ON THE ROAD TO PALATINE

It was in 2008 that I flew down to Chicago for the first time on a work assignment. Until then, it had just been a transit stop. Chicago received me with light romantic showers of rain. Immigration went through very smooth at the O’Hare airport, but I had an abnormally long waiting time at the baggage terminal to retrieve my luggage. At one point I thought that they would have gone missing, but I soon felt relieved when I spotted the gold cloth pieces tied to the handles of the two check-in baggage, as they slowly emerged through the rubber blinds from the opening and fell onto the conveyer. These gold cloth pieces were my amulets during any flight journey. I desperately wanted to get to my friend’s place at Palatine and catch up some good sleep before getting into work the next day.

And so, with all the formalities at the airport done, I joined the beeline for a cab. When my turn came, a handsome man stepped out of the cab and greeted me with an amiable smile. I gave him my destination address that I had jotted on a piece of paper and he gave me a nod in assurance. His aquiline nose and graceful features attracted my attention. He had a beautiful beard, so well-trimmed and maintained, that one would get a feeling that he had used some kind of template to get the job done. After shoving in my baggage and checking his map that he spread out from a small book, we were soon on our journey to Palatine. Chicago downtown looked awesome at night. Only architects with real aesthetic sense, who sincerely feel that a city should look beautiful, would take so much pains to design any city that way. I have seen this beauty in almost all the downtowns in the USA.

It was already late into the night. “I am from India. So, where are you from?” I asked. “I am from Turkey”, he responded with a smile. I told him my name and I think he introduced himself as Khalid, though I am not sure. “So you are here on work?” he asked with very keen interest. ”Yes, I am here on a job assignment. I have already been is the USA for three years on work assignments”, I replied with my response containing more than what he asked for. “Oh!! That’s great. So a lot of you guys continue for long and then prefer to settle here I guess”, he said. “Yes, a lot of us do that. I too wish I settled here, but I have to be in India now. So, I will get back for sure”, I replied with a small laughter. “Well, what you are doing is good in a way. You are going back to your motherland. I am also going to be here just for a few years. I am pursuing my higher studies in parallel. Once done I will return to my land and share my experience with people. I will strive to make my land better”, he said. “Well, I am going back because I have some family commitments out there. Otherwise I very well want to settle here”, I replied categorically. “Oh! So you don’t want to stay in your motherland otherwise. That’s setting a bad example”, he said and smiled. “Well, daily life is much better out here, with all the facilities well set for a common man to live comfortably. Daily life is pretty difficult in India. Life is much more easy and enjoyable here.” I replied with a tinge of argument glazed in my words. “Oh! That’s a pretty selfish inclination indeed!” he said with a teasing laughter following it. “You want to stay outside the system and say that something is not good. You don’t want to get into it and try and make it better…eh?” he asked. I was getting irate when each jibe was getting shot at me. I wondered why a taxi driver had to keep saying all these things to me. “Who was he after all to quiz me on what were my inclinations?” I thought. “What makes you think that one man like me can make a difference?” I asked. “Well, if everyone thought so sir, this world would have been the same. Someone has to make a start, or we need to join hands and support someone who has already started. If we have made at least a few attempts and then found that things don’t work, its fine”, he retorted.

My ego could not take it any further and so I remained silent. We moved ahead, while the rain still continued its pitter patter. I felt that Khalid had no clue about the impact his statements had on me. He still remained cool and kept humming some song as he drove on. He halted once in between to check his map again with his pen torch and then read the address from the paper I had given him. “Ok, here we go”, he said and moved on.

In a few minutes we reached the apartment where my friend was staying. It was sometime early morning. I had called him from Khalid’s mobile. He was waiting at the door of the block where his apartment was. Khalid left with a smile on his face and waving goodbye. I found it difficult to smile but gave him a mechanical wave of my hand. I did not share any of these conversations with my friend.

When I hit bed to get off my jet lag, my thoughts were about Khalid. There was certainly a lot of sense in what he had conveyed. We have to get into the drains in life to clean it. We can’t remain outside and yell out to everybody around that it is dirty and nobody is cleaning it. We have to get inside and make attempts, to give ourselves and our fellow beings a better life. We have to make sacrifices that for sure may go unrewarded. But like a gimlet working to a single point, we need to persevere and we will see light soon. Khalid did not just get me to my destination in Palatine. He threw more light on what I already believed in a very hazy way. Yes,I had always been a person who got into the drains, but I had lost hope. Over the last so many years and even now, my attempts to clean drains in different facets of life, anywhere, never got  and is still never getting any support. While on that journey with Khalid, I was almost driven to a frame of mind where I thought that there was no point cleaning the drains. But Khalid’s message made me understand that my steps were right. That belief still keeps me moving forward inspite of all the opposition.

WHERE DREAMS ARE WOVEN AND DREAMS ARE BARTERED

Through the years in my profession, I have had the opportunity to go for several campus recruitments. I found the encounter with the young students a different experience. Some of them were inspiring and in fact cathartic.I found it embarrassing though, when I along with the other members in the recruitment panel, became the cynosure of all eyes once we stepped out of the vehicle that took us into the college campuses. Sometimes I felt that they were indeed looking at us with such awe, that I really felt a halo existing over my head. Little do these students know about the extent of job insecurity and stress that individuals are into, while working with the software industry.


 
We enjoyed the recruitment while at Madurai as we had the privilege to stay at a very prominent hotel there. The days I spent there were hot and we had sporadic rainfall at night. The ambience that the hotel offered was fantastic. I also had the opportunity to go to colleges at Kovilpatti, Tuticorin and in and around Chennai. Seeing the students in all these places, I had reminiscences of the days when I along with my friends, sat in corners of the college where I graduated from, waiting for the call from the campus interviewer. I remember some of us going through the books even at the last moment before we were called in. I saw the same body language and approach in many students too that day. But I was lucky to have realized sometime in the middle of my degree stint, that we don’t have to slog and prepare that way. When we passionately pursue our subjects, it will take us to dizzy heights automatically.


There were students from different backgrounds. Some of them were from very poor families and I could see how difficult it was for them to express in English. But I noticed that some of them had much more zest to do projects of very high technical calibre than the students who were from better financial backgrounds. I measured them only based on this spirit that they portrayed and I allowed them to speak freely even if they had to mix a lot of Tamil into their broken and incorrect English. I still believe that  enthusiasm on any day is a very powerful fuel in a human being to make them dream and to pursue their dreams.

I did tell some of the candidates during the course of the interview, that they could talk about themselves and their interests outside studies, as part of their introduction. This was to make them comfortable and to allow them to settle down. Some talked about their hobbies with great interest. I also asked a few to talk about any unforgettable incidents that they could share. One boy whom I found to be technically very sound, shared an incident which made him very emotional. In fact I found myself to be in an embarrassed state too as he recalled it. He told that had not been a great student for a while until the sixth standard. His parents had been strict and were putting pressure for him to get good marks. On one occasion fearing the wrath of his parents, he went ahead and forged the report card. The school teacher spotted this and informed his mother. His mother chided him an entire night and told him that she was ashamed to introduce him to anyone as her son. It wounded him very much and he left his home and did not return for weeks. Later, he came back home and then he was determined to turn around. And in the very next exam he took the report card to his mother and showed her the results. She was startled to see the marks. He had scored hundred percent in three subjects and the rest were about ninety five percent. His mother checked with the school teacher as she could not believe. That was the start of the turnaround and he remained as a very consistent student thereafter. He told me that he had a big dream of pursuing further studies in artificial intelligence after a few years.

I found another student who came in explain metallurgy and material sciences so well. He had also read through so much about the recent trends in space age materials that he exuded great confidence. His communication skills were excellent and he had a good exposure to software too. I knew that he could always be a part of my company. But I tried to discourage him from joining the software industry job rat race. Initially he tried telling me that he had seen the presentation made by my employer where it had shown several engineering projects. He told me that he could still be a part of those projects and sustain his enthusiasm for material sciences and metallurgy. But since I was not convinced, I continued to discourage him from taking up a software job. Finally at one point he opened up and told me that he had to get two of his sisters married and that he had no other way of earning a huge pay packet including the onsite opportunities that he had heard of. He also told me that his father had lost his job and there was no other earning member in their home. I felt really sad for him.

Sometimes in life it’s true and practical, that we have to beware of what we dream, as some dreams can really suck the life out of us. After all we have to remain alive to dream.

 

EXTRACTS FROM A SPEECH PREPARED FOR MY DAUGHTER -TOPIC – NATURE AND MYSELF

Happy to share extracts from the speech that I  prepared for my daugther for her elocution competition at the Church Sunday School. She bagged the second place for this. This was her first rendezvous with public speaking.

Mother Nature is in fact a mother for all of us too. Like the animals, birds, trees and other beings, am also part of nature.Everyday there are numerous children being born into this earth, into the lap of Mother Nature.Each one of these births, come out of nature’s longing for itself, a longing to see another good human being, who would preserve and protect it.

When we look around and observe, we see some human promote scientific and technological development. In the process they invade nature and its pristine privacy.But then there are some humans who ensure that nature is always preserved.

Mother Nature teaches us many lessons. One of them is about the strength in meekness.We depend on nature for many things. We build our houses on it, live on it and dump all our waste on it too. Everyday, most of the human feet stamp this earth, while they walk. Nature bears all this so patiently, while still supplying all our needs. In this meekness of nature lies its real strength to give us more and more inspite of all that we take out of it. The Bible says in Mathew (Ch5.V5), ” Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth”.

The next lesson is on humility. Look at the beautiful paddy fields. The flowering weeds that produce nothing, grow tall and stand out in these fields, displaying their beauty in all pride. In a few days, they are but dead and gone. The paddy grows and when the grains sprout, it stoops down. It is the one that produces worth, but it is also the one that bows down in humility. The Bible says in Luke (Ch18,V14), “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”.

The third lesson is on the difficult path that leads to good. Look at the birds and their little fledglings. Days after the baby is born, the mother pushes it slowly out of the nest, prompting it to fly. The mother knowing the risk, prods the little one, so that it learns to fly quickly. The Almighty also, in a similar way, puts us on a difficult path, many times, for our own good. He always knows what’s best for us, although we never realize.

ANOTHER EASTER…ANOTHER CHICKEN CURRY

We have Easter coming up the next Sunday. This is the first time I am going through a fifty day fast. But I have only been skipping non-vegetarian dishes and not been skipping meals at all. Along with this I managed to have Morning Prayer sessions in the company bus, while on my way to office, on most of the days. So in real terms this is actually nowhere close to a real fast.


Next Sunday, I will be in the long queue at some chicken meat shop in Anna Nagar, Chennai, to buy some meat for the Easter chicken curry that is to be prepared at home. This along with Kerala appam will form the sumptuous breakfast for Easter. My wife and sister would be the ones who would get this cooked and we would sit together around the dining table and have breakfast. Am happy atleast that way…I mean…by having food together, our family is still doing something together.

Our life has become so mechanical that way. We seem to be so busy running after things that really are not going to give us in proportion to this run. We seem to know it too. But still we run. Looks like we have to. There are just very few areas where as a family we can get together into some activity during a festival these days. This year I had just set up the tree and my daughter decorated the tree herself. I was too busy with work around Christmas time and I just could not join her. Again an example of things being done in isolation in a family.

I remember the Easter feast in Kerala when I was a little child. We had been there as a family during my school holidays. My aunt had planned for Kerala chicken curry for breakfast. My father and uncle were to take the lead in chasing the hens and catching them. Me and my cousins, all of almost the same age, were all over the place chasing them. The hens ran all around the back of the house, sometimes flew a little up into the lower branches of the trees, ran through the paddy fields, but finally they were caught. It was the role of the elderly males to kill and dress the chicken and get it ready to be cooked. My father and my uncle would get into this role and we kids would all sit around and watch. Once the hen was dressed and cleaned, my aunt and mother would take over and do the cooking. It was the role of the women to cook the food with all love and care. The more their interest and focus was in the cooking, the more would be the taste that would come out. And while the cooking was in progress, we kids would hang around, helping them to keep the traditional stove alive with dry twigs and leaves, blowing and blowing to get the flame out of the embers. Once the cooking was done, we would sit together and enjoy the family feast. Today the dressed chicken cut into pieces is available for our taking. And cooking ranges of all kinds are available that makes life easier. But that way we have killed the family activity associated with it. In those days, there was a lot of interaction over such activities that bound the family together.

Today the biggest factor that is hitting all families is the time at hand for the family members to participate in such activities. Be it family prayer, a family gathering, a family dinner, or other family activities, we find it difficult to see it happen and even if it happens, it does very rarely, in a nice and relaxed manner.

May be, it is we ourselves who should draw the line, between family life and the other busy areas we are into. Tradition is always great and sweet to be retained and for that to happen, we need to have a good time set aside for our family. After all, spending long hours over powerpoint presentations and excel sheets while leaving the family aside, will only deny us of those precious moments in life.

 

THE SEARCH FOR THE REAL PEACE

It was coincidental that I heard two individuals touch upon the same subject over the last weekend. My cousin brother  from Bangalore who visited us last Saturday, happened to share this aspect. He told me that he had heard this as part of a speech rendered by one of the Bishops of our church. I heard the same as part of the speech from a priest who visited our church in Koyambedu, Chennai on the Sunday that followed.

It’s interesting to note that angel Gabriel first appeared to Mary and told her “Peace be unto you Mary, full of grace. Our Lord is with Thee’. In fact there is some more that the angel did say, but my focus now is on the word ‘peace’. In fact, after the angel said this, Mary’s life was never in peace. Actually her life was in peace before the angel appeared. After angel Gabriel’s visit, Mary’s life was full of pain. She became pregnant even before she was formally married, which in today’s world is something that is looked down upon amongst women. Beside, there was no place for her to give birth to her child. Once the child was born, she had to take the child and escape from the killers of King Herod, who were hunting to kill baby Jesus. Even when Jesus was growing up, there was a time when she lost him and had to anxiously go and search for him. Mary finally had to go through the extremely painful situation, of having to see her son being tortured and crucified in front of her. So was this a piece of the peace that Angel Gabriel promised her? An interesting question indeed.

It was great to know from the speeches rendered, that what God means as peace, is not the peace that humans look for. What we look for is a calm and settled life, free of trials and tribulations. But what God offers is a journey, beginning with a realization of who we are and what we are made for. The journey could take us through the most anxious moments, but that is what is going to get the best out of us and also what would help us to make a difference in the little role that we play in this world, while we live.

If we take a look into Mahathma Gandhi’s life, the journey that took him through South Africa and then through India, to finally end with a gunshot was not a peaceful ride in human terms. But his inner self was at peace when he realized what he was made for and every action that he subsequently took towards that goal added to his peace, piece by piece.

May be the use of references from the Bible, or that of our Mahathma would send a signal down our mind that such things are only possible with great individuals. But still, scaling down to a normal human’s terms, even if it is our last day on this earth, it is still worth chasing our dreams and following our heart, as that is where our inner voice will truly speak to us and tell us what we are destined for. Sometimes, it may be that this peace, would come in spurts or as small pieces at different stages in our life. Even a small moment through that great journey for which we are destined, can give us the real peace, even if it is our last moment on this earth.

 

HORSES FOR COURSES

It was in the summer of 1993 that I got married. I was a kid of 24 years that time:)). As was the case with every Christian wedding, there was a friend who did  toast for me and my wife, and I did reply to the toast too. The CEO of the company I was working for that time, was also there at the reception along with other managers and friends from the company . When I returned for work after my marriage leave, there was a note from the CEO on my table with some instructions.

Following the instructions, I met the Divisional General Manager who was also taking care of Training and Development. He briefed me that the CEO who had heard me speak on stage facing a gathering of almost thousand, had been impressed with my public speaking skills. He told me that the CEO believed, that I could take up the opportunity of playing a trainer’s role for training the employees, as part of the Total Quality Management training initiative in the company. I was to join other managers to play this role and average age of a manager in that group was 40 years. It was a great opportunity and I grabbed it. We all underwent the Training for the Trainers program conducted by external consultants hired by our company, to implement Total Quality Management. I was the blue eyed boy of the CEO that time and certainly an object of envy for many around.

Each session was to be run by two faculty members speaking in tandem. I had the opportunity to team up with the CEO and several DGMs and Senior Managers for several sessions, through which we imparted training to employees at all levels covering workmen, trainee engineers, senior engineers and managers. It was a high time for me and my prominence grew.

Years went by and I grew up the ladder. There was a critical assignment that came in and middle level engineers like me were being considered. I even moved into the last two who were being considered. It came as a shock to me when I was not selected for the same. I was very keen to understand why I was not taken and was after my superiors for feedbacks. With much hesitation, I finally came to understand that the role needed a person who was not too organized and finicky about details and who could compromise a little here and there on accuracy, as it involved dealing with workmen with whom it was difficult to take a hard stance. It appeared to me that this level of quality was all that was needed. I found it difficult to come to terms with that decision and with the fact that a person like me who had been so prominent, was eliminated.But eventually I did understand.

In today’s world, several shades of character that human’s portray  seem to be fitting in as requirements in several work situations, in different companies. Again, every human cannot portray all the character shades. Certain jobs demand the services of certain people with particular profiles of experience and character. Decisions are taken based on these profiles.It is difficult to say whether these decisions are finally done with a basis that is good or bad, as what seperates both seems to be a thin line in today’s result oriented world. I realized that day that all horses are not born to run on all courses. There are places where we can only sit outside and watch while others run the race.