Ali's Corner

Dr. Ali Khwaja

Someone gave me an interesting food for thought. He said: “Creative ideas come in bed, bath and bus”, i.e. when you are about to sleep, when you are leisurely taking a bath, or when you are travelling. I do find it true to a great extent.

Give it a thought. On my part I ensure that I have a pen/paper or my electronic notepad handy when I am travelling or about to sleep. I don’t take them into the bath, but often I am desperate to come out and jot down the inspirational thought that occurs to be in the bathroom.

When the mind is free and is allowed to roam without restrictions that is when the best of thoughts and ideas come to us.

-Dr. Ali Khwaja


A little Tibet

Muniamma and Kumar squat on the opposite sides of the road and spread out their wares on plastic sheets. Kumar specializes in eatables – one-rupee sweets and indigenous chocolates to fancier packaged junk food. Muniamma sells trinkets, toys, knick-knacks. Most children entering the school arch stop and look on with awe to see if there is something new or enticing to buy. They laugh, giggle, and chat leisurely, as they have reached school way ahead of the time for the first bell.

Nestled between undulating hills and valleys, nature holds sway for miles around. Even the clouds spread and roll in abandon in the unlimited skyline. Walk down the steeply sloping road beyond the arch and you are in a school campus with low-rise buildings, playgrounds, staff quarters and a breathless view of the hills in all four directions. This is the Tibetan school in the Dhondenling Tibetan Settlement, a few kilometers from the one-road little town of Odeyarpalya, a five hour drive from Bangalore.

The charming Tibetan refugees live in 22 ‘villages’ named simply by the alphabets ‘A’,’B’, ‘C’ and so on. Their children walk, cycle or ride to the school. The amazing part is that they love to come to school even an hour or two before assembly – for school is second home to them. From Muniamma to the ever-smiling Principal, teachers and support staff (not to mention a battery of tail-wagging street dogs) everyone welcomes the kids, tiny tots to hulking teenagers.

Time stands still in Dhondenling. No one seems to be in a hurry or under stress. Thousands of miles away from their mountain country the third generation refugees live in contentment and peace – and yet with the undying hope that they will return home one day. Children scamper all over the school campus and beyond. A monastery perched on the highest hill looks down benignly on the lone scooters on the winding roads below, the isolated buildings of the administration office, a traditional hospital, the agriculture cooperative society and a tiny bank.

This is a place where nature rules. And it rules with compassion and care, allowing myriad varieties of birds to flit around, for occasional wild elephants to meander through, for trees to grow to unbelievable heights, and for humans who love nature to learn that life should be allowed to progress at its own pace….

Invaluable

I read something very touching the other day:

Imagine that you had the means to give every person in your life an expensive gift. How happy and appreciative they would be! And how much satisfaction you yourself would get. Actually, you can give others a special gift, something they really need.

It won't cost you anything.

What is it? Your attention! Most people want attention and respond appreciatively when they receive it. To give quality attention, however, you must be an empathetic listener. Most of us forget to listen to our near and dear. We are very polite in listening to even boring strangers, but we take our most loved ones for granted.

Every now and then I make a resolution that I must give more attention, show greater sensitivity and express more affection to those selected few who are very integral part of my life. But slowly I slip, and soon I realize that I am taking them for granted.

Many a time we work hard to take care of the needs of our near and dear. We deprive ourselves of our needs and wants, spend more money to take care of their needs and wants – but we do it more in material things, and very less in fulfilling their emotional needs and wants. Yet in today’s fast paced and competitive world, what our loved ones need from us is some TLC (I hope you know what it is), small loving gestures and the feeling of warmth that comes from knowing that they belong to someone. Let us please give it to them.

Number game

We are all the time encompassed with numbers. The year that has begun is 2019, the date of every day is important to keep planning ahead, we constantly look at the time to keep up our pace, all our near and dear have become trapped in their mobile phone numbers. We are governed by PAN numbers, PIN codes, Adhar number, our vehicle numbers, and our alpha-numeric passwords, our blood pressure readings.

I remember the good old Bollywood movies where the poor man pushed into jail would lament that he has become “Qaidi (prisoner) No. XXX” and has lost his identity. I hope we are not becoming Qaidis entrapping ourselves in our own jails.

The years come and go, leaving good and bad memories – but I want to think that life is more than just numbers. It is emotions, relationships & people. It is names, greetings, pet-names, endearments, descriptions. It is Us !

Republic Day

4 years ago just before Republic Day, I saw an old man selling pins with small metallic National tri-colour flags for five rupees. I bought four of them, and started wearing them in rotation every day. Initially no one seemed to take any notice of this new appendage on my shirt. Then comments started: “Hey, Republic Day is long over, why the flag?” Some people even passed sarcastic remarks, “you don’t have to wear your patriotism on your chest every day”. It set me thinking. People wear their religion, caste, political affiliations on their sleeve, and it is accepted. Everywhere I turn around I see people flaunting their faith or their community – on their foreheads, in their dress, through ornaments, and even on the dashboards or windscreens of their cars. I want to wear my Nationality on my person wherever I go, because I genuinely love my country and am proud to be an Indian, and I hardly have any other regional or parochial affiliations. My language, religion, caste, region or political affiliation are very minor in comparison to my identity as an Indian – and I would like others to know this fact, through a tiny metallic tricolor flag proudly worn on my chest.

Super Hero of the needy

When someone falls sick, a loved one is dying, there is an accident or disability, or when someone is struck down with mental illness – Ramaswamy is the first name that comes to mind.

One phone call, and Ramaswamy does not give you advice what to do, he just informs you how many minutes it will take for him to reach you. Like the pizza delivery man, Ramaswamy is with you in minutes. He takes charge, quietly runs around doing everything possible to relieve the situation, provides solace and reassurance, and manages to get results at lightning speed. Be it a case of brain trauma or mental illness at NIMHANS, a serious case of cancer in Kidwai hospital, a destitute who needs admission in a government hospital, or a person from a far off village lost and desolate looking for a cure in the giant city of Bangalore – he’s there.

Ramaswamy has the uncanny knack of making friends with the right people – never for himself, but to ensure that the contacts he builds up will be useful when the next emergency strikes to a stranger who calls out to him. Travelling from one corner of the city to another, be it by car, scooter or BMTC bus, he does not hesitate to take every suffering soul to the right destination for the most appropriate and affordable cure. And he does not stop with that. He knows where financial relief is available, which authorities to wake up from their slumber to release most deserved concessions or grants to the poorest of poor. He completes his work and moves on …. To meet the next person in need.

Sun is shining, Oh so Bright!

The mist cleared up early. It is nearing 7 a.m. and the sun is peeping over the tallest trees in the East.

The day is becoming quite bright, and the little residents of the salubrious Manthan (Churning of minds) retreat, are up and about. A squirrel comes running and jumping at amazing speed, climbs briskly up the tall wooden pole, and perches himself (herself?) comfortably on top. Enjoying the view and surveying the surroundings, he smoothly glides on to a thin tree branch. For a moment I gasp, is he going to lose his grip and fall? Not at all, he knows how and what he is capable of. Before I can catch my breath, he has effortlessly moved on to another tree and then another, and is out of sight.

There are tiny birds, smaller than the usual sparrows we see in the city. They move in and out of my vision so fast, I cannot keep track of where they are going. In the meanwhile my favorite Vividh Bharathi radio station is broadcasting another session of “Bhoole Bisre Geet (forgotten and scattered retro Hindi songs)”. The slow and lilting music goes well with the slow and measured movements of nature around me. A hot cup of tea appears by my side, and before I can say thanks to the eternally loyal Thirumalamma, she has glided away noiselessly and is sweeping the far end of the campus.

I wish every morning can be so beautiful and bountiful. But I have to get back to the concrete jungle. For every day is not Sunday, and I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep……

Your Attention Please

I read something very touching the other day:

Imagine that you had the means to give every person in your life an expensive gift. How happy and apprecia¬tive they would be! And how much satisfaction you yourself would get. Actually, you can give others a special gift, something they really need. It won't cost you anything.

What is it? Your attention! Most people want atten¬tion and respond appreciatively when they receive it. To give quality attention, however, you must be an empathetic listener. Most of us forget to listen to our near and dear. We are very polite in listening to even boring strangers, but we take our most loved ones for granted.

Every now and then I make a resolution that I must give more attention, show greater sensitivity and express more affection to those selected few who are very integral part of my life. But slowly I slip, and soon I realize that I am taking them for granted. Many a time we work hard to take care of the needs of our near and dear. We deprive ourselves of our needs and wants, spend more money to take care of their needs and wants – but we do it more in material things, and very less in fulfilling their emotional needs and wants. Yet in today’s fast paced and competitive world, what our loved ones need from us is some TLC (I hope you know what it is), small loving gestures and the feeling of warmth that comes from knowing that they belong to someone. Let us please give it to them.

Corporate work life

The VIP Guest House of IIT Roorkee, calm ambience of the formal dining hall at dinner time. I saw a young gentleman looking a little lost as he entered, so I invited him over to my table. He turned out to be a very successful Corporate Executive heading operations of a large MNC. He had just finished giving a talk to the students on developments post demonetization.

As we spoke his phone rang 3 times in 10 minutes, and he kept on telling the person at the other end that he will be with him in a short while. He explained apologetically that his associate was calling him back to the guest room because he needed advice on a presentation that they were preparing. Apparently his boss had called up from Delhi to tell him that an important customer wants a proposal on Monday morning.

I then understood that despite it being a Saturday night, he and his associate will sit late in the night, prepare the proposal, drive to Delhi early morning, and go his boss’ house to show him what he had prepared. He said it is quite likely that boss will make major changes, so he will sit on Sunday night and finalize the presentation.

The person I was talking to was in his thirties, good looking and smart, he said he has two small children, and he will not be able to spend the weekend with his family – which is a regular affair. Of course he earns a salary which has so many zeroes in it that I cannot even count!

Modern Leadership

Ratan Tata appointed Cyrus Mistry as the head of the Tata empire after extensive professional search. Narayan Murthy and his team appointed Vishal Sikka as the Head of Infosys bypassing senior executives. Mulayam Singh Yadav appointed his son Akhilesh Yadav the Chief Minister of UP when he himself could have enjoyed that position. And subsequently each of these stalwarts got into a public spat with their appointees, accusing them in the media and elsewhere of mismanagement, and tried to take back control.

I have often seen this desire among successful leaders to want to become Remote-controllers and to rule by proxy, without having the responsibility or answerability that a designation brings. And even after having gone through a rigorous and time consuming selection process, they are so unhappy eventually with their appointees that they want to take back their positions, undo whatever the successor had done, and start from square one. In many cases this process can be unpleasant, acrimonious, bitter.

I often wonder why such people cannot let go and retire gracefully, even if their successors are not doing things exactly the way they would want them to. What makes them hand over authority, keep monitoring from a distance, and again step in to make changes? In most cases age is catching up with them and the task of rebuilding is not an easy one.

I suppose we do not learn from nature how the old order gives way gracefully to the new and the cycle of fresh harvests and new blooms continue to make the world a better place.

Giving time a Break

There is a famous proverb: “Man travels all over the world looking for happiness, only to find it at home.” The mystic poet Kabir Das had also said something similar about searching everywhere for God and then finding out that He resides in your own home.

I have always been a critical admirer of proverbs and quotes of famous men. But I do not blindly follow and applaud them. There are times when I find some very popular proverbs either irrelevant, senseless, or even exactly opposite of what I believe in. When I identify such a quote, I just ignore it and move on. But I find so many people who blindly read, repeat, forward and quote to others, without giving a deep thought to their relevance – more so if it is a quote by a “foreigner” with an impressive sounding Western name.

With due respect to many great people (who may often say great pearls of wisdom, but not always so), I think we should introspect and evaluate the relevance or usefulness of a quote. Going again to the proverb at the top, is it necessary that we come back after our explorations and find happiness at home? What if we have grouchy family members, or if we are going through stress at home for various reasons? We can perhaps find happiness when we explore beyond and see how others are dealing with their life situations.

Travel is a great education in itself and even a source of joy.

Road to Happiness

I don’t know if I am over-reacting, but I find more and more people who do not stick to their commitments, punctuality, or minor responsibilities. In this era of very easy communication, I find people who do not take calls or messages, do not call back, and do not show any remorse when questioned on it.

At times it becomes a question of how important or useful you are to them. If you are a person in authority or are useful to them in some way, then they do not wait for you to contact them, they are calling you up constantly, sending mails, sending “gentle” reminders of what you have to do for them. And once the work is over, they go back to the same attitude of indifference.

I do agree that we live in a competitive world, and everyone wants to keep climbing up the ladder of success. But what I fail to understand is that having people to support you when you stumble, cheer you on when you are struggling, or guide you if you are straying from your path – are as important as those who can actually give you a lift.

Even Newton, when praised for his great achievements, is reported to have said, “I could see far ahead because I was standing on the shoulders of tall men.” There are emotionally tall men and women all around us. They are not celebrities or billionaires or persons in authority. But they can lend their shoulders, not only to climb and see far ahead, but sometimes to lean on and have a good cry. Are you nurturing such shoulders?

Measure of Success

“Please tell me which is the best career?”

“In which career will I make the most money?”

“Which career has the best ‘scope’?”

These are the questions I am faced with on a regular basis not only from students, but also from their parents. I wish I could answer them ….. but I am only a counselor, not an astrologer or a palm reader. I can assess a person, find out all the abilities, traits, aptitude and intelligences, and I can match them to the most suitable careers. But can I predict how much money the person is going to make? If I could do that I would not be sitting here as a counselor and would probably be minting money myself elsewhere.

In today’s era of innumerable challenging and rewarding careers it is so sad to see people following the herd mentality and losing out on very promising opportunities. There are very nice, simple and proven methods to select the right career most suited to an individual, match it to his or her interest/ passion if any, and thus select a course and vocation that will be most successful, profitable, and enjoyable.

If you wish to take that path, I can assure you that you will never regret your decision, and you will be able to make your vocation into a vacation.

Selfishness

Are we all selfish people?

Enrollments for the new DCS batch are going on, and I am amazed at the number of students who are coming into this simple, experiential and unorthodox course with such high qualifications and credentials. Some have given up high-paid and high-status jobs, others have put aside prestigious achievements, comforts, their status, and have agreed to become students – to learn about life, about themselves, about others, and how to reach out to people.

When intellectuals say that humans are basically selfish and greedy, that they only look for their own benefit, I want to tell them about our students – and also those who have been giving selfless voluntary service for years after they qualify in our counseling course. These are the people who keep reinforcing my faith in humanity, and I feel so privileged that I am able to have such amazing people around me. That is what keeps motivating me to continue with my humble mission.

I am sure you too will find some selfless people around you – it is up to you to spend time with them, nurture your relationship with them, and find an oasis in the self-centered world.

Growing up

As I grow older, I realize that I have so much to learn from younger and younger people. It is nice to be old, with all your happy and sad memories, the nostalgia and particularly the beautiful relationships you have built and you cherish – even if sometimes the people are no more. But if we get stuck in the past, and keep talking about “In my good old days….” we are denying ourselves the opportunity to participate in the most exciting and challenging things that are happening now, which we couldn’t even have dreamt of some decades ago.

I will not forget the hundred year old man who, when people asked what the advantages of being a centurion are, he replied: “No peer pressure.” I agree with him. If I spend time with people of my age or older, I find very few of them willing to adapt and adjust to the new world and enjoy what it has to offer. Living in the past is not going to bring back the past, but will deprive you of living in the present, and planning for the future.

That is another topic of interest. Many elderly people do not want to plan for the future (except bolstering their investments or health insurance) just because their age has crossed certain numbers. But there is more to life than just physical security. Here I would like to quote the story of another centurion who was very positive and enthusiastic, and when asked the secret of his motivation, he replied: “every morning I drag myself out of bed with all my bones aching, go outside and fetch the newspaper. I open the Obituary Column to see whether my photo is there. If it is not there then I know I have one more day on this earth and I might as well enjoy it!”

The Guru

Guru Purnima came and went this month. Even the full moon was a little dull due to cloudy weather. I received many messages of gratitude and appreciation that warmed my heart – though personally I don’t believe that I have really been a Guru as such.

Which made me think –what really is a Guru? Is it just the teachers who taught us through text books, is it the religious wise men who give sermons, is it the person who coaches you when you have exams and sees that you pass? Surprisingly my best and most effective gurus have been none of these – they have been people who encouraged me to think for myself, motivated me to progress without them being my crutches, cheered me on when I was doing something nice, and stood by me when I faltered.

Some of my gurus have also been my worst critics who made all efforts to pull me down, and in the process lit a spark of determination in me that I should prove them wrong!

Many a time we do not realize how much we are learning from different people, leave alone acknowledging and appreciating them for what they have given us! Shall we start doing it now at least?

Writing

When I write, I do so for myself.

Sometimes people appreciate what I write, at times they say they do not understand, and some just ignore because they are too busy to read trivia. Of course in this age of Instagram and Twitter, perhaps reading a few paragraphs, and that too on paper and not on the mobile, must be quite a task to many people. But that does not discourage me, because I write for myself…..

I have always held the view that it is better to love than to be loved. Not many agree with me, at least not in practice. But I believe that when I love I am in control of myself, I am choosing to do what makes me happy. I am not dependent on anyone, not even on the person I love. Hence life is so much smoother and fulfilling.

Similarly, when I write I am bringing out my thoughts. Why should it be important to me whether others choose to read, agree, criticize, condemn, or as in most cases ……ignore? If you are reading this, don’t evaluate my expression. Use it to create thoughts and ideas of your own – and share it with others. You may have much more and better things to say than me, and there may be people who appreciate your inputs.