The Master Within


In one of the Toastmasters event, we had DTM Nagaraja Rao, a very experienced Toastmaster, who was speaking about mentors and how mentors help in the learning and growth of a mentee. Explaining one point about learning, he spoke about a well known story from Mahabharata, that of Eklavya and Dronacharya.

Eklavya was a tribal boy who wanted to learn archery from Guru Dronacharya.  But Dronacharya had certain limitations and was not able to take Eklavya as his disciple. Eklavya, as the story goes, made a statue of Drona and kept practicing before it. In course of time, he became a very accomplished archer, even better than Arjuna, the favourite disciple of Drona.

Then he asked us a question. How is it possible that Eklavya, who did not learn directly from his guru, learn archery? The audience could not give any satisfactory answer to this question. Finally, Nagaraja said, as per the story, Eklavya used to practice in front of the statue of Drona. Whenever he faced any difficulty in mastering a particular technique, he would come to the statue, present his problem and seek help. Then he would meditate on it and in his meditation, he used to get the answer to his question.

Nagaraja concluded that it is the same for us as well. The guru or master is always within us. We just need to know that, ask the right question and listen intently. Then the answer will come from within. Meditation is the gateway to the region beyond your consciousness

Book Review - Writing with Style - Sue Young

It looks like it has become some kind of ritual for me that anytime I visit home (Bhubaneswar), I read some books. But this July, when I visited Bhubaneswar just for a day, I was not interested to read any book. I wanted to finish the work that I had and then spend the remaining time with family.

It was past midnight when I retired to bed after a huge dinner with my cousins. My return train was at 8.30 am in the morning. So, I planned to take some rest and wake up early morning to get ready for the return journey. It was around 3.30 am that I woke up. However much I tried to sleep, I could not. So, I looked here and there and my eyes went to the book shelf. Lying there in piles were many interesting books, mostly fat novels, non-fiction and one of the first self help book compiled by Readers Digest that I  had read some 30 years ago. Picking up a fat book was not exciting as I knew I would not be able to finish it completely. So, I searched for a smaller book, something that I could devour in a few hours. That is when I saw this book. It was a thin book. It was about writing in English. This is a subject which I like as I write a lot and am trying to improve my writing. Hence, I picked it up. It was just 140 pages. My first thought was that I could not finish it in a couple of hours. Then when I looked at the pages, I found that it was printed in large type face. I guessed that it could be for high school students. Nonetheless, I was happy with the prospect of being able to wrap it up in a few hours.

The Author, Sue Young, has written an excellent and concise book for young adults. It covers all that is required to know for a high school or college student about writing reports, essays, prose, short stories and even plays.

She introduced the concept of 4Ps of writing. Planning, Production, Polishing and Presentation. I simply loved it because though I write pretty much, but I had never thought about writing in such a systematic and structured way.

In the chapter on planning, she talks about how to plan before starting to write. It is about collecting books and other materials needed to write, being in a distraction free place, jotting down main ideas, making an outline, or a Venn diagram, and then proceeding to write.

The next step is Production. This is the core of the writing. Here she talks about how to write different types of reports, essay, story, plays, poems etc. She also tells us how to get the maximum from the English language through usage of thesaurus, usage of style elements, alliteration, words having meaning of sound, etc.

Then she describes the Polishing, where she discusses about grammatically correct usage, popular wrong usages etc. She has advised one thing which should be in the arsenal of all writers. It is reviewing your work, checking for grammar, organization of ideas and re-writing stuff that you feel is not up to mark. I remember someone told similar thing about speech writing. A good speech is never written, it is always rewritten.

Finally in the Presentation phase, she tells about how to proofread the final version, create a hard copy, and whether to hand write or to type it, when to bind it etc.

I realized that though this must have been written some time back, most of the ideas and suggestions are still valid. It was an eye-opener for me that writing could be so systematic. I would recommend this book to all aspiring writers. Having read this, I now know how much I do not know and hence have to read many more books on how to develop a good writing style.

P. S: I was wondering sometime back that I should get a mentor for me who can help me with developing my writing style. Now, Sue Young, is probably the mentor that Universe presented to me. I am grateful to her for opening my eyes.

Shriram Properties Bangalore Marathon - 2016

Runners are mysterious creatures. How else would you explain someone endure the all pain during the training, then travel long distance sometimes even to god forsaken places like Antarctica, and finally endure even more pain during the run? And the madness does not stop there. Even if they are injured, even if they feel they are under prepared, even if they do not meet their targets, time and again, they are back on the track, running the loops, chasing another imaginary goal, getting exhausted, getting exhilarated and getting excited about running!

With the above introduction about running madness, it is now not difficult for me to accept the fact that I also travelled out of Hyderabad, for the first time ever, just to run in an event. This was the Shriram Properties Bangalore Marathon, which was held on 16th Oct 2016.

It is true for all marathon runners that as soon as you finish one race, you start itching for the next one. On 28th August, I finished the Airtel Hyderabad half marathon and I started thinking of my next race. On 1st Sep, I registered for the Bangalore Marathon. Friends told me that unlike the Hyderabad Marathon route which has lots of elevation, Bangalore Marathon route was quite flat. I hoped, I would be able to do my PB (personal best). So, that was one of the attraction of going to Bangalore.

My training had tapered a lot after the Hyderabad marathon. I had taken couple of weeks off running and when I started, it was just a maintenance run of 5 kilometers for 3-4 days a week and a longer Sunday run of 10-15 kms. I did not do any strength or cross training at all.

The travel to Bangalore was via train. I started on 14th Oct, Friday evening. My wife and daughter also joined me. During the journey, I was not able to sleep properly in the night. So, by the time I woke up in the morning, my body was quite sore. My cousin came to pick us up from the Bangalore Cantonment station. We went to his home. I took bath and gorged on a sumptuous breakfast. Then, I went to the kanteerava stadium to collect the bib and came back at lunch time. Post a heavy lunch of biriyani, chicken and seer fish fry, I had difficulty keeping my eyes open. So, I took rest for about an hour.

In the afternoon, we went to another cousin’s place at Whitefield. I wanted to take rest. But they insisted to go out somewhere. So, in the evening we went out on a ride. On the way we had street food - panipuri, momos etc. The dinner was again a gigantic affair at a restaurant – Ji Hujoor. It was a buffet dinner and again I could not resist gorging myself on the spread over there.

By the time we came back home, it was midnight. The plan was to wake up at 3:00am, go by a car pool with another runner, Vaibhav who stayed nearby with whom my cousin had connected me.

Started from Whitefield along with Vaibhav around 4:00am and reached the venue around 4:40am. We went to the baggage drop area and found few of the runners from our colony. There were Madhuri, Neeti, Himanshu and Abhishek. We did some warm up and then proceeded to enter the stadium. The crowd was huge!! I was told some 8000-9000 folks registered for the half! Since the run started from inside the stadium, and the entry being quite narrow, it took at least 10 minutes for me to get to the start point.  By the time I reached the start point, we were all dispersed and I was alone.

The goal was to try to finish below 2:23. The only strategy was that I will not walk till the first 10 km. Later, if I felt like walking, I will do so only on uphill. The weather was cool and I started running slowly. I thought I will pick up pace after 5k or so. I finished 5k in about 33 minutes. My plan was to increase speed between 5 to 10 k so as to do 10k in 65 minutes. But somehow, I was not able to push myself fast. By around 8k, it was clear that I will not be able to do 10k in 65min. I did that in about 68 minutes. My goal of doing PB of 2:22 seemed difficult.

I pushed along. Somewhere around 12k, I saw a runner lying on the road surrounded by few support folks. Then I saw an ambulance blaring its horns coming along to pick that person up. A little shiver went up my spine. I thought that the sport that I am indulging in could also be fatal. I slowed down a bit.

After about 14k, I saw Venkatraman Pichumani of you too can run. I came up to him, wished good morning and started small talk with him. We ran almost 3-4km together. He is now almost 60 and had undergone a cardiac bypass surgery in 2003 (if I remember right). After that he has been running a marathon every year. He has been a successful entrepreneur and created and sold many BPO enterprises. Now, he focuses on running which is his passion. He has a company, you too can run which organizes running events, seminars and he also coaches other people on running. He has also written a book called “Sofa to 5k”. This is available on his website at a nominal cost of Rs 100. He told me that I should start strength training if I want to increase my speed. My sagging spirit was uplifted with this conversation. But by that time I realized that I was slowing down. I had lost almost 3 minutes in those 4 km. So, I told good bye to him and picked up my pace to see if I could at least beat my Airtel Hyderabad timing.

I could finish the 18th kilometer faster. But again on the 19th kilometer, I could feel the cramp coming in my left leg. Remembering what happened to my legs in Hyderabad marathon, I slowed down. I did not push myself. I finished the run in 2:27:45 seconds. Post run breakfast was very good. I returned back happy and exhilarated.

I could not push myself fast in this run. I think it is because of inadequate rest. The lesson learnt is that it is advisable to take more rest before the run. I would have slept 9 hours in all in the 48 hours prior to the run.   I should go to bed by 9:00PM and try to get at least 6 hours of sleep on the night before the run. Also I should limit the errands on the day prior to the run.

This run was my first run outside of Hyderabad. I have a dream now which is to run in a marathon/half marathon event in as many states of India as possible. I do not have a time limit for that. Will take it as it comes. And I will blog about it.

Happy running, happy blogging and happy reading!

RISE - Toastmaster Values

If you have been following my blog or know me personally, you would know that I am a member of Toastmasters Club. This is an article that I wrote for the Toastmasters District 98 newletter, Communicate 98.  It was published in the September 2016 edition. Here is my unedited version. 

RISE - Toastmasters Values

With Mohammed Qahtani - WCPS 2015

The Toastmasters values encapsulated beautifully in the acronym, RISE, are the guiding lights in our Toastmasters journey. 

  • R is for Respect.
  • I  is for Integrity. 
  • S is for Service. 
  • E is for Excellence.

It is essential for a Toastmaster to  understand these 4 simple words fully and act as per them. Here is a simple way how you can live these values in a regular Toastmasters meeting.

Respect: In your club, the caliber of members, the economic, social and educational background may be vastly different. If we do not respect our members as individuals despite the differences in culture, status, caliber and position in life, we cannot provide a conducive learning environment. It will not help our growth as a club or as a leader. Hence, Respect is very important. Greet everyone cheerfully and treat everyone with respect.

Integrity is doing what you say you will do. In simple words, it means keeping your promises. In your club, if you have agreed to deliver a speech or take up a meeting role, do not, as far as possible, back out in the last minute. Keep your promise.
Toastmasters is based on Honor system. There is no pass or fail. There is no examination. There is no Toastmaster police. Everything is trust based. Therefore, integrity is of paramount importance.

Service: In a Toastmasters club, no one is paid to do anything. Volunteer service to members is the backbone of a club. This is what makes you grow as a person, helps fellow members grow and helps our clubs prosper. Take every opportunity to serve your club in a meeting. Be it helping in room arrangements or logistics or mentoring or giving feedback to a member, be of service to others.

Excellence: Finally, we try to achieve excellence in whatever we do in our meetings be it giving speeches, organizing the meeting and other events, or mentoring and helping others. Aristotle said - we are what we do repeatedly. Excellence is thus a habit. Keep giving your speeches, taking roles and attending meetings regularly and repeatedly. Once this becomes a habit, excellence in all that you do is not far away.

Let's pledge to RISE to the occasion in every single meeting so that we can shine in life.

Visit to Holy Mary Degree College


It was a Saturday. Vikram Chandra from Secunderabad Toastmasters, who was the Offline Outreach Chair for Master Orator Championship, reached out to me to visit a local college to promote the event. Master Orator Championship was an event conducted by the Toastmasters of Hyderabad to promote public speaking among college students.

Holy Mary Degree College is located bang on the main road leading from JNTU to Hitec city. I had noticed this college several times in the past and wondered that it would be a great location for a Toastmasters club. So, it made sense for me to visit the college and get introduced.

As I reached the college gate, it was a very different feeling for me. I had never been into any sales job. So, going somewhere and doing a cold calling, and that was exactly what I was going to do, was not my cup of tea. On one hand, I thought I may make a fool of myself as no one would entertain me. On the other hand, I was thinking that I had nothing to lose. Even if they turned me away, I will gain the experience of getting rejected!

With these thoughts, I marched in and was soon stopped by an old man who seemed to be the watchman of the place. I told him that I have to go to the office and he allowed me. Inside the building, I found several rooms with their doors locked. One door was ajar and there sat a lady, doing some paperwork. I met her and told her about Toastmasters. Then I handed over the 2 paper pamphlets that I was carrying. She checked it out and asked me if I would like to meet the director. I did not expect that in my wildest of dreams. But why not? I remembered a key phrase from Ed Tate, a world champion of public speaking...

 "If not here, then where? If not now, then when? If not you, then who?" 

With these thoughts, I said yes, I would love to meet him. She asked me to wait and in sometime she asked me to go to the director's office. Contrary to my expectations, Mr Srinivas, the director was a young man. I introduced myself and appraised him of my intention of coming there. After listening to me patiently, he asked me if I would like to speak with the students in their class room?

Again, why not? If not now, then....
So, he took me to a class room in the first floor. It was the class room for the BBA students. There were about 25 students and a teacher. He introduced me and gave the floor to me. It was an extended table topics for me. I gave a quick introduction of myself and explained about Toastmasters. I told them the what and how of Toastmasters, how clubs operate and how they help in building communication and leadership skills. I told them the importance of communication skills in the job market and professional life. Then I briefed them about the contest that we were organizing and asked them to register for it. I spelled out the benefits for them from the contest and the formalities required to register for the same.
With that I opened the floor for questions and answers. Couple of folks asked questions regarding venue, topic etc. I answered them and finally thanked the students and their teachers and then left the class room.

I met with the director again before leaving the college and thanked him as well.

Life throws unexpected things - things that you sometimes dread and things that you some time enjoy. As they say, if you believe that the universe will present the best of opportunity to you, it somehow materializes!! But, as someone said, luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Universe will give you an opportunity. But only if you have the right preparation, so you can convert that opportunity to be a lucky one!! 

5 Tips for a Great Blog

Blogging Rules

I am by no means a great blogger. There are national and international professionals in blogging. I am just an amateur who likes to dabble in this for fun.  Since I have been blogging for quite some time, I have read many blogs of various genres and here are some of my thoughts on how to have a better blog

1.  Language is the prime tool in a bloggers kit - absolutely unpardonable if it is not robust. Good language, as per me, does not mean usage of heavy words, complex sentence structure and a bizarrely woven plot; but it is one with small, simple sentences, correct spelling, and grammar. I see spelling mistakes in posts of many amateur bloggers. I am sure they are typos which could be rectified with a review. 

2.   Alignment of posts makes the presentation look much professional. Try to experiment with different alignments and figure out which suits your blog. I prefer a justified alignment.

3.   Giving a double line space between paragraphs in the article is a good idea. It helps the reader navigate through your article easily and understand the transition between various ideas.

The root cause for all the three ills mentioned above, seems to me, is that amateur bloggers probably start writing directly on the blogger editor. Also they do their edits there itself. A simpler idea would be to use something like MS Word to draft, edit, re-edit and polish the article, do a spell and grammar check, do proper alignment, and them post it in the blogger. Professionals use software like scrivener. But for mortals like us, Bill Gates’ product is good enough.

4.   Before you tell anyone anything, there is one story that you need to tell them all. Unless you clarify that question in others mind, no one is really going to listen to whatever you say, or in your case, read and believe whatever you blog. That question is "Who am I". Hence, I suggest you should have a nice description of yourself and your world in the About Me/ Profile section. This will help readers to form an image and connection to you.

5. You may also consider adding some social media widgets on your page. Blogger provides many such options as Google+, facebook, twitter  - widgets and many other funky ones as well. I personally prefer a minimalistic approach. But again it depends on what the purpose of your blog is and what is your adopted method to achieve the goal. I guess that would be a good blog post by itself.

Hope my ramblings have not irritated you. Do give your feedback on the comment section.