Disclaimer: When one writes with a rather pissed off outlook, seldom would they write about anything cheerful. So, my readers will have to bear with me on this post. 🙂 Traveling home in Bangalore traffic …
The glory of the world of Tolkien is one that can barely be fathomed even by most of his avid fans, including me! I’ve lost count of the number of times I have watched the trilogies just to cheer myself up, or perused through many quotes from his works, to find that sparkle of inspiration. It seems just as fresh and captivating as the first time one were to venture into the shire!
So when Amazon announced a new series to bring to life the happenings of Middle Earth during the middle of the second age, I like many could barely contain my excitement. I am going to ignore the divide that exists about whether Amazon did a good job of it or not. I do not believe anyone is in a position to judge with barely 5 episodes being aired. But to its credit, in episode 5, the song sung by Poppy was so beautiful that I couldn’t help but just rewind it and keep listening to it again and again and again!
I am a huge sucker for lyrics that are weighted with their insights into human mind, relationships and those that tug on the heart’s fragile strings! This song, titled, “This Wandering Day” composed by Bear McCreary, has become so close to my heart, because it speaks of exploration… of setting out on a journey, the destination of which, we know not! It speaks of everything that can wear us down, and yet the exhilaration of exploration does not cease! I’ve often times, described myself as an explorer and if ever there were to be a song or two that I’d choose to represent this desire, I would definitely choose this one (and the other one would be of ABBA!)
In my last post, I was deliberating about the need for a leader to be mindful about one’s own thoughts and feelings. The practice of mindfulness helps increase one’s self-awareness, and the more one is self-aware, the easier it becomes to be mindful. So mindfulness meditation technique is definitely a key methodology or tool to increase self-awareness. This helps us notice our innate presumptions, biases and preferences. We notice what thoughts we don’t mind dwelling on, and what thoughts we tend to move away from. (Of course, as you practice mindfulness meditation, we learn to let go of resistance as well as attachment and just observe as a 3rd person but as we essentially become acutely aware of our feelings).
So what determines the things we tend to get drawn towards and those that we tend to avoid? The answer is not straightforward. Our emotions are the functions of a plethora of things that leave an impact on our mind (and brain). Our memories are a key element of this mixture – past events, how they made us feel – were we rewarded when we stood up for someone or ourselves? Or were we admonished or harmed for that act? Was sincerity rewarded or punished? Was lying necessary to save one self from abuse? Was the thrill of circumventing authority giving us a psychological high? How does what we do, make us feel? These aspects essentially carve our belief systems and values. Do I believe that hard work is rewarding? Do I believe that being sincere always allows one to win in this world? Is it enough that one puts in hard work and does his/her best to succeed OR is there something called a chance? There are no easy and straight forward answers. And therefore, as a leader, when one has to lead a team, it is important that the direction the team takes during moments of confusion, is informed by appropriate values. And a key contributor to those value systems are a leader’s own beliefs. The core values that one sets for his/her team or company is immensely informed by everyone’s values but even more so by that of the person at the helm of the organization or the team.
Then how is one to choose their values? Do we have a choice at all? Or are we supposed to draw on the social and moral elements dictated to us from times immemorial? Interestingly enough, the questions of what values a leader must embody has been dealt at length ever since man learnt how to codify thoughts through symbols/writing. Epics have been written, ballads sung and stories narrated that detail the values the hero embodied while also those that his/her adversary represented. Ultimately, we know that the hero (and therefore the values he/she represented) wins and that’s the direction everyone should follow. But as the society evolves, it has also looked up to different personalities as its redeemer. Just look at how monarchy is treated these days! So is it enough to simply pick our values from what has been handed down to us or as a leader, should an individual attempt to objectively identify the values that will reinforce affirming feelings within everyone? Affirming happiness, affirming interpersonal relationships, affirming joy and collaboration seems to be the need of the present day! It may not have been so several decades ago! Under different circumstances, say for the allied forces during World War 2, affirming strength, affirming obedience, affirming sacrifice, was more critical! I feel it is essential, that a leader has to continuously reflect on the values being represented individually as well as collectively. Values that are blindly adhered to, can become dogmas – they become static and therefore begin to rot. Continuous reflection of our individual and collective values helps keep the social flow fresh and empowers one and all.
This essentially means that as a leader, one must practice to step out of the hardline stance of one’s belief system and be adaptable. I must however caution here, that things are not black and white! I am not saying that I am condoning becoming a turncoat based on convenience. There were many businesses in USA which clandestinely supported Hitler because it made more economic sense despite knowing the atrocities being committed by him! My stance is that as social systems evolve to address individual and collective well being, a leader must also correspondingly reflect on the values represented by the team or the organization. Becoming a hardliner and sacrificing individual and collective wellbeing defeats the very value system that was meant to help the society thrive! So as a leader, one must continuously and objectively evaluate the values by observing the individual and collective advancement – personally, professionally, socially and spiritually!
In the previous post, we looked at the subjectivity of the attributes desirous of a leader. The fact that there are multiple factors that determine what qualities a leader must possess as well as display, requires the leader to be highly mindful. A leader has to be mindful of not only the situation in the moment externally, but also the internal milieu. Mindfulness is an attribute that has at its core 3 key principles:
Being present in the moment
Being present in the moment: The mind is a fickle entity. Our thoughts seldom dwell at one place. We oscillate between the past and the future. But this oscillation is generally not reflective. When reflective we tend to evaluate, analyze and learn. However, in most cases, these oscillations are weighed by feelings of regret or fear. We feel sorry for what has happened and fearful or anxious about what may occur in the future. When making decisions as a leader, it is necessary to be aware of the past as well as the impact of the decision in the future (to whatever best extent possible). If sufficient data is not available to determine, then we need to be aware of that too! Essentially, being in the present is not about becoming oblivious to the impacts of the past or the effects of the present on the future, It is about understanding the implications but appreciating that action occurs in the “now”. We cannot do anything in the past nor in the future. Everything that was done or is to be done, happened/will happen in the present. Therefore, while being aware of both the past and the future, a leader needs to act with full awareness of the present. What are the conditions that exist at this moment? How am I feeling about it right now? How are my feelings about the present, past and future influencing me at this moment? This essentially is what being intentionally aware is about.
Purposeful attention: Essentially it is about keeping the mind where the body is. In this day and age, we celebrate multi-tasking. As we sit in hours long zoom meeting, we tend to do multiple things simultaneously. It is essentially a way for our brain to conserve its energy resources. If we find something that is not relevant for us, we shut it out and look towards engaging in something that we feel is important. This challenge of determining how to distribute one’s attention is a significant one for a leader. After all, when you are leading a team or a company, there are multiple decisions that need to be made and a leader’s attention is required in all of these! Through delegation to trustworthy resources, some of these decision making processes can be offloaded or simplified indeed. But the final mark of approval will still come to the leader or eventually the ownership of the outcomes rests with him/her. Therefore, being attentive purposefully, towards varied aspects of a business is extremely crucial for decision making. One may not be so interested in marketing, or sales, or agile with technical concepts or bored to death listening to presentations on customer trends – but a leader cannot afford the luxury of being complacent towards topics that aren’t interesting enough to him/her. The way to ensure this purposeful attention means, we refrain from judging the happenings.
Non-judgmental: Typically when we hear the term non-judgmental, we immediately attribute it to non-evaluation. There is a subtle difference between evaluating and judging. It may seem that I am splitting hair here, but bear with me. Indian bitter gourd – Karela is an infamous dish. 8/10 people hate this dish. Evaluating the dish of Karela leads to a realization of its bitterness. Liking or disliking is being judgmental. In the context of people, a leader has to be mindful of how he/she makes the other person feel. Do the words we use, the way we use them make the other person feel judged? This immediately brings to mind the picture of someone being called “guilty”. Of course, people can be acquitted too, but the connotation of judging to determine the guilt of an individual paints a very strong picture of negative assessment. The same is true of how we judge our feelings – some feelings are good, and some feelings are not good. If I feel neglected, that is bad. If I feel loved, that is good. And with these labels, come the follow ups of “want”. We crave or start wanting more of one feeling – and to that extent, we start avoiding whatever makes us feel bad. This manifests in behaviors where we tend to procrastinate, avoid, or offload the actions.
Therefore, a leader is expected to set aside the personal biases, prejudices and preferences during moments of decision making and executing. But is this a straight forward process? We may deem mindfulness to be essential – but to be mindful, especially about one’s own innate feelings and biases, requires a highly evolved self-awareness. This begins by understanding our own values and beliefs. Let’s talk about that in the next post! 😀
Since time immemorial, the trait of leadership as an important quality of a successful human being has been studied repeatedly. As times have changed, the qualities that represent who a good leader is have also changed. Some qualities of a great leader have persisted, some have been dropped or sidelined and new ones added. All of this to say that determining who a good leader is OR what makes a great leader is not deterministic. It is a function of multiple factors. Therefore, when someone asks who is a great leader? It maybe worthwhile to clarify, under what circumstances? Who is a great leader when an organization/team is sinking in the market? Who is a great leader when leading an army to war? Who is a great leader when rescuing a species from the brink of extinction?
The word ‘leader’, as we know it, comes from a 14th Century English word – “laedan” i.e., ‘ to go before as a guide’. Apparently, during wars, a specific person was chosen to infiltrate the enemy camp and identify all the key posts, men and vulnerable areas to attack. If this person successfully made it back to the home camp, he was then tasked with being at the forefront of the attack guiding the army to all those strategic points. The enemy camp, for obvious reasons, would then focus on taking this individual down. The home camp would ofcourse leave no stone unturned to protect the ‘guide’. This bit of historical perspective really sets the tone to what was traditionally expected of a leader and the team.
If we remove the context of war from modern times or typical day-to-day scenarios, the relevance of the leader as a “guide” still holds true. It is a person who can guide themselves as well as anyone else towards a collective objective successfully. Success, obviously defined by the achievement of the said objective, with as minimal loss of resources as possible. Or in other words, achieving the objective in the most optimal way. Notice how, there is emphasis placed on leading themselves as well as others. The fact that a leader has to lead themselves, though innate, is often glossed over. This attribute is directly related to “Authenticity”. A trait that simply means that an individual’s thoughts, words and actions are in harmony. Seems too idealistic?
Well, I am not saying that not having this authenticity immediately disqualifies someone from being at the forefront. We all display varied degrees of authenticity. But a leader not only has higher degree of alignment, but is humble enough to acknowledge the areas of gap, continuously strives to maintain and increase the degree of alignment or harmony and therefore, naturally wins the respect of the people who follow him/her. This is key – respect or allegiance is not commanded but earned. But do we appreciate this sincerity in a person?
As a crowd, we are so adept at holding high standards on individuals that we want to follow, that we remove the humanistic tendencies from our perceptions of a leader. We demand that they epitomize the pinnacle of everything that is great. Vulnerability is not appreciated – it is a weakness! But is it? And this is where, the subjectivity of the discussion emerges. When is it not just OK, but actually desirable for a leader to be vulnerable and when is it NOT? If a leader has to answer this question, it would require that the person be self-aware and mindful. Let’s talk about that a bit more…..next time. 🙂
A few years ago, I had started to do a throwback series on actresses from Hindi film industry – the key motive being to revisit some of the wonderful songs that have been pictured on them. The first part of this series can be found here. After a long hiatus as I continue to start keying in the articles a bit more frequently, I thought it would be good to revive some of these threads left hanging. So here we go! 🙂
Meena Kumari: If tragedy had taken a form, I am sure it would have been that of Meena Kumari. From nearly being abandoned as a young baby at the footsteps of an orphanage, to losing everything towards the end of her life, Meena Kumari or Mehjabeen Bano’s life is as dramatic as the many roles she essayed with natural caliber. In many ways, tragedy and pathos of a role resonated with her so deeply – it seemed as if she had transformed into those very characters. Be it the Chhoti Bahu of Sahib, Biwi aur Ghulam or Nargis from Pakeezah or the title role of Kaajal, she breathed life and tears into the characters that had the audience riveted to the screen feeling the same pangs of desperation and tragedy. Although she had shined equally well in comic and romantic film genres, her calling was meant to be the tragic queen of Bollywood. Her dreams of a happily married life with Kamal Amrohi did not materialize as expected even though they both adored each other. Possibly, deep love can afterall become a golden dagger! Nevertheless, this love and admiration resulted in one of the most iconic movies of all time – Pakeezah. Meena Kumari who was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver gave the movie her all. It took a long time to complete but the success of the venture was something that Meena Kumari didn’t live to see. Separated from her husband and resigned to alcohol, her life met a premature end. It is a forgone conclusion that there can never be an actress like Meena Kumari, for tragedy and pain were truly her companions even as a young child who nearly got abandoned. As for the songs:
Chalo dildar chalo
Inhi logon ne le leena dupatta mera
Tora mann darpan kehlaaye
Mere bhaiyya mere chanda
Ajeeb dastan hai ye
Hum intezaar karenge
Piya aiso jiya mein
Na jao saiyyan churake baiyyan
Hum Tere Pyar mein
Ruk ja raat thehar jaa re chanda
Kabhi toh milegi kahin toh milegi
Waheeda Rehman: I had previously mentioned that very few actresses have aged gracefully and can carry themselves with a charm and demeanor that can put the current genre of actresses to shame – Waheeda Rehman is definitely one of those. At the peak of her career, she was an actress that everyone aspired to be like, and long after she withdrew from being active on media, people continue to long for Waheeda Rehmanisque beauty and grace. It seems barely surprisingly how madly in love Gurudutt was with Waheeda Rehman. After all, he was the jeweler who polished this gem! In all fairness, some of the most outstanding actresses Bollywood has seen came from South India (that’s my customary South Indian gloat that I feel I had to let float!) and so did Waheeda Rehman. After the debut role in CID, Gurudutt cast her in the ambitious Pyaasa and Kagaz Ke Phool, movies which provided a platform that mirrored the real-life turmoil of Gurudutt. Their association that gave such gems like Chaudvi Ka Chand, and Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam did not last long. Gurudutt died a broken-hearted man. Music and dance played a significant role in her movies (who can ever forget Guide). Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Manoj Kumar, Raj Kumar – towering actors of their period all vied for casting her as the lead actress. Even as recently as Rang De Basanti, Waheeda Rehman’s role as the mother of the pilot killed in the MIG-21 crash is heart-wrenching. The scene of her receiving the last remains of her son is etched unforgettably in mind. A living legend, Waheeda has ofcourse received numerous accolades that barely do justice to her contributions to films. As for the songs, the list is so enormous that am afraid, I’ll definitely have missed quite a few, but the ones that come to mind right away are:
Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai
Koi nahin hai phir bhi hai mujhko
Piya tose naina lage re
Chaudvi ka chand ho
Bhavra bada nadaan hai
Sach Hue sapne tere
Apni toh har aah ek toofan hai
Rimjhim ke tarane leke
Waqt ne kiya kya hasin sitam
Rangeela re tere rang mein
Hum aapke aankhon mein
Jane kya tune kahi
Kahin pe nigahen kahin pe nishana
Sapne suhaane ladak pan ke
Mehboob mere tuhe toh duniya
Humne dekhi hai un aankhon ki mehekti Khushboo
Vyjayantimala: I mentioned earlier how South India has given some of the greatest actresses to Hindi Film Industry. The aspect that set aside all of them was their dancing ability. And speaking of dance, Vyjayantimala’s name would stand out like the pole star. Be it her super expressive eyes, the breathtaking beauty or the graceful dance, the wholesome personality that evoked admiration and respect was the key attribute of Vyjayantimala. There were songs composed, dances choreographed and movies made keeping her in mind. For decades she was the unparalleled superstar of Hindi film industry. A filmography that gave such historic movies like Bimal Roy’s Devdas and Madhumati, Dev Anand’s Jewel Thief, has ensured that her iconic roles and stature in Bollywood would be permanent even after over 6 decades. At a time when none of the actresses wanted to play the role of Chandramukhi in Devdas, Vyjayantimala came forward to play the role of a secondary heroine despite the outstanding success of her debut movie Nagin. Bimal Roy spotted the charm and charisma that embodied in her and naturally cast her in the lead role of his best-ever movie Madhumati. Madhumati electrified the entire nation – few movies have captured and held the audience in rapt attention as Madhumati. Acting, songs, and story line – each have remained legendary to say the least. Naya Daur, Asha, Katputli, Prince, Sangam, Jewel Thief, and Amrapali are some of the other memorable movies. As I said, the songs in her movies are a key draw for me: