Category Archives: Human Psychology

Use These Masks with Discretion!

“Will you be giving us a certificate for the Stress Management program?” I was perplexed by this question from several participants, more so when it was to be a two-hour online session. To one of them, a lecturer, I asked “Why are you so keen on having a certificate? Do you think it will help you manage your stress?” She replied, “It looks good on my CV.”

I have been attending the 10-day Vipassana and Satipatthana courses since 1986 and till date neither the participants have asked for, nor has the Vipassana International Academy felt like giving away the certificates; the Vipassana program had a greater impact on my life than my formal education, that too without any certification. Mark Twain said, “I did not prevent my school from getting me educated.”

The conventional masks, the N95 and its variants are used as a prevention against COVID-19… and then there are credential masks comprising of academic credentials and professional achievements.

Credentials, certifications etc. have their validity and relevance to set benchmarks, SOPs, etc. and need to be adhered to while selecting a candidate or a vendor. Essential in professional life, they may indicate a person’s potential, not necessarily his accomplishments. There is a problem with too much emphasis on credentials.

There are two types of errors people tend to make either about themselves or of others.

With a degree or certification from the right type of institute, one feels competent. People also tend to judge others’competence with the same type of masks. The media also adds to the credential mask hype by taking out the rating surveys. I wonder whether it is for the potential customers (the students) or for the vendors (the institutes). It may be for both.

Quite often we tend to equate a person with the credential mask one wears and it may lead to errors like the examples below:  

  1. Vinod Mehta was one of India’s most influential editors with publications like The Sunday Observer, The Indian Post and Outlook. He barely scraped through with a third-class degree in B.A. He said while recruiting a copy editor, “I always make it a point not to recruit a copy editor based on his/her marks in English literature as I myself did not score good marks in English at any level.”

The problem with the masks is that after some time we fall in love with the masks which are our credentials, be it the degree, the CTC, the designation or our possessions. It starts in childhood with marks and without awareness the ‘r’ in marks gets transformed into an ‘s,’ other alphabets remaining the same. As Nirad Chaudhary says, “Marks are a stark reminder of India’s slavish colonial past and a pointer to being an academically third-class country.” (Nirad C Chaudhary – Thy Hand Great Anarch, 1987)

Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis – The father of Indian Statistics told Pandit Nehru that if the marks based evaluation on the legacy of Macaulay system were not to be scrapped, India would degenerate into a world of toppers sans any skills to survive in a competitive world.

Credentials are certainly important in professional life but what happens if they are applied at a personal level too? Shweta, 28, with an MBA Finance working in a bank is looking for an alliance. As her CTC is Rs. 12 lakhs, her expectation is that of a groom, (apart from a PG degree) with a minimum CTC of Rs. 15 lakhs. Now if a candidate is switching from a job of Rs. 12 lakhs to Rs. 15 lakhs that is fine, but can the same yardstick be applied to one’s personal life? What happens if the husband were to lose his job after marriage or if he were to start his business with uncertain income for the first few years?

Imagine a scenario where the guy, a Software Engineer from a MNC gets engaged to a lady, a Program Manager working in a local company. Based on his higher CTC, he tells his fiancée: “Based on your performance you will be promoted to the position of a wife in six months,” to which she responds: “Your people skills are under review. Post-marriage you shall undergo training for 2 years and based on your performance, your eligibility for fatherhood shall be considered.”

Can a conventional yardstick of evaluating a person on his credentials lead to an error in judgement? Rahul Sankritayan, considered as the Father of Indian Travelogue literature, was never considered fit to teach at any Indian University as he did not even finish matriculation. The University of Leningrad appointed him as a Professor of Indology and neighbouring Sri Lanka appointed him as a Professor Emeritus at Colombo University and permanent head of faculty of Buddhism Studies and Pali. It was Nehru who intervened and bent the rules for this polyglot and polymath genius.

Quite often our perceptions create our reality. Having attended a week-long program at Harvard or IIM, some executives put that in prominence on their LinkedIn profile creating a perception of a full-time program. (After all marketing, advertising and branding are nothing but creating perceptions and illusions!) As long as we are aware that it is the requirement of a role and that prevarication of the truth is the same as a lie – that is fine.

When you go for a job interview or a sales call meeting with your client, you need to be well dressed, focus on your strength, and say the best things about yourself, the company and your product range. Sometime during job interview when you are asked about your weaknesses, executives project them in such a way that they are perceived as strengths. Some candidates tell me, “One of my weaknesses is that I work too hard and am not able to devote time to my family,” or “I am a taskmaster focussed on numbers all the time and not being able to focus on my hobbies.” The irony is you can see the real person beneath such masks.

But can these masks really help us when we go through tough times or an existential crisis? A well-dressed successful CEO once visited a Zen master to address his personal anguish and frustration. He started his corporate jargon focussing on his strengths. The Zen Master asked him whether he is ready for a cup of tea. As the Zen master was pouring tea in the cup, the CEO went on sharing his success stories ad infinitum and ad nauseam. The Zen master went on urging him to talk more. The CEO being in his element, never realized that the cup was full, still the master continued pouring; and tea overflowing in the saucer. The CEO could take it no longer when he saw tea dripping on the ground. Unable to control his irritation, the CEO said, “Master, this is terrible. If you cannot pour tea into the cup properly, how can you solve my problems?” The master replied, “You are like this overflowing cup with your achievements and miseries. Unless you empty your cup and let go of your mask, there is no possibility of a profound change.”

A N95 or Credential mask is essential when we are away from home and interacting with strangers, customers, vendors or colleagues. It is easier to take off a regular mask when we are back home. With Work from Home (WFH) becoming the new normal, several executives find it difficult to let go of the credential mask in a personal capacity. An emotionally intelligent person is the one who takes his work seriously but not himself.

So just let go off the baggage, the credential mask… neatly summed up by this poem.

Guy In the Glass

When you get what you want and you struggle for pelf

and the world makes you king for a day,

then go to the mirror and look at yourself

and see what that guy has to say.

For it isn’t your mother, your father or wife

whose judgment upon you must pass,

but the man, whose verdict counts most in your life

is the one staring back from the glass

He’s the fellow to be pleased

never mind all the rest.

For he’s with you right to the end,

and you’ve passed your most difficult test

if the guy in the glass is your friend.

You may be like Jack Horner and “chisel” a plum,

and think you’re a wonderful guy,

but the guy in the glass says you’re only a bum

if you can’t look him straight in the eye.

You can fool the whole world,

down the highway of years,

and take pats on the back as you pass.

But your final reward will be heartache and tears

if you’ve cheated the guy in the glass.

– Anonymous

Never judge a book by its cover or a person by his mask!

Have you found your niche?

“Charles, you care for nothing but shooting dogs and rats; you will be a disgrace to not only yourself but to your family too.” This was a father’s prophecy about his son. The father wanted his son to be a doctor like him. Charles entered Edinburgh University for medicine at his father’s behest, found it unattractive, later joined Cambridge, and earned an undistinguished bachelor’s degree in theology. He had no firm idea what to do. Charles was an aimless youth at 22. He wanted to do something different. He loved flora and fauna but did not know whether that love could be transformed into a livelihood.

Captain Fitzroy on his ship HMS Beagle was looking out for a naturalist. Charles asked for his father’s permission. His father refused but with a caveat, “If you can find any man of common sense who advises you to go on the discovery, I shall give my consent.” Neither the father, nor the captain were ready to grant permission to Charles.

There are two approaches of developing one’s career, the conventional approach and the niche-based approach.

  1. The conventional way of selecting a profession for self or for others is primarily decided by the demand for that profession, coupled with tangibles like salary and perks. No wonder Medicine, Engineering and MBAs among others make the cut.
  2. A niche-driven approach on the other hand is decided by differentiating oneself from the crowd by focussing on a niche . It is defined as a comfortable or a suitable position in life or employment. Alternatively, it also means a shallow recess especially in a wall to display something of value – a statue or other ornament. (please refer the image). Let us see what happened to Charles, the aimless youth discussed earlier?

When Charles approached Captain Fitzroy, the physiognomist in Captain Fitzroy said, “I doubt anyone having a nose like yours can possess sufficient energy and determination for the long voyage.”

His uncle drove thirty miles to convince Charles’ father to grant him permission to undertake the assignment on HMS Beagle as a naturalist.

The Beagle Voyage which included the circumnavigation of globe would be the making of the 22 year-old Darwin. Five years of physical hardship of mental rigour imprisoned within the ship’s walls, offset by the wide-open opportunities in the Brazilian jungles and the Andes Mountains, were to Darwin an eye opener in finding his muse. It took him 22 years to publish his theory of Evolution by Natural Selection in The Origin of Species.

Is it necessary to be a school or a college topper or those in the top percentile rankings to find one’s niche? Quite often the converse is true as ‘brilliant’ students have the best choices in selecting the conventional options in career and institution.

What can happen when one selects a career in a conventional way but is at the bottom of a pyramid in a specific career stream? Getting a job may look easy but one may be competing with a very large number of aspirants. For example: Rakesh had scored 100/100 in Sanskrit in SSLC. Having felt he had a flair for Sanskrit he decided to pursue his college education in that direction. He completed his BA in Sanskrit from Ruia College in Mumbai.

At this juncture he had two choices in further studies – to continue his studies in Sanskrit or look out for a qualification which is marketable in the job market. He decided to pursue a MBA in Finance instead. After spending around Rs. 8 lakhs in fees itself what can be the likely scenario when he passes out two years later?

For a person who wishes to do a M. Tech in Structural Engineering, a minimum qualification of B.E Civil is necessary. Likewise for a M.S. in surgery, a basic qualification of MBBS is mandatory. So, when a person pursues a MBA in Finance with Sanskrit as graduation the basic competency level expected of the student is that of Class 12th, as a MBA is agnostic to one’s field of graduation.

Conventional wisdom says that one has a wide range of job opportunities after doing a MBA. The opportunities are large but so is the competition. Annually about 360,000 students graduate from 4000 B-Schools of which 61% are unemployable due to skill gaps and low work experience.

Keeping those depressing numbers aside, can Rakesh compete with students from Premier Institutes or those with Engineering and Commerce backgrounds? It is not impossible, but it is a Herculean task.

What would happen if he were to pursue Sanskrit for his PG? In the absence of clear data let us assume that the number of students opting for Sanskrit may be 1% of MBA students that is around 3600. For Rakesh it would have been much easier to be in the 95th percentile after his MA and in the 99th percentile with a Ph.D. A lot of research happens in Sanskrit in US and German universities. By differentiating himself and finding a niche, Rakesh could have had a sense of purpose too.

From a financial perspective too, the cost of pursuing a MA in Sanskrit would have been at less than 10% the cost of a MBA. In case of a Ph.D. he could have explored UGC fellowships or opportunities in US or German universities where considerable research in Sanskrit is possible.

An example of a niche-based career is of my friend, Christopher Jayakaran who passed PUC, third class in 1962. With hardly any worthwhile career options, his father’s friend suggested him to take up a course in Geology. He completed his M.Sc in Geology at Presidency College in Madras by topping in the University. He worked for an NGO called ‘Action for Food Production’ for 7 years and for more than 25 years in different countries in Africa which include Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Sierra Leone etc. He is an eminent Hydrogeologist and a Paleontologist. His Tamil book In Search of Ancestors which is on evolution of man based on fossil evidence has run into six editions.

Why are people in general wary of pursuing niche fields?

  1. Obsession for Security: Education is normally pursued in order to get a job. The market demand is thought of. In the post-covid world there is no security either in a job or in one’s qualifications per se.
  2. Managerial Aspirations: Indians in general prefer to have a managerial title early in their career sacrificing expertise in a specific domain.

How to find your niche?

Around 30 years back, I came across an excellent concept in finding ones niche, based on cybernetic principles which was on identifying one’s core competency and focusing on a specific niche where the strength can be leveraged to maximum extent.

Werner Brandes was a German MBA Graduate who was working in a consulting firm but did not have career growth in spite of working hard in that organization for more than 10 years. He was unable to get good offers elsewhere. He was a mediocre student throughout his academic life and passed out from a tier-3 B-school.

The conventional wisdom of competing with others was not giving any results (like the example of Rakesh discussed above). His work profile was mapped for 15 different competencies. Werner was below average in all save one, which was on Industry Setup in rural areas. When Werner was pointed out that this was his niche. He asked, “How can I get a job with such a small niche?” He was advised to start his own consulting in this field and as he was in the top 5% of this ultra-specialized area of business consulting, slowly he was perceived as an expert in this field. Business started growing. Being a sunrise sector wherever the data was not available, his customers helped him in providing the necessary details.

Fascinated by this counterintuitive concept, I launched a program called Strategy for Quantum Growth. After 4-5 programs I had to withdraw as most of the participants did not want a long-term strategy but a new job which paid them 3-5K more.

One crucial difference between the conventional and the niche-based strategy is the type of growth. In case of the former it is logarithmic growth – where it is easier to get a good well-paying job immediately after graduation but after a few years the growth may taper off. In case of niche areas there is a considerable struggle initially but after a few years when the market perceives you as specialist, the growth becomes truly phenomenal and is termed as exponential growth. ( Please refer the graphs below) You are considered as a pioneer and get a first-mover advantage.

Log_Growthexponential-growth

Conventional Approach                                                         Niche-Based Approach

Whether in business, profession or a job; there are some who go on competing  against  a vast majority in a commoditized market as if running on a treadmill and getting exhausted. On the contrary, the likes of  Christopher, Werner Brandes or Charles Darwin though not brilliant in their school days in the conventional sense were able to find their niche. Have you found yours?

Two roads diverged in a wood and I…and  I took the one less travelled by and that has made all the difference. – Robert Frost.

Virtues of Boredom

How do you conclude whether you have liked a training program or not? The trainer may be highly knowledgeable but if he is not able to engage the audience; the feedback is considered to be negative confirming you have not liked the training program.  The different techniques trainers employ to engage the audience include ice breakers, fun session, individual and group activities , case studies, role plays,  exercises etc. Particularly during the post-lunch or the graveyard session, the relevance of  activities becomes very critical. With a sense of humour coupled with interesting videos, all the stakeholders viz. the participants, the HR manager and the trainer feel happy. Such programs are relevant for topics like sales, negotiation, team building, communication etc. for conceptual understanding and are called as pragmatic programs.

Imagine a training program where there is absolutely no  audience engagement; be it the ice breakers, videos, or group activities. To add insult to the injury, the trainer talks in a drab monotonous tone; session after session. He will ask you to watch your breath and after a few days to watch sensations on your body. Your constant companion during the sessions may be boredom. And if this is not sufficient, the trainer does not even bother to take a feedback at the program conclusion.  Let us call such programs as the reflective type. Would there be any takers for such type of programs vis-à-vis the pragmatic programs discussed earlier?

I have been conducting the conventional pragmatic programs on Sales, Negotiation, Emotional Intelligence etc. for corporate clients since 1995. However the program which contributed immensely to my personal growth was Vipassana, a ten-day course in noble silence, a program of the reflective type. The essential difference between pragmatic and the reflective type is the way boredom is perceived. In case of the former, boredom is treated as a ‘bad’ or as an unwanted emotion and has to be done away with at all costs. In case of the latter (like sensitivity training ) it is treated as a valuable emotion in knowing oneself.

If you watch your mind, you will observe three types of thoughts which are:

  1. Pleasant Thoughts: These include the positive thoughts indicating happiness, success, achievement, pleasant memories etc.
  2. Painful Thoughts: These include undesirable situations like losing a job or an order leading to anxiety, anger, uncertainty etc.
  3. Neutral Thoughts: Beyond the pleasant and painful thoughts, the majority of thoughts are neutral which do not produce any emotions boredom being the major one. Human beings are programmed to chase the pleasant thoughts, run away from the painful thoughts and ignore the neutral thoughts. It is estimated that hardly 10% of the thoughts belong to the pleasant and the painful category and the balance 90% to the last category.

So the moment a feeling of boredom arises,  people generally start looking at WhatsApp,  switch the TV channel, hardly realizing that it is akin to running on a treadmill either chasing a pleasant thought or running away from a painful one and in turn getting exhausted being at the same place.

Like any other positive emotion like happiness, joy, contentment or the ‘negative’ emotions like anger, fear, jealousy; boredom has its own validity. It can make you reinvent yourself, look within and also become creative. Doris Lessing an eminent writer and Nobel Winner in Literature says, ”If you really want to do something fundamental in life; you should embrace solitude and boredom to such an extent that they engulf you.” Pablo Picasso, the great sculptor and painter says, “without solitude no great work is possible.” Beyond developing creativity, utter boredom can also lead a person to self-actualization. (Refer to the Award winning speech by the writer titled The Purpose of Life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amF_V_FaSuA )

Those of you who have watched serials like Buniyad, Hum Log, Ramayan Or Yeh Jo Hai Jindagi in the late 80s will realize that the serials were not exceptional per se. Apart from a reasonably good content, one of the major reasons for their popularity was the audience’s threshold to boredom was much higher then( Doordarshan being the only choice) vis-à-vis the current times. Would you agree that with  1000+ TV  channels clubbed with internet related options like youtube, Netflix, Amazon prime etc. our threshold to boredom has come down significantly?

Can boredom help us to be more creative? While watching a Hindi movie on Netflix or Amazon prime, the moment a song sequence appears; there is a tendency to fast-forward due to our antipathy to boredom. How to deal with such a boring situation?

Think of a Hindi movie song  where the hero is carrying the corpulent heroine in his lap or on his  back and ponder over  the possibility  that the shot might have taken at least 10-15 retakes including a full day of shooting. Just visualize the fatigue and exhaustion the hero might have undergone! On similar lines when they were rolling down the hill or drenching in the rains think of the likely spinal injuries or the possibility of catching a flu.

When the hero is running around trees or performing weird postures ( a la Govinda and Karishma )in a group  of 100 extras dancing to the tune of the choreographer; simply mute the audio; you will start enjoying the scene in a hilarious way. You may also develop compassion for the hero and the heroine and realize what Buddha meant by his first noble truth that life is suffering.

Anyone while dating has undertaken such exercises to coax and cajole his sweetheart in real life?  And then you start looking at the song sequence symbolizing  the utter meaninglessness of  life as conveyed in a play called Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett.

It is a tragicomedy that focuses on the meaninglessness of life. It centres around two tramps waiting for someone called Godot. We are not told who or what Godot is – a man or a God who will solve all their problems; a change in their circumstances; or death. The tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, do not know who Godot is either. They meet each day near a tree and wait, experiencing cold, hunger and pain. They try to distract themselves from the endless wait by arguing over trivial things; sleeping; chatting with the only two passersby – Lucky and Pozzo.  Each night, a boy arrives to tell them that Godot will again not be coming that day but will surely come the next day.

In the end, the reader or spectator suspects that Godot represents the emptiness that the writer sees at the centre of human existence. Like the tramps, we go through life, waiting for we don’t know what. We pass the time in work and other activities; and we continue to wait; for Godot.

When we fast-forward a song sequence; we are trying to avoid boredom (like Vladimir and Estragon) hoping to complete the movie faster in spite of the predictable climax of the hero and heroine getting married against all odds and living happily ever after! (which may be a myth after all!) Instead, why not embrace boredom and start enjoying the inane song? Boredom may also lead you from the temporal to the eternal aspects of life and you start enjoying the present moment! The pragmatic programs may help you earn a living, the reflective ones- the so called boring ones may help you realize who you are! Both of them have their own validity.

P.S. If you find this blog article boring, please rest assured it has served its purpose!

Relevance of Ambiguous Thinking in Challenging Times

In one of my webinars I posed the following questions:

To swim to and fro across the banks of a river; it takes a swimmer half an hour. What is the maximum number of rounds can he complete  in an 8 hour schedule by diving  into the same river?  Most of the participants responded with the answer as 16. Some considering the fatigue of the swimmer provided answers which ranged from 4-12. When it was pointed out that by the time the swimmer dives for the second time, a lot of water has already flown; and the river is no more the same. The swimmer can dive into the same river only once. After this explanation when the same question was asked once again, everyone responded the correct answer to be ONE.  (How obsessed we are with the correct answer!)  Then it was pointed out that it need not be one as it depends  on the frame of reference and the answers can vary from 1-16.

Welcome to the world of ambiguity which is defined as the quality of being open to more than one interpretation which is going to play an important role in the current situation.

Our education system does not encourage ambiguity and the intelligence of the students is correlated with the ability to give the right answers. This worked in a world which was relatively stable. In uncertain   times, there are no right answers but a range of operands which needs to be tried and tested. Whether the answer is right or wrong is not decided by the technique but by the result. Like in theory it is said that theory and practice are the same but in reality they are different.

The concept of Operant  Conditioning which was proposed by B.F.Skinner. When faced with a problematic situation, an organism retrieves a solution which has worked in the past. It is also called as a trial and error method.  When the problem becomes novel and complex, he tries a hierarchy of potential solutions, each becoming increasingly improbable. In the absence of complete solutions, he recombines potentially relevant operants to find a solution.

Pigeons and rats were made to acquire new behaviours by a phenomenon termed as operant conditioning. The hungry subjects were rewarded by food pellets  by pecking a disk or pressing a specific lever. By  working on a number of combinations, the subject could realize that the specific behaviour has resulted in a reward, which when repeated got reinforced and the subjects learnt a way of getting results.

In short, operant conditioning is nothing but a trial and error method where one does not have THE RIGHT ANSWER but goes on figuring out the approximately workable answer by incorporating ambiguity.

A simple exercise in developing ambiguity is to take a thought and a contrary one and ponder over the feasibility of both.

e.g. Life is not bad as you think. & Life is as bad as you think. Can you be comfortable with them both at the same time?

Which is the most fundamental of all the relationships? Is it of husband and wife? If so which is the most superficial one? Just think it over.

Multi- tasking helps improve your efficiency. Can you juxtapose this with multi- tasking may not help you do any work which needs deep thinking and focussed attention?

One needs to be comfortable with paradox of life called as the yin and the yang of Tao. Logical thinking, language are a part of life. But life is beyond them.

Ambiguous thinking is also associated with childhood upbringing. Some  parents feel that their children should not be exposed even to minor problems in life which in hindsight may prevent developing ambiguous thinking in future.

e.g. This incident happened in one of the upmarket gated communities.  It was around 8 am; father and his 10 year old son were walking towards the main gate. The father, a Vice President in a MNC was carrying his son’s school bag on his shoulder and adjusting a tie knot around his neck. Son was following his dad playing on his mobile lost in his own thoughts. As they approached the main gate, the father took out the tie and put it on his son. Both of them got into a chauffeur driven car.

There is only one thing worse than unhappy childhood and that is having a too-happy childhood – Poet Dylan Thomas

Dean Simonton ( Distinguished Professor of Psychology at University of California) in his book Origins of Genius states that children from too-happy childhood  have role models as their parents, elders and the teachers. Thus they become well adjusted to the system. They may become successful in terms of qualification, job, designation, material success etc but may not walk the road less travelled in becoming original thinkers. However children from deprived childhood have to look out much beyond the above repository. They have to figure out life on a daily basis thus increasing the number of role models which may include an adverse situation, kindness shown by a stranger, a book, or even a newspaper article. This act of figuring out in life, working by trial and error is what makes one comfortable with ambiguity which leads to creativity.

Janus is a Roman God which had two heads looking in opposite directions. Albert Rothenberg coined a term called as Janusian thinking which is similar of being comfortable with ambiguity.

Albert Einstein in one of his thought experiment said that if a man were to jump from a house rooftop and dropping an object simultaneously the object would be stationery in reference to the man but will be perceived  by an observer on ground as accelerating downwards by the gravitational pull.  Both the view points look contradictory; what matters is the point of reference.

Louis Pasteur was able to arrive at the principles of immunology in a similar manner. In one of his experiments some chicken were able to survive bacillus cholera. He injected  a new virulent culture in healthy chicken as well as the one survived. The healthy chicken died whereas the infected chicken survived. Pasteur came to the conclusion that chicken was diseased and non-diseased at the same time.

In 1801,Thomas Young demonstrated a revolutionary theory with a relatively simple experiment. Called as a double-slit experiment, he focussed a laser beam on a plate which had two parallel slits and the light passing through the slits was observed on a screen behind the plate. Alternate dark and bright bands were seen but it was also found to be observed individual particles at discrete points of the screen. Light can be both a particle as well as a wave as in quantum mechanics can be another example of ambiguous thinking.

This paradox is quite crucial in the current times. Physical  hygiene is very crucial and one should wash hands and face regularly. But can it negate the fact that number of bacteria on a square inch of human skin far outnumber the cells? Scientists have come to a conclusion that the human body is nothing but the agglomeration of billions of bacteria.

The theory of relativity, the wave-particle behaviour of light, or the immunology principle are an outcome of ambiguous thinking on the lines of swimmer jumping in the river with both answers of 1 and 16 being true at the same time.

Someone has defined a genius as the one who can hold two  contradictory thoughts in one’s mind at the same time and still be comfortable with them!

Rajan Parulekar , rajan@paradigm-info.com  98450 14098

Reason and Excuse: The Crucial Difference

Amit, a participant who had attended my sales training program around four years back called me over phone two days back.

A: Sir, I am working for a small  Indian company selling Test and Measuring Instruments (TMI) What is the secret that our competitors, the giant multinational companies, go on consistently getting orders from customers beating us all the time? I know they have technically superior products. But are their sales engineers likewise?

I: Amit: such companies not only have a good product range but also have a systematic sales and a training process.

A: Now I understand why the salespeople from MNCs are so good.

I: But is that your real question? What is bothering you?

A: My main worry is, how do I improve my order booking performance? I am not sure of my job in these difficult times.

I: what is the reason?

A: I come from small town called Akola, working in a company which does not have a great brand. On top of that, our company does not spend much on training either. I am so passionate about attending training programs and learning new things.

I: You said you have attended my training program four years back. After attending did you ever felt like clarifying your doubts or getting new insights from the trainer?

A: No sir, I was extremely busy with my work.

I: Did you ever get time to refer to the course material?

A: No sir.

I: You said, your company does not believe in training, but you have attended my program.

A: Yes sir, that was an exception.

I: If I am not mistaken, along with the course material, I had presented a copy of my book Contextual Selling?

A: Yes Sir, I have started reading the book now. It is quite interesting.

I: After four years?

A: Now I am having some time. All these days there was absolutely no time.

I: Did you pay for the training program?

A: No sir, the training program was sponsored by the company, and the course material as well as the book was a part of it.

I: So you did not buy the book either!

A: Sir that is OK, being from a small town, I have an inherent disadvantage compared to my counterparts from competition who are from metros. They have all the exposure and opportunities.

I: Out of the three legendary Khans in Bollywood, who have the advantage of lineage and pedigree?

A: Obviously it is Amir and Salman.

I: Anyone who did not have such an advantage while entering the industry?

A: I think it was a Shahrukh.

I: Any other examples you can think of who have made it big and carved out a niche?

A: Irrfan Khan, what a great actor he was!

I: Anybody beyond the Khans?

A: I think of Nawazuddin Siddiqi, Ayushman Khurana etc.

I: You said you belonged to a small town which was your main disadvantage. Can you think a of a cricketer from a small town and still made it big?

A: Is it Dhoni from Ranchi?

I: You are right. Which year did you complete your engineering?

A: In 2008.

I: Did you attend any training programs or self-development activities for the last 10 years?

A: No

I: Did anyone prevent you from attending such programs?

A: No. But I feel training the executives should be the responsibility of the company.

I: Why?

A: Ultimately it helps to reach the company goals.

I: Do you have monthly, quarterly, and annual targets?

A: Yes.

I: Do you deserve to get your commission, incentive or bonus (whatever is applicable) if you were to reach your targets?

A: Certainly

I: Do you feel good quality training can help you improve your sales. Negotiation and communication skills?

A: Yes.

I: Amit, in that case, can you see that you also need to take responsibility for your development.

A: I can see your point.

I: Let us look at a concept of Locus of Control.

Locus of control states that the degree of stress perceived by a person depends on the control (or the lack of it) that he/she has on the situation. The cause of the stressor may be seen as stable or unstable, global or specific, and internal or external.

1.Stable and Unstable causes are enduring and temporary, respectively. My competition is always going to have an upper hand is an example of stable interpretation.

2. Global and Specific causes are relevant to many events or to a single occasion, respectively. E.g. Competition products are technically superior, is an example of global interpretation.

3. Internal or External causes indicate personal characteristics and behaviors or the result of environmental forces, respectively. E.g. I feel inferior because I am from a small town and not trained is an example of internal representation.

The more stable and global the cause of a stressor seems, the more people feel and behave as though they are helpless. Likewise, the more internal the cause of a stressor seems, the worse people feel about themselves. Together, these feelings and behaviors contribute to a depressive reaction to the stressor. Let us look at an example:

It is not advisable to take either of the extreme positions (Global or Specific, Stable or Unstable etc.) but should be treated as a continuum where a combination of both can be thought of.

Test & Measuring Instruments (TMI) range consists of products like Oscilloscopes, Logic Analyzers, Protocol Analyzers, Signal Generators etc. TekEdge was considered as a market leader in TMI in general and Oscilloscopes in particular. There was a small company called Le Croy which had some unique offerings in Protocol Analyzers.  However the company was much smaller to TekEdge. Analogous to David Vs Goliath battle, the Le Croy engineers while making an offer used to intentionally keep their price low vis-à-vis TekEdge offer.

A new manager called Santosh wanted to question the Global paradigm of TekEdge being superior in all respects. To one of his clients, he quoted a price which was $1000 more than the competition. When the customer questioned Santosh’s logic, he said, “even though my competition is big in the overall TMI market, my company has a unique advantage in the niche Protocol Analysers segment which is tailormade to your application.  Santosh changed his paradigm from Global to Specific and was able to close the order with a premium.

Another example: consider a  case where a  guy’s girlfriend breaks up with him and he thinks that his love life is always in the dumps (i.e., a stable interpretation), that nobody really cares about him (i.e., a global interpretation), and that he must not be a dateable guy (i.e., an internal interpretation). Such an interpretation could contribute to a depressive reaction, such as him coming to the conclusion that he might as well not try because there is nothing he can do about it and that he is pretty much a lost cause.

I: I hope you might have understood the concept of Locus of Control and that your interpretation (of your competition, your company, customers and yourself) being stable, global & internal was causing you considerable stress. Would you agree with that?

A: Yes.

I: I shall ask you three simple questions, One, what was your original problem?

A: Sir, my original or the surface problem was: What makes the sales engineers from competition so successful?

I: What was the actual or the fundamental problem beneath the surface problem?

A: How should I improve my performance?

I: What is the root cause?

A: I am lazy. What I felt as genuine reasons were excuses. I need to take responsibility for my development.

As human beings we go on telling a number of lies to others, but rarely do we recognize the lies we tell ourselves!

Rajan Parulekar, rajan@paradigm-info.com,

The Unknown Tendulkar

He was neither a cricketing genius nor a renowned Marathi playwright.

He was born in 1909 in a poor family of a primary school teacher in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra. After completing his B.A. at Elphinstone College, he went to Cambridge on a scholarship to pursue astronomy. Drawing inspiration from Gandhi and his Dandi Yatra, he dropped out of Cambridge, returned to India and joined the freedom movement.

On Pandit Nehru’s advice, he devoted 10 years of his life for the sugarcane farmers in Uttar Pradesh. To earn his living, he started writing for newspapers. In his second attempt of further studies, he went to Gottingen University in Germany to study Aerospace Engineering. Nazis suspected his Communist antecedents and put him behind bars for a month. Then he moved to Paris. His fascination with Communism took him to Russia. For two and half years he studied photography in Russia. He survived on photography and writing for newspapers and magazines like Pravda, Izvestia and Kastyor. On his father’s death, he returned to India and was in and out of jail during the freedom movement for 20 months. Due to financial challenges, he approached Mahatma Gandhi and sought his permission in writing Gandhi’s biography. With 12 long years, moving across the country and in his impeccable English, he  completed the  8-Volume Biography: Mahatma – The Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The first volume covers his life from 1869 to 1920 and the last one from 1947 to 1948. First published in 1951, it had the foreword of Pandit Nehru who on this magnum opus of around 4000 pages said, “It brings together more facts and data about Gandhi than any book that I know. I consider these books to be of great value as a record  of the life of a man not only supreme in his generation, but also a period of India’s history which has intrinsic importance of its own.”

Apart from the above, some of his other books include 30 months in Russia, and  Gandhi in Champaran.   Once the director of Sahitya Academy wrote to him asking for his detailed resume. This person who had around 5000 pages to his authorship, did not have even 2 pages on himself. His response was: Deenanath Gopal Tendulkar, Born: 9th October 1909 at Ratnagiri, Education: BA ( Hons)

The biography brought international fame to  DG but he still remained the simple soul as he was, all along his life, in his half-sleeved khadi shirt, a khaki half pant, Kolhapuri chappals  a Shabnam on his shoulders, sauntering  at old book shops in flora fountain and other antique shops.

A group of people came to invite him as a Key- Note speaker for an important event. After entertaining them, he said,” I generally do not like to mix with people, I do not like to go on stage, and I do not like to be photographed or want my name appearing in the newspapers.” The organizers were taken aback. One of the visitors said, “we shall go back and tell our chief and then call you over phone.” He said,” My bungalow is named as Ekaant ( Solitude ) I do not even have a telephone.”

 

Journalist MJ Akbar narrates an incident quoting H Y Sharada Prasad, the media advisor to Indira Gandhi. DG was awarded Padma Bhushan during Rajendra Prasad’s tenure. He sent a telegram to the President saying he would prefer to have a watch instead of a piece of paper from the government. Needless to say, he received both.

Deenanath Gopal Tendulkar (1909 -1972) a great writer, a pioneer in documentary film making, a renowned international photographer, who incidentally never had his own photograph in his lifetime, whom Pandit Nehru used to invite him over dinner, Mahatma Gandhi used to do the proof reading for his writing, today is an unknown Tendulkar.

Meta Talk: The Art of Reading Between the Lines

A couch potato father while watching TV admonished his son, “Ajay, it is high time you should start with your home-work. Watching TV will do you no good.”

S: Dad, do you mean what you say.?

F: Certainly, I say what I mean.

S: Does it mean that I see  what I eat is the same as I eat what I see?

Meta-Talk ( based on Meta-Talk : Guide to Hidden Meanings in Conversations by Gerard Nierenberg & Henry H Calero) connotes the hidden or the real meaning behind what we communicate; also called as reading between the lines. Cliché are the worn-out words or phrases which are normally used when people are either lazy or not imaginative in conveying the right meaning. Some examples of the divergence between what people say and what they mean are discussed below:

False Modesty: A friend of mine, a HR manager is a regular at the conference, training circuit. He ensures to take his pictures during the events, like being at the lectern, receiving bouquets, or in a panel discussion. The linkedin post invariably starts with the phrase: I have been humbled by receiving the certificate, bouquet, getting the best performance rating etc. The other day I saw a speaker at a raised platform, stretching his arms to the fullest, shouting at the top of his voice and saying, “I am not boasting but, in my humble opinion etc?” Rest assured these phrases indicate that they are simply bragging about themselves. That is false modesty.

Incidentally & BTW: These words are used to introduce a statement. The intent may be to convey just by chance I happen to think. They are generally used by shy people not sure of themselves. However as a cliché, both words may indicate that the speaker wants to say something very important catching the listener off-guard. E.g. Husband says, “Incidentally I have to go to Delhi for an urgent meeting.” Or a lady telling a friend, “ BTW do you know Shruti is opting for a divorce.”

Alternatively  the words can be also used to mislead the listener in believing  the message to be unimportant or of a routine nature.

Sales manager saying to his executive, “BTW Suresh, the credit for this Rs. 50L order shall be going to Ramesh as he has generated the lead.”

I’ll Do my best/I’ll Try: Patient,” Doctor, what are my chances?” Dr “ I’ll do my best.” Meaning there is no hope.

Manager: “You have reached hardly 50% of your target. I want you to meet your targets come what may.”

Executive: “ I’ll do my best.” This may  mean the executive cannot do anything better. When he says I’ll try, it indicates que sera sera. (whatever will be,will be) Both the manager and the subordinate after the meeting feel they have discharged their duties to the best of their abilities.

We and they: Generally these words look quite simple. But sometimes the meta talk may reveal the biases and prejudices we carry about a community. Sudhir Toro, a friend of mine is a liberal thinker. Once while discussing the Bangla Desi migrants issue, he put up whats app post about how Bangla Desh is performing well in terms of economic indicators like unemployment rate, GDP growth etc. Considering the data, the migrant issue might have been blown out of proportion. A group member responded ‘So why don’t you go there?’ Can you see the metatalk in the word there?

‘Why do they oppose CAA and NRC? We are vegetarians but they eat anything. They are not supposed to drink water from our wells.’ Can you see the alienation between we and they?

Using We instead of I: The General Manager tells the assistant manager during the performance appraisal, “We have decided that you do not have the desired skill set for promoting you to the next level.” By using we, the GM has achieved the following purposes.

  1. Apportion the responsibility: The GM would like to soften the blow by saying the decision was taken primarily by the MD but in consultation with the GM
  2. Increasing the distance: The distance between the appraisee and decision maker has increased thus preventing the former in reaching the latter.

Only: According to Sigmund Freud, there are several repressed thoughts and images in the subconscious mind (be it sexual or otherwise) which may try to force their way in the conscious mind. Denial of the entry is achieved by using different processes, one of them being the word only. E.g. if a person were to have a worst nightmare which he may not like to enter his conscious mind, he will say, “It was only a dream.”

A slick salesman selling a beautiful dress may  say, “ Ma’am, it costs only Rs. 2,995,  “conveying a message it is NOT EXPENSIVE.

Adrian and John  were two devout Christians who had missed observing the fast on Good Friday,  the most solemn religious fasting day for the Christians.  When asked for atonement, the pastor asked, “ Adrian, what do you like the most?” “Sharing the marital bed with my wife.” Said Adrian. “In that case, sleep in the other bedroom for the next four weeks” said the pastor. When asked a similar question, John replied, “Pastor, it is smoking my favourite cigar”, Pastor said ,” In that case refrain from  smoking cigars for the next four weeks.”

Some days later, Adrian’s wife enters his bedroom. Startled Adrian says,” Honey, it’s ONLY the third day. We have still a long way to go.” To which the wife replies, “ Adrian, I came here ONLY to tell you that John is smoking a cigar.”  You may notice the degree of denial in the above. What they said and what they meant or the intent  was different.

But: But is a conjunction used to connect two or more clauses.  However it may negate the original meaning. E.g. an executive telling his manager, ”Sorry, I could not reach the office in time, but I was stuck in traffic.” Son telling his father, “I want to go to the gym daily but it is quite far”. Or a waiter telling the customer, “Sorry for the delay in serving you, but there are too may orders.”

By using but, the apology rather than sounding authentic now looks fake and a justification. What is justified as a reason may be perceived as an excuse. One suggestion is to use and instead of but. Better still, say sorry and give no justification.

Dr Sandor Feldman in his work Mannerisms in Speech and Gestures says that people often consciously or unconsciously conceal what they genuinely want to say using Meta-Talk.

So next time whenever you are using words like only, incidentally, BTW, but, or phrases like in my humble opinion, I am not boasting etc. be careful, you are actually conveying  something different than what is being said!

As Eleanor Roosevelt said, ‘ What you are shouts so loudly in my ears, I cannot hear what you say.’

Rajan Parulekar, rajan@paradigm-info.com,

 

On Humility

While working for a company called Toshniwal in Mumbai around 4 decades back, my boss narrated a story of his friend’s son, Ajay who had returned from US for vacation. Ajay a young guy in his late 20s, had completed his MBA from an Ivy league school and was working for a Wall street company then.  Ajay had gone to Bombay House to meet his school mate. It was around lunch time and Ajay’s friend was out on a client visit. As Ajay was waiting in the lobby, an old man looked at him and asked,” hey young man, whom are you waiting for?” Ajay gave the details. “Till he comes, you may come to my cabin.” Ajay followed suit. Half an hour later his friend turned up went to a nearby restaurant.

Over lunch when the friend asked what was the topic of discussion, Ajay replied,” When he came to know about my background, he asked about my opinion on  India and the Indian economy, I shared  my thoughts on the real problems ailing our country.”  By the way who was that old man?” The friend replied, “Ajay, he was JRD Tata. You should have thought twice before giving your advice to such a man!”

I was narrating this incident to a stranger while waiting for a local train in Vile Parle station. He shared an interesting personal experience. He used to wait at Asiatic bus stop at around 6 pm which was near Eros cinema at Churchgate station in Mumbai. Every day while standing in the bus queue, he used to notice a car which used to stop just 10 feet way from the bus stop and the first person in the queue used to get in the car.  It was a bit surprising; the same car every day, but the person who boarded was different. One day this man decided to solve this mystery and left the previous two buses to be the first in the queue when the car was to arrive. He got onto the front seat. The person in the backseat was JRD Tata reading his newspaper. The driver used to drop JRD at his residence in Peddar Road via Chowpatty & Wilson college. The empty front seat was getting filled up for that routine journey.

Sudha Murthy while working as a trainee engineer in TELCO (now Tata Motors) narrates an incident when she was waiting for Narayan Murthy in the lobby of Bombay House after office hours. JRD waited along with her till NRN arrived. Young Sudha Murthy still recollects the anxiety she felt when she was with this grand old man.  Sudha Murthy was to put in her papers when NRN and his team were to start Infosys. She happened to run into JRD once again. When she told him about the new company, JRD said, “All the best for your new venture, beyond profits think of building a great institution which can be also used for the social good.” Such simple and yet profound message has left deep impact on the work Infosys foundation has been carrying out.

Two years back Ratan Tata was to be felicitated with Lifetime Award for contribution towards philanthropy by Prince Charles at the Buckingham Palace. Ratan Tata declined to attend the function as his dog was not keeping well.

Dr Albert Schweitzer was on his new hospital project at Lambarene at Gabon in Africa. One afternoon, while on the rooftop he asked a young passer-by to help him lift the tiles on to the roof. The young African said, “I am an intellectual, I do not do such menial work.” Schweitzer replied, “I also struggled to be like you but could not succeed.”  Albert Schweitzer though from Alsace in France did phenomenal work for the poor and the downtrodden in Africa. He established hospitals for the lepers.  He had PhDs in Philosophy, Theology and then on Bach Music. He has around 25 books to his credit including one on Indian Philosophy.

Considered as one of the most significant persons of the 20th Century, he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1952 for the exceptional humanitarian work in Africa. When the Swedish Academy sent him telegram to grace the award function, he expressed his inability to receive the award that year as his hospital work was in full swing and felt that the long journey from Gabon to Sweden may affect his work, He received it later in 1954.

H W. Fowler (1858-1933) and his younger brother Frank published a book called as The King’s English in 1906 and The Dictionary of Modern English Usage (MEU) in 1926. The books have become a de-facto standard in the English-speaking community for the right word usage. MEU suggests an apt usage of a word with guidelines in avoiding jargon, e.g. During the second world war, Winston Churchill said to the Director of Military Intelligence, “Why do you write the word Intensive here?  You should be using Intense instead. For clarity refer the Fowler’s Modern English Usage.”

Fowler the lexicographer who worked on MEU for two decades was known for his spartan simplicity. Clarendon Press oversaw publishing and printing his works. The secretary of Clarendon wrote to him offering him the wages of a servant in addition to his remuneration.

It was the month of November, Fowler was 68 then living in London. His message to the secretary read:

Quote

My half an hour from 7 to 7.30 am was spent in:

  1. Two-mile run along the road &
  2. Swim in my next—door neighbour’s pond, exactly as some 48 years ago. That I am still in condition for such freaks; I attribute to having had for nearly 30 years no servants to reduce me to a sedentary and all-literary existence. And now you seem to say: Let us give you a servant and the means of slow suicide and quick lexicography. Not I know it: I must go my slow way.

 

Rahul Dravid was the chief guest at the annual gathering of Design for Change in Ahmedabad. The students asked him: What makes you nervous:

RD: Would it be OK If I say it is my wife?

What is your greatest fear?

RD: In my dreams I feel I have forgotten how to bat. And when I wake up realize that that dream has come true.

What is unique about you?

RD: I can bat well but so can many others. So, there is nothing unique about me.

What is common between all these great people with a high level of competence and intelligence but the humility of not wearing it up on their sleeves? Be it JRD., Ratan Tata, Schweitzer, Fowler or Rahul Dravid? I think it includes active listening, thought clarity, a great sense of self-deprecating humour (sometimes black too). Shakespeare described Brutus as ‘his life was gentle and the elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up to the world and say, this was a Man!’ Genuine humility may be an essential quality towards becoming one.

Sometimes it may be difficult to differentiate between genuine and pseudo-humility. it cannot be deciphered from the body language or what one says. E.g. When a question is asked, both the idiot and the master smile. The idiot smiles as he has not understood the question, the master smiles as he has understood the futility of the question.

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

Chogyam

Cutting through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa is a collection of his talks delivered at Boulder Colorado in 70s. On the main path of spirituality (which is supposed to lead us away from suffering and towards enlightenment) there are a number of sidetracks, bylanes which hoodwink us in believing that we are on the right track. The author calls such misleading tracks as Spiritual Materialism.The book delineates the bylanes first and then takes us to the main path. One such bylane  is the belief that  an external entity like a book, a discourse is going to help us towards salvation. A Guru  will provide us answers for all our problems. You download your problems on your Guru and he will take care of you. The process of initiation into spirituality clears the road towards enlightenment is also one such misconception. A master once told his new disciple after the initiation process; remember, wearing a robe does not make you enlightened and if you are enlightened you do not need a robe.

The author says that a true Guru actually does not give you answers but helps you look into yourself ; the frustration, the anxieties and guides you in facing and penetrating them. Most of the activities  that are carried out on the path of Spiritual Materialism like chanting a mantra or a Sutra or thinking about the  positives and eschewing the negatives may help us feel better but it may not lead us towards  self-realization. In fact most of such activities are nothing but ego-enhancing tricks played by the mind.  We may watch endless youtube videos, read multiple books and listen to a number of audiobooks but unless and until we realize that knowledge like gold, has to be burned, hammered and beaten before wearing as an ornament. Now it becomes your wisdom, otherwise it is just a downloaded information of others. On this line I remember Carl Rogers’ statement that most of the cognitive knowledge is useless.

Another dimension of Spiritual Materialism is a misplaced sense of humour. Some people feel that humour is a roadblock on the path of spirituality and are serious all the time. Others try to be funny likewise. As Buddha has said, an extreme of an error is another error. Both the situations, where one is  trying to be serious and the other trying to be funny are equally ridiculous. A truly evolved person sees both sides of a situation and thus takes an aerial view. It involves seeing the basic irony of the juxtaposition of extremes so that one is not caught taking them seriously. Thus there are rare chances a truly spiritual person taking extreme views.

After discussing the sidetracks the author discusses about the main paths of surrendering, the four noble truths and the most important concept of Shunyata ( emptiness)

 

This book has been my companion for the last four years. It was never on any best-seller list. There are no anecdotes, no jokes, no one-liners, no quotations from eminent people at the beginning of each chapter, not even any endorsements from celebrities.  It does not even try to impress you. It simply states the truth as it is.  Just sample this:

The conventional concept of enlightenment is that you aim for a higher level of consciousness from a lower level by silencing the thoughts. For some, the targetted goals may  include understanding past lives, predict future, becoming one with supreme consciousness etc. Compare this with what the author says. The journey of enlightenment is not that that you go up but you fall down, Every day you fall down to such an extent that you hit the rock bottom that you cannot fall down further. And what is this act of falling down? It is to see through your negativities; be it anger, jealousy, frustrations, pain, the games you play.  It does not mean that you detest such negativities but simply acknowledge them as a part of you being human. And then you start accepting others as they are. And when you hit the ground, you become a sane person, you know how to make a cup of tea with simplicity and precision, how to communicate with others in a non-judgmental way. And that is enlightenment. The first approach is an ego-boosting activity ( spiritual materialism) where one wants to achieve a goal of becoming extraordinary like the  celebrity who struggles hard in life to become one and then wears dark glasses to remain incognito. In the second instance it is to become thoroughly ordinary, the right path towards self-realization. As someone has said one of the most ordinary things in life is to become extraordinary.

Jijibisha:The Will to Live- The Story of Manoranjan Byapari

What  do you expect the future of a boy who had a pathetic childhood, no schooling, a painful adulthood with petty jobs, who  was in and out of prisons for petty crimes? The odds are very high of such a person amounting to anything significant in life.

His parents were migrant labourers from erstwhile East Pakistan who migrated to West Bengal during partition. He was a toddler at a refugee camp in south  24 Parganas then. His sister died of starvation and father was ruined by gastric ulcer.

He worked as a dishwasher in a tea stall, pulling cycle rickshaw, daily wage worker and a caretaker in a Chhatisgarh crematorium. Last 20 years he has worked as a cook in a ramshackle hostel in Kolkata for the hearing impaired.

In the early 70s when the Naxalbari movement was at its peak, he used to take part in protests and quite often he was beaten, tortured and put behind bars. He used to be frequently arrested under the charges of arson, looting, bombing and attempt to murder. He was sent to Alipore and Presidency Jails a number of times.

Manoranjan Byapari is no trader of entertainment but a personification of pain.

All these years, the only thing that was simmering in him was anger against the unjust establishment. One day while in jail one of the inmates said to him,” Getting angry at others may not solve your problem. From this window can you see the sapling on the rooftop of National Library? If it can survive in concrete, you too can find something worth living in this prison. Find a purpose in life.” That day Manoranjan started learning Bangla alphabets on the walls and floor of the prison; first with dust and stones and then with chalk. Two years in prison, he  was able to read and write Bangla fluently. When he came out, he started reading voraciously whatever he laid his hands on.

Throughout the day he used to pull a cycle rickshaw sometimes as long as 16 hours. The spare time while waiting for the passengers was devoted for his new passion of reading. A word called jijibisha from a story caught his attention. He could not decipher the meaning He asked a number of passengers but no one could answer him properly. One day a passenger, an old lady answered his query saying the word jijibisha meant a will to live. Finding something exceptional in the rickshaw puller, the lady  scribbled  her name and her home address on a piece of paper and asked Manoranjan to meet her later.  After the lady alighted, he  took out the novel underneath the seat. It was Agnigarbha by Mahasweta Devi, ( Jnanpith Award winner, Political activist and writer of books – Hazar Chaurashir Maa, Rudali etc.) the same lady who was in the rickshaw a few minutes before.

His first piece of writing, Rickshaw Chalai (I pull a rickshaw ) was published in Mahasweta Devi’s journal Bartika.

His autobiography Ittibrittey Chandal Jibon when translated into English, spread his fame beyond West Bengal and he was invited to Jaipur Lit Festival. He has to his credit 17 books over the last 40 years of his toil and has received number of awards which include West Bengal Sahitya Academy, Ravindra Smriti Puraskar, Gateway Litfest Writer of the year, Hindu Award for Non-Fiction among others. His writing focusses on the marginalized sections of the society  be it the sex workers, daily wage labourers, beggars etc with whom he has one-one interactions. His writing is authentic as he is able to empathise with his protagonists. In one of his interviews he says:

Quote

I too have worked very hard to progress step-by-step. I would labour throughout the day and then sit down with pen and paper at night. My body would droop with fatigue. My guts would twist like burnt cobra in hunger, but I would keep writing page after page ignoring all the pain.

Unquote

Ray Bradbury in his book Zen in the Art of Writing says, If you have to write with passion you need to have something original, something authentic to say. His philosophy is, “Every morning I jump out of bed and hit a landmine, that landmine is me; it explodes. After the explosion,  I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.”

Manoranjan Byapari was born a Chandal,  considered as among the lowest in Shudra caste and he says that you just cannot get out of what your birth has assigned you irrespective of your achievements. His autobiography Interrogating a Chandal Life – Autobiography of a Dalit  won him a number of accolades. However the elite Bhadralok literati still shuns him. Even after being a writer for 20 years he was struggling to get a decent job and had to work as a cook in a shanty  hostel.  It speaks volumes about the Hindu caste-based hierarchy.  He says, “I write because I cannot kill.”