I want to begin by saying that today I am truly proud that my nation, India, is still a democracy and that we the people of India are people with courage and the willingness to stand up for each other. Frankly, going by our recent history and the rapid polarization of our society and proliferation of hate speech and hate politics, I never thought I would see the day when Hindus, Sikhs and Christians would stand shoulder to shoulder with their Muslim brothers and sisters to protect them and their rights. Truly it is said that injustice can’t be removed until those who are not affected by it are willing to stand up against it. Injustice to one is injustice to all. The people of India have demonstrated that they are willing to stand against injustice even when it doesn’t affect some of them directly. The biggest and most powerful message in all this is that it is our youth, students in our universities who have taken the lead and shown us the way to go. This message is primarily addressed to them, to students, to youth, to the millennials and their children. Because the future is theirs. They inherited the world that we, my generation, created. They are the victims of our follies, greed, shortsightedness and ignorance. But all power to them, they decided to take their future in their own hands and break the vicious cycle that we bequeathed to them. They did what we (at least I) never dreamt that they would do. The best that we can do is to stand with them, so that when history is written it will at least be said that we tried to clean the mess we made.
The first thing to understand is that this CAA+NRC is the best thing that could have happened to India at this stage. We had become a rapidly polarized, fascist, extremist society with the voices of the ‘silent’ majority conspicuous by their silence while the strident and raucous screech of hate speech was echoing off the walls of our collective conscience. Then came the law; CAA and the threat of NRC to disenfranchise those who are already dehumanized and demonized. Liberals felt bad about this. But the problem with all Liberals anywhere is that they have no clear cause; no point of focus for their energy, intellect and emotion. They are just a bunch of ‘nice people’. That is no good because in today’s politics and especially in hate politics which feeds fascism, they are rendered totally ineffective. CAA+NRC gave them a focus, a rallying point, a goal to achieve. It suddenly made speaking out worthwhile. And we are seeing the result.
If you study the South African freedom struggle you will see that it is only when Apartheid became law with all its draconian elements that the struggle started. Whites have always discriminated against people of color from the time Allahﷻ gave color to some and took it away from others. But how many ‘freedom’ struggles do you see against that? Except when there are laws created to legitimize and legalize the crime that is Apartheid. That is what has happened today. The BJP/RSS gave us, the People of India, a goal. And that goal is to abolish this and all such laws, to abolish hatred, to abolish all those who preach hatred. Never lose sight of that. Never allow anyone to divide you ever again, or you will sink back into the cesspit and your oppressors will rule the roost. Remember, that they will never make the same mistake again. This is your chance. This is your only chance. This is your last chance before the abyss of darkness.
This is like a staring
match. Whoever blinks or looks away first, loses. If you never tried a staring
match, try it. You will see that as time passes it gets more and more tough. Your
eyes start to water, then burn and it is so easy to look away or blink. But
remember that it is also getting tougher for the other person. So, you don’t
have to be the toughest in the world. You just have to be tougher than your
opponent. In this case, only if civil society is relentless and opposition
parties join in will something happen. Force the hands of the opposition
parties. You voted for them. This is collection time. Don’t let any sit on the
fence. They must choose between you or the BJP. Meet their leaders. Demand that
they meet you. No games. Let them declare that they are against CAA+NRC. Many
opposition leaders have done so. Force those who have not done so yet, to do so
right away. Don’t rest and don’t let them rest until they declare that they
will not implement the NRC in their states. These are YOUR states. Not THEIR
states. They and all our politicians must be made to realize that they are
elected representatives of the people, who remain where they are at the whim of
the people. They are not hereditary monarchs, though they like to act like
that. Remind them.
The rulers have initiated
the NPR which is the first step. They will implement NRC at an appropriate time
later. Make no mistake about that.
Another very important
thing: Get the police who are trying to break up the peaceful protests,
violently, to understand that you are fighting for them also. When they beat
you, they are beating the only friends they have in the land. Tell them (let
your posters say that and say this in your speeches; address them directly)
that when the NRC is implemented, it is their families, brothers and sisters
and uncles and aunts who will also have to stand in line and if they have no
papers, they will also go to detention camps. Just because someone in their
family is a cop, won’t save them.
Final important thing and
maybe the most important: Keep repeating the fact that the people who this NRC
will harm the most are the Hindu majority. It is their tax money which will be
(is being) used to build the camps. It is their taxes which will feed the
detainees forever, because they can’t be deported anywhere. The disruption to
the economy and the loss of jobs, investment, production, services and peace
that is happening is harming them the most because they are the majority. The myth
of a Muslim Mukt India where every Hindu will be a king is rubbish. Total
nonsense which is taking the lives and livelihoods of Hindus and Muslims alike.
Emphasize this.The most critical thing to do is to
keep the protests going for the next four years and ensure that hate mongers
lose the general election. Meanwhile they’ll up the stakes and become more
draconian and tighten the screws to try to break all resistance. No mercy will
be shown because they want to make an example of whoever resists to discourage
and break the spirit of others. Your main challenge will be to convince the wealthy
that they’re in a life-threatening situation and need to invest in their own
safety. They need to change their lifestyles and need to spend on funding the
fight for freedom instead of their holidays, weddings and gana parties. That’s
the biggest challenge.
Don’t look to your elders for leadership. They’re the reason you’re in this mess. They have no clue what to do. All our traditional leaders have failed. They’re a part of the cancer. You need new leaders who are untainted by the diseases of deliberate ignorance, cowardice, selfishness, corruption and greed. There may be exceptions among your elders, but exceptions prove the rule. So, don’t waste your time with them. If you follow them, they’ll squander your lives, and energy to save their own skins. You’ll get nothing from them that can be of any use to you.
Your great strength is that
you are alone, unencumbered, unfettered. Rejoice, chart your own path, make
mistakes, fall, but get up. Always get up. Alternatively, look to your elders,
get infected with their fatal diseases, pick up their baggage, struggle for
their ends, and die a futile death, knowing in your last moments that you did
it to yourselves. You had a chance, but you blew it away. Your choice. Learn to
stand on your own feet. Learn to think. Curse your own stupidity about not
reading, especially history, not reflecting or thinking, being addicted to social
media and being more interested in cricket and football than in your own
future. That’s why your future is a football for others. You and your
generation are not innocent either. You’re fools but not evil. So, wake up
before it’s too late.
The critical thing is to
keep the students on the street long enough to make a difference. It’s a battle
of attrition in which the one who can take the loss wins. It’s that simple to
define. It will be brutal. No quarter will be given. Don’t fool yourself into
thinking that it will be easy or quick. It won’t. You’ve seen nothing yet. But
if there’s consistency and perseverance, you students will win. That also I
have no doubt about.
students across the world enrolled into your cause. Let there be demonstrations
in global universities; not once but every week. They live in countries where
they can protest without fear. Tell them to let their voices resound across
national boundaries and wake up dead consciences. Let questions be asked in
Parliaments and Assemblies across the world. Let cases be filed in the
International Court of Justice. Let voices be raised in the United Nations. Let
international media raise their voice. Let Heads of State who like to talk
about justice summon the Indian Ambassadors in their countries and ask them
what is going on. Put pressure on Indians abroad to stand up for justice. It is
international pressure that won freedom from apartheid in South Africa. CAA+NRC
is Apartheid. NPR is the first step towards it.
people everywhere understand that these steps to create a fascist, apartheid
state based on Hindu supremacy calls for crucial funds to be spent in useless
exercises to divide, discriminate against and oppress people instead of on
education, production, creating employment opportunities and well-being. That
is what the world must know and realize. Remind them that a nation which is
embroiled in controversy and turmoil is a dead duck for investment and
development. A nation which is spending money on building concentration camps
instead of homes for the homeless is not a safe place to invest. Nobody cares
about justice. Everybody cares about money. So, speak to them in the language
The time has come to face
the brutal facts but never to lose hope. Take charge of your lives. The one who
controls the narrative, wins the debate. Never give up your
ethics and values. You must never do what the others do or act or speak in the
way they do. They must not drive your narrative. They must not direct your
behavior. They’re not your teachers. Think of any great revolution and try to
name ten people who participated in it. I bet you, you can’t. But you and I
know that it succeeded because there were a lot more than ten people involved.
What happened to them? What did they gain? How did they continue to work even
though many or most never saw success? It succeeded because they were the
foundation stones. Without them it would have failed. If every stone wants to
be on the façade there will be no building.
question is, ‘Do you want the building, or do you want to be on the façade?’
Get ready to go into the
ground like the stones in the foundation for the building to be built over you.
Nobody will know you lived except the One who created you. And that’s enough.
Or get ready to spend the
rest of your lives as slaves. The future is yours, not ours. Make of it
whatever you wish, because you are going to live in it. You and your children.
Mentoring is the in-thing today. There seems to be a profusion of those who want to or believe they can mentor others. The interesting thing is the name for the one who wants to be mentored. It is ‘mentee’. I tell anyone who wants to be mentored by me, ‘If you are demented enough to want me as your mentor, you will thenceforth be known as ‘mental’. I say this only partly in jest. Partly because most of the people that I have met in this context live under all sorts of romantic notions about what mentoring is and what the ‘ideal’ mentor should be like. Then, when they encounter someone like me, who may not fit their imaginary model, they are dissatisfied and try to change me to fit their fantasy. Needless to say, that never happens, and we part company.
The best thing in life is to start your career under a hard taskmaster. Anyone can teach you what to do. But hard taskmasters teach you standards. That is the biggest favor that anyone can do for you. Mentoring is perhaps the single most powerful evidence of love that one can wish for. The mentor is sharing his hard-earned life experience to teach you lessons that will help you all your life. And you get to learn those lessons relatively free of cost. I say ‘relatively’ because there is always a token cost to pay, but that goes with the territory and adds value because you can appreciate that you got something worthwhile. I don’t mean the fee you may pay a mentor but the pain of learning.
It was 1972 and I was 17 years old. As usual, I was in Sethpally with Uncle Rama on his farmhouse on the bank of the Kadam River. Farmhouse is a fancy word to describe one of the simplest homes that I have ever seen or lived in. In which lived a man who could afford something a thousand times better but didn’t because he didn’t care about material things and loved to live a simple life. The house was rectangular in shape with a central room which was also a passage to go from the veranda in front to the kitchen at the back. This central room had a square table with four chairs around it. It was supposed to be the dining room, but we never ate in it. The table was used as a surface to put anything we wanted handy. To one side in this room was a Westinghouse kerosene refrigerator in which we sometimes made ice cream. On either side of this central room were two equally sized rooms with windows in the outer walls. One looking out to the veranda in front and the other to the side of the house. In the front was a wide veranda that ran the whole length of the house. There was a two feet wide and three feet high parapet wall that enclosed the veranda. It acted as additional seating and a place to rest your feet and lean back in your chair, balancing it on its hind legs. On one side of the dining room door opening into the veranda was a long table with a bench on one side and the parapet wall as the seating, on the other. There were some rope cots on the other side of the veranda. All our meals, and most of our conversation was around this table on the veranda.
you walked through the front door, across the dining room you would emerge on
the back veranda on one side of which was the kitchen and on the other the bath-room.
I am writing that deliberately as two words to emphasize that it was a room in
which you bathed only. There was no toilet in it. You bathed in it if you didn’t
want to bathe at the well in the fields a good bit away from the house. That
was more fun, especially in the summer as you could look across the river to
the jungle on the other side or at the low hills of the Sahyadri in the distance. The well had
a low parapet wall all around and a paved apron.
I would stand on that apron in my lungi and Shivaiyya or whoever happened to be handy, would draw water out of the well in a bucket and pour it over my head. I would then soap myself thoroughly and my friend (these were Uncle Rama’s servants but were my friends with whom I used to wander around the jungles) would pour another bucket or two of water and my bath was done. The indoor bathroom was for the winter when it tended to get too cold to bathe outdoors. In winter Kishta would heat water and put half a bucket each of cold and hot water in the bath-room and I would mix the two to my liking and bathe indoors.
What about the toilet, you ask? Well, you took water in a lota (a pot-shaped utensil) and headed for wherever you liked where you could commune with nature, undisturbed. Then you dug a small hole in the earth, put two rocks or bricks on either side of it and squatted. After you had made your deposit, all the while enjoying the view, you washed yourself and filled in the hole. Organic manure and urea, great source of nitrogen for whatever was growing there. Hygienic, no smell and nothing you could step in.
It was summer and I had been out the whole day. My routine was usually that I would leave the house at first light, having eaten a hearty breakfast of chapatties, eggs and a large mug of tea laced with plenty of sugar (I used to take sugar in my tea in those days) and go across the Kadam River into the forest. I would usually walk but on occasion Shivaiyya would take me in his bullock cart. The bullock cart is the most versatile vehicle known to man and can do everything except climb trees. Of course, it doesn’t have springs or shock absorbers and that is hard on your back and bones, but not when you are 17. On that day, Shivaiyya and I set off in the morning and took a long route that was a huge circle which would bring us back to the river in the evening. Summer days are long and so we had plenty of time. I was carrying a 7.62 Mauser bolt action carbine rifle with a 5-shot magazine and Shivaiyya was carrying a .22 BRNO rifle. Here is some history of these very versatile weapon. https://jggunsmith.wordpress.com/2019/09/30/a-bit-about-brno-22-rifles/ Shivaiyya was my gunbearer, guide and pal, all in one. I usually took two weapons, alternating between the 7.62 (which we called ‘8mm’ for short) and a 12-gauge shotgun, depending on what I planned to look for that day. Hunting was never my priority. My abiding love was and is to simply be in the forest and watch wildlife in action in their natural habitat.
As it was, we were running out of meat and Uncle Rama told me to get a young Chital (Axis or Spotted deer – Axis axis) or Blue bull (Nilgai – Boselaphus tragocamelus) if I could, so I took the carbine. The .22 BRNO was for any small game like hare, duck or jungle fowl which if shot with the carbine would simply disintegrate and be worthless for the table. I carried the carbine as our first priority was the bigger animal, which if we shot anything else, would be disturbed with the sound and run away. The .22 was for the way back or at least for after I had shot the main quarry for the day.
was a very hot day in the summer. Summer in the Sahyadri can be extremely hot with temperatures
in excess of 45 Celsius. The deciduous forest in the foothills leading to the Kadam
River is mostly teak, with a sprinkling of other species. In some places there
were large clumps of bamboo. All these shed their leaves in summer and so the
forest floor is carpeted with dry leaves. That makes moving noiselessly
impossible. As you walk the leaves crumble loudly and make a racket loud enough
to wake the dead. I walked ahead of Shivaiyya who sometimes guided me from
behind. Either he would speak in a very low voice, just a word or two to ask me
to either be careful or to turn one way or another. Or he would click his
tongue or whistle if there was some animal or bird that he had seen but which I
had missed. That didn’t happen very often, as I was very alert and trained in
woodcraft by the greatest experts that I have ever known; Nawab Nazir Yar Jung
and Uncle Rama (Mr. Venkat Rama Reddy).
From them I learned above all, respect for the forest and all those who live in it. Respect is the most important thing to learn, because it enables you to appreciate your surroundings. That means that you are not careless but take care to ensure that you don’t cause any damage to anything animate or inanimate. When you act like that, you automatically keep yourself safe. The second thing I learned was about the animals and plants of the place. I learned the names of plants and trees, what they are used for, where they grow, the seasons in which they change, what that indicates for us. I learned about their flowers and fruit and what they can be used for. For example, I learned about the Mahua flower, which is used to distill alcohol, and which is fleshy and sweet, and so when the Mahua is flowering, it attracts every bird and monkey in the vicinity. As they feed on the flower, they drop as much or more than they eat. That attracts bears, deer, Gaur and where they exist, elephants. In the Sahyadri there are no elephants but everything else is there.
There are Banyan trees and other fig species which are a magnet for birds of all feather. There is the Beedi leaf tree, the Katha tree (Katha is made from its bark – that’s the brown stuff in Paan). There’s Strangler Fig, Lantana with its thick intertwined branches with small vicious thorns that are impenetrable. But beneath them, they form the ideal habitat for small animals and birds; mainly Grey Jungle Fowl and Wild boar. It is a funny sight to see Grey Jungle Fowl jumping up to reach the Lantana berries. When there are a few of them doing that, it is almost like a ballet with one going up and another down. Under the Lantana is a nice dry, secure world for Jungle Fowl to live and nest in. Wild boars are the only danger there, as they also lie up during the day under Lantana bushes. Leopards and Jackals go in after them sometimes but for the most part, the Lantana is a good guard of those who seek its shelter. There are clumps of Bamboo which attracts browsers like Sambar, Nilgai, Chital and Bison (Gaur). They love young shoots of Bamboo.
That day, I was walking ahead with the 8mm carbine and Shivaiyya was behind me with the .22 BRNO. We were going through some thick bush and I could see the open light of a clearing ahead. Forest clearings are usually productive as animals and birds feed in them, so I crept up very slowly towards it. As I came near, I could see that the land sloped away from me down into a dry naala (stream bed) with a large tree, felled in a storm, resting on the side of its crown. And on the top end of it was perched a large male peacock. It was not my plan to shoot anything before I could bag a Chital or Nilgai but the peacock was too much of a temptation. However, I was carrying the wrong weapon for it, so I signaled to Shivaiyya to come forward and give me the .22 BRNO. Unfortunately, he couldn’t see the peacock and I couldn’t warn him to stay silent, so as I took the .22 rifle from him, he stepped on a dry stick which snapped like a pistol shot. The peacock took off in a loud beating of wings and sailed off down the slope, long gone before I could bring the rifle up to take him down. A flying peacock is a beautiful sight and so I contented myself with enjoying that. And then to my frustration, a sounder of wild boar broke cover from one end of the clearing and trotted off, across it into the bush on the other side. I could only watch them go as I once again had the wrong weapon. Such is life sometimes. Teaches you the importance of preparation. Even where I had a legitimate excuse for not being prepared, it was a lesson to learn that excuses don’t change reality. A loss doesn’t turn to gain because you have a legitimate excuse.
then it was almost midday and extremely hot. It was also a time when nothing moved
as all animals would be lying up in shade, wherever they could find it. Shivaiyya
and I also decided to rest for a couple of hours. We found a clump of bamboo
halfway up the slope from a tributary of the Kadam River and sat in the patchy
shade it provided. I had discovered that if you consciously decide to be one with
your surroundings, you stop feeling hot. Don’t ask me for the physics of it.
Maybe it is just in the mind, but who cares as long as it happens, right? When
you simply sit and breathe deeply and relax you go into a sort of meditative, somnolent
state which is very tranquil and peaceful. When you emerge from it, you are
rejuvenated. As I sat there (I didn’t lie down as bamboo clumps are famous for
snakes and ants), I did what I always do in such situations; listen to all the
sounds around me and try to identify them. There are two benefits of this. For one,
it is very interesting and adds to your knowledge about the forest and its
denizens. And secondly it gives you information about who is about. That can be
very important, especially if it is something you are looking for or something
you want to avoid.
day, the loudest sound I could hear, coming at me from all around, nature’s
surround sound experience, was the Cicadas. They make a sound which is so loud
that it can deafen you. This is what https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/question733.htm says about how Cicadas ‘sing’. “The
apparatus used by cicadas for singing is complex. The organs that produce sound
are called tymbals. Tymbals are a
pair of ribbed membranes at the base of the abdomen. The cicada sings by
contracting the internal tymbal muscles. This causes the membranes to buckle
inward, producing a distinct sound. When these muscles relax, the tymbals pop
back to their original position. Scientists still don’t fully understand how
this apparatus produces such extreme volume.”
If I tuned out the Cicadas, which was not as simple
as it sounds but can be done, I could hear the Brain-fever bird (Common Hawk
– (Hierococcyx varius) whose call
sounds like someone saying, ‘Brain fever’ in an ever-increasing pitch.https://youtu.be/bPqi5BcfETM
Shivaiyya and I ate our lunch. Chapattis and flat omelets with lots of onions and mango pickle. Washed down with lukewarm, sweet tea. Then both of us went into suspended animation, waiting for the sun to go down and the day to cool. About two hours later, when the sun was way past its zenith and on the way down to America, we gathered up our stuff and started our long way back home. I love walking at this time, as the long dusk comes on. It is much cooler than the day and animals start moving to go to water and then to graze or hunt as the case may be. If you walk in the forest at this time, as also at dawn, the chances of seeing game are very good. I walked ahead with the 8mm carbine and Shivaiyya came behind me with the .22 rifle and our tiffin carrier and water bottle slung on his shoulder.
walked for perhaps three miles on a narrow winding footpath, made primarily by wildlife
going down to the Kadam River to drink. Even in the hottest weather, the river
had some pools in shady loops of its course which were visited by animals from
all over the forest. There was no other water anywhere close, except the
backwater of the Kadam Dam which was miles away. So, these pools were a very
good place to see wildlife. The path took a dip and then went up a slight
incline and over the top, down to the riverside. I was in the bottom of the dip
walking up the incline when in the gathering dusk, I suddenly saw a Chital stag
come up the path from the other side and crest the rise. The wind was blowing
in my face, so he had no idea that I was on the same path as he was. I can’t
say who was more surprised, but I snapped the carbine to my shoulder and fired.
The shot hit him in the center of his chest. I saw the dust fly out of his
hide. He snorted loudly and spun around and disappeared.
I was thrilled that my day was going to be successful after all and I would come home with some meat. Shivaiyya and I ran up the incline, expecting to see the Chital stag lying on the ground. I was in a hurry also because according to Islamic food laws, I had to slaughter the stag in the ritual way before it died, if I was to be able to eat the meat. But to my utter surprise and intense disappointment, there was no sign of the animal. It had simply vanished. Shivaiyya and I searched high and low in the rapidly falling dark to no avail. I knew I had hit him. There was some blood on the path, but it was light pink and frothy meaning that it had been hit through the lungs. His heart was intact and obviously no major bone was broken and his spine was also undamaged. The problem is that when an animal is shot with a high velocity rifle firing a solid bullet straight through the chest, it is entirely likely that the bullet goes through the animal, damages internal organs but does not break any bones. That means that often, given the massive flush of adrenaline in the animal, it could run for several hundred meters before it falls due to blood loss. There have been cases of large animals running for a couple of miles and some that perhaps lived for more than two days, before they eventually succumbed to the wound. A very painful way to die. Placing the shot is therefore very critical to successful hunting. In my surprise and hurry, that was the mistake I made.
then it was completely dark and there was no chance of our finding the stag.
Shivaiyya and I wound our way home, sad that we were returning empty handed.
Uncle Rama would understand what had happened, I was sure. I was not thrilled
about returning with a story instead of a quarry, but that was how life was
sometimes. Or so I thought. I had no idea of the turn events would take to make
that night one of the most memorable of my life.
crossed the Kadam River, which was almost totally dry near the house, with a
small trickle against the far bank which we could easily jump across without
even wetting our feet. A far cry from the raging torrent filling the entire bed
from bank to bank that it would become in the monsoon. As I climbed up the
slope leading to the house, Uncle Rama was on the veranda and he called out in
greeting to me, “Yawar baba, welcome back. Kya maray (what did you shoot)? I
heard the shot.”
shot a Chital stag.”
(congratulations). Kaan hai (where is it)?”
lost it,” I said. And told him the whole story.
in silence and said, “You are telling me that you wounded an animal and left it
to die and you came home?”
got dark Uncle Rama. I couldn’t see anything. What could I do?”
sorry, that doesn’t work. You never leave a wounded animal. You shoot straight
and kill the animal outright or you follow up and finish it off. You never,
ever leave an animal to die in pain because you couldn’t shoot straight.”
Well, I thought that was a bit hard, but he was the Boss, so I didn’t say anything. He said, “Right, now wash up and have your dinner and then go and get that Chital back.”
I was not sure that I had heard him right. It was almost 9 pm. By the time I’d had my dinner it would be 10 pm. He was telling me to go out into a forest with dangerous wild animals in the middle of the night to find and bring back an animal that I had wounded. Was I going to obey?
think the alternative even occurred to me. He was my mentor, I loved him very
much and he loved me like his son. So, if he told me to do something, I did it,
no question about it. I washed up. Kishta put the food on the table. Shivaiyya
went to the back of the house to eat in the kitchen. When we had both eaten, I
picked up the 8mm carbine. Uncle Rama said to me, “Don’t take that. Take the 12-bore
shotgun. And take these (he gave me 4 buckshot cartridges). In the night you
will only get to shoot at close range. No time to fool around with a rifle. Use
this. At close range it will stop an elephant.” There was so much love (tough
love alright) but love in this action of making me go into a dangerous environment
but ensuring that I had everything I needed to be safe and survive. The fact
that he even ordered me to go was a credit to me, that he trusted in my ability
to take care of myself and treated me like a responsible adult and not just an irresponsible
mentoring? Here is mentoring for you. Teach, equip and trust. To trust means to
give responsibility. Which was more ‘dangerous’? Me, taking care of myself or
Uncle Rama having to explain to my parents that he had sent me out in the
forest in the night and that is why I had been eaten by a tiger or bitten by a
cobra? He knew that, yet he took a risk because he trusted me and needed to teach
me a lesson that a gun was not a toy. Hunting was not about having fun killing
animals. It was about behaving responsibly, taking ownership for your actions
and accepting accountability, which means that if you make a mistake, you pay
Shivaiyya and I left. There was a full moon, so the forest was a landscape of light and shadows. As we crossed the Kadam River bed I could hear the call of the Indian Nightjar (Caprimulgus asiaticus) https://youtu.be/CMzA8S2EJUc You can hear the call on this link. It sounds almost mechanical, as if made by a machine. A churrring that ends in clicks. Nightjars are nocturnal birds that get active when night falls and feed on beetles and other insects. They sit motionless on the ground on pathways or clearings and fly up in complete silence to catch the unwary insect which flies past. In the day, they roost in trees or rocky outcrops trusting to their beautiful camouflage to keep them safe. We came out of the riverbed and climbed the far bank and took the path leading to Shivaiyya’s village.
was a realist (or was he acting on Uncle Rama’s secret orders – to this day I
have no idea). He said to me, “Dora let us sleep in my village and go out with
the dogs in the morning before the sun rises. We will get the stag then. Trying
to find him in the night without dogs to follow the scent is impossible. Getting
the dogs to go into the forest in the night is impossible. What do you say?” I
learnt early in life, never to argue with elders who have more experience. So,
I agreed. We walked the half mile to his village. His village was a haphazard collection
of mud huts with untidy grass thatch roofs. The hut had one door and no windows,
and the women usually cooked inside the hut. The fuel was dried cow-dung cakes.
The Gonds, Shivaiyya’s tribe, had a large herd of scrub cattle whose main
produce, believe it or not, was dung. Not milk. The cattle would be taken out
to graze in the forest daily by little boys who would walk behind them and collect
the dung they dropped. This would be mixed with grass, dry leaves and other
debris and shaped into flat, round cakes which were sun dried on any handy
surface in the village. When dry, they would be stacked indoors to keep them
out of the rain and used as fuel. If dried properly, they made an almost smokeless
fire. But that is only if they were totally dry. Otherwise the hut was full of
smoke. In the night, the hut was not only home to the family but to two dogs,
one goat and a young calf that was too young to be left outside with the other
into this hut that Shivaiyya, very kindly, invited me to sleep. I politely
declined and asked him to put the rope cot that he offered me, outside the hut and
said that I preferred to sleep in the open. He was not happy with that, as the
forest was home to tigers, leopards and bears. But I was happier taking my chances
with them than with sleeping inside the hut with its smoke and multiple smells.
The smoke inside the hut was protection against mosquitos but my view was ditto
about that as about tigers, leopards and bears. I lay on the rope net, covered
myself with the goat-hair blanket that Shivaiyya used for himself, kept my shotgun
handy and lay on my back looking at the sky. By this time, the moon had set, and
the stars were out in their splendor. You must lie on your back in a forest without
any ambient light and look up at the sky to understand the true magnificence of
the night sky. As I lay there, I thought to myself that I was probably seeing
things that didn’t exist. I mean, that the star that I may be looking at, could
have ‘died’ millions of years ago, but I was ‘seeing’ it because its light
reached me only now. Quite a sobering thought, if you ask me.
of my great delights when spending a night in the jungle is to listen to the
sounds as the time changes from morning to night and back from night to
morning. During the day, especially during the hot months, the jungle is mostly
a silent place, except for the cicadas and the Brain-fever bird; between the
two of them it is actually possible to go crazy. But as the sun goes down and
the day cools, the jungle comes alive and starts preparing for the night.
Peacocks announce that it is time to start heading for the roosting places. The
very loud mewing scream of the peacock has to be the most irritating sound in
the world, but in the jungle, it seems completely in sync and not irritating at
all. Jungle cocks – Gray Jungle Fowl in the Sahyadris and South India and Red
Jungle Fowl in the North – then add their voices with their characteristic
calls that end in a question – Cuk-coooo-ko-kuk? When one calls, another
answers him. The hens are silent and leave it to the men to announce to the
world that the day is coming to an end. Teetar (Partridge) then start to call
and answer one another as they head towards their roosting places. Duck and (in
season) geese flights start landing on the lake as they seek safety in the
water. They stay on the water all night where nothing from the land can get at
them. Geese are great talkers and you hear them before you see them as they
come in their classic arrowhead formations and land on the lake, feet first,
setting up little ski tracks on the surface before they settle their keels into
As the darkness sets in, the first animal calls come in. The Chital stag barks to let the world know that he has seen a leopard or a tiger. However, some young Chital are easily spooked and also tend to give the alarm call if they see a dog or a man. Chital usually follow Langur who have a symbiotic relationship with each other. Langur feed on top of trees and Chital eat what they drop from the top of leaves and fruit. I am not sure if there are any formal studies to support my observation of the relationship between Chital and Langur, but I have almost always seen them together, especially in the semi deciduous forests of the Sahyadris. More importantly, Langur always have a lookout whose only job is to sit in the topmost branches and watch for predators and give the alarm if he sees one. They take turns in doing this so that everyone in the troop gets to feed. Langur calls – Ghoonk, Ghoonk – are more reliable and Chital take them very seriously as the Langur lends perspective to the Chital’s pedestrian life. The most reliable of all alarm calls, though, is the deep belling of the Sambar. When the Sambar tells you that he has seen a tiger, you can take his word for it. What’s more, the Sambar will keep belling – Dhank, Dhank, Dhank – as long as the tiger is in view. If you have some experience, you can locate the tiger and tell which direction he is moving in, simply by listening to the Sambar calling. As the night passed, I dozed, being far more interested in listening to the sounds of the jungle than in sleeping. Sambar belled on the hill; a sure sign that a tiger was about. But that was a long way off from where I was, so nothing for me to be concerned about. In the forest sound carries a long way, especially if it is from a higher elevation. The night fell silent. I dozed and then it was daybreak.
are equally magical in the jungle. The first calls are usually the Gray Jungle
Fowl roosters, checking to see if it is really dawn. They do their more serious
calling later when they come down from the trees, find a tree stump or rock and
stand on it and call out a challenge to any other roosters in the vicinity. But
the first calls are while it is still dark. The Langur wakes up and adds a hoot
or two. The next are the Peacocks greeting the strengthening light. The
Nightjars make the last of their –chukoorrrrr – calls as they settle in for
their ‘night’. You may hear an owl or two. By now the light is better and
Partridge start calling and Peacocks and Jungle Fowl add their calls to them.
Chital and Sambar are generally silent now as most predators have settled in
for their rest. If the occasional tiger is still getting to his layby, you may
hear the Sambar who sees him, announcing his progress. Morning comes quickly in
these parts and by about 5.30 am it is clear light. The duck and geese flights
start as soon as the light starts to get stronger, headed for the fields of
cultivated land where they feed all day with one goose always as a lookout.
They take turns so that everyone in the flock gets to eat but when on sentry
duty, they don’t slack in the slightest. A threat to life is a great motivator.
Shivaiyya came out of his hut by the time I’d completed my ablutions with sweet, milky tea, which we both drank in silent companionship. When we had finished and the light was stronger, he whistled to his dogs and we set off to find the Chital. These are the famous Indian ‘pie’ dogs. Small curs, with a very highly developed sense of smell, and a lot of wisdom living in the jungle where they are the favorite food of leopards. So only the clever ones live. We took the dogs to where I’d first shot at the Chital and they tracked it into a ravine where he had fallen and died the previous night. Not too far from where we had been looking for him but not having the dog’s sense of smell, we had no chance of finding him in the dark. As I had thought, my shot went straight through his lungs and out of the back. As it did not break any major bone, the animal ran away and there was also not much of a blood trail. It died eventually, but after running almost 200 yards and falling into the small ravine.
were my lessons in responsibility learned. Lessons about being responsible for
my actions; for the consequences of my actions and of being ready to pay the
price thereof. Much that I am grateful to Uncle Rama for. What remains most
vivid in my memory is the way in which he taught me, even the painful lessons.
Firm, but full of love and with a lot of respect.
“So, what is our goal? To change their
attitude, or to convince them that they need to change it themselves?”
“That is challenging, difficult, will
take sweat and tears……….do I really want to even try it?”
We are now at the root of the problem and it is: Do I want to change my own
Attitude is at the root of everything. Attitude decides whether we will succeed or fail. Whether when in difficulty, even that which seems to be life threatening, if we will survive or perish. Attitude decides if when hit by life (or by someone) we stay down or get up. And how many times we get up. And what the result of getting up every time we fall, will be. Attitude, not wealth, dictates happiness. If you don’t believe me, watch slum children leaping into pools of rainwater after the first rains. Do they look happy? Then go and watch your children, who will most likely be complaining about the rain. And ask yourself, “Who has more wealth?” I know that is a dumb question, but then to decide to remain dumb is an attitude issue. To decide to remain blind, even though we have eyes is an attitude issue. To witness a crime in progress and to decide to take a video to post on Instagram, instead of taking action to prevent the crime or to help the victim, is a matter of attitude. Cherophobia (the fear of being ‘too happy’ because you feel that if you allow yourself to feel happy, then disaster will strike), is a matter of attitude. Satisfaction, gratitude, ambition, courage, compassion are all attitudes. So also, are their opposites. And each one has an impact on our life.
Agara – A – is the first letter of the alphabet, so also God is before all
the same way, attitude comes before all situations and circumstances and
decides how they will affect us. Incidentally, another A-word; affect. Let me
tell you some stories to illustrate what I mean.
was 1987 and I was doing a course at XLRI, Jamshedpur. One evening my friends
decided to show me the sights around Jamshedpur. As we drove in the Hindustan
Ambassador car, which was provided for us, the road suddenly deteriorated. My
friend announced, “This is where Jamshedpur ends, and Bihar begins.” We
continued onwards, headed towards Dimna lake and bird sanctuary. This is a lake
made by Tata Steel and provides drinking water to Jamshedpur. On the way we
stopped at a traffic light. The road was a patchwork of potholes joined
together by bits of tarmac to prove that once upon a time when the world was
young, it had been surfaced with bitumen. As I was contemplating life and its
trials, a young boy came coasting down the slope on his bicycle a bit oblivious
to his situation and hit a pothole, bounced out of it and yelled, ‘Wah! Kya
khadda hai!’ (Wow! What a pothole!). Today I am writing this on July 13, 2019,
32 years later, but the incident is fresh in my memory. I remind myself that
nothing changed for that kid or for me. The road, the potholes, the
responsibility of the government, the use of taxes, you name it, everything
remained the same. Yet that kid decided to be happy. So, when he hit a pothole,
he appreciated the pothole instead of complaining. A matter of attitude.
my view the best thing about attitude is that it is entirely in my control. Nobody
can give it to me or take it from me or change it for me or do anything at all
with my attitude. I, and only I, can have whatever attitude I want to. So only
I, can decide if I want to be sad, glad, bad, mad or whatever. That means that
until I want to change it, nobody can help me and if I want to change it,
nobody can stop me. That is power.
1978, soon after I finished graduation with a BA in history, political science
and Urdu literature, I boarded a flight for Guyana where my father was on a
one-year assignment, with the Guyana Mining Enterprise hospital in Linden. It
was a long flight and a long story. I flew from Hyderabad to Bombay to London
to New York to Miami to Georgetown which took more than 24 hours. I flew in a SE
210 Caravelle, Boeing 707, McDonnell Douglas DC-10, and Boeing 707 once again.
I flew on Indian Airlines, British Airways, Pan Am (Pan American World
Airways), Delta and BWIA. And at the end of it all, more than 24 hours after I
left Hyderabad, I arrived literally at the other end of the world, without my
baggage. My baggage apparently had other travel plans and I have no idea which
country it was destined for. But for me that meant that not only did I get to
lose all my worldly possessions but also the proof of my education, my degree
certificate, which I had kept in my checked-in baggage for safety.
I should have been devastated. I wasn’t. It took
me about ten minutes to come to terms with the fact that I was walking with all
my worldly assets, the shirt on my back. I found this was a very liberating
idea. In Guyana I got a job, lived and worked in a small mining town in the
middle of the rainforest. My experience of the five years that I spent there
was far from negative. It was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding periods
of my life during which I made lifelong friendships, had many unique experiences,
and learnt a huge amount about human relations and conflict management which
has stood me in good stead throughout my career, now many decades later. I will
talk about those days in context in the articles and podcasts that will come
later but want to say that all this happened because of the way I approached
For one thing, I didn’t see it as a ‘challenge =
difficulty’, at all. I saw it as the possibility to have great fun and great
learning, each day filled with new possibilities. I was in a new country,
totally new (alien!!) culture, food, climate, language, working with people who
were completely different from me in every way, living in a part of the world
that I had never been in and which was as different from my life in Hyderabad as
to make it seem like I was on another planet. Yet it turned out to be one of
the best periods of my life which I recall very fondly today, more than forty
years later. The reason was attitude.
Attitude therefore is how you choose to see what
you are faced with. You can choose to appreciate the good in it and enjoy it
and to see the difficulties as you look at weights in the gym; something that
is tough to lift but can only benefit you if you do. Who makes that choice?
Back home in India, I worked in the plantation
industry for ten years, managing tea, and rubber plantations with coffee,
cardamom, coconut and vanilla thrown in, before striking out into the field of
leadership consulting. During my last three years in the company, I was posted
as Manager of the company’s operations in Kanyakumari District in Tamilnadu.
That comprised of two rubber estates, two factories and a higher secondary
school. The challenge there was the labor force, which was highly militant,
unionized, communist union (CITU – Marxist) and a history of tension between
the management and union. To spice up my life I had an immediate task of
introducing Controlled Upward Tapping (CUT) in rubber. This involved the
tappers using special tapping knives to tap upwards instead of the normal
downward tap. This put a strain on their shoulders and initially it could be
uncomfortable, even painful, until they got used to it. The standard response
to this was to refuse to do it. That led to tensions and some ugly situations
before I got there, including an Assistant Manager having been grievously
assaulted. My challenge was to get the workers to accept this method of
tapping, which meant that I had to convert their dislike and resistance to
liking. To change their attitude from resistance to acceptance.
I spoke to another company in Kerala who were
using this technique and had good results. I requested their management to
allow me to send my tappers to visit them to see their tapping, meet their
tappers and talk to them about the technique. I wanted them to do this freely
without any supervision, so I didn’t go with them. I sent them in a bus and
arranged for them to have a nice sumptuous meal with their hosts and to be
given CUT knives as a take-away gift (for which we paid). I told them to go and
see the work, ask any questions that they wanted to ask their compatriots and
satisfy themselves that this method was a good method for them to earn more
income as well as something which would not be difficult to do after they had
gotten used to the new angle of tapping. All this was treated with suspicion to
begin with, given the history of management labor relations, but I expected
that and didn’t react to it. However, the prospect of a company paid holiday
was tempting and unique and so they went. After that, as they say, the rest is
history. They returned enthusiastic about trying out the new technique and when
they saw that as promised, their yield was better resulting in better earning,
there was nothing more for me to do.
What I had been able to do was to get them tuned
into the channel that everyone listens to; WiiFM (What’s in it For Me). That is
the key to attitude change. Get people to see what’s in the change for them.
Help them to see how they will benefit. Naturally they must really benefit. It
is not a PR exercise. If there is really no benefit, then you will lose
credibility big time if you try to sell it. But it happens often that people
don’t see the benefit until you can show it to them. Once they see how they
will gain by changing their attitude, it happens easily enough. The challenge
is for us to show it to them.
What is essential for the one wanting to bring
about attitude change is to put himself into the shoes of the other and see their
world through their eyes. I had a very interesting experience in this context.
I was doing a series of coaching skills workshops for senior management at
ICRISAT in Hyderabad. This required helping people understand the fact that you
can never coach anyone effectively if you don’t see their world through their
eyes. In other words, you need to put yourself in their shoes. To illustrate
this, I took off my shoes and said to the Deputy Director General, the most
senior manager who was sitting right in front, “Please get into my shoes.”
He got up very reluctantly and started to take his
shoes off. I stopped him when he had taken one shoe off. I asked him, “What are
He looked surprised and replied rather testily,
“Taking off my shoes.”
I asked, “Why?”
He looked really exasperated and said, “How else
can I get into your shoes?” Then it suddenly dawned on him and he almost
yelled, “Wah! What an insight!! I can never get into your shoes until I take my
own shoes off. Wah! Sahab Wah!”
It is often as simple as that. The lesson is
simple but very powerful.
If we want to change people’s attitudes, we need
to first change our own. We must own up that we need to see their world as they
see and feel it. We must empathize and understand. Then we need to show them
how they will benefit from the change. Only then will it happen.
In terms of formal leadership roles, one of the
biggest challenges of the commanding officer is to influence positively the
attitude of those under his/her command. Many try to use authority. All that
they get is outward compliance. Just because someone answers, “Yessah!” with a
salute doesn’t mean that he/she truly accepts what you ordered them to do or
that they will do it when they are not supervised. We are all aware of the
theory, “It is the arm that salutes, not the heart.” That is why I say, “Values
can’t be legislated (commanded). They must be inculcated.” And that is the
reason attitude is critical. Attitude is what you do because of who you are.
Not because of your job, rank or training but because of the truth of your
being. That is why attitude inspires far more than any passionate speech or any
order from on-high. People don’t care what you say, until they see what you do.
Attitude is what Dr. Kafeel of Gorakhpur had, when
though he was not even on duty, he decided to take charge when he was informed
that the government hospital where he worked had run out of oxygen and the
lives of children who needed oxygen, were at stake. He spent his own funds to
buy oxygen and managed to save the lives of over 200 of them. In organizational
life, we have many stories to tell of people who decided to take ownership of
the situation and in the absence of orders and sometimes even in contravention
of them, they did the right thing. Many paid a price for it, but their stand
inspires us to this day. The thing to remember is that even if they had succumbed
to pressure, they would have paid a price. A price which in real terms, would
have been far higher. There is no such thing as a free choice. Every choice has
a price tag. We are free to choose between price tags. That is the reason why
we need to record and preserve such stories, because they are real, involve
real people like us and are beacons of guidance and proof of concept that IT
CAN BE DONE.
the attitudes that are critical for us to have? They are three.
Courage: Courage is the first. Courage is the willingness to stand up against
opposing danger or force. The greater the opposing force, greater the courage
needed. Courage is physical but even more importantly it is moral. Moral
courage comes before physical courage and is often its motive force. Moral courage
is called upon far more often than physical courage in our lives because the
pressure on us is from those who have higher authority, direct or indirect.
They don’t necessarily threaten our life or safety, but they threaten our
careers. Yet we must have the courage to stand up to their threats, open or
But stand up on what basis? On the basis of truth.
In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “When the truth must be spoken, silence is culpable.”
Truth: Truth is the unshakable belief that truth comes first and over and above anyone else. The duty of every citizen is to uphold the truth in his/her own life. For this, we are accountable and answerable to society. And though society may not have the tools and structures to demand this accountability in a formal manner, it does enforce it very powerfully by giving or withholding respect and moral authority. Moral authority is the reward for moral courage. Without moral authority you may get rank, but you will never have power. Rank is bestowed. Power is earned. The Establishment bestows rank. People give you power. Without power, the badge of rank is costume jewelry.
Compassion: The ability to see
yourself in the suffering of others. In the words ascribed to Benjamin
Earl of Beaconsfield, who twice served as Prime Minister of the
United Kingdom, “There but
for the Grace of God, goes Disraeli.” He reportedly said that on looking at a
homeless man in rags. It is not known what he did thereafter, but the statement
shows that he saw himself, at least momentarily, in the other less fortunate
man. Compassion is not only to see but to do something about that, to alleviate
the suffering, lift the oppression and deliver the justice being denied to the
other. Compassion, above anything else, differentiates us as humans in the best
possible terms. Compassion means that we stand against oppression even when it
doesn’t affect us personally. Compassion means that we go out of our way, take
the pain and the trouble and if necessary, pay the price to fight for the
rights of others. Compassion is a fundamental value, a core strength and a key
resource, without which we simply can’t function effectively and honorably.
Compassion is the result of courage and commitment to the truth. Compassion
wins hearts, inspires cooperation, builds a reputation, enhances influence and
is the best protection.
This is the value of these three, interlinked
attitudes: courage based on truth, tempered with compassion. Truth gives
courage its backbone and compassion ensures that it is applied in a way that is
caring, respectful and kind.
Finally, I must reiterate that attitudes can’t be
legislated. They must be inculcated. We can’t simply order people, “You must be
courageous. You must be truthful. You must be compassionate.” We must show them
how, by demonstrating courage, truthfulness and compassion ourselves in our
everyday actions. We must remember that people listen with their eyes. They
don’t care what we say, until they see what we do.
present methods of teaching which are inflicted on by far the vast majority of
children the world over are the single biggest cause for killing the
imagination that every child is born with and making them into square blocks
which fit our own frightened, constrained and slavish worldview. Those who
comply we ‘pass’ and those who challenge it and refuse to succumb, we ‘fail’.
The occasional among those we ‘fail’, go on to great fortune. The vast majority
disappear, never to be heard from again. Destroyed by the education system they
didn’t deserve or ask for.
the story of young Tommy; one of the stories that do the rounds on the
internet. It is said that Tommy’s teacher asked the class to write an essay
about their dream. Next day all the children brought their essays to class. The
teacher read them all. But when she came to Tommy’s essay she was astounded and
even angry. She wrote a big 0 at the top of the essay and handed Tommy
his book. Naturally poor Tommy’s face fell when he looked at the teacher’s
notation. He took back his book and silently walked back to his seat. The
teacher saw the look on the little boy’s face and took pity on him. She called
him back and said, ‘Tommy, your dream is ridiculous. It is fantasy. It is
totally unrealistic. That is why I failed you in the test. However, I will give
you another chance. If you re-write this dream and bring it back tomorrow, I
will give you some marks.’ Tommy listened in silence, nodded agreement and
returned to his seat. The eyes and smirks of all those who had ‘passed’ were on
his face. They were the ones with realistic dreams which the teacher liked.
Tommy handed in his essay to the teacher. The teacher scanned through it and
was astonished to see that there was no change. She called Tommy to her desk in
an injured tone and said, ‘Tommy, didn’t you understand what I told you? I said
I would give you marks if you changed your dream. You have done nothing here!
So I am sorry I can’t give you any marks.’
at her and said, ‘Teacher, I thought about what you said and decided that I’ll
let you keep your marks and I will keep my dream.’
strange to me that if I were asked to define the biggest challenge of the
teacher, I would say, ‘It is to teach children how to deal with a world that we
know nothing about.’ In such a world, imagination is the key resource that they
will need. Without imagination they would be floundering trying to find answers
in history or ‘facts’ that they had been taught. But they would never find
those answers because they simply aren’t there. Yet the thing that most schools
do with amazing efficiency is to kill the child’s imagination as quickly as
possible. And sadly, they are very successful in doing so.
example how science is taught. It is taught in a way that is no different from
history, for example. It is taught as a ‘fact’ course. Whereas science is not
about fact at all but about constant discovery. Science is about constantly
discovering how little we know. Science is not about answers but about learning
to ask the right questions, learning to analyze data with a willingness to be
proved wrong, learning to design experiments to disprove our most dearly loved
models, knowing that only if the experiment failed could we say that our model
is actually correct. Not forever, but until we come to the next discovery.
is not about answering questions but about raising questions – opening doors
for them in places that they could not imagine. Teaching is about teaching them
the tools of learning which will enable them to pursue learning all their
lives. Not answer questions – end all discussion and pass exams. That is
the reason why the vast majority of children never open a science book once
they finish with school. That is the reason why there is a serious global
shortage of scientists. The whole approach to teaching must change – from
teaching solutions and answers to teaching tools to pursue lifelong learning. Even
when we teach what we know – the answers – we need to teach them how we arrived
at those answers and then ask them , ‘If you faced this issue, what questions
would you ask to find an answer.’ We need to focus far more on derivation,
problem solving methodology and analytical skills than on actually arriving at
some formula or solution.
The same malaise plagues other subjects as well. In history we concentrate on dates and places far more than on lessons learnt and ways of applying them in today’s society. When was the last time you heard a history teacher ask questions like: ‘What did we learn from the history of the Mughals the reflection of which we can see in today’s society? What can we learn from that period of Indian history which we can apply to our lives today? What can we learn from that period which will help us to find solutions to our problems today? Which problem? What is the solution?’ Instead history question papers will ask you for the date on which the first Battle of Panipath was fought; who was fighting whom; not why; not what that indicated about that society and its implications in today’s society. So, children hate history. We don’t relate what we teach to what is happening currently and how learning what happened then can help people in today’s world.
Children hate math, algebra even more. But when
did we ever hear of a teacher teaching math as a problem-solving tool? Or of
teaching algebra as a tool to plan a party? Math enhances ability in reasoning,
intelligence, decision making and abstract analysis. But we only teach dry numbers.
Math enables budgeting, judging and
assessment of business enterprises; it is the basis behind computer
programming, music, art, graphic design, aeronautics – and a million other
highly interesting things. But the way we teach math – the majority of students
hate it, never use it to any advantage and trash 12 years of learning it as
soon as they complete their final exam. So why should you study math at all.
See the answers of some students to this question which their professor asked
Another very interesting article which turned
up on Google on math is here:
Our education system stinks. It is designed to
create mechanics – not learned people. That is how one can become an engineer
without reading any book other than his course books and without any
understanding of anything except the little machine that he works on – as if
the rest of the universe doesn’t matter. All the treasure of human thought,
ideas, discoveries, experiments, reflections and imagination are closed to him.
He doesn’t even know that they exist. He lives a life of stress, doing his best
with his very limited understanding of life, trying to reinvent the wheel, to
discover solutions which others, far more gifted and learned than he could ever
be, have already discovered and written about. But then how would he know about
them when he doesn’t read?
That is why we have idiotic product design
because the designer has no concept of relating his design to the actual user.
He is thinking in terms of his narrow area of knowledge, not of the vast area
of application. That is why Haleem makers in India use washing machines as
kitchen mixers. Saves them a lot of labor stirring the pot when they can have
the pot stir itself. Ask the washing machine designer what he was thinking of
when he designed the machine except dirty clothes? But great opportunity does
not lie in customer demand. It lies in areas that the customer didn’t even know
biggest problem with teachers is that they teach. That is the root cause of all
ignorance. That is why I titled this essay, ‘O! Teacher, stop teaching.’ Start
discovering, learning, enjoying. Start appreciating that the child is the best
thing that happened to you and every single day try to become the best thing
that happens to him or her. Teachers must never teach. They must be like ushers
in a vast museum, walking quietly with their students tiptoeing behind them,
opening one door after another – letting them take a peek – and then handing
them the key to the door so that they can come back in their own time and
explore in detail. The teacher then takes them to another door for another peek
and another key. See?? Imagine how exciting that is for the child! The
teacher’s job is to give them the keys.
is about asking questions – and teaching them to ask questions. The teacher who
gives answers has failed. So never do that. Teaching is about keeping the
excitement of learning alive all lifelong. Teaching is about taking the hand of
a 4-year-old and leading the whole group to a tree. Then sit down under the
tree and tell them, ‘Let me see who can get me a perfect leaf of this tree.’ Actually,
do this and see the fun. When they all come back, brimming with joy at their
perfect finds – ask them if all the leaves are the same, even though they came
from the same tree? Let them marvel at the fact that they are all leaves from
the same tree, but each is different. Ask them, ‘Why do you think this happens?
What is Allahﷻ saying to us?’
pull out a seed of the tree you are sitting under from your pocket. No, it
didn’t grow there, you prepared for the class, remember? Then show them the
seed and let them all (every one of them) hold the seed in his hand and explore
it, texture, shape, color and so on. Give them crayons and paper and let them
draw the seed. Give them a few more so that everyone has his own seed. When
they have drawn the seed, tell them, ‘Now look at this tree. Do you realise
that this tree was inside this seed? Can you draw the tree inside your seed?’
Let them do that. Every drawing must be made much of and draw breaths of
amazement from you – and indeed, if you have ever taught in this way, you will
realise that being amazed is the default setting. It is only when we kill the
imagination of children that they become like us.
tell them about genetics – yes to four-year olds – and explain how the tree was
inside the seed until Allahﷻ ordered it to come out. Explain the whole process of
germination and growth. Draw lessons from each step and show them the glory of Allahﷻ. Of course, that will make your own
role as teacher much harder but also much more fun. To be on top of the game
you have to read and prepare @ 4:1 – Four hours of preparation to one hour of
teaching. The kids will come back with answers to the questions you planted in
their minds. You will need patience and tact and wisdom to deal with some of
them. But you will have the joy of learning, of having doors opened for you
where you didn’t know there were doors. Teaching is about learning. I learnt
some of the best lessons in my life from someone who was knee high to a jack
As a dear friend of mine, also a
teacher put it: What a teacher must inculcate is a sense of responsibility,
self-discipline and a sense of the sacred. These are not easy to teach in a
world that speaks/teaches rights at the cost of responsibility, obedience
and self-indulgence instead of self-discipline and debunking/cynicism in place of respect for the sacred. These are values that were important, are
important and will be important in any age.
is not a job. Anyone who considers it a job must do one of two things: re-think
their vocation or become a cigarette salesman. That is a job. Selling cigarettes
to people to hasten their demise. Teaching must be a passion. A teacher is
someone who simply can’t imagine doing anything else. A teacher is someone who
will teach not only for free but also if they had to pay for it. Only then can
you light the lamp of the love of learning in the hearts of others. Teaching is
to light the lamp of knowledge and dispel the darkness of ignorance. Do you,
Mr. Teacher, consider what you are doing in these terms? I often ask people to
think of a role model and then ask for how many of them it is a parent or a
teacher. I have never had more than 10% of the population, across
nationalities, races and genders, raising their hands. That means that for 90%
of people their role model is neither a parent nor a teacher. What a tragedy,
seeing that these two roles have the maximum face time with children. Yet they
seem to do their roles in such an uninspiring and dull way – if not in a
positively harmful way – that most children are glad to be away from them as
much as possible.
ask teachers to consider this. Every morning a strange thing happens at the
gate of your school. Parents come and hand over their most precious assets to
you without asking for any guarantees for anything; for you to do with them, as
you please for the next 6 – 8 hours. Are you conscious of this responsibility
in quite this way and do you plan for those 6 – 8 to become the best 6 – 8
hours of that child for that day? Do you actively plan this? What would you say
if the teacher, who you send your child to, planned to make those hours the
best hours of your child’s life? Do you believe this is worth doing? If not,
what are you doing here?
a child asks a question, ‘Mr. Great Crocodile, what does this mean?’ You say,
‘You tell me.’ And then let him go away and search. You watch what he is
doing, give him a hint or two but never make it easy for him. If it looks like
he is getting too close to an easy answer, bowl a googly. Ask a question which
will lead him to dig deeper.’ Then when he comes to you with his answer, listen
very carefully and be prepared to be astonished. Don’t put any limits or
boundaries on what he can or can’t say, what he can or can’t question. Then
listen very carefully and take notes. That will do wonders for his confidence
as well as for your own learning.
another thing – abolish exams. Or at least have only open book exams. Exams are
the worst evil that ever happened to learning. They are the final nail in the
coffin which ensures that the child hates learning forever. Just ask yourself
how testing the memory of the child for random recall in a specific timeframe
is a measure of his knowledge? Has this happened to you that a child couldn’t
think of an answer though it was on the tip of his mind, until he had handed in
his paper and the exam bell had rung. And then, five minutes after the bell rang,
the answer dropped off the tip of his mind into his consciousness. Does that
child know or not know? But does that child pass or fail your exam? If that
happens to be a final, qualifying exam, then does it shut the doors on his dreams
or not? Now you know why some poor kids commit suicide? Exams, as we conduct
them are evil.
as we do them are perceived as threats. They are threats. The human brain
responds to threats in the most primitive way by shutting down everything except
reflexes. When a threat is perceived, the reptilian part of the brain takes
over and the neocortex shuts down. That is why in martial arts we learn to
force ourselves to continue to think, while allowing the training to take over
reactions. The thinking gives us the strategic edge in a conflict. Pilots are
also taught to ‘go back to the manual’ in case there is an emergency. That means,
not to allow the reptilian reflex to take over and to do all the checks that
the manual prescribes, because only that has a chance to save the situation.
in exams, we first shut down the brains of our students and then force them to perform
in an atmosphere of high threat perception and pass or fail them for a life in
which there is mostly no threat. At least not when they are reading history,
for god’s sake!! Exams are a sign of our own laziness. We test random memory because
that is the easiest thing to test. Not because that makes sense, or is a real
indicator of learning, understanding and application of knowledge. Reducing it
to multiple choice questions, where the child simply ticks a box is the ultimate
insult to learning. That is done because the tabulation of marks can thereby be
done by a machine and teachers are not burdened with even reading answers. How
much worse can this get?
test. We must test because we need to measure the results of our effort. Test
understanding. Test application of knowledge. Test value addition to what we
taught them. Reward new questions that arose from what we taught them. Don’t insult
your teaching and destroy the lives of students by testing them in ways that
are insane and toxic. Ban exams as we know them. Find other ways of testing.
And treat this like the life-threatening emergency that it is.
you be the one to illuminate the world by igniting minds.
Alvin Toffler, the author of ‘Future Shock’ said something very interesting. He said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” I want to begin with this quote as I consider it perhaps the most important for us to reflect on. I would disagree with only one thing in this quote; I wouldn’t say, ‘The illiterate of the 21st century’; I would say, ‘The illiterate of any time are those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.’
I say, ‘Pain is inevitable. Learning from it is optional. Repetition is the price of not learning.’
Learning and even more relearning, is a key survival skill as well as the single most important skill that any person can learn and continue to remain adept in, if he wants to be and remain successful throughout his life. I will tell you in a minute why I say that relearning is even more important. But first something about learning.
Learning is not exclusive to humans. Every living
thing learns. Plants learn, animals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, all
learn. And they use that learning to change their behavior, techniques to hunt
prey or evade predators, get access to the best pastures, times to flower, fruit,
procreate and so on. All adaptation is a result of species learning.
Learning is the result of a fundamental quality and
that is curiosity. Sadly, that is almost the first thing that our traditional so-called
education destroys. The second is imagination. Both are critical to learning
but our schooling is not concerned about learning. Only about memorizing and regurgitating.
Anyway, that is another matter. To return to curiosity, we learn when we
actively choose to be curious. To be curious is to accept that we don’t know. Curiosity
is a quality. It is not content specific. A curious person is curious about
everything and so is constantly learning. Curiosity is about asking questions.
To ask why and how, even more than what. I recall an incident that happened
with me in 1983 which taught me a very big lesson about the importance and
value of curiosity.
I had just joined tea planting in South India as an Assistant Manager in Sheikalmudi Estate in the Anamallais, when my uncle Hasanuddin Ahmed and my aunt, Husnara Aunty decided to visit me. I was delighted both to have someone from my family visit me and also because they were both very dear to me. After they arrived and we’d had a cup of tea, served very stylishly by my butler, Bastian, we went for a short walk down the path leading out from the bungalow. The path, like all paths in tea was lined with tea bushes. As we walked along, Hasan uncle asked me to explain the tea cultivation and manufacturing process. I was very happy to show off my new-found knowledge and gave him a quick account of it all, from plucking to final packing. He listened attentively and then plucked two or three tea shoots and asked me, “If you simply boil these, what happens?” I was stumped. I had no idea. I had never done such a thing.
What struck me like a thump on the head was that this simple question had never occurred to me. “What happens if you simply boil green tea leaves?” I was living in the middle of tea fields and didn’t know the answer to his simple question. The reason was not lack of intelligence or opportunity to learn. It was simply a lack of curiosity. I lay that at the feet of schooling which tells us just to accept whatever we are told and never to ask anything outside of that boundary. I am sure my teachers had never boiled green tea leaves to see what happens to them or what the brew would taste like. Naturally there would be many who would scoff at the ‘stupid’ question. “Why would you even want to do such a thing?” they would ask. None of them would understand that it had nothing to do with boiling tea leaves but with asking questions outside the boundary of the known. Needless to say, I picked a few shoots, boiled them and discovered that they tasted like boiled green leaves and not like tea. But that is not the point. The point is that I learned the value of curiosity and that helped me throughout my life ever since. One example of that was that when I went to rubber planting and manufacture in 1991, I saw that processed rubber was hung to dry in large sheds and they relied on cross ventilation to do the job. That was erratic to say the least and any delay in drying resulted in fungus formation on the rubber sheets which reduced their quality and price.
So, I asked a question. What happens if we install
withering fans from a tea factory in a rubber drying shed? Nobody had an
answer. It had never been done though many of the major rubber planting companies
also had tea estates and used those fans in the tea estates, but nobody had thought
of using them in rubber. That didn’t mean that I was a genius. It just meant
that I had asked a question which anyone could have asked but didn’t. We promptly
ordered a couple of old fans and installed them and loed and beheld that they
changed the way rubber sheets were dried. I am not sure who else did this in
their factories but if they want to know where the idea came from, it was New
Ambadi Estate, when I was the Manager in 1991-93. Learning comes from curiosity
and so curiosity should be strongly inculcated and supported. We must create an
atmosphere of asking questions and every question, no matter how outlandish or
stupid it may sound, should be allowed, respected and valued and the questioner
must be encouraged to find its answer.
Which brings me to the question of relearning.
We humans are not unique in learning. What makes
us unique is what we do with learning and that is to take learning from one area,
one context, one situation, one part of life and apply it to a completely different
time, place and situation. What enables us to do that is conceptualization. Conceptualization
is perhaps the absolute essence of learning to the extent that I am prepared to
say that the one who doesn’t conceptualize has not learnt. No matter how much
experience (happenings) he has, he learns only when and if he conceptualizes.
That is why the old adage, “Experience is not what happens to you but what you
do with what happens to you.” What you do, refers to conceptualization. In my
practice as an Executive Coach and Mentor, this is what I focus on. I ask one
simple question: ‘So what?’ Meaning, ‘So what did you learn?’ Sometimes
I see shock on the face of my clients when after listening to them pouring out
their hearts about their experiences, they hear me ask, ‘So what?’ It even
sounds rude. I know that and I use it for its shock value. People don’t think until
you shock them. So, I ask, ‘So what?’ and then I ask, ‘So what did you learn?’ Usually,
the answer is, ‘Nothing. I am so busy reveling in my own misery, anger, grief
or even happiness that I learnt nothing.’ And that is the problem. I don’t learn
because I don’t conceptualize and so I gain nothing from that experience in my
Why does this happen? It happens because learning is often painful. To learn we need to distance ourselves from the emotional aspects of the experience and view it objectively and extract lessons, some of them, very painful to accept. However, these are often the most valuable. We don’t like to accept them because to do so, we need to accept that we were wrong. But all change begins with accepting the need to change, which is to say, ‘I was wrong.’ Why else would you change? That is the third quality that we need to learn; humility. When one is humble one feels the pain of accepting his mistake but is saved from the consequences of that mistake which are always far more serious and painful.
There is an old teaching story about a learned professor who decided that he needed to do something about his spiritual development. So, he went to a Sufi Master and requested him to accept him as his student. The Master nodded accent and then took up an empty pot and went to the well in his yard. The new student accompanied him. At the well, the Master put the pot on the wall of the well and drew water from the well and poured it into the pot. The pot filled up quickly but the Master kept drawing water and pouring it into the pot. Seeing this the professor was at first surprised, then irritated and then exasperated. Almost in desperation, he blurted out, “That pot is full. It can’t take in anymore! Can’t you see that?” The Master smiled at him, picked up the pot and as he walked back into the house, said, “And that is your case.” The professor realized that what he needed to do was to empty his mind of what he knew, scale down his ego about being a professor and approach the Master as a humble student.
The three critical qualities for learning are
therefore, curiosity, conceptualization and humility.
The last one is the willingness to get out of our comfort zone. That is perhaps the most difficult one and that is the reason why even people who have been doing something one way and realize that there is a better way, never try the new way because they are too comfortable in the old way and don’t want to take the pain of the new way. Ask anyone who is trying to improve his drive, in golf or learning public speaking or change the way he or she reacts to irritation. Anyone who has tried to re-train people will swear that training someone who doesn’t know is far easier than re-training someone who knew that tool or trade but did it differently. This is very visible also in the case of speech accents. People who learn a language for the first time, do it correctly and more easily and quickly than those who learned to speak in a particular way and then want to change the way they speak and pronounce words.
The problem is that when we try to learn anything new, our efficiency goes down. Whether it is a new language or a new phone; learning to use it means that for a while you are going to be less efficient. That is painful. When I switched from a Blackberry to a Nokia touchscreen phone, it was misery until I got used to the touchscreen. I used to type on a Blackberry with one thumb. On a touchscreen, it played havoc with my typing for many days. I hated it but had no alternative because Blackberries had become defunct. As they say the rest is history. That is the learning curve. Mentally therefore, if you wish to relearn, focus on two things: remember that it will be painful and that the result will be brilliant. That will help you to get through the area of pain and start benefiting from the new way. That is perseverance. The ability to see what the change will get you while you are going through the pain of learning.
Final recap: Curiosity, Conceptualization, Humility and Perseverance. These are the four key ingredients for the most important skill that we need to have and keep intact and practice all our lives; the ability to learn continuously.
I am going on a long journey and want to remind
myself and you of the three critical lessons that I learnt from my life. I call
them my Three Fundamental Laws. I hope they will help you as they helped me all
No. 1: Be Number One
Not Number Two. Number One. I can’t do better than to quote the best speech that I have ever heard in this context; “What it takes to be Number One”, by Vince Lombardi of Green Bay Packers. I quote selectively from his speech, “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing. And in truth, I’ve never known a man worth his salt who in the long run, deep down in his heart, didn’t appreciate the grind, the discipline. I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour — his greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear — is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.” – Coach Vincent T. Lombardi
Being Number One starts with the desire to be Number One. A burning passion that will not be quelled. It is
not liking, it is not an interest, it is not a preference. It is total and
complete passion. The single biggest and most critical
requirement of success is the desire to be the best. No matter what you may do
– if you want to succeed, you need to be passionate about what you do and want
to be the best at it. This is something that I have been aware of all my life.
I always wanted to be the best at whatever I did.
This comes from an underlying drive. To be the best.
To stand out. Never to blend in. To create standards that others can aspire to.
This is what has always driven me. It is something that comes from inside you. It
has nothing to do with anyone else, human or circumstance, driving you from outside.
This is the fire in the belly that people talk about. I have been conscious of
this from my earliest childhood. I always wanted to do what nobody else would
is what passion is all about.
people say, “We must teach our children how to fail.” I say that is the most stupid
statement ever made. Or, since so much of stupidity is spoken today, that is
one of the most stupid statements ever made. Teach them how to fail? Who would want
to teach his child how to fail? Teach them how not to fail. Teach them what to
do with failure, if they fail despite their best effort. Teach them to treat
failure like a college year. Take ownership for their failure instead of
blaming others, face the brutal facts instead of being in denial, recognize what
caused them to fail and chart out a new strategy of success, instead of falling
into depression. That is what you teach. Not ‘how to fail’, for God’s sake!! Get
is mediocrity that one must fear. Not failure. Failure is a kick in the
backside. Eminently beneficial and most necessary from time to time even for
the best of us. Nothing beats a kick in the backside to wake you up. There is
an Arab saying, ‘The blow that doesn’t break your back only makes you stronger.’
The failure that doesn’t annihilate you (I have yet to see one that does), only
makes you stronger and wiser. But what we must fear, what must terrify us, is
mediocrity. That is because it masquerades as success. It is insidious, it is
tempting, it is seductive. It tells you to believe that good enough is good
enough; even when you know that good enough is never good enough. You learn
this lesson most effectively in the wild places on this earth.
you ever seen a Langur sentinel? Or a Bar-headed Goose sentinel? All around it
are feasting, there is no sign of danger, but the sentinel never relaxes. It doesn’t
feed even though it is starving. It doesn’t feed when others are eating up all the
food. It knows that it is precisely when everything seems completely safe, that
the greatest danger lurks. When there is no sign of approaching danger, it only
means that the leopard’s camouflage is particularly effective and so the
sentinel must peel his eyes even more and be even more wary of danger. In the
wild you learn fast because the price of failure to learn is death. In our
offices, homes, schools, parliaments, governments and industry, we are lulled
into complacency. Since we don’t face physical death, we relax. We are surrounded
by those who will sympathize with us and tell us that we must have time to
relax, to ‘enjoy’ life, to be ‘free from stress’. And we believe them. The
result is mediocrity. I repeat myself, ‘Fear mediocrity because it pretends to
be excellence.’ It isn’t. It is the worst failure because it will keep you
sedated, intoxicated and comfortable until the end when you realize what you
have done with your life but then it will be too late to change. For the
passionate person, his passion is fun, relaxation and enjoyment. It excites him
so he is never stressed because of it. The passionate person doesn’t have a
bumper sticker saying, ‘I would rather be golfing.’ Passionate people would
never rather be doing anything other than their passion. They love what they do,
and they love doing it.
the ‘Parable of the Boiled Frog’.
a frog and put it into a pot of hot water. What will it do? It will leap out.
But take the same frog and put it into a pot of water at room temperature. Then
when the frog has settled down, light a fire under the pot and gently heat the
pot. As the water gets gradually hotter, the frog gets used to it. Frogs are
cold blooded animals. So, as the water gets hotter, the frog’s muscles relax,
it gets somnolent and flaccid. Until the time comes when the water is now
dangerously hot. The frog realizes that it is cooking, but by then its ability
to react is finished. Though it knows that it is doomed, it can’t do anything to
avert the doom. What killed the frog? Complacency, mediocrity, ‘good enough’. Beware
of mediocrity. Don’t listen to those who try to comfort you. Seek out those who
will tell you (if you don’t already know) the stark, hard and painful facts about
what you said or did or what you didn’t that led to your failure. They are your
friends. Your real friends. The pain you will feel, listening to them is the pain
you feel in the gym pumping iron. But you still do it because you know that it is
making you stronger. Appreciate such people. Don’t argue with them. Don’t justify
your words or actions. Shut up and listen to them. Take in what they said and
change yourself. One day you will bless them. If not, one day you will curse yourself.
The choice is yours.
No. 2: Be Focused
Once again back to nature. See how an eagle hunts. See how a lioness locks onto her quarry in a huge herd of galloping Wildebeest. See how a leopard stalks his prey. One thing you will see in all of them is the ability to ignore fluff. An eagle that tries to catch two rabbits will lose both. The lioness doesn’t get distracted by the fact that there are many others like the one she locked on, just as juicy and tasty. But she ignores them all and focuses on the one she picked. She does that because she knows that if she loses that focus, she will lose her quarry and everything else also. She knows this because she learned that lesson in a very hard school. Only one in seven or eight of a lion’s hunts is successful. The rest of the time, she starves. Nothing like starvation to teach life lessons, to lions and humans.
Focus is the art of ignoring fluff. However, you
can’t have focus unless you know what you want. The lion focuses on the prey
which he first selects. The goal is clear and so he can focus. That is why you must
first clarify your goal. Write it out in one line. If it can’t be written in
one line, it is not clear. It must be written in one line and in language that
a ten-year-old can understand without explanation. That is the test of clarity.
Having written it, one more test to see if it is the right goal. And that is to
ask yourself, ‘What happens to me when I read my goal statement?’ Do you get
tears in your eyes? Does your heartbeat increase? Do you start breathing faster?
Remember, what can’t make you cry, can’t make you work. Your goal should be so
clear and so dear to you that you should taste it in your mouth, you should breathe
its fragrance, you should hear its call, you should dream its fulfillment and
you should consider anything at all that you do to achieve it, a privilege and
honor. Forget, delete, remove and eliminate the word ‘sacrifice’ from your
vocabulary. There is no such thing. Sacrifice is what happens when the chicken
dies for you to have Tandoori Chicken. Everything else has a return. The
clearer the return on your investment is to you, the happier you will be,
making that investment. So, replace sacrifice with investment. And then invest
in yourself. Invest in your goal.
Focus also means making choices, sometimes very painfully.
When I started my training and consulting business in Bangalore in 1994, there
were two major choices before me. I could be in training and/or recruitment
(called rather appropriately, head-hunting). I could have been in both. Many
people advised me to do that, because recruitment was highly lucrative. But I
chose not to be in both. I chose training and in that, I chose leadership development.
The result was that I was seen as a highly trusted
‘friend’ and not a potential head-hunter. And I earned a name as an expert in
Leadership Development Training. So, whereas all recruitment consultants had a tough
time meeting CEOs and decision makers, I was invited to meet them, often to be
consulted on matters of their personal development. I became a defacto coach to
many promoters and CEOs for which I never charged a fee, but which paid off in
many other ways. More than anything else and most valuable was the fact that I was
seen as their mentor and got an insider’s view on entrepreneurial dilemmas and decision
making. Decades later that resulted in my books, ‘The Business of Family Business’ and ‘An Entrepreneur’s Diary’. This happened because I announced
openly that I was not in recruitment and even on the rare occasion that I
recommended a friend to another friend in another company, I never charged a
fee, which they would otherwise have paid to a recruitment consultant. That is
how I got a reputation that I was trustworthy and whereas head-hunters wouldn’t
be allowed past the reception area, I had total access to anyone I wanted.
Another thing that helped me to build a reputation
of trustworthiness was my commitment to integrity. For one thing I never used
copyrighted material without license. This was and continues to be a major problem
in India where people simply photocopy and use psychometric and other
instruments to avoid paying for them. Since they do it internally in their organizations
and with the collusion of whichever consultant is working for them, they get
away. I refused to do this, ever. One serious test of my commitment was when in
my early days, when I was struggling for business and needed the money, the HR
head of a major IT company invited me to design and conduct a leadership
training program for a very large number of their junior and middle managers. This
course included administering the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to the
participants and helping them see how their preference affected their behavior
at work and elsewhere. GE had sent me for this certification to Otto Kroeger Associates,
in Fairfax, VA in 1995 and I was, at that time one of the very few Indian consultants
with this certification. The publishers of the instrument would sell the instrument
only to a registered analyst and so any client who wanted to use the instrument
had to go through a certified analyst. I was delighted as this job meant that I
would get some sorely needed cash as well as the fact that this assignment with
this major IT company would add value to my CV. I created the design and submitted
it to the Training Manager. She was very happy to see it. We had a very
positive discussion and the training dates were finalized. I was very poor and
hungry at the time. I desperately needed this business and was delighted and
most thankful that I had landed this contract.
Then two days before the course was due to be run,
she called me and said, ‘Yawar, could you please come and meet us?’ I agreed but
asked if there was any problem. This kind of call, so close to the training
program date usually means that there is some hitch. She said to me, ‘No,
nothing. Just a small matter which I hope we can sort out. It means no loss to
you and a saving for us.’ That sounded good and fair enough. So, I went to her
office the next morning. She said to me, ‘You know, this MBTI, if we buy the
instrument legally, it is very costly. So, why don’t you photocopy and use it
instead. It will save us money and you will not lose anything.’ I was shocked
more so because this company used to make a lot of noise about how committed to
integrity and honesty they were. But here was their Head of Training telling me
to cheat. She took my silence to be acquiescence and said, ‘Well, I am glad
that is settled. We can go ahead with the training. I will have all the
material photocopied and ready.’
I said to her, ‘I am sorry, the matter is not
settled. I don’t photocopy copyrighted material.’ She said, ‘This is a big
assignment for you, no? If you don’t do this, you will lose this business and
perhaps never work with us again. In any case everyone does it here. I don’t
know why you are making such an issue of it.’
I said, ‘Everyone is not my teacher. My integrity
is not for sale. I don’t steal. Photocopying copyrighted material is stealing.
Whether I get the business or not is immaterial. If I can’t do business
honestly, I prefer not to do business.’
‘Is that your final answer?’
‘Yes’, I said. ‘That is my final answer.’
She said, ‘I am sorry, then we can’t work with
you.’ And I went home, having lost one of the biggest assignments that I had
had at the time. But very happy about it.
Several decades later, the head of training of another
company told me, ‘I was talking to Mr. Ojha, who is the head of the company
that sells the MBTI instrument in India and mentioned to him that you are doing
it for us. I asked him if he needed your license number, which they normally ask
for before selling the instrument. He said to me, ‘Yawar Baig is a brand. We
don’t need anything if he is doing this for you. We know him and we know the
stand he takes on respecting copyright.’ That for me was a ‘payment beyond
price’. The price I paid for it all those years ago was a pittance compared
with the value of this unsolicited feedback from a client. All the result of focus.
In this case, the focus on what and even more on how. Believe me, dishonesty is
its own curse and punishment. Integrity is an absolute value. There are no
shades of it. You either have it or you don’t and if you don’t then nothing
else can compensate for it. Just as if you do, it adds brand value and inspires
client respect and loyalty.
No. 3: Quality
The last thing but by no means the least, is quality.
Doing something well, once can be an accident. A fortunate one but still an
accident. To do it well over and over is the meaning of quality. Expertise is
repeatability. That happens with thoughtful practice. Not just practice. But thoughtful
practice. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Thoughtful practice
makes perfect. Think about what you are doing. Ask yourself why you are doing
it. Ask if there is a better way to do it. Don’t change the goal. That is the Core.
Unchangeable. Everything else is changeable and can and should be changed in order
to achieve the goal. Nothing must come in the way of achieving the goal. Not
tradition, not habit, not convenience, not expense, or trouble, or backbreaking
effort. Everything that is necessary to do to achieve the goal must be done. That
will happen only if you question why you are doing what you are doing and do it
thoughtfully. Not mechanically as a matter of habit. But consciously, thoughtfully
and deliberately. Not once, but over and over again.
There is an associated virtue with focus and quality
and that is discipline. Discipline is to do what needs to be done. Not only
what you like to do. Everyone must suffer two kinds of pain. The pain of
discipline or the pain of regret. It is our choice. When I started my
consulting practice in Bangalore in 1994, I realized that I was getting fat
thanks to my mostly sedentary work. I had left ten years in tea planting where
I walked at least ten to twelve kilometers every day. There was no chance of
doing that in Bangalore. So, I joined a gym. This was at a time when sometimes
I didn’t have money to pay my house rent until two days before the rent was due.
I had no savings, no extra cash. Yet I decided that physical fitness was important
enough to invest in the gym fee. Then came the other problem, time. On most
days, by the time I finished work, it would be past 6 pm. And by the time I got
home it would be dinner time. I changed dinner time. I said to myself that I would
eat dinner only after I finished my session in the gym. There were days when I
ate dinner at 11 pm, because that is when my gym session finished. But the
result was that I remained fit and had the energy to do my work very
satisfactorily. As I said, nothing is free. We are free to choose, but every
choice has a price.
I was very fortunate to be involved from its
inception, with GE’s 6 Sigma Quality effort which Jack Welch started in 1994. I
know that much water has flowed under the bridge and 6 Sigma is no longer the
buzzword in GE or elsewhere. But I am not selling 6 Sigma here. What I want to
share with you is what that taught me about quality. I learned that there are
two critical things that are intrinsic to any quality initiative. Measurement
and documentation. Without these two you can’t have quality. It is that simple.
In my business I defined my quality standard as
delivering on three parameters:
To be true to ourselves and serve our clients with
total uncompromising integrity, in all respects.
To constantly seek increase in our knowledge and
share it with all our constituents in the belief that knowledge increases with
To hold ourselves to the value that a client must
be responded to within 24 hours. (My internal measure for that was 8 hours, not
I have never regretted this. What this resulted in
was systematic measured professional development for myself, which I invested
time and money in, every year. I augmented that with writing a professional
journal which eventually yielded books on various topics. As on date, I have written
thirty-nine books (of which three are audio books) on a wide variety of topics,
which reflect my own varied interests in life. I believe I am among a very
small brotherhood of professionals who have written so many books on so many different
subjects. I have two podcasts which have a global footprint with downloads in
almost every country in the world except Greenland. This is the result of
As for measurement, as I mentioned I schedule a training
course or certification or some learning experience for myself, every year.
This involves expenditure of time, money and effort but one result of this is
that on the rare occasion when anyone says to me, ‘Your fee is more than that
of others. Can you reduce your fee?’ I say to them, ‘Here is what my personal
development log looks like over the past five years. Why don’t you look at the
log of whoever you are comparing me with?’ I never reduced my fee and I never
lost a client. People are willing to pay if you can show them value. But you
can’t show value if you don’t measure it and document the results.
The final point is the importance of speed of
response. Speed is a competitive advantage and I have always been conscious of
it and responded to clients, friends, associates, everyone, usually faster than
anyone else. I never ever needed reminders. I never fail to return a call. I am
never ever late for an appointment. These may seem like small things. But so is
taking a breath. Try doing without it.
To sum up, Passion, Focus and Quality. And in Quality,
Measurement and Documentation. These are the secrets of success. This is my
legacy to you. May you be blessed in it as I am.