Saturday, January 26, 2013

When you reduce life to black & white, you never see rainbows

It was an exhilarating moment for me to be part of the NASSCOM Diversity and Inclusivity summit.  
I was there to receive the award for ‘Best Emerging Company’ on behalf of my company at the Summit.   

We soaked in all the attention from other companies and the press. That we had worked hard for the last three years with a humble ,slow & sluggish start to reach where we are today made it truly special.
To me, encouraging  women to get into corporate worklife was a personal mission. I could relate to it being a girl raised in the 80’s and 90’s from a conservative Tambram, Indian middle class family. Thanks to a lot of my clan and gender flocking to corporate careers, it is easy today for a city bred 20 something to start earning her own money and be economically independent.
But there are so many women out there who are just as capable but were born at the wrong time at the wrong places. And i am not even talking Afghanistan.
In a small way it has been my personal mission to encourage women, especially those who have been victims of domestic violence to take that giant leap of confidence and strive to become economically independent. 

Today, I am proud of so many strong women who work with us. These are women who have beaten all odds and are striving to acheive economic independence. I have a colleague who has no qualms talking about her past when she spent time in a mental asylum when she went through the pits in her life. Stories of women like her and so many others make me feel truly blessed.

A couple of months ago, I bump into 22 year old Sakkubai in commercial street. She says hello to me. I note that her English vocabulary and her confidence levels have improved leaps and bounds. She told me she had come there shopping to buy gifts for her family (probably the entire neighbourhood ) ahead of her visit during the thanksgiving holiday to Shirsi, her village in a remote part of north Karnataka.     

The first time I met her was when we were recruiting in Dharwad.  It was a frustrating day  as there were few candidates who qualified and we were under pressure to meet our ROI for our two day trip and expenses that we incurred for the trip by offering the best of the lot to justify our effort.  

Sakkubai was one of those who made it in the list out of our sheer desperation for the day. By our standards, her spoken English was bad as was with many others who interviewed that day. 

What did the trick for Sakkubai was that despite her broken English vocabulary she could communicate confidently and walk me through a slice of her everyday life in Shirsi, with complete optimism and a twinkle in her eyes. Born to a farmer in a family of five, Sakkubai was desperate to get a job in Bangalore and send home money before the wells run dry and the next season’s crop fails in her village.
Recruiting people from under privileged economic backgrounds also fitted into my personal mission since it gave me immediate gratification to see so many families getting benefitted because of that one  extra income that kept them away from knocking the doors of the money lenders and pawn brokers.  

It was not until two years back when I was interviewing Waseem that I really understood what it means to truly open up to embracing diversity. Waseem works as a Software recruiter in my team. He is visually impaired and reads with the help of a specially designed software that reads into is ears.
When Waseem’s CV arrived with a note saying how he could do the job just as well as any other candidate, I almost dismissed it.  It was an easy position to fill and candidates with similar and better qualifications were available in dime a dozen.

 I wanted to say ... ‘mmm…but you know what, boss may not approve.’

And then I prepared to say,  ‘what if the business comes back saying they do not care who works for us but need their requirements closed ASAP’

and then ‘what if this guy takes time to come to speed. We just do not have the time to coach and handhold someone…pchh.. some other time ‘

I just said … ‘ Look my job is on the neck … I need to close this position with a real ‘go getter’ and I cannot take chances. ‘

Yes … that was me, about two years ago.
But Sowmya persisted, in her usual forceful way to atleast call him for the interview.
That is why she is there with me receiving the award on behalf of the company. ( More about Sowmya some other time.)

I gave in and took the chance. We recruited Waseem.
That was my giant leap of faith in embracing inclusivity.
At a personal level it was a small but significant act.
I am happy that I had the courage to push through Waseem’s candidature.
Needless to say, the fellow does a fantastic job and surprises everyone around him by beating expectations every day. I must say we finally got our ‘go getter’ in Waseem.
(Thank you Waseem if you are reading the blog, I know it is appraisal time but don’t quote me on this ;)
 The diversity summit taught me much more … Diversity is not just about women and men, Disabled and abled people, old and young or rich and poor people working together.

When I Attended the LGBTA ( lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Asexual)  session  at the NASSCOM summit I found myself revisiting my biases.  
So, what has sexual orientation got to do with professional life’ …

‘Well, why don’t such people just shut up and behave ( and dress up)  like they are all straight… ?’

 ‘May be it is child abuse, stressful upbringing and sheer peer pressure at boarding schools that causes people to behave unnaturally like that … just a passing fad …or maybe that phase of life.’

‘Why cannot they just adapt to being straight and live like everybody else ? Just how difficult can that be ?‘

 I was not the only one with such questions. But the answers were eye-openers.    
Here is a story from Nadir … that moved me and I thought it ought to be published…

I am born into a conservative Muslim family and was based in Mumbai. When I say conservative it is in literal terms, my family prays when I get a stomach pain; now I guess you have an idea how traditional we are. My father was employed abroad and I grew up along with my sister and care of my mother. The ladies in my life used to dress me up as a female while I was child and used to enjoy it; those are the sweet memories of my childhood.

During my summer vacation while I was class one, we had been to our hometown along with my family. I still remember the day; it was a rainy afternoon and all my family members had gone out to attend a wedding leaving me and my cousin back home.  My cousin took advantage of the situation and molested me that afternoon. I did not complain about this to anyone as I thought that even if I complain I would be reprimanded for been immature. The fact is that I quiet enjoyed the sexual experience though it was for the first time and was without my consent.

 Then on, I was leading a life of a male physically, but emotionally I was fantasizing a female life and enjoying all the attention from men. As I grew, I was enjoying all the attention that I was getting from men and started having sexual relationship with men in my complex. Late into my school life I was enthused to a new world – the Internet; where I got to know of the chat room for Gay men. Through which I got connected, started meeting few men and having sexual relationship, until I fell in love with my first partner. This was when I had completed my schooling and was pursuing my 12th grade and also had taken up odd jobs to support my family. I managed my studies, my job, my family and my partner, until one day when he publicly abused me, which I could not tolerate and had to end the relationship. I was still been humiliated for my feminine tone and body language by rest of the world when all the action was happening in my life. My family was still unaware of my sexual priorities and weren’t open enough to discuss about it.

 I took up my first job at a well known corporate. During my employment I wanted to test waters and discuss my sexuality; that was the first time I mentioned that I was Gay to two of my lady colleagues and the response I received from them was incredible. They mentioned that your sexuality is your personal choice and we have nothing to do with it as long as we are professional at work. That gave me the confidence to share my sexuality with my male colleagues as well; I received similar response from them as well. Today, my entire organization is aware that I am Gay and have no reservations about anything in the organization, I am proud to be associated with such an organization, which is queer friendly.

I am Nadir and I am proud to be a Gay. Treat everyone equally and with respect – be it a woman, a physically challenged or a LGBTA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Asexual).


 Nadir – We are proud of you. 
Your article may not find its place in our company’s newsletter ( yet) … but my blog has a place for you.   
It takes a lot of guts to affirm your individuality and not give in to social pressures. If only a lot of us truly stood up for who we were at the right time … or spoke up for the right people, the world would be a very different place to live in.
mmm… Everyday there are new lessons to be learnt  … new inspirations to meet … and newer experiences that unfold.
'When you reduce life to black and white, you never see rainbows. '
Rachel Houston


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Surviving Richard Parker - Lessons from Life of Pi

Life of Pi  (The book as well as the movie) probably rates in my view as one of the classic pieces of creation. Like most classics it is very profound, inspriring and is like a kaldeiscope.

Everytime you read and re- read the book or watch the movie it leaves you with a different and a deeper perspective and a connect to our own souls and the lives we lead.
Even when  you dismiss it as a bizarre piece of fiction, it leaves a profound impact if you choose to ponder over the subtle messages that it conveys.

This time around when I watched the movie, it is the relationship with Richard Parker that left me awestruck.

There is a Richard Parker in probably all our lives. A character that we fear, loathe, want to avenge and may be even kill if we had that one licence to kill.
In the dense urban jungles that we live  the danger of Richard Parker is more to our soul and less to the physical body.

We all devise our own methods to live and survive with our very own Richard Parkers in the human jungle. Many perish in this struggle because more often than not, it is an unequal fight. However it is sometimes true that we just give in, in the belief that our destiny is best left to fate.
This inspiring story teaches us that the human spirit when blessed with that magnificent power that comes from within or above (it does'nt matter from where) can survive, thrive, coexist and even fall in love with Richard Parker.
Marking our very own boundaries is the very essence of survival. Unlike animals , we human beings do not urinate and mark our boundaries. Neither do we show teeth to indicate our physical prowess.

As we evolved and moved away from animal kingdom to our own civilized worlds we seem to have devised other subtle ways in which we size each other up.
Our position in the jungle and our boundaries are not always based on brute physical strength.
Money, looks, designation, power, love, a flashier car, a better figure, exotic jewellery, better performance rating ... oh the list can be endless.   
In the human jungle Richard Parker takes many forms.
He/  she / It could be your Overpowering Boss, Cheeky Co worker, husband, wife, next door neighbour, father, mother, mother in law , credit card recovery agent or that nosy loud mouth aunty, who constantly attempt to cross your boundaries and diminish your significance in the scheme of things.  

No matter what form he she or it takes, when the fear of Richard Parker wears you down one should   always remember what Pi said.
 'Richard Parker cannot be tamed. But he can be trained.'
When you cannot fight him, the clever thing to do is to keep your Richard Parker fed. It can give you some breathing space and help your survival struggle.

You never know when a time will come when you will sorely miss your Richard Parker.

For every struggle in life has a purpose. Whether or not the purpose is known to us is immaterial.

Lessons in Humility at the Golden temple

To call it a structure symbolizing classic minimalism would be an oxymoron. The Harmandir Sahib or the Golden temple of Amritsar...