Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Pathways - Understanding your Leadership Style - Confessions from the Coach

Pathways - Understanding your Leadership Style - Confessions from the Coach (Dynamic Leadership Path / Level 2 / Project 1)

Yesterday night, I told my wife, “Honey! I have to attend an early morning Toastmasters meeting tomorrow. Can you pls get my breakfast ready by 7 am? You can probably make some uppma or kichadi quickly in the morning”. My wife looked at me and said “These days you are very bureaucratic and authoritative. Let me decide what I should do for breakfast”.

Good morning fellow Toastmasters and guests,

Setting the stage

All along, I thought I was a “Servant Leaders” … but, when I took the “Understand your leadership style” questionnaire for this project, I realized… each one of us have multiple types of leadership styles burnt into our nerves, buried under our nerves and soaked in our blood.

At times, you are bureaucratic, at times you are democratic
At times, you are altruistic, at times you are authoritative
At times, you are affiliative, at times you are innovative
At times, you are a pace setter, at times you are a coach

We are all like the 8 legged spiders that walk on the 8 different leadership styles. However, unlike the spider, each one of us have a dominant leadership style… and to me, it is “Coaching”. I’m going to tell you a secret, today! Would you just keep it with you …

Club Mentoring Experience 

The year was 2010. I was appointed as a mentor for a brand new club. This was my first ever experience in mentoring a club. I thought I should make this club, one of the best clubs in District 82. So, I started visiting the club regularly week on week.

The SAA would say “Sir ! I forgot to bring the Gavel this week”. I told him “No worries. Let us use the white board duster instead of the gavel to start the meeting”. Next week came… but the SAA didn’t come. The following week, SAA said “Sir! The Gavel is lost. But, I’ve the whiteboard duster to open the meeting”. And the whiteboard duster became the perpetual gavel for the club.  I just accommodated them.

When they don’t start the meeting on time… I accommodated them.
When they don’t have a printed agenda …I accommodated them.
When they don’t prepare for their roles… I accommodated them.

I became a very accommodative mentor, and in-turn lowered the standards.

They asked “Saro! Can you please help with evaluations?”. I said “Oh! Sure”.

They asked “Saro! Can you please help with TT evaluation too?”. I said “Why not?”.

Eventually, they asked “Saro! GE is NOT IN today. Can you please play the GE role too?” I said “No problem”.

I started wearing multiple hats and drove the club myself at 100 mph, knowing that the wheels are punctured, gas is running out and windshield is cluttered with dust.

Weeks moved on, months moved on… slowly members also moved on…! At first, the guests started vanishing, then a few members started vanishing and eventually, the club officers also started vanishing. By the time I finished my term as a club mentor, I successfully converted a 20 members club into a 2 members club. I felt very ashamed.

Kartik’s Coaching Skills 

Then came Kartik Srinivasan, who took over the club as a Club Coach, the following year.

He called those 2 members for a meeting and told them “Look! I want this club to achieve the President’s Distinguished Club status, this year. My job is to help you and support you in that mission. Do I have your commitment?". They gave the commitment to the mission.

The first thing he did was… He made them to buy a Gavel and banner for the club.

The second thing he did was.. He made one of those 2 members as the Club President.

The third thing he did was … He jump started the club by guiding the Club President to conduct a demo meeting again in the organization and by recruiting new members

He set a very high bar for the club and its members.

  • When the meeting didn't start on time… He told them “You better start the meeting on time, otherwise, don’t expect me to attend this meeting next week”. 
  • When they didn't have a printed agenda… He told them “You better have a printed agenda next week, otherwise the meeting doesn’t start”.
  • Instead of doing the various roles himself, he trained the club members to do the roles effectively and made them to do the roles.

Kartik’s coaching helped the members to improve the quality of the meeting. Slowly the guests inflow increased. From 2 members they grew to 10 members. From 10 members, they grew to 17 members. Eventually, the club had 21 members in the roster, achieving 9 / 10 DCP points, becoming the President’s Distinguished Club during that year.


Dear Toastmasters and Guests, I learned 3 critical coaching skills from Kartik:

  1. Don’t be like a wheel that drives them, be like a GPS that guides them.
  2. Don’t give them the fish, just teach them how to fish
  3. Don’t lower the standards, for members to catch up. Increase the standards, to make them rise up.

Dear friends… don’t forget that this is a confession… Will you keep this as a secret? People in our community think that I'm a great coach and I don't want to spoil that reputation.

In Tamil, they say "You've to kill 1000 patients for you to become a half-doctor". I will tell you that you have to kill a few clubs for you to be become a half-DTM.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Rhetorical devices from "The Art of War" book

Rhetorical devices always add color to the speech. However, it is very hard to come up with the apt rhetorical devices (simile, metaphor etc.,) for conveying a thought. Recently, I read the book "The Art of War" and it had some interesting rhetorics. I've listed a few of them below:

  1. If you looked at the stars from inside a well, no more than a few stars would be visible to you. If you look from a hilltop, then you can see when they first appear and when they fade away. It's not that they're any brighter - but your setting changes what you see. Subjectivity is the inside of the well, impartiality is the top of the hill. When intelligence rides on subjectivity, it knows little; when it rides on impartiality, it knows a lot. 
  2. A rigid building may be solid, but under the stress of an earthquake, it may cause it to crumble. Whereas, a tree standing next to it can bend and flex to absorb the shock and therefore remains intact. 
  3. Those skilled in warfare move the enemy and are not moved by the enemy. 
  4. A victorious army is like a ton against an ounce. A defeated army is like an ounce against a ton. 
  5. A victorious army is like pent up waters released bursting through deep gorge.
  6. Those skilled in warfare manoeuvres are as endless as the heavens and earth, as inexhaustible as the rivers and the seas. Like the sun and the moon, they set and rise again. 
  7. An army that acts with full force is like a stone thrown at an egg
  8. An army's formation should be like water - adapts to the ground when flowing.
  9. An army advances like the wind, marches like the forest and invades like fire.
  10. During conflicts, balance can be a hinderance; Inequality is what helps put a quick end to the disorder. This is analogous to a sick person relying on medicine to get well. If the medicine and pathogens are of equal strength, what good would taking the medicine be?
(Also read: 10 Servant Leadership lessons from "The Art of War" Book)

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Pathways - Project 4 - Tick Tick to Kick

I was 10 years old then. We were all watching a magic show, as a family. The magician pulled a lot of plastic straws one after the other from his mouth… I clapped my hands in excitement, jumped up and down. We were wowed by his trick.

(Also read: Pathways Ice Breaker - Who am I?)

Last week, I saw a video in Youtube. I saw a guy pulling out plastic straws from the mouth… but, this time I was not wowed… I was not excited… I was not jumping up and down. In fact, I was shocked … because the straw was pulled out from the mouth of a turtle… and it was profusely bleeding from the mouth… and moaning in pain.

Good morning fellow Toastmasters and Guests,

Plastic production has increased 20 fold since 1964. Despite the growing demand, only 5% of plastics are recycled effectively, while 40% end up in landfill and oceans. Much of the remainder is burned to generate energy.

According to a new Ellen MacArthur Foundation report, there will be more plastic in the ocean by 2050, than fish. The world's oceans are clogged with plastic debris - plastic spoons, plastic plates, plastic covers and fishing nets.

Every year, nearly 8 million metric tones of plastic pollution enter the oceans from the coastal countries. Thats equivalent of dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute. If no action is taken, this is expected to increase to two per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050.

In 2014, researchers from Gujarat did a post-mortem on the 1-ton carcass of a whale, which got washed away to the shore. They found four large plastic bags in the whale’s stomach. It appeared that the plastic had blocked the whale’s digestive system, which caused its death.

Why should you worry about it?  

You may think “Oh! Who cares if these species become extinct”. Wait a second… There are multiple ways in which plastics can creep from the oceans to the human food chain: The plastics in the ocean get disintegrated into smaller pieces over the times and they become what is called “micro-plastics”. Fishes mistake them for food and consume them,. Eventually, plastics fill their digestive system and they die. Or, a carelessly discarded plastic bag can break down in the sea, especially in warmer waters, and the process releases toxic chemicals that may be digested by fish. When these fishes end up in the human food chain, we get impacted too.

Whats the story in India? 

In 2017, Indians generated about 72 million tonnes of municipal solid waste per day, according to an ICRIER estimate. Out of this, about 10% was plastic. The problem was that India was mismanaging over 80% of its waste, while in the U.S. it was only 2%. We just throw plastics into regular trash bins or on the road.

What can we do about it? 

Tamilnadu Government has imposed a ban on using plastic items such as carry bags, plates, cups, flags, small sachets used in packaging water. Clock is already ticking and the ban will be imposed from the 1st of Jan 2019, to kick plastic out. However, the ban excludes using disposable plastic for packaging milk, curd, oil and medical utilities. So, there will be still some plastic around us… in our everyday life. How can we help the government and save our environment from plastics? I would like to share a 3 step segregation process that we follow at my home, to handle plastic:

Consolidate - We have a separate trash bin at home to put all the plastic waste - right from chocolate wrappers to empty oil cans to faulty mobile chargers, go in there.

Separate: Once every month, we identify plastic trash items that can be sold in the local waste paper mart and convert items such as water bottles, milk cover, broken mobile chargers into cash. We keep the rest of the plastic items such as thin plastic bags, chocolate wrappers, tooth brushes etc., at home. The moment someone buys your plastic waste, you can be rest-assured that it will be recycled. 

Facilitate safe disposal: We handover the plastic trash which cannot be sold - to the municipality conservation worker. He/she ensures that it is handled separately and sent for recycling. Most of the times, government uses such plastic waste for manufacturing cement or for laying roads.

(Also read: Pathways - Project 2 - E = M3R2)


All of us have a role to play in plastic waste management. Roz Savage, a famous ocean rower says “It is not right to manufacture billions of objects that are used for a matter of minutes and are then with us for centuries”. My request to all of you is to do CSF - Consolidate / Separate / Facilitate Safe Disposal of plastics, in addition to coming to CSF (Chennai Speakers Forum). We can’t wait… time is running out… to kick plastic out.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

How to start and end club meetings on time?

One of the important skills that we develop through Toastmasters is "Time Management". Imagine going to a movie that doesn't start on time, and goes well over the time, irritating the audience who paid to watch the movie. It has a significant impact on the audience experience. When a club meeting doesn't start on time and end on time, it impacts the members experience. It affects the members' ability to plan their personal activities. Eventually, it results in loss of membership.

On time club meetings have a direct impact on the quality of the club meeting. This blog gives you some tips on how to start and end meetings, on time.

  1. If a role player is not at the meeting venue, 15 minutes prior to the scheduled meeting start time, swap the role player. Even if the role player calls you and tells you "I am on my way", politely tell them that you are swapping their role with someone else. Do not "wait" for them to reach the venue. If you keep waiting for people to start your meeting, you are indirectly punishing the people who came on time. Moreover, the members who came on time the previous week, would come late this week, because they know that you would wait for them.  VP Education should maintain enough backup role players who can jump-in and play the role. Alternatively, someone can double up the roles by playing multiple roles. For example, the Toastmaster of the Day and General Evaluator role can be combined. Or, the General Evaluator and Speech Evaluator roles can be combined.
  2. Time all the role players. In Toastmasters meetings, most roles are timed. So, the role players would know when to end. However, there are roles such as Sergeant At Arms (SAA), Presiding Officer, Toastmaster of the Day which aren't timed and they end up consuming a lot of time. Don't give more than 2 minutes for each of these role players, during the beginning of the meeting. 
  3. Corporate clubs cannot afford to have a 2 hours meeting. Most successful corporate clubs meet for just an hour. However, it is critical that they start and end the meetings on time - so that, members can return back to take care of their official commitments. If a member had signed up for another back2back official meeting and if the Toastmasters meeting doesn't end on time, the member may miss an important official meeting. If you don't adhere to the meeting timings in a corporate club, you are sure to lose the members. 
  4. Clubs would often combine meeting roles such as Toastmaster of the Day and General Evaluator (especially the corporate clubs), to minimise transitions and save time. The Toastmaster of the Day, after explaining about the meeting flow would go ahead and ask the Timer, AH Counter and Grammarian to introduce their roles and proceed with the meeting.
  5. Table Topics segment is the best segment to fine tune the flow of the meeting and catch up with the time lags, if any. The Table Topics master can decide on the number of speakers to call on the stage, based on the available time. In fact, the Toastmaster of the Day has the responsibility to alert the Table Topics master during the meeting, so that, the Table Topics master can wrap up, on time. (Also read: How Table Topics master can kill a club?)
  6. If the General Evaluator observes that the meeting is running late, he/she can cut down Timer, Ah Counter and Grammarian (TAG) report and can request members to get an offline report from the TAG role players.
  7. If the Presiding Officer notices that the meeting is running late, he/she can skip the "Guest Feedback" segment and request guests to share feedback offline. Alternatively, the Presiding Officer can just get feedback from 1 or 2 guests and request others to share feedback offline. 
  8. If you have guest speakers or educational speakers, inform them in advance about the timing rules being followed by the club. Time their speeches too.
If we know the art of starting meetings on time and ending them on time, we can take that experience and skill back to workplace. We can use the skill to estimate resources and plan for projects well ahead of time, minimise project risks by having multiple backup resources and optimize the execution plan to finish projects on time. 

[If you have other tips for time management, please share them below and I'll update the post to capture them]

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Pathways - Project 2 - Evaluation & Feedback - Change is constant

Saro! Study well upto 12th standard. You can start relaxing after that”, told my well wishers. So, I changed myself from a not so studios boy to a studious boy. I studied well and came out of school with flying colors. When I joined college, the same people said “Saro! Study well for the next 4 years and you can then start relaxing in life”. If the books in school were like Karina Kapoor, the books in College life were like Kushboo Sundar. If memorizing the content from school books was like climbing the stairs in IIKM, memorizing the content from college books was like climbing the 7 mountains in Tirupathi. 

Somehow, I graduated, got a job offer and joined a company. And the first thing my boss told is “Saro! Technology keeps changing rapidly in this industry. You’ve to learn pretty much every single day”.

Dear Toastmasters and guests, in this ever changing world, Change is the only constant. 

Take for example my Toastmasters career. Toastmasters have brought great changes in me and my life
  1. During those days, I used to have a Head full of hair but today, I have a head full of shine... I mean wisdom. During those days, I had more hair to comb, these days, I have more face to wash. 
  2. During those days whenever I went to the stage, I used to be scared ... but today whenever I go to the stage, my club members are scared
  3. During those days, when I don’t achieve my goals at work, I used to get feedback.. today, whenever I don’t achieve my goals at work ... I start giving feedback to my manager, before he starts giving feedback to me.

My food habits have also been continuously changing ...
  1. There was a time in my life when I used to eat only the things that my mind asked me to eat - which, in those days, was almost EVERYTHING. Right from the things that grow on the land to the things that move on the land. Right from the things that float on the water to the things that swim inside the water.
  2. Those were the times when if someone had asked me in Tamil “Saro! How much marks did you score in English exam or Saro! What did you eat for lunch ... I would give them the same response”. But over the proficiency in English language as well as my diet have changed

Changes are rapid and almost everywhere. Look at changes happening in our lifestyle because of  Technology today -
  1. During those days, televisions used to be of XXL size and our T-Shirts used to be of small size. Today, because of the time we spend in front of Televisions, televisions have become small and sleek, but humans have bulged to XXL size. If we continue to change like this, we wouldn’t have traffic jams at all. Because, humans will develop ability to start flying in the air like hot air balloons. 
  2. Technology is enabling our directors and producers to create and distribute more movies today. With 200 movies getting released in a year, there are at least 3 or 4 movie releases, every week. By the time you see a movie poster and decide to go to the theatre to watch a movie, the movie is gone ! And unfortunately, good citizens like us are forced to watch the movie online at
  3. I remember the days when movies were called a blockbuster when they run In theatres continuously for a year. Movies like Batcha ran for more than a year. But today, movies run for just 2 weeks and they are called a blockbuster. If they run for 3 weeks, it’s called bumper hit and record collections. Occasionally, a movie may run for 4 weeks and that’s because the theatre owner is the producer for the movie.

Dear Toastmasters, the world is changing fast and our Toastmasters curriculum is also changing, to keep pace with the world. Toastmasters has brought all of us into the Pathways. No pun intended. Who knows… one day, we’ll be having this club meeting from our home sitting in front of our computer, eating our breakfast and sipping our coffee. Bharti… International Speech Contests may not happen in an international location in the future - but, it will happen right here in Sowcarpet, in your home, in front of your computer. Who knows, we may be doing a virtual handshake with the Toastmaster of the day in the future, through a hologram image. Until that change happens, let me do a physical handshake with our TMOD. 

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Pathways - Project 2 - Evaluation & Feedback - E=M3R2

Imagine getting stuck in a dark cave, with a bunch of young kids, staring at the continuously rising flood water, with limited supply of food, with limited oxygen to breathe and without knowing whether you are going to survive or not. What would you do?

Good Morning Fellow Toastmasters and Guests,

How many of you heard about the great Thai Cave Rescue that happened a few weeks back? A bunch of 12 kids from a soccer team and their coach got stuck in a flooded cave for nearly 2 weeks, before they were rescued out by a group of cave divers. Today, I’m going to explain to you the concept of Emotional Intelligence with the story of the Thai Cave Rescue event.

[Also read: Pathways IceBreaker Who am I?]

The name of the soccer team coach is Ekk. He is just a 25 years old young man, who displayed high levels of emotional maturity during the crisis. To me, Ekk is an epitome of Emotional Intelligence.

What is Emotional Intelligence? 

Emotional Intelligence is the capacity to:

  • Recognise your feelings
  • Recognise others’ feelings
  • Manage your emotions
  • Manage your social relationships
  • Motivate yourself

If the coach Ekk is an emotionally weak person like many of us, he would’ve shouted at the kids. “Its all because of you guys… YOU wanted to celebrate the birthday. YOU wanted to go to the Cave. I told you its late. I told you its going to rain. Now, you got me into a BIG trouble.”.

Or, he would’ve blamed the environment and circumstances “God.. Why did you punish us like this? Don’t you have any kind heart? What mistake did we do? Why did you flood the cave?”

Or, the coach could’ve also got demotivated and said “Guys! Thats it. We are going to be dead”.

Dear friends… don’t we all go through these emotional bursts, in a crisis situation?

But the coach Ekk didn’t do any of this. He was aware of his emotions… he was aware of the emotions of the kids. He put a brave face to the kids and told them “Kids. Don’t worry! Let us conserve our energy. Let us meditate and keep ourselves calm. Let us share the food that we’ve. Let us drink the water that is seeping out of the cave. I’m very hopeful that someone will come and rescue us”.

Coach Ekk not only managed his emotions. He managed the emotions of the kids also. He kept himself and the kids motivated during the first week, when they were isolated from the external world. When the cave divers found them after a week, he sent a note of apology to the parents of the kids, displaying his ability to manage social relationships well.

Coach Ekk is a perfect example of a person with high Emotional Intelligence.

How many of you want to develop your Emotional Intelligence?

You are at the right place. You are learning all of these skills at Toastmasters. Whenever you are playing a role in Toastmasters - be it a speaker or a club officer or a speech evaluator, you are learning to build your emotional intelligence.

When you are practicing and delivering a speech, you become conscious of your feelings and emotions. You learn the art of managing your emotions, to suit the mood of the speech.
When you deliver evaluations, you learn the art of recognising other’s feelings - especially, the feelings of the speaker whom you are evaluating.
When you walk into the club, you get to interact with various members and guests, learning to manage your social relationships
And, last but not the least, you are learning to keep yourself motivated to attend the meetings regularly and play various roles week after week.

[Also read: Pathways IceBreaker Who am I?]


Dear Toastmasters and Guests, research says that “An individual’s success at work and life is 80% dependent on EQ and only 20% dependent on IQ”. And what that means is “The time that you spend in learning Java or doing your CA inter, is less influential in deciding your success, when compared to the time that you spend here in Toastmasters”. You can look at some of the Toastmasters in our own club, who have developed enormous emotional maturity at a very young age and become successful … TM Shriram, TM Siddharth, TM Gautam Sharma… and many more.

If you want to be successful in life… start attending our meetings regularly… and start playing various roles… and develop your Emotional Intelligence… in the most intelligent way, through Toastmasters.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Speechcraft - Don'ts (and some "Dos")

Speechcraft is a program designed to teach public speaking skills to members and non-members of Toastmasters. It is a 6 - 8 sessions program, conducted over multiple weeks. Speechcraft program also provides a platform for experienced Toastmasters to practice their speaking skills in front of a new audience. 

The members who organize and facilitate Speechcraft program have a huge responsibility on their shoulders. They are the brand ambassadors of Toastmasters International. Whatever they do as part of the Speechcraft program can positively or negatively influence the Toastmasters International brand. 

The following are some suggestions (based on my experience!), to improve the effectiveness of the Speechcraft program:
  1. Do not conduct the Speechcraft program without the original manuals or with photocopied manuals. 
  2. Do not conduct Speechcraft programs with inexperienced / untrained Toastmasters. 
    • Ideally, the trainers should've completed at least Advance Communicator - Silver (as the manual expects you to conduct two presentations from The Better Speaker Series and/or The Successful Club Series for getting the credit)
    • The trainers should've experience conducting workshops - for ex., they should've conducted some trainings in Officers Training Program or Area/Division events. 
    • The trainers should strictly adhere to the format / contents specified in the Speechcraft coordinator's guide. I recommend the Speechcraft organisers to be trained by experienced Toastmasters from the Division or the District. 
  3. Never go late to a Speechcraft meeting, be there in the training hall at least 15 - 30 minutes in advance. Speechcraft program that happens in a corporate venue may have additional security restrictions. Be there in advance, to park your vehicle, clear through the security procedure to be at the training venue, 15 - 30 minutes in advance. 
  4. Always be dressed up in a formal wear 
  5. Do not change the program contents / scope, drastically 
    • You can change the order in which the different topics are covered, to suit the audience's needs. However, you cannot introduce topics beyond the scope of the Speechcraft program (for ex., topics like "Interviewing skills" or "Time Management", even if the participants request for it)
    • Speechcraft coordinators guide clearly explains what should be the structure for each and every meeting. Adhere to the structure / format recommended in the Speechcraft manual. 
    • There is a lot of differences between a regular Toastmasters meeting and a Speechcraft meeting. For ex., roles like Grammarian, Ah Counter, Sergeant at Arms, Presiding Officer etc., are not relevant for a Speech Craft program. 
  6. Do not give away Speechcraft completion certifications for participants who haven't completed the minimum requirement of 3 out of the 6 projects. Ice Breaker, Organize your Speech and Get to the Point are mandatory speeches that the participant has to complete to be eligible for the Speechcraft completion award.
  7. Non-Toastmasters participating in a Speechcraft program may be least interested in "Toastmasters" and most interested in "Public Speaking skills development". While you can talk about "Toastmasters" and encourage them to join a club, that should not be our prime objective. For ex., avoid boasting about Toastmasters history, why it was started, who started it, how is Toastmasters International structured etc., during the first few meetings. You can talk about it offline during the networking time or during Session 8 (last session). A salesman normally asks the prospect to buy a product after the prospect has understood clearly the benefits of the purchase. That is one of the reasons to keep the marketing part for Session 8. 
  8. When you assign coaches / mentors for the Speechcraft participants, ensure that the participants get a high-quality support from their coaches / mentors. 
  9. Ensure that you pick the "right" Speechcraft coordinators or trainers based on factors such as age/experience of the participants and expectations from the participants. For ex., in multiple occasions, we've noticed that the Speechcraft organizers pick some junior (age/experience) Toastmasters to conduct the session and the Speechcraft participants weren't very comfortable with them. 
  10. Do not finish the entire Speechcraft program in 1 week over 8 meetings. The effectiveness of the learning is directly proportional to the amount of home work done by the participants. It is recommended to give sufficient time between each meeting, so that, the participants have time to prepare for their speeches. 
  11. Send out agenda for every meeting in advance, so that the participants can come prepared. 

There is a famous quote that goes like this “You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read". Speechcraft program provides a great opportunity for Toastmasters and non-Toastmasters to connect with new people and learn from each other. 

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Pathways Ice Breaker - Who am I?

Who am I?

[Play the audio clipping of “Sollunga…Sollunga…” dialogue from Baasha, while walking to the stage]

Wait … Wait… Wait… I am not a underworld Don, like Rajini in the movie Baasha

Life has given me several identities over a period of time and today, I’m going to share a few of them with you.

Good morning fellow Toastmasters and guests,

Also read:

Early Life

I got my identity as a son, 40 years ago. Thanks to my dad and mom. During those days, my dad was working in a grocery store and my mom was a home maker. We were living in a tiled house almost half the size of this room. The house had just 2 small rooms - 1 room served as the living room, study room, dining room and bed room and the other room served as kitchen and bathroom. 


I got my identity as a student very early, when I was just 2.5 years old - because of being too mischievous at home. I finished my schooling in Chennai and went to Coimbatore to do my Bachelors in Engineering at Government College of Technology. 

Life, away from home, in College was great fun. I had a dual identity in College, like the contrasting Indran and Chandran in the movie Thillu Mullu. On one side, I used to spend a lot of time in the computer lab … and that helped me to stay in the good books of faculties. On the other side, I bunked classes, jumped off the hostel wall to go to late night movies and studied just before the exams. 

Corporate Life

Right after the college in 1998, HCL Technologies gave me a new identity as corporate professional. I worked in HCL for 4 years and moved to US in the year 2002. When many Indians in US were returning back to India after the dot com burst, I was walking into US with a lot of dreams.  It was like the firefighter who walks into a burning house, when everyone in the house are running out.


My English proficiency during those days was very poor. If someone asks me “How good is your English”… I’ll say “I talk English, I walk English I speak English” like Rajini in Velaikkaran movie. That’s when a friend of mine referred me to Toastmasters.  I’ve been a Toastmaster since 2006. Thanks to Toastmasters, I can express myself effectively in English today, like Rajini in Mannan movie.

Family Life

I got married in the year 2005, and received a new identity called husband. My wife is very understanding, supportive and caring. I owe half of my successes to her. The wheel of life started spinning fast. Soon, my daughter gave me the identity of a father.

In the movie Annamalai, Rajini accumulates a lot of wealth through hard work, in a very short time. Similarly, thanks to the IT industry and the US life - I achieved my financial goals very fast. I returned back to India, in 2009.


Like the US return Rajini in Sivaji movie… I feel bad that India hasn’t improved much even after so many years. We still see garbage on the roads… We still see a lot of poverty around… we still see a lot of corruption in the system. The urge to do something good to the society continues to haunt me, every single day. 

On one side, my corporate career is at an all time high and the momentum continues to accelerate. On the other side, my passion towards serving people is pulling me hard. But, today, I hardly have any time to think beyond work, family and Toastmasters. 

I don’t know what is in store for me in the future… So, who am I going to be … What is going to be my new identity? I’m puzzled like the Rajini in the climax scene of the movie Baba.

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”.