Bhakti Dravid Upaji – Kabir Saakhi

Kabir - Bhakti Upaji Drawid Mein

Kabir - Bhakti Upaji Drawid Mein


Bhakti Dravid Upaji, Laaye Ramanand
Prakat Kari Kabir Ne, Saat Dweep Nau Khand

भक्ति द्रविड़ उपजी, लाए रामानंद
प्रकट करी कबीर ने, सात द्वीप नौ खंड


Devotion took birth in the South, brought here ( to Varanasi) by Ramanand
Kabir made it omnipresent, in 7 continents and 9 Khandas

9 Khandas – Sun, Moon, Stars, Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Sound and Mind

Anecdotes of Kabir and his Guru Ramanand are very popular. The story goes that Kabir wanted to learn under Swami Ramanand, but he was not willing to take Kabir under his wings. Kabir tried every trick but failed.

One morning he went to the PanchGanga ghat where his guru used to go for taking bath every morning. He lied on one of the steps of the Ghat and as his Guru was climbing the stairs after his bath, while it was still dark in the morning. His feet touched Kabir and Ramanand blessed him as a reflex action. Kabir got up and said – now that you have blessed me – I am your disciple. Ramanand was impressed by the young Kabir’s devotion and his eagerness to learn and he took him under his tutelage.

Reading more – Finding Kabir in Kashi 

When Kabir refers to Ram in his poetry – he is referring to Ramanand, his Guru usually and to the Nirguna Ram. He is not referring to the historical Ram – Avatar of Vishnu. The poetry of Kabir displays an inherent understanding of the Indian scriptures like Vedas and Puranas. We can safely assume that he learned it from his Guru, Swami Ramanand.

Bhakti Dravid Upaji – This particular Saakhi talks about Swami Ramanand, indicating that he came from Dravid or South India. He was obviously living in Kashi – which has been the most revered pilgrim place for saints, sages and devout people.

Read More – Kabir by Hazari Prasad Dwivedi

I wonder if they shared a common language to be able to communicate. Kabir obviously spoke Awadhi, the local language of Kashi, as is evident from his works. What language did his Guru spoke is a mystery we do not know.

Further, this Saakhi talks about how Kabir spread the knowledge that he received from his Guru in all directions – be it the 7 continents of the earth or the 9 khandas of the universe.

In a way, it also tells us about the role of a disciple in taking forward the knowledge that one receives from his / her Guru. Spreading the knowledge would not essentially mean preaching it and spreading it but would also mean building upon that knowledge.

As we see that most of what Kabir says is from his first-hand knowledge and not necessarily what was passed on to him by his Guru. He tests that knowledge that he receives, he adds his own insights and then tells you what he experiences first hand. He does not tell you to follow what he says, but merely shares his insights – it is up to you to use them either as it is or experiment with them and build upon them.

Bhakti Dravid Upaji, also tells us that there was a communication that existed between North and South India 500-600 years ago. Knowledge was shared across and built upon and probably pursuit of knowledge was a clear goal that people had. To achieve this, they overcame any obstacles that might have existed. It also shows that the two regions were bound by the threads of common scriptures.

If you have another interpretation of this Kabir Saakhi, please share.

What Is Ram Rajya? Let’s listen to Goswami Tulsidas

Ram Rajya is something we have heard of, but probably never explored what it means.

I spent 6 months reading Ramcharitmanas by Goswami Tulsidas. There are many things I learned from reading the original. A million interpretations, commentaries, extrapolated work could not have given me what investing a little time in reading the original did.

Read my post on – 5 Reasons to read Ramcharitmanas in original

The part that most fascinated me was the description of Ram Rajya. We have often heard this term, whenever politicians talk about good governance. I guess I can safely assume that most of us have not read about what it means.

What is Ram Rajya?

In Ramayana, Ram Rajya is established once Sri Ram returns to Ayodhya after killing Ravana in Lanka. As the king of Ayodhya, he creates a kingdom where everyone is happy. The description of this Ram Rajya may look Utopian to us today. Given the fact that this legend and phrase has survived for so long, this must have been a reality at some point in time, even if that period did not last forever.

Description of Ram Rajya comes in Uttara Kand or the 7th Canto of Ramcharitmanas after Sri Ram has sent back all his friends who came with him from Lanka, Kishkindha and Prayag. Through Dohas and Chaupais, it describes the different aspects of a Ram Rajya. The description is so fascinating that it inspired me to write this post.

I hope, we the people of 21st CE would read it and get inspiration to create our own Ram Rajya.

Elements of Ram Rajya

In this Doha, Tulsidas gives the abstract of what Ram Rajya is:

बरनाश्रम निज निज धरम निरत बेद पथ लोग

चलहिं सदा पावहिं सुखहि नहि भय सोक न रोग

When everyone lives according to the Dharma of their Varan and Ashram 0r when everyone does what they are supposed to do in their work and as per their stage in life as defined in the Vedas. When there is no fear, no sorrows, and no diseases – it is the essence of Ram Rajya.

How beautifully it sums up what we need to have a state that is perfect & to be honest how simple it sounds to achieve. Just do what you are supposed to do to the best of your abilities or as prescribed. Think of it, if we all did what we are supposed to do, 99% of the world problems would be gone in an instant.

After this verse, Tulsidas ji goes on to tell us in detail about Ram Rajya.

People & their behavior

He says in Ram Rajya, no one suffers at physically, spiritually and bodily.

Everyone lives in harmony with affection towards each other while performing their own duties as described in the scriptures. For our times, we can take it as per the law and ethically.

All the four limbs of the Dharma – Truth, Purity, Compassion & Charity are being fulfilled, and no one does a Paap or sin even in their dreams. Everyone does the Bhakti of Ram and hence earn the right to Moksha or liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Here Ram may not refer to the king of Ayodhya, and it may refer to the Nirguna Ram that Kabir talks about.

No one dies young. Everyone has a beautiful body free of diseases. No one is poor, sad or pitiable. No one is a fool or without Shubh Lakshana or auspicious signs.

No one is vain. Everyone is pious and busy doing their Dharma. All men and women are smart and talented. All are knowledgeable and respect those who have knowledge. Everyone is thankful and no one engaged in the deceit of any kind.

Everyone is generous, helpful and respect the learned. All men marry only one woman and women are dedicated to their husbands in their body, mind, and spirit.

Changed Meanings

In Ram Rajya, Dand ( a staff) can only be seen in the hands of Yogis, who use it to rest their hand on it while doing their Tapasya. Jati Bhed ( difference in different Jatis or castes) can only be seen in the dictionary of dancers who use it to define the difference between different rhythms & notes. Jeeto ( winning) only refers to the winning of hearts as there is no enemy left to be won.

Ecology in around Ayodhya

All the forests are full of flowers and fruits. Lion and elephants live together. All the birds and animals live harmoniously without the known animosity between them, with mutual affection.

Birds chirp & different animals live happily without fear. Mild, cool, fragrant wind blows and bees buzz as they collect honey from the flowers.

Read More – Ayodhya – the city of Ram & Ramayana

Vines and trees give you honey, and cows give the milk as soon as you ask for it. Fields are always full of crops. It looks like Satyuga in Treta Yuga. Satyuga preceded Treta Yuga of Ram, and it was a time when everything worked perfectly.

Mountains and hills are mines of precious stones or Manis. All rivers are full of cool, clean and sweet power that is the source of happiness.

Oceans stay within their limits, and they leave their treasures on the shore for humans. All ponds are full of lotus blooms spreading joy in all 10 directions.

Moon sends its cool rays to earth, the sun shines only as much as needed, clouds give as much water as asked.

The Behavior of the Royal Family

Sri Ram himself performs a million Yagnas, gives Daan to the Brahmans. Sita, despite having skilled Sevaks at her disposal, takes care of her home by herself including the Seva of her mothers-in-law. All brothers stay attentive for anything that they may be required to do. Sri Ram teaches them different strategies for statecraft.

Grandeur of Ayodhya

All the people of Ayodhya city are happy. All the mansions have walls full of precious stones. The city wall has colorful Kangooras or Balustrades. Ayodhya competes with Amaravati of Indra in its grandeur. The Kalash or pots on top of the buildings are competing with the shine of sun and moon. Jharokhas or windows of the mansions are lit up with Deeps or Oil lamps that have precious stone sones on them. Thresholds are made of coral, walls of gemstones and golden walls are embedded with emeralds. Courtyards are made of Sphatik or crystals.

Every house has a Chitrashala or paintings on its walls, depicting the Charitra or character of Sri Ram. They are so beautiful that even Sanyasis get lost in them.

Everyone has a garden full of flowers and plants that have perpetual blossom as it blossoms in Basant Ritu or Spring season. You can hear the bumbling of bees as the gentle wind blows. Even the kids have birds as pets who they play with as they fly.

Peacocks, swans, cranes, pigeons park themselves on top of houses and dance when they see their own shadows.

Kids chat with the Parrots and Mainas and talk about Sri Ram. The city has beautiful gates, streets, crossroads, and markets. Markets are full of things at no price. Cloth merchants, jewelers, traders sit in the market like Kuber – the god of wealth.

Saryu and its Banks

Saryu flows in the North with deep clean water. There are ghats along Saryu and there is not an iota of mud on its banks. At some distance horses and elephants drink its water.

All along Saryu are temples surrounded by gardens. Some sanyasis live near the banks of Saryu, who have planted Tulsi all along the banks of the river.

The city of Ayodhya looks beautiful even from a distance as it is full of forests, gardens, step wells & ponds. Later have lovely steps leading to the water. They are full of lotus and the birds invite there with their birdsongs.

Conclusion on Ram Rajya

Ram Rajya is a well-rounded definition of a state when everything works in sync with each other.

Ram Rajya as described in RamCharitManas by Tulsidas

What you admire is the sequence in which Ram Rajya is described. First of all, it is human behavior that has to be in place, then the ecology then comes the grandeur of the city or state.

Tell me what do you think about it in the comments below!

Who is Kabir?

Kabir - An Introduction

Kabir was a weaver poet who lived sometime in the late 15th early 16th century. This was the time of Bhakti movement in India. Politically the Islamic rulers were gaining ground across the country and Hindus were getting subjected to many atrocities. It led to the Bhakti movement when they all turned to God, singing his praises and seeking solace in him.

Kabir - An Introduction

Debate on whether Kabir was a Hindu or a Muslim will probably never get settled. Muslim couple Neeru & Neema who are buried in the Kabir Math at Banaras brought him up and Swami Ramanand was his Guru. His works show a deep knowledge of many disciplines including Vedic literature, anatomy, flora, fauna, philosophy and of course weaving.

Kabir’s poetry comes in various formats – Saakhis, Shabads, Ramainis, Ulat Bhashis, and Basant. Origin of the world Saakhi is Sakshi that means ‘as seen’. These are couplets that Kabir probably uttered when he saw something that sparked a thought in him. In most of these Saakhis, we see a visual and a thought or a pearl of wisdom combined together.

Since most of the works passed on in oral tradition, in various versions we find some her-pher of words. For example in poem Paani mein meen pyaasi – some people sing Mohe sun sun aave haasi and some people sing mohe dekhat aave haasi. Though the meaning and intention of the poem have not changed but the words sometimes change. While referring to himself Kabir often calls himself Das Kabir, but when he is sung now, Sant sometimes replaces Das.

When you hear the same poem being sung by Malwa and Rajasthani singers, common words are replaced by the local words and the same is true for urban singers who replace words by Sanskritized Hindi.

He is a Dhara or a flowing river– not a single person today. He started a thought process and many other streams have come and joined him. We would never know what he said and what was added to his poetry later, and that does not matter as long as the thought process is the same. His poetry is profound – but still folk and not classic.

Boond jo padi samudra mein, so jaane sab koi
Samudra samana boond mein, boojhe birla koi

Kabir – A Fakir

To me, first of all, Kabir is a Fakir. Now colloquially we understand Fakir as a beggar but the meaning of Fakir is really someone who is independent of anything he has or not has. Fakir is someone who in his capacity can have much but chooses to live with the bare minimum. He is not influenced by any societal pressures and hence is totally free in his thoughts.

Chah Gayi Chinta miti, Manuwa beparvah
Jinko kuchh na chahiye, wo shahan ke shah

Man Laagyo mera yaar Fakiri Mein…

What distinguishes Kabir from the rest of the poets is his Bhakti was Nirguna. All other poets were saguna poets, that means they saw God in some form or the other. Meera Bai and Surdas imagined God in the form of Krishna while for Tulsidas it was Sri Ramchandra. Kabir was potentially the only one who did not follow a form, his calling was without a form, but omnipresent in every human being.

Kabir constantly asked people around him to look inside them. He tries to introduce them to their inner divinity while they are always searching for it outside. This is nothing but the Advaita philosophy that says the Brahman is within you or you are Brahman. Do not go looking after the ultimate reality outside you.

Throughout his poetry, Kabir directly addresses the people around him, unlike other poets who talk to others through God. Kabir addresses the man straight and direct. He calls him Saadho – or a good person, Bande – or man, a friend, a brother – every time he established a relation between two human beings. He never addresses others as someone above him or below him except when he refers his Guru. He subtly through his address communicates the equality of everyone and it also comes across in many of his works.

He even looks at mundane things and establishes an equal relationship with them like when he says: Maati Kahe Kumhar se…he is saying it is just a cycle, today you trample the soil, tomorrow it will trample you and the cycle will go on. Today we may think we are powerful over others while it is just a matter of time that tables can turn and we may be on opposite sides. Equality of everyone and almost everything in the universe is a continuous theme in Kabir’s poetry. He also believes in the cyclic nature of relationships that keep changing hands but not many are able to see the cycle.

Maati kahe kumhar se, tu kya ronde mohe,
Ik din aisa aayega, mein rondungi tohe

Kabir garv na kijiye, ooncha dekh niwas
Kal paron punya letna, upar jamegi ghaas

Tinka kabhi na nindiye, jo paanv tale hoye
Kabhun ud aankh pade, peed gehri hoye

God is Inside Us

The biggest message that I could find in his poetry is that each one of us had God within us, and for every problem, the solution lies within us. He constantly and persistently pushes you to look inside you. He sometimes negates everything you do to reach that so-called God and then tells you that he is right inside you if you have faith in him.

Jaise til mein tel hain, jyun chakmak mein aag,
tera sayeen tujhme hai, jaag sake to jaag.

Bura to dekhan main chala. bura na miliya koi
jo man khoja aapna. mujhse bura na koi

Kasturi kundal base, mrig dhundat ban maahi,
Jyon ghat ghat raam hai, duniya dekhe naahi

Moko kahan dhoonde re bande, Main to tere paas mein….

Paani mein meen pyaasi…

As a corollary, he says to get Him clean yourself as Ganga cleans itself

Kabir Mann nirmal bhaya, Jaise Ganga Neer
Pacchhe Paachhe sab fire, kehat Kabir Kabir

Kabir’s poetry comes from his direct experience. Though he refers to Ved, Puran what he says is his own experience. He gives example from everyday life of his times. He lived as a worldly man, he worked and earned his living and he was a seeker. He did not live on the alms given by others so he understands the joys and pains of earning your own living. This indeed gives him complete freedom to say what he wants to say. He lives within the society so he can see it from within but at the same time, he is detached from it so he can be an observer also.

Tu Kehta Kaagaz ki lekhi, mein kehta hun aankhon dekhi…

Kabira khada bazaar mein, maange sabki khair
Na kahu se Dosti, Na kahu se Vair

Sai itna dijiye, Jaame kutumb Samaye
Main bhi bhookha na rahun, Sadhu na Bhookha jaye

Chalti Chaaki dekh Kar, Diya Kabira Roye
Do Paatan ke beech mein, Saabut bacha na Koye

Kabira teri jhompadi, galkatiyan ke paas
jo karega so bharega, to kyun bhaya udaas

kabiraa khadaa bazaar men, liye lakutiyaa haath
je ghar phookyaa aapno, chale hamaare saath.

Kabir on Guru

In a lot of his Sakhis and Shabads he asks you to go by your direct experience, to test what others are telling and not blindly believe what you are told, including the Guru – who he believes is the must get the Gyan.

Guru Gobind dono khade, kake laagoon Paon
Balihari Guru Aapne, Gobind diyo Dikhaye

Satguru mila to sab mile, na to mila na koye
Mata, pita, sut, bandhava, yeh to sab ghar hoye

Kabira te nar andh hain, Guru ko kehte aur
Hari roothe guru thaur hai, guru roothe nahi thaur

Bhes dekh na poojiye, Poochh lijiye gyaan,
Bina kasuati hot naahi, Kanchan ki pehchaan

Jaat na poochho Sadhu ki, Poochh lijiye gyaan
Mol karo talwar ka, padi rehen do myan

Efforless exploration of Self

He tells us to live effortlessly. Since he believes everything is within us, every force, every possible energy source, we need not make an effort to look for it. Sahajata – or effortlessness is another theme that repeats throughout his works. It shows that people were making the unnecessary effort even during the days of Kabir, but this is very relevant today as we are engaged in making an effort that we do not even understand why we are making. We are running even to stand in the same place. What we need is this sahajata in our attitude that would make our minds and hence our lives simpler.

Pothi Padh Padh jag mua, Pandit bhaya na koye
Dhai Aakhar prem ke , Padhe so pandit hoye

Mala kahe kaath ki, tu kyun fere mohe
Man ka manka fer de, turat mila dun tohe

Prem gali ati saankri, isme dau na samaaye
jab mein tha tab hari nahi, ab hari hai to main naahi

Challenging the Organized Religion

He denounces organized religion of any kind – he had the courage to speak against or question Islam when they were ruling the place and Hindus in their very Garh in Banaras. Sometimes he tells like a doting parent taking simple analogies and sometimes he hits you hard with his questions. He is always teasing the Pandits, Maulavis and all those who claim to be wise or gyaanis. His tone gets challenging most of the times as if inviting to prove him wrong.

Kaashi kaaba ek hain, ek hain raam rahim
Maida ik pakwaan bahu, baith kabira jeev

Sadhu bhookha bhav ka, dhan ka bhookha naahi
Dhan ka jo bhookha fire, wo to saadho nahi

Pani piyaway kya firo, ghar ghar mein hai vyari
Trishnavant to hoyega, aayega jhakh maari

paththar pooje hari mile, to main poojun pahad,
isse to chakki bhali, pees khaye sansar

kankar pathad jodi ke masjid leyi banaye,
ta chadhi mulla baang de kya bahra hua khudaye

Kabir refers to the human body as ghat or a clay pot again and again. It can be interpreted at multiple levels. Physically, it is made of earth and goes back and merges with earth. Metaphorically it is an empty pot and it is up to the human what he fills it with. What is a human is defined by what we will fill this pot with? He finally says for a human being everything is within this human body – the good, the bad, the ugly and even the God.

Jogi gorakh gorakh Karen, hindu naam uchharen
Musalman kahen ek khudai, kabir ko swami ghat ghat basai

Kabir soi peer hai, jo jaane par peed
Jo par peed na jaane, so kafir bepeer

Chanda jhalke yahi ghat maahi…

Kabir & Maya

Maya – is something Kabir calls the root of all evils, a dakini that can create illusions in which not only humans but even Gods get lost.  He says this world is nothing but the illusion created by Maya and to see the reality you need to get yourself out of the net of Maya or Mayajaal. While he talks about Maya, he also talks about each of us being all-alone and the need to understand this.

Avadhu, Maya taji na jaaye…

Ud Jaayega Hans Akela…

Kahat Kabir Suno Bhai Sadho

Kahat Kabir Suno Bhai Sadho

Finally, death is another theme in his poetry, but not as an end but as the only reality of human life. In fact, Banaras is called the city of death and a city that celebrates the death and we see the same thought process in Kabir’s work as well. He time and again talks about the momentary-ness of life like the water on an upturned pot…and hence no point in getting attached to it. He speaks of human nature with the perspective of death in place, of the futility of a lot of things that we do thinking we are going to live forever. He wants us to remember that ultimately it is the death that we have to embrace – like it or not and live our live keeping death in view.

Maali aavat dekh kar kaliyan kahe pukar
Phule phule chun liye, kaal hamari baar

Sadho ye murdon ka Gaon…

Come with me for an exploration of Kabir – a thought that is as simple as it can be and as profound as it gets.

Celebrating Failure? Really!

Celebrating Failure

Celebrating FailureCelebrating failure is a recurring echo that I get in many startups and entrepreneurship forums these days. It has become the new buzz word and everyone is looking for failure stories. It almost feels that people want to chase failure than success. Really? Have we over rated success so far? Has has psychology taken a you turn? Or is it the new age buzz word that we are chasing.

Celebrating Failure Hidden in Success

I agree that every success story has failure built into it. We all know that success is built on a series of failures and the will of the person to be not bogged down by those failures. Yes we need to know how the entrepreneur managed his failure, what she learnt from it and how did she maintain her balance in the face of failure.

But, do we not want to learn from people who eventually succeeded and told us that it is ok to fail and learn. A failure is not a full stop as the cliche goes.

Read this book – Why I failed by Shaweta Punj and you would see the brightest shining stars have a pile of failures they are sitting on. This books makes a perfect case of where to go studying failure.

What is understood of Celebrating Failure?

The sense I get of Celebrating Failure is that young men and women can fail and join a cheer brigade that gives them a failure batch with an applause and they can go out and proudly say ‘ I Failed’.

I know the intent may not be to do so, but this is how the youngsters are reading it.

I am not willing accept anyone who is still in 20s and has not tried his hands at whatever they are doing for at least few years as legitimate failure that can be studied.

Failure stories that blame the system, environment, politicians etc etc do not make the cut either as those environmental factors remain the same for every entrepreneur. The successful ones learn to deal with them or find their way through them. If you are facing a road block, you can safely assume that everyone else is too. You can go to the forums and learn how people circumvented these common problems. Using them as excuse for failure is not acceptable.

I hear that there are conferences happening with a theme to celebrate failure.I just hope that invite some successful people to share their failure stories and not just a bunch of failed people trying to go on an ego trip.

Eventually we all want to be successful. Does anyone want to live life as a failure, no matter how celebrated it is? Let’s get that clarity and define our goals.

What we need the most is the support for dealing with failures – those long periods that test our patience and when we are more often than not alone.

Failures are the roadblocks, diversions and course corrections on the path to success, let us not make it a Goal.

Changi Airport – An example of perpetual innovation

Changi Airport

Changi AirportI was at Changi Airport recently wearing my travel blogger hat to review it from a traveler’s perspective. However, the business innovation student in me could not be kept away. As I wandered across the three active terminals of Changi Airport at Singapore, I was impressed by the way they plan for future.

Lets look at some of the key numbers of Changi Airport:

  • At the time of writing Changi has 3 active terminals, terminal T1 that opened in 1981, T2 that came up in 1990 and terminal T3 that opened in 2008
  • Between the three terminals, they can handle 66 million passengers annually.
  • Connected to 320 cities in 80 countries

Key Innovations at Changi Airport

  • Designing the Airport with an assumption that travelers spend a lot of time at the airport
  • Designing the facilities keeping in mind the airlines that use the Changi Airport as a hub
  • Designing the services for passengers who spend substantial time
  • Keeping the interest of all stakeholders and all kinds of passengers in mind
  • Each terminal is designed on a theme highlighting the emphasis on design – T1 is based on tropical city, T2 has lots of gardens and T3 has a unique ceiling design that lets the light in but keeps the heat out.
  • Efficiency is built-in in the processes – It takes you less than a minute to go through the immigration, the baggage arrives as soon as you arrive on the belt.
  • There are so many activities available for the passengers apart from the regular shopping and eating options that most airports offer. Red my detailed post on Changi Airrport – What to eat, buy, see & experience.
  • Terminal T1 was re-built in 2012 and a budget terminal has been demolished to give way to T4.

Future Planning of Changi Airport

One would think that this capacity and this quality should be good enough for a city state like Singapore, but I went through the future plans of Changi’s expansion and here is a glimpse of what they are aiming for in future

  • Terminal T4 will open in 2017 with a capacity to handle 16 Million passengers. It would use technology to enable passengers to not just self check in but to also self tag the baggage and drop the baggage at designated points.
  • Jewel Changi Airport – an iconic multiple purpose complex will open in 2018 designed by Safdie architects who also designed another icon of Singapore – Marina Bay Sands. It would house world’s tallest indoor waterfall. Jewel Changi Airport will have 5 floors above the ground and 5 below the grouns.
  • Terminal T5 is expected to open in 2020

Changi has been winning the ‘Best Airport Award’ – more than 500 such awards and 27 times consecutively by Business Traveller. It seems they do not want to let go of these tags to anyone else.

Where to go Networking



Networking is important even in this hyper-connected world. The rules of networking are undergoing change as the mediums to network become manifold. Virtual networking is becoming as important as real time networking, though the later still holds more importance than the former. An HBR blog post on ‘Networking’ made me think of how I like to network and how do I know who are credible people in your network and before I know it had become a long article, so go grab a cup of coffee before you go further…

Networking for learning

By biggest motivator to network or be connected to people is to learn. I know you can learn from anyone and everyone, but then do we all not have our preferences on what we want to learn. If and when I get an opportunity to be in the company of people I learn from, I grab it. Now learning can not be a one way process, so I also share whatever little knowledge I have with people who are willing to learn. In fact these exchanges have given me my best networks. Former connects me to people who know better than me and are subject matter experts or leaders in their fields while later connects me to youth and I get an insight into their minds, their lifestyles and their thought processes.

Networking for Collaborating

Networking for collaborating is for my peer group usually. These are people who work in the same space as me. Sometimes they can be my competition as well but these are the people who go through the same challenges as me, so when we speak to each other we know exactly what we mean. A case in point – couple of years back when a leading newspaper picked up a picture from my travel blog and refused to both pay and acknowledge, a lot of fellow bloggers who had face plagiarism helped me with advice and connecting to people / forums who can help. I in turn created this blogpost on ‘How to handle plagiarism‘ to help anyone who may face it in future. This group is very important to me as I learn new things about my own field here and this is a support group for common challenges.

Networking for Long Term

My best networking from random connections have come through interest groups. I am usually a part of lot of small or big interest groups – both virtually and in the locality I live. Here I meet people whom I may not meet consciously or by design like the two earlier categories of people. Most of these people come from different professional, educational and ethnic background and usually from across age groups. All that connects us is a common interest. There is no agenda for meeting except the special interest. These groups gave me connections that were very strong. A lawyer whom I had known only as a poet in a poetry group turned out to be a big help for my family when we needed a trusted lawyer. A fellow reader in a readers club connected me to someone who led met to many potential clients. With this group of people, it is ‘No Agenda’ networking that usually works for you in the long term. Be a connector in this group – connect people when you think they can help each other and they will remember you when they can connect you in a similar fashion.

Alumni networks are a good source of long term networking if you keep yourself plugged into them.

Networking with Readers / Followers

This is a group of people who know me solely through my writings – either on blogs or in print media or through my book. As any author would know, we writers love this group. Sometimes we have annoying experiences as the groups are large and all kinds of people are a part of it. As a writer I do not choose who reads me, its the reader who chooses to read me. I get all kinds of feedback from this group – good, bad, ugly. This group gives me the true feedback on my work for they are under no obligation to say good things, worst of all they can be quite. I make sure that I talk to them as much as possible and meet few of them as and when possible. From this group I have had people providing me technical support, people giving me information on new destinations, people inviting me to come to their places – besides the professional work that flows my way.

Professional Networking

This explicit networking happens in professional forums like conferences, seminars, festivals and events. Everyone is here to network, so I try and meet as many people as possible. It is good to exchange cards but I feel they are loosing relevance in the digital world. Attention spans are small as most people are trying to meet most people. Best networking happens in after hours of the event, specially if participants are living in the same space or during breaks. I make sure that I give a gist of what I do to people and leave them with either my card of a mention of my website so that they can find me if they need me. Some people that I manage to spend some time with, I add them on the relevant social media platform. I accept all the social media requests of people I have met once unless they have given me a solid reason to not accept.

Virtual Networking

Networking in the digital world is as easy as it is difficult. easy because all you have to do is – google search and make a few clicks. Difficult because it lacks the human touch, the communication is not mechanized – we are yet to evolve to read virtual body language and of course there are enough fake accounts to scare you. Some simple rules I follow on most social media sites is to add people whom I have met at least once, others can follow me. I do make exceptions for example for established authors or know personalities or personal recommendations by people I know.

In Conclusion

  • Meet people with an open mind and the opportunities to network will increase manifold.
  • Try and begin the relationship by giving rather than taking, it creates a credit account for you which itself has a networking effect.
  • Go with the flow and see where it leads you.
  • Do not over do it. Don’t chase people when you need them or ignore them when they need you. Again it may seem like a single incident, but this too comes with a network effect.

Happy Networking!

Managing Customers on Social Media

We all are customers to many many businesses. A lot of us use social media. Some of us use social media to talk about brands we use. Some brands are smart enough to listen to us and interact with us on social media. I have been interacting with the few brands on social media and my experience says what Rahim said hundreds of years ago – Social media is just a tool, the winner or looser are decided based on how they use the tool and not on what the tool can do or is meant to do. Here are some of my bitter sweet experiences with brands on how they respond to customers on social media:

Taj Hotels

They gave a me a best response on social media. I needed some information about one of their properties in Goa but could not reach the right person through their board lines. I tweeted to them asking only if someone can help. They asked for my number, as it is a brand that I trust, I shared my number on DM ( Direct Message). I immediately got a call from the property in question, the person took all my requirements and sent me the information on e-mail within a reasonable and promised timeframe. I was happy and said Jai Ho Social Media. But then I got about 4-5 different calls from Taj Hotels to respond to the same query. This was a hyper response. As a customer, so many calls were disturbing even though a but pampering. I also felt that all these people who called had no clue about the other people who were calling. So response was excellent, but did they go overboard – may be a bit.

Tata Sky

I had a very mixed experience with the. When we relocated to Goa, their engineer did not turn up the whole day to set up our system in Goa. We kept calling, but no one responded. Finally the guy decided to come at 10 PM and at 10:30 Pm after fixing the system he demanded 700 Rs. When I confronted him and asked we are supposed to be Tata Sky through the recharge, he took out the connector and said – if you want your Tata Sky to work, you have to pay me Rs 700/- or ask the company to come and do it for you. We were too tired to argue, but next morning I tweeted about it and within few hours the guy came and returned the money. So far so good. I also had the issue with Tata Sky billing me twice for relocation and to sort that out no amount of tweeting / calling helped. They just chose to ignore where they owed me money. After a while I could not spend my energy on a small amount, but the experience left a bad taste. First part did not leave a bad taste as the company responded and corrected its mistake, but the second one did.


Airtel is a perfect example of how you should not be on social media. To every tweet they have a automated response. They try to solve your problem without knowing your number. In all probably the social media management is outsourced with the team managing social media having no control on the service execution. I understand that with their kind of customer base it is not easy to be on social media, but then they should not take complaints on social media and that it is a medium that they use only to promote themselves. Customers should go to traditional channels to get their problems sorted. True, customers would still crib and rant about their customer service on social media, but then this automated response service is not helping either. Their Facebook page was a bit better in response but am I happy with the solution – not really.

A Travel Company

A small experience based travel company replies to every #travel tweet of mine by saying that if I am travelling in India , I should try their experiences. During my last trip, I asked them to arrange a few experiences for me and they could not. Now after this, I still keep getting their automated tweets and it get more annoying with every tweet. Automation is social media is going to work only to an extent, the moment it starts annoying, people will cut you off.

My take on Managing Customers on Social Media

  1. Do not use automation to reach out to customers and definitely not to respond to them.
  2. Listen to your customer. Even if you don’t like their language or the content of what they say – it takes an effort on the part of the customer to speak and they usually speak only when they are troubled or happy. There is no better place than social media to listen to your customers.
  3. Promise what you can deliver 100% or be ready for a deficit in customer trust.
  4. Avoid outsourcing of social media, specially if you intend to service customers on social media. There are far too many decisions that one may have to take to respond to a customer and an outside agency may not be able to take it on your behalf. The would also try to present a picture rosier than it is – which does not help in the long run.
  5. Have tight integration between your social media and customer support to get out of your presence on social media.

Do you have any good or bad experiences to share of your interactions with brands on social media.

Employees rating Customers?

Apparantly Uber is asking its driver, who are its employees to rate the customers who they deal with as per this HBR blogpost by Sara Green Yes, Your Uber Driver is Judging you! . Uber is not alone AirBnB and OpenTable are also rating customers.

What is new?

Every business intuitively rates its customers, but not in a quantitative way – adding data points on each interaction. May be an end of year analysis was done on the business every customer gave, may be there was a call taken after a clash, but to have a rating of customers based on how they behaved each time they used your services is new.

Open Questions?

How much can you trust your employees rating customers? How will you remove biases that may come due to their personal preferences – all young women end up getting good ratings for example?

These systems are prone to gross manipulation. Do we not know of all consumer companies who close your complaint at the end of the day or at expected hours irrespective of weather they have solved it or not – for they only get rated on closed complaints. If you question them, they quietly open a new complaint for you. Come to think of it, they actually benefit by not solving the complaint and keeping it open.

Are you going to say No to a customer if their rating is not good?

Are you going to give priority to customers who have better ratings?

Will it add to customer discomfort? For now, they have to be worried about another rating that too from a service provider. On a bad day, it can lead to a lot of stress.

Big Quesion

From this article I could not make out what was the purpose for which Uber is rating its customer – adding a layer of process for its employees and another layer of data to be crunched. I assume they would have defined it but it has not come our clearly in this interview. Unless there is an absolute clarity on a definite and in my opinion big enough purpose is solved by data collection – it is a futile exercise that I can call experiment at best.

Do we have to objectify all human behavior even if it means greater business gains?




Creativity & Dishonesty

Paul Sloane in his latest post ‘ Start your meeting with a lie‘ refers to a paper by Scott Wiltermuth of Marshal Business School that proposes that dishonesty leads to creativity. He substantiates it by saying that both dishonesty and creativity require the ‘established rules to be broken’. Fair enough. The dilemma is, of course, how can you legally & ethically allow dishonesty to make your workforce more creative.

This reminded me of an old theory I had read when technology was not this pervasive and it was just entering our lives – not everyone had a mobile phone and even those who had would use it judiciously. Theory said that criminals and fraudsters are the first and the best users of technology. The way they apply technology innovatively is beyond the comprehension of the inventors of the technology as well. In fact, if the creators knew these possibilities they would probably work towards stopping them. The number of frauds committed using pre-paid SIM card, of course, led to the whole identity tagging to the SIM cards when they are issued, but then criminals are smart enough to circumvent that problem as stealing mobile phones is not a big deal. Anyway, for this discussion, this just supports what Paul Sloane is proposing that yes indeed the law breakers ( to whatever extent they break the law) are the most creative users of tools available to all of us. What makes them creative is of obviously limitless possibilities that they have the laws and regulations do not restrict them.

Can these limitless possibilities be created in a corporate setup without compromising the moral/ethical/strategic standing of the organization? Can you let some of your employees break the rules and expect others to follow them to the T? Can you contain the chaos that ‘not following the rules’ would lead to? Do you believe in ‘method in madness’ and expect that somehow things will take care of themselves?

This led me to question why do we have so many and so rigid rules in organizations? Now that I work independently, I find it ridiculous to sign at N no of places before I  am allowed inside and then wearing a batch with number prominently displayed? All this when I can enter any junk as my data in the register and when the security guard is too busy listening to music on his mobile phone. Why are employees who will never face a customer made to wear uncomfortable formal wear? I even know companies that have penalties for not following the silliest of the rules. Is this all not leading to make everyone say’ Let me just follow and do what they tell me to do’? Can organization start by easing up rules that are downright ridiculous that serve no other purpose except bring boring uniformity in the system? Can anything kill creativity like boredom does? Can you start by eliminating processes and rules that take up employee time and effort and yield no business results? Do you realize how they might be alienating the employees?

IDE – Spice Flavored Water

Indian Drinks

A few months back I was facilitating an Idea generation session at a Entrepreneurs Development program at an incubation center. Most entrepreneurs in this group were focussed on the food industry and I for one has never worked with this one industry though as a consumer you just can not escape them. Initially all the ideas came from what is the trend – healthy packaged food – pack this, pack that – nothing that was really new and non-existent. So when I challenged the participants to come up with something that does not exist as a product, one of the ideas came was that of flavored water.

The idea obviously came from the fact that we wanted a drink with no sugar and or other chemicals and we wanted a drink that was more than water. Something like a water plus, and something that can come in many variants as that is a natural way to give choice to the consumer and to expand the business. So came the idea of water flavored with various Indian spices – it could well be called spiced water. Initially the ideas came about single spice flavors like Jeera or Cumin Water or Cardamom water or Clove water or Saumf or Fennel water. Some even had ideas like betel leave water as lot of Indians are addicted to that flavor. In no time. imaginations were running wild and people wanted to combine two or three flavors – everyone had their own choice of flavors. Not to mention people recounted the health benefits of each of these flavors and what can be used by people suffering from what ailments. The whole naturopathy angle came into the picture.

I thought the idea had a business potential, though may require a bit of technical as well as market research.

After the session I did a basic search on flavored water on the Internet and found that some brands of flavored water do exist around the world, but most of them focus on fruit flavors and use the drinks for vitamin fortifications so that they are sold as supplements. In India it seems Bisleri did explore the opportunity a few years back but they too explored fruit flavors only and I do not recall any launch of their product. But its possible I missed it as I no longer live in a big city. The only spice flavored water I came across was a mint flavored water that a reviewer said was quite good. There are some flavored water manufacturers in India but not for the retail segment it seems but more as essence or flavors for the processed food industry.

Based on this basic research I think the idea of a product range of ‘ Spiced Flavored Water’ has a business potential. A bit of research effort would be needed to develop and research the exact products to begin with. The product would have to go through the regular product launch process. I have a feeling lot of existing beverage companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi may be able to develop this in no time, but if it fits into their strategy or not is a different question. However some new beverage companies in India like Hector Beverages who have a successful portfolio of a range of Indian drinks may be better positioned to experiment on this, as it is a natural fit for their range and go well with their existing branding.

Of course, it may be a challenge to explore for new entrepreneurs. Remember Limca, Thums Up & Maaza were developed right here in India though they may belong to a global brand now.

Please share your views on this idea.