join hand with people like Mittal Patel. Strengthen the cause. Spread the word.
This post is written as part of ‘The Idea Caravan’ organized by Indibloggers with Franklin Templeton Investments Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012.

A Powerful Habit

A series of unrelated events happened last week. They drove home a beautiful point.
Lately, I have been reading a book - Linchpin - by the renowned entrepreneur and author Seth Godin. In this book, he talks about linchpins - the persons who make themselves indispensable to the organization. One of the concepts that he expounds in this book is 'The powerful culture of gifts'.
In the olden days, society was organized into tribes. A gift was something that was given by a member of a tribe to another. In a tribe, everyone knew each other. Giving gifts increased the mutual connection and bond between each other. Once you give a gift to someone, it invariably came back to you in myriad of ways. However, gifts, by definition, are invaluable. They should not be considered in terms of money. The best gifts that you can give are those that cannot be returned or valued in terms of money. You may give the gift of kindness to someone or the gift of time or that of an invaluable help.
In a capitalist economy, things are different. Money, talks. Gifts have different connotations and repercussions.  If everything runs on concept of gifts and sharing, then, there would be no way to amass wealth. Hence, when traders emerged in the scene, the concept of gift took a backseat. Traders did not want to form a bond with the people with whom they do business. They wanted to maintain others at arm’s length so that they can demand money (along with their profit) for the goods they supply. Gifts were also used to manipulate and get unfair advantage. Slowly, this culture permeated through all strata of society and it has now come to such a state that whenever someone gives you a gift, you think what could be the ulterior motive of the person behind that act. Though giving gifts did not stop altogether, people considered the value of gifts they received from others so that they would also give a return gift for similar amount.
This thing was there in my mind for a few days.  In fact, I am also in the same boat. I tend to think twice before giving any gift to anyone. Truth to be told, I am actually very reluctant in receiving gifts as well. If someone gives me any gift, I think several times more on why the other people chose to gift me.
Last Saturday, I went to my Toastmasters club. In the toastmasters meeting, we have several speakers who speak on various topics. Mr. Padmakumar, who is the present division governor, told us about a talk he listened to recently. The talk was delivered by Mr. Devdutt Patnaik, who is the Chief Belief Officer of Future group. I would like to share with you the gist of one of the key take-away.
In ancient times, people used to do homa (homam, or havan). Homa is a sacred pyre in which the yajaman (person who is organizing the homa) has to give different offerings to the fire. Offerings typically would be in form of Ghee, wood, etc. Whenever the yajaman would pour the offering in the fire, he says swaha. Once the homa is over, the pundits presiding over the agnihotra will say tathastu.
Symbolically, it means, for any endeavor, one has to offer something first before expecting any return. The best gift can be considered as offering yourself. And once it is over, the in return, the universe says tathastu - so be it - Let your wishes be fulfilled. Thus, unless we give a gift of ourselves, we cannot expect any reward. Padmakumar tied this beautifully to present day situations in our organizations. While working, we wants all our whims, fancies, salary and promotion expectations to be fulfilled, but we are not ready to give anything prior to that. We need to give our dedication, discipline, determination and hard work before expecting anything in return. He said, first we need to give a gift and then it will come back to us multiplied manifold.
Having read Mr Godin's idea of gift just a few days back, I instantly appreciated this idea.
Back home on the next day, I was going through the blogs that I subscribe to on Google reader.
Joshua Becker maintains a very beautiful blog called Becoming Minimalist. Apart from the wonderful articles and stories on minimalism that he posts, every weekend he also posts assorted links from other bloggers.  Last weekend he had posted a link from a blog post by Allison Vesterfelt.  Allison in this post - A Surprising Way to Become More Generous – exhorts us to give, receive and give some more.
I went through the post. It was a lesson to me. I learnt that if you want to be more generous, if you want to give more to others, the first thing that you need to do is to accept graciously first.  It is like water flowing in a stream. If you stop the flow of water in the upstream, the flow will dry up in the downstream. I could identify myself and my behavior in that post.  It was as an eye-opener for me. My thoughts went back to the days when I stayed in a bachelor pad. I used to keep note of every single rupee I spent on common expenses and for others. I never liked to take anything from anybody and hence no one also liked to take anything from me as well. The reverse could also be true. But the fact was that I didn’t like to share.
For the past few days I have been ruminating over these incidents. These disparate events over the last week have beautifully brought home the point of sharing. It was as if the world was conspiring to hammer this concept of gift down on me.  Thinking through, I realized that I need to be more generous in giving and more gracious in accepting. Gifting is really a powerful habit. That is how it should be. That is what I would strive for now.
Do let me know what your thoughts about giving and receiving gifts are.

Short Tale of a Long Name

Me: Hi! I am Brajadulal Patnaik.
"Well...Sorry, I could'nt get it. Can you please come again?"
Me again: B r a j a d u l a l  P a t n a i k.
This is a very familiar situation for me when I meet someone for the first time. Yes, it is quite a difficult name. Rarely do I find someone who could pronounce my name correctly at the first try. I really cannot blame them for not being able to do so. Even I do not remember pronouncing my name properly till I was 6 years old; and when I took six long years to get my name out correctly from my mouth, I cannot realistically expect someone to say it correctly in six seconds.
My name has been mangled, minced, diced, sliced and re-joined again in every which way imaginable. I have been addressed as Brajad, Brajaulla, Brajadullah, Dulal, Lal and more. I have also been called Braj, Brajesh, Brijesh, Patnaik, Patnik, Pat or Patty.
Anyway, a name does not change any of my character. A rose, would smell as sweet by any other name. So, what is in a name? It does not really matter; except for a little bit of attachment that one has to his name.
All said, my name is something that I am proud of. I would like my friends to learn my name and say it correctly. If not anything, this small gesture from them means that they care for me enough as a friend .
Well, never mind. To cut a long name short, I am Braja. That’s what my friends call me as. It’s a short nickname which is much better to remember, though still not that easy to say. However, I fervently hope, there will be a long tail of this short name.

Stress from Too Much To Do

We discussed in the last post that unfulfilled expectations cause stress. There are several other sources for stress as well, one of which is from our daily life.
Often, in our workaday world, we have much more to finish on our plate that we realistically can. There is the never ending series of mails piling one upon the other in our mailbox. Then the numerous interruptions through unsolicited calls on top of planned meetings that needs to be attended.  Among all these, there is the real work with deadlines to be met on various projects; status reports to be sent; and difficult people to be dealt with.  It all starts with just the normal 8 hours of work. But somehow, true to Parkinson's Law, work grows bigger and bigger to take up more and more of your time till all 24 hours in your day do not seem enough to finish them all. 
Similar situation plays out in our personal life as well. We have to prepare meals, clean our house, get ready for work, get the kids ready for school, go for errands, exercise, socialize and do many other chores. This is something that most of us plan ahead and take it in our stride. But, on top of that, life keeps springing surprises on us.  A family member falls sick; a friend needs immediate help on something; the water supply or the cooking gas cylinder dries up; or the car goes kaput. We typically do not plan such affairs.
And, with our routine already choc-a-bloc, we grind to a halt when faced with such unforeseen occurrences. Too much to do, finish or close in too less a time leads to stress. 
There is some hope though.
1.       Once you realize that your plate is getting full, sound it off to others. 
2.       Prioritize. Discuss with your boss or family on how to tackle the various activities.
3.       Ask for help. Delegate if you can. See if some of your workload can be shared by others.
4.       Push back. Do not accept everything that comes your way. Overcome your fear of getting left out. Get off that committee. Be comfortable saying "No".
5.       Check if you can cut down on the scope of activities to be done or if it can be skipped altogether.
6.       Negotiate for more time. Most folks prefer great quality over short TAT. If not, atleast you would know the priority.

If you have exhausted all the above options and still feel flustered, then just take a deep breath. Relax. Have faith. Heaven is not going to fall.

Stress from Expectations

Storming into my room angrily, I slammed the door shut and threw myself down on the bed. I could hear voices in my head. “You did not do this”, “Why did you this?”, “You have wasted all this time”, “Look what have you done”. My mind was in utter chaos. I could no longer take this daily bickering. It was unbearable.
How many times do you think you have been in a similar situation? How many times have you wanted to cut yourself off from the world and its do’s and don’ts, nags and wags, expectations and perceptions?
Family, friends and society prescribe us on how we ought to live, act and think. Our mind is conditioned to that. But when the actual action differs, it leads to friction.  Continual friction leads to stress. Stress is also caused when there is always a gap between our expectation from us and the actual result. The gap is branded as failure or mistake.
Then others keep harping on it. They point out the fact that it is wrong or it should have been done this way or that. They do not realize that since it has already occurred, nothing can be done to change it now. They may be correct. But they do not really help us by pointing our mistake and failure to us all the time. It only helps to add to the stress that is already present in our life.
Few years back, stressed out from others’ expectation, I was completely stoned. For a while, I did not know what to do. I wanted some peace, some time off, alone, in my own company. Then I realized that one cannot remain cutoff from the world for ever. I re-organized myself. Re-prioritized my goals and started again. And a new beginning it was.
Everything in life is an experience. A mistake or a failure, just as success, is a judgment of someone on something. If you think that it was a genuine mistake on your part, don’t get stressed. Just learn from the failure. Set new goals and move on. This way, the lesson is not lost.

How do you define success

A new disciple of a Zen Master asked "Master, how do you define success?"
The Zen Master replied, "Go to the village cobbler and spend a month with him".
The disciple went to the village cobbler and told him about his conversation with his master. The cobbler nodded and allowed the disciple to stay in his house. The young disciple saw that the cobbler would wake up exactly at day-break, get ready for work, have breakfast and go for work. The disciple followed him to work. There he conducted his business honestly, no matter if there were many customers or few. With whatever earning of the day, he would get provisions for his family. The evening he would spend with his family and friends and retire in the night.  The same pattern continued the next day. The cobbler did exactly the same things at the same time. The disciple was surprised. Every day, the cobbler went about his daily life in exactly the same way, and the disciple was amazed at the consistency of his routine. He could not understand why the cobbler was doing things exactly the same way at the same time daily. And what relation has this to do with the question he asked his Master.
He also observed that the cobbler did not earn much. There were days when he could not buy any provisions at all for his family. Those days, the family had to do with whatever crumbs and scraps were available. But the cobbler, nonetheless, was a very happy and contented man.
On the last day the disciple asked the cobbler, "Tell me, I have seen you doing exactly the same things every day for the entire month; your life is just like a clock. Why is it so? "
The cobbler said, “Yes, my daily life is planned that way. I love to follow a routine. Each night, I set myself a goal on what I would do the other day and try to do those things within that time. But, there are days when intentionally or otherwise my routine breaks"
The disciple asked, “But why do you do that?” The Cobbler said “I just like it that way”.
The disciple was even more confused. How can someone "like" a boring routine?
He remembered his question to his Master and asked the cobbler "Do you know what success is?"
The cobbler replied "I am a lay man. I have never studied any text books or scriptures. Neither have I had the chance to listen to any discourses or speeches. I do not know what success is. But what I do know is if I am able to follow my routine and go to work every single day; I feel happy. May be that is success. Those days, that I am not able to go to work, I feel bad. Now, you know, my work is not very interesting. But I have set a goal to myself to be consistent in opening the shop, waiting for customers and closing the shop at a particular time and then carry on with my other activities. If I am able to do that, I feel I have achieved something. May be that is success"
The disciple came back to the Master and told, "Master, I think I now know something of what success is. It has to do with setting a goal and reaching the same. But is that all there is to it?"

"Well", the Zen Master replied, "Go to the cow-shed and take care of the cows for a month".
The disciple was astonished. What could he learn about his quest from the cows? Also, the work at the cowshed is very strenuous.  No one was interested to work there as it was seen by others as a lowly work. It was considered a punishment to work there.  Nevertheless he decided to go there.
He set a goal for himself that he will keep the cowshed as clean as possible.
He diligently did his work. Every day, he would get up in the morning, draw water from the well and fill the tank. Then he would provide water to all the cows and calves.  After that he leave them in the fields for grazing. Before they came back, he would draw more water and clean the cowshed thoroughly. By the time the herd was back in the evening, the cowshed would be clean.
It was not a very inspiring job. He managed to do it the first day. But, he failed to clean the shed in the next day. Again he pulled himself up. After a week of cleaning and failing to clean, he learnt something. He felt bad if he did not do clean it any day. But if he was able to clean it, he felt good. By end of second week, he was quite consistent. The results showed up.  He felt happy as he was able to reach his goals. Now he committed that he will do his daily shed cleaning every single day for the rest of the month.
One day some folks from his village met him while he was herding the cows. They said "Look at you. You came from the village to become a monk. But is this what you are doing now? Herding the cows and cleaning the cowshed?" Couldn’t you get any better job at the monastery? What an utter failure" The young disciple did get perturbed. But he maintained his composure, smiled at them and enquired about others in the village before bidding good-bye.
Every night, he thought about the incident. He knew he had a goal that he has set for himself. And he was happy on his being able to achieve his goals of keeping the cowshed spic and span.  But others thought he was a failure. It was then that he realized, only the person who is working on the goals knows whether he is a success or not. It is very personal. It differs from person to person. It is not appropriate for others to comment on it.

After the month was over, he went back to the master and narrated the major incidents and what he had learnt. He said "Master, success is quite personal. It doesn’t depend on what others feel, think or say".
Master nodded and asked “Are the cows successful?"
Disciple said, "Cows take life as it comes. They do not spend time in thinking, but do naturally whatever needs to be done at that moment. They eat when hungry and drink when thirsty. I do not even have a yard stick with which to measure if they are successful of not. Howver, they seem to be happy with whatever they are doing."
Master asked, "What about your village friends?"
The disciple said, “Master, between the two extremes - life with a purposeful goal like that of the cobbler, and life without an explicit goal like that of a cow - there are many shades and variations. There are those who have goals, but hardly work towards it. Then, there are others who do not really have a goal, but rather have some pipe dream or wishes; and they think that they have a goal. Some are Zen like and have a goal of not having a goal. So, I am not in a position to tell if they are successful or not. It is for them to decide.
The Master smiled peacefully and then asked “How do YOU define success?”

The Fears of a Runner

Every person, who takes to running as a fitness or lifestyle activity harbors some fear at the beginning. I am still dogged by certain fears about running. But the journey takes the runner across to become fearless. Else one simply quits running.
When I started toying with the idea of running 2 years back and took my baby steps in the running world, I could barely run for 200 meters at a stretch. My breathing would be laborious. I would feel that my heart will explode under the effort. I was afraid of getting a heart attack or something. Later, when I found a structured way to re-learn how to run, I could slowly increase my running without any of those heart-pounding sensations. However, whenever I pushed myself beyond my limits, I was still breathless. My fear was that my lungs would burst. Overtime I learnt to control my breathing and that fear was gone.
During my running journey, new fears raised their head from time to time. Sometime it will be in the form of a tingling sensation in my hands. Other time severe side-stitches will make me cripple. There was pain the back, pain in my knee, pain in the calf, pain in heel and pain in feet. These came along with their attendant fear of the unknown. I was afraid that running will be harmful to my body. My legs and knees may not be able to take the pounding. Slowly, I made friends with these pains. I realized that these are normal part of a running journey. And again, as with my past fears, they subsided and faded into the background.
There was also the fear of commitment. I was quite apprehensive if I could hold myself up to the discipline that is required. What if I fail? The fear of failure was always in the back of my mind. What if I am not able to finish my run or what if I finish last in a race? What would people say? This was more imaginary than real. No one really cares. And the one person who cares was I. The solution to discipline problem, I realized, was to tackle it one day at a time. I planned just to run for one day. I committed myself just to run for one lap. And that one lap became two and one day became one more day and so on till I had internal motivation to go for a run every time.
During the time I decided to take up running, I had to confront many fears - most of them imaginary and very few real. Now, it is not that I have become a fearless runner; I still hold my share of fear. I fear that I will injure myself. Or that some mishap will happen during my run. I still fear the unknown. But by and large, most of my earlier fears have proven unfounded till now. I have learnt running is not about quitting due to the fears. It is about facing your fears – real and imaginary – and still forging ahead till we reach our goal. But reaching the finish line is not the reward. It is not the medal that makes the runner happy. The reward is the peaceful feeling of having conquered the fear.