Sunday, April 15, 2018

Never judge a book by its cover !

I have this bad habit of judging people - no matter how hard I try to change, I find it difficult. The "real me" pops out once in a while.

I want to take all of you to the year 1994. I was doing my Engineering first year at GCT Coimbatore. We had a dozen odd subjects to study during the first year - but, the most dreadful one was Engineering Drawing (ED). The terms cuboids, trapeziums, quadrilaterals created night mares not only for me, but for the entire class. Until we joined college, all that we knew was "A pencil is just a pencil". But, after the ED class, we learned that there are different types of pencils such as HB, B, 2B, F etc., based on the grade of the lead.

To add salt to the wound, we had a professor for the ED class, who was as strict as an army major. He can't expect anything that is short of perfection from the students. In fact, he continuously said "Small things make perfection, but perfection isn't a small thing". Let us call him as Mr. Victor to keep his identity anonymous.

One day, during our ED class, one of my classmates didn't use the right pencil for the drawing. He got her drawing sheet, tore it into 8 pieces and threw it into the trash bin. Another day, another classmate didn't have the right dimensions and margins in the drawing sheet. He got the sheet and dropped it from the 3rd floor to the ground floor. All of us at that time thought "Had he been in Hitler's army, he would've grown to the ranks of  Army General in no time". He was so brutal.

Almost all students made a visit to the Vinayagar temple near GCT campus, on the day of the ED exam, to successfully clear the exam. Thankfully, all of us cleared the exam and moved to our 2nd year. And most importantly, we didn't have to deal with Engineering Drawing and Mr. Victor anymore, because we had chosen "Computer Science" as the major.

Fast forward to December 2017. We had our 19th year reunion at the GCT campus. We invited many of our staff members to join us for the reunion. The first person to show up for the reunion was Mr. Victor. He had grown old and he told us that he retired from GCT a few years back. To our surprise, he was one among the 3 staff members who showed up for our re-union. When he spoke to us during the reunion, Mr. Victor said "Dear students, I know I was very hard with you in 1994. But, you know what... yours was simply the BEST batch that I ever dealt with. I never saw the kind of commitment / sincerity that your batch exhibited. Your Engineering drawings are simply the BEST that I've seen in my entire career. I still have some of your drawings with me. I'm very glad to see many of you nearly after 20 years". I thought "He is trying to flatter us and this may be the standard talk track that he has for ALL reunion events". After the meeting, he told us that "He can share with us some of the drawings that he has, if we want". I was really curious to see, if he is really preserving those drawings for 20 years. We asked him to mail it to us.

A week ago, my friend received a courier. When he opened the courier, he was shocked. Mr. Victor had mailed one of the 20 year old drawings from a fellow classmate to him. This is the same girl whose paper was torn into pieces 20 years back. My friend took a picture of that and shared it in our Whatsapp group. I couldn't control my tears when I saw that picture.

Mr. Victor was so hard with us during our college days because, he was trying hard to bring the best out of us. Not only that, whatever he told us during the reunion was 200% true ! For a person who deals with several 1000s of students over a 20 years period, to maintain a drawing from a student for 20 years is unbelievable. Our educational institutions still have such sincere professors, who wanted to bring the best out of their students.

I felt so sorry for having judged Mr. Victor in a bad light. I learned a very important lesson from this experience "Never judge a book by its cover". Long live Mr. Victor and his values.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

CC Project #10 - Inspire your Audience - You are an Inspiration

The place was GCT, Coimbatore. The occasion was the reunion of all of our classmates, after a gap of nearly 20 years. 

Good morning fellow Toastmasters and guests.

Imagine how exciting it would be to meet all of your friends under one roof, after a long gap. The untold theme of that day was Nostalgia. Some of them had put on weight… some of them had lost weight… some of them looked old, some of them still looked young, some of them had lost some hair, one of them had lost ALL the hair….

The first session was an Ice Breaker session. 

I was called first to the stage. I went to the stage with an inflated chest and head held high. I boasted about my improved communication skills, as a result of joining Toastmasters. I boasted about my success in career and my role as a Delivery Head in a leading MNC. I boasted about achieving financial freedom. After talking on the stage for a few minutes, I came back to my seat with lots of pride. I thought I’m the most successful and I’m going to be an inspiration, for all. My ego got inflated like a helium balloon and started going up and up, crossing the moon… the stars and inching closer to the sky. 

[Names of characters changed to ensure privacy]

Next, they called Naren to the stage. As Naren was walking to the stage, I was tracing back my old memories… the flash back unfolded in black ’n white. 

    • Naren used to be very short, like the millimetre boy in Nanban movie. He hardly combed or oiled his hair. His teeth used to be stained. He used to wear bathroom slippers for classes.
    • Naren is from a village near Salem. His village didn’t even have electricity during those days. He was the first graduate from his village. The first time he saw a Television was after he joined the college. The first time he saw a computer was after he joined the college. Until +2, he studied in Tamil medium. So, he found it extremely difficult to cope up with the studies in college. 
    • He used to be a lone wolf at the college
    • I remembered an incident from the final year. Naren was asked to take a seminar on “Computer Hardware”, his hands were shivering and he was sweating in an Air Conditioned hall. His English was so poor that nobody could understand what he was trying to say.  The entire class pitied for him. 
    • Naren studied very very hard, but despite the hard work, he had many arrears… because, his hand writing used to be like Doctor’s prescription. 
    • During the final semester, while many of us came out with a handful of offers, Naren came out with a handful of arrears. We graduated in the year 1998 and I lost touch with Naren after that. 
“Hello Friends”… When Naren started to speak on the stage, I switched from the black ’n white to the colour  mode. Naren was in proper formals and wearing leather shoes. He had grown up a little bit, too. The millimetre boy has now become a centimetre boy. He was well groomed. Those stains in his teeth had vanished. Naren continued his speech with a lot of enthusiasm and in a simple English. “Friends… Happy to see all of you here. I work for the prestigious Hindustan Aeronautics Limited as a Technical Engineer. I take care of the maintenance of all the fighter planes that India produces. I know you may be shocked. Yes… I went through a very hard time immediately after we left college. I went back to my village. I didn’t know what to do. But, I didn’t lose my hope.  I studied hard and cleared all of my arrears in a year. Later, one of my relatives asked me to sign up for a Apprentice program at HAL. Thankfully, my application got selected. I worked in HAL as an Apprentice for a couple of years. My supervisor got impressed by my performance and gave me a full time job there. I have been working there for the last 18 years. Outside work, I love doing Yoga. I’m a certified Yoga instructor. I help a number of people in my community to improve their wellness through Yoga. I change their lives. I’m married to a beautiful wife and I have 2 young kids. Starting from a village that didn’t have electricity to graduating in GCT with arrears to maintaining Fighter planes and changing the lives of people around me, my journey was exciting”.  When he stopped speaking, there was a pin drop silence in the hall. We were amazed by the progress and transformation in Naren’s life. All of us gave a thundering applause to him. My hologram image stood up and gave a standing ovation to Naren. My inflated ego got pierced, lost some gas and came down to the moon, from the sky.

Then, Suresh was called to the stage… a back bencher from the college days. He told that he is currently an entrepreneur giving jobs to 25 youngsters and delivering software to multi-national clients. Then, Vinod was called to the stage… Vinod was just an ordinary student during college days. He said “He works in US currently, for the IT department of Blue Cross. His hobby is to do counselling for a number of alcohol addicts and he has helped several dozens of people to recover from their addiction”. One after the other, all the batchmates were called to the stage. When all of them finished speaking, my ego, the inflated helium balloon was punctured left, right and centre and was lying dead on the ground. I realised that “Everyone’s life is inspirational” in their own way.

Fellow Toastmasters, look around you, there is so much of inspiration in this place. Our past Presidents Shriram and Siddharth, reviving a struggling club and bringing its membership back to 40 plus are an inspiration … Our own DTM Gautam Sharma quitting his high paying job at TCS to pursue entrepreneurship and training youngsters is an inspiration. Our current President Pravin, who rolled up his sleeves … helping the club during the last term, without looking for a credit, when we lost our then VP Education is an inspiration. You can be an inspiration too… When you have the courage to face adversities head-on, when you come out of your comfort zone and take risks, and most importantly, when you help others selflessly”… someday … someone will pop-up in front of you and say “Hey! You are an inspiration”.

CC Project #9 - Persuade with Power - Tick... Tick... Tick...

This is the last and final boarding call for passenger Shankar R travelling by Spicejet SG831 to Hyderabad. Please proceed to gate 3 immediately. Thank You.

Good morning Toastmasters and Guests,

The place was Chennai Domestic Airport. The time was 5.30 in the morning. I was traveling to Hyderabad for an office work and my flight was at 7.45 am. The security queue was too long that if you look at it from the top, it will look like an Anaconda. 

The moment this announcement was made… I saw a man in his 30s with a shiny bald head and a pot belly, popping out  from the end of the long security queue and jumping up like our Alaypayuthey Madhavan… for the “Sagiyea….” song. He immediately starts rushing to the front of the queue by telling everyone “Sir! My name is getting called. My name is getting called”. I immediately thought “Dude! They are not calling you to give Nobel Peace Prize. You are late … and it is a shame on you to jump the queue like this. Why can’t you come here 2 hours before your flight starts”.

Dear friends… I see people showing up late not only in the airports… but in office, in birthday parties, in weddings, in schools, in colleges and even in Toastmasters meetings. We, the Indians, have proudly created a new definition for “Indian Standard Time”.. which is an hour later than the promised time. 

The man that I admire for punctuality is my Dad. I still remember my childhood days. If we have to catch a train at 6 pm, my Dad will ensure that all of us leave home by 3 pm itself. Those days, we relied on public transport heavily. So, my Dad didn’t want to take a chance. Most of the times, we’ll end up reaching the station 2 hours in advance. It is not only during travel… he does that for movies, weddings and other family functions. Many times, we’ll be there at the venue even before the hosts…. And welcoming the hosts !

Why is Punctuality important? 

Let us try to understand the importance of Punctuality from the context of a Toastmasters meeting. 

    • Being punctual doesn’t mean that you are jobless, it means that you value others’ time as priceless. Lets take for example a Toastmasters meeting. When a few role players come late, they waste the precious time of other 15 odd people who might’ve come ontime.
    • Research shows that 110 million people die every year as a direct result of stress. That is 7 people every 2 seconds. You know what? “Being punctual reduces stress levels”. Not only that, being punctual helps you to manage complex tasks and work twice as better as compared to being late. If you show up early for a Toastmasters meeting, it helps you to prepare well for your role and also to minimise nervousness on the stage. 
    • Showing up early, helps you to network and socialise with people.. which you would otherwise miss if you are showing up at the last minute. In Toastmasters, it helps you to develop your interpersonal skills. 
    • If you want to know the value of one month, ask a mother who gave birth to a premature baby. 
    • If you want to know the value of ten minutes, see the movie Mersal. 
    • If you want to know the value of one second, ask the Toastmaster who lost in the speech contest. 

If you feel that you are going to waste time by showing up early, always carry a book along with you. You can use the waiting time to read.

So, how can you be more Punctual?

Start doing backward planning. For example, this is what I do. If I have to be in a Toastmasters meeting by 9.45 am… I have to start from my home by 9.15 am. If I have to start from home by 9.15, I should’ve had my bath and finished breakfast by 9 am. If I have to be ready by 9 am, I should’ve got up an hour early, at least by 8 am. Also, if my commute time is just 15 mins, I give some extra 15 minutes buffer time for unusually heavy traffic. The buffer time is dependant on the distance that I travel for the meeting. The longer the distance, the higher the buffer time. 


Dear friends… Punctuality is all about planning, prioritising and preparing. 

Marvin Ashton, a famous politician said “Punctuality or the lack there of, is the only introduction that you will ever have to new groups and friends”. Punctuality is the most admired quality. Let us take a resolution today… to be on-time, all the time… throughout our lifetime. Will you?