I had expressed my bewilderment with the very casual use of the word “love” in an earlier post. I had asked, in all seriousness, how a man can say, “ I love my wife” and after five minutes say “I love Masala Dosa” with the same intensity.

Another word like that in a different league altogether, but equally as casually used to describe all kinds of things is “Success”. I always insist on anyone using this word in any communication to me, to clearly define what exactly is meant and in what context it is used.

Let me illustrate.

I have two friends. The three of us were classmates in school and have continued to be friends for all these years.

One is a very wealthy entrepreneur who has just about every possible material comfort and status symbol that money can buy. He comes from a small farming family whose two other brothers are still farmers just about reaching what can be called a border line upper middle class level of life styles. My friend has nothing to do with his brothers and shuns them for having treated him very shabbily when he did not want to be a farmer and wanted to partition the property to take his share to start his business. Subsequent to his success, the brothers of course tried to get back into his good books, but my friend would have nothing of it. The schism, is supposed to be the cause of the death of both of his parents at untimely ages.

This friend has a son and a daughter. The son has joined the father’s business after completing his studies, which included an MBA from an American University. The daughter is married into another wealthy business family and is apparently comfortably settled.

The other friend was the most studious of the three of us and went on to become a Professor. He has got a PhD and is considered to be an excellent teacher with a very loyal student and peer following. Like most teachers, he has not made a great deal of money but is reasonably comfortable in his retirement with his pension and income from savings. His two sons, both in the USA subsidize his standard of living and therefore he has no financial problems.

I am retired from a lifetime of professional management and consulting, besides being a mentor to a number of young managers and entrepreneurs. I have a son who lives with us after his divorce from his wife of five years. He is also recovering from a failed entrepreneurial venture, and is now in regular employment paying off the debts that he had accumulated in his attempt at entrepreneurship. My primary occupation is to provide care to my wife who is semi invalid. I have a reasonably good life style though not anywhere near what my other two friends can afford.

My first friend has had two open-heart surgeries and is slightly handicapped due to a stroke. The other friend has been to the USA on three occasions and has returned to India a disappointed man, as he does not want to live there, and his two sons, do not want to return to India. He and his wife have just moved into a cooperative home project for senior citizens.

From among the three of us, who do you think is a success? Why?

Love Marriages Vs Arranged Marriages

During a particularly intense group discussion on modern marriages, one participant from the group of senior citizens that meets every evening at our joggers’ park, offered the comment that most problems that married people were going through now a days, was due to a lot of them being love marriages as opposed to the good old fashioned arranged marriages. This led the group dividing into to two equally strong sub groups, one for and one against love marriages.

Since, I did not have either the love marriage as is popularly known, nor the arranged marriage, I had to keep quiet. I married my friend’s sister after having known her for eight years purely on a platonic basis. We were good friends and just decided to take it to the next step without too much fuss. We have now been married for forty years and the marriage has worked very well.

I however offered the thought that the word “Love” is used very indiscriminately and it needs to be defined for each context. I suggested that in our case, my wife and ‘grew’ in love rather than ‘fell’ in love prior to our marriage. I strongly believe that the word has become a catch all one for describing all kinds of emotions. It amazes me when a man who says that he loves his wife, after five minutes, says that he loves Masala Dosa! When I voiced this thought, naturally there was a lot of good-humored ribbing about the group that was pro love marriages.

There are many reasons for marriages failing and I am not an expert in the subject. I however came across a beautiful story as a ‘forward’ without mentioning the author’s name and I reproduce it below.

I once had a friend who grew to be very close to me. Once when we were sitting at the edge of a swimming pool, she filled the palm of her hand with some water and held it before me, and said this:

“You see this water carefully contained on my hand? It symbolizes Love. This is how I see it. As long as you keep your hand caringly open and allow it to remain there, the water will always be there. However, if you attempt to close your fingers round it and try to posses it, it will spill through the first cracks it finds.

This is the greatest mistake that people do when they meet love … They try to posses it, they demand, they expect … And just like the water spilling out of your hand, love will retreat from you. For love is meant to be free. You cannot change its nature.

If there are people that you love, allow them to be free beings.
Give and don’t expect.
Advise, but don’t order.
Ask, but never demand.
It might sound simple, but it is a lesson that may take a lifetime to truly practice.
It is the secret to true love. To truly practice it, you must sincerely feel no expectations from those who you love, and yet an unconditional caring.”

Passing thought … Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take; but by the moments that take our breath away.

Brigadier P T Gangadharan

I did not know this piece of information about Brigadier Gangadharan when I wrote yesterday’s post. I give below the same to express my admiration for him and to honor him by sharing the information with all those who read this blog.

Brigadier Gangadharan served the Indian Army Infantry (Guards) for about 35 years and had to take untimely retirement due to becoming a war casualty while commanding an Infantry Brigade on the border in J&K in 2000(Mar).He is now confined to a wheel chair due to paraplegia below chest level, as a result of spinal cord injury.

From all accounts, he appears to be a great fighter and now fights for the armed forces despite being confined to a wheel chair.

I salute you Sir.

Separate Pay Commission for the Armed Forces

The rumblings started with the release of the fifth pay commission recommendations. The armed forces felt betrayed. The solution is still to be announced. Our Neta Log are too busy doing other “more important things” than to address this very important issue.
The way Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw was sent off again brought out the anguish in the armed forces to the forefront.
Our civilian population does not seem to be bothered about looking after and honouring our armed forces.
By chance, I came across this email sent to our Minister for Defense, and with his permission, I am reproducing below the mail sent by Brig. P T Gangadharan.
By posting this on my blog, I am extending my support to the appointment of a separate pay commission for the Armed Forces of India.
From: brigadier ptgangadharan [email protected]
To: ‘Shri.AK Antony,RM’ [email protected]
Date: Friday, July 18, 2008, 11:44 PM
My Dear Sir,
*1.It was indeed a noble gesture by the PM. As per newspaper reports, the PM was so impressed by the devotion to duty of late Mr Rao, the IFS officer who died in the Kabul bomb blast, that he announced several benefits for his next of kin. These include, full salary and government accommodation till the officer would have retired in 2023. It is undisputable that every possible succour must be provided to the bereaved family under such circumstances. Yet, without prejudice to this thought or to the sacred memory of the deceased, certain olitically incorrect questions arise?
*2.What separates the case of Mr Rao from that of Brig RD Mehta, or for that matter Col V Vasanth and scores of other army personnel who lay down their lives in the line of duty, actively combating terrorism almost every day? Why has no one ever thought of such benefits for their families? Is there any doubt about their devotion to duty? Are their lives any less precious to their families, or to the nation? Or is it ‘no big deal’ because it is part of the professional hazards for services personnel, to lay down their lives? The violent death of a diplomat or bureaucrat, on the other hand , is a rare occurrence thus evoking greater sympathy?
*3.All along, we are being told that that the armed forces are supposed to be at par with other services when it comes to fixing pay and allowances. This is the standard argument forwarded ,for denying a separate pay commission for the Armed Forces. By the same logic, the death benefits for other services should be the same as those applicable to the armed forces. The reason for these double standards is therefore hard to fathom. Irrespective of the reasons or sentiments behind such random acts of kindness, it must be understood that it undermines the supreme sacrifice made by others, and is liable to affect the morale of their comrades.
*4.It is time that the government decided once and for all whether the armed forces are at par with other central services or not, and act responsibly rather than arbitrarily.
Brigadier PT Gangadharan(Guards)
Tel-0495 2356863/9447766863

Brigadier(Retd) PT Gangadharan(Guards)
Tel-0495 2356863/9447766863


Topics discussed in families.

A cousin of mine came to visit me a couple of days ago. He spent just a few hours with me, but they were intense for the range of topics that we covered.

There is only five years difference in age between us and we have always been quite close to each other due to various circumstances that kept throwing opportunities to be with each other at us throughout our life.

I was loath to see him leave as there was so much more to talk and reminisce about. I suppose that this is what happens when people close to you are physically far away from you and your meetings with them are all too infrequent.

Two topics that we discussed were interesting for their application to many people in similar circumstances.

My cousin is childless due to some medical reasons. He and his brother have lived in a joint family and his brother’s children were all the time around for him to be exposed to the joys of children growing up. Added to that, he has a sister living close by whose children also used to be around quite frequently and so the numbers were also quite substantial.

Now, all the children are grown up and some have children of their own. His brother is quite busy with his grand children whereas, with the joint family having split up recently, with each sibling moving into individual homes, this particular cousin is left with his wife in an independent home. He recently had a stroke and that has also had an effect on his psyche. My brother who is a neighbor for him also is quite busy with a grand child and I am not yet blessed with one.

This common absence of grandchildren as well as his childlessness has caused a lot of commentary within our family circles. This was the topic that took up quite a bit of our time to get both of us in a humorous mood to learn about all the comments made by various others and the theories that are going around about what will be mentioned in our wills! Both of us had a good laugh at such minor matters getting such major attention.

What a topic to discuss about! I suppose that all families go through such discussions when nothing else interesting takes place. Do you have access to such information if the bulk of your family lives far away from where you live? How do you react to such discussions?

Customer Service – Conclusion.

We have come a long way from where we started with customer service. We have now come to the generic term of ‘service’ around which I intend building my proposal of a different way to look at customer service as well as look at service itself as a customer service.

“Joy can be real only if people look upon their life as a service, and have a definite object in life outside themselves and personal happiness…” – Leo Tolstoy

This quote sums up what I have found to be an effective way to be joyful as well live in a world where one can extend service as a way of life without being artificial about it. What most training programs miss out is the soft aspect of Customer Service, which is to get all employees or members of a team to address their task in a spirit of service and in a holistic way.
I had talked about individuals and departments treating each other as customers to improve service levels and how to implement this. I have carried this exercise to its logical conclusion by taking service to individual levels by treating whoever I come across as a customer deserving my undivided attention and service. It need not be for monetary consideration at all. All that this shift in attitude towards others achieves is improved relationships. Many people are quite surprised when they meet me for the first time and think that I am putting them on! When they find that I am quite serious after a few interactions, the relationship changes from one of suspicion and perhaps even derision to one of mutual benefit.
Having seen how effective this has been in my personal life, I have made it my life’s mission to carry this message to whomever I come in contact with. I do not have to make it in an overt aggressive manner and just my behavior is sufficient to generate curiosity, which enables me to explain my philosophy. Over the last few years, in my retirement, this has resulted in me converting quite a few people to my way of thinking with some very pleasing outcomes. Improved service levels in shops, government departments, auto rickshaws, banks etc are all perceived by just treating the other person as a customer and approaching him as though you are prepared to extend a service to him rather than the other way around. When one is sincere about this attitude, the transaction inevitably proceeds to a satisfactory conclusion.
I hope that this series of posts on Customer Service has been of interest and that something of benefit to the reader has been presented. Do you think that what I have written about is practical? Are you prepared to try it out? If you already have tried it out, what are your comments? I will be very interested in knowing answers to these questions.