Seeking the significance of ‘freedom’ and ‘independence’

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When I was a kid, independence day used to be an occasion to (forcefully) wake up early and get ready to attend a ‘compulsory’ ceremony at school. Little did we children, born in a post-colonial era, understand the significance of ‘freedom’ and ‘independence’, two similar yet distinct ideas. The more I read and became aware of the different shades of Indian history, the further I ventured from the safety of my home and ‘the crowd’ to have conviction-driven thoughts of my own, the more I traveled and experienced different cultures, the more I worked and realised that my actions can and will have influences, that notion of ‘freedom’ seemed to become more and more clear. Rather than accept the version of ‘independence’ often preached to us at various levels, it would help immensely if we all ourselves were to seek its true meaning and significance.

This picture was taken at Ladakh, one of the highest battlegrounds that India’s defense forces have fought at time and again, to defend the sovereignty of this country.

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Learning from Sport: Football Goalkeepers

Do you think that you’ve been given a task or a piece of homework which is way beyond your abilities? Have you got too much on your plate? Do you think that you’ve been handed a nut that’s just too tough to crack?

A goal in the game of Football is about 2.5 x 7.5 square meters. That’s more than 3 times the reach of a normal human being. Yet, there’s just one person guarding the post.

Football goalkeepers truly are your knights in shining armor, at least on the football pitch. Tall people have an edge as against those with a shorter height, but that’s just half of the story, and most likely the least important half. The many hours spent at grueling practice regimens help when the stakes are high, but something needs to come before that. What you believe after standing there is probably the most significant part. A goalkeeper has to stand tall, figuratively, against the best attackers in the business. He needs concentration and anticipation to follow the ball from the attacker’s magical feet, and then needs the will power to stop the toughest of shots coming at him with the speed of a bullet, doubly so in the case of a penalty shot when presence of mind is worth its weight in gold.

He needs to rise above the ordinary. He needs to be ‘larger than life’.

The best goalkeepers in the game have this attribute, which is why they are the best. Its this legacy of the goalkeeper that we all can be inspired from, whatever domain we do our trade in, be it a student on the night before an examination or a salesman just about to enter a boardroom full of people from the company’s management.

What you believe in, almost always separates you from the rest.

In you we trust

A couple of years ago me and my wife were visiting the picturesque city of Nikko in Japan and came across the Rinnoji temple that was under renovation at the time. Here’s a picture of how they had covered the entire temple in a huge wooden box so that it would stay safe from the elements and the restoration team could do their job well, a pretty impressive feat if you ask me.

Rinnoji Temple under renovation in Nikko, Japan (Oct 2011)

There was a noticeboard near the entrance which mentioned that it was forbidden to click pictures inside the temple. Such signboards aren’t uncommon outside monuments, and we all know how routinely such rules are flouted. The space inside the temple was truly majestic, not to mention the Sanbutsudō or the Three Buddha Hall, containing three magnanimous gold lacquered, wooden statues. Some of the artifacts on display were quite intricate and beautiful. One couldn’t help but feel like clicking a few photographs and carry them along as souvenirs. I had my camera strapped around my neck and could’ve easily removed the lens cap and taken a few shots. Without the flash, no one would have noticed, and to be frank, there weren’t an awful lot of people inside anyway. But I did not. And many of the people I observed later, irrespective of nationality, did not too.

Clicking pictures inside the temple was never going to be a capital offense, but by putting their faith in the visitors, the management staff at the temple had passed the responsibility of upholding that trust over to those same visitors and thus, for the conscious mind at least, it had become a law worth upholding.

This act of humankind to put the control of your own fate in the hands of another person is something that has always amazed me. The stakes can be pretty high sometimes. It could be your life on the line. For example, every time you climb into an elevator, you are trusting the maintenance guys to have done their job well, people whom you rarely lay your eyes upon and a team that you definitely do not control. Neither do you control the person piloting your airplane, though you might spot him on your way into the aircraft. But then its all about the responsibility that you pass on to the pilot or the elevator maintenance guys. Its easy to follow the path of least resistance, and some people do lax in that regard. Real trust is often unspoken and I believe that the people who are remembered after an event are the ones who try to uphold that trust.

In the connected economy and the geographically-dispersed teams culture that we find ourselves today, the person on the other continent isn’t watching you closely. He does his work trusting that you will do yours well, and this will eventually lead both towards the common goal. A slip up from anyone in this chain can lead the entire team astray and it might be too late to recover from that stage. An overseas client may not be able to read your software code, but he trusts your development and testing skills to avoid any troubles for him in the future. The onus is upon you to deliver.

Even with all the available surveillance, its in you we trust. Now, more than ever.

Road to confidence: The ‘route’ of no return

Road to confidence: The ‘route’ of no return

Think of your worst nightmare. Okay, now read on.

I did not grow up in a ‘car culture’, and life on two wheels, i.e. my bike, seemed good. Last November though, my wife and me planned for a road trip to the colourful state of Rajasthan (India). It was daunting to begin with because it was going to be the first time I would be driving 3000+ km, but being always on the lookout for a vacation with a difference, this trip fit the bill perfectly.

Things went well until we reached the walled city of Udaipur during the first Sunday evening of the tour. The main road to our hotel was closed for traffic (something which Google Maps didn’t update us about), and we were asked to navigate ourselves through the extremely tight and twisty lanes of the market area, only one-car-width wide and carrying two-way traffic. To make matters worse the terrain had a series of slopes and steep inclines, not to mention the 90 degree turns with house walls on each side and people walking in the tiny spaces between the car and those walls. I’m talking about manual transmission here, not automatic. Just add a few impatiently honking bike and scooter riders to the mix, and you have the complete recipe for a nightmare.

About a kilometer inside this mess, I realised that my car driving skills were being really tested and the most coveted attribute at such times – ‘patience’ – was running thin. This is what I had always dreaded, and now I was engulfed in the situation. There was no way I could turn around and go back, because there was just no space to make a u-turn and the bikers behind me would never let me reverse a single inch.

A narrow lane in the heart of Udaipur (India)

A narrow lane in the heart of the city

And then suddenly things became peaceful. No, the chaos around me hadn’t died, but the very fact that there was no way back and the only way to navigate this proverbial ‘hell‘ was to go through it, made me feel calm. It was sort of liberating to know that there was indeed only one way for me to go – ‘forward’.

The entire ordeal lasted for about 4 km, or about 1.5 hours. There were some moments of anxiety and frustration, but the confidence gained through a clear mind helped me to not make any mistakes under pressure and reach the hotel without banging my car against an electricity pole or a parked vehicle on the side, constantly taking care that the car doesn’t roll on the people behind when I lift my foot off the brake.

Thinking back, I am still amazed at what I drove through that evening. It was no super-hero stuff, but actually was a testament to how much a mere mortal can achieve if that person puts his mind to it without having the demon of failure clogging the thinking process. That ‘route of no return’, as I call it since, taught me a lot about navigating through life.

Hiding doesn’t work. Overcoming your nightmares can only happen when you place yourself on the spot and learn to survive those moments.

“The lights go out, and its just the three of us. You, me, and all that stuff we’re so scared of.”

Bruce Springsteen

Con + Science

‘Con’ = Swindle, dupe, deceive, hoodwink.

‘Science’ = The body of knowledge to accomplish it.

Enticing, thrilling and lucrative, albeit only for a short while. Hiding breeds hiding, mistakes breed mistakes. Easy? Not really, especially if you want to strike it big (in all the wrong ways) and still stay away from the bars. Guarantees you a guilt free, sound sleep at night? Surprisingly, no, though you would require the following ingredient to recognize this last fact.

‘Conscience’.

Judging yourself. Surrendering to an honest and ethical inquisition. Possessing and utilizing the same body of knowledge and to know whether to go for it or to refrain from it. Thinking breeds thought. Difficult? You bet it is, but it is also more rewarding in the long run. Guarantees you a guilt free, sound sleep at night? Almost always, yes, that is once you pass the initial hurdle of self-denial.

Irrespective of your beginnings in life, and contrary to what some people believe, whether you end up with the former or the latter is not a lottery. More a matter of choice if you ask me, and often it is your choices more than your abilities and talents that show who you truly are.

Background Importance

Try this.

Visit your favorite restaurant and pick a table that’s next to a corner. Sit with your back against the wall so that you have a clear view of the entire restaurant, or at least the part you’re sitting in. Order your favorite dish from the menu and… bon appétit! Repeat the exercise the next day, again picking the same corner table, but this time seat yourself facing the wall instead of having your back against it. Try having the same dish and note your experience.

It’ll almost always be different.

Nothing wrong with the menu though, nor with the company of friends, but the food will feel insipid and the talk over the table will seem drab in the latter instance. The difference? The inflexible and monotonous wall, even when its got a pleasant wallpaper on it.

The difference is in the background.

When user experience is one of the pillars that your business or your life stands on, the background gains unmistakable importance. Ask the travel and hotel management industry for example, or your photographer friend, or even your local bank. Its something that graphic designers think a lot about when they display their craft on internet websites and in television advertisements. Even modern day TV news broadcasts for that matter, and eager journalists reporting from the front-line or the crime scene. The more inviting and sensational the background behind the product you’re trying to sell, higher the chances that it’ll actually sell. Or as a cynic might put it, higher the chances that you might get fooled into buying it.

This phenomenon doesn’t quite apply to some areas, your dentist for example. It takes a lot more than just a soothing background behind the man holding the tiny but dreadful sounding drill in order to make a root canal or a routine filling hurt less. That is, if you are courageous enough to walk the last mile to his clinic.

No Show Today

Perspective in Focus

Kobe (Japan), at almost 2:00 PM on a weekday. Disappointed due to a ‘no show’. Well, that’s just what I thought. For all you know, this person could be resting after a meal, thinking about some job he’s got to do, in a pensive mood about an incident or an event in his life, waiting for someone or something; The possibilities are endless! The interesting thing is that there’s no one ‘right’ answer. ‘To each his own’, to a large extent. Be imaginative, but not vulgar.

The power of perspective is on show here (irony intended), and maybe that’s what every photographer aims at when he / she controls the shutter of his / her camera. Perspective is based upon the things you can see, the things you know of, like the empty stage and empty benches in the picture above. A point in case of being well-informed and having…

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