Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Thou Shalt Not Lie

A few days ago, I had a class on Corporate Governance and Ethics, where we covered quite a few recent cases on financial fraud, manipulation, insider trading, conflicts of interest and other accounting scandals caused or encouraged by lack of good governance. We also covered ethical dilemmas faced at work and the effectiveness of whistleblowing policies. It was a very interesting lesson to me, partly because I was seeing the gravity of the whole issue now. Sure, I had heard about Enron, WorldCom, Satyam and all the other scandals, but what surprises me every time I hear about them again and again is the fact that they all started small. Just a small manipulation here and there to beat the budget and keep the investors happy. So what if it's a little untrue? Can always catch up the next year round! And so it goes... till the gap is so wide it's almost impossible to bridge it.

We discussed the issue of ethics. Oh sure, it might seem like a very simple thing, but it's rather difficult to define what exactly ethics are. My professor explained it through this quote- “To be ethical is profitable, but to be ethical because it is profitable is not ethical. And, one might
add, it is also not profitable in the long run.” This got me thinking. It is definitely profitable to be ethical, at least in the long run. Think of goodwill, business reputation, support of stakeholders, responsible corporate citizenship and so on. At the same time, the firm might lose lucrative opportunities in the short run. Does it mean that the firm should be ethical only because it might be beneficial sometime later? Doesn't being ethical lose its meaning as a whole then, because it is just done for profits? As I thought about this later, I compared the situation to telling lies. As a child, I've been taught not to tell lies, because apparently, God would punish me. A little digression here might help me bring my point clearer.

A long time ago, my parents decided to take me on a pilgrimage to Tirupati. We travelled from Coimbatore to a town called Chitoor, in Andhra Pradesh, just across the border from Tamil Nadu. There, we met a friend of my parents' (whom I fondly used to refer to as Chitoor amooma) and she was to take us to the temple town. On the way, we stopped by at a temple, dedicated to Lord Ganesha. Apparently, this temple is special- Chitoor amooma explained to us that the moorthy in the temple is an upholder of truth. Nobody can speak a lie in the vicinity of that temple. However one tries, it is simply impossible to speak anything contrary to the truth. As a result, all disputes were settled there, since it was believed that God himself forces the 'sinner' to voluntarily reveal the truth. I was just around six or seven at that time, but that day is crystal clear in my mind's eye. (A couple of months ago, back in Dubai, I was discussing special temples with my aunt Jayshree, and the memories came flooding back.)

Anyway, one can always argue about how to be sure that only the truth was revealed, or whether it is even possible to contemplate how God can force the truth out of any person. But that is not the point of this post. In my opinion, it all boils down to ones belief. The faith that God will forgive you if you speak the truth. Or the fear that God will punish you if you don't. My question is, would people still speak the truth, even if there is no God to punish or reward us? Would we still try to help people? Would we still be good human beings? Would we be tempted to steal, cheat, deceive? Would we still be able to face our inner conscience? Not because there is heaven or hell awaiting us, not out of faith or fear, not because of rewards or retribution; simply because that's the right thing to do. If yes, then there is still hope!

Post Script:
Amooma is a Malayalam term, meaning grandmother.
Moorthy is a Sanskrit term used to refer to the image of the Lord.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Random School Memories

This afternoon, as I was having lunch with a few friends, we were discussing plans for graduation trips. One of my friends will be graduating at the end of this semester, and she had just finished booking her trip. We discussed details and as we trudged towards the library to study for our upcoming midterm (fingers, toenails and everything else crossed), my mind drifted to Lah Lah Land and how awesome it would be to finally graduate and start a new chapter all over again. Then it struck me, that exactly three years ago, I was yearning to finish school and start on college. That triggered a number of old school memories, warming my heart and bringing a smile. So, I decided to list a few of my favourite memories from school:

Giggling with Woodhead (Not her real name of course, just something I like to call her :D) during maths classes and drawing smileys with their tongues out on our notebooks.

Debates in Geetha Ma'am's history/civics classes. Grade 10 is an important year, thanks to the All Important Board (Bored?!) Exams, and so we used to have nearly two weeks of special classes during the summer, when the rest of the school had already begun their vacations, but there were certain classes that were always fun. I always looked forward to Geetha Ma'am's lessons and I still remember one class during the summer holidays, where she encouraged us to debate on the necessity for capital punishment in India. Woodhead and I were on opposing sides, and I remember fiercely arguing with her.

Certain timely quips. For example, we were grumbling about the extra summer classes, and Shanthi ma'am, our Chemistry teacher in class 10, once told us that the next day she had no lessons, and hence would be free to sleep a little longer. To which, Woodhead quipped, 'That's right, ma'am. Only difference is you'll be sleeping at home, while we...' :P

Trying to remember the trigonometry rules using SOH-CAH-TOA.

Singing Ya Crazy Ya Lazy along with abla Sameera in the Arabic lessons.

Being told by Ann George Ma'am that she 'would tweak my ears' the next time I made the same careless mistake, hahaa! (Of course, that never really happened, not because I didn't make the same mistake again, but because Ann ma'am was far too kind!)

Inter-house and Inter-school debate competitions, with Dawne ma'am and Anu ma'am. Also, every MUN session, where we would patiently discuss issues with Winnie ma'am.

Recess breaks, where Banjo and I would discuss issues of global importance and pretend to be intellectuals. (Okay, maybe not Banjo.)

Gossiping about everything (and everyone) with Banjo and Woodhead. Girls, after all!

Vox Populi sessions. Something close to my heart since my team and I had worked quite hard to see this come to fruition.

Student Council discussions with Nambiar ma'am.

Calling Rajeswari ma'am every single time my balance sheet failed to tally.

Maths classes at home, with Rizwan sir and Banjo, where I would occasionally scare them with cups of coffee made by yours truly.

My badge. I know this sounds megalomaniacal, but still something about the shiny badge with my name printed in capital letters on it, brings a huge smile. I loved the challenges that wearing the badge brought, and shall continue to look at it with pride.

Sweet nostalgia, indeed!

Maybe, a couple of years from now, I'll be writing a similar list of favourite NUS memories? Hmm.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fighting Stereotypes

Stereotypes are annoying. At least to me. Maybe, this is just a rant. Maybe not. Anyway, these are a few stereotypes I think some people associate me with.

Stereotype #1- Just because I'm from the south of India, doesn't automatically mean I'm from Chennai. Tsk tsk, basic geography! There are other cities around too, you know.

Stereotype #2- Just because I'm from Kerala doesn't mean I have an ungle in the Gelf. Oh wait, actually I do. Not just an ungle, my parents too. Why, indeed I myself studied there! The point is, not all of us speak with a so called Mallu accent, so please don't feign surprise and ask But how come you don't have an accent? (This drives me to my next point- even if we speak with an accent, the rest of the country doesn't really use Queen's English, right?)

Stereotype #3- Just because I am a girl from the south doesn't mean I have to be trained in Carnatic music or Bharatanatyam. It all boils down to interest and passion. As for me, ever since I can remember, I have been dreaming of the day I get my book published!

Stereotype #4- I studied commerce after the grade 10 board exams. Not because I wasn't 'intelligent enough' to do science, but simply because I wanted to. There's a difference, see? And, please, 'all hard working and intelligent students take up engineering or medicine'. Really? Which era are you in?!

Stereotype #5- 'Oh you're doing accounting. But that's so boring!' (Actually it's audit, not accounting- as if that's going to make a difference!) Anyway, that is simply someone's opinion, and even if it is boring (which it isn't, by the way) it's my choice. At the end of the day, I'm happy with the field I have chosen, and that's what matters the most.

Stereotype #6- This happens, especially when I go back to Kerala for the holidays. I try my best to speak fluent Malayalam, and my family knows it's quite difficult, since I have never stayed in Kerala, as a result of which my spoken Malayalam sounds like a version of Ranjini Haridas' on Idea Star Singer. (I try to convince myself that it's slightly better than that, but whoa, what a comparison would that be!) And then people say, 'Ayye, endhoru kashtam. Malayalam ariyilla le' , somehow classifying me amongst those jaada people who proudly proclaim that they speak 'only English and cannot understand the mother tongue', when I know that I have really, really tried to learn the language on my own. (I learnt the language, watching Thatha read his Mathrubhoomi paper, and tracing the names of films on Asianet, and like Shashi Tharoor, who wrote about learning the language in his India- From Midnight to the Millennium, I too gave up after reaching the kootaksharams.)

YES, I feel better already after ranting out against these stereotypes. I have encountered at least five to six different people questioning me on these lines at different stages in my life, so they're definitely not one-off encounters! The problem with stereotyping is that it refuses to acknowledge the person one really is. I am me. I have always been me. I would rather be me than someone else's version of me.

Post Script:
You don't know Ranjini Haridas or Idea Star Singer? OMG.
Ayye, endhoru kashtam. Malayalam ariyilla le translates roughly to 'What a shame! You don't know Malayalam right!
Jaada is a colloquial term that is used for a person who shows off. Something similar to the Tamil peter.
Kootakshrams are joint letters in the Malayalam script.

I just noticed, I have been asked why I don't have a 'mallu' accent when I speak English on one hand, and why I have a jaada English accent when I speak Malayalam on the other. What irony!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Unreciprocated Love (55 Fiction)

Returning home after a lousy day, she felt tired and depressed. The only thing that cheered her was the thought of him. She smiled as she entered the house, calling out to him. She sunk into the warmth of his body, smothering him with tender caresses...


He quickly wriggled out, and meowed loudly in protest.

Friday, March 2, 2012

He Answers!

It's 6.50 in the morning and it dawns on me that the day ahead is going to be long, and the weeks ahead challenging, thanks to my midterm tests and project deadlines. The sun has not risen yet, and the sky is still dark; the sparkling lights from buildings highlight the Singapore skyline which I stop to admire, on the way to the pantry for my morning coffee.

It's very quiet outside, and apart from the soft rustle of raindrops falling against the window pane, I hear nothing else. Perfect harmony with nature. I stopped to sip on my coffee, and my eyes fell on my old diary. A battered little notebook, which I began to use in grade 4. I had written about so many incidents there- fights with Amma, trips to Kochi, incidents at school, my first 'victory' at an elocution contest... I had painstakingly collected some sort of souvenir to help me remember certain incidents- photographs, cards, stickers, letters. Seems so childish today, yet, I'm glad I kept them. Amongst these souvenirs is a little card that Muthacha (my grandfather) gave me. The card, adorned with a picture of the Lord, has a small prayer, written by Swami Chinmayananda. Each time I read this prayer, it's some sort of quiet reassurance, something that helps me strengthen my faith in Him:

'I know not by what magic
How or where,
What or when,
But this I know:
He answers my prayers.
I need not know when He answers,
What he does,
Where He fulfils,
How He accomplishes.
But this I know:
He answers my prayers.
I leave all care
With Him above,
Whose love for me
Is endless and true."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Thou Shalt Not Lie

A few days ago, I had a class on Corporate Governance and Ethics, where we covered quite a few recent cases on financial fraud, manipulation, insider trading, conflicts of interest and other accounting scandals caused or encouraged by lack of good governance. We also covered ethical dilemmas faced at work and the effectiveness of whistleblowing policies. It was a very interesting lesson to me, partly because I was seeing the gravity of the whole issue now. Sure, I had heard about Enron, WorldCom, Satyam and all the other scandals, but what surprises me every time I hear about them again and again is the fact that they all started small. Just a small manipulation here and there to beat the budget and keep the investors happy. So what if it's a little untrue? Can always catch up the next year round! And so it goes... till the gap is so wide it's almost impossible to bridge it.

We discussed the issue of ethics. Oh sure, it might seem like a very simple thing, but it's rather difficult to define what exactly ethics are. My professor explained it through this quote- “To be ethical is profitable, but to be ethical because it is profitable is not ethical. And, one might
add, it is also not profitable in the long run.” This got me thinking. It is definitely profitable to be ethical, at least in the long run. Think of goodwill, business reputation, support of stakeholders, responsible corporate citizenship and so on. At the same time, the firm might lose lucrative opportunities in the short run. Does it mean that the firm should be ethical only because it might be beneficial sometime later? Doesn't being ethical lose its meaning as a whole then, because it is just done for profits? As I thought about this later, I compared the situation to telling lies. As a child, I've been taught not to tell lies, because apparently, God would punish me. A little digression here might help me bring my point clearer.

A long time ago, my parents decided to take me on a pilgrimage to Tirupati. We travelled from Coimbatore to a town called Chitoor, in Andhra Pradesh, just across the border from Tamil Nadu. There, we met a friend of my parents' (whom I fondly used to refer to as Chitoor amooma) and she was to take us to the temple town. On the way, we stopped by at a temple, dedicated to Lord Ganesha. Apparently, this temple is special- Chitoor amooma explained to us that the moorthy in the temple is an upholder of truth. Nobody can speak a lie in the vicinity of that temple. However one tries, it is simply impossible to speak anything contrary to the truth. As a result, all disputes were settled there, since it was believed that God himself forces the 'sinner' to voluntarily reveal the truth. I was just around six or seven at that time, but that day is crystal clear in my mind's eye. (A couple of months ago, back in Dubai, I was discussing special temples with my aunt Jayshree, and the memories came flooding back.)

Anyway, one can always argue about how to be sure that only the truth was revealed, or whether it is even possible to contemplate how God can force the truth out of any person. But that is not the point of this post. In my opinion, it all boils down to ones belief. The faith that God will forgive you if you speak the truth. Or the fear that God will punish you if you don't. My question is, would people still speak the truth, even if there is no God to punish or reward us? Would we still try to help people? Would we still be good human beings? Would we be tempted to steal, cheat, deceive? Would we still be able to face our inner conscience? Not because there is heaven or hell awaiting us, not out of faith or fear, not because of rewards or retribution; simply because that's the right thing to do. If yes, then there is still hope!

Post Script:
Amooma is a Malayalam term, meaning grandmother.
Moorthy is a Sanskrit term used to refer to the image of the Lord.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Random School Memories

This afternoon, as I was having lunch with a few friends, we were discussing plans for graduation trips. One of my friends will be graduating at the end of this semester, and she had just finished booking her trip. We discussed details and as we trudged towards the library to study for our upcoming midterm (fingers, toenails and everything else crossed), my mind drifted to Lah Lah Land and how awesome it would be to finally graduate and start a new chapter all over again. Then it struck me, that exactly three years ago, I was yearning to finish school and start on college. That triggered a number of old school memories, warming my heart and bringing a smile. So, I decided to list a few of my favourite memories from school:

Giggling with Woodhead (Not her real name of course, just something I like to call her :D) during maths classes and drawing smileys with their tongues out on our notebooks.

Debates in Geetha Ma'am's history/civics classes. Grade 10 is an important year, thanks to the All Important Board (Bored?!) Exams, and so we used to have nearly two weeks of special classes during the summer, when the rest of the school had already begun their vacations, but there were certain classes that were always fun. I always looked forward to Geetha Ma'am's lessons and I still remember one class during the summer holidays, where she encouraged us to debate on the necessity for capital punishment in India. Woodhead and I were on opposing sides, and I remember fiercely arguing with her.

Certain timely quips. For example, we were grumbling about the extra summer classes, and Shanthi ma'am, our Chemistry teacher in class 10, once told us that the next day she had no lessons, and hence would be free to sleep a little longer. To which, Woodhead quipped, 'That's right, ma'am. Only difference is you'll be sleeping at home, while we...' :P

Trying to remember the trigonometry rules using SOH-CAH-TOA.

Singing Ya Crazy Ya Lazy along with abla Sameera in the Arabic lessons.

Being told by Ann George Ma'am that she 'would tweak my ears' the next time I made the same careless mistake, hahaa! (Of course, that never really happened, not because I didn't make the same mistake again, but because Ann ma'am was far too kind!)

Inter-house and Inter-school debate competitions, with Dawne ma'am and Anu ma'am. Also, every MUN session, where we would patiently discuss issues with Winnie ma'am.

Recess breaks, where Banjo and I would discuss issues of global importance and pretend to be intellectuals. (Okay, maybe not Banjo.)

Gossiping about everything (and everyone) with Banjo and Woodhead. Girls, after all!

Vox Populi sessions. Something close to my heart since my team and I had worked quite hard to see this come to fruition.

Student Council discussions with Nambiar ma'am.

Calling Rajeswari ma'am every single time my balance sheet failed to tally.

Maths classes at home, with Rizwan sir and Banjo, where I would occasionally scare them with cups of coffee made by yours truly.

My badge. I know this sounds megalomaniacal, but still something about the shiny badge with my name printed in capital letters on it, brings a huge smile. I loved the challenges that wearing the badge brought, and shall continue to look at it with pride.

Sweet nostalgia, indeed!

Maybe, a couple of years from now, I'll be writing a similar list of favourite NUS memories? Hmm.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fighting Stereotypes

Stereotypes are annoying. At least to me. Maybe, this is just a rant. Maybe not. Anyway, these are a few stereotypes I think some people associate me with.

Stereotype #1- Just because I'm from the south of India, doesn't automatically mean I'm from Chennai. Tsk tsk, basic geography! There are other cities around too, you know.

Stereotype #2- Just because I'm from Kerala doesn't mean I have an ungle in the Gelf. Oh wait, actually I do. Not just an ungle, my parents too. Why, indeed I myself studied there! The point is, not all of us speak with a so called Mallu accent, so please don't feign surprise and ask But how come you don't have an accent? (This drives me to my next point- even if we speak with an accent, the rest of the country doesn't really use Queen's English, right?)

Stereotype #3- Just because I am a girl from the south doesn't mean I have to be trained in Carnatic music or Bharatanatyam. It all boils down to interest and passion. As for me, ever since I can remember, I have been dreaming of the day I get my book published!

Stereotype #4- I studied commerce after the grade 10 board exams. Not because I wasn't 'intelligent enough' to do science, but simply because I wanted to. There's a difference, see? And, please, 'all hard working and intelligent students take up engineering or medicine'. Really? Which era are you in?!

Stereotype #5- 'Oh you're doing accounting. But that's so boring!' (Actually it's audit, not accounting- as if that's going to make a difference!) Anyway, that is simply someone's opinion, and even if it is boring (which it isn't, by the way) it's my choice. At the end of the day, I'm happy with the field I have chosen, and that's what matters the most.

Stereotype #6- This happens, especially when I go back to Kerala for the holidays. I try my best to speak fluent Malayalam, and my family knows it's quite difficult, since I have never stayed in Kerala, as a result of which my spoken Malayalam sounds like a version of Ranjini Haridas' on Idea Star Singer. (I try to convince myself that it's slightly better than that, but whoa, what a comparison would that be!) And then people say, 'Ayye, endhoru kashtam. Malayalam ariyilla le' , somehow classifying me amongst those jaada people who proudly proclaim that they speak 'only English and cannot understand the mother tongue', when I know that I have really, really tried to learn the language on my own. (I learnt the language, watching Thatha read his Mathrubhoomi paper, and tracing the names of films on Asianet, and like Shashi Tharoor, who wrote about learning the language in his India- From Midnight to the Millennium, I too gave up after reaching the kootaksharams.)

YES, I feel better already after ranting out against these stereotypes. I have encountered at least five to six different people questioning me on these lines at different stages in my life, so they're definitely not one-off encounters! The problem with stereotyping is that it refuses to acknowledge the person one really is. I am me. I have always been me. I would rather be me than someone else's version of me.

Post Script:
You don't know Ranjini Haridas or Idea Star Singer? OMG.
Ayye, endhoru kashtam. Malayalam ariyilla le translates roughly to 'What a shame! You don't know Malayalam right!
Jaada is a colloquial term that is used for a person who shows off. Something similar to the Tamil peter.
Kootakshrams are joint letters in the Malayalam script.

I just noticed, I have been asked why I don't have a 'mallu' accent when I speak English on one hand, and why I have a jaada English accent when I speak Malayalam on the other. What irony!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Unreciprocated Love (55 Fiction)

Returning home after a lousy day, she felt tired and depressed. The only thing that cheered her was the thought of him. She smiled as she entered the house, calling out to him. She sunk into the warmth of his body, smothering him with tender caresses...


He quickly wriggled out, and meowed loudly in protest.

Friday, March 2, 2012

He Answers!

It's 6.50 in the morning and it dawns on me that the day ahead is going to be long, and the weeks ahead challenging, thanks to my midterm tests and project deadlines. The sun has not risen yet, and the sky is still dark; the sparkling lights from buildings highlight the Singapore skyline which I stop to admire, on the way to the pantry for my morning coffee.

It's very quiet outside, and apart from the soft rustle of raindrops falling against the window pane, I hear nothing else. Perfect harmony with nature. I stopped to sip on my coffee, and my eyes fell on my old diary. A battered little notebook, which I began to use in grade 4. I had written about so many incidents there- fights with Amma, trips to Kochi, incidents at school, my first 'victory' at an elocution contest... I had painstakingly collected some sort of souvenir to help me remember certain incidents- photographs, cards, stickers, letters. Seems so childish today, yet, I'm glad I kept them. Amongst these souvenirs is a little card that Muthacha (my grandfather) gave me. The card, adorned with a picture of the Lord, has a small prayer, written by Swami Chinmayananda. Each time I read this prayer, it's some sort of quiet reassurance, something that helps me strengthen my faith in Him:

'I know not by what magic
How or where,
What or when,
But this I know:
He answers my prayers.
I need not know when He answers,
What he does,
Where He fulfils,
How He accomplishes.
But this I know:
He answers my prayers.
I leave all care
With Him above,
Whose love for me
Is endless and true."