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God was delighted. It was during these times of intense creativity that he found himself happiest. The pleasure of creating something from completely nothing was incomparable. It was way more interesting than maintaining and managing a running system.

He had a lot of plans for this cycle of the universe; things he had been planning for eons during the last cycle. In fact, it was with a lot of glee that he had embarked on the last Big Crunch- take it all back to nothing and start building again.

The previous day, he had given shape to the basic structure. He had decided on what percentage of the universe should be matter and what percentage energy. Then with a wicked grin, he had made 78% of it invisible – let them try and figure that out! They might call it dark energy and dark matter for all he knew!

Later on, he put in his latest inventions – protons. He liked their positive nature. But then he also had to add equal number of electrons. He did that reluctantly, frowning at their negativity. Once the basic building blocks were ready, he had wound up for the first day.

It was on the second day that he added shapes- all the potential shapes that could exist in this cycle of the universe. The easiest was the triangle. He liked the three-sides-three-angles shape. Quite simple and basic. Besides, he liked the number three.  The rectangle was a tad more complex but logical after the creation of the triangle. Step by step, he created the pentagon, the hexagon etc. As he created each shape, he fed that into the production server.

It was right at the end that he had the brainwave. He had visualized a completely new shape. It was more symmetrical than any shape before that. It was simple, elegant and curvaceous. It was a masterpiece of creation. Its sheer symmetry and beauty took his breath away. As he created the prototype, he looked at the properties on his computer – it was perfect. The perimeter was always proportional to a straight line drawn between any two points of the shape, passing through the center. He decided to call such a line the diameter. In fact, what delighted him most was that the perimeter to diameter ratio was a perfect number – three – irrespective of the size of the shape. God permitted himself the luxury of rubbing his hands in glee (thereby inadvertently also creating electricity).

He would now upload this perfect shape into the production server. He looked at the console – the magic ratio, 3, was visible on the screen. He hesitated a moment before pressing the button, drinking in the number.

It was at that precise moment that his pesky little brother, Devil barged into the workshop.

‘Dude, what is this amazing shape?’ he asked lunging at the perfect shape. As God’s finger pressed the button, devil touched the shape, which immediately lost its perfection.

God stared at the screen aghast. It said…

Uploaded

Shape – Circle

Perimeter to Diameter ratio – 3.1415926535… Oh damn, it doesn’t stop!!

This management lesson and many other such real life lessons are highlighted in RamG Vallath’s latest bestseller book, ‘From Ouch to Oops’. To learn from RamG’s transformational real life experiences, you can buy ‘From Ouch to Oops’ from Amazon – http://bit.ly/ZYih4l as paperback or as eBook http://bit.ly/1zGgHjZ

Should one follow the familiar and trodden path or should one take detours through unfamiliar paths? We all face this question many times in our career and in our life outside of work. Taking the trodden path is always an easier option and most people prefer status quo. There is a lot of comfort in performing routine tasks, chasing the same metrics, working with the same people and working in the same location. There are some people who are naturally comfortable taking wild detours to completely uncharted territories. And then there are those who push themselves outside their comfort zones and test out a new path.

My career took quantum leaps each time I decided to push the boundaries of comfort. Even before I started working, I had experienced the pluses of pushing myself outside my comfort zone. The first time was when I was in eighth grade and I enrolled in a public speaking competition. I was petrified and onstage, my voice shook uncontrollably. But once the deed was done, I realised that I could do it again and again with a lot more confidence. The obvious fruit of this foray outside my boundary of comfort? Today, I am a public speaker that has addressed about two dozen corporate and student forums. I am as comfortable inspiring corporate employees to take charge of their careers as I am mesmerizing young children into loving science. It was this ability that kept me positive and rocking when I had to give up my corporate career due to my crippling autoimmune disorder. So by pushing myself outside my zone of comfort, I picked up a very important skill, which today defines me.

Some people find it easier to make this push, while others find it tougher. But everyone can do it, if they put their mind to it. I can share a few tips on how to make this push easier- tips that have been tested on myself and found empirically helpful.

  1. The biggest fear people have of taking up something new is that of making a fool of oneself. The way I usually handle it is to declare openly to anyone who cares that this is my first attempt and I am likely to make a complete ass of myself. This instantly relieves the tension. If you put some humor into this confession, it is even better.
  2. Make all attempts to learn all aspects of the new venture. The sheer confidence that expertise can bring in will give you enough momentum to jump in. If learning the ropes can happen only after you jump in, create a learning plan for yourself beforehand- even this will give you a good push.
  3. Meet all possible stakeholders and frankly discuss with them aspects of the new venture. Each meeting and discussion will solidify your confidence. It is important during these meetings to be frank and forthright as to how little you know, so that the others really spell things out for you. When I moved from Airtel, where I was a circle head and COO, to Dell, a freak restructuring made my role redundant. So instead of handling a $1 Billion sales with 800 people, I ended up being an individual contributor, handling the creation of a certification- something I had no clue whatsoever how to do. But I cheerfully took it on and within the first 24 hours had met up with about 12 people who all gave me a lot of high quality inputs. The project did very well and the visibility hugely helped me.
  4. Keep a checklist of everything that is required to be done and diligently cross them out – after you complete them of course J. This will not only ensure you don’t miss out on something big, but also ensure you have a feeling of progress. This is very important for one’s confidence level.
  5. Be open to making mistakes- you are doing this for the first time. So there is mistakes can happen, in spite of granular planning. Learn from these mistakes and keep stakeholders informed. You will be surprised at how most of them will forgive you and some even offer help.
  6. Last, but not the least – tell yourself every day that you are getting better. Every night, before sleeping, I would tell myself ten times the following line ‘day by day, every day, I am getting better and better’. I would feel awesome.

So there is no question that if you push yourself outside your comfort zone, you will grow as a person. Moreover, every person has the ability to push herself outside her comfort zone.

An equally important corollary is that unless you push yourself outside your comfort zone, you will not grow as a person.

So start pushing yourself- time and again and again.

This management lesson and many other such real life lessons are highlighted in RamG Vallath’s latest bestseller book, ‘From Ouch to Oops’. To learn from RamG’s transformational real life experiences, you can buy ‘From Ouch to Oops’ from Amazon – http://bit.ly/ZYih4l as paperback or as eBook http://bit.ly/1zGgHjZ

Do you remember all those times you tried to float- before you finally learned the skill? First you would hold on to the edge of the pool and lift your leg, quickly thrashing around to bring back the feet and touch the ground in the beginning, but later gaining confidence. After sometime, you would try facing towards the centre of the pool and push yourself afloat. Most of us would have gone through at least one instance of panic and breathed in some water, while thrashing around to regain our footing- scared that we are about to drown. But imagine what happens after we learn to float and then to swim. We wonder why on earth we panicked- it seems quite difficult to actually drown.

Panic is a normal reaction when human beings are put under severe stress or pressure- when faced with a problem of many moving variables and when the wrong outcome could cause great harm.

At workplace, we face these types of situations to some degree regularly and at least a few times with great severity. The character of a great professional depends on the ability to handle these situations. When the pressure is turned on, a lot of individuals panic. Panic manifests in many ways

  1. Block out the problem- this is one coping mechanism people employ when they panic. These individuals deny the existence of the problem. They finally acknowledge it only when the issue becomes too complex to ignore and usually by this time, it is too late to solve the problem.
  2. Freeze-this is another manifestation of panic. Some individuals get shocked into petrifaction when suddenly confronted with a crisis. They do not deny the crisis, but are completely unable to take any steps to find a solution. If the person is occupying a leadership role, this can lead to an organization-wide paralysis even as disaster looms.
  3. Lose control-most people, when suddenly hit with a massive crisis, tend to lose self control and control of the situation. They scream, shout and break down in front of their colleagues and co-workers. If the leader loses control of himself in a tight situation, this tends to amplify the panic in the system and the whole organisation starts running around like headless chicken.
  4. Blame game-the first reaction of many individuals when the crisis hits is to find someone or something to blame the situation on. The result is disastrous. The cohesion of the group breaks down and every individual starts focusing on saving their own skin instead of finding a solution to the problem.

So how does an effective leader handle a sudden escalation of a crisis? Effective leaders take the following steps…

  1. Analyse what are the potential solutions with a calm and clear mind. Detaching oneself from the problem to the extent of not letting the potential negative outcomes occupy one’s mind all the time might provide the mental space required to be able to keep a clear mind.
  2. Clearly communicate the analysis to all relevant members. Most solutions to complex problems involve teamwork. It is important for the relevant team members to understand the exact extent of the problem, the potential outcomes and the potential solutions in great granularity. It is also important to ensure that there is complete buy-in for the proposed solution from the concerned team members. This can be achieved by co-creating the solution or by clearly communicating a solution and addressing any apprehensions or queries.
  3. During panic situations, the team members would look to the leader for verbal and non-verbal cues. The way the leader comports herself during a tough situation is critical to the way the team handles the pressure. It is critical for the leader to appear to be in charge at all points in time and never demonstrate self doubt or a lack of self-control.
  4. All hands need to be pulling in the same direction while solving the problem. To ensure this, it is important not to embark on a witch hunt or to try and blame an individual for the crisis. It is important to analyse the reasons so that an appropriate solution can be worked out, but it is equally important not to isolate or antagonize individuals during the problem-solving phase by pinning the fault on them. Leave the consequence management till the crisis is dealt with and is under control. However, if there is an attitude issue of an individual or a set of individuals, then swift action is required.

In a nutshell, when faced with a crisis, the leader needs to keep complete control over herself, ensure voice modulation and body language is reassuring, desist from thinking of negative outcomes, analyse the situation threadbare and formulate potential solutions, involve critical co-workers in decision making and carry them along, desist from pointing fingers during the crisis (except where there is an attitudinal problem), and after the problem is solved, learn from it and implement protective measures for the future.

The best way to learn to swim is to clearly understand that it is difficult to drown and keep the mind alert enough to be able to give specific commands to the body to relax and float when beginning to go under or to at least wriggle around and stand on your feet.

This management lesson and many other such real life lessons are highlighted in RamG Vallath’s latest bestseller book, ‘From Ouch to Oops’. To learn from RamG’s transformational real life experiences, you can buy ‘From Ouch to Oops’ from Amazon – http://bit.ly/ZYih4l as paperback or as eBook http://bit.ly/1zGgHjZ

 

 

We live in a world of JDs, KRAs and score cards. Every individual has her own role to play in the massive intermeshed machinery of the corporate. Whoever does this really well gets the tag of ‘key contributor’ or ‘exceptional contributor’ and the hike in emoluments or promotions associated with this rating.

In my twenty-odd years of experience working at times for some of the largest companies of the world and at times for the smallest companies of the world, at times for companies which have rigid structures; at time for companies which feel like a bunch of cowboys running riot, the one thing I have realized is the inadequacy of JDs and KRAs.

JDs and KRAs tend to restrict individuals and compartmentalize them into small boxes of activity. Every single individual I have rated as exceptional is the one that went beyond the KRA and took on and did what she thought was important for the organization.

These are individuals who possess the following competencies in abundance

  1. Systems thinking – the ability to understand the intermeshing of different processes within the organization to deliver the goals on shareholder, employee and customer front.
  2. Self starter – the ability to take on initiatives without being told specifically.
  3. Achievement orientation – a hunger to contribute and stand out.

Besides these, the individual should ideally also possess a high degree of interpersonal skills, since going beyond one’s KRA requires the ability to adroitly navigate through the organizational hierarchies and influence people.

For me, personally, the most successful stints were when I stretched the boundaries of my KRA and each of these times I was richly rewarded. The first was when I joined Compaq as a sales manager in 1997. I pushed myself to take on operational tasks and marketing tasks. I was rewarded with four salary hikes in two years. Another instance was when I decided to act as a telecom circle head when I was actually the sales and marketing head- I got confirmed as a Circle Head within a year. I had many other such instances in my career.

So how does one fill the organization with individuals who go beyond the listed KRA?

  1. Keep aside at least 20% weightage in the individual’s scorecard for demonstrating the ability to go beyond KRA.
  2. Encourage, facilitate and channelize these excursions outside the KRA.
  3. Communicate organizational imperatives clearly to every individual.
  4. When hiring, specifically look for the ability to go beyond specified instructions.

JDs and KRAs are important and crucial, but those who have the understanding that this is just an indicator of what is minimum expected and believe that the boundaries of one’s job are limited only by one’s imagination are the ones who take organizations forward and who are a sheer pleasure to work with.

This management lesson and many other such real life lessons are highlighted in RamG Vallath’s latest bestseller book, ‘From Ouch to Oops’. To learn from RamG’s transformational real life experiences, you can buy ‘From Ouch to Oops’ from Amazon – http://bit.ly/ZYih4l as paperback or as eBook http://bit.ly/1zGgHjZ

24th August 2006 will go down in the annals of history of the Solar System as the most shameful day in its 4.6 Billion years of existence. In an act of blatant insensitivity and cruelty, a group of astronomers, calling themselves International Astronomical Union (IAU) humiliated and excommunicated Pluto from the elite core group of the Solar system- the Planets.

Pluto, who had attained the coveted position by sheer grit and perseverance- in spite of being small in stature- was understandably crushed.

But it takes enormous inner strength to attain Planethood, and Pluto, who had fought hard all his life to attain this distinction is not planning to give up without a fight.

When this correspondent met Pluto’s lawyer, Ai Yam Anass, he was livid about the public humiliation meted out to his client.

‘We have directly approached the supreme court for legal redressal,’ said Anass. ‘This act by the self-proclaimed Astrological Union is most unfortunate. In this country, we believe in equality. Just because my client is different, it is no reason to have him summarily booted out. Granted, he has an orbit more elliptical than normal and that it is tilted 17 degrees from the rest. But since when has this country started being so opposed to individual differences? Also, remember, he has managed to grab and retain five satellites- one of them almost as big as himself. This whole thing is a conspiracy by the big bullies in the club- Jupiter and Saturn- to discredit my client. They had even conspired to make him appear to be a dog. But let me tell you, my client is better that either of them. At least he is solid through and through, unlike those two who are full of gas.’

I gently pointed out that the biggest reason cited for the demotion was not these, but that Pluto had been unsuccessful in clearing the smaller objects from his path.

Ai Yam Anass bristled at this. Clearly he felt deeply for his client’s unfair treatment ‘Hello! Do you know how far away the rest of those cowards are from the Kuiper belt? While my client is battling the strays from the frozen outbacks of the solar system, freezing his backside off, the rest of those morons are warming their posteriors around the sun. Give him some time, I say. Another billion years and he would have cleared all the Debris. Do you know how many rounds it takes to clear all debris in the path? My client takes 248 years to make each round. So Earth has had 248 times the opportunity to clear all other objects in the path’

I asked him what he felt his chances are in the Supreme Court.

‘It is a matter of fundamental rights. Once you discriminate based on size, there is no stopping. Next they will throw out Mercury, then Mars, then Venus. Finally you will all wake up when Earth has ceased to be a planet. Pretty silly humanity will look- being the inhabitants of a Dwarf Planet. Can you imagine the religious repercussions? The Catholic Church will go nuts. Just four centuries back, they claimed Earth was the centre of the Universe. From that, coming down to Dwarf Planet? I tell you, this is the time to take a stand.’

‘Any comments from your Client that I can quote?’

‘No comments. The matter is sub judice. But take it from me, he is a great fighter. The Supreme Court has ordered a probe based on our request. The probe- New Horizons- will send the pictures back by July 2015. Then we will see. The stupid morons of IAU will have to eat their words,’ said Ai Yam Anass.

I wished him all the best. My heart is with Pluto. After all, no civilised society should tolerate bullies picking on someone just because of his size. I silently vowed to get a million Facebook votes for Pluto- the true Planet.

January 16, 2012

I have just about surfaced from the feeling of abject misery that one wallows in after returning from an amazing holiday. This feeling of abject misery permeates ones entire soul at the start of one’s return flight and continues to grow in intensity in inverse proportion to the distance from one’s hometown. It hits a peak when one is standing in the long queue in front of the immigration counter, staring with blank eyes at the surly looking Govt. official who makes it a point to sneer at you after he looks insultingly in turn at your well rounded figure and the passport photo taken when you were ten years younger and about a dozen kilos lighter. The misery is compounded by the family of 8 who has callously wriggled into the queue ahead of you after planting an advance guard of one aggressive young woman who was doubtlessly an Asian Games sprinter and who has established territorial rights over the entire 1st to 8th position in the queue for her family by being the first one to reach, much as Chris Columbus did. The misery somewhat abates after the immigration ordeal, but again peaks when one has to wait endlessly for one’s baggage with a heart full of dark thoughts about the airport, the airlines, the ministry of civil aviation, Manmohan Singh, Mahender Singh Dhoni (because the schmuck lost yet another test that very morning), the man standing in-front of you scratching his butt and humanity as a whole. This overall pall of misery abates only slowly over the next entire day, assisted somewhat by being able to curl up in your own bed, watch your favorite programs on TV and eat Rasam and rice.

Now this time, the misery was dark as dark could be, because the holiday was great as great could be. It was in Bali, it was with amazing friends and we were staying in an awesome resort. Bali is so similar in natural beauty to my home, Kerala, that I couldn’t but wonder why Kerala does not exhilarate me as much as Bali did. Don’t mistake me, Kerala is a great place for a holiday, really ‘gods own country’. But I have had the ‘experience’ of a lifetime spending couple of years of my adult life in Kerala. In terms of excitement, that experience falls somewhere between being bludgeoned continuously every 30 seconds with a blunt object and having 220 volts of electricity being applied intermittently to your backside every five minutes. Massive ups and downs if you get my drift. I often ask myself why this is so. The answer always comes back to ‘The Fundamental Rights of a Malayali’.

To understand the ‘Fundamental Rights of a Malayali’, one has to first understand the psyche of a Malayali. The Mallu is one incredibly sensitive being. I have long pondered on why the good lord made Mallus so fair minded, yet so darned bristly at the same time. Finally, in a moment of inspired insight, the answer came to me. Unlike the rest of humanity, who evolved from mere monkeys, the Mallu has evolved from porcupines. This simple fact, so well hidden from Darwin (possibly because his limited experience never encompassed extreme cases such as meeting a Mallu), explained the bristling behavior of the Mallu. Having laid the foundation, I have taken great pains to put down a comprehensive list of the ‘Fundamental Rights of a Malayali’, a compendium of guiding principles which govern a Mallu’s life, his interaction with other Mallus and with other lower level mortals and why his ‘each particular hair stands on end like the quills upon the fretful porpentine’ (as you can see, Bill Shakespeare on the other hand, has certainly experienced a Mallu to have written these lines so appropriately) when he is affronted (as is his usual wont).

The ‘FRoaM’ reads as follows…

Right to equality – Every Mallu is born a communist unless otherwise specified by his/her parents. They shall continuously strive to create a society of equals by uplifting themselves as much as humanly possible and after that by subtly taking potshots at others who are more equal.

Right to Samaram(strike) – Every Mallu at birth is inculcated with vast knowledge of Satyagraha, which he/she hones by continuous practice of striking at least once every month from grade 1 to the age of 77. During months in which holidays are limited, he/she strikes several times extra to get his/her rightful number of off days.

Right to Flag Hoisting – Every Mallu male is entitled to hoisting his Mundu or his Lungi several inches above his knees and to showing off his hairy legs while pretending to be Silk Smitha.

Right to Freedom of Spirit – Every Mallu must at all points in time be pickled liberally and should strive for this exalted spiritual state by imbibing from early morning. Even if he has to queue up in front of the Kallu Shaap before it opens at the ridiculously late hour of 8AM.

A corollary to this is Right to Brandy – A true blue Mallu shall only drink Brandy, since he is able to assuage his guilt by pretending that the good spirit is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Right to Red rice & Fish curry – A Mallu may consume fish curry and red rice any time of the day starting 6AM.

A corollary to this is right to Beef fry and Porotta, right to Appam and Muttakkari and right to Tapioca and Fish curry. (except that Appam and Muttakkri may start at 5 AM.)

Right to Consider Sreesanth as the God of Cricket – The Mallu does not believe in RamG’s epic story on the 10th Avatar of Vishnu being Sachin Tendulkar as given in Oh God!!. In his mind, Sreesanth is the only god of cricket and has been unfairly treated by Krishnamachari Srikanth, a mere jealous Paandi.

Right to Murder English Pronunciation- This is a very Fundamental and inalienable right of a Mallu. Specifically, he may murder all words having an ‘O’ in them or may ‘simbly’ substitute a ‘B’ for a ‘P’ every time it dares to make an appearance after an ‘M’. The same may be said of a ‘K’ or a hard ‘C’ if they so much as try to jump in ahead of an ‘L’ as any of my ‘Ungles’ may agree.

Right to Amazing Names – A Mallu may be named by clubbing together any set of right sounding syllables as in the case of Jiju, Joji, Shiny, Shiji, Shiju… etc. Siblings may adopt rhyming agglomeration of syllables as in the case of Jincy and Lincy or even Tiju, Liju and Biju.

Right to scoff at Tamilians – A Mallu may at all times treat the Tamilian as an inferior being (Having actually drawn a substantial part of their cultural heritage from Tamil Nadu) and may call them Paandis.

A corollary is that the Mallu has the right to be offended if the Tamilian retailiates by calling him a ‘Malayali Gentleman’ in a sneering fashion. For more on this, you may read up my treatise on the subject as given in ‘The Amazing Adventures of a Tamil Brahmin’ aka ‘How to tame a tame father in law’

Finally, and most importantly, the Mallu has a Right to Bristle at all insults, real, imagined or not yet imagined. He has to uphold the traditions of his ancestor, the fretful porpentine. A very very important corollary to this is that all male Mallus must sport some of the quills inherited from their ancestors on their face- namely on their upper lip. This helps them bristle.

That, my friend, completes my well researched document on the Fundamental Rights of a Malayali. Now let me warn you, we Mallus are actually amazing. We have religious harmony, communal harmony, sex ratio, development index, literacy rate, female infant mortality, all to prove that we are a great breed. And we even have the ability to laugh at ourselves. But if you, who is evolved from a mere ape and not an exalted porcupine even so much as dare chuckle at this article, we shall all bristle in indignation, and poke your sorry backside with so many quills that you will never be able to sit again to have your Masal Dosas and your Tandoori Chickens.

“So Jayashri’s visit to Bombay is f***ed ?” He asked me, eyes twinkling.

I stared at the man open mouthed!! The versatile four letter word so blithely flowing out of the 60 year old, supposedly god fearing Tamil Brahmin’s lips stunned me. Hey, this guy is cool, I thought to myself and gave him a chummy smile, almost as if to say, “hey you old coot, did not know you were one of us”!!
Again he said “So thanks to the strike in her factory, Jayashri’s trip to Bombay seems to have gone Phut”

Ah! I realized with a tinge of disappointment that he had actually said Phut (means Kaput) and not really the word of words.

This was my first interaction with Mr. V. Ramamurti, my would be father in law. My wife and I met each other in XLRI, where she was one year junior to me. Subsequently, she also ended up at Titan watches, where we had our respective first jobs (she vehemently denies that she chased me and came to Titan – Ha). We fell in love and wanted to get married. The only catch was that she was from a Tamil Brahmin (Iyer) family and I was from a Malayali Menon family. Since Jayu’s mom had passed away when she was quite young, quite a bit of her upbringing was done by her grandmother, who also ran their household – in a very traditional manner.
So when Jayu upped and told her dad that she wanted to marry a Malayali, he even refused to acknowledge it.

It took a fair amount of work from her sister to convince her dad that I was rather higher in the evolutionary pegging order than a pathetic worm. The fact that I could down 12 pegs of rum a day without blinking an eyelid and smoke enough cigarettes to make a substantial contribution to global warming were facts that were wisely hidden from him at that time. So one fateful day, I reached Mumbai to make first contact. With a heart full of apprehension and hope I waited in Shubha’s (Jayu’s sister) house for the prospective father in law, V.Ramamurti to descend. And his first words as he descended were what I described in the beginning.

Even though it turned out that he did not use my type of words, over the next couple of days, I came to the conclusion that he was a decent sort of bloke. Quite amiable and sweet, though he did take me thru a bit of history (namely of his own childhood thru to adulthood days), by the end of two days we were on decidedly chummy terms. But my restlessness kept growing, since after 48 hours, the gentleman never once mentioned the holy alliance between his daughter and myself. I felt a bit deflated, much as how Musharaf did when after being invited by Clinton to discuss a $1Billion aid, at the end of the visit he discovered that all he and Bill had discussed were Pakistani women, Cigars, terrorists, Kababs and what not.

But I was made of strong stuff. In the last 5 minutes before I was to eject from the house, I took courage in my hands and with a prayer in my heart, I told him – “Uncle, I am sorry if I have hurt you in anyway by falling in love with your daughter.” Impressive stuff, you must admit. And it finally penetrated the armor. VR got quite emotional and I could see that I was now well on the way to winning the trophy.

And trophy I did win in Feb 1995. From the wedding onwards, our cultures were a study in contrast. The wedding was in Malayali style, in a temple. The visiting Tam Brahm clan, which had braced themselves for the usual ‘2 nights of smoke and lack of sleep, which causes headaches’ kind of wedding felt like the rug was pulled from under their feet when having been herded into the temple, after the first blink, they discovered that RamG and Jayu were now man and wife. Cheated, I say!!

Appa (from that day, that is what I called Jayu’s dad) had sent 50K to my dad to organize the wedding. He had carried another similar sum in a leather bag, clutched to his bosom for the past 48 hours. The sum, he was sure may not be enough to cover the overall cost. He could not believe his ears when my dad returned some money from the original 50K itself stating that the total expense was below 50K. All said and done, the flag of RamG was now generally flying high in Appa’s eyes.

Appa made a formal entry into our home after our first baby – Ananya – was born. It was a huge relief for us, since it meant an overall supervision of things at home. A supervisory role which Appa took to with gusto!! A bit too much of gusto at times!!

The incident, which was to be referred to ever since as the ‘Economic Times Crisis’ happened around 6 years after our marriage. We had just shifted to Coimbatore. I discovered Hindu Businessline there and wanted to order this daily, along with the Hindu and Eco Times. Appa vehemently protested. Or so I heard, since Mappilai Maryadai (the respect due to a son in law) prevented him from disagreeing with me directly and all such conversations were routed thru the medium of Jayu!! His point was that Hindu Businessline and ET covered the same stuff and so why order both. I put my foot down. I pointed out to my wife that I was the master of the house. I made sure that she personally briefed the paperwallah on our daily requirements. Matters went well for 3 days. Then I realized that the ET was missing from the daily bouquet of papers.

An intense investigation was instituted at home. And I couldn’t believe the findings!! Appa, the god fearing Brahmin, the man who was so courteous and sweet had got up at 5AM (which anyway he does) and instructed the paperwallah to stop ET. I was speechless. This complete underhand deal left me baffled. Of course, I could not express my displeasure to him directly, except by giving him dirty looks behind his back and muttering – “where is the ET?” in a marked manner within his earshot. Jayu, of course was a chingari. She took it up very strongly with Appa and finally we restored the ET. Except on Saturdays and Sundays – where Appa still had his way. He believed that at Rs.5, this edition was a waste. So we finally entered into a truce – ET stayed, but not the weekend edition. Peace reigned throughout the household again. All was well.

Apart from these few incursions across the LOC, Appa was generally the personification of sweetness, piousness and love. I am yet to see a more wonderful human being in my life. His sweet nature also ensures that most of the young women that we knew clustered around him. (This of course was also a very positive development as far as I was concerned)

When I shifted to Coimbatore and Jayu gave up her job after Advay, our son was born, Appa was very worried if we could still afford the quality of rice we were used to. Since he ran the household, cheaper rice became the norm. It took us quite sometime and a promotion to convince him that we were not actually below the poverty line.
This is the quintessential Appa – he worries about everything. He worries that we might miss our flight every time we go on tour. He worries about our work. He worries about the kids… If he has a train to catch, he would be at the platform 2 hours early.

But the huge contradiction is the incredible courage he displayed when his wife was suffering from MND at a young age. I believe he never ever gave up hope or stopped trying. He took care of her every need, spending hours by her bedside in her last days. After she passed away, he continued displaying the same courage – bringing up two girls, trying to ensure they never felt the absence of their mother, pushing them academically, till one got into the civil services and one got into XLRI. Today, he is a proud father, happy at their achievements.

Over the last few years, he has adjusted so well to me and my Malayali ways. (He refers to all Malayalis as Malayali gentlemen, almost as if it is an oxymoron.) He does not even mind that we cook chicken at home. My son, in a mad sense of humor once went and told him – “Tata, I am a Brahmin”. Thrilled, Appa asked him why he felt that. The answer came promptly “ Because I eat chicken!”

Over time, he realized that his son in law was rather attached to the occasional binges. He however turned a blind eye. Except on one occasion, when a lot of my friends had come visiting and we were partying late into the night. Having run out of Tequila, we decided to have shots of Triplesec. In about half an hour, I was completely sozzled. The nearest bed in sight was next to Appa and I decided to sleep it off. Unfortunately, as soon as my head hit the pillow, it seemed to be caught in a tornado, and I had a terrible urge to throw up. I got out of bed, only to find out that my legs seemed to have lost all coordination. I gamely crawled on all fours to the bathroom and back. Poor Appa was awake all the while, watching the antics in horror. But his heart melted when having laid down next to him, I kept muttering, “I am sorry Appa.” “Even in his dire straits, he only thinks of me” – he proudly told my wife later.

The most touching moment in our relationship happened when I had a job in Gurgaon and we had to shift from Hyderabad to Gurgaon. Appa had many friends in Hyderabad and I knew he would miss the place terribly. I asked Appa whether he would mind moving. He looked at me and said “ When I was young, I wanted to bring my old dad from Tanjore to Mumbai. I asked him whether he would feel out of pkace in Mumbai. He turned to me and told me – where Ram is there, that is Ayodhya. Similarly, for me, where Ram is there, that is Ayodhya”. I was deeply touched.

He has become such an essential ingredient to daily life, that I miss him so much when he is away. Even his micromanaging ways- my wife jokingly asks me whether Appa has been acting too Uppity every once in a while – has now become an entertainment. When a person loves you unconditionally, how do these small things matter? Every moment he is at home, I feel enveloped in his love and tenderness.

Kudos to Ramamurti – the Tamil Brahmin who was born in an ultra orthodox family in an Agraharam in deep Tamil Nadu, who has had the courage to modify his traditional beliefs and who has been able to accept, love and wholeheartedly embrace a son in law like me.