My remarkable lifetime…

Well, for starters, this is a fair bit earlier than I thought.

Looking at the exuberance and gala that I was born into, I would have never fathomed that someday I would be penning my swan song, worse still, after just 21 years.

But that is the beauty of life; the unpredictability. That’s why we cherish it.

When I think about my life, everything seems like yesterday.

Born in 1995 as ABN AMRO Bank, Madras….living on a street, famous at that time for its number of banks – Haddows Road, in a city that was much more traditional and far less cosmopolitan than the Chennai of today. My small enthusiastic brood identified with me and loved the fact that they were my children. We lived a simple and idyllic life.

1999, the year I took in the children of Bank of America (BoA).

We were diametric opposites, culturally. If ABN AMRO was about keeping things small, beautiful and conservative, BoA stood for all things American – make it large, at double the speed and while you’re at it, look awesome.

It never would have crossed my mind at that time that this union would go on to shake the banking world in India and become one of the most respected and admired organisations of its time.

2007, the year my family elders found me a suitor – the ‘strapping’ Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) – a new and exotic name in India at that time, but a renowned name in global banking circles. What was really wonderful about this match was that all my children were equally welcome. Same family with a different name, except that now we were Brits!

2008 – The worst financial crisis known to this generation rained its blows, unabated. Corporate giants were brought to their knees. Client portfolios were pounded to pulp.

What a turbulent time it was for me and my children. And, to make it worse, we were back to suitor hunting.

Fortunately for us, before it was too late, we found a worthy match. Everything seemed to fall in place. The lineage, the social standing, the presence, the wealth…it was all there, and before you could say “HSBC”, the pre-nups were being signed. If all went well, my children wouldn’t have to worry about their livelihood or their clientele.

Not in our wildest dreams would we have thought that this was the beginning of the end. It was.

For reasons beyond our control, the engagement had to be broken-off. The crescendo which had built up over 2 years, disappeared overnight, into a whimper. No matter how hard we tried to rebuild after that, destiny had already charted our course.

It’s a strange feeling, when you get to know beforehand, what date would be the last of your life.

Personally, I started off vacillating between anger and panic. Questions abounded – How could I be destined to this short a life? How could I have so meek an end? What about my children? Whose fault is it? And so on and so forth. However, with the passing of time, my clouded judgments have faded away, only to be replaced by a single feeling – thankfulness.

There’s a famous quote which goes – It’s not how long you’ve lived, but, how well you’ve lived.

Well, ‘well’ is an understatement!

I know I’m going to be missed terribly by all who are close to me, and I’m thankful that I could make such an impact on their lives. I’m also thankful for the hundreds of milestones my family and I celebrated with such pomp and show. For the image I have built and the respect I command among my peers. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to be of such service to my clients that they can’t imagine life without me.

However, what I’m most thankful for are the actual stars of my life – my Children.

And what children I’ve had! The kind that mothers pray for. The best any mother could hope for. Different in personalities, maybe, but united in their sense of belongingness to me. Today, unlike what I had mentioned in the beginning of this chronicle, it is I, who is identified by my children and not the other way around.

To my children, I say this – no mother could have been more proud of her children than I’m of you today. No mother-child relationship could build as strong a bond as you and I have. While I will not be around for very long, I know I will live in your thoughts, heart and résumés, forever.

Always remember, we earned our good name and respect from the world because of our impeccable way of treating our clients, and that was a direct result of the way we treated our own family.

Never change that.

I will remain, always yours.

This one was an introductory piece that I had ‘ghostwritten’ in July 2016, for the employees’ legacy book, from the viewpoint of my workplace for over a decade: the-soon-to-be-closed, ABN AMRO/ RBS – Chennai branch.

In reality, it reflects a lot of my own reminiscing, my feelings of pride and loss. 


Is there life, after life?

Disclaimer: The author of this post is not a mentally challenged person. During the course of or after reading this article, whatever might give you an impression contrary to the above, is purely coincidental and just a figment of your imagination.  Please!!

I’m sure that at some point in time or the other, we would have all heard about it….. that its the only irrefutable, indubitable truth in the whole world: the fact that all who are born, will die.

Most of mankind is in tune with this truth. Hardly do you ever come across someone, who claims that he won’t die!

I’m convinced too, that some day, I shall also – pass away; be no more; die!
But what really sets me thinking is: what happens after?

The fact that all those who actually know the answer will never be met by us, at least in this lifetime, only makes you painfully more curious.

Do we actually, based on our life’s deeds, get ushered into Heaven’s pearly gates, or descend to suffer in Hell’s lakes of fire? Would we be treated differently at various versions of the great beyond, as mentioned in our different religions (something like our marriage ceremonies: each religion with their different ones, all leading to the same end result)?

I have thought about this many a times and have always been astounded by the possibilities it can lead your imagination to (No, no! Don’t you dare think it! Go on; read the disclaimer once more).

By the time I reached my late teens, I had started weighing the religious values that were passed on to me by my elders, with common sense. The then immensely popular (but ludicrous) mythological TV serials and my vacillating teenage mind only added fuel to the fire, which eventually led to my conversion into a ‘spiritual’ (fashionable for non-religious).

Also, this greatly influenced my personal thoughts about this taboo subject.

There are many ways to look at ‘the beyond death’ question, although needless to say, they are all fabrications of our imagination and cannot be corroborated in any way.

If we were to look at it scientifically, all of the universe and its constituents are made up of energy; and as we all know, energy cannot be destroyed, it can only be transformed from one form to another. This leads to the question, if humans are also made of energy, what do we get transformed to, post death.  Fairly easy answer: the Hindus get converted to heat energy on cremation; Christians and Muslims turn into food for the worms and bacteria, post burial, which subsequently is expended as energy by these creatures; and so on and so forth for other religions. For all practical and scientific purposes, like how we were born, from nothingness or unconsciousness to our senses, we would probably switch back to an unending unconscious state; like a TV being switched off!

However, this would the most boring, cruel and unimaginative end to this miracle called – Life.  What would be the point of our existence? Why would we have a conscience? Why would we ever consider doing any good?

Or, look at it another way: Its like saying, this is what God will give Michael Jackson for creating music like he did and giving so much to generations of people! And, this is what is written for Mother Teresa for being one of the most extraordinary human beings of our time! Or this what Michael Jordan would get at the end of his life (who are we kidding…..Jordan IS God)?

Which brings us to the philosophical angle. There has to be some other purpose for our short stint here, on this planet. The Creator won’t put us through so many experiences and challenges in our life time, only to press the ‘switch off’ button one fine day. He or She surely has better work to do than just creating daily-life obstacles and challenges for us, as if we were His playthings, unless this whole ‘life’ thing was part of a bigger, longer journey. Not for the physical body, but for the intangibles like our spirit or soul or atma – what we also call conscience, conscious etc.

I think (at least I prefer to think) that this life is part of a longer journey.  I think there is an ‘after life’ (yup !!).

The only reason why we are not evidently aware of this fact is because knowing about afterlife and the consequences of our deeds in this life will only make us more materialistic. We would then start doing good for selfish reasons, rather than whole heartedly for one another. Not knowing is the only way in which our pains and suffering can make us grow spiritually.

If for a moment we were to think the opposite and consider this life to be finite and to end at the instance of death, how would you explain the purpose of the birth of baby, who dies two days later? It serves no evolutionary (read scientific) purpose.

I think (prefer to) that these babies were too good in their past lives and were exempted from the tests and trials of living on this planet. In other words, they got double promoted to the next stage of life !!

To understand this more clearly, you can draw an analogy between sleep and death (though the latter being of a much greater scale and importance than the former).

Like sleep is a need to transit into the next day peacefully, healthily and more productively, death is a need to transit into the next part of our journey healthily, peacefully and more productively.

We all know how a lazily spent, unproductive day or some dreadful deed done, or for that matter, even day to day stress plays on our mind/ body and affects our sleep – rendering us irritable, less productive and not at peace the proceeding day. On the other hand, we would have all had days when we have truly worked our behinds off or done some seriously nice thing or have achieved some long elusive goal… remember how well you slept on those days and more importantly how good you felt the next day when you woke up!!

Exactly in the same way, maybe an un-empathetic, self-centered, uncharitable life might affect out ‘state of death’ and hence might affect our onward journey from there in a negative way. Similarly, a life comprising of good choices, principles and ethics gets a positive twist to its after life.

This is the closest I could get to understanding what various religions, in some way or the other, call Hell and Heaven.

I know many of you who read this would readily dismiss these wild ‘assumptions’, as there is no scientific proof for them. However, if only just for the sake of romancing these thoughts, we need to bear in mind that Science only believes in that which is measurable, repeatable and of understandable physical nature and mechanism.  It is not all inclusive.  There are many subjects it cannot and will never be able to explain, e.g. intuition, morality, ethics, human nature, empathy, faith etc.

By the way, I think this post is starting to get as serious and morose as the subject itself. Therefore, lets call it quits with some mood repairers – a few laughs.

But not so soon pals…. the jokes are about death and afterlife too!! Ha Ha !!

A man died and went to The Judgment.  St. Peter met him at the Gates of Heaven and said, “Before you meet with God, I thought I should tell you — we’ve looked at your life, and you really didn’t do anything particularly good or bad. We’re not at all sure what to do with you. Can you tell us anything you did that can help us make a decision?”

The newly arrived soul thought for a moment and replied, “Yeah, once I was driving along and came upon a woman who was being harassed by a group of bikers. So I pulled over, got out my tire iron, and went up to the leader of the bikers. He was a big, muscular, hairy guy with tattoos all over his body and a ring pierced through his nose. Well, I tore the nose ring out of his nose, and told him he and his gang had better stop bothering the woman or they would have to deal with me!”

“I’m impressed,” St. Peter responded, “When did this happen?”

“About two minutes ago,” came the reply.

During their vacation and while they were visiting Jerusalam, George’s mother-in-law died.

With death certificates in hand, George went to the American Consulate Office to make arrangements to send the body back to the states for proper burial.

The Consul, after hearing of the death of the mother-in-law told George that the sending of a body back to the states for burial is very, very expensive. It could cost as much as $5,000.00.

The Consul continues, in most cases the person responsible for the remains normally decides to bury the body here. This would only cost $150.00.

George thinks for some time and answers, “I don’t care how much it will cost to send the body back; that’s what I want to do.”

The Consul, after hearing this, says, “You must have loved your mother-in-law very much consdering the difference in price.”

“No, it’s not that,” says George. “You see, I know of a case years ago of a person that was buried here in Jerusalem. On the third day he arose from the dead !

I just can’t take that chance.

The long traffic signal on a hot, sunny day

It was like any other holiday.

A certain lightness of knowing, that you don’t have to follow a strict timeline or put on your office face. Only bask in the recharging comfort of being among those who matter the most to you.

By contrast though, the day started rather violently! I woke up with my toddler landing a tight (but completely well meaning) little slap on my face. Don’t know if she was bugged or surprised to see me asleep, even though Her Highness had gotten up. She wanted her Daddy out of bed, alright.

Anyway, to cut the long story short, we were to visit some relatives in Kottivakkam and didn’t want to inconvenience them during lunch time. Ergo, we had to leave ASAP so that we could make it back before noon (think I spoke too soon about the lightness of holidays!!).

I have to admit though, I love early Sunday drives. It’s like the city is on sedatives. Hardly any vehicles on the road and the few, who are around, seem in no hurry to get anywhere. One honk and someone who would have glared back at you any other day, timidly, lets you pass.

Uncannily, this Sunday, just a kilometer before our destination, a traffic jam materialised out of nowhere. The usual: traffic light not working, hence our maama was directing traffic ‘manually’!! It was going to be one long traffic signal!

This is where I saw her. Or rather, them.

There was this assortment of individual beggars across the length and breadth of the jam, but one caught my attention. She was a young woman with a small child, no older than my then one-and-a-half year old, on her hip and a medium size bump on her tummy advertising the impending arrival

While I was watching them approach our car, a series of thoughts flashed through my mind. The imprint still remains to this day.

I couldn’t help but notice the long, almost golden brown hair falling over the child’s dazed, unwashed face. I was sure the kid did not have some freak Scandinavian genes in him. The hair colour was probably the result of long hours in the hot burning sun, at the most polluted signals in the area.

This child was tiredly leaning on his mother’s shoulder, directly under the noon sun, in the middle of a blatant traffic jam……..trying to put himself to sleep!

I couldn’t help thinking of my dear little one’s sorrowful plight (or even ours), in the event of a rare power cut. Or how all the members in my house try to lower their volume as much as possible, while she sleeps.

This whole train of thought brought on an accompanying feeling of compunction. But I conveniently brushed off the guilt, thinking it wasn’t my fault that this kid was destined to go through these hardships. After all, some of those Kottivakkam ‘sea-side bungalow’ dwellers would feel the same way if they saw my humble middle class high middle class abode (now, a man can’t put himself down too much, eh!).

Anyway, by now the woman was pretty close to my car. I couldn’t help noticing her sizable stomach again. It brought a strange thought to my heart.

At that very moment, amidst all the begging, traffic, heat and chaos……..there was this small unborn baby inside this mother’s womb…. comfy, cozy and probably smiling…..unbeknownst at that moment, to the low financial class that it was going to be born to. Unbeknownst to, apparently, the sad profession of its Mommy or Daddy. In fact, till it was in its Mom’s tummy, this baby was enjoying almost the same comforts as an unborn child, waiting to be born into the Ambani, Mittal, Buffet or the Biju Mohan* household.

It compels you to wish for all babies to be born into the lap of happiness and comfort, rather than the hostile contradiction that this baby might have, by now, been subjected to. It makes you want to wish, at least, for pregnancy to be a longer affair than just the minuscule 9 months that it is (sorry ladies)!

I’m too small to solve the Creator’s conundrum of choosing which of those happy innocent ones to send to which household; however, I’m sure He would be suffering from hypertension due to the stress, or depression due to the guilt.

I was just kidding! On the contrary, I think, absolutely not.

I’ve started to believe that there is a purpose behind all of this. There has to be!

After all, this very child might become the next Dhirubhai Ambani: from petrol pump worker to owner of the world’s largest refinery, or the next Sarathbabu: rise from the slums to graduate from the IIM-A and get Infy’s Narayana Murthy down to inaugurate his Foodking Catering. Maybe, she would be adopted by Angelina Jolie or Madonna some day soon; or become the next Thalaivar Rajini.

I firmly believe that this phase of life is merely meant to be a lesson for the future. Even if she (I’m only guessing it’s a girl) becomes a beggar like her parents… least she will be getting a full dress rehearsal, every day of her childhood.

Whatever she may do, may she be blessed and happy.

And, whatever I may do, I need to graduate from being an ‘armchair sympathiser’ to a doer. Perhaps small, but still a doer.

* I’ve always wanted my name to be in the same sentence with these big names.  Though unnecessarily implanted (!!), the sentence is still out there on the world wide web.  🙂
Cheap thrills,  did  you say?

Am I Indian enough ?!!

Well, you can usually, without second thoughts, count on me as a good sport. 

Even when the person/ side I’m supporting is in the painful process of losing. I have even appreciated the opponents and wished them victory if they truly seemed better on the given day (by now you would have figured out that the first sentence was in no way meant to imply that I’m a good sportsperson!).

However, all this sportyness disappears when it comes to the Pakistan cricket team. 

You can’t really judge me by this accepted and sometimes even flaunted, pettiness. Like any other full blooded Indian child of the 80’s, I was brought up on a wholesome diet of movies, news and general banter which proudly proclaimed: Hindi-Paki not very Bhai-Bhai !!

This is why I completely surprised myself last Thursday. 

Without much interest (now that India was out), I was checking out the first of the T20 semi-finals… Pakistan vs S. Africa !

Under normal circumstances, you would have counted on me to wish for a Pak ouster. However, while watching the proceedings, a chilling realisation crept up on me (pardon the filmy exaggeration!).

I was sitting there in front of the idiot box (not any less idiotic myself) hoping that ‘Boom Boom’ would score a very overdue 50 in quick time and make life miserable for SA. I was wishing for the Pak bowling attack to murder the SA batting.

I had three words for how I felt. What the… !!?

Maybe it’s the rustic & honest way that Younis Khan speaks. Maybe it’s the fact that Pak cricket has unfairly borne the brunt of their political scene last year. Maybe it’s the way in which some international teams have treated them like pariahs and cancelled tours to their country (though, maybe rightfully so). Maybe it’s the way their team has reacted to having the Razzak lifeline back in their team. Maybe it’s the fact that they lost to India last time, even though they deserved the cup as much as we did. Maybe its because an absolute idiot had the opportunity of taking a very mature Misbah’s catch to dismiss them out of the last final. Maybe it’s because they are not the best team but they seem to want the title a little more than anybody else. Maybe it’s the fact that they will regain some deserved respect if they win the title this time. Well, maybe it’s because they are underdogs. 

Whichever ‘Maybe’ maybe the reason, I support Pakistan for the title on Sunday. 

Will Pakistan actually win the title? Don’t know.

But as Afridi so endearingly said post match… Insha’Allah!

Does that make me less Indian? Come to think of it, it actually makes me a better Indian than what I was on Thursday.