Showing posts with label Life Lessons. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Life Lessons. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Woolah Conversations in OLA :)

Mr Manu Raj

We had decided to spend our summer holidays this year in Jammu and Leh-Ladakh. And, being a pet lover comes with an additional set of responsibilities that must be taken care of before you can step out of the door and lock it for weeks. My aquarium was all set to be self-sustained for a fortnight with adequate food provisions. And, by the end of the previous night, the tank, the water filter and air pump were all cleaned up. 

We had scheduled an Ola cab to pick us up from home at 7 am to reach the Bengaluru Kempegowda Airport. However, in the morning, I found to my dismay that the air pump was not working :( I have big fishes in my aquarium and they won't survive without the air pump functioning properly. So, once again I had to take the pump out, clean it and reset it before we could start from home, with peace in mind. 

It was obvious that all this would eventually delay our departure, and we had no choice but to keep the Ola cab driver waiting. In the meantime, I did speak to him, apologizing for the delay on my part.

By restoring the air pump back to normalcy, we finally dealt with this ordeal and embarked on our way to the airport. *phew!*

Sitting next to the driver, like I always do, I started my conversation with Mr. Manu Raj (the Ola cab driver assigned to us). I told him why we got late. And, quite surprisingly, the aquarium turned out to be a topic of common interest between us. He too has an aquarium at home. We spoke about the fishes we have, about the plants in the aquarium, the difficulty of maintaining a salt-water aquarium....and the passionate discussion went on :) 

Like all conversations, between two pet lovers, ours also jumped from one pet to another. Manu Sir [I referred to him as Sir, respecting his seniority (age) during my conversation. However in the Blog I was instructed by him, to refer him just by his name and not as Sir :). So going forward, I will be referring him with his first name - Manu]. A native of Kerala (hailing from Kollam), Manu's youth was spent in caring for the dogs, cats and birds that lived in his farm. As he moved to Bangalore and started living in an apartment with restricted space, he had to settled with only fishes (aquarium) to accompany him as his pet(s). Even I went ahead and shared with him stories of my pets from childhood to my present day. 

I got so invested in this enriching free-flowing conversation with Manu, that I was curious to know more about him. When did he come to Bangalore? What did he do before becoming an Ola driver? And, what about his family?

Turns out, there was a lot to learn from his life. After completing his Bachelor's in Commerce during the mid '80s, Manu started and ran multiple business ventures in Kerala; ranging from real estate, restaurants and bakeries (from baking to selling). Like in any business, there are ups and downs. There came a downturn in his businesses at one point in his career. He converted this challenge into an opportunity by coming down to Bangalore in the early 2000s and restarted this life all over again. He tried out multiple ventures, including running a paying guests' (PG) facility. With several years of work experience and know-how of the restaurant (food) business, he started a Kerala food restaurant in Tippasandra area and ran it for over two decades, till the COVID-19 pandemic hit us. He expanded his business by getting into catering services. He built B2B clients, organizing luncheons and dinner parties for various companies in IT parks. At his peak, he was supplying 1,200 meals per day to IT companies.

Manu said, and I quote, "My wife Renu was my backbone, my pillar of support throughout this journey." 

While Manu sir's professional life was in upswing, lots were happening in his personal front too. He and his wife Renu raised three children. When conversations pertaining to his children came up, there was a visibly doting, proud father talking about his children. His eldest son is the Cabin Crew Manager at an international airline, living in the Middle East. His son had done a Bachelor degree in Hotel Management and worked for a few years in the hotel industry, before taking up his job in the airline sector. He is married and his wife is a professional in Dental Sciences, and is pursuing further studies and working there. 

Mr. Manu also mentioned that he and his wife visited their elder son's family two-three times a year in the Middle East, and he makes use of the privilege of paying 10% of the ticket price, they are entitled to as parents. 

His second son is a BBM (Bachelor of Business Management) graduate and has worked for several years in the Netherlands. Recently, he quit the job to pursue farming, his actual calling. He has recently started farming in Devanahalli, situated in the outskirts of Bangalore. He too is married and his wife is an engineer, working at a multinational firm. She often shuttles between India and Europe for her work.  

His youngest son completed his Engineering degree recently. He is not too keen to pursue his career in this field and has found his calling in Editing and Copywriting instead. In fact, he is currently working in a firm that is involved in writing services.

Being a father myself now to a high schooler, I was very impressed by the way Manu had brought up his children. All of them are doing so well in their own lives, in their own unique ways. 

I asked him, why didn't he resume his restaurant business in the post-pandemic era?

To answer this question, Manu provided valuable insight regarding the intricacies of the restaurant and catering business. They used to start their day between 3 am to 4 am to ensure the food is delivered on time at their client offices. He said that the work at an industrial (cloud) kitchen is very much hands-on in nature, with high touch-points for ensuring hygiene, consistency, taste and safety standards. As a proprietor, he has to stay fully committed and engaged in the work. Now that he has advanced into the senior years in life and his children are all grown-up and self-sustained, he does not feel the need to immerse himself in a 24/7 work schedule once again. None of his sons were interested in taking over the restaurant business anyway; so, he decided to cut the losses during the pandemic and lockdown by shutting down his business and selling off his hard assets. 

Coming back to his current profession, the answer was equally an eye-opener. Choosing to drive an OLA was not Manu's compulsion, but a choice. He didn't want to sit at home, watching TV the whole day. So, he purchased a car, got a commercial license and registered himself with OLA. He controls his schedule and number of trips he wants to take. He usually takes up ride requests to the airport in the morning, and on the way back home, he takes a few trips dropping passengers to work etc. By noon, he logs out, comes back home for lunch and spends his time with wife, resting in the afternoon. In the evenings, he goes out again, taking a few passengers around the city, and returns home by 9pm to call it a day.

To Manu sir, he gains satisfaction from the fact that he is still working, that too on his own terms. He finds meeting different kinds of people (passengers) while driving OLA a learning experience: "I meet different kinds of people. There are passengers who don't talk at all, there are passengers like you who engage in a conversation, there are passengers who are polite, and there are those who are impolite. I learn from each one of them and this learning experience gives me motivation, rather than sitting the whole day idly at home, in front of a TV."

And, just like any other experience, our discussion came to an end as the cab came to a halt at the drop-off bay at the Bengaluru airport. We offloaded our luggage and carried on with our onward journey, not before we exchanged our numbers and I made a promise of staying connected with Manu. As I reflect upon this, I found an incredible amount of positivism and passion for learning, that I wanted to write about this incident and share it with many more. Here are my reflections:

  1. Dignity of labor: As Swami Vivekananda said, "Work is Worship", but to put this into practice is an enormous task. Mr. Manu, who owned and ran a restaurant business for over two decades, doesn't see himself as inferior just because of his profession as a cab driver. For him, work is work, and he derives meaning and purpose from all the different kinds of work he does. 

  1. Resilience, Adaptability and Perseverance: In today's VUCA world, these attributes have become common phrases in corporations - the world of white-collar jobs. There could be no better example than Mr. Manu, who has put these attributes into motion. When things didn't work well in Kerala, he shifted base to Bangalore and set up a successful business for two decades. With the pandemic hitting in 2020, he closed it to cut down his losses and moved on to become an Ola driver. Such real-life examples of resilience, being adaptable and persistence are immensely motivating stories full of positivity, isn't it?

  1. Break free from biases, judgment and assumptions: If I had not struck a conversation with him, I would have never known of the story of triumph of the human spirit, that too beneath the image of a cab driver. Isn't this a lesson for us, to break free from our biases, from making judgements and assumptions, by looking at a person's appearance and profession? The moment we engage with others at a human level, a whole new dimension opens up that is free from such labels and conditioning. 

  1. Transitions in life: Throughout our life-cycle we have to come across certain transitional phases to move successfully from one stage to another. However, truth be told, not all of us can make this transition. In fact, some of us get stuck, holding on to and not letting go of our past. I am sure, it must have been painful for him to wind up a two decade-old business during the pandemic and not resume it again. Mr. Manu's life story shows us, he had the wisdom to make the transition in his life, to let go of a venture that gave him ample financial and emotional stability and move on to something new, especially when things weren't working out.

  1. Finding meaning and purpose: With his three children doing well for themselves, Manu sir could have retired from his professional life. However, he took up an engagement in his pursuit to make his life more meaningful through his actions and experiences. In my mind, his story teaches us a valuable lesson - at the core of every fulfilling work resides our pursuit to find meaning and purpose in life.


The Assamese word Woolah means happiness. And, there are innumerable ways to spread happiness in every single moment of every single day. So, I hope I was able to share the happiness I derived from my conversation with you, my reader. I hope that you too find your Woolah conversations with someone as unique as Manu. And, if you have had such experiences in the past, do share it in the comment section. In today's world where negativity sells more than positivity, we should share such motivational stories that promise hope and happiness to all of us.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Learning from failures in Team Sports

TEAM UNDERDOGS: From L to R - 1. Meldon (Captain), 2. Sashwath, 3. Abhishek Pathak, 4. Halesh, 5. Asmitha & 7. Abhishek Ghosh [6. Is BFC footballer Chhuantea Fanai. Teams which qualified into semi-finals had the privilege to interact with BFC players] 

What a day it was! Sunday, 14th of May-2017, BFC (Bengaluru Football Club) organised an event BFC Day Out, at Bangalore Football Stadium. For football enthusiast like me, the 5 a side tournament was the star attraction.

It was an open invite, online registration for participation which attracted football enthusiasts from all over Bangalore & also from other cities (one of our team mate Sashwath came down from Chennai).

The 5 a side team was formed by random assignments of the participants. Total of 24 Teams competed in the day long tournament.

Our Team UNDERDOGS, came 3rd among the 24 teams...... we came a long was so near, yet so far. When we started off, none of us expected we would come that far into the tournament. Sadly failing in the semis was heart breaking. A bitter-sweet experience & a day full of bright moments, which will remain itched for a long time in our memories.

I am writing this blogpost, not as a memoir, but from the point of view of a Psychologist (I being a Psychologist). We become wiser in the hindsight, looking back I listed down my learning from the failure we faced, taking the approach of Sports Psychology.

  • Transforming a group into a Team:
Football is a team sport & like any team sport, individual brilliance alone cannot take the team over the finishing line. Therefore the key to success in tournaments where teams are formed by random assignment is transforming a 'Group into a Team' within the limited time period.

When we all met for the first time in the morning, we did put in conscious effort in knowing each other e.g. our names, professions, home, football interests, we sat together in a hurdle chatting & sharing snacks etc. This bonding & camaraderie gave us positive results in the form of 3 consecutive victories. In fact, one of the player from an opponent team asked me "Do you guys know each other & play together?" When I told him, we met just a while back for the first time, he was surprised & complimented our team's good coordination & formation play. I personally believe, if an opponent player was able to make this observation, it must have been an outcome of our collective effort of transforming our group into a team, which played as a cohesive unit.

By noon time, there was a One & half hour break (lunch, rest time). During this break, unfortunately, we didn't hang in together as we did in the morning. Rather we got dispersed for the entire break time, only to reassemble just before our next round of matches. Sadly, this time around we met with shocking results, losing 2 consecutive matches in semis & getting knocked off from securing a berth in the finals.

A word of advice for players, participating in similar format tournaments. Make a conscious effort to be together all throughout. Off the pitch efforts of knowing one other, bonding & camaraderie, will bring positive results on the pitch. One cohesive team trusting & enjoying each other's company, will always outshine their opponents, in a team sport.

Real world evidence of this phenomenon - 

Namdhari XI, who emerged as 7th Hockey sub-junior Champion, beating Mumbai School Sports Association (MSSA) on 5th May, 2017 is a classic example, which testifies the importance of Team formation in Team Sports.

Namdhari Hockey Academy is based in a non-descript village of Sant Nagar, 55 kms from Sirsa towards the Rajasthan border on state highway 32. Most of the players belong to Namdhari sect & are from same village & they have been training together in the academy since their childhood over several years.

The MSSA team had talented players, who were chosen through a tough scouting/talent search process all through out the state of Maharashtra.

Sine the Namdhari XI players have been together for many years & their bond is at a different level altogether. They were a formidable force all throughout the tournament & ultimately emerged as champions in the fiercely fought final's against MSSA, beating them 2-1.

  • Don't break the momentum:  
While waiting during the long noon break time, I made a comment during my conversation with my teammates Meldon & Asmitha, "Our momentum is broken, due to this long break. It would have been good if the tournament had got over in one shot, rather than being played in two halves, pre-noon & post-noon."
Unfortunately, this passing comment of mine did come true. Once our momentum was broken, our team never, managed making a successful come back in the post-noon session.

A word of advice for players, facing similar situation do your level best to retain your momentum. The time gap, is not in your control but what you do during the time gap is within your control. Keeping the team engaged, staying focused on the goal through planning & discussion, warm up sessions etc can restrict the momentum from fizzling out.

Real world evidence of this phenomenon - 

We have see this phenomenon occur so many times, during strategic time out sessions in Indian Premium League (IPL) Cricket matches. This couple of minutes of break, puts a jolt on the ongoing momentum of the better performing team. When the match resumes after the strategic time out, on many instance the side who were going great guns (either scoring runs or bowling tightly) suddenly appears unsettled, yet to fall into the grove. This break in momentum, allows the under performing team to bounce back & seize an opportunity to turn around the script.

  • Facing stiff competition & Failing early on, is a blessing in disguise: 
In the post noon-session, our team mate Abhishek Pathak did put across a word of caution "In all our previous matches we have always secured the first lead (goal). But if in semi-final match we concede a goal first, let's not allow it to adversely affect us. Let us believe, we can bounce back."

Once again, unfortunately, Abhi's word of caution came true. We conceded a goal early on, trailing from behind being our first such experience in a high pressure match (semi-finals) got the better of us. We probably succumbed due to our inexperience & our lack of grit to effectively handle failure.

A word of wisdom for players, if you face set-back during the early stages of the league see it as a blessing in disguise. These initial failures prepares you to take on failures head on, during the advanced stages into the league.

Real world evidence of this phenomenon - 

Indian cricket team's famous run up to the finals, in ICC World Cup, 2003. In Pool - A, India won all the matches except one against Australia (won 5 out of 6). In Super Six stage, India won all the matches (3), winning semi-finals before the succumbed in the finals to Australia. In other words, India lost the finals after their 8 consecutive victories. Probably, few more defeats in the group stage would have conditioned (prepared) them better to handle tough situations during the final match, facing a tough opponent like Australian cricket team. 

  • Don't allow the pressure of big match, unnerve you:
Our Captain Meldon named our team 'UNDERDOGS', quite aptly. The name suited us, because when we met for the first time none of us had any high expectations nor hope of going so far into the tournament (reaching semi-finals). Hence the name Underdog resonated with us because we were oblivious of both internal (our's) & external (other's) pressures. Our ability to stay away from pressure & expectations paid rich dividends as we won 3 consecutive matches in the knock-out stages.

But as we progressed into the league reaching the semi-finals, the tag of 'semis' played in our mind. We could see the finals just a match away & we wanted to desperately win the semis. This desperation, pressure, expectations became a deterrent to our enjoyment & our natural playing abilities. In summary, we failed to keep things simple during the pressure situation.

Real world evidence of this phenomenon - 

Indian cricket team's famous 1983 World Cup win against defending champion West Indies, is a classic example of this phenomenon. India were underdogs & no one gave them a change. The Indian team approached the finals as just another match & they were happy to have made it so far. On the other hand West Indies had so much of expectations riding on them both internal & external. The pressure on them was enormous & the West Indies players were confident (possibly over-confident) of an assured win, while going into the match. Rest is history, the underdogs India defeated the mighty West Indies & became the World Champion. 

Sadly, this UNDERDOGS Team, couldn't manage to become the Champions on the BFC Day Out Tournament Day (we wholeheartedly accept, we lost to a better team). Inspite of this failure, we achieved a lot on that day. We gained experience of playing in such tournaments, we enjoyed playing football throughout the day, enjoyed competing against several equally talented teams in the true spirit of sportsmanship & above all making forging a relationship of friendship with our new teammates - 'The Underdogs'.