Subba’s Serendipitous moments

January 16, 2007

The essence of being human

Filed under: Inspiration,Stories — Subbaraman Iyer @ 4:47 pm

This indeed is a real touching and thoughtful story. Apparently this is a translation of a well known story in Kannada. I certainly liked the use of some expressions and of course the reflective comments that appear towards the end.
Sahana had just called and confirmed she was coming. I had asked her over for lunch in the afternoon, and she had agreed to do that, after dropping off her daughter at school. During these winter months of November/ December, I have a heightened craving for human company. I constantly long for someone to come by, to chat with for hours on end over interminable cups of tea.
Sahana is my childhood friend. Due to a confluence of circumstances, we had ended up here in the US, in the same city even. We meet each other quite often. During these desolate winter months, memories of India recur ever more frequently. Thinking of the vast distances that separate me from my people, from my relatives near and dear, I am engulfed by a dense fog of emptiness. Whenever that happens, the two of us get together, and try to mill down the weight on our hearts and souls.
I heard a knock on the front door. It was Sahana. We had our lunch and settled down, teacups in hand. The usual topic came up for discussion – about the days when we first came into this country, about the days when we set up our lives here, and so on. The conversation meandered along, touching on the way we leave behind everything that defines us – roots, people, country — and arrive here in this land; the way we compensate by adopting entirely new groups of people as our surrogate kin; and how, during this process, sometimes it happens that somebody we meet for just a few moments, triggers momentous events and have a profound impact on our lives. As our conversation tread this ground, Sahana began to narrate one such incident that she had experienced …

* * *

“This happened just after I came to the US. After settling down on a makeshift basis, I was raring to take all these different courses, and had registered for several classes. Soon, the class dates rolled around, but I had not learnt to drive yet. So, for my first class, I was traveling on the transit bus. When I bought the ticket, I let the driver know that I wanted to disembark at the El Monte stop, and requested him to call me out when the bus arrived at that stop. I then sat by the window on an empty seat, and let my gaze venture out towards the unfolding greenery outside.  “I was soon reminiscing about the days when I first went to college in Hubli, back in India. Memories of all my classmates, hostel roommates and other friends followed in sequence. Soon enough, I began to feel totally orphaned, when I confronted the fact that I was entering college all alone. It was just a few days ago that I had parted from my friends and relatives, and their memories dominated my thoughts with little restraint. At one instant, the feeling of loneliness totally breached my composure, and tears strained through my eyes. I continued to gaze through them, at whatever passed by, for what seemed like an infinite period of time. During brief moments when I shifted my gaze into the interior of the bus, I looked at this random collage of human beings. There seemed to be nothing congruent between me and these people. No continuity. No affinity. A sequence of anonymous bus stops passed by. Somebody would get off, somebody else would get on board. I returned to my own ruminations, almost half asleep.
“At some point in time, I was aroused from my stupor, when I eyed a person in a wheelchair, animatedly conversing with the driver in some vague language, while pointing in the general direction of my seat. As I cleared my foggy eyes and mind, I began to parse that person more clearly. This was the stop he wanted to disembark, but before getting down, he was reminding the driver of something he was supposed to do. He was saying, ‘… You see that lady in the green dress? Remember she wanted to get off at El Monte? Don’t forget to call her out when El Monte comes around OK?’”
“That lady in the green dress was of course, me. I was extremely surprised, to say the least. I had enumerated all the people sitting in the bus, and everyone getting into and out of the bus, yet I had completely missed this person. But, he had noticed me! Now that an excuse and a context presented itself, I observed him in some detail.
“All the limbs, appendages and organs – hands, feet, mouth etc., — that we assume we mandatorily need to lead our lives, were present on this person’s body. But they were completely out of synchrony, beyond his conscious motor control. Despite that, he had keenly observed me. Moreover, he had specifically noted my request to the driver to remind me of my destination on this bus route that I was not familiar with. I was stunned at how perceptive and empathic he was. To affect this one gesture of helping a fellow passenger, he did not need any of the sense organs or appendages, that didn’t work for him anyway. He needed just one – his heart. And his heart was fully in his control, and he knew how to use its power of perception to the fullest extent.”
“As if by magic, this person had exorcised the sense of desolation and abandonment that I was caught up in, from the day I arrived here, up until just a few moments ago! And having quietly pulled this off, he disappeared without a trace. For the first time in this country, I had met someone who possessed an abbreviated body and atrophied limbs, but an expansive heart and a perceptive soul! Caught up in the excitement, and still trying to internalize this event, I could not corral my mind enough to even thank him! The driver had already helped him off the bus, and he was wheeling himself away, melting rapidly into the surrounding greenery.”

* * *

I realized, that overwhelmed by the intense memories of that event, Sahana had stopped talking at this juncture. Since I understood her mental make up perfectly well, I too remained still, letting the silence absorb the effluents of her emotion.
With vivid detail and emotional fidelity, she had managed to project the entire event almost live, into my own mind. In this day and age, we barely even register the presence of people outside of our narrow circle of aquaintances. We are so insensate, detached from happenings among the co-habitants of the world around us. In contrast to this baseline of common social behavior, the image of that wheelchair-bound person, with his uncommonly profuse humanity, was truly a vision to behold and cherish.
Regaining her composure, Sahana resumed her narrative …

* * *

“The next major development in my life was almost like the next installment of the event I just described. It was like the proverbial link in some pre-ordained chain of events. This, as you know, was the birth of Sumedha. A child who was in every way an impeccable beauty, incomparably feminine, almost like Divinity incarnate, was diagnosed with a problem in her brain. Doctors discounted any possibility of her leading a ‘normal’ life. Starting with the initial shock of it all, my life has been anything but ‘normal.’”
“I have never stopped analyzing the meaning of what constitutes a ‘normal’ life. Don’t we all experience instances every day, where something that we consider ‘normal’ is judged ‘weird’ by someone next to us? Isn’t all this very subjective? Why is it, that I had reflexively classified that wheelchair-bound person as ‘not normal’, even though he displayed a spontaneous, pure sense of humanity by helping me in the bus, with no expectation whatsoever of a reward or even a ‘thank you’ from me? True, to a supposedly ‘normal’ eye, that person appeared ‘disabled’. But I am now convinced that despite appearances, that person is actually more ‘normal’ in that he is closer to the true nature of the world. My conviction is derived not through everyday logic, but through some transcendental faculty that resides within me, but also simultaneously connects me to all of the reality that I see around me, and to larger realities that I do not, or even cannot witness directly. I am also convinced that that same faculty, has handed me a child similar to that person. Yet I wonder — what is the ‘meaning’ of all this in a conventional sense? What if any, is the causal connection between these events?”
“Throughout life, we strive to fulfill a presumed responsibility, to become successful adults. We use every single sense organ we possess, to achieve this. We use our brain to logically analyze and resolve every situation in our life. Yet, in a very demonstrable way, people like that person in the bus, or my daughter, seem to be far ahead of us in their ability to use and work with their hearts and souls! We strive to maintain and strengthen the peripheral organs that we use in our life, while in these people, the heart and the soul scale incredible heights of strength and endurance.”
“When I realized this fact, the significance of this event became very clear. Precisely during the very period when I was in a vulnerable state of mind, I was made witness to a situation where a special person appeared to me during a journey, and displayed the core strength and essence of human character; and this was done with the specific purpose of preparing me to deal with a challenge of a similar nature, that was to occur later in my life.”
“The idea that these events are somehow related may seem irrational. Yet, I cannot seem to discount the sense of connectedness between these events and myself. Moreover, lately, I feel this conviction has helped me achieve levels of strength and endurance, that were never accessible to me through the methods of conventional logical thinking.”
“After that incident, I took so many trips to my college on that same bus. I never saw that person again. I could never express my gratitude to him. But I take solace in the thought, that every instant that I serve and love my daughter, somehow my thanks are being relayed to him.”

* * *

Sahana had left several hours ago, but my mind was still engrossed in the event she had described. It was getting really cold outside. Yet, I was suffused by a comforting sense of warmth, emanating from the vivid image of that person she had encountered in the bus. Even as I compulsively analyzed the significance of the transcendental connections she had alluded to, a certain intangible, yet deep, almost mystical feeling seemed to permeate me …

* * *

The Japanese fishing lessons for us

Filed under: Learning,Perspective,Stories — Subbaraman Iyer @ 4:33 pm

The Japanese have always loved fresh fish. But the waters close to Japan have not held many fish for decades. So to feed the Japanese population, fishing boats got bigger and went farther than ever.

The farther the fishermen went, the longer it took to bring in the fish. If the return trip took more than a few days, the fish were not fresh. The Japanese did not like the taste.

To solve this problem, fishing companies installed freezers on their boats. They would catch the fish and freeze them at sea. Freezers allowed the boats to go farther and stay longer. However, the Japanese could taste the difference between fresh and frozen and they did not like frozen fish. The frozen fish brought a lower price.

So fishing companies installed fish tanks. They would catch the fish and stuff them in the tanks, fin to fin. After a little thrashing around, the fish stopped moving. They were tired and dull, but alive. Unfortunately, the Japanese could still taste the difference. Because the fish did not move for days, they lost their fresh-fish taste. The Japanese preferred the lively taste of fresh fish, not sluggish fish.

So how did Japanese fishing companies solve this problem? How do they get fresh-tasting fish to Japan?

If you were consulting for the fish industry, what would you recommend?

Too Much Money
As soon as you reach your goals, such as finding a wonderful mate, starting a successful company, paying off your debts or whatever, you might lose your passion. You don’t need to work so hard so you relax. You experience the same problem as lottery winners who waste their money, wealthy heirs who never grow up and bored homemakers who get addicted to prescription drugs.
Like the Japanese fish problem, the best solution is simple.

It was observed by L. Ron Hubbard in the early 1950’s.”Man thrives, oddly enough, only in the presence of a challenging environment.”- L. Ron Hubbard: The Benefits of a Challenge

The more intelligent, persistent and competent you are, the more you enjoy a good problem. If your challenges are the correct size, and if you are steadily conquering those challenges, you are happy. You think of your challenges and get energized. You are excited to try new solutions. You have fun. You are alive!

How Japanese Fish Stay Fresh:

To keep the fish tasting fresh, the Japanese fishing companies still put the fish in the tanks. But now they add a small shark to each tank. The shark eats a few fish, but most of the fish arrive in a very lively state.

The fish are challenged.

Think of life as a terminal illness, because…

Filed under: Inspiration,Perspective — Subbaraman Iyer @ 4:26 pm

Here’s a wonderful commencement speech by Dr. Anna Quindlen

It’s a great honor for me to be the third member of my family to receive an honorary doctorate from this great university.

It’s an honor to follow my great Uncle Jim, who was a gifted physician, and my Uncle Jack, who is a remarkable businessman. Both of them could have told you something important about their professions, about medicine or commerce.

I have no specialized field of interest or expertise, which puts me at a disadvantage talking to you today.
I’m a novelist.

My work is human nature. Real life is all I know. Don’t ever confuse the two, your life and your work. The second is only part of the first.

Don’t ever forget what a friend once wrote Senator Paul Tsongas when the senator decided not to run for re-election because he had been diagnosed with cancer: “No man ever said on his deathbed, ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office.'”

Don’t ever forget the words my father sent me on a postcard last year: “If you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.”

Or what John Lennon wrote before he was gunned down in the driveway of the Dakota: “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”

You will walk out of here this afternoon with onlyone thing that no one else has. There will be hundreds of people out there with your same degree; there will be thousands of people doing what you want to do for a living. But you will be the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on a bus, or in a car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your mind, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account but your soul.

People don’t talk about the soul very much anymore. It’s so much easier to write a resume than to craft a spirit. But a resume is a cold comfort on a winter night, or when you’re sad, or broke, or lonely, or when you’ve gotten back the test results and they’re not so good.

Here is my resume:

I am a good mother to three children. I have tried never to let my profession stand in the way of being a good parent.

I no longer consider myself the center of the universe.

I show up.
I listen.
I try to laugh.
I am a good friend to my husband. I have tried to make marriage vows mean what they say.

I am a good friend to my friends, and they to me. Without them, there would be nothing to say to you today, because I would be a cardboard cutout. But I call them on the phone, and I meet them for lunch.

I would be rotten, or at best mediocre at my job, if those other things were not true. You cannot be really first rate at your work if your work is all you are.

So here’s what I wanted to tell you today:

Get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do you think you’d care so very much about those things if you blew an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast?

Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over Seaside Heights, a life in which you stop and watch how a red tailed hawk circles over the water or the way a baby scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a Cheerio with her thumb and first finger.

Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work. Pick up the phone. Send an e-mail. Write a letter.

Get a life in which you are generous. And realize that life is the best thing ever, and that you have no business taking it for granted. Care so deeply about its goodness that you want to spread it around. Take money you would have spent on beers and give it to charity. Work in a soup kitchen. Be a big brother or sister. All of you want to do well. But if you do not do good too, then doing well will never be enough.

It is so easy to waste our lives, our days, our hours, our minutes. It is so easy to take for granted the color of our kids’ eyes, the way the melody in a symphony rises and falls and disappears and rises again.

It is so easy to exist instead of to live.

I learned to live many years ago. Something really, really bad happened to me, something that changed my life in ways that, if I had my druthers, it would never have been changed at all. And what I learned from it is what, today, seems to be the hardest lesson of all:

I learned to love the journey, not the destination. I learned that it is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get.

I learned to look at all the good in the world and try to give some of it back because I believed in it, completely and utterly. And I tried to do that, in part, by telling others what I had learned.

By telling them this: Consider the lilies of the field. Look at the fuzz on a baby’s ear. Read in the backyard with the sun on your face.

Learn to be happy.

And think of life as a terminal illness, because if you do, you will live it with joy and passion as it ought to be lived.

Living in the present

Filed under: Inspiration,Learning,Perspective — Subbaraman Iyer @ 5:17 am

There was a monk who lived in a small village in the jungle with a group of other monks. Each morning this monk would go out into the jungle & gather fruit for the other monks.
One morning this monk went into the jungle and was beginning to gather fruit when he heard a sound behind him. He turned around, and saw – a tiger. Not wanting to be breakfast for the tiger, the monk slowly began to creep away. But the tiger saw the movement, looked up, and began to walk towards the monk. The monk began to walk faster, and the tiger began to walk faster. The monk began to run as fast as he could, but the tiger began to run also, easily gaining on the monk.
Suddenly the monk burst out of the jungle and found himself standing on the edge of a cliff. He turned around, and saw the tiger behind him, reaching through the bamboo with his claws.
This was the moment, when the monk decided to take a risk. He saw a vine lying on the edge of the cliff, and he grabbed tight to it with both hands and jumped off the cliff. The vine held! And the monk began to climb down the cliff. He was halfway down the cliff when he heard a sound below.

Looking down, he saw another tiger at the bottom of the cliff!
The monk looked up and saw that the tiger at the top of the cliff was still there! Now there was a tiger at both the top of the cliff and another at the bottom of the cliff! The monk is trying to decide what to do. As he was thinking, he saw a poked the nose of a very tiny mouse out of a small hole.
In this moment of crisis, the monk saw something. Growing out of a crevice in the cliff right near him was a strawberry plant, and inside of it was the biggest, most luscious strawberry he had ever seen! The monk reached out, grabbed the strawberry, plucked it, ate it, and here’s the key… he ENJOYED it too at this dangerous situation of his life!
Now it happened that just as the mouse finished nibbling through the vine and it fell away, the monk found a tiny ledge to cling to. He held onto it for so long that the tiger at the bottom of the cliff got bored and went away, and the tiger at the top of the cliff got bored and went away.
Very slowly the monk made his way back on up the cliff, through the jungle, and back into his village in time for supper. While they were eating, the monk told the other monks what had happened to him that day. They all smiled and said they were glad that he was safe.
The monk thanked them, and then said: “Yes, I too am glad that I am safe. However, “I learned something today.” said the monk. “What did you learn?” they all asked.
“Too often I spend all my time worrying about everything that has happened to me in the past (the tiger at the top of the cliff). And too often I spend too much time worrying about what might happen to me in the future (the tiger at the bottom of the cliff). Or, worst of all, I spend too much time worrying about the nibbling, nagging worries of each and every day (the mouse).
And when a true strawberry in my life comes along, I forget to pluck it, eat it, and most of all… ENJOY it!

A taxi driver teaches a MBA lesson

Filed under: Business,Education,Innovation,Model,Perspective,Stories — Subbaraman Iyer @ 5:05 am

I needed to go from Xujiahui to the airport, so I hurriedly concluded a meeting and I was looking for a taxi in front of the Meiluo building. A taxi driver saw me and very professionally came in a straight line and stopped right in front of me. Thus followed the story that astonished me greatly as if I had attended a lively MBA course. In order to faithfully preserve the intent of the taxi driver, I have tried to reproduce his original words according to my memory.

“Where do you want to go? Good, the airport. At Xujiahui, I loved to get business in front of the Meiluo building. Over here, I only work two places: Meiluo building () and Junyao building (). Did you know? Before I picked you up, I circled around Meiluo building twice before I saw you! People who come out of office building are definitely not going to some place nearby …”

“Oh? You have a method!” I agreed.

“A taxi driver must also have scientific methods,” he said. I was surprised and I got curious: “What scientific methods?”

“I have to know statistics. I have made detailed calculations. Let me tell you. I operate the car 17 hours a day, and my hourly cost is 34.5 RMB …”

“How did you arrive at that?” I asked

“You calculate. I have to pay 380 RMB to the company each day for the car. The gas is about 210 RMB. I work 17 hours per day. On an hourly basis, the fixed cost is the 22 RMB that I give to the taxi company and an average of 12.5 RMB per hour in gasoline expenses. Isn’t that 34.5 RMB?” I was a bit surprised. I have taken taxis for ten years, but this is the first time that a taxi driver has calculated the costs this way. Previously, the taxi drivers all tell me that the cost per kilometer was 0.3 RMB in addition to the total company fee.

“Costs should not be calculated on a per-kilometer basis. It should be calculated on an hourly basis. You see, each meter has a ‘review’ function through which you can see the details of the day. I have done a data analysis. The averarge time gap between customers is seven minutes. If I started counting the costs when someone gets in, it is 10 RMB for about 10 minutes. That means each 10 RMB customer takes 17 minutes of time, which costs 9.8 RMB (=34.5 x 17 / 60). This is not making money! If we say that customers who want to go to Pudong, Hangzhou or Qingpu are like meals, then a 10 RMB customer is not even a bite of food. You can only say that this is just a sprinkle of MSG.”

Great! This driver did not sound like a taxi driver. He seemed more like an accountant. “So what you do then?” I was even more interested and I continued my questioning. It looked like I was going to learn something new on the way to the airport.

“You must not let the customer lead you all over the place. You decide what you want to do based upon the location, time and customer.” I was very surprised, but this sounded significant. “Someone said that the taxi driving is a profession that depends on luck. I don’t think so. You have to stand in the position of the customer and consider things from the customer’s perspective.” This sounded very professional, and very much like many business management teachers who say “put yourself in others’ shoes.”

“Let me give you an example. You are at the entrance to a hospital. There is someone holding some medicine and there is someone else holding a wash basin. Which person will you pick up?” I thought about it and I said that I didn’t know.

“You take the one with the wash basin. If you have a minor complaint that you want to be examined and to get some medicine, you don’t usually go to a faraway hospital. Anyone who is carrying a wash basin has just been discharged from the hospital. When people enter the hospital, some of them die. Today, someone on the second floor dies. Tomorrow, someone on the third floor dies. Those who make it out of the hospital usually have a feeling of having been given a second life and they recognize the meaning of life again — health is the most important thing. So on that day, that person told me, “Go … go to Qingpu.” He did not even blink. Would you say that he wanted to take a taxi to People’s Plaza to transfer to the Qingpu line subway? Absolutely not!”

I began to admire him.

“Let me give you another example. That day at People’s Plaza, three people were waving at me. One was a young woman who had just finished shopping and was holding some small bags. Another was a young couple who were out for a stroll. The third one was a man who wore a silk shirt and a down jacket and holding a notebook computer bag. I spent three seconds looking at each person and I stopped in front of the man without hesitation. When the man got in, he said: ‘Yannan Elevated Highway. South North Elevated Highway …’ Before even finishing, he could not help but ask, ‘Why did you stop in front of me without hesitating? There were two people in front. They wanted to get on as well. I was too embarrassed to fight with them.’ I replied, ‘It is around noon and just a dozen or so minutes before one o’clock. That young woman must have slipped out at noon to buy something and I guess that her company must be nearby. That couple are tourists because they are not holding anything and they are not going to travel far. You are going out on business. You are holding a notebook computer bag, so I can tell that this is business. If you are going out at this time, I guess that it would not be too close.’ The man said, ‘You are right. I’m going to Baoshan.'”

“Are those people wearing pajamas in front of supermarkets or subway stations going to travel far? Are they going to the airport? The airport is not going to let them enter.”

That makes sense! I was liking this more and more.

“Many drivers complain that business is tough and the price of gas has gone up. They are trying to pin the cause down on other people. If you keep pinning the cause on other people, you will never get any better. You must look at yourself to see where the problem is.” This sounds very familiar. It seems like “If you cannot change the world, then you should change yourself” or perhaps a pirated copy of Steven Corey’s “Circles of Influence and Concern.” “One time, on Nandan Road, someone flagged me down and wanted to go to Tianlin. Later on, someone else flagged me down on Nandan Road and he also wanted to go to Tianlin. So I asked, ‘How come all you people who come out on Nandan Road want to go to Tianlin?’ He said, ‘There is a public bus depot at Nandan Road. We all take the public bus from Pudong to there, and then we take the taxi to Tianlin. So I understood. For example, you look at the road that we just passed. There are no offices, no hotels, nothing. Just a public bus station. Those people who flag down taxis there are mostly people who just got off the public bus, and they look for the shortest road for a taxi. People who flag down taxis here will usually ride not more than 15 RMB.”

“Therefore, I say that the attitude determines everything!” I have heard dozens of company CEO’s say that, but this was the first time that I heard a taxi driver say that.

“We need to use scientific methods and statistics to conduct business. Those people who wait at the subway exits every day for business will never make money. How are you going to provide for your wife and kids at 500 RMB a month? This is murder? This is slowly murdering your whole family. You must arm yourself with knowledge. You have to learn knowledge to become a smart person. A smart person learns knowledge in order to become a very smart person. A very smart person learns knowledge in order to become a genius.”

“One time, a person wanted a taxi in order to get to the train station. I asked him how he wanted to go. He told me how to get there. I said that was slow. I said to get on the elevated highway and go this other way. He said that it was a longer way. I said, ‘No problem. You have experience because you go that way frequently. It costs you 50 RMB. If you go my way, I will turn off the meter when it reaches 50 RMB. You can just pay me 50 RMB. Anything more is mine. If you go your way, it will take 50 minutes. If I go my way, it will take 25 minutes.’ So in the end, we went my way. We traveled an additional four kilometers but 25 minutes quicker. I accepted only 50 RMB. The customer was very delighted for saving about 10 RMB. This extra four kilometers cost me just over 1 RMB in gas. So I have swapped 1 RMB for 25 extra minutes of my time. As I just said, my hourly cost is 34.5 RMB. It was quite worthwhile for me!”

“In a public taxi company, an ordinary driver takes three to four thousand RMB home per month. The good driver can get around five thousand. The top driver can get seven thousand RMB. Out of the 20,000 drivers, there are about two to three who can make more than 8,000 RMB a month. I am one of those two or three. Furthermore, it is very stable without too much fluctuation.”

Great! By this point, I admired this taxi driver more and more.

“I often say that I am a happy driver. Some people say, ‘That’s because you earn a lot of money. Of course, you must be happy.’ I tell them, ‘You are wrong. This is because I have a happy and active mind, and that is why I make a lot of money.'”

What a wonderful way to put it!

“You have to appreciate the beauty that your work brings. Stuck in a traffic jam at People’s Plaza, many drivers complain, ‘Oh, there’s a traffic jam again! What rotten luck!’ You must not be like that. You should try to experience the beauty of the city. There are many pretty girls passing by. There are many tall modern buildings; although you cannot afford them, you can still enjoy them with an appreciative look. While driving to the airport, you can look at the greenery on both sides. In the winter, it is white. How beautiful! Look at the meter — it is more than 100 RMB. That is even more beautiful! Each job has its own beauty. We need to learn how to experience that beauty in our work.”

“Ten years ago, I was a general instructor at Johnson’s. Eight years ago, I had been the department manager for three different departments. I quit because there was no point in making three or five thousand a month. I decided to become a taxi driver. I want to be a happy driver. Ha ha ha …”

When we arrived at the airport, I gave him my business card and said, “Are you interested in coming this Friday to my office and explain to the Microsoft workers about how you operate your taxi? You can treat it as if your meter is running at 60 kilometers per hour. I will pay you for the time that you talk to us. Give me a call.”

Then I began to write down his lively MBA lecture on the airplane.

A higher logic

Filed under: Stories — Subbaraman Iyer @ 4:40 am

A young man who went overseas to study for quite a long time.

When he returned, he asked his parents to find him a religious scholar or any expert who could answer his 3 Questions.

Finally, his parents were able to find a scholar.

Young man: Who are you? Can you answer my questions?

Scholar: I am one of God willing, I will be able to answer your

Young man: Are you sure? A lot of Professors and experts were not able to answer my questions.

Scholar: I will try my best, with the help of God .

Young Man: I have 3 questions:

1. Does God exist? If so, show me His shape.

2. What is fate?

3. If Devil was created from the fire, why at the end he will be thrown to hell that is also created from fire. It certainly will not hurt him at all, since Devil and the hell were created from fire. Did God not think of it this far?

Suddenly, the Scholar slapped the young man’s face very hard.

Young Man(feeling pain): Why do you get angry at me?

Scholar: I am not angry. The slap is my answer to your three questions.

Young Man: I really don’t understand.

Scholar: How do you feel after I slapped you?

Young Man: Of course, I felt the pain.

Scholar: So do you believe that pain exists?

Young Man: Yes.

Scholar: Show me the shape of the pain!

Young Man: I cannot.

Scholar: That is my first answer. All of us feel God’s existence without being able to see His shape… Last night, did you dream that you will be slapped by me?

Young Man: No.

Scholar: Did you ever think that you will get a slap from me, today?

Young Man: No.

Scholar: That is fate my second answer…….. My hand that I used to slap you, what is it created from?

Young Man: It is created from flesh.

Scholar: How about your face, what is it created from?

Young Man: Flesh.

Scholar: How do you feel after I slapped you?

Young Man: In pain.

Scholar: That’s it… this is my third answer, Even though Devil and also the hell were created from the fire, if God wants,God willing , the hell will become a very painful place for devil.

God said: “If you are ashamed of me, I will be ashamed of you.”

A taste of wisdom

Filed under: Inspiration — Subbaraman Iyer @ 4:36 am

An aging master grew tired of his apprentice complaining, and so, one fine morning, he sent him to bring some salt. When the apprentice returned, the master instructed the unhappy young man to put a handful of salt in a glass of water and then to drink it.

“How does it taste?” the master asked.

“Bitter,” replied the apprentice.

The master chuckled and then asked the young man to take the same handful of salt and put it in the lake. The two walked in silence to the nearby lake, and once the apprentice swirled his handful of salt in the water, the old man said, “Now drink from the lake.”

As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the master asked,

“How does it taste?”

“Fresh,” remarked the apprentice.

“Do you taste the salt?” asked the master.

“No,” said the young man.

At this, the master sat beside this serious young man who so reminded him of himself and took his hands, offering:

“The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains exactly the same. However, the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things.

Stop being a glass. Become a lake.

In the line of fire

Filed under: India,Learning,Motivation,Perspective,Stories — Subbaraman Iyer @ 4:33 am

Vivek Pradhan was not a happy man. Even the plush comfort of the air-conditioned compartment of the Shatabdi express could not cool his frayed nerves.

He was the Project Manager and still not entitled to air travel. It was not the prestige he sought; he had tried to reason with the admin person, it was the savings in time. As PM, he had so many things to do!! He opened his case and took out the laptop, determined to put the time to some good use.

“Are you from the software industry sir,” the man beside him was staring appreciatively at the laptop. Vivek glanced briefly and mumbled in affirmation, handling the laptop now with exaggerated care and importance as if it were an expensive car.

“You people have brought so much advancement to the country, Sir. Today everything is getting computerized.” “Thanks,” smiled Vivek, turning around to give the man a look. He always found it difficult to resist appreciation. “You people always amaze me,” the man continued, “You sit in an office and write something on a computer and it does so many big things outside.”

Vivek smiled deprecatingly. Naiveness demanded reasoning not anger. “It is not as simple as that my friend. It is not just a question of writing a few lines. There is a lot of process that goes behind it.” For a moment, he was tempted to explain the entire Software Development Lifecycle butrestrained himself to a single statement. “It is complex, very complex.”

“It has to be. No wonder you people are so highly paid,” came the reply.

This was not turning out as Vivek had thought. A hint of belligerence crept into his so far affable, persuasive tone. ” Everyone just sees the money.

No one sees the amount of hard work we have to put in. Indians have such a narrow concept of hard work. Just because we sit in an air-conditioned office, does not mean our brows do not sweat. You exercise the muscle; we exercise the mind and believe me that is no less taxing.” He could see, he had the man where he wanted, and it was time to drive home the point.

“Let me give you an example. Take this train. The entire railway reservation system is computerized. You can book a train ticket between any two stations from any of the hundreds of computerized booking centres across the country. Thousands of transactions accessing a single database, at a time concurrently; data integrity, locking, data security. Do you understand the complexity in designing and coding such a system?”. The man was awestruck; quite like a child at a planetarium. This was something big and beyond his imagination. “You design and code such things.” “I used to,” Vivek paused for effect, “but now I am the Project Manager.” “Oh!” sighed the man, as if the storm had passed over, “so your life is easy now.”

This was like the last straw for Vivek. He retorted, “Oh come on, does life ever get easy as you go up the ladder. Responsibility only brings more work. Design and coding! That is the easier part. Now I do not do it, but I am responsible for it and believe me, that is far more stressful. My job is to get the work done in time and with the highest quality. To tell you about the pressures, there is the customer at one end, always changing his requirements, the user at the other, wanting something else, and your boss, always expecting you to have finished it yesterday.”

Vivek paused in his diatribe, his belligerence fading with self-realisation. What he had said, was not merely the outburst of a wronged man, it was the truth. And one need not get angry while defending the truth. “My friend,” he concluded triumphantly, “you don’t know what it is to be in the Line of Fire”.

The man sat back in his chair, his eyes closed as if in realization. When he spoke after sometime, it was with a calm certainty that surprised Vivek.

“I know sir, I know what it is to be in the Line of Fire.” He was staring blankly, as if no passenger, no train existed, just a vast expanse of time.

“There were 30 of us when we were ordered to capture Point 4875 in the cover of the night. The enemy was firing from the top. There was no knowing where the next bullet was going to come from and for whom. In the morning when we finally hoisted the tricolour at the top only 4 of us were alive.”

“You are a…?”

“I am Subedar Sushant from the 13 J&K Rifles on duty at Peak 4875 in Kargil. They tell me I have completed my term and can opt for a soft assignment.

But, tell me sir, can one give up duty just because it makes life easier. On the dawn of that capture, one of my colleagues lay injured in the snow, open to enemy fire while we were hiding behind a bunker. It was my job to go and fetch that soldier to safety. But my captain sahib refused me permission and went ahead himself. He said that the first pledge he had taken as a Gentleman Cadet was to put the safety and welfare of the nation foremost followed by the safety and welfare of the men he commanded…….his own personal safety came last, always and every time.”

“He was killed as he shielded and brought that injured soldier into the bunker. Every morning thereafter, as we stood guard, I could see him taking all those bullets, which were actually meant for me. I know sir….I know, what it is to be in the Line of Fire.”

Vivek looked at him in disbelief not sure of how to respond. Abruptly, he switched off the laptop. It seemed trivial, even insulting to edit a Word document in the presence of a man for whom valour and duty was a daily part of life; valour and sense of duty which he had so far attributed only to epic heroes.

The train slowed down as it pulled into the station, and Subedar Sushant picked up his bags to alight. “It was nice meeting you sir.”

Vivek fumbled with the handshake. This hand… had climbed mountains, pressed the trigger, and hoisted the tricolour. Suddenly, as if by impulse, he stood up at attention and his right hand went up in an impromptu salute. It was the least he felt he could do for the country.

PS: The incident he narrated during the capture of Peak 4875 is a true-life incident during the Kargil war. Capt. Batra sacrificed his life while trying to save one of the men he commanded, as victory was within sight. For this and various other acts of bravery, he was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, the nation’s highest military award.

Live humbly, there are great people around us, let us learn!