What Were You Doing Then?

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

― John Lennon

John Lennon got it right very early in his life. Above everything else we want in life – that luxury car, a dream bungalow, family trip to Hawai’i, or even an appreciation note – is our desire to reach that Destination: Happiness.

“Your days are your life in miniature”. Happy days convert into successful days which over time convert into successful life. Therefore, it is important to be happy.

Okay.. so we all want to be happy, but what does it take?

The best I used to do about it was hope that it would all work out on its own one day, perhaps praying to God would help get there faster, or may be I will need a happiness Mantra.

I did some research to see what successful people did to ensure happy days. And, I found a common theme. They didn’t leave their happiness to chance. Instead, they reflected on one question – “What was I doing when things were working out?” 

It’s so important and yet such an easy one to forget. You have to have your list to be able to repeat those things. That would multiply your chances of having happy days.

I started doing that myself and have realized that I am able to accomplish a lot more things than otherwise. I haven’t reached that destination yet – No way! But at least I am enjoying the journey.

So, here’s what I was doing when things were working out for me:

  1. I was getting up early – at 5 o’ clock!
  2. I was spending time with myself – Reflecting, Exercising, Learning, and Meditating. Everything else I did had a unique difference on days I spent time with myself!
  3. I broke down bigger problems into smaller ones – Call it WBS or lag measures. My five year old son, Tanav asked me a few weeks back, “Papa, do you do big things or small?” The question got me thinking and I replied, “I do only small things. The ones that are BIG, I break down to smaller ones. That way, I only have to do a bunch of small things that are manageable and it gives me a sense of accomplishment as I go along.” That didn’t impress him much though, and he said, “Papa, may be you should consider doing BIG things too!”  
  4. I was spending time with family“Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and family will. Stay in touch.”
  5. I was present in the moment. I wasn’t thinking about home while at work and about work at home.
  6. I was listening to the best of the best music. I once had a rule to listen only to music that touched my soul and settle for nothing less!
  7. I was planning for growth“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for two things, the people you meet and the books you read.” – Mark Twain.
  8. I was spending time in nature.
  9. I told stories to Tanav. Tanav has become an amazing story teller himself. I really love that because stories create such a lasting impression.
  10. I had faith. I didn’t let the day go by without laughing. I wasn’t worrying: A survey has revealed that 40 percent of things we worry about never happen; 30 percent have already happened and cannot be changed; 22 percent regards problems which are beyond our control; only eight percent of what we worry about are situations over which we have influence. So, why worry. It’s pointless!

The list is not etched in concrete, but for now, this is what it is. It will change as I mature and learn more.

It’s certainly not easy for me to follow it but one thing is certain – if I choose to follow it, I will be successful. After all, this is my personal success mantra.

So, what is your success mantra? Do you have your answer to the question, “What was I doing then?” I’ll love to hear from you.

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Don’t Look For It And You Will Find It!

This was about a month back. I had brought a new board game for children, Carrom. My nieces were over and I was excited to introduce them to the game which I used to love playing myself as a child.

But my excitement soon turned into disappointment to hear that kids had lost it’s striker somewhere. Striker is a vital part of this game, you can’t play the game without it.

I asked my niece, “Saesha, where is the striker?”

She smiled and said,“I don’t know. It is lost and we just can’t find it.”

I was furious and this was not acceptable. How could she lose something and so conveniently say she can’t find it.

I said, “Okay, so you have searched for it and can’t find it, right?

She said, “Yes!”

I said, “Okay. Then keep searching for it until you do find it!”

I soon got busy with something and about one hour later, I saw all the kids except Saesha were watching TV. I asked and they said she was still in the playroom. I went there and found Saesha still looking for the lost striker. Her eyes full of tears just waiting to come down. I asked her what was wrong and she said, “You had asked me to keep searching until I find it. I still can’t find it.”

I was ashamed of myself for being so harsh on my little sweetheart. I had to do something to make her feel better. I suddenly recalled that as kids, we used to also lose a lot of things.

I had once lost my favorite mouth organ and Mom had told me, “You can’t find it, right? Now don’t look for it and you will find it.” 

It is hard not to look for it but when I eventually did, I magically found it!

The trick worked every time and this had almost become a game for us as kids. Whenever any one lost something, we would shout, “Don’t look for it and you will find it.”

I decided to use the same trick with Saesha and told her not to look for the striker and then she would find it. At least, that brought a smile on her face. I realized that her smile was worth more than the price of any game. 

It was only a matter of time and the lost striker appeared from somewhere. The trick had worked and we cheered!

I was more surprised than Saesha that this trick worked now too! I used to believe it as a child but it was different now. I was now grown up, and had dismissed this long back as being just a coincidenceAfter all, I had become logical and rational and it was silly to think that not searching for something can have a greater chance of finding it than searching for it. That would be ridiculous and at best a nice childhood fantasy. 

But life has made me reconsider that.

Recently at work, I racked my brains trying to solve an issue. I had already spent many conscious hours on it, in vain. I was once referred to as the Troubleshooter, a title that gave me a great sense of pride. And now, I could not solve what I would classify as a Medium complexity issue. I could not digest that. But it was late and I had to call it a day.

While driving back home, I was simply looking at the skyline and enjoying nature’s mystical beauty. And Bam! The solution to that problem at work unfolded in my head so clearly and so completely. I had found the solution when I didn’t look for it! It was like Magic. 

The trick that worked when I was a child really did work now too! 

I am pretty sure others have experienced this Magic too. However, most, like me, have grown up to brush these aside as sheer coincidencesBut coincidences are God’s way of telling us He exists! 

“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” ― Albert Einstein, The World as I See It

I now try to be intentional about making time to forget the problems of work and life. To simply look at the sky, the trees or a flower. Whenever I do that, I get a deeper understanding of life and everything that is part of it.

If you don’t believe me, then it’s not as if trying it out for yourself will cost you something. Don’t look for it and you will find it.

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… And you?

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“How can I teach him to become a responsible child?” 
I was driving home the other day with that question and much more playing on my mind. So much so that I could barely hear the car audio playing Madonna’s Papa don’t preach.

I had been a little worried last few days with the several times of hearing complaints from my Mom about how my four year old son, Tanav, was constantly watching TV after returning from school. There has to be a way out, I thought to myself. But what? And how? After all, my wife and I had tried everything we could, including scaring him that cops could come to arrest him. But, it was not working out any more.

I rolled down the windows hoping that some fresh air and ideas would enter in. And that’s exactly what happened, or so I thought . Although kids always want to have their way, yet the good news is that they are also logical and their mindset drives their behaviors. So, may be I just needed to convince him to start helping the family in some way, and that he would find that responsibility very satisfying!

It felt like an Aha! moment. Although it was perhaps an indirect way to teach someone to be responsible, yet my intuition told me its worth giving a try. I smiled to myself several times and although my car was crossing a flyover, I was feeling more like I had found a way to climb yet another mountain.

I reached home and managed a 1:1 time with Tanav before sleep time.

I said, “I have to talk to you about something.”

Tanav said, “Yes, Papa. Tell me.”

I love it when Tanav says something like that. I have seen that it is the 1:1 time that works if one wants the child’s undivided attention. Not when every one shouts at them at the same time. No one would like that, and we expect kids to take that nicely! Praise in public, reprimand in private. We remember this at our workplaces but forget it back home.

Anyway, I started, “You are a big boy now. And as one grows up, one starts helping the family in some way. See, Grandpa wakes up before everyone else in the family does, and fills water… in the buckets, bottles and water-tanks so that we all can use it all day long. All of us in the family are able to have water for drinking, bathing and flushing. All thanks to Grandpa! Did you ever even realize that?”

Tanav was touched. More so, when I told him that, “The luxury bubble bath that you and your sister take for over an hour followed by a shower is possible only because of Grandpa’s efforts in the early hours each morning!”

All he said was, “Really!!??!! Daadu is very sweet!”

I didn’t want us both to get carried away by emotion, so I quickly added, “Yes, he is. And so is Grandma. She takes care of the kitchen for everyone in the family. And Mom too, she gets you and Sohana ready for school, and helps Dadi with household chores.”

I was going to jump straight to asking him what he could do for the family, but Tanav intercepted, (with what now appears like an obvious follow-up question), “And Papa, what do you do for your family?“.

I was caught off guard but I still thought it would be an easy one, and so I started, ”I … I.. um.. ummm…. ummmmm…!!??!?!”

Oops! What do I do for my family? Do I do anything at all? I must be doing something besides going to office and earning money. After all, every one goes to work and the contribution I was referring to was meant to be more than just that! Besides, even if I said I go to office, then Tanav could say that he goes to school and watches TV all day to help his family! I couldn’t afford to take the risk of something like that being his answer!

Well, the reality is that what was meant to be a teaching for Tanav had ended up becoming one for me. I must have tried to defend myself then but I had learnt that I must genuinely start doing something for my family. I intend to get back to Tanav with a satisfactory answer soon, and before I end, let me ask you the same question, “What do you do for your family?”

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Don’t Bluff Those Little Fellas

 Most of this month, we have been busy in the process of finalizing which car to buy. It was a long and strenuous process to decide which one would be the best fit for our purpose. What made it take even longer, like most such family decisions, was the fact that everyone was involved in the process – From my Dad to my 6 month old daughter, Sohana. No kidding, every one has been equal party to the decision making process.

If you are wondering how can a 6 month old decide, well, it is simple – her happiness or crankiness levels during the various test rides were taken as indicators.

Even after deciding on the make, several other decisions had to be made such as the model, the color, the dealer and so on and so forth. I left the decision on which color to go for with my wife and 4 year old son, Tanav. So, I showed them all seven available colors on the pamphlet and left them alone in the room so that they could discuss and decide.

After a while, Tanav came out running and excitedly told me, “Papa, Dark brown color is what we would go for!“.

I assumed that this is a collective decision between him and my wife, and that Tanav was only communicating it to me. But as some one has rightly said, to assume is to make an ass of and me, and that’s what it was this time around as well. Later that evening, I casually asked my wife, “So, Brown it is, right?”

She replied, “No, not at all, I always said it is going to be the Serene Blue color which I love so much. You also like that one, don’t you?”

I was taken by surprise and asked, “But Tanav told me it was Brown. Dark Brown. And I thought both of you decided together!”

To which she said, “Oh yes, he is hung up on the Brown, and I don’t really know why. We couldn’t really agree on a color when we were discussing. I kept insisting on Blue and he was stuck with Brown.

I asked, “So…what next?”

To which she replied, “I don’t know. You tell me?”

I said, “Okay, I guess we will tell him that the Brown ones are out of stock, and we have to go with the Blue one. No Big Deal!”

There was something about that little proposal of mine that I hadn’t liked. I imagine it was my sixth sense telling me something but then it was an easy and perhaps a practical solution to get around the problem at hand, so I  let that thought pass.

Now there is something special about Sixth Sense that one has to remember –  whenever it tells you something, you better pay attention and act on it. It’s a message from up above which, if ignored, will come back to bite you. If not now, then later. But it will come back. Moreover, Sixth Sense doesn’t like being ignored, so if you repeatedly do that, it stops coming to share those insights and that could well be the beginning of your downfall.

I am glad I had the following realization the next morning. “The small little thing about the car color and we are considering lying to our own Son? Just to have our way! That can’t be right! What are we teaching our kid? Children are smarter than we can imagine, he will come to know soon that all colors were indeed available and that he was lied to. Besides, he will be grown up soon and learn to cook up stories to tell us to have what he wants. Are we okay with that? Of course, we are not!”

When I see my wife in the evening, I am going to tell her the revised plan -one that may be relatively more difficult one but is surely one that will help build a stronger bond with Tanav and will teach him a thing or two. We will tell him the truth and try to convince him using the same logic through which we ourselves like the Blue color, or perhaps understand his point of view. I am positive we will be able to come to a conclusion either way.

I am mindful of the occasions when we may have taken a short-cut or cut a little corner. Perhaps we all do it every once in a while. I am going to let bygones be exactly that, and take my lesson for going forward – Those small eyes and ears are learning from each interaction. Don’t even THINK of bluffing them!

I hope you will take away something from our experience and if that is the case, then please leave a comment below.

Boring Can Be Interesting Too, If You Make It So!

I am not the first parent to believe that it is difficult to get children to clean their room and perform other household chores. And neither am I going to be the last one. But we can’t really blame the kids if they refuse to do the chores– after all, kids are unlikely to pick up something as boring and mundane to do. Kids like doing interesting and exciting things which brings them satisfaction and learning.

I am quite finicky about cleanliness and get my head spinning every time I see my house in a mess, which is very often these days – After all, I have a four year old son, Tanav and a Six months old daughter, Sohana. Besides, and of course, I also have my wife!  I am being mean to include her and not myself in the list of people who create the mess, for which she will hate me. But I will leave it at that for now.

I also have my sister’s children come over some times, and when all kids are together and having fun, the house appears like there had just been a Tsunami visit our place.

Well, kids are kids and I love each one of them to death. Having said so, I do want to instill in them, the habit of cleaning the place after they are done. I have failed at this for some time now. I have tried telling them things such as, “Put the toys back in the place where they belong.“, “Clean the stuff, please!” and so on and so forth. I even tried to trick them into doing the chores, but kids are smart -They know very well that it’s a trap and get around it easily. You just can’t trick kids into doing something they don’t want to do.

So that’s how it has been so far!  I fetched Tanav from his school bus stop yesterday and on the way back, when he finished having his favorite snack – CRAX, he asked me, “Where should I throw the empty wrapper, Papa?

I thought of this as an opportune moment and put the question back at him – “Where do you think is this empty wrapper’s Home?

He thought for a while and said, “Is it the Trashcan?” to which I said, “Yes, and you know what, everything has a home and for those things that don’t have a home, there is a Home for Homeless.

I asked him a few other questions about the homes of things such as shoes, toys, clothes, books, and he knew their Homes very well. I was finally able to strike a chord with him on this subject. It was still left to put this Gyan into action.shorack

When we got home and after he was done with his lunch and TV time, I gave him a bundle of small red stickers and asked him to put a sticker on top of everything in his room that was not at its ‘Home’, the place where it belongs. These red sticker items were supposed to go back to their Home before Sleep Time, like we humans do.

He was taking the things to their Homes and loving putting the stickers on those that couldn’t be taken right away.

It was bizarre to see so many things slowly treading toward their Homes.

All the shoes, from under the bed, on the table, beside the almirah, were slowly moving to their Home, the Shoe Rack. Ditto for Books, they were slowly but steadily moving to the Bookshelf. Ditto for almost everything else.

Tanav and I planned to come at Ten o’ clock, (before sleep time), and count the stickers on the objects and penalize the owner with most red stickers for not being  caring enough. Along side, Tanav was helping me remove the spider webs, place the mosquito repellants and rat medicine so all the worthy residents including us could be safe in their Homes. We were all set and things were working out. It was fun, learning and interesting.

I don’t know how long can I carry on with that game to keep Tanav motivated to clean the place and do the chores, but I do know one thing – When this doesn’t work, I got to do something new to make it interesting yet again… and again. I guess that’s what life is all about.

I had to now put Tanav to bed, and made up a story about how the rats, spiders and mosquitos had hated us for cleaning the place. Their Kings conspired to attack us to take revenge. We did our best to fight because we are strong and drink Complan Milk, but yet it was bad. Our enemy was attacking us from Land, Air and Water. Land – Rats, Air – Mosquitoes and Water – Spiders in their little Spider Ships. We fought with all valor but still were going to lose. Then something magical happened – All the Homeless who we had taken to their homes, the shoes, the toys, the books came to join us to fight our enemies. We won at the end. It was the victory of cleanliness over mess, and interesting over boring! Tanav super duper loved the story. I could see that through the tinkle in his eyes.

I am sure you have your own ways to make things interesting, sometimes it works and a lot of times it doesn’t. But don’t give up, keep working at it. It’s worth the effort. You can make the boring stuff interesting, if you choose to do so!

Look Under The Covers

I generally get the gas filled in my car every fortnight, and make it a point to get the tyres pressure checked along with that as a ritual. Air pressure is complimentary service that most gas stations provide, although people sometimes tip a rupee or two to the overly ill-dressed guy who fills the air who looks rather more poor than he really would be. My general observation has been that since this is a free service, it is hard to get. This guy is usually indifferent and missing from the scene and there have been several occasions when I have driven off without the pressure checks, in frustration.

I hadn’t been able to get the air pressure checks since last two visits to Gas station and this time I was desperate. But as usual, the guy was not there. My usual practice is to blow the horn several times, and after that, I would come out of the car showing madness on my face, and shout around – “Where is this guy?”. No one listens I think and even if they do, they don’t respond. If they do after a lot of pushing for an answer, it has always been a, “We don’t know!

The above hasn’t given me positive results ever I guess, but I follow the same steps always nonetheless. That makes me fit into the definition of Insane people according to Einstein:

[fbq] “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” –  Albert Einstein [fbq]

So this time around also, I repeated the above steps and was about to leave in frustration, and that was the time when a Eureka moment must have happened to me. I think I realized I had been acting insane and I must do something different. I observed more closely that I had done in the past. There was a small shack just behind the Air machine. It had a thick curtain which must have been made of a blanket. There was nothing such as a door to know so I removed the curtain covers after making a “Knock Knock” sound. And there he was, the guy who fills air, was relaxing to glory and oblivious to the world around and apparently his own job. It is what it is, but I had found the guy and more importantly I had learnt a bigger lesson – “One that one has to look under the covers!”

This story is actually a metaphor for the mistakes I so often made in other spheres of life as well. I guess that is also true for others. In the face of a challenging problem, we would go running to someone else for a solution even without giving it the required time or thought ourself. We are so troubled in the face of a problem that our knee-jerk reaction is to quickly find someone else to address it. Let me shout around and if no one responds or listens, then I can easily be frustrated and say that it’s not my problem and just that no one helps here and people are in general very selfish.

Well, that’s the exact CHANGE of mindset I want to suggest in this post. I am also reminded of some Managers in the past, who would simply forward the mails to the whole 300 people team, the moment it arrived, with nothing added and no clear direction, that is with no value add. That is never going to help, at best it is going to leave 300 people reading something and trying to interpret it in 300 different ways ultimately leaving the same Manager frustrated and mad.

Look under the obvious covers and see if your solutions are hidden under. Chances are that they are. This seems so obvious but we still keep forgetting it. I started writing this blog day before but couldn’t finish it the same day. I can’t believe I myself forgot the next morning about it and had to stop myself and remind myself of it. My wife and I had decided a diet plan which meant we have bananas at the start of the day, before we had our bed tea. I went out looking for bananas but didn’t find them on the table where I expected them. I was about to run back to my wife shouting where on earth were they kept. Fortunately I recalled the lesson I had learnt the previous day and decided to do my homework first. I looked in the kitchen and in the living room, and finally in the fridge to find the bananas there.
Before you decide to shout…, stop and think – and look under the covers. It will be worth it!

No Cabs In My Company

One of my dear friends back from the days of St. Stephen’s college, Amit Kumar, used to be a dynamite. He was so energetic that it used to be irritating for me at times. But thinking back today, I can appreciate that same quality about him. He used to be an expert in hitch-hiking for rides to the college, bus stand and sometimes when he was too lucky, he would also get a ride all the way from home to college and back.

He was the same even in the classroom. He was so full of energy and couldn’t wait for the teacher to finish describing the problem to solve. He would write with his pen so hard that one could start having mercy on the paper being written upon.
He would speak so fast I missed most of what he said. When I wanted to understand, which was not too often, I would have to stop him and ask him to repeat over (and over sometimes).
Not only in hitch-hikes and studies, he was very good at many other things – sports, extra-curriculars such as debates, general knowledge, reading, clarity of thought et al.
What you may be wondering is that – “What has hitch-hiking got to do with the other things that Amit was good at ?”.
Well, Everything! That is the point I am trying to make in this post. He used to start his day with so much energy, and the same would rub off on everything else he did. His start of the day was to get ready and run towards the road to showing his thumb to the cars coming his way asking them to give him a ride (lift). He never gave up when many didn’t bother to stop or worse still, even abused or showed their middle finger to him. He kept going. It must have taken a higher sense of being from him to forgive such people and move on despite these seemingly big obstacles. The kind of joy he felt when some one stopped after repeatedly attempts would probably give him a sense of victory after a lot of struggle. Whatever it was that kept him going, the point is that he toiled, he struggled and he kept his energy levels high at the beginning of his day. Only you can do that, yourself. It is up to you.
Drawing a parallel, I see most of the people working in IT industry in Delhi coming to office in the company provided cabs. These cabs pick the employees up from their doorstep and drop them at the basement of the building where they work. One just has to take the minimum pain of lifting oneself up from their home into the cab and from the cab, into the elevator which is a spitting distance in most cases. I see most of the people travelling in these company cabs asleep, when they are getting to work. No doubt the distance is long usually generally ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours at times, but regardless, I would estimate that at least 90% of these people travelling by cabs are asleep on their way to work.

  • Can you expect these people to be productive at office?
  • Can you expect them to run around pushing for something to happen urgently?
  • Can you expect them to be all rounder’s at everything they do?
  • Can you expect them to be like the Amit I knew?

I think you know the answer, NO, and a BIG one at that!
Even if I discount this by some percentage assuming that some people may have other ways to keep themselves energized, still I have at least 80% of my workforce starting off lazy, continuing to be lazy and ending up being lazy to end their day. This despite what is said about mornings being the most productive time of the day if used well.

If you still don’t believe me, ask a random sample of the people who travel by Cabs to take a hitch-ride to home on their way back or when coming to office the next day. Chances are they would think that is too much. Then, ask them to come to work any which way but not their regular transport, just for a day. Having tried this myself, I can bet they would either give up but if some one does take up the challenge, he or she would be a very different – much more energized person!

If you still don’t agree, I wish you good luck and success, but if and when I start my own company, I am very clear – There won’t be any CABs for my employees, at all! If they can’t make it to work on their own, my company doesn’t need them. They may think that’s a perk too less, but honestly its not a perk less, it’s a small push to them to energize themselves right at the beginning of their day. This small push is intended to keep them energized and awake not only at work (which I most certainly want to benefit from) but even at their homes for a better personal life!

Hello World!

The phrase “Hello World” holds a special meaning for people born in my generation who happened to be students of computers. This was the name of the first computer program we wrote when ever we learnt a new computer programming language. It used to give me and all of my friends a sense of joy and accomplishment to see these words showing on the blue computer screen on ‘executing’ our programs.

I still get the same sense of joy on having my site up and running today, and more glad to see the same text on my site as it launches – H E L L O  W O R L D.

Today, world has changed and my 4 year old son, Tanav, is sitting next to me, assisting me with the teething problems using this site while in parallel playing on the i-Phone which he knows like the back of his hand. I doubt if “HELLO WORLD” will ever hold any relevance for his generation or generations to come.

As for me, it has taken my Rocket a lot of energy to attain this Escape Velocity, and it will need your love and support to keep spinning in an i-orbit around the planet where it can be used for some blessed purpose. Amen!