23 March 2008

Spring Cleaning

Spring is here! And, with it, comes spring cleaning. Spring cleaning is a period in spring set aside for cleaning a house, normally applied in colder climates, where the house is difficult to clean in winter. I've been indulging in some serious spring cleaning of my house every weekend. I might add that cleaning, organizing and decorating my home is one of my passions. My husband's unfortunately is to leave a general mess in his wake. So my work is usually doubled; not that I mind. My dear hubby maintains that this is as it should be, for if he didn't create the mess in the first place, I wouldn't get to indulge in my fetish for cleaning! So, the curtains, the cupboards and closets, furniture, the fans, the lights - everything has been getting a thorough cleaning this past few days. The smell of dust, the whirr of the vaccuum cleaner and the endless scrubbing and dusting of various pieces of furniture dominate our weekends these days. But everything is worth the glowing, spic n span look of my home:-)

We give so much importance to cleaning of our surroundings. Infact, many cultures follow this tradition. Iranians continue the practice of "khooneh takouni" which literally means "shaking the house" just before their new year- Nouroz. Everything in the house is thoroughly cleaned, from the drapes to the furniture. The Jews observe thorough cleansing of the home in anticipation of the spring-time holiday of Passover. In Greece, and other Orthodox nations, it is traditional to clean the house thoroughly either right before, or during, the first week of Great Lent, which is referred to as Clean Week. Chinese tradition of Feng shui emphasizes freeing your home from clutter by clearing your home of old and unused items.

As we age and experience more of life, we consciously or unconciously keep compromising with our ideals and principles. It becomes ok to tell "white" lies, to gossip and back-bite about our friends and colleagues (its all in fun, we claim!). As we climb up the corporate or social ladder politics ceases to be a dirty word. We accumulate so much emotional baggage in the form of envy, hatred and bitterness in our souls. We become selfish in the pursuit of money and luxuries and forget to be nice to our family, friends and even to ourselves. We suffer from headaches, depression and various complexes. We cease to be righteously indignant of the exploitation and corruption of values around us. We turn a blind eye to the sufferings of others as it would inconvenience us to get involved.

Surely then, a similar importance should be given to the cleansing our souls? How seriously do we take this activity? Do we set aside a time every year for this? I believe some of the ancient cultures already advocate this, but it is not being followed as religiously. I wonder why.

22 March 2008

A poem

I am part of a volunteer group in my organization called Harmony@Symphony. Infact, I head this group. It is an informal body that seeks to address various issues in the organization by drawing upon the extensive mind-share it has with various support functions and senior management. We try to find the root cause for each of the issues, discuss at length with involved parties and try to arrive at a mutually satisfactory resolution.

Recent circumstances impelled me to pour my heart out in the following poem. The above context was essential to understand the poem, hence the lengthy preface!

Some say we are the optimists,
Some write us off as mavericks,
We prefer to see the silver lining,
In a crowd of whiners and critics.

The crashing elevator at GA,
The frequently non-working lift;
Management said its good for our health
We applauded – what a paradigm shift!

We braved the stifling summer heat at AG cafeteria,
We waded through ankle-deep water in rains,
We relished being so close to nature,
After all, no pains - no gains!

We rallied during the mass exodus,
The talent drain and the resource crunch,
The Finance hiccups, the Network woes,
With determined optimism, we faced each punch.

A potpourri of various Enterprise Applications,
The sadly unused Intranet Site,
We’re growing, we’re growing - is the cry,
What are we doing to improve our plight?

We moved our belongings from GA to AG,
And then from AG to our campus.
And now some of us will trudge back to AG,
Oh why this entire rumpus?

While everyone around us railed,
We sailed though all the hardship.
And bore the discomfort, the chaos
With the proverbial stiff upper lip.

We reasoned, we cajoled, and we communicated,
We strove for peace and harmony.
We tried to see both sides for all issues,
Oh for a voice of reason, amidst this cacophony!

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
Are we beating against a closed door?
Are we going about this the wrong way?
It is time to take stock, my friends, I thee implore.

13 March 2008

The art of making small talk

During lunch break today, a colleague was complaining that he is always misunderstood by others. That is because he is not really what he seems from the outside and hence no one really understands him. That made me wonder - is it really only the other person's fault if he judges one on the basis of what he sees on the surface? I believe that it is equally important that both parties make efforts here. Person 1 should make more effort to show his true self to the world and person 2 should likewise make an effort to scratch below the surface to know person 1 better.

Gone are the days when people used to resort to talking of the weather to break the ice. It is the age of 1-liner emails, short text messaging, instant messaging and slang. British etiquette is out, American staccato bursts of dialogue are in. No one bothers with good old conversation any more. I feel that there is much more scope to understand a person through small talk. For, it is only when you take the time to speak about what is not on the agenda, that you really reveal your true self. When there is a definite agenda, such as a planned meeting or a presentation, you are well-prepared for it and therefore not your natural spontaneous self.

Small talk can be a double-edged sword, however. Shrewd people can sum up a person just by indulging in a bit of chit-chat with him. Its a good weapon to use while interviewing a candidate too. In our IT set up, managers caution their team members from indulging in too much informal chat with the clients. For it is often through such means that valuable company information leaks out. Spies and detectives use it all the time. My brother always claims - nothing bonds two men together as well as a chat over a smoke or a bottle of wine! Perhaps that's why men have stronger friendships than women, but let's not go there as that is a separate topic in itself :-)

One of my favorite books is "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen. In it, the hero is mistaken to be a proud and haughty man by everyone(including the heroine) as he does not take the pains to converse freely with them. How many such misapprehensions can be avoided if everyone cultivates the habit of small talk? Think of how many situations or relationships would have fared differently if the people involved had chosen to communicate more freely?

Of course, just because a person makes small chat does not make him good. That alone cannot make up for other serious lack of attributes. But, the art of making small talk, along with other various skills, can be a powerful weapon to enjoy healthy personal as well as professional relationships.

12 March 2008

Marriage

Today there was a session of palm reading at work by one of my colleagues. A couple of interested people asked if they would have an "arranged" marriage or a "love" marriage. Whenever the "palmist" pronounced "love" marriage, there was a lot of back-slapping whereas whenever she announced "arranged" marriage, there were disappointed and pitying sighs.

What exactly is a love or an arranged marriage? Who coined these terms? Is it so very derogatory to get married via the "arranged" manner? Why is it still the most prevalent way of getting married in India then? All these questions started a train of thought in my mind.

I myself have had a "love" marriage. By that, I mean that neither of our families knew each other before nor did anyone recommend us to each other. We were not even brought up in the same city. We just happened to work at the same organization and were part of a group of friends. I guess that qualifies as "love" marriage - meaning we met and decided to get married on our own, without undergoing the rigmarole of "seeing" prospective brides/grooms over tedious cups of tea / coffee.

Flash forward by a few years(the time I've been married) and I can assure you that the quality of our marriage is no better, or worse, than any of our friends' who got married in the arranged way. Indeed, many of the so-called "love" marriages of my friends have ended in bitter divorces whereas the arranged ones that began on the sceptical note of "I think he is better than most of the guys I saw; its time I got married" are doing extraordinarily well. The question then is not of what is "love" or "arranged" marriage, but that of "what is marriage itself?".

Marriage is not always the natural result of love, but love is indeed the most critical ingredient of a successful marriage. There is no fool-proof way to marry the "right" person. But the only way a marriage will survive is if both the partners ensure that they are the "right" person for each other. No astrology, horoscope match, or any science, superstition or person can guarantee the success of your marriage. The only people who can are - you and your partner. It is immaterial how you met your partner - whether by love or through relatives - what matters is what you do "after" the ceremony to make the marriage work. And believe me, making the marriage work is a life-time task. "Until death do us apart, in sickness and in health" is not a joke. It is a life-time commitment that thrives on healthy doses of love and affection, constant communication, lot of understanding and forgiveness, a short memory and long periods of "alone" time. A successful or healthy marriage is not one where there are no fights, but one where the couple has the openness to indulge in a good fight and then get on with life as if nothing happened.

Marriage, infact, is not a destination but a journey. The question to ask your palmist then, is, whether you will have a "good" marriage. And whenever you do take that all-important step, take it with the confidence that it "will" be a good marriage!

10 March 2008

Old is Gold!

Books are my foremost passion. One of my favorite authors is Agatha Christie. I have been fond of her who-dun-its right from college. Her books are famous for the two characters(detectives) created by her- Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple. Though the former is quite well-known due to his moustache and "little grey cells", Miss Marple was always rather unbelievable to most readers. They could not quite grasp the concept that a 70 year old "fluffy old lady" living in a quaint remote village of St. Mary Mead was able to solve the most difficult murder cases.

Miss Marple is a very keen observer of human nature. She is an elderly spinster who has no immediate family to keep her occupied. This leaves her ample time and energy to keep herself informed of all happenings around her in minute detail. Whenever she meets a new person she tries to draw a parallel with any existing acquaintance of hers. From long experience she knows that people usually fall into one of the many patterns. Once the pattern is known, it is easy to predict what the person will do or how he/she will behave next. This is her modus operandi to solve most of the cases.

When I used to read these books in college I thought some of the plots involving Miss Marple were rather contrived. I could not believe that an old lady so wholly disconnected with all the modernization, could solve a murder by just sitting quietly in her yard while knitting!

But as I grew older(am in my early thirties) and experieced more of life, I've realized that being older does not mean being out of touch. Though technology keeps getting updated, human beings remain the same. Human psyche and nature remain the same no matter which part of the world you go to or which era of history you open up. And because of this, the older you are, the more people you come in contact with, the more expertise you gain at "knowing" people. This is also the reason why "experienced" people are made managers in corporates.

Today I have the highest respect for Miss Marple and her theories. Hats off to Agatha Christie for thinking of such a character and using her so beautifully in her books. It reflects the author's own intelligence and wisdom. Needless to say, I remain a fan to this day.

Moral of the story - Never underestimate the wisdom of any old person in your acquaintance, for knowledge can never replace experience!

Good quotes

My friend, Veena, urged me to put some "heavy stuff" on my blog. So here are some thought-provoking quotes that I've long chewed on. Many have been the times when life, and experiences, have made me realize how true they all are!

"The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor;
he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me.
The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them."

- George Bernard Shaw, writer, Nobel laureate (1856-1950)

"Before you start some work, always ask yourself three questions -
Why am I doing it, What the results might be and Will I be successful.
Only when you think deeply and find satisfactory answers to these questions, go ahead.
"
- Chanakya quotes (Indian politician, strategist and writer, 350 BC-275 BC)

"Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are good is like expecting the bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian."
- Dennis Wholey (1937-)

"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944)

"The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense."
- Tom Clancy (1947-), paraphrasing Mark Twain

"I don't know the key to success but I know the key to failure is trying to please everybody."
- Bill Cosby (1937-)

"A great many people think they are thinking when they are acutally rearranging their prejudices."
- William James (1842-1910)

"When the only tool you own is a hammer, every problem begins to resemble a nail."
- Abraham Maslow (1908-1970)

"Heav’n hath no rage like love to hatred turn’d, Nor Hell a fury, like a woman scorn’d."
- William Congreve (1670-1729)

"A problem well stated is a problem half solved."
- Charles Franklin Kettering (1876-1958)

"I would like to be able to admire a man’s opinions as I would his dog - without being expected to take it home with me."
- Frank A. Clark

"Do, or do not. There is no ‘try’."
- Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

"If you think education is expensive, try ignorance."
- Derek Bok (1930-), Harvard University President

My experiments with domestic help

I just completed 20 years of employment in the IT industry. Those who know about this industry, know that its notorious for long hours, sco...