Navratna – The nine gems

A holiday in Jaipur, India opened our eyes to the world of gems. Jaipur, besides being called “Pink City” is also popular across India as the city of gems. Whereas in the rest of the world, gems are used in jewellery for adornment, or as status symbols,  within India gems also play a significant part in astrology and horoscopes, which in turn is drawn out at the time of the birth.

It is believed that each individual is governed by one of the nine celestial bodies during his lifetime. This is determined based on the time of his birth and the stage of his life.  Wearing one of the nine gems as a piece of jewellery on your body, depending on which celestial body is controlling you, can help you soar to success or get over the bad phase in your life – be it personal or professional. If you are unsure which stone to wear, you can wear all nine gems (navaratna).

Scientists diss this off as plain superstition. However, there are quite a few believers too.

The nine gems are as follows :

  1.  Ruby for the Sun
  2. Pearl for the moon
  3. Red coral for Mars
  4. Emerald for Mercury
  5. Yellow Sapphire for Jupiter
  6. Diamond for Venus
  7. Blue Sapphire for Saturn
  8. Hessonite for Pluto
  9. Cat’s eye for Neptune

Besides diamonds (which are usually cut and processed in Surat, Gujarat), the rest of the eight gems are predominantly cut and worked on in Jaipur. Along with their loot obtained from conquests, the Rajput kings of ancient Rajasthan brought home skilled gemstone artisans back to their homeland. They settled around the palace with the royal family being their patrons. Many such artisans have practiced it across generations such that Jaipur has become the home of these gems and their artists.

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The view from above

I went to B school, and like in any B school which prepares you for corporate life, we had a lot of group projects, case studies and presentations. This poem was conjured during one such presentation and, erm.. my team was presenting. 

Bored and listless a Face, Not keeping up with the case.

Passionate & Energetic the speaker went on

All the while the tutor’s eyes leered on

A flash of light within my sight,

Selfies and photos being taken on the right

Some reading across(in secret) to be kind

Phones on table, fingers sliding across,

Some heads were bent not listening at all

Another’s vacant expression, a distant dream,

Off to La La land, and others gaggling in teams,

One Engaging a lady, then engaging another,

And a fiery debate ravaging on for two others

I Caught a smile across, flow of thought disrupted

Smiling back, the look and understanding

Before I went back to my musings

(Picture Source : Internet – For representation purposes only)

Existential Crisis 101

Written from the dingy confines of an inconspicuous cubicle within the corporate office of a sprawling business park from the finance capital of India

Standing figures discussing over the computer screen;

A phone stuck on another guy’s ear;

The deal seems off but he is keen;

With the desktop switched on, eyes on the mobile screen

For quite a few – Whatsapp, Facebook or lovelorn;

I care two hoots – nope, not even if its porn;

My head turns and looks on at the lone empty seat quite forlorn;

The one who heads the division has been away since morn;

Corporate ladder – go to hell; Newton’s law of inertia will prevail;

Engineering, MBA, a corporate job, however fancy – its just a veil;

I look back at the non-existential work and wonder, ” What a farce !!”

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.

Kathakali.jpg

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.

IMG_7297.jpgTheyyam.jpeg

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.