Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Divya Darshanam



27th November,2017, will go down as one of the most memorable days in my life. The day I had the privilege of having a full 30 minutes ( 1800 seconds) darshan of my favourite Lord (Ishta Deivam) at his original abode in Tirupathy. For a person who is used   to be satisfied with the 20 to 30 seconds darshan that the Lord has given me  in all these years, this was a  feast for the eyes & soul. I was a part of a privileged group who had paid for the `Archana Seva`, seated inside the sanctum sanctorum, witnessing the special Pooja followed by an opportunity to go closer to the deity to receive the` Chadari` from the Priest. Needless to say I was in cloud nine. Excited, exhilarated, … any number  of adjectives cannot describe my true feelings. I even shed a few tears ( Ananda Kanneer)  and thanked the  Lord for deciding to grant me such a privileged darshan.
I have been a regular visitor to Tirumala  since April,1962 when I visited the temple for the first time as an adult and got hooked to the Lord for life. I have been visiting the temple at least once a year, if not more, for the last 55 years. Total surrender to this Lord has seen me coming out of many challenges I faced in my life with my head high.  I have shared my experiences with the Lord in my autobiography under the chapter titled `My Tryst with God`.
 I have  had  the pleasure of standing in a corner and having the darshan of the Lord for 4 to  5 minutes by bribing the volunteers inside  the sanctum sanctorum in the past ( in the 70s when the  administration of the crowd was slack and corruption was rampant).  I was even smuggled into a VIP queue by brokers for a small fee. But the experience on 27th  November  when I had the legitimate Archana Seva was unparalleled  in my life.
For this I must thank my good friend Sridharan Chettiar, a good Samaritan with a generous heart who decided to include me in his family group to have the Archana Seva for which he had made bookings eight years ago. This special  seva is held  between 4.30 & 5.00 am every day immediately after Thomala Seva. About 20 families ( hundred people) who have valid tickets are allowed to participate in the Seva. I am told all these special sevas  are booked for the next 15 years. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to witness the  special seva this year
Thank you Sridharan for your kindness. I consider this darshan as  the best 75th birthday gift I have received this year and thank you Lord for your divine grace. I get goose pimples thinking about the Seva even 10 days after I had the darshan! Govinda.. GOOvinda!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Rainwater harvesting with a difference


           It was raining the whole night. When I got up to open the main gate in my independent home at 4 am, I found the house surrounded by more than ankle deep water. I was worried that if the rain continued for a few more hours, water would enter my home as it had happened in the past.  Fortunately, when I came out at 6.30am the rain had stopped. There was only a slight drizzle. By 9.30 am all the water had drained out leaving behind  only the garbage which had floated  into the compound from the road which is at a slightly higher level than my home. 
 
 It was not so a few years ago when  even a couple of hours  of heavy rain would result water collecting and remaining  stagnant  around the house  for a few days . What has made the difference? Implementation of a simple  rain water harvesting idea  suggested by my   Engineer /Contractor friend who has been looking after all construction related activities in my home. 

Though we had implemented the traditional RWH system when I built the first floor of my house long ago, it had not made any difference to charging my open well  which had remained bone dry for almost a decade. This was before the RWH was made compulsory for every household  by  the AIADMK government in 1990s.  After the implementation of the scheme by all our neighbours, I  found the  open well getting recharged and we could start using its water even for our cooking and drinking needs.But the implementation of the new idea by my contractor friend has not only helped increase the water level in the well to its maximum potential ( water is now available at 10ft) at the end of the rainy season  but has also helped in getting the water collected around the house after a heavy rain drained out fast in a couple of hours   instead of the water stagnating for a few days.  
 
The idea given by the contractor  involved digging   holes on the concrete flooring surrounding the house and also on the long passage leading to our home. The holes were dug  every  six ft, covering the entire length and breadth of the concrete flooring.  PVC pipes,  2 meters  in length and 6’” in diameter were embedded in these  holes and filled up with gravel & sand. The top was kept open providing an opportunity for the collected water to percolate down to the earth. This simple procedure costing me a few thousand rupees has made a difference to our efforts in solving the water stagnating problem. The only maintenance required  is to clear any muck collected on top of the holes once a year, before the main monsoon season. 

Thanks to the availability of water through bore well which we had installed  three  decades ago and the clean water from the open well, we find that  we are not dependent on  the Corporation water at all. In fact,  we have temporarily  closed the connection discharging  water into our sump. In any case the water supply from the Corporation had always been erratic and not dependable forcing us to buy tanker water during emergencies in the past.

If similar systems are implemented by all the independent homes and apartment complexes  with concrete floorings  surrounding their homes , it should greatly  help in mitigating their  water related problems. The corporation could also consider implementing similar ideas , suitably modified to suit the ground realities, on  all the roads of the city.  It will,  I feel, help in preventing the copious rainfall  being wasted and running  away into the sea.  While the citizens could solve their water related problems  with simple RWH ideas themselves, the government  should implement all ideas to save as much water as possible running away into the sea.  Will they display the same political will that they displayed when they implemented the compulsory RWH  for all households  in the city more than  two decades ago?
This article appeared in the `Down Town` section of the Hindu on Friday,24th Nov.`17

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

S.K.Swamy- Chip of the old block



The India chapter of the International Advertising Association recently inducted Srinivasan K.Swamy, the chairman of R.K.Swamy Hansa group of companies into its Hall of fame “ For building stable and meaningful companies in all areas  of the communication business in India and abroad.” A well deserved recognition for a man who is well known for his multi tasking abilities and  his total commitment to whatever cause he takes up.
Sunder, as he is known among friends is the son of the legendary adman R.K.Swamy. Not only he is a chip of the old block but has excelled his father in terms of his achievements in the area of his business, professional bodies and social service which can be only described as `awesome`!

Since his father`s death he has been successfully steering the group  Companies  with interests in a range of Advertising  and Marketing Services  like Events, Activation, Marketing & Media Consultancy, Global Language Services and Public Relations; Social and Rural Sector Communications; Human Resources Communications; Healthcare Communications; Market Research etc  besides  Real Estate Development. The group with a revenue of over Rs 600 Crores  employs in excess of 2000 people. 

He  is the Past President  of Advertising Agencies Association of India (2004-07), All India Management Association (2008-09), The Madras Chamber of Commerce & Industry (2008-10), Confederation of Asian Advertising Agency Associations (2010-12), India Chapter of International Advertising Association (2012-16) and Advertising Standards Council of India (2016-17). Currently he serves as Senior Vice President, a World President-Elect position, of International Advertising Association which will see him  as the President  between 2018 & 2020. He is also Vice Chairman of Asian Federation of Advertising Associations and a Governing Council member of Audit Bureau of Circulations. 

His contribution to the advertising & marketing industry is noteworthy. He strived for, and ensured equal bi-lateral relations between the broadcaster body, Indian Broadcasting Foundation, and advertising agencies body, Advertising Agencies Association of India, and was the Chairman of this joint industry body IBF-AAAI for 8 years. He was the brain  behind the starting of Goafest, India’s largest advertising festival.
His involvement in Social service is equally impressive.   As President,  he is actively involved in running the 220-bed, multi-discipline, tertiary care Hindu Mission Hospital at Chennai catering to the urban poor and the surrounding rural areas.  As Chairman of Valluvar Gurukulam School Society, he is providing leadership to run three schools for 2800 poor students, primarily girls, whose parents have not entered the portals of any school.  He is also the Vice President of National Boys & Girls Education Society  and Chairman of Vidyadhanam & Annadhanam Trust  involved in imparting Vedic education as a residential programme.  He is also a Trustee in the Consumers Association of India and CONCERT. As a philanthropist, he supports many religious, educational and healthcare causes that he is involved in.

It is not surprising that his work is being  recognized by both industry and social bodies.  Advertising Club Madras presented him with the Distinguished  Service Award in 2016 which was  closely  followed  by the Life Time Achievement  Award from  Advertising  Agencies association of India.  It is interesting to note that more than two decades ago his father was the recipient of both these awards. Recently  he received the  Lifetime Achievement Award  from Rotary Club of Guindy . 

 An  industry veteran described Sundar  as the President on steroids. Yes, his nervous energy is as infectious as his booming laughter that precedes him everywhere. He exudes positive energy and he has the capability of diffusing the most delicate situation with his explosive laughter. I have worked with Sundar closely during our Adclub days and later as a Trustee of Consumers Association of India. And I can tell you that it is always a pleasure dealing with him. Inspite of his hectic life style, he always finds time to keep his commitments and help friends in need.

I am sure that Sundar who is in his early sixties will continue to win more laurels in the years to come!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Typing –an essential life skill


   Learning to type was considered an important life skill for anyone in the olden days. Especially among the middleclass. Even if one did not pursue a college education, knowledge of typing could help a young man  get a job as a typist in any company. In addition, If he learnt shorthand he could be a stenographer leading to better job prospects. A whole generation of Tambrahms from Kerala, popularly known as `Palghat Iyers` migrated to Bombay in the mid forties qualified as  stenographers to start their lives as personal assistants to big bosses. Most of them did very well in life.
 
My first job, was also as a PA to a Gujarathi businessman. In addition to a B.Com degree I had passed the `Typewriting Lower` exams. Since I did not know shorthand I used to take dictations in long hand. My boss was not good at dictating resulting in several drafts before a letter was typed and signed by the boss.
The manual typewriters those days came with different brand names. Most popular was `Remington`. The more sleek looking was the `Olivetti`. The electronic versions of typewriters followed much later.

There were several typewriting institutes in every area of the city having scores of typewriters on which the trainees used to be busy learning the skill. `Clickety clack` sound of the multiple typewriters in an institute accompanied by the bell ringing sound warning the typist that the he had reached the end of the typing space on the paper was like music to the ears. The first lesson one learnt was to type `asdf` with the left hand four fingers followed by `lkjh` using the right hand fingers. This lesson would go on for a couple of days before you were taught to type all the alphabets from ` a to z`. Starting with small passages you typed long passages without looking at the typewriter, picking up speed in the process. When the Instructor felt that you had reached the speed limit of 40 words per minute you were allowed to sit for an exam to earn your certificate.
If you wanted extra copies of the typed matter you used carbon papers between sheets. Every time you made a mistake, you had to retype the whole matter. It was very frustrating. Though later on white correction fluids were available to mask the  mistake and overtype the correct word, it was messy. Typing was undoubtedly a laborious process those days.

On the other hand it amazes me to see the youngsters of today, who never went to a typewriting institute, type furiously on computers using only their two index fingers or using the two  thumbs to key in the messages on their mobiles. I don`t know how they do this. I find even the key board of a PC,  which is  touch sensitive, a  challenge! I tend to overlap the letters  when  I attempt to type with all the fingers. So, like millions of people I have also learnt to type on my PC using the two index fingers.  Keying in messages on my `over smart` mobile phone with only the right index finger, however, continues to be a challenge- with the prompter facility in the phone often  deciding to use words which I had not intended to use. Again like millions I have forgotten the lessons I learnt in the typewriting institute. No wonder the traditional typing institutes have almost vanished from this earth!

This article appeared in the 24-30th September, 2017  issue of Adyar Times under my column `Rajan`s Random reflections`

Monday, October 23, 2017

Grand Buffet Meal Deals



I recently saw an advertisement for a `Grand Buffet Lunch` with over 100 mouth watering dishes from a 4-star hotel and another news item in TOI which talked about how `Grand Buffet Meal Deals` by Hotels are contributing to wastage of food.
 
Do you know that the Grand Buffet Lunches at an irresistible low price offered on Sundays by many Star Hotels consist of all left over items of the week before?  Pulled out from the Deep freezer, reheated or served cold depending on the dish. This secret was revealed to me by   the General Manager of a star hotel in Pune, whose advertising business I was handling . He also told me that whatever was left over after the Grand Buffet lunch was consigned to the waste bin. I understand that this practice still persists in many hotels.

Even the mind boggling number of dishes served in an abundant `all-you-can-eat` buffet served  by hotels on special occasions or  at Society weddings hugely contribute  to the wastage of food. According to the TOI report  `the guests ate less than half of the food put out on such occasions. Besides stringent Food Safety regulations allow only 10 to 15% of the left-over food to be donated or repurposed resulting in wastage of food. The sizeable waste generated by coffee, juices and other liquids add to the conundrum`

A few weeks ago I was at a wedding in the family of a well-known businessman. The ‘Who`s who’ of Chennai were in attendance. The buffet dinner consisted of  over 100 items classified  into   North Indian, South Indian , Chinese and Continental besides separate counters for Chaats and Salads. The Dessert section alone featured 14 varieties. It was mind boggling. The very sight of such a variety filled up my stomach. Though there were a few youngsters and gluttons in the crowd who were having a field day, my own guess is that most of the guests would not have picked up more  than 15 items. 

In some of the typical South Indian weddings where `Elai Sappadu` (meals served on banana leaves) is served, I find  the habit of pre-serving the items even before the guests are seated abhorring. Apart from the food becoming cold, it does not give an opportunity for the guest to refuse items which he doesn`t like from being served on his plate. . Resulting in a huge quantity of left-over food on the banana leaf at the end of every `Pandhi`. What a waste of food in a country where millions  still don`t get one square meal.
A solution to this problem has been attempted by a community in North India. They have banned their community members from serving more than a certain number of items at weddings and other festive occasions. Those who break the rule are punished. I am told in Germany, guests who order more than what they need in restaurants and waste food are penalized. 

Will it help if the government introduces a  law restricting people from serving more than a certain number of items at marriages? More than any law what will work is self-discipline. I remember a well-known educationist who served only a tasty Biryani with a side dish and a dessert for dinner at the wedding reception of his daughter. At a personal level I do not take more than what I  can eat on my plate. I believe wasting food at home or on social occasions is criminal!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Heartbeats-


My unforgettable life experiences by  Dr. Palani G. Periasamy
 
Dr. Palani G.Periasamy is a first generation industrialist, an NRI who came back to India to participate in the growth story of Tamil Nadu by starting several industries and educational institutions. 

In his evolution as an Industrialist  the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Dr.MGR had a catalyst role to play. In view of his close association with him  , there was an opinion in the world of  business and politics that he was the Front Man whom MGR was using  to invest his own money. This led to the author facing a lot of problems in running his industries after MGR passed away and a new Government came into power. All through his turbulent but successful career as an industrialist, Dr. Palani had to face a lot of criticisms from not only  politicians but also from a few  friends who had invested money in his projects, who felt that they were not getting enough returns.

`Periasamy is really enjoying life. He travels in a Benz Car. Politicians, officials, film stars and other VIP s are seen around him in celebrations` would be the crux of the gossips.
` When relentless criticisms were levelled against me , I could not rebut them as that would have opened up a war of words. I decided that through this biography I would  tell the world the full and true story and how I had to fight against all odds to reach the position I have reached today.`

Out of the 283 pages of the text in the book over fifty percent are devoted to the author`s friendship with MGR recalling many interesting experiences with the `Puratchi Thalaivar`. This may be because the inspiration for the book came from  a series of articles that the author wrote  in Dinamalar titled `I & MGR`.
Dr.Palani  met MGR during his first visit to USA as chief minister. As he was the  President of Tamil Sangams of three States in USA,  he  was requested,  by MGR`s friends in India , to coordinate all activities of MGR during his stay in USA. Watching MGR from close quarters Dr.Palani`s  respect and love for MGR grew . He was impressed with his keen commitment to develop Tamil Nadu into a top class state in terms of both industries and education and his humane approach in dealing with people. 

Dr.Palani quotes the instance when MGR refused his  offer to travel in his big car instead of the small car which the Indian embassy official had brought to the airport to  take him to the Hotel where he was staying. MGR responded, ‘I have come at the invitation of the American Government. I will travel by the car sent by them. Here it is the protocol that is important and not a big car or small car’.
On another occasion MGR missed a train to New York from Baltimore because he was busy at the platform talking to a woman who had travelled a long distance with her child, just to meet him.  He justified his missing the train by telling Dr.Palani, “ Doctor! Rail may come and go.  But if I had not spoken to her she would have felt hugely disappointed. Just look at the woman. How happy she was`’ 

It seems that MGR too was very impressed with Dr.Palani`s network , sincerity, frankness and  organising skills.  Before he left USA,  MGR requested Dr.Palani to help start a top class management institution in Tamil Nadu. The establishment of Anna Institute of Management in Chennai  was the first initiative in which the author actively helped the TN Government. Thus began his tryst with Tamilandu and its industrial progress resulting  in his starting a number of industries and educational institutions later.

It was during MGR `s second trip to USA when he was in  the Brooklyn Hospital undergoing treatment after a Kidney transplant that Dr Palani  faced a major crisis in his life. As a good friend he was actively helping MGR and his team during their stay in the hospital. Back home it was election time and the opposition started spreading the rumour that MGR was dead and that his body was kept in an ice box by Dr.Periasamy.  Not knowing the true facts his family back home was also very upset. The rumour had the potential of  making  AIADMK lose the elections.  Periasamy, then decided to shoot a video film, showing MGR in action in the hospital room, depicting him perform  his normal activities, establishing that MGR was recovering well.  This video was widely screened across Tamil Nadu turning the electoral scene in favour of AIADMK. The Video tape really created  history in Tamil Nadu

Dr.Palani was born to Palani Gounder and Palaniyammal in 1939 as the first male heir of the family at Muthugapatti near Namakkal in Tamilnadu. His father was deep into farming and agriculture oriented industries. Dr.Palani credits his father for  inspiring him to help others who are in need as a credo in his life.
 He did his schooling in Sendamangalam High School , 5kms from his village. He did his first college stint in Alagappa Arts College in Karaikudi and later at St. Joseph`s college, Trichy where he passed B A Economics with flying colours. This  helped  him get an easy entry  into  Presidency College, Chennai to do his MA in Economics. In Presidency college he got involved with the Students Union of the college where his leadership qualities and organizing skills brought him close to many politicians of the time including K.Kamaraj, the then Chief minister of Tamil Nadu. 

`As a student leader I had the good fortune of being associated with several industrialists, educationists, social workers and other VIPs  which proved to be a turning point in my life. My  latter day successes in life was the result of the rich experience I gained in Human  relations as a student leader` says Dr.Palani.
After failing in his attempt to join the Indian Administrative Services, though he had lucrative offers from a few private  companies, he decided to join P.S.G.Arts College in Coimbatore as a teacher as  he realized that  teaching was his first love. Later he joined the Tagore Govt. Arts College in Puducherry, where he rose quickly  to become an Asst Professor. He was only 25. When his efforts  to get a doctorate  in India failed he decided to go to USA to pursue his dream.  He earned a Phd from the University of Pittsburg in Economics in 1969 after which he joined the Washington  college as an Asst Professor. He was to become a very successful educationist during his stint as a popular Professor between 1969 and 1987. He was  also earning good mone
 
It was during his stay in Baltimore that he initiated the `Tamil Nadu Foundation of USA` of which he became the Founder President. The Foundation encouraged the NRI Tamils to donate money to the Foundation ` to extend assistance to the health and education sectors in Tamil Nadu`. His success with the Foundation as a leader led him to  start the Federation of Tamil Associations in North America ( FETNA). Before returning to India, motivated by MGR, he had also started a company ` Mid-Atlantic Associates` and invested in hotels, shopping malls etc. and earned sizable profits not only for himself but other friends who had invested money in his company. He did not realize at that time that this experience would lay the  solid foundation for his becoming a leading industrialist in Tamil Nadu, later. His move to Chennai to start industries was largely because of the incentives offered by  MGR. 

Dr.Palani says, `A portion of funds invested in my business was from my own earnings. The rest was from the Tamils living in America who had faith and trust in me. Unfortunately, those who did not know the facts  spread  rumours that MGR had been my source of funds` 

His first industrial venture was Dharani Cements followed by Dharani Sugars. His foray into educational field started with  PGP Arts College   which  was followed by PGP College of Engineering, PGP Polytechnic College, PGP College of Education , Dharani International School, Dharani Matriculation High School and PGP International School.

It was MGR again who goaded him to  start a Star Hotel of International standard in  Chennai. Though the initial idea of starting a joint venture with the Tamil Nadu  Govt. failed because of the political developments after MGR`s demise, Dr.Palani went ahead and started  the `Le Meredian Hotel in 2000 on his own with support from friends. `Le Meredien` proved to be one of the very successful ventures of the PGP group leading him to start another `Le Meredien Hotel` in Coimbatore.

From Muthugapatti to Washington, from a teacher to a leading industrialist, Dr.Palani`s life story is both interesting and inspiring.

 Published by Vanathi Parhippakam, the original biography  in Tamil  was written by Dr.Palani  in association with the Tamil writer Rani Maindan and it has been translated into English by the bi-lingual writer Charukesi.