Airport Etiquettes Have To Be Learned – Random Forays by Vivek Atray

Now that India is flying as never before, the mores of travel have changed, and so has the landscape. Indians are quickly finding out that airports are not railway stations. We often land up in zany situations as a result, mainly on account of the unique way in which us Indians have been used to travelling.
Traditionally, we always packed our chutneys and oils of all kinds in our baggage, and got away with all that. We would only travel by the all-embracing bus or train, in those halcyon days. But these days unending queues at airports are an indicator of just how much we have begun to love air-travel.
Over the decades, Indian aunties and uncles had become accustomed to dumping all sorts of seemingly useful things into their luggage. Even ‘bistar-bandhs’ or beddings and sleeping bags were permitted aboard those large-hearted long route trains in years gone by. Some families undoubtedly still carry on in the same vein, and a visit to any railway station is clear indication of this. There we can easily spot ladies and kids sprawled on none too clean floors. In evidence, surrounding them, are quaint objects like little boxes, ‘potlis’ of clothes, milk cans, straw mats, little stools, ‘dholaks’, small suitcases, shawls, blankets, pet cats and even hens at times.
And when these families commence their lifelong tryst with air travel, they necessarily have to adapt to and adopt security linked dos and don’ts. Out go the little liquid-containing ‘dohlus’ and sundry other basket-type containers. Also not permitted are unstructured items like hot water bottles and quilts which can be carried on to buses, but not on to planes!
Thus a new paradigm of travel has to be laid down for the Indian air traveller. And at airports, one finds enough evidence of the pressing need for this. The Sharmas and Khannas and Patels land up at airports with little time to spare and much to do, you see!
A non-busy onlooker would find it amusing to spot a family alighting from their taxi, arguing briefly, for want of time, with the cab driver over the fare and scurrying towards the entrance. The security person would raise his eyebrows a few times, waiting patiently, while the head of the family tries to find the ticket on his phone device, and the wife admonishes him in full public view for not being efficient enough. The tables are soon turned though, when the lady cannot find her photo-id, and the hubby starts growling.
Also not very pleased at this collective tardiness are the harassed looking passengers in the queue behind them. Thus the very act of entering the airport becomes one that necessitates stress management exercises by those involved!
The electronic kiosks and baggage screening points present another firewall of sorts to these hapless travellers. And of course the young lady duly appointed by the airline will assist them at both. Yet, no one would have bargained for the fact that the little darling of the family, the chubby looking Pintoo would need a pullover from the big suitcase since he would be feeling cold! Thus, the heavy case would be opened in full public view, with all kinds of tidbits spilling out, and the desired article being retrieved from it, thus causing a requirement of another round of screening, and further delay.
At last would the family reach the check in counter, with the airline staff making faces at their being late. And if their baggage turns out to be too heavy, which is quite a possibility, arguments would result and the already harried passengers would surely lose their tempers. Anything could happen after that!
Perhaps someone needs to organise mass training programmes for passengers and significant others. Even airport staff is often ill trained, and not adequately prepared to handle a bevy of ‘difficult’ clients!
And not to forget the aspect of making one’s way to an airport through maddening traffic. Somehow, railways stations are always more accessible and easier to approach. As George Winter said, “If God had really intended men to fly, He’d have made it easier to get to the airport!”

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Lost Lives Are Not Mere Numbers – Random Forays by Vivek Atray

When we, the people, read the news in the morning or watch it all day long on various screens, we tend to be cold to the number of persons killed in mishaps. We gaze transiently at a headline like- ’32 killed as bus driven by 16 year old conductor plunges into river’. Then, though we feel low, we move on to the entertainment section.
Is it our fault, though, that we feign concern but are actually impervious to death? Every day brings up at least one gruesome story. And the mood is made more sullen by sundry other items from here and there that add to society’s daily burden of crime.
Human beings tend to be unruffled by tragedies which happen remotely or in other lands. They are more impacted by those that occur at close quarters. Yet, and this is but natural, each tragedy is soon forgotten along with yesterday’s newspaper. Only those who have to directly bear the brunt of the calamity actually feel the resultant pain.
The result is that the global milieu, particularly communities in developing countries become jaded by the talk of death and very little is done to control such incidents.
A 16 year old driving a bus is an indicator of lawlessness. An unqualified electrician doing a shoddy job of repairing a local power wrangle is another such sign. An untrained attendant administering an injection to a patient is yet another untenable ‘adjustment’.
Any or all of these can lead to death and destruction but our system allows, with impunity, such digressions from propriety. And we who are armchair critics and morning-walk analysts, look the other way.
Agreed that most of us cannot do much about such systemic flaws, and even those in position and power have to really exert themselves in order to rectify the ‘chalta hai’ malaise that afflicts almost all of us. But can we not resolve to create awareness amongst those more prone and susceptible to such nonsense that they should not permit it?
The passengers in the aforementioned ill-fated bus clearly knew that the young lad was underage but they were loath to stop him from playing with their lives. When we notice an ill connected, dangerously dangling, piece of electrical wiring, or a rag-tag-bobtail arrangement for looking after patients at a public hospital, should we be looking the other way?
Can we do something at least? In my view, various stakeholders could attempt the following: the government must be stricter and more rigid in preventing the flouting of laws, the media can be more insightful in studying the lacunae that create such dreadful situations, and the common man can refuse to take things lying down when he must raise his voice.
It is by persistent knocking at the door of collectively callous attitude that a dent can be made and perhaps some lives can be saved.
But what of organised crime and suicides, which also result in unnatural and avoidable deaths? Such transgressions against civilised living have never been missing from the world, but as Yuval Noah Harari notes in his admirable book, Homo Deus, wars have been virtually eliminated by mankind. Can we hope that crime might also be minimised in the years to come?
Unemployment is one major factor which is responsible both for crime and self- inflicted harm. Focussed economic development with more meaningful governmental efforts can increase the number of jobs and reduce both these abhorrent ills.
Each person in the world has a unique life and a special role to play in this magnum-opus that is the never ending global human drama. We cannot allow a mother or wife to grieve forever at the loss of a life which could have been saved.
Our soldiers and paramilitary personnel who die at the border are gallant icons of humanity who mock at death for their country. Every young lady who loses her husband to needless violence knows a level of pain which the rest of us cannot imagine.
It’s time to value more the lives of fellow citizens and ensure that we don’t lose human beings whom we should still rightfully have in our midst.

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Thought Leadership is the Way Forward – Random Forays by Vivek Atray

One aspect of life that the world-at-large is largely missing these days is the ability to think deep and long. There is hardly anyone indulging in visionary thinking. This may also have been the case for most of our history, but a few luminescent exceptions have held the thinking flag aloft intermittently.
There have been some rare thinkers who have shared philosophical and path breaking ideas with the rest of the world. Aristotle, Gautam Buddha, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, the Wright brothers and Steve Jobs are just some of the geniuses who obviously thought differently from the rest of humanity and had something unique to offer.
The fact that they came up with original and revolutionising ideas which were to impact the entire globe was clearly no coincidence. They surely spent months and years thinking deeply about their theories and plans before unveiling them for general public. And of course they were exceptionally gifted human beings.
In today’s world too, brilliant scientists and philosophers lead global thought and action by dint of their unceasing and unwavering pursuit of goals that they have set for themselves. The rest of the planet benefits by the research of a handful of such jewels, some of whom are Nobel laureates too.
But what of the rest of us? Are we condemned to live a life of mechanical action and reaction? Of career oriented drudgery and mindless hurtling towards shifting goalposts?
Or can we too, in our own little ways, be thought leaders for the society that we are a part of? Something tells me that we can be indeed, if only we would distance ourselves from the humdrum of our existence once in a while. Several good ideas crop up in our own lives when we are out having a walk, or travelling on a train, with nothing to do. Perhaps we need to spend some ‘think-time’ every once in a while, and we will surely be the wiser for it.
Thinking of others is an even nobler act. There are some NGO’s which supply items like shoes and sanitary napkins to needy students. They are thinking differently and acting in accordance with their mission of making a positive impact in society.
But even more compelling is the need for quality institutions to step up and lead collective thought processes. There are many Universities, Colleges and Schools which simply go through the motions. They exist only for teaching, exams and placements. The level of research being carried out on these campuses is minimal or non-existent, barring a few shining examples.
The number of PhD’s in India is nothing to write home about. But even more painful is the paucity of time spent on thought and research at our portals of higher education.
High end studies into the subject of thought leadership itself have thrown up some interesting findings. One of them is the fact that brands which are perceived to be thought leadership brands impact the behaviour of the market itself. Studies by Edelman-Linkedin and Forbes indicate that thought leadership increases the popularity of organisations which indulge in it.
Additionally, some Indian Think-Tanks have sprouted of late and while they have not exactly emblazoned the horizon with brilliant lights, some of them have made promising beginnings. They focus key areas like healthcare, education, resource mobilisation and urban planning. Others are more specific in their scope and concentrate on defence studies or scientifically oriented analysis. By being associated with them, young people who are starting to make a mark in their careers can propel themselves to great heights in the years to come.
The fact remains that someone has to show the way to the rest of society, otherwise it becomes a case of the blind leading the blind. Government bodies, corporate, academia and communities all need to be led by visionary people and institutions.
People in powerful positions may not exactly be great thinkers. It is therefore necessary for each Emperor Akbar to have a Birbal on call. The person in the saddle can then take informed and far-sighted decisions.
Thought leadership is a rare commodity in a world that yearns for instant gratification. It needs to be nurtured and treasured!

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Let Us Celebrate the Also-Ran —- Random Forays by Vivek Atray

One of the most enduring and endearing enigmas over the centuries has been the role of the also-ran in society. He remains neck and neck with the ultimate winner and almost wins the day but for reasons known and unknown, he falls at the last post.
And he forever remains a number two at best or a side-kick at worst. There are numerous examples of such persons, a prime one being the most charming superstar Shashi Kapoor. Ironically, his demise has brought him into the limelight as never before and paeans are being sung about his qualities of head and heart. But while he was a leading hero of the 60s, 70s and 80s, and continued acting much beyond, he never quite became the numero uno of Hindi Films. His handsome visage and his quaintly crooked smile set many a heart aflutter on screen and off it. But he was never quite able to match the likes of Shammi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan in scaling the Mount Everest of Bollywood.
Long time co-star Sharmila Tagore has rightly called him the most desirable of all heroes she has worked with. His portrayal of a passionate lover in movies like Junoon and Satyam Shivam Sundaram allowed him to explore his acting qualities as never before. His contribution to the world of films and of theatre will never be forgotten. Amitabh Bachchan sums up the great man’s humane qualities thus- “He fondly addressed me as ‘babbua’ and with him have gone many incredible unread chapters of his and my life.”
Yet, in mega movies like Deewaar and Shaan, Shashi Kapoor was the brother or friend of Amitabh Bachchan . He was not the main protagonist.
And if Shashi Kapoor could be in the realm of the also-rans, then what of fourth placed finishers like the magnificent Milkha Singh and the redoubtable PT Usha? Life throws up many instances before us wherein we find our own selves among the ranks of losers even though we deserved to win.
If great players like Ken Rosewall and Ivan Lendl could never win Wimbledon though they won everything else, and Sachin Tendulkar never scored a Test century at Lord’s though he conquered the world, does that diminish their greatness? Definitely not. But there is an added charm to the life of even a Don Bradman when he fails to score a run in his last Test innings and ends up with a Test average of 99.94 instead of 100.
Failure to win is indeed a charming and lovable aspect of our life in a way. It pecks at a champion’s seeming invincibility, it punctures a perfect record, and it takes something away from an aura that hitherto had refused to stop beaming at us.
There some who seem to turn everything they touch into gold, but one day their luck is bound to run out. It could be fading years or diminished physical prowess. It could also be that they tend to take their foot off the pedal when they are zooming up the golden highway of success.
But the side-kick is as worthy of celebration in our world’s drama, as a life-long number two or a champion who fails at last. He is the king-maker who never became king, the defender who never scored a goal, and the so-called character-actor who never got to run around trees with beauteous heroines.
The brilliant Rahul Dravid was unfortunate to be the one who played that role in the shadow of Tendulkar’s glittering career. Cheteshwar Pujara is in a similar spot when compared to the James Bond like persona of Virat Kohli.
The perennial 2-IC thus needs to be feted by us all. It is he who often holds the fort when the champ fails or errs. It is he who lends a shoulder to the hero in his moments of weakness. And it is he who is the invisible hero behind the one who is visibly so. But the cruel truth is that life allows only one real winner, and as Paul Dietzel memorably put it, “The difference between a hero and an also-ran is the guy who holds on for one last gasp!”

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Failure is an Impostor to Learn From – Random Forays by Vivek Atray

“The mind is our greatest friend; the mind is our greatest enemy!” The saint who said these words could not have summed up the predicament of our lives in a more telling manner.

Most of us defeat our own selves inside the depths of our thinking minds. We delve into possibilities that may never occur. We worry about scenarios that are far-fetched but which represent our worst fears. We spend sleepless nights and restless days pondering over imponderables that are unlikely to ever actually face us.

Two young men were on the verge of stepping into new chapters of their lives. Both had broken through an impossible maze of competition to emerge as executives in one of the most sought-after firms of the world. One of them, Himesh, was the brighter of the two, and had topped almost every examination that he had appeared for since his school days. The other, Nipun, was the doughtier of the two though. He had overcome several obstacles already in his young life and achieved his ambition of working for the world’s best. New York was their new home, and their lives were on a roll.

One year later, things proved to be different. Although they had both joined on the same date with almost similar credentials, Nipun was racing ahead of Himesh in the quest for early success in the stressful world of investment banking. Himesh was extremely good at his work but lacked qualities like emotional intelligence and people skills that Nipun possessed in ample measure. As a result, Himesh failed to clear his annual progression interview whereas Nipun surged ahead. Himesh was unable to handle the fact that he had ‘failed’; especially in comparison to Himesh.
As a result Himesh had to take anti depressant pills and became a psychological wreck. Many young people fall prey to the negative impact of their own thoughts in this manner, whereas those with a sunnier outlook are able to ride the wave and emerge stronger from such lows of life.
Start-up entrepreneurs are told these days, and rightly so, that a few failures along the road should be expected and that they should learn from each one of them. A report in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) in 2007 by Robert I. Sutton highlights the findings of Shmuel Ellis and colleagues who discovered the following:
1. After people succeed at a task, they learn the most when they think about what went wrong.
2. After people fail at a task, it doesn’t matter whether they focus on successes or failures. They will learn so long as they do an after-event review.
These after-event reviews need to be carried out by each of us when we go wrong, but without indulging in self pity or negativism.
Failure and setbacks are tackled by people in vastly differing ways. Some succumb to depression, others fight back with fortitude. And although no two persons have the same life- situations to handle, it is the gritty toughie who is able to steel himself or herself, beat the odds and bounce back!
Arunima, the Indian volleyball player who lost both her legs in a train tragedy, found her Olympic dreams shattered. But she also found enough fire and resolve within her inner being to become a mountaineer and even scale Mount Everest.

It is her story and those of similar life champions which make us think about our comparatively miniscule problems and failures. They are so tiny in comparison that we have no right to be destroyed or even fazed by them.

“A smooth life is not a successful life”, said Paramahansa Yogananda, author of the Autobiography of You, a marvellously elevating and uplifting global best- seller.

When we let ourselves down by denigrating our own worth in our minds we lose the battle of life.

An internet quote by Zig Zaglar puts things in perspective- ‘Failure is an event, not a person! Yesterday ended last night!’

Ultimately, it is even-mindedness that matters. And Kipling’s words never fail to inspire- ‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster; And treat those two impostors just the same…’
The secret is to really know that they are both transient impostors!

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Gentlemen, Please Mind Your Language! Random Forays by Vivek Atray

The new-age young professional has to be extremely savvy about his conduct. There is no point in being appointed as the CEO of a large company through sheer brilliance at one’s work, if one cannot carry himself with dignity.

Being dignified does not mean being Anglicised. A Hindi speaking young man from a rural or urban background can verily hold his own in the board rooms of corporate India today. So can a young lady, perhaps even more. But the male professional needs to be able to modify a natural tendency to use ‘unparliamentary’ language.

If one analyses the way young lads are brought up in India, and indeed across the world, there is a likelihood that each boy would have picked up cuss words that are unacceptable in decent company. These expletives would probably have become a part of his normal speech. In North India for example there are some ‘bad’ words that are entirely ingrained in the local dialect. Men and boys use them all the time, but usually refrain from doing so when at home. Thus a visit to the local market and some keen listening sessions would doubtless educate the uninitiated into the whole range of abuses that have been used for decades across the land!

The problem arises when men start using such expressions on a train or at a café, within earshot of families. Words that can be loosely classified as ‘BC ‘words- for want of a better classification-are bandied about much too virulently by the male members of our society. Being “one of the boys” is fine, and we have all been part of groups wherein such language was eminently acceptable, but grown up behavior has to be suitably subtle in any cultured social milieu.

Our films are no better these days. The trend started with the arty types of movies which were perceived to be made by better film makers and thus the protagonists had the ‘license to swear’. Several so-called mainstream films followed suit while greater permissiveness crept into society as well. The female lead would also be heard at times using filthy language that no one really wanted to hear.

And when one extends the argument to the overall conduct of men in the company of women or in public, the scenario becomes clearer. Urinating in public and scratching the crotch in full public view are still a part of our visual landscape! While the former may be necessitated by the lack of public outlets, the latter is simply a feature of unpolished upbringing.

There is a need though to draw a fine line between behaviour that is obviously due to a background of ignorance and characteristics which can easily be done away with if one makes the effort.

At a recent conference one of the speakers on stage somehow found it convenient to use the word ‘shit’ many a time in his speech. While there is nothing earth shattering these days about such usage, there are obviously some platforms where one can indulge in such usage, and others where one can definitely not. Our man found this out to his dismay when the elderly chairman of the session actually pointed this fact out to him at the end of the session- on the mike!

The crux of the matter is that men have to learn how to behave in the public eye and when others are in earshot. It is all fine to get together with the pals from college over a drink and go wild, but one has to train oneself to carry oneself with grace and poise in society.

Thus even if the F word has become the norm in many young communities and even the female of the species uses it, there is no way in which it can be used ad nauseum at other forums.

Even if one does not deliberately discussed leering and gaping in this piece, they too form a part of the obnoxious nature of many males. As an internet quote puts it, rather directly, “No one gives a shit about your righteous beliefs. Your behavior is what makes you the person you are!”

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Making Our Cities More Livable – Random Forays by Vivek Atray

The quality of life in India’s cities has changed to a great extent over the years, but it has certainly not improved. As per the 2011 census, 31 per cent of Indians live in urban areas, but satellite imagery indicates that the actual figure could be double of that. It is a well known fact that hundreds of thousands of people transit to the cities every day to pursue their livelihoods and thereby stretch resources by an immeasurable quantum.

An urban agglomeration like the tri-city of Chandigarh, Panchkula and Mohali presents possibly the most livable scenario in the country, but even here the signs are that over-population is impacting lives adversely. The municipal administrations are unable to quite handle the dynamics of the demanding mass of people who live in their jurisdictions.

Here are some ways through which the city governance mechanisms in India can elevate life-quality indices in times to come-

1. Human resources mobilisation: Several municipal bodies in the towns of India are gasping for collective breath and unable to cope with requirements related to sanitation, roads, water supply, sewerage, maintenance etc. Typically, a Junior Engineer is the be-all-and-end-all of the local systemic regime that handles these needs. Human resources are stretched and staff is overworked. The remedy lies in quickly recruiting retired persons and young professionals directly at local levels while videographing selection processes to ensure fair play.
2. Innovative plans for revenue generation: Each fund-starved civic body needs to innovate in order to garner revenue for developmental works. State governments can never bear the brunt of the follies committed by shoddily managed municipalities that have eroded their capital resources. Corrupt practices relating to repair of roads and parks have also led to this situation. Civic bodies therefore have to come up with charming schemes to convert lease hold properties to free hold, to grant ownership rights to tenants and other such ways, which would bring in the ‘moolah’, thereby easing the pressure dramatically. Allowing entertainment and eatery businesses to come up at select locations, with proper planning, is another way to do so.
3. Greening our cities and towns: Once the human and financial resources are more easily available, urban areas can be spruced up, cleaned up and greened up in a much better manner. There are several neglected patches of land which belong to the local body but which are pathetic to look at, filthy and stinking. By allowing corporate and institutional organizations to spruce up and maintain these areas each urban area would have much more greenery on offer and residents would breathe easier, literally! Even top ranking green cities like South Delhi, and also Chandigarh, can do with more plantation and a larger expanse of well planned green cover in order to combat the polluting influence of the burgeoning number of vehicles and old factory units in the vicinity. The effect of the annual smog nightmare in north India can also be assuaged to an extent by mass scale greening of urban areas and peripheries.
4. Mass Rapid Transport: Enough has been said and written about the need for availability of quick access, affordable and efficient mass rapid transport systems on the pattern of Singapore wherein people hardly ever use their own cars, and solely depend on a seamless combination of buses, underground trains, taxis and the like. Our cities are still grappling with the process of setting up such facilities and one shudders to think what would happen if they are further delayed. New Delhi would probably have collapsed by now had the metro not come up!
5. Other measures: In a column of this size and scope one cannot go into micro level details of what is needed to make our cities more livable, but a few other ideas include: Shifting electric cables underground to declutter colonies, regulating vendors by giving them licences and designated spaces, segregating waste at the doorstep and setting up solid waste management facilities all over the country, outsourcing collection of property taxes, providing single window and technology enabled services to residents. The list is long but achievable, and as the saying goes, “What is a city, but the people…” So let us also make sure that the real stake holders, the residents, are consulted on every significant decision that is taken with respect to the city they live in.

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Amitabh@75 is a Matchless Icon- Random Forays by Vivek Atray

Amitabh Bachchan’s 75th birthday is, in many ways, a milestone for all of us. Having grown up watching the angry young fellow of the 70s and 80s metamorphose himself into the benign and genial Mr Bachchan of today, one cannot help but feel rather nostalgic.

What is evident is the fact that Bachchan has found his way deeper into our hearts with his present day avatar as the Good Samaritan who hosts the popular show, ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’. It is not as if he started off as a lout and has now become a saint, but it is the gentle transformation in the impression that he created upon us over the decades which is worth analyzing.

Amitabh was always a gentleman off screen, from a cultured background, verily sophisticated and with a baritone that sounded even better when he spoke English. But it was when he let loose unforgettable dialogues in iconic films like ‘Sholay’, ‘Deewar’ or even ‘Shakti’, and veritably seared the enemy with his fearsome and fiery gaze, that he truly created mass hysteria. He rarely played the amiable sorts on screen in those days, always ready to throw several punches at unsuspecting goons, and mouth irreverent, even embarrassing, dialogues.

So much so that my father, whose persona was a no-nonsense one, almost debarred me from watching AB’s films. He considered the gangling actor to be an extremely poor influence on an impressionable mind. It was only when films like ‘Anand’ or ‘Chupke Chupke’ were screened on TV that my father’s opinion of Bachchan changed for the better.

He hardly knew how to dance, but effortlessly romanced all top actresses- Zeenat Aman, Hema Malini, Rekha and Parveen Babi. He often shared screen time with better looking compatriots like Dharmendra, Shashi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna and Vinod Khanna, but seldom came away playing second fiddle.

Indeed, his style, his panache and his unmatched personality became the gold standard for Indian heroes to follow and emulate.

What happened in the 90s was inevitable, though. As he grew older his stock gradually dwindled. Anil Kapoor became the superstar of the day to be followed by the impressive Khans, some years later. Amitabh Bachchan’s aura was fading, ever so slowly, but it was surely fading.

His misadventures with politics and event management, as evidenced by the Miss Universe pageant fiasco, further dented his image and brand value. He has himself spoken publically of his efforts at reaching out to friends and benefactors in his time of crisis, with little or no result.

KBC was launched in the year 2000 and it obviously came like a manna from heaven. A high value contract was signed by him with its producers and his resurgence was palpable. Even his films started doing well again and his new appearance, with the grey French goatee, found acceptance with cine-goers who flocked to watch films like ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham’ and ‘Mohabbatein’.

We now found a more settled Mr Bachchan striding purposefully but calmly across the spectrum of Bollywood (a term he loathes) and even undertaking a rare foray into Hollywood with ‘The Great Gatsby’. His family came to the fore like never before. Abhishek and Aishwarya found success to varying degrees in their own careers, and his diminutive better half, Jaya Bachchan, too ventured to play meaty roles once more, though sporadically.

And today when we watch the towering figure of Amitabh Bachchan sit across the man or woman on the hot seat, we feel as if we are with him. He makes the commonest of folks with their inadequacies and hesitations flower into charming versions of themselves by sheer dint of his warmth. The humaneness with which he brings out the true Indian on KBC is worth its weight in gold. We often feel as if the superstar on the show is not AB, but the insignificant other!

If inspiration is to be found in this era, older generations especially can find it in the forms of Amitabh Bachchan, Lata Mangeshkar and Sachin Tendulkar. And the common quality which places these matchless icons upon the highest of pedestals is ‘humility’. We are truly fortunate to have them in our midst.

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We Need to Shed Those Superstitions- Random Forays by Vivek Atray

As a race, humankind is rather naïve. We tend to believe a lot of hearsay and often tend to fall prey to needless beliefs that scarcely stand a chance of coming true. Some superstitions take the cake and the belief of them sometimes makes grown men and women appear a little light in the head.

Thus, in India, a cat crossing the path, the left eye fluttering or someone sneezing before a journey are happenings that are purported to bring terribly bad luck. On the other hand, the right eye fluttering or the left hand itching are supposed to be bountiful portents. Over the centuries the ladies have refrained from washing their hair on Tuesdays and Saturdays for fear of causing harm to loved ones.

The Western world is no less susceptible to superstitions. Walking under a ladder, opening an umbrella indoors or seeing one’s bride on the morning of the wedding day are instances that are supposed to bring bad luck.

The Chinese are even deeper into such beliefs and their superstitions vary according to the time of day. For instance, the twitching of the left eye is supposed to have differing impacts if it twitches in the morning or evening!

The basis of each of these superstitions or their origin has been a matter of conjecture. Researchers have not been able to lay their hands on manuscripts from down the ages that explain the genesis of superstitions, barring a few rare ones. Thus the ladder related superstition is believed to have originated from the fact that the ladder makes a triangle when it leans against a wall and thus anyone walking under it would violate the sacred triangular shape that the Greeks revered.

A Qualitative Analysis of Superstitious Behaviour by Alexandra A. Farley of Western Washington University concludes that 80 to 90 per cent of non-clinical adults believe in some form of superstition or the other.

It is obviously the fear of something going drastically wrong that makes us susceptible to sheer nonsense at times. If a young student forgets to have ‘curd’ before an exam, his mother may blame that ‘error’ if he gets poor marks later, not the lack of his preparation! The problem is not in the practice of eating that curd, for it bolsters a nervous youngster, but in the negativity that may creep in if one misses it.

At other times it could just be the entertainment factor. On the cricket field, the score 111 is called a Nelson (after Admiral Nelson who allegedly had one eye, one arm and one leg). Thus the portly balding umpire of yesteryears, the venerable David Shepherd, would stand on one leg for a while! TV cameras would actually pan towards his legs as soon as the score ticked over to 111. Shepherd was more likely to be playing to the gallery and seeking to amuse millions of TV viewers than indulging in any fears, especially since he was the umpire!

Lovers have ardently wished that dandelions and clovers would play along with their ardent wishes and bring them the everlasting company of their loved one. A superstition also has it that the last sip or last bite at meal time makes the partaker’s lover into a more handsome or beautiful human being!

Customs should not be confused with superstitions though. Several of them are related to newlyweds and it is important to distinguish between a healthy custom such as a bride being welcomed into her new home with a round of singing, and a superstitious belief that a bride has brought bad luck if something untoward happens.

‘Superstition is the religion of feeble minds”, said Edmund Burke and he could not have been more right. Superstition has often been used by dominating forces to suppress weak and meek minds. For instance, some temples in India disallowed women and foreigners from entering their portals for ages.

It is time to get rid of all harmful beliefs and retain only pleasant ones. In the Netherlands, it is believed that meeting dark haired men on New Year’s Day brings good luck. That is one superstition that I can easily live with!

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An Infinite Vision Truly Worth Emulating – Random Forays by Vivek Atray

Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai is such an illuminating example of selfless service, courage, vision and astounding efficiency that it has few parallels on the planet. The amazing story of its founder, the celebrated but ever so humble Dr Govindappa Venkataswamy and his dedicated team has been aptly chronicled in a book titled “Infinite Vision” which was recommended to me by someone I truly respect recently.

Renowned doctors and achievers from across the world have lauded effusively the 3 decade long story of high quality eye care that Aravind Hospital offers to the needy. A mind boggling 35 million patients, and more, have been treated at the hospital and over 5 million surgeries have been performed, most of them free!

Former President of India Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said, ‘In the Aravind experience I see the path that we need to take – a transformation of life into a powerful instrument of right action.’ A case study on Aravind has been recommended to students of Harvard Business School too.

What emerges palpably from the saga of Dr V, the name by which the founder is known, is that a life lived for others is what each of us should try to emulate in our own little ways. Many of us have started thinking about the need to help others only in recent years. Most of those who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s were rather self-oriented and could only think of their own careers, and their own families. But many of today’s younger generation have started working in the NGO sector and are thinking of others far more than we did. I have encountered several youngsters who have taken 2 years off from their fledgling and budding careers to work for “Youth Alliance” or ”Teach for India” to spend time serving those in need.
My daughter Spriha recently started her career and works in the social sector. She was delighted to be on the ‘Jagriti Yatra’, an all India train journey that is specially chartered for 500 young professionals annually. One of the iconic Indian institutions that the Yatra touches along the way is the Aravind Eye Hospital. Spriha has fond memories of her visit and reverentially recollects how Dr V’s passion to serve humankind has been transformed into an altar of kindness and brilliance.
My wife and I marvel at Spriha’s zealous levels of concern for those whom fate has placed in disadvantageous positions. We wish we could have been like her when we were younger.
Actually there are many religious and social organisations doing amazing work throughout the country. In North India too we find inspiring examples of charity and a sense of giving. But many of them could learn more from landmark projects like Aravind.
Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and even the late blooming philanthropic instinct in Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, have ensured that sizeable sums have been set aside for charitable activities across the world. Their examples should spur Indian CEOs to do likewise and not wait for the provisions of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Act to catch up with them. But perhaps the materialistic rat-race has prevented hordes of successful people from donating to the larger humanitarian cause.
Mother Teresa famously said, “Do things for people not because of who they are, or what they can do in return, but because of who YOU are!”
A seemingly inane advertisement highlighting the repair services of a popular TV brand recently brought tears to the eyes of thousands. The repair man is shown arriving at the destination from where the complaint emanated only to find that all the young residents including the coordinator are blind. They simply wanted to tune in to a popular music show and listen to one of their own friends participate in the search for talented singers!
Empathy is not something that comes easily to all of us, but when it does, it can touch the hearts of even the most hardened of individuals. After all, as Kathy Calvin put it so admirably, “Giving is not about making a donation, it is about making a difference.”
Let us gear up to make sure that difference happens in the years to come.

vivek.atray@gmail.com

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