Extinction


The long orange strip unfurled from the small roll at the end and then snaked across the entire wall. It changed colour from deep to light orange before morphing into a green strip and finally ending with a tiny four-inch blue coloured block at the end.

I was looking at a timeline representation of the start of life on earth, about three and a half billion years ago, culminating with the appearance of us humans two hundred thousand years back. That blue-coloured block highlighted the minuscule period ( around 0.006% of total )  that we humans have existed on mother earth as compared to all life.

Each loop represents approx. 0.5 billion years; the final 0.5 billion years is expanded to show more detail.

I was at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History on a recent visit to Washington DC. Though the museum carries the same name as the more well-known American Museum of Natural History in New York, I was finding the format and the presentation refreshingly different.

As I looked at the representation, I was intrigued to see the periods of mass extinction that have taken place in the planet’s living history. There seem to have occurred around five major extinction events since earth cradled life. These were when between fifty to ninety-five percent of all living species died out. I got particularly interested in two such events.

The first was the one that led to the demise of the dinosaurs. I sat watching a video of what might have happened sixty-six million years back when the age of the dinosaurs ended. A large meteor comes hurtling from outer space and hits earth in the Mexican coastal region. The impact kills all life on land and sea for thousands of kilometers all around, its explosive power equivalent to billions of atomic bombs going off at the same time. And as if that is not enough, giant tsunamis and billions of tons of vaporized asteroid and terrestrial debris spew up into the atmosphere, envelop the earth and block out sunlight for years. Photosynthesis all over the world gets seriously impeded and the global climate alters leading to large-scale death of flora and subsequently the herbivores and carnivores going up the food chain.

It is estimated that three-quarters of all life on earth perished during what is today known as the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. But the event also led to an interesting development. The age of the mammals commenced. Being smaller in size and with less need for sustenance, the surviving mammals who had existed on the peripheries during the dinosaur age got the planet to themselves and started flourishing. The evolutionary path over several subsequent million years took the necessary steps toward modern humans with the ability to walk on two legs.

Writes Rick Potts, the Director of Smithsonian Institute’s Human Origins Program, “East Africa was a setting in foment—one conducive to migrations across Africa during the period when Homo sapiens arose. It seems to have been an ideal setting for the mixing of genes from migrating populations widely spread across the continent. The implication is that the human genome arose in Africa. Everyone is African, and yet not from any one part of Africa.”

The second extinction event that intrigued me was the one in which the human species more or less vanished around seventy thousand years ago. Estimates range from a few hundred to a thousand humans who remained to fend for themselves in a dangerous world. The event is generally linked to a super volcanic eruption named Toba which went off in Indonesia and spewed a colossal amount of ash, debris and vapour into the atmosphere. The Sun got dimmed for years disrupting seasons, choking rivers and killing all vegetation in large parts of the planet.

Says Science writer Sam Kean, “There’s in fact evidence that the average temperature dropped 20-plus degrees in some spots,” after which the great grassy plains of Africa may have shrunk way back, keeping the small bands of humans small and hungry for hundreds, if not thousands of more years.So we almost vanished.”

As I continued to look at that unfurling orange strip and read about the extinction events, I found it indeed amazing how the present world stands dwarfed by close to eight billion of us humans. Even though our footprint remains that tiny blue coloured four-inch block on the timeline representation of life. The probability numbers about a meteor hitting or a super volcano erupting remain minuscule and clearly in our favour because of our small timeline footprint. But within that insignificant (fleeting?) footprint, we have managed to subjugate every other species, harnessing both flora and fauna to our needs. We have mastered science and technology in wondrous ways, improving our lot in every way conceivable. Be it food, be it energy, be it resources, be it our understanding of the Universe.  

But could it be that we are willy nilly walking on the extinction pathway of our own making? Stemming from our sheer numbers and our continued actions to reorder and realign nature to our own needs. Vulnerability to increased incidences of diseases and viruses. Vulnerability to our own selves as we fight for scarce resources. Vulnerability from the very technology which we believe we have harnessed.

Scientists and environmentalists are raising the alarm that we may be already at the extinction tipping point arising from global warming and climate change. A tipping point that might lead to the mass extinction of more than half of humanity with the collapse of social, political and economic structures. Once the tipping point is breached, the world could witness accelerating global warming and climate change with no way to control. Simulation studies point to an overall ecological disaster and collapse leading to the mass extinction of a large number of flora and fauna species; more than a million species are on track to go extinct in the coming decades. Would this be Judgment Day for Humanity and its cradle planet?

It seems to me that we have been plain lucky. There really is no certainty of our continuing the domination of the world beyond the so very tiny and fleeting ‘blue block four-inch’ period that we have done so. If our luck was to change, we might just have an epitaph written about us by someone in the distant future. Like the way we have written one about the dinosaurs.

Standing there I was left wondering whether we are creating the right luck for us.

Man who gave you life, man who gave you home
Man who gave you all you desire?
All you do is blight, all you do is waste
Don’t you see the ash of your fire?
Our mother’s crying, our mother’s dying
Our mother’s cancer is true
Mother we belied, mother we defiled
May your human child’s end be good for you

  by Oversense

In Musing………….                   Shakti Ghosal

Absence made Visible


The water cascaded down the black granite sides, flowing as rivulets before disappearing into the small squarish void in the center. As I looked at the flowing water, juxtaposed feelings pulled in different directions. A feeling of melancholy and sadness about the flow of our lives which was perhaps never to return. But also a feeling of peace and acceptance, an emotional cleansing about all that was not right, maybe would never be right.

From the corner of my eyes, I could see the Oculus, that majestic steel ribbed white wings about to soar up into the skies. The reflections on the nearby glass towers seemed to be heralding a brighter, more vibrant tomorrow. A tomorrow in which peace and acceptance might run the winning lap.

I was at the site of the two World Trade Center towers in Manhattan which had gone down in the September eleventh attack more than two decades back. The black granite square pools with flowing, falling water had been built as memorials to that event. The Oculus served as the integrated transportation hub built for the Path and Subway trains.

Oculus Transportation hub at the World Trade Center complex

As I stood there in contemplation, the place was a tranquil and serene island in the midst of high energy Manhattan life. Did the flowing water suggest a life force embryo just below the surface? That somehow brought into our thoughts those who had perished in the attack, their names etched on the sides serving as the only reminder? Or was it that the simplicity of the slow cascades into the void which could never be filled (as per the memorial architect Michael Arad) allowed their ‘absence (from our living world) to be made visible’?

**

My memory went back to that day decades ago.

 It was evening. I was in the office and had called a colleague to discuss an operational issue when he excitedly mentioned about a disaster in which an aircraft had crashed into one of the World Trade Center (WTC) towers in New York. We spoke about the incident for a couple of minutes and wondered about the low probability of an aircraft crashing into a building.

Returning home after office, I switched on the TV only to see the news headlines flashing all over, ‘AMERICA UNDER ATTACK!’ In the interim, a second aircraft also carrying passengers had slammed into a second WTC tower. Burning from the aviation fuel of the colliding aircrafts, both the towers collapsed. A third aircraft had crashed into Pentagon, the US Defence headquarters in Washington DC. Due to the time zone difference, what was evening for me was really morning hours on the US Eastern seaboard where the attacks were taking place. Close to three thousand people died in the attacks.

What seemed at that point in time a senseless act of violence led to a fundamental shift in the way US saw the world and how its foreign policy would come to be defined. Over the next two decades, US would engage in conflicts aimed at crushing terrorism in various parts of the globe. From demolishing Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan to the Iraq invasion and removal of Saddam Hussein to confronting the self-styled Islamic State in Syria.

I think of our world today. The actors have changed, the issues have shifted but the conflicts remain.

**

A couple of days back, I heard the tragic news of the Texas shooting in which a teenager Salvador Ramos armed with a gun entered an elementary school and senselessly shot and killed nineteen children and two adults. The carnage was a deadly reminder that even the world’s most powerful nation is unable to protect its children in their innocence.

My granddaughter has been going to a play school. She loves going there. For us, the school is a safe haven that nurtures. I agonise when I think of what might be passing through the minds of the parents and grandparents of those children whose lives were so brutally snuffed out even before they got the chance to blossom. Like me they too would have had complete faith in the safety and security of their child in school.

I muse. What is that which leads to some folks inflicting injury and death on others? I sense that this arises from an extreme psychologically aberrant mindset. A mindset which shifts into viciousness from its inability to accept ‘we versus they’ differences. So it was with Osama Bin Laden, so it is with Salvador Ramos.

An all-powerful state like the US does possess the weapons and technology to wage war against the enemy without.

But does it possess the conviction and resolve to change the mindset of the enemy within?

In learning………                                                    Shakti Ghosal

The Fault in our times


Do the following look familiar to you? Do they apply to you?

  • Are you living an E- Life, is your life made up of bits and bytes, black and white?
  • Are you perennially rushed, shortchanging your grasp of a situation as you celebrate breadth instead of depth?
  • As you face a situation, do you see yourself reactively ‘firing from the hip’ rather than standing aside and reflecting deeply?
  • In a fast-changing world, are you racing through your days without the clarity of who you really want to be and where you really want to go?
  • With relentless demands at work and home, are you becoming short tempered and easily distracted?
  • Are you so wired up that you are melting down?

Equipped with day planners, to-do lists, smartphones and laptops, we pride ourselves as efficient time managers as we hold the intention to multi-task and optimize our productivity on a 24 X 7 basis. What is that which stops us from bringing sufficient energy into all that we are doing, why is it that we fail in so many of our well-intentioned endeavours?

Have you wished you had more time and the wherewithal to do things better? But is it the paucity of time………. or is it something else?

There is a significantly different element, not time, which is the fundamental currency of performance and effectiveness.

http://www.empathinko.in

Do homes speak?


“Hello!”

Jaya heard the voice but remained with her thoughts.

“Hello there”, the voice wafted in again.

Jaya looked around but failed to determine the source.

“Who is this?” she murmured.

“I am, or rather was, your home”.

“Do homes speak?’ Jaya asked with some incredulity.

“Yes they do, but in a different way. Who else brings the endless reservoir of peace and comfort into the lives of its occupants? Like I did for you”.

Excerpt from the story ‘Faultlines’.

Book of the Month, Nazm -e- Hayat literary award winner.

www.shaktighosal.com

Mahalaya


It was a few days back.

Just before five in the morning. I put on the FM channel and the so very familiar words wafted around the room, quickly overpowering the low hum of the air conditioner sound.

That ethereal sound of the conch shell interspersed with the chorus.

Ayi Giri-Nandini Nandita-Medini Vishva-Vinodini Nandi-Nute
Giri-Vara-Vindhya-Shiro-[A]dhi-Nivaasini Vissnnu-Vilaasini Jissnnu-Nute

(Salutations to You O Divine Mother, I Invoke You; Who is the daughter of the Mountain; By Whose presence the whole World is filled with Joy; For Whom the whole World is a Divine Play and Who is Praised by Nandi,
I Invoke You O Devi Who Dwell on the Summit of the Vindhyas, the Best of the Mountains; Who give Joy to Lord Vishnu as His sister ….)

That once a year rendition in the voice of Biren Krishna Bhadra.

Aswiner sarada prate beje utheche alokomonjir,

Dharanir bohirakashi ontorhito meghomala

(In the month of Aswin, amidst the meanderings of autumn, resounds the light of the sun like anklets

As the clouds disappear from the skies above the world)

Listening to that Chandi path chants and the music in a half asleep, half wakeful state, has always been an intensely personal and endearing experience since my childhood.

I recall my father putting on the All India Radio station at dawn all those decades back, as we all huddled back under the blankets to sleep-awake through Mahishasur Mardini during those wonderful autumn laced mornings with that slight nip in the air. I have tried to continue that tradition.

This year as I lay on my bed listening to Mahishasur Mardini, I saw in my mind’s eye folks who had been part of me since childhood. My father, my father-in-law, other family members, friends. They were standing in two rows and smiling at me. I could sense the love and the warmth seep towards me through the smiles. I luxuriated in the enveloping feeling and closed my eyes. I woke up to find that it was but a dream. Al those who I saw looking and smiling at me were no longer part of my life today, having left for their heavenly abode.

Mahalaya is the day of making offerings to our departed forefathers. According to the Puranas, our patriarchal generations come closer to the living world at this time and this is when they need to be remembered and thanked in our prayers.

Did my dream have anything to do about my remembrance of all the departed souls and them reciprocating back?

In musing……

Shakti Ghosal

The story of the Blue and Red Pill


The Pandemic has been with us now for more than one and a half years. A virulent new strain, the Delta variant, is the new weapon unleashed by the wily COVID 19 virus to negate all that the vaccines have been doing. Conspiracy theories abound. We look on helplessly through a tunnel with no apparent light visible at the other end yet.

The West and its much vaunted ideal of human freedom is on the backfoot. As US retreats, Afghanistan has once again proved to be the graveyard of Empires- earlier the British, then the USSR and now Pax Americana. The swiftness of the Taliban takeover has been shocking as they begin the task of taking the country back into the medieval ages.

More than 600 people inside a C 17 aircraft fleeing Kabul on the Indian Independence Day 15th Aug. 2021

Almost two decades back, US President Bush had declared, “Engendering democracy across the Middle East ‘must be a focus of American policy’ for decades to come”. Today democracy is sputtering like a flame about to go out, with the failure of the much-vaunted Arab Spring and the Middle East in a far worse situation than previously.

We are into an irreversible global warming era, possibly the most serious climate crisis faced by Mankind. July 2021 was the hottest month ever recorded on the planet. An extreme heat wave in Canada at a searing high of 49.6 deg. C. was a one-thousand-year weather event. Floods ripped through geographically distant countries like Germany and China. Drought stalked others. It is now being widely claimed in scientific circles that the Arctic would soon be devoid of ice with the resultant rise of sea water levels and low-lying areas going under.

The above are glimpses of a frightening and dystopian future we are headed into.

Now here is the other story.

In the last month alone, one billion people have been vaccinated against COVID 19. By the end of this year more than half the people on the planet would have received the vaccine. Truly a stupendous achievement in terms of swiftness of response and effectiveness.

The COVID-19 crisis has led to a veritable explosion of scientific progress in the tinkering of genetic information flow and the formulation of proteins, the ultimate nano machines. Trials are currently being done for protein-based vaccines for diseases ranging from Cancer to HIV.

As we speak, electricity generation from the clean sources of solar, wind, hydro and nuclear has outstripped that from ‘dirty’ coal.  Closer home in India, the wind and solar generating capacity has exceeded the milestone of 100GW output. In more and more countries, low carbon economy valuations are rising rapidly. The reason is economic. The average cost of power generation from clean sources is now half that from fossil fuels.

As investors spot a rising opportunity, more money is getting committed to climate investment funds in a day than used to be raised in years a short time back. Three weeks ago, two global asset managers, TPG and Brookfield, closed a combined $12.4 billion in climate investment funds.

Reforestation and conservation funding is taking place in countries as disparate as Indonesia and Bolivia who are supporting equatorial rain forests to United states and Canada who are focusing on wetlands, grasslands and coastal areas and the regeneration of flora and fauna therein.

These are but a few stories of a Utopian future we seem to be headed into.

So which future, whether the Dystopian or the Utopian, would come true?

As Morpheus says to Neo in the Matrix:

 “……This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you…. believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill……. and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more….”

Is our future really like the story of the blue and red pills and the need for us to make a choice of the path?

Or could it be that there is no choice after all? The two futures, dystopian and utopian, would always exist together, like the two sides of a coin. It would all come down to our world view and the context lens we choose to use. If our context was one of dystopia, we would see signals of collapse in every situation we look at. Similarly, if we were to deploy our utopian context, we would notice the signals of renewal and hope all around.

Our story, the shared and evolving narrative that it is, would always contain both dystopia and utopia, both collapse and renewal. It would depend on us which context lens we choose to deploy, which future we would wish to live into.

“What we do makes a difference, and we have to decide what kind of a difference we want to make.” Jane Goodall, English Primatologist & Anthropologist

Acknowledgement: The above piece is inspired by ‘Collapse, Renewal and Rope of History’ written by Angus Hervey, Future Crunch Journal, Aug. 24th 2021

In Learning

Shakti Ghosal

The 3 Laws of Performance


I had recently spoken about the 3 Laws of performance on the E- Bookery platform.

Are you willing to rewrite the future of your organization and Life? Watch this 30 minutes video to get a blueprint for achieving performance breakthroughs.

How can you shift from being disengaged to being proactive, from being resigned to become inspired, from being frustrated to becoming innovative?

http://www.empathinko.in

#shaktighosal #leadershipdevelopment #leadershipandperformance #performancelaws #leadershipcoaching #leadershiptraining #mentoring

The Tyranny of Merit : A Reflection


I am sharing here a somewhat longish video on Youtube.

Loved the extremely thought provoking and insightful conversation between Prof. Michael Sandel, author of ‘Tyranny of Merit’ and Yuval Noah Harari, author of best seller ‘Sapiens’.

The conversation covers the following aspects:

  • What is behind the recent phenomena of the spread of authoritarian popularism and the rise of authoritarian hyper-nationalists?
  • What has led to the increasing divide between Winners and Losers and the rising socio-economic inequality over the last four decades of Globalisation?
  • The increasing support for Meritocracy has a dark side. The strain between the hubris amongst Winners versus the resentment amongst those left behind. Unfortunately, the created Inequality of Income and Wealth has in fact led to a much serious issue of inequality of Honour and Esteem. What could be a way forward to decouple this strain?
  • The study of History has been such that we can very accurately explain WHAT happened but not WHY that something happened.
  • The urgent need to reconceive and reimagine the mission of social democratic politics of today.
  • The increasing obsolescence of the classical Nation State model due to the easy movement of Capital, Technology and Labour across the globe. What could be done to prevent the collapse of Nationalism in its true sense?

My Sensemaking:

If one were to accept the core premise of the conversation, it would imply that Meritocracy, which dictates that a few succeed and the balance fail, is not compatible with democracy which is about majority decision making.

A more worrying aspect seems to be loss of political space by left of center parties who have been espousing the cause of the masses but have supported the meritocracy structure in their socio-economic decisions.

In Learning………….

Shakti Ghosal

My Crucible moment and self-reflection


I was in a meeting with my new Chairman. I was passionately elucidating my future plans for the business.

The Chairman looked at me, made a sign of smallness with his fingers and said, “Your businesses generate too small a revenue!”. The stress was on the smallness, the inconsequence of all that I and my businesses were doing.

Stumbling out of the meeting, I was in a daze. To be told by your boss that all your efforts and dreams, all that you stood for, did not matter in the larger scheme of things, was devastating.

As I look back at that crucible moment, I can see how it changed the trajectory of my life thereon.

For days afterward, I was pummeled down by negative thoughts and low self-esteem. I swung between anxiety, anger and bitterness. 

The way it occurred to me, there were all these guys, less qualified and with less competence, who were being acknowledged because they seemed to be ‘at the right place at the right time.’

I felt small. I hadn’t done anything wrong to deserve what I had heard. From that one conversation, I seemed to have lost a significant part of myself, opening up hitherto un-noticed doors to self-doubt and self-flagellation.

But then a thought came to me, ‘Had I done enough right?’

I unburdened myself by speaking about the incident and my thoughts to my wife and a couple of trusted workplace colleagues. I felt less like an idiot when I shared what I learned from screwing up. This helped me to move beyond the dark side of my self-doubt and low self-esteem.

The incident supported me to work on that crucible moment question, “Had I done enough right?” It taught me the practice of Self Reflection. It is this that opened up for me new possibilities and opportunities of growth.

In his Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly bestseller, ‘The Blueprint: 6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights’, author Doug Conant speaks of his own journey of self-reflection and discovery that revolutionized his leadership and transformed his career trajectory.

Doug condenses his remarkable leadership story into six practical steps.

  • Reach High – Envision
  • Dig Deep – Reflect
  • Lay the Groundwork – Study
  • Design – Plan
  • Build – Practice
  • Reinforce – Improve 

In today’s world of uncertainty and disruption which can leave us stuck and overwhelmed, the above six steps have the potential to lift our leadership and performance to heights that would bring us career success, joy and fulfillment.

In Learning……….

Shakti Ghosal

http://www.empathinko.in

#shaktighosal #leadershipdevelopment #performancecoaching

Musings on a Father’s Day….


My Dad and me

Yesterday, my daughters arranged for an all-Italian supper of pasta and Pizza with garlic bread for their Baba. As I was washing down all that great food with a glass of coke I felt so blessed.

In my younger days, we neither had the awareness nor the luxury of such DAYS to acknowledge our loved ones. The only days I recall celebrating were Birthdays and the occasional special anniversary (the tenth, the twenty fifth etc.). Those were simpler times……

Times change. The bond, the love, that heavenly security in one’s father’s arms remain. This is how the feelings, the thoughts, the conviction to take one’s rightful place on the world stage flow down from one generation to the next.

My father Late Debabrata Ghosal gave wings to my creative imagination since childhood. He inculcated the ‘can do’ mindset in me. Decades after he has left my side, I continue to sense his guiding compass when confronted by life’s situations.

Though I too held my daughters in the same manner that Bapi held me decades earlier, have I been able to pass on the right values and mindset onto them? I suppose only time will remain a witness to that ……

Riya and me

Piya and me

In Learning………..

http://www.shaktighosal.com

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