Saturday, August 13, 2011


Namaste. ನಮಸ್ಕಾರ. नमस्ते. 

This little ritualistic gesture is a common Indian greeting. Irrespective of the language you speak, it is a respectful gesture symbolizing the thought “I bow to the lord within you”.

Madam Toastmaster, fellow toastmasters and guests,

Today I’d like to share with you some thoughts about the power and meaning of symbols in our lives.

I recently read an interview of a well-traveled, highly educated man of science who filled his house with symbols from various cultures and followed some highly traditional rituals. He explained “Rituals give good anchoring. Never underestimate the power of symbols in your life.”

I think that's true. A symbol is a very concise representation of a set of ideas. A ritual is a sequence of actions which are performed for their symbolic value. These actions are in no way arbitrary.

Our lives are shaped by symbols and simple rituals - be it personal, traditional or religious.

Let's examine some common symbols.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. What does this symbol convey to you?

The Toastmasters emblem.

To me, this represents having fun with you guys here at EMC on Thursday afternoons.

This bumper sticker has left an impression on me.

Notice how it is made up of many religious symbols, each of which have their own unique meanings. Put together in this creative manner, they form the word "COEXIST". I interpret this to be symbolic of "Each religion paves a different path to the same end". Or, as a simple directive to "Live and let live".

Here is an Indian symbol of good luck : the Swastika.

You’ll see this painted on the walls of most shops and enterprises in India. People use this symbol to brand various items to increase their good luck. It is a positive symbol.

A slight variation of this symbol has the exact opposite effect.

The Nazi Swastika evokes strong negative emotions in all of us.

How about this?

The picture screams “pirate”! :)

On a cheery note, let's look at Amazon's smiley logo.

Through its simple logo, Amazon conveys its motto : Do business with Amazon and we'll make you smile with satisfaction.

Symbols need not be only 2-dimensional. 3D symbols are used in most classical forms of dance and in sign language. Other areas where symbols are widely used include traffic signs, alphabets in the script of any language and mathematics.

Symbols are an essential part of technology as well. We use them everyday in our PCs and iPhones as icons.

I don’t think I could live without my iPhone and the 20-odd apps that I use daily. I LIKE this !!

All Facebook users know how frequently this symbol is used. 'LIKE' is used to communicate a whole spectrum of emotions such as "I love it!", "I agree" and "You have my support". I have even noticed people "LIKE'-ing obituary messages.
Rituals use symbols to reinforce ideas. Rituals may be performed on specific occasions or at the discretion of individuals. You may have an exclusive ritualistic way of greeting certain people – a handshake, a hug, a kiss, a verbal greeting or even calling out an insult as a way of greeting someone you’re very close to.

Here are some symbols that I grew up with.

The Rangoli is a traditional art form in India and is part of a daily morning ritual in most South Indian households. People wash their doorsteps and paint these patterns in front of their door as a way to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck.

According to Kundalini yoga, the seven yoga chakras represent the different states of consciousness / energy-levels. Each energy center is activated by performing certain routines (rituals). The goal is to gradually raise your awareness from the lowest chakra to the highest chakra leading to spiritual enlightenment.
Please take a moment to reflect on the simple rituals that you follow in your life. Every culture has its own set of unique symbols and some of us have developed our own personal ones. I’d love to hear about the symbols and rituals that hold meaning to you. Please share your thoughts with me.

Friday, June 17, 2011

I have an idea

What's the most resilient parasite? An idea! A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules... which is why I have to steal it!
- Leonardo di Caprio's lines from the movie Inception.

I feel an infectious, unbridled enthusiasm when my mind gets around any new idea. Therefore I'm constantly looking out for new experiences. This was my primary motivation to join our Toastmasters club as well. However, I was desperate for ideas for my ice breaker speech and looked to the Toastmasters Competent Communicator guide for suggestions. I found a bunch of topics, but was unwilling to speak about them since I found them mundane and uninteresting, personally.

One line caught my attention though ... "Speech ideas can appear suddenly and disappear just as quickly. Keep a pen and paper or handheld computer handy to note it immediately". I had none of these implements at hand. However this set me thinking tangentially about ideas themselves, and I couldn't help making the connection with the movie and the many long, memorable, intense, thought-provoking conversations that had ensued. There! I had the topic of my speech. I decided to present some ideas that I found very interesting.

I've discovered that TED talks are very interesting sources for ideas. Invited speakers share their ideas about diverse topics under one roof. As a nonprofit organization, TED is devoted to "Ideas Worth Sharing". I think that's an ambitious tagline and TED is doing an impressive job of living up to it! Apart from the official TED conferences, TEDx conferences are organized by independent bodies, in the same spirit.

Someone recently shared a TEDX video of Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik on Facebook and I was inspired by his passion. Though he's a physician by education, Dr. Pattanaik has been a management consultant and is passionate about Indian Mythology. Subsequently, I picked up one of his books on Indian Mythology from the town library and devoured its contents in an marathon reading session, without a precedent in recent times. I was spellbound by the depth of his knowledge and immensely entertained by his narrative.

By the power of his ideas, Dr. Pattanaik has turned his passion into his profession. He brings the wisdom of Indian mythology into Indian business, especially in human resource management. I was thrilled to learn of his title at the Futures Group, one of India's largest retailers. The story goes that the founder of the Futures Group, Kishore Biyani, approached him once after one of his talks and offered him any designation he wanted within the company. And, Dr. Pattanaik chose Chief Belief Officer.

How does one generate good ideas? I read that the Japanese inventor Dr. Yoshiro Nakamatsu has an interesting technique. He dives in his private pool and holds his breath underwater until he experiences a flash of creativity and comes up with a new idea. He then makes a quick note of it on a waterproof plexiglass pad, which he invented for himself for just this purpose. This octagenarian credits this ritualistic, oft-repeated, near-death experience as the source of ideas for his inventions.

While still researching ideas for my speech, I spoke to my mother and bounced some of these ideas off of her. She connected this breath-control technique to the well known yoga technique called Kapalabhati Pranayama. The word kapalabhati is made up of two words : kapala refers to the skull (including brain) and bhati means shining or illuminating. Due to this process, the organs under the skull, mainly the brain, are influenced in a positive manner.

Talk of positive outcomes made way for stories of my grandmother. I believe my grandmother was convinced of the power of prayer through some remarkable events in her own life. In any difficult situation, she prayed frequently and fervently for good ideas to be implanted in her mind and in the minds of her loved ones, to guide them out of their troubles. Being a little tongue-in-cheek, I'd say my grandmother resorted to prayer for 'Inception'! ;)

Come Toastmasters time, I felt rewarded for all my efforts in research and practice. Score! :)

Friday, June 03, 2011


Aate hain log, jaate hain log, paani mein jaise rele
Jaane ke baad, aate hain yaad, guzre hue vo mele
Yaadein bana rahi hai, yaadein mita rahi hai

Just can't get over this feeling of transience today.