Saturday, September 29, 2018

Grandma and A God Next Door

(Translation of my blog post in Tamil.)

The lunchtime conversation centered around the new age Guru like Jaggi and Sri Sri.  I explained why the society needs them and the masters are naturally wiser than the four discussing them.  Not satisfied with hurting the ego of a few, my ego turned to the silent man.  I know he was a traditional person and prefers a traditional Guru.  I just told him that his faith on his traditional master is on thin ice.  I didn't explain it then but would do so here.

When I about four years old, our family moved to a house in a street half-way up the hill in the Rockfort area in Trichy.   Our house was right next to a temple of Vanni Adi Karuppu - roughly the dark guy under the Shami or Khejri Tree.  (It is interesting to note the naming a person wasn't too different across communities in the ancient days.)   Calling it a temple would be an overstatement.  It was a small 8'X6' room in which a piece of the tree and a huge sword were kept.  It probably belonged to a warrior or a local hero, who lived a few centuries ago.  There was another temple considered to be that of an elder Karuppu down the hill.  I heard the elder's sword was bigger.

The Karuppu, the elder and the younger were the protective deities of the locals in that area.  The Gods wielded limited powers in the twentieth century, nothing beyond ensuring the basic livelihood of the priest's family. 

As we moved in, my Grandma readily accepted Vanni Adi Karuppu as one of her Gods.  She already had inducted a few deities in the family.  It wasn't difficult for her to accept one more.

There was a room in our home right behind the temple.  It was believed that the God would walk around at night and we shouldn't be sleeping on his path.   I never managed to stay awake beyond 9 PM or could wake up before 7 AM.  Though I was innocent enough to believe it, never got to see Karuppu.

Coming back to Grandma, she was very orthodox.  Though her eyesight wasn't great, she didn't take anyone's help to do her chores.  She would wash and dry her clothes.  We aren't allowed to go near her till she completed her morning prayers.

But her neighbor Karuppu didn't conform to her Brahmin Orthodoxy.  He was offered meat and cigar, just once a year.  Had there been no prohibition, he might have been offered liquor too as with other such local deities.

But how could such an orthodox person accept a deity who doesn't conform to her values?  Since we are given the freedom to choose our deity, we are bound to go wrong on this.  Remember, our Gods were just as human as we are.  (So are our masters.)  If the common values determine who one's deity is, then such a faith is weak.  What happens if the believer comes to know that the deity's values were different?  The faith ends and the person has to look out for another hero, with common values.  It can be devastating to a few.  But that's for another day.

Then what can ensure a strong faith?  The answer lies in the relationship.  If the chosen God be related like a father, mother, friend or child, then there will be acceptance.  After all, we accept our worldly relations as they are and expect them to serve just the purpose of that relationship.

For my Grandma, she accepted her God unconditionally as her neighbor.  What if the neighbor eats meat or smokes a cigar.  He's a protecting neighbor and the matter ends there.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Animal Instincts I - The Beast Within

Animal Instincts

The Sales Manager ended the presentation with a small clipping of an animal video for a message of being strong,  focused and all good things.

It works.  Telling them that they are the lions and tigers definitely motivates them to be aggressive. 

We have a lot to learn from animal kingdom but this is definitely not one of them.  Tribal communities have been using these animal instincts.  Native American cultures used wolves.  Egyptian and Indian cultures use references to lions for bravery.  Lions, tigers, and wolves do trigger an effective emotion required to win, protect, unify etc.

But human race progressed not because of these emotions.  Humans could empathize, cooperate better than animals.  Humans' ability to accept differences is the biggest skill that drove the civilizations ahead.  Humans could also organize themselves better.  Sure, lions fight ferociously, but have you ever heard of peasant elephant or a priest wolf!

Tigers are considered to be doing well if each tiger gets about 15-20 square kilometers.  On the contrary, humans prosper in a thickly populated area, simply because of their above-mentioned abilities.

If a team believes that they have the animal instincts towards their goal, the day is not far off when those instincts overtake human skills.

An army that modeled itself after an animal ended up killing its own people just before it got defeated by their enemy.

Animal Instinct II - My Territory

Animal Instincts II - My Territory

I felt it was colder inside Kens' office than the outside on an autumn morning in a Boston suburb.  He had his reasons.  The company was trying to recover from a bad year, layoffs and extended working hours for the remaining staff.  Nothing would rattle him more than an Indian techie with equal experience in his office.  Ken tried to be nice, explained what he was working on. 

I was there to help them plan the next year's goals for the IT organization.  The management was expecting a better year, began outsourcing work to India to save on costs and was doing everything to recover to a healthy operation.

After a half hour meeting with Ken, I returned to my seat, pondered over the problem he was working on and read a few articles that could solve Ken's issue.  I went back and explained how he could design the solution based on what I had just read.

That changed the mood.  Ken opened up, talked about the company, his bosses, family, etc.  We continued a professional partnership for a few more years.  On hindsight, I can't say I sensed his insecurity but did what comes to me naturally, problem-solving.

Ken wasn't an isolated case.  We come across this insecurity all the time.  When a new member joins a team, it takes a lot of effort - from both the sides, to gel in and work together.  The difficulty increases with the experience of the new member.  A fresh graduate may find it easy to fit in than a seasoned manager, just like a puppy getting accepted into a pack of street dogs.  A house dog faces hostile barking and growling for months after a move.

Human advancements have broken a lot of natural barriers for habitat.  So, we stopped growling at others - well, almost. 

Similarly, organizations aren't limited by their geography or available capital.  They can grow far beyond what its employees can imagine.  But, it is a challenge for them to assimilate people at various levels.  In M&As, the cooperation from the existing staff is often bought.  A new member just means that there is more work to be done and more money to be earned.  As a company expands, it is the responsibility of the top management to be sensitive to this animal instinct.   It needs to remind its people that it is no more a forest and we can naturally walk on two legs and use the arms to welcome the new.