Archive for December, 2015

Web of Lies!

The contrast between her life and death was striking. The pretty, successful Public relations manager at a renowned firm, happily married, mother of two, found lying in a night club, dying of a likely drug overdose. To those who know her, Manisha had it all. This was just unbelievable!

Most of us are living two lives - one online, and the other offline

Most of us are living two lives – one online, and the other offline

One look at her Facebook page, at least what it was till last Saturday, was enough to induce envy in almost anyone. Her exhaustive photo album was wow! She was photogenic, a socialite, well-traveled and sort of a style icon. The album where she celebrates her 38th birthday at a fancy resort with her ‘loving husband,’ she writes: “Look at us… having fun, young at heart couple!

Of the several comments that follow, one reads: “Wow! A match made in heaven!”

There are photos of Manisha sailing in oversized vintage sunglasses, on vacation in Mauritius, partying in Singapore, some other times swathed in a thick spa robe and, other times, having a candlelight dinner at the city’s plushest rooftop bistro. Then there are photos of her with two adorable, beaming children, her stylized interiors, and her overdone life — at least on Facebook — seemed to be filled with bliss such that everything’s so perfect – nothing can go wrong!

Manisha, as was found later, had been a severe victim of depression and subsequently of misfortune. But we cannot blame her alone. Today, the gap between the person we are and the person we present to the world has become wider – at times a world apart.

With social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram lingering around us, most of us are living two lives – one online, and the other offline. And studies show that this makes us more vulnerable to depression, loneliness and low self-worth.

Of course I don’t mean to degrade social media. It’s everywhere, its unavoidable, it’s amazing too, but it’s disruptive. It’s like the machines, robots and everything that’s fantastic – but only when they are under our control.

Last year, scientists at two German universities monitored nearly 600 Facebook users and found one out of three would feel worse after checking what their friends were up to — especially if those friends had just posted vacation photos.

The research authors inferred, “shared content does not have to be ‘explicitly boastful’ for feelings of envy to emerge. In fact, a lonely user might envy numerous birthday wishes his more sociable peer receives on his Facebook wall. Equally, a friend’s change in the relationship status from ‘single’ to ‘in a relationship’ might cause emotional havoc for someone undergoing a breakup.”

An article published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology in August 2015 quoted psychologist Leon Festinger, who, in 1954, came up with “social comparison theory,” where he mentioned the idea that we measure ourselves in relation to others’ failures and successes.

This is a problem, especially with the millennial moms who are mostly rattled by the pressures of social media. A friend of mine, who is a student councilor and a mother of two regretted the other day we met for coffee, “There is an anti-social media movement going on in social media…, especially for young moms, who are feeling anxious to present a perfect life . . . this often creates annoyance and depression.”

The idea came to me too when my niece, in her early-twenties, who did not get selected for her college dance program told me how miserable she felt. She logged on to Facebook the very next day and saw all those pictures of her friends at the dance, and that actually made her feel worse than not being invited… she even thought of attempting suicide.

Everyone is looking for a ‘perfect life’ on social media. As a candid aunt in my neighbourhood said, “my ‘real’ life is actually pretty boring,” but her 1480 followers and 1600 friends would never know it.

In fact she once confessed, “I have a side of my apartment that I photograph, and it’s perfect. The other side is always a mess,” she said. “I know I have to maintain my image . . . I realize though how insane it all is.”

Reality can be easily distorted with the help of social media. Zilla Van Den Born, a 25 year-old girl from Amsterdam, told her friends and family she was planning on traveling around Asia for five weeks. Her parents excitedly waved goodbye to their daughter at the airport, whom they thought was about to embark on her journey throughout Asia. Little did they know that their daughter would in fact not be heading to Asia, but secretly staying in another house in Amsterdam. The Dutch student uploaded photoshopped pictures of herself in Asia, posted pictures of exotic food, and even skyped in front of a fake background in order to convince her friends and family that she was in Asia.

This web of lies Van Den Born created was not out of spite nor in order take a vacation from her friends and family; the young student had a goal. She tricked her loved ones for a graduation project. Her idea was to show that social media can distort reality. She proved that social media is not always real, and people can choose how others perceive them by what they choose to post online.

Often wondered, instead of getting entangled in a web of lies, why can’t we take steps to improve our real life so that our virtual life follows suit… As Marcus Aurelius, the good Roman emperor, best known for his meditations on Stoic philosophy, observed: “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”


Breaking Dawn with Dumplings

There’s nothing better than starting your day with a homely, delectable Chinese breakfast in Kolkata. So, when my cousin Rumi paid a short visit to the city last month, we set out to venture into the narrow lanes of Kolkata’s old Chinatown – Tiretti Bazaar – at the crack of dawn(Not to be confused with the city’s new Chinatown in Tangra, which was built much later)!

It’s deliciously different… we savoured every bite!

It’s deliciously different… we savoured every bite!

A perfect hangout for gastronomes, the place serves authentic Chinese breakfast that includes everything from mouth-watering momos to spring rolls, and palatable pork sausages to sesame sprinkled buns.

As we entered the lane, the whiff of steaming momos aroused our senses. We found stacks of round aluminium steamers lined up invitingly, with fillings of chicken, pork and shrimp. The delicacies are served steaming hot, with a dollop of a spicy dipping sauce. It’s deliciously different… we savoured every bite! The bowl of hot prawn-ball soup only served to invigorate our senses further.

The Chinatown in Kolkata is unique and steeped in history.  As we looked around to explore the place, we were captivated by its old-world charm and wanted to spend some time with the Chinese community. We found a number of small beauty salons, restaurants and grocery shops on both sides of the lane – most of them were still closed. There was a laid-back atmosphere.

There were some bright-coloured houses with quaint doors and dangling paper lamps. We saw elderly Chinese men reading Chinese newspapers, sipping on cups of green tea and lively matrons gossiping and laughing in high-pitched voices in the neighbourhood.

Having settled in Kolkata more than two centuries ago, the Chinese have played a pivotal role in defining the city’s cuisine and its character. With a pleasant mix of Cantonese, Sichuan and Bengali flavours – their locally adapted (Indian Chinese!) dishes attract foodies from across the world.

Tom Leong runs a small restaurant

Tom Leong runs a small restaurant

We bumped into an enthusiastic old Chinese man named Tom Leong, who runs a small small restaurant. He lamented in broken English, “Our once-vibrant ethnic Chinese community has dwindled in population over the years, as young Chinese boys and girls have left for greener pastures.”

“There was no government aid to restore even the iconic temples and churches that were built even a century ago.” However, he said, “There could soon be new hope and cheer in the old Chinatown.”

Last year, the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, following representations by some eminent citizens, sent a proposal to renovate Chinatown and promote tourism. Some work seemed to have started as the Chinese community in Singapore is providing technical support for this initiative and the local government has partnered with the project.

Called the “Cha Project” or tea project, it aims at preserving Old Chinatown at Tiretti Bazaar and will also focus on developing the New Chinatown (Tangra).

Nam Soon Church - the oldest Chinese Temple in Kolkata (19th century)

Nam Soon Church – the oldest Chinese Temple in Kolkata (19th century)

After savouring the authentic Chinese green tea from a stall, Rumi and I dropped in to a local shop to buy some exotic Chinese sauces. We also paid a visit to the nearby Nam Soon Church, the oldest Chinese Temple in the city built in the 19th century. The Chinese temple that houses the idol of Kwan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of war, mercy and love, was like as an “abode of peace” in the otherwise chaotic locality. We enjoyed seeing the numerous images and statues of Chinese Gods and Goddesses and came out with beaming faces and joy in our hearts.

If anything is worth leaving the comfort of your blanket at dawn, it is a date with Chinese dumplings. Chī hǎo hē hǎo! – that’s Mandarin for “eat well drink well!”

Sourav Ganguly’s Leadership Mantra

There are a lot of things business and IT executives can learn from a sport like cricket that allows players to thrive in a team. The conversation around cricket and business can become even more interesting when the speaker is cricket icon Sourav Ganguly.

I have realised that the rules are different for everyone

I have realised that the rules are different for everyone

At a mega business technology event in Mumbai, Ganguly, one of India’s most successful former captains of the National Cricket Team, throws light on leadership and team management.

Sporting a warm smile, he mentions to the audience how cricket has taught him to become a team player, accept success and failure as they come and be prepared for just about anything. Excerpt.

Identify the right talent

“For any leader, the biggest challenge is to identify the right talent. One has to be very clear about the kind of team he wants. He should analyze the candidates carefully before bringing the candidates on-board. Once taken, he needs to give them the opportunity to prove their talent,” Ganguly says adding that the rule in cricket applies to any business, even in the corporate world.

“As a captain, I gave young players an opportunity to showcase their talent in at least first ten matches. It eases the pressure and the potential candidate is able to play in his pace,” says Ganguly, adding that one has to be very fair and just while making selections. There are also times, he believes a leader has to take chances.

Give your team the ‘chance’ to perform

It is necessary to give your team the atmosphere to perform. If people are comfortable with each other, if they can sort out small conflicts among themselves and if they trust each other, they will certainly put their efforts in one direction, believes Ganguly.

Ganguly notes that a problem that most of the teams face is the resistance of seniors in the team against new members. “When I became the captain of Indian cricket team, I was lucky to have senior players such as Tendulkar, Dravid, VVS Laxman, who not only welcomed the entry of younger players, but also went out of their way to groom and support them – that’s how it should be in business as well.

Every team should have the right ratio of young and senior or experienced members. The more experienced ones are the best people to guide and help their juniors. The team leader should ensure that it happens. By giving the talent the right opportunity to deliver will only bring success,” says a confident Ganguly.

Every team member is different, let it be…

Every team is different and every team member has different strengths and weaknesses, believes Ganguly. “When I became the captain of the Indian cricket team we had some really talented players on board, like Kumble, Tendulkar, Dravid and many such players who had the right talent to win matches. However, I often wondered why we were still not up to mark always. It took me some time to realize that every player is different and needs to be channelized towards the right direction. This is what team performance is about, says Ganguly with a smile. “I have realised that the rules are different for everyone. One has to understand his team members to get the best out of them in every situation,” he concludes.