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Maya Angelou – No more to read from you

I first came to hear about this poet and memoirist in the Life’s Work column of the Harvard Business Review. I even cite it often, especially if it is about someone from the domain of art. For example the interview with Zandra Rhodes – https://rajshankar.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/vedantic-wednesday-your-work-is-what-youre-there-for/

One of the many I have enjoyed reading under the “Life’s Work” column of HBR is that of Maya Angelou (http://hbr.org/2013/05/maya-angelou/ar/1). She has written numerous poems and memoirs that have fascinated and inspired millions. What inspired me most was the commitment to her writing. During the interview she speaks a lot about the importance of discipline and keeping to a ritual, a routine, so that we can beat our own laziness. What she actually meant was beating our mind which wrecks havoc and dissuades us from working towards a goal, in a repeated and disciplined manner. The way she does it works for her – the actual path is not important, that a path is needed is the real message.

The other thing I really liked from her interview and my limited knowledge of her works is that she was a keen and astute observer. How else can you actually be a memoirist? While it is easy to write one book based on interesting things that happened in life, it takes a lot more acuteness in observation and awareness to pen down volumes on life and living.

Today as we hear about her demise, let us draw inspiration from one more artist who lived her life for her work. Though her family will miss her it is comforting to hear that she had a peaceful death, something that every human being seeks but rarely receives, since it is blessing of divinity. May the divine give the family the courage and blessings to bear the loss.

The more I read about people who lived their lives fully, it inspires me to learn from it and share it. I do this routinely because the people I meet are entrepreneurs / entrepreneurial and they need to routinely spruce up their confidence and belief in themselves and their work.

Though I read poetry very little and very slowly, I hope to read more of Maya’s work, especially her memoirs! For all those who wish to know more about her work, you may look up here: http://mayaangelou.com 


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Khushwant Singh – No more to read from you

I don’t read fiction. Hence I have never read a single work of Khushwant Singh which actually made him popular (his novels). But I still remain a fan of his writings for a few reasons:

- He wrote for the sake of writing (passion)

- He wrote from his heart (truth)

- He believed and took responsibility for his actions (responsibility)

- He stood for whatever he believed in much against what society felt he must be (conviction)

- He kept working, writing to almost the end of his life (calling)

Since I teach entrepreneurship, I constantly keep getting questioned if it relates to only starting enterprises. Over the last few years of constantly trying to find better answers to the same question, I believe today that entrepreneurship is all about ‘being entrepreneurial’. Because of this understanding my belief is that people can practice entrepreneurship in every facet of life.

Today as the world mourns the death of Khushwant Singh, author and journalist, who passed away at the age of 99, I think his is a life of entrepreneurial thinking in practice. I managed to read a few of his non-fiction works in recent times. His writing was inspiring for me as a young writer and author. His works and experiences were inspiring as a person wanting to do what I love in my life.

As I advice entrepreneurs I always point them to people who have lived their lives fully. One such life is that of Khushwant Singh. Not that his life is without controversy or questionable acts, not that his life was without joys and sorrows – but in and through all of these that most people go through in life, he continued to live his calling – to write! Every entrepreneur must learn from such examples – irrespective of whether people accept and acknowledge your work; whether you see rewards and appreciation, the most important thing in life is to live what our calling is. To do this without expectations of rewards, recognition and returns, is what makes a life lived well.

I don’t have access to this man, just like I didn’t have access to Steve Jobs and Peter Drucker and JRD Tata. But it is through their works that I gained access to their decisions and their lives. They remain inspirations and today as India loses a great writer, I wish to acknowledge that he is one to be read, reflected and remembered for inspiration.

Alvida Mr Khushwant Singh – you truly inspired a few (quite a few) of us along the way!


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The Joy of Giving

As I was driving down for a meeting today, I saw festive lights and christmas decorations adorn many shops on the road side. This xmasgot me thinking around christmas, the spirit around the season and so many heart warming anecdotes that one gets to hear. It then stuck me that there was this one incident that I had the good fortune to witness first hand.  I had written about it in my forum during this very month couple of years ago. A story that touched many reader’s heart and spirit. So I thought it is a good time to share and spread some cheer! So I did some work… dug up the story from my archives and here it is for you….

I stay in a fairly large residential colony. Some houses witness Christmas decorations and red stars can be seen hanging outside a window. Apart from that and the plum cake that makes its way into my house, I have been isolated from Christmas celebration. But what I was fortunate to witness yesterday not only gave me the inspiration for the blog, but a new perspective of how we can view the Joy of Giving. I was walking back to an empty home for the night, so was not hence in much of a hurry!

As I entered my colony, I saw a rather thin Santa Claus walking into the first floor house of the opposite building into a house which I knew belonged to a old Hindu lady living alone. Her Children are NRI who visit her once in two years. Normally a cheerful lady, she was getting older by the day and quieter. So I was intrigued by this Santa who stood outside her door, shaking a bell in one hand while knocking with the other. Some others who were also drawn by this unusual scene gathered along. Out of our deference for Santa did not brow beat him into asking his identity but joined him outside the lady’s door. Reassured on seeing us along with this stranger Santa, the lady opened the door and the lone Santa burst into a merry song..IN TAMIL!!

When Santa opened his mouth to sing it was hard to conceal the identity. It was our iron man (istri wala)..who had borrowed a Santa Costume from his customer. He had heard the lady tell him casually how much she misses her children and how every function is an ordeal reminding her of her loneliness. And this reminded him of his parents back in village all alone by themselves. He wanted to do something to make her feel better. And hence the disguise.

 The lady was swept with emotions and gave a bear hug not only to Santa but almost to all of us who had assembled. We were all pulled instantly into the mood of wishing good luck to each other. The whole celebration lasted all but 10 mins but left a night long warmth from having been a part of something good from the bottom of the heart! Going by my emotions, everyone who was a part of the spectator crowd felt as much happy as the lady for whom the visit was staged!

Today the spirit of Christmas often conjures up in one’s mind decorated Christmas tree and presents. Underneath the presents, we seem to have buried the true spirit of “Giving”. If only we can extend the true Christmas spirit to our every day life – it would be so enriching every time we give; not presents – but our time and our attention. A selfless gesture motivates many more in the person who performs it and inspires the receiver to do it unto someone else. It is like a flywheel that picks momentum with every turn.

While we set ourselves ambitious targets in personal and professional life, can we set a simple target for acts of selflessness to be done if not daily – at least weekly? If you have a ward in scouts you can see them going around with good-deed book where they have to authenticate from the receiver an act of good will they have performed. As adults – where is our good deed book?

As we all cross another Christmas season – maybe it will be of value if we can put ourselves to believe: “Christmas is a state of mind – not a date. Christmas is in the heart – and not under an Xmas Tree!!”


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Story of Dashrath Manji

Yesterday as curtains came down on the first season of Satyameva Jayate,  Aamir Khan took the example of a man lesser known “Dashrath Manji” to portray the strength of individual will and persistence.  I first heard of this man in October 2009 from a little girl of 9th Standard as she prepared herself for a district level oratorical competition.  I was touched not just by the phenomenal delivery but the story itself. A touching story of greatness so conveniently missed, a story of will, a story of perseverance, a story that everyone intending to do something different needs to read. So  I had made available the speech verbatim for a wider audience later.  The story of the man had as great an impact on me yesterday as it had 3 years earlier. Hence once again here I am sharing the speech of this little girl with all of you.. .

“17th August, 2007. Dashrath Manjhi died. I read this news on page 10 of the Times of India, and, guess what the front page featured that day? Salman Khan & John Abraham, today’s role models, chorusing at a meeting in New Delhi – “Work hard and you could have our strength and biceps”. Huh! If only you had dumbbells to build the inner strength, not just the biceps. Contrast this with Gandhiji, the half naked scarecrow framed fakir, his frail frame housing an indomitable spirit which could stop an entire nation in its tracks.

If Gandhiji had been alive he would have proclaimed Dashrath Manji to be  one of his ilk. This poor , illiterate outcaste labourer from Bihar had a cast iron spirit. When his wife died at a young age from an illness that plagues most of India – no, not cancer or TB, not heart disease either, but inaccessible healthcare, he decided to turn adversity into an opportunity. His wife could have been saved – if only – he could have cut through a hill and taken her to a hospital, just 10 kms as a crow flies. Circumventing the hill took 50 kms, which on a bullock cart meant a death sentence for even a not so serious ailment.

In grief, he petitioned the government, pleaded with the bureaucracy and knocked on all possible doors to have a road cut through the hill so that his wife’s fate should not befall others with a similar plight. The local collector rebuffed his repeated pleas… and added sarcastic insult to bereaved injury by saying that if he was so desperate to help others, he could do the task himself…… Callousness and impoliteness have their silver lining. Dashrath Manjhi took this crude remark as a challenge and decided to do the job himself.

Ridicule, indifference and taunts were the gifts from his fellow villagers for his mission, and if you were in their shoes, even you would have been amused. How can a man cut through a mountain with just a hammer and chisel as his tools!! A half starved man at that! But Dashrath Manjhi was an ordinary man with an extraordinary spirit. He sold a few precious belongings to buy the hammer and chisel, shifted his house to the base of the mountain and after his day’s work as a labourer he chiseled away at the hill.

It took about 5 years for the ridicule to turn into grudging admiration… and another 5 years to transform itself into help in the form of food and water and an occasional hand to chip away the stones. Dashrath manjhi’s love for his wife was producing unimaginable results. In about 10 years time, people began to notice a change in the shape of the hill. Instead of a defiant rockface there was a depression in the middle and in a period of 22 years, the mountain had been scaled,…. not by climbing it,… but by cutting through! Dashrath Manjhi’s love’s labor gave birth to a CLEAR FLAT PASSAGE through the hill measuring about 16 FEET wide, reducing a 50 km circuitous route to a mere 8 km.

The press had labeled him as a modern day Shah Jahan, though I personally feel that by doing so, they did a great disservice to his memory. The magnificence of Shah Jahan’s homage to his wife fills us with a sense of awe at the craftsmanship of 22 thousand artisans, while Dashrath Manjhi’s homage in the form of 22yrs of single handed hard labor makes us hold a mirror to ourselves, showing us the EVERESTIAN efforts our body and soul are capable of. To me Dashrath Manjhi’s abiding message is that when you expire, you should inspire….inspire others to make a difference!”

Aamir Khan and this little girl have done their bit to get the story to us – now what are we going to do about the learnings?


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Thinkers 50

The Thinkers 50 list is published! The verdict is out! Clayton Christensen becomes the most influential thinker in the world. It is not too surprising to see him at that position. Even his one article “How will you measure your life?” ( http://hbr.org/2010/07/how-will-you-measure-your-life/ar/1 ) alone makes him worthy of this honor. This article brings the reader back to fundamentals of life. It is wonderful to see so many people influencing the way forward for the society. The interesting thing for us as Indians is to see quite a few people of Indian-origin that list.

Though it may not be a surprise entry – the one that really makes me feel happy this time around is to see a person on that list who is not only of Indian Origin but one who also spends a fair amount of time in India – Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL. I had written a review of his lovely book “Employees First, Customers Second”  ( http://rajshankar.wordpress.com/2010/07/23/employees-first-customers-second-by-vineet-nayar/ ) Kudos to Vineet Nayar! And I truly hope this signals the beginning of a trend – Indians working from India figuring on this list.

I have derived immense inspirations from many authors and thinkers on that list. The list serves as a source of encouragement for many aspiring writers and thinkers as well.

Please do have a look at the interesting list of amazing thinkers, video interviews, their profiles and their works – Happy Reading! http://www.thinkers50.com/


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“mama” or “anna” – lots to learn from this man!

As we were discussing some concepts in class about customer relationship and employee engagement – the discussions were about are we doing enough for employees or are we creating enough value for the customer, something struck me really hard! There is this person in the college that I teach whose name I do not know (doubt if many know it!) – that sounds surprising isn’t it? He is called “mama”! Everyone calls him “mama” and he more like the person who in Chennai is called “anna” – a generic way to address someone who is elder to us. This man is fairly into his latter half of life, slow, sober, does odd tasks at the institute like serving tea, lunch, water etc There is not much that we can take-away from all this but what struck me the most are these:

  • Punctual: This man was always on time much before anyone else came in and more importantly “at work”; this is a laudable point since there is no one watching if he is doing something or not and most of his chores are odd jobs
  • Pleasant: He is definitely not the most handsome or smart. But his smile makes him always approachable. During the 6 days I watched him, he served me, a wounded student who was finding it difficult to walk, other faculty without any remorse (not even an iota of doubt). He was always ready to help and do work – sounds banal? NO its not banal at all – considering how a customer gets treated at service centers today
  • Expresses concern: He ensures he folds his hands and invites people who visit the place at least all faculty and guests. He inquires if you need water or coffee / tea, and brings it to you every time you request it without showing a face. At least whenever I passed by I found him busy and with one person always asking him for the next service.
  • Says Thank you: He says “thank you” in truly regional fashion every time he serves or takes a request – sometimes you wonder why is he saying thanks when in fact we should be thanking him!
  • Commitment & Hard work: He is never tired or at least never lets anyone notice it. The Admin manager told me he leaves only when he is told to in the evening and it doesn’t seem to matter to him that he is working more than the other younger counterparts (other mamas’ in the making) – I have my own doubts if they ever will become one who is so fondly called!
  • Delights: Today he brought me “upma” for b’fast. No, this is not the delight point. Most of the days due to lack of facility at my guest house I come into the institute and request for a quick bite before class. Most the days it is “mama” who is around (I also come in early) and gets me my morning fuel before class. A couple of days back I had asked him for “upma” and on his return he told me that it was unavailable. I told him its ok! And today morning he delighted me by bringing “upma” as soon as I came into the institute and even before asking him to buy me some b’fast. He told me lovingly that I had asked the other day and he could not get it so he decided to get it on the way from a hotel near the station that serves it. He also told me that without b’fast it would be a difficult start to the day.

I truly hope all other “mamas’ to be” will take him as a role model and walk his footsteps. It may help them settle and create a better lifestyle for their next generation.

We have a lot to take away from him. Why are we looking all over the place for how to practice customer relationship, customer delight and work ethics? It is right here in front of us. Let’s acknowledge, appreciate and learn by being more aware of all such every day examples around us.

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