The inhibitions of society


Are you making an intelligent guess on what this topic could be about?

You would probably guess it right, I guess.

This post is about the historic, game-changing verdict by the Supreme Court of India on abolishing the British era Section 377 which penalized sexual acts between adults of the same gender. This was a much awaited verdict by the LGBT community.

I am not going into the moral dimensions of the issue or the verdict itself.

It is all about the society in which we live in. For a long long time, the society shunned and ostracized people belonging to the LGBT community, irrespective of any other factors. So the community kept to itself, and operated in secrecy to avoid facing the society and more importantly, the “moral” policing which occurred in many parts of India.

The main premise of the society (which happens to be largely conservative) was always that homosexuality and lesbianism were against the natural order of living. Many a time, there were religious links to the stand taken by the society – it was that God had ordained procreation to occur exclusively between man and woman, and any other form of sexual relationships were anti-religion and immoral. And so on, and so forth.

Society’s worry is about things which are unknown – which it does not understand, it does not know why a different union is required, etc., It is scared.

Obviously, as members of the same society, we had two compulsions: (a) that the society does not approve of such modes of cross-gender living together; and, (b) that non-conformance to the majority view (in excess of 99%) would put even sympathizers into grave difficulties while trying to pursue normal lives. These constructs would challenge any person even if he or she does not belong to the LGBT community, but sympathizes with their cause and right to live in any which way they prefer with any kind of sexual orientation. The society also worried about the impact of such orientation on children and teenagers of impressionable age groups.

If someone asks me straight about my support or lack of support for such societal restrictions, it would be difficult for me to respond. Obviously, I do not wish to take a stand, but that is also timid and smacks of conformance where none is called for. I cannot and do not differentiate against any such orientations if I encounter such people in my business life, as it does not matter to me. I have actually not encountered anyone belonging explicitly to the LGBT community and it is my strong presumption that they are no different from me or my other friends (the “Straight Ones”! – this will no longer be a politically correct expression!!). When there is no impact on business life or corporate situations, why should one bother about social life situations?

Introduction to such a community member in a social context or business networking context is surely not going to affect my view of that person – it should not. However, would I engage with such a person in a family get-together kind of situation – meaning would I invite him/her for a social get-together at my home?

I do not see why not. Of course, I would surely have a challenge if a same-sex couple turned up at my home or for a private function, as I have not experienced such a situation till today. How would I welcome the couple or introduce them as a couple to my family members and other friends?

I am sure I will figure a way out of such a challenge. The key thing is to invite them. Personally, it is a big challenge as I grapple with the acceptance myself. I have to convince myself that nature provides for a variation in sexual orientations amongst the citizens of the world, and there is nothing inherently wrong or immoral for two people of the same sex discovering joy in their union. I will not be able to understand such a union intimately, however, and I am not going to deny it or deny my lack of understanding. But I can appreciate.

I belong to the 99% majority I referred to above, though I am a “liberal” with open views (as you might have seen in this blog). I am a non-conformance specialist, as my opinions are usually contrarian to those of the majority, simply because I spend time thinking for myself on issues and do not just depend on others’ views or those propounded by a religion, sect, or government. When I think through issues, I discover facts or perspectives which are not truly reflected in the majority discussions. While I respect the society in which I live, I am not going to accept the majority view in matters of public importance. So, I usually look at the conclusions of the legal system, rather than at conclusions made by an elected government which could come under popular pressure. It is also true that many a time, an elected government does not bother about popular opinion and makes decisions which it thinks are appropriate or required for a meaningful resolution of the issue at hand. Hence, I cannot be blamed for running my own thought process and respecting myself for making decisions or conclusions, which I retain within myself, or publish on this blog. It does not mean that I do not respect the majority view, or the minority view, or the religious view, or the government view. But in the pecking order, my conclusions reign supreme at #1.

So, in conclusion, while I do not understand the physiological or biological mandate for same sex union, I do understand the preference and sexual orientation of one human being towards another that he or she likes or loves. That is perfectly fine, and should be fine with the larger society as well, though there will continue to be challenges as we saw in several court cases in the U.S. (recall the case of the bakery owner who refused to serve the same-sex couple). I am sure there will be similar challenges in India.

There should be no rationale to discriminate against the LGBT community members – any such discrimination should be prosecuted as per law in force. They have their own right to privacy and human rights in equal measure. As the Supreme Court of India said in its judgement “Morality cannot be martyred at the altar of social morality. Only constitutional morality exists in our country” – Dipak Misra, Chief Justice of India.

Hence, the only conclusion is to accept the LGBT community members as full-fledged members of the same society that we all live in, and not discriminate against them in any form, and slowly integrate them into the social context with open arms while educating our own family members to pursue an understanding reminiscent of the maturity that the human race has already attained.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

9th September 2018

The terrible loss of privacy


Privacy is a funny aspect of life.

Most institutions and corporations we deal with in our lives demand that we sign off on dotted lines when it comes to providing them access to our very personal data. Most consumer companies do the same thing. Governments have always asked for our data. However, the phenomenon of giving away our total freedom and personal data to social media giants did not bother us for a long time. Until last week.

I am referring to the data breach on 50M Americans who have accounts with Facebook. Well, this is not the first instance, but in terms of scale it is the biggest ever. There have been hacks on Apple’s iCloud, releasing personal data of celebrities. There have been other hacks such as the bad one on Yahoo mail.

But, people forget and forgive, the reason being that they still need the services of the social media companies, cloud service providers and email operators. There is just no alternative to leading one’s life today – if an individual is not on Facebook, he does not exist – not just virtually, but physically as well! He or she is ignored for lack of digital savviness, or inability to be in sync with the rest of the world which seems to be rushing into Twitter, Instagram, Snap, WeChat, WhatsApp, Line, Google’s variety of offerings including of course Search, and so many such digital tools.

So, things will be back to normal after a few months for Facebook. They will undergo detailed investigation that is reserved for Russian hackers, questioned on Capitol Hill, excoriated in the “adult” networking circuit, and punished in some way, like being forced to implement tougher security measures. Facebook’s reputation currently is in the dumps, and they should not be trusted as they have traded their users’ data. But apart from all this, do you think that anything substantive will happen to them? There are more than 2B users who depend on Facebook for communication. Not me however – I never seriously used the consumer version of Facebook, though I have an account with very sparse data on myself (I however use a corporate version of Facebook behind my company’s firewall for internal teamwork and collaboration, along with other tools such as Microsoft Teams and Yammer).

So here I am – not a regular user of the consumer version of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, et al, but a serious blogger on this WordPress platform and LinkedIn user. I select what I wish to do, and cannot be led to use some tool that I do not wish to use. Further, I am careful not to accept terms and conditions of these tool makers and platform owners, and do not click to give access to all my data voluntarily. Neither do I agree for unsolicited marketing communications from these folks or their marketing collaborators, though sometimes it is made difficult not to agree.

The question is – what is more important: maintain privacy or lose it due to either the lack of security of the provider or his desire to sell off my data for money? In my case, the answer is crystal clear – I would rather forego the convenience of “checking into” Facebook and detailing what I am up to, or posting my photographs enjoying a vacation with my family, but safeguard whatever little privacy that I still have. It is not necessary for the entire world or my friends and relatives, or for any government, to know what I am doing at this moment (I am blogging now!). It is irrelevant to them, but it is critical for maintaining my sanity. It is not that I am anti-social – I am in multiple WhatsApp groups – but I wish to remain private. I do not respond to LinkedIn invites from people who I have not yet met. I should know the person through a referral or I should have met that person before I would even consider accepting the invite.

Nothing wrong with wanting to be a private individual. However, we know that most teenagers willingly give away their most personal data on the Facebook platform. The issue is that Facebook cannot be trusted to keep that data totally private and secure.  We do not know for sure that the data is safe and secure. We also do not know if they had traded our data for money. We never knew that Facebook gave away the data on 50M Americans to a U.K. Professor for some vague research, who in turn handed that out to the now infamous Cambridge Analytica.

It is more important to spend F2F (“Face to Face”) time with friends, relatives and family, like in the old times. It is more important not to be influenced by hate speech and lectures that are posted on all social media platforms. Did we live without a mobile phone or social media platforms in the past? Did we live a life without networking? We did live well, but I believe we did not learn to adopt technology well in the 21st Century. We just blindly jumped into all that is new without much analysis.

I am not against any of these innovative tools and platforms which have created enormous value to equity investors and users. I think we need to be extra careful in how and why we use these in our lives. Do we give our date of birth or place of birth to our neighbours or strangers? We don’t. We do not share any personal data in public. The same caution applies when we venture into digital space. We cannot ignore the fact that digital platforms are fast proliferating across our lives, and will come to dominate all facets of our existence. We may not be able to order ice cream without a social media account in future, or something as ridiculous as that.

Welcome to a world less private, more intrusive, less secure, and more dangerous as a result.

Hope you enjoyed your weekend.

I am happy to share the fact that I am now allowed one glass of wine, and I will soon be posting on the wine I had and the experience of de-addiction to wine.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th March 2018

Enjoy the “Smallness” of Life


The more I think of it, the more I do – I am referring here to the small, silly things in life that we usually do not focus upon, given our general reluctance to indulge in rather “small” things and what I call as things which appear, prima facie, to be inconsequential. It is funny that we struggle to achieve the “big” things in life (at least what we think are big), and in the process, fail to enjoy what life offers to us. After achieving, or sometimes not achieving, the “big” thing, we set the goal of the next “big” or even “bigger” thing that we should definitely go after in life. And, so the life goes on.

In the process, we forget how to relish, how to enjoy the nice little things that life offers. We do not take the time (as we did many years ago) to enjoy reading the newspaper with a cup of steaming hot cup of coffee, and commenting on certain unsavoury news items to whoever is nearby, most often to our spouses. We would rather hurriedly look at the news headlines of the newspaper, decide it is meaningless quickly, and jump into the smartphone app of the most common news websites, and start browsing while walking, or doing something else. We do not take the time to talk to our own children in a leisurely manner (not just “how you are doing” and “what is happening in school”, and “how did you do in last week’s tests”, etc.,). We do not indulge in excavating the inner selves of people in our own family, while we are prepared to do it to our office colleagues, partners, and clients. We do not even spend time talking to our spouse – he or she might have clues about how to plan or execute certain things, better than we do (they usually are). We do not indulge in “small talk” with our friends who have known us for several decades in some instances. We tend to be formal, and “official”, in terms of communicating our body language to these “receivers” of antenna signals – converting what is essentially a personal relationship to a professional or formal talk.

Why is this happening? What are the reasons for such behavioural tendencies? Who do we not take people around us, those close to us, seriously, and spend more quality time with them?

The reasons are not difficult to find. In most situations, we are stressed out in our own lives (I mean in the simple execution of simple lives); in other situations, we are distracted. In very few circumstances, people find incompatibility, though it is rare after spending few decades in building a partnership with your spouse, or nourishing a friendship with your close friend. However, it is not totally unusual. Our own friends may sometimes desert us causing big pain in our hearts. It has happened to me. After all, everyone has a choice in life to follow a certain path in collaboration with certain others – the immediate ones are the family and close friends. It is understandable that very close friends move away to distant countries and lose touch with us eventually, but it is rather unusual when someone close to you completely drops you and stops responding to you, though apparently you have done nothing wrong. That causes severe pain.

I have come to realise that in life, small things matter a lot more than the big things such as financial gains, material possessions, type of car, et al. When someone connects with you genuinely, sincerely, and in a devoted manner, then life brightens. It may not necessarily for mutual gain of any sort, but rather to seek a true “connection” for lifelong companionship. It is not easy to secure that kind of connection. I have been fortunate to connect with a number of my school and college mates, and few of my ex-colleagues, and maintain those connections on a regular basis. As we all know, for sustenance, relationships have to be nurtured regularly, consistently, and with genuine affection.

In a brand-conscious, status-conscious, and wealthy society, it is often difficult to maintain a life focused on enjoying the small pleasures of life. I remember when I was buying my most recent car, one of my senior colleagues told me that I should go in for Audi, even a second-hand one, as it conveys that you are at a senior level in an organization, and secondly is compatible with the societal expectations. Given the socialist I am, I chose a Nissan which is almost faceless, though I could have gone in for the Audi. Apart from my social ideology, I also realized that in a small city one would need a car only if it is really needed for the family. And all cars take you from point A to point B on almost the same route, under the same road conditions, in similar comfort. So, why bother about more expensive toys?

Another person asked me if I tailor my shirts – I said no. Most of my shirts cost SGD 29, sometimes SGD 39, but I did not tell him that. It is rather puerile that people indulge in such talk, or evaluate you by the shoes you are wearing.

In any case, life is made up of a series of small things which need to be examined and enjoyed. It always is – unless you want to shake up things in a rather big way, affecting people around you. Nothing wrong with that, life can be pursued in many different ways for sure, but do not ignore small things as taking a walk to the nearest coffee shop with your spouse, or going to buy groceries, or fruits and vegetables, or assisting your children to purchase a good non-fiction book and combining that with a nice chocolate cake. In a nutshell, life is small and forgettable for most folks, however we can make it unforgettable by focusing on the small yet important things in our lives. Go for it!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

21st January 2018

Update on Rev Fr Felix Joseph, S.J.


Many of my St Marys’ High School classmates reverted on the post I published recently The Loss of a Great Life Teacher

I had obviously missed out on some of the key teachings of Rev Fr Felix Joseph, S.J. Here is a summary of the comments provided by my esteemed classmates from those impactful, influential, and most remembered days at the school in Madurai, that I am publishing on their behalf:

Ganesan says – “………the first thing he wrote on the blackboard was ‘I expect great things from you‘………shall always remember him”

Chander says – “………the 4C of Fr Joseph are ‘Critical, Creative, Cultural and Communitarian‘………”. This needs no explanation, we all understand what the Rev Fr was trying to say.

Chakravarthy says – “………...whomever he has vented his anger on have done well in life. Even if he is harsh, he will come back next day with his trade mark smile. Once he even left our class in anger saying that he didn’t want to handle this class any longer. Very next day he forgot everything and proceeded as usual. That’s him”.

Ramesh says – “………….the drama show for the inmates of (Madurai) jail (prison), put up by Rev Fr………..a great philanthropic deed for those inmates……….”. Ramesh also says – “…………he was the first teacher who visited his students’ houses in those days……….he was a great lover of fine arts………..he introduced the habit of House Magazine,……….and our class was chosen to receive the first prize……..I remember to have received the prize on stage on behalf of our class in 9th standard………..”

Ashraf says – “……….he always used to say ‘I expect great things from you‘……….”

Shihan Hussaini says – “…………..LOSS OF MY FOUNDATION! There are people who are truly responsible for your foundations in your childhood. Fr Felix Joseph was my strongest foundation. He groomed me, moulded me, helped me, supported me and guided me all through my life. When I was in school and when I was out of school. When I was in touch with him and even when I was not. His powerful influence has chiseled many a young mind in St Marys’ Higher Secondary School where he was the Assistant Head Master and my class teacher. His ability to identify talent was phenomenal. I was cast in the lead in two plays that he directed – ‘Punnagaiyin Pugal’ and ‘Nulainthae Teeruvom’. His dramatic portrayal of the various characters and his acting every character out to teach us is vividly in my mind. His love and motivation for English vocabulary and his emphasis on all of us learning new words was legendary. When I expressed my love for oil painting and my inability to afford the materials, he gifted me my first oil paint tubes box and hog hair brush. He encouraged the pursuit of reading. He always gave me a pat on th eback and a word of appreciation when he found me in the school library. Can’t forget how he took the entire class to director K. Balachander’s movie ‘Tappu Taalangal’ and encouraged us to participate in a national film review contest. Individual boys were assigned to write criticism (critique) on various sections of the movie. I was asked to review ‘art direction!’. We won the contest and the first prize of Rs. 200 was shared by the boys. In later days when I was introduced in movies by K. Balachander, I narrated this to the director and he was keen to meet Fr Felix Joseph. Incidentally my first play with Fr Felix was called ‘Punnagai Mannan’ and my first movie with KB sir was (also) ‘Punnagai Mannan’. Fr Felix helped me to connect to Dr Michael Debakey, the pioneer of open heart surgery from Houston USA (after my childish, failed experimental open heart surgeries with white mice) and was instrumental in getting a personal scholarship of USD 100 every year from him (for me). When I met Dr Debakey many years later during his visit to Chennai for a seminar and thanked him, he was keen on meeting Fr Felix. Fr was personally responsible for evolving my acting, mono acting, painting, writing, oratorical, debating and other skills. When he visited me at home in Chennai, he presented my wife with a picture of Mary. He was in touch with my wife frequently as I was not reachable on phone many a time. It’s truly sad that he is no more. He lived a fruitful life shaping young minds and creating moral foundations for his students. I see his influence in every creative work I have done and will do. He will be remembered. Truly, Father, rest in peace………”.

Nanda Kumar says – “………For late comers in lower classes who come to get his signature, he used to tell them ‘Thank You sollittu poda‘……………”.

Anthony Jayakumar says – “………..God bless his soul! He was a great teacher and a wise man. He led a long and fruitful life………….”

KS Sekar says – “………..I can never forgive myself for not visiting him in my numerous trips to Madurai despite Ashraf offering to take me. He was committed to our batch like nobody I have seen. He pushed us to succeed on our own efforts. He beautifully handled academic slackers and extraordinarily brilliant and eccentric minds alike. I interacted with him extensively while at St Marys’. Not once did he try to impose his religious beliefs on me or criticize mine. I will never forget his rule to include vocabulary words in our essays. In my humble opinion, he was a true guru I was blessed to learn from………”

I have tried to capture as much as I could from the various WhatsApp messages. This is a summary which hopefully will stay in one place on the internet for all of us to refer to……..and show to our children and grand children.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

24th December 2017

 

 

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

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