Thursday, March 15, 2018

Rationales behind festivals which actually make sense

We've all celebrated South Indian Hindu festivals for years. The mere thought of festivals excites us every year, because of the fun, FOOD, people, rituals, chatter, television shows and holidays involved. 

An accurate representation of our unfound excitement during festivals.
Source: GIFS7

Have we ever thought why we celebrate these festivals with so much fervour? I posed this question to my parents a fair few times (having earned the distinction of being eternally curious), and got some answers which did make a lot of sense! Read on to find out:

1. Pongal (Harvest festival)

Source: Pinterest
This is obvious from the name itself. Monsoon happens, good harvest is the result, farmers are happy, food is plenty, our stomachs are full, and we are also happy. The reason we make a sweet and salty version of Pongal for this festival is that i) paddy harvest is (hopefully) high at this time of the year and ii) we like to eat. This means we have all the more reason to pile it up on our plate and generally feel hopeful and happy whilst also maximising farmers' incomes. Cows and bulls are also an inevitable part of this festival, because, without them, fields cannot be ploughed (at least until tractors came in). Also, sugarcane harvest also happens at this time of the year in Tamilnadu, so that is thrown in, too! 

PS: Brahmins have an additional celebration - Kanu Pongal, which is basically preparing a variety of coloured rice to offer to kaakas and kuruvis (crows and sparrows). The choice of these birds is due to the simple fact that they abundantly present in the cities, towns, and villages of Tamilnadu. The point of this festival is that Pongal is the time birds migrate to this part of the world (which is why Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary is at its best at this time of the year). So offering this food (in different colours so that the birds spot them) from our terrace satisfies their hunger pangs after travelling such huge distances. Ideally we should be laying out some food and water everyday, but not many of us do it. Moreover, we pray for our brothers when we do this ritual (even our ancestors realised that we have to solicit the help of all life species to help them survive - just kidding!).

2. Karadayaan Nombu (Fast)

This is a festival in which married and unmarried women pray for the longevity of their husbands/husbands-to-be. Apparently the latter group gets a better choice with respect to her future husband by following this ritual (haha, if only!). There is the story of Satyavan-Savitri in which Savitri falls in love with Satyavan, but finds out that her man is destined to die. And he does. But by undertaking a fast, performing a puja and later making delicious varieties of karadai, she manages to reawaken him by impressing Lord Yama. (It is highly possible that he was reawakened by the food, but let's not go there). 


Another logical reason behind this is that there might be more to tying these yellow threads around our necks. This is the season in which measles and chickenpox are known to spread, and turmeric acts as an antiseptic against these diseases. When we tie threads with freshly applied turmeric around our necks, we protect ourselves from such afflictions. In the case of married women, moreover, ancient times witnessed the use of only yellow thread as the tirumaangalyam (sacred thread indicating marriage). This is an opportunity to change the thread since it would have been affected by weather, wind, dirt and dust. Kaaradai is just a steamed version of rice and jaggery cakes, which is good for health and also stomach-friendly after a day of fasting. 

3. Ugadi (Telugu New Year)
Source: 123Message Wishes

Well, duh. It is the Telugu New Year, signalling the start of yet another year ushering in new hopes and dreams. It is celebrated by wearing new clothes (signalling hope), by cooking several dishes - sweet, salty, sour, bitter to indicate that the new year can also bring with it all these flavours, and our readiness to accept these as they come in good spirit. 

4. Rama Navami (Lord Rama's birthday)

Panagam ( a jaggery based sweet), buttermilk, vadai (a rice and lentil based snack), payasam (made of sago, a coolant), and a green gram dal (lentil) are the main dishes cooked for this festival, which celebrates the birth of Lord Rama.
Going through the names of the dishes, some might have realised another reason behind this. All these dishes are coolants or foods which can prevent stomach burn or body heat, just at the onset of summer which is generally when this festival happens. Seriously genius!

5. Varusha Pirappu/Puthaandu/Vishu (Tamil New Year)

This is again the birth of a new year according to the Tamil calendar. Again, food is an important part here, but it also signals the beginning of a new farming season - this is the time the farms are ploughed to begin the new harvest. Naturally, it is done by celebrating it with village games and activities, and most importantly, socialising. This is the day we go to our elders' homes to get their blessings to start the new year with a bang! Blessings are actually known to work if the elders are thinking positive things about us while actually touching our heads to bless us - so why not?

6. Mahasivarathri (Celebrating Lord Siva)

Source: Pinterest
This is the source of the phrase "Inniki Shivarathri dhaan" ("today is a sure night of insomnia"). This festival originally celebrates Lord Shiva, but by staying awake a whole night and even fasting. This creates the qualities of patience, tolerance, persistence, and determination. Naturally, mantras are chanted during this time, since they anyway create positive vibrations. Also, nights are when we remember our worst sins and wrongdoings, so staying awake at this time can make us reflect on those once and resolve not to continue with them thereafter (like resolving not to eat so much ice cream henceforth). This is also the time of the waning moon, which meant that in ancient times there was not even light to count upon - the belief is that surviving the pressing darkness can give people a lot of courage, strength and perseverance.

7) Janmashtami/Krishna Jayanthi (Lord Krishna's birthday)

This day celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna. It also means preparing a variety of fatty foods such as cheedai (a snack), vennai (white butter)-based sweets, vada, payasam, and what not. If you have been observing the trend till now, you will understand that South Indian festivals revolve a lot around food, and seasonal food! The reason behind making such fatty foods during this festival is the onset of winter. This is because winter brings with it a craving for such dishes, and also a permanent feeling of hunger! Reduced exposure to sunlight can lead to mood lows - and comfort foods such as these are the perfect solutions! (I love how this article is shaping into an entirely food-obsessed account). 

8) Dusshera/Navrathri 

Source: 123greetingmessage
Well, the main reason behind this festival is - socialising. We arrange a Golu in different ways, invite people, go their houses, banter, sing, and generally have an amazing time for 9 days. This is again a reason for making a variety of sundals (healthy alternatives to fatty snacks), and sweets, which again takes care of the winter craving. This is the festival which celebrates the art forms, happiness, and just those little moments which we all love! (Something like this is needed at least one in a year to reinstate our zeal for life). 

9) Deepavali (Festival of Lights)

This is possibly the biggest festival for Hindus! It celebrates the vanquishing of the demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna, and entails bursting of crackers, wearing new clothes, praying to God, and eating a ton of different sweets and snacks (with a Deepavali Leghyam to digest it all)! It also celebrates the triumph of victory over evil, and hence lamps are lighted around the house. The logical reason behind this is that i) the smoke from crackers does an amazing job of doing away with mosquitoes, which start breeding at this time of the year, and ii) darkness sets in early during winter, so it's important to start lighting up our homes, too!

10) Kaarthigai (Festival of Lamps)


This is very similar to Deepavali - only, it happens in the peak of winter. Lamps are lit around the home during the entire month of Kaarthigai (because in ancient times, this was a season when darkness fell early, and the lack of electricity meant we had to light up our homes everyday until the onset of spring)!

Whoa. There's so much meaning behind our religions and customs! If only we took the time to research them some more, I'm sure we will have an umpteen other reasons to uphold them and teach our children to carry them forward for the future generations to come. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The best, pocket-friendly workouts

Workouts are one of the most popular topics of discussion, wherever we go. We keep hearing stories about fancy gyms (cardio, and – well, that’s the only word I know), zumba, aerobics, sports, and what not. Whilst these work, no doubt, here is a list of workouts and diets which are pocket-friendly and also easy to follow in everyday life.

1) Running up and down the stairs of our own homes

This works wonders. Really. If you’ve been at the listening end of labour stories, you will frequently hear the sentence, “I was made to walk up and down the stairs to make progress on my labour”. It’s an inevitable truth in this case, and also for reducing weight. This also keeps our bodies flexible, makes us feel lighter, and does away with the terrible pain in the knees which we go through when we put on so much weight that our legs can’t stand it (pun unintended).

Please avoid heels for the simple occupational hazard involved in running with them. Picture for representative purposes only.

2) Arranging items in the loft by lifting them ourselves instead of screaming at our siblings to hand it to us from the top of a broken stool

This is slightly difficult but still doable. I did it! Holding a 30 kg piece of luggage, I used all my strength to lift it off from the ground and put it on top of a bureau. It made me feel so good, and also strengthened my muscles! I am now the official luggage lifter at home, courtesy my resemblance to an adult giraffe, and also because I can now lift weights. (I am thinking I should have considered an alternative career as a sportswoman, but for my love for fatty food). Note: Please don't do this if you have problems like slip discs, and this is also a strict NO-NO for pregnant women. 

It's not as difficult as the woman in the photo makes it seem.
3) Running after babies

This is the best workout that there is. Take, again, my case. My 10 month old son has now started moving around and pulling everything within and outside his reach, which means I have to keep my eyes peeled (which sharpens my focus) and my legs always on the go (which builds my stamina). It takes time to get used to, but the fact that your son has the ability to dump a vessel full of curd rice on himself is a sure motivation and also a slap in the face to tell us that the *gurgling-and-gazing-at –lights-period* is a thing of the past.

Yes, that's what I am talking about.
4) Making it a point to put everything back in its place once we use it

This was a surprise revelation when I realised that leaving my baby’s things around every time I use them can turn the house into a mini-dumpster. This is again, one of the things about which our mothers keep telling us but we don’t follow. It is only now that I realise the value of her words. Seriously, putting things back in their place as soon as we use them ensures that we keep moving around and don’t lounge around in one area like a couch potato. This keeps our limbs active and also the house clean (which is actually a nice thing given that babies lick everything they see).

Yes, even that last piece of chocolate wrapper which is around half a millimeter in dimension and seems to have escaped under the pillow in the baby's bed.

5) Cooking at least one South Indian meal a day, right from the scratch

This also leads to a considerable amount of exercise. Let’s go through the steps:
  • going out to buy the supplies (again, the stairs),
  • carrying the items back home (weightlifting),
  • cutting the vegetables using a traditional aruvamunai (knife), which means sitting on the ground and bending forward to cut the vegetables – abdomen workout for the win!,
  • preparing the tamarind extract for sambhar/rasam (best workout for the hands),
  • stirring upmas/rava kesari for a long period of time (arm workout),
  • making the vegetables over the stove for half-an-hour using minimum oil so that we don’t empty a ton of oil into the pan and ensure that it gets cooked quickly (again, arm workout)!
I doubt we will look this calm by the time we even switch on the stove; but worth it!

6) Sitting on the ground and eating

Ditching the fancy tables and sitting on the ground to eat works so well! This is why traditional meals were served on plantain leaves on the ground – this ensured a workout for both the person who ate and the one who served. Sitting on the ground and bending forward to eat each time ensures that we don’t eat that extra morsel which leaves us feeling uncomfortably heavy. In fact, sitting on the ground and getting up every time (not just when we eat) can lead to superb results!

This kid started early! 
7) Not sitting down on a stool while bathing/using a shower

I still do it sometimes! But I still use a bucket and mug. This saves water, too! Bending down every time to fill water in the mug gives a great workout to the abdomen and waist, and keeps our bodies active and light.

Namma ooru bucket and mug!
8) Running errands ourselves, and walking short distances for the same.

As far as possible, we could try to run our errands - such as buying vegetables and fruits, taking photocopies, picking up the dry cleaned clothes, buying ice cream (yes, it’s allowed), etc. Trying to walk short distances to run these errands can help quite a bit, since there is an end goal, rather than just pointlessly running on the treadmill wondering about the purpose of life. Trying to combine errands with walks/jogging can add a bit of interest to it.

Yes, something like this - but please don't close your eyes like this man unless you're dreaming, which is what most men do anyway 

9) Limiting the use of gadgets

This is actually a true workout! We don’t realise how dependent we are on gadgets and hence, end up spending a whole lot of time on them. We (me included) could try locking up our phones and laptops once we reach home, and having a designated time to check them again just before we go to bed. This can leave us with a chunk of free time which we can then decide how to spend (other than watching television). This eventually warrants at least some physical activity on our part (like a sudden urge to bake, realising just a few minutes later that we don’t have the supplies, and then going out – by walk – to buy them, and then actually baking the cake. That’s some workout – even allowing for the amount of cake we will gorge on).

This guy, for example, is not even drinking his coffee. What a humongous waste of time.

10) Yoga

Well, of course – some form of focused exercise is required. Learning all asanas is not a compulsory activity. Just mastering the Surya Namaskara (men, and women who are not pregnant) gives great exercise to every part of the body. Twelve Surya Namaskaars a day yield superb results. It leaves us feeling refreshed and also not too tired, which means we can allot just 15 minutes a day for this and feel much better! The weight loss due to this is gradual, but natural and healthy.

It's a nice picture, but please take instructions from a yoga expert before trying it to avoid breaking or spraining of body parts.

This is all I can think of now - now we know why our Thaathas and Paatis (before they were hit by the Tamil serial revolution and cricket matches on TVs) were/are so fit! Kudos to them, and best of luck to use trying to replicate them. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

5 things women can do to make other women feel better

Women’s day just passed by and news feeds on social media were flooded with posts on empowering women, and realising their value. However, cutting through the complexities of such posts are things in everyday life that all women can do to make the others feel  good about themselves. Here are five ways in which women can make other women feel astronomically better - things which don’t require much effort, but just thoughtfulness on our part.

I. Appreciate them openly

It’s okay to appreciate another woman’s achievements, life events, looks, or anything nice, actually. A sweet comment on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, a like, or even calling out to a nicely dressed woman on the road, example, can make their day. I personally know of women who admire other women in private, but scroll over their posts or achievements consciously on public forums/pages. This is exactly the concept of giving the cold shoulder; albeit virtually!  I don’t know the reason for this – they might think that this is spamming, or they might think that they might be thought small by doing so. Never. By complimenting others, we only make them feel good (even if they are celebrities, believe me) and also have the satisfaction of having made somebody feel that way! 

2) Support their initiatives/efforts

If your female friend, friend of a friend, or even acquaintance has done something notable or started something on their own, go ahead and market their efforts, and try to buy them if possible (if it is also financially feasible for you). I, for one, have several of these women on my friend list and even in my life who have started their own ventures and are particularly good at it. I list them here, right now, to let them know that I am proud of every single one of them:

Kids Campus International, Triplicane: A pre school franchise run by my mother - ISO certified, US based curriculum with elements of value based education added by her!

Arture – Sustainable bags, purses, wallets, laptop sleeves and other similar products manufactured by my school friends, Shivani Patel and Keshsa Vasant

The Baker Ninja – A range of baking products offered by a friend of a friend at my university, Niranjana Selvam

The Mishka Studio – An amazing collection of jewel accessories and clothes curated by my school friend (and amazing writer), Manasa Kumar

Nxt2Skin – A makeup service launched by my makeup artist friend, Charanyaa Murali. She is also an amazing dancer, by the way, and a choreographer in the making!

Roll on Two Studios – Absolutely smashing photographers! My college friend, Sivagnanavathy, is one of the partners who founded this brand.

The Lush Glaze – A completely vegan dessert brand in Hyderabad. Launched by a friend of a friend, Sharanya Sridhar.

Memorytrix – A great way to master the English vocabulary and language through a mobile application. One of the co-founders is my second cousin, Kripa Narasimhan

CowvathiA vegan cheese brand launched by my childhood friend Shasvathi Siva.

3) Don’t judge them

Never judge any woman, or even any person, by their outward demeanour. You never know what storms might be raging inside that haughty or calm or blasé exterior. Best to stop trying to think “Oh, she is so rich, beautiful and famous. What problems could she have?”.

4) Don’t gossip. Ever.

This follows from the previous commandment. Never talk about a woman behind her back. Recently, I was victim to one of these gossip attacks, and further digging revealed that one of my very dear friends had started it. Trust me, it feels terrible. When we don’t like it if done to us, why do it to others?

5) Value your mother. Seriously.

Beyond posting about the importance of mothers on May 8, it is important to realise the value of your mother. Stop demeaning her over her ability to type on Whatsapp, her Facebook statuses which say “I am going to meet my friend”, or her act of constantly standing behind you to make you eat the right food. You never realise the value of these until you are away and regretting your scathing comments like, “Okay, Amma, stop nagging!”, or "Amma, you don't know anything". There is a fine line between pulling her leg (which is okay) and belittling her (which is absolutely not).

That's my mother.

With that, a shout-out to all women out there to start implementing these little gestures (which may seem trivial but are actually not being followed) right now. You never know who might feel all warm and fuzzy inside because of this. On that note, Happy Women’s Day – No, Year – No, actually, Happy New Women’s Era. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

When Mochi bowed down to the good old cobbler

Today was an eventful day in many ways. It began on an ominous note with a popular Jothidar (astrologer) on TV saying that the day's prediction for my rasi was remarkably poor. Naturally, I approached the day with overdone enthusiasm, beginning with flamboyantly displaying my abysmal dance skills to my bewildered son before going through the morning routines only to have a late start to the day. 

Apart from going to bed once more after taking a nice long bath, and realising 15 minutes later that it was a working day, the day was a reasonably good one. Elated at having proven the Jothidar wrong, I signed my day off at office (to go to a work-related event at Anna University) with flourish and side-stepped down the office stairs (Rajinikanth style), only because I am too fat to come down the narrow staircase the normal way. After skipping the last step (looking left and right to ensure that no one was observing my ladylike gait), I realised that my happiness was short-lived. 

On extremely rare occasions (2 years once), I decide to wear matching chappals for my outfit. This day was one of those occasions. Therefore, fate had to play its role by ensuring that my Rajinikanth walk broke my chappals. Added to this was the fact that my Ola ride had arrived, forcing me to hop the next few yards with as much dignity as I could, after which I stumbled into the auto somehow. 

The chappal is from Mochi, a brand which we expect doesn't lead to results like these. Whilst I was fumbling around, wondering what to do when I had exactly 15 minutes to reach my destination, the very kind auto driver slowed down in front of a cobbler. In just 7 minutes, the cobbler fixed my chappal (by adding extra thread to keep in intact), allowing me to stumble back into the auto once more, but this time with working chappals. The entire 7 minutes were filled with three different men (the auto driver, the cobbler, and his sidekick) advising me on how these kinds of chappals were just "for show" with zero utility. Since my gratitude overrode my urge to contradict, I let these comments pass, and thanked all of them profusely. I then brandished a 100 rupee note at the cobbler, who had no change (this just keeps getting better and better). Without an ounce of hesitation, I demanded another good Samaritan on the road for change and finally left that place in one piece, eternally grateful to the auto-driver and the cobbler.

The rest of the ride, though short (courtesy the humanitarian auto driver) was a reflective one. As the Jothidar said, it had been an extraordinarily weird day, but it also showed me the good side of the world. Sometimes we are so caught up in our own lives that we do not open our eyes to these simple gestures which are fast fading nowadays but warm our insides like piping hot coffee. It is a wonder just not to get trampled by politics, manipulation, so-called smartness and even physical assault before reaching home in one piece.

Dear God, thank you for retaining the good old cobblers even amidst the glittery world of Mochi, Zara, or whatever it is that they are called. Technology, globalisation, and modernity have helped us, but we always need the good old cobbler, or that bit of the old world to rely upon, to teach us that sometimes the personal touch is more essential than all the flashy stuff out there.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Snatching Vatching, too soon.

It’s hardly been a day since we all woke up to the shocking news of the passing away of Sridevi. It shook the whole nation, because the loss felt personal – it still does. Such is her stature and her acting prowess that she has become a part of every single Indian household. Perhaps one of the characters which brought her closest to all our lives is that of the endearing, fumbling, Shashi of English Vinglish. She has made a mark in the South Indian movies such as Moondram Pirai, Vaazhve Maayam, Jagadheka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari, and Sigappu Rojaakal, but there was something very special about English Vinglish – she managed to strike a chord in everyone’s hearts with her perfect representation of a middle class mother and her struggles in everyday life. In this article, I write about some of her most poignant expressions through the movie, which will be what I will always remember Sridevi for.

1) Her yearning to fulfill her own desires conflicting with her urge to fulfill the duties of a “responsible” wife when her husband calls out, “Shashi! Chai!” (“Shashi, Tea!”). She beautifully shows that she does love taking care of her family, but would appreciate it if everyone considered her routine, as well, before making demands of her. She presents all these emotions in just a turn of her head and a lingering gaze, which speaks of exasperation, concern, and resignation in just a fleeting second.

2) Her endearing attempts to say “Jazz” when her daughter pulls her leg about her pronunciation. She flawlessly brings out her fake attempt at retaining her confidence, which she loses the instance she is not validated by her daughter. Her eyes convey so much here – including the need for an Indian woman to be validated by everyone in her family to feel good.

3) Her recognition of her son’s attempts to make her feel good. Mothers love all their kids equally. No question. But they do have their own personal comfort levels with each kid, which they share irrespective of how much affection they choose to shower on all of them. Whilst she does dearly love Swapna and is proud of her achievements, it is evident that Sagar is her soothing balm and her little respite from her humdrum life. It is him who makes her feel wanted and like a superwoman. She shows this subtle difference with amazing finesse.

4) Her embarrassment at being embraced by her husband in public – not overdone with giggles or much body-twisting, but understated and natural, with just a small shove and an uncomfortable expression at being hugged in front of her child. Score!

5) Her expressions at the coffee shop – I guess everyone loves these. It had us all crying at the end of it and wanting to jump into the scene to tell the snooty teller off and also buy a coffee and a hot grilled sandwich for Shashi.

6) Her childlike excitement at having found her way around a completely firangi (foreign) city and also at making friends along the way. This reminded us so much of our own grandmothers & mothers and their cute gestures like typing for half an hour to send an “OK” on Whatsapp.

7) Her eagerness to learn something new and her absolute dedication to it – she brings out these expressions so well that you are reminded of that sincere student in class who was unfazed by taunts thrown at her for being so. Her body language also reflects her comfort at being around peers like her, her relief at  finally taking up an attempt to learn something which has been her weakness for the past few years, and her enthusiasm at doing something completely alien to her. Hats off!

8) Her flustered expression when she, for a minute, is held by Laurent (her French friend) and her subsequent flight. Her face here talks of so many things – her guilt at having been frozen in shock, her anger at having being held by a man other than her husband, her haste to get away from the scene as soon as possible, her identity crisis, and her need to preserve her dignity as an “Indian woman”. This was so real that it was like watching one of us on screen. Wow. Just wow.

9) Her happiness and contentment for being present at her niece’s wedding. She brings these expressions out so well. Hiding her fright, unease, and lack of confidence, she puts forth a happy exterior for everyone to know that she is here to help and enjoy the event, and that she is ecstatic at doing so. Much like how our mothers are. These scenes were again so real that it was like seeing my mother on screen.

11) Her serious contemplation on why life was such a drama when she wanted to do what she wanted – attend the last English class (for a test) on the morning of the wedding to complete her course. This is when Sagar knocks down the laddoos (a sweet) and she makes them again. She emotes so well that we can actually feel her frustration and tears which almost escaped but did not, and also her firm resolve to keep her word – that she would make the laddoos for the wedding.

12) Her speech. Of course everyone loved it. It was true and real. In those few minutes, she shows in her eyes that her life is flashing before her, and that she sincerely believes that her niece and her husband should not repeat the same mistakes that she did. She also displays her resolution to keep at her business – laddoo-making, which is what she is best at, without being deterred by the “she was born to make laddoo” comments. Her face shows the true hurt she faced at not receiving respect all these years from her family and her silent plea for this to change henceforth. This was the perfect end to the movie.

These were the things I loved the most about the movie – Sridevi, Sridevi and Sridevi. Whilst her 80s movies either released when I was not born or when I did not understand movies at all, this was the one movie which connected with me like nothing else did, because of the sheer factual portrayal by Sridevi in it. We will all miss you, you powerhouse of talent. Rest in peace.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

What is Fear?

I am writing this poem for the sake of the scores of women around the world who are terrorised with the formless, abstract, concept of fear. This will hopefully help them take over their mind and handle tough and unsettling situations with a confidence that cannot ever be shaken. This concept is based on what my mother taught me ever since I was a kid – that fear is a feeling, not a fact. 

Image Source: 

A shift in the air, a little rustle in the dark corner,
a prickle on the back of her neck, attempting to warn her;
An atmosphere, almost still, which could make the weak heart skip a beat,
and the eerie absence of sound, akin to the gait of a lion about to pounce on its meat.
Her head snapped around with remarkable speed,
looking for the source; helpless at her reaction, it had to but flee,
jumping at the sheer lack of fright on her face,
commanding its exit, which almost happened without choice.

For these signs, to her, were not products of fear,
but signals, for her to simply avert the danger that was near.
Her mind challenged, “You there, what is your shape, colour, and home land?”,
And “fear”, in all its abstractness, dismissed itself at the wave of her hand.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Ingredients of a fulfilling work life – My learnings from the past.

It’s been almost four and a half years since I started my career back in November 2013. It has been an absolute whopper of an experience working with different firms, people, and subjects in different locations. In this article, I list some very valuable qualities which I learnt from the motley of people that I have worked with in the past, which have, to a great extent, helped me mould my personality over time.

Before I move on to the people at work, writing about the key personalities who have shaped/shaping my life and who I am today is but a necessity! Here goes:

My father. Perfect. P to the E to the R to the F to the E to the C to the T perfect. Perfection and thoroughness defined him, and he holds, even today, the distinction of being the only marketing professional who has never lied in his entire lifetime, both on professional and personal fronts. The best quality he displayed was an unabashed openness about anything and everything, which actually kept his clients peaceful. I don’t know how he did it – I suppose he had a time and place for saying things and also an effortless finesse with words. However difficult it was to lay plain facts before the client, he chose to take the straightforward approach which always worked out in the end. His talent with languages, of course, helped him a lot in upholding this principle. On one hand, he would speak flawless Tamil and quote lines from the Thirukkural and on the other, put lyricists to shame by delivering perfect lines in Hindi and even Urdu!

My mother. She is an amazing, out-of-the-world, absolutely smashing planner and organiser. I can say with full confidence that even if she is put in a situation in which she is caught on a scooter in between a lorry and a bus, an SUV in the front and a limousine in the back, she will find a way out of it and even establish contacts with the drivers and passengers in all these vehicles. Presence of mind is something she was born with and she is hardly left wondering what to do in any kind of dire, pressing, or hard situation. Her common sense is something even I envy, and she has a vision which cuts through all complexities in life and makes her an expert on offering practical, working solutions to everything from problems at home to business and work decisions. Her stable mind is an output of the fact that she is absolutely blasé about any gossip that falls into her ears. A firm believer in the concept of “seeing is believing”, she is never influenced by any gossip about anyone, nor does she gossip about anybody’s personal life. Her advice to me has always been that I should never allow this to get in the way of relationships, work, or anything else in life. This bit of wisdom has helped me to no end!

My sister. Sincerity. But not the Sincere Sigamani type. Not the one who whispers to the teacher to remind her about homework. No. She goes to any lengths to complete her assignments, tasks, and work on time and impeccably, but never tries to impose her views on the general public. She peacefully abides by her principles on her own track without making a spectacle out of it. This is a very important quality, because displaying our sincerity openly and showing this openly to the public is just a call for attention. Her sincerity and talent is reflected in her work and not in her words. She is a wonderful blend of an enterprising personality and also a person who does not speak too much and overstep the line. This is something I am still learning from her and hope to imbibe in my life soon enough!

My son. He is only 9 months old. The best quality I have seen in him is his absolute lack of fuss about anything. He is a determined little character despite being so young, and finds happiness in whatever is available with him. Give him a newspaper and you will find him enthusiastically tearing it to pieces with the same enthusiasm as beating his musical drum. Take him for a casual stroll into the terrace and he shows the same happiness that he does when he is taken to a park. This kind of contentment is something I love about him and am trying to emulate in my life, too!

Getting to the work bit. I am going to start from my first set of colleagues, seniors and leaders, some of whom are also very close friends now.

Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER)

Isher Judge Ahluwalia. She is the Chairperson of ICRIER and someone I interacted with occasionally since she led the project I was working on. Her knowledge base is just mind-blowing, as is her ability to apply complex economic theories into real-life situations. One of her most amazing qualities is her meticulous attention to detail – during our interactions, she never displayed reluctance to ask even the most junior researchers to provide suggestions to maintain accuracy in everything she did.

Deepak Santhanakrishnan. He supervised me in my very first job. A very valuable lesson I learnt from him is that it is essential to interact with a variety of experts in a field before starting to write about anything, in addition to performing primary and secondary research. He always encouraged me to find the contacts of people who have significant experience in any area or even provided me with them. Knowledge beyond books helps deliver practical solutions to a great extent – this is the mantra he emphasised on!

Kanak Tiwari. She was senior to me, but we didn’t work much together. But we were and are great friends. The best thing about her is her earthy passion. She was able to point out real-life examples in any subject, and she has never been on the high horse about anything, even considering her many years of experience and talent. She showed me that researchers don’t always have to seem intimidating. She is an encyclopaedia, but a very understandable and simple one. She can effortlessly discuss urban infrastructure issues with a Nobel laureate and explain to a layman why roads are not laid properly with the same level of detail and enthusiasm.

Sabyasachi Tripathi. Sabya, in my experience, is a very calm and composed co-worker. There was never much noise in his activities, and he carried about his work in office in a very cool manner. My interactions with him were unfortunately minimal, but whenever I saw him, he was always smiling and quiet. He displayed no extravagance about the work he did or the knowledge he kept acquiring.

Tanushree Bhan. A very important thing I learnt from Tanushree is that it is absolutely possible to have a successful career and also enjoy life to the maximum. I have also observed that she is polite, but never displays doormat behaviour; she is very well-read, but never lords over others; she is very helpful, but never allows anyone to take advantage of her. She balances these qualities very efficiently, and she taught me how to spot the line which preserves our dignity as an employee which is invisible, but very much present.

Sirus Joseph Liberio. The need to keep reading to not get lost in a conversation is something Sirus taught me. Whenever he was not working, he was always reading. He had an opinion to offer on almost every subject, and I soon found that he kept himself well-updated on recent events and current affairs. He could talk about Presidential elections and the taste of risotto in different restaurants with the same level of confidence since he would have an enviable repository of knowledge on both.

Tarika Khanna: Tarika was someone who always had truckloads of enthusiasm at her disposal. She could never be found moping around or dull in any occasion, and she even put a spring in everyone’s step by going around office and spreading her infectious energy to everyone.  

Shraddha Suresh. The best thing about Shraddha is her ability to keep her co-workers calm in addition to being calm herself. She hardly ever lost her temper and also helped others stay peaceful and go about work normally despite pressing deadlines. She did this by regaling us with anecdotes from her personal life which would send us into peals of laughter and lighten our moods to no end!

Siddhartha Ayyagari. Being courteous and polite to everyone at all times is a quality which I have observed in Siddhartha. He was always well-mannered with everyone, including the Maggi aunty outside office, cleaners, staff, helpers, juniors, seniors, his friends, and everyone around him. He showed all of us that this is a very important quality, but something which should not warrant a conscious and separate effort on our parts.


Surojit Bose. He was my super senior at EY LLP. His ability to delegate work assignments with patience even within a limited time is something which has always surprised me. He would be able to make his juniors understand his requirements without ambiguity given his ability to provide the right references to read up on.

Nutan. What I learnt from Nutan is to never, ever give up until the last straw. Whether it is going up to the last search result in the last page of Google, talking to the last person in the last relevant institution for the right information, or even formatting the last table in the last page of a document, she made me realise the value in presenting a flawless final output to the client. I have also found that a neat, accurate, and rich output pleases clients to no end, and Nutan’s motivation to complete, with perfection, even that last mile, helped me develop great tenacity.

Joseph Arokia Prakash Jerald. Joseph is my senior and also a mentor. What I learnt from Joseph is to understand, how it is, to stand before the client with an output and how it feels to answer their questions before submitting a document even internally. He taught me that it is important to be reliable as well as dependable, by including accurate facts in any assignment, being responsive, and delivering work of the highest quality. He is also an expert on prioritising, and gave me this jewel of a tip – whenever work gets really heavy, we should do the less pressurising, but still important jobs such as sending out emails or submitting expenses. This will help us relax and also be more productive, so that we don’t start on everything and leave all of them unaccomplished.

Aditya Bhardwaj. While working with Aditya, I have learnt that it is imperative to review any output developed by us before sending it out even to our immediate supervisor, to avoid results of human error, such as grammatical errors, or even factual errors which may lead to a different result altogether. It helped me hone my skill on keen observation of my outputs which also provided me with a satisfaction of having submitted an assignment with a need for minimum revisions.

Sayooj Thekkevariath. The key takeaway from Sayooj’s style of working is to think of the employer’s responsibility as our own, instead of acting as someone just assisting the assignments. He took the lead on any project with great zeal and it could be gathered easily from my interactions with him that he saw every output as his duty, not even saying or feeling even once that he had too much on his plate.

Priya Bhaktha. Priya taught me that it is very important to share work-in-progress with seniors who assign work to us, to keep them assured and informed of the advancement on any kind of assignment. Another advantage of this activity is that if our approach is different from the expectations of the client/senior, it can be flagged at an early stage itself. This adds significant value to our effort and also saves time and energy for seniors, helping us deliver assignments on time!

Sathish Dhanapal. I learnt the importance of a process-oriented approach for any kind of activity from Sathish. Whenever he guided me on something, he would also tell me how it needs to be recorded, tabulated, and presented in the end. Observing his working style, I saw that even the documents he developed at initial stages would be well-organised and neat, teaching me that it is important to keep our output understandable and pleasing to our eyes first and then enhancing it in the end.

Nataraj Shanmugam. Guiding juniors is always an important aspect of any work environment. Nataraj was an example to follow in this aspect, and he would take time off to explain how the firm, team, and processes worked to any new employee. In my case, he wrote down all the details when I first joined, which drilled the entire system into my mind and allowed me to function efficiently within the structure since I had all the processes on my fingertips due to Nataraj’s efforts.  

Sivaramakrishnan. S. Straightforward and direct approaches to any meeting, assignment or output was the key aspect that set Sivaramakrishnan apart from everyone. He would make great efforts to deliver perfect results and also use his learnings from his study background to work out solutions. He is a person known for employing academic concepts and logical reasoning in his work, as well, and delving deep into any work that he does – during my interactions with him, I saw that he hardly ever did anything on the surface or cobbled up something urgent, even in the event of a looming deadline. This helped me understand that there is absolutely no excuse for handling in work of lesser quality than usual even if it warrants stretching ourselves more than necessary to put in the best efforts possible.

Jaspreet Singh Sidhu. A very important learning I garnered from Jaspreet’s way of working is his effort to brush up on his knowledge of any sector he worked in before plunging into an assignment. His outputs, I observed, were very factually correct, with a focus on the content but also with simple design features. He was extremely devoted to his job and respected his seniors at work, a quality which I feel is very essential to grow in our careers. He also possessed the very unique quality of being able to credit his juniors and display his loyalties to the firm whenever he made any kind of presentation to the client.

Shreya Sanyal. From Shreya, I learnt that it is important to possess a willingness to take up any kind of assignment, whatever it may take. However far outside her comfort zone any assignment was, she would only think for a few minutes to agree to being a part of it. She would also complete such assignments impeccably and on time, making her a very reliable and dependable resource who could be counted on in the case of any urgent requirement.

After writing this account, I realise how many different kinds of people I have met and how many I am yet to meet to expand my vision further. I thank every one of them for teaching me so much and also making me realise that there is still a lot more to learn. 

This seemingly long narration is just a beginning, and all of us need to realise that we have the opportunity to keep learning and imbibe from such personality traits who are right next to us - to develop into a good working professional, and more importantly, into a wise and compassionate human being.