11 June 2017

Decision making - an underrated skill

Today, there is an article in Sunday TOI about maids and the rising class divide in the Indian context. Yet another context is the manager vs worker class in corporations. The former is regarded with a severely jaundiced eye - some even regard managers as the useless bunch who have no talent to speak of and know only to delegate to their underlings. You might think how the two themes above are intertwined. Well, in my opinion, they are because of one distinctive trait that runs amongst employers & managers. And that is the skill of decision making.

I will not argue that there are disparities in society and some employers do treat their employees unfairly. Life is inherently unfair afterall. But what I want to talk about is that no matter how talented or hardworking one may be, 90% of the people do not want to be in the seat for decision making. Hence it is the remaining 10% who eventually call the shots. Its the trait that separates leaders automatically. Ever seen kids playing? The one who decides which game to play or who should play automatically becomes the leader. There are those who propose, there are those who follow. But the one who says decisively (not plaintively or wisely, mind you) gets his way.

In a family fabric too, one often thinks why it is the dad who always gets to decide everything. Or in some cases its the mom or the grandmother etc. This person is automatically regarded as the resident Hitler :-) But no one realizes that this person has taken it upon himself/herself (or sometimes circumstances thrust it upon them) to think what is good for all. Whether its which restaurant to go to for dinner, or which school to send the child to, or where to go for vacation etc. This person has undertaken the not-so-glamorous task of weighing which might be the more successful alternative given a set of people or circumstances (many times in a split second). This person is not only willing to take the blame if the decision falls flat but also has the resourcefulness to do course correction.

Is decision making an inborn trait or something one can acquire? Why is it only there in 10%(or even less) of the population? The reason is simple : Most people do not want to take the blame or responsibility when things go wrong. Everyone wants attention, appreciation, credit. But when there is a chance that you may lose popularity because of something you decided for a bunch of people (and chances are generally high that you will as you can never please them all), only a few people stand up. Also, this kind of responsibility requires one to move out of one's comfort zone. Human nature is such that getting out of comfort zone does not come easily. And usually its the males who do get out of it, women are sheltered in our society right from childhood so it does not come easily to them. Most women do not even want to decide how to get from A to B location, they want someone (husband, father, brother, driver) to plan and execute for them.

Now consider the case of maids & nannies. I've been handling them for the last 20 years. My experience is that their sole purpose is to squeeze as much salary and perks out of the employer as possible. Despite serving for years in the same household, they have not mastered the art of what the employer expects. Without an explicit instruction, is it safe to do something out of their own judgement? Most are too scared of being chided or scolded. Hence, they will go on doing the same thing year on year and keep expecting superior entitlement due to their tenure. In case of the nanny, if the child refuses to eat something, they let it be. There is no attempt to call the employer to figure out what can be given as an alternative. Or whip up some mouth-watering snack themselves to entice the child to eat. Most times, they do not know how to use a phone or how to read food labels. So even if options are available they do not feel empowered to act. They fail to realize that between an adult and a child, the onus in always on the adult to improve the relationship, soothe the child or resolve a problem, even if the adult is a nanny. Another instance with a maid is actually commendable. I once told my cook that I would be getting dhansak from a Parsi colleague that evening. So she need not cook dinner. Now the maid not only knew what dhansak was but had actually prepared brown rice to go along with it for dinner! Definitely exceeded my expectations.

One part of decision making is also action. Sometimes the action involves convincing a difficult person to do something against their wish. This may take a lot of perseverance and negotiation. Now, if its with a child, usually its the mother who does it. But if its with the landlord, then the husband/father does it usually. So the one who has the stomach for that particular task, usually undertakes it. Sometimes the dad has to do it in mom's absence and wife has to do in husband's absence. And that is when they realize that it is not an easy task. Its only when you are in the decision maker's shoes that you understand where it pinches.

As for delegation - Communication, negotiation, decision making requires a lot of time and effort. Many technical folks think that the HR is an easy stream to be in. But the human factor is often the toughest and dealing with different personalities, sometimes across geographies, takes up a lot of bandwidth. In such cases, delegation is the only way these people can find time to take up this additional activity. Delegation is an art and should not be treated lightly. Not everyone can delegate or trust others to do their tasks as well as themselves.

Thus, its easy to comment about people who decide, delegate, boss around. But since majority of the population is not in their boat, they seldom get the credit that they deserve.

04 May 2017

What is love?

So much has been written about that king of emotions called "Love". Whether it is romantic love or love for one's children....the feeling remains the same. But many people interpret it differently.

When I was young, my mom used to watch black & white Hindi movies. From those I learned that love has to bow before duty. The couple did not get married if family or circumstances did not allow. My younger self used to rebel at this thought. I felt that those who shy away from love citing responsibility as a reason are cowards or lack staying power. I was equating love with marriage or achievement.

Then came glorious adolescence and I was exposed to so much literature on romantic love. Even the movies of that time portrayed love as coy glances, stolen kisses, mushy letters & gifts, the adrenaline rush of the hormones etc. Love was action at that time. Lack of these meant lack of feeling. But not everyone is capable of action or fancy words.

Then I met men who claimed to love me. I observed, and realized, that each one saw me as someone to idolize - someone saw intelligence, some admired my confidence, some saw outward attractiveness. And I felt that if I ever show them my vulnerabilities, or the baggage that I carry, will they still love me? I kept looking for the one who was not scared to see my scars.

I saw my friends getting married the arranged way and observed what qualities they wanted in their life partner. There was no love (how can there be with hardly any time together?), but a lot of calculation viz. what education, what community, how much income etc. I learned then that romantic love can be conditional.

I got married myself. And I learned that even when someone claims to love you, they can still disappoint you, hurt you. Living with someone 24x7 tests the relationship at all levels; especially when there is family on both sides involved. There are ups and downs and if you manage to stick together through this roller coaster, then you find a life-long companion who sometimes would kill for you and at other times would like nothing better than to throttle you :-) Love became friendship and trust that have withstood the ravages of Time.

And then I ventured into motherhood. Now, I've always prided myself on being articulate and bold in putting across my thoughts. But it is only after I became a mother that I feel I understood and can put in words what love means finally.

When you are solely responsible for a tiny tot and have to mould that scrap of humanity into a well-rounded human. When that little one is totally dependent on you for their every need. You have cleaned umpteen messes after them, your sleep and meal times are completely messed up, you have no privacy left, you don't remember the last time you saw a movie or went to the parlor. Yet, their one smile is all the reward you ever expect. That overwhelming, unconditional feeling is love.

While the child is dependent on you, you never expect anything of it. You never tire of giving. But that feeling changes the moment the child becomes independent or an adult :-) And then its like the feelings between any 2 adults. There are expectations, the usual ups & downs and the bubble is forever burst. Love can have an expiry date!

Thus, love is unconditional, without expectation, it does not have to "belong" and it can only be known with the passage of time. It can wax and wane. A blood relation or soul connection is not mandatory. Also, it cannot be switched on or off. Neither can it be hidden - at least not from the object of one's love.

Marriage and love are not intertwined. Marriage is a duty and responsibility first and foremost. Love may or may not come into it. With time, it usually does though. Those who are looking to get married the arranged way, are basically pragmatic. They haven't found love, but that does not mean they cannot choose the life partner with the requisite criteria.

But when there is love, all the criteria fly out the window. That's when people say love is blind. But Love is never blind. It gives eyes to even the blind. You notice, & remember, even the tiniest detail about your loved one. All your senses suddenly start operating at their prime! It doesn't matter if your little one stutters or drips well past their development stage, it does not dim the intensity of the feeling. Love is acceptance.

Above all, love is NOT the panacea for all the problems, neither is it the ultimate goal of life. It provides strength to get through life, it is the spice that makes the food palatable. But life is more than love. There is ugliness, anger, envy, fear, bitterness and despair. So do not get stuck on love only. Experience all the flavors of life and you will know that love leaves the best after-taste.

21 November 2016

Renovation 2016

I had been struggling with the clutter in my home for 12.5 years. It was causing a lot of depression to me as I am a tidiness freak by nature. It was causing a lot of stress in our family life too. From what seemed to be a lonely battle to me I finally figured that I needed some expert help in this matter. Though we had had some furniture done over the years, the interior was of an inorganic nature. The fact that I'm a compulsive shopper, and hubby is a hoarder, did not help. After the advent of my daughter, the clutter seemed to multiply exponentially! Not only did one tend to go crazy while shopping for little girls, the gifts she received and the various project work she accomplished in school, that we proudly displayed, the various toys, sports paraphernalia and cosmetic jewelry/accessories that had piled up, was mind blowing.

So we decided to at least do our daughter's room such that there would be a place for everything and her things would stop encroaching precious space in all the rooms. We also wanted to redo the bathrooms as they had become really tacky. Thus began a very logical and down-scaled renovation project- not because of budget constraint but because we were not planning to move out of our home while it was ongoing. Ambitious indeed! As it took off, we realized that there is so much more that can be done to the interior in a much more organic way. According to our decorator, the design of our apartment was faultless, but the space management (storage) left a lot to be desired. Add to that hubby's caveat that there should be no tod-phod and breaking of society rules in our quest for utopia. What followed was an exercise in superb execution of a renovation disguised as a major re-haul of our apartment, and lives :-)

What started off as a tiny project soon snowballed into a tornado. Though we decided to retain most of the current furniture and furnishings, we redid the tiles in the living room, kitchen and one bedroom. This was because the tiles provided by the builder had started to swell and break in some places. The tiles in the bathroom were literally glued on top of older ones after polishing them. This saved us the labor and cost of prying the older tiles off and risking water leakage into the flat below. We revisited the awning in the terrace and installed ones for windows too - to provide better protection against rains and counter the pigeon menace. Thus, fabrication work piled up. We got rid of some space-hogging furniture and got foldable sofa-cum-beds. The terrace underwent the most transformation - its now a lounge for guests over tea or drinks or reading lounge for us. Just a swap of the 2 sofas in the living room has given a transformative effect to the living room. White color on all walls has considerably increased the space and light in each room making the entire house look bigger and brighter. Lofts in the kitchen and one bedroom made a lot of clutter disappear. Better use of window ledges has added more room and storage. Better lighting and improved design of plug points, switch boards etc. has made life so much more enlightened.

As to the clutter, we have given away so much stuff that was not serving any purpose except to add to our cleaning and maintenance efforts. An old bed and almirah, TONs of clothes, utensils, bedsheets, blankets, bathroom stuff, mirrors, and about 25 kgs of books! No wonder the house feels lighter too :-)

Here, I'd like to add a few words complimenting our decorator. She is a gem and so different from other interior decorators in the market. For one, she is not out to make a quick buck, she is plenty loaded herself. She is in the business only to satisfy her creative urges. And boy, is she good at her job?! She has a highly efficient and eccentric team for more than 10 years. Despite this, she haggles over every little screw with carpenter, cost of paint and labor of tiling with the painter and mason respectively and got me hefty discounts on furnishings(curtains, upholstery, wallpaper) through her contacts. She ensures that every bit of ply, laminate, granite and cement is used judiciously. And coordinating the time and efforts of the carpenter, mason, painter, fabricator, electrician, and us,  so no one's time is wasted and work finishes at a fast pace, is an art she has got down pat. She is a whirlwind in action.

The cleanup after all the major work was a royal pain. No amount of wiping, scrubbing, dusting seemed to get the grime off the cupboards, furniture and the air we breathed. After multiple cleanings and vacuuming over weeks, now the house sparkles like a diamond.

Needless to say, even with a few things such as adding a good artwork to our living room and a suitable wallpaper to my daughter's room pending - everyone who visits the home is super-impressed. She has taught us that interior is not about throwing money on false ceilings, wood, marble or imported vases, paintings. It is a whole new way of organizing, make things more functional as well as being aesthetic. Other takeways for us were of course, buy/hoard less - donate more, do your bit to cleaning and tidying everyday so giant pile-ups can be avoided in future. And the biggest one is that I now know someone whom I can contact in the event of any future home-related emergency!

18 November 2016

The fault in our stars

I read the book by this name recently. The story is about young (teenage) survivors of cancer who live constantly in fear of a relapse and with a reduced quality of life. The protagonist is a 16-year old girl and its about her life, love, friendship, obsession.

The book brings home the bitter truth of how many cancer sufferers there are in the world and how they are forced to "exist" because their loved ones do not want them to die. They become fertile grounds for experimental drugs and newfangled treatments in futile attempts to extend their lives. And these lives go unaccounted for, and unmourned. Being cancer patients is what their life was all about. No one remembers what they were really like; that they too are intelligent, passionate human beings capable of having a sense of humor.

If the patients are young people, then they have similar wants as a teenager - want to go on dates, fall in love, hang out with friends, dress up, travel etc. Not being able to enjoy all this is tragic;  death is preferable. Instead they are forced to live a "meaningful" life in the short time they have, plan which clothes they will be buried in and worry about what their folks will write in their eulogies (which most people worry about only after sixty).

Some hard-hitting excerpts from the book that left a lasting impact-

1) She seemed to be mostly a professionally sick person, like me, which made me worry that when I died, they'd have nothing to say about me except that I fought heroically, as if the only thing I'd ever done was  Have Cancer.

2) ...because I guess her brain cancer was of the variety that makes you not you before it makes you not alive.

3) People talk about the courage of cancer patients, and I do not deny that courage. I had been poked and stabbed and poisoned for years, and still I trod on. But make no mistake, in that moment, I would have been very, very happy to die.

4) Never was Shakespeare more wrong than when he had Cassius note, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves" Easy enough to say when you are a Roman nobleman (or Shakespeare!), but there is no shortage of faults to be found in our stars.

5) Sleeping with the BiPAP all night made my lungs feel almost normal, although, then again, I did not really remember lung normality.

6) You are so busy being you that you have no idea how utterly unprecedented you are.

7) That was the worst part about having cancer, sometimes: The physical evidence of disease separates you from other people.

8) ...would there be enough living people to remember all the dead people? Sure, anyone can name fourteen dead people. But we are disorganized mourners, so a lot of people end up remembering Shakespeare, and no one ends up remembering the person he wrote the Fifty-fifth sonnet about.

9) The real heroes anyway aren't the people DOING things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention. The guy who invented the smallpox vaccine didn't actually invent anything. He just noticed that people with cowpox didn't get smallpox.

10) You don't get to choose if you get hurt in this world, but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices. I hope she likes hers.

01 September 2016

Are you a good judge of character?

Have been spending a couple of days at my mom's this week. While chit-chatting, the subject arose on how some folks are notoriously bad judge of characters despite being intelligent overall. People say that good judgement comes with age and experience. But frankly, good judgement requires some specific traits without which no matter what age you reach, you can never master it.

A humble and open approach to life is essential. Having a little bit of emotional intelligence helps. Once you are free of preconceived notions and willing to give another person the benefit of doubt, you usually arrive at a pretty accurate summation. Ego and prejudice blind one to the hidden agenda and fickleness of people. Once you are free of those, then you are under no obligation to like someone because they were nice to you or paid you handsome compliments. Emotional intelligence makes you aware of your own emotions and where your blind spots are. One needs to be careful of those - e.g. some people tend to automatically like soft-spoken, sweet talking individuals. Whereas I am always suspicious of such even-tempered souls - for no one in this world can be untouched by emotion. And emotions bring a roller coaster of reactions, expressions, mood swings. If someone manages to look composed all the time, they have mastered the art of camouflaging their emotions well. And who knows what else they can hide well.

You may ask why is good judgement required - time anyway shows true colors of everyone. While this is true, if you can know someone well without the luxury of time you can make some quick decisions. You have to work with so many folks - maids, nannies, drivers, employees, would-be spouse, partner etc. Everyone will reach the finish line sooner or later, but do you want to race or slow-walk? 

14 May 2016

Singapore May 2016 travelogue

With the Singapore dollar at ₹50, it's not a trip for the tight-fisted or the faint hearted !

Decided to go with another family(neighbours) as our kids are close friends of each other. Figured kids are most cooperative when they have companions they are comfortable with, and boy, it worked ! The other family had one 6 yr old and one 15 yr old. So all ages were represented :-) The teenager sometimes babysat the kiddos which left us adults to enjoy on our own.

Coming back to the planning, we did not go for group or package tour as we wanted to go at our own pace. Booked the flight tickets back in Jan, got a good deal with JetAirways - direct flight from Mumbai of 5 hr 45 mins. It required travel from Pune-Mumbai bringing travel time to total of 12-13 hrs one way due to 3 hr check in for international flight.
Next was hotel bookings. Debated on hotel vs service apt vs Airbnb. All cost the same bomb. Booked for 3 nights in Sentosa and 3 in Singapore at separate hotels. Did not wish to stay at one place in Singapore and travel back and forth to Sentosa with kids. Turned out to be another good decision.

Travel was smooth except that the immigration at Mumbai airport took much longer than expected. Had booked 2 cabs to Mumbai airport and then a single one from Changi airport to Sentosa. The latter was a good 45 min drive but the cab was a merc and so quite comfortable! Hotel at Sentosa was luxurious with a huge balcony. But the dinner was super-expensive and we were too tired to head out for other options at that time.

Had booked 5-out-of-top-12 + Universal studios on Viator app in advance of the trip. Plan was to cover S.E.A Aquarium, cable car ride and the show "Wings of Time" on first day. Headed out of hotel at 10:30(got delayed due to jet lag) and had breakfast at one of the (cheaper)eateries on the way. Realised we needed to convert vouchers to physical tickets so the men made a detour for that first. Till then we girls sweated it out in the resorts world - did I mention the weather is 3 times more humid than Mumbai? By the time we entered aquarium it was noon (need I say the kids were cranky?)

The Aquarium experience was cool (pun intended!) Nicely air conditioned, laid out in semi darkness so the sea creatures were highlighted in their dazzling glory. There were creatures around, above and even below you, separated by glass partitions. Had a pizza lunch (only thing available at 3:30) which was hugely liked by kids, veggies as well as non-veggies. The dinner and lunch had set us back by quite a lot by now. Next was the cable car ride with beautiful aerial views of the city. Made it to the 'Wings of Time' show at 7:45 just in time. Had stopped for ice cream etc. as the humidity was exhausting. The show is overhyped and too short for the effort we put into reaching the venue but was made quite creatively with laser beams. Had dinner at good old MacD and headed home.

Second day was Universal Studios. Again, could not head out before 9:30 am (kids slow you down) Had a hearty breakfast of eggs and then entered the Studios around 10:30. Must say we made good progress - by 7:45 had covered the entire area. Kids had fun time obviously, it being their first such experience. Little one enjoyed a couple of roller coasters too. The Transformers ride is supposed to be the main attraction, indeed there was an hour long queue! But frankly, for me at least, it did not impress much. The guys and teenager did the cyclotron galactica ride which is scary, turns you upside down at least thrice in 38 secs. A very satisfying day followed by Malaysian street food for dinner.

Third day was travel to Singapore, check in at hotel and cab to Jurong bird park. The bird park experience was nice but it was sweltering hot that day as if it was going to rain. The 2 bird shows warmed up my little one to birds FINALLY (she has had an irrational fear of birds). Apparently, a parrot saying 'I love you' did the trick (now why had I not thought of it earlier?) Needless to say it made our day, month, year😍 Next was night safari followed by 'Creatures of the night' show. Again a great success with kiddo. Dinner at the food court and back home.

Day 4 was planned in a relaxed manner. Slept in, spent time in the pool at the hotel, had lunch and then headed out to Chinatown. Had planned to avail of MRT (metro service) so took a day pass and commuted by foot and metro. Shopped at Chinatown and got quite good souvenirs but it was raining heavily by the time we finished. Had to abort and take a coffee break. Then off to the Singapore flyer. Had to wait until they resumed services post the rain. We got an entire cube to ourselves and cracked jokes, snapped pics while the kids went a little crazy. Thank God we had the cube to ourselves! Ice cream time and then hailed cabs to MRT station. Thai food at the mall and then walked back home tired with the weather changes and all the walking. Oh yes, our cabbie misheard us and took us somewhere else and we somehow got onto the right station whereas the other family managed to lose their day pass and had to buy new ones. A slightly adventurous day !

Day 5 plan was Science centre, Mer lion park & Gardens by the bay. A very ambitious plan in hindsight. Long ride to Jurong East and then a long walk to Science centre. IMAX movie experience for the kids, followed by kidsStop and then the actual science centre tour. Could not finish it as had to have lunch and head for Merlion park. Another long metro ride and walk to the park. But it was worth it. Clicked lot of photos during the sunset and rested a bit. Then a mad rush to catch the last show at Gardens by the bay. Beautiful tulips and breathtakingly lit gardens. Dinner at food court of the famous Marina Bay Sands - what a HUGE place, walked and walked inside it to find the food court. Last meal was good- seafood dumplings, Indian food at long last for the veggies, pizza for kids and frozen yogurt. And we were done!

Last day was travel back to Pune, smooth overall. Got a foot n leg massage for free at Changi airport that wiped out all the aches and pains of past few days. What an end to an excellent vacation!

A wonderful holiday made memorable by the company of like-minded people who were not scared to splurge a bit, take it easy when required and cracked jokes to keep up flagging spirits. And Singapore is a happening place with lots to do. Couldn't try out the casinos this time as it was a kiddie trip but maybe next time!

08 November 2015

Death. Grief. Religion. Destiny.

Last few weeks were the toughest of my life and also the most enlightening ones. As they say, tough times are there to make you stronger and wiser.

I lost my father despite a valiant battle with cancer. It's been a couple of weeks and I can finally bring myself to pen something about the tragedy. This post is not about the poignant memories of my father, or how much he will be missed...those are too personal to share. This post is about sharing my learning from the entire experience.

1) Success cannot come through sheer effort... There IS something called Destiny after all.
The family and my dad fought so hard to get him out of the hospital post his surgery. He had been given 100% chances of survival. He had a couple of major setbacks and had to be in the ICU twice to recover. But he came through and actually got a discharge from the hospital after 4 long weeks. We were all so happy, so were he and the grandkids, who met him after an entire month. But he succumbed to a massive cardiac arrest when his nicotine-saturated lungs finally gave up. Fate had intervened - to what end is still up for grabs....but it just wasn't meant to be.

2) Suffering, illness, treatment all are difficult...yet not without hope. But death is so final. The counter stops at that moment. No matter how much you try you cannot rewind the clock. You cannot take back what you last said or wish you had said something else. Hope is no longer your friend....acceptance is. Yet death is the end of physical suffering.

3) You get acquainted most closely with religion when someone close dies. The funeral, the rites of passage for the body and the soul, the poojas, the shantis, the condolence calls & visits, everything proclaims loudly what religion you belong to. I am not bashing it; infact I learned a lot about Hinduism during this time. It is not only about giving moksha to the dead, but setting the living free of some inauspicious vibes too.

4) The first 13 days are relentless for the living relatives. You are bombarded with calls, messages, visits to condole your loss. There is no time to grieve amongst these and the arrangements for the various rituals - perhaps that is the whole idea. The first 13 days are solely to restore the soul to its rightful destination and the relatives can grieve later. The idea is to accept that the departed is well...gone...and you need to let him/her go with dignity. There is no option but to go with the flow mechanically.

5) Class and character of a person is seen in the way he/she remembers the dead or grieves  or consoles. Some are just so shallow and hypocritical.

6) Your physical being is so transient. Your possessions or investments are not the real legacy, the memories and your protegees(children) are the true legacy you give back to this world. Invest more time in nuturing them than running after career, status, beauty, money....

7) God truly works in mysterious ways. There was a huge disappointment and anger initially. But gradually the acceptance and introspection brought only gratitude. There is nothing that my father had not seen. This last year was filled with happiness for him. He got the best care and most devoted attention from all his loved ones in his last days. He was actually in a happy frame of mind when he passed away. That was God's way of stopping his counter.

Decision making - an underrated skill

Today, there is an article in Sunday TOI about maids and the rising class divide in the Indian context. Yet another context is the manager ...