TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT

Is being honest difficult?

Ask that question to anyone who appeared in the court of law to be a witness or were fighting a case. (If we lie under oath, that is considered misleading the court and is a punishable offense.)

Ask that question to a kid who ate the ice- cream stored in the refrigerator without seeking permission.

Ask that question to someone who cheated at work or cheated on their partner.

The answer really depends, mostly on two things. One, Is being honest the right thing to do in this situation? Second, Is the person who I am going to talk to can take it? But, there is one more question we always consider before being honest. That is, Am I ready to take the consequences of being honest. If we think we are not ready, we resort to not being honest. Most people choose dishonesty for themselves more than others. This is my take. Whenever I feel someone is not being honest, the very first doubt that comes to my mind is, what is the fear that is binding them?

Few months ago I organized a virtual team event. One of the activities in the event was – “My friend at work”. Everyone in the team were to talk about a friend at work, what qualities in that friend they like the most and what is that one quality in that friend they would want to cultivate/learn as well. There were around 15 people in the call that day and 5 of them took my name as a good friend. All of them expressed the quality they wish they could learn is my ability to say whatever I feel is right, no matter who I am talking to. “The facts are x and y. Whether we like it or not there is nothing we can do about those facts than accepting them. This is what is doable and this is the impact.. When you say it Aastha, you are assertive asking them to take it or leave it. You are completely honest irrespective of how it might make all of us feel. Showing the mirror is not something everyone can do and you do it with ease. That honesty is not what we get to see often. It is rear and you really deliver the truth well. It is not easy to learn, but I would love to be that courageous“, said one of my very good friend.  After that discussion, I kept wondering if the team was trying to tell me that it hurts them. I started to be watchful about my communications.

Few days later to this, we were discussing some concept for our product which would make users life simple. From a user perspective it made complete sense to me. But, technically there is no such technology that is readily available. We spent few days dwelling all over the internet scouting for some answers. My concerns turned out to be true.  We weighed the pros and cons. The cons out numbered the pros by a large amount. Yet, there are some moments when data is not enough to convince the higher management. There are many who fear that being in good books is more important than being honest. Cannot blame them.

There is a regular meeting in which all core members of the team including business leadership meet once a week. This particular user ask came for discussion. By then, we have presented this in various forums hoping someone would understand why we cannot do it. There are specific standards that cannot be met with existing technology. My inner self could not bear wasting any more time on a feature that we know is practically impossible to build using the existing technology. We don’t have the luxury to do some research given our tight schedule. I was the youngest – both in age and rank in that meeting, yet I could not resist saying it out loud that we are wasting precious time hunting for the two birds in the bush, while letting go of the one we have in hand. I exactly used that phrase. The rest of what I said in the meeting is confidential. Two days later to this meeting, that particular feature was called off, which literally changed the direction in which the program was heading. A sigh of relief it was for me, yet, I was concerned if I overstepped. After this announcement, few people from leadership appreciated me for the candid feedback and being brutally honest, including the leader who made this proposal in the first place and strongly believed having that feature is extremely important. I scheduled a 1-1 with that leader seeking feedback. He explained it to me beautifully about how I was not thinking about likeability and solely my interest was in the products’ future. That conversation erased a lot of my worries.

I am definitely a take or leave it kind of person. It is so in both professional and personal life. Does that hurt others? Yes, in some instances. Does it help me? Of course.

I prefer to be honest with my articles as well and if someone asks me to write what I don’t really believe in, no matter how much I try I cannot write such article. Does honesty have repercussions? Oh yes. Honest trees are cut first. Yet, it is only better to be honest sooner or later. It is extremely difficult to explain dishonest choices than to face the aftermath of being honest. It takes lot of courage to be honest. 

“When you give yourself permission to communicate what matters to you in every situation you will have peace despite rejection or disapproval. Putting a voice to your soul helps you to let go of the negative energy of fear and regret.”
― Shannon L. Alder

VULNERABILITY GONE WRONG – XI

That day things at office were normal. Shekar Chandra did not try to have any conversations outside of work with Shaloween. She was quite relieved. After long day at work, she returned home, made dinner and slipped to sleep as soon as her head touched the pillow. Shaloween woke up the next morning feeling refreshed. It was as if she got control over her life. She made her breakfast, had it along with coffee and later on headed to office.

Shaloween reached her cabin to find the office boy cleaning her desk.

Why are there so less people in office today?”, she asked him in a surprised tone

Madam, you came very early today. It is only 7.30“, he smiled.

She looked at the clock and he was right. She wondered how she never paid attention to what the time was. Now that she was so early, she went for a stroll in the park besides her office. It was a really nice park, and strangely she never even noticed it properly. She sat on the bench watching all the people over there. After an hour of so, she returned to her desk.

Today was the last day the officers are going to be in Shaloween’s office. Most of the work is completed and only the closing formalities were pending. It was post lunch. All the required people were in the meeting room apart from the officers. Everyone was waiting for them. Two officers walked in and they were late by almost an hour. Shekar Chandra was not to be seen. Mahem apologized for the delay. The team quickly finished all the presentations, details were furnished and the records were updated. The officers thanked the team for outstanding work. Mahem went round the table shook hands with everyone. When he approached Shaloween, he had an unpleasant look on this face. Shaloween disregarded those expressions.

Team, thank you once again. We are going to be around for few more days in this office with regards to something that popped up. We can catch up for lunch some day“, saying this Mahem walked out of the room. There was cheer and a round of applause in the room. Everyone was delighted.

Shaloween returned home. She was in a cheerful mood that all of this is over. She spent some time with Bhaskar. She took him for an evening walk, on the way she had a Burrito. The weather was pleasant, the stars were clearly visible. She gazed at the moon while Bhaskar was playing. After a long time she had a relaxed evening. The higher official visit has taken away lot of her lone time.

She lay on the bed with Bhaskar on her side. She was browsing on her phone. She deleted all the messages she got from Chandra. She so wanted to delete his number too but just left it so. The charge on her phone was almost as low as 5%. She was looking for her charger in the bag and could not find it. She searched again and it wasn’t there. That is when she recollected that she left the charger on her desk. She put the phone on charge before she went to the park in the morning and later on forgot about it. It was not just the charger that was missing from her bag, but the letter she drafted for ICC too….

VULNERABILITY GONE WRONG – VI

He got up from his seat and walked towards the envelope glass of the office building. The view is of a park which also had a pond. There were few kids in the play area. Chandra turned around, “This park brings back lot of memories, very close to my heart. This was my favorite place, or rather it still is” , he smiled.

Shaloween is watching the reflection of Chandra on the glass. 

He carried on, “When I first moved to this city, I was feeling lonely. I don’t have that feeling anymore”

Their conversation was interrupted by a knock on the door. 

Chandra, what are you doing here? Let’s go. We are late for the meeting” – It was Mr.Mahem. 

“I will be there in a few”, replied Chandra to Mahem, then he walked closer to Shaloween and whispered in a low voice, “Let’s catch up  for dinner tonight!”

Shaloween is totally taken aback. “Why is he behaving as if we are friends. We hardly know each other and dinner. Ridiculous. He didn’t even ask me. What does he think of me?”

Shaloween was angry. However, she was clear she is not accepting such absurd catch-up requests. She wanted to tell him that she won’t be joining him for dinner. The whole day she couldn’t find him. She finished her work, returned home and was relaxing. “Mr.Chandra, Ooh, there is something about you. I can’t stop thinking about you. In one way or the other it is disturbing me. I need to put an end to all this“, she thought. Her phone buzzed in the meanwhile. It was a message from Mr.Chandra, with the location of the place for dinner with a smiley. 

She is extremely irritated. Anyway, she wanted to put an end to all this. In such a case, the best way to do it is out of office. She wanted to utilize this dinner invite for that. Instead of having dinner with him, all she wanted to do was to request him to stop bothering her, by hook or crook. She wore a casual dress with a touch of her favorite body mist, she looked like nothing one would dress up for a dinner.  She took the car keys and started driving towards the destination. It took her 20 mins to reach there. The place was almost empty.

She walked towards the reception to check if there was any booking. Before she could talk to the receptionist, there was a voice from behind, ” I am glad you are here. This way Ms.Shaloween”. Both Chandra and Shaloween headed to their table. 

As soon as they were seated, Shaloween said, ” Mr. Chandra, there is something I want to tell you”

Mr. Chandra: “Sure, but let me go first. I have a lot to talk too”

Shaloween: What is there to talk between us. I find it extremely unprofessional ….

Mr. Chandra: Please, don’t be angry. There was no time. I should have made the request a better way. Please execuse me for that. 

Shaloween could not say anything.

There was an awkward silence for sometime. Mr.Chandra resumed the conversation, “I fell in love with a girl. She is the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met. She is intelligent, meticulous and hardworking. I love how she carries herself as an independent woman. With dark eyes and a vibrant smile, she is a charmer”, said Chandra. Shaloween is a little relieved, “Thank God, he has a girlfriend”

He continued, “It was love at first sight.  I have never been so sure about anything”

“That’s nice, Mr. Chandra”, Shaloween acknowledged. 

 “If you don’t mind, you may call me Shekar”, said he. 

“You must be missing your girl friend on your birthday”, said Shaloween, then she bit her tongue and said to herself, “Damn, can’t you keep quite Shaloween. Why do you care if he misses his girlfriend or not? Stupid you. Remember, he is a higher official..”

“Well, yes, that’s true, and that is why I am here”, he smiled with a hint of naughtiness

Shaloween is now totally perplexed  thinking what was he trying to tell her. 

WHEN THE BARRIER WAS LET DOWN…

Few months back, I met one of my friends (not going to name her). She is the most daring and hardworking girl I know. In her early twenties she left her home, was on the verge of a suicide, then she started her own venture and I must say she fought her way through and is successful today. After a long time we were catching up, so we had lunch together and saw a movie. After all the fun time, she started sharing her future plans, how she wants to live closer to her parents and she plans to leave Bangalore in a year or so.

You know Aastha, Pune is where I want to move. It’s closer to my home town. I can take a trip to home on every weekend. With the money I have, I cannot afford a house in Bangalore. May be, in Pune I would be able to afford one. Would you also move to Pune?“, and there was a pause. I did not think she was waiting for an answer. I reluctantly replied to her, “No, I won’t be able to move to Pune. That is far for my home town and not even a direct flight. I am afraid that is not an option for me. Bangalore is fine. At least for now. The only thing is I don’t know if I can afford to retire in this city. It is too expensive. Anyway, that’s for a later point of time in life. Let’s see“.

OK. Then you buy a house in Bangalore, I would buy one house in Pune. That way, we can still stay at each other’s place when we travel. I don’t know yaar, I don’t want to get married. I am not ready yet. In case, if I don’t get married, you are still going to be there for me right? I can stay with you right if I feel like it?“, there was a sense of fear in her eyes.

“Of course, you are always welcome to stay at my place. If you don’t want to get married, then you don’t. Period. Don’t succumb to any pressure from anyone. I see where you are going with this conversation. You are worried about future, the fear of uncertainty. There is one thing I want you to remember. No body is going to make you the center of their world apart from parents and partner. Partner is a very important role in every person’s life. It might sound simple to not have one, but in reality it is very difficult. There would be no go to person to have a conversation, crack a joke or dine out. Well, both of us became aware of how it would be due to lockdown, thanks to the pandemic. If you are not choosing to marry, that should be solely because you don’t want to. Not because you won’t be able to share a house with me or hangout with someone else etc. That’s stupid. If you find the right person and are ready, then you should marry. You should not think about me at that time. I am not your responsibility. Likewise I might move on too. No matter what happens we stay friends, and are a phone call away always. You have been through a lot. I don’t think I would have handled things the way you did with so much patience and perseverance as you did. You would buy a house and decorate it the way you like it. Take it slow. Take it easy. Everything would fall in place.”, I hugged her and left from her place.

A couple of conversations over phone after this and she was all fine. I don’t know if I have helped her, but in many ways, I have found answers to the questions that were lingering in my mind. I could not express the worries I have with anyone, because I thought they would be brushed. Who and why would they care was always the thought. May be, I had a better insight into the worry she had, and it helped. Otherwise maybe, I would have also made a  more general, “Come on. You would be able to buy a house and settle down, don’t be stupid” kind of an answer. Most of the times, if we listen with patience, acknowledge their feelings and be there, that’s all a person who is vulnerable needs.

IT HAS THE POTENTIAL TO DO WONDERS IN RELATIONSHIPS

Many people struggle in relationships, especially romantic ( love and marriage ) only because they aren’t being kind enough. When it comes to our parents, they don’t complain even if we are not kind to them. One might ask is being kind that important? Personally, I feel that is the most important aspect in upkeeping with  the relationship. Being kind is rather simple but works wonders in relationships. So, how do we do that?

Do you surprise your partner with small gifts at times?

Do you walk up to your partner, wrap your arms around them to say how much you love them?

Do you regularly keep a check on your partner if they are feeling fine?

Would you voluntarily ask you partner if they want to talk when they are feeling low?

Do you assist your partner in day to day chores?

When your partner is sick, do you take good care of them?

Do you also do the dishes the day your duty was only to cook?

Do you greet your partner with a smile when you see them after a long day of work?

If nothing, can you just spare the day without complaining?

The list is not limited to the above. There are various small and big things we can do for our partners.

I particularly remembered one incident when the thought of kindness in relationships pondered in my mind. In the earlier team I worked in, we had a Usability engineer. She is an elderly lady. Way back in 2013 or so when I travelled to the US for some usability tests, she and I worked together collecting feedback from prospective customers. One day she walked up to my cubicle to say that she is going to pick me up the next day evening and I should spend the night at her place. That was the first time someone invited me home on overseas travel. It might be impolite to reject, so I hesitantly agreed to that proposal. On Friday evening, she drove up to the hotel I was staying in, and then took me home along with her. I spent that evening with her, her kids, dogs and cats. She arranged for a separate guest room for me. She decorated the room herself with flowers, alluring scents and nice food to top it all. I felt very honoured by her hospitality. For a junior employee like me, she didn’t have to do anything. She also taught me that it is very important to be kind and generous to others around us. This is not romantic I know, but kindness can really nurture any relationship. Kindness is extremely powerful when put into action.

In the monotonous life we lead, we sometimes forget that our partner deserves our undivided attention regularly. We cannot divide it between weekdays and weekends like we do at work. No matter how busy we are,  it is incredibly important that we are present in the relationships we are in. The ways are numerous. A warm touch, subtle appreciation or a small gift goes  a long way. The assurance we provide to the person we love is all they might need to have happy and fulfilling relationship. It may sound like being kind is easy, but , we should consciously ensure that we are there for the other person.

There are ways of behaviour that couples need to learn to express, share and receive love. It doesn’t matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert. Just think it through and you would find things you can do for your partner to make them feel special. Many teenagers and even people in early 20’s do not realise that the easiest way to impress a person is to be kind 🙂 It is not the flowers, the compassion and the thoughtfulness behind bringing those flowers is what’s more important

Being kind also leaves us feeling very positive and is foundational to enjoying happy and healthy relationships. So, just be kind, spread love.

Caution: Don’t make the mistake of being kind in an abusive relationship. That is counter effective. Your partner might start taking more advantage of you and your emotions.

Because that’s what kindness is. It’s not doing something for someone else because they can’t, but because you can.” – Andrew Iskander

UNGRATEFULLY GRATEFUL

Is 9 equal to -(-9)?

Yes, of course, you got that right. 

Is being not ungrateful, equal to being grateful? 

Let me help you by sharing what happened with my neighbour

My neighbours are an elderly couple with a son and daughter. Her son Sushrut and daughter Sunitha. Sushrut is married and lives along with his wife in a different city. Sunitha moved to the US on an assignment 5 years back and continued to live there ever since. 

My neighbour aunty passed away two years back. Sunitha was abroad when her mother passed away. She flew for the rituals and returned to the US a month after her mother passed away, leaving her father along with her brother. Sunitha thought her father would be well taken care of as long as he is with her brother. On the contrary, Sushrut and his wife tortured him for the property. When Sunitha got to know about this, she left her job in the US, returned to India so that she could take care of her father. Sunitha’s brother and sister-in-law threatened her that they won’t let her father live elsewhere. Sunitha’s father was determined to give his property equally shared between his daughter and son. Sunitha’s brother was not agreeing to this, so, Sunitha had to file a police complaint against her brother. After the police intervened, Sunitha’s brother let her father go along with Sunitha. 

Sunitha’s brother continued to have arguments with their father for the property. Every other week Sushrut would visit his father only to ask for more and more money. This continued for six more weeks and that is when the pandemic struck. Due to the lockdown restrictions in India, her brother could not drive down to where Sunitha lived anymore. One thing Sunitha said hit me harder, “After my mother passed away, it was already difficult for my father. On top of that, arguments with my brother aggravated his anger. I will always be grateful to Covid, Modi ji and the police who never let my brother cross the border. My father lived in peace for the last two months of his life“.  Uncle passed away before the lockdown ended in India.

Taking things for granted which are considered “normal” is a human tendency. When things go wrong in life, often people start to wonder, what are those things they have been ungrateful for. I have also realised how lucid my life is only after Covid.

If not for Corona and the lockdown, I would not have realised 

  • How important is human interaction even if that’s just a smile? 
  • How unthankful I have been for all those tea break conversations at work
  • How much I took me being healthy for granted. 
  • How important survival is and what is needed to survive. 
  • How much online banking, remote payments and internet at large have comforted us.
  • How apart from family, no one can really be “there” for you. (Only family members were allowed to travel due to restrictions)
  • Waking up every morning. 

I remember telling my parents several times, “If I live in Bangalore I can take a flight to be home in less than few hours. The same would be difficult if I move overseas“. I still feel this is true, but the lockdown meant, this was not possible anymore. I should never undermine the chances I get today to be with friends and family. I  am ungratefully grateful to Corona to have taught me the best lessons of life which otherwise would have taken decades to learn. It is unfortunate, the lessons came with a cost though.  

BEING A POCKET FRIENDLY CONSUMER

 

One question: Have you spent less after the pandemic lockdown till date? 

My answer to this question is a profound yes. 

It actually did surprise me. Let me tell you, I was never an over spender. My parents never gave any pocket money. I think they did me a big favour by not giving me any money. Obviously, I never threw any birthday parties or such sort of things. I have never been to a movie with friends either. All this might sound very insane to some. My parents are very protective. I am from a very conservative family too. I have never seen  my parents indulge in luxury. Anything more than need was very well thought about before we bought.  I learnt that money is very valuable and important as well.

From my early years in college, there was a wrist watch I really wanted to own. It would cost some 4000 INR to purchase that. My first salary was four times more that the cost of that watch. I didn’t buy the watch. Not for one month or one year. Four years into my career, in one of the conversations with my colleague I realised that this wanting of mine has not been fulfilled yet. The very next month, I bought that watch. I was very satisfied with that purchase. I realised, I still follow what I learnt from my parents.

One more thing I always spared myself from owning is a car. I have two favourite cars till date, the Chevrolet Spark and the Tata Nano. It was always in my power to own those. There were times I was so tempted to buy them. Once I stood outside of the Tata showroom glancing at the Nano fore more than an hour. That day it would have taken just a few steps and a swipe of my credit card to own the car. I resist that temptation by asking myself the need to have a car for myself. I am not at all a greedy person. There were days when I paid my credit card bills that were close to 1 Lakh INR. I can own an Audi, but, I won’t. If car really becomes a necessity, I would buy something reasonably good than spending a hefty amount on an Audi. 

I have a credit card. I owned one from the time I started working. I wanted to have the most convenient means to spend but still have that control on how much I actually spend. One might say it is tough to be so, but I would say that requires tiny bit of self discipline. I don’t drink. I don’t party. I don’t visit fancy restaurants. No fine dining. I don’t buy ornaments. I don’t go to parlour for any beauty treatments. Please don’t judge me by what I said, because none of them give me happiness. I find joy in travelling, trying different cuisines, dining at offbeat places, trying local food etc. All this is expenditure too. These are not necessarily needs all the time, sometimes that is just our “me” time. 

I think as humans, we have to balance between when we spend and when we shouldn’t rather than what we want or need. There is no particular thin line or thick like that differentiates need from a want. That depends on many other factors. Sometimes, it helps to just go handsfree and buy whatever we like. This definitely helps improve the mood and make us feel better but, this cannot become a habit. The other times it is just better to not spend.  At the end of the day, what makes us happy could be different on different days. 

Coming back to the question I started the article with, yes, I almost completely stopped buying clothes or shoes for more than 6 months. Just this month, I went ahead and bought some stuff. I bought clothes, some plants, some area rugs for home. It felt nice spending after a long time. If we can control our urge to not overspend, we won’t fall prey for consumerism at large. 

“A person buying ordinary products in a supermarket is in touch with his deepest emotions.”
― John Kenneth Galbraith