The year 2023 has begun amidst the gloom of massive layoffs, downsizing, redundancies, by whatever name called. There is anger, anguish, dismay and despondency all around since the action is largely by the Corporate Biggies who had hired in hordes. However it is the small and medium enterprises that have braved the tough tides and bounced back time and again. I am sharing select thoughts gleaned from a talk I attended a couple of months ago by Indraneel Chitale, a 4th generation entrepreneur of a legacy Indian food business, Chitale Bandhu, that started in the pre-independence era.
“Leading family businesses in the age of disruption”
Legacy is a responsibility as well as a platform. Statistics speak ‐ 1st generation business 68% fails, 2nd generation 78 to 80% fails, 4th generation 98% fails.
Late Sri Bhaskar Ganesh Chithale started milk distribution in 1939 in Bhilwadi in Sangli district. Lost 300 cattle in 1 week. No electricity, no telephone ‐ how to preserve milk at that time was the question. Moved towards B2B milk products derivative distribution. Survival was the key !
Inspired by the independence movement and patriotism, sons joined the business to form Chithale Bandhu. Grown to 22 internal shareholders from the family across 4 generations.
1970, milk packaging technology imported. 1st company to start pouch technology. 1980s ‐ started franchising, fruit processing ‐ ingredient supplier to pickles, sauces. Introduced machinery for different products to ensure standardisation at ingredient level. Foraying into new territories !
Backward integration with farmers through genetic semen-bull strategy – building an ecosystem!
Halwai or mithaiwala trap ‐ where do we fit in dilemma ? Data and science came in handy. Led to few machines and many products ‐ automation ensured that products taste the same everyday. Order & tracking system ‐ prioritising for what & how much to produce brought in efficiency.
Increased Tech use in Chitale – Cows to cloud, RFID tech intelligence to farmers that ensures transparency from ingredient to end product. Use of IOT ‐ Farm to fork, 500 data points, 3 locations, 2 states. Build patterns out of purchasing power data & AI prediction to plan production, distribution and sales.
Brand should find place in customer’s pocket. Omnichannel presence across countries helped in pandemic.
Used Theory of Constraints in technology & distribution. Grew from 14k stores in 2014 to 2.5L stores currently. Giga factory ‐ ability to lift and shift.
Food is an emotional sale. Honour tradition. Cherish innovation. Add joy to every occasion of our consumer. Chithale tagline – maintain the sweetness of every relation. Watch this YouTube video for some heart rending communication.
A few catchy, wise words from the young head of Indraneel….
Vision without action is a day dream. Action without vision is a nightmare.
If you want to grow tall, dig deep.
Be an inspiration, maintain integrity (as 4th generation I should either grow or sell).
Ask for external help even in a family business.
Be compliant globally. Understand economics, policies, not politics alone.
Preserve values of delegation & trust. You cannot be everywhere. Have continuity through teams.
Business is a test match.
Leadership is a lifestyle-walk the talk. Own the talk. Live by it.
Honour diversity, agree to disagree.
Brand remains, family changes.
The most amusing one I have heard so far – “How should an entrepreneur be ‐ not a dying dinosaur. He should be like a cockroach ‐ resilient, relevant & persistent 😊”
‘Trust’ is an integral part of any relationship. It is a 2-way street with ‘Truthfulness’ and ‘Transparency’ riding high on it.
Almost a decade ago, as I battled cancer, I had no choice of turning away my customers nor closing down my practice. I had no choice but to trust my small team to deliver without me. I watched them learn and grow. Rise and fall. Feel empowered and confident. I Trusted & Delegated. The team took Ownership.
Long before COVID, I changed the medical leave rules. Made it unlimited with pay. I trusted my team to avail sick leave only when actually unwell. It worked. In the last several years, each time every one of them has shared with me the actual health reason for abstaining from work.
As we close the 2nd year of the 3rd decade of the 21st century, and get ready to welcome a bright new 2023, my ‘trust’ in trusting employees has grown deeper and stronger. Let me share 3 latest instances:
One of my girls who had joined less than an year ago was to get married. While she was excited and broke the news happily to me, she was mindful of the consequences her absence would have when majority of the team would go on exam leave in December (every Company Secretary firm grapples with skeletal staff thanks to the CS exams every 6 months once !). She chose a combo of WFH and leave and deferred her honeymoon to 2023 (yes, she did that !), just so that she can contribute until the office functions with full quorum. This thoughtful initiative and commitment to work came from her, on her own. Trust is a 2-way street as I said. The young bride managed her wedding-leave beautifully !
Another girl was juggling her time between work and caring for her ailing mother in another city for last couple of years. A hybrid of WFH and WFO option helped her immensely. Only because she was truthful about her challenges and her aspirations. Unfortunately, she lost her mother recently. Bereaved she was but not bereft of sense of duty. She called her colleagues the very next day and ensured an effective work handover so that the impact of her absence is minimal. She continued to work intermittently and resumed after a short break. This attitude helped us manage the dreaded ‘December-exam-leave’ period smoothly. Again, it was her pay-back gesture towards the team that filled in during her bereavement leave.
Well, what can I say about this petite, school-girl-like, employee of mine who handles many clients over the years ? She is so well-planned and meticulous that she can as well be named “Timeliness” 😊! She planned her maternity leave (ML) so well that the work-handover began months in advance as she availed a 2 month WFH option before signing off on the 6-month ML. She chose to be active at work until the last day before her little one arrived. She cared for her clients, her work and her colleagues as much as she did for her bundle-of-joy. Her thoughtful planning reflects her attitude of Transparency !
I have just picked 3 recent instances but it is incredible how rest of the team has risen to the occasion and held fort ungrudgingly, not only in these instances but also in several others over the years, despite their own personal challenges. Their remarkable solidarity with one another is so heartening. Stemming as I said, from the culture of 3 Ts – Trust, Truthfulness & Transparency !!
‘Samhita’ as a living, breathing person who is expressive and evolving. From taking baby steps way back in November, 2009 as Lexspeak, shy and unsure of herself (https://sharadasc.com/newsletter/volume-1-issue-no-12010/) to finding her feet during the tweens to completing 13 years in 2022, she has blossomed into a teenager through the 280+ issues sharing a variety of things – regulatory updates, professional articles, statutory calendar reminders, hand-picked thought for the month, jokes, legal maxims, phrases & definitions, INCOTERMS, insurance terms, tips to improve English, better business communication and of course the much-awaited insightful, Editorials. This year she has turned towards books and is recommending good reads with a short review under the “Books : Best Buddy” column. She has been reinventing to keep herself relevant to a cross section of the readers – legal and accounting professionals, entrepreneurs, teachers, students, management graduates, corporate honchos, home makers, social sector evangelists et al. The Sun continues to shine. The Clouds continue to float. The Seas continue to roar. The Rivers continue to flow. The Mountains continue to stand. The Birds continue to fly. So shall Samhita continue to share for years to come, in pursuit of its inspiration “Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya” (light of knowledge removes the darkness of ignorance) !!
Talking of growing up, I really wish we don’t. We are a child if we still retain the following attributes :
Joy| Fearlessness| Curiosity| Energy| Enthusiasm| Mischief| Adventure| Letting go| Experimenting| Being carefree |
Someone said “We are not our age. We are our energy”. This was in full display during our recent trip to Chiguru Farms https://chigurufarm.com/, a 15 acres fully functional organic farm, about 50 kms from Bangalore. Children and adults alike, all of us rediscovered the child in us as we walked around plucking fresh fruits from the 35 varieties – guavas, sapotas, bananas, yellow sapotas, lychees, butter fruits, wild berries, water apples, many more that I don’t remember – biting into them, understanding the varieties of rice and millets grown, admiring the beautiful flowers, tall trees, rows of chemical-free vegetables, throwing stones into the well-preserved lakes, lovingly nurtured ponds over the years and enjoying the simple spectre of ripples in the water. Rani, the sheep gave us company all through the 3 hour walk and was happy being cuddled as she posed for clicks. Other farm animals like cows, calves, sheep, chicks, goats welcomed us affectionately and added to the rural experience.
Raghavendra Bhat, an IT professional-turned-Chiguru Founder took us on a trip explaining everything about the farm, its produce, how chemical-free it is and the whole ecosystem of sustainable living. Food served is prepared from 80% ingredients grown naturally on the farm. His anecdotes from the experiential farm trips shamed us into realising how little we know about what we eat and how it is grown. Looking at a 5 day old calf, I believe, a teacher asked “How much milk does she give ?” Another stunner was from an innocent child who asked “Do you grow the snacks also on the farm?” This huge gap has inspired Bhat into offering curated learning trips to school children, families and communities.
Fearing the notorious Bangalore road traffic, while most of us had announced that we would wind up post a sumptuous home-made lunch, we landed up having evening tea and snacks as we huddled over board games and antyakshari. We played many old outdoor and traditional board games that some of us never knew or had long forgotten since childhood. There was so much strategy, aggression, skill and fun involved – simple yet satisfying. Oh how can I forget to mention the thrill of tree climbing, swinging on the rubber tyre hanging from the branches, enjoying the jhoola with gay abandon, sipping freshly made jaggery-cardomom-lemon drink ! Regained the child in us as we got more energetic through the day. It was a day of bonding. A trip back into childhood. All this was ironically a day before Children’s Day / Week – 14th to 20th November.
Wishing everyone ‘wisdom, well-being and wealth’ beyond Deepavali, that just concluded. While most of us get into a cleaning spree of homes, offices, stores and just about everything physical, don’t you think it is equally important to clean our minds and hearts as well ? To rid our ‘top floor’ of negative thoughts, self-imposed constraints, limiting beliefs, prejudices, misconceptions and fear. Emptying out or purging is as important as acquiring and accumulating. Infact more I would say. With age and so-called experience, our minds get clogged and unwanted, heavy baggage derail our life’s journey from being joyful and productive. It is essential that we rediscover ourselves, realign our goals and repurpose our lives from time to time.
In order to help our employees do this and be a better self, recently we had a beautiful personality development programme facilitated by a well known Learning Facilitator (www.srividyanagaraju.com). It was a fun-filled, action packed time spent together that threw up the following top-12 learnings (as shared by my team), presented creatively by Ms. Amritha Puranik, CS Intern :
1. Nobody thinks about you. Stop thinking what others think about you.
5. Destination and the journey, both are equally important. Enjoy both.
7. Life is not all black and white. Learn to accept the grey in between.
9. Power of visualisation is strong. Visualise first and then act. Results will follow.
10. Big things being the same, small things make a big difference.
11. Seeking help is not a weakness.
12. Care for yourself like how you care for others. Me-time is not selfishness.
2. We are here to express, not to impress. Impression should be the outcome, not the objective.
3. Give yourself the permission to fail. You are not a failure as long as you don’t fail to learn from it.
4. Let’s serve with care, not with worry.
6. Convert fear into curiosity – things will become easier.
8. You are your own limitation. You are more capable than what you think. Challenge yourself.
The best part was that all of these came from group activities and not from a lecture session. I believe this internalisation will result in individual actions for betterment.
Saraswathi, the Goddess of Learning is invoked during Navaratri (9 days). Coincidentally, in this 280th issue of Samhita (1st issue was published in 2009) we are starting a new column “Books – Best Buddy”, featuring books of different genres, recommended by readers. Infact the suggestion came from one of our readers, Hyderabad based Santhosh who is a Company Secretary turned International Ventriloquist. It reflects the ethos of Samhita – light the lamp of knowledge and dispel the darkness of ignorance !
The inaugural column features an Amazon best-seller “You Just Got Cheated – Understanding white collar crimes” by my good friend, Dr. Sibichen Mathew, Commissioner of Income Tax (CPC), author, professional speaker, film maker, all rolled into one. This book is the culmination of over 6 years of research into various white collar crimes across the globe.
The name reveals it all – how you and me, common man get cheated day in and day out by all kinds of fraudsters. Right from a car servicing centre to a sham innovator to a ‘promising’ scheme to large corporates to food chains to politicians to NGOs – at different levels and scales we are cheated and we are almost oblivious to it. We think white collar crimes do not affect the common man. We think the so-called ‘system’ will take care of itself. Or wish that it will not repeat again.
Sadly, this is not true. ”History reveals that crimes travel across the globe in time as criminals learn from each other for their criminal indulgences” says Dr. Sibichen. The book does throw light on many cases where scamsters have been nabbed thanks to either public proactiveness or societal angst and action. More often than not the regulators wake up after the crime is committed and try to bolt the horse after it has run out of the stable – tighten the rules and regulations as a reaction rather than as a response ! As evidence shows, by then the criminal is out on the streets, having escaped to a safe haven with the booty. It is you and me who are left stranded as victims, with empty wallets, lost jobs, dead families, failing health and a bruised economy that has an adverse long-term effect on society.
The book is a treatise on the ‘why, how, and what of the WCCs from the perspective of victimology’, rather than revealing the gory details of various kinds of scams alone, which it does in any case. All from a hitherto unexplored, victim perspective to shake us out of our slumber. To create awareness. To call for concerted action. To make us responsible global citizens. To leave the world as a better place….!!
Awareness and action are a result of the awakening within. 9 days of Navaratri is a celebration of Shakthi – an embodiment of Energy, Abundance & Knowledge. It is a time to transit from ‘tamas’ to ‘rajas’, to awaken the energy within us, to come out of our comfort zones, to break the shell of lethargy, to change, to transform, to ACT. So that ABUNDANCE abounds !
“Sare jahan se accha
Hum bulbulain hai iss ki
yeh gulsitan hamara
Sare jahan se accha”
Which Indian doesn’t know this patriotic song by Muhammad Iqbal, written more than a century ago in 1908 when our country was yet to be liberated ? Which Indian doesn’t get goose bumps listening to this song even now ? In the 1980s, I recall there was a beautiful programme aired on AIR where every Sunday, songs from different languages of India were taught. As children we had learnt so many songs including this inspiring one in the praise of our motherland. So, after hoisting the flag on the 76th Independence Day celebrations at a local NGO that I mentor (https://www.vonishafoundation.org), I just broke into this song instantly with the 150+ ‘bulbuls’ (children) singing after me. The chorus reverberated in the modest open ground of a school in a slum area where children from the lowest rungs of society study, dreaming of a better life. The small school decorated lovingly with hand-made festoons and crafts by the enthusiastic children and committed teachers suddenly sprung to life and transported me back to my own school days. Therefore, when I was asked to say a few words as the chief guest, I kept it simple and closed in 5 minutes – dreading the long, boring ID day sermons (or it so appeared to us back then) our strict Principal would deliver 😊. Our eagerness was only to receive the sweets and namkeen that would be distributed thereafter followed by a holiday.
Well, the bulbuls of Vonisha were better behaved and disciplined than us. Representing a cross section of the impoverished families living in the slums, their cheerful faces, high pitched ‘good morning ma’am’ and eager ‘happy Independence Day handshakes’ belied their living conditions. There was no impoverishment in their joy, their sharing and the display of their talents. It was amazing abundance everywhere. The school provides free of cost education to about 250 children across ages from 5 to 15, thanks to the initiative of a teacher-doctor couple, dedicated teachers, individual philanthropic donations and some committed CSR contributions & volunteering. Right from individual short speeches to fancy dress competition typical of a national day celebration to full spirited dance moves choreographed to popular patriotic film songs to medleys to complex yoga postures to tough quiz rounds……..everything was in fully display by the young children who had shown up in their best. I was touched to see how parents (mostly labourers, daily wage earners, garment workers, maids, auto drivers, single parents, abused mothers) had willingly spent their earnings on the special costumes for the day to see their ‘bulbuls’ in their best ‘plummage’ if I may say so ! Why not ? Are they children of a lesser God ?
The guests that day including me were dumbstruck to see the quality of performance and the levels of knowledge the children had, about our freedom struggle. They were no different from their entitled counterparts in other schools. Perhaps even better and proud of the stories taught to them by their teachers. I could see it in their eyes and demeanour. Filled my heart with joy looking at the progress we have made as a country over the last 75 years. Agreed that there are miles to go before we sleep but we must celebrate the miles we have crossed so far especially with respect to the ‘bulbuls of Bharat’ ! A huge gap still exists in several areas including basic education and each one of us has a responsibility to fill it, in whatever best way we can.
Before I close on the best ID day celebrations I have ever had, let me call out one young girl – Ms. Manasa – all of 14, appearing for the 10th standard exam this year through NIOS (National Institute of Open School). Daughter of a single mother, she compered the 2 hour long programme on 15th August seamlessly. Speaking in flawless English and managing many surprises within the event, she was Confidence at its Best ! She could put any top communicator to shame with her skills and attitude. Wishing more CSR contributions pour in and more ‘Manasas’ rise as we progress into the Azaadi ka Amrit Varsh !!
“A great building must begin with the unmeasurable, must go through measurable means when it is being designed and in the end must be unmeasurable.” said the famous Architect, Louis Kahn. With due apologies to him, I would like to add that it is not the mere physical structure that makes it unmeasurable and outstanding. It is the people behind it. The building may or may not be the best in architecture, the biggest in size or amazing in its interiors. It is the legacy that it carries, the values that it stands for, the knowledge that it spreads and the people that it serves. On all these counts the well-known Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA) in Bangalore stands apart (http://www.gipa-bng.org/).
I had the privilege of moderating a session here on the 162nd Income Tax Day (24th July, 2022) which was a conversation with the Commissioner of Income Tax, Dr. Sibichen Mathew himself. While he patiently explained the genesis of taxation in India, the contours of evolution of the system over the years, the current filing system, the nitty-gritties of calculating made-easy, the upcoming faceless assessment system etc., what was endearing was his compliments to the Institute known for its quality of public engagement, immaculate time management and its enlightened audience. It was heartening to see general public across ages, across occupations intelligently interacting with the speaker – there was a young member in his 20s and there was also a not-so-young gentleman in his 90s. Both of them sat through the entire session with the Author, Researcher and Taxman, Dr. Sibichen. My role was to engage him in a conversation. Must say it was very enjoyable and informative (https://youtu.be/wbRS0yLDaeM).
Did you know that GIPA prides itself of conducting a session every single day since its inception in 1945 – yes that makes it 77 years in a row including during pandemic when it turned online. The calendar of events spanning education, economics, spirituality, epics, music, literature, history, science, mathematics et al is printed 6 months in advance ! With a variety of topics and a galaxy of speakers gracing the venue, the audience has a bonanza throughout the year, all free of cost. As someone said “Knowledge is discovered collectively, wisdom is rediscovered individually.”
“Ele mare kaayiagi baalabeku” my mom used to say (in Kannada), meaning “live like a seed that is hidden by a leaf”. Be modest. This is how I would describe GIPA and more so its audience who look very simple but are extremely knowledgeable. In an age and time when anyone and everyone is on social media brandishing their so-called achievements, the Institute is truly living by its founding members’ vision and values. Inspired by none other than the famous freedom fighter and thinker Gopal Krishna Gokhale and started by the philosopher & Kannada literary giant, Dr. D V Gundappa, GIPA is a hallowed place. The benign grace and blessings flowing from the portraits of the various freedom fighters, litterateurs, philosophers, thinkers, spiritual gurus weighed heavily on me as I started the session but the serenity of the place, simplicity of the audience and cheerful articulation by the speaker (of a dry topic like Taxes), put me at ease. Like I said, people define organisations and not the infrastructure alone !
“5.82cr is end of the day score”, declared Dr. Sibichen Mathew, Commissioner of Income Tax, CPC. That was the number of returns filed as of 31st July, 2022, the last day for filing tax returns by individuals and other non-audit tax assesses. The number of messages of appreciation and gratitude pouring in from the public, not only for the ease of filing on the income tax website (a few exceptions for glitches of course) but also the prompt helping hand lent by its officers is testimony again to the people that make organisations outstanding. Technology alone cannot deliver. It requires robust processes, committed people and a dynamic leader to achieve success. Only then what Manusmriti and Chanakyaniti stated aeons ago can become a reality “The king should arrange the collection of taxes in such a manner that the subjects should not feel the pinch of paying taxes. Tax must be collected just like a honey bee sucks nectar from the flower without crushing the flower itself.”
Have you ever played Snake & Ladder ? Can you recall the joy of casting the dice and getting started ? the thrill of climbing multiple ladders ? the disappointment of being bitten by a snake ? the frustration of being pushed back to the bottom of the board when you almost thought you had made it ? the double-joy of seeing someone lose ? The highs and lows of this simple game marked by unexpected twists and turns is what that makes it so exciting and enjoyable.
Now why am I talking of this byone era game in this digital times ?
Because we professionals are forced into playing this game day in and day out on the MCA (Ministry of Corporate Affairs) portal !! Read on…..
Did you know that the elephant has a gestation period longer than any living mammal ? 680 days of pregnancy which is believed to make them strong and intelligent.
Now, why am I talking of the pachyderm’s pregnancy ? Is it to mark World Environment Day on 5th June ? No. Because startup founders are getting impatient with the ‘oh-so-long-pregnant’ MCA which hasn’t been able to deliver their LLPs on time 😊
˙ʎɐp ɐƃoʎ ʎddɐɥ ˙ʍou ɐuɐsɹǝǝɥs ƃuᴉop ɯɐ I ˙ƃuᴉuɹoɯ pooפ 🙃
Now, why am I talking of this difficult inverted body pose (Shirasasana) ? Is it to celebrate World Yoga Day on 21st June or showcase our agility on PCS Day, 15th June? Neither.
Because even if we stand upside down as the last resort for beseeching MCA, it doesn’t seem to work ! You do need yogic patience and saintly qualities to tame your ‘rogue elephantisque temper’ and not get frustrated, servicing clients who seek simple service of setting up an LLP (:
Do you play Antyakshari (a game of songs) during office hours ?
Now why am I talking crazily out of my head ? Is it to enjoy World Music Day on 21st June ? Not at all.
Because music is the best stress-buster when you are caught in a helpless situation, unable to deliver the promised service due to technical glitches of a portal which routinely closes tickets, leaving the issue unresolved !!
Enough of ranting. Let me GET TO THE POINT ! Bound by our professional code of conduct, we cannot rave and rant like aam janata on social media about the LLP V3 portal of MCA. It doesn’t serve any purpose. We do believe that our alma mater ICSI is doing what best it can to get our grievances redressed by the MCA. However, I cannot stop myself from sharing the LLP-saga, penned as below by two of my young ‘unmarried colleagues’ (Rajeswari & Anjali) who are experiencing ‘birthing-pangs’ trying to incorporate LLPs since March, 2022 😊
“Patience is not the ability to wait but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.” -Joyce Meyer. The whole incorporation experience in the new regime will test your patience and will. In the month of March 2022, we got a proposal for incorporation of two Limited Liability Partnership (LLPs), which were to further set up an entity abroad (under ODI regulations) within a specific timeframe. Based on our previous experience, we advised the clients about the process, documents and timelines involved. Little did we know that the timeline for incorporation would get dragged from 2 weeks to 3 months solely on account of technical glitches.
Out of the 2 LLPs, one got incorporated without much hassle although there were prefill issues in the initial days. However, the second LLP was struck by a lightning of endless issues and was ultimately abandoned by the client.
16th March, 2022 – Application for reservation of name was filed. Challan was not getting generated. Status of SRN was appearing as ‘invalid SRN’.
24th March – Approval email received but no approval letter attached. Application history still showed the SRN status as ‘Under Processing’. Unable to proceed with the incorporation of LLP for 2 weeks.
7th April – issue resolved after escalation through multiple tickets and emails.
Strange problems continued – No options to select appropriate district for DIN of DPs. District prefilled based on PIN Code showed an error stating ‘enter alphanumeric values’.
Forms marked for resubmission even when the documents were in order. Unable to resubmit within time due to portal issues.
For days, tickets went unresolved or were simply closed as ‘resolved’ by technical team.
The entire team tried coming up with innovative ideas to tackle this frustrating situation. As the saying goes “Frustration is the fuel that can lead to the development of an innovative and useful idea.” – Marley Dias.
Convinced the client to start the incorporation process afresh. But besieged with fresh technical problems related to identity proofs of the DPs, SRN of previously filed FiLLiP form still open though the validity had expired.
Tried with innovative, alternative ID proofs but came back for resubmission, requiring something that was already attached.
Being a time sensitive matter due to the ODI aspects involved, clients finally decided to abandon the birthing of second LLP and alter the structure of existing LLP.
Again the V3 portal played spoil sport – due to the differences in the version of portal, a simple form for application for DIN could not be filed.
The last turn that we took was to incorporate a company and then using the same DIN, onboard the director as a DP in the existing LLP. This hasn’t helped much either – the LLP agreement cannot be amended now since the original one is still pending approval for more than 3 weeks ! Doesn’t it fell like a stone stuck in the neck of a bottle ?
It is like climbing a ladder one day but sliding down several on the next, bitten by the proverbial snake !!
I am sure thousands of professionals have similar saga to share. I wish and pray and hope that the trade bodies and industry chambers take up the matter with the government because it is not just filing some forms and setting up an entity. It is loss of productive hours, money, opportunities and credibility resulting in huge economic loss.
Snow clad mountains | Golden hue of the sun rays gently kissing them | Sometimes clear | Sometimes engulfed in pristine white clouds, caressing the slopes | Contrasted by the tall green pines alongside the gurgling river flowing by | Add to this feast for the eyes, the constant cheerful, chirping of the birds in different pitches….wow what a feast to the ears, away from the dust and din of the cities. It is a sensory experience which cannot be viewed in videos and pictures. Must be savoured first hand to appreciate nature which is truly heaven on earth ! Here are some takeaways / observations from my recent trip to a few places in the valleys of Himachal Pradesh :
Gentle, courteous people like the soothing mountain environment. They live in tough conditions but serve with a smile. Amazing hospitality at 10,000 ft. above sea level.
Clean, hygienic, eco-friendly and sustainable living.
Kathkuni (kasth & kona i.e. wood + corner) structure – preserving traditional heritage architecture of Himachal that uses only stone and wood. The structure is both cool as well as cosy.
Mountain roads are treacherous that teach us patience and dexterity. Fortunately we had a matured driver who always yielded and gave way to the oncoming vehicle, every single time. We hardly do it in cities and are in a tearing hurry to zip past ahead, resulting in traffic jams and accidents.
As serene as it may seem, there is uncertainty and severity – sudden weather changes, unexpected downpours, lashing winds, turns and bends on the road, landslides and more.
Diversity galore – calming rivers, gushing falls, whispering woods, floating clouds, melting snow, mild sunlight, heavy winds – all of which can be experienced in a single day.
Found the mountain people hard working but quite contented with minimal or no greed – no chasing of tourists, marketing of their ware. We could enjoy the stay at peace.
People living for 100+ years thanks to chemical free farming, eating farm fresh produce, drinking untreated clean water and walking for long miles in the mountain ranges.
Entreprenurial spirit that has propelled many affordable and comfortable home stays.
Smaller and cosier places promote friendliness and camaraderie – tourists from all over the country were open to greet each other, sing and eat together, give tips and lend a helping hand. How badly we miss this in urban areas ! Large living spaces but constricted hearts !!
As I said, it is to be seen and experienced to be believed. I fall short of words to describe the bounty of mother nature in the majestic mountains. At the same time, the lifestyle in the mountains reminds us of our basic responsibility to “Live and let live”.
“Reading a book gives us the habit of solitary, reflection and enjoyment.” Said Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, former President of India. While this is true, the reflection can also spur some meaningful action and stir a few emotions.
I am tempted to travel back in time machine when my 2nd born was just 5 years old. Famously nick-named Koramangala Rowdy from his play-school days, one incident opened up the heartful softer side of him. In 2004 I had taken a sabbatical from my job to pursue an executive management programme from IIM, Bangalore. One night as I returned from IIMB after a long day at the course, I saw my son already asleep (or I thought so !). Felt terribly guilty for reaching home late. Remorsefully, I whispered into his ears “Chinnu, I am so sorry. I am not spending enough time with you. Just a few more weeks and the course is over”. Suddenly, he woke up, his eyes brightly lit and flashed a million-dollar smile at me. He then thrust his English reader into my hand. Hugging me tightly, he insisted that he read a story to me. Yes, you read it right. He read a story to me and not the other way round. I was dead tired and was in no mood to listen but how could I refuse a child offering to read from his book ? This is how he concluded his reading “Amma, don’t feel bad. Do you know the moral of this Juno the Monkey story ? Mother’s love has no equal. I know you also love me so much”. Well, I still remember that poignant moment, the heart-felt love that poured out of my 5 yr old like a volcano. This was the boy I thought was not friends with books !
Let me travel back even further into the time machine. When I was a child. I distinctly remember how my mother would read out from books and magazines. Every night we would get to hear bedtime stories from her, as we siblings would jostle for space next to her to feel her cosiness and affection. There were no separate bed rooms nor cots back then. It was simple beds rolled out on the floor with all of us sleeping next to each other in the same room. Ma would read out serial stories and comic strips from the Kannada magazines Sudha, Taranga, Mayura. Kathas and upa-kathas (sub-stories) from our epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, about Akbar & Birbal, about Tenali, about our freedom struggle, from Munshi Premchand’s Hindi novels, Kabir & Rahim’s dohas……oh, what a rich tapestry she would paint. It would be so engrossing that our owner’s only daughter would eavesdrop from her window and listen to her silently. Even now she says, “I envy your childhood. What a lovely, intelligent and caring mother you had.”
I am compelled to travel back to times that I wasn’t even born. Yes, to my grandmother’s younger days. My maternal grandmother was a 4th class drop-out, as most girls back in the days were – married off as a child and turned into a ‘reproduction-machine’ (pardon me for saying that but what else if someone had birthed 8 children with a few others dead in a span of 12 to 14 years !). Despite a gruelling time raising so many children, my mother used to say, Ajji was very fond of books and reading. She wasn’t schooled for long but she was very knowledgeable and had a flair for writing. With very meagre resources, unable to buy books she would quench her thirst for reading while sweeping the house. My mother used to recall how Ajji would carefully collect, piece together and even out wrinkled and torn newspapers and magazine covers, in which groceries and other stuff would be packed. Amidst the cleaning, she would be lost in reading from the fragmented pieces of paper. Perhaps she learnt to dissolve her drudgery by immersing herself into reading, which was her passion !
My husband also vouches for his vast knowledge about history, epics and mythology from his grandmother, who again a 4th class drop out was a voracious reader of books. The best part in those days was the reading-out-loud habit which would create a bonding while learning. In 1995, UNESCO decided that the World Book and Copyright Day would be celebrated on 23 April, as the date is also the anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare as well as that of the birth or death of several other prominent authors. Well, lets continue to promote reading from books before they become objects of novelty and curiosity as in the picture collage 😊
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” said Leonardo Da Vinci. Several examples of this abound around us.
Recently I heard a speaker use the example of zinc production in ancient India to elucidate the above axiom. It was an eye-opener for many of us that to overcome the problem of smelting zinc which volatalises at about the same temperature of 1000⁰, ancient Indians came up with a simple solution of ‘downward distillation of zinc vapour formed after smelting zinc ore using specifically designed retorts with condensers and furnaces’ so that smelted zinc could drastically cool down and solidify to zinc metal. There is evidence of industrial production in the Zawar area of Rajasthan in the 3rd to 4th century BCE, much much before China or Europe got into it. Isn’t this simplicity in design ?
Meditation is a simple yet sophisticated technique for clearing, calming and controlling the mind, which is anything but simple. It is through meditation that we can reach the highest levels of our consciousness.
Nature is simple, uncomplicated, rooted, grounded. Yet it is sophisticated through its majesty, fierceness, fury, serenity, diversity, inclusiveness, vibrancy, harmony et al. Earth Day observed on 26th March every year, when the lights are off for 1 full hour across the globe, or Save the Soil campaign currently being executed by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev or Chipko movement (tree hugging) of the Gandhian, ecological activist, Late Shri Sunderlal Bahuguna are all Simple yet Sophisticated solutions for protecting Mother Earth.
Here is an engineer-turned-defence scientist-turned NGO founder who is an ‘Anna daatha’ (food-giver) for nearly 20 years now, feeding 2 lac+ children every single day in a sustainable manner. Ask how ? Dr. Tejaswini Anathkumar, founder of Adamya Chetana, operating from Bangalore and 6 other cities across India
has stopped using gas cylinders for cooking of industrial scale meals. She has innovated some simple solutions to convert the huge amount of wet waste generated from the Foundation’s daily operations into pellets and briquettes which are used as fuel for cooking, heating water and other activities.
“Anna, Akshara & Arogya” are the 3 pillars of the NGO which is also implementing the ‘Green Sunday’ programme where volunteers plant trees every Sunday across the erstwhile garden-city Bangalore.
Dr. Tejaswini is so passionate about ‘Invest in our Planet’ (theme for Earth Day 2022) that since several years she has stopped using plastic bottles, containers and even paper cups and napkins. She carries her steel water bottle to all functions in a cotton bag right upto the stage, when she is to address any gathering. Experienced this when she addressed the 1st Women Company Secretaries Conference in Bangalore recently and felicitated some of us women (past and serving office bearers).
She also has a unique environment-friendly initiative where people can borrow upto 1500 steel plates and glasses free-of-cost for use in functions and events, if they want to avoid plastic and paper.
Another of her simple tips “Don’t snip off the milk cover packets. Instead slit it open which alone saves Bangalore of at least 50lac small plastic pieces being thrown into the garbage everyday !”.
February, 2022 saw the loss of two big ‘Influencers’ from the music world – Lata Mangeshkar, the colossus with a nectar-like voice, who defined and shall continue to define what melodious singing is and Bappi Lahiri, the over-the-top music director who created new trends through his foot-tapping music. Both were ‘mega market influencers’ in today’s social media lingo – especially Lata Didi who will continue to influence the nation in several ways (not just music) for generations to come. A true legend indeed in whose times the concept of ‘Influencer’ and working towards becoming one didn’t exist at all. She simply did what she liked best, what she was best at and what best she could do. Rest of us were ‘influenced’ so to say !
Let me share a real-life anecdote of similar ‘unintended influencers’ who inspired Hitha, a young 16 year old girl from Bangalore to dedicate this beautiful, simple poem and sing it to them as well at a closed-group talent show, that I attended recently.
We wake up early morning,
To update laws and schedules,
Cause if we don’t update then,
Knowledge is a thing we lose.
Let it be employment or
Practice that we do,
None of them is easy,
Which is definitely true.
Commerce is a choice,
Which’s not an option,
For the only ones who aim to be the,
Ace of profession.
All the people that I am,
Witnessing here today
Have been my motivation and
Shown me my future way.
This profession is boring,
Which I do not agree,
Because I have seen the greatest minds,
Enjoy while they achieve.
I would like to sing more for you,
On this special day,
But I got very less time so,
For long I cannot stay.
~ Hitha, Class XI
The teenager chose Commerce over Science, deeply influenced by the sheer dedication, discipline and diligence of the ‘Jignyasu’ group of Company Secretaries (CS) that meets every single day from 5.15 to 6.15 am to read, analyse, interpret and understand the various corporate laws that are changing by the day ! Jyothi, her CS mother, is part of this early-morning-riser-study-group for the past 3 years. Unknown to them, the group consisting of professionals from across the country have left an indelible mark in the young mind of Hitha. She says I didn’t need anyone to advise me on my career options. I just watched my mom and her friends enjoy learning the laws day after day and lo, it was clear it had to be Commerce and nothing else ! It was indeed a moving tribute to the efforts of this motley group started by CS Pracheta from Mysore. The credit for this free of cost, innovative, knowledge-sharing initiative must of course go to its ‘moola-karthru’ (original creator), my good friend CS Karthick Varadarajan from Bangalore who first started an evening study group called ‘Let’s Learn’ way back in 2017. Much before the pandemic struck and online meetings became the order of the day, a bunch of professionals would huddle together every evening via zoom to pursue their ‘sadhana’ (practice) of deeper understanding of the laws. Neither he nor Pracheta nor anyone in the group ever intended to become a trend setter or influencer or preacher of any sort. It’s the consistency, commitment and perseverance that has influenced a curious Hitha who must have been watching her mother silently. I could see the surprise and joy writ large on Jyothi’s face who just walked the path while the daughter watched. Neither had she to talk nor walk the talk ! It is rightly said “Listen to what people Do, not to what they Say” !!
“आ नो भद्राः क्रतवो यन्तु विश्वतः” ||
“āno bhadra krtavo yantu vishwatah”
Drawn from the Rig Veda, this has universal truth and appeal. It urges us to test the validity of knowledge that is drawn from various sources. Today, there is a deluge of information and we are left grappling for truth in it. For me drawing wisdom from speakers who share their life experiences and challenges is a credible source – this January presented itself with plenty of such opportunities. Let me share a few nuggets:
From the inaugural & valedictory sessions of the 49th National Convention of Company Secretaries (CS) held at Bangalore from 6th to 8th January, 2022:
Basavaraj Bommai, Hon’ble CM of Karnataka – CS must move from being a spectator to game-changer.
Economy is all about activity and less about finance. Look at it from the perspective of artha shastra and purushartha – man should have job or activity or work or artha which will bring well being to family and society. Arthashasthra is important for society and purushartha for self improvement and goal.
Economics is not all about profit & loss (P&L), goals & growth. At the same time philosophy is not all about paapa and punya (P&P). As a student of both, I see it paradoxically. I see P&L in philosophy and P&P in economics. This is the exact job of CS where you need to ensure that activities are brought into framework of law and guiding principles are taken forward. See P&P in economics your role, status, thinking and importance will change.
How does importance come to you ? if everything is in order, what role do you have ? Your role as CS thrives on ambiguity and uncertainty. Embrace the VUCA world (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) for volatility indicates energy, fluidity, motion, growth & dynamism. Status quoist will never grow.
CS must have a say in the economy and country, not just corporates. Raise your voice, address issues, be part of problem as well as solution. You are part of the economy but economy must also be part of you. Be part of development, solution, and not a mere spectator.
Make your own path, be part of history or create history. Choice is yours. Change in you will bring change in companies, change in companies will bring change in economy and change in economy will bring change in life of a common man. You are not connected only to companies and bosses. Connect to society through your companies. Efficiency of last man will bring success to top man. If last man survives, company survives. Same with the country. Be a game-changer not just a compliance officer.
Smriti Irani, Union Minister for Women & Child Development – My ask of you as a citizen
When your organisation chances upon good accounting, chances upon HR corporate practices or innovation, can you share with smaller organisations ? Can you share with the unorganised sector ? How can the learnings of big organisations transcend to smaller ones ? That is your dharma.
Dharma teaches us to be forward looking. Greatest instrument is technology. Those who have don’t use amply by sharing. Those who don’t have feel its absence because of lack of resources. As CS can you reach out with technology down to those who you presume don’t need it ? Can your cleaning staff be digitally literate ? Digital India was launched when there was no pandemic. Remember, leadership prepares you not only for present but preps you for future that is yet unseen.
To fuel innovation, fuel jigyansa is not only corporate dharma but also of society. Can we support R&D in non-core areas, supply chain of essentials ? Can we partake in R&D of not only company’s interest but also look at societal and national means ?
Truth need not be measured but be spoken without fear. Be true to yourself, to your values and principles that represent institutional ethos. That is true contribution to nation building.
J. Swaminathan, MD, SBI – commandments for CS (true for other professionals too)
culture of continuous learning, reskilling, upskilling,
culture of compliance, living by right practices through thought and action
culture of communication, speak up when required
culture of building resilience in organisation in volatile times, culture of sustainability & ESG
processes are as important as outcomes, adhere to the same, avoid tick-box approach
live upto regulatory expectations and not just guidelines, anticipate and manage the expectations as an industry leader
Swami Veereshananda Saraswati of Vivekananda Ashrama : character building for governance
Life is short, they alone live who live for others. Rest are dead.
Bahujana hitaya, bahujana sukhaya (for the benefit of many, for the happiness of many)
Progress achieved in many areas has become useless because of loss of character. Dams are built but men are brittle.
Physical bravery is mere animal instinct. Moral bravery is true courage.
These are from the notes I took as I had the opportunity to anchor the respective sessions but attending live is a totally different experience. Some of the asks require deeper deliberation on each of our roles as catalysts for Good Governance : the Universal Dharma (theme of the convention).
In this fast moving world, processes have become paramount to achieve scale and so-called success. Many a times sacrificing at the altar of process, the very people that are supposed to be serviced. I am not against systems and process. No I cannot be, coming from a governance profession. But when the people behind the process work mechanically without understanding the purpose, without being sensitive to the people being served, to the criticality of the issue, to the timelines to be met, the organisations that they represent stand to lose. Because ultimately the people being served (customers) are left dissatisfied.
“Hey, we are not mere TICKETS, we are human beings and we need to be treated likewise” exclaimed an exasperated Harsha, a first time entrepreneur. It took me a while to understand that he was unhappy with the online aggregator who had trapped him into a package for compliance services promising ‘everything under one roof’. Experiencing the services from different professionals under a single banner but operating individually across India was not the ideal solution Harsha expected. He said each time he called a ticket would be raised, his call put on hold and transferred to a new person. The same set of questions would be raised and again the call would pass on to a new person until it would either get disconnected or a standard ‘raise a query, we will resolve’ kind of response would come up. Harsha was himself a techie, deploying algorithms and what have you to offer solutions to his customers but he admitted that mere technology will not do. Technology and process must be used to offer a pleasant experience, an efficient resolution, a quick response, a proactive approach to the customer. What he missed most in the TICKET-process-approach was the lack of proactive advice, an assurance of ‘hum hain na’ (we are there), a consistency and stability that gives comfort and confidence to building a lasting business relationship. I couldn’t agree more with him when he complained that he was reduced to a mere ‘TICKET for disposal’ rather than a ‘living person to be serviced’. This disappointment and frustration is what has brought Harsha to our firm as a customer. After helping him unentangle the maze he is in, he is able to appreciate the difference in services that a boutique firm like ours brings. I am sure it is the same with most other professionals as well who care for PEOPLE rather than NUMBERS (whether ticket or revenue figures !). People are at the core of businesses, be it employees, be it vendors, be it customers, be it consumers, be it partners. While processes are required, they must be people-sensitive and agile.
I am sure each of you will have a story to share – both good and bad – about your own experiences with banks, insurance companies, retail stores, ecomm companies, educational institutions, hotels, hospitals etc. which are expanding their footprints constantly. We all have pleasant experiences too that make us go back again and again to them. Let’s create such memories in the coming years, despite the pandemic challenges that we have – the need is even more now than ever before !
It is not March. It is still November and not known for ‘women related month’. So I thought, until I read that 11th November has a significance and so does 19th November. The latter first. On November 19th, UNDP marks Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, a day spearheaded by the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Organization to celebrate and support women in business worldwide. This number is rising and justifiably so. Yet it is not enough when we look at the super capable women folk around us. More need to participate as entrepreneurs themselves or as enablers in the ecosystem. Fortunately a Falguni Nayar successfully listing a Nykaa in her late 50s or a Jaswantiben Jamnadas Popat (founder of the hugely successful women-driven Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad) receiving a Padma Shri at the ripe age of 91 (definitely deserved a higher award much earlier) inspire a whole generation of women to plunge into entrepreneurship and the men to stand by them. A day in a year is just symbolic of the life long efforts such women put in !
Well, these are women with fire in their belly. Let me now share with you the significance of 11th November – ‘Onake Obavva Jayanti’ announced by the State of Karnataka. Obavva had fire in her belly and in her eyes too, when she single handedly massacred many of Hyder Ali’s soldiers to protect the fort of Chitradurga, way back in the 18th century. Obavva was not any trained soldier or a warrior queen unlike many other brave women of our history that are coming to light of late. She was the wife of an ordinary guard at the fort’s watchtower, but it was her presence of mind, bravery and love for the land that inspired her to make the supreme sacrifice of life. Her heroic story is mesmerizingly enacted by the well-known Kannada star of yesteryears, Jayanthi in the movie ‘Naagarahaavu’ (remade as Zehreela Insaan in Hindi) which won the actor a national award. A short, gripping role that brought the actor lot of fame. The song which depicts the whole story is so fresh in my memory that I cannot visualise Onake Obavva as anything but Jayanthi, the actor ! Gives me goosebumps even now when I watch the song.
The legendary woman was not born to fight nor was she educated or trained. The story goes that one afternoon as Obavva is serving food to her husband, he asks her to fetch water. She steps out but hears the whispers of enemy soldiers near a hole (kindi in Kannada) in the rocks half-way up the hill. Sensing an attack from Hyder Ali, whom the King, Madakari Nayaka of Chitradurga was planning to counter, Obavva quietly picks up a ‘Onake’ (pestle), tucks her saree between her legs and watches guard at the hole. Not wanting to disturb her husband at his lunch, she does not even alert him. As each soldier crawls through a narrow hole and comes out, she stands at the opening and hits his head with the pestle, using it as a weapon. Unaware of the ‘Goddess of Death’ waiting at the opening, soldier after soldier is bludgeoned by Obavva quietly, blessed by some unknown power and divinity. The ‘Veera Vanithe’ (valiant woman) pulls across the dead soldiers one after another throwing them into a heap of dead bodies. When she doesn’t return with water even after a long time, her husband gets anxious and steps out of his house – only to witness the bloody massacre of enemy soldiers by his fearless wife. He is shocked to see the blood-soaked pestle in her hands and the mountain of dead bodies. He sees the fury in her eyes and the passion in her heart to protect the kingdom in her own way. Obavva continues to slay the soldiers and gestures to her husband to blow the trumpet, signalling a war-cry to the soldiers of Madakari Nayaka. In the meanwhile, one of Hyder Ali’s soldiers realises that none of his men are coming out of the hole and that something is amiss. He soon sees the lady with her ‘weapon’ single-handedly finishing the soldiers, in a ‘Dance of Death’. Unfortunately, unaware of him sneaking from behind her, Obavva succumbs to his attack laying down her life as a true warrior. She is part of our history books, literature, folklore, sculpture, music, drama and films. The Government has taken the right step honouring Obavva with a day dedicated to her and her selfless sacrifice. She represents true ‘Shakthi’ (power) and stands as Karnataka’s pride, a symbol of woman empowerment in an unusual way. Who says a woman is ‘abala’ (weak, fragile) – she can be both compassionate as well as merciless, if required.
October, 2021Dear Friends!The month of October saw the Navratri festivities – of victory of good over evil, of fasting and introspection, of the power of Shakthi and the celebration of life in general in the dolls displayed, in the rangoli drawn, in the dandiya played, in the exquisite flower decoration of the deities and what have you ! A treat to the eyes, ears and taste buds. It also marked two important days – Breast Cancer (BC) and Mental Health (MH).While there is increasing awareness on BC, MH lags behind as a poor cousin. The stigma attached, the refusal to acknowledge its presence, the denial that it needs special care, the lack of diagnosis at the right time, the openness to discuss about it and seek help – all of it continues even in educated sections of the society. While a few years ago, insurance coverage has become available, employability is still a challenge since there are pockets of ‘good days’ and ‘bad days’ affecting the stability of performance. I don’t think there is any sure shot solution to this except, acceptance and adjustments by the patient, his family and friends, employer with of course early medical intervention and counselling. The question is can we offer them an inclusive livelihood ?While I was introspecting on this, I realised it is just not genes, education, fitness or family circumstances that trigger certain mental health conditions. It could also be one’s attitude in general, the environment we are living in, the responsibilities we take upon ourselves and the will to not succumb. MH like depression could both be the cause as well as the consequence. However, not one for Jayaram, a sugarcane juice seller in Mysore. Having lost his ‘captain’ job in a well-known star hotel in Mysore, he has reinvented himself as an entrepreneur with a difference, displaying his zest for life. No more ‘vanilla type’ sugarcane juice with just lime and ginger. He has come up with 15 different flavours including fruits, tamarind, gooseberry and a variety of medicinal leaves. It tastes amazingly refreshing and different. Many people who lost lives of dear ones and livelihoods during the pandemic gave up on themselves but the Jayarams of the world have displayed a rare courage and optimism to live and thrive. They are living with joy and spreading the good cheer as well…..as I saw it in his colourfully decorated sugarcane gaadi as well as his pleasant welcoming style carried from his hotel experience. He was very courteous and explained the ‘juice-menu’ enthusiastically urging us to try different flavours on each day. Must admit he has taken the sugarcane experience to an altogether different level hailing it as a health drink, which it indeed is. No wonder he has been covered by the local press of Mysore as ‘From cocktails to mocktails’ which he proudly displays behind his gaadi. So much for his marketing, PR, customer service and entrepreneurial skills. Reminds me of Swami Sivananda’s saying ‘Be Up and Doing’ that our Yoga teacher quoted in one of his classes. Resonates well with another of his explanations – Do Karma Yoga not just Karma, meaning whatever karma or action you do, do it joyfully and with awareness, with the enthusiasm of a child. This is one way of experiencing and reflecting ‘manah prasad’ or ‘happy mind’ which is the need of the hour for all of us !Regulators may be able to extend the ‘last date’ for certain filings as we saw under the IT Act, GST Act, Companies Act & LLP Act but unfortunately as individuals, however well-known and wealthy and healthy we are, we cannot extend our ‘last date’ – not a moment more, not a moment less. Our expiry date is written the day our first cell takes birth – sometimes too long, sometimes too soon. Rarely an ideal date. What else can be said about the untimely death of Puneeth Rajkumar (son of the legendary actor Dr. Rajkumar), the Power Star of Sandalwood film industry who suffered a massive heartattack yesterday at a young age of 46 ! Not even the best medical care could ensure extension of his ‘last date’ !! I recall 25 years ago he was my co-passenger in a flight. A budding star even then, he had no airs about himself, no star tantrums. He quickly got into a conversation with me and came across as a young, bright lad, full of life. One can only wish that his next journey is longer, smoother and even more meaningful.
Glossophobia is the number one fear after death. What is this exotic sounding phobia ? It is nothing but the fear of public speaking stemming from the fear of being rejected or embarrassed. Though the reference is to public speaking indicating a large gathering, it could also be a small group of friends, family, colleagues, countrymen. At times it could even be the fear of speaking to a senior, a person in authority or power or strong influence where you feel tongue-tied and suffer being judged or ridiculed. The reasons may be plenty but the cure is to confront the phobia by actually stepping forward and speaking.
This requires practice, practice and more practice until your thoughts, words and gestures are in perfect harmony. Until you feel you are a singer in an orchestra. Until you feel you are a painter, an artist. Yes until you deliver a performance as an artist rather than a speech. Performance with a Roar and Dance. Wait a minute, why did I say roar and dance ? That’s because that’s the title of a 30 minute speech, nay performance, that I witnessed a few weeks ago by a champion public speaker Fursey Gotuaco. Allow me to take you into the world of Fursey !!Speeches are like paintings. Speaker is like an artist who paints with different paint brushes, who roars and dances. The question is
Can we have in our voice the texture, colour & blend of a paint ?
How to create colour and texture through voice and draw focus of the audience to our speech ?
How to create the image of scale on a virtual screen ….small, medium, large by coming close to the screen or moving away, away, away from it signalling through hands and body gestures ?
Imagine dropping a pebble in a proverbial pool of water….1,2,3,4,5…how the ripples are formed from near to far. In different settings you may have to use different voices – whisper to catch attention, formal soft talk to a small gathering, a loud resonant voice before a large audience.
You and I have all tools within us to speak in a resonant voice. All of us are painters with different tools in our kit, with paint brushes of varied sizes and makes. We need to be aware of our painting abilities – for a speaker to be able to paint with his hands and vocal chords.
Lets resolve that “Today I will speak with a vibrant, rich, round, resonant voice” !
Coming to usage of hands, they speak along with the words, sometimes without them also. Hand gestures like a dancer’s movements speak a thousand emotions. Therefore choosing the right movement is very critical to an expression of a public speaker. A specific message could require gracious movements like a gentle dance. Curvaceous waving hands at times. A profitable idea could be reflected through a skyward looking firm hand. An inverted thumb for a dip in profits. A new policy launch could see the expansion through open, upward turned palms. Hand gestures are powerful tools that convey a variety of messages and any inappropriate usage could ruin the same. No wonder learning to use the hands effectively rather than hide it in the pocket or clasp it or fidget with it is an integral lesson in public speaking. Fundamentally determine how many crayons you have in your box ? How many you use ?
Again what matters is the appropriate scale, texture and colour of the painting because quintessentially “Speech is a work of Art”. Every element must be in proper dimension. A small idea should not be delivered in a loud voice nor a big idea in a small voice. Short and long pauses too are critical characters in the performance of a Speech. Most speakers begin with a strong voice at the opening of a sentence but lose out at the end. The key is to build and maintain intensity till the end, like a Rapper ! Appropriate voice, body language and hand gestures must be assiduously rehearsed and re-rehearsed until they blend in harmony and are completely internalised by the speaker. Then and only then the final outcome will be a synchronised symphony of sorts.
Fursey concluded ….Paint with emphasis, with pause, repetition, contrast in voice moving from 1 to 5, switch numbers if required, match with gestures for scale, neither understated nor overdone, maintain intensity in voice and grow it if the speech requires. Remember you are an artist with different paint brushes of every type. You are born with an instrument that you hardly understand. Now that you have, use it well, speak from your heart. Finally OWN YOUR SPEECH – ROAR & DANCE !!
Fursey left us all awe-struck, mesmerised and floored with the timbre in his voice, twinkle in his eyes and the various dance-like hand movements. Wow how much he could convey in 30 minutes in the imaginary stage of a zoom window ….the expanse, the depth and the excitement he created was incredible.
Last issue I carried the inspiring story that I heard first hand from a Kargil war hero, Capt Naveen Nagappa. This time I want to share lessons from a talk that I heard from another type of war hero – a cardiac surgeon who likens a surgery to a war field, given that in both cases there is zero tolerance to errors. After all it is literally a ‘life and death’ question.
I heard the renowned heart surgeon Dr. Vivek Jawali speak on “Lessons in heart surgery – Zero errors in management”. These were practical lessons from a ‘little-giant’ (a person of petite stature but a towering personality) who has 30,000+ surgeries to his credit. Sharing a few snippets …..
Flight, Cardiac Surgery & War – all have variables though flight is predictable. Cardiac surgery & War can be fluid and challenging.
Best practice – zero error and open mind.
Although individuals may make mistakes, it is possible for teams to be flawless – Teamwork.
Humans cannot be punished for systemic errors – create a culture of fearless error reporting (role of whistle blower)
How zero error is ensured in pre-operative stage – diagnosis & layers of counter-checks before admission, fast track tests, cross-discipline consultations, pre-procedural plans, check listing, quick calls, multiple cross checks by all team members (sounds like a corporate project preparation, right ?)
What are the reasons for error in Operation theatre / ICU – Lack of adequate training, absence of standard rules, major gap in communication between surgeon and others, use of unreliable systems, rush to complete cases due to bad time management – ANSWER to all these maladies is EDUCATION, CHECKLIST, COMMUNICATION (corporate or cardiac surgery lessons ?!!)
Errors in other areas – general diagnostic, medication, device & equipment, hospital acquired infections, electronic health records, communication, handing over patient, during acute intervention – all of these can be prevented through SOPs, communication protocol & solid team (it is nothing short of a war room !)
Politeness in communication is a NO-NO in a surgery room – could be fatal for the patient at times
Mantras for safety promotion & zero errors
Build better teams
Be conscious of similar sounding people names in OT (could be disastrous)
Reduce time to report abnormal test results (use phone, whatsapp)
Give time-out or quiet zone to the nurse
Ensure team members accept inherent issues in their roles
No room for ego when errors are reported
Hierarchy to be rigid and respected
Prioritise, expect the unexpected
Create a fair and fearless environment for whistleblowing / error reporting
Develop thorough checklists | Foster a solid team | Encourage clear communication |
It was mind-blowing to listen to this management talk from a world renowned cardiac surgeon – so many takeaways and tips that each one of us can adopt for Zero Errors.
For the last 2 days my head is reeling with these words and phrases …..”Point 4875, Sopore, 13th Battalion JAK Rifles, Kargil, bunkers, boulders, grenade, captured, death, victory, dil maange more, jodidaar”…….yes your guess is right – Shershah movie effect. But wait, is it just the movie ?
No, it is also an electrifying talk delivered by a great Kargil war hero that I heard live on 14th August, 2021 as our nation was readying itself to celebrate Azaadi ka Amrut Mahotsav, the 75th Independence Day. Shershah is an extremely well made movie on the exemplary life of Param Veer Chakra awardee, Late Capt Vikram Batra, his supreme sacrifice at the young age of 24, not only fighting the enemies on treacherous mountain peaks but also saving fellow-lives without caring a damn about his own. One such life he saved was that of Capt Naveen Nagappa whose leg was severely injured in the Kargil war after a brave fight. How blessed I was to hear the graphic, chilling Kargil war description from Capt Naveen himself as he got emotional about losing his buddy, Shyam Singh and his saviour Capt Vikram Batra ! Let me summarise what I heard, in his own words (as far as possible)…
“I am an engineer from Hubli, Karnataka but unlike most of my friends I didn’t opt for a corporate career. I dreamt of the ‘2 stars on my shoulder’ and not the thousands. With no family background in the army, no coaching, I just got through with sheer determination. Trained in the Indian Military Academy, one of the gruellest training programmes in the world which trains us for a war during peace times – the last war our nation had fought was in 1971 but the training in 1998 was as rigorous as it could get, I was commissioned to the 13th Battalion JAK Rifles, the same that Capt Batra was in. Posted in Sopore, about 40kms from Srinagar, I was given a buddy (jodidaar as per Army protocol) called Shyam Singh who was with me all through until the fateful day on 4th July, 1999 when the war broke out and I lost him. Despite my refusal to take him along, he had said “Saab, acche din mein saath they, mein aapke saath abhi kaise chod dhoon ?” (we were together in good times, how can I leave you now ?). As a 25 year old commanding officer in the thick of the war, I couldn’t cry when I saw him head down with bullet shots because it would demoralise the men in my unit. As I zipped his body in his sleeping bag, I cried in isolation, thinking of the last letter he must have written to his family and deposited with the army base as is the protocol for all soldiers – to leave all identity and memories behind in the service of the nation. The point I want to make is perhaps it is only in the Indian army that such camaraderie is built in such a short span of 6 months !
The trigger for the war was the illegal occupancy of post Bajrang which was guarded by just 6 of our men who were stealthily encircled by 80 Pakistanis, fired from vantage points and held prisoners of war in complete violation of the Geneva Convention. For the next 21 days they were brutally tortured, eyes gorged, skulls broken, tongues cut and bodies shot multiple times and sent back in bags to the Indian army, much to the shock and dismay of the whole world. Their grit, determination and sacrifice couldn’t go waste. Our 13th Battalion attacked point 4875, on 4th July, 1999 in retaliation. After the customary havan and tilak by the unit’s panditji, I recall the Commander say “If you take care of your men, your men will take care of you”. As we set out on our mission with our energising war cry, “Durga Maate ki Jai”, Capt Batra, who was already a celebrity having captured all features of point 5140, hugged me and said “Gale lagna yaar, pata nahin kounsi ghadi aakhri hogi (give me a hug buddy, don’t know which will be the last moment)”.
Attack on point 4875 at 16,000 ft altitude was launched by the Indian army on the night of 5th July, as we crawled to the bunkers and dropped grenades and pumped in bullets (Naveen’s hand gestures and his animated voice added to the drama that was unfolding before our eyes !!). We neutralised and sanitised the bunkers, diffused the mines. Incessant firing from both sides until 8th July with no food and water for 48 hours. At times we would dig into the dirty snow (yes even in July the mountain was covered with sheaths of snow) which was filthy with our shoes, ammunition pieces, odour of the burning flesh – just to swallow some snow flakes so that we could feel a sense of having eaten something. When I got a call from the base camp offering to send food up, I refused and said “Just send ammunition instead of food”.
During the fierce fighting, the dil maange more legend, Capt Vikram Batra joined us, reinforcing the unit with his contagious energy and enthusiasm. We inched ahead to the merciless peaks boulder by boulder, inch by inch carrying sacks weighing 25kgs each as the firing increased. We would fire, duck, lie still and move slowly. I was sitting in a bunker with my AK47 when a Pak grenade landed close to me. This has a killing radius of 8 to 10 mtrs and a 4 seconds life. I couldn’t get up and run because there was no place to and my men would be exposed. I saw death from a close quarters. In a matter of just 2 seconds I had to make a life decision – how would I like my body to be seen by my parents. Didn’t they have the right to atleast see my face in the bag and not my body in pieces ? As my head was reeling with these thoughts, I just jumped to my right when I saw Batra run towards my bunker. I distinctly remember what he said “Kuch nahin hoga, main aa gaya hoon (Nothing will happen, I have come)”. Alas, I couldn’t give him that last hug ! As he took over the battle he held my hand and dragged me aside giving me cover. I started crawling with both my legs badly injured, bleeding heavily and my right leg literally dangling from my body. As a jawan carried me all that I could think of was to save my leg which was fully infected. Injured in the morning but I could be brought back for medical help only in the evening. I was in a semi-conscious state on the stretcher as a chopper picked me up on the 8th. I heard the nursing assistant tell me “Saab, tiranga lehera raha hai. Doctor ne mana kiya hai, mat uttho” (Tircolour is flying but don’t get up, doctor has asked you not to). I couldn’t resist. I sat on the stretcher and saluted the flag, feeling elated. But the next few words knocked me down to a state of unconsciousness “Is vijay ke liye, humein keemat chukani padhi. Batra saab nahin rahe (for this victory we had to pay a price. Batra sir is no more)”.
I returned home after being declared unfit for army service, with over 21 months in various hospitals and 8 surgeries. I just did my job as a soldier, just like you do yours. Nothing great, nothing extra and perhaps the shortest tenure for a soldier – just 6 months and 7 days but yes it has been the most memorable and cherished time in my life. While people pity me saying I am unfortunate, on the contrary I consider myself the most fortunate person to have got the opportunity to fight for my nation within 6 months of posting. About 1300 soldiers were injured while 527 lost their lives in the Kargil war. Let’s remember them and their families for their grit, valour, pain and sacrifice. Jai Hind !”
Oh what an inspiring talk it was, gave goosebumps and brought tears to our eyes. They gave their lives so that we live ours…enjoy freedom responsibly as we march ahead into our 76th year of Indian Independence !
If you thought Friendship Day is meant only for celebrating with one of our own species, I would say think again. Just look at these pictures shot at the famous Karanji Lake at Mysore, which has India’s largest walk through aviary, managed by the zoo authorities. They say it all. The peacocks there are so friendly and ever ready to show off their plumage that they seem to be waiting for you to stand next to them and click. I felt they were walking down a fashion ramp oblivious to who was watching them. They didn’t care a damn if there were people or not, if there was a jury or not, if there was applause or not. They just seemed to be in their present moment, enjoying and entertaining.
Unlike caged zoos where the birds have restricted places, Karanji Lake Aviary is a vastly spread bio-diversity park in the heart of the city where birds fly around with freedom and gay abandon. The staff are as friendly and welcoming as the flying inmates. I couldn’t believe when I could stand very, very close to a peacock and capture his glorious feathers as he turned around and gave a 360 degree panoramic view. The environment is so pleasant and open that the birds do not fly away in fear or anxiety at the sight of a visitor. Instead they ‘perform’ so to say, joyously and willingly. They pose so attractively that any top model could be put to shame. It was incredible to see our avian friends ‘chatting and cooing’ at each other even as the tall bamboo trees swayed and sashayed and made soothing ssshhh sounds as we walked along the neatly maintained pathways that hardly had any visitors. It was almost like being one with nature, one with oneself, in a state of ‘nirvana’ amidst the diverse plants, trees and birds. This is a must see place which has some rare botanical species, a mesmerising expanse of lake, quiet and serene and an exciting range of orchids. No jostling crowds, no shooing security guards nor disgruntled staff. Karanji lake beckons you like a bosom friend in whose embrace you can forget all your woes and illnesses – an idyllic getaway which continues to remind why Nature is man’s Best Friend ! Just that the reverse is not true !!