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Foresight

‘I knew it was going to happen;’ ‘I did not expect it;’ I knew we were wasting our time.’ We come across these kinds of retorts more often than not, and they are symptomatic of the presence or absence of one crucial factor: Foresight. There are two components in making judgments leading to decision:  Analytical look at facts and foresight. And in this blog, I will try to take a look only at foresight as I already dealt with the former in the blog titled, “What is the most difficult thing in life?”

Ability is the sum total of doable and potentially doable possessions that are naturally present in a person while capability is the set of skills that one acquires as she/he courses through life. We say “differently-abled person,” not differently-capable person. Right? This clarifies natural nature of ability and acquired origin of capability. Basic intelligence, talents, and wisdom come under abilities while skills, knowledge and experience are capabilities. Capabilities sharpen abilities. Foresight is the ability to see now every relevant factors from future, which will have a definite bearing on one’s capability to make judgments. The operative word here is ‘relevant.’  How do we develop foresight? There are two prerequisites to foresight: common sense and peripheral awareness.

It is difficult to explain what common sense is. Let me explain it with an example. Why do teachers, while examining answer sheets, use pens that have ink whose color is different from the ink color used by students? It is because, though not meritoriously relevant, same color ink will make teachers’ notes and markings visibly irrelevant. Thus, in order to make their markings and notes visibly relevant on answer sheets, teachers choose pens with different ink color. So we can say that common sense is the ability to differentiate relevance from irrelevance in order to choose relevance.

Analytical look is reasonably filtering through facts available in the immediate arena of a subject on which decision has to be taken. And you need a bridge from facts to reach foresight, and that connecting link is peripheral awareness. Peripheral awareness is the ability to comprehend the extended reach of facts-of-the-matter without losing focus on the facts itself. It largely depends on the faculties of decision-maker to conjure up that reach. Let me bring in the game of cricket to illustrate what peripheral awareness is meant by in decision making.

The Time Magazine, while featuring the cricketing legend, Sachin Tendulkar, on its cover page titled “Cover Drive,” mentioned ‘Peripheral Awareness’ as one of the qualities which enabled Sachin to emerge as the most successful cricket player that the contemporary times had seen. The magazine further explained that while batting, including while facing the toughest ball from the fiercest bowler, Sachin had the entire ground, especially positioning of fielders, on his frame of mind so as to adjust his batting to find gaps and score though he did not look around frequently. In an abstract, peripheral awareness, as also explained by the magazine, is the ability to factor in facts from all the possible extended reach without overreaching.

Subtle clues — that can be verbal and/or non-verbal —  which we usually fail to notice during social and interpersonal interactions are the food for foresight. Noticing and deciphering them reveal general contour and portends of things to come. There are people who have the ability to see the appropriateness or inappropriateness; and relevance or irrelevance of these subtle clues as they flash before them although present utility value of these clues is negligible or naught. As a corollary, they visualize and judge the future ramifications of these subtleties, filter out irrelevant things, arrive at educated inferences and keep them on a ready-to-use mode as and when required. It is to be noted that you can not catapult yourself to this deliberate sight-in-advance from facts but have to cross the bridge of peripheral awareness to reach there because you also need the help of the extended reach of facts to decipher subtle clues.

A piece on foresight is incomplete without touching on hindsight and farsightedness. Hindsight is post-mortem analysis to understand something after it happened. Foresight is an intangible asset with future value while hindsight does not qualify to call itself as an asset though it may offer a few pointers for future. 

Farsightedness is a medical condition in which one can see distant objects clearly but nearby objects blurry. So figuratively, farsightedness also means ability to see distant physical objects. Furthermore,  farsightedness is a synonym of foresight, and both can be used interchangeably barring one context. Let me explain this usage difference with an example. A good driver is said to have long and much-beyond visibility, making the drive as careful as he/she otherwise does even when there is good distance between the driver and the vehicle just ahead. In this case, we can say that driver has farsightedness, not foresight. Barring this exception, farsightedness and foresight are interchangeably used. 

Analyse facts, build a bridge of the extended reach of the facts called peripheral awareness, cross it and bring home relevant insights from subtle clues. And thus allow foresight to add value to correctness in decisions you take in life.

Lies Incognito

Even when man is scrupulously being on the path of honesty, he can be hoodwinked by lies-incognito and be made to feel comfortable with them though he is not conscious about such quick conditioning he undergoes. This thought struck me when I came across the news that North Korea had hacked the Pfizer computer systems to get access to the vaccine secrets. In the news, I could not see the word: steal or its synonyms, with the the explicit tenor being trivialising the issue, as well as glorifying North Korea’s hacking abilities. So I was initially comfortable with the news and did feel praiseful of North Korea’s hacking prowess. Then, it suddenly flashed my mind that I was being okay with the news of stealing — beautifully masked in the term: hacking. The most common forms of lies-incognito that try to sway us are favours, sycophancy and convenient-thinking.

Favors are takeaways or giveaways that defy natural reasoning. In the context of favour, reasoning has two dimensions — natural reasoning: credits go to where they are due; and preferential reasoning: credits go to where the giver’s preferences point him/her to. So favours are the outputs from the triumph of man’s partiality over natural justice. Let me bring in God, the embodiment of natural justice, into the picture and illustrate an imaginary situation as follows;

There are ten candidates for one job position, and out of the ten, five are believers. All the believers prayed to Him before the interview. Now, whom will God prefer for the job? The believers? If yes, which believer? Or, will He prefer non-believers? Or, will God do nothing and let the natural reasoning of the most meritorious candidate take home the job? Whatever be your answer to these questions, it is to be noted that God is truth and justice, hence, an edifice of natural reasoning.

Favors are lies sweetened enough to fail us in discerning the preferential reasoning behind them. But if you think a bit deeper, then you will realise that sweetness begins at the point where bitterness ends. Hence, it is not impossible to pause and take a bitter call on favours.

Sycophancy is serving a man’s false-pride through lies which comprise both non-existing facts amd inflated or deflated facts. Lying is of two types: telling things which are diametrically or partially opposite of the existing facts; and manufacturing lies and presenting them as facts. Sycophancy is different from praising which works on the basis of cause and effect, meaning for every praise a man gets, there is a compelling and deserving reason behind it. On the other hand, sycophancy does not have a corollary reason for its existence. It stagnates a man because it feeds his false-pride which is a bigger hindrance to progress in life. False-pride is the inability of a person to accept reality and behave, accordingly, prompting the person to over do beyond the wherewithal in his/her possession. A man of pride will not tolerate sycophants around him, but one with false-pride fails to discern them. Unfortunately, we have more people possessing false-pride than those who hold pride.

We have a proclivity to convenient-thinking. Given a few choices, most of us will choose the one that is convenient and advantageous for us. Although the argument of being rational can be put forth, we often fail to discern facts in such situations. I will illustrate this with an example: Suppose that you have got a PCR positive result in a Covid-19 test and that you are completely asymptomatic so have decided to quickly do another PCR test that gave a negative result. Between the two diametrically opposite test results, it is highly likely that you will accept the negative result because that is convenient and advantageous for you. And in this process, you fail to think in this way: one of the test results was wrong; which one was wrong, the first result or the second one? Unlike favors and sycophancy that are external, convenient-thinking is an endemic flaw of our character, hence, does need a lot of recalibration in our thought-process to overcome it.

Why do lies come incognito? In other words, why do lies-incognito have acceptability? The single most overriding reason is that they have a facade of semblance of truth, hence, can be perceived as truth, thereby tricking even an honest man to accept them as truths. Lies-incognito are flavoured lies and very attractive but not irresistible as many honest people repudiate them. And, how do they save themselves from getting tricked by these truth-resembling lies? In their thoughts, they remove the top layer of flavours covering the lies and discern the lies lying flat on the back. Unless this thought-process happens, it is highly likely that even an honest person can be tricked into by the lies-incognito. It is difficult but not impossible to lead an honest life, and that difficulty is exacerbated by the unseen enemy called lies-incognito. Beware of lies-incognito!

This is my 100th blog, and I am thankful to all the visitors to and readers of my blog.

Respect

What is that one thing that man can effortlessly give to another? It is possible that elements like love, money, time, etc. would have flashed your mind had you paused for a while to ponder over the question I raised. I am sure that most of you had come across the term: unconditional love. Whether it is possible to give unconditional love or not is a moot point, and the answer in either way demonstrates that a lot of investment is needed in order to give love. So giving love is not effortless. Money, one of the few exceptions to Diminishing Marginal Utility, is, though not the last thing to give up, not an easy commodity to part away with. Lesser amounts of money for global charity works as compared to the wealth getting accrued to the rich and the new-rich is a testimony that money is a hard-to-giveaway article. Those who know about the value of time rightly and wisely choose where to invest the limited time available. The fact that we are largely configured with a 3-stage cycle of sleep, work and recreation in almost equal scale, investing 8 hours available under recreation in our likes and dislikes is a judicious decision. It means that our time is also not easily and effortlessly available for anyone. So, what is that which we can give effortlessly to anyone? Respect. Yes, man can effortlessly give respect to others. 

What  is respect? Or, how do we define respect? Respect is honoring one’s own commitment to the norms governing human values. Respect is also honoring others’ commitment to the norms governing human values. If we club these two, respect is honoring one’s own commitment as well as others’ commitment to the norms governing human values. So it is clear that respect has two dimensions: self-respect and respect for others, and the former is a prerequisite for the latter. It is highly unlikely for a man to respect others — their values — if he does not respect himself — his values. In the same breath, we need to understand that it is not possible for a man to have a set of values, still, not honor them because the only sign of life that values possess is the honor with which they are upheld. Values are sitting-dead if they are not upheld. The elements of value system that man has to have in order to keep himself on the default track of self-respect mode are honesty, righteousness, humility, kindness and similar virtues of goodness.

Though understanding increases the level of respect, it is not necessary that someone has to understand someone else to show respect toward him or her. Manifestations of respect are acknowledgment and appreciation. Acknowledgement is making the other person aware that you have taken note of his/her presence and that you are willing to listen to him/her. Appreciation is one step ahead from acknowledgement, where you recognize and applaud the goodness and achievements that the other person had brought onto the table. Only can a man who acknowledges and appreciates the goodness in him show the willingness to honor the goodness in others. In other words, those who cannot acknowledge and appreciate, i.e. respect, others have their own values sitting-dead inside them. 

Unappreciative mind as well as appreciation bereft of enthusiasm — half-hearted gesture — possibly reflect an element of jealousy. To appreciate others, man needs a lot of courage to overcome the inbuilt inhibiting element called jealousy. Jealousy is a big hindrance to progress in life; it ties down a man to the narrow confines of his mind, where he, instead of competing to acquire the attributes of success, gets obsessed with his limited knowledge about others’ success, thereby absenting himself from exploring the times that offer opportunities for progress. It is impossible to fake ourselves because our subconscious mind takes inside and responds to the dominant thought dwelling on the top of our mind. You may have experienced that irrespective of your desire to have a positive mindset, you often tend to have the opposite. This happens when the strength of the negative forces like jealousy is more than those of the positive desires. If you want to be a man of virtues, you have to be a man of virtues as there is no other go — you can possibly game all but yourself.

Appreciation, the integral soul of respect, is also a two-way journey as it gives a return in proportion or more to the investment you put up for it. For example, if peer jealousy can be replaced with appreciation, then it has the potential to be a powerful factor that motivates you to succeed in life. Let me explain this with an example. Our life is like a river. All rivers get born in the mountain-highs as pools of water, and in order to become rivers, they break their way out through hard rocks as streams, take a plunge of thousands of feet down along the rocky mountains, land on plains with cuts and bruises. Yet they quickly organize themselves to begin the new journey as rivers. As stream begins new journey and flows down the plains, it grows in length and breadth as tributaries get added to them, finally, becoming a full-fledged river. We are all pools of waters as we begin our life. As we flow, tributaries of knowledge get added to us, and we become rivers of length, breadth and depth, churning out fertile soils from underneath – the fertile soils of life’s reflections as we experience. Why do some people continue to remain as pools of water while others stream out and flow as rivers?

The internal pressure generated from the success ingredients is the force that breaks the hard rocks of life’s tests and tribulations, enabling us to stream out from the pools of our self-inflicted limitations. But this internal pressure will be created only if we are on a positive mental framework which also includes acknowledging and appreciating the feats of streaming out by our neighboring pools. We can learn from their success — how they managed themselves to stream out to become rivers — and use such learning as an impetus adding to the internal pressure. But for this to happen, our dominant thought should not be jealousy but of showing respect toward the success of others — acknowledging and appreciating their feats.

As we all know, change is inevitable, but changing oneself is neither inevitable nor unavoidable but optional. Over the years, we change physically by growing older, but that does not guarantee a transformative change in emotional and mental spheres. Unlike physical growth, growing mentally and emotionally is tumultuous and painful, but it is a regenerative process where you molt and shed off the inherent inhibitive and unwholesome habits that stagnate you in the pool and adorn new traits that commensurate with or exceed the physical growth. It is a transformative change involving sprouting of positive mindset. Do make respect — acknowledging and appreciating — for others a part of your mindset as it adds value to and hasten your own progress in life.

Rio de Janeiro

There is no exaggeration that Rio de Janeiro is known as Cidade Maravilhosa or Marvelous City as it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world! Its magnificent mountains dotted in the vicinity of beautiful beaches are enough to justify the marvelous nomenclature. I was fortunate to have visited the city two times, in 2010 and 2011, and both times, my friend, Jamil, was magnanimous enough to take me around the city to explore its myriad beauties. The attractions of Rio, as tourists fondly call the city, are many — Christ the Redeemer, Copacabana Beach, the Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião; Sugarloaf Mountain and so on.

Jamil:

For the city inhabitants who constitute the Brazilian ethnic mix of European, African and mixed ancestries, mountaineering is not only a sport but also a pastime. Tourists take a cue from this and also join the folks. I, too, went for hiking a mountain named Morro da Urca with Jamil, and there were pathways and unmarked highs during that uphill journey. The mountain has an elevation of 722 feet, and we took around 2 hours, I remember, to reach the peak. From the top of the mountain, the views of Rio are stunning!

The climb was strenuous but enjoyable. I am as pictured after the climb, and Christ the Redeemer is visible in the faraway mountain backdrop:

While resting on a mountain peak, it is not uncommon that you could possibly sight a group of hikers popping up beside you. I saw the following hikers as I was resting after reaching the peak where Christ the Redeemer was located:

Skipping a visit to Christ the Redeemer, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, while being in Rio is unthinkable for a tourist, so I also visited the iconic symbol of Brazil. There is train service from the plain to the mountain top, but on the day of our visit, there was a long queue of commuters; hence, we took taxi to the statue located on Corcovado mountain — 2300 feet high — in the Tijuca Forest National Park. The 98-feet statue of reinforced steel and soapstone, created by the Polish sculptor, Paul Landowski, and built by the Brazilian engineer, Heitor da Silva Costa, is mounted on a 26-feet pedestal, and Christ’s stretched-out hands have 92 feet width in between. After alighting from the taxi, we walked uphill for sometime to reach the statue. Though 10 years passed by, the feelings of wow and exhilaration that I experienced while being at the mammoth sculpture are still palpable in me. The visit to the site is one of the cherished moments of my life.

A beautiful 4-km confluence of land with the Atlantic ocean, Copacabana Beach is a happening place brimming with onshore and offshore activities round the clock. It has vast beachfront area where people engaged in sports like beach volleyball, cycling jogging, etc. could be seen day and night. Canoeing in the immediate offshore vicinity is a common sight during daytime.

The views of the majestic seaside mountains from the beach are extraordinary! I had many standstill-moments as I got consumed by the towering beauties that stood tall and sprouting out of the water!

Forte de Copacabana, situated at the southern end of the beach, is a military base and does house a military museum. It is open to the public. The fort was built between 1908 and 1912 by the Brazilian Military.

Copacabana beach has a colorful nightlife with clubs, pubs and restaurants located in and around the beach. Along with a few friends, I visited a salsa club.

Rio is the first place where I had seen something unique in restaurant business: diners need to pay in advance in accordance with the weight of the food they chose to eat. It is followed in buffet where one can choose any food — including fruits, chicken, meat and fish — available on the table, get it weighed and pay as per the weight, so one price for all types of food. In this process, people, I noticed, did not waste food as they had to pay for every bit on the plate. It is a good system to prevent food wastage. I had seen such buffet system of weigh-and-pay also in countries like Argentina and Bolivia.

A few random clicks from the city:

Another hard-to-miss attraction in the city is Sugarloaf Mountain, which derived its name, it is believed, from its resemblance to the traditional shape of the Brazilian concentrated sugar loaf. Brazil is one of the largest producers of sugar in the world. To reach the mountain which stands 1299 feet high out of the water, one needs to take cable car. The cable car, built in 1912, is an engineering feat of international acclaim and runs along a 4600 feet route. It starts from the base of a hill-station named Morro da Babilônia, then, has a stopover at the mountain Morro da Urca. Passengers do not have to alight from cable car at Urca, and I think the stopover is an engineering requirement.

Sugarloaf Mountain is a monolith, meaning a single rock, sprouted straight out of the water. Geologically, Wikipedia says, it is considered part of a family of steep-sided rock outcroppings known as non-inselberg bornhardts.

On the way back, getting down at Morro da Urca and spending time at this peak are irresistible attractions of this outing in the sky. There are coffee shops and restaurants at this peak. And witnessing sunset from Urca Mountain is an awesome experience!

Roadside entertainments and funs are the untold elements of the city’s hospitality:

Overall, I had wonderful times at Rio, thanks to Jamil. I still cherish all those nice Rio moments. If you ever get an opportunity to be in South America, do not miss to make a trip down to Rio as it will be more than worth the time and money you spend. The icing on the cake of a visit to Rio is witnessing Rio Carnival, during which the city will be adorned with men and women in colors and costumes that challenge one’s imagination. I have not had an opportunity to be in the city during carnival time, so I am looking forward to have a trip to the city during such a jamboree.

Simple, Complex and Complicated

On facebook, I come across people who show their relationship status as “it is complicated.”  It is a fact that this is a willful selection by them as facebook does not give it as a default option. So being in a state of complicated is man-made. Why does not facebook have a status option of “it is complex?” Complexity is naturally occurring while being in a complicated state is artificial. So we have an option to not complicate our life, and at the same it is inevitable that we need to pass through the complexities of life. Simplicity and complication are two modes of life, and which mode is to be chosen is a man’s decision. This decision has a large bearing on how he carries on with his daily life so on his life itself. A downside part of this selection is that many fail to understand correctly the complex elements of life, resulting in them leading a life of complication, instead of simplicity. In other words, a man misses simplicity to complication when he fails to learn the elements of complexity.

We are used to the saying: “keep life as simple as possible.” What does this mean? Many people lament that life is never easy for them. And that stands correct as life is not simple or easy, but it can be made easy and simple. In the same breath, life is simple and can also be made complicated depending upon what a man does with and in his life. Hence, it is possible to have simplicity in life without getting it complicated. So, what do we have to do to have a life of simplicity?  In order to move further on this, we need to understand the meaning of each of these terms: simplicity, complexity and complication as well as the linkages among them. Though they seem to be diametrically opposite, simplicity and complexity are related to each other in as many ways as possible. Complexity, in fact, is the way to simplicity and vice versa. For easy understanding, let me make two statements: life is as complex as simple, and life is as simple as complex. Although they sound different, complexity and simplicity, in the ultimate analysis, share the same thing. And failure to understand the nitty gritty of the relation between simplicity and complexity leads to the state: life is complicated.  

Simplicity is the way that offers the shortest space and time to reach the natural setting. In other words, a life of simplicity means that a man leads a life of being in harmony with his natural settings without inimically manipulating them so that he can understand and is understandable without any discounting or inflating. So there cannot be any “short of or excess” in the realm of simplicity in life. Albert Einstein stated that the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line. Simplicity, though has the shortest space and time in its amphitheater of understanding, does not offer everything straight on a silver platter but comes as strings in the webs of complexity. So complexity is a web of simplicities but intertwined in all the possible permutations and combinations, thereby making it difficult to untangle and understand it. Though the task is difficult, sometimes extremely difficult and looking impossible, it is still possible to accomplish unravelling of complexities because complexity is ultimately a web of simplicities. I will illustrate this with a couple of examples from Mother Nature.

Nature’s complexity has a mark in all its creations, but it always kept simple ways to understand its complexities. But finding these simple ways is as complex as the creation itself. Food Web is a complex network of food chains, and a Food Web is too complex to understand unless we go through the related food chains. A lion hunting a bear or a snake preying on frogs does not have direct connection with the food on our tables. But our food chain is definitely meeting the food chain of frogs and snakes through the insects and weeds at paddy fields and other crop fields. However, if we do not understand and learn from the complex web of these food chains, then our Food Web, which comprises innumerable food chains that have countless animals and plants with no direct contact with us, can be in danger. For example, plastic pollution of oceans and seas can destroy many fauna and flora which have no direct connection with our food chain though they could be the members of our food web. Unless we understand this complex web of connections that our simple food chain is linked to, we are not understanding the complexities of leading a simple life that offers sustained supply of foods on our tables.

Another example is the Universe. Starting with our planet Earth, the other planets, the satellites and the sun of the solar system which itself is a member of the galaxy Milky Way, the Universe is a complex web of galaxies of stars, planets and other spatial objects — all following a definite pattern showing the Universe in its simple yet complex dimensions. Science tries to unravel these complex webs by understanding the simple building blocks and patterns of the complex Universe.

Coming back to the issue of people having relationship status: “it is complicated,” they chose to be in that state because they have not understood the simplicities that form the web of complex human relationships. Looking at this issue directs me to the question I earlier raised: what do we have to do to have a life of simplicity? Being in a complicated state means that the person is not able to understand the dynamics of complexity. He/she fails to see through the curtain of complexity by not understanding the elements of simplicity with which complexity is made of. And the resultant situation is ambiguity and confusion leading to a debilitating state of painful indecision called “it is complicated.” Whether it is a marital discord or dealing with a troublesome neighbor or official drudgery, one can get out of the complicated situation by understanding the web of simplicities that form the complexity of the particular situation. Such understanding clears ambiguity and gives elbow room to take decisions lifting you out of the complicated state. Do understand that if you are in a complicated situation, it is made by you, hence, can be rectified by yourself by diving down into and understanding the web of simplicities that forms the complexity, failing of whose comprehension led to your complicated situation.

Try to lead a life of simplicity because it is the most harmonious and seamless way to experience life in its natural setting, and in this process, you will tame complexity and avoid being in a complicated situation.

Proportionate Growth – A Learning from International Business

James Allen is one of the thinkers who influenced me in a big way, and his thoughts are pearls of wisdom — detailed in his book: ‘As a Man Thinketh — which played invaluable contribution to my life’s progression. Amongst them, this one: “Man is a growth by law” has profound meaning. In this aphorism, he says something without telling it though a careful reading of the book evidences its presence felt, and that is the word: proportionate. The growth needs and ought to be a proportionate one, for it is a nature’s rule applicable to every creature without exception in order to experience a wholesome — balanced — living, Hence, man is also bound by this Hobson’s choice if he wants to live a life of wellbeing. The rule is equally applicable to a system if it wants to have a sustainable growth. James Allen’s words crossed my mind as I confronted an operational challenge in my profession.

For the last few months, our company has been experiencing a major stumbling block in the export business: lack of enough shipping space to accommodate containers to various destinations. Almost all the shipping lines had cut down their sailings and/or pooled their sailings together to minimize voyages on various routes and also had replaced bigger ships with smaller ones leading to a situation where getting a container-berth on a ship had become an extremely difficult and long drawn process. This is resulting in a situation where we are not able to ship out the goods within the targeted month and that the shipments have to be rolled over to the next month. The case is further exacerbated by the congestions at various seaports. Though our problem is micro when drawn on a bigger international business canvass, if I am allowed to look at it as a matter of fact from our side, then I can say that our growth as a company is temporarily stymied by a single element of disproportionate growth of the shipping industry.

To make it easily understandable, let me illustrate how this challenge of a macro dimension affects a country. India had done a bilateral trade of US$ 145 billion with the United States of America in 2019, and India’s Commerce Minister recently set an ambitious target of US$500 billion bilateral trade with the States as doable in the next five years – an annualized growth of 28% which, as the minister said, is achievable. Similarly, India has set ambitious trade targets with the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, the EU block, etc. What does India have to do to achieve these ambitious targets, with a larger economic objective of pushing up exports more than the level of imports as India is currently a trade-deficit country?

Well, India has to make many business-friendly decisions with regard to its macroeconomic policies to enable increased investments in infrastructure; liberalization of polices to encourage value addition through manufacturing; being more open to inflows of foreign capital as well as technology; beefing up its service sector to face increasing competition from countries like the Philippines, Vietnam; etc. Imagine that India has done all these, besides, complied with all the bilateral obligations with perfection, but barring force majeure, will it surely lead to India achieving the trade targets? Till I confronted the operational problem, I thought that the answer to this question was yes. But the problem shows me that the answer is a no because there is another element called logistical infrastructure that also needs to grow in tandem — grow proportionately — with the growth of the macroeconomic measures that India undertook.

In order to achieve its stated trade targets, India needs to invest in its ports and affiliated infrastructure so that bigger mother ships can call at Indian seaports as well as frequency of sailings through the Indian trade routes can go up. Furthermore, to avoid any logistic shocks, India should encourage domestic shipping liners to strengthen their international operations, especially in establishing direct sailings from India to the trade-targeted countries. In a nut shell, India needs to have proportionate growth in all the elements, including its logistic infrastructure, that are intrinsic and inevitable to achieve its stated trade goals.

Allen’s words are a living testimony if we look at how nature grows its creatures. Nature does its wholesome act of proportionate growth in perfection. Let us look at the way a tree grows. The time from its sprouting to the phase of aging out, a tree grows in length, breadth and depth to maintain its wellbeing that enables its survival through the life cycle. And this wellbeing is achieved by the proportionate growth of its body parts — branches grow, sometimes stretch themselves out, to get required sunlight, roots go down as tap root or spreads out horizontally in fibrous to have enough hold onto the ground and trunk firming up to make itself a strong body — all happen ‘in the order’ as required by nature to have the beauty and balance to maintain itself as a tree. This proportioning of growth is applicable for even inanimate things of natural origin, and storms are a classic example of this — the seed of a low pressure region surrounded by a system of high pressure growing in leaps and bounds in proportion to the pressure gradient.

Coming back to the aphorism that man is a growth by law, with its larger meaning of proportionate growth, it is imperative that man grows in all his natures in a proportionate way to experience a life of wholesomeness. In his book, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,’ Steven Covoy elucidates this point emphatically, and I am paraphrasing his words: Man needs to grow physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually in the right proportion in order to have these four natures coexist in a balanced mixture without one overriding the other. This balanced growth is a prerequisite to have a life of wellbeing; otherwise, states like these can arise: man can be brutally analytical and miss the holistic view, meaning he can be grown to a being guided only by reason, leaving emotions unattended; it can be other way round, too, — totally emotional with no room for reasons. It can also be ignoring the bodily requirements like sleep, rest by working for longer hours to satisfy his materialistic ambitions connected with reason and emotion. Man can peak his bodily, mental and emotional well being but can still feel empty if he looses his soul as the Holy Bible says.

Proportionate growth is the nature’s rule, leaving man with no option other than embracing the rule to live a life of wholesomeness. Does he listen to this nature’s rule?

New Year Message

From a bruised and buffeted 2020, we are stepping into an year of hope and revival. The year of 2021 is destined to be an year of vaccination with the governments around the world busy inoculating their peoples against a virus which proved that through overwhelming, a less potent danger can be more damaging and devastating beyond our imagination. As a society, 2021 will not be a bull but a bear that is configuring to get up and start walking. Vaccine will inject the energy to get up, but to walk and run, a lot of reversals of the reversals that happened in 2020 is needed.

Looking back at 2020, nature gave man more to introspect, more to pause and ponder than to pace up. Was it long overdue from nature? It was! It is estimated that in 2019, we consumed nature’s resources like soil, clean air and water 1.75 times more than what the earth could regenerate. This level of consumption is not sustainable, so nature stepped in and did the correction by reining in man. The versatility with which the virus spread and its edging out of him in the cat and mouse game of the stop and spread demonstrate that nature was well in preparation to do this midcourse correction. But, has man learnt any lesson from it? Only will time tell if the answer to this question is affirmative or not.

There will not be a single person who had not experienced some sort of inconvenience due to the pandemic. Many lost lives, many are still losing and many more will till we get over the pandemic. One day the world will see the end of this trauma, and we will have smile, instead of masks, back on our faces. But a lesson that we should not miss to learn from this pandemic is this: live within the needs defined by necessity rather than excesses and extravaganza. Man’s greed to have more has to be curbed as all his excesses put extra and costly pressure on nature beyond its regenerative capacities.

When man exceedingly consumes beyond what nature can provide, nature presses reset button, and Covid-9 is one such reset press. If every man and woman can take a resolution to live within the needs defined by necessity and follow through it, we will be in harmony with nature and that the world will be much more livable. On this New Year’s eve, I invite all of you to take and live through this pledge: I will live within the needs defined by necessity.

My Best Wishes to you all for happy and harmonious days in 2021!

Clean Your Mind Before the Dusts Become Visible

I was on Work From Home, or W.F.H., for the last five and half months and had rejoined the office a few days back. Spending time with the family is the most beautiful thing, and it was great being at home for such an extended period, thanks to Covid-19 putting a break on my international travels which is a part of my profession. The new W.F.H. phase was a learning period, and I wish to share with you something that I learnt. We have a day-time housemaid who visits us twice a week, and she has a schedule of cleaning the non-floor structures like tables, shelves, bedroom light-stands, etc. once a week. I noticed that by the time the weekly cleaning day arrived, it was all dust on these structures. Hence, I decided to clean all the non-floor areas daily in the morning, using a piece of cloth – 15 minutes were enough to complete the task. I felt good and happy seeing the cleaned areas.

Courtesy Covid-19, mask has become a part of our attires. After one-time use, I soap-wash, dry and dispose them off. Accidentally, I found that such used-masks were good at absorbing dust, hence, started to use them, instead of clothes, to clean the home. It made huge difference as compared to the cloth, for mask’s micro cloth could remove even smaller dust particles and clean the surface very well. Yes, the dusts that were not visible to my eyes were captured and removed by the used-masks. I did it every day, relieving the maid from that work. Spending 15 minutes every day in the morning made the home much cleaner without allowing it go dusty. In effect, I was able to clean the home before dust became visible, thanks to the used-masks.

One subject that took my overwhelming attention during the graduation was freezing; I graduated in Fisheries Science from College of Fisheries, Panangad, Cochin, Kerala. Freezing is an interesting topic in the sense that, as the word amply pronounces, it only freezes and does not kill. Freezing freezes only water!

A little bit on post-death physical spoilage: Corpses of animals go through a process called Rigor Mortis, or R.M. When an animal dies, no physical change happens to its dead body in the first 2 to 6 hours — depending on the type of animal — and from the 3rd/7th hour, R.M. sets in. Rigor Mortis is death stiffening, meaning dead body gets hardened due to anaerobic chemical changes and as evidenced by the loosing of its natural softness. Rigor Mortis lasts for 6 to 8 hours, which means that no spoilage happens to a dead body within the first 14 hours after death if we consider the upper thresholds. From 15th hour, spoilage brought about by enzymes and bacteria begins. Freezing stops this spoilage through arresting the activities of bacteria and enzymes by freezing their water contents into ice as without water, both bacteria and enzymes cannot work. This is the reason that you have to quickly cook a thawed-product because thawing releases the frozen water and reactivates the bacteria and enzymes, hence, the spoilage. Everything has a shelf life so does freezing. Freezing can inactivate bacteria and enzymes only up to six months to an year, and beyond this timeline, the spoilage agents find ways to sidestep freezing and start spoilage.

A lot of dust in the forms of hatred, anger, jealousy, disappointment, frustration, etc. falls on or generates in — whichever the way we look at it — our mind. This is unavoidable — though not inevitable — as we are being human, and it is almost impossible to stop oneself from having these negative thoughts. So they do crop up more often than not and would not be palpable to oneself initially. However, over a period of time, they snowball into something bigger capable of self-destruction. This unknowingly-suppressed negative thoughts are like the spoilage-causing bacteria and enzymes, and the suppression is like freezing. The suppression neither kills nor neutralizes the negative thoughts but only temporarily freezes and shelves them in your mind-fields. Like freezing, the suppression runs out of its fuels at some point of time, hence, loose its shelving abilities, thereby allowing the suppressed negative thoughts to do mayhem with renewed vigor and damage your physical and mental health. But if you can clean your mind off the negative thoughts before they snowball into visible chunks, i.e., before they get into the self-destructive mode, then you can make your life shine like a perfectly cleaned surface that is devoid of any dirt. How do we do it?

A routine of self-reflective correction before you hit the pillow in the night is a perfect way to avoid the suppressive-freezing of negative thoughts. The cleaning-mask of self-refection should generate corrective — positive — thoughts to wipe your mind off the dirt of negative thoughts. Such an introspection lasting, say, a few minutes, involves you doing an impartial assessment of yourself about how badly you were dusted by the day with negative thoughts and followed up with wiping the negative thoughts out with the positive thoughts like love and hope as well as with the feeling that there is enough in this world for everyone. If you can do this on a daily basis without waiting for the dusty negative thoughts to become visible like a frozen chunk, then you will be successful to make your life shine like a clean surface.

Covid-19 Reloaded

It is with alarm that the world is hearing the news of the emergence of a mutated Covid-19 in the United Kingdom. Not much information, barring that the mutant version  — named as B.1.1.7 —  is 70% more transmissible than Covid-19, is available with the scientific community. But scientists are working on the mutant, and we would have more information sooner than later.

What does 70% more transmissibility mean in terms of the behaviour of the mutant virus? We are yet to know the answer(s). But there are a few questions that this 70% mark raises. As of now, in an open space, keeping oneself 6 feet  away from an infected person brings down the chances of infection to almost zero. But, will it be 10.2 feet — 70% more — for the mutant virus? Scientists told us 15 minutes’ cumulative close-exposure within 24 hours to an infected was needed to have enough viral load to infect a person, so, would the exposure time get reduced to 4.5 minutes for B.1.1.7.? Or, is it that 70% less viral load will be enough to infect a person? Will the known metrics like the livability of the virus on surfaces like plastics, stainless steel, paper, etc, get increased by 70% more time? Many such questions, and we do not have answers for any of these questions at this point of time.

The new mutant was first reported in September in the U.K., and by mid-November, 50% of the cases was from this version. And by middle of this month, the cases by the mutant surged to more than 60%, forcing the UK health authorities to say that the version was out of control. The new version had already reached the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia, Italy and South Africa. Incidentally, in Australia the mutant virus was found in a person who came from the U.S.A. So the mutant already made a transit in America. Did it make more contacts in America? As there was a window of two months between the first reported case and the alarm bells ringing, it would be highly likely that the new version had travelled both vertically and horizontally from the U.K. to large parts of the globe. Has it arrived in your country? Guess! So we need to be more careful about this virus.

Will the vaccines already developed work against the reloaded version? It will most likely do, scientists say. A virus needs cumulative mutations over many years to create an “escape route” from vaccine. This is the conventional scientific understanding. But, will it be applicable to Covid-19? We do not know. The new mutant went through 23 mutations, it was reported. One positive aspect of the vaccines developed against Covid-19 is that they can be tweaked to accommodate genitival changes from mutations. Will this hold true for the reloaded version? We will have the answer in a few days as the American scientists are on it.

As of now, there are too many unknowns about the mutant virus. Hence, it is worrying. However, scientists say there is no reed to be panic. But we have to be more cautious about the virus by strictly adhering  to the socializing and hygiene protocols that are in place. Let’s tune more information from our scientists, the saviors of humanity.

Sierra Leone

If you can visualize yourself in a speedboat, cruising through the Atlantic Ocean in the wee hours of a day, then I will present you with a few haunting moments to conjure up an immaculate morning like the one I had experienced during the journey from Lungi, a small coastal town, to Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone. The Sierra Leone River, which estuaries with the Atlantic Ocean, separates the town and the capital, and the most famous attraction of this sparsely populated town is Lungi International Airport. Hence, one needs to cross this 40-km long river to reach the mainland Sierra Leone if one is flying to Sierra Leone.

I landed at Lungi International Airport around 3 a.m., and the airport premise had an office selling tickets for the speedboat service to cross the river. The ferry-agency took us by bus to the boat jetty, and by the time the driver powered the boat, it was 5 a.m.

Boarding the speedboat:

It was still dark with the virgin sky dotted with fading stars, and behind the blue curtain, the sun was showing the signs of getting ready for the day.

As the boat sped away from the beach to more depths, factory-fresh sea breeze blew whatever residual sleep left off from my eyes. In the midway, the line demarcating the limitedness of the river and the vastness of the ocean started to blur out, showing all-round choppy waters hugging and kissing the speedboat in hard and fast ways.

As I enjoyed the virginity of the day in the middle of an ocean of pristine beauty, the shady shores of the mainland started to become visible: the buildings and structures standing in front of the still-waves of mountains encircling Freetown. I savored the rare morning! And it is one of the finest mornings I had treasured over the times.

The following are from another occasion during which I undertook a daytime passage:

A country canoe under construction:

In 2008 when I visited Sierra Leone for the first time, there was no speedboat service but helicopter service to the mainland. I was fortunate to travel — 7-minute flight — by helicopter then, thereby fulfilling a long cherished dream of travelling in a chopper. In 2009, the helicopter service was suspended as it failed in the airworthiness-evaluation by the International Civil Aviation Authority. Subsequently, the speedboat service was introduced. There is also ferry service by barge between Lungi and Freetown.

What do you know about Sierra Leone? Google will tell you that it is one of the biggest producers of diamonds, gold and many other precious minerals and metals. Diamonds are found in a quarter area of the country, and that is around 7,700 square miles. And this precious resources were once used to finance the civil war that broke out in the country in 1991, lasting 11 years and killing around 50,000 people. The infamous term: Blood Diamonds — illegal mining of diamonds to finance civil wars — is a product of this civil war.

The cityscape of Freetown and its suburban areas are starkly different in terms of infrastructure availability and their qualities.

Cityscape:

Suburban Areas:

Freetown has beautiful beaches which attract domestic and foreign tourists alike, and one such beach is Number 2 River Beach, which I visited in August 2016.

Before getting onto the beach, one can not miss out the adjoining creek. It is beautifully placed in the backdrop of distant mountains.

It is a white-sand beach, clean and with bluish to bluish-green waters, making it as one of the beautiful beaches that I had come across. Beaches were clean except that there was residual fringes of aquatic plants.

It is a paid-beach, costing 5000 in local currency named Leone, and this amount is equivalent to US$1. The beach management-company arranges shows of entertainment for the visitors. On the day I visited, the piece of performance was a traditional acrobatic show spiced up by the sounds of indigenous instruments.

With friends:

Beside the beach, there is lot of vegetation unlike the regular beaches. A couple of clicks from that area 🙂

If you are a business traveler, visiting the hustle and bustle Sani Abacha Street at the wholesale market is unavoidable. An aerial view of the street:

A few times, while returning I took barge to reach the airport. The following are from one such trip from Freetown to Lungi:

I had visited Sierra Leone a few times between 2008 to 2017, and unfortunately, this was one of the few countries where I did not find much development over this period. This is unfortunate, for the country is bestowed with immense natural resources. I found the people of Sierra Leone cordial and never had any safety issues there. Hope to see a better developed and progressing Sierra Leone during my next visit.

Liberia

Way back in 2004 when I started my career in International Sales, Liberia was among the few countries that I visited in the same year itself.  Liberia was then just emerging from a civil war under the guidance of an interim government, with the United Nation’s Peace Keeping Force being actively on the ground to hold the fragile peace. Two successive civil wars flattened Liberia, which was the first ever republic in Africa, all but completely. The wars destroyed almost all the infrastructure of the country. I saw the capital city of Monrovia running on generators as there was no regular electricity production in the country, thanks to the destruction of the entire power generation and distribution infrastructure during the civil wars. I could also see many charred and bullet-pockmarked buildings,  including a 5-star hotel, in the city, each telling untold stories of human sufferings. It is estimated that around 250,000 people — 8% of the then population — perished in the civil wars. There was no smartphone then, so I had no pictures from my first visit.

I visited the country again in 2010. Six years of democracy brought some semblance of normalcy! In 2010, electricity was available in many areas of the city and water scarcity was almost tackled. More signs of rebirth of the nation were visible: paved roads, construction activities were picking up and so on. Since then, I visited Liberia many a time, with the last being in 2019. Once I undertook a 30-hour journey by road from Freetown, Sierra Leone, to Monrovia, with an overnight stay at the frontier town, and saw well-paved tarred roads from the very moment I entered the Liberian side, a much better state than what I had seen on the Sierra Leone side. Through these years, Liberia had seen Madam Ellen Johnson as the President for two consecutive terms, more hotels and other tourism infrastructures, electricity reaching most part of the country, the U.N. winding up its peace keeping mission and the incumbent President George Weah, an ex-footballer who amassed a fortune from the playgrounds, assuming the office. The most noteworthy point over these transformative years is that there was no violence in Liberia once the peace took its roots after the civil wars.

Monrovia:

Liberia has all-round greenery. Nature has showered it with pristine beauty, and the landscape looks like that of Kerala. I was fortunate to experience this beauty during my travel to Monrovia while undertaking that trip from Freetown. Furthermore, it takes around 1:30 hours to travel by taxi from the airport to Monrovia city, giving inescapable opportunity to enjoy the sparsely populated panoramic hinterlands. The land is so fertile that grass and trees are everywhere. Nonetheless, barring rubber plantations by Firestone Company, the nature’s bounty is not utilized through scientific farming. There is no agricultural university in Liberia, and the farming is still on brick and mortar mode.

I travelled by auto rickshaw — you might ask: so what? I made this travel not in India or in any Asian country but in Liberia. I was pleasantly surprised to see plenty of these three-wheelers plying in Monrovia, supplied by TVS, an Indian company. One thing I noticed was that here, too, auto rickshaw drivers followed the same pattern of their Indian counterparts: taking sudden turns without putting indicators; maneuvering their vehicles through the just-road available; and abruptly stopping to take a quick-in-passenger. I felt happy to see that Indian vehicles offering an affordable public transport option in Liberia. Apart from Liberia, I saw Indian auto rickshaws plying on the roads of Bangladesh, Indonesia, Peru, Ghana and a few other countries.

Getting a homely atmosphere when you are away from home is a boon. This is what I used to have in Liberia during most of the times of my visit, thanks to my “Mallu friends.’ In Africa, Liberia is the country where I saw the maximum number of the Keralites working. I have many Mallu friends here: Binu, Kannan, Anoop, Aneesh, Rejith, Rineesh, etc. During the last trip, culinary expertise of Anoop’s wife was a real treat, besides, Biriyani by Aneesh and Rejith Babu was mouth-watering. These guys made my days in Liberia memorable and fun-fulling!

Views of the Broad Street, a thoroughfare in the city.

As my trips were for business, visiting the wholesale markets was an inevitable. There are two wholesale markets in Monrovia: Waterside Market and Redlight market. The following pictures were captured from Waterside market during a rainy time:

The Liberians are a warm and friendly people, and I never experienced any dificulty in the country though there are safety issues, the remnants of the civil wars. Liberia, a country of 5 million people, has immense natural resources like iron ore, timber, diamonds, crude oil and many minerals and metals. But the country had not made progress as it should have been if we considered the abundance of natural resources and a smaller population. Hope that Liberia would develop further and take its due place in the comity of nations.

The Triumvirate of Self-Kindling

There might have been occasions when you bought a pair of shoes or a few dresses for your children while you were out but later found that they were not of fitting-sizes as the kids tried them. Even during these times of online purchase, you would have sometimes returned unfitting goods and asked for replacements with bigger/smaller sizes to suit you. Is it possible to avoid, if not completely, wastage of time and effort in selecting something that will be suitable for you even when you are bereft of the metrics of the object to be selected? It is possible through equipping oneself with the powers of visualization which is one among the triumvirate that kindles a man from inside, with dream and imagination being the other two. Self-kindling is the process of intellectual churning in a man, which energizes and automates him on a mission-mode. It is the internal light that shows the ways of life.

Visualization is the power of mentally creating an imaged-replica of something that exists as an idea which is developed from a physical object or an intangible. It is the outward projection of a concluded-idea by giving physical features to it on your mind —a mock-up by the mental makeup. It is the bridge from theory to practical. If science is theory, then technology is its practicality, and that which is built on the mind of an inventor who transforms science into technology is visualization. Stephen Covey in his much famed book: “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” cites ‘everything is created twice’ while explaining the habit: ‘Begin with the end in mind,’ by saying that first creation is the visualization of second creation, i.e., output.

Visualization is as difficult and involving as the actual creation of an object, for every nitty-gritty of the creation has to be worked out and perfected in the realm of thoughts before a man can venture out to create the object physically. These difficulty and involvedness are imbibed in the word: visualization itself as its break up will give us visual — see — and ization — the process of making or doing. The founders of the English language were so brilliant that they did not make the noun of visual as ‘visuality’ or ‘visualness’ but visualization because ization in visualization captures the word’s essence: the process of — the process of seeing something in the mind-field in its physical format based on an idea about it. Visualization has two cousins: dreaming and imagination. All three are related to the extent that they are different faculties of mind, with each one serving its own purpose in the overall scheme of self-kindling.

‘Dare to dream’ and ‘ Dream Big’ are motivational prodding making a man to think uninhibitedly and unrestrainedly to leapfrog in order to better himself. Dreams preexist ideas, meaning man can dream for and about anything even when he does not possess any idea about how to go for it. We live to actualize our dreams, so it is important to have dreams. But there is not-so-subtle difference between dreaming and dreamer. A dreamer perpetually lives in dreams and fails to move forward to actualize the dreams. But a man who dreams — dreams big — comes out of his dream to generate ideas to fructify his dream.

Dreaming is the preamble to the foundation of achievement that one aspires for. It is the pre-foundational energy that kindles you from inside. Dreaming can be compared to groundbreaking ceremony for construction of a building. A dreamer will continue to live in groundbreaking ceremonies, one after another, with none taking shape as they intended to be. But one who dreams will further move forward to build the foundation, then, the edifice of one’s dream by generating and actualizing the ideas that are needed for it. Late Abdul Kalam Azad, one of my heroes and a great humanist, exhorted the youths to dream and dream BIG as he knew that unless ‘the ground’ was ‘broken,’ no construction of future could begin.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge,” the great words from the genius Albert Einstein. Implied in the words is that imagination is more potent than knowledge to slingshot you to infinite heights in whatever arena you are engaged in. I wish to say that imagination is creating something out of absolute nothingness but have to restate it as imagination is creating something out of nothingness, for there are peripheral seedings of knowledge that lie around the nothingness, which may or may not have consequential impacts on imagination. Imagination does not have an idea to begin with, rather idea is the first output of imagination. The idea grows as your thoughts weave on it, taking shapes and forms which were oblivious hitherto, ultimately leading to the creation of an image that captures the essence of the idea. Imagination has limits so long as the boundaries are set by you. Imagination takes its logical conclusion when you are able to add flesh and blood to it. In other words, if the initial output of imagination, that is, idea, can be shaped up into an image that can go functionally alive in terms of rewarding, then your imagination has been paid off.

Are there any linkages among these three faculties of mind? In the sequencing of kindling that happens inside a man,  dreaming comes first, followed by imagination and visualization. Dream aspires you for the sky, and imagination weaves the ways to the sky. Unless you dream, you do not get inclined yourself to imagine, so imagination begins from where dream stops. In other words, imagination is the creation in the offing once the laying of the cornerstone for the foundation of your future gets over. Visualization stands on its own and is independent of dreaming or imagination, but I am for characterizing visualization as a byproduct of dreaming and imagination dynamics.

The triumvirate does not come from external source but a deliberate and conscious effort by a man to set himself on fire internally. A man who dreams big without being perpetually in his dreams and that who continues from the groundbreaking done by dreaming through imagination gets energized from inside. Such a man is tracked to push his imagination beyond frontiers and bring fruition to it with ideas as well as aided by importunity and hardworking. Do practice visualization as it takes you to a rewarding level without having to be there physically. Let loose the triumvirate to kindle you from inside in your journey of life.

Becoming an Expert

There are two incidents that prompted me to write this blog. A few years back, I was diagnosed with Crohns disease at a clinic in Sharjah. It is an incurable, autoimmune disease needing lifelong medication, and I was under medication for almost an year. While vacationing in Cochin, Kerala, my wife told me to consult Padmashree Doctor Philip Augustine, arguably the most renowned gastroenterologist in Asia, who is credited with the diagnosis of Crohns disease for the first time in India. When I told him I had Crohns disease, within seconds and by just looking at me he told, “You do not have Crohns disease.” A few tests later proved what he said was correct — I had another gastrointestinal problem which was diagnosed and cured under his treatment.

While playing football with the kids at our housing society recently, I sprained my leg and had to consult an ankle and foot orthopedic doctor, Dr. Rajesh Simon. During the first consultation, he closely examined my sprained-ankle and prescribed 3-week rest with a supporting ankle brace. I met him after three weeks, and by just looking at my ankle he said that my problem was solved. I was surprised because he did not do any close examination of my ankle. So I asked him, “Doctor, how are you able to say I am cured without examining my ankle?” He said, “I knew it from the way you walked into my room.” He further explained that he almost diagnosed “as and from the way” people walked into his room and that further checks were more or less to reconfirm his initial diagnosis.

Not all gastroenterologists are like Doctor Philip, nor have all ankle and foot orthopedic doctors the skills as Doctor Rajesh. These two doctors are experts in their respective areas of specialization. Haven’t you heard about mechanical engineers who can tell which part of an engine has the problem by listening to small aberrations in the sounds of an engine-on-work? All mechanical engineers cannot do it. If we take any field like photography, sales and marketing, farming, teaching, fishing, masonry, cooking, etc., we will find people who stand out with their extraordinary performance. They possess expertise. Why are all engineers or doctors or others in their fields not experts but a few? How did they become experts though their academic credentials were only as good as their non-expert counterparts?

The emblem of my alma mater: Institute of Rural Management Anand, or I.R.MA., one among the many gems of institutions founded by the Father of the Indian Dairy Sector, Dr. Verghese Kurien, is a half-bloom lotus. Once we asked a professor why the emblem was so and that why it was not a full-bloom lotus. He explained that every pass-out, though equipped with management skills, was only half-baked to manage the ways and means and that the petals of the other half were to be added up as he/she progressed in career, leading to a full-bloom professional. Every profession is a march to add petals to the half-bloomed flower called education.

We are familiar with the terms: ‘means to an end’ and ‘an end in itself,’ with the former indicating something is done in order to be led to something else while the latter means that there is only something in something, no something else. It may sound oxymoron to say that every piece of knowledge is an end in itself as well as a means to an end. In other words, every piece of knowledge has as much its own meaning — a purpose to fulfill — as its external linkages. And this purpose to fulfill is the end while the external linkage is the means. A fully-bloomed professional is habituated to understand the end of knowledge but largely misses out the means. But an expert does catch hold of both the end and the means and give due weightage they deserve. Hence, becoming an expert is a journey further and farther ahead from the full-bloom. So, how does one make this journey and become an expert? It is through something I call as Deep Learning.

Deep Learning is understanding “the purpose to full-fill” of a piece of knowledge as well as its “external linkages” in their entirety by acquiring every bit of the knowledge through going deep into its core. Knowledge is shrouded in layers over layers, with each layer adding fruition to your understanding of the knowledge-in-acquisition. As you make this deep-diving into the core with your eyes wide open, you will see the linkages — means — as offshoots from the layers that cover the core. A closer look at the these offshoots will divulge their inalienable connections to the means of other pieces of knowledge around. Furthermore, the layers reflect the characteristics of the core that have congruous or incongruous impacts on the means of adjoining knowledge-area. And the theatre of this process of diving is the profession you are engaged in.

Deep Learning takes a man to the core where crux of the matter is placed. In this process, not only does he understand the end but the means also. The crux of the matter, the layers of and the offshoots from a piece of knowledge together form expertise, and one who possesses them is an expert. This deep and wide diving out to the core is the journey that one needs to undertake to become an expert. You are tracked to add the remaining layers of knowledge as you progress in your profession, but to become an expert, you need to take the journey of Deep Learning.

Crohn’s disease happens deep inside the gastrointestinal tract, which can be studied and understood through internal examination and biopsy, but there are linkages —means — like a person’s overall vitality, facial expressions, etc. based on which an expert like Philip Augustine can quickly read the crux and diagnose the disease. Reading the subtle elements of leg movements, along with layering and offshoot factors like easiness of or difficulty in other bodily movements, can make an expert like Dr. Simon to do a quick diagnosis of the problem in the bones, so does identifying of and reading from an incongruent sound alert the expert in a mechanical engineer. In all these cases, the expertise, i.e., the end and the means of knowledge, acquired through Deep Learning makes them experts. Dive down to the end of the end and the means of the knowledge at stake and become a Deeply-Learnt person, for that is the way to become an expert.

Optimization Vs. Maximization

Management students are taught about optimization and maximization as two closely-linked-yet-differing approaches to the ultimate aim of profit-making in business. Optimization, teachers tell them, is the process of finding the best-possible alternative under the given constraints by maximizing the utilization of helpful factors and minimizing the usage of unhelpful factors. In other words, be effective to get the desired output without compromising efficiency — a difficult task for a manager, where the sum total of the management skills in him/her will be tested as well as put into use in order to get that best-possible outcome. On the contrary, maximization is an all-out effort to get the ‘all but none’ of the intended output without any regard for cost element, so efficiency is not a limiting factor and what matters is only effectiveness in reaping the maximum. In this blog, I will try to look at how optimization and maximization play out in our life and that what impacts they can have on our behavior.

Let me try to explain what these two terms mean in our life — leave professional life. Maximization is the functional attempt prompted by psychological mooring to have all and in full. So maximization is more psychological than functional. Nothing should be left off and that everything needed to be in my pocket is the mindset behind maximization. This mindset is driven more by emotion and less by logic. Hence, maximization can easily be anyone’s baby. But to adopt the child of optimization and make it a part of your character, you need a different approach which is not a default but deliberate. Optimization is adapting to a lean and meaningful way of living, arising out of the realization that what matters the most is the usability and utility value. Let me bare the two words: I meant efficiency by ‘lean’ and effectiveness by meaningful.

A dilemma that can have a lot of bearing on the way we behave in our daily life is whether to choose optimization over maximization or vice versa. By nature as well as by the seasoning from childhood, we are configured to go for maximization, instead of optimization. Maximization is more attractive than optimization because the former touches our most sensitive note — the longing for more. I will illustrate this with an example. Why do people buy new dress? Barring those who are crazy of wardrobe collections and fad-mongers, people buy new dresses when their existing dresses become unusable. Now, the question: do you discard the old, unusable dress after you get new dress? An honest answer from many will be a NO. Why is such an answer? Because people, by nature, want to maximize, not optimize, their possessions. A wardrobe full of dresses gives the satisfaction of maximum although the usability of old and unusable robes is naught, besides, them giving the burden of occupying a sizable portion of the wardrobe. Do you have materials like your old books, old shoes, old combs, etc. for which you already got replacements but continued to clutter your home?

Reluctance to discard the unwanted is at the heart of living with worthless things. Whether the old unusable clothes in your wardrobe or the thoughts about an unsavory incident/person, they occupy significant place in your wardrobe or on mind respectively without having any salvage value. So it is futile to keep unusable things. Discarding the unusable will free up space that will make your life leaner. For example, decluttering of unusable from your wardrobe will make available space to the extent that you might even find that a few cabinets of your wardrobe can be used for storing other things. And continuing with this, if you throw away unusable things from your home, you will find a lot of free space — making your home-space leaner — which can be put into some other meaningful use. Similarly, discarding by obliterating the unusable — so unwanted — thoughts and people from your life will unchain the space being taken by and the time spent for them, which can be used for some other meaningful purpose.

Usability is a part of utility-value. Usability denotes if something is usable, but utility-value is the sum total of all tangible and intangible returns that something can offer. So the tangible part of utility-value is usability. Your wedding dress in your wardrobe can become unusable, but you might draw happiness of seeing and having it in your wardrobe. This intangible happiness is unmeasurable to say that, though unusable, you derived utility-value of happiness by having your wedding dress in your wardrobe. Similarly, there are memories of good things and good people that passed through your life. Though these memories have no usability value, you still derive the utility value of happiness from them, which can act as an impetus encouraging you to succeed further as well as do more good things. The contributions of optimization get amplified if we consider the cascading effects it creates post its adoption. Human brain has around 2.50 petabyte storage capacity — 1 petabyte = 1 million Gigabyte. So the storage capacity of human brain is a limiting factor. Hence a deliberate decision of optimizing the usage of your mental space by uncluttering the unwanted thoughts about incidents and people will give the much needed room to think about better things for your life.

As stated earlier on the blog, maximization is anyone’s baby by default. It offers you the most, and in its pursuit you get cluttered with many things that bog you down. Besides, such cluttering takes away the precious, limited space on your mind or at home, which, otherwise, could have been put into meaningful use.  In other words, you miss the rewards of the beautiful concept called optimization as you go after maximization! Optimize your thoughts to utilize your space and time for a leaner and meaningful life. Optimization is the way for life!

Assimilation – the Grinding Power of Knowledge

There are many factors like goal-setting, determination, passion, hard work, perseverance, discipline, attitude of positivity, receptiveness, etc. that form the ingredients of success. Nonetheless, even when one has all these ingredients, there are chances that one does not succeed in proportion to the success ingredients one puts into work. To put it in a different perspective, imagine that there are two persons who have all these success ingredients at the same levels but that one is more successful than the other. I agree that it is not right to evaluate success in relative terms. But I did it deliberately to address one fundamental question: is there a factor that gives additional mileage to success ingredients , thereby giving a person an edge to have a better harvest of success? Yes, there is one, and it is assimilation. 

Knowledge has informative value as well as inferential value. It is a cosmic fact that a piece of knowledge does not have a marooned-existence but is a link in the continuum of an all-encompassing knowledge-spectrum. We study, for example, Biology and Mathematics as two streams of science with no apparent interconnection. But Computational Biology, Bioinformatics, etc. prove that these two streams are connected and are the tributaries of a bigger stream of knowledge called science that connects with other streams of the knowledge-spectrum. The raison d’etre of assimilation is this cosmic fact. Assimilation is the internal process of mixing and grinding of knowledge acquired from multiple sources to find the interconnecting links among them as well as their linkage to the wider knowledge-spectrum, generating multiple inferences that contribute to a single decision-making inference. Let me explain this with an example.

Imagine that there are two Indians, A and B, who are currently involved in retailing of shoes. Let them have the following information about the ongoing pandemic over a period of, say, two months: vaccines for COVID-19 will be available by December 2020; most of the vaccines under trial are two-shot vaccines; 7.80 billion population — the infected and recovered also needs to be vaccinated as nobody knows how long their immunity toward the virus lasts — of the world needs 15.60 billion vaccines; the vaccines under development need -20 to -80 degree centigrade freezer facilities for storage and transportation; almost all the vaccines in the last stage of the trials are pre-purchased by the governments of the U.S.A, the U.K., the European Union, and China; 70% of the world’s installed capacity for production of vaccines is in India; the Indian government had already alluded that at least 50% of vaccines — foreign or domestic origin — for COVID-19 produced in India would be for the Indians; and a statement by the Indian Union Minster of Health that by July 2021, 0.250 billion vaccines would be made available for the Indians. 

Now, let’s have a look at how A and B respond to the above information with a rider that A does not do assimilation while B has an internalized assimilation process. In the absence of assimilation and based on the knowledge that came in, A will be optimistic that a vaccine by December 2020 and its distribution by July 2021 will restore the status quo ante of pre-pandemic way of living by soon, say, the third quarter of 2021. So A will plan his business, accordingly. 

With the assimilation of the knowledge about the pandemic, B’s thinking will go this way: The Union Minister’s message of making 0.25 billion shots of vaccine available to the Indians by July 2021 is based on the estimation that India can produce 0.50 billion shots of vaccines by using the current production capacity by July 2021, with 50% being allowed to be exported and the remaining for domestic consumption. Since it is a 2-shot vaccine, 0.25 billion shots can vaccinate only 0.125 billion people. India has a population of 1.35 billion, meaning that by July 2021, India will still have 1.225 billion people to be vaccinated. And at that rate, it will take 4.90 years to vaccinate all the Indians against COVID-19. That is 2025. But this period can get advanced to, say, 2022 or 2023 if we consider that Europe and the U.S.A will stop importing vaccines from India once all their peoples are vaccinated. Again, this can be further extended to 2023 or 2024 if we consider the population growth of 22,000 additional people — number of births minus number of deaths — per day in India, as well as India’s commitment to help its neighbors like Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, etc. with the supply of vaccines. The logistical nightmare of ensuring availability of the vaccine @ -20 to -80 degree centigrade can compound the timelines. Based on this assimilative thinking, B makes an inference that status quo ante of people having pre-pandemic lifestyle is not going to happen in 2021 or 2022 but in 2023 or 2024 in India unless the virus disappears on its own and/or installation of additional production capacity for vaccines happens. Based on this assimilative thinking, B will plan his long-term business strategy, accordingly. 

The process of assimilation opened up an entirely different window for B as compared to A. Their knowledge levels were the same, but the assimilation made the difference, with the possibility of B facilitating herself/himself with a harvest of success that will be better than that of A. Assimilation of knowledge is the mother of inference. Knowledge come in now and then, which may get stored in you as something that I call as “know-ledger. You need to let yourself open all the pages of your know-ledger inside the grinding and mixing cauldron of your thought process in order to reap the combined-inferential value that those pages offer. Inside the cauldron of your thought process, the entries in the know-ledger will get connected among themselves as they unwind themselves. The output of this churning process called assimilation is a ‘single powerful inference’ carrying the combined inferential might of all that there is in your know-ledger. And this powerful inference arising out of assimilation of knowledge gives you wings to branch out into a different world of better success than you, otherwise, would have accomplished.

What makes a person to assimilate the knowledge? What made B to assimilate while A did not? Have you seen how a concrete-mixer or cauldron works? A concrete-mixer needs electricity to rotate it while it is heat energy that creates conventional currents in a cauldron. Both concrete-mixer and cauldron give new outputs that carry  the combined might of all those went into the churning process inside them. What is that  that prompts assimilation process in us? The answer is partially there in the initial part of this write — the cosmic fact. The prompt for assimilation is the realization that every bit of knowledge that comes in our way is a link in one of the chains of the bigger knowledge-spectrum and that effectively connecting these links will give a better picture of the matter of fact. It is electricity for concrete-mixer, heat for cauldron and realization of knowledge-linkages that brings about assimilation in you. Do  you assimilate your thoughts?

Land of the Honorable People

Many of you would not have heard of a country called Burkina Faso. I never heard of Burkina Faso till a couple of months preceding my maiden visit to the country in March 2005. Burkina Faso is a land-locked West African country having borders with Ghana, Mali, Niger, Togo, Ivory Coast and Benin.

If you are a student of international politics, you would not have missed out the political explosion that happened in Burkina in October 2014 when the people stormed the parliament, which was in session to amend the constitution for extending the President Blaise Compaore’s 27-year rule, and set ablaze the parliament building. The ensuing public upheaval forced Blaise to flee and take refuge in the neighboring Ivory Coast. Subsequently, there was an interim government that conduced free and fair presidential election leading to the victory of Roch Marc Kabore in December 2015.

This introduction, however, shall not be construed as the Burkinabes being a violent people, for they are not. The storming of the parliament was a desperate attempt to get rid of a president’s prolonged misrule. Burkina Faso means “Land of the Honorable People.” The Burkinabes are among the most honest peoples of Africa. They are peaceful and friendly, and I experienced their hospitality many a time, as recently as October 2019. Before renaming as Burkina Faso on August 4, 1984, the country used to be known as the Republic of Upper Volta.

Kwame Nkruma Road area is the main tourist attraction in Ouagadougou — pronounced as vagadhughu — the capital city which is hardly three kilometers away from Thomas Sankara International Airport, with many hotels based beside and slightly-off this road. The area has a few good Lebanese restaurants, road-side eateries, music, lights and sounds — all that a visitor wishes to have to cool down after a day’s work.

From in and around Kwame Nkruma Road:

Some of you might be aware of an attack by Al Qaida in Ouagadougou in 2016, and it happened at this road. A well-known cafe, CAPUCINO, was devastated with gunfire, killing many. I used to take my evening-teas from this cafe during my visits. It stood as a charred left-out when I saw it in 2017, and passing beside it sent a chill down my spine as the attack happened during the evening time on that fateful day. During the terrorist savage, a nearby four-star hotel named the Splendid Hotel and Taxi Brouse, a popular and economic open air bar situated adjacent to this hotel, were also attacked, killing a few. If you draw a triangle with these three firms as the joining points, they are separated by a few meters only. So you can imagine the area of the attack. Taxi Brouse was a favorite place for me to enjoy African music with beer. None of the attackers were from Burkina, they came from a neighboring country. When I visited Burkina in 2018, the city was back to business as usual — CACPUCINO and the Splendid Hotel were reopened, Taxi Brouse was humming with music. I had my beer and music again!

It is pleasing to say that during my visits from 2005, I could see signs of progress in Burkina like the airport getting a facelift by a largescale renovation, much construction activities, more cars on the road, new restaurants and more such good things in Ouagadougou. The city does not boast of many big buildings. The pictures of a few:

The outskirts of Ouagadougou:

Women hawkers:

With Indian friends in the city:

A click from the premise of Thomas Sankara International Airport, Ouagadougou, in 2017:

Bobo-Dioulasso is the second-largest city in Burkina Faso, around 325 Km South West off Ouagadougou. Though known as a city, it is a small place, closer to a “sleepy village” definition — no hustle and bustle of a city. I visited Bobo a couple of times, with an interregnum of 5 years, and could recall the place during the second visit without any hard-peep as the landscape had not changed much. You may paint me as a negative person, but it is true that I could not see any progress in the city. On the positive side, yes, I had a very smooth bus-ride from Ouagadougou to Bobo as the road was very good — 6-hour journey.

The wholesale market of Bobo:

An important point, as I always noticed, is that the people of Burkina, especially of Bobo, are courteous, showing praiseworthy-hospitality toward visitors. There is so much poverty visible and under-development around, but amongst all these drudgery, the people are peace-loving and courteous! Many misunderstand Africa as a dangerous place, but it is not, and Burkina is a testimony of a peaceful Africa.

The Land of Gold

Rwanda is probably a stumbling block before me to say that Ghana is the best country in sub-Saharan Africa. Ghana is adjudged high on governance, peaceful society, independent judiciary and political freedom — hallmarks of democracy. This Anglophone country has a presidential form of governance, and the presidential election in 2008 saw the winner, John Atta Mills, scoring 50.2% votes against the 49.80% of the rival, Nana Akufo-Addo. Such a razor-thin margin of 0.2% in a presidential election is a perfect storm for upheavals and public violence in many African countries, but nothing of that sort did happen in Ghana. Nana telephoned John immediately after the result was out and conceded defeat. Such is the peaceful and matured democracy that the Ghanaians practice! It was not surprising to see that Barak Obama chose Ghana as the first African country to visit in 2009 after becoming the President of the U.S.A. Ghana owes this peaceful political order to one person, Jerry John Rawlings, Ghana’s first air force pilot who ruled Ghana from 1981 to 2001, first as a military ruler, then, as the democratically elected president for two terms.

Ghana got independence from Britain on March 6, 1957. The next 22 years saw politicians indulging in corruption and poor governance precipitating an economic crisis which forced a group of young military officers led by Rawlings to make a coup d’état in 1979. He ruled for two years, cleaned up the system and gave the power back to a civilian government. But things got back to where it was, and again Rawlings had to take the power back through another coup d’état. He ruled as a military ruler, cleaned up the system as much as he could, resigned from military in 1992, formed a political party: National Democratic Congress, contested and won the presidential election. He was elected again in the next election. As a democratically elected leader, he continued his fight against corruption and set a political order and governance standards that still continue in Ghana. After the constitution-mandated two terms, Rawlings peacefully handed over the power to his successor — a rarity at that time in Africa — and retired from politics. The Ghanaians and the international community hold Rawlings in high esteem and respect.

My first visit to Ghana was in 2004, and it is the country I most travelled to — more than 20 times spanning 16 years. During this period, I saw a lot of developments in the country: hectic construction activities, presence of international banks, many M.N.C.s, uninterrupted power supply, good roads and good public transport, etc. The signs of progress are strikingly visible in Accra. There are many high-rise buildings in Accra, which is fast-developing as a modem city, with many companies like Airtel basing their headquarters of Africa business in the city.

I am not sure if presence of K.F.C. is a sign of progress, but in Africa I had seen it only in a few countries like Kenya, South Africa and Ghana — all stand better-developed to their African peers. A welcome feature of Accra is that there are no beggars on the road unlike in some other cities. Ghana has a literacy rate of 79%. Osu is the name of the city center, and I always stayed at this area.

Ghana is a safe country. It is safe to walk around in Accra ‘without fear’ as I experienced it many times. At times past midnight, I never confronted any problems on the road, nor did anyone ever create any trouble for me. Another city that is comparable to this level of safety is Kigali, Rwanda. In both cities, one can venture out in the night without the fear of unknown.

A traditional dress shop at Osu:

Ghana is known as the Land of Gold as it has huge gold deposits and is one of the major producers of gold in the world. Besides, it is blessed with large deposits of diamonds, bauxite and manganese. It is the second largest producer of cocoa beans after Ivory Coast. A few years back, Ghana started to pump crude oil after the discovery of more than1 billion barrels of offshore crude oil deposit.

‘Let me have it’ instead of saying ‘give me’ is the way most people — be it a cab driver or a trader or in casual conversations — in Ghana negotiate or deal with. Are these two one and the same? Though both asks for the same output, they are different in their effectiveness in reaching to that output. ‘Let me have it’ is unobtrusively persuasive, soft-landing on the-other-person and at the same time without any tinge of plea; on the other hand, ‘give me’ is a plain-asking without any soft-covers. This is a learning for me: use ‘let me have it’ to negotiate or deal with.

Woman Power is all-pervading in Ghana. Many women are involved in business — my customers are women entrepreneurs — and they outnumber men as porters and hawkers at Makola wholesale market.

Ghana has borders with three countries and the Atlantic Ocean. A 4-hour travel by road along the lush green countryside of Ghana to the east will take one to the frontier with Togo. I undertook this travel many a time and experienced the panoramic rural environs of Ghana, and what attracted me the most was the abundant coconut trees.

From the Ghana-Togo frontier:

When I visited Ghana for the first time in 2004, the Ghana currency, Cedis, had an exchange rate of 8500 against US$. After a couple of years, it went up to 10000 against the greenback. The government intervened by removing 0000, came out with new currency in the same name and made it 1 Cedis on par with 1 US$. Today, Cedis has an exchange rate of 5.79 against US$ — close to 680% depreciation against US$ in 16  years. On the other hand, Ghana is the country where I saw maximum development and progress in sub-Saharan Africa during the said period. There are many macroeconomic factors like fiscal discipline, balance of trade, FDIs, FIIs, the Fed’s monetary policies, etc. that have strong bearing on the strength of a currency, and I do not have much idea where Ghana stands on these factors. Wherever it stands on these macroeconomic factors that influence the strength of Cedis, I am happy to see the progress made by Ghana, which is my favorite country in Africa! May God bless Ghana and the Ghanaians who are one of the most amiable peoples I came across.

The Bridges that You Need to Build in Life

The English language lexicon has 1 million words, and of which, 273,000 are headwords. Hence, as a rule of thumb, we can say that 136,500 headwords are the antonyms of the rest. You can get, for example, courage as an antonym of fear. Similarly, hope has despair, it is laziness for hard work and so on. Notwithstanding this, life throws up another set of antonyms whose meanings are not counted for them to be qualified as antonyms of words as mentioned in lexicons. Does fear have an unconventional antonym other than courage or bravery? Yes, it has. Life gives us another lexicon which has words whose meanings are not necessarily as diametrically opposite of other words as used in the languages although they are antonyms capable of meaningfully negating the other words. Finding those missing and immediate antonyms, in fact, is a way to reach the accepted-antonyms as mentioned in lexicons. So, how do we reach the state of courage from the state of fear? By finding the missing antonym that connects the two — the bridge from fear to courage.

I will say that knowledge is the immediate antonym of fear. One cannot reach the state of courage from the state of fear without obliterating the reasons of fear. Once the reasons of fear are taken out of you, YOU are you-less-fear called fearless — courageous. What can take fear out of you? Knowledge. Only does knowledge have the power to take fear out. Fear is the debilitating anxiety that pushes a person to suboptimal mode. Fear can be caused by information about something as well as ignorance. And knowledge is the panacea for both. We are used to hearing this: It happened as I feared — the person knew that something was going to happen and that she/he was fearful of it. What kind of knowledge can take such fears out of a person?  In other words, how can we make the person to change the statement like this: I knew it was going to happen but was prepared. The operative word here is ‘prepared.’  Fortify yourself with as much knowledge as possible about an impending event and be ready with a prepared-mind to face the event as and when it happens — you have replaced fear with knowledge. 

Fear from ignorance is a challenging hurdle to overcome. Before psychology and psychiatry were developed as science, we used to attribute mental illness to curses owing to the possession of a person by demons and devilish forces, hence, were fearful of such persons. But the science of mind brought in knowledge that took out the misunderstanding — fear— due to the lack of knowledge — ignorance — about lunacy. Knowledge lightens out the darkness of ignorance. What about handling the ubiquitous ‘fear of unknown?’ Presumptive knowledge helps one to mitigate the fear of unknown. Travelling to a new country, joining a new company, starting a new venture and similar maiden attempts can evoke the fear of unknown. Presumptive knowledge from the preparatory works is the way to minimalize the fear of unknown. So knowledge is the missing antonym, the bridge, that takes you from the state of fear to the diametrically opposite destination of courage. “Life begins where fear ends,” the words from the Malayalam movie: Mikhael as told to the protagonist played by Nivin Pauly by his father characterized by Babu Antony. 

How do we move from despair to hope?  What is the bridge we need to build to make this passage? The biggest invention of difficult times is self-motivation. Despair is a difficult time, so what could be the immediate self-motivating thought that would act as the platform to catapult oneself from despair to the hope for a better tomorrow? Inspiring stories! Yes, real-life stories of men and women who went through similar patches and defeated their failures. “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life,” J.K. Rowling, the quintessential author of Harry Potter fantasy series, once said. She went through the worst patches of her life; she saw the death of her mother, birth of her first child, divorce from her first husband and poverty making her to live on the state benefits during the 7-year period preceding the publication of her first book. From there, she went on to become the first billionaire writer who mesmerized an entire generation with her ‘magical’ writing — the spirit of this inspiring story of nadir-to-sky lies in the 12-word quote from Rowling. We have many such inspiring personalities like Colonel Sanders, who pulled himself back from the brink of suicide, then, turned himself around and went on build the business empire of Kentucky Fried Chicken, or K.F.C., at the age of 65;  Steve Jobs, who lost the company he once founded but worked his way back to the same company and proceeded on to develop the most iconic product — iPhone — of our times. We have many such inspiring stories before us. The bridge from despair to hope is the motivating and inspiring stories of men and women who rose like a phoenix from the ashes.

There are many other bridges that we need to build to enable our passage from debilitating states to stages of productivity. What is the bridge from negativity to positivity? Similarly,  short temper to maturity. laziness to hard work, theoretical to pragmatism and so on. The distance from negative (-) to positive (+) is a straight-cut that passes through the heart of the negative. In other words, a move from a negative attitude to a mental framework of positivity can be achieved only through a deliberate attempt by the person himself/herself. This deliberate-attempt is introspection-induced self-correction that builds the bridge through the heart of the negativity and transform you to a person of positivity . 

Containment is the antonym-bridge from short temper to maturity — contain the impulsive response and allow yourself to make a measured and weighed in response. Many more bridges are needed to be built to elevate ourselves to the virtues of a wholesome living. What bridges would you build to move from laziness to hard work  or theoretical to pragmatism?    

How do ideas sprout in a man?

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” an English-language proverb and the quote: “Observation: the true mother of invention,” by Jennifer Derome are the underlying themes of this blog. For the last few days, my mind, barring professional routines, was seemingly empty. I looked inside for something to contemplate, but nothing could I find. I felt hollow with nothing apparent on my mind. Is our mind empty when we can not read anything from it? Are ideas latent in a man or do they come from external source?

Many a time, I heard people saying that they were bereft of ideas and got bogged down due to their inability to find ways to move forward. They self-conclude that their minds are empty. But they fail to understand that there is nothing called empty or hollow in life. Even when you say that a room is empty, it is not so because you can still return alive after entering the room — it has plenty of life-saving oxygen. Yes, even when you say that your mind is empty, it is not so as it has the wherewithal to produce many life changing ideas. How can I find out and use my idea-sprouting inherent resources, thereby making myself flourish in life?

Every mind is endowed with resources to generate ideas needed to fuel the life, but all minds do not utilize the resources. That makes me to revisit the fundamental question that I asked earlier: Are ideas latent in a man or they come from external source? To put the question more precisely: are stimulants to ideas inherent in a man or have their source as external? The answer is both — mining for ideas can be characteristic of a person with need as the stimulant at times while it can be an external source working as the stimulant at some other times.

When ideas sprout with its source as the person himself/herself, need is the input — stimulant. A water-body is viewed by a fisherman as a source of livelihood, an angler as a place for pastime and an energy-expert as a source of hydroelectric power. Here, the external source remained the same but the different needs generated different ideas. Needs generating ideas is not that simple as a natural process but a deliberate one. A need can be felt but stopped at that stage itself without transforming into an idea when the person is lazy to further act upon the felt-need even when external sources suiting for the transformation of the need to idea are evidently available.

If you scout for the antonyms of idea, dictionaries will not show laziness as one of them. But laziness is an anathema to ideas. Laziness is the inbuilt penchant to disable one’s own faculty to act in demand with the felt-needs. Procrastination is the baby-laziness. In other words, procrastination grows to laziness. Procrastination has a schedule to revisit, but laziness does not have one. Over a period of time, procrastination matures to laziness when the person starts to set the revisit with an uncertain and indefinite schedule — you have graduated from procrastination to laziness. The best proverb that captures laziness: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” How can one escape from laziness? Procrastinate procrastination!

Laziness has another dimension of remaining in a perpetual state of happiness in the comfort zone of achievement. De-addiction from the coziness of comfort zone is a necessity to defeat this form of laziness from taking root in you. The first step toward this is to think beyond the very factors that brought the comforts. This is easier said than done. A simple technique to pitch up and sustain an urge for progress in life is deliberately treat big things as small things and still aim for bigger things. Mind has a penchant to conquer big things when it is conditioned to see big things as not-so-big things — a self declaration that I am bigger to conquer the big task before me.

External source as the trigger for sprouting of ideas comes from observation. We see or we hear many things is one thing, but we see or hear many things and we learn from what we saw or heard is another thing. That learning comes from observation. Observation is the power of molding oneself to the mode of seeing and hearing things from a student’s point of view. The power of observation is present in all in varying degrees from zero to infinite. For example, feather is one of the lightest substances but cannot move on its own from one place to another — it needs wind for mobility. If you merely see a feather-lying-standstill getting moved by a breeze, then you saw it. But if you see that even a lightest substance like feather needs wind to move it forward and learn from it that nothing happens on its own and that there is an effort behind every way forward, then it is an observation. Observation can be a spark capable of turning a barren mind into a fertile one with ideas. So all is not lost when you are bereft of ideas.

In order to call something as observation, it needs to be objective. But objectivity is a casualty when wishes color our observation. One needs to take care to not allow wishful thinking to infiltrate observation. Many common things we come across act as stimulants for ideas if we closely observe them. What do you see when you see an iPhone or iPad? iPhone, iPad and similar gadgets made the world smaller and flat. But if you look at them from a student’s point of view — observation — you will see the big I and Q — IQ — that made iPhones and iPads possible.

Needs and observations are the harbingers of ideas in a man. Needs felt inside and observations made have the power to stimulate your thinking to produce great ideas capable of taking you through hitherto unexplored areas of mind. Both the English-language proverb and the quote from Jennifer Derome have values in their words. Do act on the felt-needs and be a student of observation, ideas will sprout in you like in the fertile farmland of a hardworking farmer.

Farmer’s hand planting seeds in soil

Chile

Esperanza is a Spanish word that means hope. I heard this word for the first time when Ariel Ticona sent a message to his wife, Elizabeth Segovia, through a fiber optic video link from 2300 ft underneath, telling her to give their new born baby the name: Esperanza. Who is Ariel Ticona? He was one of the 33 miners who got trapped as the San Jose gold-copper mine they worked at caved in in Copiapo, Chile, on August 5, 2010. They endured sweltering conditions for a record 69 days before being rescued and brought back to the world on October 13 through an operation that was watched live on television by more than 1 billion people across the globe. You may have a little bit of Chile at your home in the form of electrical copper wires as Chile is the largest producer of copper in the world.

My first visit to Chile was in April 2007, to the capital city of Santiago, a business trip to scout for a distributor. Subsequently, I visited Santiago a few times. The maiden visit was challenging and thrilling. I was in Sao Paulo to attend a trade fair and did take a chance to visit the Chilean consulate in Sao Paulo to get visa. After so much discussion and persuasion, the consul agreed to stamp my passport with a tourist visa. I booked a one-way ticket to Santiago as I did not know how long it would take to finish my work, but at the Sao Paulo airport I was made to buy a return ticket prior to the check in. I landed in Santiago without a hotel booking around 7 p.m. The taxi driver was friendly and helpful; he took me to a few hotels, finally, to a nice hotel at Miraflores area, the city center. And this area turned out to be a lucky spot for me as my mission was accomplished thanks to this location.

Mira Flores:

Chile is called the Europe of South America as it is the most prosperous country in the continent. I was told that citizens of other Latin American countries come to Chile to make a living. One sore point between the Chileans and the rest of Latin America is that during the Falkland war, the entire South America stood behind Argentina, but Chile supported the United Kingdom. At Mira Flores, the most attractive tourist beacon is Santa Lucia Hill and Park. I remember sitting at Santa Lucia park around 8:30 p.m., but it was not dark yet – a typical South Chilean climate of more daytime accompanied with warm days and cold nights! Santa Lucia Hill, with an altitude of 690 meter and 65,300 square metre area, is the remnant of a volcanic eruption that happened around 15 million years back. The hilltop has a chapel where Sunday mass is held. It also has got remnants of fort and castles.

Santiago has all the trappings of an urban environ like well-paved and clean roads, good-networked transport system — including metro-trains — towering skylines, and so on.

Plaza de Adams is a popular park in Santiago, and even on a working day that I visited the park, it was bubbling with so many people and fun!

Museuo Colonial is another attraction that can not be missed out at Miraflores.

A video capturing the lively moments of a Monday evening of the Santiago city:

Personality – The Rainbow of Life

I saw a rainbow yesterday. It was beautiful, curving from one side of the landmass to another over the skies of the Cochin backwaters. As you may know, rainbow is formed when light bends — refracts — due to reduction in speed as it enters water droplets in the atmospheric air, followed by another bending as it picks up speed while leaving the water droplets, and in this process exhibiting the seven colors of Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange and Red — VIBGYOR — in a beautiful fashion. There are no two opinions that rainbow is one of the most beautiful creations of Mother Nature.

Man is a microcosm of nature, and everything that nature has has a part of it in man. Going by this philosophy, I searched for the rainbow of our life. We, too, have a rainbow called personality which can also be beautiful like the nature’s one. The VIBGYOR of our personality-rainbow is Values, Intention, Benevolence, Gaiety, Youthfulness, Optimism and Reasonableness.

Man bereft of values is not a man but less-than-a-man. How do we define values? Value is a set of dos that unravels how one characterizes oneself through one’s behavior. It is the mix of absolute fundamentals of principles, standards and norms that governs the conduct of a person. Honesty is the principle of telling truth. Punctuality is the standard of being on time. It is a norm to be respectful toward others. There is nothing called more or less honest but honest as honesty is absolute; similarly nothing like less or more punctual; and more or less respecting or respectful. A point to be noted here is that showing more respect is a sign of deception or of vested interest of expecting something in return for that extra respect. Being penniless can be overcome through hard work, but being valueless can seldom be tided over. Values ought to be the axis around which a person builds up his/her character — the mooring of one’s personality. A life without values is meaningless as echoed in the Biblical words: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”

Every action has an intention – purpose – irrespective of whether the person behind the action is aware of it or not. If the person is aware of the intent behind the action, the act is said to be purposeful; otherwise, we say it as an action resulting in unintended consequences. Why do I do what I do? This is probably the most important question one should ask oneself. The question can be paraphrased in a better way; what is the purpose of what I am doing or going to do? If you do not have an answer for this question, you are like an engine-failed boat drifting directionless in the ocean — you are adrift and afloat without knowing the beachline. The sum total of the intentions of your life decides the overall purpose of your life. Life will reward as you intent and act — good giving back good and bad returning bad. Be purposeful — purposeful with good intentions.

There is a saying that humility is the mother of all virtues. Kindness is the first in the list of the virtues. Benevolence is the actualization of kindness. If kindness is a theory, then benevolence is the practical side of it. One can be sensitive to human sufferings but do nothing to ameliorate it — this is being kindful but not benevolent. A person can also be insensitive to human suffering, which is callousness. Showing kindness and acting on that kindness to mitigate the suffering is benevolence. Benevolence has no outer perimeter, it can even go to the highest level of giving up one’s happiness for the happiness of others. And there is no happiness better than the happiness of giving up one’s happiness for someone’s happiness — the ultimate gain from a benevolent act. Though it sounds ironical, giving up happiness gives happiness provided that foregoing has an underlying, self-satisfying cause. Everyone is not benevolent as being benevolent is driven by a cause(s). We need to differentiate between benevolence and the camera-pausing charity gimmicks as the latter do not reflect happiness but pleasure. Pleasure and happiness are different. Pleasure is an effervescence that gives temporary feel-goodness but fades away over a period of time. On the other hand, happiness is the feeling inundated within you from doing a good thing, and it is stable and long-lasting. Be benevolent!

Literarily, gaiety means light-hearted and cheerful behavior. The most beautiful part of this literary meaning is that one cannot be on cheerful mood if one is not light-hearted. Light-heartedness and cheerfulness are mutually inclusive. Light-heartedness is the product of the continuous practice of letting go things which are unproductive as well as have the potential to tie you down to indignation. It is impossible to be cheerful when you hold back and live with ill-feelings. Letting go is the key to light-heartedness as it frees one from the fruitless pain of having a heart that is laden with unwanted and useless feelings. Can you smile at yourself while standing in front of a mirror? That is the beginning of the road to ‘let go.’

Youthfulness is the mindset of having the feel of possessing the vigor and trigger of younger age. It is possible that an young man is for want of this feeling while an elderly man is effervescent with youthfulness. A man is only as old as he thinks. Irrespective of age, there is youthfulness in everyone, with only its levels varying from person to person. Be youthful in your thoughts as thinking so does not demand proof of age.

There is no feeling more rewarding than optimism because it radiates hope, the kindle that keeps one moving forward. Have you ever noticed someone while him/her telling that it is a hopeless situation? If yes, you would have seen an energy-drained, frowned and disappointed face! Optimism is the radiance that keeps you moving. One of the most difficult things in life is to remain optimistic during pessimistic times. Be optimistic as it keeps you going.

Reasonableness is being on the side of the reason, not any reason. There is a natural reason or a set of reasons behind the events and incidents with which we get involved, and being on the side of that or those reasons makes us reasonable. In other words, reasonableness is being in harmony with the natural reasons. Being in harmony with the underlying reasons makes you fair in your interactions with people. And being reasonable with oneself is the beginning of showing reasonableness toward others.

Light is made up of electromagnetic waves, each wavelength representing a colour. VIBGYOR is what is visible to our eyes, with the rest colours being outside our retina. Violet represents the shortest wavelength, so it bends the most as light enters and exits the water droplets while Red’s wavelength is the longest one, bending the least. And Indigo, Blue, Green, Yellow and Orange bending in decreasing fashion, thus, making VIBGYOR of rainbow. Violet is the base while Red adorns the surface of the rainbow. The VIBGYOR of our personality-rainbow also has a similar make with Values forming the base and Reasonableness being the outer layer of our character, along with Intention, Benevolence, Gaiety, Youthfulness and Optimism playing their parts. Introvert or extrovert, one’s rainbow of personality will be displayed as one passes through the water droplets of interactions with others, with its beauty or lack of it representing the nature of one’s personality traits. In your life, you would have come across people about whom you said: I like his/her personality or I do not like his/her personality. Either of these statements reveals one thing: you knowingly or unknowingly noticed the traits — colours — of his/her personality — rainbow. Have a rainbow-personality which is as beautiful as the nature’s one.

The Land of Maradona

The first time I ever heard of Argentina was in 1986 during the Football World Cup, and I fell in love with Argentina right away, thanks to the great Diego Armando Maradona. It was always a dream to be in the land of Maradona, and that dream came true in April 2007 when an opportunity came my way to make a business trip to the capital city of Buenos Aires. I, subsequently, visited Argentina a few times, with the last being in 2014. Though Maradona left the field long time back and that the latest sensation Messi was dribbling all along, Maradona still continued to be the god of football in Argentina. He is held in such awe and admiration in Argentina! The Argentinians and the Brazilians still do not agree on who the greatest footballer of all times is: Pele or Maradona?

Bienvenidos Ala Argentina meaning Welcome to Argentina was what I saw as I entered Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, the international airport in Buenos Aires, after the disembarkation.

I still remember the euphoria that overwhelmed me when I set foot in the airport. I flew from Santiago, Chile, to Buenos Aires and was the only Asian — a rare, inexplicable feeling that I got used to in the subsequent years — in the flight! The immigration procedure was easy, and I got out of the airport without facing any problem. The Buenos Aires airport is one of the few airports in South America, where sniffer dogs are used to check baggage for explosives. The taxi driver, who tried to pick up a conversation in Spanish, with me not being able to understand anything except that he was trying to say he was happy to meet an Indian. He continued his welcoming conversation till he dropped me at the hotel at Avenida Corrientes, the main thoroughfare in the heart of Buenos Aires.

Avenida Corrientes:

I always stayed at Avenida Corrientes, which had easy access to all the available transport modes, including metro trains. I recommend this area for putting up if you happen to visit Buenos Aires.

A lane to Avenida Corrientes:

At the intersection of Avenida Corrientes and 9 de Julio is the Plaza de la República, where stands tall the Obelisco de Buenos Aires, the national, historic monument of Argentina. The iconic monument standing 221 feet tall was constructed in 1936 to commemorate the 400 years of the foundation of Buenos Aires City.

The red lines are the dedicated bus lanes. Many Latin American countries like Peru, Chile, Mexico etc. have dedicated bus tracks with the bus stops built at the center of the road. One African country where I saw similar dedicated bus tracks was Tanzania. The city is adorned by many other monuments, and I captured a few of them.

The city also has many public parks, and the following are from one such park.

The Presidential Office is located near to one park. The beech colored office’s beauty gets amplified in the fading lights of the evening sun.

Argentina saw a coup d’état in March 1976 when the democratically elected President Isabel Peron was overthrown by military junta, and the military dictatorship continued till December 1983 when democracy returned to the nation. During the military reign, many activists were picked up by the military only to be never returned — they were made to disappear from the face of the earth by the brutal regime. There is one place under a bridge, where the pictures and names of those victims are exhibited.

A few buildings from Corinates Avenue.

A write-up about Argentina without mentioning Tango is like having a discussion on Indian cuisines without saying anything about spiciness. Tango is the spice of Argentina. Tango is the traditional dance of Argentina, evolved in 1880s along the Rio de la Plata, the border between Argentina and Uruguay. Tango, initially developed among the African slaves, is a mix of three dance-and-music fusions: African Candombe, Spanish-Cuban Habanera and Argentinian Milonga. It is a partner dance, with the partners making synchronized moves of tapping their legs on the ground and producing rhythmic sounds. You will come across both exclusive Tango theaters as well as roadside Tango performers in the busy streets of Buenos Aires.

From the streets of Buenos Aires:

If you happen to be in Argentina, do not leave the place without having ‘Mate,’ the national drink of the country. Mate is prepared by filling a container with powdery mixture of dried and ground leaves of Yerba, a herbal plant containing caffeine and xanthine alkaloids, and pouring hot water — not boiling water — over the mixture and drinking with a straw, the Bombilla. The container of Mate is unique, and I bought it as a souvenir.

Mate is also consumed in Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and parts of Chile and Brazil.

I had an opportunity to visit La Bombonera Statdium owned by Boca Juniors, one of the Argentinean football clubs. It was learnt that both Maradona and Messi used to play for this club. They also played at this association football stadium. Pictures and portraits of the Argentinean god of football were all around the stadium walls and the premises. The shop that sells souvenirs at the place had more of them of Maradona than any other footballer. Every Argentinian that I met had praise and awe for Maradona in his/her words, and that was why I titled this blog the way I did. Pele is mesmerizing, but Maradona is my most preferred for the best footballer of all times.

I went for a sightseeing bus-ride that took me to the city outskirts that looked like a village. The following images were captured from there, them possibly portraying the Argentina’s heroes, culture, history, colonial past, way of life and so on.