Is Meditation an escape route?

I have been trying to learn meditation for a long time.I have tried so many techniques but could never understand why I have to focus on breath or focus on sensations. Whenever I asked someone to explain me ‘What is meditation’,I usually got answers for the question ‘What are the benefits of meditation?’. People talk about increased concentration, focus and less stress. I could get these benefits playing with my kids or actively pursuing a sport etc and so, these explanations were not convincing.

My father taught Yoga to us when we were very young and he has been religiously practicing it till today for 2 hrs daily for the last 30 years along with meditation. My father, in spite of being in government service in India, worked hard including weekends. But my mother, a housewife, worked harder than my father in every aspect and she worked 24x7x365 for 16 hours a day. Being the first person to wake up and the last person to go to bed, she dedicated her life to serve her husband and 3 boys.But she never did meditation or yoga or any of these things that help people to relax. Her relaxation was in her work.  Her relaxation happened during the day when she was still working.She is mentally very strong, never complained about anything, never scared of anyone and is brutally honest.

At one point, I started questioning whether meditation is an escape route for people like my father and I even asked this question to a Senior Executive,who came in as a guest speaker, when he recommended the Global Leadership Fellows to meditate regularly.

I recently completed a Vipassana Meditation course through Dhamma Sumeru in Switzerland. I learned about Vipassana through a book called ‘Holycow’ and have been wanting to do it just for the experience. My wife, who never likes when I travel for work, surprised me when she asked me to apply for the course in Switzerland. Vipassana meditation involves 10 days of noble silence where one cannot talk, use a phone, read or write and even make eye contact with fellow students. Below is the course schedule and how a day looks like during the course

This course and the teacher, the late SN Goenka-ji answered every question I had about meditation and that too in a convincing and scientific fashion.What was challenging is the posture – cross legged in Indian style — and meditating for approximately 10 – 11 hrs every day. Even for an Indian guy like me who is used to sitting cross legged at school and home growing up in India, it was quite difficult for the first 2-3 days.I was amazed by all my western batch mates who might have never sat cross legged in their lives, in spite of the pain and discomfort, were fully committed and went through the ordeal during the 10 days.

The food, accommodation and the course is completely free.On the second day, I went to take a quick nap but the thought that someone has donated to cover all these expenses made me to jump out of bed and get back to work, meditation. I understood the power of ‘free’ provided the space and the context are so compelling.

Vipassana means seeing things as they really are.It sounds simple but it is extremely hard as our lenses are conditioned by our beliefs, assumptions and mental models. Freeing ourselves from this conditioning through silent observation of the body-mind construct and moving step by step from focusing on the breath to focusing on the sensations in the framework of the body moves one closer to seeing the reality.

My understanding of meditation – It is a process of developing harmony between mind and body to stay in equanimity in spite of the vicissitudes of life. Equanimity is the middle path between aversion and craving. We all crave for tasty food, experiences,material possessions etc and we are averse to negative experiences in life. An equanimous mind can be developed through good inputs to the body and mind (balanced food, exercise and nourishing thoughts) and constantly, connecting to the human construct through meditation.

Meditation is not an escape route but rather it forces one to commit deeply to the approach and detach oneself from the outcomes.It is about staying committed and staying detached which is in a way an important leadership quality. It shifted my orientation from rights to duty and how to move myself from always trying to be in the ‘center of things’ happening in my life.

I have been able to practice regularly after my return and am really enjoying the discipline,intensity and detachment.I have given up eggs and became a full vegetarian. My intake has reduced, my observation of my self has improved and I am doing my duty to the best of my abilities without expectations.This is one of the best gifts I got in my life and I am grateful to my wife for giving me this gift. I am grateful to the organizers who selflessly serve and offer this 10 day course along with the accommodation and food for free.

I strongly recommend this course to everyone and may all beings be happy. To learn more, Please check the following link: https://www.dhamma.org/en/about/vipassana

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Books HD

My TOP 10 books: Give yourself the reading habit as a gift

I have seen many TOP 10 lists and I always expected an explanation. This is my TOP 10 with my own explanation and it need not be your top 10. I have to thank my mentor, Suresh Lakshman, who instilled the habit of reading in me when we were colleagues in an Animation studio in Mumbai a decade ago. I remember the ‘Erroneous Zones’ and ‘Talking Straight’ books that he forced me to read which set me off in my reading journey. I don’t really like the idea of ‘owning’ anything but my book shelf is my most prized possession. I also like the smell of the books and do not enjoy reading books in gadgets. Reading is the best gift you can give to yourself and to others. Suresh gave me this gift and this is my gift to each one of you so that you can start this wonderful reading habit.

My Top 10 Books

1. My experiments with truth by MK Gandhi: This is the first book I read in my life. Non-violence can come only out of his pursuit of truth and I have always wondered how a man can share some of his darkest sides in such an open manner. Gandhi is the greatest innovator the world has ever seen and the title ‘Mahatma’ (Maha-Atma) is just so apt for him.

2. Freedom from the Known by J Krishnamurti: I learned how to think from JK by reading his books and watching his videos. Every sentence from him is a quote – ‘The observer is the observed’, ‘Truth is a pathless land’ to name a few and all my thinking plus structure is heavily influenced by him. He was the one who inspired Bruce Lee to dismiss his own technique and proclaim ‘No way as the way’.

3. The Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda: This book came to me and I still don’t know how it came to me. After I finished reading this book, I wondered what the author had actually done as the whole book is about his gurus and the greatness of others. Later, I realized that there was no ‘I’ in this book. The author is the man who took yoga to the west and this book is a personal favourite of Steve Jobs.

4. The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho: I experienced this book in my life when I went to do my MBA in Japan. The universe conspired to help me realize my dreams in the face of extremely difficult circumstances and I am thankful to Paolo for this enlightening work. I strongly recommend this book to everyone who is facing uncertainty with their dreams and goals.

5. Innovator’s Dilemma/Solution by Clayton Christensen: The best business book I have ever read. I saw disruptive innovation as not just a business concept but also a philosophy for life. I read and experienced this book. It is one of the few books that work on a paradox and also, it never blames managers for failures which is also unique in the business world. I have met him personally and he is GOD in human form.

6. Ramayana by Rajaji: I have not read Shakespeare or any of the English authors in his league but Rajaji’s writing is my benchmark. This book has words that can be used in only certain contexts and I marvelled at his usage of words while relying on a dictionary to understand the words . I believe in this story and the legend of Rama thanks to this beautiful storytelling by Rajaji.

7. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson: Steve Jobs is an inspiration in many ways and I relate to him in the same way as I relate to Gandhi. He pursued truth and this book is such a compelling narrative of his life with all its bright and dark sides. It is a 600+ page book and I completed this book in less than a day as I couldn’t put the book down as it was so engrossing.

8. On Dialogue by David Bohm: This is a book on philosophy and this book elevated my thinking in many ways. David Bohm is a famous physicist and his conversations with my guruji, J Krishnamurti represent thinking of the highest kind. One of the chapters is ‘The observer is the observed’, the famous quote by J Krishnamurti and if there is something called bird’s eye view, it will take you to the max possible view.

9. Made in Japan by Akio Morita: I read this book after reading Lee Iacocca’s Talking Straight. I still don’t understand what was so great about Lee Iacocca’s work. Akio Morita led his people through thick and thin to create a world famous brand called SONY. His ability to understand consumers’ needs and his ability to transform his ideas into great products is the foundation for all the innovators all over the world.

10. Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto: Barbara was a former management consultant at McKinsey who went on to teach McKinsey consultants on how to present their ideas in a structured fashion. When I was in consulting, I was told that my PPT and presentation skills were not up to the mark. This book helped me a great deal and it is a matter of just understanding what constitutes structure.

I would like to use this opportunity to thank the 100s of authors who inspired me, most notably, Wayne Dyer and Robin Sharma, who helped me to take the baby steps when I started my reading journey. Thank you!

Presently, I am reading 3 books – Bhagavad Gita by Paramahansa Yogananda, A bunch of thoughts by MS Golwalkar (to learn about an ideological stance that I could never relate to) and The Art of Possibilities by Rosamund Zander.

My father is the author of 3 books in Tamil and my goal is to publish my first book in the next 12 months.


Image Credits: www.wired.com

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When will our kids walk to school again?

Recently, I ran a mini-survey with my friends in South Asia asking what a 24-hour day looked like for their children.

SynthesisAs you can see, the child literally has no time to be just ‘free’. The parents tell them when they have to get up, when they have to sleep, when they have to watch TV, when they have to play and so on and so forth.

As someone who grew up in India in the 80s and that too in a small city, the difference from my own childhood is glaring. There are massive airports, high-quality roads, malls and shopping complexes, more cars, more two wheelers. However, some of the side effects of this rapid urbanisation are far from pleasant: massive pollution in our cities, less safety for our children, a paucity of clean water and public spaces.

When I grew up, I used to roam around freely with my friends in the entire neighbourhood. On holidays, we used to play cricket from dawn to dusk far away from our houses. During summer vacations, we never thought of books. We just played, played and played some more. My mother used to send us to grocery shops frequently and we used to drink water from the well in the house. There were few cars on the roads, not many gadgets, three hours of state-run TV. Yet, we had the basics and they came for free: clean water, clean air and lots of freedom.

I compare this with the life my kids had in Bangalore. We lived in a premium apartment complex and it had all the amenities. We had lots of gadgets, a car, computer games, TV, DVD player, movies, games at malls so on and so forth. But my kids could never be sent alone to the grocery shop nearby, they could never go out of the gated community, they could not mingle with other kids from different backgrounds and most importantly, they could not breathe clean air or drink clean water outside. The most basic things are so expensive to get — we had to travel outside Bangalore or stay indoors to breathe clean air.

Today, we are living in Geneva. And guess what, the life my children are experiencing in Geneva, is more similar to my childhood in Madurai than the life they lived in Bangalore. I made the below comparison between our lifestyles and, to me, Madurai life in 1980 and Geneva life in 2015 are very similar.
Mdu - BGLR - GenevaIt is the Bangalore life that is out of place, imposed by adults on kids. Our cities neither provide the inspiration for kids to unleash their creativity nor bring out the curiosity they need to make them lifelong learners. So many kids complain about boredom when they are below 10. There is less physical activity and more time is spent with gadgets. The costs of not addressing this issue are going to be enormous in the future — socially, politically and economically.

A scene from the award-winning Tamil film Kaaka Muttai, where a kid from a wealthy gated community interacts with the two slum children aptly illustrates the state of affair today. The fence between the two groups of kids depicts the sharp contrast between the two different socioeconomic groups.
KMKids from wealthier communities live in a world rigidly organised by adults and can’t play or socialize ‘freely’ with their peers. Kids from low-income communities enjoy lot of freedom but face violence and extremely polluted neighbourhoods. There is a paradox — freedom at the cost of safety and caring, vs. caring at the cost of freedom. Both the worlds are created by adults, as is the fence between these two realms. Kids view the world through this fence and the real question is, how might we break these fences and re-imagine our cities to help the kids experience a world that feeds their curiosity, learning and creativity?

Here is my simple challenge to our leaders. How might we help children to go to school on foot or by bicycle without adult supervision once every week? What do we need to do to make this happen? Could this be our Republic Day parade next year? For this to happen, we need to have the following in our neighbourhoods:

Bicycle lanes, sidewalks, zebra crossings and traffic signals
Car-free roads (four hrs during the day)
Clearing encroachments and roadside shops
Increased policing and community volunteers
Waste management and cleanliness in roads
Support from employers, schools
Eco-friendly toilets and mobile clinics
Technology to connect parents, kids and schools
Media coverage and radio support
A call centre with all important information for various stakeholders

“The day a woman can walk freely on the roads at night – that’s a day we can say that India has achieved independence,” said Mahatma Gandhi.

I’d like to add that the day a child walks to school alone without adult supervision is the day when we can say that we have achieved real freedom. This parade of school children walking in our streets without fear to their respective schools will demonstrate our commitment to building a developed nation. Will our governments and leaders work towards realising this simple challenge? It would be great to celebrate our kids walking in a parade to school in the same way that we celebrate our Republic Day parades.

Image Credits: schoolchildsafety.info

You can also read this post via

@Huffingtonpost India: http://www.huffingtonpost.in/vijayanand-raju/reimagining-republic-day-_b_9120488.html

@wef Agenda: http://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/02/when-will-our-kids-walk-to-school-again

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Marathi film ‘Court’ : Pure & Rare

The film moves at such a slow pace and every scene takes its own time. But there is a deep rooted intention that surfaces out once the film anchors you inside. The slow pace reflects the reality of the inefficient & bureaucratic Indian judicial system and the pace is indeed a critique of the speed at which the cases move in the system.

An elderly social activist, Narayan Kamble, is accused and arrested for inciting the suicide of a Mumbai sewage cleaner, Vasudev Pawar. The film tracks the trial of the case with scene after scene in the court rooms that involves two lawyers, Vinay Vohra and Nutan along with the Judge. In addition, it showcases the personal sides of the lawyers and the judge. The movement between the courtroom and the lawyer’s dining rooms exposes the flaws in the judicial system and the larger system.


Language: Marathi

The public prosecutor, Nutan, is from a middle class family who goes to pick up her kids from school at the end of the day’s work, cooks dinner for the family and then spends some time working on her case. She reads out long sentences from the law, gets convinced by a witness presented by the police officer and asks questions that reveal her already conclusive mindset. She watches a Marathi drama that has regressive views on migrant workers and thoroughly enjoys the ideas presented in the drama. She presents the ‘bookish’ class toppers that we see in schools who end up being an ordinary guy in the work place. Nutan’s character is a critique of the Indian education system that prepares ‘bookish’ people with no empathy and no worldly views.

The judge shows his fixated mindset through his questions and conclusions. One example is when he asks the accused to pay Rs.100,000 for bail and when the lawyer explains that he is not from such a financial background to pay this amount, the judge doesn’t listen. When the lawyer points out that there is one month holiday for the courts and that it is important to give him bail on the last working day, he says that the accused can go to the high court which is open during the time.

The young lawyer, Vinay, is from a wealthy family who goes to a high end bar that has singers performing Brazilian songs, shops for wine & cheese and even, attends a session on social responsibility. He is the ‘rebel’ in the Indian sense who gets angry when his parents talk of finding the right girl for his marriage and one who goes beyond his boundaries to understand the problem. For example, he visits the victim’s house, drops the victim’s wife after she presents herself at court and even, pays a large amount for the bail to support his client.

As the trial drags on, it becomes increasingly clear that there is no clear evidence against Narayan Kamble. The deceased’s wife presents herself in the court and she helps to understand that there is less likelihood of a suicide. The deceased was not provided any protective gear when he entered the gutter to clean it and he used to drink alcohol before he entered the gutter to overcome the strong stench inside. After the court hearing, the young lawyer drives her back to her place and she asks him to help her find a job.

It was an outstanding sequence that exposes so many layers in the society with such finesse and detail. When the judge is taking to the deceased’s wife, his assistant is using her cell phone and when the judge turns to her with his notes, she puts the phone down and starts typing the notes. In the background, one can see people walking in the hall and it presents a realistic court scene. The wife of the deceased shares a shocking insight into her husband’s work where he will check whether cockroaches are coming out of the gutter which is his indicator that there is oxygen inside the gutter. When he drives her back to home, he asks her to wear seatbelt which she doesn’t know what it is and she asks her for work showcasing her hapless life that was fully dependent on her husband before. It was full of contrasts.

The camera is fixed and offers a panoramic view of every scene. It is almost like a window into that world in the script, be it the courtroom or the lawyers’ dining with the families or visiting the deceased person’s house. It allows the viewers to see the world around the characters to understand the characters and their attitude towards life. There is no music, no heroism, no negative shades and it is a narrative that allows you to see the world as it is without any pretensions.

Even when it is fully clear that there is no evidence against the accused, the police frame him in another case of sedition and the whole process gets restarted where the public prosecutor reads out a long paragraph on sedition charges. The scene ends with the camera completely still till every character leaves the courtroom and then, there is a 3 – 5 sec pause to demonstrate how slow this case is going to be in the future. With 10 minutes left for the climax, the director shows the personal side of the judge who goes for a vacation with his relative. The personal side reveals an opinionated person who is obsessed with numerology and who is so intolerant that he beats up one of his relative kids for playfully disturbing him. The film ends there and leaves it to us to evaluate the system and its shortcomings.

I am surprised to learn that this is the 28 year old director, Chaitanya Tamhane’s debut film. He delivers one of the most powerful scripts through such an unconventional narrative that will leave you spellbound. The characters live in front of you, thanks to the cinematographer, who allows the frame to bring out the various hues in the characters, society and the system. There is no music which makes the film even more compelling and all the actors deliver such a subtle, realistic performance. At no point, you will feel that someone is acting and every character is beautifully designed. Without melodrama, the director has made a film that is focused on serving your brain.

Films usually demonstrate violence through blood and gory scenes. This movie has more violence than any other movies – The judge cancels a hearing citing that the lady accused was wearing a sleeveless dress sans blood and gory scenes — it shows the societal violence in our everyday lives and how it manifests in every form. Even the idea that such judges and lawyers with regressive views decide the fate of the accused will cause so much anger and violence inside the viewer which is the success of this film.

This Marathi film is a pride to Indian cinema and these kind of films need to be taken all over India to educate people on what film making is all about – bringing a world in its most original form so that we can experience it even when we cannot live in it.

Court – What Maldives is for nature, Court is for film making. PURE!

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Visaranai Review : Regional films need to be taken to the national masses

The spectacular growth of Tamil films can be attributed to the passionate audience. Almost every ordinary citizen is able to effortlessly dissect cinematography, screenplay, direction, background score and editing after watching a movie and not get carried away by the lead actors alone. It also explains why dubbed English films do extremely well in this part of India. And while stars such as Rajnikanth are indeed demi-gods, you’ll also witness audiences clap and whistle they see the names of music director Ilayaraja or cinematographer PC Sreeram in the title credits. The recent trend over the last 10 years is that directors like Bala, Myskin and Vetrimaran are also getting claps and whistles when their names come on screen.

It is this shift that has led to the evolution of Tamil cinema, with recent outstanding films including Pithamagan, Subramaniapuram, Aadukalam, Paruthi Veeran, Onaayum Aatukuttium, Pisasu and Kaaaka Muttai. The latest and indeed mightiest of all has been delivered by Vetrimaran through the nerve-wracking and spine-chilling Visaranai (watch the trailer here).

Vetrimaran is one director who is known for his ability to make reality even more ‘real’ and hard-hitting. In the 2007 Dhanush starrer Polladhavan, Vetrimaran took the audience to a low-income urban Chennai neighbourhood, capturing all its flavours beautifully. In Aadukalam, for which he won a National Award for Best Director, he moved to semi-urban Madurai, making it spring to life on screen. InVisaranai, he takes up a border town in Andhra where the lead characters from Tamil Nadu live as migrant workers. The story is based on real life incidents from M Chandrakumar’s novel Lock Up.

Visaranai’ means ‘interrogation’ in Tamil. Four Tamil migrant workers go through brutal assaults and torture in the name of interrogation by the local police, who want to force them into confessing their culpability in a high-profile robbery. After getting released from this torturous incarceration, they get caught in a helpless situation through the same person who helped them out of their first ordeal. What happens to them is told through a masterful screenplay by Vetrimaran.

The first half of the film establishes the two lead characters masterfully, setting the tone for the film.

Protagonist Pandi’s character is beautifully established through three scenes. He is a loyal servant who goes to open his shop even after working late the previous night. He is also intelligent, quickly figuring out when people come to his shop bearing weapons. He demonstrates his raw power to his newly found lover, who works as a maid in a rich family, by giving her a loud assurance in the middle of the road. This also helps to understand why he takes some confusing decisions, including cleaning the station and helping the locked up political sidekick, in the second half.

The other lead ‘character’ is the ruthless and corrupt system that shows how power affects the powerless. The system is laid bare in all its darkness as the film progresses to the second half. Even though the police guys act extremely tough, they also sound real when they explain their helplessness in completing a robbery case and how the system is forcing them to do certain things.

Every scene in the first half was gut-wrenching. One stand out scene:

The cops prepare a green lathi and Pandi is told that he needs to keep quiet and get up without falling when getting hit. If he falls, then his friends will get hit. The editing was top notch in that scene and when they show a close up of Pandi getting hit, the audience can almost feel the pain.

At the end of the first half, if the audience doesn’t feel a bit battered, I would be surprised. I flinched every time the lathi hit flesh, so immersed was I in that world inside the police station.

Ultimately, the workers decide to help the police inspector who saved them in the court and as a result, they get into another scary saga. The second half explores the system, showing its darkest and scariest side. The film demonstrates how you are essentially trapped unless you have the experience or power to navigate the system.

One stand out scene in the second half was the meeting between a top cop, the inspector and the police constables. The experienced police constable teaches everyone, including the top cop, how to navigate the system and the top cop then uses his power to orchestrate the system with the hapless inspector, brilliantly portrayed by Samudrakani, caught between the two. In the end, the system ends up changing the good to the bad.

Finally, it boils down to a fight between two underdogs–an inspector within the system and the four workers who are outside the system. Who wins is told through a spine-chilling and nail-biting climax.

Dinesh as Pandi and his three friends bring out the plight of migrant workers effortlessly. Samudrakani, as the inspector, was outstanding and all the actors who played the cops deserve special mention.

The art director and cinematographer bring the mood of a police station to life with their brilliant work. The editing was crisp and it is refreshing to see an Indian movie with a running time of 106 minutes. I wish the makeup was given more attention and investment. One would expect swollen faces and blood clots in wounds after such torture.

Vetrimaran, of course, is the true hero. He is a master storyteller who crafted a screenplay that captivates, and frightens, utterly. He proves that a gripping and entertaining film can be made without songs, dance sequences, big heroes and commercial elements. I watch movies from almost all regions of India on a regular basis and I don’t remember seeing a film of this kind ever.

It is a pity that such world-class films tend to go unnoticed at the national level. How many people in India know acting talents like Nivin Pauly and Dulquer Salmaan? Or films like Subramaniapuram, Onaayum Aatukuttium, Pisasu, Kaaka Muttai,Bangalore Days? How many people know the work of outstanding directors likeMyskin , Jeethu Joseph,and Bala? It is my sincere hope that movies from all regions in India reach every part of the country. After all, good movies have the power to take us to places that we have never been to and to invest us in worlds that we could never live in.

My friend Kartik who lives in Florida sent this message to me after watching the film: “Watched Visaranai. It’s 3am already. I don’t think I will be able to sleep today.” That says it all about the film.

You can read the article via Huffington Post India


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When you don’t know swiss german

I was in Davos last month for our Annual Meeting 2016. Once I reached my apartment, I was looking for a ‘Clothes Iron’ to press my clothes and get ready for my meeting which was scheduled to happen in an hour. After an extensive search, I realized that the apartment didn’t have one. I called the Apartment owner to locate it inside the apartment. Below is our conversation.

Me: Good Evening Madam! I am calling from Rex 53. I need a clothes iron. Could you please let me know where is it inside the apartment?

Owner: English…No

Me: Iron? Clothes Iron?

Owner: English…No..German?

Me: German…No

Owner: French?

Me: Only English..No French…No German

We both were giggling but couldn’t find a way to communicate to each other. I thanked her and dropped the line. After a few mins, I sent this message below via sms

Iron Box

Within 10 mins, she was at my place with an Iron and we both had a hearty laugh. What Swiss German could not solve, a smartphone solved.

Next time, when you are stuck with Swiss German, you know what to do…:)

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Why I am in favour of Jallikattu

The Honourable Supreme Court of India has held that the ban on jallikattu, an annual event during the Pongal festivities in Tamil Nadu will not be lifted. While the court verdict has to be honoured, I feel sad that one of my favourite childhood events is not taking place anymore because of the ban that was imposed on grounds of animal cruelty.

I am from Madurai in Tamil Nadu and Pongal is one of my favourite festivals. I have fond memories of it – the slow cycle race and other competitions, group Pongal cooking, sugarcane decorations… and of course, jallikattu which took place 20km from Madurai in Alanganallur. My aunt used to live there and every year, during the last day of the four-day festival, we’d land up to watch the parade of bulls and soak in the uniquely rural festivities.

I remember how people would stand in queues to watch the proud owners bring their prized and heavily decorated bulls with so much fanfare. Every bull that arrived in Alanganallur came in a procession and as kids, we used to be amazed at the passion and pride of the entourage. More than the actual bullfighting, we used to enjoy the festive atmosphere in the small town and the rituals.

To give some background, Pongal is the Tamil harvest festival that is celebrated over four days.
Day 1: Bhogi day is when people discard their old worn-out belongings to mark new beginnings. The houses are painted and cleaned to welcome the harvest season.

Day 2: The main Pongal day, which is the start of the harvest season. At home, we cook Pongal and when the dish starts overflowing, we relate to it as a symbol of abundance and prosperity, happily cheering “Pongalo Pongal”.

Day 3: Mattu Pongal (Pongal for Cattle) is when we thank cattle for bestowing so much to us, from food to fertiliser to labour. People garland their cattle, paint the horns and worship the animals.

Day 4: Kannum Pongal (kannum in Tamil means “to visit”) is where the villagers celebrate the last day of the festival visiting friends and relatives with gifts of sugarcane and fruits.

Jallikattu is more than a sport or an event. It is part of Tamil cultural identity. When we debate an issue, it needs to be framed holistically. I remember a famous quote, “Ask not what is inside the head but what the head is inside of”. Below are some reasons why I believe that this sport needs to be protected and preserved, while also ensuring that the animals are treated properly.
The preservation of cultural identity

Jallikattu is closely associated with Tamil culture and is considered to be one of the oldest living traditions in the modern era. Some Tamil historians claim that it dates back to 1500BC, citing as evidence a rock painting of bull-chasing at Karikkiyur in the Nilgiris. Popular Tamil Actor Kamal Haasan, during the Tamil version of Kaun Banega Crorepati a few years ago, gave a beautiful explanation saying that the historic name is Yeru Thazhuvudhal (Embracing the Bull) which later became Jallikattu. According to him, this sport was intended to build strength and stamina in youth and to prepare bulls to contend with adverse situations.

In addition, many locals argue that these bulls belong to the some rare breeds in the region (including the most famous Kangeyam breed). The owners of these bulls invest lot of money to rear these bulls with utmost care over many years and prepare them for this event. This is an important culture, one that continues a long-lasting tradition of living with animals; this is something that needs to be preserved. There are so many cultural subthemes and rituals associated with jallikattu that will be lost forever once the event is discontinued.

Cruelty needs to be understood and redefined

I stopped eating meat two years ago and I am against cruelty to animals. However, while animal rights activists have some valid concerns regarding cruel treatment of animals during the event, the solution needs to explore how we can prevent these practices instead of shutting down the entire event.

Meat consumption is at an all-time high and animals lose their life to feed people. This is a daily ritual for many people all over the world – does anyone suggest banning the meat industry? In fact, meat consumption takes away the life of animals whereas jallikattu doesn’t usually go that far.

Life is all about choices. We are okay with treating animals cruelly for food on a daily basis while we are against this event where while the animals do suffer during the event (which is something that can be prevented), they are extremely well taken care of for the remaining 364 days. In that context, we can argue that all horse racing/riding and even milk extraction from cows are cruel. We need to understand and redefine cruelty.

Jallikattu needs to be seen in the context of other festivals

If jallikattu has to be banned, what do we do about Diwali? During Diwali week, pollution levels reach hazardous levels in Delhi because of all the fireworks. People suffer as a result. So, do we try to mitigate the pollution caused during the festival or do we speak of banning Diwali? Similarly, we don’t ban vehicular driving in highways despite the many accidents that take place. We examine ways to reduce accidents and design new policies to improve the outcomes. Why don’t we apply the same logic and explore solutions to ensure that the animals are not subjected to any cruelty during the event? If we keep banning all our traditional festivals for various reasons, we might as well start importing customs and rituals from elsewhere!

The tourism ecosystem needs to be preserved

Tamil Nadu is the only destination listed among the must-see places of 2016 in the rankings recently released by The New York Times. According to the Union Tourism Ministry report of 2014, Tamil Nadu drew 4.66 million foreign tourists in 2014 and ranked first among all states. The Pongal festival season is a big attraction for tourists and it is an opportunity to demonstrate not just the heritage structures but also the lifestyle and the richness of our festivals. When a cultural ecosystem is abandoned, it is going to move all the people associated with it to already cramped cities. These events, festivals and rituals are bringing people from cities back to the villages and by stopping the from taking place, we are doing a big disservice to society.

With increased urbanisation and globalisation, we are increasingly shifting to value systems and culture that are borrowed from outside. While it is important to be open to embrace good things from different value systems, it is equally important to preserve our own culture and tradition to ensure that the rich heritage that India offers to the world doesn’t disappear. It is at the intersection of tradition and modernisation that true beauty lies, as we have seen from successful examples in Europe and Japan. India is a land of great history and culture. It is our responsibility to preserve this heritage even as we embrace new value systems so that our next generation is able to enjoy the best of both worlds.

I hope the honourable Supreme Court and the Government of India reconsider the possibility of hosting Jallikattu to protect a rich tradition while ensuring that the concerns of animal rights activists are addressed. Banning is not a scalable solution. Also, solutions cannot be framed in “either-or” terms. They need be framed with an inclusive “and”. We need solutions that scale and that bring harmony to all stakeholders across all dimensions.

You can also read this article in Huffington Post India via


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To show your patriotism, behave responsibly online

Lt Col Niranjan, a young man of 34, lost his life defending his country and its citizens against terrorists last week. He left behind his parents, young wife and his two-year-old daughter, Vismaya. We’ve seen people on social media pay their respects, but now they’ll go back to spreading hate in the name of religion, politics and nation. The government has announced a compensation package for the family, had a 21-gun salute for Niranjan’s funeral and now their job is done.


Now that the operation is over and the follow-up drama is over, shall we think of the little girl who lost her father? As a father of two, it breaks my heart to think of her growing up without him. She’s not the only one who has been in that predicament of course. We have seen scores of pictures and videos over the last 20 years of various military personnel losing their lives in the service of the nation.

I have started to question why only soldiers have to take care of their country. Can we civilians not defend our country and what it stands for too, starting with the virtual battlefield? Here are three suggestions.

1. Stop posting hate messages based on religion

Much of the virulence on social media revolves around religion. When I open Facebook, I see that at least 10% of the posts are about whose religion is superior or inferior. Faith is a deeply personal matter and the best thing that you can do is to actually practice the moral ideals that are prescribed by your religion instead of engaging in contentious debates (usually without any scriptural knowledge). Take a cue from our soldiers, who leave their religious identities behind and operate with a common national identity.

2. Stop posting hate messages based on politics

Another common theme is the rapid firing of insults between supporters of opposing political ideologies. We are prone to sacrificing logic and factual accuracy just to make a point, to score a cheap win. For example, a friend of mine posted a picture of a Guinness Book of World records certificate announcing Kannada is the oldest language in the world. I went to the Guinness website and realised that the “certificate” was fake. How much time would it take to go and verify facts before we share them? Most of us can’t be bothered. There are kids, students who are watching these arguments online and what will they learn from us? The soldiers leave all their political identities behind and operate with a common national identity.

3. Stop posting hate messages based on nation

The third common theme that we encounter is hate messages between countries, especially between India and Pakistan. In a globalised world, every country is dependent on others for its survival. The world is more connected than ever and every citizen is an ambassador in the borderless world of social media. Such messages of hate fuel the divisive agenda of terrorists and give our own nation a bad name. A country is judged by how its people behave with tourists and by how its netizens behave with strangers on the internet.

Technology is a powerful tool and we all know that the pen is mightier than the sword. Social media gives us unprecedented power to cross borders, voice opinions and engage in arguments with anyone from anywhere. But it comes with a huge responsibility. The world is more interconnected than ever. Every citizen who wants his country to do well and who wants to show his patriotism needs to use this mighty weapon in their hands in a very responsible way because each of their actions and messages have far-reaching implications. The best way we can show our patriotism to our country is by being responsible on social media.

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We are all ambassadors for our country : Impressions from Barcelona

We went to Barcelona in mid-December and spent three days there. The first SMS that I received when I landed in the city was “Beware of mobile phone thieves in Spain”. Needless to say, this did not give a good impression of Spain. Most of the friends I had spoken to also didn’t speak highly of the safety in the country. With this perception in my mind, I went about my trip with my family, starting with the famous Barcelona FC stadium.

After the visit, we went into a roadside kiosk outside the stadium to have some pastries and coffee. My son asked for a hot dog and once he started eating, he asked me, “What meat is this?” The shopkeeper, in his unclear English, said it was pork. My son spit the food out and told me that he would not eat pork. The shopkeeper took the hot dog from his hands and said it was okay. I told the shopkeeper that it was my fault that I didn’t check which meat it was and that I would pay for the hot dog. The shopkeeper said no and even though I tried to press him to take the money for the hotdog, he refused, saying it was for a child. We’re talking about € 3.5 here, which for a roadside kiosk operator is not a small amo
unt. His generosity and caring attitude made such a powerful impression that I bought two additional bottles of soft drinks to “compensate” for the loss that I caused for him. My opinion of Barcelona had already changed.


After visiting Plaça d’Espanya, we visited the Picasso Museum. After spending a good 90 minutes in the wonderful museum, we went to the museum shop to buy some souvenirs. I told my kids that they could have € 10 each to buy a souvenir. My son came to the billing counter with a small diary, saying, “This is for € 6. Can I take it?” I said okay, but when he gave the diary to the billing staff, they said my son would have to give them € 19. This was not within my son’s budget and I told him as much, but he insisted that the diary was tagged with a label that said it was for €6. The billing staff went to check and when they returned they agreed to give him the diary for €6 because they’d made a mistake in the labelling. My son quickly went and picked another book for € 6, and this time to the price upon scanning turned out to be €19. The staff checked out this anomaly as well, and came back with a smile saying that the whole shelf had some wrong labels. He asked me to take it for € 6 as he didn’t want to disappoint my son but I said that I would pay the € 19 Euros. He refused and I insisted, but even as our exchange continued my son picked up another small book for €6. Fortunately, the price was right this time and there were smiles all around. I had already started liking Barcelona and its people.

From there we went to La Rambla for dinner and then to our hotel, which was a little away from the downtown area. I called the hotel reception to get the address and a gentleman asked me to get down at Marina station and walk for five minutes in a certain direction, take a right turn at the junction after crossing two streets and then walk for 200m. I ended up crossing the junction and lost my way. It was 8pm and there were not many people on the road. I tried talking to a few people but they didn’t speak English and then called the hotel again. He tried to guide me and he realised that I was not able to figure out the route. He asked for the names of the buildings around me, made his own estimate of where I was and asked me to wait there. Within five minutes, he came with his car and took all of us to the hotel. Once we reached there, we realised that he was the only staff at the reception but still took the risk of leaving his desk and help us out. He took my respect for Barcelona to a new level.

We form our perceptions about any place based on our experiences. Whether a perception is good or bad is shaped by the acts of the various people we encounter in a city. The small acts of kindness and generosity that we encountered on the first day of our trip made such a powerful impression on us and we really fell in love with the city. We were also able to overcome our former biases, which were based on the experiences of a few other people.

When I talk about my trip to Barcelona, I am not just talking about my experience in the city but rather, my experience in Spain. Those three people are going to be our data points when we talk about a city and that city alone is going to be our data point when we talk about Spain, the country. Each of us can make a difference by being an ambassador for not just our city, but for our country, our culture through small acts of kindness, humility and generosity.

Happy New Year! Be an ambassador!

You can read the article in Huffington Post India via


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India Monsoon Flooding

Chennai’s Flood Fight Makes A Strong Case For Self-Governance

Over the last few days, Chennai witnessed unprecedented rains that brought everyone and everything to their knees, sorry, hips. What was heartening was the fact that the citizens showed their resilience and compassion by helping one another in countless ways. Social media was also used creatively to help those affected by the floods. The people of Chennai have proven that self-governance is possible provided they have the right tools and technology.

A few examples of how people creatively helped each other :

1. They set up control rooms to co-ordinate relief efforts and centralise all information

2. They posted messages if they could accommodate extra people to let those stranded nearby have somewhere to seek shelter.

3. They raised money online, sharing receipts and pictures of the things that they purchased for flood survivors.

4. Someone suggested that all wi-fi routers use the word Chennai as the login and password so the city could be one large hotspot that that anyone could use to contact relatives and seek or mobilise help.

5. To prevent the spread of misinformation, people called to verify whether a particular message was true or not and then used the hashtag #verified

Personally, what I found most beautiful to witness was the “wisdom of crowds” – how people self-organised effectively, learning, adjusting and solving problems. For example, one person posted that a software company had arranged buses to take citizens out of Chennai. Another person called the company, verified that the news was wrong and quickly alerted everyone. Within 30 minutes, those posts were gone. It was crowd theory at its best.
Chennai 1

On the other hand, the government machinery was totally ineffective, as they neither had the means nor the experience to coordinate anything. The bottom-up approach to tackling the disaster simply eliminated the need for a top-down intervention and in the process, it even provided an opportunity to the citizens to demonstrate their creativity, compassion and helped them to come close to each other.

All around us, we can see that truly complex systems thrive without hierarchy. Market economies, traffic systems, the human brain and natural eco-systems are all highly complex, non-linear, adaptive systems that operate without hierarchy. We have seen in our cities how crowds self-organise whenever there is a traffic jam – in fact, we need to do some research to get data points between outcomes when systems are in place (for example, traffic signals) versus where they are not (for example, sexagenarian Mr Ramprasad who helps to regulate traffic in his neighbourhood near IIM Bangalore).

I was reminded of educational researcher Dr Sugata Mitra’s “Hole in the Wall” experiments that demonstrated how, in the absence of supervision or formal teaching, children can teach themselves and each other if they’re motivated by curiosity and peer interest. This was mirrored in Chennai which proved that people can govern themselves if they have the right tools and technology. After all, a government is a process created by people to govern themselves. Here are some insights from Dr Mitra’s famous TED talk:
Can Tamil-speaking children in a south Indian village learn the biotechnology of DNA replication in English from a street-side computer? And I said, I’ll measure them. They’ll get a zero. I’ll spend a couple of months, I’ll leave it for a couple of months, I’ll go back, they’ll get another zero. I’ll go back to the lab and say, we need teachers. I found a village. It was called Kallikuppam in southern IChennai 3ndia. I put in Hole in the Wall computers there, downloaded all kinds of stuff from the internet about DNA replication, most of which I didn’t understand.
The children came rushing, said, “What’s all this?” So I said, “It’s very topical, very important. But it’s all in English.” So they said, “How can we understand such big English words and diagrams and chemistry?” So by now, I had developed a new pedagogical method, so I applied that. I said, “I haven’t the foggiest idea… And anyway, I am going away.” So I left them for a couple of months. They’d got a zero. I gave them a test. I came back after two months and the children trooped in and said, “We’ve understood nothing.”
I said, “What? You don’t understand these screens and you keep staring at it for two months? What for? So a little girl… she raised her hand, and she says to me in broken Tamil and English… “Well, apart from the fact that improper replication of the DNA molecule causes disease, we haven’t understood anything else.”

The principles of self-management have already been put to use in the private sector by companies like Zappos, Sun Hydraulics and Buurtzorg with great impact and outcomes where employees govern themselves without formal hierarchical roles, structures and leaders. There are tools like Holacracy that facilitate the self-management process and a “leaderless” movement is emerging.

With the right tools and structures, the mindsets of citizens can be effectively oriented to “how can I contribute?” from “who can I blame?” Over the last few days, we saw this mindset in Chennai. People were not blaming anyone, even the politicians, and in fact, whenever someone started a blame game, the crowd quickly put it off. This may change after a few days but it is commendable.

What is government, after all? It is a process created by people to govern themselves. Why do we have to stick to a process that doesn’t work effectively?

The Chennai example proves that self-governance is possible and validates the need for a Holacracy-type model in governance where citizens can actively participate and contribute solutions for the problems that they are facing in their lives on a daily basis. It can work closely with traditional governance structures after creating the right interfaces between the two models. Leaders need to shed the “I” and melt into the “we” to leverage the wisdom of crowds and their collective consciousness. Hats off to the people of Chennai! They showed what is possible and have created opportunities to take governance to a new level.

You can also read the article via Huffingtonpost

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