Musings for a responsible society

Amidst the dark and grey shades increasingly engulfing, invading and piercing deeper and deeper, let me try to enjoy the little smiles, genuine greens, and the gentle breeze. Oh! Creator! If you don't exist, my vain!
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Are you an opportunist or an opportunity 'utilizer'?

While introducing me to a gathering of young and aspiring managers, the speaker said: “He used the opportunities before him so well in his life and that is the secret of his success. One needs to be an ‘opportunist’ like him”. The first sentence amused me and the second one bewildered me. Knowing the ‘language proficiency’ of the speaker, I understood what he really meant! But the word opportunist lingered in my mind during the entire session and I pondered over it to comprehend how important it is for a person to be an opportunist in this world to be successful.

The word opportunist has a very negative connotation. The MS Word has a stock of synonyms: Freebooter, Speculator, Buccaneer, Swashbuckler, Chancer, Carpetbagger, Fortune hunter etc. There is only one positive meaning given there. That is ‘entrepreneur’.

An opportunist grabs an opportunity aggressively. He is ready to snatch it from other potential competitors. In its negative sense, the person uses all possible means, including unethical ways, to get what he wanted. They become unpopular and their greediness will not have any end.

But in its positive sense, an opportunist is a person who is an opportunity user or 'utilizer'. This is a better term than opportunity seeker. He is always alert to discover the ways and means that can take him closer to his goals. For this purpose, he does not bypass someone deliberately. He does not thwart someone’s effort to reach the same goal as his. He explores the ways that can facilitate a quicker movement towards fulfilling his goals. He looks around and finds that life has given diverse opportunities in a platter for him to excel.

Our creator is just and there are enough ways open before every human being irrespective his ascribed status or current circumstances provided there is a will to pursue that.  The strides in the pursuit of utilizing the opportunities are small, simple and easily replicable. In this article let me focus on one of the many stepping stones. That is the utilization of our time.

When we travel in a nonstop vehicle called time, we encounter several opportunities on our way. It is our decision to take the vehicle through the best or worst opportunities that determines our comfortable early arrival at the chosen destination. The vehicle runs automatically in a constant pace for everyone in the world whether he is a Prime Minister, fastest sprinter, or a farmer in a remote village. But it is we who drive the vehicle of time decide on its course.

I practice successfully for many years a process called ‘time audit’ every night before going to sleep. The audit starts with an exhaustive recall of the moments of that day and what I did in those minutes.  I evaluate how much of the available time I was creative, how much of the time I was re-creative and how much of the time I simply wasted. One could categorize them as creative, re-creative, and destructive.

Examples of creative use of time could be a) helping someone, b) applying creativity in work and producing something new, c) completion of a long pending domestic work, d) setting in order the cluttered stuff in the virtual and real realms, e) writing an article, f) reading a book, watching a high quality program or a movie that motivates us to be creative, g) doing physical exercise properly, h) going for a refreshing walk with your partner or family etc. Even taking a short afternoon nap (some people call it power nap) after many hours of creative work can also be a creative activity as that would revitalize the body and mind. A creative person spends most part of his time on similar activities as described above.

Examples of re-creative activity includes enjoying entertainment programs created or presented by others, long activity sessions in social networking sites and instant messengers, watching live or recorded matches etc. These are not creative utilization of time unless we derive any skill, knowledge or experience or gain a positive attitude from the above activities or such activities soothe our mind and make us enthusiastic to do creative work. A creative person spends less time on the above.

There are many examples of what we can call ‘destructive’ activity. (The word destructive is used here in comparison to the word creativity.) The first and foremost one is the activity of listening or sharing gossips or negative comments about someone else. Spending considerable time with toxic people- those who are cynical, sarcastic, pessimistic and cunning would be destructive. Lazy, lethargic and laidback attitudes and consequent behavioral patterns would convert us to perennial deadbeats. Such type of people indulge in long sleep (also extended hours of day nap), unnecessary and aimless wandering, repeated indulgence (like watching the same movie or match again and again, continuous parties without a break, attending events or functions that do not require the presence etc.)

One should devise his or her own strategies to spend more time for creative activity, less time on re-creative activity and least time on ‘destructive’ activity. After every creative work, you will find that your batteries are recharged faster and you enjoy more peace and happiness. You will instantly carry a positive vibe and the confidence and satisfaction you gain from a creative activity would result in better behaviour with people around you. On the contrary, after spending too much time on a re-creating or ‘destructive’ activity you will feel guilty and your behavior with others become petty and less impressive.


We should try to utilize the time even when we are on the move. I catch up with my reading and writing work while travelling in a train or flight. If the official travel during the day is to a destination that can be reached in less than six hours, I opt to travel by train rather than flight. I always felt that I am more creative in a moving train as my thoughts take a comfortable pace along with the train. Most of my articles are the products of train journeys and long waits at the airport lounges (this article is an example!). I avoid sleeping during the day time travel. I used to see some people sleeping during the entire travel. What a waste of time! They could pick up a few books, magazines or a reader device like kindle and read rather than wasting time in sleep. Even watching a good movie in the laptop during the train journey or spending time in prayer or meditation would be better utilization of time during a day-time train journey rather than sleeping all along.

Mobile phones are ubiquitous now and people can’t live without it. People spend substantial amount of time on the smartphones. One needs to evaluate how much of that time is used for unproductive purposes. Apart from using the internet in smartphones just for messaging and social networking, one could engage in creative reading, writing and planning even when we wait at salon, restaurant, clinic or transport stations. But that should be done only when we finish with enjoying the nature and surroundings and interacting with people around us. We should not become an inanimate object wired to the smart devices with scant regard to whatever happening around us.

More on other stepping stones later!
                                                               © Sibichen K Mathew

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My visit to Kashmir

Finally I visited Kashmir. I longed to be in one of the most beautiful locations in the world for many years. It was a long cherished dream fulfilled when I availed the ‘Leave Travel Concession’ and flew to Srinagar for a short holiday with family.

I grew up hearing about the conflicts for Kashmir and the continuous violence. For many years, not a single news bulletin ended without a mention of any violent incident in Jammu & Kashmir. The 1990s witnessed large scale fleeing of a section of Kashmir residents to Jammu, Delhi and various other parts of India. Incidents like the kidnapping of Rubia Syed (daughter of the then union minister), the siege around Hazratbal shrine for more than a month etc. shook the entire country. The intrusion and consequent military action at Kargil created fresh tensions at the boarders. All these contributed in making Kashmir a less favoured tourist destination for many years.

As the Air India flight descended to the Sheikh ul Alam Airport, the beautiful view of Kashmir valley rekindled the spirit to explore. Mr Basheer, the driver was waiting for us outside the terminal. A good driver can make the trip a lot happier and comfortable. I decided to have him for the entire week while I was in Kashmir. We conversed throughout our trips about the life in Kashmir and I came to know about the ‘ground realities’ that are not reported in any printed text. I am thankful to the warm hospitality and assistance of the officials of the para military force. My interaction with them gave me enough insights about the difficulties they faced and the crucial role they played. I was enriched by my brief interactions with persons from other fields viz. Senior Police Officers, businessmen, Kashmiri ‘pundits’, traders, hawkers etc. (More on this later!)

Here are some snapshots:

(He is not a Kashmiri. He is a malayali fakir I met when I stopped for tea at a street side dhaba)

I attended the Sunday Mass in this church at Srinagar

I have following observations based on my very brief visit to Kashmir:

a.       The people of Kashmir are peace loving and they are happy to have a peaceful and secure life after years of conflict and violence. Normal life has returned everywhere and it is like any other part of the country.

b.      The government needs to focus on the young people of Kashmir. Though they are capable, enthusiastic and ambitious, they feel that they do not have enough opportunities to excel. This has resulted in disappointment and anger and might lead to rebellious behavior against the system. Unless concerted efforts are taken to establish educational institutions of high standard and to create appropriate employment opportunities, things might go out of control. In such a scenario, they would become vulnerable to terror outfits.

c.       Tourism potential of Kashmir is grossly underutilized. Areas where people visit such as gardens, lake, snowfall locations etc. have not been developed properly. Museums and parks lacked maintenance. Kashmir can achieve rapid economic growth through tourism. A comprehensive action plan needs to be formulated in this regard.

d.      Many people are not happy with the way local administration is functioning. They are disgruntled about the infrastructure and the widespread corruption in governance.

e.      Kashmiri people feel discriminated when they reach the mainland for education, career or business. They say that they are seen with suspicion. It is necessary to make them feel that they are trusted, loved and respected.

Kashmir is an asset. It has a unique culture beyond the borders of particular religions. The people residing in Kashmir are affable, hospitable and patriotic. Visit Kashmir to have a wonderful experience. 

Views are personal                       © Sibichen K Mathew

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The beginning of real 'history'? The discipline to the public domain

In 1989 Francis Fukuyama, the renowned American political scientist asked a question: ‘The End of History?’ That was an article written by him as he thought that the humanity’s socio-cultural revolution was going to end with the spread of the institution of liberal democracy across the world. Later, he expanded the thought with sufficient substance and a lot of substantiation in his book ‘The End of History and the Last Man’ in 1992. After the end of the cold war and the fall of Berlin Wall, he said that there was unprecedented homogeneity in the way powers are established and sustained. Though the world order is not homogeneous as thought by him, the title he used for his work is still relevant in a related context. Let me modify his question. As an academic discipline, whether it is the end of ‘history’?

History is indeed a laboratory where one understands about the human existence, evolution and progress. However, very few people like to read books in history. And much less number of people would like to take history as a subject to study. Naturally, there is a decrease in the number of colleges and universities that offer history at degree or post graduate level.

Sebastian Joseph, my friend and a historian of forest and environment, is very alarmed at the growing disinterest of the people in learning about the past. He narrated this to me. He was travelling by the Chennai Mail from Thiruvananthapuram to Kochi. The person who sat next to him was a businessman who asked this wrong question: ‘What is the use of studying history?’ That was when Sebastian told him that he teaches history to students. Sebastian, though felt slightly unpleasant by the question, decided to explain to him the relevance of learning about the past. He also explained how the individuals, organizations and nation-states can learn from the lessons of the past. He also told about him the importance of oral history. The businessman keenly listened to Sebastian and before the end of the journey narrated his own past which Sebastian recorded in his mobile device. What narrated by the businessman was not just about his life and his struggles to reach the top, but also about the socio-economic and political contexts in which he lived and got influenced. He said, ‘I want the new generation to read about my past’. Sebastian transformed him to be a passionate historian by the end of the journey. Yes, history is not just about the kings and kingdoms. It is more about the ordinary people and their extraordinary lives!

The reason for writing this post is my happiness in receiving three non-fiction books as mementos after my talk at three institutions in the last few days. Each one of them gave me a copy that dealt with persons and events of history. After glancing at them I was reassured myself of the contemporary relevance of history and its regained popularity. First book is biographical, second one is eventful and the third provides a descriptive account of history as people thought about. I find these books prominently kept in many leading book stalls and people do buy them. This shows that history as a discipline has come out of the classrooms to the public domain. In universities we are forced to read the ‘prescribed history’. But we get to know about the ‘real history’ when we read books from the ‘open source’ thanks to the efforts of various publishers to showcase the works of scholars with different perspectives.

Here are those books:

(To read reviews and buy CLICK HERE)

                                                             (Read an objective review HERE)

                                                             (You can check the book HERE)

                                                            © Sibichen K Mathew                                              
Views are personal

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Snapshots from TCS World 10K Bangalore 2014 : Reaching out to the less privileged

The seventh edition of TCS World 10K Bangalore was held on 18th May 2014. The purpose of the race was to channelize people and resources to the less privileged in the society. I participated in the event representing the NGO Bal Utsav. It is a non-profit education organization dedicated to create educated and empowered global citizens. The organization focuses on educating the non-school going children. Several NGOs, Corporates, Educational Institutions and Individuals participated in the event to promote various social causes.

Have a look at the snapshots from the TCS World 10K 2014 at Bangalore, Southern India. 

The team for Bosco, the NGO working for the young at risk at Bangalore

Sarojini Balasundaram: Ready for the run

Bhavana Rao works for TCS. Participated in the costume round representing the NGO Bal Utsav

Shishir (Casa Blanca) and his friend Avinash

Senior citizens participating for the Association for the mentally challenged

Lenin and Manoj Kumar for ecological awareness

The Think Team

Ashka and Jashel with the message 'Beauty with love and care'

Race and dance to the drum beating

Interesting to see how they cross the muddy water on the road

Ram from Sama Foundation led a team of 25 differently abled persons

Getting ready for the event

Bal Utsav at TCS World 10K

The couple Ramesh and Binu (third and fourth from left), the  leaders of  the Bal Utsav team

Click here to see the snapshots of TCS World 10K 2013

                                                                 © Sibichen K Mathew


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