Friday, April 30, 2021

Every Feather in the Cap Counts - Grateful

Tuesday, November 3, 2020


An innocent question from my son stumped me this morning. His question was simple, yet I had no definite answer to the same. He asked me where do we belong? Which place can we call our home, or our domicile?

I can call the place I live, my home, if it feels like one; however, could find myself  as an ‘outsider’ even in my ‘home’. After all inclusivity and a wee bit of love and respect is all that is needed to make you call a place your home.

I wonder if someday I meet ‘aliens’ living in another far away planet, will they identify me as a Bengali, or as an Indian or as an Asian or as a resident of earth. I am sure it will be the last one. So, if earth is my home, then why am I an outsider in different parts of earth?

I still do not have answer to the question my son asked and wonder if I ever would have one. So, I just tell him consider earth as your home and see people as human beings alone. Remove these man-made labels of nationality, region, language, religion, caste, gender and colour from your mind and accept a human being for the virtues that he/she exhibits. Do not judge a book by its cover, instead by its letters.

And I believe that if at least some of us start thinking like this, then one day my son will definitely find his home. Till then we are just travelers.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Why Kushal Punjabi’s Suicide is a Grim Reminder of the Ignorance of Mental Health...

One suicide every 40 second! That is the alarming rate at which people kill themselves around the world. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death, globally. Every suicide is a tragedy and leaves behind family and friends of deceased devastated and scarred for life. It destroys homes and lives of people who are left behind to mourn.

Kushal Punjabi, a television actor from India killed himself yesterday leaving behind his parents, wife and a four-year-old son. This news has sent shock waves and one shudders to think how his family would cope with this tragedy. When I think of his four-year-old son and how he will cope with this loss, I get shivers down my spine. News reports contrast the cause of suicide from a failed marriage to a failing career. But whatever the cause, every suicide is tragedy that is even more lamentable because it is preventable.

Kushal Punjabi’s suicide is not the first and we know it is not going to be the last, but every such incident is a grim reminder how mental health afflicts people and is the modern-day global epidemic. One in four people around the world get impacted by mental health problem at some point of their life. Around 450 million people suffer from mental health issues that cause a range of problems from stress-related disorders, anxiety, depression and worst of them all suicides.

Most people focus on keeping themselves physically fit. In fact, Kushal was known to be fit as a fiddle according to his co-stars. We have annual health checks, health camps – all focusing on preventable healthcare aiming to keep people physically fit. However, no such initiatives seem to focus on mental health. What most people fail to realize and accept that although physical health is important, a poor mental health will not help a fit body to survive. On the other hand, a strong mental health may help people to overcome physical health problems and cope-up better.

Mental health issues are both preventable and treatable, but we continue to underestimate its importance, or stigmatize the same making it difficult for people to express or seek help. With fewer than two psychiatrists for every100,000 people, in India, the second most populated country in the world, the problem become even more acute as even those seeking help are not always able to access the same.

Despite the progress that mankind has made, mental health crisis and suicide are still wrapped in many myths. However, the fact is that these issues affect/can affect anyone irrespective of age, gender, income or social status.

Every suicide could have been prevented if there was someone who could listen to them, talk to them; if someone was for them when they faced despair and hopelessness.

Yes, the person who take this extreme step cannot shrug away the responsibility but first we need to recognize the fact that they are unwell and need attention, treatment and care. In absence of the same, the road ahead is filled with dangerous landmines, a path of no-return.

Whenever we hear of a suicide, we think about it till the news headlines last and finally shrug it off thinking it has not affected us or our family or friends. But such risks may be lurking around the corner as mental health problems come in stealthily. It is a silent-killer.

So, for once, let’s stop ignoring or continue living with in this blissful ignorance that it can never affect us or our near and dear ones.  It is important to educate ourselves on mental health, signs of deteriorating mental health, understand anxiety, depression and suicidal symptoms and develop an empathy for people who are affected, instead of making fun of them, stigmatizing them or ignoring/avoiding them. Mental health problem is no longer the headache of mental health professionals alone, it is everyone’s problem and we all need to join hands and make a difference.

Each One, Save One.

Every life saved is saving many other lives from dying a living death.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Are You Phubbing Me?

Have you used your phone in the presence of others, ignoring them? If yes, then you have Phubbed them!

Phubbing is the modern day word simply meaning snubbing someone else by ignoring them while using phone in their presence.

Phubbing is very very common these days and each one of you reading this article have either phubbed someone else or have been phubbed, or both. Phubbing is an annoying behaviour - a result of smartphone addiction.

Everyone phubs these days and at every odd place possible. You see kids phubbing each other at home at parties in presence of other adults. At times parents keep talking to the child and the kid simply does not respond because he/she is glued to the smartphone playing games, chatting or simply watching a video.  They are actually phubbing you!

You find guests visiting your place phubbing you and at times guests find their hosts phubbing them. Annoying, isn't it.

Then you have couples phubbing each other. Friends, married couples, dating couples sit next to each other and keep phubbing.

People even phub at work. Boss phubbing his reportee or people phubbing during a meeting is not very uncommon.

People phub at home, cafes, social meetings, offices, and where not.  I have heard people phubbing even at funerals.

So phubbing is an global epidemic, much as Smartphone addiction is! The new behavioural problem. Why it is a problem? Because it affects relationships as it breaks down conversation,. cuts communication channels and makes people feel ignored not getting enough attention.


How does one stop phubbing? It is not going to be easy. We are all addicted to Smartphones. They are our modern day indulgence. We are almost slaves to notifications that keep popping up every now and then, tempting us to pick-up our smartphone and check it one more time, and then again one more time and ...the cycle is never ending. There is a sense of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

Phubbing is an annoying modern day behaviour and it needs to stop. And the only way I can think that phubbing can stop is to train our minds to resist the temptation of checking our phones again and again. Mindfulness is important and staying focused on what one is doing in the moment is every important. Living in the moment, as they say, makes every moment fruitful and enjoyable.

So what's your phubbing moment? If you have phubbed or have been phubbed, please leave a comment about your phubbing moment. And yes, please share and like the post.

And yes, if you are phubbing someone when you are reading my article then please close itnow and read it when you are not phubbing. Stop Phubbing, Please. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Do not 'Make My Reward'

Recently the travel app Make My Trip gave me INR 4000 in my MMT wallet as a reward of my loyalty as a customer. As the notification popped up on my smartphone, I was thrilled at the prospect of a weekend getaway with my family. Being at office, I immediately called up my wife and told her of the unexpected bounty. We were excited and decided to visit the princely city Mysore for a night. It was a good way to escape the madness of the metropolis for a day. However it was only at the time of hotel booking that I realized that I had not read the fine print well. 

The terms and conditions of the use of wallet amount was complicated and loaded against the customer. It simply looked like a ploy to make you spend more, nothing more than a sales gimmick. To just give you an idea, I needed to spend close to INR 25000 to make use of the entire INR 4000 in my wallet. Worse this wallet money was valid only for about a week. This meant that I had to spend 25K in one shot immediately to ensure that I do not lose out on my wallet money. This was such a cheap sales stunt. 

Was this a reward for my loyalty and the fact that I had helped MMT become richer or a trick to ensure that I make them even richer? The answer is a no-brainer, I suppose. An enquiry with the MMT resulted in a call from customer care who repeated the same terms and conditions and further expressed his helplessness to do anything more, but promised that he will escalate my concern to his seniors. Much time has passed and I have received no further clarification or response from MMT  which pretty much means ‘take it or leave it’. 

We on our part have decided to give a pass to this wallet bounty generously showered on us by MMT. Our Mysore plan shelved for another time, but more than that I think that MMT experience was better without this sales trick in the garb of a reward. This ‘reward’ spoiled my MMT experience and left me feeling a bit short-changed. 

Something is better than nothing, but isn’t nothing is better than Nonsense.

How many times have you we received gifts on our birthdays or anniversaries that we have no idea why it was chosen for us or what to really do with that gift? I am sure it has happened with all of us and keeps happening every now. Such gifts are better not given.

I recall the stainless steel water pitcher, or an antique candle stand or at times even some cash being given to me on my birthdays by guests at the party when I would be a 9 or 10 year old boy. I did not know what to do with the steel water pitcher or with the candle stand or for that matter with the cash, although it was slightly better option that the other two. On the other hand a simple tennis ball or a small pack of chocolate was much more meaningful and joyous for a school going boy.

Gifts are after all reflection of the presenter’s feelings and intended to bring a smile on the face of the recipient to make him/her feel special. The material worth of the gift hardly matters. The intention of the presenter does. A meaningful gift is also a reflection of the amount of thought and time spared by the person for the one for whom the gift is intended. And that is what makes it even more special. On the other hand, meaningless gifts reflect the ignorance of the person buying the gift and total disregard for the person for whom it is meant.

The same thing happens with rewards and recognitions (R&R) plans in companies. A well-intended and well-thought reward and recognition program can always make employees and customers happy and engaged. Such R&R are honest and provide a sense of worth, joy and motivation to the recipient. However a poorly designed R&R falls flat on the face of purpose and worse, they can be de-motivators and disengagers, proving to be counter-productive.

Why Manabi was forced to resign?

Beyond Just Words

Transgenders have been mostly ignored, and, worse mocked at, ostracised by the society and organisations. I think the biggest problem is that we just talk. everyone talks about inclusivity but no one really does anything on the ground.

Like on World Environment day, we write do not cut trees, print the same on paper and stick it. Such a paradox, isn't it? Beyond talk, the inclusivity needs to be in actions. 

It is only recent that we have started taking about a third option as 'others' in the application forms against gender. Otherwise it used to be just male or female. So it boils down to actionable items - Are we hiring transgenders in our organisation? Have we sensitised our culture to include transgenders? Are we giving them equal opportunities?

I had written about this issue on my blog way back in 2012.

Change Culture, Sensitise People

Some organisations that take the brave first step of hiring transgenders forget to sensitize their culture and people and the transgender hires are subject of cruel jokes and ridicule that force them to exit. Take the case of Manabi Bandopadhyay who became the first transgender principal of a Kolkata school. The news was received with much euphoria and circulated by the media with drumbeats. The reality after 18 months is that she was forced to resign because of the extremely uncooperative attitude of the college staff. That's why changing the culture and mindset is important.

On the positive front India's first transgender school has opened. But will these students be accepted in the society, higher education colleges and later in the workforce is a big question that looms at large. You cannot create a different world for transgenders. They have to be assimilated in our society organically.

We need to realize that physical anatomy has nothing to do with the IQ or EQ of a person. They can be as talented as we are may be sometime even more. and when we ostracise them, they feel as hurt as we do if someone does it to us. When you see a transgender begging at a traffic junction, it is perhaps because people like us never allowed them to get a job and live a descent life.

Fundamentally nothing will change till our mindsets change and that is possible only when we try and impact the culture. It has to be through training, workshops, various campaigns and drives.
It will take time, but every small change adds up.

Let us all make a beginning in our small ways, not just by good words but by actions that can inspire others to do as well.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Fighting Depression Using Empathy

Depression Kills

Monday morning shocker came in the form of a news – 36 year old TV presenter with a national news media television channel committed suicide by jumping off her residential building, leaving behind a 14 year old differently abled son. Radhika Reddy who had been recently divorced from her husband, reportedly left behind a suicide note that clearly indicated that she was suffering from acute depression. Radhika, who was also a millennial, took the extreme step of self-harm that snuffed life out of her at a time when she was in her prime years.

What could drive a successful professional like Radhika to take such extreme step?
Analysis of suicide note left behind by Radhika, that read ‘mind was her biggest enemy’, by experts from Institute of Mental Health (IMH), Erragadda,  revealed that Radhika might have immersed in multiple thought processes which she couldn’t control and, due to the depressive disorder, she might have ended her life.

Radhika is not an isolated case of depression related self-harm. The statistics of depression related suicides is scary among youngsters.

When Arjun Bharadwaj a 19 year old student committed suicide by jumping off a high rise hotel in Mumbai last year, the statistics rolled out once again. Between 2011 and 2015, i.e. in a span of 5 years 40000 students had committed suicide. Most of them depression related deaths. Arjun Bharadwaj was reportedly struggling with poor exam results and also battling a drug addiction.

According to the 2012 Lancet report India has one of the world’s highest suicide rates for youth aged 15 to 29.

Unfortunately around the world, suicides claims more lives than war, murder, and natural disasters combined. Currently, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Over 50 percent of all people who die by suicide suffer from major depression. If alcoholics who are depressed are included then this figure rises to over 75 percent. 

SAMHSA reports that in 2016, 9.8 million US adults had serious thoughts about committing suicide, 2.8 million adults made suicide plans and 1.3 million adults attempted suicide.
Depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. According to the latest estimates from world Health Organization (WHO), more than 300 million people are now living with depression.

Paradoxical Life of New Gen and Emergence of Depression  
Millennials (Gen Y) and now even Generation Z (born 2000 or after) are the ones who are affected by depression the most. Various reasons ranging from exam stress to back-breaking professional demands, failed relationships, financial stress, unrealistic expectations and unmet aspirations etc. are cause of rising depression among young.

The new generation lives a ‘paradoxical life’. In my latest book. The Life of Y: Engaging Millennials as Employees and Consumers’, I have outlined, based on my research findings, as to how mutually conflicting and opposing demands on their lives makes them more vulnerable to stress and depression. The emergence of paradoxes in their lives, which in most cases millennials have no choice but to live with them, has resulted in a dip in their wellness. Material wellness, Social Wellness, Physiological Wellness and Emotional Wellness all are on the wane resulting in ‘reversal of their happiness quotient’. The effect of this reversal is often catastrophic. More than anything it impacts the mental health, resulting in depression. The result of this depression is often suicides, hypertension, coronary diseases.
In less than 7 years from now millennials will make close to 75% of the world’s working population. Are we going to hand over the reins of this world to a generation that is battling with depression or are we going to do something about it and help them deal with stress and emerge out of it unscathed and unscarred?

Understand, Not Blame
How to deal with this rising depression is often a question that is asked in various forums. In most such forums I have seen that the blame ultimately points towards government and its’ abysmal budgetary allocations on mental health. That is not completely untrue. India currently spends 0.06% of its health budget on mental health, which is less than Bangladesh (0.44%). Most developed nations spend above 4% of their budgets on mental-health research, infrastructure, frameworks and talent pool (WHO, 2011). This means there is acute shortage of mental health professionals. According to IndiaSpend report of 2016, there is India endures an 87% shortage of mental-health professionals.
Experts analysing Radhika’s suicide also stated that Radhika had followed psychological therapy properly, this would not have happened. Depression these days is 100% curable. This is really sad.

Proliferation of mental health professionals can definitely deal with more depression related cases and save previous young minds and their lives. That would need more governmental budgetary allocations.

While such a solution seems to be the most immediate one needed to deal with depression, government or mental health professionals cannot alone be the panacea for this ever-growing and alarming ‘epidemic’.

I have often realized that many of such depression related suicides are preventable if there was one ‘significant other’ in the lives of those who chose to take the extreme step, who could truly understand them, without judging them or blaming them. 

Often the ones who can help such depressed people are at arm’s reach. However lack of understanding often makes them feel that they are alone in their battle and somehow see a dead-end from where turning back I impossible. That perceived dead-end often is an end to the road of their lives too.

Younger generation live a different life than ours and there is a need to understand the complexities of their paradoxical life. Understanding is the precursor to engaging them and keeping their minds and hearts connected and intact. Through my research and my writings I have only tried to create this deep empathy about the younger generation who I feel is largely misunderstood. I have a vision to see that the society and the agencies understand the new generation better and in the right way, paving a way for healthier and engaged world where depression has no place, except in the Oxford English dictionary.

Radhika would have alive today and many more like Radhika who killed themselves had we tried to understand them a little better and help them deal with their depression. But for that we need to educate ourselves a bit more on the #thelifeofY and #thelifeofZ.

Each one of us can make a difference for there can be one like Radhika or Arjun near us – in our family, among our friends or peers. Look around and see if you can show a better understanding and help a young mind come out of depression.

A bit of understanding goes a long way in beating depression.