Archive for October, 2009

A lesson my mother taught me…

Posted: October 29, 2009 in family

My mother passed away six years ago on the night of December 9 in Lucknow.Why did I suddenly think of her? My student Ruchika Shah’s note on Facebook about life and the way we see it through our coloured lenses triggered it off. I told Ruchika I’d comment on her note in detail, but memories came flooding back…

From Trichur to Lahore; from Meerut, to Aligarh; from Patna to Bhagalpur to Ooty; and finally to Pune where she lived with us after she retired as a teacher; then moving with us to Delhi, Chandigarh and finally Lucknow, where she died my mother lived life on her terms.

She walked out on an abusive husband, with her two children and brought them up on 400 bucks a month, till she could afford to. When she couldn’t do so anymore, she sent me off to Pune to stay with her younger sister and my elder brother to Patna to live with my father. In a way that was good because both of us brothers grew up with memories of a man, neither of us ever wanted to see or be like.

My mother loved life and had more friends among the teenagers than she had among people her age. My friends were her best friends. They would discuss movies, books, their drinking, smoking, girlfriends/boyfriends, affairs, just about anything with her. Somehow, youngsters gravitated towards her much more easily without bothering about the difference in age. To them she was always “one of us.” If she was leaving town, I would be getting an auto-rickshaw and a friend would call up to say he was coming over to take her to the station!

Till three years prior to her death she was (metaphorically speaking) the life and soul of every party! Her memory for people, faces and places was phenomenal. She taught us the importance of nurturing friendships. The friendships she made lasted a lifetime. She could fly off to London and stay with friends for months and months and they would renew her visa without telling her when it was time for her leave! She could just take off for Bangalore or Delhi and be welcomed with open arms. When she died, my cousins and friends called to express their condolences, not because of my relationship with them, but because of their relationship with her.

Then, sometime in 2000 everything went downhill, although, thinking back, the problems set in almost ten years before her death. But we had no inkling. The alarm bells rang first when we heard that she had got off a long distance train at a Railway Station somewhere in UP, in the dead of night, barefoot, telling the conductor that she was meeting a friend. She sat on a bench on the platform “waiting for her friend” and the train left without her. It was only because of an alert station master that she was reunited at another station with her sister, who she had been travelling with, and escorted by a Railway Police official. When I asked her what she thought she was up to, she giggled like a schoolgirl, blissfully unaware of what she had done. There were other signs such as not being able to smell anything, but none of us paid any attention to it.

The doctors at the PGI Chandigarh told us she had dementia in the last stage. She stopped recognizing people, family and started seeing people who were long gone into eternity. She started hiding her food in her cupboard as if afraid that we would stop feeding her. She would talk about calls she got from friends, even though the phone had not rung the whole day. Then she started saying things completely unintelligible.

It was ironical, that she was diagnosed with a disease that destroyed something that she always prided herself on – her memory.In Lucknow, a year before her death, she was reduced to a walking, talking zombie, swearing at anyone she saw, kicking and biting anyone who dared to approach her to reason with her. Yet we were unwilling to accept that her mind was too far gone into the abyss.

The night she died, I returned home from work just after midnight. My aunt asked me to check on her because she was asleep. I called out softly and touched her shoulder. It was stiff. I tried to turn her, but rigor mortis had already set in. In death she was peaceful, unlike the turmoil we had seen in the last few years of her life.Sadly, more than remembering the life she lived and loved, it’s those last three years that are imprinted on my mind.


Why do employees leave? A review of an old book by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman titled, First Break All The Rules, still holds good in today’s work corporate environment. The book, released in 1999, referred to certain findings from a survey by Gallup which stated why employees quit. I thought it worth reproducing here…

The study surveyed over a million employees and 80,000 managers. It came up with this surprising finding: If you’re losing good people, look to their immediate manager.

“Immediate boss is the reason people stay and thrive in an organization. And he’s the reason why people leave. When people leave they take knowledge, experience and contacts with them, straight to the competition. Mostly managers drive people away.”

“HR experts say that of all the abuses, employees find humiliation the most intolerable. The first time, an employee may not leave, but a thought has been planted. The second time that thought gets strengthened. The third time, he looks for another job. When people cannot retort openly in anger, they do so by passive aggression. By digging their heels in and slowing down; By doing only what they are told to do and no more – by omitting to give the boss crucial information.

“If you work for a jerk, you basically want to get him into trouble. You don’t have your heart and soul in the job.” Different managers can stress out employees in different ways – by being too controlling, too suspicious, too pushy, too critical, but they forget that workers are not fixed assets, they are free agents. When this goes on too long, an employee will quit – often over a trivial issue.

“It isn’t the 100th blow that knocks a good man down. It’s the 99 that went before. And while it’s true that people leave jobs for all kinds of reasons – for better opportunities or for circumstantial reasons, many who leave would have stayed – had it not been for one manager constantly telling them: “You are dispensable. I can find dozens like you.”

“Every person who leaves a corporation then becomes its ambassador, for better or for worse. “If it’s bleeding talent, it’s bleeding value. Unfortunately, many senior executives busy travelling the world, have little idea… that deep within an organization that otherwise does all the right things, one manager could be driving its best people away.”

Getting noticed…!

Posted: October 18, 2009 in Uncategorized

Nice to find myself here…

In reply to Keshav who asks whether I had ever asked my brother why he never wanted to return. Well, I did ask him some years ago and this is what he told me:

During the time he lived in Delhi, he was out partying one night. He and a friend were returning on a motorcycle after a party when their two-wheeler hit a pipe thrown carelessly across the road quite close to AIIMS.

My brother was thrown off the bike and hurt himself profusely, while the rider also injured himself. They managed to get to AIIMS and the rider, who was the son of a well-known politician, left him there and fled. He was drunk and so scared that if the media got wind of it his father would nail him!

My brother says he spent most of the night at AIIMS on a wheelchair, bleeding from head injuries and a fractured hand. But no doctor or nurse came up to him to ask him his condition. It was only after he managed to call another friend and narrated the incident did some friends rush to the hospital and get him admitted.

My brother says he realized then that he could have died right there and no one in that hospital would have bothered. That is when he decided that he never wanted to live in this country and left for the Gulf. His point, was that even if he was a second class citizen in some other country, at least he wouldn’t be treated the way he had been treated at AIIMS.

As to whether he felt a first class or a second class citizen, my brother Rajiv has replied to my earlier post and his comment is attached right below that.

Anyway, the point I was making there was more to do with the fact that we Indians suck up to any other Indian who becomes famous, in another country.

So continuing from where I left off the last time, I hope all those Indians who’ve been busy fawning over Ramakrishnan, including some sections of the media, have realized how Indian he really is and how much he really cares for all those who’ve suddenly discovered a ‘connection’ with him. He’s just told them all to go fish.

Think about it. What if Ramakrishnan had got his Nobel before the email was invented? The poor sod would have been buried under a few thousand letters and telegrams from people who all professed they were his friends from the days he was on a Farex diet.

Thank God for technology. Now all he needs to do is get himself a new email ID –!

The dumbest headline I’ve read in years was the one that appeared in a national newspaper the other day. The story on the awardee of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan said “He liked idlis as a kid”. Maybe I am stupid, but how many Tam Brahms have you heard of, who did not like idlis? If he didn’t, it would have made a great headline!

What no publication has bothered to ask Ramakrishnan or write about is why he left India for the US and never thought of returning. Don’t think for one minute that I am talking patriotism here. It’s a question I would ask him, just to see his response, instead of fawning over him and trying to kiss his ass, like everyone else is doing.

And look at the way the Bongs and the Tams fighting over how many Nobel Prize winners came from their respective regions! The score is level at 3-3. Have you heard of anything more parochial? People, the guy is not an Indian, but a US citizen and has been one for years. More importantly, he is from Gujarat, where, interestingly, he funds the education of Muslim girls displaced in the riots, thankfully not out of some misplaced sense of guilt, but because he is upset with the events. Have any of you heard Narendra Modi calling Ramakrishnan a son of the soil?

Personally, I don’t really blame Ramakrishnan for leaving India and never returning. Look at what’s happening in the IITs and IIMs, where poorly paid professors are fighting for a better deal. A lot of those ‘bhoole bhatkes’ who come back to India from the west are the ones who have accepted the bitter truth that whichever country they go to, they’ll always be second class citizens, and the only people around whom they can throw their weight (and money) is at their Indian brethren because we love to ingratiate ourselves to anyone who is ‘phoren.’

I remember how frustrated my elder brother would be, while working in Dubai for over a decade and a half. He knew a lot more about advertising than anyone else in that place, but when it came to promotions the idiot Arab would bring in some half-wit Brit, who knew as much about advertising as a dumb journalist knows about information technology. It was only when the ownership of the agency changed hands that big brother got his due. And guess who the new owners were – Pakistanis!

Of course, my brother migrated to Canada over a decade ago from Dubai and does occasionally state that he never wants to return to India, except for a holiday! And lately not even for that!! But does he feel like a first class citizen in Canada? That’s a question only he can answer.

But coming back to the brain drain, during my days with Hindustan Times in Lucknow, at a party in October 2004, I met a retired IIT professor who mentioned to me that IIT Kanpur was going through a crisis of confidence. He said that a lot of professors, fed up with the government’s attitude towards them, were heading west.

His story was that very interesting and innovative inventions were catching dust in the laboratories because neither the government nor the nodal agencies were interested in finding buyers. He described some of these to me and, believe me, they would have been a boon to people.

But the thick-skinned government officials couldn’t have cared less. And this was during the tenure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who wanted IIT’s scientists to do more research which would benefit the nation. The poor scientists were left wondering what use was their research when their inventions would be left to rot in the labs.

The happy ending to the story was that GP Varma, the reporter who did most of the legwork for the story, and I, were delighted to hear that our story was raised in Parliament and the government admitted that there were lapses at IIT Kanpur that would be corrected.

So while I have no problem with Ramakrishnan buzzing off to the US in search of greener pastures, I do have an issue with people basking in the reflected glory of an achievement that is not theirs – not by a few billion molecules