Shivananda (Shivoo) Koteshwar has over two decades of experience in the semiconductor industry in varying positions. He is currently with MediaTek as Director – Engineering, responsible for SOC implementation for wireless, home entertainment and networking products.
Shivoo is also an accomplished entrepreneur and angel investor in social networking, hospitality and agritech. Shivoo is the Founder Director of 4 Start-ups – Sparsha Learning, Your Philanthropy Story, Coastered Technologies and BelakooCoCreate.
Shivoo is a passionate teacher and a visiting faculty in leading colleges and schools in India. Shivoo serves as a Board of Studies member in Mount Carmel College, Indian Academy Degree College, BMS College of Engineering and Dr.MCET, Pollachi and served as an Advisory board member in MS Ramaiah School of Advanced Studies and Vyasa International School.
An alumnus of IIM, Bangalore, Shivoo has derived inspiration from real life stories all around him.
50 Shades of Life
52, G Street, Ulsoor,
Bangalore 560 008
Email : [email protected]
First Edition Published in December, 2016
Second Edition Published in January, 2017
Copyright © ShivanandaKoteshwar 2016
This book is a work of fiction and, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electrical, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
For binding mistakes or missing pages etc., the publishers’ liability is limited to replacement, subject to availability.
All disputes are subject to Bangalore Jurisdiction only.
Typeset, Printed and bound by Nithya Enterprises, #52, G Street, Ulsoor, Bangalore 560008
Photo credits :Sneha Narayan, Accomplished
Bharatanatyam dancer, Choreographer &
Carnatic Classical Vocalist
Bharata Muni enunciated the nine Rasas in the Nātyasāstra, an ancient work of dramatic theory. Each rasa, according to Nātyasāstra, has a presiding deity and a specific colour.
The nine rasas are:
(Source : Wikipedia)
All of us exhibit one of the “navarasas” in our everyday life. Once I started to recognize this, I started looking around for stories which highlights our expressions and experiences around simple things in life …
Recently, when I visited the Chennakesavaa temple in Somnathapura Temple near Mysore, I saw a strange animal carved in uniformly across the 13th century Hoysala Architecture temple. It was a beast with the body of a wild hog, the legs of a lion, the tail of the peacock and the trunk of an elephant. When I asked the guide what was the motif, he mentioned, its “Makara” – an imaginary beast which symbolized a Hoysala Warrior.
“A true Hoysala warrior needs to have strong legs of a lion to hold the enemy firmly, a strong body of a wild hog which no weapon can easily kill, strength of an elephant; but all these qualities are waste, if he is not as beautiful as a tail of a peacock”
If the perfect body representation required 4 animals, how many different elements would be required to describe a human mind?
When I tried to answer this question, I started looking back at my life and my experiences and started writing down the incidents. This was the genesis of my first book – “50 Shades of Life.”
My other big influence to write this book was a story fromAfrica – UBUNTU. The story goes like this…
An Anthropologist placed a basket of sweets near a tree and made the African tribal children stand hundred meters away and announced that whoever reaches first would get all the sweets in the basket. When he said “ready steady go”, the children held each other’s hand, ran together towards the tree, divided the sweets equally and ate it.
When the Anthropologist asked them why they did so, they answered “UBUNTU” which meant – “How can one be happy when others are sad?”
UBUNTU means “I AM because WE ARE”
UBUNTU is a quality that includes the essential human virtues – Compassion and Humanity. When we take time for ourselves from our busy schedule and take a look at the world around us, we realize, “I AM because WE ARE”. I have tried to reflect the same spirit, where I have written stories around my friends and my experiences. All the stories touch upon different emotions in each of us.
I would like to give a special shout of thanks to Anindita Amit Roy, DhruvChandavarkar, Shubha Shivalli, SakshiSatwani and NisargaRavindra for bringing my stories to life through their sketches.
Shivananda (Shivoo) Koteshwar
Table of Contents
While I was sitting at a café, taking sips of my Americano, I noticed a boy aged around 10 years begging nearby. Some were shooing him away while others were telling him about the ill effects of begging. My eyes were locked on to his innocent face and small eyes. Suddenly, he looked up at me, and there was a strange connection between us over the next few seconds. He then approached me, but did not ask for money. We had an interesting conversation thereafter.
Shivoo: “What is your name?” Boy: “Raju.”
Shivoo: “Where are you from?”
He muttered the name of a village that I did not quite register. He suddenly became interested in this conversation
Shivoo: “Do you go to school?”
Raju: “Yes, I attend a government school.” Shivoo: “And, are you happy with the school?” Raju: “Yes, I love it.”
Shivoo: “Then, what are you doing here?”
Raju: “My parents have gone out of town for work, and they will be back only this weekend. So, I’m staying with my neighbor till then. They give me breakfast in the morning, and I have lunch at school. But I feel hungry by the time it is evening”.
Shivoo: “Why is that?”
Raju: “Because I play a lot after school and I end up feeling hungry. These last two days I have not been playing much, so I don’t feel as hungry.”
Shivoo: “Did it reduce your hunger?”
Raju: “No, I feel bored and even more hungry because I am always thinking about food.”
Shivoo: “So, then, what did you do yesterday?”
Raju: “I slept early, hoping to eat breakfast when I get up.”
Shivoo: “Okay, do you want to eat panipuri?”
Raju: “Can you buy me a masala puri”
After speaking with him for a bit, I left my laptop on the table and stood up to buy him masala puri. A chaat stall stood right next to the café. He ate heartily.
We then came back to the café. I offered him Rs.20/-
Raju: “I don’t need the money right now. I’m full.”
Shivoo: “What will you do tomorrow?”
Raju: “I will come here and look for you.”
Shivoo: “I won’t be here tomorrow, Raju.”
This upset Raju, and he was puzzled with my response. I did not want him to start begging again, so I told him a lie.
Shivoo: “You know something? Even I did not have anything to eat when I was your age. I survived by working and eating with whatever little money I earned.”
Suddenly, his eyes lit up. I never imagined his two small eyes could turn so bright. I could see the twinkle in his eyes. He was curious to know more about my story. So I went on.
Shivoo: “But, you know, I never missed school. I did very well in my studies and never neglected eating lunch because that was the only meal I got in the day. I never skipped playing with my friends and studying. If I felt hungry, I drank a glass of water and focused on my studies. I didn’t realize I was hungry when I read books.”
Raju: “So if I study hard, can I also become like you?”
Shivoo: “Yes, of course, you can.”
Raju: “Will you buy me some books? I don’t have anything other than what the school has given me. And I have studied them all already.”
Shivoo: “Why do you need more books?”
Raju: “So that tomorrow when I’m hungry, I can read those books.”
I then bought him lots of storybooks and an encyclopedia. I also gave him a big packet of biscuits, which would help him satiate his hunger until he reconnected with his parents again.
I had never actually faced such a difficulty in my life. I never knew what hunger felt like, but a lie from my side helped that child find a hero in me. Now, he will fight for things in life in the right way, and not take the easy way out, like begging. He now believes that concentrating on his studies at school can change his tomorrow. The plate of masala puri I bought him satisfied his hunger, but his real hunger was quenched by the knowledge that was rekindled in him. I just hope he retains that same level of brightness I saw in his eyes in the future.
I am sure he will think twice before begging now. I hope we all think at least once before giving away money to kids or shooing them away when they come to us while we are taking sips of our expensive Americano. Everybody needs a hero.
Like any other day, I left home for work at 6:30 am. Because it had rained heavily the previous night, the roads were clean and welcoming. I cruised through the KR Puram Bridge junction in Bengaluru at about 20 km/hr. For people who know anything at all about that junction, it’s a heavenly feeling driving at 20 km/hr on that stretch.
“To be successful in life one has to cross many bridges………
KR Puram Bridge is surely one of them”
By the time I reached the Ring Road, I was greeted with a red light at the Soul Space Arena junction. Everyone around me zipped past me, clearly breaking the law. I decided to stop. Just then, one of the riders who were planning to jump the signal came to a halt next to me. In the next 30 seconds, vehicles in all the three lanes stopped at the signal.
A flashy Honda Civic stopped behind me and started honking. He not only wanted to jump the signal himself but was also expecting me to do the same so I could make way for him to race ahead.
I decided not to be bothered by the honking, as I had a long day at work ahead of me. I ignored him.
Suddenly, like a DJ at a shady bar, he became mad and started slamming his steering wheel as if he was spinning the disk. I looked at him with a smile and pointed to the red light. The timer at the traffic signal showed we had 40 more seconds to go.
He hated me more at this point. He started abusing me in our local language, Kannada. Staying patient, I got off my car, went up to him, and asked him if it was an emergency. I would have said sorry and moved out of his way if it was, but of course, it was not.
He rolled down his glass window, and I could hear him abusing me louder. In just 10 seconds, he managed to abuse me and all of my relatives, many of whom, I am sure, I still have not met.
Before he could even realize it, I quickly rushed for his car keys, took the bunch out, and threw it at least 50 meters away on to the adjacent service road. The keys fell in a puddle of storm water on the side of the road. The man really did not know how to react at what I had done.
Now, my “friendly” fellow driver was stranded in his car in the middle of the road without his keys. Everybody started honking at him, wondering why this man had stopped his car in the middle of the road.
Pardon my English for a second here, but the “honker became the honkee.”
I am sure it was a small penalty to pay for hurtling abuses and non-compliance to traffic rules.
With that same smile, I came back to my car when the traffic light turned green, started it up, and continued with my drive to work. Without saying a word, I had ensured our man would never jump a signal or honk at a person who is following the rules again.
Having had a soul-transforming experience at the Soul Space junction, I am sure that, while waiting for the tow truck, our man would have been reminded of the famous verse from the Upanishads.
“Now as a man is like this or like that, according as he acts and according as he behaves, so will he be; a man of good acts will become good, a man of bad acts, bad; he becomes pure by pure deeds, bad by bad deeds;
And here they say that a person consists of desires, and as is his desire, so is his will; and as is his will, so is his deed; and whatever deed he does, that he will reap.”
-Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 7th Century BC
I had once gone to meet a friend of mine whom I had known for many years. When I entered his house, his daughter, who is in class eight, came running towards me. She jumped up on me and hugged me; she had not seen me for almost a year. Let us call her Pumpkin.
I have known Pumpkin since when she was a baby. She has seen her dad and me together through all of her formative years, the pre-teen and teenage years especially. For her, I was no different from her dad.
After patiently waiting for me to finish speaking with her dad and mom, Pumpkin invited me to her room. She showed me pictures of all her new friends, toys, books, the project report she had created for school, and her boyfriend’s profile picture. So many things had happened in her life in just the last year that she felt like telling me everything at once.
We had a marathon conversation about her life. Then I asked her about what she did earlier.
Shivoo: “Why did you jump on me and hug me like that?”
Pumpkin: “Because I love you.”
Shivoo: “But you are a grown-up girl now, a young woman. You should not be doing that.”
Pumpkin: “Come on, uncle! Don’t be old-fashioned. It is you – Shivoo uncle. I am like this with only a few of my dad’s friends.”
If she had told me that she was like this only with me, I think I would have been okay. But the moment she said she was like this with a few of her dad’s other friends too, I got worried.
Shivoo: “Pumpkin, do you love me a lot?”
Pumpkin: “Yes, of course, I do.”
Shivoo: “If I ask you to not do one thing, will you listen?”
Pumpkin: “Yes, except asking me to get on Facebook. That I can’t.”
Shivoo: (Smile) “Agreed.”
Shivoo: “No more hugging anyone else the way you hugged me. Only make the hugging gesture and give them an air-kiss. Deal?”
Pumpkin: (Puzzled) “Why?”
Shivoo: “Have you heard about good touch and bad touch?”
Pumpkin: “Yes, Stacy ma’am has spoken about this at school.”
Shivoo: “Good. So whose touch is ‘bad touch’?”
Pumpkin: “A stranger’s!”
I realized just then that Stacy ma’am had not done justice on this matter to the kids at school. It is easy to avoid strangers, but kids get confused between good touch and bad touch because there are good uncles and bad uncles. What if a good uncle touches a child in a ‘bad’ way, or what if a bad touch feels good to a little child?
A positive and a negative together in the same sentence can be confusing for kids. They cannot place different emotions appropriately. And a confused kid is more vulnerable than an ignorant one. It is important, therefore, to educate them about safe and unsafe touch. I want my baby safe.
Shivoo: “Baby, it is not about good or bad here. It is about safe and unsafe. Unsafe is unsafe, whether it is with good uncles, bad uncles, or strangers.”
I taught her the Safe Body Rule. I explained to her the right way to say ‘no’, prepared her to respond to a “secret,” asked her to speak up and tell her parents or me if something happened, and not to feel embarrassed or scared to talk about her body or about our reaction to such things.
I narrated to her a couple of stories to make her understand the safety aspect in her interactions with other people, how to take care of herself and her feelings, and how to talk to her parents about any experiences she has, good or bad.
The little girl felt empowered.
Pumpkin: “Now I understand it completely. I will tell all my friends about this. Thank you! Can I ask you one question?”
Pumpkin: “Does it mean I can’t jump on you, too?” Shivoo: “Yes, that includes me.”
At that moment, I knew. What was required of me was a constant engagement with my baby to keep her safe. One conversation was not going to make her understand it all.
She then ran out of the room and shared this discussion with her parents. The careless laugh on my friend’s face disappeared as I joined her outside the room. He stood up, hugged me tightly, and said thank you.
I could see a tear drop at the corner of his eyes. It meant much more than a “Thank You.”
I said, “Every parent requires a circle of protection around their kids. I am your circle. She is my angel. I want my baby safe.”
My friend Shruti is on a mission to lose 10 kilos in the next three months. Naturally, the menu has suddenly changed from delicious butter naan with paneer butter masala to bland rotis and colorless dal. The fruit salad with ice cream has been replaced with food more appropriate for rabbits, like leafy veggies and salads.
Shruti is struggling to find joy in the insipid-tasting healthy food she is eating these days and is forcing a smile on her face.
Yes, she has reduced 0.6 kilos in just three days of following a strict diet, but there is still a long way to go.
One day, she developed a craving for panipuri. So we both strolled down the road to a chaat center nearby. While the man at the store began preparing the dish, Shruti spotted a small ice cream store across the road.
The urge to eat fruit salad with ice cream overtook her commitment to lose 100 grams, which was her target for the day.
She sprinted across the road to the ice cream store and ordered a jumbo fruit salad. When it arrived, the bowl was filled with fruits, dry fruits, two scoops of rich ice cream, and a cherry on top that looked like a beautiful centerpiece.
Guilt kicked in when she started digging into the bowl. Soon, she picked out the nuts and threw them on the ground; the cream followed next and joined the nuts in the dirt. Then came the ice cream. She took her eyes off it and, just when she was about to throw it all down to the ground, a young boy approached her.
Boy: “Aunty, can you please put everything you throw in this plate?” Shruti: (Confused) “Why?”
Boy: (Innocently) “I am hungry. I have not had lunch. You do not have to give me money or buy me anything at this store. I will eat what you do not want to eat. Please do not throw it. Give it to me.”
Shruti: (Wet eyes) “I am sorry. Take this bowl.” Boy: “Thank you.”
Two other boys joined him, and he was happy to share the food he had just received with them. They disappeared into the small lane that passed adjacent to the store.
A new batch of kids started school just three weeks ago. There was an atmosphere of excitement, fear, confusion, and energy at the campus.
I took my regular morning walk of inspection during the break. It is amusing to hear the sound diminish in every class as I walk by. I only hope it is a sign of respect and not fear.
All the junior kids in the corridor had a smile on their face. Their greetings for the morning were always high-pitched and like a soothing raga, all of them clamoring for my attention.
The senior kids were different in how they greeted me. They wished to be treated like adults. And I do, but deep down in my heart, I know they are just overgrown kids wanting the same love that we give to primary school students.
After completing my rounds, I went back to my office. There, I started recollecting every face I saw in the school corridors. Of all the faces I could recall, my mind could not forget three faces in particular. These kids did not have the same smile that I expect to see a child wear early in the morning.
It bothered me. The only purpose of education for me, personally, is to make learning fun and spread the love for learning to every heart in my school. Since I did not see the smile I expected in them, I could not focuson the tasks that I had planned to do in the day
As I heard the bell go off for lunch, I ate my bowl of fruits and, after 15 minutes, asked my administrative staff to bring those three kids in for a chat.
The first of them, Poorna, was hesitant to enter my office chamber. So as soon as she came in, I told her we will go down to the playground. She showed a sign of relief. At first, she did not have a clue as to why I was taking her to the ground. But I could hear her thinking, “It’s better than the director’s room.”
At school, whenever I wished to speak to the kids, I took them out to the beautiful football ground in our campus. We would take a long walk around the ground. The whole campus knew that that was my alone time with the kids. A regular discussion would last for four rounds around the football ground.
With Poorna by my side, I asked her about the school, the teachers, the facilities, and so on. In the next 10 minutes, she became comfortable talking to me. When I asked if she had made any new friends at the school, her smile disappeared. I knew then that something was wrong.
Shivoo: “Tell me, is someone bothering you at school?” Poorna: (With hesitation) “Yes.”
Shivoo: “Why did you not tell me or your class teacher?”
Poorna: “I am new and I am afraid to talk to anyone.”
Shivoo: “Don’t worry. It is perfectly fine. Tell me who is bothering you and in what way?”
Shivoo: “Okay, what about Rohan?”
Poorna: “He teases me a lot, and yesterday, he made fun of my hair in front of everyone. Everybody laughed.”
Shivoo: “Why does that bother you?”
Poorna: “Because everybody at home also laughs at me. I thought school was my escape from home, and now school has become like home.” (Starts crying)
Shivoo: “Don’t worry. I will handle this and make sure you will never have a problem at school. Trust me.”
Though Poorna did not know me, she looked into my eyes and acknowledged me.
Then, I sent her back to class.
During this time, Vishnu was waiting for me at my office. Five minutes into the discussion, it was the same name, “Rohan.” Rohan had pushed and kicked Vishnu in the school bus. Though Vishnu could have fought back, he did not. He was embarrassed as everyone was there.
Third and last was Samved. He was a shy boy. After two rounds of a quiet walk around the ground, he opened up to me. I was expecting him to say, “Rohan.” And he did. Rohan had made fun of his tiffin box and his English-speaking skills.
I came back to my office and looked at Rohan’s admission record and the interview feedback. When I saw his photo, I clearly remembered my discussion with his parents.
Though his parents were affluent, the only request they had made was to help Rohan be more humble, helpful, and understand life in the right way. They had tried talking to him, but it had not helped. They were worried about his future.
In such a scenario, it is normal for a teacher to fall back on the proven technique of punishing or detaining the child. But I knew with my experience with different kids that no amount of punishment, scolding, or any form of negative reinforcement would work in this case.
So I called Rohan’s parents and took their permission to drop their son home personally that evening. They knew something was wrong. But since they knew me well and trusted me, they didnot ask me any more questions
I sent a note to Rohan’s class teacher that I would be picking Rohan up after class in the evening and dropping him home.
We had two problems. Rohan was bullying his classmates, which needed to be fixed. But I was also worried about the atmosphere in his class, which had to change. As an observer, if you are not protecting the victim or voicing out on the issue, you are indirectly supporting the act. I had to fix both the issues. I started with Rohan.
When the school bell rang the next day, I was waiting for Rohan in the parking lot. Since he was a confident, outgoing child, the fact that the director of the school was picking him up and dropping him home was not very intriguing. He sat with me in the car, and then we were off.
Rohan: “Sir, my house is on the other side.”
Shivoo: “I want to take you out some place before I drop you home. Is that okay?”
Shivoo: (Looking at him with a smile)
Rohan: “Sorry, sir!” I drove him past the small village situated near the school and stopped at a small house nearby. An old man was sitting outside the house.
Shivoo: “Where is Samved?”
Old man: “He has gone out to bring the cows back to the shed.”
Shivoo: “Did he eat anything after he came back from school?”
Old man: (Smiling) “Who eats in the evening? We have only one good meal at night.”
After a pause, he continued
Old man: “He might not come back so early. He attends a government school in the evening and teaches English to little kids. He is the most intelligent boy in our neighborhood. His parents died when he was little. He is the only support we have. He is a good boy and helps all the kids with their studies here.”
Shivoo: “Does he like the new school?”
Old man: “Yes, he is very happy to join your big school. He says teachers are great. He was very happy with his classmates, and he always says that he is found an opportunity to learn a lot more and teach everyone here better. Thank you for that!”
Suddenly, Rohan realized that we were talking about the same boy he teased in the morning for his inability to speak English fluently. Yes, he may not have been as good as him in English, but he was giving back everything he knew to kids around him. He was more useful to people around him than Rohan was.
All of a sudden, Rohan began to feel small before a boy who carried an old tiffin box and could not speak English properly . Rohan did not say a word.
We then got into the car and proceeded to our next destination. We reached a big bungalow in a span of few minutes. By then, the school bus had just arrived there, and we both saw Vishnu get off the bus. There were three of them waiting to receive him. One carried the bag, the other carried the lunch box, and the third person was ready with water and a bowl of fruits for him. Vishnu did not want them to carry his bags, but they insisted. He followed them into the house, and we went behind him.
He was very happy to see us. He immediately called his mother out, who was glad to meet us too. We drank juice at his house and, just when we were about to leave, Rohan saw Vishnu’s dad. He was the same man whom Rohan’s dad considered a role model and praised regularly for his humility and success.
Rohan: “Sir, when I hit Vishnu at school, he could have easily fought back. He is richer than I am. His dad is bigger than my dad. He is stronger than I am. Why didn’t he?”
Shivoo: “Kiddo, it’s not always about the money. When you come to school and wear this uniform, everybody is equal. What your background is, who your parents are, and what car you have at home does not matter. It is the right attitude and hunger for knowledge that should be brought to class.”
Rohan: “But why didn’t he hit back?”
Shivoo: “He was never physically abused in life, so he did not know how to react when you kicked him.”
Rohan: “Sorry, sir.”
Shivoo: “You don’t have to say “sorry” to me. Tomorrow, when you meet him at the school in the morning, tell that to him in front of everyone in the class. Asking for forgiveness in that way makes you a bigger and better person.”
Rohan acknowledged my request.
When we got into the car and started driving once again, I could see Rohan reflecting on everything he had seen since we left school. It was very different from his world. He was confused and had so many questions running through his mind
Our final stop was Poorna’s house. When we entered her house, she was surprised to see me. Then, she saw Rohan, which surprised her even more and made her curious. She did not know why I had come to her house
Her parents were happy to see us. We sat there for a few minutes. During this time, Rohan saw Poorna’s brothers bully Poorna and shout at her for small things. We could even hear her sob. I called Poorna aside but, before I could say anything, Rohan hugged her.
Rohan: “I promise you. From today, I will be your best friend, a brother, and a better human being. I will always be with you and support you with your dreams. Sorry for what I did at school.”
She hugged him tighter and said thank you.
We left Poorna’s house and started driving back towards Rohan’s house. He did not say a word during this time, but the silence hung heavily in the air and spoke volumes, more than what he could have expressed with words. I was convinced that he was changed. I dropped him home.
As he opened the gate, I saw his parents waiting for him at the door. He did not maintain his usual posture. He took a few steps towards his house and came back running towards me.
Rohan’s dad: (From afar) “What happened, sir? Is everything okay?”
Shivoo: “It is better than okay. Don’t worry. I wanted Rohan to see our new stadium being built, so we were delayed. Sorry about that.”
Rohan: “Thanks, sir! Without saying a word, you have taught me a lot. I will never forget this ride with you. Thank you.”
Shivoo: (Hugging Rohan) “You will be my best student when you graduate. I trust you completely. My blessings are with you always. Go now, change, and get busy playing outdoors.”
My next mission was to change the energy in the class and the attitude of every student towards bullying. I did not want a victim or a silent observer in my campus.
I was speaking to my team member, Rajesh, the other day.
Rajesh: “I have 18 years of experience, and the average experience of my team is 14 years. We have successfully demonstrated many successes in the companies we worked at earlier. Why doesn’t the headquarters trust us with critical projects?”
Shivoo: “Before I answer that question, let me ask you a different question. Imagine you have two cars at home. One is a Hyundai Santro, priced at Rs 4 lakh, and the other is a Benz S Class, costing Rs.80 lakh.”
Rajesh: “Where are you going with this?”
Shivoo: (Smiling) “If you get a driver with a successful track record of driving safely for 15 years and you decide to hire him, which car will you give him to drive?”
Rajesh: “My Santro, of course.” Shivoo: “Why?”
Rajesh: “He might have a perfect track record and plenty of experience. But, even if he has driven a Benz for the last 10 years, I still wouldn’t trust him.”
Rajesh: “Because I want to watch him drive around for sometime before I give him the Benz.”
Shivoo: “Okay. Let us say that after six months of his driving and you keeping an eye on him, he becomes good enough. Will you give him the Benz then?”
Rajesh: “Yes, but only when I am in the car. At other times, he will have to use the other car.” Shivoo: “Then?”
Rajesh: “If he continues this way, and keeps doing a good job, I will eventually trust him and give him the Benz to drive.”
Shivoo: “Will you let him drive your 15-year-old daughter alone?” Rajesh: “NO!”
Shivoo: “If you trust him by now, why not?”
Rajesh: “I trust him with his ability to drive but not as a person.”
Shivoo: “If I put a camera in the car, will you trust him?” Rajesh: “Yes, I might.”
Shivoo: “So when will you trust him as a person and be comfortable with him driving your family members around by himself?”
Rajesh: “I might take more time to decide on that.”
Shivoo: “That is exactly what happens when a multinational company opens up a center in India. Initially, our strong record of accomplishment helps us get a job there. But to get the opportunity to do critical work, we need to prove ourselves by executing smaller tasks successfully. The way we manage and execute non-critical projects helps our counterparts in the company headquarters be more confident of our abilities. Only successful work helps build trust. And once the trust is built, critical work will start coming in. But it takes time.
Experience and a successful record of accomplishment will help you reduce the time required to build trust. Like how you will not send your daughter alone with your driver despite having developed a trust in his abilities, the headquarters will hold back from giving you IP (Intellectual Property).
Technology alone cannot solve this problem. It needs to be earned and, with the right process, technology, and people, and proper execution done in time, it can be earned.”
Rajesh: (Smiling) “You and your stories, Shivoo! I get what you are saying. Let me help you build trust with our counterparts in the headquarters team.”
Shivoo: “Thank you!”
In the midst of an apartment jungle in an urban neighborhood stood a small, rusty-looking house, which belonged to a good friend of mine. Ram was my lunch buddy at work. And although I had known him for over a year, this was the first time I was visiting his house. To describe him in simple words, Ram is a simple person with simple ideas and a great philosophy.
After a customary cup of tea at his house, we started listening to some music. He took out his old guitar and started humming some of the old 1980s tunes. Then, he introduced me to his daughter, Sara, who is a beautiful girl aged 12 years. My usual magic tricks, kiddo jokes and puzzles got her interested in me.
We started chatting with each other while Ram was busy on a work-related conference call. While talking to her, I heard my phone make the sound of an insect; it was an indication that someone had posted on my Facebook wall.
On receiving the notification, I opened up the app, which read that my friend had just bought a burger that did not taste as good as it had earlier.
I thought to myself, “What a waste of my time!” I turned off the notifications.
Sara: “What is it?”
Shivoo: “Facebook notifications. Nothing interesting!” Sara held my hand.
Sara: “Uncle, come, I will show you my wall, a much better wall!” I did not understand what she meant but followed her lead anyway. She stopped as we entered the living room. It had minimal furniture, and the bright white wall gave the illusion of spaciousness in that room. When I went up to the walls, I saw inscriptions on them. On closer inspection, I found that it was Sara’s writing spread all across the walls.
The walls had stories about her early years, her school experiences, both good and bad, her fights with her parents, her travel blog describing everything from remote villages in India to some very exotic European cities. I was immersed in her stories and the way she had written them.
She even had a stepper to reach every corner of the wall. There was also a private wall, which her parents had promised not to read. By this time, I had become one of her favorite uncles, so
I had received a promotion. She allowed me to read her private wall. On it, she had written complaints about her dad and her mom but also unparalleled words of her love for them.
I lived her entire life through that wall.
Then, I noticed a pattern. The alphabets were getting smaller over the years. I asked her why.
Sara: “Uncle, because I have only limited wall space, unlike your Facebook wall. So I am careful these days to use the wall space wisely.”
Many parents come to me and ask me to teach their kids to value things they have. My friend had already accomplished this in such a simple way. I spoke to Ram.
Shivoo: “Why did you allow Sara to write on the walls like that?”
Ram: “I see parents shouting at their kids when they start writing on the wall. They don’t realize how important it is to encourage their kids to express themselves on the best canvas they have – the walls inside the house. It will take me Rs 10,000 to repaint the wall, but what I have on these walls are priceless, and no color can match the myriad colors of life I experience when I read it.”
I smiled remembering the lifeless colorless walls at my house screaming for a story to be carried.
Many years ago I visited one of the best eco-friendly resorts in India, Dunes resort in Puducherry, along with my family.
There were several cottages in the resort built with reclaimed materials and furniture from colonial houses and palaces. Luckily, the huts were not fitted with bulky air-conditioning units and relied on natural breeze. Vehicles were not allowed inside the property, and the mode of commute inside the resort area was the bicycles that the resort managers provided you at the reception. We were all excited to enjoy the beauty of nature, and especially the eco-friendliness of the place.
My oldest son, who has always lived comfortably in the city with luxuries available to him at his whim and fancy, found the place very amusing. He asked me a question to which I still do not have an answer.
“When people are poor, they all want to have a roof made of cement, a stylish car or a bike, expensive shoes to wear at parties, and air conditioners to keep their homes cool. Then, why do people like us, who are sufficiently well to do and have all the money, want to live like poor people? Here we have no shoes, are living in huts with thatched roofs, enjoying the cool, natural breeze instead of the air from an air conditioner, riding bicycles, and living with livestock all around us.”
Do you have an answer to this question?
Karthik is Head of Corporate Social Responsibility in one of the leading multinational companies in Bengaluru. While working on one of his CSR drives, he was very disturbed to see the plight of a girl he saw at the site. He called the girl over, and a conversation ensued.
Karthik: “Do you go to school?”
Karthik: “So you sell roses on the street and feed your parents and siblings?”
Girl: “Yes, but I really want to study, and I don’t know how to do both things.”
Karthik: “Don’t worry. Come and meet me at my once. I will ensure that we support your family and put you in a good school. We have scholarships that can help kids like you.”
Girl: (Smiling) “Thank you, sir.”
I was very happy with Karthik’s gesture and felt proud to call him a friend.
Karthik asked me to take a photo of both he and the girl together. He then posted it on Facebook and tagged his CSR group on the post. Before we even finished drinking our coffee, there were a 100 likes and 50 comments on the post. Karthik’s chest had expanded at least a couple more inches in pride on seeing the great response.
We soon left for Karthik’s house. On getting there, we were welcomed by a 12-year-old girl who offered to carry my bag inside. I declined politely and gave her chocolates to eat. She happily accepted them and disappeared behind the expensive cars parked in the parking area.
Inside Karthik’s house, his 10-year-old daughter was riding an expensive miniature toy car, with an equally young girl running behind her to ensure her safety.
I immediately asked Karthik who that little girl was.
Karthik: “She is our maid. She has been working with us for the last four years.”
Shivoo: “Does she go to school?”
Karthik: “No, she does not; she doesn’t have anybody. So I adopted her when she was eight, and she has been working in my house ever since.”
Shivoo: “Don’t you think you need to send her to school?”
Karthik: “I tried teaching her myself, but she doesn’t even have primary education. It’s tough for her to cope with her studies. Anyway, what will she do studying? It’s better she helps us with housework.”
Shivoo: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”
Karthik: “I’m at least helping her. Without me, she doesn’t have a house to go to or anybody to take care of her. You know what can happen to a little girl who doesn’t have anybody to feed and protect her? It’s easy to talk, but I’m better than you because I am giving her a life.
Yes, Karthik was certainly giving her a life, but not the life she deserved. I was surprised with my friend’s response. The same person who wanted to help the child at the restaurant conveniently overlooked his responsibilities at home. I was saddened by his use of the word, ‘adoption’. I realized Karthik was just like many of my friends and family.
As I was gearing up to call up my friend Swapna, who works for a group that aims to end child labor, to register a formal complaint, I had a series of questions running through my mind.
How can you have a child who was adopted (not legally) be treated like a maid?
How can you have a child who is as old as your own daughter, help your daughter with her chores?
How could he be okay with killing a child’s dream?
How do I tell my Facebook friend that “liking” a good deed is not the same as “doing” the good deed? A helpful hand is better than a “thumbs up” emoticon!
Aren’t we all exploiting kids in our “small” ways in the pretext of helping them?
Who gave us the right to take away the sparkle from those beautiful eyes and the laughter from their innocent faces?
With a heavy heart, I said to him,“How can I educate the educated?”
Boy: “Uncle, my school started yesterday. You have not bought me the books you promised me.”
Shivoo: (Recalling his face) “Sorry, I was traveling. Come, let us go buy them right now.”
He asked the owner of a store next to his panipuri stall to take care of it while he was away. The boy sat in my car and started talking about different things. Just then, I was reminded of the time we met a year ago.
While driving home from work, I was ravenously hungry because I had skipped lunch that day. I stopped at a chaat stall near my house and asked for a plate of panipuri.
The boy who was serving me at the stall had his textbooks right next to him. He was reading his notes while serving me. As a teacher, this intrigued me.
Shivoo: “What are you reading?” Shivoo : “Where is he now?”
Raju : “He is selling cigarettes in a store nearby.” Shivoo : “Where is your dad?”
Raju : “He is the paanwalaat that stall right next to the store where my brother sells cigarettes.”
I was impressed to see the whole family fending for each other within a 50-meter radius. I went to his dad and asked him why the kids were working when they should actually have been playing after school every day.
Raju’s dad: “I do my best to take care of them. Even my sister’s kids stay with me. With the money I make here, I cannot support them all. So my sons help me in the evening after school and earn enough money to support their cousins.”
Shivoo: “I am happy that you have taught them such great values.”
Raju’s dad: “This is just survival for us. They need to understand the importance of education and the importance of developing skills that can help them get jobs. Both are equally important. I am not educated, but I want my kids to learn as much as they can.”
Shivoo: “Never say you are not educated. You are educated but not literate. You are better than most of the literates I know.”
I went back to Raju and promised him that I would take care of the books and stationery for both he and his cousins so they could be educated. He was happy to take me to the nearby store, where I bought him all that he asked for. I knew it was enough for the year for all four of the kids.
Then, I started my car.
Raju: “Uncle, next year, don’t forget!”
Now, a year later, Raju and I are at the same store. I was cursing myself and wondering how I had forgotten about this. I bought him the year’s books and stationery again and immediately made an entry in my Outlook calendar so that I did not need a reminder from Raju again the next year.
It is a shame, but I needed an online calendar to remind me of my duties
I went to visit my friend’s grandfather one summer. He is a well-accomplished farmer who does not know much about global markets, foreign investments, or multi-brand showrooms. All he knows well is about the rotation of crops, how to protect the crops from pests, and how to maximize the farm yield.
Once, after my friend was hired by a software company, we went to visit his grandfather. On arriving there, he quickly fell to his grandfather’s feet and sought his blessings. His grandfather just caressed his head lightly with pride. Before we were about to leave, I spoke to his grandfather.
Shivoo: “Thatha, why don’t you give him some advice?”
Grandfather: “You are the learned one. What can I say to you all? But, anyway, I will tell you what I think is good.
Son, when you get your first salary, and after you pay the income tax, invest 20 percent of the rest of your income in safe savings and 10 percent in risk savings. Keep 5 percent aside and donate it to a charity. Spend the remaining amount any way you wish. If you think that the remaining money, after saving and donating, is less, work harder and earn more, but always keep this equation of 65+20+10+5 in life. Not only will you get richer with time, you will also get richer in your heart and be more useful to society. Remember, you have two hands, one to help yourself and another to help others.”
My friend and I were shocked at his grandfather’s profound wisdom. It was now our turn to be proud of him for such great thinking, which came out in such simple words.
It was August 14. I was on my usual long drive back home through the Outer Ring Road, all set to wait at four traffic signals at least, and in K R Puram junction alone.
While waiting at one of these signals, I saw a young boy – I am guessing around 10 years old – carrying a board filled with Indian flag stickers, coat pins and the flags themselves. He caught my attention in the mad traffic and, as they are trained to not miss an easy target, came up to me and tapped on my car window.
As I rolled down the glass windows, I saw a bright, young face that was trying to sell me at least four different things he was carrying with him.
Shivoo: “How much is the flag?”
Boy: “It is 40 rupees.”
He knew he had enough time to negotiate the price, considering the time available at the traffic signal.
Shivoo: “Okay, I won’t bargain with you. If you answer my question, I will buy 10 of these at the cost you tell me. No bargain!”
Boy: “Sure, please ask fast.”
Shivoo: “What is special tomorrow? Why is everybody buying the flags and pins?”
Boy: (Confused) “Actually, I do not know.”
He did not wait a second to start begging me to buy the flags again. Then, as he was about to leave,
Boy: “It is okay if you do not buy the flags, but please tell me why everyone is buying flags and pins today?”
Shivoo: “Just because you asked me the question, I will buy 10 of these at 40 rupees.”
Boy: (Smiling) “Thank you, sir.”
After I bought the 10 flags, I was about the roll up the window. I wanted to see how inquisitive he really is. He stopped me.
Boy: “You did not tell me the reason!”
Shivoo: “Tomorrow is Independence Day. So everybody is celebrating tomorrow.”
Boy: “What is so special about it? Which god do they pray? What sweets do they eat at home?”
As a child, I always associated every festival with a food. Though I did not know the significance of any festival, I always knew what would tickle my taste buds that day. I saw myself in him.
Shivoo: “Tomorrow is not a festival in the name of a god. It is the day India, our country, got independence from the British.
Boy: “So until then we were slaves?”
Shivoo: “I don’t want to say slaves, but yes, they were ruling over us.”
Boy: “Same thing!”
Shivoo: (Slightly embarrassed) “That’s why tomorrow is a holiday.”
Boy: “So you do not work tomorrow?”
Shivoo: “Yes. You should also talk to your boss and not work tomorrow.”
Boy: “I will surely tell him and take a holiday tomorrow.”
By then the light turned green, so I said bye to him and resumed driving towards my house. The exchange of words with him and the sight of his innocent face stayed on in my memory until I hit the next red light. This happens when we sympathize with another but not empathize.
The next day, I had urgent work at the office as my phone had issues downloading official emails. So I drove to work, downloaded the emails there, and started driving back home.
At the same traffic signal, I saw the boy again. I called him. He was happy to see me.
Boy: “You said you are not working today. How come you are working?”
Shivoo: (Smiling)“I was not working. I just went to the office to get something.”
Boy: (Smiling)“Same thing!”
Shivoo: “But how come you are working today? Shouldn’t you have a holiday today?”
Boy: “I asked my boss, but he said no.”
Boy: “He told me India celebrates freedom from the British, not from fellow Indians. ‘You are my slave and will remain one, so why would you celebrate?’, he asked me.”
I did not have the right words to say to him or look into his eyes. I parked my car on the side. My friend Rama, who was sitting next to me, stepped out of the car.
Rama: “I assure you that I will take care of your studies if you want to study.”
Boy: “I want to, but what will I do about the money? I need to earn money and give it to my parents.”
Rama: “How much do you make in a month?” Boy: “3,000 rupees.”
Rama: “Take my number and ask your parents to call me. I will give you 3,000 rupees every month, which you can give to your parents and go to school. But under one condition…”
Boy: (Happy)“Any condition is fine with me.”
Rama: “You cannot miss school even a single day in a month. Only then will you get the money.”
Boy: (Elated)“I will not, sir. I will ask my mother to call you in the evening.”
Yes, the child’s boss is right. It has been 69 years, and every year this day we wear new ethnic clothes, take selfies to post on Facebook, and cheer fellow Indians, but never even try to free the children stuck in the trap of child labor since our independence.
If I buy something from him, I am encouraging child labor. An alternative is to report to the police. But putting him in a shelter home when his parents are begging at the next signal? That is not freedom.
It requires each of us to think and work towards eradicating this malaise. A Twitter update comes to mind:
How do we change the world?
One random act of kindness at a time! My friend Rama had done just that.
Once, several years ago, I had driven to a café on Lavelle Road, Bengaluru, with my personal assistant, Raj, for a meeting. While I was taking a sip of my coffee with a business associate at the other end of the table, my assistant was waiting in the car parked outside.
The café stood opposite a swanky new Harley Davidson showroom with its priced possessions openly on display. Raj, being passionate about bikes and an avid biker, was a proud owner of a Bajaj Pulsar. But the chrome and the thundering sound of the Harley were too tempting for Raj. He decided to cross the road to check out the bike parked outside.
The sales representative saw Raj approaching the bike and asked him to stay back and not touch the bike. Raj was offended at this gesture by the sales representative, but could not say anything, as he knew there was no way he could afford that bike. He was embarrassed, and his face turned blue in shame. He apologized and got back to the car.
I noticed the whole incident from the café. I could not resist. I cut the meeting short, excused myself, and took Raj back to the showroom. When they saw me, and more importantly, my business card, they were happy to show me the bike, and asked me if I wanted a test ride. Then, I turned to the sales representative.
Shivoo: “I have enough money to buy this bike and take it out of the showroom, without even going through the lease scheme. But I am not your real buyer. This person, who does not have anything today but has a dream of owning a Harley someday, is your real buyer. Not everybody with money is your buyer. Your real buyer is one who has the passion for this bike.”
The sales representative and her manager apologized to me, but I was sure they did not mean it.
Exactly five months later, with a stroke of divine luck, Raj inherited five acres of Bangalore Development Authority land in the center of the city. He was a millionaire overnight. Though he had enough money to start something on his own, he continued to work for me. He bought a superbike worth 14 lakh, but still used to come to drive me places.
I took him on his bike to the Harley showroom. The same manager who had shooed Raj away was offering him juice and water. I singled out the manager.
Shivoo: “I don’t know if you remember me, but I am the same person who had told you six months ago to never discount anyone. Here is the man who was not allowed to touch the bike parked outside. Look at him now, he can buy any model here, but still went ahead and bought a different bike. Just because of you, because of the way he was treated here. You did not just lose a customer because of how you acted that day but because of your poor humanity. Never do that again.”
On hearing this, Raj smiled, and I am sure he felt closure at that moment.
I was late for a meeting one day, so I was driving faster than usual to try to reach as early as I could. Suddenly, I saw a huge crowd gather around an old scooter on the road. I parked my car on the side and went close to the man who was still recovering from the fall. He was bleeding profusely, and everybody was merely watching him. When I tried to help him, someone in the crowd said, “It is a police case. Why do you want to get involved unnecessarily?”
I gave him a dirty stare and went close to this person lying on the ground. He was half-conscious and not in a position to talk. As I had some basic training in Emergency and Rescue,
I carefully lifted him up and rested him in the back seat of my car, and then took him to a hospital nearby. The doctor at the emergency section told me the man needed a surgery and it was going to cost money. The badge around his neck told me he would not be able to afford anything more than 5000 rupees, and the operation and post-operation processes were sure to cost around 10 lakh. The doctor saw me take out my credit card without wasting any time and threw me an appreciative glance.
After a few hours, I found out he was better and would recover from the surgery. His wife and his 10-month-old baby came to the hospital and were waiting patiently for me to finish all the formalities and the billing process. The cops stopped by, praised me for my help, and acknowledged that nobody in the present day would go this far to help someone. The inspector was happy to shake hands with me.
After they left, his wife came up to me.
Wife: “Thanks. We would not have been able to afford the surgery. He would have died, and my son would have been without a father. I can never repay you for what you have done for my family. God will surely bless you and your family and will always keep them safe and happy.”
I gave her another 25,000 rupees and told to her take care of the family in his absence while he recovers. She fell to my feet and said thank you.
While I was driving back home from the hospital, I was not feeling happy or proud of myself. I was wondering if they ever came to know that the reason he fell from his scooter was my own daughter, would they ever forgive my daughter for her mistake.
While driving her car, my daughter had steered towards the left to avoid crashing into a dog and hit a scooter. She did realize what she had done but was too scared to stop the car and check if the rider was okay. She came home and told me about the accident. I rushed back to the accident spot and took care of the victim.
But I always wonder, “Would they ever forgive me if I was honest with them and confessed the truth?” Suddenly, I felt like a devil inside a god for doing what I did.
On my first trip to the United States, I met a very interesting person. He was a temple priest who went by the name of UN Sharma.
After chatting with him for a few minutes, I figured he was from Bengaluru, and his name was Uthama Narayana Sharma. His abbreviated name got me curious.
UN Sharma: “Are you here for the first time?”
Shivoo: “Yes, I just arrived here a month back. How come you call yourself UN Sharma?”
UN Sharma: “My real name is Uthama Narayana Sharma. So if someone from South India talks to me, then I say my name is Uthama Narayana. And if someone from North India approaches me, then I say UN Sharma. It helps me connect with people better.”
Shivoo: (Smiling) That is a good idea. So when did you come here?”
UN Sharma: “I have been here for the last two years and have figured out a way to sponsor all basic infrastructure development activities in my village, near Tumkur.”
UN Sharma: “From the donations that I get from here. I am able to raise money from here.”
Shivoo: “How do you convince people to donate?”
UN Sharma: It is simple. Most people have left their families back in India and are earning thousands of dollars here. The guilt of leaving their family back at home always bothers them. So any connection of theirs that I create back to India attracts their attention.
Their guilt helps me raise money for my village. You might have noticed that the same people in the US who celebrate the Indian Independence Day and Republic Day there do not even listen to the National Anthem back in India. They miss their country and their family. As a priest, I use this to get money from them and help the poor back in India.”
Shivoo: “Interesting. So what are your plans next?”
UN Sharma: “In the next five years, I want to sponsor at least five more villages.”
Shivoo: “All the very best with that.”
After six years, when I met him again, I asked him if he was successful in his endeavor.
UN Sharma: “I support 10 villages now. I found out that their feeling of guilt was far more expensive than what I initially thought it was.”
It was a regular busy morning at school. I had a meeting scheduled with a candidate, Minchu, and her father, Mohan. Minchu was not given admission at our school based on her performance on the written test.
Mohan was Vice President, Sales, in one of the leading multinational software companies in Bengaluru. He had a good mix of poise and humility. Minchu, with her “uber” chic short hair, already had her nose pierced. One thing work had already taught me was to never stereotype a child.
I have never rejected a candidate based only on their test score. I have always looked at how the child had approached every question. Right or wrong did not matter to me so long as a sincere effort was made by the child in trying to understand and attempt the questions on the test.
When I looked at Minchu’s answers, I could read between the lines. She was a smart child, and yet she had not done well. So I knew something was amiss, something that the marks did not tell.
Shivoo: “Minchu, why don’t you want to join our school?”
Minchu: (Surprised)“Nothing like that, sir.”
Shivoo: “Then tell me why you deliberately didn’t do well on the written test.”
At this point, Mohan couldnot believe that his daughter could deliberately fail on a test.
Minchu: (Hesitantly)“I am happy where I am. I don’t see a reason to shift to a new school.”
Shivoo: “Here, take a chocolate.”
Minchu: (Carelessly)“No, thank you.”
Shivoo: (Smiling)“Can I talk to your dad privately?”
She agreed and walked out. Mohan was both confused and angry with her.
Shivoo: “Tell me what is wrong?”
I could see Mohan transition from a successful professional to a father of a child. He could not control his tears. He wept for almost three minutes. I did not stop him. I just waited for him to compose himself and speak to me.
Mohan: “Sorry, sir! I should have told you earlier.”
Shivoo: “It’s okay, tell me now.”
Mohan: “Minchu is a porn addict! She watches porn every night for six hours. Because of this, she is unable to concentrate on her studies and is not attentive in class. She feels tired every day due to a lack of sleep, and this is affecting both her health and studies. I thought a change of school would help. So I applied to your school.”
Shivoo: “Have you reached out to any experts?”
Mohan: “Not yet, but we have googled for information and found out what to do. We have reduced her viewing hours, and we monitor the content. The filtered content is also very difficult for a father to let his small baby watch.”
I knew Google was not the answer to her problems. Collective wisdom was not a solution in this case.
Shivoo: “I am not an expert, but still… can I talk to her?”
Mohan: “Yes, please.”
I called her back inside the room. She could sense something was fishy.
Minchu: (Looking at her dad)“You told him too?” Mohan: “Don’t talk like that.”
Shivoo: “It’s okay. Tell me, child.”
Minchu: “What’s wrong in watching porn? Am I not doing it right?”
At that moment, I knew I was not an expert to deal with her situation. I did not have an answer to her question. But I knew how to help her.
Shivoo: “Can you tell me why you feel an urge to watch porn?”
Minchu: “I don’t know, but I cannot control myself.”
Shivoo: “I am not judging you, but I need to know because I want to help any other child in my campus who might feel the same way someday. Your inputs will help me help others. So please share your dilemma with me.”
Over the next 20 minutes, Minchu spoke to me about it. It was very clear that Minchu did not want any child to go through what she was undergoing and wanted to help anyone possible. She thought I could help other kids, so she shared many useful insights on a topic that was foreign to me until then.
Shivoo: “Don’t worry, Minchu. I will talk to your dad and convince him that your present school is good and that you do not have to change schools. You don’t have to lose your friends.”
Minchu: (Smiling)“Thanks a lot, sir!”
Shivoo: “If I ask you to meet my friend, will you do it?”
Minchu: “Yes sir, I will.”
I referred her to my friend in Nimhans. He is a leading child psychiatrist. Mohan promised me that he would visit him the same day. Then, as they were about to leave, Minchu looked at me.”
Minchu: “Can I take the chocolate, sir?”
Shivoo: “Of course! Here, help yourself.”
At that moment, I saw the child in her face screaming for attention. Just a few minutes back, she projected the face of an adult, and now suddenly I could see a small child in her.
I could understand her dilemma and helplessness. I knew she would do much better with counseling and treatment for her addiction.
The next year, when the results came out, I saw Minchu waiting for me near my car with a box of sweets. She had scored a perfect 10 CGPA in her ninth-grade board exams. She was proud and happy.
Minchu: “Sir, I don’t watch porn anymore. Thanks to you and your friend for help.”
Shivoo: “I am glad the counseling helped. Do you want to join our school now?”
Minchu: (Smiling)“No, sir. I don’t want to leave my friends. But I will visit you whenever I can.”
Then, we parted ways. When I was driving home, the question that she had asked me a year ago was still haunting me, “What is wrong in watching porn? Am I not doing it right?”
My neighbor’s driver was excited to introduce me to his relative, Shyam.
Shivoo: “What are you doing?”
Shyam: “I am studying Electronics and Communication Engineering. I just completed my seventh semester.”
Shivoo: “What are your plans ahead?”
Shyam: (Satisfied smile) “I have been placed in ABC Software Limited in a campus placement drive. They have offered me a salary of 2.4 lakh per year. So once I complete my engineering program, I will have to go to Hyderabad as part of my orientation program for six months, and hopefully they will send me back to the Bengaluru office after that.”
Shivoo: “Are you happy with your salary?”
Shyam: “Yes, I am very happy with my salary. My brother, who rides an auto rickshaw for hire, has spent every extra rupee he has earned, on me and made me an engineer. I am indebted to him. I want to buy him a car so he can run a taxi instead of an auto.”
My neighbor’s driver was proud of what he said and was even more proud to introduce him to me, as he was one of the very few in his family who had completed his schooling. Most of them had dropped out because of a lack of funds and a lack of support and encouragement.
On one of the weekends seven months later, while I was playing on my PS3, I noticed a familiar face that was wearing a khaki uniform in the house. He came in with a smile on his face.
Boy: “Hello, sir! I am Shyam; I had met you six months back when I was doing engineering.”
Shivoo: “Oh, yes, now I remember. Shyam, right?”
Shyam: “Yes, sir.”
Shivoo: “What happened? I thought you got a job in ABC Software Limited. Why are you driving an auto now?”
Shyam: “Yes sir, since I had received an offer, I had not tried elsewhere. Once I finished my engineering, I reported to ABC Software Limited. But due to recession, all the students who got an offer wanted to join ABC Software Limited. The company had expected the usual offer reject ratio of 3:2. Hence, they had an excess number of students joining them, much more than they had planned for.” Shivoo: “What did they tell you?”
Shyam: “When I reached out to their HR team to start work after my graduation, they rejected me on technical grounds. I had failed a subject in the third semester, but had cleared it in the fourth. That was the only subject I had lost. Still I had maintained an aggregate percentage of 74 percent. They told me that as per the rules, I should not have failed in any subject to attend their written test.”
Shivoo: “But didn’t they tell you that before you wrote the test?”
Shyam: “They had, and I had checked with the placement officer and the HR manager who had come to our campus. At that time, they had said it was okay, and that I could write the test. But, unfortunately, I didn’t have the written approval, so they rejected me.”
I felt very bad for Shyam’s situation and was thinking about how to help this boy, who had so many dreams.
Shyam: “As I had this offer, I had not applied anywhere else. All my friends had applied to other companies, even though they had a campus offer. So most of those who were rejected by ABC Software Limited had another offer. When I was about to look for a new job, my brother broke his leg. He is the sole breadwinner of the family. He had spent all his life in the pursuitof one dream – to make me an engineer. I was an engineer but without a job. As it was a necessity, I started running his parked auto. That is why you see me in this uniform (smiles). It will take three more months for my brother to be all right. After that, I will start looking for a job again.” Shivoo: “How much do you earn now?”
Shyam: “After all the expenses and the rent we need to pay for the auto owner, I make around 15,000 rupees per month.”
Shivoo: “If I give you 20,000 rupees per month, will you stop driving around in this auto and work for a multinational company in the field of electronics?”
Shyam: “Yes, sir. I will be very happy even if you pay me 15,000 rupees per month.”
Shivoo: (Smiling) “Send me your résumé tonight. And come tomorrow for a written test and interview.”
The next day, he had neither sent me his résumé nor turned up for the interview. When I came home, I asked my neighbor’s driver why he had not turned up.
Driver: (Hesitantly) “He called and told me that he didn’t have money to go to the Internet center to send the résumé. He did not even have good clothes to wear to come and meet you.”
I handed him 500 rupees and asked him to give it to Shyam. I also gave many of my clothes to him and asked him to tell Shyam to meet me soon.
After three days had passed, I received his résumé. He then came in for the written test. I saw him wearing my clothes and a new pair of Hawaii chappals. He had an air of confidence about him and an eagerness to learn and work hard. Purely based on the written test and interview, one of my managers selected him, and he started working for us an intern.
Shivoo: “Shyam, use this opportunity to learn as much as you can. Once you have proven yourself, you will get a job either in our company or any other company. Our internship model is quite popular. Demonstrate your commitment and hunger to learn.”
The next two years he had to work as an intern, as we did not have openings for a permanent position in the company. He never once talked to me at work or visited me. Whenever I saw him, his eyes were always thankful towards me. Though he got an offer outside our company after a year, he did not want to leave the company or me. He continued to work for 20,000 rupees per month for two years.
It has been 10 years since that incident. Shyam is drawing more than 30 lakh per annum in that same company and is one of the star performers there. His brother owns a fleet of taxis and is doing extremely well. He has made his brother proud, his family proud, and surely, I am proud of him.
When I first saw him in his khaki uniform, my gut said, he deserved a break, and I was not wrong.
On one of my usual evenings, when I was dabbling with a new idea with my entrepreneurial hat on, I was not sure if the idea would work; ideas come to me every day like wild mushrooms in the Indian monsoons.
I thought of validating my idea by discussing it with a very good friend of mine, Ojus. Ojus was my father’s age. He was avery successful lawyer and a great mentor and human being. I liked his entrepreneurship style and his nature of thinking outside the box.
Though my idea was not related to what he did, I thought he would make for a good sounding board. I knew that if I could convince him, I could convince any investor.
I called him up and asked him if he could meet me for a cup of coffee. He was more than happy to meet me. I was not sure if it was my personality, my voice, or my idea; something made him feel excited to meet me. Whatever the reason, it was good enough for me to have a chance to meet him. He always rubs off this energy on to others. If not anything else, I knew that I would at least come out of this meeting charged up, ready to take on the world.
The Taj café was always my choice for a meeting over a cup of coffee. When we met there, I was like a little boy with a fairytale story about my business idea. I had all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed up for the pitch. He watched me as I went on and on about my business idea. It started with regular nods of the head and, finally, when I was completing my pitch, a smile of approval on his face.
It was a big relief for me. Getting an approval from him was the first step towards making my dream come true. He wished me all the very best sincerely. I knew I always had a mentor in him.
Some months later, he called me up and asked me to meet him. My dreams had come true by then; I had my first ten customers and was moving towards the next big thing, like I had planned. Everything was going as per plan. It was time to grow bigger.
I had to deliver a presentation to an investor in one week. That is when I thought I should meet Ojus and seek his advice. I was looking forward to sharing my journey with my mentor, my trust worthy friend.
When I met him this time, his face did not show the same level of excitement or energy that it did the last time and ever before that. I knew something was wrong. I swallowed my excitement and decided to hear him out, wishing that I could help him in some way and return the favor in gratitude. But as it turns out, I was not prepared for what he was about to tell me next.
He said he was starting a business with the same idea as mine. He tried to convince me that it was slightly different from mine and that we both could survive in this competitive market. He said the idea popped up in his mind all of sudden sometime back, and then he remembered me having shared that same idea with him before.
Ojus was like a father figure to me. How could he do this to his own? There are ethical lines for a mentor and teacher, and today he had crossed it shamelessly. I was not angry but disappointed and hurt.
I knew that there would be many competitors for my business idea. I was prepared to face it. But I did not expect competition from Ojus – my mentor, my guide, my friend.
I felt cheated and violated. For his age, stature, and success, he did not have to ride on my idea. That idea was my baby. Alas, the trust was broken.
He said, “Sorry, please forgive me.”
I said, “You succeeded in cheating me. Don’t think I was a fool. I trusted you more than you deserved. Don’t be sorry. I was the one who trusted you. My mistake, not yours! Trust takes years to build but seconds to break and forever to repair. It is like a broken mirror. You can definitely repair it, but no matter what, you will always see the cracks. Of course, I forgive you because I do not carry any negative feelings for anyone in my heart, but I will not be able to trust you ever again. If I cut you off, it is because you handed me the scissors yourself.”
Then, as I was walking by the beautiful plants that were lined up near the entrance of the café, I said to myself, “He does think outside the box. The box he was thinking outside of was my box.”
While I was sipping coffee at a Starbucks with friends, I saw one of my old friends, Radha, there. I was excited to see her after a very long time. She was dressed elegantly as usual and glowing brightly in the warm rays of the sun escaping the frosted glass windows.
It had been over six months since I had last seen her. I called out her name, and she came rushing to my table with a big smile on her face.
Radha: “Hi, Shivoo! It has been such a long time! How have you been?”
Shivoo: “As good as I can get. How are you?”
Radha: “Never better!”
Shivoo: “How come you are alone here at this Starbucks? No friends with you?”
Radha: “I don’t have any friends!”
Shivoo: (Confused) “Come on, don’t say that. Am I not your friend?”
Radha: “No, you are not. You are just an acquaintance.”
My friends who were with me at the time were surprised with her frank response.
Shivoo: “What makes you say that?”
Radha: “That’s the reality. It took me sometime to realize, but I did finally. I thought I had many friends, but I eventually realized that I don’t have friends; all I have are acquaintances.”
Shivoo: “Okay. Define a friend for me, please.”
Radha: “A true friend is someone who can come to your house unannounced, and you won’t get annoyed even though you are not dressed. He is someone with whom I can comfortably leave my child behind for some time. There are many people who ask us, “How are you?” but how many of them really care for how we really are? Not many!
When the rest of the world walks out, a true friend walks in. He is someone who can read my fake smile and see the tear in my eyes. He is someone who knows the song of my soul and sings it back to me when I forget the words. He is someone who says nice things behind my back and stabs me from the front.
He might not be able to stop the downpour, but he will be the one to join me for a walk in the rain. He is one who sees the first tear, catches the second, and stops the third.”
Shivoo: “Why are you smiling?”
Radha: “Because you still did not catch my tear.”
I felt very confused and looked at my friends seated next to me. I could see they all were thinking the same thing I was: Though I have 4,000 friends on Facebook and was considered a social butterfly, how many true friends do I really have? Who will be that person who would put the air under my wings when I want to fly? Not many, I guess.
Before I could say anything to her, she left with the same big smile on her face. But this time, something had changed in me. She had taken off that fake smile off my face.
I was meeting an old friend of mine, Rajesh, after a very long time. He was always a flamboyant character with his head well on his shoulders. He had every right to be the way he was, as he had struggled in life to be where he was right now.
When I saw him, I was taken aback. I thought, ‘Is this the same Rajesh I know? What happened to his famed flamboyance? He has become somber. I look like Lady Gaga in front of him!’
Shivoo: “What’s wrong, Rajesh?”
Rajesh: (Smiling) “Nothing’s wrong. Things are going fine. Why do you ask?”
Shivoo: “What happened to your Armani Suit and Bvlgari wristwatch?”
Rajesh: “I dress down these days. You might wonder why. Let me explain.”
It was very interesting for me to know what transformed him. I was ready to hear the story of his spiritual journey, awakening, and realization! But what I heard made me think twice on my next Rolex buy.
Rajesh: “I was always flamboyant because I believed I had every right to spend what I had earned. Why not do it when it is hard-earned money and, of course, my own?
But with time I realized that people around you, especially the ones you think are close to you, like you when you say things are not good. You get all the support from them, and they really wish you well. But when you say things are going great, they are envious of you. Suddenly, without even realizing it, they are jealous of you. I don’t understand this human psychology, but I do remember what my grandmother always told me, ‘Be humble, and be below the radar. Else you will attract negative energy’.
Very few people celebrate your success. It is easy to bond over failure, sadness, or anger because they create empathy . But it is not easy to bond over success as it breeds jealousy. I am not worried about their feelings about me, but they are my true friends, and I don’t want them to live with negative energy.
Unlike you, my employees are blue-collared workers. The pay parity is very high between the profits we make and the salaries they get. If they see their leader driving a BMW, they suddenly see the gap. I don’t want to be a victim of their jealousy. It is not safe for my family too.
When you see a CEO who is flamboyant and not doing well in his business, you immediately attribute his failure to his lifestyle. Professional and personal lives overlap, but forming opinions or passing judgments is not the right thing to do. But in reality, it happens.
People like to hear that you are doing okay, not great. If what I wear and how I speak attracts good positive energy, so be it. With time, I have learnt to be humble and be seen in the right way in my company.
There is an old saying in Hindi, “Chaddarodke ghee piyo.” It roughly translates to: “When you want to eat ghee, go under the blanket and eat it.”
It was a stormy night, and I was all alone, looking for my next prey. I come from a broken family with no glorified past. My dad left me when I was very young. Naturally, I only looked up to notorious people while growing up.
People said I carried some disease. I am not sure how I caught it. Everyone said I am careless, but I thought I was adventurous. The fact is that I was indeed carrying some ugly disease. I know I did not have much time, so I wanted to run through my bucket list.
It has been two nights since I had a go at my victim. As I was cruising through the streets with rain pouring over me, I could see a door kept carelessly open. This was my window of opportunity. When I went in, I could see two young girls sleeping on two single beds in the middle of the room. The girls did not seem more than 16 years old. For a hungry soul, this was a feast. I had never tried someone so young. Something inside me screamed “no,” but I could not resist.
One was a tall blonde-haired woman, and another, a dusky female. As I sport a black skin, white skin excites me. Moreover, practically, they are softer and easier targets. I could work my magic much quicker on their skin.
The small light next to their bed highlighted the white skin underneath the velvet blanket. They were sleeping carefree, without a clue that a monster was ready to attack them. I carefully drifted to the side of one of the girls and was ready to grab her with both my hands. But she suddenly woke up and sheepishly smiled and said, “I knew you would come and attack me. Every night you have been bothering me. But today is not your date night. It is mine. SPLAT!
My friend, who was observing me from beside the door, exclaimed, “Alas! There goes another mosquito. Rest in peace, brother. We are all nothing more than a… SPLAT!”
Only a few years ago Rani was struggling to buy groceries for her house. Now, 10 years since that dreadful time, Rani is a successful entrepreneur who runs a popular chain of restaurants in Chennai and Hyderabad.
We bumped into each other at the Delhi Airport one day. It was a pleasant surprise to see her so successful in her life. After the customary hug and hello, a conversation ensued:
Shivoo: “Just five years ago, you had started your hotel. I remember you telling me that your single goal in life was to make money.”
Rani: “Yeah, I do remember that.”
Shivoo: “Now that you have more than 12 restaurants spread across multiple cities, I am sure you have more money than you aspired for?”
Rani: “No yaar, I haven’t made enough money.”
Shivoo: (Surprised) “I do know you make more than 20 lakh as profits per restaurant per month. How much is enough for you?”
Rani: “In absolute terms, yes, I have a lot of money, but not enough to do what I want to.”
Shivoo: (Confused) “What do you want to do?”
Rani: “Remember, I come from a background where I did not have money to buy two meals a day. At that time, the only thing I wanted was to make enough money to feed myself every day. With time, when I made money, I was able to afford more than two meals a day. But I remained hungry.”
Shivoo: (Curious) “Explain.”
Rani: “Now the hunger is not to feed myself. It is to make enough money so I can build an organization that can support more than a thousand families and take care of their hunger. Not everybody gets the opportunity and support that I got. So I want to be a catalyst for them and enrich their lives.”
Shivoo: (Impressed) “Have you achieved that target of yours?”
Rani: “Yes, I have, but my hunger has increased. I want to touch 10,000 families now, and I don’t have enough money to support so many families. That is what keeps me going. That is the reason I say I don’t have enough money. I don’t think I will ever be able to say I have enough money.”
She boarded the flight with me, and suddenly, my tall figure seemed little before her small, petite structure. She was not just rich in terms of her bank balance but richer in terms of the size of her heart too.
Once there were three close friends, Madan, Hari and Somnath. For anything that was discussed between them, only two of them usually agreed on anything at one point in time. But still, you would always see them together. They have been friends for more than 30 years now.
One day, they saw a girl walking in front of them. The careless walk, the dress, which was not doing justice to her figure, and her long hair made them notice her. Each of them wanted to get to know her immediately. One of them quickly rushed towards her.
Madan: “Sorry, I just couldnot help but notice the pullover you are wearing. Did you study in ISB?”
Girl: “Yes, in the 2011 batch. Did you study there?”
Madan: “Nope, but I studied at IIM Bangalore. Sorry for intruding. I just could not stop myself from talking to you.”
The girl smiled, and the next 30 minutes of intelligent conversation with her was something Madan had never had with anyone else before.
Hari and Somnath were noticing the exchange of words and giggles, and it was pinching both of them hard. They were waiting for their turn to get to know her and impress her.
Madan was successful in getting a date with the most intelligent girl he had ever met. It was fixed for next Sunday morning at 10 AM at UB City Mall.
Then, Hari approached the girl.
Hari: “Hi, I am Madan’s friend, Hari.”
Girl: (Not very interested) “Hi.”
Hari: “Can I sit with you till Madan comes back?”
Girl: “What do you do?”
Hari: “I am a theater artist and musician.”
Girl: “Wow! What do you play?”
Hari: “Anything that soothes my mind and the listeners’ hearts.”
The girl became interested in Hari. She spoke at length about her trips to Europe and the United States, how she met many artists there and how, though she did not have a great voice or know how to play an instrument, spent an amazing time with them.
She enjoyed opening up with Hari and felt connected with him. The whole experience was something she had never felt before with strangers. She gave Hari a hug and offered to catch up for a coffee next Sunday morning at 10 AM at UB City Mall.
The girl’s heart had been warmed twice by the two men in question. Naturally, Somnath wanted to try his luck too.
Somnath: “I see something missing in your eyes.”
Girl: (Slightly confused) “What? Has my kajal gone bad?”
Somnath: “Something in your eyes…”
The girl was confused.
Somnath: “You miss your dad way too much.”
Suddenly the love for her dad started to show in the form of tears in her eyes.
Girl: “How did you know?”
Somnath: “I just do.”
Girl: “You need to tell me what made you say that so correctly.”
Somnath: “I can say many things about you because I can feel you inside me. I can feel your emotions and your dilemma.”
Girl: “Why don’t we meet next Sunday morning at 10 AM at UB City Mall?”
Somnath: “Definitely, yes, but remember, irrespective of the layers of clothing you will wear, you will still be naked in front of me.”
Girl: (Smiling) “I will surely remember that.”
All of the men were proud as they shared their experiences with each other.
Madan: “The two of you are not being practical. She certainly liked me.”
Hari: “I had the most emotional talk with her. I am sure she liked me the most.”
Somnath: “Come on, guys. She was born for me. I could just feel it. And without as many words as the two of you exchanged, she felt it too.”
“So when are you meeting her?” asked each one to the other.
All at one time,“Next Sunday, 10 AM, UB City Mall.”
Suddenly there was a moment of silence, and they all started wondering,“How can this be possible? If she liked one of us, she should have invited only one of us. If she liked all of us, she should have invited us for a date at different times. Why did she do this? What should we do now? What was Bhoomi thinking?
Does she have a different side to what we saw? What will she do when she meets us together?”
So many questions popped up in their minds, but they decided to meet her on Sunday and get a clarification directly from her.
With three more days to go, they were finding it hard to wait even a minute longer.
Finally, the three days passed. It was 7 AM, Sunday, with every one ready to meet her. They left for UB City Mall in the same car and waited near the café for two hours to see her.
It was 10 AM now. Bhoomi walked in gracefully in a white dress. She got heads to turn. She was a perfect combination of beauty and brains. She had that smile on her face that could drive someone crazy. Her beautiful outfit highlighted her curves, which made Madan even more anxious to meet her.
She approached them and took a seat in front of them.
Bhoomi: “Do you know why I called all of you together?”
Bhoomi: “Because I have fallen for all of you!”
At this point, Hari, Somnath, and Madan became confused. They were spellbound.
Hari: “Bhoomi, I feel for you a lot. I do agree that I met you only once, but the love I have for you and all the emotions I feel for you whenever I think of you, is something that words cannot express.”
Madan: “Think about your future, and choose one of us. I think we can scale mountains together and lead a happy, successful life. I do meet many people, but after I met you, I can only say that I don’t want to meet any more.”
Somnath: “Bhoomi, you are destined to be with me. I complete you.”
Bhoomi: “All of you are right. That is why I liked all of you.” The waiter then came to the table to take the order.
Waiter: “Ma’am, how many cups of coffee?”
Before Madan could say “four,” Bhoomi said, “two cups of coffee, please.”
The mystery deepened for Madan, Hari and Somnath. “What was the reason for ordering just one coffee for the three of us?” they wondered.
Bhoomi: (Smiling) “Let me tell you all a secret that you have forgotten about yourselves.”
Bhoomi: “More than I wanting all of you, all of you need me. You need me to remind you that all of you are just one person residing inside – mind (Madan), heart (Hari), and soul (Somnath) – of Amit! Only I can connect all of you together and make you feel like you have never felt before.”
Now everything made sense to Amit.
Amit: “You are so right, Bhoomi. I always had this trichotomy inside of me, and they never agreed with the other on anything. Only with you, I got all three of them to align, sing, and dance to the same tune. Be with me always, please. I love you. I cannot say it enough, but I do love you. You are right; I need you more than you need me. I will do my best to keep you happy. Be with me always and keep these three different people together.”
It has been almost ten years now, and all four of them are living happily together.
So it is indeed a possibility to meet someone who, as a soul mate, can feel togetherness at the same level of yours, emote at the same frequency as yours, and think at the same wavelength as yours.
People say love has no language and that it is blind, but I say that when you see love not through your eyes but through your heart, you know it is not blind. When you exchange those beautiful smiles together, you know it has a language of its own, which only the two hearts can feel and understand.
Cheers to that heart and all its games.
I had been a teacher ever since I reached class eight. Teaching was the only way for me to learn. I had realized this a long time ago. So it was a win-win situation for both my students and me.
Over the years, I had fine-tuned my teaching methods, employed the best-researched techniques, and integrated twenty-first century teaching hybrid models. I had been having a good time teaching, and, with my full-time job as a doctor, I taught at various schools and colleges around India and sometimes even outside India.
I had been a successful doctor too. At least, that is what people say. I find it fulfilling to help and touch the lives of other people in a positive way. I want to help as many people as I can. Being an ophthalmologist has its charm. The day job gives me a chance to give people eyesight, and the weekend job gives me a chance to open people’s eyes.
I was happy and successful and thought I was living a fulfilled life. But my wife, Salma, who works as a banker in a multinational company, always had a complaint that I did not do enough for the family. While she thought the weekend was exclusively for the family, I thought Saturday was for my students. We always had fights about this.
Salma: “When was the last time we went on a week-long vacation?”
Shivoo: “A week for me is delayed appointments for 50 patients and a missed opportunity to help at least a hundred students. I cannot take off for a week.”
Salma: “So what of our relationship?”
Shivoo: “We cannot be so selfish. I have been blessed with a unique ability to touch so many people’s lives. I cannot be selfish and think about just me or us.”
Salma: “You don’t love me.”
Shivoo: “You are my strength. I am mechanical without you. You bring in the heart and soul in what I do.”
Salma tried hard to stop her smile, as she was not done being angry yet.
Salma: “Anyway, forget about me. Have you ever thought of teaching our own daughter? She is struggling in mathematics. You teach the whole world, but you can’t spend time with your daughter.”
Shivoo: “Can you please teach her?”
Salma: “That is not the point. Are you not being a bad father?”
Shivoo: “It is the state of every teacher in this country. While they struggle to teach the whole world, they always wonder who will teach their own kids.”
Salma: “So what is the answer?”
Shivoo: “Teaching is a noble profession. I do it with all my heart. Like every other teacher in this country, I also believe that a noble deed I do comes back in some form, and will help my children in their studies. God will have a solution to this.”
Salma: “So what is god’s solution to your problem?”
Shivoo: (Smiling) “You, Salma!”
She hugged me and said, “You have an answer for everything. You won’t ever change!”
While I was waiting for my friend in the cafeteria of one of the biggest IT companies in India, I was passing my time reading an article on Forbes, titled ‘The Myth Of Fearless Leadership: How To Lead When You’re Afraid’. Just then, I noticed a man walk into the cafeteria in an Armani suit, Louis Vuitton shoes, and with two Mont Blanc pens peeping out from his suit pocket. He walked up to me.
Stranger: “Hi, is anyone occupying this seat? Can I sit here?”
Shivoo: “Of course.”
Stranger: “Do you work here?”
Shivoo: “No, I have come here to meet a friend. How about you?”
Stranger: “My name is Karan, and I head the catering company servicing all companies in this Technology Park.”
Shivoo: “That’s great! You must be doing very well?”
Karan: “By God’s grace, yes, I am able to employ around 200 people, and we cater to more than 50 companies in Bengaluru and Delhi. And all of this we achieved in under five years.”
Shivoo: “It’s amazing to hear your growth story. So what’s your secret recipe?”
Karan: “It is just good food!”
Shivoo: (Smiling) “I meant, what is the secret sauce in your business plan?”
Karan: (Slightly confused) “I don’t understand.”
Shivoo: “How did you apply the 4Ps in your plan?”
Karan: (More confused) “Is that a special dish?”
Shivoo: (Surprised) “I meant the 4Ps of marketing?”
Karan: “Sorry, I don’t get these things. I have studied only until class ten, and whatever I have learnt is by observing, listening to, and imitating successful leaders in business. Tell me more about it, I am eager to learn.”
As an IIM alumnus, I was beaming with knowledge and confidence. In the next 30 minutes, I lectured Karan about the 4Ps, influencer marketing, the push-pull strategy, digital marketing, big data, analytics, and how analytics can provide data-based assistance in prioritizing customer touch points for customer experience programs.
Karan: “Very interesting. I did not know any of this. How does all of this help me in getting more business?”
Shivoo: (Proudly) “You should do a study and invest in knowing customer experience, customer lifetime value, voice of customer, and customer behavior. It will help you in customer retention and eventually your revenues and profits.”
By that time, we heard an argument breakout between a senior employee and Karan’s manager in the cafeteria. Karan stood up and rushed into the cafeteria. I followed him quietly.
Karan: “I am the owner of the catering service. Please sir, tell me what happened.”
Employee: “I found a worm in the food. See, it is on my plate!”
Karan took a deep breath.
Karan: “Sir, this is not a worm. It is boiled rice.”
Employee: (Agitated) “Come on, it is a worm!”
Karan immediately popped that thing into his mouth and swallowed it whole.
Karan: “See sir, I told you it is rice!”
Employee: (Confused) “Sorry.”
The crowd then dispersed.
Shivoo: “Wasn’t it a worm?”
Karan: (Smiling) “Hygiene is one of my first priorities. A complaint like this has never come to me before. But when I saw that one-inch object on his plate, I wasn’t thinking what it was. All that mattered to me was my business. So I ate it to save my business.”
Shivoo: “How did you think like that?”
Karan: “I just took a deep breath and asked myself honestly, what’s the worst that can happen if I eat the worm? Would I not save my stay and my customer from the embarrassment? So I did it without caring if it was a worm or indeed badly cooked rice.”
Karan: “Sorry, now tell me what you were saying about analytics and customer experience.”
That moment I felt ashamed of my “knowledge.” I had a man in front of me who demonstrated everything I knew about customer management and problem-solving. His ability to think on his feet and take necessary steps was amazing. I then remembered my friend’s note.
“Everyday leaders never worry about consequences.
Everyday journeys chronicled… Everyday battles surpassed…
Everyday fears quelled.
Everyday leaders sometimes have everything and sometimes nothing to lose. I realized once again that everyday people are everyday leaders.”
The article I was reading, ‘The Myth Of Fearless Leadership: How To Lead When You’re Afraid’ had a new meaning.
It was a lovely Saturday afternoon. My son and I were at Garuda Mall, spending time window-shopping there, before finally landing in Amoeba, the gaming center in Church Street, Bengaluru, for a round of bowling.
While I was talking to the valet driver, my son got down from the car. Before I could get off the car myself and get to him, he was not to be seen. I thought he might have gone upstairs to Amoeba, so I walked leisurely to the bowling center. Just then, I got an important call and spent the next 15 minutes on the phone outside the door of the center. When I entered it, I could not see my son anywhere.
While I began frantically searching for him, I vaguely recalled a transgender crossing my car. For a minute, my heart stopped, and I thought some terrible things. “No! It cannot be possible,” I thought.
People gathered around me, and it did not take them long to realize what had happened.
Stranger 1: “Sir, I am sure that transgender has kidnapped your son.”
Shivoo: “No, that is not possible.”
Stranger 2: “I have heard strange things about them. I am sure it is the transgender who has kidnapped your son. You should go to the cops immediately.”
Stranger 3: “Cops will not be able to help you in this case, as they are not responsive when it comes to transgenders.”
I was getting increasingly worried with everything the strangers around me were saying. I called the cops and, within the next ten minutes, a rough-looking cop in a Hoysala Jeep greeted me.
Cop: “Sir, please explain clearly what happened. Don’t miss any of the details.”
I narrated the whole incident to him. The cop was not like the stereotype that people had made him out to be. His views about the transgender community were very different. Behind his rough exterior, he had a sensitive side.
Cop: “Don’t worry, sir. We will find your son soon. I have been in this area and duty for more than 15 years. Trust me, these transgenders are not what people think they are. Unfortunately, nobody accepts them and employs them. So, for their livelihood, they beg, and some unfortunate ones end up on the streets. But whatever said and done, they don’t kidnap children.”
Stranger 1: “But I have heard…”
Cop: “Just shut up and mind your own business. Don’t spread rumors unnecessarily.”
The next two hours at the police station felt like the longest time I had spent anywhere. I could see the cops in action, and I was very surprised at their efficiency. Finally, they got a call from another police station that they had a transgender with them with a kid matching the description of my son.
Shivoo: “People were right! These people are dangerous for the society. Let us go.”
We went to the police station, and I was relieved to see my son unharmed, except for a bandage on his forehead. He was clinging to the transgender person standing next to him.
I was furious at this sight. Before I could say anything, the transgender person, who went by the name of Lakshmi, spoke to me.
Lakshmi: “Sir, when I was walking on Church Street, a speeding car hit your son, and he fell. The driver did not stop. I could not see anybody next to him, so I carried him immediately to the medical center at the end of the road, and got first aid done. He is fine now. He did not remember your number, so we went to the nearest police station as I was sure you would have reported to the cops. I am so glad we could find you easily.”
I was speechless. The cop looked at me and smiled.
Cop: “It is human to stereotype people based on our preconceived notions. But they aren’t necessarily true. Break away from the mold, and you will realize how unique and beautiful each individual is.”
He knew my eyes were expressing shame and asking for forgiveness.
It was 3 PM on a warm Saturday afternoon, time for the apartment community meeting. It is the same affair each time; a few good people stand in front of their rich neighbors and rant about the same old issues of water availability, waste water recycling, and the management of dry and wet waste in the apartment, even as each of their houses is fitted with multi-jet shower cubicles but no smart toilets and no bins for segregating waste either.
Sharmaji: “The roads to our five-crore villa are pathetic! We have got to do something about it.”
Mehraji: Let us all pool in funds and get it done. A good cement road will do the trick.”
Devesh: “Are you mad? This is the government’s problem. Let us get it done by the person responsible for it in the local administration. I know many people in the current government, and I can pull some strings to get the job done.”
Sharmaji: “That is a good idea.”
Mehraji: “We don’t even pay the taxes fully. We pay the minimum tax by bribing the agent, and then expect the government to fix things. I do not think it is possible with the amount that they collect. I have seen the data.”
Sharmaji: “Mehraji, if you have more money, you can pay more taxes on our behalf. Deveshji, please use your influence and get this done.”
We waited for a few months, but the situation did not improve. In fact, it got worse. It was now time to confront the Corporator.
Anu: “Yes, we should get our Corporator to visit our complex. We have 100 villas and 500 apartments. I am sure we will have a strong enough voice against him and his government.”
Priya: “But why would he come here when he already knows there are so many problems in this constituency?”
Renu: “I have an idea. Let us put together a function and invite him as Chief Guest. These people have a thing for functions and public speeches.”
Priya: “That is a great idea. Let me invite him.”
After a few weeks, a program called “Thank you, Government” was organized, where the Corporator was invited as Chief Guest. At the venue, all of the members were ready with their brickbats to defuse the third-standard-failed Corporator.
Corporator Muthuswamy: “Hello, everyone. I am very happy to be invited here. It is a great initiative by…”
Resident 1: “…We have a question.”
Corporator Muthuswamy: “Let me finish my speech, and then I will answer all your questions.”
Resident 2: “Let us start quickly with the questions and answers, please.”
Corporator Muthuswamy: (Confused and reluctant) “Okay.”
Resident 3: “We have given powers to you to represent us and not make money. What have you done in the last year? You have not got the road done, and you also have not addressed our concerns on drinking water and waste water management.”
Corporator Muthuswamy: (Angrily) “Thanks for your questions. My secretary will answer all your questions.”
Resident 3: “We will not let you get off the podium without answering them.”
When the Corporator realized he had walked into a trap and there was no escape, he decided to do what he was good at – talk.
Corporator Muthuswamy: “Before I answer your questions, let me ask a few questions to you. How many of you here voted last year?”
Out of the 800-odd people assembled there, not more than 50 hands were raised.
Corporator Muthuswamy: “Okay, let me ask you the next question. How many of you have at least registered to vote?”
Another 25 hands went up.
Corporator Muthuswamy: (Smiling) “Don’t you think you deserve me? If you have so many problems with an unfit candidate, you should make an effort to get out of your house and vote for the right candidate. As long as you don’t exercise your fundamental right, you deserve a candidate like me – a third-standard dropout who does not care for you or your needs. I am answerable to only those who have voted me to power, and you are not those people. So, vote first, and then talk.”
All the heads hung in shame, and Corporator Muthuswamy walked down the dais with a broad chest and told his Secretary Kumar,
Corporator Muthuswamy: “Kumar, take out the car. Anyway, we have come until here. Let us go to the slum nearby and announce special funds for the Devi Amma pooja next week. Let us block the main road for the festival. Let them use their money and fly to their seven-bedroom house.”
His words rang in Sharmaji’s ears for a long time after that day.
“As long as you don’t exercise your fundamental right,you deserve a candidate like me.”
It was Sunil’s first visit to the headquarters in Bengaluru. Everyone at the once was excited to greet their new CEO, who had only recently come on board.
While in his cabin, Sunil was catching up on the latest updates on technology on his favorite websites. Just then, his Executive Assistant, Anu, walked in. She looked very excited.
Anu: “Sunil, I just read a marketing research report on the internet of Things (IoT), big data, data analytics and sensors. What is exciting is that we will have these products and applications available soon in India.”
Sunil: “Yes, you are right. We have a great opportunity. But we have to be cautious too, because most of the applications they are talking about are technologically sound. But when it comes to real applications and products, I always wonder about some products if we really do need them?”
Anu: “No, sir, I think it would be great when machines and sensors would work for us and help us make our decisions.”
Sunil: (Smiling) “Can I get something to eat? Not heavy, something light. And as always, without oil or cheese in it. And can you please make it quick?”
It was a mission for Anu. She had at least eight people ready to run down to the cafeteria to help her make the choice. Anu immediately reached out to her staff.
Anu: “Boys, we have an interesting project at hand. I want each of you to go down to the cafeteria and get me data on what is available down there so I can make the right choice for our boss.”
To Staff 1: “You go down and get me all the food items that can be prepared within ten minutes.”
To Staff 2: “Get me all the food items that have less than 200 calories in it.”
To Staff 3: “Get me data on the last ten orders our boss has ordered.”
To Staff 4: “Get me the health records of all the food courts down below.”
To Staff 5: “Get me the price list of all the foods available in the food court.”
To Staff 6: “You monitor the work of these five staff members, and make sure they do their job”
To Staff 7: You are a backup for any of the first five staff identified. Staff 6 will assign work to you. So be on standby.”
To Staff 8: “Get me all the new food items introduced in the last one month.”
To Staff 9: “Do an informal survey and get me the top three food choices in the food court, their recommendations.”
To Staff 10: “You are the big data analyst…Look at the data compiled and deduce the preferred choice based on the criteria decided by our boss.”
All of them go about their tasks with great energy and get all the data required in the next 15 minutes. Staff 10 is busy crunching the data, and after 20 minutes, comes up with a menu which he thinks is right for his boss. Anu is happy with the analysis. She rushes to her boss’s cabin.
Anu: “Sunil, I have got the right menu for you.”
Suddenly she sees Sunil munching on a burger with a big coke lying on the table.
Sunil: “I felt hungry, so I went down and grabbed a burger!”
Anu: (Disappointed) Sunil, but I had collected all the required data to make the right choice of food for you.”
Sunil: “I agree that you have made the right choice, but I just felt like eating this. Sorry.”
Rajesh, the Director of Marketing, who was also present there, told Anu,
Rajesh: “Anu, I know you are completely mesmerized with IoT and the benefits it brings. What you just did is what an IoT application would do to make a decision. Your staff members were like sensors and you were the central processing unit.”
But as Sunil told you earlier, when good technology is used more than required, and when products or services are complicated to build, and a lot of processing is involved, we fail!
IoT is surely IoE (Internet of Everything), but more importantly, it is IoS (Internet of Services) and in fact, Internet of Customized Services, as required by the user. Let us not get carried away with IoT to make simple decisions in life.
Anu: (Smiling) “Now I know why I should not get carried away with the marketing research reports. Remind me the next time you raise an invoice for the latest marketing research report.”
One Sunday evening, my son and I were surfing the web together in a “productive and engaging” father-son interaction.
Shikhar: “Can we get a PS4?”
Shivoo: “Of course, yes, but it is part of the Luxury spreadsheet.”
Shikhar: “Luxury spreadsheet? Explain that to me. What is the catch here?”
Shivoo: “Whatever you need as a child, a student and a hobbyist, it is my duty as a parent to provide it. But anything I decide is a “want,” and not a “need,” will enter the Luxury spreadsheet.”
Shikhar: “It’s just an xls sheet, right?”
Shivoo: “Yes, it is just an xls sheet; reminder for you to pay me back when you grow up and start earning.”
Shikhar: “Do I pay you back the same amount?”
Shivoo: (Smiling) “Clever! Nope, you pay it back with interest. Ten percent compound interest, in fact!”
Shikhar: “How much would it be after 10 years if I shop for 1 lakh today?”
Shivoo: “That would be around 2.7 lakh after 10 years.”
Shikhar: “That is a lot! Change it to simple interest.”
Shivoo: “Okay, with simple interest, it would be 2 lakh.” Shikhar: “That is also too high. I can manage with a PS3 for now.”
Shivoo: “The next time you want something, do a calculation yourself using an online financial calculator and then let me know. I would be more than happy to fund your wants in that case.”
After the passing of a few months,
Shivoo: “Let us buy the new virtual reality kit for the house.”
Shikhar: “How much is it?”
Shivoo: “It costs about 70,000 rupees.”
Shikhar quickly starts up his laptop and checks something.
Shikhar: “No thanks if it goes into my Luxury spreadsheet.”
Shivoo: (Smiling) “You get it now.”
I was in a class like any other at IIM Bengaluru, full of experienced professionals from different industries, almost all of them high achievers earning humongous salaries. Their pay packages were enough for them to invest in 2BHK apartments every single year.
One day, while some of us classmates were busy discussing, as I recall, the effect of oil prices on other countries’ economies and some elements of macroeconomics, our finance professor entered the class with a young girl behind him.
Professor: “Hello, everyone. We have someone very special with us here today. She has come here to share her experience with us.
Her name is Shraddha, and I am sure you will be inspired by her story.”
We all smiled, and I am sure every one of us had the same thought, ‘Are we getting inspired by this young girl? Tough luck, Professor.’
Shraddha: “Sorry, my English is not as good as you, but let me share my story. I am 25 years old, and I have studied until the seventh standard. I could not attend eighth standard as it was outside our village, Gangenahalli.”
All of us, for a minute, were taken aback on hearing the word “village.” Gangenahalli today is Ganganagar, which has one of Bengaluru’s busiest streets in it. In no way could it have been a village.
Shraddha: “I know what you all are thinking. Gangenahalli is not a village. But for our family and our community, it still is. The school I was attending did not provide education beyond eighth standard. And as per our family tradition, I could not go outside our locality for studies, so I dropped out.
Four years ago, Mr. Raju, from a non-governmental organization called Indira, met me and convinced my family to let me re-learn all the fundamental concepts taught in high school and upskill myself. In the last four years, I have learnt to speak and write in English and completed my tenth standard through a correspondence program. In addition, I have learnt the basics of the retail and services industry.
Today, I teach a class of 20 girls, hand picked from all parts of Karnataka. They are all like me who never got an opportunity to complete their studies and be financially independent. I am proud to say that I have successfully helped place 60 students in the last two years in places like Coffee Day, Domino’s Pizza, and McDonald’s. They are all independent now, earning a livelihood for their family and living respectable lives.
I want to reach out to more such girls, and it is my mission to work hard and touch as many lives as possible. I was lucky enough to do well, so it is my responsibility to send the elevator back down to pick up as many people as I can.
Thanks for listening, and thanks for your time. Hope you all make a difference in somebody’s life and be a catalyst for their bright future.”
Suddenly, we all felt so small in front of her. We had the right background, money, and education, but when we ask ourselves, ‘How many lives have we changed positively?’, many of us cannot go beyond single digits.
We all wait for that one big opportunity to help the people and the community we are a part of, but forget that we can influence someone’s life positively every day by taking small steps within our reach.
When I was invited to address a new batch of students joining a popular engineering college in Bengaluru, I got my speech ready. As I had been doing this for years, the words came naturally.
On the day of the event, one of my close friends, Shankar, tagged along. Shankar and I go a long way back. We both had studied together, and have been through thick and thin.
I started my speech with a story, a story of dreams, reality, failure, struggle, the strength of the spirit and success. My friend immediately knew it was the story of Steve Jobs, and that Shivoo was stitching it together by offering it a different treatment by localizing it. Shankar grew even more curious than the kids while listening to my speech, to see how I was using known facts in a different way.
As my talk went along, I touched upon many different quotes and anecdotes from Abraham Lincoln to Mahatma Gandhi, and I had a sense that students were enjoying it. At the end of my 45-minute presentation, there was an extra sense of energy and enthusiasm that I could see in the students’ steps. My job was done.
Then, as we were driving back, Shankar asked me,
Shankar: “The story you told the students was of Steve Jobs. Why did you have to name it differently? Everyone knows Apple and Steve Jobs. Why not use the same names?”
Shivoo: “Well, they have heard these popular stories many times before, so I would not have been able to get their attention. Also, in all these stories, there is a subtle message for the reader. Localization of a story helps in connecting the listener to the essence of the story. My job as a presenter today was to give the message Steve Jobs wanted to give. I thought I did it well.”
Shankar: “Of course, you did it well. But tell me this. Why did you pass on your own beliefs as Gandhi’s or Lincoln’s?”
Shivoo: “Who am I to these students? Why should they get inspired with what I have to say or with my personal stories? Though what I say is right, I pass it on to my audiences by signing on whatever I say to Gandhi, Lincoln or Kalam. It is then well received and absorbed. Again, my job is to ensure they get the message. I am just a messenger, so what’s in a signature?”
Shankar smiled quietly as we drove along.
One afternoon, after I had completed the morning session at the school where I taught, I heard a soft knock at the door of my staff cabin.
Shivoo: “Please come in.”
Visitor: “Good afternoon, sir. Thanks for the appointment! I have already interacted with all your staff members for an article I am writing for the Bharath Times. I just had one question for you.”
Shivoo: “Hope your interaction with the staff went well? Please do ask me your question.”
Reporter: “When I spoke to your staff, I could feel their positive energy. Some of the parents I met with were very happy with the teaching staff. What is your secret for hiring teachers?”
Shivoo: “When I entered the education line full-time, my first task was to recruit an energetic academic staff since they are the real soul of a good school. No amount of infrastructure will do any good if you have bad teachers teaching for you. So, I put up a simple 50:50 formula for teacher recruitment.”
Reporter: “What is the 50:50 formula?”
Shivoo: “It is simple. When a teacher comes in for an interview, we check if they have the necessary credentials. Then, after the first few rounds of interview with the principal and the administrative staff, the final interview is a mock class. I usually walk into this mock class.
They all come prepared for a one-hour demo on their favorite subject. They start with an introduction, a pleasant smile, and an anecdote to break the ice. Then, they gradually present the relevant subject matter. The next 30 minutes is spent providing engaging material, with a good mix of jokes thrown in to keep up the engagement. When they are ready to switch gears at the 30-minute mark for the second half of their lecture, I stop them and tell them, ‘Now, take a two-minute break and repeat the presentation you delivered in the first 30 minutes. I want the same energy, the same anecdotes, the same theory, the same jokes, and this time too, you should make me lose myself in your subject and laugh at your jokes’.”
Reporter: (Confused) “What is the purpose of that?”
Shivoo: “As a teacher, we go from one class to another, and sometimes, we end up teaching the same topic we taught in the previous class. So there is a tendency for a dip in energy while delivering the same lecture a second time around. But what we need to realize is that we are addressing another set of kids who are hungry to learn. We cannot afford to lose focus or energy while teaching the same subject over and over again. I see a lot of teachers deliver a fantastic lecture for one hour, but very few manage to replicate it even once more, let alone multiple times.
Recall all your great teachers. Do they share the same jokes even today? If yes, then they are the best in my eyes. Because they have realized that the topic, the subject, the content remains the same every year; it is only the learner and the mode and tools of engagement that change yearly.”
Reporter: (Smiling) “The 50:50 formula sounds right to me.”
About six months ago, I was invited to advise a young startup management team working on a million-dollar idea in the e-commerce space. I accepted the invite, as I thought it would be a great learning experience for me to interact with the next pioneers of the industry.
On the day of the meeting, when I walked into the startup, a young CEO bubbling with energy, Rohit, welcomed me in.
Shivoo: “Thanks for the invitation, Rohit. What do you want me to advise your team about?”
Rohit: “We have had many subject matter experts come to our startup to advise us on the market and future trends and motivate us to develop the next million-dollar idea, build investor relations, engage customers better and build a market strategy. But now, I want something different.”
Shivoo: (Smiling) “Okay, I will do it. But I have a question and a request.”
Rohit: “Sure, please tell me.”
Shivoo: “What is the one thing that is bothering you about your team?”
Rohit: “I don’t see the same energy, passion and commitment in the employees who have joined us recently as compared to the founding team who have been working with us for the last three years.”
Rohit: “What is your request?”
Shivoo: “Can we take a walk inside your office?”
Rohit was surprised at this request. Most visitors typically asked him for the product presentation or walked into the boardroom directly.
Rohit: “Shivoo, you are the first of our guests with such a request. I am curious to know why.”
Shivoo: “Let’s walk. I will tell you later.”
As we walked by the isles, cubicles, open table spaces and conference rooms, there was one thing in common that I noticed -all soft boards in every workstation had pinups highlighting keyresponsibilities, deliverables and product roadmap plans. This was in contrast to all the walls, which were white in color and carrying the company's brand proposition, iCARE. The letter 'i' stood for integrity, C for customer, A for adaptability, R for responsibility and E for empathy. This got me thinking, and then I knew exactly what Rohit and his team wanted from me.
Shivoo: “From today, stop taking meeting notes on the laptop; instead, use white sheets and sticky notes. Use the walls as a canvas. Let it be a source of inspiration and a learning ground for all employees to understand what decisions you take and how you arrive at them.”
Rohit: (Excited) “I really want to try this!”
Six months later, when I was invited back to their office, the white walls were filled with diagrams, smileys, stickers, ink, and white sheets crammed with data.
Shivoo: “So, Rohit, how are things?”
Rohit: “Thank you, Shivoo. Your idea worked like a charm. Today, all our employees are completely engaged at work and really own every problem they face. The notes on the walls help them understand the criticality of the project and the importance of quality and milestones. They now know how the senior management thinks, the constraints we have, and how a decision is taken. They live through the board meetings we have by reading the notes on the wall. It is more than a wall now. No longer do I have to keep selling my vision and mission statement to everyone.”
I had given my car for service, so I booked an Ola cab to get to work one morning. The driver of the cab was prompt; the car reached the pickup location in just two minutes, at around 6:30 AM.
The driver walked up to me, sporting a pleasant smile. And though I hadn’t booked an Ola Prime cab, the car was welcomingly tidy. Then, three minutes into the ride, the driver, Prakash, met my eyes in the rearview mirror.
Prakash: “Sir, I have kept today’s Business Standard and Economic Times in the front-seat pocket. Feel free to read it.”
Shivoo: (Surprised) “So you read these papers?”
Prakash: “Sir, Shouldn’t an Ola cab driver read business papers?”
Shivoo: “Sorry that is not what I meant. Of course, you can. But I am pleasantly surprised. Great going!”
Shivoo: “So, tell me your story?”
Prakash: (Smiling) “Sir, I had a flourishing stock brokerage firm in Malleshwaram a year ago with 50 people working for me. I was making two lakh per month on average in profits.”
Shivoo: “Oh, then what happened?”
Prakash: “I was duped by my partner, sir. I lost more than two crore because of that. But all my customers have remained friends with me for the last 10 months. I wanted to return every bit of their hard-earned money.”
Shivoo: “So, what did you do?”
Prakash: (Proudly) “Luckily, I had two houses in Indiranagar, which I had bought with my earnings from my company. I sold one of them and paid everyone back their dues.”
Shivoo: “Impressive. And what is your story of driving a taxi?”
Prakash: “I have two daughters who are in high school. My monthly expenses come up to around two lakh rupees. After taking out all the unnecessary expenses, I still need one and a half lakh per month to comfortably run the household – something that I have been doing for years.
I set up a stock brokerage and fund management company, and I am slowly recovering the money. I make around a lakh rupees per month from there. But this alone wasn’t enough for me. So I decided to drive an Ola cab from 6:30 AM to noon every day. I make around 60,000 rupees per month from driving this taxi.”
Shivoo: “I am very happy to hear that. Do you feel bad for running a big company as a boss past noon and driving customers around in the morning?”
Prakash: “No, not even once have I felt bad. Why should I feel bad? I have given my daughters the biggest lesson in life. Money is not everything. What is more important is to manage trust and relationships. Money lost can be earned, but respect lost is gone forever.”
Shivoo: “Your daughters should be proud of you.”
Prakash: “Yes, they often say, ‘Dad you are my hero. You have taught us to never give up in life no matter what the circumstances are. Honesty, dedication, and hard work always pay’.”
Shivoo: “Kudos to you! Fathers get very few opportunities to live the values they teach their kids. You are one of those lucky souls.”
One Wednesday evening, after a long day at work, I took my colleagues out for dinner to Bootleggers, a popular watering hole on VittalMallya Road in Bengaluru.
It was my regular place – or “adda,” as they call it locally – which is where you could catch me hanging out with friends on the weekends.
After an evening of foot-tapping music, some laughs, and good food, we stepped out of the pub. While we were waiting for the valet to bring my car, a young boy approached me with a handful of stickers.
Boy: “Uncle, how are you?”
Shivoo: (Impressed) “You remember me?”
Boy: “Yes, I sold you a rose last Saturday.”
Shivoo: (Smiling) “I was traveling at that time, so it cannot be Saturday. I was here last Sunday, though.”
Boy: (Sheepish Smile) “Sorry, sir. Actually, I don’t remember you.”
Shivoo: “Why did you start as if you knew me?”
Boy: “Usually it works to sell my stickers.”
Shivoo: (Growing eager) “Tell me how.”
Boy: “Most of the regulars usually bring guests here to have a good time. So when I talk to them as if I know them, they feel nice as their guests watch them, and they buy things I sell regardless of whether they need it or not.”
Shivoo: “That is a great strategy! Do you go to school?”
Boy: “Yes, uncle, I am in the ninth standard, and I hold the second rank in my school.”
Shivoo: “What’s your name?”
Boy: “My actual name is Prasad, but everyone calls me Archie.”
Shivoo: (Surprised) “Why Archie?”
Archie: “Because they think I am like a moving Archies gift store.”
Shivoo: (Smiling) “So you work every night?”
Archie: “No, I come on weekends – Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and then midweek – Wednesday.”
Shivoo: “Do you only sell stickers?”
Archie: “No, I sell roses on Friday and Saturday, stickers on Sunday and Wednesday.”
Shivoo: “Why is that?”
Archie: “Usually on weekends, people come with their girlfriends. So when I walk up to them with roses, they are forced to buy them for their girlfriends.”
Shivoo: “Interesting! Why stickers on Sunday and Wednesday?” Archie: “Usually on Sunday and Wednesday, they come with friends or colleagues, and as they probably miss their families after dinner, selling stickers to them is easier.”
Shivoo: “Very impressive. Where did you learn all these strategies?”
Archie: “It may be a strategy for you, sir, but it is a way of life for me. I just observed people’s purchase behavior and came out with this formula for myself.”
Shivoo: “So, any other interesting sales idea?”
Archie: “Yeah, there is one thing. I keep a box of chewing gum with me. When girls come out, I ask them if they want to buy a box of gum for 10 rupees. It costs just five rupees, but they are willing to pay 10 rupees. Plus, I also check interest on stickers and roses. So I make money on both products I sell. Although the first product is mainly to break the ice with customers.”
Shivoo: “Next week should be a busy week for you?”
Archie: “Yes, 14th February is Valentine’s Day. More men will be converted to customers automatically. All I have to do is take a rose in my hand when the man is with his love, and smile!
By the way, this week, I will be selling greeting cards also.”
Shivoo: “Do you know the significance of the Valentine’s week?”
Archie: (Curious) “What is it, sir?”
Shivoo: “Every day starting from 7th is a special day – 7th is Rose Day, 8th is Propose Day, 9th is Chocolate Day, 10th is Teddy Day, 11th is Promise Day, 12th is Hug Day, 13th is Kiss Day and 14th is Valentine’s Day.”
Archie: (Smiling) “Thank you, sir. I need to go and buy so many things now to sell on each of these days. I can have much more business that way.”
Just then, I remembered a quote: “Creative without strategy is called ‘art.’ Creativity with strategy is called advertising.” He was a living embodiment of this quote.
I had a conversation with a team member a few months ago.
Rohit: “Shivoo, can I get permission to view the SharePoint Folder called ‘Strategic Initiatives’?”
Shivoo: “Sorry, Rohit, only managers have permission to view it.”
Rohit’s reaction clearly revealed that he did not like the answer.
Rohit was promoted recently to be a manager. He was all excited to experience the other side of the wall. The first thing he did was to place an access request to a SharePoint folder on the computer, called ‘Strategic Initiatives’.
Rohit: “Can I now get access to the folder?”
Shivoo: “Of course, yes, you have earned it now.”
At this moment, I could see Rohit’s chest swell with pride. I guessed that when he would be back at his desk, he would reviewthe files in the folder. But before you could count until nine, he was back in my cabin.
Rohit: “What is this? The folder has one Word file. When I open it, the document says, ‘Fill it now’!”
Shivoo: “Yeah, it is empty, and it doesn’t have anything yet.”
Rohit: (Angry, confused) “Then why did you not grant me permission to it earlier?”
Shivoo: “I did not see the need to let you know that it was an empty folder.”
Rohit: “This is not fair.”
Shivoo: (Smiling) “Welcome to the world of management.”
Rohit: “What is the lesson for me here as a manager?”
Shivoo: “Take an empty box and sell it. Though you know the box is empty, sell it with your heart and soul to your employees. Promise them that there are stars inside the box. Let them struggle to earn it. A few deserving members will eventually earn the right to open it.”
Rohit: “Won’t they know then that you lied?”
Shivoo: “Management is not about selling dreams only. You need to help them realize their dreams too.”
Rohit: “Sorry, I didn’t get you.”
Shivoo: “When they open the box, ensure there are stars inside the box. Only then will they believe in the next box you sell them.”
Rohit: “Interesting, but what if I am unable to put the stars in there on time?”
Shivoo: “That is the difference between a manager and a leader. Be a leader first, then a manager. Get the stars first, and then worry about the box, not the other way around.”
The maid at Sunil’s house, Jayamma, who had been working with them for over 10 years, approached his wife, Vimala, one day.
Jayamma: “Akka (sister), can you loan me 3,000 rupees?”
Vimala: “Do you want it urgently?”
Jayamma: “Yes, akka, I need it to build something.”
Vimala: “Sure, you can take it from me tomorrow morning.”
Sunil had seen what had just happened.
Sunil: “Vimala, why do you trust her so much? She just finished building her one-bedroom house. Why would she need money to build something else now? What can you build with 3000 rupees?”
Vimala: “I don’t know, Sunil. But I trust her, that is why I didn’t think it was necessary to ask her what she was building.”
Sunil: “You spoil maids like this. They stop having any value for money.” The next day, Jayamma collects the money from Vimala.
Jayamma: “Akka, please cut this amount from my salary for this month.”
That weekend, Sunil and Vimala had to visit their friend, so they left their 12-year-old son, Sharat, with Jayamma. By the time they came back, they were pleasantly surprised at the sight of a new kennel in the house, where their pet, 12-year-old Rocky, was sleeping comfortably.
Sharat came running to them.
Sharat: “You are the greatest dad. Thank you!” Sunil: “Who built this?”
Jayamma: “Anna (brother), I got it done with the money I borrowed from you.”
Jayamma: “You got Rocky the same year I started working at your house. He was such a small pet at that time. So I am very attached to him, the same way I am attached to your son. But Rocky is too old now and cannot walk much. My son, Jaggu, once asked me while playing with Sharat, ‘Why does our boss not take care of Rocky? Why should the dog sleep in the harsh sun? They have so much money but still they havenot built a shelter for Rocky. Is it because he is old? Do they think now they don’t have to take care of him?’ Then, I said to him, ‘No Jaggu, you should not talk like that. See, our boss has given me money to build the shelter.’ At that time, I did not have any money. But when my son said all that, I could not bear the look of sadness in your son’s eyes. I didnot want him to grow up with a negative feeling about his dad not taking care of an old pet. So I asked fora loan and got this shelter built. See what I have named the shelter:
“Sharat’s house for his brother Rocky”
Vimala hugged Jayamma and her eyes said it all. She turned to her husband.
Vimala: “Sunil, you asked me what could be built with 3000 rupees. It is not a house but the trust and values that one can build with mere 3000 rupees.”
Ramesh was promoted to a manager’s role from a purely technical one recently. He was all excited about it. Like anyone else would in his position, he started reading many Harvard Business Review articles. After reading extensively on the types of people and styles of management, he came to me to speak to me about it.
Ramesh: “Shivoo, I come to you because I have always seen you as my mentor. There were many articles and papers that I read about the types of people – GENX, GENY, etc. – but when I look at my team, I am not able to place any of my team members into these buckets. Somehow, I feel like it is not applicable to Indians. I have a person on my team with just over a year of experience that keeps asking for a change in project. Can you help me understand this better?”
Shivoo: “Diversity in workforce should not be based on gender, age or experience. It should be inter-generational differences.”
Ramesh: “Can you please elaborate?”
Shivoo: “My IIMB professor explained this well. Let me summarize it for you. Generational diversity can be divided into 3 categories.
GEN1, where the parents of the employee come from an agriculture background or first generation in industry
GEN2, where the parents of the employee are from the government or public sector
GEN3, where the parents of the employee work in the private sector
The people belonging to GEN1 have been brought up with a value system that says you have to be honest and loyal and work hard, and the company will take care of you. GEN1 puts family first and is high on effort, hard work, and loyalty.
The people in GEN2 category are all about “me and family.” They work for name and fame and can’t take shame.
The lives of people in GEN3 typically revolve around choices. It is all about change and themselves. They are brought up with choices and a system of rewards.”
Ramesh: “Can you tell me more about GEN3? I see many of my team members fitting that profile.”
Shivoo: “Sure, GEN3 comprises people who are brought up with statements like, ‘If you study for 1 hour, you will get to watch TV later for 30 minutes’. Also, they are regularly deciding between different options, like eating at KFC or McDonald’s this Sunday. Even when they get their first job offer, they want a choice – this company or that one? Their thought processes go something like this: ‘Mobile phones can be changed, and so can TVs. So careers and companies can be changed too’. But when you have seen everything in abundance, midst lots of changing variables, how can you value anything?”
Ramesh: “So, if you have GEN3 people on your team, can I assume that they will be unstable?”
Shivoo: “No, you just need to manage them differently. When you assign jobs, you should always give them a choice. Make them feel like they own the choice. This is because they come with a ‘change’ mindset and a ‘choice’ mindset, not stability. GEN3 thinks change is their right and not a privilege. The biggest plus point for GEN3 people is that their value system enables them to think big, be creative, think outside the box, and take risks.”
Ramesh: “What is the right mix of this in the team?”
Shivoo: “It doesn’t matter. You just have to change things up as per the workforce. Note that there is nothing right or wrong about GEN1, GEN2, or GEN3. But as a manager, understanding key differences in their value system is important. Disassociating yourself from a particular GENx is critical.”
It was a hectic day for Chiranth. He was planning a trip to Dharamasthala, one of the most popular pilgrimage centers of Karnataka, India, with his extended family. He was well connected with temple authorities there and was treated with utmost respect for his generous social and financial contribution to many villages in India.
He had a teenage daughter and a son, a beautiful wife, a supportive family, great friends, a thriving business; everything was picture-perfect for a god-fearing man like Chiranth.
It was a regular, relaxed Sunday afternoon for Chiranth until his wife, Sunanda, entered the room with a disturbed look on her face.
Chiranth: “What happened? All fine?”
Sunanda: “No, it is not fine. Our daughter Kiran…”
Chiranth: “What happened to Kiran? Did you catch her with her boyfriend?”
Sunanda: “No, I caught her smoking marijuana.”
Chiranth could not believe what he had just heard. Kiran was only in class nine and had turned 15 years old recently. He thought this simply couldnot be true.
Chiranth: “Come again? Kiran is smoking pot?”
Sunanda: “Yes, I saw weed in her room with a hookah next to her bed. When I tried to wake her up, she could not even stand up straight. She seemed disillusioned. When I asked her if she smoked pot, she said yes.”
Chiranth’s world just came crashing down in that moment. He had a wild childhood himself, but never thought he would see Kiran being that way too.
Chiranth: “I cannot believe this. Kiran is such a bright kid. She always had a good head on her shoulders, and such a fine young woman. How could she do this to herself? Where did we go wrong?”
Sunanda: “Please talk to her.”
Chiranth went into his daughter’s room. He could find his daughter in an inebriated state. He knew it didnot make sense for him to talk to her then. He just looked into her eyes.
Every minute from then on was like walking on burning coal for both Chiranth and Sunanda. Finally, the clock limped its way to 6 PM. When they went to Kiran’s room, she was her regular self, reading a novel as if nothing had happened.
Chiranth: “Kiran, do you understand the gravity of the situation? Do you know what you did was wrong?”
Kiran: “Yes, I know what I did was wrong. But I am not addicted to it. I just wanted to try it and see how it felt.”
Chiranth knew he was not talking to a young girl. Kiran had grown to become a young woman with independent thoughts. It was Chiranth’s job now to make her understand what was right and what was wrong.
Chiranth: “Experiencing everything in life is okay, but some things are not worth experiencing it yourself. You should read about it, learn from others, and then do the right thing.”
Kiran: “But experimenting doesn’t harm me.”
Chiranth: “Have you ever tried tasting shit?”
Kiran: “Ew, no. Why would I?”
Chiranth: “The same argument as yours. If you want to experiment, why don’t you try eating shit?”
Kiran: “Sorry, I understand what you are saying. But it said on the Internet that there are no side effects to weed. It’s even legal in a few states in the US.”
Chiranth always knew about the misrepresentation of information on the web. But he never thought he would see such a day. He immediately called me up and asked for my help in this matter and to talk to Kiran, who was like a daughter to me.
I landed in their house a few hours later and spoke to Kiran.
Shivoo: “Kiran, I know you wanted to experiment and try out new things.”
Shivoo: “Does the Internet also tell you that they add rat poison in marijuana to make it more potent?”
Kiran: “What? I never knew that. Why would they do that?” Chiranth: “To increase the potency of the weed. And to make sure you get addicted to it.”
Kiran: “Sorry, I did not know about that.”
Shivoo: “I always told my son to follow you. You are a role model to my son. Do you want him to follow you down this road?”
Kiran: “No uncle, never. I promise I won’t touch it again.”
Shivoo: “Let me tell you another story. A story of Darwin D’Souza. Darwin was my hostel mate during my time as a student of engineering. Once while I was returning from the mess after dinner, I saw Darwin standing there with tears in his eyes. I went up to him.”
Shivoo: “What happened, Darwin?”
Darwin: “I have become addicted to marijuana, and I don’t like it. My parents are struggling to pay the fees, and look how I am wasting all my money. I want to stop, but I am not able to.”
Shivoo: “Don’t worry. From today, you will always be with me, and we will do the right thing together. I will help you get over this addiction.”
Over the next couple of years, Darwin and I remained the best of friends. It was not easy for him to get over his addiction to weed, but he was eventually able to kick this habit. After completing the engineering program, we lost touch with each other. Co-incidentally, after 15 years, I got a letter from him last month.
“Why don’t you read it yourself,” I said to Kiran. She opened the letter and started reading:
Sorry I have not been in touch with you for so many years. But you have always been remembered. I am in the US working as a Senior Vice President at Apple and doing very well for myself.
There has not been a day that I have not thanked you for helping me that night when I was crying in the middle of the road waiting for a divine intervention. I don’t believe in a god, but I believe what you did for me was nothing less than what any god would have done for their devotee. Thank you! Thank you for making me who I am. Thank you for the new lease of life. Thank you for the support you gave me when I needed it the most. You are my angel, you are always in my prayers.”
After reading this aloud, Kiran hugged me.
Kiran: “Thanks, uncle. I will write the same letter to you in 15 years. I will be someone, and that day, I will let you know I got there because of you and my parents. Thank you!”
Srinivas was called Seena by his loved ones. To me, Seena was full of life, energetic, talkative, and always smiling. He was my brother Kalyan’s close friend.
One Sunday morning, Kalyan had a worried look on his face.
Shivoo: “What happened, Kalyan? You look disturbed.”
Kalyan: “You know Seena, right?”
Shivoo: “Of course, I do. Why?”
Kalyan: (His eyes wet) “He met with an accident last night when he was driving back home.”
Shivoo: (Shocked) “Is he all right?”
Kalyan: “No. He is paralyzed from the neck down. He can never recover from it.”
I could feel Kalyan’s pain. We went to Seena’s house to see him. Over the next few weeks, I was very disturbed by the whole incident. Seena was in love with a girl named Veena. But it was after the accident that they both got married. I wasn’t able to tell whether it was out of love or compassion.
After completing my studies in India, I went to the US and lost touch with Seena. Then, eight years after the accident, Kalyan spoke to me.
Kalyan: “I am planning to go and meet Seena. Do you want to come?”
Shivoo: “I want to. Let us go.”
We both then went to Seena’s house. On entering his house, I saw a big photo of Seena and Veena together on the wall. I was happy and surprised.
When I entered the room, I saw Seena on the bed with pipes coming out of his neck. His body had shrunk to one-fifth of his size from many years ago. His smile and energy was still the same though, in fact maybe even more than before.
Seena: “Long time, Shivoo. How have you been?”
Shivoo: “Good, Seena. It is so nice to see you after so many years.”
Seena: (Smiling) “You must be wondering how this person is still alive.”
Before I could react, Veena walked in with a sponge. She said hello to me and wiped his face clean.
Seena: “Isn’t she beautiful? She is my wife, my nurse, my life – my everything. I am alive today only because of her. I love my Veena.”
Veena: (Smiling) “Enough of your patronage. I need to go and give a bath to the baby. You don’t drink too much now.”
I was shocked, and confused.
Seena: “Are you confused with the fact that she has a baby, or that I drink even today?”
Shivoo: “Actually, both!”
Seena: “Yes, I do drink. I know it goes out of the pipe from my neck, but I get a different kick! You won’t understand it, and I don’t want anyone to understand it either. Now give me a sip and don’t forget to feed me the peanuts kept next to you.”
Shivoo: (Smiling) “Talk to Kalyan once. He lost a few lakhs in business and acts as if he has lost everything in life.”
Seena: “Kalyan, look at me. I have only my head; none of the other parts of my body function. It was very easy for me to give up. But I did not. I value this life more than anything else. Only with my head, I was able to open a Bar & Restaurant, which gave me enough money to spend for my medical needs. I still buy my girl every dress she wears. All your body parts are functioning. Don’t tell me you cannot earn. How can you give up on your life? Take the bull by its horns and live life. Stop saying ‘I cant’. You can, you have just chosen not to.”
Kalyan: “Yes, Seena. Looking at you and listening to you, I feel ashamed of myself. I promise you, I will do everything not just to earn more money but also to face challenges with a smile on my face.”
Shivoo: “Now tell me about Veena.”
Seena: “Veena is my wife, but the baby is not mine. After my accident, she learnt that I won’t be okay ever again and would not be able to walk. We had known and loved each other madly for more than five years. The moment the doctor wrote me off, Veena signed in. We got married even though everyone including me opposed it.”
Seena: “She looked into everyone’s eyes and asked, ‘What if it had happened after the marriage?’ Nobody had an answer to that. She did not marry me out of compassion but because we loved each other very much. A year ago, my doctor gave me at most a year to live. That is when I convinced Veena to get married to my friend Kethan. Now look at them, they have a three-month-old baby and are very happy together. But mind you, she comes here every day and takes care of me. I don’t just love her, I worship her. My other half of the body is missing, but my better half is better off without me.”
Shivoo: “Amazing chap you are!”
Seena: (Smiling) “That is life, buddy. It should keep moving, and everybody should accept challenges and fight them with a smile. What is life without challenges? When you look at me, you look only at my face and not at my dead body below my neck. Life is like that; you should always look at the positives and not worry about the negatives. I never gave up on anybody. They say miracles happen every day. But in my case, no miracle happened, and I am glad I fought this battle.”
Shivoo: “Nothing to say, really. You are a fighter, and I will always remember you.”
Some three months later, I heard he passed away. Seena best embodied the quote, ‘When life knocks you down, get back up and fight harder.’
His words still ring in my ears, and they keep me going every day. Yes, always with a smile.
It had been a hectic weekday. At around 8 PM, I walked into Skyye Bar, UB City, with the intention of continuing my work there. The bar was almost empty, and I settled myself into a cozy couch at the corner of the restaurant.
I saw two men nearby engaged in an emotionally charged conversation. As that conversation was much better than the presentation I was working on, I shut my laptop, ordered a drink, and started listening to what they were saying intently.
Sagar: “Praveen, tell me what is the main problem.”
Praveen: “Sagar, you won’t understand. You are young, handsome, and making so much more money than I am.”
Sagar: “What has that got to do with Devi?”
Praveen: “Everything! Have you noticed Devi lately? She’s getting too close to you. I don’t like it one bit. She’s ignoring me.”
Sagar: “That’s true, but it’s because I love her more than you do!”
Praveen: “Sagar, remember, I have loved her for 35 years! She cannot forget me just because she got a younger man.”
Sagar: “You’ve already lost her, buddy. She had worked hard to keep you happy. For once, she wants to do something for herself. Let her! She isn’t staying with you anymore. She is moving in with me.”
Praveen: “I won’t let that happen. I will break your face before that happens.”
Sagar: “Don’t act like a child now. Learn to live by yourself. In a few weeks, you will be fine, I’m sure.”
Praveen starts putting his hands in his pockets, as if to search for something.
Sagar: “What are you looking for now?”
Praveen: “My gun! She is so hot. I love her very much. I won’t let this happen. My life will be shattered.”
Sagar: “Dad, it’s time we go now. You’ve had too much to drink, and you are blabbering. She’s coming with me to the US for just three months, and you’re acting like this?” Praveen hugs his son.
Praveen: “I love her a lot. You know that. I cannot stay without her. Book my tickets also.”
That is when I ordered my second drink.
I was invited to speak at an event organized by a startup. When I entered the office space on the day, I could see familiar faces from earlier events that I had attended. I knew right away that the slides I had prepared would not match the expectations of this curious crowd. So I decided to cut the presentation short on the spot and spend more time doing Q&A.
After I had spoken briefly to the audience, it was time for the Q&A. I was expecting several interesting questions to be thrown at me, and I was not disappointed.
Participant 1: “Shivoo, the presentation was very good. You presented the data precisely and gave your perspective on startups. But to be honest, I was expecting to hear something new from you.”
Shivoo: “So what do you want to hear?”
Participant 2: (Smiling) “Your usual controversial comments.”
Shivoo : “Okay, let me give you seven Indian acronyms and Hindi words for startups, which I think you all as entrepreneurs should know.”
Participant 1: “This is what I was talking about. We are all ears, Shivoo.”
Shivoo: “Okay, here is the first one, ‘GMD’. You need to have GMD as an entrepreneur to make it.”
Participant 3: “GMD? As in [_ g*** meinmasti!?” _]
Shivoo: “Yes, like the Westerners say, unless you have fire in your belly, you won’t make it through the hard journey of entrepreneurship. So always have enough GMD to ensure your vision and dream are translated into reality. Don’t ever give up!
Now the second one is about problem-solving, ‘BLBL’. It stands for ‘bhag lo yabhaag lo’.” ‘Bhag lo’ means, “to participate,” but bhaag lo means, “run away.” So whenever you face a problem, ensure you are clear about these two extremes. Either participate in solving the problem or stay away from the problem.”
Participant 4: “How can you stay away from a problem? You need to own it, else it would be chaos!”
Shivoo: “Exactly, that brings me to the third word, ‘SIFU SAFU’!”
Participant 4: “Sorry, I did not get that.”
Shivoo: “Whenever you are faced with a problem, remember to analyze its root cause and identify it either as a SIFU, or Self-Inflicted F*** Up, or a SAFU, or Self-Adjusting F*** Up. If it is a SIFU, you have inflicted it on yourself, so ‘bhag lo’ and fix it. If it is a SAFU, it is self-adjusting anyway, so ‘bhaag lo’.
The fourth one is very important. Stay away from ‘Selfiepedia’.”
Participant 5: “I know Wikipedia, but what is this Selfiepedia?
Shivoo: “Most entrepreneurs think they know everything. They create their own Wikipedia, which I call a Selfiepedia. Ego brings in complacency. So watch out for and keep away from creating and maintaining your own Selfiepedia. Work as a team, delegate the responsibilities, and drive what you are good at in the company instead of owning it all and creating a mess out of it all.”
I then went on to my fifth point.
Shivoo: “Next is about your perception and ego. You are the bhai and bai of your startup.
Sometimes you need to be the bhai, meaning a big brother to all, and be their mentor and leader to guide them to safety. At other times, you are the bai, meaning a maid, at your startup. You might sometimes end up serving coffee or tea to everyone, or be the delivery boy at your startup. You have to wear both the hats constantly without any kind of reservation or apprehension. Because at the end of the day, it is your baby.
The sixth one is ‘QSQT’. Here, QSQT does not stand for
Qayamat Se QayamatTak but ‘Quarter Se Quarter Tak’. Having a long-term plan is important, but ensure you have quarterly milestones defined as well, and make sure they are met at any cost.
And, finally… Be the ‘dalla’ of your product. Nobody can do a better job of being a sales person for your product than you. So, own up and be a proud dalla of your product and company.”
I could see some smiling faces at the venue and some others ready to troll me on Twitter and Facebook for using inappropriate language. But that is me, and I signed off with a smile.
It was a rocking birthday party at one of the most happening clubs in Bengaluru. Our usual gang of friends, or namma samsara, which translates to “our family” in Kannada, met at 9 PM there. Everyone had a blast until the clocks struck 12. We cut a special Ferrero Rocher chocolate cake, settled the bill of 15,000 rupees, and walked out of the club to get into our cars. All my calorie-conscious friends took a sparrow’s bite of the cake, and the whole cake was literally being tossed around.
Sanjay: “Shivoo, why don’t you take the cake home so that your kids can enjoy it tomorrow?”
Shivoo: “Nah! Not my house. Nobody eats cake at my house.”
Latha: “Rama, why don’t you take the cake home and give it to his brother’s kids?”
Rama: “Okay, I will take it.”
Shivoo: “I am sure you will keep the cake in your refrigerator for two days and then eventually throw it in the green bin reserved for food recycling.”
Just then, a young boy approached me and started begging for food or money.
Boy: “Please give me something to eat. I haven’t eaten anything all day.”
I took a slice of cake and gave it to the boy. He then sat silently in the corner, finished the cake in no time, and gave me a big smile.
Shivoo: “Here, take another slice.”
Boy: “Thanks, anna (brother). It is very good. I have not eaten this kind of food ever before in my life.”
I could see a contended look on the little boy’s face. His innocent face carried a divine smile. I then turned to Rama.
Shivoo: “Rama, let us give this box of cake to this boy. At least he can eat it tomorrow or share it with his family.”
Rama: “Of course, take it.” I handed the box to the boy.
Boy: “No, I don’t want it. I am already full.”
Shivoo: “Why don’t you take it home and share it with your brother or sister?”
Boy: “I have only a sister, so just give me another piece for her.”
Shivoo: “Why don’t you take it all home? And what are you carrying in your school bag? Books?”
Boy: “This is my home. I sleep on this footpath with my sister, who sells flowers on the other side of the road by day. So I cannot keep the cake for tomorrow. I don’t want to waste it. You can take it home. And in this bag, I have a blanket for the night.”
Suddenly, the fun element of the birthday party disappeared, and he got me wondering. I could see Rama’s eyes filled with tears.
Shivoo: “Rama, all of us talk about not wasting food, donating to the needy, spending wisely, and all that. But here is a hungry soul who is being a living example of who we all want to be. Not only does he not want to waste food, but he also does not want to take more than what he needs. He is so contented with his life now that even his acute hunger does not make him a miser like you and me or to hoard more and more for tomorrow.” I turned to the boy and gave him my card.
Shivoo: “Any day you feel like going to school like other children, call me at this number. I will be more than happy to take up your responsibilities.”
Boy: (Confused) “I don’t understand how studying can satisfy my hunger. I don’t have parents, and all I have is my sister. I will talk to her and call you. Can she also come to school with me?”
I was speechless. I will wait to receive a call from that boy or his sister all my life. I hope on that day the TrueCaller app on my phone displays the unknown number as “Child in need.”
Later, while I was driving back home, I remembered the animal instinct of killing a prey when you are hungry. Somewhere, evolution has changed us from being a good animal to a bad human.
Last month, I needed to hire a cab early in the morning to get to work. I tried to book an Ola Prime, but since it had a surcharge of 1.9x, I decided to book an Uber cab instead. Luckily, I got a car immediately, but it was the uberGO. I decided to give it a shot anyway.
When I got into the car, I was pleasantly surprised when the driver, Nagaraj, offered me a complimentary bottle of water and an English-language newspaper.
Shivoo: “When did Uber start offering a bottle of water and a newspaper?”
Nagaraj: “Sir, it’s not Uber. It’s Nuber’s idea.” Shivoo: “Nuber?”
Nagaraj: “Nagaraj’s Uber.” Shivoo: (Smiling) “Good idea.”
Nagaraj: “I also have a 4G connection that you can use for 50 rupees if you are interested.”
As I had a 4G connection that apparently worked in the remotest of mountains and forests but not in the cities, I decided to try it out.
Shivoo: “Okay, I’d like to try it.”
Nagaraj: (After sometime) “Hope the connection is good?”
Shivoo: “Yes, it is. Thank you. And it is a good idea. Do you make a profit out of it?”
Nagaraj: “Yes, sir. I make a small profit as most of my passengers buy the ‘Drive Pack’.”
Shivoo: “Why don’t you add more services to offer your passengers?”
The next day, I hired the same cab as planned.
Shivoo: “Good morning, Nagaraj! So what have you added today?”
Nagaraj: (Proudly) “I thought about what you suggested and have added a pack of biscuits, snack bar, and chips for the passengers. It is MRP + 50 percent.”
Shivoo: “Not a bad idea. But why the 50 percent premium?”
Nagaraj: “I thought I would have more wastage than regular store owners. So I had to cover that cost. I calculated my monthly sales and thought 50 percent would cover all losses plus give me a good profit.”
Shivoo: “Good. Think hard and add a few more services. But not all of a sudden. Give it two weeks and then add more.”
Nagaraj: “Why is that, sir?”
Shivoo: “Else you won’t know the true impact of each of the additional services you are offering to your customers.”
Nagaraj: “That is right, sir. I will wait for two weeks and add more services.”
Over the next couple of weeks, I was in Taiwan. When I came back, I was curious to know how Nagaraj was doing. So I got into a Nuber cab the next morning.
Shivoo: “Nagaraj, you seem happy. What’s happening?”
Nagaraj: “The sales exceeded my expectations. I am doing better than the shop next to my house, sir.”
Shivoo: “So what’s the new addition?”
Nagaraj: “As I already had a 4G connection, I thought adding an Android tablet would be a good idea. So I bought an Android tablet for 8,000 rupees and offer it especially to non-IT passengers who get into my cab.”
Shivoo: “Great! So how is it working?”
Nagaraj: “I might recover the cost of the tablet in two months. From then on, it will draw profits. My biggest customers have so far been kids using the tablet to play games.”
Shivoo: “So what next?”
Nagaraj: “I’m planning to keep a shopping cart with a charger, a battery pack, and other smaller gadgets.”
Shivoo: “What would be the USP of your cart?” Nagaraj: “What is USP, sir?”
Shivoo: “Unique Selling Point.”
Nagaraj: “Oh! My USP is that all the products I sell are less than 500 rupees.”
Shivoo: “Why 500 rupees?”
Nagaraj: “My target is only the impulsive buyer. So the price point is very important.”
Shivoo: (Surprised) “Where did you learn all these things?” Nagaraj: “Common sense, sir.”
I recalled my professor at IIMB saying that MBA is all about putting a structure and a definition to our common sense.
Shivoo: “Amazing, buddy! You will do great, I’m sure.”
Nagaraj: “I’m also planning to buy a back and leg massaging machine when I generate enough profits and offer it as a service to passengers at a reasonable price. All I need is an additional charging port in my car.”
I looked down at my copy of the newspaper and saw a long article featuring today’s new-age entrepreneurs, the founders of Uber and Ola. I thought to myself, in this age of startups that have big fancy plans and no profits, we have Nagaraj, a true entrepreneur. I am sure there are more people like him who need to be encouraged and made an inspiration for the common people in our country.
Anand joined our company as a Human Resource manager recently. He came in with the experience of working at one of the best multinational companies in the world. After two days of settling in, he wanted to meet me to brainstorm ideas about management training and its effectiveness in our company.
After spending 15 minutes of introduction and learning about each other’s work, we got down to business.
Anand: “With so many years of experience, I have seen you attending all management training programs diligently. Do you believe that these programs can add value to your career even now?”
Shivoo: “Of course, yes, I strongly believe in the idea of being a lifelong learner. Every program has helped me understand the underlying principles related to my work in different ways. It has mostly helped me reinforce the things I have learnt on the job.”
Anand: “Good to hear that. Shivoo, can I ask you a very sensitive question?”
Anand: (Smiling) “What would you do if you were stuck in your career and could not grow because of your manager?”
Shivoo: “Can you elaborate?”
Anand: “Let us assume that your manager is comfortable in their position and does not take additional risks and responsibilities. He is very happy with his current role and responsibilities and does not want to grow further. Because he does not grow, there are no additional responsibilities added to the charter.
Which means, no business requirements, and a lack of opportunity leads to less growth. What would you do in such a case?”
Shivoo: “I would start sending out my résumé.”
Anand: “Come on, that is what everyone would do. I thought you were a fighter. What happened? Why did you give up so easily?”
Shivoo: “I am not one of those people who would cave in when there is no opportunity to grow. I create opportunity so that the whole team can grow with me.”
Anand: “Then why would you quit without trying?”
Shivoo: (Smiling) “I did not say I would send out copies of my résumé in the market. I would distribute my manager’s résumé in the market with a good recommendation attached to it. That way he would get a job outside with a better salary. He wins, I win, and the whole team wins.”
Anand: (Surprised) “You provided a completely different meaning to the phrase “win-win” today!”
We were all busy exchanging bevu (neem) and bella (jaggery) while celebrating Ugadi to emind ourselves that life is an interesting mix of disappointment and happiness, and that we need to have realistic expectations from it.
My sister had invited my family for a sumptuous lunch at her place that day. We wore our traditional outfits for the lunch and were excited about the different varieties of sweets and savories that my sister had prepared for the occasion.
While we were walking towards her house, I noticed a young boy, aged around 10-12 years, smiling at me. I recognized the boy immediately; he was George from our neighborhood.
Shivoo: “George, how come you are here?”
George: “It is Ugadi, sir. So I came to your neighbor’s house for lunch.”
Shivoo: “So you celebrate Ugadi too? That’s good.”
George: “Yes, I do. By the way, my name is not George anymore. I have changed my name to Harish.”
Shivoo: “How come? I thought you were a Christian.” Harish: “Yes, I was one, but I converted to Hinduism.” Shivoo: “Did anybody force you into this conversion?” Harish: “No, sir! I converted to Hinduism willingly.”
Shivoo: “You are too young to understand religion. You don’t have to convert to any other religion. You can be who you are and be proud of it.”
Harish: “I know that, sir, but my hunger does not understand religion. I realized that there are more Hindu festivals than Christian. As a Hindu, I get more opportunities to be invited home for lunch or dinner, and so more opportunities to satisfy my hunger.
I am an orphan, and the uncle I live with is very poor. He takes me to church every week, but I see god every day in the people who feed me. So, for me, religion does not matter as long as I get food to eat.”
Shivoo: “I know what you are saying. But churches also provides free food for the needy.”Harish: “Yes, they do, but I like the taste of your food.”
Shivoo: “Don’t worry. Whenever you are hungry, come to my house as George, Harish, or Syed. You will always be served food.”
Harish then opened up a calendar that listed all the festivals, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian. He ran through it quickly.
Harish: “Thanks, sir. I will come to your house for the next festival, which is next week. What would be special?”
Shivoo: “Special would be you coming to my house.”
Hunger indeed does not have a religion. We waste so much food without realizing how many hungry souls are waiting for us to take one small step to make our society a more inclusive one.
Madan and Revathi were going through a bitter divorce battle. It hadnot reached the courts yet, but the regular discussions within the family and with friends were draining both of them. The war was on, if you would like to call it that. It was not a fight for custody of kids anymore but a fight for their egos.
Immersed in the battle, both of them had forgotten the days when Madan had to elope to get married to Revathi by selling his priced possession, his Yamaha RX. Revathi had to sell her only pair of earrings her loving dad had gifted her on her 16th birthday. Sadly, none of these things seemed to matter anymore.
On one of many such days of discussion, the entire family had gathered around Madan and Revathi. Pitambar uncle was one of the elders of the family and was present there.
Pitambar: “What is the matter, kids? Have you both decided what you want to do?”
Madan: “Yes, uncle. We have decided to go ahead with the divorce legally. But we are not able to decide who should get this house.”
Pitambar: “Okay, but remember, the only thing worse than the regret of being married to the wrong person is the regret of divorcing the right one!”
By then, an argument broke out between another couple present in the meeting, Girish and Sanjana.
Girish: “I am also out of this relationship. I want to start a new life.”
Sanjana: “I am okay too. I want to live my life. Send me the papers and get my signatures today.”
Girish: “Okay, I don’t care about this house and the properties that I have accumulated. Take them all.”
Sanjana: “So what do you want?”
Girish: “I want my share of the smiles we shared since I first saw you. I want my share of the tears I shed on your shoulders all these years. I want my precious youth that I spent with you willingly. I want to die with you so that you will not be alone in heaven too. I want my share of all my memories with you. I want my share of our grandkids.”
Sanjana and Girish are the great grandparents of the family. They have been married for 50 years now and are both 80 years old.
Girish: “Getting a divorce is not just about sharing wealth after separating from each other. It is about the emotional investment made in the many years of living together. You can never split these wonderful years. Think before you fight for petty reasons! It is okay to separate and go your separate ways, but do not insult the precious years spent together. They had some meaning. Let it stay precious in your memories. You might not miss the person, but you will surely miss the memories. Things end, but memories last forever.”
Suddenly, what Madan, Revathi, and the mansion they were both fighting for looked small and petty. That settled the matter that day.
I was spending a nice evening with friends one day when my mobile started ringing. The number displayed on the screen was not stored in my address book. Normally, I do not take calls from unknown numbers, but this time I felt the need to answer it.
Stranger: “Is this Shivoo?”
Shivoo: “Yes, it is. May I know who is speaking?”
Stranger: “My name is Raam, and I have some bad news for you.” Shivoo: “Yes, please, tell me.”
Raam: “Your father has met with an accident. A bus knocked him off the bike while he was riding.”
Shivoo: “Oh! Is he okay?”
Raam: “Can’t say anything right now. I have brought him to the hospital, and they are administering first aid.”
Shivoo: “Thanks. I will get there in the next 10 minutes.”
I got into my car and drove to the hospital immediately. It was the longest drive in my life, even though the hospital was only 5 km away. When I reached the ICU, I found out that he was out of danger and that he would recover completely from the head injury he had suffered.
Doctor: “You are very lucky, sir. If that person had not brought him to the hospital in time, your father would not have made it.”
Shivoo: “I know! I am deeply indebted to him. I want to thank him. Where is he?”
Doctor: “He completed all the entry formalities of the hospital, paid the bill, and left without giving us his number.”
Shivoo: “Oh! I have his number. Let me call him.”
I called the last received number on my phone. There was a phone right next to the doctor; it started ringing.
Doctor: “He called you from our nurse’s phone. He did not leave his number with us.”
I had always believed angels existedbut had never experienced it myself. From that day, I started stopping at every accident spot, not to find out more about the accident but to see if I could help anyone personally in any way.
I have saved people in my life, but I always search for Raam everywhere. Without even realizing it, I have become Raam for many.
I was with my broker and good friend, Bheem, while buying agricultural land near Mysuru. We had selected a four-acre plot of land, which had amazing old trees lined up in one part of the plot.
It was love at first sight. We came back to meet the owner of the land, Suresh, who stayed in Mysuru.
Suresh: “So did you like the land?”
Shivoo: “Very much. How come you are selling it?”
Suresh: “I don’t want to sell it, but my wife is unwell these days. I am not finding any time for developing the land or farm on it. That is why I want to sell it off.”
Shivoo: “I am interested. Let us discuss the price.”
Suresh: “Before we get into discussing the price, can I ask you a personal question?”
Suresh: “Does your wife like you buying agricultural land? Does she support you in growing vegetables or fruits on the land?”
Shivoo: (Smiling) “Actually, no. She does not like me doing such things. She prefers that I take up a corporate job and lead a regular life.”
Suresh: “Then why are you buying it?” Shivoo: “I want to. I really love agriculture.”
Suresh: “Sorry, sir. I will not sell it to you. Please don’t force me.”
Shivoo: (Surprised) “Okay, I will not force you. But just out of curiosity, why don’t you want to sell it to me?”
Suresh: “Sir, my wife used to accompany me earlier whenever I would visit our land. But due to ill health, she cannot join me anymore.
These days, every time I say I am visiting the farm, my wife wakes up at 4.30 AM and prepare food for me to carry to the farm. She is more excited than I am. She loves it so much! She waits for me to come home to ask me every detail of every plant and tree planted on the land. It is as if she talks to each and every plant on my land through me.
If my wife did not like me farming, she would probably curse me or the land for wasting her weekend spent without me at home. In that kind of an environment, the plants would not grow on my land. The plants talk to us, and if we listen, we can hear them too.
They are living beings. Just water and manure will not do the trick; they need positivity all around them, especially from your better half. It is not enough to have a green thumb to be a successful agriculturist; you need a wife with a green tongue to have a greener land.”
My friend Suvarna was very curious about my penchant for collecting coasters and about my new club, Coaster Collection Club, which I lovingly called CCube.
Suvarna: “Shivoo, it is a peculiar hobby you have there. For how many years have you been doing this?”
Shivoo: “I have started doing this recently.”
Suvarna: (Surprised) “How come you are starting a hobby at this age?”
Shivoo: “Whenever I travel, I always wonder what gifts to bring back to my parents and close friends. You are not left with many choices apart from a bottle of single malt whiskey or other such drinks, or maybe perfumes. What my friends want is expensive. It does not fit into the regular return gift scheme of things. So then, one day, I had a question: ‘What would my friends and my children get me when I am old?’
I have many customers and vendors as my close friends. It is a serious violation to even get a bottle of whiskey for them as a gift! I do not want them to get me expensive gifts, as all my hobbies are expensive and my wants are pocket-pinchers. I do not want them to feel discouraged with my “Want List.” So then I thought I should start a new hobby.”
Suvarna: “Interesting. So why coaster collection?”
Shivoo: I wanted to start a hobby that was not expensive and to which anybody could contribute. There also had to be an emotional connect with the activity. So after thinking for a while, I came up with the idea of collecting coasters.”
Suvarna: “Tell me more about it.”
Shivoo: “I have two clubs of coasters, right and left. The right club has coasters that I received personally from my friends with their signatures along with personal notes on them. The left club has coasters from those times when my friends had a great time without me but thought of me. I request them to pick up a coaster as a reminder on every such occasion and give it tome with a note. I try to visit that place sometimes and move the left club coaster to the right club.”
Suvarna: “Wow! That is something new. Is it just a make-believe hobby or really a new hobby of yours?”
Shivoo: “I never thought it would be something so interesting. Today, my friends from all parts of the world are saying, ‘I wish you were with me. Here is a coaster as a souvenir to let you know that you were missed today. We should come here and relive this moment together.’
Today, I want more coasters in my left club than my right club. I am looking to be a part of every evening where my friends hang out and have fun. I am sure it would be interesting when my kids grow up and send me coasters to say they missed me or say, “Wish you were here”.
What else do I want in life (smiling)?”
Suvarna: “Ah, so what next?”
Shivoo: “I am thinking about building an app for the same. Watch out for the Startup Club news.”
Suvarna: “You have a new member in your Coaster Collection ‘Club, Shivoo.”
Life is name of happenings. Life teaches many lessons. Each lesson has interesting and inspiration story. I believe one should read real life inspirational stories. For few, life is very easy. Such people are born with luck. But for the rest, life is real struggle. To them, life poses very difficult challenges for their own survival. 50 shades of life, is a compilation of short stories and based on some positive life experiences, which will make you smile and take life head-on grabbing the horns. Almost all stories are based on real life heroes. I hope the readers will love the twist that I have added that will inspire you to look at life differently. Would like to end with a quote from J.K.Rowling, “There is always room for a story that can transport people to another place.” --Shivoo