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Archive for the ‘Inspiring People’ Category

I was deeply saddened by the news that, Uncle Pai, the creator of Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle passed away today. These comics were a big part of my childhood. Not many people know that he created a magazine for teenagers called Partha.

When I heard the news of his passing the first thing I remembered were the two stories from Partha that made lasting impact on me.

The story of a Mumbai Entrepreneur

A famous sculptor was once asked how to sculpt an elephant from a stone block. He said that it is very simple. All you have to do is remove from the stone block whatever is not the elephant and what remains is an elephant. Opportunities in life are like stone blocks, we should have an eye to spot the elephant in them.

This is a true life story of Ram who came to Mumbai in search of a job. He waited everyday outside a famous factory hoping to be recruited. As he came there every day, he realized that other job seekers were much more qualified than him. The chances of him getting the job were very slim. He also noticed that these job seeks waited for hours together outside the factory. So, He started selling peanuts outside the factory. Soon he made brisk business. Now he owns a hotel opposite to the factory.

The stone block of opportunity was there for all the 200 job seekers who waited outside the factory. Only Ram could spot the elephant.

David and Goliath – Retold

All of us have heard the story of David and Goliath. The little boy David who defeated the giant Goliath, where mighty warriors failed. Why do you think David succeeded; because he thought he could. All the warriors thought “He is so huge, how can we defeat him”. David thought “He is so big, how can I miss him”.

In life, the circumstances are pretty much the same, the difference lies in the perspective

The fact that I remember these stories after more than 20 years of reading them is a tribute to Uncle Pai and the power of his stories. May he rest in peace.

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I saw Oprah’s interview with JK Rowling on YouTube.  Towards the end of the interview, Jo asked Oprah on how she felt about her show coming to an end. Oprah gave very profound response. She said, “I know that time is right to end this show. I would never be able to stop talking to people or sharing their stories. That is why I am starting my own network. I read somewhere that Michael Jackson never realized that Thriller was a phenomenon. He spent his entire life chasing the phenomenon. I realized I don’t want to do this. I am not going to spend my life wondering how I will top my previous success. This is one phase of my life. I am very grateful to god for it. I am moving on to another chapter”

Interestingly JKR too had read the same story and this was exactly the part that resonated with her. She is very grateful for the success of Harry Porter. She will continue to be a writer but does not truly  expect to top it. She says, “people keep asking me, how are you going to do anything bigger than Harry Porter. I don’t even want to try”

JKR says that she is most grateful for her fans and she dedicated her final book to her regular readers. She was once walking down the road and a 20yr old girl came up to her and said, “you are my childhood”. That is the best compliment she has ever received.

Some deep insights on how to deal with enormous success.

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I had a very memorable day, yesterday. I attended the TedX Youth conference organized at my office premise. I got a special invite. Ideally, I should be posting this in my company blog, but I had so much fun that I wanted to share it with the whole world. Here are some nice insights from the event.

Ted was founded 25 years back, yet it gained popularity in the last 5 years, mainly because of Chris Anderson who took over 5 years back. He decided to upload all the talks on the web and make it available for free. People were paying $6000 for attending the event, so this seemed a very counter intuitive move. Yet, it was THE factor which catapulted TED to world fame. Today, there is a 1 year waiting list for TED conferences.

The most interesting speech was by Aravind Kumar, the founder of Clean Credit. His mission is to make India as clean as Switzerland. He has come up with a unique model for making this happen. He piloted this in IIM campus with great success. He got his idea from trolley management process followed in some international airports. You pay a dollar to take the trolley and when you return it the dollar is refunded. His research showed that 90% of the trash is generated from the products of 25 companies. Get these companies to tag their products with a Clean Credit tag and charge 1Rs extra on all products. Upon returning the used packing material, refund the amount to the customer. When this was piloted in IIM, the trashiest place in the campus became clean in 4 days and they could achieve 100% segregation. Through this model we can make every corner shop a trash collection point.

Now, we only have to put pressure on these 25 companies to tag their products. His idea is to employ Gandhigiri 2.0. Take photographs of trash(which predominantly comprises of these companies’ products) and put them on social networking sites. Aravind Kumar is a PHD student in IIM. Many of his classmates are westerns who keep complaining to him about the filth in our cities. He promised them that he will make India as clean as Switzerland.

Here are some inspiration from other speakers.

Major Ravi, an ex-major in the Indian army and a film maker spoke of his journey from a 9th std dropout to a successful army major and a film maker. His message, “Always take on the most difficult tasks”

Elango, A scientist by profession, went back to his village, Kuthambakkam and transformed it into a model village by engaging the grassroots and employing e-governance. He says,”Youth should lead this country and hence opt for politics as a profession.” In a democracy people should be participants, not just beneficiaries.

Dr.Madhan Marky, a professor in Anna University wanted to be a lyricist. He fulfilled his dream by using software engineering to generate the best possible lyrics for a given tune. He was able to program, such components as uniqueness and pleasantness of the lyrics into his application. The first song that was created using this software was Irumbu Manida from Eindhiran.

I had a thoroughly enjoyable day. A special thanks to Mani and Rajashree for inviting me.

For details on all the speakers at the event refer to http://www.tedxyouthchennai.com

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I had the opportunity last week, to attend the inauguration of TWAS 2010. TWAS is a science academy whose members comprise of 800 scientists from 40 countries. This year’s general meeting of TWAS was hosted in Hyderabad and inaugurated by Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh. My thatha (Grandfather’s brother), about whom I have written in this blog was awarded the Indian Science Prize, the highest  and most prestigious national recognition given to a scientist in India for a major contribution to any branch of science, engineering and medicine. It was a proud moment for all of us. At 90 he is still going strong and is helping establish the “CR Rao Advanced Institute of Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science “in Hyderabad University

Thatha with Award from PM

 400 scientists from 40 countries participated in this conference. Prime minister gave a very insightful speech. He recounted his experience of working with the founder of TWAS, Abdus Salam, a Nobel Prize winning physicist from Pakistan. He quoted Sir Winston Churchill who said “Empires of the future would be the empires of the mind”. Since there is a limitation of infrastructure in the developing world, collaboration among all the countries is essential. Science has the capacity to solve most of the pressing problems of our times. We need to put science in a pedestal. Our pedagogical method of teaching emphasizes memory over enquiry and this is not good for scientific progress.

 What I found most interesting in his speech was his mention of open source research platform. He said that the main drawback with scientific research is that the intellectual property rights make it very difficult for sharing and using research findings. Our government is promoting a open source forum where scientists can share their research findings which can be freely reused by other scientists.

I did a quick search on the net and came across “Council of Scientific and Industrial Research” which is using this model to collaboratively develop low cost drugs for diseases. You can read more about their work at “Open Source Drug Discovery Foundation”. I am not sure if this was the forum that the Prime Minister was referring to in his speech.

Some other interesting tit bits from the conference

The chief minister of AP in his speech proudly proclaimed that Hyderabad is a major IT hub with big companies like Microsoft, Oracle, Cognizant having their presence here. I was gratified to hear Cognizant being uttered in the same breath as Microsoft and Oracle

I was sitting next to a Microbiologist from Tunesia. She wanted to know what the Indian nod signified. The way we nod our head to say “yes” is very different from how the rest of the world does it. She actually shook her head and asked me what this means.

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I had the opportunity to visit Sweden last month to attend a management program on Corporate Responsibility. It was an amazing experience. My most memorable experience was the visit to the Nobel Museum at Stockholm. We were lucky to have a very well informed guide. Let me narrate to you a cute story that I heard there. You see the chair below. There is a tradition that after the Nobel dinner the prize winner who signs behind the chair. Once there is no more space for signatures it is bought to the Nobel Museum.

There was one chair in the Museum which was kept locked in a glass case. We thought it belonged to a famous prize winner.

It turned out that this chair had the signature of Koichi Tanaka, a Chemistry Noble prize winner from Japan. He was only a salaried engineer with just a bachelor’s degree. He was not a PhD like most other winners. In fact, he is the first recipient of the chemistry prize with only a bachelor’s degree. He is very famous in Japan because of his unlikely achievement. All the tourist from Japan were insisting on sitting on this chair and taking a picture. They were not even interested in Einstein’s chair as much as this one. The chair was showing signs of breaking because of the demand and hence they decided to protect it in a  glass case.

Here are some more picture from the Museum

A brief about all the prize winner till date is hung a clothes line near the entrance of the Museum.

The hand written will of Alfred Nobel.  According to the guide the most revolutionary aspect of the will was the clause that the prize should be awarded without consideration of nationality. At the time it was written, it was very controversial since many swedes felt that Nobel was giving away his wealth to other countries. But it was this very same clause that made the prize so prestigious.

Inscriptions on the floor of the Museum

Me and our guide in front of Nobel’s will

Quotes by Nobel winners on the walls of the Museum

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My husband’s brother died of Cancer 6 years back. Ever since then, my mother-in-law visits an institute called Udavum Karangal on his death anniversary and sponsors food for the children of the orphanage run by this NGO.  This year she was unable to make it during the anniversary. She was very upset and we promised to take her next time she comes to the city. We visited Udavum Karangal yesterday.

This was my first visit to the institute and I was stuck by its serenity and beauty. Udavum Karangal meaning helping hands in Tamil was founded by Mr.Vidyaakar. He himself was an abandoned child. He was bought up by a philanthropist, Mr. Ramakrishnan who provided him with shelter and education.  His mentor told him “you should also help another person like I helped you”. That served as the inspiration for Udavum Karangal. Today Udavum Karangal is home for more than 2000 abandoned children, infants, mentally challenged destitutes and HIV patients.

I want to share with you a few of my experiences at Udavum Karangal. We were distributing biscuits and chocolates to the children. These were 4-10 year old children, very happy to receive the gifts. Yet, they sat down in a disciplined manner and took the gifts only when they were given and acknowledged it with a ‘thank you’. No one pushed or shoved or tried to grab. Infact, when I offered them an extra gift they refused to take it saying they have already received their share. I am not sure if we can expect that kind of grace even among children who get to eat exotic chocolates every day.

When we were stepping out of the orphanage we met Mr.Vidyaakar, the founder of Udavum Karangal. He offered to take us on tour of his facility. We met infants who were abandoned in the hospitals and in dust-bins. Then we went to the facility for mentally challenged adults and spastic children. They were so excited to see Mr.Vidyakaar, they came running and held his hand and called him papa (meaning daddy). These women are not confined to a room. They are allowed to move freely within the premises. He introduced us to a lady whom he found 20 years back, roaming naked on the high way. They located her family recently. They are not willing to take her back. There was another lady whom he found on the road with a girl child. Although the mother is mentally challenged her daughter is normal. She received her education at Udavum Karangal and she is now studying to be a nurse.

There are two schools run by the institute, one for boys and one for girls. They also run vocational training schools for nursing and driving. As I was walking around the premises I was stuck by the beauty of the garden. There were all kinds of beautiful trees and plants and creepers and not a speck of litter. I asked Mr.Vidyaakar who maintains the garden. He said it is maintained by the mentally challenged women residents.

Udavum Karangal is entirely run by contributions from donors and volunteers. These are people from all walks of life. There is a barber who comes there regularly and gives free haircuts to the children. It is people like these who make me wonder what it really takes to be able to serve. I don’t think it is money or time. The secret lies in our attitude.

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I have been lax in my writing and I owe all my regular readers an apology. Inspite of my prolonged absence you have been commenting on my blog. Thank you very much. I am very grateful.

I am back again to share with you a story that really moved me. Last week, my husband returned from a business trip to Italy. He told me about a person named Alessandro whom he met at his client’s office.  My husband said that he was a service engineer in his early twenties. Alessandro told my husband that he has visited India several times. He along with a group of friends run a program to help street children in Andhra Pradesh.  It is not a typical orphanage he claims. They have appointed a mother and father to take care of a group of 20 children. They have named their program Manchi Kalalu meaning ‘sweet dreams’ in Telugu. This group of young people regularly take time off and come all the way from Italy to spend time with these children. Most of the funds to support the project come from them and their friends.

My husband was simply amazed. He never expected to encounter such a person in Italy. Incidentally, our family has roots in Andhra Pradesh and many of our extended family lives there. How many times we would have walked those streets and not noticed the hungry children. No one ever discussed them. It was as if they did not exist.  Here were a group of people, so far away from India , who have the heart and the will to make a difference to these children who are no way connected to them.

If you want to know more about Manchi Kalalu and how you can help, visit their website

 

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