Was lack of Constructive Feedback a factor in Shishupala’s death?

feedbackThe mythological story goes thus – A relatively minor character in the Mahabharata, Shishupala was born with three eyes and four arms and an accompanying heavenly prophesy foretelling that he would lose his additional arms & eyes when placed on the lap of his future slayer. His parents invited all kings of the world to Chedi and placed the child on their laps, but nothing happened. Finally, Shishupala’s cousins, Krishna and his brother Balarama came to visit. Shishupala’s extra arms and eyes fell off as soon as he was placed on Krishna’s lap. Realizing that her son would be killed by his own cousin brother, the terrified mother secured a boon from Krishna that he would pardon a 100 offences of Shishupala even when he deserved to be killed. Shishupala’s parents, in an attempt to provide him security, then placed him under the care of Krishna’s sworn enemy, the powerful Jarasandha. As he grew up Shishupala found a way to commit a 100 offences, the last one being at Yudhistra’s Rajasuya yagna and finally Krishna killed him.

All very well! But, was constructive feedback ever given to Shishupala?

On the one hand he had his well-wishers – his parents, his mentor Jarasandha and his close friend, Rukmi, the brother of Rukmini who hated Krishna and on the other end of the spectrum were his perceived enemies – Krishna and Balarama. His parents tried to protect him by pushing him into the arms of a person with his own personal agenda against Krishna and who naturally groomed him with similar views. His friends kept telling him that he was on the right track whenever he committed an offense in the eyes of Krishna. And Krishna too, just let him off after each offence, without taking the effort to make Shishupala understand what was wrong and what he could have done better. This was very much contrary to the amount of time and effort he had invested in Arjuna in the great war to shape his thought process. So, appears like a combination of lop-sided feedback – all positive from friends and all negative from adversaries contributed to Shishupala’s death.
This is very much the corporate scenario today. Well-meaning feedback mechanisms have been instituted by organizations to help employees improve their performance and eventually contribute to the organization’s holistic growth. But, it often translates into a forum skewed by bias extremities leading to either flowery comments or petty personal attacks and eventually provides little opportunity for growth and education in their roles as against the original objective of the whole process. Hence, it’s very important that feedback needs to be constructive and corrective rather than simply positive or negative. Every person in the system has a responsibility towards the other in ensuring that he has a clear picture of his performance from the inside out, to help create a culture of positive reinforcement. Finally, it’s essential that that this process should be consistent, continuous and actionable.

So, probably Shishupala would have lived longer and been an effective king, had he received timely Constructive Feedback.

A Tale of 2 Rakshaks


Deelipa_BlogFirst, the mythological tale of King Dilīpa, the ancestor of Rama. Dilīpa was childless for a long time due to the curse of the divine cow, Kamadhenu. Sage Vasistha advised him to worship and protect Nandini, the daughter of Kamadhenu and earn her blessings for progeny. The king and his wife served Nandini faithfully. They personally cleaned the cow shed, bathed Nandini, took her out to graze and ensured that she was safe and well fed.  One day, a ferocious lion appeared and attacked Nandini. The king tried to protect the cow, but the lion argued that as a king he was duty bound to protect the interests of the lion as well, since he too was his subject. If the lion was not allowed to consume his prey and natural food he would die of hunger and would hold the king responsible for his death. As a solution, the king offered himself as food in lieu of the cow. Pleased with the king’s sacrifice and fairness, Nandini revealed that the lion was a just illusion created to test him and blessed him. In due course, the king begat a son, Raghu, the grandfather of Rama and thus began the Raghuvamsa.

The year 2017 saw the rise of another mythological king – Dileep Raja, President of MaGoMa Rakshak Enterprises. A reporter from a leading daily managed to get an interview after a long wait. In his palatial office, he is told that Rajaji would meet him on the ground where he was personally supervising operations. Forehead streaked with vermillion, designer sunglasses, traditional turban and parked on a Harley Davidson, Dileep Raja is a modern GenNext entrepreneur. He is humility personified in welcoming the reporter and making him comfortable. The interview begins –

Q. You have set up a huge and successful enterprise in such a short time, who do you credit your success to?

A. I owe all this to the grace and blessings of Gomata, I am after all a humble servant and just fulfilling my natural duty by protecting her. We are the pioneers in this domain. You can call us an NGO due to our selfless facilitation of the GoRakshak initiative. And think of it, we have solved the unemployment problem by recruiting youths in large numbers. We are proud that we are a successful example of the DesiBanao Abhigyan.

Q. Please describe your operations.

A. In just a span of 2 years, we have scaled up our operations in 22 states and penetrate right down to the Tehsil level. Though termed unorganized, we have a strong network of volunteers who ensure smooth operations. Just like an MNC, we have high level Strategy, Information Cell, finance and Operation teams which work closely together to ensure success. We manage with the voluntary contributions made by the people caught for slaughter or smuggling and that is small compensation for the physical and mental effort we have to put in to ensure that we meet our daily targets of cow protection.

Q. But there have been accusations that you have only been paying lip service to cow protection by targeting certain sections of the society and do not really care for cow welfare.

A. All rubbish and this is a campaign promoted by the anti-nationalists. They do not want our country to progress by adopting our sacred dharma. What do you mean by saying we are not concerned about cow protection? We have been promoting GoShalas everywhere. We ensure maximum utilization of space in the goshala’s keeping in mind the space crunch in the nation. And for the non-milk cow, we have thrown open the streets. They are free to roam about anywhere they want and eat anything. Haven’t you read the WhatsUp and Facebook messages, where we have explained how the miraculous cows can digest anything including plastic? In fact, we have also opened a plastic department for solving the problem of plastic disposal in the nation.

Q. But, what about the causalities? Some people have been seriously injured and even lost their lives?

A. Have you not heard the story of Mother Earth, where she appeared as a Cow to Lord Vishnu and prayed to be saved from the torture meted by the unruly Kshatriya Kings? Lord Vishnu took birth on earth as Lord Krishna and was a major player in the Mahabharata war, which ended with the death of most Kshatriyas. It is natural that lives will be lost for a just cause. But, people can avoid trouble if they use their brains. The Mahabharata war was the doom of only the Kshatriyas, but other classes were sparred. So, people can avoid trouble by converting. Anyways, we have to end the interview now, as my team members have spotted a major incident and being a hands-on person, I need to be there personally.

But, before we part do make note of our Vision statement which is inspired by the Father of Our Nation – “I would not kill a human being for protection a cow, as I will not kill a cow for saving a human life, be it ever so precious. Cow slaughter can never be stopped by law. Knowledge, education, and the spirit of kindliness towards her alone can put an end to it. It will not be possible to save those animals that are a burden on the land or, perhaps, even man if he is a burden.”

Supreme Court rules against abortion of 26 week old foetus with Down Syndrome – But, should the judgement end here?

download (1)Recently, I came across the news of the Supreme Court rejecting the plea of a couple to abort a 26 week old foetus with Down Syndrome. A seemingly routine rule book decision and probably one which I like most others would have normally overlooked. Except that in this case, it brought back extremely painful memories – It was 7 years back and I was expecting my child. Being a complicated pregnancy I was subject to multiple tests and medication right from the beginning and just when we had started breathing easy, a test in the 16th week indicated a very high probability of our child being born with Downs Syndrome. We were told by the consulting doctor in a matter of fact tone that our child is likely to be born with physical and intellectual disability and suggested another test for confirming the same, the results for which would be available in 5 days. And those 5 days were the most miserable ones of our life! I recall going through those days in a zombie like manner, too numb to think of what to do next once we get the results.

How did we feel and think – what did we do to deserve this? Is this due to some past negative Karma? Do we keep the child or abort it? If we abort, then how can we live with the guilt of having killed a child? And if decide to go ahead with the pregnancy, will we be able to accept it just like a normal child? And most important, who would take care of it once we are dead and gone?

By God’s grace and serendipity, the second test results were negative and eventually we were blessed with a normal & healthy child. And we moved on, only too glad to bury those dark days in the recesses of our memories. Till this headline made me think deeper about the judgement.

What is Downs Syndrome – It is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. It is typically associated with physical growth delays, characteristic facial features and mild to moderate intellectual disability. As adults, their mental abilities are typically similar to those of an 8- or 9-year-old. They also typically have poor immune function and generally reach developmental milestones at a later age. They have an increased risk of a number of other health problems, including congenital heart defect, epilepsy, leukemia, thyroid diseases, and mental disorders, among others.

What is the current support offered by the government?

  • The ‘Niramaya Health Insurance Plan’for the welfare of persons with autism, cerebral palsy, mental retardation and multiple disabilities.
  • Each state government in India gives a maintenance allowance for disabled individuals gives Rs. 500 per month.
  • Indian Railways offers a concession of 75% for a disabled person’s travelwith an escort. Bus concessions are given for travel between place of stay and School/Disability Center/Day Care
  • There are special provisions in the Income Tax Actfor persons with disability, that is also applicable to parents/legal guardians of persons with disability.
  • The National Trust Act passed in 1999, gives the right to “parents or relatives or registered organizations to ask for the appointment of guardian for the person with disabilities even after they are 18 years of age.”

But these measures are woefully inadequate – There is a huge requirement in our society for local support groups for parents and children of this condition, and most such groups in India have been formed by the parents themselves. The process has to start from the gynecologists and pediatricians themselves, who need to show more sensitivity and responsibility in helping the parents face the situation and accept their special children. Parents need counselling to help overcome the initial shock and disappointment, regain their emotional balance and accept the situation. The public needs to be made aware and sensitized about the characteristics and needs of such individuals so that the children are not viewed as freaks in public places. Inclusion within society is a must to help parents face the situation and improve the quality of life for their children, more so for those from the less affluent and socially backward classes. For a society which is still grappling with female foeticide and wellbeing of girl children, it is very essential that all kinds of emotional and psychological support is extended to these families to help them love their children abundantly and see them grow as normally as possible.

And the good news is that there are many success stories (like the case of Dr. Rekha Ramachandran’s daughter Babli), where both children with DS and their parents have fought against the odds to become educated and live normal lives. Rather, the families consider themselves blessed and feel themselves warmer, closer and more harmonious with better marital ties gained from the positive experience of the “Down Syndrome Advantage”.

Then, is the current anti-abortion judgement a right one? As per current law, abortion of foetus is permissible only  when the mothers life is at risk and that too upto 20 weeks of pregnancy only. But, in these special circumstances, it is imperative that the law is not constrained to enforcement of the rule, but rather it should also create an environment conducive to support of the families and inclusion of such children in society. Please do not get me  wrong here. I am a firm supporter of the right of life to all. But probably in this cases, the parents should also have a choice to present their case and be counselled sensitively rather than be forced to follow the law  blindly.

It is International Downs Syndrome day on March 21st. As we are anyways given to celebrating so many nonsensical days, it would be good if we could give thought and extend support in any manner possible for this cause!

“Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.” – Annette Funicello

 

RadhaMa – A Case Study in “Ordinary to Godly”

kamakshi-amman-cropped

The perception of Guru is an ancient one in India, with a lot of emphasis on the tradition of reverence and consideration of the Guru as indispensable to the acquisition of knowledge and spiritual development.

In modern times, the word “Godman” is often used as a colloquial for the word Guru, who are seen as charismatic personalities, attracting attention and support from large sections of the society. Many establish religious, social or educational institutions with a view to propagating their legacy.  They come cloaked in an aura of divinity, mystery and associated controversies. But the public struggles to identify with them as normal people who have had their share of challenges and failures before attaining the positions they are in today. This often happens because of limited awareness of the Guru’s lives as normal people and invariably leads to two very skewed perceptions – the rightists or so-called ‘devotees’ who put the Gurus on a pedestal and blindly follow their tenets and justify all their deeds, and the leftists on the other end of the spectrum, who are distrustful of all Gurus and denounce them as fakes with a highly personal agenda.

This story is about trying to strike a balance in our perception of Godmen/women!

I was fairly excited to be visiting my maternal uncle (Sethu Mama) after a gap of 6 years and a lot had changed in this period. As I reached his home on a typically hot Friday afternoon in Chennai, my Mama and Mami (aunt – Sethu mama’s wife) greeted me. After freshening up, I joined my uncle at the table for lunch, which Mami served while attending to her mischievous grandson simultaneously. Post lunch and an afternoon siesta, I woke up to be served the traditional south Indian filter coffee by Mami. She then got busy plucking flowers from the jasmine plant in the garden and asked me if I would be interested in joining her and Sethu mama in visiting the temple in the evening. I readily agreed and it was around 5.30 pm in the evening when we reached the Navashakthi Kamakshi Amman Temple in Madipakkam, armed with the traditional offerings of fruits and flowers.

The temple, consecrated in June, 2009 stretched lengthwise right on the banks of the Madipakkam lake. Entering the main temple, I was awestruck by the majestic 9 foot tall deity of the Kamakshi Amman (a form of the Goddess Parvathi), seated in the yogic Padmasana posture. The Goddess held a sugarcane bow and flowers with a parrot perched on top in her lower arms and a pasha (lasso) and ankusha (goad) in her upper two arms. The inner shrine was surrounded by deities of other forms of the Goddess and was flanked by idols Ganesha and Murugan on the sides.

We saw a group of around 35 ladies seated in front of the Goddess reciting shlokas, while some others stood in front of the deity, praying and awaiting the priest to accept their offerings and give them the Prasad. We squeezed ourselves in front of the group of women and sat at the head of the line, while Sethu Mama made his way to the temple office room. My Mami too started to chant aloud the prayers. Friday being considered an auspicious day for praying to the Goddess, the crowd gradually swelled as the evening wore till the entire sanctum was crowded.

Post prayers and the traditional aarthi, people started queuing up to receive the Prasad and Kumkum offerings from my Mami. I watched with amazement as many, even those older in age prostrated before her while receiving the offerings. Some spoke to her about their personal problems or aspirations as they sought her blessings, while yet others spoke about how they had benefitted from their prayers.

It was 9 pm by the time we returned home after performing all the closing rituals in the temple. Once home, my aunt went back to the household duties of serving dinner, tidying up the kitchen and playing with her grandson. Post dinner, I settled down for a chat with my uncle and the conversation ran thus:

Mama, my memories of Radha Mami is that of being a shy and slightly timid, typically focused on managing her household and dependent on you for all external affairs. Then, how did this transformation take place?

To be very honest, this is a wonder to me too till date. Like most Tamil ladies, Radha was also engaged in regular prayers and temple visits. In early 2005, she undertook recital of the Lalitha Sahasaranamam (a prayer dedicated to the Goddess Durga) for 48 days, which was accompanied by stringent fasting. It was during this period that she started feeling a strong spiritual connect.  Her focus shifted from her homely duties and she started behaving strangely and her personality was totally transformed. People started flocking to our house to see her and offer homage. Now whether it was due to some divine intervention or an impact of her own austerities, we really do not know. It was around this time that, she single-handedly took up cudgels against the priest of another temple, who was suspected of indulging in mal-practices and mobilized the public against him. In another incident, when the holy seer, the Sankaracharya of Kancheepuram was in our neighborhood, she went to him and accused him of not paying her respect and visiting her home. Now, this was quite unthinkable of had she been in a normal condition.

So, what inspired you to construct a temple? Was it an easy thing to do?

Well again, I would attribute this to the insistence of Radha. She was like a woman on a mission and wanted to build a temple for Kamakshi Amman. Initially, I had laughed it off and tried my best to discourage her, keeping in mind the associated financial implications and responsibilities. However, your Mami was adamant and approached the local panchayat directly for support. On repeated follow-ups and support of the local councilors, she was offered a spot which was 5-6 feet below ground level near the Madipakkam lake. We managed to level the ground and set up a makeshift hut, wherein people started offering prayers to a picture of the Goddess. Then, there was a change in the local governing party and the new party started to oppose the temple construction and even initiated demolition of the structure. Radha opposed the move strongly and mobilized local support in her favor and forced them to retract. Coming to finances, most of it was self-sponsored and I had to dig into my personal savings. Gradually, as the public too started supporting the initiative, we had a team for garnering contributions and sponsorships. There were several other challenges during actual temple construction and deity installation, but thanks to the grace of the Goddess, we were able to overcome them successfully.

How do you manage the temple now? What are the key activities?

For the initial 4 years, apart from Mami spending time in the temple, I had hired a person for managing it and would also pitch in post office hours and on the weekends. However, I gradually started sensing that it was not being managed very well. So in 2013, when both my children had grown up and were working, I opted for voluntary retirement to dedicate my time completely to the temple. Today, both I and Radha are completely focused on managing the temple. We are continuously thinking of improvising on the services we provide. For example, other than the customary prayers and rituals we periodically arrange social welfare programs like child scholarships, feeding the poor, managing goshalas etc. The Annadanam program we conduct every year on 26th January is the largest in the area and this year we managed to distribute food to 10,000 people.

Does Radha Mami have any specific message?

She does not preach to people. We help people in offering their prayers to the Goddess and get a feeling of satisfaction when they are answered. People identify with her as a person of God, who is as normal as they themselves are, easily approachable and probably a facilitator of solutions to their problems. Other than that we conduct various programs which help in community building and spread a social message.

But, if it is social work that you want to do, why do you need to build a temple for that? Are there not already too many temples where people can go to pray?

Like I had already said, if someone had told me 10 years back that we would build a temple, I would have laughed my head off. We had never planned to build a temple or establish ourselves as Godmen. It just happened and now that we are involved in this, it is our responsibility to ensure we manage it to the best of our abilities. And think of it, people have only benefitted from the temple. It’s not only the devout, but also children and aged people who come here regularly and they do go back with peace in their minds. This effectively functions as a community gathering place. We did what we felt inspired to do and hope that we keep up to the expectations of people.

As we retired for the night, I felt the crux of the matter is that while religious Gurus may be exceptional or enlightened spiritual leaders, they are also normal people with lives like anyone of us. So good to understand and be inspired by their success stories, but not put them on a pedestal blindly, which only does harm to all in the long run.