Tuesday, 18 April 2017

We Indians | #MoreIndianThanYouThink

This incident happened way back in 1998, when I visited Cyprus for  a month on an official tour, for the completion of a huge software project which our organization was doing for the Land Department , Government of Cyprus. I had put up in a hotel in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus.  Another colleague of mine, Rajat Lala had been posted there for a year. He had rented a small apartment and stayed with his wife and 2 year old daughter. 

Every weekend my wanderlust did not let me rest in peace. I had to explore new places around Nicosia.  It was one such weekend when me, Rajat, his wife and daughter set out to visit The Aphrodite's Rock. It was about 1.5 hours drive from Nicosia. 

It was a bright and sunny Sunday morning. The blue sky of Cyprus was captivating. We reached the destination eating  sandwiches, chicken rolls, chips and sang old hindi numbers on our way. 

The beach and the rock was breathtaking !

Legend has it that Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, rose from the waves in this strikingly beautiful spot. There are several versions of the story of the goddess's birth, but the most famous is that Aphrodite rose from the sea on a scallop shell. Blown by the wind, Aphrodite's first stop was on the island of Cythera, but this was such a tiny island that Aphrodite kept moving and eventually got to Cyprus, where she began living in Paphos. 

We sat on the soft white sand , admiring the clear blue water of the sea. The huge , gigantic and beautiful rocks were enchanting. Far away, the clear blue sky and the blue water of the sea mingled with each other giving us a feeling of perfect unison. We were spellbound . 

It was almost sunset. The blue sky started getting streaked with the orange rays of the sun. It was a heavenly sight . 

Suddenly , a lady came towards us.  A sweet little girl, about 3 years old, clutched her hands. 

"Excuse me . Can I request you something ? My husband had gone for a swim about 30 minutes back and has not yet returned. I .. I .. am going towards the end of the rock to check him out. Will you please take care of my daughter for 15 minutes ?

 Her eyes glistened with unshed tears. 

Rajat looked at me . I nodded. 

"Sure ! Don't worry ! She is safe with us ... "

"I know ... You are from India , right ? " 

"Yes !"

The lady managed to smile and went into the water . She started swimming and waved at us. We waved back. 

We gave kaju barfi to the kid to stop her weeping. She liked the sweet and wanted more ! Within minutes, she became friends with Rajat's daughter and started playing. 

Minutes passed. 15.. 20.. 25 .. ! 

The sun was setting.  

We started getting worried. 

Suddenly I saw a small red dot near the rock . 

"Look Rajat ! I think it is the kid's mother .. is she indicating for help ?

The beach was almost isolated. 

"But she was wearing a blue swim suit !"  

"Let's go !" I stood up . 

"But ... we don't have a change ! You will be wet ..."

"She is our guest Rajat , and she has asked for help. See this sweet girl . We have to help.  Atithi Devo Bhava .. our Indian culture .."

Rajat and I dived into the water and swam towards the rock. We could feel the strong current. But we braved ourselves and targeted the red dot near the rock. 

We were totally exhausted when we reached the spot. And it was her ! The lady had somehow perched herself on the rock . She was holding her almost unconcious husband. We had to take him to the shore. 

"Rajat ... how ??? " I squeaked. 

"Wait, I have an expandable  plastic sheet with me in my pocket.  If we can create a sail with that, we will be able to take advantage of the wind blowing towards the land ... but ... how will we create the sail ...we need a rod ... a rope ...  "

We Indians always have a Jugaad mentality . 

"Rajat ! I have a elastic hair band ! I will open it and create a rope !"

The lady looked as. She was completely dazed and exhausted. We were speaking in Hindi and she could not understand anything  But I guess she understood the word "rod". 

"Here ... Here ... " She indicated at something on the rock.  We looked up. Yes... about 2 feet up, there was a small twig, swaying in the wind. 

"Rajat ... quick ... it is getting darker .."

Thank God Rajat had undergone mountaineering training during his college days. That is the reason he had that plastic sheet and now he could climb up and break the twig and we lo ! We had the rod. 

In the increasing current , and all of us precariously perched on the edge of the rock, we created a sail . Then Rajat  held the Lady's husband in one hand and the sail on the other. I and the lady tied the sail with in one hand and swam towards the shore . 

It was very very difficult and exhausting. 

I started chanting Hanuman Chalisa and Rajat too joined me. 

Finally, we reached. 

Rajat's wife was crying frantically. A few local people had gathered and we managed to take him to a nearly hospital. 

I left my email address with the lady. 

After two days , I received the following email ...

Dear Godsend friends, 

I don't know how to thank you. That day you saved my husband and saved our family. My little Anne , my husband Robert and I are forever indebted to all of you. 

You know, when I left my daughter with you, I knew that you will take care of her till I return. You know why I was so sure ? Because you are Indians. You know the value of families. I have read  about India. I know about Mahatma Gandhi and how he helped the people of South Africa. A great man . 

 But I personally experienced the Indian culture that day

You care about your guests. Your great sense of Jugaad helped in saving our family, our lives. I am really amazed at how you created the sail !! How can I learn Jugaad ? 

This is my address. If you visit us , we will be very very happy. 

And yes, now I am determined to visit India for our next vacation.  I want to see the great country who has nurtured people like you !

Thanking you again.

Till we meet ! Namaste !

Gratefully , Susan


*** 


Rajat called me yesterday.

"Look at the new advertisement by Luftansa . I have whatsapped you the link .. you will love it .. I was reminded of  that incident in Cyprus ..."

I smiled , took a big bite of Chicken Tandoori and enjoyed the commercial ...







#moreindianthanyouthink



Thursday, 13 April 2017

"Yes Sir !! "

Recently I was privy to a Leadership Council meeting of an organization which has run into choppy waters. The atmosphere in the plush conference room was grave and the top management had grim looks on their faces. 

The MD of the organization initiated the discussion 

"Team , we are not doing well at all ! The cash flow of the organization is stifled and there have been layoffs in all the departments . We need to gear up ... "

"Yes Sir ... " there was unified assertion by everybody in the room. 

"But we have launched a few new initiatives and I think we will be able to recover soon , Right ? " He smiled

"Yes Sir... " everyone smiled.

"Anyone has any suggestions or ideas ? "

All quiet. 

"Yes, Mr. X ... what do you say?  You and your department will never improve, right !"

Mr X squirmed uncomfortably.

As a coach and a consultant, the following week I had several meetings across the organization.  Itreally made me wary about telling the MD about the findings. 

Given the culture of the organization , will he be able to take the feedback ? 

I applied the first rule of giving constructive feedback 

"Sir, I will be giving you some bad news . I hope you are open to it. Mostly it is to do with cultural changes at the top  "

The MD was really taken aback. No one gave him "bad" feedback ! 

"Uh.. hmm ...yes, please go ahead"

I hoped I had made him prepared for the comments . 

Lack of  planned approach towards work  : As an organization, we  do not appreciate planning for work and consider it a wastage of time.  This results in adhoc work, wastage of time and resource, lack of professionalism and customer dissatisfaction. We should promote planning.

Lack of accountability and ownership : As an organization, we should drive accountability and ownership down to the grass root level. This will not happen with a carrot and stick approach, but it  will happen through cultural and behavioural changes from the top. Very frequent feedback,  taking people to task for not doing particular work at the given time / effort,  taking unplanned leaves, not performing as per the expectation.  If after feedback, people do not improve, they should be pruned away from the organization.

Top down culture : We do not take bright ideas from the people on the field. Here we sometimes miss out on opportunities for improvement. On the other hand, anything told from the top is almost never disputed even by the senior members. So , what happens is that we are deprived of contradictory ideas and cannot improve upon the ideas. We should appreciate and encourage people to contradict and give their views rather than agreeing to everything.

Fixed mindset about certain people / department :  There seems to be a  closed and fixed mindset about specific people and departments.  Even when improvement are  done or rectification and corrections are done, the impressions do not change. This results in demotivation and productivity decreases since the feeling is that whatever is being done, it will not be taken well. We should have an open mind and listen and take 360 degree feedback We should look at data and then come to conclusion rather than have a fixed mindset or be judgemental.

The MD did not smile . 

Maybe this was the first time that someone gave him negative comments. 

But high time he learnt to take feedback so that he can bring his company back on track.