My thoughts and experiences about the nuances and hazards of dealing with money

Of all the factors that has divided and fragmented society, money has risen to top that list. Now money is not the same as wealth. It is commonly said that someone is wealthy and prosperous. Wealthy denotes someone who possesses wealth but there is no similar word to someone who possesses money. It is never mentioned as rich and prosperous and there is a reason to it. Wealth adds value to our lives in many different forms and that is how we become prosperous. Money only helps us to buy things and every one of those things are perishable. This is why money does not add value to our lives which in turn never makes our lives prosperous.

Back in 2008 when it was supposedly my “peak age” for marriage, my parents wanted me to buy an apartment in Bangalore where I was working at that time. I was aghast. There was no point in buying an apartment under the assumption that my marriage was going to happen. Then there was the demon of the housing loan to reckon with. I am bemused by how people queue up to take housing loans to buy apartments and houses, especially in burgeoning cities like Bangalore and in exhausted cities like Mumbai. Now let’s say I take up a housing loan for 20 years. I am effectively committing myself to paying back the EMIs every month without a break for 20 years. And how can I be so sure that I am going to be alive and healthy for the next 20 years? The funny part is, people look to reducing the monthly EMI amount by extending loan repayment period. Banks are all the more happy because they know they will end up getting back more money. The sinister thought behind it is, the longer the repayment period, the less likely it is of a proper full repayment which means when borrowers default, banks can easily take over the properties. The ideal way of repayment is to pay almost double of monthly EMIs and close the loan as quickly as possible. The advantage here is, even if we default on payments for a few months, banks will not proceed with any sort of action. But the catch here is, if we try to close off a loan faster, we have to pay some extra money as penalty on foreclosure. This is the best indicator that banks are more interested in what the borrowers have given as security to the bank than the money they have lent.

In cities, parking space for cars are available only in apartment buildings. This means to own a car, we need an apartment that costs may be 5-10 times or even more that of the car. This is how money lures us in into it’s honey trap. The education system trains us to become employees in the corporate world. Then everything that is associated with money takes over our lives. Then social status comes into the picture and social status rises when we start “owning” things. This perception pushes our needs to ridiculously high levels. Own a house, own a car, the list goes on and we embark on our Sindbad journey in the pursuit of more and more money, with little realization that we are being turned into money churning machines. We are simply working hard and enslaving ourselves to the banks to hold on to the things we have bought with money. Add to this the fact that everything we have bought is perishable and may need to be replaced anytime means even more money required.

Money never makes us prosperous because it does not allow us to add value to our lives and without adding value to our own lives, we cannot add value to other’s lives. How Antilla, the mansion of India’s business tycoon Anil Ambani stands out in the extremely crowded and tough living conditions of Mumbai is the shining example. Prosperity reflects on us only when our surroundings are also prosperous. Money keeps us locked to the extent that we actually stop noticing the value of everything else in the world. I was deep in my search for employment in 2013 after completing my MBA when my dad went down with a cardiac arrest. Because he is physically very strong, the experience did not shake him even though he had reached the brink of death. But taking the advice of reducing salt intake too seriously, he literally stopped taking salt. After a few days I noticed strange changes in his mannerism and behavior. On a Sunday evening I insisted and dragged the doctor into the hospital for dad’s check up and that was when we found out that his sodium level was fast declining and he would have had possibly gone into a coma in the next couple of days.

Now what if I had been employed at that time? First of all I would have had been working in a city away from my parents. My mom would have had never noticed the changes I saw in dad. He would have had most likely ended up in coma and I would have had spent almost all the money I was earning on his treatment and my travel. It was a massive learning curve. My keen sense and better understanding of human anatomy made sure I did not have to spend money when I was not earning. If there is a way to earn money there will always be ways to spend the money as well. We can never hold on to money. In a place like India with ever rising inflation and decreasing value of money, the concept of “owning” a house, having a “decent” bank balance and living a “retired” life has taken the biggest hit. We have evolved into a situation similar to that of animals and birds in the wild. They have to seek out their food each and every day regardless of all difficult situations or they will die. If they stop trying they will die. We have also reached that critical state where we have to find ways to earn money till we die. Ironically, as per the Bible, when the “Gods” created us, we were created as beings that were meant to lord over the animals and not live like them.

Now here is what I have learnt through these experiences. First of all, we need to find our balance with nature again. No living being has the ability to destroy nature for it’s own needs except us. We cannot cut the same branch of the tree we are sitting on. The branch will take us on it’s way down. More money is alarmingly proportionate to more destruction of nature now. Bangalore’s geography is dotted with numerous lakes. Almost all the small lakes have been covered up for construction and many of the bigger lakes are being openly used to drain human waste. Then people keep complaining about lack of drinking water. Why? Bangalore has been taken over by the migrant community from all over India who come in search of jobs in the IT industry. Now these people are in Bangalore to make a living and have no time to understand and solve environmental issues of the city. The result is, as per reports, Bangalore is set to become the first unlivable city in India very soon. When we make nature unstable for our needs, nature will take course corrective action to bring back it’s stability and the consequences can be disastrous as we found out with the recent floods in Kerala. More people move into cities like Bangalore every year, creating more need for living spaces and water further depleting the city’s already stretched and dwindling natural resources. We have to stop our war with nature because we can never win it and will only lead to our own destruction.

It is funny how so much is spoken about finding work-life balance without any proper understanding of it. We wake up in the morning at a particular time so that we can finish n number of chores and activities and leave for work at a particular time so that we can reach our work place at a particular time. In the night, we sleep at a particular time so that we can wake up at a particular time next morning. So essentially when we become corporate employees, the corporate takes possession of our lives and time. Our entire 24 hours gets sucked up into our jobs and we get paid only for 8 hours. The balance we need to find is not in work and life but in our need for money. If we learn to find contentment in what we have and look at our needs sensibly, our need for money will decrease considerably. This, in turn, will free our time and energy and help us to focus on creating value in our lives. IT industry in India is notorious for the fact that as employees gain more experience their value decreases. Plenty of IT professionals have become stagnant in their jobs or have lost jobs and are not able to find employment again because they simply do not know anything else to do and did not consider learning and mastering new skills.

It no longer makes sense to “own” anything. This has given rise to business opportunities like renting cars, bikes and even household items. The amount we spend on renting a house or apartment will invariably match up to the amount we spend on maintaining our own. Back in 2008, a colleague in the Netherlands was refusing to own a car because of traffic and parking space issues. Our population has only increased in 10 years. From owning a house the challenge has shifted to living in a decent neighborhood with the availability of drinking water and proximity to essential outlets and services. But paramount now is to not get stuck in a single source of income. Develop skills that would open up potential opportunities for several streams of money. Chasing money should be just like how our body reduces fat when we start working out. Our body instinctively knows how much fat we need based on our daily requirements and burns only what it understands is excess fat. Similarly, if we have a fine understanding of how to simplify our life, we will automatically seek only the money we need to live that life.

I never chase money because money destroys human values and relationships and maroons us in our own little islands. Money clouds our judgement and makes us take wrong decisions. I make sure not to judge anyone in terms of money. It only takes an hour of madness in the stock market for a millionaire to become a pauper. Not having to focus on the money I was earning was what helped me focus on my dad and save him. I seek skill development, self improvement and building good relationships with people. Money, wealth, prosperity, everything will come but there is one question that always keeps bothering me. When all of it comes, will I be ready to use it in the best possible ways? This is what keeps me on my toes and always alert to every potential opportunity. Understanding the nuances of money and it’s potential hazards is the only way to not get enslaved to it.

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The Deluge In Kerala And Nature’s Not So Gentle Reminders To Us

It is looking like the wrath of the Gods is upon their own country. Kerala is in a deluge of Bibilical proportions. The ongoing rains and the ensuing floods are being compared with the Great Flood of the Bible. I am marooned in the city of Thrissur with no option to travel anywhere. The highways towards the south of Kerala are all flooded. Towards the north where roads have been built through the Western Ghats, mud slides are happening in addition to the accumulating water. Roads are shut, railways lines are inundated with water and airport runways are flooded. For me this is not a natural but a manmade disaster.

One of the most critical parameters of measuring and classifying ancient cities as developed and advanced are it’s irrigation and drainage systems. The question is how efficiently did they bring water into the cities from water bodies and how did they manage to take the water out from the cities. All great civilizations of the past were located in the vicinity of the biggest rivers. If we take the same parameters and apply them to our cities  and towns then we would realize how woeful their conditions are.

None of India’s big cities are planned, rather most of the cities and towns in India are unplanned ones. They got expanded based on the burgeoning population. Now, earth can be divided into hard grounds and low lying areas. Low lying areas are preferred for cultivation because of the ability of those lands to hold on to water. Hard grounds are preferred for construction. As population grows, so does the need for land grows. We inadvertently started taking up the low lying lands for construction. Low lying lands have been getting inundated with water for centuries or thousands of years so doing construction on them is plain madness even if mud is put on top of them and flattened out before doing the construction.

What is happening with the flood in Kerala is very simple. There are two reasons for the flooding. If we look at the flood affected areas being broadcast on TV channels, water bodies, primarily rivers have overflowed. River water is flowing water and it is looking to continue it’s momentum of flowing. But what it encounters on the way is our towns and cities. There is nowhere for water to go so it gets stuck. The bigger reason is with the dams. Yesterday news channels were reporting that Sholayar dam in Tamil Nadu became full so they opened it’s gates which in turn flooded the Mullaperiyar dam and opening it has caused the floods to worsen. Every time environmental activists make a hue and cry when governments comes out with a proposal for a dam, this is what they are trying to highlight. What comes out of the dams are massive quantities of held up water and this is very different from normal flooding caused by rivers.

So where will all this water go? There are three ways. Flow out which is not an option anymore because it does not have anywhere to flow which is why it is stuck. Then it has to go up or down. Up means sun has to evaporate the water. But this is monsoon season so there is not much help that can be expected from the sun because the monsoon clouds are hanging over it. The other way is down, into the earth. But we have replaced earth with tar and concrete both of which cannot absorb water. Water will try to flow to the low lying areas as it is used to but we have occupied those places as well with our construction so flooding is inevitable. The same has been happening in Mumbai every year. The same happened during the flood in Chennai. After 3 years of weak monsoon season in Bangalore, in 2004, it rained one day and I was caught right in the middle of it. The rain and wind were ferocious and in about 2 hours of rain entire areas were flooded. There was nowhere for water to go. Add to it the incompetency of the corporation and drainage were not cleaned and the rains had actually punctured holes on the roads. During the flood in Chennai, my friend was telling me that water levels had risen to 7 ft and more at many places. Why is this happening? Simply because water has nowhere to go. The walls of the Kochi airport have been brought down to drain out the water accumulated on the runway. All of these are man made constructions done without considering and caring about nature which have consequently disturbed the flow of nature.

It would be ridiculous to blame nature and Gods for this disaster. I was taught in school that Kerala and Cherapunji are the places which gets the highest rainfall in India. Monsoon seasons in Kerala have traditionally been moderately to extremely heavy every year. The intensity has waxed and waned in the last decade or so. The process of water going up by evaporation and coming down later as rain plays one of the most critical roles in nurturing an ecosystem on our planet that is conducive for life forms to live and evolve. No other living being goes against the rules of nature, especially disturbing and destroying nature for it’s own needs. This is not nature’s wrath or God’s punishment, this is nature following it’s rules and we are paying for coming in it’s way.

Nature has no empathy or compassion towards the inhabitants on the planet. The rule is simple. Adhere to nature’s rules and ways or suffer. Nature has no sympathy for the lives that are being lost in natural calamities. Animals and birds have their senses fine tuned to nature so they know well in advance if a disaster is approaching. If floods are coming, they instinctively move towards higher grounds. We are totally out of tune with nature. We are not part of nature’s food chain which is why our population has grown so much. In the name of development with zero planning and understanding of nature we are on a collision course with nature.

Natural disasters for me are nature’s way of reminding us that though we have been able to become the most dominant species on the planet, we can never become dominant over nature. I hope we realize it before its too late that when nature cannot handle anymore of the destruction and imbalance we are causing to it’s ecosystem and existence it will go ahead and expunge us from it’s belly just like we vomit out what our stomach cannot handle.

Business – the realm of anticipation

The world of business was always a daunting place for me to go to because it was a cold and calculative realm in my mind. The business environment in my native city is dominated by the Christian community and for a very good reason. They are extremely strict and wise with checks and balances when it comes to money. Even if a shopkeeper’s parents go to their son’s shop to buy something, they pay and buy. So I being from the Hindu community grew up hearing that Christians who are into business have no empathy and compassion. When I grew up and understood the world of business, two things registered in my mind. 1) Empathy and compassion are the mortal enemies of business 2) Business is all about numbers so it is critical to be focused and calculated. Then I realized that most among the Hindu community in my city have none of these sharp business skills that’s why they have not flourished in business. This got further credence when someone I used to know started a business with family members and some good contacts and blew it up because no one could say no to the opinions and wishes of one another.

There is something about the world of business that truly fascinates me. How the world of business and nature are interconnected and how art plays a critical role in both. Business is all about money and money in turn is all about numbers. Numbers when depicted as such are drab and boring. They become beautiful and fascinating when a dash of art and colours are added to them. This is why the most critical aspect of any business meeting are the presentations and graphs. Those colourful representations of numbers stick to our minds better than anything else. I have thought for long about what would define a successful sales pitch. I had read somewhere about how corporate executives who cannot afford Armani suits buy Armani undergarments and wear them for business meetings. Wearing anything from Armani gives them that extra kick of confidence it seems. For me, a successful pitch is when the presenter is able to engage the audience with the product, data, numbers and the presentation and divert the attention of the audience from himself/herself. This is why I feel the door-to-door sellers are far more superior in their sales skills. With hardly anything to show about themselves, the only way they have to get a sale is to highlight their products and engage with the customers in the best possible ways. What is fascinating here is the amount of art that is involved here. Merely creating paintings does not make an artist successful. Making paintings that engage with people and are relevant to the world are what creates successful painters. Similarly, creating presentations and graphs is just one half of a successful pitch. Making the product, data and numbers comprehensible and relevant to the audience and the business is needed to complete the other half.

There is one word that is synonymous to both the business world and nature: anticipation. On the trail I go on my daily morning walk, among the many birds I come across there is a bird of prey called Shikra. They will usually be on one of the top branches of coconut trees and will be crying sometimes especially when they get chased by crows. For the past 2 years, I had been trying to click this bird in flight. Couple of days back I was on my way home when I heard the bird’s cries from behind me. I walked back and reached a point where on both sides of where I was standing were open grasslands and beyond that were houses and coconut trees. The cries were coming from my left side but the bird was not anywhere in sight. After looking around I was about to start walking when it suddenly struck me that the crows may be chasing it and it might just fly across to the other side. I prepared myself with my camera and sure enough the bird flew over me after about 5 minutes.

Just like understanding the behaviour of animals is critical for survival in the wild, understanding the behaviour and changing requirements of the market is vital for the survival of any business. Programs about the animal kingdom shown on National Geographic and Animal Planet gives fascinating insights. Lions hunt in packs and each lion has a specific role to play in the ambush. Before the start the pursuit of their prey and before they pounce on the prey they also have a checklist to tick for the hunt to be successful. They never chase their prey randomly. Even more precise is when birds dive down from their flight into water to catch fish. I have seen a kite lift a fish off the surface of water at the exact moment it came up to breathe. From the time the kite took flight, the whole event was so precise it was dumbfounding. I have realised that as my understanding of the nuances of nature gets better, so does my consulting, management and organization skills. No wonder ancient martial arts forms like Kung-Fu were developed by observing the moves of animals and birds.

So they say two factors determine if we are successful. 1) Being at the right place at the right time and 2) Success is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. Correlate these two and for me 99% perspiration is for putting oneself at the right place at the right time. Space and time have to align and come together. The 1% inspiration materializes only when we put ourselves at the right place at the right time. This is how I was able to finally shoot that bird in flight. No animal or bird ever gets lucky with a hunt or a catch. There are no free lunches in nature. Similarly I believe no one becomes successful especially in business or in the corporate world by mere luck or by chance. Success in business is based purely on the ability to either see through an opportunity or foresee an opportunity in advance, prepare and then grab it with both hands. This is what is anticipation, the ability to study actions and behavior and predict the next moves in the future. Business is all about peering into and predicting the future. This is why my passion for wildlife photography has increased exponentially because to shoot animals and birds in action I need to anticipate their next moves with perfect accuracy.

Our star shines in the nether world now

We lost this girl 4 days back.

 

 

 

Exactly 11 years back, we brought Judy home along with Tommy.

 

 

 

 

 

Prostrate cancer took Tommy away from us 5 years back. Both were apples of my mom’s eyes and they were vying for her attention all the time. Mom was devastated after Tommy left but Judy’s presence kept her afloat. It’s kind of weird, but everyone in my family has a mind of his/her own and we never agree on most of the things. My granny was like a radio, there was no point trying to tell or convince her about anything. What is astonishing is, every pet we have had, be it dogs, cats and even a cuckoo bird, all of them imbibed this personality automatically.

Tommy and Judy used to know each and every activity inside the house, especially what mom does. They used to disappear the moment they understood that mom was getting medicines ready for them. They would try to keep their heads away from her sight as much as they can. If they had a chance to bury their heads in the ground they would have. Both of them used to sleep as close to mom as they could at night and Judy used to do periodic patrolling inside the house and around mom to make sure nothing were there to disturb her sleep. There is a reason why dogs get attached to us so much. Tommy and Judy were taken away from their mothers when their mothers were still nursing them. They came home and mom started feeding them so mom became mother to them. There is no love bigger and more envious than the love between a mother and her child. Even in his death bed and in his last moments, he was constantly looking at mom. Ditto with Judy as well. We made sure we were around her all the time so that she wouldn’t miss her family in her last hours.

Love in the animal world is straight and simple. Feed them and take care of them and they will give their complete loyalty in return. Their love is unconditional unlike in the human world. What pets do in our lives is something unique and special. They fill up spaces in our lives left behind by other human beings. Parents, siblings, family members, friends; pets make sure that we do not miss them. How do they do this? By constantly seeking our attention. They know when we are sad and need to be left alone and when we should not be alone. We believe animals are less intelligent than us. Most of our knowledge is built from our education system and what we experience in our society which has been created on the concept of wealth. The knowledge that animals possess is rooted in nature which is why they understand love, empathy and compassion much more than us.

Why does death hurt every living being? It’s just not us; every animal displays remorse at the passing of their loved ones. There are two things that happen when a beloved one passes away. We can no longer communicate with that person and most importantly we can never see each other again. This is what hits us first, especially after the funeral. Before this sinks in, we start missing that person and what hurts the most are the little things. Judy used to constantly move around inside the house and keep shifting her resting places. Her footfalls could be heard most of the time. Now there is a certain deathly silence.

What we need to understand is that our comprehension abilities are limited through our 5 senses. We were created with the knowledge that if we understood the entire process and cycle of life and death, we would become reckless beings and would never respect the rules of the Universe. If I knew when and how I was going to die and what would happen to me after death, I would live my life out without care rather than respect the time I have and everything life has given to me. This is why the entire system of life and death has been restricted to us. But as we approach death, that world opens out to us; especially in cases where people have lived out their lives and are dying of old age. My grandpa had a big wide smile on his face as he took his last breath. Death is release from the agony and miseries of our physical existence. Our souls are chained to our bodies just like we put birds and animals in cages. This is why I despise seeing any animal in chains or inside cages because their sufferings are doubly ignominious.

My dad reminisces about all the pets he has had from his childhood and keeps wondering where they are now. Of all the 7 billion people in the world, why do we know only the people we know? Out of them, very few become our best friends and soul mates. Why did we pick Tommy and Judy out of all the big bunch of babies that were there? It is impossible to believe and accept that all of this is random selection. There has to be some sort of connection that brings two people or a person and an animal together. When I look back at all the friends I have made, none of them seem to be random connections. It just happened with each one of them without any explanations. I thought about one of them yesterday and lo and behold, I see his call on my mobile in the evening. I keep telling dad that his beloved pets are just no longer in the physical form; they are in the form of energy and are everywhere. Our beloved ones become our guardian angels when they go to the spirit world and in the spirit form they will have a lot more influence in protecting us. We will not see them in the same form again. They discarded it when they left. But they will always be with us. I don’t miss any of my beloved ones because I have realized that there is no going away. We are eternally connected through space and time and once we realize and accept this, the boundary between life and death will vanish from our minds. We need to actually look forward to the end of our physical existence so that we could be with our beloved ones again.

Judy, my girl, be at peace wherever you are. We buried your body but your memories will be with us till we go to our own graves. Till we meet again in the spirit world…..

Nature’s insights for the millennium life

There is a very good reason why we are causing mayhem in the world. We no longer feel the need to fit into the realm of nature. Two things are happening as we continue to evolve away from nature. We are no longer understanding and learning from nature and we are losing our survival instincts. The problem with this is, we are still part of nature’s ecosystem and though we have built our own Matrix, our roots are still buried in nature. What we are not realizing is that if interpreted correctly, there are reasons and solutions in nature for everything we experience in our modern urban lives.

Consider this. Traditional martial art forms such as Kung-Fu evolved from the observation of movements of animals such as snakes, monkeys, tigers and cranes. But as our society evolved past the Renaissance we stopped observing and learning from nature. Aren’t we bored and tired of our monotonous 5 day weeks in the corporate world? Then head out to a lake or a water body where there are Cormorants, Darters or Terns and observe them fishing. 50-75% of the times they dive into the water, they come up with nothing. When they do catch a fish, half the time the fish slips out and escapes. How many times do they need to keep repeating the dives to find enough food to satiate their hunger each and every day? There are no weekends in nature. What if they thought this is boring and monotonous? What if they said we had enough and we are not doing this anymore? They would perish in hunger, as simple as that. And people complain about not getting jobs and talk about retirement. There is no complaining and retirement in nature. Just one rule exists out there: Try till you die and die when you quit.

There is something very fascinating in nature we don’t reflect upon. Why is it so difficult to spot animals in the wild? It is because of the prey-predator relationship. A successful catch of a prey depends on who sees or senses who first. What we see as beauty in nature is actually camouflage, to hide or distract, be it from the prey or the predators. Everything in nature is trying to hide itself from one another all the time. Lions are colour blind to the stripes of zebras so when zebras run together, lions do not get any visual sense of what is happening before them. But they still hunt down zebras. How? Because they have heightened levels of their other senses. What does this come down to? Nature always pushes the boundaries of every being in her ecosystem. Nothing comes easy. Every being has to be at the top of it’s game all the time to stay alive and procreate for it’s species to survive. The primordial force of nature keeps pushing the limits of everything within it and this is what propels evolution; every animal tries to evolve continuously to be a dominant species in nature.

How does all of this translate into our lives? For wildlife photographers they have to stay ahead of all these hide and seek games in nature to get great pictures. There are 3 aspects to getting great wildlife photographs: spotting the subject, anticipation and hand-eye coordination. Take this to Agile methodology, the management practice that has taken over almost all industries. Whenever I hear or think about Agile, what comes first to my mind is the image of a tiger. Agile methodology is not just about doing things faster. Why is Agile predominantly a product based methodology? Because it is essentially about spotting those little opportunities in the market, anticipating which way market conditions could swing, what customers might need and getting the products out into the market accordingly. This is exactly how tigers or any predators hunt in the wild. Be it in nature’s jungle or concrete jungle, success has the same underlying roots. The change management principle of focusing on small wins, consolidating them and targeting bigger goals is a lesson that comes right from nature.

What has changed about us is that we evolved into beings of a complex cooperative society and what has got affected the most because of this transformation is our surviving skills. A support system gets built around every individual from where we get help whenever we are in need. The size of the support system depends on our needs and what we can give to the society. Social media networks are all examples of such systems. This highly interconnected way of living reduces our need for surviving skills and this I believe has been the biggest liability of becoming intelligent beings. Our needs have grown exponentially which in turn has raised the bar of our desires. With our waning surviving skills, when life becomes difficult, we become frustrated and start feeling helpless, turn to Gods and eventually to superstition. No other being in nature believes in getting help from a higher power to succeed. Every animal believes in it’s own skills and abilities to survive. This is why in highly competitive market conditions, mere skills and abilities do not take us far; it is our contacts in the favours based society that help us to get ahead.

But there is an anomaly here. Less surviving skills should ideally make us less competitive but the reverse is happening. Urban life has become a mighty arena for wealth based competition. We are vying to buy bigger and more expensive houses, cars, gadgets and an infinite number of assortments. This is an endless pit and once we fall into it, we spend our entire lives chasing more wealth to keep buying newer and supposedly better things. Think iPhone and all it’s die hard fans who literally live in queues for days outside Apple’s stores to buy new versions. Our status quo in society built around wealth mandates that we keep chasing wealth all the time. Business is thriving with marketing strategies fine tuned to exploit this wealth based competition to the hilt. But wealth is a commodity and acquiring wealth is not a skill; it is all about exploiting the needs of our fellow beings. A great example is the real estate industry. Buy land for lower cost and sell for higher price based on demand. All business models are built around understanding and exploiting people’s needs, going to the extent of creating new needs if they do not exist, something which Apple epitomizes. Is there anything in our society that keeps egging us on to become better human beings? Nothing. This means we are not evolving and we have stagnated. Technology has only made us dependent on it and has not helped us become better beings.

Nature develops 3 critical aspects in every being for survival: Patience, Perseverance and Resilience.  Nature teaches us to keep scouting for every opportunity, keep doing the same things relentlessly till we succeed and to keep moving ahead in the face of every adversity. Nature teaches us to appreciate every moment of our lives. We take time for granted, ours as well as that of everyone else’s. In nature, a lapse in moment is what stands between life and death. Nature sharpens our skills and abilities continuously and keeps us ready to face the next challenges. We need all of these, even to live in the bubble we have created for ourselves. But we have made ourselves lethargic enough to choose the easy way out every time. No schools or universities can teach us nature’s lessons. In the extremely competitive world we live in, we need our fundamentals firmly in place. Only the eternal Mother can make us evolve into better beings.

 

Life hacks to deal with urban stress

I had a very interesting train ride recently. Travelling is boring if we are into reading, listening to music or watching movies during the journey. What makes travel interesting, especially by public transport is the diversity of people who are part of the journey. We can engage in conversations with people and experience their experiences and we can also do non-verbal understanding of people by picking up cues from their behavior.

So there was this girl sitting diagonally opposite to me and she was sitting beside an elderly couple so my initial impression was that she was travelling with them. But that changed quickly when I realized that she was never part of their conversation. They both seemed free spirited and were chatting on animatedly, but this girl was keeping herself away from all of it. She looked very young and it looked odd because young people especially girls get into conversations quickly with such elderly people. When they tried to strike up a conversation with her, she spoke a bit, then took out a book to read and eventually went off to sleep. Years of observing and understanding cues from people told me that something about her was not right. Even the way she was sleeping didn’t feel right. After she woke up, I started talking to the elderly couple and slowly dragged her into the conversation. After they left, I continued the conversation with her. That’s when it all came out.

She is employed in a multinational company and was going on a short vacation to her parents’ home. A bit more soul searching and it turned out that she was stressed from work and was running away. To add to this, she is 23 years old. I was astounded. Stressed at 23? That is an age when we adapt to life in a jiffy even it is on a remote island. We don’t even know what stress is at that age. That’s when I realized there is something different about her. She realized that she is stressed and she decided to do something about it. 99% of people at her age wouldn’t have managed to do both. I have been through all of this and I am well aware of what was bothering her. She is not stressed from work, she is stressed from urban life.

They say to become successful, if you can do something, do it yesterday. This is how the corporate world works and is reflected in every aspect of urban life. In the morning, everyone wants to reach office faster and in the evening, everyone wants to reach home faster. Even travelling by public transport is stressful because everyone in the bus or train is stressed about reaching faster and the effect spreads to everyone. Then there is stress from work, stress about household chores, taking care of kids, the list is endless. Cities have become huge stress engines. Then there is something else going on that we are conveniently choosing to ignore.

Normal working time is 9 hours which can extend to 10 or sometimes longer. What people don’t do is to add their travel time to working hours. The travel time is for going to their work place and back so that time has to be added to their working hours. From the time we wake up in the morning, everything we do is oriented in such way so as to make sure that we start travelling to office at a particular time to reach office when our work time starts. We even wake up at a particular time to accomplish this. Our goal from the time we wake up is to reach office. After we finish work, we get back home, get our household chores done and go to sleep at a particular time, with the objective of waking up in the morning to reach office on time the next day. So what is our agenda for the week? Reach Office. Week after week, month after month, year after year, Reach Office is our agenda for 5 days a week. When life becomes this monotonous and when the stress of life in the city gets to us, who wouldn’t burn out after sometime? People who force themselves to carry this for longer duration are the ones who end up with diseases, especially cardiovascular ones.

The question is, how do we pull ourselves out of this hole that too when the Reach Office agenda is upon us relentlessly? Our focus has been oriented towards the Reach Office agenda through years of following its schedule. Tamper with it. Form a habit of doing some activity we look forward to doing in the morning or evening, before or after office. Going into nature is the best way to beat stress but in the urban world, there is not much nature left to savor. In physical activities, dance is the best or a good game of badminton or table tennis. Dancing releases our good hormones which keeps us happy and confident throughout the day. Nature walk and bird photography is a great way to increase patience and focus which can help us significantly in our professional life. Such activities also help us to reduce stress. Now we have another agenda to focus on so the intensity of focus on the Reach Office agenda gets reduced and that in itself contributes to decrease in stress.

Another idea to reduce stress from this mundane urban life is to go on trips away from the bustle of the cities. But there is a little twist here. Do the planning in the preceding weekend for the trip in the next weekend. Now there is something exciting to look forward to and this excitement would drown out the stress of working and travelling in the city for the entire week. We will be on a countdown and with each passing day we will be preparing for the trip. Our mind is now not focused on the Reach Office agenda but it keeps on working because it has become a mechanical aspect of our lives.

The most important thing to remember here is to not run without a plan. We can only run for so long and so far before we have to return to our regular lives. Running away without doing anything and returning will make life even more arduous and painful and the stress will accumulate even more. So run with a plan. Do whatever your heart desires, expend all the pent up energy, go to the mountains and rivers, the blue and the green colors. They can absorb our negative energies and replenish us with fresh energy.

The worst thing happening to us now is that the urban life we are leading is limiting us from exploring ourselves and pushing our boundaries. Our daily lifecycle is being controlled by money based on time. Long hours in the office chairs exhaust our minds which is slowly culling our other abilities. We are falling sick because we are not listening to voices from within us and we are not giving the rejuvenation our mind and body is desperately asking for. Finally what we need to realize is that we are all going through phases of life. This corporate phase will run its course with time, so will the time to raise our children which runs in parallel. If we exhaust ourselves in this phase of life and do not figure out our abilities and passions, we wouldn’t know what to do with our lives when this phase of life ends and we are out of work and our kids have left us. The older generation is already suffering this fate. Ours will be disenchantment to much higher levels.

There was a malayalam movie released 2 years back called Charlie. There are very interesting and important takeaways from the movie. The female protagonist in the movie called Tessa becomes disenchanted with work and urban life and quits both. When she returns to her ancestral home, she gets hounded for marriage and a life afterwards in the US. She bolts and that’s when she comes across the free spirited Charlie. He keeps delaying having a conversation with her and when his father asks him why he replies that it’s not yet time to meet her. The reason is he wants her to first understand what she is looking for in life and why she is interested in meeting him. Without clarity in our thoughts and actions, our lives become meaningless. I told the girl from the train that she is half Tessa now. Unless she understands herself and stop the urban life from bothering her, she will never find her Charlie. If she runs with a clouded mind, she may not even recognize her Charlie if she comes across him. Hopefully this will motivate her to find herself and figure out her life.

To be a veggie or not to be

First of all, I am not a vegetarian totalitarian. I am a part eggetarian, part because I eat eggs for their nutrients, but not every day. I am not a vegan; I love milkshakes, ice-creams and cheese. I am simply averse to meat of any form. When I was in the Netherlands, the first time I went out to get a veg burger, they gave me a chicken burger. Little did I know that kip (chicken in Dutch) is veg there and meat for them is red meat. Every time I am abroad and ask for a meal without meat, I get these ghostly stares, as if I have fallen down from an eerie planet. There is a little eatery right on the road opposite to the apartment building I used to stay in during my MBA in Shanghai. These eateries don’t keep any food menus; they have food illustrated as paintings on the walls. The people who run these eateries may not even know how to spell English, so knowing Mandarin is a must. Luckily, my roomie was smart enough to learn Mandarin before he came to Shanghai. The easy way I found to get food was to ask for what he used to ask for, but without the meat. This is not a write-up to exhort the virtues of being a vegetarian. I have come to realize through the years that choosing to be a vegetarian is causing harm in its own ways to the environment we live in.

I became a vegetarian by choice. I used to eat chicken, lamb and fish at home but I started finding it hideous by the time I was crossing my teens. I am an ardent nature and animal lover, but that’s just one part of the reason. I was never able to digest meat properly. Moreover, the cleanliness we follow at home when cooking meat is never followed in restaurants. Missing work because of bad stomach was the last thing I wanted to happen, so the easy way out was to quit eating meat completely. Moreover, eating meat never made any sense to me. I am made of muscle fiber; any other meat is also made of muscle fiber. So is it as good as eating me? In nature, there is an ecosystem and central to it is a food chain. The objective of the food chain is to ensure that the balance of the ecosystem is maintained by keeping the population of each animal in the ecosystem under control. That is why we have herbivores and carnivores. Basic high school biology. Carnivores exist to keep the population of herbivores under control. The ingenuity of creation lies in the fact that animals do have the sense to figure out what food suits best for them but they do not have taste buds. Meat especially has no taste, it’s just muscle fiber. We are able to eat meat because we cook meat in numerous ways to make it palatable. From cave dwellers to farmers to white collar employees, we have come a long way. A meat laden diet requires extreme physical activities to digest and burn out the fats consumed with the meat and the sedentary corporate life gives us little time away from work.

But choosing to be a vegetarian is fraught with its own dangers. We were also part of the food chain during the beginning of our evolution. Then we were endowed with intelligence, to communicate and most importantly to farm and harvest our own food. That is the point in time we exited nature’s food chain and simultaneously incited the conflict with the ecosystem. The meat that we consume now is from the animals that we grow. We no longer hunt down wild animals for meat like we used to before. We still fish from the seas, but now plenty of fish farms have also come up. What will happen if all of humanity decides to adopt vegetarianism one fine day? What will we do with all these animals? We cannot release them into the wild. Nature is not prepared to handle an intrusion into its balanced state at such a massive level. There are not enough carnivores to consume these animals and bring back the balance. The ecosystem would break down completely. We are stuck in an infinite loop now. We have to keep consuming the animals we are creating which is only triggering more demand for meat. The cow slaughter ban in India is only going to add an extra layer of complication to the situation. Bovine population will grow without checks and balances now and no one is talking about how to handle the increased population of cattle.

None of this means I have become enlightened enough to start consuming meat again. All beings on this planet, be it living or non-living, are made of atoms and atoms cannot consume atoms. We know from chemistry that molecules connect with each other using different forms of molecular bonds. In our world, everything is information so even the physical and emotional trauma an animal has to endure when it is slaughtered will be stored as information in it’s flesh.  It is a simple fact that any sort of trauma can trigger chemical reactions to take place in any living being’s body. I do not want those molecules from the animal’s flesh to bond with the molecules in my body which will end up transferring emotional trauma and bad information into my system. That’s one important type of negative energy I would keep myself away from. About the rest of the world, I hope commonsense will prevail someday.

I came across an award winning wildlife picture recently which was showing a deer being taken down by two tigers. The deer had given itself up to the tigers to save it’s young ones and the picture was taken at the precise moment the deer was taking one last look at its fawns with pride as the tigers were pouncing on it. That final emotion would have stayed as information in the flesh of the deer and could be the reason why the tigers may also end up with their own brutal death someday. It seems that final emotion on the face of the deer did end up disturbing the mental balance of the photographer. The hunting and being hunted and the emotions that run in the background could be the reason why animal world is so brutal. The extra intelligence given to us is to separate us from the animal world and to make us enlightened beings. It is just unfortunate that our animal instincts are not just alive and kicking, but we have become more brutal, towards our own kind itself.

Humanity’s wake up call

Yesterday night, I was having a casual chat with an MBA schoolmate when the conversation veered off into uncharted waters. She said she has a strong feeling that the world is going through or is on the verge of going through a phase of spiritual awakening. I have been going through one from time to time in my life but it has been very pronounced in the last 4 years, from the time I left my job to pursue MBA and my granny passed away. I have been reading a lot about spiritual awakening and how it can save humanity from further moral descent, but no one had told this to me in person. Question is, is spiritual awakening happening?

Every year, my MBA Alma mater throws challenges to teams from business schools all over the world to devise innovative solutions in order to address humanity’s most pressing needs around the world. People are getting opportunities to work on some amazing projects through this initiative. When I was doing my MBA, the challenge given was to solve the problems with the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative and make it a reality. As I watched teams come up with business strategies, I realized one thing. The objective is to solve humanity’s problems only. It seemed to me that humanity is being treated as a separate entity from everything else on our planet. Access to clean drinking water for humanity was one of the challenges in a previous year. Isn’t it the right of all living beings on our planet to have access to clean drinking water? The way I see it, as our awareness about humanity is increasing, the lesser we are thinking of the factors and entities that are harboring and nurturing us on this planet. Do we consider ourselves as part of the ecosystem of our planet? I do not really think so. We have been living on the lofty assumption that being the dominant species on the planet gives us the privilege to do as we please.

From the time of Renaissance, we have been tirelessly working on improving ourselves technologically and technology has indeed revolutionized our lives. Out of this came the need for strategies and innovations to manage both technology and business. What we need to look at is, for all this time, we have been focused completely on ourselves, we have been consistently overlooking our planet, destroying nature’s resources and ridiculously taking for granted that nature can tolerate our assault on her forever. It is high time we started remembering that we are born from nature and we will go back into nature some day. It is also high time to make sure everything we do including our business and technological advances are aligned with nature. How? Consider two recent developments. In Spain, algae are being made to create crude oil by artificially speeding up the process of creation of fossil fuel which usually takes millions of years. This is true innovation. And where have they set up their factories? Near cement factories, which emit high levels of carbon dioxide, the most essential component for fossil fuel creation along with sunlight. This is a genuine strategy. This example proves that innovation and strategy creation is possible by aligning ourselves with nature. Another one, a car that runs on salt water. The objective of both these innovations is to use available resources on our planet and cause zero or minimum negative impact on nature. We need to differentiate clearly between maximum utilization and depletion of available resources. Lack of this awareness is why we have used up all of our fossil fuel. Apple’s HealthKit app is another example. Though it is made exclusively for us, it allows us to understand the functioning of our body better and for me, which is one step taken in getting closer to nature.

So what is true spiritual awakening? Knowing ourselves better is just the starting point. Every living being on our planet has a reason or purpose for its existence and its own contribution for maintaining the balance of our ecosystem. Consider the story of Hanuman, the monkey king with extraordinary strength and abilities in the mythological Indian saga The Ramayana. It is said that Hanuman is the reincarnation of Lord Shiva and was born to help Lord Rama, the reincarnation of Lord Vishnu to defeat and annihilate the evil demons on earth. Hanuman is worshiped for many reasons, for being blessed to have an eternal life on earth, for his mighty strength, his wisdom and his unwavering devotion towards his master which is being attributed to his perpetual bachelorhood. What we have sadly ignored is, it is said that he knew his purpose in life from a very early age. That may have been the single reason why he could stay a bachelor because knowing the single most important purpose of his life took precedence over everything else that came and went from his life. Maybe that was the reason why it is said he was given eternal life and made the guardian of our planet, because of his unwavering focus towards the task entrusted to him. I have been taking photographs of birds, butterflies and beetles around my home for a while now. I was thinking that these birds, butterflies and beetles will still be around in 5, 10 or 50 years from now. But are they going to be the same birds, butterflies and beetles that I am seeing today? Definitely not. They will all die and get replaced by similar ones. But from nature’s perspective, each organism has its own reason for its existence. When nature identifies each living being uniquely, why do we identify only fellow human beings uniquely? We mourn so deeply when one of our own dies, but do we realize that nature is mourning when we are mercilessly and rampantly destroying everything in nature for our needs? Is it enough to cut one tree and replace it by planting another tree? Maybe yes for us, but it has to be a definite no for nature. The tree that was cut had an objective for its existence and we cannot replace it by planting another tree. Can we kill a human child and give another child as replacement to the killed child’s mother? This attitude of taking everything for granted has strained our relationship with nature and everything in it, including our own fellow beings.

For a long time, we have been procreating, like the rest of the animal world, to maintain our population and become the dominant species on the planet. That objective is long over. What have we been doing from then? Differentiating ourselves based on religion, race, caste, gender and skin color and fighting for domination among us. What is the road ahead? One, understand the true objectives of our existence on our planet. Two, expand our procreation to other planets. We have unfortunately opted to take the second option. That is why so much money, resources and time are being utilized for Mars and deep space exploration. I have never believed that we became so intelligent by chance or by evolution. When I look at the mechanisms of the human body, I know it is perfection beyond our capabilities of creation. The fact that living beings from other planets have been visiting us for thousands of years is gaining ground rapidly. I also got to know that once US military fired artillery at approaching alien ships but had no effect on them. If they are so advanced than us, why don’t they simply conquer and rule us? Why are they only monitoring and studying us? It may not be simply because conquering us will create more bloodshed. It may be because we were created by far more superior beings, we were given this planet as our home and we were delegated the task of administering and maintaining our home. All we may need is an awakening, to see ourselves in the true light. But instead of understanding our home better, we are planning to journey to other planets to colonize them. But there is a catch. How will we create the environment for our survival on another planet if we do not know our own planet properly? What will we find on another planet if we cannot find a passenger plane that simply vanished without a trace on our planet?

Is there a true spiritual awakening in the air? Not yet. Will it ever happen? I sincerely hope so.