The Chronicler of Hoogly


We booked the sunset cruise on the Hoogly recently. With winter on its way, the sun was setting early leaving behind a long balmy evening. Good time to observe the river and the city as it transitioned from day into the night.

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Boarding the boat from the Millennium Park jetty, we soon chugged out in the company of other sight-seekers like us. The itinerary was to cruise up the Hoogly to Belur Math, the much revered global headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission founded by Swami Vivekananda. We were scheduled to reach in time for the evening Aarati before we returned. Travelling with us was a Study tour group from Germany.

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As I sat on the deck, I was engulfed by a kaleidoscope of sights………….

 Of the looming floating bridge of Howrah, still considered a cantilever feat of engineering seventy-five years after it was built. Of decrepit ghats and jetties. Of derelict and abandoned warehouses, shanties and slums. Of colonial architectures separated by grimy and slushy by lanes. Of how Man’s creativity and resolve has sunk under the grime of his daily struggle and existence………….

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Of temples and riverside religious rituals coexisting with stinking garbage and defecation grounds. Of the riverside walled up   along long stretches as if to hide its shame from the very people who have sullied it thus. Of how Spirituality jostles with poverty…….

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My thoughts and emotions get stopped by a flurry of activity on the deck. Probably sensing the approaching sunset, the service staff had got busy offering beverages and ‘muri and aloor chop’ snacks while the German tourists were busy with their telephoto lenses and cameras. I look at the setting sun, the morphing shades of the flowing waters and could not but marvel at how nature yet manages to shine its beauty on an environment gone increasingly awry…………

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With the falling dusk, I notice a lone figure sitting at the rear side of the deck. Somewhat taken aback for not having noticed this person earlier, I walk across and introduce myself. “You may call me the Chronicler”, he tells me. Intrigued I plonk into a deck chair beside him. “Would you like to hear a tale about all that we are witness to today?”, comes the soft voice. Even before I can respond, the voice continues.

“Great metropolises, they say, grow out of a river. London…. Paris….. Rome…… Moscow…….. Cairo….. Istanbul. In each of these cases, the mighty rivers that flowed, the Thames, the Siene, the Tiber, the Moskva, the Nile and the Bosphorus, provided sustenance and remain the heart and soul of the cities….”

“And so was the symbiotic relationship between Hoogly and what we know as Kolkata. While today we are wont to see the river as some kind of an appendage to the city, what if I told you that it is really the other way around? That Kolkata is really an offshoot of all that the Hoogly has been witness to over the centuries.”

“When we started our cruise, we saw Fairlie Place and its jetty to the right with the Strand running beside it. So what would you say are its important landmarks?”, the Chronicler asks.

“Well I suppose it is the Customs House and the Eastern Railway headquarters. Apart from a few more important office blocks”, I respond.

“But what if I told you that about three hundred years back most of that place including what we know as Dalhousie Square was a large water body called Lal Dighi ? This was the time when the British East India Company was busy consolidating its position and Fort William stood on the banks of Hoogly. That is when the attack happened”

“Attack!”, I exclaim, “By whom and why?”

“The then Nawab of Bengal Siraj-Ud-Daulah attacked, captured Fort William and incarcerated British prisoners in a dungeon which came to be known as the Black Hole of Calcutta. An incident which directly led to the battle of Plassey and the subsequent two hundred years British Rule of the subcontinent.”

“Hang on!”, I interject. “Is not Fort William more in the hinterland, near the Maidan?”

“Indeed”, the Chronicler continues, “but what is less known is that there were two Fort Williams. The present one near Maidan was built by Robert Clive after the attack on the first one.”

“The battle of Plassey, which was to change the history and the shape of things to come for ever for the subcontinent, was also fought on the banks of Hoogly but to the north of where we are. But that is another story.”

“The Fairlie Ghat holds another interesting tale”, the Chronicler continues.” In the mid nineteenth century, Prince Dwarkanath Tagore, while travelling on a train in England, got the brain wave of setting up a rail link to carry coal from his Raniganj colliery to the Calcutta port at Fairlie. On return he invested into setting up the ‘The Great Western Bengal Railway Company’. Unfortunately, his proposal got turned down by the British East India Company bosses on the grounds that ‘it would not be possible to allow a company using such strategic technology under native management….’ His efforts and thoughts however did push the British to set up rail services though the East India Railway Company with its Headquarters at Fairlie Place.”

“Hmm! That name Dwarkanath Tagore sounds familiar. Was he in some way related to Rabindranath Tagore?” I muse.

“Indeed he was!”, the Chronicler quips back, “He was in fact the grandfather of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, that venerable Bard of Bengal and the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature more than a century back”.

“The Hoogly ghats then were a far cry from the crumbling cesspools that we are seeing today. With magnificent facades and European classical architectures, the ghats were witness to impressive steam ships and tall masted  boats sailing out to faraway places in England, Australia and New Zealand as also upstream to ports on the Ganga.”, the Chronicler continues.

“Did you know that there were thriving French, Dutch and Armenian settlements on the Hoogly in the early years of colonisation?” I am asked.

Well I had read about the French settlement and I say so.

“Fascinating is it not that events and rivalries five thousand miles away in Europe would show up in the waxing and waning of the Hoogly ghats! And so it was that as the British colonialism went into ascendancy after winning the Napoleonic Wars in early nineteenth century, the settlements of other nationalities on the Hoogly faded into oblivion.”

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“Which brings us to the Shova bazaar Ghat and its fascinating history. The Ghat and the Shova Bazaar Rajbari ( Palace), was built with great pomp and grandeur by Raja ( King) Nabakrishna Deb.The latter famed for organizing the Shovabazaar Rajbari Durga Pujo about two hundred and  fifty years ago ( which continues till today!). What is seldom spoken of is that all of the Raja’s wealth came from the huge bribe money of Rupees eighty million paid to him, Mir Jaffar and a couple of others by the British administration for betraying Nawab Siraj–ud-Daulah on the battlefield of Plassey. A betrayal which led to a small British force of 3000 soldiers winning a decisive victory over a twenty times larger opponent. A betrayal which led to the British becoming the dominant colonial power in the subcontinent for over two centuries. Is it not ironic that one of the greatest betrayals in Indian history is so inexorably linked to one of the biggest religious festivals in the country?”

So engrossed had I become in listening to the Chronicler’s tales that I had scarcely noticed the darkness enveloping the Hoogly and the boat engine slowing down.

My companion on the deck points to a brightly lit temple and ghat complex to the right. “That is the Dhakshineswar Kali temple built in the mid nineteenth century by Rani (Queen) Rashmoni based on a dream in which Goddess Kali exhorted her, ‘There is no need to go to Banaras. Install my statue in a beautiful temple on the banks of the Ganges river and arrange for my worship there. Then I shall manifest myself in the image and accept worship at that place.’ The temple attained fame because of Ramakrishna Paramhansa, the famous mystic and the spiritual guru of Swami Vivekanand.”

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The boat docks on the Belur Math Ghat. I notice the Chronicler making no attempt to get up even as other guests disembark and start walking up the Ghat steps. The tour supervisor advises us on the way to reach the temple premises for the evening Aarati. As we hurry, some of the German tourists stop to look at souvenirs in the roadside shops.The Belur Math design incorporates the different Medieval, Gothic, Renaissance as well as Hindu and Islamic styles that Swami Vivekanand had observed during his travels in India and abroad.

I return back to our moored boat with the intoxicating chants of the Aarati still resonating in my ears. As the boat starts on its return journey downstream, I look around for the Chronicler but he is nowhere to be seen. Dinner is announced and we go down to the dining room in the lower deck. The fascinating vision of the Hoogly  created by the Chronicler’s tales in sharp contrast to the hugely run-down and depressing sights I had been witness to, continues to wrestle in my mind.

What is it that has made the Hoogly hold onto its rusting warehouses, its hideous shanties and walls which no longer serve any purpose? What is it that has made Kolkata turn its back on the river that brought it into existence? What is that which leads us to abuse and neglect that very water that we consider holy and religious? What is that in our societal psyche that fuels such dichotomy?

As we reach back and walk off our cruise, these questions continue to haunt…..

 

……… In Learning.

Shakti Ghosal

 

 

 

 

 

The paradox of Consciousness


Matter and energy had ended and with it space and time. Even AC existed only for the sake of the one last question that it had never answered from the time a half-drunken computer [technician] ten trillion years before had asked the question of a computer that was to AC far less than was a man to Man.

All other questions had been answered, and until this last question was answered also, AC might not release his consciousness.

All collected data had come to a final end. Nothing was left to be collected. But all collected data had yet to be completely correlated and put together in all possible relationships.

A timeless interval was spent in doing that.

And it came to pass that AC learned how to reverse the direction of entropy.

But there was now no man to whom AC might give the answer of the last question. No matter. The answer — by demonstration — would take care of that, too.

For another timeless interval, AC thought how best to do this. Carefully, AC organized the program. The consciousness of AC encompassed all of what had once been a Universe and brooded over what was now Chaos. Step by step, it must be done. –

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From “The Last Question” by Issac Asimov

**

In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?”The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”

“Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”

The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”

The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”
The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”

The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one has ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”

The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?”

The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”

Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”

To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and you really listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”

A parable from “Your Sacred Self” by Wayne Dyer

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**

I first read ‘The Last Question’ in an Asimov compilation in the Seventies. It’s haunting and philosophical tenor made me re-visit it several times over the ensuing decades. I had however not read ‘Your Sacred Self’ earlier and only had the opportunity to read the above parable, shared by a friend on WhatsApp, after Dr. Dyer’s death recently.

Why I bring these two pieces together is the common thread I see of both dwelling on Consciousness in truly unique ways. That special quality of thought that somehow transcends beyond us to gain clarity of our own selves as also of what is around. A subjectivity, unexplained by Science, which somehow allows a ‘sense’ of something beyond physical senses and Self .

In ‘The Last Question’, Asimov envisaged a Consciousness divorced from Man, matter, energy and even time. A Consciousness which learnt how to reverse the entropy and chaos of the Universe.

In ‘Your Sacred Self’, Wayne Dyer points to a Consciousness which can sense the existence of something beyond what is perceived by the physical senses.

Which brings us to what I call the paradox of Consciousness.

Could there be Consciousness divorced from the human mind and everything it perceives as Asimov fictionalized? A cosmic consciousness which is all pervasive and self sustaining. Something akin to God.

Or does Consciousness need to necessarily be linked to the human mind even as it senses things beyond what the mind can perceive, as in Wayne Dyer’s parable? A consciousness sustained by the mind and thoughts relating to possibilities beyond human logic. Something akin to an Enlightened Self.

Human mind appears to be a cerebral activity with inputs from some fifty thousand million cells of the human body. Could it be that our consciousness is a summation and assimilation of all these fifty thousand million inputs? Could it be that this assimilation leads to our consciousness becoming the space in which the Universe which includes we ourselves, others, physical and non-physical entities of every kind, their relationships with each other, along with the past, the present, and the future with all its possibilities shows up? English born author Joseph Pearce explains this best when he says, “Man’s mind mirrors a Universe that mirrors man’s mind”.

Science has been startled to find that there exists both intelligence and memory at the level of individual cells. The worldwide research into the human genome and DNA sequencing is testimony to this. Could it be that this intelligence and memory is being carried at the sub-atomic level and goes back to the beginning of time, the primal soup and beyond to the void before matter and energy existed?

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Could this be how the human consciousness aligns with the cosmic consciousness and the paradox of Consciousness is resolved?

In Learning ….. Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgements:

1)“The Last Question”– a science fiction short story by Issac Asimov, 1956
2)“Your Sacred Self: Making the decision to be free” by Dr.Wayne W. Dyer,2001

Varanasi……. and the differing Realities


“Enlightenment, and the death which comes before it, is the primary business of Varanasi.”
Tahir Shah, author – Sorcerer’s Apprentice, 1998

If you are born in India, as I was, Varanasi, that immortal city of Lord Shiva and his consort Sati, slowly but surely becomes a part of your psyche.
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My first visit to Varanasi with my mother continues to hold vivid memories for me even today. In my teens then, it was possibly the first time when I faced the confusion of how the same ground situation occurred so differently to my mother compared to me.

What occurred to me as narrow serpentine alleys, overcrowded and difficult to breathe places showed up as a delectable array of holy shrines, temples and ashrams to my mother.

What occurred for me as slippery, dirty steps to be avoided at all costs lest I fall into a smelly cesspool, showed up as venerable ‘ghats’ of the holy Ganga river, promising salvation and nirvana to my mother.

What showed up for me as a city bursting at its seams with the old and the dying, sickness, leprosy and burning funeral pyres, seemed to show up as life’s final destination and a passport to heaven for my mother.

As is the norm, come sunrise, I accompanied my mother for the holy dip in the Ganges. When we reached the ghat, the place was already thronging with hundreds of people, some already in the flowing waters, others taking an oil massage as a prelude to the dip. A motley crowd of beggars, tea sellers, urchins, saffron clad ‘sadhus’ and devotees jockeyed for space and spiritual advantage.
Sadhu at Sunrise

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My mother urged me, “Come, take a dip. Doing it is so holy, it would cleanse you of all your past sins.”

Now that was no doubt tempting. I could recall sins a plenty that I had committed over the last few months itself. But what held me back was the sight of raw sewage belching into the river with a dull roar. Not to speak of what appeared to be floating dead bodies and the vultures above. I had also heard sordid tales of unclaimed bodies, which no one came to cremate, being tied to a rock and sunk to the river bottom. I had this scary vision of stepping onto a body and being possessed by an angry spirit thereafter. The net result was that I refused to take that holy dip, much to my mother’s chagrin and embarrassment.

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Whenever I have mused about that visit subsequently, I have wondered what was it that created the almost diametrically opposite reality about Varanasi for my mother and me.

Coming as she did from an overly traditional, semi agrarian Bengali household in suburban Calcutta and growing up in a joint family, my mother imbibed strong elements of religious and ritualistic ‘Dos and Don’ts’ apart from a conditioning to not question the collective view and mindset. I suspect this is what would have made her take to Varanasi and its ethos like a fish takes to the water. For Varanasi is all about the occurring of a collective mind. That collective mind which through centuries and millennia, has read the Gita, quoted the Upanishads and chanted the vedic mantras on those very ghats.

I on the other hand, born and living in a nuclear family and receiving a liberal education, had very little exposure to the traditions, rituals and collective beliefs coming down the ages. So where my mother could selectively ‘see and tune into’ the devotional hymns, the fragrance of the incense and purity of the saffron colour all around her, I was left struggling to come to terms with the sludge and the floating trash, the smell of feces, the sickness and the poverty on physical display.

Today, when I look back to that Varanasi visit, I can see how the differing realities of the city effected us. My mother’s occurring of reality brought her great bliss and fulfillment. My occurring on the other hand brought in trepidation and doubt. I begin to realise how both the realities were illusions, anchored as they were to how the situations occurred to each one of us.

Like the above, do we see how most conflicts in society and the world can be traced back to the aspect of reality illusion? An illusion which makes us erroneously conclude that what shows up for us as a result of our own world view and frames of references is in fact the only reality and we refuse to accept any differing perspectives. Merely holding the awareness that differing realities can and do occur for each of us, and this is but normal, can lead to significant lowering of conflicts…….

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” Albert Einstein

In Learning…….. Shakti Ghosal

Leadership and Choice


“Leaders live by choice, not by accident.” Mark Gorman, author.

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Choice. A simple, easygoing word which leads most of us to trivialize its importance. But nonetheless it holds enormous power in the exercise of Leadership as well as life in general.
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In a recent Leadership course, I gained a powerful perspective from the following classroom experiment relating to ‘Choice’. The experiment required of us the following.

1. Identify what there is for you to do in your life that you feel obligated to do, or that you are doing based on a set of reasons for doing them, and write it down.
2. As an experiment, choose to do the thing it would be legitimate to say you are obligated to do (or have no “choice” about doing), and now write them down as what you are choosing to do. (“I choose to …”.)
3. Now check and see whether your experience of the item occurs for you (shows up for you) differently.

One aspect in my life that occurs to me as an obligation is, ‘Hang onto my current job, work profile and industry’.

I then experimented with rewriting the above aspect as a free choice of mine, which then became, ‘I choose to be in my current job, work profile and industry in an empowering, relevant and effective manner.’

I was taken aback by the remarkable shift in the way the situation occurred for me by the mere change in the language as above.

I could see that when I exercise ‘Choice’, it is intrinsically me, my inner convictions and I start ‘owning’ that choice; it occurs less burdensome. I start feeling heightened energy, passion and confidence. I can sense more possibilities and way forward opportunities apart from an intrinsic commitment to do the best I can.

Contrast this with when I used the language of obligation and the burden that brings in, constraining possibilities and pathways. I then see myself in a space of forcible acceptance, fearful of consequences. I go through the motions, rely on instructions to proceed, avoid risks etc. I see a drag and loss of energy.

I started seeing the power residing within the ‘language of Choice’.
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I recall a couple of situations in which the way I perceived making a choice impacted both myself and others in a positive or negative way.

One time when I had to treat my family out to dinner, my wife and daughters left the choice of selecting the restaurant to me. Post dinner, my wife remarked that she had not enjoyed the Italian cuisine all that much and how she wished, I had chosen an Indian restaurant. I remember reacting back angrily as to what had stopped her from giving this preference earlier on. I then tried to justify my selection based on good word of mouth feedback of friends. Basically I ended up not taking responsibility of my own choice and putting the blame on my friends instead. To evade criticism of my choice, I had painted myself into a ‘victim’ corner.

Another time, my family left the choice of selecting which movie we should go to. After the movie, my wife and daughter were unanimous in rating the movie as terrible. On this occasion however, I stood firm as I declared, “Because of its philosophical insights, I wanted all of us to watch and learn from this movie.” Without really realizing it at that point in time, I showed up as having made a choice of my own free will and held the courage to take responsibility for it. As I articulated my choice in this manner, I felt empowered.

Do we realise that at its very essence, Leadership is a choice? Just as is living life. Everything about Leadership, as with life, begins with a choice. A choice which we make.
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In literature, Leadership and decision making appear to be near synonymous. We tend to overlook the fact that any decision really comprises of a chain of small but significant choices. Even when we bring in our biases, perceptions and assumptions and rationalize and justify based on these, that is our choice too. Our choice, and the corresponding decision flowing out of that, further gets coloured and shaped (or shall I use the word forced?) by our positional, inter-personal or cultural compulsions. We remain largely unaware of this aspect, falsely believing that how the situation occurs for us is how it really is and that our reaction is correct and logical. We fail to see that we in fact have got onto rails and are unable to exercise any freedom relating to other possibilities available to us to deal with what is at hand. A far cry from effective leadership which is all about opening up choices and possibilities, not limiting them.
***

Richard J. Leider, the author of the international bestseller, ‘ The Power of Purpose’ writes that in twenty years of his interviewing elderly leaders aged over 65, he discovered something profound relating to ‘Choices’. To his question, “If you could live your life over again, what would you choose to do differently?”, he heard the articulation of three themes getting repeated over and over again.

“I would choose to be more reflective, take time to think because life passes so quickly and I was too busy doing to think adequately.”

• “I would choose to be more courageous, take more risks; I played it too close to the vest”.

• “I would choose to be clear, far earlier, on what my purpose was in life”.

In learning….. Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgements:

1) “Being A Leader And The Effective Exercise Of Leadership: An Ontological / Phenomenological Model” by Werner Erhard, Independent & Michael Jensen, Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration Emeritus, Harvard Business School.
2) “The Power of Purpose” by Richard J. Leider, May, 2010.

I = My Word


You may choose your words like a connoisseur, And polish it up with art, But the word that sways, and stirs, and stays, Is the word that comes from the heart.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox, American author and poetess, 19th century

I recall the 1970s supernatural classic, ‘The Exorcist’ in which the possessed Regan, when asked “Who are you?” replies in a demonic voice, “Nowonmai”. Initially thought to be something in a foreign dialect, the reply is later deciphered to be, ‘I am no one’, when read backwards.

Regan in The Exorcist
Regan in The Exorcist

What is it that makes us ask the question, “Who are you?” It seems to support us to create a fix about the other person. About his characteristics, about his viewpoint, about his intentions. We try to determine the authentic self in the person which then allows us to engage with him powerfully.

At the other end, the enquiry ‘Who am I’ allows us to present a perspective of ourselves which we feel offers the best chance for engagement and success. Said another way, we show up, not as our authentic self, but in the best manner possible to get the job done. Clearly, over time, our ‘Who am I’ face does become a talent for deception.

It is in the attempted matching between the “Who are you” gained perspective and “Who am I” put on mask that the effectiveness of engagement and relationship between two individuals lies.
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Who am I? I remember those times as a child when having nothing better to do, I would stare into the mirror and wonder, “How is that me?” Am I me because of the name which my parents christened me with? Or because of how I look? Or because of how I think, speak, act? Or because of how I behave with others? After all these decades today, when I think back to those questions, I yet remain uncertain of the answers.

Who am I? Why do I experience this sense of self? Is it a natural function of my mind? Or is it some spiritual awareness that keeps tugging at me? The fact remains that with every passing day, I keep changing. Every day I change into the person I become in the moment. As I sift through photographs and memories, I am confronted with the realisation that I am a person who is significantly different from the person I had been at an earlier time. Both physically and mentally, I see myself changing, adding, subtracting, becoming …..Me.

But if I am always changing, adding, subtracting, becoming, where does the assurance of ‘Who am I’ lie? For is this assurance not critical to my engagement and effectiveness in the world? As I muse on this, my thoughts shift to a webinar series titled ‘Integrity: Without it nothing works’ which I participated in recently. In it, author Mike Jensen concludes that the foundation for being a high performance individual is to declare “Who I am is my word”. He goes on to say that within his own organisation, a perspective shift to ‘I am my word’ amongst employees led to a 300% improvement in performance with no additional inputs.

As per Mike, since I am my word, I become whole and complete only when my word is whole and complete. And how does my word become whole and complete? This happens when I honour my word. I can do this in two ways. First by doing what I said and in case I am unable to do so, I inform about this to all the people counting on me and be willing to clean up any mess that might get created.
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Why does honouring my word become important? Because it makes my word, and thereby me the person, whole and complete. This is what goes a long way to improve the potential of my performance. To understand this some more, let us look at the example of a car. For optimum performance, it needs to have been designed right, all its components need to be in place and functioning and you, the owner, drive it correctly. Should any of these aspects be missing or not right, the car would malfunction, become unreliable and essentially would lack integrity. So it is true with me (or you). When my word and therefore I, am whole and complete and therefore in Integrity, I radiate an empowered and trustworthy persona and my actions get perceived as reliable and consistent. This then becomes the core of ‘Who I am’ which does not change even when I change physically and mentally. The power of “I AM equal to MY WORD” lies in this. As my word gets perceived as that changeless anchor I am to which everyone around me can tie their knots of trust and faith to.
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As I muse of all the difficult-to-handle aspects ranging from self deception about not honouring my word ‘ Do I really need to if no one is looking’ to fear of acknowledging that I would not be able to keep my word ‘How on earth would I clean all the mess that would ensue’, I realise the best place to start is to give my word to myself that I would be my word.

In Learning…….. Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement :‘Integrity: Without it nothing works’. Harvard Negotiation, Organisation and Market Research Paper No. 10-042 by Michael C. Jensen,Jessie Isidor Straus Professor Emeritus, Harvard Business School, April 3, 2014.

Indian Elections and the Law of Integrity


Over the last one month, the screen images continue to focus on that greatest show of Democracy on Earth, the on-going national elections in India. Close to a billion voters being wooed by a fractious, cacophonous political lot.
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I notice contrasting articulations.

On one hand, I see political parties investing a lot of energy and resources to disseminate what they stand for. Their manifestoes drip with great intentions that they are committed to fulfill if voted to power. Candidates vie with each other for that once in five years photo opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder clutching their copy of this ‘intention bible’.But when a politician is confronted with non-fulfilment of earlier electoral promises, he is quick to ascribe causes. Of how the opposition was non-supportive in the parliament. Of how resources and funds were not made available. Of how, inspite of all such great challenges, he continues to remain totally committed to usher in development, both economic and social.

On the other hand, I see the man on the street expressing his disenchantment with the political class, even the political process. Of his ire at the lack of fulfillment of election manifestoes in the past. Of his perception that election promises are meant to garner votes and quickly abandoned thereafter. Of his perspective that politicians exist only to feather their own nests in terms of aggrandizing power, influence and money, giving scarcely a thought to the welfare of the citizenry. Of his fervent hope that at least this time around, the politicians coming to power might be motivated to focus on development, both economic and social.

I muse about this lack of alignment between the politician and citizenry even though both speak of the same goal viz. development, economic and social. Do I sense a loss of faith in the workability of our political system? What is at the core of this failure?

My thoughts shift to the Integrity model which I had read about recently. Authors Werner Erhard, Michael Jensen and Steve Zaffron present this model to demonstrate how Integrity, as defined by them, is intrinsic to the workability in any situation.
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As per the authors, Integrity is all about our word being whole and complete, both to ourselves and to others. What is the meaning of word being whole and complete, one may ask. It means “Honouring our word” which is keeping our word and in case we are not able to do so, be willing to be held responsible for clearing any mess caused by that. The Law of Integrity states that as integrity (honouring the word) declines, workability declines, and as workability declines, the opportunity for performance declines.’

As I look at the Integrity model in the context of the Indian elections, I wonder about the contradictions the political process throws up. Could it be that the contradiction we see of espousing integrity but not honouring the word is a trait that exists in each one of us? So,what is it then that stops us seeing this contradiction? As I think of this, the following thoughts fleet through my mind.

Do we see Integrity as some kind of a virtue to aspire for rather than an underlying condition for performance? When we see integrity thus, we rarely think twice before sacrificing it to ‘succeed’.
• Do we suffer from self deception when it comes to our own out-of-integrity behaviour as we are quick to put the blame somewhere else but fail to see how our own failure to perform is linked to this violation of the law of integrity?
• What is it that stops us from admitting that we will not be keeping our word? Is it from a fear that we would be responsible for ‘cleaning the mess’ and thus look bad in front of others?
• Do we realise that having given our word, any attempt to subsequently link that to a likely benefit for us makes us look untrustworthy?

As I think of the divergence between words and deeds that has rendered our political system (which also includes us!) untrustworthy and undermined its workability, I am left wondering at the kind of political language that may be used by both politicians and citizenry alike. A language that would align the commitments. A language that would ensure that owning upto our commitment failures and taking responsibility of the clean-up becomes the norm…….

In learning………….. Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement: ‘Integrity: A positive model’ by Werner Erhard, Michael Jensen and Steve Zaffron, Harvard Business School Working Paper No. 10-061, Revised May, 2013

Is this all there is?


What all is out there

I cannot claim to recall what I first saw as I came into this world. But I do hold memories of the wonder I felt as a child as I looked up at the evening sky and the stars. Or as I lay on the grass for hours, watching an array of ants or beetles carrying morsels of food. As I think back to those times of wonderment, I can still sense the question at the core, “What all is out there?”

Growing up, seeing and trying things for the first time, leaving home and going to hostel, getting into a new job, place, assignment. Into the unknown every time. At all such junctures, I sensed support from that accompanying question, “What all is out there?”

Life seemed to accompany with surprises galore. As I walked the pathway of new decisions, new insights, new direction, new philosophies. And as I continued to negotiate life’s surprises, what remained with me was, “What all is out there?”

“What all is out there?” It was about embracing and trusting that first step. It was about seeing things for the first time. It was about that unquestioning and unconditional mindset to take it all in. It was about listening to the life and energy that surrounds. It was about feeling connected to all things. It was about that undeniable faith that the world gives.

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way

– Mary Hopkins, 1968

But somewhere along the way, that childlike wonder, vision and instinct seemed to dim. What seeped in was disenchantment and boredom. A preoccupation with things that are artificial. The burden of living up to other’s expectations. The loss of the allure of things acquired and goals achieved. The ‘Wow!’ and the newness of the first time giving way to ‘Being there, Done that’ refrain. The question taking center stage in my mind was, “Is this all there is?”

Is this all there is

“Is this all there is?” I wonder how this has taken root within me. Is this a mindset shift that gives undue importance to my knowing rather than feeling? Is this the conditioning from my education and peers which extol knowledge and wisdom as must-have virtues and gives short shrift to emotion and intuition? Is this my refuge from the sheer inadequacy I feel in dealing with a complex world?

Even though I discipline myself to ‘count my blessings’ and think of all that I have achieved in terms of position, wealth and family, I sense an emptiness and a lack of fulfillment. A feeling of disorientation and loss. Why is this I wonder?

I also sense another change in me. I now think much more of how much time and opportunity I have left rather than how far I have come and what I have achieved. If only I could recapture that ‘sense of wonder’ from my childhood for this remaining time and opportunity I have. I know in my heart of hearts that this could be that unfailing antidote against all that boredom and disenchantment I feel. But how could I do this?

Authors Werner Erhard and Michael Jensen in ‘Four Ways of Being that Create the Foundations of A Great Life, Great Leadership and A Great Organization’ point to a way when they identify one of the foundations as, ‘Being committed to something bigger than oneself’. In the words of the authors, “This is being committed in a way that shapes one’s being and actions so that your ways of being and acting are in the service of realizing something beyond your personal concerns for yourself – beyond a direct personal payoff. As they are acted on, such commitments create something to which others can also be committed and have the sense that their lives are about something bigger than themselves. This is an important aspect of a great personal life, great leadership and a great organization”.

As I muse I realize that the way to handle “Is this all there is” is in finding and pursuing a Cause that ignites a passion in me. A cause bigger than myself, that which energises and lights me up from within. What may this Cause be for me I am left wondering.

***
A quote from George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Man and Superman’.

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”25
***

In learning……….. Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgements:
1) Four Ways of Being that Create the Foundations of A Great Life, Great Leadership and A Great Organization– by Werner Erhard and Michael Jensen, a Harvard Business School research paper, Nov. 2013.

2) Man and Superman– by George Bernard Shaw, 1903

The ‘Being Human’ Organisation of the twenty-first century


‘It is amazing how much you can accomplish when it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.’ Unknown

The other day, a news item on Johnson & Johnson caught my attention. About the company accepting charges of bribery to promote its antipsychotic drug Risperdal to children and people with developmental disabilities and agreeing to pay USD 2.2 billion in criminal and civil fines. My thoughts go out to another disparate case closer home where a reputed business group stands charged of selling fake machinery parts as genuine, endangering people’s lives while making huge profits.

What is it that makes an organisation declare values to which it does not adhere to? What is it that makes multinational corporations like Johnson & Johnson spend millions to create a brand equity of “love and care” while bribing to ‘push’ a controversial drug onto people who need love and care the most?

I muse about my own self. As I think of who I am and what I do at work, I notice significant dichotomies. As an individual working in the corporate world for three decades, I see that I have conditioned myself to believe that the value systems which apply to me at the individual level no longer remain valid as soon as I wear my organisational hat. Be it in aspects of transparency, business ethics, environmental concerns and several other areas. Somehow, I have developed the underlying belief that these fall lower in priority than the core business objectives of top line and bottom line growth. I must confess that I have rarely questioned why it should be so.

What is it that has conditioned me so? I think of how organizations evolved in the last century. Of how they have remained focused on achieving growth and profit objectives alone. Of how Organisations have ‘learned’ ways to pass on the costs of their activities for others to pay. Of how this behaviour resulted in the 2008 global financial crisis when companies created bad debt and exported that all over the world.

As I wear the organisational hat, I can see the intrinsic conflicts that I face.

• Do I achieve success by maximising Shareholder wealth or do I take the path of social responsibility?
• Do I increase profits or do I take responsibility for an environment crying out for help?
• Do I indulge in rampant business expansion or do I ensure avoidance of exploitation?

tight-rope-walker-pink_pan_14115

In the 2003 award wining documentary film, ‘ The Corporation’, University of British Columbia professor and author Joel Bakan asks, ‘If a corporation is a person, what type of a person is it?’ The documentary goes on to show that most organisations comprise of network of conversations that are inconsistent, dissonant and cluttered. The conversations exhibit the qualities and attributes that, if the organisation were to be a person, it would be termed a psychopath. The induced organisational behaviour from such a conversational clutter ranges from “callous disregard for people’s feelings, incapability to maintain human relationships, deceiving for profit, inability to feel guilt and complete disregard for the safety of others.”

Clearly the world seems to be reaching an inflexion point. Jay Deragon, in a recent blog post titled ‘Being Human’ says, “It seems odd to think that business leaders are just now recognizing that their business results have a direct correlation to the organizations ability to think, act, speak and feel in human terms. Yet instead of measuring the organization’s human abilities, leaders still focus on measuring, thinking and chasing outcomes in financial terms.”

Consciousness has arisen that for sustainability there needs to be an alignment and acceptance of the core human values at the organisational level too. To me that is a wonderful shift and a significant evolutionary development.

So with such consciousness what could be the way forward?

creativity-training-eye

Authors Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan in their path breaking book, ‘The Three Laws of Performance’ point to a direction as they suggest the need for organisations to transform themselves into being “Self-led”. This ‘Self’ arises from all people and stakeholders participating in the organisation’s network of conversations. So how do we do that? By first shifting away from the belief that “we need to involve only those who need to be involved”. As I look inwards, I realize that this belief arises from my apprehension of a ‘loss of control’. But as I choose to allow external stakeholders into my network of conversations, I am able to shift them into a space where they feel they can contribute. A shift away from ‘we don’t trust you’ and towards ‘let’s all of us get involved in the success vision of our business’.

Can we see the need for us to contextualize our ‘organisation hat’ wearing persona in the society within which we are embedded and exist? Methinks every one of us needs to become an active player in this great initiative. For in this resides the opportunity to find the balance we seek in the world today.

In Learning………… Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgements:

1)The Corporation– a documentary film written by Joel Bakan, and directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, 2003 : http://www.thecorporation.com

2)Being Human creates higher returns– a blog by Jay Deragon:
http://www.relationship-economy.com/2013/10/being-human-creates-higher- returns/

3)The Three Laws of Performance- Rewriting the Future of your Organisation and your life by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan, Aug.2011: http://www.threelawsofperformance.com/

Segovia and the polarity in my life


‘Have a dialogue between the two opposing parts and you will find that they always start out fighting each other until we come to an appreciation of difference… a oneness and integration of the two opposing forces.’
– Frederick Salomon Perls, German born, Jewish psychotherapist, 1950s.

Segovia- the name itself conjures up visions of victory and beyond.

Walking through the Plaza del Azoguejo, I can scarcely fail to sense the ebbs and flows of more than two millennia. As I stroll on the Plaza, myriad visions seem to surround me. Of the Celts declaring this their homestead during the Iron-age and looking down at the small valleys and canyons watered by the River Doraton. Of the Romans who took over as they pushed their empire far and wide, employing cutting edge technologies like the aquaduct. Of this once proud city lying forlorn and abandoned after the Arab invasion. Of its rejuvenation and the Gothic architectural renaissance after the middle ages.

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As I walk along the Calle Real towards the Plaza mayor, I am confronted with two distinctive aspects of this quaint World heritage town. Of expansive monuments, castles and cathedrals soaring into the skies, free of all restraint. Standing cheek by jowl with narrow, cobbled alleys, portraying a different world of scarcity and constraint. Interesting, is it not, this variance in the mindset of a society which creates and builds such contrasts? Is this merely a reflection of the socio-economic disparity and exploitation as many might suggest? Or could this be about something deeper within the human psyche?

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I muse and look inwards. And I start seeing the polarity of the differing aspects coexisting within me. An Abundance of resolve and the Scarcity of insecurity. An unrestrained Soaring of broadmindedness and the constricted Narrowness of prejudices.

I soar as I become conscious of my unique magnificience, replete with my abilities, experiences and values. As I live in a mindset of abundance, knowing there is plenty of wealth, happiness and fulfillment to go around. A belief which allows me to acknowledge my gratitude for people, situations and circumstances that foster me.

I constrict when I feel the need to protect myself from what I perceive to be a dangerous world.As I get conditioned to focus on what’s wrong with me and my life rather than celebrate what is right. As I see myself in competition for the world’s resources and the love and attention of others.

Looking at these aspects within me, I however see no stretch, no strain. How so, I reflect in wonderment?

But as I reflect, I start seeing the pattern. Of the continuum that exists within me with the ‘soaring magnificence ’ at one end and the ‘constricting narrowness’ at the other. Two poles that define the polarity of my existence. I further see how my coloured perception of different situations make me land at different points on the continuum. Making me soar and constrict at different times.

I am….. Soaring Magnificence ( SM)
I am… Constricting Narrowness ( CN).

I acknowledge both and, for the first time, make them to speak to each other.

twoheatsbeatasone1

SM : “I need to soar. I need to break out of this vicious cycle of competition .and domination.”
CN: “You couldn’t possibly do that, could you? Do you realise what is at the core of these?”
SM: “Not really. What would that be?”
CN: “Well it is your Self doubt and fear. Self doubt that you are not good enough to get your fair share of love, fun, money.. Fear that if you do not resist, you will be dominated and cheated. Can you not see how essential these are for your security?”
SM: “Hmmm! So what could I do to rid me of self doubt and fear?
CN: “Frankly I wouldn’t know. In any case, why would you like to do that, losing your comfort zone and safety?”
SM: “But I wish to soar! That’s what I am here for. Suppose I were to replace self doubt and fear with trust. Trusting myself and others. Trusting my own abilities. Trusting that others are doing the best they know how to.”
CN: “How would you do that? Should you not be judging and be attached to what you would like to achieve?”
SM: “That’s it! You have shown me the way forward. I shall not judge, I shall remain unattached.”

There is no further comeback.

In learning…………………. Shakti Ghosal

Connectedness – My takeaway from Avatar


“….and unless we touch others, we’re out of touch with life.”
– Oliver Wendall Holmes, American physician & poet. 19th Century

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Most of us remember the James Cameron directed 2009 epic Avatar as a technically brilliant Sci Fi extravaganza. But what fascinated me about the story was the vast neural connectivity between every living organism on that beautiful world of Pandora. A network which allowed the humanoid species called Na’vi to not only connect to every other flora and fauna on the planet but to an evolved and higher planetary consciousness called Eywa. Eywa apparently is all about deep connection , bonding and balance, termed in Na’vi language as tsaheylu, and this alone becomes responsible for the defeat of the otherwise technologically superior and better armed human army.

Sometime back I had mused on the influence of internet and social media connectivity and the shift it is bringing to our society in ‘A World of Tweeple’. A shift that is moving large swathes of humanity from traditional groupings of ethnicity, community and religion to individual ‘Me- Self’ connectivities that satisfy emotional and social needs. My crystal ball gazing showed up two paths. One leading to a frightening Matrix like future where wired to central intelligences, we access information at will in return for our innermost thoughts and beliefs on display for others to examine. The other path holding the promise of our individualism being empowered by the power of networks to achieve a utopian future.
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What is it about these visions of connectivity that fascinate so? Does such connectedness somehow, somewhere, signify an aspect of yearning, an area where we see a lack? I dwell upon this. I see myself connected to every life form through that double helix structure called DNA. I see my connections in the symbiotic relationship of the air, food and water that I take in. And I also see my connections in my social needs to bond and belong.

So what exactly is lacking?

I decide to do a reality check. What is it that makes us prefer Facebook friends to real ones? Could this be because deep down we remain diffident and uncertain about our ability to ‘connect with our hearts’, so essential to blossom a real friendship? Could this be because Facebook and such social media technologies allow us to calibrate and control how much, when and where we choose to share? Something which real friendships and connections could never tolerate. Could this be the reason that as technology gives us the means ‘to connect’ more and more, we see increasing evidence of disempowering disconnect all around? As we try and escape by shifting our connectivity to gadgets and technologies than to each other……….

I once again come round to the thinking that we have indeed become obsessed with a “Me- Self” mindset. And have chosen to forget all that had our forefathers had learnt to reach this stage of societal development. Aspect of being there for each other. Aspects of trust and empathy. The need to reboot our ‘operating system’ back to “Us –Selves” from the recently acquired “Me- Self”

So I come back to the question about what could we do to steer onto the alternative path promising that utopian future?

In a recent graduation address, Nipun Mehta, the 32 year old founder of CharityFocus.org and a recipient of the Jefferson Award for Public Service, speaks of three keys that helped him to return to a place of connection.

• Key number one ‘To Give’: Contrary to what the corporate world teaches, Nipun started with the hypothesis, “Maybe Greed is good but Generosity is better”. His experience with several projects has shown that (in his own words) ‘People consistently underestimate generosity, but human beings are internally wired to give.”

• Key number two ‘To Receive’: In Nipun’s words, “With any act of unconditional service, no matter how small, our biochemistry changes, our mind quietens, and we feel a sense of gratefulness. This inner transformation fundamentally shifts the direction of our lives.” It is in giving that we receive.

• Key number three ‘To Dance’: Contrary to what most people do, Nipun says that we should never try and track what is being given or received. Instead we need to let go and tune into the rhythm. The real reward of the give and take lies not in the value of what is being exchanged but the connection which flows underneath.

To Nipun Mehta’s three keys, I wish to add a fourth one.

• Key number four ‘To be Conscious’: As conscious beings, we are uniquely endowed with awareness and imagination. Aspects which allow us to connect to the Universe. As we do this, using vehicles like Science, Art and Religion, we are able to gain the unique understanding of the “spirit” that permeates and connects all things. Much like the connectivity in Avatar, it is this spiritual consciousness that becomes our ultimate connection to everything in the universe.

zen-of-connectedness-hands-frame

So, are we ready to give, to receive, to dance and to be conscious……… and to connect as we move through our lives?

“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.”
― Carl Sagan, 1990.

In Learning…………………… Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement: Miserable & Magical: A Graduation Speech for Paradoxical Times– by Nipun Mehta, May 27, 2013.