Friday, April 29, 2016

An Evening Celebrating Prince

True to my suspicion, Sunil J, aka Topper came home yesterday and we played Prince for a couple of hours. We started with 'When doves cry', then did 'Purple Rain', 'Cream', '1999', 'Let's go crazy', and did 'Gold' 3 or 4 times and many other numbers including 'American Woman' with Lenny Kravitz. It was fun. Purely dedicated to Prince, and all the good times he gave us.

Like we always end up, we had one crazy bout of laughing, at something stupid and inane. I don't know what it is but we end up doing this so often. Not many others can make me laugh, or make me laugh with them like Topper.

Absolutely special. 

Anjali - A Celebration

Post the art exhibition euphoria, Anjali decided to celebrate the effort. She jingled the money in her money bag, money she had collected after the sales and told me. 'Tomorrow, we will go to the mall. I want to go to KFC, buy myself some shorts and books and play games.'

Absolute clarity.

Seeing the usual circumspect look on my face she added - 'I have my money. I will spend.' I shrugged.

So the next day we picked up her friend Mansi and went to GVK. The two enjoyed their KFC. Then we went to Crossword where she bought herself several books and an Ironman mask. She also bought Mansi a book. I bought myself some stuff, a DVD of 'Court' and an Outlook magazine, and offered to pay but she insisted she would pay. When she saw the rather huge bill, she allowed me to pay for mine (some 500 bucks) and paid for her stuff (some 1000 bucks). Then we moved into the game zone where the two friends had a great time on rides and some other stuff. Down at the food court, she orders what she wants - cold coffee. Where she gets this clarity from I don't know. Then down to the Shoppers Stop for her shorts and stuff.

Day well spent. All items ticked. When will my life get like that? 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Khushwant Singh - Women & Men In My Life

Every now and then you want to read something that just does not tax your mind. So I picked up this book by Khushwant Singh on 'The Women & Men In My Life'. The order is certainly in his order of liking. Khushwant Singh's accounts of the women are all glowing - women who were completely besotted by him, held his hands, would not leave him, fought over him (at least most of them anyway) while the men were not nice to him. I can understand that. You have to choose. I can also get an idea of how he must have been as a person.
Harper, 193 p, Rs. 150

Khushwant Singh writes about film critic Devyani Chaubal, Saida Dehlavi, Indrani Gyaltsen, Anees Jung, Dharma Kumar, Nirmal Matthan, Kamna Prasad, Prema Subramaniam, Amrita Shergil, Reeta Devi Varma, a Beggar Maid. Among the men who find place of honor are Chetan Anand (sponger), Romesh Chander, Balwant Gargi, I.S. Johar, Prem Kirpal, Pratap Lal and A.G. Noorani. He broke off with a couple of the guys, or more. Names are dropped left right and center and some of the situations especially with the women make you wonder if its all true - it's stuff most guys fantasise about for sure. I'd like to read their version of the stories.

Anyway, it's an easy read. Some interesting people. 

A Culture Setting Program - Interesting Exercise with 17 Questions

Sometime earlier this year a friend of mine asked me to do a culture setting exercise in his company. He felt that there were issues of - employees not taking ownership, not being objective about appraising team members, not following policy and bending rules conveniently, not taking initiative etc. It needed a bit of culture resetting.

So we met first - the top management and me. We decided to do an exercise where the top leadership team involves itself and asks some relevant questions and comes up with answers. Simple enough. I realised that the key was to raise the right questions and let the answers evolve from the group. Their team, their future, their lives. I will do my best to facilitate it. There were 13 of them and we decided on a two day program.

There were some assumptions for the group exercise of course. The key assumption was that any culture change has to start at the top simply because people imitate their leaders and role models blindly. You can say all you want but unless you live it, don't expect the team to buy into it. The culture posts or pillars have to be clearly specified and must show in defined behaviors. Any deviations in behavior would be reported or called out in a public forum. Similarly any good has to be appreciated and thus, encouraged. If leaders can change themselves culturally, in words and more importantly deeds and even more importantly beliefs, the changes can percolate pretty quickly down the organisation. It would then be easier to take the same ideas down.

The questions we asked are given below. A copy of this questionnaire was circulated to the team a few days in advance to come up with some ideas. It was titled 'New Horizons'

SESSION 1
Company
The first exercise was to sit back and look at the horizon ahead.

Question 1 - What is the purpose of our work? (A 20 year vision)
We started with a 20 year horizon - a horizon beyond the team - to see what they genuinely would like their work to be remembered as, what they would like their work to represent. This would add some real purpose to their work. Their life. As they say, man must find meaning in his work.

The group was split into three groups and they all presented their ideas. Then they came up with their one big idea of what they would want to be remembered as, what they would like to create bit by bit.
The Big Idea that draws us towards it.

Question 2 – 3 New Horizons
What do we want to achieve (SPECIFIC GOALS) as an organization towards fulfilling the purpose?- - 2-years (safeguarding current position)
- 5-years (build momentum for new area of growth)
- 10-years (seed options for potential future growth)
 (Cues - Numbers, segments, turnovers, profits, positions, time frames. Result goals and value goals. What it means to – employees, customers, society, investors, family. What's the IMPACT we want to create?)

Question 3 - Transforming goals into work
        How can we reach the first horizon best as a team?
(Cues – What are the blocks we face now?)

Question 4 
 What are the CORE VALUES that guide us to achieve those goals?

 Question 5
What are the behaviors to CHANGE to strengthen our CULTURAL PILLARS?)
(Behaviors - To enforce)

Building cultural pillars – (Cues - Experts, Ownership, Reliable, High Performance, Best in world people and practices, Open communication (360 degree), Learning mindset, Knowledge sharing, Coaching and mentoring, Processes, Planning, Preparation, Responsive, (Agile, Nimble), Efficient, New initiatives, Talent development …)
Teams to choose 4 pillars and present what it means to have a culture like that and how it helps.

Question 6
What do such cultural pillars reflect in terms of desired behaviors?
-          (Discipline, high delivery against expectations, no excuses, finishing ahead of schedule, totally owning the space, sharing knowledge and information, exposing subs to higher responsibility)

 SESSION 2
Department-wise (team leads and directors)
4.       
      Question 7
What are the EXPECTATIONS from the department / team (role)?
(Cues - what is expected to be delivered, how)

Question 8 
 What is the department GOAL?
(Cues - metrics, timelines)

Question 9
What are the expectations from TEAM LEAD?
 (Cues - targets and delivery, planning, preparation and process development, growth of team members, improvement of efficiencies and new initiatives, as leader and follower)

Question 10
 What are the expectations (role) from SUBS?
(Cues - Are they delivering? If not why? Who is accountable?)


 SESSION 3
Measurement
     Question 11
8.       How can I MEASURE PERFORMANCE of my department?
(Cues - Performance metrics, taking higher responsibility, new initiatives, impact to company performance etc)

Question 12
 How can I measure MY (team lead’s) performance?
(Cues - ensuring department performance, ensuring growth, succession plan, manuals, new initiatives to create efficiencies, growing team actively)

Question 13 
 How can I measure the performance of SUB?
(Cues - ensuring role is fulfilled, helping team growth in other ways, taking higher ownership, improving efficiencies, working oneself out of the role)

Question 14
 Who is ACCOUNTABLE for team performance / individual performance/ SUB performance?


SESSION 4
Monitor – Reward and reprimand
1   
      Question 15
      How to enforce core values and cultural pillars being strengthened?
 (Cues - Red flags, rewards, feedback mechanisms, when, where, how)

Question 16 

      Are enforcers and subs clear on EXPECTATIONS, DELIVERY AND CONSEQUENCES in verbal and in writing? Have enforcers made it clear that it’s their job to help team and sub succeed?
(Cues - COACHING FOR RESULTS)

Question 17 
1  What are the steps to take when performance is not as expected both from department and individual?

(Cues – Consequences, REWARDS / REPRIMANDS / Corrections/ Process of improvement)

Debrief
As can be seen, it is an intensive program that takes a look at some core issues. The team participated well. Once the issues were brought out and agreed upon, we also made every member of the team personally responsible to achieve what the team set out to achieve. There can be no passing the buck. Each member was given the authority to call out and course correct as an empowered member in this committee.

The team decided to meet everyday for 90 days towards achieving the kind of culture they wanted to see among the leadership team itself. Then, once they understand the process, the idea was to take the exercise downwards.

Results
The process is underway. It is obviously a learning process, a growing process. The team has stuck to meeting everyday diligently and are finding more transparency and bonding in the team. Some issues remain. The key is to enforce the agreed upon rules, make everyone responsible and measure results to course correct. One must ask the right questions again. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sunday Cricket Lessons - How to Play Big Cricket

Last Sunday, there was a a theory class by Baig sir. Some 15 young cricketers sat around him as he told them of some theoretical aspects of the game. I sat by him and listened. Suddenly he turned to me and said, why don't you tell them something?

I wasn't prepared so I asked them what they wanted to achieve through cricket. Some vague and philosophical answers were followed by the real stuff - want to play big cricket. I asked them to specify what big cricket was to them - they all wanted to play international cricket. Great, we got the S of the SMART goals.

Then I asked them to put a time limit on it. They looked at a five year horizon. So we broke it down to three and one year horizons. The one year horizon was further broken down into Outcome goals and Performance goals - what do they wish to achieve as cricketers in one year and what performances would they turn in to match that standard. We added emphasis on match winning performances and performances against big sides. Now the T in SMART was taken into account.

Then we looked at what one must do within one year to achieve the Performance and Outcomes (as in getting selected for what level). We needed to prepare to perform at that level. We looked at how one must prepare - skill, physical and mental. We decided that all preparation must be done before the season, under the guidance of experts. All routines must be deconstructed, understood and clarified. The process of self-correction must be begun so one can self-correct on the go. All preparation must be to next level and not to the level aimed at. In skill they were to deconstruct batting, bowling and fielding. In physical they were to work on strength, speed, stamina and flexibility. In mental they were to work on context, process orientation and beliefs.

Then we looked at how one must measure the progress every week, fortnight and monthly - physically and performance wise. Any shortfall must be corrected immediately. Goals must be set for each process and each game and must be achieved with only small deviations. Here the role of mentors and coaches is key and the player must know how to seek out help and know if he is on track. This put the M of SMART in place - a key aspect to know of our progress.

The A of SMART was about converting all the hope and desire into purposeful actions that lead to improvement every day. Actionable items to be followed and executed. That said goals should also be Reasonable and not totally disconnected from reality.

By the end of the talk of course we all had enough work to do. One player did come and ask me about where he should be playing - an easier team or a tough team. I told him that if he had his sights set high, he should aim to play for the toughest teams, the winners. He should prepare to break into those sides and aim at specific spots he would like to play in.

A lot of vagueness was hopefully converted into action. Once some clarity is achieved, its a matter of walking the path. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Reality Check - State of Earth

Interesting link - Skills Every 18 year old Should Have

How We Weep and Laugh at the Same Thing - Michel de Montaigne

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) was a philosopher and statesman who they say influenced a whole generation of writers and who was instrumental is making the essay a form of literature. He normally puts himself in the situation as he examines a variety of issues through his own judgment.
Penguin. 53 p, Rs. 49

So his essays 'How we weep and laugh at the same time', 'On conscience', 'Fortune is often found in Reason's train', 'On punishing cowardice', 'On the vanity of words' and 'To philosophise is to learn how to die' express his views on each of these subjects. Maybe, he says, and does not lay down any rules. Each essay is powerful in its examination and analysis. Each touching upon too many topics to mention. Each with lovely examples. For example in the essay on death he lists a number of deaths that happen most improbably - one of a person who dies after a tortoise shell falls on his head from the skies - slipping from a falcon's claws. Or of Socrates (whom he denounces in the essay on words) when he is told he has been condemned to death - 'And they are condemned by nature' or some such. He wonders if one should be punished for cowardice - malicious intent can be punished he feels, not a weakness.

Many interesting thoughts.


Atonement - Movie Review

Ian McEwan's story 'Atonement' deals with themes of bias, guilt, revenge, loss, love and atonement. I remember reading his 'Disgrace' and it has similar themes.

A young girl from a wealthy, manor-born English family, Briony, falsely accuses and identifies a young man Robbie, who is their housekeeper's son, of raping her cousin who is visiting. Her anger at the servant boy comes from the fact that she has had a crush on him though he is much older. Worse, she realises that her older sister Cecilia and the boy have strong feelings of attraction. Based on her testimony, a misplaced and misunderstood letter, and the victim's quiet, the boy who was all set to go to medical school, is sent to jail. From prison he joins the army and fights in the second world war. In between however Cecilia who never speaks to her family again for what they did to Robbie, and is now a nurse, meets Robbie in London and tells him that they should meet at a cottage by the sea which her friend has. Robbie carries a picture of the cottage, hoping to meet Cecilia and fulfilling their love. That picture becomes the ideal of a life he would want to live.

Meanwhile Briony realises the import of what she has done and as atonement, becomes a nurse herself and immerses herself in her work. At night, unable to sleep, she writes. Her attempts at meeting Cecilia are not fruitful. The movie moves beyond the world war and shows Briony who has become a successful novelist. 'Atonement' is her last and the 21st novel, one which is autobiographical with a happy ending where the two lovers meet. But in reality Robbie dies in war and so does Cecilia.

It's a hopelessly tragic love story that is based on the three and half minutes of passion where their desire becomes a reality. After that, prison, war and death. Interesting film. Kiera Knightley as Cecilia, James McAvoy as Robbie.

Adaptation - Movie Review

Adaptation is a screenplay based on the events, fictionalised and otherwise, that stem from the basic idea of adapting a book into a screenplay. The book ''Orchid Thief' is given to the screenplay writer to adapt into a film. He finds it difficult to do that and ends up adding himself and the process of writing the book into a screenplay into the screenplay. Interesting.

The original book 'The Orchid Thief' is written by Susan Orlean. It's given to Charlie Kaufman, real screenplay writer of the movie (played by Nicholas Cage), who has a twin brother Donald (NC again). Now both are writers - Charlie is an established writer - but he does not have a great self image of himself. Donald meanwhile is moving faster with the women, joins Robert McKee's seminars and writes a thriller that Charlie does not like at all. Donald sells his book idea for a huge sum too. Charlie goes to meet Susan, chickens out, and sends Donald instead to interview her instead. Donald returns convinced that she is not genuine. They tag her to Florida and catch her with her lover La Roche, the protagonist of the book. Susan catches Charlie spying on her, decides he must die. In the end Donald dies, La Roche is eaten by an alligator, Susan goes to jail and Charlie finishes his script.

It moves at different paces at different times. Interesting to see how fact ad fiction have been woven into the story. The ending with all that gore was probably not necessary - or I missed something. A bit tiresome but watchable. Especially if you're a writer. I liked the little parts with McKee, like a sneak peek into his seminars.

Ashish Vidyarthi's TED talk

Nice and honest. He's not a villain! :)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-vwtiD0NB0&feature=youtu.be

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Prince - Death of An Icon

The eighties were full of superstars of great quality. Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen...they just kept coming on and on. Of them all, one stood out so differently both for his music, his attitude and his world view - Prince.

We never knew much about Prince except that he was mysterious. He was different. A man with his own tastes, his own beat. The first album I heard of his was 'Purple Rain' - and I was so impressed with this song 'When Doves Cry' that I went and bought the album. Crazy stuff. Check out the video.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhKu-5gZYe0

He was sensuous. His eyes were beautiful. His body slender. But then, you could never doubt for a moment that he was all man. It was an attitude you could not replicate.

He was a poet. He was sensitive. He was raw, of the earth. Of the sky. Some other quality.

I liked 'Purple Rain' too. Check this link out and you know what kind of a legendary performer, what sort of a rock star  he was.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NN3gsSf-Ys

I liked 'Let's go crazy' the best.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mm7p41HqG_U

He was on his own trip. His girl friend was one of the most beautiful women we'd ever seen then. His bikes were different. His videos were different. His dance moves were different.

It was little wonder that he suddenly chose to change from Prince to a symbol. That's it. His album 'Gold' which I bought and have somewhere only came with a symbol on it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LzzUGY0-WeQ

He was referred to as the artist who was formerly known as Prince. You can see the symbol on stage in the 'Let's go crazy' song. The album was interesting. It had his trademark sounds of course.

There's no denying his status as an icon. It warmed the heart to hear Bruce Springsteen opening his show with Purple Rain.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xRfWoskThk

Prince was a superstar. He broke the mould - like he says in the song 'Gold'. Am so glad to have grown up with him.

Prince doing one of my all time favorite songs, a song by Radiohead 'Creep', in his own distintt manner.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NFXZNt4oLkE

Time to have a 'Prince' evening soon. My friend Sunil J would appreciate the sentiment surely.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Thought for the Day - An Attitude of Serendipity

Reading Max Landberg's 'Tao of Motivation' and also being in a state of awareness of the mirror, I suddenly realised that they connect. An attitude of serendipity leaves you with an open but inviting mind. A mind that's open to receiving. Not just 'this much' and 'that way' only but much more. How big is your pipeline is the question we must ask ourselves - because the universe has a huge one,
Pic courtesy - Satish Nargundkar
So my awareness has just moved one step higher - from being open and receptive, from being a gentle magnet, I am now thinking in terms of being open to bigger, brighter things that I cannot even imagine. It's like I am in a constant state of wonder at what's coming up next. I am open to anything.

Now it's not just what's coming up next but about what good is coming up next. Can you imagine being fine tuned to the good that is likely to come to you? Applying the universal principle of what you focus on grows, this can only bring in more good.

A state of mind - but one that can be cultivated. More on this as I experience it. Now to get back to the practice. You go do it too - make a list of the good you attracted today. Stay with the practice for a week and see how your view point shifts to the good that you are attracting.


Jungle Book - Movie Review

It's a toss up between the animated version and this one which is live-action/CG. Surely for me the animated version is more adorable because the animals seem more friendlier and we feel safer than in this version where we see them all in their real forms. So Kaa is not as cute as she was in the animated version, nor is Baloo. Mowgli however is better in this version with Neel Sethi giving Mowgli a definite face.

Mowgli's life with the wolf pack (adorable cubs and all) and the small animals of the jungle is perfect, until Shere Khan's arrival. The Bengal Tiger wants the man cub dead because it remembers that a man had branded its face with fire or what the animals call 'red flower'. Mowgli decides to leave the wolf pack which is now endangered thanks to Shere Khan's open animosity and heads into the jungle with Bagheera, his guardian panther. A skirmish with Shere Khan separates the two. Mowgli meets the not so seductive Kaa and is saved in the nick of time by what becomes his best friend, Baloo, the sloth bear. Some more action - its as dramatic and  exciting as the action scenes in Sholay - and well, all well that ends well. Some messages from the wolf pack about the strength of the wolf being in the pack and how one needs to be true to one's self  etc and we are at the end of what appears to be a very short movie. One of those movies you want to keep on going.

Sadly Colonel Haathi got sidelined a bit and suddenly became more respectful. I preferred the animated version here. But all in all, an afternoon well spent. Go watch. It's story telling, movie making at its best.

The Paradoxes of Our Lives - Eternity is in the Moment


The experience of eternity is not in the long winding road ahead - it's in the deepening of the now.


Pic courtesy - Satish Nargundkar

It's what remains when we cut off of the road ahead and the path that led us here. So deep that all that exists is just the place where our two feet stand and all around us is a sharply dropping ravine, miles deep. In deeply living the now we stretch the moment, we experience eternity.

It's what we find when we are closest to life. When we are closest to ourselves, to god.
It's when we are truly living.



Thought for the Day - Living for the Day

Sometime in cricket and many times in life, the burden of playing on till the result weighs you down. Especially if you are seemingly not yet in control of the situation. This pressure causes you to do something flashy or stupid or unwarranted because you cannot hold yourself, hold your thoughts of the future, which may not all be rosy. At times like that, what I found in classical cricketing manner, is to reduce your time span to the present. One ball at a time. All your focus on that one ball. And then the next. It's a fragile space but delicious - you are standing on fine balance between the future and the past.
Stillness
Pic courtesy - Satish Nargundkar

This is probably how most of the world lives - surviving by the minute. It makes sense.

So yesterday I decided to live this thought. Instead of worrying about a future that was hovering in the background anyway, I decided to only live the day. Open account in the morning, live with a conscious thought that I have but the day, make my choices, and live as deeply as I can. The past faded, the future became hazy, the present came into focus. It was an interesting experience because it made me choose more consciously, it make me live deeply, it allowed me to stay more grounded to life. At the end of the day it was easy to be grateful for that day, close accounts and look at the new day afresh.

There is an openness and wonder that this attitude brought. A welcome freshness. Also the danger and challenge in the time limitation. It kind of made me do what's important first. Now I wonder if I reduce it to an hour, a minute, a second. Hmmm.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Court - Movie Review

'Court' is a Marathi movie directed by a debut director Chaitanya Tamhane. The movie won several awards in festivals and was India's nomination for the Academy Awards. It won the National Award for Best Feature Film in the 62nd National Film Awards 2014. Enough said.

The moment I saw the DVDin Crossword, I picked it up. I've been wanting to watch this movie for a long time. It starts with the camera following Narayan Kamble an aging folk artiste, obviously from the impoverished and backward sections of society, who gives folk performances with songs that speak against society and its discrimination. Kamble is soon picked up for abetting the suicide of a manual scavenger who died inhaling noxious fumes while cleaning a manhole. He was under the influence of alcohol. The police however conclude that the deceased had committed the act based on a song sung by Narayan Kamble outside the deceased's house where Kamble urged manual scavengers to kill themselves. Kamble says he has not sung any song like that ever but he says there is no reason why he should not sing a song like that. After all it's better to die than clean manholes.

Kamble is defended by a passionate and idealistic lawyer Vinay Vora who fights against a legal system that is loaded with bias, prejudice, incompetence, impatience and insensitivity. The casual way in which charges are framed, the stock witnesses, the ridiculous story that has no basis are all carried out with utmost seriousness. The Public Prosecutor pursues her role to the best of her capacity - at one point telling her colleagues that the judge should simply throw these people into jail for 20 years so they don't keep coming back to bother the system. The police finally let go of Kamble for lack of evidence.

But the police force's biases, the hopelessness of the folk artiste and his troupe all end in another baseless call to the court on another fabricated case against him and the troupe for using workshops as a front to conduct seditious and anti-national activities and misleading people. This time the police arrest Kamble a day before the summer vacation so there is no respite for him for a month. The judge also shows his beliefs and personal mannerisms while on his vacation when he tells a relative to use numerology and gemology to get over certain personal issues. And the way he screams at children who playfully wake him up making them cry.

The film is brilliant in its understated manner. Kamble is fantastic as he goes about his life between courts and police in the most casual of manners. He is used to it but will not give up fighting for his people. The rest of the incompetence has been on show in all our big cases - from Arsushi Talwar to Kanhaiya Kumar - where perhaps the ones who committed the crimes are out free and someone else is picked up. Despite its utterly understated and minimalistic manner, 'Court' is worth watching again and is certainly recommended. What's fascinating is that Tamhane somehow uses the frustrating, dreary and boring courtroom discussions and procedures as real as possible and thus keeps the drama alive. We all know it only too well, don't we?

The Tao of Coaching - Max Landsberg

I like Max Landsberg's books for the simple reason that he outlines the subject matter comprehensively. There are a couple of things to take away from each book and a few topics you can mark to read in depth later. This is probably the third one that I read in his Tao of series.

First up Max says motivation is an integral part of leadership. He defines leadership as
Leadership = Vision X Inspiration X Momentum
where
'Vision' is a compelling image of both the destination and nature of journey
'Inspiration' is about enrolling others to be part of this journey
'Momentum' is about keeping team members and individuals energised and on course

Max says that all three factors mentioned above need the power of motivation.
Profile Business, 146 p
The quote by Alexander Pope is outstanding
"Two principles in human nature reign
Self-love to urge, and reason to restrain"

Max comes up with an acronym to describe the various elements required to achieve the Tao of Motivation - VICTORY
V is the Vision that engages all senses and should be compelling enough to create a 1 page plan, visual, uplifting and exciting

I is for Impetus, one that you find inside yourself as a motivating factor and could be money, power, love, sex, pride, duty, success, hope etc

C is for Confidence which he says can be built by Seeding (the vision), Feeding (with positive feedback, support groups etc) and Weeding (removing barriers and distractions)

T is for Taking the plunge where he encourages one to prepare for taking the plunge - prepare for plunge (vision, support of key people and timing), taking the plunge (a voice must speak to you literally) and after the plunge (reflect and course correct) The key is to avoid hesitancy.

O is for Observing Outcomes / seeing Obstacles as Opportunities -  linking back to vision, considering plans and fall back plans, being flexible, developing serendipity, being adaptable and growing incrementally

R is Responding to feedback, he says feedback is the prime source of our learning, development and motivation and urges us to develop appetite for bitter sweet outcomes and use both positive and negative feedback to build, re-script self-talk, refocus your beliefs, praise yourself and remember your last success

Here he expands on self-talk types - generalizing (painting the entire thing with one general idea), irrationalising (drawing conclusions without supporting facts) and transposing (infecting one area with another).

He also explains how beliefs can be rational and irrational and how to stay with rational beliefs which can help you to improve, accept and learn and not merely complain, prevaricate, repress and self-blame as one tends to do with irrational beliefs.

Y is for You, who must link everything and integrate it all seamlessly to be good at this job of motivation - self or of others.

One important part of the book is the short 10 page look at Essential Psychology
First up, he outlays the five premises of psychology
1) Actions speak louder than words
2) There are trade offs for our actions (actions are creative or destructive, internally or externally directed. (Internally directed and creative would lead to - learning new skills, self praise, accepting help), Internally directed and Destructive  would lead to - Self abuse, getting out of shape, Externally directed and creative would lead to - helping others make things, letting children explore and Externally directed and destructive would lead to - ridiculing others, letting someone stop us etc.)

Our actions come from our deep wishes (Immortal, Irresistible and Omnipotent), urges (libido, love, Mortido and fate), leading to trade offs like (more security, pleasure + less anxiety and pain). In the conscious mind you'd make an explicit analysis and in the unconscious mind you deal with defence mechanisms.

Defence mechansims are well explained - denial (total denial), repression (repressing feelings - saying it was wonderful when it wasn't), projection (saying he hates me when actually you hate him), displacement (assigning blame to someone when actually a third party is responsible for it), sublimation (I enjoy the violin, when Rome is burning), regression (saying I'm a defenceless child, when you're an adult), rationalisation (I hit you because there was a fly on your cheek), reactive formation (this is a cat, when it is really a tiger), altruism (I am a Samaritan so I can ignore my problems), humour (that cruel joke on me was funny, was it?) etc. I guess I can plead guilty to all.

One cannot do away without knowing of the theories of motivation
Cognitive theory - theory x (lazy people) theory y (people want to work)
and
Maslow's Hierarchy of needs - physiological, safety needs, love/social, self esteem, self actualisation

3) Regression when stressed (go into a child state)
4) Growth as grooving vs growth as changing (seeking patterns as one grows as opposed to flowing with change)
5) Holy trinity of mind, body and spirit as one

Max discusses MBTI and other personality types, fear of success and a fear of failure. He discusses the Handbook of Montevideo Secret police on how to destroy motivation and break the will. Detailed stuff if you want to break some one's will. Some stuff on NLP.

For us then - to be aware of the domino effect where one falling domino could bring down the entire edifice. Keep dominos separate as a strategy. Better still, use domino effect in reverse.

On Praise
Mostly, I loved this statement - You cannot motivate anyone unless you are able to deliver praise in an utterly convincing way.
To do that - you must prove that you mean it, explain why praise is deserved, suggest that its an indigenous trait and mostly explain potential in a radical way.

Praise exercise - Last week, we did this exercise at Gap Miners. Made groups of two and asked everyone to indulge in a bit of self-praise (difficult) and then praise the other person (conditional and hesitant). Then we tried to praise one another on potential and realised it was even more difficult. The one role play that got it right was of two interns who used unconditional praise and pushed the envelope to potential - it was good to see Mrigank actually blush a bit. That's the effect that's probably required.

Max tells us how to differentitae bewteen stress and strain and how some amount of stress is good. He says its best to keep it at an optimum level.

Max asks us to take motivation beyond work place - to friends, family and self.

To master motivation he advises - be a seeker, a learned adept or a practical doer. You will become like those masters who have a rare generosity of spriit, an energy that's easy.

Key Actions to Practice
Addict yourself to the habit of motivating yourself and others (you will learn to be intuitive and instinctive). Create the pathways of expertise built cognitively and merge with experence built through practcie.

I loved the concept of mastering the art of praising and of praising one keeping potential in mind in a radical manner. We all remember those extra generous dollops of praise, those full on stuff, and not thse hesitant and conditional ones which do not sound like praise at all. Praise must make the person break out into a huge smile, blush at the possibility. Then it is something the person will hold dear to his or her heart.

I also loved the concept that says that when you take the plunge a voice must speak to you literally. It's such a valid point. Last week I met this young man who was at a cross roads in his career, a common dilemma, and we finally decided to work until he was sure. But this line - that a voice must speak to you - puts it so beautifully.

To motivate self and others, praise is the key. Self-talk is important. To practice it on self and on others is important to master it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

To-morrow - Joseph Conrad

Captain Hagberd lives in a small plot of land where he has built a house. He has built another house next door where a blind man Carvil lives with his daughter Bessie as his tenants. Hagberd is a cranky old man, a sea farer who lived in London and who came to the town Colebrook to look for his lost son. His search for his son is a joke in town. His blind tenant and his unmarried daughter are the other stuff for gossip. Hagberd talks to Bessie about his son who he feels will return any day now - tomorrow most likely.
Penguin Classics, 51 p, Rs. 49

One day a young lad comes to his house. His cocky and inquiring manner upsets old Hagberd whose sanity is just on the verge of giving way and he goes inside. The young man tells Bessie that he is the son of Hagberd, the one who suffered Hagberd's lashings when he was young, and he had come to see his father. He tells her that nothing in the world can tie him down, not a house, not a woman. He asks her for something to eat, some money, kisses her passionately, tells her he won't forget her and leaves.

In that little story Conrad explores the hope that the old man is holding on to (that disease called hope, he says), the young man and his free life, Bessie's loss of opportunity after that momentary heaven that young Hagberd shows her when he kisses her, blind Corvil's sadistic control of his daughter and her own sadistic ways of getting back at him - the story keeps bursting at its seams with suggestions and possibilities. Fantastic writing.

The Game Changers - Kiran Kumar

Kiran Kumar is an occasional writer and a first time novelist. He works in a leading IT multinational company and as a passionate young man should, has many views on the world around him. He is a friend of my friend Shanti, so we all met over coffee last week. Kiran shared with me his experience and reason for writing this book. He was kind enough to give me a copy of the book 'The Game Changers' and asked me to read it.
Notion Press, 320 p, Rs. 399
The title is interesting - it hints at something suave and slick, some big change around the corner that comes over you like the third act of a magic trick. The setting is very contemporary - the IT hub of Hyderabad. And the characters are so new age that you wonder when you got so old.

Anyway, a brief teaser. We pick up young, beautiful, vivacious Suman's life when she is about to enter engineering college. A chance meeting with a beggar girl who seems to bring her luck on an otherwise unlucky day makes Suman superstitious about her new lucky charm. Life goes on - friends, freshers parties, loves, break ups, futures and its time for farewell parties. An intense and forgettable incident causes her deep distress and Suman's loses her grip over her life, misses exams etc. She gets back on track with the help of friends and family, gets a job and finds her lucky charm again on the day she gets her job. Suman's efforts to give the young beggar girl a normal life, to adopt her and what happens thereon leads to a high energy, action packed climax.

'The Game Changers' is a good effort for a first time writer. The characters are credible, the plot has twists and turns that are not predictable, there is this energy which keeps you turning the page to find out what happens next and the setting is highly contemporary. It's evident from the manner of the book and even when one speaks with Kiran that he wants to change many things and he is in a hurry to do it too. There are many ideas, many solutions and also the realization that it is we, the people, who need to do something about it. I liked the way he went about layering the plot with two or three sub plots and kept unravelling them at just the right time. Nicely done. Lots of effort to do a good job and it shows.

More importantly I am glad he chose to write about something he believes in and cares about, instead of taking the easier route and writing something about what we think sells.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Lady and her Two Sons at KFC

The other day at KFC I noticed this lady and her two sons sitting next to me. She was of modest means you could make out, perhaps a widow, and not more than forty years old; the young sons, one sixteen or so and the other thirteen or so. On the table between the three of them was a single coke, and a small bag of french fries. They looked uncomfortable, and sat quietly watching other people. The two sons sat facing the wall and she sat facing the rest of the world which was busy eating obscenely large portions of chicken in that obscene manner that those portions make us eat. There was also an interesting look in her eye as she surveyed the room.

When they got up to go I could see that the younger son had some problem with his legs and he dragged his feet. The older one was avoiding every one's eye and led the way out. The lady walked behind, all quiet dignity, her purse held tightly in hand.

On one hand I was glad they had the courage to come in and experience what many do not because they think some places are beyond them. I felt sad that they had to make do with a soft drink and a small bag of french fries when the young boys looked ravenous and could have put away a nice chicken. But their desire to experience, to see this life, to experience whatever they could afford, the dignity with which they held their place was inspiring. Someday, not too far in the future, I am sure they will come again and enjoy a more hearty and less stressful meal.

It's one of the images of this new India that I will not forget. The word is hope. Possibilities. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Anjali - How to Learn (By Yourself)

Anjali took a few keyboard lessons from one teacher - a bike loving, rebellious, real estate loving, powder puffed sir. But somehow his rather dominating style of teaching did not appeal to her and she slowly discontinued. Nothing much to show till then.

A couple of weeks ago, on April 2, 2016 to be precise, we went to Mansi's house to pick Anjali up. Since the children were busy and knowing that Mansi's father Ramesh plays a bit of the keyboard himself, I asked him to play some of his favorite numbers. He played a couple (one from Disco Dancer) and then called upon Mansi to play a few themes she knew. Mansi played with consummate ease - themes of 'Bahubali' etc and we were all quite effusive in our praise for her skill.

Anjali watched all this quietly. Upon getting home she asked me for my phone. Then she removed the covers off the keyboard, googled how to play 'Tum hi ho' from Aashiqui 2 on the keyboard on Youtube, put the phone right in front of her on the keyboard and started learning. That's it. No further ado. No 'I want a teacher', 'I want to join classes' nothing. She picked up the 'Tum hi ho' pretty fast and within the week picked up other songs like 'Gerua', 'Janam Janam', 'Brown girl in the ring' and a couple of others I cannot remember. All pretty decent to hear.

I was pretty awestruck by the process. I wondered how children these days can learn pretty much anything from youtube and get to a stage where they can actually perform on stage. For instance the performers of Rooh, Shreya, Shruthi, Vivek and Nikhil, the young, soulful and energetic band which played at Vignana Jyothi were pretty much self taught. And they played so well.

Anjali gave a small performance herself on the day of her art exhibition. So many limitations that were previously there can now be crossed, so easily.

As simply as - just give me your phone please. And we're in business.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Unforgiven - Movie Review

William Munny (Clint Eastwood) was a bad man. But his marriage to a good woman cured all his ills and he turned into a pig farmer. His wife dies and he lives a straight life with his two young children in penury.

In a town called Big Whiskey, far away from his Kansas, a crime takes place. Two young cowboys cut up a whore in a whorehouse badly. The sheriff Little Bill (Gene Hackman) lets the two off without even a whipping - and lets the owner of the whorehouse trade ponies for the damages he suffered. The whores are unhappy with the verdict and the way the girl is treated like property. They collect money to announce a reward of 1000 dollars for anyone who kills the two.

Word gets around. A young fellow named Schofield Pete tries to recruit Munny for the job. Munny refuses initially, but he realises that he needs the money and he recruits his old partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman). Both Munny and Ned are retired but they can make out the kid is green and does not know the ropes. Worse, he can't see beyond 50 meters. So we have two retired and rusty old men and one young chap who cannot see nor shoot properly.

The village is now attracting mercenaries in search of the prize. But the sheriff will have none of it. He badly beats up English Bob, the first of the mercenaries and sets an example for the rest. But Munny is slowly getting warmed up. First he bumps off one kid. The other cowboy's friends catch hold of Ned who was leaving the two - not having the stomach for killing anymore. Meanwhile Munny and the kid bump off the second cowboy and collect the money from the whores.

When he hears of the second cowboy's death Sheriff Little Bill kills Ned in custody. Munny who hasn't touched a drop of liquor since he went straight gulps down some when he is told that his friend Ned is dead. He walks into a packed bar, in his real incarnation, murderer of children and women, of officials, and kills pretty much anyone who challenges him - including Little Bill. Then he roars off into the night saying that if he ever hears of anyone cutting up women he will be back.

There's a lovely scene when the cut up whore cares for Munny when he down with fever. After he recovers she asks him if he wants a free one, then realises that he might not want a disfigured one like her, and offers others. Munny says that if he ever wanted a free one he would like her but he cares too much for his wife to do anything like that. I hoped he might take her off to his pig farm when he went back to Kansas but he just goes off. The problem with watching westerns is that you start to talk and think like them. Clint Eastwood directed the movie and acted as Munny. The bar gunfight is brilliantly shot. Overall, time well worth. 

Thought for the Day - Law of Attraction, A Subtle Mind Shift

The other day while reading about Shahrukh Khan somewhere I wondered at his words - 'I love being a star. I want people to stand outside my house to see me' etc. Then I saw him again on some show that evening and once again I find the way he loves the attention - in fact all the others on stage are also liking the attention they are getting - that's why they are there. It struck me that those who want that attention seek it, crave for it. They really thrive in it. They love the stage, the lights, the attention, the love. It's not that they are not wanting to do the stuff they do but are doing so because of the money. It's stuff that they want to do. And because they believe they are good they charge good money for that.
Pi courtesy Satish Nargundkar

One look at people like SRK and people who are not really looking forward to drawing all the attention in the room tells you who will get what. There is a majority of us fighting or not liking the prospect of being on stage (and making a mistake) and there are a few who wish to go out there and bask in the glory. Of course they come prepared - or are prepared enough to back themselves to pull it off. They are primarily waiting for the opportunity to come their way. On their toes.

And that's when the mind shift happened to me - that to improve our chances, our consciousness, we need to, apart from the work and the preparation put in, develop a fertile consciousness. A consciousness which is not 'hoping' or 'thinking it is somewhere there' but a consciousness which knows that it is now in a space to 'actively attract all the good'. Like someone said in the 'Secret' video - 'I attract good stuff like a magnet'. It just makes you so ready to receive all the good that's waiting outside for you. So instead of merely hoping that things would work out somehow, you expect the best of things to come to you. It changes the texture of things - from hurried, grabbing and resentful waiting, it transforms into a delightful, anticipatory, birthday-gift kind of waiting. You just don't know what's coming your way!

The benefit of the second approach is that when good stuff does come, you know you are ready. And you accept it gleefully.

Another angle to this aspect is that it forced me to make an honest evaluation of yourself. Are you an approachable person? Are you open to people? To receive? Money, love, ideas? Do people approach you to talk? Then you get a fair idea of how open and approachable you are. At how you are attracting or repelling people with your energy.

The law of attraction now makes more sense. That instead of merely hoping that one aspect (say a small gift) might get attracted to you (hopefully) we are now attracting all the good in all forms (small to large gifts). It's not a birthday where you are waiting only for one gift to come, you are open to all sorts of gifts from everyone, everywhere. We are like that huge magnet, attracting all good, without fear or doubt, reservation or choice. We accept all, we are open to all. It's a state of open anticipation, of free flow.

From a magnet that chooses to attract only one thing and wondering why its not coming, to being open and attracting perhaps even better things among the many that come your way.  All possibilities, mostly miraculous ones, are now anticipated. It's a good state of mind.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Life Is Easy - TED Talk by Jon Jandai

I'd like to build a house like that. To live like that.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21j_OCNLuYg

Anjali - 2nd Art Exhibition

Anjali explores art on most Tuesdays with her highly perceptive, unconventional and knowledgeable art teacher Niveditha. Together they explore art - ideas, forms etc and they have come up with one collection that was exhibited and now, a second one. Niveditha allows Anjali to just flow with the idea and see what comes up, which is a fine and intuitive way of doing things rather than putting in too much stress on technique and structure now.

This collection tried newer techniques like acrylic and water on paper, canvas, collage work on paper, water color on paper etc. What resulted was a collection of paintings with names like Hoolahoops, Giant's Umbrella. Grapes, Blue Crush, Yellow Brick Lane, Fly and even an Ultimate Mess.
Anjali in her gallery
So a date was decided to hold Anjali's 2nd exhibition. Holding an exhibition includes much work even if its on a small family and friends scale held at home. The paintings have to be framed, prices, catalogue, exhibit space spruced up, lights, snacks, invites sent etc. A small group of friends and family were invited for Anjali's Solo Exhibition on April 15, 2016.
Checking out her catalogue
I bought the first painting one as I normally do. This one called 'Self-Love' is a good theme for me to practice. But more interestingly I had seen the way it developed. Seemingly heading nowhere until she added the hearts and gave it depth and meaning one fine day.
Niveditha, Sumana and Shobhs - some last minute prep 
I was struck by how the background suddenly changed after she added a few red hearts - as if someone had painted some hearts on a hazy or a frosty window.
Some of the paintings
Niveditha and her sister Sumana arrived early followed by Sailaja, Sushmita, Sircar aunty, Dr. Sriram, Dr. Tripura, Salil and his daughter, Monica, Choudary, Ranjan, Sanjay, Vasu, Abhishek, Ramaraju, Sunil, Poornima, my sisters Ashwini, Nalini, Mythily, Lakshmi, brother Ram and nephew Shaurya. brothers in law Harsha and Jagdip, Naren, Shwetha, Inder, Ashu, Vihaan and Vidur. I think I got them all.
Others 
We played some Spanish guitar music at the background and everyone was having a go at the keyboard with Anjali playing her newly learned version of 'Tum Hi Ho' mostly.
Some more
Much conversation over samosa, jalebi, chole, lemonade. Nothing like food, friends and gossip.
Niveditha likes 'The Friendly Dinosaur'
Sale was brisk. People picked up paintings - a way of sticking a bindi on what they wanted to buy signified whether the painting was sod or not - and Anjali explained as long as she could how she went about this effort and what she meant by certain abstract paintings.
Anjali explaining some finer points to me
One particular one - Earth - she told me started as an idea and after it was done she realised it symbolised Earth and its elements so she named it Earth.

Add caption
I really liked 'Spring' (artist's collection - so not for sale), 'Sea Monster and Peacock', 'Google Eyes', 'Spirals, 'Fly', 'Leap', 'Earth', 'Giant Umbrella', 'Pink Fish and Purple Fin', 'Grapes', 'Yellow Brick Lane' 'Open Windows' and 'Blue Crush'.
First sale - Self-love

Sumana picks up - Sea Monster and the Peacock
Enjoyed meeting old friends and family. We went off to celebrate the event with a late night ice cream. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Mirror, 1st Follow Up Session - Senior Leadership Program

After the first session of 'Mirroring the Organization - Your Team Reflects You', held a month ago, we met up for a follow up session. The idea of follow up sessions is to examine the main concepts of 'The Mirror', 'Handling Feedback', 'The Energy Handle' and 'People Growth' more deeply and engage in practicing the same. This was a half day session.

We looked at 'The Mirror' closely today.

Key Idea
The key idea was to sensitize oneself to how the mirror works so one can course correct even as the situation is playing out.

Course flow
We reflected on an overview of what happened during the past month. We looked at what went right and what did not in the past month.

We examined our current reality from 'The Mirror' perspective.

We looked at how teams - personal and professional - get affected by us in two ways.
1) the physical or behavioral level
2) a deeper, belief and energy level. The second aspect also helps us understand why we behave the way we do.

The 4 Step process
Shobha elucidated how we can change our energy by doing the simple four step process. Change in energy within us changes the energy in the situation allowing breakthroughs to happen.

Core Negative Beliefs, Shadow Sides
To understand how our energy can be dissipated we examined the subjects of - Core Negative Beliefs, Projections and Shadow sides. All of these in one way or another bother us and keep our relationships on a learning or 'a disharmonious' state.

By resolving this state and dissipating the energy in the situation, we find great results.

We wound up with a commitment to
1) Share our daily interactions with 'The Mirror' (Look what I created! moments to sensitize ourselves) and how we are changing it from our side
2) Using the 4 step process to understand how energy can be dissipated

By staying committed and sharing one's thoughts on a daily basis we get sensitized to 'The Mirror' - that's life.

And by being more aware, we act on the fly and course correct instead of being the hapless victim.

Kshanam - Movie Review

Young man in America gets a call from an old love after a long break in their relationship. Could he come and help? He leaves everything aside and goes to India to help. He has not gotten over her yet. She tells him her daughter has been kidnapped and there is no trace of her. It's a month or two since. In his investigations he finds that the general idea is that there was no such girl and his old love was imagining things. Was his friend off her mind? Or did she really lose a daughter no one seems to know about?

When he finds some proof that perhaps the friend is right and the rest of the world is wrong, he finds that she has jumped off the building. By the time he unravels it all, he finds some truths which somehow explain why he needed to come.

Nice. But some rough edges.The protagonist Adivi Sesh is convincing and makes up for the small gaps. The scene with the girl in the backseat reminded me of a movie (Tsotsi, was it?) - but its treated in a different manner. Like many said before me - promising stuff. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Great Winglebury Duel - Charles Dickens

With his lovely breezy style Dickens ties up two stories that rise up like a balloon in their anticipation and brings them down to ground, well tied up. There is a humour that's constant, like a mischievous friend who cannot keep quiet, even when he is not saying anything.

'The Great Winglebury Duel' is a series of miscommunication that ends up alright in the end. It starts with our hero receiving a challenge to a duel to death the next morning, wrongly sent to him it appears. On the other end, an elderly lady with a fancy for young men, is seeking to make off with a young man of uncertain mind. Bung in the mayor and a letter written by our hero to the mayor to rescue him from the duel and we find that all's well that ends well. The elderly matron friends a young man, the broke young man finds a rich matron to marry, the duel is cancelled because one of them dies. Rather conveniently.

''The Steam Excursion' is a tale of a young man who puts together a party on a steam boat as an excursion and all that happens on that not too fine boat ride what with bad weather, children and all that. Some unforgettable characters.

Laws of Attraction - Movie Review

There comes a time in your movie watching life that you think - have I seen this movie before. You can't remember which is worse, seeing it once before and not remembering a thing or seeing it again, and after twenty minutes you still can't. That's how bad it is and you're wondering, primarily because Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore are the main pair, that something might happen. Sadly, you knew the truth in the first five minutes. This one's a non-starter. You've been had.

Two divorce lawyers, both boring as hell, fight, get involved, get married and file for divorce and then reunite again. Boring as hell. There's one scene when they are both jumping into bed - it's funny in its lack of passion and tells you that by then, the movie had lost its steam in every way.

Remember the name - Laws of Attraction. Don't ever watch it.

Plato - A Graphic Guide

After reading half of Will Durant's 'Story of Philosophy' a couple of years ago (I will complete it this year, I promise myself), I did not venture too far out into philosophy. The other day I saw this nice book - 'Plato, A Graphic Guide' - which is like a Plato for Dummies at Harsha's house and picked it up. It gave me a good insight into how the greatest philosopher (arguably) thought. It also grounded me a bit into Socrates, Aristotle and how they went about their own philosophies and lives too.
Icon Books, 174 p, Rs. 199 

Plato (427-347 BCE) was an Athenian. Athens was then a place festering with philosophers and ideas and was a great place for ideators. the place was also full of slaves so these chaps had enough time to discuss all sorts of things unlike now when we have to slave and ideate at the same time. Leading the charge was Socrates (470-399 BCE) who encouraged youth to ask questions and not take anything for granted. Socrates had a distinct style where he would engage in discussions and arguments on various topics concerning human nature. Plato was one of Socrates's shining disciples and learned much form him. In fact since Socrates never believed in writing down any of his thoughts ( he believed they are ever changing and hence should be in the mind), it was Plato who preserved many of this thoughts in his writings. After Socrates was sentenced to death by the government for misleading the youth and Socrates refused to apologise and chose instead to drink hemlock and die, Plato started his own Academy which lasted for 1000 years. And he trained pupils like Aristotle the famous Macedonian who in turn tutored Alexander the Great.

Plato's believed that questions relating to the universe, politics, philosophy, had to have a base in an exact science like mathematics. For him maths was the key to all understanding. Plato was perhaps influenced by three main thoughts - Pythogoras who had the same view about a mathematical nature of the world, Heraclitus who believed that everything changes and is a relative process and Socrates. Socrates had the greatest influence on Plato with his focus on human beings and human virtue, knowledge. Socrates seemed to favor morality than a collective legislation and sought to find the essence of goodness in people.

Among the many works he wrote, Plato wrote 'The Apology' which is based on talks with Socrates before his trial. Socrates was not apologeic at all of what he had done - though he was submissive of the state's will. In 'The Crito' Plato writes aout discussions that took place the night before Socrates's execution. Crito in fact arranges for Socrates to escape but the great man refuses. 'The Phaedo' is an account of Socrates's death. Socrates believed that the soul is eternal.

In their times of course these scholars in pursuit of pure knowledge also faced competition, as we do today, from chaps called Sophists who propagated that morality is a personal choice, that it was better to push oneself ahead at all costs and that human selfishness was a virtue. Only don't get caught they said. Of course Socrates and Plato vehemently opposed this falsehood but Sophists were like a bunch of self-help gurus offering overnight success and had a market too. Nothings changed obviously.

It was in the 'Republic', Plato's greatest work that he attempted to provide a permanent moral code with values. The ideal state, knowledge, religion, soul, ethics, politics, war, art, right conduct were all discussed in the Republic. Among the many arguments - that beliefs of the strong would always be imposed on the weak, that a strong authoritarian govenrment was required to enforce a contractually agreed moral code etc make sense. The world somehow arranges itself that way.

There was much talk about universals and particulars. There is what we see and there is what we perceive. In the universals we have classes or the perfect forms of each class. In particulars we have the individual copies, mostly inferior of the pure forms of universals. The forms or universals would be perfect, permanent and would not change. Like maths.

From this came the idea that those who know perfect knowledege should rule. That real knowledge is 'an event not communicable to others'. Plato at one point believed that the state has priority over the individual. He examined how societies form division of labour - starts with man's quest for luxuries, desires. This leads to desire for land, which leads to wars. Military expertise is required. Most importantly Plato believed that the ruler's job was one of skill and it was a skill that can be taught to those who show the aptitude.

Plato had devised a caste system similar to what we have in India - the gold, silver, iron and bronze classes. Golden classes were called Guardians, these were those with atptitude and they would be bred separately and trained to rule. Their word was law. They knew what to do and were all powerful. The silver classes were the sodiers and civil servants, the iron clases were the farmers and the bronze classes were the workers, (Only in India we went a step further and had a class below the classes and called them untouchables.) He was clear that in two generations time people will believe that these myths about different classes and abilities were true. Then these myths will persuade everyone that people have different abilities and hence must do ther type of work. There will only be two classes, the ruler and the ruled. Philosophers, he felt should advise politicians. Plato had no qualms about furthering the myth in the people.

He even advocated a form of eugenics where these guardian classes will breed with such similar high class specimens in a breeding festival. Any defective offspring were quietly disposed of. The word of the guardian classes was the law. Naturally Plato believed then that democracy was pointless. He had no faith in the ordinary man and felt he had no idea of what was right or true and hence cannot be trusted to make the right judgment - as in the death of Socrates which was ordered by the people. Plato also had no place for art in his scheme of things and thought that art only made copies of copies and was a waste of time. Plato believed in benign dictatorship. He disliked ordinary people.

In his book 'The Laws' Plato recognised the importance of laws as opposed to believing in the guardian class. He realised that none could be above the law as humans are weak. More aware of checks and balances in his later years, he now advocated that one should ensure that power is never concentrated. In his second Republic 'Magnesia' he writes about 5046 eugenically selected land owning citizens. A society based on theorcracy becomes boring, dull and is led by those who 'know'. who spy on others, start censoring everything and stamp out anything irregular. Dissenters are kept in military confinement and executed.

In 'Symposium', there were discussions on love - homosexual and heterosexual. Of course homosexual was more in vogue then and heterosexuality was considered inferior. One of the finest thoughts on this was that of the comic playwright Aristophanes who believed that originally man, woman and hermaphrodite were one and were separated by Zeus. Love he says is the eternal quest to find one's lost self i.e. man for woman and vice versa. It makes so much sense.

More thoughts - that our limited perception of the world and its actuality may be different. That there is a difference betwee having sensations and intelligent awareness.

Other books by Plato include Phaedrus (much referred to in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to the extent that it drove me mad) - which is a book about love, rhetoric and language. Rhetoric is referred to as high flown, windy talk.

Plato's star pupil, Aristotle, who finally founded his own school, the Lyceum, argued with many of Plato's theories but said that Plato always asked the right questions.Thus then, does the progress begin. By asking the right questions always. Plato was hailed as an escape artist, never pinned down on anything. For him philosophy was the beginning, not the end.

I enjoyed reading this graphic guide because it gave a me a simple perspective, without breaking my head, into the minds and thoughts of these great men. Now perhaps I can try and read 'The Story of Philosophy' again and try to udnerstand how thought and knowledge developed.