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.