On becoming a Consultant

On becoming a Consultant

Many young and old (post retirement) friends and acquaintances ask me for pointers to enter the world of Organizational Consulting & Training which I have been in since 1985. I thought it would be good to share generally what I have been advising people for several years. I hope it will benefit many more. It is easy if you are a motorcycle mechanic. What you do is clear. The customer has a pressing need. It doesn’t cost much to repair his motorcycle. So, he comes.

 But with Organizational Consulting & Training you are dealing in concepts, feelings, emotions and some techniques which mostly depend on the sincerity of the learner in applying them as well as his expertise in doing so; to show their effectiveness. That is a very challenging ‘s environment. The customer’s need is not as immediate or pressing like the man with the broken motorcycle. And he must pay a jolly sight more to fulfill his need. Moreover, his benefit is far less clear, especially as it depends on what he does with what he learnt from you. Having been in this business now since 1985, I can tell you that it is perhaps the most challenging and exciting business that exists – provided you know what to do. So here are some thoughts about what works and what doesn’t.

 1.     Define & Differentiate your product – What do you have to offer and how is it unique?

Why Differentiate?

Differentiation creates brand

Brand inspires loyalty

Loyalty enables influence

The more clearly you can define your product, the better. It is not what you think you do, but what your customer thinks you do, that matters. That must be crystal clear to him, so that when he has a need in the area of your work, you are his natural choice.  So, give a lot of thought to what it is that you do and how you tell people about it. Remember that the world of selling is the world of words. Not deception, but palatable truth. Unpalatable truth is equally truthful but not equally edible. Craft words thoughtfully and take brutal feedback from others about what you crafted. Being married to your words is suicide. The key is not experience but how you can use it to help others. Don’t leave that to the customer to figure out. Spell it out for him. Not because he is stupid, but because the need is yours. Don’t tell him what you used to do but how you can help him and how that will benefit him. That will mean knowing his business sometimes better than he does himself. Certainly, in terms of an overview from the outside. That is your key differentiator because perspective is a function of distance. Leverage it and show him how it works.

 2.    Define your customer

 Not everyone is your customer. This is the biggest mistake you can make; trying to be all things to everyone. That way you are seen as a generalist, nothing to nobody. People like to feel that they are dealing with an expert, even if it is for a haircut. That means that you must learn to say a very definite, ‘No!’ to some businesses. I stayed out of recruitment from the beginning (1994) when recruitment was a booming business. That classified me as a confidant of business managers and owners; not as someone who would probably poach on them to grow his business. I never regretted that decision. It is not to say that all placement consultants do this but enough do to spoil the reputation of everyone. Err on the side of caution in accepting assignments. Only the hero who survives lives to tell the tale. In consulting, if the client fails, you carry the can. So never accept assignments where the outcome is doubtful because you doubt the client’s sincerity or learning ability to carry out your recommendations. Remember that both success or failures are news; often the latter being remembered more vividly. So, look for quick wins. Both parties will be happier.

 3.    Define your fee

 I have a basic rule. Stand in front of the mirror and say the number aloud. If you feel comfortable with it, it is the right amount. Do some hard-nosed analysis about your finances and see what you need – not want – need. Then base your fee on that. Develop a mindset of contentment, so that when that figure is reached you have no stress. Then whatever else comes thereafter is icing on the cake. Remember that once you quote a figure to a client, that is what he will pay you as long as you live. He will take an increment every six months but will moan like a cow in labor if you ask for a raise once in six years. So, be careful what you quote. “We are going to give you a lot of business, so give us a discount”, is the oldest, most threadbare line that exists. Even more than, “What are you doing tonight?” So, don’t fall for it. Giving a discount to someone who will give you a lot of business means that you are tying yourself down to a low productivity client in favor of others who would have been more productive. Quote fairly and confidently. Perception is in the mind of the listener but before that in your own heart. If you are confident of your product or service, then be sure that people will come to you again and again. I have not made a cold call since 1995. It is as simple as that.  

 4.    Deliver premium and demand premium

 ‘Buy me because I am cheap’ – is not a slogan that ever appealed to me. Remember no matter what you charge there will always be someone in the market who will pay that to you, once. It is repeat business that is your bread and butter – so ensure that your customer is so tremendously satisfied that he will not only call you again, but you become his natural choice. The repeat customer is the only one who can compare you to others, because he has experienced you once. Make sure that his experience with you is so superior that everything else pales in comparison. He then becomes your ambassador and there’s no better or more effective ambassador than a customer who has experienced you and is delighted.

 Selling cheap has several problems: You position yourself as a low-quality provider (default implication of cheap); the client will never agree to a fee raise later so you lock yourself into a low remunerative bind and you can almost never pitch for high-end work. Nobody will consult the trainer of security guards when the Board wants advice. So, positioning is critical. I have found that positioning in terms of quality is best. If you deliver top quality, you get a very good name and people don’t care what you charge. Those who still count pennies are not your clients. Smile and leave them. The fact is that if you are not confident about your product or service then don’t expect the client to feel confident about you.

 ‘Quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten’, (Gucci family slogan).

 5.    Do only work that you are passionate about – leave the rest

 That is because you can’t deliver quality unless you are passionate about something. So never do something for the money. Do it for love. Money will follow. Money is the natural consequence of all quality work. But if you do something that you don’t believe in you will never succeed. That is why I have always refused work for cigarette and liquor companies and companies who are known for corruption – no matter what the fee. I have also never done sales training because it doesn’t excite me. I teach leadership where I am paid to do it and I teach it free where the client (like schools) can’t pay me but I believe that they will benefit and need that training. That gives me practice with a variety of audiences and builds equity in the market. Work for love and you will be loved for it.

 Genuinely want the best for your client. If you are not interested in the welfare of the client and are working only for the money, it will show and it will go against you. Genuine interest means that you will end up doing more work than you may have anticipated, including some that is not billable. But being genuinely interested means that you won’t grudge or regret that. Take only projects that interest you because if you want to succeed in a project and make a mark, then you will need to be mentally engaged with it 24 x 7. You can’t do that unless it genuinely interests you. That too will show. Genuine wanting the best for your client also means that sometimes you will tell your client to go somewhere else if he needs something that you know someone else can provide better than you can. It is a tough call and that is why you need to think beyond your income. Remember that in the end it all comes back. People remember and are grateful and will promote and recommend you. Consulting is not business. Consulting is friendship. I have worked with this philosophy for the past 35 years and never regretted it.

 6.    Communicate, communicate, communicate

 There is no getting away from this. Talk to people, write things and share with everyone. Have an abundance mentality with sharing. It all comes back. Speak at conferences and seminars. Offer to teach (even if it is for nothing) management development courses at business schools and training establishments – pick and choose of course – but do it. This will teach you the skills of dealing with people. It will energize you, expose you to your potential client base and give you visibility and credibility. I used to teach at IIM-B when I lived in Bangalore, at Asnuntuck Community College and the Government of Connecticut when I was in the US and teach at the National Police Academy, SSB Academy and others now that I live in Hyderabad. All for next to nothing in terms of money but great networking benefits.

 Answer phone calls immediately, always respond to emails, call people just to say hello. Have a toll-free number where your clients can reach you. Never leave a phone call unreturned or an email unanswered. Good people skills are far more important than anything else. People hire you not because of competence but because they like you. Competence is a given. It must be there. Being liked is the decision maker. Communication is the key to being liked. Aspiring consultants who play (or are) hard to get are digging their own grave. Nobody loves you enough to chase you. That will happen one day provided you build enough equity. But it will happen after a lot of hard work. I once had a client wait for two years for me to return from America to do some work, but the exception proves the rule. If you are not reachable, someone else is. No matter that you think you are the best in the market. Even if you are, they don’t know that until they work with you and if they can’t reach you, if you don’t return calls or mails, that will never happen.

 7.     Document and focus on your own training

 The written word has high credibility. So, write. Record meetings, thoughts, ideas and questions. Then read them. You will be amazed at how much you will learn. Every year or so, go over what you have recorded and you are likely to have the makings of a book on hand. I wrote more than 39 books in 35 years of consulting. Almost all of them this way. You will be amazed how much research and learning happens in the normal course of life, except that we don’t record it. Beat the rest. Record your learnings. Books are an excellent way to build credibility. They are also a strong way to advertise what you have to offer without having to be crass enough to talk about it. A book is a quiet but confident statement of who you are and what you have to offer to the market. People trust the written word much more than the spoken word. In the words of Martin Luther King (Jr.), ‘If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.’ This also keeps you busy in the lull periods where you may otherwise fall prey to anxiety and stress. So, write.

 Ensure that you invest in yourself by upgrading your own skills. Set aside time and a budget to invest in your own learning. Read and get trained on a regular basis and you will find that to be a competitive advantage. I have found this an absolutely unassailable argument on the rare occasion when someone says to me, ‘But so-and-so charges less than you do.’ I say to them, ‘Ask them what they spent on their own training in the last 12 months.’ Nobody ever came back and I never lost a client for this reason. The hard reality is that if you have not upgraded yourself, then you are really not fit to offer anything to the client. His reality changes on a daily basis with greater complexity, more demanding challenges and an ever more ambiguous environment. How can you help them if you are still living in the stone age? Remember that consulting, especially leadership consulting is not about technology but about helping your client sell his dream and then help him to create a concrete roadmap to achieve it. It is about building trust, keeping confidence and being there for them.

 8.    Never compromise your integrity no matter how hungry you are

 Remember that your client is not the one who feeds you and the One who feeds you doesn’t lack resources. So never do anything which is against your beliefs and values. Have the highest values and live by them. That is the biggest incentive in my view of being an independent consultant – that you can afford to live by your values. And guess what? Not only will you never starve but you will gain a huge amount of respect in the market which you can’t buy even if you wanted to. For example, I have always insisted on clients respecting copyright and never agreed to use photocopied instruments, books and so on. On one occasion, I had to walk away from a very lucrative assignment from a very famous company (you’ll be surprised if I told you the name) because the training manager insisted that I used photocopied MBTI questionnaires to ‘reduce cost’. She said to me, ‘But everyone does it.’ I told her, ‘I am not everyone.’ That was in my very first year as an independent consultant (1994) when I was very poor and hungry and it hurt very much to walk away. But I did. And as they say, the rest is history.

 Another aspect of integrity is to keep the confidentiality of the client. Especially if you have high profile clients, others will try to put pressure on you to talk about them. By all means share the good stuff. But anything that is confidential like business information, personal information about anyone, any plans that you may be privy to, must all remain completely confidential. Remember that it takes years to build a reputation for integrity in consulting and it takes a single instance to destroy it. It doesn’t matter whether you did it deliberately or accidentally. If you did it, it is a bullet in the forehead. It is instant death. A reputation of high integrity is your best brand, your greatest asset. It is your signature, your key differentiator in the market and it is what you will always be remembered for. I can say with great pride that I have worked with GE from 1994, but have never been asked to sign a NDA (Non-disclosure Agreement). So also with all my other clients. I have never signed an NDA with anyone. Not that I would have refused. If someone has a policy about it, I have no objection to following it. I am saying that nobody ever asked me to do it. As I mentioned earlier, your reputation is your greatest asset. By far greater than anything material. Don’t sell it for love or money. It is simply not worth it. Guard it very zealously and jealously. It will benefit you all your life.

Consulting is hard because it means that someone else must feel that the advice that you will give them is worth paying for. So, it needs hard work, consistent results and extremely good social skills and interpersonal relationships. But like a giant wheel, it is hard work to move it but once it is rolling, it builds momentum on its own.

 I hope this is helpful and gives you a start. We have to work very hard – very, very hard to begin with. That is why passion is important because it will keep going up the long uphill climb when breath is short and burning in the chest, your legs are leaden, your back is a mass of pain and the sweat is pouring off your brow like rain. But you keep climbing because you know what awaits you at the top. To sit on a rock and watch the world at your feet, your face cooled by a gentle breeze and your body slowly relaxing as you gaze down – not up – at the clouds.

Jack Welch, Built to last

Jack Welch, Built to last

My friend since 1994, Carla Fischer, posted a picture of a GE Appliances Blender on LinkedIn with the caption: My parents were given this GE blender 58 years ago as a wedding gift. Today, it made my protein shake like a charm. As we lay Jack Welch to rest this week, I can’t help but think…They just don’t make ’em like they used to. Rest well, sir. You were a force, indeed. #JFWAlumni #changinglives  Later, I found a GE fan in an antique store near Groton, CT. They don’t make them like that anymore, indeed.

They don’t make them like that anymore

Jack Welch passed away at the age of 84, on March 1, 2020. I decided to title my podcast ‘Built to Last’, after Collins & Porras’s book by that title which I consider to be one of the best corporate (or other) leadership books that I have ever read. Jack Welch was ‘built to last’. New York Times has an excellent article on him from which I quote: The company’s revenue jumped nearly fivefold, to $130 billion, during Mr. Welch’s tenure, while the value of its shares on the stock market soared from $14 billion to more than $410 billion. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/02/business/jack-welch-died.html

For a corporate head, that is an accolade enough, but this podcast is not about his corporate success but his ability to touch lives and leave behind memories. I believe that in the final analysis what sets you apart is your ability to leave behind memories. I want to share with you, my memories of Jack Welch and his impact as my tribute to a great man.

My introduction to GE was in 1994 through my dear friend Pratik Roy who was head of training for GE India. He invited me to teach a Team Building session at the LC (Leadership Course), a course that GE Crotonville used to run all over the world. This was a very important and lucky break for me because I had just started my consulting and training company, Yawar Baig & Associates in Bangalore in the same year and needed business. To get not only business but at GE was a huge feather in my cap for which I am most grateful to Pratik. The course was in Goa and had participants from GE Asia as well as India. We had Chinese and Korean participants as well as Indians. At the end of the course the Chinese participants came to me and said, “We like you so much that we have given you a name. This is our tradition for our teachers. Would you accept that?” I was honored and very touched. The name they gave me was Bei-Ya-Shi. The LC, was an education for me in cross-cultural dynamics in training. The trainer team consisted of Carla Fischer (LC Anchor), Russ Merck, Jon Barb and me. Bonnie McIvor, the Head of Training for GE Asia was also there as an observer and we became very good friends.

GE LC, Carla, Jon, Russ and me

On an interesting side note, on the third day of the course, Bonnie, asked me if I would be willing to join GE as a member of the GE Asia Training team. I told her that I had just become an entrepreneur that year after 16 years in the corporate world and though GE would be the No. 1 organization on my list if I were planning to get back to the corporate world, I was not sure if I wanted to do that just then. She asked me if I would be willing to be formally interviewed and if that went well, she would make me an offer and then I could decide. I was more than happy to do that because I thought it would be fun and instructive as well as a privilege to be interviewed by the Head of Training for GE Asia. The interview happened the next day and it was a ‘Behavioural Interview’; a technique which I learnt later and was one of the several training courses that I was certified to run for GE Crotonville. At the end of the interview, which lasted about two hours, Bonnie said to me, “I have no hesitation in offering you the job. Here is the letter with the terms.” I read the letter and was overwhelmed with the job offer. I could see her watching me carefully. I said to her, “Bonnie, I have no words to express my gratitude to you, but I don’t want to kill my entrepreneurial initiative so early after starting it.” She said to me, “I knew you would say that. I am disappointed but I am very happy for you. I was watching to see what you would say. I think you will do very well as an entrepreneur. Of course, we want you to work with GE and so you will. But if you are serious enough to turn down a GE job for your entrepreneurial venture, I can tell you that shows your passion for entrepreneurship. We will continue to use you as a member of our International Leadership Development Team at Crotonville.” I consider that to be one of the finest compliments that I have ever received. And so, it was done, and I have been a Crotonville Trainer ever since.

I hope this story was interesting, but it is not so much a story about me or Bonnie McIvor but about Jack Welch’s focus on developing leadership. In GE everyone in a leadership role was hunting for talent. One eye and one ear were always open to spot talented people who could grow into leadership roles. It is not for nothing that Collins & Porras, in their excellent book, “Built to Last”, call GE’s product, ‘not engineering products but leaders’. In GE, they said, ‘Leadership is stacked like cordwood.’ I bear witness that this was true in Jack Welch’s time. People searched for talent, nurtured it, went out of their way to help talented people perform at their peak and took great delight in others’ success. To give earlier GE leaders their due, this culture of nurturing leadership was not introduced by Jack. He was himself a beneficiary of this culture. But he reinforced and supported it enormously. One of the ways in which this was done was by encouraging dissent but insisting on clear, solution focused thinking. It didn’t matter if your solution was not perfect. What mattered was that you demonstrated application of mind. ‘Yes-men’ were not encouraged in GE and if you disagreed with your boss, you didn’t need to fear his wrath but instead may well get an accolade for your trouble, provided of course that you could demonstrate your sincerity and dedication and thoroughness in presenting your argument. Having said that, we were also taught how to disagree without being disagreeable. You asked for an opportunity to present your view. You did it with dignity, fairness, brevity and clarity. And if your boss still disagreed, you shut up. You didn’t argue with or embarrass him/her in public. In private you could go to him, once more. That’s it. This was not because what you had to say was unreasonable, but given the difference in levels, it is possible that the boss was privy to information which he couldn’t share with you and so couldn’t agree with you and couldn’t tell you why. You respected that and to do so meant that you could understand some of the dilemmas and difficulties of being a leader.

What was not appreciated (and you were told this in no uncertain terms) was if you had not invested enough in your input and couldn’t answer questions. That would be a very costly mistake in GE. We were teaching the NMDC in Atlanta at the Peachtree Resort. As part of the NMDC, teams of participants choose a business idea and present their business plan to a team of GE leaders who specially fly in for that session. In Atlanta, one of the teams didn’t do as thorough a job with their presentation as they were expected to do. One of the leaders in the review panel stopped the speaker in midsentence and said, “You guys have not done your homework. Remember, just because we don’t wear neckties, it doesn’t mean we are not serious.” It was delightful to see the team turning various shades of pink to match the peach blossom outside. But that was a very painful lesson for them to learn. In GE, leadership development was not restricted to the classroom or Crotonville. It was an everyday task for all leaders at all levels, which they took very seriously. The results showed.

At the LC in Goa, in addition to my team building session, I helped Carla with administering the MBTI as a result of which Carla suggested that GE would sponsor me to be certified on the instrument so that I could teach it in GE Crotonville courses. The interesting fact is that I was not even a GE employee and that for someone like me, entering the training world, to be sponsored to this certification was ‘gold’. I was free to use it for my work, no strings attached. I didn’t imagine that such things could happen. Yet Carla suggested it and it was done. That was my first exposure to Jack Welch’s stamp on GE with his philosophy of what he called the ‘Generosity Gene’. He said, ‘Leaders must take delight in seeing others succeed. Not feel resentful because someone else got a promotion or bonus you wanted to get. You must feel happy for them and help them to achieve it, if you are a leader.’ I’ve experienced this many times in GE since 1994.

In 1996, I was asked by the head of training at GE Medical Systems in Bangalore, George Varghese, if I would design and write up a course which if accepted would be taught as a Best Practice Course in GE. He wanted a course positioned between LC and NMDC. I designed a course which we called PDC (Professional Development Course – GE courses were pure gold but didn’t have fancy names) which was a three-day off-site residential course and it was a great success. We would start the day with Yoga which I taught and went through the day until it ended after dinner in a storytelling session around a campfire. I worked with Indira Achanta, Susan Morey and Mohan Raja all through the years that I taught this course. To design and teach my own course, branded as a GE course is a thrill that I am most grateful to George for. One more example of openness in leadership development and of a GE leader helping someone else to succeed.

Another big one was when Manab Bose became the Head of Training and HR at GE India. Manab called me and said, “GE has invited Dennis Encarnation of the Kennedy School of Business to talk about globalization. Would you be interested to attend the session?” That was like asking if I would be interested to accept a gold mine as a gift. Of course, I was interested. Manab then said to me, “The program is in Singapore. GE will pay for your ticket and hotel and full board. But we can’t pay you a fee to attend.” Fee to attend? I wanted to ask Manab to get real. I would have paid, to attend that course, let alone asking for a fee for it. Once again this was Jack Welch’s stamp on GE culture where the belief was, that the only way we could get products and services of the quality we wanted i.e. 6 Sigma, was by training and supporting our service providers. In almost every major Crotonville course that I taught, I almost always had a couple or more participants from GE business partner companies. All in the same spirit.

Dennis Encarnation’s profile says, ‘first joined Harvard University in 1982 as faculty of the Harvard Business School, later moving to the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Business and Government to launch the School’s first Asia Programs. Dennis Encarnation has devoted his professional life to the study and practice of globalization.’ His lecture in Singapore was over three days. On Day-1 one he spoke about business in the Americas. On the second day about Europe and Africa (very little about the latter). And on the last day about Asia. Reflecting on this amazing session, I can see how many of subsequent global developments were ‘foretold’ by Dennis Encarnation in that lecture. That is the hallmark of the scholar and expert and a measure of the depth of his research and his own value addition to the data by his interpretation. I have been very fortunate in my teachers. Dennis’ teaching style was unique. He didn’t use any audio-visual aids. Not even an overhead projector. At the front of the room were arrayed in a semicircle, eight flipchart boards with thick flipchart pads on them. Dennis would hold a thick chisel-tip marker in a ‘dagger stabbing’ grip in his fist in one hand and a mic in the other. And he would run from chart to chart and talk and write in huge letters as if slashing the flipcharts to shreds. He did that continuously with the same high energy for three days in a row. I don’t recommend this style of teaching, unless you are Dennis Encarnation. It worked for him. But then what he had to say was so interesting that if he had spoken while doing summersaults, people would have listened with rapt attention. I owe Manab and the GE culture which enabled me to benefit from this fantastic session.

My trip to be certified for MBTI was memorable. I landed at Dulles, Washington, DC after dark and got to my hotel. Next morning, I looked out of my window at the sunniest, brightest day that I had seen in a long time. I was so enthused with this sight that I simply couldn’t remain inside the room. I did remember that it was winter, so put on a long coat, but it was so sunny and lovely that I had to go out and breathe that air. I stepped out of the door and discovered gravity. One step into the parking lot and I was flat on my back. I had stepped on ‘black ice’ and both my feet flew up in the air and I slammed down on the tarmac like a landing fish. What saved me perhaps was a combination of the padding of the coat, my total surprise so that I didn’t try to save myself by putting out a hand to break my fall and the fact that this was in 1994 when I was 26 years younger than I am today. Somehow my head also didn’t hit the ground and all that I gained was a bruised backside and ego. And a very healthy respect for black ice. That was a very striking welcome to America.

I was certified in MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) at Otto Kroeger Associates in Fairfax, Virginia at the end of a grueling five-day train-the-trainer course and a written exam where the passing mark was 90%. That was Carla’s doing and when I qualified, she gifted me a set of MBTI teaching slides with graphics that she had hand drawn. I was so honored and touched by her gesture of taking pleasure in my success, having facilitated it herself. I still have and use those slides, which I converted to a digital format.

On my return to India, I taught the LC and then later, CELC for GE India in multiple locations including Singapore. I got certified on Facilitative Leadership Skills Workshop (FLSW) and the Behavioral Interviewing Workshop and taught those also. After learning Behavioral Interviewing, I was invited by GE India to interview senior management candidates and give a report to Manab Bose, VP HR for them to decide if they wanted to take it further. I had created a template which I used to report on the candidate. If GE taught you something, they ensured that you used it for them. Great practice and for me as a consultant, it was all good business in my favorite company. While at Crotonville, I attended a wonderful training session on Presentation Skills taught by Bill Lane, who was Jack Welch’s speech writer and presentation skills trainer. Hardly anyone who could teach that course better. The following year, 1995, GE started its foray into 6 Sigma which Jack drove directly and very powerfully. At the Boca Raton meeting that year, speaking to his Top Management Team of VPs and Country Heads, he made statements like, “I will not believe that you have sponsored someone for Black Belt training until you fill his vacancy.” “Yes, it is true that you have a choice, not to sponsor someone for Black Belt training but that will be a career threatening choice.” It was very clear where the future of GE leaders lay as far as 6 Sigma was concerned. To recall Mikel Harry’s quote: ‘If you want to see what someone values, see what they measure’; it was clear to everyone what Jack Welch’s GE valued. And though I sometimes heard people referring to 6 Sigma as ‘sick Sigma’, there was total commitment behind the initiative. If I recall the numbers correctly, GE earmarked $500 million in 1995 over the next five years for 6 Sigma implementation. That was Jack Welch’s style; if you want to do something, put everything you have behind it. All the effort, money, people and passion it needs. Halfhearted, tentative efforts are for people who were not serious about winning. Winners commit. Commitment is the line between wanting and doing. Action was the signature of Jack.

GE, 4 E’s

If there were two things that were the hallmark of Jack, they were his focus and commitment to values and his hatred for bureaucracy. In GE we used to say, “Why values? Because values drive behavior and behavior drives results.” We used to talk about the 4-E’s of GE. Energy, Energizer, Edge and Execute. It is beyond the scope of this article to describe these in detail but what was very valuable learning for me was how GE approached these. When we taught the 4-Es class, we spoke about what each E was and wasn’t. That was a level of clarity which set apart GE’s approach to Core Values. Everyone speaks about Core Values. But almost nobody drills down deep enough to clearly specify what that means and even more importantly what it does not mean. And then go further to specify behaviors that reflect the two. This has huge implications on implementing the values and even more importantly on measuring compliance. Without this clarity about desired behaviors, you can’t have metrics and without metrics you can neither know what is happening nor guarantee it. In GE you could see people living these values. It didn’t matter whether you were employed by GE or not. I was never a GE employee. But if you worked at GE, you lived these values. I did and still do. Not because they are GE values, but because they add value to me, and I love living by them. I think that is the final test of any value – do people who try to live by it, benefit from it? Do they feel that benefit? Do they value the value – if you know what I mean. Living GE values is more about me than about GE. I am sure Jack would have been delighted to know this. It means he did his job well.

Jack Welch took over as the Chairman of GE in 1982 and the first thing he did was to get rid of all non-core businesses.  It got him a level of notoriety, but it worked magic with turning around a company which was already doing well and converting it into a byword in American business. His formula was, ‘Be No. 1 or No. 2 in the world in that business or get out.’ I think that is a brilliant philosophy for anyone. Yes, it was hard on many people but that brings to the fore another of Jack’s favorite maxims about the importance of Edge. The ability to take the tough calls with honesty. It is not about being cruel. It is about being honest. Kindness that allows poor quality or output is really cruelty because you punish those who deliver quality and high output. It is the surest and fastest way to ruin and to retaining losers and losing winners, that I know. To bring about change fast Jack Welch introduced ‘Work-Out™’ and Change Acceleration Process (CAP). In Crotonville there is an amphitheater called ‘The Pit’. That was the stage for ‘Work-Out™’ sessions, both teaching sessions as well as many a time, real Work-Out™ sessions of business teams. The purpose of Work-Out™ was to cut out the bureaucracy. To paraphrase him, Jack would say in effect, ‘It makes no sense to get talented people and then tie them down with twenty rules written by petty minded individuals which frustrate them and spend their energy in coping. Cut out the layers and cut out the rules.’ You get it? But most people outside GE still don’t get it. In a Work-Out™ session the business leader who is the key decision maker would stand in the center of the circle of his people and they would put to him the big change idea that they wanted to do. The leader would listen in silence and then respond. His response, and this was the ‘secret’ of Jack Welch’s strategy to cut the bureaucracy, could only be one of three things: Yes, Need more information, or No. If it was No, he had to give reasons. This was a unique session where anyone of that team, irrespective of rank could directly talk to the topmost manager and expect to get a response. There are many stories of Work-Out™ success but I won’t mention them here. I am sure all my friends at GE can think of at least one that they were involved in. GE was very serious about cutting out bureaucracy and of leveling with people. GE is the only company I know which was as close to being democratic as a corporate organization can be. In GE we had a process called NMA (New Manager Assimilation). In this process any new manager is given about three weeks in his new role. Then his direct reports are asked to give feedback about his style of leadership and their experience of it, anonymously which is collected either by an HR person or an external consultant. This feedback is given to him and then he has a meeting with his direct reports who gave the feedback and responds to them. He doesn’t know who said what but knows that it came from that group. In this meeting he can either promise to change some things that his people find difficult to deal with or he can tell them the reason for that and say that he can’t change that style. In my experience, no matter what he does or doesn’t, the whole exercise results in creating openness and leveling which is very good to build credibility. Difficult issues, if spoken about openly cease to be so difficult and people can make a genuine effort to change themselves.

Jack Welch’s commitment to GE values was total to the point of being cult-like. Collins & Porras mention cult-like cultures as being one of the key ingredients of highly successful corporations. They said that working there was not necessarily pleasant or good for everyone. Only those who believed in the culture and enjoyed living by it, found the atmosphere stimulating and satisfying. The ‘secret’ lay in the degree to which you believed in and lived by the culture. To thrive in a culture like GE (Walmart, Merck and others are also mentioned in Built to Last), you needed to be a ‘Believer’. There was no place for those who were lukewarm in their belief. The foundation of GE culture was integrity. There was no compromise with integrity. It didn’t matter where you were located. You could be in a country that was corrupt but you as a GE person couldn’t succumb to that, no matter what the cost. Stories of employees who stood for integrity were applauded and publicized. Jack Welch made statements like, “If a person doesn’t deliver the numbers, give him one more chance. One more only but give it to him. But if a person compromises integrity to get the numbers, hunt him down and axe him out.” Over the years, I have seen some GE people go against this value and both they and GE suffered. Welch was right. Integrity is like pregnancy. You are or you are not. You can’t be slightly pregnant. You have integrity or you don’t. Integrity is not negotiable. That above all else is the reason I think of Jack Welch with respect. Not for the numbers, but for the way in which he got them.

NMDC certificate

For the last of my stories, I was invited in 1997 to Crotonville to audit and be certified on a GE flagship course called NMDC (New Manager’s Development Course). I landed at JFK airport and had a limousine waiting for me. We drove to Crotonville and as we neared the final turn off into the driveway, the limo driver called the Front Desk on his car phone. As we drove up to the porch of the hotel in Crotonville, I was met by a young lady at the foot of the stairway. She walked me up and I signed a card at the reception and then she walked me to my room. The room was huge, with an attached bathroom to match. She opened the fridge and said to me, “Everything here is for you. Please feel free to eat and drink any of these things. The stock is replenished daily. If you need anything else, please call us at the Front Desk and it will be sent up to you. The phone is for your use. It is an international line and you can call anywhere in the world. Everything is paid for, so please feel free to call.” I made one call, to my wife in India to tell her that I had arrived safely. As I said, I was getting a taste of what GE meant about walking the talk. The next day, I met my friend Carla Fischer who was my anchor person at Crotonville. I told her about my reception the previous night and how much I appreciated the out-of-the-way courtesy. She simply said, “Yawar, we value our teachers.” Over the decades that I have spent with GE and having taught over five thousand GE employees in many countries, one thing that never changed was the way GE treats its teachers. It is a pleasure and privilege to teach at GE and money is the last of the reasons I do it.

The NMDC began next morning. I am not going into any details of the course here. But on the last day, we heard the thump of a helicopter rotor. A twin-rotor corporate helicopter landed and Jack Welch stepped out. We knew he was coming and that he would address this class but still to actually see the man in flesh was something I recall to this day. He stepped out of the helicopter with his coat on his arm and his briefcase in the other hand. No reception committees, nobody running interference ahead of him or hovering behind him. Just Jack Welch and his bag. He walked into the facility, hung up his coat and spoke to the class, sitting on the edge of the table. This was the last session for the day and then we all went across to the restaurant for cocktails with the Chairman. I was introduced to him, shook his hand and didn’t wash my hand for the rest of the day, so that some of Jack Welch would rub off on me. This is another story of my initiation into American culture which I found to be very different from the feudal corporate culture in India.

NMDC class photo – spot me, dead center, top row

It was a blustery cold wet night and Jack’s pilot decided that it was not safe to fly back to the city, so Jack stayed the night at Crotonville. I asked Carla, “Where is he staying?” She looked surprised and said, “In the same hotel that you are staying.” I asked, “O! Is there a Chairman’s suite in the hotel?” She laughed and said, “He will be in a room exactly like yours, maybe even next to yours. All our rooms are Chairman quality.” And they were. As I said, a man is remembered for the memories he leaves behind. Jack Welch left many with many people across the world. All of us, sorry to see him go. The end of an era in truth.

Stand, if you’re alive

Stand, if you’re alive

Have you ever seen an eagle take a duck in flight? Or a leopard bring down a wildebeest running with his herd? Or Rafael Nadal return a serve? They all have one thing in common and that is FOCUS. You may be impressed by the fact that these three are focusing on their target. But stop for a minute to ask how they can do it. They do it by ignoring everyone and everything else. So I say to you, “Focus is the art of ignoring fluff.” Everything other than your target is fluff. 


What’s the difference between ordinary light and laser? Focus. One, at best, illuminates. The other cuts through steel. So if you want to succeed, FOCUS.
Keep five things in mind:

1.      Always be thankful. It is true that we succeed by our own efforts but it is good to remember that some of them were made standing on someone else’s shoulders.  And they helped us when they didn’t need us and without expectation of reward. Don’t forget them because without them you would still be crawling. The biggest fallacy is the so-called ‘self-made man or woman.’ There’s no such thing. We are all the products of the Grace of God, of our time, environment, nation, family, friends – of all those who stopped by to lend a hand. To every one of them we owe a debt which must be repaid. So always be thankful and express thanks. People are not mind readers and even mind readers like to hear it from you. So tell them. Thankfulness increases blessings, opens new doors, inspires people to do things for you and increases your circle of influence. Thankfulness also fills your own heart with joy. Try it and see.

2.     Never compromise your legacy. Never lose sight of your purpose. Ask, ‘Why am I here?’ Write it down and stick it on your wall. Look at it every morning and re-dedicate yourself to that. Stick to that. There will be times when all sorts of other things will seek priority. Different issues will demand importance. Friends will pull in various directions. At such times look at your purpose and know that everything else must be subordinated to that if you are serious about success. Ask, ‘What do I want to be remembered for?’ Focus is the art of ignoring fluff.

3.     Everyone has friends. The worst of them and the best of them, all have friends. Ask Mother Teresa and ask any drug dealer or pickpocket. They all have friends. The key is to have the right kind of friends. Who is the right friend? Someone you can look up to. Someone you can learn from. Someone who challenges you to be your best. Someone who tells you what you need to hear, not only what you want to hear. So it is not how many friends you have but who those friends are, which is important. Also ask, ‘What kind of friend am I to my friends?’ Do you measure up to the same criteria? Being a leader means to take hard decisions and not follow the herd. Sheep have lots of company all the way to the abattoir.

4.     No one walks alone: Every one of us is a reflection of his family, community, nation and humanity. We are never alone. Everything we choose to do or choose not to do, reflects brand value and character. Character is the tree and fame is its shadow. But of the two only the tree is real. So judge every action not only by whether it pleases you but by how it will reflect on your parents, family and nation. And most importantly how it reflects on humanity. We are human because of our values alone. That is what distinguishes us from animals. So focus on values. Compassion supercedes them all. Do to others better than what you would have them do to you. That is the Platinum Rule. A picture is worth a thousand words. An action is worth a million.

5.     Finally remember that popularity doesn’t matter: So never buckle under the pressure of popularity. It doesn’t matter at all. Dr. Rene Favaloro invented the technique and performed the first bypass surgery in 1967. Michael Jackson began his solo career in 1971 (he made his debut in 1964). Who was more popular? Whose contribution has more value? So think contribution, not popularity. In our world today, if you stand up against injustice, oppression, cruelty and discrimination, you will be very unpopular. But the world owes a debt of gratitude to those who do. Otherwise oppressors would rule unchallenged. Peace as defined by oppressors has always been, ‘Absence of resistance to my oppression.’ But history is witness that it is thanks to those who disturbed that peace that we abolished slavery, have human dignity and continue to fight for freedom. So it is not whether you won or lost which matters. What matters is which side you fought on. Pick your side for you will be known by it. That is your signature.

We confuse earning a living with living itself. Life is not only about earning a living. Life is about something much more important than earning a living or making money. Life is about living with honor and about leaving a legacy to be remembered by. Life is not about competition but about leaving an impact on the hearts of others. Life is not about consumption but about contribution. Because privilege comes with territory and contribution defines territory.

I want to share with you three points you must never lose focus of, if you want to live this kind of life where you will be influential while you live and remembered after you’re gone. 

The three points in one sentence: Stand for justice, with compassion and courage.

Remember that all goodness begins with justice. Justice means you give everything it’s due. To respect elders, to be kind to the young and weak, to stand up against oppression, to help someone in need, to comfort someone in grief, to walk the path that others don’t want to, are all signs that you are focused on justice. Look into your life from time to time to see if you’re still on the path to establish justice.

Remember that what’s legal and what’s right are not always the same. Slavery was legal. Colonialism was legal. Racial and religious discrimination and segregation was legal. Apartheid was legal. The Holocaust was legal. Disparity of wages for men and women was and sadly still is legal. But not a single one of them is right or just. To fight against these or not is your choice and your meter to show whether you’re still on the path of justice.

Compassion or mercy is the foundation. It is the bedrock in which justice is rooted. If that cracks or dies then justice dies with it. Justice without mercy is cruelty with a mask. Compassion is the result of empathy. It happens when we see ourselves in the position of others, not with pity for them but with gratitude at having been spared that test. That’s when we start to see life through their lens and understand that we were not created to be spectators but to be players in the game. You win that game also in the same way, by helping each other, taking care of each other and protecting each other. Knowing that a culture of compassion is our best safety net. You help them not because they need that help but because you need it more.

Finally and most importantly, the single most critical quality that enables compassion to sustain and justice to thrive; is courage. 

Courage is not the absence of fear but the willingness to continue. Courage is what enables us to put self interest behind and stand up for the rights of others because we understand their pain and are willing to take the pain to alleviate their suffering. That’s justice. And courage enables it to be established.

Courage is honor. Courage is to stand up for the truth even if I stand alone. Courage is to stand up for the truth, especially if I stand alone. Courage is to ask, “If not now, then when? If not me, then who?” Courage is to know that it doesn’t matter whether we win or lose the battle. What matters is which side we fought on. We all live and we will all die. Every single one of us will die one day. That doesn’t matter. What matters is how we live and how we die.

In the famous words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: 
“Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But Conscience asks the question ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.”

Remember, in the end, that it is all that you choose to do or choose not to do, which defines your brand value and character. And that, defines your future.

Remember, in the end, that it is all that you choose to do or choose not to do, which defines your brand value and character. And that, defines your future.

So remember to always stand for justice, with compassion and courage.
I wish you every great dream in life and the courage to make it come true.

For he was a man

For he was a man

My house in Kwakwani, Rio Berbice (1979-83)

I started my corporate career in Guyana with the Guyana Mining Enterprise in Kwakwani, on the Rio Berbice. Kwakwani was a small mining town, hanging on the bank of the Berbice River trying not to get pushed into its deep and dark waters by an aggressively advancing forest. Living in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest with no family and only a Scarlet Macaw and sundry chickens, turkeys and a series of wild animals as pets may not be the normal youngster’s dream job, but it was mine. I lived on Staff Hill, in a small bungalow with three bedrooms, a living/dining room and kitchen and a veranda on two sides. Facing the bungalow was an orange orchard that ended in the brooding mass of the wall of the rain forest. Behind and surrounding the bungalow was a large open field ending in the wall of the rain forest once again. Living in the middle of the rain forest meant just that; you had the forest surrounding you.

Me in my hammock in my yard, with the orange orchard and forest visible

I would sit on my veranda in the evenings after the sun had gone down and I had had my dinner. In the days and places without TV or mobile phones, you had time to relax, watch the world go by and simply be in sync with your surroundings. The forest is not a silent place. Forests breathe and speak and are visibly and audibly alive. Even if you don’t know their language – and it differs from place to place – you can still hear them. I could hear Macaws talking to each other as they headed home. They pair for life and have great conversations. Lesson: conversation is essential to a good marriage. Then there are the smells. The smell of the first rain after the dry season. The smell of the markings on trees of territorial creatures which are meant to warn away potential threats. The smell of vegetation, growing or decomposing. When you sit quietly in a forest and let it talk to you, it does. Gently and gradually. Naturally, it takes a little while because first our ears must stop buzzing with the residue of our own noisy, raucous sounds of so-called civilization. They try to drown out everything that the forest is trying to tell you. But if you are patient and give it some time, then gradually the buzzing fades away and you start to hear the breeze rustling in the leaves. You hear water dropping from the top levels onto the canopy below. You hear the occasional ripe fruit or dry branch fall to the floor, to become either food or manure. You learn to tell the difference between a sound made by a living creature – which may be potentially dangerous or useful – and the sound of something that is not a living creature. The forest speaks to you in the voices of the Howler Monkeys announcing that the dawn has broken and, in the evening, that the night has fallen, and they are signing off for the day. Toucans, Parakeets and Macaws talking to each other as they fly, feed and roost. It speaks to you in the rustle of the oncoming deluge which you can hear advancing towards you, not threatening but announcing its progress so that you can take shelter. The wind rustling the treetops sometimes sounds like the waves of the ocean. You will hear all this, and more will happen if you give it some time, are observant, and are willing to learn. I was thrilled to be there. There was nowhere else that I would rather be.

Nick and I on the Kwakwani Trail in Prime Minister Sam Hind’s car (1997)

My first boss, Mr. James Nicholas Adams (Nick Adams) was the Administrative Manager of Kwakwani and I was his Assistant Manager. Nick was my manager but even more he was my mentor and guide. Although he was technically in charge of the whole operation, he let me run it the way I wanted and that was a tremendous learning opportunity for me. Nick had a unique way of teaching by delegating responsibility and then periodically calling me to do a participative analysis of my own performance. He would then reinforce the strengths and achievements and encourage me to draw lessons from my mistakes. I remember my first ever appraisal in 1980. Nick gave me the form and told me to fill it in myself. I was shocked because I thought appraising was something that the boss did of your work. But Nick said, ‘You know what you did better than I do. So, write it up.’ I returned with what I thought were my achievements and then Nick and I had a long chat about them. Thanks to my Indian cultural upbringing, Nick ended up adding several things that I had left out feeling that they didn’t really count. I still have that form with Nick’s signature on it, decades later.

In Kwakwani, I was the youngest member of the Management Team, sometimes by decades. As the Assistant Administrative Manager, it was part of my responsibility to look after the logistics in the entire mining town. There were department heads over whom I had no formal authority, but whose cooperation I needed to get anything done. Some were twice my age and Guyanese and members of the PNC (People’s National Congress – the ruling party in Guyana), while I was a young foreigner. I learnt, very practically, that the best way to make progress was to develop a relationship based on sincerity as that would be the only thing that you could count on, especially in hard times. I remember how Nick Adams used to put it. He’d say, “A relationship is like a bank account. You only have in it, what you put in. And when you need to draw on it, you only have as much as you put in.” That is one of the lessons I learnt in my life and which has stayed with me all these years. That is one of the many lessons that I owe to Nick. Another was in hospitality and consideration. The first time it happened I was astonished. Then it became a regular feature. One weekend Nick called me and asked me to go over to his place. When I walked over, I saw that he had a pen full of live chickens (about 10-12 in all) and a knife. He said to me, “Ya-waar, can you please slaughter these in your way? I will put them in the freezer so that we are sure we give you these when you come over to our place to eat.” Nick and his lovely wife Kathleen knew that I was Muslim and would eat only meat that was slaughtered according to the rules of Halal. So, they made sure that not only was what they gave me Halal but that I would have total confidence in that. What better way than to let me do it myself? 

One of Nick’s biggest strengths was his communication; both its clarity and wisdom. I recall an amusing but very instructive incident which illustrates the challenges we faced and how Nick dealt with them. Guyana had recently become independent and was ruled by the PNC (People’s National Congress) which was socialist/communist. The President of Guyana was the very powerful and iconic, Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham (1923 – 1985). Communism/socialism was the prevalent ideology. We addressed each other as ‘Comrade’. I was Comrade (written Cde.) Baig. Bauxite mining was the major economic activity in Guyana and just before I landed there in 1979, the government had nationalized the bauxite mining and calcining operation. One inevitable and tragic result was that people were appointed and promoted more for ideological loyalty than for professional competence. Another result was that the Guyana Mine Workers Union became very strong. Guymine (used to be called Guybau) had 5000 workers and all were members of the GMWU. The Union was run by its General Secretary, Stephen Louis, a huge big man with a voice to match.

One effect of the nationalization and heightened union activity was frequent work stoppages on all kinds of frivolous matters. Then we would meet to discuss Terms of Resumption and arrive at a settlement. The meetings were contests of will, to see who would break down first. The meetings were very important because if we couldn’t arrive at a settlement the issue would go to Arbitration before the Minister of Mines whose other role was as the President of the Union. The typical Terms of Resumption meeting would go straight through for anything ranging from 24 – 72 hours, with short breaks of usually an hour or two to stretch our legs and eat something. Naturally patience was tough to maintain, and tempers would get frayed. This incident relates to one such meeting.

I can’t recall what the issue was, for which the Union had called for a Tools Down. We started the meeting at 8.00 pm and it continued through the night into the next morning. We took a break of about 2 hours to take a shower and have breakfast. Then back in the meeting until 8.00 pm that night. Then a break for dinner and back again through the night. Stephen Louis was holding forth at full strength, his voice resonating and bouncing off the ceiling and walls; my first experience of surround sound. The only option we had was to listen. Our team had Nick as its head and me and another young man from IR (Industrial Relations), who we shall call Jacob (not his real name). Late that night, well past midnight, Jacob’s patience snapped. Stephen Louis had been going on and on about the ideological differences between socialist and capitalist ideologies and why the socialist ideology to which the PNC and the GMWU were committed was superior. Jacob said, ‘Man! Stephen, talk sense man.’ It was as if he had shot Stephen in the head. Stephen stopped in mid-sentence. Turned slowly to face Jacob and said, ‘Boy! (pronounced Bye) Jaykie, waya seh! Talk sense. Like me na takin sense? Ya tink a-we takin nansense? All dis time we bina trying to come to a settlemen and dis Bye seh we bina talkin nansense? Eh!’

The situation was as close to sitting on a powder keg with the fuse burning as I care to remember. In another two seconds, the Union would have walked out and hours and hours of work would have gone down the drain. We would have had to begin again with the additional problem of dealing with bruised egos as a result of good old Jaykie’s comment. That’s when I saw how quick thinking and experience makes a difference. Nick called out, ‘Hol-an, Hol-an man Stephen. De Bye na seh, Leh we talk sense. He seh, Leh we talk dallar and cents. Leh we talk moe-ney! Leh we do dat man. Nof-of dis ideology thing. Leh we decide and go to bed.’

I swear, I saw relief on Stephen Loius’s face. He say, ‘Ah! Ya, leh we do da.’ And we did. We finished as the day was breaking and as we left the room, Stephen came up behind Jacob, affectionately grabbed him by the back of his neck and said, ‘De man Nick don save yar aas. You know waya seh, eh! And I know wa I hear! But Nick don save a-we. If not, dis meeting was gonna go on for noder two days. Watch ya tongue Bye. It can geh you into trouble. And you won’ have Nick to bail you out next time.’ That is where I learnt human relations. In a very tough environment but where even our antagonists took time out to unofficially mentor youngsters.

My last story about Nick. I heard this story from his son Owen Shaka Abubakr Adams. When Nick was a young man, and lived in Linden, Demarara, he received a summons from a court in Corentyn which is at the northern border of Guyana, with Suriname; a distance of about 400 kilometers. To go there in those days (1950’s?) must have been an expedition. Nick had no idea why he had been summoned. But he went. When he arrived at the court, his name was called, and the judge asked him to come forward. As Nick was walking down the aisle, he heard a woman’s voice, ‘He is not the man.’ Nick turned to see a young woman with a baby.

The judge told the lady, ‘Look carefully at him. This is Nick Adams. Is he the man?’ The lady said, ‘He is not the man. This is someone else.’

When Nick asked, the judge said to him, ‘A man by your name, got this lady pregnant and now that she has a baby, he has disappeared. Anyway, this is not your problem, so you can go home.’

Nick said to the judge, ‘Your Honor, I would like to request you to please arrange for the maintenance of this child to be deducted from my salary.’

The judge was astonished. ‘Do you know this lady?’

Nick said, ‘No, Your Honor, I don’t. I am seeing her for the first time today.’ ‘Then why are you offering to pay for the maintenance of the child?’ asked the judge. ‘It is not your responsibility. This matter doesn’t concern you.’

Nick replied, ‘But the child needs to eat, Your Honor. Someone must pay for that. I am willing to do that.’

For the next 18 years, Nick Adams paid maintenance for a child that was not his own. He saw the mother, that one time in court and never saw the mother or child again. But month after month, year after year for 18 years, Nick Adams paid for a child because he had compassion in his heart.

His Rabb was no less compassionate. So many decades later, maybe even 60 years later, Nick Adams who was by then suffering from cancer, one week before his death, accepted Islam along with his wife and sister in law.

The happiest ending; or I should say, the happiest latest story, to my Guyana times was when I got the news in 2011 that Nick Adams and his wife Kathleen had accepted Islam. Nick was terminally ill with cancer at the time and died a couple of weeks later. I hope one day to meet my friend once again in Jannah. He died sinless and pure and I ask Allahﷻ for His Mercy and Grace for my dear friend to whom I owe so much. 

Become a rock in the foundation

Become a rock in the foundation

I want to begin by saying that today I am truly proud that my nation, India, is still a democracy and that we the people of India are people with courage and the willingness to stand up for each other. Frankly, going by our recent history and the rapid polarization of our society and proliferation of hate speech and hate politics, I never thought I would see the day when Hindus, Sikhs and Christians would stand shoulder to shoulder with their Muslim brothers and sisters to protect them and their rights. Truly it is said that injustice can’t be removed until those who are not affected by it are willing to stand up against it. Injustice to one is injustice to all. The people of India have demonstrated that they are willing to stand against injustice even when it doesn’t affect some of them directly. The biggest and most powerful message in all this is that it is our youth, students in our universities who have taken the lead and shown us the way to go. This message is primarily addressed to them, to students, to youth, to the millennials and their children. Because the future is theirs. They inherited the world that we, my generation, created. They are the victims of our follies, greed, shortsightedness and ignorance. But all power to them, they decided to take their future in their own hands and break the vicious cycle that we bequeathed to them. They did what we (at least I) never dreamt that they would do. The best that we can do is to stand with them, so that when history is written it will at least be said that we tried to clean the mess we made.

The first thing to understand is that this CAA+NRC is the best thing that could have happened to India at this stage. We had become a rapidly polarized, fascist, extremist society with the voices of the ‘silent’ majority conspicuous by their silence while the strident and raucous screech of hate speech was echoing off the walls of our collective conscience. Then came the law; CAA and the threat of NRC to disenfranchise those who are already dehumanized and demonized. Liberals felt bad about this. But the problem with all Liberals anywhere is that they have no clear cause; no point of focus for their energy, intellect and emotion. They are just a bunch of ‘nice people’. That is no good because in today’s politics and especially in hate politics which feeds fascism, they are rendered totally ineffective. CAA+NRC gave them a focus, a rallying point, a goal to achieve. It suddenly made speaking out worthwhile. And we are seeing the result.

If you study the South African freedom struggle you will see that it is only when Apartheid became law with all its draconian elements that the struggle started. Whites have always discriminated against people of color from the time Allahﷻ gave color to some and took it away from others. But how many ‘freedom’ struggles do you see against that? Except when there are laws created to legitimize and legalize the crime that is Apartheid. That is what has happened today. The BJP/RSS gave us, the People of India, a goal. And that goal is to abolish this and all such laws, to abolish hatred, to abolish all those who preach hatred. Never lose sight of that. Never allow anyone to divide you ever again, or you will sink back into the cesspit and your oppressors will rule the roost. Remember, that they will never make the same mistake again. This is your chance. This is your only chance. This is your last chance before the abyss of darkness.

This is like a staring match. Whoever blinks or looks away first, loses. If you never tried a staring match, try it. You will see that as time passes it gets more and more tough. Your eyes start to water, then burn and it is so easy to look away or blink. But remember that it is also getting tougher for the other person. So, you don’t have to be the toughest in the world. You just have to be tougher than your opponent. In this case, only if civil society is relentless and opposition parties join in will something happen. Force the hands of the opposition parties. You voted for them. This is collection time. Don’t let any sit on the fence. They must choose between you or the BJP. Meet their leaders. Demand that they meet you. No games. Let them declare that they are against CAA+NRC. Many opposition leaders have done so. Force those who have not done so yet, to do so right away. Don’t rest and don’t let them rest until they declare that they will not implement the NRC in their states. These are YOUR states. Not THEIR states. They and all our politicians must be made to realize that they are elected representatives of the people, who remain where they are at the whim of the people. They are not hereditary monarchs, though they like to act like that. Remind them.

The rulers have initiated the NPR which is the first step. They will implement NRC at an appropriate time later. Make no mistake about that.

Another very important thing: Get the police who are trying to break up the peaceful protests, violently, to understand that you are fighting for them also. When they beat you, they are beating the only friends they have in the land. Tell them (let your posters say that and say this in your speeches; address them directly) that when the NRC is implemented, it is their families, brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts who will also have to stand in line and if they have no papers, they will also go to detention camps. Just because someone in their family is a cop, won’t save them.

A screenshot of a cell phone  Description automatically generated

Final important thing and maybe the most important: Keep repeating the fact that the people who this NRC will harm the most are the Hindu majority. It is their tax money which will be (is being) used to build the camps. It is their taxes which will feed the detainees forever, because they can’t be deported anywhere. The disruption to the economy and the loss of jobs, investment, production, services and peace that is happening is harming them the most because they are the majority. The myth of a Muslim Mukt India where every Hindu will be a king is rubbish. Total nonsense which is taking the lives and livelihoods of Hindus and Muslims alike. Emphasize this.The most critical thing to do is to keep the protests going for the next four years and ensure that hate mongers lose the general election. Meanwhile they’ll up the stakes and become more draconian and tighten the screws to try to break all resistance. No mercy will be shown because they want to make an example of whoever resists to discourage and break the spirit of others. Your main challenge will be to convince the wealthy that they’re in a life-threatening situation and need to invest in their own safety. They need to change their lifestyles and need to spend on funding the fight for freedom instead of their holidays, weddings and gana parties. That’s the biggest challenge.

Don’t look to your elders for leadership. They’re the reason you’re in this mess. They have no clue what to do. All our traditional leaders have failed. They’re a part of the cancer. You need new leaders who are untainted by the diseases of deliberate ignorance, cowardice, selfishness, corruption and greed. There may be exceptions among your elders, but exceptions prove the rule. So, don’t waste your time with them. If you follow them, they’ll squander your lives, and energy to save their own skins. You’ll get nothing from them that can be of any use to you.

Your great strength is that you are alone, unencumbered, unfettered. Rejoice, chart your own path, make mistakes, fall, but get up. Always get up. Alternatively, look to your elders, get infected with their fatal diseases, pick up their baggage, struggle for their ends, and die a futile death, knowing in your last moments that you did it to yourselves. You had a chance, but you blew it away. Your choice. Learn to stand on your own feet. Learn to think. Curse your own stupidity about not reading, especially history, not reflecting or thinking, being addicted to social media and being more interested in cricket and football than in your own future. That’s why your future is a football for others. You and your generation are not innocent either. You’re fools but not evil. So, wake up before it’s too late.

The critical thing is to keep the students on the street long enough to make a difference. It’s a battle of attrition in which the one who can take the loss wins. It’s that simple to define. It will be brutal. No quarter will be given. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that it will be easy or quick. It won’t. You’ve seen nothing yet. But if there’s consistency and perseverance, you students will win. That also I have no doubt about.

Get students across the world enrolled into your cause. Let there be demonstrations in global universities; not once but every week. They live in countries where they can protest without fear. Tell them to let their voices resound across national boundaries and wake up dead consciences. Let questions be asked in Parliaments and Assemblies across the world. Let cases be filed in the International Court of Justice. Let voices be raised in the United Nations. Let international media raise their voice. Let Heads of State who like to talk about justice summon the Indian Ambassadors in their countries and ask them what is going on. Put pressure on Indians abroad to stand up for justice. It is international pressure that won freedom from apartheid in South Africa. CAA+NRC is Apartheid. NPR is the first step towards it.

Let people everywhere understand that these steps to create a fascist, apartheid state based on Hindu supremacy calls for crucial funds to be spent in useless exercises to divide, discriminate against and oppress people instead of on education, production, creating employment opportunities and well-being. That is what the world must know and realize. Remind them that a nation which is embroiled in controversy and turmoil is a dead duck for investment and development. A nation which is spending money on building concentration camps instead of homes for the homeless is not a safe place to invest. Nobody cares about justice. Everybody cares about money. So, speak to them in the language they understand.

The time has come to face the brutal facts but never to lose hope. Take charge of your lives. The one who controls the narrative, wins the debate. Never give up your ethics and values. You must never do what the others do or act or speak in the way they do. They must not drive your narrative. They must not direct your behavior. They’re not your teachers. Think of any great revolution and try to name ten people who participated in it. I bet you, you can’t. But you and I know that it succeeded because there were a lot more than ten people involved. What happened to them? What did they gain? How did they continue to work even though many or most never saw success? It succeeded because they were the foundation stones. Without them it would have failed. If every stone wants to be on the façade there will be no building.

The question is, ‘Do you want the building, or do you want to be on the façade?’

Get ready to go into the ground like the stones in the foundation for the building to be built over you. Nobody will know you lived except the One who created you. And that’s enough.

Or get ready to spend the rest of your lives as slaves. The future is yours, not ours. Make of it whatever you wish, because you are going to live in it. You and your children.

Mentoring is a contact sport

Mentoring is a contact sport

Mentoring is the in-thing today. There seems to be a profusion of those who want to or believe they can mentor others. The interesting thing is the name for the one who wants to be mentored. It is ‘mentee’. I tell anyone who wants to be mentored by me, ‘If you are demented enough to want me as your mentor, you will thenceforth be known as ‘mental’. I say this only partly in jest. Partly because most of the people that I have met in this context live under all sorts of romantic notions about what mentoring is and what the ‘ideal’ mentor should be like. Then, when they encounter someone like me, who may not fit their imaginary model, they are dissatisfied and try to change me to fit their fantasy. Needless to say, that never happens, and we part company.

The best thing in life is to start your career under a hard taskmaster. Anyone can teach you what to do. But hard taskmasters teach you standards. That is the biggest favor that anyone can do for you. Mentoring is perhaps the single most powerful evidence of love that one can wish for. The mentor is sharing his hard-earned life experience to teach you lessons that will help you all your life. And you get to learn those lessons relatively free of cost. I say ‘relatively’ because there is always a token cost to pay, but that goes with the territory and adds value because you can appreciate that you got something worthwhile. I don’t mean the fee you may pay a mentor but the pain of learning.

Uncle Rama & I (with a pillow over my head) taking our siesta

It was 1972 and I was 17 years old. As usual, I was in Sethpally with Uncle Rama on his farmhouse on the bank of the Kadam River. Farmhouse is a fancy word to describe one of the simplest homes that I have ever seen or lived in. In which lived a man who could afford something a thousand times better but didn’t because he didn’t care about material things and loved to live a simple life. The house was rectangular in shape with a central room which was also a passage to go from the veranda in front to the kitchen at the back. This central room had a square table with four chairs around it. It was supposed to be the dining room, but we never ate in it. The table was used as a surface to put anything we wanted handy. To one side in this room was a Westinghouse kerosene refrigerator in which we sometimes made ice cream. On either side of this central room were two equally sized rooms with windows in the outer walls. One looking out to the veranda in front and the other to the side of the house. In the front was a wide veranda that ran the whole length of the house. There was a two feet wide and three feet high parapet wall that enclosed the veranda. It acted as additional seating and a place to rest your feet and lean back in your chair, balancing it on its hind legs. On one side of the dining room door opening into the veranda was a long table with a bench on one side and the parapet wall as the seating, on the other. There were some rope cots on the other side of the veranda. All our meals, and most of our conversation was around this table on the veranda.  

A rare picture of the Sethpally farmhouse

If you walked through the front door, across the dining room you would emerge on the back veranda on one side of which was the kitchen and on the other the bath-room. I am writing that deliberately as two words to emphasize that it was a room in which you bathed only. There was no toilet in it. You bathed in it if you didn’t want to bathe at the well in the fields a good bit away from the house. That was more fun, especially in the summer as you could look across the river to the jungle on the other side or at the low hills of the Sahyadri in the distance. The well had a low parapet wall all around and a paved apron.

I would stand on that apron in my lungi and Shivaiyya or whoever happened to be handy, would draw water out of the well in a bucket and pour it over my head. I would then soap myself thoroughly and my friend (these were Uncle Rama’s servants but were my friends with whom I used to wander around the jungles) would pour another bucket or two of water and my bath was done. The indoor bathroom was for the winter when it tended to get too cold to bathe outdoors. In winter Kishta would heat water and put half a bucket each of cold and hot water in the bath-room and I would mix the two to my liking and bathe indoors.

What about the toilet, you ask? Well, you took water in a lota (a pot-shaped utensil) and headed for wherever you liked where you could commune with nature, undisturbed. Then you dug a small hole in the earth, put two rocks or bricks on either side of it and squatted. After you had made your deposit, all the while enjoying the view, you washed yourself and filled in the hole. Organic manure and urea, great source of nitrogen for whatever was growing there. Hygienic, no smell and nothing you could step in.

Uncle Rama

It was summer and I had been out the whole day. My routine was usually that I would leave the house at first light, having eaten a hearty breakfast of chapatties, eggs and a large mug of tea laced with plenty of sugar (I used to take sugar in my tea in those days) and go across the Kadam River into the forest. I would usually walk but on occasion Shivaiyya would take me in his bullock cart. The bullock cart is the most versatile vehicle known to man and can do everything except climb trees. Of course, it doesn’t have springs or shock absorbers and that is hard on your back and bones, but not when you are 17. On that day, Shivaiyya and I set off in the morning and took a long route that was a huge circle which would bring us back to the river in the evening. Summer days are long and so we had plenty of time. I was carrying a 7.62 Mauser bolt action carbine rifle with a 5-shot magazine and Shivaiyya was carrying a .22 BRNO rifle. Here is some history of these very versatile weapon. https://jggunsmith.wordpress.com/2019/09/30/a-bit-about-brno-22-rifles/ Shivaiyya was my gunbearer, guide and pal, all in one. I usually took two weapons, alternating between the 7.62 (which we called ‘8mm’ for short) and a 12-gauge shotgun, depending on what I planned to look for that day. Hunting was never my priority. My abiding love was and is to simply be in the forest and watch wildlife in action in their natural habitat.

Blue bull (Nilgai) male

As it was, we were running out of meat and Uncle Rama told me to get a young Chital (Axis or Spotted deer – Axis axis) or Blue bull (Nilgai – Boselaphus tragocamelus) if I could, so I took the carbine. The .22 BRNO was for any small game like hare, duck or jungle fowl which if shot with the carbine would simply disintegrate and be worthless for the table. I carried the carbine as our first priority was the bigger animal, which if we shot anything else, would be disturbed with the sound and run away. The .22 was for the way back or at least for after I had shot the main quarry for the day.

It was a very hot day in the summer. Summer in the Sahyadri can be extremely hot with temperatures in excess of 45 Celsius. The deciduous forest in the foothills leading to the Kadam River is mostly teak, with a sprinkling of other species. In some places there were large clumps of bamboo. All these shed their leaves in summer and so the forest floor is carpeted with dry leaves. That makes moving noiselessly impossible. As you walk the leaves crumble loudly and make a racket loud enough to wake the dead. I walked ahead of Shivaiyya who sometimes guided me from behind. Either he would speak in a very low voice, just a word or two to ask me to either be careful or to turn one way or another. Or he would click his tongue or whistle if there was some animal or bird that he had seen but which I had missed. That didn’t happen very often, as I was very alert and trained in woodcraft by the greatest experts that I have ever known; Nawab Nazir Yar Jung and Uncle Rama (Mr. Venkat Rama Reddy).

From them I learned above all, respect for the forest and all those who live in it. Respect is the most important thing to learn, because it enables you to appreciate your surroundings. That means that you are not careless but take care to ensure that you don’t cause any damage to anything animate or inanimate. When you act like that, you automatically keep yourself safe. The second thing I learned was about the animals and plants of the place. I learned the names of plants and trees, what they are used for, where they grow, the seasons in which they change, what that indicates for us. I learned about their flowers and fruit and what they can be used for. For example, I learned about the Mahua flower, which is used to distill alcohol, and which is fleshy and sweet, and so when the Mahua is flowering, it attracts every bird and monkey in the vicinity. As they feed on the flower, they drop as much or more than they eat. That attracts bears, deer, Gaur and where they exist, elephants. In the Sahyadri there are no elephants but everything else is there.

Leopard hunting Langur in the trees

There are Banyan trees and other fig species which are a magnet for birds of all feather. There is the Beedi leaf tree, the Katha tree (Katha is made from its bark – that’s the brown stuff in Paan). There’s Strangler Fig, Lantana with its thick intertwined branches with small vicious thorns that are impenetrable. But beneath them, they form the ideal habitat for small animals and birds; mainly Grey Jungle Fowl and Wild boar. It is a funny sight to see Grey Jungle Fowl jumping up to reach the Lantana berries. When there are a few of them doing that, it is almost like a ballet with one going up and another down. Under the Lantana is a nice dry, secure world for Jungle Fowl to live and nest in. Wild boars are the only danger there, as they also lie up during the day under Lantana bushes. Leopards and Jackals go in after them sometimes but for the most part, the Lantana is a good guard of those who seek its shelter. There are clumps of Bamboo which attracts browsers like Sambar, Nilgai, Chital and Bison (Gaur). They love young shoots of Bamboo.

Teetar (Partridge)

That day, I was walking ahead with the 8mm carbine and Shivaiyya was behind me with the .22 BRNO. We were going through some thick bush and I could see the open light of a clearing ahead. Forest clearings are usually productive as animals and birds feed in them, so I crept up very slowly towards it. As I came near, I could see that the land sloped away from me down into a dry naala (stream bed) with a large tree, felled in a storm, resting on the side of its crown. And on the top end of it was perched a large male peacock. It was not my plan to shoot anything before I could bag a Chital or Nilgai but the peacock was too much of a temptation. However, I was carrying the wrong weapon for it, so I signaled to Shivaiyya to come forward and give me the .22 BRNO. Unfortunately, he couldn’t see the peacock and I couldn’t warn him to stay silent, so as I took the .22 rifle from him, he stepped on a dry stick which snapped like a pistol shot. The peacock took off in a loud beating of wings and sailed off down the slope, long gone before I could bring the rifle up to take him down. A flying peacock is a beautiful sight and so I contented myself with enjoying that. And then to my frustration, a sounder of wild boar broke cover from one end of the clearing and trotted off, across it into the bush on the other side. I could only watch them go as I once again had the wrong weapon. Such is life sometimes. Teaches you the importance of preparation. Even where I had a legitimate excuse for not being prepared, it was a lesson to learn that excuses don’t change reality. A loss doesn’t turn to gain because you have a legitimate excuse.

By then it was almost midday and extremely hot. It was also a time when nothing moved as all animals would be lying up in shade, wherever they could find it. Shivaiyya and I also decided to rest for a couple of hours. We found a clump of bamboo halfway up the slope from a tributary of the Kadam River and sat in the patchy shade it provided. I had discovered that if you consciously decide to be one with your surroundings, you stop feeling hot. Don’t ask me for the physics of it. Maybe it is just in the mind, but who cares as long as it happens, right? When you simply sit and breathe deeply and relax you go into a sort of meditative, somnolent state which is very tranquil and peaceful. When you emerge from it, you are rejuvenated. As I sat there (I didn’t lie down as bamboo clumps are famous for snakes and ants), I did what I always do in such situations; listen to all the sounds around me and try to identify them. There are two benefits of this. For one, it is very interesting and adds to your knowledge about the forest and its denizens. And secondly it gives you information about who is about. That can be very important, especially if it is something you are looking for or something you want to avoid.

That day, the loudest sound I could hear, coming at me from all around, nature’s surround sound experience, was the Cicadas. They make a sound which is so loud that it can deafen you. This is what https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/question733.htm says about how Cicadas ‘sing’. “The apparatus used by cicadas for singing is complex. The organs that produce sound are called tymbals. Tymbals are a pair of ribbed membranes at the base of the abdomen. The cicada sings by contracting the internal tymbal muscles. This causes the membranes to buckle inward, producing a distinct sound. When these muscles relax, the tymbals pop back to their original position. Scientists still don’t fully understand how this apparatus produces such extreme volume.”

Common Hawk Cuckoo

If I tuned out the Cicadas, which was not as simple as it sounds but can be done, I could hear the Brain-fever bird (Common Hawk Cuckoo – (Hierococcyx varius) whose call sounds like someone saying, ‘Brain fever’ in an ever-increasing pitch.https://youtu.be/bPqi5BcfETM

Shivaiyya and I ate our lunch. Chapattis and flat omelets with lots of onions and mango pickle. Washed down with lukewarm, sweet tea. Then both of us went into suspended animation, waiting for the sun to go down and the day to cool. About two hours later, when the sun was way past its zenith and on the way down to America, we gathered up our stuff and started our long way back home. I love walking at this time, as the long dusk comes on. It is much cooler than the day and animals start moving to go to water and then to graze or hunt as the case may be. If you walk in the forest at this time, as also at dawn, the chances of seeing game are very good. I walked ahead with the 8mm carbine and Shivaiyya came behind me with the .22 rifle and our tiffin carrier and water bottle slung on his shoulder.

We walked for perhaps three miles on a narrow winding footpath, made primarily by wildlife going down to the Kadam River to drink. Even in the hottest weather, the river had some pools in shady loops of its course which were visited by animals from all over the forest. There was no other water anywhere close, except the backwater of the Kadam Dam which was miles away. So, these pools were a very good place to see wildlife. The path took a dip and then went up a slight incline and over the top, down to the riverside. I was in the bottom of the dip walking up the incline when in the gathering dusk, I suddenly saw a Chital stag come up the path from the other side and crest the rise. The wind was blowing in my face, so he had no idea that I was on the same path as he was. I can’t say who was more surprised, but I snapped the carbine to my shoulder and fired. The shot hit him in the center of his chest. I saw the dust fly out of his hide. He snorted loudly and spun around and disappeared.

I was thrilled that my day was going to be successful after all and I would come home with some meat. Shivaiyya and I ran up the incline, expecting to see the Chital stag lying on the ground. I was in a hurry also because according to Islamic food laws, I had to slaughter the stag in the ritual way before it died, if I was to be able to eat the meat. But to my utter surprise and intense disappointment, there was no sign of the animal. It had simply vanished. Shivaiyya and I searched high and low in the rapidly falling dark to no avail. I knew I had hit him. There was some blood on the path, but it was light pink and frothy meaning that it had been hit through the lungs. His heart was intact and obviously no major bone was broken and his spine was also undamaged. The problem is that when an animal is shot with a high velocity rifle firing a solid bullet straight through the chest, it is entirely likely that the bullet goes through the animal, damages internal organs but does not break any bones. That means that often, given the massive flush of adrenaline in the animal, it could run for several hundred meters before it falls due to blood loss. There have been cases of large animals running for a couple of miles and some that perhaps lived for more than two days, before they eventually succumbed to the wound. A very painful way to die. Placing the shot is therefore very critical to successful hunting. In my surprise and hurry, that was the mistake I made.

By then it was completely dark and there was no chance of our finding the stag. Shivaiyya and I wound our way home, sad that we were returning empty handed. Uncle Rama would understand what had happened, I was sure. I was not thrilled about returning with a story instead of a quarry, but that was how life was sometimes. Or so I thought. I had no idea of the turn events would take to make that night one of the most memorable of my life.

We crossed the Kadam River, which was almost totally dry near the house, with a small trickle against the far bank which we could easily jump across without even wetting our feet. A far cry from the raging torrent filling the entire bed from bank to bank that it would become in the monsoon. As I climbed up the slope leading to the house, Uncle Rama was on the veranda and he called out in greeting to me, “Yawar baba, welcome back. Kya maray (what did you shoot)? I heard the shot.”

“I shot a Chital stag.”

“Shabaash (congratulations). Kaan hai (where is it)?”

“I lost it,” I said. And told him the whole story.

He listened in silence and said, “You are telling me that you wounded an animal and left it to die and you came home?”

“It got dark Uncle Rama. I couldn’t see anything. What could I do?”

“I am sorry, that doesn’t work. You never leave a wounded animal. You shoot straight and kill the animal outright or you follow up and finish it off. You never, ever leave an animal to die in pain because you couldn’t shoot straight.”

Well, I thought that was a bit hard, but he was the Boss, so I didn’t say anything. He said, “Right, now wash up and have your dinner and then go and get that Chital back.”

I was not sure that I had heard him right. It was almost 9 pm. By the time I’d had my dinner it would be 10 pm. He was telling me to go out into a forest with dangerous wild animals in the middle of the night to find and bring back an animal that I had wounded. Was I going to obey?

I don’t think the alternative even occurred to me. He was my mentor, I loved him very much and he loved me like his son. So, if he told me to do something, I did it, no question about it. I washed up. Kishta put the food on the table. Shivaiyya went to the back of the house to eat in the kitchen. When we had both eaten, I picked up the 8mm carbine. Uncle Rama said to me, “Don’t take that. Take the 12-bore shotgun. And take these (he gave me 4 buckshot cartridges). In the night you will only get to shoot at close range. No time to fool around with a rifle. Use this. At close range it will stop an elephant.” There was so much love (tough love alright) but love in this action of making me go into a dangerous environment but ensuring that I had everything I needed to be safe and survive. The fact that he even ordered me to go was a credit to me, that he trusted in my ability to take care of myself and treated me like a responsible adult and not just an irresponsible teenager.

Talk about mentoring? Here is mentoring for you. Teach, equip and trust. To trust means to give responsibility. Which was more ‘dangerous’? Me, taking care of myself or Uncle Rama having to explain to my parents that he had sent me out in the forest in the night and that is why I had been eaten by a tiger or bitten by a cobra? He knew that, yet he took a risk because he trusted me and needed to teach me a lesson that a gun was not a toy. Hunting was not about having fun killing animals. It was about behaving responsibly, taking ownership for your actions and accepting accountability, which means that if you make a mistake, you pay for it.

Indian Nightjar

Shivaiyya and I left. There was a full moon, so the forest was a landscape of light and shadows. As we crossed the Kadam River bed I could hear the call of the Indian Nightjar (Caprimulgus asiaticus) https://youtu.be/CMzA8S2EJUc You can hear the call on this link. It sounds almost mechanical, as if made by a machine. A churrring that ends in clicks. Nightjars are nocturnal birds that get active when night falls and feed on beetles and other insects. They sit motionless on the ground on pathways or clearings and fly up in complete silence to catch the unwary insect which flies past. In the day, they roost in trees or rocky outcrops trusting to their beautiful camouflage to keep them safe. We came out of the riverbed and climbed the far bank and took the path leading to Shivaiyya’s village.

Shivaiyya was a realist (or was he acting on Uncle Rama’s secret orders – to this day I have no idea). He said to me, “Dora let us sleep in my village and go out with the dogs in the morning before the sun rises. We will get the stag then. Trying to find him in the night without dogs to follow the scent is impossible. Getting the dogs to go into the forest in the night is impossible. What do you say?” I learnt early in life, never to argue with elders who have more experience. So, I agreed. We walked the half mile to his village. His village was a haphazard collection of mud huts with untidy grass thatch roofs. The hut had one door and no windows, and the women usually cooked inside the hut. The fuel was dried cow-dung cakes. The Gonds, Shivaiyya’s tribe, had a large herd of scrub cattle whose main produce, believe it or not, was dung. Not milk. The cattle would be taken out to graze in the forest daily by little boys who would walk behind them and collect the dung they dropped. This would be mixed with grass, dry leaves and other debris and shaped into flat, round cakes which were sun dried on any handy surface in the village. When dry, they would be stacked indoors to keep them out of the rain and used as fuel. If dried properly, they made an almost smokeless fire. But that is only if they were totally dry. Otherwise the hut was full of smoke. In the night, the hut was not only home to the family but to two dogs, one goat and a young calf that was too young to be left outside with the other cattle.

It was into this hut that Shivaiyya, very kindly, invited me to sleep. I politely declined and asked him to put the rope cot that he offered me, outside the hut and said that I preferred to sleep in the open. He was not happy with that, as the forest was home to tigers, leopards and bears. But I was happier taking my chances with them than with sleeping inside the hut with its smoke and multiple smells. The smoke inside the hut was protection against mosquitos but my view was ditto about that as about tigers, leopards and bears. I lay on the rope net, covered myself with the goat-hair blanket that Shivaiyya used for himself, kept my shotgun handy and lay on my back looking at the sky. By this time, the moon had set, and the stars were out in their splendor. You must lie on your back in a forest without any ambient light and look up at the sky to understand the true magnificence of the night sky. As I lay there, I thought to myself that I was probably seeing things that didn’t exist. I mean, that the star that I may be looking at, could have ‘died’ millions of years ago, but I was ‘seeing’ it because its light reached me only now. Quite a sobering thought, if you ask me.

One of my great delights when spending a night in the jungle is to listen to the sounds as the time changes from morning to night and back from night to morning. During the day, especially during the hot months, the jungle is mostly a silent place, except for the cicadas and the Brain-fever bird; between the two of them it is actually possible to go crazy. But as the sun goes down and the day cools, the jungle comes alive and starts preparing for the night. Peacocks announce that it is time to start heading for the roosting places. The very loud mewing scream of the peacock has to be the most irritating sound in the world, but in the jungle, it seems completely in sync and not irritating at all. Jungle cocks – Gray Jungle Fowl in the Sahyadris and South India and Red Jungle Fowl in the North – then add their voices with their characteristic calls that end in a question – Cuk-coooo-ko-kuk? When one calls, another answers him. The hens are silent and leave it to the men to announce to the world that the day is coming to an end. Teetar (Partridge) then start to call and answer one another as they head towards their roosting places. Duck and (in season) geese flights start landing on the lake as they seek safety in the water. They stay on the water all night where nothing from the land can get at them. Geese are great talkers and you hear them before you see them as they come in their classic arrowhead formations and land on the lake, feet first, setting up little ski tracks on the surface before they settle their keels into the water.

Tigress relaxing – her 3 cubs were in the grass and hesitant to come into the road

As the darkness sets in, the first animal calls come in. The Chital stag barks to let the world know that he has seen a leopard or a tiger. However, some young Chital are easily spooked and also tend to give the alarm call if they see a dog or a man. Chital usually follow Langur who have a symbiotic relationship with each other. Langur feed on top of trees and Chital eat what they drop from the top of leaves and fruit. I am not sure if there are any formal studies to support my observation of the relationship between Chital and Langur, but I have almost always seen them together, especially in the semi deciduous forests of the Sahyadris. More importantly, Langur always have a lookout whose only job is to sit in the topmost branches and watch for predators and give the alarm if he sees one. They take turns in doing this so that everyone in the troop gets to feed. Langur calls – Ghoonk, Ghoonk – are more reliable and Chital take them very seriously as the Langur lends perspective to the Chital’s pedestrian life. The most reliable of all alarm calls, though, is the deep belling of the Sambar. When the Sambar tells you that he has seen a tiger, you can take his word for it. What’s more, the Sambar will keep belling – Dhank, Dhank, Dhank – as long as the tiger is in view. If you have some experience, you can locate the tiger and tell which direction he is moving in, simply by listening to the Sambar calling. As the night passed, I dozed, being far more interested in listening to the sounds of the jungle than in sleeping. Sambar belled on the hill; a sure sign that a tiger was about. But that was a long way off from where I was, so nothing for me to be concerned about. In the forest sound carries a long way, especially if it is from a higher elevation. The night fell silent. I dozed and then it was daybreak.

Grey Jungle Fowl

Mornings are equally magical in the jungle. The first calls are usually the Gray Jungle Fowl roosters, checking to see if it is really dawn. They do their more serious calling later when they come down from the trees, find a tree stump or rock and stand on it and call out a challenge to any other roosters in the vicinity. But the first calls are while it is still dark. The Langur wakes up and adds a hoot or two. The next are the Peacocks greeting the strengthening light. The Nightjars make the last of their –chukoorrrrr – calls as they settle in for their ‘night’. You may hear an owl or two. By now the light is better and Partridge start calling and Peacocks and Jungle Fowl add their calls to them. Chital and Sambar are generally silent now as most predators have settled in for their rest. If the occasional tiger is still getting to his layby, you may hear the Sambar who sees him, announcing his progress. Morning comes quickly in these parts and by about 5.30 am it is clear light. The duck and geese flights start as soon as the light starts to get stronger, headed for the fields of cultivated land where they feed all day with one goose always as a lookout. They take turns so that everyone in the flock gets to eat but when on sentry duty, they don’t slack in the slightest. A threat to life is a great motivator.

Shivaiyya came out of his hut by the time I’d completed my ablutions with sweet, milky tea, which we both drank in silent companionship. When we had finished and the light was stronger, he whistled to his dogs and we set off to find the Chital. These are the famous Indian ‘pie’ dogs. Small curs, with a very highly developed sense of smell, and a lot of wisdom living in the jungle where they are the favorite food of leopards. So only the clever ones live. We took the dogs to where I’d first shot at the Chital and they tracked it into a ravine where he had fallen and died the previous night. Not too far from where we had been looking for him but not having the dog’s sense of smell, we had no chance of finding him in the dark. As I had thought, my shot went straight through his lungs and out of the back. As it did not break any major bone, the animal ran away and there was also not much of a blood trail. It died eventually, but after running almost 200 yards and falling into the small ravine.

Such were my lessons in responsibility learned. Lessons about being responsible for my actions; for the consequences of my actions and of being ready to pay the price thereof. Much that I am grateful to Uncle Rama for. What remains most vivid in my memory is the way in which he taught me, even the painful lessons. Firm, but full of love and with a lot of respect.