Category: Friends

The Loss of a Great Life Teacher


My most impressionable years were spent at the St Marys’ High School in Madurai city of Tamil Nadu State in India. Those days it was a different society, a different education system, and a different method of teaching. I spent 6 crucial years in the secondary school (6th grade to 11th grade), and for three of those years I went through a transformative experience under the tutorship of Rev Fr Felix Joseph, S.J.

I am a member of the WhatsApp group of St Marys’ of my batchmates, and it was through that platform I learnt of the demise of Rev Fr. I also saw his pictures, and it brought back a lot of memories from those days which continue to influence me even today.

Rev Fr Felix Joseph was a firm assistant head master, and a teacher for our class. He displayed immense strength in character while showing his kindness in many ways. Our class comprised of students with varying degrees of talent and naughtiness, and he dealt with each and every student in his own personal style, without causing a fear psychosis. Students were, of course, afraid of him due to his firmness in demanding discipline and class work quality, but that never detracted the students from demonstrating their talents to the Rev Fr. He had a strong interest in literature and cinema, and also in journalism. He published his movie review in a local Tamil magazine, which attracted widespread attention, as Jesuit Fathers are not known to be very social and cinema-oriented.

Rev Fr Felix Joseph took personal interest in the development of many students – he specifically encouraged students with talents in extra-curricular areas such as sports and games, art, dramas, painting, writing, film critique, public speaking, etc., I know of my class mates who have benefited in a significant manner due to his personal involvement, guidance and mentoring. He shaped so many of us who were struggling to find our feet in this world, while goading us towards a better academic performance all the time.

He never tried to instil any Christian religious values – but, he emphasized the importance of a value system to be developed by oneself and to be followed. This is an important distinction when over 90% of the students were from the Hindu religion or philosophy. In this context, I would point out that Indian parents, of the educated variety, mostly preferred to send their children to Christian schools those days. When the school asked us to bring used clothes for charitable purposes, we all brought without any question. When we went around the statue of Jesus Christ with candles in hand, we did that without a religious orientation – we knew that all religions were the same (and still, remain the same).

Rev Fr Felix Joseph was well known for his love of the English Language, English Literature and English Vocabulary. He insisted that we broaden our knowledge of English and its application, by learning a lot of words and reading a lot of books. The value of that work was revealed during later part of our respective lives, when we could all stand our stead proudly in front of any one from around the world and hold our heads high.

A life spent in moulding young minds and lives must have been a rather enjoyable and fruitful life for Rev Fr Felix Joseph. He was a wise man and an excellent teacher of not only the English language but life skills. As a batch of students in a formative stage of our lives, it is not an exaggeration to say that he was the one single teacher who was instrumental in positively influencing all of us and guided us towards the next stage in our lives. I would say most of us survived successfully thanks in no small measure due to his unselfish contribution to our lives.

Rest in Peace Rev Fr Felix Joseph, S.J.

Cheers, and Continue to follow his guidance in the rest of our lives St Marys’ friends,

Vijay Srinivasan

17th December 2017

Advertisements

Drop Everything and Take a Walk (or a Ride)


This post is in continuation of my earlier post of 19th November 2017 – here it is The Simple Things and Pleasures of Life.

Sometimes (nowadays, oftentimes), it is very helpful to drop whatever you are doing and take a walk around (may be within the house, otherwise people might forget that you exist, or you are at home now, or just that it would be good to interact in a physical sense with others rather than messaging the person in the next room). Whatever you are doing at this moment is very important to you, but may not be relevant to anyone else. The importance that you assign to anything you do/are doing tends to be very high, and you assign lower importance and lower priority to what others do, even at your own home, and surely with others outside. This is nothing but male chavinistic thinking, however.

Giving up something (even a temporary giving up) is tough for a possessive character like me. I always had and continue to have a slightly superior complex about my being – my skills, capabilities, intellectual capacity, talent, outlook, analytical prowess, literary knowledge, temperamental stability, and what not. Coming “down” to terms with others is tough. When I form a “profile” of someone I have come in contact with, my “analytical” box advises me on whether I should engage further deeply, or just keep superficial contact, or drop the contact completely. So, as we grow older, we tend to get incredibly complex on all matters, even the simple ones.

If we drop what we are doing and take a walk, we can learn something from others we come in contact with. This is the case at home, and also outside. Observation skills increase substantially when we take a casual walk around. During my weekend intensive walks, I see a lot of things on the way, and subconsciously these things are recorded in the brain to sort through later. Learning and imbibing and grasping things all the time are also critical activities as one ages – such things keep the brain very active while you are also exercising your body by walking or jogging.

While getting out of one’s shell is absolutely an important activity (I do this at least 10 times a day, given that I tend to spend a lot of time with my iPhone and Laptop), which will be recognized by your folks at home. Your wife who has so far termed you an “anti-social” might give you a smile if you invade the kitchen or the living room frequently, though she thinks that you are a complete waste of time when it comes to helping her around the house. Your kids might wonder what happened – why is dad knocking on my door. Well, all this might look nothing out of the ordinary, but we must consciously attempt to do all these things consistently. I used to play a random game of table tennis with my son or my wife sometimes, and I miss those days. Now, you go and ask them to come and play some game, they are going to demur.

It is also important to have an exploratory spirit, like when I persuaded my wife to accompany me in driving 25 KMs for a cup of rose latte (I have written about that experience). It is just that we are trying to get more “face” time with the people who matter in our life – not that rose latte is the most important drink that you are going to have. Identifying places, experiences or restaurants on your own and throwing a surprise around the house, or to your close friends, is a very enjoyable and important activity which endears you to the people around you. It does not just reflect your knowledge of the place, it shows a certain propensity on your part to take the trouble of researching on what could be the best experience that you could genuinely discover and offer to your family or friends. It will not go unrecognized.

Given the complexity of an otherwise simple life, it only goes to show how important simple things can be as we navigate our lives. No big gifts, no expensive stuff, no five star dinners, but simple gestures such as the above go a long way in instilling a certain respect, a certain love, and a certain affection, and these are exactly what you look for as you grow older and wiser. Now you realize all this requires efforts on your part, and it is the most valuable investment you will ever make in your life. The investments in simple pleasures of life are indeed the most valuable, with the highest rates of return.

Yesterday, I dropped my daughter at her boxing class, and decided to press the accelerator towards the Woodlands Causeway. It was a good ride from Orchard Road all the way up north (I did not see the Odometer of the car, but my guess is that it would have easily been a 30 KM ride at the minimum). There was not much traffic, and I switched on my favourite radio station (92.4 FM) and drove at a constant 90 KMPH while listening to some Beethoven classic which Andrew Lim plays on 92.4 FM channel. On the way back, I switched the music to my iPhone song collection and played The Carpenters. It was an amazing musical experience, and I loved every minute, and I think my car also liked it as it does not get to drive this much distance on any given day. I think my car’s mileage apparently improved!

I did my morning walk today 6:27 AM to 8:27 AM (exactly 120 minutes) and did 12,300 steps, and I did this at the MacRitchie Reservoir. I saw hundreds of people after 7:30 AM. I saw many folks who were more than 60 years old doing the tough trail walk. I said good morning to almost everyone who crossed my path, except when I was looking down to avoid slipping from the wet soil/leaves. It was a pleasurable experience (I did this yesterday as well), and these are simple things in life which make you more human and less book-centric, and less phone-centric.

I can go on and on, however the essential learning is to step away from whatever you are doing, mingle with your family members, and do this several times a day. Also, smile and wish at people when you go out, as even the “reserved” people of Singapore return the greeting (90% of the time), though they receive the greeting only around one-third of the time from strangers as I witnessed during my walks.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend by walking around. And, smile please.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

26th November 2017

Make the Best of the Rest


I was having a chat with one of my close personal and family friends yesterday. It was a casual chat, but as always it turned into a deep discussion on several matters which have always been close to my heart, and I am sure, to his heart as well.

While we meandered around issues and challenges of mutual interest, we finally landed on the most important and critical issue that should dominate every discussion that people over 50 years of age are having, and that is, how to make the best out of the rest of our lives.

Yes, it is something that we should not shy away from. Discussing potential death timeline, and how to deal with it in advance, and understanding how others would deal with your death, is something that is direly needed. We do not discuss such matters. Period. Don’t you agree? It is considered inauspicious to even think of such things.

While discussing death could be seriously challenging, what about discussing about how to make things better for others while we are all on the firm and unchangeable path to our respective deaths? In a nutshell, how to make the best out of the rest of our lives? How can the rest of our lives be useful to not only the people closest to us, but also to people in the society we live in?

While my friend and I discussed this matter briefly, it was clear in our minds that this was something that is going to dominate our thoughts and actions in the coming months and years. Again, let us think about our legacy. Who will remember us, year after year, outside of our very close relatives and family friends? Is there someone out in the open world who would recognize your contributions to the society that you had lived in before you passed away – someone not related to you, someone not your friend? You do not have to be famous or a big philanthropist to have that kind of recall.

As we plough through our conscience, our entire life till now, our close family members and friends, it becomes very clear that there are very few people outside our circle who have been impacted by your presence in this world (let us say over 50 years, could go on to a 100 years!).

Did we ask the right questions to figure out who needs our help? Did we consciously feel that we could have been of service to those in need? Did we do public service? Did we mentor people who are not related to us or not friends of us? Did we donate to charity every year? Did we give out time to people who would have benefited? Did we even ask our own close personal and family friends if they need any assistance?

Very few people do these things. Just touch your heart and respond. We want to have a drink and relax, or we want to attend parties and network, or we go for movies. We worry about our financial position all the time. We worry about the condition of our car, yes, we “feel” for our car, or our apartment. We worry about tons of mundane things. But we do not worry about how to make the best use of our time to help others in need.

Money and material things dominate our conversations, even those within our own family network. There is no spirituality in almost everything we do. We should not confuse religious affiliation or temple visits or prayers or rituals with spirituality. This is a common mistake we all make. You attain spiritual well-being when the Super Power (not the U.S.) determines that you are (a) devoid of material desires; and (b) you have rendered help to several poor folks who would vouch for your generosity, kindness, time and assistance. It is not going to be based on how many times a month you visited temples or prayed for your own material success.

I think if you are reading this blog post, you are going to probably ring me. You would want to discuss more. Yes, I think there is a lot more to this topic than what I have written thus far. Let us discuss. I strongly believe our times are limited, and we have to contribute urgently. No one can predict how long we are going to live. Why bother about the lifespan if you can focus on things which help others? Not that it would assure a place in heaven, but that is the best thing that you can do.

Think about it, and let us talk soon!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

5th November 2017

 

 

Food for Further Thoughts and Analysis


I have almost completely forgotten my Electronics & Communication Engineering.

I have forgotten all the equations that were necessary to understand how the theory of electro-magnetism works in practice, and how do electrons and neutrons struggle within an atom. Complex equations, stochastic processes, integration and differentiation, Fourier Transforms, linear differential equations, and what not?

I have not applied a single one of those equations in my engineering/business life, even in companies which depend on some of these theories to make and sell their stuff to customers. Of course, when you look at a boiler, a turbine, a rocket, a power generation plant, a refinery, or any other engineering driven plant or business, there is some recognition in my mind that I “used” to know something about all these at some earlier point in my life.

Did any of these matter to me in my life? The real answer is a clear NO.

Let me now come to my coveted MBA. I enjoyed working through my MBA Program, no doubt. I liked the intense discussions which went on in the class on various topics of importance to corporate life.

Did I enjoy my MBA? Ofcourse, it is a YES.

Did I get to use my MBA learning in my corporate life? Not really. May be a bit of Marketing, a bit of Finance, but I would say that I would have picked it up anyway during the course of my business life.

All these education focus, is it really necessary?

May not be required for the future of our children. Things are changing so rapidly as we navigate an already very complex life, and the skills that we learnt are no longer in use or needed in business life. Did we really keep up with what is transforming the world as at this moment? The answer is also a NO, as we have a wrong and incorrect belief system (in most of us) that persuades us all to take a rather casual approach to the emerging challenges, and that is rooted on our seniority and experiences over several decades.

We continue to operate on generalities and general knowledge which have seen us through till now in our lives.

But, these tools may not be adequate or even recognized by our employers any more.

Our education, experience, expertise, and insight may no longer be required in the new completely digital and Artificial Intelligence-driven life that is fast becoming a reality. Most of us can be replaced by machine learning and AI systems.

We are all lucky we got through most of our corporate lives unscathed (apart from the usual restructuring) till now.

Now, the challenge is not from within ourselves or our corporations. The challenge is from outside, and it may not even be related to your current business.

Think about it for a moment.

We are “used” cars. In a new world, we may easily be replaced by newer models, and faster cars. Our education is now totally irrelevant. I am no longer interacting with my elite MBA institution or its representatives in Singapore.

I am trying to meet folks with “new” and “radical” ideas to transform our business going forward. Most of the people we meet in our corporate life deserve no more than a “B” rating. Few people are a “B+”, and very few are a “A”.

As we course through our life, we see that the “B+” and “A” folks are much younger, sharper, incisive, intellectual, and operate entirely on data, not on qualitative stuff and not on perceptions. Relationships are no longer sacrosanct. The “B”s and “C”s are generally people whose profiles are similar to ours. Of course, there are exceptions.

So, in a nutshell, we need to mingle not just amongst ourselves or with our colleagues in our office or in other offices, but with young people who don’t give a damn about age, seniority, experience or old expertise. We need fresh thinking, and they will provide it all the time. Further, they will take risks which we cannot. So, they will go on to create new value, while we ruminate on “how great it was during our time”.

So, I took some actions –

  1. Subscribe to few digital courses at MIT Online Courses
  2. Visit Block 71 in Singapore and meet with young startup founders
  3. Invest in the stocks of few new companies that you believe in – can be in Technology, Bio-tech, or whatever you are interested in – the good outcome is you understand what is happening
  4. See CNBC every night – they talk about the markets and the new companies ringing the bell on listing
  5. Change your mind, your thinking, your interactions, your friends/acquaintances
  6. Do a business plan for a new company that you would like to start – I did this and it was not just informative, it was completely transformative. I even set up a website and validated the business plan
  7. List out options on what you would like to do after quitting your current corporate life – this will be tough if you are so used to the routine for a long time
  8. Offer your services as an unpaid mentor either to startup individuals or to startups themselves – they may or may not accept, but it is worth trying
  9. Read up on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, how these technologies which have been there for a long time have now taken on new avatars in combination with Big Data Analytics and Cloud technologies and platforms

I am dropping point #10, not all lists have to have ten points!

Don’t you think the above is interesting? May not work for everyone, or you might have your own approach depending on your area of specialization or the industry you are from.

I am already excited and feeling younger in mood, spirit and attitude. I am trying to drop all my old baggage that I have learnt or am carrying with me. It is time to completely “unlearn” everything we know.

The world is, and will, no longer be the same one that we had known all these years.

Time to learn new things and get going.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd October 2017

Charlie’s Counsel


I met with an old friend of mine yesterday who worked with me in Singapore many years ago. He is from the Philippines and was visiting Singapore on business. He is some 7 years younger to me, but is wiser than me and I should say, more broad-minded. I always try to meet up with him whenever he visits Singapore, and has been the beneficiary of his counsel on many matters of life.

He thinks highly of me as well, and shares his views on business and life with me. We know each others’ families, and I have stayed with him in Manila during one of my trips. My views on the Philippines is largely shaped by his commentary on his country.

Yesterday’s meeting was no different. It was a real pleasure to catch up, and the meeting veered towards substantive life issues. Charlie has been impacted by his father’s recent demise. He also described the cancer plaguing one of our mutual friends in the U.S. He mentioned that life is fragile and we all need to do things which we enjoy right away without any undue delay. No procrastination. Spend more time with your family and friends. Do not have regrets.

He asked me a rhetorical question – “is the world going to miss you tomorrow morning if you are gone today”, and the answer was a firm “No”. The world will move on with its business, and a small group of family members and close friends will probably shed tears and express remorse and grief, and that would be all. Things will get back to normal and even close family and friends will move on in life, except for occasional remembrances.

It is kind of difficult to understand and digest this aspect of life. What can we then do today that would impact folks around us? How can people feel the positive impact of anyone in their lives? We are not talking here about the great historical figures who built nations (like Mahatma Gandhi, or Lee Kuan Yew), or who discovered scientific breakthroughs (like Albert Einstein, or Thomas Edison), or the first astronaut who flew around the earth (Yuri Gagarin), et al. Many of these people have had strong impact in the manner in which nations and lives have developed during the 20th Century, and there are hundred of such figures whose names can easily be recalled. But, how about yours? Will anyone outside your immediate circle recall your positive contributions to society? Will anyone even remember us?

If a person has led a good life, causing no harm to others, always wanting to help others especially the downtrodden, and tries to contribute to society in some positive manner, it is not necessary that he or she should be famous with an easily recallable name. The small positive contribution will be recognised by the society. However, the most important effect is that his or her children carry on the same principles in their respective lives, and inculcate similar philosophies in their immediate circles. A small group of people will surely recall how good a person was during his or her lifetime. And, that should be enough.

Coming back to Charlie, he was gazing beyond me yesterday and thinking seriously about the fragility of human life. I told him that I completely synchronise with him on his line of thinking, and suggested that we should spend more time together discussing these aspects of life. It is critical to decipher when one becomes happy, and most of us do not ask ourselves that question – “what makes us truly happy?”. Think about it for a couple of minutes and you will see that the answer is quite complex. There are many happy things that you can do, there are things that you can do which makes others happy, but what exactly that you do that makes you very happy? Think about it.

May be sailing in the sunset with your life partner will make you very happy, or celebrating the arrival of your first grand-son or grand-daughter will make you very happy. But do you become very happy when you receive a huge sales commission or you sell a share for a big profit?

What are you going to do with that money?

We still live on 3 simple meals a day, and our wants are minimal (at least for most of us). One does not need to have huge amount of money unless one wants to donate to charity and help people of Syria, Rwanda, Angola, and other very poor countries.

So, it is time to ruminate your position in the circus of life and whether you are playing it well, not just for your own benefit but for others’ as well. Are people around you happy about you? What are you doing today to positively contribute to the mood at home, or to society at large?

A lot to think for the weekend, I guess.

Have a good one.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th July 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meetings of Old Minds


Today, I had the opportunity to meet and catch up with some old friends from the same old company that we all worked for more than a couple of decades ago. It was wonderful to see kindred spirits with the same old sparkle in their eyes !

We met on a beach on the east coast side of Singapore. I was surprised by the amazing camaraderie that I witnessed, as though we never separated from that grand old IT company that we all worked for. This can happen only if we were all close knit while working together, and if our personal value systems aligned with that of the company. Both were a strong positive in our context, and we thoroughly enjoyed every moment of our get-together.

I was seriously looking for differences in thought processes, differences in the way a person approaches a problem, and differences in the way a person looks like. I did not see any ! And, that was indeed very surprising, though it should not have been surprising at all.

These folks are the regular sincere networkers, who have always been dedicated to the field of IT and to each other. I do not think that any one of them will give up on any one else in that group. Indeed, it was a tight-knit team which could stand up and perform in the same or better way than what they did some 25 years ago. This is simply unbelievable. and shows the quality of the intake at the company we worked for in those days.

Everyone shared their views on the current situation, asked questions of each other, probed each other for their thoughts on matters of relevance, discussed companies in both start-up mode and established ones, highlighted achievements, et al. It was fantastic, though I felt that the time was rather limited. I proposed that we continue our engagements at a higher frequency, say atleast once in two months, which was quickly accepted. We also decided to pursue communications using the same WhatsApp group which was used to invite us all for today’s get-together.

As we get older and supposedly wiser, it becomes critical to seek out folks with whom you have worked in the past, to achieve faster synchronization using familiarity and dependability as very important parameters for the socialization. The group then becomes a sounding board for ideas and innovations, and gets tighter together. Who knows, there might be a way to work together again in some way !

In a nutshell, these are the kinds of meetings and catchups that I do not wish to miss. Very important to stay connected, communicate and share thoughts. I am going to push for more frequent communications amongst the group members.

Have a great evening, and a fantastic week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

24th January 2016

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to my Readers


I am not that consumer-centric ! Ha Ha Ha !!

But I thought, sometimes it is crucial to recognize the few readers that I have who keep coming back for more. It is also that time of the year when we recharge our batteries, get together with our families and network with our friends as we herald into yet another exciting year.

I have always felt that this is the ideal time of the year for committing to do something new. Something more impactful in life. Something that will help one to recognize his or her importance and contribution to the lives of others. Something which creates new excitement. Something to look forward to.

It is a very important time for connecting with family and friend. I am planning to do exactly that. As I engage more in social and family conversations, I hope to get away from computers. Let me try !

I will be back to writing my blog from 2nd January 2016, which is the first Saturday of the New year. See you then. In the meanwhile, here’s Wishing You All a Merry Christmas and a Fantastic New Year ahead in 2016 !

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

19th December 2015