An Equal Music….


“…….no noise nor silence, but one equal music; 
no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; 
no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity….”

                                           
   – John Donne, English Poet and Preacher, 17th Century

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My earliest memories of Shanti kaku is of him slowly limping back home with a bag carrying some basic groceries.

 Since the time I could remember Shanti kaku had always been around, doing odd errands for all and sundry. He was the youngest of seven surviving children of my paternal grand parents. It was rumoured that his birth had been complicated because of a forceps delivery process gone horribly wrong. It led to him coming into the world challenged, both mentally and physically.

 Shanti kaku survived. Only to suffer the ignominy and arrows of being unequal, different, even retarded. I have sometimes wondered how this unfortunate uncle of mine made peace with these demons. Or did he really need to? Could it just be that what he saw of the world and people around him was normal to him, what he had experienced from the time he could remember? Without the consciousness of ‘what could have been’, he had nothing to compare his experience with, nothing to feel bad about.

  All the other aunts and uncles went to school, some then to college. My grand parents tried to send Shanti kaku to school but faced rejection. Not having the benefit of psychiatric support nor any special needs school in those days, there remained no other option but for Shanti kaku to  continue  his frugal education at home. Sitting, lying beside his mother, listening to her relating the grand tales of Ramayana and Mahabharata.

 Slowly but surely, Shanti kaku started to fathom what my grandmother really wanted. In his own special way, in a way quite different from his siblings who were growing up with their own dreams and destinies. He instinctively knew that what his mother desired, beyond most things, was to see him happy. Was this a primal connection driven back to the womb?

Time passed and brought change, as it inevitably does. Change in the situation of my father and the “normal” aunts and uncles who settled down into their own lives and families. Change in the feelings and attitude towards their youngest sibling which shifted from being “different” to being a “burden.” Come to think of it, burden is such an interesting word. A word loaded with different meanings allowing the user to at once demean the other person and highlight one’s own inability towards taking responsibility. What remained changeless was Shanti kaku’s situation and his connection to my grandmother. Shanti kaku remained what he was, where he was. As he continued to do the menial chores which he was asked to.

 It was my final school leaving year. In fact, it was during my Board examinations when my Grandmother, then in her eighties and staying with us, became seriously ill, destined not to recover. For sometime her health had been failing, that time honoured twinkle in her eyes fading. But as she lay dying, one could but hardly avoid noticing how she held on and lingered as her last remaining purpose in life, that “different” child, sat beside her.

 After all these decades, I can still recall that early morning when my grandmother passed away. Amongst all the sound of preparations to take the body for cremation and folks coming to pay their last respects, there remained that low pitched moan from the room of the deceased. It emanated from Shanti kaku as he alone held onto his mother’s hand.

It seemed disturbingly like music of a past trying to equal and come to terms with that of an uncertain future. Full of sadness, tiredness and the irrelevance of it all To my teenage mind however, obsessed as it was with success in examinations and the promise of a hopeful tomorrow, it evoked intolerance and impatience.

 Today, decades later, as I stand in that tomorrow I have created, and look back, what do I see? What I see are moments of happiness I have enjoyed, moments of energy as I followed my passion, moments of the relevance I have had in the world. Why then does the music of my actions and words search for its equal in a future that continues to be elusive? I wonder.

 

In Learning………………………                                                    Shakti Ghosal

Being versus Doing- A tale of two airlines


“We are human beings, not human doings” – Deepak Chopra,2008.

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Over the last year or so, I have had two markedly different experiences with Airlines on the same issue. Let me not name the airlines here but rather focus on the experiences.

Airline A : I reached Chicago over the airline’s European hub only to find that both my bags had not arrived. It was eighteen hours into the journey and as I stood there clutching the missing baggage report, I was advised by the ground handling staff to call up the airline toll free number for further assistance and updates. Little did I realise that this was the beginning of my ordeal. Countless calls only led me into the votaries of a sophisticated message switch with friendly automated voices always offering a menu of further numbers to be dialed and inviting me to leave a message. I felt like going round and round the mulberry bush! Try as I did, I could never reach a human voice. Several frustrated calls and auto reply emails later, the airline deigned to send a cryptic SMS to the effect that the missing bags were available for collection and for further assistance, could I call them on phone. I shuddered. Visions of me once again failing to negotiate the matrix like maze of the airline communication system haunted me in technicolour.

Airline B : A few months later as I traveled on a lesser known regional airline, my bags once again failed to make it to the conveyor belt. As I was getting the passenger irregularity form filled, hearing running steps, I turned around to see the airline station representative come to me. He hesitated and then apologetically told me that since his airline baggage tracing system was still not automated, he would be the point of contact. I remained skeptical but to my pleasant surprise next morning, not only did I get a call from the guy that my bags had arrived but that he had arranged to send them to me. The bags duly arrived along with a box of chocolates and an apology note.

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What is it that differentiated my service level experiences of these two airlines thus?

My thoughts once again returned to “Leadership and Self Deception” by the Arbinger Institute*. One of the great take-away from this book is that our externally manifested behaviour of how we do what we do is never as important as who we are. We hold the choice of how we wish to see people around us.

We can choose to see people as people. Which leads us to genuinely connect with people and do what is right.

Or we can choose to see people as tasks. Which leads us to see them somehow as obstacles in our scheme of things, stuff which need to be completed and disposed off in the most efficient manner.

Airline A chose to see me and my bags as a task to be done. Being a global brand, it used the latest customer response technology. I and my missing bags were a blip in the statistics and graphs. A blip that goes off with no trace once the problem gets sorted. The airline had chosen to follow the path of ‘how we do what we do’. So in all its affirmations of providing the best in class customer service and experience, technology had taken centre stage, employees relegated to being merely the support cast.

Airline B chose to see me as a person. Someone with feelings and emotion. Someone who was desperate to find a person who would listen and care. It had put its faith in showing up as ‘Who we are’. Lacking great resources, it had to make do with the few employees it had on the ground and trusting and empowering them.

So I come back to why ‘Who we are’ resonated so much more deeply than ‘How we do what we do’ with me. I could intuitively put my trust in the genuineness of ‘Who Airline B was’, complete with its vulnerability and shortcomings. What really mattered to me was that my existence was being acknowledged. Contrast this with the Airline A’s focus on technology and ‘How it does what it does’. For me, this remained what it was, the Airline’s obsession with its own inner process and priorities, not really about me, the client.

What is it then that makes many of us, organisations and individuals alike, take the path of how we do what we do? Is this because of the modern day belief that the more we do, the more we have? A belief reinforced by technology that allows us to ‘do’ 24X7, globally, virtually. Is it because as we ‘do’, we get reassured of the results? But could this be conditioning us into a compulsive ‘doing’ behaviour? A behaviour that stops us from being ‘who we are’, something which would have allowed us to gain greater awareness and become more discerning about what we do.

I come to the realisation that be it as organisations or individuals, it is only when we remain firmly anchored in ‘who we are’, our core values and competences, and allow ‘what we do’ to flow out of that can we hope to be the true leaders and game changers of tomorrow.

In learning………………….. Shakti Ghosal

Footnote: * In an earlier post titled, “ What if……..”, I had taken reference to the book, Leadership and Self Deception, in a somewhat different context.

Acknowledgement: Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box – An Arbinger Institute publication, 2008.

Who would I be without my story?


“You are what exists before all stories. You are what remains when the story is understood.”
Byron Katie, American speaker & author of “The Work”

I muse about this Coaching question asked me.

So what is my story? As I think of this, I see its tentacles going into the past.

The year is 1911. A lowly placed accounts clerk of the British Accounts Service in India boards the Kalka Mail train from Calcutta with his family. He is shifting home to Delhi in accordance with the British colonial Government’s decision to shift the administrative capital of the Indian subcontinent there. He is following his work, the only thing he knows that sustains him and his family. He is my grandfather.

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Fast forward fifty years and it is my father in the midst of a career in the Indian Audit and Accounts service. Now settled in Delhi, the capital of independent India. Content with a middle class lifestyle. So grooved in his office work that he feels insecure to take up an exciting consular opportunity in the US. He regrets it citing family constraints.

Fast forward another fifty years and it is I sitting at the desk in my office wondering what next. Having been on a sometimes exciting, sometimes lacklustre roller coaster ride through diverse business areas for three decades, I can claim fair knowledge of the nuts and bolts of corporate working. But like my grandfather and father, I see my work primarily as the means to provide a comfortable life to me and my family.

My story. The story in which working at an office desk equates to life comfort and sustenance. The story which I accept as me. And as I accept, I see it gaining power and dictating what I do. I see it protecting me in a ‘safe box’. As it allows me to peep through my perception coloured lenses and read meaning about the world at large. But as it protects, do I also see it confining and preventing me from setting forth, taking risks and achieving my true potential?

What is it that has embedded this ‘office work’ DNA in me thus? What is it that has made it such an integral part of my story? As I muse, I sense that in my office work DNA resides a gene harking back to the industrial revolution. A gene that through generations has altered my value system. And made me shift towards valuing business growth, productivity and profits over beauty, compassion, love and community ties. Over generations, the gene has also lured me away from simplicity and frugality and towards materialism. An attachment to materialistic possessions which has fuelled insecurity. And has manifested in my life through frantic work schedules, technology tying me down 24X7, scarcely any time to “stop by the woods” or “wander lonely as a cloud”.

So, who would I be without my story? Who would I be if I could shed the above DNA and gene? Would I have that glorious opportunity to start from a place where I am no longer confined and am free to define and implement what I think is important? What do I see?

I see myself slowing down, without the pressures of societal expectations of wealth and ownership. As I take personal responsibility to do that which is meaningful, creative and liberating to me.

I see myself effortlessly crossing those artificial barriers created by economic, social and racial compulsions.

I see in me the birth of a great willingness to learn. From all corners of the world. Unfettered and unhampered by beliefs of my education and experience.

Like the return of the Jedi, I see in me the comeback of the human heart. As I acknowledge intrinsic qualities like Empathy, Faith, Creativity and Interconnectedness and bring them centre stage.

I see how work would look like for me. Passion…. Art…… the pulse of the environment.

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Who would I be without my stories?
Like a tree
Without the rustle of the leaves
Winter mind
Kind
Aligned
To the Inside
Inside the inside
A space so wide
It has no centre
Because it is centre

From Caitlin Frost’s Web log

In learning………………… Shakti Ghosal

Those faces of Berlin


All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin. And therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “ Ich bin ein Berliner!”      John F. Kennedy, June 1963

 This is really a refresh of a piece I had written a few years back. My motivation to do this is from the plethora of visions and thoughts which overwhelmed me during a recent re-vist…….

It started as most things do. With a simple mail requesting my presence at ITB Berlin, requiring me to lug my lazy bones across the seas to that wintry land. My flight was sustained by some pleasing prospects of meeting several business associates and the even more welcome thoughts of doffing a few German pilseners in a Pfeffersteak Haus.

 What is it about Berlin that envelops me every time I am there? I try to find out.

 ***

Walking on Friedrichstrasse, I spot a bunch of excited tourists waiting to be photographed and facebook uploaded with the ‘US marines’ at Checkpoint Charlie. A makeshift cabin and protective sand bags, stands forlornly in the midst of a modern office district. As I walk past, my mind goes back to an incident which happened here more than half a century back.

Checkpoint Charlie

It was October 1961. Allan Lightner, a US diplomat based in Berlin and his wife were great connoisseurs of the Opera in East Berlin. But one evening, while driving across Checkpoint Charlie, Allan was accosted by the East German guards who insisted on verifying his travel documents. This inspite of his diplomatic immunity. A standoff which snowballed into Soviet and American tanks facing each other across the checkpoint. A tale of how one man’s love of opera nearly pushed John Kennedy and Nikita Kruschev towards World War III a year earlier to the Cuban missile crisis.

As I look back at the incongruity of that checkpoint today, I sense societal evolution. What would it have taken to break the divisiveness between the erstwhile West and the East? What would it have taken to shift away from the WW II implanted belief of separation and hatred?

Does Berlin symbolise the promise of a choice made while negotiating the tectonic fault lines of political and societal beliefs?

 ***

Driving through one of the many avenues radiating outwards from the Siegessäule (Victory Column), I cannot help but notice the unbelievably serene “islands in Humanity’s stream” that Tiergarten, that famous parkland of the city, consists of. Built by the Prussian emperors Fredrich I and Fredrich II a few hundred years back, Tiergarten holds both a Baroque feel as also an English garden environment.

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Passing through Tiergarten in the evening, amidst the stark and leafless trees standing like sentinels in the dusk, I can well imagine stories of those hunting sprees by the Electors of Brandenburg, ,of shootings and murders,  of the Reichstag fire of 1933, of the devastation by air raids in the forties……

Does Berlin symbolise nature’s serenity and permanence through Mankind’s follies?

 ***

I get invited to a traditional German evening at the Zur letzten Instanz, arguably the oldest surviving restaurant in the German capital. Built in 1621, this remains one of the very few buildings from the medieval times to have miraculously come out unscathed from the carpet bombings of World War II. As I go up the original spiral staircase to the upper floor, marveling at the old wooden panels, I can almost envision Napolean Bonaparte sitting by the oven yonder and warming himself during his occupation of Berlin those many years back.

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Zur letzten Instanz 2

Does Berlin’s spirit embrace foes and friends alike?

 ***

I fast forward a few centuries to a non-descript old building block close to Schweizerhof Budapester Strabe 25. Bendlerblock, as this building is named, happens to be of enormous historical significance. In July 1944, this building became the focal point of German military resistance to the Nazi regime. The “Valkyrie” operation, as it came to be known, was a plan for a coup d’etat against Hitler hatched by senior military officers when it became quite clear that Germany was not going to win the war. The plan led to bombing of Hitler’s eastern headquarters, the “Wolf’s lair” in East   Prussia. Unfortunately for the conspirators, Hitler survived the day and members of the uprising were executed by a firing squad in the courtyard of Bendlerblock.

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While the Valkyrie plot is well known and in fact formed the basis for the 2008 Tom Cruise starrer movie of the same name, what is little known but more interesting is the fact that famed field marshal Rommel, the “desert fox”, lent support to the plot since he felt he had to “come to the rescue of Germany.”

Is Berlin about the whisperings of History gone astray?

***

Finally moving to Internationale Tourismus-Börse (ITB)  at Messe Berlin, the mother of all Travel and Tourism Shows on the planet. Spread over twenty six interconnected halls, more than ten thousand exhibitors from 188 countries and regions, ITB symbolises Berlin’s hosting of  the first industrial exhibition almost two hundred years back and the  ordinary German’s propensity to travel and discover.

ITB 1

ITB 2

Does Berlin ultimately showcase both the German solidity and passion?

 ***

 As my flight takes off on the way back, looking down at the endless vista of building blocks and roads, I ponder again over what it is about Berlin that resonates.

Is it about reexamination and refresh of our beliefs?

Is it about acceptance and sustenance of an environment that serves?

Is it about the heightened consciousness of a past that no longer serves?

Is it about a mindset that appreciates and embraces?

Is it about being where our passion is?

Or is it about a mix of all this?

I wish I could be certain…..

In Learning………..                                                                         Shakti Ghosal

Antalya and Mindfulness


“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.”

                                                ― Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus, Massachusetts Medical School

 

Antalya town sits on top of a rocky outcrop on the Mediterranean coastline.

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Walking in the gardens after breakfast, I spot a wooden dhow sailing out.

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As the wind pushes the dhow, it whispers its secrets of days gone by. Of, Attalos II the  King of Pergamon founding this strategically important port city more than two millennia back. Of pirates seeking refuge in the steep rocks and mountains, biding their time to loot the arriving merchant ships. Of the waxing and waning of Christianity as the Byzantine forces fought and lost naval battles to the Arabs in these waters. I listen entranced as I watch the gardeners lazily tending to the shrubs. Can they not hear these whisperings?

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Strolling through Hadrians Gate and into the old historical quarters, I am reminded of  Ibn Battuta, that prolific Arab traveler in the fourteenth century, and his impressions of Anatalya. Of a beautiful town, well laid out and counting amongst its citizenry an impressive social diversity of Christians, Greeks, Jews and Muslims. As I walk the narrow cobbled bylanes, I can almost “see” the comings and goings of these diverse people in the centuries gone by. But do these souvenir shop owners sitting here day in and day out, not share my vision?

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I sit near the clock tower, a nineteenth century stone citadel of the Ottoman times. The Kaleici district, replete with old houses and narrow lanes, slopes down to meet the Mediterranean shores. As if in an effort to balance on the slope the rooftops and terraces point out at awkward angles. Folks sit around peacefully, hardly a word being spoken.

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The stillness gets broken by the tingling laughter of two girls as they come running to the chestnut selling vendor. School over, they speak excitedly about the beautiful weather and their plans to go down to the harbourside. Young open minds, soaking in the sights and sounds, passionately open to possibilities. Scarcely a head turns however to watch the girls excitedly canter down the narrow lane. What stops these good folks from appreciating the beauty around them?

I wonder what is it that stops the gardeners, the souvenir shop owners and those folks near the clock tower from seeing and appreciating the “here” and “now” as I could. Could it be that as a visitor, the newness of the place opens me to receive all that is around me? And could it be that for all these other folks, the familiarity and routineness of their daily lives makes them go on autopilot? A mode allowing them to escape a boring present. As they choose to enjoy the thrill ride negotiating between a “what I could have been” past and “how I would show up” future.

And so as I walk away, I muse on how we could bring that curious visitor mindset in our day to day lives, free of clutter, mindful of the present, open to possibilities. What we  could do to shift ourselves  to live our passion in the moment, make choices free of fear, guilt or societal expectations.

“Don’t wait for the perfect moment. Take the moment and make it perfect.” – Unknown

 In learning…………..                                                                                  Shakti Ghosal

The Other Side of Sadness


Don’t cry when the sun is gone, because the tears won’t let you see the stars. 
Violata Parra, Chilean folklorist, early 20th century.

Met Death last month.

I asked, “What brings you here?”
He said, “My job.”
“But don’t you think it’s a bit too early.”
“Well maybe, but who cares.”
“I do.”
“Who are you?”
“A wife, a mother.”
He curled his lip and sneered, “Is that all you are?”
“Uh…. Yes, that’s all I want to be.”
“I’ll give you a new identity.”
“And what is that?”
“…. A rebel.”
“But who do I rebel against? You?”
“Yes.”
“But I’ll never win.”
“Trust me, you’ll never lose either.”

And he left, his job done.

Facebook entry of a young wife recently widowed.

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A close relative died young last month. He lost the war to leukemia, leaving behind a young wife and a five year old daughter. The daughter still goes around asking and searching for her Dad. She believes he has gone away on a long journey.

Having watched him through birth, childhood and adulthood, I find my own emotions swing between a connection severing anguish and a “out of mind, out of sight” normalcy. Sometimes when I see myself normalising thus, guilt returns in waves. Am I a betrayer, is my self-centeredness making me forget a loved one? Or could it be that as I reach out to others in my normalcy, I initiate my inner healing?

I read the Facebook entry again. Is there some coping mechanism here too? Is it a way to confront and face the very intimate and intense feelings the widow holds? Could this creative piece of writing be a vent through which she in fact is acknowledging Death?

My thoughts shift to that path breaking book, The Other Side of Sadness authored by George A. Bonanno. Dr. Bonanno refutes the widely held belief that a surviving family member needs to necessarily go through several stages of Denial, Anger, Bargaining and Hurt before he or she can reach the healing stage of Acceptance. The good doctor contends that the person in grief would in fact find a surprising inner storehouse of resiliency that would take him or her to the shores of Normalcy. He further maintains that “the natural sadness that actually follows a death is not a thick soup of tears and depression but a fluctuation that is nothing short of spectacular, the prevalence of joy during these times can in fact be striking.”

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As I muse on Dr. Bonanno’s thesis, I begin to see that while there can be no common pathway through grief nor a pre-determined structure for the grieving process, we may indeed share common responses. The Facebook entry for the widow and my periods of normalcy could just be the catharsis the doctor has written about. With this thought my emotional pendulum swings again. I understand the need to acknowledge my present emotion of normalcy just as I feel the urge to shout out to my widowed relative.

“Feel what you feel without embarrassment. It’s okay to be angry, to yell, to cry. It’s equally okay to laugh, to find your joy and let go when you are ready.”
In learning………..                                                                            Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement: The Other Side of Sadness: What the new Science of Bereavement tells us about Life after Loss by George A. Bonanno Ph.D, September 2009.

2012 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 6,800 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 11 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.