When the teacher is ready, the student may come

We have evolved from “a rolling stone gathers no moss” to “change is the only changeless thing”.

Gone are the days when it took a lifetime or more for things to change. The last 20 years have put us through multiple changes in almost all aspects of our daily and professional lives. You are ostracised if you think otherwise. The gentle ones call you “old-fashioned” and the harsh ones call you “a regressive fanatic”.

At first look, I give the quick impression of being the second. I have to blame my vehement style of talking and a husky, near-male voice thanks to years of inhaling asthma medicines.  I am actually the opposite. Oh well, not quite. You could say I play the devil’s advocate. I only attempt to point out the dangers of embracing something without discretion. I ask that we consider that somethings may not be all be that good.

If there’s one area where change is bad but is irreversibly happening is in the field of education. I can say this because I have been in the tertiary education field for 14 years now.

Talking of education, the system of education as we know –  scores of children, selected from similar demographic backgrounds, listening to teachers for 20 years and still not having any real practical skill – is quite a recent phenomenon.

In all societies, education was specific to families and professions. It was never understood as ability to read and write. People learned the skills and competencies from childhood, within and besides their families. There was no stress of failing, because you cannot fail when you learn from your own people who have been doing it for centuries.

Such a model surely created pockets of skills that were not easily shared with outsiders. What was in the family or clan was passed on only to its members. Such a situation was ideal for excellence because excellence takes time; excellence cannot happen with first timers struggling to get out something within a deadline.

In the business school scene in India, education is a business; offered like a “service” leading to the dangerous situation where the student thinks of himself as a “customer” expecting that he be educated without being disciplined or without putting himself to hard work.

Education, like medicine, is not a service. I cant find a word to describe. It is a relationship based on trust and respect from the receiver of education or medical care and ethical responsibility and professional pride on the part of the teacher or doctor.

When you simplify it as a customer-service provider relationship, it gets ugly.

I see students today saying opening that they have paid huge fees and therefore should be pandered to. Their misdemeanours pardoned and irresponsibilities looked over.

Going to learn something or get treated is like going to a gym. You pay huge amounts to be a member of the gym. But you do not lose weight or gain shape because you paid. You have to work, sweat till it aches and pains in every bit of your body. It is implicit that you are responsible to go through the grind to get what you want. The gym is just the place with the facilities to do that and with facilitators who advice you how to go about it.

An educational institution is like a gym. But a much better place. As much as skills, you learn character at a place of education. Character that is the foundation for any career in any field – honesty, integrity, social responsibility, conscientiousness, and other traits that are indispensable for building organisations and societies.

You do not develop those qualities if you do not want to be disciplined because you paid a lot of fees. Sure you did. By paying the fees, you expressed consent to be disciplined in the ways considered appropriate by the institution.

That seems to be lost on many students today. The severe competition and fight for survival among business schools in India doesn’t let the owners and managers of these places to uphold the basic tenets of education. It is not a service or a business. It is beyond that.

Gone indeed are the days of “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. Today, When the teacher is ready, the student may come”.



Being Dead

There is a lot of research and evidence available on near-death experiences.  There are recordings and interview transcripts with people who have died and come back to their bodies after a while.  Since the western world seeks evidence, there is a lot of it collected and available. In the eastern world of India, we have a lot of reported cases and experiential stories of those who have been dead and come back.

The pre-cremation rituals that Tamil Brahmins follow confirm the empirical stories.  The soul after death, wants to come back. To re-enter the body it inhabited for long. In the few reported cases, the souls managed to do that and thereafter narrated their out-of-the-body experiences vividly.

The basic premise on which these rituals is that the soul of a regular person is highly attached to the body it inhabited and to the surroundings and people it was associated with.  The scriptures say that death itself is in stages and it takes a few hours before all the levels of living dies out.  The soul hangs around its body and yearns to come back.  To enable the soul to cut itself loose, its first love, its body is burned. The sooner the better. Within three hours of death is the ideal time prescribed.

Bodies of sadhus and sanyasis are not cremated but interred because they are presumed to be unattached to their bodies and they have no possessions and relations to look back to anyway.

Even with the body gone, the soul hangs around. To help it go away, for the first 13 days, several offerings and chantings are made.  It is also believed that if the dead person has lived well, the soul will take birth in 40 days. The time needed for human conception. The premise again being that the person accumulated the right kind of karma to be eligible for a human birth.

So, the rituals continue every month for one year – the time the soul takes to be reborn as a human.

The point of my writing this long a review of death and post death experience is that I think I know how it must feel to be dead.

Hold a sec, I haven’t died or had a near-death experience. But I think I know.

I changed my job recently which required me to stay in two different world cities – four months out of six months.  I have never lived alone and never travelled out of my country.  I got to do what I should have done as a single person, in the 20s. Here I was in my mid-40s, with two young children and several running responsibilities going off to live in Singapore for 10 weeks and Dubai for 8 weeks.

Suddenly, I was in a vacuum – away from my regular life, away from my surroundings, my family, my people and my comfort zone.

I was as good as dead.

I only learned through messages and calls about this problem or that. About this development or that. About him or her. I could only listen and advice. But not do anything more.

Slowly, I saw my family limping on.  The friends and acquaintances who were eager to message me, now got used to my exotic job. My children and husband learned to manage their daily conundrums without me. It is not that they did not love me or miss me. But life has to go on. Words like “I miss you” or “I love you”, mean nothing unless we give life to them with our presence and

I was irrelevant. As in, people did get on with their lives, if you werent there. It was good to know, but it also hurt.   I could do nothing more but brood because I cant leave till the job is finished.

At least, I have a return ticket and a visa that will expire.

How helpless and hopeless would it be for the disembodied soul to look down on its family and friends crying and wailing one day.  And to see that they all get back to their lives, eventually.

You made a difference, or thought you made a difference, but not any more.

It is very painful. But it’s the truth.  I think I know what it is to be dead. It’s not nice.




Why Game of Thrones (GoT) is the West’s Mahabharata

I watched 67 episodes of the Game of Thrones – Season 1 to Season 7 in a week’s period.  You can understand what kind of devotion the series inspires.  The only thought that kept coming to me as the series progressed is how similar it is to India’s greatest epic – the Mahabharata. I will call GoT the Mahabharata of the west for the following reasons:

  1. GoT has multiple storylines that merge and diverge and merge again. The Houses of Stark, Lannister and Targayrean, mainly. But also the houses of Greyjoy, Bolton and Tyrell.
  2. Complexity of characterisation: The characters are not black and white. The characters evolve and show shades of grey right through. Barring Lord Petyr Baelish who is consistently cunning, most other major characters show a gradual change mainly dictated by the circumstances they face. The characters retain the basic traits, but learn several things along the way, the hard way. There is no one spared.
  3. Privilege doesn’t come free – The beauty of GoT is the way it shows the terrible price and choices that people in power and privilege pay. Anyone watching GoT will never envy the rich and the powerful anymore.  For the majority of us, coming from poor or less privileged backgrounds, the story is really simple. I had nothing, I achieved something. GoT shows that it is not such an easy line for the ones born to power or privilege or wealth. The pains they undergo to retain it and to be worthy of it is portrayed for all the characters.
  4. Men are victims of the system too – The concepts of honour and valor binds everyone, men or women. We do see the women characters talk about how difficult it is to be women and be respected. We see Lady Brienne mocked all through for her physical structure and her choice to be a knight. Arya Stark says this to her sister Sansa how difficult it is for women to make their own choices.  But the fact is men in GoT don’t say it, but they are victims of the system too. Jon Snow, for all his valor and virtues, is insulted time and again as a bastard, denied legitimacy and respect. Ramsay Bolton reacts entirely differently to his illegitimacy. His sadism and violence is but a way to make up for his lack of legitimacy and the insecurity that comes with it. You are either the hunter or the meat, like some character in the series said. Theon Greyjoy is mocked again and again for his losing his balls and not being a man. Tyrion Lannister is again mocked again and again for his being a dwarf.  He cannot marry the woman he loves because he is a lord and a lord cannot marry for love.

This is much the same as Karna being mocked for his being born in a lower caste or           Arjuna being forced to share his wife with his elder brother.


  1. Good may triumph but at a very huge price and the bad have their turn too- The starks maybe good. But they faced the harshest life situations – each one of them till they get some peace and privilege. The Lannisters maybe conniving and ruthless. But they had the best time, most of the time. And they suffered too.  Dhridhrashtra and his sons reigned the longest, enjoyed the best of life , even though they were bad. The Pandavs were good. But they suffered more.

Game of Thrones presents the human quandary set in a fantastic medieval world. The quandary is not much different from what it was in the Mahabharata, composed 5000 years ago in an entirely different culture and context.

Are you an onion or a tomato?

On a teaching assignment in Dubai, I have begun to cook for myself in the modest kitchen facility available at the studio accommodation given to me.  When I say “modest”, I am being gentle. The knife that I use for cutting vegetables is so blunt that I could actually punch it into my heart and nothing would happen to me. I wonder if magicians use such tools to stage those amazing shows of self-mutilation and other dangerous stunts from which they escape unscathed.

I really don’t enjoy cooking. But my boredom and loneliness got the better of me.The crux of why I am writing this piece is about what I realised while cutting various vegetables.  Do you know what vegetable gave me the toughest time? Onions?  Beans? Carrots? beet roots?  No! the soft and juicy tomato !  I wondered why? Shouldn’t it be easier to cut the tomato, because it is so soft.

Or maybe, that IS the reason why it is difficult to cut tomatoes. Drawing out life lessons from this, I think that a knife can cut something only if it faces resistance from the thing that it cuts. A hard vegetable like an onion or beet root provides a resistance for the knife to go through, however blunt it may be. Tomatoes, on the other hand, offers no resistance. So the knife gets no opposing pressure to cut against.

When I see around me, those people who are rigid and egoistic easily get crushed by life problems and challenges But those who are humble and soft are less affected by it.  If we know whether we are hard or soft internally, we should know how we will be able to weather the troubles and tribulations that we encounter in life.   Are you an onion or a tomato?

Who am I?

The spiritual tradition of India is filled with stories of people who attained enlightenment by asking the question “who am I?”  Our tradition also is firm in the concept that “when the student is ready, the teacher appears”.  It is never that the teacher goes about enlightening people. The quest for learning, wisdom or enlightenment has to come from within.

This teacher could be anyone. Even your own student.  In the course of a conversation, one student today challenged me to answer the “who am I” within 12 hours by tomorrow 8 a.m.   And by 10 p.m., this is what I had to say about who I am.

I am an emotional person with a keen sense of humour and intelligence. My natural talent for language, dramatic style of articulation and unconventional take on life and society makes me a good teacher, captivating conversationalist.

My life experiences make me irreverent to all institutions, I distrust all institutions because I lack the skills to navigate them and consider myself a victim than a beneficiary of most institutions. I feel an outlier or outcast everywhere. Most institutions work on certain accepted norms and rules, which the members never question.  Whereas, I dislike excessive rationality and logic because I believe that the truth is beyond logic and facts.

The next most remarkable thing about me is that I am not materialistic nor careerist. If I look back on the last 20 years of my work life, I see that I neither pursued a career nor big money. I basically wanted to do something that I liked, without excessive interference from individuals and organisations in the form of bosses or bureaucracies.  I don’t seek to belong with anyone, or any organisation or any institution.

That maybe the main reason why I never built a career or never stuck in a profession that required me be in a team and belong in a regimented, hierarchical organisation.

Till now, I put up with the pretence of keeping a job or a career because I tried to belong, tried to be like others by taking up roles that other people take in institutions like marriage, family, organisations.

Since I don’t intrinsically believe in belonging, I find living in social roles suffocating. I see that I am not able to be myself and don’t seem to want what I get by pretentions.

What I always wanted was to just be me. The natural place for me seems to be one that I have to create for myself, where I can be just me.

Many, many people from various walks of life have admired my forthright honesty and unique way of looking at life, society and career. I know that If I allow myself to be my authentic self, my magnetic charisma will attract and influence far more people than I have imagined possible.

I am a thought leader, stopping myself from being myself.

Having said that, for me, influencing people and being famous is not the end. It may be an outcome that I will surely relish.  What is truly important for me is to be myself, to let my voice be heard.   I am convinced that if I am authentic and have something original to say, fame and people will come.


Only Time will Tell

Here is the text of my Project 3 speech in the storytelling Manual towards my Advanced Communicator Bronze certificate


Good evening toastmasters of the day, fellow toastmasters and guests.

I want to share with you a story that helps us to manage the ups and downs and challenges we face every day. And I hope you find a moral today.

Once upon a time in ancient India, there lived an old man in a tiny village.  Although poor, he was envied by all. For he owned a beautiful white horse; a horse that no one has seen before. People offered fabulous price for his horse. But the old man always refused.

“This horse is not a horse. To me, he is a person. How can you sell a person. To me, he is a friend. How can you sell a friend?”  The old man was poor and the temptation was great. But he never sold the horse.

One morning, he found that the horse was not there in the stable. All the neighbours came to see him and scold. “You old fool, we told you that someone will steal your horse. You are so poor, how do you hope to protect such a valuable animal. It would have been better to have sold him. You could have got whatever price you wanted. No price was too high for him. Now the horse is gone and you have been cursed with misfortune”.

The old man responded, “don’t speak too quickly. It is true that the horse is not in the stable. Tha’s all we know. The rest is judgement.  If I am cursed or not, only time will tell. how can you know?  How can you judge?

The people of the village were frustrated. “Don’t you say we are fools. We may not be philosophers. Great philosophy is not needed. The simple fact that your horse is gone is a curse”.

The old man spoke again: “All I know is that today morning the stable was empty and the horse is gone. The rest I don’t know. I cant say, whether it is a curse or blessing. All we can see is a fragment of life. Who can say what will come next?”

The people laughed: “Ha ha”

They always thought the old man to be a fool. If he wasn’t, he would have sold it and lived off the money. But he was a poor woodcutter who lived hand to mouth in the misery of poverty.

15 days later, the horse returned. He had not been stolen. He had run away to the nearby forest. Not only had he returned, he brought a dozen similar wild horses with him.

Once again, the village people gathered around, and said, “Old man you were right, what we thought was a curse, is a blessing. Please forgive us”.

The old man spoke again, “Once again, you go too far. Say only that the horse is back. And that it returned with a dozen more. But don’t judge. How do you know if it is a blessing or a curse. You see only a fragment. Unless you know the whole story, how can you judge?  can you judge the whole book, by reading one page of the book?  You listened to one half of a phrase, can you understand the whole phrase?

The gathered people whispered to themselves,  “Maybe the old man is right”. But they kept quite. Deep down, they knew, it was a blessing. Twelve wild horses came back. With a little bit of work, those animals can be broken, trained and sold for a lot of money.

The old man had a son. Only son.

The young man began to train the wild horses. After a few days, he fell from one of them and broke both his legs.  Once again, the villagers gathered and told, “Old man, you are right. The dozen wild horses were not a blessing, they were a curse. Your only son has broken his legs. And now in your old age, you have no one to help you. You are poorer than ever”.

The old man responded, “you people are obsessed with judging. Say only that my son broke his legs. Who knows, if this is a blessing or curse? Only time will tell. We only see the fragment. Life comes in fragments.


Boom Boom Boom Boom. Boom

It so happened that a few weeks later, the country engaged in war with the neighbouring country. All young men in the village were required to join the army.   Only the son of the old man was spared. All villagers once again gathered and cried.

Their sons have been taken. There was little chance they will return. The enemy was strong and the war would be a losing battle. “Old Man, you are right. You son’s breaking his legs is a blessing.  Our sons are gone for ever”.

The old man spoke again, “It is impossible to talk with you people. You always draw conclusions. Say only this, your son had to go to war. And mine did not. No one knows if this is a blessing or a curse. No one is wise enough to know. Only God knows”.

In conclusion, the old man was right. We only have a fragment of life at a time. Only a page out of the full book. Time alone will tell whether what happens is a blessing or a curse. What is a blessing today may become a curse tomorrow. And vice versa. There is no use in over reacting to the events and circumstances of our everyday life. It is best to take life one step at a time. Yesterday was a memory, tomorrow is a dream. The only reality is today.

Over to you Toastmaster

Vacuum and Me

Here is the text of my Project 2 speech in the Storytelling Manual for my Advanced Communicator Bronze Award


if we believe one event made the other one happen, we call them cause and effect. If we think one event is the response to the other, we call it a reaction. If we think someone deserved what happened, we call it retribution or reward. If we cannot find a reason for the two events’ occurring simultaneously or in close proximity, we call it an accident. If we cannot find a relation between incidents, we call it a coincidence.

Is everything that happens in this world connected? Do events create resonances like ripples across a net? Or do things merely co-occur and we give meaning to these co-occurrences based on our belief system?

Toastmaster of the day, Fellow Toastmasters and most welcome guests, I am not going to ask you whether you believe that there is a larger design behind what we call coincidences. That it is a word we use when we cant see the levers and pulleys of our lives.

I am going to let you decide for yourselves after you listen to my story.

It is very common these days that people live in many cities, not just within a country, but between different countries. But 35 years ago in India, it was a big deal that my father was working in a bank and we lived all over India, which as you know is a big country.

So it happens that in the year 1990, I was in Grade XII in Kolkata, on the eastern side of India. Let me say first of all, I was a good student, as in, I was well-behaved, conscientious and hard working. In all my 12 years of schooling, 6 years of college and 4 years of PhD, I got punished only once. And for what?

I challenged my English teacher, in front of my entire class, on the spelling of the word vacuum. The teacher said “vacuum” and I insisted it was “vaccum”. You never challenge a teacher on her turf. The consequences can be dangerous. I am a professor myself now. I know.

I didn’t know it then. I was what 18 years old? The teacher saved my face in front of my friends by asking me to check for the correct spelling. If her spelling turned out to be the correct one, I was to write it a 100 times. Needless to say, I ate the proverbial humble pie and submitted the “imposition” the next day.

Little did I know then that, that word vacuum was going to keep coming back to me all my life. A connection so remarkable that I have to agree with the world’s greatest physicist, Albert Einstein who has said that “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining Unknown Author”.

Thirteen years later in 2003, I met and married my husband in Mumbai on the western side of India. It was not an arranged marriage. But a love marriage. All women marry a guy she likes at the right age. I liked him because he was and still is a very handsome man – slim, tall, fair-skinned, gentle and well employed. I don’t know if we make a decision to marry a person on his job content. I didn’t. I only knew that he was a scientist working in India’s top nuclear research laboratory.

I learned eventually during our months of dating that he was among the top five scientists in the whole world who study vacuum and its nuclear and industrial applications.  He designs and creates vacuum-based instruments.  I asked him just this week when I was preparing for this speech about the probability of our coming together actually happening. He does the math better than me, you know. He said, “It is next to nothing.”  Our coming together was destiny, fate, co-incidence.

A year later, in 2004, we gave birth to our first child, our son. And How?

Those of you who have children, would know that gynaecologists classify the process of birthing a child into 5 types – vaginal birth, caesarean, vaginal birth after caesarean, forceps delivery and vacuum extraction. It’s a procedure where the gynaecologist applies a vacuum (a soft or rigid cup with a handle and a vacuum pump) to the baby’s head to help guide the baby out of the birth canal during the course of vaginal childbirth.  We had to do it because our son was a big baby at 4.5 kgs at birth and we did not want a caesarean birth.

I am not sure whether my husband was more happy about the birth of our son or about the application of his field of specialisation in the birth of his son. I can still remember him explaining the principle of vacuum to the gynaecologist even as she was pulling out our son and I was screaming in pain.

Twelve years later in February 2016, I had to undergo a surgery to remove a swelling in my chest bone that was so located between my lungs that the incision could not be stitched and had to be left to heal by itself. Even my bone had to be scraped a bit to remove the cyst. The incision was 5 inches deep and one inch wide; you could practically see the bone.  I felt pain in every letter of the word excruciating.

The only way my pain could be reduced was with a technique called vacuum-assisted (VAC) therapy which is a widely acknowledged method for chronic and traumatic wound healing. Basically, a mild vacuum suction was attached to my chest for a 5 full days.  It still took me 2 more months for the wound to close up.

The open wound looked so hideous and yet my husband used to dress the wound every day. During that period when I was most depressed, I thought that it was my husband who helped me heal in the form of vacuum.

Toastmasters, these are one too many vacuumic (that’s a word I created with no fear of imposition!) things happening in my life, I should say. Till this date, I don’t know the technical definition of vacuum. I just know vacuum is technically nothing. But it is everything. In my life.

Maybe it was for this reason that 25 years ago, my teacher ensured that I got vacuum right. For vacuum was going to be an integral part of my life.

It’s hard to believe in coincidence, but it’s even harder to believe in anything else. If there was no such thing as coincidence, there would be no such word. As the English Author G K Chesterton said, “Coincidences are spiritual puns”. When I reflect on my life so far, I cannot but agree with the spiritual thought leader Deepak Chopra, “When you live your life with an appreciation of coincidences and their meanings, you connect with the underlying field of infinite possibilities”.

I am clear on the matter of coincidences. What about you?

Over to you Toastmaster.