Sunday, July 21, 2013

I Saw (A Movie), I Learnt (To Do Right)

Actions speak louder than words, they say. And with good reason. Children, or for that matter, adults, might ignore everything you say. But when they see you act in a particular way, they will remember that. And also imbibe it in their daily life. Thus, the need to always be caught “doing right”. After all, as John Wooden put it so beautifully, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”

There are certain things I have learned from the movie Deewaar released in 1975. The movie is quite famous for the inter-sibling rivalry and the eternal discussion over “the end justifying the means”. It might thus seem a little strange for me to say that a movie where the protagonist is a gangster actually taught me “right things”. Allow me to illustrate.

1. Jo 25 saalon main nahi hua, woh aaj hoga (What has not happened in 25 years will happen today).
How often do we dismiss a particular option saying that has never happened before either in our personal or professional lives? How does it matter if it has never happened? It is up to us to make it happen if only we do not let the past dictate terms for the future.

2. Main aaj bhi pheke hue paise nahi uthata (I still do not pick up money that is thrown at me).
Even if you are at the lowest point of your life, you should not let it affect your dignity. Once you lose your dignity, you lose everything. Instead, if you hold onto it, others will respect you for it.

3. Kya tumhe lagata hain tum yeh kaam akele kar sakte ho? Ji nahi, main jaanta hoon main yeh kaam akele kar sakta hoon (Do you feel you can do this alone? No, I know I can do this alone).
Many times, we are faced with the clouds of uncertainty about a particular thing. It does not help that people also question us over it. But, if we will not be confident about it, who will? Knowledge that you can do a certain thing will do wonders for your confidence.

4. Maa prasad samajh kar de rahi hain, tum mithai samajh kar kha lena (Mother is giving it as a prasad, you eat it as a sweet).
Why not think through and offer a middle path when two sides to an argument are taking extreme views? It is upto us to point out the particular aspect that appeals to a particular individual and thus creates a win-win situation for both.

5. Kya tum chahati ho main bhi wahan se bhaag aata? (Do you think I, too, should have fled from there?)
As is obvious, whenever faced with an uncomfortable situation, the easiest option is to flee. The majority would do that. However, if we stick around and do our very best, we are sure to be rewarded.

I am sure Salim-Javed never thought of this when they were scripting Deewaar. But the movie taught me the importance of never dismissing an option just because it has never happened before, never losing my dignity no matter what the circumstances, always having the confidence that I can do a particular thing, finding a middle path and not taking the easier route of fleeing from a tricky situation.

I am sharing what 'I Saw and I Learnt' at in association with

Gurudakshina on Guru Purnima

Guru Purnima is celebrated in honour of the great sage Vyasa, considered as one of the greatest gurus in ancient Hindu traditions and also a symbol of the Guru-shishya tradition. Shishyas have been known to give a hefty guru-dakshina to their gurus – we all know the story of Eklavya who cut off his right thumb for his guru Drona. Incidentally, Drona was also offered Guru-Gram (known today as Gurgaon) by the Pandavas for teaching them archery.

Since it is Guru Purnima tomorrow and I have neither a gaon (village) to offer nor do I wish to cut off my right thumb, via this blogpost, I would like to pay obeisance to my Gurus – people who have helped me along the way to become what I am today. Henry Adams rightly put it when he said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”

The first Guru in every individual’s life is naturally the mother. The mother consciously and unconsciously teaches her child how to behave, how not to behave, and introduces her to a whole new world that is out there waiting. I, too, have learnt a lot from my mother; more through her actions than her words. She has taught me to be an independent woman who is not afraid of anything or anybody. From her, I learned the value of helping those not as fortunate as us.

My school teachers are someone from whom I have obviously learned a lot. My Chemistry teacher Ms. Nagpal made me fall in love with science and the wonderful properties of various chemicals. My Hindi/Marathi teacher Ms. Lavande and my English teacher Ms. Sybil ensured I appreciate the value of literature and have largely contributed to my getting enamoured with the world of books.

In college, my Maths professor Mr. Patil was a strict disciplinarian. When I got 99/100 in 12th Standard Maths and went happily to tell him, he just looked at me and said, “What about the 1 mark?” In retrospect, I realize he wanted to push me into being the best. Mr. Sahuraja, our Economics professor, was a happy-go-lucky fellow who taught us Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy and Adam Smith’s market forces with a lot of passion.

During my CA days, Mr. Haldipur played an important role in shaping me professionally. He always exhorted us to unlearn what we already knew to learn something new and taught us the value of learning how to learn. It is courtesy him that I have a fabulous typing speed without ever joining a typing institute.

My first ever boss in the corporate world – Mr. Swaminathan – told me one thing 10 years back which I still remember, “We can teach anybody the skills you have. But not your attitude.” My second boss, Mr. Shah, believed in me when nobody did. He gave me opportunities to shine at the workplace which enabled me to develop my confidence. In a sense, he was always there for me.

I salute all these fine men and women. It is because of their dedication and commitment towards their tasks that I am today an independent, book-loving, data-crunching freak who holds Bill Gates to be her idol because he developed Microsoft Excel and who, when people say to me, “But, you have an attitude”, actually take it as a compliment!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Arunachalam Muruganantham's Search For Meaning

Listening to Arunachalam Muruganantham narrate his story on how he set about to produce sanitary napkins at a cheaper cost ( made me realize what a great man he is. He effectively killed two birds with one stone – he found a solution for women to better deal with menstruation at a cheaper cost and also provided them gainful employment in the process. In India, as in some nations across the world, menstruation continues to be a taboo topic; women do not discuss it openly and men blissfully turn a deaf ear to it. While only 5% of the women in India use sanitary napkins, the rest resort to rags, saw dust and even ashes. Needless to say, the latter bring with it a host of health problems.

My thoughts on the ‘Big Issue’ have been presented using each letter of Arunachalam’s name:


Arunachalam came across this idea when he saw his wife gather rags one day. When asked why she did not use sanitary napkins, the wife put forth the cost angle. This led Arunachalam to ponder over the problem faced by hundreds of women which have to deal with this in such a fashion.


Once he became aware, Arunachalam did not sit quiet like most men would have. Instead, he decided to go to the root cause of the problem and decide what could be done about it. He knew fully well that he was entering into a taboo territory.


What Arunachalam thought next was quite unusual. He decided to manufacture low-cost sanitary napkins himself. This would ensure that women start using the napkins and eliminate the health problems faced by them.


The solution designed by Arunachalam to the problem was need-based. He would develop a low-cost napkin which women would be willing to use as against the high-cost one which they did not.


Needless to say, considering Arunachalam was openly discussing a taboo topic, his family and friends abandoned him. He was ostracized from his village for his endeavours. People thought that he has gone mad or spirits have entered his body.


Arunachalam also had to face challenges in the form of volunteers needed to test the product. Women were unwilling to discuss their menstruation problems with a complete stranger. But he did not let these deter him.


When he realised that he could not find volunteers, he decided to test the product himself using animal blood and a football bladder.


His efforts finally paid off when he was able to develop a sanitary napkin on a machine he built himself.


The best part about these napkins was that these were manufactured at less than a third of those sold by MNCs. Also, these were being manufactured at local level by women who gained employment resulting in a win-win situation.


Arunachalam’s efforts bore fruit and he received the 2009 Best Innovation Award from the Indian President Smt. Pratibha Patil. Earlier, in 2006, his machine also won the award for the best innovation for the betterment of society from IIT, Chennai.


Thus designing a solution to an all-pervasive problem led to Arunachalam’s life becoming more meaningful. As he states at the end of his talk, “What do you need to make your life meaningful? You need a problem.”

His story needs to be shared far and wide for many reasons. Firstly, he is an entrepreneur with a difference. He saw an opportunity to innovate in a field as taboo as menstruation. Secondly, when he started, he knew he would be competing against the big MNCs such as P&G and Johnson & Johnson. That, however, did not deter him. Thirdly, even when his wife and his mother left him and he had to leave his village, he did not let go of his passion and continued to put in efforts. Fourthly, he has no qualms about admitting that he is not so well educated nor fluent in English. In fact, he uses his ability to make jokes on himself brilliantly to put across his views.

I have personally experienced the anecdote narrated by Arunachalam: of a chemist wrapping the packet of sanitary napkins in a newspaper. It is indeed sad to think that while India continues to make great progress in almost every other field with women contributing an equal share, a natural thing like menstruation continues to be taboo. I hope the innovation by Arunachalam, in addition to enabling rural and other women to start using sanitary napkins, also encourages discussions on menstruation amongst all sections of society in a healthy fashion.

Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Acid Attacks: A Social Crime

I have written about the menace of acid attacks in India on the Stop Street Harassment (SSH) blog. Refer the article here:

I will be writing one article per month (from July to December 2013) about Street Harassment in India as an SSH correspondent.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Book Review: The Homing Pigeons by Sid Bahri

This book is Sid Bahri's first book. He is a hotelier by education, an ex-banker and a senior executive in the outsourcing industry. Sid gave up a plush career in the outsourcing industry to follow his passions.

The book's blurb reads: "In the middle of the catastrophic 2008 recession, Aditya, a jobless, penniless man meets an attractive stranger in a bar. Little does he know that his life will change forever. When Radhika, a young, rich widow, marries off her stepdaughter, little does she know that the freedom she has yearned for is not exactly how she had envisioned it. They say homing pigeons always come back to their mate, no matter where you leave them on the face of this earth. The Homing Pigeons is the story of love between these two unsuspecting characters as it is of lust, greed, separations, prejudices and crumbling spines."

From the blurb itself, the reader knows what the end shall be eventually. However, the way the author reaches it is what forms the crux of the book. The book is written in a very interesting fashion - in a first-person account from the point of view of the two main characters Aditya and Radhika. At some point in the book, their stories intersect and overlap and the author leaves it to the reader to make sense of their individual versions of the events as they unfold.

The author has drawn on his experiences as an ex-banker to describe the job roles in Citibank where both the protagonists work. Also, North India (where the book is set), specifically, New Delhi, Chandigarh and Solan are well detailed in the book - places to visit such as Dilli Haat, to eat such as Indian Coffee House, etc.

Sid has etched both the characters very well through different stages of their lives. The book makes for an easy read and you are drawn into the several problems and issues the characters face. The book touches upon major issues ranging from Indira Gandhi's assassination to the Y2K problem to the 2008 recession which affected both Indians and NRIs alike.

On the flipside, I felt the book was a little too long with situations repeating themselves after a point in time. Also, the tenses kept alternating between the past and the present resulting in some chaos.

I am going with 3/5 for this book - an interesting read which takes you through the frailties of human behaviour and complicated relationships.

This book review is a part of "The Readers Cosmos Book Review Program". To get free books log on to

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Book Review: My Stroke Of Luck: Alphabet to Author by Vijay Santhanam

My Stroke Of Luck is a book about Vijay Santhanam’s inspiring journey from adversity to triumph. It is, as the book’s blurb reads, “The stimulating saga of a man who, thanks to his never-say-die attitude, found the courage and the determination to bounce back despite being felled by a serious, disabling condition.”

Vijay was afflicted with a stroke when he was 41 and working as regional marketing director for BP (auto lubricants) – Asia-Pacific, based in Singapore. The right side of his body was paralyzed and he could not move without help and could not speak at all. He assiduously developed the willpower to work at regaining his health and other faculties; according to him, when a human being is confronted by a big crisis, often s/he summons all her/his spirit and willpower to fight back and win. The stroke affected his left-brain; however, it left his mental abilities intact. Simple things which we take for granted such as driving a car, speaking to several people at once, etc. were impossible for him.

The book is a light and easy read. Though it talks about such a serious topic, nowhere in the book do you feel pity or sympathy for the author. Instead, what comes across is the story of a man who refused to get bogged down by why the stroke affected him; instead he set out to find ways and means to overcome it and recover his health and speech as it was pre-stroke.

The author has consciously avoided using a lot of scientific terms to explain the stroke as it may unnecessarily confuse the readers. It is an inspiring and motivational read as we see how Vijay takes small steps on the long journey; how he undergoes the physical therapy, the occupational therapy and the speech therapy.

The detailed explanations of how he actually set out to learn the languages (English, Hindi and Tamil) struck a chord with me. As children, we easily pick up a new language. But to learn at the age of 44 requires great persistence which Vijay displayed. Also, he developed his own unique learning methods to cope with the situation – visualization of concepts worked better with him.

Reading the book makes one realize that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. Vijay had a positive mindset focused on recovery; he is also grateful that the stroke did not affect him too severely and he was able to come out of it.

The book provides an important insight into the functioning of the brain. The entire left-brain/right-brain concept has been explained in a very detailed and interesting manner. It also enlightens us on how the body has the ability to repair itself. His analysis shows that we learn what we like. He stresses that it is important to teach children in an interesting way; they are less likely to remain concepts taught in a boring, purely textbook oriented manner.

Vijay also appreciates the support and help provided by his friends and family during his moment of crisis. He also expresses gratitude to his organization – BP – which was there with him throughout.

Read the book and get inspired – it will help you get a perspective on your life. I am going with 5/5 for this book.

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