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ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT

Shankar Ramachandran
Odd Couple Cut Python, Our Iceberg is melting !!!

Life after the MBA is not necessarily just work, work, and more work. Some have made the resolve and taken the time out to find a healthier work-life balance. Shankar Ramachandran (MBA 2003-2005) found his 'beyond office hours' calling in theater. An enthusiastic member of Chennai based theatre group "Evam" Shankar found himself in Mumbai recently, interacting with the likes of Naina Lal Kidwai and John Kotter - all because of a play he was part of ? Who says play doesn't pay!

All the world is a stage and men mere actors on it...these famous lines of Shakespeare from his play "As you Like it" became a reality to me for the past 1 and a half years. Though of course the world did not become a stage, some of the cities sure did.

It was one of those regular days in office when an email popped up in my inbox from this popular English theatre group in Chennai called Evam. Curious to know what it said I quickly opened the mail and read through the content. It was an advertisement inviting youngsters for an acting work shop. I was quite excited to read that because I always wanted to do some thing apart from work. But the fact that there would be an audition for selction into the workshop sort of made me nervous. The time constraints, managing both work and workshop etc also made me have second thoughts of going for the audition. Nevertheless I decided to give it a shot.

There was one paragraph of monologue that was given to us to enact the way we wanted. At the audition there were lot of youngsters mostly from college and some from school (I almost felt like a granddad amidst them? ). It was fun to watch each of them perform with the sense of confidence and raw energy which I presume I did not have as a student. When my turn came I went and did what ever came to my mind and honestly the performance of those before me gave me a confidence boost. This was followed by a couple of questions from Sunil and Karthik the founders of Evam Entertainment Company. MBAs from MICA by qualification, both of them gave up their corporate jobs and founded this company with an aim of providing fun and entertainment.

In a couple of days I got a phone call informing I had got selected for the workshop. Now the workshop was fun. It was about letting go of all our inhibition and preconceived notions (we have quite a bit of it) about ourselves. We were made to jump, scream, crawl, cry and laugh. I almost felt I was shuttling between two generations. That is during the day I was this consultant meeting up with clients, putting up a face of intelligent maturity while in the evening at the workshop I become cranky (forced to) and jumped around with other boys and girls. The workshop focused on various aspects of theatre such as body movements, voice modulation, space management, emotions, expressions etc.

The workshop culminated in a production called "THE CUT", a play by Ed Monk. The play had a unique concept of Play within a play within a play (confused, aren't you, don't bother. The audience themselves were at the end of the show ?)

The first day of the show I was thrilled to perform on the stage to an audience of around 600. We had around 10 shows over 3 weekends. There was a joy and satisfaction that we derived while the audience roared with laughter and had fun at the shows. Then when they come back stage and patted your backs saying it was good, it is quite a fulfilling experience.

After 'CUT' I was part of a couple of more productions like 'Python Hysteria' (Adaptation of the Monty Python Series), 'Odd Couple' by Niel Simon (my favorite) and the latest being Our Iceberg is melting by John Kotter. Our Ice berg is melting was a big budget production and unique in its conception.

This was part of Economic Times launch of a new product called ET Theatre. ET theatre is a unique concept where they plan to adapt various management fables into plays targetting a corporate audience. So Evam was invited to adapt the popular book of Dr. John Kotter (Change Management Guru) 'Our Iceberg is melting' into a play.

The story set in Antartica, narrates how a colony of Emperor Penguins adapts to change, a change of their homes when the iceberg they are living on starts melting. The play was Indianised to a great extend with inclusion of Circuit of Munnabhai fame, Bhangda and even an item number as they call it and remember all this we did as penguins and dressed like one.

The audience at Mumbai Hilton where this show was premiered comprised of top management of companies and the author himself. I also had got a chance to interact with Ms. Nainalal Kidwai, CEO of HSBC bank. A down to earth lady, she impressed the crowd with her elegance and eloquence.

Bringing theatre or the lessons learnt from it, into the corporate board rooms is quite a novel idea that ET launched. But the success of the venture only time will prove. Now if you thought that doing plays was all fun, enjoyment and getting compliments from audience, there is a flip side to it too. The early morning and late night rehearsals, the weekend travel, landing back on Monday morning and rushing to office etc are just some of them. But along with these challenges it definitely is a lot of fun and a great stress reliever not only for the actors but also the audience.

(Now for those of you who are wondering what the title means, it is just names of plays I was part of :-)

Sandeep P.R
My visits to the far East Asia - Part3 : China

I was all prepared and eagerly waiting for the 'D' day. I bought a map of Beijing at the airport and made a list of all places I wanted to visit. I should confess that I viewed the trip to China not as an official one but as a golden opportunity to know more about the country. Unlike my previous trips to Korea and Australia surprisingly I did not encounter any problems either at the immigration point or at the airport. I took a taxi to the hotel. I was under the impression if I could manage to survive in Korea, China should not be a big problem. However my first hurdle started with the taxi driver. He did not a understand even a word in English. Unlike the Korean counterpart who spoke in broken English at least, the Chinese taxi driver looked at me as if I had come form some other planet. I tried al tricks to make him understand, I showed him the address of the hotel with the hope he would recognize but little did I realize that he did not know to read English. If it were some other country I probably could have relied on my sign language skills, but how am I to communicate the name the of the hotel even though in English sounding like a tongue twister. Moreover Chine being a language with three different intonations for each syllable and even if a single syllable is pronounce differently the meaning would change. I tried locating the hotel in the map but in vain. Finally I tried various combination of pronouncing the name of the hotel and one among those worked and I saw a smile returning to the taxi drivers face. The taxi finally halted and I looked out of the window with a sigh of relief that all my communication tricks finally paid of. I dint want to waste even a single minute as son as I checked in at the hotel. From the word go I wanted to venture out. I picked up my camera and tripod and left the room. I was told at the reception that the Forbidden city is only a ten minutes drive from the hotel. The receptionist advised me to take the underground train. The easiest option for me was to take a taxi but I decided against it and wanted to try the public transport. I bought the ticket but as the station had two platforms I did not know to which platform I had to go to board the train. I tried explaining to the ticket collector and she like the taxi driver looked at me as if I had descended from some other planet. I felt for a moment that I should have taken a taxi but I tried to rely on my survival skills. The ticket collector had the presence of mind and took me to the railway network map and then pointed out to the place which had to alight and she directed me accordingly. It was only then did I realize that mere academic knowledge is of very little use if it could not imbibe survival skills. I looked at the lady and said Shishien - Thank you in Chinese and she smiled at me. By the time I reached the place I found to my dismay that the entrance gate to the forbidden city remained closed for the public. I was just looking around like a lost kid not knowing what to do next and suddenly felt a hand around my shoulder and the last thing that I wanted was to get hauled up by the police for breach of law. I turned and saw a boy and girl. The greeted me and spoke in English. They introduced themselves as art students and enquired to which country I belong to and how long I would stay. I was not sure whether I should divulge any information about me to them. Later I found them to be genuine and harmless. They invited me to view their painting at the art gallery inside the forbidden city. They took me around the art gallery and tried to explain each painting with detail. Only later did I realize that it was nothing but a marketing gimmick. The girl told me that the proceeds that they raise through the sale of paintings help poor students to get scholarships. I was so naive and paid 150 RMB (900 INR). However they provided me with a lot of information of tourist relevance. I expressed my desire to visit the great wall and the girl told, since her uncle is a guide with the government who could speak English could help me visit the place. I gave her my contact details and left the place. I was not sure if I did the right thing by giving her my contact details but gods grace everything turned out to be alright. The weather was very cold at -3 deg c and unlike in Korea strong cold winds blowing across was spine chilling. In my excitement I left the hotel without the thermal ware. I was almost frozen and my hands become numb. I realized my folly and decided to return to my room. Strangely, all on a sudden I saw a group of people gathering near a place: I become curious and asked the girl who sold the painting to me the reason for such a movement among the people. I was informed by the girl, that the people had gathered to witness the Change of Guard ceremony and the flag would be brought down everyday at 6.00 Pm. Significance of the event began to sink in me, the moment she mentioned the name of the place as Tinnamen Square, a place of Martyrdom of te Chinese students who rose in revolt against the Communist repressive regime and as a consequence were massacred; the place had now become a tourist point of attraction and as well as for the other foreign nationals. Though the change of guard ceremony by itself was spectacular, what was intriguing was that no one was allowed to stay there within a radius of 3-4 Km and everybody was asked to leave to place.

I did not want to expose myself to the inclement weather any further unprotected. I returned to the hotel and had a Chinese body massage. It was quite relaxing and as I was about to retire, I received a telephone call from Peter. He had called to confirm that he would come and pick me up from the hotel, for my intended visit to the Great wall of China.

Though completely exhausted I did not go to sleep; instead I began positioning India and China in the balance. Both the countries are comparable in terms of size and population, but are poles apart in the realm of political divide. While we are recognized as the largest democracy in the world, China prides itself as the leader of the Communist world, after the demise and disintegration of the erstwhile Soviet Union. The complex of Sino-India relations that have looked up since 1988, after an era of hostility and mutual distrust since the 1962 war, when the Chinese took over more than 30,000 square Km's of Indian land along the northern border and the lingering memory of the crushing and humiliating defeat still continue to impact the collective Indian Psyche, and could not be wished away easily, not withstanding the periodical boarder talks. Over the years though relations between the to also had acquired a new dimension in the eyes of the global society given the two countries' emergence as the two fastest growing mutually competing economies.

I felt Beijing is at least 5 or 10 years ahead of Delhi or Bombay. In its endeavor to earn the market economy status from the global society the communist regime has been encouraging and exhorting to learn English. I was lost in such thoughts and as a result went to sleep very late in the night. I woke up however early next morning and was eagerly awaiting Peters call.

Peter escorted me to a mini cab in which there were already four occupants. It was a family of four and had come from Estonia. After a few minutes drive we were joined by three others. They were Portuguese nationals employed in an Investment bank in Shangai. I was initially under the impression that I would be part of a Group of Chinese People or people from other parts of China. Never had I imagined that I would be joined by people from different parts of the globe; an Indian (myself) and Estonian family of four and three Portuguese and guided by a Chinese national, transcending boarders. After exchange of pleasantries we shared our experiences of or visits to other tourist points of attraction and about the people, the culture, the impact of reforms etc.

We visited the tombs of Ming dynasty, the Great wall. The sight of the Great Wall was breathtaking and climbing at -3 degree centigrade was a challenging and grueling experience. The Chinese imperial palaces and buildings had three different entrances. The middle entrance was for the emperor and the other two were for his subjects. The Chinese architecture was simple and every single color and brick had a reason behind it. The roof painted in red symbolized good fortune. The walls were pained in yellow symbolizing earth. The roof of every palatial building will have symbols of animals. The denoted the ranking of the official who stayed inside the building. The highest was nine animals and found only in palaces were the king lived; the dragon represented the king a fictitious animal with a body of the snake, paws of an eagle, horns of deer and the face of an horse symbolizing power and authority. The symbol for the queen was the peacock.

Ancient Chinese worshiped nature, they had separate temples for the Sun, Moon and other gods. The King prayed at the Tempe of Heaven for bumper crops.

Shopping in China could be real fun. I had been to the silk market where counterfeit products. Every product there is considered to be counterfeit. Any tourist who visits Beijing should not miss the Silk market. I went along with my Canadian friend Mike and enjoyed the shopping experience. The girls at the shop literally lure you or drag into the showroom. The always quote a very high prize initially and we were advised to slash the prize nearly by 70%. The means of bargaining was by using a calculator. The shopkeeper enters a prize and we had to enter ours and that is when the game starts; yes it is literally a game. The shopkeeper tries o reduce the number by a fixed percent and you keep incrementing the number from what you initially quoted and finally land up at a point beyond which not agreeable. Even though negotiations world over happens this way, using a calculator in China in the 21st century was something unique. The quality of the product is generally claimed to be bad, nevertheless a great experience, bargaining and negotiating with the help of a calculator.

I cannot claim by my visits to these countries, for a short duration of not more than 2 weeks, I had gathered enough inputs regarding the culture, living style, economy but I it had definitely helped me change my narrow perspective about our country.

Davison Thingbaijam

As the years pass, ASB is beginning to look more and more like a mini India - with students from all over the country enriching the campus with their culture and their enthusiasm. This time's spotlight is on Davison (MBA 2006-2008) who hails from Manipur in the beautiful North-east. A musician and a gentleman, Davison brings alive with great sensitivity what it was to grow up in Manipur.

A Small Glimpse of my Childhood

My childhood days are not extraordinary or anything inspiring. They were as ordinary as anyone's. The only difference that it may make to the readers could be that I grew up in one of the easternmost part of India, Manipur. As said and as everyone knows India is a land of diversity and the farther two places are the more diverse they are. Well, after traveling and being in a few different places I do believe that India is a land of diversity. Children all over the country, in some way or the other, have grown up in different cultures.

I spent all my childhood days in Imphal only and that also at my home and neighborhoods. We are four kids in all and our parents love us so much that they never sent us to any boarding schools or any relative's, which nowadays have become a common picture. They were busy but still they managed to look after all of us with care.

Well, I was a naughty kid (proof: I broke my left leg and then my right arm when I was some eight or nine years old. I broke my leg while I was chasing someone and I don't remember how I broke my arm but I did break it). The first time when I started learning to ride a cycle, I went inside the canal beside the road twice. Luckily during that time, the canals were just dug up earth and it was grasses and mud only and I was safe except that all my body was covered with mud. If a kid does the same thing today, he or she would probably end up with some broken body parts as concrete drains have been built to expand the width of the road. And this expansion of road or simply 'development' led to the contraction of the canal and subsequently the capacity of water it can hold also. So during rainy season the water from the drain also uses the road! And when the raining is hard and long, the river overflows. Though our locality is not near the banks, it is situated in a low lying area and is one among the few places which get flooded very soon. During this time, most of the children come out in the streets where water flows knee deep. And some people come out with fish nets also.

There are some ponds around which were used for rearing fish and this time around, it's the owner's loss and the public's gain. We used to catch fish using nets. I and my younger brother used to do that even if our parents prohibited it. Dad used to scold us but Mom admired our catches. Fishing is an interesting sport. When the water subsided, everything comes to normal except that the fishing excitement remains. So what we did to fulfill those excitements was to catch fish from the ponds without the knowledge of the owner, because of the simple reason that if the owner knows, we would never be allowed. There is a big pond just at the backyard of our house. Of course it doesn't belong to us. We used to cast our net after dark and get it back before dawn. It brings a smile on your face when you have a good catch. Well this practice ended when once we caught a big snake! It must have been a cobra and cobras are highly poisonous. Cobras were quite common then. Now many houses have come up and the land prices have gone up and all those greens are disappearing. After all, its development and we are supposed to be happy with it.

MOne good time for the kids was during "Yaoshang" or Holi as it is known. During that time, we used to pluck cabbage from other household kitchen gardens at dawn. In fact, it is a tradition. Well, this one is also without the owner's knowledge. It is common for households to have kitchen gardens if they have some spare land. After this dacoity, we would collect firewood and in the evening everyone would contribute something or the other and we would fry the cabbage in an open ground. It tastes really good when we cook together and eat together.

During Holi children go from house to house and ask for some offerings which usually come in the form of coins. We called it "Nakatheng neeba" and the one who gives the "Nakatheng" would ask the kids for some blessings and the children would give their blessings like "Let your family be ever happy", "Let everyone be healthy", etc. One boasts if he/she gets a good collection.

Localities, or 'Leikais' as we called in Manipuri, also organize sporting events and entertainment programmes in 'Yaoshang' mainly for the children. There are athletics, indoor games, fine arts, fancy dress, song competitions, quizzes, and many more. As a kid, I was not very much interested in athletic games especially races because nobody ever willed to run behind me! Anyway I took part in other events. Once I dressed up and acted as an old woman in the fancy dress competition and I got the second prize. But the consequence was that many people started teasing me by calling 'Hanubi' or old woman next day onwards. Next year, I acted as a bodyguard of a VIP: no grave consequence.

An interesting event during 'Yaoshang' is the 'Thabal Chongba' or simply moonlight dance which goes on for the entire five evenings of 'Yaoshang'. As kids, we don't have anything to do in this because this event is for the young people especially in the 16-25 years of age. Girls of a locality will organize a 'Thabal' or a moonlight dance in the evening at the locality ground where the place is brightly lit up. They will come out well made up and dressed in traditional attires. The dance starts with the girls hand in hand in a circular form with the music in the background. The interesting part is that guys from other places would come and can select girls to dance with. When the "Men can join" announcement is made, guys rush in to get the girls of their choice and dance with them hand in hand. It's a great entertainment to watch all this. I also did my part by visiting a lot of places and I really enjoyed (of course, not as a kid).

As children everywhere do, we used to play a lot. Leaving the common sports like football and cricket, there are some uncommon games we used to play. One of them was the one-on-one kick-fights. I guess it was an influence of the Chinese martial arts movies which were available in plenty. Two small kids about the same age and size will fight with each other and a judge will decide who the winner is. The judge would be an older fellow, probably a teenager, who takes his own enjoyment by coaxing kids to fight and compensate with a 25paise toffee. Well, I was a fighter and of course later become a judge. This kind of game doesn't go on for long and ends up as soon as a parent come chasing with a stick in the hand.

Another game was the catapult encounter. There were open grounds with thick bushes where we would put up our 'camps' and try to hit the 'enemies' at the other camp with our catapults. We use some kind of tree fruit as the bullets and its size is about that of a grape. And some people used to wear helmets also and deliberately push up a head as the target to lure the opposite camp and when one stands up to shoot at it, another bullet from that camp would come in retaliation. This was one of the strategies of the game. This game usually ended up in sorrow when someone was hit hard on the skin and started sobbing.

One more game was like hide and seek but not exactly that. In this we would be divided into two groups, a small group of two or three and the rest in another group. Well, the members of the small group are the 'robbers' and the other the 'police'. We made dummy guns from wood and bamboo for this game. Everyone had to carry one. The 'robbers' would run away and hide anywhere and then they would shout signaling to start tracking. The police will then make cautious moves to spot them and when one spots another from the other group he will shoot by making a sound of a shot and declare that the other is 'dead'. In order to hide safely, some used to climb high on trees or even inside a pond. The game ends when all of one group is 'killed'.

S Vidhyashankar
Music and Me

They have been with me from childhood. They brought me appreciation. They brought smiles to my lips as others used to come and enquire to me about them. People were very curious to know how, where and when I found them. They had lifted my spirits when I was down. They gave me company when I felt alone. They have been the best of friends. Never asking for anything in return, never once trying to show to me how special they were, never really making an attempt at making me understand how blessed I was to have their company when millions out there yearned in vain for them. Strangely I was oblivious to their presence in my life.

It was not until a few years ago that I realized their significance. But when I did, from that moment onwards life has been a rewarding experience. I started giving back all that I earned because of them. All that love, applause and respect they earned for me. I was exponentially rewarded. They blessed me with joy. They are truly special, my seven friends, the seven swaras, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Da Ne.

Music for many would mean different things. That's precisely its specialty. For me music means divinity. It is the one thing that defies all barriers that are man-made. It has its own significance to all listeners. It creates and leaves an impact in one's mind. It caters to the seekers desire. It awakens the mind, lends peace, and brings bliss. Truly precious and divine.

I was very young when I started taking the lessons in South Indian Classical Music, known as Carnatic Music or Karnataka Sangeetham. Based on seven sawras and the different notes at which these can be sung, Carnatic Music is an ocean with over 36,000 known ragams ( A ragam is a collection of specific swaras and notes). As per noted authors Carnatic Music has its origin from Vedas themselves. May be true and may be it's the presence of music that lends that aura to Vedas. Honestly speaking, I know neither of them, all I know is I have been in love with music for long and want this relation to continue forever.

Briefly trying to become a professional singer, I had my own share of successes and failure before charting a different route to carve a career in management. After coming here I realized music and management had a lot of similarities, in the way the seeker needed to approach them and the efforts needed to master them. Both had the laws governing them, both had the grammar, yet both had the magic that came out of their subjective nature. Both had an inherent beauty which only a few masters could command. That power to command came out of relentless effort, pure dedication, hard work and a desire for perfection.

Life is too short to grasp the essence of music. So, the masters say. I too believe in it. But on a slightly different note, I would advocate to people to merely enjoy music, if someone finds it too enterprising to take steps to understand the nuances. At the end of the day, sugar is nothing but sweet irrespective of whether one knows of its structure or not. If every moment in life gets in sync with the music of Nature, I bet a million dollars that life would be far happier than now.

I have thanks in tons to my father who was my first guru, without whom I would not have had the fortune of becoming a blessed citizen in the kingdom of Music. I would extend my gratitude to all my gurus who took great pains in making me understand whatever little my brain could grasp. I bow to that wonderful musician who is orchestrating this world in perfect harmony. All praises to Almighty.

Shijith P M

Theres been a strange sighting at ASB recently. Multiple students walking around with a copy of 'The Goal' by Eliyahu Goldratt. Your intrepid web team investigated and discovered the root of it all - Shijith P M, 2nd year MBA student and self styled acolyte of the Theory of Constraints or TOC . In this spotlight, Shijith takes us along for a brief sojourn into the vast world ofthe Theory of Constraints.

I am a second year MBA student specializing in operations management. Did my engineering specializing in Industrial Engineering & Management. My main interest areas are ERP, SCM and TOC. I am really passionate about TOC.

Well.. I am a hardcore learner of Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt's "Theory of Constraints." It was in one of the personality and communications seminars that I attended in Bengaluru that I first heard about a book called - The Goal ('a production management business novel, a must read for people interested in operations management' - this is what I was told about the book). I got a copy of The Goal and read it during my final year in engineering. I just enjoyed the book. It was not a mere production management novel. The book questions and redefines the fundamentals of business like the treatment of inventory, some of the gimmicks used by the marketing and finance people like product/profit margin, product cost, etc, and the usage of some terms like batch or lot size, segmentation, etc. I could sense some kind of a philosophy behind the book. I found the style followed in the book - the Socratic approach to be unique and splendid and more importantly creative. This lead me to do a bit of exploration about this person called Dr. Goldratt. It did not take me much time to get a feel of that philosophy of modern management called Theory of Constraints. Before joining Amrita I got a chance to read the sequel to the Goal - It's Not Luck. It was after I read this book that I could understand that there is a clear-cut systematic thinking process behind the concepts and ideas described in the book. And from here my search for more gyan on the TOC begins..

The library at Amrita has got everything that Dr. Goldratt has written under the sun. I just kept reading one by one - Critical chain, Necessary but not sufficient, The Race, Essays on the theory of constraints, Late night discussions on the TOC and The haystack syndrome. This gave me more insight into the management philosophy called TOC. Let me here say that Dr. Goldratt, an educator, scientist, philosopher and a business leader -a 'phenom - a phenomenal thinker' (the way I would like to call him) motivated me to think and made me reassess traditional business practices with a fresh new vision.

These books and some other books too, like The TOC and management accounting, Production-the TOC way, etc clearly explains the need to understand one key reality about business - "DEPENDENCY". The failure to understand this fundamental truth which establishes the relation between cause and effect would not allow a business to even be in the race; winning the race would be a dream. TOC is a system improvement philosophy. All the continuous improvement philosophies focus primarily on improvement of processes. The unspoken, underlying assumption seems to be that if all the component processes are improved and refined to their maximum, the entire system will exhibit maximum improvement. Unfortunately, this assumption ignores the effects of interdependence between the processes. TOC sees business analogous to a chain of links and emphasizes that the performance is limited by the performance of the weakest link. This means, that no matter how much effort you put into processes of a system, only the improvements to the weakest link will produce any detectable system improvement.

I used the term management philosophy on purpose. TOC deserves to be called that as it is not just a production management concept (as many people believe) but it has wide application across Project management, Management accounting, Financial management, Marketing management, Logistics and supply chain, etc. TOC explains the devastating effect of the 'student syndrome' in project management and also comes out with a creative approach - the concept of critical chain replacing the traditional critical path. The 'time buffer' concept is essentially extended to project management. The concept of 'Drum-Buffer-Rope' (DBR) and time buffers is applicable to managing the processes across the supply chain and reducing the WIP and finished goods inventory by great extents. The financial aspect of TOC is what makes it a wholesome systems approach. Throughput costing radically redefines the traditional costing by simple common sense making costing simple, systematic and scientific. This essentially gives managers the right picture of the performance of his business.

We live in an environment where change is not an exception, rather the norm, and therefore Dr. Goldratt has developed a unique scientific methodology - the TOC thinking process and innovative tools which help in building widespread ownership to solutions to bring about change and overcome the biggest barricade to continuous improvement - resistance to change.

I am grateful to the almighty and Dr. Goldratt for providing me the opportunity to learn about the TOC philosophy. Currently I am learning about the usage of the powerful logical tools of the TOC thinking process. I am interested in this for a simple reason - I trust that these tools have the capability to change lives.

Vibin Varghese Kurakar

Vibin Kurakar and G. Dhanlakshmi, MBA 2007 students, spent their summer in Andhra Pradesh working on a path- breaking initiative in micro-insurance with Tata-AIG, as part of their summer internship. Vibin shares with us here some of the incredibly rich learning from summer 2006.

From Kerala to Andhra: A Travelogue

It was quite an exasperating journey from the warm, breezy and humid Kerala to a drastically different agro-climatic zone of Andhra Pradesh and one couldn't resist noticing this cultural, economic and agricultural divergence. From lush green, undulating topography to a relatively plain mass of land; from a place of suburban sociocultural setting to a place where rural-urban divide was more than noticeable. Andhra Pradesh provided me with a new experience. The one I will caress in my memory throughout my life.

Andhra, with the posh elite areas of Begumpet, Secunderabad, Hyderabad at one side and the poverty-stricken, down the strata areas of Nalgonda, Guntur and Vijayawada at the other, portrayed a perceptible picture of rural-urban divide. Even the pace of life differed in these parts of AP. Looking back, I feel that my summer internship was a string of learnings; learnings that mushroomed from the grassroot and grew deep into my heart and remained there. Borne, educated and lived in Kerala and with not more than a couple of short term experiences in other states, this was an unforgettable patch in my life where I learnt, experienced and touched a new life, a new culture and a new traditional ancestry. As said "Experience is a difficult teacher, it gives the test first and then the lessons." I was tested, examined and questioned throughout the sixty days of the project. At the end what remain is, a vast fortune of knowledge, the unfeigned story of India and a much broader picture of what life is, what living is.

Starting from day one, the bulk of work associated with the project haunted me. Much bigger were the nightmares about my first field visit; to an unknown place with an unknown language. Would I survive the cyclone? Staying in one of the moneyed residential colonies in Hyderabad, 'Kundan Bagh', I could feel the richness of the city and the money gushing into the market. The expenditure pattern, lifestyle and fast pace of life reiterated the developmental phase of townships and urban niches of India. With beer, bar and car, Hyderabad cried, laughed and danced. With late night parties, drums and whistles, traffic and dirt, growing city centres, rising townships and malls, sky high mansions, tight security passages, uncompromising policemen, eat'n joys, coffee hubs, Hyderabad is evolving as one of the finest metros in India.

 

Situated in Wills Lifestyle Building in Begumpet, the Tata AIG Life Zonal Office was a great business centre in this particular place. Whoever visits the office could never resist observing a separate department within the busy and rushy Tata AIG Life Office. This is the rural and social team, formulated for marketing micro insurance policies in the rural areas. Committed to social well being, for gaining market share in the long run, gratifying corporate and social responsibility and fulfilling IRDA regulations, the rural and social team launched an alternate channel (CRIG Model) which will help the team in catering to the needs of the rural customers. As part of the summer project, I visited different villages in Nalgonda, Guntur and Vijayavada districts of Andhra Pradesh.

It was an abrupt shift from the genteel, high class society of Hyderabad to the rural arena of Andhra Pradesh. Blessed with rice fields, palms and other seasonal crops, these areas are regarded as important agro zones of this state. The socio cultural settings, economic aspects and living standards were very much different from what I really imagined. Majority of the families belonged to the lowest strata of the Socio Economic classification. Transport facilities were phenomenally less and living standards unrefined. Goods lorry and paid auto service were regarded as primary transport means. Getting a bus or rented auto service sounded out of imagination. As I visited many places in the transport vehicle of Tata AIG Life during the initial days, life seemed to be great. But during the fag end of the project, travelling by other means became a necessity. While walking for hours through the kacha roads of these interiors, I used to feel: Is this the place where the corporates aim to enter? What can be the potential of this vast majority of rural folk?

They are poor in cash, but bigger in heart, hearty in smile and clear about their thoughts. They live for today and not for tomorrow. They enjoy every moment, whether it is work, leisure or drinks. The loving and caring attitude towards the visitor, be it a member among the same society or an outsider like me, clearly conveys the collectivistic culture impregnated in the minds of the rural poor. There were many instances where they regarded me as one among them and I was surprised by the love and affection showered on me. They believe your smile and respect your status, even though as from the concrete urban culture we smile at them with business mindedness and profit mileage expectation. It is this smile and heart that the corporates are aiming at. So it is not only about economic big gains and greater market share, but also about humongous corporate responsibility.

There are some instances which still remain afresh in my memory. Once when I visited a village called Sripuram in Guntur, I couldn't meet my guide who was supposed to come. I was so desperate that I needed to complete the job which was in hand, as there were not many days to go. There was nobody from the office with me and to add to my woes, I couldn't understand the language. I should identify the houses with the address extracted from the data base and visit the houses, analyse the situation and dig out problems buried in their minds. Standing in midst of appalling darkness I thought. Who can help me? There was a silver lining in the dark clouds which surrounded me. Probably the post man could be of help. I somehow found out the post office and conveyed my need to the post man. He smiled benignly and promised to help. On our way to the village, I slipped a Hundred Rupee note into his pocket. He was so much surprised and emotional that he almost touched my feet. I was totally embarrassed by his action. In my mind, it was just a pay for the good work he was doing; But for him it was a huge amount. The average income of a working adult in this part of the world is Rs30/ per day. I was totally taken aback by the horrendous condition prevailing there. How could a person live with this small an amount? How could he sustain his family? How could he fetch his daily food and needs? For us Rs 30/ is nothing. But for them it is hard earned. It is here were the corporates and government should interfere.

There is a huge business opportunity and a much bigger corporate responsibility lying unexplored. Even though they earn only little, their spending for normal activities is also less. Hence, if saving habit can be cultivated in the mind of these rural customers, it will certainly help them and inturn the organisation involved in the same. We could bring in Micro Deposit along with the emerging concept of Micro Credit, hence benefiting both ends of the channel.

Lack of education and lack of awareness among the villagers about what might be happening in the other part of the world is really embarrassing. But even then, there lies a huge market. The job of a rural marketer is challenging, it is all about creativity, it is all about innovations, constant changes and high class monitoring. If we fail, a bad name is on the fore. If we win, we enter the market through their minds. These are some memories which remain anew in my mind. But if I fail to mention the help delivered by my guides, it would be a felony. The energy exhibited by them in visiting houses, interacting with people and trying to sort out the problems addressed by them shows the humane nature of these villagers. He was a social being by all sense and a family person at every inch. Value of family and personal relations stays at the zenith in this part of our country and in this community.

Another instance which remains afresh in my memory is about a woman under the veil. She was a Tata AIG agent and was regarded as one of the smartest and efficient agents of the organisation. I was surprised, when I saw the agent. She was a conventional Muslim woman with all the religious sentiments and beliefs. I became sceptical about her efficiency and was double minded about her real capability and worthiness of being a Tata AIG agent. Couldn't it be difficult for her to carry out her duties effectively in this conservative society? I thought. But interactions with her and the way she dealt with the villagers erased away even the slightest doubt. Tata AIG has really empowered the villagers, and here is an example of an entrepreneur hidden under the veil. It is here that other corporates who fear to take the risk of entering the rural arena should give a standing ovation for the pains taken by the Rural and Social Team to cater to the needs of the society. They saw it as a market and as the place where they could fulfil their corporate responsibility.

I tried to highlight some aspects which I personally found regarded as eye openers when I travelled through these villages. Leaving aside the veracity of villages as clear huge markets and looking at the ground level reality, the increasing number of suicides due to fall in agricultural production, increasing AIDS cases, divorces and shattered family lives etc. depict unhappy images about the rural life. But as we all know, villages of India are rich. They are rich by tradition, they are rich by culture, they are rich with beautiful hearts and now they are becoming rich by increasing income levels or disposable incomes. Opportunities which are still unutilised or which remain unexplored are manifold. Rural Tourism is one among such unexplored potentials. Every place in the rural settings does have a peculiarity. There is something special about the rural and socio cultural settings. There is something unique about the landscape, the topography, agro-climatic conditions, sceneries, water bodies and even more. We just have to identify its beauty realise the potential, manage it, and market it. It will help in the development of the villages, remove the divide and increase the overall growth of India. But for this we need a pure vision, a vision without blinkers, and a vision which is not blurred by immediate profits. If the corporates could aim that, if Government could direct and support that, the dream of India as a developed nation is not far away.

I still feel that I have not unveiled many aspects regarding the true conditions prevailing in the Indian villages. We forget, life still moves on.. We remember later, life just moves on.. yet we are lucky, happy and blessed..

But remember..

"When half the world laughs, the other half weeps!!"

Pallavi Joshi

My summers in Dholpur were in short a series of first experiences- of working with an NGO, of milk dairies, of poverty, of a typical village life, of child marriages, of women empowerment.

The villagers of Dholpur have given the phrase 'live for today' a whole new meaning. If they have hundred rupees at hand they will spend those hundred bucks today, even if they don't have a single paisa for tomorrow. And the NGO I did my summers with-PRADAN had the single most important job of changing this mindset and inculcating amongst the villagers the habit to save. Everything else followed it.

The district of Dholpur is situated in Rajasthan, near the UP border. Around a quarter of the population staying in its villages are below the poverty line. None of the villages have the basic amenities like electricity or running water. Even the basic sanitary conditions are absent.

For a person like me who has grown up in Delhi and has believed in the idea of 'India Shining', Dholpur was like a village in the black and white movies. No water, no electricity, farmers in a debt trap, money lenders, rigid caste system, and people having seven to eight children. These conditions were something I had read about. But it was at Dholpur that I came face to face with them.

If I could place my finger on two factors that are responsible for such poor conditions in Dholpur and whose removal would give a major uplift to the area then those would be- illiteracy and excess of children.

The people and the NGOs are working together to remove these two evils. Any and everyone who can afford to send even one child to an English medium school in town do so, even if it means paying fee that is unaffordable or even taking a loan. And many people are now undertaking family planning programmes in order to keep a check on the growing families (four to five children are now supposed to be enough). Yet couples do so only when they have at least two male children. If men at Dholpur a less educated, women hardly are. Some can write their names, but most can't do even that. Only a few have gone beyond primary school.

One of the reasons for female illiteracy is that women are married quite young at the age of 12-13 years. Child marriage was another phenomenon about which I had just heard about earlier, but saw the reality of it for the first time in Dholpur. I have heard people making statements about child marriage and how it is a disease afflicting certain sections of our society. Yet my stay at Dholpur taught me that child marriage is not a disease but mere symptom of poverty and illiteracy. Any family that has some money delays their daughter's marriage till she is around sixteen. It is the people living below the poverty line that marry off their daughters at ten or twelve.

In spite of all these short comings, something which stood out during my stay at Dholpur was the hospitality I received from those poor villagers. All the villages I went to I was welcomed with open arms and was made to feel special. Dholpur was all my first experience with the true spirit of hospitality. I was given the best when they hardly had anything for themselves.

Another thing that stood out was that despite the illiteracy and poor social status, adversity had made the women there stronger than there male counterparts.

Dholpur for me in short was stint with reality.

Jose Brinner

Having spent my whole life in the seaside city of Thiruvanathapuram in the coastal state of Kerala, my exposure to any part of India other than Tamil Nadu and Kerala was only through media. For the same reason, an opportunity to do my summer project in a small town in Rajasthan was something that I did not want to lose. The sheer novelty of the whole experience that I was expecting from the project was what attracted me.

In Dholpur, Pradan's activities are focused mainly on two areas: 1) Forming and fostering Self Help Groups (SHG), and, 2) Managing the diary co-operative, the New Generation Cooperative (NGC) being managed jointly by the National Diary Development Board (NDDB), Mother Diary and Pradan.

The title of my project was 'an assessment of the credit needs and savings potential of SHG members in Dholpur, Rajasthan'. Through my interactions with the project executives I learnt that a formal kind of research with a questionnaire or a pen and paper would not yield the desired results. They advised me to do my research through informal interactions with the villagers. I was convinced that it is going to be great fun to hop through villages in jugads, tractors, trucks, and the overloaded buses. "These coming weeks will teach you something that no management books or corporate career can teach you. Welcome to the rural India, the real India." Those words of Mr. Shouvik Mitra, the team leader at Pradan, Dholpur were echoing in my mind.

As days progressed more and more of the lives of rural people were unfolding. Apparently happy and satisfied with what they have I was realizing the extent of their miseries as I probed further into their lives.

"Our Madrasi Babu (I was rechristened so because my name did not make any sense to these villagers) has a heap of dry seeds with him. Each seed stands for Rs 1000. Now each of you decide how much bank loan you want and then go to Madrasi Babu and collect an equivalent number of seeds from him. Do not let anyone else see how many seeds you are collecting." Mrs. Sumita Kasana, my project guide, was addressing the weekly meeting of Santoshi Mata Mahila Vikas Samiti of Khirana. I was witnessing an SHG meeting for the first time. I was surprised at the number of seeds each woman was taking. Some of them took as much as 80 seeds which translate to Rs 80,000!! Isn't that a huge amount for these people? I wondered why they wanted so much money. I thought they might be planning to invest these amounts to some income generating purposes. Once the seed collection was over, all of us seated ourselves on the ground in a circle. That's how the SHG members have to be seated whenever they meet. My guide started asking each member how many seeds she had and for what she was planning to utilize the money. I was in for further surprises.

Every woman said they wanted the money to pay back their existing debts. I later learned that this SHG had received a previous loan which was also utilized for the same purpose. Now that they had paid back the bank loan they are eagerly awaiting their next bank loan which they intended to give to the local money lenders and the dudiyas (milkmen), who were their external sources of credit. So where did their previous loan go? Though they had utilized the whole of their previous loan to repay their external debt why were they taking such huge amounts for the same purpose? I wondered. By the time they had repaid their bank loans they had accumulated further debts which were surprisingly more than their previous debts. Their accumulated external debts were increasing year by year.

Ideally the SHG kitty should be growing and the members' need for other external sources of loans should come down. But this was not happening here. Let us analyze the case of Shimlesh, a member of Santoshi Mata Mahila Vikas Samiti, and find out the pit falls for ourselves.

Shimlesh and family belong to the jatav community. Her household consists of 7 members: her husband, her daughter, two brothers in law, her niece, her mother in law and herself. The sources of income for this family are her husband and brother in law's wage from stone mining and the sales proceeds of milk from the two buffaloes they own. Her husband and brother in law receive a one time wage payment for the whole year. A major chunk of this amount goes into repayment of debts to the moneylenders. The little that is left goes into agriculture expenditure. The sales proceeds from milk do not remain constant throughout the year. During the lull season they have to depend on external credit for sustaining themselves as well as the buffaloes. Most of the year they depend on external credit because they are tied to the moneylenders and their earnings mainly go into its repayment. And in turn again they are forced to go for credit and the cycle goes on. They do not have any savings apart from the weekly savings of Rs 10 that they deposit in the SHG kitty. Any contingencies or social occasions like marriage they go for credit.

In such a scenario they are forced to go for credit because the SHG kitty is not sufficient enough to satisfy their needs. And moreover the credit from money lenders has the tendency to multiply because of the exorbitant interest rates and their repeated borrowings.

A Self Help Group (SHG) is an informal association consisting of 10 - 19 rural poor women, from socio-economically homogeneous families. SHGs are organised around the activity of savings and credit with mainly two objectives:

 

? Increasing the rural women's access to cheap credit in the short run, and

? Economic empowerment of rural women in the long run.

The ultimate purpose is to create an impact on the livelihoods of rural poor. SHG also helps women build on their capabilities and provides a common platform for the members to think and plan their collective betterment, both financially and socially. In Dholpur, most of the SHGs (around 87%) formed and fostered by Pradan were formed under the District Poverty Initiatives Project (DPIP). The government of Rajasthan, with the support of the World Bank, is implementing the DPIP in seven districts of the state, namely Baran, Churu, Dausa, Dholpur, Jhalawar, Rajsamand & Tonk with the long-term goal to reduce poverty in the selected districts, which are amongst the poorest in the state. The project's specific development objectives are to improve the living standards and the social and economic status of the poor. For this purpose, the project will organize and empower the poor, build their capacities, and improve their access to infrastructure, services and resources that address their priority social and economic needs.

 

The main approaches of the project are to generate awareness in the target villages, form Common Interest Groups (CIGs) of poor people in the village communities, build their capacities and help them to decide, formulate and implement sub-projects aimed at alleviating their poverty.

Pradan is one of the implementing agencies under DPIP engaged in forming CIGs. The Pradan team implements mainly two activities namely buffalo rearing and goat rearing. The other activities being implemented are irrigation and improvement of crop productivity. All activities are carried out by Common Interest Groups (CIGs). Pradan team first organizes women from poor families into Self Help Group (SHGs). To suit DPIP's condition, the SHGs were recast into CIGs by bringing together the SHG members based on their interest in a particular livelihood activity.

But the haste with which the government officials wanted the SHGs to be formed and get linked with the banks did not facilitate proper fostering of the SHGs. The villagers came together and formed SHGs keeping an eye on the benefits of DPIP rather than to save money and form a healthy kitty.

For the same reason, what happened was the condition of socio economic homogeneity of the members was not strictly followed. Moreover the incentive to save and increase the kitty was missing among most of the SHGs. I observed that once the kitty grew and reached a point the members distributed it among themselves. This act ensured that the kitty never grew beyond a point and their needs are not met by the kitty. Even after 3-4 years in the SHG these women still had to go to the moneylenders or the dudhiya for credit and the amount of external debts was having an increasing trend rather than a decreasing one.

The haste with which the government wanted to implement the DPIP program actually hampered the growth of the SHGs and the whole purpose was lost. Here the SHGs were formed for availing benefits under the DPIP and once the women got the benefits they were losing interest in remaining in the SHGs. They went back to money lenders again and again.

The solution for such a state of affairs would be to motivate the members to increase their kitty and make them aware of how a growing kitty can save them from the money lenders. Its not that the members are not aware of all these, but, they seem to be eager to distribute the accumulated savings among themselves because a feeling of insecurity sets in when the kitty grows big. This feeling of insecurity is again because of the lack of socio-economic homogeneity in the groups.

Interestingly, the problems where being faced by only those groups which were formed after the commencement of DPIP. The older groups where functioning in a healthy manner. An SHG requires slow and gradual fostering and only after the reach a certain level of maturity should they be linked to a bank. A habit of saving should be developed. I saw that the members where saving only the minimum savings of Rs 10 per week. Even when they had the ability to save more than that they did not do that. Such issues have to be addressed. Probably an incentive for making voluntary savings would help.

My experience at Dholpur have given me lot of insights about the rural life, poverty, the functioning of SHGs, and the implementation of the so called 'poverty alleviation initiatives' of the government. The hospitality I received in the villages was very warm and cordial. Even with the very little that they have they made sure that their 'Madrasi Babu' is treated with the best of their delicacies. Even in the midst of financial crises they had a smile on their face which wasn't a 'plastic' smile that we urbanites usually have. I believe each of us should work with the rural India at least once in their life because that is the real India and its each citizen's responsibility to do something for this deprived pie of the population.

Anish Philip
Planet Ettimadai

A cool breeze blew on my face as I alighted at the Ettimadai bus stop. A tea at the bakery, an auto ride down the winding road that always took me one step closer to those mountains curtained behind that misty blanket at dawn, the railway cross that magically remained closed whenever there was an urgency (Murphy indeed created a wonderful law), and last but not the least, the security gate that was always prepared.

Six months ago, I could picture myself walking down the same road that leads to the ASB building. Had a cross bag and that long umbrella which was the only object around leaner than myself ..and there were wonderful friends around...and faces etched on the walls of heart..and human beings with a heart of gold - a wonderful flashback.

I was a guest. Guest in the very place where I was host just months before - strange indeed is the way how time the constantly ticking change weaves its fantasies!! By the time I walked out fresh from the guest house, the mountain had cast away its shy act. The curtain of mist was now a thick shawl on its neck. The mountain wished good morning as it always does - through its messenger called breeze.

It was a journey down the lanes of memory. Every place had a story to narrate - the canteen, the entry arch which always had a strong breeze blowing through it, the class rooms, the mountains that played hide and seek. The air around was silent - something I had not experienced outside planet E. There were no vehicles honking past or people chattering by. All that surrounded me was the wind whistling a soft tune. I was silently enjoying everything that I had unknowingly missed.

Dusk brought with it dark rain clouds, which invaded the horizon in a swiftly blowing zephyr. Mountains stood ground and fought bravely, the sky shed silent tears - its blue tinge had been lost. A raindrop or two hit me on my face and rolled down to my heart. The hostel was a ghost of its old self- or so I felt initially. The otherwise occupied TT room which echoed sighs and swears was deserted. Some prodding from an ever enthusiastic friend saw the hostel awake to its self. The TT room was active again. at least for a while. A visit to the hut outside college gate. a wonderful session with the new friends from 2006 batch (don't know how bored they were from the hour of so called interaction!!).a walk back to the hostel. then in the silence of night, with the night lights of planet E shining bright, we slowly found our way back to the guest house. A day of memories had formed part of memories.

This very Planet Ettimadai had gifted me the company of real human beings - real teachers- professors of the subject called 'life'. I might not be Arnold Schwarzanegger, but yet I swear Insha allah- "I'll be back"

2005 Spotlight

Dhanalaxmi G.
About Myself

I am Dhanalaxmi G doing my MBA in ASB. I am the fourth daughter for my parents. My father is staunch believer of the fact that education is for life. And that end of education is character. I was born and brought up in Madipakkam, a suburb of Chennai. Madipakkam in last five years has seen so much of change. It has grown from sleepy little village to a place busing with activity. Nearness to IT road has made Madipakkam grow into a perfect residential area.

India, our beautiful country, with all its varied languages, customs, traditions, a country whose very mention reminds people of its rich diversity. It is a land of wonders and contradictions, an ancient land that has mastered high technologies, a single home to many cultures. This very same country of ours also has so many problems.. poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, child labor and many more. We all have been given the unique gift of education. There are parents who want to give their children the best possible education yet can't because they have no money.

The first time I saw a village was in my 12th standard. The lush green fields and peaceful environment captivated me. Ottiyumbakkam, the village was nearly at a distance of 7 to 8kms from Chennai. A medical camp was being conducted in the village. I was given the task of sitting in the reception and taking down people's name, address and other details so that it will be helpful for the doctor. My first thought when I went there was "don't people have better jobs than waiting in line for hours together for a doctor?". But as the word went round that a medical camp was being conducted in the village, people began to pour in. It amazed me to see the whole village standing there. From morning till late evening they sat patiently to see the doctor. Even as I was writing their names I started a conversation with them. They first talked about the cows, buffaloes, rains and harvest but slowly they started talking about the things lacking in their village namely hospital, proper primary school and many other things.

It all started slowly with us visiting the village repeatedly for medical camps and food camps. We realized that the nearest school to that village was nearly 5-6kms away and the kids were all walking to the school everyday. The nearby village Arasankazhani also did not have any school facility. The villagers were stone crushers by profession and they after sometime because of lack of any other options were letting their children too join them at work. We started conducting small class sessions there, the enthusiasm with which the children came set us thinking. We wanted to do something more than just medical camps, and Balvikas sessions.

We wanted to bring our less privileged children to the mainstream by empowering them with value-based man making education and provide them a cherishable childhood in a home of love, care and discipline. With this vow and commitment, came into being, Sai Sankalp Charitable trust in October 2002. We have chosen 'Arasankazhani', a village about 8 km from Medavakkam, a suburb of Chennai, for our project. Arasankazhani is locked by small villages viz., Perumbakkam, Ottiyumbakkam. The project was called CANDLE.

It was like homecoming when Shobhana mam asked us if any are willing to take part in the village outreach program here in Ettimadai village. The enthusiasm of the children in coming to these classes energizes us. The easy affection the children show gives that warm feeling which we carry around the whole week waiting eagerly for the next Sunday to come. Sometimes I wonder who is teaching whom.

Now after two years the school is finally reaching a shape. Many a times we have been asked as to how can a group of young people build a school? There have been instances when it will be nothing more than a dream but every time we have been able to pull through because of some kind heart wanting to help us. What we always believe in is

"If I can ease one life in the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin,
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain."
-Emily Dickenson .

Mathuvanthi C.
About myself :

I am Mathuvanthi C pursuing MBA at ASB. I was born and brought up in a small village in Erode. My aspiration is to become a successful entrepreneur. I believe Life is always full of challenges and there are lots of hurdles before we achieve our goals. However, more the hurdles, more is the challenge, making life more interesting. Swami Vivekananda's words "Arise, awake stop not till the goal is reached" have always been the source of inspiration throughout my life.

I am from a small village named Poondurai Semoor in Erode district, Tamilnadu. Though it is a small village it now has a lawyer, a scientist, a doctor, a few engineers and some businessmen to boast about. Over the years it has developed into a good knowledge-based community and has also developed economically. The main occupation of the people though remains agriculture. During the last two decades my village's growth rate has been very high. This has been mainly because of the emergence of a poultry farm, a spinning mill and a good school nearby.

Here I would like to stress the role of the Navarasam Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Palliyuthu in the development of our village. It was started by a group of self-motivated members. The mission and vision of the school is not to make profits but to provide quality education to children in nearby villages. Almost 80% of the children in my village get their education there. This school has been a ladder for growth for many people like me. Emergence of this school has increased the literacy rate and knowledge power of my village.

Though the literacy rate has increased, the mentality of the people has not changed much. People still think that girls are good only for managing family and not for managing business. As soon as girls finish their graduation parents arrange marriage for their daughters without giving them the opportunity to go for higher studies or employment. As our President Kalam says "Dream to Achieve", many girls are dreaming but have many obstacles in their path. Even I took time to convince my parents to allow me to go for higher studies. The trend is changing but the pace is dead slow. I am the first woman to enter in business management from my village.

To introduce myself, I am the third kid in my family. My family has our own farm that is managed by my parents. After finishing my schooling many people advised me to take up the arts stream so that I can get a degree for the sake of one. My parents also agreed with them. But I wanted to do something different. On seeing my good higher secondary results, my parents however allowed me to join a nearby engineering college. I learnt a lot during this time.

Twice I got opportunities to learn about my surroundings and myself. The first one, which I liked the most, was my involvement in the NSS. There are a lot of activities conducted under this banner. One major event is the 10 days camp held in some poor villages nearby every year. The main aim of these camps is to clean the entire village and spread awareness about the importance of hygiene, education, AIDS etc. This opportunity gave me a wonderful experience to shape my character. With my village background I could understand the requirements of the villages well and make the appropriate arrangements. In my final year I became a member of the organizing committee. I was given the responsibility to handle accounts. During this time, I learnt the important concept of maximum utilization with minimum resources.

The second opportunity I got was the chance to learn Martial Arts. I thought martial arts were for self-defence. But after attending the classes I realized their full potential. Martial arts helped me to not only increase my physical well being but also to enhance my mental strength. I learnt it till the third kyu.

After I finished my graduation successfully, I couldn't get a job as my college did not have campus placement and my parents were not interested in sending me to the cities in search of jobs. The next option that came to my mind was to go for higher studies. My parents were not initially interested. So for sometime I did not know what to do. I had a good time at home looking after the flock of sheep and enjoying nature. But my engineering degree stirred me to do something. After a lot of debate, I somehow succeeded in convincing my parents. My experience while preparing for CAT was very unique. I remember solving my quantitative papers under the shade of a huge mango tree while simultaneously keeping a watchful eye on the sheep. I am quite happy to say that I did a good job in both! After successfully clearing the exam, I joined Amrita School of Business. And I must say that it has been a roller coaster ride for me till now and I am enjoying every moment of it.

I became aware of the competitive nature of the world around me only after coming to Amrita. I did my summer internship in Tata Steel, Jamshedpur. It was one of the most remarkable experiences that I have ever had. Till I made this journey I had spent my entire life in Tamil Nadu and had never gone up north and also did not understand Hindi. So understandably it was an exhilarating experience for me to spend two months among people whose language I did not understand. But the stay in the XLRI and the overall experience was awesome.

Altogether the experiences have fueled my ambition to become a successful entrepreneur in future and to prove that girls are not only good in managing families but also in managing businesses. Hard work has always been my strategy for success and I believe this will prove to be useful in all my future endeavors too. I have also seen the change that my experiences have brought about in the thinking of my parents. This can be gauged from the fact that one day I saw my mother advising one of my relatives to send his daughter to a good college and to let her bring out her talents. I have found my path in life but have miles to go before I can achieve success..

Sourabh Tolsaria
About myself :

Let me first introduce myself to you. My name is Sourabh Tolasaria and I am a commerce graduate pursuing my MBA at ASB. My hobbies are sketching, painting and reading. My current interests include entrepreneurship, branding and business planning. Goal in life: - To continue seeking the ultimate truth because no matter what, the journey is always worth it.

The article below talks about the 5 years I spent at Rishi Valley School, which has had a significant impact on my life. Some of my best days were spent at this enlightening place.

Memoirs of Rishi Valley School (RVS) By Sourabh Tolasaria

In 1926, when the philosopher J. Krishnamurti decided to set up his first school, he chose a remote valley in the interior of rural Andhra Pradesh, in Chittoor District at the edge of the Karnataka Plateau, about 135 km northeast of Bengaluru.

Rishi Valley is a boarding school at an altitude of 800 metres. There are 360 boarding students in the school, aged 8 to 17, studying in classes 4 to 12. These students are drawn from all over India and several countries abroad.

I would like to talk about my time spent at RVS (class 6 to 10th), wherein I experienced some of the most memorable and unforgettable moments of my life.

I had a typical first day, a day that almost every hostel goer has. I felt extremely home sick and wanted to go back home to Kolkata, a decision that I luckily didn't take for what I was about to experience over the next 5 years would completely change me for the better. From then on I was to discover that education does not only mean academics but something deeper and more far seeking.

What was most unique about my school is how we were bought up in an uncompetitive environment, which is very hard to avoid today. Here I would like to quote J. Krishnamurti on education.

"The purpose, the aim and drive of these schools, is to equip the child with the most excellent technological proficiency so that the student may function with clarity and efficiency in the modern world. A far more important purpose than this is to create the right climate and environment so that the child may develop fully as a complete human being. This means giving the child the opportunity to flower in goodness so that he or she is rightly related to people, things and ideas, to the whole of life. To live is to be related. There is no right relationship to anything if there is not the right feeling for beauty, a response to nature to music and art - a highly developed aesthetic sense.

I think it is fairly clear that competitive education and the development of the student in that process.... is very, very destructive" .

During my stay there I was exposed to and picked up diverse crafts such as pottery, carpentry, aero-modeling, batik, tie &dye and painting.

Of the above I developed a great love for painting (medium water colors), sketching and pottery. My love for painting led me to pick it up as a formal subject in class 10.

One of my favorite parts of the day was the general assembly were we all sang from the chant book containing songs of Kabir Das to ancient Sanskrit slokas. The assembly was conducted in an open-air environment wherein the echo of 100 odd voices coupled with the wind brushing against your face made a wonderful start for the day ahead.

We were also introduced to "Asthachal" a sitting wherein we used climb a small rocky hill and sit there in silence observing the nature or mediating.

Through out my stay in RVS I attended various programme's ranging from science expos, theatre workshops to philosophical talks given by eminent personalities.

The students were encouraged to address the assemblies about any topic under the sun. Students regularly organized plays, music performance and various others cultural programme's.

Hiking, rock climbing, excursions etc were a part of our regular outdoor activities. Among these climbing up the famous "Cave rock hill" was my favorite, essentially because I liked the adrenalin rush of jumping over a deep gorge between the rocks!!

Apart from "cave rock" I also enjoyed exploring the hills around the valley namely Bodi & Rishi konda. We paid regular visits to The Rural Education Center (REC) set up RVS to extend the educational resources of Rishi Valley School into the neighboring impoverished countryside.

During my stay there I developed an intense love for the flora and fauna present in our campus infact I had learned how to handle poisonous snakes as well!!

This serene campus is an officially declared a Bird Preserve by the International Council For Bird Preservation. (Picture of RVS)

During our stay there we were encouraged to take part in many social activities. The prominent one being a massive aforestation programme undertaken along the slopes of the valley.

Experience shows that not all children flourish in this system. In particular some of the children who tend to be dependent and who need constant prodding cannot adjust to the absence of pressure at the school.

Keeping this in mind I would like to say that after my stay at RVS when I was exposed to the competitive world I felt a bit strange, maybe a bit apprehensive at the beginning but deep in my heart I carried something that I knew would take me over all of life's greatest hurdles.

Shankar

Life to me is an experimental ground where we are given innumerable chances to explore our being and explode within. Amrita truly provides an opportunity for this. My friends, teachers, Nature, academic curriculum and wonderful experiences here have definitely molded me into being a better individual. My motto is to "live life with Character, Commitment, Courage & Passion".

The following is a first hand account of my experience at the relief operations in Nagapattinam

Nagapattinam Diaries

As I stood on the rubbles of a demolished house, I smelt the salt of the calm sea, heard a distant wail of a lady who apparently had lost her dear ones and saw the vast expanse of the sea merging with the sky at the horizon. My mind was unable to comprehend the fact that this same sea, that was lashing the shore like white pearls, had on the morning of 26th December, risen up like a giant black beast from sleep and caused one of the most horrifying natural disaster ever in the history of mankind. Some of the houses had turned to just a heap of debris. Some just had the floor left, lots of men with tonsured heads were sitting with lost hopes, as if contemplating the meaning of the tragedy that had befallen their lives. This was the heartrending sight of a village in Nagur, Nagapattinam, which was one of the worst affected places in India by the Tsunami or the killer wave.

We, a group of 14 students, accompanied by the Dean & four professors were in Nagappatinam on 13th of January, as part of the relief team from the business school. As managers with social responsibility, we deemed it our duty to be present there and do whatever little we could to improve the situation in this small coastal town. Though now I can make the above statement with a sense of pride that lesser mortals like me carry, initially I was in double minds about going there. The very idea of relief work brought to my mind pictures of people with their mouths covered, of epidemics and endless toil. But that little spark of desire to make my living here a little more worthwhile, by being of help to those in need, motivated me to go for my first ever relief operation. During my two years of management education at Amrita, these are some of the days that will never get erased from my book of memory. It was also during this period that I learnt some of life's greatest lessons as well.

During our stay there, we did everything from chopping vegetables to construction work. Some of us were doing most of these for the first time in our lives. But yet everyone managed it in a meticulous fashion and more than anything, with inexhaustible energy and enthusiasm. Of all that we did during our stay there, visiting the villages was the most difficult part. It was hard for many of us to contain ourselves listening to the stories of how husbands lost their wives, kids lost their parents and how families lost their lives' earnings and fortune. Before visiting the villages, we were given clear instructions about how to deal with the villagers. All they wanted was somebody who would listen to their woes and lend a shoulder to ease out their burden. We went in groups and visited many houses in these villages. As we entered the courtyards, we could sense the pall of gloom that was hovering in these families. The moment they saw us, they started describing the nightmarish experiences of how the wave rose up to the height of a palm tree and lashed into the houses and surroundings tossing human bodies like dolls in the water. Young mothers broke into sobs recounting how they had to make choices to let go one of their children to the hands of death when they realized they couldn't save both. In total despair and helplessness, many of them had watched their loved ones drowning. They also watched their lifelong earnings get washed away in a matter of seconds. As I heard these stories my mind echoed words I had heard but long forgotten - "nothing is permanent in this world", "do not live in attachment with this world", "live in the present", "future is unpredictable"... Instances like these really throw meaning into what mahatmas have been preaching since ages.

 

The water that filled these villages was black in colour and had all the mud and dirt in it. It was as if the sea had purged out the garbage from her bowels, which over the years, man had dumped into her conveniently with absolute indifference. We listened to all they had to say, with undivided attention and all we could offer them were words of consolation and our prayers. We also explained how the Math was doing its best to rehabilitate them and help them restart their lives. This came as a sense of hope and relief to them.

We visited a village in Karaikudi, Pondicherry.. The situation there was more depressing than anywhere else. There was massive destruction and loss of life was immense. There were quite a few who had not recovered after the tragedy. Most of the huts in those villages had been washed away. The grief of a young man who lost his wife in the tragedy moved us all. He had written the name of his wife on the mud and was unwilling to move from there for days together. There were others who had lost their houses, relatives and other belongings. We distributed rice, grocery and toiletries to all the families in that village and visited most of their houses.

In spite of such a huge loss, one thing that amazed all of us was the fact that majority of the villagers had come to terms with the tragedy. Though they were pouring out their worries to us, they had recovered much faster than we had expected them to. One of the villagers who was guiding us while we visited the houses, even took all of us to his house and treated us with such hospitality, that for a while we all forgot the tragedy that had struck the village.

As Swami Abhayamrita Chaithanya rightly pointed out, if this kind of a tragedy had struck an urban area, populated by the so-called educated and civilized people, the psychological trauma faced by them would have been much more than that of the simple villagers living in the coastal belt of Tamil Nadu.

Apart from counseling, we were involved in distributing food and milk to the villagers staying in the relief camps. In the evenings when we went to distribute milk, the little kids came running with tumblers and mugs and crowded around us jostling and pushing each other. Seeing the little ones relentless efforts in reaching their tongues to lick the last drop of milk sticking to their glasses really pricked my mind. I felt guilty for all the cribbing I used to do when little comforts in life were missing.

I realized, how thankful we had to be for all that we had in our lives.

The Amritanandamayi Math's volunteers were doing an exemplary job of feeding around 4000 people three meals a day for almost a month. On the day of Pongal, the numbers went up to 10000. The management of the whole distribution system of food for these many people in different camps was done with such meticulousness, that it would have made any professional logistician stand in awe. Though a huge quantity of food was being prepared every day, there was no compromise on taste and quality. We also ate the same food that was being distributed in the relief camps.

It was encouraging to see the volunteers from the Math and other Amrita institutions working tirelessly round the clock to help rehabilitate the affected people of Nagapattinam. Temporary shelters were being built by the Math for the families who had lost their homes. All of us were involved in filling the floor of the houses with sand. Though the work involved physical exertion, none of us gave up until we finished the houses allotted to us. Our Dean, Mr. Sushil Kumar and the faculty were in the forefront of all the relief work and they truly led by example. This again, was a great source of motivation for all of us.

In the nights, after a day's labour, when we used to drop on our beds all exhausted, our minds were flooded with a feeling of immense satisfaction and joy for having been able to help our fellow beings in the hour of need. Even as I closed my eyes, the faces of little kids in various relief camps kept haunting me. There was one face that kept coming back into my mind again & again, it was that of little Armada. A face that was once full of cheer and joy of a kid of her age was today filled with fear and a sense of grief. We spend a long time playing with her and were happy to see her forgotten smile get restored back on the innocent face. The trauma and shock that these kids had to face at this tender age was insurmountable for their little innocent hearts.

Today, even as man continues to exploit nature and live in disharmony with her, it is time that he realized that the consequence of his Karma not only affects him, but also the present and coming generations of young ones.

The four days that we spend there was truly remarkable and I was happy about the choice I made.

When we started off our return journey, there was no clatter or noise inside the bus, but rather a meaningful silence prevailed. As we left the district of Nagapattinam behind us, we knew one thing, life's greatest lessons are not taught inside the four walls of a classroom, but is learnt through experiences like these that will be cherished for a lifetime.

Vinay Krishnan Menon

Let me first introduce myself to you. My name is Vinay Krishnan Menon and I am a B.Sc (Maths) graduate pursuing first year PGDM at Amrita School of Business, Ettimadai. I have always been interested in traveling, reading, music and participating in various social activities.

This article about the inmates of Cheshire Homes has been one of my sincere efforts to study the life of handicapped people facing some of the most difficult challenges put forward by nature. Cheshire home is an organization that supports disabled adults by providing shelter and other basic needs of life. I am sure this article will certainly touch at least some of you and encourage you to work towards the social well being of people.

My personal experience at Cheshire home.

I was always curious to know about the life of people who are neglected by their family members. It is this curiosity that made me visit Cheshire homes, which is an organization that supports handicapped people.

It was 10th November, 9 am in the morning when I stepped into the premises of Cheshire homes. When I first entered the gate I saw a van of some television channel that had come there for some serial shooting. The crew was busy with their work trying to capture the life of inmates living there. First, I went to the office and saw one person sitting on his wheel chair talking to some lady. I told him that I wanted to meet the administrator who had gone out to buy some medicines. I sat down on the nearby sofa observing things happening around me. After some 15 minutes I decided to go inside and have a look around. I saw a dinning hall, few inmates talking to each other and some ladies busy with stitching work. I also had a look at the names of various people who had given monitory contributions to support the inmates.

After some time the administrator came. His name was Mr. Gopinathan, an x-army officer who was keen and committed towards working for the betterment of inmates. When I asked him about didn't he miss his home, he said more than his family members it's the inmates who require him. So he spends most of his time trying to find out ways to help inmates lead a normal life.

This organization was started in 1996 to protect the cause of handicapped people. It first started its center in Bengaluru and then slowly spread to other states. Cheshire home of Trivandrum is the only center in the whole of kerala. The institution gets financial support from Leonard Cheshire International depending on the feasibility of projects, provided the institution agrees to certain laid down procedures. The institution has matured into one of the major centers of Leonard Cheshire International as it was given the privilege to host their 37th Annual General meeting. Two important criteria which are taken into consideration before admitting a handicapped person are (1) extent of his disability and (2) his position with regard to poverty line. The policy is such that they want to give priority to people who need them most. Their major source of funding is through banks, individuals and other institutions working for social well being of people. They have allocated a fixed amount of Rs800 per month to be spent on each inmate for their daily food and medicines. Apart from these, each inmate is provided with a bed, shelf, blanket, and other necessary things like soap, oil etc for his daily needs. The have a small biogas plant to satisfy their energy needs and inmates are encouraged to learn income-generating skills like stitching, craftwork to support themselves. The whole building is divided into 4 blocks each named after a particular place. The management of Cheshire home consists of an administrator and a secretary who interacts with media to create social awareness. Many colleges visit the home and conduct cultural activities to entertain the inmates. I happened to meet the secretary only the next day, as she is a busy lady who manages many other charity institutions too. She was happy to know that nowadays many young people are coming forward to help the weaker sections of society.

Story of Mr.Sundresan

He is an engineer who was earlier working in Mumbai. Due to some accident he broke his back and is completely bedridden. He has to depend on others even to satisfy his hunger and thirst. His health situation is so bad that doctors have given up his treatment, as there is nothing, much which can be done to reduce his pain apart from giving painkillers.

Still he hasn't given up himself. He spends most of his time reading books and talking to people on a variety of subjects. He is one person with whom I spent a lot of time discussing various social and political issues. When I asked about how does he feel when many eminent personalities come to visit the inmates, he says he has lost faith in them completely. He says everybody is just interested in giving false hopes and none of them ever turn back once they achieve their objective of getting publicity. Instead, he likes to meet people who come there with a true heart to share their feelings. He says people should avoid showing sympathy towards them and do something, which would help them to lead a normal life. Even though he feels slightly disheartened about Cheshire home not being able fund his complete expenses, but if taken from management's perspective it is impossible to take care of all the inmates needs beyond a certain extent, as there is no major source of regular income.

Story of Nayak

Nayak is a mentally retarded boy who uses a wheel chair to move to different corners of his room. Whenever he sees someone, he gives a big smile as if he knows that person for a very long time. Even though I could hardly communicate with him verbally the very smile on his face made me feel very close to his heart. It's been a tough experience, which he had to undergo at such an early stage in his life. He was found abandoned on the roadside somewhere in Tamil Nadu and was taken care by some local charity institution until three years ago when he was finally bought into the Cheshire home. Now this is his home and everybody likes him because of his innocence.

Conclusion

This experience has given me a much more deeper understanding of what life means for different individuals in this world. We as human beings are always unhappy about what we don't have rather than feeling content and lucky about what we already possess. So let's feel happy about what we have and do something for others to have a small share of it. After all, it's not a big deal.

Sandeep P.R

An Electronic engineer from Madras University, Chennai, Sandeep got together with some of his friends to launch an NGO- BLITZ which works with disadvantaged children in Chennai. Sandeep shares with us his vision, his aspirations and optimism that drives him on...

" Aspiration for me is not a romantic or an utopian notion. An urge to strive for perfection, to develop a personality of my own, in other words self - actualization remained latent in me from my young days Temperament and intellect being the two determinant factors, academic excellence alone would not lead me to realize my aspiration. I had therefore consciously groomed my self into an active, vibrant, positive, outgoing, gregarious, logical, empathetic and above all creative person.

Even in the extreme cases of adversity I try to remain positive, for I am a firm believer, that positive thinking and approach always have multiplier effect. I remain open to all experiences, feelings, emotions and do not wish to be characterized as defensive and distortive. I do not wish to remain preoccupied with the past nor worrying about the future. New experiences and ventures which others may fear to tread upon keep me excited all the time.

To me creativeness must result in bringing about awareness in one's awareness of our potentialities as we journey toward becoming fully human. I always hold a firm belief that such awareness makes it possible for our potentialities to unfold. I am of the view that we are instead too generous in our assessments that writing of a poem, composition of a song and production of a work of art are acknowledged to be actions as inventive, original and therefore creative.

Fuelled by such a thought of unassailable optimism, I realized that I shall not remain as an idle spectator of the happenings in the dreary intercourse of daily lives of the less fortunate young and old. I have to make a beginning.

BLITZ as a non-profitable youth organization was formed by me in association with a group of college students from Arts, Science and Engineering disciplines in July 2001 while I was in my second year. The organization (Regd.) had so far conducted various cultural / charity programs, blood donation camps, educational assistance to deserving students and relief and succor to the destitute of the orphanages around the city."

Sreedevi
I am an ASBian

This fortnight we focus our spotlight on Sreedevi S, our alumnus from the 2003-05 batch. The systems group topper of her batch, Sreedevi is currently working as a Business Consultant (HCL Technologies), having already qualified as a Microsoft Dynamics(tm) AX Master Certified Consultant. Her last year at HCL has been one swirl of work and travel as her job has made her criss-cross the globe taking her to Singapore, Vietnam and USA. Here, Sreedevi shares with us her reflections on life after Planet E

"We exist in relation to one another in this space of shared differences and commonalities. In our efforts to build community, we gather on common ground to break barriers and challenge ideas, to affirm experiences and empower ourselves."

J. Salunga, Intern 1997-98
University of California, San Diego

If someone had asked me to describe my life as young alumna, I would say it was fast. From the graduating batch of 2005 specializing in Information Systems, ASB equipped me to unleash tremendous creative energy in the field of technology and business management. Being a business consultant in the field of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), HCL Technologies, Chennai, has given me an incredible career growth. After acquiring the Certified Master's designation from Microsoft in their Enterprise segment - Microsoft DynamicsT AX, my performance gave me the chance to travel places, to understand different aspects of work life; and most importantly people.

One of my first work related travel was to the great little city - Singapura, where I was working for one of the statutory boards of the government sector. The workplace had a blend of Chinese, Malay, Indian and European people. To me the quality of the work one does is directly proportional to their commitment to excellence. And as a team each one of us was committed to deliver nothing less than the best.

Though most people still picture Vietnam through the lens of war, it is in authenticity a country filled with charming natural beauty and serene village life. I was here to take a series of training sessions for some of the leading partners of the region. My class had people from Vietnam, China, and Indonesia. I still feel a strong sense of modesty in all of them. Recollecting a quote by Galileo that says - "You cannot teach a person anything; you can only help him find it within himself", I think I just did my job in helping them. As I was traveling from the hotel back to the airport I realized that just over two decades have passed since this country was officially united, and in that time it has done an extraordinary effort of healing its wounds. And as I left this beautiful city called Ho Chi Minh - I realized that this nation taught me a bigger lesson for life.

I wasn't really sure what to expect from my trip to Los Angeles. It was one of those places where I would be on my own. After landing at LAX airport and catching the cab to drive me down to Orange County, I thought, I was finally in the city of angels, in Hollywood, the city of the stars, and my home for the next few months. I was working for one of the leading Microsoft Gold Certified Partners in North America. The engagement involved rolling out the ERP software for the manufacturing division of a leading cooperative distributor in California. Apart from Americans I also had the chance to work with people from Denmark, Vietnam, China and Mexico. Each one made a profound impact on me. I realized that to be excellent at anything, I had to nurture the kind of obsessive thought patterns that wake me up in the middle of the night when I discover the answers to my questions. Perfection was the word.

Each individual experience is precious, some more memorable than others. Each new day teaching a new lesson for life. And each time a journey ends I'm equally happy to return to family and friends who have and continue to keep me sane and striving for more. There is no place like home, where I could find meaning in my life and give it to others.

ASB gave me the intellectual grounding to build on; HCL opened the door to the world. Both have been fresh starts for me, helping me to realize my potential, giving me the skills to help me succeed, and building my values as a leader and as an element of humanity.

Today I proudly tell the world that I am an ASBian. And that 'The Power to Empower' is what the school has educated me for.