Dances of Kerala

Kerala is home to many arts – classical and folk, each with its distinctive flavor. Each dance immerses the viewer in a unique experience.

A trip to Kerala cannot be officially complete without watching a Kathakali performance. Kathakali was traditionally the bastion of only men, who donned female costumes as well. With colourful face makeup, elaborate costumes and headgear, kathakali artists intrigue and enthrall the viewer. The sounds of the drums and cymbals along with the accompanying vocals and the dancer himself makes time stand still and transport the viewer into the actual scene from the mythology/epic from where the story is told. It adds to the mysticism around kathakali.

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The swaying of coconut trees with the gentle breeze influenced the movements of another classical art form in “the land of coconuts” – the graceful Mohiniyattam. The only Indian classical dance form performed exclusively by ladies. Literally meaning dance of the enchantress, the seductive glances, the swaying movements of the torso, the expressiveness of the face adds to the allure and grace of the dance, enchanting the audience in the process and living up to its name. Temples in Kerala host kathakali and mohiniyattam performances, usually after twilight, for the benefit of devotees.

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Theyyam is part ritual and part spiritual dance from Northern Kerala. Performed predominantly by people hailing from the lower caste, once in Theyyam attire, the artist transforms himself and is considered equivalent to God by the locals. Sounds of chenda (drum)  in the background, the clanging of theyyam’s anklets, the headgear and face makeup add to the ethereal feel. Theyyam is usually performed in temples and ancestral homes(tharavadus) in north Malabar. If you are a culture buff like me, be prepared to lose yourself in these dances of Kerala – where journeys end and stories begin.

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Experiments Flashing Fiction#2 : The Morning After (Vagaries in Vegas)

 

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“Can I join you ? “, a tall buxom girl asked the young man sitting alone at his table, at the hotel buffet. Thick eyelashes with a dash of kohl – his middle eastern features stood out.

“Sure”

“Thanks for doing this”, she said pushing a wad of notes in his hand.

The young man was surprised. The girl seemed vaguely familiar. He tried to think hard. Was she another agent ? Did she do a striptease for a bachelor party? It was Vegas – anything could happen.

The nasty headache was not helping either. He tried to remember yesterday’s assignment – the club, the blaring noise of the loudspeakers, the girl. She was alone at a corner, probably waiting for someone. It was the red dress she wore which stood out.

“Do you have a boyfriend ? “, he had slided into the couch, knees touching hers. She had worn fishnet stockings.

“No”

Here eyes and hair – were they from the same country?

“Sarah”

“Jacob”. They shook hands.

It started with long island ice tea followed by tequila shots, some crazy dancing, invitation to his room and a sleepover.

************

He looked at the buxom girl and sat bolt upright. Recognition had hit him the previous night before the soporific effects of alcohol took over. It somehow never occurred to him till now.

The tall girl continued, ” I was worried about my sister. I just wanted her to stay safe. She was upset after her breakup. I took her here to forget that jerk.”

“You know, I had a huge crush on Sarah since school. Better let her not know you planned her date “, he told Sarah’s sister. ” I am planning to go on a real one with her later this evening.”

 

 

 

Perspectives of Leadership

As part of one of our courses, a leader had to be interviewed to gain perspective. I interviewed a person working in public sector. Being a leader there can be challenging as corruption is accepted as the standard norm, and bringing in change is considered a herculean effort.

During the interview process what struck me was the clarity of thought and vision in every role played with  a clear mandate on what was right and wrong. In a study by Nandal and Krishnan, it was discovered there was a positive relation between charisma and lack of role ambiguity. The study went on to note that it was the absence of role ambiguity and not the charisma of the leader that could directly result in empowerment of followers by increasing their self-efficacy.

The system in itself had its flaws. A lot has remained unchanged since the British times, with the system designed to foster a trust deficit between authorities and the public. Unfortunately, this attitude continues to this day. This strongly seemed to suggest that the organization structure inspired the strategy and not vice versa. Unlike the lackadaisical approach of most officers, this person’s subordinates are inspired to think out of the system to set up a new structure keeping in line with the democratic ideals of the country.

I realized that in order to grow and create an impact, one must constantly challenge the system. As George Bernard Shaw had said “Progress is impossible without change, and those who can’t change their minds cannot change anything.”

In public administration and other organizations, personal charisma does not always work to get the work done from subordinates at the lower level. It is more of a position based influence, where follow-up is extremely essential to see things through. Only then would they build their expectations of the type of person you are and do the work which they are supposed to do. However, despite the hierarchy, inspiring rather than a strict command and follow structure seems more effective.  Some well performing members should also be given a certain degree of autonomy when working. I was reminded of Ken Blanchard’s situational leadership theory where there is a lot of direction in the initial stages and delegation in the later stages.

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According to De Jong et al, to enhance individual innovation among the employees, leaders could do one or all of the following:

  1. Creating a positive atmosphere – By giving employees sufficient autonomy to carry out their tasks and recognize initiatives and innovative efforts
  2. Monitoring – Some degree of monitoring is necessary, although excessive monitoring may lead to bad vibes.

A good leader has the right balance of both autonomy and monitoring.

In “One Minute Manager” by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, two of the three secrets for managerial effectiveness are One minute praisings and one minute reprimands. One minute praisings help in “catching people doing something right”, whereas one minute reprimands are highly effective due to the instant feedback and focus on the wrong action.

According to this person,  the two most important leadership traits for a bureaucrat are compassion and spine-Compassion to empathize with the people he meets (general public, corporates, rural poor, staff) and spine to stand up to unethical practices and taking tough calls when necessary. To ensure no corruption occurs within his offices, a feedback loop (media, local politicians, general public etc.) is maintained.  In an environment rampant with “jugaad” – the shortcut way of doing things, and making subordinates the scapegoat, owning up or taking a stand against an issue is very tough. Just like saying yes to things, it’s also important to say no to things to be successful.

Corruption in the public sector is a constant concern among the general public. In addition to employees’ attributes, the superior’s empowerment strategies emerged as the most important dimension of ethical leadership, in a study by Khuntia et al. Moreover, in high contextual countries like India, a positive relationship with the leader provides the employees motivation and commitment to the work. If the employee feels secure enough and nurtured under his manager, he would be loyal to the manager and the organization.

Appreciation for sincere job done and harsh punishments for offenders ensures minimal corruption. Emotional intelligence of the leader also comes in handy to nurture employees. In public administration, personal charisma and credibility at the ground level matters to get noticed by superiors. Credibility is indicative of integrity. Public administration and the corporate world are not too different that way.