Sunday, December 4, 2016

CC Project #5 - Your body Speaks - Two sides to a coin

Last Sunday morning, my brother and I were strolling on the shoreline of Marina Beach. I don’t know how many of you had been to Marina on a Sunday morning. You can see the sun warming up the ocean waters by spreading its arms. You can see groups of people busy jogging and walking. You can see vendors busy selling tender coconuts, cut fruits and juice.

Good morning fellow Toastmasters and guests,

When you admire all of these and keep walking … you’ll see a group of people who live in Marina. Yes… Marina is their home… they eat there… they sleep there… they even defecate there. When my brother and I saw this I immediately shouted “It is because of these people… Marina isn’t clean. Look at that guy… he is openly defecating on the Marina sand. Doesn’t he have common sense?! These folks should be brutally punished

My brother smiled at me and said “Saro… There is always two sides to the coin. Some of these folks are here due to no fault of theirs. Look at them… many are from north India. Each one of them may have a flashback story that brought them to Chennai. They may not even know the language. Begging is the easiest job that they can do without knowing the language. Given the small money that they earn… where can they go and stay… that’s why they are here. Our politicians keep the poor as poor … by launching populist policies as opposed to investing in infrastructure, education and job opportunities. Now tell me Saro… should we punshi these people first, or should we punish our politicians first”. I didn’t know what to answer… I smiled and we moved on.

Whenever I delve into any topic of social interest … I end up realizing “There is always two sides to the coin”. For example, let us pick terrorism. All of us talk about the atrocities caused by terrorists including abducting or killing innocent people. But, let us look at the other side of the coin. These terrorists want their “voice to be heard”. In most cases, they are part of a minority group. They are not represented adequately in the social, economic and political circles. They don’t have other means to fight against money power and political power… and hence they resort to terrorism. If these people get access to education, health care and job opportunities and get an environment where they can peacefully coexist with others… why are they going to get into violent acts?

Now let us pick another hot topic – demonetization. People complain about hardships to common man, people complain about deaths of people standing in queues, people complain about GDP slow down.

Let us look at the other side of the coin. While everyone keeps complaining about the “government’s execution plan”… I feel “If government had planned the execution so well, the purpose of the exercise itself would be lost”. Our people are ready to wait for hours in the queue to get darshan of the non-existent God. Our people are ready to wait for hours together to get freebies. Our people are ready to wait in queues for movie tickets, train tickets and to even get ration. Why are we not ready to wait in queues to get money from bank for a few days?

I admire the government’s agility in reacting to problems faced by common man. They’ve tweaked the implementation of the scheme almost on a daily basis… to minimize the hardships caused to the citizens. I see folks who are still running pillar to post… with a lot of unaccounted cash in hand. They look like mouse caught in a mouse trap. Only 4 crore out of the 120 crore people pay tax – mostly the salaried class.  A number of business men who have been piling loads of unaccounted cash in their vaults are now in a soup. Every day, we keep reading about several crores of unaccounted cash being unearthed by IT officials… from colleges, jewelers and private jets. The number of digital transactions have gone up by 300% in the last few weeks. Yes there is pain… but, there is no gain without pain.

Robert H. Schuller, a famous author once said “I’d rather attempt to do something great and fail, than to attempt nothing and succeed”. There are two sides to any coin… and any action. People will be divided in their views… no matter what you do, when you do or even if you don’t do anything. If you keep waiting for the perfect conditions to emerge to take action, you’ll never be able to take any action. In this fast paced world, the only way to succeed is … take risks, experiment, learn fast and move on. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

CC Project #4 - How to say it? - Wayanad Trip

When the summer heat hits you hard, what do you do? We turn on the Air Conditioners at home to keep ourselves cool… when the A/C bill shoots up, we know it’s time to pack our stuff and head to a naturally cool place.

Good morning fellow Toastmasters and guests,

… and that is exactly what we did during this summer. We headed to a cool place called Wayanad. The “we” is a group of 10 people including my parents, wife, daughter and the extended family. The “we” included people all the way from 6 feet height to 2 feet height.

Also read: CC3 - One Step at a time (Get to the Point)

Wayanad is nature’s hidden treasure. It is hidden between the borders of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamilnadu. On one side, there is mesmerizing Mysore and on the other side, there is astonishing Ooty. Wayanad is sandwiched between these two cool places.

We stayed in a place called Hotel Haritagiri. That is a great place to spend time with family and kids. We went to Wayanad for a 3 days’ vacation. We could’ve spent all the 3 days inside the hotel and we would’ve still enjoyed the vacation.

We had rented a Tempo Traveller to go around. On the first day, we went to a place called Edakkal Caves. The drive to Edakkal Caves was refreshing. Wayanad is dipped in green… with beautiful trees, plants and bushes… along both the sides of the road, like a beautiful girl wearing fresh green saree.

We parked our van near the visitor’s entrance. Edakkal caves was standing on top of a tall mountain. At first, we thought we can easily climb the mountain. So, we started doing a brisk walk. After some 30 minutes of climbing, the brisk walk became a slow walk and then, in a few minutes, literally we started crawling. All of us started gasping for breath. We breathed so heavily that our ears realized that there is a heart inside us.

As we climbed up, the path became very steep and narrow. Our legs started to ache, some of us started feeling dizzy and finally, our legs came to a grinding halt. It looked as if Mother Mountain is looking straight into our eyes and roaring “Kabali-da”.

When we were too tired and ran out of steam, we spotted a “Tender Coconut” shop. We felt happy like a thirsty traveler spotting an oasis in the middle of a desert. I asked the shop owner “Brother… what is the price?” in Tamil, he responded back “Rs.50 Sir” in beautiful English. I internally thought, “Boss! Given the thirst that we’ve, even if you had said each one costs Rs.500, we would’ve bought them”. I ordered 10 Tender coconuts and all of us finished drinking that. Immediately, we got replenished, refreshed and rejuvenated.

We started climbing the mountain again. In about 30 minutes, we reached the cave. The cave was formed by large rocks sticking their head to one another. It felt as if someone had powered up 100 ACs simultaneously. The cave was so cool. The rocks had algae all over them. Each of the rocks had scribblings, drawings and some writings. It looks like they were written before 5000 years.

When you look down from the top of the mountain, it feels as if you are standing on top of a 1000 storied LIC building and looking at Anna Salai.  The kids ran around and played for a while. We spent some time there and started climbing down. Since the mountain was steep, the downward descend was also difficult. In about an hour, we reached down and got into our Tempo Traveller. Everyone looked like punctured balloons. We had late lunch in a nearby restaurant and reached Hotel Haritagiri to take a good nap. We spent the rest of the day in the Hotel itself.

In the next 2 days, we visited a few more places like Banasura Sagar Dam, Kuruva Island, Karlad Lake. Three days of vacation evaporated like three minutes. Wayanad had much more to offer, but we had very less time to enjoy the full breadth and width of Wayanad. I’m sure this feeling will be there, even if we visit Wayanad a few more times.

Fellow Toastmasters and guests, when you are looking for a great place to have a stellar time with family… when you are looking for a peaceful getaway from the buzzling city life… when you are looking for a place to soak into the beauty of nature…. Wayanad is the place to go!

Also read: CC4 - Make it theirs (How to Say it)

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Table Topics - Wayne Dyer - CSF Meeting #223

The theme of CSF meeting #223 was "You'll see when you believe it", a quote from Wayne Dyer. I picked topics which are quotes of the famous author Wayne Dyer. 
  1. How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours. 
  2. If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. 
  3. Our lives are a sum total of the choices we have made. 
  4. The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don't know anything about. 
  5. It's never crowded along the extra mile. 
  6. The last suit that you wear, you don't need any pockets. 
  7. Anything you really want, you can attain, if you really go after it. 
  8. Conflict cannot survive without your participation. 
  9. There's nothing wrong with anger provided you use it constructively. 
  10. You cannot be lonely if you like the person you're alone with. 
  11. You can't choose up sides on a round world.
  12. Everything you are against weakens you. Everything you are for empowers you. 
  13. Self-worth comes from one thing - thinking that you are worthy. 
  14. Miracles come in moments. Be ready and willing.
I also picked some English idioms (local slang in any language) as topics... 

Let the cat out of the bag
Hot potato
Miss the boat
Can’t judge a book by its cover
Once in a blue moon
Ball is in your court
See eye to eye
Best of both worlds
Steal someone’s thunder
Costs an arm and a leg
Take with a grain of salt
Devil’s advocate
Last Straw
Hear it on the grapevine
Hit the nail on the head
Jump on the bandwagon

Monday, August 15, 2016

CC Project #3 - Get to the point - Searching your voice ?!

“Shouldn’t these girls be staying at home and cooking? Why are they even joining colleges? When they finish the studies, they are going to get married to a guy in US and just stay at home. Indirectly, they are denying opportunity for an eligible guy, who will be a future bread winner”

Good morning fellow Toastmasters and guests,

That’s how immature I was during my College days. Did I think like that, because my mom was a house wife? Or, was it because of how Rajini defined women in movies like Mannan & Baadsha, those days? I don’t know. Melinda Gates, co-founder of the famous Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said “A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman. But the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult”.

Also read: One step at a time (Get to the Point)

Change in Perspective – First Job

When I started my career I realized that … it is not just searching for a women’s voice … even searching to find a women at office was difficult. My perspective towards women was changed by a lady who I met at work place. She was my mentor. She used to patiently teach me everything and specifically, she reviewed all of my emails and offered suggestions on my English grammar / sentence formation etc., I started becoming better at writing emails because of her. She was the sole bread winner of her family because, she had lost her dad a few years ago. When she finished her M.Sc Mathematics she found it difficult to land in a job. She went ahead and completed a diploma course in Computers and managed to crawl into an IT job. She took care of her family and even made her elder brother to settle in life. This lady changed my beliefs. She not only searched and found her voice, but also made her voice to be heard loud and clear… by male chauvinists like me… through her achievements. That is when my perspective towards women changed.

Sherly Sandberg

Recently I read the book titled “Lean In” written by the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg. Sheryl shares an interesting incident in her book from the year 2004, when she was working for Google. She got pregnant with her first child. She was running their online sales and operations groups. She had joined the company a few years back when it had a few hundred employees. As you may know, every pregnant lady goes through a terrible time during their first trimester… often plagued by morning sickness and nausea. Women put on a lot of weight during this period. Sheryl wasn’t an exception. Most days, by the time she reached office in the morning, almost all of the parking lots near the building entrance will be taken up. She normally parks at a distant parking space… and ends up walking to the entrance on the hot sun. She couldn’t tolerate this. She walked straight into Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s office and told them “We should have a parking space for pregnant ladies, near the entrance”. They made it happen immediately. Till that time, Sheryl hadn’t realized that a pregnant women needed a reserved parking near to the building. Unlike Sheryl, all of the other pregnant women workers of Google had suffered in silence all along. Malala, the famous women rights activist says “I raise up my voice – not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard”. Sheryl became the Malala for the pregnant ladies in Google.

Women & Toastmasters

Let us take Toastmasters for example. Though Toastmasters was started in the year 1924, only in 1973 we started officially admitting women. Helen Blanchard who was the first women Toastmaster, later became the first women International President in 1985. Today, worldwide we’ve 48% women in Toastmasters. But, in India… we’ve only less than 30% women joining Toastmasters.  Let us look at our own District. We haven’t had many women playing the top District roles. Even the ones who end up playing the roles like DTM Nina John, DTM Suganthi Periasamy had to go through so much of hardship to get there.  Research shows that everyone has a bias… The chances for someone to think of women as “bossy” is twice when compared to men.  Is THAT challenging our women Toastmasters from getting into the top roles?

Also read: Mitra - My little one (Get to the Point)


Malala says “We realize the importance of our voice, only when we are silenced”. Fellow Toastmasters and Guests, let us help our women to find their voice by letting them sit at the table, by letting them raise their hands, by listening to their voice and at the least, not stopping their voice from being heard. Women like Sheryl Sandberg, Malala and Suganthi have searched and found their voice. Can we help others too, to search and find their voice?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

CC Project #2 - Organize Your Speech - Ola

Imagine going in a cab from Bangalore to Bandipur. And in the middle of the ride, the cab driver tries to renegotiate the fare with you. You refuse to pay him the extra fare… and he drops you in the middle of the trip. What would you do?

Good morning fellow Toastmasters and guests,

If it is you and me, we would just board a bus and finish our trip to Bandipur. Later we would bitch about the cab driver in Facebook and Twitter. But, Bhavish… the founder of Ola is different. He ended up creating a cab booking service along with his friend Ankit… to provide a reliable transport service for commuters.

Also read: Got an idea? Patent it 

Ola, like any other startup started its operations in a small room with a hand full of developers. Today, they are a 7000 employee strong company. Why is Ola a hit in India? I will share with you the top 3 reasons which I like Ola the most:

1. Places the power back in people’s hands

The cab service transformed significantly in the last 5 years. At first came the radio taxi services such as Fast Track. In fact, Fast Track became very popular that people called any “radio taxi service” as Fast Track. However, you were able to book Fast Track taxis only by making a phone call or by going to a website. The wait time for Fast Track taxis were always very high. BOOM came Ola. It allowed you to book your taxi at the click of a button and in the nick of the moment. You can track where your driver is. You don’t have to give directions to your driver to find you. You don’t have to negotiate the fares with the drivers… and above all, it is a cheaper alternative to auto rickshaws.

It places the power back in people’s hands… literally through their mobile apps.

2. When we dream it, they make it

One thing that astonishes me about Ola service is the pace of their innovation. Ola’s valuation today is $5 billion and its annual revenue is approximately $1 billion. They make 500,000 trips a day. Does Ola make profit today... the answer is a BIG NO. They can turn-on the profitability knob any time. But, look at the services that they’ve launched in the last 1 year…

they introduced Ola Money, so that you don’t have to pay in cash
they introduced Ola Micro service .. cabs at Rs 6 per KM
they introduced Ola Share … for sharing your rides
they even introduced a free Ola Boat service when Chennai suffered due to historical floods

While traditional software companies would’ve taken several years to roll out these many features, Ola was able to introduce these services in just months. Their marketing engine is also very powerful. Today, they’ve 80% market share and it was due to their spirit of innovation. . You dream it… they make it real.

3. They WIN, by making us WIN

Ola service reminds me of the symbiotic relationship between the remoras and the sharks, in the sea. Remora is a cleaner fish which sticks to the body of the shark and cleans up the shark, by feeding on the dirt surrounding the shark’s body. Remora becomes happy because it gets its food and the shark is also happy because it gets a cleaner body. Similarly, in the Ola world… both the cab drivers and the customers win.

Ola drivers are of different age groups, from different places and speaking different languages. But, all of them are motivated to make more trips, all of them are trained to treat customers with respect. I heard that they make Rs.2000 to Rs.3000 a day. As a customer, I save nearly 30% on the cost of my rides… when compared to the money I would have otherwise paid to auto rickshaws. Also, I didn’t have to haggle with the auto rickshaw drivers to negotiate rates. Ola also saved me a lot of time… because I used the commute time to make phone calls and clear emails. Ola Wins by making both the cab drivers and the customers to Win.

Dear friends, I lost my car in the Chennai floods and used Ola service for about 3 months. So far, I’ve taken closer to 200 trips. Today, I’m a fan of Ola service.  Ola has enabled several 1000s of cab drivers to make money, really fast. If you want to become an entrepreneur and build a successful company like Ola… keep these 3 guidelines in mind:

Place the power in people's hands
When they dream it, you make it
You WIN, when you make them WIN

Sunday, March 13, 2016

CC Project #1 - Ice Breaker - Lost & Found

When was the last time that you lost something and later found it?

Good morning fellow Toastmasters and guests

It was the year 1975. My parents heard the sound of their first baby in the family. However, the sound and the associated happiness were lost too soon… in fact, in a matter of 2 months. In 1977, they heard the sound of the baby again. They were happy that the lost sound … the lost happiness was found again. They named the new found happiness as Saravanan. But, the new found happiness soon became a headache, as I started to grow up.

I was too naughty at home and my parents didn’t have enough patience to tolerate my nuisance. I was thrown into a school at the age of 2.5 years, itself. From breaking pencils, to slates and at times even the head of fellow students… I grew up as Mr. Naughty in school. If my mom had to pull off a hair every time she gets some complaint from school, she would’ve looked like me today.

“Get lost!”… that’s how my mom shouts at me whenever I become intolerable. And … I did get lost, one day. Yes! … When I was studying 5th standard, I had been to Vandalur Zoo with my aunt and cousins during summer holidays. I was running all over the zoo… from one cage to another… glazing at the animals… with eyes kept wide open… with full of excitement… like the kids that you might have seen in Jurassic park movie. Suddenly, I realized that my cousins and aunt weren’t near me… I shouted their names... but no response. I roamed around the zoo in search of them, but I couldn’t find them. I walked out of the zoo... thinking that they might've gone out to board the bus. I couldn't find them there as well. Without knowing what to do.. I started to cry. An elderly tender coconut vendor near the bus stand approached me and asked "Son! Why are you crying?". In a trembling voice I said "I am lost and I couldn't find my aunt and cousins". He asked me where is your home? I told him it is in Choolaimedu. He said "Don't worry my son! When I'm done with my business in the evening, I'll take you to your parents”. He offered a place for me to sit. I sat down..but tears were  still dripping from my eyes. I was eagerly waiting to go back to home. Suddenly, I saw my aunt coming out of the zoo, with her kids. My joy knew no bounds. I thanked the tender coconut vendor and ran towards my cousins. I hugged my cousins in joy. That was the first time that I was lost and later found.

The gigantic flywheel called life started spinning very fast… I grew up, finished schooling, completed my Bachelors in Engineering and joined HCL Technologies in Chennai. When I graduated from college, my goal in life was to earn Rs. 1 crore and “settle” in life. That goal took me to US in the year 2002. I worked really hard and achieved that goal very fast… my life became a big question mark after that. My identity was my title in office… My success was measured in terms of the $s that I was earning. My happiness was defined by the number of movies that I watched during the weekend.

That is when I found Toastmasters… and it helped me to find a new purpose in life. I realized that you can have an identity beyond your work, I realized that success is multi-dimensional… and it includes not just wealth, but also health and good relationships. I realized that happiness is the feeling you get, when you help others to excel in life.  Zig Ziglar had put that rightly as “You can achieve everything in life that you want, if you can help others achieve what they want”.

Fellow Toastmasters, we lose our health and find our career, we lose our relationships and find our money, we lose our happiness and find our success, . We lose something to find something else... the question is, "What are you losing and what are you finding?"