Listen to Your Silence


Today is the last day of 2018.

As we bid goodbye to a “mixed fortune” and rather troublesome year in more ways than one, I thought it would be best for me to take a couple of hours off from my schedule and write about something that has been brewing up there in my brain for the past couple of days.

This year I have chosen not to attend any New Year parties (or even Christmas parties) for personal reasons. While the option of more intellectual and social networking with friends and colleagues is rather enticing, sometimes I hit a roadblock and would rather not feign a celebratory feeling and communicate the same to others who might be truly celebrating. Not that I don’t wish to celebrate, but there is nothing (unlike in the past several years) this year that kind of pushes me to let my guard down and dance around. [Disclaimer: I do not really dance, that is a figurative phrase! My songs of the bathroom variety are more well known within my house and my family members do not appreciate my music sense and eloquence in renditioning songs which I myself put together from various languages!!].

Today, I wanted to focus on the topic of “listening to my silence”.

What happens if I position myself in a sphere of silence, forcing myself to think about silence itself as a matter of virtue?

As I look outside towards the clouds and then beneath it the large body of water, a sense of tranquillity sweeps over me (it helps that there is now no one sitting next to me as I write this post!) – a sense of calmness, of intense composure, a waveless mind – not even a drop of the pin or of a drop of water would dare destroy that sense of calm. There is no one else in this journey as I fly through the clouds and apparently even swim through the calm waters. What am I thinking here?

I am thinking my thoughts all alone in a deep silence – I am experiencing the “power of silence” so to say. I am not trying to reach out to any other soul, I am not seeing the TV, I am not even feeling my own fingers typing out these words as I am still looking at the clouds and their magnanimity. When you are alone with your own thoughts (on whatever be the matter), then there is a high probability that you will feel the “power of silence”.

This is what I try to practice on those rare occasions when I choose to go to a Hindu Temple (may be thrice a year or so). A temple, or a church, or a mosque, or a synagogue is a solemn place wherein you should try to keep your mind still [I have been to all these other places of worship as well]. There should be utter calmness of your mind, with no extraneous thoughts of any type. Surely not the ones from the illicit WhatsApp messages that have streamed into your phone that very same day. When you succeed to keep your mind still, you will experience silence, and then you will experience an insight. What is this insight?

Insight is your view of the universe when everything stands still, including yourself and your mind. When your mind and body are totally still, you will see what you cannot otherwise see or feel. This is no magic, this is simple and total commitment to silence which should take you towards an undiscovered journey during which you will experience rare insights about the universe, and then in that process, about your own self.

You do not need to offer prayers or perform rituals to achieve silence of the mind and the body. You do not need the sage advice of gurus or “god middlemen” to connect your being with the unknown. The man himself achieves the discovery on his own effort by stilling his mind towards total silence and insight. And, the temple / church / mosque provides just a venue for this purpose. It is not necessary to go to any such place for that matter. My own home balcony with the view of the cloud and the water body is just good enough and more productive for me as there are no extraneous disturbances of any kind whatsoever.

What is happening now? You are becoming more aware of yourself – in other words, instead of an ordinary existential being, you are becoming “self-aware” – not many people you have met in your life are “self-aware”. An awareness of self can be achieved by meditation or by silence which is similar – the power of such silence could be intimidating as you are actually embarking on an unknown journey to discover yourself, and you might not know yet what you are going to discover. An ability to dissect and completely analyze yourself arises only during a complete silence or meditation process. You may not like what you see in yourself, but then you become totally “self-aware”.

Is this making sense? If not, I can elaborate. I have often embarked on these silent trips, especially on occasions when I am forced to solve a personal problem. However, nowadays, I tend to do this silence journey more often for its revealing discoveries and benefits. Some of you might have tried it as I know that several friends of mine are meditation experts. However, to follow what I am explaining as above requires no expertise of any kind – it only requires focus and commitment, and a strong urge not to be disturbed by the usual human disturbances.

What are indeed the benefits of following this “silence regimen”?

Apart from self-discovery and self-awareness, you also achieve peace of mind and an ability to deal with issues and problems in a calmer manner. After all, everyone needs peace, isn’t it? The world lacks it, countries lack it, political leaders lack it and most people lack it. If you are able to achieve peace on your own, with your own self, isn’t it simply wonderful? Think about it for a minute in silence!

Remember, when you hit silence, you learn about your true self. You see truth in yourself. You do not see any more deceit. You replace any deceit with complete truth. You see your true purpose in life.

This is what this world lacks. It lacked it in 2018. I hope that 2019 will be vastly better. It is not simply a hope or a prayer. It is my expectation that I witnessed when I went totally silent – still and numb in the mind. Even my body became stiffer. After some time, you will feel relaxed. Try it!

All the very best for a successful and prosperous 2019 folks!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

31st December 2018

SINGAPORE

 

 

 

 

2018: What a Year can do to You?


In our apparently long journey of life, a year is a long time! Yes, one year indeed is longish, if only you choose to savour and enjoy every day of it. If the year is full of nonsense and frustrations both in personal life and global affairs, then you would rather expect the year to finish quickly and go away!

Of course, you can interpret any year in exactly the opposite way as well. Good years seem to fly away in a flash, and bad years seem to prolong.

Going by my first interpretation, you would like a good year to prolong wherein you can enjoy every moment of it to the fullest possible extent. Like all of us, I have had the good fortune of experiencing and going through several such years.

But what about 2018?

What do you think my answer is going to be? Take an informed guess. Answers will be different from different folks, to be sure. That applies to anything in life. The value and importance of what exactly one individual feels and experiences show that humans are different with varying perspectives on life.

For me, 2018 turned out to be not so great in terms of several dimensions, while it did produce its good moments as well. My views are coloured by external matters mostly, as I am a global affairs analyst and a consistent weekly blogger on a range of topics.

In my analysis of 2018, I felt that global citizens were impacted by happenings which they did not control or even anticipate. Unfortunately, large countries with big economies such as the U.S., the U.K., China, India, Saudi Arabia, Russia, France and Germany, dictate world affairs and how things shape up. Their actions impact this entire planet, and their lack of action where it is urgently needed could be even more devastating.

On the personal side of life, I wouldn’t put the blame on any specific year, as things which happen to our lives are, at least, partially controlled by us. Well, there is always the “luck” factor in life, but I discount that aspect. I also do not believe that people who ask for material favours from their respective gods, get those wishes granted or lead a better life. Similarly, thanking your god for a windfall in your life is also not an appropriate gesture. Humans should realize that their lives are just a temporary speck in the millennia of the universe. If they work hard, and get rewards due to their work, it is simply the result of their positive efforts. The best way to “visit” a god is to enter the temple without any desire or asks or thanks. You are just recognizing that there is a place available for you to keep your mind pure without any desires clouding your mind. That’s it and if you train your mind accordingly, you will experience peace. Removing the “self” is the most challenging thought one could have. You do not have to go to the extreme extent of renouncing all material possessions and desires, like what Buddha did!

So, if you take the personal and global impact of 2018 together, and apply an analysis for your own good, I will be surprised if more than half of the global citizens said that it is indeed a great year. Lots of institutional damages have happened to democratic frameworks. Lots of ordinary citizens are dead in unnecessary wars. Our own personal data has been stolen by state and non-state actors. I can list a thousand things, and you might not even know certain bad things happened. Why? Because generally humans are selfish and rather content with their immediate lives and neighbourhood. What happens a few thousand KMs away is generally not of immediate concern to most ordinary folks.

I only hope that 2019 will be a better year for the world. Going by the government shutdown in the U.S., the China-U.S. trade war, the Brexit chaos expected in the U.K. with its inevitable spillovers into most of Europe, the Venezualan exonomic crisis, the Syrian war, the killings of ordinary civilians in Yemen, et al, it may not appear so! However, humans revolve around hope. We all “hope” things will get better – but not before they get worse first???

Don’t know yet. I am not having my crystal ball with me right now (!). While just hope will never do the trick, we have to believe in human ingenuity and fairness.

Cheers to my audience, Have a Wonderful year-end, and a Great New Year in 2019!

From Singapore with Love,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th December 2018

Secular Experience Indonesia


I am currently on a family vacation in Yogyakarta (also called as Jogjakarta) in Central Java region of Indonesia. As my readers should be aware, Indonesia is a secular country though most of its citizens are Muslims; as a tourist guide put it to us, it is a moderate Islamic country with acceptance of other religions and full respect for those people who follow other religions. This is the result of a very long and rich history of tolerance, and also the fact that Indonesia was strongly influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism before it eventually adopted Islam. I am not a historian, neither am I a religious studies specialist, and I am writing all this based on my understanding and interactions with people who I meet when I travel.

This means that most Indonesians were Hindus and then Buddhists before they became Muslims. That explains their moderate views on religion, though most are practicing Muslims. Christianity has also has had some influence on Indonesians. Most Indonesians are soft-spoken and polite, with a deference to almost everyone and especially to foreigners.

At one point in time, Yogyakarta was the capital of Indonesia, and there is even a Presidential Palace here – we passed by it on our way to see the Royal Kraton Palace, or the Sultan’s abode. There is not much industrial activity in Yogyakarta, the economy seems to be centred around tourism and other service industries.

There are two key temple zones around Yogyakarta – one is the Prambanan Temple which is a very large Hindu temple, with individual temples dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. There are hundreds of other smaller temples in the Prambanan temple zone. It was damaged considerably during a big earthquake which occurred in 2006, with its epicentre at Yogyakarta. The main temple has been restored with significant effort after the earthquake. The architectural design of the temple complex has obviously been influenced heavily by Indian Hindu temple construction, but the ingenuity of Prambanan construction comes due to the interlocking stones which prevents them from sliding down in case of any disturbances. The stones were gathered from the rivers which carried volcanic ash from the nearby volcanoes. During the restoration, concrete has been poured to solidify the structure. Amazing indeed.

Some pictures from the Prambanan temple as below:

We also visited the world famous Borobudur Buddhist Temple. At both temples (Prambanan and Borobudur), there were hundreds of school children streaming in, because December has school holidays in Indonesia. There were not many foreigners, my guide told me that most Europeans visit in July and August, and further November to March is a rainy period. Luckily we were spared from the rains so far when we visited the two temples, though it drizzled this morning quite heavily for a short while.

Borobudur is all about Buddha. I have always been impressed about Buddhist philosophy, though I may not agree with Siddhartha for abandoning his wife Maya and their only child, when Siddhartha left his family to get into meditation. Though Buddhism has many variants itself, the ideas pertaining to samsara, karma and nirvana are easily articulated and understood. Some of the ideas are in the pictures below:

Pictures from Borobudur Temple as below:

Overall, the visit to these two temples has been enlightening and revealing: the historic influence of India on Indonesia and several other countries such as Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc., in South East Asia cannot be underestimated.

More coverage on my Indonesian vacation will follow, in the meanwhile, enjoy your weekend folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th December 2018

The Nature of Our Perilous Life


Life should be an enjoyable journey, full of challenges, accomplishments, successes, failures and joy. Of course, there will be pitfalls, sorrow, frustration and backstabbing. There will be downfalls, anger, negative feelings, and what not. Life is one long journey full of feelings, perspectives, lessons and teaching. Yes, I mean teaching the juniors who need learning and not cramming!

The best success one can have is his or her own first failure. I attended my son’s graduation ceremony yesterday at his school and the key note speaker mentioned this gem of a thought. As I think more about it, I am now convinced that my drive towards success in whatever I tried to do in my twenties and thirties was characterized by a burning ambition to make a mark for myself in my life endeavours. I did not realize that I should have learnt a lot from my mistakes and failures, rather than from my successes. For the record, I did not. Is that surprising? Should not be, as most of us are made of the same mould. There were very few brilliant minds in the community I grew up in, who would daringly commit a mistake to learn from it, as in his mind that would lead to new discoveries from which he could then build a sustainable success. Most of the people I knew back then were conformists, some of them were idealists, but hardly any entrepreneurs with a derring-do attitude.

As we grow older and spend our best years in a professional capacity, we have seen the immense growth of entrepreneurial spirit with many, many failures and few outstanding successes. If we trace the path of the daring entrepreneurs who fell into failures, invariably we see many of them succeeded at the end in a brilliant manner.

What does this derivation tells us? What do we learn from it?

Life can be and will be perilous in the challenges and dangers that it throws in our way. The idea should then not be to circumvent these impediments and hurdles, but to face these head on with our powerful brain head lights switched on. Learn to handle and overcome the hurdles. There will be suffering, there will be financial losses, friends may depart from your fold, new friends might join your venture believing in your spirit and vision, more challenges might come your way.

Do our children understand this phenomenon? We are more than happy if our children complete whatever education that they set out to do. We do not particularly challenge them, instead we only keep encouraging them to excel in education. We want them to get a good corporate job, preferably in a Western country, and then goad them to save money instead of spending their earnings. We want them to conform to our way of life that we think we have perfected over the years, in other words, we want them to become conformists in our mould. I never learnt that spending is better than saving, but it appears it is, in many ways especially during the early years of experimentation.

I am struggling with my thoughts here – I am not able to put down my thinking lucidly as I write this, because I might have missed the bus, and most of you would have missed your respective buses as well.

What I mean here is this – our children belong to the next generation, they are true citizens of the 21st Century, we are declining citizens of this century anyway. Has all our wisdom been transferred to our children? Hopefully not. Why do I say “hopefully”? Think about it. You do not wish to make your children perfect copies of yourself as total conformists. They are already fresh thinkers in a different mould, in a different phase of life. We should not be interfering, in the name of imparting value systems, religious conformance, ritualistic thinking, savings philosophy, conservative idealism when it comes to chucking your career and moving on, etc., etc., There are so many things flooding my mind, I am unable to keep pace with the old keyboard of my 6-year old Lenovo which I have refused to replace – again conformism in its utter insanity in display!

What do you folks think?

I would rather not indulge my children. I would want them to become independent thinkers in their own right. They should think for themselves, decide what to do with their life, choose their own life partner, execute their ambitions in the best way that they can without any parental interference. If they come to us for advice, of course we are going to provide advice, but not judgement. And our advice should lean on our life’s failures, not on its successes, because failures have more enduring lessons for life than do successes.

So, in conclusion, here are my two cents worth of Sunday evening advice: Life is perilous in its usual journey, it is our job to extract the best from life’s lessons while enjoying the journey all the same. Further, provide inputs from your life’s failures to your children should they ask for advice. Do not impart generic advice, as I always have done and continue to do – I am struggling to stop my blessings from my advisory podium directed to my children, as they ignore the useless components of such advisory blast. Just mouthing useless advice annoys the best friends and also your family members, and eventually they will arrive at the conclusion that you are useless in toto, which thought they are not going to reveal to you!

Hence time to change ourselves. No explicit guidance is required to be provided to our children to navigate their lives. They will figure that out for themselves. Learn to be a guide without constant interference and spirited interventions that I am trying myself to wean away from.

Have a great week ahead folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

18th November 2018

Networking Neurons


As we grow older, we tend to keep our wisdom to ourselves nowadays, unlike our predecessors who pushed us when we were young or even middle-aged with their pearls of advice and wisdom from their own lives.

As the modern age progresses super fast in the 21st Century, our post-50 generation is losing its relevance rapidly as we are bothered that we might be out of touch with modern realities of life on the planet. Our children sometimes communicate that sense to us when they think that our ideas are old-fashioned or our words of wisdom are totally out of place. That is not surprising, as our children are obviously much closer to experiencing the reality of the lives of their generation with their classmates, friends and colleagues.

However, I certainly believe that there is a lot of factual advice that can be gleaned from our lives and our minds, as we are not exactly “old generation”. We form the link from the 1950s/1960s to the 21st Century, and have experienced the marvels of technology and what it feels to be in a digital world. Our lifestyles have modernized and changed for the better.

Yes, we do not wish to nag our children and their friends with unsolicited advice for sure. I am sure they will find their own way, while “at least” looking at how we have built our lives and currently living our dreams.

This thought process leads me to an existential question: if we are not talking that much within our households about the lessons of life, and focusing more on the mundane things of day-to-day life, then how does our brain build up to the next level of complex thinking? If sophisticated and analytical thinking goes out from our daily life, then what happens to our brains? If our brain is not able to provide a consulting service to even the folks around us, do you think we can sell its capability to external parties easily?

The potential decay in brain power can only be arrested if you network with a variety of people outside your usual circuit. My job affords me that capacity in which I meet at least 5 to 10 strangers every week. The development of your brain to be in a position to network with strangers and extract their mental capacity into your own thought process is strategic to your existence. We should never let our brain to fend for itself – we are no longer in an individualistic society of the 20th or 19th/18th/17th centuries when an individually capable scientist or philosopher conceptualized a discovery on his/her own. Things have changed a lot over the past 6 decades or so – now teamwork leads to bigger and better discoveries or theories.

So, in a nutshell, my theory here (!) is that the neurons in our brains need to keep growing. And, at a fast rate. The neurons cannot just grow if you just read or write (like this blog!!!). You need to get out and meet strangers who are more likely to infuse the neuron growth that you want.

That now brings me to the essence of networking fundamentals. Most of us are shy when we walk into a room full of mostly unknown people (this happens to me a lot), or attend a big conference. We mostly tend to ourselves, keep looking at our big smartphone, acting busy, et al……….we generally refuse to voluntarily connect with someone we don’t know.

Imagine you walk into a group and introduce yourself to a group of, let us say, 3 people chatting with each other. You can see a hint of surprise, but quickly they smile, shake hands, and become willing to exchange business cards. Once you introduce yourself and what you do, they sound more interested. May be a potential business meeting could come out of it in the near future – it has happened to me many a time.

I cannot emphasize more the critical importance of networking to your business and more importantly, the development of neurons in your brain!

Sounds fascinating?

Network more and keep a diary of who you met on your calendar. Try to recall the faces of the persons you met after a week. Try to think of the meeting or conference or lunch you attended. Try to think of the topic you discussed with a particular person.

You will see quickly that this “brain food” of networking works, and you can train your brain to flourish on it. Daily nurturing is needed for the brain. It is like going to the “brain gym”, so to say!

As our brain cells in the hippocampus areas start to “network” and constantly form “associations” with things and people, you will discover you not only recall peoples’ faces but also their names and the places where you met them. You will be able to recall the name of the restaurant wherein a dinner party was hosted by a business partner, and who all attended from either side of the table. And so on, and so forth.

So, if your wisdom cannot be articulated in a family environment, so be it. Unleash your brain’s networking neurons on strangers that you meet. They will be impacted positively, and so will you be.

Try it today!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

14th October 2018

Jerusalem Visit #2


More pics and story of Jerusalem…………an amazing city that’s a must for everyone to visit and experience…………..

Cemeteries that one sees first before entering Jerusalem……….they bury the dead and have been doing so for hundreds of years……….

A road in the Old City of Jerusalem……….it is surprising they allow cars in the narrow streets of the Old City

A building which has Hebrew, Arabic and English on the name board – it is actually a small church

A scroll of the Torah (written by hand on a leather parchment) – which is the first 5 books of the Bible.

A Synagogue in the Old City………….

 

The story of this Synagogue……….

The inside of the Synagogue – the first time I have ever been inside one………..

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation

A view of the Western Wall……..

Jews praying at the Western Wall

Jews praying at the Western Wall

Inside an enclosure at the Western Wall – old and young pray

Vijay posing at the plaque at the entrance to the Western Wall

No one can go near this place at the Western Wall – the stones are from 2,000 years ago

Inside the Walled area of the Moslem Quarter of the Old Jerusalem City

Another view of the Wall

The bridge which provides access to the Moslem Quarter

Another view

A partial view of the Al Aqsa Mosque and the hills at a distance

A view from the parapet opposite the wall

 

A view of the golden dome inside the Moslem Quarter

Jerusalem continues to amaze – it is the confluence of multiple large religions and religious followers, multiple cultures, multiple philosophies, and multiple intense histories. It is a great place to visit with a guide like what I did. There are so many places to visit in the Old City and outside the Old City, that it would be better to dedicate a minimum of 2 days. There is also the “Capitol” or the area where there are several government institutions such as the Knesset (the Parliament), the Central Bank, the Prime Minister’s residence, the National Library, the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls are kept, and so on……………..

Plan a visit!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

9th August 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jerusalem Visit #1


I visited Israel this week.

Here are some pics from my Jerusalem trip on the 6th August.

On the Highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The four Quarters dividing the Old City of Jerusalem: Christian, Armenian, Jewish and Moslem

Walking into the Old City of Jerusalem

A view of the Old City

The Temple Mount in the Moslem Quarter, fortified with solid gold by the King of Jordan

Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter

A beautiful view of the Jerusalem skyline

Armenian Church

Holy Sepulchre Church

Inside the Church

Inside the Church

 

The Room of the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples

Room of the Last Supper

Another view of the room of the Last Supper

David’s Tomb, a holy place for the Jews

Inside the Old City

2,000 year old columns

Complete Columns from 2,300 years ago

This is a painting of life in the Byzantine era, around 300 AD (300 years after Christ)

Entrance to the Holy Sepulchre Church where Jesus was entombed by the Romans after his Crucifixion

Devotees praying and kissing the slab in which Jesus was laid down after his Crucifixion

The Orthodox Russian or Armenian area of Cruxifixion

The Catholic area of Crucifixion (just adjoining the above orthodox area)

The dome above the area of Crucifixion

The tomb of Jesus

T

The tomb of Jesus

===================================================================

It was simply amazing feeling to visit Jerusalem. I cannot describe it adequately. Whatever be one’s religious belief or denomination, it gives a sense of agelessness to walk on the same ground in which so much of history has occurred. There is enough evidence in the Old City of Jerusalem to prove that the stones used and the architectural designs belonged to the age of over 2,000 ago. So much of history, so many conflicts, and so much of global attention………

I will publish more pics in the next installment.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

8th August 2018

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL

 

Stunning Infrastructure


I was in Shanghai earlier this week. I was visiting Shanghai after several years (I had been going to Beijing more often).

The Pudong Airport was big and clean, and the immigration and customs processing was fast, though they follow the Indian procedure of scanning every bag of every passenger which takes some time as compared to Singapore or even Kuala Lumpur. The other similarity with Indian airports was that there was a long line of placards held by hotel drivers to receive the arriving passengers, and this exists only in pockets at Singapore Changi Airport (and most other global airports).

I picked up some coffee at the Airport Starbucks upon clearing customs, and was surprised to note that the “baristas” at Starbucks understood my English and also had my choice of flat white coffee. As I knew already, China is the second biggest market for Starbucks worldwide, and one can see countless Starbucks outlets all over Beijing for instance.

I was a bit confused as I stepped out and looked for exiting the airport. Of course, my benchmark of Singapore does not always do good at most other airports, as the differences aimed at passenger convenience are often glaring.

The previous times I had taken a taxi from the Pudong International Airport. This time around, however, I decided to take the Maglev high speed train, though I had to anyway take a taxi to the hotel from the destination.

Though the Maglev has been running for more than 15 years, it is still a tourist sensation with a top speed of 430 KMPH. It makes the journey from the airport to its destination (Longyong Road) in just 8 minutes over a distance of 30 KMs. However, when I travelled, the Maglev train reached a maximum of 301 KMPH as displayed on the LED display in every carriage. I could not “feel” the speed but could see that fields and trees were whizzing by. There was no shake or any kind of inconvenience to passengers. It was very smooth, and before I realized, the train had arrived at its destination.

Taxi drivers in China generally do not communicate in English, and I am sure they do not understand spoken English. I always download the Chinese characters for my destination hotel (for example) and show it to the driver – I had to do this anyway at the Longyong Road taxi stand as there was no sign for special areas designated for picking up passengers by call taxis. In China, I use the DIDI app (Uber sold their rights to DIDI), which is as good as any with quick service, reasonable rates, and a unique facility of communicating with driver using English language messaging which will be read in Chinese by the driver (and his reply though keyed in Chinese will come to my app in English).

While inability to communicate to any taxi driver is surely an inconvenience, I would not place much emphasis on it as the DIDI app is wonderful and has worked for me effectively every time I had used it. The e-invoices are mailed to my email account, and there is an option to add tips to the driver if you are happy with his service.

Coming to the road traffic, I am happier comparing it to Indian cities or Bangkok, or Kuala Lumpur. While Shanghai roads are good with expressways dotting the city, the traffic is really bad at peak times, and as congested as you might have experienced in Bangalore or Mumbai or Bangkok. There are simply a huge number of vehicles plying the roads, and it is apparent that people have not been weaned away from cars though the subway system is superbly constructed and convenient to use. Since it takes significant time to travel by road from one part of the city to the other, or to the airport, or to the main railway station (Hongqiao Railway Station), one needs to plan the route and add extra 15 to 30 minutes to the journey time. After seeing the impact of traffic and witnessing some road accident on an expressway, I came to the conclusion that this is not something that can be fixed quickly in such a huge and densely packed city like Shanghai. The only solution is to use the subway.

I liked the Pudong area and wandered around near the main riverside area. There were thousands of tourists and city dwellers taking a stroll, and it did not appear to be a so-called “controlled” city of China, I could feel that it was more like Mumbai’s cosmopolitan culture with emphasis on networking, socializing, partying, dining, enjoying what the city gives, and of course, making business deals.

I saw the beautiful Fairmont Peace Hotel on the Bund, which is an iconic landmark in Shanghai (though I could not afford staying at this 80 years old hotel which has been wonderfully maintained). I walked through the hotel, and I should simply say I was astounded.

Finally, on the railway station infrastructure of China and specifically the one I saw in Shanghai, the Hongqiao Railway Station, I thought that China has perfected the art and science of building infrastructure for its 1.4B people from concept to execution times which are simply unbelievable. I came to the quick (and bad) conclusion that India will never be able to catch up with China on infrastructure – and I believe that even most Western countries won’t be able to catch up with China. It is amazing to witness what has been accomplished just in the past two decades (of course, money was never a problem for China, and manpower came in cheap as well). India specifically is very far behind, and the Indian Government should make it mandatory for Indian Ministers and top bureaucrats to attend China’s world-leading university programs on planning and execution. They just have to take a walk along any railway platform or walk outside the platform areas in the Hongqiao Station which is so spaced out with ability to accommodate thousands of travellers at any time. They even run a free mini-bus service from one end of the station to the other end – probably a little over a KM.

Even the processing of passengers is super efficient. If you have the ticket, you proceed to security check (yes they have like in airports!), or else you show the printout along with identification to collect the ticket. Then you just proceed to the respective gate, which opens only 15 minutes before the train departure time (they maintain accurate departure and arrival times, and all trains run like clockwork). Passengers are disciplined and queue up in front of the respective carriages (marked on the floor of the platform – no need to ask anyone), they get in upon arrival of the train, and within a few minutes the train departs. If you are late, sorry.

Simply amazing infrastructure with money very well spent – and which is being used by millions of people in an efficient manner. For people who want to travel by train in China, please note that First Class is actually one notch below Business Class. I did not know this till I saw the difference. Business Class section is separate, and it has only few seats (like, less than 10 in the train I took). First Class is like a good and well spaced out Premium Economy Class! I did not see the real Economy Class on the train. For a 200 KM high speed train (which ran at 260 KMPH), I was charged SGD 23 which I thought was quite reasonable.

So, am I embarrassed? No, but China’s achievements cannot be pushed under the carpet stating simply that they are a Communist country with hardly any democratic decision making. I simply do not agree with the foolish arguments from many Indians that India operates under different conditions so lack of achievements is totally justifiable. Another day, another blog post for us to thoroughly argue out on this fascinating topic!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

12th May 2018

The fragility of human life


When I take a long walk (around 90 minutes) in the morning, I tend to do one of three things – either I walk in total silence focusing exclusively on the terrain ahead, or listen to my old-time favourite songs (almost always Abba or Carpenters or Lionel Ritchie or Michael Jackson, or sometimes Norah Jones), or engage in some serious thoughts with good clarity of mind in a very calm environment (there are very few people walking or jogging at the time I usually go in the morning).

I have always found that thinking hard is tough when I am stationary, or just at home doing mundane things. When I am on a solo walk, I tend to be able to think more vigorously. While there are strong positives for thinking in a calm manner while walking a long distance, there are also some downsides. For example, when the mind flies into the future (or into the past occasionally), I tend to be less careful on the terrain ahead, and have fallen down a few times because I failed to “see” some obstacle on the path (there are many stones before I reach the wood-tiled pathway around a lake that I usually go to). I realized that it is not a good idea to keep falling down and hurting myself (especially on the knees) at my age, so have improved my caution while walking which reduces the intensity of thinking somewhat. The other challenge usually is the speed at which some runners tend to overtake me on a narrow path, forcing me to move to the extreme edges of the pathway which could push me into the lake if I am not careful.

This post is however not about my walking per se. It is more about thinking. I always felt that I should have devoted more of my time in my life to thinking hard about every choice open in front of me, or to every issue in my life crying for my attention and resolution. I spent far less time on thinking, or took the easy short-cut of personal advisors, or fell back on just my previous experience.

I still take advice from others close to me, but I spend more times thinking about all issues and come back home with a clarity which is difficult to beat. The result is that I am able to engage with my family members in a calmer manner, and others in a more effective way. As I walk more, I think more. The latest issue surrounding my thought process is the fragility of human life.

We see death and destruction all around the world when ideologies clash and countries end up fighting unnecessary wars or engage in unwarranted conflicts. A beautiful life which existed yesterday with lot of hopes for its future, is suddenly gone today. The ability of man to pluck another life out of this world has only grown tremendously over the years, and that man continues his life without remorse under the guise of morality, the necessity of a “good” war over evil people, or the essential nature of law enforcement – I am sure there are hundreds of reasons that a man can devise for taking the life of another human being for which he needs to answer in his own after-life – such offenses cannot be hidden or explained away under the guise of moral explanations that a government or religion can provide to the man who is plucking the life away. There is no real serious explanation that can be offered for shooting a suspect twenty times all over his body, especially on his head and chest. There is no rationale for bombing a country with cluster or chemical weapons. There is absolutely no possible reason for trying out one country’s latest weaponry on a country which cannot defend itself against such attacks.

So, what could be the reasons why bad things continue to happen all around us establishing the total fragility of human life, which should have always had a “precious” status in humanity?

While no explanations could be acceptable, the lack of fierce responses from religious guardians is absolutely stunning. When defenceless countries and people are bombed, where is the question of religions taking sides with the perpetrators? Where is the neutrality of religious intervention to stop or deter such devious things from happening?

As I think more and more on such topics, it is not unusual for me to get depressed on our inability to stop or vote against such things – there is no possibility that poeple could question or challenge a conflict or a war, unless there is a direct referendum on the most serious matters affecting this planet as a whole. However, that is unlikely.

Our own lives are so fragile, that we are not in a position to devise suitable advance responses to what is happening to our own bodies as we age. Any amount of preparation or planning is not going to help when the inevitable thing eventually occurs in our lives. We go on steering our lives taking some precautions as and when we feel necessary, but one day the fragility of our own lives will be exposed in a natural manner.

So how do we get ready for such a 100% clear possibility at an unknown date?

Try to think of whatever you had ever wanted to do, but could not do or achieve. Create a “bucket” list of such things. Spend more and more time with your family members. Do some charity. Do not expect any returns, and do not think that you will get to heaven or hell. None of that sort might exist. At the end of the day, what matters is whether you have helped people around you, stood for some good cause, made your family members successful in their respective lives, and garnered respect and admiration from friends and relatives for your ability to successfully steer your life and contribute to society in a manner that you could. Forget about emulating other successful people, or investors, or businessmen. It does not matter.

Well, more in future posts on this topic.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

6th May 2018

Salt Mango Tree


I felt only shame after viewing this Malayalam movie “Salt Mango Tree” on NetFlix along with my wife.

While there are many positive things I can say about my birth country India, there are equally many bad things that exist even today in modern India. I feel very proud when I see global corporate CEOs from India (far outnumbering many other countries), over 100 satellites being placed successfully in orbit by one single rocket launch by the Indian Space Research Organization, the very optimistic young generation in the entire world which India has in abundance, and so on and so forth – it is a rather long list of achievements by India and Indians in a short span of just six decades.

However, the things which went wrong over these same six decades, and which continue to hamper the potential and growth of India still bother me a lot. These should bother all well-wishers of India. What I am referring to here are things like corruption, lack of guaranteed, affordable and accessible education for all, lack of universal healthcare for all citizens, lack of safety and security for women and even for very young girl children, and lack of world-class infrastructure and facilities all across the country including uninterrupted access to electrical power, potable water, proper roads, high speed internet, etc., etc., Though there have been some improvements in the past few years, what India needs cannot be met with incremental enhancements of existing infrastructure. India needs to do what a China has done in the past 30 years of relentless public investment in a non-bureaucratic manner with the sole intention of enhancing the livelihood of its people. Communist China has done a far better job than a democratic India, and I am not going to listen to the democratic nonsense that many armchair philosophers expound on the superiority of democracy. Everything in the corporate world is measured on budgeted outcomes, why not in government and governance?

The movie “Salt Mango Tree” describes one facet of India’s systemic failure in providing quality education for all children. Parents have to run around for getting admissions to prestigeous schools, and are totally stressed out in the process. They have to perform better than their children in school admission interviews. What about children of hawker stalls and poor people? How will they get admission in such schools if the criteria is based on how well the parents perform in interviews? How will they speak in English, let alone come well dressed and well groomed for such nonsensical interviews?

I was seriously embarrassed to see how the movie portrays the anguish of both the parents, who struggle to make a living and save money for their only boy. The movie strongly hints about the so-called “donation” which is nothing but a bribe which parents have to offer to schools. When parents give up on the due process in getting school admissions, they turn towards short cuts such as bribe, and this practice continues throughout the life cycle of their children, embedding and validating the need for systemic corruption. Why would anybody outside the Indian system believe that our quality of education is good and impeccable, on par with the developed countries? Making an incorrect comparison with the IITs and IIMs is wrong, as the folks who get into such schools do so entirely on merit, and they go on to change the greater world in many ways. They are focused on making wealth and very few dedicate their lives to fixing the systemic issues of governance in India (I personally know of only one such classmate).

I am not going to describe the movie here, but the message from the movie cannot be more impactful – to get quality education in India even at the primary level (starting at Kindergarten) today, parents have to prepare well, get trained, perform very well in school admission interviews, and be ready to offer donations. This is not the case in any one of the developed nations of the world. If India wishes to achieve the status of the top 5 countries of the world (not just based on GDP), it has to pay serious attention to education, healthcare, quality of living, public infrastructure, etc., and follow the model of either the Nordic countries or countries like Singapore, where public systems by government trump even the best quality of private systems (which are also available but at a tremendous cost). If India cannot invest at least 5% of its national budget on improving public Education and another 5% on public Healthcare, then the future generations will continue to suffer.

The focus outside India today has turned positive about India after a long dry spell of negative media coverage about the bad things happening in India. I have seen that over the past quarter century (most of which I have spent outside India), and it sometimes used to pain me. I am out of it now and immune to the negative coverage on India. I look for some positive news on India every day. The political news is not encouraging. As I wrote in a recent blog post, my experience in Bangalore traffic in the midst of visiting foreigners was not positive. The “East Asians” detest infrastructure problems as they have long been used to good infrastructure and environment. I make it a point not to bad-mouth India in any manner to them, and I try to keep my views to myself. I tend to talk about the positives and push the envelope for their next visit.

However, as I write here this evening, it pains me again to see that India has not changed in fundamental public services.

Looks like this will be the situation in our life time.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th April 2018