Sunday, September 2, 2012


"I have never in my life learned anything from any man who agreed with me." - D. F. Malone

I borrow this quote from the website of Student Welfare Group, IIT Kharagpur (Link). It is another matter to consider if agreement reinforces learning and clears self-doubt, if any. The message conveyed by the quote cannot be lost in a campus which houses thousands of stimulated-intellect, immensely potent individuals, the would be leaders. Ability to accept opinion of others, feedback obtained from various interactions in a healthy manner and working on them is more than a virtue, a recipe for success.

We can and we do live with some amount of inability in almost every parameter that defines us as human. Imperfections are not uncommon. Some of us work on these deficiencies. Some do not. We are not that sensitive till it crosses the threshold. When it crosses, there can be two extreme scenarios. In one, the person tries to harm himself. In the other, the person tries to harm others. The little I wanted to share on the first count appears in this post (Link). The current post is to share few of my thoughts on the other extreme which starts with building up of anger within, one of the six ripus, the seers say, one must not allow to dominate. My mother often recites a Bengali poem which she studied in her school and remembers even now - "Krodh samo pap ar nahi e bhubane" (Anger is the worst malaise on the earth) and then the poem lists the ill-effects of Krodh, the anger.

XLRI experience

The one month training I had at XLRI, Jamshedpur about twenty years back makes me miss the faculty, the ambiance of that place even today. I remember that there was a photo frame on a wall there on which most important one word sentence, most important two word sentence, .... most important six word sentence were written. What I can gather from memory and search is the following.

Most important one word sentence: Sorry!
Most important two word sentence: Thank you!
Most important three word sentence: May I help?
Most important four word sentence: What is your opinion?
Most important five word sentence: You did a good job.
Most important six word sentence: I admit I made a mistake.

All of us may appreciate the above. But if we try to adopt it in our life the "I" factor comes in between. This in some places has been termed as 'rascal ego' (Link), which is an impediment in our effort to reach our higher self.

A friend indeed

The company we choose has a lot to do in how we grow up, how we respond to situation. The 'ego' may tell that 'I am in control of myself' and thus make me feel secured, insulated. This underestimates the effect of the company I keep. It is true that one has immense power within oneself to overcome whatever be the influence of that company. More often than not, we are not aware of that power and do not exercise that power. We should strive to increase our strength and at the same time be responsible for our act. Till we reach even a moderate level of self-confidence, we should exercise our option and caution to select our friends. We may ask ourselves - Does the company I keep gives me strength and happiness, makes me feel positive and good about life?

We look for a company who is in agreement with my view of life. The more is our association with certain assertion, the more we feel attached to it. A rejection of that assertion or a counter view appears to counter me or reject me. I feel repulsive about the proposer of the counter view. I get angry. I cannot treat him as friend. I forget that I miss an opportunity to learn. I forget that only a friend can take the pain of a potential rejection but can show the courage and strength required to present a counter view. The people who agree to whatever I say, may be my ego booster but not necessarily my friend.

Sympathy vs. Empathy

Even the best of the buddies may feel jealous at times. The '3 Idiots' movie has message for teachers as well as student communities. May be the message for the teaching community was more loud to make it a film for the youth. However one cannot miss quotes like, "Jab dost fail karta hai to dukh hota hai. Jab o top karta hai to bahut dukh hota hai." A weak translation would be, "It hurts if a friend fails. It hurts more if he tops." In a competitive environment, professional jealousy, envy cannot be ruled out. Sportsman spirit, like other character qualities, need cultivation. It is easy to sympathize - treat pain of others as my own. It is not so easy to empathize - treat both pain and joy of others as my own pain and joy.

Facebook anecdote : "Why do we shout in anger?" 

I often am in two minds to accept facebook friend requests. For students sending friend request, the policy I followed is to wait till I am done with my role to apprise them. The small facebook friend circle I have, comprises of my batch mates, relatives, ex-students and people befriended through professional acquaintance. And I must say that this is another very important source for me to get educated and updated. The following anecdote was shared by one friend in facebook with whom I studied together during my BTech days at IIT Kharagpur.  

A saint who was visiting river Ganges to take bath found a group of family members on the banks, shouting in anger at each other. He turned to his disciples smiled 'n asked.

'Why do people shout in anger shout at each other?'

Disciples thought for a while, one of them said, 'Because we lose our calm, we shout.'

'But, why should you shout when the other person is just next to you? You can as well tell him what you have to say in a soft manner.' asked the saint

Disciples gave some other answers but none satisfied the other disciples.
Finally the saint explained, .

'When two people are angry at each other, their hearts distance a lot. To cover that distance they must shout to be able to hear each other. The angrier they are, the stronger they will have to shout to hear each other to cover that great distance.

What happens when two people fall in love? They don't shout at each other but talk softly, Because their hearts are very close. The distance between them is either nonexistent or very small...'

The saint continued, 'When they love each other even more, what happens? They do not speak, only whisper 'n they get even closer to each other in their love. Finally they even need not whisper, they only look at each other 'n that's all. That is how close two people are when they love each other.'

He looked at his disciples and said. 'So when you argue do not let your hearts get distant, Do not say words that distance each other more, Or else there will come a day when the distance is so great that you will not find the path to return.'

The story of three samurai

One of my senior student heard it from his friend of Vivekananda Study Circle (Link). The story is simple but profound.

It is said that Japan prospered under first samurai who believed in, "If a cuckoo does not sing, remove it." It prospered even more under second samurai who believed in, "If a cuckoo does not sing, force it." It prospered the most under third samurai who believed in, "If a cuckoo does not sing, wait. If it is a cuckoo and if there is spring, it will sing".

In my theory class of 120+ students I found that a large no. of students were having 100 percent attendance. There are always some such students. But this semester the proportion was much higher. In IIT, there are so many different societies and activities and there are medical and family issues - it is not easy to find full attendance for a large population. On a lighter thread, I asked this community to start a facebook page and let me be the first to 'like' it. However, there were few who had poor attendance. The threat of 'deregistration' brought them back in the class. Given the time is short, and we ourselves need to work more to motivate students to attend class, and hold them there with inspiring lectures, a combination of three samurai approach may help the student community as a whole. Also we don't know what would have happened if the sequence was different for three Samurais. The first two may have prepared the ground for the third. Also, the tutorial, class test, mid-sem. exam., end-sem exam.  - we just cannot wait for spring to come and cuckoo to sing, more so if it is autumn semester :-)

All the students will perform well if they are serious about themselves; little bit of disciplined life and there is no reason why they cannot reach milestones as per the timelines with ease. There will be no frustration, no jealousy. The problem comes when one tends to relax, feels complacent. My little experience is that this is where IIT system leaves no room, so packed is the program. Two-three fun-filled weeks during the semester, one keeps searching for clues what is happening in the class. There are no holidays before class test, lab-test, mid-sem, end-sem exam.s. Therefore, we try to make students aware all the time through interactions in the class, through emails, thorough posts such as these (Link). The students / parents can say if these are of any help or not.

No injury to others

A question may come in the mind, "Shall I remain quiet if somebody tries to harm me?" It is true that we come across both good and wicked people in our life. Wherever possible we avoid the company of the wicked but there may be situations where we need to confront them. Sri Ramakrishna gives a nice solution of this through one of his parable (Translated in original, suggested  Link1 : abridged :  Link2, All tales and parables : Link3)

There lived a poisonous snake in a thinly populated jungle region.  It was so poisonous and it would attack people at the least provocation resulting in the death of victims.  One day a Brahmachari happened to pass that way and the snake was about to attack the holy man.  He uttered a mantra and immediately the snake was subdued.  Then the Brahmachari told the snake that it should give up its harmful nature.  He initiated the snake with a mantra and asked it to repeat that mantra regularly.  After the initiation, the snake completely changed its way of life and started living only on grass and fruits.  It would not harm anybody.  Once the boys of that area went near the snake and were surprised to find that the snake was not reacting angrily.  They lifted it by the tail, thrashed it on the ground and left it there thinking that it was dead.  The snake was hurt seriously but not dead.  Slowly it went into its hole and would come out only during the night.  After some months, the Brahmachari again came to that area and enquired about that snake.  He started calling aloud for the snake which came out after great difficulty.  Seeing its condition, the Brahmachari asked as to what had really happened.  The snake had become so Sattwik that it was not even able to recollect that the boys had thrashed him.  But, after several promptings by the Brahmachari it was able to recollect and narrated its tale of woe.  Then the Brahmachari admonished the snake saying that, “I told you not to harm people, which means that you should not bite anybody, but I didn’t prevent you from hissing so as to protect yourself.” 

One can protect oneself like this without injuring others. A soldier in army injures enemy as a part of his duty*. The civil society need not consider a fellow being as an enemy. Neither it can be called a duty to harm another person. Any attempt to do that will bring agitation within which will harm me more than anybody else in the long run. Avoiding such a company / situation, hissing as told in the parable (pretending to harm to scare away - since it is pretension and not actual, no harm to others or self) are useful. Also, the power of organization, as told by Vivekananda is helpful. He observed that the secret to have a great future of India lies in organization, accumulation of power, co-ordination of wills. He talked about all the powers of good against all the power of evil. However, we must not forget "Hate the sin, not the sinners." Wicked self of one is an aberration. If one is capable and confident, one can try to make such a person familiar with his nobler self.

[*Told by a research student of another Dept. during recess of an interview. We had some time before the start of the interview and started chit-chatting. The student told that he attended one study circle previous Saturday in his native place called Narayangarh (about 30 KM from campus). The topic of their discussion was : What is duty and how to perform it.]

[Update on 05.9.2012 : Today's Times of India, Kolkata edition reports famous Kolkata premier league footballer Tolgay saying "Everything is forgiven but nothing is forgotten,” on his spat with former club East Bengal as he switches over to their arch rival Mohanbagan this season. Without going into the merit of this particular case, we can ask ourselves in the context of this post, when we say the same - what is not forgotten when we forgive someone. Is it the lesson learnt or something else? The first sentence in wiki (Link) says, "Forgiveness is the renunciation or cessation of resentmentindignation or anger as a result of a perceived offense, disagreement, or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution."]

Anger and family life

Last THU evening got a call from a place about 10 KM from a campus where I stayed during student days. My father was in railway service (Link) there. An appointment was requested from me. The nature of my responsibility here needs interaction of many, many people which are not always predictable. The WED evening went in an impromptu meeting with two students of Robotix society. They were looking for a solution to a drift problem where an accelerometer and a gyro are put together. Also there were visits of NSS program officers. There is a meeting with Technology Transfer Group students on FRI evening for 100 days, 100 patents campaign. The SAT is dedicated to NSS activity (Link). And there are few thesis to complete before convocation. Therefore, decided to set off then and there.

Reached the origin of call at about 6:30 PM. Here is a mother who cannot sleep anytime during day and night, keeps standing at the 1st floor balcony holding iron grills at hand, looking at the entrance of the house, waiting for son to come. She visited CMC hospital, Vellore five times and has many different diseases. Her entire thought process revolves around the only son. The son, highly educated and in a high paying job, has distanced himself since marriage and abuses if any effort is made to contact. Even a phone call at home is not made which is the only thing the mother asks for. However, money is sent regularly. I was not in a position to get into compulsion, if any, the son faces, what enrages him so much and the family issues, what happened in the past etc. The little I could do is to counsel the mother with what people taught me, not sure how well I understood them. The essence had been to draw attention to things that she has with her as support system (and not the ones she is not having), the reality of life as prevalent in modern society on service rendered to ageing parents (more among the educated and elite) and lessons conveyed in parables of various holy books. Spent about 2 hours. The lady who cocooned herself in a room upstairs for long, came downstairs to say bye. Assured to visit again. The other day I was wondering if NSS volunteers (Link) can reach out to this section of the community who served the society when they were able and are now abandoned in some sense (social, emotional need).

[The attached pic is shared by a friend in facebook. The narration says : I clicked this picture at Chennai interstate bus terminal. The weight of this boy is around 90 KG,he is mentally and physically ill. He even can’t walk. You can see how his mother is carrying him…???? Can you believe this!!! ……we salutes all mothers in this world!!!! Mom you are great!!!!!

I remember a play that I witnessed in the stage of Durga Mandir, Golebazar, Kharagpur during my student days, most probably enacted by Shaonli Mitra group. A son, who had lost his good sense, decided to oblige a demand that asks him to give his mother's heart as present to someone. He tip-toes to find mother sleeping, with no fear in her face, lest from her son. The son flashes his knife, takes out the heart, stained in blood. As he hurries to offer his present, different kind of feelings descending on him, he takes a miss-step and falls on the ground. The mother's heart in his hand gets an anxious voice, "My child, hope you are not hurt!" It was in Bengali, "Bachha, la ge ni to!"

There are stories of other extreme where possessiveness manifests in another manner. I shall be exceeding the brief of this post to dwell on this complex issue - how much space an individual requires for oneself. May take up in future. ]

Relocation of friend

Received an SMS two days back. Somebody from Civil Service background, who I came to know in course of my professional responsibility and was delighted to receive a 'friend' request in facebook, is leaving Kharagpur and is relocated in Chief Miniser's Office at Kolkata with a higher responsibility. Shall miss him here very much. Our best wishes for the new assignment.


Distance does not matter. Let our friend circle continue to grow. Let us always find a friend when we need  - true friend, not necessarily someone who agrees with me whatever I say and dumps on me negative thoughts and ideas. Let us never think of extremes of any kind, that can harm me or harm others. Let us help each other and together the society that we all serve.

For professional counselling service which assures confidentiality, one is suggested to take help of institute counselling centre, the details of which can be found here (Link).

1 comment:

Goutam Saha said...

From Economic Times dated Sept. 02, 2012:

Saying Sorry is What They Forgot to Teach You at IIM Ahmedabad
From the reports I read, many senior executives from Apple met and warned Samsung officials often about their patent infringements and asked them to change course. Samsung did not care.
If you look carefully around you, the world today has become much more civilised. If someone tries to steal your wife, you will probably have a chat with him (or her) rather than taking out your pistol and shooting that person. If the culprit says sorry, you will probably move on.
In the digital world that I operate in, we have a wonderful law called ‘cease and desist’. It’s a gentlemanly way of warning each to stop doing something wrong (eg. copying Bappi Lahiri’s songs and selling them as bathroom music). Once I receive the warning, I stop doing it. Life goes back to status quo.
The challenge is handling the ego and the insult. Most businesses wear armours of pride that cannot be penetrated. And they pay the price of not being able to walk away despite being warned. They get blown to pieces.
Lesson: We all do wrong stuff. But if you get noticed and warned, be smart. Abandon and vamoose.